This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at SPRINGFIELD USA in Universal Studios Florida!
# 6 – Kwik-E-Mart
Until recently, gift shops were seen as a necessary evil at our favorite theme parks – annoyances that many guests either dreaded being herded through or mocked the existence of outright. One of the best gags in The Simpsons Ride involves the alien Kodos saying,
Foolish Earthlings, don’t you know all rides must end near the gift shop?”
Thankfully, over the past several years gift shops at both Universal and Disney have become better themed and well merchandised. In fact, several have even started to incorporate interactive features for their guests. It’s almost unbelievable to say it, but just as Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey became possibly the first attraction in the history of theme parks to have a queue guests wanted to spend more time in, gift stores themselves are becoming features of attractions that guests can actually look forward to experiencing.
Despite the great joke mentioned above, The Simpsons Ride is one of the few attractions at USF that doesn’t exit into a gift shop. The Kwik-E-Mart, the ride’s merchandise location, is located right next to the attraction and is filled with the high level of self-deprecating humor that is found throughout Springfield. Signs above the merchandise include sales pitches like, “Today’s merchandise at tomorrow’s prices!,” and “These items won’t buy themselves!” There’s even a sign at the registers that has a call back to an episode of The Simpsons from 1994, as it warns the cashiers not to take checks from various people including Chief Wiggum, Homer J Simpson, and Homer J Fong.
The walls and outside windows of the Kwik-E-Mart are laden with ads for products including Farmer Billy’s Choco-Bacon-Bars (It’s like chocolate and bacon had a baby in your mouth!), Buzz Cola (The choice of a cheap generation!,) and Krusty-O’s. Outside the store there is also a photo-op available with Milhouse sitting on a bench and one of USF’s most hidden gems, the Simpsons pay phone.
On the side of the Kwik-E-Mart closest to The Simpsons Ride, there is pay phone mounted on a wall with the character Nelson next to it. Nelson has a word balloon saying, “Answer the phone dingus…it’s for you.” Walking by this phone will trigger it to ring, and picking up the receiver will treat you to a gag line by one of the various Simpsons characters including Chief Wiggum, Moe Szyslak, and Bart Simpson.
Let’s take a look at some of the E-Ticket signage inside the store.
No one has mercilessly attacked the world of theme parks with sharper wit than The Simpsons television show. One classic moment when they turned the screws on the parks we all love happened way back in 1994 with the episode “Itchy & Scratchy Land.” One of the more memorable gags from the show was Bart Simpson running into one of the most ubiquitous pieces of merchandise at any theme park, the gift with YOUR name of it. In this instance, Bart was looking at personalized mini-license plates and found the names Bert and Bort. What happens after is even better but the capper comes later in the episode when it is revealed the park has sold out of Bort license plates. Universal’s own Springfield USA pays tribute to that classic moment with several Bort items found in the Kwik-E-Mart.
Okay, let’s check out a sampling of the wonderful merchandise found inside the store. For those who aren’t diehard fans of the show, you may be surprised to find out The Simpsons brand is very strict when it comes to licensing and because of that the overall quality of products is extremely high.
If you’re like me you love pressed pennies, and the Kwik-E-Mart is home to a machine featuring our favorite cartoon family.
# 5 – Bumblebee Man’s Taco Truck
One of the most underrated dining venues in all of Universal Orlando is Bumblebee Man’s taco truck. A food that is easy to eat while on the go, is relatively inexpensive (at least when it comes to theme park meals), and tastes great? That’s a win/win/win scenario for guests. Bumblebee Man’s Taco Truck is the first eatery guests encounter walking into Springfield: Home of the Simpsons from the main gates. The truck is adorned with a huge taco on the front bumper and an even bigger Bumblebee Man head coming out of the roof.
Earlier this year when we did our Artist Spotlight Series, artist Sam Carter showed us the behind-the-scenes process of how Bumblebee Man’s Taco Truck came to life. Sam’s studio was contracted by Universal to create the design of the truck and his original concept was a food truck based off the Channel Ocho news truck (a reference to The Simpsons television show.)
The next step of the artistic process brought us even closer to what we saw in the final product.
While the menu is limited, each of the selections is well done. While the guacamole and salsa seem to be off-the-shelf varieties, every other element tastes great. The quality is very competitive with the food at Moe’s Southwest Grill in City-Walk. Our go to choice is the Korean beef taco.
# 4 – Kodos ‘n’ Kang Twirl ‘N’ Hurl
Quite possibly the first ever spinner attraction in a theme park that is just as fun for adults to ride as kids, Kang & Kodos Twirl ‘N’ Hurl is an attraction we also just like to stand by with a Duff beer and watch. The jokes said during the ride are terrific. The theme of Twirl ‘n’ Hurl is that guests have been recruited by Kang & Kodos to help destroy Springfield, so while you spin around (and up and down) you also have the ability to “shoot” several famous residents of the town (and trigger sound effects) all while Kang hurls insults at you and the human race. The younger set will enjoy aiming the ride vehicles’ guns while parents will be smiling thanks to the dark humor throughout. Don’t be intimidated by the name, it’s much more twirl than hurl. The star of the show is Kang, and everything from the safety spiel to the unloading of the ride is worth paying attention to.
As a bonus, the queue is just loaded with terrific bits of satire making fun of long theme park lines (along with gags on destroying the human race) and even has TVs playing classic clips from the TV show featuring our favorite aliens. If you could take a Simpsons Treehouse of Horror episode and adapt it into a theme park ride, Kang & Kodos Twirl ‘n’ Hurl would be the end result.
# 3 – Duff Brewery
Butterbeer changed the future of the Universal parks forever as millions of Potter fans finally got to live out their fantasy of drinking this cherished drink from the Harry Potter books and films. Fans of The Simpsons have also longed for a drink from that universe, and Universal delivered when it created Duff Beer, Duff Lite, and Duff Dry. Brewed by the Florida Beer Company and exclusive to the Universal parks. Universal even debuted the first ever seasonal version of Duff with DUFFTOBERFEST. This ties in perfectly with the world of The Simpsons as there many versions of Duff including Lady Duff, Duff Stout, Duff Ice and Duff Special Reserve.
Duff Brewery sits lagoon side in USF, directly across from Fast Food Boulevard, and is the perfect place to relax with a Duff during your busy park day. There is plenty of seating both at the main bar and nearby tables, and a whole bunch of great photo ops including Duffman himself along with the hilarious “7 Duffs” topiaries. One of the small touches we absolutely love is the banners hanging above the bar mocking beer ads. There is even a prop which brings back a classic moment on The Simpsons where Homer learns Duff, Duff Lite, and Duff Dry all come from the same beer line and just separated into different containers.
# 2 – The Simpsons Ride
When a beloved attraction is replaced, the new ride better be good or you are never going to hear the end of it. At EPCOT, Horizons fans will be moaning until the day they die because their ride was torn down for Mission: SPACE. At USF, both the Kongfrontation and Jaws attractions have die-hard supporters, but their replacements in Revenge of the Mummy and Diagon Alley are so good that the vast majority of people are happy with the change.
Back to the Future: The Ride was a lot of fun. However, the queue was bad (almost Soarin’ Around the World bad) and nothing was truly exceptional other than that we love the BTTF characters and the DeLorean ride vehicle will go down in the top ten in theme park history. It’s replacement, The Simpsons Ride, has one of the best queues in the park. It has so many great things that you probably won’t be in line long enough to ever see them all. Outside, there is a wonderful map of Krustyland that most people just walk by without giving a second look, but if you check out the details on that map you are in for a treat. While in the outdoors queue, you’ll see clips from classic episodes of The Simpsons where the family visits theme parks. These are great, but Universal also added in new material exclusively for this attraction. You’ll get to see Homer Simpson complaining about the price of food inside the theme parks, and even an appearance by Doc Brown himself as a short video explains how Krusty took over the home of the former BTTF: The Ride!
The facade of The Simpsons Ride features some larger than life attraction posters mocking rides which may be located at their competition down I-4….
Once inside the show building, even more jokes are thrown at you, including fake ads for attractions parodying The Haunted Mansion, the Hall of Presidents, and even EPCOT’s old Kitchen Kaberet show. Then you are led to another pre-show room where more of the ride’s story is explained, including a wonderful scene where Sideshow Bob threatens The Simpsons family and tells them to “get into that ride!” Lisa says they’ll never get in but Homer has already entered with the explanation “I’ve waited in line an hour for this thing and I’m riding it!” This comes right after Homer lamented that Bob was trying to kill them on vacation and would rather it happened on a work day. Just wonderful material. Then the actual ride begins with cameos by a ton of Springfield residents and theme park jokes galore including the show stealing “Foolish Earthlings, don’t you know all rides must end in the gift shop!” from our favorite aliens Kang & Kodos that we previously mentioned.
The Simpsons Ride does offer an Express Pass queue along with Standby.
# 1 – Fast Food Blvd.
With Fast Food Boulevard, Universal pretty much did the impossible. Previously, the area was home to the International Film & Food Festival, a food court which made the offerings in Fantastic Four Cafe seem Michelin star worthy in comparison, and was certainly one of the worst themed areas in the entire park. Fast Food Blvd. brought to life Krusty Burger, the Frying Dutchman, and Luigi’s Pizza straight from The Simpsons television show. It also gave us Cletus’ Chicken Shack, which was rumored to originally be Kentucky Fried Panda (and if true, was a good decision by Universal).
The Simpsons has a long history of mocking restaurants, and seeing places like Krusty Burger in the real world is a dream come true. Now you can finally order the Ribwich (a sandwich the show created to mercilessly parody the McRib), a Krusty Burger, and the Clogger, all straight out of canon. Springfield has almost 30 food and drink items you can’t get anywhere else inside the Universal parks, including the incredible Chicken & Waffle sandwich, tater tots, and curly fries. The cherry on top of the sundae? When Springfield was being expanded to include Fast Food Blvd., at the time there was a writer’s strike in Hollywood which allowed actual writers from the show to add input into the area. Because of that we get brilliantly named items such as the “Heat Lamp Dog.”
Moe’s Tavern is one of the main set pieces on The Simpsons show, so Universal needed to get it right, and boy did they. From a pitch perfect facade to an inside that brings you right into the show, Moe’s Tavern is one of the best themed areas at Universal. The Love Tester is here, as well as Springfield’s resident drunk Barney Gumble, and the walls are filled with references to the TV show.
One popular drink to get at Moe’s? The FLAMING MOE. In fact, the Flaming Moe became the first signature drink in Universal history that guests wanted to watch before they drank. Based on an iconic episode of The Simpsons, the Flaming Moe uses a unique dry ice effect to simulate the drink being on fire. While the Flaming Moe itself is little more than orange soda, the overall experience of seeing the Flaming Moe is a fun one, especially if you have younger kids with you. (The Flaming Moe cup is also a great souvenir.)
HONORABLE MENTION – Krustyland Skill Games
We recently did an entire article explaining how the skill games in Springfield USA were one of our Theme Park Hills To Die On. The entire idea behind Krustyland is that it is a theme park run by a shady clown who wants to take every last dime from the paying guests, so of course the park is going to have skill games! These are not your average “amusement park skill games” though. Each skill game is themed deeply into characters from The Simpsons Universe and the prizes are products that are just as good as anything you’d see in a theme park gift shop.
What I love about the skill games at Springfield is that it allows multiple generations of our family to have fun playing together. Obviously video games at home are a huge thing right now, but generally the games we adults like are too intense for a younger generation, while games the kiddos like such as Fortnite and Minecraft don’t have anywhere near as much appeal to adults. The skill games at Springfield bridge the age gap and allow everyone to have fun in friendly competition.
PRO TIP: All skill games at Springfield can be played “a la carte” for about $6 per game. However, you can purchase a Game Play Pass which will lets you purchase multiple game experiences up at a discounted price. The Game Play Pass can be used at any skill game in Universal Studios Florida or Islands of Adventure. The top tier of the Game Play Pass also gives you a free plush. When I bought our Game Play Pass, I chose the giant Duff Lite beer can plush, as it was a prize I always wanted to win.
DOUBLE SECRET HONORABLE MENTION: Springfield Had Over The Top Donuts *Before* It Was Cool…
Long before Voodoo Doughnut and Everglazed Donuts came into our lives, Springfield was our go-to place for insane, over the top donuts. The best place to get them was at Lard Lad Donuts, conveniently located next to Duff Brewery and across the street from Fast Food Blvd.
So there you have it: Six Reasons we love SPRINGFIELD USA in Universal Studios Florida! See you next weekend for the latest installment of the SATURDAY SIX, where we’ll look at something fun from the world of Disney and Universal. You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan).
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Special Thanks to The Elite Brandon Glover, the bio-est of all reconstructs @bioreconstruct, Captain Cruiseline Scott Sanders of the world famous Disney Cruise Line Blog, my personal protege Hunter “Elvey” Underwood, artist @SonderQuest, the SAT SIX Fun Squad of Parkscope Joe and “the Dadalorian” Nick, hot shot Michael Carelli, charter member of the Universal Four @Nitro230, and Hermione Granger’s tutor Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. Absolutely no help was added by SeaWorld Influencer @SuperWeenieHtJr. The SAT SIX is inspired each week by goofballs Aengus Mackenzie and LitemAndHyde and you Potterheads will enjoy Meg’s other blog work over at the Central Florida Slug Club.