‘Welcome Christmas’ with a Holiday Who-bilation at Universal Orlando

image1“Welcome Christmas!’ From haunted houses to a holiday Who-bilation, Universal Orlando Resort transforms from a macabre landscape of familiar and endearing horror IPs to a bright, cheerful Christmas spectacular! Grinchmas and the Macy’s Holiday Parade offer a fabulous opportunity to experience the joy of the Holiday Season with friends and family. With both Universal Studios Florida (US) and Universal’s Islands of Adventure (IoA) theme parks providing ample opportunities to enjoy this festive season, you will find it hard to get it all in one day. With many of the events not beginning until after 3:00pm, the parks offer moderately extended hours until 9/10pm most nights with some later evenings between Christmas and New Years. IoA is home to the live show How the Grinch Stole Christmas and US houses the Macy’s Holiday Parade. Although those two events are the headliners, there are other smaller opportunities that are also very much enjoyable. From toy soldiers and elves handing out candy to many photo opportunities with large, familiar Macy’s balloons, there is sure to be something for everyone to enjoy.

While many people are all about parades and character meet and greets, my favorite parts of any Christmas limited engagement event at a theme park are the shows, lights, decorations, and music. I love seeing how the theme parks that I visit regularly transform into memorable fantastic holiday celebrations. For those who attend both the Halloween and Christmas events in the parks, it’s incredibly fun to experience the sensation of being in the same building or standing in the queue area that once housed a film/tv-based haunted house, but now is overflowing with colorful Christmas cheer. Both US and IoA are a bountiful buffet of holiday experiences that ARE INCLUDED with general admission or your annual pass. If you are traveling to the area or simply do not have an annual pass, I strongly suggest a 1-day park hopper ticket or a 2-day one park ticket. With happy holiday offerings going on in both parks concurrently, you’ll definitely want to enjoy both for a dynamic experience. Planned well, you can definitely watch both the Grinchmas show and the Macy’s Parade. The holiday season is the busiest time of year in the parks, so you’ll want to note that if you have a brief visit to Universal Orlando, there is a high degree of probability that you may not get to experience all the holiday offerings and the regular operating attractions. Just like the Christmas season creates hustle and bustle in the stores, there is quite the holiday hustle and bustle in the parks as well. All in all, this is the most magical time of year to visit theme parks! Unless you prefer Halloween, then September/October is your most wonderful time of the year!

Seuss Landing at Islands of Adventure is home to the official Grinchmas celebration! One of Dr. Seuss’ most beloved stories–if not THE most beloved–is the story of How the Grinch Stole Christmas published by Random House in 1957. Written as social commentary on the commercialization of Christmas, Dr. Seuss’ words in this story have impacted generation after generation through the original narrative, the animated classic, and Universal’s live action film starring Jim Carrey as The Grinch. You don’t have to be a Whovillian to feel a special tug at your heartstrings during the live performance of this most beautiful story at Seuss Landing. Many literary professors feel strongly that The Grinch was Dr. Seuss’ favorite character (followed closely by, if not on par with the Cat in the Hat). Being fond of the Christmas of year’s past, Dr. Seuss was growing irritated at the focus shifting from giving to selling. How the Grinch Stole Christmas was his way of cathartically getting these feelings off his chest. He essentially slid the mortal in sideways. Much like with most of Dr. Seuss works, this story is a creative social commentary on the state of Christmas in a post-modern society.

The best part of the Grinchmas show is how it brilliantly combines the efficiency of the storytelling found in the animated classic with the humor of the live action film. It’s neither adapting the animated movie for stage nor is it adapting and abridging the live action film for a theme park setting. The writers of the show, along with the music Chip Davis & Mannheim Steamroller, combine their efforts to create a whole new experience for park guests. There are scenes, jokes, and narration that you won’t find in the book, animated classic, nor live action film. So, just because you have read the book or seen either screen adaption, does not mean that the live show will feel redundant. I see the show every year and absolutely enjoy myself. This year, my friends and I had VIP seating so the show was all the more exciting. With a fantastic narrator, outstanding chorus, and excellent lead characters, this show will keep you entertained and touch that special Christmas place in your heart. “Where are you Christmas?” Right here! As this IS the story of The Grinch, the show includes familiar songs from the animated movie and live action film. The show is greatly helped by the characters not attempting to recreate their respective screen counterparts but borrowing from the book and both movies to create all new characters who embody the best of what the former had to offer. Even the Grinch is a combination of both Boris Karloff’s and Jim Carrey’s Grinches. Don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy the show while the season begins to come to a close.

Across the lagoon from IoA is Universal Studios’ Christmas celebration with Macy’s Holiday Parade as the headliner! From Hollywood Blvd to The Garden of Allah to New York City, US has truly decked the halls across the park. Guests can experience the parade during the day or in the evening. With multiple runtimes, there is definitely a chance for everyone to get to enjoy the festivities. Prior to the running of the parade, elves, sugarplums, and other colorful holiday characters interact with guests. You may even get some candies and mints from Santa’s little helpers along the way. The parade floats are larger than life and effectively provide a comparable experience to that of the official Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. If you want a good spot from which to view the parade, be sure to line up at least an hour in advance if not a little more so.

There is so much to see and do as Universal Orlando celebrates the holiday season culminating with a top-notch New Year’s Eve celebration this year. As the festivities are included with general park admission, this is an event that anyone visiting the park can enjoy with their friends, family, and loved ones.

 

DCA’s Hollywood Tower Hotel Under New Management

TOT_DCA_GGThe recent news of the Guardians of the Galaxy makeover of the iconic Tower of Terror (TOT) ride at Disney’s California Adventure has many, if not most, fans of the attraction up in arms. Apparently, it was not being guarded too well. Suffice it to say, those of us who spend a great deal of time in the parks (for me, it’s the Florida parks mostly), we are accustomed to seeing iconic attractions go by way of Jaws: the Ride. That does not mean that one ever gets used to or accepts it; but the fact is that the theme parks have to evolve in order to keep up with those who bring in the most revenue (kids and teenagers, because of their parents or grandparents). Of course, some evolutions are better left in AutoCad. With the Walt Disney Company unable to integrate the Marvel IP into the Florida parks to any significant extent (in terms of attractions), it seems the only choice is to overhaul the Disneyland Resort (DLR) near Los Angeles…

At first, many theme park enthusiast must be wondering why??? However, exploring this recent news from a critical perspective reveals that it is a business decision, plain and simple. As I have written many times, theme parks are glorified arms of revenue–a business line item–that are designed to be cash cows, instant revenue. Most likely, the DLR company conducted surveys and focus groups concerning a proposed idea to refit the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror with Guardians of the Galaxy. Although it is expected that some attractions have to be removed or retrofitted, there are certain attractions–especially in the Disney Parks–that should not be touched. The Disney Parks more so than the Universal Parks rely upon nostalgia. In many ways, this modification of the TOT at DCA is sacrilegious to the original theme of the parks and will upset many people. With the massive refurbishment of TOT, this leaves park regulars and future tourists wondering what iconic attraction is next. If TOT is not safe, then is any attraction safe from elimination??? But, is retheming an attraction always met with disdain? Certainly not. When the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction at Disneyland Park received its Finding Nemo refurbishment, it was generally met with excitement and praise. That is probably because the soul of the attraction was left in tact. By extension, it could be said that retheming Mission: Space at EPCOT with a Guardians of the Galaxy makeover would actually be welcomed and appreciated as that attraction is getting dated and simply does not see even half the guest numbers that it once did. But should Spaceship Earth get rethemed to a Marvel IP? Definitely not. There are attractions that need to be rethemed or reimagined every couple of decades or so, and then there are those which are best left alone for all to appreciate over the years. But how to know the difference? That’s the question.

Many theme park researchers and fans alike never thought that ToT would become extinct; that is until the rumors began floating around in the last year or so. Much like Universal Studios Florida, Disneyland Resort suffers from lack of room for expansion. Yes, I am aware the Universal has acquired more land recently; but for argument sake, it is important to be able to compare the two. One reason why Universal needed to retheme and replace entire attractions is because it did not have the luxury of expansion until recently. So, the only way to integrate new offerings into the parks was to replace existing ones. Much in the same vein, DLR is also landlocked; and in order to integrate new offerings, it too has little choice but to replace or retheme existing attractions or lands. Accepting the fact that DLR has limited room for geographic expansion, leaves only one alternative: continue to modify the park every 15-20 years or so. The largest source of revenue for theme parks are kids and teenagers. Not that young and older adults do not add large numbers; but the families with kids and teens are the ones who bring in the most revenue due to multiple family members needing multi-day tickets and potentially several nights in a hotel. For every one or two people going to the park alone or together, there is likely one or two families or groups of 4-6 or even more who are also going. Think of it as a 1:4 ratio (and that is probably conservative). Much like Disney’s Hollywood Studios is almost losing its identity with and connection to the magic of filmmaking, with the massive addition of Star Wars and Toy Story Lands, DCA looks like it is also shedding its story of California and Hollywood and dawning the dominant theme of Marvel and Cars. Yes, the parks are integrating movies but not in the same way that the parks were originally designed.

Why is losing its original identity an important part of the equation on whether something is considered a legacy attraction or not? Because once the identity of old Hollywood or the magic of filmmaking is stripped away, then what was once seen as iconic or legacy no longer has that image or appeal. If DCA no longer represents Old Hollywood, gold rush California, or beachside amusements, then the Hollywood Tower Hotel no longer seems relevant. Although many people recognize the Twilight Zone music, it is safe to say that most kids and teens do not know what the Twilight Zone is or was. They don’t know that it was a groundbreaking anthology series in TV’s earlier days. So, if those who are not driving the most revenue into the parks do not understand the significance or nostalgia of the Twilight Zone, if they do not see the park as representing Old Hollywood or filmmaking, and if they have never seen the Tower of Terror movie, then that attraction becomes a prime target for a complete overhaul or massive refurbishment. Essentially, it is like a member of a royal family getting striped of his or her title under a new monarchy. Simply stated, it is apparent that the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror no longer qualifies as a legacy attraction at DLR.

We can analyze this decision all day long and arrive at a litany of conclusions or rationale for why this was or was not a good decision; but the fact of the matter is, unless things change, the ToT at DCA is going to become a Guardians of the Galaxy attraction. In my personal opinion as a theme park enthusiast and long-time fan, I am saddened to see this attraction get replaced by a newly acquired IP; but, the analyst in me can understand why the company is making that decision. Looks as if the Tower of Terror left it “guard” down. Perhaps the new theme will be a success! However, that success comes at the cost of an opening day attraction that many will miss.