ORLANDO — Universal Orlando has added 25 new attractions in 7 years. In the words of Universal Creative’s Senior VP Thierry Coup, it’s been an “epic transformation”.
Epic is a word that gets used a lot around here. And with good reason, given the size and scale of Universal’s ambitions. In less than 10 years Universal Orlando has gone from a 1-park operation in 1990, Universal Studios Florida – where guests were invited to “Ride the Movies” – to a two-park, multi-day theme park with the addition of Islands of Adventure in 1999. That same year Universal opened its dining and shopping venue Universal CityWalk Orlando along with the first of its on-site hotels, Loews Portofino Bay. More would follow.
Now Universal is getting ready to open a new water theme park, Volcano Bay, on May 25. After just 27 years Universal Orlando now has three theme parks, five on-site hotels (with construction well underway on a sixth property, Universal’s Aventura Hotel, right next to Loews Sapphire Falls) and many more plans for new attractions including a Fast and the Furious ride in 2018, along with a new partnership with Nintendo. Universal is also said to be eyeing the addition of thousands more on-site hotel rooms. There’s never a dull moment around here, and with all the competition, there can’t be. “I would say we’re fanatics when it comes to reinventing the theme park,” says Coup.
Coup was on hand yesterday at Universal Studios to show off the theme park’s newest attraction, Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon. Media from around the world, in town for the opening of Volcano Bay, got a chance to speed with Jimmy through the streets of New York City and the subway tunnels, down into the depths of the East River and all the way up to the moon. The motion simulator ride, open since April 2017, takes over Twister’s spot at Universal Studios, in a replica of New York’s 30 Rockefeller where The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon is taped.
“Not everyone is going to get to go to New York City or attend a live taping for The Tonight Show,” says Jason Surrell, part of the Universal Creative team. “We wanted to bring that experience to life for people.” Race Through New York uses Universal’s Virtual Line technology, allowing guests to check out all the Tonight Show memorabilia – dating back to first host Steve Allen in 1954, through to Jack Paar, Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien and now Jimmy Fallon – while waiting line-free for their turn on the ride. Everyone gets a colour-coded card – one colour for each of the feathers in the NBC peacock – and that determines boarding order. The whole process starts with a tap on the Universal Studios app. It sounds confusing but it’s easy to do, and with the way theme parks are going – doing everything in their power to get rid of the interminable lineups, the number one source of guest dissatisfaction – it seems like it’s the way of the future.
Coup admits that the Universal team gave itself high expectations to live up to with the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in 2010 and Diagon Alley in 2014. With their immersive storytelling these two attractions “set the bar even higher,” he said. “They completely redefined the theme park experience.”
Volcano Bay opens for a media preview May 24 and to the general public on May 25.