Seth Kubersky’s Best Week Ever June 18, 2015: A Tale of Two Studios

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Universal Studios Florida
Take a Best Week Ever tour of Orlando’s two Studios theme parks. (Photos by Seth Kubersky)

Back to life, back to humidity…

Barely a week ago I was basking in the temperate glow of the Happiest Place on Earth, and now I’m once again enveloped in Orlando’s hot, moist embrace. What better way to celebrate my homecoming than with a visit to two of Orlando’s favorite theme parks with “Studios” in the name? (Okay, they’re also the only two.)

We’ll start with some random observations from around Universal Studios Florida, and then take a ride down I-4 to Disney’s Hollywood Studios on the first day of Frozen Summer Fun.

Universal Studios Florida

The day I picked to visit Universal Studios Florida was predicted to be a 7 on our crowd calendar, but actually came in at only a 4 (part of a trend of lower actuals at Universal Orlando last week). Even so, there was a healthy flow of visitors entering the resort as I arrived in late morning.

I missed Universal Studios Florida’s actual 25th anniversary on June 7th because I was busy visiting Universal Studios Hollywood, but I still picked up a couple of these commemorative 2-Park Guide Maps for my collection. You can snag one for yourself at either Universal Orlando park through June 20th.

My first stop had to be Diagon Alley for a ride on Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts. The posted standby time was only 30 minutes! The attraction seemed to be running very smoothly, and all effects were in operation including the fog and Kuka-powered door in the finale dome.

The queue in the spectacular bank lobby has been rearranged yet again, returning to a switchback configuration similar to the old railings that were installed and then ripped out…

I took the single rider line at was on my vault cart in about 12 minutes. But I advised first-time riders in the singles line alongside me to exit and ride standby; you truly miss half the experience when you skip Gringotts’ preshow, and 30 minutes (actually closer to 25) is a small price to pay for the preshow.

Here’s another photo of dragon fire, because DRAGON FIRE!

I exited Gringotts just in time to see the dragon breathe fire, a spectacle that usually occurs every 10 minutes (weather permitting). No matter how many times I see it, I still have to stop and watch in awe.

Lunch time at the Leaky Cauldron. There was a short line out the door, but I ordered and was seated within 15 minutes.

Today I decided to try the Specialty Chicken sandwich, the only item on Leaky’s menu that I hadn’t eaten. It turned out to be a great choice! The chicken was marinated in herbs and not overly dry, the bacon was thick and smoky, and the seasoned mayonnaise added a tasty but not overpowering tang.

Of course, everything goes better with a Strongbow cider, especially if it has a shot of Fire Whiskey…

As I exited Diagon Alley, I peeked into the London Waterfront telephone booth.

The good news is that the phone dial, which has been repeatedly broken and eventually removed, has been replaced. The bad news is that you can no longer turn the dial, which means no more ringing 62442 (“MAGIC”) to hear a message from the Ministry of Magic. Others have reported that the recording now plays automatically, but all I heard was a dial tone.

A performance of Beetlejuice’s Graveyard Revue was just starting as I was passing by, so I decided to take a seat. I’m still not a huge fan of this version of the show, but it’s starting to grow on me thanks to the hard-working cast.

I noticed a few employees wearing these anniversary accessories around their name tags, a nice touch.

My last attraction for the day would be the Horror Make-Up Show, long my favorite live comedy production in an Orlando park. The hosts keep this 25-year-old show feeling fresh, and this pair (Josh and Russell) are two of my favorites.

 

Speaking of makeup, the display windows outside the theater have been spruced up:

Leaving the Horror Make-Up Show, I crossed paths with the Minion mini-parade. In some ways, these mid-day character parties in Hollywood are more fun than the actual afternoon Superstar Parade.

Attention Lucille Ball fans: USF’s Lucy tribute museum is rumored to close in the near future, for conversion into a Hello Kitty store. I was sure to stop in and take what may be my last look at this opening day attraction, and will share an in-depth photo gallery of the exhibit once official word of its closure is confirmed.

 

My last stop at USF as the Studio Store, which is selling an exclusive annual passholder trading pin to celebrate the 25th anniversary. They cost $7.95 each, and you can buy as many as you like; you even get your usual merchandise discount.

 

Finally, a look at construction on the recently announced NBC Sports Grill and Brew, also known as the restaurant that broke Derek Burgan’s heart.

 

Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Here’s one big difference between Orlando’s two Studios parks: at Universal I always use valet (it’s a free perk with the Premier Pass) so I know where my car is. At Disney I have to photograph my row number, otherwise I’ll never get home. Sometimes I get odd looks for photographing strangers’ feet, but I’m used to that…

I visited DHS on the first day of this year’s Frozen Summer Fun activities, which I’ll share photos and videos of in an upcoming post. In between experiencing the Royal Welcome, For The First Time in Forever, Olaf’s Summer Cool-Down, and Frozen Fever, there wasn’t much time for other attractions.

But I did manage to squeeze in a quick flight to Kashyyyk and Naboo, only to find the Star Tours gift shop stuffed to the gills with guests who apparently didn’t get enough galactic “moychindice” at Star Tours Weekend. While waiting to worm my way back into the park, I snapped this shot of a holographic R2 action figure that I wouldn’t mind adding to my collection (if my curio cabinet wasn’t already overloaded).

 

Speaking of moychindice, this was my first time passing by Youse Guys since Avengers: Age of Ultron opened in theaters, and Marvel has pretty much taken over this tiny shop.

 

As Julia Moscardo discovered earlier this week, Mr. Gold has set up shop on DHS’s New York street.

I’ve never watched Once Upon a Time so I didn’t recognize any except the most obvious references, but anything that updates the theming of this area’s storefronts is okay by me.

 

The Studio Catering Co. isn’t known as one of Disney’s best eateries, but they recently changed up their menu so I decided to try their new deli sandwich ($9.49), with Italian cold cuts and an olive relish.

I liked the balsamic glaze on top, but there was way too little meat for the amount of bread, making for a dry meal. The “house made” potato chips were probably my favorite part.

The “Cherry Blossom” seasonal drink is fine if you like the taste of Shirley Temples. Just don’t expect to get a buzz off of the undersized serving unless you weigh 80 pounds soaking wet.

The weak drink was no match for the murderous temperatures…

So I took an air-conditioned break inside One Man’s Dream, one of the most underrated attraction at DHS (especially on days when the heat index hits 100+).

 

Everyone says Disneyland seems small compared to WDW, but this is not actual size…

The most recent model in the exhibit is of Buena Vista Street from Disney California Adventure. It’s nice enough, but wouldn’t it be great if they showed off a model of Pandora?

Thanks again for following along on another Best Week Ever photo tour! Do you have suggestions for what you’d like to see in this space? Leave your ideas in the comments below!

 

 

Seth Kubersky

Author of The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando. Co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland and Beyond Disney. Contributor to Unofficial Guides to WDW and Las Vegas. Live Active Cultures columnist for the Orlando Weekly. Travel and arts journalist. Theatrical director and producer.

24 thoughts on “Seth Kubersky’s Best Week Ever June 18, 2015: A Tale of Two Studios

  • June 18, 2015 at 8:00 am
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    Seems a fair comparison. Cherry pick the best section of any theme park in the world with Diagon Alley, and compare it to parking lot and weather app pics. Can’t believe you didn’t stop by Guest Services and ask them to turn down the weather. Sorry you didn’t get wasted off a drink.

    • June 18, 2015 at 8:55 am
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      I didn’t think the article was a critical comparison really. Its just the fact that the only new things to talk about at Hollywood Studios are new storefronts and merchandise. and Universal is celebrating 25 years.

    • June 18, 2015 at 10:14 am
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      Sorry you didn’t like the column, but “Best Week Ever” has never been about “comparison.” It’s just a lighthearted look at random things around the parks that would otherwise fall through the cracks. I mention positive & negative things about every park I visit, so any “cherry picking” is purely in your own perception. Hope you like next week’s report better!

  • June 18, 2015 at 8:24 am
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    Thanks Seth! Best week ever is one of my favorite articles and I’m glad the tradition is being carried on. My kids and I are big Frozen fans, looking forward to the post on your frozen fun day!

  • June 18, 2015 at 9:47 am
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    Oops — misspelled “Orlando” in your photo caption.

    • June 18, 2015 at 9:50 am
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      In fact, at least a few typos and / or spelling issues. I feel like nobody cares enough to proofread their work anymore.

    • June 18, 2015 at 9:59 am
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      Thanks Ben, that’s my fault for proofreading at 5am. Thanks for reading.

      • June 18, 2015 at 10:07 am
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        Well, I applaud your work ethic, sir! Thank you for putting in the time and effort for this post. It is appreciated.

      • June 18, 2015 at 10:10 am
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        Actually, it’s my fault for writing it at 2am after baking my brain in the sun all afternoon…

        The odd part is that the “Orlando” was fine in my draft & the editor, but came out “Orland” after it was published. I’m blaming iOS autocorrect, like I do for everything…

        BTW I scoured the piece for more typos but didn’t see any. Feel free to point them out if you find them.

  • June 18, 2015 at 10:26 am
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    The Cherry Blossom sounds right up my alley. I’m a lightweight, and it’s 1000 times worse in the heat.

    https://youtu.be/8C4TGGtPzBU

  • June 18, 2015 at 12:08 pm
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    Seth – you’re doing a great job with this. Keep it up. The “Best Week Ever” is my “once a week” virtual visit to the parks and I get to see things I miss about the parks and things I’ve just plain missed. I can tell you put a lot of work into it.

    The beers at Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade are amazing. The first time I had cider was at EPCOT. I’ll have to try one with fire in it. I’m sure that ‘peps it up a bit’.

    I love One Man’s Dream, but every time I go I’m compelled to rush through because the movies always starting soon. Next time I go, I intend to ignore the film and read every plaque in there.

    I’ve ridden Gringott’s several times and I’m not sure what the “Kuka-powered door in the finale dome” is referring to. Could you give a little more detail? It could be that it wasn’t working when I was there.

    Thanks again!

    • June 18, 2015 at 12:55 pm
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      Thanks for the feedback!

      In the big lava room near the end of Gringotts, there is a door covering the hole in the projection dome that your car launches through. The door is moved in and out of position by a Kuka robotic arm like the ones used in Forbidden Journey. For a few weeks the arm was broken with the door stuck in the open position, but now everything is working great.

  • June 18, 2015 at 1:59 pm
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    Thanks Seth! Really enjoyed this article – you make me want to go visit US and that is saying a lot cause I’m exclusive to Disney!

  • June 18, 2015 at 4:33 pm
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    I was at DHS yesterday also! Wish I would of run into you. You seem like a pretty cool guy. πŸ™‚

    • June 18, 2015 at 6:51 pm
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      Aw thanks. You can always contact me via Twitter @skubersky when in the parks. But yesterday I was anything but “cool” πŸ˜‰

  • June 18, 2015 at 5:58 pm
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    Thanks Seth! Love the Best Week Ever series! I made it to Diagon Alley last year and need a redo, the Gringot ride kept breaking, but it was still in the new stages of opening.

    Just remember: You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

  • June 18, 2015 at 6:20 pm
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    Thanks for the article! It’s especially interesting to me since we are thinking of doing our first ever trip to Universal in summer 2016. We have always loved the magic of Disney (and I know not to expect that same special feeling.) My boys will be 16 and 13. We are huge Harry Potter fans, so I think it will be a great trip!
    If you had to pick the perfect place to stay for a Universal vacation, where would it be? I don’t want to go uber-cheap, but don’t want to break the bank either. We love hotel theming and a nice quiet oasis away from the craziness of the parks. But wonder about getting some of the perks, like early entry. I need a new Unofficial Guide, I know — but thought I’d ask the question here in case anyone would like to chime in! Thanks!!!!! πŸ™‚

    • June 18, 2015 at 6:49 pm
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      You should look into Cabana Bay or Royal Pacific, thy are both well themed and a good value for the money.

    • June 19, 2015 at 4:13 am
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      Don’t forget that the Universal deluxue resorts include unlimited Express (front of the line) passes. For a family sharing a room this can mean the deluxue works out better value than Cabana Bay.

  • June 21, 2015 at 9:44 am
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    Thanks for the heads-up on the Lucy Museum. I fear it will be closed for our first Universal trip in November. Great article and pictures!

  • June 23, 2015 at 9:58 am
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