It beckons. With rich earth tones, exotic plants and fabrics, whimsical architecture, and an enchanting melody, Port of Entry at Islands of Adventure is an imaginative destination. Enter the large, curving metal gates and explore one of the most unique and creative theme park entrances in the world.
The entrance area is a crucial piece to the theme park experience. Here the stage is set. The anticipation of the day’s escapades lays ahead. And at the end of an adventurous and fantastic day, all the memories can be savored.
The adventure begins before you even set eyes on the landmark stone archway on which those three magic words are transcribed. The winding lighthouse summons explorers from all over the world, and the bright-colored canopies provide shade for the adventurers waiting their turn to acquire their passport into this wondrous world.
Once inside, colorful lamppost banners welcome visitors in multiple languages.
There are also the symbols and seals of each of the park’s other islands, which may go unnoticed if you don’t keep a keen eye open for them.
Port of Entry has all of the staples of a theme park entrance (Guest Services, rentals, a major gift shop, a cafe, restrooms, a photography store), and each one is creatively represented.
One of my favorite examples of theming is Islands of Adventure’s Guest Services, known as the Open Arms Hotel. How perfect is that? I love that sentiment. As a ten-year hospitality industry veteran – nearly seven of those years in theme parks – I can tell you that, as difficult as some situations may be, the best way to approach an opportunity that needs your attention is with open arms. Calling Guest Services the Open Arms Hotel is a lovely expression of hospitality.
Right next door to Open Arms is another great example of creative naming: DeFotos Expedition Photography. This is both a play on the word “photo” as well as on the name of the famous Spanish explorer, Hernando de Soto. Take note of the photography and film supplies that decorate the entrance to this shop.
I also love the quote painted on one of the columns: “The Camera Is Mightier Than the Sword.” I think this statement is far truer now in this age of camera phones and social media than it was 15 years ago, during the park’s opening year.
Also near Guest Sevices and DeFotos Expedition Photography is a beautiful sign proclaiming Mr. James Nagy the Commissioner of the Island Development Commission. Any theme park geek knows that if someone’s name appears somewhere in a park, it is there for good reason.
After my research visit, I discovered that Mr. James Nagy assisted with the development of multiple establishments for which I have worked. Knowing this, I am now especially fond of this dedication to him. Mr. Nagy is one example of an executive whose career has spanned involvement with both Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando. (For more information, see page 13 of this PDF file.)
After viewing these sights, it may be tempting to go deeper into Port of Entry, towards the islands themselves, but there are many other details across the courtyard, to the left of the entrance.
The first of these is part of the Islands of Adventure Trading Company. The description of this shop, painted toward the top of the building, pays homage to the islands themselves: “Rare Wares. Fantastic Finds. Mesozoic Marvels. Seussian Supplies. Notions & Potions.”
If your adventures require you to rent a few supplies, such as a stroller or wheelchair, you’ll be able to procure them at a place with fun theming. The top of the building states that flats are available to rent by the day, week, month, year, lustrum (a period of five years), decade, century, or millennium. Oh, how I wish there really were flats perched high above Port of Entry – I think I would stay for a millennium, if possible!
I am very amused by the names of the other items listed for rental, such as an aeroboat, jitney, and a time machine.
I also get a little tickled that the restrooms are part of the Water Works Authority.
Right next door is a building that is disguised as the gathering place for the Daughters of Adventure, reminiscent of the American Revolution-era Daughters of Liberty.
Heading further into Port, underneath the landmark archway are exotic drums, window displays, and animal statues which are favorite photo opportunities for families.
Another favorite stop for families and adventurers of all ages is the Island Market and Export Fudge and Candy shop.
Before snagging your favorite sugary treat, take a moment to appreciate the animated sign.
Nestled next to the Island Market and Export is a fun detail that many people overlook.
A mysterious prisoner has escaped. The Port of Entry Hoosegaw has been hoodwinked. The escapee left behind a simple message: “See ya.” (Kinda silly that the Port of Entry law enforcement left the keys dangling in front of the door).
Located appropriately next to the candy shop is a store dedicated to the sweetest holiday of all: Christmas.
No matter the time of year, you can capture the magic of your adventures with a few Christmas ornaments and decorations and, even, get your ornaments personalized. At night, the Christmas shop is the only store that is lit up with bright white Christmas lights.
Facing these two stores is a detail that often goes unnoticed: perched atop the mountainous rocks is a mini-monastery built into the stone.
One of the many wonderful features of Port of Entry is the sound effects. As you pass through certain landmarks, it is important to not only keep your eyes open, but also your ears. If you listen closely, you can periodically hear the chants of the spiritual beings inside the monastery.
Speaking of sounds, few are more delightful than the sound of flowing water. I love the tropical and exotic look of the fountain located in the marketplace. Water spills out from large seashells that tower over the passersby. On a bright, sunny day, the water sparkles.
And more audible delights can be heard from the Lucky Monkey and Jewelry Store. Although this is not an operating shop, be sure to listen for the gamblers trying their luck, and check out the name of the jewelry proprietor.
Another visual delight is the Lucky Monkey animated sign, complete with rolling dice.
What community would be complete without firefighters to keep the citizens safe? Turns out the Port of Entry Fire Brigade may have learned the hard way to be prepared; this ragtag team of firefighters has had to relocate closer to the water. I find it very ironic – yet very appropriate – that the former home of the Port of Entry Fire Brigade happens to be located right next to an actual Orlando Fire Department access point.
Nearby is a dance studio to teach you the local dance crazes inspired by the neighboring islands.
Nearing the water’s edge, adventurers needing fuel to start their day now have two choices to grab some morning coffee and grub. There is, of course, the cutely named Croissant Moon Bakery, with a petite seating area great for people-watching. And now there is the new Starbucks location, which is well-themed on the outside.
If your adventures bring you to Port of Entry in the afternoon, consider dining at Confisco Grille. You’ll be treated to some visual delights, with treasures from each of the islands hanging high above the interior of the entrance and throughout the restaurant.
You may also notice the Navigator’s Club, which is an area that is sometimes used for private events. The Navigator’s Club is neither officially a “backstage” off-limits area nor is it officially open to guests.
Along the water’s edge is the end of Port of Entry. However, there are multiple details still to behold here. The merchandise cart nearest to Marvel Super Hero Island has a small detail that pays tribute to the park’s opening year.
There is also a beautiful waterside plaza, which, once upon a time, was the perfect spot to watch Islands of Adventure’s fireworks show. Sadly, the end-of-the-night display was discontinued only after a few years. There have been rumors of a new fireworks show will return, but no real development has been discovered.
Nevertheless, this plaza is still a great place to explore – perfect for photo ops and simply appreciating the imaginative design of the park.
There is also evidence here of a now-defunct attraction called Skipper Island Tours. To the right of the plaza is a boat dock complete with a wheelchair access ramp and a small queue.
Be sure to take a moment to look at the brightly-colored submarine. You’ll even get to hear the crew members aboard the sub bickering away.
Islands of Adventure’s Port of Entry is a beautiful example of creating a unique destination purely from imagination. Unlike Magic Kingdom’s Main Street, Universal Studios Florida’s Production Central, or Hollywood Studios’ Hollywood Boulevard, Port of Entry is not based on or meant to represent any real-life destination, past or present; it is inspired by exotic locales and the fabled jungles of the wild.
Most of all, it is a beautiful homage to the spirit of adventure.
Did we miss anything? Let us know below.
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