Every Islands of Adventure Opening-Day Attraction

Every Islands of Adventure Opening-Day Attraction

The Adventure Begins

This article is a continuation of the history of Islands of Adventure. READ PART I

We are proud to unveil Universal Studios Islands of Adventure.”

– Steven Spielberg, creative consultant for Islands of Adventure

Universal Studios Islands of Adventure opened May 28, 1999: a day the Orlando Sentinel described as “smooth sailing.” Unlike the troubled opening of Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure’s opening day had thousands of happy visitors and only a few small hiccups.

The park and its innovative attractions were well-received—so much so that Disney CEO Michael Eisner checked out the competition with a visit at the beginning of 2000.

In Islands of Adventure, guests could explore five themed lands across the park’s 110 acres. The islands were all separated by waterways and bridges, each with brimming imagination, discovery, and adventure.

Let’s take a tour through the park’s original lineup from 1999.

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Port of Entry

Port of Entry is Islands of Adventure’s entrance area, like Main Street U.S.A. It’s a town with gift shops and restaurants, serving as a portal for adventurers from all corners of the world.

Thematically, Port of Entry was built by travelers near and far, melding cultures from all over into one. Improv decor like shade from the canvas sails of ships make up the land’s look—along with architecture from the Mediterranean, Black, and Baltic Seas.

At the entrance of Port of Entry stands the 130-foot-tall icon of Islands of Adventure: Pharos Lighthouse. This is a functioning lighthouse based on one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Lighthouse of Alexandria. That ancient wonder was the tallest structure on earth at the time, using a mirror to reflect sunlight during the day and a bright flame at night. Likewise, the Pharos Lighthouse at Islands of Adventure has a mirror at the top and a roof artistically stylized like flames.

Pharos Lighthouse plays an important part in the park’s backstory. One mysterious day, a kid emerged from the lighthouse with a stone in hand. They walked toward the waterfront of Port of Entry and tossed the stone across the Centre Sea. The stone skipped five times, and five islands of adventure emerged from the water—now called the Inland Sea.

Backstory aside, Port of Entry acts as the perfect thesis statement for Islands of Adventure. The land encourages discovery as it is lush with details formed with mismatched aesthetics—just like the park itself. Port of Entry is rich with soundscapes and enveloping melodies, leading guests to the waterfront at the end of the town square.

Island Skipper Tours

The lagoon spans a gorgeous view of the park and its many themed lands. Here, an attraction called Island Skipper Tours shuttled guests across the Inland Sea, to and from a second dock in Jurassic Park. The transportation ride had three uniquely designed boats: The Boatney, Tropic Trader, and Sam Plane.

Marvel Superhero Island

To the left of Port of Entry is Marvel Superhero Island. This area’s two-dimensional yet colorful look is straight out of the pages of a comic book. Its Art Deco buildings come to life with specialized paint and glass for a sparkly shimmer. Marvel Superhero Island is a place where superheroes can make an appearance at any time, like in the opening-year X-Men street show.

The land is a marvel in itself with a number of ground-breaking thrill rides.

The Incredible Hulk Coaster

The most visually prominent ride of Marvel Superhero Island—and quite possibly the whole park—is The Incredible Hulk Coaster. This heart-pounding coaster may have had a cameo in the 1999 film House on Haunted Hill, but it’s really the star of the park’s skyline.

The Incredible Hulk Coaster takes riders on a Bruce Banner gamma radiation experiment gone wrong.

We've taken those ideas of raw energy, raging emotion, and intense power and turned it into a very visceral, dynamic ride experience.”

– Scott Trowbridge, show producer of Marvel Superhero Island

The coaster starts with a bang by launching up an incline, out of a tunnel, and into a zero-G roll. The tire-drive launch is so forceful that Universal created a generator system to power the acceleration—otherwise, it could cause a brownout in Orlando.

To find the right launch velocity, Universal Creative made a test system that propelled a welded derby car at high forces, up to 6 Gs during trials. The trials and ingenuity were all part of the process and commitment of creating an authentic Hulk experience.

Doctor Doom's Fearfall

The streets of Marvel Superhero Island take a dark turn down the grungy Yancy Street. The alley leads to the menacing towers of Doctor Doom's Fearfall: a terrorizing device made to extract the fear of test subjects for Dr. Doom’s gain. The ride launches riders up its 185-foot-tall towers.

The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man

A theme park land based on Marvel would not be complete without the Daily Bugle and the one and only Spider-Man. The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man is a first-of-its-kind motion simulator.

The Daily Bugle’s editor-in-chief, J. Jonah Jameson, recruits guests to fill in as reporters to check out the breaking news of the missing Statue of Liberty. Riders board the Bugle’s high-tech vehicle, the Scoop, joining Spider-Man in an action-packed chase against the Sinister Syndicate through the nighttime streets of New York City.

The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man is more than an energetic story—it combines that storytelling with innovative technology and techniques.

Did I ever think it would come to this? No way. Only in my wildest dreams. My career has so many highlights, but this has to rank right up there.”

– Stan Lee, Marvel Entertainment legend

It pushed the limits with a seamless blend of crisp 3D visuals and clever practical effects, using an advanced ride vehicle on a track. This ride system pushed Universal Creative to develop a technique called “squinching” so the on-screen visuals match the perspective of the moving ride vehicle.

The ride is crammed with inventive features, making it among the highest rated dark rides of all time.

This was the one ride on paper that none of us thought could be done. We thought the design group was about five years ahead of their time, and they delivered this—surprised all of us.

– Steven Spielberg, creative consultant for Islands of Adventure

Toon Lagoon

From one comic to another, Toon Lagoon puts guests right in the funny pages. Every day is Sunday here, with characters from yesteryear around every corner, like in the Toon Trolley street show. The gags, kinetic elements, sound design, and splashes of water all around bring the quips of Toon Lagoon to life.

Toon Lagoon is the wettest island in the park. It was built with an underground water pump system that connects to the central lagoon, drenching guests aboard the water rides.

Popeye & Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges

Toon Lagoon and water rides go together like Popeye and spinach. Guests can take a classic Popeye voyage on the unruly Popeye & Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges. This raft ride soaks riders to the bone across the unpredictable raging rapids.

Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls

Toon Lagoon stretches to the neighbors of the north; Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls is a log flume with aqua coaster elements through a Canadian sawmill.

Although the ride lost a few signature elements from the original blue-sky version, it still follows a story of the dim-witted cartoon Mountie himself, Dudley Do-Right. Ripsaw Falls takes a 75-foot drop into a TNT shack with animated set pieces.

Pandemonium Cartoon Circus

The circus made its way to Toon. Pandemonium Cartoon Circus was Toon Lagoon’s stage show. Cartoon characters performed circus acts and sang big musical numbers. The funny business was thriving with cartoon legends such as Rocky and Bullwinkle, Betty Boop, Popeye, and Dudley Do-Right.

Jurassic Park

The famous arches welcome visitors into a world 65 million years in the making: Jurassic Park. This land is John Hammond’s latest attempt at making a dinosaur theme park, canonically located on Isla Aventura. The thick jungles of Jurassic Park have much to explore as it’s Islands of Adventure’s largest land at 21 acres.

Jurassic Park River Adventure

Guests can take a cruise along the rivers of time on Jurassic Park River Adventure. This peaceful dinosaur boat tour—like many other theme park rides—goes terribly wrong, putting guests face-to-face with a vicious T-Rex. The ride’s climatic 84-foot drop, which not even Spielberg himself would do, reaches nearly 50 mph, splashing riders at the end of their prehistoric journey.

The creators of this ride were faced with the not-so-simple challenge of recreating realistic dinosaurs that match the quality of the movie. Not only that, but the dinosaurs had to operate continually throughout the year in water under the bright Florida sun. It’s all part of the task of making a real-life Jurassic Park.

Camp Jurassic

Kids at Islands of Adventure can run wild at Camp Jurassic: a vast play area with caves, climbing nets, and interactive elements to discover.

Pteranadon Flyers

Little ones can get a bird’s-eye view—or a pteranadon’s-eye view—from a small suspended coaster in Camp Jurassic called Pteranadon Flyers.

It’s a way to introduce kids to the idea of roller coasters in a manner that won’t scare the living bejesus out of them.”

– Bob Shreve, show producer of Jurassic Park at Islands of Adventure

Triceratops Encounter

Jurassic Park had other tame experiences. Guests could get up close and personal with a living, breathing dinosaur in Triceratops Encounter. This walkthrough attraction took guests to a research outpost where a triceratops was getting a veterinary checkup.

The attraction had three triceratops animatronics standing 10 feet tall and 24 feet long. These animatronics were among the most advanced in the park, being able to breathe, sneeze, and even go potty.

Discovery Center

The attractions in Jurassic Park capture the awe from the 1993 film, and the Discovery Center is no different. Not only does the Discovery Center look stunning from across the lagoon, but it’s also a place where visitors can experience exhibits, interactive areas, and the magic of raptor hatchings.

The Lost Continent

The prehistoric trails of Jurassic Park led to another ancient world: The Lost Continent. This land of myths and legends was divided into three sub-areas—Merlinwood, Sindbad’s Bazaar, and The Lost City—each with its own major attraction.


Merlinwood was a kingdom of medieval fantasy under the protection of the great sorcerer Merlin. He was enchanted and transformed into a giant tree, which served as the Enchanted Oak Tavern restaurant. The story and excitement of Merlinwood, however, continued.

Dueling Dragons

Travelers could take a journey into the deep woods where they would find Merlin’s ramshackled castle. Two fierce dragons—Pyrock and Blizzrock—ravaged the land, took over the castle, and defeated any enemies with their powers of fire and ice. Guests joined the fiery, icy battle aboard two intertwining inverted coasters: Dueling Dragons.

Conventional wisdom would say—you know—avoid all objects. We intentionally set these two [coasters] out on a collision course to create near-misses at really incredible incredibly high speeds.”

– Mark Woodbury, chief creative officer of Universal Studios Creative

The two coaster tracks interacted with each other, coming within as close as 18 inches in three near-miss elements, which were all visible from a single vantage point on the pathway. The two coaster trains were individually weighed and released at exact intervals so the flyby moments lined up perfectly.

The Dueling Dragons queue was a prime example of Universal’s newfound emphasis on creating immersive environments. The believably decorative queue in the plundered castle was half the experience. It was enormous and could fit more than 5,000 guests, but some of that space was already earmarked for a future expansion.

Sindbad’s Bazaar

The Lost Continent continues into a land of Arabian myths: Sindbad’s Bazaar. Guests exploring this land could stumble across the trapped soul of the Mystic Fountain, the catchy tunes of the Bandits Out of Time street show, or the heroic stunts in The Eighth Voyage of Sindbad.

The Eighth Voyage of Sindbad

This stunt show followed Sindbad in his search for treasure, including bungee and fire acts. The kitschy show had action, romance, and a bit of comedy, entertaining crowds in the 1,700-seat theater.

The Lost City

The final stop in The Lost Continent is a Grecian area that seems to have emerged from the depths of the sea. The Lost City is home to the restaurant Mythos, designed by the person behind The Cheesecake Factory, as well as what may have been the most unique attraction in the park.

Poseidon’s Fury: Escape from the Lost City

Poseidon’s Fury: Escape from the Lost City was a walkthrough attraction in a classic showdown between good and evil—Zeus and Poseidon. It had an impressive facade with a crumbling statue of Poseidon and striking stone ruins. The experience inside was led by a guide named the Timekeeper, trekking into ruins, through a 42-foot-long water tunnel, and into a massive theater with an elaborate room transformation effect.

The water vortex was among the show’s highlights as it forced water around the tunnel at up to 100 mph. The finale and its 200 flame effects had some of the earliest uses of water screens in a theme park, projecting a raging ocean being held at bay and a tense battle of good vs. evil.

Seuss Landing

The lap around Islands of Adventure makes its way to Seuss Landing: an area based on the works and writings of Dr. Seuss. Audrey Geisel thought the land meant a lot to the legacy of her late husband’s stories, leaving them for future generations to discover.

Seuss Landing was designed from a child’s perspective with sights and sounds only a few feet off the ground for kids to fully enjoy. This includes sights as colorful as sherbet and sounds from speakers playing a wubbulous soundtrack from makeshift instruments.

Famously, Seuss Landing has no straight lines, including the swoopy trees that were warped from Hurricane Andrew in South Florida and relocated to Universal. The wonky land took some special attention to engineer, and the scenery was carved from polystyrene foam to create the impossible world of Dr. Seuss.

...You realize that a lot of what [Dr. Seuss] drew and defies gravity, and it’s not supposed to exist in this world.”

– Lisa Girolami, show producer of Seuss Landing

Seuss Landing has two interactive flat rides: Caro-Seuss-el and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. The If I Ran the Zoo walkthrough experience, Seuss Street Show, and a wacky organist in Circus McGirkus liven up the Seussian world.

Sylvester McMonkey McBean’s Very Unusual Driving Machines

However, the cheerful Seuss Landing did have one empty detail. Unfortunately, the Sylvester McMonkey McBean’s Very Unusual Driving Machines attraction did not open with the park as planned. The track for the elevated bumper car ride was installed, even engineered with Seuss’ bendy architecture, but it was closed to guests. Decorative ride vehicles cycled around the track to give it some motion and purpose.

Even without the Driving Machines, Seuss Landing has more twists and turns to offer.

The Cat in the Hat

The Cat in the Hat is a vibrant dark ride that retells Dr. Seuss’ classic story. Riders board little couches and spin their way through the chaos of the Cat in the Hat, Thing 1, and Thing 2. The ride is full of animatronics and Dr. Seuss’ signature style.

The Original Islands of Adventure

The early days of Islands of Adventure had a nighttime fireworks show as seen from the waterfront viewing areas of each island.

Islands of Adventure’s original lineup of attractions was electric. The park had a number of attractions that hadn’t been attempted before, all in one location. The immersive theming was a massive step forward for Universal, being completely different than the studio park.

Islands of Adventure’s debut was only the beginning as the park had opportunities and expansion plots for the future.


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