Home » 5 Reasons Why Universal’s Spider-Man Remains the Best Attraction in Florida

    5 Reasons Why Universal’s Spider-Man Remains the Best Attraction in Florida

    Image -- Jeremy Thompson, Wikimedia Commons

    Editor’s note: As usual with editorial features, please note that this article reflects Dakota’s views, and not those of every writer here at Theme Park Tourist.

    When talking about themed attractions – particularly ones that reside in theme parks we all know and love – it can be tough to take a step back and try to critique them from a neutral point of view. After all, the reason we all choose to ride these rides and visit these theme parks is that they bring us joy – joy we often experience with our friends and family. The memories of your favorite rides are colored not just by the rides themselves, but by who you were with, what your life was like at the time, and how the world has changed since you last experienced them. All of that combines to make it difficult to try and view these things impartially.

    But, if you do choose to take that step back and view things from a bit further out, an even more fun game presents itself:

    Which Central Florida attraction is the best? Not just a favorite. Not just a great ride. The best.

    Well, there are a few rides that belong in that conversation, but for my money, the answer to that question lies not in Walt Disney World, but at Universal’s Islands of Adventure:

    It’s the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man.

    No, really. Here’s why: 

    1. The queue

    Image -- Jeremy Thompson, Wikimedia Commons

    Believe it or not, Islands of Adventure was actually built at the perfect time for Universal. Not only were they able to learn from the mistakes and successes of Universal Studios, but they were also able to study and implement good practices from Disney’s parks.

    One of those good practices is the implementation of a well-themed, intricate queue for major attractions. Spider-Man’s queue, in particular, sets the stage for the ride in a wholly unique and deeply satisfying way.

    As guests take their walking tour of the Daily Bugle, they are transported into the saturated, panelized world of comic books. Every prop, wall, set piece, and light fixture is designed to look like an actual item you might find in a comic book, and the overall effect is the perfect thematic intro to the story being told on the attraction. Everything from the half-eaten sandwiches on Bugle reporters’ desks to the frantic briefings from the abrasive J. Jonah Jameson serves to introduce guests to the visual style of the world while offering an excellent time-killing distraction from the long waits the ride typically accumulates.

    If the goal of a queue is to efficiently organize waiting guests while gently guiding them into the world of the story, Spider-Man’s queue is essentially a case study in how to do all of that effectively.

    2. The vehicle

    Image -- Jeremy Thompson, Wikimedia Commons

    Directing, whether it’s for theater, film, or anything else, is largely about controlling the audience’s focus. In theater, directors often do this with lighting or blocking. In film, editing and shot selection can take care of it. In theme park design, it’s an awful lot harder to do.

    The ride vehicles for Spider-Man, however, are designed to fix this problem. Resembling a kind of cartoon automobile, the “Scoop” vehicle is essentially a motion simulator with wheels that enables it to move through the ride along a track. Disney created a similar technology around the same time (one that’s used in Dinosaur! at Animal Kingdom and Indiana Jones Adventure at Disneyland), but it’s the differences that really make Universal’s version shine.

    The key difference is that Universal’s vehicle is built with large walls surrounding the guests on three sides, rather than the more open version used by Disney. Now, these walls don’t appear imposing or enclosing when you first look at the “Scoop” vehicle, but the purpose they serve is to direct your attention out the front of the car at all times by removing any distractions from your field of view. This enables designers to know where a rider will have their attention focused, which allows for more intricate timing and subtle plot points. 

    And, of course, that’s in addition to to the car’s feisty and responsive motion simulator structure that enables it to create pretty much any movement you can imagine. The combination of storytelling importance and engineering prowess is the biggest reason it’s such an effective ride vehicle and one of the key components of Spider-Man’s success.

    3. The unique 3D technology

    Image © Universal

    Although it’s ubiquitous now, back in 1999, 3D was still something of a novelty. The only 3D movies that really existed could be found at theme parks – shows like MuppetVision 3D and Terminator 2: 3D. And so, within that context, the idea of a thrill ride featuring 3D technology seemed rather far-fetched.

    Nevertheless, when Spider-Man opened, it delivered a roving motion simulator attraction with a significant amount of 3D film. It seemed impossible to wrap your head around – how could 3D scenes be synchronized with a moving car? How could the glasses stay on your head?

    Through some engineering wizardry, Universal figured it out. They invented their own technique for keeping a 3D film in focus for a moving vehicle, and managed to put together some beautifully animated sequences where Peter Parker fights the villains of the Sinister Syndicate. The quality of the 3D film, combined with the synchronization of the 3D with the vehicles movements, further pushes the feeling of being transported into a comic book and allows guests to connect even deeper with the story.

    4. The combination of 3D film and physical sets

    Image © Universal

    But even with the high quality of the 3D films, the ride’s most amazing triumph is how those 3D scenes interact with real, physical sets contained within the ride. It is this combination of 3D film and the physical space that really puts Spider-Man in a class of its own.

    It starts right at the beginning, with Spider-Man introducing himself by seemingly landing on the front of the Scoop vehicle. Through a combination of brilliant film directing, amazing 3D technology, and perfectly synchronized movements, guests can see and feel Spider-Man landing on the car. It’s a stunning effect just moments into the ride, and it cleverly introduces guests to both the ride’s main character and the kinds of motions they can expect the vehicle to make.

    Of course, Spider-Man’s most famous effect is its finale – a massive, breathtaking free fall from high atop New York City. Despite never actually elevating into the air, the combination of 3D screens and physical fake buildings tricks the brain into thinking it’s actually falling from the sky – only to be caught at the last second by Spider-Man’s web. While it’s only an illusion, it perfectly encapsulates the brilliance of the attraction.

    5. The aesthetic completeness

    Image -- Jeremy Thompson, Wikimedia Commons

    Individually, these elements are all incredible, but it’s how they interact that makes The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man truly the best. The queue invites guests into the comic book world of Spider-Man, making them comfortable with the main visual aesthetic of the attraction. The vehicles continue that visual aesthetic while also providing guests with a clear point of focus within the ride itself. All of that enables the 3D effects to work perfectly and, in turn, having the 3D effects working perfectly is what allows the attraction to use its creative interplay between 3D scenes and physical effects. The ride is aeshetically consistent and complete from start to finish.

    While other attractions might operate similarly, it’s this interaction between the various storytelling mechanisms that make Spider-Man a unique adventure. From start to finish, guests are transported into the world of Spider-Man and given every opportunity to feel exactly what that world is like. The technical elements are there not simply to thrill guests, but to immerse them in the story of the ride. It takes guests through dark city streets, to the tops of the highest skyscrapers, and everywhere in between – all while never leaving the ground.