On Thursday, Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure theme park officially opens VelociCoaster, the first big new attraction to open in a post-pandemic theme park environment.
We rode the Jurassic Park-themed coaster at a media preview Wednesday and, like the movies it is based on, it is a pulse-pounding attack on the senses. And similar to Universal’s other movie-franchise money maker, the park is upping the experience by adding dinosaur-themed food, drinks and merchandise to its Jurassic Park section of the theme park.
But will dinos bring the same magic Harry Potter has summoned for Universal’s theme parks?
In addition to the coaster, one that enthusiasts are calling one of the most thrilling rides ever made, the park has rolled out a series of new merchandise, including pins and backpacks and a T-shirt that offers a suggestion for what to do when encountering a T. rex: “Runnn!”
A $12 Dig In jar has alternating layers of chocolate cake and mousse with cute candy bones on top of a souvenir jar with the Jurassic World logo on it. They don’t have Butterbeer, but they do have tropical-themed tiki cocktails and a specially made soda from Coca-Cola that has hints of mango and papaya called the Island Nectar Refresher. The new food offerings have an island theme as well, from sweet corn cakes and mojo pork to a clever gummy dessert with an edible candy mosquito trapped in a bubble of amber.
On the coaster, there are cameos by actors Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, Easter eggs from the movies and even sneak peeks of the next movie, Jurassic World: Dominion, embedded into the queue and the ride. It also has a story line: This is an attraction created for the doomed theme park featured in the movies, except this ride brings along the piercing screech of a howling velociraptor.
The long, winding line to get on the coaster is filled with surprises, adding filmmaking magic with snarling animatronic raptors in holding cells and the smell of wet dirt pumped in to enhance the reality. You can take your personal items with you all the way through the queue to grab some selfies with a raptor, but just before you get on, there’s a free double-sided locker system where you are firmly warned to remove all loose clothing, especially glasses. People on social media talked of a woman who lost her wig recently in the slow upside-down barrel roll over the lagoon.
“For the record, I think this is a terrible idea,” Chris Pratt’s character advises just as the riders head out.
The adventure spans more than 4,700 feet of track and includes multiple moments of airtime, complete with that fluttery feeling you get as you rise out of your seat. There are two launches, four inversions and a twisting barrel roll just a few feet above the park’s central lagoon that makes you feel like you are going to be dropped into the depths below. The fastest of the two high-speed launches reaches 70 miles per hour in 2.4 seconds and there’s a total of 12 seconds of weightlessness. The ride’s signature “Top Hat” sends riders 155 feet in the air and then immediately into an 80-degree drop.
To make it even scarier, the only thing holding a rider in place is a padded lap bar and momentum.
Like the raptors it’s named after, this ride is aggressive — and pretty vicious.