An opening day attraction at Universal Orlando, Kongfrontation was technologically groundbreaking, highly immersive, and extremely realistic. The ride did an excellent job of taking guests from the backlot to the center of the action, even casting them as stars in an unexpected twist ending that had them appear in “breaking” news footage. Yet it was also a master of illusion, carefully hiding some of its best secrets from its visitors. Here are 5 things you never knew about Kongfrontation.
1. The animatronics were unpredictable
The 39-foot tall audio-animatronic King Kongs went “inside the envelope.” This means that the animatronics’ hands and arms actually entered the space around the ride vehicles that would normally trigger an intrusion reaction. Getting the animatronics and ride vehicles to play nicely with each other was complicated, and some of the most interesting situations I experienced as a team member were based on those interactions.
My favorite day at Kong was possibly the biggest nightmare for the ride techs, Guest Services, and even the PR department. I came in at 3 p.m. for a closing shift, to learn that the ride had been alternately open and closed all day. Nothing was wrong with it, per se, except for the unfortunate placement of one Kong figure’s hand. His fist was tightly closed except for his middle finger, which was waving proudly at every guest who passed by.
2. The graffiti was real
The premise behind Kongfrontation was that Kong was on a rampage through New York, and guests were being evacuated to the relative safety of Roosevelt Island. The overhead ride vehicles were modeled on the real Roosevelt Island Tramway, while the boarding station was modeled on New York’s subway stations. To heighten the realism, Universal brought in actual New York graffiti artists rather than attempting to recreate their work. Of course, over the years, park visitors made their own additions, from signing their names to drawing elaborate pictures. While it wasn’t officially sanctioned, we tended to look the other way. This made Kongfrontation feel a little more special to many guests, who looked forward to revisiting or adding to their work on each trip.
3. We could actually drive the trams
Like most ride vehicles, the trams generally operated in an automatic mode. The tram driver had to hold down a switch, known as the deadman, during the times that the tram interacted with the audio-animatronics. If we forgot to push the switch, the Kong figures would stop moving for safety reasons.
Beyond that, however, we were also able to switch the trams into a manual operation mode. In manual mode, we could control not only the forward and backward and up and down movements, but also the pitch and yaw. This was most often used when we were parking trams at night, which could involve lowering a tram onto the floor of one of the show scenes or parking one very close behind another, or when taking a tram offline into the maintenance bay. However, we also used these controls during ride stops and emergency stops, when a tram could suddenly halt in a weirdly angled position.
Driving a tram in manual mode meant turning knobs mounted on a large piece of plastic that looked sort of like a big electrical box. Of course, we got detailed instructions over the radio from our control tower and maintenance technicians, but it was still quite an adrenaline rush!