Some may view this as the latest Samland column. Others will simply say that he has provided a trip report as a cheap way to bang out a bunch of content really, really fast. There may be some truth to both of those statements. What this really means is that it is time to once again play the Exceptional, Acceptable, and Regrettable game!

The rules: Pretty simple. . . for experiences and activities, in your judgement, was it Exceptional, Acceptable or Regrettable. Only you know for certain. When you talk about items in the built environment, I follow this course. Assume that every act of construction should either repair, enhance or embellish the public realm. If the project does not do any of those things then ask yourself why are they even doing anything at all. Got it? Good!

Universal Orlando Resort: EXCEPTIONAL


Back in the day, when Islands of Adventure and CityWalk first opened, the resort complex was branded Universal Orlando Escape. The idea was that visitors to Walt Disney World could escape to Universal and enjoy a different kind of experience. The name never really made sense to the public and business never took off. Only after Harry Potter arrived did anyone pay attention. Although the failed marketing campaign could be used as a case study for a business school, the site plan for the resort is pure genius.

Amongst many other differences, Disney has always been suburban while Universal has always been urban. Walt’s movie factory was a college campus while the Universal property looked like a factory with a lot of what appeared to be abandoned buildings, big boxes, and weird stuff piled about.

Universal’s compact form is similar to the Disneyland resort with all of the benefits and even some refinements. The parks are within walking distance of each other and soon a train will connect them. Most guests arriving by car park in one of two large garages and are funneled through a narrow corridor on the skybridge. Assaulted by advertisements for the vendors in the mall and a peek at the very cool miniature golf surely plants ideas in many guest’s heads. Those fortunate enough to stay at one of the resort hotels can either walk along beautifully manicured pathways or take a boat. Think of how much time you spend getting around Disney property. If time is money then a compact resort makes a lot of sense for park-hopping guests.

Once past the skybridge, the negative space created by the waterway fronting CityWalk works the same way as the Disney castles and draws visitors forward. Like most successful public plazas, CityWalk is at the crossroads, which forces a certain vitality that is missing in Downtown Disney. There is currently a lot of construction going on as the center is updated and there are now plans under consideration to create an adult entertainment area that is safe from children’s eyes.


Despicable Me Minion Mayhem: Exceptional

This is what happens when creativity trumps a big budget. Universal has never been nostalgic and they have frequently switched out the intellectual property when it has run its course. This facility has now seen three rides. It started out celebrating Hanna-Barbara, then Nickelodeon, and now the Minions. The ride vehicles and experience have been basically the same. You sit in a motion platform and watch a film. In this case, the film uses Dolby 3D and rewards the visitor with a crisp clear image.

But it is all about the minions, isn’t it? What an adorable group of characters! The show is fast paced, hilarious, and filled with eye candy that makes it repeatable. This will be a huge hit when it comes to Los Angeles in summer 2014.

Screen Play: Exceptional

Disney has gone crazy creating interactive games at Walt Disney World. Although the technology is different with each game, the basics are the same. Find a target. Activate the target. Watch what happens. Repeat. Universal has also jumped into the game and you probably did not even know it.

Their game is called Screen Play. No need to sign up. Just download the free app for your iPhone, iPad or Android phone. As you wander the park look for construction walls. At Universal these days there are always construction walls. On the walls are film posters. But these are not ordinary posters. If you aim your device toward the poster either a trivia question will pop up or the entire poster will come alive.

Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket: Regrettable

I am surprised that this thing is still operating.

A step ladder waits just off to the side incase the ride valleys.
A step ladder waits just off to the side incase the ride valleys.


Springfield: Exceptional

White napkins that say Springfield. Let’s start there. Not generic “parks” paper goods but something that embellishes the area theming. Then there is the food. What could have easily been an average food court that would do well since was nothing on that side of the park, Universal went out of it’s way to create items that further enhance the theme. And just as important, it was actually tasty. The chicken sandwich from Cletus is a moist breaded breast of chicken stuck between two waffles and comes with Maple syrup/Mayo. It comes with tutor tots and it should be horrible but it really works. The same goes foe the KRUSTY Burger and the Ribwich. I have become hooked on Buzz Cola (diet cola with a shot of cherry), enjoyed the Duff beer (3 kinds!), and recognize that they will be selling millions of Flaming Moe’s.


Along the waterfront is the newly opened Duff Gardens, which will become a fan favorite for both the views and the beers. Taking a lesson from Knott’s Berry Farm, there are statues and photos opportunities all over the place. Even the manhole covers are properly themed. Once again, Universal has created a place where you just want to be even if you don’t go on a ride. But if you do, please go on…

Twirl and Hurl: Exceptional


Disguised as a simple spinner ride, the Twirl and Hurl is really a secret plot by aliens to get you to kill humans. Ah, good times. As you spin about, aim for the targets and you will activate spinning portraits and sounds by familiar Simpsons characters. This is one of the few secondary attractions at the park but it does a superb job of adding kinetic energy to the area and providing a much needed family friendly ride.

Jurassic Park Arcade Games: Regrettable

Jurassic Park is based on a book and a movie about a theme park with interactive dinosaurs. Therefore, it makes sense that the environmental design looks like a theme park. Or should I say looked like a theme park. With the addition of arcade games that are replacing those in The Lost Continent, the theme park motif has shifted toward an amusement park. As tacky as it looks, it actually does kind of fit the theme. The same could be said about the games in Springfield at the other park but those really do fit and replaced fake games. It is obvious that Universal makes enough money from the arcades that this element is included in every park they manage.

Let’s switch gears and travel over to Disney’s Epcot for Food and Wine Festival . . .

Spaceship Earth: Exceptional and Regrettable

Exceptional: When you get to the Greek scene, where the teacher is going on about whatever he is going on about, focus on the student sitting in the middle. As many teenagers are apt to do, he is trying hard to stay awake but it is just not happening. It is these little touches that make the attraction so repeatable.

Regrettable: On one trip, at the climatic scene at the top, you turn to face Spaceship Earth only to notice it had changed positions within the galaxy. No stars. Well sort of. What I did learn is that there seems to be three main circuits as the middle section was there but the sides were dark space. Wasn’t sure if I should be fascinated or disappointed by the ending. And I still don’t like the script.

Epcot Food and Wine Festival

Although I tend to visit Florida while the Food and Wine Festival is going on, I rarely participate in the activities. Just not the kind of person who likes to stand in a line, grab a little food thingy, try to balance whatever drink I might have, search for a spot to eat (would it kill them to put out a few more tables?), and then hurry as others start to surround you for that same table.

However, Werner Weiss, esteemed curator of Yesterland is going to do his annual wrap up tomorrow and the following week and he actually pays great attention to this event. One of the best write ups on the web. For many years, he gets his minions to restock the Yesterland Orlando bureau high atop a Marriott somewhere and sets out to document the annual offerings. I got to witness his work and he is a master.

That is it for now. Very tired on the flight back and this was all I could muster. I did get a chance to use the MagicBand and want to draft a thoughtful review. It was my impression, if you are going to WDW during the holidays and not staying on property, you are doomed. But there is something more to the system. More on that soon.  Okay, your turn: Exceptional, Acceptable, or Regrettable?