Universal Orlando Theme Parks Reopening Preview

It’s been a few months since the last time we walked through the Universal Orlando Theme Parks, but that has all started to change.  On June 5th, 2020 the Universal Parks was reopening with some new procedures and guidelines.  However, I was able to get a preview the day before to check out the parks and see if anything has changed.  Plus I wanted to visit all the pressed penny machines.

For this preview, I had to go online about a week before and try to secure a reservation and then had to choose a specific entry time into the parks.  I believe this was their way of trying to spread out the guest entry so everyone wasn’t there all at once.  My entry time was 10am, and once I had parked by in the garage around 9:00am there was no wait to have my temperature checked, and little to no line through the security checkpoint.  Before I knew it I was back in CityWalk and decided to visit Islands of Adventure first.

Unfortunately, the weather throughout the day was pretty crappy.  It rained most of the day, and the humidity was pretty high.  But being back in the park I wasn’t going to let mother nature ruin my adventure.

First up I do want to say that I was able to visit almost all of the pressed penny machines in both parks.  There were a couple that was in areas no open on this day.  I’m not going to review all the machines here since most of them have not changed and you can check out my previous post on the parks here if you are interested.

Crowd levels were pretty light on this day so I used the opportunity to hop on some attractions I don’t always get to experience.  One of my favorites is the Adventures of Spider-Man ride and I literally walked right on with no wait in the queue.  There was a team member at the end of the queue dispensing hand sanitizer to everyone before you get into the ride vehicle.  I was the only guest in the vehicle and had a nice private experience through the ride.  Afterward, I exited into the gift shop and the two penny machines are still here.

I passed through the rest of Superhero Island and then into Toon Lagoon.  Nothing much going on here.  Most of the machines were still available, but the Betty Boop store was not open for some reason so that machine could not be accessed.

Did I mention low crowds?  As you can see from the above picture there were some areas with absolutely no one around.

The Jurassic Park area was a little busier.  The River Adventure attraction was open, but with the rain, I didn’t feel the need to get even more soaked on that ride so I just passed through.

There were a few new additions since my last visit, like the new entrance to the Raptor Encounter which I thought looked like it was right out of the movies.

Also down near the lagoon in the middle of the park was lots of track for the new Raptor Coaster coming later this year…maybe?!?

Over in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter was were most of the crowd seemed to be, but this was also far from normal levels.

 I had plenty of room to walk around and really was able to enjoy this area of the park.  Even the Butterbeer carts had small lines.

Nearby in the Lost Continent, they had a nice section called a U-Rest Area.  Each park has 2 of these areas for guests to use.  It allows you somewhere to go and remove your mask for a bit of a breather.  You can sit anywhere you like in the area as long as you are socially distancing from other guests.

The last section of this park was Seuss Landing which I always really enjoy.  Probably from my childhood filled with reading all those famous books.

This area was almost completely deserted as I headed through.  Very few people here, and seemed like most were just passing through as they headed back towards the  Harry Potter area.

On my way out of Islands of Adventure, I did stop through the Trading Company and all the pressed penny machines were unchanged but still available for use.

I cut through CityWalk over to Universal Studios and they had a float vehicle out front for some unique photo ops.

Hollywood Boulevard was really empty.  I think back to this area during Halloween Horror Nights and the comparison is just night and day.

I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to ride the E.T. Adventure attraction.  The posted wait time was 20 minutes which is not too bad.  However, the line extended well out into this courtyard due to everyone standing 6 feet apart.  My wait time was closer to 30 minutes in total but had a great ride on this classic attraction.

Springfield from The Simpsons was a little busier.  It did seem that the Duff Brewery bar was quite a happening place.  I guess people were really having withdrawal of Duff beer and needed a refresher.

Over in Diagon Alley, the crowds were noticeably lighter.  This area would normally be packed shoulder to shoulder with people taking pictures and waiting for the Gringotts Dragon to breathe fire.

The longest line back here was for Butterbeer which of course is a necessity when visiting the parks.  I couldn’t turn one down so I hopped in line and waited about 10 minutes for my frothy drink.

Just outside King’s Cross Station was a nice homage to the Jaws attraction which was removed and replaced with Diagon Alley.  Which is a nice segway…

I usually try to check in with Bruce the Shark when I’m in this area.  I still wish they would make him move periodically as that would be fun to watch unsuspecting guests get a little too close.

In past posts, I’ve reviewed the Pressed Penny machine that is near Bruce the Shark.  I’ve even shown how it made a guest appearance in the movie Sharknado 3.  The machine has been untouched for quite a while, but on this visit, I noticed that two of the designs had changed.

Do you notice the two new designs on the marquee pictured above?

If you are a Hello Kitty fan you may notice one right away.  In the Hello Kitty store in the park, I’ve seen this design on some t-shirts and posters, and each time I’ve got to work on my willpower to not buy it.  But it’s so darn cute.  Thankfully now I have a cool pressed penny with the image instead and it only cost me 50 cents.  The second design is also a fun one with Amity Island Jaws listed on it.

In my review of the CityWalk reopening, I mentioned that none of the machines had hand sanitizer dispensers nearby.  But worry not, Universal has you covered if you need by selling little bottles for $3.  I picked one up just to make sure I always had some available and promptly used it after finishing up with the penny machine.

At this time of day all of a sudden the skies opened up and the rain really made itself known.  I got stuck under the cover at Mel’s Drive-In which I then used as an opportunity to get some lunch.  Unfortunately due to the limited capacity inside I had to wait about 45 minutes for a table which then required you to use their Mobile App to place my order which was eventually brought out to my table.

Eventually, the rain held off for a little while so I could try and make my way back towards the entrance/exit of the park.

Before heading out I did stop in at the Universal Studio Store and confirmed all the penny machines were still here.  I quickly cut through the store and headed out the exit, through CityWalk and to my car just before more rain decided to come down.  Well, that’s Florida for you!

Let me go over a few things after this trip.  I did notice the above Stickers were on almost all of the pressed penny machines throughout both parks.  It reviews the Treatment that is being used in the parks and even the machine vendor had a sticker about Health & Saftey precautions.  I was glad to see these show-up and at least acknowledge that the penny machines are high use items that need to be cleaned frequently.

Unlike my visit to CityWalk a couple weeks prior, on this day I did notice on numerous accounts Team Members cleaning the penny machines.  They did not do this after each person used them, but I was happy to see that they were being cleaned at all.  In the past on all my visits to the parks, I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a machine being cleaned so this is definitely a plus.  I’m happy with how my visit went and the low crowds were a definite perk.  How long this will go on for I just don’t know but I think Universal has done a great job so far and just hope they continue to keep it up.

Universal’s Citywalk Reopens during Covid-19

It’s been about two months since we last visited a Theme Park.  The self-quarantine we have been experiencing has gone as well as can be expected, but we do miss our weekend excursions to the parks.  Recently Florida did start Phase 1 of it’s reopening allowing certain restaurants and merchants to open.  Then a surprise announcement was made from Universal Studios that they were going to have a limited opening for Citywalk starting on May 14th.  I was a bit anxious to go and check it out but decided to wait a few days just for them to try and iron out the process before I ventured over there.  This past Saturday I strapped on my mask and headed over to see how they had everything set up and to check on the pressed penny machines.

Currently, Citywalk is only opened from 4pm to 10pm and I headed out around 4 to try and avoid that initial rush of guests entering.  This was probably the only time I was able to go north on I-4 without any traffic and made it to Universal in record time.  Once I got off the highway and towards the parking plaza I noticed that only a few of the lanes were open but no Team Members were there due to Universal stating that parking would be free during this limited opening.

Once inside the parking garage, Team Members were helping to guide you where to park.  Every second parking spot was blocked by a traffic cone to make sure everyone was keeping to the required social distancing guidelines.

There were plenty of signs making sure everyone was aware that the Theme Parks were still closed and only Citywalk was available.

They also had lots of signs around displaying the requirements to enter Citywalk which included having a facial covering on at all times (except when eating or drinking).

Before leaving the parking garage we had to enter a queue for a required temperature screening.  Any guests with a temperature of 100.4 degrees F or higher were not allowed to enter.  It was a simple process, you just waited on the social distancing markers on the group until your turn to be screened and then a Security Team member had a non-invasive temperature scanner that they aimed at your forehead for a few seconds and then allowed you to pass if your temperature was okay.

After that, we were allowed to head down to the Parking Hub for the security screening.  Before I jumped into that line I wanted to visit the pressed penny machines in this area.  This first set of two machines were in the same location with no changes.

The second set of machines in the Hub is just outside the restrooms in between the souvenir stand and express food stand.  No changes to these machines either.

Security was similar to the process before the initial closure.  They have the x-ray machines that will scan your bags and possessions while you walk through a metal detector.  The only difference was the number of Team Members around trying to ensure everyone was keeping 6ft between parties.  After security, I headed down the last part of the walkway towards Citywalk but opted not to use the moving sidewalks as I was sure my hands would automatically try to touch the handrails which I wanted to avoid.

As I walked up to this main entrance area of Citywalk it was immediately apparent that the crowds were very light.  Universal was limiting the overall capacity to Citywalk and later on, during my visit, there were more people around but was still way less than usual.

Just outside the Movie Theater was the next penny machine.  No changes were made to the machine itself or the designs.

Across from the Movie Theater is the Bubba Gump Shrimp restaurant and was one of the few places open to eat inside.  Due to the restaurants having to keep capacity of around 25% that doesn’t allow for many guests to be eating at once.  I had read later on that wait times to get a table exceeded 2 hours.

To visit the pressed penny machine inside the restaurant I was asked to enter through their gift shop which had a separate entrance.  There were no changes to this machine.

I continued walking through Citywalk and you can see the sparse crowd above and people were pretty good at keeping themselves distance from each other.

Nearby was the Universal Store and I was interested to see how the distancing would work inside.  There was a queue set up outside in anticipation of the crowds that would try to get inside.  Since this is a smaller store they did need to pulse people inside.

The pressed penny machine was just inside the doors and was the only machine with a hand sanitizer nearby.  Although to be honest I assume this was not solely for the penny machine for all guests exiting the store.

Everyone was doing a good job with following the rules and all seemed to be keeping their masks on.  I only witness one guest with their mask dangling from one ear and not covering his face but he was quickly approved by Security and asked to put it back on properly.

It was nice to have plenty of space around you as everyone kept their distance.  I headed down towards Margaritaville to see how things were going there.

This restaurant had decided to keep the indoor area closed, and were only seating guests at their outdoor patio or across the walkway at the Lone Palm bar.

I headed inside the gift shop just for a quick visit to check on the 8-design touch screen penny machine and it was still available for use.

Toothsome Chocolate Factory was open for business, but the Hard Rock Cafe was not. Due to this, the crowd levels on that side of the waterway was pretty quiet.

It was nice to see that Universal kept the bridges open towards the theme parks for us gluttons that wanted just a quick glimpse of the parks.  Plus I guess it was needed to access the Toothsome restaurant.  But I just couldn’t help myself and wanted a closer look at the parks.

You could walk right up to the main entrance areas for the Islands of Adventure.  I also noticed that the ground was covered with the social distancing stickers.  At least this area of the park looks like it’s ready for business but I’m sure they still have a lot of work to do inside before they will open again.

It was a beautiful day when I visited but it was obvious that our situations had changed and that visiting these places would be very different moving forward.

Down towards Universal Studios, it was a good time to try and get your picture with the Globe.  Usually, this is a heavy traffic area, and getting a nice photo can be a bit of a challenge but not on this day.

Here was the main entrance arch for Universal Studios.  Again this is another area that is usually crowded with people.  But seeing it with no one around and even catching a glimpse inside the park was a little disheartening.

By this time I was getting a little hungry but didn’t want to wait a long time for a table at one of the restaurants.  Instead, I was hit with a craving for a Voodoo donut and thought it would help take the edge off until I got back home.

Plenty more distancing markers were in the queue for Voodoo.  This line as with most of them I sure, seemed long but moved pretty quickly.

The line did go from the front of the building, pass the NBC Grill, and then back into the hallway near the back exit to the Movie Theater and restrooms.  This is where the next two pressed penny machines were found.  Previously these machines were on the opposite wall, but now that the Voodoo Donut line was set up along that wall they had to move the machines.

Once inside you waited in another small queue before heading to the cashier to place your donut order and pay.  They did prefer you paid with a touchless method like a credit card or ApplePay, but I did see them accepting cash from a few people.

Here was my box of donuts.  Unfortunately, they were not all for me, but I did get quite a selection to bring home to my family.

To the right of the Voodoo Donut shop is a series of ramps and stairs that take you up to the second level food court.  None of these tables were blocked off to encourage the distancing and I suppose they were just leaving it up to the guests to stay at a safe distance if eating up here.

I did grab a table for just a few minutes so I could eat my donut.  In the short period I was up here I don’t believe I saw another person so it’s a pretty deserted area even though a few of the food locations here were open.  This is also where the last penny machine was located, hidden in the back near the Sushi stand.

After my donut was finished I walked across the bridge and down past all the clubs and bars.  None of these were open, and due to the limited operating hours of Citywalk (4pm – 10pm) they are all not currently open at all but I’m sure that will change with as we work our way through the additional Phase openings in the next few weeks.

My overall impression after my visit was optimistic.  I think this was a good starting point, but they do have a ways to go before the parks will open.  On a few occasions, I did find myself defaulting back to my Theme Park ways and not realizing I was inadvertently walking too close to someone, or when browsing in the gift shop there was just so little room in there it was hard to keep a proper distance from other guests. The biggest thing I was surprised with was the actual penny machines.  I would have assumed that hand sanitizer would have been attached to each machine or located right nearby so you could clean your hands before and after using the machine.  But this wasn’t the case.  I did ask a Team Member about the penny machines and was told that they were being cleaned on a more frequent schedule.  However, I was at Citywalk this day for about 2-3 hours and didn’t see a single machine get cleaned.  I have sent an inquiry to Universal about this and am awaiting a response which I’ll post if I hear back from them.  Other than that I took this as a nice sign that things are slowly starting to reopen and can’t wait for the day we can visit the parks again, but only if I feel they will be safe enough to enjoy.  With Citywalk opening in this limited capacity for a while, I’m hoping that Universal will continue to tweak their process and have no doubt they will do everything they can to keep their guests safe.

Updated 05/21/2020: Below is the response to the inquiry I had sent Universal’s Guest Services about their process of keeping the Pressed Penny Machines safe to use.


Hello David,

Thank you for contacting Universal Orlando Resort. I apologize for the delay in response, as we are working diligently to assist every Guest reaching out to us.

We do indeed still have penny press machines. Currently, there is one (1) located in our hub security check area prior to entering CityWalk. While I cannot confirm this surface is wiped down after every single touch, it is wiped down with increased frequency by our Park Services team stationed in the area. There are also hand sanitizer stations located within the area and a restroom to wash hands a few feet away. I hope this has answered your questions. If you have any additional questions or concerns, feel free to reach back out. We look forward to seeing you and your family.

Best Regards,
Guest Communication
Universal Orlando Resort

New Marquee on Spider-Man Penny Machine – Islands of Adventure, Orlando FL

This will be a quick post on something I had meant to write about over a year ago and just kind of forgot about it.  It’s not a new machine, or anything really major but something I thought was kind of interesting.

One of my favorite attractions at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure parks is The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man.  It actually took me years before I finally decided to try it.  It seems that as I’ve gotten older I’m a little more adventurous with rides, and I’m glad I finally tried it because it’s really fantastic.

Once you are done with the ride and just like every other theme park you exit into a gift shop, and if you are a Spider-Man fan this is the place for you.  On a quick side note, if you are not a ride person you can still access the shop from outside, it’s located just to the left of the attraction entrance as seen above.

In this gift shop were two penny machines.  One was a 4-design hand crank model, and the other machine was the newer 8-design digital touch screen version.  When I first used the digital machine was back in 2017.  I had then visited Universal numerous times since then and walked past this machine many times without noticing anything different.  Then in 2018, I was working on a video for our YouTube channel documenting all the machines throughout Universal Orlando and something caught my eye.  The machine cabinet was the same but the marquee at the top was different.

   

The picture above is my attempt at a comparison.  On the left is the picture I took in November 2017, and the one on the right is from July 2018.

The designs were still the same inside the machine, and nothing else really had changed just the marquee.  I know the newer marquee design is how most of the machines are displayed now with all the penny designs right at eye level.  Again this was nothing overly exciting but I thought it was interesting that they had taken the time to change this part of the machine.

Universal Studios / Islands of Adventure New Pressed Pennies 2019-2020

Back in 2019 I had visited the Universal Studios Orlando parks around Easter Weekend and noticed that some of the penny machines had stickers on them notating that some of the designs would be retiring.  You can read about that here to catch up.  Then I waited patiently and checked back at the parks about every two weeks waiting for these new designs to appear and it did take a long time.  The last few final pennies didn’t show up until earlier this year, and I’m finally able to share them all with you.

First up was a machine that used to be found out in one of the parking structures and had the Fantastic Four as designs on the pennies.  Those have been retired and now this machine was relocated to the Universal Store in CityWalk.

I really like this set with some fun designs.  They include a class King Kong, and E.T. images, plus a new Jaws designs, and my favorite is the Back to the Future penny with Doc Brown’s DeLorean License plate “Outatime”.

That was the only change out in CityWalk, so we then headed inside Universal Studios Park first as they only had 2 machines with changes.  Just as we walked inside the park we headed into the Universal Studio Store.

This store has 4 machines in total available, but only one of them had received new penny designs.

With this machine, not all of the designs were replaced.  The Kong design stayed which I thought was a bit strange.  The two new designs are of Astrid from How to Train Your Dragon and Mel from the Secret Life of Pets.

Next, we walked over to the San Francisco area of the park and into the Candy Factory.

This machine always had a fun cabinet and fit in nicely with the “Factory” design inside.

I was pleasantly surprised to find another Back to the Future design here with Marty and Doc together, then there was Max from the Secret Life of Pets, and my Daughters’s favorite Princess Poppy from the Trolls movie (she had me press a few extras for her own collection).

That wrapped up the designs at Universal Studios, although I will note that with the closure of the T2 3D Stunt show and the soon to open Bourne Spectacular set to replace it.  In the gift shop for that attraction, the penny machine was recently removed so I’m crossing my fingers that a new one will return.  Maybe with some Jason Bourne designs.

With Universal Studios done we headed over to the other park Islands of Adventure for quite a few changes.  The first was in the Island Market & Export store.

 

Initially, this machine had a sticker on it stating all three designs were to be retired, but then the sticker was eventually removed with no changes.  As you can see above the designs have been kept the same.  Guess they changed their mind.

The next location was over in Seuss Landing at the Cats, Hats and Things gift shop.

Ok, so this one was a bit strange.  The sticker that was on this machine showed the design on the left side of the marquee with the Cat and the Hat with his fingers intertwined was to be retired.  But you can see above that was not the case, instead, the design on the right of the Cat and the Hat full-body design was removed from this machine and relocated to the Gertrude McFuzz store (see below for that machine).

This machine did receive a new design of Fish in his Bowl.

Now we will skip over to the Gertrude McFuzz store and go over the rest of this Dr. Seuess design changes.

When this machine was updated it was around the Holiday season and this area of the store is used for the Grinch meet and greets so it does get a bit busy and hard to access during that time.

Above is a picture of the two “new” designs at this machine.  The one on the left is just “new to this machine” and was originally in the Cats, Hats and Things store.  The penny on the right of The Lorax is brand new.

Passing through Seuss Landing you arrive in The Lost Continent.  There is a store near the Mythos restaurant called Treasures of Poseidon.

Unfortunately, the machine that was here just inside the doors was completely removed, but…

Shortly after that machine was removed and failed to return I did find a new machine over in the Jurassic Park Discovery Center.  You can read more about it here.

The machine cabinet is different but I had a feeling this may have been the same machine just redesigned for this location.

Continuing through the Jurassic Park area the next set of new pennies was in the Jurassic Outfitters store.  You just need to walk all the way into the back near where the Jurassic Park River Adventure boat ride lets out.  It’s easy to find, just follow all the soaking wet people.

This is another cool cabinet design.  I like how it appears to be carved out of stone which is perfect for the Jurassic themed store.

The new designs here are themed around Jurassic World and include the Movie Logo, Blue the Raptor and the Indominus Rex.

The last few machines are over in Toono Lagoon.  First, we headed into the Betty Boop store.

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with this machine.  I had visited here years ago and the machine broke after I rolled two of the three designs.  Then I made a special trip back a couple years later to get the missing design and the machine was broken.  I eventually found the missing penny on eBay to complete my collection and thankfully haven’t had to use this machine since.  But that all changed when these new designs were released.  Thankfully the machine worked perfectly and I got my new coins without any issue.  The new designs are of Betty winking, and her dog Pudgy.

Across the walkway is the Toon Extra gift shop.  They have lots of Scooby-Doo, Betty Boop, and Popeye merchandise in here along with other cartoon favorites.

I thought he speech bubble on this machine was fun.  “A Penny for your Thoughts.”

All three designs in this machine were replaced.  They are all themed around Popeye and include the Spinach eating man himself, Olive Oyl, and Bluto.

That completed all the new pennies released in Universal Orlando.  In total 20 new pennies were made available and I think most of them were fun new additions.  It is nice to see some of the new Dreamworks animated movie characters getting coins, plus some of the classic franchises like Back to the Future.  Universal does not usually change out their designs as frequently as Disney so this may be it for a while.  But I’ll be sure to visit when I can for any new machines or designs.  Hopefully, they continue with those stickers on the machines, which makes it much easier to know which designs retiring.

Halloween Horror Nights 2019 Token – Universal Studios Florida

Are two years in a row considered a trend?  Well if not I sure hope this continues.  Back in 2018 I visited Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios for the first time as a Florida resident and had an amazing time.  One of the fun finds during the event was a souvenir token I found and you can read about it here.

 

Well here we are one year later and Universal has done it again.  The theme this year is a retro 80’s style.  You can see from the pictures above the one on the left is during the daytime and on the right is after the sun goes down.  They project a Tetris like pattern on the entrance arches.

With our annual passes, we were allowed into the park a little early to wait in designated areas called “Stay and Scream”.  It helps you avoid the massive crowd that will gather in front of the park before the event starts.  It is nice to get a bit of a jump start on the houses/mazes but as you can see from the above they aren’t quite as scary when the sun is still up.  That picture was taken out front of the house themed around the cult classic “House of 1000 Corpses”.

Crowds can get pretty crazy and the wait times for the different houses can fluctuate throughout the night.  They do offer a smartphone app that you can use to monitor the wait times and is a priceless tool when trying to experience as many houses as possible.  They also have screens with the current wait times out in front of each house.  Above was for an original concept house called “Nightingales Blood Pit”.

Some of the scenes inside the houses can get pretty gruesome, but it’s not recommended for younger visitors.  I took the above picture which is about the only picture I had that wasn’t too gory.  This is the exterior of the Nightingales house.  Unfortunately, no photography or videography is allowed inside the houses.

Back in the New York area of the park is an Arcade that is available here year-round.  However this year during Halloween Horror Nights they have converted it into the Palace Arcade which you may recognize if you are a Stranger Things fan (a show on Netflix).

This arcade was also given the 80s makeover and I almost felt like a kid again back in my youth spending countless quarters on video games.

They even swapped out some of the modern video games with retro ones like Rampage, Asteroid and Mrs. Pac-Man.

The only way to play any of these games is to get some of their special tokens.  The machines will not accept quarters for some reason.  But for us coin collectors this is a fun alternative.

There are quite a few of these token machines throughout the arcade and the exchange isn’t quite what it was back in the 80s.  You can 2 tokens for $1 or a bit of a discount if you get a larger quantity.

One side of the token has Halloween Horror Nights 2019, and the reverse has a Palace Arcade logo.  I did get a few of these tokens, this way I could keep a few for my collection and still play some retro games before heading back out for more scares.

Halloween Horror Nights is really an amazing event and I just can’t get enough of it.  The scares are all in fun, but as I mentioned above really not for small children.  I will be going back as many times as I can because the houses and scare zones are just so much fun and the scare actors do a great job.

I’m crossing my fingers that next year will continue this trend of fun souvenir tokens.

Newly Renovated Park Stores at Orlando International Airport

Just a few days ago I had to make a trip over to the Orlando International Airport so I could pick up some family.  Their flight was due in around 7pm and never really knowing how traffic will be on I-4 I left a bit early to make sure I had plenty of time to get there.  But as luck would have it traffic wasn’t too bad so I had quite a bit of time to wander around the airport.  Thankfully I remembered that some of the Theme Park stores in the airport had recently gone through some refurbishments.  Years ago they all used to have penny machines but most have disappeared, and the only one that was available was in the Disney Earport store but that is now closed for renovations. Go figure!

First I stopped by the Seaworld store.  I always liked that Seaworld blue color and it was all over the store.  The stuff here is the same as you will find in the theme park but I’m sure probably has an airport premium on the price.

I did notice that there was an abundance of Sesame Street merch in the store which would be thanks to the new Sesame Street land that opened earlier this year in Seaworld.  As I wandered through the store I kept an eye open for a penny machine but there wasn’t one to be found.

Next up I headed to the recently opened Magic of Disney store.  This was one of two Disney stores in the airport which are at opposite ends of the main terminal building from each other.  I always felt a bit claustrophobic in this store as it was just small, and not very open but that has completely changed now.  It looks like most of the walls were removed and it’s very nice and open.

I really liked this illuminated Mickey head behind the check out area with the castle silhouette.

Lots of pictures from the theme parks inside and the store was split into areas for all the different Disney properties like Star Wars, Pixar, and classic Disney items.

There was a bit of Halloween merch already in here but that’s not too surprised.  They are already hosting Halloween parties in the Magic Kingdom and it’s only September.  Unfortunately, this store didn’t have a penny machine either which I thought at the very least the Earport machine would have been relocated here temporarily.  But that was not the case.

The last store that was open for me to check out was the Universal Orlando store.

Of course, there was a big section of the store dedicated to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  All the different school houses, more wands that you can imagine and plenty of other fun souvenirs to take home.

The rest of the store was a big mashup of their other theme park icons like The Simpsons, Fast and Furious, and Jurassic Park.

Just like the other stores, there was no pressed penny machine.  But something that did catch my eye is this 2019 Universal Coin.  It was encased in this thin acrylic case with a large cardboard mat around it.  The coin itself just had the Universal Studios globe logo surrounded by reels of film.

The back of the coin has more of the film reels and says “The EPIC Adventures at Universal Studios 2019”.  It’s nice that it was dated so I’m assuming it will only be available through the end of the year.  Although to be honest there were a LOT of these in the store.  Did you see the price tag?  $24.99 for this one coin.  I was really interested in picking one of these up but wow that price was a bit steep and even I couldn’t justify spending that amount.  Maybe if I hold out until the end of the year they will be discounted, fingers crossed.

Located near that big coin I did find a basket with some new Universal Pressed Penny booklets.

The price wasn’t too bad at only $8.00.  Plus you do get one pressed penny embedded on the front cover.

It’s just the classic Universal Studios globe logo but still a fun penny to have in your collection.  I didn’t pick this booklet up at the airport as I’m sure they have them back in the parks so I’ll double-check the next time I’m there.

That was about the closest I got to a new pressed penny at the Orlando International Airport.  As I mentioned at the beginning there is one other Disney store called the Earport that is being renovated right now.  It is due to open again in a few months I believe so I’ll be sure to go back and see if the old machine is back or if maybe we can expect some new designs.  Safe travels!!

Jurassic Park Discovery Center – Islands of Adventure

I have spent a good amount of time this summer visiting Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure keeping an eye out for those new pressed penny designs.  If you read my post about the retired design stickers we found a few months ago, we have been anxiously waiting for those new pennies to show up.  Some have made an appearance and I’ll be posting about all the new replacements once they have all been released.  However, on my most recent visit, I actually came across a brand new machine.

This one caught me by surprise and to be honest I was lucky to even find it.  I had my two daughters with me as we visited Universal Studios first but had no changes, so we then went into Islands of Adventure.  The last few pennies we are waiting on still hadn’t shown up but we made our way around the lagoon just to enjoy the park for a bit.

There has been quite a bit of construction going on near the Jurassic Park area with rumors about a new Roller Coaster.  Nothing official has been released by Universal at this time.

We eventually made our way around to the Jurassic Park area and decided to head inside the Discovery Center for some air conditioning.

While we were inside I tried to think if I had ever noticed there were two floors.  On the main upper level, there is a quick service place for burgers and milkshakes, and a gift shop on the opposite side that has a 4 design hand crank penny machine.  So obviously I’ve been in that store a few times.  My girls ran over to the railing where the big T-Rex was located and noticed all sorts of things going on downstairs so we headed down to check it out.

There were quite a few dinosaur statues around and some interactive exhibits giving interesting facts about the dinos.  There was even a dino nursery with dino eggs just waiting to hatch.  They also had a few “scientists” walking around that were more than happy to answer questions you may have about the dinosaurs.

After we visited the nursery is when I noticed a penny machine stashed beside a planted tree which seemed like a strange place for it.

I started to wonder how long this machine may have been here.  The machine was in a pretty standard cabinet that looked like a wooden crate.

But it does have the NEW! sticker on the glass of the machine which seemed to be a new thing they are utilizing so I’m taking a guess that this machine was put here sometime this summer.

The designs on the pennies were of a Carnotaurus, a Triceratops, and a Raptor possibly Blue from the new movies.  Each design does also have Jurassic World along the bottom.

The latest Jurassic World movie Fallen Kingdom was released in June 2018 but maybe this is all due to that mysterious construction going on behind the Discovery Center building.  Guess we will just have to wait and see.

Florida Theme Park Maps – Now Available

Over the years since I started posting about my pressed penny collection, and trying to keep everyone up to date on new Disney coins I receive quite a few comments and emails from all our wonderful readers.  The questions range from tips about starting or storing a collection to my guess on new coin designs.  But one question I do get quite often is if I have any maps of the Theme Parks that show the locations of all the coin press machines.

Years ago if you visited Walt Disney World you could head over to guess services and they would have printed maps showing where the machines were, but those quickly became outdated and are no longer available.  Then a few years ago I remember seeing a sign on one of the WDW machines listing a web address to maps that were being maintained by CTM Group, Inc (The Pennymen), they worked pretty well but that also quickly became outdated a year or so later.  Currently Disney has added the Coin Press machines to their myDisneyExperience mobile app which is a nice feature, but I find it lacks in information about what type of machine is there (Penny, Quarter, Dime), how much are the coins to press, and even if there is more than one machine in this location.

So in an effort to try and help fellow collectors, I have taken it upon myself to try and help with a series of updated maps.  These will be updated each time I visit the parks (which is on a pretty frequent basis right now).  I have been working on these for a few weeks now tweaking the layout and the information available that I feel would be most beneficial to anyone looking to press some coins.

First I want to review what maps are available.  Of course, there will be all of the Walt Disney World Theme Parks and Disney Springs:

We will also have maps of all the Disney Resorts:

 

Disney Water Parks, Mini-Golf Courses and even the ESPN Wide World of Sports.

There are also maps of the Universal Orlando Resort (Parks and Citywalk areas):

SeaWorld, Legoland, and even Busch Gardens.

 

Basically, we are going to try and keep updated maps for all the big Central Florida theme parks.  As you can see from the sample pictures above we are using updated maps directly from the parks, and we created a special legend to help review the cost per coin at each machine, whether a credit card can be used to pay, and whether you need to supply your own coin to be pressed, or if the machine supplied a preloaded zinc penny.

These maps have been added to its own area of the blog.  Located right underneath the main banner at the top of the page there is a menu option for “Penny Maps”.  Click here for a quick review of how the legend on each maps works, definitions used on the maps, and of course links to each available map.  The maps are all in standard PDF format and are completely FREE.  Please feel free to download, print, share and use these on your penny pressing trips and visits to the park.  If you have any comments about any changes you feel may be helpful in future revisions of the maps please let me know.  Happy Collecting!

Retired Pennies at Universal Studios Florida – Coming Soon

Just last week was Easter weekend and I knew from previous years that the Walt Disney World parks are usually really busy.  So this year I decided to visit Universal Studios in hopes the crowd levels may be a little less over the Holiday weekend.  Well unfortunately that was not the case.

Those parks were just as busy, but my plan on this trip was just to enjoy a nice day wandering around the park, and not worrying too much about trying to get on any of the rides.  I was also going to use this as an opportunity to see if any of the penny machines had moved, or if there were any new designs.  Universal doesn’t change their pressed penny machines as often as Disney so there usually isn’t much to update.  After we walked into Universal Studios we headed towards Hollywood Boulevard and checked out the first penny couple machines in the Silver Screen Collectibles and Hello Kitty stores but they were the same, no changes.  This was the same for the next few machines as well over near the E.T. ride, Barney, Springfield and the Men In Black (M.I.B.) store.  Then I came to the San Francisco Candy Company and found that the machine had been moved to a different area of the store.

I was taking some new pictures of the machine when I noticed something.  There was a sticker in the corner of the glass window where you can watch the penny being pressed.

The sticker was announcing that the engravings (designs) would be retired in the Summer 2019.  It also showed pictures of the designs that were going to be retired and in this machine it would be all 3.  Now I had a new objective for this trip, are there more of these notices in the parks?  Then I started to second guess myself about the other machines I quickly had looked at already so I backtracked to make sure.  None of those machines had any stickers about retired designs.  Then I headed back to where I had initially left off and check the machines in the Transformers Ride, the Mummy, Shrek and Minions attractions but those were all staying the same.  The last machines to review in this park were at big Studio Store near the entrance / exit to the park.

This store has 4 machines inside and most of them are staying the same but one did have one of those stickers on it.

This machine will only have 2 of the 3 designs retired.

This one seems a little strange as the Thing 1 & 2 and Gru designs are retiring but the Kong design is staying.  Kong doesn’t have an attraction in Universal Studios anymore and instead has a new ride over in Islands of Adventure so I’m not sure why it would be staying in this location.  Next I headed over to Islands of Adventure to continue the search.

We didn’t go too far inside the park when we visited the Island Market Export store and found the first machine with some soon to be retired designs.

This machine was towards the back of the store pass the big candy counter.

There are two machines located back to back of each other.  The front facing machine has the retired sticker and apparently will have all 3 designs removed.

Next we headed into the Cats, Hats and Things store which is where you exit from the Cat in the Hat ride.

This machine will only have 1 design retired.

I would assume a new Cat in the Hat design will be coming to this machine, but it would seem strange to have something else here.

A little further down the path was the Gertrude McFuzz store.

The Grinch has a meet and greet in this store, and is right near where the penny machine is located so it can be a little tight when the line is long.

Two of the three designs here will be retired.

We then left Seuss Landing and headed into the Lost Continent.  There was only one penny machine in this area of the park at the Treasures of Poseidon store.

This machine has been in this store for a long time and the designs have been unchanged, but that apparently is changing.

According to the sticker all 3 of the designs will be retired.  Not sure if this means the entire machine is going away, or if just new designs will be replaced.  After that we cut through The Wizarding World of Harry Potty which still has no pressed pennies, and then we found ourselves in Jurassic Park.

Near the River Adventure ride (the big water drop ride) is the Jurassic Outfitters store.  All the way in the back where you get your pictures from the water ride was the next machine.

These are some nice classic designs with he Jurassic Park logo, and the Islands of Adventure logo.

But according to the sticker on this machine all three designs are going away. There is some construction nearby this area with a rumored new Jurassic Park themed roller coaster so maybe these designs are being replaced with images for that new attraction.    The next area was Toon Lagoon which is themed around many old school comic characters like Betty Boop, Popeye, and Wimpy among many others.

There is one large gift shop that runs along one side of this area called Toon Extra.  Plenty of character merchandise and of course a penny machine.

I always liked the “A Penny for your thoughts” quote on the bottom of this machine.

This is another machine with all three of the designs being retired.  The set included Betty Boop, Popeye and Spongebob Squarepants.

Directly across from Toon Extra is a small store that is all about Betty Boop.

This machine and I are not on good terms.  Years ago I was on a quick trip to Florida and visited Universal trying to press all the pennies they had, but this machine was broken.  Then I spent the next year or so trying to find someone to get the pennies but that didn’t pan out.  Eventually I came back for another work trip and when I went to use this machine it was broken again.  I just couldn’t win.  But since then I was able to eventually press the set, but I will admit I’m a little happy to see it go.  Hopefully the entire machine gets an overhaul.

the posted sticker on the machine shows only two images going away, and one Betty Boop design staying in the machine.  That was it for Toon Lagoon, and no other changes in Super Hero Island so I headed out of Islands of Adventure.  The only other machines still to be checked on where in the parking structures so that’s where I headed next.  There are currently 7 penny machine around the parking hub and 6 of them appear to be staying the same even tough most of those designs are very dated.

The very last machine I checked out was in the North Parking structure just before you get to where all the cars are parked.  This is another machine that’s been around for quite a while, I think I initially presses these designs about 5 or 6 years ago at least.

I guess the latest Fantastic Four reboot movie didn’t do enough to keep fan interested in these coins.

The entire set of 4 designs are marked to be retired.

That was all I found but was excited to know that so many coins are being retired, and hopefully being replaced with new designs.  The possibilities are intriguing with what may show up.  Some of the machines where all the designs are going away, may be replaced with those new 8-design machines.  Obviously the other machines with just one or two images retiring may get pennies for all the new attractions that have been showing up at the parks recently.

In total I found notices that 26 total pennies are to be retired.  As I mentioned above that’s no guarantee that 26 new designs will be back and some may just be gone for good.  Also there is no set date for when these are being changes out, it just says Summer 2019.  I’ll be visiting the parks on a regular basis to try and report back as soon as these start changing out.

Any ideas what you think may be on the way?  Any designs you would like to see show up.  Let me know in the comments below.  Happy Collecting!

Halloween Horror Nights 2018 Token – Universal Studios Florida

Halloween has always been a favorite holiday of mine.  Something about the fall season, the cooler weather, leaves changing colors and jack-o-lanterns lighting up the neighborhood houses has just the right amount of spooky.  As I got older the horror movie genre became a guilty pleasure and then visiting local haunted house attractions and hay rides was a must each year.  Then about 15 years ago I visited Florida during October and saw commercials in my hotel room about Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights.  It looked amazing and I knew I had to squeeze it into my vacation plans.  To this day that was one of the greatest Halloween events I have ever been to.

Since relocating to Florida this was something I wanted to revisit as soon as possible.  Our daughters are a little too young for this as it can be pretty scary even for adults.  But my wife was interested in going so we got some tickets and a babysitter so we could head over and check it out.  Above is a picture I took of the Universal arches about a week before we actually went to HHN (Halloween Horror Nights).

Above is a picture I took of the line we were in the middle of just to try and get into the event.  It usually starts sometime between 6-6:30pm.  This was taken around 6pm and it took almost an hour to actually get inside the park.

Once inside, since it hadn’t gotten dark yet I wanted to check out the souvenirs first and see what they had to offer.

The logo for this years HHN included the above creepy disfigured pumpkin and it could be found all throughout the park.  As you can also see one of the HHN houses this year was themed around the popular Netflix show Stranger Things and there was a ton of merchandise with that on it.

In the middle of the Universal Studios Store was a collection of vintage arcade games.  Including Pac-man, Asteroids, Donkey Kong and some other popular games.  Now these machines do not take quarters, but instead can only accept special tokens.  The above machine is where you can purchase those tokens.  They were $1 for 2 tokens or discounts if you bought in larger quantities.

Being a pressed penny collector I obviously wished these designs were in a pressed penny format, but I was still happy to see these special tokens.  This is something I always wished Disney would do for their events and parties.  I didn’t want to spend time playing the arcade games (although it was tempting) but I did pick up a few of these tokens for my collection.  They had the creepy pumpkin on one side, and the HHN 2018 logo on the other.

It was now starting to get a little dark out and we met up with some family friends to head over to our first haunted house.  Our strategy because of the huge crowd for this event was to visit the houses at the back of the park first and then move towards the front.  This seemed legitimate in theory but seems lots of other guests has the same idea.  First up we visited the Trick ‘r Treat house which is themed around the cult classic movie of the same name.  Unfortunately for the safety of the guests and scare actors there is no video or photography allowed inside the houses.  If you are interested there are plenty of “media preview” videos inside the houses on YouTube.

The detail inside these houses is really amazing, and with Universal behind the make up and costumes you really get sucked into the houses.  The pathway weaves around sharp corners and through narrow hallways with the scare actors jumping out at you every few feet.  They are not allowed to intentionally touch or grab you, and it all makes for an amazing adventure.

The second house we visited was called Seeds of Extinction.  This is an original house theme based in a post-apocalyptic wasteland overgrown with invasive vegetation.  Basically scary plant creatures jump out at you as you walk through the house.

In between the houses along the main walkways are areas called Scare Zones.  Some of these are IP (intellectual Properties) or original theme zones just like the houses.  One of the more popular scare zones was the Killer Knows from Outer Space zone.  The uber creepy clowns just slowly stalk around you as you try to get through to the next house.

The fog, and lighting in these areas really add to the ambiance and creepiness factor.

Another scare zone was called Vamp 1985.  In this area about every 20-30 minutes the ball drops to celebrate New Years eve.  The only problem is that when the ball drops the vampires storm into the crowd looking for victims.

Up next we visited another original house called Scary Tales.  This was my favorite house we visit this night.  By this time it was around 10pm and the lines for the houses were getting pretty crazy.  The line for this house was posted as being 35 minutes but I’m pretty sure we waited at least 50 minutes, but it was worth it.

The story behind this house is that the Wicked Witch of the West has cursed the land of the fairies, twisting beloved stories beyond recognition.  This just means that all your favorite fairy tales have been turned into horror themed nightmares.  One of the rooms was the witches house from Hansel and Gretel and there was an amazing smell of gingerbread as you walked through.  The scares in here were not too over the top, but the theming was really detailed and amazing.

The Stranger Things house was definitely the longest one all night and it didn’t get much better.  We checked the wait times for this house numerous times during the night and it was always around 60-90 minute wait which was just too long for us.

One of the last scare zones we headed through was called Twisted Traditions.  The description was that an ancient evil had reawakened and transformed Halloween into an abomination.  There were a lot of scary pumpkins, and things handling from trees along this path.  Plus lots of creatures jumping out to see why we were walking through.  One of the coolest features of this zone were all the lit pumpkins decorating the tree tops.

The HHN night we visited was on a Wednesday.  We chose that day as it was supposed to be a lower attendance day, but as you can see from the wait times above it was still pretty busy.  We ended up getting into four houses out of ten that are available, and all the scare zones.  If we can figure out how to visit again before these events are done for the season we will definitely be back.  The houses were amazing, the scare actors were fantastic and it was just a lot of fun.  The night would go on until 2am but we headed out around midnight since we had work the next day.  The souvenir tokens were a very nice surprise and will make a nice addition to my collection.  Hopefully this is something they will continue doing annually.  We are definitely going to visit again next year and this would be a fun little souvenir to get year after year.

Happy Halloween!!!