ORLANDO - Welcome to Krustyland, "the Krustyest place on Earth," where "fun takes a holiday" and you can take a wild ride with television's favorite cartoon family.
This week, the Universal Orlando theme park quietly opened The Simpsons Ride, a $30 million state-of-the-art virtual roller-coaster ride based on the longest-running animated comedy in television history.
Visitors enter the gaping mouth of a 32-foot-high head of Krusty the Clown where they line up to join Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie Simpson on a thrill-packed romp through Krusty's cheesy theme park.
Packed with the irreverent, self-mocking humor that is the hallmark of "The Simpsons," the simulator replaces the "Back to the Future" virtual ride that closed last year.
Two years in the making, the ride itself is a frantic six-minute adventure on "Krusty's All-New, Thrilltacular Upsy-Downsey Spins-Aroundsy Teen-Operated Thrill Ride."
Guests enter eight-person cars, which elevate to face a giant screen where the virtual rollercoaster ride begins. Riders follow the Simpson family as they plunge down a coaster, then Sideshow Bob shows up and all heck breaks loose.
The computer-generated animated 3-D adventure is projected on an 80-foot-wide screen.
Each car rocks, rolls and reels, offering a realistic roller-coaster effect. The attraction can handle 2,000 people per hour. Park officials say it's the first ride that simulates a 360-degree barrel-roll.
Universal Orlando officials are expecting the worldwide appeal of the dysfunctional Simpsons and the rest of the goofy citizens of Springfield to bring tourists to the park.
"The Simpsons is such an international pop culture phenomenon that we knew this would be a perfect fit for us," says Mike West, executive producer for Universal Studios.
The challenge, he adds, was to remain faithful to a series that lampoons everything - including theme parks.
West says Simpsons creator Matt Groening and the show's executive producer James L. Brooks were involved in every step. "Matt and Jim reviewed every aspect, every piece of art, every sound and every piece of dialogue, which was written by the show's writers," he says. "It's all authentic Simpsons humor, guaranteed."
Although park officials won't discuss attendance, they expect the ride will bring in tourists from throughout the world.
Universal spokesman Tom Schroder says the park "had a great year in 2007 and so far we've had a good year in 2008, and we know that 'The Simpsons' offers a powerful experience and this is a family that is known around the world."
According to the Themed Entertainment Association, a nonprofit association that tracks the industry, attendance at Universal Studios Florida was estimated at 6.2 million in 2007, up 3.3 percent over 2006.
Even without the ever-increasing cost of gasoline and airfares, Florida theme parks are constantly updating attractions to appeal to new and returning visitors:
•Busch Gardens in Tampa recently opened the animal-themed Jungala attraction that features a jungle village, animal interactions, multistory family play areas, live entertainment and rides such as Wild Surge, a four-story pneumatic ride that launches 14 passengers out of a mountain crater above a waterfall.
•SeaWorld in Orlando has added a water park, Aquatica, with 36 slides, six rivers and lagoons, animal encounters and underwater adventures.
•The Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park in Orlando has added a new stage show, "High School Musical 2: School's Out!," based on the Disney Channel's hit teen movie. Also this month, the park will debut a 3-D ride, Toy Story Mania! Later this year, an attraction based on "American Idol" is planned.
•In January, Universal opened Disaster!: A Major Motion Picture Ride ... Starring You! Housed in the former Earthquake ride building, Disaster! takes guests on a tour of a low-budget studio and includes a simulated earthquake scene with pyrotechnics and water.
•In 2009, Universal will add the high-tech Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit roller coaster and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Universal plans a grand opening for The Simpsons Ride on May 15, and an identical ride will open at Universal Hollywood in California two days later.
More than 20 minutes of original animation is featured outside the attraction for those waiting in line. Gags include bits about Sideshow Bob escaping from prison to sabotage the theme park, a "safety video" starring Itchy and Scratchy, and glimpses of Krusty's park, which has rides such as The Pirate Rip-off and The Toothchipper.
Outside Krustyland is the Springfield Kwik-E-Mart gift shop, where guests can buy Simpsons merchandise. Universal won't disclose how much it paid for the rights to the Simpsons brand.
"The ride is designed to duplicate the Simpsons home-viewing experience, only at high speed and with lots of screaming," joked Groening in a statement released by Universal.
West adds that "there are also a lot of Simpsonisms crammed into the animation for the ride" so fans can experience the ride multiple times and still find new jokes.
The Simpsons began as a series of short cartoons on "The Tracey Ullman Show" in 1987. After three seasons, Fox spun the characters into their own series. The multi-Emmy-Award-winning series is in its 19th season. A feature film, "The Simpsons Movie," grossed about $526.2 million worldwide in 2007.