Today is the day where fans will say their final goodbyes to Dragon Challenge. Some, however, will be bidding their farewells to the attraction formerly known as Dueling Dragons. While the coasters may have been running since Islands of Adventure opened in 1999, many fans feel the former-dueling coasters ceased to exist once they opened as part of the Wizarding World.
For years, the corner of the Lost Continent stood the 2 iconic giants dragon statues, and welcomed those who chose to “battle bravely”. Originally located in “Merlinwood”, Dueling Dragons was one of the marquee attractions that Universal marketed leading up to the opening of Islands of Adventure. In a theme park surrounded by intellectual properties (I.P.’s) – like Jurassic Park, Marvel, and Dr. Suess – the Lost Continent was the one original land where Universal Creative’s only restriction was the limits of their imagination.
Expectations were very high; and while the original plan may have never come to fruition, the idea was still the same – dueling, inverted coasters featuring dragons. There is, of course, that popular story of how Dueling Dragons was a concept brought over by former Disney Imagineers who worked on the scrapped Dragon’s Tower, an attraction at Disney’s Animal Kingdom never-realized Beastly Kingdom. While some aspects of the attractions may be similar, they are not the same ride.
“Past this point of no return, your only choice is freeze or burn!”
The attraction centered around the eternal battle of 2 elemental dragons – Pyrock, representing fire, and Blizzrock, ice – and the lengths renowned wizard, Merlin, went to warn those who dared to enter the ruins of the castle and ride the dragons.
The coasters were designed by Bolliger & Mabillard of Switzerland, and features a combined track length of 6,226 feet full of twisting, turning, looping, and dropping at high and intense speeds. While the coasters individually were standard; the idea of combining 2 unique, inverted coasters with timed, dueling features in a highly-themed, storytelling environment was an entirely fresh concept. To ensure that the trains met at the 3 dueling near-misses, computers weighed each train upon dispatch – adjusting accordingly on the ascent up the lift hill. The near-misses were so close – 18 inches, to be exact – the coasters had a minimum AND maximum height restriction. The coaster trains were each uniquely themed to represent the characteristics of the dragon, and were created by Kern Studios – the renowned New Orleans fabrication company.
The majority of the queue takes place inside a ruined castle that has been overtaken by the dragons. At the time, Dueling Dragons had one of best themed queues in Orlando. Due to the high expectations Universal had for the coasters, and anticipating long waits, the queue length was a little over a half-a-mile long. Guests would learn the story of the castle and the battle of the dragons as they traversed the decrepit corridors full of skeletons and fallen knights. As guests entered the castle, they would be introduced to the story by Merlin using an enchanted stained glass window; in one of the most unique displays and presentations of a pre-show of its time.
“You do not listen to this old magician, and so you’ll need a good mortician”
One of the most talked-about areas of the queue by fans was the 2 “Dragon Victim” rooms. First, guests would experience those who suffered at the fate of Pyrock, finding the charred, molten remains of knights who were unsuccessful. The next room showed the knights who fell to Blizzrock, frozen in place and covered in vast amounts of ice. Eventually, guests would make their way through the catacombs of more victims before finally reaching their decision to “choose their fate”.
The queue is what set Dueling Dragons apart from any other coaster, and many considered it to be an attraction itself. It was such a novel idea of its time to create a queue so elaborate and extensive for a coaster, which is what made Dueling Dragons unique and beloved by and fans. It wasn’t just another coaster, but an experience. Both tracks were highly-rated among coaster enthusiasts, but the queue established the attraction as something special.
When the Wizarding World of Harry Potter was announced and plans were revealed for a re-theme of Dueling Dragons, fans were worried what made the attraction special would be lost. Islands of Adventure was changing up one of its headlining attractions that wasn’t reliant on a franchise, and featured – what many considered – one of the best entrances of any attraction.
When the re-theme was complete and the Wizarding World opened in 2010, the coaster was the same, but the experience was lost. Gone were many of the elements that made the queue so revered. There was a realization for many fans that the ride was on borrowed time. By 2011, the ride lost the dueling aspect, its key element, when Universal Orlando had to stop it due to precautionary safety concerns. For fans, the loss of what made the coaster ride itself unique cemented that its closure was an inevitability in their minds.
“If you continue along this path, you will face the dragons wrath”
While its no surprise Universal Orlando announced a new Harry Potter coaster replacement this year, fans were still dismayed with the announcement. Dragon Challenge/Dueling Dragons will be the first major attraction to close at Islands of Adventure that was a part of its opening day line-up. We do not know what the future holds for the future Potter coaster, but we do know that the closure will offer up a lot of land for Universal to create something grand. Universal’s Potter expansion is understandable, but there will undoubtedly never be another coaster experience quite like Dueling Dragons.
Battle Bravely, fans.
Thanks to Kern Studios, and AmusementPics.com for some of the photos.