Universal Orlando will combine projectors and pyrotechnics in a new nightly show that theme park executives hope will spark attendance starting this summer.
The centerpiece of the Universal Studios show will be four huge spheres floating on barges spaced in the park's central lagoon. The three-story globes will essentially be 360-degree screens for Universal Pictures' most memorable movie scenes.
The film clips will be choreographed to movie-theme music playing from a new 300-speaker sound system and accompanied by fireworks and lasers.
"Universal 360: A Cinesphere Spectacular," which will start July 1, is aimed at getting people to stay until closing, and to get more people to come as Universal tries to rebound from a big attendance drop last year.
People who enjoy an end-of-day show tend to spend more money, leave happier and return, Universal Orlando President Bob Gault said. And they'll tell their friends.
"Obviously, word of mouth helps drive this business," Gault said. "We've been looking for ways to enhance that, to take it right over the top, so guests say, 'Oh, my God. I can't wait to go home and tell my friends and neighbors about this.' "
The show is one of four new attractions Universal is promoting. The others are a new children's monorail ride at Islands of Adventure, a new CityWalk nightclub that strives for swank, and a new CityWalk seafood restaurant.
A good end-of-day show can be an attraction itself, said Jerry Aldrich, president of Orlando-based Amusement Industry Consulting.
Though Universal still managed a profit, Aldrich and other industry observers said it would be tough for the parks to remain profitable if they can't attract bigger crowds. Last year, attendance fell 11 percent from a 2004 record level.
"If they market it, I'm sure it will actually bring people in," Aldrich said. "It definitely will keep people in the park."
And those who stay until closing might buy dinner, and maybe a sweatshirt to keep warm. And they're more likely to stay and play into the evening at CityWalk, Aldrich said.
Universal would not disclose the project's contractors but said much of the construction and programming is being done by Universal's engineers. The technology has been used in Europe, but not anything like the scale Universal is planning, said Jim Timon, senior vice president of entertainment.
"It's a pretty cool computer trick, by taking the four projectors that actually project around the surface of the sphere and computer-blending the edges, so that to the eye it appears like continuous imaging," he said. "We also have a fifth projector that projects straight up."
The technology offers other opportunities too, Gault said. For Halloween Horror Nights, Universal could produce a horror video show for the spheres. For Mardi Gras, stage shows could be projected live into the spheres. The screens could even broadcast NBC-TV shows, perhaps the Olympics, he said.
"The video boys are going to be busy for a long time here," Timon said.
The one new ride at Universal this year, The High In The Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride, also known as the Seuss Sky Trolley, is actually a redone old ride that never opened. The original ride -- Sylvester McMonkey McBean's Very Unusual Driving Machines -- was built for Islands of Adventure's 1999 grand opening but technical and safety concerns left it dormant for seven years.
Universal redesigned and rebuilt the ride this winter, and renamed it. It will open June 1.
"It's designed for families with small children," Gault said. "It's just going to be a fun thing. It provides more balance in Islands of Adventure . . . We've already got great roller coasters."
The new two-story nightclub, The Red Coconut, which Timon said will strive for a "Rat Pack cool, hip" feel set in a 1970s decor, will feature live bands and dancing, and seek a clientele aged from the late 20s to 40s. It should open in late May on CityWalk's Club Row.
The Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. restaurant, with seating for more than 400, will open July 1 at the entrance to CityWalk. Its CityWalk location was announced last summer.
Gault said competition for tourists in Central Florida remains tough, because the market still has not fully recovered from the post-Sept. 11, 2001, slump.
So, he said, "We are continuing to spend a lot of money on great product, high technology and relevant stuff. That helps us in the battle for share." Scott Powers can be reached at [email protected] or 407-420-5441.