Yes, we’ve already gone on the record and said that the queue is the best part of a themed attraction. While this may be true, there’s still much else to love in the experience – particularly the very last moment, that brief period of time that designers can use to knock your socks off in a high-energy climax, to provide a quiet moment to allow you to catch your breath, or to provide one last gag that seals the ride’s deal.
Just as Universal has managed to perfect the arcane art of queues, it’s also come surprisingly close to doing the same with these last-second thrills, chills, and laughs. In fact, there are so many different ways the company has managed to make its attractions memorable right before exiting the ride vehicle, we thought it only appropriate to list them all out.
And since lists are infinitely more fun when they also double as rankings, well, we just couldn’t resist. Here are our top six favorite endings to both Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure’s rides.
(Oh, yeah – we should probably add a giant spoiler warning right here for each of the attractions we’re about to tackle. If you haven’t been on them yet and don’t want to know how they end, stay far, far away!)
6. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
Location: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade, Islands of Adventure
Opening date: June 18, 2010
There is something about being in Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardy after devouring seven novels and eight movies that makes it an absolutely mesmerizing experience, whether you’re simply waiting in its line or zipping over its grounds.
All of which explains why the whole final stretch of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is as spellbinding as it is. Harry’s valiant repulsion of the Dementors, the mad dash across the Black Lake to Hogwarts Castle’s main doors, our entry into the Great Hall – where all of the various students gather to cheer our successful return – and, finally, our last journey through the Floo network back to the Room of Requirement (otherwise known as the loading/unloading station) is just one nonstop smile-producing machine. The transition from a screen to a physical set is almost the very definition of seamless, providing for a nifty experience in and of itself, and John Williams’s legendary score can’t help but put an extra bounce in your step as you get off the ride vehicle.
And as if all this somehow weren’t enough, there’s also this little nugget: Professor Dumbledore has a gentle reminder to grab all our stowed belongings lest they be confiscated by Mr. Filch, which is not only meta, it’s also the single coolest set-up of a gift shop any ride has ever done at any theme park in the world.
5. The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man
Location: Marvel Super Hero Island, Islands of Adventure
Opening date: May 28, 1999
You’ve just been saved by Spider-Man (but of course) and have had your picture taken by the web head (for his day job, and not for Universal’s souvenir coffers, it should be noted). J. Jonah Jameson, the cantankerous editor-in-chief of the Daily Bugle, has called you a hero, and a “hip” new take on the classic Spider-Man theme (y’know, the one from the ‘70s animated series) starts playing – quite the triumphant ending, even without anything else coming after it.
But then something does. The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man manages to outdo itself by sneaking one last moment in: as the ride vehicles trundle up to the unloading station, Doctor Octopus’s anti-gravity cannon has been strategically placed on a crate to your left. Its target is none other than Jameson himself, who can be seen floating in his office (located ahead of and above you), making sure the longtime Spidey nemesis is getting his just due. It’s not only a clever gag, it’s also a masterful use of space – how many other attractions find a way to continue to tell its story while you’re otherwise busy taking off your 3D glasses and preparing to disembark?
4. Jurassic Park: River Adventure
Location: Jurassic Park, Islands of Adventure
Opening date: May 28, 1999
There’s only one way for a water ride to end: getting you soaking wet. This is precisely what Jurassic Park: River Adventure manages to do, but it does so with a panache that is hard to find replicated in other aquatic-based attractions, even 19 long years later.
First, as passengers are winding their way through the infiltrated Environmental Systems Building, they’re hunted by velociraptors – and the iconic Tyrannosaurus Rex, to boot, as his massive audio-animatronic head emerges out of the ceiling to try and bite yours off. Then, in order to escape, the ride vehicle takes a massive, 84-foot plunge to safety, skirting dangerously – and excitingly – into roller-coaster territory while still having a watery-explosion payoff that can safely be called the motherlode of aquatic rides everywhere.
It’s hard to overstate the magic of this one moment. Universal managed to seamlessly interweave elements from dark, thrill, and water rides, taking the best from each and creating something almost entirely novel in the process. You may call the end product visceral, but we call it seminal – it’s no wonder why the experience has long since cemented its place in the annals of themed entertainment as one of the great climaxes, water ride or no.
3. Revenge of the Mummy
Location: New York, Universal Studios Florida
Opening date: May 21, 2004
Ah, Revenge of the Mummy. It may be hard to get campier than its final scene, but it’s also hard to get more iconic.
Pulling up towards a fork in the track that leads to the two unload stations, riders are greeted by the one and the only Brendan Fraser, welcoming them back from their tour of the latest Mummy set with lines that have since become immortal: “Hope you enjoyed yourself. I would’ve enjoyed this interview more if I had gotten my cup of coffee!” Imhotep, of course, is only too happy to deliver, and as his shadow falls over Fraser, the screen cuts to black, Jerry Goldsmith’s classic score blares, and riders move on to disembarkation.
It’s funny, it’s a pitch-perfect fit with the source material, and it continues the attraction’s fourth-wall-breaking series of gags (including a fake unloading station that has its attendant be zapped by Imhotep, seemingly preventing you from ever getting off the ride). In short, is there a more appropriate way to end an action-adventure romp?
We would be remiss if we didn’t mention two golden “did-ya-knows?” from this scene. Firstly, our love here at OI HQ for Revenge of the Mummy’s ending led us to send a Starbucks gift card to Brendan Fraser for his most recent birthday, so that he may finally know peace by getting his cup of coffee (we even immortalized the occasion with a special shirt design). Secondly, if you listen closely to the actor’s closing screams, you’ll hear a hidden message contained in them. Trust us – once you notice it, you’ll never be able to un-hear it.
2. Skull Island: Reign of Kong
Location: Skull Island, Islands of Adventure
Opening date: July 13, 2016
So far on our inventory, we’ve encountered finales that are grand or funny or otherwise inventive. What we haven’t quite seen is one that is spectacular – something which Islands of Adventure’s still-newest ride delivers in spades.
Skull Island: Reign of Kong’s absolutely massive, 26-foot-tall audio-animatronic King Kong figure that looms large over your ride vehicle as you slowly move past it (you don’t want to accidentally invoke the wrath of Kong, after all) fits the bill, and does so with aplomb. The robot is so detailed and so expressive – with his squinting eyes and heaving shoulders and, even, jungle debris stuck in his hair – it’s nothing short of staggering. It’s a breathtaking encounter – almost literally, given that you can even feel the king’s breath on you as you skulk past.
There may be no explosions or footage of cheering actors or haunted beverages, but this final experience with King Kong doesn’t need any of that. The intimacy of the moment is part of the profound appeal here, and the fact that Universal has no problem with putting you so close to the animatronic figure – there aren’t any shadows or quick cutaways for the character to hide behind – speaks volumes to just how confident the company is with its technology and craftsmanship.
To put it simply, we don’t blame them.
1. The Simpsons Ride
Location: Springfield, Universal Studios Florida
Opening date: May 15, 2008
It’s not surprising that one of the funniest themed attractions in the world should also get one of the funniest finales, but that still doesn’t take away from the delight of the denouement each and every single time we experience it.
The last 30 seconds of The Simpsons Ride is just as crazy and jam-packed as the rest of the nearly-four-minute experience: a joke about how the ride can’t be over until you’re near the gift shop, one of the single best lines in the entire attraction (Ralph Wiggum’s “I’m a baby bird!” as a bird carries him along through the endless blue sky), and Sideshow Bob’s fourth-wall-breaking realization that he still has five seconds left to kill someone before the ride is over. And as genuinely laugh-out-loud funny as all of that is, the real kicker doesn’t come until your ride vehicle starts to descend back down into the loading room – as you’re being lowered, Krusty the Clown comes back on the monitor in front of you. “Well, that’s our ride,” he says – and then, noticing a button in front of him, adds, “Hey – what does this do?” Your reward for the clown’s inquisitiveness is a loud noise and a vibrating seat.
Yes, it’s a simple effect. Yes, it’s trivial compared to all the other countless tricks Universal pulls on us to make us feel like we’re flying with Harry Potter or battling the Decepticons or racing against Jimmy Fallon through outer space. But its simplicity is precisely what goes a long way to making the ending beat hilarious – an absurd tag to an absurd ride that delights in its sheer ability to be maniacal.
We can’t think of a more perfect ending to any ride in all of Universal Orlando Resort.
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