The turbulent history of Universal’s Dragon Challenge

When Islands of Adventure opened at Universal Orlando Resort, things were very different than they are today. Before the massive expansion of Wizarding World brought Hogwarts Orlando to life, the Lost Continent was a much larger area that saw close and personal encounters with mythical creatures such as unicorns and dragons. The main draw of the Lost Continent area was a large steel coaster called Dueling Dragons. Riders would enter the queue, decorated with skeletons and a ruined castle, choose one of two dragons – ice or fire – and ride alongside their champion. The two “dragons” started their journey at the same time and crossed paths several times, giving the illusion of a duel.

dragon duel facade
(img: Killioughtta Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The Battle of the Dragons took riders up a large lift hill, through a loop, and around a corkscrew during its ride time, and was met with relatively positive reception. When the Lost Continent was reduced in size to accommodate Hogsmeade and Hogwarts in the islands, Dueling Dragons was redesigned to fit the rest of the Wizarding World. The coaster itself has been redesigned to fit the Goblet of Fire Triwizard Tournament theme and renamed Dragon Challenge. Instead of choosing the path of ice or fire, riders now had the option of choosing between the Hungarian Horntail and the Chinese Fireball.

Shortly after the theme change and the roller coaster reopened in 2011, the roller coaster suffered two separate injuries resulting from unsecured objects being held by passengers. When the coasters entered some of the near-hilly parts of the ride, these objects struck opposing passengers, resulting in one rider permanently losing vision in one eye. The issues were quickly resolved by Universal who announced shortly after that the coasters would no longer be launched simultaneously and the dragons would no longer duel. The ride saw a drop in ridership after the near misses were removed, and many guests began commenting on how the red and blue roller coaster track didn’t quite match the theme of the rest of the country.

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Dragon Challenge Dueling Item
(image: Jeremy Thompson, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

In the summer of 2017, Universal announced plans to create a new Harry Potter-themed coaster to replace Dragon Challenge, and in early fall the coaster began to be torn down. In 2019, the replacement coaster was completed and opened to the public.

Now, where the dragons once stood, is a shiny new attraction that fits the Wizarding World much better than its predecessor, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. Since opening the bike, guest reception has exploded with few complaints.

Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorcycle Adventure Universal
Image: universal

Although Dragon Challenge will be missed by theme park veterans and thrill seekers everywhere, it remains in fond memories as one of Islands of Adventure’s first coasters. For those with a keen eye, references to Dueling Dragons still exist in Hagrid’s queue. Upon entering the building for the first time, peek along the walls decorated with paintings of magical creatures and you might see the faded emblem of the Hogwarts Dueling Club, surrounded by a blue dragon and facing red, reminiscent of those who once stood guard at the gates.

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