Welcome to Theme Park Insider! Join the community or log in
Theme Park Insider
Facebook Twitter Google Plus Email Newsletter

June 2010

Universal Creative's very, very, very good year

By Robert Niles
Published: June 30, 2010 at 3:02 PM

It's the last day of June and - wow! What a month for theme park premieres. I can't remember a string of such impressive debuts as I has the good fortune to attend this month, starting with Disney's World of Color, followed by The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando and wrapping up yesterday with the King Kong 360/3-D here in Los Angeles.

Being this positive freaks me out a bit, to be honest. What happened to Robert the Theme Park Curmudgeon? Am I getting soft?

No, I don't think so. (Okay, I hope not!) What's happening this year really is just that good.

While Disney's Imagineering team deserves praise for developing World of Color, I want to pay extra attention in this post to Universal Creative, which, in addition to developing Harry Potter and Kong, earlier this year oversaw the debut of Universal Studios Singapore - the company's fifth theme park. (The other four? Universal Studios Hollywood, Universal Studios Florida, Universal's Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Japan.)

What Universal Creative's opened this year is simply stunning. Universal used to be known for movie-themed parks that looked like, well, movie studios. The design esthetic imposed by the needs of Universal Studios Hollywood's production facilities led Universal to develop theme parks that looked as much like studio backlots as they did the more immersive themed environments built by Disney.

Universal began to break out of that mold with the opening of Islands of Adventure in 1999. But in 2010, Universal Creative obliterated what was left of it.

In Singapore and in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal Creative has designed facades that not only meet the design standards set by Disney's Imagineers, but elevate them.

The Mummy's Tomb in Universal Studios Singapore
The Mummy's Tomb in Universal Studios Singapore. Photo courtesy Resorts World Sentosa.

Far, Far Away Castle in Universal Studios Singapore
Far, Far Away Castle in Universal Studios Singapore. Photo courtesy Resorts World Sentosa.

Hogwarts Castle at Universal's Islands of Adventure
Hogwarts Castle at Universal's Islands of Adventure

As I wrote when I visited Universal Studios Singapore in February: "There's no pretense of being a movie studio in this park, freeing Universal Creative's designers from having to dilute thematic environments by exposing them as mere movie or TV sets."

But complete buildings are of little use to theme park fans if they don't house great attractions. Universal's delivered on that standard, as well, with Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey winning raves from fans and from website editors, as well. Harry Potter's become the greatest hit in years in the theme park industry, packing fans into Islands of Adventure.

Universal's Singapore park has become a hit as well, with many weekends selling out and demand for tickets remaining high throughout the year.

And while King Kong doesn't boast the immense facade that you'll find in Islands of Adventure's Hogsmeade (Kong is just one element in Hollywood's signature Studio Tour), the show breaks new ground as the world's first 360-degree, 3-D movie with coordinated motion effects. We'll soon see its affect on USH attendance, as well.

Mark WoodburyCredit Mark Woodbury and his team at Universal Creative for these successes. I don't buy into the "Disney vs. Universal" narrative promoted by some other fans I've heard. This isn't a zero-sum gain, with each Universal success creating a Disney failure, and vice versa.

No, I agree with the true insiders within the theme park industry, professionals who know that the best thing for Universal and for Disney is for both companies to be on top of their work, creating engaging new attractions that draw millions of new fans to their theme park markets each year. What's good for Universal is good for Disney, and vice versa.

Universal Creative's had a very good year. That's great news for theme park fans and great news for the entire theme park industry.

Update: I've not yet seen it, but friends suggest that Universal Creative also should get some points for the new indoor roller coaster at Universal Studios Japan: Space Fantasy: The Ride. Anyone care to comment on that?

Comments (8) | Archive Link

King Kong 360/3-D debuts at Universal Studios Hollywood

By Robert Niles
Published: June 29, 2010 at 3:12 PM

Just got back from Universal Studios Hollywood, where the theme park today debuted the new King Kong 360/3-D experience on its Studio Tour. Today's event was for press and invited guests - you'll be able to experience Kong on the tram tour starting Thursday (July 1).

Entrance to King Kong 360/3-D

The new version of Kong is nothing like the old Bob Gurr-designed animatronic, which perished in the fire that consumed the Kong building along with four acres of Universal's backlot in the summer of 2008. While many fans loved the old Kong, that mechanical ape never could be described as thrilling. The old Kong was all about scale - a life-sized helicopter battled the immense Kong, with towering blasts of fire and the stench of Kong's famous banana breath completing a multi-sensory experience.

Universal's new Kong is all about action. King Kong 360/3-D slams riders with 90 seconds of the most intense fight ever seen in a theme park. As the name implies, this is a 360-degree, 3-D experience, enveloping you in the action on a studio tram that rocks and shakes throughout the brawl.

You're on Skull Island, as a velociraptors swarm your tram, only to be attacked by a trio of Tyrannosaurus Rex. Soon enough, the T-Rex are attacking the tram, too. But it's Kong to the rescue, who fights off the T-Rex, then saves your tram car from a deadly plunge into a bottomless ravine.

There's no banana breath here, though Universal Creative's substituted a generous helping of Tyrannosaur spit. Here's an on-ride video of the experience. Keep in mind that you'll see this in much sharper focus, while wearing provided 3-D glasses.

King Kong feature film director Peter Jackson oversaw the creation of the 3-D film, which was produced by WETA Digital. (We got a sneak peek at the production of King Kong 360/3-D earlier this year.) Visitors will get to hear from Jackson in an introduction that will play on the tram video monitors as they pass through the tunnel leading into the new Kong theater.

As part of the backlot renovation, the new Kong no longer plays in its old location on the backlot. You'll enter King Kong 360/3-D through a tunnel next to the old collapsable bridge on tram tour.

If you're interested: Red carpet photos on Facebook.

Comments (21) | Archive Link

What's new on the discussion board: Harry Potter lines, Disney World tickets and ride reservation options

By Robert Niles
Published: June 29, 2010 at 9:17 AM

Here are this week's top new threads on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board:

One week after its opening, Lorrie Hackbardt asks how are the Lines for Harry Potter?

Audra Distler wonders about visiting Harry Potter later in the day?

On the topic of Universal Orlando, Kristin A wants to know How much does food cost? She asks about Backpack Storage on rides, too.

Edwin Iturbe is looking for some Orlando trip planning help in Eight theme parks, ten nights.

As is Javier Rivera: Help planning Orlando trip August 21-28.

Domenik Jost talks about Disney's new monthly payment plan for Annual Passholders in Walt Disney World has a new deal for Florida Residents.

Melissa Donahue asks for Dining recommendations at Downtown Disney?

David L. starts a conversation about the Luxury pet resort coming to Disney World

Brad W strays from our usual park line-up to ask about New Jersey piers. He also has a question about the BGW quick queue, too.

sue hernandez has a straightforward question for Six Flags fans: Flash Pass or not in August 2010?

Vishnu Tiruttani asks Southern California theme park fans for their advice: Disney California Adventure or Sea world to pick from?

James Rao offers up a trip report from a recent theme park outing in Six Flags Saint Louis Revisited.

Ryan B asks about interesting places that you've Driven right past on a road trip?

Comments (2) | Archive Link

Water Park Apprentice: Challenge 2, Create a water playground

By Robert Niles
Published: June 28, 2010 at 7:48 AM

It's time for the second challenge in our game of Water Park Apprentice: This time, we've asked the remaining contestants to design a water playground.

Please read through the proposals in the discussion thread linked above, and vote for your favorite, below:

Elimination of the least popular contestant(s) happens Tuesday morning on the Theme Park Insider discussion board.

Comments (6) | Archive Link

Restaurant reviews: Les Chefs de France and Bistro de Paris

By Scott Joseph
Published: June 28, 2010 at 7:09 AM

The last two finalists for this year's title of Best Theme Park Restaurant reside in the same building at Epcot's France pavilion.

France at Epcot

Last year's winner, Les Chefs de France, and its upstairs sibling, Bistro de Paris, are worthy rivals, and choosing between the two should be the only choice voters should have to grapple with. Here is my review of the two.

You can submit your own ratings and reviews of these restaurants on the Bistro de Paris and Les Chefs de France listing pages. The winner of the award will be the table service, in-park restaurant with the highest average reader rating.

Comments (3) | Archive Link

Dave and Busters coming to Orlando

By David Graham
Published: June 25, 2010 at 11:43 AM

Dave and Busters is coming to Orlando on International Drive, to the old Race Rock building. Read more from the news link here.

Note from Robert: Am I the only one who remembers when that was the Caruso's Palace building? Anyway, Dave and Busters (think: Chuck E. Cheese's for grown-ups, if you're not familiar with the chain) seems to me a perfect fit for I-Drive. So perfect that I wonder why I hadn't noticed there wasn't one there before.

Comments (18) | Archive Link

Restaurant Review: Epcot's Tokyo Dining

By Scott Joseph
Published: June 25, 2010 at 9:03 AM

Tokyo Dining offers a serene respite from the overall chaos of Epcot. And its mostly female staff serves some pretty tasty food, too, especially the sushi. Tokyo Dining is a finalist in Theme Park Insider's search for Best Theme Park Restaurant. Here's a review.

You can submit your own rating and review on Theme Park Insider's Tokyo Dining listing page.

Comments (3) | Archive Link

Vote of the week: What's your top theme park in the Orlando area?

By Robert Niles
Published: June 24, 2010 at 9:39 PM

I'm curious if the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure theme park has changed visitor's attitudes about which theme parks they most want to visit on an Orlando-area vacation.

So let's put it to a vote, shall we? If you could visit one theme park in Central Florida on your next vacation there - and only one - which would it be?

Obviously, if you are planning a trip to Central Florida this year, this would have to be one of the parks on your itinerary, and the one you're looking forward to most. And if you're a local, this should be the park you visit most often during the year.

The Magic Kingdom's long been Central Florida's (and the nation's) theme park attendance leader. But is it really the favorite Orlando-area park among the committed theme park fans who read websites such as Theme Park Insider? Will Harry Potter draw some of those fans to IOA? Or will the large crowds initially flocking to the Wizarding World cause others to stay away later?

You tell us, in the comments. And, as always, thank you for reading Theme Park Insider!

Comments (36) | Archive Link

Filmmakers talk about Universal Studios Hollywood's upcoming King Kong 360 3D

By Robert Niles
Published: June 24, 2010 at 5:32 PM

Universal Studios Hollywood is premiering its new King Kong 360 3D experience to the press on Tuesday, with a public grand opening on Thursday. To get you ready for the debut, here are two videos with the creators of the experience talking about the attraction, which will be part of the Studio Tour.

First is Kong director Peter Jackson:

Next is Joe Letteri, Senior VFX Supervisor at WETA Digital, the computer special effects firm that's been putting together the film.

Joe was speaking the Playa Vista soundstage where Universal Creative's been working with WETA Digital on the film, and where I saw a sneak preview of the film three months ago.

Comments (4) | Archive Link

Water is your best friend on a theme park visit

By Robert Niles
Published: June 23, 2010 at 2:14 PM

Spending a few days in Central Florida last week reminded me how crucial water is to enjoying a theme park vacation.

WaterWater not only helps keep you cool, it protects your skin from damage in the sun. Best of all, it's cheap - even free. Every family visiting a theme park this summer should make water a part of its vacation strategy.

Here are some tips for how you can use water to help you have a more enjoyable theme park vacation.

Start drinking extra water two days before your trip
If you wait until you are thirsty to start drinking, you're already too late. Your body needs to be well-hydrated before you start your theme park day. Drinking extra water a couple days before your visit with help your body to "store up" and get in balance with its water needs.

Select a water bottle to bring to the park
All parks will allow you to bring a water bottle inside the gates. Having your own, resealable water bottle not only saves waste, it allow you to have water whenever and wherever to need it in the park. I use a Klean Kanteen stainless steel water bottle, because it doesn't affect the taste of water as reusable plastic bottles sometimes can. (See our previous article on packing a backpack or sack for a theme park trip for more tips.)

Fill your bottle with ice on the morning of your trip
The ice melts, giving you a supply of fresh, cold water in the morning before you get to a soda cell or fountain to refill later in the day.

Take advantage of free refills
I've not yet found anyone in a theme park who denied me a chance to refill my water bottle. Some parks, such as Dollywood, take the initiative in pushing free water at their guests on hot days. But any park will allow you to refill at a public soda cell, or a water fountain. If a park's soda fountains are located behind the counter, many park employees still will refill your bottle, if you ask nicely. (Not all, though, so don't get upset if someone says no. Just try elsewhere.)

Drink water with every meal
This is great cost-saving advice for anyone past their teen years. (If you're younger than that, drink milk.) You don't need the calories, caffeine, sweetener (real or fake), or expense of soft drinks, juices, slushies or other sweet drinks. Water will do fine.

You especially don't need the extra expense, dehydrating effect, or brain-numbing of alcohol. If you drink, save it for home or hotel, after your day in the park.

Drink water at least once in between each meal
That means at least once between breakfast and lunch, at least once (ideally two or three times, if it's a hot or sunny day) between lunch and dinner, and at least once more after dinner. Keeping your water intake up throughout the day will not only prevent dehydration, it also helps you to prevent heat exhaustion and even sunburn. But getting all those free refills won't help you if you don't drink it.

Again, don't wait until you are thirsty. Schedule water into your day, and don't forget. By carrying your own bottles, you won't need to take time away from anything else on your schedule to enjoy your water breaks.

Drinking water throughout the day also helps keep tummies full, cutting down on requests for expensive mid-day snacks.

Something that keeps you healthy, happy and saves you money, too? What's not to like? So make water an essential part of your theme park vacation plans this summer.

Comments (19) | Archive Link

Empress Room returning to Downtown Disney?

By Scott Joseph
Published: June 22, 2010 at 10:35 AM

More details are emerging about this year's Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. The most intriguing is the possibility that the old Empress Room will be revived -- at least for one night. More details at http://tinyurl.com/26xmye7

Comments (1) | Archive Link

What's new on the discussion board: More Harry Potter, plus pet peeves at theme parks

By Robert Niles
Published: June 22, 2010 at 10:34 AM

Here are this week's top new threads on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board:

Sara M Just returned from WWOHP [Wizarding World of Harry Potter]

On the topic of Harry Potter, Melissa Donahue asks about Perks for Universal hotel guests?

duncan henny is thinking ahead to the fall and wonders about a Harry Potter Halloween for muggles?

Nick Markham asks for some Universal Orlando Vacation Help

Andy Milio asks What ride will be next to go to the graveyard?

Amanda Jenkins wants to know Your #1 Pet Peeve at Theme Parks

Joshua Counsil starts a discussion about designing rides for people of different sizes in Imagineering & You: What about the Little Guy?

Joshua also offers a Trip Report: Canada's Wonderland

Remember, you don't have to limit yourself to posting about only the parks that we have listed here on Theme Park Insider. David L. offers a trip report from Stone Mountain Park.

Archive Link

A few details to find within Universal's Wizarding World of Harry Potter

By Robert Niles
Published: June 21, 2010 at 11:55 AM

Just a few final notes on last week's grand opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal's Islands of Adventure theme park. (Again, if you missed any of our coverage, you can read and watch it all at themeparkinsider.com/wizarding-world-of-harry-potter.)

The detail in this new land amazes, and several notes amuse as well. Here are three I especially loved.

First, sign on the stroller parking area next to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey:

Pram Parking

Inside that ride, on doors that led to backstage areas, there were no clumsy "No Admittance" or even "Team Members Only" signs to break the theme. Instead, if you looked carefully for them, you saw this:

No Muggles

But my favorite detail was not one that you'll be able to see on a future visit to the Wizarding World, I'm afraid. But last weekend, * you could find it hanging around the neck of every credentialed writer and photographer covering the grand opening:

Harry Potter Grand Opening Media Credential

Let's look closer at the inscription on the ribbon:

I Must Not Tell Lies

A brilliant imperative for a journalist, don't you think? (And a rare reference to "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," too. Most of the Wizarding World's narrative takes place at the time of "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.")

* Update: Universal *is* selling the lanyards. But the joke's simply not as funny unless they're around the necks of 100 journalists at once, is it?

Comments (10) | Archive Link

Restaurant Review: Mythos at Universal's Islands of Adventure

By Scott Joseph
Published: June 21, 2010 at 10:03 AM

Mythos, one of only two full-service restaurants at Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure, is a past-winner of Theme Park Insider's Best Theme Park Restaurant Award. (It was usurped last year by Chefs de France at Epcot.)

Despite what all the attention surrounding the Wizarding World of Harry Potter might suggest, the rest of the Island of Adventure theme park is still open, and Mythos is a top contender for the Best Theme Park Restaurant Award again this year. Here's an update on what you can expect in a meal at Mythos.

You can submit your own rating and review on TPI's Mythos listing page.

Comments (11) | Archive Link

Water Park Apprentice: Challenge 1, Create a themed boat ride

By Robert Niles
Published: June 20, 2010 at 7:00 PM

Following the Discussion Board's "Theme Park Apprentice" game, we've got another attraction design contest going - "Water Park Apprentice." Same rules apply: The contestants submit their ideas for a specific challenge, then you vote for your favorite. Since we are starting with 14 contestants this time, the two contestants who gets the fewest votes will be "fired," i.e. eliminated from the competition.

So let's get to it: Read the Challenge 1 thread: To create a themed boat ride, then vote for your favorite contestant below:

Speak out for your favorite, in the comments.

Comments (18) | Archive Link

Downtown Disney spotlight: T-Rex and Characters in Flight

By Robert Niles
Published: June 19, 2010 at 7:01 PM

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida - After three intense days at Universal Orlando for the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, my parents and I drove over to Walt Disney World's Downtown Disney for lunch.

We ate at T-Rex, one of the few Downtown Disney restaurants none of us had eaten at before.

T-Rex at Downtown Disney

T-Rex is a Landry restaurant, the same company that owns and operates Rainforest Cafe. Which isn't surprising, given that T-Rex is essentially a carbon copy of Rainforest Cafe, except with dinosaurs rather than jungle animals.

A T-Rex at T-Rex

The menu is similarly expansive, heavy on the meat. Nevertheless, I went with a fish dish, the Mesozoic Mahi Mahi: a filet of panko-crusted mahi mahi, served with a sweet and sour sauce, wild rice and roasted vegetables, including green beans, carrots, zucchini and peppers, for $23.99. (Apparently, T-Rex recently dropped the price $1, but replaced a shrimp topping and lemon shallot butter sauce with the sweet and sour sauce. It also changed the breading from a Parmesan crust to the Japanese breadcrumbs.)

Unless you're talking fish n' chips, fish doesn't need breading. Like a good steak, a fish filet's best when prepared simply - just grill or saute it. The sweet and sour sauce didn't add much to the fish, though I wish I saw roasted red peppers offered at restaurants more often. They're a yummy side dish.

Mesozoic Mahi Mahi

My mother selected the Lost World Chicken Salad Sandwich, a pulled rotisserie chicken in mayonnaise with celery, onions, almonds and tarragon. It's served on a croissant, with potato chips for $13.99.

I found the chicken salad to have an off, perfumey flavor that kept me from trying more than one bite. Typically, I love tarragon, but in combination with the other flavors here, well, it just didn't work for me.

Unless you've got a kid who's a dinosaur fan, in which case you're likely to end up here at some point during your Walt Disney World vacation, there's no reason to seek out T-Rex. You can find much better food elsewhere on property, often at less cost.

After lunch, we walked over to West Side for a trip on Characters in Flight, the immense helium (not hot air!) balloon that floats 400 feet over Walt Disney World.

Characters in Flight at Walt Disney World

The 10-minute up-and-down trip costs $18 for adults and $12 for kids, ages 3-9. I wouldn't recommend the trip for anyone too short to see over the handrails, so skip it if you've got kids under 8 in your group. Nor will this ride appeal to anyone with a fear of heights, even if it's a mild case. You're in a real balloon here, so don't expect the stability you get riding something such as SeaWorld's observation tower. You feel even the gentlest breezes here.

Epcot, from the air

That's Epcot, above. And here's a shot of Downtown Disney:

Downtown Disney

On a clear day, the views are lovely. Are they worth the extra cost? I'll leave that to you. But if you've never been up in a balloon before, this is an easy, visually rewarding way to do that.

Comments (10) | Archive Link

The Day After the grand opening of Universal's Wizarding World of Harry Potter

By Robert Niles
Published: June 19, 2010 at 7:45 AM

ORLANDO - It's the Day After the grand opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and reports say that the crowds remain beyond huge.

People again are joining the queue near the front of the Islands of Adventure theme park for a six-hour (or more) wait just to gain entry into the new Harry Potter land. Once inside, as I predicted yesterday, the longest wait is not for the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride, but for the Ollivander's wand-selection show. Visitors are queuing three hours for the show, which admits just 20 guests at a time. (Ollivander's capacity makes Disney's Dumbo look like Pirates of the Caribbean.)

It steams me, though, to read comments from visitors complaining the Universal didn't prepare for the crowds. Are these folks so thick as to expect that they would be the only ones interested in visiting an attraction that people have been writing about for three years?

Obviously, crowds were going to be massive, and visitors should have expected that. Frankly, I think Universal's done a wonderful job so far. It's protecting the experience within the land by restricting access, and it is running the access queue the long way around the park, through Jurassic Park to Marvel Super Hero Island, to encourage people to experience alternate attractions first.

The only thing that Universal could have done that would have minimized the wait for the huge crowds that want to experience this delightful attraction was to have gone to the system I described in a vote of the week last week: Employ Universal Studios Singapore's system of making people buy tickets for a specific day. That way, Universal could have limited the number of people holding tickets valid on June 18 (and June 19, etc.), so that the area would not be overrun by visitors.

Even with that system though, Universal would have had to implement a FastPass-style timed entry system for the Wizarding World on top of that to avoid the six-hour waits as all the day's ticket-holders arrived early and rushed to do Harry Potter first.

Some visitors figured out how to make yesterday's crush of visitors work out for the best, though. Lines at neighboring Universal Studios Florida were short all day. Check out this comment from a Theme Park Insider reader:

I got into IOA at about 10, saw how insane the line was, left for studios, and rode everything in studios AND ate lunch in citywalk to be back in IOA by 1:45. (studios was absolutely dead, it was great!) My group decided to try and wait again because we heard it was only 4 hours to be let into the [wizarding] world... It turned out to be a 6 hour wait, but we finally got in. We did single rider on FJ and got in within 20 minutes.

The team members along the wait and inside wwohp really [made] everything run as smoothly as possible when all things were considered and I have to say they were very understanding about one person holding the place in line while the others hopped on a ride along the wait route. (It was only harry potter people were lined up for - the rest of the park had 5-10 min waits all day and we just did essentially our own version of child swap as we came to each ride in the line.)

"Hermione"'s system might be the best plan going for experiencing the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, should you have plans to visit Universal's Islands of Adventure in the next few weeks. Your other option would be to book a room in one of Universal's three on-site hotels, to get guaranteed early access into the land. (Rooms are sold out for many days in the summer, however.)

Remember, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter will be here a month from now, as well as six months from now and a year from now. I think it's a great attraction and well worth the wait, whether you wait in a long queue this week at Universal, or wait instead at home to book your trip.

Finally, thank you to all who've left such warm and appreciative comments on the articles we've posted from Orlando this week. I've had such fun covering this, obviously, and only wish that I'd had the chance to meet more Theme Park Insider readers in person while here this week. (Though I am completely exhausted by now!) Thank you, as always, for reading the site.

Comments (32) | Archive Link

Universal Orlando opens its Harry Potter land to the public

By Robert Niles
Published: June 18, 2010 at 7:23 AM

ORLANDO - Universal Orlando's Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened officially to the public this morning, as the stars of the Harry Potter film series greeted elementary school children and ushered them through the gate to Hogsmeade.

Overnight, Universal wrapped the entrance to the land with a giant Hogwarts admission letter, as thousands of theme park fans gathered in the park and television news helicopters hovered overhead.

Curtain

At about 20 minutes after 9, the curtain dropped, and the stars of Harry Potter emerged from the Hogwarts Express.

Daniel Radcliffe and co-stars

They then came down from the stage to greet a prize-winning class of first-graders from San Antonio, Texas.

Bonnie Wright, Matthew Lewis, Tom Felton and Michael Gambon
Bonnie Wright, Matthew Lewis, Tom Felton and Michael Gambon

Tom Felton, Daniel Radcliffe, Oliver Phelps and Rupert Grint
Tom Felton, Daniel Radcliffe, Oliver Phelps and Rupert Grint

To "christen" the new land, the Weasley brothers tried to fire a rocket. And, predictably, failed.

The Weasley's rocket

Yet daytime fireworks soon screamed across the sky over Hogsmead anyway.

Daytime fireworks

And with a flurry of confetti "snow," the land was opened to guests

Hogsmeade gate

At least, it opened to a few thousand early-arriving and hotel guests who'd been allowed to queue in Lost Continent and Seuss Landing during the ceremony. Tens of thousands more guests were held on the other side of the park, lining up from Jurassic Park all the way back to the Incredible Hulk Coaster. They'd have to wait for folks from the first group to exit the land before being allowed entry, as park watchers expected the Wizarding World to be packed to capacity all day.

Update: Domenik just uploaded a video:

Update 2: The size of the crowds in and around the park is insane. (Check the comments for photos.) Clearly, if you were planning to come to the park today and haven't yet, don't bother. Save it for another day, one on which you arrive early. Universal opened the parking garages at 5:30 this morning, and there were people queued on the Interstate overpass leading into the park long before then.

Comments (24) | Archive Link

Video tour of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

By Domenik Jost
Published: June 17, 2010 at 8:09 PM

Take a walk with us through Universal Orlando's Wizarding World of Harry Potter:

[Note from Robert: A huge thank you to Domenik for shooting and editing today's video tour. You'll be seeing more from Domenik this fall when he covers Halloween events for Theme Park Insider.]

Comments (7) | Archive Link

Theme park magic in Orlando has a new home: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

By Robert Niles
Published: June 17, 2010 at 3:56 PM

ORLANDO - The signature attraction in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal's Islands of Adventure theme park is Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, a twisting, tilting dark ride through and around Hogwarts castle.

The first sign of a good theme park ride is that there is no sign. As you walk up here, you're not approaching another attraction in a theme park - you really feel like you are walking up to Hogwarts castle. Working with the design team from the Harry Potter films, Universal Creative has developed an edifice that surpasses even Disney's Cinderella's Castle.

Hogwarts castle

The story is that Dumbledore's opened the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to Muggle tours for the first time, to the disgust of Salazar Slytherin, who'll let you know that in the castle's Portrait Hall. Yes, the portraits move and speak to another, just as in the films, in an effect that is completely believable.

Portrait hall in Hogwarts castle

You've probably seen attempts at moving pictures in theme parks before. The Wizarding World has several others throughout the land, relying (as is typical for this sort of thing) on video screens. But the portraits within the castle don't look like TV screens embedded in a frame. They look like moving paintings - as simple and profound as that sounds.

The queue through the castle would merit a recommendation on its own. But as a pre-show? Universal Creative sets expectations almost impossibly high, with elaborately detailed recreations of Dumbledore's office and the Defense Against the Dark Arts Classroom, enhanced with filmed appearances from Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson and Michael Gambon, reprising their roles as Harry, Ron, Hermione and Dumbledore.

The Hogwarts headmaster has arranged for Professor Binns to present a lecture "of just a few hours" on Hogwarts' history, but Harry and his friends arrive in the classroom to rescue us from that deadly boring fate. Instead, we're off to the Room of Requirement, where Hermione will enchant a bench for us to ride on, then blow us into the Floo Network for the trip out of the school.

We end up at the top of the Astronomy tower, where we're to follow Harry and Ron, on their broomsticks, over to the Quidditch pitch. But a dragon intervenes, setting up the ride's first stunning encounter with an animatronic figure.

Imagine an Omnimover dark ride, such as Disney's Haunted Mansion. But instead of riding in cars that move only in one dimension, rotating on a stable axis, imagine a riding on a robot arm that rotates and elevates along three axes - left and right, up and down and tilting diagonally - as it moves through the show building. Then think about Universal's Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, and how it blends movie screens with physical props in a three-dimensional dark ride space.

Creative Director Thierry Coup has surpassed his work on Spider-Man with Forbidden Journey. Here, richly detailed animatronics add to the mix of narrative tools, along with a clever use of on-ride photography.

Together, the ride and show elements deliver several of the most dynamic, iconic moments from the Harry Potter series, while placing you into that action in relation with the characters themselves, as Universal Creative president Mark Woodbury said this morning. You'll face that dragon, along with massive spiders and dementors, on the most action-packed day of hooky since Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

Eventually, of course, Harry gets the snitch, the wizards save your bacon and everyone exits happily into the gift shop.

After 10 years, we, at last, have a ride that exceeds Spider-Man, a rousing journey through a pop-culture icon that thrills riders with unique experiences at every turn. About 15 years ago, a mom on the dole in Scotland created a story about a boy wizard that inspired a generation of children around the world to embrace reading like no other generation before. When media scolds complain about kids' short attention spans, I laugh. Kids who queue up at midnight to buy and read 750-page books have no problem with their attention spans. Jo Rowling's creation inspired those kids (and many adults) to embrace literature. And now it's inspired a creative team to build the most advanced and engaging attraction in theme park industry history.

Forget fairies or wizards. That is magic.

Comments (18) | Archive Link

The stars of Harry Potter talk about Universal Orlando's Wizarding World

By Robert Niles
Published: June 17, 2010 at 3:35 PM

ORLANDO - This morning, Universal Orlando Resort made several of the stars of the Harry Potter films available for a question and answer session, about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and the actors' roles within it.

Tom Felton and Michael Gambon
Tom Felton and Michael Gambon

Rupert Grint
Rupert Grint

Daniel Radcliffe
Daniel Radcliffe, answering my question

I asked the actors about the first time they heard confirmation that the theme park attraction would be built, and their reaction to that news. Radcliffe spoke of his initial hesitation, followed by his relief in seeing the detail to which Universal was building the theme park addition.

You can see their answer in the video below, as well as their responses when asked about their reaction to going on the ride for the first time.

Looks like Dumbledore's not a roller coaster fan....

Update: I added a bonus video for our Facebook fans of Tom Felton, talking about the kid who told him, "I hate you." Funny!

Comments (2) | Archive Link

Universal Orlando's celebrity opening ceremony for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

By Robert Niles
Published: June 16, 2010 at 9:06 PM

ORLANDO - Universal Orlando Resort opened The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (sort of, you can't get in until Friday morning) this evening with a celebrity-filled ceremony in the Islands of Adventure theme park.

Author J.K. Rowling was there, though she ducked the media in favor of greeting some of the invited children. I did pick her out of the crowd at the ceremony, though she deftly managed to keep folks between her and anyone with a professional-quality camera, preventing me from getting a clear picture to show you.

Nevertheless... Warrick Davis, Professor Flitwick from the Harry Potter films, started the program by conducting Universal Orlando's "Frog Choir," before the spotlight moved to Universal and Warner Bros studio executives.

Several readers tweeted and messaged me that the sound cut out on the speeches during the live webcast, but no matter. You didn't miss much, as Tom Williams and Ron Meyer of Universal and Barry Meyer of Warner Bros took turns congratulation each other, as well as the Universal Creative team and Harry Potter artistic director Alan Gilmore and production designer Stuart Craig for their work on the project, all to polite applause.

The invited crowd roared more loudly, though, in welcoming conductor and Academy Award-winning composer John Williams to the stage with the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra. Williams led the musicians in two numbers from his Harry Potter scores.

John Williams conducts

Then, the Knight Bus interrupted with a honk, delivering film actors Michael Gambon (Dumbledore), Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy), Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom), James Phelps (Fred Weasley), Oliver Phelps (George Weasley) and Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley) to the stage. But where's Harry?

The supporting cast of Harry Potter

A Ford Anglia then drove up, and out hopped Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley) and Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe. Radcliffe addressed the crowd, urging them to wave the souvenir wands they'd been given toward Hogwarts Castle, while casting a "Lumos" spell.

The Weasley family. Oh, did I spoil something? :-)

The stars of the Harry Potter film series

The first two attempts elicited little more than a flicker, but on the third - "Lumos Maximus!" - the previously darkened castle glistened with light as fireworks then exploded behind it.

Fireworks over Hogwarts Castle

Grand finale

After the finale of the Thinkwell-produced ceremony, many of the invited guests crowded the Forbidden Journey queue, while the Orlando Phil serenaded those who remained behind to nosh on fish n' chips, Scotch Eggs, haddock, salmon, roast beef, Cauldon Cakes, Treacle Fudge, life-sized Chocolate Frogs, and, of course, Butterbeer.

By the way, having tried it now, I'm convinced that this liquid crack is part of Universal's diabolical plan to force return visits to the Wizarding World: I could develop a ruthless addiction to this stuff.

Check in tomorrow for a video report from inside the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, along with my review of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.

Comments (12) | Archive Link

New Video of Three Broomsticks at Wizarding World of Harry Potter

By Scott Joseph
Published: June 16, 2010 at 2:38 PM

For those who would like to get a feel for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and its Three Broomsticks restaurant, I've posted a new video.

Sort of funny looking at all the snow-topped cottages when it's 97 degrees outside.

Note from Robert: I'm en route to Universal Orlando now, and will be covering tonight'e event. Remember, it's being webcast live at 9:30 PM ET at http://www.universalorlando.com/HarryPotterNews.

Comments (1) | Archive Link

What's new on the discussion board: Video of Six Flags' new parade, plus some WDW trip reports

By Robert Niles
Published: June 15, 2010 at 2:12 PM

Here are the top new threads this week on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board:

Anthony Murphy presents his video trip report on the new Glow in the Park Parade at Six Flags Great America.

Don Neal continues his epic Walt Disney World trip report: Days 3 & 4 and Days 5 & 6.

Adrienne McDonald gives us a Southern California theme park trip report with a write-up on My trip to Knott's Berry Farm.

On the other side of the metro area, M. Ryan Traylor checks in with a Six Flags Magic Mountain Trip Report.

Meanwhile, Rhys Evans is Disappointed at Six Flags La Ronde (Montreal).

Scott Sanders is planning a trip to Hersheypark and has some Boardwalk questions.

KJ Simpson is looking for tips on visiting solo @ Disneyland in November.

Caroline Davis has read all the Walt Disney World food threads and now wants to ask what's the Best food at Universal?

Comments (1) | Archive Link

Universal Orlando to webcast Harry Potter grand opening

By Robert Niles
Published: June 15, 2010 at 11:28 AM

Last week I wrote on Facebook that all theme parks should live-stream their attraction opening ceremonies on the Web. (As Disneyland did for the World of Color premiere.)

Well, Universal Orlando's not going keep Harry Potter fans around the world in the dark. Universal announced today that it will webcast the Wizarding World of Harry Potter grand opening at www.universalorlando.com/HarryPotterNews.

There will be two webcasts:

Celebrity Preview: Wednesday, June 16 from 9:30 – 10:00 PM EDT

Official Public Grand Opening: Friday, June 18 from 9:00 – 9:30 AM EDT

Comments (5) | Archive Link

Which celebrities do you most want to see at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opening?

By Robert Niles
Published: June 14, 2010 at 7:18 PM

With the opening just a few days away, rumors are swirling about who will show up at the grand opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando this week.

Knight Bus
Universal's brought the Knight Bus to Orlando for the premiere. Photo courtesy Universal Orlando Resort.

We've seen several of the top actors in promotions for the new land, including Robbie Coltrane, Tom Felton and Emma Watson. Two people we haven't yet seen on site at Universal Orlando are perhaps the two biggest celebrities in the Wizarding World: Daniel Radcliffe and author J.K. Rowling.

Whom would you most like to see show up at the premiere? I'll be in Orlando, starting Wednesday, to cover the festivities. If you'd like to watch at home, in addition to reading Theme Park Insider's coverage, NBC's Today show will broadcast from Universal on Friday morning, the day of the official public opening.

Update from comments: Universal's confirmed that John Williams will be at the premiere. More names to come.

Comments (12) | Archive Link

Theme park cast member stories: Free tickets at Universal Studios Florida

By Robert Niles
Published: June 14, 2010 at 11:00 AM

Many theme park employees get free park tickets as one of the perks of their jobs. But the biggest mother lode of free tickets I ever hit came from a park where I never worked.

In the late 1980s and early '90s, I lived in the Orange Tree neighborhood, across Turkey Lake Road from Universal Studios Florida in Orlando. I worked in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, but watched the construction of USF daily, and my family and I couldn't wait until the park opened. (Years later, I lived for a short period in the Oakwood Apartments across Barham Boulevard from Universal Studios Hollywood, making me one of the few people - I suspect - who's lived across the street from both Universal Studios Florida and Universal Studios Hollywood but who hasn't worked for either one.)

I got my first chance to preview the new park in May of 1990.

Front of Universal Studios Florida preview ticketBack of the ticket

Having visited the original park in Los Angeles, I looked first to go on the Studio Tour. But, of course, Universal Studios Florida was to be a very different park than its older sibling. Unlike USH, or even the then-new Disney-MGM Studios, there was no tram tour of a backlot. Just a short walking tour through the empty soundstages at the front of the park. The rest of Universal Studios Florida was to be a traditional theme park, with individual attractions, including expanded, stand-alone versions of Hollywood's Jaws and Earthquake encounters.

Which would have been really cool, had they been operating.

"No worries," I was told. The park was in previews; all the attractions would be up and running by opening day.

That day - June 7, 1990 - arrived. And they weren't. Universal's opening was a public relations disaster. Thank heavens for Universal that the World Wide Web at that moment consisted of a handful of computers run by Tim Berners-Lee and his buddies. Almost none of USF's attractions worked that day, and I can't imagine how badly the park would have been roasted in the blogosphere.

(In writing this piece, it dawned on me that last week was the 20th anniversary of Universal Orlando, which no one at Universal seemed to have bothered to note, much less celebrate. The wounds from that day run deep, which is unfortunate, because Universal's done so much in the years since that are worthy of great celebration. Of course, Universal might also be distracted by this new land they've got opening up....)

Credit Universal, though, with its response to the debacle. The park swiftly announced that, for the rest of the summer of 1990, every person walking through the front gate would be presented with a free one-day ticket to return to the park. And there'd be no expiration date on that free ticket, so that Universal's initial visitors could return at any point in the future, to enjoy the park when it was fully operational.

My family and I had bought annual passes during the preview period. But Universal's deal for annual passholders was even better. The park extended the expiration date of all of our passes by six months, automatically and at no extra charge. And, we'd get the free one-day tickets each time we entered the park, too!

Granted, to get the free ticket, you'd still have to go through the hassle of driving to Universal and parking your car. Unless, of course, you lived across the street from the park. :-)

So whenever we had a free moment, one of us would walk over to Universal, sign in at the front gate and pick up a free ticket. (Each passholder could pick up only one ticket per day, so you had to sign in.) By the end of the summer, between my parents, my sister and I, we had hundreds of free Universal tickets.

So for the next decade or so, any friend of mine who got married got two Universal Studios Florida tickets as a wedding present. My parents and sister also gave away dozens of tickets to friends, co-workers and clients. And I didn't pay to visit a Universal Orlando theme park until about 2002.

My sister used the last of free tickets around 2004, if memory serves. The gate attendant was completely flummoxed by the ticket, and had to call over a supervisor. Eventually, several top managers gathered around to marvel at the ticket, one of them exclaiming, "I haven't seen one of those in years."

I wonder when the last of the free "Summer of 1990" tickets will be redeemed. Universal team members, if you have any memories of those early days, or those tickets, please share your story in the comments.

For more of Robert's stories about working in theme parks, visit themeparkinsider.com/stories.

Comments (10) | Archive Link

Holiday World owner passes away at age 48

By tina dalton
Published: June 14, 2010 at 7:24 AM

Will KochI'm not sure if you have heard the sad news about Will Koch, president of Holiday World and CEO of Koch Development Corporation, which owns the park. He died last night, at age 48. Below is what was written on Holiday World's Facebook page.
We are heartbroken. Our beloved leader, Will Koch, passed away last night. We believe it was due to his Type 1 diabetes. Please say a prayer for the family and for all of us here at the park. He was so much more than a boss, he was a dear, sweet friend. As we know he would have wanted, the park will be open today and we'll all try our best to smile and provide wonderful memories to the families who visit us. And also as Will wanted, the park will remain owned and operated by his family.

Editor's note: Stunning. Yeah, I'm supposed to be a writer, but I can't possibly articulate anything that expresses how crushed I feel as a theme park fan, nor how many of you surely feel.

Holiday World's The Voyage won our Best Theme Park Attraction Tournament this spring, and I heard from multiple sources how thrilled Will was to earn that honor.

I never met Will Koch, but he was one of the good folks in the theme park business, someone who helped build what was once a roadside attraction into a world-class theme park. And he did it, as everyone who has done that, through an obsessive focus on customer service. For that, we are all grateful.

Koch is survived by his wife, Lori, and three children: Lauren, Leah, and William. He is also survived by his mother, Pat, and siblings Dan, Kristi, Philip and Natalie.

Let's send our condolences to the Koch and Holiday World families, via the comments.

(Update (June 16): Since the death of a person in his 40s is somewhat unusual, I thought that I should note for the record that the coroner reports that Koch drowned in the family's swimming pool.)

Comments (33) | Archive Link

Six Flags Great America gets the OK to install a new roller coaster

By Anthony Murphy
Published: June 13, 2010 at 9:11 PM

According to the Chicago Sun Times, Six Flags Great America has gotten approval from the Gurnee Zoning Board of Appeals to build a 150-foot roller coaster. It will be where Space Shuttle America used to be in the front of the park. The only clues on the identity of this roller coaster is that it will be a transplant from another park and made by the roller coaster company B&M.

After personally seeing the site on Saturday, my bet would be that Chang, formally of the now defunct Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom, will find a new home in Illinois at Great America. There has been pieces of the ride showing up to the parking lot of SFGA and the footprint of Space Shuttle America is not very wide, making it ideal for a roller coaster that is tall, but not wide. Chang, or whatever it will be called, seems to fit the bill!

Comments (4) | Archive Link

NBC stations to air Universal Hollywood/King Kong special this weekend

By Robert Niles
Published: June 11, 2010 at 4:14 PM

After last week's half-hour NBC special featuring the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando, this week several NBC stations will be featuring… a half-hour special on the making of the new King Kong 360/3D encounter at Universal Studios Hollywood.

The folks at NBC Universal really seem to have caught the cross-promotional bug, haven't they?

Here's the schedule for this weekend's broadcasts: (All broadcasts will be on the local NBC affiliate.)

Saturday
2:30pm in Washington, DC
5pm in Los Angeles
6:30pm in Dallas and San Diego
7pm in New York
7:30pm in Hartford, CT

Sunday
2:30pm in Philadelphia

Colin Hanks will host the show, which also will feature Kong director Peter Jackson. Universal promises additional broadcasts in other markets in upcoming weeks.

Universal also announced today that the media preview for Kong will be Tuesday, June 29. (Yes, I'll be there to cover for us!)

Comments (5) | Archive Link

Vote of the week: Should theme parks change the way that they sell admission tickets?

By Robert Niles
Published: June 11, 2010 at 12:03 PM

Ever since I visited Universal Studios Singapore this winter, I've been following the Facebook page of Resorts World at Sentosa, the entertainment complex that houses Universal in Singapore.

Universal Studios Singapore front gate

This week, the Resorts World page reminded readers to book their Universal Studios tickets in advance, as the park was selling out and no walk-up sales would be permitted.

Plenty of theme parks sell out certain nights of "hard-ticket" events, such as Universal's Halloween Horror Nights and Disney's Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. But I'm not aware of any major U.S. theme parks that have sold out in advance a "normal" day of operation. Visitors' habit of buying tickets at the gate is simply too strong. (Despite our best efforts to break people of that horribly inefficient habit.)

Parks would love for more visitors to buy their tickets online, in advance. That would give the park a much better sense of what attendance would be like on a given day, allowing them to more accurately budget labor hours. Advance sales are "money in the bank" for a theme park, too, and allow parks to cut (or redeploy) staff from the ticket booths.

Orlando and Southern California theme parks often close their parking lots and suspend ticket sales on busy days during the Christmas holidays. As a customer, frankly, I'd rather see those parks demand visitors buy their tickets in advance, so that no one has to show up at the park to be disappointed.

The flip side is that advance sales limit your flexibility. I've got a 10-day Walt Disney World park hopper, with no expiration, that I use when I visit Orlando. With that ticket, I can visit a Disney World park any day that I please, with no need for an advance reservation, and no danger of being shut out on busy days. (Unless the crowd's so large that a park actually close the turnstiles, which happens very rarely.)

I might not get to enjoy that flexibility if parks moves to a true advance sales system, with hard caps on the number of tickets sold for particular dates. Either I'd have to make a reservation to use one of my days, or parks would stop selling open-ended tickets altogether.

An advance sales system like Singapore's also wouldn't work at a park like Disneyland, where hundreds of thousands of locals hold annual passes, and come and go as they please (provided they're not blocked out on a given day). An AP system such as Disneyland's would need to be modified to support advance ticket sales and scheduling.

So here's our vote of the week. Should parks move to an advance sales system for tickets, like Universal Studios Singapore?

A yes vote means that parks should sell tickets for specific days in advance, with a hard cap on the number of tickets sold. The park would either set aside slots for a limited number of AP holders, or require AP holders to make a reservation on days when the park expects to hit the cap.

A no vote means to keep the system the way that it is now in the United States, with tickets available for advance purchase, but with no specific dates for use and no hard caps on attendance announced in advance.

I'd love to hear your thoughts, in the comments, on theme park ticket sales system. Thanks again for reading Theme Park Insider, and I'll be seeing you next week in Orlando for the Harry Potter grand opening!

Comments (19) | Archive Link

World of Color marks a new generation in theme park entertainment

By Robert Niles
Published: June 11, 2010 at 1:54 AM

Remember that Best Theme Park Attraction tournament we had earlier this spring? The one where you voted Fantasmic! and Mickey's PhilharMagic as the best theme park shows in America?

You want to take those votes back now. Trust me.

World of Color at Disney California Adventure

Disney's World of Color marks the next generation in theme park entertainment, a visually stunning and musically engaging 25-minute celebration of animation art. The show reviews the best of the past 20 years in Disney animation, but in doing so delivers animation from the film screen into the elemental media of water, fire and light.

Ariel and Flounder in World of Color

World of Color extends one concept from Fantasmic! - film clips projected onto "screens" of water mist - and fully realizes it. World of Color is Blu-Ray to Fantasmic's VHS. Images fill the Paradise Pier lagoon, bursting from the mist in coordination with fountains of water that alter the canvas upon which the scenes unfold. John Lasseter meets Marshall McLuhan: The medium becomes another part of the message.

Watch "Act II" of World of Color, as a passage of the Fantasia 2000 treatment of Stravinsky's Firebird melts into Disney's Pocahontas. Keep your eyes open for what might be the most impressive screen wipe I've ever witnessed: [*Updated with higher quality video.]

In World of Color, water whip fountains coordinate perfectly with mist and light to create an illusion that columns of water are painting brush-strokes of color that float in the sky. From these broad strokes build the images within each section of World of Color, starting with The Little Mermaid and continuing with scenes from Finding Nemo, Wall-E, Toy Story, Up, Aladdin, Pocahontas, a bug's life, Pirates of the Caribbean and The Lion King.

The show opens with an upbeat and engaging original theme from Disney Legend Robert Sherman. But Steve Davison and the team at Walt Disney Imagineering Creative Entertainment wisely have chosen to build the second half of the show around a Firebird motif. Stravinsky's classic delivers an emotional and melodic gravitas that powers the narrative of the show, delivering it to a classic Disney finale. Heroes and heroines kiss as water, light and flame swell, immersing the audience in visual delights.

Take care while watching, though, for a stray gust of wind can immerse the audience in a wall of water, as it did near the end of the premiere performance. Disney cast members scurried to provide soaked celebrities and executives with complimentary beach towels. You won't be so lucky.

As much as I adored this performance, I hesitate to recommend it too vigorously. Hundreds of thousands of Disney annual passholders will be cramming into the park to see this show over the next few months, and prime viewing areas won't accommodate them all. Disney's distributing FastPasses for World of Color at Grizzly River Run each morning, but those will go early in the day, with no guarantee of getting one of the better viewing spots.

I'd recommend simply reserving one of the World of Color picnic dinners or dining packages, which come with a reserved spot for the show, if you want to see it this summer with minimal fuss. (You can call 714-781-DINE in advance for the dining package at Ariel's Grotto or the Wine Country Trattoria. Picnics may be ordered online at Disneyland.com or the day of the show in the park at the Golden Vine Winery.)

To make room for World of Color, Disney shipped its Electrical Parade back to Walt Disney World. I hope that the tourists in Orlando are enjoying the nostalgia. But if they want to see the future of nighttime theme park entertainment, they should have booked a trip to the west coast instead. We'd already had the better version of Fantasmic!, and now we've got an even better new show to go with it.

Update: If anyone's interested, I've uploaded some photos I took during the "blue carpet" celebrity arrivals to Theme Park Insider's Facebook page.

Comments (12) | Archive Link

First Look: Harry Potter's Three Broomsticks restaurant now open all day

By Scott Joseph
Published: June 10, 2010 at 6:03 PM

It's been serving breakfast for a couple of weeks, but today the Three Broomsticks restaurant at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened for all today for lunch and dinner, too. Here's a first look at the fish, chips and butterbeer being served.

Comments (7) | Archive Link

Restaurant Review: Garden Grill at Epcot's Land Pavilion

By Scott Joseph
Published: June 10, 2010 at 11:05 AM

[Note from Robert: The Fourth of July is approaching quickly, which means that it is almost time again for the announcement of the annual Theme Park Insider Awards. Once again, I've asked Orlando restaurant critic Scott Joseph to take a look at some of the leading contenders for this year's Best Theme Park Restaurant award.]

Garden Grill, a finalist in Theme Park Insider's award for best theme park restaurant, whirls diners through the dioramic scenes of the Living with the Land boat ride. Like most revolving restaurants -- and just about every all-you-can-eat eatery -- the food rarely rises above moderate. Here's a full review.

You can submit your own rating and review for Garden Grill on TPI's Garden Grill listing page.

Comments (3) | Archive Link

What would you do? To build a new ride or not, when Disney isn't

By Robert Niles
Published: June 9, 2010 at 11:54 AM

We're in the middle of a theme park building boom. In Central Florida, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is opening at Universal Orlando. Legoland Florida opens next year. At Disney's Hollywood Studios, a new version of Star Tours also hits in 2011. In 2013, Walt Disney World will debut its new, Princess-laden Fantasyland.

Disney's busy on the west coast, too. World of Color bows tomorrow night at California Adventure, the latest in a multi-billion-dollar string of improvements to that park, which continue next year with a Little Mermaid dark ride and wrap up with the premiere of Cars Land in 2012.

Robert IgerSo it really shouldn't surprise anyone that Disney, at least, plans a breather after this current round of attraction construction. Last week, Disney CEO Bob Iger said:

"I think, once we get through this period, we're probably going to drop down to what I'll call a more steady state," Iger said. "We don't really project — save for Disneyland Shanghai, should be we successful in completing that agreement and building the park — we don't really project anything as significant as this collection of investments on the [capital expenditure] front over the next decade."

Knowing that, what would you do if you were Disney's competition?

Let's focus on the other "Big Two" in the industry, who compete with Disney in both the Central Florida and Southern California markets: Universal and SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment.

Universal's wrapping up its big construction projects in Orlando, with Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit last year and Harry Potter now opening this month. On the west coast, Universal Studios Hollywood has rebuilt much of its backlot and will unveil its new King King encounter next month. In 2012, USH gets its version of the Transformers ride, a next generation version on Islands of Adventure's beloved Spider-Man ride.

But what happens after that for Universal, especially in Orlando? Harry Potter will be four years old the year after Disney opens its new Fantasyland. With no major new attraction coming at Disney for the rest of the decade, should Universal also sit back and conserve cash, or plan for an expensive (and thus, financially risky) counterpunch?

And what about SeaWorld? The company's building a major new ride at Busch Gardens Tampa. But SeaWorld Orlando's been quiet since the premieres of Aquatica and Manta. With the company's ownership now secure, how should SeaWorld react to Disney and Universal's building binges?

I'll kick off the discussion with this: Walt Disney World's Fantasyland rehab skews heavily toward younger girls, with its emphasis on the Disney princesses. This leaves a large opportunity for an attraction targeted at boys, and older kids.

Transformers debuts at Universal Studios Singapore next year, and in Hollywood in 2012. To me, it's a no-brainer to bring Transformers to Universal's Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios Florida in 2013 or 2014.

Okay, your turn. What would you do, if you were running Universal or SeaWorld?

Comments (31) | Archive Link

Disney to broadcast World of Color premiere live online

By Robert Niles
Published: June 9, 2010 at 10:08 AM

Tomorrow night, Disney debuts its new World of Color show at California Adventure. I'm planning to be there (if LA-area traffic will allow it, this time), and will file my review of the new 20-minute nighttime show (think "Fantasmic 2.0") Thursday night.

World of Color at Disney California Adventure
Photo courtesy Disney

But you can see the show for yourself tomorrow, online. Disney's going to stream the premiere broadcast at http://www.ustream.tv/worldofcolor. I've purposely avoided watching test footage of the show, so that I could see it fresh at the premiere. But I'd love to hear initial reactions from other Theme Park Insider readers after the live stream and before World of Color opens to the public on Friday.

Update: Here is our review and coverage of the World of Color premiere.

Comments (10) | Archive Link

The Karate Kid comes to Six Flags... sort of

By Robert Niles
Published: June 8, 2010 at 6:58 PM

I'd like to thank Theme Park Insider reader M. Ryan Traylor for passing along this photo, which he snapped today of the coaster train on Ninja at Six Flags Magic Mountain.

Karate Kid promo on Six Flags Magic Mountain's Ninja coaster

Gonna let this one slide without comment, mostly because I couldn't possibly come up with anything more clever than what I suspect you'll offer in the comments.

Comments (24) | Archive Link

Theme Park Apprentice Final: Create a new theme park

By Robert Niles
Published: June 8, 2010 at 10:45 AM

It's time for the final of our first Theme Park Apprentice game. Our two finalists have been challenged to design a new theme park.

Take a look at the discussion, then help us choose the winner.
Congratulations to our finalists, and thanks to everyone who played! A big thank you, as well, to Tim W for organizing the game.

Comments (26) | Archive Link

Australian-themed animal exhibit opens at Busch Gardens Tampa next week

By Robert Niles
Published: June 8, 2010 at 10:33 AM

Starting next week, Busch Gardens Tampa will be offering a new animal interaction program, featuring kangaroos, wallabies and a kookaburra. Walkabout Way opens June 14. At scheduled times during the day, and for an additional $5 fee, visitors can buy a cup of food to feed one of the exhibit's kangaroos. (Participants must be age 5 or older.)

Feeding a kangaroo
Photo courtesy Busch Gardens

The new Australian-themed area is a bit of a geographic stretch for the predominately African-themed park. (But, hey, folks love kangaroos. Well, at least folks who aren't living on am Australian ranch overrun with them....) Busch Gardens' Walkabout Way will include the kangaroo and wallaby exhibit, called Kangaloom, as well as an aviary called The Kookaburra's Nest and Aussie Station, which will feature encounters with some of the park's animal ambassadors. Walkabout Way is a new extension of the park's Bird Gardens area.

Comments (4) | Archive Link

What's new on the discussion board: Eating at Disney World, Designing roller coasters

By Robert Niles
Published: June 8, 2010 at 10:05 AM

Here are the top new threads this week on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board:

Cinderella's CastleRyan Sanford asks where are the best places to eat with a View of the Magic Kingdom

Don Neal just returned from Walt Disney World, and offers his WDW Trip Report: Days 1 & 2

Russell Meyer opens a discussion about the changes Kings Dominion has made to its new "Intimidator 305" roller coaster: Trims on I-305.

Joshua Counsil geeks his geek on with an in-depth consideration of the environmental challenges facing roller coaster designers in Imagineering & You: Formula Rossa vs. Sand

Lots of Theme Park Insider veterans posting to the board this week. M. Ryan Traylor shares his Six Flags Over Texas - Trip Report.

kirstin cox asks about Using the Disney dining plan at other Disney resorts?

A First Timer has a few questions about planning 2 days at Busch Gardens Tampa in July.

Finally, Mike Bianucci asks the question that many of us have been wondering about: When is Shoot the Rapids opening?.

Comments (2) | Archive Link

Theme park cast member stories: What time is the three o'clock parade?

By Robert Niles
Published: June 6, 2010 at 10:18 PM

It's become a long-running joke among Disney cast members - the question that, inevitably, you hear any time you work a location on or near the Magic Kingdom parade route: "What time is the three o'clock parade?"

For many, the question illustrates what they consider to be the vacation-induced stupidity of theme park guests. I mean, c'mon, they just answered their question in the question. The parade's at three o'clock. Duh.

But as emotionally satisfying as it might seem to think yourself smarter than all those tourists out there, as a cast member, it's not your job to put people down. Quite the opposite, in fact. It's your job to do whatever you can to help them feel like they're having the best day of their lives.

So... no mocking the guests for asking the time of the three o'clock parade. Just fire up that Disney smile and give 'em the answer.

"3:15," I replied, when asked one day early in my Walt Disney World career.

I hadn't mean to say anything other than "3:00," but for some reason, I felt like I should respond with the time that the parade would pass the point where we were standing in Frontierland, instead of the time when the parade first stepped off on Main Street. (The afternoon parades back then stared on Main Street and proceeded around the hub and into Liberty Square before ending in Frontierland.)

The guest smiled and turned back toward his family, happy with my answer.

He'd known that the three o'clock parade started on Main Street at three o'clock. He wasn't the idiot that some short-sighted cast members made folks like him out to be. What that guest really wanted to know, and inelegantly asked, was "at what time does the three o'clock parade get here?"

Reflexively, I'd given him the correct answer.

Lesson learned. The answer you should give as a cast member isn't always to the question the guest asks. The answer you should give is to the question that the guest meant to ask.

From then on, I treated guest questions like I was Encyclopedia Brown on a case: Each one was a potential mystery to be unraveled, then solved.

A woman entering Pirates of the Caribbean who asked "Is this ride okay for kids?" really wanted to know if there were any snakes on the ride, because she had a phobia.

A couple who asked "How long does this ride take?" when boarding my Tom Sawyer Island raft didn't care how long it'd take me to drive the thing across the river. They wanted to know when they'd have to be back to the island-side dock so that they would make their 1:30 Diamond Horseshoe reservations.

Deciphering a guest question properly can save more than a restaurant reservation. A man outside Country Bear Jamboree who asked me, "Where can I rent a wheelchair?" really meant "My grandmother's passed out from the heat and could you call us a nurse, please?" (Fortunately, I figured that one out almost immediately, and had a medical "alpha unit" on the way within seconds.)

What time is the three o'clock parade? Maybe it's at 3:15, or 3:25, depending where you're standing when asked. Or maybe the correct answer is "I'm sorry, sir, but the parade doesn't come here into Tomorrowland." Or even "You'll hear an announcement if the parade is delayed or cancelled due to the weather."

The only thing stupid about questions like this one are the people who don't take the time and make the effort to find out what the person asking really needs to know.

To read more of Robert's stories about working at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, visit themeparkinsider.com/stories.

Comments (12) | Archive Link

Vote of the week: How many in your party?

By Robert Niles
Published: June 4, 2010 at 10:18 AM

I long ago lost count how many hours I've spent working the load position on various theme park attraction. Hour after hour, day after day, it's the same question:

"How many in your party?"

When you get the answer, it's time to do the math: How can you fill in the empty seats with these folks, keeping parties together as best you can, while minimizing the number of empty seats?

TetrisIt's a like playing a live-action version of human Tetris.

So forgive my vote of the week this week. Old habits die hard. :-)

(I understand that this answer often varies. So let's go with the number you tell load personnel most often while visiting theme parks.)

Whom do you roll with in theme parks? Let's talk about your theme park crew, in the comments. And, as always, thanks for reading Theme Park Insider! (Please, tell your friends about us, too!)

Comments (19) | Archive Link

NBC to air Universal Orlando/Harry Potter special on Sunday

By Robert Niles
Published: June 3, 2010 at 2:18 PM

NBC will broadcast a half-hour TV special on the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure theme park this Sunday, June 6, at 7pm Eastern and Pacific (6 Central and Mountain).

The special will include a video tour of the new land, as well as commentary from cast and creators.

The NBC television network is part of NBC/Universal, which shares ownership of the Universal Orlando resort with Blackstone Group.

Update: If you missed it (or want to see it again), here's the video.

Comments (13) | Archive Link

Visiting a theme park? What's in your backpack?

By Robert Niles
Published: June 3, 2010 at 11:50 AM

Not to go all Ryan Bingham on you, but before you go on your theme park vacation this summer, you really do need to ask:

BackpackWhat's in your backpack?

A well-stocked pack can help you make your day at Disneyland, Six Flags or Universal Studios a more enjoyable one, providing you with the stuff you'll need to stay healthy and comfortable. Well-chosen supplies also can help prevent minor annoyances from becoming day-wrecking disasters.

Yet, unless you're the new owner of Hermione's purse, you won't want to cram too much stuff into your pack, making it too heavy and bulky to carry comfortably around the park all day.

So here is Theme Park Insider's list of backpack essentials. Remember that not everyone needs to carry all of these items, but that someone in the group should have each one.

1. Ponchos or rain jackets
Why spend big bucks to outfit everyone with rain ponchos when the summer afternoon thunderstorm hits? Buy your ponchos in advance for a fraction of the cost you'll pay inside the theme park.

Check the weather forecast before you leave, though. If it will rain much of the day, bring a more comfortable hooded rain jacket instead. (And check our tips for visiting a theme park in the rain.)

You can skip the rain gear only if you'll be visiting a Southern California theme park between Father's Day and Labor Day. You'll have zilch chance of getting caught in the rain then.

2. Tickets
Which you selected and bought in advance, right?

3. AAA card
An auto club membership card can be used for in-park food and merchandise discounts at Universal, SeaWorld/Busch Gardens and Legoland theme parks. It's a great buy for most theme park fans, but only if you remember to bring it, and use it.

4. Water-proof zipped bags
If you'll be riding any water rides, you'll want to keep your cell phone and camera dry. A zipped baggie does the job just fine, if you aren't going to leave your electronic items in a locker, or with a friend or family member who isn't riding.

5. Reusable water bottle
Stay hydrated by drinking water throughout the day (and the day before your trip!) Rather than paying for expensive plastic bottled water, or worse, drinking expensive sodas, bring your own water bottle and refill it as needed throughout the day. You can use self-serve drink stations for water fill-ups, if you don't like fountains or they're not available.

6. Sunscreen
You don't want to (a) fry to crisp on a sunny summer day or (b) pat $20+ a bottle inside the park. Bring your own so you can reapply as needed throughout the day.

7. Simple first aid supplies
A blister or scrape can ruin a day, if left untreated. So pack a few adhesive bandages, pain pills, and a small tube of antibiotic ointment. You don't want to pay theme park prices for these, or lose time in the park filling out paperwork at the first aid station for something small.

8. Change of clothes (including underwear) or swimsuit
These are a must if you'll be riding any water rides. Some parks now have "family dryers" next to flume rides' exits, but even those won't get your underwear dry. (Plus, a couple minutes in the dryer often costs $5.) Some folks prefer to change into a swimsuit before going on water rides (check if park rules permit this), while others prefer to change into dry clothes afterward. Bring a small towel, too, if you'll be visiting a water park. Many parks don't provide them.

Water-proof zipped bags (see item #2) are helpful to store soaked clothes, so they don't get everything else in the backpack wet.

9. Snacks for kids under 8
Some parks continue to prohibit bringing in outside food. I'm also a fan of making meals part of the theme park experience. But little kids who need a small snack between meals shouldn't have to rely on sugary or fat-laden theme park treats. Pack a few granola bars, grapes or other favorite to help keep your little ones happy before their tummies make them grumpy.

10. Camera
This can be your cell phone camera, or a regular digital camera. But be sure to use this as soon as your arrive - to take a photo of where you park.

I'd love to hear your packing tips, too. Please feel welcomed to add yours in the comments.

Update: We're assuming that we're not talking about visiting with babies or toddlers here. Otherwise, diaper bag rules apply, and that's gonna be a whole 'nother piece! :-)

Comments (26) | Archive Link

What would you do? A 'Calvin and Hobbes' theme park attraction

By Robert Niles
Published: June 2, 2010 at 10:13 AM

We've had a lot of fun over the years dreaming up new concepts for theme park attractions We had discussions on Theme Park Insider about new attractions based on The Simpsons and Harry Potter years before those attractions were announced.

So I'm throwing another franchise at you this week. Unlike Potter and The Simpsons, I'm almost certain these characters never will be featured in a theme park attraction some day - which makes this a pure exercise in theme park make-believe.

Calvin and HobbesThis week's "what would you do?" is: What would you do to create a theme park attraction based on Calvin and Hobbes?

Millennials and Baby Boomers can skip the rest of this thread, if they're not interested. But for GenX'ers such as me, Calvin and Hobbes was simply the greatest comic strip ever drawn. Yet its creator, Bill Watterson, famously rejected his syndicate's attempts to merchandise the characters. In 1995, Watterson stopped writing the strip, just 10 years after it started. Given Watterson's opposition to licensing the characters, we likely will never see a theme park ride based on Calvin and Hobbes.

But Watterson created such a richly imaginative world for the two that it's hard for fans not to envision some great attraction concepts that could flow from the strip. How about a real-life Transmogrifier, using virtual reality technology? Or a "Calvin's Wagon" roller coaster, built over and through a realistic wooded canyon? Or video-game-like dark ride themed to escaping from Rosalyn the babysitter?

Or what I would consider the ultimate: a theme park attraction inspired by Calvinball? (I don't know how that would work, but I suspect we could get into a great argument about it!)

So what would you do? I'd love to hear some ideas from Calvin and Hobbes fans how that strip could be transformed into a great theme park attraction.

Not that it will ever happen, though. :-(

Comments (15) | Archive Link

Reader review of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey at Universal Orlando

By Robert Niles
Published: June 1, 2010 at 2:18 PM

Theme Park Insider reader Jason Read just e-mailed the following review of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal's Islands of Adventure theme park:
I'm not much for spoilers (where's the fun in knowing everything?) but a few things I mention might fall into that category, so fair warning. Also, signs proclaimed that the attraction was still in technical rehearsals and some elements may not have been functioning. Everything I saw (both in this attraction and the land overall) seemed very polished and ready for primetime, but it is still in (hotel only) soft opening.

You begin by walking through gates into Hogwarts--the cast, referring to you as Muggles, try to convince many to try the demo seat outside the attraction and stow as much as possible in a locker which was free for the first hour or so (you really don't want to be holding onto anything during this one).

You're then lead through some deep underground caverns of the castle and out into a greenhouse. Though it's outdoors, fans keep the area cool and the frosted awnings diffuse the hot Florida sun while keeping things open. Look closely for a few (thankfully nonscreaming) Mandrakes among the wide array of wild-life.

Queue greenhouse at Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

Then it's past large wooden doors into the castle proper. There are several hallways to walk through before you encounter the really fantastic talking portraits. They're extremely convincing and begin to set the story up-- Dumbledore has invited everyone to tour Hogwarts (much to the displeasure of a cranky Salazar Slytherin). Oh, and be sure to tell Hagrid if you bump into a missing dragon.

The Hogwarts portrait gallery, at Universal Orlando
Photo courtesy Universal Orlando

It just a few short rooms more to Dumbledore's office where he welcomes you and tells you some stories about the school. The room, like the rest of the queue, is intricately propped with references to the films and books.

Dumbledore's office, at Universal Orlando
Photo courtesy Universal Orlando

Next it's into a classroom where Harry, Ron, and Hermione hijack your tour to take you to the upcoming Quidditch match. There are some fun effects in here, and the anticipation certainly grows as it's clear the attraction is coming up quickly.

The creative team made the choice here not to "pulse" the queue (have each group see the preshow once through before letting the next group in) and instead just let everyone stream through. They did time it out pretty well though and each time through I saw just about one rotation of the preshow. By not pulsing the line actually moves at a pretty steady clip throughout--which should make some of the sure-to-be-exceptionally-long lines a little more bearable.

Next it's off to the room of requirement where a small army again asks some to sit in the test seat and reminds everyone about loose articles. A nice touch is that the cast now says they are preparing you for the Quidditch match whereas before they referred to your tour of the grounds (they may have had different costumes as well, I'm not sure).

From there they split groups into two lines and you get the safety spiel by the Sorting Hat (how great is that!)

The "Enchanted Benches" seat four and are loaded via moving walkway. The loading process, at least while I was there, seemed to be going off like clockwork--this area was also, quite smartly, very heavily staffed.

The sense of motion achieved by the ride system is really spectacular. Everything from flying to quick maneuvers and scene transitions are all handled beautifully. You never go upside down but a couple times you're on your back looking straight up. Many of the movements are sudden and quick but are not jerky at all. The ride combines segments of projection with segments of real sets and animatronics. The flying segments are great--they're like a much more active version of Disney's Soarin' attraction, except you feel like it's happening only for your group.

One thing worth mentioning is that unless you're looking really hard you feel like the only ride vehicle in the room. This perfect masking really makes for a magical experience--seeing other ride vehicles always irks me.

I won't detail the ride scenes so I don't ruin the fun but I will say that there are encounters with lots of the scary, creepy crawly, and supernatural members of the Potterverse. [Editor's note: If you, like Ron Weasley, don't care for spiders, you might have a few tough moments riding.] The ride should be enjoyable for all but there are a lot of quick references to the films that will make a lot more sense to those that have seen them. The story moves along pretty quickly and it took me a couple rides to catch it all (as any good ride should!)

The ride may be a little intense for the younger set--some of the effects come VERY close to you, but in my estimation it matches the scariness of the films appropriately. The height requirement (48 inches) may make this less of a problem while causing some of it's own (there's going to be a few disappointed young Muggles out there). The attraction also boasts an impressive list of ailments that should cause one to consider not riding.

One effect that I loved (though it took me until my last ride to figure it out) is a Dementor that attacks you and you see an image of your own face in a cloud of smoke as you retreat away. Very cool.

My family (some theme park nuts, some not) all agreed that this raises the bar and surpasses Spidey for best ride of all time. Scenery, lighting, audio, ride system, and effects were all top-notch. Congrats to Universal Creative and all the project teams on a job well done.

Comments (22) | Archive Link

What are your chances of getting into a soft opening of Universal's Wizarding World of Harry Potter?

By Robert Niles
Published: June 1, 2010 at 10:56 AM

So, what are your chances of getting in to see The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, or even to ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, before they open to public, officially, on June 18?

PotterwatchLet's try to figure that out. (Warning: Unconfirmed speculation ahead!)

Universal Orlando hotel guests are getting into The Wizarding World for two hours, between 8 and 10am, each morning. The Wizarding World did open to non-hotel guests this morning, for the first time. Here's what I think happened:

Remember that Universal's trying to "load test" Forbidden Journey. It wants to see that the new ride can handle its targeted number of riders each hour, without going down. Also remember that downtimes aren't always the result of a mechanical failure. The operations crew is learning how to load and unload people from the ride as swiftly as possible, while remaining safe. That takes practice. If people are getting on or off too slowly, that slows down units on the track, potentially leading to a downtime, which Universal wants its crew to learn to avoid.

But to do this testing, and for the operations crew to get this experience, Universal needs a steady stream of people flowing through the queue. Yesterday and this morning, Forbidden Journey drew down its queue to the point where the ride became a walk-on. That's not good for testing and why (I suspect) Universal let some "day guests" into the land this morning - to fill up the Forbidden Journey queue.

If the Forbidden Journey queue reduces to a walk-on any other mornings between now and June 18, expect the same thing to happen.

According to our report yesterday, Universal's also scheduled its team members to keep the Wizarding World open throughout the day, provided that Forbidden Journey can hit its capacity and uptime targets for a certain amount of time. We don't know how long that time is, but Universal's operated Forbidden Journey for the entire two-hour window two days in a row now. If I were in charge (and I'm most certainly not), I'd want to see three to five days of flawless operation for the hotel guests before extending operations later in the day.

Also, I wouldn't want to extend operations for the first time on a weekend. I'm sure Universal doesn't want local annual passholders slamming the park on a weekend before it's sure that Forbidden Journey and its crew are good to handle those crowds. That's why I'm looking toward the week starting next Monday, June 7, as your best bet for when Universal might keep the Wizarding World open past 10am. (It could happen Thursday or Friday this week, but the odds get better with each passing weekday.)

If the Forbidden Journey performs well and keeps hitting its numbers next week, then Universal might be inclined to keep to open to day guests the weekend after next, June 12-13. That also might help draw locals to the park a week ahead of the official opening, taking some of the crowd pressure off the park the following weekend.

After the 13th, though, the chances of a public soft opening begin to diminish. Universal's scheduled its press event for June 16-17, so I strongly suspect that there will be no access on those days to anyone who's not a hotel guest. Given that Universal will need to set up for the press event, I wouldn't get my hopes up for a soft open on the 15th or 14th, either.

So if you're not pressed for time, I'd wait until next week before going on #Potterwatch at Islands of Adventure. If you'll only be in Orlando this week, and really want to see Potter, be at Islands of Adventure before the park opens at 9am, walk directly to the Wizarding World, through Seuss Island, and hang out until a little past 10, hoping that the hotel guests linger over breakfast at the Three Broomsticks and that the ride ops need to let in some days guests (like you!)

Any Universal Orlando team members care to comment on all this speculation? (Remember, you can comment anonymously, though those are screened for approval before going live on the site.)

Comments (10) | Archive Link

What's new on the discussion board: Coasters getting faster, plus summer roadtrip plans

By Robert Niles
Published: June 1, 2010 at 9:19 AM

Here are the top new threads this week on the Theme Park Insider discussion board:

Hermione Potter just rode the Flight of the Hippogriff and asks Is there any chance a rethemed coaster can be faster than its old self?

Tammy T couldn't find the sprayground on the Universal Studios Florida website anymore and wants to know Where is curious George?

Don Neal asked for Help with Next Week's Disney Trip

We've got a European reader looking for some U.S. vacation advice in Couple in Orlando for 4 days - Help!

Tyler Bell wants to know What Central Florida Coasters have you ridden?

Eddie N wants to know if any Theme Park Insider readers have experience with the Disney College Program?

Mike Gallagher shares plans for My Summer Park Trip..Ohio, Canada, and New York/PA

Will Black is Heading home for the summer...which parks to visit?

David L. offers a short Six Flags Over Georgia trip report

Jean Seo-Park files his Cedar Point Trip report May 2010

Jean Seo-Park also asks for your opinion on Hershey Park vs Busch Gardens Williamsburg

Tracey K asks Busch Gardens Williamsburg -- when to visit?

Tim Chatlos is looking for some good Six Flags Magic Mountain tips

Archive Link

Keep reading: May 2010 Archive



Stories from a Theme Park Insider

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.
Order now: Kindle | iBooks | Paperback | Kindle (UK)