Kevin Yee Takes On Universal’s Springfield

Written by Kevin Yee. Posted in Disney, Kevin Yee, Universal Orlando, Walt Disney World

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Published on August 06, 2013 at 2:00 am with 21 Comments

This past weekend, the Springfield section of Universal Studio Orlando opened up additional new sections, revealing still more food and drink options, amid highly themed decorative elements.

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Universal has been on something of a streak lately, opening up attraction after attraction much faster than its competition in Orlando, and they have added to the already-expanded Springfield (Simpsons) area with a second set of dining options across the walkway. There is still more to come, when the alien-themed spinner ride opens up soon just next door, perfecting a mini-land where previously this part of the park had but a single ride, a single shop, and a single food court, all disconnected from each other.

First came the simulator, moving from Back to the Future over to The Simpsons. That was a few years ago. Then came the nearby shop, which transformed into the Kwik-E-Mart (a logical enough choice). This year has seen the blizzard of new stuff–the International Food Court shut down to make way for a more highly-themed replacement. Still a food court, this one has all the trappings of Simpsons characters and locations when you’re on the inside, and inviting themed facades on the outside. Now there’s a real Moe’s Tavern where you can, in fact, drink Duff Beer!

Joining Moe’s Tavern, Krustyburger, and all the other food is this weekend’s new offerings: smaller locations across the walkway in the form of a taco truck, a donut shop, an outdoor beer garden, and a smaller outdoor merchandise location.

The taco truck is themed to the smaller character, and the devil-may-care attitude you associate with the Simpsons is on display here, too, for there’s probably an element of racism in the depiction of the Spanish-speaking character as seen on television. Will his inclusion in the theme park, despite no obvious connection to the racism of the show, be a problem for the park? Time will tell, but the Simpsons have never shied away from cutting humor.

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More critical for the average visitor will be the taste. Here, alas, I found the product wanting. I desperately desired to enjoy the tacos. I like tacos in general and the promise of Korean tacos was even more mouth-watering. There’s a food truck here in Orlando that dishes up Korean tacos to die for (at about $3 each). Unfortunately, the ones are Universal cost more and taste less. They’re not taste-FREE entirely, but the dish is served with a lot of vegetables and it looks like it ought to be delicious. It’s mostly just kind of there, an after-image of Korean spices rather than any real zing. There’s no complexity to this taste, and that’s a shame.

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I didn’t try the donuts, nor did I sit down at Duff Gardens. I’ve previously sampled a Duff beer (not bad, not great) and will probably sometime soon drink the Buzz Cola they keep advertising, so of course I’ll be back.

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Mostly I was marveling that they had the foresight to include actual decorations. They didn’t just theme the buildings, they themed them WELL. And they didn’t stop there. The Duff Gardens could have worked fine without beer bottle guys out front, but Uni knows that everyone wants to take a photo with Surly (the Duff beer guys are like the seven dwarfs but with different attitudes. I have always thought the Simpsons was a perfect fit for Universal).

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They didn’t stop there, either. They added a photo opp with a statue of Chief Wiggum, who crashed his police car into a fire hydrant. All of that cost money, but they guessed – correctly – that these would be real crowd-pleasers.

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Everyone’s taking a photo! It’s funny how you can go super-high-tech (Disney and its NextGen/MyMagic/FastPass+ stuff leaps to mind) but at the end of the day, an awful lot of theme park visitors just want to hang out in immersive environments that are fun and familiar. And take pictures of decidedly low-tech statues.

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Book Review: Disneylanders

If you’re a certain kind of Disney fan, this book (I was sent a review copy) will feel less like a novel and more like a novelization. You’ll think you are reading a transcription of events that actually happened to you. Well, maybe not the complete story. But elements of this tale will reverberate for you like few other works of fiction. Why? Because it takes place in Disneyland, and there’s an honesty… an EARNESTNESS, really, to the events, emotions, and inner dialog to this book that all of us who grew up at Disneyland likely felt.

It’s a fictional story of a young girl about to start high school, dragged along with her parents to Disneyland for the millionth time. Our heroine Casey loves Disneyland, and the Disney fan in you will rejoice in her appreciation for Gurr-mobiles, the Skyway buckets long missed in the Matterhorn, and such park minutiae. But it’s not artificially injected. The park love oozes out of a more conventional story about a girl on a first date at Disneyland – made at Disneyland, in fact – and this drama drives the story forward.

It’s ultimately not the story of the girl and her crush, but I won’t spoil the ending for you. Suffice to say, it resonated with me, despite my situation differing a bit (I am, after all, male, unlike the main character, and I don’t have the memories of bra strap drama that the author seems to have experienced herself growing up). The emotional payoff of the story is more universal than that.

It helps that there is a bit of a refrain about the nature of Disneyland here. Why should we care about this fakeness and plastic reality? We do care, it turns out, for lots of reasons related to why we are human in the end analysis… still more tied up with the emotional denouement of the book.

But for all the universality of the book’s message, keep in mind that it reads in many ways like a youth novel (written for young adults). I still found it an enjoyable read, though a quick one. And my inner Disney geek cheered mightily at the lengthy discoure about the stretching portraits in the Haunted Mansion. This is every bit the kind of rhapsodizing that frequent visitors to Disney parks do, and if you’re one of them, this will hit home for you, as does the book in a thousand other ways. Usually in a more “hit and run” fashion, in the service of the larger drama of the storyline. A Disney fan will recognize a lot of truth in the story, and there’s not even much to quibble about (except, possibly, the giving out of a handstamp at the exit turnstiles after the park has closed for the day).

It’s probably the most successful novelization I’ve read yet that uses the Disney parks as a backdrop, and that’s mostly because it trusts the audience to be smart, informed Disney fans. This is not written for the “mass audience” who needs to be told that Splash Mountain is a log ride. It invokes Gurr-mobiles without further explanation, for goodness sakes. That alone should tell you what kind of tone we’re dealing with here.

More information and updates

Kevin Yee is the author of numerous independent Disney books, including the popular Walt Disney World Earbook series and Walt Disney World Hidden History. Readers are invited to connect with him online and face to face at the following locations:

 

 

About Kevin Yee

Kevin Yee is an author and blogger writing about travel, tourism, and theme parks in Central Florida. He spent more than a decade working at Disneyland and cultivating a never-ending fascination with that park’s rich traditions and history. Now relocated to Orlando, Kevin enjoys the Disney offerings on both sides of the country. Kevin is the author of numerous independent Disney books, including the popular Walt Disney World Earbook series and Walt Disney World Hidden History. Readers are invited to connect with him online and face to face at the following locations: UltimateOrlando.com – Kevin’s personal blog for daily WDW updates Public Facebook page – or friend his personal Facebook account, Twitter feed (user UltOrlando), Google+ account (user cafeorleans), Email at [email protected], Weekly Walt Disney World, a Facebook group of regulars who visit Disney World each weekend. Visitors from out of town are encouraged to come and say hello when in Orlando! Join the FB group to learn when/where the next meet is. Kevin’s books on Amazon

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21 Comments

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  1. “…but at the end of the day, an awful lot of theme park visitors just want to hang out in immersive environments that are fun and familiar. And take pictures of decidedly low-tech statues.”
    Then why was Art of Animation panned on this site, particularly the Cars Land section? Guests love taking pictures with their surrounding.

    • Personally, I don’t like any of the budget resorts at WDW. They feel cheap to me (though I know that a lot of young families LOVE those hotels – including Kevin who wrote several POSITIVE reviews about Art of Animation). But Springfied doesn’t look cheap. They’ve filled it with detail, shopping, food, statues, gags, etc. not unlike Disneyland’s ToonTown.

      Uni took a plain Jane walkway and turned it into a village. They didn’t need to do it, they did it to plus the park. That’s really wonderful. Rather than just having rides plunked down in front of concrete walkways, they are actually going back and upgrading areas around existing attractions to make them more immersive. Well done Universal! And don’t stop now, you are on the right track.

      • I agree somewhat. I think the bar was set so low regarding Universal’s ability to theme their theme parks rather than like you said, plunk rides in front of concrete walkways. They could only improve and Harry Potter was their moment to shine and shine it did, for a while at least. Once I removed the Butterbeer goggles I only saw a land haphazardly placed with recycled coasters and poor food quality. These are staples of Universal dressed up to the nines.

        History repeats itself with the Simpsons and they’re getting away with it again. Once you remove the Duff Beer goggles what you see are photo ops with statues and a McDonald’s with a Simpsons overlay. It’s immersive but this is not top notch quality folks.

        It’s impressive what Universal has been able to accomplish in so little time but I think we’re so thirsty for something new and so angry at Disney for resting on its laurels we’re willing to give Universal an “A” for turning in pink, scented paper.

      • Ugh. I sound so bitter. I’m just so frustrated that this is where we’re at. Looking toward Universal for inspiration in Disney’s absence. I even feel Disney dropped the ball with New Fantasyland with a recycled Mermaid and a delayed opening of the mine train. That was poor planning. Stunning visuals though! Universal has made great strides to beautify their park and invest more in theme. I do appreciate what they are doing and I need to enjoy it for what it is without making comparisons. I still think WWOHP has considerable flaws that are overlooked. Ack! There I go again.

    • It might have been panned on the site, but not by me! See http://micechat.com/7802-cars-hotel-disney-world/ for my review of it.

    • I think the difference is that Uni has built an immersive environment while the Disney budget resorts are just a hair above a well-painted Days Inn with giant Disney characters slapped onto the buildings. CarsLand is definitely an immersive environment and look how popular DCA is now because of it. Budget is still budget no matter the decorations.

      What gets me is how the Nickelodeon hotel can do so well. Seems the same to me as Disney’s budget resorts, but with sky-high pricing.

  2. My problem with the Simpsons is the ride (formerly BTTF) is too intense and not repeatable. I would love for them to create a gentler ride. Perhaps that is why despite attempts to broaden their customer base, they still are not quite competitive with Disney.

    • Well then you will LOVE the Kang and Kodos Twirl N’ Hurl!

  3. I think Universal knows they aren’t Disney and have decided to be what they are. A place for older kids, teenagers and adults. They will never have enough kid rides to get the 1-10 year old crowds in, but they are building great rides that everyone else enjoys. Unless of course you hate thrill rides. I find them a great excuse to get away form the kids for a day and have some adult fun. We leave the kids with Nana and head over for some beer, some great rides, better theming and all around fun. I love Disney World and I love Universal. To me Orlando is 6 theme parks. Sea World has never really appealed to me, but we might make a stop there as my son is getting a bit older.

    • Never say never.

      • Good point, but I think at best they would have to create a third park dedicated to kids. But the little ones still wouldnt have enough to satisfy them during the day at the current parks. Even if they redo the kids zone, they would need another 4-5 rides in each park that appeal to kids. I can see them making an attempt at it. They seem to be going for the jugular so it may just happen.

  4. [...] Kevin Yee Takes On Universal's Springfield Universal has been on something of a streak lately, opening up attraction after attraction much faster than its competition in Orlando, and they have added to the already-expanded Springfield (Simpsons) area with a second set of dining options across … Read more on MiceChat [...]

  5. Thanks for the articles and pictures Kevin, I knew they were building more Simpson stuff at Uni. Not a diehard Simpsons fan, had to really think hard about who the “Bumblebee man” was. I kinda remember the character, and at the time thought it was either mildly racist—or just making fun of a lot of programing on Telemundo/Univision. I speak Spanish and watch Sabado Gigante and other shows, they’re kinda different from what American telelvision used to be, though I kinda think that America’s Got Talent and other shows kinda have a certain Univision vibe to them. There’s just this ‘You Can’t Do That on Television’ vibe that a lot of Spanish language shows have.

    Apparently, Bumblebee man is also on the Simpsons in Mexico and Spain. From wiki, the character is actually supposed to be Norwegian or Belgian, and uses fake spanish words in the show, but I think putting him on a taco truck is kinda . . . wrong character wise, and maybe racist.

    I think your comments with regards to immersive environments are spot on, everyone is familiar with the Simpsons world, even if you haven’t seen the show in a while. I think WDI is in love with rock work, look at New Fantasyland, BoG is beautiful, Mermaid has a lot of palms trees and kinda awkward rock work . . . but where are you supposed to be? I kinda get Belle’s village, but the rest of it is kinda vague . . .

  6. Some folks are having a tough time getting their minds around the idea that current Disney leadership has and is letting us down.
    Universal is now thinking outside the lazy box that current Disney leadership is napping in.
    The success of Potterland has given Uni the cash and they are spending it on the guests. Transformers in less than a year. Simpson’s land at the same time. New Potterland in one and a half years, again at the same time as the above. Upgrades to Spiderman done and new Jurassic Park thrill ride underway.
    As a Loew’s First member, I can stay at Portofino Resort, receive $100 credit for restaurants, free upgrade to GIGANTIC suite with two full baths and ride a nice boat through a beautifully landscaped riverfront over a mile long to the front of the parks for less than two rooms at a Disney value resort.
    While Disney talks about Avatar and builds 7 dwarfs rollercoaster in two years after being guilted into it by guests because it was all stores and restaurants for more money.

    • Oh yeah, and my room key at Portofino skips almost all the attraction lines.

  7. Take the challenge. Walk around Wizarding World of HP, then go look at the construction on the new London area of WW of HP at Universal. Then consider the speed of accomplishing this new area in 1 1/2 years while completing Transformers and new Simpson area.
    Then go to the new Fantasyland. Still working on it 2 years later. They didn’t plan to build 7 dwarfs coaster until guests got in an uproar over only one new ride. Look at the little toy which sits atop a 25 foot (I’m being generous) “mountain” which is supposed to be Beast’s castle.
    See that nobody wants a shank Steak or a La fou brew in the empty Gaston’s. Notice everything is a store or restaurant for Disney to collect more money. Then remember that they closed the Snow white ride for photo op and more cash. When they finish will it have taken 2 or 3 years?
    Disney could turn into an old folks Theme park for those of us who like classics like Pirates, Haunted Mansion, Peter Pan, etc. Uni could turn into the park that adults, teens, and kids want to go to because they’re trying to earn our patronage, not squeeze us for our last nickle.

  8. It seemed a little odd to complain about the food quality after only sampling a so
    called korean taco from an allegedly hispanic taco truck. I’m from San Antonio, and
    so far as I know, korean tacos aren’t available here yet, but would be something a
    chef might offer at a fancy restaurant, never at a taco stand.
    I ate ” mexican” food in NC once where not only were the two owners clearly arabs
    despite name tags with spanish names, the food, from the pita tortillas to the way
    everything was spiced, was clearly totally not mexican.
    I’m not sure we should trust this ” bumblebee man.”;-)
    For that matter, who in their right mind would order a
    Krusty Burger?
    But I bet Lard Lad knows doughnuts and Cletus can fry him some kick a chicken.
    I wish Moe could throw in a shot of something for adults when they purchase a
    Flaming Moe, however.

  9. I have zero problems with the themeing at the WDW value resorts and in fact, quite enjoyed our stay at Pop Century. We spent so little time at our hotel that we were willing to pay for a “lesser resort” that still has a Disney feel. Not sure how anyone can compare a resort to a section of a theme park…two different entities with completely different purposes and audiences.

    Also, want to put my 2 cents in on Disneylanders. Definitely written for a younger audience but a very fun read for anyone who loves Disneyland or the Disney parks. I thoroughly enjoyed the quick read and would highly reccomend it.

  10. I really don’t get the hype surrounding some redressed buildings and a few statues placed around. Yes the area looks better but I just don’t see all the detail that supposedly supersedes even too town at Disneyland

    • Maybe we could discuss the redressed buildings and statues in context with the New Potterland, New Hogwartz Train,New Transformers Ride, New Despicable Me Ride, New Parade, New Nightime Water Show, all in the last year?
      Or we can talk WDW progress over the last 2-3 years; ripping out the Snow White Ride for Little Mermaid, continuing Rock Work at Fantasyland, and, um, hmm…oh yeah, The New Starbucks!

  11. Uni did a great job with this new mini land. As a long time Simpsons fan, when I visited US last year I was thrilled to finally meet the Simpsons in charater form and enjoyed the Krustyland themed ride, but the rest of the World Expo area including the food court was just run down and unappealing. They were able to retheme and add elements to this area that creates a more immersive and fun experience. Remember that they are translating a 2D cartoon world that lacks details. From what I have seen, with minor exceptions, they have nailed the environement. I have heard both positive and negative reivews on the food and beverage offerings, but at least they are something different than the tired fare that I had to choose from last year. I can’t wait to get back to this park and see all the great things they have put in.

    I’ll be heading for WDW next week and will get to experience most of NFL that was not done when I visited last year. Disney just needs to get their act together and decide how to address the staleness at some of their parks (DS & Epcot). Hopefully NFL is just a speed bump in a move towards reviatilizing the world.