Universal Orlando Taps Tech Wizardry to Accelerate Park Experiences

 

Mike West, Director and Executive Producer of the Universal Creative Studio, previews Transformers - the Ride, opening at Universal Studios in 2013.
Mike West, Director and Executive Producer of the Universal Creative Studio, previews Transformers - the Ride, opening at Universal Studios in 2013.

 

A primary observation a visitor has these days during a multi-day immersion in the Universal Orlando Resort, whether going for the first time or returning after a long absence, is a bracing, almost dizzying, sense of speed felt on several levels. The pace of new experiences being created for both the Universal Studios theme park and Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park is moving fast. The need for a multi-day Universal park admission pass or an Xpress Pass for skipping lines, which caters to Universal luxury hotel guests, also seems more compelling for visitors wanting to experience all that is new.

The pace has likewise accelerated for the interactive content that engages the visitor in each ride or entertainment experience. Guest involvement is sustained from pre-ride video shows to enhanced, onboard 3D, high-definition thrills, to unexpected post-ride character encounters. All reflect the determination of the Universal Orlando creative team to conjure an ongoing series of fast-paced guest surprises. These are technically exhilarating days in the parks based on movie source inspiration in Universal Studios and literary source inspiration in Islands of Adventure that lead to evening conversations often starting with the question, “How did they do that?”

“We created more new guest experiences in 2012 than in any year since the opening of the Universal Orlando Resort,” said Mike West, director and executive producer of the Universal Creative Studio, during a recent weekend media visit to the resort’s new attractions. While running down the formidable list of new park experiences.

West said the best may be yet to come in July 2013 with the Orlando opening of “Transformers-The Ride,” based on the blockbuster films from director Michael Bay, who is personally involved with West’s team in the creation of the new ride.

“This is a global attraction that we have already created in Hollywood and Singapore,” said West. “The ride has 20- to 35-foot characters, both Autobots and Decepticons, using 3D technology in high-definition. Guests will come face to face with these characters and get involved in a fight with the Autobots to save mankind.” West noted that the planned opening of Transformers next year marks one of the fastest turnaround times from concept to completion for a Universal attraction. Indeed the construction cranes and superstructure of the new building to house Transformers dominates the skyline at one end of the Universal Studios park lagoon, particularly at sunset as guests await the start of the spectacular “100 Years of Movie Memories” cinematic waterfall show.

The wand keeper at Ollivanders Shop at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
The wand keeper at Ollivanders Shop at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

 

Even a brief review of the many new experiences found in Universal Orlando’s parks this past year will not do justice to the speedy pace of the upgrades, but here is a starter. The challenge for many guests will be where to start and how to fit them all into their theme park vacation schedule.

The growling Hogs Head in the Hogs Head Pub at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
The growling Hogs Head in the Hogs Head Pub at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

● The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: The wild experience of the “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey” attraction is just as chaotically exciting and breathtakingly high-speed as advertised. Yet Universal’s creative ability to make the waiting march of visiting “Muggle” guests through Hogwarts castle is eerily entertaining thanks to talking wizard portraits, a lecture by the headmaster, and a tour past dimly lit student classrooms.

Outside in the atmospheric Hogsmeade village, visitors can line up at Ollivanders shop to meet a wand keeper who demonstrates how “the wand chooses you,” and then take a family-friendly ride on the tamer “Flight of the Hippogriff” coaster. The former Islands of Adventure Dueling Dragons ride has been re-imagined and revamped into the Potter-themed “Dragon Challenge,” where two different rides are possible on the Hungarian Horntail and Chinese Fireball sides of this double coaster. A best way to recover from all the hair-raising tests of student wizardry, of course, is to enjoy a souvenir mug of Butterbeer, which tastes like a foamy, high-powered cream soda, in the Hogs Head Pub or the Three Broomsticks Restaurant.

● The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman:
This Islands of Adventure attraction reopened in 2012 with completely new 3D and high-definition animation that puts the rider in the middle of the action between Spiderman and his villainous enemies. Highlights here are when Spiderman jumps on the riders’ vehicle to enlist their help and the enemy Iceman gets so close that the water can be felt spraying from his icy breath. Spiderman creator Stan Lee also appears in some scenes.

● Despicable Me Minion Mayhem: This is a new 3D animated action ride based on the popular Despicable Me movie, including a sequel film being produced for a timely release in the next year. The mad scientist Gru and his mischief-loving daughters Margo, Edith, and Agnes turn guests into “Minions” and take them on a wild, animated ride that feels like a high-speed tour of the inside of a pinball machine stocked with dangerous flying obstacles.

●  The Universal Superstar Parade: This spectacular parade, which steps off nightly through the streets of little old New York and Hollywood Boulevard is an interactive experience in which cast members stop and dance with delighted spectators at points along the route. Characters with their own floats during a November evening step-off included Gru and his girls from Despicable Me, SpongeBob SquarePants, Dora the Explorer and Curious George among others. The cast reportedly practiced this parade for weeks in the middle of the night before it launched last year and the resulting excitement is evident on the streets of Universal Studios theme park.

A Minions character encounter at the new Despicable Me Minions Mayhem attraction at Universal Studios.
A Minions character encounter at the new Despicable Me Minions Mayhem attraction at Universal Studios.

 

● Universal’s Cinematic Spectacular – 100 Years of Movie Making: This show is a nightly 20-minute film and fireworks show projected in the lagoon below and the sky above Universal Studios. The waterfall scenes of the favorite Universal films are narrated by Morgan Freeman, and the screens are visible from around the lagoon. A best viewing seat in the park is found at Lombard’s, the seafood restaurant in Fisherman’s Wharf where a package combining a complete dinner with an upfront dockside position for the spectacular is offered.

● The New Blue Man Group Show:
This show has become an established hit at Universal Orlando Resort, but it has been upgraded with new scenes, such as the Blue Men competing with gigantic iPads, and an interactive audience finale that rocks the house at the Blue Man Group theater.

● Hollywood Drive-In Golf:
This attraction is a great new way to end the day, or at least burn off dinner, at the Universal Orlando CityWalk entertainment area. The 36-hole layout, designed to look like a drive-in movie complex, has two 18-hole sides. One is the “Haunting of Ghostly Greens,” where each hole sends your golf ball through the classic horror movies of the past. The second is “Invaders of Planet Putt,” in which science-fiction scenes create 18 hilarious, often bizarre distractions for players trying to concentrate on their putting.

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