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July 2008

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RSS update: New Theme Park Insider feed available through Feedburner

By Robert Niles
Published: July 31, 2008 at 3:39 PM
For folks who care about such things, I have updated Theme Park Insider's RSS feed to a Feedburner feed. The old URL still works for our feed, but there is a new feed of front-page Blog Flume stories -- with a bunch of neat widgets included -- now available, too.

If you'd like to update your feed reader, go ahead. If you are not yet subscribing to our RSS feed, please consider clicking the link on the front page to do so. If you have no idea what the heck I am writing about, go here, to Google's Reader page for an overview of what an RSS reader can do for you.

Archive Link

E-mail of the day

By Robert Niles
Published: July 31, 2008 at 2:27 PM
I'd thought I'd share with you a lovely addition to my in-box this afternoon:
Simply outrageous that you don't accept email addresses from anyone but companies. So typical. Hey if you don't want comments from anyone but companies, stop posting garbage telling us to vote for extremely expensive sandwiches asking for opinions then denying the email address!

Thank you, dear writer, for reminding me why it is that we do not allow site registrations from Hotmail addresses. (Oh, and by the way, Hotmail's a company, too. It's owned by a rather large company, by the name of Microsoft. Just sayin'.)

FTR, we require people who register on TPI to do so with a verified ISP, work or school e-mail address, in an effort to keep hit-and-run anonymous gasbags off the site. Such as this gal.

But anyone can vote in polls and submit attraction ratings, without registering, so readers who want, or need, to remain anonymous can participate on the site. (FWIW, I also have approved a few readers to register using anonymous accounts and pseudonyms, since they showed me that they were industry insiders who would not be allowed by their employers to post.)

We've been doing this for nine years around here, and as much as we can do to improve, I'd like to think that we've got the hang of a few things. Namely, that people like to read intelligent and informed comments from real people, not fan-boy posturing from a bunch of anonymous account handles. We're not all the way to that goal yet, but I consider it a small victory that we are keeping people like this writer off the site.

Comments (17) | Archive Link

What's the best thing to eat at a theme park, round 2: Turkey Leg vs. Cheddar Cheese Soup?

By Robert Niles
Published: July 31, 2008 at 7:38 AM
We're down to six nominees in our reader tournament to pick the best thing to eat at a theme park. Today, the Cheddar Cheese Soup from Le Cellier Steakhouse at Walt Disney World's Epcot takes on the Turkey Legs from Frontierland in the Magic Kingdom.

Tell us your pick in the comments, and vote:

Yesterday, the Monte Cristo sandwich defeated Disneyland's Corn Dog, by a vote of 58% to 42%, moving the Blue Bayou specialty into the semifinals.

  • Complete tournament results and schedule

    Comments (8) | Archive Link

  • Another name change for the Busch Gardens theme parks?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: July 30, 2008 at 3:26 PM
    I've heard through the grapevine that the Busch Gardens theme parks in Williamsburg, Va. and Tampa, Fla. might be changing their names, again.

    The parks, originally known as Busch Gardens: The Old Country and Busch Gardens: The Dark Continent, respectively, were long known as Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. In 2006, Busch changed the names of the parks to Busch Gardens Europe and Busch Gardens Africa.

    Of course, as many readers have pointed out, this created quite a bit of confusion. Theme park chains are opening parks all over the world, and Busch is no exception. One hears "Busch Gardens Europe" and expects it to be in, well, Europe.

    So Busch is said to be mulling a change back to more geographically accurate names, such as Busch Gardens Williamsburg or Busch Gardens Virginia for the European-themed park, and Busch Gardens Tampa or Busch Gardens Florida for the African-themed destination. There is no comment from the official channels on these rumors, one way or the other, as of this point. (And yes, I've asked.)

    Complicating this question is the recent sale of parent Anheuser Busch to Belgian brewer InBev. If InBev were to sell the parks to another company, would that buyer want to keep the "Busch" name on the parks? If there is a chance that it would not, why endure the hassle of and public confusion over a name change now, if the parks names might change again in a year or two?

    And if the name change is to go through at the end of this season, would that indicate that the "Busch" name is likely to stick around -- suggesting that the might be something to the rumor of the Busch family buying control of the parks?

    So many questions....

    Comments (17) | Archive Link

    What's the best thing to eat at a theme park, round 2: Monte Cristo Sandwich vs. Corn Dog?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: July 30, 2008 at 7:54 AM
    In today's quarterfinal, it's a match-up of breaded, deep-fried meat from Disneyland versus... breaded, deep-fried meat from Disneyland!

    Okay, that's a rather simplistic way of describing this contest between the hand-dipped Corn Dogs from Main Street U.S.A. and the Monte Cristo sandwich from the Blue Bayou. Which one do you prefer? Vote below, the tell us about it in the comments.

    In yesterday's first quarterfinal, the Hot Dog at Casey's Corner in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom beat the free beer from Busch theme parks, making this an all-Disney field from here in.

  • Complete tournament results and schedule

    Comments (2) | Archive Link

  • 5.4 earthquake shakes Southern California*

    By Robert Niles
    Published: July 29, 2008 at 12:01 PM
    A 5.4-magnitude earthquake just hit Southern California. A moderate quake; with no reports of major damage so far. But everyone felt it. (The U.S. Geological Survey is collecting public reports.)

    I felt and heard a sharp jolt here in Pasadena, followed by a smaller jolt and some shaking -- about 10 seconds total. I assume that folks at the area theme parks felt it, too. Check in the comments for reports.

    *Updated: The USGS is now calling it a 5.4, not a 5.8, as originally reported.

    Update 2: There's a great question on the discussion board about how to protect yourself at a theme park during a earthquake.

    Comments (7) | Archive Link

    Alumni events for former theme park employees?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: July 29, 2008 at 9:59 AM
    Cedar Point's inviting its former employees back for a reunion.

    The event is slated for Labor Day weekend, Aug. 29-Sept. 1. A Toledo Blade story reports that tickets for alumni will be $24.95 and available online, though it does not provide a URL.

    Cedar Point includes an alumni section on its website, where former employees can search for one another and reconnect. As a former Walt Disney World cast member, I've wondered why other theme park companies don't do the same thing. After all, many of us remain loyal fans of the parks where we worked, and could be encouraged to return for visits more often, as well as to continue being ambassadors for the park, encouraging family and friends to visit as well.

    If Disney can have special programs for family reunions, weddings, honeymoons, quinceañeras and other events, why can't it do something targeted at alumni? If you are a former theme park employee and know about, or have participated in, a park-sanctioned alumni event or club, tell us about it in the comments.

    Comments (5) | Archive Link

    What's the best thing to eat at a theme park, round 2: Disney World's Hot Dogs vs. Busch's Free Beer?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: July 29, 2008 at 9:08 AM
    Thanks to everyone who voted in the first round of our reader tournament to determine the best thing to eat or drink at a theme park. We're down to the final eight nominees, and the quarterfinal voting begins today.

    In our first vote of the second round, the lone remaining non-Disney nominee faces off against a Walt Disney World favorite. It's the free beer offered at the Busch Gardens and SeaWorld theme parks against the hot dog from Casey's Corner in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. Vote below, then tell us about your decision in the comments, please.

    In yesterday's final first-round match-up, Disney's Dole Whip sent home the Pot Roast from the 50's Prime Time Cafe at Disney's Hollywood Studios, 69% to 31%.

  • Link to all tournament match-ups and schedule

    Comments (9) | Archive Link

  • What's the best thing to eat at a theme park, round 1: Disney's Dole Whip vs. 50's Prime Time Cafe's Pot Roast?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: July 28, 2008 at 9:42 AM
    Our final first-round match-up in our tournament to decide the best thing to eat or drink at a theme park pits the top seed, the Dole Whip sold in Adventureland at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom and Disneyland, against fellow Disney entrant, the Pot Roast from the 50's Prime Time Cafe at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

    Tell us why you like one, or the other, in the comments, please.

    In yesterday's vote, the Turkey Legs from Frontierland in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom eliminated Mrs. Knott's Fried Chicken Dinner, by 55% to 45%. Check back tomorrow, as we begin the quarterfinals.

  • Link to all tournament match-ups

    Comments (9) | Archive Link

  • What's the best thing to eat at a theme park, round 1: Disney World's Turkey Legs vs. Mrs. Knott's Fried Chicken Dinner?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: July 27, 2008 at 12:27 PM
    Poultry's on the menu for today's vote in our reader tournament to pick the single best thing to eat or drink at a theme park. Appropriate for a Sunday dinner, one contestant is Mrs. Knott's Fried Chicken Dinner, the meal actually pre-dates Knott's Berry Farm. (The theme park was built as a diversion for guests waiting in line for the chicken.) It's opponent? The big 'ol roasted turkey legs from Frontierland at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.

    Which do you prefer? Tell us about your pick, in the comments, please.

    In yesterday's vote, the Monte Cristo Sandwich at Disneyland's Blue Bayou eliminated the Boysenberry-topped Funnel Cake from Knott's Berry Farm, 57% to 42%.

  • Link to all tournament match-ups

    Comments (7) | Archive Link

  • What's the best thing to eat at a theme park, round 1: Disneyland's Monte Cristo Sandwich vs. Knott's Boysenberry Funnel Cake?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: July 26, 2008 at 1:25 PM
    They're fried and the come with sweet fruit topping. And they are two Southern California theme park favorites. Which one do you prefer? The Monte Cristo Sandwich from Disneyland's Blue Bayou or the Boysenberry-topped Funnel Cake from Knott's Berry Farm? It is time for todays vote in our reader tournament to select the single best thing to eat or drink at a theme park.

    Tell us, in the comments, why you voted the way you did.

    In yesterday's vote, the free beer at Busch theme parks eliminated the barbecue ribs at Trapper's Smokehouse from Virginia's Busch Gardens Europe.

  • Link to all tournament match-ups

    Archive Link

  • What's the best thing to eat at a theme park, round 1: Busch Gardens' Barbecue Ribs vs. Busch's Free Beer?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: July 25, 2008 at 8:56 AM
    Well, we know that a snack from Disney won't be winning today's match-up in our single-elimination reader tournament to determine the very best single thing to eat at a theme park. Today's vote matches two popular options from Busch theme parks: the ribs at Trapper's Smokehouse at Busch Gardens Europe and the free beer available at Busch theme parks.

    And no, you can't vote "both, together." ;-)

    Tell us in the comments why you voted the way you did.

    In yesterday's vote, the Hot Dog at Casey's Corner at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom eliminated the Banana Chocolate Gooey Cake from Mythos at Universal's Islands of Adventure.

  • Link to all tournament match-ups

    Comments (11) | Archive Link

  • New Monsters, Inc. Coaster Coming to Disney's Hollywood Studios?

    By Danny Melillo
    Published: July 25, 2008 at 8:55 AM
    According to this Jim Hill Media article, a new suspended coaster will be coming to Pixar Place in Disney's Hollywood Studios. It will be themed to the hanging door scenes from the Monsters Inc and will be coming in Fall 2011.

    Comments (5) | Archive Link

    What's the best thing to eat at a theme park, round 1: Mythos' Banana Chocolate Gooey Cake vs. Casey's Corner's Hot Dogs?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: July 24, 2008 at 8:24 AM
    Are you in the mood for something sweet or savory? Tablecloth dining or wipe-your-shirt, stand-up fare? Today's vote in our "Best Bite" tournament matches the Banana Chocolate Gooey Cake at Mythos in Universal's Islands of Adventure against the hot dogs from Casey's Corner in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.

    Tell us in the comments why you voted the way you did.

  • Links to all tournament match-ups

    Comments (7) | Archive Link

  • Rumor: New buyer on deck for Busch theme parks?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: July 23, 2008 at 9:35 AM
    Rumors are flying all over the industry that there's a deal emerging for InBev to sell the Busch theme parks. And it's not to Merlin, Universal or an investment bank.

    It's... to the Busch family.

    The reasoning goes that the Busch family will make enough from the sale of its shares in Anheuser-Busch to InBev that family members will be able to buy, or at least finance, the purchase of Busch Entertainment Corp. from InBev. And BEC wouldn't even have to change its name! Saves a few bucks on letterhead, at least. ;-)

    The move would allow the Busch "brand name" to continue in the marketplace, something that is said to be very important to some family members. And it would ensure that the current management team would stay in place, though there might have to be some title-shuffling to accommodate Busch family members who do not now have titles within BEC.

    Done deal, or wishful thinking? I don't know, but, wow, what a thought to wish....

    Comments (13) | Archive Link

    What's the best thing to eat at a theme park, round 1: Disneyland's Corn Dogs or DisneySea's Gyoza Dogs?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: July 23, 2008 at 9:11 AM
    So which is the top dog at the world's theme parks? (Apologies for the wretched pun.) Today, we match up the Corn Dogs from Disneyland's Main Street U.S.A. with an Asian twist on the same concept, the Gyoza Dogs from Tokyo DisneySea.

    Campaign for your favorite (or, at least, explain to Westerners what a "Gyoza Dog" is) in the comments.

    Yesterday, the Cheddar Cheese soup from Le Cellier Steakhouse at Epcot's Canada pavilion eliminated the Buffalo BBQ Fried Chicken Wrap from Mythos at Universal's Islands of Adventure.

  • Links to all tournament match-ups

    Comments (2) | Archive Link

  • What's the best thing to eat at a theme park, round 1: Mythos' Buffalo BBQ Fried Chicken Wrap vs. Le Cellier Steakhouse's Cheddar Cheese Soup

    By Robert Niles
    Published: July 22, 2008 at 8:19 AM
    Today's matchup features a battle between signature items at the top two restaurants from the most recent Theme Park Insider Awards, Islands of Adventure's Mythos and Epcot's Le Cellier Steakhouse.

    Yesterday, Epcot's School Bread from the Norway pavilion defeated Grapefruit Cake from the Hollywood Brown Derby at Disney's Hollywood Studios, 55% to 45%.

    Here is the rest of the, uh, menu:

    Wednesday:
    6. Corn Dog, Main Street U.S.A., Disneyland
    11. Gyoza Dogs, Tokyo DisneySea

    Thursday:
    5. Banana Chocolate Gooey Cake, Mythos, Universal's Islands of Adventure
    12. Hot Dog, Casey's Corner, Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom

    Friday:
    4. Barbecue Ribs, Trapper's Smokehouse, Busch Gardens Europe
    13. Free Beer, Busch theme parks

    Saturday:
    3. Monte Cristo Sandwich, Blue Bayou, Disneyland
    14. Boysenberry-topped Funnel Cake, Knott's Berry Farm

    Sunday:
    2. Turkey Leg, Frontierland, Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom
    15. Mrs. Knott's Fried Chicken Dinner, Knott's Berry Farm

    Monday, July 28
    1. Dole Whip, Adventureland, Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom and Disneyland
    16. Pot Roast, 50's Prime Time Cafe, Disney's Hollywood Studios

    Comments (1) | Archive Link

    What's the best thing to eat at a theme park, round 1: Brown Derby's Grapefruit Cake vs. Norway's School Bread?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: July 21, 2008 at 8:26 AM
    What's the single best thing to eat at a theme park? Everyone has a personal favorite, but let's find out what Theme Park Insider readers, together, think is the best bite at a theme park.

    So we, today, are starting another reader tournament. Based upon your nominations, I've seeded 16 snacks, desserts and entrees in a single-elimination tournament, starting with a couple of desserts from Disney's Hollywood Studios and Epcot. Pick your favorite below:

    Brown Derby's Grapefruit Cake vs. Norway's School Bread?

    Here is the rest of the tournament schedule...

    Tuesday:
    10. Cheddar Cheese Soup, Le Cellier Steakhouse, Epcot def.
    7. Buffalo BBQ Fried Chicken Wrap, Mythos, Universal's Islands of Adventure

    Wednesday:
    6. Corn Dog, Main Street U.S.A., Disneyland def.
    11. Gyoza Dogs, Tokyo DisneySea

    Thursday:
    12. Hot Dog, Casey's Corner, Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom def.
    5. Banana Chocolate Gooey Cake, Mythos, Universal's Islands of Adventure

    Friday:
    13. Free Beer, Busch theme parks def.
    4. Barbecue Ribs, Trapper's Smokehouse, Busch Gardens Europe

    Saturday:
    3. Monte Cristo Sandwich, Blue Bayou, Disneyland def.
    14. Boysenberry-topped Funnel Cake, Knott's Berry Farm

    Sunday:
    2. Turkey Leg, Frontierland, Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom def.
    15. Mrs. Knott's Fried Chicken Dinner, Knott's Berry Farm

    Monday, July 28
    1. Dole Whip, Adventureland, Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom and Disneyland def.
    16. Pot Roast, 50's Prime Time Cafe, Disney's Hollywood Studios

    Here is the quarterfinal schedule:

    Tuesday, July 29:
    12. Hot Dog, Casey's Corner, Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom def.
    13. Free Beer, Busch theme parks

    Wednesday, July 30:
    3. Monte Cristo Sandwich, Blue Bayou, Disneyland def.
    6. Corn Dog, Main Street U.S.A., Disneyland

    Thursday, July 31:
    2. Turkey Leg, Frontierland, Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom def.
    10. Cheddar Cheese Soup, Le Cellier Steakhouse, Epcot

    Friday, August 1:
    1. Dole Whip, Adventureland, Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom and Disneyland def.
    9. School Bread, Norway Pavilion, Epcot

    The semi-finals:

    Monday, August 4:
    2. Turkey Leg, Frontierland, Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom def.
    3. Monte Cristo Sandwich, Blue Bayou, Disneyland

    Tuesday, August 5:
    1. Dole Whip, Adventureland, Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom and Disneyland def.
    12. Hot Dog, Casey's Corner, Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom

    The finals:

    Wednesday, August 6:
    1. Dole Whip, Adventureland, Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom and Disneyland def.
    2. Turkey Leg, Frontierland, Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom

    The Champion: Dole Whip, Adventureland, Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom and Disneyland

    Comments (15) | Archive Link

    Vote of the week: VIP tour and backstage experiences

    By Robert Niles
    Published: July 18, 2008 at 8:01 AM
    Theme parks, of course, are in the business of making money. In addition to the regular admission ticket, souvenirs, etc., many parks offer VIP tours and backstage experiences, for an additional fee. From escorted tours through Disneyland to a day with a SeaWorld trainer, plenty of options are available.

    Have you ever been on one? That is our vote of the week. For the purpose of this question, we are not counting paid "front of the line" passes, like Universal Express Plus and Flash Pass, where the park just sells you an extra ticket and points you on your way. We're talking about employee-escorted tours and the like.

    If you have gone on one of these experiences, tell us about it (including how much you paid), in the comments. Was it worth it?

    Comments (12) | Archive Link

    Six Flags and 'Walk in the Park' benefit for Pediatric Cancer

    By Anthony Murphy
    Published: July 17, 2008 at 3:46 PM
    On September 6th and 7th, twelve Six Flags Parks will be hosting Walk in the Park to help raise money for Pediatric Cancer. Six Flags Friends will team up with Cure Kids Cancer to raise $1,000,000. This event will take place in the morning and then continue when the parks open for the rest of the day. For more information visit: walkintheparks.org

    [Editor's note: Here's the direct link to sponsor Anthony in the Six Flags Great America walk.]

    Comments (1) | Archive Link

    I received an e-mail response about the Busch parks from AB

    By Brian Emery
    Published: July 17, 2008 at 10:40 AM
    I received an e-mail response about the Busch parks from AB.
    I will cut and paste the e-mail I sent and the response I received….

    -----Original Message-----
    Sent: Monday, July 14, 2008 10:21 PM
    To: Vogt, Terri
    Subject:

    I am part of a web site called theme park insider and many of us are wondering what is going to happen to the AB owned theme parks...

    Thanks
    Brian Emery

    Brian,

    Good morning. Terri Vogt sent me your e-mail. I'm the head of PR for Busch Entertainment Corp.

    We don't have an answer to your question right now. All of our parks are open and operating normally. We remain a division of Anheuser-Busch and nothing about our commitment to guest service and quality has changed. If anything does change we'll make sure the readers of ThemeParkInsider.com are the first to hear. Thanks for contacting us.

    Fred Jacobs

    [Editor's Update: I've got something to say about this. Check out the first post in the comments. - Robert]

    Comments (9) | Archive Link

    A Canada's Wonderland trip report and other discussion highlights

    By Robert Niles
    Published: July 16, 2008 at 1:04 PM
    There are some great discussions going on now on Theme Park Insider's discussion board. I should point Blog Flume readers over there more frequently: I too often forget that there are Theme Park Insider front-page or RSS readers who don't find their way over to the boards.

  • We have a post on the Blog Flume where readers are talking about the sale of Busch Gardens and SeaWorld's corporate parent to Belgian brewer InBev. But there's a hot thread on the discussion board, too: InBev Closing AB Parks?

  • TPI reader Scottland Jacobson visited Canada's most popular theme park and has filed a Canada's Wonderland Trip Report.

  • Just for fun, Adrian Walker offers Theme Park Scenarios We’d Like To See: Part Nine, asking readers to submit things that they would never hear me say.

  • In addition, I'd like to remind Theme Park Insider readers that I also blog about non-theme park news and events over on SensibleTalk.com. A couple recent posts over there you might find of interest: Algebra can be easy and Don't blame depositors for IndyMac's failure.

    Archive Link

  • Time for the 'Best Bite in a Theme Park' tournament

    By Robert Niles
    Published: July 15, 2008 at 4:13 PM
    It's summer, and time for another Theme Park Insider reader tournament!

    This time, we're voting on food -- not on restaurants, but on individual items. What is the single best thing to eat or drink at a theme park -- the best snack, appetizer, entree or beverage? We need you to submit your favorites, then I'll sum up the picks, seed the top nominees in brackets and open up the voting.

    Please try to be specific when submit a pick -- if you can tell us the place and park where you get it, that would be helpful to me in setting up the brackets. Don't just submit "churros," tell us where the best churros are to be found, if that's what you want to nominate.

    Start the campaigning in the comments, if you'd like, or feel free to ask any questions about this tournament. And let the tastiest treat win!

    Update: Duh. The timing: Get your nominations in by this Friday. I want to announce the brackets and start voting Monday.

    Comments (26) | Archive Link

    Dozens hurt in Swedish theme park ride collapse

    By Robert Niles
    Published: July 15, 2008 at 10:21 AM
    The BBC is reporting that at least 36 people have been hurt, and at least 20 seriously, in a collapse of The Rainbow ride at Liseberg in Gothenburg, Sweden. [Update: CNN now reports the number of injured down to 18. Update 2: The consensus now seems to be 20 injured.]

    "The ride is composed of a spinning arm with a compartment at one end which carries passengers," the BBC reported. It's a Huss model, kinda like a large version of the "Camp Bus" at Camp Snoopy at Knott's Berry Farm. There appears to be a Huss Rainbow at Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom. Any others? [Update: Kentucky Kingdom's shut its Rainbow, pending the Swedish investigation.]

    Comments (4) | Archive Link

    Submit your theme park chat questions now

    By Robert Niles
    Published: July 14, 2008 at 7:13 PM
    Update: The chat is over now, but you can read the transcript.

    A reminder that I will answering readers' questions about theme parks in a chat on the Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel magazine website tomorrow.

    You can submit your questions now, then come back to that page tomorrow at noon (9 am Pacific) to see my answers in the chat.

    Got questions about the future of the Busch theme parks? What new coasters look like the best of 2009? What's the best value in an Orlando vacation? How to ride a roller coaster without getting sick? Which is better - Disney World or Disneyland? Anything else you'd ever wanted to know about theme parks? (Such as the Six Flags thing I answered last week.)

    I'd love to have a slew of great questions to pick from, so, please, ask me whatever you'd like and I hope to see you in the chat tomorrow.

    Comments (7) | Archive Link

    Anheuser Busch Accepts Inbev Bid

    By Drew Petzold
    Published: July 13, 2008 at 10:30 PM
    The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Anheuser Busch has accepted a bid from Inbev to make them the largest brewer in the world. The new name of the company is going to be Anheuser-Busch Inbev.

    This will now raise additional questions regarding the Anheuser Busch theme parks. We will have to wait and see what impact, if any, this merger will have on the future of their theme parks.

    You can read more details about the takeover here.

    Comments (22) | Archive Link

    Vote of the week: Is The Dark Knight Coaster really that bad?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: July 11, 2008 at 10:33 AM
    Something interesting has been happening this summer on Theme Park Insider, and I thought it time to share with you.

    Every year, we award a "Best New Attraction" honor to the highest-rated attraction on the site that debuted within the last 12 months. This year, that award went to Universal's The Simpsons Ride. But in the years that we've been handing out new attractions honors, none of those winners has managed to crack the top echelon of highest-rated attractions on the site: The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, Twilight Zone of Tower of Terror, Pirates of the Caribbean.

    But... on the other end of the scale, this year, one new attraction has plunged to the very bottom, tying long-time TPI punching bag Stitch's Great Escape as readers' least-liked attraction on the site.

    I'm talking about Six Flags' Dark Knight Coaster.

    Seriously, Theme Park Insider readers seem to hate this thing, but is it really that bad? I haven't been on it, since Six Flags did not build one at my local park, Magic Mountain. So I'd love to hear from readers who have been on the ride. How does it compare with other bad attractions you've ridden?

    Tell us your thoughts in the comments.

    Comments (17) | Archive Link

    Disney to close Pocahontas show at Animal Kingdom

    By Robert Niles
    Published: July 10, 2008 at 4:54 PM
    Scott Powers at the Orlando Sentinel reports today another end-of-the-fiscal-year closing at Walt Disney World.

    The Pocahontas show at Disney's Animal Kingdom will run its last show on Sept. 27. (Disney's fiscal year starts Oct. 1.) Last month, Disney announced that the Pleasure Island nightclubs would close the same day.

    Comments (3) | Archive Link

    Robert on NPR this morning

    By Robert Niles
    Published: July 10, 2008 at 5:56 AM
    I was a guest on National Public Radio's Bryant Park Project show this morning, in case anyone heard it. And, if not, the audio from the interview will be up on the show's website.

    Doing interviews with live east-coast news shows is one of the few downsides to living on the west coast. I got up at 5:30 this morning to do the show, which airs in morning drive time out east.

    At least it was radio, so I could stay in my jammies and do the show on the phone from my living room. I did CNN's "American Morning" a couple years back and had to get dressed and go to the network's studios in Hollywood at 5 am for that one. (Appearing awake while on TV at that hour should have earned me some sort of acting award.)

    Comments (9) | Archive Link

    Flying Unicorn, Enchanted Oak close at IOA

    By Robert Niles
    Published: July 9, 2008 at 9:50 AM
    Construction continues on the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal's Islands of Adventure. And, as a result, the construction perimeter around the new Hogwarts Castle/Hogsmeade area has expanded to include the Flying Unicorn Vekoma Junior Coaster and the Enchanted Oak Restaurant.

    Both locations are closed, though I do not know at this point if those closures are permanent, or if those facilities will be rethemed to become part of the Harry Potter land.

    Harry Potter
    Looking from the Flyring Unicorn toward Jurassic Park

    Harry Potter
    Looking west from the Flying Unicorn exit

    A new walkway is open to Jurassic Park, bypassing this corner of Lost Continent, though a spur route is open, which dead-ends at the Dueling Dragons coasters.

    We suspected that Flying Unicorn's days were numbered when we visited Orlando last month, so Natalie was sure to get a last ride on her favorite attraction. Then she blew her spending money on a stuffed unicorn afterward.

    Unicorn

    Comments (12) | Archive Link

    TPI Editor chat: Next Tuesday, July 15

    By Robert Niles
    Published: July 8, 2008 at 10:51 AM
    Hey,

    I wanted to let you know that I will be the guest "trip coach," chatting about theme parks on Budget Travel magazine's website next Tuesday, July 15.

    The chat starts at 9 am Pacific Time (noon Eastern), but you can submit your questions early via budgettravel.com.

    Hope to see plenty of TPI readers over there for the event. Thanks!

    Archive Link

    Universal Orlando's top chef talks about Mythos, food trends... and Harry Potter

    By Robert Niles
    Published: July 7, 2008 at 7:00 PM
    Last week, Mythos restaurant at Universal's Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Florida won Theme Park Insider's award as the world's best theme park restaurant, for the sixth year in a row. Prior to the announcement, I spoke on the phone with Universal Orlando's executive chef Steve Jayson, who oversees all the resort's food operations, including Mythos.

    Steve JaysonJayson, a 53-year-old graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, joined Universal in February 1989, before Universal Studios Florida opened to the public. He previously worked at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress in Lake Buena Vista, among other positions in the hospitality industry.

    At most theme parks, food service provides little more than fatty take-out fare, often dished up by outside vendors. Disney's Epcot made dining an attraction unto itself when it opened more than a quarter century ago, but few other parks have risen to that challenge since then. I asked Jayson about Universal's philosophy toward food service.

    "We wanted our food service program to be equal to that of anything that [visitors] would find anywhere in America," Jayson said. "If they were at Louie's Italian Restaurant in the New York park of our Universal Studios park, the experience in that restaurant would be equal to a street corner Italian restaurant in New York City."

    Jayson talked about the importance of using fresh ingredients in producing award-winning food for theme park visitors.

    "The infrastructure put in place by the industry to deliver to chefs anything, from organic products to fresh products, seasonal products, regional products, has grown incredibly," Jayson said. "So I can get the little, unique ingredients that one might need to create something very individualized."

    "I can get anything from anywhere, within 48 hours," Jayson said.

    Freshness is also the key to Mythos' success, Jayson said.

    "Everything in there is fresh," Jayson said, crediting Mythos chef Mark Wachowiak. "We use all fresh produce, all fresh poultry, all fresh fish and we cook it in a simple type of way."

    "You get this innovative, creative menu that you might not expect to see in a theme park and then when the food gets delivered, it's good... it's hot, it's wholesome, it's fresh and it tastes good. Then you walk out and you go 'Holy cow, I never expected anything like that at a theme park.'"

    So what is Jayson's favorite item on the menu?

    After pausing for a moment, he picked the cedar-smoked salmon. "I usually get it a Mythos and I'll put it on a salad, like our blueberry spinach salad that we do. That's my favorite, whether it is on the salad or the full entree."

    So what other trends does Jayson see in the industry, trends that we'll be seeing at Universal Orlando?

    "The big, giant desserts are a thing of the past," Jayson replied. "I think that chefs in America are slowly educating the public about flavors and creativity and at the same time the portion sizes are coming down - for a number of reasons. The simple fact [is] that costs of goods are getting higher, so chefs are saying, 'Well, I can try to make it a little bit smaller.'"

    "The other part of it is the whole obesity issue in America is really starting to surface... so that's our way of being sensitive to that, too."

    Jayson cited the shot-glass desserts served at Mythos, as well as smaller pastries now being served at Confisco Grille as two examples where Universal's embraced a "smaller plates" philosophy.

    I couldn't resist the chance to ask Jayson about Universal Orlando's next big project: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Forget Quidditch, the "Harry Potter" experience I most want to have is a Hogwarts feast. Jayson confirmed that he and his staff are working on new food service concepts for Universal's Harry Potter land.

    "We've visited Scotland to get a real close, personal look at the cuisine that they eat," Jayson said. "We're going to have one restaurant that's going to have a nice selection of items that you would probably expect to see in that vein of cooking, and I think it is going to be great."

    But what about pumpkin juice? They've got to have pumpkin juice, right?

    "Pumpkin juice, butterbeer," Jayson laughed. "All those great beverages, we are working on a lot of different things."

    Click the link below to listen to my complete, 21-minute interview with Universal Orlando executive chef Steve Jayson:

    Comments (12) | Archive Link

    Vote of the week: Best fireworks show EVAR

    By Robert Niles
    Published: July 4, 2008 at 9:00 AM
    It's the Fourth of July, Independence Day here in the United States, and that means fireworks. (Because there's nothing Americans enjoy better in celebrating our identity than... blowing things up.)

    Fireworks are not just for the Fourth at theme parks, of course. Many theme parks are well known for their elaborate displays.

    Which brings us to this week's question: Are those displays better than the Fourth of July shows that one can find in just about any community in America. Where was the best fireworks display you've ever seen?

    Tell us the details in the comments, please. And, have a happy Fourth!

    Comments (20) | Archive Link

    Disney, Universal split 2008 Theme Park Insider Awards

    By Robert Niles
    Published: July 3, 2008 at 11:22 AM
    More than 75,000 votes have been cast and it is time to announce the winners in the 2008 Theme Park Insider Awards.

    These awards are selected by you, ThemeParkInsider.com's readers, in year-long rating of the thousands of rides, shows, restaurants and hotels listed on the site. The represent the best of the best in the theme park industry, and stand among many close runners-up in providing outstanding value for a family theme park vacation.

    So let's get to it, starting with the one award that changes every year:

    Best New Attraction

    The Simpsons Ride at Universal Studios Florida and Universal Studios Hollywood

    The Simpsons Ride

    These twin rides debuted on consecutive days in May and wowed fans with their mix of irreverent humor and physical thrills. Theme Park Insider readers said that The Simpsons Ride is "hilarious, thrilling, and visually astounding" and that even "the waiting is enjoyable."

    Mark Woodbury, President, Universal Creative, Universal Parks & Resorts said of the honor, "The Simpsons Ride represents what Universal does best - which is to take pop culture's blockbuster entertainment concepts and bring them to life in wildly entertaining theme park experiences. We appreciate the recognition and share it with our partners at Fox Licensing and Gracie Films, who helped us create a truly authentic Simpsons experience."

    Attractions that opened to the public in theme and amusement parks worldwide between June 1, 2007 and May 31, 2008 were eligible for the Best New Attraction award. In addition to The Simpsons Ride, Theme Park Insider readers highly two other rides that stand among the Top Three Best New Attractions of the Year:

  • Toy Story Midway Mania at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
  • Nights in White Satin at Hard Rock Park in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

    Best Theme Park Restaurant

    Mythos at Universal Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Fla.

    Mythos

    For the sixth consecutive year, Mythos wins Theme Park Insider's honor as the world's best theme park restaurant. Readers lauded Mythos for "great prices, great food and great service" as well as "wonderful atmosphere."

    Ric Florell, Senior Vice President/General Manager, Resort Revenue Operations at Universal Orlando said of the honor, "With Mythos, our team set out to create an entirely new level of theme park dining experience. It was to be an experience that blended extraordinary food with extraordinary atmosphere. The continued recognition Mythos receives shows we have been - and continue to be - successful. We're grateful for the recognition. More importantly, our team is grateful for the opportunity to continue to thrill our guests."

    All table-service restaurants located within the gates of theme and amusement parks are eligible for the Best Theme Park Restaurant award. In addition to Mythos, Theme Park Insider readers highly rated two other restaurants that stand among the Top Three Best Theme Park Restaurants in the World:

  • Le Cellier Steakhouse at Walt Disney World's Epcot in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
  • The Hollywood Brown Derby at Walt Disney World's Disney's Hollywood Studios in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

    Best Theme Park Hotel

    Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

    Animal Kingdom Lodge

    Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom Lodge reclaims this honor for the third time. "Every part of the hotel from the room, to the view, to the food, and the cast members made this resort one of a kind," one Theme Park Insider reader wrote.

    All "on-property" hotels at theme park resorts worldwide are eligible for the Best Theme Park Hotel Award. In addition to the Animal Kingdom Lodge, Theme Park Insider readers highly rated two other hotels that stand among the Top Three Best Theme Park Hotels in the World:

  • Universal's Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando
  • Disney's Grand Californian Hotel at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif.

    Best Theme Park

    Disneyland Park in Anaheim, Calif.

    Disneyland

    The park that started the worldwide theme park craze reclaims its crown, winning Theme Park Insider readers' top award for 2008. Disney's always had the most loyal fans in the theme park business, but even casual fans are falling back in love with this park, thanks to recent renovations and fresh attractions. With Pirates of the Caribbean and the Indiana Jones Adventure, Disneyland had two of the top four rides in the country in Theme Park Insider's recent "Best Ride in America" tournament, and qualified more attractions for that tournament than any other single theme park in the world.

    In addition to Disneyland, Theme Park Insider readers honored two other parks as among Top Three Best Theme Parks in the World:

  • Universal's Islands of Adventure at Universal Orlando
  • Busch Gardens Europe in Williamsburg, Va.

    Thank you to all Theme Park Insider readers for another great year and... we'll see you in the parks!

    Comments (13) | Archive Link

  • TPI's RSS feed now features full articles

    By Robert Niles
    Published: July 3, 2008 at 9:12 AM
    A note for the techies out there. I've changed Theme Park Insider's RSS feed so that it now includes the full text of all Blog Flume articles, instead of just a summary line, as it did before.

    This means that you can read the full text of the Blog Flume using Google Reader or any other RSS news reader. (You'll still need to click through to the article here on TPI to read and submit comments, though.)

    I hope that you find this change useful. Thanks for reading Theme Park Insider (however you read the site)!

    Archive Link

    Disney World tries to get out of Florida gun law

    By Robert Niles
    Published: July 2, 2008 at 5:17 PM
    Interesting story out of Central Florida, where Disney is trying to get out of a new Florida law that allows employees to bring guns to work.

    The law doesn't allow employees to pack while working; they have to keep guns locked in their cars. The law exempts certain businesses though, including ones that keep explosives on the premises, such as... fireworks.

    That's the loophole Disney's playing, according to the article linked above.

    I'm not a gun fan, but I can't get too worked up about guns locked in employees' cars. Especially when employees park in lots removed from the workplace, and have to go through a security check-point to get from that lot into their workplace (as Disney theme park employees have to do). Still, I think it's a stupid law, one that will enable more people to pack guns in their cars and that likely will result in more road-rage killings in the state.

    But the whiz kids in the Florida legislature passed it and now it's law. Not that Disney's ever gotten creative to get around Florida laws before. *cough* ReedyCreekImprovementDistrict *cough*

    I suppose that I've merely created the opportunity for a flame war over guns now, but, hey, the single-digit comment counts over the past couple posts have been getting me down anyway. Is Disney right? Or the NRA? Fire away (pun sort of intended) in the comments....

    Comments (18) | Archive Link

    Tickets on sale for Halloween Horror Nights 18 at USF

    By Robert Niles
    Published: July 2, 2008 at 8:49 AM
    Universal Studios Florida has announced that tickets now are on sale for Halloween Horror Nights 18 at the park.

    Admission is $69.99, plus tax. A "Frequent Fear Pass" is also available for $69.99 and is valid on September 26 and 27, October 2, 5, 9, 12, 16, 19, 22, 23, 26, 29 and 30.

    Dates for the event are September 26-27, October 2-5, 9-12, 16-19, 22-26 and October 29-November 1 and tickets are available at the USF ticket booths, by calling 888-HORROR-7, or online at halloweenhorrornights.com.

    In addition to the content at the website, Universal's also released a promo video [Windows Media] for the event.

    Update: Hotel packages are available via Universal's website, and Universal's also offering up to $33 dollars off admission with a UPC code from any Coke Classic, Diet Coke or Coke Zero product.

    Comments (3) | Archive Link

    Anaheim newspaper looking for worst ride at Disneyland Resort

    By Robert Niles
    Published: July 1, 2008 at 9:41 AM
    Just to let everyone know that this year's winners of the Theme Park Insider Awards will be posted at noon (Pacific Time) on Thursday, July 3.

    On the flip side, and in the meantime, the Orange County (Calif.) Register is running an online poll to select the worst attraction at the Disneyland Resort (including Disneyland Park and Disney's California Adventure.)

    FWIW, Theme Park Insider's reader ratings have Tuck & Roll's Drive 'Em Buggies at DCA as the easy winner in that category. Unfortunately, the Register didn't have that as an option, so I had to add it.

    So... how many TPI readers can we get to click over there and flood the ballot box?

    (The paper is promising a vote next week for best attraction. Let's plan to flood the box for TPI reader fave Pirates on that one. Though I doubt it'll need the help.)

    Comments (3) | Archive Link

    Keep reading: June 2008 Archive



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