Universal's new Fast & Furious ride: Not just for motorheads

Exterior of the new Fast & Furious: Supercharged ride at Universal Studios Florida.
Exterior of the new Fast & Furious: Supercharged ride at Universal Studios Florida. Photo Credit: Clifford Alejos
Holly V. Kapherr
Holly V. Kapherr

Before I met my husband, an avid "car guy," I viewed the "Fast & the Furious" films as "man movies," brainless action-thrillers written for testosterone-fueled auto junkies. But over the last 11 years, as I've watched the films again and again both in movie theaters and at home on my couch, I've grown to appreciate them not just for their entertainment value but also for their message of friendship, family, and fun.

The new "Fast & Furious: Supercharged" ride at Universal Studios Florida perfectly encapsulates those three concepts from the films and nets riders an immersive experience into the franchise's world, while maintaining a safe speed.

On May 2, I was among the media members who gathered with the stars of the films -- including Vin Diesel, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson and Chris "Ludacris" Bridges -- as well as invited guests and Universal Orlando Resort executives to celebrate the opening of the theme park's newest ride.

Fast & Furious: Supercharged, which had its soft opening in April, incorporates some game-changing technology to immerse riders in the world of supercar racing while experiencing a relatively low-impact atmosphere. The result: a ride guests of all ages can enjoy.

In fact, the "family" aspect of the films, in which Diesel and his crew of car racers and enthusiasts comprise a "ride or die" family of misfits and rogues, is a recurring theme throughout the ride's queue and introduction entertainment as well as on the ride itself. And the ride, in fact, is one that the entire family can share and enjoy.

I'll admit that the new ride is not exactly what I imagined it would be. I expected a high-intensity, ultrafast, action-packed attraction that would be suitable for older riders, perhaps some combination of Walt Disney World's Rock 'n' Roller Coaster and Test Track. That's not the case; but as they say, two out of three ain't bad.

Fast & Furious: Supercharged is situated in the former "Earthquake!" and "Disaster!" ride space. Visitors may remember that the previous tram-style rides were slow-moving, but the special effects used by the new Fast & Furious ride make riders feel like they're zipping through tunnels and along the highways of Los Angeles, sometimes without even moving an inch.

We first entered the queue, which is an extremely detailed set, featuring real props from the film that set up the story of the ride. My "car guy" loved ogling the 15 prop and stunt cars from the films and recalling which car was used in which of the eight movies. Maybe the coolest was Dom's black 1970 Dodge Charger muscle car. We also loved searching for Universal's signature Easter eggs in the queue sets, including several tributes to Paul Walker, one of the stars of the "Fast & Furious" films who died in a car crash in 2013.

Since we rode the new attraction at a press event, we didn't have much waiting around to do, but guests of the theme park can take advantage of another technological advancement implemented by Universal: the "virtual queue." This feature enables guests who download the Universal Orlando app to hold their place in line for the ride virtually; they simply show up at their appointed ride time. The same "virtual queue" technology is integrated into the ride Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon.

Riders who do opt to stand in line for the ride can participate in "Fast & Furious" trivia while waiting, and a leaderboard showing the day's top scores and overall top scores is displayed before entering the ride area.

After winding through the queue, we entered two briefing rooms: one designed to look like the crew's garage, and one ultrahigh-tech room outfitted like Tej's War Room from the films. I was delighted to see live actors -- Universal staff members -- interacting with the films' stars, who appeared on video screens and had prerecorded their end of the conversations. The Hollywood stars who play the characters Tej and Mia, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges and Jordana Brewster, signed on to be featured exclusively in Universal Orlando's version of the ride (the ride is also featured at Universal's California park).

We climbed into the trackless trams, which moved smoothly and soundlessly through the space, and marveled at the first scene of the ride itself, where holograms of the actors in the film drop riders right in the middle of the storyline. The video was filmed in 2-D using an extremely high frame rate, so riders feel like they're in a 3-D environment without the need for 3-D glasses.

The scene wraps, and the trams crawl through the rest of the space, but because of the 360-degree screens, the special effects make you feel as though you're on that high-speed chase I had imagined. There's fire and splashing water (the action takes place on a bridge), the tram rocks and rolls, and the dialogue between the actors setting up their chase was engaging and rang true to the franchise.

Hearing the voices of Dom, Letty, Roman and Tej lent some added authenticity to our experience and put us in the mood to feel the street beneath our feet.

We exited the ride wind-blown and exhilarated, just like we'd hoped.

JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI