Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Cartoon comes to life in Springfield

Universal's surreal, familiar Simpsons experience boasts three kinds of Duff

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ORLANDO, Fla. -- Walking into Universal Orlando's new themed area is a bit surreal. First, you hear familiar music. Then you spot the sign: "Greetings from SPRINGFIELD U.S.A."

And then you get a faint whiff of doughnuts.

The hometown from the animated TV series The Simpsons has been brought to life in a theme park.

The full Springfield experience opened to the public in the park in August. Universal has slowly been adding to the area for years, building it around a ride that opened in 2008. With a new ride -- the Kang and Kodos Twirl 'n' Hurl -- and a food court that includes Moe's Tavern, the show's beloved watering hole, the area is now complete. Other attractions found in both the show and the park include the Krustyland carnival area and the Kwik-E-Mart, a convenience store on TV and a gift shop at Universal.

Park designers worked with the show's creators and writers to build a richly detailed environment where visitors can spend hours eating and snapping selfies in front of a statue of Chief Wiggum and his police car.

The goal: to make people feel like they were stepping into the cartoon.

"We call it 'authentic fiction,' " said Ric Florell, Universal's senior vice-president and general manager of resort revenue operations.

'There's a lot of food in the TV episodes. We had to decide, what's iconic?'

-- Ric Florell, Universal's senior vice-president and general manager of resort revenue operations

While most of the details in Springfield mirror the TV show, there are a few tweaked concepts.

Take the Twirl 'n' Hurl, for instance. It's based on the two aliens on the show, and riders experience a spinning saucer movement while different Simpsons characters crack jokes. It's a pretty-calm ride, appropriate for all but the smallest of children.

"There's been no actual hurling, yet," laughed Mike West, executive producer at Universal Creative.

There's also a new kiosk where visitors can have their photo taken on a replica of the Simpsons' family sofa.

And while the bold colours, funny signs in the queue of the Twirl 'n' Hurl, and brash Krusty the Clown character meet-and-greets are fun, the most impressive part is the food. Universal executives said food is almost another character in the show, and it was a natural to showcase that while telling the Simpsons story in the park.

"There's a lot of food in the TV episodes," said Florell. "We had to decide, what's iconic?"

Steven Jayson, executive chef at Universal Parks and Resorts, said it took the better part of a year to create 28 new dishes for the area. All of the menu items can only be found in Springfield, and everything is made from scratch in Universal's kitchens, he added.

Not unexpectedly, given Homer Simpson's diet on the show, health consciousness hasn't exactly arrived in Springfield (although there is a nod to Lisa Simpson's love of salads in Lisa's Teahouse of Horror, a self-serve area where folks can grab hummus, greens and pretzels). The food is mostly concentrated in one building, called Fast Food Boulevard, and the mall-like storefronts are based on restaurants from the show.

There's the Krusty Burger, named after the cigar-smoking clown. It's a basic burger, save for the "special sauce" and gooey cheese. For a larger burger, there's the Clogger Burger, which involves two patties and bacon. Or a self-explanatory Chicken and Waffle Sandwich.

Bumblebee Man's Taco Truck is new, and sells an unexpected option: Korean beef tacos.

All of the food is either named after something on the show or something that Bart Simpson could conceivably say in a snarky tone: Chicken Thumbs. Heat Lamp Dog. Meat Liker's Pizza.

One of Homer Simpson's favourite things -- doughnuts -- are available in two sizes: regular and huge. A kiosk called Lard Lad Donuts (and several other places within Springfield) sells the supersize, pink-frosted doughnuts in boxes. People sometimes use them as birthday cakes, Universal executives say.

Visitors of all ages can quaff a non-alcoholic treat called a Flaming Moe, which is a citrus-vanilla tasting concoction that bubbles and smokes.

But one of the most popular offerings is the beer.

Duff Beer, the mainstay of Homer Simpson's diet, can be found at two locations in the middle of Springfield. One is the Duff Gardens outdoor bar, which overlooks a lagoon and what will eventually be Diagon Alley, part of an upcoming Harry Potter expansion.

The other is Moe's Tavern, a popular spot for photos.

There are three kinds of Duff Beer -- Duff, Duff Light and Duff Dry (which is a dark beer) -- all brewed locally.

On a recent day, visitors were lined up at Moe's Tavern and Duff Gardens at 11 a.m., waiting for both to open so they could taste the suds.

As Homer once said on the show, "Ah, good ol' trustworthy beer. My love for you will never die."

 

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 7, 2013 B9

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