After many years of slowly whittling away, it seems that the end of the Lost Continent is upon us... When Universal Islands of Adventure opened in 1999, the Lost Continent considered one of the park's headlining features. Comprised of three mini-lands dedicated to the tales of King Arthur, Sinbad the Sailor, and Greek gods, this realm of myths and legends contained three of the park's heaviest hitters: Dueling Dragons, The Eighth Voyage of Sindbad stunt show, and the Lost Legend: Poseidon's Fury that was finally sealed in May 2023.
Now, all eyes are positioned forward, imagining what may become of the remnants of the Lost Continent... And as early as 2020, our friends at Orlando Park Stop have suggested that Universal's newfound partnership with Nintendo makes one concept a clear winner: The Legend of Zelda.
Since 1986, this Nintendo flagship property has whisked guests away to the high fantasy realm of Hyrule, contending with guiding fairies, ancient machines, sealed temples, mystical flutes, and magical swords... seemingly, a natural successor to the Lost Continent itself.
Even before the closure of Poseidon's Fury had been announced, I had done a little "armchair Imagineering," drawing up my Blue Sky dreams of how Hyrule could replace the Lost Continent... So I hope you'll join me on a quest through the Realm of Zelda as I dream it could be at Universal Islands of Adventure...
There's always been something that makes Islands of Adventure different from any other Universal Park. And if you ask us, the difference is simple: while most Universal parks revolve around movies, Islands of Adventure is a park about stories. Whether it's the picture books of Dr. Seuss, Marvel comic books, the myths and legends of Lost Continent, the classic Jurassic Park, or even the magical village of Hogsmeade, this was a park founded on timelessness; characters that don't just matter "for now" (see, almost everything next door at Universal Studios Florida) but "forever."
Which may make it weird that my proposal for replacing a land as original, literary, and timeless as The Lost Continent would be a video game. But I hope you’ll hear me out. Remember, we're thinking not movies, but stories as a basis for Islands of Adventure...
And frankly, The Legend of Zelda is surely among the most astounding stories and worlds imagined in the last century. Set within and around the Kingdom of Hyrule, the series’ protagonist Link has taken many forms between 8-bit and Tears of the Kingdom, but the depth of this world is incredible. And more to the point, it’s intergenerational and evergreen, continuously renewing and reviving.
The Legend of Zelda is so theme park-able, it made our list of “What’s Left?” properties just waiting to be made into “Living Lands.” So even though the idea of adding a video game to Islands of Adventure might seem like something I would be against (and generally I would be – I would not place Super Nintendo Land in Islands of Adventure), "Zelda" is special.
A sort of Lord of the Rings of video games, The Legend of Zelda is one of swords and sorcery; quests and countdowns; magic and fairies; villages and castles… In many ways, it's a fitting spiritual successor for the Lost Continent! This is a world worth exploring, and a story worth living. Also like Lord of the Rings, it’s very difficult to select a single place, time, or icon from the world to bring to life. So here’s what I did…
To be honest, I was a Sega kid growing up, and have only limited experience with Zelda. So I worked with what I knew, did some research, and worked out the land you see here.
In designing this “island,” I actually worked only with the Lost City section of the Lost Continent (expanding into backstage areas, too) to create a theme-park-able version of Hyrule. Having this land break off of the “wheel” formed by the park’s main path actually works in its favor in my mind, because it makes the land’s E-Ticket a “quest” in its own right – something you have to travel to instead of just encountering it as you loop around the park. In that way, Hyrule requires you to begin, to venture out, and to return. I like that.
Regardless of which of its neighboring islands you enter from, Hyrule begins in Kokiri Forest – Link’s home village, deep in the Lost Woods. With its homes carved into gigantic trees (above) and suspension bridges connecting second-story spaces, this feels like such a warm, welcoming, fantasy place.
Even for those who aren't familiar with "Zelda," this feels like a place that instantly communicates a high fantasy world, and the start of a journey. This is a cozy, comfortable home from which we'll depart.
… And of course, it’s all reigned over by the guardian spirit of the Deku Tree. What I love about this personified tree as an anchor of Kokiri Village is that in one fell swoop, it manages to both echo the prominent, iconic Trident of Poseidon that used to occupy exactly the same space, while also recalling the Enchanted Oak Tavern of Merlinwood, long since replaced by the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade.
Even though a smarter person may have started from scratch, I decided to save Mythos, reforming the iconic restaurant’s exterior slightly and giving it a mossier gray-brown stone appearance to become THE WEEPING ROCK RESTAURANT. I feel that the interior still lends itself to the world of Zelda, and reframing it as an enchanted place in the Lost Woods still feels like it works…
Departing from Kokiri, travelers would find themselves beneath the creaking windmill of the WINDWARD OCARINAS. This music shop’s main purpose is, of course, to sell Fairy Ocarinas – this land’s version of the Wizarding World’s interactive wands. Though incredibly simple, these interactive “vessel flutes” would be used to interact throughout the land.
For example, those who exit the Ocarina shop, stand on the bronze plaque before the windmill, and play the Song of Time would see the windmill grind to a halt and reverse direction. Epona’s song would cause a sleeping animatronic horse to awake and neigh in a stable in Kokiri. I think tons of (invented) songs can be used to bring the land to life. For example, the Song of the Sun performed by the lagoon’s edge would cause a lighthouse beacon to illuminate; the Song of Springs would cause water jets to leap from a rock, providing a drinking fountain. I’ve marked interactive Ocarina spots on the map above with an O.
From the Ocarina Shoppe, the trail continues on through the Lost Woods. There, under the shade of the Deku Tree, is a wagon serving DEKU JUICE – what I envision as a Butterbeer counterpart. This sweet, woody, cinnamon cranberry drink with almond maple foam “sap” would appear to come from spile taps hammered right into the bark of the Deku Tree himself. (Gross, I know, but maybe he likes it!)
Nearby would reside DEKU DANCE – a swirling family flat ride. Look, if you've read my build-outs of Disney California Adventure or Disney's Hollywood Studios, you know I'm always trying to find excuses to up parks’ family capacity. Where a good-looking flat ride works, I think we should embrace it. Everyone loves an E-Ticket, but parks also need those supporting rides, and they're not quite as exciting to market so they tend to get left behind...
Deku Dance would be a Zamperla Demolition Derby – the same off-the-shelf ride model as Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree in California Adventure’s Cars Land, or Alien Swirling Saucers in Hollywood Studios’ Toy Story Land. However, this version would be just one ride system (both of Disney’s versions have two for doubled capacity, which Islands doesn’t need) and would see guests sit in wooden wagons pulled by Deku Scrubs (above).
This is an incredibly fun ride both to experience and to watch, as the wagons swing side to side while turning on turntables and rapidly swapping between interconnected turntables in near-miss “dances.” Imagining one of these in the shaded cover of the Deku Tree and swirling to the wonderfully chaotic and playful music of the Lost Woods, it just seems… perfect.