Observations from the Universal Orlando Resort: February 3, 2014 (Royal Pacific, Tchoup Chop, New Merchandise and more)
A lot is going on at the Universal Orlando Resort this year. Seth Kubersky wrote a great Complete Guide to Mardi Gras 2014 and continues to update us all on the upcoming Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Diagon Alley with his PotterWatch series of articles. The new Mexican restaurant Antojitos had its grand opening on February 5, and major work continues on CityWalk to get the other new restaurants up and running by summer. This past week I spent some time on property, and here’s a quick snapshot of what I experienced.
As a reminder, click on any picture to see it in full size.
Signage in CityWalk is going through a lot of changes. All references to Katie’s Candy Company, TCBY and Cigarz is gone. There are Antojitos signs popping up here and there, but still plenty of empty spots that will be filled down the road.
The temporary construction walls that are set up by the old Studio Store and Galaxy Bar are also now completely filled with posters teasing the upcoming revamped Studios Store, Hot Dog Hall of Fame, Vivo Italian Kitchen, and CowFish.
The temporary Studio Store set up in CityWalk is always a ghost town when I’m there and has never had more than one other person in it during the times I visited. There was an employee standing outside, presumably to encourage people to come into the store. It can’t help that there is no Potter merchandise in the store, as all of that has been moved to separate stand in the middle of CityWalk.
A new Uni-Mini has popped up in the stores. Unlike the great looking Cat in the Hat and Despicable Me themed Uni-Minis, this T-Rex mini is just a T-Rex head on the standard bear-like Uni-Mini mold. Transformers based Uni-Minis should be showing up very soon, and there are strong rumors that a Frank the Pug based one will be arriving shortly for the MEN IN BLACK Alien Attack attraction. If these are also just pasted onto a standard Uni-Mini mold, I may lose my mind. Price is $12.95
This new Bellatrix Lestrange shirt ($28.95) is hopefully just the beginning of Potter-themed products focusing on “the bad guys.” I’m very excited for Knockturn Alley, and the addition of a whole slew of merchandise themed to the Dark Arts.
This Mirror of Erised photo frame ($39.95) isn’t new, but it’s a good indication of the level of quality in Potter themed products.
Speaking of Potter, signage has popped up on the London Waterfront facades, including the newest for the Wyndham Theatre. I think they all look great.
We got evac’d off Revenge of the Mummy and were given this Attraction Admission Pass. It is good for any attraction except for Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, and Pteranodon Flyers.
These new distressed Duff Beer shirts have just arrived in Springfield and are already one of my favorite pieces of clothing.
These tents and temporary stage literally showed up overnight and will be used for the Mardi Gras events.
There’s very little mention of the Universal Classic Monsters outside of the Monster’s Cafe and the Beetlejuice Graveyard Revue, but there was a great pressed penny machine in the main USF store that had penny designs for Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the Werewolf. These are gone and have been replaced with a machine featuring new Despicable Me designs. With Parkscope.net reporting a permit being filed to change the old Amity bathrooms in front of Diagon Alley, will we soon be losing the gray Jaws-themed pressed penny machine there, as well? Between this and the possibility of Uni-Minis going into the Disney Vinylmation style, I may just ball up into the fetal position and cry myself to sleep.
Over in Islands of Adventure, at the Jurassic Park River Adventure gift shop there were a whole bunch of new Jurassic Park themed playsets. Average price was around $20, and they replaced all the guns, which were a popular seller in the store. Rumor has it that Steven Spielberg himself saw how many guns they were selling and wanted them replaced. I hadn’t really paid attention before, but there are actually a lot of Transformers themed guns as well sold at the Supply Vault gift shop and the main USF store.
At Mythos they have playing the great sound effect of a troll under the bridge for a while now, much more consistently than they have in the past.
I stayed at the Loews Royal Pacific Resort and was in a Club Level room. The Club Lounge, itself, is a room on the 7th floor. It has large flat screen TVs and sitting areas on opposite ends of the room, with one set aside as an area for small children (complete with table and chairs designed for them.) There is also a TV and two computers in the middle of the room.
The club lounge is open from 7:00AM – 9:30PM and offers various food selections throughout the day. Continental Breakfast (7:00AM – 10:00AM), Afternoon Snacks (12:00PM-3:00PM), Royal Relaxation (4:30PM – 6:30PM) and Something Sweet (8:00PM – 9:00PM). I read a lot of threads on Disney and Universal message boards, and a question that seems to pop up any time club lounges are discussed is: “How much food is there?” I personally think there are enough selections to replace several meals, but your mileage may vary.
Starbucks coffee is served all day in the lounge, and milk and juice are available in the morning, Coke products (in cans) are available all day. At night bottles of beer and glasses of wine are complimentary, with a $5 charge for other alcohol drinks.
While at the Royal Pacific I decided to finally check out Emeril’s Tchoup Chop restaurant on the ground floor. I’ll be writing up a full review soon, but I was impressed by the atmosphere inside and the food itself. High marks for great presentation, and the dessert selection may be the best on property. That’s saying something.
One thing I was surprised to find is the large selection of craft beers that Tchoup Chop carries. Now it’s going to be hard to choose between this restaurant and Jake’s American Bar when it’s time to get my drink on.
More pics and a review coming shortly, but Tchoup Chop is an excellent place to go to dinner, especially on a date night or a night out with friends. The desserts, themselves, are worth going way out of your way for. They were incredible.
We had a quick night cap at Antojitos, which at the time was doing a soft opening. We tried about 12 different types of drinks, and all ranged from very good to great, with the side benefit of being reasonably priced for a theme park setting. The theming within the restaurant is crazy and has to be seen to be believed.
One thing I love was a guy working on personalized lucha masks by the front door. These were very popular with kids – so popular that the lines were too long for me to wait for my own. I hope this stays and isn’t just an opening week thing.
While I was in CityWalk I stopped by one of my favorite stores, PIQ. It’s almost impossible to describe PIQ as the collection of merchandise within is so unique. This week I picked up a turtle made out of recycled flip flops that are found on coastlines and waterways. There was other animals too including elephants, giraffes, and rhinos. Each one had a trademark mini flip flop on the bottom of it.
The animals are made by company called Ocean Sole and are just the type of interesting product you’ll find in PIQ that you can’t find anywhere else. Unfortunately PIQ has a “no pictures” policy, which is absolutely ridiculous and if the merchandise wasn’t so good I probably would stop going completely to take a stand on how absurd I think that is in 2014.
That’s it for this trip. Definitely glad I finally tried Tchoup Chop, and now I need to book a reservation at the Emeril’s in CityWalk. Employees across the board were amazing, with several superstars including Michael at Jurassic Outfitters in IOA and Natalie working the front desk check in at the Royal Pacific. I would probably go postal within my first week of having to deal with most theme park guests, and I’m constantly surprised at how friendly and helpful most of the employees at UOR are on a daily basis.