Universal Orlando Resort recently announced the addition of eight new dining venues to its popular shopping and dining district, CityWalk. The project includes restaurants making their debut in the Orlando area, expansion of pre-existing restaurants, inclusion of popular national chains, and unfortunately the closure of Latin Quarter, a Latin restaurant that already resides within CityWalk.
Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley Update
Before unveiling details on the new additions to CityWalk, Universal Orlando teased media with a small update on the expansion of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Islands of Adventure already plays host to Hogsmeade, the village that is prominently featured in the Harry Potter series. The Wizarding World has proven to be incredibly popular with Universal Orlando guests, so an expansion seems like the natural next step for the resort. The Harry Potter franchise consists of seven books and eight films providing Universal plenty of material from which to draw from to recreate the world of Potter.
The expansion will center on Diagon Alley, a hidden street in the magical world that is not accessible by Muggles (non-magical people for the Potter uninitiated). In the books and films, Diagon Alley is hidden behind London. Universal is looking to create its own version of London within the Universal Studios theme park and hide Diagon Alley behind it. In the Harry Potter series a train called the Hogwarts Express transports wizarding children from London to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Universal Orlando will have their own Hogwarts Express transport guests across the two theme parks thus providing a seamless transition between Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure and Diagon Alley at Universal Studios.
The only additional detail that Universal was willing to provide about Diagon Alley is that it will feature The Leaky Cauldron, the pub that serves as a backdrop for a number of important plot points in the Harry Potter saga. The creative team behind the Harry Potter expansion spoke of their intent to fully realize the pub with an attention to detail that goes beyond what the film series could show. The presentation on Harry Potter drew a lot of questions from the audience demonstrating the level of interest in the project. However Universal remained tight-lipped including on the logistics of guests riding the Hogswarts Express who may only have single park tickets.
Universal also spoke of its first ever moderate/value resort, Cabana Bay Beach Resort, a 1960′s style hotel that features 900 suites and plenty of amenities including a lazy river. Cabana Bay Beach Resort is in response to guest feedback about the need for a more moderately priced resort to complement the existing deluxe resorts in Universal Orlando.
Universal Orlando CityWalk Expansion
The focus of the recent announcement, though, was the addition of eight venues to CityWalk, which Universal deemed as the largest expansion in the history of the shopping and dining district. CityWalk will now have a flagship shopping super store appropriately titled Universal Studios Store. Starbucks, which already has a presence at CityWalk, will relocate and double in size in the process. Guests looking for some dessert will now have Cold Stone Creamery and Menchies as available options for ice cream and frozen yogurt respectively. Those longing for the addition of new eateries that don’t already exist in Orlando will be pleased to learn that several will be making their debut in this CityWalk expansion. Pranzo Italian Kitchen will feature authentic Italian cuisine in an open kitchen setting. Bread Box Handcrafted Sandwiches provides sandwiches from scratch reminiscent of your favorite deli shop. Hot Dog Hall of Fame promises to deliver the best hot dogs, sausages, and french fries; a perfect combination for those picky eaters in your family. Antojitos will look to reimagine the streets of Mexico City and unfortunately it appears at the expense of Latin Quarter, a current favorite of mine.
***Note from editor, Melanie Edwards: Though the Central Florida Hispanic population is largely of Caribbean descent and Latin Quarter catered to many palettes by serving a variety of Latin American dishes from many countries, it will be replaced by Antojitos, a Mexican restaurant serving only traditional Mexican cuisine. When asked about the change and decision to close one for the other, despite the seeming popularity of the restaurant and nighttime destination, Universal Orlando spokesperson Tom Schroder stated, “Our goal is to always offer our guests the most current, most sought-after foods and environments we can create. Mexican is an incredibly popular food category and we believe a new, authentic, Mexican restaurant will be great for Universal CityWalk and our guests.” It’s too bad, however, that Universal CityWalk guests will be missing out on the diversity of Latin American food that exists and will only be exposed to Mexican cuisine rather than the full array of Latin dishes that Latin Quarter provided.***
The most unique offering of the new Universal CityWalk venues has to be The Cowfish, an aptly named burger/sushi fusion restaurant that originated in North Carolina. The addition of a location in CityWalk seemed to really energize the team behind The Cowfish who boasted about their special menu that includes burgushi. If you’re afraid that such a distinctive dining venue would not appeal to your kids, I was assured by the representatives from The Cowfish that their menu does in fact feature a kid’s menu.
Lastly, this bring us to Red Oven Pizza Bakery, the only venue that is actually already open. Red Oven Pizza Bakery has an assortment of Neopolitan-style pizzas baked in a 900-degree stone-lined oven. Spinach pizza and margherita pizza were among the samples that I tried and I don’t believe pizza lovers will be disappointed with these artisan pizzas. Red Oven Pizza Bakery has an outdoor patio where guests can enjoy the wonderful Orlando climate.
Universal Orlando Resort clearly has high ambitions about these multiple expansion projects. The addition of several dining venues, a shopping super store, and a 1960′s style value resort will provide guests numerous options when they visit Universal Orlando Resort. However the big draw is of course the expansion of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Unfortunately Diagon Alley and the rest of the expansion projects — minus Red Oven Pizza Bakery — will not open until sometime in 2014. Until then we will just have to wait and see how one can create something called burgushi!
Which part of the planned Universal Orlando Resort expansion interests you the most?