Universal’s Islands of Adventure in 1999.

As I go through my galleries, sometimes I find surprising things. For instance, I have evidence that I visited Universal Studios Florida in January 1999. I then have evidence that I returned in November to visit the newly-opened Islands of Adventure. Oddly, I didn’t go to the Universal Studios side during that trip. I just wasn’t that much into Universal Studios much back then. Today, with both sides having so many new attractions (and cool Harry Potter areas), I can’t imaging not visiting both!

But I digress.

After touring the preview center earlier in the year, I returned on November 16, 1999 to experience this new theme park. Unfortunately, my digital photos from that trip lost all date code information, so I can’t tell you the time in these photos, only the day.

My first view of Islands of Adventure on November 16, 1999.

There were no crowds. It was very different than showing up to a Disney park early in the morning where people are lined up for rope drop.

No morning crowds at Islands of Adventure on November 16, 1999.

And no waits at any of the rides either!

No waits for rides at Islands of Adventure on November 16, 1999.

The lack of crowds continued as I walked through the park. The frustrating thing was that many of the rides were down during that morning, and it was actually a challenge to find something to do! Eventually they got them all running, but I was still able to ride everything in the park by the afternoon.

No crowds at Islands of Adventure on November 16, 1999.
No crowds at Islands of Adventure on November 16, 1999.

I remember being very impressed with how the park looked. So many details! It sure had that “Disney quality” look to it.

Disney-quality details at Islands of Adventure on November 16, 1999.

Even the carnival games section in Lost Continent was highly detailed, even if I thought these high end parks shouldn’t have carnival games sections. (I’m lookin’ at YOU, Animal Kingom’s DinolandUSA and California Adventure’s Pixar Pier!)

Highly detailed carnival games at Islands of Adventure on November 16, 1999.

And I was blown away by this restaurant! It was absolutely amazing inside and almost perfect. Almost.

Oak Tree Restaurant at Islands of Adventure on November 16, 1999.

That restaurant was one of my all-time favorite spots in any theme park. But, inside, there were rough edges that kept it from being 100%. For example, their menu boards, while nice, were illuminated by clamp-on lights like you’d find at a local hardware store! There were actually a number of “rough edges” throughout the park where it seems like they just didn’t bother going all the way.

Still, the Dueling Dragons coaster was nice and had a great queue leading in…

Dueling Dragons at Islands of Adventure on November 16, 1999.

…but, as you were walking out, there were some nicely detailed towers with wooden “shutters” on the windows. They didn’t paint the edges of the wood, leaving bare wood exposed and clashing with the rest of the theme. Details, guys, details. I wasn’t much of an “observer” back then, so I only noticed the things that really jumped out at me. And there were a lot.

And perhaps a bunch of these little things kept it from dominating over Disney from day one (though not having Mickey and all those Disney characters will always be a challenge). Still, it was better than any non-Disney thing I’d ever seen! I knew I’d be back.

Jurassic Park had an absolutely amazing Triceratops Encounter where you could get up close and personal with a “real” Triceratops as the park doctor examined it. I don’t think they allowed photos inside the attraction at first (they were far more restrictive back then), but I have a picture from the queue… (That’s me running video in the below image. I have a hours of video from that trip, somewhere.)

Triceratops Encoutner at Islands of Adventure on November 16, 1999.

My favorite “attraction” of the entire visit was the talking Mystic Fountain. I probably spent more time watching it taunt visitors (and squirt them with water) than anything else in the park that day! It could do so much.

Mystic Fountain at Islands of Adventure on November 16, 1999.

While the fountain remains in the park to this day, the version you see now is far more anemic than it was back then. Perhaps it’s because everyone is carrying expensive cell phones and they don’t want to ruin them. But, in 1999, it was all out water-war from this thing! I really need to dig out my 1999 video of the fountain to share sometime. Great stuff.

Skipping around a bit … An earlier version of Poseidon’s Fury was there, but it seems to look the same as today, as does Suess Landing. Funny enough, Green Eggs and Ham wasn’t open back then, either (and wasn’t on my last three visits to the park!). I don’t think I’ve ever gone when it was open.

Closed Eggs and Ham at Islands of Adventure on November 16, 1999.

But you could at least meet the Cat in the Hat!

Cat in the Hat at Islands of Adventure on November 16, 1999.

But you could NOT ride this monorail thing! It sat dormant for years before finally turning in to the current trolley ride, using different racks. Back then, they at least had an animated vehicle slowly moving around the tracks. I wondered for years what it was going to be used for, and finally got to see it in 2019.

Suess Landing monorail at Islands of Adventure on November 16, 1999.

As far as characters, I saw Dudley Do Right, Popeye, Olive Oyl, Betty Boop and several others over in Toon Lagoon. And lots of parents explaining to their kids just who these characters were. (Really, Universal? Betty Boop? I’m old, and I only know of her because of syndicated programs on a local UHF station in Houston in the 1970s, before cable.)

Overall, it was a fun first visit, with so much potential, but there were just so many bits and pieces that didn’t feel completely done (and they remained that way for years). New pavement was already cracked. There was already mold growing around the bases of water rides. And just a general lack of spotlessness that Disney had conditioned us to.

But, it was clear Disney had it’s first real competitor and I was eager to see what would happen in coming years.

And since I recently bought my very first Universal Studios annual pass, I’d say they’ve done great work. And a huge portion of that work was ready to go back in 1999.

It’s not very often you get to visit a “new” theme park during it’s first season. I’m glad I was there.

Who would have thought that one day Harry Potter would come along and cause a large portion of this park to be ripped out and replaced with Hogwarts?

Until next time…

Universal’s Islands of Adventure preview center in 1999.

Updates:

  • 2019-07-17 – Fixed a few typos and corrected a year.

Much like how I did a series on Before Disney’s California Adventure, I’d like to do something on Universal Studios in Florida.

In 1999, Universal Studios was getting ready to open their new theme park, Islands of Adventure. This would be part of an expansion and renaming of the whole area to Universal Studios Escape.

That didn’t last too long. Today, it’s known as the Universal Orlando Resort.

But in 1999, you could visit Universal Studios Florida and get a sneak peak at the wonders that would await you when the new park opened later that year… Let’s take a look at their preview center.

I previously shared this photo, which shows that the preview center was there in 1998 as well…

Islands of Adventure preview center (right) on November 17, 1998.

Either I didn’t go in, it wasn’t open, they weren’t allowing photos, or I just ran out of camera memory. But in 1999, I did go through it. Here’s a better photo of the entrance:

Islands of Adventure preview center on January 27, 1999.

Step inside, and you could see concept artwork and a map of the new theme park:

Islands of Adventure preview center map on January 27, 1999.

They had sections of the center dedicated to the different areas of the new park. Here is a look at the Dr. Suess-inspired Suess Landing:

Islands of Adventure preview center Suess Landing area on January 27, 1999.
Islands of Adventure preview center Suess Landing area on January 27, 1999.

Up next was a room dedicated to the Lost Continent section of the park:

Islands of Adventure preview center Lost Continent area on January 27, 1999.
Islands of Adventure preview center Lost Continent area on January 27, 1999.

And apparently there was some kind of passport book you could get, and get it stamped in each area. I had completely forgotten about this. I have no idea if I have one somewhere, but if I run across it, I’ll scan it and share it in a future article.

Islands of Adventure preview center Lost Continent area on January 27, 1999.

Up next would be Toon Lagoon, where all the leftover cartoon characters that weren’t tied up by Disney, Six Flags or Knott’s Berry Farms would live:

Islands of Adventure preview center Toon Lagoon area on January 27, 1999.
Islands of Adventure preview center Toon Lagoon area on January 27, 1999.

After this, we got to see what Marvel Super-Hero Island would have in store for us.

Islands of Adventure preview center Marvel Super-Hero Island area on January 27, 1999.

And, because I am old and don’t mine humiliating myself, I’ll share this never-before-seen photo of me meeting one of my all-time heroes: Spider-Man!

Me meeting Spider-Man on January 27, 1999.

I remember saying to him, “You’re my favorite!” And he replied, “Yes, I know…” How can you not love that guy? Who would have thought that, two decades later, he’d be “harassing” me on the streets of Disney’s California Adventure 😉

Next we came to Jurassic Park. I must have been really excited about this land, based on the then-six-year-old movie, because I took more photos here than any of the other areas.

Islands of Adventure preview center Jurassic Park area on January 27, 1999.

I *think* this was the wall that would “bang” and show the impact of a dinosaur (probably a raptor) crashing into it:

Islands of Adventure preview center Jurassic Park area on January 27, 1999.
Islands of Adventure preview center Jurassic Park area on January 27, 1999.
Islands of Adventure preview center Jurassic Park area on January 27, 1999.

And I guess there must have been some kind of effect here, but I don’t recall what it was. (Honestly, I just remember meeting Spider-Man, and the impact wall at Jurassic Park.)

Islands of Adventure preview center Jurassic Park area on January 27, 1999.

And lastly, a nice map showing the overview of the entire Universal Studios Escape resort expansion:

Islands of Adventure preview center expansion map area on January 27, 1999.

We had no idea at the time that Spider-Man would be such a smash hit. We still thought that this, of all parks, might be the one park to dethrone Disney World. But, as we found out, ultimately that didn’t happen and, if anything, it just brought more people to Orlando and increased Disney attendance.

At some point, I will share my thoughts on my first-time visit to Islands of Adventure, but for now…

Until next time…

Kudos: Sam, Haley and Kayla at Islands of Adventure

Previously, I mentioned tracking down my 2007 bartender from Disney’s Animal Kingdom. This led me to write some “kudos” articles about other cool workers I’d encountered at Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort. Today I will continue, this time focusing on providers of tasty adult beverages at Universal’s Islands of Adventure.

It was a cold and rainy day. By 10 o’clock, we’d already made the loop around the park and seen much of what we wanted to see, thanks to the lines being non-existent. We found ourselves back at Port of Entry near the park entrance just in time for the Backwater Bar to open for the day.

Backwater Bar at Islands of Adventure on a cold, rainy March 27, 2019.

Although I’d walked past it many times, this was my first time inside. It was small, cozy and, most importantly, dry and warm.

Unfortunately, no spiked hot drinks were to be found here. After checking with Universal’s Twitter folks, it seems spiked hot drinks were just not available inside the park (though they did suggest trying Toothsome in CityWalk). Instead, we decided on cold drinks at hot soup.

Hot soup and a cold drink at Backwater Bar at Islands of Adventure on March 23, 2019.

Since the bar was empty (maybe one other group the entire time we were there), we had a wonderful chat with our bartender, Sam. It was a pleasant and personable experience that let us warm up and pass some time while waiting for the rain to stop. (Yes, I know this is how a bartender should be, but it was definitely not the case at many “bars” I visited during my Orlando trips.)

Thanks, Sam!

A few hours later, I was working on checking off some more items on my Twitter “to do” list and I found The Watering Hole in Jurassic Park.

Watering Hole at Islands of Adventure on March 23, 2019.

This place was recommended due to having some specialty drinks, including some seasonal ones.

Twitter suggested that I try the Prehistoric Punch, so I did. My girlfriend tried a (I think) the Prehistoric Rocks. Both came in souvenir (plastic) cups.

Watering Hole specialty drinks in the souvenir cups on March 23, 2019.

This is were our bartender Haley comes in. She was letting us know about the various drinks and also that this refill cup would get a discount on them later in the day. It was also good for $1 off beer refills at certain places with draft beer. I appreciated the effort to let me know something that could help make my visit a bit more affordable.

Thanks, Haley!

And last on the list was a stop at Hog’s Head in the Hogsmead: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. This popular place had a line going out the back door.

Hog’s Head at Islands of Adventure on March 27, 2019.

When I finally made my way to the counter, Kayla was nice enough to let me sample some of their custom beers before I committed to one. They don’t do that at Disney’s California Adventure, for sure. In the end, she convinced me to go with my Twitter suggestion of The Triple and try this interesting combination drink of beer, cider and beer.

The Triple at Islands of Adventure on March 23, 2019.

I’ve had a “black and tan” before, and it really wasn’t my thing, so I didn’t expect to like this any better. The Triple was just a variation of a common drink I can get locally, except being made using one of the “brewed just for Universal Studios” beers, which I can’t get locally. It was at least unique from that perspective. And, hey, though it didn’t qualify for a refill discount, I did get to use that souvenir cup at least once!

Thanks, Kayla!

Although these interactions were simple and minor, they were enough to stand out among hundreds of other interactions I had during this trip. Sometimes it’s the little things that can make the difference.

Until next time…