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November 2010

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Union documentary portrays poor working conditions at Walt Disney World

By Pyra-Danny V
Published: November 30, 2010 at 10:46 PM
The Happiest Place on Earth displays a much sadder side as workers on Tuesday unveiled a union-produced documentary reflecting their poor working conditions.

The Service Trades Council, which claims to represent about 25,000 Disney cast members, has been in negotiation with the Disney bigwigs over pay increases since June. Although Disney officials have offered three-percent wage increases, the union members have rejected the offer. Reasons have ranged that the increase isn't good enough in face of the current recession to working long hours with small benefits.

Curious viewers can watch the documentary's trailer on YouTube which include testimonials from cast members.

One man, David, complains that he has worked there three years and is still making under $8 an hour. A glance at the comments section of the YouTube video seem to collect a number of angry people who know of Disney's practices and are thrilled for the video's release.

Personally, I've worked for a theme park before and if you're at the bottom of the chain, long hours of repetitive tasks for minimum wage is the norm. I entered the park working $7.25/hr and left two years later at $7.73/hr. It's difficult to work for dung while maintaining the smiling image of the company... but like many other theme park employees, I didn't want to leave because the people you meet are priceless and having free admission to many other theme parks was awesome!

In this recession (and any jobless time) when people hold onto their money, anything travel-related is one of the first industries to struggle. Of course Disney was not spared and naturally its employees are feeling the squeeze. I'm all for better working conditions at theme parks but I highly doubt that Disney will be able to fully satisfy the union until the economy improves.

Here's more:
Bay News 9
Orlando Sentinel

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What's new on the discussion board: Planning for holiday vacations at Disney and Universal

By Robert Niles
Published: November 30, 2010 at 10:10 AM
Here are the week's top new threads on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board:

Sara M is counting down Two weeks till Disney time, while Victoria Jurkowski asks for your help in planning her WDW Vacation.

Holiday lights at Disney's Hollywood Studios

Wendy Sklarin wants to know what is there to do for Toddlers at Universal.

Glenn Posca asks How busy is Universal Orlando on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day?

Joel S is looking for Reviews of BGW Christmastown?

Rod Whitenack says I Wish Holiday World Was Open For The Holidays!

Rob P wants to hear your favorite Stunt Spectaculars at theme parks.

Marc Flothe wonders about the spread of 3D movies and asks What to do with Muppetvision 4-D & Bug's Life?

Finally, James Rao takes a look at the new theme park attractions under construction around the country in Looking Forward To 2011.

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Legoland California kicks off its Holly Jolly Holidays

By Robert Niles
Published: November 30, 2010 at 9:44 AM
Legoland California kicked off its annual Christmas and holiday celebrations last night with a celebrity tree lighting ceremony.

TV-host-turned-mommy-blogger Brooke Burke did the honors, flipping the switch to illuminate the world's largest Lego Christmas tree.

Brooke Burke at Legoland California
Photo courtesy Legoland

More than 245,000 forest green Lego Duplo bricks make up the tree, which is decorated with more than 240 Lego ornaments.

Fireworks at Legoland's Holly Jolly Holidays
Photo courtesy Legoland

Legoland's Holly Jolly Holidays runs through Dec. 31. In addition to the nightly tree lighting ceremony (which will feature a randomly selected child visiting the park, instead of celebrities for the rest of the season), the park will feature many holiday-themed Lego creations, including a life-sized Santa and snowman, for kids to pose with.

Lego Santa
The TPI kids at Legoland in 2008

I particularly enjoy looking for Santa in the park's Miniland displays. Miniland always rewards the sharp-eyed visitor, for you'll never know what mischief you might discover there.

Santa busted at the White House
The Secret Service takes down Santa at the White House. I wonder if he skipped his TSA screening?

East-coast theme park fans presumably will get their own Lego-themed holiday celebration after Legoland Florida opens next October.

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Universal Orlando mourns loss of community relations executive

By Robert Niles
Published: November 29, 2010 at 10:47 AM
Jan StrattonUniversal Orlando is mourning the loss of its vice president for community relations, Jan Stratton, who died Sunday. Stratton was 54.

"Jan was a woman of enormous heart. She had a great passion for helping the families of our community," Universal Orlando spokesman Tom Schroder said in a statement. As community relations director for the resort, Stratton was in charge of working with local charities and community events. She was also charged with maintaining and strengthening Universal Orlando's relationships with local racial and ethnic minority communities.

Stratton died Sunday after being removed from life support, one day after a reported suicide attempt at her home. The Orlando Sentinel has collected several quotes from area organizations that Stratton served during her careers with Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World, including Give Kids the World and the Second Harvest food bank.

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Theme Park Apprentice 2 Challenge 6: Hyperion Wharf

By Tim W
Published: November 29, 2010 at 10:46 AM
Here's the poll for Theme Park Apprentice Challenge 6. This week our contestants were creating some sort of entertainment for Hyperion Wharf. Before voting read their ideas on the thread.

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Attraction spotlight: Lights! Motors! Action! stunt show at Disney's Hollywood Studios

By Robert Niles
Published: November 28, 2010 at 9:25 PM
Have you ever visited a theme park, then realized afterward, "I can't believe I missed [fill-in-the-blank]!"?

Well, for years, that was me with the Lights! Motors! Action! auto stunt show at Disney's Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World in Florida. No matter how many times I visited the Studios, I never managed to make my way over to see this show.

So, when I visited Disney's Hollywood Studios earlier this month during my latest trip to Orlando, I made seeing Lights! Motors! Action! my top priority.

Lights! Motors! Action!

Theme Park Insider readers consistently have rated LMA among their favorite live theme park shows, and I now see why. The show opens with a stunning "car ballet" sequence, as multiple cars spin, whip and slide within inches of each other across a faux-ItalianFrench market square in the immense show stadium, set at the end of the Studios' Streets of America.

After the sequence, keeping with the park's movie studio theme, stunt coordinators emerge to break down the sequence, explaining how stunt drivers can make their cars do seemingly impossible things - such as drive backward at speed, even jumping a ramp in reverse.

I won't spoil the tricks for you in this post, but I will leave you with a sample of the action from later in the show:

Each sequence brings out the stunt team for an explanation, wrapping up with a film clip of the stunt sequences, edited together into a "final cut" action scene, which segues into the explosive live grand finale. (See the photo, above.)

Given my love for the whine of high-performance engines and the smell of burning rubber, I can't believe I missed this show as many times as I did. But I'm glad that I finally fixed that mistake.

I'd love to hear your take on Lights! Motors! Action!, in the comments.

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The 2010 theme park souvenir Christmas gift shopping guide

By Robert Niles
Published: November 24, 2010 at 9:14 AM
Theme parks this year are making it easier than ever for fans (and their families) to buy theme park merchandise, without having to visit the parks.

Disney, Universal and SeaWorld all have online shops for theme park merchandise this year, proving easy online shopping for Christmas and holiday gifts for theme park fans.

Universal Orlando

My favorite is Universal's new online store, at universalorlando.com/universalmerchandise. Not only can you shop by product type, as you can with the other parks' websites, Universal's added the feature I've longed for in online theme park souvenir shopping - the ability to shop by individual stores within the park.

Obviously, Harry Potter merchandise will be driving sales at Universal's online store this year. You can shop Ollivander's and pick up wands from Harry, Hermoine and Voldemort. (Love Dumbledore? Own your own Elder Wand!) Plus, there's an immense supply of shirts, souvenirs and knick-knacks, many of which I haven't seen on my visits to .

C'mon, who doesn't want their own plush Voldemort?

Walt Disney World and Disneyland

If you're looking for Disney theme park merchandise, and can't use that as an excuse for a theme park visit, head over to the theme park section of the online Disney Store.

There, you'll find hundreds of items on sale in the company's U.S. theme parks. Being both a computer and Disney theme park geek, my eyes were drawn immediately to an item I first saw in Disney's Hollywood Studios last week - the Mickey mouse:

A Mickey-hand computer mouse

Unfortunately, you can't shop by individual store, or even theme park, on the Disney website, making it less useful for me than Universal Orlando's. And while I found plenty of Walt Disney World-branded shirts, it was harder to find many Disneyland-branded items. Still, I found plenty here to help fill my personal holiday wish list.

SeaWorld Parks

SeaWorld's Shamu Shop offers a limited selection of SeaWorld-themed merchandise. You'll find Shamu plush, "Believe" DVDs and some hat-and-tee combo sets. I give props to SeaWorld, though, for including some items with the "Laughing Shamu" character I wish the park would use more often.

A Laughing Shamu tote bag

If you're looking for Busch Gardens merchandise, SeaWorld Parks also has a Busch Gardens Shop. Again, the selection is very limited - just a couple dozen items.

Other theme parks

I love the HoliShop from Holiday World. In addition to the usual T-shirts and plush, Holiday World also offers some nice gifts for roller coaster fans. You can get jacket patches for park's three top-quality coasters - The Raven, The Legend and The Voyage. And the park also offers a unique collection of framed art-photo prints of its coasters, taken from unusual vantage points only available to the park's "Coaster Cats" maintenance technicians.

Holiday World's Coaster Cats

In addition to offering a large collection of Dolly Parton recordings, Dollywood's online store includes many tempting food items, including several varieties of ciders. (Blackberry cider, anyone?)

Finally, the HersheyPark online store listed several cute candy-themed plush characters, but many of them were sold out, making it a tough choice for holiday shopping. Perhaps they'll restock before the season's done.

What's on your holiday wish list? Please tell us all about it, in the comments.

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Vote of the week: It's turkey time!

By Robert Niles
Published: November 23, 2010 at 8:42 PM
It's almost Thanksgiving here in the United States, so it's time for an early 'vote of the week' this week.

Let's keep it on the topic of Thanksgiving, too, shall we? When you sit at the table on Thursday and that big platter comes your way, which part of the turkey will you reach for first?

Turkey dinner at Holiday World
Last summer's "Thanksgiving dinner" at Holiday World's Plymouth Rock Cafe, in Santa Claus, Indiana.

If you've ever had a Thanksgiving (or another holiday) meal at a theme park restaurant (including the hotels), please tell us about it in the comments. I'd love to hear other Theme Park Insider readers' picks as the best place to share a holiday meal at the parks.

Tomorrow, I'll be posting our annual holiday gift guide. Thanks again for reading Theme Park Insider, and I hope you have a wonderful weekend, wherever you are. Happy Thanksgiving!

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What's new on the discussion board: Universal Orlando strategy, and a turkey-free Thanksgiving at Disneyland

By Robert Niles
Published: November 23, 2010 at 10:07 AM
You're watching the clock, counting off the hours until your Thanksgiving break. What better way to waste pass that time than talking about your favorite theme parks? Here are the top new threads on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board:

Shannon Williams wants to know How busy is Universal/Islands of Adventure after Christmas?

Hogwarts Castle at Universal's Islands of Adventure theme park

manikandan kumar is looking for a good Universal Orlando: One-day, two-park strategy?

Joe Brown asks if Camp Minnie Mickey at Disney's Animal Kingdom is just a waste of space?

Tony Duda has a few Busch Gardens Tampa quick visit comments.

Jesse Key is wondering about So Cal Weather in the winter.

Someone's not going to Disneyland this week. Victoria Jurkowski notes that Pardoned Turkeys No Longer Welcome in Disneyland.

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Restaurant review: The Hollywood Brown Derby at Disney's Hollywood Studios

By Robert Niles
Published: November 22, 2010 at 2:14 PM
Last week, while in Orlando for the annual International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions convention, I visited Disney's Hollywood Studios on Friday for a quick "day in the park" before heading to Orlando International Airport for my flight home.

And for lunch, I, of course, ate at the Hollywood Brown Derby.

Disney's Hollywood Brown Derby

Theme Park Insider readers consistently rate the Hollywood Brown Derby among their favorite theme park restaurants. It's a bit pricey, as many of Walt Disney World's sit-down, table-service restaurants can be. As a "Signature Restaurant," dining at the Brown Derby will cost you two table-service meal credits if you are using the Disney Dining Plan and not paying-as-you-go. (For the record, I'm always pay-as-you-go for Disney restaurants, though on this day I dined with a cast member - who doesn't work in either the parks or publicity, BTW - so we had a cast-member discount on the prices.)

I ordered the brown butter almond-crusted black grouper with golden beets, roasted celery root, leeks and a lobster beurre blanc ($31).

Almond-crusted black grouper

The fish came to the table as decadently enrobed as the menu description made it out to be. Yet the buttered almonds in a butter sauce didn't weigh down the fish too much. (I had an Icelandic Wolf Fish off-property at a Bonefish Grill the night before that was drowning in its sauce, so I appreciated the Brown Derby's relative restraint.) But the highlight of the meal was the roasted vegetables.

Our server explained that they switch the accompaniments on the grouper seasonally, and that the winter-appropriate root vegetables had just replaced a more summer-like presentation using peaches. I love to see theme park restaurants embrace seasonal ingredients, just as top restaurants outside the theme park world do. Granted "winter" in Florida's nothing like winter up north, but I enjoyed the hearty vegetables, sweetened by roasting, but not too much to make the dish cloying. The mix elevated the entire meal, boosting the flavor of the grouper.

Based on the recommendation of so many Theme Park Insider readers, I had to order the Brown Derby's Grapefruit Cake ($7) for dessert.

Grapefruit cake

Again, this dish offered a nice flavor balance, this time with tartness balancing the sweet. It's a basic sweet cream layer cake, but with a tart grapefruit icing glazing the cake. A bite into the grapefruit wedges that garnish the cake will send your mouth puckering, too. The only flaw was the hard cream cheese frosting along the outer edge of the cake, which felt and tasted stale compared with the tender, moist cake. We just pulled that off and left it.

Our service was delightful, though, never rushed but always helpful. The Hollywood Brown Derby's a splurge - certainly - but for me, it delivered a premium experience for its premium price.

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Theme park cast member stories: 'Yes, I speak Disney'

By Robert Niles
Published: November 21, 2010 at 4:18 PM
Walt Disney World, like many workplaces, has its own language. When I got my start in newspapers, at a small daily in Bloomington, Indiana, I was told on the first day that should an irate visitor storm into the newsroom, I was to get on the phone, dial the line that put me on the building loudspeaker and ask for the editor of the paper to come to "proof-reading."

That was the code for security to come to the newsroom, now. There is no "proof-reading" department in a newspaper. That's the work of what we call the "copy desk." But the average Joe doesn't know that. So the paper used that word as code, to alert security without alarming the visitor and escalating the situation before help arrived. (Using the editor's name was the code to alert security to come to the newsroom. If you used the name of another department head, security would run to that department.)

If that newspaper had a code phrase, Disney World had its own code language.

Some you might know already: If you're inside the park you are "on stage." The people visiting are never customers, they are "guests" (as Marty Sklar reminds us).

When an attraction was down at Disney, we never used the words "down" or "closed" in front of guests. (And especially not "broken"!) Instead, we were to use the code "101" when talking with other cast members, whether in person, on the phone or over a radio. When the attraction came back up, we were to say that it was "102."

Obviously, when speaking directly with guests, you would tell them that a ride was "temporarily unavailable," before suggestion an alternative in the area. The codes 101 and 102 were just for use with other cast members, in case guests were in hearing range.

I was told that the number 101 was selected because, at the time that Disneyland opened that was the number of the highway that ran just north of the theme park. (It's now Interstate 5.) So, in essence, the cast members were joking that, since the ride was closed, it was time for guests to "hit the highway."

If you're wondering, the idea behind saying "102" instead of "open now," was to prevent an even larger rush to the now-available-with-no-line attraction. (If you've ever seen Space Mountain get mobbed after a downtime, you'll see the wisdom in that.)

Those weren't Disney's only "on-stage" codes. A "signal 70" was a lost child. A "signal 25" was a fire. And a "signal V" was a "protein spill" - someone losing their lunch.

On stage and off, Disney cast members frequently use abbreviated names for locations around the park. Pirates of the Caribbean becomes "Pirates" and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad becomes "Thunder," for example.

You were supposed to use the proper, complete name of a location when speaking with a guest, but supervisors rarely objected if you used "Pirates" or "Thunder" on stage, since many guests used those terms, too.

Other terms were strictly for use with other cast members, though, such as "TSI" for Tom Sawyer's Island or "Bear Band" for the Country Bear Jamboree. Most guests would need a moment or two to figure what you were talking about when you mentioned "Bear Band," for example. I know I needed several seconds to realize that I supposed to be at Country Bear Jamboree when I was told to report to "Bear Band" for my first day in attractions.

Yet, from time to time, an edict would come down that certain abbreviations weren't for use on stage at any time if guests were in the park and might overhear. One famous example was "DCA," used on message boards as well as internally to reference the Disney California Adventure theme park. Another I recently heard was verboten is "WOD" (pronounced "wahd") for the World of Disney stores.

And of course, anyone using within guest earshot the very-popular-among-cast-members phrase "taco tour" to reference a tour group of South American teen-agers could look forward to an immediate verbal reprimand.

On the topic of names forbidden-by-Disney, I had fun recently asking this question about two banned terms:

I'd love to hear some stories from other past or present theme park employees about the code words and phrases you've used when working in the parks.

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Vote of the week: How do you like your Butterbeer?

By Robert Niles
Published: November 19, 2010 at 7:04 AM
In honor of today's opening of the seventh Harry Potter film, I thought I'd ask a question about The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando.

At first glance, it might seem that there's no question about the Wizarding World. Universal's new Harry Potter land has won, well, universal acclaim. It won our Theme Park Insider Award for Best New Attraction of 2010. It's been sitting atop of Best Themed Ride rankings since it opened. And this week, the themed amusement industry's designers and managers honored it with four Thea Awards at the 2010 IAAPA Attractions Expo.

No question, huh?

Not so fast. There is one question roiling the Wizarding World - one question that divides fans into bitter enemy camps, like Gryffindors battling Slytherins.

How do you like your Butterbeer, regular or frozen?


If you've visited the park, go ahead and respond with your favorite version of Universal's highly addictive drink. If you've not yet visited, take a look at the pros and cons listed below and in the comments, then respond with the version you'll pick first when you do visit.

(And you must visit. If you're a theme park fans - even if you don't care for Harry Potter - you really should see this, to see the ultimate in immersive area theming.)

Why Frozen Butterbeer?
It's colder, and that's a plus on a hot Orlando day.
You have to drink it more slowly, allowing you to savor the flavor longer.
The flavor seems a bit more intensive in the frozen version.

Why Regular Butterbeer?
Authenticity - The gang in Harry Potter didn't drink Butterbeer slushies. You only get the smooth, beer-like mouth feel with the regular version.
It's not frozen - Visiting the Wizarding World is enough of a head rush. Do you really want a brain freeze, too?
Cost - The regular version's a buck cheaper.

So which will it be?

If you're already a Butterbeer fan, explain your choice in the comments, please. And have a wonderful weekend queuing for the Harry Potter movie, the Wizarding World, or whatever else you have planned. Thanks again for reading Theme Park Insider.

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IAAPA Update: Crisis management, dueling coasters and 4D-shooter shows

By Robert Niles
Published: November 18, 2010 at 10:49 AM
ORLANDO, Florida - Are few observations from the 2010 IAAPA Attractions Expo:

When news breaks, fix it

I've visited Holiday World the past two summers, but I had to travel to Orlando to actually meet Pat Koch and Paula Werne in person. (Go figure!) Werne, the park's public relations director, talked about crisis communication in a morning session today. As always, her advice to other publicity professionals was spot-on.

In talking publicly, "spin will only leave you feeling nauseous," Werne said. Always tell the truth in a crisis, and never speculate.

Echoing the advice of Marty Sklar and Mickey Steinberg from yesterday, Werne urged attendees to answer, "I don't know, but I'll find out" when asked for information that they don't have.

"It's really important to take the emotion out of a situation," Werne also said. "No matter who or what causes a crisis, preparation will help you get through it and minimize damage to your brand."

As someone who covers theme park news for a living, I wish that more park PR reps would follow Werne's advice, and offer the facts they have in a situation, rather than trying to spin or obscure the information. Eventually, the news does get out - we have too many well-connected people here in the Theme Park Insider community (and you are part of our community, too!) - and one of us will get the scoop, eventually. Better for the park to get that information out here, up front, and without compromise. It's amazing the goodwill that simple honesty will elicit, even in the worst situations.

New coaster from The Gravity Group

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of spending some time at the booth of our readers' favorite wooden roller coaster designer, The Gravity Group. (Their Holiday World coaster, The Voyage, won our Best Theme Park Attraction in America tournament last spring.) Engineer Michael Graham talked me through the new racing/dueling coaster that The Gravity Group is designing for Happy Valley in Wuhan, Hubei, China. Here's a simulation:

The 3,800-foot ride is a collaboration with Martin & Vleminckx, and is scheduled to open in fall of 2011. Its signature moment will be a racing camelback banked at ninety degrees, dubbed the "high five."

The Gravity Group's 'high five' moment

When 4-D meets a shoot-'em-up

I find interesting the life-cycle of attraction technology, how rides and shows start in theme parks and eventually scale down to make their ways into family entertainment centers and shopping malls. You couldn't walk 30 yards on the IAAPA show floor this year without running into a booth hawking a 4D show. Most of these aren't intended for major theme parks - they're designed with minimal footprints, to fit into malls and FECs.

But I love to see when vendors mash-up amusement technologies. Alterface's booth caught my eye this year, with its mash-up of a 3-D movie, motion simulator and shoot-'em-up ride.

Alterface's 5Di Interactive Cinema

The theater at IAAPA is meant for FECs and malls - it featured just nine seats (saddle-shaped stools, really) that bucked and swayed as we played a western-themed shooting game. I racked up a score of just over 13,000 points, good for second place in the theater. What really impressed me was the use of the ride's photo system to project the picture of the high (and low) scorer on the theater screen, so they could enjoy a moment a triumph (or scorn). That's a nice, social touch that should help encourage re-rides. It's one thing to see that you're a high score, but it's even more exciting to know that everyone else is seeing that you whipped 'em, too.

Alterface does design a larger version of its 5Di Interactive Cinema for theme parks, too, and sells interactive technology to be used on other companies' track rides, as well.

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Disney announces Pleasure Island re-design plans

By MyFoxOrlando WOFL FOX 35
Published: November 18, 2010 at 10:45 AM
Walt Disney World today announced plans for re-design of Pleasure Island at Orlando's Downtown Disney.

The company says Pleasure Island will be transformed into “Hyperion Wharf,” a nostalgic yet modern take on an early 20th century port city and amusement pier. Disney says port district will draw guests in with its stylish boutiques and innovative restaurants and by night, thousands of lights will transform the area into an electric wonderland.

Disney also announced another rehab of the AMC movie theaters, which include new digital technology and a "Fork & Screen" theater where visitors can dine while watching a show.

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IAAPA Update: The 2010 Disney Legends panel, with Marty Sklar and Mickey Steinberg

By Robert Niles
Published: November 17, 2010 at 8:59 PM
ORLANDO, Florida - What happens when a creative director butts heads with a project manager, with billions of dollars and a company's reputation on the line? In the case of Marty Sklar and Mickey Steinberg, some of the greatest projects in theme park history happen.

Newly-inducted IAAPA Hall of Fame member Bob Rogers introduced the two at this year's "Disney Legends" panel, at the 2010 IAAPA Attractions Expo.

Of Sklar, the former creative principal of Walt Disney Imagineering, Rogers said: "He became the Sorcerer's Apprentice, channelling, articulating, and teaching Walt's philosophies to not one, but two or three generations of successive designers."

Of Steinberg, the former WDI executive, Rogers noted: "Mickey project managed Disneyland Paris. He had quite the reputation for frankness [eliciting nervous laughs from throughout the room], directness, and everyone who worked with Mickey has a story."

Sklar and Steinberg first began working together when the late Frank Wells hired Steinberg to "clean up" WDI. Back then, Disney was trying to use a process called "design-build" to develop its theme park projects. In design-build, a single contractor handles both the design and construction of a process. It's supposed to streamline the development process, as you don't need to contract one team to design the project and another to build it. But Steinberg would have none of that.

"When you get into high design stuff, how in the world can you design-build it?" Steinberg said. "You have to know what they [the theme park owners]want, and the only way to get that is to have them design it."

"The first thing I did was terminate Bechtel, and turn it over to Imagineers. That [project] was the Disney Hollywood Studios. I terminated Erie and turned it over to Imagineers. That was the Typhoon Lagoon. I did Jacobs, got rid of them, that was Splash Mountain at Disneyland. And the biggest one had to do with the park in Paris.

"It didn't take me long to understand that the most qualified people there were all of these people that they were throwing others on top of. It was the Imagineers. They knew how to build. They knew how to design. And they knew how to do it together. The only thing I had to do was get rid of the people at the top."

Steinberg warned about turning to outsiders to manage creative projects, in an effort to save money and speed development.

"You have to be integrated in the process completely" when you're building something as creatively complex as a theme park, he said. "You don't just turn it over to somebody else. Nobody knows what you've got in your mind."

Steinberg also insisted that project managers focus on the customer.

"Most developers turn out what they want. But when you're building something like a theme park, it's not what you want, it's what the customer wants. And if you don't build that, you're wasting your time and money," he said.

"It's a guest, Mickey, not a customer," Sklar cut in, with a smile, drawing laughs from the audience for the reference to one of Walt Disney's mantras, one that's repeated to every Disney new hire even today.

"That may be true," Steinberg responded, "but he pays at the gate when he comes in."

Rogers sustained the focus on management issues by asking the two about the importance of having access to the highest level of management within a company. Marty responded with a story about the development of Mickey's PhilharMagic, recalling an early pitch to then-CEO Michael Eisner.

"He said, 'It's okay, but it needs an antagonist in the story. Why don't you try using Donald Duck?'" Sklar recalled. "Well, Donald Duck is the key to that film. And just one suggestion and we redid the story. Now, as the company got bigger, and into so many more more things, we saw less and less of Michael and that was to the detriment of the product I think because we just couldn't get the time we once had."

Later in the session, Sklar referenced Eisner again.

"There's an interesting book that Michael Eisner just did about partnerships ["Working Together: Why Great Partnerships Succeed"] - I think it's worth reading. There's a whole chapter in there about his relationship with Frank Wells, and even he admits at the end that Disney was never the same after Frank died and he didn't have a partner like that."

Steinberg emphasized the importance of partnerships in getting the most out of project development.

"This concept of partnership is something we pushed in every project," he said. "Every project had a partnership of the project manager and the designer. People would ask 'Who's in charge?' And I danced around that, then said 'You're partners. Learn to like it.'"

Both Sklar and Steinberg also spoke of the importance of owning up to mistakes.

"Everyone who's ever done anything has made a mistake," Steinberg said. But the key is to own it, and not cover it up, so that it can be fixed right away.

Better yet, Sklar said, would be to answer "I don't know" when you aren't certain of correct information on a project.

"Too many people are afraid to say 'I don't know,'" Steinberg responded. "To me, that's a great answer: 'I don't know, but I will find out.'

"The other thing I didn't want anyone to tell me [when I asked] 'Why don't you do it this way?' was 'No, it won't work.' That was baloney. They should say, 'Yes sir, but if you really want it it's going to cost you one billion, 200 million dollars.' Then I'd say, 'Hey, I don't want that.' I can't stand to work with people who the first thing out of their mouth is 'no.'"

Sklar echoed the late Buzz Price's statement on that topic at last year's IAAPA Disney Legends panel.

"'Yes, if' is the language of a dealmaker," Sklar said, quoting Price. "'No, because' is the language of someone who wants to kill the deal. Creative people thrive on 'Yes, if.'"

Rogers asked about the challenges of developing theme parks outside the United States.

"One thing we've found is that if you're writing something for a theme park in another language, don't just have it translated," Sklar said. "It's not the same. The only jokes that worked [when translated] on the Jungle Cruise were mother-in-law jokes. We found that you can tell a mother-in-law joke in any culture. But what we had to do was get a writer who can write in that language, in that idiom and that culture and say 'here is what we want to convey.'

"Some of the words we first translated in Jungle Cruise, some of the words we got back in Mandarin and Cantonese, they were not pleasant - swear words, actually. So you really have to be careful about that."

Cultural understanding works best when it goes both ways. Sklar noted one example.

"One of the best things Disney did was, when we started Tokyo Disneyland, we brought the people who were going to be the top operating people at Tokyo Disneyland and the worked at Disneyland [in California] for a year. Those people were the foundation for making Tokyo Disneyland a success in the beginning" because they knew Disney's corporate culture by seeing it in practice at the company's original theme park.

Passion is important, too, both said.

"If you have the passion for doing it right, that's going to translate in so many ways, without having to be in words," Sklar said. "Setting an example, through the passion you have for doing something right, is as important as anything else you do, anywhere."

Of course, not everything one hears about a foreign culture turns out to be accurate. Sklar cited an example from Tokyo Disneyland.

"We were told that we had to redesign the Splash Mountain seats in Tokyo because Japanese women 1) wouldn't step on a seat that they were going to have to sit in and 2) they will not get wet," Sklar recalled.

"That was bulls--t. It was one of the most popular attractions that we've done in Tokyo."

Speaking of misconceptions, Steinberg wrapped up the panel by shooting down the talk that Disneyland Paris was a failure when it opened.

"The facts are that the park was a huge success. It wasn't the park that got into trouble. It was the people who built the concept of the whole development," Steinberg said.

"I'm not the one who decided to build 5,500 hotel rooms in the beginning. When they built the first park here [Walt Disney World], they built 750 rooms. And this was not next to Paris. I've been the hotel business, I wouldn't have built all those rooms" at Disneyland Paris, Steinberg said.

"I'm not the one who build 50,000 residences to get the land at a 'cheap' price. That wasn't a cheap price."

Steinberg was getting visibly riled by now.

"We built the most success tourist attraction in Europe. It got in trouble not because of that park, and without that park, the rest of all that [stuff] they built would probably have gone into disrepair," Steinberg concluded, with a huff.

"Do you feel strongly about that?" Sklar asked, with another wry smile, as the audience broke into laughter and applause.

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Theme Park Apprentice 2, Challenge 5: Epcot Pavilions

By Tim W
Published: November 17, 2010 at 8:58 PM
This week, our contestants paired up to create two pavilions for Epcot's 30th Birthday. I think they all worked together quite well. Before voting, check out their ideas in the thread!

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IAAPA update: Koch, Rogers join the theme park industry's Hall of Fame

By Robert Niles
Published: November 16, 2010 at 11:32 AM
The late Will Koch, the president of Holiday World, who passed away last summer at age 48, was inducted this morning into the IAAPA Hall of Fame, joining his late father, Bill, who was inducted in 2001.

The Koch family accepts the award
The Koch family at IAAPA 2010 as Will Koch is inducted into the Hall of Fame. Photo from Holiday World.

Bob RogersJoining Koch in this year's induction class is Bob Rogers, the founder and chief creative officer of BRC Imagination Arts, the producer of the greatest theme park movie ever made and a frequent TPI lurker. (Congratulations, Bob!) The other two inductees are Don Clayton, the founder of Putt-Putt Golf, who died in 1996 and Daniel Hudson Burnham, the creator of the first attractions midway, at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. Burham died in 1912.

Dollywood won the 2010 Applause Award. From the press release:

"The Applause Award, the most prestigious award within the amusement and theme park industry, honors a park whose management, operations and creative accomplishments have inspired the industry with its foresight, originality and sound business development. The award is presented every other year by Liseberg amusement park located in Gothenburg, Sweden. For this 2010 award, Dollywood competed with Alton Towers in the UK and Phantasialand in Germany for the honor."

I'm in the air on my way to Orlando now, but will be on the show floor tomorrow with more updates.

Update: Here are the winners of this year's theme park-related Thea Awards from the Themed Entertainment Association, announced at IAAPA.

Buzz Price Award (for lifetime achievement): Kim Irvine, Art Director, Disneyland

Outstanding Achievement Awards:
Feature Attraction - Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
New Theme Park Land - The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Thematic Integration of Retail, Food & Beverage - The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Technical Achievement - Harry Potter and the Forbbiden Journey
Nighttime Spectacular - World of Color

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What's new on the discussion board: From Disney Cruises to DisneyQuests

By Robert Niles
Published: November 15, 2010 at 10:37 PM
We're in one of the slower seasons of the year for theme parks, with even the Orlando and Southern California parks experiencing lighter attendance, in anticipation of the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday crowds. But it's always trip-planning season here on Theme Park Insider! Here are this week's top new threads on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board:

Disney Dream
Artist's concept of the Disney Cruise Line's Disney Dream

Victoria Jurkowski leads us off with a few Disney Cruise Line questions.

Jennifer Tom wants to know your pick for the best Walt Disney World character dining?

Derek Morse is wondering about a Theme change for my favorite shop in Liberty Square?

Carrie Hood is looking for your help in The Great Vacation Debate, Help us decide!

Jeannie Herron asks Which park do teenagers like best?

Finally, Flavio de Souza wants to discuss Disney's future in major urban markets, in asking DisneyQuest: Should Disney try again?

One more note: I'm on my way to Orlando for the 2010 IAAPA Attractions Expo, the theme park industry's largest annual convention. I'll be tweeting from the show floor with interesting stuff I find, and chatting up industry folks in looking for cool stories to bring you in the weeks to come here on Theme Park Insider.

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Orlando's theme parks can't afford for parents to decide not to fly

By Robert Niles
Published: November 15, 2010 at 10:45 AM
The Orlando theme parks go together with the airline industry like a hot day and a frozen Butterbeer. Airlines flies millions of visitors into Central Florida each year, delivering a huge percentage of the visitors to Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando and SeaWorld. As the heart of the travel business, a healthy airline industry helps ensure a healthy theme park industry.

So anything that threatens people's willingness to fly endangers the Orlando parks. That's why I'm watching closing the growing outrage over the U.S. federal government's new screening procedures for airline passengers.

My kids find it hard to believe, but not all that long ago it was possible to fly anonymously. When I was in college, I flew from Indianapolis to Orlando using my friend's father's ticket. No one checked any identification. We had paper tickets, and if you presented the ticket, you got to fly. The only time you saw anyone checking travelers' ID was in the movies when the bad German or Soviet border guard was trying to catch the hero (who, inevitably, was traveling with fake papers.)

Obviously, that's changed in today's environment. Not only do you have to show ID to get on a plane today, but under this year's new security procedures, the name on your ID must match exactly the name on your flight reservation. I can't recall ever being able to get on a plane without going through a metal detector, but for the past several years you've had to take off your shoes to be X-rayed before boarding and can't carry onto the plane more than a tiny amount of liquid from outside the secure area, either.

But that's not been enough, in the view of the U.S. Transportation Security Administration. Starting last month, the TSA mandated the use of new high-resolution "backscatter" imaging machines at all major U.S. airports for randomly selected passengers. You can refuse to go through the machines (which produce what looks like a naked image of your body), but if you do, you will be subject to a new, much more invasive pat-down, which travelers and security experts have compared to the pat-downs that new prisoners are subject to when they are checked into jail.

The new pat-down procedures don't stop with an agent feeling your arms and legs, as before. They also require TSA personnel to place their hands inside your waistband and also to touch your groin area, to check for hidden contraband.

What's driving some parents over the edge is that fact that children are also subject to the new screenings. Obviously, many parents object to having to choose between a TSA agent taking what amounts to a naked picture of their child or having the agent placing his or her hands on what most kids have been taught are their "private areas" that no stranger ever is allowed to touch.

Complains are pouring in (link displays TSA scanner images that may be NSFW), and some parents have declared that they won't fly again until the new procedures are rescinded.

Airlines aren't happy with the new procedures, and pilot and flight attendants (who are also subject to the screening) are livid. They're concerned about the health effects of the cumulative doses of radiation that they'd be exposed to going through the new screening machines on a daily basis. And they're not thrilled with the alternative of being felt up by TSA personnel daily, either.

So what will happen? As I see it, travelers have three choices:

1. You can accept the new procedures, and keep flying.

2. You can reject the procedures, and stop flying.

3. You can protest the decision to take this approach toward security, and call or e-mail your elected representatives to demand that they rewrite the law to order the TSA to change its screening tactics - if not for adult passengers at least toward children. (Of course, if change doesn't happen, then you're left deciding between choices 1 and 2.)

That decision is your call, of course, but I know that they theme park industry is really hoping that their fans who live outside a reasonable driving distance of their favorite theme parks don't choose option 2. Disney, Universal and SeaWorld can't afford for the nation's parents to decide that, in order to protect their children from what would otherwise be called abuse, they won't be flying anymore. Which is why I wouldn't be surprised to the see the industry's lobbyists start contacting those elected representatives, too.

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Vote of the week: Where to eat lunch at a theme park?

By Robert Niles
Published: November 12, 2010 at 10:46 AM
Let's say it's lunchtime... at your favorite theme park. You're hungry. So what are you going to do?

Eat something such as this?

Cedar-planked salmon at Universal's Mythos Restaurtant

Or this?

Bratwurst at Disneyland's Troubadour Tavern

Or this?

Funnel cake, from Dollywood

What type of restaurant is your favorite place to eat during the day at a theme park? That's our vote of the week.

In the comments, please tell us what's your favorite theme park restaurant, and why. Have a great weekend, and thanks for reading Theme Park Insider!

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Video of Ferrari's F1 drivers riding the world's fastest roller coaster

By Robert Niles
Published: November 11, 2010 at 4:29 PM
Ferrari World Abu Dhabi just posted this obligatory (yet, quite awesome) video of Ferrari's Formula 1 drivers, Felipe Massa (on the left) and Fernando Alonso (on the right), riding the Formula Rossa roller coaster, now the world's fastest.

I can't embed this RPOV (reverse point-of-view) video, so you'll have to follow the link:

Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso riding the Formula Rossa roller coaster at Ferrari World Abu Dhabi

Isn't it awesome what 149 miles per hour can do to a human face?

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For Veterans' Day: Military discounts at the nation's top theme parks

By Robert Niles
Published: November 11, 2010 at 12:02 AM
In honor of Veterans' Day in the United States today, here are links to several major theme parks' current discounted and free admission offers for military personnel and their families.

Universal Orlando:
Universal Studios Hollywood:

Tickets for these specially priced offers must be purchased in advance and can only be obtained at participating MWR/ITT offices throughout the United States.

SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and Sesame Place:

Throughout 2010, members of the military and as many as three direct dependents may enter SeaWorld, Busch Gardens or Sesame Place parks with a single-day complimentary admission.

Knotts Berry Farm:

Knott's annual tribute to our Military, past and present, starts November 1st. FREE admission for Veterans or current serving military personnel and one guest with proper I.D. presented at turnstile. (DD214, Veterans Administration Hospital ID or Active Military Service ID.) Plus purchase up to six additional tickets for just $15 each! Ends Thanksgiving Day.

Update: Thanks to the commenters for the Disney information.

Walt Disney World (Link has out-of-date information):

Now through Sept. 28, 2011, active and retired U.S. military personnel (including active and retired members of the U.S. Coast Guard, National Guard and Reservists) or their spouses can purchase:

Disney 4-Day Military Promotional Tickets with Park Hopper Option for $138 each, plus tax.

Disney 4-Day Military Promotional Tickets with Water Parks Fun and More Option for $138 each, plus tax.

Disney 4-Day Military Promotional Tickets with Park Hopper and Water Parks Fun and More Options for $165 each, plus tax.

All tickets and options are nontransferable and must be used by Oct. 1, 2011 (certain blockout dates apply). Active and retired U.S. military personnel also can save up to 40 percent on rooms at select Walt Disney World hotels.

For information regarding Disney 4-Day Military Promotional Tickets for admission to the Walt Disney World Resort, or to make room reservations at the Walt Disney World Resort, military personnel can call (407) 939-7830 or participating U.S. military base ticket offices.

Please post any other current military discounts from other theme parks, in the comments. Thanks!

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Why Disneyland should create its own Very Merry Christmas Party

By Robert Niles
Published: November 10, 2010 at 11:53 AM
For a while now, I've been urging Disneyland to follow Walt Disney World's lead by creating a hard-ticket, after-hours Christmas party. But Al Lutz's article this week suggesting that Disneyland might do just that, and as early as next year, is reviving a debate between some Disneyland annual passholders and fans like me who want to see a Disneyland Very Merry Christmas Party.

Sleeping Beauty's Winter Castle
Photo courtesy Disneyland

The AP-holders' gripe is that they already get Disneyland's Christmas parade, fireworks and "snow" show with their current passes and they don't want to have to pay extra for those holiday festivities.

The counter-argument is that the same crowd of annual passholders is overwhelming the park. The weekend evening crowds in late November and December at Disneyland can be crushing. Converting those weekend evenings to a hard-ticket party would thin the crowds, open up the park for more non-APs to visit enjoyably and, not insignificantly, bring in a fresh source of new revenue to Disney, allowing it to fund even more improvements and additions to its holiday offerings.

I see part of my job being to defend consumers against money grabs by theme parks. But that doesn't mean parks should not find new ways to make more money. I just don't want to see theme parks charge more without delivering more in return. To me, it's not the cost - it's the value.

In this case, making evenings a hard-ticket, as Disneyland just did with Halloween, would allow the park to deliver a substantially better experience for more guests. During hard-ticket events, Disneyland limits the number of admissions sold - usually to around 20,000 or so. Compare that with the 40,000-50,000 people, mostly annual passholders, who've been packing the park during December weekend evenings.

For day guests, the people who buy individual admission tickets and spend the most per visit of any park guests, this decision is a no-brainer. For less money than a regular day ticket, they get to enjoy smaller crowds and a full line-up of holiday-themed entertainment with a hard-ticket event. At Halloween, they got no-extra-charge candy by the bagful with Disneyland's trick-or-treating. I'd expect to see a similar "freebie" at the Christmas party as well, such as the unlimited cookie and hot cocoa provided at Walt Disney World's party.

For annual passholders, yes, they lose the weekend holiday evenings at Disneyland Park. But their APs remains valid during those weekends for day-time visits, and they still get to enjoy the decorations and holiday attraction overlays throughout the season. And they should also get discounts on online advance purchase of the party tickets, as they did at Halloween. Throw in a holiday-themed "World of Color" show over at California Adventure as a new alternate event for non-party-goers (perhaps paid for with the extra revenue from the party) and we'll call it even.

It's supply and demand. The demand for Disneyland on Friday and Saturday nights in late November and December is exceeding its supply. So the park needs to raise the price for those people visiting the park now. A hard-ticket event manages to achieve what seems economically impossible: It effectively "raises" the price for annual passholders (who weren't paying extra to get in those evenings), while lowering it for higher-spending day guests who are interested in the evening festivities (since they'd pay less for the party than they would have for a regular one-day ticket).

Disneyland's Mickey's Halloween Parties were a huge financial success for the park, and provided solid value for the price. Sure, I'd like to see more walk-around entertainment and more restaurant options, but I'm hopeful that Disneyland will learn for its experience hosting that party for the first time this year. And I hope that those lessons would be applied to a Disneyland Christmas Party, as well.

So let's see a Mickey's Very Christmas Party at Disneyland, with a Christmas parade, fireworks and "snow." Let Disney bring out the no-extra-charge cookies, cocoa and a take-away holiday tchotchke for visitors as they leave. Let's even take it a step farther with special holiday dinner options during the party at the Blue Bayou and Big Thunder Ranch, too.

All that would deliver value well worth the extra expense of the party (and the optional meal). So, in this case, I'm hoping that Disneyland ignore some of its vocal annual passholders and goes ahead with creating a new high-value, hard-ticket Christmas party for the rest of its many fans.

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What's new on the discussion board: Dining at Napa Rose and Orlando with preschoolers

By Robert Niles
Published: November 9, 2010 at 10:19 AM
Got a question about planning a theme park vacation? The Theme Park Insider Discussion Board is the place to ask. Here are some of this week's top new discussion threads on the board:

Napa Rose dining room

Caroline Davis wants to hear about other readers' experiences dining at the Napa Rose at Grand Californian Hotel (Disneyland).

Jennifer Tom is looking for advice on visiting Orlando with preschoolers.

Rob P is looking forward to the upcoming movie and wants to know your thoughts on Captain America: The Ride?

Daniel Etcheberry offers a short Report of Forbidden Journey from someone in a wheelchair.

Northern Family asks which if the Best Day to Visit Harry Potter World? Also on that topic, Becky Johnston asks if Saturday or Sunday less busy for IOA?

Finally, back on the topic of new attractions we'd like to see, Jordan Simmons brings up Lord of the Rings at IOA?

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Theme park cast member stories: At Disney World, someone always knows the score

By Robert Niles
Published: November 8, 2010 at 12:36 PM
The San Francisco Giants winning their first World Series championship reminds me of one of the team's previous trips to the series, this time in 1989, when I was working at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.

The Giants were playing the Chicago Cubs in the National League Championship series, for the right to go on to the World Series. As a recent Northwestern graduate, I was pulling for the Cubs, but it was a family of Giants fans who walked up to the turnstiles at Pirates of the Caribbean that day.

Now, I'm going to take a moment to remind our younger readers about ancient history. Back in 1989, the World Wide Web was yet to become a glimmer in Tim Berners-Lee's eye. Cell phones were car phones - big, bulky and used pretty much just by real estate agents, doctors and lawyers. If you wanted to know a sports score, you either found a television set and waited for an update or, if you were a degenerate gambler, you found a pay phone that would let you make a call to a "976" line and fed in coins until the recorded message got to the score you wanted.

The Giants fans in my queue would have liked to have been watching the game that day, but they'd planned their Walt Disney World visit for months. They hadn't expected the Giants to make it this far - heck, history had taught them well the October belonged to other fans' teams. So they skipped the game for their theme park vacation.

But they still wished to know the score. There aren't any television sets in the Magic Kingdom, but I suppose they guessed that maybe there were some in break rooms around the park. So they took a chance and asked me.

"Hey, you wouldn't happen to know the score to the Giants-Cubs game, would you?"

I was about to say no when I remembered my Disney University training: Disney cast members never respond that they don't the answer to a question. They find out.

But how was I going to find out the score to a baseball playoff game, standing at the entrance to Pirates of the Caribbean?

Like any good corporate employee, I decided to kick this question up the corporate ladder. So I called park control.

Normally, front-line cast members don't call control unless they are calling an attraction down. But, hey, I was supposed to get these guests an answer. Disney told me I couldn't say no, so someone at Disney owed me an answer.

"Hello, this is Robert at Pirates of the Caribbean. This is going to sound a bit unusual, but I have a guest here who'd like to know the score of the Giants-Cubs game and I don't want to tell him that I don't have an answer. Do you know where I can get that score for him?"

To this day, I am as proud of the way I phrased that question as I am of anything else I've ever written. I completely inoculated myself and put control in a position where they couldn't tell me to buzz off. A guest had a question and Disney policy was that he gets his answer.

"Ummmm... hold on a second."

I could tell that the control operator was trying to think of a place where he could kick this question. A minute passed, but I wasn't hanging up the phone. While I waited, I chatted up the Giants fans, learning about how they'd planned their trip and admitting to them that as a Northwestern grad, I was rooting for the Cubs. The dad was surprised to hear that I was from Northwestern, and told me about a co-worker who'd gone to NU, too.

Finally, the control op got back on the line. Whatever he'd done to find an answer, it had worked.

"The Giants won: 6-4."

I thanked the op, then told the family. They were ecstatic. The dad shook my hand and thanked me, as the son pumped the air with his fist and leapt down the entrance hall.

Of course, today you'd probably just hop on your cell phone to get an answer to a question like that. But should the Interwebs ever fail to deliver for you, it's nice to remember that at great theme parks such as Disney's, whenever you have a question, they're always someone around who knows the score.

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SeaWorld San Diego announces new sea turtle attractions for 2011

By Robert Niles
Published: November 5, 2010 at 1:14 PM
SeaWorld San Diego next summer will debut a new pavilion dedicated to sea turtles. Highlighted by a nearly-300,000-gallon aquarium, the park's new Sea Turtles attraction also will feature an interactive wall where visitors can see and track sea turtles around the world's oceans. (Images courtesy SeaWorld.)

Sea Turtle Aquarium

Sea Turtle Tracking

SeaWorld's also debuting a new flat ride as part of the sea turtle pavilion. Located just outside the aquarium building, Sea Turtle Rescue will be a boat-themed spinner ride.

Turtle Rescue Ride

These attractions replace the park's old Manatee Rescue, which closed earlier this year when the US Fish & Wildlife Service, which maintained custody of the park's manatees, ordered them back to Florida.

Construction on the sea turtle pavilion begins later this month and the new attractions are scheduled to open in Summer 2011.

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Vote of the week: Are you planning a holiday vacation visit to a theme park?

By Robert Niles
Published: November 5, 2010 at 7:05 AM
Yesterday, we posted our round-up of holiday events at the nation's top theme parks. Today, I'd like to ask if you are planning to attend any of those events.

Are you planning a theme park vacation for this holiday season? It could be a day trip to a local park (if you live near one that's open), or an overnight vacation to a top theme park resort, such as Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando or Disneyland.

Macy's Holiday Parade at Universal Orlando
The Macy's Holiday Parade at Universal Studios Florida. Photo courtesy Universal Orlando

Please tell us, in the comments, what you're planning for your holiday vacation this year, or, if you're not taking one, why you decided against a trip.

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Disney signs deal to build Shanghai theme park

By MyFoxOrlando WOFL FOX 35
Published: November 5, 2010 at 7:03 AM
Walt Disney Co. signed a formal agreement Friday with a company backed by the Shanghai municipal government to build a long-planned Shanghai Disneyland theme park in the financial hub of China, the two sides said in separate statements, MarketWatch reported.

Shanghai Disneyland will cost $3.59 billion, making it one of the largest-ever foreign investments in China. The signing of the agreement comes amid broad concerns about the health of the global economy and as Disney continues to struggle with its five-year-old Hong Kong theme park.

The Shanghai government said Disney signed the agreement with Shanghai Shendi Group Co., a company set up Friday to oversee the development of the theme park.

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This year's Christmas and holiday events at Disney, Universal and other top theme parks

By Robert Niles
Published: November 4, 2010 at 2:58 PM
It used to be that the day after Thanksgiving marked the traditional beginning to the Christmas holiday season. These days, the start's moved up to day after Halloween, given the number of press releases that have hit my in-box this week, detailing holiday events at the nation's top theme parks.

Here's the round-up, for your holiday vacation planning:

The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights

Walt Disney World
The holiday season starts at Walt Disney World on November 8, with the debut of The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Disney's Hollywood Studios and the hard-ticket Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party at the Magic Kingdom.

On Nov. 26, the Holidays Around The World and Candlelight Processional get underway at Epcot and Mickey's Jingle Jungle Parade returns to Disney's Animal Kingdom.

Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party runs selected evenings until December 19. The Epcot events run through Dec. 30, and the other events continue until January 3, 2011.

All events except Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party are included with park admission. For more information, visit disneyworld.com/holidays.

Universal Orlando
Universal's actually holding off until after Thanksgiving for its celebrations, in deference, I suppose, to its premier attraction, the Macy's Holiday Parade, being the focus of New York's Thanksgiving celebration. The Macy's parade runs daily at Universal Studios Florida from Dec. 4 through Jan. 1, 2011.

Over at Islands of Adventure, Grinchmas runs for those same days, featuring the Grinch and Whos from Dr. Seuss' "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" in stage shows and meet-and-greets.

In addition, Mannheim Steamroller will play at Universal on Dec. 4, 11 and 18. All events are included with park admissions.

SeaWorld Orlando
SeaWorld Orlando debuts a new "Sea of Trees" Christmas tree display and Christmas Market shopping area this year. The park also returns its many holiday attraction overlays:

  • Polar Express Experience (replacing Wild Arctic)
  • Clyde and Seamore’s Countdown to Christmas
  • Shamu Christmas… Miracles
  • A Sesame Street Christmas

In addition, SeaWorld is offering the Makahiki Christmas Luau, which requires a reservation and additional charge. All other holiday events are included with park admission. The holiday shows take place Friday through Sunday, Nov. 26-Dec. 12, and then daily from Dec. 17-Jan. 2.

The holidays start on Nov. 12 at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. Highlights include the "it's a small world" Holiday and Haunted Mansion Holiday overlays, as well as the Christmas Fantasy Parade, "Believe in Holiday Magic" fireworks and the crystallized Sleeping Beauty's Winter Castle. Big Thunder Ranch transforms into Santa's Reindeer Round-Up, where the kids can queue up for a visit with Santa.

All events are included with park admission and run through Jan. 2, 2011.

Universal Studios Hollywood
Universal Studios Hollywood will again truck in several tons of real snow for its annual Grinchmas celebration, which runs Dec. 11 and 12 and continued daily from Dec. 18 through Jan. 2, 2011. The park will also offer meet and greets with the Whos and the Grinch, a nightly tree-lighting ceremony and celebrity readings of Dr. Seuss' "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." Visitors on the park's Studio Tour will ride past the original movie sets where the "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas" movie was filmed.

Busch Gardens Williamsburg
The Virginia theme park reopens as ChristmasTown, starting the day after Thanksgiving and running Friday through Sunday through Dec. 12 and daily from Dec. 18 through Dec. 31.

New at the park this year is the Miracles show in Il Teatro di San Marco. The Deck the Halls, O Tannenbaum and Rejoice shows also return, as do holiday lights displays throughout the park. (Many regular attractions are open, too.)

Busch Gardens Williamsburg opens for ChristmasTown 3 pm to either 9 or 10 pm. Tickets are $21.99 and are available online. (Passholders can get a 50 percent discount.)

Dollywood's Smoky Mountain Christmas runs from Nov. 6 to Jan. 1, 2011. This year marks the final season for Dollywood's Babes in Toyland show. In addition to the Polar Express Experience and Lighted Christmas Parade, the following shows also return this year:

  • An Appalachian Christmas
  • Carol of the Trees
  • Christmas in the Smokies
  • Christmas with the Kingdom Heirs
  • O' Holy Night
  • Twas the Night Before Christmas

Visitors who purchase a full-priced one-day ticket online will receive a free meal voucher, valid anytime after 3 p.m. at Hickory House BBQ, Victoria's Pizza, Red's Diner or the Sweet Shoppe.

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Ferrari World's grand opening: take two

By Robert Niles
Published: November 4, 2010 at 6:54 AM
One week after postponing its Grand Opening, Ferrari World Abu Dhabi debuted to the public today in the United Arab Emirates.

The world's largest indoor theme park, themed to the Italian sports car make, includes the world's fastest roller coaster, Formula Rossa, an Intamin launch coaster that blasts to a top speed of 149 miles per hour. The ride, which takes you outside the park and into the surrounding Arabian desert, is so fast that you have to wear goggles while riding, to protect your eyes from the blowing sand and searing heat.

Take a look at a few scenes from today's opening. Photos courtesy Ferrari World Abu Dhabi.

Opening day visitors at Ferrari World

The Junior GT at Ferrari World

Employees prep Formula Rossa

Formula Rossa in action on its opening day

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Disney cancels California Adventure's Food and Wine Festival

By Robert Niles
Published: November 3, 2010 at 4:00 PM
Disney announced today that, due to ongoing construction at Disney California Adventure, the Anaheim theme park will not put on the west coast version of the Food & Wine Festival next year or in 2012.

From California Adventure's Wine Country Trattoria

When you think about it, the move shouldn't surprise anyone. Disney brought this version of popular Epcot festival to California Adventure several years ago, as one of its many attempts to boost attendance at Disneyland's younger sibling. While popular, the festival hasn't matched the scale of the Epcot original but it did give many locals a reason to come out to the park.

And with World of Color now bringing even larger crowds into the park, where construction walls are constricting space during busy periods, there just wasn't enough room for an extra event like this.

Disney's announcement didn't say that the DCA Food & Wine Festival is gone forever, leaving hope that it might reappear in 2013.

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What's new on the discussion board: Planning a visit to Universal, and Jersey Week at Disney

By Robert Niles
Published: November 2, 2010 at 7:03 AM
Here are the top new discussions submitted this week on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board:

Universal's Islands of Adventure

Jeff Crist is planning a visit to Islands of Adventure and wants to know Is One Day Enough?

Daniel Etcheberry is also headed to Universal, and asks How intense is the bench movement at Forbidden Journey?

Speaking of IOA, please help us build a new Island of Adventure Strategy for visiting the top attractions in the least amount of time.

Wendell William is on his way to Walt Disney World next year, but Grandpa needs advice for next October.

I didn't know that this event existed, but Tiffany J. L. Alfonso asks Any Experiences in WDW During Jersey Week?

Joe Brown wants to know if you can Use early dining to get a FastPass?

Got a question you don't see on the board? Then submit a discussion topic to ask it!

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Shanghai's World Expo sets new themed attraction attendance records

By Robert Niles
Published: November 1, 2010 at 11:01 AM
Bob Rogers, whose company produced the U.S. pavilion at this year's World Expo in Shanghai, sent along some news about the absolutely stunning crowds packing the event.

Think of the most crowded day you've ever experienced in a theme park. Now imagine standing in this:

Crowds on Oct. 16 at the Shanghai Wordl Expo 2010

On October 16, more than one million people visited the Expo. That's right. One million people. In one day.

According to the official count, 1,032,700 people visited the Expo that day, breaking the single-day world's fair attendance record set in 1970 in Osaka, Japan. Officials in China had said that the Expo's maximum daily capacity was 600,000. China's Chongyang Festival, coupled with good weather, helped drive the attendance boost, which left visitors waiting up to 12 hours for some pavilions.

As of the 16th, the Expo, which opened in May, had attracted 64,589,600 visitors. To put that in perspective, Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom - the world's most popular theme park - welcomed 17.2 million guests in all of 2009. In less than six months, the Shanghai World Expo has attracted nearly four times the number of visitors the Magic Kingdom gets in a year.

Now that's a popular park!

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Theme Park Apprentice 2: Challenge 4 - DHS Live Show

By Tim W
Published: November 1, 2010 at 6:52 AM
This week our apprentices were instructed to create a live show for Disney's Hollywood Studios. Before voting, be sure to check out their idea descriptions.

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Keep reading: October 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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