Universal Studios parks get faster, more furious this summer
Fast & Furious is, of course, the name of a crazy-popular movie series. It also could describe the pace at which Universal’s theme parks in Florida and Hollywood are developing new attractions and expanding their offerings. Case in point: This year, Universal Studios Hollywood will open a new Kung Fu Panda-themed theater presentation, while Universal Orlando will debut a new hotel and—wouldn’t you know it—a ride based on Fast & Furious.
As with nearly all of Universal’s attractions, the new Florida ride, which is set to open in the spring, will be loud, thrilling, highly immersive, in-your-face, and, well, fast and furious.
It will be similar to the Fast & Furious – Supercharged experience that is the finale of the Studio Tour at Universal Studios Hollywood. As in California, the Florida version will hijack a bunch of unwitting people (that’d be the park visitors) for a high-speed, F&F-style chase. How high-speed? We’re talking a tire-screeching, fishtailing, hyperventilating 120 mph—or at least the illusion of 120 mph.
The seemingly turbocharged attraction will anchor ride vehicles to a motion simulator base and sync it to 3D footage projected onto a wraparound screen in what is known as an “immersion tunnel.” The vehicles won’t actually move forward an inch, but passengers are going to feel a wild rush of acceleration, speed, and out-of-control action
Although Hollywood’s F&F ride opened a mere three years ago, the tricks of the theme park trade have evolved, and the Orlando attraction will incorporate today’s “bleeding-edge technology,” according to Thierry Coup, senior vice president of Universal Creative. Compared to the first Supercharged ride, the new one will feature better imagery thanks to brighter projectors, a higher frame rate, and higher resolution. Combined with an enhanced motion base, this F&F will deliver an experience with more realism and an “incredible dynamic range,” adds Coup. “We already defined what immersion could be in a theme park attraction. But we keep moving it to a higher level. This will be a big jump.”
Before it transported visitors to Dom Toretto’s world of fast cars and espionage, Universal used immersion tunnel technology to deliver them to Skull Island, the home of King Kong. As with F&F, the encounter with the giant ape is part of the Studio Tour in Hollywood and uses the tour’s iconic trams as ride vehicles. When Universal brought Kong to Orlando in 2016, it gave the big galoot his own standalone attraction and developed custom vehicles. Similarly, F&F at Universal Studios Florida will be an autonomous ride and will use specially designed vehicles. In this case, guests will be invited to board “party buses.”
Like the Jimmy Fallon attraction that the Orlando resort debuted last year, F&F will scrap the typical queue and incorporate what Universal dubs its “Virtual Line” system. By using an app or the park’s kiosks, visitors will make a ride reservation. At the prescribed time, they will enter the attraction and explore the pre-ride area without snaking through a line. Guests will be able to get up-close with some of the actual souped-up cars from the movies and wander around a war room equipped with monitors, computers, and gadgetry.
According to Coup, the ride itself will span over four minutes compared to Hollywood’s 90-second experience. It will include additional scenes as well as some practical sets not found in California. F&F will occupy the former show building that housed Universal’s Disaster attraction (and was used for a ride based on Earthquake before that). It will extend a couple of blocks by also co-opting an adjacent outdoor stage area that the park used for a Beetlejuice show. “It’s massive,” Coup says of the attraction’s footprint. “We really want to deliver on the scale of the action and the scale of the films.”
Located in the San Francisco section of Universal Studios Florida, the ride’s locale will shift from L.A. to the hilly city by the Bay. Virtually all of the movies’ major characters, including Vin Diesel’s Dom and Dwayne Johnson’ Hobbs will be represented. Tej, played by Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, and Jordana Brewster’s Mia will be added in to the mix in Orlando.
After an exhausting day of high-speed chases and being traumatized by an oversized ape, visitors will be able to get a good night’s sleep at Universal Orlando’s new Aventura Hotel when it opens August 1. The five other on-property accommodations that the resort operates in partnership with Loews Hotels, including the Royal Pacific Resort and the Hard Rock Hotel, have high-concept themes. The Aventura, however, will be a “slight departure,” according to Russ Dagon, senior vice president, resort development at Universal Creative. “It’s more of a lifestyle hotel for the value-savvy traveler.”
The “Prime Value” hotel will offer features and amenities comparable to the nearby Cabana Bay Beach Resort. The 600-room, 17-story structure will be Universal’s first high-rise hotel. It will include a rooftop terrace with a bar and a restaurant offering tapas-inspired food. The terrace will offer striking aerial views of Hogwarts Castle, roller coasters, and other park sights as well as the Orlando skyline in the distance. (Universal would probably prefer that you ignore Cinderella Castle and the Tower of Terror from that other theme park resort.) The Aventura will incorporate in-room technology including bedside tablets that will be able to control the lights and television and even order room-service pizza.
The “Aventura” name implies adventure and was inspired by its location on a street named Adventure Way, Dagon says. Also, Universal used to be one of the owners of the Spanish theme park resort, Port Aventura. The hotel will include 13 kids suites. Rates will start at $97 for standard rooms.
As part of its fast and furious building boom, Universal and Loews are constructing two additional hotels on the former Wet ’n Wild property around the corner from the resort. The two as-yet unnamed “Value” hotels, which are set to open in 2019, will be a notch below the Aventura in amenities as well as price. They will offer a combined 2,800 rooms, about half of which will be two-bedroom suites designed to sleep up to six guests. While the new hotels won’t be contiguous to the Universal resort, they will be about as close to the theme parks as the on-property Cabana Bay.
This spring, the CityWalk dining, shopping, and entertainment district will open Voodoo Doughnut, an outpost of the Portland-based purveyor of the deep-fried treats. The signature doughnut will be shaped like a voodoo doll and include a pretzel stake. Other oddball ingredients will include breakfast cereal, bacon, and “dirt” (crumbled Oreo cookies).
Reflecting NBCUniversal’s acquisition of DreamWorks Animation, Universal Studios Hollywood is converting the former Shrek 4-D attraction into the DreamWorks Theatre. It will host of repertoire of mini movies based on DreamWorks franchises and characters starting with Kung Fu Panda- The Emperor’s Quest.
Set to open in the summer, audiences will take a journey with the martial arts-savvy bear and face dragons, pirates, raging rapids, and other obstacles along the way. The screen-based attraction will be among the first to feature interior digital projection mapping, which should add dimension and make the visuals pop. To further immerse visitors into the story, their seats will move and be tricked out with pokers and other devices. They will also be bombarded with water, wind, and other effects. Outside the retro theater, Pinocchio (as featured in the “Shrek” films, not the classic Disney version) will be asleep on the job as a ticket seller.