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Fla. theme parks open Lego, Transformers, Simpsons attractions

By Miami Herald

ORLANDO, Fla. -- I am in a boat, chasing Cragger the crocodile king, who has stolen an orb of chi. My water cannon is primed.

As the boat passes out of the Lion Temple, Sam Dalessandro leans over and gives me a tip. Aim for the brown targets, he says, and animate a piece of scenery. I shoot at the first one I see; a pipe "animates" and sprays water at me.

It's only the beginning of the series of dousings I will receive.

The Quest for Chi, which opened July 3 at Legoland Florida, is a very wet interactive ride. Based on Lego's Legends of Chima line of toys, it is the centerpiece of a new "land" that features several other Chima attractions. It is one of Legoland's most complex rides, and, aided by the toys and a Cartoon Network animated series, it has a better developed story line.

And it's a lot of fun.

For those who haven't seen the Cartoon Network show and don't know the story, a video recounts the high points for people waiting in line: "Chi" is a source of energy and power that comes in a waterfall from Mount Cavora, which is suspended like a full moon over this section of Legoland. The lion tribe controls the chi, rolls it into orbs and shares it with seven other animal tribes -- crocodiles, eagles, wolves, bears, rhinos, gorillas and ravens.

But one day, Cragger, the young and power-hungry king of the crocodile tribe, steals an orb of chi. Riders board the boats at the Lion Temple and join a pursuit that will take them through the habitats of the other animals, ending up in the home of the crocodiles.

I'm riding with Dalessandro, Legoland's model shop supervisor, who says that more than 2 million Lego bricks were used to build the Chima attractions, including about 150 Lego figures. There are seven Legoland parks worldwide, but the Winter Haven park, the largest, is the only one that has the ride.

A water cannon is mounted in front of each of the eight seats on the boat and on the land overlooking the river, where spectators take aim at us. We're not far into the chase before I am soaked.

I get so absorbed in aiming my water cannon at anyone within range that I don't notice the animal tribes' habitats we pass. Finally Dalessandro tells me that we have recovered the orb of chi and the ride is ending. Reluctantly, I let go of my water cannon. Like the kids around me, I climb out of the boat, grinning and dripping.

Queasiness factor: none.

In addition to the ride, the World of Chima has Cragger's Swamp, a small water play area for toddlers; Speedorz Arena, a large tabletop-style arena where kids can race Speedorz, the rip-cord-powered chariots driven by Chima's inhabitants; character meet-and-greets; a 3-D Chima movie; and a Lego store.

Transformers

In order to talk about Universal Studios' new Transformers 3-D ride, let's first talk about its forerunner, The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man at the Studios' sister park, Islands of Adventure.

Spider-Man is thrilling, full of surprises, creativity and speed, a POW! BAM! battle between comic-book heroes and villains. It uses a combination of 3-D projections and flight simulator technology that leaves riders constantly ducking or throwing up their arms to protect themselves from the shrapnel and debris that seem to be coming right at them.

Transformers 3-D is better.

The Transformers ride, which opened June 20 at Universal Orlando, is also a battle between animated heroes and villains and is based on the same technology, including the 3-D glasses. Even though Spider-Man was updated just 18 months ago, it isn't as technologically sophisticated as Transformers. Thierry Coup, senior vice president for Universal's Creative Studio, said the Transformers ride is "the next generation of Spider-Man."

Based on the Transformers movies and voiced by the same actors, the ride "brings the characters to life in 3-D and places our guests right in the middle," Coup said. "Being able to experience the great battles between the good robots and the bad robots is something that Transformers fans have dreamed about."

Here's the story: Autobots, the good-guy Transformers, are guarding a sliver of All-Spark, a source of energy Transformers need to turn from robots into vehicles and back. The Decepticons attack the warehouse where the All-Spark is stored. We riders, as green recruits, are the only humans available to defend the substance, along with a brash young Autobot named Evac, a character invented for this ride in collaboration with Hasbro toys.

Evac transforms into a troop evacuation vehicle that the riders board, then takes custody of the All-Spark in a massive fist that reaches out from the front of the vehicle. "Autobots, roll out," commands Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots, as he runs to fight the villainous Megatron, and the battle is on.

Transformers is faster paced than Spider-Man, more intense, more in-your-face -- literally, what with all the crashes, villains, missiles and shrapnel coming at riders (or so it appears in the 3-D glasses). In one scene, our ride vehicle ripped through one of the top stories of a high-rise on the end of a tow chain, and most of us had our hands up, protecting our heads from the building collapsing around us.

The Transformers scenes are projected on enormous screens, up to 60 feet high, so that Optimus Prime, for example, towers over us at his full 28-foot height.

It's helpful but not necessary to know the major Transformer characters. The encounters are abrupt and fleeting, and as soon as one Decepticon is dealt with, another jumps in with a terrifying crash of metal parts, and another Autobot steps in to save us.

At the end, we deliver the All-Spark, our heads still spinning, and the hulking Optimus Prime leans down to thank us in his booming voice: "Your bravery saved the planet. Well done, freedom fighters!"

Queasiness factor: moderate to moderately high.

The Simpsons

Given Homer Simpson's love of food and drink, it shouldn't be a surprise that an expansion of the Simpsons' world would focus on Fast Food Boulevard. "Springfield" at Universal Studios, where the popular Simpsons ride launched five years ago, is growing into its own land, with a second ride, a carnival midway, Duff Brewery, Moe's Tavern, a fast-food court and other landmarks from the TV show.

The food court, Moe's Tavern and the midway have already opened. The rest won't be completed until later this summer.

Following the successful launch of butterbeer, pumpkin juice, and the Three Broomsticks restaurant at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal has gone even farther in Springfield, combing through 24 years of television scripts for details to create a credible Springfield food court.

Fast Food Boulevard features eateries straight off the show and a long menu of familiar items including Krusty and Clogger Burgers, Luigi's pizzas, Lard Lad's doughnuts, Duff Beer and Flaming Moes.

In addition to eateries from "The Simpsons," several were invented for the park. Lisa's Teahouse sells salads, wraps, yogurt, fruit juice and other healthy foods that Lisa Simpson would eat. Cletus' Chicken Shack (you may recall that Cletus confessed to losing a game of tic-tac-toe to a chicken) sells a fried chicken and waffle sandwich, made with maple-flavored mayonnaise, that is a surprise hit. Bumblebeeman's Taco Truck will open this summer outside the food court.

The menu items either appear on the show, like Krusty Burgers (made with a special bun, a secret sauce and cheese sauce instead of a slice of cheese), Duff Beer (a proprietary beer that is brewed locally and available only in the park's Springfield section) and Lard Lad's giant doughnuts, or are consistent with the show and its characters, like Lisa's healthy salads, said Ric Florell, Universal Orlando's senior vice president and general manager of revenue operations.

Much as the Universal staff did with butterbeer, flying to Scotland with a variety of creations so Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling could pick the one she liked best, it created recipes for a much longer selection of menu items in collaboration with Gracie Films, producer of "The Simpsons," and Fox television. Then the food was flown to California, where it was tasted and approved by the show's creators.

One departure from the show: the Flaming Moe. On TV, the drink is alcoholic and its secret ingredient is cough syrup. At Universal, it's essentially orange soda poured over dry ice so it bubbles and smokes. "The reason we did that is we wanted everybody in the family to be able to drink it," Florell said. (At $7.99 a glass, everybody in the family probably won't have their own.)

Coming next: Kang & Kodos' Twirl 'n' Hurl, which moves much the same way as Disney's Dumbo but is topped by the long-tentacled space alien Kodos, features spaceships instead of elephants, and has an attitude. "Foolish humans, you have been fooled," Kodos says, then encourages riders to ram their ships into characters from "The Simpsons." Her dialogue was written by the Gracie Films crew, said Mike West, executive producer for Universal's Creative Studio.

On the waterfront by the Twirl 'n' Hurl, West said, will be Duff Brewery (drinking but no actual brewing will take place here); a statue of the town's founder, Jebediah Springfield; and Chief Wiggum's police car crashed into a fire hydrant near a Lard Lad doughnut shop, which will be topped by a 30-foot statue of Lard Lad.

"The food is as much a part of the theme and the story as the buildings," West said. "Who doesn't want to come to Krusty Burger and get a Krusty Burger or a Clogger?"

I'll have the chicken-waffle sandwich and a Duff.


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