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October 2010

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Restaurant Review: La Hacienda de San Angel at Epcot's Mexico Pavilion

By Scott Joseph
Published: October 29, 2010 at 4:46 PM
I had previously posted about the opening of La Hacienda and La Cantina, the new restaurants at the Mexico pavilion in Epcot. But I recently got back for a proper dinner, plus a chance to watch Illuminations from perhaps the closest spot in the park. Here's my review

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Halloween Update: The best of Central Florida's 2010 Halloween season

By Domenik Jost
Published: October 29, 2010 at 9:29 AM
Well it is that time of year all Halloween fans dread. Sunday marks the end of what has been a fantastic 2010 theme park Halloween season for fans. Universal Orlando, Busch Gardens Tampa, and SeaWorld Orlando all end their events on Hallow's Eve (Disney's event runs through Monday). Now that I have had the privilege to see all the Central Florida theme park Halloween events this year at least once it is time to share my favorites. I divided the best of up into different categories: Best Maze/House, Best Scare Zone, Best Show, Best Innovation, Best Overall Event, and Best Tip for Visitors.

Best Maze/House
This year I was stuck between four houses: 'Horror Nights: The Hallow'd Past', 'Hades: The Gates of Ruin', 'Legendary Truth: The Wyandot Estate', and 'Alone'. Each one had its unique touches and interesting experiences. They ranged from using top-of-the-line technology to being trapped all by yourself with no help. Taking everything into consideration, my choice for best house this year is 'Hades: The Gates of Ruin'. I absolutely loved the huge facade transporting me into Universal's world of mythological creatures.

Best Scare Zone
All of my top contenders for Best Scare Zone came from this years Halloween Horror Nights. Sorry, Howl-O-Scream, but your scare zones just were not close to the experience quality that HHN brought this year. The scare zones in the running were 'HHN: 20 Years of Fear', 'Saws n' Steam', and 'Zombie Gras'. I guess you could say I'm a bit biased towards 'Zombie Gras' because Universal Orlando gave me the privilege to be a zombie for a night. Yes that does influence me a bit because it definitely showed me how well this zone really works, but it is not my top favorite. 'HHN:20 Years of Fear' was the best of the last 20 years, while 'Saws n' Steam' was a new experience. In the end I had to part with 'HHN:20 Years of Fear' and choose the newcomers in 'Saws n' Steam' as my favorite scare zone. I loved how Universal made a use of the alleyway between the arcade and the lagoon. Filled with steam or well fog, this little area makes for a great atmosphere and some nice scares.

Best Show
As most excellent as Howl-O-Scream's 'Blood Relations' and Halloween Horror Nights 'Bill and Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure' are I had to go with Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party's 'Happy HalloWishes' fireworks spectacular. There is almost never a show that beats a good Disney fireworks show. This one is no exception. The attention to detail in the timing the fireworks to the music and storyline is always amazing with Disney. The 'Happy HalloWishes' fireworks are fun and something that is definitely worth for every Disney fan and Halloween fan to go and see.

Best Innovation
This was a rather large category, including the introduction of open fire in 'The Orfanage: Ashes to Ashes' house, guest activated elements in the 'PsychoScareapy: Echoes of Shadybrook' house, the amazing technological advances in 'Legendary Truth: The Wynadot Estate', and the unique new haunt experience 'Alone'. I easily narrowed these down to two of the most intriguing new innovations. The Legendary Truth house had some really cool new effects tricks that truthfully made a true haunted experience work for the first time, but as amazing as those effects are they just don't take the cream of the crop. My favorite new innovation is Alone. Just the thought of going through a house by myself and getting all sorts of attention I am not used to is intriguing enough. The experience was very entertaining and could truthfully very well scare some guests out of their minds. I had a blast going through this experience and loved every moment of the experience.

Best Overall Event
The two events that came very close to one another for me were Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and Halloween Horror Nights. I had a blast going through the Magic Kingdom and being able to be a kid again (well, then again, everyone is always a kid at Disney) and going through Trick-or-Treating. The shows were excellent and the atmosphere was charged with fun. And of course it was cool seeing so many people dressed up in diverse costumes and walking through the park.

Yet this year was one of the best years I had seen at HHN and hopefully is a good sign of things to come. For me although Disney was fun, my favorite for Best Overall Event was Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights. The attention to detail at Universal always amazes me and this year does not lack. There weren't any bad houses at all, some great scare zones, and two shows (three if you count both of Brian Brushwood's shows separately) that were all good. Overall, I enjoyed myself most at Halloween Horror Nights, but an honorable mention goes to Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party for providing me with the second-best experience this year.

Best Tip for Visitors
Now, when Robert asked me to come up with a Best Tip for Visitors, I had some trouble at first thinking about this one. But it was fairly simple for both Disney, Universal and Busch Gardens: Go to the shows first and do the houses or trick or treating later as the lines for both die down as the night gets later.

A congrats to all the Central Florida Halloween events for a fantastic 2010 season.

You can be a part of the final leg of this years Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando by joining in on the live web stream tonight (Friday) between 10pm and 11pm ET. To watch the live stream go here.

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Vote of the week: Which Ferrari would you rather take for a spin?

By Robert Niles
Published: October 28, 2010 at 11:05 PM
Here's a completely trivial question for the week, inspired by this week's aborted opening of Ferrari World Abu Dhabi.

The indoor theme park in the United Arab Emirates was scheduled to open this week, but delayed its debut until November 4, following the death of one of the leaders of the UAE. The highlight of the new park is to be Formula Rossa, a Ferrari-themed Intamin launch coaster that, at a top speed of 149 mph, will become the world's fastest.

An unprecedented thrill, right? Well, actually, that's what many automobile fans say about the rare opportunity to drive one of the Italian car company's ultra-expensive sports cars. Heck, until I moved to Pasadena, I'd never even seen a Ferrari on the street.

So which would you rather do, if given this delightful choice? Would you rather climb aboard Formula Rossa for a zero-to-149 roller coaster thrill, or climb behind the wheel of a Ferrari for a drive? (To keep this close, we'll say you're limited to street driving with the Ferrari. No closed track.)

Inside the driver's seat of a Ferrari
The world's fastest roller coaster, or this?


I'm really looking forward to the comments on this one.

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Theme park news: An honor for Universal, plus Disney World hotel updates

By Robert Niles
Published: October 28, 2010 at 10:06 PM
Here are a few news items of note from the theme park world this week:

Universal wins a food honor, but it's not what you might think
First, Universal's crowing about a new award for one of its restaurants. But it's not at Universal Orlando. This honor goes to the newly-revamped International Cafe at Universal Studios Hollywood.

International Cafe at Universal Studios HollywoodThe cafe won a Santé Restaurant Award, the only theme park restaurant this year to win an honor from what bills itself as the only peer-judged restaurant competition in North America.

Universal Studios Hollywood's Executive Chef, Eric Kopelow, revamped the restaurant's menu earlier this year to refocus it on healthy, bistro-style fare. The Culinary Institute of America graduate added a shrimp Cobb salad, a caprese plate, grilled vegetable sandwiches, and a roast beef and brie with roasted pears sandwich to the menu, among other items.

"The International Cafe is helping us to satisfy a growing demand for healthy, tasty food options," Kopelow said in a statement.

Magical Express ain't the Floo Network
Jason Garcia at the Orlando Sentinel reports that traffic is down on Walt Disney World's Magical Express free-bus service between its on-site hotels and the Orlando International Airport. (I suppose we should ignore Jason's dateline from the future.)

Disney offers Magical Express as a free perk to its hotel guests, which saves them the hassle and expense of renting a car to get to Walt Disney World. Of course, that means that they won't be able to easily leave Disney property during their trip, either.

That's why Magical Express might not be an effective proxy for measuring occupancy rates at the Disney hotels - not everyone who stays on-property uses Magical Express. I've heard from several Disney World fans that they've opted to skip Magical Express, even though it is free, in order to have the flexibility not only to visit attractions outside of the Walt Disney World Resort, but to move around between hotels and non-theme park attractions more easily than they could relying on Disney's bus service.

Obviously, the big attraction drawing people off Disney property these days is Universal's Wizarding World of Harry Potter, so more folks might be choosing to skip Magical Express in order to be able to visit Potter. The question for Disney then becomes: Will Disney fans who love Harry Potter just give up Magical Express to visit Universal, or will they skip Disney entirely on their next Orlando visit?

Walt Disney World hotels come to Priceline
Here's a better indicator of how Disney's faring in filling hotel rooms: Walt Disney World has decided to list its hotel rooms on Priceline.

Disney's offered its hotel rooms through Expedia for several years, though Expedia searches often will show no availability when a direct call to Disney will show rooms. Obviously, Disney's looking for additional channels to sell its hotel rooms, as on-property occupancy rates continue to fall below the company's wishes.

Do note that the rooms will be available on Priceline only through the booking engine. You can't use the "name your price" feature to book a Disney room. And many of the package deals and discounts that Disney offers to those who book directly might not be available through Priceline, either, as they typically haven't been available via Expedia in the past.

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Why do so many theme park fans love Halloween events?

By Robert Niles
Published: October 28, 2010 at 11:45 AM
My kids have been talking about their plans for trick-or-treating this weekend, and I caught myself asking:

"Halloween? Didn't we do that already?"

Haunted Mansion Holiday at Disneyland

In the theme park world, Halloween's grown from a one-night party to a month-long festival. We've long finished off the candy the kids collected at Mickey's Halloween Party at Disneyland earlier this month, but Halloween - officially - doesn't arrive until this weekend. Here on Theme Park Insider, we've been writing about Halloween for months, covering the build-up and launch of big events such as Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights.

Even as Halloween expands backward into September, many fans just can't get enough.

Why is that? I invite your thoughts in the comments, but here's mine, to start:

Halloween's rep is all about scares and death. But in practice, a great theme park Halloween event really just celebrates friendship. You go through a haunted house or scare zone, get scared out of your mind - and you and your friends get to laugh about it.

Over, and over, again.

It's all about humility: seeing yourself reduced to screams or tears, and having your friends see that, as well. And you see the same, from them. The shared humility becomes a bonding experience.

And let's not forget the young gentlemen taking young ladies on dates to Halloween events, hoping that a strong scare might, uh, lead the young lady into the gentleman's arms. ;-)

(That's why the good scareactors target the girl in a couple walking down the street, but the great ones target the guy. Let's let the ladies see what their men are made of.)

More than any other theme park event, Halloween events depend upon audience response. If the park provides the scares and the people provide the right attitude, it's a great night - the largest, friendliest party you'll ever attend.

Even the kid-friendly, trick-or-treat events elicit a similar spirit. No one's getting scared, but lots of kids are getting together for that inevitable post-trick-or-treat after-market of I'll-trade-this-for-that.

Theme parks, are, at their heart, a shared narrative experience. Even if you go by yourself, you're never alone. Halloween events amplify that sense of community. That's why so many fans love them.

Your thoughts?

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An Insider's guide to animal interactions and tours at Busch Gardens Tampa

By Robert Niles
Published: October 27, 2010 at 12:29 PM
We've been taking a look at some of the backstage and VIP tours offered at the nation's top theme parks. This week, we're listing the many offerings at Busch Gardens Tampa.

Giraffes at Busch Gardens Tampa
Photo courtesy Busch Gardens

Safaris

Busch Gardens offers several variations on a 30-to-45-minute Jeep tour of its Serengeti plain. You'll see African animals up close, and hand-feed giraffes. The Sunrise Safari includes a continental breakfast before setting out in the morning, and the Sunset Safari includes "adult" beverages after your evening expedition.

The Endangered Species Safari focuses on white and black rhinos, among the other endangered species on the tour, and the regular Serengti Safari is free on your birthday.

All of these take place during park hours and require theme park admission in addition to the tour charge. But the Serengeti Night Safari (which we wrote about last week, see previous link) takes place after hours, so no theme park ticket is needed.

Serengeti Safari: $33.95 (free on your birthday), age 5 and older.
Sunrise Safari: $39.95, age 5 and older.
Sunset Safari: $39.95, age 21 and older.
Endangered Species Safari: $39.95, age 5 and older.
Serengeti Night Safari: $60, age 21 and older.

Insider tours

Busch Gardens also offers two other 45-minute walking tours where you can meet animal keepers and see behind-the-scenes care facilities. The Jungala Insider($19.95, age 5 and older) takes you to see orangutans and tigers and the Elephant Insider ($19.95, age 10 and older) shows you, well, elephants.

Looking for a different type of up-close thrill? Try the Roller Coaster Insider tour ($19.95, age 14 and older), which takes you trackside for a tour of Montu before allowing you to skip the line for a front-row ride. Then you'll get front-of-the-line access on a second Busch Gardens roller coaster - for comparison. :-)

Keeper experiences

If you're willing (and able to pay) to try a longer, more in-depth experience with some of the park's animals, you can sign up for the Tiger and Orangutan Keeper Experience or Elephant Keeper Experience ($199.95 each, age 10 and older). You'll meet the trainers, tour the animal care facilities and help prepare the animals' food (and, uh, help clean up afterward) during these 90-minute experiences.

Want even more? Sign up to be Keeper for a Day ($249.95 - park admission included, age 13 and older). This 6-and-a-half-hour tour on the Serengenti Plain features mammals in the morning and the birds in the afternoon, allowing you the chance to work with the park's trainers. Lunch is provided in the Crown Colony restaurant, as well.

Adventure tours

The Guided Adventure Tour ($94.95 adults, $94.95 ages 5-9) is a guided tour of the park, including front-of-line access at many attractions as well as lunch and a Serengeti Safari tour.

The Elite Adventure Tour ($199.95, ages 5 and older) allows you to help customize the tour with your private guide, unlike the Guided Adventure Tour, where the agenda's set and you might be with other folks who booked the tour. Here's it's just your group (minimum two people). Lunch at the Crown Colony and a Serengeti Safari experience are included.

For more details and restrictions, and to book any of these tours, visit Busch Gardens' website or call 1-888-800-5447.

We'd love to hear in the comments about your experiences on any of these tours.

Previously:

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Speaking of openings... Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit returns

By Robert Niles
Published: October 27, 2010 at 6:58 AM
While we're on the topic of openings, here's one that is happening today - Universal Orlando announced this morning that its Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit roller coaster reopened today, after a long downtime.

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Ferrari World Abu Dhabi opens (*actually, not)

By Robert Niles
Published: October 26, 2010 at 10:06 PM
At 11am Eastern Time Wednesday (7pm local time), Ferrari World Abu Dhabi is scheduled to open to the public. (* Not happening now: See note below).

Carousel at Ferrari World
The Carousel at Ferrari World Abu Dhabi. Photo courtesy Ferrari World Abu Dhabi.

I didn't spring for the flight to the United Arab Emirates for the debut of the world's largest indoor theme park, so we'll have to do with links for now:

The BBC focuses on Formula Rossa, the Intamin launch coaster which, with the park's opening, becomes the world's fastest roller coaster at a top speed 149 miles per hour.

Meanwhile, Gulf News looks at the potential tourism and economic impact of the park, citing sources who say that the theme park has a maximum daily capacity of 20,000 visitors and might attract up to 3.6 million visitors a year.

If you're looking for live updates, perhaps they might be found on Ferrari World's official website, though I've not heard any word what the park plans for the Web.

Ferrari World Abu Dhabi is calling this an "Inaugural Period," leading up to a "Grand Opening" in December. The Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix runs November 12-14, providing the annual event which I suspect is most likely to draw a large crowd of international visitors to the Ferrari-themed park.

*Update, Oct. 27: The park announced this morning that it has postponed the opening until November 4: "In respect of the passing of the late Sheikh Saqr bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, the Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah, today's soft opening of Ferrari World Abu Dhabi has been postponed." Sheikh Saqr was the ruler of one of the seven members of the United Arab Emirates.

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What's new on the discussion board: Orlando romance and a dining debate

By Robert Niles
Published: October 26, 2010 at 11:46 AM
Here are this week's top new threads on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board:

Dan O'Brien is looking for Romantic ideas for an Orlando vacation.

Dan also needs some Help! Merchandise question - Universal Islands of Adventure / Harry Potter.

Kennet Fischer is planning his First time at Universal, and wants to know which park to choose?

Russell Meyer jump-starts The Disney Free Dining Plan Debate.

Jorge Arnoldson wants to know Who is Duffy the Disney Bear?

Derek Morse is thinking about a Disney World visit and has a Fantasmic question for you.

Cid Fasano wants to know about rumors of a New Walt Disney theme park in Brazil?

Daniel Etcheberry submits three provocative discussions: Epcot's World Showcase needs more dark rides, Are security check points necessary at theme parks? and Are theme parks losing interest in senior citizens?

Finally, I'd love your help in adding to The complete list of after-hours, hard-ticket theme park events.

What questions would you like to ask? Head on over to the board and submit a thread!

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Theme Park Apprentice 2: Challenge 3

By Tim W
Published: October 25, 2010 at 3:15 PM
This week are apprentices design a restaurant for their hometown theme park. We had 1 dropout and 1 non-poster this week, so we will not be firing anyone again. Hopefully next week the competition will actually begin. Please read the contestants ideas on the discussion board thread before voting.

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Disney unveils a twisted vision of its theme parks in 'Epic Mickey'

By Robert Niles
Published: October 24, 2010 at 10:58 PM
Disney's just released iPhone and iPad "teaser" apps for its upcoming "Epic Mickey" video game. I'm not a gamer - as a full-time website publisher, writer, parent and community volunteer, I just don't have the time. But after a first look at the Epic Mickey apps, I might have to find time for this one.

You might know by now that I keep the focus here on theme parks, which means that I ignore much of the non-theme-park stuff the Walt Disney Company cranks out. But the Epic Mickey app shows that this game will have a strong theme park flavor. The game takes place in the "Wasteland," a Bizarro-Disneyland whose primary resident is not Mickey, but Walt's original toon creation: Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.

Epic Mickey's Wasteland
'Epic Mickey''s Wasteland, from the iPhone app

According to the back story in the apps, the wizard Yen Sid, from Fantasia's "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," created the Wasteland as a home for Oswald and other mostly-forgotten Disney characters, including Oswald's love, Ortensia, as well as Horace Horsecollar, Clarabelle Cow, Pete and The Mad Doctor. Oswald's also created an animatronic Donald and Goofy, from spare parts he's scavenged from his Magic Kingdom.

The name of the game space, of course, evokes T.S. Eliot's 1922 elegy of death and disorder, "The Waste Land." This Wasteland looks like Disneyland, but with several twists. This "Partners" statue on the Hub, for one, is not of Walt and Mickey, but Walt and Oswald. And over in what ought to be New Orleans Square looks to be a twisted take on Pirates of the Caribbean, with a giant Oswald looking much like Disneyland's old Skull Rock.

The app includes a free online comic, which reveals what surely will be some gameplay tips for Epic Mickey in the course of telling a quick story about Oswald and his animatronic friends within the Wasteland. (Oswald can remove his foot and rub it for luck, for example. It's a rabbit's foot. Get it?) I also found the comic refreshing for its almost Universal-like dig at the "It's a Small World" theme song. Snarky, self-deprecating humor from Disney? Sign me up!

Do note that you'll have a hard time reading the comic on the iPhone app. I had to switch to the iPad version to see the detail. Additional comics are available for $2.99. I'd hope for some game tips within those, as well.

Given all the theme park references, if this game is a success, I can't help but begin to envision potential "Epic Mickey" theme park attractions. Would Disney really go there?

Epic Mickey ($49.99) releases for the Wii on November 30. Anyone else looking forward to it?

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Vote of the week: Will you visit Legoland Florida when it opens?

By Robert Niles
Published: October 22, 2010 at 12:31 PM
Now we know when the park will open and how much it will cost. So the question is: Will you visit Legoland Florida?

Let's refine the question a bit and make it… are you planning to visit Legoland Florida in its first year of operation, between its opening in October 2011 and September 2012?

Obviously, if you are not planning a Central Florida visit during that time period, you should select that option in the vote below. If you live in the area or are planning to visit, let us know if you're planning to skip the park, visit for a day, or buy a regular or "Plus" annual pass.

Legoland Florida's media day in October 2010
Legoland Florida this week hosted a hard-hat tour of the construction site for the press.

Legoland Florida's opening on the site of the old Cypress Gardens, where multiple attempts at theme parks have failed. But Legoland's a far more powerful international brand than Cypress Gardens ever was. And Legoland California's been an unqualified success over its decade of operation, with growing attendance even as turnstile counts have dropped at other parks across the country.


A reader pointed out that Legoland's set to debut during the 40th anniversary month for Walt Disney World. Will the combination of a new Legoland and Disney World's 40th (not to mention a just-over-a-year-old Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal) draw you to Central Florida then? Will you add a trip, or postpone one you would have made this summer? Talk to us in the comments about what you're thinking for your next Central Florida theme park trip.

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Legoland Florida unveils ticket pricing, will open in 12 months

By MyFoxOrlando WOFL FOX 35
Published: October 21, 2010 at 3:01 PM
Legoland Florida tickets are now available online. Legoland Florida officials on Thursday said the Winter Haven theme park are now on sale at the company's website. The central Florida park is slated to open in October 2011.

One-day admission will be $65 for adults, $55 for children ages 3-12. Annual passes will cost $99. Plus passes, which include parking and food and merchandise discounts, will cost $159 for adults and $129 for children. Note that the park is calling these "preview" prices.

Here's more detail about the new park, which held a hard-hat tour for the press today.

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Theme Park Insider's going to the 2010 IAAPA Attractions Expo

By Robert Niles
Published: October 21, 2010 at 11:50 AM
Orange County Convention CenterI wanted to let the theme park industry insiders on the site know that I just booked my trip to attend the IAAPA Attractions Expo 2010, which is being held next month in Orlando.

I attended my first IAAPA event when the Attractions Expo was held in Las Vegas last year, and am looking forward to seeing the show in Orlando. I'll be looking for tips, stories, photos and video that I can bring Theme Park Insider readers, showing off some of the new stuff that they can expect to see coming to world-class theme parks in 2011 and beyond.

So please let me know what you've got, either in the comments or via private message. And, fans, if there's something you'd like me to check out at the show, let me know, too. I'll be tweeting from the show floor, and am happy to follow requests from TPI readers who can't make it to the expo.

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More detail in Six Flags' confirmation of Magic Mountain's Green Lantern roller coaster

By Robert Niles
Published: October 20, 2010 at 10:35 AM
Six Flags Magic Mountain today made official the news that Theme Park Insider reader Nick Markham reported here last week: that the Valencia, California amusement park would add two roller coasters next year and renovate a third, giving the park a record-setting 18 coasters.

Magic Mountain also released some additional detail about the biggest of the two new coasters, the Intamin ZacSpin called Green Lantern.

Green Lantern roller coaster at Six Flags Magic Mountain

Reaching far beyond traditional thrills, the DC Comics Super Hero GREEN LANTERN will focus the might of his Power Ring and take the coaster riding experience to another galaxy with the GREEN LANTERN coaster. Fearless riders will brave a never-been-done-before completely VERTICAL zigzag pattern sitting in eight-person vehicles, four abreast and back-to-back, each rotating independently. The two-minute thrill begins with riders going up the 107-foot lift hill before spinning their way down through 825-feet of twisted vertical track, featuring three, 360-degree head-over-heel spins. The GREEN LANTERN coaster will be located in the newly themed section of the park.

From the earlier released video, it looked as if Green Lantern were going into the Gotham City Backlot section of the park. Today's release is the first I've heard of a newly themed land.

The release also notes that the ride's debut next spring is timed to support the debut of the new Green Lantern movie, starring Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively. (The film releases on June 17, 2011.)

Six Flags also announced today that the as-yet-unnamed Vekoma kids coaster it is transferring from the defunct Six Flags New Orleans will be installed next to Bugs Bunny Land, instead of over by Deja Vu, as previously rumored.

The newly revamped coaster will be the park's Superman launch coaster. For more on that ride, see Nick's report.

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See the animals at night on Busch Gardens Tampa's Serengeti Night Safari

By Robert Niles
Published: October 19, 2010 at 1:23 PM
Busch Gardens Tampa is taking reservations for its Serengeti Night Safari, an after-hours tour that includes food, drinks and opportunities to get up-close with some of the park's animals.

The event, which does not require a park admission, begins after sunset with appetizers and "adult" drinks at the park's Safari Club. Then it's out to the Serengeti Plain for a two-hour walking tour to see the giraffes, rhinos, zebras and other African animals. (The park uses special red lighting and night-vision monoculars to enhance night-time viewing.)


Photo courtesy Busch Gardens

Visitors also will have the chance to meet some of the park's animal ambassadors before wrapping up the evening back at the Safari Club with coffee and desserts.

The Serengeti Night Safari is offered Nov. 5, 13, 20 and 27 and Dec. 4, 11 and 18. You must be 21 or older to participate, given the available alcohol. Cost is $60 per person, and can be booked online or by calling 1-888-800-5447.

If you go, we'd love to read a trip report.

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What's new on the discussion board: Disney expansion plans and how to avoid the crowds

By Robert Niles
Published: October 19, 2010 at 10:25 AM
Here are this week's top new threads over on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board:

Magic KingdomDaniel Etcheberry asks In what other U.S. locations would have been ideal to build the Disney parks?

Reto Voser wants to know Best Weekday for Disney in Orlando?

Claire Haddleton is planning a trip from the UK to Orlando and declares I need help! Can you help her with some trip advice?

Tim W brings us the latest on Disney's renovation of the Magic Kingdom and asks Fantasyland Downsizing Expansion?

Nick Markham links to some news and rumors about A New 'Mini-Mega Park' in Orlando?

Lexie Chandler wonders how crowds now compare with last summer and if there are Still long lines just to get into the Harry Potter area?

Finally, Javi Badillo wants to know which ride is better: The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman vs Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey?

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Theme Park Apprentice 2: Challenge 2

By Tim W
Published: October 18, 2010 at 9:23 AM
This week, we had two dropouts from the competition, so there will be no one fired this week. But you can still vote on your favorite! The remaining contestants had to design a store for their hometown theme park. Check their ideas out on the Theme Park Apprentice 2: Challenge 2 thread!

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Halloween update: An Insider's look at life as a Universal Orlando zombie

By Domenik Jost
Published: October 17, 2010 at 5:10 PM
This past weekend, SeaWorld Orlando kicked off its kid-friendly Halloween Spooktacular. Kids are invited to come in costume and meet pumpkin fishes, friendly sea witches, and trick-or-treat. In addition to the candy and sea creatures, guests are invited to watch Sesame Street's "Countdown to Halloween Live Musical Stage Show" and too meet Abby Cadabby as they search for her hidden wand in a 4000-sq. ft. outdoor pathway filled with interactive puzzles, sights, and sounds.

SeaWorld's Halloween Spooktacular is included with park admission and is a daytime event so all kids are wide awake to enjoy the festivities. The event runs from noon-8 p.m. every weekend through Halloween. Visit SeaWorldSpooktakular.com for more details, including information about the event at the SanDiego sister park.

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This past weekend Universal Orlando invited me to take part in the Halloween Horror Nights Media Boo Camp 2010, where we got to scare park guests as scareactors for the night. Professional make-up artists were on hand to transform us into flesh-eating zombies. After our transformation, we were put into the Zombiegras scare zone to look for some fresh meat. It was a ton of fun but a very exhausting experience. It is especially exhausting if you miss the cue to go into the back for a break. I managed to do that and initially stayed out for nearly twice the length of everyone else before I finally got my break. I had a blast and honestly did not mind being out there longer at all. At the end of the night my final scare count was in the hundreds, had dozens of pictures take with park guests, and managed to scare four people off their feet and hitting the pavement. Did I feel bad for them going down? Naaaah, they were fine, and laughed it off. Three of them even took a picture with me afterwards. Special thanks to Universal Orlando for inviting me to take a part in this great experience.

Here have a look what goes into being a scareactor with a few introductory words by show director Mike Aiello:

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On October 15, April Richardson and Adam Cochran tied the "noose" inside one of the haunted houses at Universal Orlando Resort's Halloween Horror Nights XX. The newlyweds then boarded a hearse and processed through Universal Studios Florida to their reception, escorted by friends, family and chainsaw-wielding "scareactor" guests.

With this Universal Orlando has officially launched its Halloween Horror Nights wedding packages. For more information about Universal Orlando weddings, visit www.UniversalOrlandoWeddings.com.

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Finally, after taking a break before the big game on Sunday, Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheerleaders Shaniqua Brown, Nikki Fraser, Courtney Russ, Ashley Kowal, Marlana Aref, Stephanie Ritz and Lauren Cross took on Busch Garden Tampa's Howl-O-Scream.

Watch their journey through other houses at Howl-O-Scream in this short video. For more details on this years Howl-O-Scream, visit MyXRocks.com.

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Vote of the week: Should theme park Halloween events deliver scares, or sweets?

By Robert Niles
Published: October 14, 2010 at 9:10 PM
Theme parks' Halloween events have become wildly popular, with thousands of fans filling queues at Universal's Halloween Horror Nights and Halloween festivities driving attendance and revenue at Disneyland, to cite just two examples.

But as the theme park industry milks its season-extending cash cow, individual parks are dividing into two camps.

The older camp presents Halloween as a frightful affair, with guts, gore and scares (examples are from top year-'round theme parks):

Getting scared at Howl-O-Scream

But a (relatively) newer collection of events presents a more child-friendly version of Halloween, based largely upon trick-or-treating:

Costumes at Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party

Which type of Halloween event do you prefer? That's our vote of the week.

To be fair, many of the parks that offer scare-filled Halloween events in the evening (Knott's, Six Flags) offer kid-friendly Halloween festivities during the daytime. But it's still interesting to me to see how one holiday elicits two very different styles of celebration.

Please tell us in the comments why you voted the way you did, or just which theme park Halloween events you're looking forward to visiting this month.

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Six Flags Magic Mountain to reach 18 roller coasters in 2011

By Nick Markham
Published: October 14, 2010 at 1:13 PM
Six Flags Magic Mountain has surprised us today with the addition/refurbishment of not one new coaster next year but three new and rebuilt coasters.

Superman: Escape will now be called Superman: Escape From Krypton. It will get a newly refurbished station, painted with blue and red supports and yellow track, and new cars that will travel backwards. From the video, it looks like it may finally go 100 mph and 410 ft once again.

"Kids Coaster" (formerly announced as Mr. Six's Dance Coaster) will be a Vekoma kiddie coaster from the former Six Flags New Orleans.

And as the biggest surprise, Six Flags Magic Mountain will open "Green Lantern", the first Intamin ZacSpin in the United States. It will feature green track and black supports and will most likely have the level of theming in comparison to Batman: The Ride and Riddler's Revenge.

Six Flags Magic Mountain has followed through with their rumored "Project 18" and will once again reign as coaster capital of the world with 18 roller coasters, what will be the most roller coasters in a single park.

Here is the video released:







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Fans petition Busch Gardens Tampa to change Cheetah Hunt's name back to Cheetaka

By Robert Niles
Published: October 13, 2010 at 11:58 AM
Yeah, Busch Gardens Tampa tricked us.

The Florida theme park had fans online convinced that its new launch roller coaster would be called Cheetaka. The park's parent, SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, had applied for a trademark for that name, sparking the rumors. And Busch Gardens did little to diminish the speculation, with the name Cheetaka showing up in concept art and even the document title for the pre-announcement press release that the park e-mailed yesterday.

Many of us even joked about what we thought yet another poorly-kept theme park industry secret. I tweeted yesterday, in response to the e-mail, that this was the "Worst-kept secret since, well, the last attempt by a theme park to keep a name secret. :^)"

The joke's on us, instead. This morning, Busch Gardens announced that the name of the ride would be… Cheetah Hunt.

Concept art of Cheetah Run
Concept art of Cheetah Hunt, provided by Busch Gardens

Was it all a ruse? A distraction to finally score a win over the theme park rumor detectives online? Or was Cheetaka a development name that the park jettisoned at the last moment?

No matter what the answer, something interesting happened along the way. Many Busch Gardens fans feel in love with the name "Cheetaka." (Which always reminded me of a really awful Kurt Thomas gymnastics movie, but I might be the only person alive who remembers that bomb.)

Some fans now have started an online petition to urge Busch Gardens to bring back the Cheetaka name. They're citing as inspiration the recent social media campaign that convinced clothing retailed The Gap to dump its proposed new logo in favor of keeping its existing one. And they've focused on the confusion over the Cheetah Hunt name, which led some people - including me - to think it references a hunt of cheetahs, rather than a hunt by cheetahs.

What do you think about the ride's name? Will you be signing the petition?

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An Insider's guide to guided tours and animal interactions at SeaWorld Orlando

By Robert Niles
Published: October 13, 2010 at 11:39 AM
Two weeks ago, we looked at the VIP and backstage tours at Walt Disney World. Today, we head up Interstate 4 a bit and to look at what special tours SeaWorld Orlando has to offer. Again, these are extra options, available as an additional charge on top of your regular park admission.

Beluga Interaction at SeaWorld
That's me in the water a couple summers ago, when I participated in SeaWorld San Diego's beluga interaction program.

Behind-the-Scenes Tour
A look at how SeaWorld's animal experts care for the park's animals, including tours of animal care facilities and a few opportunities to touch and interact with the animals. 90 minutes. $30 adults, $20 children.

Dolphins Up-Close Tour
A walking tour of the Whale and Dolphin Stadium, home of the Blue Horizons show, including a training session where you can touch a dolphin. 60 minutes. $50 adults, $40 children.

Penguins Up-Close Tour
Go behind the scenes at the Penguin Encounter attraction, meet an animal care expert and see a puffin up-close. 60 minutes. $40 adults, $30 children.

Sea Lions Up-Close Tour
You'll have reserved seats for the Clyde and Seamore show, followed by a photo shoot with the show's animal stars. Then, you'll head over to Pacific Point Preserve to feed the sea lions and harbor seals there. 90 minutes. $40 adults, $30 children.

SeaWorld's Family Fun Tour
This tour includes visits to several SeaWorld attractions, including feeding opportunities with dolphins and sea lions, as well as the chance to touch a penguin. You'll also have reserved seating at Believe and front-of-line access and a light meal at the Shamu's Happy Harbor children's play area, where you'll also meet the Shamu character. 4 hours. $65 adults, $50 children.

SeaWorld VIP Tour
A guided tour of the park, including front-of-line access to Manta, Kraken and Journey to Atlantis, as well as reserved seating at Believe, Blue Horizons and Clyde and Seamore. Animal feeding is included as well as lunch for you, too. 7 hours. $100 adults, $75 children.

Private Elite VIP Tour
This custom tour provides front-of-line access to rides and reserved seating at shows, in addition to animal feeding opportunities and dining at the park's table service Sharks Underwater Grill. Basically, you've got a private tour guide for your group, who'll take you where you want. Up to 7 hours. $275 per person, two person minimum.

In addition to the above, SeaWorld offers two seasonal tour options:

SeaWorld's VIP Christmas Celebration
This guided tour starts after 2 pm and includes front-of-line access to Manta and Polar Express, dolphin and sea lion feedings, as well as reserved seating at the Shamu Christmas show, Clyde and Seamore and the Winter Wonderland on Ice show. Dinner at Sharks Underwater Grill is also on the agenda. 7 hours. $125 adults, $100 children.

Family Fun Tour at Christmas
The Christmas version of the park's Family Fun Tour includes dolphin and sea lion feedings, an up-close penguin encounter, reserved seating at one of the park's shows, a light meal and front-of-line access to Polar Express. Oh, and a visit with Santa. 4 hours. $65 adults, $50 children

For more detail about these tours, or to book any of them online, follow the links from SeaWorld's tours page. Note that SeaWorld's passport members get 10 percent off the price of park tours, and that SeaWorld defines "children" as visitors between ages three and nine.

If you're looking for a more intense encounter with the park's animals, SeaWorld also offers three premium animal interaction programs:

Beluga Interaction
You'll put on a park-provided wetsuit then get in the water with the beluga whales at the Wild Arctic exhibit for a guided encounter under the director of SeaWorld's animal trainers. You'll be standing on a ledge in the water, so diving skills are not necessary. (Bring your swimsuit to wear under the wetsuit.) $199 with photo package, $149 without. Ages 10 and older only.

Marine Mammal Keeper Experience
You'll spend much of the day with SeaWorld's animal care experts, learning about the care of dolphins, sea lions and beluga whales, while getting close to the animals yourself. You must arrive at 6:30 am. $339, which includes 7 consecutive days' admission to SeaWorld, lunch on the day of your encounter, a T-shirt and a DVD about animal care careers. Ages 13 and up only.

Sharks Deep Dive
Climb into a shark cage for a trip into the tank at the park's Shark Encounter. You'll be wearing a special helmet with an air supply, so SCUBA certification is not required. The wetsuit is also provides, though you'll need to bring a swimsuit to wear underneath. 90 minutes. $149 (includes T-shirt). Ages 10 and up only.

Visit SeaWorld's animal interactions page for links to important program details and requirements, as well as to book online. Space is very limited for these programs, so advance reservations are a must.

Have you been on any of SeaWorld's tours or animal interaction programs? If so, please share your experience and advice about them, in the comments.

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It's official: It's CheeTaka Cheetah Hunt at Busch Gardens Tampa

By Robert Niles
Published: October 12, 2010 at 2:41 PM
SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment sent an e-mail reminder that it will announce its new attractions for Busch Gardens Tampa and Discovery Cove via video presentations on their Facebook pages tomorrow morning. (Here's the link to Busch Gardens' FB page, and to Discovery Cove's.)

The press release attachment's filename? "CheeTaka and Reef Announcement Advisory_Reminder.doc"

So I guess the name's official, huh?

Update Oct. 13: Nice misdirection! The name is actually "Cheetah Hunt." Well-played at keeping the name secret, Busch Gardens.

Watch the video for an on-ride simulation of this Intamin launch coaster, plus more detail within the park's announcement.

At first glance, it looks like an awful fail for a park that promotes animal conservation to be naming a ride for an animal hunt. But on second look, I can see the ride as referencing the cheetah *escaping* hunters. Thoughts?

Also: Take a good look at this Cheetah Hunt, Busch Gardens Williamsburg fans, because its description sounds a lot like the new coaster for 2012 that the Virginia park has promised. That would continue the recent practice of bringing a new coaster to one BG park, then one much the same to the other park the next season.

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What's new on the discussion board: Christmas trip planning and (not so) old cartoon characters

By Robert Niles
Published: October 12, 2010 at 10:10 AM
Got a question about planning a theme park vacation? Have some tips and advice to share, based on your recent trips? Here are this week's top new threads from the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board:

Kim PossibleJorge Arnoldson wonders about theme park attractions based on Characters That Kids Might Not Know These Days.

Daniel Etcheberry asks Is Disneyland's monorail necessary?

Daniel also asks for your ideas on How should the new Star Tours look like?

Helen Hannah hopes that you might have some suggestions for planning A Christmas visit in 2011 by a disabled consumer.

Anne Duncan wants to know which is the best value among the Disney All-Star Resorts.

Jack Curley wants to hear your tips for WDW to IOA transportation?

Pam Maneclang is looking for deal on theme park tickets. Help her out with your best advice in Ticket prices for USO/ IOA- please help!

Looking ahead to the holidays, Pam also asks How busy is Universal Orlando and what's the weather like in December?

Carrie Hood has noticed something going on behind the Jaws ride and asks about Universal Orlando.. Construction?

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Theme Park Apprentice 2 Challenge 1: Hometown Attraction

By Tim W
Published: October 10, 2010 at 9:33 PM
Welcome to the poll for the first challenge of Theme Park Apprentice 2. This week our 14 participants designed an attraction that would be for their hometown park. Originally, we had 30 people that signed up, and 2 dropped out bringing us to 28. But only half posted, so we will resume eliminations with the sitewide poll. The 2 contestants with the lowest percentage on Tuesday will be "fired". Before voting, please read the descriptions of each contestant on the discussion board.

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Pony Express coaster trains collide at Knott's Halloween Haunt

By Robert Niles
Published: October 7, 2010 at 9:15 PM
I'm tracking down tips that a roller coaster collision at Knott's Berry Farm this evening has injured several visitors to the park's annual Halloween Haunt event.

I'm hearing that coaster units on the Pony Express ride collided, hurting about 10 people, with some on their way to the local hospital.

Now hearing that many of the injuries are minor. Here's the accident report page on the incident.

If you were there, please post what you saw to the comments.

The Pony Express is a Zamperla launch roller coaster, where 16 visitors per train ride on individual "horses" which rotate forward so that riders are on the course head-first, instead of upright or leaning back as they would be on most coasters.

The odd position might make it difficult for riders to brace themselves in a collision. I'm hearing that the launch failed on the ride, causing one train unit to roll back into the station, colliding with a second.

Again, why some coasters don't have anti-rollback mechanisms to keep a train from coming back into an occupied zone is beyond me. Yes, this is a simple coaster, but any coaster with multiple trains on the track at once should have a zone protection system in place, IMHO.

Anyway, we'll await additional details as readers report them.

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Vote of the week: 'Glee' and theme parks' live musical shows

By Robert Niles
Published: October 7, 2010 at 1:14 PM
Fox Television's Glee has become one of the nation's more popular TV shows over the past year, especially among younger viewers. If you're not familiar with the show, it follows a fictional Ohio high school show choir (a.k.a. "glee club"), but mostly just provides a thin narrative excuse for its cast to sing covers of hit pop songs.

The cast of Glee
Photo courtesy Fox

The covers become hits themselves. This week, the cast of Glee passed The Beatles in charting more Billboard Hot 100 hits than any non-solo act in pop history. (Though, to be fair, The Beatles have spent more than five times the number of weeks on the chart and sold nearly an order of magnitude more albums than the cast of Glee has.)

What does this have to do with theme parks? Well, I know from personal experience that many of the students who sing and dance in real-life show choirs end up performing in theme parks, either as a summer job or as a way into a performing career. I went to high school in Indianapolis, and performed in my high school's show choir there. And I knew folks who went on to perform in theme parks including as Kings Island, Great America and Holiday World.

The popularity of Glee has me wondering: If millions of TV viewers have become fans of watching show choir-style production numbers on TV, does than translate into increased popularity for those types of shows in theme parks?

Are you more likely now to watch a live musical show on your next theme park visit, due to Glee? If you don't watch the show, please pick one of the "Not really" responses - depending upon whether you already watch these shows in theme parks or not.

I've gotta throw in this totally personal stuff because, hey, it's my post: The creator of Glee, Ryan Murphy, attended high school in Indianapolis around the same time as I did. So I presume that at some point, I competed against him in a show choir competition.

Also, you know how the Glee show choir's arch-nemesis is Carmel High School? Murphy didn't pick that name out of an outrageously styled hat. The Carmel (Indiana) High School Ambassadors (no, they weren't really called Vocal Adrenaline) were the choir to beat in the Midwest in the 1980s. Neither my school, nor Murphy's, ever did while we were there.

Two more notes: When MTV decided to jump on the "Glee" bandwagon and run a special on a real-life show choir in the Midwest, they chose my former choir, the Central Sound from Indianapolis' Lawrence Central High School, to profile.

And, finally, the name of the school in Glee is McKinley, which also happens to be the name of the school my children attend here in Pasadena. Here's what makes that funny (to me, at least): NBC's got a midseason replacement series coming up, "Harry's Law," which not-so-coincidently is also set at a "McKinley High School" in the state of Ohio. Where did NBC film that episode of the show? At my kids' McKinley School.

Okay, enough of that. Tell us about your favorite - or least favorite - live theme park musical show, in the comments.

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Halloween update: Busch Gardens' Alone, Universal's VIP lounge, SyFy's Ghost Hunters and a Halloween wedding

By Domenik Jost
Published: October 6, 2010 at 10:06 PM
After visiting Busch Gardens Tampa's Howl-O-Scream's first week, I followed up with a return visit this past weekend to catch two houses I missed the first time around. (Note: This visit also was an invited press admission.)

Taste of Blood: A Different View was a bit odd - vampires in the sewer and subway tunnels - but OK and decently themed, with a couple of good scare areas, though none of the actors got me.

Towards the end of the night, after a private MyX concert, seeing Blood Relations again as well as all the other houses, and riding almost all the major roller coasters in the dark, I finally got to go on my Alone adventure.

The anticipation of the house while waiting was killing me. I hadn't felt that way since a visit to Fear Factor at Universal, waiting for the floor to drop from underneath me while suspended 40 feet above the ground. Hearing that there had been three people escorted from of the house with medical supervision didn't help my anxiety, either.

Finally, it was my turn. I approached the first scene where I listened to a few words of advice, reminding me of Jigsaw from the Saw movies. That is all the spoiler you'll get from me - which really isn't much of a spoiler at all.

I have to say this, the house isn't exactly what I was expecting it to be… but in a good way. I'm just going to say that it is worth the $25 advance admission price. The way I saw it was I got a shirt that would be sold for $20 if it was being sold in stores - and a very unique experience. The house overall wasn't the type of house that scares you by having people hiding behind things and popping out at you (though there definitely are some), but it was more of a psychological challenge.

I found myself smiling throughout the entire house as I was quite thrilled at some of the cool effects, and of course the plot of the house. The house will sell out on most nights, but sometimes they open up some tickets around 10:30pm to be purchased on site.

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Over at Universal Orlando, stop by the VIP Lounge inside the Cafe La Bamba Cantina during your Halloween Horror Nights visit for "Secrets from the Past" with concept art and memorabilia from past Halloween Horror Nights. This exclusive area, which also requires an additional $9.99 fee, features VIP drink service and prime-time views of the "Fear Revealed" Scare Zone. On Thursdays nights at 8pm and 10pm, the VIP Lounge plays host to special presentations, including:

October 7 - Legendary Truth: The Journal of Mary Agana - An in depth and revealing review of the astonishing details that went into the telling of the odd doctor’s bizarre and horrifying story. 'Collective' operatives successfully tied together the elements of the event and solved a major mystery as to why they took place. (For those who don't know, Mary Agana is also known as 2008's Bloody Mary.)

October 14 - Terra Cruentas: This was the first time all Halloween Horror Nights elements were written, designed and produced to relate to each other through a detailed and complex legend of Terra Cruentas (World of Blood). Totally original and unique characters from five distinct realms depended on each other for survival, ritual and sacrifice to their Terra Queen.

October 21 - The Thing: Originally proposed to be a part of HHN 2002, the 'Thing House' wouldn't be built until 2007. The various concepts originally envisioned were modified greatly in the second design. You know what was included, now learn what did not make the final cut.

October 28 - The Icons: Halloween Horror Nights fans know all of the infamous iconic characters that hosted the event. But, there are others... that you may have heard about but do not know. Meet the creators who will describe how and why their creations were altered, hidden and/or resurrected in different form.

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Also at Universal Orlando, this Thursday, October 7, Halloween Horror Nights guests will have the opportunity to meet Steve Gonsalves and Dave Tango from the hit SyFy Channel series, "Ghost Hunters." The autograph session is included in admission to Halloween Horror Nights and will take place in Battery Park, located right across from Mel’s Drive-In, at 7:00pm and 9:30pm.

April Richardson and Adam Cochran won the Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights Wedding contest. They will "tie the noose" on Friday, October 15 at Halloween Horror Nights.

Congrats to both of them on winning the wedding to, uh, die for. Universal's offering to hitch other couples at HHN, too. If you are interested, you can book via UniversalOrlandoWeddings.com.

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What happened on It's a Small World at Disneyland Paris?

By Robert Niles
Published: October 6, 2010 at 12:34 PM
Just got this note from a reliable source:

"Disneyland Paris staff member dies on it's a small world. Ride was turned back on when staff member was cleaning."

On the road, so please post more information in the comments, if you have it.

Update: From the AP:

"Police say a preliminary investigation indicates the worker got trapped beneath a boat on the ride when it was inadvertently turned on before dawn Wednesday."

Obviously, a horrible situation that should not have happened and we ache for the family involved.

I'll slip into ex-ride ops cast member mode now. Disclaimer: I never worked Small World in my time at Disney, but I did work Pirates, which once had a similar ride system.

We did not have a "tagging" system at Pirates, as we did at Thunder Mountain, which might be relevant if no tagging system was in place at Paris' Small World. A tagging system is a cabinet that contains plastic tags, which workers take whenever they are out on the ride's track. If you see an empty spot in the cabinet, that means someone's tagged out, so you cannot start the ride until you find that tag and it is returned to the ride's operation tower.

Obviously, with a tagging system in place, there's no way to have a worker out on the ride when it starts - unless the worker or the tower operator ignores the tagging system, which is pretty much grounds for immediate termination.

Also, there's no such thing as a ride "inadvertently" starting. That would represent a system failure so catastrophic that it would necessitate taking down every other ride system like it around the world until the system could be fixed. No, someone likely intentionally started that ride, but without knowing someone else was out in the show building.

Even if the ride started with a worker in the show building, that wouldn't necessarily lead to an accident. At Pirates, we once operated the ride with cast members in the water and no one was ever hit by a boat. The one essential rule at water rides, like Pirates and Small World, is to never go inside the flume.

The flume consists of two metal panels within which the boats float through the attraction. (Look over the side when riding sometime, and you'll see the flume walls under the water.) The flume is exactly the width of the boats, so there would be no room for a person to fit alongside. If you are caught inside the flume, there's no where to go but under the boats.

Which is why there is no standard operating procedure that calls for people to be inside the ride flume on rides such as this unless all the water's been drained from the building.

Given the report that the victim was a 53-year-old employee of a park subcontractor, I suspect that unfamiliarity with the "never go inside the flume" rule may have proven tragic here. But we will need to wait for a complete report.

Of course, that also raises the question what an untrained contractor was doing inside an operational ride building. Again, we'll have to wait for a completed investigation to have answers to that.

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Five things that make after-hours parties a great deal at theme parks

By Robert Niles
Published: October 6, 2010 at 11:43 AM
I'm a huge fan of the evening parties at Walt Disney theme parks, such as the ongoing Mickey's Halloween Party at Disneyland. After-hours hard-ticket events provide a different park experience than a typical daily theme park visit - one that's often an even better value for the money.

Fireworks at Cinderella's Castle
Cinderella's Castle, during the Very Merry Christmas Party at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom

But what makes an after-hours theme park party a good buy? Let's break it down:

A lower price than a daily ticket

After-hours parties typically run from around dinner time to midnight or so - giving you around six hours in the park, give or take an hour or two. Given that many fans stay eight hours or more on a daily theme park visit, you want to see a lower price for the party than you would for a typical one-day park ticket.

That was the case at Disneyland's Halloween Party, where I could buy tickets for $49 each, as opposed to the typical one-day, one-park ticket price of $76.

Better and unique entertainment

This is supposed to be a party - something different than the usual theme park experience. So you should expect the park to be providing entertainment that you wouldn't find in the park as a day guest.

The ultimate in unique entertainment is Universal's Halloween Horror Nights, with dozens of mazes, live shows and scareactor-filled scare zones transforming the Universal Studios theme parks into substantially different destinations.

The Disneyland and Magic Kingdom parties offer unique experiences, as well. At Mickey's Halloween Party this year, Disneyland offered a parade and fireworks show that were running only during the party, as well as two dance parties and a few Halloween characters. But the biggest unique offering was the trick-or-treat zones, with unlimited candy. How often do people hand you free stuff at a theme park?

Signature attractions

While you want to see unique entertainment at an after-hours party, I think that you still should be able to experience the park's signature attractions, as well. I can't imagine visiting Disneyland without riding Pirates of the Caribbean, so I was happy to see that ride was open during the Halloween party.

Typically parks close many of their attractions during after-hours parties. It's a practical decision: With the extra entertainment and limited time frame, demand would be low for the park's less popular rides and shows. And the park needs those attractions personnel to staff the extra entertainment, as well. But while most visitors won't miss minor attractions, I wouldn't like an event where the top attractions in the park were closed, as well.

Ideally, not only should the park's top attractions be open, they should offer something special, themed to the park or season, as well. After the candy, the longest lines at this month's Disneyland party were for its Halloween-overlay attractions, Haunted Mansion Holiday and Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy. I love hitting up Revenge of the Mummy during Halloween Horror Nights, as well. When parks have attractions that fit the party's theme so well, it should take advantage of those opportunities by incorporating them into the event.

Shorter lines

With extra entertainment available, the lines should be shorter for those top attractions, even with the park's minor attractions closed. That requires the park to limit the number of party tickets that it offers for sale.

Most days, theme parks don't limit the number of people they admit through the front gate. Only when parks approach the physical capacity of the park - such as Disneyland during Christmas week - will you see parks close the turnstiles. By the time that happens, though, visitors are facing multi-hour waits throughout the park.

With a hard cap on ticket sales, visitors to after-hour parties can experience a different park experience - one where they have the time to enjoy more of what the park offers, even with the reduced operating hours. Of course, if a park sets the cap too high, this element of extra value for after-hours parties is lost.

Dinner before the show

This is where Disney falls down, by the way. With most after-hours parties starting in the late afternoon or early evening, it's natural that visitors will want to enjoy dinner as part of their evening out for the party.

So why not offer a dinner option that's themed to the party? Knott's does a great job with this, offering a "Pre-scare Boo-fet" option for Halloween Haunt ticket-holders, which gets them a buffet-style dinner (with the park's Mrs. Knott's fried chicken) along with early entry into Halloween Haunt. It's an extra charge - $21 in advance and $26 walk-up - but you're gonna have to buy dinner somewhere.

It's frustrating trying to scramble to eat dinner at one of a park's restaurants before they close for the party. And it's even more frustrating when all the park offers during the event is snack-bar fare. Make food part of the event and give folks the opportunity to spend more in exchange for real value a special, uniquely themed meal that they can't find anywhere else.

When parks deliver all five of these elements with their after-hours parties, those events make for great deals that fans ought to consider and support. And even when parks come up short and deliver only some of these, events still can provide unique experiences that are worth a look from fans wanting something different than a typical theme park visit.

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What's new on the discussion board: Vegan food, German beer and Hidden Mickeys

By Robert Niles
Published: October 5, 2010 at 9:17 AM
Here are the top new threads this week on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board:

Nick Carambelas asks you to share your favorite Hidden Mickeys in Disney theme parks.

Joshua Counsil has a Biergarten - Specific Beer Question for you.

Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach? John McLaughlan wants to know which is the Best water park?

Are you vegan? Vegetarian? Or just looking for a healthier meal at a theme park? Then please check out Javier Suarez's Vegan Options at Universal: A list and call for input

Amanda Hill wants to know whether to buy Annual passes for USO/IOA?

Daniel Etcheberry asks Should people who are afraid of roller coasters give it a try?

Arlene Pronesti is doing a school report and would like you to answer some Cedar Point questions.

Finally, we're kicked off a new season of Theme Park Apprentice. Follow our contestants' pitches for new theme park attractions by clicking over to Theme Park Apprentice 2: Challenge 1.

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One really bad day at SeaWorld Orlando

By Robert Niles
Published: October 4, 2010 at 10:40 PM
First, this morning, shortly before noon, a 68-year-old man perished at SeaWorld's Aquatica water park.

Then, this afternoon, SeaWorld Orlando's 25-year-old orca, Kalina, passed away after what the park called a sudden illness. This follows the loss of an orca at SeaWorld San Diego last month.

Investigations are underway in both incidents.

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Theme park cast member stories: You never know whom you'll meet on a parade route

By Robert Niles
Published: October 4, 2010 at 10:01 AM
My younger sister was the first in our family to work at Walt Disney World, taking a job at the old Troubador Tavern drink station in the Magic Kingdom shortly after my family moved from Indianapolis to Orlando. (I was up in Chicago, attending college at Northwestern.) But as soon as she turned 18, she quickly transferred out of foods and into attractions, starting as a hostess in the Enchanted Tiki Room on the Magic Kingdom's west side.

As most attractions cast members do from time to time, she was sent over to work crowd control on the parade route on some afternoons. Today I'll tell her favorite parade route story.

The parade route crosses through Liberty Square and Frontierland on the park's west side. But we needed more cast members to work the route than just the locations in those two lands could provide. So Adventureland CMs - those who worked Pirates, the Tiki Room and Jungle Cruise - came over to work the parade, too.

Company managers had decided somewhere along the line that it was okay for people in Adventureland costumes to be seen in Frontierland, but not in Liberty Square. That meant Adventureland CMs could not work on the parade roll-out crew, which would have required them to set up route in both lands. Instead, they were left to keep traffic flowing around the crosswalks in Frontierland.

Most of the time, you just hung out and answered guest questions. But at 15 minutes until parade time, you were supposed to start clearing the parade route. That meant facing the direction that the parade would be moving and telling people walking toward you to please use the crosswalk opening to move behind the ropes and off the parade route. (People moving the other way could stay on the route, since they were moving away from the parade.)

For the first 10 minutes or so, you'd be pretty mellow about the request. If folks kept walking past you, there was plenty of time for CMs at crosswalks farther up the route to catch them. No need to provoke an unpleasant confrontation at the "happiest place on Earth," after all. It was only in the last five minutes or so before the appearance of the first parade unit that you got serious about keeping *everyone* off the parade route.

And I do mean everyone.

So when my sister saw an elderly man walking toward her along the route, she sprang into action. She'd noticed many folks in the crowd taking notice of the man walking the wrong way up the parade route, so she wondered why it hadn't occurred to him yet that he might be doing something wrong, with so many folks watching him and pointing his way.

"Excuse me, sir," she said in her best Disney voice, with her wide, friendly smile. "Could you please move behind the ropes?"

Immediately, two men in dark suits and sunglasses appeared at her sides.

"He can keep moving," one hissed quietly in her ear. The elderly man walked past my sister, returning a smile that was even wider and friendlier than my sister's.

The two men in suits were gone. My sister turned to her partner at the crosswalk, who stared at her in horror.

"Don't you know who that was?" she asked.

"No," my sister replied, wondering what the fuss was over this one elderly man, among hundreds of others, in the Magic Kingdom.

"That was Jimmy Carter," the other CM said.

And for all the years since, I've teased my sister that I could recognize the mayor of Paris, but she spaced her encounter with a former president of the United States.

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

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There's no age limit on trick-or-treating at Mickey's Halloween Party

By Robert Niles
Published: October 2, 2010 at 9:39 AM
My daughter turned 13 this year, and while she's otherwise embraced being a teenager, I can tell that's she's grown a bit apprehensive about one of her favorite holidays - Halloween. Big kids, you see, don't get to trick or treat anymore.

Teenagers looking for candy handouts get theirs with a side-order of stink-eye. No one coos and ahhs over high school kids in costume. No, once you hit the big one-three, it's time for a grown-up Halloween, with parties filled with gore and guts, not silliness and sweets.

Thanks heavens, then, for Mickey's Halloween Party at Disneyland, where kids of any age can continue to trick-or-treat.

Mickey's Halloween Party at Disneyland

Even 13-year-olds.

Trick or Treating at Disneyland

Disney's moved the west-coast version of its family-friendly Halloween event across the esplanade this year, to allow World of Color to run uninterrupted over at California Adventure. Disneyland's already tricked-out for "Halloween Time," with day guests enjoying holiday decor, the "Nightmare Before Christmas"-themed Haunted Mansion Holiday and the "Ghost Galaxy" overlay on Space Mountain.

Haunted Mansion Holiday

Mickey's Halloween Party, a night-time event which requires a separate admission, throws in a Halloween-themed parade and fireworks, dance parties and, of course, unlimited trick-or-treating. Disney's set up seven zones around Disneyland Park where visitors can file past workers handing out fistfuls of candy. Party-goers can enter the park as early as 4 pm in advance of the party's official 7 pm start. (At 7, Disneyland cast members start directing any day guests without the party's purple wristbands to the park's exit.)

Disney's Matterhorn

Here's a tip: Don't start your evening with the candy hand-outs. Wait out the initial rush, then start with the candy zones farthest from the castle, which will be significantly less crowded. During Mickey's Halloween Party, the longest lines in the park are for the candy. But you paid for the rides and shows, too. Go enjoy those while everyone else queues for the sweets.

Or, take a moment to banter with Disney's family-friendly take on a "scareactor" - such as this scarecrow, "hanging out" on the hub:

Main Street Scarecrow

The party provides the only opportunity this year to see Disneyland's Halloween-themed fireworks show, "Halloween Screams." Disney villains, from Cruella de Vil to Maleficent, take turns in the spotlight as pyro blasts above Sleeping Beauty's Castle.

Halloween Screams Fireworks

We'd intended to see the second, less-crowded showing of the "Mickey's Costume Calvacade" parade, but by its showtime at 10:30, we were too busy enjoying unlimited re-rides on Splash Mountain to head over to the other side of the park for the show. Whenever the Splash crew asks, "Hey, do you just want to stay in the log for another ride?" who's gonna say no? :^)

By the party's end at midnight, we were exhausted from playing in the park, sweaty from this Southern California heat wave… and laden with Disneyland's Halloween candy.

My candy haul from Mickey's Halloween Party

Mickey's Halloween Party runs October 5, 8, 12, 15, 19, 22, 26, 29 and 31. Tickets range from $49-$59, with discounts for annual passholders, but no cheaper price for children. To order online, visit www.disneyland.com/party.

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Happy birthday to Walt Disney World, Epcot... and the new Amway Center in Orlando

By Domenik Jost
Published: October 1, 2010 at 2:54 PM
October 1 is a very special day in the Orlando area. Why is that? Today is the 39th birthday of the Walt Disney World Resort and its first theme park, the Magic Kingdom, which opened on this date in 1971.

The Magic Kingdom isn't the only Disney park celebrating a birthday. Epcot is 28, having opened October 1, 1982.

The birthdays of the Magic Kingdom and Epcot parks aren't the only ones being celebrating in Orlando today. Today at 10:01 a.m., on 10-01-2010 the ribbon was cut to Orlando's newest attraction, the brand new Amway Center.

But why am I writing about a new NBA arena on a theme park website?

Because you paid for it.

Tourist tax dollars helped to pay for Orlando's new, 875,000-square-feet basketball arena, which features an 8-million LED center-hung sideboard (the tallest, most high-definition in an NBA venue, measuring 42 ft.), two LED ribbon boards on the interior fascia of the seating decks, and more than 1100 high-definition video displays.

Fans attending an event in the new arena will find 37 restrooms, 227 food and beverage points of sale with 18 permanent concession stands and 37 portable units, plus 10 fan interactive areas such as the Nutrlilite Magic Fan Experience, Orlando on Demand, and Gentleman Jack Terrace to name a few.

And, yes, Disney is among the many sponsors of the new arena, the home of the National Basketball Association's Orlando Magic.


Mickey with the Magic's Dwight Howard. Photo courtesy Of The Orlando Magic

Disney is the presenting sponsor of the Amway Center atrium. As Ken Potrock, senior vice president of Disney Sports Enterprises said, "As you would expect, Disney believes in Magic."

The new Amway Center will host the 2012 NBA All-Star Weekend, in addition to Magic and indoor football games. (FWIW, the Magic's old arena also was known as the Amway Center Arena, and before that, as the TD Waterhouse Centre and the Orlando Arena.)

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Epcot International Food & Wine Festival Kicks Off a Day Early with First Bites Opening Reception

By Scott Joseph
Published: October 1, 2010 at 2:52 PM
The 15th Epcot International Food & Wine Festival officially kicks off today. But there was a new event added to the lineup that got things rolling last night: First Bites Opening Reception. Actually, the day before the opening has always been an unofficial preview day; many locals and EIF&WF aficionados know that they can get a head start on sampling from the country kiosks set up around the World Showcase. The day before is like a preview for a Broadway show, it’s a chance to work out the kinks before “opening night.”

But First Bites was different, an experiment of sorts. It was born out of a preview the Disney Culinears held for media last year. Then, a number of us were invited into the kitchen space deep in the bowels of the World Showplace venue to sample some of the new dishes and wines that were featured in 2009. Afterwards, the event planners thought it was the sort of thing that could be offered to the public. The paying public, to be precise. Was it worth the $195 (plus entrance fee)? Here's my answer.

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