REVIEW: Skull Island: Reign of Kong – Overhyped, but Also a Bit Over Criticized
So after weeks of trying to get over to Universal to ride Skull Island, I finally secured a visit on Thursday. I’ve been hyping this ride since the days of its early rumors back in 2014. When it was officially announced, I couldn’t believe Universal was bringing a classic back to their parks. I found it to be incredibly exciting. And then, the rumors began of what the attraction would entail. One of the craziest being we would once again be getting a giant animatronic Kong which would reach in and kidnap the driver of the vehicle! I can only imagine the logistical nightmares that would’ve caused. Of course, we were all hoping for the best because Universal couldn’t possibly just bring over their Tram Tour video from Hollywood, right? I mean, they were building a gigantic new building for it and they even hinted at an animatronic Kong! Well, we were wrong. They did the video simulator, plus build the AA Kong.
Now the ride is in soft opening and technical previews and it is getting very mixed reviews. Many fans are highly disappointed with it due to our wild hopes and expectations. (Another simulator?!?!) Other fans find it to be quite thrilling and are fully satisfied with the attraction. I’m somewhere in the middle. So let’s get on with the spoiler free review!
The queue is sort of divided into three sections and as with most Universal attractions, they’ve outdone themselves with it. You’re first greeted with the large Skull Island: Reign of Kong sign and then walk through a giant rock figure of Kong himself. The path winds around and it’s covered with misters which is great for a hot day, especially since this portion of the queue isn’t covered. Guests get a nice close glimpse of the ride path and massive passing trucks before they eventually come to the heavily themed queue area.
It’s here where you get to learn the story behind the attraction and get some shade. Most of the story is given audibly so be sure to listen carefully if you care about the story. There are some nice artifacts spread throughout the queue as well. I especially love the detail in the rock work throughout. You can tell they really spend a lot of time detailing everything you see throughout the queue. It’s great that you’re in shade for part of the queue, however, unless there is wind in the air, I found it to still be a bit hot under there. However, we also stood under there for the longest time because the ride went down for a bit. Before and after it was down, the line moved pretty steadily, so I’m sure it’ll be fine when the ride working consistently. After all, it said a 75 minute wait time and if the ride hadn’t gone down for so long, we probably would’ve only waited 45-60 minutes, if that.
The third part of the queue is when you enter the building. Air conditioning!!! Also, this is the ‘controversial’ part of the queue. (Pardon my eye roll.) If you haven’t heard by now, part of the Skull Island queue has a few scare actors in it, similar to a Halloween Horror Nights house. The argument is the ride has a low height requirement and therefore should be family friendly, etc. My rebuttal is Skull Island is not a ‘family friendly’ environment. In today’s theme park world where the name of the game is immersion or die, I actually applaud Universal for taking the immersion aspect and adding in these scare actors for the queue. It really adds to the experience and theming of the attraction. My point? You can beg and praise theme parks for an immersive experience for say Harry Potter land or Star Wars Land and then whine when one is a bit too intense for younger kids. It’s all or none.
For the record, there is only one main area for the scare actors and it’s very obvious where they are if you are paying attention. Plus, with or without the scare actors, this portion of the queue has a semi-intense section in it anyway that is actually permanent because it’s
built in. So, even if Universal were to eventually get rid of the scare actors for whatever reason – budget or guest complains – this section would still remain. So just keep that mind.
Regardless of where you stand on this silly controversy, this part of the queue was awesome. The theming and story is fantastic. And yes, it is quite immersive. The Voodoo Queen? (not sure what to call her) AA is fabulous. Soon you get to the load area where you see even more props and theming regarding the explorers. There’s also a very impressive AA worm creature in a glass box. It’s quite gross and creepy looking. I loved it.
So you grab your ‘goggles’ on the left or right. It doesn’t matter which side, but keep in mind the left loads the front of the truck and the right, the back half. We ended up in the back row of our truck so unfortunately, we didn’t get a good look at our driver. The truck maneuvers incredibly well and with the wheels being further up than we were, at times, we were moving sideways which was a weird feeling in a truck.
Soon, you enter the show building where you see remains of a giant skeleton creature. Is Kong still alive? (P.S. No need to put on your ‘goggles’ until shortly after this.) After seeing a few other creatures, we meet our other explorers, but honestly, we could barely see them until halfway through the scene. What a shame.
Of course the calmness doesn’t last long as one of the females finds herself in a load of danger and we quickly have to chase her down to rescue her. Along the way, we encounter gross creatures and bugs, and in good Universal fashion, you get splashed with water. Next is where we see the video from Hollywood.
**SPOILER ALERT** So you drive into this giant room and dinosaurs come out of nowhere. This is where the main simulation comes into play. The truck makes an attempt to drive away quickly. With the combination wind effects, the 3D screens surrounding you, and the shaking of the truck, it does almost succeed in tricking your mind into thinking we are now driving very fast. I was actually a bit impressed here and surprised. Then we encounter more dinosaurs which begin fighting each other with you in the middle. Our truck is clearly on some sort of bridge because it shakes with the video movements. Soon, we’re falling in a similar fashion to Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts section. Of course, Kong is the good guy here and rescues us just in time for us to drive away safely. **END SPOILER**
So at the end of the ride, we see Kong himself in a very impressive, massive audio animatronic form. No video or picture does it justice, so don’t bother watching POVs on YouTube. He doesn’t do much, but that’s fine I suppose because he just looks incredibly real and detailed.
Is It Worthy?
In the end, Skull Island is a fun attraction. Like I said, I sit in the middle of all of the opinions because I was one of those who were extremely excited for the attraction when it was announced and then very disappointed when I eventually heard what the attraction actually was. But really, that probably helped my first experience because I was better prepared. I have to actually admit that I was smiling the entire time while on the ride, so I did enjoy it quite it bit. However, while Universal might classify this as an E-Ticket attraction due to its size and big name attached, I would actually list it one step down as a D-Ticket. It’s a fun ride, but not overly thrilling. Will it bring Guests in? Sure, to an extent. But not like Harry Potter or a major roller coaster. It definitely has some re-ride ability and I’d be fine waiting 30 minutes for it. Thankfully, with its large capacity, I think the wait times will be just fine for it.
The ride uses a decent mix of sets and 3D screens, but is unsurprisingly dependent on the screens. The simulation room was surprisingly impressive to say the least and made for a fun ride. It’s just disappointing to see yet another 3D screen attraction by Universal. I get the reasons why. Really, I do. But it’s beginning to feel like they’re a one trick pony, unfortunately, when before, they were consistently making my jaw drop. If their track remains pointed as it is, the rumors of them just bringing over the Fast & Furious: Supercharged video from Hollywood just like King Kong wouldn’t surprise me one bit. After all, we have The Amazing Spider-Man in IOA and Transformers in Universal; two almost exact rides. What’s to stop them from doing the same exact thing with Kong and Fast & Furious?
So is it worthy? Well, if you go in knowing what to expect, then I’d say you’ll enjoy it. Could they have done things differently? Sure. But it’s a fun attraction nonetheless. The theming is fantastic and really, it’s just great to see the King return back to Universal. But this is just one man’s opinion. Don’t watch the videos. Read what you want, but really, just go ride the dang thing and see for yourself. Just keep in mind that the ride was very over hyped, but is also overly criticized. Good or bad, we got some awesome merchandise from it!
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