Summer is getting a late start at theme parks here.
But last week, the 3-D Transformer ride opened at Universal Studios. Also at Universal is the first section of its recently-announced Springfield area: Fast Food Boulevard, where you can buy a Krusty Burger, Duff beer and other fare from “The Simpsons.” The rest of Springfield, including a new ride, will open later this year.
Over at Disney World, Magic Kingdom’s Fantasyland has been revamped and expanded into two areas: Storybook Circus and (featuring two castles) Enchanted Forest. Coming later this year: Princess Fairytale Hall, the next-to-last piece of the Fantasyland expansion.
If you think that Universal’s Islands of Adventure is the more exciting of Universal’s Orlando parks – what with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the updated Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, and two heart-stopping roller coasters – then get ready for the comeback of Universal Studios.
The upgrade of the resort’s original park began last year with the opening of the Despicable Me ride and the addition of a daily parade and an evening light-and-water show. It continues this summer with the opening of the Transformers ride and the expansion of the Simpson Ride into a Springfield zone with a second ride.• Transformers: The 3-D Transformers ride officially opened at Universal Studios this month, although it has been open to guests in the past few weeks for “rehearsals.”
The plot line: Visitors are recruited to help the Autobots (the good guys) protect the last remaining shard of AllSpark – the crucial source of life and energy for Transformers – from the Decepticons (the bad guys).
The characters and the set are direct from “Transformers” movies; the actors who voiced the movie characters voice the same characters on the ride. In the queue, the video in which Gen. Morshower greets the new “recruits” was shot at the same time as one of the Transformers movies. The action plays on enormous screens so that some of the characters stand almost 40 feet high. Riders wear 3-D glasses to enhance the action, and when a giant missile seems to fly right at them, they’re likely to duck. The ride vehicle uses the technology of a flight simulator on a track.
The queue is also where you meet Evac, an Autobot character created in collaboration with Hasbro just for the ride who transforms into an evacuation vehicle.
What starts out as a routine greeting by Gen. Morshower becomes a call to action. He has just learned the Decepticons are attacking the building. You green recruits are his only hope of holding off the Decepticons, and he instructs you to go with Evac – Evac transforms into a vehicle – and take the AllSpark to a safe place.
And so begins a high-speed thrill of a ride. “We synchronize the motion of the vehicle with the action on the screen, and you get the sense that you’re flying,” said ride producer Chick Russell, who also worked on the movies.• The Simpsons: Television’s longest-running family expands its presence at Universal Studios this summer with the construction of an entire Springfield neighborhood, by the dizzying Simpsons Ride.
On Fast Food Boulevard, the first section to open, guests can eat at Krusty Burger, Moe’s Tavern, Cletus’ Chicken Shack, The Frying Dutchman, Lisa’s Teahouse of Horror and Luigi’s.
It is essentially a food court, where you can consume many items from the TV show, including the Krusty Burger, Ribwich, Lard Lad’s giant doughnuts and a Flaming Moe drink, as well as Homer’s favorite Duff Beer. Also at Moe’s is the bar phone, where guests can take a crank call from Bart and try out the Love Tester.
Krusty the Clown and Sideshow Bob will join the other Simpsons characters who appear in the park.
In addition, a new ride, Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ’n’ Hurl – named after a duo of space aliens who appear on “The Simpsons” occasionally – will take you on an intergalactic spin. Aimed at the younger demographic, it’s a ride with vehicles that go in a circle; push a lever and they go up and down.
Universal has not specified opening dates for the rest of Springfield’s features, saying only they would debut this summer.
Magic Kingdom’s Fantasyland has been revamped and expanded into two areas – Storybook Circus and the Enchanted Forest.In the first phase, completed in December, Mickey’s Toontown Fair was closed and some of the older attractions were updated and features were added to give that part of Fantasyland a circus theme. A second Dumbo ride and a circus-y play area for youngsters waiting to board were added. There’s a new Casey Jr. water-play area, with elephants and giraffes shooting water from their circus-train cars. Goofy’s Barnstormer, a junior roller coaster, has also been given a circus theme. There’s a new venue for meet-and-greets with Donald Duck, Goofy, Minnie Mouse and Daisy, all circus characters, in Pete’s Silly Sideshow.
Old favorites remain, including the Mad Tea Party, Peter Pan’s Flight, Prince Charming Regal Carrousel, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and It’s a Small World.
The additions in Enchanted Forest are two castles – Prince Eric’s and the Beast’s – and the villages that flank them. They house Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid, a gentle ride under the sea, accompanied by the music of the movie; the very popular Enchanted Tales With Belle, a meet-up with the Beauty and Lumiere, in which guests play small parts; the French-themed Be My Guest restaurant in the Beast’s Castle (table service, wine and beer at dinner); and Gascon’s Tavern, which despite its name doesn’t sell beer but offer’s LeFou’s Brew, a sweet nonalcoholic fruit drink.
Next up? Princess Fairytale Hall, a regal meet-and-greet venue for Disney princesses adjacent to Cinderella Castle in the spot where Snow White used to be, scheduled to open late this year. The last piece of the expansion, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train – a roller coaster with dangling cars that swing from side to side – is under construction in the center of Fantasyland and is expected to open next spring.