Vacation savings from Orlando Informer!Save with Orlando Informer!X


Save $50

on select Universal Orlando Resort tickets

Universal Islands of Adventure: 25 Years of Attractions Reviewed


Universal Islands of Adventure opened its doors to the world on May 28th, 1999. Within the quarter-century thereafter, it has been an influential force in the theme park industry in both its immersive theming and groundbreaking attractions. Seeing it cross the threshold into its 25th year is something of a proud moment, not just from the perspective of guests and someone who witnessed Islands of Adventure during its infancy but also those of us who have reported on the park since that time. Much like a parent looking back at their child’s accomplishments, it makes one want to open the scrapbook of history and reminisce on some of Islands of Adventure’s former attractions.

Universal Islands of Adventure
Universal Islands of Adventure

Nostalgia hits hard with Islands of Adventure. The park’s rich history and evolution over the years offer more than meets the eye, making it a story worth telling on its own. As we dive deeper, let’s explore the myriad of unique attractions that have called this park home—many of which are still referenced to this day.

As we step into the days of yesteryear, don’t forget that you can save money (and time!) by purchasing discounted theme park tickets through Orlando Informer! You can check out all the ways you can honor your wallet and budget here.

Now, join us as we celebrate Islands of Adventure’s 25th anniversary by visiting its former attractions!

Dueling Dragons

Enchanted Oak Tavern and Dueling Dragons at Islands of Adventure's Merlinwood
Enchanted Oak Tavern and Dueling Dragons at Islands of Adventure’s Merlinwood

Dueling Dragons was an opening attraction at Islands of Adventure and one of the many offerings in Merlinwood. The fan-favorite ride played a major part in the backstory of this specific area of the island and the Enchanted Oak Tavern restaurant located just across from it.

Merlyn, the wizard who protected the realm of Merlinwood, had been deceived by the scheming sorceress, the Lady of the Lake, whose magic waters transformed him into a mystic oak tree, leaving his kingdom unguarded and taking up new residence in the dining location referencing his fate. The warlocks from neighboring kingdoms, Pyrock and Blizzrock, coveted Merlyn’s spell book and immediately jumped on the chance to invade Merlinwood. Unknown to them, the book was cursed, trapping them in the form of dragons. This did little to slow the warlocks’ ambitions and their continued battle destroyed Merlyn’s keep and attracted many knights who would fall trying to slay them. As a result, Merlyn enlisted the help of others who would choose their fate as they mounted the dragons in an attempt to subdue them.

Dragon Challenge in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Hogsmeade at Universal's Islands of Adventure
Dragon Challenge in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade

When Dueling Dragons opened in 1997, it gained notoriety for launching its “dueling” trains simultaneously during the majority of its operation. Once The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade opened, Dueling Dragons took on the moniker of Dragon Challenge to tie into the new theming until its permanent closure in 2017. This made way for Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, which would open in 2019.

Dueling Club painting in Hagrid's queue
Dueling Dragons reference in the queue for Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure

Fans of the ride shouldn’t fret, however — as per Universal’s tradition, tributes have been placed in Dragons’ honor. Within Hagrid’s queue, guests will find a “Dueling Club” mural of ice and fire dragons. Over in Jurassic Park, the raptors at the entry arch of Jurassic World VelociCoaster are a nod to the two dragons that once battled on the former attraction. Dueling Dragons even received a dedicated Halloween Horror Nights house in 2023

Island Skipper Tours

Island Skipper Tours at Islands of Adventure
Island Skipper Tours at Islands of Adventure

Island Skipper Tours held dual honors as Port of Entry‘s sole attraction and guests’ in-park waterway to Jurassic Park via the Great Inland Sea (that’s the fancy name for Islands of Adventure’s lagoon for those keeping notes.) and consisted of three eclectic-styled boats: The Boatney (which was themed as a re-purposed school bus), the Tropic Trader (which had the appearance of a 19th century sailboat), and Sam Plane (which gave the appearance of a boat made of recycled airplane parts complete with a rotating propeller).

While Island Skipper Tours was an opening-day attraction for Islands of Adventure and certainly served the theme of Port of Entry, it was meant purely as a time-saving convenience for guests. Unfortunately, Island Skipper Tours would be completely phased out by 2003, a mere four years after the park’s opening date, but guests can still find its dock in the Port of Entry to this day.

Pandemonium Cartoon Circus

Toon Lagoon Amphitheater at Islands of Adventure
Toon Lagoon Amphitheater at Islands of Adventure

Toon Lagoon was once home to one of the handful of elaborately themed live shows in Islands of Adventure. Guests could make their way to a 2,000-seat amphitheater where they’d catch Pandemonium Cartoon Circus — a live show that featured all of Toon Lagoon’s comic strip characters in a musical performance under the guise of a circus show hosted by Rocky and Bullwinkle. It featured seven acts and even included music like “The Funny Business” by award-winning composer Andrew Lippa, which also appeared on both the original and special edition versions of the Islands of Adventure soundtrack.

When it opened, Pandemonium Cartoon Circus was one of the park’s family-friendly attractions and was heavily promoted. It even made a feature appearance on the Rosie O’Donnell Show. Sadly, Pandemonium Cartoon Circus only lasted a few months, with its official closing date being February 29, 2000. With that said, while it’s rare, you can still find videos of the show online, and it’s absolutely worth watching.

Mat Hoffman’s Aggro Circus

Toon Lagoon Amphitheater exterior at Islands of Adventure
Toon Lagoon Amphitheater exterior at Islands of Adventure

Following Pandemonium Cartoon Circus’ closure, the Toon Lagoon Amphitheater would be repurposed for a seasonal extreme sports show, Xtreme Xventure from 2000 to 2001. During peak seasons, the stage that once hosted famous comic strip characters like Popeye and Betty Boop now found itself home to skateboarders, inline skaters, and BMX riders doing some pretty nifty stunts for the audience. This would be replaced from 2002 to 2004 by BMX royalty Mat Hoffman’s Crazy Freakin’ Stunt Show and later Mat Hofman’s Aggro Circus from 2010 to 2011.

Both Crazy Freakin’ Stunt Show and Aggro Circus were hosted by Mat Hoffman and operated seasonally. These jaw-dropping entertainment offerings featured extreme sports athletes, with Mat Hoffman’s Aggro Circus utilizing the big top theme, along with appearances by skateboarder Sergie Ventura and inline skater Fabiola da Silva.

Triceratops Encounter

Triceratops Encounter was a walk-through attraction located in Jurassic Park that brought to life a “living, breathing triceratops” through the combined magic of audio-animatronics and a real-life Team Member. Triceratops Encounter featured three animatronic sickly triceratops, each with their own name: Topper, the matriarch and eldest, alongside Chris and Cera. Each had distinct dino-personalities on top of advanced functions such as dilating eyes, sneezing, and coughing.

Triceratops Encounter was especially unique in that it operated under the guise of typical animal encounters found at similar parks. The live team member would act as the host and caregiver to a “sick triceratops” while informing guests about that particular dino’s typical diet and behaviors. Guests were also welcome to pet their new triceratops friends, adding to the realism of the attraction.

While Triceratops Encounter was certainly a fan favorite for park-goers, the attraction experienced on-again-off-again operations. It closed in 2003 and reopened seven years later as a strictly seasonal affair under the name “Triceratops Discovery Trail.” Eventually, Universal retired the triceratops for good in 2012.

The Gentle Giants section of the Jurassic World Tribute Store
The Gentle Giants section of the Jurassic World Tribute Store

While we may have lost a unique attraction, we did get a similar triceratops photo op with the 2021 Jurassic World Tribute Store celebrating the grand opening of Jurassic World VelociCoaster.

Eighth Voyage of Sindbad

The Eighth Voyage of Sindbad at Islands of Adventure
The Eighth Voyage of Sindbad at Islands of Adventure

The Eighth Voyage of Sindbad, one of the original attractions at Islands of Adventure, was situated in the Lost Continent’s Sindbad’s Bazaar. This was a traditional stunt show that followed the vein of Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and had an approximate 20-minute run time. 

The show followed Sindbad and his sidekick, Kabob, as they performed incredible stunts while rescuing Princess Amoura from Merseria, the evil witch, along with her henchmen. The show would have various performances throughout the day, depending on the season, and featured an interactive pre-show by the Mystic Fountain that still entertains guests to this day.

The Mystic Fountain at Universal Islands of Adventure
The Mystic Fountain at Islands of Adventure

The Eighth Voyage of Sindbad was designed to be one of two opening-day shows at Universal’s new theme park, giving guests a spectacle of action, stunts, and even pyrotechnics (the other original show being the aforementioned Pandemonium Cartoon Circus). Although Eighth Voyage had more than enough in terms of action to hold the attention of any audience on paper, its days were numbered especially once The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened in Islands of Adventure and overtook a good portion of Lost Continent. While there wasn’t any one specific reason given for the closure, there were a few things at play outside of the boy wizard’s arrival.

The Eighth Voyage of Sindbad at Islands of Adventure
The Eighth Voyage of Sindbad at Islands of Adventure

Over the show’s 19-year life, the stunts had only been updated once and were never cheap (especially considering every show would feature a performer professionally catching on fire over and over every day). After holding its final performance on September 15, 2018, Universal has been mum about what will replace the Eighth Voyage of Sindbad, but we trust that whatever does will be well worth the wait.

Excited to celebrate Islands of Adventure’s 25th Anniversary? Discuss it with 170,000+ other Universal die-hard fans in our Orlando Informer Community on Facebook. And be sure to follow Orlando Informer on TikTokThreadsFacebookTwitter, and Instagram for the latest news, tips, and more at Universal Orlando, Walt Disney World, and other Orlando attractions. Orlando Informer also offers discounted admission to Universal Orlando Resort’s incredible theme parks, which you can explore available options here.


The Tribute Store Plaza at Universal Studios Florida: FIRST LOOK

Triplets of Terror Announced for Halloween Horror Nights 2024

About Sean Pagnotti

Sean is an Orlando geek of most trades. Growing up with the theme parks as his backyard, he developed a passion not just for the industry, but also for helping others get their best experience from the city. Aside from travelling annually with his wife, Sean can be found sketching in his drawing book, crafting the next cocktail from his bar, and binge-watching his favorite shows.