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December 2007

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The top 10 theme park stories of 2007

By Robert Niles
Published: December 31, 2007 at 2:03 PM
As my neighborhood fills with RVs, portable toilets, drivers cruising in classic cars and thousands of folks camping on the sidewalks, I'm seeking a moment's refuge in TPI's traffic logs for 2007. Here are the most-clicked-to stories on the Blog Flume in 2007:

  1. Teenage girl injured at Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom
  2. SeaWorld's Aquatica water park to blend slides with animal habitats
  3. 2006 theme park attendance data released (finally!)
  4. The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter comes to Universal Orlando
  5. New Disney attraction concept art released
  6. Accident at Cedar Point's Magnum hurts three
  7. Rumors swirl over 'Harry Potter Island' at Universal Orlando
  8. Walt Disney Company linked to project in Branson
  9. Universal Studios Hollywood unveils its 2007 Halloween Horror Nights
  10. 2007 Theme Park Insider Awards: What is the world's best theme park?

Let's put up for a vote: I've included what I think were the most newsworthy stories from the top 10 list, as well as one story that just missed the top-10 traffic cut-off:



Explain your pick for the biggest story of 2007 in the comments, please.

Comments (8) | Archive Link

Pasadena prepares for the 2008 Rose Parade

By Robert Niles
Published: December 30, 2007 at 11:45 PM
It's time again for that *other* thing Pasadena's known for (besides being home to Theme Park Insider, of course!) -- the annual New Year's Day Rose Parade.

Locals know that the best time to see the floats up close is *before* the parade, as volunteers apply the millions of flowers, petals, seeds and fruits that, by rule, cover every inch of every entry. Five bucks gets you into your choice of two of the float decoration sites, two on the Rose Bowl grounds, one elsewhere in Pasadena, and one to the east of Pasadena, in Duarte.

This is the final year for float decorating in Duarte, however, as the City of Hope hospital is expanding on to the land where the decorating tent is set up each year. The Tournament of Roses has secured land in Irwindale and will be hosting float decorating there starting next December.

A visit to the float decorating has become an annual tradition here on Theme Park Insider, so here are some of my picture's from today's visit to the Duarte and Rose Bowl decorating sites. Click the tiger below for a photo gallery of images from this year's float decorating, which will lead into images from past year's parades and float decorating.

Tiger

Check back on Tuesday for photos and an on-the-scene recap of this year's parade!

Archive Link

Vote of the week: 2008 travel plans

By Robert Niles
Published: December 28, 2007 at 11:58 AM
The New Year approaches... and theme parks are thinking about how much money they'll make off us next year. ;-)

So, what will it be? Do you envision hitting the parks more, or less, often in 2008?

Fill in the details about your 2008 travel plans, in the comments. Happy New Year!

Comments (16) | Archive Link

Six Flags faces opposition to beer sales at Texas park

By Robert Niles
Published: December 28, 2007 at 9:43 AM
The folks at Six Flags Over Texas have applied for a permit to sell beer at the park, and that's got plenty of neighbors upset.

Beer sales are common at theme parks, but the original Six Flags park, like industry leader Disneyland, does not sell alcohol. (Disneyland, however, *does* have a liquor permit, for the private Club 33, located above Pirates of the Caribbean.) Six Flags posted notice earlier this month that it is seeking liquor permits from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and since then, hundreds of people have called the commission to oppose the request.

Despite the near ubiquity of alcohol sales in parks, opposition to beer and wine in the parks remains high, as we found in a vote of the week discussion last summer.

Comments (11) | Archive Link

A first look at Universal Florida's 'Disaster!'

By Gareth H
Published: December 23, 2007 at 10:33 PM
Today I managed to get in the first soft opening of the all new replacement to Earthquake at Universal Studios Florida: "Disaster! A Major Motion Picture Ride."

Now prepare for the spoiler.

The closely kept secret is that the host and main star to this attraction is none other than Christopher Walken.

You start in the main room, as before. But instead of learning that Singing in the Rain was actually filmed singing in the milk, and that the budget was so low they swept the leaves up after each shoot, you are treated to the humiliation of guests (Always fun) while the overly camp Assistant to the Director picks out the stars for the show. This time I counted six stars, not including yourself of course.

The next room, where you normally shout out ET, Grinch & U571 and have a video presentation by the gun toting Chalton Heston, has now been replaced by 2 screens and a stage. On stage the overly camp assistant introduces the director, who is none other than Christopher Walken.

Now this room is very clever, as Christopher Walken is not on the screens as you'd think. He's actually a 3D projected hologram, intereacted with the Camp Assistant. There are a few clever interactive situations here that I'll not spoil for you. But so far a very clever highlight to the new show.

On to the next room. The oh-so-boring U571 set up has thankfully been relaced with green screens, backdrops and moveable props. The stairwell is still there but plays no real role as it did before. This was okay, much better than what was previously done on Earthquake.

Now onto the ride itself. I was looking forward to the changes. After hearing about the truck being removed, then brought back in again I was interested to see what had changed.

We got loaded onto the train. The only noticable difference was the addition of about 4 flat screen TV's on each carriage. These screens displayed the safety warnings associated with the ride. My gorgeous wife and I were seated next to a Universal Exec, making notes (Actually, he was next to us the whole time.)
The station, I'll note, was exactly the same as before, no changes or additions.

The train started, but this time, we were given a brief of what to do by the Director on the screen.We rolled into the station and I had a good look around. So far, exactly the same. To be honest I was disappointed here. The only change I noted was a smoke effect added by the turnstiles. Everything else was exactly the same. That was very disappointing.

There was one change. The Director who normally jumps out of the room was nowhere to be seen. Instead the video screen turned back on and we were told by Christopher Walken that now we'd see the film, including footage filmed on the final room, and footage taken on the train. (The train footage part may have been stock footage.) This was a great addition. We were able to see everything taken in the final room, mingled in with footage of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. This was really a great addition and very funny. You'll also note that the return journey to the station was slowed down to allow you to view the entire video.

All in all it was a great re-work of an existing attraction. I was gutted they didn't change any aspect of the earthquake effects on the train, but the highlights were the return video and the Christopher Walken room. Very funny. For anyone going in January, when it is opening, definatley check it out.

I also want to mention that an insider notified me last week that once this & the Simpsons opens, the next attraction to close will be "Terminator". You heard it here first.

Comments (13) | Archive Link

Merry Christmas, from Theme Park Insider

By Robert Niles
Published: December 22, 2007 at 7:17 PM
Well, you've probably noticed the new look around here. I'm still tweaking the design here and there, so please bear with me. :-)

The main format of the site hasn't changed all that much -- mostly just the colors. But the right rail from the home page is now found on all pages of the site, making navigation from park to park a bit easier.

Also, you no longer need to be a registered member of the site in order to vote on listed attractions, restaurants and hotels, though you will continue to need to be registered in order to submit a comment, a Blog Flume item, a discussion post or to update any of the park, attraction, restaurant or hotel description wikis. So if you are a TPI lurker, please jump in and submit your ratings for all the locations on the site that you've visited in person.

(Long-time readers, don't worry. I'm putting in place some safeguards to prevent ballot stuffing by unregistered readers.)

Finally, the bug reports: We typically keep votes on the site for 12 months, but in switching over to the open voting system, about 10 months of votes have gone missing. I'm trying to restore some of those with a back-up, but until then, please take this as an opportunity to recast your votes and submit fresh comments for the locations at the parks you frequent, or at least have visited recently.

Also, the page layout is a bit ragged at the bottom of shorter pages. I've got a potential fix for that which I'll be trying tomorrow. But right now, I'm tired. Time to go shop for Christmas dinner!

Best wishes for your holiday season, and, as always, thank you for reading and participating on Theme Park Insider!

Comments (13) | Archive Link

Vote of the week: What's for Christmas dinner?

By Robert Niles
Published: December 21, 2007 at 5:52 PM
I'm stumped. I need a Vote of the Week, and I have to figure out what to cook for Christmas.

Hey!

Problems solved! Tell us about your all-time favorite menu in the comments, please.

Comments (11) | Archive Link

The spit-take-inducing story of the week

By Robert Niles
Published: December 21, 2007 at 5:32 PM
From the Asahi Shimbun in Japan:

The operator of the Expoland amusement park never conducted mandatory full-scale inspections of a roller coaster for 15 years until the ride derailed and killed a teenager in May, sources said.

The Fujin Raijin II derailed on May 5 of this year, killing 19-year-old Yoshino Kogawara instantly. Nineteen others were hurt in the accident, which was caused by a broken axle on the train.

What caused the broken axle? Would you believe metal fatigue, given that the axle was never replaced or even inspected in 15 years? Police would.

Two former park officials are now facing criminal charges and Asahi.com reports that the park's been closed since Dec. 10 due to... lack of visitors.

Archive Link

Hong Kong Disneyland plans new attractions to counter sliding attendance

By Robert Niles
Published: December 21, 2007 at 5:22 PM
Attendance is down at Hong Kong Disneyland this year. Waaay down. From 5.2 million visitors a year ago to just 4 million this year. Ouch.

Of course, Disney built the "Cliffs Notes" version of its Magic Kingdom for Hong Kong, leaving out many of the parks' classic attractions. And Chinese visitors, rather than embracing the Mouse... smelled a rat. Now Disney and its Hong Kong government partners are addressing the sliding attendance with a slate of new rides and shows for the park.

  • The Muppet Mobile Lab, last seen at Walt Disney World and Disney's California Adventure.
  • High School Musical Celebration, a street show based on the Disney Channel musical.
  • Turtle Talk with Crush, the interactive show from Epcot and DCA.
  • The Art of Disney Animation, a walk-through attraction featuring items from the Disney Studio's history.

    Already announced, Hong Kong Disneyland will in the spring be opening its version of It's a Small World, this time featuring dolls devoted to several Disney animated films, in addition to the traditional national dolls.

    Thanks to TPI reader John Quinteros for submitting the new attraction list.

    Comments (2) | Archive Link

  • Man dies while riding Expedition Everest in Animal Kingdom

    By Iris Hernandez
    Published: December 18, 2007 at 3:21 PM
    A 44-year old man has died after riding Expedition Everest at Disney's Animal Kingdom today. The man, who has not yet been publicly identified, was unresponsive and unconscious when his ride vehicle returned to the unload area sometime this morning. Disney called in Reedy Creek emergency services and the man was taken to the Celebration Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

    Disney officials said the ride was inspected this morning and was operating properly, according to an Orlando Sentinel report. Right now, of course, the roller coaster is closed until Disney officials reconfirm the ride's status. A spokesperson said that they offer the family their deepest condolences and promised to offer assistance.

    No further information is availabe at this time, but, go to OrlandoSentinel.com for what I am sure will be updates to this very sad story.

    On a sidenote: Orlando had a fairly cold morning today, perhaps that played a minor part in his death. I personally didn't think it was possible for a person to die while riding this ride and again was extremely shocked to hear this news.

    Update: Man ID'd as Jeffery Reed, of Navarre, Fla.

    Update 2: Man was mis-ID'd: Jeffery C. Reeb of Navarre, Fla. died of dilated cardiomyopathy, a heart abnormality.

    Comments (10) | Archive Link

    Actor wants National Treasure ride at Disneyland

    By Robert Niles
    Published: December 17, 2007 at 5:33 PM
    A "National Treasure" ride at Disneyland? That's Nicolas Cage's wish, according to a published report.

    "My biggest thrill would be if Disney was so happy with the movie that they gave it a ride. Because I love amusement parks and I love Disneyland and I would love to see a National Treasure ride. That would be a dream come true for me," the actor is quoted at the Contact Music website.

    Comments (4) | Archive Link

    From on stage at theme parks to on stage on Broadway

    By Robert Niles
    Published: December 17, 2007 at 12:51 PM
    I wanted to bring your attention to an interesting profile in the LA Times this morning of Eden Espinosa, who plays Elphaba in the Los Angeles production of the musical "Wicked."

    Espinosa credits her time performing at Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood with preparing her for her role in "Wicked," where, quite frankly, she kicks major derriere.

    The piece plays up her time at the Mouse House, though it notes that she actually caught her break while working the "Spider-Man Rocks" show at USH. [Full disclosure: I reviewed "Spider-Man Rocks" for the LAT and panned the show, though, I did heap praise on the cast.] The piece also notes that Broadway's current Elphaba, Stephanie Block, also once worked as a Disneyland face character.

    Feel free to share thoughts about theme park entertainment performers, or about "Wicked," in the comments.

    Comments (3) | Archive Link

    Vote of the week: Holiday destination?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: December 14, 2007 at 1:56 PM

    Tell us about your holiday plans, in the comments.

    Comments (10) | Archive Link

    Christmas gifts for theme park fans

    By Robert Niles
    Published: December 13, 2007 at 5:50 PM
    Crunch time approaches in the Christmas holiday season. If you're a regular reader of this site who blanks when someone asks what *you* want for Christmas (like me!), here's a handy holiday shopping list with items that should make any theme park fan happy.

    And if you are a friends of relative of a theme park fan, who found this site through a search, here are the answers you've been looking for -- what to get a theme park fan for Christmas!

    Tickets (duh!)
    Every theme park's official website sells tickets, many of which you can print at home to stick in a stocking or under the Christmas tree. Just make sure that you put the gift-ee's name on the tickets, and not yours' (the gift-er). Many parks don't bother to check online tix against photo ID, but why buy yourself bad gifting karma by making that mistake?

    Universal Studios Hollywood is offering a particularly sweet holiday deal: Buy a special one-day ticket, and you'll get a 2008 annual pass free (with blackout dates). Consider this a must-have for any SoCal-area Simpsons fan, as Universal's new Simpsons Ride debuts at the park in the Spring.

    Stuff for your trip
    Make your loved ones think of you when they are at Walt Disney World by sending flowers to their on-property hotel room via DisneyFlorist.com. (What better way to say "Remember to buy me some mouse ears while you're there!")

    If you want to help your favorite theme park fan get around the park in over-the-top style, load 'em up with a Pal Mickey, Disney's talking Mickey Mouse doll that dispenses advice as you move around the parks. Pal Mickey is available via phone from Walt Disney World's Merchandise hotline, 407-363-6200.

    You also can arm your friends with money to burn in the parks with a gift card from Disney or the Busch theme parks (the latter including the SeaWorld parks).

    A theme park video game
    Can't wait for the trip? Enjoy theme parks 24/7/52 with a theme park video game. If your theme park fan is a hard-core gamer, he or she probably already has the classic Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 Platinum, which released. But do they have SeaWorld Adventure Parks Tycoon? (A version of RCT preloaded with rides and shows from the SeaWorld theme parks.) If not, start with either of these favorites.

    Otherwise, go straight for this year's must-have game for theme park fans: Thrillville: Off The Rails, from LucasArts (available for Wii, Xbox 360 and PC). The LucasArts team amplifies theme park simulation with track-jumping coasters and animatronic-filled lands.

    A theme park guidebook
    You can find a whole range of guidebooks in the travel section of your local bookstore, but let us draw your attention to a new one: Moon's Walt Disney World and Orlando by Laura Reiley. This guide includes not only a handy, paperbound guide to everything Disney, but also Universal Orlando, SeaWorld and attractions around Orlando, from Winter Park to the Space Coast and Daytona. (The Moon guide's also smart enough to recommend TPI as a "wonderful" online resource for Orlando-area trip planning.)

    Donate to a good cause
    Feel especially good about yourself by giving a totally self-less gift this year.
    Give Kids the World offers free week-long Orlando vacations for terminally ill children and their families. Give Kids The World has hosted more than 75,000 families from all 50 states and more than 50 countries.

    The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research funds important research into cures for this debilitating disease, research that's been undercut in the United States by religious fundamentalist politics. Why is this cause of interest to theme park fans? Because this disease is affecting some of the folks who helped turn this industry around over the past decade. Spend a few bucks to honor those who work to make theme parks better, with a contribution to the Fox Foundation.

    Comments (7) | Archive Link

    Breakfast with Santa at Downtown Disney

    By Alison Orrey
    Published: December 12, 2007 at 2:15 PM
    I thought you and your readers might be interested in Downtown Disney’s Breakfast with Santa Event. [This is the Anaheim DD - Ed.]

    Patina Restaurant Group will be hosting “Breakfast With Santa,” for the first time in their Downtown Disney restaurant Naples. A tradition at their properties across Los Angeles, PRG has decided to bring this family favorite to Orange County. This special event will take place Saturday, December 22 from 9:00am-1:00pm.

    The cost is $16 per child under 12 and $35 per adult and includes a visit with Santa and one glass of Champagne or Mimosa for the Adults. The restaurant's number for reservations is 714-776-6200.

    Comments (1) | Archive Link

    WDW Employees to Get Onsite Health Care Facility

    By Diane Graebner
    Published: December 12, 2007 at 1:18 PM
    Disney announced this morning that they will be building an on site medical facility for their employees. The new 15,000 sqare foot facility, which will be located behind Epcot, will provide primary care medical services, as well as lab, radiology, and pharmacy services to Disney employees enrolled in one of the company health plans. According to the article, the new facility is slated to open sometime in 2008 or 2009. Construction hasn't begun yet.

    Here's the article link in case you want to read for yourself.

    http://www.orlandosentinel.com/business/custom/tourism/orl-bk-disney121207,0,811959.story?track=rss

    Comments (1) | Archive Link

    Weekend notes: Lots o' folks shown the door

    By Robert Niles
    Published: December 9, 2007 at 11:40 PM
  • SeaWorld divers: Scott Powers at the Orlando Sentinel this weekend had an interesting story about "a life-and-death emergency that would nearly kill one diver and lead to the resignations of two others."

  • Tokyo power failure: A report from Japan said that a power failure Sunday at Tokyo Disneyland shut down 25 rides at the park. Most rides soon came back up. No one was injured and lots of comps were issued.

  • Dummy at Disney: Ever wonder if they ever find anything at those security check-point tables outside Disney theme parks? Beside contraband sandwiches and soft drinks? Well, today, they did. Disney security busted a 63-year-old woman rolling with a loaded .32-caliber semi-automatic handgun... plus a pair of scissors and a locked blade knife.

    Disney called the Orange County Sheriff's Office, which took the gun and arrested the woman, who claimed that she forgot she was packing when she left for the park.

    Thanks to all the TPI readers who submitted these tips and links!

    Comments (13) | Archive Link

  • Vote of the week: Roller coasters - steel or wood?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: December 8, 2007 at 5:26 PM
    This week's vote doesn't require much set up:

    Continue the steel-vs.-wood debate in the comments....

    Comments (13) | Archive Link

    Have you ridden the new Spaceship Earth?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: December 8, 2007 at 5:24 PM
    Epcot's brought its landmark Spaceship Earth attraction back from an extensive rehab for a soft opening. Readers submitted the following reports:
  • Orlando Sentinel
  • Theme Park Ave

    We had the spoilers on the Spaceship Earth changes on the Blog Flume a few months back. I'm looking forward to read what TPI members have to say about how they came off on our Spaceship Earth review page.

    Comments (4) | Archive Link

  • I'm feeling grateful for theme parks today...

    By Robert Niles
    Published: December 6, 2007 at 1:57 PM
    I'm feeling grateful for theme parks this morning. And if you take a ride with me on the stream of consciousness, I will tell you why.

    Surely you've read by now of the killings in the Omaha shopping mall yesterday. That story hit close to home for me, literally, because it happened at the mall that stands closest to what was once my home. I lived on the west side of Omaha for four years in the mid-1990s, while my wife and I wrote for the local newspaper, the rather pretentiously named "World Herald." We shopped frequently at the Westroads Mall, and had our last meal in the city at the TGI Friday's there, before moving to Denver in 1996. My thoughts go to my former neighbors, because I know what heartache they are enduring and will endure in the months to come.

    Why? This isn't the first mass murder/suicide that's happened within spitting distance of one of my homes. In 1992, a gunman shot and killed two students in the dormitory where Laurie and I lived in graduate school. The gunman then took his own life. A couple years later, another young man, who had been fired from the Chuck E. Cheese restaurant in Aurora, Colo. where my wife had worked in high school years earlier, returned to that pizza shop to shoot and kill five employees.

    And in 1999, as my wife and daughter sat in a Starbucks a block away, two students killed 12 classmates and a teacher at Columbine High School outside Littleton, Colo., about a mile from where we'd moved to... after we'd left that home in Omaha.

    I asked my wife this morning, should we be scared that we are some sort of statistical freaks, doomed to live near future mass murder sites? Or, is it scarier that we are not? That these tragedies are common enough now that many Americans like us have lived within a short distance of one or more?

    She didn't have answer. All she could conclude was that in all cases the shooters were young men. Each felt disconnected from society, most having recently lost a job, a girlfriend, or both.

    And that... is why I am grateful for theme parks.

    "Huh?," I can envision you saying to yourself. I am grateful for theme parks because, more than almost any other form of entertainment, they bring people together. To go to a theme park, you have to get out of your home and stand, wait, walk and play among thousands of others who share at least one common interest with you. (That they like the same theme park!)

    Following tragedies like this one, community is essential. The people of Omaha, like the people of Denver before them, need to know that other Americans, do, indeed, feel their pain. That they do not bear the burden of this tragedy alone.

    And community can help prevent tragedies such as this from happening in the future. When young people, especially young men, feel connected to their community, when they do not feel alone, they become far less likely to engage in such destructive acts.

    I love theme parks, in part, because they bring people together, in community. Yes, you might curse the crowd of hundreds who are keeping you in an hour's-long line for Millennium Force. But how many chances do we anyone to just hang out and talk with people? (Heck, that chance is one reason why I love Web communities like TPI so much.)

    So, next time you are in a long line at a theme park, pay a moment of karmic respect to the people of Omaha. Talk to the folks in line around you. Especially if they are those "scary looking" young men that so many theme park visitors have complained about. Think you don't have anything to say to them? Think again. You both, obviously, are interested in the same ride. Ask if they've ridden before. Ask what other parks they've visited. Talk about air time, wait times and the rides you've always dreamed of riding. Talk about all the stuff you write about here.

    And make a connection. If only for a moment. But what yesterday's tragedy ought to teach us is... we all need more connections to the people around us.

    Comments (16) | Archive Link

    China ain't happy with Hong Kong Disneyland

    By Robert Niles
    Published: December 5, 2007 at 10:19 PM
    Attendance is down, along with revenue at Hong Kong Disneyland, and officials of the government, which own a majority stake in the park, are not happy.

    "The government will continue to urge the park management to formulate cost-effective business strategies and improve the park's operational efficiency," Hong Kong's secretary for commerce was quoted in an Associated Press story.

    The AP story reports that Hong Kong Disneyland's attendance has dropped from 5.2 million in its first year, from Sept. 2005-Sept. 2006, to an estimated 4.8 million in its second. Disney reported that the park's income dropped in the first two quarters of this year.

    Hong Kong Disneyland opened with the smallest attraction line-up of any Magic Kingdom park. And much like with the similarly under-built California Adventure, potential customers have stayed away.

    Comments (5) | Archive Link

    New 'luxury pet resort' coming to Walt Disney World

    By Robert Niles
    Published: December 4, 2007 at 2:09 PM
    Okay, I'm way out of my area of experience here, but this item struck me as interesting nevertheless.

    Walt Disney World has announced that it has contracted with a company called Best Friends Pet Care Inc. to build a new, luxury 'pet resort' at Walt Disney World:

    Pet guests will enjoy such amenities as luxury suites with television and raised bedding, activities such as nature walks and playgroups, and pampering services ranging from ice cream treats to bedtime stories. The state-of-the-art facility will be located on Bonnett Creek Parkway in the Walt Disney World Resort, and is expected to open in mid-2009.

    Full disclosure: I don't have pets, never had had one, don't particularly like having them around in the hotel where I'm staying. That said, if folks want to take their pets along on vacation and have them well cared for, they ought to have that option.

    I just have no clue whether this is a great idea, or totally over the top, or how it compares with pet care at other vacation destinations. Pet owners, please chime in with a comment offering your thoughts about pet accommodations during your theme park vacations.

    Comments (9) | Archive Link

    Keep reading: December 2007 Archive



    Stories from a Theme Park Insider

    Stories from a Theme Park Insider

    What's it like to work in a theme park? Stories from a Theme Park Insider takes you inside the famous tunnels and backstage at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom for a look at how theme parks really work, sharing the funny moments and embarrassments that can happen when your job is someone else's vacation.
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