Hanging Out with Homer Simpson in Florida


Hanging Out with Homer Simpson in Florida
Story and photos by Tim Leffel

A dad who has been watching The Simpsons half his life revels in a celebration of all things Springfield.

Florida travel

After two hard days of family activities and laying out a bunch of money to make everyone happy, I finished up in the place I'd been looking forward to all day. I bellied up to the bar at Moe's and asked the bartender to pour me a Duff.

A man of 50 or below can roughly chart his age according to his discovery of, and relationship with, the TV show The Simpsons. Some discovered the family for the first time in a cineplex, upon the release of the 2007 movie. There are those millennials who have only seen it in high definition starting in 2009—season 20. They might have seen the characters on one of the five stamps the U.S. postal service released that year, when The Simpsons became the first television series still in production to get its own stamps. Or perhaps there are teens who started watching it with their dad when my daughter did, as we entered the latest decade and the show became the longest-running primetime scripted series ever.

I'm older than Homer, a guy who was just out of college when the first jerky, hastily animated shorts aired during The Tracy Ullman Show. Back when water cooler talk was all about live TV the night before, people asked, "What the hell was that?!" We couldn't stop the DVR and rewind back then, and there was no YouTube. We had to tune in to the next episode to see if that crazy cartoon that seemed too warped for prime time was real and would air again.

That quirky cartoon became bigger than the host show and season one of The Simpsons aired in 1989. After a long period of anticipation, I tuned in for that debut night. I watched it on my 13-inch TV while eating frozen pizza like a true college graduate still struggling to pay the bills.

Krustyland ride Orlando

The Simpsons as Ambassadors

Now it's the middle of the '10s and Marge, Homer, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie may be some of the most famous Americans in the world. Flipping TV channels in hotels while traveling I've seen the show in Spanish, German, Portuguese, French, and Czech. The Arabic version is a big hit and it has been airing in Italian since Season 1. The show has been dubbed in Russian, Japanese, and Hungarian too. The 2007 movie ended up grossing half a billion dollars worldwide in multiple languages.

In recent years Bart has been edged out by minions and the sisters from Frozen in the international knock-off merchandising wars, but there was a time where I couldn't go anywhere in the world without seeing Bart and Homer in the local market. I'd imagine plenty of locals learning English as a second language asked, "Teacher, what does it mean? 'Doh!'"

Let's Go to Krustyland!

The twin Universal theme parks in Orlando are the cool kids' alternative to the Disney empire ones nearby. The pair attracts bookworm types via the Harry Potter attractions, comic book fans via its huge Marvel area, Dr. Seuss lovers through a trippy section inspired by his books, and roller coaster enthusiasts who pick their own soundtrack for the frenetic Rockit coaster. But there's also something to win over the adults: a full-blown Simpsons area with key Springfield attractions.

Twirl & Hurl

The first time I took my daughter to Universal Studios, there was just one Simpsons ride. It felt like kind of an afterthought on the way to the Men in Black laser shoot-em-up. It ended up being a highlight of our day though on that trip. We loved it so much we went on it twice. Really it's just a simulator ride where you defy gravity, physics, and logic to get the sensation of flying through the air and around explosions, but it works because the story is so good. There's even a dose of baby aromatherapy to go along with it. It's one of the few rides where waiting is a pleasure, thanks to the steady stream of gags and dripped-out sections of the story involving Sideshow Bob and a murder plot.

That ride is still there, gloriously unchanged, but now a miniature Krustyland has sprung up around it. The traditional octopus ride is a "Twirl & Hurl" with an alien head on top. The games to win sport signs for Mr. Burns Radioactive Rings and The Sledge Homer.

We made a beeline to the Lard Lad Donuts stand and ended up with a donut that was as big as a birthday cake in some countries. This isn't just any country we're talking about though, but "Uh-mer-uh-kuh," a place where theme parks have to put signs up warning people their ass may be too fat for the ride they wanted to go on.

Lard Laddonut

Other food outlets in the area are the Bumblebee Man's Taco Truck, the Krusty Burger outlet (with a "heat lamp dog"), and Duff Gardens. Here's where a dad can feel like he's in a place meant for him, an area the little tykes in strollers aren't meant to understand. The Seven Duffs have their own name plaques: Sleazy, Queasy, Surly, Edgy, Tipsy, Dizzy, and Remorseful.

We'll Pay You to Thrill Us

After a spin through the disappointing Quickie Mart—it's just a souvenir shop with none of Abu's personality—my daughter and her friend were getting restless. "Let's gooooo!" they pleaded. The Mummy ride, the Minions ride, and the train to Hogwarts for more Harry Potter thrills were all waiting. Dad's nostalgia is no match for all that.

So we returned to the world of Harry Potter and drank butter beer while marveling at the dragon atop the bank building. We entered the fake London train station and, through a clever mirror set-up, watched riders go through a brick wall to ride the train from one Universal park to another. During our train ride the British countryside scenery went by outside our window, suddenly taking us from the land of palm trees to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

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