If you think that Universal's Islands of Adventure is the more exciting of Universal's two parks, what with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the updated Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, and two heart-stopping roller coasters, then get ready for the comeback of Universal Studios.
The upgrade of the resort's original park began last year with the opening of the Despicable Me ride and the addition of a daily parade and an evening light-and-water show. It continues this summer with the opening of the Transformers ride and the expansion of the Simpson Ride into a Springfield zone with a second ride. Then next year, Universal Studios gets its own Wizarding World.
Transformers: The 3-D Transformers ride, already operating at Universal parks in Los Angeles and Singapore, officially opens today at Universal Studios, although it has periodically been open to guests in the last few weeks for "rehearsals." The exterior of NEST headquarters and the queue are different from the other parks, but the ride itself is the same.
The plot line: Visitors are recruited to help the Autobots (the good guys) protect the last remaining shard of AllSpark -- the crucial source of life and energy for Transformers -- from the Decepticons (the bad guys).
The characters and the set are direct from Transformers movies; the actors who voiced the movie characters voiced the same characters on the ride.
In the queue, the video in which Gen. Morshower greets the new "recruits" was shot at the same time as one of the Transformers movies. The action plays on enormous screens so that some of the characters stand almost 40 feet high. Riders wear 3-D glasses to enhance the action, and when a giant missile seems to fly right at them, they're likely to duck. The ride vehicle uses the technology of a flight simulator on a track.
"For the fans it's great; they get to see every detail," Thierry Coup, senior VP for Universal's Creative Studio, said during a walk-through of the ride. "For the people who are not fans, we get to introduce them." He pointed out a display case containing the AllSpark. Another case holds the tail of the Decepticon Scorponok, which was blown off in the first Transformers movie.
The queue is also where guests meet Evac, an Autobot character created in collaboration with Hasbro just for the ride who transforms into an evacuation vehicle.
But what started out as a routine greeting by Gen. Morshower becomes a call to action. He has just learned that the Decepticons, who want that AllSpark, are attacking the building. The green recruits are his only hope of holding off the Decepticons, and he instructs them to go with Evac -- visitors see him transform into a vehicle -- and take the AllSpark to a safe place.
"The more eyes, the better," Gen. Morshower says. "I'm counting on you."
"This is outrageous," an irate human government agent protests futilely. "We are sending recruits on a suicide mission."
And so begins a high-speed thrill of a ride. "We synchronize the motion of the vehicle with the action on the screen, and you get the sense that you're flying," said ride producer Chick Russell, who also worked on the movies.
"It's the most action-packed ride we have ever designed," Coup said. "It takes you into the action from the very first second, and at the end, you feel like a hero."
The Simpsons: Television's longest-running family expands its presence at Universal Studios this summer with the construction of an entire Springfield neighborhood, the only one at a Universal park, by the dizzying Simpsons Ride.
On Fast Food Boulevard, the first section to open, guests can eat at Krusty Burger, Moe's Tavern, Cletus' Chicken Shack, The Frying Dutchman, Lisa's Teahouse of Horror and Luigi's.
"It's a natural follow-up to the success we had with the Simpson ride," which opened in 2008, said Mike West, executive producer for Universal's Creative Studio. "Any place you have Homer Simpson as one of the main characters, food is at the forefront."
Chefs created a new menu for what is essentially a food court, where visitors can eat many of the items from the TV show, including the Krusty Burger, Ribwich, Lard Lad's giant doughnuts and a Flaming Moe drink, as well as Homer's favorite Duff Beer. Also at Moe's is the bar phone, where guests can take a crank call from Bart and try out the Love Tester.
Krusty the Clown and Sideshow Bob will join the other Simpsons characters who appear in the park.
In addition, a new ride, Kang & Kodos' Twirl 'n' Hurl -- named after a duo of space aliens who appear on the show occasionally -- will take visitors on an intergalactic spin. Aimed at the younger demographic, it's a ride with vehicles that go in a circle; push a lever and they go up and down.