Theme Park Ranger
9:26 AM EDT, March 15, 2012
What was once the grassy underbelly of Universal CityWalk is now Hollywood Drive-In Golf, two 18-hole courses of miniature golf themed to classic movie genres.
It's a good fit for the recurring cinematic theme of Universal Orlando, although it's a snug fit on the hill beneath the moving sidewalk that connects CityWalk with Universal's mega-garage. The courses are bordered by the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. restaurant, the movie theater and Universal Boulevard.
The courses, designed by Universal's Creative team in partnership with Adventure Golf Design and Development, are thoroughly themed and imaginative — but not revolutionary. The holes offer typical miniature-golf challenges built into a drive-in movie setting.
The courses are called Invaders From Planet Putt, which sports a sci-fi theme, and the horror-driven Haunting of Ghostly Greens, which actually has purple greens.
There's a discount for choosing a "double feature" — a ticket for both sides. Note that you don't have to play the courses back-to-back. Keep the double-feature receipt and play the second course another day. (There's also a 10 percent discount for Florida residents or Universal Orlando annual passholders.)
We started with Planet Putt, which is populated by little green men, flying saucers and other Area 51 ilk. Even the cow on the course looks plenty spooked.
Adding to the spookiness was the darkness — so dark it was difficult to see how to write our scores down on the card. On an early hole, my friend Greg's ball took flight and left the course, dropping into the new landscaping or the drainage. We could not spot the ball, even though it was neon orange.
Planet Putt was overloaded with ups and downs, with many stairs and multilevel challenges, including the uphill battles that mean if the ball doesn't make it into the hole, it rolls back to your feet — the usual miniature-golf madness.
After passing a giant robot and playing through a flying saucer, there was a very trippy hole with a lighting effect and funky pattern on the green to distract us. The 18th hole requires players to walk into the mouth of a purple space worm. It features a red spongy "tongue" that reminded us of Krusty's mouth at the entrance of the Simpsons Ride at Universal Studios.
The Haunting of Ghostly Greens is a journey through monstrous environments, including beneath a spider and through a pet cemetery, a wry nod to Stephen King. The soundtrack had us playing "Name that Tune" with an array of quasi-frightening pop songs such as "Thriller" and "Monster Mash."
Signs indicate each hole's name with a bit of prose. One challenge on the Ghostly side was "Jaunty Python," which rewards golfers who can successfully and forcibly putt into the reptile's mouth. The ball then snakes around through its twisted body and usually ends with a hole-in-one.
Number 13, aka "Round of Golf," features a tall, curved hedge that obscures the hole and causes a backup of waiting players.
Ghostly Greens concludes with a "Ballatory" scene inside the haunted house, which sends balls through a mad scientist's lab and a series of contraptions before landing near the hole.
Unless you're a teen or a teen-at-heart, 36 holes is a lot of miniature golf. I suggest buying the double feature but splitting the playing time into two parts. The window is wide open for you: Hollywood Drive-In operates from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily.
I've heard of "Breakfast at Wimbledon" — but "Waffles at CityWalk"? Why not?
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Hollywood Drive-In Golf
What: Two 18-hole courses of miniature golf
Where: Universal CityWalk, 6000 Universal Blvd., Orlando
When: 8 a.m.-2 a.m. daily
Cost: $13.99 ($11.99 ages 3-9) for one round; two rounds for $24.99 ($20.99 ages 3-9)
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