This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Great Souvenirs From the Universal Orlando Resort. After two straight years of covering The Disney Outlet Stores each and every month for this fine blog, you can assume that we are pretty big fans of theme park merchandise (that or we did something awfully bad in a previous life). While exiting into a gift shop has become a running gag for many theme park guests, browsing those stores is actually something we here at the SATURDAY SIX offices look forward to almost as much as the rides themselves.
Today we are going to look at great souvenirs found at the Universal Orlando Resort. Until the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade in 2010, it was actually rare to see guests walking around with merchandise bags, but today it is more rare NOT to see someone carrying around loads of souvenirs. But how to determine the best theme park souvenir? Sparing no expense, we used the Arnim Zola algorithm (along with such factors such as price point, usage in actual movies/TV, and theme park exclusivity) to break down the best of the best on property. So sit back, relax, and let’s begin our countdown starting with…
# 6 – Bort Keychain (Kwik E Mart, Universal Studios Florida)
No one has mercilessly attacked the world of theme parks with sharper wit than The Simpsons television show. One classic moment when they turned the screws on the parks we all love happened way back in 1994 with the episode “Itchy & Scratchy Land.” One of the more memorable gags from the show was Bart Simpson running into one of the most ubiquitous pieces of merchandise at any theme park, the gift with YOUR name of it. In this instance, Bart was looking at personalized mini-license plates and found the names Bert, and Bort. What happens after is even better but the capper comes later in the episode when it is revealed the park has sold out of Bort license plates. Universal’s own Springfield USA pays tribute to that classic moment with a Bort keychain found in the Kwik E Mart gift shop.
Bort keychain at the Kwik E Mart.
They even have more personalized items with Bort!
Bort, the Kwik E Mart’s employee of the month. (photo by Darren Schmidt of the Unofficial Universal Orlando Podcast)
One of the first things I noticed that was different at Universal Orlando and SeaWorld versus Walt Disney World is the refillable mugs inside the theme parks. What I didn’t realize until after my first few months of becoming a regular Universal Orlando visitor is the substantial variety of refillable mug programs available throughout Universal Orlando. There’s four options just in the theme parks themselves, then there’s two different programs at the Universal hotels, and finally two programs inside CityWalk, oh and none of the programs can be combined. So in hopes of helping you navigate through the busy waters of all the refillable mug options I’d like to share the details of each option. I’ll also give my stance on if I think each mug is worth it or wasted.
In the theme parks
Character mugs – $15.99 / $0.99 refills
Wasted: If you or your child is a big fan of a specific character then the character mugs might be a good value for you. Personally, I think their clunkier size make them impractical for repeated, every day use. However, they certainly are unique and add to the fun of being inside the theme parks.
Regular refillable cup and Black Transformer mug – $8.99 / $0.99 refills
Worth it: If you are an Annual Passholder or will be visiting for an extended amount of days, the basic refillable cup is a good deal. The $0.99 refills are not limited to the day of purchase, so you can easily get your money’s worth considering one fountain soda is $3.19. If you use the refillable cup more than 3 times you’ll have spent your money wisely. There are also a good amount of food and beverage locations throughout the park to snag your free refills. The downside is the refills are your basic fountain drink variety, not the fancy smancy Coke Freestyle flavor selection.
This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Best Drinks, Snacks, and Food Options at DIAGON ALLEY. We are still celebrating the one year anniversary of Universal’s Diagon Alley, and today we are going to look at the unsung hero of this incredible land. No, not our favorite ride the Hogwart’s Express. No, not the love of our lives Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees. Not even the glorious dragon sitting high atop Gringotts Bank breathing fire. Forget all that stuff, our unsung hero is the new themed food and beverage items Diagon Alley brought into our lives… things we had no idea we were missing but now can’t live without! As themeparkfoodies it’s going to be pretty much impossible to narrow our list down to just the top six, but we’re going to try anyway starting with…
# 6 – Butterbeer Ice Cream
The biggest debate in theme parks right now is not who’s better between Universal and Disney, or the Raptor Experience and Val the Velociraptor, but instead it is the hotly contested debate of which style of Butterbeer is the best? Many will stand by the traditional Butterbeer, while others swear by the Frozen version. Your humble author’s opinion is that hot Butterbeer trumps them all, but there is something to be said about Butterbeer Ice Cream that made it’s debut with Diagon Alley. Available at Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlor (but the pros know to skip that line and head over to Fountain of Fair Fortune instead) Butterbeer ice cream is mostly vanilla soft-serve with swirls of Butterbeer flavoring. Like the Butterbeer drinks, the ice cream is very sweet, but it certainly feels right eating inside the Wizarding World. Now when exactly will Universal start selling a Butterbeer float?!
This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons We Love Universal’s DIAGON ALLEY. Who can believe it was just one year ago that Diagon Alley opened at Universal Studios Florida and changed the way we looked at immersive lands inside a theme park forever? When Hogsmeade Village opened in Islands of Adventure in 2010, it immediately became a gold standard and had industry-changing effects on themed merchandise as well as food and beverage. You can make a case that Butterbeer alone changed the entire future of the Universal parks by becoming such a phenomenon that it helped the $250 Million area pay for itself within six months. That immediate and unqualified success led to a fast tracking of many things, including Diagon Alley.
But could Universal Creative top Hogsmeade Village, with the iconic Hogwarts Castle facade for Forbidden Journey, interactive show stopper Ollivanders, and wonderfully detailed areas like the Hog’s Head pub? SPOILER ALERT: Yes. Yes, they did. Today we are going to look six of the many reasons we love Diagon Alley and to narrow down our list we consulted with an expert in Muggle Studies, Megan Stump. You may remember Meg from last year’s #PotterWatch, where she was on hand for 30 straight days leading up to the grand opening. So grab your favorite Pygmy Puff (or Horcrux, if you’re Voldemort) and settle in for the countdown, starting with….
# 6 – The Entrance
One of the most unforgettable moments of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was Harry’s entrance into Diagon Alley. It was his introduction to the wizarding world, but was also ours. It was something both real and fantastical at the same time. Harry entered Diagon Alley through a magical brick wall, which revealed an entrance after an elaborate shifting of the bricks. In order to accommodate more than 500 Muggles a day into the land, Universal had to be a little creative in recreating this experience. They succeeded by having guests walk through a brick wall which slowly reveals the wonder of Diagon Alley before them.
To get into Diagon Alley, guests enter the London Waterfront area to find a magical brick wall… (photo by Brandon Glover)
Potterheads Amelia Brose and Sasha Atherton enter Diagon Alley for the very first time. An unforgettable experience. (photo by Megan Stump)
Hi, Everyone! Welcome to the Best Week Ever here at Walt Disney World. And sadly, yes, the title is true. This will be my last Best Week Ever article! Remember that day job that keeps me from posting photos of myself? Well, I’ve been given an incredible promotion that will involve much more travel. While I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity, it will make it impossible to keep up with my weekly updates.
I’m so thankful to all of you that have read over the last year. I’ll still be helping out on the Touring Plans instagram account, so if you miss me you can find me there. (I know I’ll miss you!) And they’ve told me I can still stop by and post when I have time. So it isn’t really goodbye. But that’s enough sad stuff, let’s get going with all the theme park goodness from last week!
As you can tell from the photo above, I started this week at Universal Orlando. We don’t make it out that way nearly enough, but we love the parks. Arriving just after opening meant there were no crowds! It was great! I think we enjoyed the quiet morning walk as much as the park itself.
So where did we head to next? Why don’t you click to find out?
I’ve written tens of thousands of sentences in the nearly 5 years I’ve been working for The Unofficial Guide and Touring Plans, but this one is the most exciting: The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando, our first stand-alone guidebook dedicated to the home of Harry Potter, is on its way!
The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando is on its way! (Not to scale; book not shown actual size).
The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando is available now for pre-order, and is listed on Amazon.com with an August 11 release date. If you know The Unofficial Guides and Touring Plans from our Disney coverage, you may be wondering, “Why create a guide for Universal Orlando?” Well, as the author (along with co-authors Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa) of the new book, I’m glad you asked!
The short answer is that we listen to our readers, and we watch where people are spending their vacation time and dollars. Ever since the opening of the first Wizarding World of Harry Potter in 2010, and especially since the debut of Diagon Alley in 2014, interest in and attendance at Universal Orlando has exploded. Every day, more and more Central Florida visitors are choosing Universal as their primary destination, or at making it a significant sideline.
This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Theme Park Questions For the Magic 8 Ball. Theme park fans have a lot of questions. In fact, the mailbag at the Saturday Six offices is stuffed with letters from fans asking about their favorite Orlando parks. Unfortunately, thanks to TV being our babysitter growing up, our reading comprehension isn’t that great. We hired some interns to handle the mail, but they are even worse because of YouTube, Vine and Twitter (enjoy life now because we’re all doomed when this generation takes control of things.) So we did the only thing that we could do given the circumstances….we made up our own questions.
# 6 – What will Avatarland do in the area of merchandise?
A Na’vi makes the bond with 15.99% APR. (photo by Matt Cleary)
Disney has slowly been giving us information on the upcoming Avatar expansion at Animal Kingdom, including the groundbreaking ceremony in early 2014 in which Imagineers used 10 foot shovels. Several attractions have been vaguely teased, and the point is always stressed that this land is attempting to be one of the most amazing experiences in theme park history. It’s James Cameron and Walt Disney Imagineering, two of the best in the world at what they do.
However, one thing that hasn’t been mentioned at all is what kind of retail opportunities there will be in this land, if any. Avatar is the most successful movie in the history of cinema, but it does not lead itself to the traditional methods of merchandising that Universal has used for its Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The third act of Avatar is hinged on the fact that the humans have nothing to offer the Na’vi, because the natives of Pandora have no use for materialistic things. What are those materialistic things? Shirts, action figures, magnets, and pretty much anything else you would find in a theme park gift shop.
The most coveted theme park award of all… The Golden Burgy.
This week’s SATURDAY SIX presents the Inaugural 2015 Theme Park Awards. This weekend, while the rest of the world is preparing for The Oscars and spending hours watching awards given to films they haven’t even heard of, let alone watched (not to mention the outright Best Picture snubs of Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: Winter Soldier), readers of this column will be able to see their favorite theme park attractions get the attention they deserve. The Golden Burgy, theme park media’s highest award, is being handed out to the rides, shows, restaurants, and experiences that truly stood out over the past year.
Just as the Academy Awards hand out their lesser prizes before the main show, we’d like to present two of our minor awards before we get to the big ones. First, a Golden Burgy goes to the Holy Land Experience in the category of Best Theme Park Food Pun for their Garden of Eaten Chicken Salad Sandwich. Interestingly enough, Holy Land had all the nominees in this category including JerusaLamb, Land of Milk (no honey,) and My Cup Overflows Souvenir Refillable Cup. The category of Biggest Theme Park Free Fall experience was the tightest race of all the nominees. Falcon’s Fury at Busch Gardens was the favorite to win, but the coveted Golden Burgy instead went to SeaWorld’s stock price. Now that’s a drop.
With those out of the way, allow us to present to you the Inaugural SATURDAY SIX Theme Park Awards, starting with…
# 6 – Best New Ride Experience – Diagon Alley’s Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts
The rotunda inside Gringotts bank includes an incredible view. And this is just the queue! (photo by Tom Bricker)
What else needs to be said about Universal’s newest E-Ticket attraction? The queue for Escape From Gringotts is one of the best in theme park history, loaded with magical details from the Harry Potter films. There are incredible goblin animatronics and million dollar chandeliers hanging above that make the Gringotts Bank lobby almost an attraction by itself.
Unlike IOA’s Forbidden Journey’s “best of” trip through the first four Potter films, Escape From Gringotts places guests directly into events from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II. Ingeniously showing a movie scene from another perspective, Escape From Gringotts takes Universal’s motto of Ride The Movies to the next level.
Worst New Ride Experience – Being attacked by bees on Rip Ride Rocket
“Oh the humanity!” Swarms of bees attack riders on Universal Studios Florida’s Rip Ride Rockit. (photo by Mike Sperduto and Matt Cleary.)
While just a minor blip on the radar in 2014, the story of Rip Ride Rockit having a minor problem with bees was enough for us to envision the plot of a new horror film.
For Valentine’s Day lunch we couldn’t think of a better place than Kona Cafe. The food is wonderful and the setting is comfy and casual. Traffic was worse than we’d anticipated so we made it to the podium exactly on time for our 12:30pm reservation. Of course, that meant we had to wait about 15 minutes for a table. They seemed quite short staffed with several empty tables despite gobs of people waiting outside. It was nice to have the tables next to us open, though. Our appetizer of potstickers ($8.49) were super yummy and came out so quickly they beat our drinks!
Want to see what we ordered? Be sure to click to read more!