It’s been a while since we’ve brought you an update from Universal Studios Hollywood. This one has a bit of news, rumor and conjecture. The big story this week is Universal’s Lunar New Year celebration.  All the parks seem to be attempting this holiday these days, we’ll show you Universal’s effort.  Plus, construction on two big projects on the upper lot and speculation on even bigger things yet to come (More Harry Potter, Nintendo, Secret Life of Pets and more).

Lunar New Year

In recent years, Universal has completed the restructuring of the upper lot to ease the flow of guests and create a central plaza (where the Wild West Stunt Show was once located).  They use the plaza space for holiday celebrations, character meet and greets, special events and as a meeting point for guests.  At the moment, the area is hosting Lunar New Year.

As soon as you enter the park you’ll be greeted with red Chinese lanterns, which help set the mood.

The celebration consists of a little show featuring Kung Fu Panda, character drawing station, face painting, character meet and greets, and Mr. Ping’s noodle shop.

Learn to draw an animated character.

In the same area as the character drawing is a free face painting stand.
A small merchandise cart offers Lunar New Year inspired items. Nothing jumped out at me as interesting.

The Center of the plaza contains beautiful Plum Blossom Trees. You are invited to write your wish on a red ribbon to hang from the trees.

A highlight of the celebration is Mr. Ping’s Noodles. While this is indeed a food stand with noodles, egg rolls, pot stickers and Bao, it’s also an attraction with an interactive puppet.

Mr. Ping talks to guests and poses for photos. Ask him what the secret ingredient is in his noodles.  It might not really be a secret . . . then again . . .

Meet Po and friends on the stage. Kids are invited up to participate and then meet the characters from Kung Fu Panda in person.

The minions also get into the act, dressing up for the holiday.

But it’s Mandarin-speaking Megatron who steals the show.  Don’t miss him, he’s located just outside the plaza.  Look for the sign and note the times. He’s really impressive.

I went live from the Lunar New Year festival and took our followers on a little tour of the Upper Lot as well. You can watch it here:

Dreamworks Theater

Just across from the Chinese New Year celebration, in the old Shrek theater, is construction on the new Dreamworks Theater.

While the theater portion of the Shrek building remains and is being reskinned, additional construction is enclosing and/or covering the old queue space.

It’s a large project which will tie in the new look of the buildings from the entry buildings and central plaza.

Universal has released some info on the new theater’s first feature – Kung Fu Panda: The Emperor’s Quest. The attraction will feature interior projection mapping designed to engulf guests in “180 degrees of immersive adventure.” Seats will move with the action of course. Guests will encounter Pinnochio in the box office at the entry to the attraction.

Animation and Hello Kitty Shop

Nearby is a new animation themed building, located where Cartooniversal once stood. This brand new construction is nearly ready to open (if it hasn’t already). It will house a Hello Kitty section and also feature the characters from Illuminations Entertainment studios (Despicable Me, Secret Life of Pets, Sing, and some Dr. Seuss films as well). I tried really hard to have someone show me around inside but they weren’t quite ready to show it off.

The building is two stories and beautiful. Some park management offices have been added on the 2nd floor.

A little courtyard rest area is being tucked in behind the building along the road to Waterworld.

There is some tremendous detail work on the exterior of this building.

Does anyone else see Minions and bananas in this design?
Finishing touches are just about complete.

Things to Come

While all the current change in the park is impressive, it’s what is yet to come that truly amazes me. It’s no secret that Diagon Alley and Nintendo land are soon to begin construction in the park. Also rumored is a Secret Life of Pets attraction.

I’m hearing all sorts of rumors about Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley expansion.  At first, we had heard that the land would be built across from Hogsmead on the space now occupied by the Special Effects show and Animal Actors theaters.  Though, some claim strongly that Universal plans to move the Studio Tour loading to the lower lot near Transformers, which would free up the space below Hogwarts for Diagon Alley.

We did note that the digital signboard has been removed from in front of the Animal Actors theater.  These two old shows have long been on the chopping block.  Our first though was that the Secret Life of Pets attraction could be coming here . . . but whispers indicate that attraction is slated for the Globe Theater across from Dispicable Me, another Illumination franchise. The Pets project has moved a number of times since it was first hinted at by Universal, first on the lower lot and barking its way all the way to the upper lot.

And that leaves a lot of space for Super Nintendo World on the Lower Lot (which just expanded the Starway from 3 escalators to 4!).

We’ll look deeper into Universal’s plans soon.

Take Back CityWalk

The tenants in CityWalk are all abuzz about the massive turnover in shops. As leases expire they are not being renewed for an increasing number of tenants. Huge attendance has Universal wanting to take over the highest volume retail spaces. You’d be surprised how many stores Uni now owns. The AMC Theater, Margaritaville, Popcornopolis, Starbucks and many other establishments are all owned by Universal under licensing or franchise agreements.

Saddle Ranch Chop House has closed.

The sunglass shop is out.

Wolfgang Puck and Upstart Crow are gone.

A new bath shop is about to open.

Johnny Rockets is closed. Universal is likely reconcepting it.

The biggest fish to fall may be Hardrock Cafe near the theaters and the stage.

Surveyors were seen at this location in the early hours last week and employees at the establishment are gossiping about a pending closure.

Meanwhile, while I was snooping, I decided to take a peek inside Voodoo Donuts as I’ve heard they offer vegan baked goods. I can’t have dairy, so it’s always a challenge for me to find pastries. To my surprise, they have dozens of different kinds of dairy-free donuts. They also serve Stumptown coffee, my current favorite.

Well folks, that about does it for this update. There’s still so much to share from the Lower Lot and Tram tour, so I owe you another photo-heavy report from Universal Studios Hollywood!