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