Posts Tagged ‘Gringotts’

Seth Kubersky’s Best Week Ever December 3, 2015: Black Friday at Universal Orlando

by on December 3, 2015

black friday universal orlando best week ever

The day after Thanksgiving has become one of America’s most important secular holidays, as young and old celebrate capitalism by camping out for dirt-cheap televisions. I was also out there shopping on the big day, but in true Best Week Ever fashion I spent my Black Friday at Universal Orlando among the vacationing throngs.

I started my Black Friday shopping with a major purchase by renewing my Universal Orlando annual pass. After disconts, my Premier pass costs just under $1 per day. That’s a lot more than it was when I first became a passholder 15 years ago, but still a great value considering how quickly the parks has been adding new attractions.


Once inside Islands of Adventure, I was greeted by the still-jarring sight of the Incredible Hulk Coaster…or rather the lack thereof.


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SATURDAY SIX SPECIAL EDITION: Inaugural 2015 Theme Park Awards (AKA “The Burgys”)

by on February 21, 2015


The most coveted theme park award of all… The Golden Burgy.

This week’s SATURDAY SIX presents the Inaugural 2015 Theme Park Awards. This weekend, while the rest of the world is preparing for The Oscars and spending hours watching awards given to films they haven’t even heard of, let alone watched (not to mention the outright Best Picture snubs of Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: Winter Soldier), readers of this column will be able to see their favorite theme park attractions get the attention they deserve. The Golden Burgy, theme park media’s highest award, is being handed out to the rides, shows, restaurants, and experiences that truly stood out over the past year.

Just as the Academy Awards hand out their lesser prizes before the main show, we’d like to present two of our minor awards before we get to the big ones. First, a Golden Burgy goes to the Holy Land Experience in the category of Best Theme Park Food Pun for their Garden of Eaten Chicken Salad Sandwich. Interestingly enough, Holy Land had all the nominees in this category including JerusaLamb, Land of Milk (no honey,and My Cup Overflows Souvenir Refillable Cup. The category of Biggest Theme Park Free Fall experience was the tightest race of all the nominees. Falcon’s Fury at Busch Gardens was the favorite to win, but the coveted Golden Burgy instead went to SeaWorld’s stock price. Now that’s a drop.

With those out of the way, allow us to present to you the Inaugural SATURDAY SIX Theme Park Awards, starting with…

# 6 – Best New Ride Experience – Diagon Alley’s Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts 


The rotunda inside Gringotts bank includes an incredible view. And this is just the queue! (photo by Tom Bricker)

What else needs to be said about Universal’s newest E-Ticket attraction? The queue for Escape From Gringotts is one of the best in theme park history, loaded with magical details from the Harry Potter films. There are incredible goblin animatronics and million dollar chandeliers hanging above that make the Gringotts Bank lobby almost an attraction by itself.

Unlike IOA’s Forbidden Journey’s “best of” trip through the first four Potter films, Escape From Gringotts places guests directly into events from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II. Ingeniously showing a movie scene from another perspective, Escape From Gringotts takes Universal’s motto of Ride The Movies to the next level.

Worst New Ride Experience – Being attacked by bees on Rip Ride Rocket 


“Oh the humanity!” Swarms of bees attack riders on Universal Studios Florida’s Rip Ride Rockit. (photo by Mike Sperduto and Matt Cleary.)

While just a minor blip on the radar in 2014, the story of Rip Ride Rockit having a minor problem with bees was enough for us to envision the plot of a new horror film.

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SATURDAY SIX: The Six Best Attractions at the Universal Orlando Resort According to Our All-Star Panel

by on January 24, 2015

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at the Six Best Attractions at the Universal Orlando Resort. We invited distinguished theme park experts from all over the world to come together and decide – once and for all – what the six best attractions are at the Universal Orlando Resort. Unfortunately, they were all busy. So instead we would like to introduce to you an all star, blue ribbon panel, made up of Universal experts. These include members of some of the greatest Universal websites (including Orlando United and Orlando Informer), the best Universal podcasts (including Parkscope and the Unofficial Universal Orlando Podcast), the most amazing Uni photogs (including Mike Sperduto and Brandon Glover), high ranking officials of the Theme Park Illuminati (such as Len Testa and Jim Hill), fan favorite park icons (including Scarlett Litton and Mark Diba), and the man who literally wrote the book on Universal, Seth Kubersky. We used a total of 25 individuals, in honor of Universal’s upcoming 25th Anniversary.


SATURDAY SIX staff crunching numbers.

The Criteria: Each of the 25 experts voted on what they consider to be the six best attractions at the Universal Orlando Resort. These attractions could be any ride or show currently in Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios Florida. Special event shows – such as Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure or the Blues Brothers Christmas Show – were not eligible. Each attraction listed would be awarded ONE point, except for the attraction that the voter ranked in his #1 spot – that received TWO points. The votes were then sent to a top secret location in Florida and counted no less than 22 times (we’ve had some problems in the past. Sorry, Mr. Gore). The results are in, and we now proudly present….


# 6 – MEN IN BLACK: Alien Attack (14 Points)


MEN IN BLACK: Alien Attack. (photo by Mike Sperduto)

Jim Hill, – Steven Spielberg was supposedly the guy who came up with Universal Studios Florida’s original catch phrase (“Ride the Movies”). But MEN IN BLACK: Alien Attack was the first theme park attraction that really did allow guests to ride a movie. To immerse theme park visitors in this hyper-detailed environment that then tried to replicate the specific look & feel of a particular motion picture. So much of what Universal Creative has since been celebrated for when it comes to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, it first did with the April 2000 opening of this 70,000 square foot attraction. From the exterior to this enormous show building (which replicates the observation towers of the New York State Pavilion that played such an important part in the finale of the original Men in Black movie) to the insane level of detail found in this attraction’s queue (e.g., being able to listen in on the “worm guys” as they take their coffee break) to how interactive the actual “Alien Attack” ride is all by itself… The sheer ambition of MIB:AA is still kind of mind-blowing. And then when you factor in that upwards of 2200 Guests are able to experience this USF attraction every hour … Well, is it any wonder that the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) decided to give Universal Creative an Outstanding Achievement award in 2001 for all the great work that it did on this interactive, genuinely immersive attraction?

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Universal Orlando Early Park Admission Changes Starting September 2 [UPDATED 8/30/14]

by on August 30, 2014

Early Park Admission Sign

Big changes are coming in September to Universal Orlando’s Early Park Admission perk (Photo by Seth Kubersky)

As the summer season comes to a close, we’ve gotten word of some upcoming changes to Universal Orlando Early Park Admission policies that are scheduled to go into effect early next month.

While no details have been officially announced, we’ve confirmed this information with guest service leads at both parks, and we believe the following modifications will be made to Universal Orlando’s early park admission perk (otherwise known as “early entry” or “early admission”) offered to guests at the resort’s four on-site hotels.

We will be on hand to report on the new procedures, and we will update the information on our Early Park Admission page as policy changes develop.

[Note: Universal Orlando has recently confirmed an update to the off-season early entry, see below for bolded changes]

Early Park Admission General Information

Universal Orlando offers admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter areas at Islands of Adventure (Hogsmeade) and/or Universal Studios Florida (Diagon Alley) one hour before regular park opening. This perk is given for free to all guests staying at a Universal Resort Hotel. Guests with certain types of “vacation packages” (most commonly sold by Universal Parks & Resorts Vacations and involving both accommodations at a Universal partner hotel and theme park admission) are also allowed in early.

The turnstiles to the park(s) participating in early entry should open approximately 90 minutes before the official opening time. Both hotel and day guests will be admitted to the park, and each eligible guest will need to show his or her own room key to pass beyond the park’s entry plaza during the early admission hour. Guests not eligible for early admission will be held in an alternative area to await the official opening time.

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New Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley Touring Plans

by on July 19, 2014

Diagon Alley touring plans

Massive crowds await inside the Gringotts bank. Be prepared with our new Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley touring plans! (Photos by Seth Kubersky)

It’s been a little over a week since the grand opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley, and Universal Studios Florida‘s blockbuster new attraction continues to attract astoundingly oversized crowds. While you won’t find the massive queue clogging park walkways that accompanied the opening of the original Wizarding World in Islands of Adventure, thanks to greatly improved crowd control procedures, guests are still waiting upwards of 5 hours on a daily basis just to Escape from Gringotts. While the new “multidimensional” thrill machine is certainly a marvel, we here at Touring Plans are congenitally allergic to advising any of our readers to invest half their vacation day in any one attraction, at the expense of experiencing everything else that Universal has to offer. In that spirt, we offer our newly updated Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley Touring Plans, along with a comprehensive commentary with everything you need to know in order to open your magical bank account with a bare minimum (relatively speaking) of waiting.

The following Diagon Alley touring plans are based on first-hand observations conducted during pre-opening media previews, soft openings, and daily operations during grand opening week. The plans were optimized based on a peak day (9.5 out of 10 on our crowd calendar) and may need modification once off-season arrives with shorter hours. As operational patterns evolve, we’ll continue to update our plans for maximum efficiency.

These plans will also shortly be available as premium plans on and in our Lines app, so subscribers will be able to copy and edit them at will. Be aware that our system is not yet able to properly account for the queuing and return time tickets required to enter Diagon Alley, and may therefore return inappropriate results for that area’s attractions; for the moment, we recommend editing the attraction order manually through our website, and using “evaluate” instead of “optimize” for Diagon Alley plans.

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Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts REVIEW [Minor Spoilers]

by on July 1, 2014


gringotts review

A panoramic view of the majestic Gringotts bank lobby. (photos by Seth Kubersky)

As PotterWatch wraps up with the approach of Diagon Alley’s July 8 official opening date, I’m proud to present Touring Plans’ first in-depth review of the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions. During the recent VIP preview week, I spent nearly 12 hours exploring the expansion at Universal Studios Florida, and was the only member of the media to successfully ride the Gringotts attraction three times. I’ve distilled that first-hand experience into the following Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts review, which will appear in edited form in the 2015 edition of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, as well as other affiliated titles.

Bear in mind, the following opinions and information are based on a preview of the attraction, and is subject to change once the area is open to the public. BEWARE: Minor spoilers ahead.


Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts



  • PRESCHOOL 2 stars
  • GRADE SCHOOL 4 stars
  • TEENS 5 stars
  • YOUNG ADULTS 5 stars
  • OVER 30 5 stars
  • SENIORS 4 stars

What it is Super-high-tech 3-D dark ride with roller coaster elements.
Scope and scale Super-headliner.
When to go Immediately after park opening or just before closing.
Special comments Expect loooong waits in line; 42″ minimum height requirement.
Authors’ rating The ultimate realization of “Ride The Movies!”; Not to be missed; 5 stars
Duration of ride 4 1⁄2 minutes.
Probable waiting time per 100 people ahead of you 4 minutes.
Loading speed Moderate-Fast.

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SATURDAY SIX: Six Surprises of Universal’s Diagon Alley

by on June 21, 2014

This week’s SATURDAY SIX covers Six Surprises of Universal’s Diagon Alley. The Universal Orlando Resort held its big Diagon Alley media event this week, and TouringPlans’ own Seth Kubersky was on hand each night of the the three day event. For this red carpet event, Universal flew in some major players from the Potter movie universe, including the usual crew of Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood) and the Phelps twins (Fred and George Weasley), but also used the Floo Network and brought in Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley), Domhnall Gleason (Bill Weasley), Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy), Matt Lewis (Neville Longbottom), Warwick Davis (Professor Flitwick), Robbie Coltrain (Hagrid), and Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange). For the first time ever, media and VIPs were able to ride on the Hogwarts Express and Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, along with experiencing everything in Diagon Alley itself.  The Leaky Cauldron. Carkitt Market. Knockturn Alley. All of it.

We’ll cover all the big stuff in due time (especially with the newly announced July 8 Grand Opening date for all guests), but today we’re going to look at six surprises within Diagon Alley that had us grinning wider than Ron Weasley after seeing a Veela.

# 6 – Gringotts Bank Notes


Gringotts bank note (photo by Seth Kubersky)

After many years Universal finally has its version of Disney Dollars in the form of Gringotts Bank Notes. Located in Carkitt Market, the Gringotts Money Exchange will allow guests to exchange their Muggle money for Gringotts Bank Notes (in $10 or $20 denominations), which can then be used as souvenirs or as currency to purchase anything in the Wizarding World or on Universal property. Even more impressive is the goblin animatronic that interacts with the guestsincluding looking directly at the person talking to it. Both creepy and fun.

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SATURDAY SIX: Six Reasons We Can’t Wait for Diagon Alley to Open

by on June 7, 2014

This week’s SATURDAY SIX looks at Six Reasons We Can’t Wait for Diagon Alley to Open. It seems every day something comes along which whets our appetite even more for the new Harry Potter themed land coming to Universal Studios Florida. In just the past few days we’ve gotten a Disney Dish with Jim Hill episode that covered the new food items coming to the Leaky Cauldron, three of the Weasley clan taking a look into Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, and Seth Kubersky’s preliminary touring plans for Diagon Alley. With the media preview taking place June 17-20, it’s safe to say we’ll be walking around the wizarding shopping area very shortly. Here’s what we are really excited about experiencing after the most recent developments:

# 6 – The DRAGON


Ukrainian Ironbelly atop Gringotts Wizarding Bank (photo by HateToFly)

Sitting high atop Gringotts Bank (already the tallest building inside Diagon Alley) is the half-blind Ukrainian Ironbelly dragon that we all remember from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II. Besides its immense size, the attention to detail on the dragon is staggering. You can see the marks around its neck where chains tore into its skin, holes in its wings, and an overall aura of authenticity that almost has you feeling for this tragic character even in its menacing pose. While it is still not completely known how much (if any) movement the dragon will have, the gas lines have been installed, and soon it will breathe fire.

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PotterWatch: London Waterfront Lighting, Diagon Alley Return Tickets, Hogsmeade Transition, & Leaky Cauldron Food Preview

by on June 2, 2014

PotterWatch London Waterfront lighting Diagon Alley return ticket kiosks Hogsmeade transition

Welcome to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, where time has turned purple… (photos by Seth Kubersky)

We’ve passed an important PotterWatch milestone this week: we’re most likely less than one month away from the public premiere of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida. This update will examine some new lighting along the London Waterfront, the newly revealed Hogsmeade transition area outside the original Wizarding World, and some recently revealed Leaky Cauldron food and beverage details.


London Waterfront Lighting

I took a stroll along the London Waterfront outside Diagon Alley at “magic hour” to capture some of the lighting features throughout the area. Let’s start with a panoramic overview of the construction area:


This purple illumination on the King’s Cross clock tower confuses me. Perhaps it is some sort of magical effect, or an unfinished test? Time will tell…

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PotterWatch: Gringotts Dragon Arrives and Opening Date Rumors

by on May 29, 2014

It has been an exciting week in PotterWatch, as the iconic “weenie” of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter — Diagon Alley arrived at Universal Studios Florida. Let’s take a look at the massive Gringotts Dragon, and talk about new opening date rumors.


Gringotts Dragon Arrives

On May 24, the ginormous fire-breathing “Ukranian Ironbelly” dragon that perches atop Gringotts Bank was lowered into place inside Diagon Alley. Our friend Hate To Fly was on hand to capture its arrival:

Gringotts dragon

Photo via @HateToFly

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