Yesterday we were invited out to Universal Studios Hollywood to check out the all new Walking Dead attraction.
The first half of this update contains ZERO spoilers, and is just about the opening ceremony and outside queue. There are warnings before we get into spoiler territory, so feel free to read on.
Written by Gregg Condon
Pictures by Gregg Condon and Kristi Condon
We arrived early in the morning to take on The Walking Dead (and a whole bunch of media people, some who were nicer than others)
After being bumped for being "too tall" we settled in for the opening ceremonies.
Greg Nicotero was on hand to talk about all the great work that went into the attraction.
Some of the cast, past and present (well, mostly past as is the nature of the show)
Suddenly a horde of walkers invades (it was actually pretty awesome, be sure to check it out in our video below)
Didn't see a whole lot of warning signs out, but these guys should give an indication of what's coming
If you thought Walkers were the biggest problem you'd have, you were wrong
Caution: Spoilers Below!!!
We were able to get two videos yesterday (even though we only got to go through the attraction once).
First up is our 360° video ... it's kind of dark but it gives a great idea of the maze. If you have a VR set up be sure to watch it with that, or if not be sure to watch it with headphones as it's also got 360° audio.
Next up is our video of the opening ceremony (complete with walkers and big explosions), some of the queue and of course an HD Walk-Through of the attraction.
Ok, this is your last chance to avoid spoilers, our review starts NOW!!!
Walk-Through attractions have a mixed history at Universal Studios Hollywood. Many of you may remember that the former location of House of Horrors wasn't always a walk-through attraction. It was actually a restaurant called Marvel Mania.
In 1999 this location became a walk-through for the movie Chicken Run. In 2002 this would be replaced by The Mummy Returns: Chamber of Doom which would turn into Van Helsing: Fortress Dracula in 2004. And then finally in 2006 this former restaurant would become House of Horrors.
Along with House of Horrors came many (MANY) different theme overlays for Halloween Horror Nights to make it different than the daytime attraction. Both good, and well, not so good.
All of this history is to kind of lay out what they had to work with in the past when it came to daytime walk-through attractions. Now they have none of those restrictions as The Walking Dead has been built in a building that is brand new and actually built for a Walk-Through attraction. And it really shows.
You start off inside the queue and you are in the hospital from the pilot episode. They don't wait to start freaking you out and the entire inside queue is the hospital. No different themes in each room which is nice.
This of course includes the iconic "Don't Open Dead Inside" door which is amazing.
The large queue area (switchbacks) are also themed to the hospital but it gets you in the mood for "The Walking Dead" with incredible lighting and sound effects.
As you enter the maze you are instantly transported into the world of The Walking Dead. yes, it's similar to an HHN maze, but as good as those are from a technological and themeing standpoint, this attraction raises that bar, and raises it significantly.
Because it's permanent there are no plywood walls, the effects are amazing and the lighting and sound quality are as good if not better than most other permanent attractions.
As you walk through the attraction you are of course greeted by walkers, but due to the size and scope of the attraction you are treated to acted out scenes between walkers and the survivors in locations such as the burning cabin, the prison and more.
And even though it's permanent, you can easily see how they can change things out in subsequent years to add new things from the show.
If you have grown tired of The Walking Dead mazes at HHN we get it, but this is on a completely other level and that we can experience it 365 days a year and get our "Scare Fix" anytime we want is amazing.
One other tidbit I'll add, I'm so glad they decided to skip over the Terminus theme, that was terribly tired and played out from the HHN mazes.
So be sure to check out the attraction after it opens next week, we can't wait to get back and do the walk-through more without having to film it.
Thanks again to Universal Studios Hollywood for having us out, we had an amazing time. You've once again raised the bar and we can't wait to see what you come up with next.
We will have a "general" park update later today or tomorrow.
Wizarding World- bringing some magic into an awful world ...
As we are all still reeling from the tragic events in Orlando yesterday which have claimed 49 lives as of this post (including 2 employees of Universal Orlando Resort) we thought we'd just share some amazing Wizarding World Hollywood pictures taken yesterday to hopefully put a smile on some faces.
Pictures by CoasterMatt
(Click on any of the pictures below for a larger version)
As of today we are now into week 3 of Wizarding World being open at Universal Studios Hollywood. Calculating in the 1 1/2 months of "Technical Rehearsals" we are now a full 2 months from the first guests being in the land.
And as of yesterday (Sunday) the wait times inside the land were still averaging less than an hour.
While at this point we aren't willing to say Wizarding World is a failure (if you could see the money being spent on merchandise (even for non-Potter merchandise) you wouldn't say that) it's safe to say the crowds haven't materialized. And this can pretty much be put on one issue, Annual Passholder Blackout days.
Written by Gregg Condon
Let's look back about 11 months ago. In preparation for Wizarding World Hollywood Universal Studios Hollywood stopped selling "Annual Passes" and started selling "Season Passes" that all expired in mid-March 2016.
Even the "Premium Star Pass" was discontinued and we got in the last week of that pass which expired on March 18, 2016.
Fast forward to November of 2015 and the park reinstated "Annual Passes" with a wide variety of blackout days, most not even available on the weekends and still no "Premium Pass". This meant that anybody who wanted to see Wizarding World would have to get one of these passes and plan weekdays to see it.
It wasn't until February that Universal Studios Hollywood reintroduced the "Platinum Annual Pass" at a rate of $600. Not bad as far as we were concerned, but this constituted an approximate $350 increase over the previous year (and still not allowing parking past 5:00pm).
So this meant that anybody who had purchased an AP in November, December, January now had to upgrade their pass to get weekends added.
So here is where the issue is and why the crowds haven't materialized (yet) for Wizarding World.
If you look at the blackout days on the Universal Studios Hollywood website, EVERY PASS other than the Platinum Annual Pass is Blacked Out every weekend in April. The first weekend the $300 Gold Pass is not Blacked Out is May 7.
The first day the CA Resident Plus Annual Pass is available is Sunday May 8.
So basically the last few weekends since Wizarding World opened the park has been relying on daily ticket holders and the Platinum Annual Pass.
So here is what Universal needs to realize, and it's something that Disney had to realize with Disneyland "Resort".
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA PARKS ARE DRIVEN BY LOCALS (annual passholders). When people come to vacation in Southern California there are so many options for them other than theme parks. Sure many may tack on a day or two but other than theme park fans most people don't come to Southern California JUST to visit theme parks.
This is obviously not the case in Central Florida.
By aligning blackout days in this way they were pretty much banking on tourists to be filling up the park every day. And while yes, the amount of 1-day ticket holders has increased since Wizarding World opened (don't let anybody tell you different) the park isn't getting the local crowd due to the lack of Annual Passholders that can currently access the park.
Wizarding World is a success. But the fact that this conversation is taking place is indeed troubling. This is a park that is going through growing pains and not quite sure how they are supposed to handle this. I mean, this was the same park that insisted that Fast and Furious was a ride, even after having the same issues with people complaining to Guest Relations after their "King Kong Ride" a few years back.
But all is not lost. It hasn't even been 3 weeks yet. Wait times do not come even close to telling the whole story. Stores are always crowded and Three Broomsticks has lines out the door on a daily basis.
Let's wait and see what happens that first weekend in May. And this summer when two other tiers of passes are able to go to the park.
In the meantime if you have the means, get the Platinum Annual Pass because you can go to Wizarding World without a lot of crowds. That's going to change, it's going to get busy, but due to school being in and blackout days it's a great time to check out the park.
Sure, there are a few things the park could do to remedy this now such as lift some blackout days (as they did in February) but that may cause people with higher tier passes to complain their passes are no longer worth it.
We don't anticipate that happening anytime soon, at least not until after the summer.
One other thing that could benefit the park right now would be to adopt a payment plan. We all know that it wasn't until that plan was instituted at Disneyland that they started seeing the day-in/day-out numbers they are seeing now. And the fact is Universal is the only major park in Southern California without a payment plan option.
But unlike Disney, Universal is probably happy to see less people in the park who are tourists who are spending a lot of money (and they are spending a LOT of money) than 10,000-15,000 Annual Passholders who come in and don't spend any money.
It's going to be interesting to see the long-term impact of this (if any). We don't anticipate this delaying any future expansion at the park and it will just take a few tweaks to get the numbers where the park wants them.
What do you think? Do you have a Universal Pass and just can't use it now? Would a payment plan help you make the decision to upgrade or get the non-blackout day pass?
Let us know in the comments below.