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The BLOGFlume—Let It Snow!

Winter theme park news from Paramount and Disney

Written by Russell Meyer
Published: January 19, 2005 at 9:42 PM

Here in the DC area, we finally got our first significant snowfall of the season (we typically get our first in mid December). As always it was big news, even bigger than the inauguration, as the pitiful drivers of this area could not help but pretend they were playing bumper cars. I’m still here though, after an exciting romp through New Orleans this past weekend, to bring you the latest in theme park news and commentary.

Viacom Shopping Around
Variety 1/16/05

Viacom is looking to pull a similar move to Vivendi, as they have begun shopping some of their lower valued properties, including publisher Simon and Schuster and Paramount Parks. While this move seems very preliminary, it could be disastrous to one of the most improved theme park chains in the world. Paramount Parks has recently added a number of highly rated attractions with one of the most anticipated attractions in the country, The Italian Job Stunt Track, coming this season. New owners could potentially destroy everything Paramount Parks has tried to create over the past 10 years by neglecting the monumental efforts the company has made to improve its parks during that time. Potential buyers have not been identified, but perhaps Daniel Snyder, who was rather vocal over the mismanagement of Six Flags, would like to take another stab at the theme park business. King’s Dominion is only 45 minutes from Snyder’s base of operations in Landover, MD, and anyone in the area will attest to PKD’s superiority to Six Flags America.

Captain Jack May Get You High
Jim Hill Media 1/12/05

What happens when you make an incredibly popular movie about a classic theme park attraction? You get guests flocking to that attraction wanting to relive the experiences of the movie, and see all of their favorite characters. Unfortunately one of the most interesting and beloved characters of recent movie history, Captain Jack Sparrow, is nowhere to be found in the attraction that inspired the movie and its upcoming sequel. Johnny Depp’s performance really made the movie a success, and people expect to see the unique character in the attraction. Those guests may just get their wish as Walt Disney Imagineers are working on a Captain Jack animatronic figure to be placed in Pirates of the Caribbean’s final scene in Orlando’s version of the attraction. The addition would be completed during its rehabilitation due later this year, which would have him in place in time for the sequel’s world premier in summer of 2006. Making this addition to Walt Disney World’s attraction is a good idea, and does a good job on capitalizing on the popularity of what may be a very successful movie franchise. However, purists will scream sell-out in fear that the much beloved Disneyland version may follow Orlando’s lead. I think WDI has enough sense to not screw with one of the most popular theme park attractions in the world. Making the change to the lesser Florida version allows Disney to still allow the movie tie-in without touching the original classic attraction.

Extra Magic
Screamscape 11/17/05

Disney is tweaking its on-site guest “magic hour” policy. Currently, Disney offers on-site guests entrance to a specific park an hour before everyone else. The magic hour is great for both on-site and off-site guests, because on-site guests get an extra hour to explore a park, and off-site guests can know which park most of the on-site guests will be at on a particular day and avoid that park. The new policy also allows on-site guests to remain in selected parks up to 3 hours after the park is closed to off-site guests. Now that’s a perk! 3 hours could allow enough time to ride just about every e-ticket in a park, so that guests could take it easy during the day, especially in the hot Florida sun. Guests must get a wristband to indicate their on-site status to remain in the park. Also, not all attractions will stay open, and not every park will stay open for a full 3 hours every day. However, the extra time at the end of the day seems like a much better advantage than getting in early. Not only can you see things you may have missed during the day, but you can sleep in an extra hour, or have a nice breakfast before rushing to the park. Some families with little ones may have some trouble with this, but a nice mid-day nap should get those families to the end of the day and all the excitement of the attractions after the nighttime spectaculars. Throw in Disney World’s new baggage delivery service, and staying on-site is really become an attractive option when visiting Orlando.

Readers' Opinions

From Arthur Cashin on January 20, 2005 at 8:40 AM
The three hour after policy just seems like it would be a PITA to manage. A lot of disappointed kids getting push out of the park. Sounds to me a simplier approack would be to add a second park to the early opening schedule, leaving the 2 other parks to the non resort guests. Also MK should open 90 minutes earlier, more time for the younger kids who are up at the crack of dawn anyway and want to do character breakfasts in the park. Maybe you would actually get a chance to ride Dumbo.

I still prefer to stay on site at Universal. The scale is much more manageable and the Express entry policy is the best perk around. Disney still has too many transportation problems getting people around their property.

Sad to hear about Paramount. The Italian Job is a ride that would get me to leave NJ to visit Ohio. Between Paramount and Legoland, seems a lot of assets are up for sale. Maybe some firm would see the logic in picking up both at the same time.

From Jason Moore on January 20, 2005 at 8:56 AM
JHM had another story that same week about a plan to make changes to the DL version of POTC only at night. Sounds like a fun idea but a logistical nightmare.

So, if they are doing 3 extra hours at the end of the day for all resort guests, does that mean no more E ride nights? It's nice that you don't have to pay extra for the privelege to stay late, but if the option is open free of charge to all resort guests, that's still a lot of people. I'm thinking there will still be lines for the major attractions.

From Robert OGrosky on January 20, 2005 at 10:52 AM
I would agree that the 3 extra hours is a great perk and would lead me to stay on site again at a wdw property the next time i visit. Our last visit we stayed on site at Universal, but not disney but that will chnage as long as the new polices are in effect.
From Russell Meyer on January 20, 2005 at 11:11 AM
There would obviously still be lines, but logistically for Disney it's much easier to keep an attraction running a couple of extra hours than to bring in the inspectors early to open up an hour early. I also think the lines might also be less at night than during the day because a lot of families with small children will still leave the parks after the nighttime shows. Only the die hards and people who come mid-day will be able to last through the extended period, and that's who this new concept is aimed at. Those of us who cannot get enough of the parks, and those who are more leisurely and arrive at the parks after 11:00 am are the ones who will benefit most. The current schedule does not list how long each park's hours will be extended on each night, but the most obvious impact will be for EPCOT's Futureworld and Animal Kingdom, as those are the two places that close the earliest.
From Matt E on January 20, 2005 at 3:35 PM
I love the idea of Extra Magic Hour in the evening. Not only am I not an "early person" and so have never used the morning EMH in the past, but my favorite time in the parks is at night/evening. They all take on a different vibe at night. How cool is it to stay in Epcot up to midnight or at AK well past dark for once?

As a result of this new FREE perk to resort guests, E-ride nights at MK will obviously be phased out (why pay for it?). Although in theory this means more people probably going to MK for these nights, A LOT more attractions are open during evening EMH than were ever open during E-ride nights...so that helps balance the crowd problem out a bit....

From Matt E on January 20, 2005 at 4:31 PM
Just in case anyone didn't realize and are more of a morning person, each Disney World park, throughout the week, has BOTH one evening and still offers one morning EMH to choose from.
From Derek Potter on January 20, 2005 at 6:15 PM
Dan Snyder running Paramount Parks....dear god no. Actually I think that his attempt to get involved in Six Flags was more money based than wanting to work in amusement park based. He wanted to turn himself a little profit because he figured that it couldn't get much worse and that they would just let him in to play. Paramount Parks isn't something that really needs to be "turned around" Then again, who knows. I'm not sure how much there really is to this story. I think that the Paramount Parks chain as a whole is getting better faster than anyone else in the business right now, and it's hard to imagine them getting sold when they have so much promise. Once again though, corporations are sometimes strange creatures.

Disney allowing on-site guests to stay three hours after is a brilliant move. Nice to see that they are doing something right. It probably puts a little strain on the night crews, but I suppose that if it boosts hotel room bookings, than more power to them. Just one question....Does it cost anything?

From Matt E on January 20, 2005 at 7:59 PM
"....Does it cost anything? "

--No, the evening EMH is free to all on-site resort guests at WDW.

From Kenny Hitt on January 20, 2005 at 8:18 PM
Might I say that the additional 3 hours WAS a PITA to manage.

In addition to shooing out disappointed guests who were not allowed to stay in the attraction areas past closing, we also had to deal with many resort guests who, in their infinite wisdom, chose to completely ignore the documentation they were given instructing them to obtain wristbands identifying them as qualifying guests at either City Hall or the Tomorrowland Arcade.

Then there was the fact that resort guests always seemed to expect a little more from the cast members thna usual and tried their hardest to push our buttons.

The last thing we wanted to hear 11 hours into a 14-hour shift that ends at 3 in the morning is how some rich asswipe who managed to get himself a reservation at Yacht & Beach should be able to take his newborn onto Space Mountain because, quote, "I pay your salary".

From Robert Niles on January 20, 2005 at 9:08 PM
Oooh, should we swap "favorite drunken rich guest jerk" stories now?

Mine was a middle-aged dad who decided that the best way to recapture his early-teen daughter's admiration was to buy the enormous stuffed Mickey Mouse we kept up on the ledge at Mickey's Mart in Tomorrowland. This was 1987, but the thing cost, like, 400 bucks even back then. The daughter, needless to say, was mortified. But Dad kept going on about how buying this showed what a great dad he was, and how much he loved his "little girl."

It took every calorie of our energy to keep from busting out laughing in this guest's face. But we enjoyed a good one while we drove Mickey in a golf cart through the tunnel for the guy to pick up at the front gate. (He was too big for the guest to carry on stage.)

Lord only knows how the guy got him home. I always envisioned Mick stuffed in a dumpster off 192 the next afternoon, after Dad recovered from the hangover and Mom and daughter laid into him a bit.

From Derek Potter on January 20, 2005 at 10:32 PM
That's hilarious....I don't believe I've ever heard anything like that. I do imagine that the late night deal could be a logisitical nightmare. Do they kick everyone out and then let the resort guests in again? or do they just kick out the non-guests at closing and let the resort guests keep on trucking? If the latter, than how can they be sure that they got rid of all the non guests? Surely there is a better method than just weeding through everyone right?
From SpaceMt Fan on January 21, 2005 at 6:51 AM
It's funny that the addition of Jack Sparrow is only now coming into the press. There is a brief shot of a fully-costumed "Capt. Jack" animitronic in a behind-the-scenes show on the Travel Channel. The show has appeared numerous times in 2004, and I can remember seeing it as early as late spring.
From Kenny Hitt on January 21, 2005 at 8:47 AM
Oh, Disney uses PAPER these days. They can't afford to be springing for plastic.

To answer your question, Derek, the resort guests are instructed to go to City Hall or the Tomorrowland Arcade sometime before park closing, where they flash their room key and receive a colored wristband. After normal close, guests without wristbands cannot board an attraction unless they were already in line at close. Otherwise, they are instructed that normal business hours have ended and that they should please make their way back toward main street.

And you don't know HOW many times I got berated by offsite guests because they felt this wasn't fair.

From Russell Meyer on January 21, 2005 at 8:56 AM
One way you could ensure that off-site guests evacuate the park would be to tag them with electronic sensors that would deliver small electric shocks if they didn't head towards the exits when the park closed. Or you could install trap doors around the park that would open if any off-site guest walked over them after the normal park closing time.

Seriously though, the easiest way would be for it to work much like On-Site Universal Express, where on-site guests would have to flash their room key in order to get in line for any attraction. You wouldn't have to push off-site guests out the door, and they could contiue to shop in the stores and restuarants (spending more money), and it would open up the attractions to on-site guests without having to evacuate the park and re-admit them. It would also avoid confusion for on-site guests who do not understand that they need to go to the front of the park and stand in a line to pick up a wristband. Disney could place signs in front of every attraction and just deny access to attractions to guests who cannot produce a room key. No need for wristbands, stamps, tatoos, or funny hats. If you're on-site, you have an active room key, and flashing it should be sufficient. The only possible problem would be people taking their room keys home with them after staying on-site and flashing the key on their next visit. That problem could be easily fixed with simple mag-strip readers that could allow CMs to tell whether a room key is active or old. A minor investment, but undoubtedly cheaper than millions of plastic wristbands.

From Derek Potter on January 21, 2005 at 12:12 PM
Kenny, I can imagine the headaches you have to put up with at closing time. I picture people without wristbands slipping in line at the last minute and such, and I also imagine they piss and moan when they are turned away too. Is it that people just don't know about the perk? or is it because they think that the world revolves around them and the rules don't apply to them.
From Jason Moore on January 21, 2005 at 1:38 PM
My bet would be on the latter option there Derek. (just based on my own customer service interactions)
From Kenny Hitt on January 21, 2005 at 4:42 PM
I always used it as an opportunity to exercise the more sadistic side of my personality. If someone without a wristband got in line when I was on, say, Alien Encounter, I took sweet joy in making them wait until they got up to the turnstile before pleasantly informing them they they would not be allowed to board.

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