My Recent Back To The Future Experience At Universal Orlando Reminded Me Why Non-Ride Attractions Are Still Important

 Christopher Lloyd as Doc Brown in Back to the Future.
Christopher Lloyd as Doc Brown in Back to the Future.

I don’t know about anyone else, but when I was a kid, going to shows at the theme parks wasn’t exactly a priority. As far as I was concerned, that was a waste of perfectly good ride time, especially when growing up as a fan of roller coasters meant that I could be spending that time in line waiting to ride.

However, as I became an adult, I started to appreciate non-ride attractions even more. So much so that by the time I took my recent trip to Universal Orlando Resort, I was primed for a Back to the Future-related moment that blew me away. I’d like to share that moment with you all, plus another magical theme park moment I experienced during that same visit, that reminded me of just why character and show attractions are still important to the ecosystem we call theme parks.

Christopher Lloyd as younger Doc Brown in Back to the Future
Christopher Lloyd as younger Doc Brown in Back to the Future

How I Met Doc Brown At Universal Studios Florida

Despite the fact that my beloved Back to the Future: The Ride closed down to make way for The Simpsons Ride, there’s actually still some remnants of that attraction present at Universal Studios Florida. The more constant pieces are a replica DeLorean time machine and the actual screen-used locomotive Doc Brown himself was pictured piloting at the end of Back to the Future: Part III.

But if you’re as lucky as I was and you time your visit to the upcoming DreamWorks Land section of the park just right, you might see Doc Brown himself walking into the park. As I had just gotten off of the E.T. Adventure at the time, I was feeling that classic Universal magic I remembered from my previous visit, as well as countless years of advertising.

While it's not a photo in front of the clock tower, the resulting selfie from this moment is still something of which I'm extremely proud.

A selfie with a Doc Brown performer at Universal Studios Florida.
A selfie with a Doc Brown performer at Universal Studios Florida.

Also, as the resident time travel expert here at CinemaBlend, the opportunity to talk to Doc about how Back to the Future’s time travel works was too good to pass up. And sure enough, after exchanging kind words, I told him I’d see him him in the future. To which he replied, “Or the past. You never know how time travel works.”

As if that wasn't enough proof costumed performers are awesome, this is the same day I saw a Beetlejuice performer chatting up passers by. He even made sure they got the right shot of him with their phones as he walked down the street. We may not be dealing with hugs here, but Universal Studios Florida's character moments are just as energizing.

The Grinch at Universal Studios Hollywood
The Grinch at Universal Studios Hollywood

The Importance Of Proper Theme Park Character Encounters

Whoever was playing the part of Doc Brown on that February day at Universal Studios Florida deserves one hell of a raise, as far as I’m concerned. I know it’s easy to dismiss character encounters as a grown theme park enthusiast who doesn’t have children, because again, ride time is king. But I saw a character I knew from my fandom, decided to chat with them and walked away feeling like I actually met Doctor Emmett L. Brown.

Proper character work like this makes Universal Studios Florida, or any other theme park, all the more fun to enjoy. Selling the atmosphere of the parks to a tee, performers who really know how to get into character can make walking through the park, or even heading to a designated character encounter spot for meet-ups with The Minions or various Transformers, a worthwhile stop. And anyone who's spent a day in the parks knows that any bit of joy will do, in the midst of queuing and bustling around the lot.

While my encounter with Doc Brown didn’t invoke the Disney hug rule, a firm handshake from Hill Valley’s own scientific genius was enough for me to go home happy. You don’t get to shake hands with the inventor of the Flux Capacitor every day, and this was a beautiful reminder of what that sort of moment can for us grown-ups who still believe in imagination.

Two very joyful dancers perform in front of other dancers in the background in ¡Vamos-Bailalo.
Two very joyful dancers perform in front of other dancers in the background in ¡Vamos-Bailalo.

My Experience Dancing In Universal Orlando’s ¡Vamos! – Báilalo

Hanging around with Doc Brown wasn’t the only non-ride experience that blew me away during my Universal Orlando Resort experience. As I’d mentioned earlier, another point of the theme park experience I’ve previously debated over are the usual assortment of street shows and parades present. When it came to the latter, my first Universal Mardi Gras experience reacquainted me with what parades do to liven up a park experience.

However, it was the show entitled ¡Vamos! – Báilalo that brought me back to looking forward to checking out more of those sorts of offerings on my next trip to Universal or any major theme park. Billed as “a high-energy Latin dance experience with a classic look and modern musical flair,” this show set on the New York section of the Universal Studios Florida park has dancers that not only have moves, they’re also keen to bring parkgoers in on the fun as well.

To better sell what I’m talking about here, check out the video below:

Now I’m an ok dancer, though to be fair, my wife always seems to think I’m underselling my abilities to casually display rhythm. None of that mattered during ¡Vamos! – Báilalo, as a very friendly dancer helped me remember just how to do the Electric Slide. By the time that part of the show was over, I walked away grinning and thankful that I’d taken the chance to join in on the fun.

The Blues Brothers posing on their cop car on a street in Universal Studios Florida.
The Blues Brothers posing on their cop car on a street in Universal Studios Florida.

Why Show Attractions Are Just As Vital As Rides

I get that not all show attractions at a park like Universal Studios Florida are going to be interactive. I actually caught the tail end of a Blues Brothers performance after getting off of Revenge of The Mummy that same day I took part in ¡Vamos! – Báilalo, and made a mental note to check that out on my next visit.

While shows may not seem like the main attraction of a theme park, the right performances can still make for magical memories. Seeing these sorts of shows playing out reminded me of the summers I’d spend at Six Flags Great Adventure, which almost always required me to see the Lethal Weapon or Batman Stunt Spectaculars before leaving the park. That's something I was very much reminded of when I saw The Bourne Stuntacular, which is yet another innovative show that helps break the day up in novel fashion.

The performances I saw at Universal Studios Florida were absolutely dynamite. And while I’d love for Universal to randomly announce a new stunt show based off of The Mummy, I’d honestly be happy to track down these experiences once again. Adding to the ambiance of the park, and helping those rests between rides fly by, show attractions are as much of a stand out as the thrill-inducing rides scattered throughout the park.

An actor walking across Tej's war room set at Fast and Furious - Supercharged.
An actor walking across Tej's war room set at Fast and Furious - Supercharged.

How Show Experience Could Even Improve Ride Queues

It’s no secret that many people share my viewpoint when it comes to Fast and Furious: Supercharged. One of my least favorite entries in my Universal Studios Florida ride ranking, it’s an attraction that gets dumped on, and with some pretty good reasons. However, thanks to the performances of two park-employed actors, I’m convinced that Universal needs to build more show experiences into the ride queues.

While waiting to board the “party bus” that’s supposed to take you to Dom and his crew, you enter two separate briefing rooms. I presume the actors stationed in these rooms rotate and are given pretty free reign to improv, so long as it’s family-friendly and matches the pre-recorded videos.

Between the try-hard character who was attempting to get invited to the party Dom’s family was throwing, and the wannabe influencer who was barely helping brief our crew on how to avoid Owen Shaw’s thugs, I had some healthy laughs. Which only prompted me to compliment the latter performer on the way to the ride, as her act was seriously funny.

Now imagine that sort of experience in a longer queue line. Yes, I know that’s why they have pre-recorded videos, and a lot of attractions stand by them. But if there’s anything other rides could use as a lesson on what Fast and Furious: Supercharged does right, it’s this. That, and it beats waiting to get tired of Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard arguing over how good of an idea a roller coaster built in a raptor paddock really is. Not that I’ve gotten sick of that video myself, but I’m sure there’s non-Jurassic Universe fans who have. You can’t say I don’t look out for people.

While ride experiences still rule the roost at major theme parks, my Universal Studios Florida trip gently reminded me of just why actual human entertainment is so vital to such a trip. Helping to sell the illusion of being whisked away to another world, they are beautiful distractions for people who don’t like rides, or those who want to grab some air between death defying experiences.

So keep this all in mind the next time you show up to a major theme park. For all you know, you'll be making a costumed character's day by showing your enthusiasm, and it might just make a good day into a great one.