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September 2010

Vote of the week: Which new Universal attraction would you most like to see in Orlando?

By Robert Niles
Published: September 30, 2010 at 10:11 PM
Okay, so folks love The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. And many theme park fans are enjoying the 20th edition of Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights.

But theme parks are a tough business. What are ya gonna do for us in 2011 and beyond, Universal? ;^)

Universal globe at Universal Studios Florida

Universal Orlando might be Universal's most popular theme park resort, but the company has a few major attractions at its others parks around the world which do not appear at either Universal Studios Florida or Islands of Adventure. Which of those would you most want to see make its way to Orlando?

That's our vote of the week.

Here are your options, in alphabetical order:

  • Battlestar Galactica: Dueling Vekoma roller coasters - one track an inverted coaster, the other a traditional sit-down. Currently under repair at Universal Studios Singapore.
  • King Kong 360/3-D: a 90-second 3-D film of a Kong battle on Skull Island, presented on wrap-around screens. Currently playing as part of the Studio Tour at Universal Studios Hollywood.
  • Madagascar: A Crate Adventure: An indoor boat ride featuring characters from the DreamWorks pictures, taking place within the giant ship from the film. Currently under construction at Universal Studios Singapore.
  • Space Fantasy: The Ride: A space-themed, indoor Mack spinning coaster. Currently operating at Universal Studios Japan.
  • Transformers: A 3-D motion-simulator dark ride, a la Spider-Man, based on the Michael Bay action movies. Currently under development for Universal Studios Singapore and Universal Studios Hollywood.

I'll leave to you to debate the pros and cons of these attractions, and their desirability in Orlando. (Only two of the five are now operating, for starters.)


Tell us, in the comments, how you break down this decision. And thanks, as always, for reading Theme Park Insider. (I'll be back this weekend with photos from the opening of Mickey's Halloween Party at Disneyland, so please keep reading!)

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How many Disney theme park-inspired movies do we really need?

By Robert Niles
Published: September 30, 2010 at 2:28 PM
Hat tip to reader duncan henny for this heads-up: Disney reportedly is in early development for a movie based on its Magic Kingdom theme park.

Magic Kingdom train station

This, in addition to the upcoming fourth Pirates of the Caribbean flick, as well as Guillermo del Toro's reboot of The Haunted Mansion and movies based on Jungle Cruise and Tomorrowland. (Disney Studios favorite Dwayne Johnson is attached to the Tomorrowland flick.)

When I first heard of the Magic Kingdom film project, I thought that Disney would be developing a movie series based on Ridley Pearson's Kingdom Keepers book series. But apparently not. According to Variety, the Magic Kingdom film project is based on a script by Ronald D. Moore, who developed the new version of Battlestar Galactica.

Like millions of others, I love what Disney did with Pirates. It didn't base the film on the attraction so much as use the characters, setting and theme of the ride to inspire a story that took the franchise in a different - and engaging - direction. Movies (or books) about the Magic Kingdom - or any other theme park for that matter - strike me as story-telling about story-telling. That's too meta for me to enjoy as entertainment, though I can't enough news coverage about theme parks (obviously!).

What would you like to see Disney do with these film concepts?

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An Insider's guide to VIP and backstage tours at Walt Disney World

By Robert Niles
Published: September 29, 2010 at 10:01 AM
Rides and shows not enough for your theme park visit? Have you seen all that you think there is to be seen at your favorite park, and looking for a more special experience?

Double rainbow at Epcot

Many theme parks offer special, guided tours and experiences for an extra charge on top of your daily admission. Since there are so many tour opportunities out there, we can't cover them all in a single article, as we did for theme park dining plans last week.

So today, we're starting with the world's largest theme park resort: Walt Disney World in Florida. Here are the tours and VIP experiences currently being offered at Disney World. Prices are per person and do not include tax. Tours do not include park admission, so you'll need to buy a ticket to the park as well, for those that go inside the theme parks (does not include Backstage Magic and hotel-based tours).

Note that many tours have age restrictions, so if you see a price for children above a certain age and no price for younger kids, that means the tour is not available to them. For tours restricted to ages 16 and above, Disney might check ID, so come prepared.

Resort-wide
Backstage Magic
This tour takes your behind the scenes to see how Disney designs, maintains and operates its theme parks. You'll visit the tunnels under the Magic Kingdom, backstage at Epcot and the central shops area. $224, 6-8 hours

Disney's Yuletide Fantasy
A guided tour of holiday decorations around the resort, including selected theme parks and hotels. $84 (ages 16 and up), 3 hours

Holiday D-Lights
Get a behind the scenes look at how Disney puts together its holiday light displays, including the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. The tour also includes a performance of the Candlelight Processional at Epcot. $199 (ages 16 and up), 4-5 hours

Disney's Animal Kingdom
Backstage Safari
Visit the backstage animal care facilities at Animal Kingdom, including the veterinary hospital. Keep in mind that the focus of this tour is the facilities, and not animal interactions. $72 (ages 16 and up), 3 hours

Wild by Design
This on-stage tour looks at how design and architecture within each themed land advance storytelling within Animal Kingdom. $60 (ages 14 and up), 3 hours

Disney's Hollywood Studios
Inspiration: Through Walt's Eyes
A tour of the studios theme park, with a focus on Walt and how he found inspiration for his film and theme park projects. $99 (ages 16 and up), 3 hours

Epcot
Around the World at Epcot
This is the Segway tour of Epcot, which starts with training on riding the two-wheeled, stand-up "personal transporters." Then you'll take a guided tour of World Showcase on your Disney-provided Segway. $99 (ages 16 and up), 2 hours

Behind the Seeds
Go behind the scenes at The Land pavilion to tour the greenhouse and fish farm more up-close than you could on the Listen to the Land ride. $16 (ages 10 and up) $12 (ages 3-9 yrs), 1 hour

Disney's Dolphins in Depth
Learn more about and get in the water with the dolphins at Disney's The Seas with Nemo and Friends pavilion. (You don't need to swim; you'll be standing on a ledge in shallow water.) Includes souvenir photograph. $194 (ages 13 and up), 3 hours

Epcot Seas Aqua Tour
Swim in The Seas and see the fish, using a Scuba Assisted Snorkel unit. Includes souvenir photograph. $140 (ages 8 and up), 2-3 hours

Epcot Dive Quest
For certified divers only - a dive inside the main tank at The Seas with Nemo and Friends. $175 (ages 10 and up), 3 hours

Gardens of the World
Visit with Disney gardeners as you tour and learn more about the topiaries, flowers and landscaping around Epcot. This tour is offered only at certain times of the year. $69 (ages 16 and up), 3 hours

The Undiscovered Future World
Consider this Epcot's version of "Keys to the Kingdom." You'll tour backstage and learn about the development of Epcot, meeting some of the international students who work in World Showcase, as well. $55 (ages 16 and up), 3+ hours

Magic Kingdom
Disney's Family Magic
Follow along in an interactive story adventure through the Magic Kingdom. $34, 1-3 hours

Disney's Keys to the Kingdom
This is Disney's most popular backstage tour, taking a behind the scenes look at several Disney attractions, as well as backstage support areas. No cameras or large bags permitted. $74 (ages 16 and up), 3+ hours

Disney's The Magic Behind Our Steam Trains
This tour begins before the park opens, and visits the backstage roundhouse for a look at how Disney's steam trains are maintained and operated. $49 (ages 10 and up), 3 hours

Mickey's Magical Milestones
A tour of the Magic Kingdom coupled with a history of Mickey Mouse. $25, 2 hours

Magic Kingdom Resorts
Pirates and Pals Fireworks Voyage
A pirate-themed boat ride from the Contemporary Resort for fireworks viewing on the Seven Seas Lagoon. $53.99, 1-3 hours

Wilderness Back Trail Adventure
A Segway tour in and around For Wilderness. $90 (ages 16 and up), 2 hours

The ultimate tour?
VIP Tour Services $175-$315 per hour, 6 hour minimum
If you didn't find exactly what you wanted among the tours above, Disney will customize a guided tour just for you.

To book any of these tours, call 407-WDW-TOUR (407-939-8687) or visit Disney's website.

If you've been on any of these tours, please share your experience in the comments. How did you like it? Would you recommend it? Would you go again?

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What's new on the discussion board: Disney World's best food, and memories of Universal

By Robert Niles
Published: September 28, 2010 at 7:29 AM
Here are this week's top new threads on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board:

Derek Morse has a few questions about Disney bus service to/from Downtown Disney.

Terri Pierce has few ideas about Places to eat in Disney World and would like to hear yours', too.

Caroline Davis kicks off a discussion about holiday crowds on the west coast in Thanksgiving and Disneyland.

Daniel Etcheberry wants to know Which is your favorite food stand at Epcot's Food and Wine Festival?

Charles Reichley checks in with a Howl-O-Scream Busch Gardens Williamsburg Report.

Jay Finch is looking forward to Disneyland's Third Theme Park and wonders when we'll see it.

What's your favorite place to wait for a theme park attraction? Read other readers' answers in Jeff Chandler's thread, A Line Too Long: Quest for the Best Queues in the Country.

Javi Badillo gets folks reminiscing about now-closed Universal Studios theme park attractions in Old Universal vs New Universal.

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Halloween Update: Busch Gardens' Howl-O-Scream Freaky Preview Review

By Domenik Jost
Published: September 28, 2010 at 6:54 AM
Saturday night we went to Howl-O-Scream's 'Freaky Preview' night at Busch Gardens Tampa. It was quite an enjoyable evening, but I didn't remember how much walking there was between different areas inside of the park. That said, we didn't make it to every house but for the ones we did make it to here are my initial thoughts:

My X: Revenge Rocks - In this house you go backstage at a My X concert and you pretty much feel like you are in a backstage area. I got to preview the first half on Thursday last week with the ScreamCam attached. Here is the video:

I could hardly see anything that day as it had been a bright Florida afternoon and my eyes were not yet adjusted to the dark. Now that I've seen the house again I noticed some more details that I had seen only on the video previously. Overall the house was not as scary as it was hyped to be. It did have a few great jump spots but those are overshadowed by how few of them there were.

Delta Epsilon Delta: Extreme Rush (D.E.D.er) - This is one messed-up sorority house. Let's just say I would not want anything to do with any of these crazy sisters. As you walk in to the sorority house you can hear Sylvie of My X singing a song especially written for the D.E.D. sisters. This house to me was a bit disappointing, and there wasn't any jump spots that caught me by surprise. Most of the time I could tell exactly where they would try to get me.

Trapped in the Walls: Ghostchasers - This house was a bit better than the first two. This house is set up as a paranormal research team attempting to reveal the houses history and what is trapped in its walls. Walking through the house is almost as if you are walking inside of the walls, with electrical wiring and insulation everywhere. The house made for a few good scares.

Death Row Vengeance: No Escape - This one had me quite interested from the minute I saw the well done facade of the building. It is set up as a penitentiary where inmates are slated for execution. Pay attention to the writings on the doors - one of them really had me worried. One of the doors read "Childcare". Why in the world would you have a childcare inside of a penitentiary with its inhabitants being on death row? This was one of the better done houses at Howl-O-Scream and had some really nicely done scares inside.

Deconstruction: The Doctor is Out of Control - Crazy Dr. Edger VonAngst is a reconstructive surgeon that has gone insane and is putting human parts back together with mechanical pieces. It's quite the interesting house. Deconstruction has a really well done disorienting effect towards the end of that makes for some really well-done scares. They definitely got me a couple of times in this place.

Nightshade Toy Factory: Son of Nightshade - This by-day abandoned-looking Toy Factory looks a whole lot less abandoned than you think by night. Of the normal haunted houses that are included with the admission, this is definitely my personal favorite. It's a really fun house to go through that has quite a few great scares including the biggest scare of the night for me.

I do have to mention that I saw a few scare actors inside of the houses with the most pathetic looking wound make-up I had ever seen. The wounds were actually coming off and you could tell they were those same ready made wounds that you can purchase for Halloween. I would have expected the make-up artists to be making their own wounds, as they are not as hard to create as they appear to be.

Overall the detail of the houses was OK. It's definitely not as detailed as the rival event at Universal Orlando, but it made do and worked for the event. Something that did bug me is that in every single house you will see references to this years theme band, My X, even when it seemed to be completely out of context. Too much self branding in the houses for my taste.

As for the scarezones, I do have to say that I really only like one of them: 'Spiders and Snakes'. The advantage this scarezone has over the others is its dark location near the Garden Theater. It had one scare technique I thought was just awesome and I hadn't seen used in that manner before. The other scarezones just were not really as good. Most of those were plagued by too bright of lights or scareactors being too obvious.

We managed to catch a song of Sylvie performing live with her band My X.

We also managed to catch the show 'Blood Relations'. 'Blood Relations' is Howl-O-Screams humor show making fun of events that happened over the last year in a musical way. It's a fun show to see and I recommend doing the Fright Feats which includes a dinner buffet, the 'Blood Relations' show, early access to houses, and front of line house access until 8:30 for only $24.95.

Howl-O-Scream also features an exclusive 21+ dance club including appearances by Howl-O-Screams celebrities like Sylvie.

Unfortunately we did not get to see 'Taste of Blood' or the raved about 'Alone' house. All I am hearing is good about Alone. Hearing many people say it is the best haunted house ever done. We will be back Friday night to see those houses and bring back a full report of 'Alone.'

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Theme park cast member stories: Beating the heat at Walt Disney World

By Robert Niles
Published: September 27, 2010 at 10:56 AM
It's Santa Ana season here in Southern California, when hot desert winds blow into the Los Angeles basin, pushing temperatures up into the 100s in the valleys. But whenever I think of really ridiculous hot weather, my thoughts always turn instead to... working in an Orlando theme park in the summer.

Now that's hot. The combination punches of heat, humidity and sun knock down thousands of tourists each year. And more than a few cast members, as well. My first summer, working inside the relatively mild conditions of the old Mickey's Mart store in Tomorrowland, I passed out on my way to break one evening, overcome by the heat and my failure fuel up by eating a decent lunch before my shift.

That incident left me sharply aware of the need to take care of one's body in the heat.

Every location I worked at in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom had a big Igloo cooler - and whoever was first into work in the morning was responsible for filling it with ice and water from the nearest food location. Next to each cooler you'd often find a stack of clean, white hand towels. On break, we'd often soak a towel in the icy water and wrap it around the back of our neck, while also drinking a cup of water. In Central Florida's sauna, your body demands a constant flow of hydration in order to keep the sweat flowing. If you don't keep the water coming, your body temperature will be soaring.

While I grabbed every cup of cold water I could when working the Tom Sawyer Island rafts, or any other outdoor location at Disney, I actually tried to avoid air conditioning whenever possible. Why's that, you ask?

I found that moving in between hot and cold air more uncomfortable than simply acclimating myself to the heat. Too much time in the A/C slowed down my body's internal air conditioner. Rather than be like a car that's always stopping and starting, I figured I'd rather just let my body's cooling system cruise at highway speed, and stop pretending that I didn't live in someplace so terribly hot.

At home, I kept the thermostat at 85. I shopped at a 24-hour grocery, so that I could go only after midnight shifts, when the contrast between the cold store and outdoor air was at the minimum. When taking breaks, I stayed in lead offices rather than walking down to the stronger A/C in the tunnels.

While I embraced the heat, I continued to do my best to avoid the sun. Sun and heat are two different challenges, as anyone who's gotten sunburned on a ski slope in winter should know. I always put on my sunscreen when I got dressed for my shift. And I tried to follow the best advice ever given me by a Florida native: Always stand (or park) in the shade.

With my pale, freckled skin, I can't afford what would likely end up a blistering mistake if I didn't protect myself from the sun.

What's your strategy for managing the heat in the Orlando-area theme parks? Please share your story in the comments.

For more stories from Robert about his time working at Walt Disney World, please visit themeparkinsider.com/stories.

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Halloween update: Review of Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights XX

By Domenik Jost
Published: September 25, 2010 at 5:30 PM
So last night was finally the opening of the 20th year of Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights. This year's opening night has definitely the best one I have ever seen at Halloween Horror Nights over the past eight years. It was a near-perfect event and much improved over what I saw during Wednesday night's preview rehearsal.

In case you haven't seen it, here is the video Universal Orlando allowed me to shoot inside of this year's event - including the haunted houses, which normally is a huge "No-No."

We began our night by getting to talk to some of the creators of Halloween Horror Nights and we will share some of those interviews later. But let's get right to what this update is all about, a full review of Twenty Years of Fear.

Universal Orlando give all the media R.I.P. Tours to see the entire event after the night's opening celebrations. Never having been on an R.I.P. Tour before, it was the most pleasant way I have ever enjoyed for seeing Halloween Horror Nights. Our tour guide took us in through back entrances and we'd be doing three houses back to back, and she also got us seats front and center for the Bill and Ted Show. I would definitely recommend to anyone doing one of these tours. They are definitely worth the cost.

We started our tour by heading to the Bill and Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure. On the way to the show we walked through one of my favorite areas, the pumpkin patch. This year they added icons from the past years and other references to the event on the face of the pumpkins. (Universal's version of Hidden Mickeys?)

This year's Bill and Ted show isn't one of the best, but for what they had to work with this year, well done. One thing I can tell you about the show is that Bill and Ted face possible replacement. I'll leave it at that.

Following the show we headed out to walk through the houses. This year I found to be the toughest year I have ever had in rating each of the houses because they were all just that good. Every one of the houses scared me at least once and I have to give major props to the scareactors because in past years I have sort of been able to anticipate where someone will jump out and try to get me.

First up on the list was the 'Havoc: Dogs of War' house. The house is set up to be the Shadowcreek Enterprise who was tasked with developing an elite corp of soldiers. Well they succeeded, but not exactly the way things were planned. The side effects turned these soldiers into raging killing machines. The entire house is set up as a very highly secured armored facility and is a very fast paced house. This was definitely the loudest house of the entire night with gunfire here and there and a very loud creepy soundtrack. Fun fact: Universal hired 10 females that shaved their heads to be in this house.

Next we hit the 'Catacombs: Black Death Rising' house. The setting is Paris and Marseilles in 1534 during the plague. The infected were quarantined and trapped beneath the city and now almost 500 years later the dead are seeking vengeance. You will come face to face with the "beaked" plague doctors and some of the plague victims. This house's detail is dead on with that time period. What many may not understand is why the doctors are wearing beaks. During the time of the plague doctors would stuff flowers into the cone of the beak to dampen the stench of the dead and dying.

Next we went to the 'Horror Nights: Hallow'd Past' house.

The name of the house says it all - it's all about Horror Nights. As you walk into this house you are just welcomed by props from all the years of Horror Nights. The house is set up like a warehouse and you'll see a bunch of Horror Nights classics return. There really isn't much more I can say about this house without including spoilers. So let's just leave it at if you are a fan of Horror Nights you'll have a fan-gasm in this house, and if you are new to Horror Nights, it's a great way to catch up on the last twenty terrifying years.

After a short break we continued our tour taking on some of the scare zones beginning with 'Fear Revealed.'

I would call this area "Meet the Icons and Fear" and that is basically what it boils down to. Fear and his minions stand in front of the two giant X's that have flames shooting off the top of them. Along with Fear you'll see all the icons in this scarezone: Jack, Chance, The Director, Eddie, Caretaker, Cindy, The Storyteller, and The Usher. While this scarezone has turned into more of a photo opportunity, you do see some of the icons trying to get some scares in here and there.

Next up was 'The Coven' scarezone. The Cult of the Raven has taken over this area of the park. As you enter the street you see a pilgrim being burned alive. Witches, Sirens, and unsettled spirits roam this fog filled nightmare. After that we went through 'Esqueleto Muerte' a scarezone filled with glowing skeletons. I always consider this the harmless welcome scarezone because I truly haven't seen any good scares in this zone. The way I see it, that scarezone gives you a false feel of comfort for the rest of the event.

Now we started another set of three back to back houses starting with 'Legendary Truth: The Wyandot Estate' house.

Spirit Seekers have come up with a machine that actually gathers spirits toward it and wanted to do a live broadcast from inside of this truly haunted house. This house has been rumored to be one of the most "haunted" sites in the United States ever since Malcolm Wyandot brutally killed 13 dinner guests and his wife before committing suicide on October 30, 1929. There are ghosts literally everywhere in this house and appear in the floor underneath and the walls right beside you. This house has to be one of the most remarkable of all the houses at this year's event and is truly taking techniques and scare tactics to the next level.

Next up was the 'PsychoScareapy: Echoes of Shadybrook' house. The doors to Shadybrook's Halls have been close for fifteen years, but the place is still inhabited by the souls of the criminally insane that walked in it's halls. The PsychoScareapy houses have always been fun houses to go through in the past and well it's not as fun anymore. The entire house is much darker and gloomier than it has been in the past. As you walk in there is the recognizable facade from Shadybrook but it is much darker and gloomier. The entire house is loud, dark, and violent without any sense of humor like previous PsychoScareapy's brought. It is definitely a whole new Shadybrook experience.

After that we went through the 'Hades: The Gates of Ruin' house. The setting brings you to the Gates of Ruin, the entrance to the Underworld in this myth and legend filled cave. This house was one of my favorites when I first went through hit Wednesday night and it just got better last night. The amount of detail is again just amazing. This is house is Universal Orlando's rendition of some of the most terrifying creatures of myths and legends. There are some really excellent scares in this house and it got me more than any of the other houses. It's just another beautiful piece of work by the Horror Nights creative team.

Before hitting the next house we hit two more scarezones. First we saw the return of the 'Chainsaw Drillteam' in the New York streets and then went through 'Saws 'n Steam'. Steam power is essential in to the inhabitants of this New Yorkshire, but diminishing oceans have put the city in jeopardy. Now the water in your body have become a coveted resource and the citizens will stop at nothing to get it. This is a very well executed scarezone with lots of water effects and so much steam that you can hardly see in front of you. It makes for some great scares.

Next up was 'Zombie Gras'. The Mardi Gras Parade is back with that same old annoying tune... but wait a minute, this is not what I remember Mardi Gras to be like. Zombies have infested and have over run the parade grounds in search of their next meal. The zombies walk among you and you never know whether that person next to you is still human or has turned into one of the walking dead.

Now on to the last two houses starting with 'Zombiegeddon'. The setting is that North America had been taken over by a zombie infestation. Thankfully the government has not regained control and is actively clearing the remaining invested areas. Companies have been contracted to provide training using "un-live" subjects. This house was a lot of fun to go through. It kind of reminded me of Zombieland and all those first shooter zombie games out there. The scares build as you go on through and remember zombie babies are still zombies.

Last but not least we finally went through 'The Orfanage: Ashes to Ashes' house. This burned out shell of the Good Harvest Orphanage contains the souls of the forgotten and the lost who all scream one name: Cindy. This house is just eerie and absolutely creepy with a bunch of children running around singing in the dark. Smoke and the smell of burning wood fill the air of what remains of the Orphanage. There is some really cool new effects in this house including an open flame.

Lastly we caught the remaining scarezone, 'HHN: 20 Years of Fear'. The name of this one again says it all. It's all about the last twenty years of this magnificent annual event. The area is set up as the prop warehouse and you'll find all sorts of characters from past years walking through this street.

Unfortunately we did not get a chance Wednesday night or last night to go see Brian Brushwood's two new shows Menace and Malice. We already know from him that of the two shows Menace will feature some repeats from the 2008 show as well as some new stuff, but Malice is a 100-percent new show. We'll be sure to catch both of them next weekend and try to catch an interview with Brian Brushwood as well.

I gave all of the houses a 4.5 out of 5 stars rating. The houses this year are just that surprisingly good and none of them deserved anything lower. I also did not give any of them a full 5 out of 5 rating because I don't believe any of them were 100% perfect, but they were all the closest I have ever seen them to perfection at any Halloween Horror Nights event I've been to over the past eight years.

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Halloween update: Opening nights for Halloween Horror Nights and Howl-O-Scream

By Domenik Jost
Published: September 24, 2010 at 12:53 PM
The day has finally arrived and tonight marks the kick off for Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights and Busch Gardens Tampa's Howl-O-Scream.

On Wednesday night I got to preview Halloween Horror Nights and was invited by Universal to record inside the haunted houses. (However, Universal's editing the video.) As soon as I get that video from Universal Orlando I will post it here on Theme Park Insider. *Posted. See below.

This year's event is bigger than it has ever been and it sure didn't let me down. Since Wednesday night was only a preview night and basically a dress and tech rehearsal, I don't want to prematurely rate my experience in each of the houses. I will say this, Universal has done an excellent job at incorporating the past 20 years into one event and still pulling off a very unique and new experience.


Meet 'Fear' himself inside the 'Fear Revealed' scarezone.

To kick things off tonight, Universal Orlando will do something they have never ever done before. They will be live-streaming from inside of Halloween Horror Nights. Online viewers will be able to see the event opening and a live feed from inside of the haunted houses.

The live stream will start from 6:00 - 6:30 PM EDT with the Halloween Horror Nights XX event opening ceremony. Later in the night, from 9:30 - 11:30 PM EDT, Universal will be live-streaming from inside the haunted houses.

Find the live stream by going to this link and clicking on the "Watch Live Feed" link on the upper-right of the page.

Look for a full detailed review of the opening night of Halloween Horror Nights tomorrow.

----

Universal Orlando isn't the only theme park destination kicking off its Halloween event tonight. Busch Gardens Tampa also is debuting its Howl-O-Scream event.

Thursday I got to meet Sylvie and preview part of the "My X: Revenge Rocks" haunted house. Inside the house let's just say I didn't feel welcome at all and was apparently late getting to the backstage area. It was quite dark inside of the house and I couldn't hardly see anything but I would just attribute that to having been in broad daylight and then put into a very dark house. The parts I could make out and see I definitely felt like I was in the backstage area of a concert venue. There was definitely a few times I jumped and got startled in that first half of the house. For only having seen one half of the house I don't want to rate it just yet.


Guests getting scared inside 'My X: Revenge Rocks' house.

I'll be headed to Tampa Saturday night to get a full review of the event including the all new unique "Alone" haunted experience, and the ScreamCam footage from the 'My X: Revenge Rocks' haunted house.

*Update: And here's the video:

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Vote of the week: How much time will you spend in the car on a roadtrip?

By Robert Niles
Published: September 23, 2010 at 10:52 PM
Now that we're officially into fall, I'd like to take a moment to ask you about your summer vacation.

Did you go on a roadtrip? If you've been following the site, you likely know that we did, and it was a big one - seven weeks and 8,000 miles. But even though we covered a lot of miles on our trip, we didn't have that many long days within the car. We tried to break the trip into smaller chunks, with several days off the road in between our driving days as well.

The Niles family Prius
Our roadtrip machine

I'm comfortable with epic stints behind the wheel - when I was in grad school, I once drove from Orlando to Houston in a single day, stopping only to gas up and hit drive-thrus at meal times. (Human "pit stops" were reserved for when the gas was pumping.) That was over 1,000 miles in a day - my personal best.

But with a wife and kids now, the family can't comfortably endure that much driving in one day. We stretched on this trip to make it from Cincinnati to Orlando in one go, but that was with a 5 am start for a 15-hour day. Most driving days, though, we were comfortable spending up to nine to 10 hours in the car, averaging between 600-700 miles.

How long are you, and your family, comfortable in the car on a single day during a roadtrip? That's our vote of the week.

I've offered the options below in miles, but it might be helpful to think of them in terms of hours. Let's figure that, with highway speeds and occasional stops for food and gas, that you might average a touch over 60 miles per hour. That would place the first option at up to four hours in the car, the second at about four-to-eight hours, the third at eight-to-12 hours and the over 750 miles option at more than 12 hours a day in the car.

Or, if you don't care for roadtrips, and are more comfortable on a plane or train for out-of-town trips, that's an option available to you as well.


Let's hear more detail in the comments. What's the longest you've spent in the car on a one-day haul? Got any funny or frustrating roadtrip stories? We'd love to hear them.

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Disney announces new promotional campaign for 2011 - starring theme park visitors

By Robert Niles
Published: September 23, 2010 at 9:45 AM
Disney announced today its new promotional campaign for 2011: "Let the Memories Begin."

The in-park highlight of the campaign will be a nightly musical presentation at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, where Disney will project photos of park guests onto Cinderella's Castle (in Florida) and it's a small world (in California).

Photos = memories. Get it? :-)

The details, from Disney's press release:

In both locations, Disney PhotoPass photographers will capture guests caught up in the Disney experience – a memory in the making – and as many as 500 photos will be used in each location every day, producers estimate.

The nighttime show will use the latest in high-intensity projection technology to create vivid visuals that seem to defy the architecture of the building. A new song commissioned for the show will provide an emotional context for these images of the Disney guest experience.

No word yet on schedules for the shows, though Disney says they will begin in January.

Disney also is asking fans to submit photos and videos of their Disney theme park visits for possible use in Disney's TV and online campaigns. The website to submit and view the photos and video will be www.DisneyParks.com/Memories.

If that part of the campaign sounds familiar, SeaWorld did something similar a few years back to collect visitor photos for use on SeaWorld's website. SeaWorld, though, offered free tickets and other goodies to visitors whose photos where selected for use online. I've heard no word yet from Disney whether the folks whose videos or photos are used prominently within this campaign will get anything in return from the company, other than some pretty sweet bragging rights.

That said, from an initial glance it appears that Disney's campaign is much more aggressive in scope on the Web side of things than SeaWorld's. Instead of collecting a few photos for illustrating the main Disney theme park websites, Disney looks to be creating a sort of "Disney Facebook Lite," where people can publish photos and videos for all other Disney fans to see (once Disney approves them, of course). So it'll become a huge archive of in-park media, rather than a handful of promo photos.

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Halloween update: Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at Walt Disney World

By Domenik Jost
Published: September 22, 2010 at 4:56 PM
Last night we went to go check out Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at Walt Disney World and it didn't disappoint. As you arrive at the entrance to the Magic Kingdom you are greeted by a giant Mickey pumpkin and the decorated Main Street Train Station.

Walk just inside and you'll be given a special trick-or-treat bag, then see Main Street, USA and Cinderella's Castle lit in extra-spooky colors.

There is plenty of walking to do and plenty of candy to fulfill all your sugary needs at this Halloween event. When I say plenty of candy, I mean there is a lot. There are 12 Trick-Or-Treat stations marked with Goofy's Candy Company logos on the park map. And don't think you are too old to go trick-or-treating for candy; it's tons of fun for young and old. Along the candy routes you can also see special Disney characters appearing in Halloween costumes, signing autographs and posing for pictures.

More fun is to be had at the character dance parties in Liberty Square and Tomorrowland. The DJ will have you dancing in no time with music ranging from current dance hits to old-school disco. There's just something wildly entertaining about seeing Stitch and others dance to Thriller.

And dancing the night away isn't the only entertainment. You also should check out Disney's Villains Mix & Mingle. It's part show, part meet-and-greet. It goes on four times a night, center-stage in front of Cinderella's Castle. This special Halloween production is filled with special effects that will sure catch you off guard.

Also go over to check out The Haunted Mansion with its spooky colors and meet an extra-spooky ghost they let out of the Mansion just for the party.

The Mickey's "Boo-to-You" Halloween Parade starts in Frontierland twice each evening during the event. Make sure just before the parade comes around that you keep an eye out for the Headless Horseman. Other parade sightings include Jack Sparrow, Captain Hook and the Haunted Mansion Ghosts.

Make sure you have your candy bags ready because Goofy and his Candy Company are giving out tons of candy.

And of course you don't want to miss the Happy HalloWishes fireworks spectacular. The show includes a sing-along with the Disney Villains that is a lot of fun and that gives you the feeling like you are in control of the fireworks exploding.

And saved the best for last. Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party is fun for all ages. I was surprised at how much fun I had and to see so many wonderful costumes. Young and old come dressed up in all sorts of costumes, from Vampires to the Flintstones. Don't think you are too old to dress up in a funny Halloween costume. At Disney everyone is a kid again, and did I mention that there is lots and lots of candy?

Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party runs for another 21 select nights through Halloween at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom park. 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. I suggest visiting Disney's website and purchasing tickets in advance as they are discounted and will sell out on some nights.

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An Insider's guide to theme park dining plans

By Robert Niles
Published: September 22, 2010 at 1:59 PM
Starting today, and over the next several Wednesdays, we'll be taking a look at some of the "extras" that theme parks offer to sell you, beyond your basic admission ticket.

First up: Dining plans. These can be great ways to pay in advance for your food during your theme park visit, potentially making your meals less expensive that they would have been had you paid as you'd gone through the park. But if you're not careful, you could find yourself paying for meals that you don't eat, and locked out of dining choices you'd wanted to try.

The Disney Dining Plan, offered at Walt Disney World and in a more limited form at Disneyland, differs from other parks' plans in that it's simply a pay-in-advance plan, with a fixed number of meals and snacked covered by the plan. It's also available only to people who book their vacations through Disney. Universal and SeaWorld, on the other hand, offer "all you eat"-style plans that may be bought be anyone, including day guests. These plans don't require an advance purchase, either, and can be bought on-site, inside the park.

Disney Dining Plan

If you're not planning to stay at of one Walt Disney World's on-site hotels during your next trip to Disney World, well, Disney hopes that its dining plan might help convince you to change your mind. It's available only to guests of Disney's hotels, who book a vacation package through Disney.

Biergarten Restaurant at Epcot
Epcot's Biergarten Restaurant

The benefit of the Disney Dining Plan is to make a Disney World vacation more of an all-inclusive experience, one minus the hassle of paying for individual meals and snacks. Priced as part of a package, Disney also suggests that selecting the dining package can save visitors over the cost of paying for their hotel room, theme park tickets and meals separately. Even better for guests, Disney often offers steep discounts on its vacation packages during off seasons (essentially, whenever children are in school in Florida), making the dining plan a free add-on.

Walt Disney World offers three variations on its dining plan:

  • Quick-service plan, with 2 quick-service meals and 2 snacks per person per night of your stay
  • Regular Dining plan, with one table-service meal, one quick-service meal and one snack per person per night
  • Deluxe Dining plan, with 3 meals (table-service or quick-service) and 2 snacks per person per night

You also can add a wine option onto your plan for an additional charge. All packages also include one refillable drink mug per person, which can be refilled at your hotel's quick-serve restaurants.

Do note that the Disney Dining Plan does not include tips at table service restaurants. (Please, don't stiff your server!)

If your intent with the Disney Dining Plan is to create an all-inclusive experience, don't forget that by staying at an on-site hotel, you won't be getting the free or pre-paid breakfast that you might at many off-site hotels. So if you want to avoid paying out-of-pocket for any meals during your Disney vacation, you'll need to go with the Deluxe Dining plan, the only option that covers three meals per day.

You should also know that certain restaurants sometimes will charge two meal credits, rather than just one, including The Hollywood Brown Derby and Le Cellier. And Bistro de Paris, the Epcot restaurant which won the 2010 Theme Park Insider Award for best theme park restaurant, doesn't accept Dining Plan credits at all. So even if you select the Deluxe Plan, you might still end up paying in the parks.

Visit the Disney Dining Plan website for more information, including the complete list of participating restaurants.

Finally, remember that just selecting a Disney Dining Plan doesn't guarantee you a seat at any restaurant. You'll still need to make priority seating reservations by calling 407-WDW-DINE or booking online up to 180 days before your visit.

At Disneyland, a basic Disney Dining Plan is available for visitors who book through the Walt Disney Travel Company, which offers not only the three on-site hotels at Disneyland, but also packages with stays at several "Good Neighbor" hotels.

One advance-purchase dining option that is available to anyone at the Disneyland Resort is the World of Color picnic. These $15 boxed dinners include reserved seating at the World of Color show at Disney California Adventure, which remains a tough ticket for anyone who doesn't arrive at the park at opening to obtain a free FastPass reservations.

Universal Meal Deal

Universal's dining plans don't require advance purchase, and are not restricted to guests of the resort's official, on-site hotels. It's also more of an all-you-can-eat package that does not include a specific number of meals, such as Disney's, but that allows you to visit participating restaurants as often as you'd like.

That said, only a handful of restaurants at the Universal Orlando Resort participate - three in each theme park.

At Universal Studios Florida:

  • Mel's Drive-In
  • Louie's Italian Restaurant
  • International Food and Film Festival

At Islands of Adventure:

  • Circus McGurkus Café Stoo-pendous
  • Comic Strip Cafe
  • The Burger Digs

You can get one entree platter and one dessert each time you go through the line. The Universal Meal Deal currently costs $19.99 for adults and $9.99 for children (age 9 and under) for use in one park for a day, and $23.99 for adults and $11.99 for children if you'll be visiting both parks in the same day while using the meal deal. Prices do not include tax and children must order from the kids menu. (If you're visiting the parks on separate days, there's no need to buy the two-park deal. Just buy a one-park deal for each day.)

The Universal Meal Deal isn't accepted at the parks' table service restaurants, including Mythos, nor is it good at the Three Broomsticks in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Also note that drinks are not included in the Universal Meal Deal, but you can buy a refillable beverage cup for use at the participating restaurants for $8.99. Full details (and advance purchase) are available at Universal Orlando's website.

Universal Studios Hollywood offers an All You Can Eat Pass for $19.95 a day ($9.95 for children under 48" tall). It also gets you one entree platter each time you go through a line, but no drink, and its available at five of the California theme park's counter-service restaurants

SeaWorld's All Day Dining Deal

SeaWorld's pass is similar to Universal's expect that it does include (certain) drinks and is accepted at most of the parks' tray-service restaurants.

The cost is $29.99 for adults and $14.99 for children (ages 3-9), plus tax. You'll get one entree (excludes baby back ribs), one side or dessert and one non-alcoholic drink (excludes Naked Juice) on each visit to a participating restaurant. Again, prices do not include tax.

SeaWorld's All Day Dining Deal is not accepted at table service, buffets or character meals, including Sharks Underwater Grill or Makahiki Luau.

Visit the SeaWorld Orlando website or the SeaWorld San Diego website for the full list of participating restaurants. The price and terms of the All Day Dining Deal are the same at both parks.

The All Day Dining Deals also is available at Sea World's sister park, Busch Gardens Tampa.

We'd love to hear, in the comments, about your personal experience with theme park dining plans, including your opinion of them and advice for other theme park visitors.

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Looking forward to Disneyland Paris' 20th birthday

By Andy Milio
Published: September 21, 2010 at 11:29 AM
Disneyland Paris will celebrate its 20th anniversary in a little under 18 months. In the world of Disney theme parks, where these corporate birthday events enjoy year-long festivities of a Soviet-May-Day intensity, you can be sure that the Paris jamboree will be given particularly special treatment.

Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant at Disneyland Paris

When Disney announced plans to construct a European park at the end of the 1980s, it created the sort of sensation that would be hard to imagine today. In the wake of Skytrain, travel to the States had boomed during the '80s despite tough economic circumstances. A trip to Walt Disney World in Florida suddenly became the ambition of many family that now could afford the holiday. Disney World offered a family holiday of perfect hot summer Florida days, stunning theme park rides and good-value accommodation – all that and as many burgers, fries and milkshakes as you could manage.

From this success the Disney corporation estimated that a theme park built in Paris ought to flourish even more. Instead of flying nearly half the day to America to sample Disney fun, residents of France would only have to take the train a couple of hours to Paris. Since the idea was the brainchild of Disney’s saviour, Michael Eisner, who had established himself as a latter-day Walt, it reached fruition. From well before Euro Disney, as it was then called, opened to the public in April 1992 doubts were expressed. Was there really a market for a year-round theme park on the eastern outskirts of Paris where temperatures can be pretty frigid in the winter and spring? Would a predominantly French workforce be able to adapt themselves to the smiley Disney culture?

In the end only the French farmers – a sort of Gallic rent-a-mob – bothered to turn up (hard to see why they were opposed, but they were). In order to hog the TV channels of Europe, Disney had a televised broadcast of the pre-opening party that included an impressive roster of stars, from Pavarotti and Eddie Murphy to Tina Turner and Michael J Fox, in a lavish event that cost more than £20 million (a sum that would have bought a fairly substantial UK theme park).

Fairly quickly the park ran into financial troubles and had to be rescued by a substantial investment from a Saudi prince. Before the bailout there were real fears that Disneyland Paris, as it became in the rebranding, might not have survived. It says much about the Disney energy and spirit that the theme park has not merely survived but grown.

To get the most out of any theme park trip – but especially a visit to Disney – you need to prepare meticulously: study the guides and the maps before deciding where you want to go and when would be the best time to do it. If you want to watch the regular daily parades of Disney characters, you need to plan to find a good spot to watch the show well before the event. And you need to know what's new. This year, the resort's newest attractions are at Walt Disney Studios, the second, companion park that opened in 2002. The Toy Story Playland area, with Toy Soldiers Parachute Drop, Slinky Dog Zigzag Spin and RC Racer offers the premise that Andy’s away and ‘the toys are ready to play.'

Happy (early) birthday Disneyland Paris!

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What's new on the discussion board: Latest tips for Disney and Universal trips

By Robert Niles
Published: September 21, 2010 at 5:55 AM
Got a question about a theme park visit? Looking for advice on planning a trip? The Theme Park Insider Discussion Board is a great resource for asking and answering questions about theme parks. Here are this week's top new threads:

Daniel Etcheberry wants to Bring Pixar rides to Disney World! and invites you to share your ideas on how best to do that.

Kathy Barr asks How is Harry Potter land doing? and readers check in with updates on the current wait times in Universal Orlando's Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Crystal A asks if anyone's used the Kids Nite Out Babysitting Service while visiting the Orlando-area theme parks.

Disney's not used ride tickets for a generation, but the term "E ticket" persists as code for the best of the best in theme parks. Which prompts David L. to ask: What rides do you consider E-tickets?

Timothy Nguyen opens up a discussion about using My Coke Rewards points for theme park tickets.

Matt Bolick needs your help in planning am Islands of Adventure Scavenger Hunt

Nick Markham is looking for tips for a first-timer's Walt Disney World & Universal Trip.

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Theme park cast member stories: Benches and parade routes

By Robert Niles
Published: September 20, 2010 at 10:25 AM
"I'm sorry, ma'am, but we need to leave those benches where they were, instead of pulling them up to the parade route."

And thus began yet another episode in the daily struggle between cast member and guest over seating for the Magic Kingdom's parades.

On Main Street, the Magic Kingdom's parade route is well defined - the parade runs down the middle of the street. Folks take a seat on the curb and others stand behind them to watch. Easy.

But on the west side of Walt Disney World's first theme park, Disney's attractions cast members need to roll out a parade route through Liberty Square and Frontierland. We did it with stanchions and rope, defining where folks could gather to watch the parade, while providing enough space for the floats and dancers to pass by.

Yet some folks weren't eager to plop down on the flat ground to wait for the parade. With no curb to sit on, and plenty of benches in nearby dining areas and lining the edges of the street, many guests put one-and-one together and pulled up a bench upon which to sit while waiting for, then watching, the parade.

No big deal, right? Well, moving benches becomes a very big deal after the parade. While crowds gathered slowly around the parade route in the hours leading up to the performance, people didn't leave as leisurely once the show was over. Following the last float in any Disney parade you'd find a phalanx of cast members and guests, including attractions CMs pulling those stanchions and rolling up the rope within a second or two of the float's passing.

Behind them came a rush of park visitors, following the parade to their next destination in the park, or to the park's exit. On most days, it would be a shoulder-to-shoulder wall of humanity.

Good luck picking up and moving your bench through that.

Sure, a few folks have managed to do that, over the years. But many others couldn't, or didn't even bother. When people failed to return their benches, other folks in that post-parade crush were forced to avoid those stray benches, now standing - seemingly randomly - in the middle of the street, often blocked from view by the swirling crowd.

Of course, a few folks didn't avoid the benches - and a trip to First Aid for treatment (or City Hall for a complaint) quickly followed.

To avoid such unpleasantness, Disney wisely instructed its attractions cast members to prevent anyone from moving benches up to the parade route. Don't bother arguing that you'll be the rare guest who returns the bench to its proper place afterward. Fair's fair. Cast members know that everyone won't return their benches and that they have no way of telling who will. So no one gets to move one up.

Don't argue that you've got someone in your party who needs to sit in a chair, either. Disney provides seating for persons with disabilities at each of its parades. Bring a wheelchair to the parade route, and a cast member gladly will escort you to the nearest available reserved viewing area. (And if you didn't know that - now you do.)

But people continued to try to move the benches, and still do. As a former cast member and frequent theme park visitor, I know that some theme park rules might seem arbitrary to a first-time or infrequent park guest. The "no-benches" rule stands near the top of that list for many, I'm sure.

Yet as someone who's smacked his shin against a bench in a crowd more than a couple of times, lemme tell you that this is one rule I wish that every theme park guest would follow. Enjoy the park's benches where you find them. Just don't move 'em around.

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Theme Park Apprentice 2: It's time to sign up

By Tim W
Published: September 19, 2010 at 8:12 PM
Do you like designing attractions? Are you able to devote a certain amount of time a week to playing a fun online game? Do you want to join in on the discussion boards? Then join Theme Park Apprentice 2.

I'd like to invite all TPI readers and posters to join this season of Theme Park Apprentice. It's a challenging way to think up your own theme park ideas and receive critique. Sign up on the discussion board now. The next season begins in October.

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Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit closed for 'maintenance'

By Gareth H
Published: September 18, 2010 at 3:27 PM
On Wednesday Universal Orlando closed Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit for "Maintenance". However, earlier this month its manufacturer issued a service bulletin about one of the parts.

Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit

The bulletin reads as follows:

2. September 2010
Dear Customers,

As supplier and manufacturer of one of the successful roller coasters of the X-Car series we are sending you the latest information in reference to safety, maintenance and Service of your System, to give you the best customer support.

In the light of recent findings, we would like to inform you through the attached Service Bulletin 001/10 about the coupling bar assembly on the cars of your Sky Loop System.

We would like to ask you to take note of the documents, to inform all persons concerned by this matter promptly and comprehensively and to implement the described measures according to the given instructions.

We deeply regret the present circumstances and the resulting consequences, but hope for your understanding because of the importance of this matter. If you have further questions on this case, we will gladly provide you with more information.

We wish you every success for the close of the 2010 season and thank you for the excellent cooperation.

Sincerely,
Maurer Söhne Rides

The fix could take up to 3 months, so will RRR be closed for that long?

Universal Orlando Resorts' official spokesman issued a press release:

"We are obsessive about safety. We have aggressive inspection and safety programs in place for all our rides and attractions. Those programs meet or exceed all manufacturer guidelines. Anything in a September 2nd manufacturer’s advisory would have been dealt with weeks ago. Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit is temporarily closed for unrelated maintenance."

Anyone visiting Universal please keep us updated with anything that may be going on with this ride.

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New drop ride and launch coaster highlight Busch Gardens Williamsburg's expansion plans

By Drew Petzold
Published: September 18, 2010 at 10:44 AM
Busch Gardens Williamsburg has announced the details of its two-year expansion plan, including expansions for Water Country USA.

We knew that a tower ride was coming for spring 2011, and now we know the details. Mach Tower will debut mext year, a 245-foot drop tower located in the Oktoberfest section of the park. It will be an outdoor drop tower.

Also in the Oktoberfest section, Busch Gardens will be refurbishing and updating the look of that section of the park, including changes to the stores and games located there.

In 2012, Busch Gardens will debut a new roller coaster. This roller coaster will be a multi-launch roller coaster.

At Water Country USA, they will debut Vanish Point in 2011. This is a 75 foot tower with two drop options. You can stand in a sky box, and you start as soon as the floor gives out. The other option is to start horizontally on a speed slide.

You can find out more details of these new updates on the Busch Gardens Williamsburg website.

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Vote of the week: What's your favorite type of place to eat at a theme park?

By Robert Niles
Published: September 16, 2010 at 9:14 PM
The talk this week about Epcot's two new Mexican restaurants has me wondering: What's your preferred style of restaurant to eat at when you visit a theme park?

Theme parks offer a variety of options at meal times, not just in cuisine and price points, but in ways to order and get your food.

Bratwurst at Disneyland
One theme park favorite: A bratwurst, from Disneyland

  • Snack carts: Eat on the street
  • Counter service restaurants: Order at the window, fast-food style
  • Tray service restaurants: Anywhere you pick up a tray and load it up with selections on your way to the cashier
  • Table service restaurants: For a full-service, "sit down and a waiter takes your order" meal

And if you're looking for a longer break (or a better deal), there's always the option of dining outside the park.

One of the new Mexican eateries at Epcot is table service and the other counter service. Tray service seems to be especially popular at the SeaWorld/Busch Gardens parks. And food carts are everywhere.

So, all other things being equal (as if that were possible), which is your go-to choice?


Tell us why you picked what you picked, in the comments. And, as always, thanks for reading Theme Park Insider.

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What would you do? Building a Marvel theme park at Disneyland Paris

By Robert Niles
Published: September 16, 2010 at 11:45 AM
The holding company which controls the Disneyland Paris resort has signed a deal with the French government that gives the resort more space and a 20-year window to build a third theme park.

The Telegraph in the U.K. quoted EuroDisney CEO Philippe Gas as saying that the third park could be "a superheroes park." Remember, Disney bought Marvel last year and has been looking for a place to launch the Marvel superheroes in its theme parks.

Before any new readers ask: Universal Orlando's deal with Marvel grandfathers Islands of Adventure's use of its current Marvel characters for a long, long time, possibly in perpetuity. And it blocks Disney from using the characters currently at IOA at Walt Disney World, too. That creates a bit of a promotional problem for Disney in maximizing its use of the Marvel characters in the United States. (I've argued that Universal should negotiate a buy-out for those theme park rights with Disney and use the cash to revamp that side of IOA.)

But in Europe? A Marvel theme park at Disneyland Paris could use all Marvel's characters in whatever creative ways Disney's Imagineers could envision, without contractual entanglement.

But why wait for them? Here's your chance to envision a Marvel Superheroes theme park. (And to dream up a good name, too. Please do not let it be "Marvel Kingdom.")

Let's hear your best plans and concepts, in the comments.

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Two new Mexican restaurants, La Hacienda de San Angel and La Cantina de San Angel, open at Epcot

By Robert Niles
Published: September 15, 2010 at 6:39 PM
Walt Disney World this evening officially debuted its second new table service restaurant at Epcot this summer, as it cut the ribbon on La Hacienda de San Angel in the park's Mexico pavilion.

Interior of La Hacienda de San Angel
Photo courtesy Disney

I'm back in Los Angeles, so I wasn't able to attend as I did for the opening of Via Napoli in the Italy pavilion last month. So I can't offer you a review of the new restaurant's food. But I can give you the menu line-up:

Entrees are $21.95 and up:

  • Mixed grill "La Hacienda" (flank steak, chicken and chorizo)
  • Mixed grill "Del Mar" (Mahi mahi, shrimp, scallops)
  • Flank steak
  • Chicken al Pastor
  • Roasted pork loin in mole sauce
  • Grilled tilapia
  • Fried shrimp tacos

Disney's taking reservations for La Hacienda, but only for dining dates for Oct. 15 and later. Until then, it's walk-in and first-come, first-served.

Don't confuse La Hacienda with Mexico's other, existing sit-down restaurant, San Angel Inn Restaurant, which remains inside the Mexico pavilion.

If you are looking for a less-expensive, counter-service option, Epcot's also reopened La Cantina de San Angel, located adjacent to La Hacienda.

Here's the new menu:

  • Beef tacos $11.95
  • Chicken tacos $10.95
  • Cheese empanadas $10.50
  • Nachos $9.95
  • Chips and guacamole $7.25
  • Kids meal (cheese empanda or chicken tenders) $6.99

Since many of you ask, here's the special drink menu at La Cantina (regular soft drinks also available):

  • Margaritas $8.99
  • Dos Equis $7.50
  • Aqua Fresca $3.99
  • Mexican soda $3.50

If you've eaten at either of these restaurants during soft openings, please give us a review in the comments.

Update: Our friend and restaurant critic Scott Joseph has video of the opening festivities, as well as some additional details about the two restaurants.

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What would you do? Creating a Harry Potter Halloween event

By Robert Niles
Published: September 15, 2010 at 10:57 AM
Theme parks across the country are gearing up for their annual Halloween events. But at some theme parks, Halloween isn't just another overlay, it's a perfect thematic fit for one of the park's existing attractions.

You'll find one of these perfect fits at Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure, where the park's new Wizarding World of Harry Potter cries for a Halloween event to feature it.

Universal's not hosting any Halloween event at the Wizarding World in this, the land's first year, since crowds continue to fill the land without any extra inducement and the park's still tweaking its operation.

So we'll leave this as a "What Would You Do?" exercise: For 2011 and beyond, what would you include in a Halloween event at Universal's Wizarding World of Harry Potter?

Remember that everything in the Wizarding World must be canon according to J.K. Rowling's works, so no cheesy cross-overs with Jurassic Park dinosaurs or Frankenstein's monster battling wizards outside the Hogwarts Castle. But Rowling's given you plenty of material to work with, as the annual "Halloween Feat" appears in the first four books of the Harry Potter series.

Halloween Feast at Hogwarts

How would you work the Halloween Feast into the Wizarding World? That's what I like to hear from you, in the comments.

Since the main Halloween event in the Harry Potter world is a feast, you've got to figure that the The Three Broomsticks should figure into any plans. (Yes, the Harry Potter Halloween Feasts takes place inside Hogwarts' Great Hall, but I think that it is reasonable to assume that the people of Hogsmeade would celebrate a Halloween Feast of their own.)

What menu Halloween-only food items would you add at The Three Broomsticks, or sell from carts in the Wizarding World? (Pumpkin pasties, anyone?)

Personally, I think that a Harry Potter Halloween event should be a daytime affair included with regular park admission rather than another hard-ticket event, and positioned as a more family-friendly option than Universal's Halloween Horror Nights. Floating Jack-o'-lanterns should decorate the Hogwarts castle queue, and bats should fly overheard through the castle dungeons. Special Halloween candy should appear at Honeydukes. And Halloween Feast-themed merchandise should be offered at the Wizarding World's shops.

I'd also like to see the Three Broomsticks shake up the menu a bit. The restaurant could add a special "Halloween Feast" option, or add additional a la carte entrees and desserts to match the Halloween theme. Universal could program a special feast show with assigned seating times, or continue normal operation with the addition of some entertainment (such as the skeleton band from Chamber of Secrets). I could be swayed either way, based on a strong argument.

(FWIW, I don't think that a Haunted Mansion-style overlay of the Forbidden Journey ride would be a viable option for Halloween Feast, unless Universal really thought ahead and filmed that footage with the Harry Potter actors when it filmed the original Forbidden Journey scenes.)

What would you like to see in Halloween Feast at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter? Let's hear you best suggestions in the comments.

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What's new on the discussion board: Grown-ups at theme parks

By Robert Niles
Published: September 14, 2010 at 10:24 AM
Here are the week's top new conversations on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board. What would you like to add?

Daniel Etcheberry asks Would you marry someone who doesn't like theme parks?

Scott B raises some questions about Adults at Character Meet and Greets.

Katie White is looking for advice on selecting Hotels for an Orlando Trip

Sandra Creevey is visiting Orlando in October and asks what is the Best Day for Universal without Halloween Horror Nights?

Barry Wallace would like to hear your experience with Disneyland Paris at Christmas.

Bryan shepard wants to know, after the changes, what really is the top Intimidator 305 speed?

Andy Milio revives a classic discussion topic by asking about a Video Game Theme Park?

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Top things you always should do when visiting a theme park

By Robert Niles
Published: September 13, 2010 at 12:06 PM
Last week, we talked about 10 things you never should do at a theme park. This week, we're taking a positive approach. Here are 10 top things you really ought to do (or at least try to) whenever you visit a theme or amusement park:

Make a note of where you parked your car
I jot a text note on my cell phone. Other people take a digital photo of the row marker where they're parked. But you'll want some reminder when you come out of the park at the end of the day.

Let someone enter the line in front of you
Often at popular attractions, several folks arrive to enter the line at once. Why not generate some goodwill all around by letting the others go first, instead of fighting to get once space ahead?

Help someone who's lost
When you see someone staring at a guidemap, or looking around lost, why not offer help and directions, if you know the park well? Wouldn't you like someone to do the same, if you were the one in need of help?

Ask for help
Even if you've come to this park 100 times in the past, ask an employee for a tip or assistance. You'll never know what special experience can be revealed or created. Unless you ask, of course.

Compliment an employee
Make at least a mental note of the employees you speak with or watch working during your visit. Then, before you leave, stop in the park's guest or customer relations office to compliment the person you saw doing the best job for you (or for others) that day. Visitor compliments are gold to theme park employees. Don't be stingy.

Share
Save money, conserve resources and promote togetherness by sharing among the people in your group. Share guidemaps, share snacks and share meals. If you need more (food, drinks, guidemaps, etc.), you always can go get it. But sharing initially helps cut down waste and can save you money.

Set a good example and follow the rules
Seek out and follow each ride's safety instructions. It's the smart, safe thing to do. And the more people who do this, the happier and safer everyone's day can be.

Act like you're in public
We really shouldn't need to say this, but some folks seem to think that since they're on vacation from work or school, they can be on vacation from common sense, too. But you are in public at a theme park, among thousands of other people, too. So act like it. No one needs to be witness to your shouting, fighting, profanity, or PDA.

Down in front
If you're waiting to watch a parade or fireworks, and you arrive early enough to get the front-row space - sit down. The more folks who sit up front, the more kids can see from the back. Even if you're not all the way up front, if everyone in front of you is sitting, take a seat yourself. Don't be that first person standing, whom everyone else is cursing under his or her breath.

Give away your unused Fastpasses
This is a Disney-only piece of advice, but if you have any unused Fastpasses when you leave the park (hey, it happens), hand them to another guest at that attraction rather than walk out with them. In practice, the passes are good not just within their one-hour window, but at any time after that during the day. Trust me, you will make people's day by handing them front-of-the-line passes they didn't expect.

Let's hear your additions (and reactions) to this list, in the comments.

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Theme park cast member stories: The one with the security camera

By Robert Niles
Published: September 13, 2010 at 10:23 AM
In answer to popular questions about working at the Walt Disney World Resort:

"Are there really security cameras everywhere at Walt Disney World?"

Well, I wouldn't say that they are everywhere, but Disney uses security cameras in many of its attractions.

"Have you ever seen, well, you know...?"

Yes.

"But I didn't say what I meant."

Doesn't matter. Whatever you meant, we've seen it happening on a security camera at Disney World.

Here's the warning: Bail out of this story now if you're easily offended.

Still here? Oh-kay. Let's proceed.

It's parade time in the afternoon during one of the slower months of the year in the Magic Kingdom. I'm sitting in the control tower at Pirates of the Caribbean and our line has evaporated, as almost everyone in this side of the park has made their way over to Frontierland for the parade. The only people still in our queue are a young couple, a man and a woman in their late teens or early 20s. They get into a boat, alone. Nothing but empty boats around them.

I know that they're aware of this, too, because both of them are looking around at the empty boats as they're dispatched from the loading platform.

"Why is she looking around so much?" another Pirate cast member, walking through the tower, asks.

I arch an eyebrow.

"Oh," he replies, as two other cast members walk in from the adjacent break room.

All eyes are on the bank of video monitors in front of us. Sure enough, as the boat approaches the flume drop in Hurricane Cove, where the camera looks at the passing boats from behind, we see not two bodies in the boat, but one.

"Where'd she go?" one cast member asks. Several of us arch eyebrows this time, in response. Another CM rushes into the break room, to make a phone call.

I'm not proud of what I did next. With my left hand, I flip a switch on the console, activating the boat stop at the top of the drop. A pair of metal plates swing into the ride flume at that point, catching the front wheels underneath the boat, stopping it from going over the drop.

With a bump, the boat stops, suddenly. The young lady's head pops up, now visible in the screen.

"Oooo," a couple of the male CMs say, wincing. Like I said, I'm not proud.

"Oh, there she is," replies the CM who'd asked, now turning as red as our pirate vests.

I release the boat stop as the couple plunges into the abyss.

There are no security cameras in the battle scene, so we can't see what the couple is, uh, up to for the next couple of minutes. But just before they re-emerge in the chase scene's camera, the door to the control tower bursts open.

In rush two supervisors and what seems like an entire crew of Jungle Cruise skippers. All gather around the monitors. No one says a word.

No one needs to. We all know why they're here.

We watch empty boat after empty boat enter the chase scene. And then, our friends return. From the angle of the camera in the chase scene, we get a full frontal view of the action in our grainy black-and-white monitor.

Silence, all around. Then, from the back of the now-crowded small control room, a giggle.

Then another.

Then, laughter erupts all around. Several of the Pirate CMs rush out of the room, down the staircase toward the unload platform. A couple of the Jungle skippers step to follow, before the supervisors grabs one by the collar. Oh yeah, they're out of theme here and can't be seen on stage.

The couple's out of camera view in the burning city, but within a minute they'll be at the unload station. In the camera monitor, I see the CMs who bailed out of tower arrive at unload. Back in the tower, the CM standing next to me pulls the microphone toward him.

"You're not," I say to him.

"Of course I am," he replies, with a wide grin, as he pushes the button to activate the unload station speaker.

The couple arrives, sitting quietly and composed in their boat, as if nothing unusual's happened. But as they step up to leave, my colleague on the mic speaks.

"For your safety, this has been a camera-monitored attraction."

I'm told a minute later by the CMs who were there that the young lady put her hands over her face and ran from the unload platform. Her boyfriend? He made eye contact with the CMs... and smiled as he strutted out of the room.

The supervisors shooed the Jungle CMs back to their attraction and I looked up at the clock. My shift ended five minutes ago. With the post-parade rush of guests now flooding into Adventureland, I walked out quickly, to avoid getting caught in the crowd.

About 10 minutes later, I'm changed into my regular clothes and waiting for the shuttle bus outside the tunnel entrance behind It's a Small World. Several CMs whom I know work on the east-side, at Space Mountain and the Speedway, are talking excitedly as we board the bus. I overhear them.

"Did you hear about what happened at Pirates today?"

For more stories about life working in the Magic Kingdom, visit themeparkinsider.com/stories.

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At Universal Orlando, Mythos' chef creates anniversary memories

By Mark Hollamon
Published: September 12, 2010 at 9:39 PM
Anniversaries are special events. For two Orlando residents that are theme park enthusiasts, they can become even more special because of the vast number of parks and restaurants available to host a celebration.

Each year we try to do something different to celebrate special event days and holidays. Even with the wide selection of choices, every once in a while I try to create something extra special. Here is the story of one very special day.

I thought it would be really cool if a well-known chef would create a special menu for our anniversary. One of our favorite restaurants in a theme park (or in general for that matter) is Mythos at Universal Studio’s Islands of Adventure. We have been dining at Mythos since spring of 2000 and have always been a fan of Chef Mark Wachowiak. He is an artist at layering flavors and a master at creating high-end dishes at the most reasonable prices.

I contacted guest services at Universal and explained I wanted to create a special experience for my wife for our 13th wedding anniversary. I wanted to see if Chef Mark was willing to create a special menu for an anniversary lunch to remember. The person said they would pass the information on to Chef Mark and I honestly didn’t expect to hear back from him due to the increased traffic generated from the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I was about to be surprised!

Three days later I received a phone call from Mark telling me he would be honored to create a menu for our special day. After a leisurely "get to know you" conversation, Mark asked what are likes and dislikes were. I told him my wife loved lobster and the meal had to end with the classic Warm Chocolate Banana Gooey Cake! He could get as creative as he wanted.

Here is our Anniversary Menu!

Anniversary menu

The first course was A Trio of Lobster Rolls. The dish consisted of tempura lobster sushi, lobster summer roll, and lobster sliders. You can tell by the photo this dish excited us because we had already eaten two pieces before I could take a photo!

A Trio of Lobster Rolls

The tempura lobster sushi is already on the daily menu using shrimp instead of lobster for the protein. I am a sushi purist that does not usually like my sushi cooked, however, this is the one exception. The breading and seaweed form a delicious outer shell covering perfectly cooked sticky rice and chunks of roasted lobster. The pieces were warm but not overly warm. I enjoyed dipping them in the sesame sauce accompanying the dish. The sauce was light and finished with a hint of spearmint.

The lobster summer roll was a Vietnamese style roll with a rice wrap that held portions of roasted lobster meat, rice noodles, some chopped lettuce, a hint of cilantro. They were very refreshing and light.

The lobster sliders were a show stopper! Simple, yet superb! If these were offered on the regular menu I could easily order them every time we visited. You can get the burger version when you visit Mythos, but they have ruined me with these! These delights featured large pieces of lobster on petite buns with just a little shredded lettuce and a light Dijon dressing.

The Trio of Lobster Rolls was an impressive start to our anniversary lunch! Bring on round two!

Cedar Smoked Bistro Tender

The second course was Cedar Smoked Bistro Tender served on spinach with blueberries, petite tomatoes, blue cheese (feta for my wife) and a warm bacon vinaigrette. The beef was melt in your mouth tender. Chef Mark smoked the steak for two hours to create one of the finest pieces of beef I have ever experienced. The blueberries and bleu cheese complimented each other. It was another hit that was big in flavor. Complex, yet very light. Now for the main event...

Maine Lobster and Parmesan Risotto

Our luncheon entrée was Maine Lobster and Parmesan Risotto with asparagus and lobster saffron broth. The lobster was removed from the shell and incorporated in the risotto. The claws were also removed from the shell for easy eating.

The saffron broth was bursting with flavor! I have always loved using saffron whenever possible when I cooked and I was very pleased to see it added to the broth. The broth itself was very light, but when it was soaked into the risotto it resulted in rich, creamy goodness! Did my wife Allison like the dish? Does this look like a happy camper?

With the entree

In our humble opinions there is only one way to end a great meal at Mythos and that is with the finest dessert either of us have ever tasted!

Warm Chocolate Banana Gooey Cake

Warm Chocolate Banana Gooey Cake. Say it again, slowly. Now look at the picture and say it one more time. Can you taste it?

There are a few dessert items on the menu besides our favorite. I cannot name a single one. It doesn’t matter. I will never try them.

I have eaten many desserts in my life. My wife is a dessert wizard and she makes my second and third favorites, but this… it is just… well, if you have eaten it you know what I mean, and if you haven't, there is nothing I can say to do it justice.

The centerpiece to the dessert is a warm, dark chocolate cake with a very moist (gooey) center. It is beyond rich. It is Trump rich! It is accented with crispy plantains, a scoop of homemade peanut butter ice cream, and banana slices swimming in caramel sauce.

Once should never visit Mythos without having this dessert. It's just not right. It is, however, acceptable to just go in for dessert. The staff at Mythos is happy to have you!

I could not imagine a more special lunch to have with my best friend on our lucky 13th wedding anniversary. Chef Mark went out of his way to make our day special, including personally presenting each course to us. It was VIP treatment we have never experienced before.

Chef Mark Wachowiak with the anniversary couple

Now what to do for our 14th?

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Three Broomsticks at Wizarding World of Harry Potter serves traditional Full English breakfast

By Scott Joseph
Published: September 12, 2010 at 7:19 PM
The Full English breakfast at Universal Orlando's Wizarding World of Harry Potter's Three Broomsticks restaurant is still a hard ticket to get, but I snuck in, with video.

Here's my full review.

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Epcot's First Bites Opening Reception will be a more intimate party

By Scott Joseph
Published: September 11, 2010 at 10:11 PM
I’ve got some more details about the First Bites Opening Reception that will kick off the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival at Walt Disney World. First Bites will be Sept. 30 -- the evening before the official opening of the festival. It’s beginning to sound like a pretty good party.

And well it should be for the $195 ticket price, not including the cost of getting into Epcot, which is sort of required since that’s where it will be. Here's more.

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Halloween update: A look at the world's first, largest and longest-running theme park halloween event

By Domenik Jost
Published: September 11, 2010 at 9:57 PM
Today our third stop brings us to first, largest, and longest running theme park Halloween event in the world. It is the event that inspired all the "copycat" Halloween events at other theme park destinations across the globe. We are talking about Knott's 'Scary' Farm in Southern California.

It all began on October 31, 1973 with a decorated Ghost Town and a few dozen live monsters lurking in the fog. Today, Knott's 38th Annual Halloween Haunt features 13 mazes, three scare zones, seven live shows and 1,000 monsters roaming the park.

Entertainment Design Manager, Todd Faux, gives us a little bit of insight into this years new attractions being added to the Haunt.

As Faux just said, this year features three all-new mazes:

  • Fallout Shelter in 3D - Locked in a cement grave for decades, you come face to face with human/genetic hybrids, toxic mutants, and a host of nuclear freaks all hungry for carnage.
  • Sleepy Hollow Mountain - Ghosts and ghouls, witches and goblins, and long legged beasts are lurking at your heels as you make your ventures through Sleepy Hollow.
  • Virus Z - The entire town of Pleasanton has turned into cannibal zombies and you're on this week's special.

More mazes are returning this year including "The Labyrinth," "The Doll Factory," "Lockdown: The Asylum," "The Slaughterhouse," "Club Blood," "Terror of London," "Black Widow's Cavern," "The Corn Stalkers," "Dia Del Los Muertos," and "Uncle Bobo's Big Top of the Bizarre in 3D."

There are also 3 all new scare zones this year: "Necropolis," "Ghost Town" and "CarnEVIL." The live shows include Ed Alonzo's Psycho Circus of Magic and Mayhem, The Hanging, Hacks! Presents "Die, Die, Die!", De'Anna the Hypnochick, Street Drum Corps' "Blood Drums", Inferno, and Zamora's Sideshow of the Bizarre.

Knott’s Halloween Haunt runs September 24-26, September 30-October 3, 6-10, 13-17, 20-24, 27-31, 2010. The Halloween Haunt at Knott’s Scary Farm is a special ticket event not covered by regular Knott’s Berry Farm admission. Ticket prices are $33 - $50 presale online and $56 day of event. Haunt tickets are available at Knott’s Guest Relations, can be purchase by phone at Knott’s Haunt Line (714) 220-5000 or online at haunt.knotts.com.

Halloween Haunt is a scary event and is not recommended for children under 13. For the younger set however, Knott's offers "Snoopy's Costume Party" in Camp Snoopy. This family event includes friendly monsters, a kid-friendly maze, crafts, and of course, trick-or-treat stationsand is included with regular park admission. "Snoopy's Costume Party is offered weekends October 2-31, 10 am to 5 pm.

Keep checking back here on Theme Park Insider as we continue making more stops at parks across the nation and highlight their haunting events.

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Vote of the week: Which theme park's Halloween event do you want to attend?

By Robert Niles
Published: September 10, 2010 at 9:31 AM
Theme Park Insider's Domenik Jost has been covering the build-up to this year's top Halloween events at major theme parks around the country. Today, in this week's vote, I'd like to hear from you which events you'd most be looking forward to attend.

I'm breaking this vote into two parts - one for Orlando and one for Southern California, since those are the two markets which host multiple events. (Everywhere else, there's basically just one game in town.)

Busch Gardens, Disney, Universal and Knott's host "hard ticket" events, where you have to pay an extra fee for a special event that runs after normal park hours. The events at Legoland, SeaWorld and Six Flags are part of a normal admission. Busch Gardens', Knott's and Universal's events are strictly for grown-ups, while Disney, Legoland and SeaWorld are for the kiddies (or young at heart). Six Flags' event is a mix, with more family-friendly stuff during the day and adults-only scare zones at night.

Pick one event in each market that sounds most like what you'd like - or pick the one that you're most looking forward to attending, if you'll actually be going to one or more of these events.

[Note: Legoland California is campaigning for votes through its Twitter account, so keep that in mind when looking at the results below.

Update #2: Okay, you don't like voting disclaimers in the article, since most folks are seeing them *before* they vote. And the voting tool for this part of the vote is just wacked, anyway. The poll's supposed to be open until Tuesday morning. If it shuts down again before that, blame an escaped evil spirit from Knott's, or something.]

Let's hear your thoughts on this year's theme park Halloween events, in the comments. And thanks again for reading Theme Park Insider.

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Halloween update: A look at Universal Studios Hollywood and Busch Gardens Williamsburg

By Domenik Jost
Published: September 9, 2010 at 9:39 PM
It's the calm before the storm in Central Florida as the last minute preparations for this year's haunting season are under way. So this week we are catching up with a couple other haunted events across the nation.

First stop: Universal Studios Hollywood is preparing to bring the legend of movie horror to live at this year's Halloween Horror Nights. For 17 nights this year with five new maze experiences, new "Scare Zones," a new "Terror Tram" backlot experience and the new King Kong 360 3D, Universal sure has one blockbuster lineup.

The all new mazes this year include:

  • A Nightmare On Elm Street: Never Sleep Again
  • Friday the 13th: Kill, Jason, Kill!
  • Rob Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses in 3D Zombievison
  • Vampyre: Castle of the Undead
  • Saw: Game On

The six all new scare zones include:

  • La Llorona - Cross paths with La Llorona ("The Crying Woman") who, after drowning her children and herself, returns to haunt the living, wailing for her lost children ("Aaaay, mis hijos") and searching for new souls to replace them.
  • Nightmarez - Where Freddy Krueger is watching your every move.
  • Klownz - An ultra-violent gang of killer clowns take over The Big Apple.
  • Lunaticz - Freed from the cruel confines of the Asylum, these blood-crazed loonies have begun a murderous rampage through the foggy streets of London.
  • Freakz - A renegade band of out-of-work sideshow performers have set up camp on the smoke-choked streets of Paris... and developed a taste for human flesh.
  • Pigz - If you’re headed to Saw: Game On, you’ll have to pass through a gauntlet of chainsaw-wielding Pigz.

Halloween Horror Nights will run September 24, 25 and October 1, 2, 8, 9, 15, 16,17, 21, 22, 23, 24, 28, 29, 30, 31. The event will begin nightly at 7 p.m.; closing hours vary by night throughout the event.

Universal has a special deal going on for all Rob Zombie music fans. If you purchase a full price Halloween Horror Nights Ticket at $59 you get a free ticket to Rob Zombie & Alice Cooper’s concert at the Gibson on September 30. The Halloween Horror Nights ticket is valid for any one of the following nights: 10/1, 10/2, 10/8, 10/17, 10/21/ 10/24. There are very limited supplies for this deal and this combo ticket (including both Halloween Horror Nights and the concert) must be purchased from Live Nation. For other tickets, visit the official website at www.halloweenhorrornights.com/hollywood.

Second Stop: Howl-O-Scream 2010 at Busch Gardens Williamsburg begins September 24 and continues every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday through October 31.

This year guests entering the park will notice that each country has been completely transformed: Victorian-era England at its darkest hour, hundreds of tombstones in Scotland, a rat-plagued village in France. The haunted houses for 2010 include "Bitten," "Catacombs," "Cursed," "Havest Hollow," "Hunted," and "Revenge of Pompeii."

This year will also feature six spooky shows including "Frakenrock," "Jack is Back," "The Count's Halloween Spooktacular," "Monster Stomp Revamped," and "Movies of the Macabre."

Howl-O-Scream is not just for adults but also offers attractions for the little ones. The park’s youngest guests can Howl-O-Scream at Sesame Street Forest of Fun and the whole family can experience the spooky setting of an abandoned expedition camp in the ruins of Pompeii. This guided tour will take guests through the haunted house to explore a creepy atmosphere, but with no startled scares. The family-friendly version of Revenge of Pompeii runs from noon until 5:30 p.m.

Unlike the hard-ticket Halloween Horror Nights, Howl-O-Scream attractions are included with park admission or an annual pass. For more information, guests may call (800) 343-7946 or visit www.howloscream.com/williamsburg.

Keep checking back here on Theme Park Insider as we continue making more stops at parks accross the nation and highlight their haunting events.

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Top things you never should do when visiting a theme park

By Robert Niles
Published: September 9, 2010 at 1:04 PM
Here a few of the things that you really shouldn't ever, ever do when visiting a theme park. You'll find some of these listed on our travel tips for visiting theme parks page, as well.

Show up at noon.
Parks have their biggest crowds at mid-day. Arrive early, or way later, to find the shortest lines.

Buy your tickets at the front gate.
Don't waste time in line when you could be in the park. Buy your tickets in advance to find the best deals, too.

Forget to wear sunscreen.
Unless you really, really love crispy skin with a side of melanoma.

Stop in the middle of a walkway.
Please, to help the flow of traffic behind you, move to the side when you need to stop.

Get into the biggest line you see.
Really, do we even need to explain this one? Yet long lines have magnetic qualities, attracting the clueless.

Push, pull or tug a character.
Be nice to the folks with the toughest job in the park. The costumes look soft and fluffy on the outside, but on the inside, they're often a frame of metal and hard plastic, waiting to jab the helpless employee inside if pushed the wrong way.

Make a crying child go to something.
Theme parks are supposed to be fun, not exercises in cruelty. Plus, many rides won't load a crying child, holding up the line for everyone behind you.

Never use lifts or tricks to make a child appear taller than s/he is.
Height requirements are there for a reason.

Try to jump off a ride.
Stupid. Dangerous. Forces the park to shut down the ride, inconveniencing hundreds of other visitors. Then, you get tossed from the park and possibly arrested, too.

Carry around a large souvenir.
Every park has some package check or delivery service, so you can pick up your purchases when you leave.

Got a few to add to the list? Submit yours in the comments.

Update: On the flip side, here are the top things you always should do when visiting a theme park.

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New expansion plans at Busch Gardens Williamsburg

By Cameron Saunders
Published: September 8, 2010 at 11:59 AM
Busch Gardens Williamsburg and its water park, Water Country USA, are to announce an expansion and renovation plan later this month. The park's website claims they are "re-imagining the look and feel of some of the most recognizable areas of Busch Gardens and revitalizing both parks with new attractions for your enjoyment". Details will be released on September 18.

Here is a teaser video. And I mean teaser... It tells nothing. But here you go:


Any ideas what they mean by re-imagining the look and feel of some of the most recognizable areas of Busch Gardens?

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What's new on the discussion board: Disney World in October, and is Legoland just for kids?

By Robert Niles
Published: September 7, 2010 at 10:40 AM
Here are the top new topics this week on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board. Please click through and throw in your $0.02:

Terri Pierce is planning a visit and would like to hear about Disney World in October.

Stacy Barnes is looking for Universal Island of Adventure Tips for 2-12 year olds. Can you help?

We had so much fun speculating about what Universal would do with Harry Potter - why should we stop now that the land is open? Javi Badillo gets us rolling again by asking Is the Wizarding World of Harry potter being expanded?

Derek Morse is looking for folks' recollections of the Ghostbusters show at Universal Studios Florida.

Daniel also looks ahead to the opening of Legoland Florida and asks, Is Legoland just for kids?

Joshua Counsil considers advances in digital imaging technology and asks about one way that might affect theme parks in Imagineering & You: The Future of On-Ride Photos

Bob Miller wants to know your opinion on What coaster company makes the best coasters.

Bob's also thinking about the future of Six Flags and asks What park will go next

Daniel Etcheberry recalls the old Disneyland ticket book system and wonders What if theme parks charged for every ride again?

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What are some of the world's great, but overlooked, theme parks?

By Robert Niles
Published: September 6, 2010 at 9:42 PM
Are there any great, unsung theme and amusement parks out there to which we should pay more attention?

We know about the top-attended theme parks, the ones from Disney, Universal and SeaWorld. They top the attendance charts because they typically offer world-class attractions, presented with excellent service. People want to visit those parks; they do visit those parks, and that's why those parks earn the bulk of our coverage here on Theme Park Insider.

But Disney, Universal and the SeaWorld parks don't have exclusives on high quality. Smaller, regional parks can offer world-class rides and service. Over the years, for example, we've become big fans of Indiana's Holiday World, not only for its three outstanding wooden coasters - including The Voyage, the top-rated roller coaster on the website - but also for its customer-friendly policies, such as free parking, free sunscreen and free soft drinks.

What other great, unsung parks are out there?

Allow me a word of caution before you answer. I'm looking for parks which offer something worth driving across the country to experience. A nice, friendly park that's worth a 30-minute drive to visit might not seem so nice or so friendly once you drive 3,000 miles to experience it, only to realize that you passed 10 just like it along the way.

If we're going to direct people from all over the country, and all over the world, to this park, it needs to offer at least one notable thing on the level of the Big Three - or better. Otherwise, we'd just be setting up your fellow readers for disappointment, and the owners of the park for complaints from visitors with unrealistic expectations.

That said, I'm still willing to bet that some parks down the list for annual attendance are worth more international attention. Here's your chance to make the case for your favorite smaller park.

Over the years, I've heard from fans of places such as Silverwood in Idaho and Mt. Olympus in Wisconsin. In Europe, I've heard readers recommend Efteling in the Netherlands and Parc Astérix in France. Do you agree on any of these parks, or do you have another to recommend? Remember, we're looking for a place that offers some aspect that's exceptional (in a good way). And the more excellence, the better, of course.

I'd love to hear from some lurkers on this one, as well as from a few new readers. If you know someone who speaks well of a park we don't typically cover, please invite her or him to come on over and submit a comment on this post.

Thanks in advance, and I can't wait to read your recommendations, along with your specific examples why these parks are worthy of more visits from theme park fans.

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Labor Day brings the closing of several theme park rides and shows

By Robert Niles
Published: September 6, 2010 at 11:04 AM
Plenty of theme park attractions will be closing at the end of today's Labor Day holiday, so go get your last rides in today, if you are so inclined.

The most closures will happen at Disney California Adventure in Anaheim, where the Maliboomer will make its last blast off today. Pizza Oom Mow Mow, S.S. Rustworthy and the Bountiful Valley Farmers Market also will close today, as Disney continues its billion-dollar-plus make-over of Disneyland's younger sibling.

In Central Florida, Katonga will be making its final show at Busch Gardens Tampa, to clear the way for the upcoming Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy show. And Star Tours at Disney's Hollywood Studios is slated to close with a special sold-out D23 fan club event tomorrow, making today your possible last chance to experience the original version of Disney's Star Wars ride in the United States. (The Disneyland version closed in July.)

Please pay your last respects to these attractions in the comments. (Or get in your last shot if you weren't a fan.)

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Vote of the week: How much would you pay to get into Club 33?

By Robert Niles
Published: September 3, 2010 at 8:19 AM
Theme parks offer all sorts of premiums - front-of-line passes, guided tours, character breakfasts, animal encounters - some for no additional charge, but most costing extra, beyond the cost of your admission ticket.

But there's one special theme park "extra" that you can't simply buy your way with a phone call and a credit card: Disneyland's famed Club 33.

The private club, located above New Orleans Square, sells memberships, but has been sold out for years. And if you are not a member, or a senior Disney manager, you can't make a reservation - at any price.

But what if you could? What if Disney suddenly decided to set aside a few Club 33 reservations each day, and make them available to "regular" park visitors at an extra charge?

How much would you pay to get into Club 33?

Now, we're talking just the charge to make a reservation. You'd still have to pay for your park ticket, and for the meal. So keep that in mind when deciding. Let's also assume that your reservation won't allow you to take over the joint - we'll say that the maximum for the ressie would be a party of four. (And in case anyone brings up the argument, let's also assume that this plan wouldn't take reservation space away from any existing members, just from some mid-level Disney managers instead.)


Please tell us how you voted, in the comments. And if you've dined before at Club 33, I'm sure that other Theme Park Insider readers would live to hear about that too! Have a great weekend, and thanks again for reading TPI.

Update: A reader suggests rephrasing this question this way: "How much would you bribe a Disney manager or Club 33 member to make a reservation on your behalf?" Cynics. ;-)

Comments (27) | Archive Link

Halloween update: The latest from Universal Orlando, plus Busch Gardens Tampa & Williamsburg

By Domenik Jost
Published: September 2, 2010 at 8:38 PM
Universal Orlando just released a little sneak peak of the Halloween Horror Nights 20 commercial directed by the Spierig Brothers who are best known for having directed the horror movies Daybreakers (2009) and Undead (2003).

If you don't want to wait until September 6, a version of the commercial has already aired at least once, and you can find it by scrolling down to the end of today's update and view it.

***

Busch Gardens Tampa has already opened it's Shop of Horror with a large dedication to this year's MyX theme. The shop has quite the decorations ranging from electric guitars, posters, band mannequins, and even those cut off bloody fingers hanging inside of it. They have already begun selling T-Shirts with the myX theme, one of them reading "I gave my X the FINGER".

The team this week went to the studio to lay down some growls, screams and sinister laughs for this years event which opens in three weeks.

***

Busch Gardens Williamsburg has released a little video teaser for their fans letting them know that Howl-O-Scream is coming.

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Central Florida Halloween event countdowns:

Walt Disney World's "Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween" begins in 12 days on the 14th of September, 2010.

Busch Gardens Tampa's "Howl-O-Scream" and Universal Orlando's "Halloween Horror Nights" are only 22 days away opening on September 24th, 2010.

***

And as promised for those who can't wait to see the commercial on TV, here is the version of the Halloween Horror Nights commercial that has already aired.

And as a little extra, another version had already surfaced last week if you click here you can see a second version which had been released during the previews in local movie theaters.

For those who watched the TV commercial, thoughts? Has anyone actually seen it on TV already?

Comments (9) | Archive Link

Passing time on vacation with the Ice Game

By Robert Niles
Published: September 2, 2010 at 2:41 PM
Does anyone else play this game?

My kids love this one: on airplanes, restaurants and other places that serve ice with a hole in the middle.

Each player fishes one piece of ice from their drink (use spoons, please!), then threads it across the top of the glass, using a straw. Like this:

Playing the Ice Game
Brian shows his competitive look while playing the Ice Game at Mythos in Universal's Islands of Adventure

The winner is the one whose ice drops last.

Yes, this is incredibly silly. But it kills time when waiting around like no other no-cost solution I've found.

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Me vs. the Walt Disney World Smiling Police

By Robert Niles
Published: September 2, 2010 at 10:38 AM
Hey, I love Disney World cast members. Heck, I used to be one. But there's one thing that some Walt Disney World employees do which drives me nuts, and I really wish they'd stop.

Here's the scene: My son and I are walking out of one of Epcot's Future World pavilions, just before lunchtime. We're heading over to The Land, but the August mid-day heat's already baking the park. As soon as we walk outside, the hot air slams us and my son just starts to melt. He'd been having a great time, but the high heat and humidity - coupled with a rumbly tummy - are draining him.

We walk past the cast member stationed at greeter.

Smile mask"Hey, you need to smile!" he orders my son, while sporting a huge grin. "No need for a grumpy face."

This comment immediately changes my 10-year-old son's mood from tired and hungry to seriously ticked off. All he wanted to do was hurry across the hot plaza to a nice air-conditioned lunch. But now he's got some Disney World cast member riding him, because he doesn't look happy enough.

I've had Disney employees pull this on me in the past, too. Yes, Disney wants its cast members to smile. And it very much would like its guests to be happy and smiling, too.

But, dear Disney cast members, while it is your job to smile, it's not ours. You are getting paid to be there and smile. We're paying out the wazoo to be there, and can sport any facial expression we want, thankyouverymuch. Your job is to give us reasons to smile - not to order us to do so.

Worse, by telling a guest to smile you are, in essence, criticizing him or her - which was an absolute, you're-getting-a-verbal-now no-no back when I went through Disney University.

I suspect that the Disney University lesson that cast members should try to get guests to smile has morphed into a belief among some trainers that cast members should tell guests to smile. That's a training error that Walt Disney World management needs to address and correct.

I'd like to encourage that greeter to find ways to put smiles on the faces of the hot, tired and hungry people emerging from his pavilion. Wearing that big grin himself was a great start. Asking people if he can help, complementing them on their clothes or souvenirs, or even simply wishing them well all can initiate a positive interaction between cast member and guest.

But telling someone to smile sounds like an order - and that's a negative interaction, something cast members should be working hard to avoid.

I've not ever encountered this demand at other companies' theme parks. I attribute that to Disney's obsession with promoting guest happiness in its parks, shown by mass smiling. While that's a noble goal, giving people a reason to smile and telling them to smile are two very different things.

I just wish that all Disney cast members would recognize that.

Comments (31) | Archive Link

Disney's former chairman to take over Tribune?

By Robert Niles
Published: September 1, 2010 at 8:51 AM
I tweeted about this a few days ago, but haven't yet addressed it on the site. It really doesn't have anything to do with theme parks, but since it involves one of the bigger names from the Walt Disney Company's history, I thought it worth mentioning here.

Michael Eisner It looks like former Disney chairman and CEO Michael Eisner is set to become the next chairman of the Tribune Company, the (now bankrupt) publisher of the Los Angeles Times and Orlando Sentinel, among other newspapers. Tribune also owns 23 TV stations and has a stake in several websites and the Food Network.

I'm so conflicted on this story that I really don't know what to say, having worked and consulted for several Tribune properties, and worked for Disney during Eisner's time there.

So I'll punt this one to you, instead. What do you think?

Comments (16) | Archive Link

Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy to replace Katonga at Busch Gardens Tampa

By Robert Niles
Published: September 1, 2010 at 8:18 AM
Busch Gardens in Tampa has announced that it will be closing its live musical show Katonga on September 6, to replace it next year with a production of Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy.

That show played on Broadway starting in June 2008. Currently, Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy has two productions on the road, one at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, and the other (closing today, BTW) at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods in Connecticut. (That production stars former pop idol Debbie Gibson, which TPI readers of a certain age might find noteworthy.)

Here's a video look at the production, from the Cirque productions website:

Next year's shaping up to be a big one for Busch Gardens Tampa, as the park also will debut its as-yet-unannounced Cheetaka roller coaster in 2011, as well.

Comments (11) | Archive Link

Keep reading: August 2010 Archive



Stories from a Theme Park Insider

Stories from a Theme Park Insider

What's it like to work in a theme park? Stories from a Theme Park Insider takes you inside the famous tunnels and backstage at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom for a look at how theme parks really work, sharing the funny moments and embarrassments that can happen when your job is someone else's vacation.
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