Robert's Tour, Part Six -- Universal Studios Florida

We head to the east coast to ride the movies, in new ways and old.

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Published: July 21, 2004 at 2:04 PM

Orlando, Florida -- Let's settle the easy question first.

Universal Studios Florida's Revenge of the Mummy knocks the cobwebs off the Hollywood version. Joe Lane detailed the scene and story of east coast Mummy in his insightful review from earlier this year. Not only is Orlando's Mummy longer, it boasts a playful attitude towards its riders and its movie studio setting that the more earnest, and shorter, California incarnation lacks.

The Florida Mummy drops Hollywood's launch and backward segment. But it makes up for those omissions with a far more lively coaster, as well as crisper audio and lighting effects that help riders better follow the attraction's storyline. Is the Mummy real, or a studio gag? Well, of course, it's all part of a theme park attraction, but Universal's flirtation with that question within the context of the ride injects the experience with welcome sardonic humor. I felt that Hollywood's version lacked that playful "wink" which helps make attractions such as the Jurassic Park River Adventure so enjoyable. This Mummy delivers it.

After a four-day break to fly to Orlando, settle in, and do some family visiting, Laurie and I arrived at Universal Studios Florida this morning to continue my theme park tour. Despite arriving a few minutes before the posted opening time of 9 a.m., we entered the park to find the wait for Shrek 4-D already over 30 minutes. Mummy sat on the top of my to-do list, so we continued up USF's Plaza of the Stars, only to find Mummy under a delayed opening.

Since 9 a.m. Orlando time represents 6 a.m. in our home California, and we hadn't yet eaten breakfast, Laurie snagged an apple danish and some orange juice at the San Francisco Pastry Co. rather than rushing off to try some other ride. By the time we'd finished, I'd noticed the stream of people walking past from Mummy's direction had narrowed. We ran back, and sure enough, Mummy was now open. Only a five-minute walk through the queue separated us from the ride.

As we climbed aboard in the two-sided loading station (another difference!), Laurie asked what she should expect. What the…?

"Honey, I read your site, perhaps you might consider reading mine every now and then?"

She shrugged, and we were off.

After the ride, I chatted up the unload attendant, who didn't even know the Hollywood version had opened yet, then tried to engage Laurie in some contextual ride analysis. Mistake. She stared blankly at me for a moment, then declared, "I was too busy screaming with my eyes closed to notice any of that."

Hey, she liked it.

After Mummy, the only other must-see for me at Universal Studios Florida was the highly addictive Men in Black: Alien Attack dark ride/shoot-‘em-up. Laurie and I talked trash as we entered this faux science exhibit "transported here from the 1964 World's Fair." (Shout out to Disney's moldy Carousel of Progress!) Confident in my ability to show Laurie my insider's knowledge, I only panicked silently when I remembered I'd forgotten to read our darn article on how to post a high score on this ride.

Final score: Laurie, 63,000. Robert, 41,000.

Forty-one freakin' thousand?

What an embarrassment. Last year, I never dipped below 100K. Now, I just lost to a rookie. Whom I'm married to. Not good times. Definitely not good times. I demanded a rematch.

I whipped Laurie by 35,000 the next time around, but we were both humbled by the ex-Army sharpshooter sitting in our row who effortlessly racked up more than 600,000. Afterward, I didn't want to shoot again. I wanted to find the USF sports book where I could lay a couple Jacksons on this guy.

Having walked on to our first three rides of the day, Laurie asked as we strolled back through the Hollywood section, "Does this park ever get busy?"

Jinx... activated.

We turned the corner to find a 90-minute wait for Shrek, 60 minutes for Jimmy Neutron, and lines blowing up like Tony Montoya all over the park. So we decided to go old school and blow the rest of the morning on Earthquake and Jaws.

Mark Earthquake as the next attraction that needs to go to the great movie studio theme park in the sky. Universal's attempt to freshen this stale attraction by adding props and scenes from other movies succeeded only in making this creaky old show confusing and irrelevant.

As I've said before, behind-the-scenes looks at movie-making technique have lost their appeal in an age where every DVD reveals how these things are done. The Hollywood park's Studio Tour retains its appeal by taking visitors to the very location where so movies have been made, and by showing them films and TV shows in production today. Absent a live production, the simplistic how-to on Earthquake holds little appeal. Nor does the ride offer thrills to match those available elsewhere in the park.

I'd rather "ride the movies" (to use USF's old slogan) by immersing myself in movie-inspired narratives like Mummy and Men in Black than getting lectured on basic concepts like blue screens and high-speed photography. If Universal wants to show its visitors how movies are made, they'd do better to offer a new, ever-changing show employing the latest CGI and digital techniques, instead of serving up an ancient flip clip of Charlton Heston. Time to retire this one, guys.

  • Read the rest of the articles from Robert Niles' Summer 2004 Theme Park Tour

  • Readers' Opinions

    From alex morehouse on July 21, 2004 at 3:04 PM
    We didn't get to go to Universal Studios on our trip to Orlando, but I heard that Men In Black is a lot of fun (not to mention, addictive). I heard that they are thinking about bringing that to Universal Studios Hollywood . Do you know anything about that? Is it true or not?

    From Robert Niles on July 21, 2004 at 6:20 PM
    I don't know if *they* (meaning Universal) are thinking about it, but I know that move's been on the top of my wish list for USH.

    Check that -- I don't want to see USH install a clone of Men in Black. But I do wish they'd build some type of shoot-'em-up dark ride, perhaps with a different theme and treatment.

    From Chuck Campbell on July 21, 2004 at 6:33 PM
    Robert, what do you think of Jaws? I find it enjoyably cheesy, and the shark is pretty cool. I rode with a buddy last year, who noted that almost all USF attractions somehow involved fire, and was wondering how they were going to work this into Jaws. Then came the bit with the underwater oil (or is it gas?) lines . . .
    From Joe Lane on July 21, 2004 at 6:38 PM
    JAWS is quite possibly the hottest water ride ever. You get a TAN from the exploding tanks. I have to agree, despite its campy design, it holds a special place in my heart (which is weird, because I'm terrified of sharks).

    Speaking of JAWS, I recently saw a home video online of the original 1990 version, which had the shark explode underwater (complete with bloody water explosion). It looks like at one point in the ride, the shark bites the boat and it turns in towards him. I'd like to see some changes made on the ride to make ol' Bruce seem a little more threatening.

    From A E on July 21, 2004 at 6:52 PM
    I agree, Jaws has moved into "classic" mode. Yes, it's a big metal shark, but then again, it was a big metal shark in the films but that didn't stop it from being thrilling.

    Very few park rides are this visceral these days - it's also why I miss Kong. That really was a freakin' huge Kong in front of you (actually...two of them), just like Jaws relies exclusively on practical gag effects.

    Love Spiderman, but get much more of a thrill from *really* being in the action.

    From Joe Llorens on July 21, 2004 at 10:19 PM
    Unfortunately my first few experiences at USF found the Jaws ride constantly being worked on, so I never really got to ride it until a few years ago. I was surprised by how much I seemed to want to hate it; residual psychological crap from always being let down by it as a child, I'm sure. But, like it was stated earlier, Jaws quickly became one of those staple rides that I always seem to look forward to. I guess it's also because I love the movie so much; that, and the fact that Universal did such a good job of setting up the faux Amity Island.

    There were only two good things that ever came out of the King Kong ride; the queue and those couple of years during HHN where they made that into a haunted house, with you actually walking through the ride on ground level. A good design of the streets of N.Y., fog, crazy killer clowns jumping out at you, and then suddenly looking up and seeing Kong the way they should have been showing him to us in the first place, from the ground up. That was quite the impressive sight, and I'm sure I could sit here and describe it to you all better if I hadn't immediately taken off running in the general direction of the exit. Scary stuff.

    From Kevin Baxter on July 22, 2004 at 1:04 AM
    I'm so glad people are talking about Jaws. I think this is one of the most underrated rides in any theme park. Even with that damn explosion, it is still one of my Top Ten rides. My favorite thing to do is take a Jaws virgin and make sure they sit on the left side of the boat. When Jaws comes at the boat near the end, that always gets the virgin. Pretty surprising, since everyone knows the shark is totally fake, but I guess this just shows how well-done the ride really is.
    From Robert Niles on July 22, 2004 at 6:01 AM
    Allow me to second Joe's and Kevin's thoughts, while also throwing some love to the queue video. I love snarky details like that in theme park attractions. No, this is not the greatest thrill in the theme park world, nor is it the best narrative. But it does include a great many theme park conventions ("...and something goes terribly wrong!") and does them serviceably well. I wouldn't put this in my personal top 10, but I enjoyed my time on the ride nevertheless.

    And, by the way, Laurie sat in the front row, far left side. I think she's still blistered.

    From Brian Miller on July 22, 2004 at 7:34 AM
    Hey, I've been on the Orlando version of the Mummy but I am yet to ride the Hollywood version. I don't doubt the Orlando Mummy offers a better coaster but which one offers a more clear and convincing story (because I didn't think the Orlando one was very evident to the average rider)? It sounds like the Hollywood Mummy has a completely different storyline.
    From Jayson Myers on July 22, 2004 at 6:04 PM
    Would someone please comment on the Mummy ride? My wife and I are planning a trip to USF, but we don't like fast rides (ala The Hulk or DD). We prefer rides ala Spiderman, Big Thunder and nothing faster than Space MTN (Rock N Roller Coaster is too much for us).

    Is the new Mummy ride too much for us? I'd hate to ruin a good day by getting her upset and/or sick. Please advise and thanks guys!

    From Robert Niles on July 22, 2004 at 6:24 PM
    The parking lot tram at the Magic Kingdom is faster than Space Mountain (top speed: 28 mph)! Mummy's got no inversions or high-speed launch, so I'd guess you'd find it less intense -- as a coaster -- than Rock 'n Roller Coaster. But it has much more happening visually than RnRC, which might upset some riders. Mummy's speed tops out at 40 mph, a bit faster than Thunder Mountain's 32 mph, but much slower than RnRC's 57 mph.
    From Kenny Hitt on July 23, 2004 at 10:05 AM
    From Joe Lane on July 23, 2004 at 10:28 AM
    No high-speed launch on Mummy? Well, there's not really a zero-to-sixty kinda deal, but there is a semi-speed up an incline right before the roller-coaster portion, I would consider that a kind of launch--but it's certainly nowhere near as intense as, say, the Hulk or RnRC's launches.

    As for "The Thing" attraction, while it would be a downright fright fest, I'd rather see something a little more inventive or dark ride-ish other than another 4-D attraction.

    From Christian Nicely on August 4, 2004 at 1:45 PM
    If I had to choose a attraction to be taken out it would be EarthQuake. It seems fake. I loved the way your trip went. I love Jaws. I want to go back for Revenge of the Mummy.
    From mike f on August 15, 2004 at 8:12 AM


    From Robert Niles on August 15, 2004 at 11:00 AM
    Universal Express passes tend to have return times several hours later in the day. On my trip, I got only one Express pass, and wasn't able to use it as it was for so late in the day.

    Single-rider lines, on the other hand, are heaven-sent and a much better strategy. Single-rider lines can cut wait-times to 20 minutes or less, often walk-on. But only a few rides have single-rider. For Shrek, which has neither single-rider nor Universal Express, you'll need to arrive an hour before park opening, or face at least a 90-minute wait throughout the day during summer.

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