by Katie Stockdale
I grew up in Florida, only an hour away from the theme-park capital, Orlando. Full transparency: I’m a Disney girl. That’s what I was raised on, and since my parents have annual passes and still very kindly pay for mine, we go to Disney.
When I was in middle school, Islands of Adventure, the second theme park at Universal studios, opened The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and my ears perked up like a dog that smells peanut butter. I love it. They did an amazing job bringing the books and movies to life and walking through it is a pure joy.
Upon discovering that Sept. 1 was a Saturday, my friend Ivy and I immediately planned a trip. We went with her family, and as not all of them wanted to run straight to the back of the park and stay in Harry Potter land all day, we planned on hitting a few rides first. I was slightly disappointed until I thought, I’ve only been to this park once before, why not try them.
Transformers was on the list and so we entered the warehouse-like building. I’ve never seen the movie, so I was a bit skeptical sitting down. The skepticism remained during the ride. I didn’t get many of the references, which wasn’t the ride’s fault, but I was also very bored. The 3-D glasses sort of made it look like things were coming at me, but that just made it like a version of Dinosaur from Animal Kingdom where I got bounced around a lot and there wasn’t even audio-animatronics.
As the sky started to threaten rain, we headed to the Fast and the Furious. Now, I’ve never seen any of these movies either, but their hardcore promo for this ride gave me high expectations. There was such a big ad campaign that for a while, I thought another movie was coming out. Clearly, this was going to be a good ride.
We walked right on, not even using the single rider line, which maybe should have been a tip off. We collected our 3-D glasses, moved along the line, turned a corner and got our first glimpse of the ride.
My eyes were met with a bus missing a side, so we could slide into the rows. It seemed unlikely that a bus could create a fun ride. I’m not a ride designer, so I slide into my seat, watched the side of the bus come down, sealing us inside and giving it a full bus feel and put my glasses on.
It was boring.
There’s no way to sugar coat it. All through the line, when characters from the movie talked to us, the “party-goers,” they’d looked CGI’d. Now, in the ride, there was no hiding it. As we drove straight ahead through a tunnel with TV screens on either side, we watched a car chase unfold around us, with some smoke or water periodically being thrown at us. The bus bounced around. It lasted less than three minutes.
I didn’t really know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t that. Sitting in the bus with the walls down completely disconnected me from the ride, and the recordings were just not that interesting. Bouncing around did not create a rollercoaster-like effect. Maybe if it hadn’t been promoted as much as it had been, it wouldn’t have been as disappointing. I’d been expecting some kind of roller coaster, and the ‘fast’ to refer to the speed of the ride, not the length.
We all walked out disgruntled and Ivy’s stepdad cracked a joke: “It was fast, and it made me furious.”
I thought that was the last of the ride mishaps, but as we were leaving the park, we walked past King Kong: Skull Island.
There was no line and as we walked in, a family with younger kids walked out, stating that it was too scary. This got us all excited, and we hurried into the rest of the line, which was filled with movie-level recreations of mummies and skulls. The line felt like a haunted house, with an audio-animatronic witch chanting in one of the rooms, and a person popping out for a jump scare as you went down a hallway.
The line did its job and pumped us up for the ride, at least until I saw the 3-D glasses and bus waiting for us. I sat down without much excitement and put my glasses on as we were again driven through a tunnel with tv screens on either side. We were bounced, and once, the 3-D was supposed to make it feel like the bus fell off of a bridge. It did not.
Again, we walked off the ride disgruntled and annoyed, confused as to why these two new rides were so uninteresting. Clearly Universal needs some help. It had been as empty as Hollywood Studios, Disney’s least popular park, but they at least have three other parks in Florida, plus two water parks, Disney Springs, a ton of resorts, golf courses and the list goes on.
Universal, not quite as much. I couldn’t help but wonder: Why waste money on boring rides?
Ivy made a pretty good argument: Gringotts, the ride in Diagon Alley, did extremely well and it had actor clips with 3-D. It makes sense to try and repeat something that worked before.
However, Gringotts is a roller coaster. It’s no Hulk, but it is definitely a roller coaster. While characters from the movies interacted with me and I saw spells shot at me, I also got to go down suddenly, take a few twists and turns, ride backwards and have a proper rollercoaster experiences.
That was the fun of it. The 3-D was the extra flavoring, the ranch on the side of an order of fries. Good, makes it better, but it doesn’t work without the fries.
Fast and the Furious and King Kong are ranch with cardboard.
Katie Stockdale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org