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Transformers: The Ride filled with thrills at Universal Orlando

ORLANDO — In this dizzied land of theme park madness, where battles for tourist dollars are fought by fairy tale princesses and fuzzy penguins, Universal Orlando today officially launches the Sunshine State's latest, and by all means loudest, big-thrills offensive, Transformers: The Ride.

Cinderella might want to trade out her tiara for a helmet.

This new sucker is intense.

Estimated by industry analysts to cost about $100 million, the 3-D attraction based on the morphing robots franchise should help Universal temper recent challenges by Walt Disney World's New Fantasyland and Sea World's Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin experience.

Autobot Optimus Prime and bad dude Megatron — their epic scrum for a power source called the AllSpark (nerd alert!) frames the ride's narrative — certainly have the firepower and the advanced ride technology to hoover up a ton of summer's amusement buzz.

That is, until Universal unveils its next phase of Harry Potter hullabaloo and Disney fires up the new Seven Dwarves coaster. But hey, those are future skirmishes. Right now it's all about mechanized mayhem.

Transformers: The Ride blends stunning dark-ride technology (a 12-seat, 360-degree-spinnin' vehicle peels out on city streets) with engulfing 60-foot, 3-D screens and all manner of visceral effects like smoke, heat and the always-popular water in the face. Thwap!

Spread out over two stories of 30,000 square feet each, with a total track of about 2,000 feet and more than four minutes of oohs and ahhs, the ride's closest technological cousin is Universal's Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, which pretty much changed the ride game in 1999.

But that's eons ago in the theme park world. Transformers — versions of which are already popular in California and Singapore — crushes the web-slinger in wow factor, as the shape-shifting "bots" pummel the bolts out of each other as you in your "battle glasses" navigate the 3-D insanity in EVAC, an Autobot who doubles as a fancy taxicab.

Too much sci-fi geekspeak? No worries. Universal wants everyone to have a blast, and although fans will be satisfied, so will Grandpa from Scranton who wouldn't know Sideswipe from a Toyota Tercel.

The ride is so smooth and seamless, barfy levels are kept low. As for tykes, wee ones 40 inches and up can ride with an adult, so you know it can't be THAT treacherous. There's also humor injected throughout. In the dazzling queue (you get recruited to help fight the Decepticons blah blah blah), an incredulous Optimus Prime asks one rider, "Is that a churro?"

Plus my favorite moment of the spin is an absolutely fantastic James Brown joke — yes, the Godfather of Soul — provided by that music-loving yellow softie Bumblebee at the ride's plummeting finale. Nice catch, dude.

I'm a colossal theme park nerd, and I can gushingly say this is one of the most fully immersive thrills I've been on. In the solemn words of Optimus Prime: Well done, freedom fighters.

Times staff writer Sharon Kennedy Wynne contributed to this report. Sean Daly can be reached at sdaly@tampabay.com.

Transformers: The Ride filled with thrills at Universal Orlando 06/19/13 [Last modified: Thursday, June 20, 2013 5:09pm]
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