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March 2006

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Hard Rock theme park a go in Myrtle Beach

By Robert Niles
Published: March 31, 2006 at 3:09 PM
Hard Rock International made it official today, announcing construction of its awaited $400-million theme park in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Hard Rock Park, designed to handle a daily capacity of 30,000 guests, will be built on 140 acres on the corner of U.S. 501 and the Intracoastal Waterway.

According to a Hard Rock press release, the park will feature "six unique, custom-designed zones celebrating rock's culture, lifestyle, legends and irreverence.... Hard Rock Park will include more than 40 attractions, a multi-purpose live music amphitheater, shows and state-of-the-art sound systems -- uniquely developed for the project, roller coasters, children's play areas, restaurants, cafes and retail stores."

Construction will begin this spring for a 2008 opening.

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JetBlue adds L.A. to Orlando service

By Robert Niles
Published: March 30, 2006 at 10:27 PM
I just noticed an ad promoting the fact that JetBlue has expanded its service out of Orlando, and will this summer start flying non-stop between Orlando and Burbank, Calif.

Granted, L.A.'s not the biggest market for the Orlando theme parks, since we have so many of our own out here. But, personally, I'm glad to see a top-quality, low-cost carrier providing a non-stop between the two metro areas. I loved Song's service, but with that discount carrier now being folded back within Delta, I've been looking for an alternative.

JetBlue's "Hollywood Express" route, between Burbank and New York's JFK airport (so dubbed because of the large number of film and TV professionals who fly the route), has made the airline a favorite here in the L.A. area. I became a fan when I flew last fall, and got to watch the ESPN Sunday Night NFL game, live, the whole way back from New York. Beats the heck out of the canned stuff they show on Delta and United flights.

The new service debuts June 30. Orlando's had a variety of discount carriers connecting it to the Midwest and Northeast, so it's about time that more started serving the West coast.

Now, if only a decent carrier would start flying into Cincinnati....

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Visionland amusement park renames itself 'Alabama Adventure'

By Robert Niles
Published: March 28, 2006 at 10:36 PM
A new name for a regional amusement park: Visionland, located in Birmingham, Alabama, is now Alabama Adventure. (Because, as we all know by now, a name like "Your State's Name" Adventure really packs in the paying guests....)

Southland Entertainment bought the park out of bankruptcy over two years ago and plans additional new capital investment on the park's 200-acre site, according to a press release, including a new hotel with an indoor waterpark as well as an RV park and stock car racing zone. (This is Alabama, after all.)

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Stampede at South Korea's Lotte World injures dozens

By Robert Niles
Published: March 27, 2006 at 4:44 PM
Let's take a visit to "Irony-land" for a moment.

More than 50,000 people gathered outside South Korean theme park Lotte World Sunday, the first day of a six-day free admission promotion at the park. The crowd rushed the gates, and the resulting stampede injured 24 people, according to the Associated Press.

The reason for the promotion? Again, according to the AP, the park was trying to improve its image after a man fell to his death from the park's Atlantis Adventure Intamin water coaster on March 6.

Park officials cancelled the free admission promotion after the injuries.

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It's opening day!

By Robert Niles
Published: March 25, 2006 at 5:37 PM
It's opening day today for Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Paramount's Carowinds. Let's hear from our east coast visitors who made the trip out to the parks today, below in comments.

Here are the 2006 opening dates for other major seasonal theme and amusement parks in the United States:

Six Flags Great Adventure - March 31
Dollywood - April 1
Paramount Kings Dominion - April 1
Paramount Kings Island - April 14
Six Flags Great America - April 29
Hersheypark - May 5
Cedar Point - May 6

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Big Brother wants to record your day at Alton Towers

By Robert Niles
Published: March 24, 2006 at 9:58 AM
The U.K. gave the world "Big Brother" (Orwell's literary account of omnipresent state surveillance, not the reality-TV show) and in 2007 will witness the theme park version.

Alton Towers has announced that it will next year offer guests customized DVDs documenting their visit to the park. Guests will wear bracelets fitted with RFID tags that will trigger surveillance cameras throughout the park. The video footage will be spliced together automatically with stock, "B roll" footage from the park to produce the custom video highlight DVDs for each customer. The DVDs will contain up to 30 minutes of footage.

Prices and distribution details, for both the bracelets and the DVDs, have yet to be worked out.

Video surveillance of theme park guests is nothing new. (Oh, the stories I could tell you about what I've seen in security monitors! Ladies, if your boyfriend wants to get frisky on a theme park ride and tells you that nobody can see you, let's just say... he's wrong.) But Alton's new plan certainly takes this to a new level.

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Universal Studios eyes new SoCal development plan

By Robert Niles
Published: March 23, 2006 at 11:52 AM
Universal City is buzzing with news about new construction on undeveloped sections of Universal Studios's backlot here in Los Angeles.

Here are stories today from the Los Angeles Times and L.A. Daily News.

The reason for the buzz is yesterday's announcement from Universal that it will again attempt to develop a master plan for the property, which has been the scene of numerous previous failed development attempts. The real estate market in Southern California is peaking now, and, if swiftly developed, the Universal land could net the company many millions in cash. In addition, Universal's production facilities are operating at near capacity, and need to expand.

What these leaves out, of course, is theme parks. Universal officials got burned a decade ago by neighbors with plans to expand the entertainment zone. In the LAT, Universal president Ron Meyer distanced the company from those plans.

"The last plan was more Orlando," said Meyer, referring to the company's Florida theme park and hotel collection. "We're not looking at a resort destination."

That isn't to say that a new master plan for the Universal property could not include substantial improvements to the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park and CityWalk. Universal officials have publicly and privately mused for years about the need to add and improve attractions at USH. And an expansion of production facilities elsewhere on site could make room for an expansion of the theme park onto adjacent land.

Just don't hold your breath waiting for Islands of Adventure West.

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Management holds face cards in Disneyland labor dispute

By Robert Niles
Published: March 21, 2006 at 10:01 AM
The deadline for a new union contract at Disneyland has passed, but, according to Al Lutz, management seems to hold little fear of a strike. One of the many factors working in management's favor? Since Disney shuttered its old parking lot, where would the picket lines go?

Of course, the big issue -- seemingly ignored by both sides -- remains money. It won't make much difference to either workers or visitors if Disney busts the union since the union seems content to let Disney get away with a below-market wage scale. Eight-some bucks an hour won't buy you a Disney-caliber workforce in Southern California anymore, no matter how few hours a week someone needs to work to earn benefits.

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Name changes at Busch Gardens parks?

By Jason Jackson
Published: March 17, 2006 at 3:02 PM
So Busch Gardens Williamsburg is now Busch Gardens Europe and Busch Gardens Tampa is now Busch Gardens Africa. What goes around comes around? Some of us remember when Busch Gardens Williamsburg was The Old Country-Busch Gardens and Busch Gardens Tampa was The Dark Continent-Busch Gardens. Perhaps Busch is going back to its roots? Not that they strayed too far, but I still miss the double decker buses that use to serve as transportation from the parking lots in Williamsburg. Not very efficient, but very classy and elegant.

[I've heard this rumor now from several sources. But the official Busch Gardens website still features the old names. And the domain names buschgardenseurope.com and buschgardensafrica.com are unregistered and available, according to Network Solutions. See below. -- Editor]

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Cedar Point launches new website design

By Mike K
Published: March 16, 2006 at 8:20 PM
Cedar Point launched a new version of their popular website today, CedarPoint.com. Cedar Point is known for having one of the best websites throughout the amusement industry.

Cedar Point has updated everything on the website, and added tons more. The new, easy to use layout, includes a new navigation bar allowing for easier access throughout the site. The webcams of Cedar Point now appear in a pop-up and refresh automatically, allowing for easier viewing. On-Ride Videos of all the coasters have been updated, which now includes low and high quality videos.

For more information, please visit The Point Online.

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Coaster marathon benefit set at Cypress Gardens

By Robert Niles
Published: March 15, 2006 at 10:22 AM
TPI reader Erik Yates sent me this note last week, and I apologize for not getting in the Blog Flume earlier:

"I have put together 'Coasting for Kids.' It will be a coaster marathon to be held at Cypress Gardens on Saturday, May 20th. We are riding for Make-A-Wish foundation, in order to raise money and awareness for the organization. The official press release can be read here."

For more information, or to sign up, call Erik Yates at 772-216-3778. There are a limited number of spaces available.

Which brings me to the second item in today's post: By popular demand, I've created a page for Cypress Gardens. I haven't been there since the HBJ days, so there are no attraction listings on the page yet. But our readers in Central Florida can add them. So, please, do. Thanks.

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Accident at Six Flags Over Texas injures seven

By Robert Niles
Published: March 13, 2006 at 1:12 PM
Theme Park Insider reader Robert O sends word of an accident at Six Flags Over Texas last night.

The seats on the Texas Tornado swing ride came to a sudden stop as the ride was ended, injuring seven people. Six were treated at the park, but one woman went to the hospital with back injuries.

Park officials have closed the ride pending an inspection and repair. [Changed to update the number of injured to seven, according to a park press release.]

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Williamsburg planning commission releases new Busch Gardens attraction info

By Jason Jackson
Published: March 9, 2006 at 11:26 PM
Here is additional information about the proposed Busch Gardens Williamsburg ride expansion, from a James City County Planning Commission memo [PDF format]:

"The new queuing building and embarking/disembarking station will collectively be approximately 7,500 square feet in area, and will serve the balance of the overall expansion, which will be laid out over an area of approximately five acres. The buildings will be constructed on-site of materials (wood, stucco, stone, etc.), and have a thematic appearance similar to other nearby structures in the theme park. The buildings are not expected to exceed forty feet in height at their highest points, and should not be visible from outside the theme park’s boundaries.... The proposal calls for the new buildings (and associated expansion) to be constructed near the center of the theme park near the northwest end of the Rhine River, and just north of the existing Alpengeist rollercoaster attraction. The new buildings and expansion will replace an attraction currently located in that vicinity. [Link added by editor.]

"It is envisioned that other parts of the proposed expansion not covered by this SUP will reach heights of up to 210' over finished grade; these portions of the expansion are being separately addressed by the James City County Board of Supervisors, in response to the applicant's separate Height Waiver Application."

The James City County Planning Division staff recommended that Busch Gardens be granted the Special Use Permit it is seeking.

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Hop on the bus -- literally -- for Six Flags' new TV campaign

By Robert Niles
Published: March 8, 2006 at 9:24 PM
Have you seen the new Six Flags television commercials yet? I just caught the new Magic Mountain spot here in L.A., and if CEO Mark Shapiro is serious about reaching out to the family market, these new commercials aren't gonna get that done.

Granted, Magic Mountain's got a new roller coaster to promote. And the new spot certainly plays up the thrill angle. It features a early 20-something riding a city bus, with a bored expression on his face. He slides open the window, then climbs out and up on to the top of the bus, where he "surfs" as the bus drives down the street. The tag tells viewers to come to Six Flags to find their thrills, pitching Tatsu.

Personally, I think that if you're going to show egregiously illegal and unsafe behavior in a commercial, you need to go waaaaaay over the top with it, to make sure the viewer knows he watching farce. This spot plays too... reserved. It almost feels like Six Flags *really thinks* there is a market of bus-surfing Gen-Y'ers out there that it wants to capture.

It sure doesn't do anything for me, as a parent, to convince me to bring the family out to the park. If you've seen the spot, what do you think? And if you've seen a different Six Flags ad in your market, post a comment with a report. Thanks.

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It's student loan liberation day!

By Robert Niles
Published: March 7, 2006 at 8:14 PM
If you will indulge me a moment, I'd like to note that today marks an important milestone in my life.

It's student loan liberation day!

That's right, after graduating college in 1989 and grad school in 1992, I today made the final payment on my last student loan. Meaning, that for the first time since, oh, 1985, I am debt-free. Which also means, of course, that it is time to buy a house and to dump myself back in the red. :-(

Actually, I think I can force a theme park hook here. So much growth in the economy over the past few years, including demand for theme park vacations, can be attributed to massive increases in personal debt. Interest rates have been low, which encourages people to borrow rather than save. Credit card companies have all but abandoned lending restrictions, issuing cards to just about anyone, for often ridiculously large amounts. Mortgage companies have almost single-handedly fueled the nation's housing boom, ditching historic lending guidelines and offering no-principle and negative amortization loans to borrowers who could never afford to make payments under a traditional home loan.

On the coasts, where there's less undeveloped land for new housing construction, that influx of new mortgage cash has served to grossly inflate the price of housing, increasing current homeowners' paper equity, which enables them to borrow more. Some of that borrowing, from credit cards and home equity loans, have financed vacations, with theme park resorts like Orlando being among the nation's top destinations.

But I am an anomaly. Most American consumers are falling deeper in debt, not climbing out. Real wages have been falling in America over the past couple years, and have shown almost no growth over the past three decades (save for a brief rise in the mid- to late-1990s). When families have more to spend, it is usually because they have more to borrow.

Home prices now are falling on the coasts, and lenders are no longer issuing the negative-amortizations loans they were so eager to write when prices were increasing by double-digits each year. Will a decrease in the number of available buyers result, forcing home prices -- and available equity -- down further? Will a slowdown in the free flow of lent money trigger a recession that will reduce people's discretionary spending, including travel? What happens this summer to theme park attendance then?

I know that a lot of people in the industry are worried. Personally, I'm looking forward to a lot of travel in my first debt-free year. But there might not be enough people like me to make up for those people who are finding that their credit card and mortgage bills might make a vacation impossible, this year or next.

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Ohio jury slams Six Flags for $3.6 mil over negligence

By Robert Niles
Published: March 6, 2006 at 3:27 PM
An Ohio jury Friday awarded $3.6 million to a Wisconsin woman who suffered severe head injuries when she was struck by an object while riding a roller coaster in 2000.

Terri Wang was riding The Villian at Six Flags Ohio, now Geauga Lake, when she was struck. The impact fractured her skull and nose. Doctors later had to remove skull fragments from Wang's brain.

The jury agreed that Six Flags, the owner of the park at the time, was negligent because park employees had been warned that guests were pciking up rocks from the ground under the coaster and throwing them at the trains. Park employees did not remove the rocks, however, choosing merely to cover them with mulch.

No one has determined exactly what hit Wang, however, as the object was not recovered. A 12-year-old girl was also struck in the head and injured, allegedly by throw rocks, two years later, in 2002.

Here's a local story on the incident from the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

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Disney, Pixar managers chat online about park fixes

By Steve Barth
Published: March 2, 2006 at 8:49 PM
I just stumbled across this link and thought readers to this site would find this very interesting. Apparantly, some people in management over at Disney and Pixar are interested in the employees take on the success of the Disney theme parks. They are asking for feedback and ideas as to how the parks can be improved and have set up an internet blog for people to submit ideas. How long will this blog stay open to the general public, who knows, but it is an interesting read nonetheless. Keep in mind, the general public cannot post ideas, this is for Disney/Pixar employees only, but the site is open to be read by the public. Go check it out and we can discuss thier ideas here..

http://imagineerebirth.blogspot.com/

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Disneyland's Haunted Mansion as slasher flick

By Robert Niles
Published: March 1, 2006 at 10:21 AM
I loved visiting Disney theme parks when I was a kid, but it wasn't until I'd worked attractions at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom for a year that I learned there was supposed to be a story behind the Haunted Mansion.

No wonder most guests never figure it out. The narrative's as thin as the scrims upon which the dancing ghosts are projected. But Al Lutz at MiceAge details [scroll down] a Walt Disney Imagineering plan to amplify the storyline in Disneyland's Haunted Mansion. And this one's straight out of a late night slasher flick.

"The biggest changes will be coming to the attic scene, as that's where the new plotline will be most evident. As it is now, the attic scene is simply a cluttered and dusty place with a ghost inexplicably dressed like a bride with that spooky beating heart. But when the additions are all installed, the bride will become a much more sinister character who has apparently been killing off all of her previous husbands. As the doombuggies pass through the attic, riders will see portraits of several dashing young gentlemen, with each portrait piled next to "the loot" that the man brought in to the marriage."

I made a few calls, and there's absolutely no truth to another rumor that the model for the new "Bride" animatronic figure will be Anna Nicole Smith.... ;-)

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Keep reading: February 2006 Archive