Universal’s Islands of Adventure opened on May 28, 1999 as one of the most technologically advanced theme parks in the world. As the second gate for Universal Orlando Resort, the park focuses on the themes of adventure based in books, cartoons and literature as opposed to the magic of the movies on which Universal Studios Florida focuses. The park was originally composed of six themed lands: Port of Entry, Marvel Superhero Island, Toon Lagoon, Jurassic Park, Lost Continent, and Seuss Landing. On June 18, 2010, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was added to the park. To this day, the park’s innovations continue to amaze guests, making it one of the highest attended theme parks in the world.
Opening Date: May 28, 1999
Where: Universal Orlando Resort, Orlando, FL
Gate Number: 2
Lands: 7 (Port of Entry, Marvel Superhero Island, Toon Lagoon, Jurassic Park, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Lost Continent, Seuss Landing)
Attendance: 7,674,000, #10, +29.0% (2011 Report)
Port of Entry | Arctic Express | Backwater Bar | Cinnabon | Confisco Grille | Croissant Moon Bakery | DeFoto’s Expedition Photography | Island Market and Export | Islands of Adventure Trading Company | Ocean Trader Market | Port of Entry Christmas Shoppe | Port Provisions | Marvel Superhero Island | The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man | Cafe 4 | Captain America Diner | Comics Shop | Doctor Doom’s Fearfall | Kingpin’s Arcade | The Incredible Hulk Coaster | Marvel Alterniverse Store | Oakley | Storm Force Accelatron | Toon Lagoon | Betty Boop Store | Blondie’s | Cathy’s Ice Cream | Comic Strip Cafe | Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls | Gasoline Alley | Me Ship, The Olive | Pandemonium Amphitheater | Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges | Toon Extra | Wimpy’s | Jurassic Park | The Burger Digs | Camp Jurassic | Dinostore | Jurassic Outfitters | Jurassic Park Discovery Center | Jurassic Park River Adventure | Pizza Predattoria | Pteranodon Flyers | Thunder Falls Terrace | Triceratops Discovery Trail | The Watering Hole | The Wizarding World of Harry Potter | Butterbeer Cart | Dervish and Banges | Dragon Challenge | Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods | Flight of the Hippogriff | Frog Choir | Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey | Hog’s Head Pub | Honeyduke’s | Ollivander’s | Owl Post | The Owlery | Three Broomsticks | Triwizard Spirit Rally | Zonko’s Joke Shop | Lost Continent | Coin Mint | Dueling Dragons | The Eighth Voyage of Sindbad | Fire Eater’s Grill | Frozen Desert | Historic Families | The Mystic Fountain | Mystic Henna Body Art | Mythos Restaurant | Pearl Factory | Poseidon’s Fury | Star Souls | Treasures of Poseidon | Seuss Landing | Caro-Seuss-El | The Cat in the Hat | Cats, Hats & Things | Circus McGurkus Cafe Stoo-pendous | Dr. Seuss’ All the Books You Can Read | Green Eggs and Ham Cafe | High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride | Hop on Pop | If I Ran the Zoo | Mulberry Street Store | Moose Juice Goose Juice | The Noisarium (concept) | Snookers & Snookers Sweet Candy Cookers | Street of the Lifted Lorax
In early 1991, Universal assembled a small team to design a second gate to accompany Universal Studios Florida. The company reached out to Warner Brothers to create concepts with their intellectual properties. Dubbed “Cartoon World”, the park was designed to include such properties as Dr. Seuss, DC Comics (Superman’s Metropolis and Batman’s Gotham City), and Looney Tunes.
Based on the aerial concept art developed for Cartoon World, the layout of the park was much different. The park would utilize a hub-and-spokes model, similar to Disney’s Magic Kingdom parks. It seems the centerpiece of the park, the hub, would be a globe similar to Universal’s icon, but as a symbol of the Cartoon World.
As deals were being made, Warner Brothers asked for a price that was much more than Universal had wanted to spend on the theme park rights. Neither side conceded, and deals fell through. The team scrambled to find other properties in which they could base the park. They designed concepts based on Marvel Comics, Nickelodeon, The Simpsons, Jay Ward’s characters, Hannah Barbera, Peanuts, and others. There was some success in attaining the rights to Dr. Seuss, but with the majority of Warner Brothers-based concepts unusable, it was a struggle to find cartoon properties that could be utilized in the park.
In 1993, Spielberg’s Jurassic Park was an instant hit, and it was decided that the property must be included with the park. The property lent itself well and translated perfectly for a theme park setting, but was frustrating for designers to incorporate into a cartoon theme park. It was decided that the Cartoon World concept would be dropped, and the worlds of cartoons and dinosaurs would be married in the new Islands concept.
With the new marriage, the park was divided into a Marvel Comics land, a Dr. Seuss land, Cartoon Lagoon or Toon Land, and Jurassic Park. Designers decided that the park was still too “cartoon-heavy”, so The Lost Continent, based to legends and folklore of different cultures, was added to the park.
On September 15, 1993, Universal Studios Florida announced plans for Universal City Florida, a multi-billion (rumored to be $2-3 billion *) dollar expansion to the park. The 10-year expansion plan called for an unnamed second theme park, a nighttime entertainment district, five themed hotels, a 300-villa timeshare resort, a PGA signature golf course, championship tennis complex, and more. According to the master plan, these additions would have filled all of the land that Universal currently owns, as well as some land west of Turkey Lake Road.
In the years that followed, the press knew little about the new park. For some time, many news sources believed the entirety of the second theme park would be based on Jurassic Park. One by one, the press learned the properties that would be added to the park. They learned that the name of the park would be Islands of Adventure, and Jurassic Park would be one of the five islands, possibly entitled Isla Nublar. Then they learned that Marvel Comics would have its own land, then Popeye would be used in a cartoon-based land. Over the next few years, the island theme park began unraveling before them.
In 1998, Universal City Florida was renamed Universal Studios Escape. On March 27, 1999, Islands of Adventure held a soft opening where attractions were in technical rehearsal and subject to close. Sneak preview tickets were sold at the time for as little as $24.95. Previews continued for several months. On May 13, 1999, attractions were open regularly and two days later, the cost of the sneak preview tickets were increased to $32.95.
Islands of Adventure officially opened on May 28, 1999, Memorial Day weekend. Guests had very positive reactions to the park, yet attendance numbers did not meet expectations. This was due to the branding of Universal Studios Escape. The vagueness of marketing and commercials led viewers to believe that the additions were just additions to the original park and not a full-fledged theme park resort. In 2001, the resort was renamed Universal Orlando Resort.
In Islands of Adventure’s second year of operation, two family-friendly attractions were added to the park: Storm Force Accelatron and The Flying Unicorn. In 2006, a new attraction called the High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride, replaced the failed Sylvester McMonkey McBean’s Very Unusual Driving Machines. In 2010, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened to the public and proved to be a huge success.
Cartoon World overview concepts found at Classic Universal.
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