It’s the first theme park for which I have memories of all the excitement and fanfare of its opening days. Universal Studios Florida was the fifth major theme park to open in the Orlando area, 25 years ago on June 7, 1990. Although the anniversary day has come and gone, and the special concert series is coming to a close, there are still ways to celebrate Universal Orlando’s 25th anniversary.
25th Anniversary decorations
Admittedly the decorations are not as over-the-top as many of us would have hoped or imagined, but it’s still a nice touch to see the banners at the entrance of Universal Studios Florida as well as along Production Central and the Hollywood Backlot. These are essentially the same as what can be seen during Mardi Gras or the celebration during the holiday season. They are nice and the emblem is simple and classy.
25th Anniversary windows at The Studio Store
The Studio Store is akin to The Emporium at Magic Kingdom: It’s the largest store in the park, it’s at the front, and it has a sample of the best selling merchandise in the parks. And this is the first time I can remember The Studio Store pulling a page from Magic Kingdom’s playbook and installing themed windows along the storefront.
These windows wrap from the front of the store and around the corner on Minion Way, so be sure to go around the corner to view them all. While not incredibly impressive, they do manage to awaken the sense of nostalgia for any guest who remembers the park in its early days. Each window honors an opening day attraction (only one of which is still operating today). In each window you can view pictures of the movie or TV show the attraction was based on, pictures of the attraction itself and a merchandise display. Most of the merchandise is not actually available at The Studio Store, however, instead you’ll need to head to The Film Vault in the New York Backlot area.
In the right corner of each window you’ll find a great description of the attraction. I found myself letting out a bittersweet sigh after reading each one. The only constant thing in life is change, and while I am all for progress, I still miss every single attraction featured in the windows. It was a time when the rides and shows were just thrilling enough to give me a little scare, but I could still handle them. Most of today’s attractions are too intense for me to enjoy (Yes, I know I’m a wuss).
25th Anniversary maps
A true staple in the theme park celebration toolbox, the commemorative map, is a simple but effective way to throw in some celebration flair. These maps are reportedly only available through tomorrow, June 20, but might possibly be found afterwards if you ask the right Team Member.
So far there has not really been any 25th anniversary commemorative merchandise, other than an Annual Passholder pin and a Universal Team Member T-Shirt. However, as previously mentioned, The Film Vault in the New York area has a great selection of movie merchandise include King Kong, E.T., Back to the Future, and Jaws – all movies of which had opening day attractions. There may be commemorative merchandise coming down the line soon (hopefully).
Dine at Monsters Café, Ritchter’s Burger Company, Mel’s Drive-In, Finnegan’s, or Lombard’s
There are five dining locations inside Universal Studios Florida that have been around since the early days. If you’re looking for something quick while getting into the 25th Anniversary spirit my pick is Monsters Café. Admittedly, Monsters Cafe was not as it is now during opening day, but it has a great classic Universal feel. Also, much of Universal’s quick service food is not the greatest, however, I’ve enjoyed the roasted chicken here in the past. Of course you can always just walk through this venue and enjoy the props, posters, and the montage playing on the TVs. Another great choice is Mel’s Drive-In with its central location and landmark classic cars.
Finnegan’s is a fan favorite, and a personal favorite of mine. I’d recommend heading here to enjoy some friendly service, great live music, and raising your glass in honor of the anniversary. It’s one of the best theme park restaurants and bars you’ll find anywhere and it’s pretty awesome that it’s been around since the beginning.
Enjoy the Details of New York backlot, Hollywood backlot, and San Francisco
The overall theme of Universal Studios has evolved over the years. The apparent theme of being a living, breathing, working film and television studios has been diluted with Springfield USA and Diagon Alley, and that’s okay since both are wonderfully immersive areas of the park. Still, it is nice to stroll through some of the park’s original lands.
The New York and Hollywood backlots really do have lots of great detail, especially in the windows and storefronts; I’ve spent lots of time in these areas. The San Francisco section is not quite as rich as the New York and Hollywood areas, but it still feels like classic Universal. And even though Disaster has changed in recent years, the ride finale is still quite the same as the very early years of the park, so give it a go if you’re in the mood to go down memory lane.
Check out some the “Easter Egg” tributes
There are quite a number of “Easter eggs” found throughout the park. However, the ones that are most helpful when celebrating the anniversary are in honor of three classic attractions. What was once the beloved Kongfrontation attraction is now Revenge of the Mummy. The easiest to find Easter egg is a golden King Kong statue in the treasure room. There’s also whispers on the interwebs of there being a subtle chant that can be heard in the attraction that pays homage to the big, banana breath king.
One of my favorite tributes is in the pre-show video of The Simpsons Ride. Doc Brown makes a great cameo and I can’t think of a better way to pay tribute to the Back to the Future ride.
One of the greatest achievements in theme park immersion, Diagon Alley sits on top of the not-so watery grave of the Jaws attraction (another one of my absolute favorites). While fans have given the Ukranian Ironbelly dragon that is perched atop Gringotts Bank the nickname of Jake (as in Captain Jake of Amity Boat Tours, the fictional company of the Jaws attraction), you can find a few actual Jaws tributes. First is an album cover in the record shop of the London waterfront that pays homage to a line in the original Jaws movie. There are three other tributes in Diagon Alley, and since I couldn’t describe them better than Derek Burgan himself, I yanked an excerpt from his post about Universal’s Easter Eggs:
“Other references can be less recognizable, such as this telescope in Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment that includes parts from the Jaws queue. Next to Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour is a window display for Mr. Mulpepper’s Apothecary. Here you will see a large jawbone from a shark in the back of the display. In Knockturn Alley, there are shrunken heads that you may hear sing “Show me the way to go home,” a song used in the film.”
Ride the E.T. Adventure
It is the only opening day attraction left (though one could argue that Disaster kinda, sorta, counts too). So really what else is there to say? Well, lots actually: It is the ONE single attraction that pulls on my emotions the same way that many classic Disney attractions do. The queue alone is spectacular…sure, it could use some updates, but it’s the one classic attraction still around and there’s no overuse of projection screens, 3D effects, and all that stuff. Physical sets, audio animatronics, and other classic dark ride effects make this my most loved Universal attraction.
Bonus: Keep an eye out for a new exhibit
Construction walls have been up around one of my absolute favorite parts of Universal Studios Florida, the Garden of Allah Villas, for quite some time. This area has housed a few exhibits and been used for offices as well over the years, but in recent years has stood simply as a great piece of mood setting. I love strolling through here imagining I’m a lucky resident. But the walls have been up for months and there is speculation as to what exactly is going to be revealed once the walls are down. As uncovered in this TouringPlans post, the permit filed for this project is shown as “NBCUniversal Media Lab.”
That’s a wrap
While Universal may not have pulled out all the stops to celebrate their biggest anniversary to date, as you can see with a little creativity, there are plenty of ways to get into the spirit yourself. Do you have a favorite Universal Studios Florida memory? Maybe you’ve devised your own way of celebrating the anniversary. Let us know in the comments section.