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May 2006

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Amusement Business magazine folds

By Robert Niles
Published: May 31, 2006 at 1:44 PM
Amusement Business magazine has folded, after 111 years of covering fairs and amusement and theme parks. VNU, publisher of Billboard, among other titles, closed the book today, meaning its May print edition will be its last. Subscribers got the word via snail-mail letters this week, with an e-mail blast going out today, too. The news came without warning, as the May issue included a future publishing schedule, along with a pitch to advertise in upcoming theme issues ("Coming in August, AB salutes the Indiana State Fair's 150th Anniversary!" Um... guess not.)

A trade magazine, Amusement Business was known to theme park customers almost exclusively for its year-end estimates of theme park attendance. But the bulk of the magazine's coverage centered on personalities and companies in the theme park, amusement and fair business. In recent years, Amusement Business branched out to cover music tours and other out-of-home entertainment, in an effort to maintain its readership.

Trade publications have been hit hard by the Internet. For most of its 111-year existence, Amusement Business was the only publication exclusively covering theme and amusement parks. Today, that's no longer the case, with dozens of prominent sites covering the industry, including this one. Amusement Business, along with other VNU publications, tried to enhance its appeal with a more frequently-updated website. But its content stood behind a paid registration wall, crippling the publication's visibility online and preventing it from attracting new readers.

Still, I'll miss AB, and I'll be curious to see who picks up the task of the year-end attendance estimates.

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Hilton to build Waldorf-Astoria at Bonnet Creek

By Robert Niles
Published: May 31, 2006 at 10:37 AM
Count Hilton Hotels as in on the new Bonnet Creek Resort, located near Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. The hotelier announced today that it will build at Bonnet Creek a 1,000-room Hilton, as well as a 500-room Waldorf-Astoria. The hotels are slated to open in summer 2009.

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Time Warner sells theme parks... again

By Robert Niles
Published: May 29, 2006 at 9:10 PM
Time Warner got out of the U.S. theme park business a decade ago, when it sold the Six Flags chain of amusement parks to Premier Parks of Oklahoma City. (Premier adopted the Six Flags name for its company, but lost control of the business when its management was ousted recently by shareholders led by Dan Shapiro.) But Time Warner's remained in the theme park business outside of the United States, holding stakes in several parks, including the Warner Bros Movie World chain.

Well, at least it did. Now comes word from Australia that the company has sold its share in Queensland's Warner Bros Movie World and Sea World Gold Coast to partner Village Roadshow, also a movie company.

Village Roadshow bought out Time Warner for $254 million (about $193 million US). As part of the deal, Village gets a long-term licensing deal with Time Warner allowing it to develop Warner Bros theme parks in Asia.

  • More coverage.

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  • Universal reveals details on Islands of Adventure's new Seuss Sky Ride

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 26, 2006 at 9:46 AM
    It's been six years already, but theme park fans are going to have to wait a few more days to welcome a new ride to Universal's Islands of Adventure. The High In The Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride will debut sometime in "mid June," according to sources at Universal. The ride will take visitors over, through and around the park's richly detailed Seuss Landing area, featuring show scenes and details from several Dr. Seuss books, including "Sneetches and Other Stories," "Oh, the Places You'll Go," and "Dr. Seuss's ABC's."

    I spoke with ride designer Chris Lauren, of Universal Creative, yesterday and you can read the entire Q&A on our High In The Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride page.

    Fans have been looking at the tracks running above Seuss Landing ever since the park opened, and Lauren revealed that the original concept, Sylvester McMonkey McBean's Very Unusual Driving Machines, featured individual cars in a "bumper car situation." Lauren didn't wouldn't cough up much detail when I pressed him on the issue, but I can't imagine how bumper cars, 10 feet in the air and on a linear track, could possibly work. Apparently, neither did Universal, because as we all know, the ride never opened.

    The Seuss Trolley Train, however, will put riders in Mack power coaster tram vehicles for a more traditional-style tour of the area. The ride will feature two distinct tracks, each taking a different path around the land. Lauren said:

    The land itself was always intended to be seen from above. A lot of the props and sets and set-ups for Seuss Landing were directed to the view from above there. And it's nice to see those realized. And even more thrilling to become a part of that. And I think what I noticed as I was going around, was just how much awareness people [on the ground] had of the train as it moved through the land. 'Cause most folks tend to focus right in front of them. But when the train went through, it has a real presence. It really energizes the space.

    Comments (5) | Archive Link

    Italian Job Stunt Coaster debuts at Paramount's Kings Dominion

    By Russell Meyer
    Published: May 25, 2006 at 10:17 PM
    So, what happens when you cross the special effects and excitement of a Hollywood stunt show with the intensity and thrill of a roller coaster? Kings Dominion hopes the answer will be Italian Job Turbo Coaster, the newest addition to the park, and the Virginia park's 13th roller coaster (including Flight of Fear, which has not operated this season). The coaster boasts three launch sections, which propel the cleverly designed trains- themed to look just like real Mini Coopers- through a number of different recreated scenes from the hit movie "The Italian Job."

    The roller coaster was introduced with a bang as two stunt drivers burst through banners in real Mini Cooper cars. After some intricate driving maneuvers reminiscent of Lights, Motors, Action! at Disney, Robert Zimmerman, executive vice president and general manager of Paramount's Kings Dominion, was delivered to the podium to declare the attraction open.

    Italian Job Turbo Coaster Debuts

    After experiencing Italian Job for the first time, having not ridden the Kings Island or Canada's Wonderland versions, I would have to say it's probably not worth running out this weekend, or flying across the country for, but this attraction is probably worth a wait in line later this summer. For coaster fans, Italian Job Turbo Coaster is not going to hold a candle to any of the top coasters in the world. Still, it will satisfy a majority of theme park goers with a well-themed attraction that is intense enough for the teenagers but still tame enough for the youngsters who can meet the height requirement of 48 inches. The ride's short duration and lack of intensity may upset many who may wait in 1+ hour lines, but once the initial crowds die down, the Italian Job Turbo Coaster should have a long and successful run in the park. I would highly recommend a spin in the back seat, which gives riders a more intense, and drier experience. The Italian Job Turbo Coaster at Paramount's Kings Dominion is not going to change the country's coaster landscape, especially standing at a height of only 53 feet, but it demonstrates that a coaster does not need to be the tallest or fastest to be successful.

    [Visit our Italian Job Turbo Coaster page for an in-depth description of the ride, plus more photos and readers' reviews. - Editor]

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    Hersheypark debuts Reese's-themed interactive dark ride

    By Coaster Enthusiast
    Published: May 25, 2006 at 9:01 AM
    This weekend Hersheypark in Hershey, Pennsylvania opens its new interactive dark ride, Reese's Xtreme Cup Challenge, created by Sally Corp. The ride boasts nine "extreme challanges" : BMX Biking, Drag Racing, Ice Hockey, In-Line Skating, Mountain Climbing, Skateboarding, Skydiving, Snowboarding, and Surfing!

    Guests and vehicles compete for the highest score in the chosen catagory, and the winners get a "sweet surprise".

    I see this type of themed adventure progressing faster than a roller coaster. Younger (and height restricted) individuals can take aim in a quest for a rewarding bounty.

    Where Disney's Buzz Lightyear and Paramount's Scooby Doo leave riders knowing they are either the "winners" or the "loosers", Reese's XTREME will garner repeat challangers in their quest to achieve their best!

    I'm all for integrated Dark Rides. If Disney would pass out softballs at the entrance to "It's a Small World" (three for a dollar?), life would be sweet!

    [Editor's note: Ryan Watts files a trip report and review of SeaWorld's new "Believe" Shamu show, which Jason Moore covered last week. Also, tomorrow I will post a Q&A with folks from Universal Creative about Islands of Adventure's new High In The Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride. Finally, I'm hoping to get a post from Russell Meyer on the opening of the Italian Job Turbo Coaster at Paramount's Kings Dominion. Busy weekend coming up! Stay tuned.]

    Comments (2) | Archive Link

    Branding, websites and the (former) Paramount parks

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 24, 2006 at 5:33 PM
    A quick thought today, inspired by the Cedar Fair/Paramount Parks deal:

    Long term, if Cedar Fair drops the "Paramount's" possessive from those parks' names, what happens to the Paramount's Kings Island website?

    When I was a kid, living in Indianapolis, in the days before Paramount owned the park, it was known as just "Kings Island." And I suppose a great many people still refer to the park as such and wouldn't miss for a moment Cedar Fair dropping the "Paramount's" from the front of its now-official name.

    But Kings Island's website is PKI.com. And, presumably, the "P" would become irrelevant upon a name change. KI.com's owned by an interior design firm. And kingsisland.com's in the hands of a cybersquatter.

    Sure, one letter from the Cedar Fair legal team likely obtains that domain. But I'd think Cedar Fair also could bag a nice chunk of cash selling a now-unneeded three-letter dot-com domain. I know, to the average theme park visitor, this topic means little. But as a certified Web geek, I find this stuff interesting. Three-letter dot-com domains don't come available everyday.

    Also on this topic, I see that Busch has obtained the buschgardenseurope.com domain that I wrote about earlier. But buschgardensafrica.com appears to remain in the hands of a squatter.

    Comments (1) | Archive Link

    Six Flags, Paramount, Cedar Fair: What's next in the theme park business?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 23, 2006 at 11:19 AM
    For the first time since I started this site, nearly seven years ago, there is stability in the ownership of the U.S.'s top theme park chains. Disney's seen Robert Iger take over for Michael Eisner as it has installed a smart new management team over its parks. Dan Snyder's Red Zone, LLC has ousted the former Premier Parks management from Six Flags. NBC bought Universal from Vivendi. Legoland's found financial security under ownership by Blackstone-backed Merlin Entertainments.

    And now, Cedar Fair has bought Paramount Parks from CBS.

    Ownership and management stability is unquestionably a good thing for capital-intensive businesses like theme parks. Without it, managers too often focus on the short term and hesitate to approve the multi-million dollar, multi-year projects necessary for theme parks to continue building their attendance.

    But don't expect these financial deals to create peace and love in the theme park industry. Nope, the buyouts signal that this industry will no longer tolerate passive management. Attack, or be attacked. If you are not committed to fight your competition, get out.

    The Cedar Fair/Paramount deal cannot be making anyone happy at Universal. Industry leader Disney's primary competitor just dropped from number three in overall attendance among six major U.S. theme park companies to number four out of five. Attendance at its parks in Orlando and Los Angeles has disappointed. Granted, any reader of this site could have told Universal management that if a company debuts as few new rides as it has over the past six years, it should expect its attendance to tank. Ever since NBC bought Universal, employees have whispered that the Peacock might ditch the parks. It's gut-check time now. Invest, or look for a buyer who will.

    If the company doesn't, not only will it face continued pressure from a resurgent Disney, but it might fall from the number two spot behind the Disneyland parks in Southern California to improving Six Flags and Cedar Fair parks. It's not hard to see that a Knott's Berry Farm with a Kings Island-style Nickelodeon-themed land could bite deeply into attendance at other SoCal parks. A more family-friendly Magic Mountain, if delivered as new Six Flags CEO Mark Shapiro has promised, could squeeze Universal Studios Hollywood from the northern side of the market, as well.

    As for Six Flags, if Shapiro thought he had time to steer his chain's focus from thrill-seeking teens to families, that time is up. Cedar Fair now owns the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic regions of the country. Its Nickelodeon characters resonate far more with today's kids than Six Flags' Warner Bros. toons.

    That said, the next successful, story-driven themed attraction that Cedar Fair builds... will be its first. Neither Cedar Fair nor Six Flags has shown the ability to create the themed attractions that made Disney the industry leader and Universal its once-strongest challenger. Paramount, however, has shown recent promise in this area. With Cedar Fair CEO Dick Kinzel retiring, will there be room in Cedar Fair management suite for Paramount Parks' creative talent? Or will Six Flags take this opportunity to snatch a few leaders with vision?

    And here's the biggest question: Will new creative hires matter? They won't if recent park-buying sprees have left the companies with too little money in the bank to pay for whatever new rides their creative teams can dream up.

    And what about Busch, now bringing up the rear among U.S. theme park chains, dropping from fourth out of six to five out of five? Busch quietly has been running some of the industry's finest parks. The company has shown that it is neither unable nor unafraid to commission to high-budget, top-quality story-driven themed rides. But it is still a relatively small entertainment business appended to a multi-billion dollar brewery company. Where's the fit? CBS's desire to focus on its core business prompted it to sell the Paramount Parks, and theme parks were a far stronger fit with CBS's business than they are with Busch's. Could CBS's move prompt similar thoughts at Busch? At the very least, all this dealing ought to remind folks how ridiculous it is that a brewery company owns a park themed to Sesame Street characters.

    Which brings me to Merlin. Legoland's new owner already has committed to building a new park in the United States within the next five years. While Merlin owns just one park in the United States, Legoland California, it is backed by the wealthy Blackstone Group, half-owner of the Universal Orlando Resort. In addition to the three European Legoland parks, Merlin owns SeaLife Centres, a chain of aquariums in Europe that its CEO has said the company wishes to bring to America. Given Merlin's focus on family entertainment with an educational flavor, it would seem an ideal conceptual fit with Busch's parks, and you can't tell me that Merlin wouldn't love to have the SeaWorld brand.

    Merlin's CEO told TPI earlier this year that the company is looking to expand and to create Disney-style, multi-park resorts. If Busch ever decides to get out of the theme park business, Merlin might be a logical candidate to make a bid. And the Blackstone connection continues to tempt theme park fans with visions of some sort of Merlin/Universal Orlando deal.

    So maybe all is not settled yet. Thank goodness. I'd hate to think that the industry wouldn't leave us with anything to talk about.

    Comments (2) | Archive Link

    Cedar Fair purchases Paramount Parks

    By Chris P.
    Published: May 22, 2006 at 10:36 AM
    Cedar Fair, which owns and operates seven amusement parks and five water parks, including flagship Cedar Point, will acquire the Paramount Parks chain from CBS for $1.24 billion in cash.

    Paramount's parks are Canada's Wonderland, near Toronto, Canada, Kings Island, near Cincinnati, Kings Dominion, near Richmond, Va., Carowinds near Charlotte, N.C., and Great America in Santa Clara, Cal. The Paramount Parks generated revenues of approximately $423 million and had aproximately 12.2 million guests in 2005. Combined, the two park chains generated approximately $1 billion in revenues and had approximately 25 million guests in 2005.

    See Cedar Fair's press release for more.

    Could this be a good or bad thing? You decide.

    [Editor's note: The *huge* question: Snoopy or Nickelodeon? Or, somehow, both?

    Cedar Fair's kids' lands are themed to the "Peanuts" franchise while Paramount's are themed to CBS's Nickelodeon. CBS also licenses the Nick characters to the Universal theme parks, which do not compete geographically with the Paramount Parks. But Cedar Fair's Knott's Berry Farm is in the SoCal market with Universal Studios Hollywood, so a conflict would emerge if the entire Cedar Fair chain picked up the Nick license.]

    Comments (8) | Archive Link

    Valleyfair coaster derailment injures 14

    By Matt Rogers
    Published: May 21, 2006 at 8:43 PM
    Wild Thing at Valleyfair derailed. Seems the undercarraige came apart going into the final brake run.

    http://wcco.com/topstories/local_story_141180956.html

    This reminds me of the Steel Dragon 2000 accident. That ride is still closed. Both were made by Morgan.

    Your thoughts?

    Comments (1) | Archive Link

    Busch Gardens Europe drops 'Haunted Lighthouse' attraction

    By Pete Brecht
    Published: May 20, 2006 at 12:32 PM
    The Haunted Lighthouse 4-D movie is no more! It was replaced at Busch Gardens Tampa with the old Pirates movie, and they have now done the same with the Busch Gardens Williamsburg park. Interestingly, the Tampa change was promoted as a new attraction (since Pirates had never been there), whereas the Williamsburg switchover to revive Pirates 4-D was done completely under the radar. In fact, Haunted Lighthouse was still at BGE last month, so I'm not sure what prompted the change.

    I can't help but wonder if TPI has something to do with this. The embarassingly low score that Haunted Lighthouse has been getting in the TPI rankings pulls down Busch Gardens Europe's overall score, so I wonder if they're trying to get a little edge there. It's not as though the attraction was unpopular; I always saw a big crowd of people waiting to get in.

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    Cedar Fair CEO confirms interest in buying Kings Island

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 19, 2006 at 1:06 PM
    It's a busy day here at TPI....

    Cedar Fair has confirmed that it is interested in making a bid on at least one of the up-for-sale Paramount theme parks. The Toledo Blade absolutely buries the lead, yet gets Cedar Fair CEO Dick Kinzel on the record expressing interest in buying Kings Island from Paramount.

    That would give Cedar Fair three parks in Ohio, flagship Cedar Point, Kings Island and the recently purchased (from Six Flags) Geauga Lake.

    [Update: It's official now.]

    Comments (2) | Archive Link

    Entertainment replaces education at new SeaWorld shows?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 19, 2006 at 12:50 PM
    TPI reader Jason Moore is the first to post a review of the new "Believe" Shamu show at SeaWorld Orlando. He's also posted a comment on the Blue Horizons show that debuted last summer.

    Jason writes:

    In my opinion, the purpose of these shows has generally been to use entertainment as a vehicle for education. Yet both Blue Horizons and the new Shamu show Believe have removed all or most of the educational aspects which were added by the trainers talking segments. The shows seem now to be completely built for entertainment, and with the exception of the standard, expected high spots from the animals it is the the human "performers" who are given the spotlight. This shows a a lack of focus on the original mission of parks such as Sea World as far as I'm concerned.

    Thoughtful point. Reactions?

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    Central Florida wants tourists to pay for stadiums and ads

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 19, 2006 at 9:01 AM
    The mayors of Orlando and Orange County (Fla.) have joined the leaders of Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando in calling for an increase in hotel and rental car taxes. The increase would raise the tax visitors pay on hotel rooms from five cents on the dollar to six, and add a two dollar surcharge to rental car rates.

    Part of the rental car surcharge would pay for the Orlando area's Lynx bus system. But the larger hotel tax would be split 50/50 between funding new advertising campaigns encouraging tourists to visit Orlando and money to rebuild or renovate Orlando's two major sports stadiums, The TD Waterhouse Centre and the Citrus Bowl.

    The WDW and UO folks want the ad campaign, obviously. And the local pols want to keep the Orlando Magic and college bowl games(the stadiums' main tenants) happy without soaking local taxpayers.

    Those local residents will get to decide whether the tax increases happen, as local law requires a referendum before they can go into effect. The Orlando Sentinel has all the details today.

    Personally, I wish governments would stop paying tax money (from whatever the source) on professional sports facilities. Let the teams pay. A better bus system makes sense, though, and should be welcomed by tourists and theme park employees, provided they get better service as a result. And the ad campaign promoting the area could end up paying for itself in more tourists coming to the area.

    And here is a link that might be of interest to those planning said campaign... ;-)

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    Disney, Six Flags to battle for best new theme park attraction

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 18, 2006 at 8:33 AM
    The best new theme park attraction for 2006 award figures to be a highly competitive one, with a certain new ride at Walt Disney World facing strong reviews for Magic Mountain's newest coaster. And folks in the U.K. seem partial to Thorpe Park's newest thrill ride, too.

    To be eligible in this category, a theme park ride or show must have debuted between June 1, 2005 and May 31, 2006. It must not be a reinstallation or a "clone" of a previously opened attraction. (And we define a clone as an attraction with the same name, manufacturer, concept and theme as another attraction.)

    Here are the major new attractions that have debuted since June 1, 2005. *Please* let me know if I have forgotten one, but remember, attractions that debuted in May 2005 (and that was a lot) are no longer eligible:

    For those of you new to the site, here's how the awards work: click on the Browse Parks and Find Hotels links at the top of the page and browse to the attractions, restaurants and hotels you've been to in the past year. Submit your rating and review for each. We'll tally the ratings and the places with the highest average rating for the year win the awards. For parks, we take the highest cumulative rating for all the attractions and restaurants at the park.

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    What is the world's best theme park hotel?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 16, 2006 at 10:25 PM
    Continuing our posts about the 2006 Theme Park Insider Awards, it is time to consider hotels.

    In this category, we consider only "official," on-property hotels. I know that reduces the number of potential nominees, but... we really need to reduce the number of potential nominees. At what point away from a theme park resort is a hotel no longer considered a "theme park" hotel? One mile? Ten? The easiest way to draw the line is at the property line.

    (Of course, we provide plenty of opportunities for readers to rate, review and book off-property theme park hotels. But we're just considering the on-site ones for the annual award.)

    For those of you new to the site, here's how the awards work: click on the Browse Parks and Find Hotels links at the top of the page and browse to the attractions, restaurants and hotels you've been to in the past year. Submit your rating and review for each. We'll tally the ratings and the places with the highest average rating for the year win the awards. For parks, we take the highest cumulative rating for all the attractions and restaurants at the park.

    Here are the leading contenders, in alphabetical order by resort, as of today:

    Cedar Point:

    Disneyland:

    Universal Orlando:

    Walt Disney World:

    Votes, comments and wiki updates, as always, are encouraged!

    Comments (9) | Archive Link

    Theme park worker killed in U.K. accident

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 16, 2006 at 10:18 PM
    Reader Gareth H. files a report on another theme park death. This time, a worker was killed while inspecting a miniature train ride at Gulliver's Theme Park (Milton Keynes) in the United Kingdom.

    Hugh Dow, 56, was killed instantly when his train entered a tunnel. You can also read more on The Sun Online website, which also includes a follow-up on the death of 16-year-old Hayley Williams on the Hydra water ride at Oakwood in 2004.

    Archive Link

    Announcing the 2006 Theme Park Insider Awards

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 15, 2006 at 10:16 PM
    It's time again for the annual Theme Park Insider Awards. The awards, again, will be announced over the Fourth of July holiday weekend (Independence Day here in the United States) and will reflect the top locations voted on by Theme Park Insider readers over the past 12 months.

    This year, the categories will be:

    • Best theme park
    • Best new attraction
    • Best theme park restaurant
    • Best theme park hotel

    The main change from previous years is the elimination of the "best attraction" category, won by Islands of Adventure's Spider-Man for the past four years. Rather than keep handing the award to the same attraction, we are going to focus instead on rewarding the best new attraction, from a fresh crop of rides and shows each year. Attractions that opened between June 1, 2005 and May 31, 2006 will be eligible for this year's award. We will continue to honor the best park, restaurant and hotel because, unlike with attractions, the quality of these locations can, and often does, change substantially from year to year.

    One other change we're making this year: In an effort to encourage voting, I'll be listing the top contenders in each category each day this week. I hope you'll take a moment to submit your honest rating and review for these locations you've visited. And if you'd like to take a crack at writing a more complete and detailed description for a location, please feel welcomed to use the "Update this description" feature on the listing pages, as well. Please do submit photos, too!

    For those of you new to the site, here's how the awards work: click on the Browse Parks and Find Hotels links at the top of the page and browse to the attractions, restaurants and hotels you've been to in the past year. Submit your rating and review for each. We'll tally the ratings and the places with the highest average rating for the year win the awards. For parks, we take the highest cumulative rating for all the attractions and restaurants at the park.

    Please vote only on those locations that you've visited in the past year, and please resist the temptation to "vote down" competitors of locations you like. After all, if you've not visited one, how do you know it isn't better than your current favorite? Remember, I was a stats major in college, and have built in... ways... to keep folks from stuffing the ballot box. If everyone votes honestly, we get more honest results. Thanks for your help.

    That said, here are top contenders for this year's best theme park restaurant award (in alphabetical order, by theme park):

    Busch Gardens Williamsburg:

    Disney's Animal Kingdom:

    Epcot:

    Universal's Islands of Adventure:

    Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom:

    Let's get voting!

    Comments (8) | Archive Link

    Hollywood returns to Cypress Gardens

    By Erik Yates
    Published: May 11, 2006 at 8:32 PM
    Cypress Gardens for extras during shooting of several scenes for an upcoming motion picture at the Winter Haven, Fla. park. Guests are encouraged to attend the park May 18th to become a part of the film, Grace is Gone.

    The movie follows the fall-out of a family affected by the war in Iraq. To avoid telling his two daughters that their mother was killed in duty, a grief-stricken father takes takes the girls on a road trip.

    The amusement park scenes will be filmed at Cypress Gardens and the crew is looking for extras to fill the background scenes. Filming is tentatively set for May 18th, weather permitting.

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    Six Flags finds a buyer for AstroWorld; debuts Tatsu

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 11, 2006 at 12:35 PM
    Six Flags has sold the land under which the former AstroWorld park stood for $77 million to a Texas land development firm.

    No official word on what will become of the site, but local planners (hey, I didn't know they had those folks in Houston....) envision a urban, mixed-use development of homes and commercial development, taking advantage of adjacent highways and a light rail line.

    The bigger news from Six Flags today is the media preview for Tatsu at Six Flags Magic Mountain. Sorry, I wasn't there to bring that to you but... Six Flags didn't invite Theme Park Insider. From a recent e-mail I got from Magic Mountain's PR rep, it seems that Six Flags isn't happy with what I and the readers of this site have said about them in the past. So I guess they've decided to pass on this opportunity to reach out the more than 10,000 daily readers of the most award-winning theme park site on the Web. (That last communication I got from Magic Mountain's PR crew was a curt, accusatory e-mail after a previous L.A. Daily News article in which I was quoted. I sent what I thought was a very gracious, yet honest, reply... and never heard back.)

    Something to consider there, Mr. Shapiro, as you try to reach the family market that's shunned your company in recent years.

    I'll post press release information from the wire later today. And, as always, TPI readers are invited to post their trip reports, ride ratings and photos on the Tatsu page. As I've said before, TPI doesn't need PR access to the parks, when we have thousands of readers and employees doing our reporting!

    Comments (4) | Archive Link

    Bar Wars: Disney revamps Pleasure Island

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 10, 2006 at 3:25 PM
    The bulldozers are hard at work on Pleasure Island, Walt Disney World's nightclub district in Downtown Disney. The Orlando Sentinel reports that Disney's reshaping much of the property in an effort to broaden its appeal -- while not driving away its loyal audience of hard-drinking club-hoppers. [Also known as "cast members." ;-)]

    Pleasure Island opened in 1989, tacked on the west end of the Walt Disney World Shopping Village, to do battle with downtown Orlando's Church Street Station and Exchange nightclub attractions. If you just said to yourself "what are those?", well, then you see just how successful Disney was.

    But when Disney expanded the renamed Downtown Disney past Pleasure Island, creating the West Side outdoor mall, that left Disney with two family-oriented shopping and entertainment zones split by a booze-fueled no-kids zone. Plus, Universal Orlando's CityWalk, with its better segeration of family-friendly and nightclub zones, provides additional competition for evening entertainment for both the park-weary tourist and the bored local.

    The changes will physcially open up the Pleasure Island area, which Disney no longer requires an additional admission to visit. (Though hard tickets are required to get into the clubs.) Still, booze and kids are a tricky mix. I admit that I cringed when I read a Disney VP talk about making an area where parents can feel comfortable drinking in front of their kids.

    Partyers are still welcome. But so are people seeking to relax. Or a father with children, [Disney VP for Downtown Disney Djuan] Rivers said.

    "He can walk through here, and if he wants to have a drink on the street, he doesn't feel awkward with his children, and you won't feel awkward either," he said.

    A Pleasure Island visitor offered a different view, at the end of the story.

    "You don't want to be drunk in front of a bunch of kids," she said. "You're going to be paranoid. You don't have to worry about that downtown."

    Comments (3) | Archive Link

    Magic Mountain's new Tatsu roller coaster to debut Saturday

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 9, 2006 at 10:52 AM
    The Daily News in Los Angeles is reporting that Tatsu underwent its California state safety inspections on Monday and that the new B&M Flying Coaster will debut at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia this Saturday.

    There are also a few quotes in Gene Tong's story quoting some inarticulate theme park website editor, who had just stepped off a five-and-a-half hour flight from New York. Here's how I wished I'd said it:

    Many people around here have either forgotten or never knew that Magic Mountain was built to be a family park. The Newhall Company wanted some attraction that would distinguish it from all the other suburban developments going up around L.A. County in the late '60s and early '70s -- something that would make people willing to live north over the pass from the San Fernando Valley -- and Newhall decided that a family theme park was the ideal pick.

    But none of Magic Mountain's owners over the years have been able to realize that vision. Only roller coasters have had any success in bring folks to the park over the years, and the previous Six Flags management team overdosed on them -- to the point where so many teens crowded the park that families felt unwelcomed, or even unsafe, there.

    Faraway managers also have failed to recognize what a summer day in Valencia is like. Magic Mountain desperately needs attractions that get people out of the broiling summer sun -- flume rides, air-conditioned theater shows and family-friendly dark rides.

    Mark Shapiro and the new crew running Six Flags are saying a lot of the right things about improving the quality of these parks and making them more family friendly. I'm looking forward to seeing what they can do with Magic Mountain. I'd love to see what Magic Mountain 2010 will look like.

    (Sorry for being so mealy-mouthed yesterday, Gene.)

    Archive Link

    'Why Universal Orlando is Losing'

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 9, 2006 at 8:32 AM
    Theme Park Insider reader (and self-proclaimed former Universal Studios Florida employee) Brian B offers a sharp criticism of the Universal Orlando resort in a trip report on the Discussion Board: Why Universal Orlando is Losing:

    "As it was getting late, we skipped Spiderman and Doom and went to Hulk. I must say, I was MORTIFIED and disgusted by the Queue line at the Hulk coaster. When we went in, the guest in front of us pointed out two small piles of what appeared to be feces on the floor. This stranger turned to us and said 'That is F*&kng Disgusting. This would never happen at Disney'.."

    Adding to the woes, three flatbed trucks useed to launch fireworks at Universal caught fire early this morning. There were no injuries and firefighters put out the fire in about one hour.

    Comments (7) | Archive Link

    Six Flags offers tix discount in gas price stunt

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 5, 2006 at 3:31 PM
    Six Flags, every known for its aggressive discounting through everything from cola cans to yogurt lids to bread wrappers, has introduced a new discount promotion, with a timely theme.

    The amusement park chain is offering $15 off up to six admission tickets for... a gasoline receipt.

    Buy a tank... get $15 off Six Flags. The chain is launching the promotion with ads in the New York Times and USA Today which state:

    "Our President is Doing Something about Gas Prices"

    Read the fine print to find the punch line: "'Bring any gas receipt to our main gate and we'll give you $15 off admission' -- Mark Shapiro, President/CEO, Six Flags." The deal's good through May 29.

    In other Six Flags news, the company's continuing its campaign to get more family visitors by debuting a character brunch, Brunch with Bugs. Kids who attend get a free membership in the chain's new "Carrothead Club," getting them a monthly newsletter with puzzles, games and park news.

    Comments (5) | Archive Link

    Trip report round-up

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 4, 2006 at 11:50 AM
    Regional parks re-opening for the summer, so I figured now would be a good time to point out some of the trip reports we've had submitted so far to the discussion board, and to remind people to submit their reports there, too!

    Matt Rogers visits Six Flags America, in Maryland.

    Steve Warren visits Busch Gardens Europe (Williamsburg).

    Richard Ragon hits Six Flags Magic Mountain.

    Archive Link

    Disney to offer milder version of Mission:Space

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 2, 2006 at 8:27 PM
    Walt Disney World announced today that it will offer Epcot visitors the option of riding a tamer version of its Mission: Space centrifuge. The original version will remain available, so, presumably, Disney will run different speeds on different centrifuges.

    Mission: Space subjects riders to high levels of sustained G forces to create the sensation of a rocket launch, followed by the zero G of spaceflight. The force of the ride has proved too intense for many visitors, leading to a slew of "protein spills," paramedic visits and even two deaths.

    A Disney spokesperson denied to the Orlando Sentinel that today's announcement was a reaction to the latest death on the ride. But, judging from reaction by some visitors, including those on TPI, it is clear that Disney needed to do something to reassure visitors spooked by the ride's track record.

    Comments (16) | Archive Link

    Are Snyder and Shapiro the 'Batman and Robin' of Six Flags?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 2, 2006 at 12:06 PM
    Business Week has an article in its May 8 edition on The Batman And Robin Of Six Flags, Dan Snyder and Mark Shapiro.

    Everything is up for reevaluation, [Shapiro] says. Last year he began a tour of all 30 parks and quickly demoted the gyrating, gnomelike Mr. Six, who had been the star of Six Flags' ads. The campaign, which cost about $40 million, irritated Snyder, who calls Mr. Six "creepy," and frightened little children. Shapiro says he would like to cut debt by $1 billion and is targeting several sources, including the sale of a theme park in Houston and 3,500 acres of excess real estate. To Shapiro's annoyance, much of the capital spending locked into this year's budget is pegged for roller coasters. "It has to be about the experience," he says, "not just the rides."

    The article includes a quote from me, as well as a lead featuring TPI reader Pete Brecht.

    Snyder and Shapiro are saying many of the right things. (If one is willing to forget that awful re-entry policy trial balloon...) And a comment on the Business Week story raises a serious question about management priorities. But the real question remains... will Wall Street and private investors retain their confidence in S&S as attendance dives and interest payments mount while new management builds a new park experience for a future audience?

    Comments (5) | Archive Link

    Keep reading: April 2006 Archive



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