The brand new Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon attraction at Universal Studios Florida has been soft opened for a few days now. A “soft opening” (or what Universal calls a “technical rehearsal”) is when the attraction is open and guests/customers are allowed to ride, but with the caveat that the attraction may not be open all the time, it could suddenly close for technical reasons, not every aspect may be working correctly, the attraction workers are still learning their roles, etc., so there’s no guarantee that everything will run 100% smoothly. In fact, it’s generally not even officially announced when an attraction is going through technical rehearsal – you just show up one day and voila, it’s open! Potential minor mishaps set aside, it’s still the first time that regular park guests get to see a new attraction, so it’s always fun, if you get a chance.
I had read on Twitter that the ride was in technical rehearsals and since I have an Annual Pass to the park, and some free time this past Saturday, I stopped by Universal and see if Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon was soft opened (because remember, it’s always a hit or miss with a technical rehearsal) and luckily enough, it was. So I got on line, excited to experience this brand new attraction.
The building takes the space of where the old Twister attraction had been. They’ve totally redone the building from the ground up though, and what had been themed as a back lot studio stage building now resembles the exterior of the NBC Building (30 Rockefeller Plaza) in New York City. The only difference is that the “real” 30 Rock is a seventy story high skyscraper (14th tallest building in NYC) and this one is made to look like it has about eight stories (thanks to the forced perspective of small windows) but is actually only three or so.
I approached the building and saw that what you would expect to be the front entrance of the attraction (where the overhang and logo for the attraction were) has a sign pointing you to enter a few dozen feet to the right and as the line got longer, there was a Team Member standing with a LINE STARTS HERE sign at the very far end of the line. Just before you went inside, there was an empty area with 2 red seats with no signage – turned out they were mock ups of the seats used in the attraction. I would guess these were to ensure proper fit for guests who may have concerns about such things, but I thought it was weird for them to be (A) out in the open and cordoned off in a crowd-free area, where everyone could see and (B) uncovered (shade is a wonderful commodity in Florida, especially in the summertime but on top of that, it rains nearly every afternoon from late spring to early autumn – I wouldn’t want to sit in one of those seats while it was raining or had just finished doing so, would you?).
Once we got inside, I saw that the theming continued and the inside of the building looked VERY much like the art deco style of inside 30 Rockefeller Plaza (I’ve been in that building before). After going through a long hallway, each guest was given a colored plastic ticket with instructions (in English on one side, and Spanish on the other) of what to expect and do next. My card, as was the card of many people before and after me, was green.
We were invited to wait in an area that looked like 30 Rock’s main lobby. The walls had windows with montages of each past host of The Tonight Show, from Steve Allen in the 50s to Jack Paar in the 50s and 60s, to Johnny Carson and Jay Leno (their tenure was so long that they each got double windows), to Conan O’Brien and, of course, Jimmy Fallon.
Every 10 minutes or so, the 3-note “NBC” tune would play and some of the some lights in the room would turn a solid color that would correspond to the guests who had be issued ticket with that same color (i.e. as seen by the blue tint of the ceiling light in the 2 photos above, the people with blue cards were being called). When the peacock turned green, that was our notification to go upstairs to the next holding area via steps or elevator.
Whereas the downstairs “lobby” area didn’t get crowded until the very end of my wait there, holding room #2 was already filled with 250-300 people when I arrived (that number remained a constant – as X number of people were allowed to leave to go to the next waiting area, that number of people were invited in). Upon entering, I could see there were 12 love seats seats to the right, along with a half dozen of interactive screens to play with. The love seats would hold less than 10% of the people in the room, but they appeared to have USB and electrical plugs attached to them, so those lucky 24 people had that going for them. There were some TV screens throughout the room, showing Jimmy Fallon clips. Finally, at the very far end of this long room was a small stage with an a cappella singing group, The Ragtime Gals, to keep people entertained in sets that seemed to follow a 5-minutes on, 5-minutes-off pattern (when they weren’t singing, they played more Jimmy Fallon chips on the screen behind them).
Just like clockwork, every 10 minutes, the NBC chime would ring and select lights in the room would change color. This again indicated that people holding “that” color card were invited to go into the next holding room. I waited through red, yellow, purple and blue before the lights turned green. When they finally did, us “green card holding people” were invited to hand our tickets in, walk a short hallway, grab a pair of 3D glasses (because yep, this attraction is yet another 3D experience), tell a woman with a clipboard how many were in our party and she then told us what row to stand in as we entered into the next room. This was the pre-show area where The Roots rapped in a video about safety procedures for the ride, with a special guest appearance from Sara. Unfortunately, I was in the back row and (A) with only one TV screen to watch and (B) lots of people taller than me in front of me and (C) where I was in my row placed me behind a beam, so I couldn’t really see the TV very well at all. Fortunately, “keep your hands, arms, feet and legs inside the ride at all times and be attentive of your loose objects” doesn’t change much from attraction to attraction.
After 10 minutes in the pre-show room, we were finally brought into the attraction room. In the interest of spoilers, I won’t tell you anything about the attraction details. I will say that it’s pretty much the same type of ride as Minions, Shrek 4D and The Simpsons rides, but with a better (read: not as cartoony) video capacity, similar to what you see in Transformers 3D. If you like those kinds of rides, I guess you’ll probably like this one, too. If you think something more innovative would have been nice, well, I guess you’ll be as underwhelmed and disappointed as I was. The ride lasts about 3 minutes.
At the end of the ride we walked down a set of stairs and into, of course, a gift shop. So if you’ve ever wanted a The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon phone case or a T-shirt with Hashtag the Panda, you know where to go.
My overall thoughts:
- The theming of the lobby and waiting areas are wonderful. They obviously did a lot of research and work to get all that detail and I was duly impressed.
- Between the plastic tickets and the interactive screens, consider bringing a small container of hand sanitizer with you. I saw one young woman with her card in her mouth and I don’t even want to think what kind of cooties are on those screens (the same goes for the interactive queues at The Haunted Mansion and The Seven Dwarves Mine Train at Magic Kingdom).
- The Ragtime Gals were VERY talented. I just love all the entertainment that Universal brings to the table. While Walt Disney World seems to cut more and more live entertainers every year, Universal seems to find more and more reasons to showcase them. Kudos for that!
- The plugs and USB inputs were a nice touch but I didn’t see anyone using them. I don’t know if the seated people didn’t realize they were there, didn’t need a charge, didn’t have charging equipment with them, or what (I also considered the thought that the chargers don’t actually work, but a friend of mine has confirmed that they do).
- I can see using the plastic cards instead of people having to stand in a queue. However once we were in holding room #2, we were roughly 250-300 people standing in a room for about 30 or 40 minutes. There were not nearly enough seats, no more than a half dozen interactive screens, and the space to watch the Ragtime Gals was pretty limited. That left lots and lots of people standing against walls (if they could finds wall space), with a bottleneck at the area where we eventually went through to go to the pre-show are (much like an airport where people crowd around waiting to hear when “their” number could board, it was filled with people waiting for “their” color to come up).
- I wish they had more TV screens in the pre-show room that were more accessible for viewing by their shorter guests.
- If you are in the back row of the attraction, you can easily see the left and right edges of the convex movie screen, which sort of ruins the illusion of “racing through New York” in the movie.
- The attraction held 6 rows with 12 people across each row. That’s a max of 72 people at a time. Perhaps it was just because of the soft opening and everything and everyone being new, but each group of people with whatever colored ticket took 10 minutes to load, ride and unload. That averages out to be just 432 people per hour (as a comparison, Shrek 4D is said to have the capacity of 2400 people per hour, The Simpsons Ride can go through 2000 people per hour and Despicable Me can only do about 857 per hour, but that last one is also about 14 minutes long [and now you know why the line for Despicable Me is almost always 90+ minutes]). If there is a second room with the same ride so the two can be run concurrently (UPDATE: I’ve heard that may be the case), that would double capacity to 864 people, which is still not a whole lot. I’m going to cross my fingers that they just get the load/unload perfected and they can shave the time of each group to 7 minutes or so.
- My overall Score: Queue: A+, Ride: C-. I’ll go on it if I have friends in town who want to experience it, but it will definitely not be on my list of “must rides.”