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Holiday round-up: Celebrating at Disney World, Discovery Cove

By Robert Niles
Published: July 1, 2016 at 6:58 PM
The Walt Disney World Resort is celebrating summer — and the opening of its Disney Springs shopping and dining district — with a "Grand Opening Summer Celebration." In addition to entertainment throughout the four Disney Springs "neighborhoods," several stores in the district will be offering opening summer specials, which are listed on the Disney Parks Blog.

One of the new stores in Disney Springs is the Coca-Cola Store Orlando, which opens Saturday. Inspired by a 1920s Coca-Cola bottling plant, the store will sell a variety of Coke-themed souvenirs, including some handmade products crafted from recycled materials. Visitors can sample various Coke products in a rooftop bar (including, yes, the infamous Italian Beverly). And in August, the Coca-Cola Polar Bear will begin making meet-and-greet appearances.

And here's some more good news for Walt Disney World visitors:

SeaWorld Orlando's Discovery Cove is celebrating its "Sweet 16" birthday with a big giveaway. The grand prize winner will get a trip for 16 to Discovery Cove, including round-trip airfare to Orlando, two nights' accommodation, and a VIP package to the park, including a swim with bottlenose dolphins as well as admission to SeaWorld and Aquatica. If you're at least 18, you can enter once a day between now and August 14 at DiscoveryCove.com/Sweet16.

Europa Park's Pegasus, on Coastiality

Finally, if you liked that 360-degree visit through Tokyo Disney Resort that we linked last night, download the "Coastiality" app from Germany's Europa Park. The app, which can be used with Google Cardboard, allows you to choose from four virtual reality trips on two of the park's roller coasters: Alpenexpress and Pegasus. You can choose to download or stream the rides and to use VR glasses or not. Europa Park promises to add more rides in the future and will start selling official "Coastiality" Cardboard VR glasses in the park, for €9.90, by the middle of this month. I download the app by searching for "Coastiality" on Apple's App Store.

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Busch Gardens Tampa land cleared after orangutan escape

By Robert Niles
Published: July 1, 2016 at 3:07 PM
An orangutan apparently found its way out of its enclosure at Busch Gardens Tampa this evening, setting off a local media frenzy.

Local TV stations rushed to cover the scene, as reports said that at least part of the park was cleared, presumably to ensure the safety of not only the guests but the orangutan itself.

Update: The orangutan was captured and returned to its enclosure, after park officials cleared the Stanleyville land. Everyone appears to be fine, including the orangutan.

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The top 10 ways people cheat in theme parks

By Robert Niles
Published: July 1, 2016 at 11:22 AM
In my Orange County Register column this week, I take on the issue of people cheating in theme parks: Do cheaters prosper at Disneyland, Knott's and other theme parks?

The column is a follow-up to my piece last week, which explained why single rider lines can be a great deal for everyone, whether you use them or not. But some people look for ways to take advantage of anything and try to cheat the single rider lines by insisting that they must ride with family or friends when they get to the loading point.

That's hardly the only way that people cheat the system in theme parks. I hope you'll read my column on the Register website, and for Theme Park Insider readers, I'd like to extend that list with a complete "Top 10" of theme park cheaters. In picking these 10, I'm trying to single out the top ways that theme park guests cheat other guests by taking advantage.

Not-so-single riders — If you have any doubt that your child will be cool with going alone, just wait in the regular queue. And for grown-ups pulling this trick, we're all wise to you. Bravo to any cast or team member who calls you out and throws you out of the line.

Line jumpers — At least they're not being as passive-aggressive as the not-so-single riders. But people who jump the queues deserve a nice long wait in a security office... before getting tossed from the park. Have some respect for your fellow guests, please?

Slow loaders — When the employees tell you to move all the way down to the end of the row in a full theater show, don't stop in the middle to get the "good" seat. That just forces everyone to climb over and around you, slowing the start of the show and leading to a longer wait for the people behind you. The same thing goes for people who hold up the dispatch of rides to take a family portrait in a ride vehicle, or parents who try to force their crying child onto a theme park ride. Fast loading means shorter waits. Slow loading lengthens the wait for everyone else.

Table hoggers/slobbers — Yeah, this one is a judgment call. It's okay with us if you send someone to go claim a table in a counter service restaurant while you are picking up the food. No one wants to stand around with a full tray while looking for a place to sit. But when people send the kids to claim a table even before getting into a 20-minute queue for food, they're helping create a situation where lots of other people will end up having to stand around with full trays while kids sit alone at dozens of otherwise empty tables. Kudos to restaurants such as Be Our Guest and The Three Broomsticks that don't let people claim tables without food. But everywhere else, people can help their fellow guests by not claiming tables early.

And clean up our table when you leave, too. Yes, parks should employ workers to give a table a wipedown as soon as a part leaves. But if they have to take the time to bus everything off the table, too, that slows down the time it takes to make that table available for another group. Again, delays = longer waits in theme parks.

Selfie stick-ers — It's bad enough to intrude on scarce space in a crowded theme park with these things. But when people bring them into parks where they are banned, they slow the line at bag checks while they'r confiscated. Even worse, when people bring them on rides, they force shut-downs that inconvenience and frustrate thousands of other visitors.

Tablet photographers — Until someone develops a transparent tablet, quit blocking the view of everyone behind you to take a photo or video with your iPad. Use your phone or bring a real camera. (And keep it in front of your face — not high over your head.)

Pushy parents — If your child is too short to go on a thrill ride, don't push it. Don't try to cheat by putting lifts into their shoes, and certainly don't take it out on the cast or team member measuring your child. Ride restrictions are there for a reason — to keep you and your kids safe. Support the parks' efforts to keep your kids safe. Don't make the parks the enemy because your child isn't ready for something you want them to do right now.

Fakers — Years ago, selfish, nasty visitors would rent a wheelchair and pretend to have an injury or disability in order to skip the wait by using the "wheelchair entrance" at many rides. Later, as parks created more formal systems to accommodate people with disabilities, people who could have visited the park without that special accommodation took advantage by claiming they needed it anyway. The worst cheats started selling special access to others to ride along on the disability access cards they'd obtained. These days, Disney, Universal and other parks have clamped down on this form of line jumping with new guest access systems that essentially create a parallel ride-reservation system for guests with disabilities, giving them no wait time advantage over other visitors. But the fakers who cheated these systems in the past always should have a place in our theme park hall of shame.

Souvenir flippers — You're not providing a service when you buy dozens of a new souvenir to resell them on eBay to other fans. All you are doing is preventing other fans from getting those souvenirs at the park for their original price. "Limit one per customer" for new releases ought to be theme park law.

Free parkers — If you think parks charge too much for parking, you'll get a sympathetic ear from us. (By the way, bravo to Holiday World for offering free parking to all visitors!) But if you don't like what a company charges for a product, the proper response is to not buy it. It's not to steal it. Don't keep your car in Downtown Disney's lot all day and evening when you're visiting Disneyland. Don't lie and say you're going to a WDW resort for lunch when you're really just going into the park. And don't use back roads to sneak your way into a theme park parking lot. Carpool, take alternate transportation, buy a pass that includes parking — do whatever you want to minimize your parking costs at your favorite theme park. But don't take spaces designed for other purposes just so you can get out of paying. That's cheating the other guests who legitimately need them.

Got something to add to our list? Let's hear it in the comments.

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Thursday round-up: Universal Orlando plans its sixth hotel

By Robert Niles
Published: June 30, 2016 at 9:34 PM
Universal Orlando has filed paperwork with the City of Orlando to begin work on its sixth on-site hotel. According to documents filed with the city, the hotel will include 600 rooms in one tower and be built on about six acres just south of the upcoming Sapphire Falls hotel, next to the Cabana Bay.

The hotel would be the smallest of the six at the Universal Orlando Resort. According to a report from Orlando Business Journal, "Aventura Hotel" might be the name for the hotel, based on information in the city documents and a recent trademark filing by Universal. That suggests a Spanish-influence theme for the property, but at this point, who knows?

The Sapphire Falls Resort opens in July, and Universal officials have made clear that they intend to continue adding hotels and rooms to the resort, as Universal looks to close the gap to market leader Walt Disney World.

Speaking of Disney World, the resort announced today another hard-ticket holiday event. The "Disney Countdown to Midnight – A New Year’s Eve Celebration" at Disney’s Contemporary Resort will be $225 per person and includes a DJ, band, "bites and wine pairings" from selected Disney hotel restaurants, and a viewing of the Magic Kingdom's midnight fireworks to ring in the new year. Reservations will open July 4 and be available available online or by calling +1-407-939-3463.

Finally, Legoland California has dedicated what it's calling the "tallest Lego building in the United States" — its Miniland version of One World Trade Center in New York. Here's a video of the dedication, along with shots of the installation of the model.

From the park's press release:

The One World Trade Center LEGO model is built with more than 250,000 LEGO bricks, and took eight Master Model Builders more than 1200 hours to build. This dynamic structure weighs more than 1,000 pounds and towers at a record breaking 26 feet, making it the tallest LEGO model in the U.S.

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Airbnb, other short-term rentals banned around Disneyland

By Robert Niles
Published: June 30, 2016 at 9:56 AM
If you're looking to book a place to stay for your next visit to the Disneyland Resort in southern California, your range of options just got a bit smaller. The City of Anaheim voted last night to ban short-term rentals, such as Airbnb, inside the city.

According to coverage from the Orange County Register, owners of the 383 permitted short-term rentals in the city will have to shut down within the next 18 months. Anaheim began limiting short-term rentals two years ago, requiring a registration fee and payment of the city's 15 percent hotel tax. Last year, the city capped the number of permits available to short-term rentals.

But that was not enough to satisfy local residents, who complained that many of the short-term rentals effectively were operating as hotels in residential neighborhoods. After also considering additional restrictions on the rentals, the city council voted last night for the ban.

The decision means that out-of-town visitors to the Disneyland Resort will either have to choose from among the many hotels in the area, or opt for a short-term rental farther from the parks, in another, nearby city. Hotels already offered the advantage of proximity to the Disneyland theme parks — dozens of hotels are located within walking distance of the front gates, while almost all short-term rentals were significantly farther away. But homes rented through Airbnb and VRBO typically offered more space at relatively lower prices, making them a potentially attractive alternative for larger families and groups.

The ban not only will help keep those visitors out of the city's residential areas, it should dissuade investors who have been driving up the price of homes in the city by buying houses to convert them into Airbnb rentals. But by limiting the options for tourists, it might also help drive up the price of hotel rooms in the city, assuming that other investors don't then switch to building more hotel inventory.

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Reservations now available for 2016 Epcot Candlelight Processionals

By Robert Niles
Published: June 30, 2016 at 9:18 AM
Tickets are now on sale for this year's Candlelight Processional performances at Walt Disney World's Epcot. Technically, Disney's opened up reservations for dining packages that include reserved seating at the Candlelight Processional, but given the scarcity of the free stand-by seating for these performances, you really ought to consider the dining package the price of admission for actually being able to get in and see the show.

The Candlelight Dining Packages start at $27 per adult and $14 per child for breakfast meals. For dinner and lunch meals, the prices start at $47 for adults and $20 for kids. The packages can be booked at most Epcot table service restaurants, as well as at Trattoria al Forno at Disney's Boardwalk and Captain's Grille at Disney's Yacht Club Resort. You can make your reservations by calling Disney at 407-WDW-DINE [+1-407-939-3463].

Here is the schedule for this year's Candlelight Processionals, along with the guest narrators for those evenings:

11/25-27 – Steven Curtis Chapman
11/28-12/1 – Neil Patrick Harris
12/2-12/3 – Whoopi Goldberg
12/4-12/12 – TBA
12/13-12/15 – Meredith Vieira
12/16-12/18 – TBA
12/19-12/21 – Joe Morton
12/22-12/27 – TBA
12/28-12/30 – Cal Ripken, Jr.

The shows take place at American Gardens Theatre and there are three show each night, at 5, 6:45 and 8:15 pm.

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Wednesday round-up: Fireworks live and Tokyo Disney in virtual reality

By Robert Niles
Published: June 29, 2016 at 10:26 PM
Can't make it to the parks for the the Fourth of July celebrations? Or do you just know better than to be stuck in those worst-of-the-summer crowds? Either way, you don't have to completely miss the festivities. Walt Disney World will be live-streaming the Independence Day fireworks from the Magic Kingdom on July 4. The livestream will be on the Disney Parks Blog front page, starting at 8:50 pm ET.

The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resorts will be hosting a two-weekend sand sculpture celebration at the close of the summer holiday season. The "Sandtastic Weekends" will be held on August 26-28 and September 2-4, which is Labor Weekend. From the hotel's press release:

The event will offer guests a variety of different ways to take part in the action, from watching the masterpieces being created up close to learning the tips and techniques of sand sculpting during a sand sculpting clinic. Those with a competitive side can take part in amateur sculpting contests or try to stump the professionals by giving suggestions for speed sculpting demonstrations, where a piece is created in just 10 minutes.

The fun will extend beyond the sand sculpting, with plenty of indoor and outdoor food selections featuring creations from the resort’s award-winning food and beverage team, including the resort’s own Phins and Feathers craft beer; games on the beach like corn hole and table tennis; a DJ; and to close the day, a campfire and s’mores.

* * *

The Tokyo Disney Resort is kicking off its summer season with a 360-degree "virtual reality" flight through the parks. Here's a look at "Flying Summer Magic!" (Chrome browser works best for this on a laptop or desktop computer.)

The effect is way more impressive if you access go to tdrfun.jp/summer on your iPhone or Android and play the demonstration on your phone's screen. Sure, the instructions are in Japanese, but it's pretty intuitive, and if two-year-olds who can't yet read English can figure out an iPad, you probably can figure out how to use this.

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