Last week, I took you on my trip to Anaheim for a look at the Disneyland Resort's Diamond Anniversary, and how the new entertainment there might migrate to Orlando. (Sorry about the jet lag.) But Disney isn't the only California-based theme park company celebrating major milestones on both coasts; Universal Studios Hollywood is in the midst of their iconic Tram Tour's 50th season. Ironically, I visited the original Universal attraction in Los Angeles on June 7, 2015, the very day USH's younger sibling Universal Studios Florida turned 25.
My brief trip to Universal's Hollywood park proved less fruitful than I'd hoped, as the tram tours' new nighttime-only effects and 3-D Fast & Furious finale weren't yet in operation. (Based on preview videos that have since been posted of the new Vin Diesel-powered attraction, I hope Universal Creative takes their time "plussing" the shallow script and spotty CGI before bringing it to Orlando as the aging Disaster ride's obvious replacement.) And the first West Coast Wizarding World of Harry Potter was still under wraps until 2016, though official word is out that their new Forbidden Journey ride will be America's first (following Universal Japan) to feature 3-D screens and Quidditch-inspired goggles. I can also confirm that Hollywood's Hogwarts castle already has more decor on its show building than Islands of Adventure's barren box.
I did get to explore USH's newly launched Springfield USA area, which opened earlier this year on land adjacent to the existing Simpsons simulator ride. When Universal Orlando opened its Springfield in 2013, it swung for a solid infield double by retrofitting a foul fast-food restaurant with funny facades and a flavorful menu. But Universal Studios Hollywood's greatly improved Springfield scores a grand-slam Homer with multiple separate venues (instead of a single cafeteria), expanded menus, and second-story seating crammed with Simpsons sight gags – spot Spider-Pig on the ceiling, and see Krusty's bar mitzvah tallit in a corner.
All your original favorite Simpsons snacks are there – from Bumblebee Man's taco truck to Lard Lad pink donuts – along with new tastes like Phineas Q. Butterfat's soft-serve ice cream, swirled with flavors like root beer or cotton candy. They even make fresh waffles for Cletus' chicken sandwich, unlike Orlando's Eggos. And every half-hour the nuclear power plant has a near-meltdown, sending clouds of steam and siren wails across the San Fernando Valley. The only downside: That Duff Beer (imported from Cape Canaveral's Florida Brewing Co.) will cost you $11 in La La Land.
Of course, my day at Universal Studios Hollywood was a heck of a lot more pleasant than what patrons of Universal Studios Florida were experiencing at the exact same time. To mark its 25th anniversary, you might expect USF to hold some spectacular ceremony on the big date, but instead they celebrated by re-enacting their infamous opening day, when everything broke down. This time around, the rides themselves kept running, but the pillars of our modern mobile economy – credit cards and WiFi – crashed hard for most of the afternoon. And unlike a quarter-century ago, Universal didn't give everyone in attendance a free return ticket.
As tempting as it is to titter at their techno trainwreck, I'll forgive Universal Orlando for fumbling their silver festivities because of the bounty of blockbuster announcements they revealed in the weeks before their birthday. In case you missed it, Universal unleashed a torrent of confirmations about major additions that we've been whispering about for years, and a couple others even I didn't see coming. By this time next year, Skull Island: Reign of Kong should open adjacent to Islands of Adventure's Jurassic Park, which just introduced an amazing velociraptor meet-and-greet in time for Jurassic World's record-breaking premiere. And the heavily themed Volcano Bay water park will surely snarl I-4 traffic when its namesake peak begins erupting in 2017.
More unexpectedly, Universal secured partnerships for Nintendo attractions (watch for Super Mario and pals to replace USF's Kidzone) and Hello Kitty merchandise (say goodbye to the Lucille Ball museum). At CityWalk, NBC Sports Grill & Brew is being built on the bones of the old NASCAR restaurant, and the NBA City eatery is defecting to Disney Springs, with everything from a wrestling hall of fame to a chocolate factory rumored as its replacement. And that's not to mention yet-unannounced attractions like "Project 727," a plan to turn Twister into a synergistic simulator best summarized as "Soarin' Over Manhattan With Jimmy Fallon." (Well, they can't all be winners.) By the time Walt Disney World opens Avatar and breaks ground on Star Wars Land, Universal will be well into their second quarter-century, with no signs of slowing down any time soon.
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