Universal Orlando’s announcement of the long rumored Kong attraction brings yet again another year of anticipation and excitement as we look forward to experiencing the thrills of Kong in the summer of 2016. Reaction on Twitter and among the top theme park informational websites has been mostly positive concerning the new attraction. But there is one aspect of this new ride that I am surprised is not getting more attention, especially from theme park purists who live and breathe this stuff – Universal Orlando has not explained how this new attraction will fit into the overall thematic design of Islands of Adventure.
Interestingly, no one seems to really care. Maybe Rex and I are thinking too hard about this (we probably are) and maybe we should just concentrate on the excitement of an awesome new attraction coming to IOA (we probably should), but Islands of Adventure at the Universal Orlando Resort is my favorite theme park destination for a reason. The attention to detail combined with the various themed “islands” that house some of the greatest attractions in the world made an immediate impact on me the first time I stepped foot into the Port of Entry in the early 2000’s. It is no surprise that the “island” concept of Islands of Adventure is a big part of its appeal.
But what exactly is an “island” at Islands of Adventure?
Universal Orlando’s official website describes the park like this: “Take an unforgettable journey through the uniquely themed islands of Universal’s Islands of Adventure®, where the world’s most cutting edge rides, shows and interactive attractions bring your favorite stories, myths, cartoons, comic book heroes and children’s tales to life.” Notice the use of language here. The islands of IOA are where the rides, shows, and stories come to life. The islands host the attractions, stories, restaurants, etc. Wikipedia says something similar in describing the islands when it says, “guests depart from a main port to visit six (sic) other distinctly themed islands, all emphasizing adventure.” The emphasis here is that we are leaving a port to visit places that are specifically themed and host the adventure.
This is all confirmed by a simple glance at an IOA park map. The various islands, of which there are currently seven, are color coded and written in bold print. The attractions, shows, and restaurants that each island hosts are written in normal print underneath the island’s name. This is of course common sense.
So, any time you are speaking of an attraction, a restaurant, a show, or a store at IOA, you can always ask the question, “what island is that in?” and receive a clear answer. Ripsaw Falls is in Toon Lagoon. River Adventure is in Jurassic Park. Captain America’s Diner is in Marvel Super Hero Island. And so on.
Now, let’s ask the same simple question about this newly announced attraction – “What island is Skull Island: Reign of Kong in?” Well, you might say, isn’t it painfully obvious? It’s in Skull Island! But not so fast. Skull Island: Reign Of Kong is the name of a single, specific attraction coming to Islands of Adventure in 2016. It just so happens that this particular attraction has the word “island” in its title. There is no precedent, and frankly it makes no sense, for a single attraction to be considered an “island” in the way Islands of Adventure has historically been themed and designed.
Here are a few things to consider:
1. Universal Orlando has been remarkably consistent in not describing a new “island” that will host Skull Island: Reign Of Kong. They have simply revealed details about the attraction itself, which just so happens to be an attraction themed around an island. Are you tracking with me? Rex and I are of the opinion that we will not see Universal Orlando count Skull Island: Reign of Kong as another official island, which would bring the total to eight islands. Which leads us to…
2. Interesting comments by Mike West, executive producer of Universal Creative, in light of this discussion were spoken to the Orlando Sentinel. Mike says, “It’s really its own story and its own environment that we’re creating…It’s really an entity unto itself. It’s Skull Island, it’s the home of Kong, but it’s really just creating this massive, dramatically themed environment in that area of the park that’s just his home…It’s unique and something we haven’t done before.” (emphasis mine). Look at all the different ways, indicated in bold print, that Mike describes the area where Skull Island: Reign of Kong will be located. He uses about every word imaginable except the word “island.” He had to go out of his way to do such a thing. If this were not intentional, Mike would have certainly said, “Skull Island will be an entirely new island at Islands of Adventure where we are creating this massive, dramatically themed environment…” But nowhere do we find Universal using language that describes Skull Island: Reign Of Kong as an entirely new Island.
3. Even Wikipedia has no idea what to do with this. On their timeline for Islands of Adventure, there is an entry for May 31, 2007 that says, ” Universal Studios and Warner Bros. officially announce Islands of Adventure’s seventh island, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter,…” (emphasis mine). But on the entry for May 6, 2015, it says, “Skull Island: Reign of Kong is announced as a new area/attraction based on the 2005 film King Kong.” (emphasis mine). The difference is obvious. When the WWOHP was announced, it was clearly a new island because it would host various rides, shows, stores, and restaurants. But since Skull Island: Reign of Kong is just a single attraction, Wikipedia correctly does not call it an “island.” I give credit to the editor of this Wikipedia page who correctly wrote that this announcement by Universal unveiled a new “area” but not a new “island.”
4. What about the park map in 2016 when the attraction opens? Where will Skull Island: Reign Of Kong go? RATB believes that the attraction will be listed in a different color and set aside by itself, but Universal will still not count it as an 8th island in the park. This is why we believe Mike says that this is “something we haven’t done before.”
Based on these things, I believe the following things are still yet to be determined and will eventually shed light on the discussion:
1. Perhaps Universal Orlando is going to build a counter service restaurant or an arcade or something themed to Skull Island that will expand the area beyond just the attraction itself. If this were to happen, then I believe Universal could conceivably begin calling Skull Island the 8th island of IOA. We have not seen any evidence yet to suggest there will be other things to do or see beyond the attraction itself (which is going to be a site to behold, for sure!)
2. If the attraction is the only thing being constructed, then Universal has to make a decision. They can choose to play dodge ball and simply ignore the issue altogether, which apparently is working just fine since no one seems to be talking about this but us, but that will be disappointing. I had much rather UO just come out and say, “this is an incredible attraction that hosts Kong, but it is not a new island.” Or…..
3. Universal can redefine the concept of the “island” at IOA and establish that a single attraction can double as an “island.” Since Mike is being so careful to avoid the island language, RATB does not believe that this will be the approach they take.
Why does all of this matter? Well, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t at all. But for those of us who are on the journey of the best theme park experience, making such a radical shift in the thematic approach of the best theme park on the planet is a pretty big deal. Time will help erase some of the confusion, especially if more Skull Island themed options are built. But for now, we believe that UO is being intentional in the way they are avoiding “island” language and desire for the Kong attraction to be a unique addition to the IOA family of attractions. Mind you, just not an island!
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