Big things are in the works at Universal Orlando. The company officially opened Transformers: The Ride 3D on June 20, and is also currently building two other exciting expansions at the Florida theme park.
Universal Orlando is already home to a “The Simpsons”-themed ride, but the theme park announced in May that a complete redesign and expansion is in the works to make the area of Islands of Adventure feel like Springfield. Krusty Burger and Moe’s Tavern are already open for business, and Zap2it saw construction for additional areas like Cletus Chicken Shack, Bumblebee Man Taco Truck and Kang & Kodos Twirl ‘n’ Hurl underway.
“Springfield’s a natural extension because we opened the ride in 2008 and it’s been such a huge hit, an award-winning attraction,” Universal Creative Studio executive producer Mike West tells Zap2it. “We thought, ‘What better thing to do than to take the animated world which you enter in on the ride and create the dimensional element of that out in the park, and just create Springfield itself with the food and the characters.’ It was just the natural extension into this park.”
Don’t expect to see places like a nuclear power plant or Burns’ mansion just yet. West says he worked closely with Jim Brooks and Matt Groening on “every single detail of this expansion,” and that’s how he narrowed down the “iconic” additions to the Springfield section of the park, and decided to focus primarily on food-centric locations.
“Springfield is such an iconic pop culture icon for the world that it was just a natural element for us to create it here, and then you had to meet the expectations of the food,” he says. “I mean, the food in ‘The Simpsons’ is a big a part as the characters — and the drinks. They’re characters unto themselves, so we knew we had to have an original Duff’s Beer, which we created at a microbrewery. We knew we had to have a Flaming Moe. We had to have a Krusty Burger and a Clogger. They’re as much the stars of the new expansion as the buildings and the ride is.”
Then there’s the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. A Diagon Alley expansion was revealed in early May, and Universal Orlando has been very hush-hush about it since. That area, which will open in 2014, will include new shops, a second themed restaurant and an “innovative, marquee attraction based on Gringotts bank” located in the Universal Studios park, but all of that construction is covered up so that prying eyes can’t see more than they’re supposed to.
So what should fans know about the top-secret new “Harry Potter” area? “It’s going to be over the top incredibly beyond your imagination fantastic,” Universal Parks & Resorts chairman Tom Williams tells Zap2it.
Beyond that, Hasbro’s Bryony Bouyer teases that more of the brand’s popular lines could come to Universal Orlando now that “Transformers” is open.
“I’m always thinking about that one. Many conversations about what are the right [Hasbro] brands to bring to life,” Bouyer says. “We certainly have some really great franchises. Think about ‘My Little Pony’ that’s doing amazingly well. Huge fan bases; I think that’s the key.”
With rides like Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Transformers: The Ride 3D pushing what theme parks are capable of, Williams says the lesson Universal Orlando has learned is to focus on making guests feel like they’re “in the middle of the action.”
“They can reach out and touch it. They sense it, they smell it, they feel it — temperature changes and other visceral elements that come to play — it just makes it so believable,” Williams teases of what’s in store for the next generation of Universal Orlando rides. “A shared family experience — family, friends, whatever — a shared experience is what’s so integral to having a good time at our park. You’re going to see a lot more to come.”