With the recent debut of the new King Kong attraction at Universal Studio's Islands of Adventure and the release of a trailer for a new film; I figured now was as good a time as any to write about one of my favorite (extinct) rides of all time, Kongfrontation.
In June 1990, Universal Studios Orlando opened to the public. One of their premiere attractions was Kongfrontation, based on the 1976 remake of the classic film King Kong. The premise of the ride involved Kong destroying New York City and, you, along with other guests, are on an escape mission to leave the island of Manhattan. If I had to choose one ride for being responsible for my obsession with theme park attractions, this would be it! My first trip to Universal Studios was in their debut year, so keep in mind I was only around five years old on my initial visit. I had no clue where I was going and honestly the only thing I knew about Florida was Disney World and being able to meet Mickey Mouse. (Which I did!) I wasn't aware of Universal Studios at all! Being oblivious to what I was about to get into totally added to my experience; hence why the memory is still ingrained into my mind.
Universal Studios does an excellent job at hiding attractions inside of these large sound-stages. They always appear unassuming, but that all changes once you're inside. Kongfrontation is no different. The exterior was basically a replica/facade of Penn Station in New York City. In between some of the pillars were two large signs depicting Kong destroying a helicopter and gripping a blonde woman, just like in the film. The attractions name KONGFRONTATION, was emblazoned in a bright orange font. Once you entered the beginning of the queue you're hit with the aroma of banana, which became a staple of the ride. As you continue on, you're then transported into a detailed replica of a New York subway station. This queue will forever be my favorite of all time. As a New Yorker it amazed me to see every subway detail covered. Graffiti and garbage were littered everywhere, along with a news broadcast explaining the evacuation of the island. One eerie element of the queue I never hear mentioned is the faint sounds of destruction and chaos in the distance. Police sirens, screams, and roars are heard but never seen and this added fear/paranoia before riding. These subtle additions coupled with the general atmosphere of the ride made for a unique experience as you boarded the vehicle.
Now the actual ride is as follows: You reach the top of the terminal and board a Roosevelt Island tram car. The tram is manned by a guide who instructs you to take your seat and explains the escape mission. The tram's radio is connected to an emergency broadcast system that allows the authorities to give you the beasts’ exact location as he terrorizes the city. You pass flipped cars and a subway train that has been derailed. At one point Kong destroys a power-pole, which you see in an animated spotlight. The pole is knocked over and causes a massive fire near the tram. Unfortunately, as you are about to pass the 59th street bridge (which is an amazing replica) the police department warns you that Kong is headed your way. As you turn a corner, you come face to face with Kong dangling off the bridge . A chopper flies above the tram warning you of the impending doom. Kong continues to reach out to you as the chopper lets out a round off gun fire and misses. The guild warns you to brace yourself and Kong hits the tram causing it to drop several feet. The chopper then crashes, somehow exploding into flames. After a few seconds of the guild calming everyone down you continue passing though more destruction. A bright light is then shined on you from another helicopter. This distraction allows Kong to cut off the tram and grab it, tossing it down to the ground. More gunfire and flames erupt as you safely make it to Roosevelt Island and are presented with a news broadcast of your experience.
I was completely terrified the first time I was on this ride. The roars and movement were so fluid that in my mind King Kong wasn't an animatronic, but a living breathing thing. To this day I can't think of another ride that has something so realistic. Sure, newer attractions incorporate huge screens and 3D to help create illusions, but not Kongfrontation; every aspect of this ride was practical. When the tram passes 59th street, you actually pass a physical bridge. When the chopper crashes you feel the flames. Being transported into a destroyed New York City made for some of the best atmosphere I have ever seen on any attraction. It was just perfect!
One of my favorite memories of this attraction is the "5 year old me" passing through the gift shop. There were T-shirts, pencils, and postcards with the attractions name plastered across it. Of course, I wanted it all, but one specific item was a must have; a King Kong plush that roared when you squeezed him. I vividly remember seeing this furry doll and begging my mother to buy him for me. Like most parents she told me no; considering the price to get into the park was high, I had to be regretful about something. My mother then told me to save up all my allowance and any other money I got from X-mas, Birthdays, etc and buy it myself next time we visit the park. The doll was around 35 bucks if I remember correctly and that's a lot for a five year old. This was where I learned to save money, because that is exactly what I did! The following year or so we revisited Universal Studios and the Doll was mine. Till this day he's one of my most prized possessions!
Unfortunately in 2002 Kongfrontation closed it's doors forever to make way for Revenge of the Mummy; an indoor roller coaster based around the popular film franchise. The buildings exterior was changed from Penn Station Terminal to a "Museum of Antiquities" and the queue was transformed into a tomb with interactive elements. The rides layout is completely different and so is the experience. Comparing the two is virtually impossible. For me personally, it was a sad day they closed Kongfronatation. The ride will forever hold a special place in my heart as it was my introduction to theme park rides. From time to time I'll watch the various recordings on YouTube and reminisce. I highly recommend you do the same.
Luckily this year Kong returned in the form of a new attraction titled Skull Island: Reign of Kong. I've yet to get on it and will probably do a short review eventually. In addition, be sure to stay tuned to New Needle Productions as we have some great Halloween themed content coming up for you soon!
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