This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons We’ll Never Forget 2016 (No Matter How Hard We Try). With the new year upon us, it is time for another SATURDAY SIX annual tradition of looking back at some of the most “memorable moments” of the previous year. Now we already covered some of the great things that happened during the past 365 days, and some of the worst as well, so today let’s look at six theme park stories that fall into a different area. Events that are almost hard to believe actually happened, but we promise they did, and we’re here with the proof. So let’s kick it off with…
# 6 – Disney Puts a Paper Bag Over the Tower of Terror
Disney has some truly incredible projects opening over the next couple years including Pandora: The World of Avatar in Florida and a huge Star Wars Land on both coasts. These projects look to give guests the same level of immersion – if not more – than the critically acclaimed Cars Land and Diagon Alley. For their first ever Marvel attraction in America, Disney went in a different direction. In a shocking announcement at last year’s San Diego Comic Con, it was revealed that the Hollywood Tower of Terror in DCA would be converted over to Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! While Pandora will have guests dropping their jaws while looking up at the “flying mountains” and Star Wars Land will fulfill many a fanboy dream of walking onto the Millenium Falcon, the Marvel attraction is going to look just like the iconic Hollywood Tower of Terror with a bunch of pipes on it.
The Tower of Terror prepares to undergo its transformation into the Collector’s Fortress. (photo by Guy Selga)
Here’s the thing: say what you will about California’s Tower of Terror versus Florida’s version (it stinks), the ride still has the memorable Tower of Terror hotel facade. This is one of the all time most iconic ride facades in Disney history. In fact, with the Sorcerer’s Hat now gone from DHS, it has become one of the four WDW park icons along with Spaceship Earth, the Tree of Life, and Cinderella Castle. Disney has owned Marvel now for almost a decade, and as they saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. No matter how good the actual Guardians of the Galaxy ride is or isn’t, being shoehorned into one of the most recognizable facades in any theme park is going to make the attraction look and feel out of place.
The most unbelievable part of this entire story is the fact that Disney started converting the Tower of Terror over to Mission: BREAKOUT! while guests were still enjoying the Terror of Terror. Large parts of the Tower were covered, and the attraction started to look like a sports fan wearing a paper bag over their head because they were ashamed of their team.
Paper of Plastic? (photo by Justin Martin)
Despite the Tower of Terror not being in anyone’s top ten ride list in DCA, the reaction to the hotel being changed was not received well on social media (to be fair, not much is anyway). Even crazier, DCA is just coming off a Billion dollar makeover that included making a large part of the park themed to early 20th century California, the exact same theme which Tower of Terror already had. Many have voiced their displeasure, but a few have also had a little fun with the idea of the hotel soon to be under new management….
It’s that time of year again! My Best Week Ever sisters and I are kicking off a hopeful new year by making promises for what we’re going to do with it. Of course, since you’ve come here for some Orlando based fun we’re going to be covering our New Year’s Theme Park Resolutions. Even better, you’ll be able to follow along with Best Week Ever during 2017 and see if we keep our resolutions this year. Keep us honest, folks! 😀 But don’t let the fun end with us. Let us know what your New Year’s Resolutions are in the comments below.
Dani’s Plan for 2017
2017: Less solo time in the parks, more togetherness
Many people know that 2016 marked a year of dipping my toe in the treacherous waters of thrill rides. Well, what I define to be thrill rides are probably considered mild by most. Universal Orlando has been the site of most of my thrill seeking, but this year it’s Disney’s turn. I will conquer Magic Kingdom’s mountain range, though with one modification. There is absolutely no way I am going on Space Mountain (do not try to convince). I will replace Space Mountain with Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, which I’ve never been on. And I haven’t ridden Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain since my long ago preteen years.
Being a Florida Native, I love the water, be it a pool, the ocean, refreshing spring water, or a water ride. I want to spend more time flipping my fins, after all it’s better down where it’s wetter. I resolve to spend more time in all kinds of water including going to the beach more, going to Florida state parks and springs more, but also in the world of theme parks I will go on more water rides and will plan one or two weekend getaways at area hotels which will include some pool time of course. Oh! And I want to rent a pontoon boat on Bay Lake and maybe a Sea Racer too!
Finally, I want to be more social. Because my time in the theme parks often involves researching a specific topic and sharing my adventures in the parks live on social media channels I often visit the parks solo. I do value my alone time, but I want more time in the parks with family and friends. Visiting the theme parks solo is fun and it does gives me a different perspective, but so does spending time with friends, family, and making new friends.
This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Things We Can’t Wait To See In 2017! 2016 was another unbelievable year in the theme park world, containing a wide mix of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. 2017 is already shaping up to be even more amazing. We have a new immersive land that promises to eclipse what Disneyland has done with Cars Land and Universal with Diagon Alley, a new President being added to the Hall of Presidents, and the first of its kind “water theme park.” If that doesn’t get your blood pumping about the next 12 months you may actually be a Host from Westworld, but for the rest of you, here’s some of the things we can’t wait to see, starting with…
# 6 – Pandora: The World of Avatar (Animal Kingdom)
Our long national nightmare is almost over. First announced on September 20, 2011, Pandora: The World of Avatar is nearing completion. Disney is saying “Summer 2017” for this new land, and is going on record saying it is the most immersive area in any theme park. Just from what we can see from what rises over the construction walls and the Blogger-In-The-Sky helicopter camera shots, the land does look STUNNING. The info we’ve been given on the bioluminescent plants in the area along with the experience in the Na’vi River Journey make both seem like “wow” moments. Last year, this fine blog did question what Pandora will be doing in the areas of food and merchandise, two extremely important factors a theme park land needs to deliver on to satisfy its Return On Investment (ROI). These are also two areas that Disney has not released much info on for Pandora. We all know that Avatar the movie – by far and away the most financially successful film in the history of cinema – never really figured out a way to get its fans to buy merchandise the way that Star Wars, Marvel, Harry Potter, and even Star Trek have.
Na’vi River Journey. (photo courtesy of Disney Parks and Resorts)
One of the most exciting things about Pandora is that it appears the land will be using projection mapping on its incredible rock work. This is something that has never been mentioned by Disney over the course of the Pandora project, but Johnny-on-the-spot bloggers have seen this technology being tested. Your Humble Author thinks projection mapping is one of the areas that Disney is heads and tails above anyone else in the industry right now. Whether on the castle in the Magic Kingdom, the Great Movie Ride facade in DHS, or the jaw dropping Tree of Life Awakens shows at Animal Kingdom, Disney’s use of projection mapping in the parks is amazing.
What looks to be testing for projecting mapping on the rock work in Pandora. (photo by @Blog_Mickey)
# 5 – Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon (Universal Studios Florida)
Last year Universal fans lost Twister…Ride It Out! along with its Bill Paxton performance that was so mailed in he should have put a stamp on it. In Twister’s place will be the upcoming Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon. One of the most underrated aspects of this change, is that the attraction takes place in the New York area of Universal Studios Florida, so it is a perfect fit. There are many who do not like Fallon’s broad sense of humor, but his Late Night TV dominance shows there is most likely a much larger group of people who love what he brings to the table (Your Humble Author included). While there have been some debates on how the “flying theater” ride mechanics will actually work, one thing we do know is that Universal is trying something truly different with how people experience the attraction’s queue.
Much like how Dumbo at the Magic Kingdom allows kids to play in a themed area until it is time to ride, Race Through New York looks to have things for adults to do while waiting. There will be a woman’s quartet singing songs, a chance to check out classic bits from from Fallon’s Tonight Show run (including Lip Sync Battle), write your own “Thank You Notes” at an interactive desk, and even get a meet and greet with the Tonight Show’s mascot, Hashtag the Panda.
Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon is designed to get guests to laugh, and comedy is one thing Universal is very good at delivering on. From the criminally underrated Horror Make-Up Show to the non-stop gags in Springfield USA, be prepared to bring your smile when stepping into Universal Studios Florida.
Race Through New York starring Jimmy Fallon concept art.
Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon in Universal Studios Florida. (photo by @bioreconstruct).
When most people think of visiting a theme park in Orlando on Christmas Day, Magic Kingdom is top of mind. However, Universal Orlando presents a great alternative on this festive day. This year marks my second time visiting Universal Orlando on Christmas Day, and although I visited by myself, I had a great time. Here’s how I accomplished having an enjoyable visit and what I learned on this, one of the busiest days of the year in Orlando’s theme parks. Last week in this Touring Plans blog post about Visiting Universal Orlando during the busiest weeks of the year I shared some tips that definitely came in handy.
I had Christmas Day to myself and had set the day aside to visit Universal Orlando. Now, it should be noted that the manner in which I visited Universal’s Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida this day is a bit different than how the average guests would do. I was on my own. It didn’t matter to me if I rode anything. My purpose was to be in the atmosphere I love and be able to report on the crowd levels, wait times, and the overall experience of being inside Universal Orlando on Christmas Day.
The arrival experience at Universal Orlando on Christmas Day
Arriving at any theme park sets the tone for the whole day. When visiting during a busy day like Christmas it is important to not let the long lines and crowds that you will surely encounter dampen your mood. I arrived around 11:00 AM. The parking toll was not backed up as I expected, but still very busy; I headed toward the left hand lanes which are typically shorter.
The security checkpoint at Universal Orlando can get very congested first thing in the morning and on busy days. Such was the case around 11:00 AM on Christmas Day morning. The real backup and congestion came not from waiting to go through the x-ray machines, but rather after passing through and waiting for your belongings to be handed off to you after they go through the machines. Family members wait in clusters making it difficult to exit this area.
The third and final hurdle came when trying to get into Islands of Adventure. Lines everywhere! Lines for the ticket windows. Lines for purchasing Express Pass in order to avoid other lines. Lines at Guests Services. And of course lines to get through the turnstiles themselves. I’m just going to say it: Universal Orlando’s ticket taking system is so slow. Word on the street is an upgrade to this system is coming soon; I sure hope so!
Extra tip: There is a “Side entrance” at Universal Studios Florida that can save you time and frustration when the regular entrance is congested. It is the pathway in between Hard Rock Cafe and the regular park entrance, it leads up to the Blue Man Group Theater. As you walk along the Blue Man Group pathway this side entrance to the park will be to the right of the Blue Man Theater.
It seems 2016 is an unforgettable year. Events and memories that happened this year are unlike previous years. Yet each week, we the Best Week Ever team found ways to make the most of it. Each week we aim to share with you the moments that make being in the theme parks so enjoyable and wonderful. Perhaps this year, more than ever, it became increasingly important to make our visits the best week ever. We are grateful for the time we spent in the parks this year and we want to share with you our favorite moments of Best Week Ever 2016. You’ll hear from all three of us as we each select three of our favorite Best Week Ever posts from this year.
Dani’s favorite Best Week Ever posts
This year I focused on growth and dealing with fear. Theme parks offer us entertainment and escapism, but they can also offer teaching moments. My desire to deal with and overcome fear started as a spark at the end of 2015, but grew into a warm, bright flame in 2016. By pushing myself to go on rides and try experiences I’d otherwise avoid, I’ve learned that fear never actually goes away. Instead we can accept it, acknowledge it, and ultimately realize most things are never as bad as we imagine them to be. And by opening myself up to new experiences I gained a new level of appreciation for my hometown, Orlando, and all that the theme parks offer.
There’s no place like home for the holidays, but it’s difficult to beat Orlando during this festive time of the year. Perhaps you’ve decided to visit Orlando during the final two weeks of the year. Being in the theme parks at Christmas time is magical, but takes some planning. You’ll need to be prepared. In this post I’ll share some planning tips for visiting Universal Orlando during these last two weeks of the year, which are some of the busiest days in Orlando’s theme parks.
With all the hustle and bustle of the holidays it is easy to forget the basics of theme park survival. So here’s a little refresher.
Dress comfortably, especially with regard to your footwear
Plan for changes in the weather, this means pack a mix of both warm and cold weather clothing, because here in Florida we experience both warm and cold weather in Winter, often from one day to the next
Stay hydrated with water (as opposed to soda, adult beverages, etc)
Use sunscreen, after all we are actually closer to the sun during Winter
Take breaks and rest throughout the day
The great news is Universal Orlando’s longest operating hours of the year are taking place right now through New Year’s Eve.
Coming up with a plan
Plans are what we’re all about here at Touring Plans, and this time of the year is one of the most important to have a good solid plan. The most effective way to do so is creating a custom touring plan through our site. All you have to do when creating your customized Touring Plan is to select which parks you’re visiting, your arrival time to the park, and plug in the rides and shows you want to make sure you experience. Then the service will calculate the best touring plan including exactly which order to visit the attractions and when in order to maximize your time (and sanity). This plan is based on a huge collection of data that will ensure you spend the least amount of time as possible in the standby wait lines.
Creating a custom Touring Plan on TouringPlans.com
If you’d prefer to create a plan yourself, make sure you’ve really determined what rides and shows you absolutely must do. Without the advantage of the Touring Plans data you’ll need to review the park maps and strategize your plan based on the location of the attractions you want to experience. You may want to also consider visiting some of the lesser known attractions at Universal, which typically will have somewhat reasonable wait times on busy days.
If you’re searching for a last-minute holiday gift or a little something special to add to your own holiday wish list, TouringPlans is here to help! I compiled a list of what I think are some of the best gifts for those planning to visit the parks soon. And while holidays present the perfect gifting opportunity, most of these will work year-round for other celebrations like birthdays or anniversaries too.
Accessories for a Minion fan
Wearable Gifts – For a truly impressive gift, put your knowledge of their favorite character, attraction, or movie to good use. From custom t-shirts and mouse ears to lanyards and pins, there is an endless supply of fun things they can wear to the parks. Even better, there is an endless supply of online or local stores that sell these too, so finding something perfect while staying on budget shouldn’t be too hard.
Disney themed day-bags
Gear – There are certain items that almost every theme park vacationer likes to pack: poncho, day bag for the park, refillable water bottle, portable phone charger, hand sanitizer, and so on. Other items, like a toiletries bag, suitcase, or travel friendly snacks, are great ideas for travelers in general. Depending on the budget, you could pick just one item or put them together into a gift basket that will please any theme park vacationer.
Photo Package – Both Disney and Universal offer photo packages to capture those special vacation memories. Plenty of vacationers on tight budgets question whether the package is worth it, but receiving it as a gift can alleviate those worries. The price is discounted when purchased in advance, and they receive photo memories to cherish for years to come. It’s a definite win-win.
This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Snacks at Universal Orlando That You Gotta Try! A couple weeks ago we flew across the country to check out some of the great Disneyland snacks, and today we’re back home in Florida to look at even more delectable delights. We’re going to head over to the Universal Orlando Resort, home of some of the most outrageous and most extreme food options we’ve ever seen in the theme park world. However, instead of looking at crazy desserts that should come with an insulin pump, we are going to set our sights on some of the most original, creative, or just plain fun treats in either Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios Florida. So sit back, prepare to channel your inner Homer Simpson, and let’s begin our list with…
# 6 – Lard Lad D’oh-nuts
The fine folks in Springfield USA are no strangers to delivering great donuts to us theme park fans. The area opened with the debut of the classic Lard Lad giant pink donut, which immediately became a huge hit. In 2016, Lard Lad introduced more donuts to the menu, but in true Simpsons fashion, they didn’t go with the same ol’ same ol. Instead we got the donuts we dreamed of. Donuts topped with crushed Oreos, Fruity Pebbles, bacon and more! This at least gives us in Orlando a small taste of the type of donut options available in Universal Studios Hollywood’s Lard Lad. Unlike Orlando, USH’s Lard Lad does not serve ice cream because their Springfield has Phineas Q. Butterfat’s Ice Cream Parlor, so instead they opened with a larger variety of donuts.
Lard Lard Oreo d’oh-nut. (photo by Brandon Glover)
Lard Lad Fruity Pebbles donuts. (photo by Brandon Glover)
A selection of some of the D’oh-nuts available, and take a look at that GIANT apple fritter in the back! Universal a clear supporter of #MAGA. (photo by Brandon Glover)
# 5 – Character Themed Candy Bars
Several years ago, Disney started releasing some very fun candy boxes featuring many of their iconic characters from both movies and the theme parks. However, the actual candy had very little to do with the characters outside of silly puns. For example, there was the Haunted Mansion’s Madam Leota on the box of I See Chocolate In Your Future (dark chocolate hot fudge truffle.) Alice in Wonderland’s Cheshire Cat was on the box of I’m Just Mad About Chocolate (milk chocolate mint meltaways) while Monster Inc’s Mike Wazowski and Celia Mae had the Eye Know What Women Want! Chocolate! (milk chocolate peanut butter.)
Universal has many generic candy options themed to their brands as well (including my favorite, the Jaws themed gummy fish candy,) but there are also ten candy bars which are completely tied into the characters they feature. The candy bar with Despicable Me’s Minions uses banana in its recipe, while the one with Agnes is cotton candy flavored (in the film, the kids came home from Super Silly Land with Cotton Candy.) The E.T. bar is a chocolate peanut butter bar with Reeses Pieces, while Spongebob Squarepants has a white chocolate pineapple bar with pineapple bits. The synergy between these bars and the characters they feature is a great touch, and something we can hopefully see more of from both Universal and Disney in the future.
This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Things We Lost From the Theme Park World in 2016. As theme park fans, we’ve had a lot to be thankful for this year. However, as much as we are looking forward to the opening of Pandora and more Star Wars at Disney, or Volcano Bay and the upcoming Nintendo projects at Universal, it wasn’t all good news. This year we had to say goodbye to some old friends. Today we pay our respects to some of those that we lost in the past year, starting with….
While I was never the biggest fan of Beetlejuice’s Graveyard Revue, it did hold a special place in my heart because we got to see the Universal Classic Monsters – including Dracula, Wolfman, and Frankenstein – on stage. Outside of cameos in the underrated Horror Make-up Show and theming inside the Classic Monsters Cafe, these characters are not being used in the park. The live show, headlined by Beetlejuice, had been recently revamped with the addition of new characters (including the Phantom of the Opera’s daughter Phantasia) and a new set list of songs.
Originally, Universal stated that the show was going to close on December 2, 2015. However, the show got a short lived stay of execution and continued on until January 5th, 2016. Both Beetlejuice and its next door neighbor Disaster were closed to make way for the upcoming Fast & Furious – Supercharged attraction coming in 2018.
A moment of silence for Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice….Beetlejuice. (photo by @Drubov)
The great big Universal theme park in the sky. (photo by @Drubov)
# 5 – Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show (Disney’s Hollywood Studios)
DHS fans may want to get a box of Klennex ready, because you’re about to be in for a bumpy ride for the rest of the article. Speaking of bumpy rides (see what I did there) the Lights, Motors, Action! started its run in America as a “gift” from Disneyland Paris as part of the Happiest Celebration on Earth. This is why you should ask for a gift receipt when given something, just in case you want to return it. The Action! part of the stunt show was awesome. Guests got to see cars and motorcycles in a series of elaborate sequences that involved crashes, jumps, and even explosions. Unfortunately the “action” only took up about 7 minutes of the near half-hour show. Like a real movie set, a lot of time has to be spent setting up the next stunt. In 2011, the show added in a segment featuring fan favorite Lightning McQueen from Cars.
On April 2, the Lights, Motors, Action! show performed its last stunt. In its place will be the new Star Wars Land.
Experiencing a theme park for the first time is an eye opening experience. If there is any downside at all to being a frequent theme park visitor it is that the excitement and thrill of the first time quickly gives way to the comfort of the familiar. But really, that’s not actually a problem is it? This weekend I had the privilege of taking my mother to Universal Orlando for her first visit in 20 years. This day in the parks together is one of the best days I ever had in a theme park in my entire life, especially now that Universal Holidays have begun!
Good morning, Universal Studios Florida
It is a rare occasion in which I find myself in a theme park in the morning, but since this would be my mom’s one and only visit to Universal Orlando I wanted to make sure we got as much done as possible. When we arrived to CityWalk something told me to check at the Concierge booth across from Cinnabon to see if they could print my mother’s will call ticket.
I’ve found that the services provided at this Concierge booth depend on the specific skill set and willingness of the team member working at this location. On this occasion the team member kindly obliged and printed off my mom’s ticket, and explained that the ticket system was down at the parks so the lines at the ticket windows and Guest Services were quite long. Sure enough when we made it to the entrance we saw such sights.