We’re standing along the Mardi Gras parade route at Universal Studios again this week to pick up vibes, beads and unicorn cries for Theme Park Rangers Radar. Then we’re outside the Magic Kingdom construction walls where work is starting on Tiana’s Bayou Adventure and wrapping up on Tron Lightcycle / Run.
Radar is a weekly meandering through Central Florida’s theme parks and attractions. It appears on OrlandoSentinel.com on Wednesdays.
Universal’s Mardi Gras parade is something to see with its elaborately themed, lit-up, glittery floats. There’s something to hear, too, in the form of a talking tree.
The woodland creatures float, part of this year’s “mythical realms of Mardi Gras” theme, has a sprawling tree at its center. Unlike nonmythical trees, it has eyes, a flat face and things to say.
“I think it’s hilarious,” says Lora Sauls, senior manager of creative development and show direction for entertainment art and design at Universal Orlando. “Last year, we got to put sound effects and different kinds of voices on all the floats on our space journey with the aliens [float]. This year we thought it would be fun to put sound effects on these floats, and the tree in the middle of the woodland float has a face. So, we were like ‘the tree can talk,’ and our senior show director, Matt Flood, has a big tendency for puns. So he might be the tree, slinging some Mardi Gras puns out there
[ Ripley’s bags box of chocolates from ‘Forrest Gump’ ]
“You’ll also hear the goddess on the goddess float. She also slings some Mardi Gras puns,” Sauls says. “It’s very punny.”
Another sound from this year’s floats: unicorn utterances. They’re not believed to be puns, but who can say?
Another new sight on floats: gigantic floral decorations.
“If you ever been to New Orleans during Mardi Gras, a lot of their floats have these big giant flowers — and a lot of them,” Sauls says. “We wanted to bring that to our floats this year. We’ve never done that before. So you’ll also notice on our six new floats, there are big, giant flowers that kind of match the color scheme.”
Universal’s Mardi Gras continues nightly through April 16. (There’s no parade on March 31, when Universal will host its first of four Grad Bash evenings.)
Work has started at the site of Tiana’s Bayou Adventure attraction at Magic Kingdom.
It’s an active construction site in the wake of the January closing of Splash Mountain. On a recent visit, passers-by could hear metallic clangs coming from inside and see a crane around back. The situation is in flux, naturally.
The water had been drained out with a few puddles at the base; that’s way too far away to bottle up and sell on eBay. There were construction walls along the sidewalks and former entrance plus mountainside scaffolding with blue tarps. At the lower level loop, a metal walkway allows workers to move from side to side without navigating the trough.
Folks could see the tops of Splash Mountain character figures and signs for Lightning Lane and such behind the walls. From the Frontierland train station, passengers could see down into the abandoned queue, which is walled off.
The bathrooms at the exit of the attraction remain available to guests.
[ Big swinging ride coming to Busch Gardens this month ]
The brown construction walls are peppered with signs for Tiana’s Foods, a part of the new ride’s storyline in which the title royal of “The Princess and the Frog” movie starts an employee-owned cooperative. We also know that a salt mine is involved in the story, which should help explain away what has been a mountain right there in the bayou. (The walls also are imprinted with logos for Southern Dome Salt Company.)
We’ll have to wait for more construction details. There’s time. Tiana’s Bayou Adventure is expected to open in late 2024.
Theme Park Rangers
The latest happenings at Disney, Universal Orlando, SeaWorld and other Central Florida attractions.
Tron Lightcycle / Run opens to the public in early April, but previews have started for Walt Disney World cast members and others. We’ve had a good idea of what goes on with the coaster-type attraction because it’s a twin of the Tron ride that opened at Shanghai Disneyland in 2016.
But I asked two people who rode during Magic Kingdom previews to describe this Tron experience by comparing it with other Disney attractions, particularly in intensity.
“I would say a very fast Slinky Dog [Dash],” John “Panda” Saccheri from BigFatPanda.com said, referring to the Toy Story Land roller coaster at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. “It’s still pretty intense … but the G forces don’t feel intense. They feel good.”
[ Tron previews coming for Disney annual passholders ]
Epcot’s Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind ride “feels a little bit more intense to me because of the spinning,” Saccheri said. Cosmic Rewind debuted last spring.
Clint Gamache, owner of the ThrillGeek website, also compared Tron ride with a Hollywood Studios attraction.
“The only Disney ride I could compare it to is probably Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster,” he said. “You get the awesome launch, you get some cool elements on the indoor part. And, you know, it wraps up nicely. I think that’s the same thing with Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster.”
- Orlando Science Center presents its first Spark STEM Fest, running Friday through Monday. (Separately, the adults-only Science Night Live is Saturday.) More info: OSC.org.
- Orange County Regional History Center presents “Celebrating Black Arts and Culture” 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. Saturday. The free event includes readings by poet Valada Flewellyn and members of Page 15, a youth empowerment group plus children’s activities. More info: thehistorycenter.org.
- It’s the final weekend of Epcot International Festival of the Art. Disney on Broadway concerts include Michael James Scott (“Aladdin”) and Ashley Brown (“Mary Poppins”) on Friday, followed by Josh Strickland (“Tarzan”) and Kissy Simmons (“The Lion King”) on Saturday and Sunday. All four singers will be in concert for a finale on Monday. More info: disneyworld.com/epcot.
- Concerts for Universal’s Mardi Gras include Maren Morris on Saturday, then Willow on Sunday. More info: universalorlando.com/mardigras.
- Concerts with SeaWorld’s Seven Seas Food Festival are Collective Soul (Saturday) and Jerry Rivera (Sunday). The event’s Mardi Gras overlay, featuring live music, street party and a pop-up parade, begins Friday. More info: seaworldorlando.com.
- Saturday and Sunday are the final days for Pirate Fest Weekends at Legoland Florida. More info: legolandflorida.com.
- Museum of Illusions’ Life in Neon event at Icon Park is set for Friday evening. More info: MOIOrlando.com.
What’s on your radar? Email me at [email protected]