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July 2007

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Cedar Fair denies that it has a deal to sell

By Robert Niles
Published: July 31, 2007 at 8:57 AM
Amusement park operator Cedar Fair, owner of Cedar Point, Kings Island and Knott's Berry Farm, among others, denied that it is near a deal to be bought by a California investment fund.

The New York Post reported yesterday that a $4.1 billion sale to Destiny Capital Solutions was near. The Post had reported three weeks ago that Cedar Fair was shopping itself, to raise cash after tapping itself out to buy the former Paramount Parks from Viacom last year.

Cedar Fair CEO Dick Kinzel confirmed, via press release, that Cedar Fair's gotten inquiries from potential buyers, but denied the sale rumor:

"Although as a matter of policy we do not normally comment on market rumors, an article today reports a claim by an organization referred to as Destiny Capital' that constructive negotiations with the company have been undertaken. We are not currently in discussions with that organization or any other party for the sale of the company."

[editor's snarky comment]In other words, we don't have a deal yet, so keep those offers coming![/editor's snarky comment]

Comments (1) | Archive Link

Vote of the week: Favorite theme park company?

By Robert Niles
Published: July 27, 2007 at 11:32 AM
Oh, heck. Let's just skip to the big one, shall we?

What is your favorite theme park company? And please use the comments link below to tell us why.

I shall slip the asbestos shield over my keyboard as I type this one... ;-)


Comments (36) | Archive Link

Not-so-great moments in parenting

By Robert Niles
Published: July 26, 2007 at 1:28 PM
This post is for my fellow parents who read TPI. Three not-so-great moments in parenting I observed during my Orlando trip:

1. On the flight from LAX, I sat next to a quiet five-year-old, who never made a fuss during the five-hour flight. She sat in the middle seat in the plane's 3x3 configuration, and when we reached the arrival gate, she climbed up to stand on the seat, to see what was happening.

Her parents told her to get down, though I wondered to where, since the seat pitch in United's coach doesn't offer enough room for even a five-year-old to stand. And she did climb back on to the seat, sliding towards its edge on her tippy-toes.

She got to the very edge, and... the seat cushion ripped off. They're held on by Velcro ("it can be used as a floation device!"), so that shouldn't be any big deal. And Dad decided to make a joke about it.

"Oh, no, dear. You broke the plane! No Disney World for you tomorrow," he said, with a grin.

Unfortunately, few five years old have developed much sense for sarcasm. Then, here it came: the lower lip trembled, her eyes got wide and wet and... three seconds later every remaining passenger in the plane turned toward our direction, to see what hysterical animal was being slaughtered.

Way to go, Dad.

2. Power-walking through Disney's Animal Kingdom Sunday, I passed two Jungle Book characters as they emerged on to the sidewalk for their meet-'n-greet. A three-year-old girl saw them, beamed and started toddling toward them. Just as I thought the smile on her face couldn't get any wider, Mom, standing behind the girl now, exclaimed...

"Oh, look, honey, Baloo! Too bad you forgot your autograph book!"

Here it comes again: the lower lip trembled, her eyes got wide and wet and... three seconds later everyone else on the street scattered to escape the deafening scream.

Way to go, Mom.

3. Flight home now. This time, sitting next to a cute 15-month-old boy. He was playing with a felt book as Mom held him in her lap. Dad was chatting about work to Mom, meaningless adult talk that Junior happily ignored.

"Yeah, and then I had to go talk to (so-and-so) about some unrelated bulls--t, then I went over to..."

At that moment, Junior put the felt book aside and decided that he wanted to talk:

"Boo. Boo. Boo. Sheee. Bool-sheet."

Way to go, Dad.

A big, friendly Homer Simpson "D'oh!" to all. Don't ya love family vacations?

Comments (16) | Archive Link

Six Flags' mandatory lockers

By Mike Duchock
Published: July 26, 2007 at 1:25 PM
According to a posting at Screamscape.com, lockers are required for ALL loose articles at Six Flags over Georgia's Goliath. The same policy is in effect at Six Flags America.

These aren't the same free lockers you would find at Universal Orlando's Hulk or Dueling Dragons roller coasters with free use for the first 2 hours. Six Flags is CHARGING $2 for the first 3 hour window and a whopping $5 an hour after that. Six Flags loves to encourage you to play their carnival games to win a basketball or large stuffed animal, now they are charging you extra to leave it somewhere while you ride a roller coaster.

Do you think this charge is justifiable? Would you rather leave your bags on the loading platform?

Comments (15) | Archive Link

TPI trip report: Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom

By Robert Niles
Published: July 25, 2007 at 9:55 AM
Yesterday, I broke my number-one rule for visiting theme parks.

If you've been reading the site for a while -- or even if you haven't -- you probably know it: When a park is busy, always get there first thing in the morning, before the park opens.

That's especially true for Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, the world's busiest theme park. And more so in July, its busiest month. And even more so on a Tuesday, it's busiest day of the week, when Magic Extra Hours fills the park with Disney hotel guests one hour before park opening.

So when did I roll up to the Transportation and Ticket Center?

Eleven a.m.

Hey, I had my reasons: 1) I'd only been in town for two days, and hadn't made the internal switch from west coast time. 2) I hauled myself out of bed at 7 am east coast time (4 am my time) the day before, so I was especially tired. 3) I was flying into LAX later that day, arriving at 9:30 pm LA time, or 12:30 am Wednedsay Orlando time. If I wasn't gonna drop dead on my drive home from LAX, I needed to get up no earlier than 9 am Orlando time that morning.

[Before I go further, I should disclose that the reason I was in town, and got up at 7 am on Monday, was that I spent that day conducting training sessions on blogging and website editing for reporters and editors at the Orlando Sentinel. I frequently link to OrlandoSentinel.com because it often offers the best articles covering various aspects of the Central Florida theme park industry. But since I've now worked as a consultant for them, I felt that I needed to tell you that, in the interest of full disclosure.]

Turns out that I wasn't the only one making a late arrival to the Magic Kingdom. Thanks to some bone-headed planning by local highway workers, Interstate 4 was closed in both directions [um... see disclaimer above] at the U.S. 192 intersection all morning Tuesday. That's the main approach used by off-property visitors to the Magic Kingdom. The resulting traffic jam left both I-4 and 192 parking lots, choking access to the park.

Unless... you're staying in Celebration and making a straight shot into the park on the now wide-open World Drive. ;-)

But I paid for that karma when I arrived at the TTC, only to find the monorail line backed up into serpentine queue at the bottom of the ramp and only one ferryboat operating across the Seven Seas Lagoon.

Walt Disney World: Where Dreams Come True. You Can't Get There from Here.

Fortunately, for me at least, half the folks waiting for the ferryboat bailed for the now-impossible monorail queue just before a new ferryboat came on line, whisking me and the rest of the patient crowd over to the park. From there, did my Robert's Theme Park Power WalkTM over to the Magic Kingdom's newest attraction, and the only one I'd hadn't seen: The Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor.

Monsters Inc Laugh Floor

What a charming show! Disney's re-done the old TimeKeeper/CircleVision theater as a kid-friendly comedy club, with three movie screen built into a stage set, facing a rows of new seats, with a wide center aisle. Monsters Inc. characters appear on the screen, in a show that's supposed to elicit enough laughs from us to generate Monstropolis' electric power supply.

Interactivity distinguishes this show. In the queue, overhead screens invite you to text-message jokes, for use in the show. And it appears that there's an unseen voice actor somewhere, who's dubbing the on-screen characters so they can interact with pick on selected members of the audience. Other Disney cast members swoop in with a stick mike for whomever in the audience is the current object of the MC's attention.

It's all very gentle, with the Dads and granddads in the audience taking the most kidding. The audience jokes tend toward groaners, but it's fun when someone you know pops up on screen.

No, it's not worth waiting much more than the half-hour I spent on line. But with the high level of audience participation, every show's a little bit different. I have no idea what this show is doing in Tomorrowland, save for this is where Disney had an available theater, but I'd highly recommend this show one of the MK's better mid-day, sit-down-and-get-out-of-the heat options.

Comments (7) | Archive Link

Universal Hollywood confirms last day for Back to the Future ride

By Robert Niles
Published: July 23, 2007 at 9:53 PM
Universal Studios Hollywood has announced the final day of operation for its Back to the Future ride: Sept. 3, Labor Day in the U.S.

The ride will be replaced by the new Simpsons ride, which will open in Spring 2008.

The park also will be giving away a 1981 DeLorean as pat of the festivites on Labor Day to close the ride. Visitors can enter the drawing for the car at kiosks in the park.

Comments (7) | Archive Link

TPI trip report: Recent attractions boost Disney's Animal Kingdom

By Robert Niles
Published: July 22, 2007 at 5:19 PM
Disney built its most beautiful and intricately themed park with Disney's Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World. But what's there to do? A shortage of good answers to that question plagued this park for the first years after its 1998 opening. But the recent addition of two world-class attractions, Expedition Everest (winner of the 2006 Theme Park Insider Award for World's Best New Attraction) and Finding Nemo - The Musical have elevated this park's attraction line-up to stand with its impressive decor.

Expedition Everest at Disney's Animal Kingdom

I last visited Animal Kingdom five years ago. So it was time for me to see for myself these two new rides about which many TPI readers have raved. So that's what I did today. (I am in town for a business trip... coupled with a requisite family visit.)

Well, you were right. Everest might be the most impressively themed outdoor coaster ever built. And the Finding Nemo musical further demonstrates that Disney's commitment to live Broadway theater has paid off with captivating theme park shows, as well.

Yet I'm left with the frustrating suspicion that 90-plus percent of the folks who ride Expedition Everest either do not notice, or do not care about, the well-detailed back story that Disney's Imagineers have created for this fanciful trip up the world's tallest mountain. An in-queue 'museum' details the "mystery of the lost expedition" as well as 'evidence' of the elusive Yeti, which has terrorized visitors to (Disney's) Himalayas.

But we're on our way to an Everest expedition! Why should we worry about such superstition? After all, nothing ever *goes horribly wrong* on a theme park ride....

So, we board and we're off. Where, of course, something *goes horribly wrong.* The Yeti's attacked the expedition. We're thrown backward into a crevasse and we never summit the famed peak. Instead, we barely escape the grasping hand of the Yeti and we slide back to base camp.

It's a thrilling ride, made more rewarding through careful detail. A tapestry on the initial lift foreshadows the Yeti's attack. The exterior of the lift hill models Lhasa's Potala Palace. Disney fixes its "Thunder Mountain" problem by placing the locomotives at the *rear* of the ride trains, instead of up front where they block riders' views on Thunder Mountain. There's even a handy leather strap on the side of each lap bar, so ride attendants don't have to reach for your crotch to check that the lap bar's locked.

Finding Nemo - The Musical offers a 35-minute recap of the Pixar Academy Award winner, with the addition of original scores by the composer of the Tony Award-winning "Avenue Q." There's an "Avenue Q" vibe to this show, too, though it remains always kid-friendly, as puppeteers manipulate and sing for their charges while in full view of the audience. The score strikes a far different tone that the Randy Newman ballads that typically accompany Pixar tales, but these songs also engage the audience while effectively advancing the story.

Finding Nemo - The Musical at Disney's Animal Kingdom

The cast impresses as well, with strong singing and physical performances. Live instruments, instead of a tape, would elevate the show to near-perfect, but with four or five shows a day, as part of a $50-60 theme park ticket, I guess that's just not in Disney's budget.

My only other complaint about this otherwise don't-miss show? The theater's painful benches. Arriving 45 minutes early, as the guidebook requested, I sat on that awful narrow-slatted upright bench for nearly an hour, never finding a comfortable pose the entire time. So the highest compliment I can pay this show is that for its 35 minutes, I completely forgot about how awful that bench felt.

Comments (4) | Archive Link

Vote of the week: Favorite theme park souvenir?

By Robert Niles
Published: July 20, 2007 at 10:30 PM
You swear you were going to watch what you spent on that theme park visit. "No souvenirs!" you vowed. But every time you go, one of these manages to suck a few bucks out of your wallet.
What is that thing for you?

As always, please explain your pick in the comments, or offer a suggestion about souvenirs at your favorite theme park.

[Personal note: I'll be flying to Orlando for business tomorrow, so I'll post reports from Disney's Animal Kingdom (Sunday) and at least one other Walt Disney World theme park (Tuesday).]

Comments (15) | Archive Link

Dollywood announces new $5-million 'River Battle' ride for 2008

By Robert Niles
Published: July 20, 2007 at 10:06 PM
Dollywood has announced its new atttraction for 2008, an interactive boat ride, called River Battle. (And thanks for the name-check of TPI in the press release, folks!)

It's a "shoot-'em-up"-style boat ride, where the eight passengers on each raft get a water cannon, with which they can take aim at the 100 targets to be built along the course... or riders on the other rafts.

If the ride look familiar to west coast TPI readers, that's because it appears to be a countrified version of the Splash Battle ride that Legoland California debuted last year.

Comments (3) | Archive Link

Sometimes, it's the other visitors, not the rides, that ought to worry you

By Robert Niles
Published: July 19, 2007 at 1:36 PM
Plenty of brutal details have emerged about a May 27 attack at the tea cup ride in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. A thirysomething Orlando-area woman was left with chronic back injuries after a larger, older Alabama woman jumped her after the victim loaded two pairs of elementary-aged children on the spinning cup ride, according to court documents reported in the Orlando Sentinel.

The alleged attacker is facing felony charges.

Witnesses say that the alleged attacker shouted profanities and shoved a couple kids after accusing the victim of cutting in line. (Both ended up in the same load group on the ride.)

[commentary] Plenty of folks complain about what they believe to be unruly teenagers at parks such as those in the Six Flags chain. Personally, I'd rather wait with a gaggle of tatted-up teens than a pair of stressed-out Moms, any day of the year. Do *not* get near an angry mother in a theme park! [/commentary]

Comments (14) | Archive Link

Happy 52nd birthday, Disneyland... and the theme park business

By Robert Niles
Published: July 16, 2007 at 9:49 PM
July 17th is, as most confirmed theme park fans know, Disneyland's birthday. The park opened to the media July 17, 1955, making Tuesday the 52nd birthday of the flagship of the Disney theme park empire. (The park opened to the public the next day, so if you want to celebrate on the 18th, too, by all means, do!)

Of course, Disneyland's success encouraged many others to build or develop their attractions into theme parks, so the day also ought to be considered the birthday of the modern theme park industry as well.

So slice up some chocolate fudge cake and celebrate the theme park way -- by waiting in your favorite queue. ;-) Grocery stores or the local DMV will do if you can't get to a park, I suppose....

I'll celebrate by offering you the earliest photo I have of me at Disneyland:

That's me in the stroller, sucking down an ice cream, Mickey head balloon in hand.

And here I am a few years later, tricked out in my best Disneyland garb:

I'll leave y'all to guess the years in which these were taken. Please use the comments to share your earliest (Disneyland or not) theme park memory.

Comments (9) | Archive Link

Another theme park worker injured in coaster mishap

By Robert Niles
Published: July 16, 2007 at 2:10 PM
An 18-year-old amusement park worker was in "very serious" condition in a U.K. hospital last night after falling 80 feet from the roller coaster on which he was working.

The accident happened on the Twist and Shout coaster, a Schwarzkopf Silverarrow model at Loudoun Castle Theme Park in Ayrshire, Scotland.

The ride was down when the incident happened, though news reports did not detail what the employee was doing on the ride.

Comments (3) | Archive Link

Vote of the week: Alcohol in theme parks?

By Robert Niles
Published: July 14, 2007 at 1:20 PM
When Disneyland opened, Walt insisted the park not serve alcohol. And to this day the park does not (with the exception of the private Club 33). Nor does Disney World's Magic Kingdom.

But plenty of other theme parks do serve alcohol, from wine in restaurants to beer on street carts.

So here's the vote of the week:

In the comments, explain your answer. If you support alcohol sales in certain situations and not others, explain those. Thanks again!

Comments (43) | Archive Link

One for the sharp-pencil readers: Blackstone's sweet tax deal

By Robert Niles
Published: July 13, 2007 at 9:12 AM
When I went through Disney's Traditions orientation sessions for new hires, trainers told us stories of Walt's ongoing battles with what he called the "sharp pencil guys," the accountants who wanted to cut expenses when building Disneyland and nickel-and-dime the guests once they arrived.

Well, if the sharp pencil guys taketh, the sharp pencil guys can giveth, too. Check out today's "Must Read" from Josh Marshall's outstanding blog, Talking Points Memo:

Blackstone finds IRS tax loop

Blackstone, of course, is NBC Universal's partner in the Universal Orlando Resort and the primary investor in Merlin Entertainment Group, the owner of the Tussauds and Legoland theme parks.

The gist of the article? That Blackstone eventually will get tax deductions worth more than the multi-billion tax bill it paid by going public last month. Why? By writing off the eroding value of its companies' "good names" after the companies' sale.

Hey, maybe the "sharp pencil guys" on the site can explain it. ;-)

Comments (4) | Archive Link

Disney finally changing the story inside Epcot's Spaceship Earth

By J. Dana
Published: July 11, 2007 at 10:01 PM
Well, it looks as if Disney is officially updating Spaceship Earth. I was just looking through Breakdowns here in Los Angeles. Breakdowns are the job listings that are sent out by entertainment companies who are looking for actors or other talent for their movies, TV programs or theme parks. Anyway, today Disney listed the following Breakdown:

Wednesday, Jul. 11, 2007, 10:30 AM Pacific
SPACESHIP EARTH
NON-UNION
Theme park attraction for Walt Disney World Epcot.

Casting Director: Brian Nefsky
Interview Date: July 13
Start Date: o/a 8/31/2007
Pay Rate: $700 + 10% agency fee
Location: Glendale, CA

[VOICE-OVER] This is VOICE-OVER AUDITION. 10 year old male to play voice of Newsboy for Civil War sequence.

There isn't currently a CIVIL WAR sequence in the attraction, so this should be interesting.

Comments (7) | Archive Link

Now Cedar Fair's looking for a buy-out

By Robert Niles
Published: July 9, 2007 at 5:36 PM
...And now, the aftermath of Cedar Fair's purchase last year of Paramount Parks.

The amusement park operator has shopped itself to private equity firms, according to a story this morning in the New York Post.

Among the firms approached was the Blackstone Group, which helped fund the creation of Merlin Entertainment Group, which combined Legoland with Madame Tussaud's. Blackstone also holds a stake, with NBC Universal, in the Universal Orlando resort.

The private equity firms, including Blackstone, have been hestitant to buy, according to the Post, citing the presumed cost of the deal. The Post reported that Cedar Fair, which paid $1.2 billion in cash for Paramount Parks last year, has a market capitalization of $1.5 billion and $1.8 billion in debt. Using a formula based on Cedar Fair's current cash flow, the paper estimates the firm could elicit a price of $3.3 billion to $4 billion.

Why sell? Well, the deal would be contingent on a pledge to retain Cedar Fair's current management team. (Which preserves their jobs in a competitive out-of-home entertainment market.) Plus, the infusion of cash would help the company handle its debt without falling into a pre-Snyder-Six Flags-type problem of having to sacrifice capital expansion.

Comments (4) | Archive Link

Vote of the week: Getting soaked by Shamu?

By Robert Niles
Published: July 6, 2007 at 10:43 AM
A quick technical note before we get to this week's vote: Due to a server move, the site will be down for an hour or two between 11pm west coast time Saturday night and 3am Sunday morning.

On to the vote: It's hotter than blazes here on the West Coast, so my thoughts turn to ways to cool down. So, what's your attitude toward getting soaked at a theme park?

And I mean the *water* kind, not the 'paying list price for the ticket at the front gate' kind. ;-)

As always, please leave a note in the comments, too. Thanks! (Vote of the week archive)

Comments (11) | Archive Link

Epcot Fans Rejoice! Mickey's Wand is Coming Down!

By Mike Duchock
Published: July 5, 2007 at 1:41 PM
The Orlando Sentinel is reporting that the wand will be dismantled in time for the park's 25th birthday in October. Epcot Vice President Jim MacPhee said "We think the timing of the removal is right." Work will begin as soon as this Monday.

Comments (27) | Archive Link

Disney World offers live webcast of Fourth celebration

By Robert Niles
Published: July 3, 2007 at 9:44 PM
Wish you were at Walt Disney World for Independence Day, but couldn't make the trip?

Well, log on to http://www.disneyparks.com/fourthofjuly at 8:20 am EDT on July 4, and you can watch live Disney's celebration, featuring a citizenship swearing-in ceremony with more than 1,000 immigrants on Main Street, U.S.A. The ceremony will also feature an F-15 flyover, music performances and a parade.

Comments (4) | Archive Link

TPI editor Robert Niles on Frommers.com podcast

By Robert Niles
Published: July 3, 2007 at 12:31 PM
I just wanted to pass along a link to an interview I did this week about theme parks which is running on Frommers.com's travel podcast.

http://www.frommers.com/articles/4502.html

(Frommers, for those who don't know, is a huge travel guidebook publisher. I've been using their New York and San Francisco with Kids guides, plus their Yosemite guide, to help plan my non-theme park trips this year.)

Hope you'll take a listen.

Comments (10) | Archive Link

2007 'Theme Park Insider Awards' announced

By Robert Niles
Published: July 2, 2007 at 11:38 AM
You rated 'em, and I sent out the press release:

Internet readers have selected the Mystery Mine roller coaster at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. as the year's best new theme park attraction and, for the second year, picked Busch Gardens Europe in Williamsburg, Va. as the world's best theme park.

ThemeParkInsider.com selected the winners of the sixth annual Theme Park Insider Awards based on ratings submitted by the site's more than 15,000 registered members over the past 12 months. In other awards, site readers selected Disney's Polynesian Resort at Walt Disney World as the world's best theme park hotel and, for the fifth consecutive year, picked Mythos Restaurant at Universal's Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Fla. as the world's best theme park restaurant.

Busch Gardens Europe won the Best Theme Park award for the second year, based on the strength of high reader ratings for new attractions such as Griffon, a Bolliger & Mabillard roller coaster that opened this spring and “Curse of DarKastle,” the 2005 Theme Park Insider Award winner for Best New Attraction, as well as consistently high ratings for in-park dining.

Theme Park Insider readers raved about Dollywood's “Mystery Mine,” a Gerstlauer coaster that opened in April of this year, describing it as “a fun and intense ride that provides two different experiences. The indoor part is well-themed and intense while the outdoor part is crazy and twisted.” Other readers praised the ride's “great theme” while calling it "by far the best coaster I've been on" and "Dollywood's best investment by far."

Disney's Polynesian Resort wrested the Best Theme Park Hotel award from Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge, which had won the award for the past two years. Theme Park Insider readers raved about the Polynesian's “excellent service” and “gorgeous grounds.” One reader wrote: “When you're at Disney World, and you want to stay in a tropical setting where you can just enjoy yourself, then the Polynesian is the place for you. My family loved it.”

Mythos Restaurant continued its winning streak by fighting off strong challenges from Sharks Underwater Grill at SeaWorld Orlando and the Teppanyaki Dining Room at Walt Disney World's Epcot. Readers raved: "Mythos is hands down the best theme park restaurant anywhere on the globe. The specials and signature dishes are remarkable compared to any other." Another noted, "Resist the temptation and don't order a comfort food. Mythos has the menu designed by a fine chef for a reason and it shines when you step outside your normal [theme park] fare."

Thanks again to all Theme Park Insider members for another great 12 months. Here's looking toward many improvements, both at the parks and on the site, in the next 12 months!

Comments (11) | Archive Link

Trouble in Downtown Disney?

By Karin S
Published: July 2, 2007 at 11:33 AM
I just read online in the Orlando Sentinel that a device similar to a pipe bomb was found in a dumpster at Downtown Disney around 12:30 am today. Fortunately, no one was hurt and no damage was done, except to the trash recepticle. Downtown Disney has been in the news lately - there was the couple who claimed to have been kidnapped from the parking lot; 4 Florida State football recruits were banned from Disney for life when they didn't leave the area when asked (the ban has since been reversed). According to the local police and Disney security, they are trying to keep people from loitering as there has been an increase of gang activity in the Orlando area.

I am interested in your opinions on a couple of topics.

First - Do you support Disney in their efforts to control the actions of the visitors at Downtown Disney?

Second - With the Fourth of July coming up, the increase in summer visitors and the current world-wide concern with terrorism, do you think the problems of the past few weeks will result in fewer visitors to the area?

Comments (21) | Archive Link

Keep reading: June 2007 Archive