Welcome to Extinct Attractions. This week, we’ll be taking a look at an attraction whose ideas began with Disney before moving over to the Universal-sphere.
This past Sunday, Universal was let down when Parasite dominated the night at the Academy Awards, as opposed to Universal’s frontrunner 1917, which took home three Oscars. Disney did well for the night, taking home four Oscars, though it did continue Buena Vista Pictures’ drought of Best Picture winners, with the studio remaining the only major studio to never win filmmaking’s biggest prize.
Disney has made up for that by making more money than any other studio as well as directly besting Universal in the theme park department. However, starting in the late 1990s, Universal began to throw its hat more directly in the theme park ring, especially when some former Imagineers moved over to Universal.
Our story begins today at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and the expansion pad that they had earmarked for Beastly Kingdom, a whole land centered around mythical creatures. The E-Ticket attraction for the land was going to be called Dragon Tower, and it was a hybrid dark ride-roller coaster where guests would come face to face with a dragon as they traveled through its domain.
Ultimately, Beastly Kingdom fell through, but some of the Imagineers began working at Universal to help with their ambitious new theme park, Islands of Adventure.
Via Visit Orlando
Islands of Adventure opened on May 28, 1999 and cemented Universal’s status as the biggest theme park competitor to the Disney Parks, especially drawing in the teen to young adult audience. The park featured a much wider variety of thrill rides, almost all of which were more thrilling than the most thrilling Disney attraction.
Amongst this excitement, Universal Creative’s former Imagineers found the perfect home for Dragon Tower, the Lost Continent area of the park that served as a catch-all area for anything mystical.
Dueling Dragons opened along with the park and was the clear headliner of the area that also included Poseidon’s Fury (an underrated and fantastic show) and The Eighth Voyage of Sindbad (a terrible show). Dueling Dragons didn’t quite live up to the expectations of Dragon Tower as it eschewed the dark ride portion of the ride, instead opting for a highly-detailed queue that drew rave reviews.
I have to say, the queue for the ride was pretty cool to see, even in just a video. In the late 1990s, detailed and elaborate queues were very few and far between for attractions, so it makes a lot of sense that people would be so drawn to this new idea they had never seen before. What made it especially special was that all this work was put in just for a roller coaster. Generally, roller coasters queues are made up of switchbacks to pack as many people in as they possibly could, but I really respect Universal trying something different with this new park.
Via Coaster 101
In terms of the actual specs of the coaster, it was made up of two tracks as you might expect from the name. Fire, the red track, and Ice, the blue track, were roughly identical with both tracks having five inversions, though Fire hit 60 miles per hour and Ice, 55 miles per hour. But the coolest part was that initially each side dispatched simultaneously and guests would be in a battle between two dragons, sometimes getting within 18 inches of the other train. Unfortunately, there was an incident where some guests had loose items that fell out of their pockets and injured other guests. Even though they took precautions to ensure guests could not have loose items on the ride anymore, the trains never ran simultaneously again after that point in time.
Still, Dueling Dragons was very well-received, consistently ranking in the top 25 steel coasters in the world at the Golden Ticket Awards. Personally, I remember liking it when I rode it, but as time has progressed, non-themed coasters have become less and less of my thing. The actual coaster wasn’t even two minutes long and the ground below looked like a construction zone, at least in the later years. I just wish they had done any type of even minor theming during the actual ride itself because it was a pretty sharp contrast to go from this queue full of life (or more accurately death and destruction) and to a traditional roller coaster.
In March 2010, Dueling Dragons closed for a few months before reopening as a part of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Everything else in the Lost Continent remained as it was, but Dueling Dragons became Dragon Challenge, based on the First Task from the Triwizard Tournament in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
Now the Wizarding World is amazing, but I do think Dragon Challenge was probably the weakest part of the land. The coaster remained the same, with the names of the tracks simply changing to Chinese Fireball and Hungarian Horntail. Unfortunately, they also downgraded the queue, making the majority of it simple rockwork. Early in the queue, guests could see the Goblet of Fire and the Triwizard Cup, but then came the rockwork the rest of the way.
There were rumors about Dragon Challenge going away for years before Universal finally pulled the plug on September 4, 2017. They replaced it with Hagrid’s Magical Creature Motorbike Adventure, which I’ve heard is a fantastic attraction (when it works). I love that they were still able to put a roller coaster there, but with a lot more theming to add to the fun and make it feel more at home in the land.
Well, that’s all for today, but here’s what’s coming next week.
- This attraction got around on water.
- This attraction barely lasted a year and a half after opening day.
- The area for this attraction still exists at Walt Disney World.
Thanks for reading and have a magical day!
Cole Geryak is a childless millennial making his way through the world. He has ridden every single ride in Disneyland in one day, all while wearing a shirt and tie. Imagination is his middle name, and his heart truly lies in the parks.