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December 2010

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Vote of the week: What are you doing for New Year's Eve?

By Robert Niles
Published: December 30, 2010 at 3:23 PM
What are your plans for celebrating New Year's Eve this year? (Or, if you are reading this on Jan. 1 or later, what did you do?)

Will you be among the crowds packing Disneyland, Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, or Universal's CityWalk?

Will you be in Times Square in New York, or on the Strip in Las Vegas?

Will you be celebrating with family or friends at someone's party?

Will you be at home, watching the ball drop on TV?

Or, will you be asleep?

Me? I'll likely be in bed, with the alarm set for a pre-dawn trek up Colorado Boulevard to cover the 2011 Rose Parade. But if the crowd waiting out along the parade route is loud enough, the cheers and firecrackers might wake me up again this year.

Back in the day, though, I spent plenty of New Year's Eves at Walt Disney World, with flashlight in hand, engaged in a futile effort to keep traffic moving around the hub inside the Magic Kingdom. Eventually, we just settled in with the crowd to enjoy the fireworks conflagration. After, we would try to direct the throng toward backstage pathways, as alternate escape routes from the park. It was only an illusion of progress for the guests, though, as even-longer queues at the monorail station and ferryboat dock awaited them once they emerged from the park.


Please tell us about your favorite New Year's celebration, in the comments. And thanks, again, for such a great 2010 at Theme Park Insider!

Comments (7) | Archive Link

An insider's look at 2011 Rose Parade float decorating

By Robert Niles
Published: December 30, 2010 at 2:00 PM
Update, 1/1/2011: Here's more of our coverage of the 2011 Rose Parade, with photos and video.

So, I guess my hometown of Pasadena, California is known for something else, besides being the home of Theme Park Insider.

Rose Bowl Stadium

This is the week that my Pasadena becomes that Pasadena, home to the Rose Bowl and Rose Parade. RVs are beginning to line our streets, and soon thousands of people will be camping out in my neighborhood, awaiting the parade on New Year's Day morning.

For now, though, the main activity is happening around the Rose Bowl itself, where hundreds of volunteers are working to decorate the floats for the 122nd annual Tournament of Roses parade.

Roses, and other floweers

Hundreds of thousands of roses, mums, tulips and all other assortments of flora await their assignments onto the 47 floats in this year's parade. Every inch of every visible surface of each float must be covered in organic material, and every flower, petal, seed, stalk and leaf is applied to these floats by hand.

Gluing the floats

Brush on the glue, the push on the bud, blossom or leaf. Again...

Applying the flowers

And again...

Float decorating

And again...

More Rose Parade float decorating

The decorating is open to the public ($10 per person) and thousands queue daily to watch from the catwalks as volunteers decorate below.

Watching the float decorating

Some floats soar beyond the ceiling of the warehouse where they're decorated. That, and the fact that the floats must pass under an Interstate 210 overpass along the route, mean that the tallest floats are built with hinges that allow them to lie flat(ter). That makes decorating a bit easier, too.

A flip-top float

The most meta float in this year's parade? Western Asset's Rose Parade float paying tribute to… the Rose Bowl Stadium. Here, a volunteer applied detail to a floral representation of a Super Bowl program cover from one of the NFL title games held at the stadium.

The Rose Bowl, in Rose Parade flowers

Keep watching Theme Park Insider on New Year's Day, when I'll be posting a photo gallery of images taken from the parade, starting at the intersection of Colorado and Orange Grove Boulevards here in Pasadena. I'll also be covering the parade live on Theme Park Insider's Twitter feed.

Happy New Year!

Comments (1) | Archive Link

Six reasons why crowds are packing theme parks this Christmas season

By Robert Niles
Published: December 30, 2010 at 10:19 AM
Crowds continue to slam theme parks this week, with Disneyland, the Magic Kingdom, Universal's Islands of Adventure and even California Adventure reaching capacity, sometimes as quickly as two hours after their morning openings. SeaWorld's reporting record Christmas season attendance, too. We're seeing the largest crowds in years at the Central Florida and Southern California theme parks.

Why?

Here are six factors that are driving more and more families to America's top theme parks this Christmas week:

Good weather...

Many families throughout the north want to enjoy a week of warmer weather during the holidays, so they vacation someplace warm, such as Florida or Southern California. Since theme parks comprise many of the attractions in those locations, attendance soars.

...That's not too hot

Florida and Southern California have many other attractions in addition to theme parks, but when the high temperatures struggle to get into the 70s, or fail to get even that high (as it has this week in Florida and SoCal) most families won't consider spending much time at the beach, or with other outdoor attractions. That drives more families to the theme parks to pass the time on their vacations.

Harry Potter

Not only was the opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter the biggest story of the year in theme parks, it was a present under the Christmas tree of many Harry Potter fans around the world. Universal Orlando's new land continues to draw visitors to Central Florida boosting attendance for all the local theme parks, as fans make their Harry Potter pilgrimage a week-long theme park vacation.

A weak economy

Southern California doesn't have Harry Potter, but it does have 15-million-plus local residents who can't afford to fly to Hawaii, or travel too far from home, due to continued weakness in the U.S. economy and an ongoing recession in the real estate market. (Many Southern Californians paid for their vacations over the past decade with home equity money. That's gone now, thanks to the collapse of the real estate bubble.) But people still want to go someplace special during their holiday break. So what do they do? "We're going to Disneyland!"

The drug war

In the past, Mexico provided a cheap, warm holiday alternative when money was tight for Southern Californians. But with continued drug gang violence scaring off potential visitors, more and more Southern Californians are opting to stay on their side of the border, instead. What does that mean? "We're going to Disneyland!" again.

A price that's right

Not everyone craves warm weather at Christmas time. Ski resorts traditionally have welcomed large crowds over the holidays, for families who prefer snow over sun at this time of year. But skiing's grown too expensive for many U.S. families, especially in a tough economy. Skiing makes theme parks looks like a huge bargain. Daily lift ticket prices at many ski resorts equal or exceed one-day ticket costs at many theme parks, but theme parks don't require you to buy or rent extra equipment to visit, either. Just walk through the turnstiles and go. Nor is there much of the injury risk inherent in skiing in visiting a theme park. I can't remember the last time someone blew out a knee riding Pirates of the Caribbean.

Add these six factors together, and you've created an environment that steers thousands of families into deciding "Hey, a theme park visit looks like our best choice for this holiday vacation." So that's where they go, filling parks to capacity and closing gates to new visitors within a couple hours of opening each morning.

That's great news for the industry, but a challenge, as well. Because if the seventh factor on this list becomes "theme parks are *too* crowded," that perception will drive visitors away, undercutting the attendance growth that a recession-weary industry desperately needs. Theme parks will need to invest some of the cash they are earning this week in building new rides and shows to expand their capacity and serve the crowds that they hope will visit their parks next Christmas and for many holiday seasons beyond.

Comments (9) | Archive Link

Theme Park Apprentice 2 Challenge 10: Fantasyland Coaster

By Tim W
Published: December 29, 2010 at 5:29 PM
This week, our final three apprentice created a new coaster for the Fantasyland expansion at Walt Disney World. Please check their ideas out before voting!

Comments (21) | Archive Link

How to enjoy the most crowded week of the year at Disneyland, Disney World and Universal Orlando

By Robert Niles
Published: December 28, 2010 at 6:20 PM
The week between Christmas and New Year's Day is, without a doubt, the single most-crowded week of the year at the Orlando and Southern California theme parks. How bad are the crowds? Today, Disneyland closed its gates to new visitors by 10 am. Disney announced that California Adventure closed its gates by mid-afternoon, too, though many guests reported getting in then, anyway.

I live in LA and would never consider visiting a theme park during this week, when I enjoy 51 other weeks of relatively headache-free theme park visits instead. But if you have your heart set on going to a theme park this week, here are five tips to help you get the most out of visiting a crowded theme park:

Universal crowds
Crowds at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter this summer.

1. Use weather to your advantage

If there's rain in the forecast, make that your primary day for visiting the parks. Rain's supposed to hit Southern California again on Wednesday, which should help reduce the crowds a bit, making that the best possible day this week to visit Disneyland. Just be sure to follow our tips for enjoying a theme park in the rain.

Whether rain bails you out one day or now, be sure to…

2. Go early, or don't go at all

Plan to arrive at the park's toll booth no less than 90 minutes before the park's scheduled opening. That will give to time to get through the lines at the toll booth, park your car and get to the front gate in time to get far enough ahead of the crowd to enjoy at least one ride without a massive wait.

This also assumes that you've bought your tickets in advance, either online or at an off-site location, such as the Disney Store or a AAA office. Never buy your theme park tickets at the gate. (Don't buy them in advance for pick up at will call, either.) Have your tickets in hand before you head to the park.

At Walt Disney World, if you are staying on property, be sure to arrive early to take advantage of Extra Magic Hours. If you're not staying at a Disney Hotel, avoid the park which has Extra Magic Hours each day, so that you won't find lines already filled when you arrive at the "official" opening time.

3. Something's got to go - skip the parades

Even with an early arrival, you'll face hours-long waits throughout the day. Something's got to give, and I say let it be the parades. Allow tens of thousands of your fellow guests to cram the parade routes while you enjoy a temporary reduction in wait times elsewhere in the park.

Take a look at the parade route on your park guidemap (pick one up at the turnstiles as you enter the park), and target rides that are "cut off" from the rest of the park by the parade route, further reducing wait times.

In the Magic Kingdom, I'd head over to Jungle Cruise about an hour and a half to two hours before a parade time, just as the parade crowds begin to choke access to Adventureland. Ideally, you'd be able to ride Jungle Cruise and Pirates of the Caribbean (the highest-capacity ride in the park) in time to scoot across the parade route at the Pecos Bill crosswalk in Frontierland just before the parade steps off. Ride Big Thunder Mountain and then Splash Mountain while access to those rides is all but cut off by the parade crowd. In a perfect world, you'll finish up on Splash and hop aboard the Disney World Railroad just as the parade finishes, whisking you to the other side of the park (or the Main Street exit) ahead of the crowds.

Of course, you could flip the strategy and forget about the rides, choosing instead to camp out for the better part of the day to secure a prime spot to see the day's parades. It's your call. Just don't expect to do both. (If you are trying to ride rides, your only shot at seeing a parade would be the 11pm parade at the Magic Kingdom.)

4. Eat like you're in Hawaii, or London.

In other words, eat like you're in a different time zone, hitting up meals at times such as 10am or 3pm, never at noon or 6pm. Get your reservations in advance if you can (call 407-WDW-DINE for Walt Disney World, 714-781-DINE for Disneyland and 407-224-4012 for Universal Orlando), but still select the off-hours, in an attempt to catch rides and shows with slightly shorter waits, when thousands of others are converging on area eateries.

5. Travel lightly

Getting through a crowded theme park requires a ninja's agility. You can't do it loaded down with a stroller or heavy backpack. Carry nothing with you into a theme park on crowded days such as this week - just a money belt with your drivers' license (or passport), credit card, park ticket and some cash. Stash your cell phone in a front pocket and use it as your camera for the day. If you buy something, use the park's package service to have to held for you to pick up at the end of the day (or delivered to your hotel room, if you are staying on site).

Above all, change your expectations for the day. If you want to see everything a park has to offer, with minimal wait - don't visit during Christmas week! This is a week to enjoy the energy of massive crowds while hitting up a few favorite attractions along the way. People-watch. Visit a few out-of-the-way attractions you typically wouldn't bother with on less-busy days. (Ahem.)

When I was a cast member, I loved working this week, with so much to do and so many people from around the world to share conversations. So while regulars (like me, now) might shun this week's crowds, there is fun to be had - if you come to the parks with the right attitude.

Have fun, and I'd love to see some trip reports!

Comments (8) | Archive Link

What's new on the discussion board: Coasters are fast, but lines are slow

By Robert Niles
Published: December 28, 2010 at 11:29 AM
Here are the top new threads this week on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board, along with links to a couple of recent theme park-related news stories:

Daniel Etcheberry is thinking about Ferrari World Abu Dhabi's new Formula Rossa and asks Will there ever be a limit in roller coaster's speed?

Formula Rossa at Ferrari World

Ricardo Marmugi is on his way to Central Florida and has asked for some 4 Day Orlando Parks Plan Help.

Terri Pierce wants to know when to expect an announcement about dates for next year's Mickey's Christmas Party at Walt Disney World.

Long-time Theme Park Insider reader and commentor Joshua Counsil takes us off-topic for a thread and asks about San Francisco: Must-Sees?

Two news items no one's submitted for discussion yet, so I'll throw them out here:

First, another tourist has lost his life in a bus accident at Walt Disney World. The 69-year-old Massachusetts man walked in front of a Disney bus in the Port Orleans parking lot on the day after Christmas. It was the second fatal bus incident at Disney World this year.

People don't think of Walt Disney World having a permanent population, but on any given day, Disney property has as many people on it as you'd find in a mid-sized American city. Basic probability dictates, therefore, that you'll have accidents and even fatalities on property from time to time. Given that Disney World's population consists almost entirely of people who "just moved in," and have no knowledge or experience with things such as where buses go and when, I'm surprised that there aren't more such incidents, frankly. Stay sharp, folks, and help those around you.

The New York Times discovers that (gasp!) Disney World has lines and (double gasp!) Disney actually monitors and manages them. Seriously, though, leads and supervisors have been charged with monitoring and managing their attractions' queues since the parks first opened - some more effectively than others. All that's (somewhat) new here is that Disney's trying to centralize and automate queue management now.

Ultimately, if a theme park wants to reduce wait times the most effective thing it can do is to employ experienced attractions hosts at its load positions. (See previous link.) Great loaders can suck in a line faster than a former child actress in a New York disco. Of course, having great workers at load requires a park to be willing to pay and treat its employees well enough that they stick around long enough to become well experienced. And that brings us to a whole 'nother discussion.

Comments (4) | Archive Link

Blizzard delays the fun for three days at Busch Gardens' Christmas Town

By Jason Jackson
Published: December 28, 2010 at 11:26 AM
The east-coast Christmas-week snow storm has taken its toll on Busch Gardens Williamsburg's Christmas Town event, forcing the park to remain closed for three days so that the park can clear the ice and snow and repair damage caused by the storm.

[Editor: Anyone care to share their weather stories from the past week (theme park and travel-related or not)?]

Comments (1) | Archive Link

Theme park wants to know what you love most about a Christmas event

By Robert Niles
Published: December 28, 2010 at 10:38 AM
I'm running a special mid-week vote this week upon the request of a manager at a small west-coast theme park that's considering a major expansion of its Christmas event for the 2011 holiday season. The park's managers want to know where to get the most bang for their investment bucks, though, so they've asked me to ask you.

So… what is it about a theme park's holiday event that you love most? What's the one element that you cherish above all the others? If a park was going to spend its bucks to improve one thing about a Christmas event, where would you like to see the park focus that investment? (Click "Archive Link" below if you do not see the poll immediately below when reading on the TPI front page.)

We'd love to hear some specific suggestions, in the comments. On behalf of our reader who asked for your feedback, thank you!

Comments (9) | Archive Link

Theme park cast member stories: It's all hands on deck when a ride evacuates

By Robert Niles
Published: December 27, 2010 at 12:29 PM
Following last week's highly popular vote of the week on theme park attraction evacuations, I'd planned to tell my story about the time I evacuated myself from Walt Disney World's Pirates of the Caribbean. But then, I remembered that I'd already told that story.

But, as the many, many comments on last week's vote demonstrated, there's much more to say about attraction evacuations than can fill a single post. (For one, that they are now officially called "in-show exits." Thanks to a Theme Park Insider reader and theme park employee Raymond for that update.)

I think that we see attraction evacuations (hey, I'm gonna use my term) as such big deals because they are big deals. They don't happen everyday (God willing), and millions of theme park fans will go their entire lives without experiencing one.

Evacuations are big deals for park employees, too. When a ride evacuates, it doesn't just involve the crew at that attraction. Employees from around the area are pulled in to assist, potentially affecting the operation of rides throughout that area.

A theme park ride is designed for guests to enter in one location, and to exit in one location. (Often, they're the same place.) So the crew just has to have people on the ride to staff those locations.

But in an evacuation, people will be exiting the ride throughout the circuit. Sure, there are designated evacuations points - but a crew needs many more people to go to those "in-show exit" points than it needs in normal operation. There might be a few spare employees waiting around on break who can be pulled in to assist, but typically, you need to call other, nearby attractions to send help.

I was working in tower at Big Thunder Mountain as my lead strode up the platform, with his eyes locked on mine, in a serious glare. This was not a "hey, I just wanted to thank you for a job well done" look. It was a "you might want to acquaint yourself with the Fifth Amendment, 'cause you are about to be in so much trouble" look.

"They want you over at Pirates," he said. "Now."

It's not unusual that attractions cast members would be sent from one attraction to another in the middle of their shifts. Effective scheduling relies as much on luck as planning. Some days, a more than expected number of people would call sick at one location, and others would have extras. Leads then would work out sometimes complicated "trades" to find people who were trained on the attraction that needed people and send them over while not leaving any other locations hanging.

But if you were being sent to another location, you'd just get pulled out of the rotation the next time another co-worker entered it. Almost never would a lead jump into your spot in the rotation to pull you out, immediately.

"They're evacuating," he explained.

Ah, so this was no typical shift change. As I walked out of the station to take the backstage path over to Pirates, I saw an area supervisor waiting in a cart.

"Get in Robert," he said.

Now I'd seen Pirates evacuations before, but I'd never seen supervisors chauffeuring cast members over to the ride. You were supposed to hoof it yourself, as fast as you could. I sensed that the supervisor understood the confusion that surely was evident in my expression.

"Pirates is evacuating. And you're directing it."

Whiskey, Tango, Flounder?

The job of directing an attraction evacuation typically falls to whatever poor soul is unlucky enough to be in the tower position when the ride goes down. If that person has never run an evacuation before and doesn't know what to do, it's the lead's job to jump in and run the show.

But today, the Pirates lead was new to the ride - in fact, I'd just finished cross-training her on the attraction the week before. No one in the rotation that afternoon had ever run a Pirates evacuation, either. The odds of that happening? Long. But it had, so the lead had sent word to the area supervisors: Get Robert over here, stat.

As I arrived in the tower a few seconds later, half a dozen Jungle Cruise skippers ran up the steps behind me. Three more, plus an extra from the Tiki room, were out front, closing the Pirates queue so that the Pirates cast members could come inside the building to help with the evacuation.

Even in an evacuation, we tried to preserve the theming of the show by having only CMs in pirate costumes inside the ride, helping guests from boats. But outside the show building, we'd use the Jungle skippers to direct people around the building and back to the "on stage" section of Adventureland. Main Street would be sending over guest relations CMs from City Hall, too, with handfuls of free tickets discreetly tucked inside their purses and bags, to mollify guests with complaints. (Today, CMs would offer additional FastPasses before pulling out park tickets.)

No guests would see me in the tower, in my forbidden-in-Adventureland Big Thunder Mountain Railroad costume.

Within 10 minutes, we'd have everyone out, the backstage secured and the ride turned over to maintenance to figure out what the heck had gone wrong. (In this case, it was a busted motor on one of the belts at unload, if I recall correctly.) The new Pirates lead and several Pirates CMs had gotten to see a real, live evacuation so that they'd know how to run one in the future.

And a few hours later, I would be enjoying a free dinner, courtesy the Pirates lead.

You can read more of Robert's stories about working at Walt Disney World at themeparkinsider.com/stories.

Comments (9) | Archive Link

Vote of the week: Have you ever been evacuated from a theme park ride?

By Robert Niles
Published: December 23, 2010 at 8:31 AM
Merry Christmas to all Theme Park Insider readers! Rather than leave you with a holiday-themed vote over the weekend, I thought I'd instead offer a vote designed to spark a lot of comments from those of you on the Internet over the holiday.


If you have, we would love to hear your story in the comments. Was it a frightening experience? Or wonderful one - where you got to see lots of cool backstage stuff you'd never get to see otherwise? Detail your experience, and let's share them with other Theme Park Insider readers.

And if you haven't, why not tell us in the comments which ride you'd most want to see backstage?

To that end, I'll be back on Monday with a cast member story about one of the times I got stuck on Pirates of the Caribbean at Walt Disney World, and had to evacuate myself. After that next week, I'll have our annual pre-parade coverage of the Tournament of Roses float decorating, followed by live coverage of the Rose Parade on Twitter and a post-parade photo gallery here on ThemeParkInsider.com.

Have a very happy holiday, wherever you are this season. And thank you, as always, for reading Theme Park Insider.

Comments (58) | Archive Link

Vault TPI: Christmas at the theme parks, in photos

By Robert Niles
Published: December 22, 2010 at 9:25 AM
As we take a look at a few golden oldies from the site's archives this week, here are a few of my favorite theme park holiday photos from years past here on Theme Park Insider:

Christmas in Frontierland
Disneyland's Frontierland, decorated for the holidays

Legoland elves
The elves at work under Legoland's Christmas tree

Grinchmas
Southern California children play in the snow at Universal's Grinchmas

Christmas tree at sunset
Christmas in Florida, at Disney's Hollywood Studios

Osborne Christmas lights
Carolers at the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights

Disney Christmas Trumpters
My favorite part of Disney's Very Merry Christmas Parade

Minnie Mouse at Disneyland
Earlier this week, we showed you Mickey. Today, Minnie Mouse wishes you a Merry Christmas.

Finally, I leave the vault with a link to one of my favorite cast member stories: My Christmas morning at Walt Disney World.

Archive Link

Vault TPI: A look back at some of Theme Park Insider's top videos

By Robert Niles
Published: December 21, 2010 at 3:28 PM
If I had only one resolution for the New Year, it would be to create more top-quality video reports in 2011 for Theme Park Insider. This is another area in which Theme Park Insider readers have stepped up and created some great work (since I've been so remiss). I'll get to some of my favorite videos from the past year, but first I want to flash back to two of my favorite roller coasters videos from Theme Park Insider reader Russell Meyer:

Busch Gardens Williamsburg's Griffon:

And Kings Dominion's Dominator:

Thanks to TPI Kid Brian Niles for this video of Universal Studios Hollywood's King Kong 360/3D:

Here's a clip from this summer's premiere performance of World of Color at Disney California Adventure (my only video on the list):

Theme Park Insider reader Domenik Jost got zombiefied for Halloween Horror Nights XX at Universal Studios Florida:

And finally, Domenik also created this video of me, touring the Wizarding World of Harry Potter:

Tomorrow, I'll finish our trip into the vault with some holiday photos from top theme parks.

Archive Link

What's new on the discussion board: What's your favorite theme park Christmas event?

By Robert Niles
Published: December 21, 2010 at 9:58 AM
It's Christmas week (finally!), so we kick off this week's selection of top new threads on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board with Anthony Murphy asking what is your Favorite Christmas event?

Mickey Mouse says 'Merry Christmas!'
Mickey Mouse says 'Merry Christmas!'

Zach Nelson is looking for a CD of Disney World Music. Can you help?

Sara M offers a two-part Walt Disney World trip report: Day One and Day Two.

Daniel Smith checks in from the other side of the world with a Universal Studios Singapore: Trip Report

Finally, Joshua Counsil brings up another example of a travel writer bagging on theme parks in Disneyland Paris Listed in 10 Destinations NOT to Visit. What do you think?

Archive Link

Vault TPI: A look back at some of Theme Park Insider's top stories

By Robert Niles
Published: December 20, 2010 at 4:13 PM
As we ease into the end-of-year holidays, I'm feeling nostalgic - so I'm cracking open some rusty old links to some of my favorite pieces from Theme Park Insider's pre-blog era. TPI's front-page blog celebrates its fifth birthday in exactly one week, and these are pieces that ran in our old column section, or on the discussion board.

We'd talked recently about Duffy the Disney Bear and several of us have noted that Duffy's not really new, but just a reboot of the "My First Disney Bear" plush. Well, you can see an example from 1995 at the end of our report about Little Princesses on Parade at Disney World's 'Perfectly Princess Tea Party'.


There's 'Duffy,' peeking out at the bottom of the photo.

As Six Flags looks to begin yet another summer with yet another management team, I like to remind folks that we owned the story about Six Flags' previous owners' financial problems. We were the first publication to break the news that the old Premier Parks team that used to own the chain was facing a cash crunch: Six Flags Looks to Scale Back Expansion.

Later, I wrote Six Flags' New Owners Face a Capital Challenge. Two ownership groups later, the chain's still looking for a successful formula.

Here's another issue we were out in front of: Time for Maximum Size Restrictions?.

Finally, in the spirit of holiday humility, I leave you with my greatest fail: Robert's Jeopardy Adventure. (Though the piece does contain some darned fine advice should you ever find yourself in the presence of the great Alex Trebek.)

Tomorrow, we look back at some of our favorite videos from the past.

Comments (1) | Archive Link

Theme Park Apprentice 2 Challenge 9: Holiday World

By Tim W
Published: December 20, 2010 at 4:01 PM
Here is the poll for part two of the final four of Theme Park Apprentice 2. It seems we had a tie last week, as well as other complications. This week, they designed lands for holiday world that were randomly assigned to theme. Check them out before voting!

Comments (8) | Archive Link

Vote of the week: Which is your favorite Disney land?

By Robert Niles
Published: December 16, 2010 at 9:40 PM
Here's the scene: Through the magic of the Internet and holiday wishes, you've just been whisked from your computer and dropped on to the hub in front of the castle at your favorite Disney Magic Kingdom theme park. (Disneyland, Walt Disney World, Tokyo Disneyland, Disneyland Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland - take your pick.)

Main Street USA at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom at Christmas
The most popular Disney park, Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, decked out for the Christmas holiday

Where do you go first?

That's the essence of this week's Theme Park Insider vote: What's your favorite of the original Disney "lands"? Now, I'm talking about these lands generically here, I understand that the specific attraction line-up - and the appeal - varies from park to park. Heck, even the names of these lands vary around the world, too. (I'm looking at you, Disneyland Paris.)

But which is the theme that captures your heart and imagination? Which is the land to which you'd want to run first?


Tell us why that land is your favorite, in the comments, please.

Comments (26) | Archive Link

School year change might affect 2011 theme park attendance

By Robert Niles
Published: December 15, 2010 at 11:58 AM
The Los Angeles Unified School Board voted last night to change the school year calendar for Southern California's largest school district. Starting next fall, LA Unified schools will start on August 15, instead of after Labor Day, as they have for generations. My local school district, Pasadena Unified, is considering a similar change to an August start, as are other districts in the area.

Traditionally, Southern California school systems have ended in June and started after Labor Day. That schedule helps save on utility costs, I've been told, because the area's "June gloom" keeps temperatures cooler during that month than the broiling conditions we typically get in August. Therefore, it's cheaper to keep school buildings open in June than in August.

However, the rest of the country, it seems, gets out in May and returns in August. We joke around here how Target and other stores roll out their "Back to School" displays in July, just a week or two after kids have gotten out of school.

The switches bring many Southern California schools in line with the rest of the country, but also might affect theme park attendance for 2011.

How so?

Hundreds of thousands of children in Southern California are going to get a very short summer vacation in 2011 - just two months, instead of the traditional three. That means one less month to visit (or work at) local theme parks.

The change also will mean a shift in attendance patterns for Southern California parks. Right now, if you're planning to visit a theme park in May - go to Southern California. With schools in session through June, attendance lags at the parks. But if you're planning a late August visit - go to Florida. Schools there are back in session there and theme park attendance sags. But in California, the theme parks are packed, as many summer programs and camps are done for the season and thousands of local kids and their families pack the parks in the last few weeks before school starts. (Late August, after Disneyland has lifted its summer annual pass blockouts, is perhaps the most crowded time of the year to visit that park.)

The change promises to bring the Southern California parks more in line with parks around the country, increasing attendance in May and lowering it in late August. But this year, the parks will get the lowered attendance in August without the increase in May.

Granted, Disneyland's packed pretty much all the time anymore, whether schools are in session or not - a "slow" day there is a very relative term. But the switch could have a real impact on Six Flags Magic Mountain and Universal Studios Hollywood - both in Los Angeles County - as well as on nearby Knott's Berry Farm.

Just a heads-up as we look forward to 2011.

Comments (14) | Archive Link

Wednesday theme park news updates: The Triceratops is back at Universal, and so is the snow at Disneyland Paris

By Robert Niles
Published: December 15, 2010 at 10:03 AM
A few theme park news items for the middle of the week:

The big news is the return of the Triceratops Discovery Trail at Universal's Islands of Adventure. The walk-through encounter with an animatromic dinosaur closed in 2001, but reopened quietly this week.

Universal team members have been heard saying that this is a trial run, but with the attraction opening the week before Christmas holiday crowds descend upon the park, I'm wondering if Universal is seeing Trike as a stop-gap to soak up some of the crowds that will be overrunning the nearby Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Smart move, I say. Triceratops isn't anything waiting more than 15-20 minutes to see, but I always found myself lingering there longer than I'd expected.

Busch Gardens Tamps has posted some construction photos of its upcoming Cheetah Hunt roller coaster on the SeaWorld Parks blog. The images are small, but show that the main tower is up and track work is proceeding at a nice pace for a scheduled spring opening.

Disneyland Paris in the snow

Finally, I offer that lovely photo of Disneyland Paris, covered in snow, from the Disney Parks blog. I've spent many holidays looking at the fake stuff Disney strews about Disneyland and Walt Disney World, so it's fun to see a Disney park covered in the real thing.

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2010 in Review: What was the top story of the year in the theme park business?

By Robert Niles
Published: December 14, 2010 at 2:44 PM
We're just a couple weeks away from 2011, so it's time for our annual look back at the year past. What was the top story of the 2010 in theme parks?

Based on site traffic here at Theme Park Insider, here are the five finalists I've selected. At the end of the post, I've put up a vote for you to help decide the top story of the year.

In selecting the top story, I hope that you will vote for the event you consider to be the significant for the entire theme park industry, not just for the people and businesses directly involved, but also for the fans who love and support theme and amusement parks.

Here are the finalists, ordered randomly:

Universal Studios Singapore opens

Universal Studios opened its fifth theme park in March of 2010, as part of the Resorts World Sentosa development in Singapore. Theme Park Insider editor Robert Niles got a sneak-peek tour of Universal Studios Singapore in February.

Like many theme park openings, this one was not without troubles. The park's Madagascar: A Crate Adventure ride was delayed until 2011, and the park's dueling Battlestar: Galactica roller coasters closed within a few days of the park's soft opening. Ongoing repairs are supposed to have that ride open by next year, as well, when a new Transformers 3D ride is also set to debut. As a result, even though the park is open, it's not officially open, as the park continues to describe itself in a "soft opening period."

Killer whale attack at SeaWorld Orlando claims the life of a trainer

On February 24, Tillikum, a male orca at SeaWorld Orlando, attacked and drowned Dawn Brancheau, a veteran trainer who was lying on a ledge at the Shamu Stadium pool. SeaWorld closed the Believe show at all of its parks temporarily, then ordered its trainers out of the water pending investigations - one of which ultimately led to a $75,000 fine from the federal government. The incident revived debate over SeaWorld's use of orcas - and live marine mammals in general - in its shows.

Holiday World owner passes away at age 48

Holiday World has become one of the great stories in the theme park business over the past few years. A loyal and passionate fan base helped power the southern Indiana theme park's The Voyage roller coaster to a win in 2010's Best Theme Park Attraction tournament. In addition to the park's outstanding trio of wooden coasters, many fans cite the leadership of the Koch family in making Holiday World - which doesn't charge for parking, soft drinks or sunscreen - one of the friendliest parks in America.

On June 14, fans were stunned to learn that the park's president, Will Koch, had passed away at age 48. A medical examiner's report attributed the death to drowning in the family's swimming pool, though family members insisted that Will's diabetes played a role, as he was reportedly an excellent swimmer. Will Koch was inducted into the amusement attraction industry's hall of fame in November.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter debuts at Universal Orlando

On June 18, Universal Orlando officially opened The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal's Islands of Adventure theme park. And with that, the balance of power in the Orlando theme park market tipped: Universal's attendance would rise over 30 percent for the summer, while archival Walt Disney World saw its attendance slip.

Tens of thousands of fans queued for the opening day, with the line snaking through the entire park and spilling into CityWalk. TV helicopters ogled the scene, which helped pump up the buzz that made Universal Orlando the place to be in the theme park business in 2010.

Legoland Florida press conference

Legoland Florida confirmed

Legoland for years has been looking for a site for its second U.S. theme park. After several years trying sites in the Kansas City area, the company in January confirmed it would do what many fans had been suggesting all along: Legoland would come to Central Florida.

Instead of building new, though, the park would redevelop the space formerly occupied by the now-defunct Cypress Gardens park in Winter Haven. The park will open in October 2011, providing another major family-oriented attraction along the Orlando-to-Tampa corridor.


Let's hear, in the comments, your thoughts about how the top stories of 2010 will affect the industry in the years ahead.

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What's new on the discussion board: The best of the best at Disney, and visiting Orlando without a budget

By Robert Niles
Published: December 13, 2010 at 8:12 PM
Theme Park Insider reader Lauren Hayhurst kicks off this week's top new threads on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board with a great query: What are the best individual elements of each Disney Resort?

Dragon at Disneyland Paris
The Dragon at Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant in Disneyland Paris

Jeff Crist is planning a trip to Universal Orlando Resort and asks: Potter Land Better Early or Late, after 8 PM?. He follows up with another Islands of Adventure question: When Do Marvel Rides Lines Get Long - Sat Dec 18?

Last week, I posted a photo tour of Universal Studios Singapore, from reader Daniel Smith. This week, he posts his promised Universal Studios Singapore: Trip Report.

Katie b. wants to know about your experiences visiting Disneyland with a 2-year-old.

Finally, Joshua Denson Needs opinions for my upcoming Orlando trip!. But what really sets this thread apart are the magic words he includes: "price isn't really an issue." What fun can you imagine?

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Theme Park Apprentice 2 Challenge 8: Hotel

By Tim W
Published: December 13, 2010 at 3:25 PM
Here is the poll for Challenge 8 of Theme Park Apprentice. This week, our contestants designed a hotel for a theme park of their choice. Read their idea descriptions on the discussion board before voting!

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Disney sets the closing date for Mickey's Toontown Fair at Walt Disney World

By Robert Niles
Published: December 10, 2010 at 1:49 PM
We now have an official closing date for Mickey's Toontown Fair at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. The land's last day will be February 11, 2011. So if you want to see Mickey's House on the east coast, or ride Goofy's Barnstormer, you'd better do it before then.

Mickey and the gang will remain in the park for meet and greets after Feb. 11, of course, eventually settling into a new location on Main Street. And the roller coaster will return as part of the new circus-themed Dumbo mini-land within the Magic Kingdom's new Fantasyland, which is scheduled to debut in 2013.

Model of the new Fantasyland
Scale model of the new Dumbo section of the Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland expansion. Photo courtesy Disney.

(Of course, if you're in the Orlando area and simply must have a Vekoma Junior Coaster to ride before then, there's always the Flight of the Hippogriff over at Universal Orlando's Wizarding World of Harry Potter.)

On the west coast, Disney's making construction changes, too. The giant CALIFORNIA letters in front of Disney California Adventure go away on January 4, 2011, so get there before then if you want a photo.

L is for LaurieR is for RobertN is for Natalie
And Brian is ticked that there's no 'B' in California

The next day, Disney begins construction on the front plaza of that park, which will ultimately result in a new front gate that will look very much like the front of Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida.

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Vote of the week: Do theme parks need roller coasters?

By Robert Niles
Published: December 10, 2010 at 8:11 AM
Does the sight of twisty, curved steel track set your heart pumping with excitement, or does make you scroll, click or walk away in boredom?

Busch Gardens Williamsburg roller coasters
Roller coaster heaven in Williamsburg, Virginia

Are you the type of person who considers roller coasters the heart of a theme park, or do you think them a mark of a lesser "amusement" park, one that lacks the highly-themed, compelling narrative attractions you love?

Interior of Disneyland's Haunted Mansion
Disneyland's Haunted Mansion. Highly themed, hugely popular, and most definitely not a roller coaster.

How essential is having a roller coaster to ride to your enjoyment of a theme park? That's my question for you this week. Is it essential, or a turn-off? Is it a nice addition - just another type of ride? Or do you not care one way or the other?


In your dream park, would you have roller coasters? If so, what do they look like? If not, what takes their place? Tell your thoughts in the comments, please!

As always, thank you for reading Theme Park Insider, and thank you for spreading the word about the site to your family and friends. The more folks we have reading and commenting, the more fun the site is for everyone.

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Universal Studios Hollywood opens its Grinchmas

By Robert Niles
Published: December 9, 2010 at 8:49 PM
Universal Studios Hollywood kicked off its "Grinchmas" holiday celebration today with a photo-op featuring actress and animal activist Tippi Hedren and Max the Dog from "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas."

Grinchmas opening at USH

Grinchmas continues this Saturday and Sunday, then runs daily starting Dec. 18 through Jan. 2, 2011. The event, located in the Upper Lot next to the Shrek theater, features a snow play area (hey, that's a big deal in Los Angeles), character meet-and-greets and nightly tree-lighting ceremonies plus celebrity readings of "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas."

In addition this weekend, Universal will host an animal-adoption fair from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, outside the park's front gate. The fair will be "hosted" by the Grinch and Max the dog and will feature shelter animals looking for a home. While the rest of Grinchmas is included with park admission, there's no admission necessary to take part in the adoption fair.

Update, Dec. 13: From Universal:

Scheduled celebrity readings will take place twice nightly beginning at 4:40 p.m. and 7:25 p.m., just prior to the "Grinchmas" tree lighting and Who-ville "Who-bilation" ceremony as follows:
  • Brandy and Yvette Nicole Brown of “Community” on Dec. 18
  • Actor Fred Willard and “Tonight Show with Jay Leno” band musical director, Rickey Minor on Dec. 19
  • Joey Lawrence and Tippi Hedren on Dec. 20
  • Bob Newhart and Latin recording artist, Luz Rios on Dec. 21
  • "Little Fockers" star Teri Polo and Corey Feldman on Dec. 22
  • "Biggest Loser" host Allison Sweeney and "Access Hollywood" reporter Maria Menounos on Dec. 23
  • Florence Henderson on Dec. 24
  • "The Nanny" star Benjamin Salisbury and "Dante's Peak" star Kirk Trutner on Dec. 25
  • "The Wonder Years" Fred Savage and "Modern Family" star Nolan Gould on Dec. 26
  • Jon Lovitz and Wayne Brady on Dec. 27
  • "Knott's Landing" star Donna Mills on Dec. 28
  • "Covert Affairs" star Christopher Gorham on Dec. 29
  • Alexandra Daddario of "White Collar" and "Glee" star Dot-Marie Jones on Dec. 30
  • KNBC’s "Today in L.A." traffic and weather anchor Sean Murphy on Dec. 31
  • "White Collar" star, Tiffani Thiessen on Jan. 2.
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    Take a photo tour of Universal Studios Singapore

    By Robert Niles
    Published: December 9, 2010 at 10:33 AM
    Thanks to Theme Park Insider reader Daniel Smith for submitting these photos of Universal Studios Singapore:

    Revenge of the Mummy
    The entrance to the Revenge of the Mummy ride

    Battlestar Galactica coasters
    The twin Battlestar Galactica roller coasters, reported to re-open next year. You can see how tight this park is, as that's the obelisk for the Mummy ride immediately to the left.

    Jurassic Park
    The entrance to Jurassic Park, with the Canopy Flyer in the background

    Jurassic Park Rapids Adventure boat
    Here's the load station and ride vehicle for Singapore's Jurassic Park ride

    Jurassic Park Rapids Adventure
    We have splashdown at the Jurassic Park Rapids Adventure

    Waterworld
    The climax of the Waterworld stunt shown as a plane bursts into the theater in a shower of fire

     Madagascar: A Crate Adventure
    The elaborate ship-themed show building for Madagascar: A Crate Adventure

    Casa del Wild
    A Singapore-style lunch at Universal's Casa del Wild restaurant in the Madagascar land

    Enchanted Airways
    Here's the Enchanted Airways junior coaster in Far, Far Away

    Shrek 4-D
    And we close with the icon of Far, Far Away, the Shrek 4-D castle

    Read more about the park on our Universal Studios Singapore pages.

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    Wednesday theme park news updates: Disney dining discounts, Legoland inks Pepsi

    By Robert Niles
    Published: December 8, 2010 at 6:25 PM
    Here are a few theme park news items I tweeted earlier today:

  • Walt Disney World and Disneyland are offering an online 30%-off dining voucher, good for a limited time only. And it's not value during peak meal times, either. Just off-peak times: before noon and between 3 and 4:30 pm and only at three to five restaurants in each theme park.

    But we've long recommended that you dine during off-peak hours if you're looking to save time and not splurging on a sit-down meal as a treat. Now you can save some money by dining off-peak, too.

  • Did you see "Glee" name-check Kings Island during its Christmas episode last night? One of the characters said that he was trying out for the Ohio theme park's Christmas spectacular. Too bad Kings Island doesn't have one anymore. The park briefly revived its Winterfest event a few years back, but killed it after one season.

  • Legoland Florida announced today that Pepsi will be the official soft drink of park when it opens in October 2011. That means park visitors will get the Tropicana, Dole, Gatorade and Aquafina brands as well as the Pepsi line-up of soda pop. Legoland Florida joins SeaWorld and the Cedar Fair theme parks in the Pepsi camp. Disney, Universal and Six Flags remain Coke shops.

    As a reminder, I often post brief theme park news as it breaks to Theme Park Insider's Twitter feed. Please follow us on Twitter for the latest updates.

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  • What would you do? How to improve FastPass and other theme park ride reservation systems

    By Robert Niles
    Published: December 8, 2010 at 5:43 PM
    Do we really need FastPass and other ride reservation systems?

    Hey, I don't like spending time in boring, unthemed attraction queues, either. But I also don't like having to make two stops at every major attraction: one to pick up the FastPass, and other to use it.

    Ride reservation schemes such as FastPass complicate theme park visits, requiring visitors to factor in one more variable. It's not just what you want to see and in what order. Now you have to figure out when and where to pick up FastPasses or other ride reservation tickets, too.

    Toy Story Midway Mania
    Want to ride Midway Mania in Florida? Get to the park when it opens for a FastPass, or prepare to wait for 40 minutes or longer.

    A ride reservation system, like anything else in a theme park, ought to provide real value to visitors in exchange for their time, money or effort. Certainly an effective reservation system could do that, but it would have to be structured in a way that would assure that anyone using it would be able to see more attractions than if the system didn't exist. And without requiring visitors to spend hours trying to master the arcane details of the reservation system in order to make that happen.

    So that's my "what would you do?" challenge to you this week: What would the ideal theme park ride reservation system look like?

    Personally, I'd like to see a ride reservation system work on two levels:

    1) It would prevent me from having to wait in hours-plus lines for hugely popular attractions, without having to go somewhere or wait in line to get a reservation first. If the park has an attraction that is estimated to have a two-hour or more wait time that day, give folks who are interested in riding it a ticket with a reservation time for that ride when they come through the front gate. But don't offer the service for anything with less than an anticipated 120-minute peak wait-time.

    Offering reservations on a dozen rides that wouldn't run more than an hour wait, as Disney does, seems unnecessarily complex to me. When you factor in the time and effort required to run around getting FastPasses and keeping track of them, I'm not convinced that the system allows the average visitor to see any extra rides or shows that they would have been able to see with the same effort. Sure, a few hard-core fan experts have learned how to milk the system, but I suspect that they were the type of folks who found ways to maximize the number of attractions they saw at Disney in the days before FastPass, too.

    2) It would provide a special perk for a few people who spend extra for it. The model here is Universal Orlando's Express Pass, which gives front-of-line access to anyone staying at one of Universal Orlando's three on-site hotels. The number of passes available this way needs to be limited, though. If too many people get to cut the line, that makes the wait significantly longer for everyone else, which an ideal system should avoid.

    I'd love to see Disney offer something similar to Universal Express for its hotel guests. But given the much larger number of people staying on-property at Disney, that system would need to be more limited. Perhaps a Disney hotel guest would be given a limited number of individual skip-the-line tickets, say, just two or three for each day of their visit. One would have to do the math to figure out the exact amount, but such a system would allow for some additional rides for hotel guests, without overwhelming the queues for other visitors.

    While Universal does a nice job with its system for hotel guests, it falls down by not offering the first type of system. I know plenty of theme park fans who would have preferred to get a return time ticket for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter this summer, so that they could enjoy other rides and attractions at Universal Orlando instead of waiting for hours in the queue to enter that new land.

    Disney's been dropping FastPass at more and more attractions here in California, and no one seems to miss it. Wait-times even on busy days rarely exceed an hour or so, and queues on rides that have dropped FastPass seem to me to run more smoothly now than when they had FastPass. (Waiting for Toy Story Midway Mania here is a joy compared to the FastPass game people end up playing to get on it in Florida.)

    So what would you do, if you were running Disney, Universal or some other theme park? What would you offer - if anything - for a ride reservation system?

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    What's new on the discussion board: A few theme park proposals

    By Robert Niles
    Published: December 7, 2010 at 9:29 AM
    Here are this week's top new threads on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board:

    Carrie Hood asks for your help in remembering some now-closed Disney attractions for her WDW's Forgotten Attractions.. A Paper!

    Long-gone attractions at Walt Disney World

    James Koehl looks ahead to this summer and asks about the Best Day at WDW MK in June.

    Daniel Etcheberry wants to know if there Should there be a monorail expansion in Disneyworld?

    lori bossert took advantage of the free ticket offers in 2008 and 2009 and is looking for Any Promo for 2011 for Disney?

    A reader is getting ready to "pop the question": Need Help With My Disneyland Proposal!

    Tony Duda offers up some Busch Gardens Tampa notes on new Cirque Dreams and Cheetah Hunt

    Finally, Victoria Jurkowski asks about a New Park in Kentucky?

    Comments (2) | Archive Link

    Theme park photos of the day: A Goofy question, and questionable driving

    By Robert Niles
    Published: December 6, 2010 at 10:12 PM
    Thanks to Theme Park Insider readers Gareth and TH for e-mailing these, uh, conversation-starter theme park photographs:

    First, someone's asking a, well, Goofy question:

    Goofy T-shirt

    Next, when you've got a pickup-truck versus the monorail, always bet on the monorail:

    Truck crash

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    Theme Park Apprentice 2 Challenge 7: Wizarding World of Harry Potter

    By Tim W
    Published: December 6, 2010 at 10:11 PM
    Here is this week's theme park apprentice poll. Our apprentices designed an attraction for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter this week. Before voting, check out their ideas!

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    Giving (or getting) a theme park visit as a Christmas present

    By Robert Niles
    Published: December 6, 2010 at 11:04 AM
    A trip to Walt Disney World isn't just a vacation for some families. Sometimes, it's a Christmas present, too.

    That's what my first visit to Disney World was. As child born in Los Angeles, I'd been to Disneyland many times. But when we moved to Indianapolis while I was in elementary school, I figured my days of visiting Disney theme parks were over.

    Mickey Mouse eraserThen my grandparents moved from Cincinnati to Florida. And the next Christmas, we found a Mickey Mouse pencil eraser on our Christmas tree on Christmas morning. A note was attached.

    We were going to Disney World!

    We ended up taking that first trip to Disney World - it was just the Magic Kingdom then - during Spring Break that year. Ice and snow still covered Central Indiana on the morning we left. As the sun rose and we reached Kentucky, the pavement dried. By the time we reached north Georgia, the snow was gone. And when we reached Florida, well, it felt like my bones were thawing after a long, cold winter.

    Some people enjoy their Disney World present on Christmas itself. But Disney isn't the only holiday-present theme park destination. This year, I suspect that more than a few families will be getting visits to Universal Orlando's Wizarding World of Harry Potter. My cousins in northern Kentucky (huge Harry Potter fans) are getting their first visit to Hogsmeade in January. Their parents set up an elaborate series of clues around the house, which ultimately lead to my cousins discovering their big prize - the trip to the Wizarding World.

    Which leads me to ask: Did you ever get a theme park visit as a holiday or birthday present? How did you find out?

    Or, have you given a theme park visit as a present? Did you do anything special to build the suspense?

    I'd love to read some comments detailing fun stories about readers learning about their first trip to Disney Word, Universal or other major theme parks.

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    Vote of the week: Bring the stroller, or rent one?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: December 2, 2010 at 9:16 PM
    This time of year, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the seasonal theme parks are closed and even the year-round parks are welcoming fewer out-of-town visitors than at most any other time of the year. So these are days devoted to planning the next Big Theme Park Trip.

    This week's vote is for the parents, planning a family theme park vacation - especially the ones with toddlers (or whose children were toddlers not all that long ago).

    When you're thinking about how you're going to get your toddlers around the park (or how you did, back in the day), will you plan to bring your own stroller, or rent one at the park?

    Stroller at Epcot

    The pros of renting the stroller: You don't have to lug it with you in the car (or on the plane!) If you someone grabs it in the park - or your child fouls it beyond your capacity to stand it any longer - you just get a replacement. Park strollers also tend to be larger and sturdier that then folding "umbrella" strollers many families bring to the parks, making it easier for schlepping kids and gear.

    The pros of bringing your own: You've got your own stroller for getting your child to and from your car (or hotel room). You've two fewer lines to wait in, at the beginning and end of your day. And, of course, you save on the rental fee.

    I should note that some parents choose a third option, especially ones flying to a family vacation, such as at Walt Disney World. They leave their stroller at home, but buy a cheap folding one at their destination, and bring it to the park. That saves the hassle of checking and transporting a stroller, but allows for the benefits of having one's own at the parks. Buying a stroller can cost less than daily rentals on a multi-day theme park trip, too.

    So, what will it be? If you're one of those third-choice parents, who buys a stroller at your destination, pick the "bring your own" option, since it is, technically, your stroller that you bring into the parks. And if you don't have kids, just sit this one out.


    I'd love to hear your favorite stroller tips for other parents visiting theme parks, in the comments. And thanks again for reading Theme Park Insider!

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    Ride line-up revealed for proposed Orlando Thrill Park

    By Robert Niles
    Published: December 2, 2010 at 12:48 PM
    Details are now emerging about the ride line-up at the proposed Orlando Thrill Park, slated for 77 acres on the northern end of International Drive, by Wet 'n Wild and Universal Orlando.

    The park unveiled its master plan two weeks ago and today the LA Times quotes the park's spokesman detailing a line-up of 14 new rides for the park.

    Here's what the Orlando Thrill Park plans:

    • Mondial Splash Over
    • U.S. ThrillRides SkyQuest (There's one of these inverted hang-glider-style rides under construction for 2012 at Indianapolis Zoo.)
    • S&S Power drop tower
    • Mondial Revolution
    • Intamin Mega-Splash
    • Chance Morgan Unicoaster (a himalaya-style ride)
    • Vekoma motorbike launch coaster
    • Mack launch coaster
    • Vekoma suspended looping coaster
    • Vekoma Stingray flying coaster
    • Vekoma/Chance Morgan Dive Pretzel coaster
    • Intamin ZacSpin coaster (The first in the U.S. is coming to Magic Mountain next summer.)
    • Intamin inverted accelerator coaster
    • S&S Power fourth-dimension coaster

    Will a pure iron park succeed in Orlando? Now that we know what kind of iron this park will bring, what do you think?

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    SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment lays off 350

    By Jason Jackson
    Published: December 2, 2010 at 12:35 PM
    SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment announced layoffs of 350 people nationwide one day after the first anniversary of being purchased by Blackstone Group. [Editor's note: The deal closed last December 2009, but was announced in October.]

    SeaWorld laid off 129 employees in Orlando. Here's more from the Orlando Sentinel.

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    Where's your favorite place to eat in Orlando - that's not in the theme parks?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: December 2, 2010 at 9:35 AM
    While many of us focus on the theme parks of Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando and SeaWorld when we visit Orlando, it's not physically possible to spend all of your time there. Even if you stay on-property, it's possible that you'll spend some of your Orlando vacation time away from the parks and their hotels.

    When you do, where do you like to eat? I a few favorites that I find myself visiting again and again on my Orlando trips, and I'd like to hear yours. Let me start by saying that I'm looking for places near the theme parks, on the Orlando metropolitan area's southwest side. (So no favorites from Winter Park or Altamonte Springs, please.) Also, low price isn't essential to me, but high value is. Finally, I'm not saying that these places are the best off-property restaurants in the southwest Orlando area, just the ones I've found and liked. Please feel welcomed to add to this list with your favorites, in the comments.

    I'll start with Jean Pierre's Bistro in the Water Tower shopping area off U.S. 192 at Celebration.

    Mocha mousse at Jean Pierre's Bistro
    Laurie and Natalie pose with an especially tasty mousse in a chocolate cup, this summer at Jean Pierre's Bistro

    As the name suggests, Jean Pierre's features French comfort food, with a thoughtful selection of salad, sandwiches and bistro fare, including Beef Bourguignon. It's my go-to place for lunch in Celebration, and the temptation of dessert (one pictured above) always encourages me to finish my meal. Not that it's a chore.

    17 Blake Blvd, Celebration, FL 34747

    Drive deeper into Celebration to dine at Thai Thani, the table-service Thai restaurant that occupies the space on the corner of Celebration Avenue and Water Street, originally occupied by the world's smallest Goodings grocery.

    I inevitably end up ordering one of the daily specials when eating in this very nicely decorated restaurant, so I can't offer a specific recommendation. But I've always walked away satisfied, though I should say that with Thai food, I always stick to tofu and fish, so I can't comment on the meat and chicken dishes. It's not a cheap hole-in-the-wall Thai joint, either, but the meal's always been worth the price. (And there's a coupon on the website, too!)

    600 Market Street, Celebration, FL 34747

    Someday, I'll have the discipline to save enough money to eat at Norman's at the Ritz. That, or my children will become fabulously wealthy and treat me. Obviously, I've not yet dined here, but Norman's long-list of awards and favorably reviews has the restaurant at the top of my off-property Orlando dinner wish list.

    4012 Central Florida Parkway, Orlando, FL 32837 (The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes)

    Back on International Drive, Bahama Breeze is the only Darden restaurant I can stand. I find it hard believe that the wonderful Caribbean-inspired food from this restaurant comes from the same folks who dish out the dreck at Red Lobster and Olive Garden. I stay away from the pastas and choose instead something from the Fresh Fish menu, usually with either the jerk seasoning or the creamy mango butter sauce, depending upon how much heat I'm in the mood to handle. Key Lime pie's a must for dessert, too.

    8849 International Dr., Orlando, FL 32819

    My favorite chain restaurant in the Orlando theme park area is Roy's Restaurant. Chef Roy Yamaguchi's chain of Hawaii fine-dining restaurants offers a delightful selection of sushi and seafood. Pork is typically outstanding, too, as one might expect from a Hawaiian restaurant. If you've not been before, don't expect tiki-room kitsch, this is table-cloth dining, with prices to match. But the service and value exceeds even the often-steep prices. For the best deal, look one of the prix fixe options, which offer an appetizer, entree and dessert for $36.

    7760 West Sand Lake Road, Orlando, FL 32819

    Now, let's hear your picks.

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    What would you do? How to save the Six Flags amusement parks

    By Robert Niles
    Published: December 1, 2010 at 11:48 AM
    Six Flags, as a theme park chain, is in trouble.

    The Six Flags brand simply doesn't resonate in a positive way with theme park fans, as it once did. Attendance at Six Flags parks is flat or declining, with no Six Flags parks is the North American top 10 for attendance. Six Flags' most popular park, Great Adventure, is mired in 19th place.

    Six Flags Great America
    By the way, these six American flags are not the "Six Flags" that inspired the amusement park chain.

    Last month, news emerged that the park's new management team is terminating several of its licensing deals, which will mean the elimination of theming from many attractions in its parks. Six Flags is dropping the Tony Hawk name from its Big Spin coasters. Thomas Town will become Whistle Stop Depot. Evel Knievel is becoming American Thunder. Wiggles World will be going away, too. So might the Terminator theme from Magic Mountain's newest roller coaster.

    All this prompts me to ask: What would you do to help Six Flags?

    When Angus Wynne developed the original Six Flags park, in Arlington, Texas, its themed lands were tributes to the six national flags that had flown over Texas during its history: Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Confederacy and the United States. (You now know the answer to the trivia question: "What are the Six Flags in the Six Flags amusement park chain?") Six Flags built only two other parks in its history: Six Flags Over Georgia and Six Flags Over Mid-America (now Six Flags St. Louis). Both continued with regionally-themed lands.

    The chain then acquired dozens of other parks over the years, keeping some and eventually selling others. The Chicago Great America park, bought from Mariott, fit Six Flags' regional-based theming well. But Magic Mountain, designed by the same crew that created SeaWorld, didn't. (With its meandering paths and giant observation tower in the middle, Magic Mountain has a very similar footprint to SeaWorld San Diego, just with roller coasters in the place of the aquariums.) Even in the original three parks, changes and additions over the years have undercut the original theming.

    Without the clear identity branding that Disney created with its Magic Kingdom theme parks, Universal created with its studios and SeaWorld and Busch Gardens created with their parks, Six Flags no longer stands for any unique thematic experience in visitors' minds, the way that those other chains do.

    Granted, Disney and Universal have extended those brands with different types of parks, including Epcot and Islands of Adventure. But Six Flags never clearly established with the public that original template from which to expand into new ones, as Disney and Universal first did. Remember, Disney offered nothing but Magic Kingdom theme parks for 27 years before it opened Epcot.

    When I think of a Six Flags park now, I think instead of the jumble of outside brands that these parks throw at me when I visit: Starburst, Papa John's, Johnny Rockets, Coca-Cola. In restaurants, on pathways and even in queues, time in a Six Flags park means a non-stop visual and audio immersion in brand marketing. But those brands aren't "Six Flags."

    A visit to a Disney or SeaWorld theme park is a non-stop immersion in brand marketing, too. But in those parks, I'm being sold the Disney and SeaWorld brands, first.

    What is Six Flags' brand now? I don't know.

    So that's my challenge to you. How can Six Flags create a brand identity that would resonate with you? What would you have the company do to entice you to visit its theme parks? Is it to double down on its remaining DC Comics licenses (Batman, Superman, etc.)? Is it to return to the original Angus Wynne-era concept of regional tributes? Is it to strip even more licensed brands from its parks, and trying to become something more like Cedar Point?

    If you're proposing changes that require big capital investments, how will Six Flags raise the cash? If it is to sell parks, which ones? And if capital isn't available, what can Six Flags do to improve?

    Under Mark Shapiro's leadership, Six Flags parks improved their customer service, becoming cleaner, friendlier parks with attractions that operated at close to full capacity - quite a difference from previous years when many rides closed frequently to save on maintenance costs and many park employees treated their jobs with indifference, at best. But service and pricing issues remain. Parking charges are stiff and food remains ridiculously overpriced.

    If something doesn't happen to draw more folks to these parks, Six Flags will soon slide from the list of America's top 20 theme parks entirely. Six Flags is running out of lives. So, what would you do to save it?

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    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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