Written by Russell Meyer
Published: July 27, 2005 at 10:06 PM
According to the latest press release from Busch Gardens Williamsburg, time is running out to experience two of the most amazing theme park shows ever developed. Imaginique, a Cirque d’Soileil-style nightly spectacular, and Irish Thunder, a Riverdance-style song and dance show, will both be ending their runs in the park this season. Imaginique’s final performance will be on Sunday, August, 21, 2005, and Irish Thunder’s final show will be on Sunday, September 18, 2005. Both shows have been incredibly popular, and both, incidentally, rely heavily on foreign talent. Imaginique normally ends its run in the Royal Palace Theater near the end of the summer, and it is not clear if anything will be developed to take its place. Many parks use fireworks or massive light shows to end the evenings in the summertime, and Imaginique was definitely one of the most unique day-ending shows that has been developed for a theme park.
Irish Thunder’s end is a little more interesting, since Busch has stated in its press release that the show is closing to “make room for a brand new experience in 2006.” While Irish Thunder’s popularity has declined slightly over the past few years, it is still more popular than just about any theme park show the United States outside of Florida or Los Angeles. The show is so popular that there are “groupies” that still stand in front of the Abbey Stone Theater well before the doors open to grab seats at the very front. Irish Thunder could also be considered the anchor attraction of Killarney, and is one of the few reasons to turn right at Heatherdowns. The other attractions in Killarney include Secrets of Castle O’Sullivan, Corkscrew Hill, and Budweiser Beer School. There is no indication that the “new experience” will be a new show or a different kind of attraction. The closing of the show so early in the season suggests that the Abbey Stone Theater could be in for some major renovations, or perhaps a Howl-O-Scream attraction could be on-tap for the theater. The promotion of Shari McGhee to Vice President of Entertainment could be an indication that new, more-elaborate show could be in store. Ms. McGhee was the driving force behind the creation of Irish Thunder. At any rate, Busch Gardens Williamsburg is losing two of its most popular shows, and hopefully these big “holes” in the lineup will be filled with shows or attractions that are equally as popular, if not more so.
Down with Complacency
I’ve been following the rumors on this story for quite some time, and it appears that things may finally be getting off the ground. Islands of Adventure is still recognized as one of the best parks in the world, and was just recently topped by Tokyo Sea Disney in the 2005 Theme Park Insider Awards. Part of that small slip in popularity is because the park has remained stagnant for a number of years. The last major addition to the rather “new” theme park was The Amazing Adventures of Spider-man, which is still the best attraction in the world according to the same awards. While Universal has done a great job of promoting its 1-2 punch of Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure to financial success, grumblings are growing louder as park guests are becoming bored with the unchanged line-up at the new park. Rumors have been flying over the past few years about a potential Van Helsing Robo-Coaster, B&M flying coaster, and even a hyper-coaster, but the location remains the same: the area between the Jurassic Park River Adventure and the Flying Unicorn coaster. It appears that Universal may be finally doing something, and the impetus might stem from the success of the Revenge of the Mummy attractions at the Florida and Hollywood parks. While this new attraction will likely not be completed until 2007, it looks like it will be a big one, and may coincide with the likely release of Jurassic Park IV. A jeep adventure using a ride system similar to Paramount's Italian Job Stunt Track and Revenge of the Mummy has been the most logical rumor for such an attraction, but one has to wonder how Universal will sell an attraction that could be very similar to Revenge of the Mummy, which is less than ½ mile away. Hey, at least Universal is recognizing that the park needs something new soon, and is not going to take 4 years to get something built, ala Disney's Animal Kingdom and Expedition Everest.
On the Outs
McDonalds, long time partner of Disney, has decided to make a long-term commitment to rival Dreamworks Animation SKG. McDonalds and Disney are nearing the end of a 10-year partnership, and with the box-office numbers of recent Disney films slipping, and the future with Pixar uncertain, McDonalds needed to make a move. Chief rival, Burger King, has caught up in recent years with kids meal deals with Fox (Star Wars and Fantastic 4), and was already close to a deal with Dreamworks Animation. Could this be the end of another major Disney partnership? Probably not, but it is unlikely that McDonalds, or any other restaurant for that matter, will ever sign a long-term promotional agreement with Disney. Fast food is already having a tough time with health conscious America, and increasing competition, and restaurants cannot afford to promote films like Tarzan 5 3/8: The Search for More Bananas. Expect non-exclusive contracts with escape clauses, and the end of one restaurant being the home to one movie studio’s products.