Universal Orlando Resort

Hurricane Matthew: What Is Closed and What We Know

by on October 6, 2016

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Update October 6, 5:30PM – Storm should hit Port Canaveral around 10PM. Matthew is very slow-moving which means it will linger in Florida longer than a hurricane normally would. Coastal FL is under an evacuation order. 

The National Hurricane Center obviously is a far better source of information about the weather than a theme park blog. We recommend checking it often. We will continue to update you on theme park operations.

As you undoubtedly know, a very powerful hurricane is bearing down on the Florida coast, and is expected to begin making its presence known in Florida this evening. The eye may make landfall in Brevard County (the Atlantic coast directly east of Orlando) early Friday morning. We cannot stress enough that this is very serious and that you should unarguably listen to any theme park staff (or long-time locals) if you are in the area. Winds in excess of 70 mph are expected in the theme park area.

This post will be updated throughout the day with the latest theme park closures and information.

Updated October 6, 2016, 8:30 PM with Orange County curfew and reports from onsite guests. Universal Guest Contact and Social Media Centers updates

Orange County

  • Under curfew from 10 PM to 7 AM Saturday morning – source

Orlando International Airport (MCO)

  • All service is expected to stop at 8:00 PM Thursday
  • Many airlines, including American Airlines and United, have cancelled flights for Thursday evening and Friday. If you are flying into anywhere in Florida today or tomorrow check with your airline, but expect it to be cancelled.

Walt Disney World

  • Resorts are selling food (with long, but efficient, lines) to guests until 10 PM. Guests will need to remain in their rooms tonight. No word on the morning.
  • All parks, water parks, Disney Springs, ESPN Wide World of Sports, and miniature golf courses are closing at 5:00 PM Thursday, October 6, and will be CLOSED all day on Friday, October 7. (Some Disney Springs venues may close prior to 5:00 PM on Thursday.)
  • All resort and restaurant cancellation fees are waived for Thursday and Friday.
  • Blizzard Beach is closed on Thursday. Typhoon Lagoon is closing (as previously scheduled) at 5:00 PM on Thursday.
  • Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party is canceled on both Thursday and Friday, October 6 and 7. If you have tickets, call 407-566-4985, option 5, to inquire about your options. Phone lines are very busy right now. Disney is offering a refund or exchange to another night to guest with tickets for these dates. Thank you to Annette Johnson with Mouse Trip Travel for the update.
  • Fort Wilderness Resort is being evacuated and guests are being moved to other resorts. All restaurants (including Hoop-Dee-Doo and Mickey’s Backyard BBQ) are closed at Fort Wilderness.
  • Guests at the Treehouse Villas at Saratoga Springs and the Bora Bora Bungalows at the Polynesian have been evacuated to other locations.
  • Spirit of Aloha at the Polynesian Village Resort is cancelled Thursday and Friday.
  • From noon on Thursday until Saturday evening, Resort spa locations are closed at Coronado Springs, the Grand Floridian, Saratoga Springs, and Yacht & Beach Club.
  • Characters in Flight at Disney Springs is closed through Sunday.
Walt Disney World Weather Warning

Walt Disney World Weather Warning

 

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SATURDAY SIX: The Six Best Queues at the Universal Orlando Resort

by on October 1, 2016

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at the Six Best Queues at the Universal Orlando Resort. If there is one thing all theme park fans can agree with, it’s that we hate lines. Even people who aren’t theme park fans often return from an Orlando vacation with a similar thought: theme park lines are the worst. Thankfully our Disney and Universal overlords have spent the last decade completely transforming the queue experience. Disney, putting Billions into MyDisneyExperience and FastPass+, are attempting to get guests to spend less time in lines (in hopes that we have more time in places where we spend money.) Universal has gone in a slightly different direction, creating queues that guests actually want to spend more time in. The concept of “feeling rushed” in a theme park line may seem incomprehensible to anyone who has waited an hour in the Florida humidity for it’s a small world or suffered through the mind-numbing banality of the Soarin’ queue, but believe it or not, it’s true.

But which of Universal’s queues are the best? We polled some of the biggest names in Universal fandom (including Seth Kubersky – author of the Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando – Orlando United, Parkscope, the Unofficial Universal Orlando Podcast and more) and have tabulated the results. So sit back, look out for the neuralyzer at the end, and let’s begin our countdown starting with…

# 6 – Men In Black: Alien Attack

The queue for Men In Black: Alien Attack checks off several items we consider crucial to having a good queue, not the least of which is that you are in air conditioning for a long time. That may seem like a minor thing until you’ve almost experienced the sensation of melting while waiting outside for The Simpsons Ride or Rip, Ride, Rockit. It also recreates several areas that many guests will fondly remember from the first Men in Black film. But one of our favorite parts of this queue is that you can actually experience it hands on with a tour of the Immigration Room. Guests aren’t guaranteed this opportunity, but after riding you can ask a Team Member if you can take a tour. This will allow you some unbelievably great photo opportunities, along with a chance to see so many incredible details that Universal Creative has put into this room that the average guest will never see.

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Immigration room at Men In Black: Alien Attack. (photo by Travis Terrell)

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Men In Black: Alien Attack. (photo by Brandon Glover)

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Men in Black: Alien Attack. (photo by Brandon Glover)

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The Weapons Room. (photo by Travis Terrell)

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Dani’s Best Week Ever September 22, 2016: Surviving Halloween Horror Nights

by on September 22, 2016

This past year I’ve learned a lot about fear. Facing your fear doesn’t necessarily mean that your fear goes away. Instead, it means you acknowledge it, accept it, and do the thing that scares you despite the fear. Last year I went to Halloween Horror Nights for the first time. It is nearly impossible to believe that I would do so once, let alone a second time. And yet, I did. And it turned out to be one of my best evenings ever.

Attending Halloween Horror Nights last year for the first time was eyeopening. Here are my tips on enjoying the event even when you’re scared of pretty much everything. This time around I attended the event almost from beginning to end, and experienced a lot more than my first visit. Here’s how I not only faced my fear, but quite possibly became a fan of this frightfully fun event.

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Go early and take advantage of daylight

I attended Halloween Horror Nights with two complete opposite ends of the spectrum: a friend who has been to HHN more times than I can count and a friend who had never been before and feared it more than me. Wait wait wait… I can’t believe this, I, the person who never believed she’d ever go to Halloween Horror Nights is now showing a first timer the ropes!

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As Annual Pass Prices Increase, Theme Parks Add Perks

by on September 18, 2016

Not too long ago we saw Walt Disney World drastically change their annual pass structure adding new features and a wide variety of blackout dates. Universal Orlando has followed suit. They also recently announced new annual pass features like early park admission. Universal has also rolled out a new seasonal annual pass which is the most budget friendly but also has the most blackout dates, and the least amount of perks.

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Universal Orlando loves their AP Holders – photo from Universal Orlando

It’s not all bad news, however, Besides adding features to the annual passes themselves, all of the major theme parks offer various perks and benefits throughout the year. It seems as though this year there are more perks than ever before–perhaps this is because the prices are higher than they’ve ever been. Some guests who are on vacation are purchasing an annual pass rather than a multi-day ticket, even if they’re only going to visit once in a given year. For locals like me it is often seen as a mandatory purchase in order to do Orlando living right.

Let’s take a look at some of the really fun benefits and perks that are being offered to annual pass holders at each of the major theme parks. It is important to note that for the purposes of this blog post I will not be discussing the features that are already included in your annual pass such as free parking, but rather I will focus on different, added-on perks that are offered throughout the year.

Walt Disney World

Perhaps the Walt Disney World Resort faces the greatest of expectations. Because of their four theme parks vs. two at Universal Orlando and one theme park plus water park at SeaWorld Orlando, the Walt Disney World annual passes are the most expensive. This typically raises the expectations of consumers, creating stronger desires for more bang for their buck.

©Rikki Niblett

©Rikki Niblett

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Dani’s Best Week Ever September 1, 2016: Halloween Horror Nights Prep and Toothsome

by on September 1, 2016

Fall is finding its way, slowly sneaking out Summer. Yes, we do have a Fall season here in Florida. It is different than the rest of the country, but it is there. Scallop season gives way to snow crab season. Acorns begin to create a blanket on the ground. A short cool snap can be anticipated only to have the heat come back after a few days of relief. But above all this, Halloween begins in mid-September around these parts.

Preparations are underway for Halloween Horror Nights 2016 at Universal Orlando. And now we can prepare our sweet tooth for the treats of Halloween and the Holidays by visiting Toothsome Chocolate Emporium and Kitchen. I enjoyed one of my best evenings ever at Universal with a visit to Toothsome and a stroll, with an unexpected thrill, through Universal Studios Florida.

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The weather

Summer’s oppressive heat is still upon us despite the signs of Halloween popping up around town. Summer thunderstorms will soon give way to longer, mistier rains, and stronger chances for hurricanes. But alas on this visit, a traditional summer thunderstorm poured itself upon me as I made my way to Universal Orlando.

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Walking into CityWalk there seemed to be a changing of the guards of sorts.  Hoards of guests streamed towards the exit. Meanwhile, just as many guests headed into the parks equipped with ponchos and umbrellas.

With grey skies it was difficult to see the smoke stack effect rising above Toothsome Chocolate Emporium and Kitchen. With its black, white, and copper color scheme coupled with whimsical details, landscaping, and mechanical details, Toothsome’s facade stands out in CityWalk’s impressive line up.

 

Toothsome Chocolate Emporium and Kitchen

At first the concept of a chocolate / dessert-centric restaurant at Universal Orlando did not really grab my attention. Although, I really never enjoyed its predecessor NBA City, so anything was an improvement in my opinion. As I arrived to the still-in-preview restaurant, I noticed a large influx of guests. Thankfully, my friends had arrived before me and had secured a spot at the bar.

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SATURDAY SIX: Six Reasons We LOVE Universal’s Toothsome Chocolate Emporium

by on August 27, 2016

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons We LOVE the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen. The newest entrant into Universal CityWalk’s murderer’s row of restaurants has just gone into previews, with a grand opening not far behind.  Located in the former home of NBA City, the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium sits directly next to the entrance to Islands of Adventure and its visually stunning facade fits in with other worlds that never existed (but you wish did) like Port of Entry or Seuss Landing.

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Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen. (photo by Brandon Glover)

When Toothsome was originally announced, it teased that it would debut with larger than life milkshakes. The idea of a milkshake with a full cupcake or chocolate covered banana on top seemed too good to be true. However, to quote Han Solo, “It’s true. All of it.” It turns out that the E-Ticket milkshakes were just the tip of the iceberg, as Toothsome is filled with both wonder and – believe it or not – an amazing menu. Today we’re going to look at some of our favorite features of this magical restaurant. So sit back, play the NXT song “Glorious” as appropriate background music, and let’s begin our list with…

# 6 – Walk Around Characters!

Talk about bucking the trend. In a theme park world where getting rid of the human element seems to be a priority, Universal has walk around characters in the Skull Island: Reign of Kong queue and inside Toothsome. The restaurant has a lengthy backstory (which can be found inside the menu), and it revolves around Professor Doctor Penelope Tibeaux-Tinker Toothsome. In Penelope’s exotic trips around the world, she discovered ways to infuse chocolate into extraordinary recipes. When Penelope returned home from her travels, she discovered that her parents had set out to join her (“Surely the world isn’t so big that we can’t find you.”) Penelope decided she would use her chocolate knowledge to create an emporium, and would share her dishes with the world until reunited with her family. 

Penelope  can be seen walking about Toothsome, occasionally with her robot companion Jacques. Just as with the best Disney meet and greets at the Magic Kingdom, Penelope stays completely in character, is filled with charm and as they would describe her in the 19th Century: is a bricky gal.

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Professor Doctor Penelope Tibeaux-Tinker Toothsome. (photo by Brandon Glover)

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The Professor and her robot companion Jacques. (photo courtesy of Attractions Magazine. Attractions also has a great video of Toothsome which you WATCH HERE.)

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Penelope’s milkshake brings all the boys to the yard. Literally. (photo by Brandon Glover)

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Celebration of Harry Potter 2017

by on August 19, 2016

Universal Orlando's A Celebration of Harry Potter returns for 2017. Image ©Universal

Universal Orlando’s A Celebration of Harry Potter returns for 2017. Image ©Universal

Hello, Muggles! Universal Orlando has announced its dates and vacation package prices for a Celebration of Harry Potter 2017. This very popular event happens January 27-29, 2017, at Universal Orlando resort. Folks who purchase a vacation package will have access to ticketed events other attendees will not.

There are many ways to experience this event from buying the whole vacation package, to including it in your already scheduled Universal vacation, to experiencing it as a day guest. For the most part, the Harry Potter activities are concentrated in Hogsmeade at Universal’s Islands of Adventure and Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida.

Here is some of our previous coverage of a Celebration of Harry Potter:

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What you need to know about security procedures at Orlando’s theme parks

by on August 17, 2016

Orlando’s theme parks have enjoyed a decades long reputation for providing a clean and safe environment for all guests. Over the years the theme parks’ security procedures have evolved, adding layers and new processes. In the past few months we’ve seen a significant change to all the major theme parks’ procedures. In hopes of helping you prepare for your visit, I’ve laid out some of the security measures you can expect to encounter.

Keep in mind, there are multiple layers of security at all the parks. There are efforts that go unseen and procedures we don’t know about. Additionally, out of respect for the theme parks, their staff members, and their security, I won’t go beyond what is already shared with the public and easily seen when visiting the parks.

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Walt Disney World – Four Main Theme Parks

The Most Magical Place on Earth can’t hold such a title without having some solid security procedures in place. At the beginning of the year it was standard that all of Orlando’s theme parks conduct a bag check on any guest who had any bag of any kind, including strollers. Then a few months ago all three of Orlando’s major theme park destinations installed metal detectors at the security checkpoint. The rollout process and ramp up period varied for each destination.

Walt Disney World has proceeded with using their metal detectors for random checks. Although every single guest will go through a more-thorough-than-ever bag screening process, not every guest is asked to go through a metal detector. After the bag screening guests are selected at random to go through the detectors.

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The metal detectors are off to the side and are manned by a group of Security Cast Members. I have been selected multiple times. Each time the Cast Members have been very courteous and it has only added a minute or two to my ability to get to the park entrance. You may also notice law enforcement personnel at a few posts throughout the front entrance area, as well.

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Disney’s official park rules can be found here. Some of the highlights include statements that all persons, bags, parcels, and clothing are subject to screening, as well as stating that they reserve the right to not allow any item they deem inappropriate into the premises.

Guest that do not have bags have a separate area they can go through to bypass the bag screening area, but they are still subject to random metal detector screenings.

Of all the theme parks, you will most likely find that Walt Disney World’s screen process takes the least amount of time. Still if you arrive to the parks right around their opening time, be prepared for an extensive line at the checkpoints. It’s one of the reasons that we recommend arriving 30-60 minutes before any park’s opening time.

Disney Water Parks and Disney Springs

Currently, there are no metal detectors at Disney’s two water parks nor Disney Springs. At the water parks there is a bag screening, though not very extensive. There is no screening at Disney Springs, though there is a strong security and law enforcement presence.

Universal Orlando

Here you will find the most extensive screening process–and perhaps the most talked about process. Every guest will go through metal detector and all bags go through an x-ray machine. When you first approach the security checkpoint it really does resemble being at the airport. This security checkpoint is for all guests regardless of if you are visiting the theme parks or just CityWalk.

I have a slight concern with the location of this checkpoint, though it is difficult to think of an alternative location. During peak time, especially first thing in the morning, this domed area is extremely crowded. It can sometimes be an uncomfortable experience and when that feels like a bad bottle neck situation.

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Universal Team Members who park in the main parking structure must also go through the same screening area, though they have a dedicated separate lane. A few friends of mine that go through this process on a daily basis have expressed concerns with some of the interactions they’ve encountered with Security personnel, as well as encounters they’ve observed with guests.  I have had mostly good experiences, though there have been some rare occasion to the contrary.

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SATURDAY SIX: 6 Times THE SIMPSONS Totally Nailed Being A Theme Park Fan

by on August 13, 2016

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at 6 Times THE SIMPSONS Totally Nailed Being A Theme Park Fan. We here at SATURDAY SIX HQ have never hid the fact of how much we love The Simpsons television show. Despite it being a cartoon, for us it is right up there with the all-time great comedies including Seinfeld, Parks and Rec, and Cheers. When Universal Studios Florida expanded the area surrounding The Simpsons Ride into a small version of Springfield, it was a dream come true. As a fan of The Simpsons dating back to when they were just short skits on The Tracey Ullman Show, seeing Duff Beer brought to life was just as a magical moment for me as it is for Potterheads walking into Diagon Alley and getting a Butterbeer.

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The Simpsons

One of the reasons The Simpsons actually being represented at the Universal Orlando Resort is so great is because the show has spent the better part of 25 years making fun of theme parks! Other shows have gone to theme parks and made some jokes (such as Boy Meets World, Family Matters, and – of course – Full House), but for the most part those shows were just promotional vehicles for Disney. The Simpsons didn’t hold back. Their jokes had some real truths to them, truths that readers of this blog would understand. Today we are going to look back at the history of The Simpsons and theme parks, and at some of our favorite moments over the years. Many of these scenes can actually be seen in the queue for The Simpsons Ride along with exclusive new scenes made just for Universal. So sit back, put on a pair of beer googles, and let’s begin our countdown starting with…

# 6 – “Bart’s New Friend” (Season 26, Episode 11)

We’ll start off with an episode written by Judd Apatow, a man who knows a thing or two about comedy, with a resume that includes Freaks and Geeks, Knocked Up, and The 40 Year Old Virgin. The episode centers around Homer Simpson being hypnotized into thinking he is a 10 year child. Bart Simpson then begins to take advantage of the situation, using Homer as a way to thwart bullies at school and be the “brother” he never had. Before Homer can be de-hypnotized, Bart takes him to Itchy & Scratchy Land and we get to see them ride Soarin’ Over Springfield. This was a five star parody of one of Disney’s most popular rides.

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Soarin’ Over Springfield.

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Just like the real version, in Soarin’ Over Springfield you get to see guests’ legs dangling in front of you. Note the reference to Mystery Science Theater 3000.

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With a swelling score, Soarin’ Over Springfield flies by all the major landmarks in town, including the long running tire fire.

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Burning tire smell blown into the faces of guests, just as the scent of oranges was sprayed in the original Soarin’ and fresh cut flowers in the new Soarin’ Around the World.

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Universal Crowd Calendar Report – July 24 to 30, 2016

by on August 8, 2016

Universal Crowd Calendar Report

How Crowded Was Universal Orlando Resort Last Week?

Last week, Islands of Adventure continued to lag behind its sister park which pulled down the resort wide crowd level a few points lower than history would suggest for the last week of July. The Universal Crowd Calendar did a great job predicting the crowd level at Universal Studios missing by more than one level only once.

Let’s look at how the crowd levels stacked up each day last week on the Touringplans.com Universal Crowd Calendar Report:

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