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Universal Studios Florida – KidZone: E.T. Adventure

Rating: * * * *
Type: Gondola ride
Time: 5 minutes
Our Take: Kids love this one (some adults do, too)

Based on the blockbuster movie that crossed sci-fi with cuddly toys, the E.T. Adventure takes us where the movie didn’t — back to E.T.’s home planet. In a filmed introduction to the ride, Steven Spielberg, who directed the film, sets up the premise: E.T.’s home, the Green Planet, is in some unspecified trouble, although it looks like an advanced case of ozone hole, which is turning the place a none-too-healthy-looking orange. You have to return with E.T. to help save the old folks at home. How to get there? Aboard the flying bicycles from the film’s final sequence, of course. The fact that Spielberg doesn’t bother to explain how we’ll survive the rigors of interstellar travel aboard mountain bikes tells us that this ride is aimed at the very young. After this brief setup, the doors ahead open and we line up to tell a staffer our first names and get the “passports” we will need for the journey.

Passports firmly in hand, we walk through a cave-like tunnel into the misty, nighttime redwood forests of the Northwest. This set is a minor masterpiece of scenic design and some people think it’s the best part of the adventure. As we wend our way along a winding “nature trail” among the towering trees, we make out the animated figure of Botanicus, a wise elder from E.T.’s planet, urging us to hurry back. Here, too, we glimpse the jury-rigged contraption E.T. used to communicate in the film.

At the staging area, we hand in our passports and collect our “bikes” (look for E.T. to pop his head out of the basket on the front), which are actually 12-passenger, open-sided gondolas hanging from a ceiling track. They have bicycle-like seats, each with its own set of handlebars.

The best seats in the house. On the whole, the left side of the gondola provides better views than the right, especially of the city. Best of all is the far left seat in the first row.

This ride might be likened to a bike with training wheels. It has many of the aspects of more thrilling rides — sudden acceleration, swoops, and turns — but toned down so as not to be truly frightening. In the first phase of the ride, we are zipping through the redwoods, dodging the unenlightened grown-ups who want to capture E.T. for study and analysis. This section can be a little scary for small kids and a little loud for older adults. Soon, however, we are soaring high above the city in the ride’s most enchanting interlude. We rise higher until we are in the stars themselves and are then shot down a hyperspace tunnel before we decelerate abruptly and find ourselves in the steamy world of E.T.’s home planet.

It’s an odd cave-like environment but soon, apparently buoyed by our arrival, the place perks up and we are flying through a psychedelic world of huge multicolored flowers in wondrous shapes, past talking mushrooms and plants (or are they creatures?) with dozens of eyes. All around are little E.T.s, peeping from under plants, climbing over them, and playing them like percussion instruments. It’s all rather like Disney’s it’s a small world on acid.

All too soon, E.T. is sending us back to our home, but not before a final farewell when those passports pay off cleverly. Listen carefully!

Some are captivated by this ride, but it has a few flaws. Spielberg authorized a whole new cast of characters for this ride (culled from the obscure paperback sequel E.T. and the Book of the Green Planet) but, other than Botanicus, they are hard to identify, much less get to know. Also, the humans in the woods look a bit like department store mannequins. Still, the ride will appeal to younger children and their timid elders, who can get a taste of a “thrill” ride without putting the contents of their stomachs at risk.

This is also one of the few rides at Universal where seeing the film on which it is based will definitely add to the appreciation of the experience. Without this background, much of the ride may seem merely odd. This will be especially true for younger children who will be better able to empathize with E.T. and his plight if they’ve seen the movie.

E.T. is one of Universal’s most popular rides for people of all ages, with the result that the lines can become dauntingly long. On busy days, there can be another wait of 15 to 20 minutes once inside before you reach the ride itself.

Tip: When the Animal Actors show lets out (about 25 minutes after the posted show time), the crowds stream over to get on line for E.T. Time your visit accordingly.

Note: There are two Universal Express entrances in this ride, one outside and a second shortly after you enter the forest inside the building.

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Universal Orlando 2011


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