Take a vicarious Universal Orlando Star Wars Staycation at Cabana Bay with Best Week Ever (Photos by Seth Kubersky)
After my recent visit to New York City, I didn’t want my holiday vacation to end…and here at Best Week Ever, it doesn’t have to! Thanks to an amazing annual passholder discount, I was able to enjoy a single night Universal Orlando Star Wars staycation at Cabana Bay Beach Resort and celebrate the opening of The Force Awakens in CityWalk IMAX style. Don’t be jealous, because I’m bringing you all with me in today’s photo-filled recap.
I checked into Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort on Thursday, December 17, amid the festive retro decorations in the value-priced hotel’s Mad Men-esque lobby.
The day after Thanksgiving has become one of America’s most important secular holidays, as young and old celebrate capitalism by camping out for dirt-cheap televisions. I was also out there shopping on the big day, but in true Best Week Ever fashion I spent my Black Friday at Universal Orlando among the vacationing throngs.
I started my Black Friday shopping with a major purchase by renewing my Universal Orlando annual pass. After disconts, my Premier pass costs just under $1 per day. That’s a lot more than it was when I first became a passholder 15 years ago, but still a great value considering how quickly the parks has been adding new attractions.
Once inside Islands of Adventure, I was greeted by the still-jarring sight of the Incredible Hulk Coaster…or rather the lack thereof.
Terminator 2 3D is one of the oldest attractions remaining at Universal Studios Florida (right behind opening-day survivors E.T. and Horror Makeup Show) and rumors have swirled for years that the aging show would soon see its demise. But over Thanksgiving Week, Universal quietly debuted a new Terminator 2 3D preshow film, implying that T2/3D may be around for a few more years to come.
Following the Halloween season, Universal Studios Florida premiered four new street shows intended to entertain crowds in the absence of the recently closed Disaster and Twister attractions. It looks like Universal’s entertainment team wasn’t done yet, because you can add a fifth title to that list of new productions. Staged in San Francisco near the Chez Alcatraz bar, the new Fish Mongers acrobatic street show is so fresh that it isn’t yet listed in park map, but we were there during its debut week to bring you this front-row view of a full performance:
It’s a bargain hunter’s parade through Saturday at the Universal Orlando Garage Sale. (Photos by Seth Kubersky)
If you are in Orlando and have a theme park fan on your holiday shopping list, you’ll want to swing by the Universal Orlando garage sale before it ends on Saturday, and stock up on dirt-cheap stocking stuffers. Once every year or so, Universal unloads unsold merchandise to its employees, annual passholders, and the generous public at a ginormous discount, and 2015’s garage sale has arrived just in time for some pre-Thanksgiving bargain hunting.
The Universal Orlando Garage Sale takes place daily through Saturday, November 21, from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. daily. The event is literally a garage sale, taking place inside the first floor of the employee parking garage at the corner Turkey Lake Road and Vineland Road. The first hours of the sale on Tuesday were reserved for Annual Passholders, but now the event is open to all; I was not asked to show ID to either enter the garage or make purchases. Enter the employee parking garage from Vineland Road via Production Plaza (just past The Bell at Universal Apartments) and park on the surface lot outside the garage, then follow the signs inside.
If there is one disappointing thing about holidays at Universal Orlando it’s the fact that the festivities start so late in the season, especially by comparison. Some of the holiday celebrations at Walt Disney World started as early as November 6th this year, that means that Universal Orlando is basically a month behind. Even comparing to SeaWorld Orlando (whose Christmas Celebration is my absolute favorite holiday celebration in any Orlando theme park) Universal Orlando is two weeks behind (December 5th). So since we still are a few weeks away from the kickoff of holidays at Universal Orlando, let’s take a look at how you can get into the holiday spirit while we’re waiting.
New York and Hollywood Backlots
Here’s the good news. One of the most important parts of getting into the holiday spirit when visiting theme parks, the decorations, are practically fully up right now. Over the next few weeks the finishing touches will be put on, but enough sparkling ornaments and garland decorate the two most festive spots in Universal Studios Florida to put you in the spirit. Every year I love seeing the Christmas trees on the R.H. Macy’s facade and the delicate snowflakes on the Paradise theater facade, both in the New York backlot area. This section of the park is where you will find the big Christmas tree (though during my visit this weekend it was not yet up). While you’re visiting the New York backlot, stop in at Finnegan’s, my favorite theme park restaurant, and very festive to boot!
Collecting mementos and souvenirs can be one of the best ways to encapsulate your vacation for years to come. One of my favorite souvenirs are theme park based Christmas ornaments. No matter what time of year the visit takes place, a Christmas tree ornament is a great way to commemorate a special vacation.
I’d like to share with you some ways to make purchasing, sharing, or gifting a theme park ornament even more special. Let’s also take a look at some special theme park ornaments collected throughout the years.
One of the best ways to make a theme park ornament extra special is to get it personalized. Both Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando offer ornament personalization. At Walt Disney World nearly any ornament can be personalized. This can be done at the 12 Days of Christmas store as well as Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe at the Magic Kingdom. Just know that the closer you get to the holidays the longer the wait for your ornament. Pricing runs about $4 per word, name or date, plus the cost of the ornament.
See videos of Straight Outta Food Truck and 3 other new Universal Studios Florida street shows. (Videos by Seth Kubersky)
Between the end of Halloween Horror Nights 25, and the recent permanent closures of Disaster and Twister, Universal Orlando has said farewell to a long list of attractions in the past few weeks. But when one door closes, another opens — or in this case, four new Universal Studios Florida street shows have opened.
To be accurate, some of these shows aren’t exactly brand new; one has played seasonally at USF for years, and others have been in previews for a month or more. But Universal finally added them as official attractions on the most recent park maps, so we are bringing you a look at these entertainment additions with full videos of each new production. None are worth making a special trip to the park for, and their combined attendance won’t approach the capacity of the major rides recently closed, but all four shows are worthy of 15 minutes out of your day if you are in the area when one begins.
As a closing cast crew-member of Ghostbusters (it was my first gig at USF back in 1996) I never entirely warmed up to the show that replaced it, as the effectiveness of Twister’s effects varied widely throughout the attraction’s 17 year lifespan. But if you’re a fan of “so bad it’s good” entertainment, the aggressive ennui emanating from stars Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt was absolutely priceless, making Twister a strong candidate for Orlando’s best worst attraction.
Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville is home to the best outdoor bar at Universal Orlando’s CityWalk, and it just got better. The Lone Palm Airport Bar is an oasis beckoning passersby to come and sit in the shadow of the real life Hemisphere Dancer airplane, put their toes in the sand, and soak up the sunshine state of mind. There are some great details to be found here and the place just beckons to be the site of fun, cheerful gatherings. All new, upgraded chairs and dining tables appeared at the Lone Palm, prompting me to share my love for this pinnacle of tropical relaxation and a Parrot Head’s paradise.
The big deal with the new chairs and tables…
I am sure for the vast majority of guests, the new tables and chairs at the Lone Palm are no big deal. For me, however, someone who clocks at least 2-3 visits a month to Margaritaville’s Lone Palm, the new furniture does change the feel of this place.
The furniture at the Lone Palm has gone through a few evolutions in the Margaritaville Cafe’s 16 year history at Universal Orlando. This is the third version of furniture that I am aware of. Intially the tables and chairs were very low to the ground and basic. A very rustic, island feel.
Original Lone Palm furniture (source Margaritaville.com)
Then the tables were replaced with sturdy reinforced recycled plastic. Backless barstools with a wide base replaced the chairs. This is what I am used to and this is what I miss. The stools were very easy to maneuver, making it very easy for patrons to reconfigure the area to be more comfortable in order to socialize and gather.