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The untold backstory (and complicated canon) of Universal Orlando's Jurassic Park

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Dec 7, 2020, 11:50 AM EST (Updated)

If you were to step through the iconic Jurassic Park gates that mark the entrance to the section of Universal Orlando Resort based on the classic film, you might assume you’re supposed to be stepping onto the fictional island of Isla Nublar. The island, located near Costa Rica, was where John Hammond’s dream of playing fast and loose with natural selection went just a smidge sideways in the original Jurassic Park book and movie. However, visitors to Universal Orlando’s Jurassic Park are not actually walking on a pretend version of Isla Nublar, for this Jurassic Park takes place somewhere else entirely.

There is no official mention of it on Universal Orlando’s website, but there is evidence of a backstory that Universal created for the land — located in Universal’s Islands of Adventure — in May of 1999. This “theme park canon” version of Jurassic Park retcons the existence of a new and improved park, one that was built after things went south on the Isla Nublar park. SYFY WIRE did a little excavating to unearth the true story of this prehistoric theme park land.

Die-hard fans and certain Universal team members refer to the island as Isla Aventura. The Spanish name “Isla Aventura” translates to “Island of Adventure” in English, a nod to the Universal Park name, Islands of Adventure. Direct references to the name Isla Aventura are hard to come by — save for one or two fan-run Jurassic wiki pages and some park employees who are in the know (but who are maybe not the official voice of JP canon). The two wikis describe Isla Aventura as Hammond’s attempt to rebuild Jurassic Park the way he originally intended on an island near Orlando, Florida.

Though he doesn’t go so far as to identify the island by name, Richard Attenborough (who passed away in 2014) did reprise his role as Hammond in the queue video for the Jurassic Park River Adventure attraction and makes reference to “our Orlando park.” Aha, a clue!

Total Immersion: Theme Park For the 21st Century, a 1999 documentary marking the opening of Islands of Adventure, digs even deeper into this lore. The Jurassic Park section kicks in just before the video’s 38-minute mark and begins with Vice President of Design & Creative Development for Islands of Adventure Mark Woodbury proclaiming Universal’s Jurassic Park to be the park Hammond would have created if he’d gotten a second shot at it. 

According to Woodbury, this version “pick[s] up where John Hammond left off after that small mishap in Costa Rica.” Throughout the video, in fact, Universal team members and an actor playing Hammond (Attenborough, understandably, doesn’t work at the park) insist the dinosaurs are real and they have been charged with the care and well-being of the animals. One even describes the dangers of her job as a Triceratops handler.

The land has been open for more than 20 years at this point. It’s totally possible Universal dropped the Isla Aventura story at some point, assuming most visitors wouldn’t be concerned with things like canon and continuity. Turns out, it depends who you ask.

Some team members will give you a strange look and insist you are on Isla Nublar, but if you are lucky enough to find a team member as passionate about Jurassic Park as you are (shoutout to Jurassic Joe!), you will learn the legend of Isla Aventura is alive and well. 

In an attempt to validate these internet rumors that we really wanted to accept into our headcanon, SYFY WIRE flat-out asked a few team members to tell us where the Jurassic Park we were standing in was located. A couple gave us the aforementioned side-eye, but then we happened upon Jurassic Joe (no last name given because when your name is Jurassic Joe, you don’t need one).

Joe proudly told us we were standing on an island called Isla Aventura. According to Joe, Hammond “was scouting for new locations in the United States when he found this place in Orlando called Isla Aventura, which translates to 'Island of Adventure.'”

Knowing this backstory is more endangered than extinct leaves us to ponder how Universal will tie in its newest attraction — the Jurassic World VelociCoaster. As the name implies, the coaster is branded as Jurassic World rather than Jurassic Park. There is no universe where Jurassic Park and Jurassic World exist in tandem. In the Jurassic World film series, Jurassic World is a dino-based theme park built on Isla Nublar after InGen successfully covered up the events that brought the original park crashing down.

Universal’s Raptor Encounter already features the Jurassic World character Blue the Velociraptor, so there are a few ways Universal could go with this. It could operate the two lands separately, with VelociCoaster joining the Raptor Encounter in Jurassic World and avoiding any issues with timeline continuity and canon crossover. It could rebrand the entire land to "Jurassic World" and set it in a point on the timeline in which the park was still operating smoothly. Or it could say, “Screw the movies, this is theme park canon,” and do whatever the heck it wants. 

The Jurassic World VelociCoaster is scheduled to open in summer 2021 so we won’t have to wait too long to find out. Until then, beware of suspicious cans of Barbasol.

SYFY, SYFY WIRE, and Universal Orlando are properties of NBCUniversal, a subsidiary of Comcast Corporation.