Home » 18 Incredible Universal Orlando Rides and Attractions That Were Never Built

18 Incredible Universal Orlando Rides and Attractions That Were Never Built

Cartoon World

When Universal decided to take on Walt Disney World in Orlando with the opening of Universal Studios Florida in 1990, it knew it would need something special to draw guests away from Disney’s property for even a single day. It spent upwards of $30 million each on incredible headline rides including Jaws, Kongfrontation, Earthquake: The Big One and (in 1991) Back to the Future: The Ride.

Since then, Universal has continued to innovate to cement its position as a strong number two in the Central Florida theme park market. It’s added an entire second park, Islands of Adventure, as well as regularly stripping out and replacing attractions in the Studios park.

Just like Disney’s Imagineers, Universal’s Creative team are constantly working on new concepts for attractions. Naturally, not all of these see the light of day. Sometimes, the budget simply isn’t there. Sometimes they are displaced by a stronger idea. Or Universal may not be able to agree commercial terms to license the movie property upon which the attraction is to be based.

There are dozens of articles and even whole websites dedicated to Disney rides that were designed but never built (and, in fact, I’m currently working on a book about them). But what about those lost Universal concepts? There is information scattered here and there, but relatively little has been shared about them. So we thought it was time to try and pull together an article that highlights some of the most amazing Universal Orlando ride concepts that have not become a reality.

Of course, there are likely to be many more rides and shows that have been put in development and ultimately canned by Universal Orlando. If you know anything about them, we’d love to hear from you. We’ll collate any information you give us and produce a revised version of this article in the future.

With that said, let’s take a look at 18 amazing Universal Orlando rides and attractions that were never built!

18. Batman Island

Cartoon World

Cartoon World concept art, via Parkpedia.

The original concept for Universal Orlando’s second theme park was “Cartoon World”, which would have incorporated characters from a variety of different animated worlds. This was changed to Islands of Adventure after the decision was made to include an area themed around Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, which, of course, was a live-action movie.

Cartoons, of course, still feature heavily in several areas of Islands of Adventure. This includes Marvel Super Hero Island, which celebrates classic Marvel creations including Spider-Man and the Incredible Hulk. But the original designs for Cartoon World featured superheroes from a different stable altogether – those of rival comic book firm DC Comics.

Chief among them was the Dark Knight, Batman himself. An entire land was to be dedicated to the character, and would be themed around his home of Gotham City. Thanks to the superheroes over at Orlando United, we have some idea of what would have been part of this land.

Batman Island

Image via Jakemeister, Orlando United.

A five-story statue of Batman would tower over the entrance, with a flowing cape straggling out behind him. The headline ride would be the Batcar Interactive Dark Ride. Yes, the cars were referred to as Batcars, and not Batmobiles. These would zoom around the city and through the Axis Chemicals plant seen in 1989’s movie version of Batman – the one where Jack Napier became the evil Joker.

Another major attraction was to be the Batjets, a roller coaster that would circle the entire Gotham City area. Riders would board via a station located in City Hall, which was also host some dark ride elements. Nearby, the Gotham Opera House was to host a show starring Batman and Robin.

Various themed shops and restaurants were also to be included, along with one very unique feature: a Bat Signal, shining high in the sky.

17. Batman vs. The Penguin

Batman vs. The Penguin

Image: Goddard Group, via HateToFly

Here’s another Batman attraction that was part of the planning process for what eventually became Islands of Adventure. Batman vs. The Penguin was to be a dueling suspended roller coaster, complete with special effects and pyrotechnics.

The concept was eventually expanded into Dueling Dragons, which has since become Dragon Challenge in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

16. Rocky the Flying Squirrel coaster

Rocky the Flying Squirrel

The Toon Lagoon area of Islands of Adventure is dominated by water rides. But early designs included a family roller coaster, located close to Ripsaw Falls and themed around Rocky the Flying Squirrel.

15. Otto’s Bus Ride

Otto

The Simpsons Ride and the surrounding Springfield area are now popular fixtures at Universal Studios Florida, but the characters could also have appeared at Islands of Adventure had early plans gone ahead. The headline attraction of the Simpsons-themed area was to be a simulator ride themed around a school bus journey with Otto. The ride has also been referred to as “Bart Saves the World”, and was reputedly killed by Fox’s unwillingness to license the characters at the time.

14. Apollo 13 roller coaster

Apollo 13

In late 1997, with Islands of Adventure well into development, Universal Orlando realised that it needed to install a new attraction at Universal Studios Florida soon after the new park opened. This would prevent all of the guests from the studios park being siphoned off into its neighbor.

A large plot of land at Universal Studios Florida had already been earmarked for expansion, sandwiched between Back to the Future: The Ride and Jaws. In the early 1990s, it had been identified as the site for a clone of Jurassic Park: The Ride at Universal Studios Hollywood, but when Islands of Adventure was put into development, that plan was scrapped in favor of building a dinosaur-themed area in the second park. It still stood vacant in 1997.

Universal recruited Craig Hanna and put him to work on concepts for the park. Initially, he dreamt up an indoor, “category-redefining” roller coaster based on Apollo 13. This would have been housed in a recreation of the Kennedy Space Center’s enormous Vehicle Assembly Building, with guests boarding lunar lander-style capsules for a ride around the moon. However, it was decided that this could not be built quickly enough. Hanna proposed an alternative, outdoor version that could be constructed more quickly and cheaply. However, because there were concerns about noise complaints from local residents, this concept was also scrapped. A second coaster concept, themed around a generic disaster movie, was also dropped.

13. Simpsons dark ride

The Simpsons

With the Apollo 13 concept dead in the water, Hanna was asked to switch his focus onto rides aimed at younger audiences. He looked at concepts based on Nickelodeon characters, and also designed an entire dark ride based on long-running animated television series The Simpsons. Hanna’s ideas for this ride, which would have been based around the Simpson family winning a contest to come to Orlando and would have satirized the area’s theme parks, were to be revisited at a later date in The Simpsons Ride. Men in Black: Alien Attack was built instead of the dark ride concept.

12. Jurassic Park Helicoptours

Jurassic Park helicopter

Image via Orlando United

A number of proposals have been put forward for the Jurassic Park area of Islands of Adventure over the years and subsequently dropped. One of the these was for Helicoptours, a simulator-style flying ride that would have been conceptually similar to Disney’s Soarin’ rides. On their journey through the skies above Jurassic Park, guests would have seen a variety of different dinosaur species, including Pteranodons that would attack the chopper.

11. Jurassic Park Jeep Safari

Jurassic Park Jeep Safari (3)

Image via Disney and More

One of the earliest concepts for a ride based on Jurassic Park was a version of the jeep safari seen in the movie. This concept was killed early in the development of Jurassic Park: The Ride for Universal Studios Hollywood, when it was decided that it would be too difficult to recreate the famous T-Rex chase scene.

Jurassic Park Jeep Safari

Image via Disney and More

That hasn’t stopped the concept being revived on more than one occasion for Islands of Adventure. The attraction would have been similar to Jurassic Park River Adventure, but on land. Guests would have encountered a brontosaurus and would have come under attack from a pack of velociraptors.

Jurassic Park Jeep Safari (2)

Image via Disney and More

The concept was deemed to be too similar to Jurassic Park River Adventure, and dropped.

10. Raptor Racers

Raptor Racers

Image: Jean Marc Toussaint, via Disney and More

Another attraction that was considered as a potential expansion to Jurassic Park at Islands of Adventure was a wooden coaster that would have seen guests racing to escape from hungry velociraptors. Towards the end of the ride, a dark ride section would see the train shake and claw marks would appear on the vehicles.

Rumors are currently circulating that a Jurassic Park coaster concept could be revived in some form as part of an expansion of the Jurassic Park area to coincide with the 2015 release of Jurassic World, the fourth film in the series.

9. Jurassic Park flying coaster

Pteranodon

Image via gonemovie.com

Yet another Jurassic Park concept was a Bolliger & Mabillard flying coaster, similar to Manta at SeaWorld Orlando. This would have been enclosed in a giant aviary that would house pteranodons, resulting in some close shaves.

8. Mount Crumpit

Mount Crumpit

Over the years, there have been numerous rumors that a Matterhorn-style roller coaster built around a recreation of Mount Crumpit from The Grinch Who Stole Christmas could be added to the Seuss Landing area of Islands of Adventure. These are still circulating today, with the ride said to be one of a number of expansion options under consideration.

7. Dr Seuss’ Noisarium

Noisarium

Image via Parkpedia

The Noisarium was part of original plans for Seuss Landing at Islands of Adventure, but was dropped before construction began. It was to be a “musical playground” consisting of a host of different exhibits, and would have been a post-show for the Cat in the Hat dark ride.

Noisarium (2)

Image via Parkpedia

Ancona and Associates designed the Noisarium, and said this of it: “Universal set out a simple challenge, design an experience about Dr. Seuss and noise. The Noisarium was to be the landing pad for the Cat in the Hat ride in Seuss Landing at the Islands of Adventure Theme Park. After emerging from a forest of Seussian palms, the focal event was an interactive orchestra set in a village square, inviting visitors to join a jam session. Surrounding the square, a series of mysterious rooms invited visitors to explore a warren of wacky interactive sound chambers.”

6. Stephen King horror ride

It

At the same time it was considering acquiring the rights to Men in Black, Universal had also tasked John Murdy (now renowned as the Creative Director for Universal Studios Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights) with developing a horror concept based on the novels of Stephen King (including It and The Shining). This would have included a “trick ending”, in which riders thought they were about to disembark but were instead subjected to more terror. Pennywise the Dancing Clown from It would have emerged from the control booth to attack riders, who would narrowly escape.

While the overall concept was dropped in favor of Men in Black: Alien Attack, the trick ending did become a reality as part of Revenge of the Mummy: The Ride.

5. Casper dark ride

Casper

Long-time Universal rumor-monger HateToFly claims that Universal developed a concept for a dark ride based on Casper the Friendly Ghost. This would have seen guests riding on four-poster beds, and able to steer their path using a candelabra located at the foot of the bed.

4. Terminator 2 roller coaster

Terminator 2 roller coaster

Image: Landmark Entertainment

When Gary Goddard’s Landmark Entertainment were asked to put forward concepts for an attraction based on Terminator 2, they devised several alternatives to the 3-D / live-action show that was ultimately built. Among these was a roller coaster ride set in a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles.

3. Terminator 2 interactive war zone

Interactive War Zone

Image: Landmark Entertainment

Another Terminator 2 concept was for an interactive attraction set in a futuristic war zone, which would have seen guests joining the battle between man and the machines.

2. Van Helsing

Van Helsing

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey achieves its stunning “flying” effect through the use of Kuka Robocoaster arms mounted onto a track. But this wasn’t actually the first intended use of the technology in a Universal theme park. Instead, a ride based on 2004’s horror action movie Van Helsing was proposed for Islands of Adventure as far back as 2003. The movie itself was directed by Stephen Sommers, who collaborated with Universal on the Revenge of the Mummy roller coaster over at Universal Studios Florida.

The attraction would have incorporated a variety of special effects as well as projection screens. Some reports have claimed it was canned due to the film’s negative critical reception, but Van Helsing still pulled in a healthy $300 million at the box office. A more likely explanation is simply that it was pushed aside once Universal secured the rights to Harry Potter.

1. The Backlot Tour

In the early 1980s, Universal devised a plan for its Florida studios and began looking for investment partners to share the risk. A two-hour presentation was put together, featuring concept artwork, blueprints, renderings and financial projections. The Florida tour was to be similar to the Hollywood version, and would be built around a brand-new, working production facility. The plans called for a “front lot” walking tour, as well as a tram tour through the studio’s backlot – similar in style to the existing tour at Universal Studios Hollywood.

King Kong

The Kong set-piece was ultimately built in Hollywood instead.

One set-piece, designed by Academy Award-winning art director Henry Bumstead, would see an enormous King Kong figure attack the tram as it passed over a New York bridge.

Catastrophe Canyon

Disney was accused of borrowing Universal’s Hollywood Canyon idea for its own Catastrophe Canyon.
Image © Disney

Another, the “Hollywood Canyon”, would see a tram rolling onto a bridge in view of the Hollywood Hills. A massive earthquake would then strike, causing a dam to crack and a wall of water to pour down towards the tram, which would escape into an oil field in time for riders to witness a semi-trailer truck explode after crashing into an oil tank.

When Disney announced its plans for Disney-MGM Studios in 1985, Universal was forced to revise its plans for Universal Studios Florida. It dropped the backlot tour altogether, replacing it with a number of individual rides based on set-pieces from the Hollywood tour.

Learn the full story behind Universal Orlando!

To learn more about the history of the Universal Orlando Resort and how its attractions were created, check out Universal Orlando: The Unofficial Story – the first book ever to document the resort’s creation and evolution, from its debut to the present day. The book is available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk in paperback and Kindle formats.