ORLANDO – If summer marks the height of the tourist season for Central Florida’s hospitality industry, it can also mark a time when theme parks are eager to roll out new rides and attractions to keep their appeal fresh to visitors.
That’s particularly true at Universal Studios, which is hoping a volcano in the Pacific, a few scares by King Kong, and a chocolate kitchen convince the guests that this is the place to be during their Orlando vacation.
This summer, Universal unveils its new Skull Island: Reign of Kong attraction, which harkens back to the original “King Kong” movie from 1933, where a group of filmmakers travel to the Indian Ocean to do location shooting for a new picture, only to find that actress An Darrow gets kidnapped by a giant ape. The movie has since been remade several times, including a 2005 version of director Peter Jackson, who also made the “Lord of the Rings” films.
Opening at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, Universal describes this ride, which runs just under seven minutes long, as an “intense, all-new adventure brought to life in a dramatically themed environment,” and one that will “pull guests into a powerfully told story where they become part of the next generation of the Kong legend.”
The journey that guests take will include visiting an ancient temple inhabited by hostile natives, a jungle filled with prehistoric creatures, and then direct contact with the colossal Kong.
Universal worked closely with Jackson as this attraction was being developed. Mike West, the executive producer of the Universal Creative division, called King Kong “a Hollywood movie legend and a huge part of both our history and our future. He gives us the opportunity to tap into everything that makes our film history so special and everything that makes our theme park attractions so spectacular.”
Kong isn’t the only new offering. This year Universal unveils The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen at CityWalk, as a restaurant with a focus on gourmet-level chocolates and desserts.
Located near the entrance to Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park in space formerly occupied by NBA City, Universal calls it a throwback to a 19th Century Steampunk-era chocolate factory, “complete with towering smokestacks and tanks, piping and other equipment for chocolate production,” the studio noted. “Inside, a mix of brass, dark wood and gadgetry – along with staff who will look and act the part – will complete the Steampunk feel. This unique experience will be punctuated by the food that will completely enrapture you.”
The menu will include traditional restaurant items like steak, seafood and pasta entrees, gourmet burgers and sandwiches. One unique offering will be all-day-brunch crepes and quiches.
The dessert menu will include a wide variety of milkshakes with equally unique titles, such as Bacon Brittle, Espresso Buzzzz, Red Velvet and Key Lime Pie.
Salted Caramel Flan and the Chocolate Brownie Bark will be among the specialized sundaes being offered there, and guests will also be able to watch chocolate creations being prepared and served.
Universal Orlando also plans to open its third theme park on 28 acres of land, complete with a beach, waterfalls and a volcano.
Universal just announced that Volcano Bay will open next year as a new water theme park.
“At Volcano Bay, guests will discover a place like no other, filled with incredible thrills and relaxing indulgences,” Universal noted in its announcement. “This one-of-a-kind park will combine exhilarating experiences with hassle-free convenience so families can get the most out of their vacation together.”
There will be 18 separate attractions at Volcano Bay, which will be divided across four park areas. That will include a wave pool with beaches, a winding river, multi-rider raft rides, and a speeding body slide that drops from the top of the volcano.
Universal Creative, the division that also created Skull Island, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man and Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, worked on Volcano Bay as well.
“The team researched water parks and tropical resorts around the world to help redefine the water park experience and shape their vision for Volcano Bay,” Universal noted.
The park areas will include concierge locations and lockers, and themed restaurants and bars located with “impressive volcano views,” Universal noted.
Universal Orlando also plans to introduce a new, 3-Park Explorer ticket for guests to experience Volcano Bay starting June 1, 2017.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com..