ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Universal Orlando, with an eye on bolstering attendance, announced ambitious plans Wednesday for a daily interactive character parade and a nighttime light and pyrotechnics show at the theme park highlighting the company's 100 years of moviemaking.
The interactive parade and the Morgan Freeman-narrated evening show — with images from Universal movies projected onto screens created by waterfalls in the middle of a lagoon — is the most significant addition to attractions at the Universal Studios park since the hugely successful Harry Potter attraction opened in 2010 at Universal's other Orlando property, Islands of Adventure.
Jim Timon, senior vice president for entertainment at Universal Orlando, said the parade and night show will debut sometime this spring, although specific dates weren't announced.
Daily parades and nightly fireworks displays have been featured at Walt Disney parks for years. Until now, Universal has done parades only occasionally, usually as part of seasonal offerings at Halloween and Christmas.
The night show will celebrate the company's movies through the last 100 years and will run 18 to 20 minutes. The three high-definition screens projected on waterfalls will be surrounded by 70 LED-lighted fountains and pyrotechnics, Timon said.
"This is very much a big end-of-day spectacular," Timon said. "This is the big show we send our guests off with, with the Universal brand and message and emotion and impact."
The "Universal Superstar Parade" will feature characters such as Nickelodeon's Dora & Diego and SpongeBob SquarePants. Timon said each float will be set up as a separate show with its own special effects and musical score that can be featured individually around the park when not in the parade.
John Gerner, managing director of Richmond, Va.-based Leisure Business Advisors, said it's important for Universal to keep changing and improving the Universal Studios park to give Harry Potter fans a reason to spend a second day on the property after visiting Islands of Adventure. Also, he said, Universal has to step up the competition with Disney, whose major expansion of Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom is reopening in stages later this year and next.
"You want your guests to stay overnight, and you want them to stay at the resort...(so) they definitely needed to bolster the two-gate approach," Gerner said.
Also Wednesday, Universal said that a previously announced new ride based on the "Despicable Me" animated film will open this summer in the Universal Studios park. The ride replaces Jimmy Neutron's Nicktoon Blast simulator and will utilize a sophisticated digital 3-D projection system.
Like the 2010 movie, the Universal ride, called "Despicable Me Minion Mayhem," will feature the villain Gru (voiced in the movie and on the ride by Steve Carell), his three adopted daughters and, of course, the not-too-bright minion characters. Universal says riders will be transformed into minions before embarking on the 3-D adventure and get to participate in a minion "dance party" at the end of the ride.
Similar high-definition digital technology is also being applied to a retooled version of "The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man," scheduled to open in the Islands of Adventure park sometime in March. A combination of the nifty 3-D animation, roving motion vehicles and special effects have made the Spider-Man ride a crowd favorite for more than a decade. The upgrade has been in the works for about a year, and the ride will close for several weeks while new equipment is installed, although Universal did not provide specific dates.
"It's really a mind-boggling presentation, when you look at the imagery," said Mark Woodbury, president of Universal Creative. "When Spider-Man jumps onto the vehicle, you'll see every thread of his costume, and the details behind him are rich and deep and full and really spectacular."
In December, Universal announced that it has plans to expand "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter" in the Orlando park and build a similar attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood in California. No time frame was announced.
Separate admissions of $85 for adults and $79 for children under 10 are required for the Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure parks.