Friday, October 30, 2009

 

Seth Kubersky Reviews HHN

Here's Seth's take on this year's eight haunted mazes. Match yours?
Dracula: Instead of Lugosi’s campy count, this Dracula is inspired by Vlad the Impaler’s legend, with a big nod to Coppola. The castle has impressive architectural integrity and bursts with a bevy of Eiko Ishioka–esque brides, but I barely glimpsed Drac himself.

Frankenstein: Scent, texture and light fuse to fine atmospheric effect in a steampunk sequel to Mary Shelley’s shocker. I dug the Metropolis-meets-Re-Animator bride, though the Monster is a tad Van Helsing-y. Look up at the “Fly pods” to see the Doctor’s final fate.

The Wolfman: My favorite of the “classic trio,” this maze makes me anticipate the as-yet-unreleased Benicio Del Toro remake. Makeup re-creating Rick Baker’s designs, evocative “outdoor” environments (indoor trees and starscapes) and enthusiastic “scare-actors” build to a howling good finale.

Leave It to Cleaver:
One of two “Fangoria Presents” houses, Cleaver is a faux-tribute to a fake ’50s cult classic featuring the cheerfully cannibalistic Meetz meatpacking plant. A clever combo of kitsch and carnage, the grinning old-timey masks wigged me out more than any modern monster. Sick and silly, this is my pick for a sleeper hit.

Saw: Gorehounds rejoice: The profitable torture-porn franchise comes to life through a “greatest hits” selection of Jigsaw’s sadistic traps, featuring film-faithful re-creations of fan faves like “key in eye socket” and “fat guy in razor wire.” The assault of an ending is definitely not kosher. Beware of the longest line to be found.

The Spawning: Wander the Wyandot County sewer in search of snakelike “Sculders” in a Fangoria mock-movie modeled on the classic X-Files episode “The Host” (featuring “Flukeman”). Low ceilings + hanging strings = disorienting slog (I got lost), so expect slow-moving lines.

Chucky: A puke-inducing spinning tunnel shrinks you down to doll-size for a carnival-colored tour of the “Good Guy” factory where evil toys reign. Etch A Sketches, toy soldiers and clown bop-bags become objects of menace in this creatively creepy (though not especially frightening) Child’s Play tribute.

Silver Screams:
Here’s the home of event icon Julian Browning, the spectral usher who haunts the circa-1922 Universal Palace Theater. A simple yet spectacular lighting effect transforms the facade from splendor to decay; within are well-crafted compact vignettes from a half-dozen horror classics, from the Phantom of the Opera lair to Shaun of the Dead’s Winchester Pub.

Get the new 2010 edition of Universal Orlando: The Ultimate Guide To The Ultimate Theme Park Adventure, which Seth co-wrote.

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Universal Orlando 2010 Now Available


The 2010 edition of Universal Orlando: The Ultimate Guide To The Ultimate Theme Park Adventure is now available. It's slowly making it's way to bookstores, but you can order it online.

The new edition introduces Seth Kubersky as my new co-author and I couldn't be happier to have him on board. You may know Seth from his work at Orlando Weekly or in the regular Rocky Horror Picture Show extravaganzas at Universal Cineplex. He's a theme park pro, having worked at Universal in a variety of capacities on a number of attractions and special events.

The new edition contains the first guidebook review of Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit and (thanks to Seth) an insider's preview of the new Harry Potter area in Islands of Adventure.

To celebrate the publication, The Intrepid Traveler is offering special pricing on the Universal book as well as on SeaWorld, Discovery Cove & Aquatica: Orlando's Salute to the Seas, also by yours truly.

And if you get them both, there's a very, very special deal that I think will be hard to resist. Get the skinny by clicking here.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

 

Harry Potter For Spring

Universal held a hush-hush Harry Potter preview today.

So far what's leaked out is that the new Potter area will open "in Spring." Usually, that means, "sometime before Memorial Day."

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Friday, September 11, 2009

 

A SeaWorld-Busch Rumor With (some) Credibility

I've never taken all the chatter about who'll buy Busch very seriously. For my money, it's all been guesswork based on nothing more than hunches.

But the recent news that Merlin plans an IPO does tend to make you sit up and take notice.
Merlin, whose holdings include Legoland theme parks, Madame Tussauds wax museums and the London Eye, is close to finalizing a plan for an initial public offering on the London Stock Exchange, according to a report last weekend in The Independent of London.

The offering is expected to raise more than $3 billion, the newspaper reported. Merlin is owned by a private-equity giant, the Blackstone Group, which also holds a 50 percent stake in Universal Orlando.

The oft cited estimate for how much the Busch theme parks are work is between $3 and $4.5 billion.

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Friday, July 10, 2009

 

Are They Playing Your Song?

Universal has announced the song list for the Rip, Ride, Rockit coaster. Here's the "classic rock" line up:
"Born to Be Wild," Hinder

"Bring Me to Life," Evanescence

"Gimme All Your Lovin'," ZZ Top

"Kickstart My Heart," Motley Crue

"Paralyzer," Finger Eleven

"Rollin'," Limp Bizkit

Still no official opening date, apparently.

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Sunday, July 05, 2009

 

Harry Potter materializes, slowly but magically

The Sentinel's ace reporter Jason Garcia is on the trail of the Boy Wizard's magic dust.
Plans for the 20-acre Wizarding World show more than a dozen buildings, including at least three shops, a restaurant and multiple forced-perspective decorative buildings. The centerpiece will be the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the iconic castle and keep from the Potter books and movies.

Universal's Hogwarts, records show, will be 150 feet, or 15 stories, high.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

 

2008 Theme Park Attendance

Some interesting stuff in the 2008 TEAERA (pdf) report.

The new kid on the block, Aquatica, had 950,000 visitors or an average of 95K a month. But it opened in March, so if it had been open in January and February and had "average" attendance those months, that suggests an annual total of 1,140,000, putting it ahead of Wet 'n Wild but behind the two Disney waterparks. It'll be interesting to see what happens next year, as the word get out about what a spectacular park it is.

SeaWorld's attendance was down 2.9% at 5.9 million, but SeaWorld execs are squawking that the actual figure is higher, without providing specifics. Apparently, they're not angry enough to open their books to prove the assertion.

Universal Studios was up only slightly and Islands of Adventure was down 2.4%, leading some to speculate that people are putting off visiting until Harry Potter arrives.

But the 2008 numbers are only part of the story. Universal's 1st quarter 2009 attendance was down a whopping 20% over last year.

Makes you wonder why Universal thinks this is a good time to alienate some of their biggest fans.

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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

 

Halloween Horror Comes Early To Universal

Move over, Crypt Keeper! The Recession Debt Monster is here.

The Orlando Sentinel has the grim news.
Orlando's No. 2 theme-park resort is warning that it could face a cash crunch by next spring, as turmoil in the credit markets -- and an obscure clause in its long-standing contract with famed filmmaker Steven Spielberg -- complicate its efforts to restructure nearly $1 billion of debt.

If Universal Orlando is unable to rework the loans in coming months, it could be forced to slash spending on new attractions, seek more money from its owners or even put a piece of the resort up for sale.

Actually, it's not as bad as the article, in the finest journalistic tradition, makes it sound.

Later, the reporter, Jason Garcia, notes:
Moody's and other analysts say a bankruptcy filing is unlikely. They say the Orlando resort's business, which produced $180 million in operating profit last year, is fundamentally strong and stands to benefit from the opening of the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit roller coaster later this year and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in 2010. They also say the resort's co-owners have incentive to preserve their investments in the resort -- particularly NBC Universal, because of the theme parks' strategic ties to that company's movie and television studios.

And the "Spielberg clause"?

Apparently, director Steven Spielberg has a long-running consulting deal. He got $20 million last year alone. In 2010, he has the right to demand a buyout of "several hundred millions."

Would Spielberg do something that horrible? It'd be like letting Jeff Goldblum get eaten at the end of the movie.

Oh.

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Sunday, March 01, 2009

 

Sweet Deal at Universal

Universal Orlando is offering the kind of irresistible deal that might be able to lure the true believers from that mouse-ridden theme park down the Interstate.

$99.99 for both adults and children for a seven-day ticket to both parks! Put that in your Park-Hopper and smoke it.

Order online (only) from my friends at Dreams Unlimited.

BTW, I have no financial interest in this deal.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

 

Theme Parks Lobby, Too

So Universal shuts down two attractions until Spring, SeaWorld cuts out free beer, and then we learn this.
New state records show that Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando and the parent company of SeaWorld Orlando spent at least $390,000 — and as much as $750,000 — lobbying the Florida Legislature last year.

That was up from a range of $290,000 to $630,000 that the three businesses spent in 2007.

All I can say is that would pay for a lot of beer.

BTW, Jason Garcia has replaced the estimable Scott Powers on the tourism beat for the Orlando Sentinel.

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

 

Rip, Ride, Rockit Update

The Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit roller coaster at Universal Studios Florida is progressing apace.

No official word on opening yet, but the buzz is that it will be open by late May, all the better to grab the attention of recently graduated high schoolers.

I had always sorta assumed that the load-in area would take over the real estate once occupied by The Boneyard, but that space has been transformed into a venue for live music with the completion of the Hollywood Bowl stage. Very nice it is, too.

The actual entrance to RRR will be through the narrow street between the USF store and Jimmy Neutron, the one that now leads to Blue Man Group and the Hard Rock Cafe.

The idea, it seems is to have two entrances, one inside USF and the other in CityWalk. From what I've heard, the park entrance will be open during park hours (Duh!), and the CityWalk entrance will open when the park closes, allowing visitors to CityWalk to purchase tickets to ride. No word on how they'll handle people who bought park tickets that day and annual passholders.

Another wrinkle in the arrangements is that the ride would have to close at 10 p.m. to avoid bothering Universal Orlando's neighbors, although the location seems pretty remote from residential areas to me.

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Fear Factor Closes (Until Spring)

Universal Orlando is closing its Fear Factor attraction until Spring and cutting hours at other, unspecified attractions in response to "the poor economic forecast for 2009."

According to WESH TV News:
It will be a limited number of attractions within Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios. He said visitors shouldn't experience problems, because the attraction hours will be aligned with demand.

Staffing will also be impacted by reductions, the Universal representative said.

All team members will remain active, so there will be no layoffs. However, team members' hours will be affected.

Team members will also retain their health benefits.

Some good news at least. And the guidebook is still on sale.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

 

Universal Mardi Gras Plans Revealed (sorta)

This year's Mardi Gras celebration at Universal Orlando kicks off February 7.

So far, Universal has released the line up of live acts:
Feb. 07 -- KC and the Sunshine Band
Feb. 14 -- Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons
Feb. 15 -- The Village People
Feb. 21 -- Ne-Yo
Feb. 28 -- Pat Benatar (with Neil Giraldo)
Mar. 07 -- Barenaked Ladies
Mar. 14 -- Montgomery Gentry
Mar. 21 -- Collective Soul
Mar. 27 -- Boys Like Girls
Mar. 28 -- Kelly Clarkson
Apr. 04 -- MC Hammer
Apr. 11 -- Trace Adkins
Apr. 18 -- Nelly

Each star will have an opening act you've probably never heard of. If you're curious, check here.

What we're not too sure of is where the shows will take place. The old location is now a construction site for the new Rip, Ride, Rockit coaster.

Universal says its building a new, permanent live performance venue. Stay tuned.

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Friday, January 02, 2009

 

New Parking Fee at Universal Orlando

As of yesterday, January 1, Universal Orlando began charging $3 for parking between 6:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. Parking is still free after 10.

Used to be that parking was free after 6, the better to draw people to the Cineplex, the restaurants, and the nightclubs in CityWalk.

Maybe now that Pleasure Island has closed, Universal thinks people will pay to reach CityWalk's nightclubs. Perhaps. Seems to me, given all the dire news we hear about the economy, people will think twice about going to a movie at the Cineplex or dining at a restaurant in CityWalk when free alternatives abound nearby.

More to come on this.

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Powerball Comes To Florida and Universal

Florida is poised to join the multi-state Powerball lottery and Universal is a beneficiary.

Universal's Studio 19 will host the TV broadcast of the twice-weekly drawings. I wonder if there will be "subtle" promotion of the theme parks or if Universal's participation will be anonymous.

In any event, now I won't have to pass on getting a Powerball ticket when I'm in Florida. And to those who say I'm just throwing my money away by buying a lottery ticket, I reply, "Lotteries are for liberals who don't feel they're paying enough in taxes!"

More here.

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

 

Another Great Stay at Portofino Bay

We'll be leaving Portofino Bay after a lovely 4-day stay in room 2509, with its smashing view over the Piazza and the soaring Christmas tree, which gets lit every night at 6.

Of the three Loews hotels at Universal Orlando, this has always been our favorite (the others are Hard Rock Hotel and Royal Pacific Resort). And the view as you drive into the hotel has never ceased to astound me.

I noticed one change: It used to be that "club level" was synonymous with location. In other words, if you were in a "villa" room (as we were), you had access to the club lounge.

This is no longer the case. Now you need to specify that you want "Club Concierge Level" when you book. On arrival, you will be given a special gold room key that grants access to the lounge.

The new policy raises a number of questions in my mind, which I have not yet gotten answers to. But until I track down the full story, remember that if you want club level privileges, you must specify "club concierge level." Just booking a room in the "Villa Wing" won't do it, apparently.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

 

IOA's Dueling Dragons Duel No More

Not the coaster!! As of now it's still roaring right along in Lost Continent at Universal's Islands of Adventure.

But the Blue and red dragons that graced the entrance to the ride are gone in preparation for their replacement, which will be .... well, I wish I knew.

Ah well, no pain, no gain.

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

 

Potter Preview

Universal Orlando has posted "conceptual art" that gives an idea of what The Wizarding World of Harry Potter will look like.

The "owl's eye view" suggests that the entrance will be about where Sinbad's village is now.

Love the cursor!

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Sunday, August 03, 2008

 

Enchanted Oak Disappears

I kept hoping that Universal would leave the Enchanted Oak Tavern building pretty much as is and simple "re-theme" it. Alas, it is not to be. The entire building has been razed to make way for . . . what?

Orlando Attractions Magazine
has the photographic evidence.

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More Busch Sales Rumors

From the Telegraph (UK):
Blackstone, the American investment firm, which is a major shareholder in Merlin Entertainments Group, is positioning itself for a tilt at the theme parks unit of Anheuser-Busch, the brewing giant which is in the process of being acquired by the Brazilian company InBev. . .

Blackstone, which co-owns Merlin alongside Dubai International Capital, is also an investor in Universal Orlando, another of the US's largest theme parks operators. People close to Blackstone say that if it succeeds with an offer for the Anheuser-Busch parks, it could merge them with either Merlin or Universal, in which NBC Universal, the US media company, is a partner.

This could be interesting. If it's true, that is. And, from what I hear, the takeover won't be completed until late this year or early next. There's also a (slim) possibility that the sale might not go through, due to some unforeseen glitch.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

 

Suite Life at Royal Pacific



Here are two views of the hospitality suite, Room 3718, on the Club Level at Royal Pacific Resort. As the name suggests, it's designed to be used for entertaining such as a corporation might do. There is a small kitchenette (not visible here) that has a full size refrigerator, microwave, and sink.

The windows look out over the pool and across to IOA. You can see the construction for Harry Potter in the distance. The Club lounge is literally steps away.

There are two adjoining bedrooms that can be opened up or closed off, so there are three configurations: hospitality suite, one-bedroom suite, or two-bedroom suite. In the one-bedroom set up, you wind up with three front doors -- from the bedroom and one at each end of the large living area. Sweet.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

 

Royal Pacific Return

I'm back once again at Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando, which has undergone a major redecoration. The "dark" wood accented rooms that some people complained about (but which I rather liked) are no more. In the place of the more subdued palette are light pastels that still evoke the South Seas. Very nice and soothing.

Other new items: flat screen TVs and iPod docks in place of the old CD players. Gotta keep up with technology!

We're booked into the Club level and were upgraded to a gi-normous suite -- 1,600 square feet. Sweet!

Here's the food service schedule in the Club Lounge:

Continental Breakfast 7 to 10:30
Afternoon Snacks noon to 4:30
Evening Relaxation 5 to 7
Something Sweet 8 to 9:30

The breakfast buffet is lavish, with hot oatmeal and gooey cinnamon buns. Yum.
Although we didn't indulge, many people seemed to be making a meal of the hors d'oeuvres served from 5 to 7.

Gracious, friendly staff, as always.

Of the three Club lounges, I like RPR best for some reason. Can't quite put my finger on it, but the curved space overlooking I-4 and I-Drive just seems to "work."

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

 

Harry Potter Makes Attractions Disappear

From the Universal Orlando web site:
A portion of Lost Continent at Islands of Adventure has been closed as work progresses on Universal Orlando’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Guests will use a newly created bridge to walk between Lost Continent and Jurassic Park. Specific attractions and venues affected include The Flying Unicorn attraction, the Enchanted Oak restaurant and The Dragon’s Keep store. Dueling Dragons will remain open.

Some people are upset by the loss of the Enchanted Oak menu. My guess: It will be pretty much the same after the restaurant has been Potterized. Ditto for Flying Unicorn: same ride, different themeing.

Of course I may be wrong, but then I'm no wizard.

BTW, word on Dueling Dragons is that there will be a new entrance while the existing queue line is being rethemed.

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Monday, June 30, 2008

 

Last Call at Pleasure Island

If you are a fan of the Pleasure Island night spots in Downtown Disney, better hurry on down for a last look. In a move that surprised many, Disney announced that it will close Pleasure Island as of September 27 in favor of "more of a family-oriented something."

This is good news for Universal's CityWalk.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

 

Latest UO Cineplex Prices

Adult $9.25

Matinee $7.25

Child $6.25 (Ages 2-12)

Senior $8.25 (Age 60+)

Student Day $6.25 (Every Thursday for a limited time, Ages 13+ with Valid Student ID)

Senior Day $5.00 (Every Tuesday for a limited time, Age 60+)

A.M.Cinema $5.00 All shows before noon Sat., Sun. and holiday periods

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Friday, May 23, 2008

 

Parking Up at Universal

Universal Orlando has raised its base parking rate to $12.

If you were looking for an excuse to get an annual pass, this might be the time!

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Monday, April 21, 2008

 

City Jazz Replaced By Rising Star

Somewhere, Miles Davis is blowing taps, sweet and cool.

It's been a long time since City Jazz has had anything to do with jazz. Now Universal has officially recognized that fact by rebranding the place as Rising Star, a karaoke joint with a difference.

The difference is that the music is live, provided courtesy of an onstage band. You tell them what you want to sing and they play it! There will be backup singers and a host. I don't think you'll be able to play "stump the band." From what I gather, you'll have to choose from a "large selection of songs."

A peek inside showed that the Jazz Hall of Fame memorabilia and the jazz era murals along the walls have been covered by curtains, giving the once-gorgeous space a dark, faceless look.

The cover charge has been set at $7.

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Friday, January 04, 2008

 

Disaster Review

If you don't mind having the secret given away, the Orlando Sentinel has a fascinating review of the new Disaster attraction (formerly Earthquake), that explains in some detail how the walkin' Christopher Walken illusion is pulled off.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

 

Kwik-E-Mart Opens at USF -- Without Apu


You'll have to wait until next year for the Simpsons ride at Universal Studios Florida, but you can buy your souvenirs now.

Yes, Kwik-E-Mart has opened next to the still shrouded ride building in the space formerly occupied by the BTTF gift shop.

I rushed inside hoping to glimpse Apu, but he wasn't there and neither were any Squishees! There was, however, a very nice Indian lady behind the counter who assured me that it was early days yet and that eventually Squishees would be on offer. Hope she's right.

Squishee-less, I turned my attention to browsing. The must-have souvenir is a talking doll of Homer, clad only in a towel. Squeeze his hand and he goes through a small repertoire of catchphrases. Best one? His dancing rendition of "Macho Man."

It's an unbelieveably stupid -- and utterly irresistible -- toy. Yours for $30. Hurry before Apu doubles the prices!


Even if you are super-human and can resist that one, it's worth visiting the Kwik-E-Mart just for the signage.




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Monday, October 22, 2007

 

Two Major Boulevard Hotels Revamp, Change Names

Two hotels on Major Boulevard, just across Kirkman Road from Universal Orlando, have undergone recent renovations and changed their branding.

The former Sleep Inn at 5605 Major is now a Holiday Inn Express. I stayed here during the renovation and can freport that the redone rooms are very nice indeed.

The old AmeriSuites at 5895 Caravan Court, just off Major, has transformed into a Hyatt Place, a new Hyatt brand. Here's what the web site says:
Hyatt Place is a new kind of hotel that puts style, innovation and The Hyatt Touch® within everyone's reach. Our guests will enjoy a spacious guestroom with a 42" flat panel high-definition television, our signature Hyatt Grand Bed™, a plush Cozy Corner oversized sofa sleeper that is separated from the sleeping area, and complimentary high-speed Wi-Fi Internet access throughout the hotel.

The innovation extends beyond the guestroom. Our Gallery is a warm and open area that features a self-registration kiosk, an intimate coffee and wine cafe, a TV den and an e-room with free access to a public computer and printer. After a long day, relax in our outdoor heated pool and sun deck.

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

 

Tight Squeeze at Dudley Do-Right


(Photo CoasterDimension.com>

Universal has installed lapbars on the Dudley Do-Right ride in Toon Lagoon, and not everyone likes it.

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Saturday, September 01, 2007

 

Scott Joseph Throws Monkey Wrench at NASCAR Sports Grille

Wow! Sentinel restaurant critic Scott Joseph was at his bitchy best as he did his worst on the recently reopened and renamed NASCAR Sports Grille at CityWalk.
The pit crew pulled pork and the Talledaga cheesy burger were neither good nor bad, they just were. My chicken and rib combo, however, had rubbery fowl and hard and chewy ribs. One of my companions had the strip steak, which was thin, overcooked and dry.

All of this was served by glum strangers who would appear at the table to ask, with perhaps a touch of surprise in their voices, if we had ordered the food they were carrying. Why are all these people so unhappy? Do the managers beat them?

Ouch!

I must say I'm a bit puzzled. I know the food is nothing to write home about (although Joseph and I agree that the onion rings are tasty), but the service I received on all my visits was never anything less than cheerful.

Off night?

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Halloween Horror Nights = More


(Photo: Universal Orlando.)
More haunted houses, more shows and more infamous villains stalking the sidewalks should result in customers spending less time in lines this year at Universal Studios' Halloween Horror Nights events.

That's the word from Universal Orlando, via the Sentinel.
Another thing that could help keep the crowds down is the price — $64.95.

Now that's scary.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

 

Prices at Universal Orlando

Here's a complete rundown on the latest pricing info (including tax, except as noted) at Universal Orlando:

1 day/1 park: $75.62 (adults)/$63.90 (kids)
1 day/2 park: $85.15/$74.50
2 day/2 park: $124.56/$113.91 (expires in 7 days, including 1st day of use)
2 day/2park (Non-expiring): $135.21/$124.56
2 park Unlimited: $91.57 (advance purchase) / $102.23 (immediate use)
Preferred Annual Pass: $202.30
Power Pass: $138.40
Citywalk party pass: $11.99 plus tax
Citywalk party pass and movie: $15.98
Citywalk movie and meal deal: $21.95
Citywalk movie and party deal: $21
Regular parking: $11
Preferred parking: $16
Single/Double stroller: $11/$17
Wheelchair (deposit): $12 ($50)
ECV (deposit): $40 ($50)
One park meal deal: $19.99/$9.99 plus tax
Two park meal deal: $23.99/$11.99 plus tax

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

 

Review of Blue Man Group in Orlando at CityWalk

'Bout time I got around to reviewing the recently opened Blue Man Group show at Universal Orlando's CityWalk. So here goes:

Blue Man Group

What: Avant garde theater performance
Where: Across the waterway next to Hard Rock Cafe
Tickets: Adults $59 to $69; children 9 and under $49 to $59; annual passholders get a 10% discount
Hours: Varies widely. Generally there are two shows daily, but fewer shows during slower periods. Call.
Web: www.blueman.com or www.universalorlando.com

Back in the eighties, three “performance artists” created Blue Man Group in New York’s seedy East Village. They were weird, hip, edgy, incomprehensible. They were the most avant of the avant garde. Today they are family entertainment. Such is cultural progress.

Now an international phenomenon, the Orlando edition of the troupe holds forth in an industrial looking thousand-seat theater at the end of a long, winding pathway next to the Hard Rock Cafe.

And just what awaits at the end of that path? Well, perhaps the greatest compliment that can be paid Blue Man Group is that it is pretty much indescribable. Three very bald, very blue, very silent guys in black pajamas (could they be space aliens?) appear on a stage that seems to be part of a strange factory and do a series of odd things, some of which take real skill, some of which are very funny, and some of which are just plain wacky. They are at once consummate masters of ceremony and befuddled innocents who seem constantly surprised by the presence of the audience.

Some of the best segments involve the trio’s considerable skill as percussionists (a four-man, day-glo combo assists from overhead). And who could have guessed how much entertainment value there was in pouring colored liquids on drum heads? There’s plenty of audience interaction and the show wraps up with a chaotic finale that involves everyone and sends the crowd out in a festive mood.

So what’s it all about? Some see a critique of modern society, others detect commentary on modern art. My advice is to check your brain at the door and let the fun of the evening take over. I found the more I tried to analyze, the less I enjoyed the experience. They do not recommend the show for children under three; personally, I’d stretch that to five or six.

There is a tendency to compare this show to La Nouba, the Cirque du Soleil show over at Downtown Disney. I think this is unfair. La Nouba is a multi-million-dollar extravaganza with a large cast. Blue Man is, essentially, a three-man show that has grown over the years but that still sticks close to its Off Broadway origins. It’s really an apples and oranges comparison.

Tip: The show lasts one hour and forty-five minutes, there is no intermission, and beer vendors work the crowd beforehand. You have been warned!

The best seats in the house. All things being equal, the closer and more centrally located your seat, the better. The first four rows are designated as the “poncho zone” and those seated there are issued cheap plastic cover ups, just in case. But it’s a far cry from a “splash zone” at SeaWorld and more marketing than anything else. Besides, I find the ponchos uncomfortable. Sitting a few rows farther back won’t decrease your enjoyment a bit. Zone 1, center is just about ideal. The “cheap seats” (Zones 3 and 4) are on a steeper incline and offer good sight lines of the whole stage.

Tickets can be ordered over the phone by calling (888) 340-5476 or (407) 224-3200 from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. daily; you can also order online at the two web sites above (follow the prompts). There is a box office at the theater as well. You may also see offers combining a Blue Man ticket with theme park admission and a CityWalk Party Pass.

The show schedule is somewhat erratic. Typically there are two shows a day at 5:00 and 8:00 p.m. or 6:00 and 9:00. But some days there is just one show and some days there are none. Call or check the web sites for show times during your visit.

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Friday, August 10, 2007

 

Red Light Crackdown Could Snare Orlando Tourists

Reacting to a rash of accidents, Orlando police are installing cameras at 10 high risk intersections. Wendy Michaels thinks it's a good idea.
Wendy Michaels shook hands with Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and appeared at the same news conference with top city leaders, but she would trade places with anyone not to be the center of this attention because Michaels nearly died when her car was T-boned in an intersection two years ago by a driver running a red light.

It was cases like Michaels' that prompted Orlando city leaders to move forward with installing cameras at the 10 intersections, and send car owners a ticket if the car is photographed running the red light.

Most of the targeted intersections are well away from the tourist areas, but three are right around Universal Orlando. They are:

Conroy and Kirkman, just north of the park.

Kirkman and Vineland, at the northeast corner of UO property (behind Portofino Bay Hotel).

Kirkman and Major, which marks the eastern entrance to the park.

So slow down, save a life, avoid a ticket.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

 

Hoofing It At Portofino Bay

One of the unavoidable consequences of the ingenious design of the Portofino Bay Hotel is the long, long corridors that lead from the lobby to the rooms. From time to time, I have heard people complain about it.

But if you think the guests have to hike, spare a thought for the bellmen. I was chatting with a bellman today who told me that someone brought a pedometer to work one day and they figured out that the average bellman at Portofino covers ten miles every day.

Tip well!

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Simpsons Movie Premieres at Universal Orlando

It was a smashing yellow carpet premiere for "The Simpsons Movie" tonight at Universal Orlando's Cineplex. Cartoon-colored confetti was shot into the air over the Cineplex entrance as America's true First Family arrived by limo and strolled down the yellow carpet (get it?) past adoring fans.

I was fortunate enough to join the VIP audience for the screening that followed, donuts, popcorn and soda on the house, of course.

The good news is that the movie is terrific. The plot revolves around Homer's infatuation with a pet pig, his disastrous method for handling said pig's waste, the resulting environmental devastation of Springfield, the over response of a government helmed by Arnold Schwarzenegger ("I was elected to lead not to read"), Homer's resulting banishment, and his heroic redemption.

I'd bet the proverbial farm that it will be a roaring success. I suppose that the criticism could be leveled that it's just another Simpsons episode, if a little longer. But it's also bigger and naughtier (Bart has a nude scene!) and the writers have wisely (and hilariously) anticipated the criticism. Early on, during an Itchy and Scrathy cartoon, Homer stands up in the movie theater within the movie theater and complains, "We're paying to see something we could see on TV free!"

More important, for the somewhat narrow purposes of this blog, the movie is very shrewdly sprinkled with references that seem to anticipate the fact that the Simpsons are about to become a more or less permanent fixture at a certain Florida theme park.

There are references to Spider Man (in the absolutely hysterical and annoyingly impossible to forget "Spider Pig" song), and to boy wizard Harry Potter. There's also a vicious dig at the "the mascot of an evil corporation" that will be instantly recognizable. One fall down funny sequence, in which Homer and Marge prepare for a night of connubial bliss, twits that evil corporation's trademark use of cute little forest animals in its fabled animated films. This could be the cultural event that once and for all establishes Universal as the hip alternative to that "other place" down the Interstate.

In the movie's closing moments, Maggie says her first word. I won't reveal it here. Suffice it to say, it will bring gladness to the hearts of Universal theme park executives everywhere.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

 

Latest Universal Orlando Pricing

Here's the latest info on ticket prices for Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, and CityWalk. The first price is for adults, the second for children 3 to 9. (All prices include tax, except as noted.)

1 day / 1 park.....$71.36 / $59.64
1 day / 2 park.....$82.01 / $71.36
2 day / 2 park.....$122.43 / $111.78 (expires in 7 days)
2 day / 2 park.....$133.08 / $122.43 (does not expire)

2 park preferred annual pass.....$202.30
2 park power pass.....$138.40

CityWalk Party Pass.....$11.99 (plus tax)

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