The day after Thanksgiving has become one of America’s most important secular holidays, as young and old celebrate capitalism by camping out for dirt-cheap televisions. I was also out there shopping on the big day, but in true Best Week Ever fashion I spent my Black Friday at Universal Orlando among the vacationing throngs.
I started my Black Friday shopping with a major purchase by renewing my Universal Orlando annual pass. After disconts, my Premier pass costs just under $1 per day. That’s a lot more than it was when I first became a passholder 15 years ago, but still a great value considering how quickly the parks has been adding new attractions.
Once inside Islands of Adventure, I was greeted by the still-jarring sight of the Incredible Hulk Coaster…or rather the lack thereof.
Not only is the Hulk’s track missing, but his lockers have vanished as well.
At least Storm Force Accellatron has reopened, though there were few takers for this simple tea cup-style ride.
Here’s a look at the Toon Lagoon amphitheater, which has sat empty for several years, save for a few scattered special events. The latest online rumors point to this building being replaced by a family-friendly dark ride themed to the upcoming animated film Secret Life of Pets.
While my pre-Thanksgiving trip to the Magic Kingdom was packed, during this post-turkey visit to Universal I encountered more moderate crowds. Popeye’s raft ride was a walk-on, and the seasonal Wimpy’s hamburger stand was closed.
As always, I took some time in Jurassic Park to document progress on Skull Island: Reign of Kong, which opens next year.
Inside Camp Jurassic, I noticed several areas of the playground that have been declared off-limits. Hopefully they will be restored to service promptly.
The Raptor Encounter continues to draw big crowds. Meet and greet sessions begin at 10 a.m.; ask a team member for the exact time of the next one. Each session has a limited capacity, so get in line at least a half hour before the one you want to attend.
Next time you are in Jurassic Park, take a stroll to the left of the Discovery Center and take in the view from the secluded waterside terrace.
For lunch, I decided to give Mythos in the Lost Continent another shake. I had a bad experience during my first encounter with Chef Haim Asher’s new Mediteranean-inspired menu, but I wanted to give it a second shot.
This time I stuck to appetizers, ordering the harissa fried shrimp and spanikopita; both proved to have interesting seasonings, but were ultimately underwhelming.
The shrimp are mildly spiced and disappointingly small in size and quantity, with a martini glass full of greens used to make the meager portion seem larger. The dipping sauce has the taste and consistency of hummus.
The spankopita’s spinach and cheese filling was fine, but instead of flaky philo pastry it’s deep-fried in a wonton wrapper. The tzaziki sauce tries to help lubricate the thick shell but there isn’t enough of it, turning the tiny pile of cucumber/onion salad into the dish’s highlight.
I appreciate that the new chef is trying to sharpen Mythos’ focus and introduce ethnic flavors, but I wouldn’t order any of the additions I’ve tried so far a second time. At least my beloved cranberry blue cheese pork is back on the bill of fare!
Moving on to the Wizarding World, I was happy to see that holiday decorations have been added to Hogsmeade. The modest garlands and wreaths might be overlooked by someone unfamiliar with the area’s usual look, but I think their rusitic, handmade look blends well with the Harry Potter aesthetic.
In contrast, Seuss Landing’s holiday decorations are as crazy-colorful as ever. They are up ahead of the December 5 debut of this year’s Grinchmas celebration.
Looking for a holiday gift for a wizard who has it all? New on the shelves are these $29.95 metal wand holders, in single or double models.
Let’s hop over to Universal Studios Florida now, with peek at the former NBA City (and future chocolate restaurant???) along the way:
More construction walls greeted me inside the park, as the conversion of Lucille Ball’s tribute into a Hello Kitty shop continues.
Shrek 4-D is seeing shorter lines recently, since the second theater (which was used as the Alice in Wonderland haunted house during Halloween Horror Nights 25) has been restored to service.
Twister is also behind walls now. Since these photos were taken, the walls were decorated with images of Jimmy Fallon, who will host the new simulator ride.
Straight Outta Food Truck has been relocated to the far end of the street that Twister was on, ensuring that hardly anyone will stumble by there show. That’s a shame, because these guys are pretty good at funny freestyling.
More construction walls in San Francisco, where Disaster is giving way to Fast and Furious.
This area is also where you’ll find the new Fish Mongers acrobatic street show, which I blogged about earlier in the week.
While most of the resort was relatively calm, I found the crowds inside Diagon Alley.
Gringotts was posting an hour wait, with the standby line nearly filling the extended queue’s covered section.
The exterior of Shutterbuttons has been transformed into Sugar Plum’s Sweet Shop. With the windows blacked out, there’s no sign of how close it is to opening up.
Across the lagoon, The Simpsons Ride is still seeing unusually long wait times, due to one of the two domes being down for projector upgrades. Cast members claim that both halves will reopen in time for the Christmas rush, before the second dome is refurbished. Until then, you are looking a double the normal wait for your trip to Krustyland.
Sad new, specialty beer fans: Dufftoberfest has ended in Springfield, and #24 on Derek Burgan’s 25 Drinks of Christmas is no longer available. Hopefully they’ll begin offering other seasonal brews in its place.
Heading over to Hollywood, the Terminator 2 3D preshow has been overhauled; you can read all about it and watch the full video here.
Along with the new preshow video, T2/3D has also given a facelift to its gift shop window, removing most references to the ride itself and replacing them with a retro sci-fi theme.
Finally, we finish with the second half of my Universal Orlando Black Friday shopping spree at the park’s newest store, Williams of Hollywood. Located next to Mel’s Drive-In, in a storefront that formerly housed magic trick demonstrations, Williams of Hollywood has a wide variety of well-world props and vintage knicknacks — some of which were once part of Universal Orlando attractions!
The shop, which opened a little over a week ago, is most famous for selling items from the recently-closed Twister attraction, including the two cow statues seen in the queue line.
They also have some Halloween Horror Nights and Mardi Gras artifacts for purchase.
Nearly all of the authentic Twister props had been sold by the time I visited on Black Friday, but I did come home with one of their final offerings: a door that once decorated the Twister queue! Believe it or not, this will fit in great with my collection of other vintage doors.
I hope your holiday shopping was as successful as mine!