Universal Studios

Editorial: Summer openings and other comments

Avatar Land – Disney has been REALLY hyping this area recently from the weeklong preview on The View (which I was actually there for part of) and weekly teaser videos on their blog (which they know will be picked up by other blogs and websites). What little I’ve seen of it looks great… without legions of strollers or EVCs in the camera’s way. I would have rather they found something a little closer to home (they already have rights to the Pokémon anime which is also fantasy\family friendly\HUGE built-in fan base and that they could’ve easily opened it 5 years ago for one tenth of the cost) but I’m still looking forward to riding their two main attractions… when the crowds thin a bit after their big summer season.

Frozen Games – Disney is bringing back last year’s popular sidekick event at their ice themed water park. I thought Frozen fever peaked about 2 years ago, but why waste a good theme. Besides, it sounds like it could be fun. #TeamKristoff

Star Wars Land – Is a full year away from opening and yet every line of every artist rendered teaser sketch is being picked apart for even the slightest new detail of the two lands. To say they are hyping these two areas is an understatement, but unlike Avatar Land, I think these fraternal twin projects will be a HUGE win for Disney.

Toy Story Land (which was supposed to open quickly to give guests “something to do” while waiting for SWL) – Nothing. No news, no rumors, nothing.

Volcano Bay – Universal’s replacement for the recently shuttered Wet ‘N Wild opens the same weekend as Avatar Land. I’m certainly excited (even though my apartment complex already has a pool), but I’ll wait until some of the inevitable early bugs in their system are worked out before commenting.

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Editorial: Suggestions are Universal

  • I didn’t get to go on it this trip (I wasn’t waiting “95 minutes”), but I did think of a way they could make Skull Island feel more like an actual “island” rather than just a stand-alone ride. That is, ironically enough, another location just kinda sandwiched precariously between Reign of Kong and Jurassic Park River Adventure not doing anything but impeding the flow of traffic between the two attractions – that location is… Thunder Falls Terrace.TFT is currently themed to JP (which already has 2 restaurants AND a handful of snack kiosks) but could easily be rethemed to match the newer attraction (and ideally either moved back or reconfigured so as not to take away from said attraction (which according to both the park map and the official park app, lacks any kind of gift shop as well).
  • I know HHN is their big seasonal draw, but they really need to give guests a REASON to visit the resort over the holiday other than ONE parade (“Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade”) and TWO shows (“Blues Brothers Christmas” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”). Yes, you can argue that “Hogsmeade” section of Islands of Adventure is already generically “Wintry,” but surely there are at least some holiday songs\stories in the Wizarding World.

One thing they can do almost immediately without much effort on their part is switch out their regular “Shrek 4-D” film with “Shrek the Halls” (and while they’re at it, run “Scared Shrekless” in October).

  • Actually, they need to ditch that dated movie altogether as that franchise has been dead for over a decade now – the characters don’t even appear in their afternoon parade! Seriously, if they are really pursuing a “Secret Life of Pets” project, THIS is the place to put it as it is directly across from other Illuminations Animation property “Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem.”
  • Speaking of “parades,” I stayed late in the park this afternoon JUST to see their “Universal Superstars Parade” and I was extremely disappointed I did. They had 4 floats: Despicable Me, Spongebob, Hop and Dora\Diego (using the same floats – and probably performers as well – they use in their various “party zone” times). That’s it, that’s the whole parade. No exaggeration. No Shrek\Donkey, no classic monsters or even Dr. Seuss characters – it’s literally over in less than 10 minutes.
  • Sites like “Theme Park Tourist” love to deride The Lost Continent, and while neither of its attractions are any good, it is still one of their best lands theming wise (somewhat disjointed, but still very well done). Then we have two areas that have awesome attractions and crappy theming: Toon Lagoon and Super Hero Island (the first is kitschy and visually incoherent – the very definition of “sensory overload” in the worst possible way; the second, while still tacky, manages to far more cohesive and thematically consistent but practically screams late-90s).
  • I had other things to say, but my notebook got damaged in the rain storm. I guess that’s enough for now…
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Live blogging Hurricane Matthew (Thurs morn)

10:01amOrlando Weekly is reporting that all state offices are closed, all tolls are lifted and that some hospitals in coastal areas were evacuated.

10:03am – The University of Miami is officially on “emergency lock down” – all classes are cancelled, and all retail and offices are closed for the day. Limited dining service is available in the two campus dining halls as long as weather permits, MREs will be available in the Residential Hall lobbies for times when the cafeterias close.

10:20am – Orlando International Airport announced it will be suspending all flights in\out of their airports at 8pm.

11:15am – Sunrail suspends all service through Monday (they don’t offer weekend service)

11:20am – Universal announces it is closing all parks including Wet N’ Wild and CityWalk at 3pm. Disney parks are apparently still open as well with guests going about enjoying their day despite the weather (at the moment is light rain with relatively calm winds).

11:30amTheme Park Tourist posted that all Disney Parks will close at 5pm, Legoland Florida will close at 5pm as scheduled and SeaWorld will close at 2pm.

12:14pm – TWC is predicting 5-7” of rain through Friday night with wind of 40-50mph with gusts of about 60-65mph. It is not expected to make landfall over Orlando, but we are still under a “Hurricane Warning.”

12:43pm – Not currently raining out, but the winds are strong. The proverbial calm before the storm.

 

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Editorial: Thinking small

One year from the end of this month, Universal’s current water park Wet-N-Wild is set to close. The question swirling around various rumor sites is: What will Universal DO with that parcel?

People say that at a scant 30 acres Wet-N-Wild is “too small” to build a theme park on. I was looking up information on “SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration” when I happened to come up with an idea for that parcel.

The land is NOT “too small” for a theme park – the naysayers are just thinking too big. I’ve said for a while that I don’t think parents should be taking children under 5 to WDW… but what if there was an alternative park built just for children that age?

Fortunately, such a park already exists in my home state of PA – it’s called Sesame Place and it occupies a mere 14 acres of land in suburban Philly (it’s only location) meaning a clone park wouldn’t be that hard to do. Even better, it wouldn’t be all that expensive either as it is mainly flat rides and shows. But the best part is: SP is owned by SeaWorld Parks which has a marketing agreement with Universal which essentially means that everyone wins.

Bonus: SeaWorld Orlando is connected to Aquatica, Universal and the current Wet-N-Wild park via Mears’ operated I-Ride Trolley so getting to the hypothetical kiddie park from either SeaWorld OR Universal is relatively easy for already harried parents – AND is keeping in-line with both parks’ conservation efforts.

Categories: editorials, florida, I-Ride Trolley, Orlando, Pennsylvania, ramblings, SeaWorld Orlando, Universal Studios | Leave a comment

Easter is Universal: Part 2

I follow the path out of Hogsmeade station and up the slight hill to the village proper. I’ve already done the castle ride and believe me I wasn’t about to do it again. I was up for a Butterbeer. I stopped at the rapidly growing line in front of the red wagon they sell them from, and as I was waiting a woman in a HP island uniform came by and asked who was “paying with CASH” which was myself and about three other people. She took our orders and told us to wait with the others in “the shady area” in front of The Three Broomsticks.

Sure enough, the same woman came back several minutes later with our drinks. I sort of wish they’d given us straws as it would make it easier to drink on the go, but since they didn’t I had to find someplace to sit down to drink it. The only open space I could see through all the people was at the base of a small stage outside “Flight of the Hippogriff.”

The second I sat down, I could feel a hand on my back.

“You’re not allowed on the stage,” the voice behind me said sternly.

As I try to recover and reassess my options I can see a young man who was also booted from the edge of the stage. I couldn’t tell if he was a teenager or a college student, but he makes eye contact with me anyway.

“I guess they must be preparing for a sh…dude, what the FUCK is WRONG with you?”

I don’t know why people keep asking me that – it’s never actually a “question,” and they clearly don’t care about the answer.

I’ve never had any real interest in comic books or roller coasters so Marvel Superhero Island had little to offer me. I did decide to try The X-Men themed “Storm Force Accelatron” as it was only a 15 minute wait. However as I snaked through the line, I grew increasingly irritated by a series of high pitched beeps that weren’t loud so as much as persistent and ultimately forcing me to leave the queue just so my headache would go away.

It’s 3pm, and I’m sitting on a concrete wall near Port of Entry watching various families getting their picture in front of the generic “Today’s Specials” statue outside Confisco Grill – the place I decided I’d be eating at when I left this morning – while waiting for my head to clear.

It was against my better judgement, but I went into “Poseidon’s Fury” while waiting for the next showing of The Eighth Voyage of Sinbad. The special effects were pretty cool, but the atrocious “acting” (by both the live host and the pre-recorded deities) made the “story” all but impossible to follow…not that it really mattered. I came out of the temple and realized I wasn’t THAT interested in reliving Sinbad’s “voyage.”

That brings me back to where I started this post – Hogsmeade Station. The line back to London moved just as quickly as its counterpart, but the theming didn’t seem quite as elaborate. Also, the movie on the train wasn’t nearly as good (not that the one into Hogsmeade was great, this was just worse).

Long story short: “Revenge of the Mummy,” “DISASTER,” and “Transformers: The Ride” still had long lines as did “Minions Mayhem” but when I walked dejectedly up Hollywood boulevard I ended up accidentally walking into a “third” line which claimed to have a “5 minute wait” (considering I was the ONLY person in it). When I tried asking staff members (back at the entrance as there wasn’t anybody back where I’d initially seen the sign) they told me there was “no such wait time:” it was either “85 minutes” for regular admission OR “60 minutes” for Express Pass holders. I left again and due to them cornering off the streets for their Mardi Gras celebration, I ended up in the same queue – this time there was someone stationed there.

“Yeah, the sign’s ‘accurate,’” she said with a shrug. “It’s the ‘Stationary’ line, for riders who want to see the film, but don’t want to do the motion sim” (kind of like how SeaWorld does with their “Wild Artic” ride).

“I guess I can handle that,” I said (considering the alternative was nearly an hour and a half wait).

The actual wait was probably closer to 10-15 minutes (even though I was still the only person in line), but aside from some of the usual 3D tricks, the attraction itself wasn’t all that bad. I left the ride into a small minion “dance party” and into the Minion store (meaning it was EXACTLY like every other gift shop in the resort…but with slightly more Minions stuff).

Anyway, now it was getting time to think about dinner so I went back to Kings Cross Station and just as I was finally about to board the train to Hogsmeade, I was pulled out of the front of my row and moved to another line on the opposite end of the platform. No explanation just an ominous “you must come with us” and that the end of the discussion.

Was it REALLY because they were “short” in this other row…or because someone in my original car didn’t want to share a cabin with a “crazy person” – either way I got no complaints from the people in my reassigned car.

I arrive back to Confisco Grill at Port of Entry at 6:09pm and as I go to enter the restaurant, I see a small red sign on the door reading: “open 8am-6pm.”

Great, now what? There’s a Starbucks and Cinnabon directly across from where I’m standing. I could go back to Superhero Island try Café 4 or Seuss Landing and go back to Circus McGurkus Café Stoo-Pendous which I had lunch at last time I was here.

Nah, I was too tired to backtrack and it was going to get dark soon so I figured I’d just start walking back to the trolley stop. As I approached the stop, I could see the trolley coming from the opposite direction and I knew I made the right decision…

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Easter is Universal: Part 1

Today’s adventure wouldn’t be possible if I hadn’t woken up ridiculously early for no reason. Anyway, I’m largely happy I did so I guess it worked out okay. Otherwise, I’d be sitting at home all alone eating Ben & Jerry’s and crying about not having anyone to spend the holiday with.

As I said above, I woke up around 8am and went about my morning routines as usual ending with me forgoing my usual e-mail and RSS feed checking and went straight to the I-Ride app which told me the next trolley was coming in about 25 minutes. I could handle that, I put my shoes on, grabbed my wallet and keys off the counter and left.

I arrived at the iconic Universal globe (why they don’t have their photographers on that bridge is beyond me as EVERY family I saw had to stop and get their picture in front of it) at 10:15am and waited in line for over 30 minutes before getting a friendly ticket agent who tried to covertly slip the extra $80 Express Pass with my ticket. Nice try, but $142 is enough for one person for one day. This was actually a good move on my part as according to the fine print none of the Harry Potter attractions (my primary reason for coming to the park today) use this service.

The first thing I wanted to do was get lunch. No, first thing I’m doing is becoming a minion, but I wasn’t about to waste an hour and ten minutes on a single ride. Tellingly enough, the “Shrek 4D” attraction directly across from it only had a 15 minute wait, but so did “Twister: Ride It Out” which I remember being an unintentionally hilarious show and for the most part it hasn’t changed (though they moved the queue indoors and gave it an atmospheric setting that proved a little too much for at least one guest who took to the emergency exit just before the ride doors opened).

The next three attractions “Revenge of the Mummy,” “DISASTER,” and “Transformers: The Ride” all had long lines so like with “Minion Mayhem” I decided to skip them and come back later. As I passed “Transformers” on the way to Springfield USA, I finally decided to get lunch at Mel’s Drive-In. It was packed, and the service area is clearly not set up for lines like this. At least my food – when it finally came out – wasn’t bad…by theme park standards anyway.

I left Mel’s Drive-In around noon and just as I was about to cross the Sunset Boulevard, the backstage gate opened and a large parade float with Dora/Diego (along with a separate “Rescue Jeep” carrying Baby Jaguar) pulled midway into the street. I took one step into the street and was immediately chased back onto the sidewalk by a parade attendant.

“YOU are not allowed on the street in the middle of a show,” she said sternly. She then looks at me and cocks her head back disgustedly. “Do you need me to get you HELP or something?”

Yes, I know that’s her job, and she did eventually let me go (apparently crazy is above her pay scale). However, her clearly fake “question” still pissed me off – particularly since her likely idea of “help” (having strangers manhandle me, confiscate my tickets and forcibly ejecting me from the park without refund) would have only made things worse.

Springfield USA was kind of fun to walk through… but 35 minutes seemed a bit long for an over-glorified carnival ride, and I wasn’t waiting nearly an hour for “The Simpson’s Ride” either. I’d just missed the Animal Actors on Location show (which I’d already seen anyway) so I ducked into “E.T” and pretty much walked right onto the ride – ditto with “Men in Black: Alien Attack” (which was considerably more intense than I remember it being).

I won’t speak of the rest of the park’s areas, but I will say the interior of Diagon Alley was a lot bigger than its tiny façade would lead you to believe. Also, if I was wondering where the crowds were in the rest of the park, well I found them stopping and waving their wands at every window, statue and storefront in the newly opened wizarding area. Suffice to say, I didn’t get to see any of the window animations or what the various shops like the relocated Weasley’s Wizard Weezes looked like on the inside (couldn’t possibly be any worse than its initial incarnation at Islands of Adventure).

I stood at the crowded entrance to “Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringott’s” unsure what to do. It was the primary reason I came to this park today, but the wait time was nearly an hour so I decided to skip it and went over to King’s Cross Station to ride the “Hogwart’s Express.” The wait was 45 minutes, but the line moved relatively quickly with a new train arriving mere seconds after the previous one departed (they must double track them for at least part of the journey).

Finally, at 1:31pm, I arrive at the famous platform and continue to snake my way through the queue area towards the awaiting train. When it pulled away, I was ushered to a row just in time for the next train to arrive (if only real trains ran like that), and just like that I was leaving London behind on my magical journey to Hogwarts…

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