Meet “The Tree Guy” Behind The Plant Choices for the Jurassic “VelociCoaster” Experience


Universal Orlando is getting ready to open it’s highly anticipated new coaster–the VelociCoaster. Like their other immersive experiences, they want guests to feel like they are completely inside a Jurassic World experience, even down to the plant choices. That’s where “landscape architect and an area development manager for Universal Creative at Universal Orlando Resort” Neal Diebold comes in.

Diebold has been with Universal Orlando since 2017 and first worked on the new Harry Potter attraction- “Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure” and then moving onto the new VelociCoaster after that attraction opened.

He’s spent the last year and half making sure that the landscaping around the attraction helps add to the story and theming of the attraction. Down to the ride’s Show Producer wanting the attraction to have “teeth” and how he could make sure the fauna fits.

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.

One thing I love about the process is that Universal Orlando did what they could to save the existing trees! They didn’t just discard them, they reused them!

“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. 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.”

According to the Discovering Universal Blog (and also confirmed from our friend G.)they saved several trees and plants to be reused.

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. However, there will be a new neighbor in town when they all get back: a roller coaster.

Landscape is just one of the many teams that work on a project and they all work together. They have to take many things into consideration from theming, to practical maintenance, and coaster speeds, environment, weather, color schemes, etc.

The plants have to feel like a tropical forest, but be able to live in a place that does get colder. It’s a real balancing act.

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.

It’s all a really interesting aspect of the theme park experience that people don’t really think that much about!

You can learn more by visiting the Discover Universal Blog.

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