Observations from Universal Orlando Resort: October 16-20, 2013

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Over the past week, I logged over 18 hours and 40,000 steps (thank you, iPhone 5S motion sensor) exploring what’s new at the Universal Orlando Resort. To save you the shoeleather doing the same, here’s a super-sized photo essay of my observations from Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventures and Halloween Horror Nights between Wednesday, October 16, and Sunday, October 20, 2013.

I started the evening of 10/16 with a lap around Islands of Adventures to see what guests purchasing the Scream Early ticket option experience.

Here’s a look at the future Starbucks inside Islands of Adventure’s Port of Entry. This area is the equivalent of the Magic Kingdom’s Main Street, U.S.A., but I haven’t heard any controversy in the online community over this mermaid invasion

Another Starbucks? Where are the torches and pitchforks?

No official word yet whether this will be an indoor location or a walk-up counter only.

Wait times on Thursday were light, typical of late-afternoon on an off-season weekday.

But as you can see, the park’s streets weren’t exactly empty.

I’m sure everyone will be overjoyed to learn that Orange Coke and the 99+ other Freestyle flavors are now available inside the Captain America Diner.

Maybe now this location will be open full-time.

Unseasonably warm weather made Ripsaw Falls a popular attraction this afternoon.

Nothing like recycled water to cool you down…

Want a cheap hotel room with an amazing view? A tiny number of rooms in the new Cabana Bay Beach Resort will apparently look right over the gate between Toon Lagoon and Jurassic Park.

As soon as word gets out about what room numbers these are, expect them to book out early.

Speaking of Jurassic Park, if certain rumors pan out, look for major changes to this transition area in the next year as room is made for the return of King Kong.

This gate could be relocated further up the path.

This vegetation conceals an backstage expansion pad that’s shown signs of upcoming construction.

Look for this photo op to be removed soon if the project progresses according to plan…

…though this employee professed ignorance as to any imminent changes.

Get these Photoconnect shots while you can.

The first phase of Jurassic Park’s multi-year makeover is this row of carnival games, which will replace the ones that are closing shortly in the Lost Continent.

Note the blasters in the background and the basketball game in the foreground.

Next, a quick stroll over to Hogwarts:

Another beautiful day in the Wizarding World…

I’ve been impressed to see the improvements being made to Forbidden Journey over recent months. The projection screens are noticeably brighter and sharper, vehicle movement is smoother, and all the physical effects seem to be in working order.

The new interactive Marauder’s Maps we recently reviewed are on sale at the ride exit.

Along with the cheaper non-interactive versions.

Still not as cool as this one (for display purposes only).

Here’s the most exciting moment of this update: the ticket and stroller center for the Hogwarts Express station has gone vertical!

Exciting shots of hard steel construction (ooh…aaahhh…)

Shortly after 6pm, I began my Halloween Horror Nights crossover adventure.

The gate in Seuss Landing (between Circus McGurcus and One Fish, Two Fish) leads to a long, unglamorous backstage path that deposits HHN guests outside the Blue Man Group theater.

Welcome to the former home of acclaimed shows like Superboy, Swamp Thing, and SeaQuest (RIP Hollywood East, 1988-2004)

Unfortunately, the path ended in a short but extraordinarily inefficient security checkpoint that took longer to clear than the typical general admission check. If using Scream Early from IOA, either line up early at the crossover gate or leave IOA through the main exit and use USF’s front gates to enter HHN.

Thanks to super-slow security, any scream early touring advantage was lost.

Thursday night was busier than anticipated for a Thursday night, as the following photos attest:

Believe it or not, this is the Express queue!

So is this!

After disappearing a few weeks ago, Chief Wiggum’s cop cruiser reappeared with a new paint scheme.

The all-white design is more consistent with the cartoon and official merchandise.

Universal continues to “plus” the event with welcome attention to detail:

Michone’s pets have movement: simple but effective.

The popular deer eater photo op has been thoughtfully relocated near Gardens of Allah to improve pedestrian flow on the footpath.

I spent several hours on 10/16 with some Baccanoid team members from the Legendary Truth alternate-reality game, trying to achieve our Bravo “badges” (due to some bugs, I’m still working on mine…).

Look for these RFID sensors in shop windows…

When it’s time for a dinner break during HHN, I’ve been defaulting to the new Simpsons-themed Fast Food Boulevard. Tonight’s dining choice: the Basket of Bait!

The fish and calamari are fresh (never frozen), the coconut shrimp wasn’t dried out for a change. Plus, hush puppies and tater tots for the win! One of my top picks among the park’s fast food.

The “walker bomb” trucks are one of my favorite additions to this year’s street entertainment. You never know when or where one will turn up with an undead cargo.

Despite some long house queues, ride waits remained short.

On the following night (Thursday 10/17) crowds were even thicker:

A long line at the security check, even at nearly 9pm.

A special interactive event was held near the Jaws photo-op for Legendary Truth players, with art & design’s creative manager Rick Spencer playing the role of “Captain Lazy Bastard.”

Players posed for photos…

…and posed questions about the game’s elaborate backstory.

Tonight’s dinner is brought to you by Bumblebee Man’s Taco Truck:

Carne asada in flour tortillas with salsa and guacamole.

Our final installment covers Sunday 10/20, which was also busier than expected, thanks in part to a special discount offered to UCF students.

Like moths to a flame…

Even the no bag check had a bit of a backup.

My last HHN visit of the weekend was also largely spent playing Legendary Truth. Sunday’s mission was to experience as many houses as possible together in a tight group. Not easy on a night when wait times topped 120 minutes!

Rick Specer with Baccanoid team leader April Skyy

Nothing like ending your evening with a slice and salad at Louie’s, right? Unless…

…The pizza dough is underdone, the lettuce has black spots, and the tap water tastes like feet. Why didn’t I just eat a Krustyburger?

Finally, we finish this report right where it began: with a Starbucks. In CityWalk, construction is going full-tilt on a new seating area next to the existing Starbucks (directly above the new pizza restaurant that is replacing Pastamore’s quick service counters).

This should also provide shade for the new restaurant below.

Right next door, a new Starbucks is replacing the Endangered Species store.

No trace is left of the stone animals or other decor.

Now if you’ll excuse me, for some reason I feel the need for a latte…

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Posted on October 23, 2013

3 Responses to “Observations from Universal Orlando Resort: October 16-20, 2013”

  • Anything official yet on what will be replacing Latin Quarter? (Maybe yet another Starbucks???)

    And if so, is it likely to be open by January? (We arrive on the 9th, and had originally planned on a dinner at LQ that evening.)

    • Latin Quarter is becoming a Mexican restaurant tentatively named “Don Quixote”.
      There is no official opening date. Based on its current condition I wouldn’t expect it to be open by Jan, but you never know — this is Universal, who built transformers in under a year!

  • I wish that the Starbucks in City Walk opened earlier, such as 7am. I need a place to get espresso BEFORE Harry Potter opens for resort guests.

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