Inside King Kong's digs, you'd expect to hear the roar of the iconic giant ape, or at least a few simian grunts and the whiff of banana breath.
Instead, the sound of whirring drills, pounding hammers and the pulsing beep of a forklift backing up fills the air. It's a jungle in here as construction crews work overtime putting the finishing touches on Orlando, Florida's newest attraction at Universal Resort — Skull Island: Reign of Kong.
Set to open this summer at Universal Islands of Adventure, one of two theme parks at the Universal Orlando Resort, the attraction promises enough oversized thrills to have guests pounding their chests in an entertainment-fueled frenzy.
Stepping over extension cords and two-by-fours during a behind-the-scenes tour, show producer Adam Rivest spills all of the details he can about the highly-anticipated and highly-guarded new addition. A row of faux skulls line the top of a rock wall, and the empty eye sockets look on while Rivest explains the concept of Skull Island: Reign of Kong.
With help of a barrage of special effects and technology, Universal drops guests in the middle of circa-1930 Skull Island, an exotic and mysterious locale. The Eighth Wonder Expedition Company works diligently to explore the island's prehistoric flora and fauna. Guests hop aboard an expedition truck for a trek deeper into the island where fierce prehistoric creatures dwell. The situation turns grim as the dinosaurs prove threatening. Soon an even more mammoth beast appears: King Kong. Visitors get up close and personal with the looming ape, not entirely sure if he'll be a help or hindrance.
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Rivest promises an unrivaled experience with Skull Island: Reign of Kong. After getting a sneak peek at some serious monkey business, we put together five things to look forward to when the attraction opens.
Thanks to detailed theming, from gargantuan construction to easy-to-miss minutia, the attraction immediately whisks guests to another time and place. Universal creatives made the conscious decision to have the experience begin in the line itself. Step into the queue, and you're suddenly on Skull Island. Blankets of fog roll throughout as visitors hear chirps, whistles and growls from some of the island's animal and insect inhabitants. While weaving through the queue, guests come upon a radio broadcast desk. You hear transmissions from Skull Island, being sent to New York and London, relaying the findings and strange activity. Rumbling drums give evidence of native activity. The same goes for tiny touches, including the strands of human hair used as rope to tie bamboo together. Then it's into creepy caves and catacombs featuring individually hand-carved faux rock, flickering flames, mummified bodies and the sounds of wisping wind and dripping water. This all takes place before the ride technically begins.
A ride like no other
Since designers set the attraction in the early '30s, they took great pains to hide any signs of present-day technology. The 40-foot, 17-ton ride vehicle resembles a massive truck of that era, large enough to fit 72 people in its 12 rows. With full steering capabilities on its front and back axels, the vehicle can tackle ultra sharp turns. The state-of-the-art trackless ride system keeps tech out of sight, providing an autonomous romp through the prefab jungle. Since a portion of the ride takes place outdoors, the designers created an alternative route in case of a downpour to keep things rolling no matter what.
Extra special effects
Rivest can't divulge all the details, but says if you can imagine a special effect, it's probably used in Skull Island: Reign of Kong. He does, however, reveal the use of 4K ultra high definition 3D footage created especially for the attraction. That likely means we'll see a combination of ginormous animatronics, practical effects and in-your-face footage on Kong-size screens. Even the ceilings of the vehicle will feature shadow projections, Rivest says. Expect the three s's — sights, sounds and smells — to converge in sensory overload. Although anyone who is at least 34 inches tall can take on Kong, the realism may be frightening to some.
Super size me
We're dealing with a giant ape here, so Skull Island: Reign of Kong's full meal deal comes super size. Creators had the task of creating the entire attraction in larger-than-large scale. The island's Great Wall, featuring menacing carved faces, towers at nearly 80 feet. The show building itself tops out at 70 feet. "Everything's huge on Skull Island," Rivest said. "You're in Kong's home and in his world, and anything can happen."
Keeping things fresh
Anticipating the fact that fans will likely ride this thing repeatedly, Universal gives guests the opportunity to experience Skull Island: Reign of Kong five different ways. Each time you step aboard a ride vehicle, you'll meet one of five guides: a New York City ex-con, a descendant of Skull Island's natives, a young adventurer, a cowgirl or a paleontologist. Each comes with his or her individual personality, which makes for a different tour.
For more information: universalorlando.com/ReignofKong
When you go
Daily park-to-park admission ranges from $150-$155 per person for one day to $229.99-$239.99 for four days. Single park admission ranges from $100-$105 for one day to $179.99 to $189.99 for four days.
Driving from Atlanta to Orlando, Florida, takes approximately 7 to 8 hours by vehicle. Airlines including Delta offer flights regularly from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Budget airlines, such as Frontier and Spirit, offer discount fares.