Universal's new nighttime show is 'goodnight kiss' for guests

by: Leigh M. Caldwell Updated:

Narrated by award-winning actor and recent Golden Globe - Cecil B. DeMille honoree, Morgan Freeman, Universal Orlando's brand-new nighttime show, Universal's Cinematic Spectacular, will celebrate the most powerful and emotional moments from Universal Pictures' most iconic films - all on cutting-edge waterfall screens within the Universal Studios lagoon and surrounded by colorful fountains and pyrotechnics.

Universal Orlando Resort is opening a new attraction (Despicable Me Minon Mayhem), and re-vamping a favorite (The Many Adventures of Spider-Man) this year. But while those long-announced projects have been getting the attention, the Orlando theme park destination has been quietly working on another project that takes square aim at its biggest competitor: Disney.

A new nighttime show featuring memorable movie moments from 100 years of Universal movies and narrated by Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman will debut this spring at Universal Studios Florida.

Universal’s Cinematic Spectacular will take place on the theme park’s lagoon, where high-def projections on waterfalls will show scenes from the movies, along with colorful lighted fountains and a few pyrotechnics thrown in for good measure. And all of that sounds an awful lot like a lighted fountain and movie-scenes-on-waterfalls-based show that has made a huge splash since its debut in June 2010 – World of Color at the Disneyland Resort in California.

Disney has been capping off the theme park day for its guests with a nighttime fireworks display (think Wishes over Cinderella Castle), innovative laser light show (Illuminations at EPCOT), or special-effects filled drama (Fantasmic at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disneyland) for decades. These end-of-the-day spectaculars are intended to put the final bit of fun and wonder into the day for guests. They’ve long been referred to as a “kiss goodnight,” and theme parks hope they motivate guests to make that call for a second date sometime in the near future.

As a mom, I love the “kiss goodnight.” Just when everyone is getting a little cranky and worn out, it’s time to park the stroller, rest your feet, and save a spot for the show. It’s a great break before what can be a long, harrowing journey to the theme park parking lot, and it leaves everyone with a smile to end the day.

But the conventional wisdom at other Central Florida-area theme parks has been to stage nighttime shows or fireworks only on holidays or during peak crowd times. For now, at least, Universal’s Cinematic Spectacular will be no different. The announced run is nightly through the spring and summer, and on select nights through the end of the year.

Here’s a look at the two nighttime shows that preceeded the new Cinematic Spectacular in Universal Studios Florida’s lagoon:

The Dynamite Nights Stunt Spectacular debuted when Universal Studios Florida opened its gates in June 1990. It featured stunt performers on jet skis, as well as pyrotechnics and explosions, all with a “Miami Vice” theme. Now, you would think a “Miami Vice” theme would date the show quickly, but it ran for nearly a decade, closing in February 2000.

I can still conjure up bits and pieces of the “Miami Vice” soundtrack from my memory banks, and that has a lot more to do with seeing the Dynamite Stunt Spectacular multiple times than it does with watching reruns of the 80s-tastic TV show.

For more than six years, some of the ramps and other props used in the show lay dormant in Universal’s lagoon and no nighttime shows were staged at all.

Then in Summer 2006, Univeral 360: A Cinesphere Spectacular opened.  This show used memorable movie scenes, too, but they were projected onto four inflatable domes installed in the lagoon. “Blues Brothers” director John Landis directed the show, which was updated in 2009 with scenes from some newer movies.

Universal 360 failed to generate much excitement at Universal Studios Florida, and I think that was partly due to the fact that it just wasn’t performed enough at the park.

We’ll see if Universal’s Cinematic Spectacular can bring the buzz when the show debuts later this spring. I am eager to see how it compares to World of Color, which I saw during two trips to Disneyland Resort last summer. Perhaps it will be the “kiss goodnight” Universal Orlando has been waiting on the front porch for.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Leigh M. Caldwell is the Clermont mom behind ThemeParkMom.com (http://themeparkmom.com), a site that tells you not only when that new attraction is opening, but also what ages it is appropriate for and whether or not there are diaper-changing facilities in the restroom closest to it. Ask your questions and join the discussion at the Theme Park Mom Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/themeparkmom), and follow Leigh on Twitter @ThemeParkMom (https://twitter.com/#!/themeparkmom).