By Krista JoyThe 2013 holiday season is here, and Universal invites you to start "untraditional" holiday traditions at Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure.
Published: December 8, 2013 at 8:28 PM
This year I was very fortunate to attend on the behalf of Theme Park Insider for the opening of the 2013 holiday celebrations at Universal. You too can catch the festivities at Universal December 7 through January 4.
Grinchmas Wholiday Spectacular
The Grinchmas Wholiday Spectacular is the centerpiece of the Grinchmas celebration at Seuss Landing. It's a very sweet, live show starring the Grinch. The show also includes a colorful cast of Who-ville residents and music recorded by Mannheim Steamroller. As wonderful as the live actors are, an actual dog plays the part of the Grinch's dog Max, and he certainly steals the show at times. The Wholiday Spectacular is scheduled at various times throughout the day. You will want to check your in-park map for times. Something important to note is that there aren't any restrooms available inside the building — so be sure to plan accordingly. The show is really enjoyable and the Grinch makes the audience laugh quite a bit. I remember being a little frightened by the cartoon at a young age — but nothing about this show seemed to bother even the youngest kids, which was nice.
The Who-ville Tree as seen backstage when you are waiting for the show to open.
Who-ville residents are super excited that Christmas is coming!
Max rides on the sled that the Grinch has filled with gifts. To get the best view of this part of the show, you'll want to sit stage left.
The Who-ville Tree before the Grinch steals the ornaments...
Then afterwards...that naughty Grinch!
No worries, at the end of the show all is restored, and the Grinch is much more kind and gentle. However he does not lose his gritty edge. He is still that rebellious Grinch that we all know and love.
After the show, the media was treated to a question and answer session with the show director for Universal Orlando Resort, Lora Wallace, and John Piper, the vice president and creative director of the Macy's Parade. It really shows that they are very proud of just about every aspect of this beloved parade. The excitement and giddiness of these two business professionals was really great to see.
One of the things Lora and John told us is that the major change in this year's parade is the addition of Happy Hippo. Just like the song, "I want a hippopotamus for Christmas," Happy is really fun and makes everyone smile. You may recognize Happy from her TV appearance on the original Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York. She hasn't appeared in the parade since the 1940's — and she has had a makeover since then. She is now in Orlando, fresh from New York, with her newly updated girly pink toenails and eyelashes. In fact — she is such a star — that she was revealed to us in her very own mini preview. Doesn't she look fabulous?
This is the first time Universal Studios guests will be able to see a parade balloon before it's marched through the park. Happy will make a street appearance like this one near Mel's Drive-In each night. "She will walk out as low as we can possibly make her walk..." said Lora. Balloon pilots also delighted guests by making Happy "dance" and jiggle to the music. It is really funny to see. Happy will appear at 3:50 p.m. ahead of the 5 p.m. parade during Universal's event except from Dec. 26 to Dec. 31, when the parade will step off at 8 p.m., and Happy will appear at about 6:50 p.m.
Safety precautions were also discussed during the press conference. John told me that the New York and Orlando balloon pilots go through very extensive training. In fact, because the show here in Orlando has been running for so many years, some of the Orlando pilots are now training the New York pilots. Other members of the team in white suits with devices that measure wind speed can be seen everywhere before and during the parade. Universal turns all the traditional looking street lamps to the side, and any that have pointed decorations are covered in Santa hats as an added precaution.
Santa hats — not just for decoration!
This method has worked so well that many of the light posts wear jester hats during that other famous parade at Universal — Mardi Gras! Once the press conference was over we made our way to our parade viewing spot.
Along the way we saw Curious George
and these sweet faces behind us!
Macy's Holiday Parade
For many of us, The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is something most of us have probably only seen on TV. The beauty of Universal hosting this parade here in Orlando is that once the legendary New York City parade ends, many of its awesome balloons and (even the floats!) are sent down here to us!
Universal does a great job with this spectacular version of the parade. Here are some highlights:
By Robert NilesA friend of the site recently sent me this photo, from inside the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley, under construction at Universal Studios Florida.
Published: December 7, 2013 at 10:46 PM
We've given you the full line-up of attractions, restaurants and shops you'll find in Diagon Alley at Universal. We've shown you construction photos from outside and above the site. And we were first with a detailed look at the land's centerpiece attraction, the Gringotts coaster, nearly two years ago.
Friends of Theme Park Insider have been sending me photos from inside the construction zone, but I haven't been able to share most of them with you. At least, not yet. But, frankly, if you've seen one photo of scaffolding in front of a gray wall, you've seen 'em all.
This was one of the first photos I've gotten that hints at the level of decoration we'll be seeing in Diagon Alley. Though this is an outdoor shot, much of the new land will be under cover, including most of Knockturn Alley. The experience will be both intricate and intimate — I'm certain that crowds will jam every inch of space in the new land when it opens. Diagon Alley was not some broad Paris boulevard, after all. It's a cramped London back alleyway, and Universal's version will reflect that.
But it will be one wildly entertaining alleyway, themed and decorated to a level of detail not otherwise found in American theme parks. I'm getting more and more excited for this new land, from the photos I've seen. So I'm happy to be able to share one of those photos with you.
By Robert NilesAustralia's Sea World Gold Coast park has debuted its new US$18 million Mack water coaster, called Storm Coaster.
Published: December 6, 2013 at 8:32 PM
Photo courtesy Sea World
Storm Coaster features a 98-foot drop and 44-mph top speed. The ride begins in and ends in a show building, with the roller coaster portion of the ride at the beginning, followed by a splashdown return to the show building. You can see a POV video from the park in this news report. (For those of you wondering, Australia's Sea World is owned by Village Roadshow and is not affiliated with the US-based SeaWorld parks. Note that space in the name.)
The ride's the second big coaster to open in Australia this season, following the debut of Abyss, a Gerstlauer Euro-Fighter coaster, at Adventure World in Perth last month.
Disney buys the film distribution rights for Indiana Jones. So what's that mean for the theme parks?
By Robert NilesDisney today announced that it had purchased the distribution rights to the Indiana Jones franchise from Paramount Pictures. Disney had obtained the character rights to Indiana Jones when it bought Lucasfilm, but Paramount had retained the right to distribute any future Indiana Jones movies. With today's deal, those rights now go to Disney.
Published: December 6, 2013 at 5:12 PM
Which invites speculation that Disney now will produce and distribute a fifth Indiana Jones film. After all, there's no value to buying the rights to distribute a movie that no one's going to make.
With Disney almost certain to at least be pursuing a fifth Indiana Jones film, theme park fans ought to be excused for wondering what Disney's long-term plan for the franchise might be. When Disney bought Lucasfilm, which counts Star Wars and Indiana Jones among its properties, the company quickly began work on a new Star Wars-themed land for Disney's Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World and a new Star Wars overlay for at least part of Disneyland's Tomorrowland. With new Indiana Jones movies on the horizon, might Disney also increase its investment in Indy as a theme park franchise?
Certain Disney World fans long have desired their own version of Disneyland's Indiana Jones ride, wanting more of a presence for the franchise than the stunt show now playing at DHS. But Disney World already has the Indiana Jones ride. Sort of. The Dinosaur ride at Disney's Animal Kingdom uses the same ride system and track layout as Disneyland's Indiana Jones Adventure.
Disney's 2000 Dinosaur movie didn't launch an enduring franchise. Heck, Don Bluth had more luck with The Land Before Time franchise in attracting kids with animated dinosaurs. For grown-ups, Universal's locked up the market with the Jurassic Park franchise. If Disney wants to increase the theme park presence of Indiana Jones, it might get the most return on its investment by giving up on dinosaurs and retheming the Dinosaur ride into an east-coast version of the Indiana Jones Adventure. Disney could complete the transformation of Dinoland USA into an Indiana Jones land by removing the troublesome Primeval Whirl roller coaster and replacing it with the Indiana Jones et le Temple du Peril/Raging Spirits coaster now found at Disneyland Paris and Tokyo DisneySea. It's not an especially popular coaster, but it's a fun ride that would give Disney a second looping coaster at the Walt Disney World Resort. Heck, Disney could lift much of the design for DisneySea's Lost River Delta to create an Indiana Jones land at Animal Kingdom.
Of course, Indy's an archeologist, not a paleontologist. But Disney already blew up the park's theme with the announced addition of an Avatar-themed land. Indiana Jones at least would provide a second powerhouse franchise to help make Animal Kingdom an even more popular destination for theme park fans.
What would you like to see the Walt Disney Company do with the Indiana Jones franchise in its theme parks?
By Robert NilesDid you stop to get a picture with a character the last time you visited a theme park?
Published: December 6, 2013 at 11:32 AM
Meeting Princess Tiana in Disneyland's New Orleans Square
Meet and greets have become wildly popular, especially at the Disney parks, where meet-and-greets with Mickey and Minnie Mouse or with the Disney princesses have moved into permanent attraction buildings of their own. You can even get Fastpasses to meet those characters now.
Even the so-called "minor" characters can draw huge lines. And they're often slow-moving ones, too, as families take their time with the character, often fumbling around with a camera, coaxing a reluctant child forward, or lingering trying to get that perfect shot. A while back, we offered some advice on How to meet and greet a theme park character, to help make the experience as rewarding as possible for everyone (including that hard-working cast member portraying the character!)
But not everyone takes time to meet Mickey, or a Minion, when visiting a theme park. For some fans, the characters are simply a distraction. For those park visitors, the best thing they can say about character meet-and-greets is that they pull other park guests out of the ride and show lines they're running toward.
What do you think about theme park character meet-and-greets? Do you make them a regular part of your theme park visits, or do you usually skip 'em? Don't think that this is simply a "thing" for families with small kids. Plenty of grown-ups meet the characters, too! (See photo above.)
Got a great character meet-and-greet story? Tell us in the comments! And thank you, as always, for being part of the Theme Park Insider community.
Update: Here's my story: My now-teenage daughter loved Buzz Lightyear when she was a toddler. She carried a little Buzz doll pretty much 24/7 for over a year when she was four and often demanded that her mother and I "talk like Buzz" so she could have a conversation with it.
So when we moved to Southern California and I started taking her to Disneyland, of course, she wanted to meet her hero. We went one Saturday, waited in line in Tomorrowland, and finally had our turn. But when my daughter faced Disneyland's five-foot-tall Buzz, she crumpled. She wouldn't look at Buzz, buried her face onto the ground, sobbing, and refused to move until I agreed to carry her away. She just couldn't reconcile this gargantuan Buzz with the little five-inch doll she carried around and saw, as the same size, on her TV screen.
By Robert NilesDisney's slowly revealing more details about the design of Shanghai Disneyland, where the company appears to be making the most significant changes yet to its classic "Magic Kingdom" park design.
Published: December 5, 2013 at 8:28 PM
The centerpiece of the park won't be the traditional basic "hub," as found in varying sizes in the five other Magic Kingdom/Disneyland parks: Anaheim, Orlando, Tokyo, Paris, and Hong Kong. The Shanghai hub will be an 11-acre "Gardens of Imagination."
Concept art courtesy Disney
Disney tonight released more detail about one of the gardens in this area: the Garden of the 12 Friends, a grove of peach trees with tile mosaic murals of various Disney and Pixar characters depicting the 12 Chinese Zodiac characters. (Remy gets the first one, for the Year of the Rat, of course.)
When we talked with theme park designer Dave Cobb last summer, he discussed the challenges of adapting Western theme park designs for a Chinese audience. The 11-acre Gardens of Imagination will provide plenty of space for multiple generations of families who visit together to sit and take photos in a beautiful environment filled with a blend of Chinese culture and Disney whimsy. It's a big change from the stripped-down Anaheim clone that Disney built in Hong Kong to lukewarm reviews and attendance, before the company responded with a massive investment to expand the park that ultimately resulted in Mystic Manor, a wildly popular new ride filled with cultural touch points for Chinese families.
Disney appears to have learned its lesson and is responding with an original design that promises to better reflect the desires of the Chinese audience. We will see how well Shanghai Disneyland accomplishes that goal when it opens in late 2015.
By Robert NilesThe days between the weeks of Thanksgiving and Christmas might be the slowest time of the year for theme parks, with travelers staying home between the two holidays, and regional parks closed for the year. But theme park fans never take time off from at least thinking about the parks. What better time, as we approach the new year, to anticipate some of the great new attractions that await us in 2014?
Published: December 5, 2013 at 11:46 AM
From our list of What's Under Construction at Top Theme Parks, here are the top 10 new attractions we're looking forward to seeing in North America next year, plus one bonus new attraction from outside the United States and Canada.
In alphabetical order of theme park
Busch Gardens Tampa: Falcon's Fury
This 335-foot drop ride will offer the unique experience of dropping riders face down toward the Earth below. Falcon's Fury will be the centerpiece of a revamp of the park's Timbuktu section into the newly-branded "Pantopia" land.
Busch Gardens Williamsburg: London Rocks
London Rocks will play in a renovated Globe Theatre and feature a 25-minute live-action and multimedia tribute to the heyday of rock in England.
Canada's Wonderland: Wonder Mountain's Guardian
A 3D dark ride/roller coaster, Wonder Mountain's Guardian will start up the side of the park's icon mountain, before plunging inside for a shoot-'em-up adventure.
Dollywood: Firechaser Express
This Gerstlauer family coaster will feature two mild launches, as well as a backward section, on a themed track.
Kings Island: Banshee
This Bolliger & Mabillard roller coaster will be the world's longest inverted coaster and feature seven inversions and a top speed of 68 mph.
Six Flags Great Adventure: Zumanjaro Drop of Doom
Great Adventure will add a trio of 450-foot drop tower tracks to Kinga Ka's tower, making this the world's tallest drop ride.
Six Flags Great America: Goliath
A Rocky Mountain Construction coaster, Goliath will be the world's fastest, tallest, and steepest wooden roller coaster.
Universal Studios Florida: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley
Universal follow its wildly success Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure with this new London-themed Harry Potter land, highlighted by an indoor roller coaster ride through the caverns under Gringotts Bank.
Universal Studios Hollywood: Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem
Universal brings its popular Minion 4D ride to Hollywood, adding an impressive new facade and a Super Silly Fun Land play area next door.
Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom: The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
The Snow White-themed centerpiece of the Magic Kingdom's New Fantasyland finally debuts this spring.
And here's that bonus new ride, from the Disneyland Paris resort:
Walt Disney Studios Park: Ratatouille: L'Aventure Totalement Toquee de Remi
The Paris Disney Studios park gets its version of a "Mystic Manor"-style trackless dark ride, themed to the third-most-famous rodent in the Disney family.
Which of these new attractions are you planning to experience in 2014? And which ones would you most want to read about on Theme Park Insider?
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