The Chinese New Year is a special time of year. It marks the beginning of the lunar calendar, which typically takes place sometime between January and mid-February. It is generally marked by visits to family and friends, special gift giving (like red envelopes full of money), and celebrations full of dancing and firecrackers. As we continue to become a global community, the practice of celebrating the LUNAR NEW YEAR is now taking place all across the globe, especially at theme parks. Seeing how Universal Studios Hollywood celebrates the Year of the Pig during their LUNAR NEW YEAR event is truly a sight to behold.
The LUNAR NEW YEAR festivities take place approximately in the center of the park. If you are familiar with where Grinchmas is located, it is in the same Central Plaza area. In the center of the plaza are a flurry of cherry blossoms trees which will end up drawing out oohs and ahhs from spectators when they gaze upon all of the red slips of paper tied to the branches of the trees. Each paper has a wish that a person has written out for the LUNAR NEW YEAR. Park attendees are welcome to write their wishes on a paper and tie them to these cherry blossom trees.
Behind this clustering of cherry blossom trees is a stage with a background featuring an image of steps leading up to a temple. This stage became the focal point for several performances featured throughout the day. Guests were able to learn about the origins behind the celebration of the LUNAR NEW YEAR, got to learn kung fu with Po from Kung Fu Panda, and watch a lovely 京剧 (Beijing Opera) performance depicting a scene from 梁祝 (The Butterfly Lovers), a story that is considered the Chinese equivalent to Romeo & Juliet. Each performance lasted for approximately 10-15 minutes.
When the performances were done for a spell, there was still plenty for people to do while in the Central Plaza. For those who like arts and crafts, there was a station where people could learn how to draw characters from Kung Fu Panda. Following immediately after the end of that drawing lesson, people could then learn how to write calligraphy. This was arguably my favorite portion of the day because I had a brief exchange with the instructor in Chinese, where I discovered that many of the cultural performers featured at LUNAR NEW YEAR came from Hangzhou. For those who participated in the calligraphy, there was a chance to win a prize for the best attempt at writing the character 福. This character is very important for LUNAR NEW YEAR since it is the character for fortune or good luck. Although I feel like I cheated a little with my background knowledge, I ended up being one of two winners and took home a lovely hand-woven basket from one of the cultural ambassadors from Hangzhou.
Another fun thing that attendees of this event got to do was visit the front of Mr. Ping’s Noodle shop. For those who are unfamiliar, Mr. Ping is the adopted father of Po, the Dragon Warrior from the Kung Fu Panda movies. When approaching Mr. Ping, you will be completely dazzled by the seamless improv abilities and responses you’ll get from the happy-go-lucky, noodle slinging goose. And, if you’re a fan of animatronics, you can’t go wrong with Mr. Ping.
The one sour note of the event was probably the food option within the Central Plaza, which was also Mr. Ping’s Noodle Shop. Whether because we came at a bad time or because of just the seductive qualities of Mr. Ping’s advertising, the process of getting our food wasn’t all that smooth due to the influx of people Shannon and I ordered the Secret Ingredient Stir Fry Noodles with Chicken and I suggested Shannon try the Dragon Warrior Bao while there. Given what is being charged for these food items, we were left a tad underwhelmed by the portion sizes as well as the flavor. However, there were numerous special LUNAR NEW YEAR offerings available around the park itself. We were unable to try them but, if you knew just where to look, you could find things like PB&J dumplings, Red Bean Cake Ice Cream, and more.
There were also options outside of the Central Plaza to engage in special LUNAR NEW YEAR shenanigans. A Mandarin-speaking Megatron could be found at set times just outside of the Plaza. It was hilarious to hear some of the phrases Megatron had to say in Mandarin so, for those who are familiar with the language, you probably would have had fun seeing Megatron angrily shout in Chinese. Across the way from the Plaza, there was a special LUNAR NEW YEAR set up where you could get pictures with some Minions all decked out in their special LUNAR NEW YEAR wardrobe. And, it wouldn’t be a proper LUNAR NEW YEAR celebration without Hello Kitty. Stationed outside of the Hello Kitty Store if weather permits, there is a meet and greet where Hello Kitty comes out in her best new LUNAR NEW YEAR attire.
Overall, I greatly enjoyed the LUNAR NEW YEAR event at Universal. There were enough activities that took place in the Central Plaza that we easily spent a couple of hours bouncing back and forth between activities. There are periods of time between shows and activities where one can sit for a spell, but the break between isn’t too lengthy. The inclusion of the Kung Fu Panda characters helps to make it fun and exciting for the kids while the cultural touchstones help to provide the kids and the adults with some educational moments. The LUNAR NEW YEAR runs at Universal Studios Hollywood from February 2nd to February 18th this year.
For more information on the LUNAR NEW YEAR event and other holiday events happening at Universal Studios Hollywood, click HERE.