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Trip Report: First time back in 5 years

Clive

aka Fallow
Staff member
Moderator
May 26, 2010
3,540
Hey all,

Had the opportunity to revisit the Universal Orlando for the first time since 2015, for HHN25. Obviously, quite a bit has changed since then - and overall, for the better. We stayed at Cabana Bay in a Volcano Bay view room for 4 nights, with 4.5 days in the parks. In lieu of a blow by blow, I've organized my thoughts into a Good/Bad/Ugly/Misc list.

THE GOOD

Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure ride experience. This is the family-friendly coaster the resort has needed for a long time and the new generation of Big Thunder Mountain. The launches are incredible, ride experience (between sidecar and motorcycle) varied, length impressive, landscaping splendorous, and creatures encountered exciting. I'm also a big fan of this not being yet another Things Go Horribly Wrong experience, with an emphasis on incidents and rising and falling action in lieu of crisis stakes. Fluffy's left head was inoperable for each of our three rides (if this is going to be permanent - maybe just shut his eyes?), but I'm happy to report the hut Skrewt did blast fog for two of our rides! Queue faces impossible competition from Hogwarts and Gringotts bank, but it's still great.

Volcano Bay overall experience. We went on the coldest day of our trip - Saturday - which started out in the high 60s. We were among only a dozen people in the park when it opened for early entry, meaning we went long stretches without encountering anyone! Logged some 6 rides on Kraukatau (again, an impressively long experience) and multiple rides on the rest of the slides. Punga Racers was closed and boarded up, but it hardly mattered, as I'm over the 150 lb weight limit. Loved the blue whale-themed raft slide as well as Ohya/Ohno. Serpentine body slides stung - that's endemic to these sort of drop slides, but it's definitely more noticeable here. Loved little touches throughout, like the animated chimps on the walk up the volcano and the interactive Vol encounter. Everything was beautifully landscaped, and I enjoyed the architecture choices for infrastructure and food & bev buildings. Food was also quite good and a huge step above the pedestrian water park, even with the apparent reductions of offerings since opening. Location from Cabana couldn't be beat. A great addition to the Universal Orlando lineup.

Skull Island: Reign of Kong. The new mini land clicks into place naturally, and that facade is a whopper. Love the added kinetic interest of the pyro and passing transports. Queue is great, and love the animatronic shaman witch. I have some quibbles with tone and pacing of the ride, but overall, it works, delivering a strong expansion of King Kong 360 from Hollywood. The animatronic Kong is excellent and elicited hushed reactions on each ride. Also dug the multiple drivers (who looked really good in their staging?) with their own colorful commentary. I got Jinx, the descendant of Skull Island natives, and the Texan. Think I preferred the first two, but all were fun.

Revamped Hulk. Top to bottom, complete success. The queue and revised load is a huge improvement. New premise makes more sense, though I do wish Bruce Banner had at least some direct involvement. Didn't have any issues hearing the score, which was a banger - speakers wer loud and booming. Music got stuck in my head!

Spider-Man and Transformers look great. No complaints, hardly any effects inoperable, projection quality outstanding.

Harry Potter & the Forbidden Journey also holds up here. I'm very used to Hollywood's iteration at this point, but I have to say, Orlando still beats it despite Hollywood's dementor hands and wall/ceiling of dementors at the end. The key is the superior lighting package; it seems Hollywood never found the right levels after nixing its 3D component. Orlando better conceals its infrastructure, highlights its animated elements (Hollywood barely lights its swinging dragon wing), and shrouds the Dementors in effective darkness before they appear.

Jimmy Fallon's Race Through New York. This one surprised me, but it really works and supports the New York-area theme. Lobby and upper floor waiting areas are opulent and enjoyable. Preshow safety video is great, and the ride itself is arguably more fun than Simpsons, Fast & Furious, and even Despicable Me. Fallon's schtick can get annoying, but the ride path works, and the simulator tech does its job. It's a fun ride and would be a home run if not for its redundancy.

Revenge of the Mummy (mostly) looking good. Love the new locker and queue entry setup. Pyro in treasure room and fake unload going full blast. New(ish?) lighting package looks solid, and coaster packs as much of a punch as I remembered. Still a crowd favorite.

Horror Make-Up Show still kills. Hasn't lost its bite or its edge, working in some great new quips about Cats. Laughing that we have to pretend the new Mummy was any good, but I suppose we had to pretend The Wolfman and Van Helsing were A+ efforts, too.

Mardi Gras. First time really experiencing this and had a blast. The parade was high-energy and infectious, the performers (and the number of them!) almost overwhelming, and the food great.

Overall food. We ate at Cowfish, Toothsome, Mythos, The Palm, and Big Fire, enjoying all. Only the latter had any issues with service, but food was great across the board.

Cabana Bay. Remains a bargain for the quality of the resort and accommodations you're getting, especially now with the extreme proximity to Volcano Bay. Shuttle service was efficient - literally never had to wait more than five minutes for a bus to depart. Was greeted with drink vouchers upon check-in. Starbucks kept big lines moving. Great service, all-around.

Line efficiency. We did have express for two days after piggybacking off a Royal Pacific reservation, but in general, lines were well managed and kept things moving, even with reduced number of vehicles or tracks in operation. With the obvious exception of Hagrid's, we never saw any ride slip beyond 45 minutes.

"The Bad," "The Ugly," and the odds and ends coming shortly...
 

Mad Dog

Premium Member
Jan 30, 2013
19,420
Pittsburgh area
Hey all,

Had the opportunity to revisit the Universal Orlando for the first time since 2015, for HHN25. Obviously, quite a bit has changed since then - and overall, for the better. We stayed at Cabana Bay in a Volcano Bay view room for 4 nights, with 4.5 days in the parks. In lieu of a blow by blow, I've organized my thoughts into a Good/Bad/Ugly/Misc list.

THE GOOD

Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure ride experience. This is the family-friendly coaster the resort has needed for a long time and the new generation of Big Thunder Mountain. The launches are incredible, ride experience (between sidecar and motorcycle) varied, length impressive, landscaping splendorous, and creatures encountered exciting. I'm also a big fan of this not being yet another Things Go Horribly Wrong experience, with an emphasis on incidents and rising and falling action in lieu of crisis stakes. Fluffy's left head was inoperable for each of our three rides (if this is going to be permanent - maybe just shut his eyes?), but I'm happy to report the hut Skrewt did blast fog for two of our rides! Queue faces impossible competition from Hogwarts and Gringotts bank, but it's still great.

Volcano Bay overall experience. We went on the coldest day of our trip - Saturday - which started out in the high 60s. We were among only a dozen people in the park when it opened for early entry, meaning we went long stretches without encountering anyone! Logged some 6 rides on Kraukatau (again, an impressively long experience) and multiple rides on the rest of the slides. Punga Racers was closed and boarded up, but it hardly mattered, as I'm over the 150 lb weight limit. Loved the blue whale-themed raft slide as well as Ohya/Ohno. Serpentine body slides stung - that's endemic to these sort of drop slides, but it's definitely more noticeable here. Loved little touches throughout, like the animated chimps on the walk up the volcano and the interactive Vol encounter. Everything was beautifully landscaped, and I enjoyed the architecture choices for infrastructure and food & bev buildings. Food was also quite good and a huge step above the pedestrian water park, even with the apparent reductions of offerings since opening. Location from Cabana couldn't be beat. A great addition to the Universal Orlando lineup.

Skull Island: Reign of Kong. The new mini land clicks into place naturally, and that facade is a whopper. Love the added kinetic interest of the pyro and passing transports. Queue is great, and love the animatronic shaman witch. I have some quibbles with tone and pacing of the ride, but overall, it works, delivering a strong expansion of King Kong 360 from Hollywood. The animatronic Kong is excellent and elicited hushed reactions on each ride. Also dug the multiple drivers (who looked really good in their staging?) with their own colorful commentary. I got Jinx, the descendant of Skull Island natives, and the Texan. Think I preferred the first two, but all were fun.

Revamped Hulk. Top to bottom, complete success. The queue and revised load is a huge improvement. New premise makes more sense, though I do wish Bruce Banner had at least some direct involvement. Didn't have any issues hearing the score, which was a banger - speakers wer loud and booming. Music got stuck in my head!

Spider-Man and Transformers look great. No complaints, hardly any effects inoperable, projection quality outstanding.

Harry Potter & the Forbidden Journey also holds up here. I'm very used to Hollywood's iteration at this point, but I have to say, Orlando still beats it despite Hollywood's dementor hands and wall/ceiling of dementors at the end. The key is the superior lighting package; it seems Hollywood never found the right levels after nixing its 3D component. Orlando better conceals its infrastructure, highlights its animated elements (Hollywood barely lights its swinging dragon wing), and shrouds the Dementors in effective darkness before they appear.

Jimmy Fallon's Race Through New York. This one surprised me, but it really works and supports the New York-area theme. Lobby and upper floor waiting areas are opulent and enjoyable. Preshow safety video is great, and the ride itself is arguably more fun than Simpsons, Fast & Furious, and even Despicable Me. Fallon's schtick can get annoying, but the ride path works, and the simulator tech does its job. It's a fun ride and would be a home run if not for its redundancy.

Revenge of the Mummy (mostly) looking good. Love the new locker and queue entry setup. Pyro in treasure room and fake unload going full blast. New(ish?) lighting package looks solid, and coaster packs as much of a punch as I remembered. Still a crowd favorite.

Horror Make-Up Show still kills. Hasn't lost its bite or its edge, working in some great new quips about Cats. Laughing that we have to pretend the new Mummy was any good, but I suppose we had to pretend The Wolfman and Van Helsing were A+ efforts, too.

Mardi Gras. First time really experiencing this and had a blast. The parade was high-energy and infectious, the performers (and the number of them!) almost overwhelming, and the food great.

Overall food. We ate at Cowfish, Toothsome, Mythos, The Palm, and Big Fire, enjoying all. Only the latter had any issues with service, but food was great across the board.

Cabana Bay. Remains a bargain for the quality of the resort and accommodations you're getting, especially now with the extreme proximity to Volcano Bay. Shuttle service was efficient - literally never had to wait more than five minutes for a bus to depart. Was greeted with drink vouchers upon check-in. Starbucks kept big lines moving. Great service, all-around.

Line efficiency. We did have express for two days after piggybacking off a Royal Pacific reservation, but in general, lines were well managed and kept things moving, even with reduced number of vehicles or tracks in operation. With the obvious exception of Hagrid's, we never saw any ride slip beyond 45 minutes.

"The Bad," "The Ugly," and the odds and ends coming shortly...
Good summation. I have to add, I actually agree 100% with everything you wrote. I'll be interested in the bad & ugly too. I'm guessing F&F gets mentioned .
 

Clive

aka Fallow
Staff member
Moderator
May 26, 2010
3,540
THE BAD

No scare actors in Kong.
The scare actor hallway remained unstaffed for the duration of my visit, including on the busy Saturday. I visited multiple times throughout the day and never saw anyone.

Service at Big Fire. Enjoyed the food, but service was unorganized and lousy. Audible frustration from server who was confused why our food and drinks weren't arriving. Waited fifteen minutes to be assigned a server in the first place.

Fast & Furious: Supercharged. The whole thing. It's been belabored to death on here, but it's worth repeating how much of a misfire this is. What stings more is the amount of obvious love in the queue. If this were the buildup to an actual slot car attraction or coaster, this would be a slam dunk. The fact that there are four (!!) preshows... two in the queue, two on the ride... all in service of an underwhelming speed tunnel... truly embarrassing, which was reflected in the sparse attendance. Preshows are brutally awkward and should be cut entirely. Make them queue space. I did appreciate the effort to update the ride film to San Francisco and include the projected horizon (versus a tunnel gap), but that's about the nicest thing I can say. What a waste.

Collapsed demand for Transformers and Fallon. I realize that I went during a slower period, but commiserate to other attractions, these attractions were struggling to fill vehicles and theaters. I never saw Transformers with a line, period. Fallon ushered you straight on to the theater, every time, with the "5 minute" standby queue always available. (I don't think people really understand the Virtual Queue thing; I saw many departing without even entering the standby queue once they were told they couldn't enter under the marquee). I imagine the color system is engaged more in busier periods, but I worry this is a bellwether for diminishing popularity on a still-new attraction.

Shrek 4D's continued existence. Shrek is still frequently advertised as one of the resort's headliner properties, but the attraction remains a dull slog. I had forgotten that Orlando's version never trimmed the pre-show like its late Hollywood counterpart, and the unabridged version is interminable. The actual show has not improved and just feels tired. The quicker this can get put out to pasture, the better, but it doesn't sound like that'll be happening any time soon.

Hogwarts Express launching trains before safety spiel delivered and frosted doors close. This happened more than once. No doubt in an effort to improve hourly counts, operators were launching the train before staff on-board had a chance to make their rounds and shut the doors. This is a huge problem, as it ruins the illusion of the heroic trio and other ensemble members crossing in the hallway.

Shuttering of playground slides throughout the resort. This is a weird one to report, but I noticed that one or more slides were awkwardly and haphazardly boarded up in each of the resort's play areas: If I Ran the Zoo, Camp Jurassic, The Olive, and Fievel's Playland all had slides and equipment roped off and blocked, with visible rust/staining/dilapidation. Not sure what the deal is here, or if this will go the way of Popeye's crawl spaces and never reopen. If the latter, they need to be removed, as they're a blight on otherwise attractive play areas.

Overcrowded early entry. I understand why it would be a logistical nightmare to do early entry at Islands of Adventure with the present Hagrid's situation (more on that in a moment), but the resort desperately needs more early entry capacity if the practice is to continue. With only Diagon Alley available among the dry parks, Gringotts sees wait times rising above 45 minutes and Ollivander's queues stretching into the streets... in February. More rooms are coming online shortly with Dockside, meaning the problem is only going to get worse. They either need to open more attractions in the Studios to spread demand (maybe Mummy-Supercharged-Men in Black) or reinstate some sort of Islands of Adventure early entry, even if it's limited to Marvel Superhero Island.

Hagrid's operational woes. We got fairly lucky. We ran to the attraction on Friday evening, made it to the ceiling projection room, then stopped due to an extended evacuation delay. To their credit, team members roamed the room explaining what was going on, what the action plan was, and answered questions. We anticipated this and chose to wait it out, figuring we'd at least get a Ruby pass if the ride had to dump. They did it get working about fifteen minutes after park close, so we got a great night ride - to my understanding, everyone who'd gotten in the queue pre-breakdown got their ride. The ride ran exceptionally well on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. We got on in 30 minutes on Sunday (preshow running) and in less than 5 minutes on Monday at park opening, despite being toward the back of the waiting crowds at the turnstiles. However, it's becoming clear to me the ride is running itself to the limit on more "crowded" days and doing anticipated mini refurbishments on slower days. A "midday opening" advisory was quietly added to the app splash page for 2/11 and 2/13. This was not well-advertised to the waiting crowds ahead of park opening (I hadn't realized it, either). The ride did not open until approx. 2PM, at which point it went down for a full evac by 2:15pm. It didn't come back up until 4pm or so and seemed to manage for the final 3 hours of the day. That's... pretty bad. It was thankfully a slower day, but I saw many, many upset people crowding the beleaguered team members guarding the entrance. I don't have a solution, really... just observing that this level of relative unpredictability (from a guest perspective) is bad service, especially when the ride is heavily advertised nationwide *and* trumpeted in the other park as a reason to upgrade your ticket.

Blue Man Group showing its age. We saw the show with discounted front row tickets thanks to a corporate portal deal. I had seen the show in 2014 or so, and it has not much changed since then. I realize it's aimed at tourists who are seeing it once and only once, but the current production and sequencing feels tired, especially in the shadow of grander productions at this sort of theatrical level. Some use of projection mapping versus what I assume are LED panels would go a long way.

The Simpsons Ride. It has not aged well and pales relative to its newer peers in the same park. It's also a poor headliner for what's otherwise still an amusing, entertaining area.

Universal Studios Florida's over reliance on motion simulation and screen-based presentations. I won't spend paragraphs re-litigating this, but it's a real problem. Peers who joined me in my touring commented that Islands of Adventure seemed to have more distinct experiences versus USF's same-y attractions. The problem noticeably worsened with Race Through New York and Fast & Furious replacing more practical attractions. (Gringotts doesn't quite inspire the same fatigue with its number of practical sets and coaster elements, but it doesn't entirely escape the critique, either.) I think the reliance on motion simulation versus "screens" is the actual culprit here, as too many rides don't actually move you anywhere from your starting point. They also share in tropes: careening down a simulated roller-coaster track, a fall from great heights, facing a bombardment of yelled lines from surrounding characters. Despicable Me and Race Through New York stand out as the best of the "simulators," pointing to the need for Shrek and Simpsons to pack it up... though sadly, the forecast seems to indicate they'll last a few more years each. Fast & Furious is its own problem, but at least the company is aware of their bad habit.

The Ugly & other thoughts to come soon.
 

Mad Dog

Premium Member
Jan 30, 2013
19,420
Pittsburgh area
THE BAD

No scare actors in Kong.
The scare actor hallway remained unstaffed for the duration of my visit, including on the busy Saturday. I visited multiple times throughout the day and never saw anyone.

Service at Big Fire. Enjoyed the food, but service was unorganized and lousy. Audible frustration from server who was confused why our food and drinks weren't arriving. Waited fifteen minutes to be assigned a server in the first place.

Fast & Furious: Supercharged. The whole thing. It's been belabored to death on here, but it's worth repeating how much of a misfire this is. What stings more is the amount of obvious love in the queue. If this were the buildup to an actual slot car attraction or coaster, this would be a slam dunk. The fact that there are four (!!) preshows... two in the queue, two on the ride... all in service of an underwhelming speed tunnel... truly embarrassing, which was reflected in the sparse attendance. Preshows are brutally awkward and should be cut entirely. Make them queue space. I did appreciate the effort to update the ride film to San Francisco and include the projected horizon (versus a tunnel gap), but that's about the nicest thing I can say. What a waste.

Collapsed demand for Transformers and Fallon. I realize that I went during a slower period, but commiserate to other attractions, these attractions were struggling to fill vehicles and theaters. I never saw Transformers with a line, period. Fallon ushered you straight on to the theater, every time, with the "5 minute" standby queue always available. (I don't think people really understand the Virtual Queue thing; I saw many departing without even entering the standby queue once they were told they couldn't enter under the marquee). I imagine the color system is engaged more in busier periods, but I worry this is a bellwether for diminishing popularity on a still-new attraction.

Shrek 4D's continued existence. Shrek is still frequently advertised as one of the resort's headliner properties, but the attraction remains a dull slog. I had forgotten that Orlando's version never trimmed the pre-show like its late Hollywood counterpart, and the unabridged version is interminable. The actual show has not improved and just feels tired. The quicker this can get put out to pasture, the better, but it doesn't sound like that'll be happening any time soon.

Hogwarts Express launching trains before safety spiel delivered and frosted doors close. This happened more than once. No doubt in an effort to improve hourly counts, operators were launching the train before staff on-board had a chance to make their rounds and shut the doors. This is a huge problem, as it ruins the illusion of the heroic trio and other ensemble members crossing in the hallway.

Shuttering of playground slides throughout the resort. This is a weird one to report, but I noticed that one or more slides were awkwardly and haphazardly boarded up in each of the resort's play areas: If I Ran the Zoo, Camp Jurassic, The Olive, and Fievel's Playland all had slides and equipment roped off and blocked, with visible rust/staining/dilapidation. Not sure what the deal is here, or if this will go the way of Popeye's crawl spaces and never reopen. If the latter, they need to be removed, as they're a blight on otherwise attractive play areas.

Overcrowded early entry. I understand why it would be a logistical nightmare to do early entry at Islands of Adventure with the present Hagrid's situation (more on that in a moment), but the resort desperately needs more early entry capacity if the practice is to continue. With only Diagon Alley available among the dry parks, Gringotts sees wait times rising above 45 minutes and Ollivander's queues stretching into the streets... in February. More rooms are coming online shortly with Dockside, meaning the problem is only going to get worse. They either need to open more attractions in the Studios to spread demand (maybe Mummy-Supercharged-Men in Black) or reinstate some sort of Islands of Adventure early entry, even if it's limited to Marvel Superhero Island.

Hagrid's operational woes. We got fairly lucky. We ran to the attraction on Friday evening, made it to the ceiling projection room, then stopped due to an extended evacuation delay. To their credit, team members roamed the room explaining what was going on, what the action plan was, and answered questions. We anticipated this and chose to wait it out, figuring we'd at least get a Ruby pass if the ride had to dump. They did it get working about fifteen minutes after park close, so we got a great night ride - to my understanding, everyone who'd gotten in the queue pre-breakdown got their ride. The ride ran exceptionally well on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. We got on in 30 minutes on Sunday (preshow running) and in less than 5 minutes on Monday at park opening, despite being toward the back of the waiting crowds at the turnstiles. However, it's becoming clear to me the ride is running itself to the limit on more "crowded" days and doing anticipated mini refurbishments on slower days. A "midday opening" advisory was quietly added to the app splash page for 2/11 and 2/13. This was not well-advertised to the waiting crowds ahead of park opening (I hadn't realized it, either). The ride did not open until approx. 2PM, at which point it went down for a full evac by 2:15pm. It didn't come back up until 4pm or so and seemed to manage for the final 3 hours of the day. That's... pretty bad. It was thankfully a slower day, but I saw many, many upset people crowding the beleaguered team members guarding the entrance. I don't have a solution, really... just observing that this level of relative unpredictability (from a guest perspective) is bad service, especially when the ride is heavily advertised nationwide *and* trumpeted in the other park as a reason to upgrade your ticket.


The Simpsons Ride. It has not aged well and pales relative to its newer peers in the same park. It's also a poor headliner for what's otherwise still an amusing, entertaining area.

Universal Studios Florida's over reliance on motion simulation and screen-based presentations. I won't spend paragraphs re-litigating this, but it's a real problem. Peers who joined me in my touring commented that Islands of Adventure seemed to have more distinct experiences versus USF's same-y attractions. The problem noticeably worsened with Race Through New York and Fast & Furious replacing more practical attractions. (Gringotts doesn't quite inspire the same fatigue with its number of practical sets and coaster elements, but it doesn't entirely escape the critique, either.) I think the reliance on motion simulation versus "screens" is the actual culprit here, as too many rides don't actually move you anywhere from your starting point. They also share in tropes: careening down a simulated roller-coaster track, a fall from great heights, facing a bombardment of yelled lines from surrounding characters. Despicable Me and Race Through New York stand out as the best of the "simulators," pointing to the need for Shrek and Simpsons to pack it up... though sadly, the forecast seems to indicate they'll last a few more years each. Fast & Furious is its own problem, but at least the company is aware of their bad habit.

The Ugly & other thoughts to come soon.
We haven't experienced those issues with Fallon (except early mornings) or Transformers, so they may be more apt to pop up on low crowd days. Transformers still has some of the longer lines at the park in general. Interesting point of yours on the early admission. We rarely take advantage of it since we use hotel express or single rider (when we don't have express) to get around long lines. It's probably a result of so many onsite rooms now, plus they still have the partner hotels adding to that crowd. Your point is well taken, and since you were there for a low crowd time, it probably really needs addressed if it's to remain a perk. I believe one of those Harrid's closures was for filming purposes, but damn, they should do that stuff before the park opens, especially on a new popular attraction.That's really inexcusable on Universal's part. We've never run into the Hogwart's Express issue, and we ride it a lot, so that may be more of a quirky operational issue. Simpson's is definitely showing it's age. The film is not as crisp and clean as it's contemporaries, like Fallon. But we still enjoy the ride which is fun, though getting outdated. Unfortunately, Minion Mayhem, with it's much smaller screen, now has the same quality of the Simpsons film since they removed the 3D. Minions 'used' to have a very clear concise film with depth, now it's Simpson look and quality. Kong scare actors have always been hit or miss, which is unfortunate, since they add so much to the experience. When I was there a few days ago the scare actor really had the crowd going. Actually I wish they'd use more than one. Seems like they're usually missing early in the day. USF has pretty decent attractions but they definitely need more balance. Over reliance on simulators is biting them. Fortunately, we love live street shows, and USF has a ton of really good ones, so that helps the balance. The F&F fail really hurts though. Hopefully Bourne helps the balance. All in all pretty good points, though a few of the failures may have more to do with low crowd levels or one time operational issues.
 
Last edited:

belloq87

Veteran Member
Dec 7, 2009
4,160
Universal Exports
Hogwarts Express launching trains before safety spiel delivered and frosted doors close. This happened more than once. No doubt in an effort to improve hourly counts, operators were launching the train before staff on-board had a chance to make their rounds and shut the doors. This is a huge problem, as it ruins the illusion of the heroic trio and other ensemble members crossing in the hallway.
Wasn't aware this is happening, but it's disappointing to hear!
 

Clive

aka Fallow
Staff member
Moderator
May 26, 2010
3,540
THE UGLY

Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls and (to a lesser extent) Popeye are in horrendous shape. Every time I ride either of these, I think it can't possibly get worse... and yet it does, every trip. Dudley now feels like a quarter of an attraction, with a litany of exposed infrastructure, blown speakers, rusted figures, and altogether missing scenes. The thing smells of mold and industrial rot and, outside the still impressive facade, looks no better once on-ride. Flanked by Spider-Man and Kong, two of the resort's most impressive attractions, Dudley feels more appropriate at a rundown Six Flags. Popeye used to function in better condition, but I counted at least three missing figures or vignettes and a greater number of inoperable ones... and didn't this thing just come out of refurbishment? Look, I get maintaining animation on water rides is a challenge, but it's been 20-something years. Have a reliable maintenance plan for your figures and effects.

Jurassic Park isn't looking too hot, either. It was nice to see the pre-Jurassic World theming in action, but despite the very recent refurbishment, most of the dinos still look crappy. The ultrasaur has never been staged well or convincing, so I have no idea why they don't just rework the scene. The two little fellas right after (whose names I can never remember how to spell) remained almost completely static on both my rides several days apart. Stegos fared better but had a couple tears in the skins. Amazingly, the hadrosaurs looked best of all. I don't know why they can't seem to pull off competent Raptors in Orlando, but the ones here have never looked good and they look even worse now, with perpendicular stiff necks and almost no motion. Rex looks good, but it hardly matters after seeing six or so failed attempts at other dinos.

Poseidon's Fury is long past its expiration date. I used to have a lot of cult affection for the attraction's unintentional kitsch, but it's past the point of any rational appeal. This feels like something of a forlorn Vegas attraction at this point, and most of the main interior theater effects appear to be literally tearing apart the aging infrastructure - I could see exposed piping poking through tears in black shrouding I'd never noticed before. Additionally, were the gaping exit passageways always left ajar on your right in both the skeleton room and the main theater? I seem to remember them being sealed, adding to the effect that we were "trapped" - leaving them wide open with loud exit signs robs the presentation of any real impact.

Someone, anyone, save E.T. I love this ride dearly, but if Universal has completely given up on it, I can't defend its seemingly inevitable extinction. Universal is clearly capable of building and maintaining competent (Imhotep 2) to excellent (Kong) animatronics, so I do not understand why they have completely failed to keep the E.T. figures at any acceptable condition. The cop mannequins were limited by the era of their creation, but they can't even pull off their basic head turns. The chasing jeeps that used to pull into view now sit in plain sight, audio still implying their rapid approach, before their lights turn on. I don't think I've ever seen the owl work. E.T.'s friends were always nightmare fuel, but now they're more of the Five Nights at Freddy's variety than anything produced by shrooms. The final E.T. straight up looks broken, managing a half head tilt and a wrist twitch and practically nothing else. His audio is also a mess - he makes a garbled warble before failing to spit out anyone's name from your car; there appears to have been a synchronization issue, as he ran through names, but never hit anyone in my bike set for any of my three rides. The awkward "keep your feet inside the car" is made worse if you know the context, and a more permanent solution is needed. In general, throughout the parks, there's a clear bolstering of burdensome lawyering leading to band-aid solutions that damage theme and show set. Here it takes the form of blunt theatrical spotlights attached to the platform with exposed cabling. I realize it was thrown together to get the ride back open, but we need long-term, thematically integrated solutions, not just rush jobs that stick around for decades.

The Cat in the Hat needs help. It's in better shape than the aforementioned attractions, but the severe reduction in vehicle movement has made the oft-arthritic animation only more apparent. Some figures were working great, but many others - especially those where mouths are supposed to be moving - don't past muster. This is more of a pipe dream, but something different ought to be done with the spin-centric scenes that now lack any clear purpose or point of interest.

If I Ran the Zoo feels forgotten. This used to be one of my favorite ideas, but I was saddened by its condition. Several of the creature effects were blocked off with generic Universal fences, while others were stained with mold and rust. Tic Tac Joe barely moved his mouth, while several others did not respond with the proper animation. It's a great walk-through area, but it needs some love and care. I'm also unclear why the rotating Green Eggs & Ham sign is missing nearby, especially with the restaurant reopening on a more regular basis.

First scene in Mummy is laughable at this point. It's funny to imagine there was a time where Universal boasted about the intricacy of the animatronics presented here and how they had to limit Imhotep I's movement so he didn't resemble a live actor; the lighting package, elsewhere appreciated, does what remains little favors, clearly exposing the robotic wands holding the stiff-as-a-board Imhotep upright. Reggie can't be bothered to move his mouth at all and sort of just drifts around. None of it is compelling or worthy of what was designed, and if Universal isn't interested in maintaining it (I'm aware they significantly downgraded the animatronic due to maintenance concerns over the years), they ought to swap it for the presumably more easily managed Singapore version. Similarly, the scarab and turntable scenes look messy due to incoherent lighting packages. (I have no idea why the corpses on either side of the scarabs flash red and green like Christmas lights, but here we are.)

Islands of Adventure needs shows again or it risks becoming a true half-day park. This reality hit me as I realized we'd conquered the park's attractions by 2:00PM, without express, and on a day with light crowds but not insignificant lines. We waited something like 20 minutes for Spider-Man, 30 for Hulk, 20-25 for Kong, 30-40 for Forbidden Journey. And I mean we did hit all of the attractions - we worked in Storm, Fearfall, the Seuss flats, Poseidon's Fury, and yes, Hagrid's, with a 30 minute wait. I guess if we're talking about tourists who show up at 11am, encounter 60 minute waits for everything, and the park closes at 7 or 8pm, yeah, there's enough to fill the air of the day... but with the way Universal (and theme parks in general) train you to take advantage of early entry, it's very easy to knock out top headliners early, work through the supporting attractions, and find yourself without much to do after lunch. Scheduled shows, which force you to deviate from your current course and by definition take up at least half an hour of your time (often more), help round out a park's experiences and contribute to the "full day." With the exception of Poseidon's Fury (which barely qualifies as a show) and the blink-and-you'll-miss-it Hogwarts Lights, Islands of Adventure has no organized live entertainment beyond character encounters. This is despite two vacant theaters. I know this isn't a priority for Universal, but it feels especially brazen when Universal will soon have three auditorium performances (even if one of them sucks), six-ish street shows, a parade, and (most of the time) a longer fountain show. Sinbad wasn't worth keeping around, but the park needs something.

Backside of the volcano and general exposed infrastructure at Volcano Bay. I know, most have accepted that the volcano is the way it is. My intel suggests the real plan was to finish the job and enclose the thing before they realized how logistically impossible that was going to leave the park ten or so years down the road. (Long-term maintenance is definitely going to be a problem regardless.) As much as I like the overall look of the park and many of its touches, there's still a lot of blind spots of ugly concrete, metal mesh, and straight-up exposed wiring and cabling, which is not really what you want to see when you're floating through recirculated water. (I'm not referring to the satellite slide towers, which are fine enough.) The park was rushed to completion to meet a locked open date, and it shows. I know it's had problems managing capacity (which I can't assess due to the lightness of crowds on my visit), but Universal really needs to take some steps to clean some of these presentational problems up and make sure everything meets a slightly higher visual standard. It's 75% or so of the way there, but that last 25% really sticks out.
 

Clive

aka Fallow
Staff member
Moderator
May 26, 2010
3,540
OTHER NEUTRAL THOUGHTS AND MISCELLANEOUS OBSERVATIONS

Jurassic Park's present state is not nearly as bad as promised. Yes, there's construction wall hell in the center, but it's not like the entire land is a wash. It's a necessary evil for the new ride that'll almost assuredly revitalize the place and reintroduce plenty of vegetation and rock work. I'm pleased Camp Jurassic maintains its escapist splendor in the meantime.

Rockit has finally hit its intended operational reliability. It's wild to think this coaster drew the highest waits in the park for many years and was as prone to breakdowns as the early months of Gringotts or now Hagrid's. While rough here and there, the loading ran smooth as butter, with waits only rarely spiking to 45 minutes. Many times, it hovered around 15 minutes, well below other rides. I realize it's probably been this way for several years now, but it was new for me.

Despicable Me appears to be seeing waning demand. I realize this is anecdotal evidence and it was the slow season, but Despicable Me used to see some of the highest consistent waits in the park due to its low capacity. Capacity has remained constant, yet waits appear to have plummeted; I never saw it hit anything above 25 minutes, and many times, it was a walk-on. Did the removal of 3D trigger this (and would it, really? Do guests care?), or is the franchise and/or ride itself losing luster? Hard to say, but something to watch.

Escape from Gringotts doesn't have the spark it did for me several years ago. This is entirely personal presence, and I realize the ride gets great ratings. It's a better overall experience than Forbidden Journey, in my opinion, but it can't foster the same passion once the newness wears off. Maybe it's because I can't say it's a great Mummy or Spider-Man successor; in trying to be both, it can't quite reach the highs of either, especially without the aid of physical effects and animation to compliment and sell the 3D illusion. The other issue is the tediousness of getting on the thing. I found a great appreciation for rides I can just board like Mummy, Rockit, Hulk, Spider-Man, and Kong; any ride with multiple preshows starts to become frustrating by the third or fourth ride of your trip. (It doesn't help that Gringotts effectively has three, since the bridge between the office and the lifts is all but required to last two minutes.) You're looking at a thirty to forty minute time investment for a very good but not outstanding ride.

Despite its larger size, Diagon Alley has started to feel quite small with its single attraction. Hogsmeade now has two in-demand headliners, a junior coaster, the inherent might of Hogwarts, and its train station. Diagon has significantly better street shows, a nice ride, and the train, but feels strangely incomplete otherwise. A small dark ride featuring Fred and George or something more substantial involving the seedier side of Knockturn Alley would really help the area now that it's several years into its life. I know that isn't necessarily practical given the practical space limitations of the area, but it's just something that felt more apparent as I toured the area in the advent of Hagrid's.

Seriously, are they ever going to fix Hermione's voice? This seems like such an easy fix for the train and Gringotts. There have to be better Emma Watson impersonators, and it can't be particularly hard to do a single V/O session and round of approvals. Did some exec's daughter do the dreadful dub, and that's why we can't get rid of it?
 

Mad Dog

Premium Member
Jan 30, 2013
19,420
Pittsburgh area
DM Minion Mayhem's lines shortened right after the changeover from 3D. Probably due to it being a lesser experience. It used to be one of Alene's favorite rides, and she would want to ride it 4 or 5 times each vacation. After we 'walked on to the attraction' during the mid afternoon, and sat down to watch a vastly degraded experience in a one third empty theater, she said she has no desire to go see it again. Bright side is that GSAT scores might ironically improve since there's not the long lines like there used to be :lol: .
 
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Nick

Staff member
Moderator
Sep 22, 2011
21,836
Orlando
DM Minion Mayhem's lines shortened right after the changeover from 3D. Probably due to it being a lesser experience. It used to be one of Alene's favorite rides, and she would want to ride it 4 or 5 times each vacation. After we 'walked on to the attraction' during the mid afternoon, and sat down to watch a vastly degraded experience in a one third empty theater, she said she has no desire to go see it again. Bright side is that GSAT scores might ironically improve since there's not the long lines like there used to be :lol: .
The majority of guests literally don't know the difference. The change has nothing to do with it for 99% of riders.
 

Mad Dog

Premium Member
Jan 30, 2013
19,420
Pittsburgh area
The majority of guests literally don't know the difference. The change has nothing to do with it for 99% of riders.
Then why the huge decrease in stand by lines. and...I've been following Touring Plans daily on that....not counting my own observations on vacations in Nov. and Feb......The lines dropped right after the change was made.....so no way I can agree with you.
 

bob albert

BANNED
Sep 18, 2015
1,710
Poseidon is always awesome and seems consistent. Maybe I am getting lucky but I always say if it were a Disney ride it would be regarded as one of the better experiences in Orlando.

The minions change out of 3d literally make the ride useless for me. I tell everyone I know to skip it.
 

Joe

aka TestTrack321
Staff member
Moderator
Feb 15, 2012
12,787
Pittsburgh, PA
Man lots of negative stuff, interesting as I don't see a lot the same way you do but hey that's what makes the world go around. Anyway one point:

Blue Man Group showing its age. We saw the show with discounted front row tickets thanks to a corporate portal deal. I had seen the show in 2014 or so, and it has not much changed since then. I realize it's aimed at tourists who are seeing it once and only once, but the current production and sequencing feels tired, especially in the shadow of grander productions at this sort of theatrical level. Some use of projection mapping versus what I assume are LED panels would go a long way.
Blue Man Orlando opened in 2007 and the new show debuted in 2012, basically a 5 year run of the old show. We're now 8 years with the current show and this is the oldest running Blue Man show around; every other show has been refurbished or upgraded in some way. Right now there's a brand new touring show with brand new material, all the other stage shows have new material, and there's still more they can develop for a new Blue Man show. With the new Cirque show opening I hope BMG goes down soon for a two month upgrade to a brand new set and show, they make enough money to do it.
 

Nick

Staff member
Moderator
Sep 22, 2011
21,836
Orlando
Man lots of negative stuff, interesting as I don't see a lot the same way you do but hey that's what makes the world go around. Anyway one point:



Blue Man Orlando opened in 2007 and the new show debuted in 2012, basically a 5 year run of the old show. We're now 8 years with the current show and this is the oldest running Blue Man show around; every other show has been refurbished or upgraded in some way. Right now there's a brand new touring show with brand new material, all the other stage shows have new material, and there's still more they can develop for a new Blue Man show. With the new Cirque show opening I hope BMG goes down soon for a two month upgrade to a brand new set and show, they make enough money to do it.
There's constantly $15 ticket deals for TMs for BMG so i'm actually not sure exactly how well it's been filling up lately.
 

Skold

Member
Feb 17, 2016
505
We last went to this in May 2018. They did Shake Your Euphemism, which is worth the ticket price on its own.

 

Joe

aka TestTrack321
Staff member
Moderator
Feb 15, 2012
12,787
Pittsburgh, PA
There's constantly $15 ticket deals for TMs for BMG so i'm actually not sure exactly how well it's been filling up lately.
Whenever I've been the theater is pretty full, they can pull in the audience to a smaller space and curtain off the back back rows if needed. The good news is the show is super cheap to run: it's basically seven performers, four stage hands, show tech, plus whoever assists the audience.
 

OhHaiInternet95

Veteran Member
Aug 18, 2017
3,331
Man lots of negative stuff, interesting as I don't see a lot the same way you do but hey that's what makes the world go around. Anyway one point:



Blue Man Orlando opened in 2007 and the new show debuted in 2012, basically a 5 year run of the old show. We're now 8 years with the current show and this is the oldest running Blue Man show around; every other show has been refurbished or upgraded in some way. Right now there's a brand new touring show with brand new material, all the other stage shows have new material, and there's still more they can develop for a new Blue Man show. With the new Cirque show opening I hope BMG goes down soon for a two month upgrade to a brand new set and show, they make enough money to do it.
I disagree with some of what he says (Fallon, Poseidon's--granted screen fatigue has likely made me overlook some criticisms I would have of maintenance in certain attractions), but I still think this review is overall positive. Made me appreciate the place all the more. :)
 

Clive

aka Fallow
Staff member
Moderator
May 26, 2010
3,540
Man lots of negative stuff, interesting as I don't see a lot the same way you do but hey that's what makes the world go around. Anyway one point:



Blue Man Orlando opened in 2007 and the new show debuted in 2012, basically a 5 year run of the old show. We're now 8 years with the current show and this is the oldest running Blue Man show around; every other show has been refurbished or upgraded in some way. Right now there's a brand new touring show with brand new material, all the other stage shows have new material, and there's still more they can develop for a new Blue Man show. With the new Cirque show opening I hope BMG goes down soon for a two month upgrade to a brand new set and show, they make enough money to do it.
I would tend to agree with @OhHaiInternet95's assessment that my overall view is positive. The "bad" and "ugly" may have a greater share of digital ink, but it's easier to articulate in full why something isn't working for you versus explaining for the hundredth time why I feel Spider-Man is still the apex of Universal show design. With that said, I'm a cynic and difficult to please and will call out shortcomings when I see them. The water and dark rides need help, but the overall health of the resort, outside the motion simulation fatigue at Universal Studios, is strong, with more promising signs on the near horizon.

Definitely agree on Blue Man. It isn't a bad show by any means, but you can feel that it hasn't seen any new or revised content in nearly a decade.

I am genuinely curious about the point I raised on Poseidon's Fury! re: keeping the rightmost exit passageways open for the second and third theater components. Is this a new development, and does anyone know why it was enacted? It really takes away from the show. Anyone know more?
 
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bob albert

BANNED
Sep 18, 2015
1,710
I am genuinely curious about the point I raised on Poseidon's Fury! re: keeping the rightmost exit passageways open for the second and third theater components. Is this a new development, and does anyone know why it was enacted? It really takes away from the show. Anyone know more?
That would be super lame. It's the most underrated attraction in Orlando.
 
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