Theme Park Rangers Radar: Universal Welcome, Woodpecker Awakening, More Musings on Splash Mountain

We’re looking for signs of progress on the Theme Park Rangers Radar, and we’ve spotted a few signs at Universal Orlando, from big genres to small clues at the Minion attraction that’s under construction. Now that Splash Mountain is officially a former Magic Kingdom attraction, we’ll be watching the development of Tiana’s Bayou Adventure.

Radar is a weekly virtual walk through the park where we look for change and challenges.it was posted on Orlando Sentinel Network on Wednesday.

Visitors to Universal Orlando pose for photos on the City Walk bridge, including one featuring the resort's new Big Blue color as a backdrop.

The bridge that spans the walkway that leads from the Universal Orlando parking lot to Universal City Drive has a new look after months of deadpan.

It won’t be called revolutionary, but it’s an important statement. After the words “Welcome” it says UNIVERSAL in giant letters and, naturally, the subtitle is ORLANDO RESORT. The letters are white and the background/wall is blue.

The long-standing old version has the same wording, reduced in size, with the “Orlando” part in what appears to be handwriting, and the “O” emphasized. I think the Orlando Magic basketball team has had a similar style in the past. (Last week, you could still see the sight as you approached the moving walkway off CityWalk.)

Then, that look is gone and we’re left with silver, stripes and plugs with the old lettering on them. No one wants to talk about it. It’s bare, but not without a lot to grab your attention at this point.

But now it’s in your face, all caps UNIVERSAL again, in case you’re lost. Regardless, it’s already a major photo spot, and now it’s even available on Instagram, possibly even from space. Imagine how big they could make the word EPIC at this rate.

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

Universal Studios visitors can see more of the beginnings of the upcoming villainous trickster blast attraction from the Signs of Things to Come department, and there may be permanent artwork at the entrance. This is the former Shrek 4-D building near the park gate.

An orange vertical banner reads “Welcome to Universal Studios Florida featuring Villainous 6’s Villainous Con.” Belle Bottom characters are front and center, flanked by Svengeance. Jean Clawed, Nunchuck and Stronghold. They appeared in “Minions: The Rise of Gru,” which was released last year.

Yes, that’s five characters, but in the film, V6 is looking for a replacement villain. At the attraction, visitors will “enter an epic race to see if they have what it takes to become the newest addition.”

The attraction is scheduled to open this summer and eventually become part of Universal Pictures’ Minion Land.

Theme park goers interact with the long-standing Woody the Woodpecker statue on the edge of the KidZone section of Universal Studios.

Universal Pictures made additional visual changes to KidZone’s architectural wall, which encloses some attractions, including Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster, which closed permanently in mid-January.

The blue walls are filled with animated characters including Kung Fu Panda, Boss Baby, Mr. Peabody, Sherman, and characters from Audacity, The Abominable, and more. It will also direct people to ET Adventure attractions that are still open.

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

Now, the expansive KidZone plaza seems to give Woody even more attention. I’ve seen more people take pictures with it than I’ve seen in the past 10 years.

The burly character wears a chef’s hat, holds a pizza in his left hand, and wears a tie with a nearby restaurant. People are climbing up to his pedestal, which has no ropes.

I saw a woman actually sitting on Woody’s outstretched right hand, which probably wasn’t what its creator intended.

Disney said the Magic Kingdom's Splash Mountain ride was closed but will reopen in late 2024 as a redesigned attraction called Tiana's Bayou Adventure.

Splash Mountain is officially part of Magic Kingdom history In order to be Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, rides are closed next year. As I hang out with thousands of last-time riders on the final night, I have three burning questions.

  • Who else is surprised that Disney hasn’t restocked its Splash Mountain merchandise? (Are we still pointing to supply chain issues?)
  • Why were so many people last night clamoring about their plot to be the last log ever, like no one else thought? These numbers are against, yes, even you, the streamer.
  • Why is Frontierland so dark?
Mandy Gonzalez, who starred in
  • Rock Universe concerts are scheduled for Friday and Saturday nights at Universal Studios. They are extra ticketed events after hours. More information: World Wide Web.
  • Future World International Art Festival Continue every day. Performers at upcoming Disney concerts on Broadway include Patty Mullin (“Frozen”) and Robert Clayton (“The Little Mermaid,” Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday and Monday, as well as Mandy Gunn Sarees (“Aida”) and Steven Tyler (“The Lion” King”) Friday and Saturday. Included with Epcot general admission. More info: disneyworld.com/epcot.
  • SeaWorld Orlando is celebrating Elmo’s birthday weekend at Sesame Place from Saturday through February 3rd. It is included in the park entrance fee. More information: seaworldworldo.com.
  • Here’s another round of Pirate Fest Weekend at LEGOLAND Florida on Saturday and Sunday, featuring pirate-themed shows, LEGO brick-building activities, character meetups, and “Brickbeard’s Watersports Stunts” and New Pirates River Discovery Tour. More information: legolandflorida.com.
  • On Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the Orange County Regional History Center honors Heritage Day with a transportation exhibit through the years. More information: History Center.org.
  • Orlando Family Festival Saturday noon to 6pm at Dezerland Action Park More information: theexpopros.com.

What’s on your radar?Email me ddevil@orlandosentinel.com.