The Saturday Six is a weekly look at the most interesting, most fun, and sometimes even the most outrageous things within the theme park world that we all love so much. Whether it’s the top six “secrets” of the Portofino Bay Hotel, the top six food options at Fast Food Blvd, or even the top six signature drinks at Universal, the Saturday Six will be your personal guide to experiencing the very best Orlando has to offer.
This week’s Saturday Six looks at the Top Six “Secrets” of Marvel Superhero Island at Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Now most people know about the Stan Lee cameos in the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man ride but there are many of surprises and secrets spread throughout this incredible land.
# 6 – It has some of the best photo ops in the entire Universal Orlando Resort
Right now there isn’t anything in entertainment hotter than the Marvel brand. Still basking in the success of the incredibly popular Avengers and Iron Man 3 films, The Wolverine was a worldwide hit both financially and critically, and two of the most talked about movies at this summer’s San Diego Comic Con were next year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past and the sequel to the Amazing Spider-Man. The comic book arm of Marvel Comics has just launched the big Infinity storyline, while over in the world of television, one of the most anticipated shows of this upcoming falls season is Agents of SHIELD.
With meet and greets becoming a larger part of the theme park experience every year, you’ll be glad to know that Marvel Superhero Island has several opportunities to interact with characters. The X-Men’s Wolverine, Storm, Rogue, and Cyclops come out for pictures and autographs, as well as Captain America. However, the best pictures can be taken with the Marvel villains who come out: Spider-Man’s arch nemesis the Green Goblin and the Fantastic Four’s main baddie, Dr. Doom. The Goblin character is just plain creepy, and his sinister look and poses with guests make for some fantastic photos. Meanwhile guests can get creative with Dr. Doom, leading to some very fun interactions!
But as good as the pictures you can get with “the bad guys” are, the best photo-op in the island, the park, and maybe the entire Universal Orlando Resort itself, is with Spider-Man. Like all the other attractions that use 3D, there are no on-ride photos for the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man attraction. This year Universal added a new Daily Bugle photo op that is part of the Spider-Man standby queue (guests using the Express Pass line do not have the opportunity to have this photo op), but everyone really wants a picture with ol’ Web Head, right?
The picture you can get with Spider-Man is actually taken across the street from the attraction, itself. It’s in the back of one of the Marvel gift stores. Guests will get the opportunity to meet Spider-Man, take a picture in front of a green screen, and then have that photo put onto the cover of a Marvel Comics issue of Spider-Man! Amazing Pictures, the people who do all the photo work for Universal, will add in webbing to the final product, making it one of the coolest theme park photos around. The comic book cover is a separate purchase, but Spider-Man will also pose for pictures taken with your camera. Like the character “Donkey” in the Shrek meet and greet over at Universal Studios Florida, Spider-Man spends time with each guest, especially children. This personal one-on-one interaction can make a good theme park vacation into an unforgettable one.
Comic books and theme parks are a natural fit. The biggest readers of comics are kids and adult males, two of theme park’s biggest demographics. However, if you look around at Walt Disney World and Sea World, you won’t find many comic books anywhere. Both Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure carry a lot of comic books, with Marvel Superhero Island having a working comic book store.
Stocked with single issue comic books, trade paperback collections, action figures, and other collectibles (Marvel guitars?), this is a store that the guys from the Big Bang Theory would have no problem spending some time in. Even better, the store has an entire backstory that is told in a comic book form via a huge mural by one of the registers. The story goes that the X-Men villain Magneto amassed a huge treasure trove of Marvel comics and other knick-knacks and was able to channel the entertainment value of the items themselves into pure energy.
Can it be? Yes! This Marvel Merchandise is so packed with thrills and excitement it is a source of limitless power!
The X-Men’s Storm ended up defeating Magneto and allowing guests the ability to purchase their favorite Marvel products. Talk about a story told in the Mighty Marvel Manner! Stan Lee would be proud.
Both the Stand By and Express Pass queues are a lot of fun to walk through in the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man attraction. Both simulate walking through the Daily Bugle and have different things to see. The Express Pass line includes going through Peter Parker’s photography darkroom, as well as a room full of filing cabinets filled with references to Marvel characters. The standby queue walks you through a lot of the news rooms, but it also leads you by a trophy case filled with references to people who worked on the Spider-Man ride.
Some of the names you will see are Scott Trowbridge, Theirry Coup, Abraham Chorbajian, and Benjamin Lovelace. While Lovelace was a Senior Ride Show Manager and Chorbajian head of the audio/video systems, both unknowns to most theme park fans, Trowbridge and Coup have long ties to both Universal and Disney and can be considered the masterminds behind this incredible attraction. How revolutionary was Spider-Man for IOA? It won the Golden Ticket award from Amusement Today for Best Dark Ride for 12 straight years. While Trowbridge moved on to WDI, Coup is now the Senior Creative VP of Universal Creative and has been involved in the creation of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Transformers: The Ride-3D. Good luck finding a resume better than that!
All over Marvel Superhero Island you will see phones and call boxes that are there solely for guests to interact with, but most people walk by without even noticing they are there. If you pick up any of the phones, or press the buttons in the call boxes, you will get fun little surprises related to the Marvel Universe. Some will be from the hero’s perspective, but the more fun ones revolve around the villains. You may get a notice that the Avengers are in space, so now is the good time to rob a particular jewelry store. Or you may be advised to bring a can opener on your next “job” as Iron Man has been sighted in the area. Next time you are near the Hulk coaster, or walking through the alley leading to Dr. Doom’s Fear Fall, or standing in front of the Spider-Man attraction, look around and you just might have a fun surprise in store.
Throughout the entire Marvel Superhero Island there are nods to the entire Marvel Universe that any comic fan is sure to enjoy. Any fan of the Fantastic Four knows all about Yancy Street, and here you’ll find an actual Yancy Street sign at a street corner. You will see signs for “Nelson & Murdoch: Attorneys at Law” and “Blaze & Ketch mechanics,” which are references to Daredevil and Ghost Rider comics. Look into the villain’s alley for a concrete bust of Venom’s head. There are Daily Bugle newspaper machines across the island. Fans of Thor will catch the Donald Blake reference. Let’s face it True Believers, everywhere you look are great little details to appreciate!
# 1 – Artist Adam Kubert hid his name throughout the island!
We’ve saved the best secret for last. One of the things every guest will notice when walking through Marvel Superhero Island are the larger than life Marvel heroes and villains. Thor, Captain America, Doctor Octopus, Rogue, Storm, Magneto and many others are represented in 2D drawings on or next to almost every building. They were done to give a guest the feeling of walking into a comic book itself. The artist used for all of these drawings was longtime Marvel artist Adam Kubert.
Most comic artists sign their names to comic book covers or commissioned drawings, and Kubert found a fun way to put his name into all the major drawings at Universal. Some are easy to see. In the picture to the right you’ll see “Adam” relatively easy in Captain America’s arm and Namor’s foot, but it’s a little tricker to find it hidden in the fist of Doc Ock or between the thumb and index finger of the Incredible Hulk. Be on the lookout for “hidden Adams” on your next trip to IOA!
So there you have it: the top six “secrets” of Marvel Superhero Island. This is one of my favorite areas of any theme park, as it has great theming, two of the best attractions in Florida, and my favorite photo op in any park. How many theme parks have a ride done from the villain’s perspective? It’s one thing to have Gaston’s Tavern at the Magic Kingdom, but with Dr. Doom’s Fear Fall we have an actual attraction where the bad guy is in charge. It’s awesome. It’s a comic book fan’s dream come true and - as long as you go somewhere else to eat – you’re going to have a great time in Marvel Superhero Island.
(Special thanks to Chris Buckner and Brandon Glover for their help with this article.)