The latest unique and highly-themed attraction at Universal Orlando isn’t inside one of its two theme parks but rather nestled underneath the moving walkways leading into CityWalk. Hollywood Drive-In Golf officially opened Monday and two nights ago I had a chance to play through all 36 holes of its two inventive mini golf courses, decked out with detail, interactivity, and special effects that keep players laughing, and even occasionally startled, all the way through.
It took more than 2.5 hours for my wife and I to complete both courses, though our pace was slowed tremendously by me stopping to snap photos and shoot video at each hole. But even without all the picture-taking, Hollywood Drive-In Golf easily allows well over a solid hour of theme park-quality entertainment wrapped into a miniature golf environment.
Universal Orlando’s designers worked closely with mini golf developers Adventure Golf Design and Development to create the two completely original courses called The Haunting of Ghostly Greens and Invaders from Planet Putt, the former set in a graveyard that’s both spooky and silly and the latter immersing players in the worlds of ’50s sci-fi. Though I am always partial to anything “haunted,” I found both courses to be equally entertaining, offering surprising gags on and around each hole, with no two holes alike and no dull moments to be found. But both courses are entirely different, each offering its own look and feel.
I don’t want to ruin all the surprises found throughout Hollywood Drive-In Golf, but I will share a few of my favorite highlights from each course. We’ll start with quick video overviews of both, followed by more in-depth looks and thoughts from each individually.
Video: Invaders from Planet Putt mini golf highlights at Universal Orlando
Video: The Haunting of Ghostly Greens mini golf highlights at Universal Orlando
I arrived to the courses at 7 p.m., about half an hour before sunset. This is the ultimate time to enjoy Hollywood Drive-In Golf, as there are many details most easily seen during daylight hours, but both courses also feature extensive night lighting, with glowing greens (even the purple ones) and illuminated props. Also, arriving before dark provides a chance to start playing with fewer people around, as most players arrive after the Universal Orlando theme parks have closed for the day, since the courses are on the way out of CityWalk and open for several hours later than the parks.
Other than the differences in theme, the most noteworthy element that separates each course is the carefully-chosen soundtrack that enhances both experiences. On the “Invaders” sci-fi side, it’s not an assortment of campy ’50s songs but rather decades of hits that contain lyrics related to outer space, planets, stars, or anything of the like, such as tracks from Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” “Major Tom” and “Ziggy Stardust” by David Bowie, “The Twilight Zone” theme music, and even Madonna’s “Starlight.” Over in the graveyards of “The Haunting” side, frightful songs include “Somebody’s Watching Me” by Rockwell, “Monster Mash,” “Time Warp” from “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” and “Hungry Like the Wolf” by Duran Duran. I spotted many players dancing and/or singing along to the popular tunes, adding another element of fun.
Most importantly, both sides of the Hollywood Drive-In Golf tell a story. The holes unfold in a linear fashion, with signs at the beginning of each telling bits of the tale, often in rhyme. Paying attention to the story isn’t necessary to have a good time playing the game, but it does heighten the experience for those who notice that the progression across each hole advances the overall narrative, particularly with the “Invaders” side.
The Haunting of Ghostly Greens
With hints of Tim Burton, Alfred Hitchcock, and classic Universal monsters, “The Haunting of Ghostly Greens” takes players through the grounds surrounding a massive haunted house, culminating in a “shocking” adventure inside. Its 18 holes include a tombstone-filled graveyard, hedge maze and “Edward Scissorhands”-style lawn sculptures, creepy covered bridge, a spooky forest, and at least one encounter with a sinister spider or two.
Here are some of my favorite vignettes from throughout this course:
The Haunting of Ghostly Greens is definitely more enjoyable at night, with the dark playing into its spooky atmosphere. And take warning: You may get wet. I’m not telling you where, when, or how, just beware. Also, there was a welcome surprise startle on one of the holes that definitely made me jump, in a laugh-inducing kind of way. The course is not too scary to be enjoyed by players of all ages, but just creepy enough to entertain even the most extreme horror fan.
Invaders from Planet Putt
The sci-fi rich “Invaders from Planet Putt” has a stronger overall story, introducing players to little green men at hole 1, followed by an increasingly-dangerous planetary invasion (including obligatory and inexplicable cow abductions and a peek into Area 51), and ending with a rewarding trip aboard a spaceship, magically transported to another planet. This course features humor on every hole along with uniquely interactive elements that require players to take an active role in the story.
Here are some of my favorite interstellar sights:
I was impressed by the storytelling found throughout “Invaders of Planet Putt,” rich with details throughout each course. Don’t focus only on the elements immediately in front of you, but look around at the clever props that surround each hole. This course is particularly enjoyable when started just before sunset, as darkness falls as the alien invasion becomes more extreme, heightening the transition from ordinary Earth to another world.
Hollywood Drive-In Golf has only one downside: the price. Those wanting to play must park their cars in Universal Orlando’s parking garage, which is currently $15 per vehicle for those without an annual pass. Once reaching the course, guests if they want to play 18 or all 36 holes.
A “Single Feature” (one course) currently costs $13.99 for adults and $11.99 for children ages 3-9. A “Double Feature” (both courses) offers a slight discount at $24.49 for adults and $20.99 for children.
The steep price is only discounted by 10% for annual passholders, far less than the 50% discount available at theme park competitor Walt Disney World’s mini golf courses. But since Hollywood Drive-In Golf is brand new, the higher prices will help Universal recoup their investment into the intricately themed environments a whole lot faster. Of course, that doesn’t help an average family of four (two adults, two children) wanting to hit the miniature links, which would cost a total of nearly $100 for an hour or two of play on both courses. It’s certainly less expensive than visiting one of Universal’s theme parks for the day, but more than most of the many other mini golf courses throughout Orlando. But it’s also far more rewarding of an experience, offering the most immersive mini golf adventure around.
And then there are souvenirs…
After playing one course, guests can add on an “Extra Feature” and play the other at the discounted rate of $10.49 for adults and $8.99 for children. Doing it this way actually saves one penny per player over prepaying for both courses at the beginning.
Hollywood Drive-In Golf also promises to have T-shirts ($19.99) and novelty golf balls ($3.99), though the designs weren’t quite ready yet when I played on Tuesday night.
Universal Orlando has set a new standard in miniature golf, offering the most enjoyable and immersive putt putt experience around. With creative themes, adventurous stories, and novel gameplay, Hollywood Drive-In Golf is the new standard for mini golf and fans of the game visiting the new courses are guaranteed to have a “hole” lot of fun.
More photos from Hollywood Drive-In Golf at Universal Orlando CityWalk:
(Photos by Ricky Brigante & Michael Gavin)