This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Things We Can’t Wait To See In 2017! 2016 was another unbelievable year in the theme park world, containing a wide mix of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. 2017 is already shaping up to be even more amazing. We have a new immersive land that promises to eclipse what Disneyland has done with Cars Land and Universal with Diagon Alley, a new President being added to the Hall of Presidents, and the first of its kind “water theme park.” If that doesn’t get your blood pumping about the next 12 months you may actually be a Host from Westworld, but for the rest of you, here’s some of the things we can’t wait to see, starting with…
# 6 – Pandora: The World of Avatar (Animal Kingdom)
Our long national nightmare is almost over. First announced on September 20, 2011, Pandora: The World of Avatar is nearing completion. Disney is saying “Summer 2017” for this new land, and is going on record saying it is the most immersive area in any theme park. Just from what we can see from what rises over the construction walls and the Blogger-In-The-Sky helicopter camera shots, the land does look STUNNING. The info we’ve been given on the bioluminescent plants in the area along with the experience in the Na’vi River Journey make both seem like “wow” moments. Last year, this fine blog did question what Pandora will be doing in the areas of food and merchandise, two extremely important factors a theme park land needs to deliver on to satisfy its Return On Investment (ROI). These are also two areas that Disney has not released much info on for Pandora. We all know that Avatar the movie – by far and away the most financially successful film in the history of cinema – never really figured out a way to get its fans to buy merchandise the way that Star Wars, Marvel, Harry Potter, and even Star Trek have.
Na’vi River Journey. (photo courtesy of Disney Parks and Resorts)
One of the most exciting things about Pandora is that it appears the land will be using projection mapping on its incredible rock work. This is something that has never been mentioned by Disney over the course of the Pandora project, but Johnny-on-the-spot bloggers have seen this technology being tested. Your Humble Author thinks projection mapping is one of the areas that Disney is heads and tails above anyone else in the industry right now. Whether on the castle in the Magic Kingdom, the Great Movie Ride facade in DHS, or the jaw dropping Tree of Life Awakens shows at Animal Kingdom, Disney’s use of projection mapping in the parks is amazing.
What looks to be testing for projecting mapping on the rock work in Pandora. (photo by @Blog_Mickey)
# 5 – Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon (Universal Studios Florida)
Last year Universal fans lost Twister…Ride It Out! along with its Bill Paxton performance that was so mailed in he should have put a stamp on it. In Twister’s place will be the upcoming Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon. One of the most underrated aspects of this change, is that the attraction takes place in the New York area of Universal Studios Florida, so it is a perfect fit. There are many who do not like Fallon’s broad sense of humor, but his Late Night TV dominance shows there is most likely a much larger group of people who love what he brings to the table (Your Humble Author included). While there have been some debates on how the “flying theater” ride mechanics will actually work, one thing we do know is that Universal is trying something truly different with how people experience the attraction’s queue.
Much like how Dumbo at the Magic Kingdom allows kids to play in a themed area until it is time to ride, Race Through New York looks to have things for adults to do while waiting. There will be a woman’s quartet singing songs, a chance to check out classic bits from from Fallon’s Tonight Show run (including Lip Sync Battle), write your own “Thank You Notes” at an interactive desk, and even get a meet and greet with the Tonight Show’s mascot, Hashtag the Panda.
Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon is designed to get guests to laugh, and comedy is one thing Universal is very good at delivering on. From the criminally underrated Horror Make-Up Show to the non-stop gags in Springfield USA, be prepared to bring your smile when stepping into Universal Studios Florida.
Race Through New York starring Jimmy Fallon concept art.
Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon in Universal Studios Florida. (photo by @bioreconstruct).
This week’s SATURDAY SIX looks at Marvel Superhero Island. This is a big weekend for Marvel. The critically acclaimedCaptain America: Civil War hits the theaters in what looks to be a MASSIVE debut. We here at the SATURDAY SIX offices have been counting down the days since the movie was officially announced in October 2014. So to honor this momentous occasion we’re putting the spotlight this week on MARVEL. Despite Disney owning Marvel, the only* Marvel in Orlando right now is over at the Universal Orlando Resort. Now Universal inked their exclusive deal with Marvel back when no one wanted to touch the comic book company with a ten foot poll. Marvel had destroyed their own comic business by catering to speculators along with signing away their characters to awful movie deals out of their control. The recent Fantastic Four movie from Fox – the one that scored 9% on Rotten Tomatoes, wasn’t even the worst Fantastic Four movie ever made (this one is.) But that’s all in the past. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is better than ever (with a Pixar-like run of 13 good-to-great films) and Universal did the characters right over in Islands of Adventure. So sit back, watch your language, and let’s start our countdown with…
We have to start off with the Sentinel of Liberty himself, Captain America. In the last 100 years Captain America has played an important part in our culture. His creators (Joe Simon and Jack Kirby) made a character to fight the growing menace of Nazi Germany. The first Captain America comic book came out in December 1940, a full year before the attack on Pearl Harbor. At the time there was a segment of America that didn’t believe we should enter the war, but the very first issue of Captain American had our star spangled superhero socking it to Adolf Hitler on the cover, making it perfectly clear how Simon and Kirby felt. After World War II ended, the popularity of many superhero titles waned, with Captain America himself getting canceled by 1949.
In the 1960s, when Stan Lee and the rest of Marvel Comics were creating a whole new era of heroes with Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, and Iron Man, Captain America was brought back to lead the Avengers. We all know the story now, that he was a man frozen in time, literally, thawed out to lead Earth’s mightiest heroes. Captain America has been a staple of the Marvel comic book Universe ever since.
Remember those awful movie deals Marvel signed back in the day? Well Hollywood also made a Captain America movie, which of course: stunk (and that’s being generous.) The general consensus was that you couldn’t make a good Captain America film. The character was too square, too goody-two-shoes for a world which now wanted anti-heroes like Wolverine and the Punisher. Well, that all changed with the release of Captain America: The First Avenger. The sequel, Winter Soldier, is generally considered one of the best superhero films ever made (in Your Humble Author’s opinion, it’s not even close. #TeamCap)
The First Avenger. (photo by Brandon Glover)
# 5 – CAP DINER
This may surprise you, because the overall food selection at Cap Diner may make you long for the haute cuisine available at your average counter service restaurant at the Magic Kingdom. However, Cap Diner has two things going for it that make it a Must Do place for any Marvel fan.
The Million Dollar View. Cap Diner has a lot of seating both inside and outside, with most of the tables having an unbelievable look at the rest of Islands of Adventure. Here you can relax and look out into a picturesque setting that includes Hogsmeade Village, Mythos, and even Sneetch Beach over in Seuss Landing.
Million dollar view. (photo by Brandon Glover)
It’s actually more of an Avengers restaurant than one based on Captain America. This actually may be heartbreaking for any Disney fan trying to find the loophole for any character not being used by Universal because there are so many just in this restaurant. You have the big hitters like Thor, Iron Man and Ant-Man, but also a slew of Marvel characters that, up until recently, only hardcore Marvel Zombies would recognize, like the Black Knight. It’s absolutely incredible to see some of these characters outside of a comic book store. Imagine a Disney restaurant filled with characters from The Black Cauldron and Meet the Robinsons – that’s the level of depth the restaurant mines. This is a restaurant which features The Absorbing Man. ‘Nuff said true believers.
Black Panther and Ant-Man inside Cap Diner. (photo Brandon Glover)
This week’s SATURDAY SIX looks at Ways Disney Can Introduce MARVEL Characters into the Theme Parks. Yes, April Fool’s Day was yesterday, but believe it or not the this-can’t-possibly-be-real news stories started earlier last week when word started getting out that Disney was considering a Guardians of the Galaxy overlay to the Hollywood Tower of Terror attractions in Disneyland and Walt Disney World. You may be thinking, “No way! That’s insane!” but on the latest episode of the Disney Dish podcast, Jim Hill and Len Testa lay out exactly why Bob Chapek (chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts) at least wanted to explore this very idea.
Guardians of the Galaxy Hotel. (photo by Mike Sperduto)
Bellhop Groot. (photo by Matt Cleary and Mike Sperduto)
Public reaction to the Guardians of the Galaxy overlay was – to put it politely – overwhelmingly negative. In fact, because of the virulent reaction there is almost no chance this overlay makes it to Florida, but never say never when it comes to the Tower of Terror in Disney’s California Adventure. We here at the SATURDAY SIX headquarters were at first taken aback by this idea, in part because the Tower of Terror took first place in our poll on The Greatest Attractions at Walt Disney World. But then we got to thinking. What if Disney did try to think “outside the box” when it came to introducing Marvel characters in the theme parks? More importantly, how could they do it in the cheapest way possible? We think we have some ideas. As luck would have it, six ideas. So sit back, put down your copy of the Spider-Man Clone Saga, and let’s begin our countdown starting with…
# 6 – Howard the Duck takes over Stitch’s Great Escape
Remember how we mentioned that Tower of Terror came in first in our expert’s list of Best WDW Attractions? Well, guess which attraction took first place in our poll on Worst WDW Attractions? You guessed it: Stitch’s Great Escape. What do you get to overlay one of the all time worst reviewed theme park attractions? Why one of the all time worst reviewed comic book movies. Please welcome Howard the Duck. To put into scale how poorly received Howard the Duck’s movie was, consider that the recent Batman V Superman film took a beating by the critics, scoring a miserable 29% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Howard the Duck sits at 14% fresh.
We have to hurry on this one though. Howard the Duck had a cameo in the recent Guardians of the Galaxy movie. When the Guardians team up with the Avengers in the Infinity War (which is expected in either part 1 in May 2018 or part 2 in May 2019), he may be considered part of the Avengers extended family. If that happens, he could become off limits to the Orlando parks thanks to Universal’s contract with Marvel.
This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at the Six Best Attractions at the Universal Orlando Resort. We invited distinguished theme park experts from all over the world to come together and decide – once and for all – what the six best attractions are at the Universal Orlando Resort. Unfortunately, they were all busy. So instead we would like to introduce to you an all star, blue ribbon panel, made up of Universal experts. These include members of some of the greatest Universal websites (including Orlando United and Orlando Informer), the best Universal podcasts (including Parkscope and the Unofficial Universal Orlando Podcast), the most amazing Uni photogs (including Mike Sperduto and Brandon Glover), high ranking officials of the Theme Park Illuminati (such as Len Testa and Jim Hill), fan favorite park icons (including Scarlett Litton and Mark Diba), and the man who literally wrote the book on Universal, Seth Kubersky. We used a total of 25 individuals, in honor of Universal’s upcoming 25th Anniversary.
SATURDAY SIX staff crunching numbers.
The Criteria: Each of the 25 experts voted on what they consider to be the six best attractions at the Universal Orlando Resort. These attractions could be any ride or show currently in Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios Florida. Special event shows – such as Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure or the Blues Brothers Christmas Show – were not eligible. Each attraction listed would be awarded ONE point, except for the attraction that the voter ranked in his #1 spot – that received TWO points. The votes were then sent to a top secret location in Florida and counted no less than 22 times (we’ve had some problems in the past. Sorry, Mr. Gore). The results are in, and we now proudly present….
The DEFINITIVE GUIDE to the SIX BEST ATTRACTIONS at the UNIVERSAL ORLANDO RESORT.
# 6 – MEN IN BLACK: Alien Attack (14 Points)
MEN IN BLACK: Alien Attack. (photo by Mike Sperduto)
Jim Hill, JimHillMedia.com – Steven Spielberg was supposedly the guy who came up with Universal Studios Florida’s original catch phrase (“Ride the Movies”). But MEN IN BLACK: Alien Attack was the first theme park attraction that really did allow guests to ride a movie. To immerse theme park visitors in this hyper-detailed environment that then tried to replicate the specific look & feel of a particular motion picture. So much of what Universal Creative has since been celebrated for when it comes to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, it first did with the April 2000 opening of this 70,000 square foot attraction. From the exterior to this enormous show building (which replicates the observation towers of the New York State Pavilion that played such an important part in the finale of the original Men in Black movie) to the insane level of detail found in this attraction’s queue (e.g., being able to listen in on the “worm guys” as they take their coffee break) to how interactive the actual “Alien Attack” ride is all by itself… The sheer ambition of MIB:AA is still kind of mind-blowing. And then when you factor in that upwards of 2200 Guests are able to experience this USF attraction every hour … Well, is it any wonder that the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) decided to give Universal Creative an Outstanding Achievement award in 2001 for all the great work that it did on this interactive, genuinely immersive attraction?
This week’s SATURDAY SIX looks at the Top Six Photo Connect Experiences at Universal. I personally feel that the Photo Connect Star Card is – hands down – the best value in any of Orlando’s theme parks. For $59.95 you get every on-ride photo, every meet and greet photo, all the special Photo Connect “hot sets” like Sneetch Beach in Seuss Landing and the Daily Bugle front page photo at the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Manand any picture taken by one of the photographers in front of the parks. I can talk about the Star Card package all day long, so just do yourselves a favor and buy it for your next trip to the parks. Anyhoo, here’s a look at the top six Photo Connect Experiences at the Universal Orlando Resort…
# 1 – Transformers Meet and Greet
Transformers: The Ride-3D, itself, is incredible, but the attached Supply Vault gift store is no slouch, either, offering a ton of unique and exclusive Transformers merchandise (including the chocolate Allspark, EVAC action figure, and pressed pennies). But what might be the biggest “wow” moment overall is meeting the Transformers, themselves. Located directly across from the attraction is a special Photo Connect picture area. Completely themed to the government run N.E.S.T. look that the ride building has, this area allows you to meet and take pictures with Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, and Megatron. Seeing these incredible walk-around characters in person is one thing, but seeing them walk around is another. Jaw dropping. Rumor is that Universal spent over $20,000 for each one of these suits, and you can see every single penny spent.
Be sure to head to the Photo Connect counter after having your picture taken to ask for the special Autobot and Decepticon borders that can be added onto the pictures.
This week’s Saturday Six looks at the Top Six “Secrets” of Marvel Superhero Island at Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Now most people know about the Stan Lee cameos in the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man ride but there are many of surprises and secrets spread throughout this incredible land.
# 6 – It has some of the best photo ops in the entire Universal Orlando Resort
Right now there isn’t anything in entertainment hotter than the Marvel brand. Still basking in the success of the incredibly popular Avengers and Iron Man 3 films, The Wolverine was a worldwide hit both financially and critically, and two of the most talked about movies at this summer’s San Diego Comic Con were next year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past and the sequel to the Amazing Spider-Man. The comic book arm of Marvel Comics has just launched the big Infinity storyline, while over in the world of television, one of the most anticipated shows of this upcoming falls season is Agents of SHIELD.
With meet and greets becoming a larger part of the theme park experience every year, you’ll be glad to know that Marvel Superhero Island has several opportunities to interact with characters. The X-Men’s Wolverine, Storm, Rogue, and Cyclops come out for pictures and autographs, as well as Captain America. However, the best pictures can be taken with the Marvel villains who come out: Spider-Man’s arch nemesis the Green Goblin and the Fantastic Four’s main baddie, Dr. Doom. The Goblin character is just plain creepy, and his sinister look and poses with guests make for some fantastic photos. Meanwhile guests can get creative with Dr. Doom, leading to some very fun interactions!
But as good as the pictures you can get with “the bad guys” are, the best photo-op in the island, the park, and maybe the entire Universal Orlando Resort itself, is with Spider-Man. Like all the other attractions that use 3D, there are no on-ride photos for the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man attraction. This year Universal added a new Daily Bugle photo op that is part of the Spider-Man standby queue (guests using the Express Pass line do not have the opportunity to have this photo op), but everyone really wants a picture with ol’ Web Head, right?