Another year is in the books! Highlighted by the opening of Minion Land as Universal starts to shift focus to getting the Resort ready for the upcoming Epic Universe theme park, Universal Orlando was filled with notable moments in the past year.

So let’s take a look at the Top 10 Stories from Universal Orlando during 2023.

10. Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit Adjusts Tracklist

Nothing like a good ol’ surprise adjustment to start a Top 10.

In August, Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit was closed for a brief refurbishment. Not much was thought of what was supposedly a standard, quick closure. When it reopened, fans found out that they completely changed the song list for the coaster.

Before the change, guests were allowed the option to choose from 6 songs per genre, which had been the same since the roller coaster opened in 2009. Now, guests have the option of one song, representing each genre of Rock, Pop/Disco, Country, Rap/Hip Hop, and Club/Electronica.

Don’t worry, though – the secret song menu is still available for selection.

9. Tribute Store Changes

The Tribute Store has become a staple of seasonal events over the last few years. From Mardi Gras to Christmas, guests would visit the New York location as their one-stop shop for all the seasonal merchandise featured for whatever event was happening at the time.

Until this year, when the location changed to Hollywood.

Starting with Mardi Gras, the Tribute Store was now located in the former homes of the UOAP Lounge, The Darkroom, and the Prop Shop.

Of course, with how massive of an event Halloween Horror Nights is, the Tribute Store returned home to New York for the Fall, as it offers more space than Hollywood.

8. KidZone Closes, DreamWorks Land Officially Announced

When KidZone officially closed in January, it was always rumored that it was getting replaced by a DreamWorks-inspired kid’s land.

Construction began quickly, with walls being erected the day after KidZone’s closure. By July, Universal officially confirmed that a DreamWorks land was on the way – featuring themed, interactive play spaces and attractions that bring popular franchises like ShrekTrolls and Kung Fu Panda to life.

The land is expected to open in 2024, however, guests can already see Shrek’s swamp home and the land’s new marquee signage.

7. Ticket Photo Validation Arrives

Universal Orlando has always been keen on introducing new technology to improve the guest experience. This year, they introduced Photo Validation Facial Recognition for ticket entry at both parks.

Guests approach the turnstile to get their tickets scanned and wait for the camera to scan their faces. Universal touts the new validation as a “faster way” to enter the parks.

Universal is using the new system at their current parks as they prepare to open Epic Universe in 2025, which will be using the technology upon opening.

6. Universal’s Cinematic Celebration Ends

An unfortunate victim of the 2022 Hurricane season, Universal officially ended its Cinematic Celebration lagoon show.

The show was rumored to have sustained damage, which prompted Universal to shift gears and end the show.

Debuting in 2018 in the Universal Studios Lagoon, the show featured films such as Jurassic World, Harry Potter, and characters from DreamWorks and Illumination films; the show blended panoramic water screens with pyrotechnics, lasers, projection mapping, and over 120 dancing fountains.

The good news? A new show is set to debut soon. The bad news? No other information has been shared at this time.

5. Resortwide Refurbishments

Universal has spent the better part of the past year giving a lot of love around the Resort as it gets ready for the 2025 spotlight when Epic Universe opens.

In what we’ve dubbed as a general “Project Stardust” aka beautification around the parks; bathrooms, food & drink stands, sidewalks, pathways, and roadways at both parks have been undergoing extensive refurbishments.

Universal Studios Florida also received a new ticket entrance, including the aforementioned Photo validation system.

Universal has also spent time refurbishing attractions during the nighttime – most notably at The E.T. Adventure and Men in Black: Alien Attack – avoiding the need for closures so guests can still enjoy riding.

Loews Portofino Hotel is in the midst of a lengthy refurbishment as well, with renovations set to end in June 2025.

4. Halloween Horror Nights 32

I mean, of course, Horror Nights is here.

Spearheaded by the two-headed beast of “The Last of Us” and “Stranger Things”, the event saw some of its busiest nights ever.

With Dr. Oddfellow serving as the official icon, symbolism was featured throughout the event to tie everything together. Returning favorites included Yetis terrorizing a campground and Vamps wreaking havoc at a Woodstock-like 60s festival. Nightmare Fuel brought the heat for a fantastic 3rd year showing and the M3GAN flash mob was a highlight for many.

Universal dipped into nostalgia and brought Dueling Dragons back from the dead, honoring the beloved attraction with an entertaining haunted house. The Wizarding World was finally a part of Horror Nights, with Death Eaters now invading Diagon Alley.

With strong IPs anchored by an impressive original lineup and a charismatic icon, you have the recipes for success – and it was found in abundance this year.

3. Poseidon’s Fury Closes

What a difference a year makes.

After making our Top 10 of 2022 for re-opening, Poseidon’s Fury makes our Top 10 this year for closing, officially sealing the temple on May 10.

The attraction had a bit of a cult following, especially in recent years. The attraction was well-known for its spectacular themeing, including the iconic massive trident at the entrance, and an incredible “water vortex” effect.

It is believed that the attraction sustained significant damage after Hurricane Ian and Nicole in 2022, which is why Universal changed its tune and closed the attraction despite its recent refurbishment. The future of the area is unknown as Universal states it closed for “exciting new entertainment”, but no other information has been shared at this time.

RIP Lord Darkenon.

2. The Road to Epic Universe Continues

All sights are set on Orlando’s next big thing, as Epic Universe continues construction as it gets ready for its 2025 Opening.

Not much is known “officially” other than the new theme park will feature Super Nintendo World as one of its themed lands. If you’ve been following construction updates around the theme park community, it shouldn’t be hard to tell what else will be featured – and all of it looks amazing!

Meanwhile, Universal is gearing up the resort with the before-mentioned resort refurbishments and officially announcing the first of Epic Universe’s hotels – Universal Stella Nova Resort and Universal Terra Luna Resort.

Universal Stella Nova Resort is set to welcome its first guests in January 2025, with Universal Terra Luna Resort set for February 2025.

The next year is going to see Epic Universe marketing kick into overdrive as we steadily approach 2025.

1. Minion Land on Illumination Ave. Opens

Minion Land – which includes Villain-Con Minion Blast, Minion Cafe, and Bake My Day – officially opened this year and takes the top spot for the Top 10.

The addition of Villain-Con Minion Blast was a fun and unique addition to the Universal Studios line-up, blending immersive sets with interactive game-based technology, allowing guests different challenges and experiences upon each ride-through.

Refreshing a dated area, the highlight for many was the Minion Cafe – which featured a unique menu and everyone’s new favorite snack, Minion Tots!

Other highlights include the sweets at Bake My Day and the refreshing treats at Freeze Ray Pops.

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