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March 2011

Star Wars Miniland debuts at Legoland California

By Robert Niles
Published: March 31, 2011 at 9:18 PM

Legoland California today opened a new Star Wars-themed addition to its Miniland collection of Lego models.

Mos Eisley, from Star Wars Miniland
Photos courtesy Legoland

This is the first addition to a Miniland from the world of fiction, though many other fictional and storybook models adorn other sections of the Legoland theme parks.

More detail from the Star Wars section of Legoland California's Miniland

Star Wars Miniland will debut later this year at the Legolands in Germany and Denmark. (There are no plans, as of now, to add a Star Wars section to the Miniland at Legoland Florida, now under construction for an October opening.)

Here's a time-lapse video from Legoland of the new Star Wars attraction under construction:

I'm hoping to get down to Carlsbad early next month for a look, and will file more photos then.

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Next Walt Disney: Challenge 7 Voting

By Andy Milio
Published: March 31, 2011 at 7:32 PM

Things are heating up in the Next Walt Disney competition, and we had 3 spectacular ideas this week. Vote for your favorite, but read the ideas first.

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This week's gallery of animal cuteness

By Robert Niles
Published: March 31, 2011 at 9:30 AM

As an antidote to the rather depressing photo gallery from earlier this week of the abandoned Six Flags New Orleans, today I'm offering up an insulin-spiking gallery of awesome sweetness.

Here are the cute-animal photos released this week by SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. First up, an animal rescue from SeaWorld San Diego:

Rescued sea otter at SeaWorld in San Diego

Our little rescued California sea otter pup is doing fantastic. She is now living out at our Rocky Point Preserve sea otter nursery and guests in the park can see her in the pool through a viewing window. She still has a great appetite and continues to gain weight. She’s now tipping the scale at nearly 20 pounds. Our vets and animal care team are very pleased with her progress and are continuing with her medical treatments to ensure her health stays strong.

From Busch Gardens Tampa:

Baby Thomson's gazelle at Busch Gardens in Tampa

Busch Gardens' hoof-stock care team is currently hand raising a baby female Thomson's gazelle. The baby weighed just over four pounds at birth on February 25. When the calf refused to take milk from its mother, the park's animal care team started bottle-feeding the baby. She is now receiving five bottle feedings each day and is weighed daily to monitor her health. At about four weeks old, she has already gained more than two pounds. This baby will remain in the park’s back area until she is healthy enough to join the herd of Thomson's gazelles on the 65-acre Serengeti Plain.

Also, from Busch Gardens, the park's five-week-old baby cheetah:

Baby cheetah at Busch Gardens Tampa

If the photo isn't enough for you, the park also has released this video:

Finally, speaking of cheetahs, Busch Gardens mashed up some on-track test video with lot of CGI to create this music video with POV of its soon-to-debut Cheetah Hunt roller coaster.

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Tournament semifinal: Dollywood's Smoky Mountain Christmas vs. Epcot's International Food & Wine Festival

By Robert Niles
Published: March 31, 2011 at 8:51 AM

Here we are. We're down to the last four events in our 2011 Theme Park Insider Tournament. (I'd say that they were the "final" ones, but a certain organization has that phrase trademarked.)

So let's start by congratulating Dollywood, Walt Disney World and the Universal Studios theme parks for getting this far. Every event in this year's tournament is a great event, but these have proven themselves the best of the best, as evident by your votes in their support.

But while all of these events are excellent, only one can be the best. The former grammar teacher in me insists upon that… ;^)

So which will it be? Let's make our next cut today, by choosing between Dollywood's Smoky Mountain Christmas and Epcot's International Food & Wine Festival at Walt Disney World.

Over the course of the tournament, you've have many opportunities to talk about these events, and you have another today, in the comments. But before you comment or vote, I'd like you to forget about the themes of these events and instead focus on their execution. Which park has done the best job of creating something that provides a unique experience that gets you excited to visit every year, as opposed to all the other Christmas events or food festivals out there?


The vote is open until noon Eastern (9am Pacific) on Friday. At that time, we'll open the polls for our second semifinal, the sibling rivalry battle for which many of you have been waiting: Universal Studios Hollywood's Halloween Horror Nights vs. Universal Studios Florida's Halloween Horror Nights.

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What will be the effect of Tilikum's return to SeaWorld Orlando?

By Robert Niles
Published: March 30, 2011 at 12:27 PM

As of this morning, Tilikum is back "on stage" at SeaWorld Orlando. The park's largest orca was the one that killed trainer Dawn Brancheau in February 2010, and has been kept out of the public eye since then.

Tilikum Shamu
Tilikum, in 2009

Tikikum has returned to the show tank at SeaWorld Orlando, but the trainers still have not. They're supposed to be working their way back into the water, under controlled conditions "back stage," but there's no word on when they might reappear in the water with the whales during the show. In fact, the current Shamu show, "Believe," is on its way out, anyway, to be replaced with the new "One Ocean" choreography next month.

I'll ask you to respond in the comments whether you think Tilikum's public return is a good or bad idea. But I'd also like to take a vote on whether the return of the park's biggest killer whale will have any influence upon your decision to visit SeaWorld.

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Tokyo Disneyland, DisneySea to reopen in April

By Robert Niles
Published: March 29, 2011 at 7:18 PM

The company that operates the Tokyo Disney theme parks has announced that it expects to reopen the parks in April.

No definitive reopening date for Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea has been announced. According to Nikkei.com, the Oriental Land Company might choose to limit operating hours to daytime when it reopens the parks, or rotate operation between the parks, opening only one at a time.

The area around Tokyo Disney Resort remains subject to rolling blackouts by Tokyo Electric Power Co., the company that - among other things - has, uh, a bit of an ongoing problem with its nuclear plant in Fukushima.

Obviously, theme parks can't operate without power. But if the power issue is resolved, Oriental Land appears to be working out plans to get at least some park operations going within the month.

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What's new on the discussion board: The best Disney animatronics, and Team TPI 'auditions'

By Robert Niles
Published: March 29, 2011 at 2:47 PM

If you have questions about planning a theme park vacation, the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board is the place to ask. It's also the place to talk trivia, or ask any other questions you might have about theme parks. Here are this week's top new threads on the board:

Daniel Etcheberry asks Which is your favorite Disney animatronic?

Mr. Potato Head
There's some love for Mr. Potato Head in our thread on top Disney theme park animatronics.

Sara M is thinking Orlando and is looking for some May trip advice.

Irina bader wants your opinion on Which 2 parks from WDW to choose?

Chris lincoln wants to know what is the Best time to visit Wet n' Wild

Wayne Gresham checks in with some information and tips from this year's Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival.

Terri Pierce is curious about the Navigator's Club at Universal's Islands of Adventure. Anyone have any stories to tell?

Joseph Catlett offers his Universal Studios Hollywood 'All You Can Eat Pass' Review.

And Hermione Potter asks Will Legoland try to hookup with another park?

Finally, I'd like to remind everyone that I'm still looking for readers to join Team TPI. Team TPI recognizes site members who consistently provide good advice and reports from their visits to top theme parks. If you're a theme park fan (and if you're reading this site, I assume that you are), please check out the link and learn more about Team TPI.

Since we're auditioning potential team members on the site this week and next, I'd love to hear some feedback from Theme Park Insider readers. Who are some of the people you most like to read on the site? Who's offered good advice that's worked for you in the past? Even if you don't live near a park, your feedback about the reports you read on the site will help me in putting together the best Team TPI that we can. Thanks!

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Tournament quarterfinals: USH's Halloween Horror Nights vs. Mickey's Halloween Party

By Robert Niles
Published: March 29, 2011 at 9:17 AM

And now we come to the last quarterfinal match-up in the 2011 Theme Park Insider Tournament: America's Best Theme Park Event.

We're heading back to Southern California for this contest, putting two very different Halloween events against each other.

The upper seed goes to Universal Studios Hollywood's Halloween Horror Nights, the west coast version of Universal's popular Halloween franchise. While not as large as its Orlando sibling (which has advanced to the semifinals), the Hollywood Halloween Horror Nights offers its own, unique flavor, incorporating the park's famed Studio Tour.

Universal Studios Hollywood's Halloween Horror Nights

Mickey's Halloween Party moved from California Adventure to Disneyland this year, and became a break-out hit. While Universal's offering the haunts and thrills, Disneyland's serving up a more family-friendly event, with free trick-or-treating throughout the park. Halloween-themed fireworks and a parade add to the show, which also features the fan-favorite Haunted Mansion Holiday.

Mickey's Halloween Party at Disneyland


SoCal theme park fans, break down the match-up in the comments. And be sure to be here Thursday, for the start of the Theme Park Insider Tournament's final four.

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A photo tour of the abandoned Six Flags New Orleans

By Robert Niles
Published: March 28, 2011 at 11:20 AM

Theme Park Insider reader Ryan Traylor emailed some photos he took recently of the abandoned Six Flags New Orleans park, which closed after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, then never reopened.

Six Flags New Orleans

Ryan shared some thoughts, via email:

"The first thing that struck me is how much the coasters and larger rides are still standing. Clearly the damage is from the flooding. And then the looting.

"Being in the park alone is awesome, even though the rides are not operational. Then the abandonment sets in. You hear the wind howling through the park. Broken gates creaking. Leaves rustling across spilled papers and plastic utensils. It's literally a ghost town. They closed the park in preparation for the storm and never returned."

Tickets

Turnstiles

Kiosk

"And the park being accessible is not a big secret. We ran into three other people while wandering around the park.

"It is definitely a park I want to visit again and spend a few more hours in."

Tagged
Tag, you're it, Mr. Six. Welcome to Zombieland.

The Jester
There's no queue for The Jester, but quite the wait.

Bumper cars
Anyone up for a ride on the bumper cars?

Inverter train
Ironically, this abandoned coaster train ride vehicle is not upside down.

Flume ride
How about a ride on the flume to cool off?

Guest relations
Don't forget to leave a comment at Guest Relations on your way out of the park. Just have a seat and wait for the next representative.

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Tournament quarterfinals: Smoky Mountain Christmas vs. Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party

By Robert Niles
Published: March 28, 2011 at 9:00 AM

The calendar says March, but it's time to think about Christmas, with today's quarterfinal match-up in the 2011 Theme Park Insider Tournament: America's Best Theme Park Event.

Dollywood fans rallied to push the park's Smoky Mountain Christmas to one of the top two seeds in the round of the eight. Meanwhile, Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party had to defeat Universal Studios Florida's Rock the Universe in a second-round match-up to advance to the quarterfinals.

In terms of attendance, Tennessee's Dollywood falls well behind the Magic Kingdom, which is the world's most populate theme park. But fans' passion counts in an online poll, and Dollywood fans have shown that they love their park every bit as much as Disney fans love theirs'.

So which will it be? The holiday-themed live musical shows of Dollywood or the fireworks and parades of Disney World? Smoky Mountain hospitality or Disney magic? These are the last two Christmas events in our tournament, so I think it's fair to say that the winner here can be called the nation's best theme park Christmas event.


As always, comments welcomed. We'd especially love to hear from anyone who's been to both of these events.

Come back tomorrow for our final quarterfinal match, as Universal Studios Hollywood's Halloween Horror Nights takes on Mickey's Halloween Party at Disneyland.

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Tournament quarterfinals: Universal Studios Florida's Halloween Horror Nights vs. Mardi Gras

By Robert Niles
Published: March 25, 2011 at 7:34 AM

It's time for the second quarterfinal in the 2011 Theme Park Insider Tournament: America's Best Theme Park Event. The way the brackets have worked out, this contest is essentially your chance to pick the best special event at Universal Orlando Resort.

Today, we're matching up Universal Studios Florida's Halloween Horror Nights

Halloween Horror Nights XX at Universal Orlando

vs. Universal Studios Florida's Mardi Gras

Universal Studios Florida's Mardi Gras

Fall haunts and scare zones vs. late-winter/spring concerts and scarf zones? Which event is more your style?


Post your thoughts in the comments, and feel free to spread the word on Facebook or Twitter, if you'd like to rally extra votes to your pick. Voting will be open until noon Eastern on Saturday. Then come back Monday morning for our next match-up: an all-Christmas battle between Dollywood's Smoky Mountain Christmas and Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.

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Tournament quarterfinals: Food & Wine Festival vs. Star Wars Weekends

By Robert Niles
Published: March 24, 2011 at 8:37 AM

Today we start the quarterfinals of the 2011 Theme Park Insider Tournament: America's Best Theme Park Event, so we're down to eight really neat theme park events that have proven their popularity, both with the public and that subset of Theme Park Insider voters.

Today, we are matching up two Walt Disney World events for the right to go on to the semifinals.

It's Epcot's International Food & Wine Festival

At the Food & Wine Festival

vs. Star Wars Weekends at Disney's Hollywood Studios

Get your Jedi on at Star Wars Weekends

Which is your favorite event, or, if you haven't been to either, the one you'd most want to visit? Spending the day wandering the nations of Epcot, noshing on food and drink and watching chef demonstrations, or celebrating Star Wars at the Studios, with special shows and character and actor meet and greets?


The voting will be open until noon Friday, Eastern time, when we'll open the next vote in the tournament: Universal Studios Florida's Halloween Horror Nights vs. Universal Studios Florida's Mardi Gras.

Until then, feel free to campaign by telling us about these events, in the comments.

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Legoland Florida construction update

By Robert Niles
Published: March 23, 2011 at 4:04 PM

Legoland Florida today released new photos detailing the ongoing construction on the former Cypress Gardens site. Here's an aerial view of the site:

Aerial view of Legoland Florida under construction

Any Cypress Gardens fans recognize it?

And here's what that patch of dirt is supposed to look like in seven months, as Legoland also released the latest version of its park map.

Park map of Legoland Florida

Yes, that big wooden coaster in the back is the former Triple Hurricane, which is being rethemed and revamped as Coastersaurus.

Legoland said that it is on schedule for an October debut.

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An invitation to join Team TPI

By Robert Niles
Published: March 23, 2011 at 12:21 PM

I'm guess that since you are reading this, you are a theme park fan. But how big a fan are you?

Silly theme park hats

Do you visit theme parks so often that your friends always ask you for advice before they go? Do theme park employees recognize you since they see you so often? Do people joke that a park can't change the location of a flower pot without you noticing?

Do you take as many pictures of theme park attractions as you do of your own relatives? Does your iPod contain at least one song from a theme park attraction? Have you ever tried to make a churro, Monte Cristo and/or Butterbeer at home?

If you answered 'yes' to any of these questions, I'd like to invite you to think about joining a new project I'm starting on Theme Park Insider: Team TPI.

Team TPI will be a great way for fans to get better connected with their favorite theme park, while helping keep other Theme Park Insider readers informed about that park. To help them do that, I'll be giving Team TPI members extra privileges on the website, including the ability to create a new discussion thread without having to wait for approval. Also, Team TPI members also will be eligible to represent the website at special media events at "their" theme park.

In exchange, I'll be asking Team TPI members to write at least one front-page "Blog Flume" post a month about "their" park. It could be a review of a newly opened restaurant. A write-up from one of those press events. Or an in-depth look at an overlooked service or feature at the park. No matter what these blog posts turn out to be, they'll provide a great excuse for an extra park visit. I'll also be asking Team TPI members to be active in helping others readers by spreading word about the great, helpful trip-planning content we've got on Theme Park Insider (such as by "liking" TPI stories on Facebook).

To thank Team TPI members for their help, they will be the first to get the new Theme Park Insider T-shirts I'll be having made this spring. And, at the end of the year, I'll send a gift to Team TPI members who blog frequently during the year. (It won't be huge, but it will be worth more than the T-shirt.)

Sound interesting? Here are the theme parks (and theme park resorts) I need to recruit Team TPI members to write about:

Walt Disney World (at least two Team TPI members, possibly more)
Universal Orlando
SeaWorld Orlando
Busch Gardens Tampa
Busch Gardens Williamsburg
Disneyland and Disney California Adventure
Universal Studios Hollywood
SeaWorld San Diego
Disneyland Paris
Tokyo Disney Resort
Universal Studios Japan
Universal Studios Singapore

Obviously, these are top-attended theme parks which get most of the traffic and comments here on Theme Park Insider. I don't want to discourage readers from continuing to submit discussion threads and blog posts about other theme parks, but these are the ones I want to deploy Team TPI to first.

I'm going to make this an open audition process. If you live near one of these parks and would like to be a part of Team TPI, just start posting to the discussion board, Blog Flume and Facebook page with the sort of stuff you'd bring to the table as a Team TPI member. Then let me know you're interested, either through the comments or my e-mailing me privately via themeparkinsider@gmail.com. Over the next month, I'll keep me eyes open and e-mail the folks I'd like to invite to become official Team TPI members.

This will be a lot of fun for the Team and should lead to many more great stories, photos, videos and tips for everyone else here on Theme Park Insider. Thanks to everyone who contributes around here, and I hope that Team TPI will allow some extra recognition for some of our biggest theme park fans.

Got questions? Fire away. And, again, thanks.

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Tournament, round two: Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party or Rock the Universe?

By Robert Niles
Published: March 22, 2011 at 8:30 AM

Our last match before the quarterfinals of the 2011 Theme Park Insider Tournament: America's Best Theme Park Event pits Walt Disney World's "hard ticket" Christmas event against rival Universal Orlando's annual Christian music festival.

Which event would you like to advance to the final eight in this year's tournament? You get one vote, but you are encouraged to try to multiply that by convincing other readers with your impressions about these events, in the comments. Or, you can just troll for votes in your Facebook feed. ;^)


Voting will be open until noon (ET) Wednesday. We'll take a break tomorrow while I set the bracket, then the quarterfinals will begin on Thursday.

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What will change at the Tokyo Disney Resort when it reopens?

By Robert Niles
Published: March 21, 2011 at 8:39 PM

The Tokyo Disney Resort, whenever it reopens, will recover, as will the rest of Japan. As James Surowiecki writes in the New Yorker this week, advanced economies such as Japan's often end up stronger in the long term after a major natural disaster. The disaster eventually provides an opportunity for renewal, and with hard work and available money, progress returns and even accelerates.

Tokyo DisneySea
The view from the entry at Tokyo DisneySea

So it will be in Japan. But in the meantime, Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea face uncertainty. The parks have relied almost exclusively on visitors from Japan - about 96 percent of visitors to the parks have come from within the country, according to the New York Times. Effectively, Tokyo Disney functions more like a regional amusement park than a major international destination.

With so many Japanese looking to rebuild their lives, homes, businesses and communities, it's easy to envision that many of those potential visitors will instead choose to spend their money elsewhere over the coming months and even years, instead of at the Tokyo Disney Resort.

So how will Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea recover?

Perhaps this will be incentive that drives the Oriental Land Company - the owner and operator of the Tokyo Disney Resort - to step up its international marketing. Millions of new visitors to the resort - from Korea, from Singapore, from Australia and New Zealand, and even from the United States - would help offset a decline in domestic attendance, and bring the equivalent of billions of new dollars into the Japanese economy at a time when they'll be much needed.

Tokyo Disney's theme parks will face competition, should they choose to market aggressively outside Japan. Disney itself now has a park in Hong Kong, with another in Shanghai on the way. Universal's theme park in Japan has aggressively courted international visitors in recent years, and has prospered during the recent crisis thanks to its location in relatively safe and unharmed Osaka. A new Universal theme park in Singapore and one in development in Korea provide additional competition, as well.

But none of those competing sites offer an international transportation hub the size of Tokyo's. That gives Tokyo Disney Resort an inherent advantage in attracting international visitors.

Fears about radiation will subside. At least initially, low airfares and low rates at hotels eager to refill rooms with visitors will help draw tourists back to Japan. (For what it's worth, this week I can fly from Los Angeles to Tokyo for about the same as it would cost me to fly from here to Cincinnati.) Tokyo Disney also enjoys a international reputation among Disney fans for offering some of the brand's finest theme parks, as well as its most outstanding service (a reputation bolstered by the Tokyo cast's outstanding reaction to the earthquake and its immediate aftermath.)

Yet Tokyo Disney's no longer keeping pace with the improvements that Disney is making on the other side of the Pacific, at the Disneyland resort in California. Ten years ago, many Disney fans in the United States lamented the off-the-shelf carnival-style rides at the newly opened Disney's California Adventure, while reading longingly about the cutting-edge, immersively-themed attractions at the new Tokyo DisneySea. These days, it's California Adventure that's debuting all the hot new rides and shows - Midway Mania, World of Color and Cars Land - while DisneySea had little under development even before the disaster.

So a strong marketing campaign won't be enough. Oriental Land Company needs to entice Disney's Imagineers to deliver their most impressive best to Tokyo to support the resort's recovery effort. But Oriental Land's written big checks before. I have no doubt that it can do so again.

A great new attraction and a strong international market campaign can help establish the Tokyo Disney Resort as a leader in promoting Japan's recovery around the Pacific Rim, rather than simply as an amusement and diversion for the Japanese people, as it's too often been in the past.

I've only visited Japan briefly, but I can't wait to visit again. Here's hoping that Oriental Land find its way to offering millions of Disney and theme park fans around the world many more reasons to visit Tokyo and Japan in the years to come.

What do you think?

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Tournament, round two: Universal Studios Florida's Mardi Gras vs. Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend

By Robert Niles
Published: March 21, 2011 at 8:42 AM

Here's where we are with the 2011 Theme Park Insider Tournament: America's Best Theme Park Event.

Your first-round votes cut the field down to 10 events. We need eight for our quarterfinals, so we're going to give the six winning events that got the most votes in round one a bye into the quarters.

  • Universal Studios Hollywood's Halloween Horror Nights
  • Dollywood's Smoky Mountain Christmas
  • Universal Studios Florida's Halloween Horror Nights
  • Epcot's International Food & Wine Festival
  • Star Wars Weekends at Disney's Hollywood Studios
  • Mickey's Halloween Party at Disneyland

That leaves four events to fight it out for the remaining two slots.

  • Universal Studios Florida's Mardi Gras vs. Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend
  • Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom vs. Rock the Universe at Universal Studios Florida

We'll vote on the first match-up today and the second tomorrow. As in round one, voting in each contest is open for 24 hours. Campaigning, in the comments and on Facebook and Twitter, is highly encouraged.


The quarterfinals will begin on Thursday.

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Happy 44th birthday to Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean

By Robert Niles
Published: March 18, 2011 at 12:37 PM

Today is the 44th anniversary of the opening of one of my favorite theme park rides anywhere - and the ride that I'd argue has had the single greatest impact on the theme park industry.

Happy birthday to Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean.

In honor of the day, Disney released this highlight video of the ride's planning, construction and media opening:

I will now go and put on a pair of red-and-orange-striped socks for the rest of the day. :^) Arrrgh!

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Tournament, round one: Night of Joy vs. Rock the Universe

By Robert Niles
Published: March 18, 2011 at 9:15 AM

You might not know this, but Night of Joy at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom was one of the earliest regularly scheduled "hard-ticket" theme park special events, starting in 1983. I worked the event as a cast member back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and many of us considered the event's name ironic. This wasn't the normal, joyful operation we were used to. It was like working a rock concert, with an intensity in the crowd that many of us weren't use to managing.

Disney's annual night of Christian rock music inspired others around the country, most notably Rock the Universe at Universal Studios Florida. Both events run against each other this year, on Sept. 9-10, 2011. I suspect that many church groups book a two-day trip, and go to one event one night and the other the next. Or, at least, many fans wish that they could. I know I'm always looking for an excuse to spend more days at a theme park. (You can follow the links for this year's tentative artist line-ups.)

And yet, only one of these events can move on to the next round of the 2011 Theme Park Insider Tournament: America's Best Theme Park Event. Which will it be?


As always, trip reports and opinions about these events are welcomed in the comments. We'll be back with second-round match-ups in the tournament on Monday.

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Tournament, round one: Christmas at Busch Gardens, or Dollywood?

By Robert Niles
Published: March 18, 2011 at 7:10 AM

Christmas and theme parks go together so well thematically that I wonder why more parks don't schedule special Christmas events. Sure, the weather's tough at many regional parks, but embrace cold and even snowy weather around the holidays. Some creativity in design surely could allow even the most northerly park to pull off some Christmas event.

So that's why I'm showing some love today to two parks that have created their own special events for the Christmas season. And you'll vote today to advance one of them to the next round of the 2011 Theme Park Insider Tournament: America's Best Theme Park Event.

Christmas Town debuted in 2009 at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, featuring special holiday-themed shows, selected rides from the park, new walk-through attractions and a feast with Santa and Mrs. Claus. Not to mention more lights than I care to count, too.

Smoky Mountain Christmas at Dollywood shares its name with an old Dolly Parton movie, and debuted in the park in 1990. Being Dollywood, the focus here is on live musical shows, and Smoky Mountain Christmas delivers with at least half a dozen special holiday-themed shows, as well as a parade and the Polar Express 4-D show (familiar to SeaWorld Orlando visitors).

Both parks provide an entertaining template for what other parks can do to extend their year into the holiday season, the same way that Knott's Berry Farm showed the industry how to extend the season into October with Halloween events. But only one of these events can move on in our tournament. Which will it be?


Please share your experience with either (or both) of these events, in the comments.

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Next Walt Disney: Challenge 6 Voting

By Andy Milio
Published: March 17, 2011 at 8:20 PM

It's St. Patrick's Day, and our contestants are done with their water ride ideas. Now it's up to YOU to vote your favorites. Pick your favorite on our St. Patrick's Day-green poll, but not before you read the ideas. Elimination is happening, and after this, the semifinal begins! So without further ado, I present the poll:

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

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St. Patrick's Day fish recipe from Downtown Disney

By Robert Niles
Published: March 17, 2011 at 11:11 AM

For your requisite St. Patrick's Day commemoration, here's a video from Master Chef Kevin Dundon at Raglan Road in Downtown Disney at the Walt Disney World Resort. He's making "Smokie City," one of the Irish-themed restaurant's signature dishes, which features smoked haddock in a creamy cheese sauce.

Yeah, that's a cholesterol bomb there, but I'm happy to see a St. Patrick's Day dish that doesn't involve the same old tired corned beef.

Anyone celebrating today?

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Tournament, round one: Bands, Brew & BBQ vs. Universal Orlando's Mardi Gras

By Robert Niles
Published: March 17, 2011 at 8:55 AM

It's time for the next contest in the 2011 Theme Park Insider Tournament: America's Best Theme Park Event. This time, we've got two late-winter popular music events in Central Florida squaring off for the right to advance.

Bands, Brew & BBQ tweaked its name when Anheuser-Busch sold its theme parks to Blackstone Group, eliminating the Bud branding from the event. Now it's just "brew" but the focus continues to be on BBQ and big-name musical acts, on Saturdays at SeaWorld in Orlando and on Sundays in Tampa at Busch Gardens. This year's performers included Willie Nelson, Huey Lewis, Montgomery Gentry and Joan Jett. In addition to the parks' own barbecue, this year's events also featured 'cue from outside restaurants, including Smokey Bones and Texas Cattle Company.

What? No Sonny's? C'mon, throw me a... (No, I just can't go with a joke that bad.)

While Bands, Brew & BBQ features country and rock bands, Universal Studios' Florida's Mardi Gras programs a more eclectic mix of acts, this year including Neon Trees, the Roots and Ne-Yo, as well as standbys such as The B-52s & Frankie Valli. While there's some themed food here, too, the real focus is on the park's Mardi Gras parade, complete with selected visitors throwing beads from the floats. Despite the name, Universal's Mardi Gras runs well into Lent, wrapping up in April most years.

Both events are included with theme park admission. Which one is your favorite?


As always, your tales of your personal experience at these events are welcomed in the comments. So is your blatant campaigning for your favorite, on whatever appropriate social network. You've got 24 hours to vote. Polls close at noon Eastern (9 am Pacific) Friday.

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Tournament, round one: Legoland's Brick-or-Treat vs. Mickey's Halloween Party at Disneyland

By Robert Niles
Published: March 17, 2011 at 6:54 AM

This morning's match-up in the 2011 Theme Park Insider Tournament: America's Best Theme Park Event features two Southern California Halloween events designed for the entire family. Brick-or-Treat at Legoland California and Mickey's Halloween Party at Disneyland put the focus on trick-or-treating and costume fun instead of on the haunts and scare zones you'll find at older theme park events such as Knott's Halloween Haunt.

Legoland California's Brick-or-Treat runs as both a daytime event, included in park admission, and as a "hard-ticket" party on selected evenings in October. For both events, Legoland sprinkles the park with Halloween-themed brick displays (always pay close attention in Miniland around holidays). But for the party nights, Legoland doubles the number of trick-or-treat zones and extends the party over to its SeaLife aquarium next door.

Mickey's Halloween Party moved over to Disneyland from California Adventure last fall, filling the park with trick-or-treat zones and special Halloween-themed parade and fireworks display. Unlike its older sibling, Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, the Disneyland event also features Halloween overlays of two of Disney's most popular attractions, Haunted Mansion Holiday and Ghost Galaxy at Space Mountain.

Let's put this to a vote:

The poll is open until 10 am Eastern (7 am Pacific) Friday morning. If you've been to either (or both) of these events, we'd love to hear your descriptions and reviews in the comments. Even if you haven't been, you still can vote. Just pick the event that sounds most like what you'd want to visit with your family. And if you're feeling like campaigning for your favorite, feel free to hit up your friends on Facebook and Twitter to spread the word.

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2011 Theme Park Insider Tournament: Preview of Thursday's votes

By Robert Niles
Published: March 16, 2011 at 7:04 PM

We've got two more days of match-ups in the first round of the 2011 Theme Park Insider Tournament: America's Best Theme Park Event. The first vote tomorrow morning will feature Mickey's Halloween Party at Disneyland, facing off against Southern California neighbor Brick-or-Treat at Legoland.


Mickey's Halloween Party at Disneyland

In the later contest, two Central Florida late-winter music festivals square off, as Mardi Gras at Universal Studios Florida takes on Bands, Brew & BBQ at SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa.


Universal's Mardi Gras

Voting begins at 10am Eastern (7 am Pacific) for the Disneyland-Legoland match-up, then at noon Eastern (9am Pacific) for the Universal Orlando vs. SeaWorld Parks contest.

Update:

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Superman: Escape from Krypton premieres at Six Flags Magic Mountain

By Robert Niles
Published: March 16, 2011 at 6:05 PM

Six Flags Magic Mountain unveiled its revamped Superman: Escape From Krypton Intamin launch coaster with an opening ceremony for the news media this morning.

Superman's inaugural flight on March 16, 2011

Superman is America's first backward launch coaster, whisking riders from its Krypton-inspired station at more than 100 miles per hour. Magic Mountain General Manager Tim Burkhart talked with me before the ceremony, explaining how his crew worked with Intamin to develop new, lighter trains for the ride, as well as a high-tech computer control system that allows the ride to operate at a fraction of the power it consumed before. That translates to higher speeds, bigger air and greater uptime, Burkhart said.

Entrance to Superman: Escape from Krypton at Six Flags Magic Mountain

Burkhart said that the new Superman trains are built symmetrically, allowing them to be run forward or backward on the track. "I went and got a bumper car and stuck it on the train to ride it backward" when the trains were being built, Burkhart said. "As soon as I got off the ride, I knew that backward was the direction this needed to go."

On a traditional launch coaster, you feel the G-force pressure as the thrust pushes from the station. But on Superman, the sensation is opposite. You're sucked out of the station, feeling light as a feather, as you fly from zero to 104 mph in less than seven seconds.

Al Weber and Bonnie Rabjohn
Six Flags COO Al Weber and Magic Mountain President Bonnie Rabjohn react after returning on their inaugural Superman flight.

Superman delivers riders four distinct speed and G-force sensations during its brief, up-and-down ride. After being sucked from the station, the positive G-forces return, pushing you into your seat, as the train makes its momentum-propelled ascent up the 415-foot tower. At the top, you'll have a moment of weightless before the third stage of the ride, a face-down, 90-degree drop back down the same tower you just climbed.

From there, you transition to horizontal for the final stage, a gravity-driven race back to the station. You can feel the 100-mph wind pushing your face into a smile as you fly back into the station. The final brake is surprisingly smooth; I didn't notice any force to the deceleration, just a gentle glide to the finish.

Comparing Superman to traditional up-and-down launch coasters such as Knott's Xcelerator or Cedar Point's Top Thrill Dragster, riding backward definitely offers some visual advantages. As Burkhart explained to me, "riding forward, all you see on the way up is blue sky. There's no visual point of reference. Riding Superman, you can see the ground; you know exactly how high you're riding."

Magic Mountain's helped the visuals by painting the tip of the tower red, as opposed to the blue on the rest of the track. So when you see that red track, you'll know you're pushing the summit of the ride even before your moment slows you to weightlessness.

Take a ride with me:


Video edit by Brian Niles

Superman: Escape from Krypton opens to the public on March 19. Don't be surprised by long lines in Superman's first months of operation. The speed and sensation will draw the crowds, but the nature of the ride limits its capacity. Superman runs one 14-person train on each track at a time. The ride last just 30 seconds or so, but load and unload takes some time with over-the-shoulder restraints.

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Tournament, round one: Walt Disney World's top marathon weekends

By Robert Niles
Published: March 16, 2011 at 8:54 AM

I love to see theme parks try new concepts for special events, especially ones that expand the role of parks in out-of-home entertainment. I also like to see parks challenge the stereotype of theme parks as "passive" vacations. So you'll find no better examples of events that do both of these things than the Walt Disney World Resort's top two long-distance running events.

Disney promotes many athletic events throughout the year; I just selected what appear to be the two most popular. And don't think that these events are simply foot races. Disney's built these races into entire weekends of events, earning them not just spots in this tournament, but the loyalty of thousands of fans, who train year-round and book family vacations around these events.

But you've got to choose just one: Disney's Princess Half Marathon Weekend or the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend. Which one is your choice?


The vote is open until noon Eastern (9 am Pacific) Thursday. Round up your fellow runners and bring them to this page to vote! I'm sure that all Theme Park Insider readers would love to hear any first-hand reports about these weekends, in the comments, too!

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Tournament, round one: Knott's Halloween Haunt vs. Universal Hollywood's Halloween Horror Nights

By Robert Niles
Published: March 16, 2011 at 6:52 AM

The first round of the 2011 Theme Park Insider Tournament: America's Best Theme Park Event continues with a match-up of two popular Southern California Halloween events.

Are you a fan of the original, Knott's Berry Farm's Halloween Haunt, or the upstart, Universal Studios Hollywood's version of Halloween Horror Nights. Each event has its unique flavor, but both offer a highly social vibe with monsters, ghouls and zombies aplenty. (Hey, Southern California does have a plethora of available acting talent, after all.)

So let's put it to a vote.


Voting will continue until 10 am Eastern on Thursday (7 am Pacific). If you want to help the cause of your pick, feel free to start campaigning on Facebook or Twitter for other fans to click over to vote, too!

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Blackstone looking to sell Universal Orlando stake

By Robert Niles
Published: March 15, 2011 at 7:07 PM

Blackstone Group, the massive private equity firm that co-owns the Universal Orlando Resort, is looking to sell its stake.

Blackstone's a major player in the theme park business. In addition to its stake in Universal Orlando, it owns SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment and co-owns Merlin Entertainments, the owner of the Legoland theme parks. As such, it owns or co-owns every major non-Disney theme park in Central Florida.

Blackstone acquired its stake in Universal Orlando when it obtained the Rank Organisation, the original partner with MCA (the former owner of Universal Studios) in what was then just the Universal Studios Florida theme park and a bunch of surrounding land.

According to an SEC filing, Blackstone has offered to sell its share to fellow co-owner NBCUniversal, which would then own all of the resort.

NBCUniversal has until June 12 to agree to the deal. What if it doesn't? This is where things get interesting. In that case, Blackstone has the right to solicit bids for the entire resort, which could transfer its ownership - and NBCUniveral's - to another company, according to a "drag-along provision" in their agreement:

UCDP [Universal City Development Partners - the holding company that controls Universal Orlando - Ed.] was informed on March 9, 2011 that Blackstone triggered the right of first refusal and offered to sell its interest in UCDP to the NBCU Parties, who have until June 12, 2011 to accept Blackstone’s offer or be subject to the drag-along provisions in the partners’ agreement. We will cooperate to facilitate a sale pursuant to the terms of the partners’ agreement, including bearing the transaction costs of any such sale, but any decision regarding the timing and terms of a sale is outside of our control. Accordingly, although Blackstone has triggered the right of first refusal, we cannot make assurances that a sale of Blackstone’s or NBCU’s ownership interest in UCDP will occur or, if it does, the timing, terms or impact on UCDP of any such sale.

By the way, did you ever wonder what the ownership of Universal Orlando Resort looked like? Well, here it is, in convenient chart form. :^p

Universal Orlando ownership chart

The details of the SEC filing also reveal lots of information about what happens to branding agreements within the park, including the Universal name, should the resort be sold to a third party. (Basically, many go away eventually, and Warner Bros can pull the Harry Potter license upon a sale if it doesn't like the new owner.)

Finally, props to Universal for name-checking Theme Park Insider in the filing. That's gotta be a first.

Have at it in the comments, folks.

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A look inside the new queue at Disney World's Haunted Mansion

By Robert Niles
Published: March 15, 2011 at 11:44 AM

Disney's just released a video with a first look at some of the changes coming to the queue at the Haunted Mansion in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.

The highlight is a new interactive composer's tomb, which plays music when you (or someone else in the queue) touches it.

The changes make the Haunted Mansion queue a bit more like the Indiana Jones Adventure queue at Disneyland, which has long been known for its interactive touches. The new queue at the Haunted Mansion is scheduled to open by the end of the month.

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This year's new attractions debut schedule takes shape

By Robert Niles
Published: March 15, 2011 at 9:27 AM

I wanted to let you know that I'll be heading up to Six Flags Magic Mountain tomorrow for the official opening (reopening?) of the park's newly revamped Superman launch coaster. I'll be posting a full report on Theme Park Insider tomorrow. But in the meantime, the schedule for this year's new attraction debuts is shaping up so I thought I'd list those upcoming premiere dates here. (Note that the list doesn't include the Windseeker rides opening at various Cedar Fair parks across the country.)

Still awaiting word on these new attractions:

In most cases, these are media premiere days. Regular park visitors might be able to get on these attractions after the press events, but if you want to be certain to ride or watch, you're better off visiting right at park open the next day.

Update: Busch Gardens Tampa just sent this photo of the final section of track being installed on Cheetah Hunt:

Final track placement on Cheetah Hunt

Also, I changed the Mach Tower opening date to TBA, based on reader reports.

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Tournament, round one: Sports or Star Wars?

By Robert Niles
Published: March 15, 2011 at 9:05 AM

Two top events from Disney's Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World face off in the next vote in the 2011 Theme Park Insider Tournament: America's Best Theme Park Event.

Are you a sports fan, looking for the chance to see in person some of your favorite pro athletes, or watch a live ESPN studio show, up close?


The Indianapolis Colts' Adam Vinatieri at ESPN The Weeekend. Photo courtesy Disney

Or are you a Star Wars fanatic, hoping for the chance to meet some of the actors from the popular films while seeing the park overrun with your favorite characters?


Meeting R2D2 at Star Wars Weekends. Photo courtesy Disney

That's your choice today.

Win some undecideds over to your side by making a case in the comments.

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2011 Theme Park Insider Tournament: Preview of Wednesday's votes

By Robert Niles
Published: March 15, 2011 at 8:42 AM

Theme parks across the country have embraced Halloween events, which is why so many of them can be found in the field for the 2011 Theme Park Insider Tournament: America's Best Theme Park Event.

But let's not forget which park started this trend: California's Knott's Berry Farm, home to Halloween Haunt, which remains one of the country's largest and most popular "hard ticket" Halloween events, with scare zones and mazes throughout the park.

Halloween Haunt
Halloween Haunt

Tomorrow morning, Halloween Haunt will square off in the tournament against its Southern California Halloween rival, Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood.

Halloween Horror Nights
Halloween Horror Nights

Hollywood's Halloween Horror Nights went on hiatus a few years back, but returned in 2006 and immediately reclaimed its popularity. Smaller than its Orlando sibling, the Hollywood version nevertheless makes use of an asset Universal Studios Florida lacks - the backlot tour, where ghouls and zombies are known to lie in wait for passing visitors.

So, Southern California theme park fans, which is your favorite local Halloween event? You've got until voting begins at 7 am Pacific (10 am Eastern) tomorrow to make your case in the comments.

Update The vote is open now.

* * *

The second match-up in Wednesday's first-round voting will pit two of the nation's top theme park events for athletes. No, I'm not talking about ESPN The Weekend, which is up today against the Star Wars Weekends. I'm talking about two events for people who aren't afraid to get out and get moving.

It's the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend versus the Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend, also at the Walt Disney World Resort.

Both events take place in the winter, to take advantage of the reasonably cooler temperatures at that time of year in Central Florida for long-distance running. (Can you imagine a marathon in Orlando in July? Even if the starting pistol went off at midnight, it'd be too hot!)

Registration opened today for the 2012 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend next January, which will feature a new relay option. The Disney Princess Half Marathon, which features a bit more character and whimsy than the "regular" marathon weekend, just finished this year, running on the last weekend in February.

Which is your pick? You'll have the chance to vote, starting at noon ET tomorrow.

Update: Voting is open now

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Tournament, round one: Pick your favorite Magic Kingdom party

By Robert Niles
Published: March 15, 2011 at 7:05 AM

It's day two of the 2011 Theme Park Insider Tournament: America's Best Theme Park Event, and we're starting the day with Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party vs. Very Merry Christmas Party.

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

Very Merry Christmas Party
Very Merry Christmas Party

Which of these popular Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom events is your favorite? The vote will open until 10am Eastern Time on Wednesday.

You can help win votes for your favorite by making your case in the comments.

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2011 Theme Park Insider Tournament preview: ESPN The Weekend vs. Star Wars Weekends

By Robert Niles
Published: March 14, 2011 at 11:36 AM

We're sticking with the Walt Disney World Resort for the next match-up in the 2011 Theme Park Insider Tournament: America's Best Theme Park Event. This time, we're setting Star Wars Weekends at Disney's Hollywood Studios up against the just-concluded ESPN: The Weekend, which also takes place at the same park.

Star Wars Weekends
Star Wars Weekends at Disney's Hollywood Studios. Photo courtesy Disney

ESPN: The Weekend
ESPN: The Weekend at Disney's Hollywood Studios. Photo courtesy Disney

The emphasis at both events is seeing celebrities: the Star Wars characters and actors at that event, and the ESPN personalities and pro athletes at the other. Disney offers meet-n-greets and interactions, as well shows and performances, at both events. So, ultimately, it's a question of which do you like better: Star Wars, or sports?

We'll vote on the match-up starting at noon Eastern Time tomorrow (Tuesday). Until then, the comments are open for your observations, trip reports, impressions or just two-bit opinions about these events.

Update: Time to vote!

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Tokyo Disney Resort closed indefinitely

By Robert Niles
Published: March 14, 2011 at 9:19 AM

Following last week's earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Tokyo Disney Resort announced today that it is closing its theme parks and all other facilities, including the hotels, indefinitely.

The resort cited the scheduled blackouts and reduced power supply in announcing the decision. Previously, Tokyo Disney had declared it would remain closed for 10 days after the quake.

In addition to the ongoing recovery efforts in the Tokyo area and northern Japan, the nation is facing a power crisis due to explosions at one nuclear power plant and failures at another. The spread of radiation after the plant explosion has forced evacuations of hundreds of thousands of people in one Japanese province, even as many others remain homeless due to the tsunami.

Clearly, this isn't the right moment for tourism in Japan. Fortunately, many Tokyo Disney cast members are remaining busy. Tokyo cast member Jarrod Lentz posted this photo last night (US time) of folks heading out to help dig out the elderly and others in their community.

Best wishes and hopes for the recovery of everyone in Japan.

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Tournament, round one: Which is your favorite Epcot event?

By Robert Niles
Published: March 14, 2011 at 9:04 AM

Epcot fans, it's decision time. The park's top two annual events are matching up in the first round of the 2011 Theme Park Insider Tournament: America's Best Theme Park Event.

It's time to pick between the International Flower & Garden Festival and the International Food & Wine Festival.

Flower & Garden Festival
International Flower & Garden Festival

Food & Wine Festival
International Food & Wine Festival

Do you prefer the sights and smells of spring's Flower & Garden event, or the smells and tastes of the Food & Wine soiree in the fall? The vote is open for 24 hours, until noon Eastern time on Tuesday.


Get your campaign on in the comments, or feel free to hit up your friends for support on Facebook and the Web.

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Disney employee killed in accident at Animal Kingdom

By Robert Niles
Published: March 14, 2011 at 8:52 AM

A Walt Disney World employee died this morning after suffering a head injury while working on the Primeval Whirl roller coaster at Disney's Animal Kingdom yesterday.

Primeval Whirl is currently down for refurbishment, and the employee was part of the refurbishment team.

No other information is available about the cast member yet. This is the second Disney cast member to die of head injuries while working on the spinning coaster.

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2011 Theme Park Insider Tournament preview: Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party vs. Very Merry Christmas Party

By Robert Niles
Published: March 14, 2011 at 8:37 AM

Our next match-up in the 2011 Theme Park Insider Tournament: America's Best Theme Park Event featured two of the top after-hours parties at the world's most popular theme park, Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.

Starting tomorrow morning, you'll get your chance to vote for either Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party or Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. Both of these family-friendly events parades, fireworks and character greetings, in addition to the chance to ride some of the Magic Kingdom's most popular attractions. But which is your favorite?

Would you rather the free hot chocolate and cookies at the Christmas party or the trick-or-treating at the Halloween event? Both have become holiday traditions for many Disney fans in Central Florida, but we'll have to pick one tomorrow, so start your campaigning in the comments.

Update: The vote is now open.

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Universal Studios Florida is getting a new attraction: Jimmy Neutron to close

By Domenik Jost
Published: March 14, 2011 at 8:34 AM

This morning, Universal Orlando Resort announced on its Facebook page that they will be closing down Jimmy Neutron's Nicktoon Blast.

These news don't come as a surprise as the contract between Universal Orlando and Nickelodeon is drawing to an end. Now the discussion is on of what the "all new experience based on an amazing concept" will be. Could it be a Despicable Me or a Madagascar themed attraction? In addition what are the "many" other "exciting things planned for the next couple of years" at Universal?

Jimmy Neutron goes to seasonal operation on April 1 closes permanently on August 18.

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Tournament, round one: Central Florida Halloween events

By Robert Niles
Published: March 14, 2011 at 6:48 AM

It's time to kick off the 2011 Theme Park Insider Tournament: America's Best Theme Park Event. On Friday, we previewed our opening match-up: Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights vs. Busch Gardens Tampa's Howl-O-Scream. Now, it is time to vote.

Halloween Horror Nights
Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Florida

Howl-O-Scream
Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens Tampa

This vote will be open until Tuesday morning at 10, Eastern time. You are encouraged to use Facebook, Twitter or any other means available to you to encourage others to come vote.


Remember, you don't need to have been to both events to vote - go with the one that sounds the best to you, based on comments and descriptions you've read here on Theme Park Insider and elsewhere. If you're really on the fence, let's use the comments as one last chance for fans to make their cases.

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2011 Theme Park Insider Tournament preview: Epcot's Flower & Garden Festival vs. Food & Wine Festival

By Robert Niles
Published: March 11, 2011 at 12:56 PM

Our second match-up in the 2011 Theme Park Insider Tournament: America's Best Theme Park Event pits Epcot's top two annual events against each other: The International Flower & Garden Festival versus the International Food & Wine Festival.

The Flower & Garden Festival is going now right now at Walt Disney World's Epcot, while Food & Wine provides a counter-programming to the fall Halloween events we profiled earlier today.

Flower & Garden Festival at Epcot
Photo courtesy Disney

For a first-person look at the Food & Festival, check out this report from the 2009 festival from reader Anthony Murphy.

Epcot Food & Wine Festival

Both events began as ways to draw Florida locals into the park during slower periods between the peak holiday and summer seasons. But both have grown in popularity over the years and now draw fans from around the country who make special trips just for these events.

While both events technically are included with park admission, fully enjoying them requires extra expense, especially the Food & Wine Festival, with its dozens of food booths and special tasting events throughout the park.

What's your experience with either (or both) of these events? We'd love to hear your reports in the comments. Voting starts on Monday at noon Eastern, 9am Pacific, on the Theme Park Insider home page and will be open for 24 hours. Get your campaign on in the comments.

Update: Time to vote!

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Earthquake strands thousands at Tokyo Disney theme parks

By Robert Niles
Published: March 11, 2011 at 8:16 AM

On the largest earthquakes ever recorded struck Japan on Friday, a 8.9 "great" quake that spawned a tsunami that's now traveling across the Pacific.

The tsunami has killed hundreds in Japan according to the BBC, and is now arriving in Hawaii. It's expected to hit the U.S. west coast around 11 am local time this morning.

Back in Japan, the quake hit during the day while thousands of visitors were inside the Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea theme parks. There are reports of damage and flooding inside both parks (*which turned out to be minimal), though I've not yet heard of any serious injuries (*there weren't any inside the parks). Visitors were kept in the parks while Disney assessed damage and local authorities ensured it would be safe to leave.

If you have any reports on the situation in Japan, please post to the comments.

Update, 11am: I was e-mailed a photo of people waiting outside Pirates:

Tokyo Disneyland, after the quake

Apparently, Disney kept everyone out of the park's buildings immediately after the quake, until it could determine if they were safe. Reports from Twitter say that people were generally patient and understanding, though it turned quite cold into the evening.

Thousands of visitors remain in the parks overnight, due to flooding in the parking lots and transit systems being down in the Tokyo area, leaving visitors with no place to go. The parks themselves are providing food and some shelter to those stranded.

The parks will be closed to new visitors on Saturday, obviously, as the priority remains safely getting out those within. After that, park officials will make damage assessments on Saturday and worth with local transit authorities to decide if the park will open on Sunday, or later.

Finally, I get that the official Disney Parks Blog is promotional. But Disney's failure to acknowledge on the blog what's happening in its Japanese parks is conspicuous. Disney's missing an opportunity to communicate with its guests and fans around the world here.

Update 2, 4pm: Disney finally issued a public statement, at 2:23 pm PT.

And here's a guest's video of the earthquake, which happened as people were waiting for the daily parade. A broadcast safety spiel follows the quake:

I'm impressed by how swiftly the cast members struck the parade route stanchions and ropes, allowing for more movement of people into the Main Street area, in anticipation of people evacuating buildings in the park. And how nobody in the crowd panicked. From all accounts I've read, the Tokyo Disney cast excelled in this situation.

Update 3, 8pm: The following report was sent to me by one of my fellow former Magic Kingdom cast members, who works at the Michigan TV station that interviewed Tokyo Disney announcer Kurt Common about the earthquake:

Update 4, March 12: Tokyo Disney's operating calendar is showing no opening or closing times for the next 9 days, with the park reopening on Tuesday, March 22.

From what I've seen and heard of the situation inside the park, I suspect the closure is not so much a reflection of damage within the parks (which appears to be minimal, at worst), but of the uncertain travel and transport situation around the region. There's simply no point in drawing people into a recovering area at this time. Better to close the parks until the region is stabilized and fully functioning again.

Update, March 14: Tokyo Disney has closed all its facilities indefinitely, due to power and blackout issues across the area.

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2011 Theme Park Insider Tournament preview: Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights vs. Busch Gardens Tampa's Howl-O-Scream

By Robert Niles
Published: March 11, 2011 at 8:00 AM

On Monday, we'll be kicking off the first round of the 2011 Theme Park Insider Tournament: America's Best Theme Park Event. So starting today, we'll start previewing the match-ups. We'll preview two match-ups each day for round one, and you'll get to vote on those match-ups the following weekday.

In each preview thread, we'll offer some links to past coverage of the events here on Theme Park Insider, and invite you to add your thoughts in the comments. This is your chance to campaign for your favorites - and against their competition. ;^)

Post links to your online photo albums and videos from the events. Submit a trip report in the comments. Give your fellow readers the information that they need to make a decision. You don't need to have attended both events to vote - just pick the one your fellow readers have made sound most interesting to you.

Okay? Let's get it started, then. Up first, we've got a biggie: Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Florida versus Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens Tampa.

Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando

Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens Tampa

Theme Park Insider's Domenik Jost visited both events last year. Hear are his reviews for Halloween Horror Nights and Howl-O-Scream. Or, you can watch his POV and RPOV videos from the two events, HHN first:

Voting starts on Monday morning at 10 Eastern, 7 Pacific, on the Theme Park Insider home page and will be open for 24 hours. Let the campaigning begin!

Update: And here's the link to vote.

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Walt Disney World cancels Grad Nights after this year

By Robert Niles
Published: March 9, 2011 at 12:22 PM

I'm sorry, was it something I said?

Walt Disney World announced today that it is ditching its annual Grad Nights for high school seniors, after this year's events. Grad Nights will continue at Disneyland in California.

(And by the way, I know that Disney calls its event "Grad Nite," but as someone who once taught writing to college students, I just can't bear to go there. So it's "Grad Nights" when I write about these events, okay?)

Disney's offering the excuse that increased attendance at the parks in April and May is making the Grad Nights too difficult to schedule, which I believe. With Disney's continued push to convert more of its visits to on-site stays, with more hotel or Disney Vacation Club guests, those on-site visitors resist the shorter park hours that Disney needs on days when it schedules a Grad Night.

Disney instead is pushing $55 one-day theme park tickets for school groups, for schools that which to continue sending their soon-to-graduate to Disney World. (Those tickets are available throughout the year, actually. More info on that and other Disney school programs is online at disneyyouth.com.) You'd lose the special event feeling, however, since you'd no longer be in the park with just other kids your own age. But a trip to Disney World on even a "normal" day is still a nice way to celebrate.

I can't help but think that all this really is my fault, though, after ratting out Smokey McPuff and his buddies earlier this year. So to Florida's high school juniors and younger students, I apologize. I'm sorry that you're losing this special event.

But I do hope that you'll enjoy your evening at Hogwarts, instead.

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What's new on the discussion board: Getting ready for summer with vacation planning questions

By Robert Niles
Published: March 8, 2011 at 9:54 AM

It's almost spring, and folks are starting to plan details for their summer vacations on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board. Here are this week's top new threads:

Jeff Moon wants to know how much Maintenance at California Adventure to expect in August.

California Adventure construction
Construction on The Little Mermaid ride, last month

Jorge Arnoldson asks, Any chance of a Cheetah Hunt soft opening?

Paul dunn is looking for the best options for buying Orlando Theme Park Tickets.

Don Neal is planning a June 2011 WDW Trip and wants to know what you're looking forward to on your next Walt Disney World trip.

Daniel Etcheberry asks What country would you add to Epcot's World Showcase?

Tyler Bell wants to know Why won't WDW hire minors?

Finally, it's not summer yet. Rob P takes a look around Universal Orlando this month and asks, Crowds... what crowds?

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Next Walt Disney: Challenge 5 Voting

By Andy Milio
Published: March 8, 2011 at 9:53 AM

Challenge 5, the hotel challenge, has concluded. Time to vote! Pick your favorite so we can find out who is not the Next Walt Disney. Remember, we are having elimination because everybody posted in time. Before you pick your favorite, make sure you read all the ideas in the thread.

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What would you do? Bringing the Wizarding World of Harry Potter to Universal Studios Hollywood

By Robert Niles
Published: March 7, 2011 at 9:32 AM

If you were running the Universal Studios theme parks, wouldn't you want to replicate the success you've had with The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at all your Universal theme parks?

I know I would.

If you were a theme park fan (or Harry Potter fan), living in or near Southern California, wouldn't you want a Harry Potter theme park near you, at Universal Studios Hollywood?

I really know that I would. (Universal Hollywood is the closest theme park to my house, and as you probably know by now, I crave me some of that Butterbeer.)

Obviously, there are contracts and rights issues that will determine whether Universal can bring Harry Potter to its other theme parks. But beyond the work the lawyers do, there will be logistical issues, as well.

When Universal bought its property for an Orlando theme park, it learned a lesson from Disney, and bought more land than it needed for a single park. While Universal didn't buy nearly as much property as Disney did when it built Walt Disney World, Universal obtained more than enough space to develop a second theme park (which became Islands of Adventure - home of the Wizarding World), with plenty of room between attractions for future expansion.

But that's not the case back in Hollywood, at Universal's original theme park. Universal developed its Los Angeles-area property as a movie studio in the 1910s, later adding a Studio Tour and then a theme park around the tour's entrance at the top of a mountain on the studio property. There's simply no significant open space for expansion within or next to the theme park on Universal's property. If Universal wants to develop a new attraction for its Hollywood theme park, it must replace an existing facility within the park.

So... what goes if Harry Potter is to move in? What would you do to bring Harry Potter to Universal Studios Hollywood?

Let's take a look from an aerial view:

You're looking at the upper lot of Universal Studios Hollywood. The large white half-circle to the right is the Gibson Amphitheater (which, technically, is not part of the theme park). The blue space below it and to the left is the water tank in the Waterworld show theater. Below that in the photo is CityWalk - the large structure in the lower right corner is the movie theater complex. (Hold your mouse over the photo and you should get pop-up labels.)

At the end of CityWalk, in the lower right corner of the photo, partially obscured by a palm tree shadow, is the Universal globe. The pale red pathway that leads up and slightly to the right from there is the entrance to the theme park. The large fan-shaped building in the middle on the left side of the photo is the Terminator 2: 3-D theater.

If you look above the T2 plaza, you'll see a dark shadow over some green space. That's because the T2 plaza is built on top of the Frankenstein parking structure that hangs off the side of this mountain. It's the plaza/parking structure that's casting that shadow over what's actually the Jurassic Park ride on the lower lot. The Revenge of the Mummy building is just above that, in the upper left corner of the photo. Those blueish lines you see emerging from there - first up and to the right, then down and to the right, are the Starway escalators heading back up to the upper lot, where they end just between The Simpsons Ride (on the right) and the Special Effects Stage in the old Castle Theater (on the left).

That's what we're working with here. If you want to find space for a Wizarding World of Harry Potter, you've got to replace something on this map.

My two choices? Ditch either the amphitheater on the right, or the Terminator 2 plaza on the left.

Personally, I'd choose to redevelop the T2 plaza. Why? First, I think the Terminator franchise is less valuable to Universal going forward than continuing to offer a 6,000-seat live music venue. Plus, the T2 plaza's already well placed for a British-themed attraction. There's some London street scenery just to the right of the T2 plaza that could be repurposed, as Universal Orlando repurposed its existing Lost Continent to help develop its Wizarding World.

I'm proposing that the Hollywood version of Harry Potter be different than the Orlando version, and that it should be Diagon Alley, set in London, rather than the Hogsmeade village built in Orlando. In this plan, the current T2 building would become the site for an Escape from Gringotts ride, inspired by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

The Leaky Cauldron would stand at the entrance to this new land, serving Butterbeer and other English-themed fare from Orlando's Three Broomsticks. (The Leaky Cauldron probably would be a retheme for the existing International Cafe.) Shops would include Ollivander's, Flourish & Blotts (and the exit to the Gringotts ride) and Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes.

There's a room Universal uses as a banquet hall behind the House of Horrors, just to the lower right of the T2 plaza, that could be repurposed as a Borgin & Burkes dark magic theater, at the end of Knockturn Alley, to provide a second attraction in this smaller Wizarding World.

The upside for this plan would be the creation of a complementary attraction to the Orlando Wizarding World, giving Harry Potter fans a reason to visit a second Universal theme park, rather than a duplication that wouldn't draw fans from across the country and across the Atlantic. The downside would be the exclusion of the iconic Hogwarts Castle and the already-famous Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride. But if Universal Creative could create a ride of similar quality in Gringotts, I don't think that exclusion would cripple this project.

So, what do you think?

Do you think Universal should try to bring Harry Potter to Hollywood?

If you do, do you think Universal should keep the Hogsmeade theme, or try instead Diagon Alley (or something else)?

If you want to see Harry Potter in Hollywood, which current USH attractions should it replace?

I'd love to hear your plans, in the comments.

Previously on Theme Park Insider: More "What would you do?"

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Vote of the week: Epcot's Future World vs. Epcot's World Showcase

By Robert Niles
Published: March 4, 2011 at 11:36 AM

With the 18th International Flower & Garden festival kicking off this week, I'm thinking about Epcot.

Epcot's always felt like two different parks to me, which makes sense, I suppose, since it so obviously was inspired by the "World's Fair" model - corporate pavilions often focusing on new and emerging technology mixed with international pavilions celebrating countries from around the world.

But which one do you prefer: Epcot's Future World...

Inside Test Track at Epcot's Future World

...Or Epcot's World Showcase?

San Angel Inn at Epcot's Mexico pavilion

That's the vote of the week.


Test Track and Soarin' or Impressions de France and American Adventure? Le Cellier Steakhouse and Les Chefs de France or the Coral Reef and Garden Grill? It's time to pick one side or the other, then break down your choice in the comments.

Thanks again for reading Theme Park Insider, and remember, we are just one week from the start of the 2011 Theme Park Insider Tournament!

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How to have a horrible theme park vacation

By Robert Niles
Published: March 3, 2011 at 3:13 PM

Hey, you can find plenty of blog posts on Theme Park Insider, and around the Web, telling you how you can get the most from your theme park vacation and enjoy your day. But who needs that? Not you, Mr. or Ms. Steel-Eyed-Realist. You want the real scoop on how to attack your vacation like a pit bull on a pile of raw steak. So I'm sending away the silly optimists now and letting you in on the secret. These tips are just for you:

Crying childShow up late in the morning

You're on vacation - of course you're going to sleep in! There's no need to get up early to visit a theme park. When the park opens, there are no lines, so how can you tell which rides are worth doing?

Wait to buy your tickets at the gate

Doing advance research online is confusing. It's for insecure people who don't make their best decisions under cold, hard pressure. That's not you. You live for the brash, last-minute decision. So queue up, ignore the signs and wait to decide on your tickets until you get to the window.

Eat lunch at noon

Sure, you've only been in the park for maybe an hour at this point, but who's going to tell you to deviate from your schedule? No one! It's noon, which is lunch time, so you're going to eat. No matter how long it takes.

Go on the rides with the longest lines, since they must be the best

You're the most special person in the world, of course, but you're smart enough to know that you can learn a few things from watching the crowd. See where they go, and follow them. That's how you'll find the best rides in the park.

Try to sneak your kids on rides they're too short for

You paid good money for those discounted kids' admission to the park, so they're entitled to go on every last ride in the place. Rules are for other people. Tell you kids to stand on their tippie-toes when the park employee measures them. That always works. And if it doesn't...

Complain, early and often

Every smart consumer knows that complaining, as loudly and with as much anger as possible, is how you get the best service. Demand to see a manager. Threaten to have everyone fired. Even better, threaten to write a negative review online. Now that's something that really motivate service workers to shape up and start doing their best!

Take extra time to take pictures of your whole family when you're getting on a ride

This is a special day, and you'll want to remember it forever. So be sure to take the time you need to get that special picture of everyone cramming onto every single ride vehicle all day long. It's the park's job to make sure you're having a good time, so they'll be happy to stop the ride for you, holding the line and keeping other riders from exiting while you compose that perfect shot.

Remember that if you're not waiting in line or riding, you're wasting your money

Rides are the only reason to visit a theme park, so if you're not on a ride or waiting for one, you're wasting your time and money. Taking a break in lush garden, dining in a charming, themed restaurant or resting on a park bench near the lake are time-wasters for suckers.

Yell at your kids

They're too young to know what's good for 'em, so if they start slacking, moaning or, heaven forbid, crying, let loose with your best drill sergeant impression and scream at them until they fall in line and obey you.

Buy lots of souvenirs and carry them around with you all day

You want people to know that you've got the money to afford this vacation. (Or, at least, you did at the beginning of the day.) So carry around your bags and bags of souvenirs like the badges of honor that they are. Who cares how much it slows you down or tires the kids? Think of this as weight training! It's like gym class. Again, free package storage or delivery services are for wimps. Not smart folks like you.

So there you go, 10 tips designed to ensure that you get the theme park vacation you deserve. Now, please feel free to forward this list to all the people you really hate. ;^)

For more fun stories from theme park insiders, including this one, download a copy of "Stories from a Theme Park Insider."

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Dudley Do Right soaks Universal Orlando guests once more

By James Trexen
Published: March 3, 2011 at 2:16 PM

After a fire broke out January 1st, Universal Orlando Resort re-opened of Dudley Do Right's Ripsaw Falls today at Islands of Adventure.

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Disney announces Hanks, Allen in Jungle Cruise movie

By Robert Niles
Published: March 2, 2011 at 4:01 PM

Oh, boy, this should be good for a discussion. The Walt Disney Studios released this statement today:

The Walt Disney Studios is excited to be in development with Mandeville Films and writer Roger S.H. Schulman on a feature film based on the Jungle Cruise, one of the most iconic attractions in Disney theme park history. The film will pair up Tim Allen and Tom Hanks in their first live-action project, after their previous collaborations in the Toy Story trilogy.

Jungle Cruise at the Magic Kingdom

So who gets this line? Remember, Trader Sam's running a special on shrunken heads today. Two of his heads... for one of yours.

Is this flick the greatest idea ever, or another sign of the impending apocalypse? The comments await.

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Merlin in talks to build 425-foot Orlando Eye observation wheel on I-Drive

By Robert Niles
Published: March 2, 2011 at 3:09 PM

Merlin Entertainments confirmed today that it is in "advanced" talks to build a version of the famous London Eye in Orlando.

London Eye
The London Eye

Merlin, which is building Legoland Florida in Winter Haven for a planned October opening, would be a participant in the planned I-Walk Orlando development, slated for the old Mercado location on Orlando's International Drive.

At 425 feet, the Orlando Eye would be a smidge smaller than the London Eye, which stands at 440 feet. The world's largest observation wheel is the Singapore Flyer, which stands 540 feet. The Orlando Eye would be about the same height as the new Peabody Hotel tower. (TPI reader and commentator TH Creative, this is where you jump in with a comment, I believe?)

Circle Entertainment, Inc. and Unicorp are developing the I-Walk Orlando project, which is scheduled to open in 2013. According to a joint press release e-mailed today, they want to bring Merlin on board to provide the observation wheel, as well as possibly a Madame Tussaud's wax museum and another, unnamed indoor attraction for the site.

Thoughts?

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Epcot news: Flower & Garden festival kicks off; changes at Canada's Le Cellier Steakhouse

By Robert Niles
Published: March 2, 2011 at 2:47 PM

The annual International Flower & Garden Festival kicks off today at Epcot. The 18th annual event features a collection of more than 100 special topiaries around the park, as well as concert series and special events featuring HGTV network personalities.

Disney-Pixar characters will be making their first appearance in floral form at the festival this year, including topiary Woody and Buzz from the Toy Story films.

Woody and Buzz at the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival
Disney gardeners work on the Woody and Buzz topiaries. Photo courtesy Disney.

We'll be talking more about the Flower & Garden festival in a couple weeks, when it joins the field for the 2011 Theme Park Insider Tournament. (Yeah, I'm letting that one out of the bag early.)

I'd love to hear from some Theme Park Insider readers, in the comments, with tips for getting the most from this event. Disney's offering a variety of special events featuring show hosts from HGTV, as well as a concert series, with a collection of artists from the 80s and before, including Melissa Manchester and Juice Newton.

The Flower & Garden festival runs this year through May 15, 2011 and is included with park admission.

* * *

In other Epcot news, if you're using the Disney Dining Plan, you'll now need two credits to dine at Le Cellier Steakhouse in the Canada pavilion.

Chef Al Youngman is taking over the kitchen at Le Cellier, which is debuting a new dinner menu featuring all Canadian-raised beef, deflecting one of the criticisms of the restaurant from sharp-eyed diners who'd wondered why the Canada restaurant was serving American beef. (If you were wondering, the iconic Cheddar Cheese soup is staying on the menu.)

Disney's using the new menu as the peg for upping the point requirement for Le Cellier, but frankly, Disney would have been well justified making the switch even without the upgrade in cuisine, given the restaurant's enduring popularity. Le Cellier has long been Epcot's toughest table, one those locations you'd need to call exactly 180 days in advance to be certain of getting a priority seating time during your visit.

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Announcing the 2011 Theme Park Insider tournament details

By Robert Niles
Published: March 1, 2011 at 12:11 PM

It's March, which around here means that it is tournament time. (I hear that some other organization also runs a prominent tournament this time of year, too. Curious.)

For the past three years, we've hosted the Best Theme Park Attraction tournament here on Theme Park Insider. The idea for the tournament came from a reader, and we've had great fun with it.

In the years since we started our tournament, it seems that everyone and his or her dog, cat and ferret has started an online theme park attraction tournament, too. So I thought that it's probably time to shake things up a bit. We've already got a great system on the site for ranking top theme park rides and shows - we've been collecting reader ratings since 1999, and you can see the top attractions in four categories over on the right side of the page. (If you're curious, votes are erased two years after they're submitted.) So I decided that, this year, we should have a tournament that matches up things we *don't* rate and review around here on a daily basis, but that remain popular with millions of theme park fans.

Therefore, I'm proud to announce that this year's Theme Park Insider tournament will match the top special events at the nation's theme parks.

When I started putting together this bracket, I included just the hard-ticket events, but that left a pretty sparse field. So I added other top events at the major parks that included significant special programming, such as musical acts, food and attractions. Just redecorating the park for a holiday didn't make the cut.

Now, anticipating the inevitable complaints, Halloween events comprise many entries in the bracket, but I didn't include them all. I had enough with the hard-ticket events that I didn't feel the need to add others.

And the math of putting together this bracket didn't work out neatly, either. I ended up with 20 events, which any bracketologist can tell you means that some entrants need to get a bye somewhere along the road.

So here's how this year's tournament will work. The day before a schedule match-up, I'll reveal the entrants in a Blog Flume post, so that you can comment with your opinions about the two events, links to photos and videos you've taken, and tell the rest of us your pick for which event should win. The next day, we'll put it to a vote in another blog post.

We'll run two match-ups a day for the week of March 14-18. (Previews will start the Friday before, on March 11.) The six winners that get the most votes will get a bye to the quarterfinals. The remaining four winners will square off in two match-ups, on March 21 and 22.

The quarterfinals begin on March 24, with match-ups on March 25, 28 and 29. (The previews will run the day before for each.) The semi-finals will go on March 31 and April 1, and the finals run on April 4.

Voting will be open for 24 hours for each match-up, and the starting time will be announced in the preview piece that runs the day before the match-up.

The first round will pit events against each other in what I considered natural match-ups. (You'll see what I mean when the voting starts.) After that, each round will be seeded based on the number of votes the winning events got in their previous match-up. The event with the most votes gets the top seed in the round, and the event that advanced with the least votes get the bottom seed.

We've learned from these types of events that the winner often depends on who does the best job of GOTV (get out the vote). So if you've got an event you really want to see advance, please do your best to rally other fans, and convince the folks running the park's Facebook page and Twitter feed to link to the vote.

I hope that everyone will have fun with this year's tournament, and that we'll get to celebrate some really great theme park special events. So let's get ready to get started on March 11!

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What's new on the discussion board: Universal Studios questions and answers

By Robert Niles
Published: March 1, 2011 at 11:01 AM

We've got a strong Universal Studios theme on the Discussion Board this week. Here are the top new threads:

Universal Studios Florida

Colton McLaughlin is thinking about what might replace the Terminator 2 show at the Universal theme parks, and suggests Avatar?

Donald Murray is looking for some Tips for Universal (Both Parks) in June.

On the west coast, what's the future of Universal Studios Hollywood? Is the park going to be able to keep up with its competition, or, as Josh Morgra asks, is Universal Hollywood Dying?

Finally, on a more general topic, Hollis Burks asks Will the price of gas change your summer travel plans?

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More PR mastery from Britain's Thorpe Park

By Robert Niles
Published: March 1, 2011 at 9:47 AM

I've never been to Thorpe Park in the United Kingdom (heck, I've never been to England at all), but I'm amazed and amused by some of the just awesome news stories the park manages to generate.

Thorpe Park

You just can't top Thorpe Park's recent PR masterpiece, where the park claimed to have moved a new water ride due to paranormal activity on its original site.

Really? It's not enough to say that construction had to be moved because of ancient stone coffins in the ground. (That would be enough to creep me out, thankyouverymuch.) Thorpe Park went all in with tales of ghosts, objects being moved and (my favorite) Ouija boards going haywire.

Well played.

This past week, the park got into the news again, with reports about British pilots criticizing the park's decision to theme a new ride to a plane crash.

Thorpe Park's located not too far from Heathrow Airport, and local reporters got pilots to speculate whether others pilots might confuse the ride with an actual wrecked airplane on the ground. (I suppose we're to think "Gosh, that ride must look so realistic!" and immediately book our visits.)

Now Thorpe just needs to bring it all together with a backstory of ghosts from victims of the crash haunting the park's ticket booths... which is why you need to buy yours in advance online.

Or something like that. :^)

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Keep reading: February 2011 Archive