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Prehistoric peril on Universal Orlando's new VelociCoaster

Theme parks, like all of society, were brought to a screeching halt by the Covid-19 pandemic. Dinosaurs are helping to bring them back to speed -- breakneck speed -- in Central Florida.

The VelociCoaster, which officially opened on June 10, is Universal Orlando's most anticipated opening of the year and a welcome addition for roller coaster junkies.

The surrounding area, tropical with lush plants and prehistoric with rock formations, gives a nod to the Jurassic movie series, sitting in the existing Jurassic World area.

Velociraptors greet visitors at the ride's gates.

As one waits in the air-conditioned queue, more dinosaurs greet riders, and Jurassic film characters Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong) make video appearances introducing riders to the roller coaster. Raptors Blue, Charlie, Delta and Echo also make appearances. Just before departure, riders are surrounded by dinosaurs that are attempting to escape their enclosures and chase the coaster.

"It feels like you're being transported to a new land, and the environment enhances the thrill of the actual ride itself," said Gregory Hall, art director of the project. "There's a lot of thought process put into this."

Exhilaration sets in from the beginning, ultimately launching riders to 70 mph in 2.4 seconds. There is no slowing down, or at least a moment to catch one's breath. If the speed does decrease it's only because riders are going upside down over the lagoon, doing a 360-degree roll called the Mosasaurus Roll or descending at an angle that's counter to the track's direction.

Add to the fact that you're strapped in a lap bar restraint (rather than a shoulder harness) and a sense of helplessness sets in during the ride's 12 seconds of weightlessness, which are scattered throughout the ride's nearly three-minute journey.

However, any vulnerability is offset by the two handles that riders grab for dear life, white-knuckling not just when upside down or sideways but for the ride's duration.

The track's smoothness also soothes any anxiety, much like speeding on a newly paved interstate.

The VelociCoaster has to be ridden at least twice: the first for the exhilaration, the second for examining how the ride is pieced together and, if only for a moment, enjoy the view from the top.The 4,700-foot-long track peaks at 155 feet, features four inversions and includes a 140-foot drop at an 80-degree angle. It also has an inverted zero-gravity stall that offers a 53 mph barrel roll toward the second half of the ride.

Sure, this might sound like muscle-car talk. The average person who is up for riding the VelociCoaster may not be keen on these numbers' meaning, instead just looking at the track's menacing twists and turns. But roller coaster junkies will delight in such figures.

That's not to say the ride is for experienced thrill-seekers only. But having an adventurous streak doesn't hurt. And after last year's challenges, who isn't up for a little normalcy, even if it means riding a one-of-a-kind roller coaster?

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