This week’s SATURDAY SIX is a very special one. A little over a year ago I was introduced to the Disney Hipsters podcast via the TouringPlans Podcast Network and I became an immediate fan. They are refreshingly different from the seemingly hundreds of Disney podcasts out there that just recite Disney press releases and while they have a true passion for Walt Disney World they never shy away from pointing out the bad along with the good. When they announced their first ever trip to the Universal Orlando Resort earlier this year, I couldn’t wait to get their unique perspective on the theme parks and staying onsite after years of being “Disney Only” fans. Today Disney Hipster Adam Ferretti is here to examine six of the assumptions they had about Universal before going on the trip and whether or not they held up after the vacation. As always, clicking on any picture will open up its full size version, so with that out of the way I will see you, Dear Reader, at the end of the article and hand the reigns over to Adam…
The Disney Hipsters, Andrew and Adam, with Krusty the Clown.
As Disney nerds going into Universal, we had tons of preconceived notions on what to expect. We thought we would discuss six of those assumptions.
ASSUMPTION # 6 – Universal Team Members Would be Inferior to Disney Cast Members
This assumption was very wrong. As a rule, the team members were super friendly, helpful and amazing. We expected the customer service aspect and general employee/guest interactions at Universal to be less than great. We ended up being really surprised by the enthusiasm of the team members at both the parks and our resort (Royal Pacific.) This was especially true of performers inside both Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida.
Universal pays their team members a bit better (we have heard) and gives them more freedom when doing their jobs. This results in guest interactions that come off as way more genuine along with performances that were truly engaging (check out the hosts of Disaster or the Horror Make Up show for great examples.) Disney is more controlling on Cast Member behavior, including what they can and cannot say. Sometimes this makes Cast Members seem like they’re faking it, resulting in their performances being generally stale and boring (see The Great Movie Ride).
Universal’s Horror Make-Up Show. (photo by Trygve Nelson)
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This week’s SATURDAY SIX looks at the Top Six Gift Shops at Universal Studios Florida. Until recently, gift shops were seen as a necessary evil at our favorite theme parks – annoyances that many people 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?”
Thankfully, over the past several years gift shops at Universal 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 look forward to experiencing. Here now, a look at 6 of the best gift shops at Universal Studios Florida.
“Thank you, come again!”
# 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!,” and “C’mon! If you owned a store we’d buy your junk!” 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.
The walls and outside windows of the Kwik-E-Mart are laden with ads for fake 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 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 with 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.
With a pressed penny machine, the Big Pink donut, and lithographs of the hilarious attraction posters such as Captain Dinosaur’s Pirate Rip-Off (a jab at Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride), the Kwik-E-Mart is a must-do for any Simpsons fan.
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