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March 2007

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Miniland Las Vegas debuts at Legoland California

By Robert Niles
Published: March 29, 2007 at 11:08 PM
My apologies for my lack of posts this week. I've been preparing for the online journalism conference I run at USC each spring. I've been so busy that I was not able to make it down the road to Carlsbad for Thursday's debut of Miniland Las Vegas at Legoland California.

More than two million Lego bricks went into the recreate of 10 hotels from the Las Vegas Strip, including the Luxor, New York, New York, Tropicana, Excalibur, MGM Grand, Paris, Mirage, Treasure Island, Venetian and the Stratosphere. (No Palms? No Hard Rock? Where will they put the little Lego Hilton sister getting plastered then?)

Images are courtesy Legoland California. I promise to get down there soon and snap a few photos of the detail.



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New ride rumours for USF and IOA

By Gareth H
Published: March 23, 2007 at 8:24 AM
Latest rumours from Universal Orlando:

Back to the Future, as we all know, will close March 30th. It seems that it won't be on the high Priority to replace just yet.
Why? Seems they are still trying to confuse everyone over the whole "Simpsons" thing.

Battlestar Galatica is now a definate no-no so all it leaves is the Simpsons Rumour or the new "Back to the Future." Time will tell.

BUT, it seems high on the Priority list is a new ride next door at Islands of Adventure. As mentioned many months ago it has been mentioned to bee by a park employee (Who works within the maintenance dept. in Jurassic Park) that track is already being laid for a new coaster where the Robotic Dinosaur interaction area used to be.

It could be that this ride, if confirmed, may be open later this year, or next spring at the latest.

This would be a much needed addition to IOA as no new ride (With the exception of the Seuss Trolley) nhas been instaled in many years.

Universal, of course, had Revenge of the Mummy installed just 3 years ago.

Watch this space for updates!

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Speculation grows over Disneyland expansion plans

By Robert Niles
Published: March 22, 2007 at 11:46 AM
The LA Times today refuels spectulation that Disneyland will soon announce another expansion to the Anaheim theme park resort.

Disney's been fighting an attempt by the city of Anheim to clear the way for an affordable housing project near the theme parks, in the city's designated resort district. And this week, the company announced it would seek a ballot initiative to strengthen the resort district zoning, requiring a city-wide vote before any exceptions to the tourism-only development in the area could be granted.

It's making people wonder if Disney's fighting residential development so hard because it has plans for more tourism development, beyond its existing two theme parks, three hotels and the Downtown Disney outdoor shopping mall.

From the article:

The company has slowly but steadily amassed 460 acres in Anaheim, including a prime chunk of strawberry fields down Harbor Boulevard from Disneyland that is the designated site of a third park.

And someone is approaching the field's neighboring landowners, trying to buy up land. Corona del Mar resident Benjamin Kraut, 81, said Disney offered to buy his 5 acres several years ago. Then, six months ago, a suitor Kraut declined to name offered him $14.5 million for the land where he co-owns a 90-unit apartment complex. He said it is not for sale.

Disney hasn't unveiled plans for the Disney Resort — those typically come amid fanfare and orchestration — but top executives have hinted at expanding existing markets and increasing its time-share offerings.

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Griffon Opening Day Set for May 25, 2007

By Russell Meyer
Published: March 20, 2007 at 10:19 PM
Busch Gardens Europe in Williamsburg, Virginia has been working tirelessly since September 2006 on their newest roller coaster, Griffon. The 205-foot B&M dive machine now has its own dedicated website at:


The website indicates that the ride will open on May 25, 2007, which seems about right considering the amount of work that still needs to be done of the coaster. On Saturday, March 17, 2007, I attended passholder preview day, and while the track is completely finish, and the unique floorless, 10-seats-across trains were in the maintenance building, most of the landscaping and themeing were still to be completed, as well as the splashdown section of the coaster.

Guests can still marvel at this menacing new icon at Busch Gardens, but it appears the public will have to wait two more months to test out this beast.

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New whale, new honor for SeaWorld

By Robert Niles
Published: March 16, 2007 at 1:19 PM
Some good news from SeaWorld today:

  • The Orlando park announced this week that its killer whale Taima gave birth on Monday afternoon in SeaWorld Stadium. The six-foot calf, gender as yet undertermined, weighed in at 350 pounds. It's the third "baby" for Taima, who was born at SeaWorld Orlando during a 1989 thunderstorm.

  • SeaWorld's "Believe" won the award for outstanding live show from the Themed Entertainment Association this week. The killer whale show debuted last year at SeaWorld Orlando, as well as the San Diego and San Antonio parks.

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  • A dietitian's guide to Disneyland

    By Robert Niles
    Published: March 15, 2007 at 8:19 AM
    The Orange County Register's Yvette Cabrera invited a dietitian to join her on a visit to Disneyland recently, to check out the food options at the park.

    Healthy eating has become a popular issue for theme parks, as parks announce plans to eliminate trans fats from their menus, and to offer other healthier dining options, especially for kids.

    A Bloomberg report last year blasted the Magic Kingdom for its oversized, fat-laden fare. But Cabrera and dietitian Linda M. Gigliotti, from UC Irvine, found a reassuring number of healthy options this month at Disneyland.

    "Sometimes the problem when you get into a controlled environment is that you're really stuck with what they have there," says Gigliotti. "I thought given the environment that it is, that they did have a good range of choices. There were vegetarian items; there were some low-fat items."

    She especially liked the vending carts loaded with items like freshly cut fruit, trail mixes, and water, and felt they were as accessible as the carts selling popcorn or ice cream bars.

    Are you looking for better food options at your favorite theme park? What have you found?

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    $250 for a one-day Six Flags ticket? Yes, if you go VIP

    By Robert Niles
    Published: March 14, 2007 at 12:43 PM
    One of the recent trends in the theme park industry has been the addition of VIP programs, extra amenities that parks offer guests who are willing to pay extra for frills. Disney's long offered guided tours at its parks. Universal Studio Hollywood offers a hosted tour, with front of the line access. And the SeaWorld parks offer animal encounters, under the watchful eye of park trainers.

    But Six Flags now is trying to out-do them all. The amusement park chain has announced a VIP ticket program that includes a slew of amentities for guests with extra cash to spend.

  • Special parking space
  • Unlimited front of the line access
  • Reserved seating to all shows
  • All meals
  • Snacks
  • Games
  • A private meet and greet with Looney Tunes and Justice League characters of your choice. With photos
  • Visits to the adjacent Six Flags water and animal park
  • A private tour guide for the day, who will coordinate all of the above according to your interests.

    The cost? $249 per person, plus tax, at Magic Mountain, Great Adventure, Great America and Discovery Kingdom. $199 per person everywhere else.

    The upshot of all this is that, for a thousand bucks, a family of four gets to do exactly what everyone in the family wants to do, without waiting for any of it.

    I've been pricing a summer vacation up to the Bay Area this year, and after looking at $200-$300 nightly hotel rates in the tourist areas, a $250 theme park ticket no longer seems bizarre to me. Especially with all that's included here. (I can envision plenty of parents tempted by the thought of buying their elementary-aged son some one-on-one time with Batman and Superman, too.)


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  • Lawsuit Puts the Brakes on Theme Parks

    By Erik Yates
    Published: March 7, 2007 at 5:33 PM
    It seems that just about every single theme park company out there is being accused of patent infringment for using a magnetic breaking system. Safety Braking claims they hold exclusive licenses to the patents from Magnetar Technologies Corp., based in Seal Beach, California, and the other from G&T Conveyor Co., based in Tavares.

    Safety Braking won the patents in 1994 and 2003.

    This could mean that if the court decides in the favor of Safety Braking that all theme parks involved, including DISNEY, will have to pay hefty fines. More on this as it develops.

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    Legoland owner buys Tussauds, passes Universal as new Number Two in theme park biz

    By Robert Niles
    Published: March 5, 2007 at 11:14 PM
    Legoland owner Merlin Entertainment Tuesday bought U.K. theme park operator Tussauds in a billion-pound deal. Tussauds owns parks such as Alton Towers and Thorpe Park as well as the London Eye ferris wheel ride. Merlin, with financing from Universal Orlando co-owner Blackstone Group, in 2005 bought the Legoland theme parks from the family that controls the toy maker.

    Throw in Merlin's Sea Life aquariums, and you've now got the new number two theme park company in the world, measured by guest visits, surpassing Universal and trailing only Disney.

    Okay, trailing by a country mile. The new Merlin drew an estimated 30 million visitors last year, way behind industry leader Disney's 100+ million.

    Here's more detail from UK's The Guardian newspaper.

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    SeaWorld's Aquatica water park to blend slides with animal habitats

    By Robert Niles
    Published: March 5, 2007 at 12:25 PM
    SeaWorld Orlando unveiled details about its Aquatica water park at a webcast press event this afternoon. The 59-acre park will open in March 2008 and will, in the words of SeaWorld's Jim Atchison, "blend up-close animal experiences with high-speed thrills and expansive beaches, all with a focus on great service."

    Aquatica will offer a South Seas decorative theme but also include animals and flora from tropical environments around the world. The park will offer 36 water slides, six pools and lagoons and an 80,000-square foot beach. The park's signature ride will be a 300-foot water slide, with a 42-foot drop, that will take riders in clear tubes through a Commerson's Dolphin habitat. (These are the black and white dolphins that SeaWorld San Diego includes in its Journey to Atlantis ride.)

    More details from today's press event:

    One of park's two river rides will take riders under the Commerson's Dolphin habitat and through an underwater grotto filled with tropical fish. The other river will be focused on thrills, and move four times faster than its sibling. The park's twin waves pools can be programmed, in tandem, to offer nine different wave patterns. The park's beach will offer waiters and private cabanas.

    Atchison promised that the new park will have "the highest attraction capacity of any park in Florida," helping to minimize wait times.

    Finally, kudos to SeaWorld for webcasting the event. Having attended many theme park press events in the past, I know that parks sink much time and money into producing these shows. Why not show them to their fans on the Web? At best, a park might get a few seconds from its event on a local evening newscast. But with Web fans around the world, especially those economically important out-of-market fans, can see the entire thing.

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    SeaWorld Orlando to announce new park on Monday

    By Robert Niles
    Published: March 4, 2007 at 5:37 PM
    SeaWorld is inviting theme park fans to watch online Monday afternoon as it announces its newest theme park.

    The webcast of the announcement starts at 2 p.m. Eastern Time on Monday, March 5. The webcast will be linked from SeaWorldOrlando.com.

    This is the new water park, set to open next year that's been slated for the area across from the park. (We've been discussing the park for a while on the discussion board.)

    Comments (2) | Archive Link

    California warns SeaWorld over whale trainer risk

    By Robert Niles
    Published: March 2, 2007 at 9:48 AM
    The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health set up a battle with SeaWorld San Diego in a report released this week, warning that it is only a matter of time before one of the park's orcas kills a trainer.

    The report was in response to an incident last year when a killer whale dragged a trainer under water.

    The LA Times provides the details. The state lauded SeaWorld's training and declined to cite the park for any safety violations. But it noted an inherent risk in working with large, carnivorous animals.

    SeaWorld ripped the state report, meeting with the state agency's district manager and asking him to withdraw the report.

    "We have proven over 40 years that we are very safe," Mike Scarpuzzi, vice president of zoological operations at SeaWorld San Diego and a former whale trainer, told the LA Times.

    "The emergency procedures worked," he said to the paper. "We have a whale and a trainer, and both are alive. That's a successful end."

    Update: Just got this from Busch corporate:

    I saw your post on the California thing. We had a call with Cal OSHA today and they have agreed to rescind the informational memorandum (the document on which Tony Perry's [LA Times] story is based) as well as rewrite the 13,000-word narrative summary. From the release that we expect to issue today:

    "Cal OSHA has decided to withdraw its informational memorandum and further review the narrative summary with the goal of rewriting the document to correct all deficiencies as they relate to its safety investigation of the Nov. 29, 2006 killer whale incident. SeaWorld officials expressed their surprise and serious concerns with the reports pointing out that they are riddled with inaccuracies, speculation and superficial suppositions, information unrelated to the investigation, and unsubstantiated and overreaching conclusions. Much of the information presented in the reports reflected a complete lack of understanding of the complexities of marine mammal biology, behavior and husbandry."

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    Walt Disney World update: More rooms, more stores... and a gas war!

    By Robert Niles
    Published: March 1, 2007 at 11:58 AM
    A couple stories out of Walt Disney World today:

    First, Disney has confirmed the news that Kevin Yee reported last year, that there will be a new Downtown Disney-style mixed use development on the Western Beltway, for "value conscious" visitors. (As the All-Star Resorts were to the Contemporary and Polynesian, this will be to Downtown Disney, it appears.)

    In addition, Disney will partner with the now Bill Gates-co-owned Four Seasons on a hotel to to open in 2010. As part of the development, the Osprey Ridge golf course will be rebuilt and rebranded as a Four Seasons property.

    But the story you *really* want to talk about comes from Disney's Animal Kingdom. Lemme defer to the Orlando Sentinel's lead of the day:

    A tussle between two workers in the hippo pond at Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom overnight ended with one man doused in gasoline and the other in jail, according to the Orange County Sheriff's Office.

    Here's the rest of the story.

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    Keep reading: February 2007 Archive

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