With its catchy tagline, the Universal theme parks have long invited visitors to “ride the movies.” For its latest attraction, however, Universal Studios Florida gives guests the chance to ride a television show. Specifically, riders get to experience The Tonight Show by taking a Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon.
“As you can imagine, late night talk show doesn’t exactly scream ‘thrill ride,’ ” says Jason Surrell, creative director for Universal Creative. How, then, did the design team that develops the parks’ attractions try to produce a compelling ride for Fallon and his program, which also falls under the NBCUniversal umbrella? “Ultimately we found our answer in the wacky celebrity races that Jimmy does with his pals on the show.”
Instead of going head to head against Chris Hemsworth or another A-list star, the comedian challenges the entire theme park audience to a race. And instead of limiting the course to the hallways in 30 Rockefeller Plaza where The Tonight Show is taped, the race is on throughout New York City – and beyond. The attraction uses motion simulator technology and large-screen, 3D, point-of-view media to immerse riders in the experience.
The immersion begins long before the countdown starts and show announcer Steve Higgins waves the checkered flag. Located, appropriately enough, in the New York section of the park, Universal has fashioned a facsimile of Manhattan’s famous 30 Rock building. Visitors enter the attraction by passing under the park’s version of the stylized marquee that has long graced the Avenue of the Americas and into an Art Deco corridor adorned with NBC logos.
No lines for this ride
Race Through New York marks Universal’s first attempt to eliminate traditional ride queues. Visitors need to make a reservation using Universal’s app or kiosks adjacent to the attraction (unless they have Universal Express Passes, which cost extra and allow immediate entry). When it’s time to ride, they head to the attraction and show their reservation to enter.
Instead of snaking through stanchions, riders get color-coded tickets at a reception desk staffed by “NBC pages” and are free to roam around the lobby’s museum-like Memorabilia Hall. Exhibits trace the history of the long-running show and pay homage to its stars, including original host Steve Allen, Johnny Carson, and, of course, Fallon.
When the color of their tickets is illuminated in the lobby, guests make their way upstairs to a second free-range holding area. They could gather around interactive displays pre-loaded with clips from The Tonight Show, Fallon-style thank-you notes that they can email, and other diversions. Or they could relax on comfy couches equipped with phone charging outlets.