While waiting, guests encounter characters throughout -- like the virtual native who glares at guests, or the sinewy haired, surprisingly lifelike shaman woman who electrifies an unseen crowd of island natives by speaking gibberish interspersed with the word "Kong." Flames blaze in the eyes of animalistic faces carved into the surrounding walls. Boxes holding unknown creatures rattle, warning visitors of what's to come. There are no monitors throughout the building, safety announcements fit within the walkie-talkie arguments of island expedition staff, and the lamps have exposed filaments, just like they would back in 1931.
Guests weave in and out of expansive rooms and smaller corridors accompanied by a soundtrack that mixes, apparently, the screams of tormented ghosts with the shaking of tribal instruments. Live actors pop out among skeletons in darker, narrower sections of the line. Or they might not: the "live native presence" changes locations and may disappear altogether. You can't let your guard down regardless.
Even the building design, complete with hand-carved stone work, is geared to freak you out. "We created this entire queue space to be small and then large," West said. "So you kind of pump the guests through, almost like a heartbeat, and the intensity builds with each scene that you go through."
Blame Harry Potter for this nightmare
Universal has been chasing this level of immersion since The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, its boy wizard-themed park within the park, has done huge business the past few years in Florida, California, and Japan. After shopping the snow-topped businesses of Hogsmeade or encountering the Gringotts goblins firsthand, guests can expect a high level of detail and execution everywhere. If you can be dropped into the living, breathing world of Harry Potter just a short walk away, why should Skull Island fail to scare you stupid?
"We don't want to ever say we can do it as good as that, we want to say we can do it better, especially things like the queue," West said. He cited the success of the dark ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, in which guests wind through the famed corners and talking portrait-lined corridors of Hogwarts. "We've had that amazing queue," he said. "We were challenged to keep beating that and making it bigger and better."