One thing that Universal Orlando has never been afraid to do is adapt to changing times and update their parks. Sometimes key changes do not happen so quickly and sometimes the changes are unpopular, like Jaws closing in January 2012 to make way for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter expansion. The list goes on and on, but the point is Universal will do what it has to in order to compete. In 2007, it was announced that Back to the Future: The Ride would be replaced with The Simpsons Ride at Universal Studios Hollywood and Orlando. Late 2007 saw the opening of the Kwik-E-Mart gift shop in the World Expo area of Universal Studios Orlando and in 2008 The Simpsons Ride was officially opened.
The simulator attraction used the same building as Back to the Future: The Ride, but updates were made to the mechanics providing a smoother, better ride experience. The Simpsons Ride also broke new grounds in The Simpsons universe by producing the entire attraction video in 3D animation, but keeping pre-show elements in classic 2D animation. Guests of Universal became patrons of Krustyland getting the chance to ride “Thrilltacular” the brand new ride at the theme park, until Sideshow Bob takes over and things go wrong. The attraction was wildly popular from opening day and still proves to be a staple of Universal Studios Orlando.
Rumors started to spread in 2012 that a Simpsons expansion was coming to Universal Orlando, but no real announcements were made. In early 2013, walls started going up in the Simpsons section of the World Expo area and it was clear that ground was being moved for something big. Buildings started to take shape next to the Kwik-E-Mart that closely resembled Moe’s Tavern, Krusty Burger, and The Android’s Dungeon & Baseball Card Shop. In May 2013, Universal finally made the official announcement of the Springfield expansion after months and months of speculation.
The first things to open up in the Springfield expansion were Moe’s Tavern, Krusty Burger, Cletus’ Chicken Shack, and Android’s Dungeon & Baseball Card Shop. However, those were only exteriors. Inside The Android’s Dungeon & Baseball Card Shop are the newest restrooms for the area. Walk inside of Krusty Burger, but don’t expect to see a recreation of the classic fast-food restaurant found in The Simpsons universe. Instead you will see a seating area with an entertaining mural of the evolution of Homer Simpson.
For Simpsons fans, Krusty Burger could be seen as a disappointment. The mural has a lot of wonderful detail from the show (try to spot Blinky the Three-Eyed Fish), but you can’t actually order a Krusty Burger there from the Squeaky Voiced Teen (don’t worry, he is over working at Krustyland). If you want to order that classic Krusty Burger, then you have to go two doors down to Cletus’ Chicken Shack. Actually, once you are inside the Krusty Burger seating area you will discover that it is connected to Moe’s Tavern and Cletus’ Chicken Shack to make up a large food court with 28 unique offerings to Springfield U.S.A.
Lisa’s Teahouse of Horrors offers salads, hummus, and other healthy alternatives. At Luigi’s, you can choose from three different pizzas (Vegetarian, Cheese, and Meat Liker’s for the person who doesn’t love meat, but just likes it). The Frying Dutchman is the perfect place to go for all of your seafood needs including their Basket O’ Bait which features their Battered and Plattered Fish, Shrimp, and Calamari. On colder days, try the Clam Chowd-arr, but be warned – The Frying Dutchman is no longer All You Can Eat.
Next to The Frying Dutchman is Cletus’ Chicken Shack (a restaurant created specifically for Springfield U.S.A.) which offers one of the best creations Universal has come up with – the Chicken & Waffle Sandwich topped with a maple syrup mayo. If that doesn’t sound appealing then you have the other standard options such as Chicken Arms, Chicken Thumbs, the Double Batter Chicken Platter, and the Thrilled To Be Grilled Chicken Sandwich. You can find the main attraction next to Cletus’ Chicken Shack - Krusty Burger. Krusty Burger offers everything you’d expect it to including the Krusty Burger, the Clogger Burger (it is as unhealthy as it sounds, but delicious), the Mother Nature Burger, The Ribwich ( no need to travel the all over the country anymore just to find this delicacy), the Sideshow Bob Foot Long, and the Heat Lamp Dog. The final storefront inside the food court is Flaming Moe’s, where “Happiness is Just a Flaming Moe Away”. At this stand, you can purchase the Universal exclusive Flaming Moe non-alcholic beverage (you won’t find random leftover alcohol and children’s cough syrup in this bubbly, orange-flavored drink) as well as Duff, Duff Lite, and Duff Dry Beer, and Buzz Cola.
If you aren’t quite in the mood to grab a bite to eat, but you’d rather satisfy your thirst then head to Moe’s Tavern. Moe’s Tavern is easily the best themed portion of the Springfield expansion. As soon as you walk in through the doors, you are transported into Moe’s Tavern from the TV show. Barney is inside and nearly finished with his drink, the Love Tester is in the corner, the TV is flickering in between clips from the TV series, the Jukebox is in the back and still out of order, and the phone is on the counter and if you are lucky then you may get the chance to pick it up. Besides all of the fantastic details, there is also the drinks. At Moe’s Tavern you can purchase all three varieties of Duff Beer (Duff, Duff Light, and Duff Dry) the exclusive beer of Springfield brewed by Florida Brewing Co. who also makes the Wizarding World of Harry Potter‘s exclusive Hogs Head Brew. Regular Duff is similar to Yuengling, Duff Light resembles Bud Light, and Duff Dry could be compared to a bottle of Guinness (not a draught version). The Flaming Moe is also served inside Moe’s Tavern and every Flaming Moe is served in a souvenir cup for you to take home. Other non-alcoholic beverages include the cherry-flavored, zero-calorie Buzz Cola and the Mount Swartzwelder’s Apple Drink. Anyone can come in and sit at the bar, but if you want a booth or table inside Moe’s Tavern, Krusty Burger, or Cletus’ Chicken Shack, then you must purchase food at one of the quick service locations.
During the June 2013 Media Preview Event for Transformers, we had a chance to experience all of Phase One of the expansion and were treated to a backstage look at Phase Two. August 22, 2013 was the official opening of Phase Two including, Bumblebee Man’s Taco Truck, Lard Lad Donuts, Duff Gardens, and Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl, even though guests were treated to soft openings throughout August.
Bumblebee Man’s Taco Truck offers four different types of tacos (Korean Beef, Fish, Chicken, and Carne Asada) on a soft flour tortilla served with a side of tortilla chips. The Taco Truck has proven to be wildly popular, because the truck offers some of the best quick service food in the park. Breakfast just got better with the addition of Lard Lad Donuts including the 20-foot tall Lard Lad Donut man. Here you can purchase a variety of donuts, but the ultimate one to get is ‘The Big Pink’ donut. The donut is approximately 9-inches in diameter and comes covered with pink frosting and sprinkles. Duff Gardens is a new outdoor bar area that offers everything that you can get inside at Moe’s Tavern, with a nice relaxing view of Springfield and the rest of the park. There is even additional patio seating below Duff Gardens that doubles as seating for Universal’s nighttime Cinematic Spectacular. Beside Duff Gardens is a new gift shop featuring more Duff merchandise than was previously sold inside the Kwik-E-Mart.
One of the greatest additions to the Springfield and Universal Orlando is Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl. The attraction itself is a standard hub and spoke ride, but with a twist. Guests board flying saucers with fun unique names (my favorite is the Citizen Kang) and spin around and around while attacking different characters from The Simpsons (Homer, Bart, Willie, Nelson, and Grandpa). It might not sound amazing, but a lot of interesting technology was put to use in this attraction. There are sensors attached to tentacles around the ride track holding the different characters and you have to navigate your saucer up and down to try and trigger off a response from the characters. There is no reward or point system attached to the ride, but you’d be surprised at how quickly you are attempting to “attack” every character.
Other additions you will see around Springfield are characters and decorations. Springfield will still offer meet and greets with the Simpsons family as well as Krusty and Sideshow Bob, but they have also placed life-size Simpsons figures in the area that you can take your picture with all day long. You can stand next to Police Chief Wiggum, who crashed his cruiser into a fire hydrant right outside of Lard Lad Donuts (perfect time for a pink donut of course). Keep an eye out for Duffman around Duff Gardens as well as Milhouse outside of the Kwik-E-Mart. As far as other decorations, one of the stand-out pieces is the statue of the 1796 Springfield Founder, Jebediah Springfield. This exact replica of the statue featured on the show even has the town motto on the back “A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man” (the show writers created the word embiggens in the episode ‘Lisa the Iconoclast’). Also in the area, are the Duff Beer mascots – The Seven Duffs (Tipsy, Queasy, Surly ,Sleazy, Edgy, Dizzy and Remorseful) – featured as beautiful topiaries in front of Duff Gardens.
One thing that was eased in and fits naturally in the Krustyland area was a surplus of carnival games that were repurposed after the Amity portion of San Francisco was closed and construction started on the Wizarding World of Harry Potter expansion. Although the games don’t seem to draw big crowds, it is visually pleasing for the area considering it is supposed to be an amusement park.
Universal really went above and beyond with the Springfield expansion. It is just another step into really transforming theme parks into immersive experiences for all guests. Of course Universal struck gold when they created one of the most immersive theme park experiences ever with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure and look to create the same magic with the new expansion inside Universal Studios Orlando. In the mean time, Disney took a crack at matching Universal with Cars Land at Disney California Adventure and then the New Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. Both companies are now going head to head trying to create a better immersive experience and the guests are the ones benefitting from it.
The Springfield area will not be for everyone, the same way the Cars Land won’t appeal to those who despise the series and some aren’t crazy for the Harry Potter franchise. However, like all other immersive theme park experiences, it is impossible to not appreciate the details and the creative effort put forth. It actually feels like you are standing in Springfield when you are there and all the restaurants and characters are there supporting the story. The audio loops that play throughout Springfield include variations on the theme song, “Spider-Pig” from The Simpsons Movie, “Do the Bart Man” and other Simpsons songs that were shuffled out on albums in the 1990′s. The food is easily the best quick service you will find in Universal Studios Orlando and just as good as the food found at Three Broomsticks in Islands of Adventure.
Whether or not you are a Simpsons fan, take the time to explore all of the new details added to Springfield, or sit back at Duff Gardens and people watch while you enjoy a Duff Beer and listen to classic Simpsons music, or grab a bite to eat at Krusty Burger or Bumblebee Man’s Taco Truck, or buy your very own Bort license plate. There is something for everyone at Springfield U.S.A. – located in the state that borders Ohio, Nevada, Maine and Kentucky. And if you were lost and actually looking for Shelbyville or Capitol City, keep moving on because this is pure Springfield.