A Wubbulous Woe from Wayback
Universal Studios in the mid-’90s was developing concepts for its newest Florida theme park. Included, Universal drafted plans for a land dedicated to the stories and characters from Dr. Seuss’ books. The proposed land was set into motion for the upcoming Islands of Adventure.
Many of the anticipated attractions, however, changed as the park’s plans progressed, but ideas for a car ride were included even in the earliest drafts. Some attractions never made it out of the concept phase. With Islands of Adventure now under construction, Seuss Landing was slated to debut with four rides: Caro-Seuss-El; One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish; The Cat in the Hat; and Sylvester McMonkey McBean’s Very Unusual Driving Machines.
The Sylvester McMonkey McBean Ride Experience
The Sylvester McMonkey McBean ride would follow Dr. Seuss’ story of The Sneetches and the mechanical antics of Sylvester McMonkey McBean. The ride system would be similar to Disney’s PeopleMover, taking riders above Seuss Landing on a slow-moving journey. The upcoming attraction would have small car-like ride vehicles seating two guests each. The cars would run along one of two separate single-rail tracks that were 15 feet high with 1,500 feet of a layout that navigated over and around Seuss Landing.
This indoor-outdoor ride would allow guests to control the speed of the ride vehicles, even giving them the ability to bump other cars on the track. The attraction would be very interactive by also having honkable horns in the cars. Riders would move along through themed show scenes on top of buildings and in brief indoor sections, taking them through the whimsical story of The Sneeches.
Concept to Construction
Under the creative direction of Chris Lauren, construction for the ride was underway, though the assignment was difficult. The attraction’s raveling design and overhead track affected every structure and pathway in the land. This brought challenges involving tight clearance that dictated what could be included in the final design.
Engineers and construction crews overcame many hurdles to make the complicated ride look like an illustration from a Dr. Seuss book. As a result, with no straight lines in Seuss Landing, crews constructed structurally stable steel supports to hold the weight and force of the ride while visually matching the impossible world of Dr. Seuss. The ride was well into construction as the park’s opening day approached, with the track being completed and many props being designed and fabricated. However, there were some design setbacks Universal couldn’t overcome.
When the park’s opening day came in summer 1999, Sylvester McMonkey McBean’s Very Unusual Driving Machines was not operational. The scenic work was completed but was not installed and rather put into storage until the ride was up and running. The unused track stood above Seuss Landing with no ride to occupy it—a steel rail meant to be buzzing with motion and activity, now left stagnant with a delayed grand opening.
Islands of Adventure Opens
But Not the Unusual Driving Machines
Islands of Adventure upon opening in 1999 had cutting-edge attractions around every bend, pushing the standard for storytelling and world building. While these creative advances came with their share of technical setbacks, attractions around the park were still operational and redefined what the industry could achieve.
Over in Seuss Landing though, Universal was still seeking solutions for the unopened Sylvester McMonkey McBean’s Very Unusual Driving Machines attraction. The park postponed the ride’s opening date one year, now scheduled to be ready for guests in summer 2000.
Regardless of the ride’s new opening date, the inactive track above Seuss Landing was an issue the park needed to address. In plain view above, it somewhat broke the land’s theming and made guests wonder where and how they could ride the attraction.
To give the inoperative track decorative purpose, two ride vehicles were created to run along the loop, made in time for the park’s opening day. One car was designed like Sylvester McMonkey McBean’s with the salesman himself driving it, and the other was a convertible with Sneeches headed out to Sneech Beach—complete with surfboards and beach gear hanging out of the trunk and a license plate reading “THARS.”
Adding the character vehicles was a temporary fix until the ride opened, but Universal’s ongoing disputes with the manufacturer confounded the situation. The attraction, though mostly complete, had major hurdles the two sides had to address. The ride wasn’t functioning in the way the Creative team had hoped, and it was going to be very low-capacity, only accommodating a few hundred guests per hour.
The ride’s main flaws, however, were safety-related. Particularly, the ride’s design was not properly equipped for an emergency evacuation if needed. When broken down, the ride vehicle could stop anywhere on with no momentum on the powered track, which was set 15 feet in the air over guest pathways. In this situation, guests would be stranded in ride vehicles if the attraction could not restart. The narrow ribbon track did not have any catwalks along it. This would affect the ride’s evacuation plan for guests, making the process troublesome as some theorize the park would have to use a cherry-picker to safely lower stranded guests to the ground. According to Universal, the track was angled in a way so that ride vehicles could coast to a safe exit area in emergencies. Also, the ride supposedly had a battery-powered tug car to move idled vehicles.
These problems persisted, and the ride’s opening date of summer 2000 approached with little to no progress made. In fact, despite the Dr. Seuss ride still being in development, the park added two kid-friendly attractions in 2000 to help balance out its offerings: Storm Force Accelatron and Flying Unicorn. Other major projects like reworking the nearby Poseidon’s Fury show tied up the park’s budget, and Universal postponed the Dr. Seuss attraction’s opening to another year, now planned for summer 2001.
This delay would be indefinite as the ride’s manufacturer, Severn Lamb, would go bankrupt in the early 2000s. The attraction now had no opening date in sight. The track was purposeless at this point, even being used to support lighting effects for special events. The area’s team members when asked by guests what the track was for would say it was just decoration. And for the time being, that’s all it was—a disappointment of a design looming over the park.
A Repurposed Venue
Universal made use of the attraction’s queue space while the ride was delayed. When the park first opened in 1999, the area was used as the break room for the Island Skipper Tours team members. They were moved in 2000 to make room for the park’s first Grinchmas celebration. The queue space under the load station during the event was used for a meet-n-greet attraction called Grinch’s Lair. Seasonally each year, this attraction partially occupied the venue until 2005.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Universal never gave up on the ride. They had been testing ride vehicles and exploring options to make the ride operational. This ride was now the park’s priority to be the next attraction to open in Islands of Adventure. By 2006, rumors started circulating that the Sylvester McMonkey McBean project was resurrected, only the original concept with rider-controlled bumping cars was abandoned. The upcoming ride wouldn’t be based on Very Unusual Driving Machines, but rather a train system.
A Resurrected Concept
Universal hired manufacturer Mack Rides to redevelop the attraction, engineering and installing a tubular track over the preexisting steel structure. This modified design could have the capacity for larger ride vehicles and more guests per hour. With work being done on the site, the original 1999 set pieces were revived out of storage, restored, and installed into various scenes. Construction only took about a year as the ride’s infrastructure was mostly in place for this project.
A noteworthy change made to the attraction was the addition of emergency platforms and stairs at certain points of the layout, solving the ride’s original safety issue. At last, after seven years of waiting, the ride welcomed its first guests during soft openings in June 2006, officially opening on the 22nd of the month. Now with a new name, The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride was officially in operation.
The New Experience
In many ways, the new ride turned out similar to the 1999 plans. The attraction starts off in a queue with an entrance modeled after Sylvester McMonkey McBean’s star-on machine from The Sneetches story. The queue is lined with snippets from the book. The biggest change made to the attraction was its ride vehicles, now large, 20-passenger slow-moving trains instead of small cars riders would have controlled the speed of.
The ride follows one of two powered tracks—the same original layout as constructed in 1999. Both sides go through indoor and outdoor sets atop Seuss Landing, with the two tracks having some unique show scenes from one another. Much of the scenic work, though installed during the new attraction’s construction in 2006, was designed and created for the original 1999 ride.
The two sides of the ride offer four different audio spiels that play during the ride. Varying versions of the audio during the ride expand the story beyond The Sneetches, including tellings inspired by books such as And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street and Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? Guests can hear different stories depending on which track they ride. The two versions on the teal track include narration with wacky noises or a retelling about The Sneetches. The two variations heard on the purple track are the ABCs of Dr. Seuss or audio pointing out landmarks around Seuss Landing.
The area was designed to be seen from above, specifically from this ride track. For example, the Green Eggs & Ham restaurant from the sky looks like it’s on a plate. Though the ride didn’t work out as originally intended, Seuss Landing feels more complete with The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride, adding a dynamic liveliness to the atmosphere. The opening of The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride, while not a major addition, was significant in capping off a chapter in the wonderfully wubbulous history of Islands of Adventure.
What Happened to the Failed Ride Vehicles?
While the ride eventually opened in some capacity, the case is still open on the unused bumper cars for Sylvester McMonkey McBean’s Very Unusual Driving Machines. Seuss Landing’s creative director when asked about the cars said, “Remember that warehouse at the end of the first Indiana Jones movie? I think they put them in there next to the Ark of the Covenant.”