A Universal welcome, Woodpecker awakening, more Splash Mountain musings – Orlando Sentinel

We’re looking for signs of progress with Theme Park Rangers Radar, and we found some at Universal Orlando, ranging from big type to little clues for the under-construction Minion attraction. We’ll be watching for developments for Tiana’s Bayou Adventure now that Splash Mountain is officially a former Magic Kingdom attraction.

Radar is a weekly virtual walk through the parks, where we look for changes and challenges. It posts on OrlandoSentinel.com on Wednesdays.

After months of a, well, blank expression on its face, the bridge that crosses the walkway leading from Universal Orlando’s parking garages into Universal CityWalk has a new look.

I wouldn’t call it revolutionary, but it is a big statement. After the words “Welcome to,” in enormous letters, it reads UNIVERSAL, naturally, with a subheading of ORLANDO RESORT. The letters are white, the background/wall is blue.

The long-standing previous version had the same wording, downsized, and the “Orlando” part was in a font that sort of looked like handwriting with an emphasis on the “O.” The Orlando Magic basketball team had a similar style in the past, too, I think. (Last week, you could still see this look on the way out of CityWalk upon approach to the moving sidewalks.)

Then, that look was gone and we were left with silver and stripes and plugs where the old lettering was attached. No one wanted to talk about it. It was bare, but it’s not like there aren’t dozens of things to hold your attention at that point.

But now it’s in your face, all caps UNIVERSAL again, in case you were lost I guess. It was already a major photo stop anyway, and now it’s even more Instagram-able, possibly even from space. Imagine how big they could make the word EPIC at this pace.

Villain-Con Minion Blast is set to open in the former Shrek 4-D building this summer.

From the Signs of Things to Come Department, Universal Studios visitors can see more beginnings of the upcoming Villain-Con Minion Blast attraction with possibly permanent artwork over an entrance. This is the former Shrek 4-D building near the park’s gate.

The orange vertical banners read “Welcome to Villain-Con Universal Studios Florida Featuring Vicious 6.” The Belle Bottom character is front and center, flanked by Svengeance. Jean Clawed, Nunchuck and Stronghold. They were featured in “Minions: The Rise of Gru,” which hit theaters last year.

Yes, that’s five characters, but In the film, V6 is seeking a replacement baddie. And in the attraction, visitors will “take part in an epic competition to see if they have what it takes to become the newest member.”

The attraction is scheduled to open this summer and eventually be part of Universals’ Minion Land.

Theme-park visitors interact with a longstanding statue of Woody Woodpecker on the edge of the KidZone section of Universal Studios.

Universal has additional visual changes with the construction wall in KidZone, which ropes off a handful of attractions, including Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster, which permanently closed in mid-January.

The blue wall features clusters of animated characters, including Kung Fu Panda, Boss Baby, Mr. Peabody, Sherman and figures from “Spirit Untamed,” “Abominable” and more. It also guides folks down toward the still-open E.T. Adventure attraction.

The barrier may have the secondary effect of drawing attention to the Woody Woodpecker statue that stands near the SpongeBob StorePants store and the sometimes-open KidZone Pizza Company.

Now the wide-open KidZone plaza appears to have given Woody more of a spotlight. I saw more people pose with it for photos than I’ve seen in the past 10 years.

The sturdy character wears a chef’s hat and holds a pizza in his left hand, a tie to the nearby eatery. Folks are climbing up on his pedestal, which is not roped off.

I saw one woman go so far as to sit in Woody’s outstretched right hand, which was probably not the intent of its creator.

Splash Mountain ride has closed at Magic Kingdom but will reopen as a reimagined attraction called Tiana's Bayou Adventure in late 2024, Disney says.

Splash Mountain is officially history at Magic Kingdom as the ride has closed in order to become Tiana’s Bayou Adventure next year. While milling about with thousands of last-time riders on its final night, I had three burning questions.

  • Who else is surprised that Disney didn’t restock its Splash Mountain merchandise? (And are we still pointing to supply chain issues?)
  • Why did so many people on the last night be so loud about their plotting to be in the last log ever, like no one else had thought of that? The numbers were against, yes, even you, livestreamers.
  • Why is it so blasted dark in Frontierland?

Mandy Gonzalez, who starred in 'Aida' and 'Hamilton' on Broadway, will perform at Epcot this week.

  • Rock the Universe concerts are set for Friday and Saturday evenings at Universal Studios. They are after-hours, extra-ticket events. More info: universalorlando.com.
  • Epcot International Festival of the Arts continues daily. Upcoming Disney on Broadway concert performers include Patti Murin (“Frozen”) and Robert Creighton (“The Little Mermaid” on Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday and Monday as well as Mandy Gonzalez (“Aida”) and L. Steven Taylor (“The Lion King”) on Friday and Saturday. Included with regular Epcot admission. More info: disneyworld.com/epcot.
  • SeaWorld Orlando celebrates Elmo’s Birthday Weekend at Sesame Street Land from Saturday through Feb. 3. It’s included with park admission. More info: seaworldorlando.com.
  • It’s another round of Pirate Fest Weekends on Saturday and Sunday at Legoland Florida with pirate-themed shows, Lego build activities, character meetups as well as “Brickbeard’s Watersports Stunt Show” and the new Pirate River Quest ride. More info: legolandflorida.com.
  • Orange County Regional History Center marks Heritage Day with exhibits about transportation through the years, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday. More info: thehistorycenter.org.
  • FamilyFest Orlando is set at Dezerland Action Park Saturday from noon to 6 p.m. More info: theexpopros.com.

What’s on your radar? Email me at [email protected]