Crowds Slam Super Nintendo World for Passholder Preview

January 29, 2023, 5:35 PM · Passholder previews began this morning for Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Hollywood. Fans began lining up outside the park before 5:30am for the 10am preview, the first of several for annual passholders before the land opens officially to all on February 17.

Check in began more than half an hour before the advertised 8:30am check-in start, with passholders getting into the land around 9:30. Within minutes, long lines had formed not just for Mario Kart, but also to purchase Power Up Bands, each of the gameplay activities, and to enter Toadstool Cafe.

Inside Hollywood's Super Nintendo World
And this was when the crowd had thinned a bit, just before the second wave of passholders entered.

If Universal was trying to stress test the land with its most experienced guests, well then, it succeeded. However many people the park allowed into the land this morning was too many. With a 100-minute wait for the Mario Kart Bowser's Challenge ride yet a two-hour limit on passholders to enter the queues for Mario Kart or Toadstool Cafe, anyone who was not in the land as soon as their arrival window potentially opened faced a "do one, but not both" choice.

Still, by getting there early, I was able to get in a meal at Toadstool and two Mario Kart rides (using the single-rider queue for the second), plus a couple of gameplay activities before my two-hour window expired. I could have stayed in the land past that to play more of the outside activities, but the second wave of passholders filled the land to the point where it became a challenge just to walk in any direction. [I posted a TikTok of that.]

So, see ya.

Riding Mario Kart: Bowser's Challenge

I wrote about the Mario Kart ride in my initial review of the land's first day of technical rehearsals - Super Nintendo World Soft Opens in Hollywood. My advice for future visitors is to approach this as a Mario Kart-themed dark ride rather than a real-life Mario go-kart ride. You're not really driving anything, though you do win coins for following the prompts to steer your wheel in the correct direction at the designated times. And the speed never exceeds a brisk walk, though speed tunnel-style effects will make it seem faster at some points.

Nor do you need to have mastered Mario Kart, in any of its various editions, before riding Bowser's Challenge. Your two interactive points here are the steering input and throwing shells at Team Bowser, which makes the game play like many other shooter rides. You move your head to aim, and press the two buttons atop your steering wheel to fire. Just remember to look down at the AR display from time to time to see how many shells you have left, then use them wisely. You will pick up more during the ride, but you try not to get caught out when the best scoring opportunities present themselves. (In other words, when you are surrounded by Team Bowser rather than your teammmates on Team Mario.)

Toadstool Cafe

I loved my visit to Super Nintendo World's restaurant on the day it first opened to the public: Having Lunch With Super Mario at Universal's Toadstool Cafe. So I was looking forward to trying a few of the items that I could not get to on my initial visit.

Unfortunately, the restaurant was out of the Mount Beanpole cake [now $9.99, along with the other two desserts: Question Block Tiramisu and Princess Peach Cupcake], so I could not try that. So I went with just the Toadstool Cheesy Garlic Knots [$5.99] and the Luigi Burger [$16.99] with grilled chicken, pesto, basil, green pepper, and Swiss cheese.

Food at Universal's Toadstool Cafe
Luigi Burger with truffled fries, and Toadstool Cheesy Garlic Knots

The Toadstool shaped garlic knots offered a crust so soft as to be non-existent. With the flavor and consistency of a white-bread dinner roll, I tasted no garlic here. The butter only served to help the grated Parmesan adhere to the top. Only the marinara on the side brought any flavor to the table here.

The chicken sandwich's top bun was so dried out that it tasted stale to me. With so many people slamming the land (I waited over 30 minutes to get in order and get my food), I suspect that the kitchen and service was just overwhelmed. The fresh, hot flavor that I got on day one today was replaced by something that felt like it had spent far too long under a heat lamp.

The dominant taste on the Luigi burger was basil - along with green pepper, if you managed to get some of the thick ring of that in a bite. The seemingly unseasoned grilled chicken breast just got lost in the middle, though the creamy basil sauce slapped. I used the small cup provided on the side of the sandwich to dip my fries.

Here's hoping that when Super Nintendo World officially opens February 17, Universal more aggressively limits attendance inside the land, to better protect the experience and to give its Toadstool Cafe crew the breathing room they need to deliver product and service back to that first-day-of-technical-rehearsals standard.

All passholder preview spots have been claimed, but sources inside the park said that the land might be soft-opened to all guests starting at 6pm tonight and other evenings when the park is open late.

Update: [February 1] Universal Studios Hollywood just emailed passholders who had attended the overcrowded preview on Sunday, offering them a second-chance preview on Monday, February 6. If you were one of them, check your email for the details.

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Replies (18)

January 29, 2023 at 10:20 PM

Whoa, Mario Kart: Bowser's Challenge has single rider? Our group was looking today - the app didn't mention anything and we didn't see anything at the entrance. Robert, where is the SR line entrance located?

Overall, we felt the same as you did - we had the 10 AM reservation period, and it was very confusing entering the land, with multiple lines spilling out into a small footprint. There was no clear indication what each line was for, nor were there cast members designating the start of the lines, leading to a couple lines for different areas merging (we witnesses some confusion due to this).

We braved the 100-minute line, though noticed it died down to 60 minutes later in the reservation period. Wish the app would include this wait time! The ride itself was very immersive (especially the Rainbow Road at the end), though none of us realized we had limited shells (we were all thinking this was like Buzz or Midway Mania with unlimited shots). They should mention that in the instructions for those of us less familiar with playing MarioKart. What's your analysis of the pre-shows and load areas in terms of ops? We were in the first pre-show area where a CM told Mario trivia for a while, before proceeding to the true pre-show. It seems like ops could add more structure to the flow of people here; when we exited the last pre-show, some people clustered and moved forward without realizing that they had to pick up the visors on either side of the room (the lack of instructions or barriers to guide people in the room didn't help).
We also didn't purchase PowerBands and felt lost with some of the queues for the interactive elements for people with PowerBands.

January 29, 2023 at 10:57 PM

The single rider entrance is immediately to the far right once you enter the building for the first time. There was a team member there pointing it out later in the morning, but lots of people missed it earlier.

January 29, 2023 at 11:12 PM

Yeah…looks like I’m going to skip my preview for tomorrow. I already went during one of the technical rehearsals and the TM preview. I’m good.

January 29, 2023 at 11:13 PM

So Robert, big question about the size of the seats for Mario Kart. I am a bigger guy and barely fit on Forbidden Journey when I’m at my lightest, other times it doesn’t happen. My wife is, shall we say, well endowed and has a very hard time fitting on that same ride. So…how restrictive, size wise, is this ride. I really don’t want to go and be disappointed.

January 29, 2023 at 11:27 PM

The seats are tight. The front row seems tighter than the back, to me. But I could see how any of these seats could be uncomfortable for anyone with a larger than average posterior, or much longer than average legs. There’s no upper body restraint, so larger tops should be okay.

January 30, 2023 at 9:11 AM

This is exactly what I was afraid of with this land. The small space helps to maintain a high level of immersion, but will make it unbearable and claustrophobic for guests when it's packed with people standing shoulder to shoulder. The bleeding of lines into one another because of a lack of space will be difficult to manage for team members, and it will be a challenge for Universal to appropriately staff the land - they probably need twice as many team members for each of the interactive games than they initially anticipated. The last is with the food, which I knew would decrease in quality in order to deliver to the masses. There's always a bit of a drop off between a media preview and the actual execution of the land for guests, but this food requires some serious attention to detail that will necessitate a level of consistency and quality that will be difficult to maintain when there are thousands of guests buzzing through the land every hour.

Hopefully Universal will work out all of these kinks and not underestimate the popularity of the Nintendo IP, particularly when it debuts at Epic Universe, when hopefully the from-scratch land will offer far more space and elbow room (along with another top attraction).

January 30, 2023 at 9:04 AM

I get that concept art is just that, but man, they really ramped it up for Mario Kart in terms of what the ride ended up being. I love the game, but have very little interest in the ride. The Donkey Kong coaster is the one that I’m looking forward to. Everything I’ve read sounds it could be something pretty special!

January 30, 2023 at 9:23 AM

For what it's worth, to Russell's point, Super Nintendo World hasn't even had an official media preview yet, just some private tours in advance of the soft opening.

January 30, 2023 at 10:02 AM

I haven't done the Mario Kart attraction yet, but from what I can tell Universal seemed to be at a crossroads: do they give guests the feeling and sensation of riding a Mario Kart, or do they give guests the gaming interactivity associated with Mario Kart?

From what I can tell, they picked the latter at the expense of the former, whereas I assume many guests are expecting the former. Now this might make sense to appeal to the greater design of the land (play! interact! game!), and trying to implement both may have been impossible (AR glasses causing motion sickness at high speeds, blurriness, inability to focus on game). By focusing on the gaming aspect & making it a dark ride, they enhance the continuity of the land, and ensure people of all ages are able to enjoy it.

But I'm still not sure that's what a Mario Kart attraction needs. It should mimic the sensations of madcap Mario madness from the games: boosting, hang gliding, drifting, but in a physical environment: the air rushing past your head, the weightlessness of being launched into the air, all things you can view in the video game, but never actually feel.

Part of me wishes they would have split the baby and done both, a la Mission: Space with its Green Mission & Orange Mission. I would much prefer the feel of Mario Kart over actually playing it. Why do at a theme park what I can do at home?

January 30, 2023 at 11:05 AM

Yeah I'm inclined to agree with MyHandsDontScan about what I was hoping for out of a Mario Kart ride. I was certainly wanting a high-speed experience similar to Disney's Test Track ride system that would allow me to actually ride with Mario on a madcap race to the finish.

I do think, though, that because people were hoping for something high speed there's been this desire to knock the dark ride, which looks excellent on its own merits. I'm really looking forward to riding and playing it, even though it's not the exact experience I had hoped for. I just prefer high-thrill rides to shooting rides, but it probably is more accessible and I know Nintendo was very particular about everything having some interactivity. Nintendo in general is a company known for delivering things that don't necessarily meet expectations or demand but that succeed anyway on their own terms, so this experience meets that bill.

The Yoshi ride looks awful, though. Really hoping that gets plussed up for Orlando.

January 30, 2023 at 11:27 AM

We missed our pass-holder preview time yesterday due to an outside conflict, and thought we'd just show up later in the day (we arrived around 6:30) in case we could get in. It worked and the land was opened to all. We spent about 90 minutes in the queue for Mario Kart and got to ride. The land was busy but not uncomfortably crowded (its always a good thing to remember that USH, as a half-day park, gets way less busy in the evening), and we got to look around as well, although we weren't able to eat at the cafe. As for the ride, I agree with the wish that it more physically represented the experience of riding in a go-kart, but as a family of avid Mario Kart players, we enjoyed the ride and gameplay a lot. It was effective and felt new and interesting, and I want very much to re-ride and try to improve my score. There were lots of Easter eggs and it didn't feel like a shrunken down version of a ride, as some of the rides at USH feel. The AR system was effective and didn't make me feel nauseous. All in all, it was a significantly better ride than I expected it to be, and I will look forward to riding every time I visit (it also is family-friendly, but not dumbed-down, so more on the Disney level of being an all-ages experience--bags can sit in the ride vehicle, so no annoying lockers). This addition brings USH closer to being a complete park IMHO (add a real coaster and maybe 2 more dark rides and this would be a serious competitor to DL or the FL Universal parks).

January 30, 2023 at 12:01 PM

A lot of the complaints with the land are with Mario Kart, and while I understand where people are coming from, the ride still looks great to me. I just think it's a problem with the name. People see Mario Kart and expect it to be like Radiator Springs Racers. That's not what this is, and I think labeling it Mario Kart was a bad idea. It sets up unrealistic expectations. From what I've heard, the interactivity of the ride was something that Nintendo pushed very hard for, so I don't blame Universal for this. I think once Donkey Kong opens (which is heavily rumored to be coming to Hollywood), this land will feel perfect.

January 31, 2023 at 4:21 AM

What, wait a non Disney story but oh I See - the “see ya” and bad write up treatment - ugh

January 31, 2023 at 10:52 AM

I doubt videos through AR goggles do Mario Kart justice. It does make me wish Nintendo would develop a thorough VR Mario Kart game for the home (even if its unlikely to happen unless Nintendo develops their own hardware as they historically have preferred to do).

I have to wonder if Mario Kart will be the C-ticket ride for the land while a Donkey Kong coaster would be the area's real E-ticket ride. This would be similar to everyone being excited about Millennium Falcon: Smuggler's Run prior to Galaxy's Edge's opening when the best attraction was really Rise of the Resistance.

January 31, 2023 at 11:32 AM

Universal loves its crowded openings.

January 31, 2023 at 2:48 PM

Maybe Universal can brag about a 10 hour wait to ride this ride when it opens to the public. :)

January 31, 2023 at 5:16 PM

I got to preview Super Nintendo World yesterday, and honestly I think it would have been better to just wait until the land opened. The place was absolutely mobbed to the point it was difficult to move around. I did two of the Key Challenges (Crazy Crank and Panel Panic), which took about twenty minutes each, then Mario Kart, which was a two hour wait plus an extra half hour or so due to a breakdown. If you're planning to go for the preview, I'd recommend picking two or three priorities in the land and accepting you'll have to come back for the rest. They were pretty active about pushing people out after their two hour period ended, so don't expect to be able to linger.

As for the land itself, I'd say it was pretty good but not on the level of somewhere like Wizarding World. The theming is fantastic and there's tons of kinetic energy everywhere, but the land is probably only about half the size of Hogsmeade. In addition, all of the Key Challenges required at least one member of the party to have a Power Up Band, which renders them pseudo upcharge attractions in my opinion. Mario Kart was fun, but if you're not at least a casual gamer you'll probably be totally lost as it requires a high level of active gameplay to be enjoyable and is much less intuitive than other interactive dark rides. Overall, I'd probably give SNW a 7.5/10...worth checking out if you're visiting USH, but if you're not planning a trip to SoCal or a huge Nintendo fan I'd probably hold off for the larger Epic Universe version coming in a couple years.

February 1, 2023 at 8:29 AM

This only proves the point that all of Disney's dumb rules seem to ring true. This is nothing against Universal at all, but clearly crowd control is something both companies are looking at more closely and if anybody thought Disney would get rid of their reservations and G+, this is going to scare them into not doing that.

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