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December 2006

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A photo tour of float decorating for the 2007 Rose Parade

By Robert Niles
Published: December 30, 2006 at 11:22 PM
Can't wait for Monday and the traditional Rose Parade? Theme Park Insider takes you on a brief photo tour of the annual float decorating, open to the public here in Pasadena, California this weekend.

City of Anaheim float for the 2007 Rose Parade

Workers surround the City of Anaheim's float for the 2007 Rose Parade, scurrying to put every last flower in place in time for New Year's Day.

City of Anaheim float for the 2007 Rose Parade

The back of the City of Anaheim's float for the 2007 Rose Parade features the Disneyland Monorail.

State of Oklahoma float for the 2007 Rose Parade

The state of Oklahoma sponsors this massive float for the 2007 Rose Parade. This is just the back half!

Honda Montors' Dragon float for the 2007 Rose Parade

Honda traditionally produces one of the more impressive floats in the Rose Parade. The 2007 float features a fire-breathing dragon, in battle over a castle.

Detail from the Kiwanis float in the 2007 Rose Parade

The back of the Kiwanis float for the 2007 Rose Parade features broccoli, apples and pumpkins, in addition to the traditional flowers.

A globe and satellite dish form the rear of the Western Asset float for the 2007 Rose Parade.

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Disney delays planned opening for Magic Kingdom's Monsters, Inc. show

By Robert Niles
Published: December 28, 2006 at 7:37 PM
The Orlando Sentinel reports that the Disney's shelved its plans to debut its new Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor Comedy Club attraction next month. The show was to open in the former Timekeeper space in Tomorrowland at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.

The Sentinel paraphrased a Disney spokesperson explaining the change in plans: "The delay will give staff members a chance for more training in the complex technology being used, and writers a chance to re-script parts of the show based on audience feedback."

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Service, creativity distinguish visit to Universal's Mythos

By Robert Niles
Published: December 27, 2006 at 8:17 PM
Mythos Restaurant at Universal's Islands of Adventure offers a rare combination in theme park dining: a sense of whimsy and wonder coupled with food that would attract loyal diners even if offered outside the park's gates.

Let's face it: Eating is an afterthought to most theme park visitors. Eager to cram as many rides as they can into their day, many are happy to choke down some calories whenever they can. So theme parks deliver appropriate fare – mass produced meals, often fried, dished up over the counter or out of a cart. If a park offers more, the effort tends to be made in theming and show, with fancy décor but the same lame food.

Fortunately, a few parks offer alternatives for visitors who want their palates engaged along with their other senses during their special day. Disney's made international dining one of the main attractions at Epcot, and the Busch theme parks offer plenty of notable dining experiences to better showcase its line-up of beers.

Theme Park Insider readers have honored Mythos as the industry's best for the past four years. So I planned a visit to the restaurant to see for myself if Mythos continues to live up to that standard.

Mythos' staff impressed from the moment we walked through the door. A friendly host pointed out the bathrooms as he walked us to our seat in Mythos' literally cavernous dining room. Disa, our waitress, guided us through the menu with a refreshing enthusiasm that she kept up throughout the meal. Mythos' warm and professional staff provided a welcome contrast to the ham-handed service we'd experienced at Disneyland's Blue Bayou two months before.

Tortilla soup

We started with the two soups, a tortilla soup for me and a cream of mushroom for Laurie. Both hit the spot on a chilly December day, with the tortilla soup offering plenty of cumin-infused heat while Laurie's soup did not skimp on meaty mushroom flavor, a typical disappointment with other cream of mushroom soups.

Based on Disa's recommendations, I ordered for my entree the day's risotto, served on a red wine demiglace and topped with pepper crusted scallops.

Risotto

Laurie chose the Pastabilities, which that day was a fettucine in a roasted pepper tomato sauce and topped with a pesto crusted chicken.

Pasta, with chicken

The kids each opted for the “Dueling Dragons” cheese pizza, which featured mozzarella on one side with cheddar on the other.

Two-cheese pizza

Of the three, the risotto was the clear favorite, with enough sharp notes from the pepper and the sauce to balance the risotto's inherent richness. Getting the right texture in a risotto tests a kitchen, and Mythos passed well. Laurie's pasta didn't offer the bold flavor that my risotto did, as her chicken came out a bit overdone, drying the meat and muting the pesto flavor. Still, the pasta was cooked to al dente and coupled with the chicken for a relatively satisfying, though unspectacular, meal.

As for the kids' meals, this duel was no contest. The mozzarella sides of the pizzas disappeared quickly, while a couple bites satisfied everyone's curiosity about the cheddar. There's a reason why you rarely see a sharply flavored cheese like cheddar on a pizza. It just clashes too much with the naturally acidic tomato sauce to please the palate. No mind, though. The kids' pizzas easily could have served two, and no one went hungry leaving the cheddar side alone.

Since we're reviewing the place, we couldn't skip dessert, could we? And I'm glad we didn't. Mythos' desserts offer plenty of fun without overloading diners with too many extra calories at the end of the meal.

Kids' dessert sushi

The kids loved the “sushi,” which replaces the traditional rice with Rice Krispies, the fish with fruit roll-ups and the seaweed wrap with a coating of rich chocolate. An artful swirl of raspberry sauce and a pair of wooden chopsticks completed the presentation, which the kids barely noticed in their rush to devour the treats.

Mythos dessert shooters

Laurie and I opted for the dessert “shooters,” each a digestif-sized glass of confection. Laurie chose the Key Lime pie, with layered the familiar pie filling with graham crust, raspberry sauce and whipped cream, in a miniature parfait. I selected the carrot cake, with tiny layers of cake alternating with a rich cream cheese frosting.

It was just the right portion to complete a delightful meal. Too many American restaurants overwhelm diners with gargantuan portions, feeding a troubling assumption that more calories equals greater value. But the best restaurants still value taste, texture, presentation and service over volume. Mythos is one of those restaurants.

If you're willing to travel across the country in pursuit of the greatest thrills to turn your stomach, why not do it a favor and treat your stomach to a reward in return? You're splurging already on your theme park visit. So why not spend a couple extra bucks (and believe me, coming from L.A., Mythos' prices are a bargain) to thank your stomach and support fine theme park dining? Next time you are at Universal's Islands of Adventure, do not miss a visit to Mythos.

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Orlando's Skull Kingdom Closes

By Erik Yates
Published: December 27, 2006 at 2:44 PM
International Drive monument and haunted attraction Skull Kingdom has closed its doors. Seemingly for good. And whats even more it seems that the property will be demolished and its props costumes and other properties auctioned off. Skull Kingdom has been about the only year round haunted attraction not only in Orlando, but pretty much the US. In later years, to compete, they included a dinner show. Could this be yet another sign of the death of the tourist traps along I-Drive?

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Few lines, but plenty of thrills, at Islands of Adventure this Christmas

By Robert Niles
Published: December 26, 2006 at 8:50 PM
Well, I'm glad we slept in.

Here we are, on the road in Orlando during the absolute worst week of the year to visit the Central Florida theme parks – the week between Christmas and New Year's. I used to work this week, as a cast member at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, and every year I was amazed at the massive number of people who would cram into the parks, enduring hour-long waits for the attractions that rarely merited a single queue stanchion the rest of the year.

I'm violating all my advice by even thinking about visiting a park here this week. But with Laurie and I teaching, school vacations are now the only time we can get away. And with a new niece to meet among my Orlando-area relatives, here we are at Christmas.

But which park to visit?

Islands of Adventure

Yeah, we went to IOA – Universal's Islands of Adventure. I knew better than to attempt the Magic Kingdom at Christmas. And since I wanted to spend only one day at a park this trip, due to our family visits, that knocked out the rest of the Disney parks. (We don't have any leftover Disney tickets, and I didn't want to invest in a new set of multi-day tickets with Natalie being 9, and needing to upgrade to an adult ticket the next time we visit.) If Disney still sold one-day tickets at a reasonable price, we'd likely have gone to Animal Kingdom, but Disney's “all or nothing” ticket philosophy left us looking at Universal or SeaWorld instead. And my six-year-old son's obsession with Spider-Man sealed it for IOA.

Now I know that Robert's Single Most Important Piece of Theme Park AdviceTM is to get to the park at opening. But IOA's 8 a.m. open today was 5 a.m. to west coasters like us. So I grudgingly conceded to my family a more realistic departure time of 9 a.m. from our Celebration Hotel.

I'm glad I did. For it turns out that, unlike Disney, Universal's a piece of cake on a rainy morning the day after Christmas. Arriving at 9:30, we walked up to our choice of waiting ticket booths. Inside the park, we found posted wait-times of five minutes (!) for Spider-Man, Hulk, Dragons, and Do-Right.

Are you kidding me?

I abandoned our plan to start in Seuss Landing and steered us left to walk on to The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man instead. Thanks to a helpful assist from employee Jessica, we avoided a bathroom disaster, and knocked off our number one priority for the day immediately. As much as Laurie and I loved Spidey, we sensed the kids were a little rattled by the ride, so we decided to head back to Seuss Landing for our next ride.

The Cat inthe Hat

In quick order, we hit The Cat in the Hat, both sides of the High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride, strolled through the Street of the Lifted Lorax, took a few pictures with Thing One and the Cat, then strolled over to Lost Continent for a quick ride on the Flying Unicorn, Natalie's first coaster and still her favorite ride anywhere.

Brian and Laurie walked ahead to the Camp Jurassic playground, where Natalie and I caught up with them and hung around for a while.

Camp Jurassic

After that, we backtracked to Mythos for our scheduled lunch. The readers of a certain website keep recommending Mythos to me, so I figured I just had to check it out again. (Review to follow tomorrow.)

Mythos

By the time we finished lunch, after 1 p.m., the crowds had arrived, though we didn't encounter a wait of more than 30 minutes all day. We rode the Caro-Seuss-El, the Cat in the Hat (again) and double-backed over to the Toon Lagoon.

Despite the moderate lines elsewhere, the cold, overcast weather kept everyone from the queues for Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls and Popeye & Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges. Brian (“Um, I don't want to get wet...”) and Laurie begged off, so Natalie and I walked on both with no sign of any other visitors.

And, oh, did we get wet. While the theming of the Dudley Do-Right flume ride does not match the consistency of Disney's rival, Splash Mountain, Dudley clearly wins for a more enjoyable ride, with what seems a smoother double dip at the climax. Sitting alone in our log, I took the full blast of the wave after the final drop, while a squirt cannon around the bend quieted the trash-talking Natalie.

Fully soaked already, we hit Bluto's, confident we couldn't get any wetter.

But we did. This tub raft ride soakes its riders in every way imaginable, with waves, splash back, cannons, charges, streams and dumps coming from what seemed every direction. Dripping, Natalie and I waddled back to meet Laurie and Brian, before calling it a day with a second trip on Spidey.

More than a dozen rides, a leisurely lunch, and no waits of more than 30 minutes all day. I guess it is possible to have a thrilling, headache-free day at an Orlando theme park during Christmas week.

I just had to go to Universal.

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Universal joins the 'no trans fat' movement

By Robert Niles
Published: December 21, 2006 at 12:00 PM
Universal announced yesterday that it will join Busch and Disney in eliminating trans fatty acids from its cooking oil and other food items in its U.S. theme parks.

Disney made its announcement in October. And at that time, Busch responded by pointing out that it had already dumped trans fats at its parks.

From the Universal press release:

Beginning December 24, adults and children will find a healthier approach to eating at Universal's U.S. theme parks. Healthy side dishes and trans-fat-free foods will be widely available throughout all the theme parks.

Universal’s theme parks will now offer healthy side choices for both adults and children at most of its food units. Kid’s meals come with a choice of fruit or trans-fat-free fries and adults will be able to select from either a side salad or trans-fat-free fries. Healthy beverage choices are also available at many locations throughout the parks.

Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios theme parks and Universal Studios Hollywood will also begin cooking and frying with 100 percent trans-fat-free oil throughout most of their facilities. Universal will also work to make nutritional information about its foods available to guests, and is targeting the end of 2007 to be entirely trans-fat free for all its food offerings.

This puts Universal on a more aggressive schedule than Disney, which promised to eliminate trans fat by 2008 (though it lags Busch, which is already there.)

Still waiting to hear from Six Flags and Cedar Fair....

As background, trans fats occur in trace amounts in animal products, but are widely added to margarine and other oils and fats to make them last longer. If you see the words "partially hydrogenated" in the ingredient list of a product, you can be pretty sure it's got trans fat in it.

Trans fat does lots of proven nasty things to your body, including reducing good cholesterol, increasing bad cholesterol and increasing your likelihood of obesity and heart disease. (Personally, whenever I eat anything with trans fat in it anymore, I get that heavy "food hangover" feeling right away, which just isn't there when I eat fries cooked in non-trans fat oil, or baked goods made with real butter and not margarine.)

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So where are the year-end attendance figures?

By Robert Niles
Published: December 18, 2006 at 3:29 PM
When Amusement Business magazine folded last spring, the theme and amusement park industry lost its most reputable public source of annual theme park attendance data. At the end of every year, AB published its estimate of visitors for the top 50 theme parks in the United States, as well as the top 10 parks on other continents.

But no more. VNU, Amusement Business' corporate overlord, moved all AB subscribers to its Billboard magazine, but Billboard's offered little coverage of the industry to date. And so far, there's been no sign I've seen that Billboard will pick up where AB left off with the year-end theme park attendance charts.

So, my question is: Is anyone publishing this data this year? And if not, is anyone familiar with AB's methodology for computing these numbers and, if so, are they willing to share? I'd be willing to devote some time and spend a little money to help gather and publish these numbers. Perhaps some other theme park website publishers might be willing to help, too. Lemme know.

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Let's hear it for Santa's evil twin, 'Anti' Claus!

By Robert Niles
Published: December 17, 2006 at 10:04 PM
My wife and I had our annual cookie party this weekend, and I wanted to share an idea from that party which I think needs your support.

We're calling it "Anti Claus."

You know ol' Santy Claus, the jolly man who comes on Christmas Eve to deliver presents to good boys and girls. Well, Anti Claus is his evil twin. And he comes a week or so before Christmas, to *take* toys from good little girls and boys. Specially, the toys they haven't played with all year and that are just taking up space around the house.

He works in the middle of the night, like his brother Santa, when the kids are asleep... and can't interfere. But he's effective -- clearing the place of every unused, unwanted, overlooked toy, so that there will be space for the loot Santa's bringing next week.

Of course, Anti Claus needn't be all bad. Perhaps some of those toys taking up space around the house remain in good shape. Maybe he finds some nice books the kids no longer read. Packaged holiday food that no one will eat. Or unwanted clothes that no one wore. And maybe the *really* good little girls and boys -- with their parents -- might even help Anti Claus deliver those extra presents to folks who can send them to families that won't be getting much from Anti's more famous brother this year. (My daughter, for example, just brought two grocery sacks of her old books, in good condition, to her Girl Scout troop, which wrapped them up for families at a local AIDS clinic.)

Anyway, for those of us who do not live in spacious McMansions, Anti Claus is a hero whose time has come. Arrange a visit by Anti Claus to *your* home. Spead the word. E-mail this post -- (the URL is http://www.themeparkinsider.com/flume/200612/254/ ). But hurry. Santa's coming and we need to clear some space!

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'Star Wars' stormtroopers to invade TPI's home next month

By Robert Niles
Published: December 15, 2006 at 5:25 PM
The one non-theme-park event I cover every year is the Rose Parade. (Hey, when you live in Pasadena, California, three blocks from the parade route, it's hard to avoid....) Actually, there's usually a theme park angle to the event, as Disney's been fielding floats for the past several years. But this year's event promises to be so over-the-top, spectacularly cheesy, that I'm getting hungry for it just typing this post.

The grand marshal for this year's parade will be George Lucas. Usually, the grand marshal rides with his/her family in some rose-draped classic car and that's it. But not George. Nope, Lucas is bringing not one, but two "Star Wars"-themed floats and, for the pièce de résistance, two hundred stormtroopers.

Even better, the troopers will be a select group of Star Wars fans, picked from among the many who have bought their own stormtrooper outfits to portray the characters at various Star Wars and science fiction conventions and other events.

It's gonna be a full-on Star Wars geek fest. Walking down my street. You gotta love this town....

Check our Rose Parade page for coverage and photos of past parades. I'll update with photos of this year's floats, under construction, a day or two before the parade.

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Ohio blames design flaw for Kings Island coaster accident

By Robert Niles
Published: December 13, 2006 at 2:32 PM
The Ohio Department of Agriculture has completed its investigation [press release and complete report, both PDF format] into last summer's accident on the Son of Beast roller coaster at Kings Island, located north of Cincinnati.

For those of you who've complained of a rough ride on this coaster -- you weren't imagining it. State investigators blamed the crash on design flaws in the coaster. Specifically, a vertical wooden support cracked because its design subjected it to more weight that it could bear. That, in turn, led to the failure of two other support legs, causing a dip in the track. The quality of the wood was fine -- it was the coaster's design that was flawed.

The state's ordered Kings Island to hire an engineering firm to examine and redesign the ride's support structure before the state will consider whether to reopen the coaster, which has been closed since the incident.

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Magic Mountain, other Six Flags parks won't close in 2007

By Robert Niles
Published: December 12, 2006 at 11:27 AM
Six Flags CEO Mark Shapiro made official today what we'd known for months -- that Six Flags Magic Mountain will remain open in 2007, and possibly, beyond. Shapiro told investors during a conference call that Six Flags has decided not to sell its parks on the market to real estate developers, opting instead to either operate the parks or to sell to another amusement park company.

That decision will be announced, Shapiro said, by the end of this month.

In other news, attendance is down at Six Flags -- no surprise given the chain's moves away from a deep discount strategy and to discourage unaccompanied teens in favor clearing the way to appeal to family visitors. One might have thought that the news Magic Mountain was up for sale would have encouraged people to make one last visit to the park. But instead attendance at the L.A.-area park is off double digits from last year's rate since the announcement, officials said.

But per-guest spending continues to rise, a very hopeful sign, and Six Flags is taking a page from Cedar Fair's book and offering cheap kids' tickets in an effort to lure parents to the parks. Look for a deal next year when parents who buy an annual pass can get a kids' annual pass free.

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Six Flags announces new rides for New Jersey and San Antonio

By Robert Niles
Published: December 11, 2006 at 10:07 AM
While Six Flags continues to look for a buyer for many of its parks, fans of two of the parks the company intends to keep can look forward to new attractions in 2007.

Six Flags Great Adventure, the Jackson, N.J. flagship park of the chain, will get a new kiddie land. Wiggles World, will be themed to the Australia singing group so popular with the preschool set. The land will feature three kiddie rides, a bouncer and a pirate ship play area.

In San Antonio, Six Flags will offer fans a new ride at Fiesta Texas for the first time in several seasons. Tony Hawk's Big Spin will be a spinning coaster inspired by the skateboarding legend, who brought his tour to several Six Flags parks last year.

I've added both new developments to our What's New wiki. Additions to that page are, as always, welcomed.

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No new theme park in Universal Hollywood master plan

By Robert Niles
Published: December 7, 2006 at 3:05 PM
Universal has announced an amibitious master plan to further develop its L.A. area property, best known as home of the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park.

But Universal Orlando fans hoping for a west coast twin won't be happy with the result. The plan focuses on residential and office development, with no new theme park -- or even a major expansion of the existing USH -- in the works.

If anything, the studio tour would lose space under the plan, which would place up to 2,900 new houses and apartment units on the current backlot. A new four-lane north-south street would be built to serve the new development, running parallel to traffic-choked Barham Boulevard (a former home of TPI, FWIW).

Universal also would build new office and studio facilities across Lankershim, next to the Universal City subway station. Universal also promises improvements to CityWalk and the theme park, but I've not yet found specifics.

The reality of the situation is that the Studio City area has a shortage of office and studio space, and that even with a slow residential real estate market, homes in Southern California always remain in demand. And there's already one theme park on the market, unsold, in Southern California (Six Flags Magic Mountain) and no clear demand for a new park in the market.

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Hard Rock gets new owners

By Robert Niles
Published: December 7, 2006 at 2:42 PM
Hard Rock's been part of the Universal property in Orlando ever since it opened as Universal Studios Florida in 1990. Now, the Hard Rock brand and chain of cafes and hotels will have a new owner -- and it is a Florida native.

Literally. The Seminole Nation of Florida has bought Hard Rock from London's Rank Group LLC, in a US$965 million deal. The Seminoles have had a relationship with Hard Rock in the past, thanks to the Seminole Hard Rock Casino in South Florida. Now, the gambling-enriched tribe will own and operate Hard Rock-branded properties around the world.

The deal will not affect ownership of the Hard Rock Park, under construction in Myrtle Beach, S.C. That park is owned by another group and licensed from Hard Rock (as is the Hard Rock Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas).

Random, but funny, note: I just finished reading Carl Hiaasen's latest "Nature Girl," and the Seminole/Hard Rock connection gets significant play in the book. The best line? When a white character mentions to the half-Seminole protagonist that the Seminole Nation never surrendered to U.S. authorities, unlike other Indian tribes, he responds, "It depends on what you mean by 'surrender.' We just booked Justin Timberlake at the Seminole Hard Rock for New Year's."

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Prices rise at Busch's Florida parks

By Robert Niles
Published: December 4, 2006 at 10:28 AM
Busch has raised one-day ticket prices at Busch Gardens Africa, by $4 to $61.95, and SeaWorld Orlando, by $3 to $64.95. Annual pass prices remain the same, and the company is continuing its "Fun Card" promotion in 2007, where a one-day admission gets you a pass for the rest of the year.

U.S. military personnel also can get free admission to all Busch parks, under the company's continuing promotion. I hadn't noticed before, but the deal also is available to foreign military personnel serving with U.S. forces in Iraq or Afghanistan.

To inspire a little debate about the value of a theme park ticket these days, for comparison purposes, the ticket price for a one-day lift ticket to the Vail resorts in Colorado is $77.

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Swiss company has eye on Euro Disney

By Robert Niles
Published: December 1, 2006 at 11:15 AM
[Thanks to TPI reader David Graham for the tip.] A Swiss businessman called a press conference to announce that his firm is trying to take over Disneyland Paris parent EuroDisney.

The collective reaction: Huh? What? Who the heck is this guy?

Of course, when your balance is sheet is a wreck, as EuroDisney's has been for many years, thanks to misreading real estate and hotel markets and unfortunate finance and licensing deals, among other mishaps, your company's at risk for this type of shenanigans. (For the record, though, the problem with the company ain't the parks. Or public demand for them. The problem is, as it so often is in the modern economy, the suits.)

Still, maybe the guy can scrounge up enough shares to get some comp tickets, or something.

More: Forbes.com

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Keep reading: November 2006 Archive



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