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October 2008

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Vote of the week: Trick or treat?

By Robert Niles
Published: October 30, 2008 at 9:49 PM
It's Halloween again, and while some theme park fans will head out tonight to their favorite park Halloween event, many other TPI readers will spend the evening in a more traditional manner, taking the kids trick-or-treating in the neighborhood. (That's TPI Kid Brian, ready to go in his Indiana Jones costume.)

No matter how you spend the day, I hope that you have a wickedly good time and wake up Saturday free of any candy hangovers, or, well, hangovers of any kind. ;-)

Which brings me to the Vote of the Week. Now, really, what else could it be than the most-asked question of the day?

Open thread for whatever you wish to chat about, in the comments.

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Taking questions on trip planning and budgeting

By Robert Niles
Published: October 30, 2008 at 9:51 AM
Next week I am starting a series on Theme Park Insider to help people plan their 2009 family vacations.

Next year is shaping up to be a tough one for many families, when people will need to be extra careful with their spending. Some will skip vacations completely, while others will write off the possibility of visiting someplace like Orlando, believing it to be too expensive.

I've been visiting theme parks, as well as many other top tourist destinations around the country, for decades. And, trust me, with a degree in journalism, I understand working in low-paying jobs with little money left at the end of the month for travel.

Plus, I know a lot of other smart people with experience in trip planning, too. So... starting next Thursday, I'l be writing to offer advice and answer questions to help people plan their family vacations for 2009 and beyond.

If you have a question, or a topic you'd like me to address, please e-mail me via themeparkinsider [at] gmail.com. Please feel free to e-mail me any money-saving tips you've used that you think might help others, as well.

Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from many of you.

Comments (6) | Archive Link

Fairies? Pixies? Nah, bring on the pirates! A Disneyland Tom Sawyer Island trip report

By Robert Niles
Published: October 28, 2008 at 5:44 PM
Tuesday Park Visit: Today was the official opening of the new Tinker Bell "Pixie Hollow" meet-'n-greet at Disneyland.

Pixie Hollow queue

But if you think I'm waiting an hour and a half in that queue to bring those photos to you, well, I'm sorry. Let's go somewhere else!

(Seriously, if you have a pre-school girl who wants to meet Tink, you're stuck, and nothing I write is going to outweigh what your daughter wants. And if you don't have a pre-school Tink fan in the family, there is zippo reason for you to even acknowledge the existence of this particular meet-'n-greet. So let's move along.)

After this weekend's vote put me in the mood, I decided to visit the west coast version of my old Disney home: Tom Sawyer Island.

Yes, it's now known officially as "Pirates Lair on Tom Sawyer Island," thanks to a pirate-themed makeover last year. But it will always be TSI to me. I took ride around the Rivers of America on the Mark Twain to snap some pics, then made my way around the riverbank toward the TSI raft dock.

Dianne drove us over to the island. As I boarded, I walked to the back of the raft so that I could watch her drive; I really do miss driving these. But what caught my eye as she cast off was the 40-year pin on her name tag.

I was thrilled when I got my one-year pin. But 40? I'd never seen one before. Before I could say anything though, Dianne, like a good TSI driver, starting chatting me up. (FWIW, I didn't tell her that I was reporting for TPI. As far as she knew, I was simply an anonymous Disneyland guest who went on to say that he'd worked at Disney World's TSI in the past. Which... I am.)

I'd love to do an official interview with her sometime; she said she'd been driving rafts at TSI since 1972, and had to talk her way past several supervisors who were loathe to give a woman a chance on the rafts.

"It takes some muscle do move these things," she said. Agreed. I felt the pain in my hip and arms for nearly a week the first time I drove a TSI raft, until my body adjusted into shape.

The Rivers of America at Disneyland is much narrower than its Florida counterpart. After backing out from between another raft and the dock, all Dianne needed to do was make a 180-degree turn of the raft and we were at the island dock. Still, she put the Annie raft in gently and I barely felt the bump as the raft nestled up against the dock.

My favorite park of the pirate-themed changes was what Disney's done to the old Injun Joe's cave. I love the new detail, especially the audio and visual effects when you reach for the "cursed treasure." The audio-animatronic pirate at cave's end provide a spectacular touch for what, frankly, is a relatively remote part of the park.

As for Tom and Huck? Well, I never saw the presence of those characters on the Anaheim island as much as I did on the Florida one. While I adore Twain's characters, I adore well-kept and engaging theme park attractions, too, and there's much here to reward anyone who makes the trip over from the mainland.

Just be nice to your raft driver on the way. ;-)

* * *

After visiting the island, I stopped by the River Belle Terrace for lunch.

River Belle Terrace at Disneyland

Honestly, I hadn't eaten here in years, probably a menu or two ago. But I'll definitely hit this again. I chose the "New York Roast" salad, warm carved roast beef over well-dressed mixed greens, with cherry tomatoes and radish slices:

River Belle Terrace at Disneyland

There are about a dozen ways to blow this dish, and Disney didn't fall for one of them. The amount of dressing was just so, the temperature of all the components just right (warm meat, cold salad) and even the french roll on the side tasted great.

I've noticed the counter service food at Disneyland improving over my past few visits, and my lunch at River Belle Terrace today continued the trend.

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Halloween Haunt at Worlds of Fun - A Trip Report

By James Rao
Published: October 28, 2008 at 2:55 PM
I went to Worlds of Fun’s Halloween Haunt on the evening of Saturday, October 25, 2008, with my wife and another couple, and I have to say, I was impressed. WOF goes “all out” for this event, dressing up almost every facet of the park and creating a very immersive and scary atmosphere. Included in the event are six major haunted houses/mazes, three “scare zones”, several Halloween shows, and a haunted parade.

We arrived at about 5:20 and started the night with a buffet dinner as part of our park admission. We also received a free FRONT OF LINE pass to one of the haunted mazes, which would prove to be essential later on in our tour. The food was good buffet food: hot dogs, beef brisket, fried chicken, chocolate chip cookies for dessert, and soda to drink. We ate, drank our fill, and then moved out to explore. Most of the Halloween festivities for adults did not start until 7 p.m., except for one haunted maze, Lair of the Vampire, which was up and running most of the day. We headed straight for that maze as soon as we finished stuffing our faces.

Lair of the Vamp is housed in the old queuing area for the Orient Express, one of the best steel coasters I have ever ridden. We spent several minutes fondly recalling the Orient, and cursing Cedar Fair for its removal. It is always sad to have a one of a kind coaster go by the wayside. However, I digress. What is done is done! Anyway, the line was fairly short, and the maze was a lot of fun. One thing about haunted houses/mazes is that the less crowded they are, the more scared you will be. At that time, the crowds were fairly light so we were hit by every jumping cast member in the maze and ended up pretty much racing out of the Lair, laughing. It was a good start.

By the time we finished the first maze, the Haunt Parade was about to begin, so we stood along the parade route and waited. WOF does a good job with this parade, and it serves as a great intro to the evening’s festivities. All the cast members for the more mature haunted mazes and scare zones filter out from one entry area and parade to their respective haunts. The costumes are top notch, and the parade sets the tone for the night. We are not talking about a Disney style parade by any means, but for a smaller Midwest park, WOF put on an excellent display. Furthermore, this parade was a million times better than anything I saw at SFSTL a few weeks previous.

After the parade, we headed up to our first scare zone, CarnEvil. Essentially a scare zone is an entire area of the park re-themed for Halloween and filled with fog, eerie music, and cast members who sneak up behind your group and scare the living sh-- out of you. CarnEvil was a nightmarish re-theme of the midway area in WOF’s Americana section. I am not a big fan of midway games (or rides) as most of you know by now, but I liked the re-theme. Besides, freakishly scary clowns have haunted my nightmares ever since I saw the movie POLTERGEIST in the early 80’s.

From CarnEvil we headed through another scare zone, Outlaw’s Revenge. Here a limping, undead cowboy chased us with a shovel that he would scrape against the ground bringing sparks to light. It was a neat zone, though not as well themed as CarnEvil.

I should mention that by about 7:30 p.m. the park was amazingly crowded. Every haunted maze and A-list ride was packed. It was too crowded for my taste, but, it was a nice night, and the park would be open late, so we knew things would thin out later.

Anyway, we headed to the Moulin Rouge Theater to watch a performance of MEAT-CLEAVER HIGH. This thirty-minute show was a lot of fun. A revue of classic songs with slightly changed lyrics to fit the Halloween Theme. The performers were outstanding and energetic. The LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS part of the show was a real stand out.

Since the park was completely packed we decided to use our Front of Line access to blitz into Asylum Island. We marched past hundreds of miffed guests and went right into the maze with only about a one-minute wait. It was better than a Fastpass! Asylum Island was probably the scariest maze of the night; however, it was so crowded that the group traveling in front of us ruined many of the scares. One part of the maze featured a combination of strobe lighting and fog that blinded you. It was a neat effect, very disorientating and spooky. We had a good time.

After Asylum, we decided to take in a few rides. The headliner attractions (Mamba, Patriot, Timber Wolf, and Spinning Dragons) were packed, so we headed for the B-rides. After touring a few B-rides, we went through the last scare zone, Fright Zone. This re-themed section of the park was very eerie. There were several costumed cast members, lots of fog, and very few fellow park goers. It was creepy.

From the Fright Zone, we headed over to the train. The best thing about the train ride was trying to spot the progress being made on the new GCI coaster, The Prowler, which opens next year. GCI Rules!

We decided it was time for a smoothie and headed to Sheridan’s. To our utter dismay, we were told Sheridan’s had discontinued making their delicious smoothies. We were not pleased at all. We bought Chillatas at Cinnabon instead, but they we not nearly as good as the smoothies Sheridan’s used to sell. Arrgh!

Chillatas in hand, we headed to the headliners and rode Spinning Dragons, the Patriot, and the Mamba. All very fun nighttime coasters. By the time we were done riding coasters, the park had thinned out some so we hit three of the four remaining haunted mazes: Camp Gonnagitcha, Dominion of Doom, and Master McCarthy’s Doll Factory. Camp Gonnagitcha was the scariest of the bunch (imho), but the Doll Factory was very imaginative. The twisted Barbie doll room was very unsettling, and the peeing dolls section a riot.

By the time we completed these three mazes, it was about 1 a.m. and the park was closing. We unanimously declared the night to be a great success, and headed home.

Before I end this report, I want to make sure to compliment all the fine WOF cast members for their work. I did not see one costumed associate out of character the entire night. They did a great job. Additionally, I want to extend my gratitude to Brandon Stanley who is in charge of public relations for WOF. He provided me with some excellent touring info for our trip and was very helpful in every regard. Kudos to Brandon and the rest of the park’s associates!

I highly recommend WOF’s Halloween Haunt. For a small, Midwestern park, the folks at WOF put on a great show. I know I have complained about WOF’s lack of immersive theming in the past, but their Halloween Haunt is as immersive a Halloween event as I have ever experienced. If you are in the area this Halloween, stop by WOF. It will be packed I am sure, but stay late, and have a good time. You will not regret it!

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Root for the Phillies? Robert's Sports Misery Index, Second Edition

By Robert Niles
Published: October 27, 2008 at 12:24 PM
Off topic, I know, but if you are looking for a team to root for in the World Series, I'm gonna suggest that you pull for the Phillies.


My Sports Misery Index, of course. In a post last fall, I created a "misery index" for U.S. cities with teams in one of the "big four" major league sports - the NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball. Each city got a point for a season played by its teams in each league since the city's last championship in any. (Cities with two teams in one league do not get double credit.)

I've updated the standings with the 2008 NFL, NBA and NHL results (though not yet the 2008 MLB losers):

City Last title Misery Score
1. Cleveland 1964 (NFL) 126
2. Philadelphia 1983 (NBA) 99
3. Buffalo never 95
4. San Diego never 94
5. Seattle 1979 (NBA) 86
6. Minneapolis 1991 (MLB) 59
7. New Orleans never 52
8. Washington, D.C. 1992 (NFL) 51
9. SF Bay Area 1995 (NFL) 50
10. Atlanta 1995 (MLB) 47
11. Kansas City 1985 (MLB) 45
12 Houston 1995 (NBA) 36
13. Cincinnati 1990 (MLB) 35
Dallas 1999 (NHL) 35
15. Charlotte never 32
Milwaukee 1997 (NFL- Green Bay) 32
17. Portland 1977 (NBA) 31
18. Salt Lake City never 29
19. Denver 2001 (NHL) 27
Phoenix 2001 (MLB) 27
21. Nashville never 21
22. Orlando never 19
24. Baltimore 2001 (NFL) 13
Jacksonville never 13
26. Tampa Bay Area 2004 (NHL) 11
Chicago 2005 (MLB) 11
28. Columbus never 9
Memphis never 9
30. Miami 2006 (NBA) 7
31. Pittsburgh 2006 (NFL) 5
St. Louis 2006 (MLB) 5
33. Los Angeles 2007 (NHL) 3
34. Raleigh 2006 (NHL) 2
Indianapolis 2007 (NFL) 2
36. San Antonio 2007 (NBA) 1
37. Boston 2008 (NBA) 0
New York/NJ 2008 (NFL) 0
Detroit 2008 (NHL) 0

So, if you want to spare a city further misery, ya gotta pull for the Phillies, since Philadelphia comes in a horrific number two on the list. The Tampa Bay, Florida area comes in just 26th.

I know we've got a lot of Central Florida theme park fans on the site, but, folks, ya gotta cut the folks from Philly some slack here, don't ya?

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Vote of the week: What's the best theme park job?

By Robert Niles
Published: October 24, 2008 at 12:06 PM
I'm feeling nostalgic today for my old gig, working attractions on the west side of Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. Not that I'd want to go back - I couldn't come close to making ends meet on that pay anymore. But driving rafts, rolling out the parade route and hanging out around Pirates and Big Thunder was a blast.

Robert Niles, in Big Thunder costume, circa 1990.

As theme park fans, we're likely all familiar with the roles that theme park employees play. But which would you most like to do for a day, in lieu of your current job, and for the same pay? Let's limit the options to top jobs in the attractions and entertainment departments, leaving out the many merchandise, food, custodial and support jobs for now.

Here are the options:

Ride attendant: The folks who stand on the loan and unload platforms, push the buttons at dispatch and tower and watch the camera monitors for, um, inappropriate activity.

Ride driver: For me, it was driving a Tom Sawyer Island raft, but for others, it can be driving monorails, fire trucks or even horse-drawns stagecoaches.

Spieling attractions host: Think Jungle Cruise, or any other of many spiel-driven tour attractions.

Dancer/parade performer: Whether it is a stage show or an afternoon parade, these are the folks working the crowd, dancing and burning more calories than Homer Simpson consumes in a month.

Face character: For example, Prince Charming, Cinderella and other characters who do not wear a mask.

Rubberhead character: Mickey, Homer and any other person who climbs in a suit and dons the big rubber head to play a theme park 'toon.

Describe your dream theme park job, in the comments.

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Six Flags Great Adventure announces revamp for Medusa

By John Quinteros
Published: October 23, 2008 at 9:51 PM
Six Flags Great Adventure's Medusa, the world's first floorless, looping coaster, will be the next to get a make-over.

Following the script of this spring's relaunch of X2 [link added - Editor] at Six Flags Magic Mountain, the Medusa redesign will add fog, fire and music elements to the ride. The new version of the ride will debut during the 2009 season.

"This redesign will take one of the park's most popular attractions to the next level," Mark Kane, Six Flags Great Adventure Park President said in a statement. "A similar transformation of the X2 coaster at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Los Angeles has received widespread acclaim and we expect the relaunch of this ride to shatter that response. It will be a must-ride experience."

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New concept video for Six Flags 'Terminator' coaster

By Robert Niles
Published: October 22, 2008 at 5:15 PM
I've just put up an attraction listing page for Terminator: The Coaster, the $10 million GCI ride that Six Flags Magic Mountain is building on the old Psyclone footprint in Cyclone Bay.

The page includes a computer POV video of what designers envision for the ride, which will open next year.

The ride sounds, to me, a lot like the very popular Thunderhead GCI coaster from Dollywood, and shares a theme, of course, with the Terminator shows at rival Universal Studios Hollywood and Florida. (A woodie for the sleek, high-tech Terminator franchise strikes me as a bit odd, but, what the heck, so long as it's a good ride, I suspect coaster fans will go for it.)

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An Insider's look at the Disney's California Adventure changes

By Robert Niles
Published: October 21, 2008 at 6:21 PM
This week I am debuting a new weekly feature on Theme Park Insider: Tuesday Park Visit. Each Tuesday between now and next spring, I'll bring you an in-depth look at a popular theme park attraction, restaurant or personality, to help those folks who live outside SoCal and Central Florida to get their off-season theme park fix.

Since I live in Southern California, that will be my focus, though I am planning to fly to Orlando a couple times between now and next spring to look in at the Central Florida theme parks, too. This week, I'm starting with a look at Walt Disney Imagineering's "Blue Sky Cellar" at Disney's California Adventure.

This is the new "preview center" for WDI's rehab of Disneyland's second gate, detailing the plans that have been known to Internet readers for more than a year. I'll forgive the curious name for the center ("sky" and "cellar" - huh?), which appropriately reflects the conundrums that have plagued this park since before it opened. (A themed look, or a contemporary one? Family friendly, or adult oriented? Disney quality, or off-the-shelf carny rides?)

The Blue Sky Cellar stands in the old Seasons of the Vine building behind Grizzly Peak, just up the path from DCA's entrance.

Walk inside, and you'll find a cozy display of concept art, scale models and a looped film detailing the planned changes and additions to California Adventure.

Cast members mingle, offering to answer your questions, giving this location what I'm guessing is the largest current cast member-to-guest ratio for any attraction at any Disney theme park. ;-) Hey, that's a good thing. Kudos to Disney for staffing this place right.

Here's the concept board for the retheming of Paradise Pier, already underway with this summer's debut of Toy Story Midway Mania. The sketches here show the revamp of the Orange Stinger wave swinger as "Silly Symphony Swings," complete with Conductor Mickey on top.

Here's the scale model for the new look Paradise Pier, complete with Mickey replacing the Sun Wheel:

Compare that to the same view, in real life, that I snapped this morning:

One problem with DCA that Disney's Imagineers won't be able to fix is the park's orientation. Entering the park from the north, opposite of Disneyland - where you enter from the south, leaves you shooting into the sunlight when taking pictures of many DCA sights.

In addition to the Paradise Pier changes, Disney will retheme Mulholland Madness as Goofy's Flight School, evoking the Goofy Barnstormer coaster at Florida's Magic Kingdom, though the DCA ride will retain its current Wild Mouse track. Disney's also tearing down the Maliboomer space shot and replacing the Golden Dreams theater with a Little Mermaid dark ride. (Previously discussed here and here.)

But my son was drawn immediately to the concept art for Cars Land, debuting (in his opinion) in way-too-far-off 2012.

The image that interested me though, was this one of the planned new DCA entrance:

Hmmm... does that, um, look familiar?

Disney reps said that the new design for the front entrance of California Adventure isn't final (indeed, no concept art ever is... until the final blueprints are drawn up). But the use of the Disney's Hollywood Studios main gate design further demonstrates that the concepts of these two parks are converging: 1920s Hollywood meets today's Pixar animation with a few themed thrills mixed in.

Take a look at the "new" DCA map, as shown on the Screening Room wall at the Blue Sky Cellar:

... and compare it with today's DCA guidemap:

Will these changes and additions work? I hope so. Cars Land looks like a blast. You won't find a bigger fan of historic L.A. than me, either. (Heck, I'd love for Disney to find a way to fit a Philippe's in here somewhere.) As Los Angeles is tearing down its past, I find a smidgen of comfort in being able to see a bit of the "old" L.A. down the road in Anaheim.

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New Transformers Mega-Attraction for Universal

By J. Dana
Published: October 20, 2008 at 7:23 PM
From today's DeadlineHollywoodDaily.com

"Transformers...will now be developed as a new theme park mega-attraction in a partnership between Universal Parks & Resorts, Hasbro, Inc. and DreamWorks Pictures.

The attraction will fuse 3D-HD media, mega special effects and stunning robotics with a ride system that will transform perceptions of theme park experiences. The rides are scheduled to make their debuts in early 2011, first at Universal Studios Singapore and then at Universal Studios Hollywood."

For the rest of the story, go to www.deadlinehollywooddaily.com

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Vote of the week: The best Disney castle?

By Robert Niles
Published: October 17, 2008 at 12:37 PM
Tip of the hat, again, to Tim W for the topic for this week's vote.

In the beginning, there was:

Neuschwanstein Castle

And, then, there were:

Sleeping Beauty's Castle
Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty's Castle

Cinderella's Castle
The Magic Kingdom's Cinderella's Castle

Cinderella's Castle
Tokyo Disneyland's Cinderella's Castle

Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant
Disneyland Paris's Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant

Sleeping Beauty's Castle
Hong Kong Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty's Castle

The original castle in Anaheim's Disneyland follows the Neuschwanstein model, which Disney copied again for its most recent castle, at Hong Kong Disneyland. Disney's second castle, at Florida's Walt Disney World, adopted a different look, which was copied almost identically for Tokyo.

Paris' castle is the only one without a twin, showing a blend of the other castle's colors and styles. It also the only castle, for the moment, with an attraction inside. (Anaheim's castle will reopen its walk-through later this year.)

Architecture aficionados, please share your thoughts in the comments.

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Who SAW it coming? Saw: The Ride - at Thorpe Park, Spring 2009.

By Nick Hutson
Published: October 14, 2008 at 11:30 PM
England's Thorpe Park will launch SAW - The Ride, the world's first ever horror movie-themed rollercoaster, in spring 2009. Based on Lionsgate and Twisted Pictures' 'Saw' franchise, SAW - The Ride will put riders at the mercy of the series' master manipulator, Jigsaw.

A 'beyond vertical' drop of 100º from a height of 100ft, will make the ride the steepest freefall drop in the world. Riders will also endure three inversions on this, the park's fourth coaster.

Candy Holland, Creative Director for Merlin Entertainments Resort Theme Parks, is the woman behind the ride and also was responsible for the creative development of Thorpe Park's Stealth ride, Se7en maze, as well as Oblivion and Air at Alton Towers Resort.

The park's official website for the ride is www.sawtheride.com.

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Universal Studios Hollywood to remain open for Thanksgiving, Christmas

By Robert Niles
Published: October 14, 2008 at 10:45 AM
Just got the news from Universal Studios Hollywood that, for the first time ever, USH will open this year on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

Universal Studios Hollywood, unlike its Orlando children, had been a "363"-day-a-year park, closing for those two holidays, while remaining open the other days of the year.

No news yet if the change also will mean an increase in holiday-themed programming at the park, to take advantage of the park being opened those two extra, important days. Universal Studios Florida's run very popular Grinchmas and Macy's parades in previous year. (Although, we here in SoCal are a bit more partial to another famous holiday parade....)

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Refining Superman: Ride of Steel at SFNE

By Eli Katzman
Published: October 12, 2008 at 4:20 PM
Six Flags has announced, instead of adding a new roller coaster to any of its parks (I think to save money), that it will review and redesign the Superman coaster at Six Flags New England, to save money. This is kinda like how they changed X to X2 in SFMM, so you can probably expect more than this.

Aside from what it already is (voted top coaster in Amusement Today), SF is adding special effects and newly renovated trains. Specifically for the special effects-
already had
fogfire bursts
audio (not sure what song).

Here is the official site:

Archive Link

Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Thursday Evening Trip Report

By Scottland Jacobson
Published: October 11, 2008 at 8:51 PM
We wandered into the park around 6:15 p.m. on Thursday, October 9th and found that the houses and rides were already open for HHN even though the posted opening time was 6:30 p.m. I won't give you every detail of our evening - but I will outline some key tips and opinions below:

Get the Express Pass!
Even having this killer front of the line advantage still did not permit us to do everything!! Lines on Thursday evening were averaging 1 hour for the houses - I cannot imagine not having Express - especially on a Friday or Saturday night.

My Disappointments...
There were only two - the park decorations and the constant entry into the houses.
After having visited Six Flags Great America last Sunday where their park was decorated to the hilt at every turn, I was let down by Univeral's decorations. Only the "Scare Zones" were decorated and even then, it didn't even come close to Great America's all encompassing Halloween flair.
And the houses just let people line through without stopping them at the entrance and letting them enter in groups. Entering in groups allows each 'scene' to be reset so that everyone can get a good scare. Of course, the crowds were so intense there's no way they could do separate groups entry without severely impacting wait times.

The Lines...
OMG! I could not believe how intertwined the lines were. You could be in line for one house and pass by long lines for at least two other houses. People kept asking me "what line are you in?" and I would forget what house I was waiting for! Their line system is just incredible! How they keep track I'll never know!

The Scare Zones
For the most part, interesting, but fairly ho hum. The entry "Path of the Wicked" was fun with "flying monkeys" literally gliding above your head on cables. And the Wicked Witch greeted you at the entrance. Fractured Tales was just...interesting. The Skoolhouse was a bit scary with the kids running around in spooky masks and banging against the iron fences. Asylum in Wonderland was creative, but not scary. American Gothic could have been scary with the pumpkin head creatures, but they chose to go after the young girls instead of 2 forty-something men. Streets of Blood was the best with the Body Collectors (who looked exactly like "The Gentlemen" from the Buffy episode "Hush") gliding across the pavement on roller tennis shoes. The guys with chainsaws were fun as well. But, the Scare Zones never really get me.

The Shows
We only got a chance to see Bill & Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure and we missed out on Rocky Horror and Brian Brushwood (which we will make a point to see when we return Sunday evening). Bill & Ted was good, cheesy fun. The McCain/Obama/Clinton impersonations at the beginning were the best. It's a fun, fast paced show skewering everything from Hannah Montana to Predator.

The Houses -
In order of "worst" to "best" - here they are:

#8 Creatures - Hillbillys are not scary! And the supposed AtomiComics "Strange Tales" creatures were few and far between. It had a good set, but you could tell the crowd was not interested as the house had a 5 minute wait time all night and they were begging folks to come in. They grabbed people at the exit to complete a survey. I gave it a 'D.'

#7 Interstellar Terror - I'm never very scared by space horror with the exception of Alien and the chilling Event Horizon. Most of the "monsters" in this house were bloody astronauts. Not really scary at all. Although they had good sets and a few good effects at the end.

#6 Reflections of Fear - Psycho doctors? Kinda scary. But overall, more gross than anything. Barely scared me at all. Funniest scare was the maintenance guy vaccuming up water that had leaked from the roof. Everyone thought he was part of the show!

#5 The Hallow - Your typical horror walk-through. Some good use of strobes and a great final scene with cow skull creatures. Very creative sets but again, not really, really scary.

#4 Scary Tales - This was JT's second favorite but I rated it fourth. It's a great house taking a twisted turn on classic fairy tales. Wait until you see what Alice is doing to the White Rabit! There was an excellent hall of mirrors that scared me so bad I slammed into the adjacent wall after getting spooked and bruised my arm! Watch out for the "bear" in the Goldilocks room! I left JT in the dust after that one!

#3 The Body Collectors - This one was creepy, creepy, creepy! As mentioned earlier, these Body Collectors were exactly like "The Gentlemen" and they were everywhere in the maze. They didn't speak - just appeared out of the shadows in several inconvenient places. The sets were old England "Jack the Ripper" era. They kept playing a swinging blade sound that would make you jump every time! Really, really, really scary. Loved it!

#2 Doomsday - Surprisingly my 2nd favorite and JT's 3rd. I'm usually ho-hum on the post-apocolyptic stuff but they did really good with this house. The guys working it knew how to get you scared. One even whispered "one for me" after scaring me so bad I jumped into the air screaming. The hall with hanging heads was quite fearful. Lots of screams - incredible sets - it's a good one!

#1 Dead Exposure - JT and I agreed that this house was phenomenal! JT was so scared he was actually shaking the whole time as he clawed into my back so he didn't lose me in the dark. There was a great plot (camera pictures turn the population into zombies), a beginning and an end (you seem to end up in the same exact precinct that you entered - but things have changed!) and incredible use of the dark and occassional flashes of light. Those zombies knew how to take advantage of the surprise and both JT and I were yelping throughout, anxious to get out. The "hanging zombie" room was just terrifying. If you can only see one house, don't miss this one!

If you're short on time or don't have Express, make sure you do the top 4 above. Dead Exposure is just not to be missed!

Overall, the houses themselves are what make HHN superior. The sets are amazing and the fact that you can walk through 8 different scary adventures is incredible. Get there right when it opens and hit as much as you can before the crowds pour in. We were able to hit a few rides on the Mummy and MIB, walk through Reflections of Fear and see Bill & Ted without needing our Express Passes, but after that, Express was a lifesaver.

It's an awesome experience and I'm looking forward to returning on Sunday. If you're in the area, don't miss it!

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Vote of the week: Favorite theme park mascot?

By Robert Niles
Published: October 10, 2008 at 12:23 PM
Thanks to Theme Park Insider first daughter Natalie Niles for this week's vote topic:

Looks like Universal gets to sit this one out, because we at TPI World Headquarters couldn't settle on what Universal's mascot would be. (The park promotes so many, but not one consistently above the others.) I thought about including the Lego people for Legoland, but decided that they really were too diverse to be considered a single mascot.

So... what do you say? I'm especially interested to hear how the Universal fans go on this one, since they don't have a "home team" in this fight.

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Theme park halloween trip reports coming in

By Robert Niles
Published: October 9, 2008 at 9:57 AM
I've been a bad boy and haven't been to any Halloween events yet this season. But other Theme Park Insider readers are picking up the slack:

  • Scottland Jacobson offers a lengthy, detailed trip report from Fright Fest at Six Flags Great America.
  • Scott Verble asks about the crowds at Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights on Sunday evenings. The consensus seems to be "yeah, it's crowded."
  • Cesar Garcia posts his all-time Top 10 lists of mazes at Knott's Scary Farm. Do any Theme Park Insider readers care to share theirs?
  • Remember, you can post your trip reports from Halloween events on the discussion board. (FYI: You can embed photos and video in discussion board posts, too, though not in responses.)

    Comments (2) | Archive Link

    The Manta/SeaWorld photo contest opens

    By Robert Niles
    Published: October 6, 2008 at 8:43 AM
    Today's the day for the free SeaWorld ticket give-away that we are running here on Theme Park Insider.

    Just to remind you, here's the deal: Post a photograph of Manta's main track being shipped from Ohio to SeaWorld Orlando this week. You must be a registered Theme Park Insider member, posting under your real name, and post your photo(s) to TPI's Manta page.

    I will select a winning photo at random from eligible entries. (You can post multiple photos, if you'd like, but I'll count only one photo per person as an entry.) To be eligible, a photo must clearly show the track. And, of course, employees and contractors of Busch Entertainment Corporation or Niles Online, and their families, are not eligible. The contest will close at midnight the day the track arrives at SeaWorld Orlando.

    The winner gets...

  • Two one-day admission tickets to SeaWorld Orlando (valid for one year).
  • Front-of the-the-line access for two people for a ride on Manta (opens summer 2009). If the winner visits SeaWorld Orlando before Manta opens, s/he can choose front-of-the-line access on either Kraken or Journey to Atlantis.

    The Manta track starts trucking to Orlando today. The route being taken is:

    From Clermont in Batavia, OH to Sea World in Orlando, FL -- Rte 32 West out of Batavia to Interstate 275 South … I-275 south to I-75 South to Florida … I-75 south to the Florida Turnpike … Florida Turnpike to Interstate 4 … Interstate 4 to the Beachline (SR 528) … Beachline to SeaWorld Orlando.

    Update: SeaWorld's video of the track, now on site:

    Comments (6) | Archive Link

  • Vote of the week: What theme parks did you visit this year?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: October 3, 2008 at 10:48 AM
    We know, more or less, which theme parks are getting the most visitors. Take a look at the line-up on the right side of each Theme Park Insider page; it's got North America's top parks listed in order of attendance, with top international parks below.

    But what parks are Theme Park Insider readers visiting? I can get a glimpse at that by looking at the number of votes cast for attractions at each park, as well as pageview traffic for the site.

    I'd like to pose the question directly, though. So here goes. Click the parks that you have visited in the past 12 months (since October 2007, in other words). The percentages are the percentage of vote respondents who have visited each park. If you place your mouse over each yellow "fever line," you will see the total number of votes for each park pop up.

    And please share your favorite memory from your theme park visits this season, in the comments.

    Comments (15) | Archive Link

    Six Flags mulling stock move to avoid delisting

    By Robert Niles
    Published: October 3, 2008 at 10:42 AM
    Amusement park chain Six Flags is considering a "reverse stock split" in an effort to push its share price above the $1 cut-off for being removed from major stock exchanges.

    Six Flags' stock has been languishing a few cents below a buck and if it doesn't rise soon, and stay there, the stock could be delisted.

    A reverse stock split would consolidate shares, giving shareholders, say, one "new" share of Six Flags in exchange for every five "old" ones. Yeah, it's an accounting dodge, but it can be effective, not only in avoiding delisting, but in improving traders' perception of the stock.

    Six Flags' financial troubles are well documented (search the TPI archives at right for plenty of posts, threads, etc.) , saddling the company with debt that's made turnaround at some parks too little too late to pump the stock price.

    Comments (4) | Archive Link

    Have you submitted your favorite theme park travel tips yet?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: October 2, 2008 at 11:44 AM
    Just a friendly reminder that your fellow Theme Park Insider readers would love to read your best travel tips for when you visit your favorite theme parks.

    We've got a page devoted to such tips at http://www.themeparkinsider.com/tips/. You can vote "Yes" or "No" on the tips already submitted, or scroll down to the bottom of the page to submit your own.

    Tips with the highest scores (the "yes" votes minus the "no" votes) move to the top of the list. Top tips for each individual park also are displayed on the park's attraction listing pages here on Theme Park Insider.

    Conversely, if you see a tip that's bogus, or that simply won't work (in your experience), vote "No" on it. Tips with large negative scores disappear from the lists. (Voting "No" is also a good way to get spam out or poorly written tips off the lists, too.)

    So, please, help your fellow readers out. What's your favorite, secret tip that you use to save time, beat the crowds, get a deal or just to enjoy your day at the park?

    Comments (3) | Archive Link

    Keep reading: September 2008 Archive