Drink Like a Dinosaur: A Taste of Jurassic Park’s Isla Nu-Bar at Universal HollywoodPhoto courtesy of Universal Studios Travel Features universal
There were people screaming behind me as they fled from an attacking T. rex, but I stood there unfazed, calmly sipping my painkiller. The boat crashed down into the lagoon, soaking unlucky passengers in their narrow escape from the dinosaurs rampaging inside Jurassic Park. I didn’t feel bad for them. After all, they had chosen to be there, just like I had.
My drink was cold and sweet, and as I drank it I took in the scene: the swell of the John Williams soundtrack, punctuated by boatload after boatload of screaming riders careening down the 85’ drop of Jurassic World—The Ride; the growling of Blue in the distance, putting on a show for a group of kids hoping to learn a few of Owen Grady’s velociraptor-training tricks; and behind me, the sweetest sound of all: ice dropping into a tiki glass, for a cocktail being mixed by an Isla Nu-Bar bartender, serving up Jurassic cocktails and one truly special beer.
If you love dinosaurs and you love tiki drinks, there is no better place in all of theme park-dom for you than Universal Studios Hollywood, where there’s a dinosaur-inspired tiki bar in the middle of the action. Isla Nu-Bar (a play on the original Jurassic Park island, Isla Nublar) is just outside the DinoPlay area, which is a playground where kids can climb all over fake dinosaur bones, and positioned directly in front of Jurassic Cafe, so you can’t enter the dino-restaurant without walking past it.
But most importantly, it’s positioned next to the exit of that Jurassic World ride. The boat ride starts peacefully as a river adventure: you go past an enormous Mosasaurus (“the apex predator of the sea,” as the movie describes) at feeding time, then hear an announcement that a baby Stegosaurus has been born in the park that day. Just moments later, things change: you find out that the Indominus rex has escaped its paddock, and you’re headed into Predator Cove. After some intense dodging of Velociraptors and a few scares from larger beasts, there’s a fight between the Indominus and the T. Rex, which you narrowly escape by dropping six stories into the lagoon below, getting soaked in the process.
After that, you’re probably really ready for a drink.
It’s a tiki bar in the middle of a theme park, so speed is key, but the drinks are still legit. There are a handful of made-to-order cocktails like the Tiki Tai (pineapple rum, dark rum, white rum, passionfruit, lime and orgeat) and the Ti Peach (coconut rum, spiced rum, peach, lime and bitters). There are also a selection of frozen drinks being perpetually stirred in granita machines behind the bartenders, like a pina colada and a bahama mama.
The drinks are good. My go-to is the frozen painkiller, which is different from the traditional tiki drink because of the addition of peanut butter whiskey, but it works.
But I don’t go because I want the best mai tai in Los Angeles—that’s at the venerable Tiki-Ti, which opened in 1961 on Sunset Boulevard — or a magical cocktail from Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar just down the freeway at Disneyland. (There, if you order a Krakatoa Punch, the lights dim, thunder crashes down inside the room, and the peaceful mountains you see through the windows become erupting volcanoes.)
I go for the dinosaur beer. Beer isn’t usually my first choice, but when there’s a dinosaur beer to be ordered, I am powerless to resist its Jurassic call.
Isla Nublar IPA is “an adventure 65 million years in the making!,” according to the advertisement I watched scroll by in the line for Isla Nu-Bar on my last visit to the park. The beer is an American-style IPA brewed with citra, mosaic hops and what the park describes as “prehistoric yeast,” although it was almost definitely not extracted from amber. Then, it’s infused with pineapple, grapefruit and orange essence, making it light, fruity and easy to drink, especially on a hot theme park day.
It’s made only for Universal Studios in Hollywood and Orlando, by the Florida Beer Company, which also makes the seasonal Dufftoberfest Simpsons’ beer for the parks. In California, the beer is available at Isla Nu-Bar and in the movie theater in Universal CityWalk. In Florida, it’s inside Universal’s Islands of Adventure park, in the Watering Hole and Dinosaur Digs in the Jurassic Park land.
My advice, if you happen to be in Universal Hollywood anytime soon. Get a dinosaur beer, then head over to the Studio Tour, which is an hour-long tram ride through a real working studio (where Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard were recently spotted greeting park guests as they were leaving interviews for Jurassic World: Dominion). You’re allowed to have food and drinks on the tram, and the Isla Nublar IPA tastes especially good if you sip it as you ride through the part of the tour with the animatronic dinosaurs in it. Just cover your beer as you ride past those spitters. You don’t want venom in your cup.
Julie Tremaine is an award-winning food and travel writer who’s road tripping—and tasting—her way across the country. Her work appears in outlets like Vulture, Travel + Leisure, CNN Travel and Glamour, and she’s the Disneyland editor for SFGATE, covering California theme parks. Read her work at Travel-Sip-Repeat.com.