From Tame To Thrilling: The Roller Coasters of Universal Orlando
For its first decade of operation, Universal Studios Florida was a park where guests could “ride the movies,” but roller coasters at the park were non-existent. Over the years, Universal Orlando has grown from just one park with some film-based attractions into a full resort, with two theme parks, a water park, and multiple on-site resort hotels. With this expansion came the almost inevitable addition of multiple roller coasters — some geared towards families, but others created with thrill seekers in mind.
Universal Studios Florida opened its first roller coaster (Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster) in 1999, narrowly edging out the four opening day roller coasters at the adjacent Universal Islands of Adventure. In the past 22 years, there have been a total of 11 roller coasters (assuming you count each track of the former Dueling Dragons/Dragon Challenge as its own unique ride) that have operated at Universal Orlando Resort, and nine of those continue to currently operate.
What you may not realize is that with these nine roller coasters almost create a “natural progression” of sorts for riders to “graduate” to the next “level” of thrills. There are coasters mainly designed for children, families, and the occasional park guest who turns green at the sight of roller coasters, there are a group of coasters that fall into that “thrilling, but not too scary” category, and finally, a group of roller coasters that even the most seasoned of roller coaster veterans will find exciting.
To help future park guests with their roller coaster riding decisions, we’ve divided the roller coasters of Universal Orlando into three “levels” — Thrill Seekers in Training, Thrill Seekers, and Thrill Junkies. Eventually, even if you’re stuck on Level I, you’ll be able to conquer all three levels. To loosely quote Dr. John Hammond of Jurassic Park fame, “Welcome…to Tame to Thrilling: Universal Orlando.”
Level I: Thrill Seekers In Training
1) Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster – Universal Studios Florida
When starting at the “Thrill Seekers In Training,” level, what better place to start than Universal Orlando’s first roller coaster, Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster. An anchor attraction in Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone, the Nuthouse Coaster is a quintessential “kiddie coaster.” Standing less than 30′ off the ground, the Vekoma Junior coaster would be comfortable to travel in most residential neighborhoods with its top speed of just under 22mph. If you absolutely can’t “hang” with roller coasters, don’t worry, as Woody Woodpecker will bring you back to the station in 45 seconds, and will likely leave you saying “Ha-ha-ha-HA-HA!”
2) Flight of the Hippogriff – Islands of Adventure
Many park guests might think that Flight of the Hippogriff (formerly Flight of the Unicorn) was an opening day attraction at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, however, it didn’t open until a year after the rest of the park. Like its family coaster predecessor at Universal Studios Florida, Flight of the Hippogriff at Islands of Adventure is a slightly larger junior coaster from Vekoma, standing 42.7′ tall, and reaching a top speed of just under 30mph. It’s about 200′ longer than its west coast counterpart of the same name, which was manufactured by MACK Rides rather than Vekoma, and opened in 2016. Like Woody Woodpecker, guests who are 36″ tall can ride on Flight of the Hippogriff.
3) Pteranodon Flyers – Islands of Adventure
The opening day “kiddie” coaster at Universal’s Islands of Adventure was actually the suspended Pteranodon Flyers. Sitting in-line and flying above the “Camp Jurassic” area at a speed that can best called “leisurely,” Pterandon Flyers completes its relatively short course in just about 45 seconds once it reaches the top of its lift hill. While Pteranodon Flyers is the only roller coaster on this list that actually requires a guest between 36″-56″ in order for someone taller to ride, we have ranked it third in this level due to the in-line seating, swinging ride vehicles, and “feet-dangling” that may make “unseasoned” riders feel a little uneasy. (But for the views of Jurassic Park alone, you should definitely ride!)
Level II: Thrill Seekers
4) Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts – Universal Studios Florida
As roller coaster enthusiasts, one of the most constant arguments in the community that we see is if a ride counts as a roller coaster or not. Often, the gold standard is the “Roller Coaster Database,” RCDB.com — if it’s on RCDB, you’re golden to call it a roller coaster. Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts is on RCDB, so for the sake of this article, it’s a roller coaster. While more of a “dark ride,” with some roller coaster elements, the journey through Gringotts begins with a roller coaster-esque drop and turn to get to the second show scene. After that, it’s largely more of a dark ride than a roller coaster. The ride is mostly in the dark, and riders wear 3D glasses, but don’t let the idea of this attraction being a roller coaster deter you — the level of immersion, from the queue line to the 360-degree environment found inside the ride, is amazing for any Harry Potter fan, or fan of theme parks in general! Guests must be 42″ to ride.
5) Revenge of the Mummy – Universal Studios Florida
On the other side of the “Roller Coaster Dark Ride hybrid” spectrum is the Premier Rides-designed Revenge of the Mummy at Universal Studios Florida. Open in 2004, Revenge of the Mummy is almost the reverse of Gringotts. Riders start out of the station and begin the attraction with a more traditional dark ride experience, going through show scenes and animatronics.
However, a drop into a turntable takes the 16-passenger vehicle from dark ride to roller coaster almost quicker than the launch up the lift hill. From there, riders are taken, in near total darkness, through tight curves at a speed that feels much faster than the coaster’s top speed of 40 miles per hour. Just when you think the ride is over…it’s not, and another launch takes you through the coaster’s final section before the ride ends with Brendan Fraser asking for a cup of coffee. If you know, you know. If you don’t, you’ll find out, assuming you’re 48″ tall!
6) Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure – Islands of Adventure
When Universal announced that Dragon Challenge would close in September 2017 to make way for a “new generation of thrill ride,” opening in 2019, roller coaster enthusiasts were justifiably upset. However, the replacement of the twin B&M inverts, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventures (further referenced as Hagrid’s, because it’s a long title to type.), more than lives up to the legacy of the Fire & Ice Dragons who used to call the castle station home.
Hagrid’s features seven launches, but never tops out at speeds more than 50mph, and never reaches heights of more than 70′ tall. The heavily themed trains place riders in either a motorcycle or sidecar, and they will truly travel in every direction: forwards, backwards, up, and down, the latter, quite literally. (But we won’t ruin the surprise!) Hagrid’s is a fantastic thrill coaster for families with children who are at least 48″ tall, and manages to intertwine coaster thrills with a linear story that the Harry Potter universe is famous for. (Hope you get lucky and get a front row seat! There’s nothing like gripping the handlebars of the motorcycle car in the front row!)
Level III: Thrill Junkies
7) Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit – Universal Studios Florida
Looks can be deceiving at Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit. Following the 90-degree, 167′ tall vertical lift and drop, to the untrained eye, it might appear that riders head straight into a traditional inverting loop, making it the first roller coaster on this list where riders travel upside down. However, riders never actually go upside down, as the track turns in the loop, and riders traverse the outside of the loop at its peak, creating a “non-inverting” loop. The rest of Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit is filled with drops, banked curves, and brake runs, but one of the real attractions of this coaster is the “Choose your own Adventure” that takes place each time the train loads. Each seat is equipped with a number of on-ride speakers, and riders have the opportunity to choose their own music on the ride through use of a touchscreen in the restraint– while there are 30 “pre-selected” options, insiders know of the “Secret” Songs. We won’t go into detail, but this article on VisitOrlando goes into how to access the secret songs, along with a list of the songs! (A personal favorite is #901, which is Movin’ Right Along from The Muppet Movie!) Riders must be 51″ tall to ride.
8) The Incredible Hulk Coaster – Islands of Adventure
Now, we’re actually going upside down. Seven times in fact. The green behemoth known as the Incredible Hulk Coaster has stood tall over Marvel Super Hero Island since Islands of Adventure’s opening in 1999. Designed by Swiss Manufacturer Bolliger & Mabillard, the Hulk stands 110′ tall, and reaches a top speed of 67 mph, aided by a 0-40mph launch (in two seconds!) to blast riders out of the tube that encloses the “lift” hill. From there, riders are immediately met with a zero-G roll inversion before a 105′ banked drop towards the lagoon below. You’ll then go straight into a cobra roll, a vertical loop, and a corkscrew in quick succession before taking on the coaster’s “second half,” which features two more inversions. For many, this author included, the Incredible Hulk is a great first “big” roller coaster for many enthusiasts, made even better by the fact that it also recently underwent a complete top-to-bottom reconstruction, meaning that the thrills of the Incredible Hulk Coaster will continue to be there for guests for years to come.
9) Jurassic World VelociCoaster – Islands of Adventure
This list started with Universal Orlando’s oldest roller coaster, so it makes sense to end with the newest roller coaster at the resort, but for good reason. The Jurassic World VelociCoaster is the most extreme roller coaster at Universal Orlando. Opened in June of 2021, riders on the VelociCoaster conquer 4,700′ worth of track that features two launches, an Immelmann loop, and a dive loop. In addition to the 155′ tall top-hat, riders will also take on a zero-G roll, and the infamous “Mosasaurus Roll,” which sends riders head over heels above the Islands of Adventure lagoon. From casual to hardcore enthusiasts, the VelociCoaster has opened to rave reviews and has already given more than 1,000,000 rides despite being “officially” open just over a month. Many enthusiasts are saying that Velocicoaster is among the best coasters they’ve ever ridden (and you can read our own review here!) Oh yeah, did we mention that the restraints are just lap bars?
But you’ll be ready for any coaster at Universal Orlando, because you started at Woody Woodpecker and worked your way up, right?
For more information about Universal Orlando’s roller coasters, be sure to visit their website!
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Article Cover Photo: Orlando Informer & Blooloop