Universal Orlando Resort

Halloween Horror Nights 24: From Dusk Till Dawn Added to Lineup

by on July 16, 2014

HHN23_FromDuskTillDawn

Photo provided courtesy of Universal Studios

After previously announcing that AMC’s The Walking Dead would return for its third straight year at Halloween Horror Nights (the first brand of any sort to accomplish that feat,) Universal added Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn series to the list of 8 haunted houses that will make up HHN 24.

Many know the From Dusk Till Dawn brand thanks to the original 1996 film which was directed by Robert Rodriguez, written by Quentin Tarantino, and featured George Clooney in his first major movie lead role. From Dusk Till Dawn went on to have two straight-to-video sequels (the second of which stars Robert Patrick, who played the T-1000 character in Terminator 2) and has recently been revived into a television show on the El Rey network.

The haunted maze at HHN 24 will be based on the From Dusk Till Dawn television show, featuring characters and locations from the first season’s 10 episode run.

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The Magic Next Door: Universal Orlando Resort

by on July 12, 2014

Universal Orlando Resort: A Basic Primer for Walt Disney World Vacation Veterans

Friends, vacationers, locals… lend me your comically over-sized souvenir mouse ears! Most of you like the Walt Disney World Resort, and for good reason. But, dear reader, let me tell you about another place. A wonderful place. A place where you can squeal and fawn over little jellybean men in overalls and not feel weird because everyone else is doing the same thing. That place… is the Universal Orlando Resort.

 

Universal Orlando Resort

Copyright – Universal

There are some people out there who might tell you that there are Disney Folk and Universal Folk, and that never the two shall meet. But, dear reader… that just ain’t so. It doesn’t matter what your family is composed of or how much coffee you drink out of your oversized novelty Donald Duck Mug. If you like roller coasters, Universal Orlando Resort has something for you. If you like great food, the resort has something for you. If you like dinosaurs and wizards, swashbuckling and dancing, beach chairs and tornadoes… it has something for you. Below you’ll find a brief summary of the Universal experience, from the events it hosts to some very important ways it differs from the House of Mouse.

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SATURDAY SIX: Six Surprises of Universal’s Hogwarts Express

by on July 12, 2014

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Surprises of Universal’s Hogwarts Express. With the opening of Diagon Alley this week, most of the headlines have been focused on Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. Whether it’s the incredible animatronics inside the queue, the amazing ride itself, the seemingly never-ending outdoor portion of the extended queue, or the oft-reported downtime, much of the week’s conversation has been spent on the newest E-Ticket attraction at Universal Studios Florida. However, right next door to Diagon Alley another ride opened on the same day with almost no issues, but has received much less fanfare. Maybe it’s a case of the squeaky wheel gets the oil, but for our money the Hogwarts Express was one of the most wonderful additions to the Wizarding World expansion.

The Hogwarts Express is the first attraction in theme park history to go from one park to another. With all the details in the King’s Cross and Hogsmeade stations along with the ride itself, this edition of the SATURDAY SIX is going to look at six of our favorite surprises of this newest attraction, starting with…

# 6 – Live Musicians in King’s Cross Station

HE_music2

A saxophone player that would make Bleeding Gums Murphy and Lisa Simpson proud (photo by Brandon Glover)

The word you are going to see in pretty much every review of anything related to the Wizarding World at Universal is authenticity, and one small touch that adds so much depth to the experience of King’s Cross is the live musicians that play as you walk into the queue. You can hear men and women playing violins, guitars, and saxophones as you enter the cavernous building. All that’s missing is a hat to leave tips in.

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PotterWatch: Hogwarts Express and Diagon Alley Soft Openings

by on July 6, 2014

Diagon alley soft opening

Regular guests get their first look at the Universal’s newest Wizarding World during the first day of Diagon Alley soft openings (photos by Seth Kubersky)

Nearly a month after construction walls came down around Universal Studios Florida‘s London waterfront, PotterWatch finally paid off this past week, as regular guests were finally allowed to experience Universal Orlando‘s new Harry Potter attractions in advance of the expansion’s July 8 official opening. Hogwarts Express began “technical rehearsals” on July 1, and the first Diagon Alley soft openings started on July 3.

While the Gringotts ride is not available during these previews, all shops, restaurants, and shows in Diagon Alley should be open to guests on a daily basis until the grand opening on July 8.

As congested as these photos may appear, this is nothing compared to how busy Diagon Alley will be once opening day officially arrives. With minimal queues to enter the area, and posted standby waits at Hogwarts Express of 30 minutes or less, this is an ideal time to experience Diagon Alley without the crushing crowds that are surely coming right around the corner.

Check out these front-line photos from July 3, documenting the first few hours after ordinary visitors were first allowed to experience the new Wizarding World:

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Ollivanders Interactive Wands REVIEW

by on July 3, 2014

 

Ollivanders interactive wands review

Some of the new models of interactive wands available in Ollivanders at Diagon Alley. (photos by Seth Kubersky)

As PotterWatch wraps up with the approach of Diagon Alley’s July 8 official opening date, I’m proud to present Touring Plans’ first in-depth review of the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions. During the recent VIP preview week, I spent nearly 12 hours exploring the expansion at Universal Studios Florida, and was the only member of the media to successfully ride the Gringotts attraction three times. I’ve distilled that first-hand experience into the following Ollivanders interactive wands review, which will appear in edited form in the 2015 edition of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, as well as other affiliated titles.

Bear in mind, the following opinions and information are based on a preview of the attraction, and is subject to change once the area is open to the public. BEWARE: Minor spoilers ahead.

Ollivanders Wand Shop and Interactive Wands

4 STARS

APPEAL BY AGE

  • PRESCHOOL 4 stars
  • GRADE SCHOOL 5 stars
  • TEENS 4 stars
  • YOUNG ADULTS 4 stars
  • OVER 30 3 1/2 stars
  • SENIORS 3 1/2 stars

What it is Combination wizarding demonstration and shopping op.

Scope and scale Major attraction.
When to go Just before or after riding Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts.
Special comments Audience stands.
Authors’ rating Enchanting; 4 stars.
Duration of presentation 6 minutes.
Probable waiting time per 100 people ahead of you 7 minutes.

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Hogwarts Express REVIEW [Minor Spoilers]

by on July 2, 2014

Hogwarts Express review

All aboard the Hogwarts Express at Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter. (photos by Seth Kubersky)

As PotterWatch wraps up with the approach of Diagon Alley’s July 8 official opening date, I’m proud to present Touring Plans’ first in-depth review of the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions. During the recent VIP preview week, I spent nearly 12 hours exploring the expansion at Universal Studios Florida, and was the only member of the media to successfully ride the Gringotts attraction three times. I’ve distilled that first-hand experience into the following Hogwarts Express review, which will appear in edited form in the 2015 edition of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, as well as other affiliated titles.

Bear in mind, the following opinions and information are based on a preview of the attraction, and is subject to change once the area is open to the public. BEWARE: Minor spoilers ahead.

Hogwarts Express

4 1/2 STARS

 

APPEAL BY AGE

  • PRESCHOOL 4 stars
  • GRADE SCHOOL 5 stars
  • TEENS 4 stars
  • YOUNG ADULTS 4 1/2 stars
  • OVER 30 4 1/2 stars
  • SENIORS 4 stars

 

What it is Transportation attraction with special effects.
Scope and scale Super-headliner.
When to go Immediately after park opening.
Special comments Expect lengthy waits in line. A park-to-park pass is required to ride.
Authors’ rating A moving experience; Not to be missed; 4 1/2 stars
Duration of ride 4 minutes.
Probable wait­ing time per 100 people ahead of you 7 minutes.
Loading speed Moderate.

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Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts REVIEW [Minor Spoilers]

by on July 1, 2014

 

gringotts review

A panoramic view of the majestic Gringotts bank lobby. (photos by Seth Kubersky)

As PotterWatch wraps up with the approach of Diagon Alley’s July 8 official opening date, I’m proud to present Touring Plans’ first in-depth review of the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions. During the recent VIP preview week, I spent nearly 12 hours exploring the expansion at Universal Studios Florida, and was the only member of the media to successfully ride the Gringotts attraction three times. I’ve distilled that first-hand experience into the following Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts review, which will appear in edited form in the 2015 edition of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, as well as other affiliated titles.

Bear in mind, the following opinions and information are based on a preview of the attraction, and is subject to change once the area is open to the public. BEWARE: Minor spoilers ahead.

 

Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts

5 STARS

APPEAL BY AGE

  • PRESCHOOL 2 stars
  • GRADE SCHOOL 4 stars
  • TEENS 5 stars
  • YOUNG ADULTS 5 stars
  • OVER 30 5 stars
  • SENIORS 4 stars

What it is Super-high-tech 3-D dark ride with roller coaster elements.
Scope and scale Super-headliner.
When to go Immediately after park opening or just before closing.
Special comments Expect loooong waits in line; 42″ minimum height requirement.
Authors’ rating The ultimate realization of “Ride The Movies!”; Not to be missed; 5 stars
Duration of ride 4 1⁄2 minutes.
Probable waiting time per 100 people ahead of you 4 minutes.
Loading speed Moderate-Fast.

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PotterWatch: Hogsmeade Interactive Wands and Vacation Package Previews

by on July 1, 2014

PotterWatch is rounding its final corner and racing into the home stretch, as we are now one week away from the July 8th grand opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter — Diagon Alley. Hardcore Potterwatchers have been camped out in Universal Studios Florida for weeks, but aside from special vacation package previews, there have be no public soft openings of the area yet. That doesn’t mean there aren’t magical developments across the resort, as Hogsmeade interactive wands have quietly made their debut.

 

Hogsmeade Interactive Wands

As we’ve previously reported, storefront windows around Hogsmeade have been quietly upgraded over recent months with new special effects triggered by the interactive wands that will be sold inside Diagon Alley’s new Ollivanders shop. As of early this week, almost all of those windows were made functional, and guests can now practice casting spells in advance of Diagon’s big debut.

hogsmeade interactive wands

Interactive wands are now available and active inside Hogsmeade at IoA.

 

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Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley REVIEW and Touring Tips

by on June 30, 2014

Diagon Alley lies waiting just behind this London facade. Are you prepared to face it? (Photos by Seth Kubersky)

Diagon Alley lies waiting just behind this London facade. Are you prepared to face it? (Photos by Seth Kubersky)

As PotterWatch wraps up with the approach of Diagon Alley’s July 8 official opening date, I’m proud to present Touring Plans’ first in-depth reviews of the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions. During the recent VIP preview week, I spent nearly 12 hours exploring the expansion at Universal Studios Florida and was the only member of the media to successfully ride the Gringotts attraction three times. I’ve distilled that first-hand experience into the following Diagon Alley review and touring strategy, which will appear in edited form in the 2015 edition of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, as well as other affiliated titles.

Bear in mind, the following opinions and information are based on a preview of the attraction and are subject to change once the area is open to the public. BEWARE: Minor spoilers ahead.

 

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter — Diagon Alley Review

Guests approach the Wizarding World’s London Waterfront from either the San Francisco or World Expo areas of Universal Studios, at the opposite end of the park from the front entrance. Wrought iron fencing surround the park-like promenade (complete with snack and souvenir stands, and a towering statue-topped fountain) with a shoreline sidewalk along the embankment bypassing the area. Guests access London through the gateway closest to the Fear Factor Live stadium, and exit towards Disaster!

Having arrived at the London area, take a moment to spot Kreacher (the house elf regularly peers from a second-story window above 12 Grimmauld Place), and chat with the Knight Bus conductor and his Caribbean-accented shrunken head. Then enter Diagon Alley next to the Leicester Square marquee in the approximate center of the building facades. As in the books and films, the unmarked portal is concealed within a magical brick wall (which unfortunately does not actually move, due to safety concerns) that is ordinarily reserved for wizards and the like. However, the endless queue of Muggles (plain old humans) in shorts and flip- flops will leave little doubt where that entryway is.

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SATURDAY SIX: Top Six Photo Ops at Universal

by on June 28, 2014

This week’s SATURDAY SIX covers the Top Six Photo Ops at Universal. Previously we have covered our favorite Photo Connect experiences at Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure, but this week we are going to look at the six must-get photos when we walk around the parks. For first time visitors, these are the locations that are going to make you stop in your tracks and get out the camera. Some are iconic, others are breathtaking, but all are memorable and should be considered for your vacation scrapbook. Let’s start off by heading into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade Village….

# 6 – Hogwarts Express and Conductor (Islands of Adventure)

Muggles stepping foot into Hogsmeade Village for the first time are going to love the great photo op with the Hogwarts Express and interacting with the train’s conductor. Holding his enchanted pocket watch, the conductor is the go-to person with any question on Hogsmeade as he is always well versed on Potter-lore and everything within this magical land.

PHOTOOP_HogwartsExpress

Hogwarts Express (photo by Brandon Glover)

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