Posts Tagged ‘Universal’

Photo Update: Universal Orlando’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort Garden Bridge Construction

by on March 14, 2014

Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort Garden Bridge is under construction (photos by Seth Kubersky)

Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort Garden Bridge is under construction (photos by Seth Kubersky)

Last month, I brought you pre-construction photos of the pedestrian path that guests of the Cabana Bay Beach Resort will use to walk from Universal Orlando‘s newest hotel to CityWalk and the theme parks. Since then, I’ve received exciting new details on designs for the Cabana Bay Beach Resort Garden Walk, which will eventually supercede the existing sidewalks in the area.

The walking path on the north (westbound) side of Hollywood Way will have to serve temporarily for guests unwilling to take the provided shuttles buses during the hotel’s initial opening phase. The walk, which I documented in a video, is entirely navigable at this time with the exception of a crosswalk and traffic signal at the final intersection, which could be easily added before Cabana Bay’s first guests arrive at the end of March.

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Complete Guide to Universal Studios Mardi Gras 2014 UPDATED

by on March 12, 2014

Universal Studios Mardi Gras 2014 guide

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!]

Background

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.

 

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SATURDAY SIX: Six Reasons To Check Out Universal’s Mardi Gras 2014

by on February 22, 2014

This week’s SATURDAY SIX covers Six Reasons To Check Out Universal’s Mardi Gras Grand Celebration. The Universal Orlando Resort knows how to throw a party and Mardi Gras is their wildest celebration of the year. Universal’s Mardi Gras brings in big name musical acts, authentic New Orleans food, and a party atmosphere like no other and on top of it all the price is included in the price of regular admission.  If you need more reasons than that to attend, here are an additional six.

Please remember to click on any picture to see the full size version.

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Daughtry (photo courtesy of Chad Evetts)

# 6 – The Concerts

The music acts that Universal books for the Mardi Gras Grand Celebration are second-to-none in the theme park concert world.  While the Epcot Flower Power series of concerts will be featuring acts like Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Village People and Chubby Checker – people  you may have literally heard a thousand times before – this year’s Mardi Gras concert lineup includes a mix of classic and contemporary artists. Daughtry, Barenaked Ladies, Weezer and The Roots are just a few of the musical acts that will be headlining this year’s event. There’s also country stars like Gavin Degraw, classic rock groups like Foreigner and Lynyrd Skynryd, and even a Christian rock band with Skillet. Whether it’s Nelly, Collective Soul, or Huey Lewis and the News, you can pretty much count on Universal delivering an act you want to see perform.

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Universal Studios Florida Mardi Gras 2014 Parade Video and French Quarter Food Photo Gallery

by on February 19, 2014

Opening night at Universal Studios Florida Mardi Gras 2014 parade food (photos & video by Seth Kubersky)

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.

First, a quick correction to our earlier Complete Guide to Mardi Gras. The original parade route map published on Universal Orlando’s Mardi Gras Parade page was incorrect (it has since been fixed). The parade actually makes a loop, entering and exiting at Esoteric Gate near the Horror Make-Up Show. Here is the corrected map (click to enlarge; the Mardi Gras Parade route is the red dotted line):

Mardi Gras Parade Map

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Universal Orlando Cabana Bay Pedestrian Bridge Construction Begins

by on February 11, 2014

Cabana Bay pedestrian bridge

All photos by Seth Kubersky

The first phase of Cabana Bay Beach Resort opens on March 31, 2014, and while Universal Orlando‘s first value-priced hotel will have plenty of amenities (like a 10 lane bowling alley) it won’t have water taxi transportation to the theme like the original three Loews-operated resorts. Universal will provide bus transportation from Cabana Bay to the main parking hub, but many guests will find it quicker and more convenient to walk to the attractions. In order to accommodate them, construction began last week on a new Cabana Bay pedestrian bridge, which will permit safe passage across Hollywood Way at Adventure Way.

 

This bridge sparked a bit of controversy in Orlando last year when the city council voted to fund the project’s $9 million dollar construction cost from a special taxing fund in the name of “public safety.”

Universal Orlando Cabana Bay pedestrian bridge

This corner will soon be the site of Universal Orlando’s Cabana Bay pedestrian bridge.

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Video: New Beetlejuice Show Debuts at Universal Studios Florida

by on February 11, 2014

Universal Studios Florida's new Beetlejuice show video February 8.

Universal Studios Florida’s new Beetlejuice show opened February 8.

“It’s showtime!”…again at Universal Studios Florida, as a brand-new Beetlejuice show debuted on February 8, barely a month after the previous version of Beetlejuice’s Graveyard Revue closed in early 2014. The new production still teams up updated incarnations of Universal’s Classic Monsters with the “ghost with the most” (originally portrayed by Michael Keaton in Tim Burton’s 1988 supernatural comedy) for a rock ‘n’ roll karaoke concert.

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.”

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Universal Dining: Emeril’s Tchoup Chop at the Royal Pacific Resort

by on February 11, 2014

TchoupChop_SignI’m a big fan of all three of Universal’s on-site hotels but the Royal Pacific Resort is definitely my favorite. Even though I have been going to the hotel for years, I have always eaten my meals at the parks or at CityWalk. After having a terrific breakfast buffet experience at the Islands Dining Room earlier last year, I realized I needed to start checking out all the eateries at the Royal Pacific. First I tried lunch and drinks at Jake’s American Bar, followed by the Royal Pacific’s Character Breakfast (also at Jake’s). In January of this year, Emeril’s Tchoup Chop made some major changes by bringing in a new chef de cuisine, Ryan Vargas, and completely updating their lunch and dinner menus. Seth Kubersky wrote an article on the TouringPlans blog recently that explored the new menu, and that sealed the deal for me. I needed to try Tchoup Chop ASAP.

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Universal Orlando CityWalk Antojitos Review

by on February 9, 2014

Universal Orlando CityWalk Antojitos review

Our Antojitos review is in, as Universal Orlando CityWalk’s newest restaurant opens its doors.

After months of construction and speculation, and a week of soft-opening service, Antojitos Authentic Mexican restaurant officially opened to the public on February 5, 2014, as the newest dining upgrade in Universal Orlando’s ongoing CityWalk overhaul. I was among the few journalists invited to taste-test the menu last month, and since the first public seating I’ve dined there three times, including the grand opening media party. While I haven’t yet eaten everything on the menu, I have sampled enough to provide this preliminary Antojitos review, which we’ll refine as the restaurant finds its rhythm.

Atmosphere

As you’ll instantly notice from the photographs, Universal’s replacement for the former Latin Quarter restaurant isn’t some sedate hacienda.

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SATURDAY SIX: Six Things We Wish Theme Park Fans Would Stop Complaining About

by on February 1, 2014

This week’s SATURDAY SIX looks at Six Things We Wish Theme Park Fans Would Stop Complaining About. It’s hard to believe that in a land full of fantastical theme parks, luxurious hotels, and wonderful memories filled with pixie dust that people could have anything to complain about. But they do. In fact, after a thorough investigation the Saturday Six staff has compiled a list of 548,321 complaints, and that’s just in the Florida parks. Today we’re going to look at the six of most prevalent complaints and say “STAHP!”

StarbucksMickey

If you thought Talking Mickey was a hit, wait till Barista Mickey makes his debut….

# 6 – “They are building too many Starbucks”

Out of nowhere, Starbucks has seemed to have taken over the theme park world in Florida. The first step in theme park world domination for the coffee brand? The beloved Main Street Bakery at the Magic Kingdom. Starbucks then moved over to Epcot and replaced the Fountain View Cafe, complete with a hidden Communicore logo to appease the hardcore fans. Two more Starbucks are coming to Downtown Disney, and it is rumored that locations will be opening up at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom, as well. Not to be outdone, the Starbucks location over at Universal’s CityWalk is moving from its second floor No-Man’s-Land location down onto the ground level, and Island of Adventure’s Arctic Express has been converted into a Starbucks, as well.

What’s going here? The answer is simple. People love Starbucks. Period. The Starbucks brand is strong enough that it can charge a premium price for a drink you can get almost anywhere else cheaper, and have people lining up for it. While the Main Street Bakery certainly wasn’t hurting for business before, it’s easy to see how successful the ones at Downtown Disney and Universal will be compared to what they are replacing. The new Starbucks locations are in prime real estate and will be all but printing money.

If these Starbucks locations were McDonald’s, you could make a case that there are better restaurants all over either property. If the locations were Dunkin’ Donuts you could make a case that there are better bakeries around. But no one at Disney or Universal is doing a better job than Starbucks at making good coffee and, as far as we know, the world didn’t end when the first Grande Latte went out.

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First Look: New Menu at Emeril’s Tchoup Chop featuring Robata Grill

by on January 23, 2014

Emeril's Tchoup Chop new menu Robata grill

An updated sushi bar is just one of chef Ryan Vargas’ new changes at Emeril’s Tchop Chop

Since it opened with Loews Royal Pacific Resort hotel in 2001, Emeril’s Tchoup Chop has established itself as one of the best upscale eateries at Universal Orlando Resort. To kick off 2014, my favorite happy hour hangout has shaken things up in a serious way, with a new chef, new front-of-house management, new flavors, and a new high-tech tool in the kitchen. We’ll be returning in the future for a fully detailed review of Tchoup Chop’s new menu choices, but for now here’s a small taste to whet your appetite.

New chef de cuisine Ryan Vargas (a veteran of Four Seasons and Ritz Carltons in Hawaii and Palm Beach) came on board in October, but only recently introduced his completely revamped menu. The emphasis is still on “Asian-inspired island cuisine”, but there are a variety of new appetizers and entrees, an expanded sushi selection, and a brand-new specialty cocktail list.

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