Seasonal events at theme parks everywhere are big business. Lunar New Year 2018 at Universal Studios Hollywood is no exception, and this year’s festival is by far, the finest we’ve ever seen USH produce.
Lunar New Year in general is short – a two-week celebration that is highly-concentrated and pretty much completely contained within the Universal Plaza area on the park’s Upper Lot, although the main entrance of Universal Studios Hollywood also features hanging red lanterns – a hallmark of Lunar New Year festivities around the world.
Visiting Universal’s event this year was extra interesting for me personally, as I spent last week in Beijing, China, where the real Lunar New Year 2018 festival is underway. Normally, you’d assume that theme park versions of these age-old festivals are in a way, cheesy and “plastic” Westernized overlays, geared toward making extra revenue for the parks. I’ve got to say, Universal Studios Hollywood’s Lunar New Year festival is as legit as anything I saw during my travels through Asia; I am really impressed.
Of course, what you only will find at Universal is the addition of the Kung Fu Panda franchise, which is a natural for the event overlay. The franchise’s beloved characters are showcased nicely throughout Universal Plaza, including meet-and-greet moments and the Dragon Warrior Training Show, where children are selected from the audience to train with Master Po and friends!
The star attraction of Lunar New Year 2018 at Universal Studios is the addition of Mr. Ping’s Noodle Shop, featuring a state-of-the-art, interactive Mr. Ping from the franchise, courtesy of the insanely talented team at Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. Not only can Universal guests meet and take photos with Mr. Ping, they can also step into the world of Kung Fu Panda and actually order several food items from the character’s Noodle Shop, where he resides! The food selection includes stir fry noodles, pot stickers, egg rolls, bao, desserts, and warm and hot beverages. To keep true to the franchise, the stir fry noodles at Mr. Ping’s are served in to-go containers; not necessarily the most attractive presentation, but it’s what we expect – so Universal has nailed it completely down to this last detail. A side note – the food is good; on par with what guests are served both in Springfield, as well as The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Some folks may find it a bit on the spicy side – but that’s exactly how food is in mainland China by and large.
I’d be remiss not to point out the really nice design work that went into Mr. Ping’s Noodle Shop. The overall production schedule for Lunar New Year 2018 was roughly a four to five-month process; not very long, but certainly enough time for Universal’s internal design team to really focus on the fine details, bringing “Easter eggs” and touches straight out of the franchise into the real world at the park. In addition to outstanding detail, a full service kitchen had to be designed into Mr. Ping’s, so it is far more than an elaborate façade, requiring cooperation from multiple departments, as well as the city for permitting. Very often those details that are unseen or out of mind are the most critical in making something like this successful. Huge respect and kudos to all involved in the production and execution of not just Mr. Ping’s, but all aspects of this year’s Lunar New Year event at Universal Studios Hollywood.
Another component of Lunar New Year 2018 at Universal Studios that is really fun for guests is Feng the Palace Artist’s Stand, which is where guests of all ages are taught to draw their favorite characters from Kung Fu Panda. Taking the cue from Disney’s Animation Academy drawing attraction that first debuted in 1989 in Orlando (and subsequently, Disney California Adventure and more recently at Knott’s Berry Farm), this “how to draw” hands-on attraction is always a popular addition to any event or entertainment offering. I personally can’t even draw stick people, so I am more than happy to look on and judge others in these cases!
There are other character meet-and-greets in the Plaza with Po and friends, as well as the expected selection of Lunar New Year 2018 merchandise, which features some nice designs created for the event. Guests are also invited to write out their dreams and desires and hang them on any of the numerous wishing trees within the Plaza under rows of hanging red lanterns; a tradition that everyone partakes in, whether at home in Asia, or while visiting Universal Studios Hollywood during Lunar New Year.
On the outside perimeter of Universal Plaza, guests can find other meet-and-greet locations. One features Minions from the Despicable Me franchise – dressed in traditional Lunar New Year costuming, of course. The other is another star component of the event; Mandarin-speaking Megatron from the Transformers franchise. Having a Decepticon addressing and conversing with guests only in Mandarin may seem weird – especially at a theme park in Los Angeles – but it’s really well-received by Chinese and every other nationality; definitely a unique, fun component of Universal’s Lunar New Year offerings not to be missed!
Lunar New Year 2018 at Universal Studios Hollywood runs daily now through February 25. For ticketing and more information, visit www.universalstudioshollywood.com.
This is the best Lunar New Year has ever been at Universal Studios. Congratulations to all who worked so hard to make this event happen this year, as well as all of the Team Members who operate it each day, bringing happiness to so many visitors!
- Rick West
Video Tour of Universal Plaza and Lunar New Year 2018:
Additional Lunar New Year 2018 Images: