More focused on rides and coasters than its next-door neighbor, Islands of Adventure is the most thrill-oriented park in Orlando . Although several of the rides have movie themes, the park is far more unified by the adrenaline rushes to be had in each of its “islands.” There are currently five islands, organized and themed in a fashion similar to the various “lands” at Disney’s Magic Kingdom ; a sixth island will be solely devoted to the “Wizarding World of Harry Potter,” scheduled to open early in 2010.
I hate to accuse the designers of a multimillion-dollar theme park of lack of foresight, but it’s truly perplexing that the two best rides on the entire property are not just in close proximity to one another but are also among the first attractions you encounter in the park.
To be sure, after experiencing the high-speed Incredible Hulk Coaster and the immersive 3-D simulations of The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, there’s little question that Islands of Adventure is exponentially more thrill-focused than its next-door neighbor, Universal Studios Florida ; unfortunately, the rest of the park has trouble living up to the high standard set by such an introduction.
The two-minute Hulk coaster blasts riders out the launch area at 40 mph, and by the time the steel tracks have you hurtling through an underground tunnel from 100-foot heights, your speed has reached almost 70 mph. Two enormous loops and corkscrews ensure the ride never loses your full attention.
The Spider-Man attraction is equally engaging, as riders are sent out onto the villain-thick streets of New York, recruited by the cigar-chomping publisher of the Daily Bugle to get the story in high-tech “Scoop” vehicles. A combination of 3-D film effects, enormous set pieces, and fire and water effects make for a surprisingly visceral and believable ride that culminates in a heart-stopping “fall” from atop a skyscraper.
Other attractions in this area of the park include the X-Men-themed Storm Force Accelatron, which is little more than a superhero-soundtracked version of the teacup rides found at state fairs—and Disney parks—everywhere. Likewise, Doctor Doom’s Fearfall is an uninventive freefall drop ride that propels riders up a 200-foot tower and then drops them…twice.
“Lagoon” is an appropriate place name for this part of the park, as riders of either of its two marquee attractions are bound to get wet. Although many younger visitors are probably unfamiliar with much of the comic-strip theming (does anyone read Krazy Kat anymore?), the thrill of the splashing, soaking Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges river raft ride is pretty universal.
And although the Bullwinkle cartoons that introduced previous generations to the uptight Canadian Mountie are no longer aired, Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls manages to update the idea of the log flume into a surprisingly heart-racing—and butt-soaking—thrill.
The theming of the Jurassic Park area of Islands of Adventure is pretty integral to the enjoyment of the premier attraction: Jurassic Park River Adventure. If you squint your eyes and take in this flume ride along with the nearby chairlift ride (Pteranadon Flyers), the Camp Jurassic playground, and the quasi-educational Jurassic Park Discovery Center, you can almost imagine that Jurassic Park is its own stand-alone amusement park.
And, of course, that park is the same one in the book and films where things went horribly awry. Accordingly, the Jurassic Park River Adventure starts out as informative and relaxing and soon devolves into a pretty tense—and very wet—escape from some pretty scary dinosaurs.
Dueling Dragons is the only inverted roller coaster in the world in which riders find themselves—and their feet—coming frightfully close to riders running on another “dueling” track. The “Fire” and “Ice” tracks each have their own proponents, and you’ll hear each side arguing their respective merits when it comes time to decide which coaster’s queue to enter, though it must be said that the Fire coaster gets up to 60 mph while Ice “only” reaches 55.
Regardless of which coaster is chosen, the combination of inversions, loops, corkscrews, and rolls—not to mention the three occasions when the coasters come within a foot of one another—makes Dueling Dragons one of the top attractions at Islands of Adventure.
Poseidon’s Fury is a walk-through attraction that combines live action and some stunning special effects; the dark passages, frequent scares, and the impact of the intense climax may be a bit much for younger visitors, but the occasional corny laugh lines delivered by your guide help to ease the tension.
Stunt-show fans may be interested in The Eighth Voyage of Sindbad, but most other park guests take their seat in the theater just to get off their feet for a mildly entertaining half hour.
All theme parks have an area dedicated to small children, but IOA’s Seuss Landing is by far the most charming. The whimsical nature of the classic books elevates standard attractions like the Seuss Trolley Train Ride, the Caro-Seuss-el, and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish (a Dumbo-like ride on which riders control the up and down motion of their vehicles as they spin around) into something altogether more engaging.
The Cat in the Hat is a must-ride attraction for kids, parents, and even kid-free adults; the dark storytelling ride puts you right into the middle of the classic tale and is filled with spins, careening near-misses, and a sense of sly fun.
While no sandwich at Blondie’s (Toon Lagoon, lunch and dinner daily, main courses from $7) quite comes close to the enormous ones devoured by Dagwood in the classic comic strip, it’s a pleasure being able to get a fresh deli snack instead of the standard burgers-and-fries available throughout the rest of the park.
Diners seeking a somewhat more sophisticated theme-park repast should head straight for Mythos (The Lost Continent, lunch daily, dinner daily summer and Christmas). Fresh ingredients and thoughtful preparation are key here, and the menu—though generally leaning toward Italian and contemporary fusion cuisines—changes frequently. All of it is accented by some stunning interior design, making for an exceptional dining experience. Accordingly, a meal for two, including wine, can often top the $100 mark, but hey, you’re on vacation, right?
Holiday festivities are somewhat limited at IOA, but when you’ve got the most famous holiday curmudgeon on hand, what else do you need? Grinchmas is centered around daily performances of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but the real star of the show is the Grinch himself; kids and adults can get their picture taken with him throughout the day.