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The BLOGFlume—Happy Easter

Jim Hill gets caught, Powder Keg hits a bump in the road, and I finally make it to Busch Gardens Williamsburg

Written by Russell Meyer
Published: March 27, 2005 at 9:45 PM

Don’t Mess With the Mouse
LA Times 3/25/05

Jim Hill, one of the foremost experts on Disney, was recently excused from the park for conducting an unauthorized tour. As the story goes, Mr. Hill was escorting a group of no more than 10 paying guests (each paying $25) through Disneyland, and was stopped by Disneyland security during the course of the tour, and asked to leave. In defense of Mr. Hill, he has been conducting these tours for quite some time now. Even some managers at the park were aware of the tours, and did not mind his “private” and uncensored tours of the park. Disneyland conducts a number of tours around the park at a much higher price than the Hill tour. The Hill tours are reportedly conducted rather discretely, and the small groups have allowed Hill to go mostly unnoticed in the park. The rumor is that a couple of people have accidentally tagged onto the Hill tour instead of their scheduled Disney-run tour, and they eventually filed a complaint with park management about some of the content of the tour. This led to management promptly finding the Hill tour, and shutting it down. Disney probably has the right to throw Hill out of the park for taking away profit from the Disney-run tours, but it seems that the reason that the Hill tour was shut down is because Disney does not approve of the material Hill was spouting during the tour. I guess all of those foreign tourists walking around the park with their flags should be on the lookout, because Disney is watching. Jim Hill probably isn’t completely innocent in this affair, but maybe he should not have kept his tour looking so legitimate, so that unsuspecting tagalongs would never have been a problem.

Just a Bump
Screamscape 3/25/05

Powder Keg, Silver Dollar City’s newest roller coaster, experienced a minor problem that caused four passengers to be taken to the hospital. The train was approaching the station at approximately 3 miles per hour, and bumped an empty train that was stopped in the station. Four riders seated in the front of the train were sent to the hospital for precautionary examinations, and were soon after released. The ride is scheduled to officially open on April 7, 2005, and the fire marshal has given the park permission to re-open the coaster once minor modifications are made to the braking system. This accident seems strangely similar to an incident that occurred on Big Thunder Mountain at Disneyland, even though different manufacturers are involved. Powder Keg has been completely reconstructed by S&S from a water coaster into a pneumatic launch coaster, and is the first coaster they have constructed using steel tubular track. It seems like the accident was caused by a simple blocking problem, but a simple blocking problem on Big Thunder has caused a whole lot of headaches for Disney. Hopefully Silver Dollar City can fix the problem, and the roller coaster will run flawlessly.

First Trip of the Year

In a new record, it took me five operating days before I made it to Busch Gardens Williamsburg for the first time. I have been to five straight passport preview days, and due to some prior commitments, I was unable to make it to the preview day for the first time this season. As I had expected, the holiday and dreary and chilly weather (upper 40’s) kept most people away, and the park was about as deserted as I’ve ever seen it. I had an opportunity to stroll through the park to notice some of the changes that have been made in the off-season. One of the interesting changes that have been made is that plastic passports are being phased out in favor of (supposedly) water resistant paper. Whether this is a cost cutting measure, or just for convenience and to speed up the season pass processing, it was somewhat deflating to spend $250 on a piece of paper. Anyway, my wife and I got our renewed season passes processed, and signed up for beer school. The beer school did offer two of Anheuser-Busch’s newest offerings, Budweiser Select and BE, which looks just like normal beer, but strangely smells and tastes like a normal energy drink. Another change to the park is the bald eagle and wolf habitats. While the new wolf habitat is not yet complete, it looks like guests will be able to view the wolves in a zoo-like setting when they are not performing in a new habitat - a beautifully landscaped area in the valley between Ireland and Jack Hanna’s Wild Reserve. As reported in the media kit, Busch Gardens has added a new restaurant in Aquitaine. However, what they did not say was that the new LeMans Bistro is a full-service sit down restaurant, the first in the park. We walked by and checked out the menu, and we were urged to make a reservation. Considering the lack of crowds in the park, we decided to just come back later in the day for a nice dinner. The menu looked very good with sandwiches, entrees, salads, and desserts, and the cast member at the stand continuously mentioned that the servers were not to be tipped, but would offer top-notch service. However, when we returned later in the day, the restaurant was abandoned. Actually, a number of restaurants that were open earlier in the day closed about midway through the day, probably because the lack of crowds. I guess we should have made that reservation. The other big change to the park is that big grey castle-looking thing in Octoberfest. The exterior of The Curse of DarKastle is looking quite good, and with five weeks until media preview day, most if not all of the primary exterior work should be completed. The dark grey walls were rather ominous, and the main spire announces the attractions existence without looking too obvious. The newly renovated gift shop across the way, “Der Marktplatz,” is a combination snack bar and gift shop that already contains a few gothic souvenirs perfectly tailored for the new attraction. Another noticeable change was on the bridge connecting Octoberfest to Festa Italia. The bridge, which last year received the new non-slick surface and canopies, has been given a “Salute to Heroes” treatment complete with theme music and seals from each of the services. There was also an enhancement to one of the ticket booths that also received a “Salute to Heroes” treatment. I felt that while the tribute was nice, and many members of our armed services will appreciate the recognition, it felt a little overboard, and out of place in the park. Also, Apollo’s Chariot received a fresh coat of paint, and the purple seems to get even purpler every time they repaint it. We left a little before the park closed, and had a pretty nice day, despite the not-so-nice weather.

Readers' Opinions

From Pete Brecht on March 28, 2005 at 7:51 AM
Russell, I also was at BGW renewing my passports this weekend, although I went on Saturday, when the park was fairly busy. I wholeheartedly agree that the "Salute to Heroes" thing was overdone.

I took my girls to see "Irish Thunder", and before the show they actually played the Anheuser ad with the soldiers being cheered as they walked through an airport. Then they played a video announcement by August Busch IV talking about how great our soldiers are, etc. This is before an Irish-themed dance show!

I noticed this at BGW a little bit last year; the gift shops in the France section had pro-USA stuff prominently displayed (presumably to head off the anti-France bias that was popular last year). However, I really think that BGW is going over the top with it this year.

I realize that these days people think you're a commie if you don't have a "Support the Troops" magnet on your car, but I really found the whole thing rather off-putting. I go to theme parks as an escape, and I really don't want to be beat over the head with faux-patriotism while I'm there. I hope they ratchet it back at some point.

From Joe Lane on March 28, 2005 at 10:05 AM
Jim did a lot of clarifying on his website about what exactly happened. The group was waiting for three additional members who were supposed to show. Three ladies looking for an official Disney tour mistakeningly joined the group (which Jim didn't question much). When the miscommunication became clear and Jim realized the ladies were in the wrong tour, he directed them to City Hall. When Disney told them they couldn't get a new tour because they had missed their first one, they complained that Jim had told some rather bad stories in an attempt to win sympathy, and it goes on from there...

It should be noted that Disney did give Jim's group a complimentary free "Walk In Walt's Footsteps" tour, complete with lunch and pixie dust.

From Robert Niles on March 28, 2005 at 10:51 AM
I want to say something about the Jim Hill sitaution, but I'm conflicted in more ways than I can count on that one. So, I'll give my $.02 of business advice to Jim:

Record the tours in MP3 format and sell them via your website. Then anyone who wants can buy 'em off your site, download them to an iPod and listen along as they walk through the park. Disney can't stop you, you make money, people get the stories -- everyone ('cept Disney) is happy.

From Erik Yates on March 28, 2005 at 2:40 PM
Team Rodent will find some way to disband Jim altogether Robert. They'll come up with some ruling how he cant give tours actual or virtual about a copyrighted park or some legality junk like that. The fact is that disney pretty much gets what it wants and it doesnt want Jim to do his tours, beacause although he is doing nothing wrong, at least as far as the law goes (ethically some could argue) he is taking the most important thing away from disney, no not happiness, money.
And the Salute to heroes, while its great, is overdone at the orlando and tampa parks as well. The Budweiser energy beer is really quite good, but has a lot of caffeine(i think the equivalent of 3 cups of coffee) and i've made the mistake of consuming some right before bed. Not recommended.
From Chuck Campbell on March 28, 2005 at 5:00 PM
I went to BGW on Easter Sunday afternoon, and the place was so dead that I actually had a train on the Big Bad Wolf all to myself. Pretty weird to ride that bad boy and not hear a lot of screaming behind you. Hearing "As the Cassions Go Rolling Along" and "From the Halls of Montezuma" as I walked from Germany to Italy was a bit bizarre. Supporting our troops is one thing, but Busch is bordering on jingoism with this tribute. What's next? Budweiser as the Official Beer of the Fallujah Campaign? Oh, well--DarKastle is looking good, at least.

As for the Disney/Jim Hill situation, Jim, as much as I enjoy reading his columns, was probably treading on thin ice with those tours--especially if they were unauthorized on private property. Robert's CD idea sounds like a wise move.

From Joe Lane on March 28, 2005 at 5:44 PM
I think Jim has already started plans in motion for an audio version of his tour to go on sale through the site. It'll certainly prove interesting to see if Disney tries to slap further suits against him should this venture become successful.
From Robert Niles on March 28, 2005 at 8:59 PM
Disney hasn't done spit against website publishers, as far as I've heard -- which surprises me, given how aggressively Disney's gone after people who have used their characters and trademarks without permission offline. Plenty of Disney fan sites (not Jim Hill's) use Disney trademarks in ways that no court would consider fair use.

Online, Disney instead tries to punish sites that provide less-than-100-percent-positive coverage of the company by banning them from press events, refusing to send them press releases and declining to provide company representatives for comment on anything.

Which, of course, doesn't stop the flow of information to independent and objective websites, since Disney employees leak like a tarpaper roof in a Southern California rainstorm.

From Jason Herrera on March 28, 2005 at 9:46 PM
My independent Organization, which focuses on safety at amusement venues has had no problem getting employees to talk as well as patrons.

The key is this, though --- doing your work in a quiet yet productive way. No need to draw attention to yourself.


Yes, I am back.

From Jason Lester on March 29, 2005 at 10:54 AM
The iPod idea could work and not work in many ways. First, Disney could find this website and shut it down. I really don't think they'd go as far as to sue Jim, but with Disney you never really know. I like the idea though Robert.

And on a site note, why is it always the western themed ones?

From Russell Meyer on March 29, 2005 at 12:05 PM
Disney cannot shut down the website because of the 1st ammendment. The only grounds they would have is if JHM is releasing proprietary information, similar to the Apple Computer case against the high school student who always seems to know what they're putting out before it's announced. The kid called the i-pod, i-pod photo, i-pod shuffle, and mac mini before they were ever announced. Apple is trying to shut him down, and to a certain extend succeeded, but only to force writers to reveal confidential sources when referring to proprietary information.

This is all about intellectual property, and where the line can be drawn between speculation and fact, a line that has become incredibly fuzzy in the internet age. There are so many "fake" websites that exist merely to fool people into believing information is real, despite it being laden with opinion and speculation. You also have a number of "real" websites that release real information, but spin that information to fit the opinion of the author. The word objective has become a farce in the on-line world. Companies need to accept that everyone is going to write an opinion and leak or speculate about confidential information.

From TH Creative on March 29, 2005 at 12:27 PM
Mr. Meyer writes: "There are so many "fake" websites that exist merely to fool people into believing information is real, despite it being laden with opinion and speculation."

I Respond: A perfect example of this is that phony news site called foxnews.com.

From Robert Niles on March 29, 2005 at 2:24 PM
Oh, my Lord, TH and Kevin finally agree!

Next we'll see me writing a rave review for a Disney theme park.

Oh, wait....

From Erik Yates on March 29, 2005 at 3:09 PM
And for once TH says something worth saying...Amen lol...and i did see that absolutely gushing review of Disney...isnt this the first sign of the apocolypse?
From Chuck Campbell on March 30, 2005 at 3:39 PM
That and the day they fill in the potholes in the parking lot at Paramount's Kings Dominion. When the 666th guest enters on the 666th day and buys the 666th funnel cake, then thou shalt know his number is BR-549 . . . either that or he's Junior Samples from "Hee Haw."
From Derek Potter on March 30, 2005 at 5:20 PM
Chuck, I'll predict that your potholes at Paramount's Kings Dominion will be filled in next year. Kings Island's parking lot has gotten a repair and facelift this year. PKD is usually next in line. The apocalypse isn't quite here. Six Flags isn't out of the hole yet.
From Chuck Campbell on March 30, 2005 at 7:40 PM
My car's suspension will be forever grateful.