From MEN IN BLACK to Springfield USA: The sci-fi & silly details of World Expo at Universal Studios Florida
At first glance, World Expo may seem to be one of the few areas inside Universal Studios Florida without the heightened level of detailed theming featured in other areas of the park. While it certainly is true that the amount of little details and theming is stronger in the Hollywood and New York backlots, there are still lots of fun details to be found in World Expo.
This part of the park came about as a means to showcase the wonders of the world, such as time travel in the opening-day attraction Back to the Future: The Ride and later the marvels of alien lifeforms in MEN IN BLACK Alien Attack. The latter attraction fits in quite well with the World Expo theme; its iconic replica of the observation towers featured in the 1964 World’s Fair, which played an important role in the original Men in Black movie, towering above the USF skyline.
The 1964 World’s Fair actually had a major impact on Orlando’s theme parks. Walt Disney and his Imagineers created multiple attractions for the 1964 World’s Fair, and the elements designed for those attractions became staples at Disneyland in California and eventually Walt Disney World.
The replicas of the World’s Fair observation towers have become a landmark of Universal Studios Florida.
The design details of the entire MEN IN BLACK Alien Attack building and attraction area are themed with 1960’s sci-fi details.
The age of America’s romance with space travel is carried well into the merchandise shop and surrounding food and beverage outlets. In fact, the restroom entrance is one of my favorite design elements with simple, clean, and modern lines.
Additionally, the MIB attraction itself is one of my favorite examples of great pre-show and post-show theming. The “Universe and You” storyline is carried throughout the queue and at the unloading platform of the ride.
However, if there is one detail that does not match the sci-fi theme at all, it is the background music. Don’t get me wrong, I love the late 1990’s music that is played here, but, even though the music matches what was playing on the radio when the original movie came out, it’s a bit jarring. It also has the unpleasant effect of making the attraction (and original movie) feel dated.
Before moving onto Springfield USA, you absolutely must take a moment to enjoy the awesome panoramic view of the park from MEN IN BLACK Alien Attack. You can practically see each and every single section of the park when you stand by the MIB attraction sign and look out along the water. And before you leave the park for the day, look for the MIB walk-around characters in USF’s Hollywood backlot — although you might easily miss them, as they are masters of anonymity.
Springfield USA, our next destination, is technically still a part of the World Expo area of Universal Studios Florida. Guests may find this confusing when consulting a map because Springfield is larger — and features many more venues — than the MIB area. World Expo also includes the Fear Factor Live amphitheater, but since it features no theming other than a sign for the show, there are no details to share here. What we can observe from this hodgepodge is that Universal Creative hasn’t quite figured out a good road map developing the back corner of Universal Studios Florida, at least in terms of an overall theme. “World Expo” worked when the area just included MIB and Back to the Future. But, with the addition of Diagon Alley, Springfield USA, and Fear Factor Live (which used to be classified as part of San Francisco/Amity), “World Expo” really only seems to fit the MIB attraction area now.
For now, let’s set our criticisms aside and enter the silly, zany cartoon world of The Simpsons. You’ve got to get into the mood to read because some of this area’s best details are in the many puns and satire found on various signs and placards. The easiest examples of this are the names of the midway games found near The Simpsons Ride. Some of my favorites are Sledge Homer, Eye Carumba, and Help Santa’s Little Helper. You’ll find plenty more puns if you take a moment to read the signs throughout Springfield USA.
Speaking of signs, many guests pass right by the intersection of Fast Food Blvd, an actual satirical street in The Simpsons TV show, and Evergreen Terrace, the street on which the Simpson’s humble abode resides. It’s on this corner that you will find the Kwik-e-Mart, home to one of my favorite details, the payphone.
Here, neighborhood bully Nelson Muntz beckons you to answer the phone. Wait around for it to ring and make sure you answer the call. And don’t miss the graffiti along the side of the payphone.
Speaking of phones, if you’re ever in Moe’s Tavern and the phone rings be sure to answer that call too.
Inside the Kwik-e-Mart are signs for the lottery and other advertisements you just have to read — any retail employee will greatly appreciate the sign pertaining to satisfaction guaranteed and refunds.
The entire Fast Food Blvd is a Simpsons lover’s dream: The Krusty Burger, Moe’s Tavern, and Comic Book Guy’s storefronts are perfect recreations of these fictional destinations. Of course, inside Moe’s Tavern, you will find some fantastic details, like the picture of the barbershop quartet known as the “B Sharps”. Also inside the Fast Food Blvd restaurants, there are multiple murals to behold. My favorite is actually the smallest, which is hanging above the condiment bar. It has some of the best details, but you have to look closely. For example, the sign for the Sleep-Easy Motel is only partially lit, spelling the word “sleazy.”
Back outside, there are plenty more silly sights to behold. Bart Simpson’s sneaky behavior is evident: can you spot the handiwork of his alter ago “El Barto”?
The centerpiece of Springfield USA is the statue of Springfield’s founder, Jebediah Springfield, perfectly recreated from the cartoon series. And anyone who had the pleasure of visiting Springfield USA during its first few weeks will notice that Officer Wiggam’s car has gotten a makeover. When Springfield USA first opened, Wiggam’s car was a true black-and-white. But kids were quick to climb on the photo op, and, in the Florida heat, the black part of the car became near scolding temperatures. So the car was repainted solid white.
After chowing down on an indulgent Krusty Burger and washing it down with a frosty cold Duff (imagine Duff Man’s voice “OH Yeah!”), comic book geeks — and really geeks of all kinds — should stop by the window of Android Dungeon Baseball Card Shop.
Unfortunately, Comic Book Guy is not around to keep the shop open, but if you read his “closed” sign, you’ll know he has a good reason to be out of town.
Sure, it takes a little extra work to catch all the puns and details within Springfield USA, but I love that it echoes the same level of detail found in the show itself.
It is this element that makes World Expo different than the backlot sections of the park (including New York, Hollywood, and San Francisco). While these three “cities” are beautifully detailed and layered, they do not convey or recreate the feeling that one particular movie or show expresses. The area surrounding MEN IN BLACK Alien Attack and Springfield USA envelope guests into the overall mood and atmosphere, bringing you “into the movies”.
If you would like to learn more about MIB and Springfield USA, you can find more details, photos, videos, and real guest reviews of each attraction and venue in the World Expo section of the OI Universal Center:
- MEN IN BLACK Alien Attack
- Welcome to Springfield USA
- The Simpsons Ride
- Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl
- Bumblebee Man’s Taco Truck (quick-service)
- Duff Brewery (limited-service bar)
- Moe’s Tavern (limited-service bar)
- Simpsons Fast Food Blvd (quick-service)
Finally, if you enjoyed learning the historical perspective of World Expo, then you’ll definitely want to see all of the UOR history blog posts on Orlando Informer, including:
- Hooray for Hollywood: A fascinating exploration of the themes, facades & history of USF’s Hollywood backlot
- Empire state of mind: Tour the incredible treasures & history of USF’s New York backlot
- The City by the Bay: Dive deep in the themes & inspiration for USF’s San Francisco backlot
USF World Expo – photo gallery
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