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The SATURDAY SIX Looks at Universal’s CineSational – A Symphonic Spectacular!

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This week’s SATURDAY SIX looks at the newest nighttime spectacular at Universal Studios Florida (USF), CineSational! But first, we’re going to see how Universal got here, starting with…

# 6 – The History of USF Lagoon Shows

An opening day attraction for USF back in 1990, Dynamite Nights was the very first show to take place on the lagoon and was based on the same Miami Vice stunt show that was recently mentioned in the movie The Fall Guy. The actual name for the show was the Miami Vice Stunt Spectacular, and it was at Universal Studios Hollywood. The show was then duplicated for USF, despite the fact that Miami Vice had just ended its 5 year run on television the year before. Dynamite Nights ran for 10 years and ended its run in the year 2000.

In 2006, the next lagoon show was Universal 360: A Cinesphere Spectacular, a high concept idea that just didn’t work as well in the real world. Large spheres were put out in the USF lagoon and film was projected from the inside of the spheres (as compared to projection mapping from the outside that we see today.)

Universal 360. (photo via the Thinkwell Group)
Universal 360 as seen in the movie Bring It On: In It To Win It.
Universal 360 as seen in Bring It On: In It To Win It.

With lasers, pyro, water and flame effects, Universal 360 was the park’s first attempt at a true nighttime spectacular. Baby steps.

In 2012, USF got Universal’s Cinematic Spectacular: 100 Years of Movie Memories. This one is a bit special to me, because it was the only time in my ten plus years covering the theme parks that I actually got to break news. I was inside the park with my family when an announcement came over the PA system that the new lagoon show would have its first ever testing that night. I couldn’t believe what I heard, and even went to Guest Services to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating.

That night, the very first performance of Cinematic Spectacular was held, and while it was an improvement over Universal 360, it still showed Universal had a ways to go in terms of delivering a great show. Instead of the weird globes, several large structures sat in the USF lagoon that would have water screens to project images on to. Nozzles were installed at the top of each structure, allowing Universal to control the water flow and create visual patterns. Taken by itself, it was a great design and looked fantastic (for its time) if you had a dead on view of the screen. However…

Cinematic Spectacular. (photo by Brandon Glover)

…for all of these early lagoon shows, Universal was pretty much putting the show on like EPCOT would for IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth or Luminous, giving an equal view to everyone around the lagoon. Unfortunately, this attempt to try and appeal to everyone ending up meaning that no one had a really good view. To quote the wise philosopher Syndrome, “when everyone’s special, no one is.”

Cinematic Spectacular. (photo by Brandon Glover)

A lot of great films were used on the water screens during Cinematic Spectacular, including E.T., Back to the Future and Jaws, with the entire show being narrated by Morgan Freeman. However, this show’s debut in 2012 came during a moment in time where Universal was betting on the movie Battleship starring Liam Neeson being a huge hit at the box office. Several key moments in Cinematic Spectacular were focused on Battleship, which ended up being a gigantic bomb. Later that year, the Battleship references during Cinematic Spectacular were removed.

Cinematic Spectacular. (photo by Mike Sperduto)

The next big development came in 2018 with the debut of Universal Orlando’s Cinematic Celebration. Instead of trying to appeal to people on every side of the lagoon, Cinematic Spectacular made it so that those guests in the Central Park area had the best seats in the house. You could still watch Cinematic Celebration from other areas, but it was like watching Magic Kingdom’s Happily Ever After from Tomorrowland or Fantasyland…just not the same experience.

Universal’s Cinematic Celebration. (photo by Brian Carey)

Water screen technology had come a long way in a short amount of time, and the images from movies like Despicable Me, Jurassic Park, and Harry Potter looked fantastic!

Minions. (photo by Brian Carey)
The Wizarding World. (photo by Brian Carey)

During Halloween Horror Nights, Universal would occasionally have lagoon shows done in a similar fashion as Cinematic Celebration, including Ghoulish! at HHN 31.

Ghoulish! at HHN 31. (photo by Michael Carelli)

Not only would the show have film projected onto the water screens, but projection mapping was used on the buildings behind the water screens as well, allowing Universal to tell the story on multiple levels at once. These visuals, combined with the lasers, fireworks, and incredible soundtrack pushed Universal closer to the quality of a Disney nighttime spectacular than they had ever achieved before.

Ghoulish! at HHN 31. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

# 5 – Preparing for CineSational

Universal’s Cinematic Celebration ran until early 2023, and soon after preparations began for its replacement. A lengthy refurbishment took place in the Central Park area, where guests would view the upcoming show.

Most of the viewing area of the Universal lagoon show has reopened after refurbishment for the upcoming new show. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

The rock work in front of the viewing area got some much needed TLC.

(photo by @bioreconstruct)
A look at refurbished rock work at the Universal lagoon. Now themed as grey granite with years of mineral staining from weathering effects of rain. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

The lagoon itself was outfitted with a completely new system using current technology.

An interesting alignment of brass nozzles at right in this photo of part of the new Universal lagoon show. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Aerial photo of the staging for Cinesational: A Symphonic Spectacular. The new Universal lagoon show. (june 6th, 2024 photo by @bioreconstruct)
Some of the additional moving spotlights being added at the Universal lagoon for the new show. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
A daytime viewing area look at the new Universal lagoon show staging. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

# 4 – The Music

While construction crews were getting the park ready for the new show, members of Universal Creative were putting the final touches on what guests would see and, more importantly, hear during the new show. Previous lagoon shows had been about the power of movies, but the new show – now known as CineSational – would be about the music in these films, and how it has inspired generations of movie goers. Like the iconic themes from  Jurassic Park, E.T., and Back to the Future, CineSational would have its own score recorded by an orchestra.

CineSational recording session – Nashville – Jan 2024. (photo by Michael Aiello)
Show director Jason McManus at the CineSational recording session – Nashville – Jan 2024. (photo by Michael Aiello)
(photo by Jason McManus)

# 3 – Drones

We mentioned earlier that by the end of Cinematic Celebration and Ghoulish!, Universal was knocking on Disney’s door when it came to top level nighttime spectaculars. They were close, but needed that certain something extra. The new show CineSational was going to have every technological aspect of previous shows upgraded, but was also coming with an ace up its sleeve…drones.

Aerial look at a Back of House area at Universal Orlando. The USF lagoon is at the top left. Arrow at a new facility called Team Member Campus Commons. “Aerial effects” or drones of the new CineSational show are seen in the air nearby. Well back from pyro that fires from roofs in the New York section of the park. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

Drone technology would take CineSational to the next level.

Drones simulating a lightning storm with projection mapping putting the famous Back to the Future clock tower on a building as pyro explodes. (photo via the Universal Orlando Resort)
Drones forming Toothless and Hiccup in the CineSational show. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

# 2 – The Show

The pieces were now all in place, and CineSational made its official debut on June 14th to across-the-board acclaim.

A theme seen a few times in CineSational is “celestial”, with glimmering stars. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

There is a depth of storytelling in CineSational that just wasn’t available in previous Universal lagoon shows, and it delivers in a powerful way.

A theme seen in CineSational a few times is flowing musical notes. Seen here with Jurassic Park. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

There is something for everyone in CineSational as so many AMAZING films get their moment to shine, from spotlights on fan favorites like the Classic Monsters and Back to the Future, to quick did you see that moments like a cow flying from Twister. This is a show from movie fans for movie fans.

The Bride in the classic Universal Monsters segment of CineSational. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

The water screen technology is simply beautiful.

Gillman from the Universal lagoon in the CineSational show. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Donkey Kong and Mario seen in CineSational. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
A Minion appears in the sky as an “aerial visual effect”. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Scenes from the Ghostbusters segment of CineSational. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

There is a popular meme on social media which features Vice President Kamala Harris on the phone saying, “We did it, Joe.” She was expressing her happiness in the results of the 2020 Presidential election. With CineSational, Universal can now proudly say “We did it.” CineSational is the culmination of Universal trying new concepts, pushing boundaries, and using the latest technology to deliver a fully satisfying E-Ticket nighttime spectacular.

The Universal globe behind lights, fountains, and pyro at the conclusion of CineSational. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

# 1 – The Shots

CineSational is the story of how film music inspires an audience, but CineSational itself inspires people in other ways as well, such as getting the juices of theme park photographers flowing to get creative with their shots. The addition of drones adds a whole new levels of fun ideas to be explored.

Optimus Prime and a Decepticon logo during CineSational. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

Love this Ghostbusters logo in the sky, with the old show building for the Ghostbusters Spooktacular on the left hand side.

“Who Ya Gonna Call?” (photo by Inside Universal)

Because Universal does not have Walt Disney World’s “blessing of size,” elements of CineSational can be seen from outside the park on regular streets.

Minion in the CineSational show seen behind a Universal entrance sign. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

For me, this shot below of the Stay Puft marshmallow man from Ghostbusters above a gas station is what I think of when Louis Armstrong is singing, “What a Wonderful World.”

Ghostbusters marshmallow man above the gas station at Universal on Turkey Lake Rd. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
“This will never get old.” (photo by Jeremy McNaughton)

Imagine being able to capture elements of CineSational from the site of Epic Universe, miles away. THAT is how CineSational has inspired people.

At left, Chronos, the Epic Universe entrance tower at night. At right, Shrek and Donkey drones in the CineSational show at Universal Studios Florida. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

That’ll do Bio. That’ll do.” – All of us

Shrek and Donkey drones as seen inside Universal Studios Florida during the CineSational show. (June 14 photo by @bioreconstruct)

So there you have it: The SATURDAY SIX looks at Universal’s CINESATIONAL! 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. If you enjoyed yourself, be sure to check out the THEME PARK ENJOYMENT INDEX, giving a monthly recap of all the theme park news you need to know (and a lot more you don’t need to know, but we’re gonna tell you anyway). You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan).

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Special Thanks to The Elite Brandon Glover, Digital Maestro Scott Walker, 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 mighty maven of merchandise Hedgehog’s Corner, the SAT SIX Fun Squad of Parkscope Joe and “the Dadalorian” Nick, hot shot Michael Carelli, charter member of the Universal Four @Nitro230, the permit princess Alicia Stella, master cartographer Tommy Hawkins, 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.

CineSational group photo.

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One thought on “The SATURDAY SIX Looks at Universal’s CineSational – A Symphonic Spectacular!

  • THANK YOU for acknowledging Ghoulish: A Halloween Tale!!!! Sure the show (Marathon of Mayhem) the year before it was based around Jack the Clown and featured a ton of IP compared to Ghoulish, but they were really cooking up something special having it be an original plot that played with the theme of classic Halloween decor along with crazy themed covers of popular Halloween/Halloween adjacent songs, then ending it all with Blinding Lights by The Weekend, making it one of the most high energy finales. Its the biggest shame that it got cut off early because of Hurricane Ian.


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