February 22, 2014 – Spring break is fast approaching here in SoCal, and things are kicking into gear over at Universal Studios Hollywood. As we approach peak season, construction projects have ramped up around the park in an effort to prepare. How are things shaping up following last summer’s “Summer of Survival”? Here’s a look at the latest from the Entertainment Capital of LA.
Here’s a look at some of the current hot topics for the park.
In a move that came seemingly from nowhere, the Hollywood Shoppe next to Mel’s Diner is closed. In previous incarnations, the shop housed a selection of clearance merchandise from other areas in the park and had a small section devoted to Hollywood memorabilia. After undergoing a full renovation just last year, the shop then housed far less clearance items and focused more on the Hollywood theme, with entire mini-sections dedicated to icons like Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn.
Now, the store is closed off and empty, its merchandise spread through the remaining stores in the park. Hollywood Shoppe / The Palace’s three entrances are closed, and there is no word on when the store will re-open.
Rumors have pointed to a possible grab and go dining option being put in its place, similar to the ready cold case at the nearby International Cafe. With that element being removed from International Cafe, it would leave more space in the eatery and give park guests other options for a quick bite.
As crowds are expected to pour in for Universal’s latest attraction slated to open in Spring, this would bring a bit of relief and balance to the Baker Street / Parisian Street area of the upper lot, and hopefully assist with balancing the crowds.
And the new attraction opening this Spring? Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem of course!
With its facade nearly complete, Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem is fast approaching it’s target opening date of April 10. Inside Universal has been following the progress on the ride’s construction in photo updates for several weeks, and it seems that the construction teams have been moving with amazing speed.
With several other areas of the park undergoing massive construction at the same time, Minion Mayhem is a desperately needed attraction that will move large volumes of guests out of the crowded streets. After last summer’s nightmarish crowds, and even heavier traffic during the past Grinchmas season, Despicable Me will provide much needed relief for passholders and employees alike. The European street side of the park has been a ghost town since the closure of Terminator 2:3D, with nothing to draw guests over. As the work on the ride itself nears completion, the Super Silly Fun Land play area has also been fast tracked for completion, with new pieces arriving and being installed daily. Whether or not both ride and fun land will be opened at the same time is still unknown, but soft opening and testing of the ride itself are only weeks away.
As the project continues, Inside Universal will continue to feature up-to-date photos and information. For now, everyone is wondering the same thing: when do the first walls come down?
Speaking of construction walls…
If the new signs above the game booths are any indication, the walls surrounding the new carnival games in the Simpson’s Ride queue should be coming down soon. Work began on the booths late last month following the removal of the Flintstones carnival games earlier in the year. Since then, a new structure for storage and two carnival games has been erected near the elevator and StarWay, and several other booths have popped up at the front of the ride entrance.
This is just part one of the Springfield expansion however. As we’ve discussed in the past and during our podcasts, Universal Studios Hollywood is bringing the breakout hit Springfield restaurants from Universal Orlando to the west coast. It’s not certain yet which venues are coming, but work has already begun following the removal of Doc Brown’s Chicken, the Hollywood Cantina, and Studio Souvenirs.
However, as the new eateries are not expected to be completed any time soon, and construction walls extend quite far into the Simpson’s Plaza area, the new carnival games may prove to be more of a crowd creator than a crowd controller.
But as work continues on the upper lot, there’s also been a good deal of work happening on the backlot – starting in Amity.
The Amity area of the studio tour is being refurbished currently, and has been undergoing refurbishment for the past few weeks. With the lake drained, tour riders were given a funny glimpse at Bruce the shark out of the water and hanging out on dry land.
More recently, the famous shark was covered by black tarp to protect him from the elements – though he looked more like he was in a body bag than under protective cover.
There’s been no solid word yet on the details of the refurbishment or how much longer this segment will be out for, but without the Amity scene, the already shortened tour has been pared down to about 45 minutes. It will be a welcome return when the shark is added back to the tour roster.
And speaking of the tour roster…
Though no details have been released yet, there has been work going on in the area of the old spinning tunnel / Mummy’s Tomb near the end of the current studio tour route. The old tunnel has been demolished, and construction work has been occurring.
There are currently rumors circulating about a Fast & the Furious themed animation to replace the old Extreme Close-Up. A new tour animation does seem to be in the works according to the Evolution Plan, but nothing has been announced about this to date.
If a Fast & the Furious themed animation were to appear on the tour, it seems most likely that it would be done similarly to King Kong: 360 3D. Though that of course raises a question of what to do with the 3D glasses, and what the fate of a 3D attraction in a 4K theme park world would be. Would Kong be upgraded to 4K as well? Or would a new Fast & the Furious attraction even be done on screens? With the heavy amount of simulators already in the park, would Universal want to bring the films to life as the old park motto suggested?
Whatever the new animation will entail, this past week saw Universal bringing the movies to life in an entirely different way.
Earlier this week, Universal did something different: they held a character parade and meet and greet inside Universal Plaza. Featuring notable characters such as Doc Brown, Lucille Ball, Marilyn Monroe, and Betty Boop, this character parade was an odd mix of old and new film legends. The mini parade also featured the vehicles used by those characters, providing a fun backdrop for photos with guests.
Its unknown currently if Universal will keep this parade, as it required many employees to try to keep order in the crowded space, but it seemed to be a huge hit with guests. Another street show would greatly help entertain and draw away crowds this summer, but only if handled correctly. With the Plaza’s close proximity to WaterWorld, an exiting show at the same time as the mini parade would choke off movement in the front of the park.
Hopefully the show makes a return during the peak seasons, if only to give some variety to the current roster.
That’s all the news from Hollywood this month! Stay with us for ongoing updates from the parks. For more up to the moment information, check out our photo updates! As always, thank you for reading!
Adriana Morgan – also known by her internet handle Miss Betty Juice – is an editor for Inside Universal.
Adriana made her first trip to Universal in 1995 during Nickelodeon’s Big Help-A-Thon, and was hooked from day one. Since that first trip, her passion for films and for Universal Studios has grown, and she continues to enjoy the park and its history today as an annual passholder and a reporter for Inside Universal. Her areas of Universal expertise include Jurassic Park, the Beetlejuice Graveyard Revue, and the Studio Tour.
Adriana currently resides in Los Angeles. You can reach her at her blog on Tumblr at MyUniversalExperience.tumblr.com, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.