More than a month before its official grand opening, ‘Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon’ soft opened today at Universal Orlando. (Or, as Universal likes to call it, the ride has entered “technical rehearsal.”)
It is Universal Studios Florida’s newest ride, a motion simulator that takes guests on an over-the-top adventure through the streets of New York, below New York Harbor, to the moon and back, following along with “The Tonight Show” host Jimmy Fallon’s wild antics.
The entire experience begins outside the building, which is made to look like a smaller version of the famous “30 Rock” in New York City where Fallon hosts his show.
Inside, guests find themselves face-to-face with a thoroughly NBC-branded experience, complete with NBC Pages as guides. Throughout the time spent inside, it’s easy to get lost in the details that make it feel like a reasonable facsimile of the real thing.
The walls are lined with tributes to “The Tonight Show” — not only showing clips of Fallon’s work but also featuring displays of past hosts: Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, and even including the short-lived run of Conan O’Brien (complete with Triumph the Insult Comic Dog). Each display plays clips of “The Tonight Show” from that hosts’ reign on a television set common to that era.
‘Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon’ has a unique system for “waiting in line” in that there isn’t actually a line to wait in. Instead, guests receive a colored ticket from Pages behind a help desk in the first waiting room. There is one color for each of the “feathers” of the iconic NBC peacock logo. When it is time for your colored group to enter the next phase of the queue, the peacock logo lights up entirely in that color. Your group moves on, leaving the other colored groups behind, and this continues to be the system for the next three phases of the queue.
The system works fairly smoothly, finding a nice balance between giving you time and freedom to explore without having you languish from boredom. This lends itself to a different feel from traditional winding queues in that you move from mob to mob rather than proceed in a single file line.
After a small wait in the lobby, guests make their way upstairs where the real party is happening near the “Studio Entrance.” Big screens show clips from “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” behind a stage that even has Jimmy’s signature monologue floor mark–a clover.
A seemingly unending reel of celebrity appearances on the screens are accompanied by live appearances from the show’s favorite acts, Hashtag the Panda and The Ragtime Gals barbershop quartet (quintet?).
In addition to this unique live entertainment, there are a number of touch screen game tables spaced throughout the room as well as a few sitting areas for more comfortable lounging.
The atmosphere throughout the waiting area is quite electric. The amount of energy put into hyping the crowd creates the feeling that you are about to experience a live taping. The excitement builds.
Lights throughout the upper floor all coordinate to inform which color group is permitted to pass onto the next phase of the queue, and the famous NBC chime alerts everyone when the color is changing. However if you somehow fail to hear the chime and you don’t happen to notice that your color came and went, Team Members will still allow you to pass through if you recognize your mistake within a reasonable amount of time.
The third phase of the queue moves you through the Studio entrance, and for the first time you are asked to get in an actual line where you retrieve your 3D “racing goggles.”
Once the goggles have been acquired, guests enter the fourth and final phase of the queue– a pre-show area featuring Jimmy Fallon rapping safety rules and precautions. It’s here that guests are told no photography or video recording is allowed once the actual ride has begun.
With 3D glasses in hand, it is finally time to sit in a hydraulic theater, designed to resemble the actual seating of Fallon’s set in New York. In front is a huge screen, made to look like the opening curtains of “The Tonight Show,” and there is a real sense of expectation.
This attraction is worth experiencing, but don’t expect to fall in love with it.
There are clearly some aspects of the ride that are on point–namely, the queue. Even though it is four phases long, the process of queuing up is pleasant. Between the well-themed displays, live entertainment and character interaction, you feel like you are about to be a part of something good.
Additionally, the ride’s special effects work well. Even with some of the olfactory and tactile features being absent today (no pizza smells or water sprays just yet), the 3D imagery and hydraulic simulation are effective. In fact, it is the closest I’ve ever come to living the Mario Kart video game with its erratic speeds, spins and stops. Fun? Sure…at least for a little while.
Unfortunately, though, there is a definite point in which disappointment sets in. Perhaps this is because the queue does such a great job of creating hype that anything that isn’t an actual Fallon show is doomed to be a letdown. Regardless, somewhere in all the racing, diving, and flying you begin to suspect that the attraction will not reach the expectation level that the queue created. This is mainly due to the fact that Fallon’s script fails to be as funny as the ones written for him on his actual show. For the majority of the ride, he borders on awkward with jokes falling flat–and not in a lovable “Napoleon Dynamite” way.
The ride also seems to have limited repeatability due to an uninteresting storyline that is rushed and shallow. It’s a quickie that hasn’t worked hard enough to put you in that sweet spot. You never actually connect with it and almost feel a void when exiting. To put it bluntly, Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon might be the one-night-stand of attractions. The excitement is so high in the beginning, but after a good romp, the reality is there isn’t much substance. Instead, there is a slight feeling of nausea, and it’s time to move on.
All that being said, this attraction is not to be skipped. The truth is that the queue is entertaining enough to make the experience worthwhile. There is a good energy in those halls that is undeniable, and it’s not like the attraction is horrible. The attraction is fine, but the FUN is in the queue. Don’t be surprised if you find me hanging out with Hashtag on that upper floor once again just for kicks.
We’ll have more coverage of Race Through New York with Jimmy Fallon next week, when we have a chance to talk with some of the minds behind the creation of this attraction from Universal Creative. And then come back to Inside the Magic for the grand opening of the new ride on April 6!