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August 2007

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Vote of the week: Favorite holiday to visit?

By Robert Niles
Published: August 31, 2007 at 3:47 PM
To celebrate the Labor Day holiday in the United States this weekend, I'm asking which is your favorite holiday for a theme park visit.

Note that I'm asking about the day itself, not the season surrounding. So you'll need to balance your ability to be off work, what's open, the atmosphere at your chosen park and, not least of all, how crowded the park will be.

FWIW, I didn't put Halloween on the list because (a) it isn't technically a holiday and (b) c'mon, it'd win in a walk.

Defend your pick in the comments. Previous votes of the week

Comments (13) | Archive Link

New Canada film debuts at Epcot this weekend

By Robert Niles
Published: August 31, 2007 at 10:15 AM
Orlando-area readers and visitors: Epcot's debuting its new O Canada! film on Saturday, which replaces the aging World Showcase movie which some Canadians had grown to loathe.

The new film includes updated footage, musical performances and narration from Canadian comedian Martin Short.

I've reset the voting on the film, since it is promised to be substantially new. If you get a chance to see it, please click over to TPI's O Canada! listing page and submit a review.

Comments (2) | Archive Link

'Jack's Carnival of Carnage' headlines horror all-stars at HHN 17

By Robert Niles
Published: August 30, 2007 at 2:20 PM
Universal has confirmed the details for this year's Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando. The host this year is Jack, Clown Prince of Halloween, joined by three horror film all-stars, Freddy Krueger, Jason and Leatherface.

Here are the eight haunted houses at this year's event, which opens on Sept. 28:

  • A Nightmare on Elm Street: Dreamwalkers
  • The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Flesh Wounds
  • Friday the 13th: Camp Blood
  • The Thing: Assimilation
  • Dead Silence: The Curse of Mary Shaw
  • Psychoscareapy: Home for the Holidays
  • Vampyr: Blood Bath
  • Jack’s Funhouse in Clown-O-Vision

    From Universal's press release:

    Halloween Horror Nights runs 23 nights this year and features eight all-new haunted houses – three of which are created around New Line’s Freddy Krueger, Jason and Leatherface. There will also be four new shows – more than ever before – including a show dedicated to Jack along with an even more excellent and irreverent version of “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure.”

    “Our goal this year has been to set a new standard for horror – to create an event that will haunt you forever,” said Jim Timon, senior vice president of entertainment for Universal Orlando Resort. “We will put you in the same environment as world-class horror icons, we will exploit every weakness we can find – and we will not let you go until we’re done with you.”

    If you are rolling on Windows (I'm not), Uni's got a HHN promotional video on its media site, too. [Windows Media]

    Halloween Horror Nights will run Sept. 28-29, Oct. 4-7, 11-14, 18-21, 24-28, and Oct.31-Nov. 3. Tickets are on sale now at http://www.halloweenhorrornights.com/.

    Comments (3) | Archive Link

  • Looking for Tampa-area TPI reader

    By Robert Niles
    Published: August 29, 2007 at 10:42 AM
    Would any of our Tampa-area/Central Florida readers like to cover a press event at Busch Gardens Africa at 10 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 6? If so, please e-mail me ASAP. (I assume this is the formal announcement for the new "Jungala" land.)

    Normal rules apply: You must be registered on TPI under your real name, must be willing and able to provide well-composed same-day write-up and photos of the event for the Blog Flume. And you must abide by the TPI guidelines for writers.

    Comments (1) | Archive Link

    Vote of the week: Left or right? Which line do you choose?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: August 24, 2007 at 11:34 AM
    You've been there. You've made the decision. Now it's time to reveal it to the world. When the queue splits on those really long theme park rides, which side of the line do you pick... and why?


    Comments (15) | Archive Link

    What they looked like then: Summer 1990 photos from DL and the MK

    By Robert Niles
    Published: August 24, 2007 at 10:42 AM
    We're cleaning out the junk closet here at Theme Park Insider World Headquarters, which lead me to uncover some old photos of Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

    As long-time TPI readers might know, I worked as a cast member at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom from 1987-1991. I worked the first summer in merchandise in Tomorrowland, then transferred to Magic Kingdom West attractions for the following summer. I worked full-time in 1989-1990 as I took a year between undergraduate and graduate work.

    In August 1990, I set aside a week and a half to make my way from Orlando up to Bloomington, Indiana for graduate journalism school. And I spent that time doing what every Disney World cast member who'd been born in L.A. but not been back for 15 years would do: I drove across the country to Disneyland.

    It took me two and a half days to get from Orlando to Anaheim. Before I left, I photographed several of my favorite sites in the MK, so I could make a DL/WDW photo montage of those attractions for my dorm room wall. Many of those locations look the same today, but a few have changed. So, for your Friday afternoon entertainment, here are some of my old photos:

    Sleeping Beauty's Castle, from the Skyway

    Sleeping Beauty's Castle hasn't changed much on the outside over the past 17 years, but it's the angle of this shot that I love, one that you can't get anymore. Why? I took it from the long-shuttered Fantasyland Skyway.

    The Sailing Ship Columbia

    I worked most of my shifts driving Tom Sawyer's Island rafts at the MK, so I was excited to see something different on Disneyland's Rivers of America - the sailing ship Columbia, here shown on a packed day in 1990.

    The Enchanted Tiki Room, with 1990 hostess costume

    When I wanted to pick up some easy extra cash, I often extended my workday by pulling overtime at the Enchanted Tiki Room. At the MK in 1990, we wore horrid puke-yellow polyster guayaberas, which I could not bring myself to photograph. But I did not hesitate to grab a shot of this Disneyland Tiki Room hostess, in her tropical red gown, which I'm sure they hated as much as we hated our Tiki costumes.

    The Country Bear Playhouse at Disneyland

    I'd seen the Country Bear Vacation Hoedown at the MK least 1,000 times (no exaggeration, I did the math one time when I was stuck in the theater for *nine* shows in a row). But the CM at greeter told me that Disneyland was still showing the original Country Bear Jamboree, which I'd not seen since I was a child. So I rushed into the theater to catch a show while I waited for the queue at the newly-opened Splash Mountain to wind down.

    I'm still proud of myself for not screaming out loud when the Vacation Hoedown show came on instead. Today, the Country Bear Playhouse at Disneyland is gone, replaced by the Winnie the Pooh ride.

    Country Bear Vacation Hoedown at Disney World

    Here is my old home, the Magic Kingdom's Frontierland. August 1990. Let's pause for a moment to regret late '80s fashion, shall we?

    Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Disney World

    The last attraction I trained on at the MK was Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, where I worked most of my shifts in the summer of 1990. Here's what it looked like then, from the upper deck of the (then-named) Richard F. Irvine riverboat. Note the abundance of trees -- and lack of Splash Mountain -- to the left. The TSI raft dock stands in the foreground.

    Finally, I leave you with one of the few pictures of me as a Walt Disney World cast member. That's your editor, rolling out the parade route rope one afternoon while working Thunder Mountain.

    Have a great weekend. And I'll see you at Disneyland, Disney World, or somewhere on the road in between!

    Comments (9) | Archive Link

    New maps, directions and reader photos on TPI

    By Robert Niles
    Published: August 22, 2007 at 11:21 AM
    Some mid-week housekeeping, here on TPI:

    I wanted to bring your attention to an improved feature on our theme park ratings and reviews index page. It's an embedded Google Map of the biggest U.S. theme and amusement parks we cover here on Theme Park Insider.

    You can zoom in, click on the "push-pins" and get custom driving directions to the theme park of your choice. The pop-ups also link back to TPI's review page for each park.

    For an extra treat, click on the "Sat" or "Hyb" buttons on the map, and enjoy satellite, aerial views of your favorite theme parks, right here on TPI.

    Then, when you've had your fill of looking at theme parks (from above, at least), you now can look at your fellow Theme Park Insider readers. Log in, and click to the "My Profile Page" link you will find on the upper left side of the page, under the TPI logo. There you will find a link (on the right side of your profile page) where you now can upload a picture. (Here's my example.)

    Comments (4) | Archive Link

    Cedar Point raises admission price, too

    By Robert Niles
    Published: August 21, 2007 at 10:04 AM
    Cedar Point has increased the price of its one-day admission ticket by a buck, to $42.95. Seasonal parks, such as Cedar Point, typically only change their prices mid-season to cut them in reponse to sluggish attendance. A mid-year price increase is rare.

    Is Cedar Point attendance really that good this season? What can our readers in northern Ohio report?

    Disney World and Universal Orlando increased their base prices earlier this month. And Cedar Point's been the target of take-over rumors. A price increase, if it doesn't hurt attendance, would boost revenue numbers, making the company more attractive -- or at the very least helping corporate cash flow.

    Comments (6) | Archive Link

    Busch Gardens Europe reveals 2007 Howl-O-Scream plans

    By Robert Niles
    Published: August 20, 2007 at 11:02 AM
    News today from Busch Gardens Europe, in Williamsburg, Virginia:

    The park announced the line-up for this year's Howl-O-Scream (wiki updated with information from the Busch press release).

    The park is adding two mazes and a scare zone in a new village, "The NeverAfter," designed for visitors age 17 and up. The village is themed to fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm, with macabre twists.

    Also, the park announced that it is selling 2008 season passes, which can be used for the remainder of 2007, using its EZPay system. That allows visitors buy their pass by making monthly payments over 12 months, instead of paying the full price upfront. There are no interest charges. Passes are available online at buschgardens.com/va, or by calling 1-800-772-8886.

    Comments (3) | Archive Link

    Vote of the week: Favorite water park in Florida?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: August 17, 2007 at 11:46 AM
    Thanks to TPI reader Brian Emery for this week's question.

    Let's talk water parks. I know we haven't had these up for rating and review on Theme Park Insider... yet. (We'll be adding the Orlando-area parks on the site when SeaWorld's Aquatica opens next year.) But I'd love to hear you defend your favorite (use the comments).

    BTW, I'm limiting this to the big Central Florida parks this week to avoid regional battles. Other parks will be in future votes.

    Previous Votes of the Week

    Comments (11) | Archive Link

    A quick, wet trip to Universal Studios Hollywood

    By Robert Niles
    Published: August 16, 2007 at 4:47 PM
    My wife took my daughter to L.A.'s American Girl Place today, so my son wanted a trip of his own while they were gone.

    "They ought to have an American Boy Place," were his exact words. After throwing around a few options, we settled on a trip to Universal Studios Hollywood as the most appropriate alternative.

    There's plenty here for a seven-year-old, superhero-obsessed boy. Last night, I bought two print-at-home tickets from the Universal website. The tickets were available to Southern California residents only (though they didn't check my ID at the park gate), and give you two days for $49 ($12 off the regular one-day price of $61).

    We started the day at Shrek 4-D, a show I've longed enjoyed, but that my son hadn't seen in the theme park theater before (just at home on DVD). The air puff/spider effect freaked him out a bit, but more because he didn't understand how they did it, at first, and there's little in life he hates more than not understanding something.

    After many, many questions about the technology of 4-D shows, he allowed us to continue to Back to the Future, which we got to ride for one last time before it closes next month to make way for The Simpsons ride. My son enjoyed BTTF even more than Shrek, which might be due to the fact that he's seen stuff with Shrek, oh, about a trillion and a half times, but he'd never seen anything from Back to the Future before today. (Note to self: put it on the Netflix list.)

    Brian was disappointed that our local Universal park didn't have a Spider-Man ride, like the Universal park near Grandma and Grandpa in Orlando. (Join the club, kid.) But we saw Spidey and several other superheros walking the pathways, so he wasn't completely disappointed.

    The Orlando parks don't have the original Universal Studios tour, though, so we hit that next. I hadn't been on the tour since Universal revamped it a couple years ago, and while the tour doesn't pack the punch it did in the era before DVD extras and "behind the scenes" cable TV shows, Universal's done a fine job in keeping fresh this 40-minute trip through its front and back lots. I'd not seen Universal's "Denver" western street since I was my son's age and the other set effects on the show, from Earthquake to Jaws to the Fast and the Furious cars, elicited enough questions from Brian to keep him from eating much of anything for lunch.

    We wrapped up our short trip with a ride on the Jurassic Park River Adventure. Universal's promoting the ride on its guidemap with the slogan "Now Wetter Than Ever!," which I took as marketing hyperbole from a park that hadn't opened a major new attraction this year. But Uni's not kidding. I have never gotten wetter on any theme or amusement park ride than I did today on Jurassic Park. The ride takes no mercy on its guests, with water streams, waterfalls and geysers soaking everyone on board before your boat ever gets to the final drop.

    Which, of course, dumped about twice as much water on me as I ever remember getting on this ride before. On a 90-degree-plus day in Los Angeles, this super-soaking gets a big, wet thumbs up.

    Unfortunately, by the time we got to the top of the loooooong Universal "starway" escalator to the park's upper lot, we were dry again. Fortunately, we still have that second day on our tickets.

    Add: Rumors flying that NBC's gonna move The Tonight Show from Burbank to Universal Studios Hollywood. Perhaps when or before Conan O'Brien takes over the show in 2009.

    Comments (10) | Archive Link

    A new theme park for Las Vegas?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: August 14, 2007 at 9:09 PM
    Sometimes, Las Vegas makes my head hurt.

    And not in a good, "I can't believe I'm up this much, what are they pumping into the air in this casino, and wow, I wish I made as much cash as that chick's plastic surgeon must be raking in" way.

    Consider Arthur Levine's lastest over at About.com: Dry Fun on Tap for Las Vegas Wet Mega-Resort

    The details previously announced for the Las Vegas Wet resort under development in the glitz capital of the world were already mind boggling: a 350,000-square-foot indoor water park (which will make it the largest in North America and the second largest in the world), a 23-acre outdoor water park, 1400 themed hotel rooms, two entertainment/restaurant/nightclub areas, a sports and entertainment arena, a casino, the world's largest parking structure and, improbably, an indoor snow dome... with year-round Alpine skiing and snowboarding. The developers aren't finished yet, however. ...But the huge news, according to Las Vegas Wet CEO, Steven Dooner, is that the property will also feature a 65-acre "internationally branded" theme park.

    Wow, I need an aspirin after reading those plans. How about you?

    Granted, the Vegas residential real estate market is crashing, and with credit drying up around the world faster than my skin in the Las Vegas heat, count me as skeptical that this project will come off as hyped. (The indoor water park, however, ought to be a slam dunk.)

    Thoughts?

    Comments (5) | Archive Link

    Disney vs. the University of Washington: Who's right?

    By Bruce Lane
    Published: August 14, 2007 at 9:04 PM
    [Okay, it's off the theme park topic, but I've been following the story with great interest, so... what the heck. Enjoy!- Robert]

    This is a story that, to my eyes at least, goes under 'Bizarre, but unsurprising." It seems that Disney has asked (in a letter) that the University of Washington retract certain statements in a study they did which, supposedly, showed that DVD's along the lines of "Baby Einstein" and "Brainy Babies" (both apparently Disney brands) could actually impede development of language skills in early years rather than boosting them.

    Here's a link to the Seattle P-I story:

    http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/327454_babytv14.html

    And here's one to the full text of the letter that Disney's Robert Iger sent to Mark Emmert, president of the UoW.

    http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/327427_letter14ww.html

    And, finally, here's a link to the story at the University's local newsletter, along with E-mail links for more info.

    http://uwnews.washington.edu/ni/article.asp?articleID=35898

    I've not yet had a chance to read more than the P-I article, so I'm not prepared to go into a full discourse on this. I do, however, find it most interesting that Disney would resort to corporate-level counterattacks instead of commissioning a study of their own. If they truly believe in their product, then they should be completely unafraid to submit it for an independent study.

    Happy reading.

    Comments (2) | Archive Link

    Here we go again... Universal follows Disney

    By Iris Hernandez
    Published: August 10, 2007 at 3:58 PM
    It's official....According to the Orlando Sentinel, Universal Studios has followed Disney In raising its ticket prices. As of this morning the one day-one park adult ticket has been raised from $67 to $71. The child prices have been raised from $56 to $60. Of course anyone that is familiar with this website knew this would happen. Personally I didnt think it would happen so soon. For more intricate details please visit Orlando Sentinel.com

    How long do you guys think it will take for Sea World/Busch Gardens to raise their prices?

    Comments (9) | Archive Link

    Vote of the week: New name for Disney-MGM Studios?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: August 10, 2007 at 9:21 AM
    Disney's changing the name of its Disney World movie-themed park.

    And Disney didn't ask you what you thought about that. But we are....

    Comments below for your thoughts. Previous Votes of the Week

    Comments (11) | Archive Link

    Meet the cast of 'Wicked' at Universal Studios Hollywood

    By Robert Niles
    Published: August 9, 2007 at 10:59 PM
    If you're a fan of the Broadway musical "Wicked" and you will be in the L.A. area next Wednesday, you might want to make your way over to Universal Studios Hollywood.

    Universal's been hosting "Wicked Wednesdays" throughout the summer, with cast members performing selections from the show. But the finale on Wednesday, Aug. 15 promises to be the big one, with performances by and a fan meet-and-greet with Tony Award-winner John Rubinstein (The Wizard in the L.A. production), Megan Hilty (Glinda) and USH alumnae Eden Espinosa (who plays the lead, Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West).

    The show begins at 12:30 and will feature a selection of songs from the show, including "The Wizard and I," "For Good" and "Popular." (The USH press release doesn't mention the show's top number "Defying Gravity." Let's hope that one on the bill, too.) There will be a meet-and-greet after the show.

    "Wicked" is *the* pop-culture phenomenon among the girls at my daughter's elementary school, here in Pasadena, and we've already been to the show at the Pantages Theater in L.A., which I would recommend highly. But tickets can be expensive and hard-to-get, so the USH appearance can be a bargain way for a live "Wicked" fix.

    Comments (1) | Archive Link

    Disney is renaming Disney World's MGM Studios

    By Robert Niles
    Published: August 9, 2007 at 2:18 PM
    Disney-Pixar Studios? Nope.

    Disney's Hollywood Adventure? Nope. But close.

    Walt Disney Studios Theme Park? Been there, done that. But not again.

    Disney announed the new name for the Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park at Walt Disney World, and the winner is... Disney's Hollywood Studios.

    The reason? Disney's deal with MGM is long done, and the studio felt no need to continue promoting a rival brand. And a Pixar rebrand would limit the park, especially with so much desire for an increased presence by George Lucas' Star Wars francise (though, didn't Lucas help start Pixar?) And Disney's last two U.S. theme parks have included the possessive name, so Disney's Hollywood Studios it is.

    Comments (15) | Archive Link

    Disney re-ups 'Million Dreams' promotion for another year

    By Robert Niles
    Published: August 8, 2007 at 6:12 AM
    Disney announced yesterday that it is extending its "Year of a Million Dreams" promotion for another year. ("The Two Years of a Million Dreams?" or does this mean we get "The Two Years of Two Millions Dreams"? I don't know....)

    I'm interested in hearing whether this promotion has affected your decision to go to a Disney theme park, or not. My $.02? Some of the prizes impress me greatly (the Disney World castle stay, for one), but the randomness of it all turns me off. I mean, I know that the selection of winners is random. But I could wrap my head around the selection process when they awarded prizes at the front gate, or at the prize machine on the Hub (my personal favorite from Disneyland). Picking people off the street, as Disney's doing this year, doesn't strike me as dramatic... or as much fun.

    Thoughts?

    Comments (28) | Archive Link

    Are Six Flags' newest TV commercials hitting their mark?

    By Matthew Baker
    Published: August 7, 2007 at 10:28 AM
    You might remember this being brought up back in June. I'm close enough that Magic Mountain's TV commericals show up in the TV markets here, and have been taking note of them with regards to Six Flags' attempt at being more family-oriented.

    The most recent one I've seen was last week, and was decidedly not family-oriented. It had a main concept along the lines of "there's a lot of great [new?] stuff here" or something like that, and seemed to be targeting a young-adult demographic. Of note, the line "I'm glad they're not closing", and no "Mr. Six" and associated theme this time. But, Roaring Rapids and the pirate ship--obviously not "new stuff"--were the only rides depicted apart from the big coasters which took up at least half the commercial time.

    I was hoping for a look at the Justice League parade (is this even at SFMM?) and maybe new entertainment; I don't remember seeing any shots of these.

    What are your thoughts on Six Flags' recent TV and radio advertising in your market? Leave a comment using the link below. - Editor

    Comments (16) | Archive Link

    Discovery Cove announces Florida resident discount deal

    By Robert Niles
    Published: August 6, 2007 at 2:10 PM
    Live in Florida? Like theme parks? Yet you want to avoid tourists and save a few bucks?

    SeaWorld Orlando's Discovery Cove [help with page updates there, please!] is bringing back its discount for Florida residents. The deal is good from Sept. 5 – Oct. 2 and Nov. 12 – Dec. 20. The all-inclusive one-day stay costs $199 for Florida residents, and includes the dolphin swim. That's $80 off the list price. Book online via http://www.discoverycove.com.

    If you're looking to spend some extra time at the parks and *make* some money, instead of spending it, Busch also has accounced try-outs for its Busch Gardens Africa Howl-O-Scream 2007 Scare Squad. Auditions are Fridays from 5-8 p.m. and Saturdays 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. every weekend (except Labor Day weekend) through Sept. 8. Here's the map.

    Comments (1) | Archive Link

    Walt Disney World raises ticket prices 3-6 percent

    By Robert Niles
    Published: August 3, 2007 at 3:02 PM
    The base, one-day ticket price for visiting Walt Disney World is now $71, up 6 percent (four bucks) from the previous $67. Increases ranged between three and six percent for the various options one can buy under Disney World's 'Magic Your Way' ticket plan.

    FWIW, I just bought a Disney World ticket and opted for the 10-day park-hopper with no expiration option. I used two days and still have eight available, which I bought at the lower price though they'll still be good now and in the future, no matter how high Disney raises. If you can afford the up-front cost, and know that you'll be visiting Disney again in the future, buying the 10-day ticket, no-expire ticket gets you the best deal.

    You could do a better deal on a 7-10 day visit to Disney, with no park-hopper and declining the no-expire, but I'd hate that kind of vacation. I'd rather buy the 10-day, as described above, and do a couple or three days at Disney, a little Universal or SeaWorld, a day at the beach or KSC, some pool time and maybe canoeing at Wekiva. Then come back for more in a year or three. But that's me.

    Comments (15) | Archive Link

    Vote of the week: Which park do you miss?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: August 3, 2007 at 2:01 PM
    Please use the comments to reminisce....

    Comments (31) | Archive Link

    Six Flags buys another park... kinda

    By Robert Niles
    Published: August 1, 2007 at 10:20 PM
    Being a SoCal person, forgive me for forgetting details about NorCal's parks from time to time. Such as... the fact that Six Flags didn't actually own its Bay Area park, now known as Six Flags Discovery Kingdom.

    The city of Vallejo co-owned it, collecting revenue and maintaining debt as a result. Until today. Six Flags today completed a $55 million buy-out that gives the park complete ownership of the park, located northeast of San Francisco.

    The deal allows Vallejo to wipe out its largest source of municipal debt, according to a local news report. And it allows Six Flags to hold on to all the revenue generated by the park.

    Comments (7) | Archive Link

    DreamWorks appoints new theme park guru

    By Robert Niles
    Published: August 1, 2007 at 9:01 AM
    DreamWorks Animation has created a new position, charged specifically with overseeing the studio's work on theme park attractions and other "site-specific entertainment around the world." Former Universal Studios Hollywood executive Joel Ward gets the gig. From a DreamWorks press release:

    Among Ward's duties are extending and building franchise possibilities for DreamWorks Animation properties including Shrek, Madagascar and the upcoming Kung Fu Panda, along with other films in the company's library, both past and present. Ward will also endeavor to further grow the relationship with Universal Studios, in addition to creating new opportunities with parks and entertainment complexes around the world.

    Comments (2) | Archive Link

    Keep reading: July 2007 Archive