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May 2011

Where in the world of theme parks is this? (May 31, 2011 edition)

By Robert Niles
Published: May 31, 2011 at 12:06 PM

It's time again to play 'where in the world of theme parks is this?' I've cropped a photo from the Theme Park Insider archives and embedded it below. Your challenge is to tell me the attraction and park where visitors will find this sight.

Where is this?

You've answered each of the previous challenges in about an hour. Let's see if I can do a better job stumping you this time. When someone guesses correctly, I'll post the full image in the comments.

Update: Have I finally stumped you? Okay, here's a little bit more:

Where is this?

Surely, someone can guess the correct answer in a short amount of time now? :^)

Update 2: And with the extra hints, you solved it immediately.

Comments (14) | Archive Link

Mornings on Tom Sawyer's Island: A video

By Robert Niles
Published: May 31, 2011 at 10:18 AM

The PR people over at Disneyland just posted a video that warms this former Tom Sawyer's Island raft driver's heart:

Okay, I worked at Walt Disney World's Tom Sawyer's Island, not Disneyland's. But the video accurately captures some of the charming moments on the island in the morning before the crowds arrive.

Of course, as long-time Theme Park Insider readers know, the critters who lounge about on TSI in the mornings aren't always so cute and cuddly.

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What's new on the discussion board: The Little Mermaid opens at California Adventure

By Robert Niles
Published: May 31, 2011 at 9:48 AM

Here are this week's top new threads on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board:

We'll be covering the official opening on Thursday, but Theme Park Insider readers are posting early reviews as The Little Mermaid ride soft-opens at California Adventure.

Little Mermaid building at California Adventure
Disneyland Resort annual passholders are visiting the new Little Mermaid ride this week.

Remember, we've got a poll open to track Which version of Star Tours 2 did you get?

TH Creative opens up Memory Lane in What closed attractions did you have the chance to experience?

We've got some tips on where's the best place to go to redeem a Walt Disney World ticket voucher in Help on collecting E-tickets.

Thomas Crain gets a lot of advice from other readers in Need Help for Disneyland Trip.

Our resident provocateur, Daniel Etcheberry, submits that 3D belongs to theme parks, not movies and Message to Universal: change Fear Factor for Madagascar.

Joshua Counsil takes us off-topic for an always-welcome diversion. Trip Planning: Hawaii

Let's not overlook last week's news that Orlando becomes first U.S. destination to draw 50+ million visitors a year.

And, as always, Jeff Elliott catches us up on the rest of the news in Last week at your amusement park...May 31, 2011.

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Thinkwell Group designing Monkey King theme park in China for 2014

By Robert Niles
Published: May 31, 2011 at 8:47 AM

Burbank-based theme park design firm Thinkwell Group is working on a new theme park in China, which is set for debut in 2014.

Announcing the Monkey King theme park

We've spoken with the crew at Thinkwell before. (They're the people behind the Universal 360 – A Cinesphere Spectacular at Universal Studios Florida, and the Special Effects Stage at Universal Studios Hollywood, among others. They are also developing the Harry Potter studio tour in England.) For the Chinese park, they're working off the Monkey King, a Chinese legend that will provide the theme for the park.

Concept art for Monkey King theme park

Here's the press release:

Monkey King Co. Ltd, a subsidiary of the real estate, financial and cultural industry investment enterprise Zhonghong Real Estate has appointed Thinkwell Group as the design firm for the highly immersive Monkey Kingdom theme park slated to open in 2014. The USA-based design firm has been collaborating with Zhonghong on the strategy, concept, master plan and attraction development for the park since mid-2010.

With a total investment of US$1.53 billion and the Monkey Kingdom theme park at its core, the project will include conference centers, hotels, exhibition halls, retail, residential and culturally significant entertainment, making this property the ultimate convergence of business, culture, relaxation and tourism opportunities. The overall project covers a total area of about 4500 mu with ample land for additional mixed-use development. The site is located about 55 km from downtown Beijing at the west area of Honglou Lake tourist area in Honglouzhen village of Huairou District.

"By integrating our traditional culture with modern theme park technology, this project will provide Beijing with a Disney quality park that tells the stories important to China," says Chairman Wang of Zhonghong Group. "Thinkwell will provide the theme park expertise while our team insures the traditional culture of China is properly represented making this a perfect partnership."

More concept art for Monkey King theme park

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Report: Comcast is buying out Blackstone. Will own all of Universal Orlando

By Robert Niles
Published: May 30, 2011 at 11:17 PM

Perhaps this is just stating what should have been obvious, but reports are confirming that Comcast, the new majority owners of NBCUniversal, will in fact buy out Blackstone Group to obtain full ownership of the Universal Orlando Resort.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal's Islands of Adventure

Blackstone earlier this year exercised its option to force a buyout or sale of the resort's holding company, following the record-breaking launch of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and the boost it provided not only to the resort's cash flow, but its capital value, as well.

The buyout is expected to cost Comcast between $1-1.5 billion.

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Dubailand developers not willing to quit just yet

By Robert Niles
Published: May 30, 2011 at 12:25 PM

Remember Dubailand?

Perhaps the ill-fated Middle Eastern project should be the symbol of the bubble-driven development in the theme park industry. Planned in 2008 to include multiple theme parks, including ones from Busch Gardens and SeaWorld, Legoland and even Six Flags, which hasn't built a new park in decades.

When the real estate/financial bubble burst, so did the project, and U.S. theme park companies began dropping out. But Dubailand's remaining backers are soldiering on, looking for new theme park partners.

The latest news has Dubailand again pining for Disney to come to its rescue. With no interest from the House of Mouse, the project's developer is looking for an alternative, too. "We need an entertainment anchor for the family, something like Disney but not Disney," the president of the development company said.

Dubai's not a destination that many - if any - Americans consider. But Dubai draws millions of sun-seeking Europeans south each year. The Ferrari World theme park recently opened in neighboring Abu Dhabi, so the area's not a complete bust for theme park projects. Perhaps some of our European visitors might like to comment on whether they have any hope for a theme park project in Dubai, and if so, if they'd be willing to plan a visit.

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Have you submitted a rating for your favorite theme park hotels?

By Robert Niles
Published: May 29, 2011 at 9:01 PM

We're just a little over a month away from the announcement of the annual Theme Park Insider Awards, which will be revealed on the Fourth of July. Today, I'd like to remind Theme Park Insider readers to submit their ratings and reviews of any on-property theme park hotels they've stayed in during the past year.

Below, I've listed some of the leading contenders for this year's award. If you've stayed in any of these hotels in the past 12 months, please follow the links to submit your rating, from 10 (blissful perfection) to 0 (police were involved at some point during your stay).

Disney's Wilderness Lodge
Last year's Theme Park Insider Award winner for Best Theme Park Hotel: Disney's Wilderness Lodge at Walt Disney World

When deciding on your rating, please consider the following factors:

  • Room comfort
  • High quality and abundance of in-room amenities
  • High quality decor, theming and amenities on site
  • Personal service
  • Convenience to parks
  • In-park extras and amenities, including early admission, front of line access and/or guaranteed reservations
  • Great value in the price charged for all of the above

If a hotel was the best place you've ever stayed in your life, then go ahead and give it a 10. But if it fell short of perfection in any of these areas, though, including in-park amenities or overall cost - then start knocking it down points. Nines, 8s and 7s are still excellent scores.

If you haven't stayed at one of these properties, please do not vote. We're looking for honest, first-person accounts here. That's what helps all of us make informed decisions about where we want to stay on our next theme park vacation.

Walt Disney World Resort (all hotels listed alphabetically)

Universal Orlando Resort

Disneyland Resort

Cedar Point

Again, these are the top-rated on-property hotels so far this year, in case you're wondering why other properties are not listed in this post. If you've stayed elsewhere in the past year, please go ahead and follow the links on our hotel listings page and submit a rating for those properties, too. Not everyone stays on a top-of-the-line resort and we need ratings and reviews for other theme park hotels, too. Thanks, as always, because it is your theme park ratings and reviews that make Theme Park Insider a helpful travel planning resource.

Previously: Have you submitted a rating for your favorite theme park restaurants?

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Vote of the week: What's your first choice to save money on a vacation?

By Robert Niles
Published: May 27, 2011 at 2:21 PM

Memorial Day weekend is here, the unofficial start of the summer vacation travel season. The obsessive among us have been planning our trip for months. But some many of us might also be thinking about how to make a vacation happen this yet on an ever-tightening budget.

Obviously, all of us look for value on a vacation. And if we can find the same value for less, we choose that. But what happens when you've found the best deals, but still can't afford the vacation you want? What do you cut next to make the vacation happen?

That's our vote of the week. I've given you five popular, though unloved, options. Please pick your first choice of what to cut when you need to make your vacation fit your budget.

Budget-stretching travel tips welcomed in the comments. Thanks for reading Theme Park Insider, and have a great holiday weekend!

Comments (10) | Archive Link

Cheetah Hunt and Cheetah Run debut at Busch Gardens Tampa

By Domenik Jost
Published: May 27, 2011 at 7:01 AM

Today the day is finally here that Cheetaka… ah I mean Cheetah Hunt opens at Busch Gardens Tampa. Contrary to what “leaked” name that was floating around the social media several months back, the name of the attraction actually ended up being Cheetah Hunt and was designed to simulate a Cheetah on the hunt. Yesterday Busch Gardens gave the media the opportunity to come experience the new ride and the new exhibit, Cheetah Run.

So my day started at the Nairobi Gate entrance. This is the first time I got a glimpse at the new attraction which is overlooking the new Cheetah Run exhibit.

Right after walking into the park from the Nairobi Gate entrance you can see the Cheetah Run exhibit on the right side. In the exhibit 7 of the 14 Cheetahs are walking or running around at any given time. After walking past the exhibit, straight across from the Crown Colony Café is where the entrance of the new ride is found. Right next door in the same building is also the new Skyride entranced.

The queue line is nothing special and looks very much like what we have become familiar with to find of the attraction queues at SeaWorld/Busch Gardens parks. In the queue line you will find several plaques with facts about the ride and the Cheetahs, which inspired the ride. After waiting for several other riders to go first, it was finally my turn to ride the “new breed of speed”.

The ride was great, the coaster was smooth, the views were terrific, and the launches were amazing. The first part of the ride you get propelled out of the station into the first bank and onto the second launcher that send you high up onto the 102-foot Windcatcher Tower. From up here you get a great view of the entire park and the new Cheetah Run exhibit. Next we went down the first big drop into a tunnel (be sure to smile for the picture) and go out of it uphill and bank over the Skyride. Those going by on the Skyride will definitely get a great up close view of the ride as it zooms by. After the ride goes over the Skyride we go through yet another tunnel and into the only inversion of the ride. Following the only brake area in the middle of the ride we go through the location of the old water element of Rhino Rally weaving around the rocks and only inches from the water. Then there is one last launch over a hill that gives you yet another chance at some decent airtime and another turn that you don’t expect to be as sharp as it truthfully is.

I just have one issue with the ride and that is the restraint system. I personally am 6’2” and know there’s plenty of other people my height or taller. Well, be warned, your ride will not be the most comfortable and definitely don’t count in airtime. I had to pull my restraint down further than I would have liked to the point of starting to become slightly uncomfortable. The restraints seem like they were not designed for tall people and they made this more of a “family coaster” since the height limit is 2 inches less than Sheikra and Montu. I personally would have liked to see them not take away those 2 inches and rather kept them on for us taller folks to enjoy the ride better. But looking past the restraint problem, I do have to say Busch Gardens has done it again. They have built yet another world class coaster and integrated it an amazing animal exhibit. In the gift show you can purchase your ride pictures and/or ride video through convenient touch panels, all sorts of Cheetah Hunt gear, and you can even adopt your very own Cheetah.

Following my ride I got to interview Busch Gardens Tampa Park President Jim Dean with a select few of the questions some of you asked on the discussion board .

Next up I got to take a better look at the new Cheetah Run exhibit. The exhibit is built to resemble the ruins of an ancient temple and includes 220-foot path where Busch Gardens’ animal care experts will conduct sprints with the Cheetahs to stimulate their natural instincts and demonstrate their speed. Guests are able to view the Cheetahs along the entire length of the run area as well as up close along one of several glass panel viewing areas located on each end of the run.

The Cheetahs do come up close to the glass panel making for a very special moment, and it is just amazing seeing them run up the entire length of the exhibit during one of the “runs” the animal care experts conduct throughout the day.

You may also run into the youngest one of the 14 Cheetahs that call Busch Gardens home. When ‘Kasi’, the baby Cheetah, comes out, everything stops, who cares about the ride when there’s this most adorable little Cheetah is out playing around with his Labrador buddy ‘Mtani’ in the exhibit. Just check out this adorable picture of the ‘Kasi’.

For your enjoyment here is 6 minutes of raw video of Kasi the baby Cheetah.

You can find more theme park video on Theme Park Insider's YouTube Channel.

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One Ocean, SeaWorld's new 'Shamu' whale show, debuts in San Diego

By Robert Niles
Published: May 26, 2011 at 10:25 PM

One month after premiering in Orlando, SeaWorld's newest killer whale show, One Ocean, makes its debut at SeaWorld San Diego this weekend.

I made the drive down from Pasadena today to watch the first public "dress rehearsal" of the show this afternoon. Before the show began, I had a few moments to talk with SeaWorld San Diego's director of entertainment production, Rick Schuiteman, and director of animal training, Al Garver.

Rick Schuiteman and Al Garver
Schuiteman, left, and Garver, with a mutual friend in the background

I asked Schuiteman how SeaWorld's animal shows have evolved over the years.

"When I first started working here, 25 years ago, it was all about the trainer standing on the stage, very presentation-like, with facts and figures," he said.

"That was great, people loved that. But as time has gone on, people want the whole entertainment piece. They can get facts and figures on the Internet. So we've evolved where we try to get a nice mix of entertainment and education, and at the end we hope that the audience will be inspired."

A whale in flight

You can see that trend in the shows such as last year's Blue Horizons, which looks more like something from a Cirque du Soleil production than one of those old SeaWorld shows, with its elaborate costumes, acrobatics and impressionistic narrative. Given that the "Shamu" shows are the parks' signature production, it's ironic that there's less of that Broadway-style glitz in One Ocean, where the focus remains on the animals themselves - the "stars" of SeaWorld, the park's six killer whales.

Garver explained when you're watching a killer whale show at SeaWorld you're really watching a play session between animals and their trainers, one that varies from performance to performance.

"Each of the killer whales has several hundred behaviors," Garver said. "Now for each whale, each show is different - what behaviors they are going to do and the sequence. So we have a menu of maybe 20 or 30 behaviors for a sequence that may contain 10 or 15, and our audience might see the show and think it's about the same each time they see it, but for the whales it's always very different. That's all part of keeping it interesting and stimulating and keeping the whales really focused with the trainers."

You don't always see the same whales in each show, either, Garver said. "We have six killer whales here, and in a typical shows there will be three or four, up to all six whales. Again the name of the game is variety so that it doesn't get predictable, and so that the whales are looking to the trainer saying 'what have you got for me now?'"

Whale and trainer

Garver said that the orca trainers have been working on the new show for about six to seven months.

"We're always looking to train new behaviors, but a lot of what we also do is take old behaviors and combine them in new ways with other behaviors," he said. "We also look through the music and get a feel for it, then we plan out the segments."

The One Ocean set will look familiar to fans of Believe, the former killer whale show which closed yesterday. But One Ocean's a much more colorful affair, with an explosion of color across the set, and on the trainer's new wetsuits. Like in Believe, the show opens with a film, which illustrates how contact with marine mammals, both in the wild and the in parks, can spark a lifelong curiosity and passion for animals.

Also as in Believe (the 2.0 version, at least), the trainers remain out of the water for One Ocean, though that doesn't stop the trainers from engaging the animals.

And of course, there's plenty of splash time, too. With the trainers out of the water, they're spending more time engaging the audience, dancing with kids and goading every around them in the 5,500-seat theater to get into the spirit of the show.

My recommendation? If you're coming to see the whales, don't sit up high and miss your chance to interact with these awesome creatures. No, you won't get the chance to touch them. But they'll greet you with a thorough soaking instead. Everyone in the theater will be watching when these huge creatures hit the water after a jump. But only the visitors up front will feel the percussion of the impact... just before the wave crests the barrier for a drenching "hello." One ocean - in your lap.

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POV video of Busch Gardens' Cheetah Hunt

By Robert Niles
Published: May 25, 2011 at 1:10 PM

We'll be at the media preview tomorrow for the opening of the new Cheetah Hunt roller coaster at Busch Gardens Tampa. In the meantime, though, here's a point-of-view video of the new ride, to whet your appetite.


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Where in the world of theme parks is this? (May 24, 2011 edition)

By Robert Niles
Published: May 24, 2011 at 12:05 PM

It's time to play again. I've cropped a photo from my theme park travels and embedded it below. You tell me the park and specific location in that park, in the comments.

Where is this?

First one correct wins bragging rights. I'll reveal the answer here tomorrow. Good luck!

Update: Someone's gotten it right already. But I won't say whom. Let's add a twist, though. Tell me what the second ride pictured here is. Look very carefully and you'll see it.

Comments (30) | Archive Link

Opening ceremonies set for Universal Studios Singapore

By Robert Niles
Published: May 24, 2011 at 11:40 AM

Anyone going to be in Singapore this weekend?

If so, the place to be will be the official grand opening of Universal Studios Singapore, happening this Saturday at Resorts World at Sentosa.

Jet Li Paula Abdul

The special guests for the opening will include Jet Li and Paula Abdul, along with American Idol winner Fantasia Barrino contestant Kimberly Caldwell (*Update: Caldwell is a late replacement for Barrino), actress Maggie Cheung, and Chinese actress/singer Vicki Zhao Wei.

But the big attraction for theme park fans will be the official opening of Madagascar: A Crate Adventure, along with the rest of the rides at the park. (Don't expect the eagerly-awaited new Transformers ride, though. The earliest we expect to see that next-generation 3-D motion ride is by the end of the year.)

Universal Studios Singapore promises photos and news from the opening ceremonies on its Facebook page. Trip reports and attraction reviews from your visit to Universal Studios Singapore are welcomed here on Theme Park Insider, too, of course.

Update: You can watch a live stream of the red carpet arrivals at www.rwsentosa.com/grandopening at 7:45am ET on Friday, May 27 and the grand opening ceremonies at 10pm ET that night. (Switch the AM to PM and vice versa for local Singapore time, which is 12 hours ahead of New York/Orlando.)

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What's new on the discussion board: Questions for Busch Gardens park president, Star Tours 2 poll

By Robert Niles
Published: May 24, 2011 at 11:22 AM

Here are the top new threads from the past week on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board:

Domenik Jost is interviewing Busch Gardens Tampa park president Jim Dean at the Cheetah Hunt opening on Thursday and is taking your questions to ask Jim. Submit your questions in What do you want to know about Busch Gardens Tampa?

Cheetah Hunt at Busch Gardens Tampa

On the topic of new attractions, I asked Which version of Star Tours 2 did you get?. We're doing a poll to track which of the 54 possible combinations Theme Park Insider readers have seen.

I also ask What attraction are you embarrassed to say you've never experienced?

Inspired by Star Tours and last week's Despicable Me announcement. Raul Araoz asks your opinion on the Best and worst retrofitted attractions.

With the movie premiering last weekend, Brian Emery is looking for Any Pirates of the Caribbean 4 fans?

Andrew Mooney wants to hear your Special Disney Experiences.

Caroline Davis asks If you could rent one Disney attraction for one night/morning, which one would it be?

Dominick D revives a popular 'what-if' scenario in A Nintendo Island Replacing Marvel Superhero Island?

Rob P posts: Are 5D rides like 'Vengeance' at the London Dungeons the way forward?

Looking to show off your attraction design skills? Tim W is taking sign-ups to play Theme Park Apprentice 3.

Finally, Jeff Elliott wraps up the week's news with Last week at your amusement park...May 23, 2011.

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Aquatica water park to open at SeaWorld San Antonio in 2012

By Robert Niles
Published: May 24, 2011 at 9:56 AM

SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment yesterday announced that it will open a second Aquatica water park, this time at SeaWorld San Antonio.

Concept art for Aquatica Texas

The water park will replace the Lost Lagoon at the Texas theme park. With a scheduled opening in just one year, May 2012, I'm wondering how much of Aquatica will be new construction and how much will be a retheme of the existing water park. Anyway, here's the promotional video that SeaWorld released:

If I could rant for a moment, are there any Theme Park Insider readers in the San Diego area who could manage to finagle their way on to the Coastal Commission, so that Southern Californians could get an Aquatica at SeaWorld San Diego, too?

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Disneyland Resort update: Star Tours, Blackbeard, Mermaid and more

By Robert Niles
Published: May 23, 2011 at 1:27 PM

The big news at the Disneyland Resort this week is the soft-opening of Star Tours:

Star Tours

This morning, the ride was open only to annual passholders with advance reservations. AP previews will continue all week, but I wouldn't be surprised to see soft-opens at times when the APs aren't scheduled.

Inside the queue, R2D2's working on top of the Starspeeder 1000:


And C-3P0 is still on the control panel.

Inside the Star Tours queue

Inside the droid room, the changes are subtle. Look carefully, and you might see Captain Rex, marked "defective," packed up and being sent to who-knows-where.

Good-bye Captain Rex

The "Droid Security Agent" is checking passengers as they get ready to board.

Inside the Star Tours queue droid room

On board, I got the stormtroopers, the Tatooine pod race, Yoda and the ride through the traffic of Coruscant. You know that Facebook meme where women would post their bra color as their status, to the complete befuddlement of men? I propose that Star Tours fans start their own version of the meme. Whenever you ride, post the four options that you encountered on your visit. Remember, your options are:

  • Stormtroopers or Darth Vader
  • Tatooine pod race, Kashyyyk speeder bikes or Hoth AT-AT battle
  • Yoda, Princess Leia or Admiral Ackbar
  • Traffic on Coruscant, Naboo underwater chase or Death Star dogfight

    So, this morning I posted: "Stormtroopers Tatooine Yoda Coruscant". Join in, and amuse or confuse your friends! ;^)

    The other change at Disneyland Park this week is the replacement of Davy Jones with Blackbeard inside Pirates of the Caribbean. Here's what it looks like:

    I noticed that the skull before the drop is still warning riders about Davy Jones, though. Personally, I prefer Davy's otherworldly look in this place in the ride. Blackbeard looked just too, well, real.

    Across the plaza, at California Adventure, you can see the "Hollywood Studios"-style entrance plaza emerging underneath the tarps.

    DCA entrance

    The Little Mermaid building is now open for cast member previews.

    Little Mermaid entrance

    Little Mermaid facade

    I love the relief detail of Ariel's sisters, framing the entryway windows.

    Down the pathway, I noticed a test train running on Goofy's Sky School, scheduled to open July 1.

    Goofy's Sky School under construction

    Work also continues on the Boardwalk Pizza & Pasta restaurant

    Paradise Pier restaurants under construction

    Finally, Disney's torn down the awnings and archways that had obscured the view of the Zephyr train and station that lines the edge of the Sunshine Plaza.

    Bakersfield Bakery

    Work on Cars Land continues, too, as insiders expect an opening early in 2012.

    Radiator Springs Racers

    The Little Mermaid and Star Tours open officially on June 3. No word yet on public previews for The Little Mermaid, though initial reviews from cast members who've ridden have been almost exclusively positive. We'll be there to cover the opening ceremonies on June 2 and 3.

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    Mach Tower delayed

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 23, 2011 at 10:30 AM

    Busch Gardens Williamsburg announced today that it had discovered "an issue" in ride testing that's forced the park to order and install new parts from Mach Tower's manufacturer in Italy. So the new drop ride's debut is delayed. No date announced.

    Archive Link

    Star Tours - Disneyland May 20th preview event

    By Bryan Fear
    Published: May 23, 2011 at 8:49 AM

    Star Tours, May 20th, Disneyland. Been there, done that, got the pin to prove it. Here's what the experience was like.

    The line for the May 20th preview started at 4am and ended at 7:30. By about 7am everyone had registered so the table was taken away but there was a neat photo-op by a Star Tours sign to make things interesting, not to mention free coffee and hot chocolate. ( Thanks Disney! )

    At 8am they started letting us into the park, much to the surprise of many who had lined up at the main gate and may not have understood this was a pre-registered by-invite-only event. The line lead down Main Street and weaved back and forth around Plaza Inn, in front of Star Tours and back into the ride.

    By 9am the ride was open and the line was on the move. The first difference I noticed was in the line's overflow room. Previously this had been done up to look like a security checkpoint with some kind of security gate and a lone Mon Calamari alien seated in a security station looking over everyone. The new change has removed all that in lieu of murals around the room. Of all the changes that happened, this was the only one I didn't care for. If anything I expected they would make this room more interesting and more interactive, not less.

    The main entrance room remains basically the same with the exception of a repainted StarSpeeder and some additional details about the ship.

    In the next room over the theme has changed more to a security checkpoint with some droids in quarantine and another manning the security console.

    In less than 2 hours they had run 2400 of us through the ride so I'd give Disney administration a huge kudos for a smooth opening. Everything went right on schedule and as far as I know, there were no ride malfunctions. At the end we all got some pretty spiffy pins that looked like this:

    So how was the ride? Completely worth it. Just as previously described, it is a single ride to two different locations with outside selections altering the course of the ride and who could be involved. Our ride included Kashyyk, Darth Vader, Boba Fett, Admiral Akbar and the Death Star. I'm already looking forward to going on this ride a few dozen more times just to see what other combinations turn out like. Disney's got a huge hit on it's hands with this one.

    Comments (4) | Archive Link

    Legoland Florida Grand Opening Date Announced

    By Domenik Jost
    Published: May 23, 2011 at 7:00 AM

    Legoland officials have announced the Grand Opening date for the new Florida theme park. Legoland Florida will open officially on October 15, 2011.

    Legoland Florida map

    The park also announced partnerships with 13 Central Florida hotels, as part of "Bed and Brick" vacation packages. Those can be booked online via florida.legoland.com

    Previous TPI Coverage:

  • Legoland Florida construction update
  • Legoland Florida unveils ticket pricing, will open in 12 months
  • Who wins, and who loses, with Legoland in Florida?
  • Legoland Florida confirmed
  • Legoland owner buys Cypress Gardens

  • Comments (1) | Archive Link

    Have you submitted a rating for your favorite theme park restaurants?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 22, 2011 at 10:56 PM

    Summer's fast approaching, and that means the annual Theme Park Insider Awards are coming soon, too. You've got just over a month to finish submitting ratings and reviews for all the rides, shows, restaurants and theme park hotels you've visited in the past year.

    Bistro de Paris
    Last year's winner: Epcot's Bistro de Paris

    Today, I'd like to prompt you to submit ratings for any of the top restaurants eligible for this year's Theme Park Insider Award for Best Theme Park Restaurant. Remember, this award is open to all table-service restaurants located "inside the gates" of a theme park. I've selected 20 top restaurants, based on readers' average ratings to date. If you've been to any of these restaurants in the past year, please click the link to submit your rating and review.

    Of course, if you haven't been to any of these restaurants, please don't vote. Theme Park Insider ratings should be submitted only by readers who've actually visited that location. When you're voting, don't just submit "10"s and "0"s, either. (I delete votes from readers who do that, anyway.) Reserve a 10 only for one or two truly "perfect" restaurants that blend amazing food (the best you've had anywhere) with outstanding personal service and great value. Use 9s, 8s, 7s and below for restaurants that fall a step or more below that top standard, such a places with good food and service, but not the very best. Or places that are great, but not great enough to justify the cost.

    Top restaurants in Orlando (All listed in alphabetical order):
    Bistro de Paris
    Confisco Grille
    Garden Grill
    Les Chefs de France
    Mythos Restaurant
    San Angel Inn Restaurant
    Sharks Underwater Grill
    Teppan Edo
    Tokyo Dining
    Via Napoli
    *Update: Add Lombard's Seafood Grille, which was miscategorized in the database, so I missed it on first pass.

    Top restaurants elsewhere in US:
    Blue Bayou Restaurant
    Cafe Orleans
    Carnation Cafe
    Crown Colony Restaurant
    Upper Deck Sports Cafe

    Top restaurants elsewhere in world:
    Auberge de Cendrillon
    Blue Lagoon Restaurant
    KT's Grill
    Silver Spur Steakhouse

    Remember, the award is open only to table service restaurants, so if you are wondering why a favorite counter service or buffet restaurant isn't listed, well, there ya go. If your favorite table service restaurant hasn't made the early cut, though, feel free to find it following the park links on our listings page. The 20 restaurants listed here aren't official finalists - there's still time for other restaurants to make a run at this year's title.

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    Disney World's Space Mountain closed for inspection after incident

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 21, 2011 at 2:34 PM

    A 48-year-old woman was found unconscious on the Space Mountain roller coaster at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom this morning, prompting Disney to close the popular ride for inspection.

    Space Mountain

    The closure is routine is such situations, and no reports of problems have been heard so far. The woman was transported to the hospital. No word on condition yet.

    We'll await additional reports on the woman in this incident, but let's make this another reminder to stay safe while visiting theme parks.

    Space Mountain is not a fast coaster, with a top speed under 30 mph, but it is whippy, and people with medical conditions should not ride. But not everyone is aware of their health status, and on hot days (which are most days in Orlando), even healthy people can be at risk if they don't stay on top of hydration.

    Update from comments: Space Mountain opened as scheduled Sunday morning. No issues found with the ride.

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    Star Tours 3D at Disneyland: Queue begins at Harbor Blvd

    By Joseph Catlett
    Published: May 20, 2011 at 8:32 AM

    This just in from the West Coast at 8 AM, PST.

    Word went out last night about a possible soft opening of Star Tours: The Adventure Continues at Disneyland Park today. This speculation had people lined up at the front gates of Disneyland in the wee hours of the morning. As of 8 AM the queue is currently filling up large portions of the Disneyland Resort esplanade (the large open area between Disneyland and California Adventure).

    Guests and cast members there today are astonished and can only guess at the actual length of the queue.

    Please keep in mind, there is no official announcements of soft openings. Thus, it may begin or end at any time and for that matter, never actually open at all. To be on the safe side, wait until the official opening if you are there specifically to ride any new attraction at any theme park.

    Note from Robert: There is an invite-only soft opening at Disneyland today, but you have to have the invite to get on. An annual passholder preview runs over the next few days, as well, but that's also advance-invitation-only. (I'm going on Monday morning.)

    Update: After the invite-only event in the AM, Disneyland opened Star Tours for a public soft open in the afternoon.

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    Star Tours 3D debuts at Walt Disney World's Hollywood Studios

    By Domenik Jost
    Published: May 20, 2011 at 6:56 AM

    Tonight I got to join other press at the media sneak peak at the newly revamped Star Tours 3D attraction. The night started off by Disney reps escorting us through the backstage area of Hollywood Studios to the entrance right next to the Star Tours compound. We were greeted cast members with drinks and then got to walk through a fog screen on the red carpet joined by Star Wars characters with cast members piled on each side cheering us on (I gotta admit, that was a pretty cool touch on Disney's part).

    Once inside we were greeted lots of delicious food, drinks, and some pretty cool displays including Star Wars models and Ice Bars with the "Star Tours" logo engraved in them.

    In addition to the Disney-catered food and drink items, cake designer Carter Holton from the "Food Network Challenge" created a Star Tours inspired cake (which FYI was delicious!).

    After a little bit of mingling with other media at the dinner table it was time to take on what the event was all about, the newly revamped Star Tours 3D. Walking up to the attraction you get greeted by the new Star Tours mural, but pretty much everything just got touched up on the outside. Once you first enter the building is when you have that moment of "wow" they did an amazing job. The entire queue line is pretty much an airport-like scenario. In the first room you get greeted by that oh-so common voice you hear in the airport all the time... with the exception that we are talking intergalactic travel, not international or domestic. You will also encounter a couple of very familiar faces, or, well, droids.

    C-3PO and R2-D2 are doing systems checks on the new Star Speeder 1000, prepping it for flight and a large HD Screen is informing you of all the destinations you can experience with Star Tours. In the second room we encounter the DSA, Droid Security Agency, and all luggage and passengers will get screened prior to flight. Take note that as you walk past the droid that is scanning you, that on the screen that is in fact a live picture of you being scanned. Listen for some nifty comments that are very much directed at you and leave you feeling like someone is watching.

    Next up is the boarding station, here you will be sent to your Gate and will pick up your "protective" 3D glasses. The glasses are newly designed and look more like sunglasses than the traditional 3D glasses we are used to seeing at theme park attractions. I do have to say this is the best experience I've had with 3D glasses as their design allows for me to easily wear my glasses underneath without jeopardizing a good quality 3D experience. Now that we are waiting in line you will hear the usual safety instructions told in a comic, light-hearted manner and will get introduced to the captain. Finally everything is ready and we are set to board. The cabin itself hasn't' changed much but definitely has gotten a few touch ups. On our flight we were joined by some special guests.

    Once inside and after all the safety procedures have been completed, Star Tours Flight #1401 is ready to go, except due to a few mishaps, C-3PO is in the pilot's seat. This is where the adventure begins as C-3PO and R2-D2 navigate us through the galaxy while the Imperial forces try to obtain the rebel spy aboard your Starspeeder 1000 (I was chosen as the spy once tonight, but shhhh don't tell anyone). On the ride you have a chance to encounter many famous Star Wars characters which depending on the story you experience can include Darth Vader, Boba Fett, Yoda, Sebulba, Admiral Ackbar, Chewbacca, Jar Jar Binks, and/or Princess Leia. On your trip you have a chance to visit (again depending on your experience) Kashyyyk, Hoth, Naboo, Coruscant, Tatooine, and/or The Death Star above the planet Geonosis.

    *Disclaimer* this video is actual ride footage and does reveal bits and pieces in no particular order, but nothing that would give away the story.

    The ride is made up of 4 segments which together can give you a total of 54 different possible combinations meaning you'll have to ride at least 54 times to get every possible combo. The ride has been designed in such a way that makes it easy for Disney to add more destinations and possibilities to the ride sequence in the future. Overall the ride is a not a jerky and bumpy as it used to be, the 3D on the large screen is crisp, the story's are great, and that all together just makes for a great revamped attraction. I loved every bit of the ride and enjoyed riding it multiple times to get different stories and outcomes. Star Tours 3D definitely will be worth visiting multiple times, over and over again.

    Of course it wouldn't be Disney if the night didn't end with fireworks themed to fit the occasion.

    (I apologize in advance for the shaky camera and not that great vantage point, I had just got off the ride again and had no idea this was about to take place.)

    On Friday, May 20th, at 10:15 a.m., Disney will officially open the new Star Tours 3D attraction. I'll be there and will have a video up of the opening ceremony later in the day. For those of you that can be at a computer at 10:15 a.m. EST, you can watch the ceremony live on the Star Tours Facebook page.

    Update: Here is the complete opening ceremony, in two parts:

    And here is a shorter version, with just the highlights, from Disney:

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    Universal Orlando confirms Despicable Me attraction for 2012

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 19, 2011 at 7:42 AM

    Universal Orlando Resort confirmed in a live webcast this morning that it will debut Despicable Me at Universal Studios Florida.

    Universal Creative president Mark Woodbury announced the new ride, revealing that Gru will be bringing his daughters to Universal Orlando, and transforming the audience into Minions as part of the adventure. The show will also take visitors into Gru's lab and the end of the show will feature an interactive Minion dance party. The show will be installed in the building that now houses Jimmy Neutron.

    Woodbury showed a snippet of video during the webcast, which reminded me of The Simpsons Ride, as we saw Gru and his daughters on an amusement park roller coaster.

    Universal also confirmed that the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man ride at Islands of Adventure will be entirely reanimated with 4K high definition and an Infitec 3D projection system. Universal Creative's Thierry Coup, the creator of the Spider-Man and Harry Potter rides, also said that the new animation will include fresh detail, though he didn't reveal what that would be.

    Despicable Me will be created using the same HD 3D technology as Spider-Man, Woodbury said.

    Update: Corporate synergy fail? Here's a screen grab of Universal Orlando's YouTube page, just after the announcement:

    That's right, NBCUniversal blocked Universal Orlando's video of the Despicable Me attraction announcement because... it used video from Despicable Me?

    Update 2: Snafu fixed. Here's the video:

    Comments (19) | Archive Link

    What would you do? Designing a Star Wars theme park

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 17, 2011 at 1:39 PM

    If there's one thing I've learned from our many recent posts and discussions about the new version of Star Tours launching at Disney Hollywood Studios in Florida and Disneyland in California, it's that theme park fans would love to see Disney do even more with Star Wars.

    Give us an immersively-themed land, as Universal did for Harry Potter fans, they say. Or, give us an entire Star Wars theme park.

    Mos Eisley spaceport, from Star Wars

    Personally, I don't think a new U.S. gate is feasible for Disney at this point, in this economy. But could Disney expand and retheme a land in one of its existing parks for Star Wars, as Universal did in changing much of Islands of Adventure's Lost Continent into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

    So let's make that our "what would you do?" discussion exercise this week: What would you do, if you were in charge of Disney's theme parks, to develop a Star Wars land or park?

    Here's my pitch, to get the conversation started:

    I wouldn't try a separate gate, and I would build from the foundation laid by the new Star Tours adventures. It makes little marketing sense to develop a Star Wars land separate from the multi-million-dollar investments that Disney has just made in its Star Tours ride. So my new Star Wars lands would include those rides.

    That means: a retheme of Disneyland's Tomorrowland as "Star Wars Land" and the creation of a Star Wars Land at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World.

    Once the construction crews are done place-making the new entry to Disney California Adventure, bring them across the plaza to transform the hub entryway to Tomorrowland as Mos Eisley spaceport, with Star Tours departing to the far reaches of the galaxy.

    That's the easy part of this. After that, decisions get tougher, as attractions and restaurants would need to be rethemed. But to what?

    I hate to lose the kid-friendly Buzz Lightyear theme from Astro Blasters. But Buzz isn't part of the Star Wars universe. Space Mountain could stay, with a bit of Star Wars theming added to the queue and load platform. And anything that went into Innovations would represent an improvement over that trade show floor.

    I'd leave Autopia and Finding Nemo alone, ceding them to an expanded Fantasyland. Star Wars land would extend only between Star Tours and the Jedi Training Academy stage (meaning a theme change for the Tomorrowland Terrace restaurant, as well).

    What replaces Buzz and Innovations though? What would serve as the themes for the former Redd Rockett's and Tomorrowland Terrace restaurants? Does Space Mountain get a Star Wars-themed story?

    Maybe I should just bail out of my plan at this point and defer to the Star Wars experts on the site. (Heck, I haven't even addressed Florida yet.) What do you think Disney should do to expand the presence of Star Wars in its theme parks? (If anything?)

    What would you do?

    Comments (31) | Archive Link

    What's new on the discussion board: The top theme parks in Britain

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 17, 2011 at 10:59 AM

    Here are the week's top new threads on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board:

    Ever wondered about theme parks in Great Britain? Lauren Hayhurst elicited some great responses by asking British Theme Parks - Any good? If so, what?

    Nemesis at Alton Towers

    Zach Nelson offers a great update by posting codes for Extra songs for Hollywood Rip, Ride, and Rockit.

    Also on the topic of Universal Orlando resort, Terri Pierce asks about the Rumored Digital Projector on Spiderman.

    Dan S asks the unanswerable question: Universal Studios Or Walt Disney World?. But that doesn't mean that some of us didn't try.

    That conversation then promoted Nick Markham to ask Disneyland Better Than Walt Disney World?

    Daniel Etcheberry wants to hear your guesses: How much do you think it will be the waiting time for the new Star Tours during the Star Wars weekends?

    He also updates us about Universal Studios Singapore, where Madagascar: A Crate Adventure had its soft opening on Friday 13th.

    Yours truly gets his Grinch on in an attempt to destroy an Internet meme in Cinderella and the British Royal Wedding.

    I also posted the New mazes announced for Knott's Halloween Haunt 2011.

    Finally, as always, Jeff Elliott checks in with his round-up of other theme park news: Last week at your amusement park...May 16, 2011

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    The Enchanted Tiki Room is coming to Disney World's Magic Kingdom

    By Anthony Murphy
    Published: May 15, 2011 at 11:24 AM

    Disney has announced via its blog that the "Under New Management" version of the Tiki Room is going away, for good.

    Walt Disney World's original version of the Tiki Room show was called Tropical Serinade, but the new version will be called the Enchanted Tiki Room, just as it has been at the Disneyland original.

    Jose, in Anaheim
    Tiki Room host Jose, at Disneyland in Anaheim

    I guess, if you really do mess with Polynesia, the gods will sleeze ya! Farewell Iago and Zazu. The new (old?) Tiki Room will open in late summer.

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    Construction Updates at the Disneyland Resort

    By Tyler Stover
    Published: May 14, 2011 at 5:37 PM

    As we enter the Summer theme park season, many of you are planning a trip to the Disneyland resort. While regular Theme Park Insider readers and the many Disneyland Annual Pass holders are aware of the impact of the various construction projects throughout the resort, less frequent visitors should be aware of what they'll encounter with DCA's great makeover and smaller projects at Disneyland.

    Don't be fooled by the construction walls. Disney California Adventure park is open. The entrance line starts at the center of the walls and travels around to the left.

    Once in the park you'll see a replica of the Carthay Circle Theater under construction near where the sun icon once stood. To the right a cinder block structure is being erected and a path between the walls leads to the Wharf and Paradise Pier. This narrowing of the path means there are no parades currently at DCA.

    To the left of the Carthay Circle Theater the center of the street is ripped up to extend the trolley tracks from the Hollywood Pictures Backlot into the entrance plaza. Follow the signs placed on the walls to choose the correct side for the attraction you want to get to.

    Back to the right Carsland continues to grow in the former farm area and the last segment of the old parking lot.

    The Little Mermaid building is just about finished and the attraction will open to the public at the beginning of June. Expect big crowds, but it should have a decently high ride capacity.


    The walls extend past the souvenir stand and to the dining area. The two restaurants here are receiving heavy makeovers, the souvenir and corn dog stands receive apparently minor refreshes, and Mulholland Madness is rethemed to Goofy's Sky School. According to the Disney Parks Blog this section of the pier will reopen July 1st.

    DSC04113 copy

    DSC04119 copy
    Back over at Disneyland park the big project is the Star Tours update. Construction walls pinch traffic through the already congested Tomorrowland entrance. When the attraction opens in early June the lines should be very long, but Fastpass will be available. Arrive early to snag a Fastpass if you want to ride with minimal wait.

    The mural on the Star Tours building has been updated to reflect the ride and story updates. Looks good.

    Star Tours' Fastpass capability comes at the expense of Buzz Lightyear. Fastpass is no longer offered at this attraction and the entrance has been updated.

    Elsewhere in the park Splash Mountain is wrapping up an extended refurbishment which will bring Critter Country back up to full capacity. The Disneyland Hotel continues its extensive remodel and that maze of construction walls deserves its own update.

    If you have any questions as you plan your summer visit to the Disneyland resort, head to the discussion section.

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    Vote of the week: What will be the top new ride of the year at the Disneyland Resort?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 13, 2011 at 10:18 AM

    On the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board, Joseph Catlett asked which new Disneyland Resort ride are you looking forward to most - the Little Mermaid dark ride at Disney California Adventure or the new version of Star Tours at Disneyland?

    That question sounds like a great vote of the week to me.

    So which is it? If Disney theme parks are known for any single thing, it's great animatronic dark rides. But a 3-D simulator ride with multiple, randomly selected shorelines is pretty cool, too.

    Star Tours 2, under construction at Disneyland
    Star Tours 2, under construction at Disneyland

    Star Wars is an enduring global entertainment franchise, but the Little Mermaid is beloved, and enjoying a revival of hipster cred, as well.

    The Little Mermaid building at Disney California Adventure
    The Little Mermaid building at Disney California Adventure

    Let's hear your pick. Even if you're not planning on visiting the Disneyland Resort anytime soon, go ahead and vote. Remember, the new Star Tours debuts at Walt Disney World this month, too, and the Little Mermaid's coming to the Magic Kingdom in a year or two, as well.

    We'll be covering the opening of both these rides at the Disneyland Resort on June 2-3. As always, thanks again for reading Theme Park Insider!

    Saturday update: Star Tours 2 soft-opened to the public at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida today. Please post to the comments if you were one of the ones who got in to see the ride today.

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    A New Option for Dinner and a Movie at WDW's Downtown Disney

    By Scott Joseph
    Published: May 12, 2011 at 9:53 AM

    AMC Downtown Disney 24 movie complex will open the AMC Dine-In Theatres on Monday, May 16. The multi-plexer has converted six of its theaters into full-service restaurants where guests can dine and imbibe while watching the latest releases. Here's a look at what you can expect from the facility and from the menu.

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    Universal Orlando confirms mini-golf course for 2012

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 11, 2011 at 11:03 AM

    Universal Orlando confirmed today what we first reported to you last month, a miniature golf course is coming to CityWalk.

    "Hollywood Drive-In Golf" will include two 18-hole courses, and be located next to the AMC theaters, between the theaters the resort parking structures.

    From the press release:

    Inspired by the classic drive-in movie era, guests will be whisked into an elaborately-themed environment based on the vintage horror flicks and “little green men” science fiction films of the 1950s. As they experience two family friendly courses, “The Haunting of Ghostly Greens” and “Invaders From Planet Putt,” guests will putt their way through elaborate movie-style scenes, passing through a cemetery, under a giant spider, through a flying saucer and into the basement lab in a haunted house. Cutting-edge interactive elements and special effects will immerse guests further into the “double feature,” and with LED course edge-lighting they can play day, night and late night.

    Construction begins this summer and the mini-golf course will be open in "early 2012," according to the resort.

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    What to expect with May's new ride debuts at the nation's top theme parks

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 10, 2011 at 4:57 PM

    Let me bring you up to date on this month's major ride debuts around the country.

    Theme Park Insider's Domenik Jost will be on the scene at Disney's Hollywood Studios on May 19-20, when Star Tours: The Adventures Continue opens to the press, then public. Star Tours has been in cast previews on the west coast at Disneyland and details are leaking about the ride's plot.

    Disney's revamped the industrial-themed pre-show area to make it feel more like a galactic spaceport. And if you've been in an Earth airport recently, you'll know that means... security lines. "DSA" (Droid Security Agency) droids will be "screening" you before you board your starspeeder for a 3D motion simulator adventure.

    From there, multiple reports have four places within the movie where the ride system can select different options for your trip, with 54 potential combinations. Think of it as a "choose your adventure" show, with the computer calling the shots. Two of those selections will be destinations for your trip, each time from one of three options - Hoth, Kashyyyk or Tatooine the first time, and Coruscant, the Death Star or Naboo the second. (The other two selections involve characters that you'll encounter along the way. Click the link above and scroll down if you want the full spoiler.)

    Domenik will file his report from the Walt Disney World opening, then I'll post my take on the new Star Tours when the ride opens at Disneyland on June 3.

    The day before, I'll be at Disney California Adventure for the press debut of The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure. Today, Disney released another promotion video for the dark ride, showing it off for three animators who worked on the 1989 Disney film.

    Watch the front-page Blog Flume for my report the evening of June 2, and the Theme Park Insider Twitter feed for live reports from the event.

    Domenik will also report from Busch Gardens Tampa for the press debut of Cheetah Hunt on May 26. We're planning for some on-ride video of the new roller coaster, as well as a look around the new surrounding habitat. And I believe that we have Russell Meyer on board for a report on the opening of the Mach Tower at Busch Gardens Williamsburg later this month, as well.

    Finally, it looks like from signage in the park that Six Flags Magic Mountain is pushing the debut of the Green Lantern Intamin ZacSpin roller coaster into June. When it opens, we're planning to be there for that media day, as well.

    As always, early reports from employee previews and soft openings are welcomed on the site. Just submit a post to the Flume, using the button on the home page, or e-mail it to me. (Anonymity is available, if you need it as a park employee.)

    Thanks again for reading Theme Park Insider, and here's looking to a great summer of new rides!

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    What's new on the discussion board: SeaWorld/Aquatica reports; Mickey's holiday party dates announced

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 10, 2011 at 9:03 AM

    Here are this week's top new threads on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board:

    Nick Dakuginow starts with a question: SeaWorld and Aquatica Both in 1 Day... Need Advice! Then he followed up with a Trip Report - Aquatica and SeaWorld Orlando after his visit.

    Dolphin at SeaWorld

    Lauren Hayhurst offers another great trip report: Florida 2011 - IoA / Studios.

    Joshua Denson asks the always-popular question: Magic Kingdom or Epcot?

    Jenny Rees gets the conversation started over the replacement band for The British Invasion - Epcot.

    Daniel Etcheberry tells us what would happen In my ideal Star Wars Weekends. What would happen in yours?

    Crystal A wants to know why we don't see more Marvel Products at Disney Parks.

    If you're thinking about celebrating Halloween or Christmas at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, Terri Pierce fils us in with the news that Mickey's Party Dates Posted.

    Jeff Elliott brings us his latest installment of theme park news for discussion in Last week at your amusement park...May 9, 2011. Please give Jeff some feedback on this new feature!

    Finally, I post a Reminder on site policies at Theme Park Insider.

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    Where in the world of theme parks am I? (May 9, 2011 edition)

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 9, 2011 at 10:58 AM

    It's time to play again. You guys nailed it so quickly last week that I'm trying to make this a bit more difficult this time. Here's this week's clue. You tell me where in the theme park universe this sight can be found.

    Visual clue

    Submit your guess in the comments. Once someone gets the correct answer, I'll post the full photo and link to the location. If no one gets it right within 48 hours, I'll post the answer anyway.

    Update: Solved! For the answer, read down in the comments.

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    Universal Orlando opens private lounge for American Express customers

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 9, 2011 at 10:30 AM

    Starting tomorrow, Universal Orlando will open a special lounge for American Express card holders. The lounge will be located in the Production Central section of Universal Studios Florida and will be open to visitors who buy a multi-day ticket with an American Express card.

    Universal Studios Florida American Express lounge

    From the AmEx press release:

    "The Lounge will offer guests a break from the excitement of the theme parks by providing an inviting, air-conditioned space with complimentary chilled beverages and light refreshments. The Lounge will be staffed with a concierge to help guests make dining reservations, secure tickets and learn about special American Express offers available throughout the theme park. The Lounge also will be equipped with an electronic charging station for guests' cameras, phones, and other devices."

    A free cold water's nice, but as a tech geek, the charging station excites me most.

    When I worked at Disney, the backstage areas were littered with then-empty break rooms that once had served as corporate hospitality suites for attraction sponsors. AmEx's lounge tweaks that concept - making a space not for big-ticket customers, but everyday customers - people who decide to pay for their tickets with an AmEx card, instead of a competitors'.

    Is this lounge enough of a perk to convince you to use an American Express card when buying a Universal ticket at the booth or online? AmEx hopes you'll answer yes, but that's up to you to decide.

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    Theme park fans cash in on this year's Kentucky Derby

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 8, 2011 at 10:47 PM

    Note to self: Next year, before the Kentucky Derby, check the entrant list. If you see a horse that shares its name with a theme park, bet it.

    As you might have heard by now, long-shot Animal Kingdom stormed from behind on the front stretch to win this year's running of the Kentucky Derby. I don't pay much attention to horse racing, despite my family's Kentucky roots. So when I read about Animal Kingdom's triumph, I joined many theme park fans around the country in slapping my forehand and exclaiming, "I totally would have bet a couple bucks on that horse if I'd known."

    Animal Kingdom wins the 2011 Kentucky Derby

    As usual, other Theme Park Insider readers are smarter than I am. I asked on our Facebook page if anyone had won on Animal Kingdom:

    "Me! Me! Haven't turned my ticket in yet (we're still at the track) but I bet a whopping $3 to win, and I believe I won in the realm of 70 bucks. Woo!"

    "Won $109. Also bet it in a trifecta with Mucho Macho Man (in honor of Randy Savage) and Stay Thirsty (because I'm a drunk.) 2 out of 3. Would have won over $10,000! Haha."

    The Walt Disney World Resort posted its congratulations to the horse via its Facebook page: "We love the name!" No kidding. For what it's worth, the horse is not owned by or affiliated with Disney. But that doesn't make it any less of a sentimental favorite now for theme park fans with two bucks (or more) to risk when the horse runs the Preakness Stakes in a couple weeks.

    In case you are wondering if any other thoroughbreds have shared names with theme parks, the answer is 'yes.' A few quick searches on pedigreequery.com revealed race horses with the following names:

    • Magic Kingdom
    • Disneyland
    • Epcot
    • Six Flags
    • Cedar Point
    • Kings Island

    No horses named the following, though:

    • Hollywood Studios
    • California Adventure
    • Universal Studios
    • SeaWorld

    Comments (6) | Archive Link

    Vote of the week: Star Wars vs. Harry Potter?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 6, 2011 at 2:15 PM

    Disney and Universal count some of the world's most popular entertainment characters and franchises among their line-ups. But at the Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World Resorts, these rival companies don't limit themselves to their own characters. This year and last, Disney and Universal are competing using two of the world's most popular entertainment franchises, ones that neither Universal nor Disney own.

    Star Wars versus Harry Potter.

    Star Wars

    Harry Potter

    Universal Orlando opened the Wizarding World of Harry Potter last year, and this month Walt Disney World opens the most anticipated new ride in Orlando this summer when it debuts the new Star Tours: The Adventures Continue at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

    Let's put aside for the moment which ride you'd prefer. Instead, let's vote on which overall franchise is your favorite.

    Star Wars began with movies, then expanded into books, animated TV series and one musical TV special we'd all rather forget. Harry Potter reversed the process somewhat, beginning in a series of books, then adding the movies. Both franchises offer highly popular Lego-themed video games, too. Fortunately, so far, we've avoided the spectacle of the Harry Potter Holiday Special.

    Do prefer your conflicts between good and evil to be set amid the magic, wizards and school-age mischief of the Harry Potter franchise? Or the alien worlds, battlefields and spiritual mysticism of the Star Wars universe?

    Personally, I wish that Disney would do more with the Star Wars franchise, and create an immersive land for Star Wars fans the way that Universal has for Harry Potter. The Star Tours rides have been nice, and I'm looking forward to seeing the improvements in this new version, but I'd welcome the chance to walk through Mos Eisely or Coruscant in a Disney theme park as I can walk through the village of Hogsmeade in Universal's Islands of Adventure.

    Let's hear your thoughts in the comments.

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    What's the 'new, high-tech enhancement' coming to a Universal Orlando attraction?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 5, 2011 at 11:24 AM

    Universal Orlando sent out some additional detail about its new attraction announcement at 10:30 ET on Friday, May 19.

    Universal said that it will make two announcements during the invitation-only webcast:

    "- Details about a major, high-tech enhancement to one of Universal Orlando's single most popular attractions

    "- The exciting concept for Universal Orlando's newest attraction – which will be based on a blockbuster film. The new attraction will take the place of Jimmy Neutron’s Nicktoon Blast, scheduled to close permanently on August 18."

    Consensus is that Despicable Me will replace Jimmy Neutron. But what will the "high-tech enhancement" be? I know that some people have tipped an Avatar replacement for the Terminator 2:3-D show, but that change would represent much more than an "enhancement."


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    Universal sues Merlin over Orlando retail project

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 5, 2011 at 9:06 AM

    It's Universal versus Merlin in the theme park industry's latest legal battle.

    Universal is suing Merlin Entertainments, along with Merlin's partners Circle Entertainment and Unicorp, over the trio's planned I-Walk development on International Drive. Slated for a 2013 opening, the project would include a 425-foot observation wheel, similar to the famous London Eye.

    Universal claims that the I-Walk name infringes on its "CityWalk" trademark. Both are similar retail/dining projects that would stand less than three miles away from one another. Universal claims in its lawsuit the similar names would cause confusion among the public and hurt Universal's CityWalk.

    Of course, if you've been paying close attention, you'll also note that this suit represents one arm of Blackstone suing another, since Blackstone remains a half-owner of Universal Orlando, as well as a major investor in Merlin Entertainments.

    Blackstone is trying to cash out of Universal Orlando, though, and new NBCUniversal owner Comcast is said to be close to a decision on whether to buy out its partner, while would give it 100-percent control of Universal Orlando.

    My guess? I-Walk changes its name soon. What's your guess? And if I-Walk does change its name, what should it be?

    Comments (12) | Archive Link

    Celebrate Star Wars Day with a look at Disney's new Star Tours rides

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 4, 2011 at 8:56 AM

    Happy Star Wars Day! (If you don't get why today is Star Wars Day, say today's date to yourself. Then add the words "be with you.") In honor of the occasion, let's take a look at what we have to look forward to within the month as the new versions of Star Tours open at Disney's Hollywood Studios and Disneyland.

    Star Tours: The Adventures Continue opens on May 20 at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida and on June 3 at Disneyland in California.

    New marquee for the new Star Tours in Florida
    Disney employees install the new marquee for Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, in Florida.

    The original Star Tours was a flight simulator theater made up to look like a spaceship, which flew a sightseeing tour of the Star Wars galaxy (the name of the sightseeing company was "Star Tours.") But, in grand theme park tradition, something went terribly wrong, and our rookie pilot, Rex (voiced by Paul Reubens, the actor behind Pee Wee Herman), made a wrong turn in the station. Before we knew it, we were dodging asteroids, weaving through an icy comet and even stumbling into the Battle of the Death Star.

    In Star Tours 2, we'll be flying with Star Tours once again, this time in 3-D. Our pilot will be C-3PO, though Disney promises that Rex will be part of the attraction. The new destinations will include the pod race on Tatooine, Naboo, the Wookie planet of Kashyyyk, Hoth, Coruscant, and the Death Star above Geonosis.

    Rumors have flown that you won't visit all these destinations on the same trip, but that the new Star Tours will feature multiple films, encouraging repeat rides on the attraction. Disney's offering Facebook users the chance to print a customized Star Tours Galactic Passport that includes blank spaces to note the dates you've visited each of the ride's six destinations, further fueling anticipation of multiple film options in the ride.

    Star Tours Passport

    The timeline seems to make this version of Star Tours a "prequel" to the original, much as the second trilogy served as prequels to the original three Star Wars movies.

    Update: Some fans in Florida are posting daily photos and soft opening alerts on Star Tours 2 at www.startours2live.com. Worth a look if you're thinking about heading over to Studios to try to get lucky with a soft opening sneak peek.

    Comments (20) | Archive Link

    What's new on the discussion board: Universal Singapore official opening, plus Fantasmic debuts in Tokyo

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 3, 2011 at 12:18 PM

    Resorts World Sentosa in Singapore has announced that it will hold the grand opening ceremony for Universal Studios Singapore on May 28.

    What's that? You thought the park opened last year? Well, it did. But not "officially." As theme park veterans know, there's often a gap between when a park opens a new attraction and when its officially opened with a big ceremony and media day. These "soft openings" typically last a week or a few, but at more than a year, Universal Studios Singapore must be setting a record for world's longest theme park soft opening.

    Jeff Elliott has the news in his weekly news round-up, Last week at your amusement park...May 2, 2011, that the long-delayed Madagascar: A Crate Adventure ride will open within days, which many suspected would be the trigger for the official opening of the park. No firm word yet on when the new Transformers ride will open, or if it will be part of the grand opening, too.

    Madagascar: A Crate Adventure

    Speaking of new attractions, the opening of Fantasmic! in Tokyo has prompted two new threads, with Tim W asking which is Tim W The Best Fantasmic!, and discussion of the Tokyo version continuing in Fantasmic…A cheap what???

    Tom Rigg checks in from Busch Gardens Williamsburg, starting a conversation about The New and Improved Oktoberfest.

    Lauren Hayhurst posts a Magic Kingdom - Trip Report - March / April 2011

    Daniel Etcheberry asks Which theme park carousel do you consider to be the most beautiful? Then he gets a debate going over what should be included in new attractions with the thread, Overload of roller coasters in Orlando.

    George Hunter has an Expedition Everest storyline question

    And finally, David L. asks what you'd like to see debut during the next five years at Disney's Hollywood Studios in What's Next for DHS?

    Archive Link

    Universal Orlando Summer Concert Series lineup announced; Drake, Nelly, Third Eye Blind, and more

    By Domenik Jost
    Published: May 3, 2011 at 12:13 PM

    Universal Orlando today announced it's Summer Concert Series lineup via Facebook:

    "Announcing...(drum roll, please)...this year's Summer Concert Series lineup! That's right, you can rock out to artists including Drake, Nelly, Third Eye Blind and more!"

    June Concerts:

    June 11 - Go-Go's
    June 18 - Nelly
    June 25 - Third Eye Blind

    July Concerts:

    July 2 - Trey Songz
    July 9 - Boys Like Girls
    July 16 - Drake

    All concerts start at 9:00 pm and are included with a paid Universal Studios admission, Annual Pass, or Multiday ticket.

    For more information go to www.UniversalOrlando.com/Summer.

    Comments (4) | Archive Link

    Where in the world of theme parks am I? (May 2, 2011 edition)

    By Robert Niles
    Published: May 2, 2011 at 12:58 PM

    Let's play a little game, shall we? I'll give you a snippet of a photograph, and you tell me where in the theme park universe this sight can be found.

    Here's this week's clue:

    Where would you find this?

    Submit your guess in the comments. Once someone gets the correct answer, I'll post the full photo and link to the location. If no one gets it right within 48 hours, I'll post the answer anyway.

    Have fun! (Just for the record, I'm not actually at this location right now, despite the headline. But it is a photo that I took, sometime, if that helps at all.)

    Comments (25) | Archive Link

    Keep reading: April 2011 Archive

    Stories from a Theme Park Insider

    Stories from a Theme Park Insider

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