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)
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?
The Christmas season is my absolute favorite time of the year. Growing up, one of the little things I loved most was getting an Advent calendar and counting down the days until Santa would be coming down the chimney. As I grew older, I had to leave Advent calendars in the rear view mirror,* but I still miss that daily countdown building anticipation to the big day. So, we’re going to start a virtual Advent calendar here at TouringPlans. For 2014, we are going to countdown our favorite drinks at Walt Disney World and the Universal Orlando Resort.
Criteria: Drinks can be alcoholic or nonalcoholic. Drinks can come from any venue on property as well as the Disney Cruise Line. Bonus points awarded for atmosphere where drink is served. Any drink with glow cubes is immediately disqualified. Ready? Let’s go!
DAY THREE: Flaming Moe at Moe’s Tavern (Universal Studios Florida)
“Hey, Homer came up with the drink, but I came up with the idea of charging $6.95 for it.” – Moe Szyslak, The Simpsons (photo by Brandon Glover)
Available in Springfield USA, the Flaming Moe became the first signature drink in Universal history that guests wanted to watch before they drank. Based on an iconic episode of The Simpsons, the Flaming Moe uses a unique dry ice effect to simulate the drink being on fire. While the Flaming Moe itself is little more than orange soda, the overall experience of seeing the Flaming Moe in action is more than enough to include it on the list.
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.
This week’s SATURDAY SIX covers the Top Six Theme Park Bars in Orlando. Reading the recent Epcot After Hours Wind Down reviews got the staff of Saturday Six thinking about the best theme park bars in town, so we grabbed our iPad and pulled up the Walt Disney World Bars and Lounges eGuide as a reference, cashed in our 30 day A.A. chips, and hit the parks to make our final judgements. What follows are the very best of your watering hole options inside the theme parks….
# 6 – Duff Gardens (Universal Studios Florida)
Some of the 7 Duffs topiaries in front of Duff Gardens (photo by Brandon Glover)
Duff Gardens is one of the newer entries in the parks, making its debut at Universal Studios Florida in August of 2013. The variety of drinks served here is limited (various Duff beers, coke products, Buzz Cola, and the Flaming Moe) but what Duff Gardens lacks in overall drink options, it makes up for in atmosphere and location. The topiaries of the 7 Duffs (Tipsy, Queasy, Surly, Sleazy, Edgy, Dizzy and Remorseful) are incredible. There is a photo op with Duffman and guests are steps away from the wonderful statue of Jebediah Springfield. There is signage within the bar that has the trademark Simpsons wit while cleverly mocking traditional beer advertisements. There is plenty of seating at the bar and there are even more tables bordering the nearby lagoon. Grabbing a couple tacos from Bumblebee Man’s Taco Truck and a Duff beer on tap from Duff Gardens is one of our favorite theme park meals.
This week’s SATURDAY SIX covers the Six Most Underrated Attractions and Shows at Universal. Let’s face, there is no shortage of great and memorable shows and attractions at the Universal Orlando Resort. We all have our favorites. The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Transformers: The Ride 3-D are three stunning achievements in the theme park world. The Incredible Hulk and Revenge of the Mummy are two insanely great roller coasters. Men In Black: Alien Attack is hands down one of the most fun interactive shooters in Orlando . Even E.T., the oldest kid on the block, still has one of the most impressive queues ever built and a ride that – in my opinion – crushes Peter Pan’s Flight. But today we’re going to look at the most underrated shows and attractions at Universal. Six things you need to add to your Must Do list on your next trip to the parks. And we’ll start with….
# 6 – Universal’s Horror Make-Up Show (Universal Studios Florida)
If you’ve never tried Universal’s Horror Make-Up Show because you’re “not into horror,” let me alleviate your fears. I was in the exact same boat and put off this show for years until a friend of mine dragged me into it because they loved movie make-up. Turns out it is a fascinating look into make-up (and special effects) of horror films and is absolutely hilarious. There are two hosts of the live show and they spend much more time on “funny” than “scary” and throw in a whole bunch of pop-culture references for the crowd to enjoy.
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.
Universal still has not released on any dates on when the Potter area will open, but we may have been given a little bit of a hint earlier this week thanks to an interview with Loews hotels chairman Jonathan Tisch. While talking to CNBC (which you can watch here), Tisch said that the upcoming 1,800 room Cabana Bay Beach Resort at Universal would be:
“The largest hotel under construction in the world outside of China. Phase One will open April 1, 600 rooms. The rest of the hotel by June, when Harry Potter 2 opens.” – Jonathan Tisch, Loews Hotels Chairman
On the Universal website, Cabana Bay is having “preview pricing” that ends on June 14, 2014. That’s another red flag that they expect demand to go up in June. Here’s an example of what type of savings you can get for a Family Suite at Universal compared to Disney. I booked out a room from April 12-18 for 2 adults and 4 children at both Cabana Bay and Disney’s Art of Animation resort. The cheapest room at Cabana Bay was $232.00 a night, compared to the cheapest room at AoA at $498.76. After taxes, this particular week at Cabana Bay would cost a family $1572.06, while AoA would cost $2992.53.
This week’s SATURDAY SIX looks at the Top Six Overall Restaurants at the Universal Orlando Resort (UOR). This was a tough list to compile, and after several agonizing hours of internal debate, I had to cut a list of about a dozen eateries down to only the best of the best. It broke my heart to not include The Kitchen at the Hard Rock Hotel, as The Kitchen Sink Challenge just may be my favorite thing I’ve ever done at the UOR. Another tough one to cut was Finnegan’s Bar and Grill in Universal Studios Florida. Finnegan’s has exceptional food offerings with reasonable pricing (the Guinness Beef Stew being a favorite) and great atmosphere. And of course anyone who has heard me on the Universal NOW! podcast knows my love for the NASCAR Sports Grille runs deep, with their pretzel breadsticks possibly being my all time favorite food.
So knowing how hard it was to get to these final six, let’s have a look at those restaurants which rose above the rest…
In a word? Wow. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is filled with jaw droppers. The Hogwarts castle facade. The Forbidden Journey queue and ride. Butterbeer. The Ollivander’s wand experience. The shop windows in Hogsmeade village. The Three Broomsticks is as good as anything in WWOHP. From the great Sirius Black wanted poster outside, to the wonderful decorating and atmosphere inside, to the peaceful outdoor seating area, and of course the menu.
Whether it’s a “traditional English breakfast” in the morning featuring black pudding and English bacon to the lunch/dinner menu with roasted potatoes, corn on the cob, Shepherd’s Pie, and Fish & Chips, The Three Broomsticks has items that most counter service restaurants at the park don’t offer. It is also one of the only places in WWOHP that you can get a pumpkin fizz, so make sure you add a meal at The Three Broomsticks to your next visit to IOA.