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June 2011

Six Flags Magic Mountain claims coaster crown with 18th roller coaster, Green Lantern: First Flight

By Robert Niles
Published: June 30, 2011 at 2:48 PM

Six Flags Magic Mountain this morning reclaimed the title of "America's Coaster Capital" with the opening of its record 18th roller coaster, Green Lantern: First Flight.

Green Lantern: First Flight opening ceremony

Green Lantern is the first Intamin ZacSpin coaster in the United States, with dual cars of four seats mounted on either side of a zig-zagging vertical track. The seats spin up in a 360-degree revolution "up to three" times. Why "up to"? That's because the weight distribution on the cars seems to affect the spinning motion on the trains. The boy I rode with reported that on his first ride, he didn't go heels over head at all.

But on our ride? We did. Oh, yes, we did.

At first glance, I thought the rather small, 825-foot-long Green Lantern looked like "X2 Junior," a condensed version of the park's other coaster that features spinning side-mounted seats. But after riding, I'm calling Green Lantern "X2: Super Concentrated" instead. This is an intense ride experience especially on its final two turns.

Green Lantern feels nothing like the free flight and airtime of a traditional, horizontal roller coaster. No, this ride makes you feel more like a ball bearing falling down a Pachinko machine. The speed increases as you zig-zag down the ride, culminating in two whip-quick flips before you dive into the station. At a couple ticks under a minute, what Green Lantern lacks in length, it makes up for with intensity.

Doing the math in my head, at one minute per ride and eight riders at a time, we're looking at a maximum capacity of 480 riders per hour. And that's with continuous loading and no delays with people getting into and out of seats. (Four cars wait in the station while one rides on the track.) So this isn't a high capacity ride by any means. Expect long waits for the first few weeks until word gets out that this coaster isn't for rookies and casual fans. Green Lantern is a roller coaster for hard-core fans who've been looking for something fresh, with a sharp new spin.

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Disney developing a movie based on Disneyland's Matterhorn roller coaster

By Robert Niles
Published: June 30, 2011 at 8:44 AM

The latest Disney theme park ride to become a movie? Pack yourself on the back if you guessed Matterhorn Bobsleds.

Disneyland's Matterhorn

The Hollywood Reporter says that Disney's tapped Jason Dean Hall to write a script for the film, tentatively titled "The Hill." Tron Legacy's Justin Springer is producing the project.

Matterhorn joins a long and growing list of Disneyland and Walt Disney World theme park rides that the company's leveraged into films. Pirates of the Caribbean, obviously, has been the one big hit. But the company's also now developing "Jungle Cruise," with Tim Allen and Tom Hanks, as well as "Haunted Mansion," directed by Guillermo del Toro (after a failed first attempt starring Eddie Murphy). Other attempts have included films based on the Country Bears and the Tower of Terror. And there's Jon Favreau's "Magic Kingdom" in the works, too.

Your guesses on a plot for the Matterhorn flick are welcomed in the comments. As always, snark, sarcasm and irony are appreciated in your jokes. :^)

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Narcoossee's Undergoes a Sea Change in its Seafood Menu

By Scott Joseph
Published: June 28, 2011 at 7:58 PM

Narcoossee's, the seafood restaurant at Walt Disney World's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, has never been one of my favorites. It seemed to let its commanding view of the Magic Kingdom across the lagoon be its best draw -- the food was secondary.

But now chef Joe Wilson has revamped the menu. It's still seafood centric, and, oddly, Asian influenced, but the quality has skyrocketed. For the first time since it opened in the late '80s, Narcoossee's has earned my recommendation. Here's my full review.

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What's new on the discussion board: Yeti, queues and the rain

By Robert Niles
Published: June 28, 2011 at 12:19 PM

Got a question about your upcoming theme park vacation? Want to share your experiences from your most recent trip? The Theme Park Insider Discussion Board is the place to post. Here are this week's top new threads:

Rod Whitenack kicks off a conversation about everyone's favorite dysfunctional Disney animatronic in The Day the Yeti Died.

Yeti warning sign

Daniel Etcheberry asks Which non-roller coaster ride do you find to be the most intense in Disney World / Universal Orlando?

Brian Emery gets a discussion going over The worst line queues at the parks

Laura Drumm asks for your best Game plan for USO/IOA 2 Park, 1 Day

Allison Bazzle is back from Universal Orlando and details the positives and the negatives

Rob P asks if you've been stuck on a ride due to bad weather in Ever Been Reigned In By The Rain?

Jeff Elliott Last week at your amusement park...June 27, 2011

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Halloween Horror Nights XXI announced

By Terri Pierce
Published: June 28, 2011 at 12:18 PM

Halloween Horror Nights have finally been announced and their website has been updated! The theme has not yet been announced, but by the sound of the music and overall theme of cards on the website it seems to be heading towards old-time saloons or Vegas. This is HHN 21 so maybe Black Jack as influenced the theme a bit. We have been asking what would happen if we crossed Las Vegas with Disneyland, but what if we cross Vintage Las Vegas with HHN? Clues to the event theme should be posted periodically with the big announcement of the theme soon to follow.

The event dates are as follows:
September 23-24 and 29-30, October 1-2, 6-9, 13-16, 19-23 and 26-31.

General Admission to the event will be 81.99 + tax but they offer several different "Frequent Fear" packages.

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Theme Park Apprentice 3: Challenge 3

By Tim W
Published: June 27, 2011 at 8:47 AM

This week our apprentices traveled to Paris, France to create character dining experiences for the Walt Disney Studios Park. Before voting check their ideas out on the discussion board first!

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Last call for reader ratings before the Theme Park Insider Awards announcement

By Robert Niles
Published: June 26, 2011 at 4:13 PM

It's last call to vote in Theme Park Insider's theme park ratings before I tally the votes for the past 12 months and declare the winners of this year's Theme Park Insider Awards on July 4.

For your rating convenience, I've include below direct links to some of the leading contenders in this year's awards. If you've experienced any of these attractions, restaurants or hotels in the past 12 months, please follow the links and submit your rating (and a review, if you're inclined). We need ratings from every Theme Park Insider reader who has experienced a specific attraction, restaurant or hotel to help improve their accuracy. (Please read our guidelines for rating before you vote.)

If you've not experienced any of the locations linked below, though, please do not vote! Ratings become meaningless if people who haven't been on the ride, seen the show, dined at the restaurant, or stayed at the hotel start submitting reviews based on their bias for or against a particular park or brand. So, please, vote only for the locations you've actually experienced yourself.

Best New Attraction:

Best Restaurant:

Best Hotel:

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When theme park visitors go bad

By Robert Niles
Published: June 24, 2011 at 1:01 PM

Time for another edition of "Theme Park Guests Behaving Badly."

We visited the Disneyland Resort yesterday for Brian's 11th birthday. While we had our usual delightful time at Disneyland, I noticed three examples of people whose bad behavior was spoiling the moment for others.

Mad Tea Party
(Pictures are unrelated to the story today, but include a few other notes I wanted to make.) Brian and his sister take the Mad Tea Party for a spin. I love how the mild California weather allows Disneyland to keep so many attractions out in the open like this.

First: Many of us have encountered Disney guests who, for whatever reason, have never heard of the Fastpass program. They blow up the first time they reach a queue merge point, loudly demanding to know why they are being held back while other people with little slips of paper in their hands get to jump ahead of them into the line.

Last night, as we returned to Space Mountain at 9:05 pm (having picked up our Fastpasses around 3 pm), we had to wait a moment while a man and woman laid into the cast members at the merge point, screaming at them for letting the Fastpass line through while they waited.

It amazes me how so many people in our world immediately default to the assumption that they're getting screwed when they encounter a situation that they don't understand. Usually, though, I see such scenes relatively early in the day, as visitors in a stand-by line get held at Fastpass return point for the first time. Nine in the evening was the latest in the day I've even seen this happen. Were they just not paying attention all day long? Or did they just arrive in the park, making them even more clueless visitors for blowing an entire day's ticket on the last three hours before closing?

Planetary Pizza Salad at Redd Rockett's Pizza Port
I'm also grateful that the Disneyland Resort offers food selections that rise above carnival fare, such as the Planetary Pizza Salad (with pepperoni, Roma tomatoes, mixed olives, Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses and vinaigrette dressing for $8.49) at Redd Rockett's Pizza Port, a blackened Mahi Mahi sandwich (with fries or fruit, $10.19) at Tomorrowland Terrace, and a tofu rice bowl with Thai coconut curry sauce (with stir-fry vegetables and fortune cookie, $9.49) at the Lucky Fortune Cookery.

Second: I marvel at the thought that's gone into Disneyland's evening crowd control system. Disneyland each night constructs an elaborate system of traffic lanes that protect the places of people who've been waiting for the fireworks and Fantasmic! while swiftly moving other park traffic around them, instead of crushing up against those spectators as they try to walk to other attractions or out of the park.

But it seems that there's always some guy (and it is always a guy, in my experience) who sees the ropes, stanchions and flashlight-waving cast members and figures out that Disney's doing it all wrong, and if people would just listen to him, everything would work much better. Last night's guy was berating an unlucky cast member at the Adventureland entrance who was trying to keep the traffic moving in the one-way, counter-clockwise direction that Disneyland enforces around the Hub during and after the fireworks.

Mr. Smartpants wanted to go the other way, and couldn't see why a system that didn't make an exception for him could possibly work. Even as it did.

California Adventure entrance under construction
The entrance to Disney California Adventure is looking more and more like the entrance to Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida.

Finally: As we were waiting for churros behind a mother and her two small children, a guy in his late teens or early twenties decided that walking around the line was just too much hassle for him. So rather than break stride while running across Tomorrowland, he decided to hurdle the little kids. His girlfriend, appropriately mortified, turned to apologize to the mother as she ran behind her boyfriend. The mom didn't have time to respond before the couple ran away.

Since the mom didn't have time to say anything, I'll say it here. To the girlfriend: Your boyfriend is a selfish person who doesn't treat children with respect. And as a result, you're in a position where you feel like you have to apologize for your boyfriend's actions. Well, guess what? If you choose to spend the rest of your life with this guy, you'll be spending your life with a selfish man who treats children with disrespect and for whom you'll always have to be apologizing.

Keep that in mind, will you?

Boardwalk Pizza and Pasta
The Boardwalk Pizza and Pasta restaurant at California Adventure is coming along, but it's going to be a rush to make its announced July 1 opening date.

Please post in the comments your horror stories about fellow theme park guests.

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What should Matt Ouimet do with the Cedar Fair amusement parks?

By Robert Niles
Published: June 23, 2011 at 6:50 AM

Based on the way that the Disneyland Resort improved under Matt Ouimet's leadership in the mid-2000's, many Disney fans are hopeful that Cedar Fair's just hired itself a top-flight President and CEO.

Ouimet doesn't need our advice to run Cedar Fair's amusement parks. But here are six things I hope to see under Ouimet's watch - signs that Ouimet's turning the company around.

Don't try to be Disney. Or Universal. Or even Busch Gardens.

Cedar Fair's parks aren't theme parks, built as immersively themed environments like Disney's, Universal's or even Busch Gardens' are. They're amusement parks, where the focus is on ride experiences rather than storytelling. Changing the parks to challenge Disney et al on their own themed turf would be financial suicide for a company that's still sagging under the expense of buying the Paramount Parks chain.

Under Mark Shapiro, Six Flags lusted after Disney's family market. But the company lacked the capital to build those types of rides, and the licensing deals the company inked during Shapiro's time are now gone, leaving the chain with awkwardly now-unthemed Thomas the Tank Engine kiddie rides and such.

Cedar Fair lost Paramount's licensing deals, including Nickelodeon. And it's main license, Peanuts, is losing appeal as newspaper die, taking comic strips with them, and fewer and fewer young people develop any connection with Charlie Brown and Snoopy.

But a park doesn't need licensing deals and story themes to attract a family audience. Don't try to be Disney, but do try to learn something from parks such as Holiday World, or the Herschend chain, which have shown how you can build a loyal, cross-generational audience of fans that drive attendance even in lean years for the rest of the industry.

Do offer unique ride experiences

Just because an amusement ride is not themed to a specific story doesn't mean that it has to be a mass-produced, off-the-shelf carnival attraction. Cedar Fair parks offer some great rides. Going back to Holiday World as an example, that park has plenty of standard carnival rides. But it's best known for its trio of unique, world-class wooden roller coasters. Cedar Fair parks should strive for unique identifies with a few individual rides that define those identities.

Clean, paint, mend and repair

Always. From this point forward, select the more expensive building and finishing materials that will hold up to years of use without constant refinishing, too. This is one area where you should try to be like Disney.

Focus on ride uptime and capacity

Nothing drives fans nuts more than looking at closed rides, or waiting for coasters that are running a single train. Don't save money at the expense of your guests. Keep the trains running and the lines as short as possible, and you'll be rewarded with great word of mouth advertising that will keep the turnstiles spinning.

If they're not friendly, they're gone

Every Cedar Fair employee must greet the day with a smile, and keep that smiling attitude throughout their shift. Don't waste time and positions on the surly. There are too many eager, enthusiastic people out there looking for a job, who'd be happy to work at your parks.

And when you find them, reward them. Don't be cheap on pay and benefits. Experienced employees are your best asset in keeping capacity up and costly snafus down.

Win on food

This can be Cedar Fair's unique selling point. Once upon a time, Knott's Berry Farm offered the best food of any theme park in the country. Today? I recently tried the famous Mrs. Knott's Fried Chicken in the park's Ghost Town Grill, and it was inedible. (To be fair, when I walked past the original chicken restaurant out front, it smelled delicious, so I'm blaming the fry oil at the Ghost Town Grill.)

Find a great executive chef for the chain, then individual chefs for each park, then turn that team lose with the charge of making Cedar Fair food the best in the industry, on quality, uniqueness, fun and price. Ensure that Mrs. Knott's fried chicken is consistently excellent, then make it the signature dish for the entire chain. Every park should have a Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant, serving up fried chicken, fritters and Boysenberry pie.

What would you like to see Matt Ouimet do with Cedar Fair?

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Legoland Florida posts video construction update

By Robert Niles
Published: June 22, 2011 at 2:15 PM

General Manager Adrian Jones hosts this video tour around the Legoland Florida, now under construction in Winter Haven, Florida for an October 15 opening. Most of the images are from the other Legoland parks, though there are a few construction shots of the Florida park within.

While we're talking Legoland, I just added a bunch of great pictures from last weekend's Lego Star Wars Day at Legoland California to our Facebook page. We also have a video interview with one of the Legoland California Master Model Builders, shot inside the Legoland Model Shop, that we'll be posting later this week.

Update: And here's the video, an interview with Master Model Builder Ryan Ziegelbauer, who shares some tips and secrets from inside the Lego Model Shop:

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Universal Orlando joins SeaWorld in offering an official mobile app

By Robert Niles
Published: June 22, 2011 at 10:39 AM

Universal Orlando resort debuted its official iPhone and Android mobile apps today. Developed in partnership with Geodelic, the "Universal Orlando Resort Guide" (search for that term in the App Store) includes park maps, attraction details, restaurant menus (though not prices) and all the information about visitors services that you'd find in a park guidemap, but with a handy GPS feature that tells you exactly where in the park you are. While there's a listing for the Wait Time Display Board in the app, I couldn't find how to access current wait times for any of the attractions within the app. (To be fair, I accessed the app from my home in California, so if there are features that activate only inside the park, I could not see them.)

Universal Orlando app

The app also integrates with Facebook for check-ins and Open Table for restaurant reservations. App users who check in to a specific number of locations currently can get a Universal Orlando savings guide.

Universal Orlando joins SeaWorld in offering official mobile apps. SeaWorld's app offers several other neat features, including a "car finder" (accessible under "More") that allows you to drop a pin when you leave your car in the morning, allowing you easy GPS directions back to it at the end of the day. The SeaWorld app defaults to the SeaWorld park nearest you, using your phone;'s GPS feature. (That's why you're seeing San Diego.)

SeaWorld iPhone app

The SeaWorld app also includes maps, show times, a restroom locator, local weather and facts about the various species of animals in the park. Just search for "SeaWorld" in the App Store.

Disney has yet to offer an official mobile app for anyone other than Verizon customers (*corrected, see comment), though it has partnered with Gowalla as its official check-in app.

Disneyland Gowalla page

(*I'm on AT&T so I can't see or use Disney's app, so I'd appreciate thoughts on that in the comments.)

Of course, there are a slew of unofficial apps offering park maps, directories and attempts at estimating wait times. Search for a park name in the App Store and I'm sure you can find whatever's available.

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What's new on the discussion board: Mummy vs Everest, and Express Pass or no?

By Robert Niles
Published: June 21, 2011 at 10:58 AM

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

Daniel Etcheberry asks, Between the Mummy and Everest which one is wilder?

Expedition Everest

Julie mcavoy asks Universal Orlando - Express Pass worth it in June?

Dominick D has a suggestion for Universal Orlando: How about some Harry Potter Weekends?

Thanks to Jeff Elliott, we're having some fun speculating about JK Rowling's Pottermore Website.

The Walt Disney World Resort doesn't seem to be planning much for its 40th birthday, but that doesn't stop Tim W from asking what ought to be in the works for Disney World's 50th Celebration.

James Trexen wonders about the Future of Sounds Dangerous! at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

Tyler Stover has a random question for Disneyland visitors: Which Disneyland Entrance Tunnel?

Joseph Catlett wants to know which Favorite Book you'd like to see made into a Theme Park Attraction?

Finally, Jeff Elliott brings us home with Last week at your amusement park...June 20, 2011.

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Why Disney World's pricing structure ensures it will remain Orlando's theme park leader

By Robert Niles
Published: June 20, 2011 at 12:17 PM

Universal Orlando today matched Walt Disney World's recent ticket price increase, offering a one-park, one-park ticket for $85 and a one-day "park to park" (Universal's phrase for Disney's "park hopper") for $120, just as Disney now does.

Islands of Adventure entrance
Fans queue for early entrance to Universal's Islands of Adventure last summer.

Pricing, more than any other factor perhaps, shows why SeaWorld's been suffering for attendance and why the Universal Orlando parks continue to lag the Disney parks.

Remember, most people who visit Central Florida visit Walt Disney World during their trip. And once you've bought a couple days at the Walt Disney World Resort, Disney makes it absurdly cheap to add extra days at a Disney theme park. Once you've bought three days of theme park tickets at Disney, it costs just $9 to add a fourth day. Then it's just $8 to add each additional day beyond that, up to 10 days total.

Given that the Walt Disney World Resort has four theme parks, it's easy to visitors to justify a three- or four-day visit to the resort. Once they've committed to that, then, it's dirt-cheap for families to stay with Disney for the rest of their vacation.

So if you want to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter when you're in Orlando, but you're visiting Disney World, too, you're looking at $85 for your day at Universal Orlando versus $8 to skip Potter and spend an extra day at Disney instead.

Let's say that you're dead-set on seeing Harry Potter, though, and commit to spending the extra $85, or $120 if you want to see both Universal theme parks in one day. To add a second day at Universal Orlando would cost you an extra $31 if you're going with one-park-per-day tickets or an extra $16 if you bought the park-to-park.

Even the $16 charge to add second day at Universal is twice the $8 to go back and spend an extra day at Disney.

Let's say you do two days at Universal anyway, one for each park. A third day at Universal is still more expensive than that extra day at Disney - $20 for a third day on a one-park-per-pay ticket ($136 if bought online) and $15 extra for the third day with park-to-park ($151 online). I imagine that at this point, most people go for the cheaper ticket and return to Disney.

Remember, the TEA/AECOM attendance report counts a "visitor" as each person who visits a park in a single day. If you come back and visit a park on another day, you're counted as an additional visitor. It's those multiple, repeat visits that help pump up the numbers for the Disney theme parks, as visitors return for their additional $8 days.

Given the price advantage that Disney holds, as well as the fact that Universal raised its ticket prices substantially before Harry Potter opened, it speaks to the popularity of the Wizarding World that Universal's attendance in 2010 rose as much as it did.

But the Universal Orlando theme parks are never going to catch the Walt Disney World Resort parks, unless Universal becomes popular enough that the majority of its visitors decide to skip Disney altogether when they visit Orlando. It's hard for me to see that happening without several more "Harry Potter"-level expansion at the Universal Orlando Resort.

For SeaWorld, the numbers are even more grim. Before Harry Potter, SeaWorld may have been the "second choice" destination for many more Walt Disney World visitors. SeaWorld's attendance decline this year suggests that SeaWorld's slipped to "third choice" for most visitors now. As a third choice, SeaWorld's $72 online sale price for a one-day ticket not only has to compete with that $8 marginal cost for an additional day at Disney, it also has to compete with that $15 or $20 marginal cost for a third day at Universal Orlando. As we see from the attendance numbers, fewer and fewer Orlando-area visitors are opting to do that.

SeaWorld's trying to compete on price. It's $72 ticket is the cheapest for non-Florida residents. And it offers a second day free for online buyers, as well. But $72 is still a lot more than $20, $15 or $8. SeaWorld's going to have to find its own Harry Potter to get back into this mix.

Is there any hope for Universal and SeaWorld to catch Disney? Yes, but they'd have to work together. Right now, Universal and SeaWorld are part of an "Orlando Flex Ticket" that gives you up to 14 consecutive days at those three theme parks (plus the Wet n' Wild and Aquatica water parks) for $275. That's the same price as an eight-day base ticket to the four Disney theme parks. Most Americans don't take 14-day vacations, though. And if I had to pick one ticket or the other for my $275, there's more to do at the four Disney World theme parks to fill a week than at the Universal Orlando theme parks and SeaWorld.

For what it's worth, Universal doesn't even mention the FlexTicket on its main ticket page online any longer. You can find it only on the SeaWorld website.

Perhaps more people would choose the Universal/SeaWorld combination as their first choice if those parks offered a truly integrated ticketing system to challenge Disney's "Magic Your Way" ticket structure. Match Disney World on day-to-day price, but offer admission to Universal Studios Florida, Universal's Islands of Adventure, SeaWorld Orlando and Legoland Florida and Busch Gardens Tampa as part of the ticket. Five parks for the price of Disney's four.

Ultimately, so long as so many Central Florida visitors include Disney as part of their vacations, Disney will retain its price advantage over the other area theme parks, under the "Magic Your Way" price structure. If those other theme parks are going to break that system, they're simply going to have to find a way - working together or alone - to convince more visitors to start skipping Disney.

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Disneyland veteran Matt Ouimet to take over Cedar Fair

By Robert Niles
Published: June 20, 2011 at 11:10 AM

The man who helped engineer Disneyland's turn-around in the post-Paul Pressler/Cynthia Harriss era is stepping in to run the Cedar Fair amusement park chain.

Matthew Ouimet will succeed the retiring Dick Kinzel. Ouimet takes over as president immediately, and will assume Kinzel's CEO role in January. Kinzel earlier this year was forced out as board chairman by Cedar Fair shareholder Q Investments, a hedge fund which is battling Cedar Fair management in court.

Ouimet drew near-universal praise for his term as president of Disneyland Resort leading up to the parks 50th anniversary in 2005. Ouimet left Disney to become president of Starwood Hotels in 2006.

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Theme Park Apprentice 3: Challenge 2 Voting

By Tim W
Published: June 20, 2011 at 10:27 AM

This week, our apprentices designed attractions for the long rumored Beastly Kingdom at Animal Kingdom. Before voting, check their ideas out on the discussion board.

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The Wizarding World of Harry Potter turns one!

By Domenik Jost
Published: June 18, 2011 at 7:16 PM

Exactly a year ago today, at 9:23 am, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened it's doors. Since then millions of guests have walked through the arches into Hogsmead, rode the award-winning ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, and tasted that deliciously addicting butterbeer.

Today, at exactly 9:23 a.m., Universal Orlando celebrated the one year anniversary with complimentary Butterbeer, Cauldron Cakes, and Chocolate Frogs.

With my virtual butterbeer on my screen, I say toast to a happy one-year anniversary!

Remember, Theme Park Insider has an entire page dedicated to all the coverage from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter including photos, videos, and reviews.

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Vote of the week: What does SeaWorld need to do to increase attendance?

By Robert Niles
Published: June 17, 2011 at 10:50 AM

This year's TEA/AECOM theme park attractions attendance report illustrated a tough picture for the SeaWorld theme parks. Its top two namesake parks, SeaWorld Orlando and SeaWorld San Diego, suffered their third consecutive year of attendance declines, according to the AECOM data.

The One Ocean killer whale show at SeaWorld San Diego

The Orlando park faces the challenge of attracting visitors who are now spending their "non Disney" days at Universal Orlando's Wizarding World of Harry Potter instead. The San Diego park faces tough competition from always-strong Disneyland, as well as resurgent Universal Studios Hollywood and Legoland California.

What does SeaWorld need to do to distinguish itself and win your attendance at one of its theme parks? I'll list a few options in this week's vote.

Does SeaWorld need to build new thrill rides, like the Theme Park Insider Award-winning Manta? Or should it add a family dark ride, the mainstays of the Disney and Universal theme parks? Should SeaWorld work instead on renovating its existing attractions, such as Journey to Atlantis and Wild Arctic? Or would simply getting the trainers back in the water at the Shamu show suffice? Finally, I leave an option for people who just aren't going to consider SeaWorld, no matter what the park does.


If you'd like to add another option, please mention it in the comments. Here's your chance to offer SeaWorld your thoughts and advice on how it can win your business.

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Universal Orlando closes the gap with Disney in 2010 theme park attendance report

By Robert Niles
Published: June 16, 2011 at 4:57 PM

The 2010 TEA/AECOM Global Attractions Report is out today. And if last year was Disney's triumph, this year was the Revenge of the Rest of the Industry, as overall attendance at US theme parks grew 1.8% over 2009.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Your big attendance winner for 2010? Universal's Islands of Adventure

Universal Orlando, predictably, led the charge, with the The Wizarding World of Harry Potter pushing Islands of Adventure to a stunning 30.2% increase in annual attendance. That increase wasn't enough to vault IOA ahead of any of the Walt Disney World Resort theme parks, although three of those four parks posted attendance declines in 2010. Both the Universal Orlando theme parks jumped SeaWorld Orlando, though, which posted the biggest drop in attendance last year, losing 10.2% of its visitors from the year before.

Two other SeaWorld theme parks, SeaWorld California and Busch Gardens Williamsburg, were the only US parks in the Top 20 to post declines in 2010, as many Six Flags and Cedar Fair amusement parks recovered from their attendance declines in 2009.

Here is the US Top 20 for 2010:

  1. Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, 16.92 million, -1.5%
  2. Disneyland, 15.98 million, +0.5%
  3. Epcot, 10.83 million, -1.5%
  4. Disney's Animal Kingdom, 9.69 million, +1.0%, up one position
  5. Disney's Hollywood Studios, 9.60 million, -1.0%, down one position
  6. Disney California Adventure, 6.28 million, +3.0%
  7. Universal's Islands of Adventure, 5.95 million, +30.2%, up two positions
  8. Universal Studios Florida, 5.93 million, +6.1%
  9. SeaWorld Orlando, 5.10 million, -12.1%, down two positions
  10. Universal Studios Hollywood, 5.04 million, +26.0%
  11. Busch Gardens Tampa, 4.20 million, +2.4%, up one position
  12. SeaWorld San Diego, 3.80 million, -9.5%, down one position
  13. Knott's Berry Farm, 3.60 million, +8.0%
  14. Canada's Wonderland, 3.38 million, +7.0%
  15. Kings Island, 3.11 million, +3.7%
  16. Cedar Point, 3.05 million, +3.7%
  17. Hersheypark, 2.89 million, +3.0%, up one position
  18. Busch Gardens Williamsburg, 2.80 million, -3.4%, down one position
  19. Six Flags Great Adventure, 2.70 million, +2.5%
  20. Six Flags Great America, 2.70 million, +10.2%

Internationally, here are the top 25 parks in the world in 2010:

  1. Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom
  2. Disneyland
  3. Tokyo Disneyland
  4. Tokyo DisneySea
  5. Epcot
  6. Disneyland Paris
  7. Disney's Animal Kingdom
  8. Disney's Hollywood Studios
  9. Universal Studios Japan
  10. Everland, Gyeonggi-Do, South Korea
  11. Disney California Adventure
  12. Universal's Islands of Adventure
  13. Universal Studios Florida
  14. Lotte World, Seoul, South Korea
  15. Hong Kong Disneyland
  16. SeaWorld Orlando
  17. Ocean Park, Hong Kong
  18. Universal Studios Hollywood
  19. Walt Disney Studios Paris
  20. Nagashima Spa Land, Kuwana, Japan
  21. Europa Park
  22. Busch Gardens Tampa
  23. Yokohama Hakkeijima Sea Paradise, Yokohama, Japan
  24. De Eftleing
  25. SeaWorld San Diego

Let's not forget that Disney swelled its US attendance in 2009 with the "get in free on your birthday" promotion, and suffered a letdown with the end of that deal in 2010. Yet the Disneyland Resort remained strong, both due to the strength of World of Color at California Adventure and ongoing economic weakness keeping millions of Southern Californians close to home.

SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment needs to find something to offset last year, as its flagship park in Orlando suffered the most at the hands of Harry Potter, with Universal capturing much, much more of the Central Florida tourist market on their "non-Disney" days.

Your thoughts?

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Disneyland giving Fastpasses to on-site hotel guests

By Robert Niles
Published: June 16, 2011 at 9:44 AM

The Disneyland Resort is now offering free Fastpasses to its on-site hotel guests. Each hotel guest gets two one-use passes per stay, so the offer is not as extensive as Universal Orlando's unlimited front-of-the-line pass - the current industry-best in-park perk for on-site hotel guests. And Disneyland's Fastpass perk is only scheduled through Sept. 5.

Disneyland Hotel

But with park guests snapping up the day's allotment of Fastpasses for Star Tours early in the morning each day, I'm certain that many on-site hotel guests will appreciate getting those two extra Fastpasses.

Hotel guests can use the passes on any Fastpass attraction. They don't have to use them on Star Tours or Little Mermaid (*okay, Little Mermaid is in play for the Fastpasses. See comments), but, c'mon. The smart move is to use the "bonus" Fastpasses on the rides for which it is hardest to get Fastpasses. (FYI to Walt Disney World fans, Toy Story Midway Mania is not at Fastpass attraction at the Disneyland Resort.) Grand Californian guests also get first crack at the day's Fastpasses to World of Color, in addition to the two bonus Fastpasses, but hotel guests have to get up early to claim those World of Color tickets. They aren't automatically assigned to you.

The question I'd like to hear your answer to is this: Are two Fastpass tickets enough of a benefit to change your thinking about booking at the Disneyland Hotel, Grand Californian or Paradise Pier? Would you have booked otherwise, making these a nice touch but not an essential benefit? Are they not enough to make your switch from an off-site neighborhood hotel? Or are they just the extra inducement you needed to convince you to make a reservation?


What do you think about Fastpass and on-site Disney hotels?

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Dates, details announced for 16th annual Epcot International Food & Wine Festival

By Scott Joseph
Published: June 16, 2011 at 9:39 AM

The 16th annual Epcot International Food & Wine Festival will be Sept. 30 through Nov. 13. Here are a few details of some of the new things to expect this year:

The 16th annual Epcot International Food & Wine Festival will run from September 30 to November 13, 2011. The 45-day fest is one of the largest and longest food and wine events in the country.

There will be three new tasting marketplaces -- Hawaii, Caribbean Islands and Portugal -- plus new menu offerings at popular returning marketplaces. Look for exotic cocktails to be a new focus.

More...

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Where in the world of theme parks is this? (June 15, 2011 edition)

By Robert Niles
Published: June 15, 2011 at 10:29 AM

It's time again to play our weekly photo game. Here's a snippet of a photo that I've taken on my various theme park journeys. You tell me in which park the photo was taken, and what ride/show/restaurant/landmark it depicts.

Photo clue

Winner gets bragging rights for the week. I think this will be a bit easier than last week's clue. Have at it!

Update: It was easier. Much. Answer is now in the comments.

Comments (10) | Archive Link

What's new on the discussion board: Changing Wild Arctic... and Haunted Mansion?

By Robert Niles
Published: June 14, 2011 at 9:45 AM

Got a question about theme parks? The Theme Park Insider Discussion Board is the place to ask. Here are this week's top new threads:

Tyler Bell has a message for SeaWorld: Wild Arctic needs to be updated.

Wild Arctic at SeaWorld Orlando

Brian Emery offers a far more controversial topic for discussion. Is it time to replace Paul Frees' voice at Haunted Mansion... Magic Kingdom?

Don Neal takes you along to Orlando with his WDW Trip Report 2011.

Amanda Jenkins asks about special holiday meal opportunities in Disney Dining During December.

Mike Saperstein wants to know your Favorite Low-Profile WDW Attractions.

Tony Duda offers a list of the summer's Live Touring Music Acts At Theme Parks. What bands have you seen in a theme park?

Daniel Etcheberry asks Which ride has the best storytelling?

Finally, as always, Jeff Elliott brings us home with his weekly theme park news round-up in Last week at your amusement park...June 13, 2011.

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Disneyland ticket advice: Which ticket or annual pass should you buy?

By Robert Niles
Published: June 13, 2011 at 12:10 PM

Earlier today, we looked at Walt Disney World tickets, and which ticket you should buy. Now, let's look at Disneyland.

Disneyland crowds

Buying tickets to the Disneyland Resort is much easier for out-of-town visitors than buying tickets to the Walt Disney World Resort. There is no "no expire" option at Disneyland, simplifying the math considerably. Also, park hopping is much easier at Disneyland than Walt Disney World. Disneyland and California Adventure stand a few yards away from each other, across an open pedestrian plaza. Adding park hopping to your ticket is much cheaper at Disneyland, too. While it costs an extra $45 on a one-day ticket, park hopping is just $15 extra on a two-day ticket, which is the minimum length I'd recommend for an out-of-town Disneyland visitors. Go ahead and get it. (Here's the list of Disneyland ticket prices.)

But what about locals, who make up the majority of visitors to the Disneyland Resort? The math gets a bit trickier for us. (I'm in Pasadena.) To determine which ticket is the best value for you, you need to think about how often you plan to visit the Disneyland Resort in a given year, and when.

For infrequent local visitors, your best value on a daily ticket is to wait for one of the seasonal tickets that the resort offers to Southern California residents. Right now, Disneyland is offering a three-day pass for $139 ($154 with park hopper). Disneyland also offers some variation on a "2fer" deal each winter and spring, after the New Year.

If you'd like to visit the Disneyland theme parks three times a year or more, though, it's time to think about an annual pass. The cheapest pass, the SoCal Select Pass, costs $199 (up from $189), so it pays for itself on the third day, assuming you didn't buy one of the seasonal discount passes. You also get in-park discounts on food (and sometimes on merchandise) with the pass. Unfortunately, the SoCal Select pass isn't valid on weekends, holidays and most of the summer (205 blockout days total), so it's really only a good option for people who visit the park on weekdays during the school year. (I call this the "homeschool annual pass.") You can find the calendar of blockout days by visiting disneyland.com/ap and clicking the "view calendar" links under "Compare Annual Passports," about halfway down the page on the right.

Just because an annual pass isn't valid on a specific day doesn't mean that you can't use it to get into the parks, though. Disney sells "blockout day" tickets to annual passholders for $59 a day. These park-hopper tickets will get you into the park on a day when your pass isn't valid.

The thing is, the price of a blockout day ticket can be applied toward upgrading your annual pass to the next level. For the SoCal Select and Southern California ($269 - 150 blockout days, up from $239) annual passes, you're better off upgrading a pass level if you visit the park on just two blockout days for your pass. You also can apply the cost of a daily or seasonal discount ticket toward buying an annual pass.

Also keep in mind that parking is not included in the SoCal Select, Southern California and Deluxe ($378 - 50 blockout days, up from $329) Disneyland annual passes, unless you pay an additional $99 for the parking upgrade. If you add parking to the Deluxe pass, you're up to $477 - which is just $22 less than getting the Premium pass ($499 - no blockout dates, up from $459). If you visit the park on just one blockout date for the Deluxe pass, you're better off upgrading to the Premium.

For the non-Premium passes, you'd need to visit the park seven times in one year for the $99 parking add-on to pay for itself, assuming Disneyland keeps the parking charge at $15 a day.

Aside: Keep in mind that if you are visiting the parks for less than three hours (or five hours if you eat at one of the Downtown Disney restaurants), you can park free in the Downtown Disney lot, though Disney officially doesn't want you parking there if you're going into the parks. (But it has no way of enforcing this.) Since the hourly charge for the Downtown Disney lot is $6, you beat the $15 daily parking fee in the park lots if you stay in the Downtown Disney lot for less than five hours a visit (seven hours with a restaurant or movie validation).

My advice?

  • If you're visiting from outside Southern California, get a two- or three-day park-hopper ticket.

  • If you only visit Disneyland once or twice a year, look for the seasonal discounts and go with those tickets.

  • If you visit Disneyland three or more times a year, get an annual pass.

  • If you visit only on weekdays during the school year, get a SoCal Select pass.

  • If you want to visit on weekends, but wish to avoid holidays and summer, get Southern California select pass.

  • If you want to visit more than six times a year, and plan to visit during the summer or a holiday, get the Premium annual pass. (Skip the Deluxe pass.)

  • If you want to visit on a day that's blocked out on your annual pass, consider buying the upgrade to the next pass level.

    I'd love to hear your thoughts on Disneyland Resort theme park tickets, in the comments.

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    Walt Disney World ticket advice: Which ticket to buy?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: June 13, 2011 at 8:57 AM

    Update: An updated version of this article is available! Here is the new version: Which Walt Disney World ticket should I buy?.

    * * *
    As Theme Park Insider readers reported on the Discussion Board over the weekend, Disney has raised its theme park prices. You're looking at a $3 increase on a one-day, one-park ticket at Walt Disney World (from $82 to $85) and a $4 increase on the same at Disneyland (from $76 to $80). Prices increase across the board from there.

    Cinderella's Castle at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom

    (Ah, theme parks. The only thing that costs less in Southern California than Orlando.)

    Disney says that its guest surveys show that visitors continue to see a Disney vacation as a good value. And at this point, I don't think that a modest increase in ticket prices is going to keep anyone from making a trip - though it might prompt a few more people to look for discounts. (Check out our ticket advice page for links to major parks' current ticket deals.)

    But I did run the new numbers to see what advice I could offer on which tickets to buy, given your situation.

    Here's the per-day cost of the various Walt Disney World Resort theme park admission tickets:

    Days1 park per dayw/ Park Hopperw/ No Expirew/ Hopper and No Expire
    185140----
    284111.5096.5124
    377.3395.6789107.33
    460.7574.5079.593.25
    550.2061.2073.284.20
    643.1752.3364.8374
    738.14466168.86
    834.3841.2558.7565.63
    931.4437.5655.8962
    1029.1034.6051.6057.10

    (Here's the link to the complete price list.)

    Disney offers the "park hopper" option, allowing you to visit multiple theme parks on one admission day, for a flat $55 on any ticket you buy. So if you buy a one-day ticket, that inflates your cost from $85 to a staggering $140. But if you buy a 10-day ticket, adding the park hopper option adds just $5.50 a day to your ticket.

    Adding the park hopper to a one-, two- or three-day ticket inflates the per-day cost of that ticket above the basic one-day, one-park rate. So if you're looking for the best possible deal on tickets, I'd suggest not adding the park hopper option unless you're staying at least five days at the Walt Disney World Resort. Most first-time visitors will opt for a four-day ticket, spending one day at each park. You don't need the park hopper option for that. Getting the most of a park hopper requires some "insider" knowledge of transportation between parks, as well as how crowded each park is at different times of day and days of the week, too. So it's not the best option for rookies. (Hang out around here and you'll pick up some of that knowledge, though!)

    It's tempting to look at those low per-day prices on extended stay tickets and to think about buying the full 10 days, then saving your unused days for a future trip. But remember that your days will expire 14 days after you use the first day on the ticket, unless you pay extra for the "no expire" option.

    Take a look at that column, and you see how you give back much of the savings on extended tickets with the no expire option. It makes no sense at all to add no expire to two- or three-day tickets, as it would be cheaper to just buy a one-day ticket for each day of your stay.

    If you are thinking about the no-expire option, first think about the average number of days you visit Disney theme parks during your trips to Orlando. If you spend four days or fewer at Disney each time, then go ahead and buy the full 10-day ticket with no expire option. That will bring your per-day cost down to $51.60, as opposed to the $60.75 you'd spend per day on a four-day trip without the no-expire option. (You get a better price on park hoppers with no expire on trips of five days or fewer.) To me, it makes absolutely no sense to buy less than 10 days if you are adding the no-expire option. If you're tying up your money like that, you might as well get the lowest possible per-day rate on your tickets.

    I wouldn't recommend buying long Disney World tickets simply as an inflation hedge. There are better places to save your money for that. But if you can get a significant per-day savings with a no expire ticket, go ahead.

    Later today, I'll post my analysis of Disneyland ticket prices and advice on what to buy when you're visiting Southern California.

    In the meantime, I'd love to hear your thoughts on Walt Disney World tickets, in the comments.

    More: Why Disney World's pricing structure ensures it will remain Orlando's theme park leader

    Comments (20) | Archive Link

    Theme Park Apprentice 3: Challenge 1 Vote

    By Tim W
    Published: June 12, 2011 at 11:42 AM

    In this first week of Theme Park Apprentice 3, our apprentices created attractions for the World Showcase at Epcot. They will be desinging ideas for numerous countries in this season. Before you vote, check their ideas out on the thread!

    Comments (8) | Archive Link

    Vote of the week: Which is your favorite Disneyland Hotel theme suite?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: June 10, 2011 at 9:27 AM

    We've been looking inside Disneyland Hotel's theme suites this week, and I'm about to ask you which one was your favorite.

    But first, I wanted to share a few photos of the fifth suite I toured. This Fairy Tale Suite wasn't nearly as impressively decorated as the other four, so I'm not including it in the vote. (To me, it looked pretty much like a traditional hotel suite, but with an awesome Disneyland Hotel fiber optic headboard.)

    To review, here are the four Disneyland Hotel theme suites up for the vote. Follow the links to see all the photos:


    Remember, these rooms run anywhere around $2,000-$3,500 a night. So let me ask the follow-up question:


    Comments welcomed, and encouraged. And thanks again for reading Theme Park Insider. Have a great weekend!

    Comments (8) | Archive Link

    A look inside the Disneyland Hotel's Adventureland Suite

    By Robert Niles
    Published: June 9, 2011 at 9:25 PM

    We're taking a photo tour of the theme suites at the Disneyland Hotel, and our next stop is the Adventureland Suite.

    Entrance to the Disneyland Hotel's Adventureland Suite

    Relax in the living room among the souvenirs of trips to lands afar.

    The living room

    Imagine the tales of adventure told around the dining area table. Or, just make up some of your own. ("Can you believe the wait for Indiana Jones today?")

    Dining area in the Adventureland Suite

    Oh, yes, I'd promised you a picture of the, uh, less than authentic fireplaces.

    Fake fireplace in the Disneyland Hotel

    There's no need to wait for a bath. A tub awaits in the master bedroom.

    Master bedroom in the Adventureland Suite

    Check out this bathroom, though.

    Second bathroom in the Adventureland Suite

    Yes, the second bedroom really is built to look like the interior of a tent.

    Tent bedroom at the Disneyland Hotel

    And what's that picture on the wall? Could it be… a hippo pool?

    Jungle Cruise art

    Previously: Pirates of the Caribbean Suite, Mickey Mouse Penthouse and Big Thunder Suite

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    A look inside the Disneyland Hotel's Pirates of the Caribbean Suite

    By Robert Niles
    Published: June 9, 2011 at 1:36 PM

    Our third stop on our photo tour of the theme suites at the Disneyland Hotel? The Pirates of the Caribbean Suite.

    Lose your sea legs relaxing on the leather couch in the living room.

    Or eat with your crew in the adjacent dining area.

    I love the many items of memorabilia displayed in cabinets and along the walls of the suite. Here's Jack Sparrow's compass:

    And my personal favorite? A signed copy of the Pirates' attraction lyrics, autographed by composer and Disney Legend Xavier "X" Atencio.

    After gazing at all the suite's loot, you can retire to the master's quarters.

    I had to snap this photo, since I have the same poster hanging in my office at home. Yes, I'm a geek. (That's the suite's kids' bedroom in the back.)

    It's the detail that distinguishes these suites. I mean, your kids aren't going to play with any old rubber duck in the Pirates suite, are they?

    Prepare to crack open your pirate treasure chest if you'd like to spend a night in this suite. The Disneyland Hotel theme suites run from $2,00-$3,500 a night, according to quotes I've been given. We'll vote tomorrow to determine the readers' favorite.

    Previously: Mickey Mouse Penthouse and Big Thunder Suite

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    Where in the world of theme parks is this? (June 8, 2011 edition)

    By Robert Niles
    Published: June 8, 2011 at 11:50 AM

    It's time again to play our weekly photo game. Below is a snippet of a photograph I've taken during one of my theme park visits. You tell me in which park and in which attraction I took the photo.

    Photo

    Be specific as possible in your response about the location of this photo within the attraction, too. Winner gets bragging rights for the week. When the correct answer is posted, I'll post the full photo in the comments. It's taking you folks about an hour on average to get these, so answer quickly. Good luck!

    Update: This one took you nearly eight hours, but we have a correct answer. Take a look at the comments for the answer, and the full picture.

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    A look inside the Disneyland Hotel's Mickey Mouse Penthouse

    By Robert Niles
    Published: June 8, 2011 at 10:59 AM

    The second stop on our tour of the Disneyland Hotel's theme suites is the Mickey Mouse Penthouse:

    Mickey's living large in his penthouse suite.

    Check out those chairs.

    You can learn a thing or two about the Big Cheese at his work desk.

    In the master bedroom, you'll find plenty of reminders whose suite this is.

    Here's the bed in the kids' room.

    Now that is a TV stand!

    Remember, we're voting on our favorite of the theme suites this Friday.

    Previously: Big Thunder Suite

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    Is Primeval Whirl the new Son of Beast? Plus, changes at SeaWorld

    By Robert Niles
    Published: June 8, 2011 at 7:35 AM

    The Primeval Whirl roller coaster at Disney's Animal Kingdom will remain closed through the summer, according to the Orlando Sentinel's Jason Garcia.

    Primeval Whirl

    The spinning coaster has been closed since last March, when a worker died after suffering head injuries in an accident on the ride. It was the second fatal accident involving a worker on the ride.

    The ride's accident record, plus its ever-extending downtime reminds me a bit of Son of Beast, the Kings Island wooden coaster that - like Primeval Whirl - earned poor reader reviews, was involved in several injury accidents, subject to a long state investigation and ultimately, relegated to a "temporary" closure that stretched on and on and on.

    Disney's not talking about its plans for the ride while OSHA investigates the most recent incident.

    Also, on the subject of Sentinel reports, business columnist Beth Kassab quotes me in a piece about new developments at SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. The company's looking to expand its business beyond its traditional theme parks, potentially building hotels and moving into TV and movie entertainment to support the SeaWorld brand. Such moves might sound familiar to readers who saw our piece on Marketing Shamu last year.

    Beth suggested that SeaWorld's new moves might make the company less dependent upon its traditional trainers-in-the-water-with-animals shows. I tried to plant (or at least water) the seed that SeaWorld might get even better public reaction by doing a bang-up refurbishment of Journey to Atlantis and the Wild Arctic movie, too. What do you think?

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    A look inside the Disneyland Hotel's Big Thunder Suite

    By Robert Niles
    Published: June 7, 2011 at 12:15 PM

    As part of the Summer Soundsational media event at Disneyland last week, I got to walk through five of the "themed suites" on the top floor of the Disneyland Hotel. I'll be posting photos from each of the suites this week, leading up to a vote of the week on Friday, where you can pick your favorite. (I'll offer a second vote, where you can tell us if you'd ever even consider dropping the cash to stay in one of these.)

    Let's start with a suite inspired by one of my former attractions, the Big Thunder Suite:

    Big Thunder Suite entrance

    The mountain holds the place of honor above the fireplace in the suite's living room. (All suites had video screen fireplaces with images of burning logs.)

    Living room in Disneyland Hotel Big Thunder Suite

    There's another artist's rendering of the roller coaster ride on the wall in the dining area.

    Big Thunder Suite Dining Area

    The rustic-yet-pricey decor continues in the second bedroom. (Nice attraction poster!)

    Bedroom

    And into the master bedroom:

    Master bedroom

    But I most loved a couple of touches in the bathrooms, such as the sink:

    Sink in the Big Thunder Suite bathroom

    And the bathtub!

    The bathtub

    And how much to stay? The theme suites are not available through the Disneyland website. You have to call 714-300-7520 to inquire about reservations. I've been quoted prices between $2,000 and $3,400 a night for these suites.

    Comments (10) | Archive Link

    What's new on the discussion board: Whether to eat at Mythos, and which parks have you visited?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: June 7, 2011 at 10:35 AM

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

    Chris lincoln asks Should we go to Mythos?

    Steak at Mythos Restaurant
    The filet with truffle butter, mashed potatoes, asparagus and fried onions at Mythos.

    Steve lindstrom starts what turns into a conversation on ride design and audience development in Age-Appropriate Ride Warnings.

    Terri Pierce wants to know what is your Favorite Time of the Year to visit a theme park?

    Brian Creedon is looking for some help: What to do about booking our November trip to WDW?

    Daniel Etcheberry asks How do you rank the Disney World's theme parks?

    Scott B laments that Theme parks have ruined local attractions for me

    Caroline Davis needs some last-minute advice for a trip to Kings Dominion and Busch Gardens Williamsburg.

    I ask Which theme parks have you visited, and when?

    Jeff Elliott reports on Last week at your amusement park...June 6, 2011

    Archive Link

    It's official: Blackstone out at Universal Orlando

    By Robert Niles
    Published: June 6, 2011 at 8:19 PM

    Here's the memo going around the company: (And yes, we told you about this already.)
    NBCUniversal and The Blackstone Group have announced that they have entered into an agreement whereby NBCUniversal will purchase Blackstone's 50% interest in Universal Orlando, giving NBCUnviersal and its affiliates a complete stake in Universal Studios Florida, Universal Islands of Adventure and Universal CityWalk.

    "The acquisition consolidates our ownership and confirms our long-term commitment to Universal Orlando and the theme park business." Steve Burke said, "Universal Orlando has a superb management team and exciting growth opportunities."

    "We are proud of the extraordinary growth and success that Universal Orlando experienced during our eleven years of ownership," said Michael Chae, Senior Managing Director of Blackstone. "Throughout this period we have been committed to investing for long-term growth in partnership with the Company's management and NBCUniversal, and we are gratified with the results of this strategy."

    The price for Blackstone's 50% stake in Universal Orlando? $1.025 billion. For perspective, Disney's spending $1.1 billion on its revamp of the California Adventure theme park.

    Comments (8) | Archive Link

    Have you submitted ratings for this year's new theme park attractions?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: June 6, 2011 at 3:12 PM

    In less than a month, we'll know the winner of the 2011 Theme Park Insider Award for Best New Attraction. But before we can determine the winner, we need you to rate and review all the new rides and shows you've been on in the past 12 months.

    The Theme Park Insider Award for Best New Attraction is open to all theme park rides and shows that opened to the public between July 1, 2010 and June 30, 2011. The ride or show must be included in a park's regular admission fee and be either a new attraction or a substantial revamp of an existing one. Clones of attractions that debuted before July 1, 2010 are not eligible.

    Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
    Last year's landslide Best New Attraction winner was Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.

    Below I've listed 15 eligible new attractions. If you've been on any of them, please click to submit your rating for that attraction. Please do not submit ratings for any attractions you've not personally experienced.

    When rating attractions, remember that "perfection" should be reserved only for an attraction that is the very best in the industry today, for which there is not better ride or show anywhere. If a ride is average compared with other rides and shows you've experienced this year, then use that rating. Go a little higher for slightly better-than-average rides and shows, and lower for worse-than-average ones.

    Here are this year's leading major-park contenders:

    If I've missed a major new attraction from the past 12 months, please let me know in the comments and I'll add it to the list.

    Previously:

    Comments (4) | Archive Link

    Disney and Microsoft teaming up on Kinect?

    By duncan henny
    Published: June 6, 2011 at 8:57 AM

    Rumors are heating up that Microsoft will be announcing a new partnership with the Walt Disney theme parks, specifically to create Kinect-driven video games. Here's more.

    Update from Robert: Confirmed. Microsoft Studios' Phil Spencer announced at today's Microsoft E3 press conference that the company will debut "Kinect Disneyland Adventures," a digital replica of the entire theme park, where each attraction would be a mini-game. He said that some of the rides will be experienced in the game in ways that they cannot in real life - actually flying on Peter Pan's Flight, for example. The game will be available "this holiday" - which I presume to be Nov./Dec.

    From the comments, here's a YouTube look, from a gamer blog at the press conference:

    Comments (13) | Archive Link

    Disneyland wrap-up: Ride reviews, videos and park news

    By Robert Niles
    Published: June 5, 2011 at 2:34 PM

    With all the coverage we've had from Disneyland over the past few days, I wanted to note the passing of Wally Boag, whom Steve Martin (a former Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm employee) called "my hero, the first comedian I ever saw live, my influence, a man to whom I aspired."

    Wally Boag on the Mickey Mouse Club
    Wally Boag on the Mickey Mouse Club

    Boag played Pecos Bill in the old Golden Horseshoe Revue show at Disneyland, moving to Walt Disney World in 1971, where he opened the Diamond Horseshoe Revue show. He returned to Disneyland in 1974 and retired in 1982. He has been honored by the company as a Disney Legend. Boag died on June 3.

    Here's a wrap-up of all our coverage from Disneyland, including ride reviews, photos and on-ride and opening ceremony videos:

    You also can see all the videos we've uploaded on our Theme Park Insider YouTube Channel.

    Finally, Disney announced during the event that Disneyland is offering a three-day park pass to Southern California residents for $139. A park-hopper version is available for $154. The deal is available until Sept. 5 and the second and third day must be used within 45 days of the first day. Tickets are blocked out from July 2 - July 4 and Aug. 21 – Aug. 22.

    Comments (2) | Archive Link

    Jimmy Fallon reworks the Universal Hollywood Studio Tour

    By Robert Niles
    Published: June 5, 2011 at 1:46 PM

    Time to catch up on some non-Disney theme park news. Last week, Universal Studios Hollywood opened its latest iteration of its Studio Tour, which is now "hosted" by NBC Late Night host Jimmy Fallon.

    Here's a short video produced by Universal of the premiere event:

    In case you didn't just click and watch the video, Fallon mentions that his writing staff rewrote some of the tour script, adding jokes and even a gag song, "Have a Tramtastic Day!"

    Ah, snark. What Universal does better than anyone else.

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    Mickey's Soundsational Parade steps off at Disneyland

    By Robert Niles
    Published: June 5, 2011 at 10:16 AM

    Disneyland's new parade for 2011 is Mickey's Soundasational Parade, which I got the chance to watch from a media review platform during last week's "Summer Soundsational" media event at the Disneyland Resort.

    Senior show director John Addis took to the street to introduce the parade to the assembled photographers and videographers, only to have this happen behind him:

    Okay, it seems everyone's doing flash mobs these days. But that's because they're fun. I love going back and watch the video to see if I can guess who's part of the mob, and who's a "normal" guest, when I look at different parts of the crowd. Given how long the crowd was waiting there, at the top of Main Street, I suspect that the flash mob members had to spend at least an hour sitting around, pretending to be guests, in order to be in place for the dance.

    I should have warned you, though, the Soundsational theme song's become a total earworm for me - it's still playing in my head, three days later. It's almost as persistent as the Wonderful World of Color Remix was for me last year. (Oh, great, now that's in my brain again, too.)

    Mickey Mouse in Disneyland's Soundsational Parade

    The parade features eight units, each with characters and a song from a Disney franchise - the Mickey Mouse Club, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, The Three Caballeros, Tangled (with many of the rest of the Disney Princesses), The Lion King, The Princess and the Frog, Peter Pan (who's been relegated to a secondary, ground-level character so that Tinkerbell can take the lead role, riding up top on the float), and Mary Poppins.

    Here are the first five units in the parade:

    It's funny what you miss the first time you watch a parade. I noted the Lady Gaga influence on the street dancers in the Three Caballeros unit, but it wasn't until watching it again on video that my daughter and I realized that the dancers were supposed to be pinatas. And that Jose Carioca and Panchito Pistoles are following them...

    Carrying sticks.

    "Oh, my gosh," my daughter exclaimed. "They're supposed to be beating the women? Who's in the Jose suit, then, Chris Brown?"

    Cold.

    Other details are more welcomed. I love that Mickey's given something to do - wailing away on his drum set instead of robotically waving to the crowd. Mickey's supposed to be a mischievous mouse, and I love when Disney moves toward embracing that aspect of his character, instead of reducing him to a corporate symbol. Genie, from Aladdin, has swiped Jafar's staff. And Goofy gets to bang away on a not-so-hidden-Mickey drum and gong set.

    And the song remains a fun, upbeat engaging tune that keeps the energy flowing. Dancers engage the crowd up-close at street level while the major characters ride high enough that even the kids in the back can see them.

    If you'd like to see the second part of the parade, with the Lion King, Peter Pan and Mary Poppins units, that's up now on our Facebook page. Disneyland's running the Soundsational parade twice a day this summer, at 4 and 6:30 pm.

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    A look behind the construction wall at Disney California Adventure's Cars Land

    By Robert Niles
    Published: June 3, 2011 at 5:47 PM

    The Disneyland Resort wrapped up its summer media event this morning with a presentation on "What's Next" set, appropriately enough, inside the Cars Land construction site within Disney California Adventure.

    Disneyland President George Kalogridis

    Disneyland President George Kalogridis described the changes still to come at the California Adventure, including the debut of the new entrance turnstiles, the Buena Vista Street entrance plaza and the Carthay Circle Theater, which will occupy the place once held by the Sun Sphere. The Carthay Circle was theater where Walt Disney's first feature film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, debuted in the 1920s. California Adventure's Carthay Circle will house a new table-service restaurant and lounge, Kalogridis said, putting to rest rumors that a new Club 33-style private club might go into that space.

    Next up, Disney Imagineers Kathy Magnum and Kevin Rafferty talked the crowd through the construction progress in Cars Land. As they spoke, a live video feed from the top of the Tower of Terror panned across the land, shooting close-ups of the construction that were displayed on a video screen. (So you're going to see pictures of a picture here.)

    Today's event took place at what will become one of two entrances into Cars Land. The main entrance will stand across from the Blue Sky Cellar, where the Lightning McQueen and Mater meet-'n-greet now stands. Visitors entering Cars Land at that point will walk up Route 66 on their way to Ornament Valley and the land's iconic Radiator Springs Racers ride.

    The other entrance, where we sat today, will welcome visitors entering from Pacific Wharf. They walk along the cross street to Route 66, then on to the various attractions and shops in the new land.

    Magnum and Rafferty described some of the coming features in the land, as the camera showed them under construction.

    The Cozy Cone won't be a motel, as it was in the movie. Now, Sally's property will be a snack food court, selling as sorts of "cone" food, inkling "popcorn" and "chili cone carne," among other groan-inducing puns.

    Sally's Cozy Cones

    The main restaurant in Cars Land will be Flo's V8 Cafe. There, you'll find "comfort food," inspired by many mom-'n-pop diners along Route 66. (Think Roadfood, I suspect.) Magnum mentioned mac n' cheese as one menu item, and both mentioned that the restaurant will offer pie, the food the two said Imagineers overindulged in on their research trip across the remains of Route 66.

    Flo's V8 Cafe

    The cafe, which is built to look like a giant air filter, also will provide a backstory for Flo, who they said used to be a Motown-style singer, and whose gold records you'll see on the wall in the cafe. The cafe also will house Doc Hudson's Museum, providing additional backstory on the character voiced in the film by the late Paul Newman.

    Luigi's Flying Tires will run in the backyard of the Luigi's tire shop. Here, the story is that Luigi's fired up the air compressors to allow visitors to "fly" on floating tires, levitated by the compressed air.

    Luigi's Tire Shop

    Finally, the two talked us through Radiator Springs Racers. Visitors will encounter several of the Cars characters, including Lightning McQueen, Mater and Doc Hudson, in the queue for the attraction. Then it's off to the track, where Luigi and Guido will wave the flag as you race against another car of visitors.

    Ornament Valley

    Radiator Springs Racers will run on a similar ride system to Test Track at Epcot in Florida. Except that this ride will dispense with all that indoor faux ride testing in favor of just that exhilarating speed run outside, with dips and several turns through Ornament Valley, making this more a thrill ride experience than Test Track.

    But there are some surprises at the end of the ride, too. "We have a really wonderful part of Ornament Valley, which is a natural wonder called Tailight Caverns," Rafferty said. "It's filled with stalag-lights [I don't know if he meant "stalactites" or if Disney's coining a new term for those spire-like features in its Ornament Valley caves], which are designed in the style of old '50s-style cars, and in that scene, you come back from the race and we're going to create different ride profiles so that you cross the finish lines at different times. You may get a different one each time you go."

    So what exactly does he mean by "multiple ride profiles"? Rafferty wouldn't say, insisting that people would have to ride to find out. But it seems that a welcome back from Lightning McQueen and Mater will be part of the end of every ride.

    As I left, I did capture a couple of other shots of the construction. Here's the ornament arch under which visitors will enter from Pacific Wharf:

    More Ornament Valley

    And here's a close-up of the Radiator Springs Racers track, with Ornament Valley in the background.

    Radiator Springs Racers, under construction

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    Star Tours: The Adventures Continue debuts at Disneyland

    By Robert Niles
    Published: June 3, 2011 at 9:56 AM

    Disneyland officially opened its version of the new Star Tours ride this morning, with an opening ceremony featuring Darth Vader, Stormtroopers and Disney Parks chairman Tom Staggs, but no George Lucas.

    Vader and Staggs and Co.

    If The Little Mermaid ride stumbles a bit the more you think about its plot hole, Star Tours: The Adventure Continue just grows stronger the more you think about it. Truly, this is a radical attraction, and I'm don't mean that in surfer-speak.

    Try this scenario: You're in an airport, awaiting a flight. You wind your way through the security agency lines, eventually making your way onto your aircraft. But before you can take off, security forces stop your flight. A suspected terrorist is on board one of the planes, and the authorities are looking for him.

    Turns out, this anti-government terrorist is on your flight. But before the authorities can apprehend him, his compatriots take over the plane, flying him (and you) out of the airport. You land in a far-away land, where another anti-government leader orders you to fly on to a rendezvous point. You evade the authorities once more, then are greeted by members of the anti-government alliance, who welcome you as one of their own.

    "Remember, the [authorities are] always watching," they warn.

    Chilling? Perhaps. But welcome to the new Star Tours - this is the ride's plot.

    The droid factory in the old queue is gone, replaced by a checkpoint run by the "DSA" (the Droid Security Agency). You even walk past a ghostly negative projection of others in the queue (and eventually, you), evoking the infamous "backscatter" machines now in U.S. airports.

    DSA security
    Your DSA (Droid Security Agency) checkpoint, in the Star Tours queue. Image courtesy Disney.

    All in snarky fun, perhaps. But by juxtaposing modern security theater within the context of the Star Wars universe, Disney's Imagineers have challenged riders to think a bit more than they might be used to in a theme park. Uh, just whose side are we supposed to be on here?

    Why, the rebels, of course. Star Tours: The Adventures Continue not only exceeds its predecessor with superior high-definition 3-D projection and a smoother ride, it engages the rider as an active participant in the narrative, in a way that the the old version of the ride never did. Then, we were just a passenger, helplessly along for the ride as Captain Rex stumbled across the universe. Now, we are driving the action. One of us is the rebel spy. By the end of the ride, we've all become members of the Rebel Alliance. We are the ones doing something now, not Captain Rex. (Who, by the way, is packed up for shipment back in the ride's queue. Just look for the droid with the "Defective" sticker affixed.)

    Death Star
    Battling above the Death Star, under construction. Image courtesy Disney.

    George Lucas' Star Wars long has won praise for its stunning visuals and special effects. And the new Star Tours lives up to that standard. But Lucas also snuck in some prescient social commentary in Star Wars film. (Gee, a government leader lying to create a fake justification for war? When would that ever happen?) It's nice to see a touch of that subversiveness on display in the new Star Tours, too.

    After all, Lucas always taught us to root for the rebels.

    Update: Here are a couple photos I shot as the crowd gathered before the ceremony:

    Local TV personality Sam Rubin chats up a slightly confused (isn't he always?) Darth Goofy before the show. You're not a superhero, Goofy. The underwear goes inside the pants.

    Sam Rubin and Darth Goofy

    Fans queued up back and forth in front of the Plaza Inn, out into and around the Hub.

    Star Tours crowd

    By the time the ceremony was over, the queue filled the Hub, and was beginning to spill into Main Street. Some cast members were claiming a five-hour wait, but the longest report I've heard from someone in the back of that line at that moment was three-and-a-half hours.

    Finally, here's Disneyland's cute commercial for Star Tours. This is the longer, online-only version:

    FWIW, the music is the most brilliant thing about this video. It's "Imperial March" throughout, but with a very Disney spin.

    Finally, don't forget to tell us which version of Star Tours you got on your visit.

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    Behind the velvet rope at Disneyland's Soundsational Summer party

    By Robert Niles
    Published: June 2, 2011 at 11:25 PM

    After The Little Mermaid opening ceremony, Disney offered the gathered reporters a performance of Mickey's Soundsational Parade. I'll post the video of that performance tomorrow, but I've already uploaded a video of the pre-parade flash mob to our Twitter account.

    At the end of the parade, Disney threw a media party at the Disneyland Hotel.

    Disneyland Hotel

    Most of the guests appeared to be upper-level Disney employees, retirees and their families and guests, but more than a few photographers, videographers and TV and radio hosts walked across Downtown Disney for the free music, food and booze.

    Aerial view of the party

    With all the freebies out in the courtyard, not that many folks were heading in to Trader Sam's, the popular new tiki bar at the Disneyland Hotel that some have called the west-coast resurrection of Pleasure Island's Adventurer's Club.

    Trader Sam's

    The hotel's new monorail-themed watersides looked ready to go, though no one was taking advantage during the party.

    Monorail waterslides

    Instead, the entertainment was provided by a live band.

    Band at the Soundsational Summer Party

    Security was tight, of course. No interlopers allowed.

    Stormtroopes

    Celebrating the opening of Star Tours and The Little Mermaid made for a bit of an odd theme to the festivities. So Disney kept the mermaids in the pool, well away from the Stormtroopers.

    Live mermaids in the pool

    But the big attraction at these shindigs is the food and drink. Chefs were grilling all the kabobs you could eat.

    Chefs grilling at the Disneyland party

    Or, you could select one of the prepared appetizers, such as "King Triton's Surf and Turf" - "Duo tridents of shrimp with sweet garlic chili sauce and grilled beef with tangy BBQ sauce"

    Shrimp and steak

    And you could wrap up your noshing with a trip to the Star Tours-themed dessert bar, complete with lightsabers.

    Dessert bar

    Tomorrow morning, it's the opening ceremony for Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, followed by a "What's Next" presentation as we get a look behind the construction walls at Cars Land. We'll be there, and the coverage will be here.

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    The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure ride debuts at Disney California Adventure

    By Robert Niles
    Published: June 2, 2011 at 4:30 PM

    Disney California Adventure officially opened its first musical dark ride today - The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure.

    Walt Disney World visitors will get to see this new ride as part of the Fantasyland expansion that opens in late 2012 or early 2013. But for now, Ariel's Adventure is a California Adventure exclusive.

    Disney Parks Chairman Tom Staggs welcomed Jodi Benson, the original voice of the Ariel, to the stage during this afternoon's opening ceremony. Benson sang "Part of Your World" before introducing Sherie Rene Scott, the Broadway voice of Ursula, who performed "Poor Unfortunate Souls." Additional singers emerged for a medley of other Little Mermaid tunes before the ride opened to an explosion of streamers.

    The Little Mermaid opening ceremony at Disney California Adventure
    Jodi Benson, Tom Staggs and Sherie Rene Scott, center, open The Little Mermaid ride.

    The Little Mermaid revived Disney's animation division when it debuted to critical and public acclaim in 1989. Buoyed by Alan Mencken's Academy Award-winning score, The Little Mermaid reminded the public that Disney could still make a delightful animated film.

    Well, then, Ariel's Undersea Adventure reminds us today that Disney can still build one heck of a musical dark ride when it puts its mind to it, too.

    You ride in brightly colored clamshells, whose color helps you forget that this attraction is built on the same ride system as the very dark Haunted Mansion. As you pass under the stern of Prince Eric's ship, Scuttle sets the scene to begin the story. We turn a corner, then we drop "under the sea" as lights and projections create an underwater effect. (Be sure to look up for your first glimpse at our little mermaid.) The sounds of "Part of Your World" signal that we're about to enter Ariel's cave hideaway, where the little mermaid is singing her ode to a statue of the prince.

    Ariel's "handler," Sebastien the Crab, has other ideas for the mermaid, and leads a wild chorus of animatronic sea creatures in a delightful rendition of "Under the Sea." The scene, the largest in the ride, explodes with color and motion. Take a look at Ariel's eyes, which dance in delight - Disney didn't skimp. You might not notice such detail, but they help sell the scene to even a skeptical rider.

    Ariel in the Under the Sea scene
    Ariel jams in the "Under the Sea" scene


    On-ride video of The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure. Note: Video fixed to restore ending.

    But no great story is complete without some good ol' evil. Flotsam and Jetsam lead us to the lair of one of Disney's most delicious devils, Urusla the sea witch, who belts out "Poor Unfortunate Souls" while plotting the theft of Ariel's voice.

    With the tragic deal in place, Ariel gets her legs and Ursula claims Ariel's voice. We next see Sebastien crooning "Kiss the Girl" as Ariel and her beloved Price Eric float along on an evening date, accompanied by Sebastien's crew.

    And then… the plot hole.

    In the movie, Ursula transforms herself into a raven-haired beauty, using Ariel's voice to lure Prince Eric, against which the now-mute Ariel can't compete. The little mermaid's fauna friends bail her out, though, allowing Eric to escape Ursula's spell until Ariel's father, King Triton, could put everything right. (That didn't happen Hans Christian Andersen's original story, which ended on a tragic note.)

    I once twisted my young daughter's mind by pointing out that, from Snow White's perspective, the apple worked. One moment, the old lady is offering her a magic apple, and the next thing she sees is her beloved prince leaning in for a kiss, about to sweep her away to live happily ever after.

    Score!

    The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Adventure reminded me of that twist, because here, we skip straight from Ariel and Prince Eric on their date to happily ever after. If you hadn't seen the movie, you'd be lead to think that Ursula came through: Ariel got her man!

    What a nice sea witch, helping that lovesick mermaid like that, without taking anything in return.

    (Grrr….)

    Still, hearing those songs again, in a delightfully immersive environment, filled with motion and color, helped me forgive the omission of all that drama. Set behind an impressive seaside boardwalk facade, Ariel's Undersea Adventure is as sweet as salt-water taffy. Just don't chew on it too long.

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    Finding theme park deals, discounts and special events through Facebook and Twitter

    By Robert Niles
    Published: June 1, 2011 at 9:12 PM

    If you're looking for last-minute deals and discounts on theme park tickets this summer, I've been recommending that you follow your favorite theme parks on Facebook and Twitter. Theme parks are trying to build their social media presence, and many of them are trying to encourage fans to follow and like them by using their Twitter and Facebook accounts to announce discounts and deals that sometimes aren't available anywhere else. (Just this week, Busch Gardens Williamsburg posted a 50%-off deal for its Twitter followers.) Parks are using social media to announce special events and insider opportunities, too.

    TwitterTo help you connect with your favorite theme parks, here are the official Twitter accounts for the Top 20 United States theme parks (by annual attendance):

    Here are a few other official Twitter accounts for selected parks recommended by many Theme Park Insider readers:

    FacebookAnd here are the official Facebook pages for the Top 20 United States theme parks (by annual attendance):

    And the Facebook pages for those other parks:

    Finally, don't forget to follow our Twitter feed and like our Facebook page, too. There are a lot of breaking news and links that I post to Twitter and Facebook that don't make it on to the front page blog on the website, so if you're not following us on Facebook and Twitter, you're not getting complete Theme Park Insider coverage and conversation.

    Archive Link

    Keep reading: May 2011 Archive



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    Stories from a Theme Park Insider

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