By Robert Niles
Theme Park Insider reader Jason checks in again this morning from The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal's Islands of Adventure, where he reports that Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey stayed open for the entire two-hour period when the new land was open to Universal Orlando hotel guests.
In fact, by the end of the two hours, the ride was a walk-on*:
[*Update: Check the comments for confirmation that the Wizarding World won't be "soft opened" to the non-hotel-guest public until Forbidden Journey can hit its mark more consistently. But a public "soft open" had been scheduled.]
Below are a few more scenes from around the Wizarding World, which Jason described in detail in the comments of a previous post:
Hippogriff-- never rode it in it's original incantation but the theming is well done including the Buckbeak animatronic and Hagrid's hut (including the sound of growling Fang)
The "frog choir" sings "Double Trouble" from "Prisoner of Azkaban."
Hargrid's Hut from the Flight of the Hippogriff queue.
You can see the Weasley's wrecked Ford Anglia from "Chamber of Secrets."
The Owl Post in Hogsmeade
By Robert Niles
Today is the Memorial Day holiday here in the United States. While the day marks the unofficial start of the summer vacation season, its real purpose is to remember American military personnel who died in service. Over the years, its celebration has broadened for some into a day to remember all friends and family who've been lost.
Given the day's military origin, I thought this a worthy occasion to note the many veterans who work at the Walt Disney World Resort, as well as other theme and amusement parks around the country. Theme parks provide a great gig for a retired soldier or sailor: Working in a theme park is a highly social gig, something that often appeals to folks used to the camaraderie of military service. With volumes of tech manuals and standard operating procedures to learn, uniforms to wear and a grooming and conduct code to adhere to, working in a theme park feels like a "light," stress-free version of military life for many, making it an easy transition to civilian life. While theme park wages aren't much for other middle-aged employees, they do provide a fine supplement to a military pension.
Orlando's old Naval Training Center over the years provided a steady stream of retirees for the nearby Disney, Universal and SeaWorld parks. (I've also met several Navy veterans who have worked at SeaWorld in San Diego, which is another town with a huge military presence.) One of the most colorful cast members I worked with on Tom Sawyer Island was an ex-Marine who was never shy about sharing his opinion that the rest of us weren't nearly grateful enough for getting paid to do a job that pretty much reduced to standing around talking to people.
He was right.
But at least we can be grateful for our nation's veterans, and especially for their brothers and sisters in arms who didn't have a chance to come home. So let's express our thanks to them and their families, as we enjoy the beginning of another great summer of visiting theme parks.
By Robert Niles
Theme Park Insider reader Jason sent along some pictures of the hotel-guest-only opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando. He wrote that Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey was open for only 20 minutes this morning, "but it's [a] beautiful area!"
The Hogwarts Express
Walking through the village of Hogsmeade
Test train on the Flight of the Hippogriff family coaster
The crowd, queuing for the Forbidden Journey in Hogwarts Castle.
The Wizarding World is opening to hotel guests only for two hours each morning (8am to 10am, I believe). Forbidden Journey seems to go down like Newton's apple, so if you're staying in a Universal Orlando hotel and want to ride, I would advise getting to the park well before 8 to get to the front of the line.
Note from Robert: Great pics there! But the shot of Hogwarts got me thinking, where have I seen that before? A ride entrance, through two animal-guarded columns, with a castle tower looming behind?
It's on a much smaller scale, but still, I find the comparison interesting.
By Robert Niles
This week's challenge on Theme Park Apprentice was to create a newly themed island that would fit well within Universal's Islands of Adventure.
So... which Island would you most want to visit? (Contestant with the fewest votes is eliminated.)
By Robert Niles
It's May 28, and we're on Potterwatch all day here at Theme Park Insider.
This is the first day that folks will be staying at Universal Orlando's resort hotels under the Harry Potter package that the resort began selling earlier this year. As part of the package, visitors were promised admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure.
But will that admission include a ride on the new land's signature attraction, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey?
If you are inside Islands of Adventure this weekend, use this thread to let us know if you got inside the Wizarding World and tell us what you were able to experience. The more detail, the better! And if you have photos, please e-mail the best ones to themeparkinsider @ gmail.com and I'll post them here, too. (YouTube links, too!)
*Update: Reports say... Forbidden Journey opened, then quickly closed. If you don't have a hotel pass, don't expect to get anywhere near the land, but hotel guests are getting in to the other shops and the restaurant.
Update 2: Some great (okay, totally silly) fake reports on Twitter:
"Rode Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, ride has Doc Octopus & Green Goblin trying to shoot down guests on broomsticks"
"Rode Forbidden Journey! Don't want to give it all away, but we flew over San Francisco on broomsticks!"
"I didn't understand the section of Forbidden Journey where hagrid was beating harry with his broom"
"Man, Harry Potter was so AWESOME! I especially loved when Optimus Prime came in and him and Harry fought King Kong."
And my favorite: "Rode Harry Potter, KUKA arm suspends you as giant ape tries to swat you down. Took picture in Harry Potter's hand at the exit."
More, uh, reputable reports have that there are multiple narratives in the Forbidden Journey story, including Dementors, Nagini and Voldemort, so re-rides might be rewarded with a different experience. For that day off in the future will visitors will be able to get on Forbidden journey more than once in a day, of course. ;-)
By Anthony Murphy
When Kiddieland Amusement Park in Melrose Park, Illinois closed after over 80 years, there were fears that many of their iconic rides were going to be destroyed. However, Kiddieland’s Illinois Neighbor, Six Flags Great America, felt that part of Kiddieland should still be enjoyed by the Chicagoland guests.
In the fall, I broke the news on TPI that Great America bought Kiddieland’s iconic roller coaster, The Little Dipper, to be taken down, transported, and rebuilt at Six Flags Great America. Taking the place of the now defunct net climb, The Little Dipper was placed in a corner of Yukon Territory.
The Little Dipper Roller Coaster is a wooden roller coaster and was built in 1950, making the coaster 60 years old this year. Built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company, the ride is 700-feet long with a 30-foot lift hill in a figure-eight track.
Six Flags Great America did a fantastic job at repairing and updating this classic attraction with a great new paint job on the entire coaster that makes it look like it did when it opened in 1950. The only aspect of the attraction that Great America was not able to copy completely from Kiddieland is the line to get on the ride. Instead, Great America included the history of The Little Dipper and the preservation of Wooden Roller Coasters in the United States by the Six Flags Parks in the new line. Below are two pictures: One found in the line of the attraction of the coaster in its heyday at Kiddieland and a picture that I took to recreate that part of the roller coaster.
The last time I rode this roller coaster before today, I was around 8. I was surprised to now see that the roller coaster is actually pretty small and short. As I mentioned, it only goes up 30 feet into the air and goes, at most, 25 mph. Another interesting part was that it primarily still functions as it did in 1950 with minimal electricity and all gravity and old-fashioned physics. Also, The Little Dipper Roller Coaster only has one car, which I could see would cause long lines, but you know what? It totally would be worth it. While theme parks are trying to build the biggest, baddest and most thrilling roller coasters today, it is nice to see that Great America keeping the tradition of roller coasters alive and create a more inclusive park in which you can take a walk and literally take a history tour of roller coasters throughout the years. It appears that Great America is trying to harken back to its roots in 1976 by bringing out some old signs, models, and really renovating the attractions that have been there since the park opened. The Little Dipper is a great addition to go with their other iconic attraction, the two tiered Columbia Carousel which is older than the park as well. So, come out and feel like a kid again at Six Flags Great America!
By Robert Niles
I was offline for another gig today, so I'll handle today's theme park news in a round-up:
Universal Studios Hollywood backlot
Director Steven Spielberg at the opening. Photo courtesy Universal.
The final piece of the recovery effort is, of course, the new King Kong attraction, which will open later this summer. (I'm hearing around the Fourth of July.)
The slide will incorporate a version of the classic "Disneyland" sign, now long gone from Harbor Blvd. In addition to adding the waterslides, the hotel will replace the Hook's Pointe, Croc's Bits 'n' Bites, the Wine Cellar and Lost Bar food and beverage locations with a new restaurant, based on the original Tahitian Terrace restaurant from Disneyland. Finally, the hotel will rename its three towers for the three original lands of Disneyland park - The Dreams Tower will become the Adventure Tower; The Wonder Tower will become the Frontier Tower, and the Magic Tower will become the Fantasy Tower.
No new coaster this year at Magic Mountain
Two attraction openings this weekend
Update (May 28): Huge Fail on my part. I didn't make it to San Diego for the Blue Horizons premiere, due to traffic. I left Pasadena with five hours to spare before the show started... and didn't even make it through Orange County in that time. Irony? I could have flown to SeaWorld Orlando in that amount of time. (FWIW, I usually make the trip from my place to SeaWorld in about two and a half hours.)
By Robert Niles
Tomorrow marks the start of the Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start of summer vacation season in the United States. (Though, as Universal Orlando has taught us, summer doesn't actually begin until June 21. And my kids don't get out of school until June 24, making them among the few students in the country whose summer vacation doesn't begin until... summer.)
Too-long parentheticals aside, how about some summer roadtrip tips? Here are my tips, intended to save you money while keeping you comfortable, safe and engaged on the road.
1. You don't need a big car
Hey, if you want to pay twice as much to gas up you car this summer, go ahead and sail that battleship across the country. But you don't need a huge hunk of metal to see the country. Last summer, my wife, two kids and I drove across the country and back, 7,000 miles in 33 days. And we did it in a Prius.
What are you doing in a car? Sitting. So long as everyone have room to sit, you're fine. Need to stretch? Stop the car and get out every couple hours or so. Empty space is wasted space. Plus, smaller cars are just more fun to drive. So forget about the big car and roadtrip in the smallest, most fuel-efficient vehicle that seats everyone in your family.
Which brings us to tip 2:
2. Pack lightly
If you want to hang around your stuff all summer, stay home. The point of a vacation is "to get away from it all." And that includes your stuff. Limit each family member to one soft-sided bag, such as a duffle or backpack. Soft bags will help you to stuff more in the trunk or hatch, so you can keep the back and front seats clear.
We also travel with a soft-sided insulated bag (many grocery stores now sell these as reusable shopping bags for cold items), as well as stainless steel, reusable water bottles. The soft-sided bag is great for keeping picnics cold until lunch time without taking up the space of a bulky cooler, and reusable water bottles reduce the amount of trash in the car.
If you need help packing lightly, I recommend picking up a copy of Rick Steves' Europe through the Back Door. Even if you never visit Europe, Steves' book provides the best collection of travel tips I've ever read in a single volume, with great packing advice. There's much there for a stateside traveller to learn.
3. Consolidate time on the road into fewer, longer driving days
I find scheduling a roadtrip a huge part of the fun. You can find an almost infinite number of ways to divvy up a trip, with decisions about the order in which to visit stops and alternate routes to get there. And every moment you're weighing those options, you're mentally on that vacation. What could be more fun?
When I'm planning my trip, I like to consolidate time in the car into as few days as possible, extending our time at each destination. I'd rather spend one day in the car for 12 hours, then take three days off from driving, than spend six hours in the car every other day. Or worse, spending three hours in the car every day. Obviously, you can get to more stops with more driving days. But my family copes better when days are either driving or visiting, instead of a mix of both. That's one of those trade-offs I need to weigh in the many, many hours I will spend daydreaming about the next family roadtrip. :-)
4. Start early, stop early
No matter how long we'll be in the car on any given day, I do believe in getting on the road early. You want to beat the morning rush-hour traffic, if you're leaving a big city on a weekday. And an early start keeps you from feeling rushed, or "behind schedule," the rest of the day. Early starts also help ensure that you're off the road by sundown. Daytime driving's significantly safer than night-time driving. Plus, you can't see any scenery at night.
You might be tempted to snack in the car to save time by limiting the number of stops. Don't. Nothing makes a car more disgusting to sit in within a day or so than crumbs, spills, and smelly, sticky stuff. Put nothing but water in those refillable bottles, and restrict your eating and snacking until you're out of the car.
Remember, you're sitting all day, and not burning that many calories as a result. You don't need as much food when you are on the road, so banning food in the car helps keep you from overeating. Not to mention making your car a much more pleasant place to be as the trip progresses.
6. Go local, avoid chains
When you do stop to eat, make it a treat by making it a fresh, unique experience. Skip the familiar chains and seek out locally-owned and operated restaurants around the country. The Food Network and websites such as Roadfood and Eat Well Guide highlight great local options around the country. You can eat at a McDonald's or Chili's anywhere. Make your vacation something special.
7. Use technology
I love buying those big, colorful road atlases and spreading them across the kitchen table while planning my trip. But in the car, I leave the atlas and home and rely on my iPhone. The current traffic data on Google Maps is essential when on the road, helping you adjust your itinerary to avoid jams and construction you won't find on any printed map. I also love using sites and applications such as Around Me to find gas stations, Yelp to find popular local restaurants and Foursquare to find tips and specials whenever I end up on my trip.
8. Get a charger
A dead cell phone, or DVD player or iPod means no communication, no traffic info, no entertainment - and some cranky, lost and confused roadtrippers. So invest in a plug-in dashboard charger that can handle all the small electronic gear you'll be taking on the road.
9. Don't skimp on maintenance
A dead cell phone battery is bad, but a dead car battery can be worse. So get your car checked and serviced before you leave. And if your trip's long enough that you hit a service milestone on the road, take an afternoon off and get your car cared for. Don't risk waiting until you get home. Even though we live in California, we had our car serviced last summer at a dealer in Orlando. Most dealerships, and many car maintenance chains, keep national service databases, so they can pull up your vehicle's record at any facility across the country.
Learn to inflate your tires, too. Properly inflates tires are safer, and save gas. Finally, I recommend a coat of RainX on your windshield and fresh wiper blades before any long trip. If you can't see the road, you can't react to it.
10. Everyone gets a treat
Vacations ought to be fun. So amplify the excitement by ensuring that everyone in the family gets some new treat at the beginning of the trip - a new movie to watch, a book to read or songs on the iPod. Treats don't have to be limited to in-car entertainment, either. Let each person in the family research and select a roadside attraction for a quick stop during the trip. Or have everyone play "Secret Santa" at a gift shop in mid-trip, buying small items for someone else in the family. Allowing everyone to have some responsibility for others' enjoyment keeps everyone engaged in the trip.
I'd love to hear your favorite tips for a safe, economical and enjoyable roadtrip - just click to comment, below.
By Scott Joseph
Details are starting to come in on what to expect at this year's Epcot's International Food & Wine Festival. Among the new stuff: Belgium and South Korea will be represented at the food kiosks around the World Showcase. And a Party for the Senses-style dessert extravaganza, too. Here's more information.
By Robert Niles
Many families love theme park vacations. But how much do families actually do together when visiting a park?
Some families walk into the park together, then split up, as Mom and the teenager run for the thrill rides, and Dad and the toddler walk over to a show. Other families stick together, but only interact while they're waiting in line. On the rides and in the shows, they're each experiencing the park as individuals.
Walt Disney's famously reported wish, when he sat next to the Griffith Park merry-go-round, watching his daughters ride, was to create a place where families could play together. But how often to families actually get to do that in a modern theme park, where riders are individually strapped onto roller coasters and show-goers are admonished to please remain quiet during the presentation?
This is the reason why I love Legoland California's Fun Town Fire Academy. Here is the best example I've yet found in the theme park industry of an attraction that requires that a family play together.
Fun Town Fire Academy isn't a ride as much as it is a competition. Up to four people are assigned to each fire truck. Once inside the truck, two people pump a handle to power the truck down a track, while another person "drives" the truck. Once you get to the end of the track, everyone scrambles out of the truck to fight a "fire" in the adjacent building. Two people will work the handles on the water pump, while two others will aim the hoses at the target on the building. Once your teams sprays enough water into the target, it's back into the truck to drive up the track to the starting point. First team to finish "wins."
You can't ride this ride alone. And you can't ride this ride without working with your teammates. Fun Town Fire Academy brings families together in active play like few other theme park attractions I've experienced. Unlike shoot-'em-ups such as Toy Story Midway Mania - another ride that values teamwork - Fun Town Fire Academy provides engages your body as well as your wits. Pumping those handles can be hard! (That's definitely the grown-ups' job.)
The only down side? If your family has some, uh, problems - this ride will expose them. I've seen some cringe-inducing moments in line here, as a few parents and kids on the ride have turned on family members. (Winners seem to turn as often as others.) Of course, I've seen plenty of families get angry with each other elsewhere at theme parks, too. Families inclined to fight are going to fight, and always will find some excuse, I'm afraid.
But we shouldn't let the bad examples of a few keep the rest of us from enjoying a wonderful family experience. So here's my "what would you do?" challenge to you this week: Create a theme park attraction concept - in the spirit of Fun Town Fire Academy - that gets families playing together. It doesn't have to be a physical competition such as Fun Town Fire Academy. But it should promote teamwork and a shared experience for all.
I can't wait to read your ideas!
By Robert Niles
Walt Disney World announced today that as of June 1, Cinderella's Golden Carrousel in the Magic Kingdom will be renamed Prince Charming Regal Carrousel.
Why? Well, Disney's added a backstory to the ride:
Following their fairy-tale romance and happily-ever-after wedding, Cinderella and Prince Charming took up residence in Cinderella’s Castle. With peace throughout the kingdom, Prince Charming had time to practice for jousting tournaments. In the countryside near the castle, he built a training device of carved horses, on which he could practice the art of ring-spearing, a tournament event in which a knight rides his horse full speed, lance in hand, toward a small ring hanging from a tree limb, with the object of spearing the ring. This event was known by various names throughout the lands, but generally came to be called “carrousel.”
By Robert Niles
Here are this week's top new threads on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board:
Sara M and the delightfully pseudonymed Hermione Potter kick off another Wizarding World Update.
Let me take this opportunity to once again appeal to anyone who is staying at a Universal Orlando hotel this weekend, and will get in to see the Wizarding World. Please e-mail your descriptions, photos and video to themeparkinsider @ gmail.com. We'd love to hear from you, and pass along news about the Wizarding World to other Theme Park Insider readers! (Use the subject line "Potterwatch" or the Twitter hashtag #potterwatch if you have news or a report.)
Camille Kirk wants to know how to find the best Rates at Universal Orlando on-site hotels.
Camille's also looking for advice on Dollywood for ages 1-5.
Betty Rohrer is bringing three generations, including a crew of young boys and is looking for some Help for Disney World road trip.
Don Neal is looking to polish his Orlando vacation plans and also is asking for Help with Next Week's Disney Trip
Gary Brown asks One day; Six Flags Magic Mountain or Knott's Berry Farm?
Mark Migliaccio gets the conversation started about Busch Gardens Williamsburg's upcoming Illuminights: A Busch Gardens Encore.
Nick Markham continues his series of interviews with theme park industry insiders in An interview with Paula Werne from Holiday World.
Finally, Tim W wonders what theme parks will be like in 3010.
By Robert Niles
So which, exactly, are the rivers of America that Disney's Rivers of America are supposed to represent? That's a debate that I've had over the years with many other fans and cast members about the body of water that surrounds Tom Sawyer Island at Disneyland and Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.
Like many great debates, there was no firm answer - until now. During the Rivers' most recent rehab at Disneyland, Disney Imagineers made some changes around the riverbed and have declared that the Rivers of America now depict four distinct zones:
A little over a week ago, I spoke with Imagineer Kim Irvine and asked her to talk us through the new Rivers of America, noting what Disneyland visitors might find different about it than before.
Kim Irvine: "On the rivers in the past, the plant material has grown in and naturalized itself. So it had lost the character of the original that Bill Evans and the landscapers had planned for it. So our first plan was to re-landscape the river.
"Then we thought, if we're going to do that, why not give the rivers specific names and develop the landscaping for each one of those regions. So as we move around the rivers, you can experience different climates, different colors and different plan palettes.
"With the animals, I always like to look back at the original designers. Marc Davis and Sam McKim did so much great work on the Rivers of America. When Disneyland got started, they had just finished working on those wonderful True Life Adventure films, so they had a lot of experience with how animals behaved in nature, from working on those films. Marc was such a great animator, he could create scenes that required no words. You could look at the animals, and the positions they were in, and know exactly what was happening at that time.
"For instance, the deer were in positions that you would find them if you came across them in nature. They were drinking from the water, or grazing on grass, and then they hear this big boat coming through the water. Of course, they would look up in that startled moment before they would run.
"A lot of our animals through the last 50 years had been scattered around the river, and not so much in herds anymore - a moose here and a deer there and an elk over there - so we put them back together in herds. We even added a stream for the deer to be drinking from, because there was no stream before, and we didn't think it'd be quite as interesting if they were all just standing along the edge of the river.
"We couldn't put the burning cabin back, but we wanted to make it something more interesting than the pioneer cabin that it had become as of late. We also had this wonderful asset of the old keelboat that we hadn't wanted to give up. We decided to make the cabin Mike Fink's cabin. Even though he might not be a a character that many kids know today, why not make him a relevant character? So we dressed up his keelboat out in front and made a lookout in what used to be the eagle's tree. We put a big campfire out in front and now we've got him and Davy Crockett and George Russell inside arguing about who is king of the river. There's a great audio track so you can hear them in there boasting about all the things they know how to do better than the others. [Note from Robert: You can hear that audio best from the island. Just walk around the fort on the Tom Sawyer Island pathway to the cabin site.]
"The Indian village now has, in addition to two Indian scouts that see you before you get to the Indian chief, the village now had a horse corral behind it, a very natural look like the Indians may have made out of birch branches and such. We have real pinto ponies back there behind the village. In the village itself, we've made and painted all-new teepees, and switched it up so it has a new look to it.
"The mother eagle is now with here babies up in the tree, the one that used to be back at the cabin has now found a new home over in our Potomac area. And we have some new mountain lions in the Rio Grande area.
"So let me talk about the different zones. There's the Mississippi, of course, where we have a lot of willows and taxodiums - all very gray/green and droopy. Then you move into the Columbia, which is very much the Pacific Northwest - dark, dark, rich brown soil with lots of firs and pines and redwoods. And there will be rich ground cover, violets and ferns that will look spectacular once it grows in.
"Then it moves into the Potomac, where our Indians are. That is done in birches and trees that change color, and not just in the fall, they change constantly color throughout the year. And then we go into the Rio Grande, which is the backdrop to Big Thunder Mountain, so it's all in hot reds and oranges and lots of grasses, manzanita and high-desert-type of landscape.
"We painted the shorelines; we painted the rocks; we made an effort to make each area stand out on its own."
Robert: Why these four rivers? Why not the Ohio or the Colorado?
Kim Irvine: "Well, the Rio Grande and the Mississippi were obvious for us. For the other two, we thought about the landscaping that was already there. We had some beautiful backbone trees that were still there from Bill's day. It's hard to believe when you are sailing around that river on the Columbia, thinking "I'm in Anaheim," but there are some trees out there that are over 90 feet tall. So they set the backdrop for us. The Columbia [area] already had some nice pines and fir trees in it. The Potomac already had some great sycamore and large birches - they kind of things that you would find in that region.
"There was a lot of debate! We sat in the conference room with Tony [Baxter] for several hours looking at maps of all the rivers of America, trying to decide."
Kim also said that the spiel now playing on the Sailing Ship Columbia is a temporary one, and that new spiels, with additional details about the river's changes, are coming to the Columbia, the Mark Twain Riverboat and Davy Crockett's Explorer Canoes.
So will the same changes come to the Rivers of America at Florida's Magic Kingdom? There are no plans yet, Kim said.
But she added:
"You never know. We had a lot of the Disney World people out here during the downtime, just by coincidence, and we walked it with them, so you never know."
By Robert Niles
Typically, I liked to make eye contact with the folks standing at the front of my raft as I pushed it off from the Frontierland dock for our trip over to Tom Sawyer Island - the better for cracking a joke or answering a quick question. But no one in this family wouldn't look me in the eye. Instead, they just looked past me, back toward Frontierland.
Weird, I thought.
Perhaps it was some cultural thing. These Disney World visitors looked Indian, and I wasn't then as used to dealing with folks from elsewhere around the world as I am now. Wanting to keep the raft moving, I didn't linger, but walked to the back of the raft to put it into gear.
Then I heard the yell.
The formerly silent family came alive, waving their arms and calling. I looked over toward the street and saw an elderly woman, wearing a sari, return their wave and hurry down toward the dock.
Well, I thought, that explains why they were looking that way. They were missing a family member. But now they've gotten her attention, and she knows to catch the next raft over to the island.
All's well now, right?
She kept running toward the dock.
No, she couldn't...
One of her family, on the front of the raft, unhooked the rope that blocked the entrance to the raft during its trip. The woman lowered her head and sped up.
This is not happening, I thought.
She couldn't be crazy enough to jump. The raft was a good six feet from the dock now and moving away from it, and an older woman in a sari wasn't exactly the sort of person one would expect to clear that distance.
Nor would her family be crazy enough to urge her on. Didn't anyone in the family have enough respect for Grandma to want to keep her from any chance of ending up over her head in the river, while a engine prop whirred a few feet from her head?
Welcome to another of life's gut-check moments. Procedurally, I was doing everything right: I'd delivered my safety spiel, followed the correct cast-off procedure and even now offered a friendly holler at the woman to wait for the next raft.
But what good does following the rules do if it leaves you with Grandma in the drink?
Sure, if I kept going and the woman missed the jump, she'd be at fault for ignoring my warning, as well as basic, common sense. But Disney's first rule (and the first rule at any other major park I know) is to keep the guests safe.
So I swung the raft's bow back toward the mainland, bringing it within a few inches of the dock as the woman hopped aboard the raft.
Her family cheered, then turned to wave at me. A few hollered a thank you.
I clenched my teeth and squeezed out a smile in return. I wanted to yell at the family for putting a loved one at risk, but that wasn't my job. My job was to keep that family - and everyone else visiting my attraction that day - safe and happy.
But when we made it to the other side, I couldn't help but say something.
"You know, we could have gotten you on the next raft," I said with a smile to Grandma.
Her family exploded in laughter.
"She never waits for anyone," one of them leaned over to tell me, with a shrug, as he walked off the raft.
Laughing together, they walked up the path into the island. Safe, and happy.
I'd done my job - I guess.
For more of Robert's stories about working at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, visit themeparkinsider.com/stories.
By Robert Niles
This week's challenge on our Theme Park Apprentice game was to design a concept for a new theme park hotel. Our remaining contestants delivered:
Now it's time for you to select your favorite. The contestant with the fewest votes goes home.
By Robert Niles
Today, I spent and hour and a half walking around the Busch family's first park.
Nope, today I walked around the original Busch Gardens park, Busch Gardens Pasadena, which opened to the public in... 1906.
The original Busch Gardens closed in 1938, during the Great Depression. Developers bought and sub-divided the property, eventually building a neighborhood of homes that obliterated most of the old park.
But a few traces of the original Busch Gardens remain, providing visitors glimpses of the thematic formula of lush foliage, aviaries and wildlife that the Busch family eventually would replicate through theme parks in Tampa, Los Angeles, Houston and Williamsburg. (Only the Tampa and Williamsburg parks survive.)
Located about two miles south of the Rose Bowl, the Busch Gardens site occupies about 38 acres west of Orange Grove Boulevard. Adolphus Busch bought a home on the Orange Grove "Millionaire's Row" in 1904, which he dubbed "Ivy Hall" for its lush ivy coating.
Other famous families keeping winter homes on Orange Grove included the Wrigleys (of gum and Wrigley Field fame), whose mansion now houses the Tournament of Roses headquarters, and the Gamble family (of Procter & Gamble, producers of Ivory soap and dozens of other famous brands). The Gamble House, incidentally, is well-known to movie-goers as Doc Brown's house in the "Back to the Future" films.
Unfortunately, the Busch family's Ivy Hall no longer survives, having been replaced by several apartment complexes.
If you know where to look, though, you can find a few remaining elements of Busch's original park along the streets and in the yards of the homes behind the Busch family's old home on Orange Grove. Pasadena Heritage presented today's sold-out guided walk through the neighborhood, which was limited to 300 supporters of the organization. (It took me about 3.2 microseconds to send in my reservation, once I heard about it.)
On the Google Map below, the "upper" Busch Gardens occupied the gray space north of Madeline Dr and between S Arroyo Blvd on the west and Orange Grove on the east. The "lower" Gardens occupied the gray space west of S Arroyo Blvd. Ironically, the green area that Google lists as "Busch Gardens" actually was outside the park's boundary.
At its peak, the gardens occupied 40 full-time gardeners, who terraced the landscape using mules, as there was no power grading equipment at the time. The gardens were the design of Robert Gordon Fraser, who lived at the gardens until their closure.
Here's the one remaining element of the entrance to the park's lower garden. The ticket booth stood across the street to the right: 25 cents for adults and 10 cents for children. You needed to buy an addition admission to visit the upper gardens across Arroyo - but all the money went to support injured war veterans in the community.
Walk along the west side of Arroyo and you might find some of the original metal V fence that surrounded the property.
Throughout the property, you could find several drinking fountains. Although they were made to look like hollowed out logs, with water pouring into them from a wooden spigot, they actually were made of concrete. The park held seven of these water troughs. One was moved to the Busch-owned Grant's Farm in St. Louis, but five have been lost. The last such fountain remains visible at end of one Pasadenan's driveway.
One of the popular features in the lower garden was the "Mystic Hut," which stood behind a series of stone-lined pools.
The hut is gone, but you can still see its foundation, along with the stone-lined pools, on the north side of Busch Garden Drive.
Another spectacular feature of the lower garden was a Grecian pergola.
Today, that pergola survives, thought it's been enclosed on the outer edge with windows, and incorporated into this Arroyo Blvd home. You can see it on the right. In postcard above, the pergola was photographed from the opposite side, where the home now stands.
The icon of the gardens was found in the upper garden - The Old Mill.
The mill still stands, as part of a private residence, onto which the owner graciously invited tour attendees. We were not able to take photos, though I can report that the mill (which is on its second replacement wheel these days) looks much as it did in that old postcard painting, though the mill building's been expanded a bit in the front and back, to accommodate the families that have lived there since the gardens closed.
Historian Michael Logan organized today's tour, and I spoke with him for a few moments after his introductory lecture preceding the tour this morning. I'm hoping to have the opportunity to chat with Michael again soon, and to share a few more stories about the Busch family and the development of their beloved gardens, in Pasadena and around the country.
Postscript: Even though Pasadena's Busch Gardens are gone, if you are in the area and want to see what they might have looked like had they survived, consider a visit to the Huntington Library and Gardens, located a few miles to the east in San Marino. Henry Huntington, nephew of one of the founders of the Central Pacific Railroad and the owner of Los Angeles' street car system, began building his gardens a few years after Busch. Today, his gardens survive on a 120-acre site, which include libraries and art galleries housing a Gutenberg Bible, the manuscript of Benjamin Franklin's autobiography and Thomas Gainsborough's famous painting "The Blue Boy."
Post-postscript: Here's a little celebrity trivia: On Stonebridge Dr., the hook-shaped street in the middle of the upper gardens, you'll find (at 980) the last home of actor Robert Reed, best known as Mr. Brady on the Brady Bunch, who lived at that home for several years before dying of cancer in 1992.
By Robert Niles
With employee previews beginning for Universal Orlando's Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and with outsiders getting their first look at the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey queue and other Wizarding World sites, I think it's time for a poll on your expectations for the new land.
'Harry Potter' film actors Robbie Coltrane [Hagrid], Matthew Lewis [Neville], Emma Watson [Hermione], and Oliver [George Weasley] and James Phelps [Fred Weasley] visit The Wizarding World in this publicity photo released by Universal Orlando.
The quality standard for Universal's Islands of Adventure is the park's highly acclaimed Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man ride, which debuted with the park in 1999. So, naturally, I think it fair to judge Harry Potter against that ride.
To make this somewhat apples-to-apples, let's judge the Wizarding World's signature attraction, the Forbidden Journey queue and ride. Will it be better than Spidey, and set a new standard for the park - and the industry? Do you expect Potter to match, but not exceed, Spidey? Maybe you think that it won't rise to that ride's level.
Or maybe you're hoping to experience Harry Potter with no expectations at all.
That's our vote of the week:
By Robert Niles
Universal Orlando allowed attendees at the recent travel industry "Pow-Wow" to walk through the Wizarding World of Harry Potter this week. Here's a round-up of write-ups: (FYI, no photos or video were allowed, so no one has any.)
Thanks to TPI reader Pyra Dong for the initial link.
What's new on the discussion board: Seeking a Harry Potter touring plan, plus designing dream attractions
By Robert Niles
Here are the top new threads this week on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board:
Brooks Taylor asks the question that many are asking this summer: How to see Harry Potter and Mickey right
On that same topic, brian lochridge asks for answers on Harry Potter Questions/attack plan
Jol Silversmith took the Busch Gardens Insider Tour and submits us a detailed trip report.
Andrew Holden is also looking to talk about Busch Gardens Tampa and wants to know about Gwazi: Your Thoughts?
Rob Moore wants to know - Week of June 6 - Good or Bad Time to Visit Walt Disney World?
And Rob's also thinking about the two parks at Universal Orlando and asks, Three Days - how to split up the time?
Eve N wants to know how to increase the chances that someone is picked to be the WDW Magic Kingdom Parade Grand Marshall.
Anthony heads to Disneyland Resort! Well, not yet, but he's looking for some tips for an upcoming trip.
Looking ahead to a hot summer, Beth Bickar asks where to find the AC at Cedar Point.
Tamara Bell is looking for Discounts/Coupons for dining at Hershey.
duncan henny gets a thread going on ride reimagining/upgrades. What rides would you like to see improved?
In a similar vein, David L. asks you to design Your dream Frontierland.
And Daniel Smith asks what attraction line-up would prompt you to visit a Disneyland Australia.
By Robert Niles
The fifth challenge in the Theme Park Apprentice Game was to draft a concept for a 3D show to replace Captain EO once it finishes its run, which it will begin at Epcot this summer after kicking out Honey I Shrunk the Audience.
By Robert Niles
Busch Gardens Tampa released photos of newborn endangered baby red-ruffed lemurs, born at the park on April 21.
Visitors can see the baby lemurs at the park's Jambo Junction.
By Robert Niles
Working at a theme park can be like acting in a variety show. I've started the day as Tom Sawyer, switched to hosting the Country Bear Jamboree, then finished the day running trains on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.
So if you spend a week at a theme park, you're not going crazy if you think that you saw the gal who loaded you into your rocket ship on Space Mountain directing traffic at the Tomorrow Speedway yesterday. We move around.
The longer you work at a park, the more attractions you learn how to operate. In general, I found that people got moved to new attractions about once a year or so. Plus, several attractions were "partnered" with nearby rides or shows, so that when you were trained on one attraction, you'd be trained on those others at the same time, as well.
When I started in attractions at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, the Tom Sawyer Island rafts were partnered with Country Bear Jamboree and the Shootin' Arcade, so I was trained on all three and split my weeks between working each location.
Driving the TSI rafts demanded a fair amount more physical skill than pushing buttons at the Bear show, so park managers decided to create what we called "The BATT Complex," merging the staff of the Bear show (the B), the arcade (the A), the Tiki show and the Swiss Family Treehouse (the other Ts). When that happened, all the Tiki crew got trained on the Bear show, and vice versa. That kept a lot of, uh, less-than-enthusiastic raft drivers off the island. But it meant more shifts under the broiling Central Florida sun for those of us who could get a raft from one side of the river to the other in good humor.
Eventually, I was trained on Pirates of the Caribbean and Big Thunder Mountain as well. But that didn't stop me from picking up shifts at the Haunted Mansion, Diamond Horseshoe and Liberty Square Riverboat, too. Since I wasn't trained at those locations, I was "frozen" at the greeter location, arranging strollers, opening and closing queue and talking with guests at the front of the rides, while the trained cast rotated around me.
Obviously, managers preferred to have everyone in the rotation be a trained on that ride, but when bodies are in short supply, they'd rather give an OT shift to someone to work greeter than short-staff the attraction.
There were only two attractions that I never worked during my time in attractions on the Magic Kingdom's west side (Adventureland, Frontierland and Libert Square): The Hall of Presidents and... the Jungle Cruise.
I always found missing Hall of Presidents ironic given that I was a political science major and politics junkie who'd been eating up election results since I was in elementary school. But I found avoiding the Jungle the greatest mystery of my employment at Disney. Every few years, some manager would decree that all men working on the west side be trained in the Jungle (which was then a male-only attraction), but I managed to avoid such decrees. My theory was that I'd spent so much time frying on the river driving the TSI rafts that managers cut me a break and kept me from the Jungle.
It's no surprise that I worked with so many professional actors, aspiring actors and community theater enthusiasts when working at Disney World. With so many roles to play, so many people to interact with - and so many costumes to wear - working at a theme park provides a perfect "day job" for anyone in love with performance.
For more of Robert's stories about working at Walt Disney World, visit themeparkinsider.com/stories.
By Scott Joseph
California Grill at Walt Disney World's Contemporary Resort hotel, turns 15 on the 15th. To celebrate, the head bartender has created a special cocktail called the Golden Gate. Here's the recipe.
By Robert Niles
I've been getting more interested in the Ferrari World Abu Dhabi theme park as it approaches its debut in October.
My son's a huge Ferrari fan and I've been following open-wheel racing since I can remember. (My uncle once crewed for Mario Andretti, and my father used to work in timing and scoring at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.) So you'd expect me to get excited about the marriage of racing and theme parks.
Abu Dhabi's not exactly in my neighborhood, so I don't know that I'll ever visit, but I am beginning to follow the park's development. One item which caught my interest was the recent announcement that riders on the park's signature Formula Rossa roller coaster will be required to wear goggles.
Ferrari World Director of Maintenance Wayne Meadows tries on the goggles. Image from the park's promotion video on Formula Rossa.
Formula Rossa will be an Intamin launch coaster with a top speed over 140 miles per hour. While most of Ferrari World is located indoors, the park's roller coasters will travel outside the enclosure, into the sandy Arabian Peninsula desert. High speeds + blowing sand = need for goggles.
I haven't been to the Middle East, but I have been on more than a couple roller coasters where goggles might have made the ride less painful on my eyes. Which gets me thinking: Should other theme parks require goggles on their outdoor roller coasters? And if so, how fast does a coaster have to go before goggles should be provided?
Let's assume for the sake of this argument that the park can keep the goggles clean and clear. And that there'd be no additional charge for them. Vote below for the top speed over which you'd prefer to have goggles, or, if you don't think coasters should require goggles, select that option.
I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Have a great weekend, and thanks for reading Theme Park Insider!
By Robert Niles
Don't look for Troubadour Tavern in the Disneyland guidemap. Strangely, you won't find this Fantasyland counter-service restaurant there. But if you're in the mood for a warm and hearty meal (or gargantuan snack), look for this outpost next to the Princess Fantasy Faire, just a few steps away from the Toontown train station.
I ordered the bratwurst ($6.99) and opted for the sauerkraut. You could order the brat without the kraut, but why? There's no discount, and the kraut adds some welcome flavor to the rather mild brat.
The brat comes with the option of chips or apple slices. Ordering a brat, I figure all pretense of healthy eating's been abandoned, so I went with the chips.
Troubadour Tavern also offers corn on the cob ($4.39) and baked potatoes ($6.29). Potatoes come topped with one of three options, all for the same price:
I haven't tried the potatoes yet, but for folks looking for something a bit more substantial than a traditional hot dog, Disneyland's Troubadour Tavern is worth a visit. Hey, maybe someday Disney will even put it on the guidemap. ;-)
What's new on the discussion board: Mixing Disney and Universal on the same trip, plus character dining for older kids
By Robert Niles
Here are this week's top new threads on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board:
Here's a basic, yet essential, questions: Which park should I visit first in Orlando? Plus, what about Staying in a Disney's hotel and visit Universal and Sea World?
Joe Brown wants to know where is the Character dining for older kids? (Think Darth Vader, not Cat in the Hat.)
Anyway able to offer any advice on the Disney Quick Service Dining Plan?
Sara M asks if anyone knows what it is the 2010 Universal Coupon Book.
I'm planning to visit Orlando next month and ask what you'd like to see me write about for the site while I'm there.
Tim Casagrande asks Theme Park Insider readers to share their thoughts and expectations for Knott's Halloween Haunt 2010.
A Theme Park Insider reader wants to know Are Men Bigger Theme Park Addicts Than Women?
Update: I just wanted to let everyone know that I'm still reading through messages from folk interested in covering Halloween for us. I promise to start getting back to folks by the end of the week.
By Robert Niles
We got any Universal Studios Florida Jaws fans on Theme Park Insider?
This video's for you:
(Thanks to Theme Park Insider reader Domenik Jost for the link.)
By Domenik Jost
Universal Orlando Resort just announced that the popular American game show, Family Feud, will be taping there this summer.
If you are planning to to visit Universal Orlando this summer come on out and enjoy one of the tapings of Family Feud. New host Steve Harvey will be there to tape the new season on select Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from July 10 through September 19.
These tapings are a non-ticketed event and seating is done in a first come first serve basis. You do not have to have a park ticket to enjoy being a part of the studio audience. For more information including the exact dates of the tapings visit the Family Feud page on Universal Orlando Resorts Website.
So are there any TPI Families going out to audition and being a part of the show? I started a discussion board topic for any families that are going out to audition so we can come out to support you.
By Robert Niles
So... it looks like Six Flags is making a big management change, after all.
The amusement park chain, which emerged from bankruptcy earlier this month, has lost its CEO, Mark Shapiro. Six Flags said today that Shapiro is no longer with the company and that Al Weber Jr. - the former head of Paramount Parks - is now Six Flags' president and interim CEO.
Six Flags will seek a permanent CEO and has hired a search firm to help identify candidates.
Shapiro and former chairman Dan Snyder had the right idea for Six Flags - to convert the company's parks from teen hang-outs to family-friendly destinations. But the company lacked the multi-millions of dollars it needed at each park to build the type of attractions that would attract the family audience.
Six Flags' previous owners, the former Premier Parks, had positioned Six Flags exclusively as thrill parks, with no theming and minimal customer service. Perhaps if Snyder and Shapiro had gained control of the company earlier, when it could have sold parks for maximum real estate value, they could have raised the cash they needed for a massive capital conversion at Six Flags' remaining parks.
But by the time Shapiro's team had control of the company, the real estate bubble was beginning to burst and there was no market to buy theme parks at top dollar. So Six Flags added some relatively inexpensive kiddie lands (Thomas the Tank Engine, the Wiggles) and made do the best it could.
The improvements at many Six Flags parks have been substantial. My local park, Magic Mountain, is a joy to visit now, compared with a decade ago. So theme park fans owe Mark Shapiro their thanks for that.
But what will Al Weber and the new Six Flags owners do with the chain now?
By Robert Niles
Disney reported its latest quarterly earnings today, and while its movies are busting blocks, in the theme parks, the economy continues to clean Disney's clocks.
(Was that the worst line I've written in the history of Theme Park Insider? Possibly...)
Anyway, Disney CEO Bob Iger said in a conference call with Wall Street analysts that the company expects to stop offering theme park discounts by October of this year, and is willing to take an attendance hit in order to return to full pricing.
Disney's taking a bit of attendance hit as it is, with flat attendance in the first few months of 2010. And bookings for the third quarter (July-Sept.) are down 10 percent over the same period last year, Iger said.
Theme parks have been saying for two years that they expect to end their heavy discounting "soon." So far, Universal Orlando's been the only one to do it, and it needed the impending opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter to make it stick.
Will Disney stop offering deals after this summer? (Disney's currently offering its dining program free to people who book hotel stays at Walt Disney World for trips this fall.) And if it does, how long will attendance and revenue suffer before crowds come back at full price?
As with many things in the theme park business, we'll have to wait to see....
By Robert Niles
Just about every day, theme parks send out publicity photos of various visitors and goings-on at their parks. Typically, the photos don't particularly reflect the "guest experience" you'd have at the park, so I ignore them most of the time.
But today seems to have been a more-spirited-than-usual battle among the Southern California theme park PR folks. So I turn to you, the Theme Park Insider readers, to pick a winner:
Six Flags Magic Mountain kicked it off with teen singer and perpetual Twitter trending topic Justin Bieber:
SeaWorld's usually good for some cute animals, but today the San Diego park also went with the celebrity angle, featuring former Daily Show and Hot Tub Time Machine star Rob Corddry, with Clyde of Sea Lions Live:
Finally, Disney unveiled the "test" vehicle for Radiator Springs Racers at Disney's California Adventure. Well, half of it, anyway:
What say you?
By Robert Niles
Did you know that there's no theme park named Walt Disney World?
Well, okay, you're Theme Park Insider readers. You're the best informed theme park fans anywhere. :-) You know that "Walt Disney World" means the Walt Disney World Resort, a collection of four theme parks, two water parks, dozens of hotels and a shopping district, located on tens of thousands of acres in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
And that what many, more casual, theme park fans call "Walt Disney World" is simply the original attraction at the resort, the theme park we know as the Magic Kingdom. (You'll notice that I label the park "Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom" here on the Theme Park Insider, since I learned early on that if I label that park simply as "Magic Kingdom," too few new readers to the site knew to which park I was referring.)
Working anywhere on property at Walt Disney World, the whole Disney World/Magic Kingdom thing can cause major frustration. I've lost track of the number of such stories told to me by cast members at the various WDW theme parks, but they all reduce to an exchange something like this:
Guest: "How do I get to Disney World?"
Cast Member: "Well, to get to the Magic Kingdom, just (board the monorail/take the bus/follow the highway signs) once you exit the park."
Guest: "But I don't want to go to the Magic Kingdom! I want to go to Disney World!"
First impressions are hard to overcome. And for the first 10 years after its 1971 opening, Walt Disney World offered little more than that original theme park, the Magic Kingdom. (The resort's second theme park, Epcot - I'm sorry, EPCOT Center, didn't debut until 1982.) With the then-single Disneyland Park on the west coast in Anaheim, people found a simple parallel with a single Disney World (or, even, Disneyworld) park on the east coast near Orlando.
So that's how a generation came to know the Magic Kingdom. Disney tried its best to rebrand the park, following Epcot's opening, but millions of visitors have failed to buy that, and continue to call the park with the castle "Disney World."
Even working within the Magic Kingdom, we weren't exempt from guests asking us "how to get to Disney World." Each of us learned, quickly, that you never respond with "you're already here!" People don't like being told that they're stupid. Instead, we have to make our best guess at what the guest really wanted to see when s/he asked for directions to "Disney World."
Most of the time, we just ended up directing them toward the castle.
Giving directions anywhere at the Walt Disney World Resort often requires a bit of detective work, if not guessing. Where do you send a family that's asking for "the cowboy show"?
Did they want the afternoon stunt show in the Magic Kingdom's Frontierland? The old west scene in the Studios' Great Movie Ride? The Hoop-Dee-Doo Review at Fort Wilderness? I've encountered folks asking that question who ended up wanting each of those three.
What about "the water show"? Is that IllumiNations? Fantasmic? The water pageant on the Seven Seas Lagoon? The Little Mermaid puppet show? Yep, I've found folks looking for each of these who'd asked me that same question.
Sometimes, though, even the best Det. Friday questioning won't help me help a guest who's asking for something we simply didn't have, anywhere on the resort. I'll never forget those poor souls who asked me, when I worked at Pirates of the Caribbean:
"Hey, how do I get to the Blue Bayou?"
Well, sir, first you drive to the Orlando airport….
By Robert Niles
Hello Theme Park Insider readers,
This is the final call for readers who want to apply for the freelance gig to help Theme Park Insider cover theme park Halloween events this fall. It's a 12-week commitment, starting the week of Aug. 8. You'll be writing one blog post a week for the site, including advance features on this year's upcoming major Halloween events, wrapping up with trip reports from a few of the bigger events. Details here. Familiarity with Theme Park Insider, our readers and our style, is a must. Previous writing or blogging experience strongly preferred. It's a freelance gig, so there's some money and covered expenses in this, though not enough to be worth anyone giving up a day job... Sorry :-(
If you're Halloween/horror fanatic, who loves theme parks and wants to show people what they can expect from this year's events, I want to hear from you! We've got a large audience to offer, and for the right person, this gig could be an enormous amount of fun. (I'll be following up with applicants later this week.)
By Robert Niles
It's time for our weekly elimination ritual for the Theme Park Apprentice game that we're playing on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board.
This week's challenge was to design an immersively themed roller coaster. You can read the various proposals from our remaining contestants on the discussion thread.
Anthony Murphy: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice log flume
Vote for the one you like best. The contestant whose proposal receives the least support will be eliminated from the game:
By Robert Niles
The ubiquitous theme park safety spiel is "Please keep your hands and arms inside the vehicle at all times. Mantenga sus manos y brazos dentro del vehículo en todo moment, por favor."
But walk over to just about any roller coaster, and what do you see?
People failing their hands in the air like they're at a hip-hop concert.
Most coasters I've ridden have posted explicit instructions that you should hold the grab bar when riding. Obviously, parks don't want you to fall out (or climb out) of a coaster while riding, and a firm grip on the grad bar helps ensure that you remain in place. One park last year went so far as to explicit ban raised arms - not for safety reasons, but to keep riders from having to endure others' smelly pits. So you've got that reason, too.
Me? I always hold the grab bar. I like to feel the train while I'm riding, to feel part of the track, and holding the grab bar helps me have more physical contact with the coaster. Others prefer the sense of flying free from that track, which is why they put up their arms and try to minimize contact with the train itself.
So now we've got our vote of the week:
Make your case in the comments, please. And have a great weekend!
By Robert Niles
Disney's now released its own video of the talking Mickey Mouse walk-around character at Disneyland:
This comes after a tourist posted a YouTube video of the previously unannounced test:
Disney in recent years has been developing voice interaction with its guests, as seen in attractions such as Turtle Talk with Crush and the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor. But a talking Mickey's the ultimate for Disney, and the initial tests look impressive.
So far, the talking Mickey is available only in Mickey's House in Toontown, and at selected, unannounced times. And if you do luck out and see the talking Mickey, Disneyland's now making visitors sign "no filming" waivers first, too.
By Robert Niles
America's facing an obesity epidemic. Our federal government's agricultural industrial policy has for decades encouraged agribusiness not to deliver healthy vegetables, fruit and meat in their raw forms to local markets, but to create heavily processed, inexpensive and plentiful food products that just happen to lack the nutritional value of their original forms. The various tax and farm subsidies that agribusiness enjoy have helped make it far less expensive for people to buy a fat-laden hamburger meal at McDonald's than to cook a healthy entree on their own. Multibillion-dollar marketing campaigns encourage Americans to suck down soda like it was water. Even the cheap plastic packaging that's been used to contain our cheap, processed foods is messing up our hormones.
Add it all up... and we're adding to our weight and waistlines.
In my ideal world, theme parks should be good citizens as well as fun places to spend a day (or more). They should be reducing waste and recycling more, using sustainable energy and building supplies, and paying employees living wages as they build great new rides and shows in well-themed immersive environments.
And they'd be serving good food, too.
Many parks serve excellent meals, and make a variety of healthy choices available to their visitors. Theme parks were among the first major consumer food-service businesses to drop trans fats from their menus. Count me as a fan of Legoland California's Upper Deck Sports Cafe, which serves an outstanding grilled salmon meal, which included some wonderfully tasty sauteed asparagus last time I was there. I'm also awaiting my next trip down to California Adventure, so I can get another serving of its fine Thai curry tofu.
Whatever theme parks have done to improve their food, though, they could do more. So here is today's "What Would You Do?" - what would you do to help make theme park food better for visitors?
Theme parks aren't going to solve America's obesity problem by themselves. Heck, even if every park served the tastiest, freshest, most inexpensive organic delights imaginable, that likely wouldn't knock even one ounce off Americans' collective average weight. Nor should a day at a theme park taste like a day at a New Age macrobiotic seaweed spa. Visiting a theme park should be an immersive sensory experience, engaging sight, sound, touch - and smell and taste. Serving healthy food at a theme park should not deny visitors a complete sensory experience with tasteless or unsatisfying things to eat.
That's why this is a challenge: How can theme parks be better citizens by promoting more healthful eating, while at the same time delivering an indulgent sensory experience? And, oh yeah, let's try to keep the price reasonable, so that people can afford to enjoy their day at the park, too.
By the way, the price issue is why I think the whole "well, people can make a choice" counter-argument is rubbish. Unhealthy processed food typically is priced *much* cheaper (by costing less and taking less time to prepare) than healthier options. And it's promoted heavily through advertising, sponsorships and product placement deal where soda bottlers and fast food chains pay theme parks to have their products sold in the parks. Sure, you can choose healthier options, but industry is going to spend billions or dollars to influence you not to.
Ultimately, though, you can't force people to eat something when they've been conditioned to want something else. If theme parks are to serve better food, they need to unleash some kitchen wizardry to blend taste, nutrition and value to make it alluring in the face of all that corporate support for fatty fast food.
Theme parks will need some "culinary Imagineers."
What would you like to see them do, then?
Personally, I'd like to see even more effort to add a variety of nutritious and lower-calorie options at every theme park restaurant and more of their food stands. Don't just throw a salad on the menu or a few overpriced apples on the food cart. How could parks get creative in making better food tastier and more indulgent? Let's explore ethic cuisine for inspiration, and make dining as much an attraction in the park as the shows and the rides, and not just during special events.
To me, Steve Jayson is every bit as important to Universal Orlando as Mark Woodbury, and I'd love if that were the case for more theme park fans, too. With well-promoted new dishes that happened to be healthy, perhaps more visitors might be tempted to step away from the heaps of beef and cheese to explore something different. And maybe that theme park culinary experimentation might lead to different menu choices at home.
I'd also like to see parks stop "dumbing down" otherwise healthy dishes to appeal to fat-sated appetites. Do we really need to put fried tofu in a bowl of miso soup?
Dumping trans fats was a good first step for theme parks. Now limit portion sizes so that no menu item exceeds one-third of the calories than an average (5' 9") non-overweight man should eat in a one day. (That means no single menu item should exceed about 830 calories.)
Finally, if consumers really are going to be the ones responsible for making healthy choices, shouldn't they be given the information they need to make an informed choice? Put the calorie counts next to the price on all theme park menus. Then let costumers decide. (That should be the case for all high-volume dining establishments, IMHO.)
What would you like to see from a theme park culinary wizard? What's your wish list for great theme park food? Let's hear your ideas, in the comments.
By Robert Niles
Here are the top new threads this week on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board:
James Rao invites Theme Park Insider readers to follow along with The Rao Family Adventure: WDW 2010!
On the topic of Walt Disney World, Phil B. asks Should Disney Build Another Moderate Resort?
Heading up north, Anthony Murphy offers up his Six Flags Great America Trip Report 2010, complete with video.
If you're following the Theme Park Apprentice game playing out on the Discussion Forum, check out what the six remaining contestant are planning in Theme Park Apprentice: Challenge 4 - designing a themed roller coaster.
Finally, here's an opportunity for Halloween fans on the site. I've posted a "help wanted" notice, asking for a writer to help cover 2010 theme park Halloween events. Please take a look and apply, if this sounds like you.
By Domenik Jost
Universal Orlando has just released a video showcasing the lineup for the 2010 Summer Concert Series.
This year's even will last from June 12 through July 17 and it will be six nights featuring seven artists.
The lineup will feature:
The Concert times are Saturday Nights, June 12 - July 17 at 9:00 pm, and Saturday, July 3 at 8:00 pm, and they will take place in the music plaza at Universal Studios Florida.
By Robert Niles
Amusement park chain Six Flags yesterday emerged from bankruptcy, with new owners, some new cash and soon... a new board chairman.
Current chairman Dan Snyder (known to sports fans as the owner of the Washington, DC NFL franchise), who lead the takeover of Six Flags from the former Premier Parks management team in 2005, will no longer hold a seat on the company's board of directors, according to a bankruptcy court filing.
Six Flags CEO Mark Shapiro will remain on the board and in his current job, suggesting that the bondholders who've gained control of the company aren't planning day-to-day operational changes at the company or its parks.
Shapiro says that emerging from bankruptcy will free up money for the parks to spend on improvements going forward. But higher attendance, and increased guest spending, would help even more to make that happen.
What do you think about the future of Six Flags, both as a company and as a theme park chain?
By Robert Niles
Regular readers of Budget Travel magazine might be familiar with the magazine's "Confessions Of..." feature, where a travel industry pro spills on the dark and nasty stuff that happens in his or her corner of the industry when the tourists aren't looking.
Even if you're not a Budget Travel reader, as a theme park fan, you might be interested in the magazine's most recent installment: Confessions Of... A Disney Cast Member
Some of these stories, I realize, might seem familiar. ;-)
By TH Creative
As the opening day for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter approaches, I have been hearing more and more chatter about how Universal Orlando’s newest attraction will affect Walt Disney World. Will the inevitable stampede of guests heading to Islands of Adventure have an impact on the attendance numbers at the Disney parks? Are the WDW powers that be feeling a little nervous?
This topic of conversation reminded me about a newspaper ad that appeared in the Orlando Sentinel almost twenty years ago. It was June 7, 1990 and Universal Studios Florida was welcoming its first visitors. That day a full page ad announced “Welcome Universal Studios Florida. What’s good for tourism and entertainment is good for Central Florida.” At the bottom of the ad was a picture of Mickey Mouse and the logo for Walt Disney World.
I’ve always felt it was a bit simplistic to regard Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando as competitors. I never believed that consumers took an “either/or” approach to visiting the Orlando theme parks.
Nor do I believe that the Potter attractions will have any significant impact on Disney’s success. Indeed, according to the Themed Entertainment Association’s recently released 2009 Global Attraction Attendance Report, if the new Potter attractions actually doubled attendance at IOA, the number would still fall short of Walt Disney World’s least attended park – Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
Having said that, there is no denying that Disney executives have always had a degree of curiosity about the attractions designed and built by the team at Universal Creative. A healthy dose of media attention was invested the day Michael Eisner strolled into IOA to experience the Amazing Adventures of Spider Man. Several years ago I ran into Tony Baxter at an IAAPA convention in Atlanta. Noticing my Men In Black: Alien Attack construction team shirt he told me he’d ridden the attraction three times and was impressed.
However, while the Disney team has every reason to be impressed (indeed maybe even humbled) by the work of Universal Creative, I’m not sure that they feel even remotely intimidated by the arrival of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I’d even go so far as to say that the Disney company is probably pleased about the attention the Potter attractions are drawing to the region.
In fact, I think it would be wise for Disney to play the same card again and take out another advertisement in the local paper. I’m almost certain they have a picture of Mickey dressed in wizard garb, don’t they?
By Nick Markham
About a week ago I got the chance to interview Dave Smith, Lead Archivist of the Walt Disney Archives. I did this for a school project, however, I thought all of you would enjoy to hear what he has to say as well! But please understand any personal view of Dave Smith are not the views of the entire Walt Disney Company.
1. How did you first get connected with Disney?
I had always been a Disney fan, going to Disney movies, watching the TV show, and visiting Disneyland when it opened. When I was in library school I had prepared a number of bibliographies. When Walt died in 1966, and I found out that no one had ever done a Disney bibliography, I decided to work on one, and was pleased to receive help from people at the Disney Studio. It listed all the Disney movies, TV shows, and books and articles written about Disney. Later on the company bought it from me--it is very rare to make any money from a bibliography.
2. What is the story behind your establishment of the Walt Disney Archives?
When I finished my bibliography, around 1969, I found out that the Disney company was trying to figure out what to do with Walt Disney's correspondence files and the things in his office. Later that grew to them wanting to preserve the history of the whole company. I let them know that I was interested, and they hired me to do a proposal for them. I took a leave of absence from UCLA, where I was working in the library, and for 2 months surveyed the various departments at Disney, learning about the quality and quantity of historical materials that they had saved. Six months after I turned in my proposal that they start a corporate archives, they decided to go ahead with it, and they hired me to start it. Thus I wrote my own job description! The Archives began on June 22, 1970.
3. Have you ever met Walt Disney? If so, can you share a special memory of him?
I saw Walt Disney in person twice in my life. First, when I was about your age, I ran into him at Disneyland. I asked him if I could have his autograph, but he politely declined. He said that when he started signing autographs that a huge crowd would gather around him, and he was unable to get his work done. Instead he told me to write him at the Studio; I did, and he sent me his autograph. He seemed like a very kind, unassuming gentleman. The only other time I saw him was when he was Grand Marshal of the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena on January 1, 1966, and I was there watching the parade.
4. What do you think is your favorite aspect about the Walt Disney Company, either from the past or present?
The Disney Company is a very friendly place to work. Walt always insisted that it be a first-name company--he was just "Walt" to everyone. That helped make it friendly. But, more than that, the company has a fantastic reputation. The Disney name means a lot to people who have grown up watching and enjoying Disney movies and TV shows, and visiting the Disney parks. It is gratifying to travel the world, and whenever you tell someone you work for Disney, you get a smile on their face. (That wouldn't be true if you said you worked for Microsoft or Ford or Kodak.)
5. What is your favorite piece in the archives?
I am fondest of the materials related to Walt Disney himself, because these are things that most collectors cannot hope to have. Probably my favorite is a postcard which he wrote to his mother when he was 15 (is that your age?). She was over in St. Louis taking care of her brother, and Walt wrote her from Kansas City to say he had gotten 100 in his grammar that day. Up in the corner of the card he had written "It is 10 below today." On the back he did a pen-and-ink drawing of a man in an overcoat looking up at a thermometer which was registering 10 below. It is a beautiful work of art for a 15-year-old boy.
6. Do you have a favorite Disney Park? Why?
I love Disneyland, because that is the park I grew up with, but in Florida I like Epcot. Epcot has striking architecture and exciting attractions, not to mention restaurants serving delectable food.
7. What was it like when Walt Disney World opened? A big event like Disneyland? Were you there?
I wasn't there for the opening; my first trip was in the Spring of 1971, before opening. I was on Main Street the day they paved it. Orlando was just a sleepy little town then.
8. What is your favorite international Disney park?
I think it would be Tokyo DisneySea. It is beautifully designed and has wonderful attractions that are not in any of our other parks.
9. Is there a Disney park or attraction you absolutely dislike?
Hmm, hard question. Let me see...I guess I cannot think of any. There are some that I do not go on often, like the roller coasters, but I cannot say I really dislike any. How about you? Any dislikes?
10. Is there a part of Disney history you wish maybe never happened?
It would have been nice if Walt Disney had lived longer.
11. Does the Universal/Disney rivalry last outside of the theme parks as well?
It isn't that much of a rivalry, just a friendly competition. A lot of people that have worked on and in the Universal parks got their start at Disney.
12. How do you keep track of EVERYTHING Disney ALL of the time?
Well, computers help. :) It is hard trying to keep up with everything that is going on, since our company has expanded so much. I seem to be updating my Disney A to Z encyclopedia every day with something new or something that has changed. Do you have the book?
13. Do you think Walt would have been somewhat angry about the old amusement park theme of California Adventure (before the recent changes occurring which will be amazing)?
I do think he would have been surprised to see the carnival atmosphere of Paradise Pier, because that was what he was trying to get away from when he build Disneyland.
14. How does a typical day work when working at the Walt Disney archives?
There is no typical day--that is what makes the job so interesting; it is different every day. We never know when we come in to work what we will be doing that day. It depends on the questions we get or the materials that receive. But, there are some routines--normally first thing I answer the emails that have accumulated overnight--there are usually a dozen or more. Some questions are easy and can be answered off the top of my head, but others need some researching. I have to do a lot of reading during the day--publications and press releases that are coming in from all over the company, and newspaper and magazine articles about Disney. Depending on what I read, I may have to add a new entry to Disney A to Z, or update a chronology of park attractions/restaurants/shops. We get telephone inquires during the day, and people dropping by to get information. We often have tours of visiting cast members from the parks. (I give orientations to new company employees every Monday morning.) Often I will get books, magazines, and other materials for proofreading/fact-checking. Then there might be a press screening of a new Disney film.
15. Are you constantly getting more and more to archive?
Current materials are coming into the Archives from all over the company constantly, and occasionally we will get calls from departments where they are clearing out files and are wondering if there is anything we might want.
16. How do you think Disney is able to compete with the all of the thrill capitals of the world and still bring all of those guests and more to their somewhat less thrilling Disney parks?
By providing a quality experience, and emphasizing family entertainment.
17. Are the imagineers always so very secretive about their work or are their meetings and such pretty much like
They have to be secretive so our competitors do not find out what we are doing and then copy the ideas before we have a chance to use them ourselves.
18. If a land, park, or attraction of any sort were to be made in some kind of memory of Walt Disney or made in memory of something Walt would have really loved, what would that attraction be?
I guess this would be something like the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, or the One Man's Dream attraction at Disney's Hollywood Studios.
19. Do you believe Disney has been able to avoid being to much of a commercial giant and still be able to communicate to the public without seeming too commercialized?
This is naturally hard for a large company that has stockholders that need to be appeased. But I think we do a pretty good job.
20. What kind of measures does Disney take to make sure all of the resorts really seem to be the Happiest Place On Earth?
Again, it is the constant striving to present a quality product. All keep the place clean and welcoming, and hire pleasant, helpful, and friendly cast members.
21. Do you visit Disney parks almost weekly?
No, not at all. WDW maybe once or twice a year. Disneyland maybe every couple of months.
22. How is it that Disney is able to seclude its parks into their own worlds away from any life we knew before?
In most places they have been able to build a berm around them, or in other ways ensure that you don't see the outside world when you are in the park. People like to go someplace that is clean, happy, and where most people are polite and friendly.
23. What is your favorite Disney hotel, anywhere in the world, inside or outside the parks?
Hmmm, I think for decor and personality it is the Yacht Club at Walt Disney World.
24. How has Disney accepted new parts of their company like when PIXAR or when MARVEL will come in? Do they treat the company as just another asset or like a part of the family?
It takes a while for them to be considered part of the family, especially when they are headquartered many miles away.
25. How in one way do you think Disney has influenced the world in a way that will leave a mark for years to come?
Walt was a genius in knowing what the public wanted in the way of entertainment. He was willing to take chances, to do things that no one had ever done before, in order to give them that special entertainment. The company's credo was "The finest in family entertainment," and this is where he differed from a lot of other movie and TV producers, and builders of amusement parks. He ensured that his entertainment was for the family, not just for children and not just for adults, but entertainment that could be enjoyed by the entire family.
By Robert Niles
It's time to vote on the third round of the Theme Park Apprentice game. This week's challenge is to create a new parade for a Disney theme park. You can visit the discussion thread to read the details of the proposals from our remaining seven players:
Dan Babbitt: Disney's Parade of Imagination
Again, you're voting here for the idea that you like best. Personally, I'm looking for ideas that reflect an original theme, technology or approach, in addition to making an emotional connection with the audience. But it's up to you to decide what works for you as a theme park visitor.
Voting closes Tuesday.
Keep reading: April 2010 Archive
Stories from a Theme Park Insider
What's it like to work in a theme park? Stories from a Theme Park Insider takes you inside the famous tunnels and backstage at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom for a look at how theme parks really work, sharing the funny moments and embarrassments that can happen when your job is someone else's vacation.
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