The pendulum is always swinging. Just two weeks ago I truly had one of my best weeks ever! This one was decidedly less so. But I am an optimist and try to make the best of each situation. It also helps that I live in Orlando and have annual passes to all three major theme park destinations, plus I have a great collection of friends in my life. So when the air conditioning went out for four days in my house, I did what needed to be done and enjoyed Orlando life while waiting for my house to become livable again.
Thankfully this week marked new and exciting adventures at Islands of Adventure, and new fun offerings at SeaWorld as well. Come with me as I face the Reign of Kong, contemplate facing my ultimate fears with the Incredible Hulk, enjoy live music from the beloved Off Kilter, and take a quick stroll around SeaWorld enjoying the most affordable snacks and drinks in any Orlando theme park!
Beautiful signage – photo by Brandon Glover
Off Kilter and Dancing at CityWalk
Saturday early morning I awoke to a hot and humid house. Goodbye air conditioning, hello discomfort and an expensive repair. I couldn’t get it taken care of over the weekend so I did what any reasonable adult would do, make plans with friends and head for Universal Orlando!
This week’s SATURDAY SIX is special one as we once again dust off the blue blazer and step behind the SATURDAY SIX News Desk. If you’re like us you’ve been deluged with news lately. Many childhoods have been “ruined” because of female Ghostbusters, Justin Beiber – a noted Canadian – was offered $5 Million to perform at the Republican National Convention, and maybe most important of all Taco Bell created a Cheetos burrito. However we’ve been informed that a whole lot of stuff happened in the theme park world recently. So we took a page out of our old college playbook, guzzled down a dozen 5 Hour Energys, and pulled another all-nighter. We crammed as much information as possible into our brains so that we could report back to you, Dear Reader, with all the relevant facts (and before we forget it all tomorrow). So sit back, know that you are getting all the news that’s fit to print (and plenty more that’s not), and let’s begin our countdown starting with…
# 6 – Universal’s Fast & Furious Supercharged Pushed Back to 2018?
Get your Coronas, baby oil, and English-to-Vin Diesel/Vin Diesel-to-English dictionaries ready, SUPERCHARGED is coming in 2018. (photo by Michael Sheehy and Matt Cleary)
While many people would scoff at the idea of the Fast and Furious franchise being an equivalent to Star Wars or Harry Potter, the box office numbers show that there is some smoke to that fire. To date the Fast and Furious movies are approaching four Billion dollars, which is about half of what SW and Potter have done, but F&F is picking up steam fast. In part thanks to F&F’s ethnically diverse cast, it appeals to demographics across the globe in a way that very few brands can. For example, in China Fast and Furious 7 opened to $182,000,000 while Star Wars: The Force Awakens opened to $52,000,000.
Universal announced that Fast & Furious Supercharged would be making its way to Universal Studios Florida in 2017, replacing Disaster and Beetlejuice’s Graveyard Revue. Walls were put up in front of the old attractions, and graffiti was spray painted along the walls teasing the upcoming Fast and Furious ride. Earlier this summer, the year “2018” suddenly appeared in the artwork, so it looks like Race Through New York starring Jimmy Fallon and Volcano Bay will be Universal’s major projects opening in 2017. Supercharged, with a cast featuring more six packs than a Budweiser plant, will headline Universal’s summer a year later. Hopefully this extra time will allow Universal to develop F&F merchandise that can approach the levels Disney gets with Star Wars and Universal gets with Potter, because that is one area the franchise is way behind in.
# 5 – At Comic Con Disney Announces Guardians of the Galaxy Attraction to a Mixed Near Unanimous Fan Reaction
After a one year break, Marvel Studios returned to the world famous San Diego Comic Con and dropped some major bombshells, including one for the Disney theme parks. After giving news on their upcoming film slate (including Black Panther, Dr. Strange, and Thor: Ragnarok), Marvel brought out the cast for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. At the end of the Guardians presentation, it was announced that a new attraction was coming to Disney’s California Adventure: Guardians of the Galaxy Mission: Breakout. As we wrote back in March (Looking at ways Disney can introduce Marvel to the theme parks) the Guardians of the Galaxy attraction would not be a brand new ride, but instead replace the Hollywood Tower of Terror. The reaction in Hall H was not what anyone would call overwhelmingly enthusiastic.
Summer is in full swing and it seems every week there is something new opening at one of Orlando’s theme parks. Among the latest places to open in Orlando this week, we have Loews Sapphire Falls Resort at Universal Orlando and over at Disney Springs there is Homecoming Florida Kitchen. Originally my week, and weekend, was supposed to be much different than it turned out to be. Some of it for the better, and some of it, well… not so much.
A spur of the moment opportunity early in the week lead me to a place that has been on my Florida bucket list for nearly a year: the Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort. Hollywood Beach, FL is about a three hour drive Southeast of Orlando. If you are a fan of relaxation and have time for a side trip, I recommend a night or two in this Parrothead paradise. I did not get to do much relaxation since I was “working” during the trip, thus I can’t wait to go back and really soak up the sun here. If it is any indication of the resort that will opening next year here in Orlando, well, we are in for a treat!
Nadirah Shakoor (a member of Jimmy Buffett’s Coral Reefer Band) performs at Margaritaville Beach Resort
Radio Margaritaville’s JD Spradlin hosts a dance party and concert at Margaritaville Beach Resort
Sapphire Falls Resort
Despite a tiring trip to Hollywood Beach, and some challenging news on the home front, I was able to make the most of a Sunday afternoon and explore Universal’s newest resort. Loews Sapphire Falls Resort is another game changer for Universal Orlando.
Universal Orlando Resort had surprisingly uncrowded parks between June 12 and 18, 2016, especially Tuesday through Saturday at Islands of Adventure. The Universal Crowd Calendar expected Islands of Adventure to keep pace with its sister park during the week now that a larger percentage of schools were out of session. Universal Studios is driving the resort-wide crowds with Islands of Adventure fading far behind.
Let’s look at how the crowd levels stacked up each day last week on the TouringPlans.com Universal Crowd Calendar Report:
In honor of July 4th we are presenting a special SATURDAY SIX with a Salute to All Nations (But Mostly America). July 4th weekend brings out the patriotism in all of us, and nothing is more American than our favorite theme parks. Created with the opening of Disneyland in 1955, theme parks — along with comic books and jazz music — are one of the rare forms of art that we in the USA have given to the citizens of Earth. Thankfully, they are all so good that the world forgives us for everything else we’ve given them such as Zima, reality television, and the KFC Double Down. So raise Old Glory up to full staff, put Real American on the CD player, and let’s dive into some theme park American goodness!
# 6 – Voices of Liberty (Epcot)
The Voices of Liberty (photo by Mike Sperduto)
Located at the American Adventure pavilion in Epcot’s World Showcase, the Voices of Liberty are an 8 person a cappella group that will have your heart swelling with pride as they belt out some of the most well known songs paying tribute to our country’s rich history. The playlist includes: “America the Beautiful,” “This Land is Your Land,” “This is My Country,” “You Raise Me Up,” “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”
# 5 – Captain America (Islands of Adventure)
Captain America. (photo by Brandon Glover)
America’s super soldier, Captain America meets guests daily at Marvel Superhero Island. The origin of Captain America himself is tied to World War II and – in the pages of comic books – was fighting the Nazi army in Europe months before America itself officially entered the war in December of 1941. Draped in red, white, and blue, Cap is the living embodiment of everything many of us strive to be: courageous, loyal, selfless, and unshakably honest.
After a whole year of planning and preparation, my parents and I took our week-long trip to Orlando at the beginning of June! It was hot, it was muggy, and we endured a heavy dose of Tropical Storm Colin, but we had a great time!
But don’t take my word for it; I’ll let my parents speak for themselves!
Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 before you read on! A big thanks to Jan from MEI and MouseFan Travel for setting up our resort and dining reservations and tickets!
Overall, how did this trip to Orlando go compared to previous trips you took in 1988, 1995, and 2000? Dad: We certainly did more and had a better idea about what we were doing in advance, which made the whole trip successful. Mom: I think I enjoyed this trip a bit more than all the others because it was based solely on what we wanted to do and we didn’t have to accommodate any small children. I always loved seeing the attractions through the eyes of my children, but this time I got to be the kid!
What was your favorite part of the whole week? Dad: I enjoyed the unexpected diamonds in the rough – Captain Jack’s Pirate Tutorial, The Frozen Sing-Along Celebration, the Dapper Dans – things I wasn’t expecting to enjoy so much. Mom: This was tough! My sentimental favorite attraction is it’s a small world because I was at the 1964 World’s Fair when the ride debuted.
What was your least favorite part of the whole week? Dad: Waiting so long for Fantasmic, only to have it canceled 30 minutes before showtime. (That was the night that Tropical Storm Colin came through.) Mom: My exhaustion in the heat. I wish I could someday visit Florida in any other season than summer. I also thought Stitch’s Great Escape was a waste of time. (Author’s note: I did warn them!)
This week’s SATURDAY SIX looks at Reasons We LOVE the queue for SKULL ISLAND: REIGN OF KONG. Over the last two years, Trygve Nelson and Seth Kubersky have been tracking the progress of Skull Island at Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Earlier this month it began technical rehearsals and started letting guests experience the attraction. One area that has drawn consistent raves is the queue. Over the last fifteen years, Universal has become the best in the business at building queues in which people actually enjoy spending time in line. Guests walk through what seems like the actual movie set for Men In Black: Alien Attack. At The Simpsons Ride, in two separate pre-show rooms, guests enjoy some hilarious jokes written by actual writers of The Simpsons television show. Meanwhile guests get to tour the Daily Bugle in The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man (which even has a dedicated themed experience just for Express Pass guests, allowing them to see Peter Parker’s dark room). Universal then perfected the queue experience with Forbidden Journey and Escape From Gringotts, creating lines guests actually wanted to spend more time in. This was not just the theme park equivalent of breaking the four minute mile, this was breaking the three minute mile.
Skull Island: Reign of KONG. (photo by Brandon Gllover)
The good news, is that not only does Skull Island: Reign of Kong continue Universal’s era of incredible queues, it becomes the first to take a page from the Halloween Horror Nights playbook and be extremely creepy as well. A good queue sets up a ride’s story and atmosphere, and Skull Island takes that to the next level. The giant facade alone, with seemingly thousands of skulls strewn about and a giant ape head made carved out of rock, is something pretty intense for the theme park world. Inside, the queue gets even better. Today we are going to look at six reasons we love the Skull Island queue, including some details many guests may miss when walking through. So sit back, grab a banana, and let’s start our countdown with…
# 6 – Reference to Revenge of the Mummy
Kongfrontation was an opening day ride for Universal Studios Florida back in 1990, and was based more or less around the King Kong film from 1976. Like Jaws, this was an iconic Universal ride that many guests fondly remember to this day. Kongfrontation closed in 2002 to make way for The Revenge of the Mummy. As with many recent attractions, Mummy has several tributes to Kong in both the queue and attraction itself. In an Inception-like nod, Skull Island has a reference back to Revenge of the Mummy. As guests load onto the ride vehicle, to their right will be several skeletons. One of these skeletons is just like one of the skeletons that rise up and attack guests in the Mummy’s impressive throne room sequence.
Back in March, Universal started teasing their upcoming Kong attraction through the Myth Explorer web series and blog featuring Erin Ryder. In several of her updates, the 8th Wonder Expedition Company was seen or mentioned. In the Skull Island attraction, right before guests grab their 3D glasses, they will be able to see a crate stamped with this mysterious group’s logo. Many Universal fans, including Your Humble Author, believe Universal should have a full line of 8th Wonder Expedition Co. merchandise available. As of this writing, there is nothing.
Eighth Wonder Expedition Co. Hopefully soon to be seen on t-shirts, hats, Tervis tumblers, and pressed pennies. Hey, a guy can dream can’t he? (photo by Travis Terrell)
This week’s SATURDAY SIX is a special FATHER’S DAY SPECIAL, paying tribute to all our favorite dads at Walt Disney World and the Universal Orlando Resort. After a challenging week in Orlando, we here at the SATURDAY SIX headquarters think it’s time for some lighthearted fun. With tomorrow being Father’s Day, it’s about time we gave a little attention to all the dads we see in Walt Disney World and the Universal Orlando Resort. So sit back, put on your favorite pair of dad jeans, and let’s begin our list with…
# 6 – WALT DISNEY: The Father of All Theme Parks
What else can we say about Walter Elias Disney? Without him we wouldn’t have the glorious theme parks we enjoy today and instead would be suffering in the shoddily made and poorly themed rides that make up America’s amusement parks. Even worse, we may have been forced to go to places like museums and libraries to actually learn something. I think I speak for us all when I say UGH. However, thanks to a visionary genius like Walt Disney creating Disneyland – and then improving upon with Walt Disney World – we all get to enjoy one of the most amazing pieces of entertainment in the entire world.
Unlike most of our hobbies and interests, theme parks are a place we can go with the whole family and enjoy our time together. The theme parks are one of the very few places you can go where no matter who you are, you are accepted. It just doesn’t matter what size you are, what race you belong to, what religion you pray to, your sexual orientation, or handicap you have. If you’re in a theme park, you are in a safe place. We all owe an unpayable debt to Walt Disney, as his foresight led to us being able to enjoy places that completely transport us away from the real world – and all of its problems – into an alternative reality where everything is as we wish it would be. A world in which the good guys always win. A world where we can fly. A world where our wishes come true.
Walt was also the father to Diane and Sharon Disney. We all know the story that it was Walt watching his daughters play in shabby amusement parks that inspired him to create something better. Something the whole family could enjoy. (photo by Brandon Glover)
This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons We Love Universal’s Portofino Bay Hotel. Currently, the Universal Orlando Resort has four on-site hotels, with a fifth (Sapphire Falls) opening later this summer. Disney has three classifications for their resorts: Value (including Pop Century), Moderate (Port Orleans Riverside), and Deluxe (Contemporary). Universal also has three levels: Preferred (including Royal Pacific Resort), Prime Value (Cabana Bay Beach Resort), and Premier, which is where the Portofino Bay Hotel resides.
Portofino Bay Punch – Bacardi superior, Bacardi ‘O’, banana liqueur, blackberry brandy, orange juice, cranberry juice, pineapple juice, and a splash of Bacardi 151.
First, a little backstory. Steven Spielberg can be considered one of the main “architects” of the entire Universal Orlando Resort. Universal Studios Florida, the park which started it all, was built on the back of films that Spielberg either directed (Jaws, E.T.) or was a producer on (Back to the Future, An American Tale, Twister, Transformers). While the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is the current draw to Islands of Adventure, it’s Spielberg’s Jurassic Park that sits directly in the middle, and the iconic Jurassic Park visitor center is the first thing you see in the park when coming out of the Port of Entry. It’s only natural that when Universal was putting together Islands of Adventure back in the 1990s that they would pick Spielberg’s brain about ideas for the new onsite hotel they would also be developing.
Spielberg’s suggestion was for the new hotel to be inspired by the classic feel of Portofino, Italy. Loews took that idea and ran with it, faithfully recreating a classic Mediterranean fishing village by the lagoon, as well as representing the luxury of many high end Italian hotels on the inside of the resort. Portofino Bay and its 750 rooms can be considered the flagship resort of Loews at Universal. Today we are going to look at several of the reasons we absolutely love Portofino, including what may be the best themed room in all of Orlando. So sit back, put on The Three Tenors as background music, and let’s begin our list with…
# 6 – The Pools
A little while back we took a trip to Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort and fell in love with their Fuentes del Morro Pool. The Beach Pool at Portofino blows away the one at Caribbean Beach and joins the elite of Orlando pools including Stormalong Bay at the Yacht & Beach Club, and the Nanea Volcano Pool at the Poly. There are a lot of activities surrounding the main pool, including a children’s water play area (complete with pirate ship), pool tables, ping pong, a giant checker board, a fantastic pool bar (with tons of seating and a great menu), two hot tubs, a sandy beach and more, The pool itself is an impressive fort-like structure you can walk around in, a grotto you can swim through, and a great slide.
The Beach Pool at Portofino Bay.
Lounge chairs are everywhere.
There are two other pools at Portofino, including the impressive Villa Pool. Located near the Beach Pool, this area includes even more lounge chairs, 16 cabanas, a hot tub and a plunge pool. Just a gorgeous area with maybe the best pool bathroom area in the entire state of Florida. The third pool is a true quiet pool and located on the other side of the resort.
The Villa Pool, straight out of a Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous magazine.