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September 2006

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First review of Halloween Horror Nights 16

By Gareth H
Published: September 29, 2006 at 11:18 PM
OK, I just got back from Halloween Horror Nights 16 at Universal Studios Florida. This is what I have to say: What happened Universal?

This was my second year, last year being my first.
Last year was superb, Islands of Adventure (last year's setting for HHN) made a great setting -- plenty of space, it's dark, loads of areas for scare zones and lots of scaretaters! Bill & Ted was "Excellent" and the houses were prety good too.

This year? It was light, so scaretators couldn't hide! Three scare zones, that's all. Something much better could have been done with Amity; where was the smoke? The theme's there already, you just need to act on it!

The houses that I did tonight were laughable. In particular the Psycho House. Considering Psycho 4 was filmed there you think they might have put a bit more effort into it, maybe use some props from storage!

Anyway, I will return another night to see if they improve on it and add a bit more. I know I wasn't alone in my comments as people leaving as early as 10pm were grumbling.

Comments (7) | Archive Link

Six Flags hops on the 'Dream' bandwagon

By Robert Niles
Published: September 27, 2006 at 8:20 AM
As Disney gears up for its Oct. 1 launch of a "Year of a Million Dreams," Six Flags has announced a "dream" giveaway of its own.

Six season passholders at each park will win a "Dream Night" private party at the park for up to 100 of their friends, according to a Six Flags press release.

They'll live out their theme park fantasies, from the world's best thrill and family rides to dining with the Looney Tunes and Justice League characters, riding in the Six Flags parade, watching their very own customized fireworks show and -- best of all -- no lines and completely free of charge.

You enter the contest by buying a 2007 Six Flags season pass before Memorial Day 2007. The drawing will take place next July, with the "dream nights" happening in September 2007.

One more very interesting point: "Dream Nights" will be awarded at 16 Six Flags parks, including Magic Mountain and Elitch Gardens, providing the clearest indication to date that those parks, up for sale, will not close after this season after all.

Comments (6) | Archive Link

TPI sends its condolences to the Sentinel

By Robert Niles
Published: September 26, 2006 at 9:33 AM
Theme Park Insider send its condolences to the Orlando Sentinel family upon the passing of business columnist Susan Strother Clarke yesterday, at age 47.

Clarke was a long-time reporter on the theme park beat in Orlando, and her work helped keep the public well informed as to what was happening the management offices of the local parks. Clarke suffered a heart attack late Sunday and never regained consciousness.

Comments (2) | Archive Link

Universal Orlando adds upgraded annual pass option

By Robert Niles
Published: September 25, 2006 at 3:03 PM
Just got a note from Universal Orlando promoting its new annual pass option -- a "2-Park Premier Annual Pass," which adds "non-peak" Halloween Horror Night tickets, Universal Express access after 4 p.m., CityWalk club access, valet or preferred parking, as well as year-round admission to Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure.

The pass goes for $279.95, plus tax. That's $100 more than the "2-Park Preferred Pass," which gets you the park admissions, plus free regular parking. Both passes include dining and merchandise discounts, although the new premier pass adds additional Universal Orlando on-site hotel discounts, including comp upgrades.

Here's the question for discussion: How does this new premier annual pass compare with other annual pass options, in Orlando and around the world?

Comments (5) | Archive Link

Universal's Halloween Horror Nights 16 draws upon frights of the past

By Robert Niles
Published: September 22, 2006 at 10:15 AM
Just got off the phone for a conference call with Universal Orlando's director of entertainment, TJ Mannarino, who shared some dish about Universal's upcoming Halloween Horror Nights 16.

Expect to find many familiar sights at this year's event. Halloween Horror Nights returns to its roots this year, literally and figuratively, as the event switches from Islands of Adventure back to its original Universal Studios Florida home. Plus, designers have drawn upon past events for inspiration for this year's mazes and shows.

"Being kinda able to back into the past was actually a lot of fun for the designers because it was, like, 'Okay, how can we take the things that people are familiar with and make them bigger and grander and different?'" Mannarino said.

Mannarino also said that Universal has and will continue to monitor guest surveys and websits feedback (including TPI) for ideas on what to do, or not to do, for future Halloween Horror Nights.

"This event has really grown on its fan and guest support," Mannarino said.

So... let's hear it. You can leave comments about HHN on our Halloween Horror Nights wiki page, or below.

Comments (8) | Archive Link

Disney pushing new movie based on 'Jungle Cruise'

By Robert Niles
Published: September 21, 2006 at 11:57 AM
The Hollywood Reporter notes that Disney's stepping up its effort to get a Jungle Cruise movie into theaters.

Disney, of course, created one of the most profitable franchises in movie history with its Pirates of the Caribbean films. But it bombed with flicks based on Haunted Mansion and Country Bear Jamboree. For Jungle Cruise, the HR reports that Disney's enlisted the executive producers of the TV show "Smallville" to write the script. (For PotC, Disney brought aboard the writers of "Shrek.")

Comments (4) | Archive Link

Disneyland breaks SoCal's $60 barrier

By Robert Niles
Published: September 15, 2006 at 9:37 PM
A day at Disneyland or California Adventure will cost you an extra four dollars, as Disney's raised the price of a one-day, one-park ticket at the Disneyland Resort to $63. The price reestablishes Disneyland as the area's most expensive park, a "honor" that Six Flags Magic Mountain had wrested away with its $59.99 list price.

(Though, to be honest, the next person who pays $59.99 to visit Magic Mountain for a day might be the first. Six Flags discounted heavily again this summer, offering one-day tickets on its website for just $39.)

SoCal residents, as usual, can get a discount to Disneyland. The current deal is five bucks off the one-day park-hopper (making it $78). As always, check your local auto club, credit union or school or work activities department for additional discounts, as well.

Comments (9) | Archive Link

Attention, theme park managers: Your customers are NOT the enemy

By Robert Niles
Published: September 13, 2006 at 12:26 PM
Just wanted to share with Theme Park Insider readers this e-mail I got today. I'll leave the sender anonymous. (I added the hyperlink, for reference.)

As one of the founding investors in the Hard Rock Park I have to laugh at the "know it all" contributors to your page. What makes them "experts" and have they ever invested in anything?

And my response:

Well, they *are* your potential future customers.

I would think that would merit them some respect, even if they were totally wrong about your plans for this park. After all, everyone I've met on this site is looking for a good time and good value from a theme park visit... and to be treated well by the people to whom they are giving their hard-earned money.

Which makes them "experts" in my book.

Thanks for writing,

And I'll add this: Theme Park Insider readers were perhaps the first to document Six Flags' financial problems, way back in 2002, a full six months before the story hit the mainstream financial press. So our readers, many of whom have worked at or for parks, are pretty smart about the business side of this industry.

Which brings me to my rant...

Let me make this as clear as I can to the industry executives who monitor this website, from Disney to Universal to Busch to Cedar Fair to Hard Rock:

We, online readers, are not your enemy. We are your customers, the people who put the money in your paycheck. We read and post on this site and other sites not because we hate theme parks, but because we love them. We talk about business issues and labor deals just as football fans talk online about salary caps, draft strategy and free agency. Sometimes we are correct. Sometimes we're full of it. But we're always thrilled to talking about something we love.

If people on this site disagree with or do not understand a management team's strategy or public announcements, they are gonna post about it. Just as people post about the great times and good things they've seen at parks, too.

Here's your choice: Join us, engage with us, share information with us. Or whine and moan because we're not sticking to your "script." But put yourself in our shoes for a moment as you read this. If someone is using this site to help make a decision about a theme park vacation (and thousands of people do, every single day of the year), which park do you think looks better on the site?

One that shares information, engages with its visitors and, by doing so, generates interest and excitement in the park?

Or, one that disparages the site and its visitors, thus signalling that, to that park, customers are more annoyances than valued guests?

Comments (19) | Archive Link

Cypress Gardens files for bankruptcy protection

By Erik Yates
Published: September 12, 2006 at 2:15 PM
Its been a rumor for a while, but its official that Cypress Gardens has file for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Protection, the Sun-Sentinel reports in an article published today. They cited debts stemming from hurricanes Charlie, Frances and Jeanne as the reason, which pushed their reopening back six months. Cypress Gardens does not plan any cuts or closures at this time. They have in recent months received the Starliner, a legendary wooden coaster, but have yet to assemble it, mostly in part to budget restraints. Cypress Gardens is the oldest park in Florida being open for 70 years, and was once the home for many movies, TV shows and renowned for its ski show.
This is sad news for me personally, as they were the only park generous enough to allow Coasting For Kids to use their park for a coaster marathon May of this year. I wish them a speedy recovery and hope they can finally start to get things right.

Comments (4) | Archive Link

Universal tries to fight 'Magic Your Way' with 'EarlyBird Exclusives'

By Robert Niles
Published: September 12, 2006 at 2:06 PM
Universal Orlando's making a bid to win back Orlando-area visitors whom Walt Disney World's tried to lock into the Mouse House with the 'Magic Your Way' ticket program.

Disney's program offers steep prices for one-day and short visits, coupled with massive discounts for buying close to a week's worth of admissions. The effect, and intent, has been to get visitors to commit to spending their entire week in Orlando at Walt Disney theme parks, instead of taking a day or two, or more, for the Universal or SeaWorld parks.

The program's been a huge success for Disney, helping the Mouse drive attendance gains while Universal has remained flat. But now, Universal's fighting back. Universal has offer five consecutive days of admission for the price of a two-day park-hopper pass, but under its new "EarlyBird Exclusives" plan, visitors can get seven consecutive days' admission to Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Islands of Adventure for $85 - less than $20 more than the price of a one-day, one-park ticket.

Will that be enough to make Disney visitors consider a switch to the Universal Orlando Resort? You tell us....

Comments (11) | Archive Link

It's now official: 'Back to the Future' will be part of the past

By Robert Niles
Published: September 7, 2006 at 9:52 AM
Who had Sept. 6 in the BTTF death pool?

If you did, you're a winner, as Universal Orlando confirmed yesterday the badly-kept "secret" that Marty McFly & Co. will be flying into oblivion when Universal Studios Florida closes its Back to the Future ride to make room for a new attraction.

BTTF opened shortly after the park did in 1990, but, like the film it is based upon, the ride has lost the public's interest over the years. Fans have clamored for a replacement, either based on the Fast & the Furious movies (why? won't those be as dated as BTTF by, oh, say, next summer?), Battlestar Galactica (yes!) or some other theme that would fit an indoor coaster, interactive shoot-'em-up or some other ride system more exciting than '80s-era flight simulators.

Personally, I think people are forgetting the obvious synergy from Universal's parents at NBC. Hey, couldn't USF cram a pretty big "Deal or No Deal" stage into that building? (Okay, I'm kidding. ...I think.)

Comments (21) | Archive Link

Everyone is Kung Fu Fighting, and other odd theme park concepts

By Erik Yates
Published: September 4, 2006 at 6:19 PM
If you thought a Dracula theme park in the home of Vlad the Impaler was odd, how about a theme park themed to Enter the Dragon? More specifically, its star Bruce Lee in China. The Chinese news agencies are reporting that a park is in the planning stage to pay homage to the late great star of film. The park will feature a roller coaster that imitates the grunts and screams that made his films fun. If thats not enough fun, it will also feature Bruce Lee robots that patrol the park and are controlled by computers located inside a giant statue of Lee. Thanks to Screamscape for the heads up. This screams of something right out of the Simpsons. I love it. What other weird kind of theme parks could you dream up?

Comments (6) | Archive Link

Time for the 2006 seasonal theme park wrap-up!

By steve lee
Published: September 3, 2006 at 2:41 PM
Is it really September already?

As the kiddies go back to school, most parks have already dropped their weekday operations. For the majority of the country the theme/amusement park season is coming to a close. How'd your season go? Did you hit all the parks you wanted to? What was the best new stuff you encountered? What was the worst? What was the best/worst new park you visited?

Let's hear the dirt, so the rest of us can start planning 2007 accordingly!

Comments (37) | Archive Link

Disney's new finger scanners raise fears of 'Big Brother Mickey'

By Robert Niles
Published: September 1, 2006 at 8:49 AM
The Associated Press has an article today detailing Walt Disney World's new front gate fingerprint scanners, and the fears that they are raising among some privacy advocates.

Unlike at other theme parks, where all you need is a ticket to gain admittance, Disney years ago began requiring a biometric finger scan, along with a ticket, to ensure that tickets were not resold, exchanged or transferred from one visitor to another. (Which raises an economic argument about whether a ticket holder ought to have the right to resell that property... but that's another topic.)

Disney's old biometric scanners "read" information about finger size and shape. But the new ones record fingerprints, making it possible for Disney to synch its data to a wide variety of databases, including the FBI's. Disney says that it is not storing fingerprint images, but privacu advocates say that making that switch would be trivial.

One final note. This story was written by students at Northwestern University (my undergraduate alma mater) as part of the Carnegie-Knight "News21" project, for which I was an advisor this summer at the University of Southern California (where I also teach).

Comments (36) | Archive Link

Keep reading: August 2006 Archive