Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley Opens At Universal Studios Orlando

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The big news regarding theme parks of course was the July 8 opening of Diagon Alley, the new expansion of The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter in Universal Studios Orlando. Based on the popular Harry Potter book and film series Diagon Alley is an immediate hit with parkgoers and Harry Potter fans. The newest land added to Universal Studios Orlando consists of the hidden wizarding alley found in London, England. Adorned with cobblestone streets and maze-like alleyways and streets, Diagon Alley boasts several shops and as the centerpieces Harry Potter And The Escape From Gringotts ride and the Hogswarts Express train that connects Universal Studios Orlando with Islands of Adventure.

After the runaway success of Islands of Adventure’s The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, an expansion was fastracked by Universal Resorts. But instead of just encroaching the faithfully recreated Hogsmeade village into other areas of Islands of Adventure, the innovative idea of putting the expansion into Universal Studios Orlando was utilized instead.

Expressway To Both Parks

100_2309The expansion can be found next to Disaster! at the area where the old Jaws ride was located. Visitors coming to the area will first see a replica of a section of modern-day London complete with a train station that leads to the Hogwarts Express and the magical Knight Bus featured in Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban. To gain entry to the train ride, you need a two-park ticket otherwise you are forced to remain in Diagon Alley and vice versa. The train itself is a perfect rendition of the one seen in the Harry Potter films and can accommodate large amounts of passengers.

Once assigned to a roomy cabin, the first thing that strikes the eyes is the passenger-side window that is actually an HD screen showing a brick wall with steam rolling about. On the aisle-side of the cabin, the windows are frosted. After the train leaves, passengers can look out the window and see the London cityscape and surrounding suburbs, but with signs of the malicious Dementors afoot. Meanwhile on the aisle-side of the cabin, silhouettes of Harry Potter and other characters are seen walking back and forth. At one point the Dementors invade the train who are seen as silhouettes, but are quickly dispelled.

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After a few minutes the train reaches Hogsmeade (and shortly before, Hagrid himself appears outside the window striding a flying motorcycle) allowing passengers to disembark onto Islands of Adventure. If you want to go back to London and Diagon Alley, you have to leave the station (which is next to the twin rollercoaster ride Dragon Challenge) and get back on line with your two-park ticket handy. On the way back to London, passengers will witness magical creatures like the hippogriff and centaurs trouncing around the forest surrounding Hogsmeade. Either route provides a nice, comfortable ride between the parks. The character silhouettes and the passenger windows certainly add an interesting touch to the experience. Even though it isn’t an E-ticket ride, Hogswart Express is a novel way to transit the parks. Continue reading

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Theme Park Wars: Spider-Man Vs. The Transformers

Usually, theme park wars are between two different theme park companies. In this case, however, the theme park war is within the same company: Universal Parks & Resorts. The contenders are two of its rides: The Amazing Adventures Of Spider-Man and Transformers: The Ride-3D.

The former ride debuted in Universal Studios’ Islands of Adventure theme park in Orlando back in 1999. It featured a revolutionary ride system that was part dark ride, part simulator that was developed by Universal Creative with vehicles developed by Oceaneering International. That system was so unique and kinetic that it wasn’t a surprise that the Spider-Man ride is still one of the most popular rides in any theme park.

The Scoop On Spider-Man

In The Amazing Adventures Of Spider-Man, riders donning 3D glasses board a vehicle called the Scoop that is used by the Daily Bugle newspaper company for newsgathering. Peter Parker’s (Spider-Man) boss J. Jonah Jameson assigns riders to board the Scoop to cover a breaking story concerning Doctor Octopus. The mad scientist is using an anti-gravity cannon to steal the Statue of Liberty with the help of other supervillains (Electro, Hobgoblin, Scream and Hydro-Man).

100_9890As these ride stories go, the Scoop and its passengers wind up getting caught in the melee between them and Spider-Man. Along the way, the riders are made to feel as if they’re actually in the pages of an animated comic book with huge screens that project 3D images as the vehicle constantly swerves wildly from scene to scene. Adding to the intensity of the experience are practical effects used that immerses riders into the adventure. The best example of that is where at one point Spider-Man is fighting with the Hobgoblin. First riders witness a large-screen 3D fight by a New York bridge between the two and the Hobgoblin tries to lob pumpkin bombs at the Scoop vehicle. Spider-Man catches one bomb and hurls it away before it can do any harm. But the Hobgoblin manages to throw one that explodes very close to the vehicle. Through the clever use of effects, actual flame erupts from part of a nearby wall which simulates the exploding bomb. The real heat from the blast makes elated riders feel like they’re part of the story.

It’s because of these immersions that the Spider-Man ride has remained so popular for so many years. Recently, the ride received an HD upgrade to make the 3D images sharper and more colorful. Part of that upgrade included slight changes to the characters, especially Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus who more resemble their cinematic counterparts. In addition, iconic comic book creator Stan Lee makes a few cameos in the ride itself as assorted civilians.

Ride The Transformers

The ride format from The Amazing Adventures Of Spider-Man was a unique hybrid that combined motion simulators, practical effects and 3D images into a wild dark ride. It’s so well thought of and successful, that it was only natural that Universal Studios would repeat the formula for another ride.

Transformers: The Ride-3D originally made its debut in Universal Studios Singapore in 2011 and later in Universal Studios Hollywood and most recently in Universal Studios Orlando. All three incarnations of the ride were instant hits with park goers.  Riders get to feel what it’s like to be in a high-octane Michael Bay special effects spectacular.

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The ride follows the storyline and characters of the film series, where the good Autobots are allied with the people of Earth against the evil Decepticons. As with the movies, both robotic groups are after their MacGuffin, the AllSpark, a cube-like object that can bring ordinary mechanical and electronic objects to life. One of the Autobots called Evac first has to retrieve the AllSpark from Decepticons who have stolen it. Then after recovering the AllSpark, it’s up to him to protect the object while Decepticons like Megatron and Starscream pursue him throughout a city. Being that riders are inside of Evac, who is the ride used in the attraction, they’re given front-row access to Evac’s efforts to safeguard the AllSpark from evil Decepticons. Good Autobots like Optimus Prime and Bumblebee aid Evac in his journey throughout the chaotic cityscape.

As the Evac vehicle zigzags throughout a city landscape to evade his enemies, the constant pitching, and jerking motions of the ride make the riders feel as if they’re actually being tossed about in the vehicle. Selling this illusion are the 3D effects from  large screens featuring gargantuan Transformers fights and the rough simulator motions from the vehicle. It can be said that being inside the Evac vehicle can be compared to being inside a vehicle that is undergoing a violent accident.

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Transformers Ride Comes To Orlando

trans rideI had the chance to go to Orlando recently and made a stop at Universal Studios Orlando. The theme park’s newest attraction is Transformers: The Ride–3D, which opened on June 20th. This is the third incarnation of the ride, the first two being in the Universal Studios parks in Singapore and Hollywood. Our contributor GEO raved about this ride last year when it opened in Hollywood, so I was very excited to try it.

After standing in line for over an hour in the summer heat and finally riding it, I’ll have to say that Transformers: The Ride–3D was underwhelming.

Don’t get me wrong, the pre-show and the setup are topnotch. But I wasn’t into the ride; something kept nagging me about it for the rest of the morning. Later that day, I went to Islands Of Adventure nearby and once there I realized what was wrong with the Transformers ride. I saw the sign for Islands Of Adventure’s attraction The Amazing Adventures Of Spider-Man and it hit me. The Transformers ride is a near copy of the Spider-Man ride!

For anyone who hasn’t experienced the Spider-Man ride, you get into a vehicle and put on 3D glasses. Then the vehicle zips off and you witness Spider-Man in huge 3D screens fighting his enemies as the car zooms from one spot to another. The entire thing gives the impression that you’re part of the scenes. This was revolutionary back in 1999 when the park first opened, and it still is. It is incredible that none of the rides since then have copied it, until the Transformers did it.

evacI guess I would’ve enjoyed Transformers: The Ride–3D more if it didn’t copy many moments from the Spider-Man ride. One example is when the vehicle you’re on is supposedly freefalling and saved before hitting the ground.

Don’t ask about the story, the ride follows the style of those awful Michael Bay films in that it’s confusing, loud and too much is going onscreen. It had something to do with the evil Decepticon robots led by Megatron trying to get something called the Allspark for who knows what reason. My friends told me this doohickey was featured in the films and is the soul of the Transformers.

There are appearances by the good Autobots like Optimus Prime and Bumblebee who help out your vehicle, who is actually an Autobot called Evac. To be honest, aside from some audio and a few shots of CG hands in the screen in front of me, I could barely tell we were riding inside a robot. Evac didn’t have much of a personality, he wasn’t like Bumblebee for sure.

The ride is largely a tug of war between Evac and Megatron, as the Allspark keeps switching hands. In the meantime, there are lots of explosions, slow motion shots and machinery being crunched and twisted. Probably the best thing about this ride is that it didn’t feature Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBeouf)!

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Maybe Transformers: The Ride–3D might’ve left more of an impression if it was more original in its moves or had better special effects. It was obvious that CG was used in the scenes and I wonder how these effects will hold up in the future. I think they’ll probably look dated before long.

Tranformers fans should love the ride, but I liked Transformers: The Ride–3D better when it was a Spider-Man ride.

Annette DeForrester

 

Top 10 Sci-Fi Theme Park Rides & Attractions

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The highlight of any visit to a theme park for sci-fi fans are the sci-fi based rides and attractions. Whether derived from popular movies and TV shows or original creations, these rides and attractions feature top-notch effects and thrills and bring these fantastic worlds to life.

There has been some exciting developments regarding theme park attractions; notably Disney’s acquisition of the Star Wars franchise. Rumors are rampant that there will be a major expansion devoted to Star Wars in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Meanwhile Universal Studios is celebrating their latest sci-fi attraction, Transformers The Ride–3D.

It may be thrilling to contemplate tomorrow’s attractions, but many memorable rides have stood the test of t10000time despite featuring outdated technology. What made them classics were how well they were executed or captured the mood of a film or TV show. This list celebrates past and current rides and attractions that fire up the imagination.

Please note, rollercoaster rides were left off the list because frankly, theming most rollercoaster rides are a waste. When riding those vomit rides, riders are zipping by so fast and hard on the tracks that no one can properly view or admire the rides’ sci-fi trappings.

10. Borg Invasion 4D (Star Trek: The Experience): This attraction was basically a 3D movie but wrapped around it was an interactive storyline where guests visited a Starbase that came under a Borg attack. Guests were then “evacuated” by Starfleet personnel into an escape shuttle, which was the movie itself.

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9. Dinosaur (Disney’s Animal Kingdom): Originally called Countdown To Extinction, the ride’s name was changed to its current title when the film Dinosaur came out in 2000. The premise is that a time-traveling jeep goes back in time to rescue an iguanodon, while the vehicle must avoid audio-animatronic dinosaurs, meteors and other dazzling effects. The herky-jerky ride is pretty rough but the sudden chaotic moves add to the excitement and suspense.

8. The Timekeeper (Magic Kingdom): The attraction was one of those Circlevision 360 movies Disney has all over Epcot’s World Showcase where standing audiences have a film played all around them. The Timekeeper was an android (voiced by Robin Williams) who transports the audience, Jules Verne and H.G. Wells throughout time. The finale that takes place in a futuristic Paris was simply stunning and immersed guests into a futuristic world.

mspace7. Mission: Space (Epcot): According to some astronauts, this ride does a great job of recreating a rocket launch. Centrifugal forces do a number on riders enclosed in narrow, claustrophobic stations that simulate a spaceship being launched and escaping Earth’s gravity.  Riders play specific parts as team members on their way to Mars. Mission: Space is so rough that a milder version of the ride had to be introduced.

6. Horizons (EPCOT Center): This long-gone pavilion at EPCOT horizonsCenter was a nifty dark ride that showed how early visionaries viewed our future (with nods to A Voyage To The Moon). The latter part of the ride showcased families living in futuristic environments like onboard a space station. The finale allowed riders to choose from three different future environments (desert, ocean and outer space) to explore.

5. Back To The Future: The Ride (Universal Studios): Possibly the greatest old-style simulator ride of all time before innovations like 3D were added to these types of rides. Visitors at Doc Brown’s (Christopher Lloyd) Institute of Future Technology had to ride a modified time-traveling DeLorean to chase down another DeLorean driven by Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson). Huge IMAX screens and especially rough rides added to the illusion that the vehicles were time-traveling to different eras.

4. Terminator 2 3D: Battle Across Time (Universal Studios Florida): The 3D effects in this attraction still hold up today and the pre-show presentation is fun to watch. What is interesting is that it is the final time that director James Cameron worked with the stars from Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong and Robert Patrick.  In the attraction, a Cyberdyne Systems demonstration of their new primitive T-70 robots are interrupted by Sarah and John Connor, as well as the T-1000. Fortunately, the heroic T-800 Terminator comes to the rescue as the attraction seamlessly blends live-action and 3D effects.

spider ride3. The Amazing Adventures Of Spider-Man (Islands Of Adventure): This ride uses different technologies (3D, pyro effects, simulators, etc.) to create one of the most exciting rides ever. Riders board a news vehicle and encounter Spider-Man as he battles Doctor Octopus, Hobgoblin, Electro and others throughout New York City.  Riders are literally thrown into the dizzying, aerobatic action when Doctor Octopus uses an anti-gravity rifle to elevate the ride vehicle over skyscrapers, as he and his cohorts battle Spider-Man. It’s all a  wondrous blending of different effects that throws riders into the action. The way Spidey lands on the vehicle is still thrilling after multiple rides. The Spider-Man ride recently underwent an HD upgrade that adds even more eye-popping depth to the experience.

2. Star Tours: The Adventures Continue (Disney’s Hollywood Studios/Disneyland): This update of the vader 3doriginal Star Tours keeps the simulator ride refreshing by offering several different scenarios. The premise is largely the same, riders visit the Star Tours station and board a Starspeeder vehicle. This time, the droid C-3P0 accidently becomes the pilot of the vehicle that captures the interest of imperial forces, who are looking for a Rebel spy onboard the vehicle. Sometimes Darth Vader himself tries to seize the vessel using the Force The Starspeeder narrowly escapes and takes off to safely deliver the Rebel spy through random locations. They range from the ice planet Hoth to the desert planet Tatooine. Another bonus is that the ride is in 3D, but Star Tours: The Adventures Continue is so great that it doesn’t need the gimmick.

1. Klingon Encounter (Star Trek: The Experience): It really is a star trek expshame that Star Trek: The Experience closed because not all fans were able to go to Las Vegas to experience the Klingon Encounter ride/attraction. Guests were seemingly transported onboard the Enterprise D as it comes under attack by rogue Klingons. Thanks to the faithfully recreated details of the ship, including the bridge, guests were made to feel as if they were actually onboard Captain Picard’s ship. The actors who interacted with guests as Enterprise officers helped sell this illusion, as well as the shuttle ride that concluded the attraction. No other ride or attraction went to this level to immerse a guest and make him or her feel as if they’re part of the storyline. Paramount or CBS should really try to bring this encounter back somehow–but they should pick someplace more compatible instead of Vegas.

Honorable Mentions: The original Star Tours (Disneyland), Body Wars (EPCOT Center), The ExtarTERRORestrial Alien buzzEncounter (Magic Kingdom), E.T. Adventure (Universal Studios), Jurassic Park: The Ride (Universal Studios Hollywood), Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin (Magic Kingdom), Transformers The Ride–3D (Universal Studios Hollywood), Honey, I Shrunk The Audience! (Epcot), and Men In Black: Alien Attack (Universal Studios Florida)

José Soto