Universal Studios Hollywood's new "Simpsons"-themed land, Springfield USA, soft-opened today.
We say "soft-opened" because the park hasn't issued yet any press announcement declaring the new land formally opened. Yet I can't recall another soft-opening that fronted the cover of a park's guidemap. Usually, when something gets to that point, it's official.
Let's just ignore the semantics and take a look around, shall we?
Greetings from Springfield USA, the sign says. Just ignore that wizarding village in the background, okay?
Crowds swarmed the new land on its opening day, though it's nice to see the main pathway through the park opened up again.
Lard Lad Donuts is the first of Springfield's many eateries you will encounter as you walk through the land.
Across the street is Phineas Q. Butterfat's Ice Cream, which was one of four new locations that remained behind barriers and closed to the public while I was at the park today.
Next door is Suds McDuff's Hot Dogs.
Beyond that, you will find the entrance to the Duff Brewery beer garden.
If you're hungry inside the beer garden after it opens, head over to Bumblebee Man's Tacos, which also remained closed to guests today.
The Seven Duffs line the entrance to the Duff Brewery. I don't want to know what Sleazy has in mind, though.
Let's try something to eat, shall we? Back across the street, next to the Lard Lad, we'll find the flagship restaurant of the new Springfield land, Krusty Burger.
Visitors who have been to Universal Orlando's version of Springfield are in for (yet another) surprise when they enter Hollywood's Krusty Burger.
Here, the "Simpsons"-themed restaurants aren't crammed together into one "Fast Food Boulevard" food court. Instead, they each get their own space, with separate ordering and service counters. While that helps each restaurant retain its own thematic identity, it's an extra hassle if one person in your group wants a burger and someone else wants chicken.
After about a five-minute wait, I got through the queue to order The Clogger (bacon double cheeseburger, with waffle fries and cole slaw - $12.99) and a Buzz Cola ($3.69).
The Clogger beat the life out of the chili burger I had at Disney's Smokejumpers Grill earlier this week. Juicy throughout, with the faintest hint of pink in the middle, Universal left some life in these patties, then topped them with wonderfully crispy bacon, "secret sauce," tasty pickles and tomatoes. This might have been the best counter-service burger I've ever had in a theme park, easily surpassing not only California Adventure's offering, but the original Krusty Burger from Orlando, as well.
Another change from Orlando? You'll find most of the dining space upstairs, though there are no windows overlooking the street below.
If you want a view, head a few steps into the upstairs dining area, and into Krusty's VIP room.
You'll find mementos from Krusty's long (and entirely made-up) career in here, including the clown's Walk of Fame star.
Cut back across the upstairs dining area, and you'll end up in the second-floor of Cletus' Chicken Shack.
Cletus serves fried chicken, BBQ grilled chicken sandwiches, and a chicken and waffle sandwich here, at prices similar to the Krusty Burger.
Listen for the clucking noises while you stand by the front entrance.
In fact, watch and listen closely throughout Springfield, where the nuclear power plant above you "melts down" every few minutes, belching smoke from its cooling towers while alarms sound. And then look down, to see some of the detail that Universal's embedded in the grates surrounding the trees that line Springfield's sidewalks.
Even though the "actual" new buildings in Springfield are food and beverage locations, Universal's surrounding them with whimsical facades, including Dr. Nick's.
And at the end of the land, it's Stu's Disco — closed until Disco comes back. Perhaps the wizards about to move in behind you might help with that, Stu.
But let's head back to Moe's Tavern, which occupies the first floor between Krusty Burger and Cletus' Chicken Shack.
Let's step inside for a drink!
Uh, Barney seems to have beaten us to that.
Never mind, the bartenders here are ready to serve up Duff Beer, Shock Top, or the signature Flaming Moe ($8.99).
The Flaming Moe sounds great in theory — a smoking orange beverage that the whole family can enjoy (since it has no alcohol), but at nine bucks, there just wasn't enough flavor here to justify the price, even with the souvenir glass. The Flaming Moe in Florida tasted like an intense orange soda, but this one came across more like a heavily carbonated glass of Tang. (Yes, I am dating myself with that reference.) I won't bother with another one — I'll save my money and the calories for another one of those Cloggers.
All together, Universal Studios Hollywood's version of Springfield takes the concept first developed in Orlando to another level of detail, with an immersive environment that should help make this corner of the park a place where fans will want to linger, instead of just hurrying through to the Studio Tour or the Lower Lot. Great theme parks create a sense of place — a space where visitors want to hang out and be as much as they want to get on to the next ride or show. Springfield finally delivers that for Universal Studios Hollywood.
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