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May 2008

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Kentucky blames Six Flags maintenance, operations for accident

By Robert Niles
Published: May 30, 2008 at 6:39 PM
The state of Kentucky has released its official report [PDF file] on the investigation into the Superman Tower of Power accident at Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom last summer that cost a teen girl her feet.

And the state puts the blame, squarely, on Six Flags.

The report states:

"The cause of the cable failure has been determined to be fatigue, a progressive failure of the mechanism. The cable on the ride was in a condit ion that caused the cable to fail under its normal load in operation. It is impossible to scientifically determine how long the cable had been in a condition that could lead to the failure of the cable under its normal load. The cables when new are rated to carry at least six times the load placed upon them during normal ride operation."

The report also quotes an expert who said:

"The extent of progressive (fatigue) cracking would have made it possible for the park personnel to detect the deteriorating condition of the rope had they been following the inspection instructions given in the maintenance manual."

And it wasn't just a maintenance failure. The ride ops screwed up as well:

"In the [the state]’s opinion, the injuries to the ride patrons probably would have been limited to cuts and scrapes had the emergency stop button been pressed, in accordance with training, during the 10-second window of time between the loud noise followed by the cable falling and the freefall of the ride."

The result? Kentucky fined Six Flags $1,000.

Look for a jury (or, if the girl's family and the park settle, a judge) to add a "penalty" that's much, much larger.

Comments (8) | Archive Link

Vote of the week: Beer at a theme park

By Robert Niles
Published: May 30, 2008 at 8:34 AM
This week's question is from Theme Park Insider reader Brian Emery. Thanks, Brian!

We asked about alcohol in theme parks once before, but this question is about what you do, not what you think ought to be (or not to be) served. If you vote "no," please pick the option that best describes why you do not drink in the parks.

I know that there might be a small selection of readers who don't drink beer, but might drink wine in a sit-down restaurant (e.g. at Epcot). For those readers, I'd suggest picking "No, I drink, but not at theme parks." We're trying to get a gauge on the popularity of in-park beer here.

Talk about your choice in the comments, please. Beer fans, tell us your pick for best beer in the parks, too. (On quality and value.)

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SeaWorld Orlando makes Manta official

By Robert Niles
Published: May 29, 2008 at 8:58 AM
SeaWorld Orlando today made official that it will be building Manta, a Bolliger & Mabillard flying coaster that will open next summer.

"Gliding, swooping and diving up to nearly 60 mph, through four inversions on 3,359 feet of track, riders will feel as if they are a ray, taking flight effortlessly from sky to sea -- so close at times that the Manta's wings skim the waves," SeaWorld announced in a press release.

The park promises a queue "adorned with ray-inspired art in marble, jewels, and mosaics," as well as "face-to-fin encounters with 300 rays, as well as thousands of fish and mysterious creatures native to oceans all over the world," including "shark rays, spotted eagles rays, leopard rays, cownose rays, and oscillate river rays."

No specific opening date yet, just "summer 2009."

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Price cuts across the chain at Six Flags

By Robert Niles
Published: May 27, 2008 at 2:48 PM
A slew of press releases have crossed the transom detailing $10 admission cuts at nearly all Six Flags amusement parks.

Six Flags also offers additional discounts on its website for several parks.

Obviously, high gas prices play a role in this move, as families across the U.S. look for places to cut costs to make ends meet. But, as I wrote earlier, as some families decide that they cannot afford a day at the regional Six Flags park, others might opt for that same park in lieu of a longer visit to Orlando for the parks there. Markets shift before they do away.

Will the Six Flags price cuts make you consider a trip to one of their parks that you would not have otherwise? Tell us in the comments.

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Silly Vote of the Week: Flying cars or jetpacks?

By Robert Niles
Published: May 23, 2008 at 11:42 AM
We've had a huge amount of really great stuff from several attraction openings over the past week. (Thanks again to Anthony and Russell for their help!) So I decided to take a little breather with a silly and somewhat off-the-wall question for this week's vote.

Mind you, this one inspired a raging debate in the Niles family car on the way home from school the other day. So I think people will have something to say about this one.

And if you really need the theme park tie-in, just imagine which one you'd rather ride in a theme park attraction. So, here goes:

Support your choice -- flying cars vs. jetpacks -- in the comments, please.

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Coaster collision at Cedar Point injures 10

By Robert Niles
Published: May 23, 2008 at 10:54 AM
This one flew under the radar for a few days, but as these incidents always do now, finally got out.

Last Friday, a train on the Wildcat coaster at Cedar Point rolled back down a lift, colliding with the train behind it.

Ten people were injured in the collision, according to AP reports. Nine were treated at the scene for bruises and other minor injuries. One was transported to a local hospital for observation, though I've yet to find any additional information about that victim.

State agricultural department officials are investigating and looking at potential issues with the track.

A bit of general background, not necessarily related to this incident: If you've ever wondered what makes the "clackety-clack" sound as you are riding up a roller coaster lift, it is the sound of the rachet dogs slapping against the anti-rollback bar underneath the train. If the lift chain breaks or stops, the rachet will catch in grooves in the anti-rollback bar, keeping the train from rolling back down the hill, and preventing this sort of incident from occurring.

Which, then, leads me to wonder what the situation on Wildcat was that led to a rollback. Any Cedar Point fans care to chime in?

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X2 launches at Six Flags Magic Mountain [with video]

By Robert Niles
Published: May 22, 2008 at 3:25 PM
X is back.

More than six years after its initial debut, the troubled 4D roller coaster from Arrow Dynamics is reborn at Six Flags Magic Mountain. Now X2, the coaster features redesigned trains, on-ride audio and couple neat sensory effects. (Think of it as the 4D movie meeting the 4D coaster.)

But how is the ride? That's what I went to Valencia, California this afternoon to find out.

X2 is not a ride for coaster novices. You sit in rotating chairs, mounted on the sides of the track -- chairs that flip you heels over head, and back again, as you move from element to element on the track. As a result, on X2, every seat feels like a front row seat, with nothing blocking your view. But, ultimately, that doesn't matter.

Once your train drops face-first 200 feet from the top of the chain lift, you simply don't have time to stop and enjoy the view at any point on X2. You're flipping, flopping and flying every moment. That soundtrack? The riffs get you pumped on the main lift, and keep you going as you wait to unload. But in between? I'll confess that I didn't notice the music. My brain was a little, uh, preoccupied. With simple things like, oh, staying within my skull.

That's not to say that X2's new effects went completely unnoticed. The cool zone on the final twist slapped me with a frigid blast, an effect that I am sure riders will welcome in the coming Valencia summer heat. Gusts shut down the ride's fire effect and scattered much of the fog at the bottom of the initial drop, though I did enjoy the effect of passing through the mist as we rode into the first of the ride's two raven turns.

So... take a ride with me on X2. (I apologize for the audio not picking up my commentary. Six Flags' mic was mounted too far away to pick me up over the rather loud chain lift and audio track... not to mention the air rushing by at 70 mph.)

Here's a photo gallery, showing you the various elements on X2:

The real test for X2? Uptime. Will X2's lighter trains allow the ride to run multiple trains all summer long, as Six Flags management plans? Today wasn't much of a test. With one train rigged for filming, Magic Mountain could operate only two trains, and there were plenty of delays to accommodate video crews.

X2 remains one stunning ride. If Six Flags' efforts have worked, and X2 can operate near its designed capacity, Magic Mountain might finally have the revolutionary coaster that it envisioned.

Note: Southern California theme park fans might also want to take a look at my recent reviews of The Simpsons Ride, now open at Universal Studios Hollywood, and Toy Story Midway Mania, opening next month at Disney's California Adventure.

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Expect to pay more for parking at Universal Orlando

By Domenik Jost
Published: May 22, 2008 at 8:57 AM
Well today marks another day where theme parks increase prices and taking more money out of our pockets. Universal Orlando Resort raised its parking prices today. Regular parking prices for cars and motorcycles increased from $11 to $12. With that Preferred Parking increases to $18. Parking for those coming with RVs, Busses and Trailers went from $12 to $15.

Good for me I get free parking with the Preferred Annual Pass, but where does that leave the family visiting for Memorial Day this coming Monday? Most families are having a hard enough time affording to go on a trip to come to the Central Florida area for a short vacation. Now they are going to have to take more money out of their wallets to pay to park at the resort.

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Six Flags goes for theme, atmosphere with Dark Knight Coaster

By Anthony Murphy
Published: May 20, 2008 at 9:16 PM
The Dark Knight Coaster at Six Flags Great America debuted to the press this morning. Set in the "Gotham City Rail" station built into the park's old Theater Royal, the attractions begins with a detailed transit station queue, leading into a pre-ride show area, something new for Six Flags.

In the preshow, a news broadcast sets up a video press conference by Gotham's new district attorney, Harvey Dent (played, as in the upcoming "Dark Knight" film, by Aaron Eckhart). Dent shrugs off a question about Batman, before the Joker cuts into the feed. Dent’s campaign poster is transformed with the creepy smile drawn on by the Joker and its henchmen while the entire room lights up with words that say “Why so serious?” “Ha Ha Ha,” and “Give him a smile.” The preshow ends with Joker’s henchmen taking over the station and the words “What are you waiting for?”

There is short line after the preshow. Guests pass by a busted security area in which half of the monitors are shorted out and the others show the Joker’s henchmen running amok in the station.

After that, it's into the loading station. The coaster's cars seat four people, making the capacity of this ride up to 600 people an hour. The car also is shaped like a subway car and placed on a continuous system which only stops for a lap bar check. You need to enter and exit the ride while it is moving slowly. The car enters the subway system and is put into a very quick chain lift and the Joker’s laugh is heard and lights flash around you. You go through a part of the building which is lit by "Ha Ha"s, much like in the preshow. The car then turns a hairpin turn around a mannequin of Batman with lights flashing around it making it look like the figure is moving.

Most of the rest of the ride is a bunch of hairpin turns that go around set pieces. One of the more impressive effects is the holographic henchmen breaking through some billboards with mannequins on the top. When the corner is turned, other henchmen are setting fire to a Gotham office building. Batman appears one more time, but this time on the Bat Cycle, using the similar light effects from earlier in the ride. Then there is a few of “near misses” with an explosive truck before going into a series of drops which were sudden since they happen in the dark, but not very high drops. The ride pretty much ends after this and the car slowly enters the loading area which is where the ride began.

As a Wild Mouse coaster, the attraction is pretty tame with its concentration on turns rather than drops, but still relatively fun. However, the ride is pretty scary and intense due to the Joker’s scary laugh and the Joker’s gang which wear creepy clown masks. Also, this attraction is based more upon the serious and scary version of Batman rather than the campier Batman with Jack Nicholson, Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey. The effects were also very similar to Disney's Rock 'n Roller Coaster except for the Dark Knight’s effects do not seem to be synched with your roller coaster car, meaning that they happen randomly.

This could be considered, in some ways, a positive aspect because no two trips on the Dark Knight are the same. From going on the roller coaster more than once, I observed this with my second trip being the best. A little disappointing with the effects was there were not very good “scene” setups meaning you could see all the scenes at the beginning of the ride. Also, due to the hairpin turns, future scenes can be easily seen. More walls would do wonders on this attraction.

If children are not scared of the Joker or any of the effects, this roller coaster will be a good first coaster for the little kids that want to go on the “big kids” ride. However, I think there will be a want for the actual ride to be a more thrilling roller coaster. I foresee this as being the biggest complaint since Six Flags Great America is a park that prides itself on holding innovative and thrilling roller coasters.

But as the Joker says: Why so serious?

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Dominator debuts at Kings Dominion [with video]

By Russell Meyer
Published: May 20, 2008 at 9:04 PM
It’s billed as the longest floorless coaster with one of the tallest vertical loops in the world, and the 4,210 foot long B&M creation does not disappoint. Typical guests won’t realize it, but the Kings Dominion’s newest addition is not new at all.

It’s a coaster that was installed at the now defunct Geauga Lake (formerly known as Six Flags Worlds of Adventure) in 2000, as Batman Knight Flight. Six Flags operated the coaster for 4 years until Cedar Fair bought the Aurora, OH park in 2004. The newly renamed Dominator operated at Geauga Lake through last year, when Cedar Fair made the announcement that the park would operate exclusively as a water park for the 2008 season.

Kings Dominion became the biggest benefactor of the transformation of Geauga Lake, as their most valuable asset, Dominator, made its way 400 miles southeast from central Ohio to central Virginia. The move is likely to pay off for Cedar Fair, as Kings Dominion continues its success drawing fans from Virginia, Maryland, and the Washington, DC area, while Geauga Lake’s popularity wanes.

Dominator gives Kings Dominion its very first B&M roller coaster. It is also a coaster that can handle large crowds, a trait that is not seen in any of the other coasters at Kings Dominion, particularly the now dismantled Hypersonic XLC. Dominator also features more inversions (5) than any of the other coasters in the park, bringing the park’s total inversion count to 18 between the 13 roller coasters.

Aerial view of Dominator

Dominator is conveniently located near the front of the park, just a short stroll off of Main Street. The coaster is readily visible from the main parking lot, and the roar of this steel beast will likely taunt guests before they even walk through the front gates. Unlike Geauga Lake, where the coaster track was predominantly over water, Dominator is situated at Kings Dominion around a large pedestrian plaza, where guests not wanting to ride can observe virtually the entire ride. The only problem with the placement of Dominator is that bathrooms are a bit of a hike, with the closest ones all the way back on Main Street or in Kidzville. It’s likely that the park will do a brisk business during the hot humid days of summer selling cold beverages with no water fountains nearby, especially considering the majority of the queue line is not covered.

Those who rode the coaster in Ohio will not detect any changes. Dominator features five inversions, a 135-foot tall vertical loop, a cobra roll (2 inversions), and an interlocking pair of corkscrews. Fans of B&M designs will be very familiar with these inversions, but will likely be surprised by the intensity of the twists and turns between the inversions. The coaster starts out with a 157-foot drop accelerating the floorless trains to speeds approaching 65 miles per hour, making Dominator the second fastest coaster in the park behind Volcano: The Blast Coaster. Riders are then sent through one of the largest vertical loops in the world before negotiating two highly banked turns.

The coaster then goes through a cobra roll, which provides the best opportunity for “foot-choppers” in the front row, before reaching the mid-course brake.

After the brake, riders are given a rare treat on a looping coaster, airtime. The drop after the brake provides almost a full second of airtime that is best experienced in the back row. The train then sends riders through two interlocking corkscrews, a common element on B&M looping coasters, before going through a tight helix and back to the station.

Let's ride...

My impression of this coaster hasn’t changed much since its move from Ohio. The coaster is pretty intense, particularly for a B&M, but with only five inversions and a layout that doesn’t really take advantage of the floorless trains, it still falls behind Kraken and Superman: Krypton Coaster in the floorless coaster hierarchy. Its billing as the longest floorless coaster seems deceptive, since there are parts of the coaster at the beginning and end that seem like filler to achieve the length record. However, the unique layout sets it apart from other coasters, and fills a needed void at Kings Dominion by offering a high capacity, high-thrill attraction that will keep guests coming back for more. Dominator will open to the public just in time for the Memorial Day Weekend on Saturday, May 22, 2008.

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What is the outlook for theme park attendance this summer?

By Robert Niles
Published: May 20, 2008 at 9:25 AM
Last week, I had the chance to ride two great new attractions [The Simpsons Ride, Toy Story Midway Mania] that many of you seem to be looking forward to riding as well. And this week brings a slew of new attraction openings, some of which we will be covering here on Theme Park Insider.

It's looking like a great summer for theme parks, right?


There's this little hitch called a "recession" standing in the way. Stock market guru Warren Buffett said that we are already there. With gas at more than $4 a gallon for 89 octane at the station down my street, many U.S. families won't be able to afford as expensive a summer vacation as they might have in the past.

The tourism business is very sensitive to the nation's economic health. You can substitute cheaper food when prices go up and incomes do down, but you can't quit eating. You still need to pay mortgage or rent. But you can ditch the summer vacation. That would mean fewer trips to theme parks around the country.

In reality, most people don't completely abandon their summer get-aways. But, like with food, they do substitute.

Last week, the Orlando Sentinel rounded up all the usual experts and found they were expecting a slight decrease in the number of Americans planning to vacation by car or airplane this summer. An overall decrease only tells part of the story. A Michigan family still might plan to drive to a theme park this summer, but costs might steer them toward Cedar Point for a weekend instead of Walt Disney World for a week.

Yet, as Americans stay closer to home, international visitors are moving in. The weak dollar is making a U.S. vacation a bargain for European tourists, and many are booking trips to the Orlando area, as the Sentinel story reported.

So the Orlando parks can look to international business. And the regional parks can look to recapture the locals who might otherwise have gone to Orlando. In Southern California, as the parks lose some middle-class visitors, they gain upper-middle-class locals who would have otherwise gone to Vegas or Hawaii.

Ultimately, what will determine how well a park moves the turnstiles this summer is its quality. Which is as it should be. Got something new that people want to see? (Like Toy Story, or The Simpsons?) The visitors will come. The demographics of where they are coming from (Michigan or Manchester) might change, but the overall numbers will be there.

The park managers that need to worry are the ones that failed to offer anything fresh this year. This is going to be an especially bad year to sell potential visitors on nothing more than nostalgia. That's an experience that's just too easy to substitute.

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The Mouse goes green

By Bradley Robertson
Published: May 20, 2008 at 9:23 AM
The Orlando Business Journal is reporting that all hotels at the Walt Disney World Resort have been certified "green" by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. This certification involves reducing the energy used by appliances and lighting as well as putting measures in place to reduce water usage. I am all for companies being responsible citizens, but my question is will this knowledge affect your decision on whether or not to stay on property at the resort in the future?

[Here is the list of all designated Green Lodging hotels in Central Florida, according to the state. FWIW, the three Universal Orlando hotels and the Renaissance at SeaWorld also are all on the list. - Editor]

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Is Formula 1 going to Disneyland (Paris)?

By Robert Niles
Published: May 17, 2008 at 11:28 AM
Please indulge one of my other interests for a moment, as I ask the following question:

Could Formula 1 be coming to Disneyland Paris?

Published reports in France have the Formula 1 wanting to move the French Grand Prix from Magny Cours to Paris. And Disneyland Paris appears to be the preferred site. The French prime minister is on board. Disney appears to be on board. F1 likes the site.

So what's the hold-up? Hey, it's Formula 1! As always, the hold-up is money. Disney doesn't want to pay the estimated $31 million in expenses to run the race, and is waiting for the French government to step up instead. And heaven forbid that F1 pays to run its own races.

Hey, if this happens, I might actually have to fly across the Atlantic for this one. Since the U.S. Grand Prix went belly up (again, over money), Canada's been the closest F1 race. I've long wanted to see the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa, but the combination of an F1 race and Disneyland Paris might be too much for me to resist. (Even if it'll likely be run on some lame parking-lot course.)

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Vote of the week: The Simpsons or Toy Story?

By Robert Niles
Published: May 16, 2008 at 7:12 AM
ORLANDO, Fla. - Yesterday, we looked at The Simpsons Ride, new this year at Universal Studios Florida and Hollywood. The day before that, we looked at Toy Story Midway Mania, now open at Disney's Hollywood Studios and soon to open at Disney's California Adventure.

Which brings us to the vote of the week:

Explain your choice in the comments, please.

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The Simpsons Ride opens officially at Universal Orlando

By Robert Niles
Published: May 15, 2008 at 12:52 PM
ORLANDO, Fla. - Universal Orlando cut the ribbon Thursday on The Simpsons Ride, declaring the attraction, which had been in 'soft opening' for weeks, officially open to the public.

Universal Orlando president Bill Davis
Universal Orlando president Bill Davis cuts the ribbon to open The Simpsons Ride. And yes, those are Marge Simpson hair hats.

The Simpsons
Simpsons characters celebrate the opening of their ride at Universal Studios Florida.

Inside, visitors will find the building structure and ride mechanism the same as it was as Back to the Future, which closed last year. Only the ride film and interior and exterior decor have changed.

The IMAX-style film retains the same spirit of abandon that made Back to the Future a fan favorite, though The Simpsons Ride adds a massive dose of irreverence. The show plays off its theme park setting to elevate the TV series' characteristic irony to an even higher level. It's a deconstructionist's dream (or nightmare): a theme park attraction that simulates... a theme park attraction.

What else would you expect from The Simpsons?

This might be the most script-heavy theme park attraction ever built, with a gag-filled storyline that begins on video screens in the queue and continues on to the massive IMAX-style dome at the attraction's heart. Every word in the attraction's script was written by Gracie Films (the production company behind The Simpsons TV show), said Mike West, Executive Producer of The Simpsons Ride for Universal Creative.

All the animation and voices for the attraction are original, performed by the original voice cast. The animation in the queue is traditional, 2D animation, while on the dome screen The Simpsons are the more 3D-looking, computer-animated versions. That show is digital video, not film, West said, processed at a ridiculous speed of 8 GB a second.

On 'The Simpsons Ride'
On-ride image from the beginning of The Simpsons Ride, as Sideshow Bob prepares to send the Simpsons to their doom. Oh, and you, too. (Image courtesy Universal.)

"It was a daunting challenge for the tech guys," West said. The ride also features the first 360 rollover in a simulator ride, he added. (Don't worry, riders don't actually go upside down.)

Pay close attention and try to catch all the references to other major theme park attractions during the ride. Following the ride's roller coaster opening, you'll see homages to Pirates of the Caribbean, Indiana Jones Adventure, Jurassic Park River Adventure, the Waterworld show at Universal Hollywood, Revenge of the Mummy, SeaWorld's Shamu, and more.Mike West

But what I wanted to know at the end was... whatever happened to Maggie?

The Simpsons Ride also opens to the public at Universal Studio Hollywood on Monday, with a press opening there this weekend.

Overall, The Simpsons Ride hits all the right notes, satisfying both fans of the show and theme park junkies. There high "repeat ride" value here, too, as you'll need multiple viewings to catch all the references.

Universal Creative's Mike West talks about the challenges of and inspiration for The Simpsons Ride:

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Toy Story Midway Mania debuts at Walt Disney World

By Robert Niles
Published: May 14, 2008 at 6:07 PM
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - Disney's Toy Story Midway Mania takes its predecessor, Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin, one step further, adding 3D imagery to the dark ride/video game mix.

Toy Story Midway Mania
The sign settles it: The name is "Toy Story Midway Mania"

The new ride, shown to the press today at Disney's Hollywood Studios, feels like a next-generation Wii experience. You ride in spinning cars, stopping to play six different big-screen video carnival games featuring Toy Story characters. You "shoot" at virtual targets using a car-mounted pull-string "gun" that launches virtual pies, rings, pins, eggs and suction darts, scoring points with every hit.

Ride vehicles on Toy Story Midway Mania
The Midway Mania ride vehicles

Each target is labeled with its point value. (I saw a range from 100 to 5,000 points.) In the later games, hits on certain targets will spawn additional targets, often with higher point values. There's a hint of 4D action, too, as some popped "balloons" will produce a gentle puff of air and other targets splash a few drops back on riders.

Chrissie AllenWalt Disney Imagineering senior show producer, director Chrissie Allen explained that the carnival games at Disney's California Adventure provided the inspiration for the ride, which will debut in the Anaheim, Calif. park next month.

"Our original concept designers... were amazed that midway games were still really popular with guests," she said in an interview with TPI. "So we thought, wouldn't that be a cool thing to do, in a new technology sort of way?"

Chrissie Allen talks more to Theme Park Insider about the ride:

One of the more impressive pieces of new technology in the attraction appears before one sets foot on the ride. The five-foot Mr. Potato Head in the ride's queue might be the most impressive audio-animatronic figure yet created. Incredibly articulate and expressive, in body, eyes and mouth, Mr. Potato Head plays the role of carnival barker, hyping the ride that awaits. The figure is so good, that it'd be worth waiting a few minutes to watch him even when the ride is otherwise a walk-on.

Mr. Potato Head at Toy Story Midway Mania

FWIW, west coast theme park fans: Allen said that the ride at California Adventure will be the same as the one at Disney's Hollywood Studios, though the exterior setting will be different (a 1920s-style boardwalk instead of a Pixar-like modern movie studio).

So how did I do? My gun didn't work on the first trip, which did allow me to take notes on the various ride and point values. On the second ride, I scored 114,900, with 23 percent accuracy (TSMM reports shooting percentage as well as point value - nice touch!), and on my third and final trip, I racked up a 119,400, with 24 percent shooting.

The reported top score on the ride this month was 238,900. So the bar has been set.

Overall, Toy Story Midway Mania is a cute and engaging ride, a fun game well worth playing again and again. No, it doesn't offer the deep immersive narrative that one would find on top 3D dark rides like Spider-Man. But that's not what this ride is designed to do. On Toy Story Midway Mania, as Woody told Sid in the first film, "it's play time!"

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Can X2 succeed where X failed?

By Robert Niles
Published: May 13, 2008 at 6:10 PM
Longtime Theme Park Insider readers might be familiar with the saga of X, Six Flags Magic Mountain's revolutionary, but ultimately flawed, "4-D' roller coaster, which debuted in 2002. The Arrow Dynamics design drew good reviews [check the byline, then click the video link to the right], but could not keep up with the hype. Literally. Trains broke down, Six Flags cut capacity by running just one train at a time, then, eventually threw in the towel.

But not before Arrow ended up in bankruptcy, Six Flags ended up the target of a shareholder revolt and Magic Mountain lost its crown as the nation's coaster capital, as its already shaky reputation for customer service tanked.

Next week, X will be reborn... as X2. The track will be the same, but the trains radically different. Six Flags will have added new on-ride effects and a new park management teams is counting on a three-train operation and improved customer service throughout the park to help X2 win customers back to Magic Mountain.

Last Thursday, park president Jay Thomas and general manager Tim Burkhart showed me the newly installed third train on the X2 track, and explained how this will be a very different X.

Water dummies on X2's train 3

"We inspected the entire track and there were no problems," Burkhart said. "The track was really well done. The problem [with X] always was the vehicles."

Burkhart showed me where engineers had used a computer analysis called "finite element analysis" to identify ways that they could cut weight and redesign train elements to improve the ride's reliability.

"We took more than 20,000 pounds out of each train," he said. "A Goliath train weighs 18,000 pounds, so we took the equivalent of the weight of an entire Goliath train out of each train on X."

An up-close look at the new wheels and train mechanism for the third X2 train

Cut-outs now dot the metal on the train frame. The "pickle fork" attaching each train arm to the central unit is now a "pickle spoon," Burkhart said. There's a new wheel design, one that's lighter, stronger and the improves airflow, allowing it to run much smoother.

"We've been testing the trains and haven't had to replace a wheel. On X our first summer, we were replacing 18-20 wheels a day," he said.

The new wheel performance means a much smoother ride, said Burkhart, who has ridden the new X2 "hundreds" of times during testing.

Coaster fans also anticipate the new ride elements on X2. Six Flags will immerse the underground section at the bottom of the initial drop withy fog, creating a vortex effect as trains pass through during the day. After the second raven turn, flames will shoot at the passing trains, an effect that Magic Mountain execs say will be especially impressive at night. To cool riders after the flame effect, misters will blow on the trains on the block brake before the unload station. [Ride sensors will shut down the flame effect during high wind and gusts, however. That decision will be made by the ride's computer on a train-by-train basis.]

Most impressive, executives say, will be an on-ride audio system that "makes the one on [Disney's] California Screamin' sound like AM radio," Burkhart said.

So, can X2 succeed where X failed? We will soon find out. The press gets its look at X2 on May 22, and the public two days later.

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Cedar Fair's Halloween Haunt being made into a movie

By J. Dana
Published: May 13, 2008 at 6:09 PM
This morning, the entertainment newspaper VARIETY, contained the following interesting bit of information (an excerpt):

Weinsteins Roll with 'Fraggle Rock'

(Variety) – The Weinstein Co. will turn the Jim Henson series "Fraggle Rock" into a live-action musical feature. Cory Edwards, who directed the animated "Hoodwinked!" for TWC, will helm the picture and write the screenplay... Edwards is separately developing a live-action feature adaptation of Cedar Fair's Halloween Haunt franchise, designed to be shot in 3-D. That pic is looking for a backer.

You can catch a full article here:

Could be interesting...and I'm sure Universal isn't far behind in their own movie development deal.

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Eye candy...

By Robert Niles
Published: May 12, 2008 at 10:44 PM
I will be flying from Los Angeles to Orlando on Tuesday, so I will leave you with a little eye candy as I am in the air most of the day.

Theme Park Insider reader Mike Duchock checks in with a couple photos from Hard Rock Park's opening ceremony last Friday: (His photos follow)

After a few weeks of the "sound check" soft opening HRP in Myrtle Beach officially opened its doors for full operations last Friday, May 9th. Some morning rain showers ended just in time for a short ceremony celebrating this momentous occasion. Horry County Council Chairwoman Liz Gilland and South Carolina governor Mark Sanford's wife and son joined HRP CEO Steven Goodwin for a guitar smashing and to officially open the gates. The new $400 million theme park will celebrate its grand opening June 2nd - 3rd.

The day turned out to be a perfect theme park day- beautiful weather, thin crowds, and short waits. Every attraction and show was open except for the unique Maximum RPM coaster featuring the unique Ferris Wheel-type lift system. Crowds were virtually non-existent and lines were short throughout the entire 12-hour operating day giving guests the feeling that the park was all to themselves. Personally I never had to wait more than 3 minutes for a ride, even on the signature Led Zepplin: The Ride coaster. Bike week is currently going on in Myrtle Beach with HRP is hosting it's own expo in the parking lot. As a result, parking is free for all guests and you can buy a two day ticket for $75 this week only.

Hard Rock Park opening ceremony

Hard Rock Park opening ceremony

TPI readers Russell Meyer and Steve Lee each filed extensive trip reports on Hard Rock Park, with photos and video.

And now we hit the rewind button. Inspired by last week's King of the Theme Park Graveyard Tournament, Reader Ryan Roppel e-mailed a couple of classic photos of the Disneyland Skyway:

Classic Matterhorn

Classic Matterhorn

I know, having the Skyway cut through the Matterhorn like that killed some of the illusion. But, darn it, flying through a mountain was just so cool... ;-)

See you from Orlando Tuesday night....

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A tour of Magic Mountain, with park president Jay Thomas

By Robert Niles
Published: May 12, 2008 at 10:41 AM
Last Thursday, I drove up to Valencia to meet Six Flags Magic Mountain president Jay Thomas, and take a walk through the park. We were joined by press representative Sue Carpenter, and started the morning with an interview in Thomas' office. Here are some highlights:

TPI: So, how's the park?

Thomas: The park is phenomenal. We're heading into 2008; it's a transition season for the park. We've got a new team on board; A new director of marketing, new administration director, a new general manager, a new park president. But the park's doing fantastic. The park's cleaner that it has ever been. We're really working on raising the bar.

Six Flags Magic Mountain
The Sky Tower, with Tatsu, Revolution and the now-operational Valencia Falls in the foreground.

TPI: But this year's theme park industry attendance report had Magic Mountain dropping out of the U.S. top 20.

Thomas: We can't really talk about the attendance. That's the directive given us. But our attendance is not so bad. We're definitely heading in the right direction.

[Indeed. That same day, Six Flags announced chain-wide attendance increased 19 percent in the first three months of 2008. And average per guest spending increased 13 percent on top of that.]

TPI: The advice we give people always is 'get to the park early, when the lines are the shortest.' But that doesn't work for people when they encounter closed rides and delayed openings. What's the situation at Magic Mountain these days? [Delayed opening have been, ah, a problem at SFMM in the past.]

Thomas: We have no delayed openings. Everything runs at opening and stays open until closing.

Riddlers Revenge
Riddlers Revenge, as seen from the Sky Tower.

I come from a background of operations. So I would rather us start the day at max units. Now, of course, that doesn't always work. We do have maintenance schedules we have to follow, and never will we make a decision that will jeopardize safety. But I don't want to spend 15-20 minutes in the middle of the day adding a train.

We're also trying to train guests not to bring certain items onto the load platform, so that we can expedite the loading process. And I think we've made significant gains in that area.

TPI: Which rides do you hit, in what order, to ride as many of the best coasters before noon?

Sue Carpenter: We always tell people to make their way to the back of the park, and make your way to the front. I would always go Goliath, Colossus. I try to start easy and work my way up to the inversions.

Thomas: I send people that direction to build the experiences, to end on Tatsu, to end on X2.

TPI: Let's talk about X2. Are you confident that you'll be able to avoid its past capacity problems?

Thomas: We're going to run with three trains. In the past, we ran with two trains. We often ran with one train. We put a substantial investment in this so that we can run three trains throughout the course of the summer. That alone should have tremendous affect on capacity. The next thing is that we are looking at changing the loading process and the unloading process.

* * *

Thomas described a new "IBU," Individual Business Unit, management philosophy that has been implemented in the park. Managers and employees at each of the more than 300 locations in the park, from rides, to shops, to food carts, adopt a business strategy for that location.

Kevin Yee at MiceAge has detailed how he believes an individual location-based analysis system is hurting customer service at the Disney theme parks. (See the second page of that article.)

Thomas detailed how Magic Mountain is trying to use the IBU philosophy to encourage individual locations to come up with unique ways to improve their show and guest service. One example is at the Sky Tower, where a manager has converted the tower into a "Magic of the Mountain Museum," a tribute to the history of the park.

Magic of the Mountain Museum
A wooden horse from Magic Mountain's original carousel looks out from Sky Tower over Viper and X2.

Magic Mountain troll
The trolls live again at Magic Mountain.

At that point, we headed out into the park for a tour. As I grabbed my camera and sunglasses, I noticed Thomas picked up what we, when I worked at Disney World, called "nabby-grabbers," a long-handled pincer used for picking up garbage around the park. In fact, several managers I saw walking the park before opening were carrying the grabbers, picking up trash and leaves wherever they found them.

After we watched the park's opening ceremony at the front gate, Thomas said that he had challenged Magic Mountain's managers and employees not only to clear its midways of trash, but of all leaves as well. Not only does that help make the park look crisp and clean, he explained, clearing the leaves is important from a cultural perspective, as well.

"Clearing all those leaves looks like an insurmountable task, but when we did it, I now can go to any department in the park and say, 'Remember the leaves? What seemed like an in surmountable task, you overcame.'"

Thomas also talked up Six Flags' code of guest conduct, prominently displayed on signs in the park, as well as on the park's guidemap. As we walked from the front gate toward X2, a teen girl walking past us with her friends casually dropped the f-word in her conversation. She wasn't mad, just using the word, in normal voice, as an adverb, as some people often do. Yet Thomas, Carpenter and the park's operations manager all exchanged looks, and the ops manager quietly peeled away from us to confront the girl.

Tomorrow I will write about what I saw as we walked around the new X2. But after we visited the Sky Tower, as we were making our way back to the administration building, behind the rear of the park, Thomas expressed how frustrating it can be to turn around a reputation.

"I know the work that goes into what we're doing here.... Some that the things that have affected Magic Mountain's reputation, with the gangs, that was years ago. That's not what this park is like today. This park is cleaner. It's safe.... People are working hard here. I wish more people would come out and see what we're doing here," Thomas said.

"I wish we could be cut a break."

So... does Magic Mountain deserve a break? Let me say this: I have never encountered a theme park president so concerned about his park's online reputation that he spent a whole morning walking a Theme Park Insider writer around his park. This wasn't some cattle call with other local journalists or website reps. Just me.

And the park did look nice. Rides were running and Thomas impressed as a manager who did seem to care about the quality of his park, and guests' experience in it. How much of that has trickled down to the park's operations? I'll see sometime in the next few weeks when I revisit the park, as a normal guest this time and without the presidential tour.

In the meantime, though, I'd love to hear from other recent Magic Mountain visitors, in the comments. Has this park improved? How does it rate as an entertainment value?

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Cedar Fair Chief Exec. discusses future of Cedar Fair Parks

By Mike Shirley Jr
Published: May 12, 2008 at 9:28 AM
The following are excerpts from an article featured in the Dayton Daily News on May 12, 2008 in which CEO Richard Kinzel discussed future plans for coasters, water parks and expansion with the Associated Press, as reported by John Seewer. [Here's a link to the full interview, from Ohio.com.]

I found some of these quotes intriguing, including:

"Our goal is to have the Hotel Breakers and Camper Village at Cedar Point cashless by 2010"

"If we had the money on the balance sheet, we have hotel opportunities at Kings Dominion and Carowinds and in Canada. We have plenty of land around all of those parks to make it into a resort community like Cedar Point."

Regarding the removal of rides from the Geauga Lake park near Cleveland, Kinzel insists it was the right decision b/c the park was losing money, but does plan on making it, "the largest water park in the state of Ohio"

The most intriguing response came to questions regarding the building of coasters over 400 feet tall. Despite the fact that the technology exists, does it make sense?

"Financially, no. The price of steel is unbelievable....you can go as high as you want, but from a financial standpoint, it's hard to justify."

Despite the coaster wars we have seen in the last 10 years, it's possible that the race for the tallest and fastest might soon be at an end.

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King of the Theme Park Graveyard: Back to the Future

By Robert Niles
Published: May 10, 2008 at 2:15 PM
Congratulations to our "King of the Theme Park Graveyard" tournament winner:

Back to the Future (Universal Studios Florida and Hollywood)

Back to the Future at Universal Studios Hollywood

Just closed last year, these attractions, based on the popular Michael J. Fox movies, placed you in eight-passenger flight simulators, made up to look like the film's DeLorean time machines. You "flew" in front of a massive, Imax-style screen, as you chased bad guy Biff Tannen through time to reclaim his stolen DeLorean.

Back to the Future cruised to the victory, in a tournament where the higher seed won ever contest. Readers nominated dozens of now-defunct theme park attractions for the tournament, and the 16 receiving the most nominations faced off in reader votes each day this week.

  • Day one, attraction descriptions and results
  • Day two, attraction descriptions and results
  • Quarterfinal results
  • Semifinal results
  • Final results

    Thanks, again, to everyone who participated. Here's what coming up in the next week on Theme Park Insider:

  • Editor Robert Niles' interview with Six Flags Magic Mountain President Jay Thomas.
  • TPI's first look and review of Toy Story Mania, opening to the press this week at Disney's Hollywood Studios.
  • On-site coverage of the media event for the official opening of The Simpsons Ride at Universal Studios Florida.
  • The return of the Vote of the Week, on Friday.

    Comments (5) | Archive Link

  • King of the Theme Park Graveyard: The Finals

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 9, 2008 at 11:16 AM
    And here we are. The finals of the "King of the Theme Park Graveyard" tournament.

  • Day one, attraction descriptions and results
  • Day two, attraction descriptions and results
  • Quarterfinal results
  • Semifinal results

    In the semifinals of our tournament to select readers' favorite defunct theme park attraction, top seed Back to the Future eliminated one-time Universal Studios Florida neighbor Kongfrontation. In the other match-up, the Magic Kingdom's The ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter took out Disney sibling, Epcot's Horizons.

    The higher seeds have won every match-up in the tournament so far. Does that mean BTTF will be our winner? It is time for you to decide:

    Talk about your pick in the comments, please. And thanks, again, to everyone who e-mailed a nomination or cast a vote in this tournament!

    Comments (12) | Archive Link

  • Hard Rock Park opens as the world's first 'Rock n' Roll' theme park

    By Russell Meyer
    Published: May 9, 2008 at 11:09 AM
    [Update: I've added part two of Russell's report, and posted it to the discussion board. Just follow the link at the bottom of the post for the complete report. - Robert]

    From the ruins of an abandoned outlet mall,

    rises the world's first Rock and Roll theme park.

    Hard Rock Park features rides, attractions, and shows geared towards guests of all ages and music tastes. From the smooth sounds of Bob Marley to the ear piercing heavy metal of Led Zeppelin to the toe tapping sounds of country's best, there is something for everyone here. Even guests who listen to nothing but easy listening could find something to play air guitar to here.

    Park designers have deliberately positioned attractions in each “rock environ” to satisfy guests of all ages and tastes. The idea for this theme park is for guests to walk around together as a family – no Mom and kids running to Fantasyland, while Dad runs to Pirates, and the teens run to Space Mountain – everyone experiences it together. Here you have attractions like Led Zeppelin: The Ride, for adults and teens that want a thrill, right next to the Reggae River Falls, designed for small children who want to have fun and get wet, next to Paradise Cafe, designed for adults who just want to relax. This philosophy of the family enjoying the park together repeats itself throughout the park's environs.

    Read the rest of Russell Meyer's report...

    Comments (2) | Archive Link

    King of the Theme Park Graveyard: Semifinals

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 8, 2008 at 1:10 PM
    Once again, all the higher seeds advanced in the tournament, as Theme Park Insider readers vote to select their favorite defunct attraction.

  • Day one, attraction descriptions and results
  • Day two, attraction descriptions and results
  • Quarterfinal results

    Today, it's the semifinals, as the top four, most nominated attractions square off.

    In the first semifinal, top seed Back to the Future faces its one-time Universal Studios Florida neighbor, Kongfrontation.

    The other semifinal is an all-Disney World affair, as The ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter from the Magic Kingdom takes on Horizons, late of Epcot.

    Tell us about your favorites, in the comments.

    Comments (16) | Archive Link

  • King of the Theme Park Graveyard: Quarterfinals

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 7, 2008 at 9:02 AM
    All the favorites advanced to the quarterfinal round of our tournament to determine readers' favorite defunct theme park attraction.

  • Day one, attraction descriptions and votes
  • Day two, attraction descriptions and votes

    In the second round, Back to the Future (Universal Studios Florida and Hollywood) takes on Skyway (Disneyland). Will readers prefer Back to the Future's flight-simulator chase of Biffen Tannen through time or the Skyway's gentle trip over Fantasyland and through the Matterhorn?

    Our second vote matches The ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter (Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom) against the original Journey Into Imagination (Epcot). Both Disney attracts appeal to visitor's imagination, the first with creepy audio effects and the second with more typical Disney whimsy.

    It's a classic Epcot Future World showdown in our next contest, as former neighbors Horizons and World of Motion square off. Two Omnimover rides, one looking toward the future (Horizons) and the other the past (World of Motion).

    It's a battle between the great ape from Kongfrontation (Universal Studios Florida) against the giant squid from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom) in our final match-up.

    Feel free to reminisce in the comments....

    Comments (13) | Archive Link

  • King of the Theme Park Graveyard: Round one, day two

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 6, 2008 at 11:18 AM
    Here are the next eight nominees for Theme Park Insider readers' favorite defunct theme park attraction:

    The ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter (Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom)
    Disney ditched warm-and-fuzzy in favor of snarky-and-scary with this early 1990s makeover of the old Mission to Mars space in the Magic Kingdom. The circular room remained, but became a darkened exhibit of binaural and multisensory effects designed to entertain by creeping you out... well, just a bit. Some fans loved it, but others complained, and Disney watered down the thrills over the years, before finally replacing the show with much-loathed Stitch's Great Escape.

    Captain EO (Epcot and Disneyland)
    At the height of 1980s Michael Jackson mania, Disneyland and Epcot debuted this Francis Ford Coppola-directed 3-D musical film starring the "King of Pop." (And... Angelica Huston?) Captain EO (Jackson) and his ragtag crew have to deliver a "special gift" to Huston's "Supreme Leader" on a dark and cheerless world. Singing, dancing, peace and harmony ensue. That is, until everyone had seen the show a gajillion times, Jackson, um, fell out of social favor and Disney figured people would rather enjoy the sensation of having mice crawl all over them instead.

    Kongfrontation (Universal Studios Florida)
    Universal took three popular elements of its signature Hollywood backlot tour and built stand-alone attractions for Kongfrontation, Earthquake and Jaws when it opened Universal Studios Florida. Kongfrontation put riders in New York City aerial trams for a tour of the Great Ape-devastated city, culminating with a face-to-face encounter with ol' banana breath himself. (You really could smell the bananas.) A burst of flame, a quick drop and you were soon safely walking back through the immense unload area, with its loads of Kong merchandise. Today, Kong's lair is the home of Revenge of the Mummy.

    Alfred Hitchcock: The Art of Making Movies at Universal Studios Florida
    Thanks to Tony Duda for the photo

    Alfred Hitchcock: The Art of Making Movies (Universal Studios Florida)
    Hitch was a three-part attraction, opening with a 3-D highlight film of classic moments from Hitchcock films. Then, it was into another theater, for a live-action demonstration of how the famous shower scene from Psycho was filmed (with a twist!) Finally, visitors exited into a exhibit hall, a play area for grown-ups, really, where they could walk through and around set pieces inspired by Hitchcock films. Universal chopped down the attraction over the years, eventually replacing it with Shrek 4-D.

    World of Motion (Epcot)
    General Motors sponsored this whimsical look back at the history of transportation, from rafts and chariots up to the automobile. Visitors rode Disney's Ominmover vehicles through this animatronic dark ride, ending up in the Trans Center where GM displayed its current model cars, as well as a few prototypes. GM's interest in paying for the attraction waned over the years, and eventually it was gutted to make way for the cars-only ride Test Track.

    World of Motion at Epcot
    Thanks to an anonymous TPI reader for the photo.

    People Mover (Disneyland)
    Hop aboard for a ride above and around Disneyland's Tomorrowland. Unlike its sibling at Walt Disney World in Florida, the People Mover seemed pretty low-tech, rumbling above Tomorrowland on somewhat noisy tires. But the highlight for many readers was the "Tron Room," which made use of the shuttered America Sings building with an early computer-animated projection scene that made this slow little ride feel like a high-tech coaster, if only for a moment or two. Disney scrapped the ride for the much higher-tech, to-be-sponsored-by-General Motors Rocket Rods, but... delays in getting Test Track up at Epcot soured the relationship, leading to critical budget cuts for Rocket Rods. As a result, that attraction opened late, and closed quickly.

    Skyway (Disneyland)
    Once a common site at theme and amusement parks, Disneyland's Skyway shuttled riders through the air from Fantasyland to Tomorrowland (or the other way around.) The highlight, though, was a trip *through* Matterhorn Mountain, a bonus that no other park's sky ride could match. Low capacity, accessibility issues and liability concerns doomed the ride, though. And today, the holes in the Matterhorn are plugged.

    America Sings (Disneyland)
    When Disney shipped the Carousel of Progress back east to open Walt Disney World, the circular theater in Disneyland's Tomorrowland became home to America Sings, a show that celebrated folk, children's and pop music from throughout America's history. (What this had to do with Tomorrowland remains anyone's guess.) Eventually, Disney closed the show, reusing many of the animatronics for the showboat finale of Splash Mountain. The theater remained dark, save for being used as the Tron Room for the People Mover, until it reopened as Innovations in the late 1990s.

    Argue for your picks in the comments....

    Comments (10) | Archive Link

    Add Legoland to the Dubai mix

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 6, 2008 at 8:30 AM

    Universal? Check.

    Busch Gardens/SeaWorld? Check.

    Six Flags? Check.

    And now... Legoland?


    Merlin Entertainments, Legoland's owner, announced a deal with Tatweer, which will build and operate Legoland Dubailand, a 3 million square-foot theme park to open in 2011 as part of the Dubailand project.

    So, of the big five theme park operators, that leaves only Disney off the map in the rush to make Dubai the Orlando of the Middle East.

    At right: Legoland California Master Model Designer Eric Hunter with a 17-foot-9-inch-tall Lego replica of The Burj Dubai, which will be the world's tallest building when completed. Image courtesy Legoland.

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    King of the Theme Park Graveyard: Round one, day one

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 5, 2008 at 10:29 AM
    Here are today's opening match-ups in the tournament. Please select the rides you miss most, or that you would most like to have had the chance to ride, based upon these descriptions and the rides' reputations.

    We continue to need photos for these old attractions, as well as others in the tournament. Please e-mail graveyard [at] themeparkinsider.com and many thanks to the TPI readers who have sent in photos already.

    Back to the Future (Universal Studios Florida and Hollywood)
    Just closed last year, these attractions, based on the popular Michael J. Fox movies, placed you in eight-passenger flight simulators, made up to look like the film's DeLorean time machines. You "flew" in front of a massive, Imax-style screen, as you chased bad guy Biff Tannen through time to reclaim his stolen DeLorean.

    Back to the Future at Universal Studios Hollywood

    Soap Box Racers (Knott's Berry Farm)
    This Arrow coaster featured four side-by-side tracks, upon which you "raced" other riders, all in coaster cars fashioned after Soap Box Derby racers. Top speed was only 30 mph, but fans said that this ride fired your imagination at 100 mph-plus.

    Horizons (Epcot)
    This GE-sponsored Omnimover ride stood on the site of the current Mission: Space. Horizons offered a early '80s view of the future, after first taking a look back at visions of the future from the past. Highlights included the orange-scented farm of the future as well as the then-innovative opportunity to choose your own way to travel back to the 20th century (by land, sea or space).

    Horizons at Epcot

    Cranium Command (Epcot)
    Loaded with late '80s pop culture references (Hans and Franz, anyone?), this mix of film and animatronics taught you about the central nervous system, through the eyes of a young boy. Literally. The show's still there, in Epcot's Wonders of Life pavilion, but shuttered indefinitely. Like the hypothalamus ("blink, blink, breathe, breathe, day in, day out, never a 'thank you,' never a 'job well done'") it just doesn't seem to earn much respect.

    Cranium Command at Epcot

    20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom)
    Well, it wasn't 20,000 leagues - just a lap around the old Fantasyland lagoon - and your Jules Verne-inspired subs never did descend under water below window level, but many riders loved this tour recreating scenes from the classic Walt Disney live action film. Poor hourly capacity and inaccessibility to wheelchair guests ultimately doomed the ride, and Disney filled in the lagoon, which is now the site of a Pooh-themed toddler play area.

    Drachen Fire (Busch Gardens Williamsburg)
    Here's TPI's Russell Meyer's take: "The coaster was a pretty cool ride with some of the most unique combination of elements on any coaster ever built. You went up the lift and straight into a corkscrew (kinda like the one after the first loop on Anaconda), and a high speed dive into a trench. Then you went into the Batwing (or cobra roll as it is known now). Then you went through the MCBR, and before 1994, there was a diving corkscrew (later removed for a straight piece of track) and up through a cutback (kinda like a dive loop) and through a final corkscrew before ending with a vicious 540 degree helix into a trench."

    Journey Into Imagination (Epcot)
    Yes, this ride still exists. But it ain't the same. Fans clamored for the original dark ride from Epcot's Imagination pavilion to be included in this tournament. It's initial replacement, the universally despised Journey Into Your Imagination, remains the lowest-rated ride in Theme Park Insider history. But the original, with its impish Figment animating the journey, provided a welcomed touch of Disney whimsy in a Future World that was just too... educational for many early Epcot Center visitors.

    Adventures Through Inner Space (Disneyland)
    Hop aboard your Omnimover "Atom-mobile" and prepare to be shrunk down to molecular size by the Mighty Microscope for a journey through the human body. This Tomorrowland ride, on the site of what is now Star Tours, was sponsored by chemical company Monsanto, which pitched its many products the unload area. Looking back, the ride screams "cheese," but when I was a kid, I totally, completely and utterly bought in. And adored every moment aboard.

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    'King of the Theme Park Graveyard' bracket

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 4, 2008 at 8:02 PM
    Here are the bracket match-ups, as well as the days when we'll be voting on them.

    Round one: Monday

    1. Back to the Future (Universal Studios Florida and Hollywood)
    16. Soap Box Racers (Knott's Berry Farm)

    3. Horizons (Epcot)
    14. Cranium Command (Epcot)

    5. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom)
    12. Drachen Fire (Busch Gardens Williamsburg)

    7. Journey Into Imagination (Epcot)
    10. Adventures Through Inner Space (Disneyland)

    Round one: Tuesday

    2. The ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter (Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom)
    15. Captain EO (Epcot and Disneyland)

    4. Kongfrontation (Universal Studios Florida)
    13. Alfred Hitchcock: The Art of Making Movies (Universal Studios Florida)

    6. World of Motion (Epcot)
    11. People Mover (Disneyland)

    8. Skyway (Disneyland)
    9. America Sings (Disneyland)

    You are invited to make your tournament predictions in the comments.

    Comments (14) | Archive Link

    'King of the Theme Park Graveyard' nominees announced

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 3, 2008 at 12:42 PM
    The nominations are closed, and we have 16 candidates for the crown of 'King of the Theme Park Graveyard.'

    (In alphabetical order)
    Adventures Through Inner Space (Disneyland)
    Alfred Hitchcock: The Art of Making Movies (Universal Studios Florida)
    America Sings (Disneyland)
    Back to the Future (Universal Studios Florida and Hollywood)
    Captain EO (Epcot and Disneyland)
    Cranium Command (Epcot)
    Drachen Fire (Busch Gardens Williamsburg)
    The ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter (Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom)
    Horizons (Epcot)
    Journey Into Imagination (Epcot)
    Kongfrontation (Universal Studios Florida)
    People Mover (Disneyland)
    Soap Box Racers (Knott's Berry Farm)
    Skyway (Disneyland)
    20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom)
    World of Motion (Epcot)

    I will post the seeded brackets tomorrow, with voting starting Monday. The first round will continue Tuesday, with the quarterfinals on Wednesday, the semifinals on Thursday and the finals Friday.

    Here's what I need from you, dear Theme Park Insider readers. I need your personal recollections and descriptions of these rides (even if it's just a line or two), along with any JPG photos of them that you might have and be willing to e-mail me.

    Please e-mail your recollections, descriptions and photos to graveyard [at] themeparkinsider.com and I will include as many as I can in the tournament, to help other readers decide for which attractions to vote.

    Thanks to everyone who submitted a nomination, and I'm looking forward to another great tournament!

    Comments (6) | Archive Link

    Man jumps to his death from Disneyland Hotel

    By Laurie Niles
    Published: May 2, 2008 at 4:46 PM
    A man believed to be in his 30s or 40s was found around 11 a.m. Friday, lying dead on the walkway by the south tower of the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, said the LA Times. He had apparently jumped from the balcony of his 14th story room, police said, and he appears to be from California.

    Comments (7) | Archive Link

    Vote of the week: Being the audience volunteer in a show

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 2, 2008 at 8:22 AM
    One of my earliest theme park memories was being picked to be the freckle-faced kid on a cable car during a faux "Rice-A-Roni" commercial that was "filmed" on the Studio Tour at Universal Studios in Hollywood back in the early 1970s.

    Apparently, I have a knack for getting picked for on-stage roles in Universal shows. Almost everytime I went to the old Alfred Hitchcock show at Universal Studios Florida, I got picked to play the role of "Mother." It got to the point where, one time, an employee was telling me where to stand and I burst out laughing. "I'm sorry," I told her. "But I've played this part four times already!"

    I was expecting the Universal Police to swoop in a throw me out for the crime of multiple "Mother"-hood, but instead the employee just smiled, left me alone and split for a quick break.

    So, that brings us to this week's vote:

    If you answered 'yes,' please tell us your story, in the comments.

    Comments (14) | Archive Link

    How do people deal with seasonal parks?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 1, 2008 at 11:17 PM
    I'm on the road this week, attending a journalism conference at Yahoo! headquarters in Sunnyvale, Calif. Anyway, I'm staying at a nearby hotel, one exit up the 101 from Great America Parkway.

    "Great," I thought, when I saw the sked. "I'll just sneak away one weekday afternoon and get some pictures and a quick trip report for TPI!"

    Except... that California's Great America is closed weekdays this time of year. Ugh.

    I'll admit it: As a Southern California native and resident, and a former Orlando resident, I'm spoiled. How on Earth do you folks who live in the land of "seasonal" parks cope? ;-)

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