Sign in or Join the Community!

Theme Park Insider YouTubeFacebookTwitterInstagramGoogle+Email Newsletter
Home Park guides Hotel reviews Saving money Travel tips Community

The Blog Flume (Theme Park News)

 Subscribe in a reader | E-mail delivery Subscribe via e-mail |

Insider's Update: Fix 'er Up and Let 'er Fly

By Robert Niles
Published: October 23, 2014 at 2:12 PM
A few news items as you get ready for Friday:

The Swan and Dolphin hotels at the Walt Disney World Resort have announced a $125-million room-renovation plan, now underway at the hotels. The 758-room Swan goes first, with renovations to 500 of its rooms expected to be completed by the end of this year. Renovations at the 1,509-room Dolphin start early in 2015. The entire project is expected to be completed in 2016. Renovations will include the addition of newer, larger, high-definition televisions, additional power outlets, new beds, and a back-lit mirror in the bathroom.

New room at the Swan Hotel
The new Swan room. Image courtesy Starwood Hotels & Resorts

Harry Potter continues to pay off for Universal Parks & Resorts, as the debut of the The Wizarding World and Harry Potter - Diagon Alley pushed Universal Orlando to record attendance for the third quarter and Comcast's theme park division to a nearly 19 percent increase in revenue over the same period last year.

The Disneyland Paris Resort will offer a free fireworks show on Lake Disney for three nights early next month. Mickey’s Magical Fireworks and Bonfire will run on November 3rd, 5th and 7th, starting at 8.30pm on the Lake Disney at resort's Disney Village. Here's a teaser video from the resort, which is worth watching just to see the difference in PR production value withe Disney's U.S. theme parks.

Finally, Blackpool Pleasure Beach in the United Kingdom today announced a new ride for 2015: Skyforce. Themed to the Royal Air Force's aerobatic team, the Red Arrows, Skyforce will give riders the ability to control the spinning of their own fighter-themed cockpit seat. From the park's press release:

Image courtesy Blackpool Pleasure Beach

The 72-ft high, 12-seat white-knuckle ride will take you on a 360-degree tour of the skies and sits in the shadow of the world famous Big One rollercoaster. Stepping into your very own Red Arrows cockpit, you take control of the plane and spin, glide and take formation in your very own display.

Comments (3) | Submit Comment | Archive Link

When Should You Buy a Universal Studios Annual Pass?

By Robert Niles
Published: October 23, 2014 at 10:25 AM
At what point do visitors get a better deal by purchasing a Universal annual pass, instead of single- or multi-day tickets? Last week, we answered that annual pass question for Disney theme parks, so let's look at Disney's biggest competitor today.

Universal Orlando charges $96 for a one-day/one-park theme park ticket, a couple bucks more than the $94 that Walt Disney World charges for three of its parks and three dollars less than Disney charges for one day at the Magic Kingdom. But you can buy a Universal Orlando annual pass for far less than the cost of a Disney World AP. Universal Orlando's unrestricted annual pass costs $295 ($260 for Florida residents), which is less than half of the cost of Walt Disney World's $634 annual pass.

Universal Studios Florida

That lower cost should encourage theme park fans to invest in the Universal Orlando annual pass if they are planning more than one multi-day visit to the resort in a 12-month period. At these prices, the Universal Orlando annual pass becomes a better deal than buying four one-day tickets for any out-of-state visitor, and a better deal than buying just three one-day tickets for a Florida resident.

And remember that the annual pass includes Park-to-Park privileges on any day of your visit, a must if you want to ride the resort's highest-rated attraction — the Hogwarts Express. With a one-day, Park-to-Park ticket costing $136, anyone is better off going with the AP than buying three one-day, Park-to-Park tickets in a 12-month period.

Universal is currently running a "third day free" promotion for resident of the U.S. or Canada who buy a two-day Park-to-Park ticket, which is $176 for adults. If you're only thinking about a one-time visit to the resort right now, that's the best deal out there which allows you to experience everything at the resort.

But here's a smart "bounce back" plan, if you decide you'd like to visit again: If you can plan your next visit to fall within the next 12 months, upgrade your current ticket to an annual pass before you finish the last day on your current ticket. (You can do this at any ticket booth, guest relations office, or hotel ticket desk.) If you get the third-day-free deal, you'll pay $119 to upgrade and get as many days in the parks as you can fit before that ticket expires in 12 months.

Universal Orlando also offers discounts on food, merchandise and parking to its annual passholders, which can make buying a pass an even better deal. Remember that Universal Orlando charges $17 per car to park at the resort. You won't have to pay that fee on future visits once you buy an annual pass. Annual passholders also get 10% off food and merchandise in the parks, but so do AAA members, so if you're already using your AAA card for those discounts on a "regular" ticket, upgrading to the annual pass won't get you additional savings there.

Universal Orlando offers a "Premier Pass" for $435, which adds a free Halloween Horror Nights ticket, an upgrade to free valet parking, CityWalk club access, and free Universal Express access after 4pm each day. That's the pass that gets you front-of-line access to almost all Universal Orlando attractions. That ticket is just $385 for Florida residents.

What Universal does not offer, however, is an annual pass that's good for both Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood. That makes Universal unique among all major theme park chains in the United States in that it does not have a chain-wide annual pass option. So if you're considering a visit to Southern California and want to include a visit to Universal's original theme park, you'll have to consider that as a separate purchase from a Universal Orlando visit.

Fortunately, the decision on whether to buy a Universal Studios Hollywood annual pass is absurdly simple. Are you going to visit the park for more than one day in a year? Then buy an annual pass. The only question is: which one?

A one-day Universal Studios Hollywood ticket costs $92. However, for that price, you can buy a "buy a day, get the year" ticket that is good for the remainder of the calendar year, too. (Blackout days apply on your future visits — 79 days in 2015, by my count.) If you buy one of those tickets now, you not only get the rest of 2014, you get all of 2015 at no extra charge, too.

Universal Studios Hollywood also offers a 12-month annual pass that has just 62 blackout dates and 10% off food and merchandise inside the park. (Universal Studios Hollywood no longer offers AAA discounts inside the park.) If you want to visit on the blackout dates, an unrestricted annual pass costs $139 online. Finally, Universal Studios Hollywood's "Premium Star Pass" costs $179 online and includes free parking before 5pm and priority boarding on the Studio Tour for the passholder. (Parking at Universal Studios Hollywood costs $16 a day. Unlike at Universal Orlando, there's no free parking for local residents in the evenings, either. In fact, there's no free parking even for annual passholders in the evenings, ever.) You can buy guest tickets for $12 off and get discounts on Halloween Horror Nights tickets with all USH annual passes, if you'd like to factor that into your decision, too.

Only if you are certain that you will visit Universal Studios Hollywood only one day in the next year should you skip the annual pass options and instead buy a discounted one-day-only ticket online at

Do you have a Universal annual pass? Tell us in the comments which ticket you bought, and if you're happy with it.


Comments (8) | Submit Comment | Archive Link

Review: Six Flags Great America’s Fright Fest 2014

By Anthony Murphy
Published: October 22, 2014 at 12:50 PM
At the beginning of the season, my friends and I went to Six Flags Great America’s Fright Fest in Gurnee, Illinois. Unfortunately, we picked one of the coldest days in October. There were actually snow flurries in the morning. The good news is that the day warmed up and kept much of the crowds away. Because of this, we were able to experience the rides, shows, and haunted houses. Great America is family friendly from open (11am) to around 4 pm. Afterwards, the scare actors come out. Usually the morning is the time for rides and trick or treating and the night is for the scares!


The Rides

All the rides are open (except water rides) so there is something for everybody. However, what makes this event special are the “modifications” to some of the attractions for Halloween. This includes Rue Le Dodge (bumper cars) which is black lit and turned into the “House of Conjure.” The attraction that goes under the biggest change is Chubasco (teacups). It turns into “Terror Twister 2 - Turn for the Worse” which the spinning attraction turns into a demonic rave with techno music, fog, and lighting. This is always a crowd favorite. Other changes include Biohazard (the Whizzer), The Kraken (East River Crawler), and The Birds (the Condor).

The Shows

Great America provides a variety of different Halloween shows, but two that really stick out are Susan Rosen, Mistress of Mesmerism and Love at First Fright.

Susan Rosen, Mistress of Mesmerism is a hypnotist show in the Pictorium. It is a pretty straightforward hypnotist show, but she makes it so that the whole family is entertained and involved. She has been a staple at the park for many years, but I am always entertained. Most of my group had never seen this before, but they loved it! We even tried to also get hypnotized, but we “snapped out of it” before we got too far.

Love at First Fright is the annual Halloween musical which Great America has put on for over 20 years. Here you can see two teens try to escape the clutches of Dracula, the Mummy, witches, and Frankenstein while singing and dancing. The show uses popular tunes for this season such as Monster Mash and Thriller, but also uses some other pop songs such as “Holding for a Hero” and “Little Red Riding Hood”. This show also uses topical humor pretty liberally including Frozen, iPhone 6, and Obamacare. While other shows seem to get in trouble for this (cough, Bill and Ted), Love at First Fright seems to stay in teasing rather than being biting. This show has won a ton of awards and it shows. It is simply the best show I have ever seen out of Six Flags Great America. If you can catch this show, please do!

The Haunted Houses

Great America charges one flat rate to go into its six haunted houses/trails. It is $25 for the regular pass and $35 for the express pass. We learned last year that the Express Pass is worth it so we had to convince half our group to go with the express pass. As I mentioned, it was pretty empty so we really did not get the advantage until the last house which had a line over an hour. I would still highly recommend going with the Express Pass. I enjoyed the variety and each house had something that pushed the buttons of an individual of my party. For simplicity sake, the group/victims were me (Anthony), Valerie, Taleb, Lauren, Kate, and JR.

Mausoleum of Terror: Situated inside the Picnic Grove, this is a pretty standard house of the dead. There were actors as ghosts and zombies and many animatronics (mostly of animals). The highlight of this house was the spinning vortex which was something that concerned JR. Still, we made it all the way through, but I do not believe anybody got scared too much.

Medical Massacre: This is a hospital where the insane have taken over the facility. We see the check in, cafeteria, surgery, and even aqua therapy which has an actor jump out of a giant tub full of water and body parts. I am always concerned about this house because I feel that is the best themed. Great America put its time and effort into this house including authentic medical equipment and a full sized ambulance. The one letdown in this house was that it did not have the “plant” actress that joins your group and is kidnapped in the first scene and seen dissected later. I always thought it was a nice touch.

Manslaughter Manor: Here we join some ghost hunters as they explore a haunted house where there has been much death and torture. According to the story, a wife killed her husband in the house, a man stashed his serial victims, and construction workers have all died in the house. They are now all mad and want to take it out on somebody. There were many good scares, but the one that got Kate, Valerie, and me was the little girl in the closet. I will admit I yelled! This was also Lauren’s first haunted house ever! She did awesome!

Wicked Woods: Great America drained their Roarin Rapids attraction and turned the track into a walkthrough trail. In this trail, zombies have gotten loose and attacking our camping site. Surprisingly, I had the most problems in this trail. Since it was mostly in the dark with bright lights in the face, the zombies were able to sneak up and give many good scares! I am lucky that I did not break poor Valerie’s arm. I got scared more than a couple of times. I will go on the highest and fastest roller coasters, but if somebody puts on some makeup and hides behind a trashcan, they can scare me to death!

Fear: This house used to take place completely in the dark. Valerie, Taleb, and I did this last year, but Taleb and I were the only ones in the group that decided to do this. There was also a picture taken with a blast of air causing me to jump. The picture shows! This shorter house actually does not take place in the dark anymore. It is things that people “fear” such as spiders, broken mirrors, and clowns. After the picture, it was not particularly scary.

At Fright Fest

The Abyss: This house partially takes place inside and outside. The inside portion shows what has happened to everybody in the Bermuda triangle. This includes lost sea captains, downed aviators, and UFOs. The outdoor area took us through the jungle including actors dressed as trees and bushes. Probably the most challenging aspect was the giant puppet snake which scared half of the group, mostly for their fear of snakes. It was a nice technological touch, but we ran through that portion pretty quickly.

For the most part, it was a very enjoyable day. I would recommend coming with a group so that you go into the house as a group so that if you grab onto somebody, it is somebody you at least know! Great America has had a bit of a rocky Fright Fest lineup in the past due to some corporate changes. However, I think this year has been a vast improvement. Six Flags Great America’s Fright Fest is working on extended hours this year (open to 11pm or 12am) so make sure to check it out! It is open Friday nights and all of Saturday and Sunday until November 2nd.

For more information and tickets, visit

Comments (1) | Submit Comment | Archive Link

Disney California Adventure reportedly set to close Luigi's Flying Tires in January

By Robert Niles
Published: October 21, 2014 at 2:59 PM
Disneyland cast members have leaked a new schedule that will see Luigi's Flying Tires in Cars Land close next Jan. 12 for an 11-month refurbishment. It's highly unusual for a functioning attraction in a popular land to go down for such a long period so relatively soon after its opening. (Luigi's opened with Cars Land just two summers ago.) Given the unpopularity of the ride with fans and designers, it's easy to jump to the conclusion that this January closure might be the end of Luigi's — at least in its current form.

Selfie on Luigi's
Luigi's Flying Selfies

Let's keep in mind that many fans were ready to bury the Finding Nemo submarine ride at Disneyland when Disney closed it for a months-long planned refurbishment last January. But the subs did return as promised last month, so a plan to close an attraction temporarily does not necessarily mean that the ride will close permanently.

If Disney proceeds with the plan to close Luigi's for most of 2015 it could do one of three things:

  1. Simply mothball the ride to see the effect on wait times elsewhere in Cars Land and the park, then use than information to make a decision about replacing Luigi's.
  2. Test various tweaks to the ride system to improve the experience, such as changing the number of tires, the air pressure levels, the cycle time, etc.
  3. Tear out the ride system while leaving the queue and "Luigi's" name, allowing the park to introduce a different ride experience as a "refurbishment" of the existing attraction.

Depending upon the option the company choses, we could see the current or a slightly modified Luigi's reopen in late 2015. Or we could see a substantially different ride open in its place at the same time, or some later date. Whatever Disney chooses, it's unlikely that the company would tear down the Luigi's queue building, as that's a vital location within the Radiator Springs setting for Cars Land.

Here's another possible outcome: The flying tires yard out back remain closed while the Luigi's building becomes a walk-through attraction, or yet another merchandise location. If Disney can't find a cost-effective way to offer a popular ride in the yard out back, don't discount one of those possibilities.

What would you like to see Disney do with Luigi's?


Comments (16) | Submit Comment | Archive Link

Monday Top 10: The World's Best Theme Park Castles

By Robert Niles
Published: October 20, 2014 at 3:19 PM
What are the world's best theme park castles? Castles provide the iconic centerpiece for many of the world's most popular theme parks. The home of kings and queens in so many fairy tales, castles evoke memories of grand storytelling, setting an inspiring scene for people entering a theme park.

But which castles do the best job of inspiring those theme park visitors? Let's set a couple of criteria to judge these landmarks: 1. How much do you want to take a picture of it? And, 2. What can you do in it?

For previous Monday Top 10 posts, we've relied on Theme Park Insider reader ratings to determine the honorees. However, we haven't collected ratings for castles per se — simply for the attractions and restaurants that might be located within them. So for this post, your editor is using those ratings as a guide, then just picking the ones he believes best satisfy the two questions above. So let's get to it! Here are the Theme Park Insider editor's picks for the Top 10 Theme Park Castles in the World:

10. DarKastle
Busch Gardens Williamsburg


The home of the mad King Ludwig, DarKastle hosts Busch Gardens' 3D motion-base ride, The Curse of DarKastle. While this castle wins points for hosting such an ambitious ride, the facade itself is tucked away in a corner of a park and hasn't earned the same iconic status as other castles on this list.

9. Sleeping Beauty's Castle
Hong Kong Disneyland

Sleeping Beauty's Castle Hong Kong

Located in the traditional place of honor at the far side of Main Street, Hong Kong Disneyland's castle is of the same design as the Disneyland original, but it lacks that park's walk-through attraction, making this Disney castle, essentially, just one, somewhat impressive facade.

8. King Harold's Castle
Universal Studios Singapore

King Harold's Castle

The centerpiece of the Shrek-themed "Far, Far Away" land, King Harold's Castle houses the park's "Shrek 4D" show. While the castle earns well-deserved points for housing an attraction, it loses some for not even being the top photo op in its own park, an honor that instead falls to the jaw-dropping Revenge of the Mummy facade next door.

7. Sleeping Beauty's Castle

Sleeping Beauty's Castle Disneyland

The original theme park castle (okay, maybe not the original... keep reading!), lands at the number seven spot in our rankings. Surpassed by more visually impressive castles in the Disney kingdom, Disneyland's original Sleeping Beauty's Castle still gets credit for its charming walk-through attraction, intimate surroundings, and the lovely photo op with the Matterhorn next door.

6. Cinderella's Castle
Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom

Cinderella's Castle Disney World

Okay, we can hear the complaints from Disney fans: "Cindy's Castle isn't even in the top five?!?" It's not that we don't love the most-visited theme park castle in the world, it's just that we love the ones ahead of it on this list even more. Remember our criteria? While Florida's Cinderella's Castle wins huge points as a photogenic icon, there's just not much to do in it — no attraction and a restaurant with limited capacity. Disney even cuts off the access from the hub during forecourt stage shows. Disney World's castle is like an elusive Hollywood star — thrilling to see, but most often appreciated at a distance.

5. Cinderella's Castle
Tokyo Disneyland

The Tokyo Disneyland version earns the spot ahead of its Orlando twin for the "Cinderella's Fairy Tale Hall" walk-through that opens the castle to thousands more guests each day.

4. The Fortress Explorations Citadel
Tokyo DisneySea

Fortress Explorations Citadel

Does a citadel count as a castle if no king or queen lives there? Okay, maybe we are pushing the definition of "castle" by including this landmark on our list. But the home of the Society of Explorers and Adventurers offers one of the world's best walk-through attractions and one of the world's best theme park best restaurants. It looks fabulous in pictures and it's a delight to visit for hours on end. That's good enough for us to put the citadel on our list.

3. The Towers
Alton Towers

The Towers at Alton Towers

The Towers wins huge points from us for being the only theme park castle that actually is a castle! Built in the early 1800s, the former home of the Earls of Shrewsbury stands on grounds that had been in the hands of the family for more than 700 years, making this the true original theme park castle. (Totally selfish note: One line of my ancestors — the Snows — traces back to Staffordshire and the land near the Alton Towers, making this my family's neighborhood theme park. Well, sort of.) Today, the towers not only provide an iconic focal point for the park, they are the home of the park's "Hex - The Legend of the Tower" ride.

2. Le Chateau de la Belle au Bois Dormant
Disneyland Paris

Le Chateau de la Belle au Bois Dormant

Disney's best theme park castle not only offers its most fanciful design and a crowd-eating walk through attraction, but Paris' version of Sleeping Beauty Castle also would beat its siblings in Magic Kingdoms around the world for no other than it has a dragon in its dungeons!

1. Hogwarts Castle
Universal's Islands of Adventure

Hogwarts Castle at Universal Orlando

Stunning, photogenic icon? Check. World-class walk-through attraction inside? Check. But when you consider that walk-through tour of Hogwarts is simply the queue for one of the top 10 rides in the world, Hogwarts has to move to the top of our list.

What is your favorite theme park castle?

Comments (22) | Submit Comment | Archive Link

Disney Rebrands 'Glow with the Show' and Introduces Its Own Interactive Magic Wands

By Robert Niles
Published: October 20, 2014 at 10:13 AM
Disney announced today that it will rebrand its "Glow with the Show" ears as "Made with Magic"... and expand the product line-up to include light-up Mickey hands, a Minnie headband, and (yes, Universal!) an interactive magic wand.

Made with Magic items
Photo courtesy Disney

The psychedelic Mousekeeter ears will remain on sale and continue to work in synch with selected Disney nighttime shows and indoor attractions. The hands and headband will operate in the same way as the ears. The magic wands, however, also will have the ability to trigger changes in the light patterns on the other items. (When they aren't overruled during a show by the set lighting program, that is.)

It appears that the wands will take on some of the functionality of the light-up paint brushes that Hong Kong Disneyland has been selling in support of its new Paint the Night parade. Another version of that parade is tipped to come to Disneyland in Anaheim, California next week year for that park's 60th anniversary celebration. And, of course, there's this other theme park resort that's been selling its own interactive magic wands lately, too. So now Disney's got something to compete directly with that. ;^)

The headband should be on sale within the next few weeks, while the gloves and wands should hit stores in late November or early December. All items will sell for $25 each.


Comments (6) | Submit Comment | Archive Link

Review: Midnight Syndicate Live! Legacy of Shadows, at Cedar Point

By James Koehl
Published: October 20, 2014 at 9:46 AM
I heard someone state that "if Midnight Syndicate ever stopped producing music, Halloween would have to be cancelled." I thought that comment was a bit over the top until I saw them perform at Cedar Point in their first live stage show, "Legacy of Shadows" at the Ghoul Time Theatre (Good Time Theatre the rest of the season, still known by many as the Cedar Point Cinema). HalloWeekends at Cedar Point will never be quite the same for me.

Edward Douglas and Gavin Goszka are the current members of this remarkably talented, uniquely creative musical duo. The darkly gothic instrumental sounds they create with a few keyboards have, in little more than a decade, become the music that means "Halloween" for films, haunted houses, and now amusement and theme parks across the country. Cedar Point has scored a coup in bringing Midnight Syndicate to perform live on stage for the first time for the thousands of guests who each fall weekend brave the often cold, windy and (while we were there) drizzly Cedar Point site.

The huge stage of the Ghoul Time Theatre is filled with an appropriately creepy set reminiscent of an abandoned mausoleum, with crumbing tombstones, evilly-lit stained glass windows, forbidding mist and a full moon that rises up behind the structure as the show begins. Large video screens flank each side of the stage and are used throughout the performance, including before it starts as a video technician projects a live feed of the guests as they arrive in the theatre, with an occasional technical "glitch" that foreshadows much of the performance to come.

Midnight Syndicate
Midnight Syndicate Live! Legacy of Shadows, performing at HalloWeekends in October 2014. Photo courtesy the artists.

The performance itself lasts about 25 minutes, and while there is not a true plot to it, there is a progression of a theme that carries the audience from being mere observers of the talented Edward and Gavin on stage to being subtly involved in a theatrical experience that soon involves both the audience and the entire Cedar Point park outside the theatre. The use of films and live video feeds projected onto the screens flanking the stage, special effects using fog and lasers, a talented female singer who would appear and add her beautiful but appropriately sinister voice to the music, and the omnipresent darkly-gothic music that is Midnight Syndicate made the performance one of the most memorable Halloween events I have ever seen. I won't spoil the surprises, and there were many surprise moments that had the audience jump a bit, but suffice it to say that few if anybody left "Legacy of Shadows" feeling that they had not gotten a good dose of Halloween scares.

Edward and Gavin were waiting outside of the theatre in a "meet and greet" area, where guests could purchase CDs, posters and other Midnight Syndicate merchandise along with meeting the musicians. I found that these two talented performers, -- whose on-stage personas were creepy bordering on evil -- were charming, friendly and loved to pose for pictures with audience members, a complete difference from what I had expected. They are truly talented performers.

I hope that Cedar Point and Midnight Syndicate have many more years of working together, creating unique theatrical experiences that stand out at Cedar Point and make HalloWeekends one of the premier Halloween events in the amusement park world.

Comments (2) | Submit Comment | Archive Link

>> October Blog Flume Archive