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Universal's rehabbed Hulk coaster roars to life, King Kong looms large

One of Universal Orlando's most popular rides, the Incredible Hulk roller coaster, is busting out of the construction walls that have sheltered the green giant for almost a year of renovations. There is no doubt, puny humans: Hulk strong.

The ride hasn't opened to the public except for unannounced "technical rehearsals" this week. The park has not announced the official opening date. In a sneak preview for the media on Wednesday, Universal's Islands of Adventure showed off a complete overhaul that made its already popular ride slicker and smoother. It's more in tune with the Avengers-style Hulk than the cartoonish Lou Ferrigno green guy.

Universal also invited the media Wednesday to see Skull Island: Reign of Kong, which opened July 14. Universal, like Disney, had canceled previously scheduled media previews of new attractions in the wake of the mass shooting at Orlando's Pulse nightclub and an alligator attack on a child, among other grim news.

Hulk's near total rebuild features a new queue and high-tech enhancements for a smooth ride. The path of the Hulk coaster is the same. It still has seven inversions and explosive g-force.

The ride now has a towering Hulk figure, holding up pieces of the coaster's track on his huge shoulders (track pieces were salvaged from the original ride). The coaster's modern new look is enhanced by an in-seat audio system that booms an original ride score created by Patrick Stump of Fall Out Boy.

The queue has the largest plasma display in the world, said Greg Hall, senior attractions designer of Universal Creative. The ball of techno electric energy helps set the scene of gamma rays getting dangerously out of control. Easter eggs are placed throughout, like Dr. B. Bixby and Dr. S. Lee on a company milestone bulletin board.

While the Hulk is big, Kong is bigger.

This primate's McMansion cost Universal a mountain of cash — at least $100 million, estimated theme park expert Dennis Speigel, president of consulting firm International Theme Park Services.

"It has the enormity of not only the persona of the King Kong legacy, but the enormity of the attraction in how they built this," Speigel said. "The problem is because of the late summer opening, I'm not sure it's getting the word of mouth it needs, and that word-of-mouth buzz is key."

Guests travel through a primordial jungle that includes actors dressed as scary islanders. The rugged landscape features big rocks, dense jungle, giant flying bugs and strange creatures.

The action takes place on curved 3D screens on each side of a 17-ton expedition vehicle. The finale features a loud animatronic Kong nearly three stories tall who roars his displeasure in a battle sequence. He may have a head the size of a Honda, but his face contorts with real emotion, scrunching eyebrows and a lovable personality underneath the gruff exterior.

The Kong attraction tips its pith helmet to the Peter Jackson-directed Kong film, from the shawoman character creepily warning visitors in an unidentifiable language to the man-eating worms and dinosaurs that inhabit Skull Island. Jackson consulted with theme park designers in the beginning of the process, said Mike West, executive producer at Universal Creative.

Universal's new 1,000-room hotel, Sapphire Falls, also opened in July. It's the fifth at the theme park with Universal's largest pool at 16,000 square feet. It has a white sand beach, a water slide, cabanas and a fire pit. A room key gets guests early entry to the theme parks. The company is also positioning the hotel to compete in the lucrative convention market.

Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at swynne@tampabay.com. Follow @SharonKWn.

Universal's rehabbed Hulk coaster roars to life, King Kong looms large 08/03/16 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 3, 2016 9:34pm]
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