This past weekend I headed up to the Universal Orlando Resort to get some research done for the new Universal menu pages on TouringPlans.com, and while I was there I got to see some new things that have popped up around the parks.
Obviously the biggest change going on right now is the near daily arrivals of props related to Halloween Horror Nights 23 over in Universal Studios Florida. Fans of the hit television show The Walking Dead on AMC are going to recognize many of the elements showing up in the park. Right across from the main gift shop is a beat up truck that has Daryl Dixon’s famous crossbow laying on it while nearby is the “Sophia stay here we will come every day” car that was located in front of Disaster! for HHN 22 last year. Over by Cafe La Bamba there is a section that is mostly covered up except for a well placed bicycle. This could an area set aside for “Bicycle Girl,” one of the most well known zombie characters from both the Walking Dead show and comic book series.
The walkway from Cafe La Bamba going to Kid Zone (passing by the Gardens of Allah) has a ton of planters on both sides. Right in front of Animal Actors on Location is Dale’s RV and an entire camping display set up. This area will be particularly creepy once HHN rolls around as it will be the location leading you towards the Walking Dead haunted house. A large school bus is now in front of Disaster!, the home of last year’s Walking Dead house.
The official Halloween Horror Nights 23 twitter account also updated a picture of a tank arriving onto USF property. Fans of the Walking Dead will remember Rick Grimes’ experience inside the tank in the show’s first season.
We stopped into Springfield USA and checked the status of the new Photo Connect experience coming to the area directly in front of The Simpsons ride. This new spot will have a recreation of the Simpsons living room and you’ll be able to do your own “couch gag.” The signs they have around this area are hilarious and fit perfectly in line with the Simpsons television show and The Simpsons Ride. Between adding Krusty the Clown and Sideshow Bob as meet n’ greet characters, all the new photo op characters like Duffman, the 7 Duffs and Milhouse, and now the new Photo Connect set up, Springfield USA is one of the best places to take fun pictures at the parks. There’s usually a minimal wait for any photo op and there are so many opportunities throughout the entire area (Chief Wiggum, Lard Lad, Barney in Moe’s Tavern, the Simpson family for meet n’ greets etc), that I think Springfield has become a standard in which both Disney and Universal should follow in the future.
Before we left Springfield we had to stop by Lard Lad and try the Brain Freezin’ D’oh-nut sundae as well as the gigantic apple fritter. I’ve been waiting a while to get my hand on the sundae, and it was worth the wait. It has immediately jumped to the top of my list of favorite outrageous snacks at Universal. A warm pink sprinkled donut – the iconic snack of the Simpsons – is cut in half and between the two sides is soft serve ice cream and a topping. I chose Oreo cookie. On top is a generous serving of whipped cream and a cherry. Absolute perfection. Meanwhile the apple fritter was humongous and also really tasty.
One thing I had noticed on my last several trips to Universal was the complete lack of Minion plushes that were available. For a little while now, the only option was an unbelievably priced one at $250. Granted, this Minion doll was the physical size of a five year old child, but $250?! Other than that, the only Minion plush you could get a hand on would have to be won at the various carnival games in both parks. This week all sizes of Minions were back in stock, including the sharp looking purple evil Minion. Prices were $24.95 for the evil Minion, $21.95 for similar sized regular Minions, and $14.95 for small versions of the Minions. There was also a new Minion souvenir collectible cup, which you can get unlimited refills throughout the parks for $0.99.
Not too much to report over in Islands of Adventure. While I still don’t understand how they can sell a pizza for over $30 in Cafe 4 (the same pizza was about $10 cheaper earlier this year and this ain’t Via Napoli-style pizzas) I was surprised to see that the massive Fantastic Four Car was missing from out from of the restaurant. Then I realized I’m not sure if I noticed it on my trip in late August or not.
One of my biggest surprises of the weekend was actually spending some time in Captain America Diner. Food wise, there are better options in either park and CityWalk. However, despite it’s name being dedicated to Captain America, this is an unbelievably well themed restaurant actually dedicated to The Avengers. There is a ton of HUGE comic art throughout the entire restaurant dealing with well known Avengers like Thor and Iron Man (there’s even a nice “cracked window” thanks to Thor’s hammer) and lesser known members of the team like Quicksilver, The Black Knight, Hercules, Wonder Man, and The Beast. The floors have elaborately themed tiling with the Avengers logo. I was blown away. This would be the official eatery of the boys from The Big Bang Theory as its that immersive and steeped into Avengers lore.
The Captain America diner also has some of the best views of the park while you’re eating. It really reminded me of the pictures people were posting of Radiator Springs Racers while sitting inside Flo’s V-8 Cafe out in Disney’s California Adventure. IOA actually has several restaurants with some spectacular views including Mythos and Thunder Falls Terrace.
I would have considered it a semi-decent sized crowd in the parks, but for some reason Forbidden Journey only had a 15 minute wait at 1PM. We actually hung around and watched the Frog Choir for a bit and were pleasantly surprised to hear them sing a song that is on the Goblet of Fire soundtrack. It was a cool day in Florida, only about 100 degrees with 2000% humidity, so while the sweat was pouring off us we decided to head over to the Royal Pacific Resort and get a bite to eat at the Bula Bar and Grille that sits poolside. I have heard a lot about their Shipwrecked Loaded Nachos, and it was time to give them a try.
Happy to report that the nachos did not disappoint. The serving was gigantic and was LOADED with toppings (black beans, cheddar cheese sauce, pico de gallo, sour cream, Guacamole, jalapeño, scallions and beef. It cost $15 and was worth every penny. You could feed an army on these, just not this army as we also ordered entrees. We got the Hawaiian Mahi Mahi salad and the Kona Burger. The salad came with local organic greens, bell peppers, and tropical fruit and was served with a mango vinaigrette ($16). The Kona half pound burger had an option to add pulled pork, caramelized pineapple and bbq sauce, so we got that option. You can caramelize anything and I’ll try it. Broccoli? Pass. Oh, caramelized broccoli? Throw it on. The burger is normally $13 and the add on items were $3. Both tasted great and, like the nachos, came served in huge portions.
Our server Frans was attentive but not pushy, just how I like it. Nothing drives me crazier than being at a theme park or resort and feeling like the servers are trying to get me out of there as fast as possible. We took our time and enjoyed this meal. Highly recommended.
That’s it for this quick look at the latest goings on at Universal. It was a busy weekend as we also checked out Night of Joy at the Magic Kingdom (click the link for a full write up on the experience). Halloween Horror Nights is almost upon us…the fall TV shows are about to start coming back…the NFL is here…. can life get any better than this? (Trick question, of course it can, just check out Pardon the Pixie Dust, the newest weekly show on the TouringPlans.com Podcast Network!)