Kongfrontation photo op

Before Skull Island: Reign of Kong’s opening inside Universal’s Islands of Adventure in 2015, the park was short the presence of the great ape for twelve years. Back when Universal Studios Florida first opened in Orlando in 1990, Kongfrontation, a sky tram style attraction heavy on special effects, would bring guests up close and personal with King Kong himself.

The original ride itself relied heavily on special effects that would immerse guests into the destructive nature of the rampaging gorilla and his path of chaos through the streets of New York City. As guests maneuvered through the queue, they would be met with graffiti-covered walls and various news programs broadcasting the damages caused by King Kong. The queue would proceed up a long ramp that let out onto the boarding station of the sky tram. Guests would board, being informed they were being evacuated to Roosevelt Island in order to move citizens away from the gorilla’s rampage.

Kongfrontation animatronic head
Jcx, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

 As the tram moved along, guests would begin to see the path of devastation left behind–overturned cars, out-of-control fires, and even a derailed elevated train. As the tram neared the river, guests would have their first encounter with King Kong himself–a massive, full-sized animatronic holding onto the bridge and roaring at the tram as it narrowly passed by. After the close encounter with the ape, the tram successfully crossed the river to safety–at least, until Kong crossed after it! 

A second, larger animatronic was used during this scene. It weighed around 13,000 pounds and the scent of bananas would waft through the tram each time it roared at visitors. The ape would lift the tram and give guests an up close view, then released the tram as a nearby police helicopter opened fire at him. Finally reaching safety, guests were shown on overheard monitors that they had been featured on a news program depicting their close encounter with the beast. 

Kongfrontation Photo Station
LEONARDO DASILVA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

After being prompted to exit the tram, guests would enter the Safari Outfitters gift shop where they could pick up any King Kong merchandise and have their picture taken with a large statue of the gorilla as if he were attempting to grab at them.

Like many of Universal’s opening day attractions, Kongfrontation had no shortage of technical difficulties. The massive animatronics were especially prone to breaking down due to their advanced capabilities, and later had to be limited on the number of movements they could make in an attempt to streamline the consistent technical problems. Even with these changes, the ride was never guaranteed to operate completely successfully, and even if the animatronics were functioning, some of the special effects may not be.

Despite its issues, Kongfrontation was met with massively positive reviews, with many guests recounting their experience as “unreal”. To this day, Kongfrontation is viewed as one of Universal Studios’ landmark attractions despite no longer holding a presence in the park. This ride was a classic must-do for park goers, but despite the nostalgic factor it held for many visitors, even the King himself was not fully immune to the constantly changing landscape of the theme park around him.

The ride operated successfully until 2002, when it was permanently closed to make room for a brand new attraction themed around the popular The Mummy franchise starring Brendan Fraser. Despite the backlash from fans, Universal chose to use the large soundstage to house the new indoor rollercoaster. Though no comment regarding the reason behind Universal’s choice to pull the plug on the beloved attraction, it is believed that the operating costs and repairs were too great to warrant a long term presence in the park.

After Kongfrontation’s closure, the interior was gutted and reshaped to fit the theme of the new ride–a film set cursed by the mummy Imhotep. As guests enter the new queue, they can admire the hieroglyphics painted on the walls and pillars and the abundance of Egyptian memorabilia distributed about the queue. On overhead monitors, some members of the film crew discuss their unease about the set, believing it to be cursed, but Brendan Fraser is much more skeptical… at least, until the end of the ride when Imhotep appears to finally deliver his cup of coffee!

Revenge of the Mummy Queue
Jeremy Thompson, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Not all remnants of Kongfrontation could be scrubbed from the building; In fact, Kongfrontation’s tram track was built into the building itself, and having it removed would prove to be too difficult and expensive an undertaking, and would require a large portion of the show building to be demolished and rebuilt. Instead, Universal chose to utilize the darkness of Revenge of the Mummy’s interior to their advantage, and his the suspended track pieces in the shadows where they remain in place and intact to this day.

In fact, there’s even a portion of the Kongfrontation track that is visible while taking a ride on Revenge of the Mummy. As you’re going down the final drop after the false ending where the ceiling erupts into flames (it’s also where the camera takes your picture, I regrettably know from personal experience as a number of my on-ride photos have my neck craned back to look), look up above the red-tinted mist to see this intriguing piece of theme park history. 

The original ride track is not the only reminder of Kong’s presence inside the building. As you are riding through the treasure room, be on the lookout for a little golden ape statue hidden amongst the treasure behind the skeleton guards.

Although Kongfrontation no longer stands in the park, King Kong himself still maintains a heavy presence over on the Islands of Adventure side. In 2015, a new ride was opened to the public–Skull Island: Reign of Kong, a 3D style ride that utilized large screens on either side of the ride vehicle to make guests feel as though they are experiencing the dangerous and deadly Skull Island for themselves. 

The highlight of the attraction is undoubtedly the massive gorilla animatronic that greets guests toward the end of the ride. Although not as large as the original Kongfrontation animatronics (as this one is only the upper body of Kong), the incredible attention to detail and natural-looking movements makes the large gorilla scarily realistic.

Reign of Kong Facade During Construction
Eliedion, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Skull Island has received a more mixed reception from guests than the original, with some believing that there was a loss of immersion and realism due to the switch from special effects to 3D screens. 

What do you think? Do you prefer the original Kongfrontation, or do you believe Skull Island: Reign of Kong is a suitable successor to this beloved opening day attraction


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