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Tokyo Disney announces five new attractions

By Robert Niles
Published: April 27, 2016 at 8:26 AM
The Tokyo Disney Resort has announced plans to add several new attractions at Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea, including a new version of Soarin', a Big Hero 6 spinner ride, and a Mystic Manor-style ride through the Beast's castle from Beauty and the Beast.

The plans, which also include a 1,500-seat theater for live performances and a Minnie Mouse meet and greet facility, will cost an estimated US$675 million. Tokyo Disneyland's Grand Circuit Raceway and StarJets will close to make room for some of the new attractions. The raceway will close in January and the Star Jets will close in "autumn-winter 2017."

In its press release announcing the new development, the Oriental Land Company (which owns and operates the Tokyo Disney Resort under license from Disney) made no mention of the Frozen-themed Nordic Port of Arendelle for Tokyo DisneySea that it announced last year. Nor did it mention the Alice in Wonderland mini-land for Tokyo Disneyland that it included in that announcement. A Beauty and the Beast-themed mini-land also was part of that announcement... but that appears to have grown, under the newly announced plans.

Beauty and the Beast Area

Beauty and the Beast Area
All concept art courtesy Oriental Land Company

This new area will take over much of the space now occupied by Grand Circuit Raceway and StarJets, effectively expanding Fantasyland into Tomorrowland's current footprint. It will include a shop, a restaurant and a new ride. Oriental Land's concept art suggests that the new restaurant will be a Gaston's Tavern rather than a Be Our Guest. Which makes sense, given that Tokyo Disney appears to have different plans for the Beast's castle.

Gaston's Tavern

That will be the setting for the area's new ride, which appears to use trackless vehicles crafted to look like spinning serving dishes. From the park's press release:

Guests board enchanted serving dishes that dance in rhythm to the film’s well-known music and follow Belle on a romantic musical adventure inside the enchanted Castle where she dances her way into the heart of the Beast, just in time to break the fateful spell.

Beauty and the Beast ride

This would give Tokyo Disneyland's Fantasyland two next-gen trackless dark rides, following the original Pooh's Hunny Hunt. The new ride, which is yet to be named, is scheduled to open in Spring 2020, along with the rest of the newly announced Tokyo Disneyland attractions.

Live Entertainment Theater

Tokyo Disneyland Theater

Behind the new Beauty and the Beast area, Tokyo Disneyland will build a 1,500-seat indoor theater for live performances. "Signature Disney entertainment unique to Tokyo Disneyland and featuring the Disney Friends will be presented in this storybook theater environment," according to the Oriental Land Co. press release.

Minnie Meet and Greet

Minnie Meet and Greet

Back in Toontown, Minnie Mouse will be getting her own design studio, where she will greet guests. The queue for the meet will wind through Minnie's studio and include interactive elements.

Big Hero 6 Ride

Big Hero 6 Ride

This new attraction, hosted by Baymax, will be built between Space Mountain and the new Beauty and the Beast area. It will be a musical whip ride, similar to Mater's Junkyard Jamboree at Disney California Adventure.

Soarin'

Soarin' site

Over in Tokyo DisneySea, Soarin' will come to Mediterranean Harbor. It is scheduled to open sometime in 2019, but the concept art shows much more fanciful ride vehicles than the hang gliders found on the other versions of Soarin' around the world.

On board Tokyo DisneySea's Soarin' show

The omission of the Alice in Wonderland maze and Frozen land suggests that those developments won't go forward after all, but we are awaiting official confirmation of that from Oriental Land Co.

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Universal's owner buys DreamWorks Animation*

By Robert Niles
Published: April 26, 2016 at 9:24 PM
*Update [April 28]: The deal is done. NBCUniversal will acquire DreamWorks Animation for $3.8 billion, Comcast announced Thursday morning.

* * *

Universal Studios' owner, Comcast, is in talks to acquire DreamWorks Animation. The deal would be worth $3 billion and give DreamWorks Animation a stable home after several years of being shopped on the market.

DreamWorks Animation, which is run by former Disney Studios Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg, offers a deep line-up of successful franchises, some of which have appeared already in Universal theme parks. DreamWorks Animation was spun off from DreamWorks SKG into a separate company in 2004.

The theme park rights to DreamWorks Animation franchises are split among multiple theme park companies around the world. Universal owns the rights to Shrek at all of its parks - in the United States, Japan and Singapore. Universal also owns the rights to Madagascar in Singapore, although those rights belonged to SeaWorld in the United States up until last year. DreamWorks Animation will have an entire section in the new Motiongate Dubai theme park opening this October in the United Arab Emirates. In addition, you can find DreamWorks Animation attractions at DreamWorld in Australia and Beto Carrero World in Brazil.

After Shrek, DreamWorks Animation's top-grossing franchises are Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda, and How to Train Your Dragon, any of which could pair well with Universal's Despicable Me should Universal wish to expand the presence of animation franchises in its U.S. parks — provided, of course, that DreamWorks Animation's existing license deals would allow Universal to proceed with developing those attractions. (Ask Disney fans pining for Marvel attractions at Disney World about that.) In addition, DreamWorks Animation now owns the licensing rights to several other franchises, including Jay Ward's Rocky and Bullwinkle and Dudley Do-Right characters that appear at Universal Orlando, as well as Underdog, Casper the Friendly Ghost, and the Rankin/Bass Christmas specials.

Throw in the Nintendo rights that Universal recently acquired, and if Comcast completes this deal, Universal could have a wealth of intellectual property to fill that third theme park it now has the land to develop in Orlando.

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'The Exorcist' joins Universal's Halloween Horror Nights line-up

By Robert Niles
Published: April 26, 2016 at 9:48 AM
Universal announced this morning that it will feature mazes inspired by the classic horror movie The Exorcist during Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Florida and Universal Studios Hollywood this year.

The will be the first appearance at HHN for William Friedkin's 1973 film, which was the first horror film to be nominated for Best Picture in the Academy Awards and which established conventions that continue to influence horror to this day.

From Universal's press release:

At Universal Orlando Resort, guests will see, hear, feel – and even smell – every iconic levitating, head-spinning, vomit-wrenching, skin-crawling moment from the film. They’ll be paralyzed with fear as they witness the power of the supernatural, scream uncontrollably as they become part of Regan MacNeil’s possession and run in terror as they try to escape the horrific battle between innocence and evil.

Universal Studios Hollywood’s “The Exorcist” maze will resonate as a real life interpretation of the demonic film, daring “Halloween Horror Nights’” guests to live the nightmare experienced by a tortured Regan and her determined mother. The maze will recreate some of the film’s most haunting scenes, ushering guests into its unparalleled terror as if their very souls were possessed by the devil.

Earlier this month, Universal announced that it will bring Tobe Hooper's 1974 classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre to Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights this fall.

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Paddlefish will replace Fulton's Crab House in Disney Springs

By Robert Niles
Published: April 25, 2016 at 6:10 PM
Fulton's Crab House closed earlier this month in Disney Springs at the Walt Disney World Resort. When the closing was announced, Disney said that the restaurant in the former Empress Lilly would reopen this fall with a new name.

Now we know what that name will be: Paddlefish.

Fulton's Crab House made the announcement on its Facebook page this morning. And, based on the concept art for the new restaurant, the stern wheel will return! The Empress Lilly's stern wheel was removed when the restaurant was converted into Fulton's Crab House, to the disappointment of some Disney fans who thought the removal made the restaurant look a bit less authentic.

The new name should return the facility to its thematic roots as a Mississippi River sternwheeler. The name "paddlefish" itself elicits thoughts of that big paddle wheel at the back of the boat. And in real life, the paddlefish is native to the Mississippi River. As for calling a restaurant after it... well, while paddlefish aren't exactly known as eating fish, their roe is often sought after for processing into caviar.

Fulton's Crab House was not operated by Disney, but by Levy Restaurants. It appears that Levy will retain control of the new restaurant, as its parent company trademarked "Paddlefish" in February. Paddlefish is expected to open this fall.

Previously:

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The ultimate, all-day Disney California Adventure feast

By Robert Niles
Published: April 25, 2016 at 5:24 PM
What's your favorite thing to eat at Disney California Adventure?

For my Orange County Register column this week, I listed my favorite restaurants at the park — for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a snack. And at for each location, I named the dish I'd choose from that restaurant. To accommodate different tastes and budgets, I offered my pick for quick service and table service meals at lunch and dinner and sweet and savory options for the snack. (I'm calling these my picks, but your reader ratings influences my decisions, too.)

You can see my picks in a slideshow on the Register website, if you missed the column in print on Sunday.

Unfortunately... I seem to have killed one of my selections. The Paradise Garden Grill (my choice for quick-service dinner) closed without notice today, though it's still listed on the Disneyland app. Here's hoping that closure is just temporary and that we haven't lost one of Theme Park Insider readers' favorite DCA restaurants.

Keep reading:

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Disney brings back free dining, but is it the best deal for you?

By Robert Niles
Published: April 25, 2016 at 10:30 AM
The Walt Disney World Resort has opened reservations for its annual "free dining" promotion. Visitors who book an eligible vacation package at a Walt Disney World hotel for selected dates in late summer and fall can get the Disney Dining Plan added for everyone in the room, at no extra charge.

The Disney Dining Plan covers two meals a day, plus a snack, at a cost of $64 a day for adults and $23 for children, who must order from the kids' menus. (The Quick-Service-only version of the plan is $44, but does not allow you any meals at table service restaurants.) The free Dining Plan promotion erases those charges... but requires you to pay the rack rate for your room. The deal is for five-night/six-day stays and must be booked by July 8 for arrival between August 23-October 1, November 15-21, November 26-28, or December 10-21, 2016. You can book the offer through Disney's website.

Remember back in high school, when you wondered if you'd ever need to use math in the real world? Well, here is one of those times when you do. Take a look at the prices for the Disney Dining Plan, then figure out the total cost for all the adults and children in your group, times six days you will be visiting Disney. That total is how much you will "save" with the free DDP.

Now, look at the price of the room you'd pay for the free dining promotion versus the room price you can get without it. (Here is where you can find the other discounts Disney is offering.) If that difference is greater than your savings with free dining, then forget about free dining and go with the discount on the room rate, instead. But if you'd save more with free dining, you should keep considering that offer.

Why wouldn't you just take it right away? Here's the thing — the real value of the free dining plan is not the price of the DDP. It's the price of the food that you would eat using the plan.

If your family are light eaters, it's possible that you won't want to eat the two courses per meal and between-meal snacks that the dining plan includes. (And while we're talking about meal costs, remember that the DDP — free or not — does not include tips at table service restaurants, and you should always tip your server!) This doesn't mean that you should rule out free dining if you don't think you'll eat all that food. Many Disney fans look forward to the free dining deal because it's the only time that the Disney Dining Plan makes financial sense for their families. Even without eating all that food, the savings on the free dining still outweigh the increased room rate for them.

The lesson? As always, price your options, don't let emotions sway you toward a bad deal, and go for whatever combination of room, tickets, and other extras provides the best value for you and your family.

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Cap the Night with Disneyland's World of Color Dessert Party

By Robert Niles
Published: April 22, 2016 at 12:03 AM
The Disneyland Resort invited us to the World of Color Dessert Party Thursday night, allowing us to sample one of the premium upsell experiences at the resort.

World of Color Dessert Party

For $79 per person (on top of theme park admission), the World of Color Dessert Party provides a reserved seat in a premium viewing area for the nightly show at Disney California Adventure, along with a dessert plate and drinks, served before the performance.

Now, let's put this out there right away — if your first reaction is "79 bucks — that's a lot of money," you're not the target market for this experience. Just forget about it and get your Fastpass for the show the old fashioned way. Disney created these dessert parties for families who plan their vacations by reading Robb Report, not by counting how many Disney gift cards they can buy at a discount from Target.

But if the price isn't an automatic deal killer — if you're just curious whether you're getting enough value in return, let's talk about that.

Dessert and a view

To me, the biggest value in the experience is that chair — a comfy director's-style chair placed with a clean view of the show. If you've ever stood through the wait for and the performance of World of Color, you'll appreciate the value of having a place to sit where you don't have to crane your neck or twist your body around the people in front of you to get a clear view.

The dessert plate

And having a nice bite to eat brought to you while you wait elevates World of Color from an attraction to an indulgence. The dessert plate includes:

There's also a small basket with baguette slices and toasted asiago sticks for the table. My favorite bites were the brie and the shortbread. I like the macaron, too (the French one), though I wished it had been the "normal" size. Drinks are included, including up to two glasses of champagne or specialty cocktails for adults or a "Made with Magic" light-up souvenir cup for kids 12 and under.

Made with Magic cup

Non-drinking adults are at the disadvantage here, missing out on the more expensive alcohol or the souvenir cup as they choose from the available soft drinks, coffee, tea, and cocoa. But when the show starts, everyone in the dessert party area gets to enjoy that great view.

Watching the show

Service is hit-and-miss. After we checked in and were escorted to our table, a server quickly brought us drinks... but never brought us our dessert plates. We had to track down another server and ask for our food. After the show, a manager appeared almost immediately to apologize for that delay and offer us another complete dessert plate in box to take home, along with our choice of extra drinks. Since we didn't want the alcohol, he hooked us up with one of those glowing souvenir cups instead. (Look for it in our next round of souvenir give-aways on the site.)

You can book the World of Color Dessert Party online or by calling +1-714-781-3463 up to 60 days before your visit. If you have allergies or any other special dietary requests, call instead of booking online to let Disney know. They'll gladly fix you a custom dessert plate that meets your needs. And be sure to arrive early to avoid the wait to check in... and to maximize your time enjoying your desserts and drinks before the show begins.

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