Indulge your sweet tooth in this Best Week Ever update of Early Park Admission at Universal Orlando (photos/video by Seth Kubersky)
I hope you set your alarm clocks this morning, because this Best Week Ever is up and at ’em before daybreak to enjoy one of my favorite theme park perks. Early entry to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is usually restricted to Universal Orlando Resorthotel guests, but throughout January annual passholders were allowed to join to early morning crowds on weekdays. At the same time, Universal has made some tweaks to the way this popular option operates, so this past week I awoke ahead of the sun to bring you the Universal Orlando Early Park Admission update.
First, the big news about Universal Orlando Early Park Admission is that it is currently offered at Universal Studios Florida only. For most of 2015, Early Park Admission was offered only at Islands of Adventure during off-peak times, and at both parks during peak holiday periods. Early in 2016, Universal returned off-peak Early Park Admission to Universal Studios Florida only. While communications from Universal have been inconsistent about the future EPA calendar, we currently expect Early Park Admission to remain at Universal Studios Florida only until the Easter/Spring Break peak season.
Here are some other Universal Orlando Early Park Admission updates:
When Islands of Adventure opens for Early Park Admission, the Hogwarts Express usually begins operating 30 minutes before Universal Studios Florida officially opens. However, when Universal Studios Florida open early, the first Hogwarts Express train depart only a few minutes before IOA’s opening hour.
Got all that? Great! Now, let’s take a morning stroll around the parks.
Experience favorite Disney attractions in UltraHD with our new 4K ride through POV videos!
If you are a fan of the theme park news and reviews we share here on the TouringPlans.com blog, I hope you also frequent our TouringPlans YouTube channel, where we post a steady stream of clips from the Disney and Universal resorts. In case you weren’t familiar with our YouTube channel, now is a perfect time to check it out, because we’ve recently begun uploading new 4K ride through POV videos from Disneyland and Walt Disney World.
These new attraction videos have been recorded on iPhone 6S and 6S+ devices at 3840x2160p 30fps, and uploaded to YouTube at full resolution. If you have a 4K (or UltraHD) television with the proper streaming app or device, or a sufficiently powerful computer with a 4K monitor, you can appreciate the extreme detail of the clips’ native resolution.
Even if you don’t have a 4K device, these new clips should look better than ever however you watch them. On Retina iPad and MacBook displays, the 1440p resolution option looks noticeable better than standard HD, and even the 1080p version should look super-sharp thanks to intelligent down-sampling.
Here’s some of the 4K ride through POV videos we’ve posted so far, starting with a few of our favorite Disneyland dark rides:
Celebrate Star Wars at Disneyland with new Season of the Force videos and photos.
With the latest Star Wars movie breaking the all-time domestic box office record less than a month of its release, it’s pretty clear that the Force is wide awake all over America, but nowhere has the film’s impact been more evident than inside the Disney parks. I’ve already covered the newly added Star Wars attractions at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida, and recently I had the chance to fly west and compare Orlando’s offerings to their Anaheim analogues. While in California, I captured this gallery of Season of the Force videos and photo gallery to give our Disneyland-deprived readers a taste of the Happiest Place on Earth’s take on a galaxy far, far away…
Season of the Force Crowds
The first thing to know about Season of the Force is that the crowds are strong with this one! Even though the days of my Disneyland visit were predicted to have moderate attendance, Tomorrowland was packed from open to close, only becoming busier as the afternoon and evening continued. If you want to experience all the popular attractions that are part of Disneyland’s Season of the Force, get there at rope drop or be prepared to wait in line!
Entertainment in Epcot‘s World Showcase has gone through a tremendous evolution in recent years, and Canada’s Mill Stage has been an epicenter of that overhaul. It seems like only yesterday that we bid a sad farewell to Off Kilter, the long-running Celtic rock band, and welcomed (so to speak) the log-rolling Lumberjack show. Now the Lumberjacks are also long gone, and following a festive seasonal appearance by the Canadian Holiday Voyageurs, Epcot’s Canada pavilion has premiered another new act, which will fill the stage for at least the new few months. Even though they don’t even appear on park maps yet, we were at Epcot on January 15, 2016, to watch TradNation debut and capture their opening-day performance for you to enjoy at home.
TradNation has taken over Epcot’s Canada stage. (Photos/video by Seth Kubersky)
TradNation is an acoustic musical ensemble that plays Québécois folk songs with traditional orchestrations. That means a whole lot of fingerpicking, fiddlin’, flute playing, and French lyrics, with percussion provided by a spirited step-dancer’s clacking feet. Even if you aced your high school French class, you may struggle to understand the singers’ Acadian-accented patois, but the humble joy they take in sharing their musical heritage is infectious in any language.
Much like the similar Quickstep folk band in the U.K., the TradNation entertainers feel authentic to the point of lacking the polish and stage presence we usually associate with a Disney theme park show; we’re not looking for matching spangled outfits, but this group looks like they just rolled out of Tim Horton’s.
Here’s our full video of a TradNation debut day performance:
Take your last cruise around Disneyland’s Rivers of America until 2017 with closing day 4K videos. (Photos/video by Seth Kubersky)
January 10, 2016 will be remembered as a momentous day in Disneyland history, not only because it saw the permanent closure of Big Thunder Ranch, but because it marked the end of Frontierland’s Rivers of America in its current form. This scenic area of the original Magic Kingdom all all its attractions, whose designs date back to Walt’s day, will be out of service until April 2, 2017, at the earliest. When the Rivers of America reopen, it will have been downsized to accommodate the arrival of Star Wars Land, with the water rerouted along a shorter circuit. The next few years will be an exciting time of expansion at the Disneyland Resort, but before we blast into the future it’s appropriate to pay tribute to the past. If you you couldn’t make it out in person before the long reconstruction begins, relieve the Rivers of America closing day with these exclusive videos.
S.S. Columbia and Mark Twain Riverboat Closing Sailings
On the final day before the Rivers of America closing and lengthy refurbishment, I tried three times to board one of the big boats that ply the waters, and was turned away each time because of capacity crowds. That should give you an idea how popular these normally sleepy attractions were with fans saying farewell. I never did get aboard the Columbia that day, though I did capture photos of its final crew coming into port.
In my professional opinion, one of Disneyland’s greatest assets is its deep bench of minor attractions that can be enjoyed by all ages, to balance out the heavy-hitting E-Ticket rides. Accordingly, ever since I began working on the Unofficial Guide to Disneyland, I’ve been advocating for Big Thunder Ranch‘s goats as the park’s greatest under-the-radar treasure. This year, I’ll have the sad duty of deleting all references to the Ranch from the next edition of the Unofficial Guide, as the petting zoo (along with the adjacent barbecue restaurant) ended operations for good at 4 p.m. on Sunday, January 10, 2016. Of course, I had to be there for Big Thunder Ranch’s closing day — along with every annual passholder in California, apparently — to witness the end of an era.
I was wise enough to get my final scritchings in with Big Thunder Ranch’s whiskered stars on Saturday, since I knew the competition to get “last petting” bragging rights would be intense among goat groupies. Even on Saturday, the Ranch was busier than I’d ever seen before that weekend.
Say bye bye to BJ with our Beetlejuice Graveyard Revue closing day video. (Photos/video by Seth Kubersky)
The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights may have been the most beloved attraction to close so far in 2016, but it wan’t the only Orlando fan favorite to fold this week. Over at Universal Studios Florida, audiences applauded the Beetlejuice Graveyard Revue closing day cast as the boorish bio-exorcist and his monstrous bandmates went back into their tombs for the last time.
The closing day for Beetlejuice’s Graveyard Revue — also known in its latest incarnation as Beetlejuice’s Graveyard Mash-Up — came on January 5, 2016, which was extended several weeks from the orginally announced ending date by “popular demand.”
For the final day, a special evening performance was added exclusively for annual passholders. Some super-fans lined up before dawn to secure wristbands for the final show, but there were still hundreds available from USF’s Studio Audience Center in mid-afternoon.
After twenty years of warming holiday memories at Walt Disney World’s Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights has flickered out for the final time. Following a few days extension, the beloved annual tradition was extinguished for the last time ever on January 6, 2016, and we were there to capture the Dancing Lights closing seconds for you in ultra-sharp 4K video.
The last night of the Dancing Lights drew huge crowds to Disney’s Hollywood Studios during the evening. I attempted to park at the theme park around 6:30 p.m., and was redirected to Animal Kingdom instead. The busses arrived for us a a rapid pace, but the detour added at least a half-hour my trip.