Yesterday I ventured over to Universal to spend the day at the parks and was hopeful to experience the newest attraction at Islands of Adventure, Skull Island: Reign of Kong, which was announced just over a year ago. I’ve been pretty excited since hearing that King Kong was making a comeback to the Universal parks, as one of my most memorable (and favorite) theme park rides EVER was the original Kong ride, Kongfrontation, which was was closed down in 2002, and is now the home of The Mummy roller coaster at Universal Studios.
Before I get into this review, I would like to point out that the Skull Island: Reign of Kong isn’t “officially” open yet. For the past few weeks, the ride has been in what’s called a “technical rehearsal” or a “soft opening.” This means that the attraction is still “working out the kinks,” and can open and close at any given moment each day.
We arrived around 11:30 a.m. and saw that the line was open but with a 90-minute wait time. As with any new ride, we anticipated the wait and were happy to wait around. But since it was a hot day (helloooooo summertime in Florida), we decided to grab some waters before getting into line.
5 minutes later when we returned, the line had been closed with no indication of if or when the ride would open again later in the day. Fortunately when we made our way back after killing a few hours over at Universal Studios, the line had reopened, but this time with a 2-hour wait. Since this ride was the main reason for our visit, we hopped into line and began our wait.
When we got in line, the wait time was listed at 120 minutes. The first portion of the line (about 15-20 minutes for us) ended up being outside, uncovered. We lucked out because a storm was rolling in so the sun wasn’t out, but we did get a little drizzled on. Within an hour we were in the cave of Skull Island, where we finally were able to cool down in the AC.
After going through a bit of the skull-lined cave (there’s no question that this place is indeed Skull Island), we hit the best (and also worst because we were stuck here for a while since the ride was “experiencing technical difficulties”) part of the experience. An open room with giant skulls everywhere, where a creepy lady chanted in some kind of ancient foreign language and then excitedly shouted “TO THE KONG!” This really pumped everyone up and we knew this meant we were getting closer to the end of the line.
If you’re jumpy, look out for the scare actors around the corner once you’re completely out of this room. It was pretty entertaining and kind of reminded me of Halloween Horror Nights – especially when you know they’re there and you’re just waiting for them to pop out. A little while later, we hit a room that looked like expedition headquarters. This is where we collected our 3D “goggles” and prepared to line up to finally get on the ride.
About 12 rows with 6 people each filled into the safari bus and we were on our way. The busses weren’t moving in and out as quick as other rides at the park, so I’m sure this is one of the areas they’re still working on improving. We heard an announcement that we’d be told when to put the “goggles” on – which ended up being about 15 seconds later.
I was bummed that we didn’t take the outside path to go through the main gates, but it might be a portion of the ride that closes when the weather isn’t too great (if there’s thunder and/or lightning, any outside rides at the park have to shut down).
There didn’t seem to be a lot of information given on what exactly was going on, but before we knew it, a couple of 3D characters were swooped up by giant human-sized bats and we found ourselves thrust into the jungle watching a T-Rex dominate some Raptors and then King Kong himself swooping in, I’m assuming to save us, from the T-Rex that was coming after our bus of people.
The graphics were crystal clear and very well done, but it was a bit hard to see what was going on, especially since different action was occurring on the left AND right sides, which meant constant head tilting and turning to see what was going on. We had a burst of speed for a couple seconds, which made me think, “great, this is it,” but alas, it was mostly a sit and take in the scenery ride. And in less than four minutes, the ride had ended.
To be honest, we were completely underwhelmed, and frankly, really disappointed with Reign of Kong: Skull Island. Sure, the graphics were great, but there didn’t seem to be anything of substance on the ride. Aside from the couple seconds of adrenaline when we picked up speed on the ride, the animatronic Kong at the end of the ride (which reminded me of the original Kongfrontation), and the creepy chanting lady in line, it was hard to find much else thrilling about the attraction. In fact, when the ride ended, my friend and I just looked at each other and didn’t need to say anything else.
While I think our technology evolution over the last couple decades is fantastic, I can’t help but feel nostalgic for the rides of the 90s and early 00s where we saw actual things with our eyes vs. watching screens everywhere. It’d be nice to see Universal bring back the actors (think Kongfrontation and Jaws) leading the rides and some more physical elements to the rides.
That said, the design of Skull Island is pretty freaking cool. I love the detail put into it. I wouldn’t recommend waiting in lengthy queues to experience this though.
There’s no official opening day set for Skull Island: Reign of Kong, but Universal has been advertising that the attraction will be ready at the end of summer. If you’re interested in checking it out yourself before then, keep in mind that there’s a chance it could be closed. There’s no guarantees since this is essentially still in a beta testing.
Did you have a chance to experience Universal’s original Kong ride? What are your favorite types of theme park rides?