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Interview: Jimmy Fallon shows off his new ride at Universal Orlando

The Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon poses in Universal Orlando's Studio 6B replica. His new ride Race through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon opens Thursday, April 6th at Universal Studios. The ride is in a recreation of 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City. SCOTT KEELER | Times
Published Apr. 4, 2017

ORLANDO — Jimmy Fallon found his home away from home inside Universal Studios.

"My winter White House, yeah," The Tonight Show host said Monday, laughing inside the park's new replica of Studio 6B. "Yeah, this is my Mar-a-Lago."

The Orlando park's newest ride, Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon, opens Thursday and brings the sights and smells of New York City and The Tonight Show to Florida.

Fallon is also taping The Tonight Show at Universal Orlando all week, bringing celebrity guests including Vin Diesel, Shaquille O'Neal, Pitbull, Blake Shelton, Dwayne Johnson, Flo Rida and Jay Leno. And, he'll be ready with plenty of gags at the expense of Florida.

"We already have monologue jokes ready to go," he said. "And we might have some news clips from Tampa."

Reporters previewed the ride Monday. Guests are transported to 30 Rockefeller Plaza once they step inside Universal's NBC building, which pays homage to The Tonight Show hosts from Steve Allen to Johnny Carson to Fallon. The iconic Manhattan art deco building is re-created in striking detail, down to the marble floors and trademark wooden acoustic walls inside Studio 6B.

"We were actually just impressed by the floors," Fallon said. "This is where we work every day."

The ride eliminates the concept of waiting in line, a first for the park. Instead, guests book their ride time online, on an app or at kiosks next to the ride and are notified when it's time to show up. Guests meander through a waiting area fashioned as a two-story interactive homage to Fallon's The Tonight Show. It has giant touch screens with games, thank-you notes and big screens playing celebrity skits from the show. It even has a live ragtime group singing covers of songs such as Bootylicious and Baby Got Back. Universal is also trying the no-line concept at its new Volcano Bay water park, which opens May 25.

The Fallon ride is a 3-D simulator, putting guests in the The Tonight Show audience and racing Fallon through the streets of Manhattan to win the coveted Tonight Show Cup. Fallon's Tonight Rider races the audiences out of 30 Rock, zips through Times Square, leaps over the Statue of Liberty, plunges into the Hudson River and rockets to the top of the Empire State Building, where a 300-foot Hashtag the Panda is waiting to fling the audience to the moon.

"This is as New York as you can get," he said. "I don't think you'll ever get a better or faster tour of New York City than this."

There's even a pungent aroma of greasy, cheesy New York pizza when Fallon stops for a slice during the race. But, he says, it's not pizza with pineapple.

"I think it's a mistake," he said. "You're going too far. You're mixing things that shouldn't be mixed."

The ride's designers hoped to assuage critics who said Universal and theme parks in general do not need one more simulation ride — Universal has such rides for Spider-man and Harry Potter. It took two years for designers to refine this simulator, focusing on sharp, clear graphics, sensory experiences and smooth riding to fend off motion sickness.

For a big kid like Fallon, helping create his own theme park ride was a dream. And riding it for the first time with his The Tonight Show staff was emotional.

"I'm pinching myself every day," he said. "I'm a kid from upstate New York, and now I have my own roller coaster."

Contact Chelsea Tatham at ctatham@tampabay.com. Follow @chelseatatham.

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