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November 2006

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SeaWorld trainer injured in accident at Shamu show

By Robert Niles
Published: November 30, 2006 at 11:25 AM
A 39-year-old trainer was hospitalized after a killer whale pinned him underwater twice during the final show at Shamu Stadium in SeaWorld San Diego last night.

A report is in the Accident Watch. Also, details are available from the AP.

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Garden Grove finds an investment firm to help lure new theme park

By Robert Niles
Published: November 30, 2006 at 11:05 AM
The Garden Grove, Calif., city council has voted to begin a 90-day negotiation with a firm representing Korean investors, in the hopes that the firm can develop a theme park in the city. We've plowed this ground before, but the firm, TL Properties painted an amibitious picture for the LA Times, of a $4-billion theme park and hotel development, along the lines of Universal Orlando and its Islands of Adventure.

A TL consultant also name-dropped Universal, Paramount and MGM as potential partners they "contacted" about the park.

Fat chance. Universal's already in the market; Paramount just got out of the theme park business and I can't imagine that MGM would want to elicit a war with Disney, given their history with the Disney-MGM Studios theme park in Orlando, and MGM's previous, failed attempt at branding a west coast theme park.

Best case scenario is getting Asian interests to fund an Everland-type park, aimed at the SoCal Asian-American market. But given that most Asian theme parks' appeal lies in sampling and recreating U.S./European culture, the idea of a U.S. park recreating an Asian park recreating a U.S. park just makes my head spin.

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Holiday shopping: Theme park style

By Robert Niles
Published: November 28, 2006 at 8:11 PM
Sure, lots of theme park fans will find (or put) theme park souvenirs under the Christmas tree this year. But the savvy fan knows the best way to find great deals on that merchandise.

Obviously, theme parks rarely run sales. And annual or seasonal pass discounts, while nice, don't deliver the deep, deep discounts that true bargain royalty craves.

You'll find those fans buying their holiday loot at an outside-the-gates bargain basement sale. Universal Orlando is holding its this weekend, in Lots 9 and 10, at the corner of Cheryl Street and Vineland Road. It's open to the public and Universal's promoting discounts of 70 percent off list prices. So if you're looking for Spider-Man shirts or Mummy pins (or anything else Universal-related) and you are in the Orlando area, consider yourself hereby notified.

Here are the hours: Thurs., Nov. 30 – 12:00 to 7:00pm
Fri. and Sat., Dec. 1 and 2 – 7:00am to 7:00pm

If you know of other theme park-related bargain sales, post 'em in the comments. Thanks!

Editor's note: A late add -- hey, it's the Internet. Why travel on-site to get a deal? Here's the word from Dorney Park...

I wanted to make you aware of Dorney Park's online Marketplace holiday sale going on now through December 19. We are featuring 20% off online merchandise orders (excluding Season Passes and Closeouts).

Please consider promoting this sale on your site. I am sure that
themeparkinsider.com's visitors would be interested in checking out our various items from the Dorney Park-Opoly board game to PEANUTS collectibles.

Visit http://www.cfmarketplaces.com/acb/stores/2/index.aspx

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Snow in Orlando... and it is not a Disney special effect

By Robert Niles
Published: November 22, 2006 at 1:36 PM
Guess some folks saw a few flakes of snow mixed in with the rain in Orlando last night. Which ought to provide a nice peg for readers to share their favorite "it's cold in Florida" stories.

Snow flurries fell in December one year when I was working attractions in the Magic Kingdom. I'd just graduated from Northwestern (in Chicago!), and still had a winter coat in the closet. So I suspended my disbelief at the weather forecast and put it on that morning.

Unfortunately, most of my fellow cast members didn't even own winter gear, and there was much shivering at the bus stop in the employee parking lot.

When I got to my scheduled shift at Tom Sawyer Island that morning, I figured this was going to be a most unusual day. Since the water in the Rivers of America remained much warmer than the now-frigid air, the west side of the Magic Kingdom was shrouded in thick fog. Standing on the back of one raft in dock, I couldn't even see the mast at the front. Forget about driving these things. Or the canoes. Or the keelboats. Or the riverboat.

So that's four attractions "101" right there. Oh, and did I mention that the Mansion was down for rehab? And that Big Thunder Mountain's computers really, really don't like booting up in the cold? That left two attractions open -- and six down -- in Frontierland/Liberty Square. (This was before Splash Mountain opened.)

Since we didn't need five greeters in front of each closed attraction, early releases were there for asking. I took one, and met up with two friends to go play in the quickly-becoming-vacant parks.

Unfortunately, being Florida natives, my two friends didn't have any decent winter clothes either. So eventually we dediced to retreat to the warmth of the Land pavilion at Epcot, where one could eat lunch and hit a couple attractions in indoor comfort.

Too bad, for us, that several thousand guests realized the same thing. And that was the most crowded location I've ever seen at a Disney theme park. Forget Fourth of July. Forget Christmas. Forget opening days. I've never seen so many people crammed into so little space as that afternoon at the Land.

Hey, at least they made it warm!

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IAAPA conference wrap-up

By Robert Niles
Published: November 20, 2006 at 9:42 PM
The annual International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions Expo is over for another year, and Brenda Goodman offers a conference wrap-up in the New York Times. (Thanks for the link!)

The IAAPA also announced that the 2009 expo is coming to the west coast -- Las Vegas! (The 2007 and 2008 events will happen in Orlando, as previously announced.)

Also, I need someone in the Orlando area to cover a press event on Jan. 24-26. (See previous post for info on covering park events for TPI.) It's actually several events spread over three days. You must be in the Orlando area, and able to drive to the park for the days' events. (FWIW, the park provides travel and hotel for people covering the event, but our site rules prevent readers from accepting freebies from parks while representing TPI.) Contact me privately if you'd like the gig.

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Mack spinning coaster tipped for Knott's Berry Farm in 2007

By Greg Shilton
Published: November 18, 2006 at 5:38 PM
Yay! I'm so excited to report that Knott's Berry Farm is obtaining a new roller coaster from Mack rides. This will be the first free spinner coaster by Mack, and is stated to open in 2007! I can't wait.

The well-known coaster country USA will surprise through a new innovation next year. MACK Rides builds the first modern free spinning coaster with trains instead of single cars at Knott’s Berry Farm to guarantee the requested, high capacity. A patent will give the truly new twist.

Info from http://www.mack-rides.com/en/mack/press_review/smileys2007.php

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Raging Waters nets park in Six Flags sell-off

By Robert Niles
Published: November 18, 2006 at 11:11 AM
Six Flags has found a buyer for at least one of its parks.

But not an amusement park. Palace Entertainment, owner of the L.A.-area's Raging Waters park, will buy Waterworld USA Cal Expo in Sacramento from Six Flags. The water park will be renamed Raging Waters Sacramento.

The water parks are going to be the easier sales for Six Flags. The business does not require anywhere near the capital investment as the theme/amusement park industry, and the customers are far more forgiving in terms of quality. (You got pools, slides and a splash zone? Good enough to turn a profit. No need for a multi-million dollar B&M coaster to keep the turnstiles spinning.) So many more buyers will be available to bid on the company's water parks.

Just my $.02: But I wouldn't be surprised to see at least one Six Flags amusement/water park combo somewhere to be sold to a buyer who keeps the water park open, but demolishes the amusement park in favor of some mixed-use development.

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IAAPA news: Hard Rock rides and Six Flags update

By Michael Willis
Published: November 16, 2006 at 10:23 PM
I am here at the IAAPA conference in Atlanta. So far the biggest news is that the Hard Rock Park in Myrtle Beach has announced the ride manufacturers for their park. They are B&M [Editor's note: TPI called that!], Premier, Chance Morgan, Vekoma, Huss Park Attractions, and Sally Corp. There is an article on it at:

Also, Mark Shapiro, CEO of Six Flags spoke this morning. There wasn't any news about potential buyers for any of the Six Flags parks that are up for sale. Mr. Shapiro said that as of now they are operating under the assumption that all parks will remain open until acceptable buyers are found. Mr. Shapiro stressed that Six Flags needs to continue to find new ways of generating income and continue to make Six Flags a family friendly attraction to be successful. That’s all the big news so far.

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IAAPA Expo opens in Atlanta

By Robert Niles
Published: November 15, 2006 at 9:47 AM
The annual International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions Expo is convening this week in Atlanta. I'm hoping to get some on-scene reports from Theme Park Insider readers, which would be posted here on the Blog Flume, later this week. If you're in Atlanta, please send us your impressions of the event here.

Among those in Atlanta are representative from Garden Grove, Calif., the suburb just down the road from Anaheim. They're looking for theme or water park companies to build in their city, in yet another attempt to grab some of Anaheim's tourist business. (See TPI's I-Drive West and casino stories.)

The Orange County Register story linked above includes a quote from some theme park webmaster you might know. It didn't make the story, but I remarked that a water park would be Garden Grove's best bet for immediate financial success -- *if* it was done well and opened before Disney was able to get its long-rumored Anaheim water park in development. Otherwise, the theme park industry, as it stands now, is consolidating. It's a brutal, expensive, competitive business and given that there's already a major park for sale in the Southern California market, I don't see any high-quality player who's looking to build a new resort area in the region. And if you can't bring high quality in this business, you're not gonna survive anymore.

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Weekend open thread: ThemeParkInsider HQ switches to Mac

By Robert Niles
Published: November 11, 2006 at 8:40 PM
Well, my four-year-old PC finally quit this week -- dropping USB ports, then finally refusing to boot even in safe mode. (Yes, I had the whole firewall/anti-virus/Spybot/AdAware protection system in place.) I'd been meaning for months to buy a Mac for testing and video editing, and well, now I am typing this on my new MacBook Pro.

The good news is that the site looks great in Safari. (In fact the whole darn Web looks better!) Setting up a Web connection (my biggest fear in switching to Mac) was ridiculously easy and I'm basically over the moon with the switch. I'm also looking forward to having better, simpler video editing tools to use, meaning you should look forward to monthly video features, reported from the parks, on the site -- starting within the next month or two.

Anything I ought to be on the lookout for, Mac veterans out there? Any video features you'd like to see me report for the site? Anything else on your mind? It's the weekend -- talk amongst yourselves!

Comments (10) | Archive Link

Upcoming free event: Author Neal Gabler talks about Walt Disney

By Scott McGibbon
Published: November 10, 2006 at 9:18 PM
[Editor's note: My day job is at the Annenberg School at USC in Los Angeles, where I edit the Online Journalism Review. So... you've got one more reason to check out this upcoming event! -- Robert]

On November 15, Lear Center senior fellow Neal Gabler will lead a panel discussion on the life and legacy of Walt Disney. Newsweek calls Gabler's new biography, Walt Disney: The Triumph of American Imagination, "the definitive Disney bio." The discussion will include Time movie critic Richard Schickel, author of The Disney Version; and Disney legends Alice Davis and Harrison "Buzz" Price. A reception with refreshments and a book signing will follow.

4:00 pm, November 15, 2006
Room 207
Annenberg School for Communication
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, Calif.

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Great America to get a new attraction: The San Francisco 49ers

By Robert Niles
Published: November 10, 2006 at 12:10 PM
The National Football League's San Francisco 49ers have announced plans to leave the "city by the bay" and move to... the Paramount's Great America parking lot.

No joke. The city of Santa Clara is working on a deal to build a new stadium on the theme park's parking lot, which would open to host NFL games by 2012.

Cedar Fair, the new owner of the Paramount Parks, rents the land Great America sits on from the city of Santa Clara. According to news reports, the deal requires the city to provide 8,000 parking spaces for the park. So the city would be on the hook to either build a parking garage, or find some other land on which to park Great America's visitors. The lawyers will have to sort out if the city can count stadium parking as theme park parking, especially on days when the Niners play and the park operates.

Of course, having the Niners play just outside the park's gates ought to provide at least a promotional boost to what has been, in recent years, the least well-developed of the Paramount Parks. (I can't imagine that broadcast directors would pass up the chance to squeeze in a shot of a roller coaster or two when shooting the stadium from a blimp during games.)

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Cypress Gardens announces the Starliner

By Erik Yates
Published: November 10, 2006 at 12:03 PM
Though Cypress Gardens has filed for bankruptcy protection, it has announced plans for a huge expansion that includes the relocation of the legendary Starliner that once called Panama City Beach, Fla. home.

The expansion plans also call for a large kids area with 13 new kids rides and shows themed to insects, called "A Bugsville Adventure." More big name musical acts such as country music legend,Charlie Pride, and Engelburt Humperdink have also been announced.

And something that has shocked me personally, owner Kent Buescher, after calling Cypress Gardens the Wal-Mart of theme parks, has announced that not only do they not plan on raising prices for 2007, but they also plan on giving annual pass holders from other Florida parks free admission until Dec 24th of this year. With plenty of rides and a water park already, these additions will make a fun day at Floridas oldest theme park, which celebrates its 70th year, even more so in the year to come.

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Blue Man Group appears on the way to CityWalk Orlando

By Robert Niles
Published: November 8, 2006 at 12:10 PM
Universal Orlando will announce tomorrow morning a major new entertainment act coming to the resort. Putting two and two together, it's likely Blue Man Group, which will be getting its own new theater in CityWalk, much as like Cirque du Soleil has at Downtown Disney.

The Blue Man Group news has been rumored for months, and was all but confirmed by a BMG insider on the TPI discussion board last month.

I first saw Blue Man Group in its original show off-off-Broadway in New York. (Trivia time: I sat directly behind Ron Howard. My friends had been making jokes about this bald guy in front of us watching the Blue Man Group -- who are each, spectacularly, bald. Then, after the show, the bald guy stands up, turns around, and we see that he's none other but Mr. Opie Cunningham. I bust out laughing and he glared at us. Good times!) Back on topic... I can't wait to see this show again. BMG and Cirque provide the most original, engaging and entertaining shows I've ever seen. Having them both in Orlando will be a real treat for theme park visitors and Central Florida residents.

* * *

Which brings me to Part Two of today's post. Living in Southern California, I just can't get to theme park media events like this in Orlando and elsewhere on the east coast and midwest. (Not to mention Europe and Japan!) Nevertheless, I would like to see them covered on Theme Park Insider. These events can be great opportunities to get pictures, concept art, fact sheets and, most important, interviews for the site. The events I've attended in here SoCal, such as at Legoland and Universal Studios Hollywood, have helped inform TPI readers about upcoming new attractions.

So, I'd like to get more coverage of these press events. And I am asking Theme Park Insider readers to help. So here's the new plan. Whenever I get an invitation to a press event I cannot attend myself, I will post a note here on the Blog Flume. The first eligible reader who volunteers will get the gig to go cover the event.

So who's eligible? There are three criteria: One, you must live within a short drive of the event's location, since we're not paying expenses to cover it. Two, you must be a registered Theme Park Insider member who is posting to the site under his/her full, real name. (That's my journalism background there. If you're going to represent the site at an industry function, you can't do so anonymously.) And, three, you must have posted to TPI about the park, such as updating a description on a park listing page or submitting a Blog Flume news entry or a thoughtful comment. (In other words, no lurkers or first-time posters.)

I reserve the right to exclude volunteers if I think that they are not up to the task. After all, this does require some work. You'll have to attend the event, on time, and file a Blog Flume report to TPI by the end of the day, including a description, a photo or two and, I hope, a short interview with one of the speakers. (And don't worry, I'll e-mail you plenty of guidance in advance.)

The benefit to you is insider's access backstage at your favorite theme park, the first official look at a new attraction and a chance to talk with the people who are making it happen.

Finally, a note to the theme park PR people who read the site: If you've stopped sending Theme Park Insider your press event invites because I haven't been able to attend in the past, please put us back on your list. As you've just read, I'll be sending site members I've vetted to cover these events, and we'd love to get the news from these events out to our other readers quickly. Our address for press releases, event invitations and media kits is:

Robert Niles, Editor
315 S Sierra Madre Blvd, Suite C
Pasadena, CA 91107

And you can e-mail me directly using our feedback form. Thanks!

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Fire damages Orlando's Gatorland park

By Robert Niles
Published: November 6, 2006 at 12:12 PM
Okay, I'll fess up. I didn't know that Gartorland was still around. But, after this morning, part of it isn't.

A early morning fire destroyed part of the 57-year-old roadside attraction, killing at least four animals. The entrance and gift shop also were badly damaged, according to several news reports. And yes, the park's signature big gator head was among the burned and damaged.

The park's alligators were believed to have found refuge in the lake, and park owners told local reporters that they expect to reopen the park as soon as they can.

I know it's not a major theme park. But I also know that many theme park fans find a retro charm in Gatorland, so I'm sure that there will be some folks wanting to comment on its recent state, and the park's prospects for the future.

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Beer Fest returns to CityWalk this weekend

By Robert Niles
Published: November 5, 2006 at 9:52 PM
Okay, now that we're wrapping up the past weekend, here's something for some folks to look forward next.

Universal Orlando will welcome the 8th annual Orlando Beer Fest to CityWalk this weekend, Nov. 11-12. From 2 pm to 7 on Saturday, and 1 to 7 on Sunday, ticket-holders can sample 120 beers from brewers from Florida to Colorado and beyond. (Disney does wine, Universal does beer. I'm sure appropriately sarcastic comments will follow....)

Tickets for Saturday cost $30.95 in advance and $37.95 on the day of the event. Tickets for Sunday are $22.95 in advance and $29.95 day of. A VIP upgrade option doubles the size of the beer samples, from 2 oz. to four, and adds a complimentary all-you-can-eat buffets in VIP areas. That option will set you back $25 on top of the Beer Fest ticket price.

For information, or to buy tickets, visit www.orlandobeerfestival.com.

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'Van Helsing' attraction to close at Universal Hollywood

By Robert Niles
Published: November 3, 2006 at 11:00 AM
A Universal insider e-mails to let TPI readers know that Universal Studios Hollywood will be closing the Van Helsing: Fortress Dracula haunted house this weekend. The source reports that Universal will unveil a new walk-through in the same space next April.

Universal's used the upper lot building which houses Van Helsing for a wide variety of exhibits and attractions over the years. Some fans have expressed hope that Universal would convert the rather sizeable space to a permanent dark ride attaction, but the reported plans for a new walk-through should put to rest that speculation, at least for another couple years.

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Readers can help save the Country Bear Christmas Show

By Robert Niles
Published: November 2, 2006 at 9:47 PM
The hot rumor out of the Magic Kingdom is that the powers that be at Walt Disney World have decided to save a few bucks by not installing the Christmas Show at the Country Bear Jamboree.

As a former "Bear Band" cast member, who has seen the three versions of this show, oh, about a combined 3,000 times, the Christmas show is my favorite. Disney's had great success with holiday overlays for its attractions, especially at Disneyland, but the Country Bear show is the original, and one of the few at Walt Disney World.

Fortunately, there might be some hope for Country Bear fans. Disney managers are said to be monitoring customer feedback on this, and an outcry of support for the Bears might help bring the Christmas show back. Perhaps even for this year.

So if you are visiting Walt Disney World this week, stop by the Magic Kingdom Guest Relations counter in City Hall, and make a polite request that Disney maintain the Country Bear's Christmas tradition. (Be sure that the cast member you speak with writes down your request!) And if you aren't going to be in the parks, find the snail mail address to write to Disney on our How to contact various theme parks wiki.

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Keep reading: October 2006 Archive