Universal Orlando has announced that Dragon Challenge, formerly Dueling Dragons before the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, will be closing September 5th, 2017 for a new Harry Potter attraction. The last day to ride is September 4th, Labor Day. These two inverted roller coasters have been a fixture of Islands of Adventure since the park opened in 1999 and were a technological marvel at the time with elements where riders came within feet of each other. Each ride is a unique roller coaster, but both feature common elements that intertwine called “near misses.” The ride was also known for its iconic fire and ice dragon statues at the entrance and the immersive queue line that took you through the depths of a castle and dungeon before you boarded your dragon to ride.
Their role was downgraded significantly when Hogsmeade replaced much of the former Lost Continent themed area. The retheme of the ride from a tale of fire and ice dragons to the Triwizard Tournament from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire unfortunately took away a lot of the charm of the ride, especially the former elaborate queue line. In recent years, the rides have not dueled any longer due to several freak injuries, further degrading the original thrill. Hopefully Universal has an awesome replacement on the way!
Below is the article I wrote long ago for the former IOAGuide portion of Florida Thrills. It gives some good insight into the old Dueling Dragons. Below that are a series of photos from throughout the years of the attraction. Enjoy!
Duel to the Death
Living within an old castle are two dragons, fire and ice. Peace is nonexistent between the dragons and those who dare to enter their lair. When the dragons duel, they carefully execute flawless maneuvers, coming within inches of each other, over a lagoon. Do you dare challenge the Dragons? Choose your fate: either freeze or burn.
Created by Bolliger and Mabillard, Dueling Dragons are the only roller coasters in the world that feature near misses where the riders come within inches of hitting the riders on the opposite train. Dueling Dragons consists of two different, but intertwined roller coasters. Both sides are 125′ tall, however, Fire has a 115′ drop compared to Ice’s 95′ one. The three near misses are the camelback/zero gravity roll, the vertical loops, and the corkscrews, in that order. The most thrilling near miss, if you are seated in the front row, is the vertical loop. The two trains speed head first at each other, just to pull up at the last second. A slight near miss also occurs when Fire enters its final corkscrew and Ice is making its final turn.
A new lift hill was designed specifically for Dueling Dragons. What’s special about the lift hill is that each train is weighed on the lift hill. Then, the lift adjusts and lighter side speeds up, passes the other train by a level determined by the weight, and drops first. Why exactly? The whole process takes place to ensure the trains meet at the three near miss locations. The heavier train has more inertia -the tendency for an object to stay in motion- and can catch up with the lighter train at the right locations. The ability to adjust lift hill speeds also allows one train to exit the station before another, with the second train catching up before the top. This helps to speed up the loading process.
The queue line for Dueling Dragons is yet another site to see. At over a mile long, it’s a long hike to the station. The queue goes from the forest through the castle and dungeon. Rooms throughout the castle feature frozen and charred knights. Lining the narrow walls of the dungeon are bones of those who did not survive the dragons. The wizard Merlin gives warnings throughout about turning back, but if you should continue, you will have to choose your fate at the end of the line.
The Fire side of Dueling Dragons is different from Ice in many ways. First, Fire features a longer drop which creates an additional five
miles per hour of speed. Directly following the 115′ drop is the first Immelman inversion. Following the Immelman is the first near miss, the camelback. This element provides a wonderful pop of airtime and a great thrill looking at the Ice train below. After pulling out just above the lagoon, a second Immelman follows. This Immelman is tilted on its side and leads into a tight helix. The next inversion is shared on both sides: the head-on vertical loops. After completing the loop, the train speeds through a left turn right into the interlocking corkscrews, another shared element and near miss. After the corkscrew, the train takes a turn back towards the lift before entering the fifth and final inversion, a corkscrew. After one more turn, the ride hits the brakes.
Compared to Fire, Ice begins with a 95′ drop into a left-handed over-banked turn over the lagoon. The turn is followed by Ice’s first inversion, a zero gravity roll, which goes under Fire’s camelback. You literally come feet to feet with the other train. The second and third inversions closely follow as the train enters a cobra roll, barely missing the wall of the castle station. After the cobra roll, the Ice heads straight towards Fire before pulling out in a vertical loop. Coming after a high speed right-handed turn is the interlocking corkscrew near miss, Ice’s final inversion. Finally, after two quick turns, Ice hits the brakes.