Last Saturday I visited Universal Studios Florida (USF) for the opening of their 2013 holiday season, and I had a very enjoyable time. The Christmas season is my favorite time of year to visit Orlando’s theme parks, and USF didn’t disappoint.
[wptouch target=”non-mobile”]Remember, you can click any image to view it full-screen. And don’t miss the complete photo gallery with 57 new full-screen images at the bottom of the post.
Immediately setting the mood at the entrance of the park, a large Macy’s Holiday Parade medallion hangs from the archway along with one of the extraordinary holiday inflatable Red Elf with a gift. Garland, lights, and other festive holiday decorations can be found throughout the park including the shops and restaurants. In addition, several oversized inflatable characters including Grover, Horton, Curious George, Scooby Doo, Garfield, and the Cat in The Hat are strategically placed around the park and make excellent photo ops for park guests.
Another entertaining aspect of the holidays at USF is the Blues Brothers’ Christmas show.
Jake and Elwood performed their unique version of Christmas songs, creatively changing the words of a song like “Soul Man” to “Snow Man”. Jake and Elwood also decorated a small tree with items only the Blues Brothers and their fans could appreciate. Even their police car was decked out for the holidays with wreaths, garland and bows.
Construction progress at the Diagon Alley area astounds me every visit. Some of the brick on the outside of buildings in this expansive section of USF have been painted, and the fine details continue to emerge on the remaining buildings. I wish that USF would let us see what is happening behind the large London facade and inside the Gringott’s building — soon enough, I know.
The Hogwarts Express Train has begun testing along the tracks at a very slow speed. During my visit, one of the two trains remained parked along the tracks near Beetlejuice’s Graveyard Revue, and the other train was parked between USF and Islands of Adventure, closer to Hogsmeade Station.
If you’d like to see more photos of the Diagon Alley construction site, Dan uploaded about 50 to the OI Flickr page, in the December 5 photoset.
The entry area to Springfield was blocked due to concrete work on the main walkway. Guests are required to walk next to the Animal Actors Stadium entrance toward the Springfield restrooms in order to access Springfield from the Hollywood Boulevard side of the park.
Because of the construction walls in this area, it was not possible to take photos of the Back to the Future train or DeLorean from the Springfield area, but you can still find the Delorean on the Central Park side of the construction area. We’ve been told this construction will last about another month.
Some scheduling changes at USF include the Superstar Parade not scheduled again until December 25, due to the Macy’s Holiday Parade running at 5:00pm daily. However, you can still see your favorite Superstar characters at the Character Party Zone several times each day (check the in-park guidemap for times). The Cinematic Spectacular show is still scheduled to run every night at park closing except for December 11 & 12.
It was a beautiful day with temperatures reaching the mid-80’s, 10 degrees above normal. Crowd levels were moderate with posted wait times of 45 minutes for the popular family rides Despicable Me Minion Mayhem and E.T. Adventure. Transformers had a posted wait time of 30 minutes, while the remaining attractions were 15 minutes or less.
An attraction that we enjoy as a family at Universal Studios Florida is The Revenge of the Mummy. This thrilling indoor experience — part dark ride, part roller coaster — is very a fan favorite, and it incorporates elements and scenes from The Mummy movie franchise through the Tombs of Imhotep. The queue helps set the tone and theme of the attraction, with newly installed interactive experiences.
Entering the dimly lit tunnels, similar to the carved excavation pathways inside a pyramid, eerie and haunting music can be heard. After going through a maze of stone, Egyptian paintings, and support beams, guests arrive at the loading zone. Team Members will stay in character as they stare at guests for extended periods without talking. Guests sometimes scream when they turn around and a team member is standing within inches of them!
After boarding the mine car, the ride begins with an animatronic team member, Reggie, warning guests the curse is real and then the Mummy Imhotep appears suddenly out of a coffin. The ride vehicle enters a grand chamber with the Mummy’s image, asking you to join him or suffer the consequences. As the vehicle enters the next dark chamber, scarab beetles start attacking. The ride vehicle moves backwards, makes a 180 degree turn and launches into a coaster ride reaching over 40 mph. Guests zoom through the dark with projections of mummies and fire along the way. The vehicle stops suddenly with a team member thanking guests for riding. The Mummy surprises unsuspecting guests by taking over the ride again and sending the vehicle through one last thrilling coaster ride.
At the conclusion of the ride, guests feel they barely escaped the Mummy. Brendan Frasier, star of the movies, greets them at the ride’s finale. Be sure to note how important his coffee is. After exiting the ride, guests are directed through the gift shop, which offers many items related to The Mummy movie and Egyptian themed souvenirs to remind them of the fun they just had on the Revenge of the Mummy.
Although riding the Mummy is a great experience, the highlight of my visit this month to USF was enjoying the Macy’s Holiday Parade, followed by Mannheim Steamroller live in concert. As recommended by the holiday guide in the OI Universal Center, I stood in front of the Macy’s building in the New York backlot to watch a variety of extraordinary balloons and floats, entertaining costumed performers, and talented bands as they paraded down the street and past the enormous, beautifully decorated USF Christmas tree.
New this year is the adorable Happy the Hippo balloon, direct from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York (seen in the image directly above).
At the end of the parade, Santa arrived on his sleigh and stopped in front of the tree. Santa’s helpers, dancing Snowmen, and Rockettes in their red and white attire performed an entertaining number. With great fanfare and the help of park guests, Santa counted to three and the Christmas tree was lit as confetti sprayed into the air from the tops of nearby buildings.
After the parade finished, the Rockettes were available to pose for photos with park guests. It was a very merry experience for all!
If you’d like to get the full Macy’s Holiday Parade experience, check out this video Dan just published yesterday:
Afterwards, I went to the Universal Music Plaza and heard some of my favorite Christmas music performed live by Mannheim Steamroller, directed by Chip Davis.
God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman, Deck the Halls, and Silent Night were just a few of my favorite songs performed. At the end of the hour-long concert, several of the Grinchmas Wholiday Spectacular cast members sang songs from the marvelous musical now showing at Islands of Adventure (which I’ll be covering in tomorrow IOA trip report).
These wonderful experiences at USF have become a holiday tradition for our family. I hope you are able to visit USF soon and enjoy the holidays festivities along with all the thrills and fun that Universal Studios Florida has to offer!
2013 holidays at Universal Studios Florida – photo gallery
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