Universal has been busy over the past few weeks getting ready for the upcoming opening of Diagon Alley in Universal Studios Florida. Universal Orlando Close Up, an official blog dedicated to the Universal Orlando Resort, quietly made its debut, and the blog has had several stories that have unveiled concept art for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley, the headliner attraction Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, and even a video showing the goblin animatronics that will be in the queue of this sure-to-be amazing E-Ticket.
Concept art for Diagon Alley with Gringotts Wizarding Bank taking center stage
There has also been some concept art revealed – courtesy of the Orlando Business Journal – that contains major story and ride elements of Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. Consider this a spoiler warning before reading ahead at your own risk.
The Piccadilly Circus fountain has arrived at Universal’s Wizarding World (photos by Seth Kubersky)
Orlando experienced some wild weather last week, but the torrential rain didn’t stop progress on Diagon Alley, as the Wizarding World of Harry Potter expansion at Universal Orlando accelerates towards rumored soft openings at the end of this month. In today’s edition of PotterWatch, we feature the installation of the famous Piccadilly Circus Fountain in front of the the London Waterfront, and a new Today Show Harry Potter Sweepstakes starting next week.
Piccadilly Circus Fountain
The final major component of the London Waterfront, as featured in published concept art of the area, arrived recently, as a stunning replica of the Piccadilly Circus fountain was mounted in front of the Wyndham’s Theatre facade.
Diagon Alley’s London Waterfront facade is approaching the finish line at Universal Orland (photos by Seth Kubersky)
April has turned to May at Univeral Orlando, and progress marches on towards the debut of Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida. Attraction employee training begining later this month, and it’s rumored that contractors must complete their work by the 20th. As work accelerates towards the finish line, we can see new features — like some stunningly detailed London lampposts — and finishing touches appearing daily. Meanwhile, over in Islands of Adventure, Honeydukes has expanded into Zonko’s space next door. Most excitingly, we have the inside word on a recent employee-only Harry Potter merchandise and food preview, unveiling brand new items that will be offered in the expanded Wizarding World.
Diagon Alley London Waterfront Lampposts
Here’s a recent look at progress on Diagon Alley and the London Waterfront:
When you get tired of relaxing by Cabana Bay’s pool, use this transportation guide to get to Universal’s theme parks (photos by Seth Kubersky).
Cabana Bay Beach Resort, the newest Loews-operated on-site hotel at Universal Orlando, only opened at the end of March, but if you’ve been following our coverage – from my mega-sized photo gallery from opening day to Derek Burgan’s Saturday Six devoted to the property – you may feel like you’ve already stayed there. One aspect of Universal’s first moderately priced hotel that many readers have asked for more information about is the transportation options available to guests of Cabana Bay. As you may have heard, Cabana Bay does NOT offer water taxi service like Universal’s original 3 luxury properties. So I spent a recent sunny afternoon testing various methods of getting from the hotel to the parks (and vice versa), in order to bring you this comprehensive Cabana Bay transportation guide.
Parking at Cabana Bay
Cabana Bay doesn’t offer valet parking, but that deficit is offset by a $10 daily self-parking rate for hotel guests, which is significantly cheaper than parking at the other Universal hotels. Parking lots ring the hotel, so you can park right alongside your room. Unfortunately, high parking rates for non-guests ($8 for 5 to 30 minutes, $20 for 30 minutes to 24 hours) make it expensive for locals to drop in and knock down some pins at the Galaxy bowling alley.
Contrary to popular belief, this is not a sign for the FP+ kiosks at WDW
This week’s SATURDAY SIX covers Our Six Favorite Jokes in Universal’s Springfield U.S.A. Universal Studios Florida has received a lot of attention over the past two years. The park fixed many of its most glaring weaknesses by adding a new daytime parade, a nighttime spectacular, a new E-Ticket in Transformers: The Ride 3D, an incredible family ride in Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem, and of course will shortly be debuting the first ever park-to-park attraction with the Hogwarts Express that will travel to what could possibly be the most immersive land in the history of theme parks with Diagon Alley (keep up to date on all the Potter construction with Seth Kubersky’s PotterWatch articles.)
And while all of this is no less than exciting, throughout all these developments one area of the park has quietly become one of our favorite places in Orlando: Springfield U.S.A. The Simpsons Ride has been a favorite of many since its debut in 2008, with the television show’s trademark sarcastic wit taking its aim at the world of theme parks. Now the area is a completely developed land with a second attraction, a Photo Connect opportunity, elaborately themed carnival games, an outdoor bar in Duff Gardens, and some of the best quick service food items in any theme park including Fast Food Boulevard, Bumblebee Man’s Taco Truck, and Lard Lad Donuts.
But what makes Springfield U.S.A. stand out is the clever use of jokes and humor throughout the entire land. Today we’re going to look at our six favorite bits.
# 6 – Kwik-E-Mart Merchandise Signs
The Kwik E Mart says what we’ve all been thinking since 1971
When you step into the Kwik-E-Mart, the gift store for The Simpsons Ride, you would be best served by walking around and noticing all the details throughout the store. Our favorite gags are the clever signs above some of the merchandise saying things like, “C’mon, if you ran a store I’d buy your junk!, “Satisfaction begrudgingly guaranteed,” and “Today’s merchandise at tomorrow’s prices!”
Exciting new Hogwarts Express details revealed by Universal Orlando.
As even the most unobservant Muggle probably already knows, Universal Orlando is opening a major expansion of their hit Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions this summer, and one of the most anticipated elements of the additions is the new Hogwarts Express train, which will link the existing Hogsmeade Village in Islands of Adventure with the new Diagon Alley in Universal Studios Florida. Today, Friday March 14, Universal is releasing new Hogwarts Express details, and thanks to Touring Plans’ friend Jim Hill we are happy to be among the first to bring you the news, including some details you won’t find in the official press release.
Here are some exciting new officially confirmed facts about the upcoming Hogwarts Express attraction:
Universal Studios Mardi Gras Grand Celebration starts on Feb 8, 2014.
Today we tackle one of my favorite theme park topics: the annual Universal Studios Mardi Gras Grand Celebration. Universal Studios Mardi Gras holds a special place in my heart because, back in the late 1990s when I worked in Universal Studios Florida’s entertainment department, I was a talent supervisor for the parade, and got to walk with it nightly. (I’ll never get “Iko Iko” or “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” out of my skull.) So I’m thrilled to share Touring Plans’ complete guide to Universal’s bead laden bacchanalia, bringing you all the info you need to laissez les bons temps rouler!
[UPDATED 3/12/14: Scroll down for late-breaking news on the Mardi Gras extension and rescheduled Robin Thicke concert!]
Mardi Gras originated in the religious observation of “Fat Tuesday” (the literal translation of the name), which is the day before “Ash Wednesday” on the Catholic calendar, and the start of Lent’s 40 days of dietary restrictions. People would bid “farewell to flesh” with a “carnivale” where they would indulge in the meat and drink they were about to forswear. Mardi Gras is the New Orleans, Louisiana, variation on this tradition — which is echoed in other cities from Venice, Italy to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Over the centuries, the religious significance has been stripped away, and most Mardi Gras revelers attend for strictly secular reasons — namely, epic quantities of booze, beads, and bare breasts. About 20 years ago, Universal took a look at the festivities and said, “This will make a fine family friendly event,” and amazingly it is — minus the bare breasts, of course. But that doesn’t mean it’s inauthentic; much as Universal partnered with Macy’s for its holiday parade, Universal engages Blaine Kern Studios, the same company that’s been building floats for the real deal since 1947, to create the park’s parade platforms. And musicians and recipes imported from the Big Easy add to the French Quarter feel. Of course, the real Bourbon Street doesn’t have concerts from big-name recording artists after each parade, much less a high-speed roller coaster cruising by in the background.
Opening night at Universal Studios Florida Mardi Gras 2014 (photos & video by Seth Kubersky)
Fat Tuesday may not arrive until March 4, according the the Catholic calendar, but Mardi Gras is already in full effect at Universal Studios Florida. Opening night on February 8 of Universal’s Mardi Gras 2014 celebration included a concert by American Idol star Daughtry, and the premiere of new Jules Verne-themed floats in the 2014 Mardi Gras Parade. Even intermittent rain didn’t diminish the considerable crowds who came out for Mardi Gras 2014‘s damp debut, though slick streets did ground the stiltwalkers.
Derek Burgan will be back in the coming weeks with a couple Mardi Gras-themed “Saturday Six” columns, but until then I wanted to bring you a virtual taste of the festivities.
It’s been chilly and wet in Central Florida lately, but that hasn’t stopped progress on The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando. For this week’s edition of PotterWatch, we’ll start with the recent removal of Lost Continent games in Islands of Adventure, then take a look at the latest Diagon Alley construction in Universal Studios. Finally, we’ll finish with the newest rumor about Hogwarts Express testing.
The newly revamped version brings back Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster and his Bride, and the Wolfman, along with their eponymous host. Added to the mix are Cleo and Phantasia, feminine reinterpretations of the Mummy and the Phantom of the Opera, along with two pairs of backup dancers in ghoulish getups. Naturally, all the music has been changed up, and now focuses on 1980′s vintage pop, including the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams,” Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal,” The Romantics’ “What I Like About You,” and The Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian.”