How to Train Your Dragon at iFLY Indoor Skydiving
iFLY Indoor Skydiving has been a mainstay of Universal Studios Hollywood CityWalk for over ten years. I think one of their biggest challenges in reaching more people is that it takes multiple visits to really get good at the skills they teach. Now, by partnering with Dreamworks’ hit “How to Train Your Dragon” franchise, they’ve found a way to create a fully satisfying one-visit experience that does not rely on the customer’s flying abilities.
As with their “normal” session, flyers begin with an instructional video and gearing up. Then there is an introductory flight (or two) to teach the basics of body positioning and let people become comfortable with the feeling of the wind. Each flyer gets their own turn with one-on-one instruction from an experienced staff member. This covers all the basics of how to position your arms and legs, how to stay stable, and where to look.
The floating sensation is foreign but quickly turns exhilarating. The minute of flight time passes far too quickly, but even in that short session you become more ambitious and confident. You already feel able to step up your game for the next round, and that’s where the dragons come in.
Here Be Dragons
VR animators from Dreamworks came to iFLY early to do their research into what kind of motion they could realistically create. Dragons can fly in loops but first-time humans cannot, so they were restricted in what kind of flight path to map out. Working with the excellent staff, they co-created a kind of “dance” as our instructor appropriately called it.
In the VR headset, flyers see Toothless (the main dragon of the films) on an adjacent platform. Hiccup, his friend/rider counts down and you both take off into the air! Diving down the side of a mountain, flyers swerve around rock outcroppings, through a flock of oncoming dragons, and over the village of Berk. They are free to look anywhere and take in the surroundings. In a normal flight, you keep your head straight up, but here, the instructor moves for you. Performing the aforementioned “dance,” the instructor will tilt you up or down and move you left or right, depending on what the visuals call for. They see what you see on a separate screen, so they know the right time to swing you around what appears as a cliff face within the VR world.
iFLY and the “How to Train Your Dragon” franchise are extremely different in terms of the type of entertainment they offer. Combining the two seems like such a natural fit that I expect to see more partnerships like this in the future. Film fans get to feel like they are IN the world of Berk, instead of just watching it. Adrenaline fans get to race against a mythical creature through stunning scenery, instead of floating in a sterile wind tunnel. Each thing is enhanced by the other.
Although very fun, the VR experience is not perfect. Nor would I expect it to be, since the technology is so complex. The headset has to be very tight. If it’s too loose, powerful wind may pull the screen far enough from your eyes to lose focus. This happened to me the first time, and the staff was gracious enough to let me try again with a tighter helmet. There is also the chance for the motion to be out of sync with the visuals. Our instructor Ian helped design the motion “dance” and was skilled at matching our real-life movements to the environment on our screen. But there’s always a chance that something will be off, or late. This includes an odd moment at the end when the visual flight is over, but the person is still flying in the tunnel. iFLY is aware of this disconnect, but it’s necessary for safety reasons. The VR has to be completely shut off before flyers can exit the wind tunnel. I wouldn’t even call this a problem because A) always err on the side of safety, and B) more time flying is always good.
Something for Everyone
For kids, dragon lovers, film fans, or anyone who wants a thrilling and unique experience with no future commitment, this package is entirely self-contained. You will leave having flown in the wind tunnel both in real life and with one of your favorite movie characters. For others, like myself, you may find the sensation addictive and want to return to learn more skills, like how to turn, or fly higher/lower in the tunnel without the instructor. For this, you will need return visits, and VR will no longer be an option, as freestyle flying requires your full vision.
There is no denying it’s a pricey adventure. The “How to Train Your Dragon” package includes two training flights, the VR flight, all gear use, and personalized instruction for $86.95. Plus, the age limit is only 6 years old, which is much younger than other favorite VR experiences like Dreamscape or The Void. So iFLY really could be for the whole family!
Flights Departing Daily
iFLY Hollywood is open every day at Universal Studios CityWalk, from 11 am to 8 pm (9 pm on Friday and Saturday). The “How to Train Your Dragon” VR flight does not have an announced end date, so I believe the intent is a permanent option. They also have other VR flights that take place over famous global destinations. Prices will vary depending on how many minutes you’d like to fly and which (if any) VR options you choose. More information, including booking, can be found at their website here.