Yesterday Universal finally confirmed what we’ve been telling you for more than a year now: King Kong is returning to Universal Orlando Resort after an absence of more than a decade.
Set to debut in 2016, Skull Island: Reign of Kong will easily be the most ambitious project ever to come to Universal Orlando Resort, surpassing recent favorites like Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey in both scale and technical prowess. Though Universal is still keeping some secrets about this brand new attraction, here’s everything that we know so far about this upcoming attraction:
1. The ride will feature a mix of animatronics, physical sets and screens
There’s been some criticism levied at Universal parks recently about their reliance on screen based attractions (Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts as well as Transformers: The Ride being two fresh examples). However, it looks like Skull Island: Reign of Kong will feature a mix of animatronics and screen-based effects, with Universal Creative Executive Producer Mike West calling it “multi-experiential” in an interview with Orlando Business Journal, essentially confirming the presence of both screens and animatronics (in the vaguest way possible).
Of course, the literal 800-lb gorilla in the room is King Kong himself. Universal executives have declined to say whether King Kong himself will be animatronic, but based on several credible sources including the alway-reliable Theme Park Insider, we’re inclined to believe that he will be animatronic in at least part of the ride. West has also said that the ride uses new technology that he isn’t allowed to talk about quite yet, which could perhaps mean that Kong could be a next-generation animatronic, which would be an exciting development indeed!
2. It will be using expedition truck-style ride vehicles
At first glance, it’s easy to mistake the open-sided ride vehicles pictured above for those in use at the Kilimanjaro Safaris attraction in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. However, it has been hinted at that some of the “new technology” that will be a part of the ride will pertain to the ride vehicles. Based on the concept art is seems likely that there will be a human “driver” in the driver’s seat, but how much actual navigating will be done by this person remains to be seen, as some have suggested that this ride will use a trackless navigation system with the person in the driver's seat simply providing a spiel for guests.
Regardless of the way the vehicle actually gets through the ride, these giant, high-capacity trucks should help move plenty of guests through this attraction, giving Skull Island: Reign of Kong a very high capacity (and hopefully a short wait time as a result).
3. It will be at least partially inspired by the 2005 Peter Jackson film
While not a retelling of 2005’s King Kong film, Skull Island: Reign of Kong is being developed in part by film director Peter Jackson, who is reponible for giving this attraction a similar look and feel to his own film. Although the ride will have a story all its own, it will be designed to tie in nicely both with 2005's film as well as any sequels in the same way that Transformers: The Ride ties into its respective films without directly referencing them.
4. The queue will be heavily themed and tie into the ride experience
One of the hallmarks of Islands of Adventure attraction Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is its sprawling queue, which is considered by many to be an attraction all by itself (guests who don't wish to ride often ask for the "Castle Tour" so they can still see this amazing queue). Though more recent attraction queues at Transformers: The Ride and Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts have tried to capture this experience, they have sadly come up short.
However, Skull Island: Reign of Kong is looking to return to the highly immersive queue concept, and is even looking to take this idea one step further by making the queue an integral part of the attraction experience. Speaking with the Tampa Bay Times, West said guests in the queue will "come upon dense jungles and make [their] way through temple ruins," encountering "hostile natives" and "unimaginable giant creatures" on the way to the ride, with the goal being that "by the time you get to board the expedition vehicle, your anticipation is peaking."
5. The ride is designed to accommodate young guests, but there will be scary elements
Universal may be known for its exciting thrill rides, but interestingly, Skull Island: Reign of Kong will have a fairly moderate height restriction of just 34 inches. To put that in perspective, nearby kiddie coaster Flight of the Hippogriff has a preschool-friendly height restriction of just 36 inches, making it accessible to most three year olds.
However, just because the little ones in your party CAN ride, doesn’t mean they necessarily should. Universal has promised an intense experience in this new attraction, saying guests will need to “brave foreboding caves crawling with prehistoric creatures, fend off unspeakable terrors – and even come face-to-face with the colossal Kong himself.” Though each child’s maturity level is different, this is one attraction where the height restriction probably shouldn’t be the only factor considered when parents are deciding whether or not this attraction is appropriate for their little ones.
6. Expect a long ride
Again speaking with Orlando Business Journal, West confirmed that the actual ride experience will be rather lengthy, saying, “I can tell you the ride is one of the longest, if not the longest we have done. Transformers and Spider-Man, which are long, are about 4 minutes.”
One contributing factor to the ride length will be its use of both indoor and outdoor sets. Though it wasn't confirmed in the initial announcement, the Tampa Bay Times has confirmed that there will be a part of the ride that will take place outside the main show building.
7. It will be going head to head with Frozen
When it was announced that the ride would be debuting in Summer 2016, fans were pretty excited, as that means we have only a year to go before we can experience this sure-to-be-amazing new attraction. However, if the Summer 2016 date seems a bit familiar to you, that’s because Epcot is unveiling its new Frozen boat ride and character meet and greet during the same period.
Though Universal and Disney have gone head to head before, this is the first time in recent history that two MAJOR attractions are vying for guest attention at the same time (last year Diagon Alley went up against the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, but the latter could hardly be considered to be on the same scale). Although it's easy to see the competition angle here, perhaps Universal is hoping that guests already planning on visiting the Orlando area for the new Frozen attractions will spare a day to visit Universal to see the return of King Kong as well.