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Why can't grown-ups go trick-or-treating, too?

By Robert Niles
Published: October 22, 2016 at 11:22 AM
How much did you love to go trick-or-treating when you were a kid? How much would you want to be able to go do that again, today?

Theme park fans know there's way to keep trick-or-treating every Halloween season, no matter what your age. You just need to buy a ticket to one of Disney's after-hours Halloween parties to do.

And hundreds of thousands of fans do. Disneyland has sold out all of its advance tickets for it XX Mickey's Halloween Party nights this year, despite a big price increase and cutting free parking for party-goers. On the east coast, Walt Disney World also sells out many nights of its Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, adding millions of dollars to the resort's bottom line during what used to be one of the slower seasons of the year.

In my Orange County Register column this week, I write about the enduring appeal of trick-or-treating, and how Disney has turned that into a wildly successful Halloween event for all ages. But why should Disney corner this market?

Most other competing theme parks in Southern California and Orlando are already packing 'em in with their horror-themed Halloween events and aren't about to abandon those sure things to create an all-ages trick-or-treat event to go after Disney's. But why should grown-ups be limited to trick-or-treating in the parks?

Why can't we have all-ages trick-or-treating everywhere? If we're willing to hand out candy to kids in costumes every Oct. 31, why shouldn't our hospitality extend to teens and grown-ups? It's not "cheating" if they're wearing a costume and say "trick or treat!" too. That's all the little kids are doing.

Heck, it's less cheating because the teens and grown-ups are waaaay more likely to have made or bought their own costumes — unlike all those little freeloading kids who depending upon their parents to do all the work. And then wail and complain when the parents who spend all that time and money putting together costumes to their little divas' exacting specifications skim a couple of Reese's cups as a "Mommy and Daddy tax" for their effort.

Wait... I'm ranting again, aren't I? But, parents, you know what I mean. ;^)

Anyway, please go read the column, in which I raise some of the logistical issues standing in the way of all-ages trick-or-treating and then meet back here, where we will put this radical concept up for a vote.

Robert's column:

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Disney gets ready to celebrate Mickey Mouse's birthday

By Robert Niles
Published: October 21, 2016 at 3:02 PM
The Walt Disney Company is getting ready to celebrate Mickey Mouse's 88th birthday next month by sending its icon on a world tour. And fans at the Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resorts will be invited to celebrate the Big Cheese's big day on Nov. 18, too.

Disney has given Mickey a new Instagram account, on which he'll be documenting his travels leading up to his official birthday — the anniversary of the 1928 premiere of Steamboat Willie at the Colony Theatre in New York City. The hashtag for posts across all social media is #HappyBirthdayMickey.

Talk about lucky! I’ve got the best pals around the world. Can’t wait to meet you all! —Mickey #HappyBirthdayMickey

A photo posted by Mickey Mouse (@mickeymouse) on

Walt Disney World and Disneyland will be giving out "Happy Birthday Mickey!" buttons on the 18th, and Disney will run a special pre-parade unit honoring Mickey on that day at Disneyland. At Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, the party will be a specially-themed Move It! Shake It! Dance & Play It! street party.

* * *
Also next month, Disney will be taping its annual Christmas television special across the four Disney World theme parks, from Nov. 9 through 13. In a change from previous years, there will be no taping of the Magic Kingdom Christmas parade, as it will not appear in the show. Disney is said to be taping parade footage at Disneyland for the show this year, but Disney hasn't confirmed a taping date for that yet. Once the centerpiece of the annual Christmas morning telecast, the Disney Christmas parade's role in the show has shrunk in recent years, as Disney has used the show on its ABC television network to promote more of its movie, television and recording properties instead of just the theme parks.

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Orlando news update: Mimes return to SeaWorld; StarFlyer coming to I-Drive

By Robert Niles
Published: October 20, 2016 at 11:46 AM
Some old favorites and a new thrill ride are on their way to Orlando-area attractions.

SeaWorld Orlando announced that it's bringing back its pre-show mimes for the holiday season. The park had laid off three longtime performers two years ago as part of company-wide cost-cutting. But fans pressed for their return, and now SeaWorld's relented. The Orlando Sentinel reports that Lynn Frey will be returning for the Clyde and Seamore's Countdown to Christmas show, along with two newly-hired mimes.

SeaWorld's one of the few remaining businesses out there that actually waits until after Thanksgiving to kick off its Christmas activities, with SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration running Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays Nov. 25-Dec. 11 and daily from Dec. 16 through New Year's Eve. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer joins the line-up at the Orlando park this year, too.

The Orlando Eye is getting a new neighbor. The Orange County [Florida] Development Review Committee has approved plans for 450-foot FunTime StarFlyer swing ride next door to the Orlando Eye's I-Drive 360 development. The StarFlyer will anchor the new Vue at 360 development, which is being built by I-Drive 360's owner. Even though the project has its final approval, it still needs construction permits to be issued, but the plans are for construction to start sometime early next year.

For reference, Six Flags operates several StarFlyers as "SkyScreamer" at nine of its amusement parks across North America. The Orlando installation would be taller than any of the Six Flags rides, however, exceeding the height of the Six Flags New England SkyScreamer by 40 feet. The Orlando StarFlyer would be 50 feet taller than its neighboring Orlando Eye, too. That observation wheel tops out at 400 feet.

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Universal is bringing its Minions to Japan

By Robert Niles
Published: October 19, 2016 at 8:18 PM
Universal Studios Japan will build a new land themed to Illumination Entertainment's popular Minions franchise.

The park announced today that Minion Park will open in the first half of 2017, as a plussed version of the Minion-themed mini-land at Universal Studios Hollywood. Despicable Me Minion Mayhem will anchor the new land, which Universal is promising will be "the world's largest Minion-themed area."

In addition to the Minion Mayhem ride, the new land will feature a toy store, sweets factory and a "hotel," according to the park's press release. The new land is taking over the site formerly occupied by the park's Back to the Future attraction, which closed last May.

Universal currently has Despicable Me rides at Universal Studios Florida and Universal Studios Hollywood, though the original Florida installation does not have the surrounding Minion-themed development found in Hollywood and, soon, Japan.

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Karen Irwin replaces Larry Kurzweil as head of Universal Studios Hollywood

By Robert Niles
Published: October 19, 2016 at 2:09 PM
Larry Kurzweil is out and Universal Parks & Resorts executive Karen Irwin is in as President of Universal Studios Hollywood, corporate parent NBCUniversal announced today.

Irwin, who has been based in Orlando, has been the Executive Vice President, Global Merchandise and Partnership Development, for Universal Parks & Resorts. An opening crew team member at Universal Studios Florida, Irwin has worked as Director of Operations and Director of Support Services for Food and Beverage, as well as Vice President of Merchandise Operations and Vice President of Revenue Operations for Universal Orlando before moving up the corporate level to work as Vice President of Partnership Development before taking on the merchandise gig. She will be relocating to Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, Kurzweil, who has been in charge of the Hollywood park since 1999, will be leaving the company, becoming the President and CEO of the popular LA-area restaurant chain Lemonade.

In making the announcement of the change today, Universal Parks & Resorts Chairman Tom Williams said in a statement, “Karen is creative, strategic, focused and a true leader and been at the forefront of our incredible growth in Merchandise over the past 10 years. She has a wealth of operational and senior management experience in all facets of our business and was instrumental in all of the development of our incredible Harry Potter offerings. Karen is uniquely qualified for this important role and we look forward to welcoming her to this new chapter in her career.”

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A visit to Shanghai Disneyland, part 2

By Laurie Niles
Published: October 19, 2016 at 12:49 PM
In this week's episode of Theme Park Insider, Robert and I continue our discussion about my recent trip to Disney's newest theme park, Shanghai Disneyland, including getting evacuated from Pirates of the Caribbean, riding the TRON Lightcycle Power Run and the rest of my day at the park. (If you missed part 1, here it is.)

It's hard to capture the grand scale of the entrance to Shanghai Disneyland's Tomorrowland, on elevated walkways, heading toward TRON, housed in a huge structure that looks like something between a giant airplane hangar and a billowing parachute as it reaches the ground.

Shanghai Disneyland's Tomorrowland

"Tomorrow" for China apparently involves American food — the land's main restaurant, the Stargazer Grill, features an assortment of American-style burgers, fries and chicken nuggets.

Stargazer Grill menu

Lately I have not been a fan of roller coasters because of the inevitable headache that I get after being knocked around on them. So I was definitely not going to go on TRON Lightcycle Power Run, billed as "one of the fastest roller coasters in any Disney park." But once inside that giant blue tent, I just couldn't resist. I packed my possessions away into a locker and then got in line, which got darker and bluer as we descended onto the loading dock. Then I climbed aboard this crazy motorcycle-like seat with a very different restraint system than anything I've come to trust. Instead of a seat belt, or a harness that goes over your shoulders, this one has you kneeling into something that kind of takes hold of your legs, and then a metal flap goes down on your back. Except it's kind of a moveable flap. Am I supposed to just "hang on"? Too late now!

The way this thing ramped up at the beginning was SO dramatic, with music and blinky blue lights enhancing the feeling of going faster and faster until it just shoots off, going outdoors and indoors, up and down and around, with the music continuing throughout. It was a really fun ride, and no headache! You do have to be able to hold up your head, there is nothing to lean on. But in my case, this was better than having my head rattling against the back of a seat.

Next came Buzz Lightyear Planet Rescue, a ride in which one racks up points for shooting at the "Z" -- that symbol for the Evil Emperor Zurg. The times I've done this ride with my family at Disneyland in California, I always lose; somehow I never can aim the light gun. These were somehow much easier for me; I could really see the red laser coming out of my gun, thus, I could actually aim it! I still got the lowest score in my group, but at least it was an "honorable" score!

As we left Tomorrowland, the Mickey's Storybook Express parade was making its way around the park. All the familiar Disney songs were in Chinese, of course, and most of the familiar Disney characters were also Chinese. No lack of talent here, some great dancing, gymnastics and tricks, playing with the crowd, all good-natured and fun.

Mickey's Storybook Express parade

By this time, we wanted ice cream, we were feeling hot! There is no ice cream place, that we could find, if you want ice cream, you get an ice cream bar. Of course, a Mickey Bar is a very good thing! (Robert later told me that we simply failed to find Il Paparino, which has sundaes and cones, though I'd rather have a Mickey Bar than soft-serve!)

Mickey Bar

We thought we'd check the wait time for Roaring Rapids — it was posted at 75 minutes, and that just seemed like a long time to wait. I do wonder if it really would have been that long, but we did not end up riding Roaring Rapids.

We decided to return to the Enchanted Storybook Castle and try the Once Upon a Time Adventure, a walk-through inside the castle. We were hoping for big views from castle windows, but there were no such windows. The walk-through tells the story of Snow White through a series of displays with special 3D effects. Watching the first scene, with Snow White singing (in Chinese of course) at the well, I noticed that her song, which is from the movie, is very high-pitched and warbly. It made me think of the Chinese Kunqu traditional opera that I'd heard just a few nights before, with its very high-pitched and highly fluctuating intonations. I wondered if Snow White's rather old-fashioned and warbly way of singing is more appealing to Chinese culture than some of the other princesses.

Once Upon a Time Adventure

Our last attraction of the day (after checking Pirates one last time and being disappointed that it was still closed) was the Tarzan show. It was really original, impressive, and terrifying to watch. OSHA does not rule in China!

It opens with a moving picture, projected onto the four walls of a curtain hung in the center of the stage — kind of a big cube that looks a little like a giant lantern. It depicts the story of Tarzan's birth, the death of his parents, his adoption by the gorillas. The curtains rise, then we have a stage show, full of stunts, many of them done by a troupe of dancers dressed as monkeys. Tarzan and Jane do the most daring stunts though, dangling from rings and silks, some 30 feet in the air, with no harness that I could see, no net below. But they were highly competent and it was thrilling to watch stunt after stunt, some stunts done by individuals, and other stunts done with a group.

Tarzan Call of the Jungle

Our last stop was at the park's main Chinese restaurant, the Wandering Moon Teahouse. This was a lovely place to eat, with beautiful lighting — Chinese lamps and other lamps that looked like fish — but it was not the best food we had. I had the "Eight Treasure Duck" with Wandering Moon Tea. The tea was good, but the duck, which came wrapped in a large lotus leaf, really did not taste good. The rice was nice and sticky, but the duck itself — I even wondered if it was duck. It just didn't appeal. The Wagyu Beef Noodle Soup, however, was much better.

Wagyu Beef Noodle Soup

On our way out, we looked at the Avenue M Arcade for some gifts to bring home. This was the first time anything felt crowded. I found some nice T-shirts for my family, but be warned, if you are an average-sized American, you are probably a size XL or XXL in Chinese clothing!

Transportation was actually very straightforward, coming home. There was a taxi stand, with some 30 taxis lined up and waiting. As always, I carried with me a card with the name of my hotel on it, written clearly in Chinese. You don't want to get lost at the end of the day!

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You'll 'marvel' at the lack of waiting in the world's largest indoor theme park

By Andy Farr
Published: October 18, 2016 at 10:55 AM
DUBAI — We all want that ultimate "Fastpass," the one that gives us exclusive access to the theme park with walk-ons to all rides, no queues for restaurants, no crowds to get in our way, the cost of this Fastpass? Apparently, it's 270AED ($72/£63) — the price of a standard entry ticket to IMG Worlds of Adventure on a Tuesday (plus flights and hotel, if you don’t live locally, of course).

The world's largest indoor theme park had been open for five weeks when we visited, and the taxi driver told us we were the only fare he’d taken to the park since it opened. The first thing that strikes you as you arrive is that you’ve just travelled half an hour from the creek in Dubai to a construction site. The theme park is complete (though the adjacent cinema still is not open), but the site around it is just desert and road construction. Next, you will notice the vast car park — as big as any at Walt Disney World — but devoid of cars. We arrived just after opening and with tickets pre-booked and printed from the website, we walked straight into the reception area, through security with no bags to check, and then into the park.

IMG Worlds of Adventure

The park has three themed lands and a central boulevard containing the Haunted Hotel walk-through attraction, plus shops and restaurants. In the park, you will find 12 rides, a 5D theatre, two play areas, a show and that walk-through. The park was open from 11am until 9pm on the day we visited.

Once inside the theme park we realised how empty it is. We walked along the boulevard towards the Haunted Hotel, and we’re the only ones on the street.

Empty street

The first of the three lands we visited was the Lost Valley, themed around dinosaurs. The area is gloomy and with minimal signage and with no crowd to follow, we walked up the exit to Predator, only to be told by staff to go round to the correct entrance. We did, and walked straight on to the Gerstlauer Euro-Fighter coaster. No waiting, get in the carriage, restraint pulled down, checked and off we go. Up at 90 degrees, over and down a short drop at 90 degrees then round a few loops and turns all over in less than a minute.

Our next ride was Velociraptor, a Mack Rides launch coaster. You load inside the theme park, but as the ride starts the doors to the outside open, the heat from the desert hits you, and you blast off onto the park's only ride that goes outside the building.

After that, we went on Forbidden Territory — which basically was Dinosaur from Disney's Animal Kingdom, with a slightly different story — and then finished the land with a ride on the Dino Carousel. Less than 30 minutes into our visit, and we’ve done four rides. So we’re off to Marvel Zone.

Marvel Zone is a brighter area themed to a cityscape containing five Avengers-themed rides. Still no queues, as we walk on to Avengers Flight of the Quinjets (think Disney's Astro Orbiter) and ride as a couple... with no one else aboard. Next, we go on Thor Thunder Spin, and the downside to an empty park arises. They need a minimum of 12 riders to operate this Top Spin ride, so we sit on the ride waiting for 10 minutes as attendants coax other guests to ride so we can start. After riding Thor, we have the longest wait of the day as we remain take a few pictures and a short video of the next group of riders on Thor before moving onto Avengers Battle of Ultron.

Thor Thunder Spin
Thor Thunder Spin

Marvel Zone
An empty Marvel Zone

Battle of Ultron is another walk-on. We pause just to take a couple of photos of the queue.

Avengers Battle of Ultron queue

'No queue jumping' sign
Not really applicable today....

After that dark ride, trips on Spider-Man Doc-Ocks Revenge, a Mack Rides a spinning coaster, and Hulk Epsilon Base 3D, a 360-degree theater show, quickly follow, then we were off to Cartoon Network.

Cartoon Network is a more child-friendly area of the theme park, so it was a little busier, populated by families with small children. Still no queueing for rides, though, as we walk onto Adventure Time - The Ride of OOO with Finn & Jake, a overhead monorail that takes you on a short tour above this land. Then we went on The Amazing Ride of Gumball, a short ride with laser-pointer shooters, but unlike Disney World's Buzz Lightyear ride, you can’t spin the car to get a better shot. After that, it was onwards to Ben 10 5D Hero Time. After a short wait for the current show to finish, we’re into the large, empty theatre where we have the row to ourselves. No need to move all the way to the end. There's no possible way to fill in all this available space.

Once back to the central boulevard, we make our way to the Haunted Hotel, as it only opens after 1:30pm. It’s well presented by actors in English, although not as creepy as the old House of Horror at Universal Studios Hollywood. Still, it’s fun to watch a few locals jump and squeal, not knowing what to expect or from where.

Haunted Hotel

So we’ve been in the park for less than three hours and we’ve done all the rides we want to do. (We’ve missed only The Powerpuff Girls – Mojo Jojo’s Robot Rampage spinner ride.) What next?

You can’t sit in the shade of a tree to relax and watch the word go by — there’s no sun and there are very few guests. How about getting a good spot for the parade? There is no parade. Let's grab some photos with the characters in Marvel Zone? No characters to be seen. What about a show, you know, one like Beauty and the Beast or Indiana Jones at Disney? There’s only one show with characters from LazyTown, and that doesn’t appeal. OK, we’ll look round the shops, then re-ride everything again.

At 4:30 pm, we’ve walked round the park at least three times. We’ve had enough of coasters for today, and we finally decide it’s time to eat. There are plenty of choices: sit down, fast food carts, Arabic, Indian, Chinese, Burgers, hotdogs, pizzas, popcorn — all available with no queueing. We decide to sit in a tuk-tuk and have samosas. Food cost are on a par with the water parks in Dubai, 15AED – 25AED for water or soft drinks, around 30AED for snacks and +60AED for meals. As we eat our meal, we decide we’ve had enough for the day and phone the taxi to collect us... in 45 minutes outside the entrance plaza.

The real cost of the ultimate Fastpass at a park with few guests and unlimited rides? You get bored pretty quickly. There’s no anticipation — no build up to the ride as you wait in the queue. The rides lose their value when obtained so easily.

IMG Worlds of Adventure may call itself a theme park, but just having the rights to and using IP does not a theme park make. Instead, here we get: staff, all in the same blue or orange polo shirts, wherever they were working, instead of costumes; no parades, shows or characters to promote the IP; and worst of all, no natural elements to add to the little amount of theming that exists — no trees and birds, no sunshine, no changing light from night to day. These elements help us ‘live’ in the environment we find ourselves in. But here, you always can see the roof over your head.

Marvel Zone and Lost Valley have great coasters that would be "A" rides at any theme park, but the whole park lacks elements that make it a memorable day out. Less than a week after visiting, our overriding memory is how empty the park was.

As reported on Theme Park Insider at the time of opening, the owners expect more than four million visitors in the park's first year. Whilst it’s hard to estimate how many visitors were in the park during our visit, I’d reckon no more than 1,000. Maybe the park is busier at the weekends?

But it’s never going to be the nearly 80,000 a week that would be required to get annual capacity up to four million. Now, add into the mix that three new theme parks will be opening very soon in Dubai, and that there are two well-established water parks all chasing the same tourists and local families, and I’d say the park would be closing for good after one season if it were anywhere else but Dubai.


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