There’s a lot of excitement in the air over at Universal Orlando these days. While Disney seems content pouring money into the two-billion-dollar-near-boondoggle that is “NextGen,” Universal continues vertical construction on its Springfield expansion and Diagon Alley, in addition to Transformers: The Ride 3D officially opening later this month. And there’s more on the way.
Transformers is currently in technical rehearsals, more commonly called “soft opens” in Lake Buena Vista. Over the last few days, it has operated from around 6pm through around 9pm with 90 minute waits building almost immediately.
I waited 75 minutes on May 30th, the first evening it opened. Transformers is undoubtedly superior technologically to anything Disney offers domestically, with impressive 4K visuals and a ride system similar to Spider-Man next door at Islands of Adventure. That’s one characteristic that comes up over and over again when comparing Disney and Universal attractions. Universal’s are technologically superior virtually across the board. While Disney is primarily in the business of selling nostalgia at ever-increasing price points, Universal is in the business of building bigger, faster, more exciting attractions. And Universal is doing so at an increased pace. After Magic Kingdom’s Mine Train opens this fall/next spring, there’s nothing on the Disney docket until Avatar in 2018 and whatever they decide to do with Hollywood Studios, which would be a few years off at best. Hopefully we’ll be talking about exciting new additions at Disney World in August after the D23 Expo in Anaheim.
I’m not as crazy about Spider-Man as some, potentially because I’m just another social media mouthpiece (without a Facebook account) of the Walt Disney Company. With Spider-Man, I feel like you’re just sort of swung from one screen to the next. Each screen presents a single villain that lunges at your ride vehicle before pushing it in the direction of another screen. Transformers mixes screen sizes and movement more fluidly, so you “feel” like you’re doing more than swinging from screen to screen inside of a box in the middle of a theme park. It’s an impressive attraction, but not necessarily a game-changer, as it’s already been installed in Hollywood and Singapore over the last two years. With a height requirement of 40″ Transformers should be kid-friendly for the most part. I would characterize it as less intense than The Forbidden Journey over at the Harry Potter Theme Park and similar in intensity to Spider-Man. Actually, I think Forbidden Journey is terrifying – I’m not sure how youngsters walk off that ride with smiles.
It will be interesting to see how Transformers affects theme park touring for those of us without the coveted Express Passes. At the moment, you want to head straight to Despicable Me in the morning due to its length and limited capacity. Then it’s off to Rip Ride Rockit before moving on to Revenge of the Mummy or crossing the street to Shrek 4D. Transformers, being the latest and greatest attraction, is going to move up to the top of where most people will be headed first thing in the morning. But it also enjoys a healthier capacity and shorter duration. So we’ll have to see what happens – it does not take a lot of people to push Despicable Me to a 30 or 40 minute wait. But how many people with young kids will be headed there first anyway? My estimation is that Despicable Me will remain the priority, simply because Transformers moves through so many more people. After you finish Despicable, most of the people headed to Transformers first should have moved through and on to another ride. And relatively few people arrive between 9:20am – 10am to clog up lines.
When Harry Potter 2.0 opens next summer, things will really be thrown for a loop.
Diagon Alley is a ways away from the main entrance in between Mummy/Disaster and Men in Black. You’d be passing by Despicable Me, Rip Ride Rockit, and Transformers in order to ride Gringotts.
In a previous post, I mentioned Disney has a “bubble problem,” which probably doesn’t make any sense. The reference is to the “Disney bubble.” Walt Disney World is its own city-state where they control almost everything from the theme parks to the fire department. Disney’s entire strategy revolves around getting vacationers onto Magical Express and into the bubble. Once they’ve done that, they know they’ve captured 99% of your vacation dollars. Disney has increasingly lost guests, and particularly DVC members, to area attractions since Potter 1.0 opened in 2010. Disney didn’t offer those $399 Premium Annual Passes to DVCers last year out of the kindness of their hearts. They found that DVC members were using points to stay on Disney property, only to spurn the Disney Parks in favor of Universal, SeaWorld, and Aquatica.
We’ll see which bet pays off. Disney thinks they’ll be able to attract and keep guests on property with the MyMagic+ ride reservation system and as much personalization and data mining as RFID allows. Universal thinks they’ll be able to attract and keep guests by opening new attractions.
In addition to Diagon Alley, Universal’s other announced project is the expansion of Springfield, which is about half done.
This waterfront area is expected to include Duff Brewery, Lard Lad Donuts, and Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl spinner.
Open now is most of Fast Food Boulevard:
While the buildings look independent from the outside, they are more of a facade for a shared seating area inside. The Android’s Dungeon houses bathrooms.
Inside is more of a Cosmic Ray’s vibe with each establishment (or Bay) offering its own menu:
Full size: https://www.easywdw.com/reports8/lisas.jpg.
You can tell someone had a lot of fun with the menus and theming.
Unfortunately, that enthusiasm doesn’t necessarily translate to food quality. Quick service food at Universal is poor. I’m not sure that’s debatable. And with inexpensive, higher quality table service food available inside the theme parks and outside at CityWalk, there really isn’t a compelling reason to order a $10 burger or $14 fried fish platter.
Mythos is probably the best example of an outstanding, well-priced restaurant inside of a theme park. Enjoy a relaxed atmosphere, free drink refills, and better food for potentially less money than you’d spend at Mel’s Drive-In or The Frying Dutchman.
As far as I could tell, the Krusty Burger used the same exact patty you’d get at any other Universal quick service, though the special sauce and cheese sauce livened things up exponentially. I’m guessing they were kidding about the tomato slice since it barely covered half of the sandwich. The curly fries were well seasoned, though cold by the time we arrived at the table.
Good news for those of you looking to jack napkins and cups for your kids’ lunches year-round. Springfield brings branded cups and napkins. This is the “Zero Calorie Buzz Cola.” I’d be surprised if it was anything other than Cherry Coke Zero, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Somehow I managed to forget to take a picture of the $3.99 Groovy Grove Juice, which is served in the same size cups as the sodas and served with a bite of watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew. It was an impressive size for the money and comes recommended – very refreshing.
I thought the $10.99 Chicken and Waffle Sandwich was disappointing.
While Sleepy Hollow Refreshments over at Magic Kingdom presses waffles fresh all day, these were obviously of the previously frozen variety. Eggo brand? I’m not an expert, but the sweet malt flavor didn’t seem to contrast well with the chicken in my opinion. Your opinion may well be more favorable as I don’t care for Sleepy Hollow’s Waffle Sandwiches either. The Tater Tots were about what you would expect from Ore Ida or another grocery brand. The maple syrup mayo may be even more divisive. You’ll probably love it or hate it.
Krusty Burger seating, which opens up into the main seating area behind me.
One thing that surprised me was the number of Universal team members patrolling the seating sections, ordering everyone without food to stand up and vacate the area.
Disney will occasionally require guests to have food in hand at quick services like Pecos Bill when crowds are incredibly heavy, but this is around 5:30pm on opening day and there are all of six people sitting. And it’s 90 degrees outside with 90% humidity and daily rainstorms. It’s probably okay to let people sit down, particularly if they’re waiting on others to order food and drinks.
Moe’s Tavern is the most homogenous of the seating areas, complete with booths, high tops, and low tops.
And a pool table, table that seats large parties.
While Flaming Moe in the food court offers bottles of Duff and Duff Lite for $6.50, the bar sells 20-ounce drafts for $7.50 – a better deal.
The non-alcoholic $7.99 Flaming Moe is also available here.
I made pruno in college. Heed the advice on Heinz ketchup – very important. I bet that Fancy Pants Whiskey is better.
Flaming Moe is orange soda (Fanta?) poured over dry ice. It’s served in this souvenir cup with a separate compartment with small holes for the dry ice, which is not the sort of thing you want to put in your mouth.
On the left is the 20-ounce Duff Draft brewed by Florida Brewery out of Melbourne. They are one of my least favorite breweries and I would tell you their Sunset Ale tastes like metal and their Swamp Ape may actually have cough syrup mixed in. But the Duff is actually pretty good – similar to their 5.1% Florida Lager, which is a Vienna lager similar to Sam Adams’ Boston Lager. It was refreshing and light on a hot summer day with more flavor than your typical macro lager like Budweiser. In the middle is the Flaming Moe again after it’s settled down a little bit. The dry ice novelty aspect is fun. I’m not sure if it’s $7.99 fun and you’ll need somewhere to stow the cup if you want to keep it. I wouldn’t order another, but don’t regret ordering the first. On the right is Duff Dry, which reminded me a lot of Guinness or another similar dry stout. The predominant flavors are coffee and toffee with light carbonation. It’s only served in bottles at the moment, which will be poured into a plastic cup. Word is that aluminum bottles are on their way – apparently whoever designed the bottles was unaware that a theme park would never hand a guest a glass container.
Moe’s was a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to the open-air brewery opening outside. The food we sampled didn’t wow, but hopefully some of the other items are better. Sort of reading over what I wrote initially, I noticed that I used the word “fun” in six straight sentences. So I guess that’s what I’m trying to say about Springfield. It was a lot of fun and that’s coming from someone who has “literally” never seen an episode of The Simpsons.
And don’t worry.
Until Lard Lad opens outside, they have donuts in here.
The new Springfield area otherwise sits to the right of the existing attraction, which is a motion simulator sort of similar to Star Tours. Only instead of one vehicle and one screen, there are many vehicles and one large screen. It’s a fun attraction that can be a little discombobulating even if you’re not ordinarily prone to motion sickness.
In other news, Jurassic Park recently reopened after a refurbishment that lasted about three weeks. It looks and sounds great.
Crowds were light for a Saturday afternoon and evening. Fast forward a week and things are going to be pretty slammed through the third week in August.
So that’s a little about what’s going on at Universal these days. I’m not sure if anyone cares here on a “Disney World blog,” but I’ll keep an eye on things if you do.