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Orlando in the 1990’s was bookended by stiff competition between Disney and its rival Universal Studios. When Michael Eisner got wind that Disneyland’s cross-town rival Universal Studios was preparing to open in Orlando as well, he rushed the mouse’s plans for its own studio theme park into production, even opening a whole year ahead of Universal. Universal returned the favor by firing back with Islands of Adventure, which contained rethemed versions of the Beastly Kingdom attractions Disney had cut from its Animal Kingdom project just a year earlier. Universal even hired a lot of the Imagineers Disney had just laid off to help make IOA a quality theme park.

And then things calmed down for nearly a decade. Disney kept churning out new attractions (Expedition Everest, Toy Story Midway Mania to name two) while Universal Studios was the forgotten step-child in a larger corporation that was dealing with ownership and financial problems. Eventually that got all sorted out and two things happened that turned around the fortunes at Universal Orlando Resort.

First, Universal got the theme park rights to use the Kuka robotic arm roller coaster that everyone was excited about at IAAPA in 2004. Second, it was able to convince Harry Potter scribe J.K. Rowling that they would be better caretakers for her story than Disney. The Kuka robocoaster win had something to do with that, but Universal was also willing to give Rowling final approval on nearly every detail. Disney would not.

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Universal Orlando Resort is intent on continually improving the offerings at its parks. After a few great upgrades to Islands of Adventure, they’re now giving Universal Studios Florida some TLC. They added parade, opened a Despicable Me attraction, and not only are the opening a brand new Transformers 3D ride in June but they’re also remaking the old Jaws area into a second Harry Potter themed area.

With all that going on, another major addition flew under the radar for the most part. The Simpson’s themed area of the park was always just the re-imagined back to the future attraction and some carnival games. As the animated TV sit-com enjoys its 23rd season and work begins on a second animated feature, Universal Studios Florida is expanding the shows presence in the park with elements from Springfield, the town in which the Simpsons live.

A Simpsons themed Fast Food Row just opened and added some much needed food options to that side of the park. The food court not only offers various themed restaurants, complete with food and drink items made famous by the TV show (Krusty Burger anyone? How about a Flaming Moe?), but the dining areas are all designed to replicate famous eateries from the show. It’s really quite effective.

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Up next will be a Duff Beer Brewery and a new spinner attraction themed to the Space Aliens made popular by the Halloween Simpsons episodes. In the meantime, more photos in the gallery below:

Apparently Universal Orlando Resort has figured out a large untapped audience – Families of Hipsters. They just announced a partnership with Loews Hotels & Resorts to build a new hotel development with a ‘hip’ theme that will add high-quality, high-value options for families wanting an affordable on-site experience. I joke, but I am willing to bet it will be a success for Universal.

Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort will offer two distinct experiences within the development’s multiple buildings: 900 family suites, capable of sleeping six, that include kitchen areas and 900 standard guest rooms – offering both moderate – and value-priced accommodations. It will be operated by Loews Hotels & Resorts and is scheduled to open in 2014.

Think of Cabana Bay Beach Resort like a moderate resort, compared to the more deluxe Portofino Bay Hotel, the Hard Rock Hotel and Loews Royal Pacific Resort. Amenities will be slightly different, and the room rate won’t include the Universal Express Unlimited Pass. That’s fine in my book, since a potential of 5000 more people running around with Express Passes could overwhelm the delicate balance that exists now in the parks.

That said, there is an obvious need for family suites. More extended families are vacationing together. A moderate level price is also something that has been missing from Universal’s deck of cards.