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Here’s How to Take the Best Universal Studios Rides Virtually

When you can't make it to Florida, bring Florida to you with all the thrills, but none of the lines.

Thrills on hold

Frequent fliers aren’t the only ones grounded by the coronavirus. Roller coaster lovers were forced to give up their place in line when Universal Studios Theme Park, as well as the entire Orlando Universal Resort, closed and remain closed until further notice. Universal isn’t alone: the virus has forced amusement parks all over the country to delay opening until at least the end of May. So what’s an adrenaline-loving roller coaster addict to do? Until the parks reopen, you can get your fix virtually, with these surprisingly stomach-dropping videos. Shot from a prime front-of-the-car perspective, each video manages to recreate that moment of weightlessness that occurs just before you take the plunge. It’s not perfect, but you can hop back on any time, no ticket required.

hollywood rip ride rockit universal studiosCourtesy Universal Studios

Universal Studios Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit ™

First the facts: with its 90-degree ascent, 17-story height, and top speed of 65 mph, Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit ™ rips through the atmosphere like a streak. Since the tall loop is non-inverting (a first for roller coasters) and IRL riders never actually go upside down, there are no shoulder straps on the ride. Thanks to an amazing bump-free vid shot from the center of the car, you’ll see and feel every twist, turn and drop, from the moment the car pulls out of the station until the breathless moment it returns, all to a soundtrack of buzzy rock and an occasional scream. Need more of a rush? When Universal and the rest of the country’s amusement parks open up, be ready with this list of the scariest coaster in every state.

incredible hulk coaster orlando universal resortCourtesy Universal Studios

Incredible Hulk

Some roller coasters are all about the buildup, that long, torturous-but-exciting crawl up the first hill that seems to go on and on and on. Not Universal’s Incredible Hulk coaster. One moment you’re strapped into your seat, the next, you’ve been catapulted through a tunnel of blinking green lights and into the stratosphere for an immediate 360-degree corkscrew that will leave you practically begging for more. From there, it’s a frenzied ride over a complicated track comprising whiplash-inducing fast turns, two subterranean dives, and seven curlicues. Though there isn’t much eye candy along the way, you won’t miss it: this coaster is just too fast. Somehow, the video captures all the motion—don’t be surprised if you find yourself ducking when you pass through the forest of upright metal supports. Don’t miss these 15 surprising facts about your favorite superheroes.

Hagrids magical creatures motorbike adventure ride at universal orlandoCourtesy Universal Studios

Hagrid’s Motorbike Adventure

Universal’s newest addition to its lineup of Harry Potter-themed escapades is Hagrid’s Motorbike Adventure, a nearly one-mile-long journey alive with remarkable digital effects that produce lifelike magical beings. It’s also an exhilarating ride: aboard motorbike-styled cars, speeding Potterites experience a nearly 17-foot vertical free fall that’s the first of its kind; speeds of up to 50 mph both forward and backward; seven launches (which is more than any coaster in the world) and a catapult that will hurl them more than 65 feet into the air.

Though the narration isn’t quite clear enough to transport virtual muggles quite as completely into the scene, prepare to feel the chills as you fly through a dark forest, lean into deep curves, and plunge into dark tunnels. Afterward, take this quiz to test your knowledge about Harry, Hermione, and the rest of the gang at Hogwarts.

harry potter and the forbidden journey at orlando universal studiosCourtesy Universal Studios

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

Part thrill ride, part 3-D experience, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is one of Universal’s handful of dark rides, which capture the feeling of flying because, in a sense, you are: instead of being attached to a track, like a roller coaster, cars are attached to a robotic arm that allows them to spin, dip and dive. Other dark rides at Universal include E.T. Adventure, Men in Black Alien Attack, Harry Potter Escape from the Gringotts, and Revenge of the Mummy. Aboard Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, riders swoop through space as they chase wizards, soar over spires, and come face to face with fire-breathing dragons before returning to the real world.

steel vengeance cedar pointvia

Cedar Point Steel Vengeance

Universal isn’t the only place where you can virtually enjoy the thrills—you can virtually ride coasters at amusement parks around the country, too. When Cedar Point‘s Steel Vengeance opened in 2018, it created a new class of roller coaster, the hyper-hybrid, a wood-framed coaster topped by a steel track that reaches a peak height of more than 200 feet. There’s nothing between you and the rails on this perfectly-shot video, which is set so low to the course that you’ll feel your life turn upside down—but in a good way—as you speed through this hill-laden thrill machine. The scream machine also holds the record for time spent aloft, an astonishing 27.2 seconds per 2 ½-minute ride, which is more than any other coaster. Located in Sandusky, Ohio on the shore of Lake Erie, Cedar Point is a particularly good choice for families divided into coaster versus non-coaster riders, who can cool off at the resort’s sandy beach—it’s one of the best lake beaches for swimming in the United States.

King’s Dominion Intimidator 305

This hulking giga-coaster towers 305 feet above the rolling Virginia countryside at King’s Dominion. Though the coaster’s top speed is a searing 90 mph, IRL riders reported “greying out” at the bottom of one of the ride’s signature drops, King’s Dominion officials lowered the coaster’s top speed to a more manageable level. Though virtual riders can’t feel the wind whipping your hair or the heavy G-forces flattening your face, fancy camera work that merges close-ups of the narrow track with a view of the surrounding landscape brings the coaster’s speed alive during its three-minute journey through steeply banked turns and weightless drops. Opened in 2010, the Intimidator was named for Dale Earnhardt, the famed NASCAR driver who died in 2001 and was known as The Intimidator.

goliath roller coaster six flags magic mountainvia

Six Flags Magic Mountain Goliath

Shot on a cloudy day on Six Flags Magic Mountain in Los Angeles, this video offers virtual riders a glare-free trip through the twisted madness that is Goliath, a steel hyper-coaster that reaches 85 mph during a run that offers a bird’s-eye view of the entire coaster before diving down a steep descent into an underground tunnel. Get ready to feel every barrel roll as Goliath weaves in and out of the superstructure supporting the neighboring coaster. When Goliath debuted on February 11, 2000, it held the record for the world’s longest and fastest opening drop on a closed-circuit roller coaster. To celebrate that achievement, as well as the millennium, Six Flags Magic Mountain invited 1,000 couples to marry atop the coaster’s tallest hill. Here are six other unique wedding venues around the United States.

New Jersey: El Torovia

Six Flags Great Adventure El Toro

There are about 5,082 roller coasters in the world; of that, just 186 are constructed of wood (the others are made from steel). One of them is El Toro, the bull, which opened in 2006 at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey. Though roller coasters made from steel can be built taller, reach higher speeds and defy gravity to an almost unimaginable level, wooden coasters are beloved for the rumbling ride, old-school clickety-clack noise the cars make as they careen along the track as well as the ever-so-slight sway that comes from the wood. Reaching speeds of up to 70 mph and offering significant air time, though, El Toro is an outlier that will keep both camps lining up. Like the real El Toro, this video starts with a tease before charging like a raging bull.

Coney Island Cyclone

Inciting fear and screams for nearly 100 years, Coney Island’s iconic Cyclone roller coaster at Luna Park at Coney Island still reaches speeds of 60 mph over its 2,640 feet of undulating track. This video captures the experience down to the old-school grinding of the chain as it pulls the car up the coaster’s six uphill rises. Set just yards from the Atlantic Ocean in Brooklyn, New York, Coney Island is the site of America’s very first roller coaster, the gravity railway, which opened in 1884 and reached a top speed of six miles per hour. Americans got their first taste of hot dogs on Coney Island as well, when Nathan’s Famous opened in 1916 and transformed what had been a local snack into one of America’s most-loved foods. If you love hot dogs, here’s where to try the best one in every state.

tigris entrancevia

Busch Gardens Tampa Bay Tigris

Open since 2019, Florida’s tallest launch coaster Tigris at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay keeps riders guessing as it rockets both forward and backward at seemingly random intervals before launching 150 feet toward the sky. Though less than two minutes long, this virtual ride is chock-full of the kinds of steeply banked curves, corkscrew twists and pure speed take give roller coaster riders out of reality, at least for a few minutes. Like all launch coasters, Tigris has the ability to go from standing to nearly flying at a pace that will take your breath away. It’s a cool trick that translates well for virtual riders. If roller coasters aren’t your thing, check out these one-of-a-kind adventures you should add to your bucket list.

hersheypark storm runner roller coastervia

Hersheypark Storm Runner

Don’t let the abrupt start and slow takeoff of this virtual ride of Storm Runner send you clicking elsewhere. After a momentary pause, it picks up an astonishing amount of speed to spiral up and over a sharp rise before plunging through a series of endless loop-de-loops that will get your head spinning. You’ll need your own soundtrack for this speed-demon of a vid, which is eerily silent as the camera zooms along a bright orange track that’s free of guardrails or any other diversion.

Located in Hershey, Pennsylvania, Hersheypark opened in 1906 as an outdoor recreation area for area families. In 1923, Milton S. Hershey added the park’s first roller coaster, the Wild Cat, as a gift to the town. In addition to riding roller coasters, today’s visitors to Hersheypark can take chocolate tours and create their own candy bars. Next, check out the oldest tourist attraction in every state.

Katie McElveen
Katie McElveen is a contributor to Reader’s Digest, where she covers travel, pets and lifestyle. Her work has also appeared on Sherman’s Travel, Travelocity, Islands, Destination Weddings & Honeymoons, Virtuoso and other sites and in publications including Global Traveler, AAA GO and Montage Magazine. A graduate of the University of Maryland at College Park, Katie lives in Columbia, South Carolina.

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