In the ongoing experiential arms race between theme park superpowers Universal and Disney, the newest attraction at Universal Orlando is quite the weapon in its arsenal.
That’s how wild and utterly thrilling the new Jurassic World VelociCoaster rollercoaster is of an experience. Along with Hagrid’s Motorbike Adventure, the new coaster gives Universal a one-two punch that sets Universal Orlando apart from the offering of its cross-town rival and its more…sedate attractions.
Billed as the tallest, fastest and most intense coaster experience in Florida, the brand-new ride opened to the public at Universal’s Islands of Adventure Thursday, June 10, and the anticipation for the attraction led to some of the biggest crowds I’ve ever seen at the park. (And as a Miami native and an annual passholder, I’ve been to Universal Orlando more times than I care to count.)
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Having done a lot of pop culture-related coverage in my career, I’ve been fortunate to have been able to get early looks at theme park rides such as the King Kong and Fast and the Furious rides, plus the debut of Diagon Alley at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. But those experiences were strictly “for the media” events with minimal crowds. I’ve never actually been at a theme park for the opening day of a ride — much less one with the hype of the VelociCoaster.
And the excitement in Jurassic Park at the Islands of Adventure was off the charts.
The line to ride was over two hours long almost immediately after the park opened its doors on a cloudless, scorching hot Orlando day. But the sweltering 90-degree Florida heat didn’t do a thing to dampen the enthusiasm of the people in the crowd. As I walked by, you could hear people talking about how excited they were — not just to experience the ride itself but also to check out the queue.
As detailed in TPG’s announcement post for the ride’s opening, the story begins well before you board the coaster. Long lines at a theme park are unavoidable, and the genius minds who are coming up with new rides have clearly invested just as much creative energy into the queue as the experience on the coaster tracks.
Given how lucrative the Jurassic World franchise is to Universal across multiple platforms, the Orlando park took a page from Jurassic Park’s John Hammond’s book and “spared no expense” when it came time to create this truly immersive experience.
The entrance to the ride features two imposing raptor statues that Universal Creative’s art director, Gregory Hall, told me was a slight tip of the cap to the fan-favorite Dragon Challenge roller coasters that were torn down in 2017. The idea of the VelociCoaster ride is that once you step inside the queue, you’ve entered Jurassic World Resort. You are a character in the ride’s narrative, and you’re going to take a ride through the velociraptor paddock area with “trained” raptors racing alongside you. What could possibly go wrong in that scenario?
Once inside, you’re greeted by a statue of Blue, Delta, Charlie and Echo, the four raptors who were introduced in “Jurassic World.”
The entire queue will certainly make the long wait for the ride enjoyable even for casual fans of the movies — and if you’ve seen all the Jurassic films, you’ll enjoy more than a couple of Easter eggs that point back to the original 1993 blockbuster.
My personal favorite aspect of the queue is the stables. The animatronic raptors are incredibly realistic, and their movements suggest they’re testing their restraints and trying to figure out a way to break free.
From there, you wind up in a room with a massive video screen and the two stars of the Jurassic World franchise, Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt, appear in character. This sequence was prepared specifically for the ride (and filmed in Los Angeles just before the pandemic shut down all in-person production) and features the bickering chemistry that made them such a winning combo on screen.
Then, it’s on to the boarding area.
The ride has six specially designed, open-sided vehicles that seat four people per car with two in each row. There are no shoulder restraints, and Universal promises riders 12 seconds of airtime during the ride. That, and the fact there is only a lap bar keeping you in place, starts to run through your mind as the ride inches closer to the loading dock and the first of two high-speed launches.
Believe me when I tell you that even if you’re braced for it, there is no way to be prepared for the moment the ride launches you. The VelociCoaster feels as if you’re shot out of a cannon and before you can even get your bearings from that, you’re going through one of the four inversions of the ride. The speed is intense, but the design of the tracks combined with the vehicle makes for an incredibly smooth experience.
Related: Hottest new theme park attractions for 2021
The first half of the ride comes to a (very) brief stop inside the paddock area where people in the queue can see the vehicle take off for a second time. This launch hits 70 miles per hour in just 2.4 seconds. It takes you up to the signature element of the ride, the 155-foot “Top Hat.” That’s coaster-speak for an element usually found in launched coasters where there is a 90-degree rise and an equally steep fall.
Oh, and remember that promised dozen seconds of airtime? What makes the VelociCoaster different is that when you drop from that Top Hat, you’re coming down at 80 degrees and catching air. It’s honestly difficult to describe — the lap bar obviously works perfectly, yet on the descent, it feels as if you’re being pulled away from the ride car.
You would think after that colossal drop, the designers of this ride would give us a quick moment to catch our breath.
You’d be wrong.
The coaster is as relentless as the raptors supposedly chasing us. It takes us through various twists and turns, through a layout with rock formations that seem close enough to touch, raptor statues and even more stunning design elements that are impossible to fully take in while moving at the speed of, well, raptors.
And I haven’t even gotten to my favorite part of the ride — the 360-degree barrel roll over the lagoon. The Top Hat drop may get all the headlines (and deservedly so), but don’t sleep on the barrel roll. It’s an exhilarating moment when it occurs, and another place where you catch some air time. According to Universal’s ride designers, it’s the first rollercoaster to ever do a flip like that over water.
By the time the ride was over, everyone in our vehicle was euphoric and exhausted. I managed to ride it two consecutive times, once in the front row and once at the very back. Sitting up front very much reminded me of the feeling of riding the now-closed Dragon Challenge coaster from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter where everything is coming at you directly, but I bet true coaster enthusiasts will enjoy the perspective from the back row a bit more because it really lets each of the big moments — the inversions, the barrel roll — sink in a bit longer.
In my mind, there are really only two downsides to the VelociCoaster.
Unfortunately, this new coaster has now taken some of the luster away from my formerly favorite Universal ride, The Incredible Hulk rollercoaster. That venerable attraction has been a monster hit for two decades, but its neighbor across the lagoon has officially gotten the best of Marvel’s Green Goliath.
The other downside? There is absolutely no way this ride will have a wait time under two hours — certainly not this summer. And unlike other rides, there will be no virtual queue, so you’ll have to plan to sweat it out (literally) in line until you can step inside the official start to the queue. But if you’re heading to Universal Orlando and rollercoasters are your thing — especially if you’re a Jurassic Park fan — carve out a couple of hours to ride it.
The VelociCoaster is well worth the wait.
Featured image courtesy of Universal Orlando.
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