Springfield Now in Soft Open at Universal Studios Hollywood

Springfield-Universal-Studios-Hollywood (22)Simpsons fans, rejoice! Springfield, the newest addition at Universal Studios Hollywood, has now entered its soft open phase. If you’re not familiar with the term, a “soft open” is when a new attraction or venue opens prior to its public grand opening date; it’s very often associated with theme parks. Soft openings allow parks and designers to work out kinks and use park visitors as “guinea pigs” to see how everything from crowd flow to food service goes. It’s a test and adjustment phase, and during soft openings, we often see additions to lands and attractions – those finishing touches that make the final product hopefully picture-perfect.

Springfield has been under construction for many months at Universal Studios Hollywood, adjacent to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which is quite literally, just a couple feet away. Right now, it’s a bit jarring and odd to see the two vastly different areas nuzzled up to one another; in the not-too-distant future, that will be remedied with strategically-placed landscaping and of course, deliberate sight line obstructions from within both areas of the park. With The Wizarding World of Harry Potter still at least a year from opening here in Los Angeles, the foliage and tree barrier has time to grow in, forming a natural wall between the two entities.

So what is Springfield, exactly? It’s a dimensional reproduction of the town from the iconic television series The Simpsons. Universal Studios Hollywood already has had a Simpsons ride since 2008; it is a large media format 4D experience that takes riders on a madcap journey through Krustyland theme park. Outside of the ride, a Kwik-E-Mart has stood as a convenience store of sorts, selling everything from Simpsons merchandise to large donuts and beverages. Recently, the facade of The Simpsons Ride was enhanced to include carnival-style games, making the Krustyland theme more extensive from the attraction’s inside to its perimeter. Overall, the ride and immediate area have been fairly strong representations of The Simpsons IP at Universal Studios Hollywood.

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When it was announced that Universal was focusing creative energy and a lot of money on expanding The Simpsons in both its Orlando and Los Angeles theme parks, I’ll be the first to admit, I was really surprised. In the midst of its aggressive Harry Potter roll-out, I found it very surprising that Universal would suddenly pour so much energy and cash into an IP that is more than 20 years old. Certainly, The Simpsons is still popular – but popular enough to justify the expenditure and bank on it remaining evergreen for many more years? Only time will tell; I’m still somewhat curious as to why it was decided that The Simpsons was the IP to expand on in the parks (remember – Springfield first came to Orlando, where it is not a sight line block) here in the United States.

In summer of 2013, Springfield opened in Orlando, replacing Universal Studios Florida’s International Food and Film Festival area, located next to their version of The Simpsons Ride. Shortly thereafter, work began on California’s Springfield, which would replace several long-time food locations, including Doc Brown’s Chicken, which had been a park staple for many years. Here in California, the addition of an expanded Springfield absolutely makes sense design-wise; it’s an extension of a massive ride and facade that’s already there, and it creates an immersive “land” as opposed to a hodgepodge of different types of food service locations, which has been in that space for a mighty long time.

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Springfield soft opened this past weekend, and we hit Universal on Sunday evening to check it out for ourselves. In a nutshell, it’s really fantastic! Much larger in scale and vertical size than its counterpart in Orlando, Springfield at Universal Studios Hollywood is a tremendous effort and absolutely fun addition to the park!

The new area focuses mainly on food service, which includes:

Lard Lad Donuts, featuring a crazy variety of flavors and sizes to crush any sweet tooth and appetite! We had a Chocolate Glazed “Large Lad” donut, and it was really good. There’s a donut at Lard Lad that has jalapeno slices on top, I kid you not. The disturbing thing is, I will probably try it soon, simply because it’s so strange. Lard Lad donuts are made on-site at Universal Studios Hollywood daily. When that day’s batch is gone, the location closes; that’s already happened during the area’s soft open period!

Springfield-Universal-Studios-Hollywood (59)Krusty Burger, featuring different types of meals, including The Clogger, a pretty good-sized bacon cheeseburger, with fries and a signature drink from The Simpsons, Buzz Cola. The burger was good – better than average “theme park food”, and I would definitely have another Krusty Burger meal. I wasn’t too keen on the Buzz Cola; to me, it tastes like Diet Cherry Pepsi, which I’m not a fan of.

Moe’s Tavern, which serves an assortment of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages either at the counter or in the dining area. Here, guests were buying another signature drink – a Flaming Moe – which is non-alcoholic and tastes kind of like Orange Crush to me. The fun gimmick of a Flaming Moe is a plastic grate that separates dry ice chips from the soda, making it smoke and flow over the lip of the cup onto the counter; definitely a fun souvenir! Moe’s also comes complete with a phone at the end of the counter – if it rings while you’re there… answer it!

Springfield-Universal-Studios-Hollywood (15)Bumblebee Man’s Tacos food truck, which has a fantastic design and apparently, some really awesome Team Member costumes. Unfortunately, when we visited Universal Studios, this food location wasn’t yet open; word is, that it will open very soon; that is totally acceptable, as this is the soft opening phase.

Suds McDuff’s Hot Dog House, featuring… you get one guess. We haven’t tried this spot yet, but likely will sometime in the future when we return to Springfield for a quick snack!

Luigi’s is the old Italian place reborn as… an Italian place! We took a walk through Luigi’s, and it looks pretty much like it used to – with the exception of a renovated outdoor seating area that is covered very nicely and offers a nice reprieve from the brutal Southern California sun. The pizza here has always been yummy, so I suspect nothing’s changed, with the exception of the Simpsons overlay. We’ll totally eat here in the future, just as we have in the past.

Phineas Q. Butterfat’s Ice Cream Parlor is a walk-up ice cream window with a facade that is an awesome throwback to Farrell’s, which I grew up with as a kid here in SoCal. No doubt, there is some Phineas in our future as the blistering hot summer approaches!

Cletus’ Chicken Shack, which word has it, features a really tasty Chicken & Waffle Sandwich. We haven’t tried this yet, but it’s next on my list when we visit Springfield in the coming weeks!

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That’s a lot of food service. And what’s better… it all comes with a lot of seating; something Universal Studios Hollywood desperately needed to go along with its food service locations in the park! What’s better, is that most of the new seating is inside, where it is shaded and air conditioned! All of the main eateries are connected, so guests can flow from one to the other without going outside. Springfield is tall – really tall – because it blocks the sight lines into The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Taking advantage of that second level, the entire upstairs of the Springfield eateries is additional seating – room after room, table after table, row after row! I was honestly surprised by how much seating there is now, and while I know it’s going to soon be packed as summer crowds flock to the theme park, it’s definitely an awesome secret while it lasts!

Each of the restaurants flows into the next one, yet each is unique in theming and style. It’s all comfortable, and not terribly crowded – yet. It’ll be interesting to see how the locations do when the park is at peak attendance this summer as well as during Halloween Horror Nights. Huge props to Universal for giving us all a place to cool off and actually sit down comfortably with our meals!

Springfield’s facades also feature a DMV, doctor’s office, police station and of course, the nuclear power plant where Homer Simpson works. Next to Moe’s there is a button on a wall next to a peek-in of the plant’s control center. Once the button is pressed, barrels of toxic waste sitting outside vibrate and rumble, alarms go off, and the lights in the control room go crazy! It’s a really neat little throw-away gag that I am totally stoked Universal kept in the design! Most guests won’t ever notice this, but those who do – will definitely come away with a smile. Little details like that aren’t necessary, but they certainly enhance the hell out of an experience in a theme park setting; I love it, and hung out long enough to activate the sequence several times.

Hands-down, my favorite thing at Springfield is the big nuclear power plant and its “meltdown” every so often. This is especially fantastic at night, as steam billows from the plant’s twin stacks, strobes go off, a hazard alarm sounds, and then the power goes out, with each of the facade’s signs flickering and going dark haphazardly! It’s hilarious and looks great. Slowly, power is restored, and one by one, the signs come back on and Springfield is illuminated once again. This is something that makes me laugh and grin like a food – so simple, and yet, so wonderfully effective in its environment! Bravo!

There are two new characters that can be found at Springfield during the day – Sideshow Bob, and Krusty the Clown. The quality of these costumes is really high, and while we haven’t seen them in person yet, we’ve seen pictures and they are really impressive. Krusty and Sideshow Bob join the Simpsons family daily as part of the Springfield photo op selection of characters at Universal Studios Hollywood.

Wait. What’s that, you say? I forgot something? D’oh! OH yes! The Duff Brewery! I didn’t forget – I merely saved the best for last! Across the way from Moe’s is the Duff Brewery, complete with a bar counter and really nice patio seating under glowing string lights. Here, guests can get a variety of drinks, including yet another signature Simpsons beverage, Duff Beer. The beer is really good, and we enjoyed our large glasses of brew while hanging with our good pals Shawn and Carmelle Marshall from Parks and Cons! THIS is where we see ourselves spending many a balmy summer night this year! When all is said and done and the crowds fade into the background, Duff Brewery is going to be the home of many cold beers and great moments shared with friends.

Springfield-Universal-Studios-Hollywood (1)One of the notable aspects of Springfield is the introduction of signature drinks into the park. Drawing on the IP, we now have Flaming Moes, Buzz Cola, and Duff Beer to add to the list of unique food and beverage items that Universal has been capitalizing on; of course, we will see the mother of all IP-based drinks next year when Butterbeer hits the West Coast. Hands-down, Universal has become the leader in signature park drinks and food treats, and it’s great!

Springfield is a wonderful addition to Universal Studios Hollywood – and everyone involved should be very proud of themselves. While not designed to be a “blockbuster” new area like Potter will be, Springfield is an absolutely charming, totally immersive, fun addition to Universal Studios Hollywood. With the opening of Springfield, Universal Studios has taken a giant step forward to becoming a really strong theme park with its Upper Lot becoming a nicely planned mix of themed lands and attractions. The whimsical world of Springfield absolutely does the legacy of The Simpsons proud and has already become one of our favorite theme park hangouts here in Southern California! And a bonus to all of this – a rare occurrence in this industry – the SoCal version of Springfield is actually better than the Orlando version!

To the design team behind Springfield, and to the men and women who work in its shops and eateries, we raise a glass of ice-cold Duff Beer to you! Here’s to a very successful launch, and many great years to come!

[BUUUUUUUUURP!!!]

– Rick West

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