When I finally received the opportunity to board the “Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit” roller coaster at Universal Studios Florida today, I figured the event might be an intricate prank assembled by my enemies to humiliate me further. Since its “opening” on August 19th, “Rockit” has been nothing but trouble to ride, enduring a series of vague technical glitches that have routinely thwarted my angelic plans to partake in the excitement. Additionally, Universal employees have been sinisterly trained to shoo away any potential inquiry of service during down periods with squawks of “it might not open today” or “it doesn’t look good.” And then I would learn the coaster opened for business 15 minutes I left. Arg.
Finding “Rockit” ready for all comers this morning, I eagerly sauntered into the congested queue area, though utterly convinced there would be some type of technical boobery that would abruptly terminate my mounting anticipation. I wasn’t expecting any payoff.
Cut to the chase: I finally rip-rode the “Rockit.”
OK, now let’s backtrack a bit. A 40+ million dollar attraction for USF, “Rockit” cribs carefully from the Universal Studios Japan attraction, “Hollywood Dream: The Ride,” by allowing guests the opportunity to select their own personalized soundtrack to scream bloody murder over. The “Rockit” story imagines the guest as the star of their very own music video, presenting 30 songs (and potentially hundreds more hidden by ride designers) to choose from to act as ambiance as the coaster plunges and twirls. Offered five genres of music to work with (the basics are covered), the guest is prompted by an iPod-like touchscreen device attached to the lap bar to settle on a tune before the coaster locks down. Once a song is selected, it’s off to the races.
The music is the gimmick, sold by the ride through garish animation of hipsters, presumably from 2003, who act as safety and instructional guides, viewed on monitors stationed throughout the queue. To enjoy “Rockit” to the fullest degree, one must accept its already dated appearance, topped off by speakers blasting moldy hits (aka your “Hollywood” music selections) on an uncomfortably tight loop. We’re talking “Rollin’” by Limp Bizkit and “Bring Me to Life” by Evanescence, making the experience feel more like a lost, scuffed mix CD found underneath a car seat than a cutting edge roller coaster thrillgasm. Perhaps that’s just me. There’s plenty of music to suit nearly every taste and age, and besides, we’re all here for the journey, not the soundtrack.
The “Rockit” queue is a simple maze-like theme park arrangement of constant discouragement, but during this hot summer season, USF had the misters gushing for the majority of the day, turning the hipster establishment into a hazy melt of bodies, sweat, and non-potable water. It looked like a deleted scene from “Slumdog Millionaire.” Spying a punch-your-momma 120 minute wait for the coaster, I elected to take advantage of the traditionally speedy single rider line, which ended up accomplishing nothing, outside of encouraging me to work on my fake-text-message-typing skills to avoid lonely bastard small talk with strangers.
Universal, sensing a unique attention-grabbing opportunity, has produced a minute-long safety video to accompany the final leg of the wait, to get crows acclimated with the rules of engagement. Considering that the last section of the “Rockit” queue moves about as fast as the first, one becomes intimate with the video in a hurry. Over and over it runs, reminding the crowds that pockets should be emptied, smokes should be stored in lockers, and guts need to be sucked in before “Rockit” will let you rock. What should be a peaceful wait for a coaster becomes an unexpected reeducation camp as the video keeps recycling the same information. I had to endure the blasted video for a solid hour. Out of everything that needs a tune-up on this ride, spacing out or spicing up the safety spiel should be priority one. I almost Hulked out and tore the speakers off around me at the 30-minute mark. There’s only so much cartoon shaming a person can take before it starts to feel personal.
Finally inside the spacious boarding area, ready to suit up and take command, “Rockit” revealed itself at last: a shiny new coaster with slightly tiered seating and a bizarre lap bar restraint alien to my parkgoing experience. Called to board at last, the crew members hustled us lowly guests into place, snapping the restraints tight and wishing up a happy ride. Bewildered and anxious, I took a moment to absorb my surroundings. Learn from my mistake, people. Don’t stop to smell the plastic roses. Once given the go-ahead, immediatley start punching the music selections screen to find your ideal tune. I didn’t do this. I was all, “oh hey, what’s this…” and then the coaster lurched forward, locking me into Crystal Method’s “Busy Child” without any opportunity to process the choice. At least I wasn’t stuck with the atrocious cover of “Born to be Wild” by Hinder (who?).
Since I’m limited when it comes to the just-made-this-up coaster lingo, I’ll spare everyone the blow-by-blow account of my “Rockit” ride. After a glorious 167-foot vertical lift (treasure hunters would be wise to stand under this thing and catch the rain of loose change), it’s all pretty much standard roller coaster moves, with loops and swoops and hairpin turns. Some imagination is presented midway through the experience, where the track “punches” through the New York street scene, quickly tearing through the zone before returning to the backlot area. It’s a cool surprise.
My two-minute twirl of terror was quickly up. Slightly battered, I stumbled my way to the photo souvenir stand to spy my unfortunately contorted face captured in a mid-ride pose of pure bewilderment. There’s also an opportunity to purchase a video of your “Rockit” ride, but for reasons of unreasonable vanity, I passed on the opportunity.
I might come across as a grump here, but I did approve of my time on “Rockit.” However, it wasn’t nearly as smooth a coaster as I was led to believe. I trust my position in the very back row had something to do with that, or at least I hope so. I’d hate to have another “Hulk” fiasco around to encourage sore backs, headaches, and ambulance chasing lawyers. Regardless of the spastic thrashing, it’s a spirited ride with a few fantastic peaks that permit solid views of the Universal property. The music is presented loud and clear, and I never picked up the tune my neighbor selected, which I found amazing. “Rockit” gives the goods, and I’m positive it will tickle those who live and die by their coaster fandom.
My only real substantial complaint is one of theming. USF is ostensibly a movie park, leaving “Rockit” ill-fitting to the overall mood. The transformation (or neutering) of USF’s strong film culture ties is already well underway (“Disaster!” being the unfortunate baby step), and while “Rockit” is a shiny new toy, there’s a piece of me that wishes it was based on a motion picture, or tied to film production is some weird way. Anything to keep the splendid “Ride the Movies!” element alive and kicking. As it stands now, the coaster, with its blaring music and carnival colors, seems something more out of a state fair midway catalog -- a strident diversion intended to appeal to teenagers who would never normally spend the day at USF. All that’s missing is the smell of cattle in the air and a few shifty meth dealers loitering nearby.
I hope “Rockit” eventually offers more verve than its first impression imparted. It’s a reasonable distraction from the traditional USF grind, but a flavorless one, providing a few empty thrills inside a wonderful park I’ve always counted on to provide a lasting experience of cinematic escapism. Time will ultimately tell if this coaster’s appeal survives the long haul, but as it stands now, Universal Studios Florida could very well be headed in the wrong direction.
Other pictures from the day (click to huge-o-size)...