Universal Orlando’s New DreamWorks Land Is A Perfect Example Of How To Update A Theme Park Land

 DreamWorks Land sign at Universal Studios Florida.
Credit: Dirk Libbey

In the theme park world, it seems that bigger must always be better. When it comes to new attractions, you’re far more likely to see a location build a new top-of-the-line roller coaster than build a brand-new flying carousel. And yet, any good theme park needs both things, and Universal Orlando Resort clearly understands this.

For the last few years, Universal Islands of Adventure has been making its name in the thrill-ride world by building not one, but two of the best Universal rides, both thrilling roller coasters. First, we got the excellent Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, then we got the thrilling Jurassic World Velocicoaster. They are incredible attractions, but not every guest who visits the park can ride them.

But now Universal is investing on the other side of the theme park guest spectrum. They're building an entire Universal Kids Resort dedicated to families and small children, but at the flagship resort, we now have the kid-friendly DreamWorks Land. It may all be "for kids" but that doesn't mean it wasn't taken seriously.

Family meeting Shrek, Fiona and Donkey in DreamWorks Land
Family meeting Shrek, Fiona and Donkey in DreamWorks Land

DreamWorks Land Brings Shrek, Trolls, And Kung Fu Panda To Life In Fun And New Ways

DreamWorks Land is divided into three different areas, dedicated to Shrek, Trolls and Kung Fu Panda. Each one has attractions, snacks and meet-and-greet opportunities with characters, but what sets the new land apart are the additional activities that are available for kids to do.

Most will likely gravitate toward the Trollercoaster, the most traditional theme park attraction in the land. It's the only "ride" in the land, as a matter of fact. It’s a simple “kiddie coaster” but one that will certainly be a first roller coaster for a lot who ride, it, preparing them for years of fun to come.

You’ll be able to meet and get photos with numerous characters, like Shrek, Fiona, Puss in Boots, numerous Trolls, and Gabby from Gabby’s Dollhouse. The interactive talking Donkey is also back, likely getting ready to be the star of several viral social media videos.

The most interesting character encounter, however, is Po from Kung Fu Panda, as his experience is done with technology, not a costume. He appears on a screen, but can fully interact with the audience to teach guests Kung Fu. Those who have experienced Turtle Talk with Crush at Disney Parks will know the technology involved, but rather than only sitting and interacting with the character, the focus here is on getting up and moving.

Kids jumping around on King Harold's Swamp Symphony at DreamWorks Land
Kids jumping around on King Harold's Swamp Symphony at DreamWorks Land

DreamWorks Land Is A Kinetic Experience

In fact, getting up and moving is a big part of what DreamWorks Land is all about. There are no less than three water play areas in the land, including one that has the potential to absolutely soak everybody as it dumps a large quantity of water on a main walkway every few minutes.

There’s a full Shrek playground full of slides to go down and ropes to climb up. Trolls also has a small play area designed for the toddler set. A lot of kids just need a place to run around, or at least a place where parents can let them do so so that the parents can get a break.

DreamWorks Land also has some other cool interactive attractions. King Harold’s Swamp Symphony lets kids jump around on pressure pads on the ground that look like lily pads to make animatronic frogs croak. Mama Luna’s Feline Fiesta recreates a digital version of the home for orphan cats from Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, and gives kids a series of buttons, knobs and levers to interact with to cause various effects.

Finally, you have the DreamWorks Imagination Celebration. The 20-minute indoor stage show uses costumed characters music, and screens to recreate elements from Shrek, Trolls and Kung Fu Panda, with a brief Madagascar cameo as well. It’s basically the DreamWorks “jukebox musical” as the focus is the pop songs that are featured in the various films. Like most jukebox musicals, the story is a barebones excuse to sing the songs, but it’s hard to get mad about it. It’s cute, the performers sell it, and it does have some solid puppetry behind Donkey and his girlfriend The Dragon that is worth seeing.

Family eating Trolls Treats ice cream at DreamWorks Land
Family eating Trolls Treats ice cream at DreamWorks Land

DreamWorks Land Food Is Solid If You Need A Bite

Food is a key part of any theme park experience and DreamWorks Land has its share. The food on offer in the land won’t be much of a meal, but it will sustain you until you get to something more significant.

A great deal has been made of the Shrekzel, a large soft pretzel that is, purportedly, a recreation of Shrek’s face. Honestly, the brown face and the blank expression remind me more of something out of Texas Chainsaw Massacre than Shrek, but if you’re a fan of soft pretzels, you could do worse. The green cheese sauce at least makes this one fun to eat.

I was a bigger fan of the Far Far A Waffle. The sweet waffle is stuffed with savory ingredients; in my case, pepperoni pizza. I liked this one, if only because it was the easiest and cleanest way to eat pizza while walking around a theme park this side of a Cozy Cone.

I was also impressed by the Trolls Treats stand. I’m not usually a fan of soft serve ice cream, I prefer standard ice cream, but considering the two flavors available were huckleberry and lemonade, I was at least curious. The BroZone berry was quite tasty.

Branch character waving during DreamWorks Imagination Celebration at DreamWorks land
Branch character waving during DreamWorks Imagination Celebration at DreamWorks land

Universal Studios Florida’s DreamWorks Land Is A Modern And Welcome Update

Almost every theme park has some sort of area with rides specifically designed for younger kids. The biggest problem with them in my experience, however, is that most of them are old and unconsidered. The rides are there, but they don’t hold up against the modern “E-Ticket” experiences that are geared toward older guests. Kids shouldn't get ignored just because they're kids.

Most of what exists in DreamWorks Land isn't new. Much of it was here before as part of the Woody Woodpecker's KidZone, which previously occupied the space, but all that lacked cohesion. It was just "kid's rides" that had been put in a corner of the park you might not even see if you weren't looking for it. It's clear that Universal Creative took a new, modern look at the space. The attractions may be the same, but they're also better.

It’s not until you see a land like this that you realize that you haven’t seen anything quite like it before. While we might see individual attractions in a kids’ area replaced with something new and groundbreaking, that usually happens very slowly. That assumes that attractions for the youngest guests are even being considered.

Disney California Adventure’s newest land, Avengers Campus, replaced A Bug’s Land. The previous land was an area designed for kids and had several small attractions. Only one of the rides was saved and moved elsewhere in the park, so the number of experiences small kids could even do in that park dropped significantly.

Theme parks are for everybody, but that also includes the youngest children. A lot of the advancements in recent years have been focused on older guests. That’s not that surprising, as they’re the ones with the money, so any theme park wants to make sure it caters to them. But the reason so many adults love theme parks is because they were once kids who fell in love with theme parks.

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