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JOE TOURIST - CityWalk Orlando

Better late than never, Joe Lane submits his overview of the offerings at Universal Orlando's CityWalk.

Written by Joe Lane
Published: March 9, 2005 at 6:14 PM

JOE TOURIST - CityWalk Orlando
Wednesday, March 9, 2005

While many Spring Breakers may be hitting the beaches, those that find themselves further inland here in Florida still have a number of options to choose from. If Disney's night life offerings don't suit your needs, Universal has another option in the form of CityWalk.

Unlike Downtown Disney's Pleasure Island which is located in its own separate area of Disney property, CityWalk is nestled between Universal's parking garages and theme parks. An artificial river not only paints an alluring picture but also features a water taxi service from all three of Universal's onsite hotels. It simply cannot be missed--theme park visitors will walk right through CityWalk on their way to USF or IOA.

CityWalk starts to come alive at 11 a.m. Stores and restaurants that haven't already opened will begin opening at this hour. Theme park guests might consider getting their hands stamped and venture outside the parks into CityWalk for a noontime meal. Nearly all the restaurants that open for lunch remain open for the rest of the day, with the exception of Emeril's, which operates on special hours. Pat O'Brien's and Bob Marley's open later in the day for dinner.

At 9 p.m., the clubs of CityWalk will start to open up. The Latin Quarter clears its dining floor to invite guests to dance to a variety of Latin music. Margaritaville, Bob Marley's and Pat O'Brien's will each bring out their main live entertainment for the evening. Both The Groove and CityJazz open their doors to club goers at this time. Things will begin to wind down at 2:00 a.m. depending on the day of the week.

CityWalk is a two-story area with an entire strip that slopes upwards from IOA and connects at a bridge between the new Decades Cafe and the Universal Cineplex. The NASCAR Cafe lies just across the bridge from Universal Studios Florida. The NASCAR store and arcade is usually open at 8 in the morning, with the restaurant portion opening at 11 a.m. Stock cars are parked outside, while a heavy racing theme decorates the interior where a genuine American selection of foods is available, ranging from steaks, hamburgers and barbeque. A collection of different retail outlets populate the area around the restaurant. You'll also find the Universal Cineplex, a state-of-the-art 20 screen theater. The box office opens at 12:30 p.m., with matinee shows before 6 p.m. The theater also offers an $8.00 concession rebate with paid parking prior to 6 p.m.

Just across the way is the new Decades Cafe, featuring a classic All-American menu, memorabilia from the past 40 years. Next in line on the second level is Bob Marley - A Tribute to Freedom. This restaurant features full service Caribbean cuisine in a recreation of Marley's Jamaican home, 56 Hope Road. Photographs, records and other objects representing the Rastafarian hang on the walls. The back area is an open air courtyard with a gazebo where live musicians play reggae music. Marley's opens at 4 p.m. and charges a $5 cover after 8 p.m. An age limit of 21 is enforced after 10 p.m.

Next door to Bob Marley's is Pat O'Brien's Orlando, another dining and entertainment venue. This replica of the original New Orleans restaurant by the same name features three different bar and patio areas, the most popular of which is the Piano Bar, which featuring dueling piano players every night. The many details of the restaurant are recreated here, complete with flaming water fountains, vintage "Hurricane" drinks, and unique Cajun dishes. Pat's starts serving at 4 p.m. The Piano Bar opens at 6 p.m. and cover is $5 after 9 p.m. You must be 21 to enter.

Just across from Pat O'Brien's is CityJazz, a music club specializing in funk, R&B, soul and rock. The club features live music every night and is one of the most popular clubs in CityWalk. On Thursdays through Sundays, CityJazz is home to Bonkerz Comedy Club. Nationally known comics will take the stage Thursday through Saturday, and a special comedy hypnosis show takes place on Sunday. On these nights, the doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the shows start at 8 p.m. On other nights, CityJazz usually opens around 8 p.m. and remains open until the end of the night. There's a $5 cover charge and additional charges should a well-known comic be taking the stage that night. You must be 18 or older to enter.

Wrapping down the slope near the giant CityWalk TV is The Groove. It's often referred to as the next generation of dance clubs, but it's certainly state-of-the-art in design. The multi-storied dance club features three themed lounges for different attitudes (the Blue Room is for a more modern, laid-back crowd, the Green Room will cater to relaxed, philosophically-minded individuals and the Red Room will appeal to more sensual, passionate people). The club opens at 9 p.m. but usually doesn't get active until 11 p.m. Cover is $5 and you must be 21 or older to enter. Just next to The Groove is the Latin Quarter, a Latin-themed restaurant featuring live entertainment. The interior is made to mimic the night sky, with aztec-like ruins and the flags of all 21 Latin Nations on display. The restaurant opens its doors at noon on Saturday and Sunday and at 11:30 a.m. on Monday through Friday.

This far down in CityWalk, your at the closest point near the bridge to Islands of Adventure. You'll also find yourself in front of Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville: a southern paradise theme catering to all Parrotheads. The full service restaurant and bars feature live entertainment in the evenings. Margaritaville opens at 11 a.m. and charges a $5 cover after 10 p.m.

Back towards CityWalk's center is the Plaza. Special events are often held in this area, including the Bob Marley Reggae Fest, Tony Hawk's Skate Bash, and the Orlando Beer Festival. Not too far sits Emeril's Restaurant Orlando, a high scale, full service restaurant featuring cuisine created by popular chef Emeril Lagasse himself. Consider sprucing up back at the hotel after a long day at the parks before visiting this restaurant. Emeril's opens at 11:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. for lunch and from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. for dinner. There's also Pastamore right next to the Plaza stage. This Italian-themed eatery opens at 8 a.m. for breakfast and features counter-service lunch throughout the day and full service dinner at 5 p.m.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the river, smack between IOA and USF, lies NBA City, the Hard Rock Cafe and Hard Rock Live. NBA City is a full service restaurant complete with official NBA merchandise and one-on-one courts. The restaurant opens at 11 a.m., with the last seating at 10:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and at 11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Just next door is the Hard Rock Cafe Orlando, which holds the honor of being the world's largest Hard Rock in the world. Another full service restaurant and store, the restaurant portion starts serving at 11 a.m. and continues throughout the day. The establishment is also home to Hard Rock Live Orlando, a venue that features a variety of different rock performances. Some major names come through the coliseum, from a variety of styles in music, comedy and convention circles.

So how much does it cost to partake of CityWalk's offerings? A CityWalk Party Pass gives you unlimited one night club-to-club access and sells at $9.95 plus tax. You can also get a Party Pass with a movie for $13 plus tax.

Then there's the Meal & Movie Deal ticket, which will allow you to have dinner at Decades Cafe, Hard Rock Cafe, Margaritaville, NASCAR Cafe, NBA City, Pastamore or the Latin Quarter and then take in a picture at the Cineplex, all for $19.95 plus tax. Or you can go for a Meal & Party Deal for $19 plus tax to dine at a restaurant and visit the clubs of CityWalk. In either case, there's a special menu to order from at each restaurant under this deal.

If you have a Multi-Day Ticket to USF or IOA, you qualify for a free CityWalk Party Pass. Annual Passholders currently receive a 20% discount for Party Passes for up to four people, as well as a slew of other benefits that are all subject to change. While parking may be free at Downtown Disney, parking at Universal is $8, but becomes free after 6 p.m.

For a limited time, Universal is also featuring a Rush Pass which allow students with college IDs free admission to the clubs, a movie ticket, and reduced prices at select restaurants for under $10.

Universal will also host group events or special engagements at any of their clubs or restaurants. For more details on this and more information about CityWalk, visit the Universal Orlando website or call (407) 224-2691.