When a major city’s tallest structure is a roller coaster

Perhaps this could only happen in Orlando: the city’s tallest structure will soon be a roller coaster.

The Skyscraper aims to live up to its name. When construction of the roller coaster is completed in 2106, it will dominate Orlando’s skyline. At 570 feet, the Skyscraper will loom over the next tallest structure, the Suntrust Center—which is itself only a few dozen feet taller than the Orlando Eye, a 400-foot-tall Ferris wheel opening this spring.

Orlando appears to be one-upping other cities in the global race to build soaring structures that aren’t buildings. Where plenty of cities have built observation wheels (Orlando included), the Theme Park Capital of the World is looking to distinguish itself through a different kind of roller coaster, one whose footprint and height resemble, well, a skyscraper’s.

Developers released new plans last week for the Skyplex, a $300 million entertainment center that will anchored by the Skyscraper. The expanded plans include the Skyfall, a 450-foot tall drop ride (built into the Skyscraper structure) that will itself be taller than the tallest building in downtown Orlando.

Tall buildings may be functional but they are also intended to say something about the city: that it is has a certain level of success and sophistication. A skyline is meant to stand out and provide a lasting and permanent (though it is open to change, people don’t really consider losing major buildings from the skyline) image of a city. So, Orlando seems to be staking its claim to entertainment and amusement, to lasting screams and high speeds. And once you have this tall ride, how do you top it?

Quick Review: Universal’s Islands of Adventure & The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

We recently were in Florida and spent a day at Universal Studio’s Islands of Adventure. While this is more of a theme park than the regular Universal, it also includes the 1 year old Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Here are some thoughts on this park with pictures:

1. I’ll start with Harry Potter. This area was a lot of fun: from the ride (more of a Universal type ride than a roller coaster) to Hogsmeade to seeing Hogwarts from a distance, it was exciting. By far the best overall area of the park. In addition to the main ride (which was fun but we only did it once), there are two dueling roller coasters, the Hungarian Horntail and the Chinese Fireball, that were the second and third best rides in the park (and I went on each of these twice).

We spent a good amount of time in Hogsmeade. The scene of a small village in the snow looked good even on a 90 degree day and Hogwarts looks imposing off in the distance. While Olivander’s wand shop was overrated (and the longest wait of the day at 45 minutes), Zonko’s, Honeyduke’s, and The Three Broomsticks were worthwhile. The butterbeer was tasty.

This was the most crowded part of the park and we went there at least four separate times to try to avoid some of the crowds.

2. The best roller coaster in the park is The Incredible Hulk. While it is not the tallest or fastest coaster in Florida, it has some good features: you are shot out of the tunnel, the first turn/corkscrew is great, and it has an interesting part where it goes through some mist and under a bridge. The waits weren’t that long and I rode three times.

3. The park has three water rides which we rode all in a row. The Jurassic Park ride was entertaining (an extended big boat ride with the big drop at the end). The best was Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls which was whimsical, wet, and had a couple of small gotcha drops.

4. Other parts of the park I liked:

-Perhaps other parks have this now but all of the rides had lockers that were free and locked/unlocked by your fingerprint. We didn’t have to pay anything for this all day, the lockers were conveniently located near every ride, and we didn’t have to worry about a key.

-The Dr. Seuss area was fun to walk through but the rides are for kids. Humorously, we saw a brochure in the Orlando area that claimed one of the tram rides from this area was actually in Disney World.

-Spiderman was okay – a typical Universal ride with lots of noise, lights, a 3-D screen. Doctor Doom’s Fearfall could have been taller but at least the line was short.

-We saw three shows: the BMX/skateboarding/motorcycle stunt show was fun while Poseidon’s Fury and the Eighth Voyage of Sinbad were lame.

-The food wasn’t bad. We ate at The Three Broomsticks for lunch and Mythos for dinner. Mythos claimed to be at the top of theme park food and I can’t say that I disagree.

5. Some things I would change:

-There are a few areas that need to be spiced up: Jurassic Park and The Lost Continent. Perhaps this has changed recently with more resources and space going to Harry Potter but these areas were noticeably lacking.

-The park needs one or two good rides to be fantastic. Another roller coaster would be fantastic. We had ridden all three roller coasters (and The Hippogriff kiddie coaster doesn’t count) and all three water rides within four hours of being in the park.

6. A note: we stayed in a Universal hotel the night before and it seemed to pay off. Though the hotel was pricey, we were able to get into the park an hour early (and therefore had no line for the Harry Potter ride) and also had an Express Pass so we could bypass some of the lines. The longest wait we had for a ride all day was probably twenty-five minutes and this was to be in the front row of The Incredible Hulk.

On the whole, we enjoyed the day. All amusement parks these days are expensive but I found this to be more interesting than Disney World, Epcot, or the regular Universal Park. Compared to the other nearby options, this park has exciting rides and doesn’t have to rely on characters, tradition, and tricks. With a little bit more, this park could be fantastic and I would then enjoy returning.

Here is the official website and the Wikipedia overview.

(Side note: the Harry Potter souvenirs were flying off the shelves including wands and school robes. With this success, how come some park hasn’t shelled out big bucks for a Lord of the Rings theme?)