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January 2008

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Schools change start dates to help Cedar Point

By Robert Niles
Published: January 29, 2008 at 1:57 PM
If you're planning a late-summer trip to Cedar Point this year, take note. Local school districts are pushing their start dates past Labor Day, at the request of the amusement park.

Here's the story from one local paper. Cedar Point hopes that the later start will allow more local kids and families to spend time at the park, either as customers or employees. But folks from outside the area should take note, as well.

Days that local schools are in session are among the best to visit parks, since that keeps attendance down. That's why late August can be a good time to visit the Orlando resorts and early June good for SoCal.

With Sandusky-area schools switching to later summer vacations, that means the park should be more crowded in late August, and a little less so on weekdays in late May and early June, starting next year. For this year, though... local kids get a longer summer vacation! (Keep that in mind when Cedar Point announces its summer attendance numbers next fall.)

Comments (5) | Archive Link

Is Six Flags Fiesta Texas the next park to close?

By Robert Niles
Published: January 28, 2008 at 12:00 PM
The San Antonio Business Journal speculates that Six Flags Fiesta Texas might be on the chopping block, as the paper reports that the Six Flags might look to sell three more parks this year.

The amusement park chain sold several parks last year, and earlier this month announced in an SEC filing that it would cut $60 million in spending this year.

But the San Antonio paper reports that those cuts might not be all, the chain might turn to park sales, either to other park operators or to real estate developers, to raise cash while cutting operating expenses.

Comments (11) | Archive Link

Transformers: The Ride?

By Mike Duchock
Published: January 28, 2008 at 9:51 AM
According to IESB.net, The Movie Reporter, a Transformers themed dark ride could be coming to a theme park near you. The article mentions Disney as a possible site for the ride but given the sticky licensing situation with MGM I doubt they'd take on a Paramount property. The rumoured closure of T2:3D at Universal Studios in Hollywood and/or Orlando would open up a good site for the ride.

Comments (5) | Archive Link

Q&A with Tony Baxter, plus a rant

By Robert Niles
Published: January 27, 2008 at 4:06 PM
I submitted this Friday, then got hypnotized by the rain the LA area or something, because I then forgot to approve it until I saw it in the queue this morning. [slaps forehead]

Anyway, Arthur Levine over at About.com this week posted an interview that he did last year with Tony Baxter of Walt Disney Imagineering. No scoops in it, but Baxter does talk a (very) little smack about Spider-Man, and promises that WDI's got something better in the works. (Midway Mania?)

Which reminded me... it's been nine years now since Spider-Man opened at Universal's Islands of Adventure. Isn't about time that someone in this industry debuted something better? Nine years is too long for one ride to reign supreme. I get enough more frustrated when I think that Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean probably remains the best all-ages dark ride in the business. And that ride is older than I am! (And, for the record, I ain't young....)

I know that theme park rides can be hideously expensive, but so are motion pictures, and studios have produced plenty of industry-altering ones over the past four decades. Theme parks make great jack, too, so lack of income can't be an excuse.

Where is our next-gen musical, interactive, animatronic family ride? Where is the combo Robocoaster/track ride with alternate narrative elements? Why don't more coasters have custom music soundtracks? All of this is technologically possible, right now. The only thing keeping us out of these queues are theme park managers who won't green-light the concepts into designs.

Okay, so maybe Six Flags and Cedar Fair are undercapitalized right now. But they've never been the creative leaders in this business. And I know that Disney's had its management turmoil, and Universal its uncertainty over ownership. But those are past. Pardon my rant, but I want to see Disney, Universal and Busch taking it strong at each other for theme park industry creative supremacy.

Please, don't skimp on Harry Potter. Or California Adventure. Or whatever else the Big Three might envision to compete with those new developments. Let's see more cutting edge ride tech, and fresh stories, that together will get more people excited about theme parks.

Comments (6) | Archive Link

Vote of the week: Where do you stay?

By Robert Niles
Published: January 25, 2008 at 10:58 AM
Sometimes a visit to a theme park is a day trip (if you're fortunate enough to live near one), and sometimes it's part of a family vacation.

This week's question asks where you stay for the night on your typical theme park trip. If you've stayed with several these options over the years, pick the one you've stayed at the most.

And please do click over to our theme park hotels section to submit ratings and reviews for the hotels that you've stayed at on recent trips.

[Note: The service that hosts our votes is having problems this weekend. So if you do not see the vote form immediately below, try clicking the "more at Twiigs.com" link to see if the poll is up there. Otherwise, I apologize, and please try back here later to vote and see the results.]

Comments (22) | Archive Link

New drought victim? Water rides

By Robert Niles
Published: January 24, 2008 at 3:12 PM
Georgia's been suffering through a drought recently, and it's about to affect one more aspect of locals' lives.

Their water parks. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Six Flags Over Georgia might have to shut down three water rides this spring and summer, due to the lower water levels in the metro Atlanta area.

Comments (6) | Archive Link

Soft opening days set for new parks

By Robert Niles
Published: January 22, 2008 at 9:33 AM
Eager to visit the new parks opening this year? Well, mark your calendars, 'cause we've got opening dates set.

SeaWorld Orlando's Aquatica water park will soft-open on March 1, and the Hard Rock Park in Myrtle Beach, S.C. will soft-open on April 15.

Soft openings mean that the park is open to the public, but has not had its official opening for the news press yet. With new parks, attractions very often are either not yet ready or are operating at much lower capacity during a soft opening. Basically, soft openings are a chance for parks to "work the kinks out" before the reporters and TV cameras show up.

Of course, since so many visitors now get their information about theme parks from the Web, not local papers or TV, and because websites don't wait until official media openings to post information about a new park (heck, we here at TPI won't!), parks really don't get time to operate under the radar anymore.

Which is my way of saying, if you are at Aquatica on March 1, or Hard Rock Park on April 15, your fellow TPI readers are counting on you for trip reports, attraction ratings and many, many pics. ;-)

Comments (4) | Archive Link

Vote of the week: How much do you spend at a theme park?

By Robert Niles
Published: January 18, 2008 at 10:53 AM
We have two questions this week, about the amount of money you spend on a theme park visit, not counting the admission ticket or parking.

Think about your last few theme park visits, and how much you spent on food and merchandise. Then try to divide those amounts by the number of people and number of days on your trip. (Thanks to TPI reader Brian Emery for the topic suggestion.)

Let's talk about theme park expenses in the comments.

Comments (19) | Archive Link

No kids allowed on Disneyland's Splash Mountain?

By Robert Niles
Published: January 17, 2008 at 6:29 PM
Got a couple notes today that Disneyland's raised the height requirement on Splash Mountain to... get this... 60 inches.

Update: Disneyland CM writes in to say that the new height restriction applies to the front seat. The old restriction remains for other seats. (Also now mentioned in comments.)

Disneyland's been having problems with Splash Mountain ever since it changed out the logs during a previous rehab. All other Splash Mountains have a two-by-two seating arrangement, with relatively low height requirements. Disneyland's Splash Mountain, which was the original version of the ride, was built with a narrower flume and a traditional single-file log. That meant really lousy ride capacity (since you could get only half as many people in a typical ride unit, compared with the Orlando version).

Trouble is, you can't just slap a wider log on to the ride without pretty much rebuilding the whole thing. So Disney tried a new seating arrangement, with two seats in the back row and individual seating wells for all other rows, as opposed to the benches it had before. But parents can control their kids easier when they are sitting between your legs on a log flume bench. It's hard to have any control over them when they are in a separate seating well. That's led to multiple guest complains and cast members having to deal with squirrelly kids sliding around in their seats.

But five feet? At that point, one wonders if Disney wouldn't get fewer complains by either (a) going back to the old, low-capacity logs or (b) closing the darn thing for six months to rip out the ride flume, widen it and install the Disney World/Tokyo Disneyland-style logs.

Comments (11) | Archive Link

Bad news for Six Flags?

By Robert Niles
Published: January 16, 2008 at 5:27 PM
Hey, maybe we should make this a "theme week" here on TPI.

Six Flags CEO Dan Snyder announced today that the amusement park chain will cut $60 million in spending this year to combat disappointing attendance over the past two years.

Six Flags will cut advertising by $30 million, running fewer radio and TV ads, though it will increase its spending on the Internet (yay, Internet!). The parks will also cut in-park staff positions and shut down some rides.

Six Flags has had capital problems for years, thanks to its former owners overpaying for too many parks in the 1990s, which led to Snyder's takeover of the firm. Snyder's tried to make the parks more family-friendly, but turning thrill parks into family parks takes money for new attractions, something that's hard to come by when attendance isn't growing and the company's already up to its eyeballs in debt. Cutting non-essential expenses is the next step. And here it is.

Comments (12) | Archive Link

Bad news for Disneyland?

By Robert Niles
Published: January 15, 2008 at 9:38 AM
Al Lutz at MiceAge reports that Disneyland Senior VP for Operations Greg Emmer quit this week, leaving the parks without one of the major architects of Disneyland's recent revival.

That's potentially bad news for Disney, as Emmer was a theme park lifer, a guy who understood Disney show and guest service and knew how to "manage up" the corporate food chain to make needed repairs happen.

Disneyland faced significant problems earlier this decade, after years of management by people with no theme park experience led to peeling paint, crumbling facades, diminished attraction capacity, longer lines, stale attractions and two fatal accidents that were entirely the park's fault -- something almost unheard of in the theme park industry.

Under the leadership of Emmer, former park president Matt Ouimet and new Disney CEO Bob Iger, Disneyland changed direction, made itself over in a spectacular fashion for the park's 50th anniversary in 2005 and drew up plans for a series of exciting new attractions, both at Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure.

Here's hoping Disney finds a theme park pro to replace Emmer, or if Lutz' theory is right and Emmer quit out of frustration with Disney managers, makes the changes necessary to bring him back. Disneyland has again become one of the top theme parks in the country, if not the very best, over the past four years. Its fans deserve to see that welcomed progress continue.

Comments (7) | Archive Link

Planning the year ahead

By Robert Niles
Published: January 14, 2008 at 12:06 PM
Hey everyone,

I'm putting together my travel sked for 2008 and would like to hear from the TPI community what parks, attractions and events you would like to see covered in-depth here on Theme Park Insider.

Ideally, I'm trying to be in South Carolina for the opening of the Hard Rock Park in April and in Orlando for the opening of SeaWorld's Aquatica in March.

I'm also planning to cover the openings of the Simpsons ride at Universal Studios Hollywood, the Lost Kingdom Adventure at Legoland and, later in the year, Toy Story Mania at Disney's California Adventure. (FYI, before someone mentions it, Harry Potter debuts in *2009* at the Universal's Islands of Adventure theme park, so that's on next year's agenda.)

What else would you like to see me cover? Keep in mind that these ideas do not have to be attraction openings, they also can be features on favorite rides, shows, events and performers that you think other TPI readers would like to read about. Interviews, photo essays, behind-the-scenes features, you name it.

Thanks, and I hope you'll keep reading TPI often in 2008.

Comments (15) | Archive Link

Vote of the week: Picking a place to eat

By Robert Niles
Published: January 10, 2008 at 11:58 PM
I know that this isn't an issue at many regional amusement parks, where your lunch and dinner options are limited to the same fare you'd find at a typical mall food court. But I'm interested in reading about how TPI readers make a decision at parks like those run by Disney, Universal and Busch, where visitors have the option of a finer dining experience.

What are you looking for at mealtime in a theme park? What is the most tempting factor that lures you to a particular place to eat, whether that be a sit-down restaurant, counter-service joint, or even the Turkey Leg Wagon?

Tell us, in the comments, about your favorite theme park eateries.

Comments (17) | Archive Link

Disney worker killed in the deadly I-4 Pile Up

By Domenik Jost
Published: January 10, 2008 at 5:29 PM
The Orlando Sentinel covered this story.

Disney lost one of it's own to the deadly pile up on I-4, the main highway connecting Orlando and Tampa. Many of you might know I-4 because it is the highway you take to get to Orlando's popular attractions including Universal Orlando Resort, Sea World Orlando, Walt Disney World, as well as Busch Gardens Africa in Tampa.

In all the pile up left 4 dead, and 38 injured. One of the victims was Darren Scott Snyder, a maintenance worker at World Disney World, who was on his way to work. Snyder worked with engineering services on the maintenance team at Disney's Animal Kingdom and was supposed to report to work at 6 a.m., but he never showed up.

FHP says that 150,000 commuters use I-4 between Orlando and Tampa each morning, 75,000 each way.

What would have happened if this crash would have occurred any later and it was not the second week of January but a busy week after Christmas when many tourists are here in Central Florida? How many tourists commuting from either Tampa to Orlando to visit Orlando Area Theme Parks, or Orlando to Tampa to visit Tampa Area Theme Parks might have been involved?

This morning again there was a problem of fog limiting the visibility to a quarter of a mile in many spots in Central Florida. If you are coming to the Central Florida Theme Parks during the early part of the year, which is Central Florida's fog season, make sure that you watch the weather forecasts for expected morning weather conditions. If you do happen to get caught up in the fog while on your vacation, adjust your speed, and if needed pull over to the side of the road.

Comments (6) | Archive Link

Legoland's new dark ride to be a shoot-'em-up

By Robert Niles
Published: January 9, 2008 at 12:33 PM
Brady MacDonald at the LA Times got his hands on some concept work for the upcoming Lost Kingdom Adventure dark ride, which will debut at the Carlsbad park this spring.

Looks like it's not just a dark ride; it's a shoot-'em-up, too:

Riders on the interactive Lost Kingdom of Adventure dark ride will travel on a jeep journey through ancient temple ruins and shoot at animated targets with laser blasters.

In the spider’s lair scene, an animatronic Pippin Reed struggles to escape a giant web. Riders shoot at the web with lasers to free the rebellious journalist adventurer (aren’t we all) and rack up points.

Comments (3) | Archive Link

Tokyo Disneyland cancels parade after accident

By Robert Niles
Published: January 9, 2008 at 11:24 AM
Tokyo Disneyland has cancelled its daily parade while it investigates the partial collapse of a float during yesterday's "Disney Dreams On Parade."

No one was injured when a pillar on a Buzz Lightyear float crashed near spectators on Tuesday. But a park spokesperson apologized today for "causing panic."

Comments (1) | Archive Link

Disney's musical 'Toy Story' takes to the stage

By Mitchell Botwin
Published: January 8, 2008 at 9:46 AM
Disney is announcing today a multi-million dollar version of Toy Story. The Musical will debut on the Disney Wonder, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

It will be interesting to see if the story created using computer animation can be translated to fit on a cruise ship stage. Don't know if it is going to work, but is should be fun to watch.

A song "To Infinity and Beyond" inflatable costumes, yes I said inflatable. Lasseter is providing guidance and likes the songs saying "The songs fit Toy Story like a glove". It is due to go live in April.

"It's like Queen meets Jesus Christ Superstar with a little bit of the Chipmunks sprinkled in there," creative director Matt Almos said

Comments (3) | Archive Link

Theme park PR teams discover the Web?

By Robert Niles
Published: January 7, 2008 at 11:10 PM
There's a good read in this month's Funworld magazine about how theme parks can promote themselves online. (Funworld is published by the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, the industry's leading trade association.)

Web 2.0 tools are enabling groups to quickly and easily keep in touch with each other. Forget the old model, where people received controlled doses of news via mainstream media. Today’s audiences, especially younger consumers, are looking to multiple networks for fresh, candid, and realtime sources of information.

The article looks at the potential for theme park promotion online, and the main source seems to be some guy who runs a theme park-related website that you might have heard of.

Comments (2) | Archive Link

While spring is coming, winter is still here

By Robert Niles
Published: January 7, 2008 at 4:46 PM
A few quick notes from the weekend:

  • Disneyland's offering its annual spring 2Fer deal to Southern California residents again: Buy a one-day at Disneyland for $66, and get a day at California Adventure free. (Yes, you could do it the other way around, but let's face it, hardly anyone does.) You can't use the two tickets on the same day, and the second ticket must be used by April 24. New this year: You can buy and print Disneyland tickets at home. (Finally!)

  • For baseball fans, the first, hopeful sign that summer's coming arrives with pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training. For midwestern U.S. theme park fans, the first, hopeful sign of the new theme park season arrives with the announcement that Cedar Point is hiring.

  • The switch is official and the former Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park now is Disney's Hollywood Studios. TPI's listings have been changed to reflect the switch. Click the link to vote, if you haven't submitted your opinions on the park's attractions recently.

  • I apologize for the lack of a Vote of the Week last Friday. I was snowed in at Mammoth Mountain, in northern California, with only an iPhone for a Web connection, so I couldn't get a vote posted. (If anyone knows how to copy-and-paste from one browser window to another on an iPhone, please let me know!)

    FWIW, it was my first-ever time skiiing, and I sprained my knee on my first day when a gust blew me across the icy bunny slope before my instructor had taught me how to turn. The blizzard hit the next day, which I took off to recover. On Saturday, I headed up the lift for the first time to try my first run... in three feet of fresh powder. (Hey, if I'm gonna fall, might as well do it in that.) Thanks to a 20 mph wind, my group decided it would be best to take me down a tree-sheltered blue run instead of the exposed green one.

    Two and a half hours later, I made it down. :-)

    Comments (1) | Archive Link

  • Line up released for Mardi Gras, 2008, at Universal Studios

    By Gareth H
    Published: January 6, 2008 at 4:34 PM
    It's out. The official line up for Universal Studio's Mardi Gras celebrations, 2008, are as follow.

    February 2 - Bret Michaels of Poison
    February 9 - Go-Go's
    February 16 - Sara Evans
    February 23 - Third Eye Blind

    March 1 - Gretchen Wilson
    March 8 - Smokey Robinson
    March 15 - Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons
    March 22 - Kool & The Gang
    March 29 - Heart

    April 5 - TBA
    April 12 - LL Cool J
    April 19 - TBA

    The shocker for me is Bret Michaels, from "Rock of Love" fame. He can't be any worse than Kid Rock last year (Look it up on youtube).

    As a guess, I'd say Huey Lewis and the News or KC and the Sunshine Band will fill in the 2 blank weeks.
    My long shot guess would be Smash Mouth, ,they were planned to appear a few years back and cancalled last minute. With their songs being used in Films, such as Shrek and them having an open few months for concerts, it could be worth a bet.

    I'll be there, look for me on the floats, and have fun!

    Comments (4) | Archive Link

    Disney bans kids at Walt Disney World's top restaurant

    By Robert Niles
    Published: January 5, 2008 at 4:00 PM
    Walt Disney World will no longer allow kids under age 10 to dine at the Victoria & Albert's restaurant at the Grand Floridian Hotel.

    Disney officials told the Associated Press that only about three families *a month* brought kids to V&As, which requires jackets for men and offers $125 multi-course dinners.

    What do you think of the move? Good marketing, or a slap at Disney's core audience? A welcome change or a PR stunt (given that so few kids came anyway).

    Comments (18) | Archive Link

    Is Cypress Gardens back on track?

    By Mitchell Botwin
    Published: January 3, 2008 at 7:11 PM
    An Orlando Sentinel story touches on the new owners of Cypress Gardens and what they are doing to bring the park back to it's earlier glory. It sounds linke the new owners, local people, have the right idea to bring the park back. I had been to the park when my parents would bring us down to Florida for vacation from the cold New York winters, so I do have a certain fondness for the park.

    Comments (12) | Archive Link

    March along with the 2008 Rose Parade

    By Robert Niles
    Published: January 1, 2008 at 5:33 PM
    Happy New Year from Pasadena, California, home of the annual Tournament of Roses Parade.

    We missed our wake-up call at the Niles household this morning, as this year's Rose Parade lacked the Stealth Bomber flyover that marked the beginning of the parade for the past several years. There's nothing like having a massive, B2 bomber buzzing your home to get you moving in the morning!

    But we hit the road shortly after the parade started four miles west of us on Colordao Boulevard, hiking a mile northeast to our usual spot at the end of the parade route, where we sit with friends and other families from Pasadena's public school district. It seemed like a larger crowd this year, with thousands of University of Illinois fans making their first trip to the Rose Bowl in 24 years. Several friends sported Illini sweatshirts, drawing good-natured jeers from yours truly (a graduate of rival Northwestern University and employee of USC, Illinois' opponent in today's game).

    An entry on behalf of the 2008 Beijing Olympics elicited pre-parade criticism from some anti-communist protesters, but warm cheers from the crowd during the parade, despite failing to raise after contracting to pass under the I-210 bridge.

    Also drawing cheers, was the Banda de Musica Instituto Nacional from El Salvador, which endured canceled flights, a five-day bus trip and a two-day border detainment to make it to Pasadena. The elicited a standing ovation along the route, and was joined by dozens of cheering Salvadorans, who emerged from the crowd to march along the rest of the route with the band.

    Click the float picture below to see our photo gallery of images from this year's Rose Parade and pre-parade float decorating.

    Again, best wishes for a happy new year... and for seeing all of you here frequently on ThemeParkInsider.com!

    Comments (2) | Archive Link

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