May 232005
 

By Jud

“This isn’t Disney”.

That is my advice to anyone doing a roller coaster in any other park for the first time.

The roller coaster is the key to fame in the theme park business if your name doesn’t start with D- and bigger, taller, faster, steeper, and lately, twistier, is the key. Universal Studios theme park and Islands of Adventure have made their entries in both pure coasters and in variations of the basic coaster technology.

The first of course, is The Incredible Hulk. I should start by clarifying that I am not a coaster person- don’t like them. Not the ride- that is no big deal; but that first slow climb up that narrow track which, clearly, according to all intuitive laws of physics, should tip over as you slowly and tortuously make your way up with nothing but a silly lap bar to hang on to… don’t like that at all…

So, that whole thing about Hulk blasting you off at 60 mph or so up the first hill- that was good for me. I mean, by the time you realize the ride has started, it’s too late to worry about it! Bang, zoom, to the moon, Alice! Up to the top, heading for the sky, and then before you can even process what is happening, you are flipping over and diving to the ground, only to be swept around in an inverted hairpin loop and shot at the ground again! And right on into it! After that, who knows? It twists and turns and flips and inverts time and time again until it finally comes to a welcome flat point and slows to a more civilized speed. That is when you notice that you have slipped over to an unnoticed back area and you are only halfway through and it all starts again!

Nice touch!

I like the new style of lap bar, which isn’t a lap bar at all, but a rather imposing harness that you can pull down nice and tight and gives one a nice secure feeling- like that even when this thing leaves the rails, you will be okay. And I have also discovered, after a few dozen trips on the green monster, that if you just lay back and relax, that this can actually be a pleasant, calming bit of time- almost spiritual! But whether you are relaxing or not, do keep your head pressed back against the nicely padded headrest- otherwise, it is quite a strain on your neck. Mine is rather sensitive and by keeping it pressed against the headrest I came through just fine.

It is a very similar experience on Kraken over at Sea world, except that Kraken does have the long slow climb, but with the same secure harness as Hulk, it is not quite as un-nerving as with the old lap bars and tiny rattling cars. And Kraken does have a nice touch at the top of the first hill- a short flat area of track that allows the entire train to be up the hill before any of it goes over and down. And it does go down! Pretty steep! Overall experience very similar to Hulk, but while maybe a bit more intense, I feel- and “feel” is all that matters on these things- that Hulk is a longer and more satisfying ride. And defiantly more thematically complete.

Next on the agenda at Islands of Adventure is Dueling Dragons- Fire and Ice- and again, both these have that long slow climb, which is a bit nastier here as you are hanging from the track and there is nothing beneath you. It also leaves the station at an already elevated height, so before even starting up the climb, you are too high off the ground to be comfortable.

The big sell here is that the two coasters, Fire and Ice, run on two separate, but interacting tracks, and at a couple of points seem on the verge of running head on into each other. Unfortunately other than to those on the ground, this effect is visible only to those in the first row of seats on either train, and only if the timing is right, which it wasn’t the one time I was in the front row. But there are enough twists turns and inversions to otherwise occupy one during the ride, which is an extended one, and there is one point at which you can quickly glimpse the upcoming track and see that it twists around 360 degrees in way too short a space.

The kiddy coaster at IOA is the Unicorn and even it “isn’t Disney”. It is a kiddy coaster, but a bit more than my beloved Goofy’s barnstormer, more intense and longer. Enough that a mild mannered adult could even find it enjoyable. I would place it a bit less than halfway between the Barnstormer and Big Thunder Mountain.

Next door, at Universal Studios, there is no roller coaster proper, other than the kiddy coaster in the kid’s area, Woody Woodpecker leading the way, and nicely done, again noticeably longer than Goofy’s, though about the same intensity. A pleasant ride.

But there is a ride that while not a pure roller coaster, is a variation on the theme that is very well done, very intense, and quite surprising at times- and defiantly not Disney. This is the Mummy. A “ride the movie” themed attraction, it takes you into the tombs of ancient Egypt in search of archeological finds, but is immediately hi-jacked by the all powerful restored Mummy, and taken on a unique ride that has as some of its components several very intense roller coaster sections. A fairly short ride, but this actually seems a bit of a relief to most riders as the intensity certainly makes up for it. Even knowing the ride, the intensity remains, so it is good for multiple journeys. This is the Rockin’ Roller Coaster on speed, and maybe a few other things. Or Test Track on bad roads with a psychotic driver.

And bugs.

And fire.

Not Disney.

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