Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Universal Studios Singapore Christmas Wishlist

It's the holiday season again, and in keeping with the spirit of the holidays, I'm going to present to you my Christmas wish list for Universal Studios Singapore.

The previous time I've written a similar list was in 2009, before the park opened, and you can find the article here. Well, I seemed that I got all my wishes from 2009. I wished for no crowds(5 minutes for the Mummy, seriously?) - checked, a Halloween event(HHN was awesome!) - checked, nightly fireworks spectacular(Lake Hollywood Spectacular) - checked, constant updates(Sesame Street ride in 2013)  - checked, cheap annual passes($188, $288) - checked.

Let's see if my wish list for 2012 will be fulfilled too...

Disclaimer - the items below are in no specific order.

1. Interactive Character Meet and Greet
I'm always looking forward to ways USS can "plus" the experience. The current character meet and greets are random, and slightly unsatisfactory. There is no specific place to meet a character, and they kind of just "pop-out" for a short duration. When the characters do show up, they are also pretty inanimate and does not interact much with the guest. The meet and greet experiences in the park are actually more like photo taking sessions with the characters.

Therefore, I hope that we will have a more structured and more interactive way of meeting the park's characters. Imaging having a 20 minute Kungfu training session with Po, with Po and Shifu personally teaching the kids. Or a fairy tale telling session with Fiona in the Shrek castle, where kids can talk to Princess Fiona and act out stories under her directions. These are much more wholesome and more captivating experiences, rather than a mere photo taking session.

For those of you who still can't visualize the experience, it kind of like Donkey Live with a real life meet and greet actor.

2. Streetmosphere Characters
This is an idea blatantly lifted from Disney. In Disney parks, they have walkabout cast members that act as citizens of the land that you are in. So imagine that you're in Hollywood area. You might walk into a cast member that pretends to be a fireman from the LA fire department, or a prospective actor looking to make it big in Hollywood. They are not film character per se, but just normal "citizens" of the place. These are improvisational actors that will augment your park experience and convince you to suspend you disbelief.

3. Better Food
I really hate to say this, but the food in USS isn't all that palatable. Looking at the park map, you might be led to believe that USS offers a wide range of food items that are both nutritious and delicious. However, the reality is slightly different. The food in USS is grossly overpriced and sub-standard. The burgers and fries in Mel's Drive In are dry and bland, while the serving size of the beef ball noodles in Casa del Wild in Madagascar is pathetically small. Even the China Bistro in Hollywood area is unsatisfactory. Therefore, I really hope that USS will roll out better food choices, and not leave me feeling ripped off. Paying $12 for a subpar burger and fries set is definitely not the way to go.

The variety of dinning establishments in USS provides a great opportunity for the park to experiment with different exotic cuisines, and to provide delicious items to satisfy the palates of every guest.

4. More rides
There can never be enough rides. The success of a park depends on keeping itself relevant and exciting by building new rides, shows, and attractions. There are a few ride systems and ride genres that USS should really have.

The trend in the amusement park industry is to go for interactive rides with variable experiences that makes it re-rideable. However, USS lacks such rides. These can be a simple shoot 'em up ride, or a complex decide-your-own-ending ride. An example of such rides in Universal Parks around the world are Men In Black Alien Attack, a interactive shoot 'em up ride through the streets of New York, where guests blast lasers at aliens to score points. The accumulated points will then determine the ending of the ride, with the high scorers getting a "good job" from Will Smith, and the low scorers getting their minds erased.

Another ride that USS should have is a Kuka arm simulation ride. The mold was broken when the Harry Potter ride opened in Universal Studios Florida's Islands of Adventure park. This ride used the Kuka arm system, which is basically a mechanical arm with the ride bench mounted on it. This arm has 6 degrees of motion, and allows guests to experience sensations of flight. See image below.

Finally, another excellent ride that I wish we had is a simulation ride. The Simpsons ride in Universal Hollywood and Orlando, the Back to the Future ride in Universal Japan, the Soaring ride in Disneyland and Disney World are all examples of the amazing simulation ride. It is basically a simple system where the riders are in a motion simulation base, which is placed in front of a large IMAX 3D or IMAX dome screen. This creates the illusion of movement, and is perfect for creating sensations of flight, or of speed. Coupled with in theater effects, such as wind, scents, water etc, this is definitely set to blow people away.

5. Interactive Queue or Increase Capacity
Canopy Flyers and Treasure Hunters are two of the most pain-in-the-rear rides in this park. They are relatively simple, and short rides, each lasting 30 seconds to a minute. However, the queues for these two rides are monstrously long, lasting anywhere between 60 and 90 minutes. Seriously, 90 minutes for a 30 seconds ride?

The problem for these two rides is that they have really low hourly capacities. They seat 2 per row, and have a limited number of vehicles running on the tracks. Furthermore, the loading and unloading process is also slow and tedious, with numerous safety checks to slow the process down. Therefore, USS can either bump up the capacity for these two rides, or to entertain the guests while they are spending 90 minutes in line.

USS could install interactive games, videos, etc into the queues of these two attractions. Imagine a treasure finding game in the Treasures Hunters queue. Or an interactive Jurassic Park Visitor Center experience while waiting for the Canopy Flyer. These interactive elements can be as simple as touch screen games, or as elaborate as interactive animatronic dinosaurs that responds to guests.

6. Fix Madagascar
Madagascar: A Crate Adventure has been plagued by problems since the get-go. There were rumors of a small fire during construction, of boats that were too big to fit into the ride path, of design flaws that forced the removal of a splashdown etc. All these incidents left us with a rather watered down, and slightly pathetic attraction. The attraction was billed as a 12 minute dark ride, with amazing special effects and a final splashdown, but we eventually got a 7 minute gentle kiddie ride. This attraction has a gigantic footprint and takes up a huge piece of real estate, hence it is really a disappointing waste of land.

USS should fix up the attraction, or bulldoze it to make way for a better, more exciting attraction.

7. Fix the PR Team  
Resorts World Sentosa is notorious for their PR team. This is probably the only place where attraction openings are announced only a week in advance. RWS has not grasped that their fan base is huge, and they could achieve a lot more by reaching out to their fan base and getting the fans excited.

Just look at the publicity for the opening of New Fantasyland in Disney World Orlando. Plans for the expansion were "leaked" 4 years in advance to the fan community, allowing the media and many fan websites to generate a huge buzz about the possible expansion. Then the expansion was officially announced at a huge Disney convention 3 years prior. At every stage of the construction, media and press were invited to the site to report on the construction progress. Videos of interviews with the creators behind the expansion were also posted regularly on Youtube. The creators were also very active in attending fan conventions and seminars, seizing every opportunity to tell the public about the expansion. Finally, a few months prior to opening, a viral marketing campaign involving dragons and "found footages" was launched, and the opening date was announced months in advance.

The USS public relations team seems juvenile in contrast. For the opening of Transformers The Ride, they just had a small fan contest, some TV spots on local television, and a small opening ceremony.