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Acclaimed Restaurants Planned for Disney Springs

By Scott Joseph
Published: April 23, 2014 at 2:44 PM
Disney Springs, the major renovation of Walt Disney World's Pleasure Island entertainment district, is planning on some big name restaurants to be on site when it opens in 2016. And Planet Hollywood will be converted from a large globe to a planetary observatory. Read the details.

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Beyond CaliFlorida: Ice cold in the summertime

By Jeff Elliott
Published: April 23, 2014 at 11:30 AM
Editor's note: Before I turn it over to Jeff, allow me to interrupt to note that NBC's Today show has canceled its planned Friday broadcast from Universal Orlando. No word on whether Universal or the Today show made that call, or why. So we're left to keep waiting for an announcement on when Diagon Alley will open at Universal Studios Florida. And now, on to Jeff, though we'll start by sticking with more Harry Potter news.

Universal Studios Japan – The park reported that attendance at this park was up 7.7% to 10.5 million guests during an off year where no new attractions opened. I take that back. There was a new attraction. Funny enough it was the same attraction that Universal Studios Hollywood has this year… construction. An extra 700,000 guests went to the park to see how much progress was being made on the Harry Potter expansion. I get the feeling that the summer opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is going to be met by a massive cosplay riot that breaks out between the Slytherin and Gryffindor students while the Ravenclaw students figure out a way to get into the park early and the Hufflepuff students get lost in the parking garage.

Disney Studios Paris – While it’s no massive line to see the Frozen princesses, Spiderman’s debut was marked by nearly an hour and a half wait to see the webslinger. What is it with people shooting weird things out of their hands?

Elsa vs. Spider-Man

Is that now really popular? What would happen if Spiderman and Elsa held hands? Who would win if they battled it out? What if they were to team up and have the webbing strengthen the ice like Pykrete? Their kids would be scary… Maybe we should vote on this…

Sochi Amusement Park – Hey! The park built for the Olympic Games will open just in time for…crap…we missed it…again. Is it open now? Nope. July. At least it is so long past its required opening date that it really doesn’t matter anymore. I mean, in the history books of parks that opened way later than planned, Universal Studios Singapore opened 18 months after it was scheduled to. Now granted it was in “previews” and “soft opening” for more than a year, but still. Two months late for the Sochi park and needs another 3 months….yeah, it was really close to being ready for the Games…

Liseberg (Sweden) – The new Mack art exhibit of a roller coaster called Helix should be open this weekend when the park opens for the season. If you just happen to be in Sweden. Sweden seems to be getting all of the good coasters in Europe. If you are going to sit right between Norway and Finland to keep them from bickering, then you probably deserve the best new roller coasters. It is kind of weird that the roller coaster called helix really doesn’t have a helix in it. It would be like naming a kiddy coaster “loop” or “barrel roll.”

Efteling (Never Never Land) – The park has confirmed that they are getting a 123-ft tall B&M dive coaster for the 2015 season. It should be similar in design to the one below.

Knotts Berry Farm – Back when the Berry Farm still had some berries being grown and the chicken dinner was something unique and worth driving to the park for, there was the Calico Mine Train. But in recent years, its age has been showing pretty badly. Much like what they did with their flume ride, this attraction is getting a makeover. Yes, it needed it. But how about making over Bear-y Tales or Kingdom of the Dinosaur and turning that back on?

Mega Cave (Louisville) - Speaking of long lines, this seemed like something interesting to mention. This is one of those crazy ideas that I would get a brainwave on…right before I had to lie down. Kudos to those dreamers who were able to pull this off.

Kings Dominion – Kings Island gets a roller coaster. Carowinds gets a bunch of land and a huge coaster for next year. Cedar Point gets anything they want. Kings Dominion gets the following…which is some historical attraction that was rebuilt for their 40th anniversary. At least they are not Michigan Adventure that is just ignored. But really? Singing Mushrooms? That’s almost as bad as a slow boat attraction that keeps playing the same earworm song over and over again…wait…nevermind…

Six Flags Great America – A family of five who had season passes last year to Six Flags Great America jumped at the opportunity to renew their season passes in December. Tragically, in January, the father was diagnosed with cancer and lost his fight to the illness in March. The mother, while trying to sort things out and get the family’s business in order, called up Six Flags and tried to get a refund for the unused and never would be used season pass. But, Six Flags has a no refund policy. They were willing to transfer it, which I also believe is also against their policy, but completely unwilling to give the grieving widow back the $72 for the season pass. The media outlet she contacted was able to get the woman her $72 back, which means that there was some leniency in the rules, but only if you holler really loud. Why would Six Flags want to put their reputation on the line for a stinking $72? Why would you take the risk that jerks like me will pick up the story and make Six Flags look like a bunch of greedy stooges?

What this shows is that Six Flags doesn’t care about listening to specific mitigating details that could factor into a decision because they have hard and fast rules that they are not allowed to deviate from. For $72, Six Flags was completely willing to burn four other year-over-year customers before the media caught onto this. Yes, I am aware that loose policies have been abused. But there is nothing wrong with listening to the circumstances and making the right decision whether it is on a company policy statement or not. Other companies are successful because they build a culture of customer service, and not eternal suspicion.

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Treasures of the Walt Disney Archive: A Historian’s Review

By Matt McDonough
Published: April 22, 2014 at 6:17 PM
This past week I fortunate enough to attend a conference in Chicago and inadvertently stumbled upon some remarkable history. The trip was to be a short 3 day event where I presented a paper, listened to some panels, and flew back home. Instead, I saw some of the coolest Disney memorabilia on the planet.

While many of my fellow attendees like to grab drinks and relax after presenting, I jumped at the opportunity to head to the local museum. I had heard good things about Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, especially for the fact that they have the only German World War II U-boat in the country on display. Upon my arrival I also discovered that there was another special exhibit entitled “Treasures of the Walt Disney Archive.” It sounded promising, so I purchased my ticket and hoped for the best.

Wow. The submarine was cool but the artifacts on loan from Disney were truly impressive. They had authentic movie costumes:

Pirates costume

Another costume

As well as props and miniatures used in some of their older classics. Including the coonskin cap made famous by Fess Parker and even the model used in 20,000 Leagues under the Sea:

Coonskin cap

Nautilus model

They also had an impressive display regarding the construction of Disneyland and some of its denizens, such as a poster for Pirates of the Caribbean:

Pirates poster

Some of the hitchhiking ghosts,

Hitchhiking ghosts

The always creepy medusa portrait.


And then a large map detailing the original location of each land in one of the earliest drafts of Walt’s planned park. I stood there transfixed. While we are all intimately aware with how the park looks now it was intriguing see where each land would be located.

Disneyland art

The central spoke idea was still intact but instead of one major body of water there were two with the second one featuring a pirate ship (this would eventually be used and then removed but in a different location). In addition Tom Sawyer’s Island looked to have the Swiss Family treehouse on it.


Some of the proposed areas even included Holiday Land and Lilliputan Land.

Disney's lands

The entire exhibit was well worth the cost of entrance and as an added bonus they even offered patrons a chance to practice their doodling skills and draw some of their favorite Disney characters. Granted I was unable to match every stroke of the instructor but I think I just may have created the finest depiction of Goofy every made.

My Goofy

For those who are in the Chicago area be sure to check this impressive exhibit out but hurry as it only runs at this location until May 4th.

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Disney World's Seven Dwarfs Mine Train gets ready for its close-up

By Robert Niles
Published: April 22, 2014 at 3:42 PM
The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom got some new passengers today, as the park ran the new roller coaster for a commercial filming session.

"Visitors" (actors or cast members) were seen riding the coaster today, along with Dopey, as a crew filmed the ride in operation.

If you were in the Magic Kingdom today and got a photo or video, please email us at themeparkinsider@gmail.com. (That goes for anyone in any park at any time who sees a new ride in operation!) We'd love to share your images and video.

What we don't know from today's filming is whether all the stuff inside the mountain is operational, or how close Disney is to allowing non-employee guests to ride.

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How to make a Monte Cristo sandwich

By Robert Niles
Published: April 21, 2014 at 9:47 PM
Looking for something to do with all that leftover Easter ham? Why settle for a boring old ham sandwich when you can make the world's best theme park ham sandwich instead?

Disneyland's Monte Cristo

If you live in Southern California, you could go to Disneyland for an authentic Monte Cristo, but that would defeat the purpose of using those Easter leftovers. So here's how to make a Disney-style Monte Cristo at home.

For years, I tried making Monte Cristos at home by putting together what I thought a Monte Cristo to be: A ham, turkey and cheese sandwich on French toast. But the result never tastes like a Disneyland Monte Cristo. Which should have made sense, because a Disneyland Monte Cristo really isn't just meat and cheese between two slices of French toast. Instead, you should think of it as a quartered ham-turkey-and-cheese sandwich that's been battered and fried. (Heck, there's only one-fourth of an egg per sandwich in a Disney Monte Cristo!)

For a Easter-leftover version, let's ditch the turkey and just pile on more ham. Ultimately, the fillings are up to you. Disneyland also offers a three-cheese version without any meat — just Swiss, Brie, and Mozzarella, instead. Too rich for my taste, but if you don't have any Easter leftovers and are hankering for something indulgent, go ahead!

The key here is the batter, and getting it fried just right. Disney's published this recipe many times — my copy comes from a 2003 edition of the now-defunct Disney Magazine. Set aside some time to whisk this batter to an airy consistency to get the best results.

Monte Cristo Sandwiches
Makes four sandwiches, with four slices each
1 egg
1 3/4 C plus 2T water
1 3/4 C flour
3/4 t salt
1 t baking powder
8 slices thick, high-quality white or egg bread (challah's the best)
8 slices ham
4 slices Swiss cheese
3 C canola oil
Powered sugar, for dusting

To make the batter: whisk the egg and water in a large mixing bowl until thoroughly combined. Then add the flour, salt, and baking powder, whisking until smooth and airy.

To assemble the sandwiches, place two slices ham and a slice of cheese each on four slices of the bread, topping with the remaining four slices of bread. Quarter each sandwich by slicing from corner to corner.

Heat the oil in a skillet to 350 degrees F. Dip each quartered slice into the batter, coating it completely, then allowing the excess to drip away. Then slip each sandwich piece into the oil to fry, 3 minutes on each side. (In a 12-inch skillet, you should be able to fry all four quarters from a single sandwich at once.) Once fried on both sides, carefully remove the sandwich pieces and let sit to drain on a paper towel-lined plate for a moment before dusting with powdered sugar and serving.

Options: Replace half the ham with turkey to create a more authentic Disneyland Monte Cristo. Or replace all of the meat with Brie and Mozzarella to create the Three-Cheese Monte Cristo.

You can decide how many people these four sandwiches, served as 16 slices, will serve. In some families, that's lunch for four. In my family, this is more like lunch for eight. ;^) Happy eating!

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'Hey isn’t that….?' Your guide to guest stars on Disney attractions

By Bryan Wawzenek
Published: April 20, 2014 at 7:29 PM
When you step inside a Disney park, you’re prepared to see the usual cavalcade of stars: there’s Mickey, the princesses, Indy, Vader and even Iron Man. But some of the most entertainment-savvy visitors might be caught off guard by the actors that pop up in various spots in the Disneyland and Walt Disney World parks. Who would have guessed that Puddy was preparing you for a California flight or that Claire Huxtable was sending you back to prehistoric times? If you’ve ever watched a pre-show and thought, “Where have I seen (or heard) that guy before?” – allow us to offer some assistance.

Patrick Warburton
Disney Parks Role: He’s the stately and thorough flight attendant who prepares you for your trip Soarin’ Over California – or simply Soarin’, for you Epcot devotees. Nice work, pal. Warburton is also the voice of a security droid that guests encounter in the line for Star Tours – The Adventures Continue.

Where You’ve Seen Him Before: Warburton has been a fixture on network sitcoms for a couple of decades. He was most recently seen as Jeff on CBS’s “Rules of Engagement.” But others might remember him as The Tick (on the live-action version of the series) or from his voice acting on shows including “Buzz Lightyear of Star Command,” “Kim Possible” and “Family Guy.” Still, his signature role has to be Elaine’s Arby’s-loving boyfriend, David Puddy, on “Seinfeld.” Yeah, that’s right.

Allison Janney
Disney Parks Role: Joining Warburton as one of the voices in the Star Tours – The Adventures Continue queue, Janney does the voice for Aly San San, the flight attendant droid that delivers the safety spiel before loading guests into their Starspeeder 3000.

Where You’ve Heard Her Before: Disney fans might realize that they are listening to the voice of Peach, the aquarium-dwelling starfish from “Finding Nemo.” But Janney has earned more fame in front of the camera, both in movies such as “American Beauty” and “Juno” and TV series such as the current sitcom “Mom” and Aaron Sorkin’s Washington drama, “The West Wing.” Janney won four Primetime Emmy Awards for her work as White House Press Secretary C.J. Cregg, which means she pretty much mastered the walk-and-talk.

Phil Hartman and Don Rickles
Disney Parks Role: These two comedy legends provided the voices for the winged talent agents William and Morris, who argued during the pre-show for the revamped Enchanted Tiki Room (Under New Management) at WDW’s Magic Kingdom. Rickles and Hartman’s banter was the highlight of the now defunct attraction… although that’s not saying much.

Where You’ve Heard Them Before: Stand-up comedy titan Rickles can be heard elsewhere in the Disney parks as the voice of Mr. Potato Head, reprising his part from the “Toy Story” films. You may remember Hartman from such “Simpsons” voice roles as Troy McClure and Lionel Hutz, in addition to being one of the most talented cast members of “Saturday Night Live.” Hartman was murdered by his wife less than a month after the Under New Management version of the Tiki Room opened in 1998, making his role as Morris one of his last.

John Michael Higgins
Disney Parks Role: Speaking of old versions of attractions, on the original Test Track, Higgins played GM host Bill McKim who helped guide riders through automobile prototype tests. Yeah, he was the guy who arranged for the final “surprise test.”

Where You’ve Seen Him Before: Over the years, Higgins has had countless guest appearances on television series, including “Arrested Development,” “Community,” “Ally McBeal” and “Seinfeld.” But, he might be most recognizable for his improv work in Christopher Guest’s movies “Best in Show,” “A Mighty Wind” and “For Your Consideration.” Others may recall him for one of his earliest roles as David Letterman in the 1996 HBO movie “The Late Shift.”

Illeana Douglas
Disney Parks Role: In the pre-show for Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, she’s Aerosmith’s stressed-out manager who comes through with backstage passes and a super stretch limo for the big show at the Forum… because she knows how Aerosmith feel about their fans.

Where You’ve Seen Her Before: Douglas has been in a handful of Martin Scorsese movies including “Goodfellas” and “Cape Fear” (she dated the director for a decade) in addition to indie flicks like “Ghost World” and “Grace of My Heart.” She also has been a frequent TV guest star, appearing on shows including “The Larry Sanders Show,” “Seinfeld,” “Six Feet Under” and “Entourage.”

Ken Marino
Disney Parks Role: Another member of the Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster pre-show, Marino is front-and-center (although completely silent) as an engineer manning the boards for the band’s “recording session.”

(See Rock ’n’ Roller Coastervideo above, starting at 2:40 mark)

Where You’ve Seen Him Before: Before he did a lot of nodding and head-shaking in Aerosmith’s studio, Marino was a member of comedy troupe The State, best-known for their ’90s sketch show on MTV. The comedic actor has gone on to appear in projects made by his State-mates (including “Wet Hot American Summer,” “Reno 911!” and “Role Models”) and landed regular roles on “Dawson’s Creek,” “Eastbound and Down” and “Veronica Mars” – he even reprised the obnoxious Vinnie Van Lowe for the new movie.

Judi Dench
Disney Parks Role: Following Lawrence Dobkin, Walter Cronkite and Jeremy Irons, this Dame began serving as the narrator inside Epcot’s Spaceship Earth in 2008. Nothing against Scar, but you can’t beat hearing about the history of communication from 007’s boss.

Where You’ve Heard Her Before: Dench has done her share of narrating, but most fans will know the Oscar-winning Brit for her recurring role as M in the James Bond movies, Jean on the English TV series “As Time Goes By” or from any number of acclaimed films, including 2013’s “Philomena.” She’s also a legend of the British and American stage, having won a Tony and multiple Laurence Olivier Awards. But did Sir Lawrence know his way around an Omnimover?

Wallace Langham
Disney Parks Role: As is often the case on theme park rides, “something goes terribly wrong” on Animal Kingdom’s Dinosaur attraction and the man responsible is the mischievous Dr. Seeker, played by Langham. By requesting the sneaky retrieval of Aladar, he’s Dinosaur’s equivalent to Paul Reiser’s Burke in “Aliens.”

Where You’ve Seen Him Before: Langham has been a cast member of a number of TV series, from “The Larry Sanders Show” to “Veronica’s Closet” to “What About Joan.” But, for the past 11 years, he’s been most widely seen as trace technician David Hodges on “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” At 14 seasons (and counting), some might consider CBS long-running hit a – wait for it – dinosaur.

Phylicia Rashad
Disney Parks Role: Another TV veteran (slightly more iconic than Langham) plays the Dino Institute’s motherly Dr. Marsh, who prepares visitors for their journey on the Time Rovers.

Where You’ve Seen Her Before: Rashad is only one of the most famous sitcom moms in TV history, playing the no-nonsense Clair Huxtable on “The Cosby Show” (for which she won two Emmys). If Denise or Rudy had tried to bring an Iguanodon into the Huxtable residence, I think we all know that Clair would have laid down the law. Rashad also starred alongside Bill Cosby in “Cosby” and, in 2004, was the first African-American woman to win a Tony for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play (for “A Raisin in the Sun”).

Neil Patrick Harris
Disney Parks Role: He serves as the carnival barker voice delivering the safety spiel and launch countdown on California Adventure’s California Screamin’.

Where You’ve Heard Him Before: Unless he was narrating his computer diary on “Doogie Howser, M.D.,” you’ve probably seen more of NPH than heard him (although he’s done a fair amount of singing in his stints hosting the Tony and Emmy awards). The actor recently wrapped up a nine-season run as alpha male Barney Stinson on “How I Met Your Mother.” But we’ll be hearing more from him soon. Harris is the voice of Cliff, the middle-sibling Apatosaurus, in Disney-Pixar’s “The Good Dinosaur.”

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Insider's Update: When will (fill in the blank) open?

By Robert Niles
Published: April 19, 2014 at 10:57 AM
Universal Orlando has told its team members that NBC's Today show will be broadcasting from the resort next Friday, April 25. The consensus among team members seems to be that the visit is to announce the official opening date for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida. We've estimated an official opening on June 13 with a soft open on May 14, but now we're hearing that both might slip a week from those original projections. When Universal Orlando opened the original Wizarding World, it held an opening ceremony on Wednesday, June 16, 2010, a media day on Thursday, and the public grand opening on Friday morning, June 18, 2010. If Universal goes with the same type of schedule this time, that could put the ceremony on June 18 and the public opening on June 20. But we might know for certain on Friday.

Harry Potter opening day in 2010
Tom Felton, Daniel Radcliffe, Oliver Phelps and Rupert Grint greet fans at the opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Hogsmeade on June 18, 2010.

Meanwhile, the Walt Disney World Resort has scheduled a media event for April 30-May 2 to introduce the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. However, it appears that the ride has yet to be turned over to the attraction operations department for cast member training and check-out. (*Update: Now hearing that ops training IS going on! WDW CMs, email or hit the anonymous comments, please!) Back in the day, ops cast members needed five days to check out and be cleared to operate roller coasters in the park. That leaves almost no time for any public soft open before the press event, even if the ride were to go over to ops immediately, which doesn't appear to be happening. In fact, there's some skepticism among cast members in the Magic Kingdom that the Mine Train will be ready to ride in fully functioning form in time for the press event, which Disney's now calling a "preview" anyway. Could Diagon Alley soft open to the public before the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train? It's looking like it might be close.

Busch Gardens Tampa has gone ahead and cancelled its media days next week for the debut of Falcon's Fury, citing construction delays. The park's not announced a new date for a media debut, though the park's still aiming for a public debut in early May.

Walt Disney World has started the countdown to the 25th anniversary of the Studios theme park, which opened May 1, 1989. The Disney Parks blog this week teased some of the merchandise that the resort is selling to commemorate the anniversary. Notice anything missing?

Anniversary logo

That would be the original name of the park, Disney-MGM Studios, and its original Mickey-Mouse-and-Leo-the-Lion logo. Disney no longer has the rights to use the MGM name or logo, so it can't issue any anniversary merchandise that includes it. So if you want a more authentic opening-day throwback tchotchke, you'd better hit eBay or Theme Park Connection.

Moving into Jeff's "Beyond CaliFlorida" territory, Holiday World in Santa Claus, Indiana, has confirmed that it will tear down the former Pilgrim's Plunge shoot-the-chutes ride. The ride featured a unique 90-degree-vertical lift to a 165-foot drop, which left riders absolutely drenched.

The lift and drop
The splash
The evidence

Last year, Holiday World removed the attraction from the Holiday World map, reassigning it to the Splashin' Safari water park and renaming the ride Giraffica to better fit the water park's theme. But the ride suffered from too-frequent downtimes and this year the park is throwing in the (very often used after riding) towel and removing the attraction entirely.

Wow. This has been a downer of an update. Let's hope for better news next week! If you'd like to keep in touch with Theme Park Insider throughout the week, we're on just about any social media network out there. If you haven't connected with us yet, please take a moment to follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, YouTube, Pinterest, Instgram, LinkedIn or Tumblr, or subscribe to our weekly newsletter. That way, you can get Theme Park Insider updates through those networks, as well as here on the Web. Thank you, as always, for being part of the Theme Park Insider community!

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Stories from a Theme Park Insider

Stories from a Theme Park Insider

What's it like to work in a theme park? Stories from a Theme Park Insider takes you inside the famous tunnels and backstage at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom for a look at how theme parks really work, sharing the funny moments and embarrassments that can happen when your job is someone else's vacation.
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