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Something BIG is coming to Cedar Point... Sometime

By James Koehl
Published: March 3, 2015 at 2:45 PM
Cedar Point recently announced some new changes to the park called "America's Rockin' Roller Coast", changes that foretell something really big coming in a year or so. Some of these changes were announced earlier, even before the end of last season (the conversion of the stand-up B&M coaster "Mantis" to "Rougarou" — a floorless coaster; the major remodeling and renovation of the Breakers Hotel) but many changes have been announced since the park closed for the 2014 season, changes that have the rumor mill running 24 hours a day in the Cedar Point fan world. (What else is there to talk about up here, with seemingly non-stop blizzards and sub-zero temps for several months now?)

Wicked Twister Midway
2015 Wicked Twister Midway concept art courtesy Cedar Point

The Good Times Theater, formerly the Cedar Point Cinema and the largest indoor theater at Cedar Point, is gone, torn down after housing the HalloWeekends presentation of the Midnight Syndicate. This happened over the holiday season. On Feb.23, Cedar Point announced for the first time these changes to the park:

· Sweet Spot- this new candy shop, located between the Pagoda Gift Shop and Snoopy Boutique, will feature fresh fudge, caramel apples and other sweet treats. Large front windows along the Main Midway will allow guests to watch the candy-making process.

· Tiki Twill- the park's Calypso spinning ride will be relocated from the Blue Streak Midway to the Wicked Twister Midway and renamed as a nod to a former ride at the park.

· Joe Cool's Dodgem School- the kid-friendly Krazy Kars kiddie bumper cars will be moved to Planet Snoopy (directly adjacent to the Wicked Twister Midway)

· Dodgem- the park's bumper cars, originally standing directly in front of the Good Times Theater, will be relocated near maXair, on the site where the Krazy Kars and Sir Rub-a-Dub's Tubs kiddie water ride was (now removed and not replaced) stood), also on the Wicked Twister Midway.

· The Turnpike Cars, a self-driven sports car ride on the Blue Streak Midway, is being removed and not replaced.

Although none of these attractions are new to Cedar Point, they show the park's decision to reinvigorate the Wicked Twister Midway similar to the renovation of the Gemini Midway last season, a move that breathed new life into a neglected part of the park.

These changes will leave a huge area of property for future development, especially if the long-rumored demolition of the old Cedars Hotel (now employee housing) occurs. This winter, Cedar Point has removed the Good Times Theater, Dodgem, Calypso, and Turnpike Cars from the same area, right next to the space where Wildcat was removed several years ago and which now hold temporary grandstands for the nightly "Luminosity" show. Rumors are rumors, and until there are more official announcements from Cedar Point it would be pure speculation as to what will be done with this huge area of prime property. Cedar Point has always been very good at keeping secrets until they want them to be announced. It will be fun to watch and see what the future will bring- I just hope it brings warmer weather soon to America's North Coast!

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Where to Eat: Breakfast at 1900 Park Fare in Disney's Grand Floridian Resort

By Dan Heaton
Published: March 3, 2015 at 9:53 AM
Character dining continues to expand at Disney World each year, and rumors of new locations appear frequently. The selling point is the chance to interact with a group of Disney characters without facing the long lines in the parks. Plus, you can eat a buffet meal while waiting to meet your favorites. The formula is popular for a reason. There are a few obstacles to this idyllic experience, however. The first is the prices, which are high even by Disney standards. Another challenge may be the atmosphere; putting a large group of excited kids (and some adults) into a fairly small space creates real chaos. The trick is deciding just how important having this type of experience is to your family.

Before we had kids, I wouldn’t ever have considered investing the time and money in a character meal. My interests are the attractions and theming more than the movies and stars. We still hesitated to take our girls due to the cost, but their love of Mary Poppins changed the equation. A major goal of our late January trip was making sure they spent time with the title character. The breakfast at 1900 Park Fare offered the perfect opportunity for them to meet Mary up close. I was also curious about how the character meals functioned. Reactions typically are mixed about their value. We scheduled an ADR for 9:05 a.m. on a Friday and had no issues making the reservation a few months prior to the visit.

1900 Park Fare Dining Room

Despite being part of the large Grand Floridian Resort, 1900 Park Fare has a modest entrance within the lobby. The check-in desk is part of a small room that probably feels cramped during the busier days. After confirming our name, cast members whisked us to the next step — a family picture in front of a painting of the castle. A single 4x6 or 5x7 photo is $14.95, while an 8x10 is $16.95. You can also download a hi-res version of the image from My Disney Experience for $14.95. The pictures turned out pretty well, but standing in front of a generic image is hardly a classic memory. After a brief wait, we were escorted to our table close to the entrance in one of the smaller rooms. I should mention that there were no high chairs available when we arrived, but cast members quickly located one before we reached the table.

The immediate feeling that hits you upon entering this space is a frenzy of activity. Along with Mary Poppins, the other characters on hand were Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Alice, and the Mad Hatter. Each star was spaced throughout the restaurant and moving steadily between tables. As parents, there’s a conflict between gathering food while ensuring that we didn’t miss the big moments. My wife and I took turns visiting the buffet while the other was ready for the characters. The girls were too distracted to eat very much, so any questions of value on that end are inconsequential. It’s best to remember the true reason for the visit. 1900 Park Fare is deceptively large because the space is split into smaller areas. This creates a sensation that you’re dining in a smaller spot, but it also seems to increase the noise.

Breakfast buffet

The food is mostly standard breakfast fare, but there are plenty of options for varying tastes. Our girls enjoyed the Mickey Waffles, and I picked up a nice plate of French toast, bacon, sausage, and eggs. The quality was solid across the board, and the temperature issues that sometimes occur in a buffet were nonexistent. Along with traditional options, there are more unique dishes like lobster Benedict, smoked salmon lox, and Floridian strawberry soup. My daughter has a peanut allergy, and the chef quickly arrived at our table and explained the menu. The service was top-notch across the board, including the drinks and plate removals. This is no small feat given all the activity that’s happening during this meal.

Breakfast plate

The cost was around $73 before the tip for two adults and one child. The prices change frequently depending on the day and season, so getting an exact idea of the costs isn’t easy. Breakfast is a better choice to save money, though the dinner at 1900 Park Fare has different characters (Cinderella, Prince Charming, and others). It isn’t an outlandish cost given Disney prices, and it’s hard to put a price on having a special experience. The question is how exceptional the experience can feel given the loud and hectic atmosphere. Our girls had a great time, but they spent less than a minute with Mary Poppins. They had a longer and more personal interaction with her at EPCOT later that day. It’s an anecdotal comparison from one family, but it reveals the complexities when deciding on character dining.

Mary Poppins

There were positive aspects of our first exposure to character dining at Disney World. The Mad Hatter and Alice were both charming, and this was the girls’ only meeting with those characters. It was a fun surprise for them on our last park day, and adding new elements keeps the trips from becoming too familiar. Even so, it’s unlikely that we’ll do another character meal. When you analyze the time commitments and cost, the value wasn’t there with this breakfast. Disney theme park prices continue to rise, and this fact makes every choice even more important when planning a trip. I understand the allure of character meals and don’t regret trying one, but they just don’t fit with our goals for a Disney vacation.

[Editor's Note: Today, we are proud to announce that we have added Walt Disney World's hotel restaurants to our theme park restaurant listings. You can rate and review 1900 Park Fare and other Disney hotel restaurants by visiting our Walt Disney World Hotels page and clicking through to each hotel, where you will find links to reviews pages for each of its restaurants, below the hotel's description. All readers may rate any of these restaurants, and registered members of Theme Park Insider may submit reviews and photos, as well. Registration is free, and takes just a moment.]

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Weekly Top 10: The World's Best Motion Base Rides and Shows

By Robert Niles
Published: March 2, 2015 at 11:53 AM
For generations, theme park fans faced a choice between narrative and thrills. You could go on a dark ride to enjoy characters and story, or go on something like a roller coaster to twist, turn and scream. But in the 1980s, Disney brought narrative and thrills together like never before by introducing "Star Tours," a Star Wars-themed movie show where the theater was actually a flight simulator. Fans now could experience thrills and narrative together, as their theater became a spaceship where passengers felt themselves flying through the battles they saw on screen.

After Disney's success with "Star Tours," motion simulator rides became a fad in the themed amusement industry, eventually ending up in just about every mall and arcade you'd visit. But as motion simulators spread across the world, top theme parks kept developing the technology, eventually creating motion base rides where vehicles using motion simulator technology moved through a dark ride space. Disney's "Indiana Jones Adventure" showed the way, and in the last decade Universal took the next steps, using robot arms as a new kind of motion system for ride vehicles, and embedding motion bases in roller coaster track.

Today, we honor the theme park industry's top 10 motion base shows and rides, as rated by Theme Park Insider readers.

10. Dinosaur
Disney's Animal Kingdom

Dinosaur

Using the same ride vehicles and track layout as Disneyland's Indiana Jones Adventure, Animal Kingdom's Dinosaur (originally "Countdown to Extinction") takes its theme from the 2000 animated Disney movie, Dinosaur.

9. The Simpsons Ride
Universal Studios Florida, Universal Studios Hollywood

The Simpsons Ride

Universal in 2008 refurbished its "Back to the Future" shows with a new "Simpsons" theme, creating a wild ride through the "Krustyland," where everything that can go wrong, does.

8. Star Tours: The Adventures Continue
Disneyland, Disney's Hollywood Studios

Star Tours: The Adventures Continue

In 2011, Disney replaced its original "Star Tours" film with a new attraction that randomly spliced together new scenes in 55 different possible combinations.

7. Despicable Me Minion Mayhem
Universal Studios Florida, Universal Studios Hollywood

Despicable Me Minion Mayhem

Universal's first motion base ride took riders through a Hanna Barbera cartoon. Later, Universal replaced the film with Nickelodeon's Jimmy Neutron, and in 20132, Despicable Me's Gru moved in with his Minions, inviting riders into an adventure where they, too, can become Minions.

6. Back to the Future: The Ride
Universal Studios Japan

Back to the Future: The Ride

Universal left "Back to the Future" alone in Japan, where it continues to entertain fans. Sure, it's 2015 outside the theater as well as in the ride now, but this franchise remains beloved, and "Back to the Future" remains the top Universal ride that fans would like to bring back from the past.

5. Indiana Jones Adventure
Disneyland, Tokyo DisneySea

Indiana Jones Adventure

Disney's original motion base ride remains a fan favorite, as visitors follow Indy through many of his classic trials from the Indiana Jones movies. (In Tokyo, the ride is called "Indiana Jones - Temple of the Crystal Skull.")

4. Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
Universal Studios Florida

Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts

Escape from Gringotts is as much roller coaster as motion base ride, as a traditional coaster takes riders in between scenes. But at several points along the track, the coaster trains transition onto motion bases that coordinate with on-screen action to create a wild new experience.

3. Transformers: The Ride
Universal Studios Singapore, Universal Studios Hollywood, Universal Studios Florida

Transformers: The Ride

Michael Bay's Transformers movies become the thrill ride they were always meant to be in this adventure that debuted in 2011 in Universal's Singapore park.

2. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
Universal's Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios Japan

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

Using a Kuka robot arm rather than the more traditional motion base platform that drives rides such as Transformers, Forbidden Journey delivers a wider range of motion than other motion base rides. The experience can be too much for some riders, but other Harry Potter fans adore this chance to fly with Harry and Ron around Hogwarts Castle.

1. The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man
Universal's Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios Japan

The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man

Spider-Man was the hit of Universal's Islands of Adventure theme park when it debuted in 1999, winning our top award for theme park rides for many years in a row. Universal refurbished the ride with a new film in 2012, today, Spider-Man looks, and feels, even better than ever.

What is your favorite motion base ride or show? Tell us in the comments!

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Anna and Elsa Return to Epcot for the Flower & Garden Festival

By Robert Niles
Published: March 1, 2015 at 12:27 PM
The topiaries are coming out in Epcot, as Walt Disney World gears up for the annual Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival, which starts officially on Wednesday, March 4.

Queen Elsa topiary

Anna and Elsa make their return to Epcot, in topiary form, for this year's event, which will run through May 17, with special displays and food booths around the park.

Princess Anna topiary

The Frozen duo made their Walt Disney World debut in Epcot's Norway pavilion, then moved last year to the higher-capacity Princess Fairytale Hall in the Magic Kingdom for their meet and greets. Disney has closed the Norway pavilion's old Maelstrom ride to convert it to a Frozen theme, while filing plans for a new Anna and Elsa meet and greet building in the Norway pavilion.

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Fire Strikes Near Disneyland's Small World

By Robert Niles
Published: February 28, 2015 at 11:55 PM
A fire engulfed a tree next to the It's a Small World ride at Disneyland after the nightly fireworks this evening.

Here is a video. Local firefighters extinguished the fire within 30 minutes, according to visitors in the park. The damage appeared to be confined to a tree next to the ride, as well as some of the construction tarp in front of the ride. (The Small World facade is undergoing refurbishment and has been covered by a construction tarp.)

Last November, fireworks in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World sparked a fire on the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train attraction. In both cases, no injuries were reported. The Mine Train reopened later that evening, though Small World remains closed for the time being. The local ABC affiliate is reporting that the ride is expected to reopen later this evening, however.

Update: (March 2) Although the fire started shortly after the fireworks, reports are coming out on Twitter that the cause might have been electrical, resulting from contractors working on the facade.

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Vote of the Week: Are You Priced Out of an Orlando Vacation?

By Robert Niles
Published: February 27, 2015 at 1:58 PM
Who much money do you need to afford a Walt Disney World vacation?

A reader who works at the resort emailed an interesting piece of information she'd picked up during a recent staff meeting. She wrote that the executive in the meeting said that Walt Disney World's target household income for its visitors is $80,000 a year and up. Given that the median household income in the United States is about $54,000 a year, this report would seem to confirm what many Disney fans have been saying in recent years — that Walt Disney World has become out of reach for many middle-income Americans.

Money

About one-third of American households have a combined income of $80,000 a year or more, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. That would put two-thirds of Americans outside of Disney's reported target market. (You can blame Disney for its rising prices, or you can blame a U.S. economy where workers' incomes haven't kept up with their productivity increases since the 1970s. But that's another vote, for another time.)

Obviously, $80 grand isn't a hard cut-off. I can tell you from personal experience that $80,000 in Orlando buys a lot more than $80,000 buys in Southern California. (And this is where our readers in New York City and San Francisco reach for a drink... before realizing that they can't afford one.) Many families who earn less than that find ways to get to Walt Disney World and enjoy a vacation there. But with each price increase, that becomes tougher to do.

Disney isn't the only option in Orlando, either. The first trade-off many Disney fans make is to stay off-site, instead of at an on-property Walt Disney World hotel. Some theme park fans even opt for skipping Disney and putting together days at Universal Orlando, SeaWorld, Busch Gardens, Legoland, the beach, or other area attractions to enjoy their Central Florida vacations.

Golden goblin
Standing on some fat stacks at Universal Orlando

But with Universal raising its prices to keep pace with Disney, even the "non-Disney" Orlando vacation option is becoming more expensive. Disney and Universal are the attractions that make the Orlando area unique among vacation destinations. If you can't afford to visit either of them, you're probably asking whether you should look elsewhere for your vacation.

How are you feeling these days about the affordability of an Orlando-area theme park vacation? Is it still a great deal for you, or are you finding it more difficult to make happen? Or have you decided to look elsewhere for your family vacations? It's Vote of the Week time.


Tell us in the comments what you're doing to make your vacation affordable, whether it's to the Orlando area or elsewhere this year. And, as always, thank you for being part of the Theme Park Insider community.

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Getting a Look at the Magic Kingdom's New Hub

By Robert Niles
Published: February 27, 2015 at 9:34 AM
Walt Disney World has begun to open parts of the newly refurbished central plaza hub at the Magic Kingdom. Replacing much of the old Swan Boat canal and its sloped banks, these newly graded, landscaped and paved areas are designed to accommodate crowds for the nightly fireworks and parade viewing.

Magic Kingdom hub
Photo courtesy Disney

Eventually, Disney will be designating some of these areas for Fastpass+ reservations to see the shows. By expanding the available space to stand and watch, Disney hopes that it will be able to spread the crowd for the fireworks, allowing people to move around the Magic Kingdom's center more easily before and after the shows.

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