This past week, Jimmy Fallon spent a few minutes on The Tonight Show revealing more details about his upcoming attraction at Universal Orlando. Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon will open on April 6th in place of Twister. The ride system is a flying theater that appears to resemble the technology for Soarin’ and the recently opened Wings Over Washington in Seattle. It’s an interesting concept because it varies from the larger expansions of the past few years. This isn’t an immersive visit to Pandora or Diagon Alley; it’s just a silly jaunt in New York!
I know this attraction won’t drastically change the landscape, and that’s okay. It’s easy to forget the importance of complementary attractions to a successful theme park. Headliners draw the crowds, but guests need more to do. They should have the chance to visit fun, reliable spots with short waits. These other locations should also have a more general appeal, which is still in limited supply at Universal.
I first visited Universal Orlando in the summer of 1991 during a family vacation. Along with stars like Kongfrontation and Back to the Future, there were some goofier attractions in the mix. These included the following:
- Murder, She Wrote Mystery Theatre
- Ghostbusters Spooktacular
- Alfred Hitchcock: The Art of Making Movies
- Nickelodeon Studios
The situation was similar at the Disney-MGM Studios, which opened with the Monster Sound Show and SuperStar Television. The Backstage Studio Tour was also filled with odd moments, especially since there was little production happening. I like some weird rides and shows in my theme parks! Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy high-tech attractions with immersive theming. We just need some balance to give us a diverse experience.
A Virtual Line
Another interesting part of Race Through New York will be its queue, which will be different from Universal’s typical approach. The Virtual Line will allow you to reserve times through the The Official Universal Orlando Resort app or at kiosks near the attraction. Does this sound familiar? It’s an interesting move by Universal towards a system like FastPass Plus. We’ve also just seen this service appear for Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, and the Volcano Bay water park may use a similar approach. This is probably just the tip of the iceberg.
What interests me about this move from Universal is the way it reflects trends beyond just FastPass Plus. For example, many local restaurants are now using more sophisticated apps to help avoid wait times. Virtual queues are becoming more commonplace in daily life, so it makes sense that competitors would follow Disney in this realm. Testing this service with Race Through New York and Despicable Me instead of a new Harry Potter ride is smart. Universal can work out the kinks in the system without the pressure of a massive overhaul. I suspect these are the first steps in a larger plan, though I can only speculate based on overall trends.
The 30 Rock Lobby
Another interesting move is Universal’s choice to recreate the waiting area and lobby of 30 Rock in the pre-show. This space also seems like more than just a holding pen. Activities like sending Thank You Notes to friends, playing a retro video game, and meeting Hashtag the Panda might draw guests separate from the attraction. It sounds more like an old-school EPCOT Center play area than the typical entry. If it’s done well, visitors won’t feel like cattle and might enjoy more than the main event.
It’s possible that I’m being too optimistic about the lobby, but recent examples from Universal give me hope. The queues for Skull Island: Reign of Kong and Escape from Gringotts are discussed as much as the rides. The designers recognize that guests are looking for more than just a few thrills. Without spending a fortune, there is a way to keep people entertained with the smaller details. We’ll see if Ride Through New York fulfills those high expectations.
The Right Mix
Universal Studios Orlando is quickly evolving into a more attractive destination for a wide range of guests. Diagon Alley was a home run, and Transformers remains popular. Along with Jimmy Fallon this April, the Fast and the Furious arrives in 2018. There are strong rumors that a Nintendo announcement is coming soon with more details. Could that land arrive by 2019? When all three are in place, there should be a lot more variety. Nintendo should help to distribute crowds well and take some pressure off Diagon Alley early in the day.
My excitement about Race Through New York may seem overblown given its modest ambitions. I hate to oversell an attraction that’s unlikely to draw the masses. I rarely watch Fallon, so this isn’t a case where I just love the talent involved. Seeing The Roots on a giant screen will be a treat, however. I am excited to watch how Universal is reshaping its resorts and pressuring Disney to do more. Even if this attraction underwhelms, it’s another new experience at a resort that keeps expanding. I’m thrilled to see what comes next.