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.
Hey boys and girls, it’s movie time! Today on the Touring Plans YouTube Channel we have a very special video double feature direct from Orlando’s Magic Kingdom, featuring the new Walt Disney World talking Mickey Mouse and a Christmas twist to a classic ride.
Now you can do more than just say cheese with the Big Cheese at WDW — you can have a conversation!
As of a couple weeks ago, Filch’s has begun selling a new electronic interactive version of the Marauder’s Map that is exclusive to Universal Parks and the Harry Potter Studio Tour in London. The new maps, which retail for $59.95, feature light-up footsteps and sound effects that are triggered by a “magic” wand.
Today we’re kicking off an ongoing series of Universal Orlando video tours with a look at the resort’s flagship hotel. The Portofino Bay Hotel is a AAA 4 Diamond-awarded luxury property managed by Loews Hotels that is a picture-perfect replica of the famed European original, down to the painted-on “trompe l’oeil” architectural details.
Enjoy this exploration of the Portofino Bay, and come back for more Universal Orlando video features in the future.
Originally a locals-friendly filler during a normally slow season, Universal Studios Florida’s Halloween celebration has grown so famous that the 27 event nights between 9/20 and 11/2 will provide a sizable percentage of USF’s annual attendance statistics. Much like visiting any of Orlando’s theme parks during a peak holiday season, an evening at HHN can be tremendous fun if you go in with a solid plan and sane expectations; without those things…well, you might be better off eaten by zombies…
Every year, Universal’s creative designers shake up the event, so it’s impossible to predict exactly how things will play out until opening weekend has passed, and even then operational tweaks will continue to be made throughtout October. However, after years of experience with HHN (I’ve attended every edition since 1996) we can make some educated guesses towards a preliminary touring plan for tackling Universal’s elaborate (and infamously long-queued) haunted mazes.
Disneyland’s original Hatbox Ghost (photo courtesy Doombuggies)
There haven’t been any blockbuster surprise announcements out of this weekend’s D23 Disney fan expo yet, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t gems to discover inside the Anaheim Convention Center. The “Journey into Imagineering” pavilion, hidden behind a facade recreating WDI Glendale offices, holds one of D23′s most ghoulish delights — a modern Audio Animatronic reincarnating a favorite attraction’s most infamous former resident.
The Hatbox Ghost was one of the original inhabitants of Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, but was removed from the ride’s attic scene shortly after opening because of technical problems with his disappearing head effect (not, as the urban legend claims, because he scared a guest to death). Lost to theme-park lore for decades, he’s seen a merchandise revival in recent years, but this is the first time Imagineering has revealed an operating animatronic — based on the same AA100 architecture as PoTC’s Auctioneer and Mr. Lincoln — of the fabled figure.
In keeping with Disney’s current “Christmas in July” Limited Time Magic promotion, Disneyland Resort made a surprise announcement today and revealed an all-new “Winter Dreams” version of the uber-popular World of Color nighttime show, coming exclusively to Disney California Adventure this holiday season.
The revamped show will debut on November 15, 2013, and is expected to run nightly through New Year’s 2014. The new show will be hosted by Olaf, a snowman character from the upcoming CGI animated film Frozen, and also feature winter-inspired elements from classic films like Bambi and Toy Story.