Universal Orlando Resort

Universal Orlando Resort Preview – Week of July 15th

by on July 13, 2017

The Universal Orlando Preview is brought to you by Storybook Destinations. Storybook Destinations specializes in Disney and Universal travel, is consistently highly rated by our readers, and is owned by our own blogger extraordinaire, Tammy Whiting. Storybook also offers free subscriptions to TouringPlans to clients with qualified bookings.

So you want to go to Universal Orlando, you say?

This week, you say?

Well you’re in the right place!! Each week, I’ll have the most important things you need to know, all in one place, to help you make the most of your time and have the most epic day ever!

Weekly Crowd Level

Overall, crowds will be pretty consistently summer-dense throughout the week. Do I hear a Sunday Funday calling??

Weekly Weather Report

It’s summertime in central Florida! You know the routine….scattered thunderstorms, they come and they go! *Disclaimer: though my name rhymes with weather, I am not in fact a meteorologist. So arm your smartphone with your favorite weather app (Dark Sky is my personal favorite) and check the forecast before you go!

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Volcano Bay and the Psychology of the Queueless Theme Park

by on July 11, 2017

The TouringPlans blog is pleased to welcome guest author Laurie Breen to share some insights about the psychology of the queueless theme park. 

Enjoying a theme park with no lines sounds like every theme park fan’s dream. But does the current iteration of the queueless theme park really translate into a better experience for the average park-goer?

With Universal Orlando’s new Volcano Bay water park, the global theme park giant launched its first “queueless” theme park. But did they miss the mark? It’s true, the lines are soooo long these days. As Jason Surrell, a creative director at Universal, explained to thestar.com, “We’ve known for years that waiting in line is one of the biggest dis-satisfiers in our guests’ day.” And of course, the pay-to-play line-cutting access offered by Express Pass goes against the egalitarian ideals upon which our great nation was founded. However, theme park queues serve many purposes within the operations of a theme park. By overlooking the psychological effects of standing in a line, as well as the way that people are accustomed to “touring” at a theme park, Universal may have thrown the cow out with the cattle pen.

Crowd Control vs. Chaos

 

Waiting in a queue may not be fun, but it is an orderly way to control crowds.

Queues act as crowd control, essentially designating a place for hundreds or thousands of guests to stand each hour as they progress through the line, waiting for their turn to ride on their chosen attraction. This takes crowd pressure off the walkways, stores, and restaurants, allowing the park to increase capacity while adding more fun attractions. Imagine that you are in a theme park store where 100 or 200 guests are shopping at one time, wandering around, slowly browsing what’s on offer — the store starts to feel very crowded and claustrophobic. But now imagine the Greenhouse at Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey — in this space, each person is allotted a specific position to stand in and social norms dictate that people will line up in an orderly fashion. They (generally) maintain their place in line, they are all moving in the same direction, and they all keep a pretty consistent spacing between themselves and the next line-waiter. In this situation, a crowd of 100 or 200 people does not seem overwhelming at all.

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SATURDAY SIX: The 6 Best Gift Shops at Universal Orlando

by on July 1, 2017

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at the 6 best gift shops at Universal Orlando! Until recently, gift shops were seen as a necessary evil at our favorite theme parks – annoyances that many guests either dreaded being herded through or mocked the existence of outright. One of the best gags in The Simpsons Ride involves the alien Kodos saying,

“Foolish Earthlings, don’t you know all rides must end near the gift shop?”

The Mission Statement of theme park gift shops. (photo by Hunter Underwood)

Thankfully, over the past several years gift shops at both Universal and Disney have become better themed and well merchandised, and several have even started to incorporate interactive features for their guests. It’s almost unbelievable to say it, but just as Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey became possibly the first attraction in the history of theme parks to have a queue guests wanted to spend more time in, gift stores themselves are becoming features of attractions that guests can actually look forward to experiencingToday we’re going to take a look at the best gift shops across Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida, and let’s kickoff the countdown with…

# 6 – Kwik E Mart

Despite the great joke mentioned above, the Simpsons Ride is one of the few attractions at USF that doesn’t exit into a gift shop. The Kwik-E-Mart, the ride’s merchandise location, is right next to the attraction and is filled with the high level of self-deprecating humor that is found throughout Springfield USA. Signs above the merchandise include sales pitches like, “Today’s merchandise at tomorrow’s prices!,” “These items won’t buy themselves!” There’s even a sign at the registers that has a call back to an episode of the Simpsons television show as it warns the cashiers not to take checks from various people including Chief Wiggum, Homer J Simpson, and Homer J Fong.

Kwik E Mart. (photo by Brandon Glover)

The walls and outside windows of the Kwik-E-Mart are laden with ads for products including Farmer Billy’s Choco-Bacon-Bars (“It’s like chocolate and bacon had a baby in your mouth!”) while the variety of actual Simpsons related products found inside includes t-shirts, hats, plush, comic books and more.

Outside the store there is a photo-op available with Milhouse sitting on a bench and one of USF’s most hidden gems, the Simpsons pay phone. On the side of the Kwik-E-Mart closest to the Simpsons Ride, there is pay phone mounted on a wall with the character Nelson next to it.  Nelson has a word balloon saying, “Answer the phone dingus…it’s for you.” Walking by this phone will trigger it to ring, and picking up the receiver will treat you to a gag line by one of the various Simpsons characters including Chief Wiggum, Moe Szyslak, and Bart Simpson.

Millhouse photo op. (photo by Hunter Underwood)

(photo by Hunter Underwood)

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Renting a Car for Disney World or Universal Orlando Vacations

by on June 20, 2017

Let’s face it. Planning and budgeting for transportation is one of the least exciting agenda items to check off on your vacation planning to-do list. Compared to the thrill and excitement of securing dining reservations, a resort stay, or park tickets, who really wants to spend their night analyzing rental car options? To make matters worse, booking a rental car can be a colossal pain in the neck. With so many different options, finding the right balance of convenience and savings can be hard. So here are some factors that I tell people to consider when renting a car for their Walt Disney World or Universal Orlando Resort vacation.

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Daisy’s (Not So) Best Week Ever, June 15, 2017: Volcano Bay

by on June 15, 2017

Hello, friends! I was surprised and delighted when Touring Plans asked me if I’d like to try out Volcano Bay and report on my experience. I’m a huge fan of water parks and had high hopes for the newest addition to Orlando. I normally try to keep everything positive in these posts, but I can’t be dishonest with my review. So let’s start off with my first “Not So” Best Week Ever.

Arriving to Volcano Bay as an offsite guest was painless. We quickly parked, hopped a shuttle, and were directed to the entrance. We had purchased our tickets online and in advance, they worked perfectly and we were in the park about ten minutes before park opening.

There’s much more to hear about my day at Volcano Bay. Click to read more! 🙂

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SATURDAY SIX: 6 Attractions We Miss At Universal Studios Florida

by on May 20, 2017

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Attractions We Miss at Universal Studios Florida!  We are about to enter the part of the theme park calendar when both Universal and Disney like to unveil new attractions and experiences for the busy summer crowds. However, in most cases, whenever we get something new it means we also have to say goodbye to something it replaced. For example, for guests to be able to enjoy the Valley of Mo’ara in Pandora: The World of Avatar, Disney removed Camp Minnie Mickey. Universal Studios Florida has gone through more turnover than most theme parks. In fact, of the park’s opening day attraction lineup, only E.T. Adventure and the Horror Make-Up Show remain. Today we’re going to take a look at some of our favorite USF attractions that have been replaced over the years, and let’s kickoff the countdown with…

# 6 – Kongfrontation

Amazingly enough, despited be based around one of the worst filmed versions of King Kong in history (the 1976 remake) Kongfrontation remains an attraction that many Universal fans wish was still in the park. Even though it was replaced by the incredibly popular Revenge of the Mummy indoor coaster, the nostalgia for Kongfrontation is strong. The attraction had many signature moments, including interactions with various super-sized Kong audio-animatronics, and a very memorable end-of-ride photo opportunity where guests could be photographed in Kong’s hand. The Universal mantra of “Ride the Movies”  was exactly what Kongfrontation was all about. It may have been a bad movie, but you were in it and the experience was awesome. There are still references to Kong in Revenge of the Mummy, and Universal finally brought the great ape back into the parks with Skull Island: Reign of Kong, but man we still miss Kongfrontation.

Kongfrontation. (photo credit Universal Orlando Resort)

Kongfrontation. (photo credit Universal Orlando Resort)

Kongfrontation. (photo credit Universal Orlando Resort)

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SATURDAY SIX: The 6 Best Meet and Greets at Universal Studios Florida

by on May 13, 2017

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at the Six Best Meet and Greets at Universal Studios Florida! About this time last year, Universal bought DreamWorks Animation for $3.8Billion. However, we haven’t see much of that deal reflected in the theme park world until this past week when a new meet and greet with Kung Fu Panda’s Po was announced for Orlando. In theme park fandom, many have speculated on what incredible attractions that DreamWorks characters could be a part of (who wouldn’t want a How To Train Your Dragon ride?!) but the “meet and greet factor” was mostly overlooked. Meet and greets are now a huge part of the Disney experience, and only getting bigger. In fact, even runDisney races have become so heavily integrated with characters that the surprise removal of them this week caused a  near meltdown on social media.

Now Po the panda is going to be meeting guests in Islands of Adventure, so we’re going to look at some of the fun meet greets located right across the way in Universal Studios Florida, and let’s kickoff the countdown with…

# 6 – The Scooby Gang

Having your picture taken with Scooby Doo is almost a rite of passage for any Universal guest. On any average day at the park you’re almost assuredly going to run into the canine sleuth along with Shaggy. Some days, you may find them posing with pics with Velma or Daphne. But on great days, you are able to find the entire Scooby Gang together and that can make for some really fun photos and interactions. You also have to get a shot of the Mystery Machine, which along with K.I.T.T., the General Lee, and the Batmobile is one of the most iconic vehicles in TV history.

The Scooby Gang. (photo by @hedgehogscorner)

The Mystery Machine. (photo by Hunter Underwood)

# 5 – Knight Bus

The opening of Diagon Alley brought with it a lot of surprises in the form of character entertainment. We all swooned for the soothing voice of Celestina Warbeck and marveled at the creativity of the Wizarding Academy of Dramatic Arts in their Tales of Beedle the Bard shows, but two characters who always bring smiles to Muggle faces are the Knight Bus conductor and his shrunken head sidekick. Both are quick on their feet (not literally in the case of one of them) and the meet and greet starts the guest’s “Diagon Alley experience” in the best way possible.

(photo by Brandon Glover)

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Ask It Results: Universal Orlando Instead of Walt Disney World

by on May 10, 2017

The results are in! Last week we asked you:

With Universal’s new offerings (like Volcano Bay), are you considering an onsite vacation to Universal instead of Walt Disney World?

Vacation dollars don’t go on trees, no matter how many money trees you buy at your local horticulture superstore, and vacation time is a finite commodity as well. For many years, Disney was the end-all-be-all for the ultimate Central Florida family getaway. Times change, and so are vacation habits. Here’s the results of your voting, with more than 2,000 votes cast.

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Ask It: Universal Orlando Instead of Walt Disney World?

by on May 3, 2017

For many years, Universal Orlando Resort has upped its game in terms of attractions, restaurants, and resort hotels. This summer, with the opening of the Volcano Bay water park, Universal keeps pushing forward on becoming a primary vacation destination instead of second fiddle to Walt Disney World. So we’re curious to see if this may change your vacation plans. Here’s this week’s Ask It:

With Universal’s new offerings (like Volcano Bay), are you considering an onsite vacation to Universal instead of Walt Disney World?

  • No (46%, 542 Votes)
  • Planning both WDW and Universal (30%, 352 Votes)
  • Yes (24%, 275 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,169

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Voting is open here and on Twitter, and feel free to share your views in the comments.

 

Harry Potter Christmas Experience Announced for Universal Orlando

by on April 13, 2017

I think it’s the Gospel of Luke that, in chronicling the birth of Jesus, quotes Lysanias of Abeline saying “Verily, I say unto you, this day shall be commemorated with a totally awesome video projection show. And maybe dragons.”

Universal Orlando fulfilled that millennia-old prophecy today by announcing a new, Harry Potter-themed Christmas event for its two theme parks. The new event will run from November 18, 2017 through January 6, 2018. It includes new holiday decor and food adapted from the Harry Potter novels, plus a new nighttime video projection show – also inspired by the books – to be displayed on Hogwarts Castle at Islands of Adventure. The video projection simulation looks promising in the video. And Universal does a pretty good-to-great job with the food offerings in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, so new menus are something to look forward to as well.

The announcement also includes updates to Universal’s Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s. My favorite part of the whole announcement is where Macy’s is referred to as “the global leader in balloon entertainment.” I had no idea there was an official ranking system for this. I’d like to see the belt that the title-holder gets to wear. If you happen to be sitting in spots 2 through 10, now you know what you’re up against.