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May 2007

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The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter comes to Universal Orlando

By Erik Yates
Published: May 31, 2007 at 5:40 AM
Its official, Harry Potter is coming to Universal Orlando, more specifically he is coming to Islands of Adventure in his own 20 acre Island, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Universal Orlando Resort, and Warner Brothers Entertainment Inc. are partnering to bring a completely immersive and interactive area that is second to none to the Florida theme park.

“We will rely on our company’s rich movie heritage and expertise in transforming film concepts into theme park entertainment experiences,” said Ron Meyer, president and COO, Universal Studios. “The Harry Potter stories are among the most compelling of our time. The millions of people who have read the books and seen the movies will now be able to experience the world of Harry Potter in person.”

Inspired the stories by J.K.Rowling, the area will immerse visitors in the world of Harry Potter an allow them to visit such area as Hogsmeade,the Forbidden Forrest, and even Hogswart Castle.

The area is expected to open in 2009, and will include several attractions, shops and resturants that bring the stories to life, as well as a new state of the art attraction that will bring the characters to life in a way that fans have never seen before.

This rumor has been going on for the better part of a year [here, too], and has raised several questions on where the land will go. While it is still unclear, it looks as if some speculation is correct, that part of the Lost Continent area will become Harry Potter. Rides such as Flying Unicorn, and Dueling Dragons will be renamed and rethemed while areas such as Sinbad, Poseidon and Mythos will remain untouched. While this is not official, it does have many fans of the park breathing a sigh of relief, especially since Mythos has been voted "Best Theme Park Resturant" four years in a row beginning in 2002 by Theme Park Insider.

The entire project is expected to be complete in 2010. [Check out TPI readers' plans for a Harry Potter theme park from four years ago.]

Update: See http://media.universalorlando.com/harrypotter/ for Universal's press release and handout art as well as the anouncement webcast.

Comments (55) | Archive Link

Six hurt at Disney World's Animal Kingdom

By Robert Niles
Published: May 29, 2007 at 1:13 PM
A reader reports, and now the Orlando Sentinel confirms, that six people were injured on the Kali River Rapids at Disney's Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World today.

An escape platform collapsed during an evacuation, breaking the leg of a Disney cast member and injuring five guests. Injuries include bruises, back and neck pain.

The ride is closed pending an investigation.

Comments (18) | Archive Link

2007 Theme Park Insider Awards: What is the world's best theme park?

By Robert Niles
Published: May 28, 2007 at 7:36 PM
The final category in the 2007 Theme Park Insider Awards is the big one, "best theme park."

All theme parks reviewed on ThemeParkInsider.com are eligible (generally, U.S. parks with at least two million paid visitors a year and non-U.S. parks with a similar number of English-speaking visitors). The park with the highest average reader rating, including all votes for its attractions and restaurants, earns the award.

As with the previous categories, we are also conducting a poll, which includes below the top-performing theme parks in the Theme Park Insider readers' reviews. You may feel free to write in another park, but the parks listed below are the ones within "striking distance," if you will, of winning this year's award. So, please, click through to rate and review all the rides you've ridden, shows you have seen and restaurants you've dined at over the past year.

What is the world's best theme park?

Busch Gardens Europe
Cedar Point
Disney-MGM Studios
Disney's Animal Kingdom
Disneyland Paris
SeaWorld Orlando
Tokyo DisneySea
Universal Studios Florida
Universal's Islands of Adventure
Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom


None of these deserves the award

Previously: Best hotel at a theme park
Best restaurant in a theme park
Best new theme park attraction

Comments (6) | Archive Link

2007 Theme Park Insider Awards: Best theme park hotel

By Robert Niles
Published: May 27, 2007 at 9:48 PM
The third category in the sixth annual Theme Park Insider Awards is "best theme park hotel."

Eligible hotels in this category are officially listed, on-site hotels affiliated with the hosting theme park. The award will go to the eligible hotel that receives the highest average reader rating on ThemeParkInsider.com. So please click through the links below and add your rating and review for the hotels you've stayed at during the past year. (TPI ratings expire after two years, so if you'd rated a hotel based on a previous visit, please come back and re-review it if you've re-visited it.)

As with the previous categories, we're also conducting a poll this year. The included hotels are those which have earned a determined level of reader support in the TPI ratings. If your favorite hotel is not listed, please feel welcomed to write it in, using the appropriate selection below.

What is the best official theme park hotel?

Cedar Point:
Hotel Breakers

Disney's Grand Californian Hotel
Disney's Paradise Pier Hotel
Disneyland Hotel

Universal Orlando:
Universal's Royal Pacific Resort
Universal's Portofino Bay Hotel

Walt Disney World:
Disney's All-Star Movies Resort
Disney's All-Star Music Resort
Disney's All-Star Sports Resort
Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge
Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort
Disney's Contemporary Resort
Disney's Coronado Springs Resort
Disney's Grand Floridian Resort
Disney's Old Key West Resort
Disney's Polynesian Resort
Disney's Pop Century Resort
Disney's Port Orleans - French Quarter Resort
Disney's Port Orleans - Riverside Resort
Disney's Wilderness Lodge
Disney's Yacht Club Resort
Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground
Walt Disney World Dolphin


Nothing deserves an award

Previously: Best restaurant in a theme park
Best new theme park attraction

Archive Link

2007 Theme Park Insider Awards: Best theme park restaurant

By Robert Niles
Published: May 26, 2007 at 6:22 PM
The second category in this year's Theme Park Insider Awards is "best theme park restaurant."

To be eligible in this category a restaurant must be full service (meaning sit-down, with waiters) and located within the gates of a theme or amusement park. (So the CityWalk/Downtown Disney/hotel restaurants are not eligible.)

Again, the award will go to the eligible restaurant that receives the highest average reader rating on TPI. So please click through to all the restaurants below you've eaten at over the past year and submit a rating and review. For the first time, this year, we're also conducting a poll in each of the four TPI Award categories. (The polls themselves will not determine the winner, but I'm interested to see what they say, as a "check" against TPI's normal methodology for computing attraction ratings.)

What is the best restaurant in a theme park?

Busch Gardens Africa:
Crown Colony Restaurant

Disney's California Adventure:
Ariel's Grotto
Wine Country Trattoria

Blue Bayou Restaurant
Carnation Café

Disney-MGM Studios:
50's Prime Time Café
The Hollywood Brown Derby
Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano
Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant

Miss Lillian's Chicken House
Granny Ogle's Ham 'N' Beans

Bistro de Paris
Coral Reef Restaurant
Garden Grill
Le Cellier Steakhouse
Les Chefs de France
Nine Dragons Restaurant
Restaurant Marrakesh
San Angel Inn Restaurant
Tempura Kiku
Teppanyaki Dining Room

Islands of Adventure:
Confisco Grille
Mythos Restaurant

Knott's Berry Farm:
Ghost Town Grill

SeaWorld Orlando:
Sharks Underwater Grill

Tokyo DisneySea:
S.S. Columbia Dining Room

Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom:
Cinderella's Royal Table
Liberty Tree Tavern


Nothing deserves an award

Previously: Best new theme park attraction

Comments (3) | Archive Link

Accident at Cedar Point's Magnum hurts three

By Robert Niles
Published: May 26, 2007 at 3:40 PM
The big news at Cedar Point today was supposed to be the long-awaited opening of the new Intamin coaster Maverick. Instead, attention turned to an older coaster, Magnum, after a load station collision that left three people needing medical attention.

The incident happened around noon, according to multiple reports. An incoming train failed to stop in its block zone, bumping into a train waiting to leave the station. Two people were treated by medical staff and the park and released. A third was taken to a local hospital.

Comments (4) | Archive Link

2007 Theme Park Insider Awards: Best new theme park attraction

By Robert Niles
Published: May 25, 2007 at 8:50 AM
It's time again for the annual Theme Park Insider Awards. The sixth annual awards, to be announced on the Fourth of July, will honor the world's best in four categories:
  • Best New Attraction
  • Best Theme Park Restaurant
  • Best Theme Park Hotel
  • Best Theme Park

    The winners will be the eligible venues that receive the highest average rating in ThemeParkInsider.com's reader ratings. Click the links below to rate and review this year's new theme park attractions, if you have not already.

    In addition, this year, I will be running polls on each of the TPI Award categories. The polls themselves will not determine the winner, but I'm interested to see what they say, as a "check" against TPI's normal methodology for computing attraction ratings. (I was a stats major in college, so I'm really into data. Call me a geek...)

    On the poll, please vote for your favorite among the choices, if you believe that it is worthy of getting an award. If you don't care for any of the choices, vote for none of the above. If I've missed your favorite, select and fill in the write-in vote.

    For best new attractions, only attractions that opened to the public between June 1, 2006 and May 31, 2007 are eligible. (So if Cedar Point's Maverick opens between now and next Thursday, I will add it to the list. Now added - Ed.) This is hardest list for me to keep track of, so if I've missed something obvious that you love, please use the write-in field to vote for it.

    Finally, use the comments below to make your case for your favorite. Campaigning, here and on other websites, is always encouraged. ;-)

    What is this year's best new theme park attraction?

    Busch Gardens Europe

    Cedar Point [added]

    Mystery Mine

    Gran Fiesta Tour

    Islands of Adventure
    The High In The Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride

    Splash Battle

    SeaWorld San Antonio
    Journey to Atlantis

    Six Flags Fiesta Texas
    Tony Hawk's Big Spin

    Six Flags Great Adventure
    El Toro

    Universal Studios Hollywood
    Universal's House of Horrors

    Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom
    Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor Comedy Club


    Nothing deserves an award

    Also: Best theme park restaurant

    Comments (13) | Archive Link

  • Universal announces plans to develop theme park in South Korea

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 22, 2007 at 10:16 AM
    Universal Studios annouced today that it will open a theme park in South Korea in 2012. Universal will partner with local firms, including POSCO Engineering and Construction, to build the park, which will be located at a site yet to be determined. Universal did not announce a cost estimate for the park, either.

    Earlier this month, Universal signed on the Dubailand project in the United Arab Emirates. And another U.S. movie studio, Paramount, also earlier this month announced its plans to get back into the theme park business with a South Korean park.

    Comments (2) | Archive Link

    Seeking Orlando-area volunteer to cover Blue Man Group event

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 20, 2007 at 10:30 PM
    I need a Theme Park Insider reader in the Orlando area to cover a press event at Universal Orlando on the afternoon of May 29.

    It's for the new Blue Man Group show, and I need someone to go and interview the new Blue Men and show creators, shoot picts of the new theater, etc.

    As usual with these assignments, I'm looking for a registered TPI member, posting under his or her real name, who can cover the event in a professional manner and post an informative and engaging write-up, with photos and video, the same day. Take a look at our recent covers on Griffon and Journey to Atlantis for excellent models of what I'm looking for here. You must be 18 and be able to make your own way to the event, which runs fromn 2 - 5 pm, as we do not pay expenses. (But... you get private face time at a event few theme park fans will ever get to experience.)

    If you are interested, e-mail me with why you should get the gig, using the "Contact the Editor" link at the bottom of the page.

    Archive Link

    Disney World workers reject proposed contract

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 19, 2007 at 2:02 PM
    Walt Disney World employees yesterday rejected a proposed contract that would have covered Disney World cast members for the next three years.

    The previous contract expired last month, but Disney cast members will continue to work under its terms until a new deal is struck.

    Most of the unions representing Disney World employees supported the proposed deal, but the Teamsters, who represent bus drivers, among others, withheld it support. In the end, that helped sink the deal, which lost by a close 2,870-2,583 vote, according to the Orlando Sentinel. (The deal would have covered about 21,000 workers, so one can see that vote turnout was pretty low.)

    Union reps and Disney management will now reopen negotiations in an effort to get a new deal before one side turns to a strike or lock-out.

    Comments (7) | Archive Link

    Griffon debuts at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg (Video)

    By Russell Meyer
    Published: May 16, 2007 at 9:32 PM
    Members of the media and selected roller coaster enthusiasts were invited to Busch Gardens Europe to get a look at the first roller coaster to open at the Williamsburg, Virginia park since 1999. Donnie Mills, General Manager of BGE, introduced Griffon, the world’s tallest and first floorless “dive” coaster while riding the 205-foot-tall, 1,350-ton mythical beast. From his seat on the coaster, he described some of the unique features of this Bolliger and Mabillard (B&M) creation.

    Official Press Release

    Griffon features uniquely designed coaster trains, with riders in three rows of ten seats. The rows are “stadium style” with the second and third rows successively higher to give every rider a great view of the action. Additionally, once the coaster prepares to leave the station, the cleverly designed flooring system retracts (much different than your standard floorless coaster), leaving nothing under riders’ feet but the rails, and for those lucky enough to select the three seats on each end of the rows, there’s nothing beneath your feet but the ground.


    The 45-degree lift will give weary theme park goers a chance for a nap, with the combination of seat angle and lift angle creating a nearly horizontal riding position. Once at the top, thrill seekers will be treated to a panoramic view of the park from their 205-foot perch. Similar to other B&M dive coasters (Oblivion at Alton Towers, Diving Coaster G5 at Janfusun Fancyworld, and SkeiKra at Busch Gardens Africa) a chain drive takes the massive trains slowly over the edge of the first drop, allowing riders to ponder what they’ve gotten themselves into before plunging them down the 205-foot 90-degree drop. Now, it’s STRAIGHT DOWN, and there are very few rides in the world that give the same sensations that can be experienced on Griffon.

    After that jaw-dropping first drop, most thrill seekers would be more than satisfied, but Griffon has even more to offer. A 75 MPH trip under a viewing bridge leads into a monstrous Immelmann loop. Then comes a very subtle dip that gives back row riders a dose of positive g’s that will have them pinned in their seats. A set of brakes slows the train before dropping riders down a second 130-foot second drop towards the legendary Loch Ness Monster, and through a second Immelmann loop over the Rhine River. The ride is still not done, with a surprising shot of air before a splashdown and 360-degree turn brings the train back to the station.

    So, is Griffon everything that it’s cracked up to be? I have never ridden Oblivion or G5, but comparing my experience on SkeiKra a year and a half ago to Griffon, I have to say Griffon is a pretty dramatic improvement on Busch Entertainment’s other dive coaster. Clearly Busch thinks so too – they are installing floorless trains on SheiKra, which will debut next month. Not only do the floorless trains of Griffon add a dramatic new element to the ride experience, but the subtle design of the drops, inversions, turns, and dips give a significantly more forceful ride than I remember of SheiKra. The dip after the first Immelmann and the hump after the second Immelmann appear to be very small elements compared to the massive drops and inversions, but those two seemingly small features are incredibly powerful ones that pin riders into their seats and lift them out, respectively. The floorless trains really give front row and the outer three seats of the second and third rows a sense of freedom and flying difficult to find anywhere else on the planet. While most coasters have 2 or 4 seats with unobstructed views, Griffon has 22 (10 in the front row and the 6 outer seats on the back two rows), meaning that a bad seat on this coaster is pretty difficult to come by. Also, guests that normally get relegated to rows 4 or 5 because of larger chest sizes or height are given specially designed seats in ALL 3 rows. Finally, the splashdown section keeps riders mostly dry while giving kids, who may not be quite tall enough to tackle Griffon, a chance to participate in the thrill that the coaster provides.

    No coaster is perfect, and Griffon is no exception. Firstly, the height, 205-feet, is not a dramatic increase over SheiKra (200 feet tall), and the first part of Griffon is very similar to its older sister. Also, the second drop, while dramatically situated near the Loch Ness Monster, does not offer the same effect as SheiKra’s second drop through the tower. The only other major criticism of this coaster would be that the second Immelmann turns riders in the same direction as the first Immelmann. Turning the other direction or including a different type of inversion would have given Griffon a nearly perfect layout and place the coaster in a category that would be difficult to match anywhere in the world. Griffon is also lacking slightly in theming. The station, with its timber framing and wrought-iron fixtures blends in well with the surrounding France section of the park, but very little theming extends onto the ride itself. Aside from the architecturally interesting viewing bridge, the coaster track does not interact with any significantly themed elements. The splashdown pool has a few lampposts, but they are not as well-integrated as one would expect from Busch Gardens.

    Negatives aside, Griffon is still an amazing coaster that has radically altered the coaster landscape. It, along with Maverick at Cedar Point (assuming it is actually able to open in 2007), is the premier addition to the U.S. coaster collection, and it will certainly not disappoint anyone making a pilgrimage to Busch Garden Europe this summer. With an immense floorless train, two massive drops, two inversions, a dramatic water effect, and some surprisingly intense subtle elements, Griffon will quickly establish itself as a top roller coaster. Those who just can't wait until May 25, 2007 to ride Griffon, BGE announced that the park will be opening the coaster to park guests on May 18, 2007, a week ahead of the official Grand Opening.

    Comments (9) | Archive Link

    Griffon begins 'soft openings'

    By Jason Jackson
    Published: May 14, 2007 at 4:27 PM
    Busch Gardens Europe's Griffon which has apparently been testing with park employees, finally opened "softly" to the public on Mother's Day! Unadvertised, many surprised guests got a chance to experience the world's tallest and at least for a short time only floorless in the world! I had a chance to ride and it truly was a great ride! And is expected, the ride area is up to Busch's usual high standards! Great job BGE!

    Comments (7) | Archive Link

    SeaWorld's latest Journey to Atlantis debuts in San Antonio (Video)

    By Michael Willis
    Published: May 12, 2007 at 10:54 AM
    [Edited to add video link to main post.--Ed.] On Friday Sea World San Antonio invited members of the media to try out their latest ride and I was there to cover it for Theme Park Insider.

    The new Journey to Atlantis water coaster is the chain's third with the title, but, again, a different design than its predecessors. This Mack GMBH of Germany and Guido Brothers Construction design is first of its kind in the United States and only the second in the world.

    The ride is similar to other water coasters with a few twists. There are two towers 100 ft high which rotate the boats to give the passengers a 360 degree view of San Antonio. Between the two towers the riders experience a camelback drop backwards. Finally each 16 passenger boat plummets 100 ft down into 400,000 gallons of water. After the main drop, riders will enjoy a leisure boat ride back to the loading station to complete the 3 and half minute ride.

    This ride is a great addition to a family oriented park such as Sea World. Thrill seekers will walk away dissatisfied, however families with younger children will be eager to ride it again. The ride has a 42” height requirement and a low intensity which will allow younger family members to participate.

    Journey to Atlantis, although fun for the family, could do a better job of story-telling. The entire ride is out-doors and lacks enough props and special effects to create the Atlantis theme. However Dan Decker, General Manager and Executive Vice President of Sea World of San Antonio, expects this to change. According to Decker, Sea World’s primary goal was to open the ride as soon as possible. Decker said that guests can expect more Atlantis themed props to appear in the coming seasons. Other possible additions include water jets and geysers to ensure that the riders will come off the ride soaking wet.

    Along with any new ride comes a great deal of testing. Hutchinson “Hutch” Huey is the Maintenance Unit Supervisor and knows first hand what it takes to ensure that a ride like this is safe for the guests. Hutch was involved in testing each boat which must go through at least 24 hours of test time using 174 pound water dummies, which exceeds ASTM testing standards. Hutch and his team spent over 2 months performing fault scenario testing which tested over 2,000 fault cases. In addition, each morning before the park opens, over 8 man hours of inspection and testing are required before the ride is deemed safe for the guests.

    Decker outlined three main reasons the park created Journey to Atlantis: Sea World wanted a unique ride, a wet ride (whether you are a rider or a spectator), and a family friendly ride. Journey to Atlantis delivers on all three of these aspects and will be sure the pack the park with families this summer.

    Comments (23) | Archive Link

    Disney World reaches tentative labor deal with unions

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 10, 2007 at 10:18 AM
    Walt Disney World and a coalition representing its employees' largest labor unions announced a tentative three-year contract last night. But one of the unions, the Teamsters, is not yet recommending the deal to its members.

    The Orlando Sentinel reports the details. The Teamsters represent bus drivers and laundry workers around the resort. But the unions representing the vast majority of in-park workers are supporting the deal, which would provide 4 to 5 percent pay raises.

    Union leaders are scheduling a vote for workers on the proposed deal.

    Archive Link

    Paramount's getting back in the theme park business

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 10, 2007 at 10:12 AM
    One year after selling its North American theme parks to Cedar Fair, Paramount is moving back into the theme park business -- this time in South Korea.

    The studio announced today plans to invest $1 billion in a theme park in Inchon, south of Seoul. Paramount will partner with South Korean automaker Daewoo, which willl provide the land for the project. The first phase of the park will open in 2009, with completion skedded for 2014.

    South Korea is home of some of the world's most popular parks, including Lotte World, but no U.S. companies have built on the peninsula before now.

    Comments (4) | Archive Link

    Legoland Kansas City plan on the ropes

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 9, 2007 at 8:34 AM
    Legoland's plan to put its second U.S. theme park in the Kansas City area has suffered a setback, and now might not be realized.

    A Missouri state legislature committee took a proposed tax increment financing plan for the park out of the state's budget, according to a local news report. Now, park investors are looking to Governor Matt Blunt to put the funding back in his supplemental state spending bill, which will be voted on by the legislature next year.

    If the governor agrees to do so, the investors and Legoland owner Merlin Entertainment will proceed with park construction this summer. If not, the project appears dead.

    Gov. Blunt is expected to respond within the next few weeks.

    Archive Link

    Cedar Point delays Maverick roller coaster until June

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 8, 2007 at 2:35 PM
    Cedar Point announced today that it will not debut its new roller coaster Maverick this month, as planned. Instead, the park will modify the Intamin coaster's track.

    In a statement, Cedar Point said it and ride's manufacturer decided, based on initial testing, to replace three sections of track after the ride's launch tunnel.

    The park now plans to open the ride in early June.

    Comments (11) | Archive Link

    One dead, others injured in Japanese coaster derailment

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 5, 2007 at 7:49 PM
    A roller coaster derailment in Japan killed one woman and injured about 20 others today. The accident on the Fujin-Raijin II coaster at Expoland park in Suita, Osaka happened on "Children's Day" during the Golden Week holidays in Japan.

    Reports claim that an axle broke on one of the trains of the car, causing the derailment and sending the car into a guardrail at high speed.

    Here are two reports:

    Comments (5) | Archive Link

    Universal confirms Dubailand theme park project

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 1, 2007 at 8:28 AM
    It looks like it's a go for a new Universal Studios theme park within the Dubailand project in the United Arab Emirates.

    It's a licensing deal, meaning that Universal will not own nor operate Universal City Dubailand. But Universal will provide attraction design, operating procedures and training to the UAE. The theme park will be part of the $2.2 billion Dubailand project, which is expected to open in 2010.

    Dubai is positioning itself as the Orlando of the Middle East, with a slew of over-the-top heavily themed, multi-million dollar attractions, including theme parks, malls, golf courses, hotels and even an indoor ski slope. It's all paid for by three-buck-plus per gallon gasoline, of course.

    Comments (8) | Archive Link

    Keep reading: April 2007 Archive

    Stories from a Theme Park Insider

    Stories from a Theme Park Insider

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