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July 2011

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Theme Park Apprentice Challenge 8 Vote

By Tim W
Published: July 31, 2011 at 12:33 PM
This week, our contestants had to design moderately themed hotels for the Hong Kong Disneyland Resort. Before voting, be sure to read all their proposals.

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Vote of the week: What's coming to Holiday World?

By Robert Niles
Published: July 29, 2011 at 7:13 AM
Holiday World is planning a press conference for next Wednesday at the park, when it will announce plans for the largest single project in the park's history, a $9 million new ride for 2012.

Typically, we stick with the big parks here on Theme Park Insider - the Disney, Universal and SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment parks that top the annual attendance lists. These parks draw the big crowds for a reason. They offer the best of the best in themed entertainment, with outstanding rides, shows and service in richly immersive environments. (Though we've been known to rip 'em from time to time when they fail.)

Still, a few other, smaller parks have won our readers' love, as well. Holiday World is one of those parks, offering world-class customer service and value (parking, soft drinks and sunscreen are all free at the Santa Claus, Indiana theme park), as well as three of the best wooden roller coasters in the world.

The Raven:

The Legend:

And The Voyage:

Assuming that Holiday World will be adding a fourth coaster, what would you want it to be? Should the park continue its tradition and add another woodie? Or has Holiday World reached the limits of what can be done with a wooden coaster, and should expand into steel?

That's our vote of the week.

Okay, coaster geeks, tell us the make and model you want to see, in the comments. Or, describe what you want to see if not another coaster.

And remember, if you're looking for a fun new book to read, our first eBook, "Stories from a Theme Park Insider," with hilarious and warm stories about working at Walt Disney World, is available for just $3.99 from Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble and Google. You can download free sample chapters from any of those sites, too.

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Reservations Date Announced for Epcot Food and Wine Festival

By Scott Joseph
Published: July 28, 2011 at 2:25 PM
Reservations phone lines will open on the 16th for the 16th annual Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. Set your alarms for 7 a.m.

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A photo tour of the best of Disney's Animal Kingdom

By Robert Niles
Published: July 27, 2011 at 12:02 PM
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - Come along with us on a photo tour of my favorite four attractions at Disney's Animal Kingdom.

We started our day with Expedition Everest.

Expedition Everest

Take time to notice one of the most richly detailed queues in theme parks:

Yeti statue

You're walking through a museum of the Yeti, with an exhibition on the "Lost Expedition" of 1982. What's in that photo on the right? Is it... an arm? Fangs? Foreshadowing?

Lost Expedition display in Everest queue

Alas, the photos might be more menacing that the somewhat dimly strobe-lit "Disco Yeti" you'll find inside the mountain. It's disheartening how few visitors these days even know that the Yeti's supposed to move, swiping at your coaster train with his enormous arm.

Unlike on Everest, the wildlife has been known to move from time to time on the Kilimanjaro Safaris. Let's start with... hippos!


And my family's favorite, the "Nile" crocodile.


Time for some close-ups!




Animal Kingdom is home to two of my favorite live musical shows in theme parks, including one of your all-time top five: Festival of the Lion King.

Soloist at Festival of the Lion King

The Lion King company

I also love the staging and singing puppeteer talent on display in Finding Nemo - The Musical:

In P. Sherman's tank at Finding Nemo - The Musical

On stage at Finding Nemo

What's your favorite sight in Disney's Animal Kingdom?

Comments (16) | Archive Link

What's new on the discussion board: The $22 million magic carpet ride

By Robert Niles
Published: July 26, 2011 at 5:32 AM
Here are the week's top new topics on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board:

Flavio de Souza responds to the opening of Jasmine's Flying Carpets at Tokyo DisneySea by asking, Is it worthwhile to pay 22 million for a 'Dumbo' ride?

Jasmine's Flying Carpets at Tokyo DisneySea

Inspired by certain funny new book now on sale for the low price of just $3.99, Mark Fairleigh asks Where would you want to work at Disney? And then follows up by asking Where would you work at Universal?

Melissa Faulkner wants to know about Magic Kingdom crowds 1st week of August.

Dominick D wonders What Theme Park in Central Florida should be the main host of Marvel?

James Trexen is looking for opinions on The Loudest Ride?

Rob P asks you to pick which song you'd like to hear on your favorite attraction, instead of what's now playing, in Music for Theme Park Attractions: You Choose.

Leanne D asks To rent a car or not?

Derek Morse is looking forward to college football season and wants to know Where to catch the game on Disney property?

Jeff Elliott brings us home with Last week at your amusement park...July 25, 2011, including the weekly caption contest.

That's it for now. I'm off to Animal Kingdom for the day! Look for my photo/trip report tomorrow on TPI.

Comments (3) | Archive Link

Universal Orlando announces special 'Harry Potter' event for November

By Robert Niles
Published: July 25, 2011 at 9:45 AM
Universal Orlando's gone ahead and done something many of us have predicted or wished for: It's planning a Harry Potter weekend at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter for Veteran's Day weekend in November.

Daniel Radcliffe
Daniel Radcliffe, answering my question during a press Q&A at the Wizarding World last year. Will he be among the cast members at the November event?

As of now, the only way in is to buy a combo hotel/ticket package through the Universal Orlando website. Packages start at $369 and includes four nights' hotel plus a three-day ticket to the Universal Orlando theme parks, admission to an in-park Q&A session with a Harry Potter cast member, a pin and a Blu-Ray set of the Harry Potter films.

The weekend will also include screenings of all eight Harry Potter films at the CityWalk theaters, as well as a party on November 13, with food, Butterbeer, live entertainment, as well as cast member appearances.

Packages go on sale Sunday, July 31. You in?

Update: I've got some thoughts on the annual passholder issue.

Comments (10) | Archive Link

Are theme park ride evacuations really a news story?

By Robert Niles
Published: July 25, 2011 at 9:18 AM
We had two ride evacuations at major theme parks break into the news over the weekend. In both cases, local fire departments were called to help evacuate people from the stopped rides.

California Screamin'
California Screamin' at Disney California Adventure

First, at Disney California Adventure in Anaheim, 24 people were pulled off California Screamin' Friday night after someone dropped a backpack onto the roller coaster's track. Then, yesterday, Orlando firefighters helped get 11 people off the E.T. Adventure ride when it stopped Sunday.

We've long tracked theme park accidents on this website, but I didn't bother listing either of these incidents. Why? No one was injured, and, frankly, ride evacuations are a daily occurrence at theme parks. As such, I just don't think that they are "news."

I'll grant you that it's unusual to have the local fire department called for a ride evacuation. And it's the involvement of local firefighters that gets the TV and newspaper people's attention.

But just because a fire department is called doesn't mean that the evacuation necessarily is more serious or dangerous. It simply means that the park lacks the equipment that it needs for the specific evacuation. Nine times out of ten (or more), the park's operator can move the ride units to points where people can be taken off the ride easily. But sometimes, ride units get stuck in awkward places, and if the park doesn't have a winch or a cherry-picker on site, it's time to call the local FD. Which means the press is going to show up.

Of course, at Walt Disney World, even that's not an issue, since Disney World has its own fire and rescue department, which allows it to keep many of its evacuations out of the news, something that's not the case at Universal Orlando or even at Disneyland.

Remember, a ride evacuation doesn't mean that the ride is "broken." In many cases, it means that the ride is operating properly, and has stopped safely because of some outside factor, such as a crying child... or a backpack dropped on a track.

What do you think about ride evacuations and when they should be covered? Feel free to share a story in the comments, if you've ever been evacuated from a theme park ride?

Update: I forgot about Disney's relatively new euphemism for ride evacuations: "in-show exits."

Comments (12) | Archive Link

More 'Stories from a Theme Park Insider': Driving to work at Disney

By Robert Niles
Published: July 24, 2011 at 12:06 PM
Being back in Orlando this week reminds me of the hassle of driving as a Disney cast member. (Surely Universal team members and SeaWorld employees know the frustration, too.) Driving Interstate 4 south of Orlando is like standing in the middle of the scrum after a kid busts open the piñata at a birthday party. Some tourists in rental cars careen back and forth like children on a sugar high, while others crawl along as if they're inspecting the pavement for overlooked candy.

Forget about trying to drive aggressively through that mess. There's no way to predict what the tourists on I-4 are going to do. Driving that stretch of road demands a more passive, almost Zen-like approach. Just watch what's happening in front and to the side of you. And when someone does something stupid - and someone will do something stupid - just calmly steer out of the way.

All this is why experienced theme park employees avoid Interstate 4. They find a variety of back roads to take on their way to work, and then back home. Unfortunately for commuters, Central Florida is riddled with former sinkholes-turned-lakes, frustrating any attempt to impose a street grid on the region. The Butler chain of lakes stand like a guard on the Walt Disney World Resort's east flank, forcing those of us who lived on the other side to drive around them to get to our jobs.

Working at the Magic Kingdom, I had a couple of choices. The shorter, northern route took me through the town of Windermere on my way to State Road 535, then south to Reams Road and the Magic Kingdom cast member parking lot. But Windermere was notorious for its, um, aggressive police force. I swear the town - home to rich pro golfers such as Tiger Woods - made most of its money on speeding tickets issued to Walt Disney World cast members.

I only got pulled over in Windermere once. It was my first day driving a new car, which still had a temporary paper license tag taped to the rear window, directly behind the driver's seat. The officer said he pulled me over because he saw my car from behind, and thought it was being driven by a girl in a white cowboy hat who didn't have a license plate.

Great vision tests they gave those Windermere officers back in the day, huh? I didn't know whether to be offended that he thought I looked like a girl or amused that he thought the temporary paper tag looked like a cowboy hat.

Regardless, after too many days tip-toeing through Windermere, I'd switch to the speedier southern route: down Apopka Vineland Road, then north up the 535 to Reams Road.

Of course, that meant suffering the excruciating traffic at the Apopka Vineland/Winter Garden Vineland interchange (the one just north of the Hotel Plaza entrance off I-4). Which would send me back through Windermere in frustration after a few days.

My future wife was among the lucky ones. As "talent" working in the Disney All-American College Orchestra at Epcot, she got a Disney van to whisk her away to work, then back home again, for every shift.

But for the rest of us, we had to hit the road. As frustrating as my two routes into work might have been, they were far better than the mayhem of trying to drive on I-4. At least on the back roads, we enjoyed predictability: one lane of people driving as fast they can toward the Magic Kingdom parking lot, trying to avoid being late. And the opposite lane of people driving away from Disney as fast as they could, too, after their shifts were done.

Current and former Orlando-area theme park workers, please share your favorite commuting stories in the comments.

For more: You can read 40 of Robert's stories about working at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom - including many far, far funnier than this one - in Stories from a Theme Park Insider, available for just $3.99 from Amazon.com or BarnesandNoble.com.

Update: "Stories from a Theme Park Insider" is now available via Apple's iBooks, too!

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Theme Park Apprentice Challenge 7 Vote

By Tim W
Published: July 24, 2011 at 6:54 AM
This week our apprentices designed simulator rides for Universal Studios Japan. They were designed to be in conjunction with a possible new Transformers ride, and to replaced Back to the Future.

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Disney ends ESPN: The Weekend

By Domenik Jost
Published: July 23, 2011 at 7:40 AM
First Walt Disney World scraps Grad Nights, now ESPN The Weekend.

Here's the release:

"Moving forward, our focus will be on creating events like the new ESPN RISE Girls Showcase and the ESPN RISE Games, which provide a stage for tens of thousands of athletes from around the country, and providing opportunities for guests to be part of events they’ve only before watched on television, such as the Home Depot College Football Awards and the Old Spice Classic.

We have just scratched the surface of what Walt Disney World and ESPN can do together and look forward to sharing information about new projects as they progress."

Have you ever attended ESPN The Weekend? What would you like to see Disney do with ESPN at the Walt Disney World Resort?

Comments (8) | Archive Link

Vote of the week: How do you book hotel rooms?

By Robert Niles
Published: July 22, 2011 at 8:22 AM
After three days driving cross-country, I've arrived in Celebration, Florida, where I'll be visiting family for the next couple weeks… while making a few "reporting" trips over to the theme parks, of course.

On the way across America, I experienced something I hadn't in years. As I was walking back to my car after checking in to the Hampton Inn in Van Horn, Texas (highly recommended, by the way), a woman pulled up behind my car and got out.

Hampton Inn

"Do they have any vacancies?" she asked me.

I had to tell her that I didn't know. I'd reserved my room online weeks ago.

Her question startled me, frankly. It's been 20 years since I drove up to a hotel cold and asked about "vacancies." (Here's an old-fogey moment, kids: Hotels and motels used to have neon signs under their marquees. The word "no" would light up in front of the word "vacancies" if the hotel was sold out for the night, so you wouldn't have to go through the hassle of pulling in to check if nothing was available.)

Of course, if you get lucky and pull up to a hotel with available rooms at 11 pm, you will get the rock-bottom lowest rate by negotiating with the front desk clerk then. He or she has no better chance at that hour to make money from one of those empty rooms than to give it to you for whatever you're willing to pay. The hotel chain's national call center or website won't cut you those deals.

While I might be willing to try that again if I wanted a room along the over-built 192 corridor outside Disney in Kissimmee, Florida, there's no way I'm taking that risk in the tiny town of Van Horn in west Texas. I didn't stick around to see if the woman got her room. But if she didn't, she was looking an another hour's drive to get to the next small town, which might be sold out for the night, too.

Which brings me to our vote of the week.

Please tell us in the comments about the best hotel deal you've gotten recently, and how you got it.

Comments (16) | Archive Link

Cedar Fair Announces FAST LANE

By James Rao
Published: July 19, 2011 at 6:40 PM
Cedar Fair, the last major holdout in the "Fastpass" Wars, has announced FAST LANE, their very own ride reservation system. This up-charge pass allows park visitors to bypass the lines on several major park attractions during certain hours of the day. Currently, only Kings Island is offering this pass and it costs $50 (plus park admission).

Read more about FAST LANE here.

Comments (18) | Archive Link

'The Thing' is coming to Halloween Horror Nights in Orlando and Hollywood

By Domenik Jost
Published: July 19, 2011 at 11:57 AM
Early this morning, Universal Orlando announced that 'The Thing' will be coming to both Universal Orlando Resort's Halloween Horror Nights 21 and Universal Studios Hollywood's Halloween Horror Nights event. Universal Orlando Halloween Horror Nights fans might recall the 2007 haunted house called "The Thing: Assimilation" based on John Carpenter's 1982 orignal. 

"The new haunted house will offer guests an unprecedented first-hand preview of the much-anticipated thriller in advance of its October 14 release. Guests will find themselves in a series of face-to-face encounters with “The Thing,” an alien creature that can transform itself into an exact replica of any living being. “The Thing” haunted house will recreate the spine-chilling suspense from the film, confronting guests with the paranoia and fear that comes from being trapped inside the film’s Antarctic Thule station."

In the same way that Universal Orlando in 2009 partnered with the filmmakers to bring 'The Wolfman' to the event prior to the film's release, Universal Orlando has partnered with the film’s producers, Strike Entertainment’s Marc Abraham and Eric Newman (Dawn of the Dead) to create an experience that is authentic to the film. The sets, audio, musical score, creature and character references are all based on the film.

“Having recreated well known horror films in the past, the same level of attention to detail has gone into creating a house experience that will completely immerse guests into the storyline and environment of ‘The Thing,’ said Jim Timon, Senior Vice President of Entertainment at Universal Orlando.

"The Thing" is the first offically annouced haunted house for both Halloween Horror Nights east coast and west coast events. The full reveal for both events is expected by sometime in August.

At Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights 21, luck will run out as guests discover their fate. Starting September 23, guests will be consumed by the “country’s best Halloween event” (Amusement Today) for 25 select nights through October 31. For more information visit HalloweenHorrorNights.com/Orlando.

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What's new on the discussion board: What should be new at Universal Orlando?

By Robert Niles
Published: July 18, 2011 at 10:14 PM
It's time for our weekly look at the best new thread on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board:

Dominick D asks you to consider the future of the Universal Orlando Resort in What to you want to happen at Universal?

Despicable Me at Universal Studios Florida
Despicable Me is one new thing coming to Universal Orlando. What else would you like to see?

David L. notes that Disneyland Acknowledges Theme Park Insider's Awards

Daniel Etcheberry says that it's a Bad idea to change Snow White in MK for meet and greet. What do you think?

Daniel also uncovers some fun YouTube videos of Disneyland in Do you want some Disney nostalgia?

We've been having fun all week in Jeff Elliott's epic Harry Potter Trivia! thread. (We're also discussing the new Harry Potter film over here.)

Finally, Jeff brings us home with his weekly theme park news round-up: Last week at your amusement park...July 18, 2011.

And remember, our first book, "Stories from a Theme Park Insider" is now available from Amazon.com or BarnesandNoble.com. Preview (or just go ahead and buy) a copy today!

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Theme Park Apprentice 3: Challenge 6 Vote

By Tim W
Published: July 17, 2011 at 2:44 PM
Here is this week's Theme Park Apprentice 3 poll. This week, our contestants designed live shows that would go into Tokyo Disneyland's Tomorrowland.

Comments (1) | Archive Link

Happy 56th birthday, Disneyland

By Robert Niles
Published: July 16, 2011 at 2:58 PM
Disneyland celebrates its 56th birthday on Sunday. Walt's original theme park opened July 17, 1955, the flagship of what is now a collection of 11 (soon to be 12) Disney theme parks around the world. Even though it's Disneyland's birthday, the present just opened across the plaza at Disney California Adventure - the new turnstiles are open.

New entrance to California Adventure
Photo courtesy Disney

As we noted before, the park's new entrance will look familiar to any Disney fan who's visited the Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park at Walt Disney World in Florida. Both the California Adventure turnstiles and Hollywood Studios ticket booths borrow their designs from the Pan-Pacific Auditorium in Los Angeles.

Pan Pacific Auditorium entrance in 1956
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

The Pan-Pacific opened in 1935 and served as a convention center, sports arena and concert hall until it was closed in the early 1970s upon the opening of the Los Angeles Convention Center downtown. The building showed up in a few movies and TV specials, but pretty much just decayed until it was destroyed by fire in May 1989, just days after the opening of the then-Disney-MGM Studios in Florida.

The new turnstiles are the first complete step in the transformation of California Adventure's entryway from a somewhat cartoonish contemporary California theme to a 1920s-era Buena Vista street from Hollywood. When the transformation is complete (next year, perhaps?), we'll have an 1890s street welcoming visitors to the original Disneyland park and a 1920s street welcoming people to California Adventure.

Which raises a question: What's your favorite architectural period to see represented in a theme park? (Cite an example in the comments.) Or, if your favorite era isn't in a theme park yet, why not suggest a way it could be used?

Comments (2) | Archive Link

'Stories from a Theme Park Insider' now available on Amazon and Barnesandnoble.com

By Robert Niles
Published: July 15, 2011 at 10:21 AM
Are you looking for a fun summer read? Do you enjoy stories about theme parks?

Stories from a Theme Park InsiderHave we got a book for you!

Starting today, we're publishing our first eBook, Stories from a Theme Park Insider. I have selected the best stories from our "Theme Park Cast Member Stories" series and rewritten them, adding extra details and few new stories, too. The result is a fun, light, warm read that will satisfy any theme park fan.

What time is the 3:00 parade? Why does a child need to be 40 inches tall to ride Thunder Mountain? What happens when the president of France gets lost inside Pirates of the Caribbean? Stories from a Theme Park Insider answers those questions and more while taking you inside the Magic Kingdom's tunnels and backstage to share the funny stories and embarrassments that can happen when your job is someone else's vacation.

And because Theme Park Insider isn't just me, you'll find your fellow readers' stories in the book, as well. I've selected the best and funniest comments submitted in the "Theme Park Cast Member Stories" and included edited versions of those in the book, too. The result really is the best of the best of ThemeParkInsider.com, with new material and some fun new illustrations.

The very best park? It's cheap - just $3.99. And it is available now for Kindle from Amazon.com and for Nook from barnesandnoble.com. (I've uploaded the book to Apple's iBookstore and it should appear there soon.)

Don't have an eReader? No problem. If you have a smartphone or tablet, you can download free Kindle and Nook applications for iPhone, iPad and Android devices. With those apps, you can read "Stories from a Theme Park Insider" and any other eBook.

I hope you'll take a look at the book and support the site by purchasing a copy. If you'd like to take a look, both Amazon and Barnes and Noble allow you to sample before you buy.

I also hope that you'll help us spread the word about Stories from a Theme Park Insider. If you enjoy the book, please submit a review via Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com, and click that you found other positive reviews of the book helpful, too.

And please tell your friends and other theme park fans about the book, too, via Facebook, email or other online forums. If this book is a success, I'm planning to follow up with additional stories, books and mobile apps for theme parks.

Finally, thank you to everyone who reads Theme Park Insider for helping make this book possible, especially those who don't just lurk on the site, but contribute to it with your informed, insightful and often very funny posts. You are the real Theme Park Insiders, and I hope that you'll enjoy this book. Please give it a look!

Comments (18) | Archive Link

Universal Orlando opens the Wizarding World for free to Harry Potter movie fans

By Robert Niles
Published: July 14, 2011 at 11:42 PM
Universal Orlando had a surprise for Harry Potter fans early Friday morning. Islands of Adventure admitted everyone who watched the midnight premiere of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two at CityWalk to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter for two hours after the show.

Hey, I'd suggested that Universal make the premiere a hard-ticket event and that the resort was missing out by not doing something special. Well, Universal did something special all right. If you were there, tell us about it in the comments.

UPDATE: Got a text that Forbidden Journey and Dragon Challenge were not open during the special event.

UPDATE 2: Here's Universal's promotional video of the event:

Comments (14) | Archive Link

Busch Gardens Tampa gets into Grad Night business

By Robert Niles
Published: July 13, 2011 at 9:53 AM
Busch Gardens Tampa announced today that it will begin offering Grad Nights to high school graduates next year. This follows Walt Disney World's announcement earlier this year that it will no longer offer Grad Nights.

Busch Gardens now joins Universal Orlando in carving the market now that Disney's out.

Granted, Busch Gardens' event won't be huge - just two nights - and seems geared at keeping closer to home the Tampa Bay area high school grads who would have otherwise made the trip up I-4 to Orlando for the Disney event. (Busch has offered eighth grade 'grad' nights in the past, and will continue to do so.)

The Grad Nights will be Friday, April 27 and Saturday, April 28, 2012. The price is $54.99 plus tax and group reservations can be made by calling 866-781-1333.

Comments (1) | Archive Link

Disney World announces new bowling complex for Downtown Disney

By Robert Niles
Published: July 12, 2011 at 4:03 PM
Universal Orlando's adding mini-golf to its CityWalk. So Walt Disney World is seeing that and countering with bowling at Downtown Disney.

Artist concept of Splitsville at Downtown Disney
Artist's concept courtesy Disney

Disney announced today that construction will begin this fall on a Splitsville, a four-location chain with current outlets in Tampa, Miami, Texas and Virginia. Splitsville will be going into the West Side building that now houses Ridemarkerz, which will move to the Marketplace.

Splitsville is not simply a bowling alley, but, in Disney's words, "a 50,000-square-foot upscale entertainment center that combines bowling with billiards, dining, music and nightlife."

Sounds like this place will try to do for bowling what Dave & Buster's did for video arcades. Thoughts?

Comments (15) | Archive Link

What's new on the discussion board: Ill-fated attractions and under/over-rated rides

By Robert Niles
Published: July 12, 2011 at 1:23 PM
It's cliche that on a theme park ride something "will go terribly wrong." But sometimes, something really does go "terribly wrong" in the development or lifespan of a theme park attraction. Randy Stellar asks what is your Favorite 'ill-fated' Ride or Attraction?

Creature from the Black Lagoon at Universal Studios Hollywood
My pick for a favorite ill-fated attraction, as no one else in the world other than me seemed to like it.

Here's a question for Disney fans who've hit the parks on both coasts: Which vehicle has more intense movement: Dinosaur or Indy?

We're debating the merits of the Coronado versus Port Orleans at Walt Disney World in More advice please which place to stay?

Buckle up for a bumpy trip on Bob Miller's thread asking for your lists of Most Overrated and Underrated Rides.

We're having fun with theme park publicity photos in Caption this photo: M. Night Shyamalan at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Discussion continues about the tragic incident that claimed the life of a disabled Iraq war veteran in Man dies on Intamin mega coaster in New York.

Finally, Jeff Elliott wraps the week's news with Last week at your amusement park...July 11, 2011.

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Monday evening Walt Disney World Resort news update

By Robert Niles
Published: July 11, 2011 at 7:54 PM
Sorry for being out of commission today - I spent the better part of last night and this morning at my friendly local emergency room following an unexpected visit from Mr. Kidney Stone. After a quick tour of the hospital's finest pharmaceuticals, I'm back and ready to blog.

Let's start with some news updates from the Walt Disney World Resort. First the good news, a new video from Disney detailing what's coming in the New Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom:

Now, for the bad news: Disney's announced that it's cutting hours on monorail service at the resort, to one hour following regular park close at Epcot, effective this week, and one hour following park close at the Magic Kingdom, starting August 1. That means folks attending evening Extra Magic Hours are out of luck if they were planning to use the monorail to get back to their hotel or car. You'll have to use buses or boats instead.

Finally, the absurd news: Disney fans on Twitter have been having fun with the news that the "Balzac" balloon ball stands around the Disney World theme parks seem to have disappeared. Living away from Florida, I have no idea what these things are/were, but apparently some folks are thrilled to see them go. Feel free to discuss and enlighten the rest of us, Florida readers.

Comments (15) | Archive Link

Theme Park Apprentice 3: Challenge 5 Poll

By Tim W
Published: July 10, 2011 at 10:39 AM
Here is this week's Theme Park Apprentice poll. This week, our contestants created DC comics inspired attractions for Movie World In Austrailia.

Comments (1) | Archive Link

Vote of the week: To park hop, or not to park hop?

By Robert Niles
Published: July 8, 2011 at 11:43 AM
In all our talk about Walt Disney World theme park tickets, one of the questions that keeps coming up to which there is no "right" answer is:

"Should I add the park hopper option?"

WDW Monorail

Some people enjoy hopping on the monorail or bus (or getting in their car) and visiting multiple parks on the same day. Others prefer the simplicity of sticking with one park per day. (Which also maximizes your "in-park" time, as you're not using time traveling from park to park.)

You can add a "park hopper" option at Disneyland or a "park to park" option at Universal Orlando, too. But with those resorts comprising just two theme parks within easy walking distance of each other, the equation's a bit different than it is at the Walt Disney World Resort.

Ultimately, there is no correct answer. It's just a matter of personal preference. But I'd love to hear which you prefer, and why. So let's put it to a vote.

Tell us why you prefer one over the other, in the comments.

Comments (31) | Archive Link

The 'other' studio tours of Los Angeles

By Robert Niles
Published: July 7, 2011 at 3:59 PM
As theme park fans, we all know about the Studio Tour at Universal Studios Hollywood.

But Universal's tour isn't the only opportunity for visitors to see a working film and television production facility in the Los Angeles area.

Warner Bros., Burbank
The two-and-a-half hour $49 "VIP" tour takes you on a cart around the Warner Bros. backlot, which is home to the new "Conan" show as well as "The Big Bang Theory," among others. If you want to drop a few more bucks, sign up for the $250 "Deluxe" tour, which runs five hours and includes lunch in the studio commissary. You can book your tickets online.

Paramount, Hollywood
Paramount's two-hour studio tour costs $45 and takes you around the facility where "Glee" and Nickelodeon's "Big Time Rush" shoot. There's no online booking; you'll have to call 323-956-1777 to reserve a date and time.

Sony, Culver City
Sony's $33 walking tour lasts about two hours and will take you past the sound stages for "Jeopardy!" and "Wheel of Fortune" as well as past some historic sets, such as those used in films such as "Men in Black." You can book online or reserve a custom group tour by calling 310-244-8687.

Universal, Universal City
For comparison, Universal's Studio Tour is a 45-minute drive through the backlot. You won't get close to live filming, but you will see historic sets, in addition to the King Kong 360/3D, Jaws and Earthquake attractions. The tour is part of a full-day admission, which is available online for $77.

Of course, filming abounds in the Los Angeles area. My wife and I were watching Legally Blonde on TV last week, and it took me a moment to realize that what the movie was passing off as Harvard Law School was, in fact, the hallway of our kids' elementary school in Pasadena. The LA film office used to publish a daily "shoot sheet," which told you what would be in production where on streets throughout Los Angeles, but it doesn't due that any longer due to "security concerns." So if you want to see film production "in the wild," just drive around looking for yellow rectangular signs with black block lettering, posted on street corners, then follow their arrows. Those are directional signs set out for film and TV crews, so they know where to park. Find one, and you'll find a production going on within a few blocks. You might not be able to get close enough to see any stars, but you can say you've seen a TV show or movie being filmed "in Hollywood."

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How much would you pay to add front-of-line-access to an annual pass?

By Robert Niles
Published: July 6, 2011 at 11:18 AM
Resorts World Sentosa, home of Universal Studios Singapore, has announced a new annual pass pricing structure for the theme park. I know that Singapore isn't on the radar of many Theme Park Insider readers, but Universal Studios Singapore's done something very interesting with these annual passes.

Revenge of the Mummy
Revenge of the Mummy at Universal Studios Singapore

The prices are SG$638 (US$519.45) for adults and SG$558 (US$454.31) for children. That seemed a bit high for me for a pass to single theme park. But I kept reading and found that the "Superstar Pass" includes... unlimited access to Universal Express.

That's right. Unlimited front-of-the-line access with an annual pass.

Imagine that. Instant Universal Express (or FastPass, for Disney fans) access to every ride, every time you visit the park. You'll never again have to worry about how crowded a park is if you have a hankering to ride one of your favorite attractions.

USS is also offering a lower-priced (SG$300 less) AP for visitors who don't want the Universal Express option. Which raises the question: How much more would you pay on top of your current annual pass price for a pass that included unlimited front-of-line access?

We've been talking on our Discussion Board about perks for annual passholders, but I'd love to hear about some of the perks you don't now get, such as front-of-the-line access, and how much you'd be willing to pay to get them.

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What's new on the discussion board: Air time, G forces and D23

By Robert Niles
Published: July 5, 2011 at 7:42 AM
Here are this week's top new topics on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board:

Bob Miller offers a couple questions for the roller coaster fans on the site: Most airtime on a roller coaster? and Which coasters have the highest G forces?

Raging Bull at Six Flags Great America
My pick for most airtime on a coaster? Raging Bull at Six Flags Great America

Amy lockland asks about crowds at Disneyland in July.

Daniel Etcheberry writes, I live in central Florida; what attractions in Southern California should I visit and which ones should I skip?

Joseph Catlett reviews some of The Perks of (Annual) Membership. Which ones are your favorites?

Dominick D rants about Stealing 3D glasses at the park?

David L. asks What does Disney NEED to announce at the D23 convention?

Here are a couple of new items from the past week, too: Goofy's Sky School and two new restaurants open at California Adventure and SeaWorld San Diego eliminates extra charge for Skytower and Bayside Skyride.

Finally, Jeff Elliott checks in with Last week at your amusement park...July 5, 2011.

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Happy Fourth of July - Which is your favorite 'American' theme park show?

By Robert Niles
Published: July 3, 2011 at 9:01 PM
Happy Fourth of July to all our American readers! It's Independence Day in the United States, so let's honor the day with an American-themed vote.

Here are three popular theme park attractions devoted to American history. Which is your favorite?

The American Adventure at Walt Disney World's Epcot, a 30-minute review of Amertican history, hosted by animatronics of Ben Franklin and Mark Twain.

Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln at Disneyland - The latest iteration of the original human-themed Audio-Animatronic show offers a few moments with the nation's 16th president, along with a filmed review of notable events in U.S. history.

Hall of Presidents at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom takes those great moments with Mr. Lincoln and throws in the rest of the U.S. presidents, too. Ever since Bill Clinton, the current U.S. president also gets a say in the show.

If anyone remembers Disney's long-gone American shows, including America Sings and the two Circle-Vision 360 shows, American the Beautiful and American Journeys, please share your recollections of those in the comments, too. (Or share a few thoughts about the never-built Disney's America theme park, too.)

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Theme Park Apprentice 3: Challenge 4 Vote

By Tim W
Published: July 3, 2011 at 4:27 PM
This week, our apprentices designed roller coasters for Pleasure Beach, Blackpool in the United Kingdom. Check their ideas out before voting.

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Universal, Disney parks claim 2011 Theme Park Insider Awards

By Robert Niles
Published: July 1, 2011 at 9:40 AM
The readers of ThemeParkInsider.com have presented their annual Theme Park Insider Awards to the best of the world's theme park industry. The awards are presented to the highest rated theme park, new attraction, table-service restaurant and on-site hotel, based on average reader ratings over the past 12 months on ThemeParkInsider.com.

Best Theme Park

For the second year in a row, Universal's Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Florida wins the Theme Park Insider Award as the world's best theme park. Powered by the debut of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Islands of Adventure recaptured the crown last year, and Harry Potter's continued popularity allowed it a second straight award in 2011.

Universal's Islands of Adventure

Runners-up in for Best Theme Park were two newcomers to the awards in this category, Busch Gardens Tampa and Disney California Adventure. While Busch Gardens' Williamsburg has been a perennial reader favorite, the Tampa park has moved up in the ratings thanks to popular new shows and roller coasters over the past few years. Once one of the lower-rated theme parks in our annual survey, California Adventure has vaulted toward the top of the list over the past two years, thanks to an ongoing $1 billion-plus makeover of the park.

Best New Attraction

The Force was with the Walt Disney theme parks this spring, as Theme Park Insider readers voted Star Tours: The Adventures Continue at Disneyland and Disney's Hollywood Studios as the Best New Theme Park Attraction of 2011 by a wide margin.

Star Tours, image courtesy Disney

Two roller coasters claimed the runners-up spots for Best New Attraction: Cheetah Hunt, Busch Gardens Tampa's new Intamin launch coaster and Texas Giant, the reconstruction of Six Flags Over Texas' classic wooden coaster.

Best Restaurant

Orlando-area restaurants dominate again as Epcot's Bistro de Paris wins its second straight Theme Park Insider Award for Best Theme Park Restaurant, as Theme Park Insider readers honored it for its world-class cuisine and service.

Bistro de Paris at Epcot

Runners up included long-time Theme Park Insider reader favorite Mythos Restaurant at Universal's Islands of Adventure, as well as a newcomer, Via Napoli, the new Patina Group Italian restaurant at Walt Disney World's Epcot.

Best Hotel

The Disneyland Resort in California captures its second Theme Park Insider Award of the year as Disney's Grand Californian Hotel reclaims Theme Park Insider readers' honor as the world's best on-site theme park hotel.

Disney's Grand Californian Hotel

Readers voted Universal's Portofino Bay Hotel and Disney's Beach Club Resort as their runners-up in this category, honoring three hotels not only known for their world-class service and amenities, but also for being within walking distance of their respective theme parks - something valued by readers eager to get away from their cars while on vacation.

About the Site

ThemeParkInsider.com is an online consumers' guide to the world's leading theme and amusement parks, read by more than 200,000 people each month. It has been named the top theme park site on the Internet by Forbes and Travel + Leisure magazines, and is a former Webby Award finalist and winner of the Online Journalism Award, presented by the Online News Associated and the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

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Keep reading: June 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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