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Vote of the Week: Should theme parks make certain attractions available by reservation only?

By Robert Niles
Published: July 25, 2014 at 9:02 AM
When you're spending big money for a day at a theme park — nearly $100 for a single day at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, for example — do you really want to spend a third of your day, or more, waiting in line for a single attraction?

What if that attraction was the one thing your child most wanted to do on your annual vacation?

Princess Fairytale Hall at the Magic Kingdom
"Are you SURE you really want to wait to see Anna and Elsa, honey?"

Still, we're willing to bet that most people would want to find a way out of waiting in that queue. That's why so many parks have created ride reservation or queue skipping systems. Whether they are free (such as Disney's Fastpass+), an add-on benefit to a hotel reservation (such as Universal Express Unlimited) or a straight upcharge (such as SeaWorld's QuickQueue), these systems allow a way out of those hours-long queues. And by doing that, they offer an extra inducement to entice would-be visitors to book a vacation with the resorts that offer them. Come here and use our system, they say, and you can have it all — all the attractions you want, without all those long lines.

But not everyone uses the line-skipping systems. And with many systems, notably Disney's Fastpass+, one's use of the system is limited, and there might be only a limited number of reservations available for a specific attraction at any given time. That leaves plenty of people outside the system, forced to wait in what is now an even longer standby line, as some of the attraction's hourly capacity has been given over to line-skippers.

Two factors determine the length of the wait for a theme park attraction: popularity and capacity. That is, the number of people who want to experience the attraction and the number of people per hour that the attraction can accommodate. Capacity is why it's not accurate to say that one ride is more popular than another simply because it has a longer average wait time. Capacity often explains the differences between attraction wait times, such as why the wait is so often longer for Splash Mountain than Pirates of the Caribbean. Pirates can put through hundreds more people per hour than Splash, especially in Anaheim, accounting for the typically shorter wait for Pirates, even though Pirates usually handles more people per day.

So when you see really brutal wait times for theme park attractions, a low hourly capacity usually is to blame. We reported earlier this week that one source has said that the Magic Kingdom's Anna and Elsa meet and greet — by far the longest standby wait time in the park at up to six hours — might have an hourly capacity as low as 89 guests per hour. That's an order of magnitude less than for other attractions considered slow loading by Disney's standards.

Disney has offered its Fastpass+ reservation system for the Anna and Elsa meet-and-greet, but that's not spared the thousands of other Frozen fans who couldn't get those advance reservations the day-killing wait in the standby queue. In an effort to help those guests continue to get more value from their day in the park, this week Disney started a second reservation system for Anna and Elsa, distributing return time tickets in the morning to guests on a first-come, first-served basis. But this meant that there would no longer be a true walk-up or stand-by queue to meet the Frozen stars. If you want to see Anna and Elsa, you would need a reservation — either through Fastpass+ or the new return-time system. Show up at the park too late to get a return time? You're out of luck — no matter how long you'd be willing to wait.

So that raises the question: Should there be situations where theme parks make certain attractions availably only by reservation? Parks long have required reservations for hotel rooms and certain table-service restaurants. Indeed, many visitors have booked tables at the parks' character meals as a way to secure a reservation to meet certain characters, long before systems like Fastpass+ made the regular in-park meet-and-greets available by reservation.

In an ideal world, theme parks would create higher-capacity attractions, so that all wait times could be kept to a reasonable level. (Your definition of "reasonable," of course, might vary.) But, let's face it, we don't live in an ideal world. And it doesn't make financial sense for parks to build individual attraction capacity to handle all of their Fourth of July and Christmas crowds when attendance levels sit much lower for the other 49 weeks of the year. (It's cheaper for parks to throw on some extra parades and shows to handle those holiday excess crowds, instead.)

It's Vote of the Week time. Please select the answer that best matches your opinion on this issue.

If Disney or another theme park company made certain attractions available on a reservation-only system, how might that change the way you plan and go on your theme park vacations? Let's talk about that in the comments.

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Holiday World announces Thunderbird, America's first launched wing coaster

By Robert Niles
Published: July 24, 2014 at 7:47 PM
Holiday World tonight announced the most expensive single new attraction in the Santa Claus, Indiana theme park's history — Thunderbird, the nation's first launched wing coaster.

The $22 million Bolliger & Mabillard roller coaster will debut in April 2015, next to The Voyage coaster in the park's Thanksgiving section.

Here are some of the specs: A 3,035-foot track, and 60 mph top speed for a 1:18 ride time. The LSM launch leads into a 140-foot Immelmann loop, followed by another loop, a horseshoe, an elevated spiral, a zero-G roll, an S curve, a carousel, and a barrel roll. There will be two keyholes and two crossovers with The Voyage on the route.

Concept image courtesy Holiday World

This will be the park's first all-steel roller coaster, joining the line-up with Raven, The Legend, and The Voyage. Construction already has begun.

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Halloween News: What's been announced so far

By Jacob Sundstrom
Published: July 24, 2014 at 10:09 AM
We are less than two months away from the official start of Halloween season at theme parks across the globe. As we’re always sitting on the curve here at Theme Park Insider, for the next 10 weeks we’ll be bringing you a weekly roundup of news and information relating to Halloween events. For the inaugural edition, let’s start with a bit of a recap on what we know so far.

Let’s start with the big guns: Halloween Horror Nights. The Orlando/Hollywood events are separately designed and operated (follow Orlando creative guy Michael Aiello and his Hollywood counterpart John Murdy on Twitter for great insider perspective) but share many of the same independent properties (IPs from here on out). Here’s what the lineup in Hollywood looks like so far.

  • The Walking Dead maze returns which is shocking to no one. It was easily the most popular maze the past two years, even after its move to the backlot last year. Dead is a combination of a great IP with a concept people can’t get enough of: zombies. We love the heck out of the living dead.

  • From Dusk Till Dawn is a new maze based on a Robert Rodriguez produced TV show for the El Rey network. A vampire maze checks off another box on the horror theme hit list and the tone of the show seems to be a good fit at Horror Nights.

  • Face Off, a competitive horror/science fiction/fantasy makeup show on SyFy, will fill Universal’s House of Horrors. This means that Universal Monster’s Remix will be no more, which I’m sure will upset at least a dozen people on the Internet. The show is a lot of fun and the #synergy will be strong as an episode of the show will focus on designing a monster for the maze.

  • The Purge: Anarchy scare zone ought to be a lot like the scare zone from 2013; at least, I hope it is. The Purge was phenomenal last year as the figurehead scare zone, complete with the Actor With The Microphone that has become a staple of the central area of the upper lot.

    Orlando has announced the same IPs as Hollywood; but that doesn’t mean these will be carbon copies of one another. Think of it as two different directors making difference movies from the same source material. Also unlike Hollywood, tickets are already available for the Orlando event. The event does sell out frequently, but you’re probably okay waiting until at least August to purchase your tickets.

    Sticking in Florida, Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens Tampa has yet to announce any mazes or scare zones, but they do have this nifty highlight reel of last year’s event. You can also buy tickets, if you are so inclined. They’re offering a discount for a limited time if you buy now, so, you know, do what you feel. Their counterpart in Williamsburg has released no information other than their operation dates.

    Hopping back to the west coast, Knott’s Berry Farm is having their annual maze-unveiling on August 6 and you can bet we’ll be there to cover it. They have already announced the return of Elvira and their Skeleton Key promotion.

    In more general news, the ScareLA Halloween convention announced they’ll be hosting a “Making Monsters” panel which will have creative types from many southern California events on the same stage. The panel is on August 9 at 5:30 PM and will discuss the makeup aspects of these Halloween events. Tickets are on sale now.

    Get that countdown rolling -- just over 60 days until the gates to these events open for fans all over the world; we’ll keep you abreast of the latest information until you get to see -- and scream -- for yourself.

    Update from Robert: Here is a report from the media preview for Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Singapore. It's got four houses and four scare zones ("four" is associated with the word "die" in Chinese tradition), and an original IP in General Jonah Goodwill.

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    Paper ride-reservations tickets return to the Magic Kingdom, for the Anna and Elsa meet-and-greet

    By Robert Niles
    Published: July 23, 2014 at 11:24 AM
    Well, it didn't take long for Disney to bring back the equivalent of paper Fastpasses. Six months after ditching the old ride reservation system in favor of Disney's new online Fastpass+ system, paper ride-reservation tickets made their return to the Magic Kingdom today.

    It's not exactly the old Fastpass system, and it's only for one attraction. Starting today, for what's called a limited time test, Disney distributed paper return-time tickets to guests wanting to wait in a standby queue for the Anna and Elsa meet and greet.

    Fastpass+ reservations remain in place for Anna and Elsa, and they remain the most elusive advance reservation "gets" at the resort outside the chef's table at Victoria and Albert's. Visitors who didn't get FP+ ressies for the Frozen sisters have been left to queue in a standby line that approached wait times of six hours.

    Now, instead of having people wait that long for their chance to meet Anna and Elsa, Disney is now giving those would-be standby visitors return time cards, just like under the old Fastpass system.

    This means that there is no longer any walk-up "standby" line for Anna and Elsa throughout the day. Either you get a Fastpass+ reservation and wait in the Fastpass+ return queue, or you get a paper return time ticket in the morning and wait in the old return queue at your designated time. Only a limited number of guests who arrive at the location first thing after Princess Fairytale Hall opens in the morning will be admitted to the "standby" return queue. Everyone after that will have to get a paper return ticket, and those will be available first-come, first-served. Arrive after the paper return tickets are gone for the day? You're out of luck.

    Temporary Tourist reported that Disney's issuing only nine Fastpass+ return times per hour for Anna and Elsa, which explains why those reservations have proven nearly impossible to get. In addition, the site reported that Disney's issuing only 80 paper return-time tickets per each hour of the day for Anna and Elsa. Combined with the Fastpass+ reservations, that gives Anna and Elsa a capacity of 89 guests per hour.

    For comparison, attractions such as Big Thunder Mountain can put through about 1,200 guests per hour. The highest capacity ride in the Magic Kingdom, Pirates of the Caribbean, put through as many as 2,100 an hour when I worked there. Fewer than 100 guests per hour makes the notoriously slow-loading Dumbo look like Pirates.

    Temporary Tourist said that the test will run through Friday. What do you think about Disney making attractions available on a "reservations-only" basis? Is that appropriate for ultra-low capacity attractions such as meet-and-greets? Should Disney consider this for higher capacity rides and shows?

    Were you at the Magic Kingdom today? Did you try to see Anna and Elsa? Please tell us in the comments about how that went.

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    Beyond CaliFlorida: Taking a leap of faith here

    By Jeff Elliott
    Published: July 23, 2014 at 10:50 AM
    Cave of the Winds (Colorado Springs) – I have an idea. Why don’t we just dispense with the safety harnesses and the cables and all of that and just shoot people out of a canon and into a slightly dampened sponge at the bottom of the canyon? I chose this video because it was the only one I could find where they bleeped out the profanity. But I wonder how well the profanity echoes in that canyon. For a place that doesn’t even have an amusement park within an hour’s drive, TERROR-Dactyl is really letting the visitors have it in the teeth…

    Tivoli Friheden (Denmark) – Okay, so after this experience, the swing in the canyon looks a little on the tame side. I admit it. Oh, and there is a wee bitty o swearing in this video, so turn the sound way down if yer ears be a sensitive.

    Six Flags Magic Mountain – Good job watching your mouths this last week. Your reward? You get Ninja and Green Lantern back!

    Carowinds – Construction is underway on your new 325ft tall B&M roller coaster.

    Kings Dominion – While we reported last week that Cedar Point is going to get some water rides from Geauga Lake, it looks like survey crews are looking over Kings Dominion as well looking for a place to stash the surplus water rides. If all they’re doing is trying to find a place to stash some excess rides, I say y’all grab your pickup trucks and meet me out back behind Geauga Lake on Friday night after close. I’ve got a backyard just begging for one of those babies.

    Holiday World – The park has decided to quit making everyone sea sick and bored and will finally get around to announcing its new 2015 attraction Thursday night. For a price tag of $22 million, it has got to be big and it has got to be steel. Just as a cost comparison: Intimidator 305 – cost $25 million. Smiler - $30 million. Banshee – $24 million. Lightning Run – $7 million. Thunderbolt – $10 million.

    Cedar Point – Next year’s new attraction is aimed at teens and other hard-core thrill seekers, according to the park’s general manager. That kind of buries all of our previous thoughts on the matter, because now it sounds like they are going to install an Xbox One somewhere in the park.

    Grand Texas Theme Park – This project is going to be pushed over the construction phase and out of wild rumor territory. They have set some opening dates: Memorial Day 2015 for the water park, and Memorial Day 2016 for the rest of the park, including five roller coasters. If this is anything like the last couple of big independent parks that have gone up, you might want to make plans now to visit this park in the first couple of months that it is open. Speaking of Hard Rock Park (and yes, I was referring to Hard Rock Park), it seems somewhat suspicious that Hard Rock Park has five roller coasters that are waiting to be dismantled, and Grand Texas claims that they will open in 2016 with five roller coasters. Hmmmmmm….

    Universal Studios Korea – It looks like the park chain has pulled out of this project. It’s okay, I’m sure the Koreans can buy their Harry Potter merchandise somewhere else.

    Six Flags New England – The Cyclone will run its last run this Sunday, so you better hurry if you are going to catch that coaster credit before it goes away.

    Now Hiring – Kings Island is looking to fill positions for the fall season this Thursday. “Hundreds of job” are available, but apply online first before heading down to the park.

    Now Hiring – Six Flags Great Adventure is looking to hire a dozen trained dancers for their Halloween shows and 150 scare actors. Auditions will be on Friday and Saturday. Don’t forget to fill out the application online before you go.

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    Looking back at a colossal history for Magic Mountain's Colossus

    By Jacob Sundstrom
    Published: July 22, 2014 at 10:24 AM
    At 125 tall, no one has used the word “colossal” to describe Six Flags Magic Mountain’s Colossus for quite some time. The “racing” wooden roller coaster hasn’t (regularly) raced in God-only-knows how long and its popularity has waned in recent years. In truth, I can’t remember a time when Colossus was anything more than an afterthought on a visit to the Valencia theme park; that’s about eight years ago now.

    Colossus. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

    It’s hard to imagine a time when Colossus was the tallest and fastest roller coaster; just a sign of how much the roller coaster business has changed in the 36 years since it was unveiled in 1978. According to the excellent RCDb, Colossus is now just the twelfth-tallest wooden roller coaster in the world. It’s the 163rd-tallest coaster if you include both steel and wooden coasters. All of this makes Six Flags’ announcement that the ride is to be closed on August 16, well, less than surprising.

    Over the years Colossus has been re-profiled at least twice over the last 40 years — once to remove the double-down segment and another time to flatten out a valley. There’s reason to believe that someone who rode this coaster for the first time in 1980 would have a very different perception than someone who first rode it in 2006. (Hi!)

    The closure of Colossus means something, probably. It stood as a mark for an era of rapid theme park growth and popularity; it’s one of the coasters that thrust Magic Mountain into the national spotlight. You caught Colossus in National Lampoon’s Vacation, in the intro of Step By Step and even in an episode of the A-Team! This was a big deal! With those memories comes a seeping sense of nostalgia — the feeling that we as theme park fans are losing something by the closure of Colossus and those like it.

    Don’t get me wrong: There’s absolutely nothing wrong with nostalgia. Theme parks are, by and large, valued for the memories created while we’re there. Colossus is a special roller coaster for many people, even if it never meant anything particularly valuable to me. But there are a couple of problems with advocating for the survival of rides like Colossus on the basis of nostalgia alone.

    One problem is that the ride has been pretty awful the past few years. It only pulls a "Good" 7 on Theme Park Insider's reader ratings, leaving it outside the top 100 roller coasters in the world, as rated by our readers. I’ve mentioned previously that Mitch Hawker also runs a great annual roller coaster poll. You can see here that the popularity of Colossus amongst roller coaster enthusiasts (for whatever that’s worth) has plummeted in the 20 years that Hawker has run the poll. I embedded a graphic below to give a better idea of the way Colossus’ approval rating has trended. (Down is good, up is bad in this chart)

    Poll results

    Colossus finished 116th out of 175 tabulated roller coasters in 2013, which for a nearly 40-year-old roller coaster isn’t anything to sneeze at, really. But a couple of factors roll into why this decision is sort of a no-brainer for Six Flags. First of all, the park clearly gave up on the ride years ago. In the eight years I have visited Magic Mountain I have seen it race a single time — at a special event hosted by a theme park site. The most attention Colossus got came during Fright Fest when the park ran the coaster backwards using the thankfully-defunct Psyclone’s trains.

    More importantly, the ground Colossus is sitting on is worth more to the park’s future expansion plans than the attraction itself. That scenic, flat parking lot real estate can easily host the park’s newest attraction (and based on the press release from the park, this seems likely). The chain’s recent infatuation with hybrid roller coasters combined with Apocalypse being the only other wooden roller coaster in the park is telling; but who knows, maybe they have something else in mind.

    If indeed the park does replace Colossus with a Texas Giant-esque coaster, this should be celebrated, not dismissed. This time period we’re entering in the theme park industry is a strange one: The giants of the 70s, the first truly modern roller coaster boom, are decaying. Soon old favorites will be old memories, replaced by new-fangled contraptions and branded thrill rides.

    Since I believe this will become a fairly regular occurrence, I’ve chosen to adopt the following approach: Cherish the memories that the closing roller coaster gave while eagerly anticipating its replacement. In 20 years when X2 and Tatsu are old and worn down, maybe I’ll feel differently. For now, I look forward to saying goodbye to Colossus and greeting its replacement as the sun sets on the wooden titan.

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    What are the world's most underrated attractions?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: July 21, 2014 at 12:05 PM
    Monday Top 10: This week we give some attention to attractions that haven't gotten much from Theme Park Insider readers. These are attractions that have earned a high average reader rating from those few who have visited them, but just haven't been rated that often by Theme Park Insiders. For the most part, that's because these rides and walk-through are found at parks in non-English-speaking parts of Europe and Asia. But you'll find a couple of selections this week from American parks that don't crack the top 20 for annual attendance, too. If you've experienced some of these attractions, please follow the links and submit your own rating and review!

    10. Tom Sawyer Island
    Tokyo Disneyland

    The TSI rafts

    Sure, we have Tom Sawyer Islands at the Magic Kingdoms in the United States, but neither Disneyland's nor Walt Disney World's are as well developed and maintained as Tokyo's.

    9. Tower of Terror
    Tokyo DisneySea

    Tower of Terror Tokyo

    You'll notice no "Twilight Zone" preceding this Tower of Terror. There's no Rod Sterling to be found here, either just the engaging Harrison Hightower, the Shiriki Utundu idol, and the most amazing preshow in the theme park business.

    8. Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars
    Hong Kong Disneyland

    Overshadowed by its neighbor Mystic Manor, Big Grizzly Mountain's helping make Hong Kong a "bucket list" stop for Disney and theme park fans, too.

    7. Fata Morgana

    This ride through 1,001 Arabian Nights is the first of three on our list from the Dutch park Efteling.

    6. Shambhala
    Port Aventura

    This Bolliger & Mabillard Mega is the second coaster on our list.

    5. Pooh's Hunny Hunt
    Tokyo Disneyland

    Disney's first "trackless" dark ride blows away the Pooh-themed dark rides in Florida and California.

    4. Miniland USA
    Legoland Florida

    The Sound of Plastic

    For those who love to obsess over detail, Miniland provides the highlight to any Legoland visit.

    3. Marvel Cave
    Silver Dollar City

    Entering the cave

    James Rao introduced us to Marvel Cave a few years ago. No theme park recreation, this is an actual cave to explore.

    2. Sprookjesbos

    Tom Thumb

    "The Fairy Tale Forest" is a theme park masterpiece by industry legend Anton Pieck.

    1. Droomvlucht

    This "Dreamflight" isn't some defunct Delta Airlines commercial from Disney World. It's a mind-tripping throwback to old-school dark rides. (*Updated with a newer video, from the comments.)

    What's your favorite theme park attraction that rarely gets mentioned? Please tell us in the comments!

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