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)
This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six MORE “Easter Eggs” at the Universal Orlando Resort. One of our favorite parts of both Universal and Walt Disney World are all the wonderful details that make these fully immersive theme parks stand out from everyone else. In our first look at Universal Easter eggs, we saw a pair of actual Mickey ears on Twister….Ride It Out!, the Jaws references in Diagon Alley, Dennis Nedry’s Barbasol can in Jurassic Park and more. Today we are going to look at six more details that even guests who has been to Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure several times may not have noticed. Remember that clicking on any picture will bring it up in full size, keep your head on a swivel, and let’s start counting down…
# 6 – Back to the Future’s Doc Brown in The Simpsons Ride queue (USF)
There is absolutely nothing we like better in new attractions then when they pay tribute to the ones that they replaced. We love the hidden Nautilus in the rock work of Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid at the Magic Kingdom, referencing the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride that was formerly in the area. Revenge of the Mummy in Universal Studios Florida has several images of King Kong during the ride, a tribute to Kongfrontation. In 2008, The Simpsons Ride replaced Back to the Future: The Ride, but it actually created a backstory for the change and put it inside the queue.
Doc Brown and the “Institute of Future Technology” (facade for Back to the Future: The Ride)
If you stand in line for The Simpsons Ride, you will notice televisions throughout playing classic clips from The Simpsons from episodes in which the family went to theme parks. But mixed in with the old videos are several pieces of new material, including one clip explaining how the Institute of Future Technology (the facade for Back to the Future: The Ride) became Krustyland (the facade for The Simpsons Ride.)
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 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.
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.
(Fear not, we’ll be posting an updated HHN touring plan later this week in time for the next event night, based on wait-time data we collected during opening weekend. And we’ll continue refining the plan as the event progresses into October.)
Approaching the park you are now greeted by massive “tree roots” entwined around the iconic archways, framing banners representing the haunted mazes featured at HHN XXIII.
Recently, Disneyland’sIndiana Jones Adventure was unexpectedly upgraded with digital projection mapping effects that bring the opening scene’s Mara statue to life in a dynamic new way. The “plussing” of the attraction was somewhat controversial online due to the replacement of the original accompanying audio track (which was never voiced by James Earl Jones, contrary to urban legend), but the Internet buzz shouldn’t overshadow how welcome it is that Imagineering is still improving an eighteen year old E-Ticket.
That brings up the importance of the special effect, or “illusion,” in the art of the dark ride. (For the purposes of this post, “dark ride” refers to attractions where guests travel in a vehicle through a series of largely indoor environments that feature scenery and visual effects.) Dark rides predate Disneyland but were perfected by the Mouse; while a few competitors can now go toe-to-toe with Disney’s attractions in the awe-inspiring technology department, the Anaheim resort still houses the world’s greatest collection of ride-through theatrical illusions, featuring some “wow” moments that still draw gasps generations after their invention.
Welcome to a special edition of The Magic, the Memories, and Merch! Today we’re going to examine an exclusive action figure that is only sold at the Universal Studios theme parks and is based around the attraction Transformers: The Ride-3D.
Transformers: The Ride-3D was originally built at Universal Studios Singapore in 2011, followed by a Universal Studios Hollywood version in 2012, and the most recent one opened in Orlando on June 20th, 2013. In this 3D dark ride, guests board the Autobot Evac, a character created exclusively for the attraction. Throughout the attraction, Evac interacts with many of the most well-known Transformer characters including Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Megatron, and Starscream. In many ways the Transformers attraction is the journey of Evac, who starts off as rookie and is given a trial-by-fire which eventually ends with Evac being a primary reason the Autobots save the day and defeat the Decepticons.
Amid the hoopla over the grand re-opening of Disney California Adventure, it’s easy to forget that the competition across town recently opened a fantastic new attraction of its own. Here is a preview of our review of Universal Studios Hollywood’s stunning new Transformers simulator, which will appear in the upcoming 2013 edition of The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland.
Transformers—The Ride 3-D
Our Rating: 5 stars
What it is: Multi-sensory 3-D dark ride
Scope and scale: Super-headliner
When to go: The first 30 minutes the park is open or after 4 p.m.
Special Comments: Must be 40″ to ride; single rider line is available
Duration of ride: 4 1/2 minutes.
Average wait time per 100 people ahead of you: About 3 1/2 minutes