12. E.T. Adventure
This little-kid friendly ride is pretty weird, and if you weren't a kid (or adult) when this movie came out it really won't make any sense. Don't wait in line for this ride. If you can walk on, it's the best way to experience it without feeling frustrated by the outcome. It is highly likely Universal is going to blow away this ride and everything in this section of the park to replace with a Nintendo themed area (very-very exciting).
This is the only original Universal Studios ride that’s still open. You can tell it’s older if only because there are no movie screens involved. This is a classic dark ride, like something you’d find in Fantasyland at a Disney park. Anybody who saw E.T. at the right age should grow wistful when the bike-shaped vehicles take off into the sky, flying over a town recreated in miniature like Disney’s Peter Pan ride, while casting shadows on the full moon. The final part of the ride takes place on E.T.’s home planet, and it’s like It’s a Small World if every child looked kind of like Alf. You give your name to a ride attendant before you board, and at the end E.T. says your name in a heavy Speak & Spell accent. I don’t know if kids today watch E.T.—I’ll totally judge their parents if they don’t—but it’s hard not to love this classic ride if you know the movie.
11. Dragon Challenge (formerly known as Deuling Dragons)
This is a fast & fun ride made up of a pair of intertwined inverted roller coasters in the The Wizarding World of Harry Potter area of Universal Studios' Islands of Adventure. The ride is themed to two chasing dragons, one side being Chinese Fireball and the other Hungarian Horntail. It features a layout in which the two trains share adjacent lift hills but then traverse two unique courses. The ride was designed by Bolliger & Mabillard of Switzerland. The Chinese Fireball dragon reaches a top speed of 60 mph, and the Hungarian Horntail dragon reaches a top speed of 55 mph. Both versions feature five inversions. The total ride time is about two minutes and 25 seconds.
When Islands of Adventure opened on May 28, 1999, the ride was called Dueling Dragons and was located in The Lost Continent area with the two sides named Fire and Ice. During much of the ride's history, the trains were dispatched simultaneously, providing three near-miss encounters along the courses. However, after two injuries related to loose objects hitting people, the roller coasters are now dispatched separately. After a renovation period, the attraction reopened in mid-March 2010, and was officially renamed as Dragon Challenge with The Wizarding World of Harry Potter grand opening on June 18, 2010.
- For more than a decade, the signature thrill of Universal Orlando's "Dragon Challenge" has been the ride's three near-collisions, in which the attraction's two intertwined roller coasters, speeding along their tracks at up to 60 mph, pass within 18 inches of each other. Riders will never experience that again. Universal Orlando said this week it has decided to permanently end the practice of launching the two coasters simultaneously. The resort now bills the attraction as a "high-speed chase between two coasters."
That decision follows an internal investigation into two summer accidents in which riders were apparently struck by loose objects while aboard the attraction. One was gruesome: A 52-year-old Puerto Rico man suffered a lacerated right eye and ultimately had to have the eyeball removed, according to his lawyer.
"We believe this is the best path forward for our guests and for the attraction," Universal spokesman Tom Schroder said of the decision to permanently alter Dragon Challenge.
Precisely what happened in the two incidents remains a mystery. Universal will not discuss the findings of its review, though the resort's statements in the aftermath of the two incidents — in which it reminded guests of its long-standing policy to secure all loose items before boarding the coasters — suggest that they may have been caused by items falling out of guests' hands or pockets as the coasters raced along their tracks.
That's what Clay Mitchell said he thinks happened with Carlos Montalvo, the man from Puerto Rico who lost his right eye after riding Dragon Challenge on July 31. Mitchell, an Orlando personal-injury lawyer, said Montalvo recently received a prosthetic-eye implant.
"He's still incurring medical bills," Mitchell said.
A similar incident occurred less than two weeks later; Jon Wilson, a 19-year-old from Ohio, said he was hit by something while riding the attraction. Wilson could not be reached for comment, but he told a local television station in August that he was struck on his foot, arm and face.
What makes the incidents especially striking is that they are the first such publicly reported accidents aboard Dragon Challenge, which has been operating since Universal's Islands of Adventure theme park opened in 1999.
The ride was initially known as "Dueling Dragons" but was given a new, Harry Potter-themed overlay in 2010 when it was incorporated into the park's new Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Records show that Universal has reported five injuries involving the attraction during the past decade, including reports of chest pain, back pain and groin pain; vomiting; shortness of breath; and numbness in one arm. But none of the incidents involved a rider being struck by a loose object.
Some industry critics contend that the records supplied by Universal and Florida's other big theme parks — which must report only injuries that result in an immediate hospital stay of at least 24 hours for purposes other than medical observation — don't capture all of the injuries that occur in the parks, which draw tens of thousands of visitors each day. "We are aware of several other incidents where people have been struck by objects" while riding Dragon Challenge, said Mitchell, Montalvo's lawyer, though he would not discuss specifics. He said he was unaware of how seriously those riders were hurt.
10. The Hulk.
If you're a teenager or (teenager at heart) who totally enjoys fast and furious roller-coasters, then this is definitely your ride.
Not for the weak at heart.
9. Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem
Family friendly (all ages).
Clearly this hinges greatly on your affinity for the Despicable Me movies—or your ability to tolerate them. Universal has a lot of motion simulation rides, those attractions where you sit in a car or room that shakes or tilts while you watch a 3D movie on a large screen. Minion Mayhem is one of the smoothest motion simulators I’ve ever been on, and the movie seemed to be on the same level of quality as the real ones. This edges out the similar Shrek 4D, and not just because Minion Mayhem doesn’t have Shrek in it (although that is a huge plus): the technology is more refined than in the older Shrek attraction, and probably less likely to aggravate those prone to motion sickness.
8. Twister … Ride it Out
Family friendly. More of a side attraction and not a real ride. Teens may be bored by it. Little kids and adults might enjoy.
It’s ironic that the word “ride” is in this attraction’s name, because it’s the only one on this list where you don’t ride anything. Twister…Ride it Out is a live special effects show based on the 1996 movie Twister. After a brief introduction from vintage 1996 Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt, you walk through the blown out ruins of a tornado touchdown spot before lining up to watch a twister tear down a drive-in movie theater and gas station. Windows shatter, a screen showing The Shining falls apart bit by bit, a truck knocks over a gas pump and starts a fire, and then a dark tornado appears just a few feet in front of your face. The effects are nice, and this is the only attraction that legitimately scared a kid during my visit to Universal. It’s also one of the last remnants of the old movie studio theme park experience, when it was less about thrill rides than recreating a popular movie.
7. Men in Black: Alien Attack
A very fun and entertaining ride. Has some spinning in the seated car ride that can make some people nauseous.
It feels like they’re slowly disappearing, as thrill rides grow increasingly dominant and motion simulators are used more and more to recreate popular movies. The is a fun ride of aliens attacking the city & you. It is a lot like the Disney Buzz Lightyear ride, but with individual cars that move faster & spin. Alien Attack is a target shooting game—every seat has a gun, and you get points for shooting those aliens. The marksmanship aspect makes the ride a little more hectic than it would otherwise be. My only problem with Alien Attack is that occasionally my car would stop and quickly spin in a full circle six or eight times in a row. It was totally unnecessary and the only time I felt any motion sickness at Universal.
6. Disaster! A Major Motion Picture Ride … Starring You!
This is a cute experience. Great way to get out of the hot during the middle of the day and just enjoy some cool air, shade & a chance to sit for a bit.
Like Twister, Disaster is an old-school movie studio theme park attraction in a park full of thrill rides. The “ride” aspect to it is minimal—near the end you ride in a tram through a subway station replica during an earthquake, ostensibly to be filmed as extras for the disaster movie of the title. The best thing about Disaster is the crowd interaction and the charming sense of humor. It’s set up as a tour of B-movie director Frank Kincaid’s movie studio. Kincaid is Roger Corman with even lower budgets, and although the failed movie director might be a hack comedy premise, it works here in large part because Kincaid is played by Christopher Walken. The special effects make it look like Walken is on stage in the room with you, physically interacting with your tour guide, who really is in the room with you, and the effect works surprisingly well. From there the tour guide and a small film crew use a few crowd members to make a short disaster film, climaxing with that subway ride and a cameo from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. It’s fun and funny and the closest Universal gets to feeling like an actual movie studio.
5. The Simpsons Ride
A colorful cartoon experience.
The Springfield portion of Universal Studios is my favorite, with life-sized recreations of Moe’s Tavern and Kwik-E-Mart, along with a Krusty Burger, Duff Gardens, Lard Lad Donuts and other locations from The Simpsons. The ride is a relatively basic motion simulator—you sit in a car that rises a few feet off the ground and then rocks or tilts to simulate motion as you watch a 3D movie. The jokes are solid enough—like the movie, it could pass for a late 90’s episode, after the classic era but still better than what airs on Sundays today. The experience of flying through Springfield is fantastic, though, even if you’re being dragged around by a giant mutated Maggie. The architecture recreates the look of the show, and the ride captures the spirit, which makes it one of the best experiences at Universal.
4. Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit
I almost couldn’t ride this one. Watching the cars spin around the track in the middle of a loop made me positive that I would get sick. And I don’t normally get sick on roller coasters. Still, this is a job, and thankfully Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit isn’t as painful or frightening as it looks. It’s still intense, though, starting you off on a 180-degree track that shoots straight up from the ground, before immediately hitting that loop. Yes, the cars spin halfway through the loop. Yes, it is awesome. I strongly believe that roller coasters are better with a soundtrack, and Rip Ride Rockit goes one better by letting you pick one of 30 songs from a handful of genres to pump into the speakers in your headrest. (And that’s not to mention the secret playlist…) Every theme park should have at least one world-class roller coaster, and Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit more than fits the bill for Universal.
3. Revenge of the Mummy: The Ride
As complex and exciting as Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit is, it can’t compare to the simple thrill of barreling through complete darkness in a roller coaster. Revenge of the Mummy: The Ride reminds me of Space Mountain, only instead of space you’re flying through an underground tomb. The presentation is more complex than Disney’s classic—you’ll stop occasionally, as the mummy from the Brendan Fraser movies threatens you, or so you can feel the heat from the sheet of flame engulfing the roof above you. Occasionally screens will make it look like the mummy is jumping out at you as you shoot down the unseen track. Somehow removing our ability to see where we’re going makes a roller coaster even more exciting, and Revenge of the Mummy is the best ride at Universal Studios that isn’t heavily dependent on a movie screen. From the elaborate world-building of the queue area to the wonderful integration of theme and ride, it’s a Disney-level experience. And if you hate Brendan Fraser, you might even think it’s the best theme park ride ever—it’s the only one where Brendan Fraser dies at the end.
2. Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts
Don't ride this with a hangover. Universal did an amazing job of making Diagon Alley feel like its own unique, fully formed world, from the architecture to the pavement to the type of stores and restaurants on display. At the center of Diagon Alley is a large building with a dragon nestled on its roof. Inside that building is Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts, perhaps the most amazing experience I’ve ever had at a theme park. Earlier I referred to Disney-level world-building; Gringotts outclasses anything I’ve ever seen at a Disney park. From the animatronic banktellers to the animated newspaper headlines, you’ll always have something fascinating to look at while waiting in line. And once the ride starts, you’ll wonder if children today could ever possibly be impressed by the rides we grew up riding. Gringotts is similar to The Transformers ride in that it’s a mixture of a moving vehicle and 3D film. The vehicle’s motions are far more elaborate, though, and eventually the two-car train splits into individual units that can rotate a full 360 degrees. The story involves an attack on the Gringotts bank, with your car stuck in a battle between Harry and his friends and the forces of Voldemort. The visual effects are superior to the other, similar rides at Universal, and the total experience is about as revelatory as a theme park attraction can get today.
1. Transformers: The Ride 3D
This ride perfectly captures the style-over-substance incomprehensibility of Michael Bay’s Transformers movies. It’s another ride dependent on movie screens, but this time your vehicle is almost constantly moving, suddenly speeding up or slowing down, rushing backwards and making tight spins or turns. The story involves Transformers punching each other a lot (yes, including Megatron and Optimus Prime) and loud sounds and buildings falling apart. It’s an overwhelming, rapid-fire spectacle, especially since the movie scenes are all in 3D. It proves something that you’ve probably already assumed: those Transformers movies work great as a theme park ride.