In Memoriam: Kongfrontation
Kongfrontation is a ride that sticks in the minds of many Universal Studios Florida fans. Far superior to its now deceased Hollywood counterpart, Kongfrontation was the catalyst that brought the Universal Studios Florida project to fruition. Stuck for years in development Hell, Universal decided to can the Florida project in the 70’s. In the mid-1980’s, when King Kong Encounter began construction at Universal Studios Hollywood, Steven Spielberg himself rode into the Soundstage and asked to see how Kong worked. Being so impressed with the display, he remarked, ‘Wow, imagine what we could do with, ‘Back to the Future’’?
And so, the Florida project was born again, and it is fair to say that Kong gave birth to that vision. Housed on a 37,000 sq. ft. Soundstage (the largest of its kind at the time), Kongfrontation was to be the Flagship ride at Universal. Universal’s intent was to, ‘out-Disney Disney’, and at the time, they certainly succeeded, with no attraction on this scale evident at MGM-Studios. Whilst MGM has its merits, such as the outstanding, ‘Great Movie Ride’, Kong brought a new meaning to themed entertainment.
Kongfrontation’s hourly ride capacity was said to be huge, and as the Park opened, queues exceeded 90 minutes, as guests queued to see the mighty Kong.
Problems plagued the attraction however, and Kong’s reliability record was extremely low for a major Theme Park attraction. Breakdowns were constant, and this eventually meant the reduction of the Kong Animatronic’s functionality (Kong was grouped into the lawsuit by Universal against Ride & Show Engineering over the failure of the Jaws ride to function after the Park opened).
However, the ride soldiered on, and became a firm favourite of fans and visitors alike. Featuring fifty incredibly detailed, circa 1970’s store fronts from Manhattan’s West Side, visitors were taken aboard an aerial tram (designed to look like Manhattan’s Roosevelt Island Tramway) and were menaced by Kong.
Peter Alexander, the Attraction’s show designer, asked two firms to develop concepts for the complicated ride vehicle. The vehicle had to be suspended, but had to have the ability to drop in time with the Kong animatronic, who appeared to be dropping the Tram. Intamin developed a Tram suspended by cables, but was bested by Arrow Development, who designed an Accordion-like suspension system.
A lot of time and dedication went into Kong, but in 2002 Universal decided to close the ride permanently. Replaced by Revenge of the Mummy, Kong’s closure seemed unreal to long term fans of the beast.
No official reason was given for the closure, but many speculated that high down-time and staffing costs influenced the decision. However, one persistent rumour indicated that Kong’s show building had become structurally unstable. To combat this, a new dark ride (Revenge of the Mummy) was installed, with extra supports that would go unnoticed in Mummy’s dark environment. It is also thought that part of the Kong ride vehicle track remains in place to support the ceiling.
So what became of the two huge Kong animatronics? Mostly unknown, but what is known is that the head of one of the Kongs lies under the track in the pitch black launched section of Revenge of the Mummy.
Altogether, Kong was an outstanding attraction, one that all dark rides should aspire to be. In Memoriam, Kong, you will be sorely missed.