By Robert NilesIt'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.
Published: June 30, 2010 at 3:02 PM
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. Photo courtesy Resorts World Sentosa.
Far, Far Away Castle in Universal Studios Singapore. Photo courtesy Resorts World Sentosa.
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.
Credit 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?
By Robert NilesJust 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).
Published: June 29, 2010 at 3:12 PM
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. 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.
What's new on the discussion board: Harry Potter lines, Disney World tickets and ride reservation options
By Robert NilesHere are this week's top new threads on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board:
Published: June 29, 2010 at 9:17 AM
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?
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
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?
By Robert NilesIt'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.
Published: June 28, 2010 at 7:48 AM
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.
By Scott JosephThe last two finalists for this year's title of Best Theme Park Restaurant reside in the same building at Epcot's France pavilion.
Published: June 28, 2010 at 7:09 AM
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.
By David GrahamDave and Busters is coming to Orlando on International Drive, to the old Race Rock building. Read more from the news link here.
Published: June 25, 2010 at 11:43 AM
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.
By Scott JosephTokyo 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.
Published: June 25, 2010 at 9:03 AM
You can submit your own rating and review on Theme Park Insider's Tokyo Dining listing page.
By Robert NilesI'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.
Published: June 24, 2010 at 9:39 PM
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!
By Robert NilesUniversal 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.
Published: June 24, 2010 at 5:32 PM
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.
By Robert NilesSpending a few days in Central Florida last week reminded me how crucial water is to enjoying a theme park vacation.
Published: June 23, 2010 at 2:14 PM
Water 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
Select a water bottle to bring to the park
Fill your bottle with ice on the morning of your trip
Take advantage of free refills
Drink water with every meal
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
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.
By Scott JosephMore 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
Published: June 22, 2010 at 10:35 AM
By Robert NilesHere are this week's top new threads on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board:
Published: June 22, 2010 at 10:34 AM
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.
By Robert NilesJust 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.)
Published: June 21, 2010 at 11:55 AM
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:
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:
But my favorite detail was
Let's look closer at the inscription on the ribbon:
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?
By Scott JosephMythos, 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.)
Published: June 21, 2010 at 10:03 AM
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.
By Robert NilesFollowing 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.
Published: June 20, 2010 at 7:00 PM
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.
By Robert NilesLAKE 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.
Published: June 19, 2010 at 7:01 PM
We ate at T-Rex, one of the few Downtown Disney restaurants none of us had eaten at before.
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.
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.
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.
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.
That's Epcot, above. And here's a shot of 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.
By Robert NilesORLANDO - It's the Day After the grand opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and reports say that the crowds remain beyond huge.
Published: June 19, 2010 at 7:45 AM
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.
"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.
By Robert NilesORLANDO - 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.
Published: June 18, 2010 at 7:23 AM
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.
At about 20 minutes after 9, the curtain dropped, and the stars of Harry Potter emerged from the Hogwarts Express.
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
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.
Yet daytime fireworks soon screamed across the sky over Hogsmead anyway.
And with a flurry of confetti "snow," the land was opened to guests
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.
By Domenik JostTake a walk with us through Universal Orlando's Wizarding World of Harry Potter:
Published: June 17, 2010 at 8:09 PM
[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.]
By Robert NilesORLANDO - 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.
Published: June 17, 2010 at 3:56 PM
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.
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.
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.
By Robert NilesORLANDO - 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.
Published: June 17, 2010 at 3:35 PM
Tom Felton and Michael Gambon
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!
By Robert NilesORLANDO - 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.
Published: June 16, 2010 at 9:06 PM
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.
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?
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 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.
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.
By Scott JosephFor 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.
Published: June 16, 2010 at 2:38 PM
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.
By Robert NilesHere are the top new threads this week on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board:
Published: June 15, 2010 at 2:12 PM
Anthony Murphy presents his video trip report on the new Glow in the Park Parade at Six Flags Great America.
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?
By Robert NilesLast 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.)
Published: June 15, 2010 at 11:28 AM
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
By Robert NilesWith 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.
Published: June 14, 2010 at 7:18 PM
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.
By Robert NilesMany 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.
Published: June 14, 2010 at 11:00 AM
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.
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.
By tina daltonI'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.
Published: June 14, 2010 at 7:24 AM
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.)
By Anthony MurphyAccording 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.
Published: June 13, 2010 at 9:11 PM
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!
By Robert NilesAfter 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.
Published: June 11, 2010 at 4:14 PM
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.)
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!)
By Robert NilesEver 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.
Published: June 11, 2010 at 12:03 PM
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!
By Robert NilesRemember 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?
Published: June 11, 2010 at 1:54 AM
You want to take those votes back now. Trust me.
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.
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.
By Scott JosephIt'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.
Published: June 10, 2010 at 6:03 PM
By Scott Joseph[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.]
Published: June 10, 2010 at 11:05 AM
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.
By Robert NilesWe'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.
Published: June 9, 2010 at 11:54 AM
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.
So 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?
By Robert NilesTomorrow 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.
Published: June 9, 2010 at 10:08 AM
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.
By Robert NilesI'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.
Published: June 8, 2010 at 6:58 PM
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.
By Robert NilesIt's time for the final of our first Theme Park Apprentice game. Our two finalists have been challenged to design a new theme park.
Published: June 8, 2010 at 10:45 AM
Take a look at the discussion, then help us choose the winner.
By Robert NilesStarting 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.)
Published: June 8, 2010 at 10:33 AM
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.
By Robert NilesHere are the top new threads this week on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board:
Published: June 8, 2010 at 10:05 AM
Ryan 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?.
By Robert NilesIt'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?"
Published: June 6, 2010 at 10:18 PM
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.
By Robert NilesI 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:
Published: June 4, 2010 at 10:18 AM
"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?
It'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!)
By Robert NilesNBC 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).
Published: June 3, 2010 at 2:18 PM
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.
By Robert NilesNot to go all Ryan Bingham on you, but before you go on your theme park vacation this summer, you really do need to ask:
Published: June 3, 2010 at 11:50 AM
What'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
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.
3. AAA card
4. Water-proof zipped bags
5. Reusable water bottle
7. Simple first aid supplies
8. Change of clothes (including underwear) or swimsuit
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
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! :-)
By Robert NilesWe'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.
Published: June 2, 2010 at 10:13 AM
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.
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. :-(
By Robert NilesTheme 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:
Published: June 1, 2010 at 2:18 PM
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.
What are your chances of getting into a soft opening of Universal's Wizarding World of Harry Potter?
By Robert NilesSo, 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?
Published: June 1, 2010 at 10:56 AM
Let'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.)
By Robert NilesHere are the top new threads this week on the Theme Park Insider discussion board:
Published: June 1, 2010 at 9:19 AM
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
Keep reading: May 2010 Archive
Plan your theme park vacation with our readers' travel guides:
Top U.S. Theme Parks
Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom
Other Top International Parks
Readers' Top Themed Rides
Top Roller Coasters
Top Theme Park Shows
Features, News and Advice
2013 Blog PostsJan. Feb. Mar. Apr. May
2012 Blog PostsJan. Feb. Mar. Apr. May Jun. Jul. Aug. Sep. Oct. Nov. Dec.
2011 Blog PostsJan. Feb. Mar. Apr. May Jun. Jul. Aug. Sep. Oct. Nov. Dec.
2010 Blog PostsJan. Feb. Mar. Apr. May Jun. Jul. Aug. Sep. Oct. Nov. Dec.
2009 Blog PostsJan. Feb. Mar. Apr. May Jun. Jul. Aug. Sep. Oct. Nov. Dec.
2008 Blog PostsJan. Feb. Mar. Apr. May Jun. Jul. Aug. Sep. Oct. Nov. Dec.
2007 Blog PostsJan. Feb. Mar. Apr. May Jun. Jul. Aug. Sep. Oct. Nov. Dec.
2006 Blog PostsJan. Feb. Mar. Apr. May Jun. Jul. Aug. Sep. Oct. Nov. Dec.
2005 Blog PostsDec.
2004-2005Staff column archive