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King Kong returning to Universal, Incredible Hulk to reopen

The new Skull Island: Reign of Kong ride at Universal’s Islands of Adventure will encounter frightening creatures, hostile natives and King Kong himself.
The new Skull Island: Reign of Kong ride at Universal’s Islands of Adventure will encounter frightening creatures, hostile natives and King Kong himself. UNIVERSAL ORLANDO

The year is 1931, and Skull Island is newly discovered. Scientists have found previously unknown plants and animals living on this island, and there are rumors of the existence of Megaprimatus kong, a species of giant apes thought to be extinct. The Eighth Wonder Expedition Co. has been exploring the place, and now it’s taking along others to help check it out.

Right away, you see skulls stacked among the rocks, as well as evidence of at least two civilizations. First were the Ancients, an advanced society that built rock walls to protect themselves from the island’s creatures, then retreated into catacombs, then vanished, says Adam Rivest, the attraction’s show producer. The Natives, who succeeded them and may still live here, had a much cruder civilization.

There’s steady chatter in the background — drivers for Eighth Wonder are being interviewed by Millie the radio dispatcher about what they’ve seen on the island, Rivest says. From somewhere else come drumming and the alternating chants and roars of human voices. Natives.

887 The number of skulls on Skull Island, the home territory of King Kong at Universal’s Islands of Adventure

You’re underground, walking past crates of supplies, weapons and live animals, and toward an enormous truck that will take you through imposing temple doors and deep into the jungle. That’s as far as Universal will take us on today’s tour, but after riders get on the bus, Rivest says, “something goes terribly wrong.”

There are encounters with the hostile Natives; prehistoric creatures including the disgusting slug-like giant Carnictis, which eats the dead and wounded; and Terapusmordax, a flying predator with a 10-foot wing span; and, of course, King Kong himself.

 
The Terapusmordax is one of the creatures riders will encounter on Skull Island: Reign of Kong. UNIVERSAL ORLANDO RESORT

Kongfrontation, an earlier King Kong attraction at Universal Studios, was demolished in 2002 to make way for the Revenge of the Mummy roller-coaster. Now the giant ape is back at the sister park, Islands of Adventure, with a story line created just for this attraction — it’s not a story that has been told in Universal’s parks or in the movies. Skull Island: Reign of Kong takes guests to Kong’s home turf. Be very afraid.

An opening date for Skull Island has not been announced, but it should come shortly after a press preview scheduled for June 22-24.

The Hulk returns: Islands of Adventure’s Incredible Hulk roller-coaster, which was closed in September for refurbishment, is expected to reopen this summer. The shape of the track and the fast-launch start will be the same, but Universal Orlando Resort says the ride vehicles and the story line will be enhanced and that the ride will be smoother.

I can tell you the overall experience is going to feel more immersive and high-tech. But don’t worry — the attraction will still have the same “Incredible” personality that makes it one of America’s most popular coasters.

Doug Boemler Wareing, Universal Orlando blogger

Also opening this year: Universal Orlando’s fifth hotel, Sapphire Falls, a Caribbean-themed hotel with 1,000 rooms, a tropical lagoon and waterfalls. An opening date has not been announced, but the hotel is taking reservations for dates starting July 14.

Restaurants: Universal’s CityWalk, which had an extensive makeover of its restaurant line-up in 2014, has another new restaurant, NBC Sports Grill & Brew, on the site of the former NASCAR Cafe, with nearly 100 high-definition screens and glass-topped foosball games as tables. Another restaurant, the Toothsome Chocolate Factory, will open later this year in a 19th century-inspired Steampunk factory where NBA City used to be. Despite its sweet name, Toothsome will serve a range of appetizers, burgers and main courses as well as desserts.

Beyond 2016: Two new rides at Universal Studios are scheduled to be completed in 2017 — Fast and Furious: Supercharged, immersing guests “in the underground racing world made famous in the films” (but with a different story line than an attraction with the same name at Universal Studios Hollywood); and Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon, a 3-D ride that will “rocket through the streets — and skies — of New York City.”

In addition, Universal is building a new water park, Volcano Bay, set to open next year. The company is not releasing details, but says it will be more like a theme park on the water than a simple sun-float-and-slide water park. Universal’s current water park, Wet ’n Wild, will close for good at the end of 2016.

Also, Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort, which opened in March 2014 with 1,800 rooms and suites, will get two more towers with 400 guest rooms, to open in 2017.

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