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Disneyland Paris celebrates its 25th anniversary with new shows, parade

By Robert Niles
Published: March 26, 2017 at 10:57 AM
Disneyland Paris opens its 25th anniversary celebration today, introducing a new entertainment line-up featuring a new parade and nighttime show in a day-long media event yesterday.

More than a few Disney celebrities were on hand, including the man who oversaw the design of Europe's first Disney theme park, two and a half decades ago.

That's our Ben Mills with Disney Legend Tony Baxter. The day started with an official 25th anniversary celebration ceremony, with Disney Parks Chairman Bob Chapek and Disneyland Paris President Catherine Powell. [The show starts at 3:00]

But the birthday presents for Disneyland fans would be the new shows, including Mickey Presents: Happy Anniversary, Disneyland Paris. [Skip to 1:35]

And The Starlit Princess Waltz:

The big daytime show is the new parade, Disney Stars on Parade. [Skip to 8:00]

After the sun set, Disneyland Paris introduced its 25th anniversary replacement for Disney Dreams, Disney Illuminations. No, it's not the same show from Epcot, but another castle projection show featuring classic Disney songs. Tonight's debut performance kicked off with a live three-song set from special guest John Legend. [Skip to 1:45 for a Peter Pan pre-show. Legend arrives at 6:00.]

Ben posted a "Twittereview" of the show:

Here's the rest of it, from Ben:

Point 2: it is essentially Shanghai's night show - much of the projection a straight copy+paste. But given the crossover in audience here is only ever going to be a tiny number, I can't see that's a problem. And actually, what has been copied across works better here. Texture of the castle is a better fit, sight lines fairer.

It's a huge tonal shift from predecessor Dreams. Romance and intimacy swapped for bombast and bravado. But I suspect that speaks more to the park's future direction. And an artistic manifesto is never a bad thing.

Interestingly, the only sequence that didn't work for me was the (live action) Beauty & The Beast one. Something about the graphic style didn't work with the castle texture. And the 'window' concept just didn't come off.

But the rest did the job - highlights from favourites made MASSIVE through clever mapping, pyrotechnics, fountains et al. It reminded me of Universal Cinematic Spectac more than trad Disney. So much is huge, loud, bright. Ending is an explosion! To adapt Disney vernacular, it's less of a Goodnight Kiss, more of a Goodnight... something-else. Ahem.

Anyway, if it gets half the reaction it gets in Shanghai, it'll be a hit. And freer structure means sequence-swapping easier.

Final thought to sum up the shift from Dreams: it reminds me of a note I sometimes give in theatre... do you want to draw the audience in to the show, or take the show out to the audience? Both are valid, but different. Dreams (and in many respects DLP as a whole) was the former, Illuminations is the latter. It'll be interesting to see if/how that is reflected in design choices going forward. Anyway, that's plenty long for a twittereview. De rien.

In addition to the new parade, projection show, and two castle shows, Disneyland Paris's 25th anniversary features include the debut of Star Tours: The Adventures Continue in Tomorrowland, with Hyperspace Mountain coming later this spring. This summer, the refurbished Pirates of the Caribbean will open and this time, it will join its Pirates brethren around the world by featuring the addition of Captain Jack Sparrow, too.

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Walt Disney World opens advance reservations for Pandora

By Robert Niles
Published: March 24, 2017 at 12:21 PM
Walt Disney World this morning opened reservations for a preview of its upcoming Pandora - The World of Avatar land at Disney's Animal Kingdom. Preview opportunities for the week of May 13-22 also were extended to Disney Vacation Club members.

Invitations to sign up for the previews were emailed to passholders and DVC members, and if you haven't checked your email and responded by now... it's probably too late. Passholders trying to sign up are reporting now that all slots have been taken for the event.

Disney's press event for the new Avatar-themed land runs from May 23-25, bringing us right up to the official public opening on May 27. So if there is to be a public soft opening for the land, it would either have to run concurrently with the AP/DVC preview, or start before May 13. That wouldn't be unheard of, especially since insider reports say that the land is near completion already.

Guests with a Walt Disney World Resort hotel reservation now can start making Fastpass+ reservations for Pandora's two new rides: Avatar Flight of Passage and the Na’vi River Journey. Hotel guests can make Fastpass+ reservations for the stay starting 60 days before their check-in, so my math says that Pandora slots are open now for people whose stay starts May 23 or earlier. Fastpass+ reservations for those rides will open to the rest of on May 27 and can be booked up to 30 days in advance via Walt DisneyWorld's app or website.

Update: And if you want the VIP tour with the creative director who oversaw the development of the land, D23 has you covered. Tickets go on sale in April.

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Chinese theme park developer buys stake in SeaWorld

By Robert Niles
Published: March 24, 2017 at 12:01 PM
China's Zhonghong Group has bought a minority ownership stake in SeaWorld, making it the company's largest single shareholder. The 21 percent stake in the company comes from private equity firm Blackstone Group, which formerly owned half of the Universal Orlando Resort and currently maintains a stake in Legoland owner Merlin Entertainments.

Blackstone sold for $23 a share, a premium over SeaWorld's $17.31 closing price Thursday but down from the $27 a share that SeaWorld started trading at four years ago. The deal includes licensing and consulting for theme park development in China, which should clear the path for Zhonghong to bring the SeaWorld brand to new parks there.

A commercial real estate investor, Zhonghong Group is the developer behind the Monkey King-themed park outside Beijing that was supposed to open in 2014.

SeaWorld's brand of animal-based entertainment should play well in China, where Chimelong Ocean Kingdom — the most-visited theme park in the world that isn't owned by Disney or Universal — recently opened the nation's first orca breeding program, and Hong Kong's Ocean Park routinely beats neighbor Hong Kong Disneyland on annual attendance.

SeaWorld has lagged its biggest competitors in overseas expansion. Disney and Universal have had parks open outside the United States and for years and Six Flags now has parks under construction in China and Dubai. SeaWorld last year announced plans to license a park in Abu Dhabi, for a 2022 debut, but that would be its first park outside the United States. (The Sea World park in Gold Coast, Australia is not owned by nor affiliated with the American SeaWorld chain.) SeaWorld's previous owner, Anheuser-Busch, in 2008 announced plans to develop a four-park resort on The Palm Jebel Ali in Dubai, which would have included SeaWorld, Busch Gardens, Aquatica, and Discovery Cove. That project died, along with a slew of others around the United Arab Emirates, in the Great Recession.

Flagship SeaWorld Orlando's attendance peaked in 2008, the last full year that Anheuser-Busch owned the parks and gave out free beer to adult visitors. Two years later, in 2010, an orca killed Dawn Brancheau and competitor Universal Orlando opened The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, accelerating the park's attendance decline. SeaWorld Orlando's 4.77-million visitor mark in 2015 was down nearly 20 percent from its 5.93 million peak in 2008, according to the annual AECOM theme park attendance report. (The 2016 report isn't out yet.)

As a theme park chain unconnected to a movie studio — and the resulting supply of free intellectual property around which to develop attractions with a built-in audience — SeaWorld needs to look outside the United States for new market opportunities as it attempts to find a sustainable niche for itself at home if it wants to reverse the trend and start growing again. Is Zhonghong deal the right next step toward that?

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Paid 'Fastpasses' come to Shanghai Disneyland

By Robert Niles
Published: March 23, 2017 at 8:31 PM
Last month, we showed you a report from a Theme Park Insider reader who said he had seen people selling Fastpasses inside Shanghai Disneyland. At the time, we wondered if the idea that other people were selling front of the line access to its rides would prompt Disney to get in the game and head off those deals by selling Fastpass-style access itself.

Guess what? Now the park is doing just that.

Here's the scoop, direct from Shanghai, courtesy Adriel Tjokrosaputro.

"Disney Premier Access" allows you a one-time Fastpass queue entry to each of seven top rides in the park, anytime you wish to visit during the day of your access. The cost for one Fastpass entry is RMB 120 (US$17.41) or RMB 150 ($21.77) on "peak" days, when park admission tickets cost more, too. But the cost for the set — all seven — is RMB 480 or 600 (US$69.71-87.14), which works out to about $10-12.50 per Fastpass, a price that I suspect many America visitors might pay.

[*Note: An earlier version of this story missed that the set price in the photo was the one for all seven Fastpass entries.]

Disney is providing a park-approved way for people to pay for extra access to attractions, without having to go through middlemen. Shanghai Disneyland is drawing about a million visitors a month, putting it behind the Magic Kingdom-style parks in Orlando, Anaheim, and Tokyo for annual attendance but ahead of Paris and well ahead of Hong Kong. Yet Shanghai Disneyland has fewer attractions than the Disney parks that attract more visitors, which means longer lines in Shanghai.

According to Adriel's earlier report, scalpers were charging around RMB 100 for a pair of Fastpasses, which means that Disney's charging more for its version, so we'll see if this has the presumably desired effect of drying up demand for middleman Fastpass sales.

This isn't the first time that Disney has sold preferred line access, of course. VIP Tours at its other parks around the world often provide that perk, and hard-ticket events such as the recent "Early Morning Magic" at the Walt Disney World Resort also provide much shorter waits than during regular operation. But those "line skips," if you will, come packaged with other perks and services. This is the first time I can recall that Disney has put a direct price on using the Fastpass return lines... and nothing else. (Disneyland's upcoming MaxPass charges for using the park's app to manage your Fastpasses — a benefit that Walt Disney World visitors get for no extra charge — but it does not allow you to hold more than the one Fastpass you can by using the traditional paper system.)

Paid line-skipping is standard practice at other companies' parks, of course, with Universal, Cedar Fair, and Six Flags parks all selling various passes and systems to allow you to spend less time in line.

Will Disney bring its Disney Premier Access to its US theme parks? Or is this a unique solution to a particular problem in Shanghai? Make your prediction in the comments.

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What should Disneyland do about its swarm of strollers?

By Robert Niles
Published: March 23, 2017 at 6:27 PM
In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, an alien visiting Earth decides to blend in by naming himself "Ford Prefect," mistaking automobiles for the dominant life form on our planet. The joke worked in author Douglas Adams' native UK, where the Prefect was a relatively popular car, even if it pretty much failed in the US, where Ford barely sold any of the model.

So if Disney ever wants to reboot its 2005 Hitchhiker's movie with a theme park version where the main character visits Disneyland, perhaps Ford Prefect can be renamed "Graco Fastaction," since strollers seem to crowding out actual human visitors in many sections of the park these days.

With more attractions crammed into much less space than Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom — the other theme park in America that's become a "must visit" for families with little kids — Disneyland is the undisputed stroller swarm capital of the United States. Cast members often struggle to keep pathways clear around the entrances to Tomorrowland, Toontown (next to It's a Small World), and Pirates of the Caribbean clear as parents abandon their strollers in packs throughout the day.

In my Orange County Register column this week, I look at the situation in Tomorrowland, where strollers often span the gaps between the old PeopleMover support columns, and sometime spill out to narrow the already tight paths in front of Star Tours and Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters.

Mostly, I'm using the stroller situation as a straw man to back into an argument that Disney's best business decision for better crowd management in Tomorrowland is to reopen the PeopleMover. But I think it's an interesting question to ask what else Disneyland might do to alleviate the stroller jams throughout the park.

Given that Disney hasn't got the room to swap Disneyland for a larger, Magic Kingdom-sized replacement in Anaheim, relief is going to come only from reducing the size and/or number of strollers in the park. So how might Disney do that?

The easiest logistical solution is to try to reduce the number of little kids in the park by raising prices on them. Eliminate the child's discount and make everyone — including children under age three — pay the regular, "adult" price. That might keep some parents from hauling their kids to the resort before they turn 10 — long past their stroller years. But Disney doesn't offer a kids' discount on annual passes, and with hundreds of thousands of local AP holders crowding the park throughout the year, the elimination of children's tickets probably wouldn't take a significant number of strollers off the pathways. Maybe requiring tickets for babies would help a bit, but it won't solve the problem.

That's because, ultimately, the problem isn't the number of children in Disneyland. It's the size of those darned strollers these days. Perhaps Disneyland could divert some of Walt Disney World's "NextGen" money into designing and developing the next generation of smaller, stronger, more durable strollers, which Disney could rent in place of its current, somewhat bulky models.

Of course, that wouldn't do anything to address the much larger, SUV-sized rolling roadblocks that many parents are bringing into the park. To do that, Disney would have to get really devious and start emulating... the airline industry.

Wanna bring a stroller into the park? Like checking a bag on a flight, you're gonna have to pay. Let's make the daily stroller admission fee equal to the daily stroller rental fee. That way, people are paying the same whether they bring their own or use Disney's (in our ideal world) smaller strollers.

Must use your own? Then you might have to pay an oversized stroller penalty on top of the stroller admission fee, just as you would for an overweight checked bag on an airline trip.

Why do people bring in such big strollers, anyway? Because for many families, the issue isn't a place to stash the kid. It's having a place to stash their stuff. People need the big strollers to accommodate the diaper bag, backpacks, snack bags, and whatever else they're hauling into the park like they were preparing to climb Mount Everest.

And here's where Disney goes full Spirit Airlines... and starts charging people who bring in oversized bags, not just strollers. Install a "personal item" 9x10x17-inch frame at each front gate lane and tell people they'll have to pay a fee if their bags don't fit in it. Heck, Disney could earn a few extra million on top of those fees by selling the streaming rights to the inevitable front-gate confrontations to World Star.

Now that we're talking about starting a fight, let's put this to a vote:

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Disney brings live orchestra concerts to Hollywood Studios this summer

By Robert Niles
Published: March 23, 2017 at 11:31 AM
The orchestra is coming back to Disney's Hollywood Studios!

Walt Disney World announced today that it will present a new nightly concert series at Disney's Hollywood Studios this summer, featuring the music of Disney/Pixar movies.

The Music of Pixar LIVE! A Symphony of Characters starts May 26 and will play three times nightly at the Theater of the Stars on Sunset Boulevard in the park. You might know that location better as the theater where the original live-action Beauty and the Beast plays during the day. ;^)

The concert will run for a "limited time," and Disney's not yet revealing an end date.

Disney's run a countless number of character-driven "greatest hits" musical shows over the years, but it's become rare to see a character show featuring live musical performances. Typically, Disney uses recorded soundtracks for the music in its characters' stage productions. But Disney's promising a live orchestra for this one, which is (okay, deep breath... going for the cliche here... hold on...) music to my ears.

As long-time readers of the site might remember, Mrs. Theme Park Insider played in the original orchestra to perform at the then-Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park — the Disney's All-American College Orchestra, which held its rehearsals in one of the sound stages on the original Studio Tour in the park. Okay, no one outside that orchestra actually heard them through those sound-proof windows at the Studios, but thousands of people did enjoy their performances on the old American Gardens Theater stage at Epcot.

So we're big fans of live music — and jobs for musicians — here at Theme Park Insider. And we're thrilled to see Disney create another opportunity for a live orchestra performance at its theme parks. Live performance brings an additional dimension of emotion to a production, which creates an opportunity for Disney fans to enjoy a show that's a step above Disney's other in-park character musical productions. We can't wait to see how it turns out in May.

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Here's what Universal Orlando will be serving to eat at Volcano Bay

By Robert Niles
Published: March 23, 2017 at 10:44 AM
Universal Orlando's Volcano Bay opens May 25, and if the resort hasn't already enticed you to visit its new park with its collection of water rides or no-wait reservation system, now it's making a more direct appeal... to your stomach.

Universal revealed more information about food service at its new park today. Volcano Bay will feature four restaurants:

Selections at the restaurants will include Coconut Curry Chicken, Glazed Hawaiian Ribs, Island Chicken Salad, Poke Poke Bowls, and Mango BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwiches, as well as specialty burgers... and the usual assortment burgers, chicken fingers, and pizza for people who don't want to get into the South Pacific island mood. Take a look, courtesy this promo video from the resort.

Universal is building Volcano Bay just south of the Cabana Bay Beach Resort, right next to Interstate 4 in Orlando. It effectively replaces the Wet 'n Wild water park on the other side of I-4, the nation's first water park, which closed last year. But Universal is promising a much more richly themed and decorated experience at Volcano Bay, which the resort is calling its third theme park. Universal has not yet announced one-park prices for the resort, though it is selling multi-day, multi-park tickets that include admission to Volcano Bay.

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