Fantastic Beasts

In this edition of Theme Park Bits:

  • A Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them ride is rumored to be replacing Dragon Challenge at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
  • The Incredible Hulk Coaster has finally reopened following a lengthy refurbishment.
  • Take a video tour of the the Incredible Hulk Coaster‘s new queue.
  • Universal Studios Hollywood is bring The Purge: Election Year to Halloween Horror Nights.

Buried at the bottom of a post about NBCUniversal obtaining cable and television rights to the Harry Potter film series for the foreseeable future is this snippet of theme park news, which may very well shatter the hearts of some Universal Studios Orlando fans:

Perhaps not coincidentally, rumors have been flying around Universal Orlando that Islands of Adventure might be about to close its Boliger & Mabillard Inverted Dragon Challenge roller coasters at the end of the summer, in order to redevelop that space for a “Fantastic Beasts”-themed thrill ride. With Universal no longer dispatching the two coasters so that they can “duel,” due to past incidents where riders’ belongings flew off one train toward riders on the other, the ride simply hasn’t enjoyed the popularity it did back in the day when it was the non-Potter-themed Dueling Dragons. Universal hasn’t bothered replicating Dragon Challenge in either of its additional Hogsmeade lands (in Japan and Hollywood) to pretty much zero complaints, further illustrating the ride’s lack of appeal to the Potter fan base.

As longtime Universal visitors know, Dragon Challenge existed long before The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was even a pipe dream. When it debuted in 1999, it was known as Dueling Dragons and it was located in the section of the Islands of Adventure park known as The Lost Continent and the Harry Potter book series was still young, with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (the third book) hitting shelves that year. At the time, Dueling Dragons was one of the most impressive roller coasters on the planet, an immaculately themed experience that saw two trains flying past each other at terrifying proximities. The carefully calculated “near misses” transformed two already strong inverted coasters into something truly special.

When the Wizarding World of Harry Potter arrived and carved out most of The Lost Continent, Dueling Dragons was allowed to remain. After all, the dragon theme fit right in the with the Wizarding World. After a few tweaks to the theme and a redesigned queue, it felt right at home. However, my past few visits to Islands of Adventure have seen absurdly short wait lines for the ride. On more than one occasion, I could literally exit the vehicle and get right back again because there was no one else in the queue. All of the Potter fans were too busy taking in the newer, fresher, more thematically ingrained attractions. A gigantic, stomach-churning roller coaster like Dragon Challenge never quite gelled with the people who contributed to the absurdly long waits for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.

And that brings us to right now and this rumor. There is no way Universal isn’t contemplating more Harry Potter attractions and there is no way they’re not eyeing the massive amount of space Dragon Challenge occupies. The possibilities are endless, especially with the series continuing on with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. And unlike their counterparts at Disney, Universal works fast – they could potentially have a new ride ready to go in just a few years.

This story makes too much sense to not have shards of truth in it, but that doesn’t make it sting any less. Dragon Challenge/Dueling Dragons was a great coaster and it was still a very good coaster after they removed the dueling aspect. To see it vanish from the Islands of Adventure line-up would be a crushing blow to those of us who have been riding it for over a decade.

But then again, who am I to say no to a new Harry Potter attraction? Knowing Universal’s track record with this property, it would be nothing short of stunning. This rumor is the definition of bittersweet.

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