Sparing No Expense
Once Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park captivated audiences in 1993, fans of the movie couldn’t get enough. Universal wasted no time bringing dinosaurs into their theme parks; they began development for a Jurassic Park ride while the movie was still in production—well before it hit theaters.
By 1996, fans got their chance to experience the film’s world once Jurassic Park: The Ride opened at Universal Studios Hollywood. It wouldn’t be until 1999 that parkgoers could visit a full-scale Jurassic Park land.
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Jurassic Park Comes to Orlando
The opening of Islands of Adventure was the first time crowds experienced a real life Jurassic Park. The island was well-known for its headlining River Adventure attraction, but that wasn’t all Universal had planned for the land. Multiple Jurassic Park attractions were canceled, never being built; the land guests fell in love with was only part of Universal’s ambitious plans. Still, the stripped down version of Jurassic Park was impressive.
To complement the majesty and menace of River Adventure, Jurassic Park had a gentler side; families could enjoy a Jurassic experience by exploring the Discovery Center, Camp Jurassic, Pteranodon Flyers, and Triceratops Encounter—until that attraction closed, and reopened, and closed again.
Abandoned and Canceled Jurassic Attractions
The up-close-and-personal Triceratops Encounter lasted only a few short years, leaving a vacant plot of land in the middle of Jurassic Park. Between that and the unbuilt rides, Jurassic Park at Islands of Adventure had a lot of unrealized potential. But, into the 2010s, as the Jurassic World series reignited the franchise, some ferocious changes were bound to happen.
At this point, the old canceled Jurassic Park rides have long been shelved, and the abandoned Triceratops Discovery Trail was in desperate need of being redeveloped; Universal couldn’t let that land sit unused anymore, especially in a theme park packed with thrills.
“I would be looking across the lagoon and think to myself, ‘Someone needs to do something big over in Jurassic Park.’”
Greg Hall, art director of VelociCoaster (Source)
In mid-2017, Universal Creative started planning its next attraction for Islands of Adventure—an attraction with no shortage of thrills, an attraction that would perfect an imperfect land, and an attraction that would tell the story of one of the more fearfully iconic franchises of a generation.
This is what makes VelociCoaster so special: a storytelling spectacle.
When Coasters Tell a Story
Since the early 20th century, roller coaster designers have tried incorporating stories into their creations; rides like the Dragon Gorge scenic railway at Ocean Park, California, were early examples of blending theming with thrills. Just take a look at the most famous roller coasters throughout history: Matterhorn Bobsleds, Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad—the list goes on. Storytelling is a powerful tool to elevate a ride experience.
On the other hand, exceedingly intense coasters—such as the ones found at a park like Cedar Point—can amaze riders by design alone; they don’t need overly detailed theming to stand out among the world’s best roller coasters. But what if they did? What if a truly elite roller coaster by a thrill-seeker's standards put you smack-dab in the middle of a jarring Steven Spielberg production?
That’s what VelociCoaster accomplished.
“What’s groundbreaking about this attraction is the fact that there is a level of storytelling and a level of immersion on a 70-mph coaster...And that’s something that only Universal could do.”
Shelby Honea, show producer of VelociCoaster (Source)
It just so happens the story being told is a heart-pounding tale of teeth and claws.
“The foundation of our franchise is thrills, and the foundation of a theme park is thrills. So, we have provided Universal with dinosaurs that run extremely fast and are very scary, and they’ve created a ride that is extremely fast and very scary.”
Colin Trevorrow, director the 'Jurassic World' franchise (Source)
It’s the perfect thematic fit for a thrill park.
A Ferocious Queue
Jurassic World VelociCoaster opened in June 2021. From its very first guests through today, anyone queuing up for the ride is immediately transported into a real life Jurassic World, with fierce world-building scenes around every corner.
The tension only grows with a pair of muzzled raptor animatronics, snarling at everyone in line. These lifelike, precise animatronics are almost continuing the legacy of the defunct Triceratops Encounter that once stood on this same land; guests get a first-hand look at believable dinosaurs right before their eyes—only this time, they’re not gentle in the slightest.
How VelociCoaster Fits in Brilliantly
Being on the former Triceratops Encounter site came with its challenges. It was confined within the walkways of Jurassic Park, so Universal had to get creative mainly in two ways: how to fit an entire roller coaster in that space, and how the coaster would be presented.
Leave it to creative problem-solvers to turn an issue into a masterpiece; the track layout and the overall presentation blend harmoniously to heighten Islands of Adventure and Jurassic Park as a whole.
You see, Jurassic Park is a dense, adventurous, and cinematic land. The roller coaster by itself would be thrilling, but Universal still wanted to deliver on the ride’s storytelling wherewithal. Building a plain coaster in the middle of an open field simply wouldn’t cut it. Universal Creative made plans to fit the coaster in the tight plot of land while also wrapping it over and across the park’s central lagoon.
This brilliantly designed track layout was created by Keith McVeen. Every available inch is used with purpose, building up for an attraction that isn’t only perfect as a roller coaster, but also as a sight to behold.
The idea to cram VelociCoaster into an active raptor paddock fits seamlessly into Jurassic Park. It was done as accurately as possible too; the raptor paddock was designed like an animal enclosure for a zoo, complete with the right environment and vegetation a velociraptor would need.
Thematically, the paddock needs no further explanation; functionally, it makes for an exhilarating viewing area, adding more life to an already dynamic land. Consider the splashdown of River Adventure, the winding track of Pteranodon Flyers, and now VelociCoaster’s raptor paddock viewing area—now more than ever, the pathways of Jurassic Park are interactive, generating just as much energy as the franchise itself.
It’s quite the upgrade over an abandoned plot of land. VelociCoaster, as an addition, is designed so well, it almost feels like the area was initially planned with the ride in mind even though it was shoehorned in more than two decades after Islands of Adventure was built.
A Spectacle from Afar
Being up close is only part of this coaster’s beauty. With the constraints of a small plot of land, VelociCoaster also spills out over and around the park’s lagoon. This section above the water was designed artfully—not just as a ride experience, but visually too. The view can be appreciated soon after venturing into Islands of Adventure.
At the entrance of the park, guests turn a corner where an entire day of adventures is revealed. All in one view, The Incredible Hulk Coaster stands marvelously to the left, the magical silhouette of Hogwarts Castle is nestled a bit to the right, and VelociCoaster’s striking 155-foot top hat towers above the park’s glorious skyline. Its free-form curves and bold black paint job are charged with adrenaline at first sight. The bulky track is somehow industrial and graceful at the same time.
Right next to that is probably the most picture-perfect frame from any coaster. The Jurassic Park Discovery Center overlooks the lagoon with dignity; just below, one of the more intense inversions on the planet twists above the reflective, rippling water. It’s all perfectly centered for any guest to gaze in wonder across the lagoon—just as if a master cinematographer set up the shot with meticulous care.
Best of all, this sight in itself serves as an advertisement for the ride. What else do you need to know? It needs no sign telling you where it is; it doesn’t need to be listed on the map. Everyone knows right away what this ride is all about: VelociCoaster is the tallest and fastest coaster in the park; that is made clear from the moment anyone lays eyes on it, even from a distance.
But of course, VelociCoaster is more than a stunning sight—it’s a new species of roller coaster, after all. What could go wrong?
“The choreography of the ride...is like a heavy metal ballet.”
Mark Woodbury, chairman and chief executive officer of Universal Destinations & Experiences (Source)
The ride is truly a tale of two halves, each having its own personality and a unique level of thrill.
The VelociCoaster Ride Experience
The “heavy metal ballet” starts with a 0 to 55 mph launch straight into the ruthless raptor paddock. The spaghetti bowl of track is saturated with clever misdirection among an ocean of rockwork that flows with the layout; the coaster occasionally soars above the rocks, like a swimmer gasping for air in a swelling sea, before plunging back in for more. The whole sequence is rhythmic but impossible to process in real time. The scenic, raptor-infested jungle area is only the beginning.
Launching into the Second Half
Midway through, VelociCoaster throws its riders into a second launch, this time reaching a max speed of 70 mph, straight up the ride’s imposing 15-story top hat. High above the park, the ride slows down just for a brief moment—time comes to a stop, and the roaring wind that once passed through everyone’s ears in the paddock suddenly comes to a standstill. Some riders dare to throw their hands up; most tightly grip the handlebar for dear life.
Facing the Mosasaurus Roll
That’s all over in an instant. The train turns down toward the ground and races as fast as ever. Riders belt out piercing screams and colorful words to start off the second act. It’s full steam ahead with unreal hangtime and vicious turns, building up to the legendary Mosasaurus roll. Every story needs a climax, and this is it. VelociCoaster’s fourth and final inversion is widely considered one of the more intense in the world. It’s the spiritual successor to the failed and ultimately removed heartline roll on Maverick at Cedar Point, except this one actually opened to the public. Everything about the Mosasaurus roll sounds unsafe, but the dread is only made sweeter with the light grip of a lap bar.
The Mosasaurus roll is on a tier of its own, flinging riders to the side at full speed. It scrapes just above the lagoon as if you could reach your hand up and slice it through the calm water. Not many coasters save the best for last—they usually lose momentum by then—but VelociCoaster hits riders with one final mind-blowing element right before ending, like the most emphatic punctuation a single coaster could make.
The coaster races into the brake run, wrapping up a relentlessly intense two minutes—the most complete coaster experience in Orlando.
A New Species of Roller Coaster
VelociCoaster is jam-packed from the very beginning, speedily pacing itself while leaving surprises through every stretch of the track. It’s unlike anything else in Central Florida’s theme park bubble. But, VelociCoaster isn’t intense only by Orlando standards; it stands up against the world’s top coasters combined with brilliant theming and a ride experience that everyone needs to try at least once.
It’s everything you’d expect from a dinosaur-themed coaster: intense and adventurous with a self-aware, ridiculous concept. VelociCoaster feels like a once-in-a-lifetime kind of coaster with its world-class intensity mixed with the same Hollywood-quality storytelling Universal built its brand on.
VelociCoaster very well may have saved the Jurassic Park section of Islands of Adventure, and it certainly pushed the boundaries for what a themed thrill experience can be. The rush, the speed, the hunt—it’s all a storytelling spectacle.