So we’ve been chasing two threads there:
- By the mid-1990s, the “studio” park concept was already showing its age, and plans for Animal Kingdom helped redefine what the next generation of parks would look (and most importantly, feel) like.
- When Eisner axed Beastly Kingdom from Animal Kingdom’s lineup, Imagineers considered it the last straw after an era of cost cutting and fled the company, taking their cancelled designed with them.
Here’s where our two plot lines seem to converge.
Though Universal Studios Florida had opened in 1990, it seemed doomed to be nothing more than an aside. If Universal was lucky, it could draw guests away from Disney World for a meager day trip. And to be fair, Universal didn’t try very hard to court Disney’s demographic anyway, mostly relegating its ride lineup to blockbuster disaster rides where earthquakes, apes, sharks, and dinosaurs attacked mercilessly.
And just like at the Disney-MGM Studios, the fall of the “studio” theme had hurt Universal. Even less than a decade from opening, its park was feeling stale creatively and in terms of content, with rides that recalled movies from the ‘70s and ‘80s growing increasingly less "pop" to modern crowds.
But Universal had a plan.
Though industry fans may have been quick to write Universal off as a non-issue, fated forever to operate nothing but “studio” parks filled with boxy showbuildings and second-class dark rides, Universal’s ambitions were a little more adventurous. They had plans to transform their single, solitary studio park into one piece of a much larger, master-planned resort. Sure, they’d add a handful of concierge-level resort hotels, a dining and shopping district of their own, and mega-infrastructure to tie it all together, but the pièce de résistance would be simple: a second theme park.
Universal’s Islands of Adventure
Just as the design and development of Animal Kingdom ramped up, Universal was hard at work on designs of their own for a never-built park called Cartoon World. But when Beastly Kingdom went belly-up, the story goes that Universal greeted Disney’s disdained Imagineers with four industry-changing words:
Build it here instead.
Universal’s Islands of Adventure was dreamed up, designed by, and built by Imagineers who’d fled Disney’s cost-cutting ways. And in this second gate for Universal, they would prove what they could do with a little faith and trust… no Pixie dust required.
There, Universal would dispense entirely with the cop-out “studio” style, soundstages, lighting rigs, and behind-the-scenes motif. Their second gate would meet, match, and – in places – exceed Disney’s standards, crafting immersive, cinematic themed lands. Rather than seeing how movies were made, at this new theme park guests would step into timeless stories, becoming adventurers thrust into the adventure, action, comedy, thrill, wonder, and whimsy of books, comics... and legends.
And anyone who’s been to Universal’s Islands of Adventure can tell you: it truly is an amazing park. From the frantic streets of Marvel Super Hero Island (featuring a ride so prolific, it earned its own in-depth entry here – Modern Marvels: The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man), to the dense jungles of Jurassic Park; the pastel shores of the delightfully-designed Seuss Landing and the comic pathways of Toon Lagoon…
In Islands of Adventure, Universal had assembled a world-class lineup of intellectual properties (and most importantly, all timeless and sought-after ones) that could coexist in a new prototype park layout (“islands” arranged around a lagoon) that now feels as second nature as Disneyland’s hub-and-spokes format. Endlessly adaptable, Islands of Adventure feels fittingly “classic,” “current,” and “forward-thinking” all at once.
Perhaps guests’ first inclination that this park would rival Disney’s creative dominance begins at the very gates with the park’s entry land – its “Main Street” equivalent – Port of Entry. A kinetic seaside port village composed as if by all cultures of the world coming together, this trading outpost is so packed with detail, it would take a day to take it in.
It also happens to feature what may be one of the most gorgeous and thoughtful park icons ever: the towering Pharos Lighthouse, composed of ancient red brick and a slight slant, looms over the port, its vibrant beam circling the park each night.
Port of Entry would be the perfect fit for this park – one of dissimilar parts coming together to form a complete piece. But even it wouldn’t be the landmark creative icon of a new, 21st century park… So what was?
The Lost Continent
Seuss Landing, Marvel Super Hero Island, Toon Lagoon, and Jurassic Park each bring to life the stories, settings, characters, and adventures we recognize from picture books, comic books, the Sunday funnies, and feature films. But the sixth land at Universal’s Islands of Adventure was a bit different.
As you leave the whimsical waves of Seuss Landing behind, a bridge over an arm of the Great Sea appears ahead. It’s made of dark wood bolted with metal rivets and chains – a distinct departure from the curving, cartoon world of the Sneeches. And across that bridge stands a stone sentry: an unusual creature with the head and wings of an eagle, the gripped claws of a lion, and the coiled, scaled tail and fins of a fish. A flaming torch embedded in the guardian’s pedestal draws the eye to this unique land’s name: The Lost Continent.
Uneven planters made of red rock spill over with wild plants and shrubs that give a decidedly untamed look to this entry plaza. But now, the path curves to the left. The Lost Continent is divided into three distinct realms of legend, and the path from Seuss Landing leads to an amazing sight in the first.
Are you ready to experience the three fantasy realms of The Lost Continent? Our walkthrough begins on the next page…