The first Dueling Inverted Coaster is a famous duo: Dueling Dragons. It was one of the center piece attraction at the new for 1999 Islands of Adventure, but was constructed and operating in 1998. Universal Studios Florida opened in 1990 and there were issues with getting the ground breaking attractions ready. When Universal Creative designed Islands of Adventure, they did not take any chances and many of the ride attractions were cycling and operating in 1998, giving them enough time to iron out the bugs.
Dueling Dragons was built in the Lost Continent Island of the park and the park longest queue line constructed for it. Lost Continent Merlinwood section was themed to fantasy medieval, something that would have fit well in a King’s Arthur or Dungeons & Dragons setting. Beside Dueling Dragons, you had the Enchanted Oak Tavern that served comfort food and had a great bar in a corner and naturally, it was inside a giant Oak. To the left of the entrance was the Dragon’s Keep, a medieval market that served as the main merchandise store for Dueling Dragons.
The ride original logo, hanging from a sail. Picture appears courtesy of Flex.
We passed the entrance portal where there were statues of both dragons and there was a marker on the floor there where if someone stood and looked at the ride, he would see the 3 duel points of the ride. You then walked through an abandoned forest and eventually reached a large castle. The first room of the castle had animated stained glass where Merlin explained the curse of the castle: two rival dragons named Blizzrock (Ice Dragon) and Pyrock (Fire Dragon) have taken over the castle and all brave knights have perished trying to take it back from them. Now only Merlin remains and he tries to tell us to stay away from the castle lest we meet the knight’s fate. After that, we pass a magical grimoire (spell book) and we hear some of Merlin’s desperate spells to rid the castle of its two denizens. He also tell us how to survive our trip to this doomed castle: ride the back of the Dragons and they will let us escape after.
The original entrance with the Dragon statues. Picture found on wikipedia and uploaded there by Killioughtta.
The ride original test seat.
We go down further into the castle and reach the room where the knights fought Pyrock and perished: their remains were literally melted into the stone walls of the room and you can still see some pieces of armor. The next room was where Blizzrock disposed of his would be conquerors and the room is now frozen for eternity, with notably a knight suspended from the ceiling, pierced by his own blade. Various candles were installed to light up both rooms and one incredible effect was that from time to time, you’d hear a rumble and the candles would flicker, as if the breath of the dragon was threatening to blow them.
We pass a gate where it feels and sounds like one of the Dragon is about to burst through and we hurry through, reaching the creepiest queue ever built: the catacombs. Hundreds of skulls and bones covered every inch of the hallways and served as a warning from the Dragons to what their slayers would become.
Flex took this picture of the Catacombs.
A few of the thousand of skuls that lined the Catacomb surface. Picture appears courtesy of Flex.
We eventually reached a famous sign: Choose Thy Fate. This incredible sign is basically where we make our choice. Will we try to ride Blizzrock or Pyrock?
The second dueling moment in the Dueling Dragons days. Picture appears courtesy of Flex.
Blizzrock Cobra Roll, shot by Flex.
The loading stations were not side by side, but at an angle to each other. Riders exit and board on the same side thanks to the separate load and unload stations, a unique feature for B&M coasters. We will start with a ride on Blizzrock’s back.
We exit the station and turn to the right, passing the transfer tracks. We then engage the lift hill and this is where the train is weighted, thanks to a unique mechanism installed on the lift chain that is patented. The ride software then adjust both Dragons lift speed to guarantee perfect near-misses during the ride.
One at the top of the 125 feet lift hill, the train disengage and then dives down to the right, going through a tall Curved Helix. It then rises up in a Zero G Roll and then head toward the castle, flipping us head over heels twice in an intense Cobra Roll where it feels our feet will touch the castle walls. For kicks, the designers even included scrape marks on the wall to make it feel as if previous riders had touched it.
Blizzrock in the Zero-G-Roll.
After the Cobra Roll, the train has a long straight section where we see the other Dragon charging at us and at the last second, we loop. After the Vertical Loop, the ride does a banked turn and executes its fifth inversion, a Flat Spin interlocked with Pyrock. An S curve bring us to the final turn and the brakes.
Flex shot this picture of the Cobra Roll.
The Flat Spin on Blizzrock.
The second to last turn on Blizzrock.
For Pyrock, we turn to the left, pass the transfer track and engage the lift hill, getting weighted as well. At the top, the pace immediately quickens as we sharply curve and drop to the left in what is the most aggressive Inverted Coaster drop in the world. At the bottom, we go through a tall Immelmann which sends us back toward the entrance of the ride. But, Pyrock has a unique trick for us: a pure airtime hill OVER Blizzrock Zero G Roll. Both train claws would come within 12 inches of each other and this was an incredible moment never attempted before or since. Once out of the airtime hill, a sharp banked curve we are immediately launched into a unique element: a small Immelmann banked at 45 degrees which is immediately followed by an incredibly tight spiral. It again feeds us directly into the next segment, the dueling loop. It is also followed by a banked curve that take us to the interlocking Flat Spin.
The airtime hill over Blizzrock Zero-G-Roll.
Flex shot this great picture of the train in the airtime hill. Look at how close it is to the Zero-G-Roll and imagine a train going under at the same time.
The banked Immelmann.
The first Flat Spin on Pyrock.
Whereas Blizzrock has run out of tricks and has to settle for a mild S curve, Pyrock has something evil left. We run near the water and at the last second, we dodge a stone fence and are thrown in a snappy Flat Spin. We then turn to the left into the final brakes.
You can see the second Flat Spin on the bottom left of the picture.
Blizzrock relies more on the visuals while Pyrock has an intensity that only Batman: The Ride or Nemesis can touch. Each Dragon was equipped with three trains of 8 rows each. B&M supplied the trains un-themed with pink shoulder restraints for the front row and either blue or blood red for the other rows. Universal Creative then hired another company to make molds for the trains, covering them in scales and a scary set of teeth’s and eyes for the first car. Why pink harnesses for the front row? Because the dragon’s tongue hold riders!
You can see the Dragon’s tongue and mouth on the front of the train.
The separate load and unload station allowed efficient 3 train operation and with over 3000 riders per hour during peak operation, the huge castle queue was not needed sadly. Guests would rarely stop and take in the details, plus when Universal Express was installed, many riders went directly from the stained glasses to the “Choose Thy Fate” room, skipping the set-up of the attraction.
In 2010, the ride closed and the Dragons each repainted. Blizzrock went to a different shade of blue and Pyrock to burn orange. Merlinwood was demolished and a new basic stone portal serves as the entrance. The ride was renamed Dragon Challenge and we now ride dragons as part of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter Tri-Wizard tournament. The only additional outdoor theming elements were Ron Weasley’s flying car and flags representing the Tri-Wizard tournament. The Stained Glass room became a basic Tournament tent and the Grimoire replaced by the Tri-Wizard enchanted cup. Over inside, all scary theming elements were removed included the dead knights and bones. Blizzrock room became a hallway of endless candles. The Choose Thy Fate sign was also replaced by a more generic one.
Dragon Challenge new test seats.
New warning signs.
Over in the loading stations, one welcome change were impressive dragon shadow projections over our head and this made the loading station quite animated. Blizzrock was renamed Hungarian Horntail and Pyrock Chinese Fireball.
In October 2011, after two incidents involving guests throwing objects at the other train, Universal announced Dueling would stop. The Dueling feature was removed from the roller coasters programming and ride operators not allowed to dispatch’s the trains at the same time.