By Dewayne Bevil, Orlando Sentinel
9:41 AM EDT, June 21, 2013
Cleaning out my notebook of various Universal Orlando facts culled from media previews and observations this week.
+ I think the visual that will to stick with me from Thursday's grand opening of Transformers: The Ride -- 3D is the Black Diamond Jet Team. Flyovers are usually blink-and-miss, zooming off into the distance as if they're late for lunch in California. This time, we saw them circling around for multiple passes. As they crossed over the attraction, red fireworks went off at any angle that made the jets look as if they were passing through gunfire. It was a great illusion requiring great timing. From the high-fives the Universal team was giving each other, I'd say they were pleased.
+ As the red carpet event began, a women from the crowd let out an urgent-sounding scream. We weren't sure if she were happy, stabbed or part of the show. Then security guards started running that direction. But, apparently, she was just really psyched to see Optimus Prime moving onto the carpet.
+ It was exciting to see Steven Spielberg upclose. He mugged with O.P. but didn't stop for interviews. He did yell to the crowd that the ride is "awesome." Despite the heat, Spielberg wore a cap and dark blazer, but looked cool. The old "never let them see you sweat" routine. Click here for TV Guy Hal Boedeker's take on Spielberg's appearance on "Today" yesterday.
+ Transformers voice actors Peter Cullen (Optimus) and Frank Welker (Megatron) were very animated and chatty on the carpet. Glenn Morshower, who plays a colonel in the films and in the attraction's pre-show, was in character during the paramilitary exercise that was part of the opening.
+ Spielberg, Cullen, Welker and Morshower were also at the opening of the same Transformers ride at Universal Studios Hollywood last year. That event had a taped message from director Michael Bay, who was filming in Miami. He is now working on the fourth "Transformers" movie, set for release next year.
+ The ceremony saluted real members of the military, who paraded up the red carpet in uniform. They and their families were among the first to experience the ride on grand-opening day.
+ The ride opened to the public shortly before noon, and the line soon outgrew its designated queue. It snaked into the New York area of the park, crossed in front of the Macy's facade, went back toward the public library backdrop, circled back in front of Twister and Music Plaza and curled into a street near Shrek 4-D. Folks love opening day -- even though there were plenty of soft-open opportunities and, well, it will be there for many, many days and years to come. But by midafternoon, the posted wait time was 90 minutes.
+ The back part of the outdoor queue now has a roof. That area was completed overnight, mere hours before the grand opening.
+ Meanwhile, over in Springfield, Universal executives shared more background about the project dedicated to the hometown of "The Simpsons." Planners used a book that recaps the first 20 seasons of the animated series as their bible to get details just so. That book is littered with tiny, color-coded Post-It tabs, a system Universal also used with "Harry Potter" books to create Wizarding World at Islands of Adventure. Creators are happy with the results. "It looks right, it feels right, it tastes right," says Ric Florell, Universal's senior vice president and general manager of resort revenue operations. (Also: "If it ain't in the book, it ain't in this building.")
+ The food offerings of Springfield's Fast Food Boulevard were given taste tests by "Simpsons" masterminds and writers, including creator Matt Groening. The items were well received, says executive chef Steve Jayson. "They were intrigued with the Clogger," a companion to the Krusty Burger, he says, and it was fun for them to eat what had been fictional food until then. "In between giggles, they actually ate the food," he says.
+ Members of the media had a behind-the-walls peek at the portion of Springfield still under construction. Photography was not allowed -- those devices were not even allowed on the premises. OK, but that was curious since anyone can see the entire stretch that area from the other side of the lagoon. If you're standing with your back to the construction of Wizarding World of Harry Potter -- Diagon Alley, the basic layout, from left to right, is Kang & Kodos' Twirl 'n' Hurl ride, a VIP section, Duff Brewery (with 7 Little Duffs topiary), the Duffman figure photo op, the founder's statue, Chief Wiggum figure with water feature, Lard Lad walk-up doughnut shop and Bumblebee Man Taco Truck.
+ Outside the parks, if you've driven by the construction of Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort (corner of Turkey Lake Road and Hollywood Way) and thought it looked like a motel, you're not far off the mark. The inspiration is the road trip of the 1950s and '60s. From the everything-old-is-new-again folder, research shows that this theme is appealing to twenty- and thirtysomethings, says David Bartek, area managing director of Loews Hotels Universal Orlando. "In so many ways, it is fresh to people," he says.
+ "It's the most colorful thing we've ever done," says Russ Dagon, Universal Creative vice president. "We had a great deal of fun with the design," which has a definite throwback feel. Inspirations were hotels along A1A, Route 66 and the Pacific Coast Highway and "Anytown USA's classic beach resorts."
+ Ah, but in this day and age, they can't go "full retro," Dagon says. Folks expect more than the old-fashioned, rectangle swimming pool. Cabana Bay's pool area will still have visual elements of that time, including a (non-functioning) dive tower, but it will also feature lush landscaping and a lazy river, he says.
+ Other features: a food court with American and international cuisine, sleeper sofas without a rail running across the center of the mattress, a 10-lane bowling alley and bus service to the Universal Orlando theme parks. The first phase is expected to open to guests in the first quarter of 2014. Reservations are now being taken for late March and onward.
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