As I walk the cobbled streets of San Francisco, the intoxicating sound of a revved-up car engine rumbles in the distance. There is a street race today and I’ve got a front seat for the action.
Since it opened in 1990, Universal Orlando has been the theme park that gives visitors a role in the movies they love. On my first experience – the year after it opened – I screamed in delight as we took a boat ride to Amity Island where we were “attacked” by Jaws. I’ll never forget the giddy feeling of watching a scene from our 28-inch TV brought to life in front of my eyes.
Now, 28 years later, I stroll from The Wizarding World of Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley to the dusty back streets of Frisco. Though the Jaws ride is now closed and the attractions are bigger and more sophisticated, the feeling of being a part of the story remains.
The newest attraction is the eagerly awaited Fast and Furious – Supercharged, a chance for fans of the $4 billion car-racing franchise to get behind the wheel with Vin “Dominic Toretto” Diesel and his gang.
Need for speed
The ride takes place in San Francisco and starts in a backstreet garage which smells delightfully of oil and dust. Thanks to the development of new immersive queue lines, the fun starts as soon as we arrive.
“We have 15 of the original cars from the films,” says Don MacLean, vice president of attraction development for Universal Creative. “In the first staging area, guests will be able to check them out as the crew get ready for the race.”
Stars of the movie also appear in “live” video links throughout, and as we reach the attraction finale we’re invited to ride the after-race party bus. Things then go awry when the bus is hijacked…
The “buses” are trackless ride vehicles, driven on to a motion platform simulator known as an immersion tunnel (a room encircled by screens). “We’ve created images that appear 3D without the need for goggles,” MacLean reveals. “This is achieved by increasing the frame rate and resolution to produce the same effect.” As we fly down the freeway in a high-speed car chase, the vehicles move in sync with the visuals.
The height restriction for this attraction is 40 inches (3ft 4in), so clients can recommend the experience to families, although toddlers and small children won’t be able to ride. Virtual Line technology is also being used, so guests can scan in for a time to return rather than waiting in excessive queues during peak times.
Universal Orlando now has three parks: Universal Studios, Universal Islands of Adventure and the new waterpark, Volcano Bay. There are also six hotels at the Universal Orlando resort, all developed with the Loews brand.
Last month saw the opening of Universal’s Aventura, the second prime value hotel in the portfolio. Aventura has 600 rooms, including 13 kids’ suites, bringing the total number of hotel rooms at Universal Orlando to 6,200. A tech-savvy stay beckons, with modern touches including in-room tablets that can control lights, temperature and order room service. Resort guests can also take advantage of Early Park Admission, allowing access to the attractions an hour before doors open to the public.
Excitingly, Aventura is the first hotel with a panoramic roof terrace, and the Bar 17 Bistro serves food and drinks with a perfect view of the parks.
As the sun sets over Orlando, Universal becomes even more enchanting with its two spellbinding night-time shows. The Cinematic Celebration lagoon laser show at Universal Studios and the sublime Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle at Islands of Adventure are the showstopping final acts of the day. Practically skipping through the gates, I leave as 10-year-old me again – the star of my own movie in a place where I never have to grow up.
Book it: A Universal 3-Park Explorer ticket with DoSomethingDifferent.com costs from £272 per adult and £264 per child. The ticket includes 14 days’ unlimited access to all three parks – Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and Volcano Bay.