Take Mom to the Parks this Mother’s Day

With Mother’s Day quickly approaching, you may be thinking of something special to do for her that weekend. For those of you who live in Florida, California, Texas, or the many other places where theme and amusement parks are located, then perhaps consider taking her to one of them for a day of magic, thrills, and enjoyment. I have many fond memories of hanging out with my mother in the theme parks, and thought that I would explore some different theme parks and outline some ideas that you may want to use if you decide to whisk your mom away for a day of excitement and adventure. Even before living in Florida, I grew up going to the parks, and some of my favorite memories are experiencing all the attractions with my family. Even when I go today (which is practically weekly), I often remember the ride and show experiences with my mom. As a little side note, the first time I saw Wishes: a Magical Gathering of Dreams fireworks spectacular at Magic Kingdom was when my mom moved me to Orlando. Perhaps your mom enjoys the familiar characters of Disney, maybe she loves the thrill of being chased by dinosaurs at Universal, the aquatic life of SeaWorld, or the intimate animal encounters of Busch Gardens. Whatever your mom likes, there is a plan for you! For those of you who may have lost your mom, my heart goes out to you; but, maybe there remains a mother-figure in your life that could use a special day. Since you may only be able to visit a theme park for one day, the following articles combine attractions or experiences that can easily be accomplished, even on a moderately busy day. Let’s hit the road and see what endearing adventures lie in waiting for you and your mom this Mother’s Day.

As this is a rather lengthy series articles, you can jump to a particular park by clicking on the one you want below, or simply scroll through browsing the headlines.

Universal Orlando

The first stop on our Mother’s Day theme park day is Universal Orlando Resort! You can start your day by grabbing some delicious pastries or breakfast sandwiches at the Beverly Hills Boulangerie, located near the entrance of Universal Studios. Don’t let the pretentious name deter you; this is a quick-service style restaurant that will provide you with a carb-filled fare and coffee to boost your energy. Next, walk along Hollywood Blvd for some star searching; you may run into Marilyn Monroe, Lucille Ball, or Betty Boop. After sightseeing in Hollywood, your help is needed! E.T. must make it home to the Green Planet to save it. Stop by the E.T. Adventure to pickup a bike and take him home. Not all aliens are good guys. Your mom’s skills are needed by the MIB Agency to clean up the city streets and protect earth’s citizens at MIB: Alien Attack. After this close  encounter of the third kind, head back to Hollywood to learn about Universal’s horror film legacy and perhaps some scares along the way at the Horror Makeup Show.

By now, you and your mom are probably getting a little hungry, and there is no better place within the park to grab lunch than The Leaky Cauldron. After leaving the Horror Makeup Show, head directly across the lagoon to walk though the wall into The Wizarding World of Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley. Here, your mom can be immersed in the nostalgia and magic of J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World. Located near the entrance, on the left, is the famous Leaky Cauldron. You’ll find a better assortment of British favorites at this quick casual dining restaurant. Now that your energy is back up, make your way to Gringotts Bank because you are needed to help Harry and his friends escape capture by him who shall not be named. Climb aboard a mine cart and race through the bank’s underworld to retrieve a horcrux. If you happen to hear the wickedly talented Celestina Warbeck and her banshees performing when you exit Gringotts, don’t miss her jazz concert! After winding your way through Knockturn Alley, head over to Kings Cross Station to climb aboard the Hogwarts Express, destination Hogsmeade (park-hopper ticket required).

Once in Hogsmeade, head for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry because Harry, Ron, and Hermione require your assistance in defeating some dementors at Forbidden Journey. Before leaving Hogsmeade, be sure to stop by the Butterbeer cart. From flying on park benches to running from dinosaurs, your mom’s next stop should be Jurassic Park! From the time you walk under the iconic gates, become immersed in the epic franchise. Before setting out into the park, stop by the JP Discovery Center located in the replica of the original Visitors Center. There, you can adopt a baby Raptor, learn about genetic sequencing, or pickup some JP merchandise. You can take a memorable picture at the Raptor Encounter, one that the memories will never become extinct. Instead of the Jungle Explorers, hop aboard the river raft for a tour through the prehistoric park. You never know what you’ll encounter on the tour at the River Adventure! Leaving Isla Nublar, you and your mom need to sail over to Skull Island where you will come face to face with the Rein of Kong. Your expedition will take you deep into the heart of Skull Island where bugs are larger than life, giant worm-like creatures exist in the mercy waters, and dinosaurs still roam about. Just don’t forget who’s the king of the jungle.

Following the dark adventures of Skull Island and Jurassic Park, walk through the colorful, fun Toon Lagoon. If you and your mom enjoy water rides, there are two exciting ones right there: Popeye’s Barges and Rip Saw Falls. Rather hang with Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk? Then stop by Marvel Superhero Island for some web-slinging action at the Spider-Man 4D ride or volunteer to be turned into a Hulk at the exhilarating Incredible Hulk Coaster. Passing the Port of Entry at Islands of Adventure, prepare to be transported to the whimsical world of beloved Dr. Seuss. Here you’ll want to experience the nostalgia of The Cat in the Hat, stop by the Lorax to save the Truffula Trees, or take to the skies on the Seuss Train! By this time, you’re day is nearly over, but you’ve still likely got time for a few more attractions. Your next stop is New York City, but you need to make a stop in London at Kings Cross station. Make your may to the Hogsmeade Station on the other side of the Lost Continent. If you have time, though, you don’t want to miss the immersive spectacle of the special effects walk-through show at Poseidon’s Fury located in the heart of The Lost Continent. If time allows, and you want to grab a bite to eat for dinner, then check out Mythos, the highly rated restaurant, located directly across from Poseidon’s temple.

After the Hogwarts Express stops at Kings Cross, journey to the museum of antiquities, housing the treasures from a recent Egyptian excavation. At Revenge of the Mummy, you and you mom will be faced with a daring escape from Imhotep. Along the way, you’ll encounter treasures beyond your wildest imagination and ancient curses as well. What better way to end the night than to surprise your mom with studio audience tickets to an exclusive Universal Orlando taping of The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon! No need to hail a cab or take the subway to 30 Rock, just walk a couple blocks from the museum. No conventional queue here, you and your mom will have the freedom to walk about the NBC Studios while waiting for Jimmy Fallon’s studio to open. During your wait, you can enjoy the musical offerings of The Ragtime Gals and even kick back and charge your phone. When Jimmy Fallon challenges you to a race, then you and your mom will Race Through New York in an attempt to beat Fallon for first place! On you way out of the park, you and your mom definitely need to stop by the Universal Studios globe for a photo to remember your world of adventure.

SeaWorld Orlando

Maybe movies just aren’t your mom’s thing. Perhaps she prefers close encounters of another kind. Then head west on the I-4 to SeaWorld Orlando for Mothers Day. With a balanced combination of aquatic animal encounters and some thrilling coasters, SeaWorld Orlando may be just the ticket for mom. Before heading into the park, you may want to grab breakfast outside because the breakfast food selections are rather anemic. Upon entering the park, stop by the giant SeaWorld Anniversary Celebration photo op to start your day out right. Next, want to feel what its like to fly through the waters of the ocean? Then your first stop should be Manta! This inverted coaster will give you the sensation that you are a manta ray smoothly and quickly gliding around the sea. When you exit Manta, spend some time in the aquarium to get up close and personal with hundreds of tropical fish including some stingrays.

After spending time with stingrays, take your mom on down to Key West for some dolphin viewing! For an extra special treat, check out the close encounter times where she can touch a dolphin. On the backside of the dolphin lagoon is the underwear viewing area. Perfect for watching the dolphins frolic in the water; you might even catch one smiling at you. Beyond the dolphin cove lies the Turtle Trek aquarium and 360-degree 3D theatre experience. Become a turtle and journey from your egg to the ocean, back to lay your eggs, and return to the ocean in this suspenseful film. Along the way, you’ll meet some manatees and other oceanlife too. By the time you’ve returned to the surface, it will likely be time to catch the new Dolphin Days show. Watch a trainers give you glimpse into their world of training, educating, and playing with the dolphins–you’ll catch some great tricks too!

Next, Journey to Atlantis in SeaWorld’s water ride that sends you on an adventure to the legendary lost city ending with a plunge into the deep blue sea. If your mom has a slight aversion to wear rides, just make sure you bring ponchos. You’re probably a little hungry at this point, but don’t grab lunch just yet–definitely grab a snack though.  From Atlantis to facing off with a mythological creature, head directly for Kraken. A more traditional coaster, Kraken includes drops loops and cobra rolls. When you’ve defeated the Kraken, head on over to cool off in Antarctica where you can follow a cute little penguin named Puff to meet all his friends and family on a moderately thrilling ride through icy caverns and chilly waters. From cute penguins to cute sea lions, the next part of your Mother’s Day with Mom is visiting with the seals located near Sea Lion and Otter stadium. Be sure not to miss Clyde and Seamore Sea Lion High comedy show.

Finally, time to eat! And you’re not just going to eat anywhere, but you’re going to take mom to Sharks Underwater Grill (make reservations ahead of time). Sharks provides an upscale dining atmosphere complete with Sharkquarium side tables, comprehensive menu including fish, steak, and more. The lobster bisque is incredibly good! Don’t forget to order a signature cocktail to accompany your meal. When you’ve finished dining, swim on down to the walkthrough aquarium. Here, you will be surrounded on three sides by a wide variety of fish and sharks. Upon exiting, you’re in the perfect place to experience SeaWorld’s newest coaster Mako! No inversions here, but the speed, drops, and smooth ride will have you wanting to ride it again. Excellent coaster experience!

With the day coming to a close, you want to head for Shamu Stadium for One Ocean, SeaWorld’s premiere show that is best viewed in the evening. Orcas (or Killer Whales) accompany you on an adventure including beautiful music, breathtaking colors, and outstanding trailed behaviors that highlight the magic of Orcas and even teach you a conservation message. After the show, if you have time, you can checkout the Wild Arctic attraction that puts you right in the middle of the excitement and danger of the the frozen wilderness. On your way out of the park, be sure to stop by the many merchandise shops. A percentage of SeaWorld’s profits go to fund not only theirs, but other conservation organizations and animal rescues around the world.

Walt Disney World

Has your mom ever dreamed of flying on an elephant, cruising through the jungle, or rocketing through space? Then make her “dreams come true” at the Walt Disney World Resort. Wish so much to see and do, it can be overwhelming. If you’re on a budget and can only spend one day–a’chem Mother’s Day–at the world’s premiere theme park destination, then you’ll find everything you need right here to create magical memories for mom this year. But which park? That is a toughie for sure. Each park offers something that the others do not. Hence why many opt for a park-hopper pass (a little pricy). When choosing one park at which to spend the day, then I typically recommend choosing either Magic Kingdom or Epcot. Don’t get me wrong, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios are fun too; in fact, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is my favorite ride in the parks. But, my goal is to help you plan out a day that fits time and budget constraints. For purposes of this article, I am going to talk about Magic Kingdom; however, if your mom prefers a more educational experience, enjoys tasting wines, beers, and foods from around the world, and likes some innovative ride experiences, then Epcot would be the best pick. The new Soarin’ is dope!

After making your way to Magic Kingdom (MK) from the Transportation and Ticket Center on either the monorail or ferry, you just have to take a photo with your mother in front of the iconic train station. There is usually a PhotoPass photographer available to take your picture. Before venturing too far, visit a FastPass+ kiosk to make reservations for rides, character experiences, etc. Once on Main Street USA, you may want to visit Mickey and Minnie in Town Square Theatre before setting out into the park. Who doesn’t love waffles??? With a day of adventure ahead, be sure to boost your energy with a stop at Starbucks and the Plaza Ice Cream Parlor. There, you can get Mickey Waffles with strawberries on top! So many shoppes! If your mom likes to browse the latest Disney merchandise, then she will likely find something she’ll love in one of the many shoppes along Main Street. Of course, it’s Mother’s Day, so be sure to buy her something. In order to make the most of your time, I do not suggest stopping at the shoppes until you are leaving the park. Before you go any further, you and your mom have to take pictures in front of one of the most recognizable castles in the world! So many wonderful locations from which to take pictures with Cinderella’s Castle in the background. From the castle hub, you can head anywhere!

I suggest first heading to Fantasyland to catch a ride on the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train! Ordinarily, I like going in a circle in the parks, but this ride tends to have a very long line, and if you don’t have a FastPass+ reservation for it, then you want to hit it first. Here are a couple fun tips: (1) when in the standby queue, if you can get all the barrels of jewels spinning at the same time, then you might just catch a glimpse of Snow White dancing on the ceiling! (2) once on board the mine train, try to rock your cart left and right–so much fun! Following your visit with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, then head on over to Storybook Circus where you can take flight on the world’s most famous flying elephant. After Dumbo returns you safely to the ground, you’re going to continue your magical journey under the sea in Fantasyland with Ariel! Climb inside a clamshell and relive the magic of the movie that radically shifted Disney animated films. For a little pick me up, check out Gaston’s Tavern where you can get Disney’s answer to Butterbeer, Lafou’s Brew. If time allows, head next door to enjoy some Storytime with Belle and become part of the enchanting tale of Beauty and the Beast.

Walking around the back of the castle and to the right, you’ll want to choose between It’s a Small World After All or Peter Pan’s Flight. Both are so iconic that it is hard to choose, but I’m trying to get you through MK in one day. You’re probably glancing at your watch and wondering when lunchtime is, I suggest stopping by the Columbia Harbor House or Liberty Tree Tavern, both located near one another. Located in that same area of Liberty Square is The Haunted Mansion. They have 999 happy haunts, but there’s room for a thousand, any volunteers??? When nearing the exit of Mansion, be aware of hitchhiking ghosts, they might just follow you home. As you round the lagoon, you’ll make your way to Frontierland! This exciting wild west town is home to two iconic mountains: Big Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain. Won’t likely be time for both, so I suggest Thunder Mountain! From the wild west to jungles and pirate infested waters, you’re heading for Adventureland! Climb aboard if you dare, the Pirates of the Caribbean. Who knows? You might just spy the infamous Captain Jack Sparrow. If you make it out unscathed, then sail for the world famous Jungle Cruise! After cruising down so many of the most famous rivers on the planet, you are definitely in need of some dinner. Thankfully, there is a great place to grab some great food at the Skippers Canteen (I suggest reservations).

No Mother’s Day trip to Disney World would be complete without a visit to Tomorrowland! Skip across the hub to where there is always “a great big beautiful tomorrow shining at the end of everyday.” Located in the back of Tomorrowland is Space Mountain! Prepare to rocket through space on this classic Disney coaster. Before heading back to the hub to catch the new Happily Ever After nighttime firework spectacular, you need to stop by the longest running stage show in the history of American theatre Carousel of Progress! Here you will witness the history of the American family and technology from the early 1900s to “present day” (1990s). I seldom miss experiencing Carousel on my many trips to the park. After the beautiful firework display over the castle, now’ time to hit the shoppes on Main Street! There is something for everyone, especially mom! Sometimes it’s the little things that mean the most such as time spend with your mother, but never under estimate how much she’ll appreciate a souvenir from Mickey’s Emporium or Uptown Jewelers. I enjoy taking the ferry back to parking at night because of the cooler night air and breeze.

Busch Gardens Tampa

Feel the wilds of Africa calling your name? Does you mom like getting up close with lions, tigers, and kangaroos??? Then, take her to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay for Mother’s Day! Only an hour away from Disney World, Busch Gardens Tampa boasts a fantastic assortment of intimate animal encounters and thrilling coasters. For an extra special treat, book a seat on the Serengeti Safari to feed giraffes. With many shows, rides, and animal encounters to choose from, a day at Busch Gardens will make for a memorable Mother’s Day. Due to limited breakfast options in the park, I suggest grabbing bite to eat at First Watch near USF to boost your energy! After entering the park, head for Adventure Photo to take a picture of you and your mom that can help you remember your adventure-filled day through Africa, Australia, and more. If you need an extra boost of caffein, then there is  a Starbucks located near the entrance of the park. Heading to the right, you’ll pass the Moroccan Palace, home of the Iceploration Show–come back later as you don’t want to miss it! The entrance of the first animal habitat you want to his is near the palace. Get ready to encounter gorillas in the Myombe Reserve. Meandering through the lush forests and exploring caverns, you’ll have the opportunity to get some rare glimpses of gorillas and other African animals.

Upon exiting the Myombe Reserve, head to the right to head back toward the Morocco area in order to make your way to Egypt! Egypt is home to three of Busch Gardens’ best coasters: Cheetah Hunt, Cobra’s Curse, and (my personal favorite) Montu. Each coaster offers a very different ride experience. On your way to Cheetah Hunt, you’ll get the opportunity to meet some cheetahs. Cheetah Hunt is a high speed more traditional coaster that gives you the feeling of being a cheetah racing through the Savana. After sprinting through the wild African plains, you’ll want to check out one of nature’s most mysterious and terrifying creatures the King Cobra. Hope in a spinning mine cart at Cobra’s Curse and ride the elevator to the top to come face to face with the King of Cobras himself. This entry level coaster is fun for the whole family, especially if you can get everyone spinning the cart. Oh yeah, it has an indoor queue too! Just up the hill from Cobra on of my favorite coasters period–Montu! A lengthy gravity defying inverted coaster, Montu constantly ranks as a top coaster from blogs and enthusiasts. Returning from your Egyptian exclusion, make your way to the Edge of Africa animal walkabout. There, you’ll have excellent views of the Serengeti and lots of photo opportunities. Along the way, you’ll see lions, giraffes, ostriches, hyenas, zebra, and more! You’ll feel as if you are right there with the animals. If you’re lucky, then you’ll find the lions right up next to the viewing area.

For an even closer experience, you can climb aboard the Serengeti Express for a steam train ride around the animal preserve! When you return to the Nairobi train station, you can head back toward the Moroccan Palace for Iceploration! This ice skating show is a treasure! Simply beautiful, and some humor as well. After backtracking a little to the ice palace, head back to the Cheetah Hunt area to dine at the Serengeti Overlook Restaurant. This 19th century themed restaurant, offers great views of the Serengeti and two dining options: table service and quick service. Once you’ve replenished your energy, take a stroll along the wooded path beyond the railroad tracks, and you’ll meander past the hippo and Nile crocodile viewing areas. Eventually the path will lead back to the Nairobi area. Take a right and head to see the elephants and onward to Pantopia! Pantopia is home to Falcon’s Fury, the midway area, Opening Night Critters show and a few other attractions. Depending on what your mom is most interested in, you can decide how to best use your time; but I recommend soaring through the sky like a falcon and watching the show. I find the scariest part of Falcon’s Fury is rising up and the comedy in the Opening Night Critters show is adorable!

Over the ridge from Pantopia lies the Congo! By now, you and your mom are probably roasting in the hot humid Florida weather and desire a fun way to cool off. Consider river rafting at Congo River Rapids! You’re liable to get soaking wet on this thrilling adventure through this mysterious river region of Africa. Deep in the jungles of Africa lie some mysterious creatures, but thankfully Busch Gardens has a journey to send you on to face off with Kumba! If you and you mom love looping coasters, then you’ll definitely enjoy Kumba. While waiting for the coaster, you’ll get to hear the roar of Kumba as it races by. Next door to Congo is Junglala, home the Bengal Tigers! Jungala offers a fabulous Bengal Tiger animal habitat with lot of different views. As you make your way through the jungle, you’ll find yourself in Stanleyville surrounded by great food options, a log flume, and you’ll encounter Sheikra! Complete with a freefall and inversions, this coaster is incredibly exciting. You’ll probably only have time for either the coaster or log flume.

With all the best rides out of the way, you and mom are probably ready to cool off and calm down. If you’re interested in feeding colorful birds in a large aviary, you and your mom will enjoy Lory Landing. You’ll need to walk through the Sesame Street area in order to get to your next destination: Australia! Best part of Australia is the Walkabout Way, home of kangaroos, wallabies, and other animals native to Australia. Finish off the day with a stroll past the flamingos and then you’re back where you began near Morocco. Stop by Adventure Photo to get photos printed to visually capture your memories from your trek across Africa, Australia, and beyond!

I hope I’ve been able to give you some exciting ideas of how to spend this Mother’s Day in the theme parks with your mom. There are so many other activities and experiences that I could not include; but I hope that I’ve been able to layout some solid ideas of how to make the most of your day in the parks with your mother. In addition to the regularly operating attractions, there are special brunches and uncharges on Mother’s Day that you may want to take advantage of. However, if you’re trying to do a theme park on a dime, then what I’ve laid out for you should fit the bill nicely! It’s not the money you spend on mom, but the TIME spent with her. THAT is what she will remember most.

And to my mom, Happy Mother’s Day! Thank you for the memories. I love you!

 

“KONG: Skull Island” movie review

“Hold onto your butts;” Warner Bros. and Legendary Entertainment’s KONG: Skull Island is full body KONG with just a hint of story. Wait. Isn’t that a line from Jurassic Park??? Sure is. And guess who delivers it? None other than Samuel L. Jackson himself–reprising his famous line from one of the most iconic films in the American cinema library. It’s rather fitting since there are many shared elements between KONG and the Jurassic Park franchise. Both take place on an island and deal with science vs. nature and pit man against ancient creatures. King Kong is no stranger to most people, considering he’s been a fixture in the cinema and theme park universes respectively for many decades. From silver screen to Universal Studios, he remains an icon to which few “monster” movies compare. Although the previous KONG films followed a very similar narrative, this newest incarnation of the king of Skull Island takes a modified route to the classic story. It shares many of the same elements or themes with its predecessors, but through the echoes of the past comes a reimagined story. Diegetically, the film certainly suffers; furthermore, it attempts to integrate social commentary on war, Captain Ahab allegory, and conservation, but none of those themes are effectively carried out. Due to the enormous “King Kong” sized cast, there lacks any real connection to any of the characters and development is certainly obscure, if any at all. Films such as this one can sometimes run into the danger of waxing nostalgic too often and forgetting that audiences want a new movie (i.e. Star Wars: the Force Awakens); and like the aforementioned, Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ KONG: Skull Island provides audiences with connections to past King Kong movies in a new approach, but ultimately crafts generic experience.

When an uncharted island shows up on U.S. satellites, Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brookes (Corey Hawkins) approach a prominent senator, seeking clearance and funding for a mapping expedition and exploration of the mysterious island resembling a skull. Begrudgingly, the senator clears Randa’s MONARCH for one last mission before the U.S. pulls out of the south Pacific following the Vietnam War pull-out. Partnering with Colonel Packard’s (Samuel L. Jackson) military troop and attaching ex-British special forces Captain Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and photo journalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) to the group, the expedition lays out plans to penetrate the severe storms surrounding the island to explore the island. What the group encounters on Skull Island will give them nightmares for the rest of their respective lives. Beginning as a glorified mapping excursion, this expedition turns into a game of survival as the group makes its way across the island.

At the end of the day, this movie accomplishes what it set out to do: revive Kong, thrill people for a couple hours, and setup KONG v. Godzilla. Action-adventure films are typically not expected to contain brilliant writing, character development, and strategically placed themed and subtext. What I respect about this movie is that is unashamedly pretends not to be anything other than a larger than life adventure centered around one of cinema’s most iconic “monsters.” Clearly, there are attempts in the movie to include some deeper themes such as anti-war, nature/conservation, and even a little Moby Dick; but those themes appear to have been great thoughts that were not fully executed. That being said, there is clearly a Captain Ahab figure in the film and there are many similarities between King Kong and Moby Dick–size just being one of them. For fans of Jurassic Park you’ll appreciate not only Jackson’s “hold onto your butts” line at the beginning of the film, but also several similar scenes, camera angels, and even the helicopter entry onto the island. Lots of nostalgia, but not so much that it feels like you’ve seen it all before.

In many ways, Kong is bigger than ever, but hardly better than previous Kong films. Ironically, this same thing can be said about the former Kongfrontation attraction at Universal Studios Florida. Much like the new attraction Skull Island: Reign of Kong at Universal feels far more generic than its predecessor, today’s Kong lacks the magic and innovation that the original Kong did in 1933. Despite an attempt to successfully launch a series of “creature features,” the script and human characters certainly suffer. Little can be said about the dialog except that occasionally there are lines that move the story along instead of stating the obvious or predictable. The dialog is cumbersome and never seems to remain focussed very long. Of course, that is hard to do considering that Kong boasts an extremely large ensemble cast. At the forefront of the cast are Hiddleston, Larson, Jackson, Goodman, and Reilly’s respective characters. Of all the characters, John C. Reilly’s Hank Marlow steels the screen about as often as Kong does. One might even be able to say that this is as much a John C. Reilly film as it is a Kong movie. Part of the magic of the previous Kong films, the 1933 version to be more specific, is the setting and characters themselves. Much like the new KONG attraction at Universal took physical sets, animatronics, real fire, etc and crafted a virtual 3D experience, the special effects artists and set designers did the same thing in KONG: Skull Island. The film comes across as less Kong and more Pacific Rim. In other words: generic.

KONG: Skull Island will certainly keep you entertained the whole time as action-adventure films are supposed to do. You’ll enjoy the fight scenes and the whole “creature feature” approach this film takes. If you’re looking for moments taken right out of the previous Kong movies, then you’ll mostly be satisfied. There are few scenes taken directly from the previous movies, but there are certainly allusions and nods to classic moments. You won’t spend much time with the natives nor will you get to witness the famous Empire State Building scene, but you’ll likely enjoy the film nevertheless. Just because a film takes a reimagined approach to a classic character that ultimately plays off as generic, doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything to enjoy. For action junkies, there is plenty to grab your attention and hold it for the duration of the movie.

Written by R.L. Terry

Edited by J.M. Wead

“Skull Island: Reign of Kong” Theme Park Attraction Review

IMG_5531“What’ve they got in there…King Kong?” (Malcolm, Dr. Ian 1993). That is precisely who you will encounter on your expedition into the jungles of Skull Island at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure this summer! Fortunately, I was able to take part in a soft opening on Saturday afternoon and am able to share my thoughts with you. The presence of King Kong at Universal Orlando Resort represents a long awaited triumphant return ever since Revenge of the Mummy took the place of Kongfrontation at Universal Studios Florida (original park). Although the ride design is completely different than the previous attraction, it is exquisitely designed and integrates trending themed entertainment attraction technology with practical effects and animatronics. From the queue to the ride path itself, you will be completely immersed into the dark and frightening world of Skull Island. Along your expedition, you may encounter prehistoric-sized creatures, the dead, and maybe even the undead.

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IMG_5512For those who have been hanging in and around Islands of Adventure for the last week, you may have had the opportunity to partake in a soft opening of the highly anticipated attraction. If not, definitely plan a trip to the park soon in order to experience the newest attraction (although, the Hulk coaster is reopening soon). What I appreciate most about Skull Island: Reign of Kong is the attention to detail, experiential storytelling, and production design. As an entertainment scholar, I was incredibly impressed with the ability to see horror film theories and frameworks woven throughout the experience. Now, is that something that the typical park guest is going to notice? Probably not. However, the fact that feel that I am going through the diegesis of a horror film serves as empirically-based observational evidence that the ride meets the expectations of both spectacle and narrative. As I mentioned on Twitter, the writings of Freud, Carol Clover, Geoff King, and Linda Williams are alive and well!

IMG_5445The experience of the attraction begins even before you enter the queue. As you gaze upon the exterior design of the attraction, you will begin to feel drawn into the world of Skull Island. What lies beyond the massive 100% to scale gate? Once the thoughts of feeling compelled to venture into the jungles behind the gate enter you mind, you will have no choice but to sign up for the next expedition. If you have been to a Disney, Universal, SeaWorld, or Busch Gardens theme park, you are already familiar with the theme and story of the attraction beginning at the queue. The Reign of Kong queue is full of creative design to capture your attention and compel you to further descend into the dark catacombs. Prior to entering the indoor part of the queue, the outside is lightly themed with bamboo, greenery, and some rock formations. Thankfully, you have a great view of Kong’s massive stone gates. The heaviest of the queue theming begins once you enter the catacombs.

IMG_5515It’s not called Skull Island for nothing. Between the entrance to the catacombs and the loading platform, there are hundreds if not thousands of skulls within the rock walls and openings. This is where I can really infer the adherence to horror film theories explored and defined by the scholars I referenced earlier. Just like going to see a horror film with the foreknowledge that voluntarily subjecting oneself to terror is part of the experience, the same can be said about this attraction. In Freud’s writings on the principle of unheimlich or what we refer to as the uncanny, he explains that we are psychologically drawn to that which should otherwise remain hidden. Certainly skulls of the dead are items that should remain hidden beneath the earth; however, they possess an attraction that begs for one’s attention. Moreover, scholar Carol Clover writes prolifically on the concept of the unpleasurable pleasure. What does she mean by that? This concept is a framework through which to view why we are drawn to that which would otherwise terrify us. In real life, if you were to see a foreboding cavern filled with low-key lighting and the remains of the dead, you would most likely run IMG_5526away. But since we know that this is a ride at a theme park, we are totally okay with venting further and further into the dark now knowing what awaits. Because we are aware that we are in a safe zone, it’s okay to experience otherwise unpleasurable sights and sounds. Just like going to see a horror movie. Both Linda Williams and Geoff King write on similar topics and theoretical frameworks that deal with spectacle, pleasure, and attraction. The sheer spectacle of the queue is enough to beckon anyone; and from the radio announcer, 1930s music, and witch/priestess’ frightening words, there is a coherent and steadily flowing narrative throughout the attraction queue. Even if you have never heard of King Kong (I know, that is doubtful), after passing thousands of skulls and listening to the witch-priestess chant in an unknown language about Kong, that plus the fire and cavernous rumblings tell you that Kong must be powerful and terrifying. Even after the witch-priestess causes fire and darkness, do you turn back? Of course, not!

IMG_5528One of the most interesting additions to the queue concept that has never been done before, except during Halloween Horror Nights (HHN) is including entertainment team members commonly known as scare-actors. Scare-actors are entertainment cast, in themed costume, whose goal is to frighten you with a classic jump-scare. Ordinarily, this is something that is only done during HHN since everyone who has come to the event is there with the intention of being scared. Interesting to use the same concept on a daily operations attraction. But, this is a frightening attraction and setup very similarly to a horror film. So, looking at it that way, it is a logical progression in queue development to include live performers who can increase the scare factor. IMG_5527Additional animatronics are also integrated into the queue in order to heighten the sensations of terror among the park guests. After meandering and wandering through the catacombs of Skull Island, you finally locate your ride vehicle and driver who is going to take you on an expedition beyond the stone gate. Following picking up safety glasses in order to protect your eyes from harm–oh the irony–you board the expedition vehicle. After riding in the front row on the the truck, I would advise not sitting there. So often, row one on a ride is the best no matter what is said about every seat providing an equal experience; however, on this attraction, I would advise sitting in the middle or back if at all possible.

KongVehicleThe ride vehicle at Reign of Kong is massive. It seats up to 78 park guests. So, the benefit to that is moving large crowds efficiently and quickly. Of course, there was no Express Pass queue during the soft opening, so that will definitely mitigate the efficiency and speed of loading standby (or standard queue) guests once it officially opens. At first, I thought the driver was real! The driver moved naturally and in a non-robotic fashion. Turns out that the drivers are, in fact, animatronics! Just goes to show the quality of immersion, storytelling, and theming went into Kong. The image in this paragraph is from publicity photos and shows a real driver; but the animatronic driver sits right up front behind the wheel. So Cool! Once you leave the IMG_5510loading dock, you proceed through the catacombs and outside to the pathway leading to the colossal stone gate. Unlike the forced perspective that is often found in the Disney and Universal parks out of logistic and engineering necessity usually, the King Kong gate is full scale. In many ways, you will feel just like Jurassic Park’s Malcolm when the doors open and you venture out into the wilds of Skull Island. During rainy weather, the attraction designers paved a way for the vehicles to bypass the gate which does take away from some of the initial impression but ultimately will not negatively affect the park guests’ experience on the ride.

SkullIslandBatHaving experienced the Kong attraction as part of the famous studio tour at Universal Studios Hollywood, I was very interested to see how that same technology was integrated into this stand alone attraction in Florida. Although the rides are not identical, Skull Island: Reign of Kong at Islands of Adventure borrows heavily from the Universal Studios Hollywood counterpart. After proceeding through the stone gate, you will encounter prehistoric sized creatures over head and on the ground. You won’t be able to ignore the giant gorilla skull and bones just inside the gate. As your driver is working on his or her PhD, you will have the opportunity to Kong_T-Rexmeet some of his or her colleagues in the field along the expedition. As to not spoil the actual ride portion of the attraction, I will not go into too much detail but provide more of an overall analysis of the storytelling. As I have written in previous articles, a theme park attraction based on a work of literature or creative media is essentially a short film. It has, say 3-5mins (sometimes longer if it’s a show) to take the park guest through a three-act story. Paralleling the plot structure of a movie, Reign of Kong provides an exciting story for those who dare to explore the jungles of Skull Kong_AnimatronicIsland. You have a well-defined beginning, rising action, crisis, showdown, and denouement. Although my ride experienced a technical glitch on one of the 3D screens, it did not significantly take away from the enjoyment and thrill. There are many elements I like about the attraction, but I was hoping for more practical effects and animatronics than proliferated 3D screens. Still, the visuals are fantastic and do an excellent job of immersing you into the wilds of the ancient jungle. I cannot be certain, but I believe one of the video sequences is taken from the Hollywood counterpart attraction.

IMG_5519Best part of the experience awaits explorers just before disembarking. I won’t tell you what it is because it will ruin the surprise. But, I will tell you that it is truly a welcoming and beloved echo from the past. Theme park technology and what the modern guest is looking for may change over the years, but some things remain a constant. Being a fan of theme parks turned scholar, I greatly appreciate the closing scene on the ride. I was even a little teary-eyed when I rounded the final corner. Whether analyzing Skull Island: Reign of Kong from an objective or subjective perspective, it is clear that the attraction is and will continue to be a huge success for Universal Orlando Resort. Excited to ride it again!