Welcome to Theme Park Insider! Join the community or log in
Theme Park Insider
Facebook Twitter Google Plus Email Newsletter

February 2006

Subscribe:  in a reader or E-mail delivery via e-mail

Sexual assault report stirs Disney World cast

By Robert Niles
Published: February 28, 2006 at 2:54 PM
Here's the story that's been roiling the Walt Disney World cast over the past couple days:

A college program cast member (they called 'em MKCPs back in my day) reported that she was raped by several men while she was walking home from a friend's apartment in the housing complex where Disney puts up the college program employees.

The Orange County Sheriff's Office is investigating and Disney said that it is cooperating with the investigation.

Here's a brief from the Orlando Sentinel.

Don't have anything at all to add here -- it's been ages since I worked down there and I never was an MKCP. But the story's got so much buzz around the CM community, that I thought it worth mentioning here.

No flame wars in the comments, please, but if anyone has anything informative to add, feel free.

Comments (4) | Archive Link

Accident at Cypress Gardens leaves boy hospitalized

By Robert Niles
Published: February 26, 2006 at 4:53 PM
From the Theme Park Insider Accident Watch today, an incident at Florida's Cypress Gardens last night:

A 12-15 year old boy fell out of the Triple Hurricane roller coaster when it was going around a turn at around 6 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2006. He fell from a height of about 15 feet. He was airlifted to St. Joseph's Children's Hospital in Tampa, where he was listed in serious condition with multiple injuries. -- Reported on February 26, 2006 by Betty Solbjor.

An investigation is underway. And, as always, the thoughts of the entire roller coaster and theme park fan community are surely with the victim and his family.

Comments (11) | Archive Link

Southern California's pecking order

By Robert Niles
Published: February 25, 2006 at 6:22 PM
Here's a little nugget which prompted a strong laugh from me this week.

My kids' elementary school is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, and the school is holding a fund-raising event next weekend to mark the occasion. Of course, the kids are all being asked to sell tickets and the school's holding a contest for the most sold.

First prize, to the student who sells the most tickets, is two tickets to Disneyland. Nice.

Second prize? Two tickets to Knott's Berry Farm.

Looks like the pecking order is set, dun'it?

Comments (5) | Archive Link

Six Flags' CEO: Magic Mountain has 'too many' coasters

By Robert Niles
Published: February 24, 2006 at 12:54 PM
There's a strong interview with Six Flags CEO Mark Shapiro over at About.com.

The quote that grabbed my attention?

"We need to diversify. We have 17 roller coasters at Six Flags Magic Mountain--that's too many. It's become like a drug. This industry has become addicted to roller coasters. We put them up. The attendance goes up. If we don’t do something the next year, we fall behind. We can't be so reliant on roller coasters. It's about balance. The pendulum has swung so far to teenagers, that our research shows Mom and Dad are pausing when it comes to Six Flags. I need to get rid of that pause. We can--and will--add roller coasters, but we can't abandon the rest of the park."

I think a huge reason for Disney's success in the theme park business is its emphasis on story-telling. More people can relate to stories than can to physical thrills. Great music and stunning visuals linger in most visitors' minds longer than the physical effects of a cobra roll. And people want to spend get-away time with family and friends. For most folks, story-based attractions allow that better than thrill rides.

Comments (8) | Archive Link

Six Flags New England announces two new rides

By Robert Niles
Published: February 23, 2006 at 12:38 PM
Six Flags has announced two new rides for 2006 at its Six Flags New England park in Massachusetts.

Catapult is a 105-foot-tall dual pendulum-type swing ride. Splash Water Falls is a flume slide, where up to six people can ride in circular rafts.

Check out the press release for more information, including concept art and videos. And this provides an opportunity for me to ask our friends in the New England area for updates and additions to our Six Flags New England before the season begins. Thanks.

Comments (1) | Archive Link

'Pirates 4-D' debuts at Busch Gardens Tampa

By Chris Walton
Published: February 21, 2006 at 12:58 PM
Busch Gardens Tampa wisely selected to replace the outdated "R.L. Stine's Haunted Lighthouse" with the new "Pirates 4-D" starring Leslie Nielsen (as "Captain Lucky") and writen by Monty Python comedy troupe member Eric Idle (who also has a role in the show as "Pierre"). The show opened last Saturday (Feb. 18), but unfortunately my annual pass recently expired so I have not had a chance to take in the new spectacle, so for anyone who has seen the show any info would be greatly appreciated. I feel this should be a nice fresh replacement for the R.L. Stine show (since his books were becoming less popular at the time Haunted Lighthouse opened) and this show is also interesting in the aspect of Tampa Bay's rich history of piracy stemming from the invasion of Jose Gaspar in 1783 which is now celebrated annually as "Gasparilla".

[Editor's note: Wasn't 'Pirates 4-D' playing at Busch parks before 'Haunted Lighthouse?' Is this the same film? FWIW, for those who don't go waaay back around here, I, um, didn't like 'Lighthouse' when it debuted in San Diego. -- Robert]

Comments (4) | Archive Link

Busch Gardens riders caught in mid-air

By Robert Niles
Published: February 20, 2006 at 5:00 PM
Here's the scene: It's almost closing time, so you decide to catch the sky ride or train to avoid that long walk to the gate. Good choice, huh?

Well, that decision turned out to be the wrong choice for 73 visitors to Busch Gardens Tampa last Saturday night. At least, it was if they had someplace to get to. One of the cars on the Skyride got jammed, sticking those riders in mid-air for two hours after the park closed. Workers eventually cleared the jam and got the ride restarted, and no one was injured.

The lack of injuries is the reason why I didn't list the incident in our theme park accident database, which is for injury accidents only. (Heck, I'd always rather be on a ride that shut down and stranded me for a hour or two, than one that broke and hurt me.)

One recent incident that did make the database however (which I forgot to note on this page last week) was the incident at Peter Pan's Flight in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, where a 70-year-old man was injured when he was pinned between ride vehicles on the loading belt. The injuries were not life-threatening.

Comments (4) | Archive Link

Sklar joins Braverman, out at Walt Disney Imagineering

By Robert Niles
Published: February 16, 2006 at 9:41 PM
And now, the other shoe drops.

Marty Sklar's out at Walt Disney Imagineering, about three weeks after Disney installed Pixar Animation guru John Lasseter as chief creative officer. This follows the recent layoff of Barry Braverman, father of the California Adventure park.

Sklar will get a ceremonial post as WDI Ambassador, but today's move sends a strong message that Eisner-era thinking about theme park design is over at the Walt Disney Company. Let the Lasseter era begin.

Comments (8) | Archive Link

Six Flags makes strong family play with character flood

By Robert Niles
Published: February 15, 2006 at 4:20 PM
Six Flags CEO Mark Shapiro has announced another change for the struggling amusement park chain: the addition of 1200 new costumed characters to Six Flags' theme parks.

For years, the only "rubberhead" one could find at a Six Flags park was an occasional glimpse of a tuxedoed Bugs Bunny. (Never mind that Bugs is the antithesis of a monkey-suited dandy.) This summer, visitors should expect to find many more Looney Tunes and Justice League characters roaming the parks.

Six Flags is also taking a cue from Disney and celebrating the 45th anniversary of its original park -- Six Flags Over Texas -- with a chain-wide, year-long marketing blitz.

Personally, I don't know how much promotional value Looney Tunes characters have with today's kids. Does Bugs appeal to anyone under age 20? It seems to me that kids love the Nick characters (Paramount, you will rue the day you sold these parks....) and anything from Pixar. Looney Tunes? Who are they?

The Justice League is a different story. My five-year-old son adores superheroes and now, for the first time ever, has a reason to visit a Six Flags park.

But will the family go this year? I doubt it. While my son would love the chance to meet Batman, the Green Lantern and Wonder Woman, there remains little else for him to do at Magic Mountain, our local Six Flags park. At his age, extreme coasters are years out of reach. And Magic Mountain's collection of kiddie rides differs little from Knott's Berry Farm's, where a one-day kids' ticket is $15 cheaper and he can meet Snoopy, whom he still loves too.

But this certainly is a welcomed step in the right direction for Six Flags' effort to win back the family market.

Comments (4) | Archive Link

Congrats to Universal for dumping Express passes

By Robert Niles
Published: February 14, 2006 at 12:54 PM
Now that Universal has officially shoveled dirt on Universal Express, allow me to say a word about the passing of this ride reservation system:

Good riddance. Now if only FastPass and more of the industry's ride reservation would follow.

Ride reservation systems are fine for hugely popular rides when they first open. I'd rather get a reserved ride time for Expedition Everest (or, for past examples, Top Thrill Dragster or X) than blow three to five hours of my paid-admittance day waiting in a single line.

But when ride reservation systems start going on decades-old attractions where wait times rarely exceeded 90 minutes anymore, we've got a problem.

Why? Let's do the math. A ride reservation system does nothing to increase an attraction's operating capacity. In practice, these systems can reduce it if queues slow down while attendants check return tickets and admit reserved guests.

Plus, those ticket machines and readmission points must be staffed by attraction personnel who would better be deployed policing queues, grouping parties on the load platform, or ushering guests quickly through the unload area. From my experience working at and visiting parks, the number one cause of attraction downtime is slow guest loading and unloading, causing ride cascade failures as those slow guests stop the circuit. Trained, experienced attraction operators in those positions can, and do, prevent those incidents.

At the very least, ride reservation systems make park visits even more of a logistical headache for new and infrequent visitors who have not done extensive research to figure out how to game the system. Life was much easier when every line was the standby line, and visitors didn't have to keep track of lines, plus their reservation tickets and their new reservation eligibility times, when trying to make their way through the day.

Universal is keeping its Express Plus program, which allows a limited number of people to buy their way to the front of the line. And on-site hotel guests will continue to have front of the line access. So long as the number of those passes remain a small percentage of park visitors, that's fine. A few paid passes should not slow standby lines significantly, and I'd rather see front of the line passes as a hotel bonus that early openings, which can build up queue times before "normal" guests have a chance to get to them. (After all, getting to a park at opening is the best way to bag several popular attractions without long waits.) Better to distribute those hotel guests throughout the day, than loading them all into the morning "prime time."

In California, Disneyland's bagged FastPass on Pirates of the Caribbean and appears to be operating it less frequently on other attractions. Here's hoping that the rest of the industry comes to its senses and starts finding ways to make theme park visits less confusing and more enjoyable. Restricting ride reservation systems to first-year thrill rides would make an excellent start.

Comments (19) | Archive Link

Alton Towers opening brought forward

By Neil Preece
Published: February 12, 2006 at 5:37 PM
Alton Towers is currently closed for the winter, but will now re-open on Sunday March 19, 2006.

This is a whole two weeks earlier than expected due to a private event at the park. Charlie and the Chocolate factory is still expected to open on April 1st! Now with only two months until opening day the park is a hype of activity, fences being painted, paths being cleaned and all the usual closed season maintenance is taking place to ensure 2006 is a fantastic season.

Archive Link

Cedar Fair reports increased income, guest spending

By Robert Niles
Published: February 10, 2006 at 11:22 AM
Cedar Fair, L.P., the publicly traded owner of Cedar Point, Knott's Berry Farm and five other amusement parks, announced its fourth quarter and year-end 2005 financial results today.

The theme park chain reported a five percent increase in net revenues to a record $568.7 million, a one percent increase in combined attendance, a three percent increase in average in-park guest per capita spending and a 12 percent increase in out-of-park revenues, including hotels.

For 2006, Cedar Point will invest $58 million in capital improvements at all of its properties (including the new Skyhawk at Cedar Point) and will go with lower prices in an effort to boost attendance. Cedar Fair's Valleyfair park will also get a new Halloween event, Haunt at ValleyScare.

Comments (1) | Archive Link

Disney trades ABC sportscaster for Walt's original 'toon

By Robert Niles
Published: February 9, 2006 at 2:17 PM
Here's a bizarre story for Disney fans out there.

Disney's just traded sportscaster Al Michaels for the rights to, among other things, Walt's original character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.

Michaels, long the voice of ABC's "Monday Night Football" is leaving the network to join Universal-owned NBC's "Sunday Night Football" in the fall. But he was under contract to Disney-owned ABC, so the network extracted some concessions from Universal to release him.

Most of the deal involves Disney-owned ESPN getting the rights to air more highlights from NBC-covered sports events, such as Notre Dame football. But Universal also threw in the rights to Oswald, a character that Universal owned from back in the day before Walt Disney formed his own studio.

Walt drew Oswald for a series of cartoon shorts distributed by Universal. But Walt didn't own the character's rights. So when Walt decided to set out on his own, he created a new character by shortening Oswald's ears and putting shoes on his feet.

And thus, Mickey Mouse was born.

Comments (4) | Archive Link

The flabbiest place on Earth?

By Robert Niles
Published: February 9, 2006 at 10:13 AM
The L.A. Times has an interesting story today examining the expanding waistlines among Disneyland cast members, and the steps the costuming department has taken over the past years to accomodate them.

Of course, this isn't just Disney's problem. Americans, in general, are getting fatter. Blame the economics of wages and food costs, I suppose. I know that it is much cheaper to buy a fatty fast food meal than it is to buy raw ingredients at the grocery store for a healthier, homemade meal. And that doesn't factor in the time costs for shopping and cooking, either.

But the Disneyland example provides a stark illustration of the problem. And that this example is all the more compelling when one considers that some jobs at theme parks like Disneyland are great weight-loss programs by themselves. When I drove the rafts at Tom Sawyer's Island at Walt Disney World, I couldn't keep weight *on*. Huge piles of nachos for lunch and three-course dinners only kept my weight steady. The physical labor, coupled with the steamy heat, melted pounds. Others walking the belt at the Haunted Mansion, rolling out the parade route or jockeying cars on the Grand Prix raceway faced similar issues.

Comments (1) | Archive Link

'Survivor' theme park attraction on the way?

By Robert Niles
Published: February 7, 2006 at 4:35 PM
Okay, I've talked about this before, but now it appears as though it might be happening.

Cruising through the U.S. Trademark Office's online database after yesterday's report on Cedar Point's new "Maverick" application, I found that an application has been filed for an amusement park ride with the name "Survivor: Outwit, Outplay, Outlast". The application was filed on Jan. 24, and no other applications were filed that day by Survivor Productions, LLC. Which suggests that this wasn't some routine blanket registration of anything carrying the "Survivor" brand.

No word on where a ride based on this hit reality TV show would go, though. No theme park company was listed on the application, meaning that the trademark, if granted, would reside with the production company and be licensed to the theme park operator.

Obviously, the first thought would be a Paramount Park, given CBS's ownership of those parks. (At least, for now.) But with CBS dumping the parks, perhaps some other company might have made a play for Survivor

Comments (6) | Archive Link

'Maverick' coming to Cedar Point

By Robert Niles
Published: February 6, 2006 at 9:24 PM
Much buzz building around the ole' Internets upon the discovery that Cedar Point has filed a trademark application on the title "Maverick" for a new theme park attraction.

The application, which has not yet been reviewed or approved, is not only for the attraction, but for a host of related Maverick-themed souvenirs -- even for "on-line electronic greeting cards." (Think the e-mailed photos one can send oneself after riding Disneyland's Buzz Lightyear ride, perhaps?) Playing "connect the dots," and one can assume that perhaps "Maverick" will be the name for the new coaster -- a B&M Flyer? -- that many park-watchers believe will go in the old Whitewater Landing spot for the 2007 season.

Comments (1) | Archive Link

Universal Studios Florida's 'Jaws' ride reopens

By Matthew Osborn
Published: February 4, 2006 at 5:12 PM
Jaws at Universal Studios Florida will be open once again from today for an undisclosed amount of time. (So it could stay open all year! Jaws long has been a rumored target for demotion to seasonal status or permanent closure.) The ride has been improved, the queue has been cleaned, the boats have been repainted, the sharks now thrash around and have been bloodied up and repainted to make them feel much more realistic. (But fire effects have been reduced.)

Comments (1) | Archive Link

Disney confirms Jack Sparrow add to Pirates rides

By Robert Niles
Published: February 2, 2006 at 12:49 PM
Confirming another one of the worst-kept secrets in the theme park biz, Disney announced today that it will this spring rehab its popular Pirates of the Caribbean rides in Anaheim and Orlando to add characters from its "Pirates of the Caribbean" films.

The rides will go down in March to allow Disney to make the changes. Coming to both rides will be Captain Jack Sparrow and Barbossa from the first film, plus a ghostly Davy Jones from the second, "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," which bows on July 7. The Pirates ride will re-open at Disneyland on June 24 and in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom on July 7.

"Enhancing the classic Pirates attractions with new characters and new technology will ensure their relevance and place in Disney theme parks as timeless adventures," said Tom Fitzgerald, senior creative executive for Walt Disney Imagineering said in a statement. "We're adding a layer of storytelling from the films to the attraction while retaining all the familiar elements that make it vibrant and exciting for every age group."

Comments (8) | Archive Link

Reduced hours at all Paramount parks this year

By Pete Brecht
Published: February 1, 2006 at 10:32 AM
When Paramount's Kings Dominion released its 2006 calendar a week or two ago, I noticed that they had cut back on both the operating days and operating hours. They're opening for the season a couple of weeks later, and they no longer are staying open until 10pm on summer weekdays (it's now 9pm). At first I thought that this was just a response to nearby BGW's similar schedule change that had already been released.

However, the schedules for Carowinds and Kings Island were just released, and they also show serious cutbacks in the hours they'll be open this year. Carowinds is closing at 8pm on summer weekdays, and PKI isn't opening until 10am on any day (used to be 9am). Also, PKI is closing at 10pm in the summer; I'm pretty sure that last year they were open until 11pm or even midnight, at least on Saturdays.

Is this just a general cost-saving measure, or are they in trouble financially? I'm particularly annoyed about the 9pm close for PKD since that makes it difficult for me to go there after work during the summer and make the drive worthwhile (I live over an hour away).

Comments (4) | Archive Link

Keep reading: January 2006 Archive