It's the end of the Dragon Challenge at Universal Orlando
September 4, 2017, 11:14 AM ·
The Dragon Challenge ends today at Universal Orlando Resort. The Bolliger & Mabillard inverted coasters in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Hogsmeade will make their final run in Islands of Adventure this evening.
Universal has announced a new, more family friendly "coaster experience" to replace the Dragons in 2019. But that's all we know — officially — about the new attraction to come. So for now, let's say goodbye to the Chinese Fireball and Hungarian Horntail... and the to Fire and Ice dragons that preceded them.
Fire and Ice were the red and blue tracks on the Dueling Dragons coaster that opened with Universal's Islands of Adventure in May 1999. The dragons fought in the sky over Merlinwood in The Lost Continent section of the park. Both sides stood 125 feet tall and ran for a little over two minutes on 3,200 feet of track. But the Fire (Chinese Fireball) side dropped 115 feet and reached a top speed of 60 mph, while the Ice (Hungarian Horntail) dragon dropped 95 feet and topped at 55 mph.
But the dragons never were about the specs. The appeal of this ride was the dueling. The two coasters would dispatch together and "duel" throughout, with multiple near misses throughout the ride. For riders sitting up front, that created some amazing visuals as you watched not just the track and scenery around you, but the other coaster racing along its track, as well.
And Universal set the stage for this epic coaster battle with one of the greatest queues ever built. Filled with more bones than the aftermath of a Texas barbecue, the medieval Dueling Dragons castle included an animated stained glass window that set up the story of the two dragons. Foreshadowing what would happen with the Hogwarts Castle that eventually moved in next door, some fans would walk through the queue like it was an attraction by itself, skipping the ride at the end.
Dueling Dragons became Dragon Challenge in June 2010, when Universal completed the transformation of the Merlinwood section of The Lost Continent into The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. While the coaster — along with its family coaster neighbor The Flying Unicorn — survived the transformation, the dueling of the dragons did not. Before the Potter conversion, Universal has stopped dispatching the coasters together, in response to multiple incidents when personal objects from riders on one train flew off and hit riders on the other.
Today, Universal Orlando bars personal items, including wallets and cellphones, on all its major coasters. But it never allowed the dragons to duel again. That robbed this coaster of a great deal of its appeal, leaving them to run alone... as rather mediocre inverted coasters.
After Universal opened The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley in Universal Studios Florida next door in 2014, Dragon Challenge's bare coaster track looked a bit cheap and out of place in comparison with the exquisitely detailed Diagon Alley, which didn't break the illusion with an amusement park ride the way that Dragon Challenge did in Hogsmeade. Neither of the two Hogsmeade lands that Universal built after the original Islands of Adventure installation — in Hollywood and Osaka — included Dragon Challenge, although both did include the smaller Flight of the Hippogriff roller coaster, which was the new name and theme for the Flying Unicorn ride in Orlando.
So it didn't surprise many fans when Universal announced earlier this summer that the dragons would close to make way for a new Potter-themed attraction in the land.
Assuming the ride is not relocated to another park, Dragon Challenge will be only the second of Bolliger & Mabillard's 117 coasters around the world to close completely, following the Lightning inverted coaster in Kuwait, which closed last year. (It could be the third, if you want to count Universal's Incredible Hulk Coaster as a closure, since Universal tore down and rebuilt its entire track, even though the rebuild followed the same layout as the original track. Argue away on that point.)