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Universal Orlando's Jurassic World VelociCoaster is a jaw-dropping theme park thrill & the first of its species
I'm writing this review of the Jurassic World VelociCoaster literally just hours after having experienced it for myself. I needed to drive home and gather my thoughts first before committing them to virtual ink. For the TL;DR crowd, here is the three-word review:
Best. Ride. Ever.
That's no joke. The VelociCoaster, tongue-twister that it is, is a stunning roller coaster ride that is the single best thing Universal's theme parks have ever put out. And that's coming from a devout Incredible Hulk coaster stan, which until now has always been the standard-bearer for thrills at Islands of Adventure. It goes beyond just an exhilarating ride across 4,700 feet of track and 12 seconds of airtime (more on that later); it's a completely immersive experience from the moment you enter the queue.
The storyline of the ride is set just before the events of Jurassic World. The conceit is that riders are not in Islands of Adventure but in Jurassic World to experience a new ride that allows guests to race alongside a pack of raptors.
Two raptor statues bracket the top of the entrance to the ride, which is around the front of the Jurassic Park Discovery Center. The design team that put together the VelociCoaster over the past four-plus years made sure to maximize the use of the surrounding environment. "We explored a bunch of different layouts, a bunch of different places, and it all kind of fell into [at this location] really beautifully," Shelby Honea, show producer for Universal Creative, says. "Certain things about accommodating a coaster this size on such a limited plot of land meant we had to get really creative. And really that made us be more creative, because in those challenges we actually found some of the best things about this coaster. Like, we're over the lagoon for a good portion of this attraction. So we started to use the parameters we had to actually make the creative and make the coaster better."
After you enter "the paddock," you're greeted by a statue of the iconic Jurassic World velociraptors, Blue, Delta, Charlie, and Echo. As you move to the next room, you start to see exactly how immersive the queue is. Glass panels allow guests to watch as the ride vehicles get launched out of the tunnel, followed by digital imagery of a couple of raptors.
Moving along in the queue you'll see various Easter eggs to the previous Jurassic movies, as well as get a safety check from Dr. Henry Wu, the chief scientist of InGen. One of the most clever rooms contains the stables for the raptors. Several animatronic raptors on either side are held in check by metal grooming clamps, but it's clear they're testing the limits of their restraints. The level of detail on the animatronic raptors is enough that when they open their eyes, you'll jump back.
The intricate design of the queue is representative of the importance placed on this part of a modern-day theme park attraction. Given the popularity of parks like Islands of Adventures, long lines are inevitable. So creating a fun, immersive experience for fans is crucial, according to Honea.
"This is a place where our guests are not going 70 miles per hour. So it's a great place to deliver some of that story and deliver some of those key beats, and of course, our dinosaurs," she says.
"And then we're also playing with kind of natural anxiety that guests feel anyway, as you're getting closer to the load station of a coaster, when you're like, 'Do I want to do this?' And three minutes later, 'I'm not sure I want to do this.' So we're playing with that anxiety. And we've added another layer over top of that, which is the fact that in our story you are guests at Jurassic World."
Just like the Hulk coaster and Hagrid's Motorbike Adventure, you have to check your belongings in a locker before riding the VelociCoaster in the middle of the walkthrough. The last and most entertaining part of the queue comes next, when Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) do some very entertaining (digital) exposition to fill us in on what we can expect. Then, it's time to ride!
The ride vehicles are sleekly dressed in light blue and black, with the nice added touch of raptor "slashes" on the side. These open-air cars are truly revolutionary. They were created specifically for the unique demands of the ride with its high-speed inversions and drops, with just the one lap-bar restraint (Full disclosure: That made me a bit nervous before riding).
Once you board, it's time for the main event.
The fun begins almost instantly as within seconds of taking off, you're speeding into what appears to be an endless array of turns and maneuvers that all take place outside, which means the entire park will hear your blood-curdling screams. And scream you will, I promise! There are rock formations that surround the ride that the coaster moves in out of, you'll have close encounters with Raptor statues, and of course... the drop.
The centerpiece of the ride is the Top Hat, a 155-foot hill where riders take an 80-degree, 140-foot drop. Do whatever you have to do to keep your eyes open at the top, because the view from there is incredible, as is the feeling of impending doom as you accelerate downward. What makes the drop even more exhilarating is that it comes at the halfway point of the ride, when you're still trying to catch your breath from the initial insanity. The ride vehicle enters a tunnel within the raptor paddock and is then immediately fired up to hit 70 mph in just 2.4 seconds and send you up the Top Hat! As Honea and Hall describe it, the drop jumpstarts the second half of the adventure.
Something you'll notice on the way down is that you're catching air. That's all by design, hence just the single (albeit expertly designed) lap bar. The masterminds behind the VelociCoaster promise 12 seconds of total airtime on this ride, and riders will not be cheated. I won't lie; I was kind of hoping the ride had shoulder restraints as we began a zero-gravity stall upside down across 100 feet of track, but then you wouldn't have experienced the weightless thrill of feeling as if you were flying. "Hold on to your butts" takes on an entirely new meaning with this ride.
According to Universal Creative art director Gregory Hall, breaking new ground for roller coasters was the goal. "Some of the team members, they've ridden over 600 different roller coasters. We all kind of know what we like and what elements would be the best moves for that," Hall says. "We work with what we have and then it starts to design itself in a way because we have this area that we have to make sure can work with this maneuver we're trying because we set out to do things no one's done before — because that's what the guests are expecting."
The single best moment of the ride IMHO was one of those never-done-before maneuvers. I'm talking about the 360-degree barrel roll that puts you just inches above the Universal lagoon. For a (very long) moment, you feel as if you're training in NASA's zero-gravity chamber. I was lucky enough to ride the coaster with Hall, one of the VelociCoaster's chief designers. When I asked him about the barrel roll effect, he said what gives it a different impact than the airtime during the drop from the Top Hat is going upside down. "That flip makes all the difference," Hall says, adding quite proudly that this is the first ride of its kind to do a barrel roll over water.
By the time the ride ended, I was exhausted in the very best way. Universal describes its newest attraction as being "designed for speed and engineered for the hunt," and that makes a lot of sense. The VelociCoaster is an apex predator theme park ride, and one that will have roller coaster devotees as well as fans of the Jurassic Park franchise lining up to ride it over and over.
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