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July 2010

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Water Park Apprentice Challenge 7, The Final: Water Park

By Tim W
Published: July 31, 2010 at 8:27 AM
It's time for the finale vote for Water Park Apprentice. This week our two remaining contestants designed a water park for Disneyland Resort. Check them out on the discussion board before voting. May the best man win!

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Vote of the week: What's the best perk for staying at an on-site theme park hotel?

By Robert Niles
Published: July 29, 2010 at 5:32 PM
Part of the reason why we chose to stay at Hotel Breakers when we visited Cedar Point last weekend was the opportunity to get into the park one hour early, to get a jump on the lines for some of the park's top roller coasters.

We'll be staying at the Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando when we get in Orlando in a couple weeks, where we'll get front-of-the-line access to (almost) all of the Universal attractions while we're there.

If we were staying on-site at Walt Disney World a little bit later in August, we could have gotten free dining at the Disney parks and hotels during the visit.

Which brings me to this week's vote on Theme Park Insider: Which perk would you prefer with an on-site stay at a theme park's hotel? Early access for just the hotel guests, front of the lines access to the park's rides, or free dining at the park and hotel restaurants?

I'd love to hear your personal experience with any of these perks, and whether or not you feel that they're worth the extra price of staying at an "on property" hotel.

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What's new on the discussion board: Disneyland and Disney World on the same trip?

By Robert Niles
Published: July 27, 2010 at 7:40 AM
Here are the top new threads this week on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board:

Kylie Bee writes from Australia to ask, Is it worth visiting both Disneyland and Disney World in the same trip?

The success of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter leads Tyler Bell to ask about its Islands of Adventure neighbor: Is Lost Continent getting a big refurb? He speculates about a new waterpark, too.

Here are a couple more Universal Orlando questions: Kylie Bee (again) asks Where to stay when visiting Universal Orlando? and Jay Finch asks Where to eat at universal orlando?

Adam Nodjomian asks for opinions about staying On-Site vs. Off-Site @ WDW

David L. continues his series of posts about improving the Disney theme parks with Your Dream EPCOT: World Showcase and Your Dream Magic Kingdom.

Daniel Smith hits on a topic close to my heart by raising the idea of a Disney Symphony Orchestra.

Sara M is looking for Busch Gardens Tampa Advice.

Daniel Etcheberry asks Theme Park Insider readers: Has anyone ever been to Hard Rock Park in South Carolina before it closed for good?

He also asks Which overseas theme park would you like to have in the United States?

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Theme Park Insider Summer Roadtrip: Cedar Point

By Robert Niles
Published: July 26, 2010 at 6:07 PM
SANDUSKY, Ohio - I wish that I would offer you the fool-proof, follow-this-and-you'll-see-it-all-and-have-a-great-time plan for Cedar Point. After all, as "America's Roller Coast," Cedar Point draws millions of thrill rides fans from around the world its northern Ohio home every year.

Cedar Point

But I can't.

One thing I have learned about Cedar Point, however, is that more than any other theme or amusement park I've ever visited, the setting of this particular park is essential to its appeal. Cedar Point's environment, on a thin peninsula jutting into Lake Erie, blesses this park's rides with some of the most spectacular views in the industry. From the top of Millennium Force, 310 feet above Lake Erie, you feel as if you are floating on air, with the enormity of that Great Lake available before you.

At the same time, the upper-Midwest, Great Lakes setting exposes Cedar Point to inconsistent weather, including rainstorms that can happen at any hour of day or night. Forget about Central Florida afternoon storms, or the blessed consistency of Southern California summer sunshine. It's northern Ohio. Don't like the weather? Wait a few minutes - it'll change.

Sure, you could build indoor attractions to guard against inclement weather. But then you couldn't enjoy those awesome views. So Cedar Point embraces its environment, for good and for bad, and you've just go to go along with that.

Even if it means enduring waits in the rain.

That's how our day began on Sunday. We'd queued up at 9am, with a few dozen other guests staying at Cedar Point's Hotel Breakers, for our one-hour early entry into the park. But just as the National Anthem finished on the park loudspeakers, the skies opened up again, keeping the four roller coasters that are supposed to open for early entry closed. Still, Natalie and I made the soggy walk over to Millennium Force and hoped for the best. Worst case, we'd be toward the front of the line when the park opened at 10.

But 20 minutes after 9, the rain stopped again and we saw the first test train make its way around the track. Five minutes later, we'd walked through the queue and strapped in for our ride 300 feet up.

Millennium Force at Cedar Point

Millennium Force delivers two things in world-class quantity - views and speed. A stiff lake breeze only amplifies the feeling of speed as you fly down the 80-degree hill and over the first airtime hill, eventually maxing out at 93 mph. Unlike the one-trick-pony Top Thrill Dragster, Millennium Force sustains its speed for much of its two-minute ride, rewarding you with occasional glimpses of the lake along the way.

From there, Natalie and I walked up the Frontier Trail toward Maverick. This 2007 Intamin Blitz coaster reminded me of Dollywood's Mystery Mine: It's a western-themed steel coaster that attempts to offer unique motion elements that go beyond the lift-up, drop-down, bank-to-the-side repertoire of almost all coasters.


Maverick starts with a 100-degree drop - that's right, it's not straight down, but down and a little bit backward as well. That's just the first of many odd track angles on Maverick, which spends much of its ride rolling the track to one side, then the other, often at angles beyond 90 degrees. Track rotations on roller coasters almost always set up inversions, but Maverick employs them as straight-line elements of their own. Throw in a false ending (one of my favorite theme park elements), and Maverick delivers a frisky two-minute adventure.

By that time, our extra hour was up, and day guests were flowing through the gates. So Natalie and I rejoined Laurie and Brian to sample some of the other rides they'd been eyeing. Our 13-year-old daughter, Natalie, loves coasters ("Big coasters = Happy Natalie!" she wrote to a friend), but 10-year-old Brian prefers whippy flat rides, which I can't handle. So Brian gleefully led his big sister on to the Matterhorn, Tilt-A-Whirl and other stomach scramblers that I'd only be caught dead on.

Brief showers frequently interrupted the morning, shutting down the big coasters, as well as the Sky Ride, forcing us into a game of "look for the test run," where we'd hop into the queue whenever we saw a test vehicle on its track, signaling a ride was about to reopen.

By noon, showers retreated for the day, and by 3 pm, so had the clouds.

The Main Midway at Cedar Point

Ultimately, Natalie declared Maverick her favorite ride of the day, though she also enjoyed Millennium Force and Iron Dragon (which, although she liked, she said wasn't as fun a ride as the late Big Bad Wolf, which closed at Busch Gardens Williamsburg after 2009.) Laurie hauled Natalie aboard the Corkscrew with promises of a super-smooth ride, only to discover that the Arrow coaster doesn't ride the same as it did when she was a kid in the late 70s. Laurie came off that ride looking like we had expected the kids to look after their third go on the Tilt-A-Whirl.

Finally, we convinced Brian to try his first "big" coaster, and he joined us for a trip on the Blue Streak, the oldest coaster in the park, a Philadelphia Toboggan woodie from 1964. At 78 feet, the Blue Streak isn't huge, but it delivers more than its share of airtime, particularly when the ride's a walk-on and the trains are going out half-filled. Brian loved it so much that ran with his sister to ride a second time.

Here comes Theme Park Insider: The Next Generation.

By the way, we did stay overnight at Hotel Breakers. At $410 a night, it ain't cheap, but the package included four one-day adult tickets to the park, the early entry, as well as parking for our car in an ultra-convenient lot that allowed for a scenic drive around the permitter of the park when we arrived. Strip the extras, though, and it's still $200+ a night for a room that offered easy access to the beach, as well as a killer view of the park.

View from the room at Hotel Breakers

But that's all of note that the room offered. We stayed in the Breakers Tower, which could use another refurb, as the beds were among the saggiest on our trip, and none of the rooms had available WiFi or Internet access. Nor did it offer a modern climate control system, just an old-fashioned knob on the A/C unit, which we could turn to "High," "Low" or "Off." Welcome to 1989.

Still, staying on the peninsula remains the best way to fully experience Cedar Point. Look, you can find an iron park at dozens of other locations around the country. If you're not taking some time to walk the beach or admire the views here, you are, literally, missing the Point.

Next Up: We're going back to Holiday World!

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Water Park Apprentice Challenge 6: Create a Port

By Tim W
Published: July 24, 2010 at 12:15 PM
It's time for this week's Water Park Apprentice poll. This week's challenge took our remaining 3 apprentices to Tokyo Disney Sea park at the Tokyo Disney Resort. They were instructed to create a new port for the theme park somehow having to relate to theme of the park. Please read the ideas on the discussion board thread before placing your vote. The contestant with the least amounts of votes will be fired. Only one contestant will be fired this week and then we will move on to our finale.

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Portobello at Downtown Disney Launches Meatball Bar

By Scott Joseph
Published: July 23, 2010 at 10:55 AM
Portobello, the Italian restaurant at DownTown Disney, recently introduced its rebranded Meatball Bar. I'm not sure what sort of image that conjures up for you, but I had something totally different in mind. Tony Mantuano, executive chef at Chicago's Spiaggia and a Top Chef Master, was in town to launch the concept. He explained it to me in a video. Here's a link

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Disney Announces New Movie Based on the Haunted Mansion

By Joshua Counsil
Published: July 23, 2010 at 10:52 AM
SAN DIEGO, California - Comedian Patton Oswalt announced plans today at Comic-Con International, an annual convention celebrating comic books, sci-fi, fantasy, and other pop culture elements, for a new movie based on Disney's popular Haunted Mansion attraction.

Most of you are probably thinking what I thought: "Didn't they already make a film based on the Haunted Mansion? And didn't it stink?

Happily, Disney has chosen Guillermo del Toro, a credible name in fantasy and horror, to write and direct the film. You may remember del Toro from the fantastical "Hell Boy" and "Pan's Labyrinth" films, both of which he wrote and directed. The latter also took home three Oscars.

According to MTV News, del Toro has been visiting the attraction annually ever since he was three years old. "We're making the Haunted Mansion the most haunted place on earth," said del Toro, differentiating the film from its predecessor. "We are not making it a comedy. We are making it scary and fun at the same time, but the scary will be scary."

Added del Toro, "This, to me, is a dream come true, and I hope to steal as many props as possible."

The panel at the Comic-Con also revealed new videos and details of Disney's upcoming films "Tron Legacy" and "Pirates of the Caribbean 4: On Stranger Tides".

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Vote of the week: Should theme park pizza be slices or individual pies?

By Robert Niles
Published: July 22, 2010 at 9:04 PM
As I mentioned in my Great America trip report earlier this week, we ordered Papa John's pizza for lunch while we were visiting that Six Flags theme park.

But we didn't get a slice or two from the same type of Papa John's pizza you'd get if you ordered one at home. Instead, we got a "personal size" individual pie:

Papa John's Pizza at Six Flags Great America

Which brings me to this week's vote. Which would you rather have when you order pizza in a theme park? An individual-sized pie, like we got, or a slice from a larger pie, as you'd get in a Sbarro in an airport or mall?

Logistical issues often dictate why theme parks choose one option over the other. As with any fast food, a park wants to avoid having too many one any item (which leaves them with unsold, wasted food), while also not leaving customers waiting for an item that wasn't yet ready when they ordered. The popularity of individual pies in quick-serve locations such as theme parks and sports stadiums suggests to me that the industry sees those as the more efficient solution.

But is it the one you want? Vote here, and please leave a comment:

Once again, thanks for reading Theme Park Insider!

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Would you visit Ferrari World Abu Dhabi?

By Robert Niles
Published: July 21, 2010 at 9:06 PM
It's been a huge year for theme park openings so far, and it's just going to continue this fall, with the debut of Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi this October.

The park this week announced its complete attraction line-up, following its earlier announcement of the record-setting Formula Rossa roller coaster. I've updated our Ferrari World Abu Dhabi page, as a result, so that you can take a look at the 18 planned rides and attractions.

Concept art of the Ferrari-themed carousel at the indoor theme park. Image courtesy Ferrari World.

Which brings me to my question for you: Is there any way that you'd ever even consider a visit to this theme park?

First, there's the question of visiting Abu Dhabi. (It's a city in the United Arab Emirates, just up the road from Dubai, in case you didn't know.) A quick search on Orbitz shows round-trip airfares from Chicago to Abu Dhabi, including taxes, running around $1,100, for a flight this fall around the time of the grand opening. From London, though, fares run from around US$500, so perhaps some of our European readers might like to delurk for this discussion.

After all that, though, if you could afford and would be disposed to consider this destination, does this park entice you, as well? I'd love to hear your reactions, in the comments, to this park, this concept and this destination.

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Theme Park Insider Summer Roadtrip: Six Flags Great America

By Robert Niles
Published: July 20, 2010 at 9:17 PM
GURNEE, Illinois - The 2010 edition of the Theme Park Insider Summer Roadtrip rolled into northern Chicago this week, for my first visit to Six Flags Great America in 20-some years.

Six Flags Great America

It might as well have been my first visit to the park, given all its changes since I last visited, as a Northwestern undergraduate. The iconic double-decker carousel remains at the front of the park, but beyond that you'll now find a strong collection of Six Flags' roller coasters.

Great America's carousel

We started the day at the Dark Knight Coaster, a ride I typically would never consider, given its low average rating from Theme Park Insider readers. But since the Dark Knight, with its various dupes around the country, is currently the single lowest rated ride on the website, I figured that I needed to take a look, to see why readers seem to loathe this attraction so much.

Dark Knight Coaster

Let's consider that question answered.

Give Six Flags credit for trying. Unlike its other coasters, where "theme" means simply the name slapped on the queue entrance, DKC attempts to engage visitors within the story of the hit film. But the pace of the Aaron Eckhart press conference video in the pre-ride show drags like six-year-old told to clean his room. I wondered if I could hit the remote and see what was on ESPN instead. The Joker interlude's fun, but why are we getting on a roller coaster now?

Listen carefully as you exit the pre-ride show, and you can hear an audio spiel about "evacuating the city." And here's my biggest pet peeve with Six Flags' attempts at roller coaster storytelling: Whether it's the Dark Knight Coaster, Batman or Terminator: Salvation, we're always "evacuating." To heck with that! I want to stand and fight. Just like I get to on Spider-Man or Dragon Challenge. No, on Six Flags' coasters, we run away, scared. We're told to begin the ride in resignation and defeat instead of with the adrenaline rush of impending battle. Bleeh.

The Dark Knight Coaster compounds that failure with the "wild mouse" back-and-forth track (Disney fans will be reminded of Mulholland Madness) that's contained in a warehouse-like room not dark enough to conceal the track design. The track design wouldn't be fatal, but add on a few non-sensical visual effects, culminating in a weird colored light that I first thought might be an oncoming train gag but turned out to be - I don't know what. And then we exited, right back where we boarded. Huh? What about the evacuation?

How much more frustrating it feels to experience something that tries, and fails, to tell a compelling story than a ride that never attempts a story at all. That's why I think riders punish the Dark Ride Coaster so severely. Unfortunately, you don't always get credit for trying. In fact, failure often brings extra penalty instead.

Yet as Theme Park Insider readers take away, they also give. TPI readers have voted Great America's Raging Bull among the top coasters in the nation. Working my way though its queue, though, I began to question your judgment. (Sorry!) The setting for this Bolliger & Mabillard mega coaster ain't nothing worth noting: no water element, as on Kings Island's Diamondback, or spectacular river views, as on Apollo's Chariot at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. Just track twisting around a scrubby plot of weeds, grass and dirt. What's the appeal?

Raging Bull at Six Flags Great America

Just get on and ride - you'll soon find out.

Riders on Raging Bull

Never have I ridden a coaster that blends smoothness with airtime so brilliantly. Often, great airtime comes from vertically whipping riders up and over hills. Raging Bull earns its airtime from perfect timing of turns and drops as well, leaving me feeling as if I were floating above my seat for many seconds at a time. Until we hit a series of s-curves at the end of the ride, where we scrubbed off our speed before the final brake, I felt as if I spent more time out of my seat than in it. Natalie and I agreed that Raging Bull won our honors as the best ride of the day.

Great America reflects much of the improvement within the Six Flags chain over the past years: All rides were open and the big coasters were running multiple trains. Employees are keeping the park immaculate. Workers greeted us with enthusiasm throughout the day, taking initiative to ask if we needed help finding our way. Use foul language or light up a ciggie in the wrong place, and they'll toss you out of the park without hesitation. Or a refund.

Unfortunately, frustrations remain. Six Flags nickels-and-dimes you like no other theme park chain. Parking cost $15, a dollar more than at Disneyland or Walt Disney World. And that puts you in the remote parking lot, leaving you to hike across the sea of asphalt reserved for those who paid even more for the premium parking fee. (And seasonal passholders who bought the extra parking pass.) What about a tram to the front gate, you ask? Hah!

Inside the park, expect to pay a buck to rent each locker you'll need, since no one can bring backsacks or purses on any of the coasters. (There are no free storage bins, as you'll find at Kings Island, Holiday World or other Midwestern parks.)

And food?

Johnny Rockets at Great America

Here's what $25 gets you at lunch: A cheeseburger with rings and fries, a chocolate shake and two bottles of water. Tasty, but ouch.

Want a Papa John's pizza, advertised all over the park? You can't buy a slice, or even an individual pie. No, you have to buy a $10 combo meal, which includes either a side salad or couple of extra cheesesticks, along with the individual-sized pizza. (The drink remains extra, of course.) It's just another one of the ways that Six Flags earns back its various admission discounts.

I'm not a cheapskate when it comes to theme parks. Far from it. I'll drop $100-plus on a meal, if a park delivers value worthy of that amount. But to eat fast-food-chain food on metal outdoor tables while commercials blare over loudspeakers? Better cut the price way down for that. Six Flags jacks it up, though.

So skip the food. I love my local Six Flags park, Magic Mountain, but I never spend an entire day there. And that's how to get the best value from a Six Flags park. If you live in the same city as a Six Flags park, buy a pass early in the season when the best deals are available. (Get the parking add-on, too.) Then drop in and enjoy some great coasters and other rides whenever you want, throughout the summer. Don't bother eating in the park, save for the occasional splurge on a funnel cake sundae or some other treat you can find only in the park. Leave your stuff in the car and avoid the locker charge. Don't get nickel-and-dimed.

While the chain's improved greatly over the years, due to the nickel-and-diming and general lack of unique and original narrative attractions, Six Flags still aren't destination parks, like Disney and Universal. (Unless you're a coaster fanatic who has to bag every version of every model, no matter where. You know who you are.) But having Great America nearby provides a great perk for any roller coaster or theme park fan living in the Chicago area. Don't be afraid of an out-of-date reputation. Come out and ride.

By the way, Brian enthusiastically endorses the chili cheese dog anyway.

Next up: Cedar Point.

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What's new on the discussion board: Disney at Christmas, and Express Plus access at Universal Orlando

By Robert Niles
Published: July 19, 2010 at 7:15 PM
Here are the top new threads this week on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board:

Steve Ward asks When is the best time to see Disney @ Christmas?

Marcus Guimaraes ponders What to do with Poseidon's Fury?

Helena Polansky might be the first this season to ask Universal HHN or Busch Gardens's HOS?

Daniel Etcheberry warms up the charcoal to roast some bad rides in Which is the worst theme park ride or attraction?

David L. continues his series asking readers to design a better Disney World, with Your Dream Epcot: Future World

Linda Ulanoff wants to know if a Universal Orlando Express Plus Access Worth Extra $, given that it can't be used for Harry Potter.

Tyler Bell wants to know What happened to Disney's Dark Kingdom?

Please click on over if you'd like to leave a comment or answer for any of these discussions.

Archive Link

Ready, Set, Dial: Tickets for the 15th Annual Epcot Food & Wine Festival Go On Sale Tuesday Morning

By Scott Joseph
Published: July 19, 2010 at 7:01 PM
Tickets for the reservations-required events at this year's Epcot International Food & Wine Festival go on sale Tuesday, July 20, at 7 am ET. Ticket prices range from $40 to $450 -- plus admission to the theme park. Here's a list of what goes on sale.

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Water Park Apprentice Challenge 5: Aquatic Themed Coaster

By Tim W
Published: July 17, 2010 at 9:12 PM
It's time for this week's Water Park Apprentice Poll. In challenge 5, the contestants had to create an aquatic themed coaster for SeaWorld San Diego. Please read the ideas on the discussion board thread before placing your vote. Only 1 contestant will be fired this week that accumulates the least amount of votes.

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Vote of the week: Walt Disney World's answer to Universal's Harry Potter?

By Robert Niles
Published: July 16, 2010 at 10:06 AM
With the ongoing success of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter bringing new fans to Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure theme park, it's clear that Walt Disney World isn't going to let this challenge pass unanswered.

Last year, Disney announced an ambitious plan to expand the Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland.

Fantasyland expansion

And rumor mills continue to buzz with plans to revive Beastly Kingdom at Disney's Animal Kingdom. Or long-rumored plans to add an Australia section to that park. The latest rumor is of a "Star Wars Land" at Disney's Hollywood Studio, anchored by the new version of Star Tours that is to debut next year, but also including a new Star Wars-themed stunt show in the existing Indiana Jones theater.

So which of these plans, if any, would motivate you to book at extra visit to the Walt Disney World Resort? Remember, the only plan officially announced at this time is the Fantasyland expansion. The others are conjecture, at this stage. And if none of these ideas work for you, why not submit your dream plan in the comments below?

Thanks for voting, and for reading Theme Park Insider. Have a great weekend!

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A review of 'IllumiNights: A Busch Gardens Encore'

By Russell Meyer
Published: July 15, 2010 at 7:58 AM
With a park that prides itself on having a small park feel and big park attractions, it’s often difficult to come up with a way to put an exclamation point on the evening and to keep guests hanging around until the park closes. In the past, Busch Gardens Williamsburg has showcased two different end-of-the-night Cirque-style shows in the Royal Palace Theater featuring acrobats, clowns, gymnasts, and other amazing performers. Both Imaginique and Kinetix were great shows, but forced guests to break up their day to head to the theater and stand in line, hoping to get a good seat for the show. As good as the shows were, it sometimes just wasn’t worth the hassle to take time in the day to see. This season, Busch Gardens Williamsburg has re-envisioned the nighttime spectacular, taking it down a notch or two and making it more intimate and organic. I was invited by the park to check out this new concept over the weekend as part of the park’s media day for IllumiNights.

Instead of staging a spectacular fireworks/water cannon show similar to Sea World's Mistify or Disney’s big lagoon shows, the creative team at BGW wanted to come up with a way so that everyone in the park could be part of the show. The result of their planning is called IllumiNights, and it fits in well with the park’s overall themes and mission to provide high quality family entertainment. Vice President of Entertainment Scott Gasparich and his team came up with four different shows that occur around the park throughout the evening. At the top of every hour, starting at 5 PM, the shows start, with each one capturing the character of the country where it takes place.

In Killarney, there’s a leprechaun searching for his pot of gold, taken by his lost love. The show is staged in the main square between the Abbey Stone Theater and Grogan’s Pub with action occurring all around guests gathered to watch, and even includes some audience participation. The whimsical, playful show involves puppetry, music, and some special effects. Guests who have experienced the popular Howl-O-Scream attraction “Jack is Back” will probably see some similarities in staging and style.

In Aquitaine, guests who happen to be strolling through at the top of the hour will see a grand parade, the first in Busch Gardens' history. From bakers to Can-Can dancers to poodles, the performers strut their stuff through the streets of France interacting with guests along the way. The costumes and mini-performances are well done, and young ones will be excited to see the performers come right up to them and welcome them to France. The props and floats, along with a piece of Busch Gardens’ recent history, make the 5-minute mini-parade definitely worth seeing.

In the Oktoberfest section of Germany, the set designers at Busch Gardens outdid themselves by turning the front of the Festhaus into a gigantic cuckoo clock. At the top of every hour, the clock comes to life with actors that play the roles of the characters found on most Black Forest clocks. The lumberjack, the shepherd, the milkmaid, and others all take their turns doing their thing until it’s time for the cuckoo to announce the time. The set is a sight to behold even before the show starts, and the actors do a marvelous job bringing the clock to life.

In Italy, the gardens near The Flying Machine, Battering Ram, and DaVinci’s Cradle turn into a wondrous show involving balance and strength. Four performers come together in a Cirque du Soleil styled balancing act to display their amazing skills on an intimate stage.

All four of the shows run for between 4-8 minutes, and repeat every hour, so there’s a good chance for guests to stumble upon one or more of them as they walk around the park in the evening. However, IllumiNights is not over when the shows are completed in the 9 pm hour. In the past, BGW has limited fireworks to the 4th of July weekend and other special events, but now a well-choreographed fireworks show finishes IllumiNights with a bang. A stirring soundtrack of music representing the countries of Europe (Ireland, France, Germany, and Italy specifically) accompanies a solid, but not overwhelming, pyrotechnic display. At BGW, the topography and park design make it tricky to put on a fireworks show, but with shells launched from Oktoberfest and Killarney, along with the primary shells shot off from the eastern edge of the park, there aren’t too many bad spots to see the show. The three bridges across the water likely provide the best views, but our spot near Griffon wasn’t too bad aside from the mammoth coaster’s supports sometimes getting in the way of a clear view. The park also offers an exclusive Rhine River Cruse to experience the fireworks from the water, and a dinner package at Bistro 205 that includes a buffet meal and reserved seating for the show.

Is IllumiNights in the same league as a Disney evening show? Not a chance, but for a park that has a small park feel, and doesn’t want to build a gigantic arena for a nighttime spectacular, it’s just about right.

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Tuesday theme park news round-up: Happy Birthday, Disneyland

By Robert Niles
Published: July 13, 2010 at 12:35 AM
This Saturday, July 17, Disneyland Park celebrates its 55th birthday. Special edition park maps, as well as 55th anniversary cakes, cupcakes and candy packaging are available in the park all week. On Saturday, the park will hold a dedication ceremony at noon in Town Square and cast members will sing 'Happy Birthday' to the park at 4:15 pm. Special anniversary Mickey ears also will be available for sale that day, and the park will host a 55th Anniversary Art & Collectible merchandise event at The Disney Gallery from 9-11 am.


Tickets went on sale today for this fall's Destination D event at the Disneyland Hotel, September 24-25, 2010. This is the event for D23 club members that will alternate years with the D23 Expo. The event will feature panels and sessions on Disneyland's history. Tickets start at $125 per person.

Kennedy Space Center in Florida will host the third annual Astronaut Autograph & Memorabilia Show Weekend November 5-7, 2010. The show is scheduled to feature appearances by more than 30 astronauts, including Mercury 7 astronaut Scott Carpenter and Apollo 13 astronaut Jim Lovell, and benefits the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. Tickets and more information are available at www.astronautscholarship.org/aams.

On the accident watch: A 21-year-old woman passed away Sunday from injuries after falling from the Xtreme roller coaster at Dixie Landin' amusement park in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Police are investigating. Xtreme is a Maurer Sohne Xtended SC 2000 spinning coaster and initial reports said that inspectors found no obvious flaws or failures on the ride.

Also, Osceola County and Florida officials are investigating after a 50-year-old electrician was electrocuted on the job at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex at Walt Disney World on Friday. Co-workers were unable to resuscitate Steven Snyder, a Buena Vista Construction Co. employee.

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What's new on the discussion board: Meal plans and Christmas vacation planning

By Robert Niles
Published: July 12, 2010 at 5:44 PM
Here are the top new threads on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board:

Mike Gallagher visited Kings Island, Cedar Point, Canada's Wonderland and Darien Lake and posts a Trip Report...4 Parks.

Manny Barron's also got a trip report, this time to Central Florida: Visited the big O in June. This is what happened.

Daniel Etcheberry asks which is the best theme park for people in a wheelchair?

Betty Arnold asks about Toddlers on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

Kylie Batchelor wants to know Where to stay if going to Universal and Disney World?

Alla R is visiting Walt Disney World, and has kids - picky eaters - please help

On the topic of food, Bonnie Pritchard wants to know Anyone have opinions on Universal's Meal Plan?

So, Camille Kirk asks, which would you pick: Sea World or Universal IOA at Christmas?

Tim Chatlos starts the speculation on Cedar Point's next new attraction with Cedar Point 2011 Announcement Mid-August.

David L. continues a Discussion Board series by challenging readers to envision Your Dream Disney's Hollywood Studios

Finally, Tyler Bell gets a potentially great conversation going by asking Which attractions do you think need a refurb?

I'd like to invite all Theme Park Insider long-time lurkers to drop by the board and leave a comment (or ask a question) or two.

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Orlando and Central Florida theme parks get ready for this year's Halloween season

By Domenik Jost
Published: July 11, 2010 at 10:25 PM
It is that time of year again. That time of year we start hearing details about the upcoming Halloween season at the some of the countries top horror events.

And quite famous for Halloween events are the Central Florida theme parks. Between Busch Gardens Tampa and Universal Orlando Resort you have two premiere haunting events each year. Let's also not forget the Not-So-Scary Halloween event at Walt Disney World.

Halloween Horror Nights XX

It has been 20 years since horror found its home at Universal Orlando's Fright Nights. Since then we have seen the name change to what is now the trademark name in annual horror events, Halloween Horror Nights. This year marks a huge milestone for Universal as it prepares for Halloween Horror Nights XX - Twenty Years of Fear.

Universal Orlando has launched a new part of the HHN website encouraging you to take a look at the past twenty years. From the beginning with Fright Nights to the Iconic Era there is plenty of images and videos to go through to get you in the mood for this years event.

This year's the haunt will last for 24 nights between late September and all of October. Ticket prices have risen to $74.99 from last year's $69.99. Frequent Fear Passes will include 14 nights. Limited HHN Express will be sold again with the price varying each night.

Howl-O-Scream Is Gonna Rock

Over in Tampa at Busch Gardens, the team is also getting ready for its halloween event, Howl-O-Scream. This year marks the 12th year for Busch Garden Tampa's Event and it has been said that it "Is Gonna Rock!" Details are limited about the theme but the Howl-O-Scream website is hinting towards an all-girl rock group with a twist.

This year's party will run for 18 nights from late September through to the end of October. Tickets are on sale online with a special advance online purchase price of $35.95. Upgrades from the single day admission will cost $24.95.

Not So Scary Halloween

Now let's move on to something not so scary, Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween. As with previous years this event takes place at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom park and will include Mickey's "Boo-To-You" Halloween Parade, Happy HalloWishes fireworks, and many more surprises. This year Mickey will transform the Magic Kingdom park for 24 select nights into a kid-friendly "Not-So-Scary" party. Tickets for the event vary per night and will range from $47.95 to $58.95 per child (ages 3-9) and $53.95 to $64.95 for adults.

As more details emerge about this years events I'll be posting it to a new twitter account I created just for the Central Florida Halloween events (@cfl_halloween) as well as here on Theme Park Insider.

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Vancouver's 'Lego Shamu'?

By Robert Niles
Published: July 11, 2010 at 4:49 PM
VANCOUVER, British Columbia, Canada - So here we are hanging out next to the Olympic Cauldron, when something else caches my eye.

"What the heck is that? A Lego Shamu?"

Digital Orca in Vancouver

It's actually "Digital Orca," a 25-foot sculpture designed by author and artist Douglas Coupland, the Vancouver resident best known for literally defining my generation by writing the novel "Generation X" in 1991.

From his description: "The 'Digital Orca' sculpture breaks down a three-dimensional Orca whale into cubic pixels - making a familiar symbol of the West Coast become something unexpected and new. This use of natural imagery modified by technology bridges the past to the future."

In another's words, it's just pretty darn cool looking. Even if it isn't a Lego Shamu.

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Water Park Apprentice Challenge 4: Design a Water Show

By Tim W
Published: July 11, 2010 at 9:35 AM
In this week's challenge for Water Park Apprentice, the contestants had to create a water show for the vacant lagoon in Universal's Islands of Adventure. Only 1 contestant will be eliminated this week as Joshua Counsil had decided to drop out of the competition.

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Vote of the week: Changing lanes on the Interstate

By Robert Niles
Published: July 9, 2010 at 8:33 AM
It's time again for my family's annual summer roadtrip. We're in the Pacific Northwest right now, a region of the country not known for major theme parks, so the trip reports won't start coming for another week or so, when we visit Six Flags Great America, outside Chicago.

But with so many of us visiting our favorite theme parks by car over the summer, I thought I'd lay a driving-related vote on you this week.

Here's the scenario: You're driving on the Interstate, and there is a car up ahead of you in the lane to your immediate right. That car's driver signals to come over into your lane.

What is your immediate, gut reaction? I'm talking the reflex reaction, discounting any context of what's happening in that other driver's lane, or elsewhere on the road.

What do you do? Do you speed up to get ahead of that driver before s/he can come over? Or do you instinctively let up on the gas, to give that driver more space to change lanes?

Be honest. Your vote is anonymous (though comments aren't). Please click the reaction you feel like making most of the time.

I suspect that this one might provoke some, uh, lively comments. So tell us in the comments what you think about this situation - one we've all seen countless times on the road. And have a great week!

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Busch Gardens offers free meal plan with admission

By Pyra Dong
Published: July 8, 2010 at 8:29 AM
Busch Gardens Tampa has announced that for every single-day admission into its park... you can eat and drink for free. Here are the details. The offer is good through September 6, 2010.

This offer applies only for full-price admission and does not apply for the season passes or the "Fun Card." What about the food? Participants can get a main course, side dish, and a drink at any of the participating, cafeteria-style restaurants, but does not include baby back ribs or beer (darn!). On hot days, you can just go in to the restaurant, grab a cool water bottle, and leave. (niiiiice)

I think this news comes rather late in terms of summer deals, but it's a great freebie nonetheless. At the same time, one has to wonder how attendance is at Busch Gardens that the park is feeling the need to offer to free meals.

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Looking for answers when theme park rides fail

By Robert Niles
Published: July 7, 2010 at 9:55 PM
Okay, this story is getting bizarre.

Last week in the news round-up, I linked to the story from China about an accident at a space-themed centrifuge ride that claimed the lives of six theme park visitors. This week, Chinese authorities have "detained" 11 park maintenance and operations workers, as part of the investigation.

I don't know what, specifically, is meant by "detained" in China - whether that means simply that the workers were held for a few hours for questioning, or that they are being jailed until the investigation's complete. Nor is the Shanghai news report clear on exactly which authorities were doing the detaining.

The investigation has ruled out sabotage, and now is focusing on a mechanical failure. I've not been to China and, obviously, never been on this ride. But from the reported descriptions, it sounds something like Epcot's Mission: Space, a spinning space-themed ride where visitors ride in separate capsules. Apparently, something broke on the Chinese ride, one unit stopped and others crashed into it, ejecting some riders and crushing others. Horrible.

It's hard for me to imagine how a modern amusement ride could fail so spectacularly and tragically, not with the industry knowledge that is available on how to run such a ride safely, and reliably so. Since this ride did fail, it appears that somewhere along the line, either that knowledge either wasn't passed along to the people in position to implement it or the commitment to implement that knowledge was not instilled among enough of this park's employees. Ultimately, those are management failures, too.


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What's new on the discussion board: Orlando vs. LA, Magic Mountain tips, and a dream Animal Kingdom

By Robert Niles
Published: July 6, 2010 at 8:44 PM
Here are this week's new top discussion threads on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board:

Ellie Devereaux asks about Vegetarian fare at Epcot.

Daniel Etcheberry reopens a classic debate: Orlando vs LA. If you live on one coast, is it worth visiting the same companies' theme parks on the other?

Now, assuming that you've said okay to the Central Florida vacation, Kathryn Leigh wants to know Other stuff to do in Orlando?

And hannah caller asks where can i get discounted tickets?

Hollis Burks is visiting Disneyland, has a Six Flags season pass, and wants to know To Magic Mountain, or not Magic Mountain?

Brandon S is looking for Strategies to ride all of the coasters at Six Flags Magic Mountain. We need some help on this one, so if you have a Magic Mountain strategy, please share it here!

chris anderson and other Theme Park Insider readers check in with news from Ohio: Kings Island loses power on 4th of July

Finally, David L. challenges readers to plan Your Dream Animal Kingdom.

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Water Park Apprentice: Challenge 3, Create a water thrill ride

By Robert Niles
Published: July 5, 2010 at 11:59 AM
It's time for this week's elimination for Water Park Apprentice. In the third challenge, our remaining contestants have been designing water thrill rides (think Splash Mountain). Please check out the thread where they detail their ideas, then vote for your favorite below.

Just one contestant gets the chop this week.

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Which theme parks are you visiting on the Fourth of July weekend?

By Robert Niles
Published: July 4, 2010 at 1:47 AM
It's Independence Day in the United States, which historically is the single biggest day of the year in the theme park business.

Disney Electrical Parade America Float

Sure, some of the Orlando and Southern California theme parks, notably Disney's, might welcome bigger crowds at Christmas. But around the rest of the country, theme parks sleep in their winter hibernation. On the Fourth of July, though, everyone's open for business and the regional theme parks will welcome their largest crowds of the year.

Especially in years when Independence Day falls on a weekend, as it does this year. The industry's been in a bit of a slump over the past two years, as the Great Recession has decimated many families' ability to afford a vacation. Others have hit the road, but been forced to "downsize" their vacation plans, substituting a weekend at a regional park for a week in Orlando, for example.

I'd like to get your report on what you did this holiday weekend. Where did you go? If you went to a theme park, whose did you visit? How were the crowds?

Please take a moment to vote in the poll below, and if you'd like, leave a comment with a short report on where you visited and how were the crowds.

In the poll, we're asking which companies' parks you visited this weekend. The Disney, Universal and Six Flags parks' ownership is obvious, since they all have their parent's name in their names. But for folks who aren't hard-core regulars on the website, here are the top parks owned by other chains in this week's poll:

Cedar Fair: California's Great America, Canada's Wonderland, Carowinds, Cedar Point, Dorney Park, Kings Dominion, Kings Island, Knott's Berry Farm, Worlds of Fun

Herschend: Dollywood, Silver Dollar City, Wild Adventures

SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment: Busch Gardens Tampa, Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Sesame Place, plus the SeaWorld parks

You can pick multiple chains, since some theme park fans in Orlando and Southern California hit parks from two or more chains during their visit.

Thanks for your comments, and I hope you're having a wonderful Fourth!

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Winners announced in 9th annual Theme Park Insider Awards

By Robert Niles
Published: July 2, 2010 at 7:40 AM
For the ninth year, the readers of ThemeParkInsider.com have honored the best of the best in the theme park industry with the annual Theme Park Insider Awards. This year's winners represent the highest-rated institutions among the nation's theme parks, based on ratings submitted by ThemeParkInsider.com visitors over the past 12 months.

The 2010 Theme Park Insider Award winners are:

Best Theme Park Restaurant
Bistro De Paris, Walt Disney World's Epcot

Bistro De Paris

Les Chefs de France, Walt Disney World's Epcot
Mythos Restaurant, Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure

Year after year, the restaurant award is the most closely contested of all the Theme Park Insider Awards, and 2010 provided no exception. With specialities including rack of lamb, pan-seared lobster and filet mignon, Epcot's Bistro de Paris wins praise for "great food and great service," providing "a great way to experience classic French cuisine without having to fly across the world." This is the first year winning the Best Theme Park Restaurant honor for Bistro de Paris, which edges out last year's winner, Les Chef de France, as well as the 2003-2008 winner, Mythos.

Best Theme Park Hotel
Disney's Wilderness Lodge, Walt Disney World

Disney's Wilderness Lodge

Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge, Walt Disney World
Disney's Grand Floridian Resort, Walt Disney World

A runner-up last year, Disney's Wilderness Lodge in 2010 wins the Best Theme Park Hotel honor for this first time. Located near Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, the Wilderness Lodge nevertheless is set back into the Central Florida woods, evoking the resort's theme of a national park lodge. Yet the level of service is pure Disney, winning raves - and repeat visits - from many ThemeParkInsider.com readers.

Best New Attraction
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Universal's Islands of Adventure

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

World of Color, Disney California Adventure
Intimidator, Carowinds

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey dominated in 2010, winning the Best New Attraction honor by a wide margin. Not only does Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey enjoy the highest reader rating on ThemeParkInsider.com of any attraction that debuted in the past 12 months, it currently boasts the highest reader rating of *all* attractions listed on the website. Simply put, our readers say that not only is Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey clearly the best new theme park ride of the year, it's the best theme park ride in the America.

Best Theme Park
Universal's Islands of Adventure, Universal Orlando

Universal's Islands of Adventure

Busch Gardens Williamsburg
Disney's Animal Kingdom, Walt Disney World

Propelled by the runaway enthusiasm for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, including the Theme Park Insider Award-winning Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Universal's Islands of Adventure reclaims the title as the nation's top theme park by winning the 2010 Theme Park Insider Award. The winner of the Best Theme Park award in 2002-2004, Islands of Adventure wins praise not only for Harry Potter, but for a wide line-up of world-class attractions and restaurants, including former Theme Park Insider Award winners the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man and Mythos.

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Really Grand tasting at Epcot's International Food & Wine Fest

By Scott Joseph
Published: July 2, 2010 at 7:32 AM
Here's a tasting that really will be Grand. Grand Marnier will offer a tasting of its full line of liqueurs during Epcot's International Food & Wine Fest in October. Here are the details

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Thursday theme park news round-up

By Robert Niles
Published: July 1, 2010 at 10:55 AM
  • The big news in the theme park industry this week has been the death of six visitors in a crash on a high-speed centrifuge ride in China on June 29. A ride vehicle on the Space Journey ride at the Overseas China Town East theme park in Shenzen broke loose, crashing into other vehicles as the ride spun. Ten other riders were injured, and the Chinese government is investigating.

  • In less significant, though nevertheless depressing, news, here's the front page of today's print Los Angeles Times:

    LAT front

    No, Universal Studios Hollywood hasn't been destroyed. The whole page is a "wrap" ad for Universal's King Kong 360/3-D ride. Kudos to Universal for scoring the ad, and I suppose I should congratulate the LAT ad department for what ought to have been a big payday.

    But, as a reader and former employee of the Times, how depressing to watch the paper sell itself out this way. The point of journalism ought to be to inform people, not to jerk them around. I've long had a policy at Theme Park Insider that ads never should cover up the editorial content of the publication. That's why you don't see pop-ups or "takeover" ads crawling across the posts on this site. I'm all for Universal promoting and advertising Kong. But the Times shouldn't be selling Universal fake front pages to do that. Perhaps if the Times cared as much about its readers, the paper wouldn't be in bankruptcy and it wouldn't be hemorrhaging readers and advertisers as it is.

  • Speaking of promotions, Dollywood fans might want to check out the Hallmark Channel at Saturday, July 3 at 8pm Eastern. The cable network will present a one-hour special, Dolly Celebrates 25 Years of Dollywood, featuring coverage from the theme park, as well as musical performances by Dolly Parton and guests Billy Ray and Miley Cyrus, as well as Kenny Rogers. (Interesting to see a Disney Channel star plugging another company's theme park!)

  • Finally, be sure to visit ThemeParkInsider.com tomorrow at noon Eastern (9am Pacific), when I announce the winners of the 2010 Theme Park Insider Awards. We'll be honoring the Best Theme Park, Best New Attraction, Best Restaurant and Best Theme Park Hotel in the industry, based on your ratings over the past 12 months.

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  • Keep reading: June 2010 Archive