Posts Tagged ‘Universal’

Dani’s Best Week Ever February 18, 2016: Universal Mardi Gras

by on February 18, 2016

Ed – You already know Best Week Ever, but we have some new Best Week Ever authors. Why limit who can describe having the best week ever when you have two wonderful ladies who can do it? Welcome, Dani!

Hello everyone and welcome to another edition of Best Week Ever. I am excited to share the BWE spotlight and take you along on my adventures through all of Orlando’s theme parks. I’ve spent my entire life in Orlando and have always had a passion for travel and tourism. By day I work in the hotel industry, by nights and weekends I roam throughout Central Florida enjoying all there is to offer.

Enough with the introductions, laissez le bon temps rouler (let the good times roll!) it’s time for my first visit to Universal Mardi Gras for 2016, the first of many I can assure you. I visited on Sunday, Valentine’s Day, ready to meet up with some great folks and check out some Barenaked Ladies (the band of course!) However, the night before Miss Diana Ross graced the Universal Mardi Gras stage and drew quite the crowd. I read horror stories on Twitter about the parking garage during the mass exodus after the concert being backed up and disorganized, leaving guests stuck in traffic for an hour. A game plan was in order.

A taste of things to come, a popular and crowded Universal Mardi Gras

A taste of things to come, a popular and crowded Universal Mardi Gras

I decided I would rather spend a little bit of money to valet park at one of the on-site hotels and enjoy a nice drink and an appetizer at one of the hotel restaurants in order to reduce the cost of valet parking. To be certain of my options I called up the hotel (407-503-2000) and the friendly operator explained that valet parking is validated at The Palm Restaurant, Velvet Lounge, and The Kitchen. Valet parking is not free when you dine here, but reduced from $23 to $5. Since The Palm and Velvet Lounge don’t open until 5pm, I decided upon The Kitchen (open from 7:00 AM – 10:00 PM).

If you are a local or are driving in from an area hotel, prepare for traffic, especially from 2:00 PM onward. Mardi Gras takes places on the weekends, so that in itself makes it busier. Couple that with much of the festivities taking place in the afternoon and evening, plus some decent headlining concerts, and you’ve got a recipe for traffic congestion. That’s exactly what we found on our way, coming from the Northeast side of the Orlando area. We took a back way, Conroy Road to Vineland Road, which leads to Universal Blvd.

Pulling up to the hotel was a breeze. I told the bellman we were coming in for some food and drink at The Kitchen and confirmed that by doing so we could get the valet parking validated. The outside entrance of the Hard Rock Hotel is beautiful, the inside lobby however has never really impressed me. Still the resort has an irresistible energy.

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The lesser known rides at Universal Orlando

by on January 27, 2016

It’s clear that Universal Orlando has cornered the market on thrilling, exhilarating rides. When you want exciting experiences, Universal Orlando is the clear choice. But there is more to Universal than thrill rides, and we often overlook the smaller, more minor attractions here. Especially with the closure of two of Universal Studio’s minor attractions: Disaster! and Twister Ride It Out! (both names ending in exclamation points I might add), it can be easy to forget the small collection of less thrilling rides.

Kang and Kodo’s Twirl ‘n’ Hurl

It seems that the spinner style ride is a must-have when building a theme park. It all started with the iconic Dumbo the Flying Elephant in Disneyland in 1955. Ever since that time it has become a staple of theme parks to have at least one of this type of ride in its line-up.

At Universal Orlando two spinner rides are offered, both with a little added touch. Twirl and Hurl came onto the scene when the World Expo area received a makeover courtesy of The Simpsons. After The Simpsons Ride took over for Back to the Future, the turf of the Simpsons was expanded to include multiple eateries, midway games, and this spinner ride.

Pay close attention to the signage throughout the ride’s queue and exit, as well as the audio messaging. I love the names of the ride vehicles, each flying saucer has a unique, pun laden name such as Mai Tai Fighter or Ronald Ray-gun. Additionally, the extra touch here are the targets around the circumference of the ride. As you spin through the air aim, your vehicle up or down to line up with the targets of varying heights. If you line it up just right you’ll cause the targets to spin accompanied by silly sound effects.

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Universal Orlando’s CityWalk is Reborn

by on January 15, 2016

Universal Orlando’s CityWalk hasn’t always been much of a draw for many visitors. It was often viewed as the place that you have to walk through in order to get to the parks. By contrast, it is actually the catalyst for me becoming a Universal Orlando Annual Passholder. I spent so much time enjoying the restaurants (I’m looking at you Margaritaville), bars (oh the stories we could tell about Cigarz) and nightclubs (yes, I do love to shake my groove thing).  Whenever I said I was going to “Universal” I’d be referring to CityWalk. But it is no secret that a revamp was needed.

Other than replacing the no-one-is-going-to-miss-it NBA City, the new and improved CityWalk has arrived. Let’s talk about some of the highlights of the reborn CityWalk.

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The original restaurants are keeping it fresh

CityWalk has welcomed a wave of new restaurants over the past two years, but there are three restaurants from the early days that are still going strong. What’s more is these restaurants have updated their menus within the past year or so. Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Cafe compares to no other when it comes to transporting patrons to the tropics. Margaritas and boat drinks, burgers, seafood, and sweets are waiting to be enjoyed. Radio Margaritaville DJ, JD Spradlin broastcasts live Wednesdays – Sundays 11:00 AM – 3:00 PM, live musicians strum their guitars on the Porch of Indecision in the early evening, and a live band rocks the house on the main stage inside after 9:00 PM, so there’s always something to entertain you.

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Universal Crowd Calendar Report – November 29 to December 5, 2015

by on December 8, 2015

How did the Universal Crowd Calendar do last week?

How did the Universal Crowd Calendar do last week?

If you prefer visiting parks with little to no crowd it doesn’t get much better than Universal Orlando last week. The Universal Crowd Calendar predicted that the resort would be around a crowd level ‘2’ all week and that is pretty much what happened. Some days crept up to a level ‘3’ and Wednesday dipped down to a ‘1’ but every day was a great day for low crowds.

Let’s look at how the crowd levels stacked up each day last week on the TouringPlans.com Universal Orlando Resort Crowd Report:

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SATURDAY SIX THANKSGIVING SPECIAL: Six Reasons for Theme Park Fans to Give Thanks in 2015

by on November 26, 2015

This week’s SATURDAY SIX  is our annual Thanksgiving Special and takes a look at Six Reasons for Theme Park Fans to Give Thanks. 2015 was another great year to be a theme park fan, and for this Thanksgiving we are going to take a quick break from all the turkey, football games, and Black Friday planning to count our blessings and thank the parks and resorts we love so much. So, for one day only, we ask that all Disney and Universal fans put aside their differences and spend a moment appreciating all the wonderful things that we can share together, starting with…

# 6 – Selfie Stick Ban at Walt Disney World

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no_more_selfie_sticks_pamphlet_sethIf you noticed any #Millenials or narcissists wearing black armbands this summer, it was because after banning selfie sticks on Disney attractions earlier in the spring, Walt Disney World completely banned the use of selfie sticks at the parks. Seemingly out of nowhere, the edict came down right after another high profile news story of Disney California Adventure’s California Screamin’ roller coaster being stopped mid ride because of a guest using a selfie stick. On June 26th, WDW guests were given a pamphlet at the parking plaza explaining the selfie stick ban, signage was displayed on the walkways to the parks along with bag check explaining the new policy.

The selfie stick ban was definitely a controversial move to be sure. Universal had earlier become more strict on preventing selfie sticks on rides, but Disney outright stopped people from even entering the park with them. Now we joked earlier about only kids and narcissists using them, the truth is that selfie sticks have become increasingly popular across almost all demographics. While people using selfie sticks inside the parks can be a nuisance, they were starting to become a serious safety factor on attractions. You may have seen what is called an Envelope of Protection as Imagineers test out the attractions. This device makes sure that all the attractions are safe for every rider, basically simulating the possible reach of every guest in the ride vehicle. This is why while it may seem like your may lose your arms in Space Mountain if you hold them up during the ride, but in actuality you are nowhere close to hitting anything. What the Envelope of Protection doesn’t take into account though, is guests holding on to anything that extends their reach.

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SATURDAY SIX: Yes, Even MORE Extreme Eats at the Universal Orlando Resort

by on November 21, 2015

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Even MORE Extreme Eats at the Universal Orlando Resort. We’re fast approaching Thanksgiving, the official holiday of glorious overeating. As most of you know by now, we here at the SATURDAY SIX headquarters are big fans of Extreme Eats at the theme parks. Long ago we passed the line of adventurous foodies and into the realm of  gluttony for the sake of gluttony. And guess what? We’re heading back for more! So sit back, be careful as this article is the literary equivalent of a case of 5 Hour Energy (unfortunately just all of the side effects and none of the benefits), and let’s begin our countdown starting with…

# 6  – Big Pink Donut (Springfield, USA)

Our first stop has to be in Universal’s Springfield USA, home of the Krusty Burger, the Clogger, and Lard Lad Donuts. The giant Lard Lad figure and his gigantic donut (a fun reference to the Big Boy restaurant mascot) stand out even in a land of outrageousness. But what stands out even more is the  Lard Lad Big Pink Donut. The size of a human head, the Big Pink Donut is incredible to see in person, and even better to eat!

As Homer Simpon once said, “Donuts. Is there anything they can’t do?”

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Now THAT’S a donut!

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Encased in glass, like all fine works of art. (photo by @AmusementBuzz)

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The SATURDAY SIX News Desk: Bait You Can Click On

by on October 17, 2015

This week’s SATURDAY SIX is a very special one as we dust off the blue blazer and step behind the SATURDAY SIX News Desk. What a week. If you’re like us you’ve been too busy watching the return of The Walking Dead on AMC, the Cubs and Mets winning their playoff series, and Donald Trump being Donald Trump. However we’ve been informed that a whole lot of stuff happened in the theme park world in the past week. So we took a page out of our old college playbook and pulled an all-nighter, cramming as much information as we could into our brains so that we could report back to you, Dear Reader, with all the relevant facts (and before we forget it all tomorrow). So sit back, feel confident you’re getting updated by someone who is kind of a big deal in the Eastern seaboard theme park blogging circles, and let’s begin our countdown starting with…

# 6 – Mulch, Sweat, and Shears Plays Its Last Show at DHS.

Heaven needed a cover band.

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“So it goes.” – Kurt Vonnegut (photo by Matt Cleary)

This week, popular* live musicians Mulch, Sweat and Shears played their final show ever at DHS. Mulch joins Sounds Dangerous, the American Idol Experience, the Legend of Jack Sparrow, the Studio Backlot Tour, and the Magic of Disney Animation as attractions permanently removed from the park. This came just days after the popular** Duffy the Disney Bear meet and greet had its last day in Epcot. Toy Story Land and Star Wars Land can’t get here soon enough to stop the blood letting in DHS (and if I were Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular or One Man’s Dream I would lease, not buy). As for Duffy, maybe he can take Journey Into Imagination with Figment along with him in his journeys.

*At least in the Len Testa household

**At least in Japan

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Six Experiences We Need at CityWalk, Part II

by on October 9, 2015

Last time, we discussed what new restaurants we want at Universal CityWalk Orlando as it continues to evolve on its never-ending quest for Floridian dominance. This time, we’re going to tackle the shopping experiences, the side of the equation that has typically – and sadly – gotten the short shaft at the entertainment complex.

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Image © Universal

Unsurprisingly, there’s plenty of opportunity here to make CityWalk positively golden.

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Six Experiences We Need at CityWalk, Part I

by on October 4, 2015

CityWalk has seen a major transformation happen at the breakneck speed that only Universal can accomplish. Over the past three years, new entertainment options have been added (Hollywood Drive-In Golf), old venues have been given the sleek and modern touch (Universal Studios Store and Starbucks), and a whole bevy of new restaurants have been unfurled (ranging from The Hot Dog Hall of Fame and Antojitos Authentic Mexican Food to The Cowifsh Sushi Burger Bar and Cold Stone Creamery). And, most impressive yet, there’s still several more dining options on the way, including the almost-open NBC Sports Grill & Brew and a rumored dessert venue.

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Image © Universal

Still, despite this nearly-complete makeover, there’s always room for extra experiences to be snuck in; Universal still has quite a way to go before it is representing most of the important entertainment bases, let alone competing with the diversity of options that Disney is lining up for its imminent Disney Springs.

With this in mind, lets look at some ideas of what Universal should be keeping its eye on for the immediate future. Whether culinary or retail-oriented, there’s one common denominator linking all our suggestions: a special uniqueness which would help differentiate these offerings from everything already in Orlando. The below suggestions would also help draw a distinction between what is largely being called CityWalk 2.0 from Disney Springs.

You should know that the below are a wishlist of things that I think would add to the already great offerings at CityWalk. Similar to the post that Erin Foster wrote about Disney Springs, these are based on my opinion, not rumors.

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Universal Orlando Photo Update: September 22, 2015

by on September 22, 2015

Welcome back to another photo update around the Universal Orlando Resort. This week we’ll start things off with a look at the installation of the sign on the exterior of NBC Sports Grill Brew. Over at the Studios, the archway has been decorated for Halloween Horror Nights. That’s just the tip of the iceberg for HHN coverage this week since there’s plenty of new props and merchandise to look at. Over at Islands of Adventure, we’ll take a look a look at King Kong and a Toon Lagoon shop under refurbishment. All that and much more, so let’s get going.

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Welcome to Universal Orlando.

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The facade of NBC Sports Grill Brew is now finished.

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