Discover more from Arthur's About Theme Parks
Have a Blast at Universal Studios Florida
New interactive Minions attraction is a moving experience
One of the first attractions guests encounter when they enter Universal Studios Florida is Despicable Me Minion Mayhem. The delightful and surprisingly heartwarming motion simulator ride is quite popular, as are the Despicable Me and spinoff Minions franchises on which it is based. The goofy, pill-shaped Minions are so beloved, in fact, they are nearly as iconic for the Universal parks as Harry Potter and his wizarding gang. So it only makes sense that Universal would want the banana-loving mischief makers to have an even greater presence on its midways.
That’s why tomorrow, August 11, USF will officially open an expanded Minion Land that occupies an entire block on what is now known as Illumination Avenue. I got to experience the land, including the highlight of the expansion, the unique Villain-Con Minion Blast, at a media event today.
Arthur's About Theme Parks is a reader-supported, ad-free publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free, or better yet, paid subscriber. Paid subscriptions are my only source of income here.
3.5 (out of 5)
Housed in the soundstage that used to be the site of the Shrek 4-D attraction, guests enter Villain-Con (think Comic-Con but for, you guessed it, villains) after snaking through an outdoor queue. The wacky convention, which was introduced in “Minions: The Rise of Gru,” has booths offering weaponry and other gadgets and goodies for baddies. The featured event at Villain-Con, and the focus of the attraction, is a showdown to determine who has the prowess to become the sixth member of the Vicious 6, a supergroup of scoundrels that was also a key part of the Minions movie.
The way to land a spot in the lauded group? Pick up a sleek E-Liminator X blaster, and cause maximum mayhem while nabbing loot and scoring points. This is no ordinary shooter attraction. Rather than sitting in a dark ride vehicle, guests step onto a moving walkway (like the kind you find at airports, only this one takes a circuitous route) that takes them from scene to scene. It’s a novel conveyance system that works quite well. The motion is slow enough that passengers can easily find and maintain their footing. But it gives them plenty of latitude to enjoy the gameplay.
“We want people to have the ability to blast all around them,” says Victor Lugo, director of immersive experiences at Universal Creative. The wireless shooter devices add to the experience, he notes. “You’re truly untethered. You’re not tied to anything, and you have the ability to be really free and play.”
There are practical set elements and digital screens throughout the attraction. Points are scored by shooting at the action on the screens, some of which are located high above the walkway. The blasters have two triggers. According to Lugo, the primary one sends elemental blasts such as electrical charges that cause electronics to go kablooey. Aspiring villains can take unlimited shots with that trigger. The one on the front of the device, which is a launcher, has limited ammo. Guests are going to want to conserve those projectiles and be selective about using that trigger only when havoc-causing conditions are optimal.
Whenever I review shooter attractions, I feel obliged to say I am not much of a gamer. With that caveat, I did not find Villain-Con Minion Blast as intuitive as I would have liked. It wasn’t obvious what I was shooting at, nor did I understand the best ways to score points. Especially on my initial try, I was just randomly carpet bombing everything in sight. I did, however, improve with each pass through the attraction, going from just under 200,000 points the first time to about double that score on my third attempt.
Nevertheless, the attraction is a load of fun. I liked the concept of the moving walkway and found the attraction clever and cute. On a more traditional interactive dark ride, my attention is often torn between tending to the gameplay and taking in the thematic sets and the story. Because I was standing on a walkway, I felt more tuned into the shooting and racking up points.
True gamers will want to sync their blasters with Universal’s app. That gives guests the ability to modify the shooting devices, unlock bonus features, track their scores, and more.
“This is the most customizable attraction we’ve ever built,” Lugo says, adding that, like today’s video games, it has a lot of depth and layers. That makes Minion Blast quite re-rideable. “We want you to come back. We want you to try different missions. It’s by design.”
Minion Blast is not an E-Ticket ride. It does not aspire to, say, Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge at Universal Studios Hollywood. That mind-boggling, grand-scale attraction is the gold standard for shooter rides (and is almost surely coming to Epic Universe, the massive theme park now taking shape near the main Universal Orlando campus and scheduled to open in 2025). Using the old Disney rating system, Minion Blast is probably more akin to a C or perhaps a D-Ticket ride. On that level, it succeeds and is a great addition to the Florida park.
Rounding out Minion Land is Minion Cafe, an eatery with an ambitious, eclectic menu. I sampled Agnes’ Honeymoon Soup, one of a number of “Despica-Bowls” offered at the restaurant. It is a yummy, spicy broth made from green tomatoes and adorned with pork belly, basil oil, and, oddly, a cold tomato cube in the shape of a gummy bear. The soup is served with a pimento cheddar grilled cheese sandwich shmeared with delicious chimichurri sauce. Other tempting items include Mel’s Meatball Mountain, a wood-fired pizza stuffed with meatballs, and Lucy’s Top Secret Salmon, which pairs wood-grilled salmon with coconut blue rice (because the Minions are yellow and blue), Thai cucumbers, and edamame. With most entrees under $20, the prices are reasonable.
Speaking of Minion blue, one of the frozen treats at the Freeze Ray Pops stand is themed to the characters with a blue-hued banana popsicle, a white chocolate coating, and a chocolate Minion googly eye. In addition to standard butter flavor, the Pop-A-Nana stand has–wait for it–banana-flavored popcorn. It has a bit of the texture of caramel corn, but with a somewhat subtle banana flavor.
“You can get kettle corn many places. But banana popcorn? Not so much,” says Jens Dahlman, Universal Orlando VP and executive chef of operations. “It makes the promenade around the kiosk smell so good.”
Bake My Day has Minion-centric treats such as a Banana Cream Swiss Roll. Guests can meet and dance with the Minions as well as other characters from “Despicable Me” and the film, “Sing,” at the outdoor Illumination Theater.
Do you like interactive shooter attractions? What do you think about the concept of a moving walkway on Minion Blast? Would you eat banana-flavored popcorn?