Operating out of the 4-D theater space that recently housed a Shrek 4-D attraction on the theme park’s upper lot, Kung Fu Panda The Emperor’s Quest is a new immersive viewing experience that opened this past summer at Universal Studios Hollywood.
The new Kung Fu Panda attraction entertains all ages in the adventures of DreamWorks’ franchise character Master Po. The theater experience uses what the park calls the “first ever” interior projection mapping, as well as physical effects and 360-degree surround sound. As tie-ins to the ride, the theme park offers tasty noodles and other Chinese food from Mr. Ping’s Noodle Shop adjoining the ride location, and guest photos with Po and Tigress – offered through August 19th.
The ride offers an entertaining story, as viewers follow Po and his friends to deliver the “Liquid of Limitless Power” to the emperor.
The theater itself has received a re-vamp, with a new Mission Revival-style arcade. Guests pass a faux ticket booth with sleeping-usher inside. The experience begins for guests with a pre-show that features well-known animated characters, and begins with the Magic Mirror from the Shrek 4-D experience. A variety of characters do the introductions here, and then the audience is let into the theater itself.
Here, guests who look close will see that the screen curtains and doorway decorations are an illusion, a small introduction to the dynamic projection mapping that is the crux of the attraction. Seats are staggered and tiered, offering park guests a stellar sight-line for the adventure. Seats are equipped to vibrate and spray both air and water at viewers.
Viewers first traverse a stream and ramshackle bridge, while seats shake and the film’s score thunders. The story leads the on-screen characters and viewers to the emperor, and then onward into a spirit world where the screen’s proscenium falls away, allowing projection mapping to make viewers feel as if they are swirling toward a different realm. It’s a fresh and exciting look, and the first new attraction to open at the park since Universal Studios purchased DreamWorks, opening the door to other DreamWorks inspired attractions.
Outside the park itself, on Universal Studio’s CityWalk, a new theme restaurant has joined the collection of neon signs and eateries that lead guests to the theme park’s entrance. California’s first Margaritaville, the chain founded by musician Jimmy Buffet, debuted this spring with many varieties of margaritas, cheeseburgers, and coconut shrimp. Theme park visitors receive a hand stamp to leave and return to the park after feasting.
There are other changes afoot at Universal Studios: Looking further ahead, through September 3rd, this is the time to ride the iconic Jurassic Park river rafting ride, with its still-thrilling 84-foot plunge away from the a giant T-Rex to the water below. The ride will close after Labor Day weekend to allow construction of a new Jurassic World ride with a planned opening for summer of 2019. The new ride will feature a variety of never-before-seen dinosaurs and state of the art technology to make them real. This year marked the 25th anniversary of the Jurassic Park franchise. As a promotion, Universal Hollywood is advertising a “Countdown to Extinction” marketing campaign that invites guests to experience the original ride now. The Jurassic Cove restaurant and Jurassic Outfitters retail store also will close with the attraction and reopen with the new experience in 2019.
As summer draws to a close, the attention at Universal Studios Hollywood turns to the classic Halloween scarefest of Halloween Horror Nights, an annual event that’s run at the theme park for over 25 years. New attractions abound this season, including a Stranger Things maze, and a much-anticipated Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers just in time for the film premiere of the new Halloween franchise film. The maze takes guests to Haddonfield, Illinois on the Halloween night that Myers escapes from the sanitarium in which he’s being held and returns to terrorize his niece, Jamie.
Another new maze is The First Purge, which riffs on the film’s premise that starts the concept of the purge with a sociological experiment to rid the country of all crime. Like the television show that inspired it, the Stranger Things Maze takes guests into the Upside Down world, and a secluded government laboratory where many strange and scary things lurk in the shadows.
Poltergeist brings participants into the suburban home built over an ancient cemetery, while poltergeists persecute and scare. This year’s Terror Tram ride, which transforms the studio lot tour trams, is narrated by Hollywood Harry, a demented clown that leads guests through five different twisted takes on Harry’s former television series. There will be two additional mazes announced by Universal Hollywood in the next several weeks. Returning this year will be a special Halloween edition of the year ‘round The Walking Dead maze.
Ticket prices for the theme park this season started with California resident single-day passes priced at $99; non-resident admission starts at $109. There are also a variety of season passes and a VIP experience option that includes lunch in the VIP dining room and a guided tour of the production lot are also available. The VIP experience is $349.00. Tickets for Halloween Horror Nights start at $67; front of the line express passes and daytime park admission combos are also available. The park’s appeal to both local residents and a national and international crowd continues; the park’s busiest seasons are Memorial Day through Labor Day according to park communications staff.