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Disney Accidentally Designed, then Destroyed Universal’s Best Land Ever. This is the Full Story.

The Lost City

Image: Universal

The Lost City is the most mystical of the Lost Continent’s realms, clearly an ode to the ancient gods of old. Rounding the corner, you’ll get your first glimpse of this amazing land: an otherworldly sandstone cliff reaches five stories high, eroded and carved by wind and rain with unnatural geometric peaks and carved ornate ancient domes. Most amazingly, the rock face is believably alive with a host of ancient carved faces, with waterfalls gushing from their mouths, tumbling down the cliff and splattering into pools below.

This incredible mountain range houses Mythos, an award-winning full service restaurant whose interior is nearly as impressive as the exterior. Inside, the restaurant appears to have been shaped by centuries of wind and water, creating crystalline rock formations, waterfalls, and still more carved faces. The dining room has its own detailed mythology and reason for being, explaining each nook and cranny with unbelievable commitment.

Image: Universal

What’s most amazing is that following the rocky exterior around to its lagoon-side, you’ll find an elegantly-carved stone Atlas holding the mountain on his back as, all around him, waterfalls roll into ponds filled with fish. This vantage point also provides for an unparalleled view of the various islands scattered around the sea – a truly remarkable quality that each land offers in its own way.

Click and expand for a more detailed view. Image: katsuhiro7110, Flickr

As impressive as Mythos may be, it’s nothing compared to the Lost City’s icon: the Temple of Poseidon, a sincerely staggering ruin that – like many natural wonders – photographs simply can’t capture. The size and scale here is so massive, even those who’ve visited before tend to be impressed upon seeing the building in person again. The “weenie” here is an eighty-foot-tall Trident, still gripped in the stone hand of a toppled statue that must’ve been five hundred feet tall.

Image: Theme Park Tourist

The Temple itself houses one of the park’s claims to fame: Poseidon’s Fury. You may hear it called a “dark ride,” a “walkthrough,” or a “special effects show.” The truth is a combination of all three. We’ll say that Universal’s Islands of Adventure was billed as “the most technologically advanced theme park on Earth” at its opening, and a portion of that title is thanks to what awaits inside Poseidon’s Fury.

But to find out what it is, you’ll need to trek to the temple’s doors by weaving through the cracked plaza before it, which looks as if it was burst upward from some deep-sea upheaval. Springs gush water down tectonic cracks as you walk between the two massive feet and crumbled torso of the once-towering statue.

The ruins of this lost world are worth admiring, but we’ve got to move on. The Lost Continent contains many stories, and the next is a world away.

Sinbad’s Bazaar

Image: Universal

Themed to the Middle Eastern legends of Sinbad the Sailor from One Thousand and One Nights, the waterlogged wonders of the Lost City melt away into this Arabian marketplace of fire-eaters, serpents, ornamental rugs, and grilled meats. Sinbad’s Bazaar is populated by artisans and princesses… an exotic and distant world.

Image: Theme Park Tourist

The would-be headliner here is the park’s stunt show, dressed neatly in an Arabian amphitheater, The Eighth Voyage of Sinbad. It’s got your typical theme park stunt show flair, dressed in a legend of Sinbad and his motley sidekick Kabob as they race to rescue a princess from the evil witch Miseria. The truth is, the designers who cooked up Islands of Adventure designed the stunning stage before a script was written, so Sinbad would easily rank near the bottom of theme park stunt shows even if its flame effects (including an actor set ablaze before leaping down a waterfall) are impressive.

Image: Theme Park Tourist

But what’s got to be the most fun in Sinbad’s Bazaar is an unassuming sideshow: The Mystic Fountain is an all-knowing oracle trapped within a magical statue at the entrance to the theater. Through live digital puppeting, the spirit of the fountain interacts with guests in real time with hilarious conversations, surprising insight, and ancient wisdom. But seeing as it’s a fountain, it also has some tricks up its sleeves… And dozens of hidden spray nozzles ensure that even if you think you’re safe, you may be in “the splash zone.”

But now, it’s time to press onward into the heart of the Lost Continent to step into a third story, this one yet another world away.

Merlinwood

From Grecian ruins to the Middle East, the final "chapter" in the epic adventure story of the Lost Continent resides in a misty Medieval forest where tales of sorcery, magic, and mystery await. The village of Merlinwood is an outpost of thatched-roof huts, cobblestone streets, torch-lit pubs, and ancient rune stones scattered throughout town. Like something from World of Warcraft, this explorable hamlet feels like a living, breathing remnant of the tales of King Arthur.

Unsurprisingly, the story of Merlinwood is something like a spin-off of The Once and Future King, as in this chapter, we find Merlin – Arthur's sorcerer and guard – aged and powerless after the deception of Nimue, retired to the sleepy hamlet. There's just one problem... a menace has appeared, roosting in the decripid castle just outside of town...

But even with dark creatures looming, local villagers can be found in the town's pub.

Image: Universal

The Enchanted Oak Tavern looks as if it might indeed have been the result of a magical spell of some kind, its gnarled branches and bulging bark taking on the shape of Merlin himself, as if encased in the tree. Inside, the Tavern offers grilled and smoked meats and pub-fare – exactly the kind of place to kick up your feet by the fire and recount tales of daring. The surprising hollowed-out interior also offers a gorgeous stained-glass window as a ceiling. 

Attached is the Alchemy Bar. But the real storytelling coup for themed entertainment fans (and evidence of Imagineering's DNA) is out back, along the Tavern's waterfront. There, a tremendous root of the tree has crawled across the village's stone steppe to the water, as if supplying the magical tree from the park's central lagoon.

The Flying Unicorn, set just outside of the village in a forested nook, is a family coaster (your standard fare, technically identical to Magic Kingdom's Barnstormer) that zooms along the hillside. Its trains – armor-plated, with a mechanical look and a horn atop the lead car – are evidence of an intricate backstory about a magical wizard-inventor who assembled the trains from leftover armor, bringing them to life with the enchanted unicorn horn that lets them fly. The coaster was added in 2000, when early criticism of the park held that it didn't offer enough for families.

For thrill-seekers, though, Islands of Adventure offers a one-of-a-kind roller coaster experience – a crown-jewel in the park's moniker, "the most technologically advanced theme park on Earth." Just past Merlinwood's central village plaza stands a towering monument to an age-old battle: fifty-foot tall carvings of battle-scarred dragons. Pyrock (carved in carnelian red stone, coiled around a pillar of flames) and Blizzrock (carved of cobalt, clawed onto a pillar of ice) serve as the entrance to Dueling Dragons.

Image: Universal

Gazing between the pillars, guests would witness a most astounding site: the interwoven red and blue tracks of inverted roller coasters, spiraling over each other in aerial combat. A wooded path along the twisted tracks of the dragons' battlefield leads to a derelict, vine-covered, foreboding castle that serves as the roller coaster's queue. Just inside, stained glass windows come to life, narrating the unusual tale of this once-palatial place:

Image: Universal

"Shattered glass. Crumbled stones. What is now hallowed and ruined was, in distant days past, a castle, so fair beyond words, that a sorcerer of great renown here settled to pass in peace in the twilight of his years. Until they came; descended like a winged curse; a twin plague of demonic dragons. The king’s army quickly fell, and then, in desperation, the entire kingdom turned to the sorcerer.

Alas, he was too old to long oppose fiends so fierce and powerful. And so the castle fell, its riches plundered, its land scorched, and its people scattered like ash upon the wind. To this day, the dragons remain – and so too, the sorcerer – to discourage foolish knaves such as yourselves, yearning for a chivalrous challenge, such as a ride upon dueling dragons! How do I come to tell this tale? My name is Merlin..."

The intricate queue – easily on par with Disneyland's famed Indiana Jones Adventure – was no less than half a mile, touring through the castle's dilapidated remains... and past the remains of knights who dared try to disturb the dragons' dogfight. Through scarred and burnt chambers lit by flickering candles and the scorched remains of would-be heroes to chilled, misty chambers with knights forever frozen, to winding catacombs the dragons had burrowed, and finally, Merlin's Tower. There, with Merlin's spellbook at hand, guests would face ominous instructions.

Image: Universal

"Choose thy fate. Past this point of no return, your own choice is freeze or burn."

Dueling Dragons, of course, was not one, but two B&M inverted roller coasters interwoven in eternal battle over the marsh outside of Merlinwood. While the Fire Dragon and Ice Dragon might share side-by-side 125-foot-tall lift hills, the two coasters then dive in opposite directions, diverging into entirely separate rides with unique elements, different speeds, and separate features.

But here's what makes Dueling Dragons different from any other coaster you've ridden: before being dispatched, both trains were weighed via a patented computer system that would then slightly adjust skid brakes along the ride's course. Even if the Fire Dragon and Ice Dragon have entire unique layouts, precisely calculating their weight to adjust their speed meant that at three key points along the rides' courses, the two dragons would attack, with combat moves that placed the Fire and Ice Dragons within eighteen inches of each other.

Imagine, racing headlong toward another train, with both pulling up and looping at the last possible second...

Elsewhere, the Fire Dragon would leap over the Ice Dragon as it spiraled upside down...

Image: Joel Rogers, CoasterGallery.com. Used with permission.

Dueling Dragons was a must-see... a thrill Disney couldn't touch, with just the right touch of storyline. And, if you're keeping notes, you might notice that it (and the rest of Merlinwood) had a lot in common with Beastly Kingdom.

As the winding, forested path weaves out of Merlinwood, you'll pass another griffin sentry, identical to the one we passed on the way from Seuss Landing. Now, its twin tells us that our time in this legendary Lost Continent is coming to a close. The evergreen forests of Merlinwood give way to a bridge over the Great Sea where, across the water, the tropical rainforests of Isla Nublar and Jurassic Park begin adventures anew.

Three Tales

Image: Universal

The brilliance of The Lost Continent was in its audacity to feature three entirely separate stories, together. From the ancient ruins of a waterlogged lost city to the mystery and intrigue of the Middle East and finally to the Medieval village of Arthurian legend, the Lost Continent may indeed have been the most jaw-dropping themed land in Florida. From Poseidon's Fury to Dueling Dragons, this epic land of adventure was an original creation... even if it wasn't all of Universal's design...

Even if The Lost Continent was a gem in Islands of Adventure's ambitious lineup – a Disney-quality land of unthinkable sights and unimaginable technology – it was also doomed.

We'll seal this legend's fate and finish out the tale on the last page... Read on...

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There are 5 comments.

It's a shame that there don't seem to be many photos of the Merlinwood area, particularly inside the Enchanted Oak and Dragons queue. I remember both fondly. The Dragons queue now just seems boring in comparison to how it used to be.

What a crazy, twisted story! I knew the details about all these lands separately, but never thought about how closely they are all connected.

I always feel a pang of sadness when I think about what could have been with Beastly Kingdom. As beautiful and immersive as Animal Kingdom is, it could have desperately used a few more rides and a little more "Disney" whimsy and storytelling. I know I would have loved Beastly Kingdom, maybe even more than any other land at WDW.

However, if following the logic above, the construction of Beastly Kingdom may have resulted in the Wizarding World never being built. Or at the very least it could exist in an entirely different capacity than it does today. As a HUGE Potter fan, that is a tough pill to swallow.

If only there was a world where we could have both...

On the other hand, though I am not at all invested in the Avatar franchise, I am very much looking forward to experiencing Pandora at Animal Kingdom. I have been floored so far by all the pictures and videos I have seen. This land looks like the next level of immersive theming, which I think will make up for the underwhelming source material.

An incredible story very well written. I absolutely adore the Dueling Dragons and have no idea why it isn't as revered as the Hulk. I enjoy them more actually. When they dueled was especially awesome. Seeing the other "dragon" line up with you in the lift hill was something unique and fun. The queue itself was something to really behold. Best queue hands down in the history of theme parks. Did you know that there was very slight whispering in the catacombs section? I learned one day when it was slow and I ran ahead and there was noone else around. Really awesome touch that I'm sure very few people realized. Why in the world would Universal want to get rid of it? (if the rumors are true) Also does anyone know what the incident was in 2011 that caused Universal to mismatch the coasters?

I found this on a wiki page. "Dragon Challenge Edit
Main article: Dragon Challenge
On July 1, 2009, an employee was walking underneath the coaster in a restricted area when he was hit by a train during a test run. The victim suffered multiple head injuries and was taken to a nearby hospital.[2]

On July 31, 2011, a tourist was injured when an unidentified object hit him in the eye while riding Dragon Challenge. Prior to the incident, the guest had only one good eye, therefore the incident resulted in the guest completely losing his sight. Dragon Challenge remained shut for less than 24 hours after the incident with Universal concluding that the ride was safe.[3][4][5]

On August 10, 2011, a rider was struck by an object while riding the attraction, injuring his face and leg. As a result of this and the aforementioned incident in which a rider lost sight in one eye, Universal officials announced that the two roller coasters would no longer operate simultaneously, pending an investigation into both incidents.[6] In October 2011, officials suspended the dueling aspect of the ride permanently."

I remember back in 2002 starting the day at I.O.A on the verandah of the Enchanted Tavern overlooking the lake. Now sadly gone but it encaptured the whole feel of that Land. Sights, sounds and smells as the sun rose above the treeline and the excitement of the day ahead coursed through our veins.
I much prefer Lands that have the capacity to develop organically rather than the trend of the " all eggs in one basket" policy.
No doubt Potter is popular and Avatar looks amazing. But they have limitations. A more fluid themed Land has endless scope and can be more readily tweaked and changed. Just my opinion of course.

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