Universal's VelociCoaster May Be One Of The Best Roller Coasters Ever Built

The VelociCoaster, the new Jurassic World-themed roller coaster at Universal's Islands of Adventure theme park, opens to the public today in Orlando, Florida. We experienced a sneak preview of the high-tech new ride and came back everything you need to know. And yes, that includes footage of us experiencing this very intense experience and looking appropriately terrified. You can watch it all below.

The VelociCoaster Review

The video above showcases our entire experience riding the VelociCoaster, as well as us meeting new raptor characters in the surrounding Jurassic-themed land and trying out the new Jurassic World food offerings.

Full disclosure: Universal Orlando invited us to the press day. They provided us with access to the ride, gave us samples of the food, and took care of our travel and accommodations for one night.

The Queue and Pre-Show

Set right before the events of Jurassic World, the ride informs us that guests to the dinosaur park have demanded "more teeth." To satisfy them, the park has constructed a roller coaster that goes through the raptor paddock, which sounds...ill-advised. Chris Pratt reprises his role as trainer Owen Grady in the ride's pre-show, arguing with Bryce Dallas Howard's Claire Dearing in front of the guests via a "live streamed" introduction. It turns out Owen doesn't think this new attraction is a good idea (he is correct). But the merchandising and marketing for the ride says: "What could go wrong?" 

The queue also brings back Mr. DNA, the animated character from Steven Spielberg's original Jurassic Park. He has been resurrected here to help explain the safety guidelines and locker situation (and I hate to get super-nerdy about lockers, but the set-up here is smartly designed to manage guest flow and it should be the new standard). Even if his reason for being there is purely to get important safety information across in a non-boring way, it was still fun to see John Hammond's old creation getting a new life in Jurassic World. The queue itself has a lot of fun Easter eggs, including books by Alan Grant and mathematician Ian Malcolm.

The ride has not one, but two high-speed launches. The first takes place at the beginning of the ride and brings you from 0 to 50 mph in just two seconds, flying through rock formations featuring waterfalls and Velociraptors that roar as you fly by. The second launch takes place about mid-ride and takes you up to the ride's maximum speed of 70 mph in 2.4 seconds, sending you up the coaster's signature 155-foot-tall top hat and giving you an insane view of the entire resort (that is, if you aren't freaking out enough to admire the view).

I bring up the launches here because one room in the queue has windows that overlook the second launch, and you can actually see raptors chase after the coaster as it leaves the station. It's an impressive effect. There are five different versions of this launch, so if you're stuck in line, you can watch and see new things each time.

However, the true highlight of the queue is an up close and personal look at the raptors in their harnesses. They're actually impressive animatronics, but you can see them breathing and moving — they look so real. They are a little more than an arms length away from you, so you can't quite touch them...and even though they're in restraints, you wouldn't want to reach out just in case they get loose. This is a Jurassic World ride, after all. 

The Ride Itself

I'm not a roller coaster fanatic – I tend to prefer immersive dark rides that tell stories instead delivering thrills. The maximum extent of my coaster experience is the occasional loop on the Incredicoaster at Disneyland. But on my last trip to Florida, I was peer-pressured into riding Tigress at Busch Gardens, and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Still, the VelociCoaster is faster and more intense than anything I've ridden before, and to say that I was scared to experience it would be an understatement.

If the 155 foot top hat, four inversions and 70 mph launch weren't enough, this was the first inversion coaster I've ever experienced that doesn't have shoulder harnesses. Instead the VelociCoaster has a lap bar restraint that makes the whole experience even more thrilling. My butt did not touch the seat for much of the ride, and it gives you the experience of weightlessness, like you're flying through the air. On other coasters, the shoulder restraints can be comforting (or sometimes they just violently keep you in your seat), but here, it really feels like you could actually fall out as you do a heart line roll over the Islands of Adventure lagoon. Of course, Intamin's ride system has been well-designed and tested and is perfectly safe, but not being able to hug onto shoulder restraints adds to the thrill in a huge way. 

I would also like to applaud Universal for making a coaster that accommodates riders of bigger sizes. I think one reason I never got into coasters is I often don't fit into the restraints, and I would just tell myself I didn't need to ride them (a way to dismiss them before they had a chance to reject me). I had no problem getting on VelociCoaster, and I'm a guy who wears XXL T-shirts. 

I was also prepared to complain that Universal only used stationary raptor statues in the ride itself, and they should have installed moving animatronics. But after experiencing the ride for myself, I now that that would have been unnecessary. You zoom past the dinosaurs so fast and the loud roars that play are just as effective.

As I came down off of the giant top hat maneuver midway through the ride, I looked over at my girlfriend and said "This is the best roller coaster ever." I'm a convert. 

Final Thoughts

When it comes to modern roller coasters, do I appreciate the theming, story and twists of Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure or Disney's Expedition Everest more? Yes, but I think I've finally found an appreciation for a more lightly themed extreme coaster. My heart felt like it was going to beat out of my chest for an hour after my ride experience, my adrenaline was pumping in a way that I've never experienced before. VelociCoaster is an incredible addition to Universal Orlando Resort, and I'm sure people will be lining up for hours to experience it — and it will be worth it. 

It does feel odd to have a Jurassic World-themed roller coaster right next to the Jurassic Park-themed river adventure ride. One part of the queue had some fun and nicely illustrated attraction posters, one of which was dedicated to the Indominus Rex, promising that attraction would be "coming soon." The genetically modified Jurassic World villain is now the climax of the remodeled Jurassic World: The Ride in Universal Studios Hollywood, which has gotten rave reviews. I wonder if they will give Orlando's River Adventure the same remodel that Hollywood got. On one hand, I love being able to visit Jurassic Park, but the new Jurassic World ride is just better in most respects and would give the land a more cohesive feel. We shall see.