Seth Kubersky, author of the Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando, shares with us his review of Skull Island: Reign of Kong
Skull Island: Reign of Kong is both an attraction and an entire “island” unto itself, located between Toon Lagoon’s Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls and the Thunder Falls Terrace restaurant in Jurassic Park.
This attraction isn’t exactly based on the 2005 King Kong remake (though director Peter Jackson did consult on the design), nor is it directly tied to the Kong: Skull Island film scheduled for release in 2017. Rather, the ride is an original adventure set in the 1930s, casting guests as explorers with the 8th Wonder Expedition Company, which has set up its jungle base camp in an an ancient temple inhabited by a hostile Kong-worshipping indigenous tribe. That may seem like a foolish place to pitch your tent, but it makes for a phenomenal queue line experience, featuring both lifelike animatronic figures and live haunted house-style actors that aggressively startle unwitting guests.
Inside Skull Island: Reign of Kong
The winding skeleton-strewn path eventually leads to your transportation: an oversize, 72-seat, open-sided “expedition vehicle” that superficially resembles one of Animal Kingdom’s Kilimanjaro Safari trucks. It’s helmed by one of five different animatronic tour guides, each with its unique personality and backstory, which lends the attraction additional re-ride-ability. Your ride begins with a short loop outside through the jungle (which may be bypassed in inclement weather), ending at the massive torch-framed doors in the center of Skull Island’s imposing stony facade. The doors open, allowing you passage into a maze of caves and caverns; there, you’re swiftly assaulted by all manner of icky prehistoric bats, bugs, and beasties, brought to gruesome life through a mix of detailed physical effects and razor-sharp 3-D screens (even better than the ones in Gringotts and Transformers). After barely surviving a preliminary series of multi-sensory near misses, you’re thrust into the center of a raging battle between vicious “V-Rex” dinosaurs and the big ape himself, in a climactic sequence similar (though not identical) to the King Kong 360 3-D attraction on Universal Studios Hollywood’s tram tour. Finally, just when you think it’s all over, you’ll have one last face-to-face encounter with the “8th wonder of the world,” only this time in the fur-covered flesh.
Skull Island: Reign of Kong—A Remarkable Achievement, Epic in Every Sense
Reign of Kong is an outstanding attraction, stimulating every sense (including olfactory) along the epic journey. However, some small but crucial creative missteps hold it back from being a grand slam home run, resulting in a ride that sits slightly behind Forbidden Journey and Spider-Man with second-tier E-Tickets. The queue’s atmosphere is unimpeachable, but muffled radio reports do an inadequate job of establishing the plot and characters before boarding. Once you are rolling, the initial scenes introduce a crisis that is completely abandoned once Kong arrives mid-ride, and though the 360 centerpiece has been noticeably upgraded since its original USH incarnation, an entirely original animation could have made for a more coherent connection to the opening. And though the coda’s animatronic Kong has stunningly fluid facial expressions, his movements are anti-climatically passive, resulting in an attraction that seems oddly abbreviated despite being (at nearly 6 minutes) one of the longest in the resort. There’s no shame in being among the top half-dozen rides in Universal Orlando’s impressive lineup, but Kong’s long-awaited return turned out to fall somewhat short of the world-beating game-changer his faithful fans may have expected.
How Best to Experience Skull Island: Reign of Kong
Skull Island is impressive, from its monumental exterior to the lines it attracts. On the plus side, Kong draws some guests away from The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, helping to rebalance the park. Hit Skull Island first thing in the morning or immediately following the Hogsmeade attractions if you’re using Early Park Admission. The minimum height requirement is just 34 inches—one of the lowest in the resort—and is designed to be physically accessible to most members of the family. However, on a sensory and psychological level, it’s extremely intense; the standby queue alone is enough to reduce fearful kids to tears, though the single rider line bypasses most of the scares. If you or your little one has a fear of darkness, insects, or man-eating monsters, you may want to forgo the monkey. For those brave enough to board, the experience is far better in the back half of the truck, with guests on the far right side getting the best view of the finale. If directed to one of the first few rows, politely ask to wait for the next truck so you can sit in the rear.
Mike West interview courtesy of Touring Plans and Seth Kubersky.