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.
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.
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.”
Diagon Alley peep holes, Celebration videos, and Gringotts rumors in the latest PotterWatch report
It’s been just over a week since Universal Orlando‘s big Wizarding World of Harry Potter — Diagon Alley webcast reveal, but there are still plenty of surprises in store. For this edition of PotterWatch, we’ll take a look through the new Diagon Alley peep holes that Universal considerately cut in the London Waterfront’s construction wall, plus a look back at the recent Celebration of Harry Potter event via some exclusive video. Finally, we’ll finish up with a few hot new Gringotts rumors.
Diagon Alley Peep Holes
With major construction complete on Diagon Alley’s London Waterfront facade, and the scaffolding recently removed, I had feared there wouldn’t be much left to see in terms of exterior progress on the project.
James Keaton as BJ in the final performance of the current version of Beetlejuice Graveyard Revue at Universal Studios Florida (photos by Seth Kubersky)
Not every theme park attraction can be a 5-star E-ticket, but every ride and show has someone who will mourn when it’s gone — especially the cast and crew who brought it to life. Beetlejuice’s Graveyard Revue at Universal Studios Florida might not have a top rating in the Unofficial Guide, but has earned a special place in some guests hearts, judging by the very vocal crowd that packed the final performance on January 4, 2014. Universal Studios Florida’s Beetlejuice’s Graveyard Revue closed after Saturday’s 5:30 p.m. for a complete reimagining, replacing the current version of the show that has been performed since 2006.
When the Beetlejuice show reemerges later in 2014 (date unknown), it will have an all-new script and song list, along with new performers. I’m told that only two members of the current cast had their contracts renewed to perform in the new production.
Disney California Adventure is decked out for the holidays. (Photos by Seth Kubersky)
It may not have the six decades of cherished Christmas traditions of its older sibling across the Disneyland Resort esplanade, but don’t dismiss the Disney California Adventure holiday celebrations. The park has made great strides since its Cars Land-fueled rebirth last summer, and this year’s enhanced seasonal offerings are no exception. Once you’ve finished checking out my five favorite Disneyland holiday additions, tackle these top picks among DCA’s Christmas presents.
Buena Vista Street Decor and Shows
As soon as you step through Disney California Adventure’s Art Deco gates into the 1920′s era Buena Vista Street, you’ll notice the seasonal spirit in the shop windows. DCA has been criticized for redecorating the original Imagineer-designed window dispays with non-period merchandise, but the retail corridor’s holiday treatments for 2013 represent a return to form.
While Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights, and other seasonal entertainment at Walt Disney World seem to get the lion’s share of publicity this time of year, visitors to Orlando shouldn’t overlook Universal Orlando‘s holiday offerings. Universal Orlando holidays might not have quite the nostalgic lure of Mickey’s merrymaking, but Universal’s options are every bit as expertly produced, and have the benefit of all being included with regular park admission (unlike the extra-cost “hard ticket” nighttime parties at the Magic Kingdom).
Universal Orlando’s holiday lineup, which kicks off the first weekend each December (unlike Disney, which starts Christmas almost before Halloween is over) and continues through the Saturday after New Year’s Eve, consists of two main components, described in detail below.
Slow-speed Hogwarts Express testing has begun at Universal Orlando’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter (photo by Seth Kubersky)
Exciting news, Harry Potter fans: Hogwarts Express testing has commenced at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Orlando Resort! The iconic Hogwarts Express trains, which were lifted onto their elevated rails in late October, began slow-speed movement tests over the weekend.
It will still be many months before guests get to ride the Hogwarts Express attraction, which is expected to officially debut in June 2014. When complete, the Hogwarts Express will provide transportation between the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Diagon Alley expansion in Universal Studios Florida, and the original Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure.
Ordinarily, the Touring Plans team would be the first to bring you footage of the Hogwarts Express testing, but this time our friends at Orlando Attractions Magazine have beat us to the punch (blame our post-Thanksgivukha turkey & latke hangovers). Check out their video below, which also includes some shots of the London Waterfront construction, and check back here often for further PotterWatch progress updates on Universal Orlando’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Stormy Central Florida skies couldn’t keep Orlando from welcoming a little piece of Italy to town today (Saturday, November 16, 2013), as the new Red Oven Pizza Bakery opened at Universal Orlando’s CityWalk. The new quick-casual al fresco restaurant replaced Pastamore’s counter-service market, and offers a new moderately priced alternative for upscale pizza and salads at Universal Orlando.
This afternoon we were among the establishment’s first day of paying customers, and returned with the following footage to give you a first look. We’ll return to Red Oven Pizza Bakery soon for a full review, but our first impressions were very positive. All the ingredients — which include house-sliced prosciutto and hand-pulled mozzarella — tasted fresh, and the pizza crust had the perfect amount of chew and char.