June 14, 2024, 12:33 AM ·

Universal Studios Florida today officially opens its new DreamWorks Land. It’s a retheme of the former Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone with new experiences featuring three popular DreamWorks franchises, plus cameo appearances by two others.Despite being themed to IP with strong multi-generational appeal, this is not a land filled with all-ages attractions. It’s a playground, designed for children. So let’s judge it as such. The best theme park playgrounds offer plenty of small opportunities for self-directed play, rather than a collection of queued attractions with long waits. That might make it look insignificant or even boring to adults, but grown-ups are not the intended audience here.

I visited the new land during its media preview yesterday, and found that DreamWorks Land delivers not just several active play areas, but also abundant character meets, a couple of shows, and one rethemed roller coaster that’s designed for the kids. The first thing that families will see in the new land is one of those franchise cameos – Gabby’s Dollhouse. Coming from the creators of Blue’s Clues, this Netflix series by DreamWorks Animation might not be as well known to Gen Z and Millennial audiences as the other three franchises in the land. But the young kids this play area is designed for will know it and might demand to line up for a photo here before seeing anything else in the land. Prepare yourself.Shrek ZoneIf you get past Gabby, the first zone in DreamWorks Land is Shrek. Start at his cottage, where you can meet the big green ogre, Princess Fiona, and Donkey.Look down and notice the detail in the pavement in this zone, where you can see larger ogre footprints as well as donkey hoof prints set in the ground.The zone also includes a small splash pad for small visitors.Another interaction here is King Harold’s Swamp Symphony, which allows you to control a frog choir by stepping on the lily pad associated with each frog.Behind that lies another interaction, Mama Luna’s, where we found Kitty Softpaws playing with the call-and-response video display.There’a also a large play structure in the zone, Shrek’s Swamp for Little Ogres, which includes an interaction with Pinocchio as well as Shrek’s outhouse slide. (Wait for the sound effect at the end of that slide.) But there’s not much shade up there, which will be an issue in the hot Florida sun most of the year.Trolls ZoneThe second zone in DreamWorks Land belongs to Trolls. Poppy’s Playground offers some welcome shade for toddlers in a soft play area.The biggest attractions in the land is the new show in the old Barney Playhouse theater, DreamWorks Imagination Celebration. This is the one attraction in the land that’s aimed at adults as well as the kids, with a storyline about growing up and losing your imagination. It’s also where we get that second IP cameo, as King Julien from Madagascar crashes the show at the end to lead us in his theme song.

This zone also features the land’s one ride. The former Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster has become Trolls Trollercoaster in DreamWorks Land. It’s the same Vekoma Junior Coster as before – an excellent first coaster for young fans.Kung Fu Panda ZoneThe final zone in DreamWorks Land is Po’s Kung Fu Training Camp.This is where guests will find the Turtle Talk-style Po Live! digital interaction, which I imagine will be much better when the Dragon Warrior has some lively kids to interact with, as opposed to a bunch of jaded media people like, well, us yesterday.I do want to commend Universal for placing this show in a covered area, equipped with fans to keep cooler air moving. Along with the indoor, air-conditioned Imagination Celebration show, Universal is providing relatively comfortable environments for fresh family entertainment, as opposed to the broiler that Walt Disney World created for its new Encanto show.Also helping to cool off kids this summer, Po’s Kung Fu Training Camp also includes many heat-beating wet play elements, just like the old Curious George play area did in this space. And speaking of curious, in case you were wondering, the E.T. Adventure officially is not part of this land and now has a new marquee just next to the entrance to DreamWorks Land. Universal Orlando needs a strong, well-themed play area for the many families with young children who visit the resort. This transformation better serves today’s kids, as the old Woody Woodpecker theme best served kids who are now becoming grandparents themselves.Yes, I would love to see Universal create an all-ages, attraction-filled DreamWorks-themed land in the United States. But we are getting one in How to Train Your Dragon: Isle of Berk at Epic Universe next year. And in the meantime, even though Universal has closed its old Madagascar land at Universal Studios Singapore, its delightful Shrek land – Far, Far Away – remains, as does a licensed Shrek land at Motiongate Dubai.But, for now, here, let the kids enjoy this new DreamWorks Land.* * *
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