18th March 2011 was the first anniversary of Universal Studios Singapore’s public opening. A year ago, the park was perfect as there was theme park magic – courteous crew members, proactive and sincere guest relations, exciting new ride equipment and a park that looked so new and clean, it actually sparkled.
Probably no one remembered that the park is a year old. I only realized it when I was at the park and took one of the park programme leaflets. It is disappointing that the park chose not to commemorate this major milestone – Almost every major park has done up something, from just a simple show at night to a full-blown campaign (just look at Tokyo DisneySea’s First Anniversary) that not just made the park visually different, but also pampered their guests with clever new programmes as the park celebrated the special moment – as we all know (or at least Disney Parks does), theme parks are all about special moments.
Yes, it can be argued that the park has not had its grand opening, so it is still “Day Zero”. However, it is embarrassing to acknowledge that the park has actually operated under the guise of a “soft opening” phase without a sound plan to move on. Maintenance is a worrying matter – Some attractions are in desperate need of rehab to fix broken props and damaged queue zones. Breakdowns are still occurring (although less often) at the problematic rides.
So what has been changed from March last year?
Hollywood Street stage (Next to Mel’s Diner)
– ‘Kowabunga Kove’ show replaced by ‘Daddy-O’s’ and ‘Mel’s Dinettes’
Sci-Fi City stage
– ‘On Location with Sci-Fly’ show trial-tested and scrapped
– ‘Dance with Captain Starbucks’ show trial-tested but unsure what happened.
Jurassic Park Rapids Adventure
– Outdoor Queue area removed
– Indoor queue area remodeled, new vending machine (selling Ponchos) zone
– ‘Dinosaur Proximity Alarm’ flashing beacon located at the centre of boats completely removed – it never seemed to be reliable.
– Ride is more reliable than last year; at least it doesn’t go offline for an entire day now.
Revenge of The Mummy
– Queue switches broken
– Still missing elements at Treasure Hall scene
– More effects at “Gravity Zone/The Arena”
– The Book of The Living prop no longer functions properly, replaced with flashing pedestal effect
Shrek 4D Adventure
– Pre-show changes
– New projection effect in queue area added in late 2010
– Ride restraints modified from the “netting” sort to more robust design.
Lights, Camera, Action!
– Queue Decor added to the otherwise “concrete and steel” queue area
– Falling ceiling truss effect, broken in April 2010, was finally repaired in late 2010
– Flashy signboard at entrance
Pantages Hollywood Theatre : Monster Rock!
– Some costume and script changes
– Extended sheltered areas at entrances
– Huge warning signs added at entrances
– Pre-show video changes (sadly, breaks the fourth wall)
– Fog pit operating sporadically
– Movie Nights programme: Short season mid last year, discontinued.
– Special events for Superstar Annual Passholders, somewhat discontinued.
– Halloween Horror Nights (replaced with two nights of “Netherworld” event)
– RWS Fans Day Out – A nice gesture by RWS where large group of fans (including myself) interacted with the energetic and hopeful New Media team. Sadly, it seems like this effort somewhat died after the new year.
– New Year Eve’s Party (that Annual Passholders weren’t even invited)
– Battlestar Galactica Annual Passholders Nights
Other Park Changes
– Park Operation Hours (9am-6pm to 10am-7pm. Park hours extended during holiday season – till 9pm)
– Park maximum attendance increased from 3,000 to 12,000 guests. Will be increased to 18,000 guests eventually.
– Universal Globe no longer spinning as of October 2010
– Hollywood After Hours becoming regular event, then scrapped, then brought back again
– Sheltered walkways added at some essential areas
– Reflooring of some walking areas
– Information signs, showing attraction wait-times and show timings added at Hollywood, Sci-Fi City and Far Far Away
– Special announcement for extended park hours (very Disney, but it’s a nice touch)
What SHOULD have changed:
– Removal of “Coming Soon” attractions from park map, especially when there is no definite timeline apart from vague “by Mid-2011” sort of statements -which, I should probably remind you here, had been constantly delayed when they failed to meet deadlines. Attractions like Madagascar – The Crate Adventure and Stage 28 have been “Coming Soon” since a year ago. The shocking thing is, Stage 28 is NOT even stated as “Coming Soon”, neither is this reflected on the status boards at the park gate.
– A more robust and standardized wait-time system. Some attractions use the LED boards, some use laminated pieces of paper stuck over the LED boards (???) with Blu-Tack. Why the discrepancy? The information boards scattered around the park display the incorrect timings based on the LED boards.
– The park’s style of public and guest relations. I am not expecting Disney-level standard, but please do take a leaf out of their book from time to time. They have rides coming out this Summer, but instead of hiding behind the curtain, Disney has regularly released updates to keep their guests informed of what to expect. Lately there has been a lot of “behind the scenes” features to further engage their guests. Actually, before the resort opened, RWS did quite a nice bit of work with this aspect, drumming up quite a large amount of hype, I’m puzzled as to why the good effort fell apart after the park opened.
– Some foresight when it comes to park events. Nobody plans their holidays a week (or 2 days) in advance. Almost every major park out there has released their schedule for 2011.
– Revision for the prices of annual passes. $1098 is a lot to pay for all-year access, although the unlimited “Universal Express” perk makes up for it. Personally, I feel that there should be more price tiers, and overall the passes should priced similar to those in Hong Kong Disneyland.
It is unfair to say that the park hasn’t improved after operating for a year – because there are several positive improvements. The crew members are now very experienced and I have seen them handle problematic situations (guests attempting to abuse/cheat Single Rider lines or displaying dangerous/rude behaviour etc) professionally. The staff in the park are very courteous and welcoming. The newly constructed sheltered areas are really useful for tired families to rest under, in this sunny and hot park, especially during crowded days. There is now a greater variety of merchandise available (although their tie-up with the attractions are not exactly strong). And yes, the attractions are breaking down less often (it still happens, but it’s completely expected at any other major park).
But… how long more would this soft opening phase last? I mean, how much more can the park change?
There were hints last year that soft opening was not meant to drag on for months. Look at the website and you will notice how soft opening is mentioned as “weeks” (not months, or years). Here’s a snippet of the ticketing information released last year before the park opened:
For Guests who purchase their Fun Pass during the soft opening period (18 March till 1 April), they will be given the opportunity to visit the park ONE (1) time prior to 5 April, at which time their annual membership will begin.
In their FAQs, they did mention that there is no definite end to this phase.
How long will this soft opening period last?
The soft opening period allows our team members to make technical and creative adjustments in the park to improve the customer (“Guest”) experience. The park soft opening phase will end when we are satisfied that the park is ready.
What does it mean by “the park is ready”? When all the attractions are ready? Look at the American parks: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter expansion for Universal’s Islands of Adventure park soft-opened for handful of weeks (it’s an expansion after all) but Islands of Adventure itself soft-opened for just 2 months back in 1999.
Is this a cause for concern? Yes. There seems to be a lack of long-term plans – the park is enjoying its success on a large number of “theme park virgins”. The park operators don’t even seem excited enough to organise seasonal events, apart from extending park hours and adding a night pyrotechnics show – in short, the park has become VERY passive/reactive. Take the Chinese New Year season for example. The park was open till 9pm during weekdays, but it was empty. Why? Apart from the same pyrotechnics show and taking the rides at night, there isn’t anything special to rationalise staying back late.
Once the “theme park virgins” have visited the park, it’s ‘been there done that’ and they have no reason to return unless there is something new – which has created a rumour on the internet that the park is intentionally slowing down construction and delaying rides in order to have new offerings (that were supposed to be available from the beginning) to keep its visitors returning. I love the park but not so much on the management and overall effort for maintenance. I do want it to bounce back to its early (March 2010) days.
How do the park’s fans (regulars, annual passholders) feel? Just take a look at Greg’s blog: