Ensconced in the heart of Orlando, Florida rests one of the cornerstones of American entertainment and tourism. Universal Studios Florida is a most joyful hive of fans seeking out adventures with film, television, and various other forms of entertainment, providing a high-level experience for any guest, whether a novice or full-out nerd like yours truly. It ranks right up there with Telluride, Colorado as my favorite place to visit – though for completely contrasting reasons. The place percolates with the type of savory bliss that is inexpressible, requiring it to be seen in person. So, I was thrilled when I was given the chance to come back down for another sojourn, especially when I learned that I would get to celebrate in the Grand Opening of Universal’s newest ride, “Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon.”
Located at Stage 50, off the main entrance in between the Music Plaza Stage and Revenge of the Mummy, you’ll spot the unmistakable new structure. The state-of-the-art complex is based on 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York, the building that houses Studio 6B, where Fallon – and Johnny Carson before him – records “The Tonight Show.” Fallon, the sixth host in the long-running late-night talk show’s history, is present for the unveiling as well as to record his show here from April 3–6, 2017.
On this brand new venture, visitors have the opportunity to join Jimmy Fallon and all our favorite characters from “The Tonight Show” in a fun-filled 3D race through, below, above and beyond New York City. The legendary effects team at Industrial Light & Magic was in charge of filming motion capture footage for the attraction, and, as to be expected, their work is flawless. Fans of Fallon’s show will see characters like Steve Higgins, Sara and her stepdad Gary, Fallon’s Tight Pants character, the show’s mascot Hashtag the Panda, and, of course, his house band, The Roots. While several rides here at Universal are motion simulated, what makes this excursion unique is that it is the first to feature virtual queuing – an experience that allows the guest to avoid standing in a long, tedious line, and instead return at a specified time to enjoy the ride. This frees up the visitor to enjoy any of the other fabulous amenities around the park, including rides, shows, concessions and gift shops, thus benefiting the park’s bottom line as well. While waiting, one can view artifacts from the show’s 62-year history in the lower level of the structure, as fans in the upper level are treated to a live performance from the Ragtime Gals barbershop quartet, along with screens playing two of Jimmy’s best monologues – “History of Rap” and “Lip Sync Battle.” There are other conveniences to enjoy, including playing retro-style Fallon video games and having a meet-and-greet with Hashtag the Panda.
Once called in, guests are escorted to Studio 6B, where “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” begins on screen. Fallon’s monologue includes details on the venues the audience will get to behold during their race through New York City. Then Fallon, aboard his signature vehicle, The Tonight Rider, challenges the crowd to a race which takes us through the studio, outside Radio City Music Hall, past Times Square, and through New York City’s subway station, while crashing into structures with reckless abandon. The ride simulates a high-speed, turbulent thrill race, and contains dramatic aerobatics, sharp turns, and sudden drops, as the warning reads as you enter the race. Like most rides at Universal, you’ll want to take some medicine prior to entering the park if you are prone to motion sickness.
At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Jimmy thanked everyone from his family, to the former hosts of “The Tonight Show,” to the people who operate the ride – citing the team involved behind the scenes for their incredibly hard work and dedication to the three-year project that is now a reality. “Like life,” he stated, “this ride is unpredictable, it’s fast, and it should be the most fun. I wish you all the smiles and fun you can possibly have on this Earth.” You could tell by the humble, yet excited tone in his words and demeanor that this was a dream-come-true moment for Fallon.
Along with premiering “The Tonight Show” host’s ride to us, Universal had a little more up their sleeve. Their lavish hospitality extended with a virtual tour of their epic new water park, “Volcano Bay,” set to open May 25 of this year. Epic might be an understatement, actually. Based on the footage we saw in their presentation, this water park might be the one to put all others to shame – stretching over 50 acres in size. The notable footage of the grounds aside, Universal continued to roll out the red carpet by letting us taste the exquisite cuisine you will be able to feast upon when you
take holiday at the park’s third venue. The elaborate menu – created by an award-winning culinary team – consists of over 60 recipes and five dining locations. Headlining dishes include Blackened Mahi (served with Boniato mash, sweet plantains, black beans and cucumber mango basil slaw), Coconut Curry Shrimp (braised with a green coconut curry sauce and served over white rice, coconut and cilantro with sweet plantains), Hawaiian Ribs (served with Boniato mash, sweet plantains, and cucumber mango basil slaw), and a Jerked Mahi Sandwich (served with cucumber mango basil slaw, lettuce, tomato, and Sriracha mayo, on coconut bread with a side of vegetable chips). Wash it all down with one of many tropical beverages – my favorite being the Elderberry Cider – and you are sure to plant an exclamation point on your stay.
Those that have been to the park know that “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” is reason enough to come down to Universal Studios Florida and enjoy this astonishing utopia (do NOT miss “Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts”), but with the copious amount of other attractions – “Revenge of the Mummy: The Ride,” “E.T. Adventure,” “Skull Island: Reign of Kong,” to name a few – along with the all-new “Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon” and the upcoming “Volcano Bay,” there is no better time to book your trip than now.
Along with the grand opening of his new attraction at Universal Studios Florida, Fallon has been on a very
impressive run with his late-night series. Now in his fourth year as the host of “The Tonight Show,” Fallon’s program has been nominated three straight years in the Outstanding Variety Talk Series category at the Primetime Emmy Awards. With sturdy competition from the likes of “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee,” “Real Time with Bill Maher” and “The Late Late Show with James Cordon” – to name a few – it’s quite a remarkable tally. While he is yet to win the main award, his show has taken Emmys for Outstanding Interactive Program (2014) and Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media – Social TV Experience (2015). Outside of “The Tonight Show,” Fallon has also won Emmys for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series (“Saturday Night Live” in 2012 and 2014) and Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media – Nonfiction (“Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” in 2009). On Jan. 8 of this year, Fallon also hosted the 74th Annual Golden Globes.
It certainly is an enormous year for the young talent, but is this the year “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” finally takes home the big prize for a late-night talk show at the Emmys? It’s hard to say whether he’ll come out on top or not, but one thing’s for sure, Fallon is living the dream. Universal has a real winner on their hands, both with their new ride and with the company they keep.