Universal Shares Behind-The-Scenes Look at Creating Tropical Landscaping for Jurassic World VelociCoaster at Islands of Adventure

As we anticipate the grand opening of Jurassic World VelociCoaster at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, the park continues to add theming elements to the surrounding areas including landscaping.


Neal Diebold who is lovingly referenced as “The Tree Guy” at Universal Orlando Resort recently shared with Discover Universal Blog what it’s like to creatively introduce the plant life in Jurassic Park. Neal is a registered landscape architect and an area development manager for Universal Creative and has spent the last year and a half working on the project.

“One of the big things that Shelby (Show Producer for the ride) has said all along is that we want the attraction to have teeth,” Neal says. “So in my role, that meant adding a lot of kind of gnarly, harsh-feeling plants to the environment. For instance when you go up over the top hat and you dip down, the bed of landscape that you’re going into is a bunch of saw palmettos with big, sharp fronds coming at you. It’ll have that teethy feel and really add to the sense of thrill on the ride.”

Neal credits his father, who had spent his career working in zoos and themed environments, for giving him the passion for his profession.

Diebold works closely with several different teams in the execution of a project as big as VelociCoaster — the facility construction team, show set team, facility design team, ride and show team, operations, environmental health and safety, and the horticulture team.


Several palm trees, ficus trees, clumps of bamboo, and other tropical-esque plants are scattered around behind the parks right now, just waiting to be returned.

“One of the very first things I did on this project was coming out in the middle of the night to help move a 56,000-pound tree,” Neal says. “We call it our hero tree and the team had decided, before I joined, that it was worth saving. It’s a big ficus tree with a palm growing out of the middle of it. You can’t easily buy a tree like that; your best chance to have a really good, large, established tree is to move it from someplace close.”


“I go from that first conceptual phase where everything is kind of, ‘maybe we could do this, maybe we could do that,’” Neal says. “To where we are now in the project which is, ‘OK now how do we actually make all that real?’ We rely on a lot of park-partner input to make sure that what we do is going to be successful and as easy as possible to maintain. There are a bunch of unique challenges to maintain a tree that’s next to a roller coaster that is zipping by at 70 miles an hour.”

Neal also cites one of the challenges working on the project is the weather. Lush jungle and tropical plants are a staple throughout the franchise, however, these plants are often found in South America or tropical parts of Asia and Africa where they thrive.

“Basically you look at the palette, try and figure out what you can replicate, and go from there,” Neal says. “But in Jurassic it can be especially challenging because a lot of the material that looks the part is also very tropical and, while it’s warm in Florida, we’re really more subtropical. A good freeze in Orlando can really do some damage to these plants.”

To help these plants survive, the team uses heaters and blankets to keep them safe.

“That’s the goal,” Neal says. “You want people to know that they are entering a jungle environment. So when they step under the big giant archway and see not only the tropical foliage, but prehistoric looking things like cycads or screw pines — they’ll know they’re in Jurassic Park.”

Keep checking back with Universal Parks News Today for current updates on Jurassic World VelociCoaster at Universal’s Islands of Adventure.

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