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October 2007

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Bigger riders mean bigger headaches for theme parks

By Robert Niles
Published: October 31, 2007 at 11:48 AM
Americans are getting fatter, and theme parks are responding.

Bigger riders mean tighter fits into roller coaster and other ride seats, particularly on attractions designed a generation ago. As a result, parks are adding "plus-sized" seats to roller coasters, "test" seats at the beginning of ride queues, and in some cases, rebuilding ride systems entirely. But the changes are not coming quickly enough for some frustrated visitors, who are going online to ask others for advice on which rides will be able to accommodate them.

Theme Park Insider reader Rachel Crichton expressed her frustration over a trip to Cedar Point. "I only stood in line for five rides before giving up on the park," she wrote in a thread on TPI's discussion board.

After "being brutally embarrassed at three of them, I managed to fit Mean Streak and Gemini just fine, but was asked to get off of the mine ride and Blue Streak, and didn't even bother trying to fit... into Magnum.

"They say to try a test seat before waiting in line, and i gladly would've done that... except they only have test seats at, like, four rides, and none of them were rides I tried getting on. The website claims you can skip the line to try out the seats before waiting in line, but if you ask me, that's even more humiliating than waiting in line and then getting turned away," Crichton wrote.

Busch Entertainment Corporation spokesperson Damon Andrews acknowledged that theme parks are concerned about the trouble that some visitors are having.

"It's an issue we've recognized and we've tried to make accomodations where they've made sense," he told TPI in a phone interview earlier this year.

"On many rides, such as a Sky Tower, there's no need for individual weight restrictions," Andrews said. "But on a ride like a roller coaster, you are going to reach a point where you will have difficulty accommodating people over a certain weight."

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2005 that the average weight for men aged 20-74 increased 25 pounds between 1960 and 2002, from 166 pounds to 191 pounds. During the same period, the average weight of women the same age increased 24 pounds, from 140 pounds to 164 pounds.

Kids are getting bigger, too. The CDC reported that the average weight for a 10-year-old boy increased from 74 pounds in 1963 to 85 pounds in 2002. Girls' average weight increased from 77 pounds to 88 pounds over the same period.

And as average weights increase, so, to, do body shapes.

"It's an issue of proportion," Andrews said. "Perhaps the top fits well on a ride, but the bottom doesn't. So that person really needs to see the ride seat beforehand, so that he or she can decide whether to ride."

Busch, like other theme park companies places sample seats at the entrance to selected rides, so that overweight visitors can try to fit themselves into the ride seat before taking the time to wait for that ride... and risking the embarrassment of not fitting in when they get to the load platform.

But sample seats are only ones of the accommodations that parks have made for larger riders.

"Depending on whether the ride manufacturer allows it, we've made accomodations ranging from extended seat belts to adding extra-large seats on some rides," Andrews said. "If, even with the larger seat or other accommodation, if we see someone still having a problem, we try, as tactfully as we can, to suggest that rider might not be able to go and to offer an no-wait admission on another ride."

The Walt Disney Company is making changes, too. Walt Disney World spokesperson Zoraya Suarez would not provide specifics in response to Theme Park Insider's query, but noted that "the diversity of our guests is one of many considerations in the design phase of our attractions."

Al Lutz reported on MiceAge earlier this month that Disney will next year rebuild the ride system of the It's Small World attraction at Disneyland to add larger boats and a deeper flume, to prevent what's become a common occurrence -- the 1960s-era boats "bottoming out" and coming to a stop, due to the excess weight of today's riders.

"The new flume will follow the exact same path as the original, and it will travel past sets that are in the exact same locations. But the extra depth of the new flume and the added buoyancy of the new boats should allow for several hundred extra pounds of churro-loving park visitors to pile into the new boats before they bottom out and bring the ride to a stop," Lutz wrote.

Some visitors aren't waiting for parks to design new seats and rides, however. They're using bad experiences with theme park rides as inspiration to make their own changes to, literally, fit in.

"I had the crappy experience this weekend of not fitting onto the Powder Keg at Silver Dollar City," wrote Theme Park Insider reader Becky Clubbs, on another discussion board thread. "I am now on a diet/weight loss program because not fitting onto theme park rides is a pretty big motivator for me."

Here is a sample of recent TPI discussion threads about weight issues:

Weight restrictions at Busch Gardens Europe
Weight limits for coasters at Busch Gardens Europe

Size issues at Busch Gardens Tampa?

Cedar Point Planning for a Big Guy
Are there any overweight Cedar Point Riders out there?

Need help! Question about Kennywood

Size limits (Six Flags Great Adventure)
Test Seats/Weight Restrictions (Six Flags Great Adventure)

Six Flags St. Louis for overweight riders?

Comments (22) | Archive Link

Blaze at Alton Towers theme park shutters Skyride

By Neil Preece
Published: October 29, 2007 at 9:17 AM
A fire struck one of the Skyride stations during Scarefest at Alton Towers last night, forcing an evacuation of one section of the park.

The BBC reported that about 50 firefighters were called to the scene. The fire destroyed part of the station's roof, though no one was injured.

The park was to open as scheduled today, though the Forbidden Valley was to be a delayed opening. The Skyride will remain closed for the rest of the season.

Archive Link

Vote of the week: Who does the best Halloween event?

By Robert Niles
Published: October 25, 2007 at 10:43 PM
I hesitated on this week's vote, because I don't want something so easily manipulated to end up as press release fodder. But I'm curious enough to see the results and read the debate that I'm going for it.

Assumptions:

  • We're going for year-after-year excellence.
  • We're also going for park-to-park excellence, too.

    Yes, I know that Halloween Haunt is new to the non-Knotts Cedar Fair parks. And that Six Flags runs its event in more parks than the others. And that HHN is pretty different between LA and Orlando. So I'm really asking you to react to brand names here. In your experience, overall, which is the company brand that you most associate with "really great Halloween event"?

    What makes this interesting to me is that this is a battle among theme park brands where the usual winner in these battles (Disney) is sitting out.

    Arguments commence in the comment section.

    Comments (7) | Archive Link

  • Disney unveils Studios logo to replace Disney-MGM

    By Robert Niles
    Published: October 25, 2007 at 2:43 PM
    Here is the new logo for Disney's Hollywood Studios, which on Jan. 1 become the new name for the current Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park at Walt Disney World. Disney released the logo to the media today.

    Thoughts?

    Comments (26) | Archive Link

    Busch moving theme parks HQ from St. Louis to Orlando

    By Robert Niles
    Published: October 24, 2007 at 3:58 PM
    Here's some big news that makes perfect sense....

    Busch Entertainment Corporation, the arm of the Anheuser-Busch Companies that runs the company's theme parks, has announced that it will move from A-B headquarters in St. Louis, Mo. to new digs in Orlando, home to the company's largest park, SeaWorld Orlando.

    Busch reported in a press release that the move is to be completed by July 2008, but that a specific new location has not yet been determined. (Commercial real estate agents in Central Florida: Start your Escalades!)

    The move means a change in personnel, too. Current theme parks president Keith M. Kasen is staying behind in St. Louis, taking a new gig as chairman of Busch Entertainment Corp. SeaWorld Orlando GM Jim Atchison gets the promotion to president and Chief Operating Officer.

    Comments (5) | Archive Link

    Fires burn in neighborhoods around Magic Mountain

    By Robert Niles
    Published: October 22, 2007 at 5:49 PM
    As you might have read, wildfires are burning tens of thousands of acres in Southern California. Several fires, fanned by Santa Ana desert winds are burning in the Santa Clarita Valley, home to Six Flags Magic Mountain. One fire, the "Magic Fire," started just after 2 p.m. Pacific time this afternoon and has already burned 1,000 acres just south of the park.

    Good news for park fans is that reports have the fire moving away from the park. But that's really bad news for everyone as the flames instead are moving toward homes.

    The Los Angeles Times has a very, very cool Google Map of the fires, including their status: Check it out.

    Tuesday morning update: Fires in San Diego have closed SeaWorld, though the park itself is not threantened. Fires also are approaching Legoland in Carlsbad, which is in a potential evacuation area. That park was already normally scheduled to be closed today and tomorrow.

    Comments (10) | Archive Link

    Robert's interview with MiceAge's Al Lutz

    By Robert Niles
    Published: October 22, 2007 at 8:13 AM
    I've got an interview with MiceAge creator and long-time Disney watcher Al Lutz up on Online Journalism Review. (That's the other site I edit, for the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication, where I sometimes teach.)

    Lutz talks about breaking the news on DCA, as well as other stories over the years.

    It didn't make the cut for the OJR interview, but Lutz shared his take on why Disney didn't make the deal to get Harry Potter at Walt Disney World, leaving the deal for Universal Orlando to make. Lutz said that the deal, as proposed to Disney, was a 15 year license, with H.P. author J.K. Rowling given the exclusive right to opt out after those 15 years. If she did, that would have left Disney in position where it had to either tear down or entirely retheme its Potter development.

    Presumably, Universal's in the same boat now. But I still think the deal makes sense for Universal.

    As the market leader, Disney probably would not have been able to bring in enough additional visitors to make a Potter development to both pay for itself and provide the same sort of return on investment that Disney could get spending the money elsewhere. Heck, Disney World's parks are often maxed out on visitors as it is.

    But Universal lags Disney significantly in attendance. Simply, Potter would have far more "bang for the buck" in those parks than they would in Disney's. So it is more likely that Universal would be able to get the necessary return on investment with Potter in just 15 years.

    Anyway, there's more good stuff over on OJR, so I hope you take a look.

    Comments (9) | Archive Link

    Vote of the week: Which new theme park development do you most want to see?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: October 19, 2007 at 10:41 AM
    The next three years are shaping up to be big ones for the theme park industry. The Hard Rock Park is slated open in Myrtle Beach, S.C. next year, with the Wizard World of Harry Potter debuting at Universal's Islands of Adventure the year after that. And, over the next three years, Disney will be revamping Disney's California Adventure in Anaheim, adding the new Cars Land, as well as other Pixar- and Disney-themed attractions.

    Which brings us to the question of the week:


    Comments (18) | Archive Link

    Disney makes DCA revamp official today

    By Robert Niles
    Published: October 17, 2007 at 7:12 AM
    Today's the day that Disney confirms its planned makeover of Disney's California Adventure with a press conference, featuring Disney CEO Bob Iger.

    The details are widely known: Toy Story Midway Mania will be the centerpiece, followed by redos of the park's entrance and common areas. Most major attractions will stay, though Maliboomer and some of the other off-the-shelf-style rides in the midway will go. Cars and Little Mermaid attractions should follow in 2009-10.

    The LA Times chases the story this morning, citing the plans being first reported in the Wall Street Journal yesterday. Maybe that's where The Times' Richard Verrier first read of them. But the story actually was first reported by Al Lutz on MiceAge months ago, and picked up by fans on multiple theme park websites, including Theme Park Insider. (My $.02: The Times should let Kimi Yoshino cover *everything* regarding the Disney theme parks. Unlike Verrier's, her reports don't always lag the Disney blogosphere, and if they do, she always properly credits it.)

    Comments (19) | Archive Link

    IAAPA presents 5K fund-raiser for Give Kids the World

    By Robert Niles
    Published: October 16, 2007 at 12:02 PM
    Live in Central Florida and looking for some exercise? You can help a good cause by signing up for a 5K run (with 1 kilometer walk for those who don't wish to run) benefitting Give Kids the World on Nov. 15 at SeaWorld Orlando.

    The event starts at 7:30 am and is presented by the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. Advanced registration fee is $25.

    Sign up is available online at https://www.signmeup.com/site/reg/register.aspx?fid=F32VFK7.

    Comments (3) | Archive Link

    Vote of the week: Orlando vs. SoCal - Which is the better theme park pick?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: October 12, 2007 at 9:13 PM
    Disneyland or Walt Disney World? Universal Studios Hollywood or Universal Orlando? SeaWorld San Diego or SeaWorld Orlando? Busch Gardens Africa or Magic Mountain/Knott's Berry Farm?

    This weekend's vote is a classic East Coast vs. West Coast showdown:

    Explain your pick in the comments, please. Previous votes of the week

    Comments (11) | Archive Link

    Merlin files for Sea Life Center at Legoland California

    By Robert Niles
    Published: October 12, 2007 at 11:14 AM
    Merlin Entertainments, the Blackstone Group-funded parent company of Legoland, has filed for permits to build a Sea Life aquarium center next to Legoland California.

    The city of Carlsbad expects to issue the permits within the next several weeks, the city's planning director told a local newspaper yesterday.

    The move is not unexpected. Merlin's CEO told TPI last year that the company planned to build Sea Life centers next its to Legoland parks. A Sea Life center has been park of the plans for Legoland's proposed Kansas City-area park.

    Legoland California said the 36,000-square-foot facility, which will be a separate ticket, should open in summer 2008.

    This will be the first Sea Life center in the U.S., and the competition for sea-themed attractions in Southern California is, of course, fierce, with SeaWorld San Diego just down the road and Long Beach's Aquarium of the Pacific serving the L.A. market.

    Comments (2) | Archive Link

    Tensions rise among Cedar Fair, Santa Clara and SF 49ers over Great America

    By Robert Niles
    Published: October 10, 2007 at 9:42 AM
    Will the San Francisco 49ers pro football team be the new owners of the Great America theme park in Santa Clara, Calif.?

    That's one option the team's put on the table as it looks to find a new stadium to replace its long-time home on Candlestick Point. The Niners have eyed a new site in Santa Clara, on the parking lot of Great America. At first, Cedar Point was cool with the deal to build on its proprty, then not, then neutral and now, maybe not again.

    Needless to say, that's ticking off the locals, including the Niners, as detailed in the Mercury News. So the Niners have floated the idea of buying the whole property, if Cedar Fair won't give up part of it for the stadium.

    If Cedar Fair held onto the park and partnered with the Niners, perhaps we could settle the whole Cedar Fair vs. Six Flags battle on the football field, the next time San Francisco plays Six Flags chairman Dan Snyder's Washington franchise.

    Comments (10) | Archive Link

    Universal Studios Hollywood unveils its 2007 Halloween Horror Nights

    By Robert Niles
    Published: October 6, 2007 at 12:40 AM
    Tonight, the west coast had its turn.

    One week after Halloween Horror Nights kicked off at Universal Orlando, Universal Studios Hollywood unveiled the 2007 version of its annual Halloween affair.

    The evening started off with actors congratulating one another during an awards show. (Hey, it's Hollywood, folks. This is what they do.) Film director and rock star Rob Zombie held court, recalling stories about horror directing legend Roger Corman...

    Rob Zombie
    Rob Zombie kicks off Universal's Halloween Horror Nights

    David Arquette showed up in full Halloween garb, a Zorro get-up fresh off of Castro Street...

    David Arquette
    Actor David Arquette gets a rare chance to be the most famous person in the room.

    But Child's Play director Don Mancini stole the show with a politically-charged speech that accurately summed up the horror genre's appeal.

    "There is a code in the horror genre. Jason [from Friday the 13th] kills people who engage in premarital sex. Hannibal Lecter kills the rude... but no one dies who has committed no wrong."

    "If I could borrow a line for Sally Field... if Freddy, Jason and Leatherface ruled the world, there would be no more goddamn wars. These characters, unlike some governments, always insist on having reasonably plausible motives for killing people."

    So let us accept this reasonably plausible motive for a Blog Flume entry, and get away from the made-for-media photo op and into the park.

    Full disclosure: This was my first Halloween event. Yep, your TPI founder and editor has managed to avoid Halloween events up until now. So I've got nothing for you in terms of context to pass judgment on tonight's entertainment. I'll just lay out what you've got here:

  • Four mazes, one each for featured horror stars Freddy, Jason and Leatherface, plus Universal's year-'round House of Horrors attraction
  • The "Terror Tram," a reworking of the park's signature tram tour, with opportunities for riders to get off the bus and walk through scare zones set up on some of Universal's iconic backlot sets, including the original Bates Motel
  • Three shows, including long-time favorite "Bill and Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure"
  • Three regular USH rides: Revenge of the Mummy, Jurassic Park and Terminator 2:3D.

    Halloween Horror Nights at Universal has a different look -- a darker look -- than a normal night at the theme park. Walking through the upper lot, blue smoke swirls down the street, and a ghoul in a top hat comes out of nowhere to get uncomfortably close to certain guests walking by. A tattooed guy in a skeleton shirt thrusts a chainsaw at people, giving it a menacing whir just to make them jump. There are sirens and spotlights, and blinking red horns atop people's heads.


    Whach-you lookin' at?

    I did a lap around the upper and lower lots, to get a feel for the place and the scare actors, then hopped on for a spin on Mummy and a walk through the Friday the 13th maze in the old western stunt show space. Mummy, as usual, paled in comparison with its far superior Orlando sibling, but I had fun in the maze and with the scare actors. (I am officially setting 79,840 as the over/under on the number of times guests will say "Don't Tase Me, Bro" to scare actors at various theme park events this Halloween season.)


    With a bat like this, maybe the Angels wouldn't be down two-zip.

    I can't tell you if Universal's mazes or actors were any better or worse than those at other parks. But I will say that, for an event so well themed to death, what struck me most about Halloween Horror Nights was how the event seemed so utterly alive.

    Unlike most theme park entertainment, there's a competitive element available at a Halloween event: Can you scare me, or not? And it is a competition between you, the visitor, and the scare actors in mazes and scare zones. It's not like testing yourself against the twisted metal of a roller coaster or the seeing if an animatronic can make you laugh. This is mano a mano, person to person, totally alive.

    I always play close attention when walking through a theme park. (Heck, it's my job.) But I felt my senses more alive than ever walking through HHN, as I tried to initiate eye contact with every scare actor I could find lurking in the fog and shadow. I'll stare you down before you can make *me* scream, bub!

    And I did. So let's take off, perhaps, for a crew in early season that couldn't get the best of a Halloween rookie. But I'm giving Universal credit for helping me enjoy USH in a way I never had before.

    Halloween Horror Nights runs Friday and Saturday nights in October, as well as Sunday, Oct. 28 and Halloween, Oct. 31.

    Comments (4) | Archive Link

  • Vote of the week: What is your favorite fried-dough snack?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: October 5, 2007 at 10:46 AM
    Time for some artery-clogging fun...

    Explain your pick in the comments, please. Consider taste, texture, portability, cost, how silly you look while eating it and how many you can get down while waiting in line for the roller coaster that will make you consider why the heck you ate that fried goo in the first place. ;-)

    Previous votes of the week.

    Comments (16) | Archive Link

    How to get into the theme park design business

    By Robert Niles
    Published: October 5, 2007 at 10:32 AM
    I gotta agree with Arthur Levine at About.com -- one of the more frequently asked questions I've gotten over the years I've run TPI has been 'how do I get into the theme park design business?' It got to the point where I put on my contact form that I couldn't help people with employment contacts. (I don't want to vouch for people I just met through e-mail, after all.)

    But if you are interested in breaking into the biz, Levine's got a great Q&A up with Craig Hanna [same link as above], principal and chief creative officer of Thinkwell Design and Production. Thinkwell's worked with Universal and other companies and Hanna talks about jobs he's got open now.

    Comments (2) | Archive Link

    Half of all homes in Celebration for sale?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: October 4, 2007 at 11:02 PM
    An Orlando TV news report claims that half the homes in Celebration are for sale. [Thanks to The Housing Bubble Blog for the link.]

    Celebration is, as most TPI readers probably know, the town that Disney carved from Walt Disney World property in the mid- to late-1990s. Development continues there, even though Disney sold its share of the development to other companies a few years back.

    The lure of buying into "Disney's town" drew speculators like ants on a picnic, driving prices far beyond those for similarly sized units in unincorporated Osceola County. (Though Disney promoted Celebration as a "town," it does not exist as a political entity. It is also unincorporated land, ceded back from Disney's Reedy Creek Improvement District to Osceola County.)

    With the real estate bubble bursting all over the country due to the elimination of too-easy mortgage money, "flippers" and other speculators in communities such as Celebration have been left holding the bag. From personal experience, I know that a significant number of properties in Celebration are unoccupied. And that many were, and remain, for sale.

    But 50 percent? One out of every two? That number is stunning. [Full disclosure: my mother sells real estate in Celebration. So I'm feeling juuuust a little bit conflicted here.] What are our Orlando-area readers seeing?

    Comments (4) | Archive Link

    Disney announces Hawaiian hotel resort

    By Robert Niles
    Published: October 3, 2007 at 10:31 PM
    It looks like the first Disney "mini-resort" is a go... and it's coming to Oahu.

    Disney's announced that it will build a new resort-style hotel on 21 oceanfront acres on the Hawaiian island, for a 2011 opening. The resort will include 800 units, and undisclosed attractions, and cost north of $140 million.

    No word on specific theme, though Disney's gone to the generic Hawaiian well on many occassions, most recently with "Lilo and Stitch."

    Hey, there's an idea for a new attraction for this project. Let's move Stitch's Great Escape from WDW to the new Hawaiian resort!

    Comments (5) | Archive Link

    New Spin on Terror: Howl O Scream Busch Gardens Tampa

    By Erik Yates
    Published: October 3, 2007 at 4:53 PM
    Howl O Scream at Busch Gardens Tampa is an edgier, more adult, scarier version of its counterpart at Busch Gardens Europe.

    This year there are 6 houses, 3 of which are all new.
    I was there for the media event in which I had a camera strapped to my head and I was shown through their newest house, Catch Your Breath.

    Overall the event is good, and the three new houses are pretty good. The best one is Taste of Blood, and Trapped still comes in at a close second.

    Themeing is getting better, as they know they have to at least keep up a little bit with Halloween Horror Nights. There are not a lot of special effects, and not a lot of expensive scares like there are at HHN. What you get is a more raw experience, and you also get scareactors that seem to try a little harder, though I enjoy both events equally.

    Here is a short video podcast from the event:

    You do see me going through the house, and a few other things.

    Comments (5) | Archive Link

    'Texas Cliffhanger' makes its last drop

    By Jen Bryan
    Published: October 2, 2007 at 9:26 PM
    Six Flags Over Texas theme park imploded the 128-foot 25-year-old "Wildcatter" ride (which debuted as the “Texas Cliffhanger,” which is how most folks tend to remember it) Tuesday afternoon to make room for a new “Tony Hawk’s Big Spin”. It was imploded at 2 p.m. by the Dallas Demolition Company. Park officials said the new Tony Hawk ride will debut on opening day of the 2008 season.

    Information for this entry from Fox News Article "Theme Park Levels 128-Foot Ride"
    Star Telegram Video of Implosion can be seen here.

    Comments (1) | Archive Link

    Legoland Windsor evacuated after chemical fire

    By Robert Niles
    Published: October 1, 2007 at 2:14 PM
    About 2,000 visitors to Legoland Windsor in the United Kingdom were evacuated today after toxic chemicals stored in a shed near the park caught fire.

    The BBC quoted a fire department spokesperson who reported that 800 liters of chlorine and 800 liters of hydrochloric acid burned. Officials evacuated the park as a precaution against visitors inhaling the fumes.

    U.K. environmental officials are investigating.

    Archive Link

    Jimmy Buffett goes after Six Flags

    By Robert Niles
    Published: October 1, 2007 at 11:31 AM
    The New York Post's Page Six gossip column reports this morning that singer Jimmy Buffett is claiming copyright infringement against Six Flags over the theme park chain's "Carrothead Club."

    The Six Flags club is for kids and takes its name from the chain's carrot-chomping Bugs Bunny mascot. But the name is too close to "Parrotheads," Buffett's fan club, for Buffett's comfort.

    Buffett, of course, has a deal with Universal Orlando, which houses one of Buffett's Margaritaville restaurants at CityWalk.

    Comments (9) | Archive Link

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