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4 BIG Universal updates from March 2017


March has been an exceptionally busy month for Universal – not surprising, given just how big of a year 2017 promises to be (we already have Volcano Bay and Race through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon confirmed, with a Harry Potter nighttime show and, just maybe, Christmas event rumored to be on the way). From new patents being registered to our very first Halloween Horror Nights 27 update to, of course, a veritable avalanche of new information being released on the upcoming water theme park, there’s a ton to dive into (cheesy pun certainly not intended).

So let’s just get right to it, then, shall we?

4. Racing through Universal with Jimmy Fallon

With Twister: Ride It Out having sidled gently into the theme park sunset, it’s time for Jimmy Fallon to make the attraction’s former residence his own. And he most certainly has, with implications both big and small for Universal Studios Florida, specifically, and the themed industry, generally.

Here’s the deal: we finally got the opportunity to take a spin on Race through New York for ourselves now that it’s in soft opening (what Universal officially refers to as “technical rehearsals”), and we even managed to chat with Jason Surrell, the creative director for the ride. What came out of our experiences is an appreciation for how Fallon could very well be the future of themed entertainment: involved pre-show areas – in which lounges, games, and, even, a stage show are available for guests’ perusal, if they’re so inclined – take the place of a traditional queue, redefining the way that both theme park operators and guests approach waiting. What’s more, this is the first attraction that’s been built from the ground up to incorporate Universal’s Virtual Queue, which does even more to eradicate the traditional queue paradigm – rather than standing in a line, visitors instead grab a return time, allowing them to roam the park freely until they enter the show building.

And just in case that’s not enough Jimmy Fallon-related news for this month, we also received word of who will be joining the comedian as he brings The Tonight Show back to Universal Orlando for a series of tapings next week, starting on Monday, April 3 and ending on the big day of Thursday, the sixth. Guests will include Vin Diesel, Blake Shelton, Shaquille O’Neal, Pitbull, Scott Eastwood, Dwayne Johnson, Nicole Richie, Flo Rida, Jason Derulo, and, most interestingly, Jay Leno, the previous Tonight host. (The last time the show taped at Universal, it was for four nights in June 2014, and the purpose was, we now know, twofold: to help promote the then-about-to-open Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley and to test the waters for a potential Fallon-centered ride.)

Race through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon officially opens on Thursday, April 6.

3. Our first taste of HHN 27

Without a doubt, Halloween Horror Nights is the most popular annual event at Universal Orlando (sorry, A Celebration of Harry Potter); it should come as no surprise, then, that the very first announcement regarding this year’s installment should be greeted so enthusiastically, even though we’re still some five-and-a-half months before it kicks off.

Of course, the subject of that announcement certainly has something to do with its popularity, as well – American Horror Story, the popular FX series, will be returning for the second time in a row, a feat which has only happened a handful of times in Horror Nights’s 27-year history. This year’s house will be all-new, featuring content from the show’s second, third, and sixth seasons (which are called “Asylum,” “Coven,” and “Roanoke,” respectively), and will be this year’s biggest maze.

Given both the scenes that we’re likely to get and the fact that the first American Horror Story haunt was the highest-rated ever in the event’s history, fans are already expecting big things. The hype could get even bigger should the series take over The Walking Dead’s spot as HHN’s flagship property, which is a very real possibility at this point.

Halloween Horror Nights 27 will run from September 15 to November 4, 2017 for a record-breaking 34 select nights.

2. Universal prepares for the future

This year, as has already been pointed out, is going to be an absolutely massive one for Universal Orlando Resort, but that says nothing of what’s currently on the docket for 2018 and beyond: Fast & Furious: Supercharged, Aventura Hotel, the amazing-looking Super Nintendo World, and, the icing on the theming cake, 474 acres of new land, which would be the perfect spot for a fourth gate and, of course, a second CityWalk.

March, it turns out, has injected even more projects into the mix, thanks to some paperwork that the company has filed with the city of Orlando. First up: a seventh on-site hotel, which will go on the plot of real-estate that used to house the Wet ‘n Wild water park and which looks to be the biggest venue that Universal has ever created. These 4,000 hotel rooms are twice what the ultra-popular Cabana Bay Beach Resort brandishes, and they present the opportunity for all sorts of theming (Minion Park, please!) and pricing possibilities (another prime value resort, joining the likes of Cabana Bay and Aventura).

But this has nothing on the pair of new attraction patents that was also recently unearthed. Although neither specifically mentions Harry Potter by name, both seem curiously primed for that very property. The first, for instance, sketches out a ride concept that invovles a wild, unpredictable journey through what can only be described as the Floo Network, replete with a retractable fireplace and a wizard that jinxes your ride vehicle; the second, meanwhile, details an auditorium for a stage show that has the audience’s seating split off into several different sections that would then be able to move independently of one another, secretly stacking atop one another or having viewers actively pilot them in a race to collect holographically projected items.

Oh! We almost forgot – remember that Potter nighttime show that’s been (heavily) rumored for Islands of Adventure? It got its biggest boost, both in terms of credibility and plausibility, yet when Universal earlier this month announced its very existence – for Universal Studios Japan. Here’s to hoping that a Floridian version is soon to follow.

1. (Almost) everything you ever wanted to know about Volcano Bay

There is simply so much to go over here, we could literally spend the entire length of this article just recapping every last announcement, detail, and still-lingering unknown question – and still run out of space.

So let’s make this as brief-but-thorough as possible, yes? In three different mega-reveals, Universal has opened the floodgates on Volcano Bay’s backstory (it’s delightfully elaborate and detailed, we’re happy to say), crazy food offerings (which feature South Pacific sensibilities fused with alternative proclivities – think the Mango BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich or the slowly-smoked glazed Hawaiian Ribs), premium add-ons for sale within the park (such as private cabanas, Premium Seating on the beach, and Express Passes), and, most importantly of all, ticketing information (including annual pass info, which is almost as long – and as convoluted – as an act of Congress).

But wait – there’s more! We also delved deep into Volcano Bay’s conceptual history, tracing it all the back to the early 1990s, when the park’s designers were working at Walt Disney Imagineering and helping to flesh out a never-realized water park for Disneyland Paris Resort called Lava Lagoon. It, like its eventual Universal successor, would have featured a massive, manmade volcano, lush tropical foliage, Tiki theming, and some impressive slides and lazy rivers. It’s an interesting read – and provides something for you to do while relaxing on Waturi Beach, waiting for that reservation for Krakatau Aqua Coaster to come up.

Volcano Bay opens, at long last, on May 25.

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About Marc N. Kleinhenz

Marc N. Kleinhenz is the former editor of Orlando Informer.

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