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October 2011

SeaWorld San Diego puts first Manta track in place

By Robert Niles
Published: October 31, 2011 at 1:02 PM
SeaWorld San Diego announced today that it has laid the first track section for its Manta roller coaster that will debut next year. (Photos courtesy SeaWorld)

Preparing the first track section

Putting the track in place

The SeaWorld Manta will be a Mack launch coaster into a video effects tunnel before skimming the surface of the Forbidden Reef section of park. (The original Manta coaster, at SeaWorld Orlando, is a Bolliger & Mabillard flying coaster.) San Diego's more family-friendly Manta will cover 2,835 feet of track in 1 minute and 56 seconds, with a top speed of 43 miles per hour.

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Vote of the week: Did you go to a theme park Halloween event this year?

By Robert Niles
Published: October 28, 2011 at 7:55 AM
Did you go to Halloween Horror Nights this year? What about Mickey's Halloween Party? Or Howl-o-Scream at Busch Gardens? Heck, did you go to any theme park Halloween event this year?

Grown Evil at Busch Gardens Tampa's Howl-O-Scream 2011

That's our vote of the week.


If you didn't go to a Halloween event this year, please submit a comment telling us why not. What would entice you to go to a theme park Halloween even in the future?

If you did visit one of the many Halloween events at theme parks around the country, please tell us in the comments what was the best - or worst - moment you experienced at a Halloween event this year.

We started collecting reader ratings on Halloween events this year, and of the events that received at least five ratings, you voted Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights and Disneyland's Mickey's Halloween Party as your favorite two events so far. Which one was your favorite this year?

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The Muppets are back, but will they take more of a place in Disney's theme parks?

By Skipper Adam
Published: October 27, 2011 at 4:54 PM
Today the final parody trailer -so they say- was released. It is truly meta meta brilliance.

Although there hasn't been a Muppet movie in over a decade, there have been viral videos from the Muppets. To top it off, the Muppet movie trailers have been clever spoofs of other movies coming out this year.

With their new movie debut, The Muppets represent a side of Disney that we haven't seen before - hip, clever banter, low brow jokes and excessive explosions (sans pirates). This, of course, leads to the question, will we see more Muppets in the parks?

Muppet Vision 3D is a favorite amongst fans, despite that irritating Waldo. Could we be seeing a long needed update on the attraction?

There was also that technical display of awesomeness with the Muppets Mobile Lab. If you have never seen video of that, you should.

The area around Muppet Vision 3D was a planned Muppets land. There was to be a live Muppet show and a Muppet dark ride. When the merger of Jim Henson Studios never came to be after Jim Henson's untimely death, the area remained largely undeveloped except that now out of place Pizza Planet restaurant.

Could we see this long lost attraction ideas return? Could we see a brand new ride idea for the Muppets? Who knows, but lets hear your ideas.

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Transformers to open at Universal Studios Singapore on December 3

By Robert Niles
Published: October 26, 2011 at 7:31 PM
The highly anticipated new Transformers ride from Universal Creative will open on December 3, Universal Studios Singapore announced today.

Transformers concept art
Concept art from Transformers at Universal Studios Singapore

The press event will happen the day before and feature Transformers film director Michael Bay, who consulted on the attraction.

The breakthrough attraction will feature 12 scenes, comprising sets blended seamlessly with hyper-realistic 3-D digital media and special effects to bring tactile realism to every moment. Guests will be unable to discern illusion from reality as they get transported onboard advanced motion-based ride vehicles into the TRANSFORMERS universe, and partake in the ultimate 3D battle against the DECEPTICONS right alongside the AUTOBOTS.

Transformers also will debut at Universal Studios Hollywood in the spring of 2012.

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Let's take a look at what's under construction for 2012 at top theme parks

By Robert Niles
Published: October 26, 2011 at 2:44 PM
May I ask a favor? I'd like the theme park employees and other industry insiders who read the site to take a look at our What's Under Construction at Top Theme Parks page. (Okay, I want everyone to take a look at the page, too - let's be honest.) But I am hoping that folks in the know can help us keep the page up to date by letting me know about any major new upcoming attractions we haven't listed there yet. We've got plenty, but I want to make sure we have them all.

Cars Land
Radiator Springs Racers is the highlight of Cars Land, under construction at Disney California Adventure

I just added the new 255-foot B&M Mega Coaster for Spain's Port Aventura, which will debut next year. And we have an entry for the new Avatar land at Disney's Animal Kingdom, even though we don't yet have any idea what that will be. (Frankly, I don't know that Disney knows for certain, either.) Check out the other listings on the page and if you can't find a link for something you know will happen, please let me know. (Also, if there's ever anything on that page that has opened already or been cancelled, let me know that, as well.)

Thanks.

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What's new on the discussion board: Disney's zombie princesses, plus rides that don't deserve a perfect 10.

By Robert Niles
Published: October 25, 2011 at 10:00 AM
Usually, I end each weekly Theme Park Insider Discussion Board round-up with a link to Jeff Elliott's Last Week At Your Amusement Park post, but I had to kick off with Jeff this week after he found this perfect-for-Halloween-theme-park-picture:

Disney zombie princes and princesses

Elsewhere on the discussion board this week, Tim W asks which is the Best Disney World Tour?

And on the other coast, Daniel Etcheberry wants to know Which Anaheim budget hotel is the best one for visiting Disneyland?

I asked several questions this week, to which readers responded: Attention, Insiders: What are your favorite non-theme park places in Orlando?, Other than Disneyland Paris, what one theme park in Europe would you most like to read more about?, and Who has the best 'child swap' room in Orlando?

Giovanny Cruz asks for you to rank Your top 5 water parks in the world

Dominick D asks for you to name some Rides rated on TPI that don't deserve 9s or 10s.

Misty Greer suggests that Universal Creative ought to work up an attraction based on The Goonies at Universal Studios.

Finally, Zackiel Marsh asks you to name the Worst Thing About Theme Parks. The complaint box is open!

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Are Disney theme parks like museums?

By Skipper Adam
Published: October 24, 2011 at 5:13 PM
There are many ways to look at Disney parks. Some like them just for the rides. Some like the characters. Some just walk around for the atmosphere, or the food, or shows...the list goes on. One of the ignored, but truly fascinating facets of Disney themes parks is the museum aspect.

Did I just say museum?

Hall of Presidents display
An original dress from former First Lady Nancy Reagan, on display in the Magic Kingdom's Hall of Presidents lobby, along with other White House memorabilia.

You bet. And I don't mean that some of the rides are so old the belong in one, or that so many items of Disneyana are extremely collectible. Disney has collected rare antiques, steam engines, artifacts and movie props and hid them all over the parks. Did you know that a set of chairs in the lobby of the Tower of Terror in Disney's Hollywood Studios are actual antiques from the renaissance? Or that all of the mining equipment decorating the Big Thunder coasters are real antique mining machines? Or how about those penny arcade games, or orchestrium, or lamp poles on Main Street?

Even within the parks are mini museums. Things like One Man's Dream, or the stave church in Norway, or the amazing display on American invention in the American Pavilion or the presidential treasures in the Lobby of the Hall of Presidents. If you think about it, Disney's Hollywood Studios is one giant museum of film props hidden all over, in and out of the Back Lot Tour.

This all stems from Disney's effort to make their experience as close to the real thing. Such devotion to detail and preservation of wonderful items is not common in the theme park industry.

There could be a thick book with the history of all the integrated historic collectibles. Think about this next time you walk down Main Street, or fly by some mining machinery, or wish you could sit in that chair in the Tower of Terror lobby.

Enjoy the museums.

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2011 holiday plans announced at Universal Orlando

By Dominick D
Published: October 24, 2011 at 9:36 AM
It's that time again. Universal Orlando has announced its Christmas stuff! First, lets start with Universal Studios Florida:

Macy's Holiday Parade

Macy's Holiday Parade - It's Macy's Holiday Parade's 10th anniversary at Universal Orlando Resort. Taking place nightly at dusk, floats and balloons straight from the New York City parade come to the studios. After the parade, see the Christmas Tree lighting and lights around the holiday village.

Holiday Village - Special souvenirs, crafts for the kids, and treats and drinks are here in the village.

Mannheim Steamroller - The popular Christmas artists are back this year, and will be here on December 3, 4, 10, 11, 17 and 18.

Special Christmas versions of Startoons, Barney, and the Blues Brothers will also be played.

And over at Islands of Adventure:

How the Grinch Stole Christmas - See a live stage show version of the story featuring music by Mannheim Steamroller. Also, Whos will come offstage and walk around Seuss Landing!

Breakfast with the Grinch and Friends - Character breakfast in the park.

Picture with The Grinch - Get your picture with The Grinch. (This is the only time of the year to get your picture with him.)

Now these are just at the parks. (There are hotel events, too.) What do you think about this years festivities?

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Vote of the week: How long do you take to plan a theme park vacation?

By Robert Niles
Published: October 21, 2011 at 2:45 PM
Are you thinking about a Disney World trip for Christmas? Or maybe a visit to Universal Orlando next summer? Or are you the type who plans way ahead, and are putting together a budget for a theme park vacation in 2013 or beyond?

Grand Californian Hotel interior
Inside Disney's Grand Californian Hotel at Disneyland - your pick as the best theme park hotel vacation destination last year.

That's our vote of the week this week on Theme Park Insider: How far in advance do you start planning your theme park vacation?

We're not talking about random day trips to parks near you, but about overnight vacations instead. Maybe they're to a nearby park. Maybe they're to a park across the country or around the world. We've got a nice page here on the site with some general theme park vacation planning tips, but I know that different people do that planning in very different timeframes. Some readers make vacation planning a year-long process. Others believe in spontaneity (or last-minute discounts), and throw the whole thing together in a day or two.

Which type of theme park vacation planner are you?

Please share your favorite vacation planning tips, in the comments. And, as always, thank you for reading Theme Park Insider!

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Google honors Disney artist and Imagineer Mary Blair's 100th birthday

By Tom Rigg
Published: October 21, 2011 at 12:33 PM
Google is celebrating the 100th anniversary of Mary Blair with a doodle on their home page. Some of you may not know Mary Blair by name, but certainly most of us know her by her work on "The Happiest Cruise that Every Sailed": It's a Small World.

Google's Mary Blair doodle

Mary Blair started out as an animator for Walt Disney very early on She was brought over from the studio of Walt's one time friend and partner, but later competitor Ub Iwerks. Mary heavily influenced the look and feel of Cinderella, Peter Pan, and Alice in Wonderland, but also worked on other favorites like Dumbo and Lady and The Tramp.

Mary Blair left Disney in the 50's to pursue other career goals. However, leading up to the 1964 World's Fair, Disney asked Mary to be the creative guide for a project he was working on for UNICEF that would be sponsored by Pepsi-Cola. It's a Small World After all became one of the most popular attractions and enduring symbols of the '64 World's Fair.

Along with the ride's artistic design, Blair created a kinetic sculpture for the courtyard infront of the UNICEF pavilion entitled The Tower of Four Winds. Today, a scale model of this sculpture can be found in the grand concourse at Disney's Contemporary Resort.

Another piece of Blair's work towers over the concourse at the Contemporary in the form of a mural on the sides of the central elevators. This mural depicts Native American themes, albeit not very accurately (count the legs on the goats), in earth tones with the classic form that can be seen in It's a Small World.

Blair died suddenly at the age of 67 from a brain hemmorage. However, Blair left an indelible effect on the Theme Park industry as Small World has become a standard in ride design. Her artistic style continues to influence the creative minds of many people around the world.

As a tribute to Blair, Disney has release several items for sale at the Art of Disney Stores taken from her prints. You can purchase postcards, scarves, plates, and even a vase.

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Universal Orlando: Dragons will never duel again

By steve lee
Published: October 20, 2011 at 1:47 PM
Dueling Dragons was always an odd ride to me. Taken at face value, the ride consists of two fairly average inverted coasters. But once you intertwine the coasters and get them dueling, you've created a unique and exciting attraction. The exhilaration of the near-misses, exacerbated by riding on the front row, made a ride on both Fire and Ice a requirement when visiting Islands of Adventure. It was just a cool friggin' ride. Even the entrance and queue was cool.

Dueling Dragons/Dragon Challenge

While the coasters were rethemed to Harry Potter and rebranded Dragon Challenge, the thrill of those front row rides didn't abate.

Oh well.

After two accidents this year (including riders hit by flying debris from other riders), Universal has made their final decision on this ride. After 10 years of thrilling riders, the Dragons will duel no more.

Here's the story from the Orlando Sentinel.

Thoughts? (Clarifying, if you didn't follow the link: Universal's made permanent its recent practice of not launching the coasters at the same time, meaning that there won't be a "duel" encounter between the trains during the ride.)

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Not everyone is excited about going to Disney World

By Domenik Jost
Published: October 19, 2011 at 2:00 PM
So we have all either heard the phrase "I'm going to Disney World" and/or seen the cheery videos of parents surprising their kids with a trip to Disney. Well apparently not everyone is so thrilled to go to Disney World. The surprise wasn't so much on the kids, but the reaction rather surprised the parents. Take a look:

So that brings me to the question, what would you choose? Disney World or Chattanooga, Tennessee? And have any of you ever surprised your kids with a trip to Disney?

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The real health risks at Disneyland (or any other theme park)

By Robert Niles
Published: October 18, 2011 at 12:53 PM
Disneyland is making the "regular" news in California today thanks to a group suing the theme park, claiming that Disneyland's breaking the law regarding lead exposure.

I'm not one who hyperventilates every time someone files a lawsuit. Courts are supposed to settle disputes - let 'em do their job. If Disney's in violation of the law, I hope that the suit forces Disney to correct the problems and pay an appropriate penalty. If Disney's not violating the law, I hope that the company uses California's malicious prosecution law to force the plaintiff to pay for wasting Disney's and the court's time with a frivolous suit.

But whatever the outcome, it seems ridiculous to me to get too worked up over the supposed danger of touch brass doorknobs or stained-glass windows when there are these other, much more serious health dangers at Disneyland (or other theme parks, for that matter).

Want to protect your kids and ensure that they grow up physically and mentally healthy? Then worry about these risks instead. (Just for the record, I agree that lead exposure is a horrible problem, but that the real risk is with continued exposure, not a few one-time instances.)

1. Soft drinks

The biggest lifetime health risk facing kids today isn't lead exposure. It's obesity. Want to help kids your kids (and yourself) healthy? Stop drinking sodas - they're empty calories that provide you with nothing by weight gain. I'm a huge advocate for staying hydrated in theme parks. So guzzle all the water you want. Just say no to the soft drinks.

Salad at Disneyland

2. Spending a day of your life without eating a vegetable

Cutting the empty carbs is only part of the battle against obesity. You've got to start eating healthier food in place of the junk. Now, days you visit theme parks aren't normal days. But even on special occasions, you never should go an entire day without eating a single vegetable. Disneyland actually does one of the beter jobs in the industry in preparing tasty meals that include fruits and vegetables (and no, french fries do not count). Take advantage, and don't waste your day eating nothing but fried meat and batter.

3. Driving like a maniac to and from the theme park

What kills more kids in the United States each year than any other cause? Motor vehicle accidents. But I see plenty of people driving like jerks every time I drive to or from a theme park. Make everyone in the car wear a seat belt. Keep your young children in properly installed car seats. Pay attention to the road and traffic around you while driving. And never forget that driving is not a competition. You're just trying to get to where you want to go, safely. Don't get suckered into making this some type of contest.

4. Thinking that going on Storybook Land is an adequate substitute for reading a storybook at home

I've been doing a lot of research on education recently. And there are few more reliable markers for a child's future health and success than whether a child lives in a home with books that are read. If you can afford a trip to a theme park, you can afford to have books in your home. Read them, so that your children will see you reading and want to do that themselves. Disney makes great movies, but it always makes book versions of those stories as well. Pick up some for the Disney fans in your home. Then make story time a nightly tradition.

5. Failing to act like the "guests" that Disney calls you

Children learn the behavior they see. So say "please" whenever you ask a question, and "thank you" whenever you are shown on to a ride. Allow others to go ahead in a crowd. Don't curse or insult people. Walt Disney insisted on calling Disneyland's visitors "guests" because he wanted his cast members to treat them with courtesy and respect. But let's not forget that guests should treat their hosts with respect as well. Just because you paid to visit the park doesn't grant you the right to abuse anyone there - employees or visitors. Be nice, and not will you raise nice children, you'll raise calmer, happier children who don't spend life developing the stress that will lead to health and relationship problems down the road.

6. Keeping your kids in stroller or on leashes, instead of letting them out to play and explore

Before I write anything else, let's remember that Rule 5 always applies. Kids not only need to eat well to avoid obesity, they need to get physically active as well. Independent play promotes good health, confidence and social skills. And theme parks provide one of the safest, most enjoyable places imaginable for kids to explore. Let them. Again, Rule 5 applies, and you need to talk with your children about that before visiting the park.

But for heavens' sake, kids who spend their lives on leashes, unable to run free and explore, imitating their parents' bad behavior, never reading a book, flailing around in the back of a speeding car, eating junk and swigging soda pop are living a more dangerous life than a kid who tries to pull a sword from the stone at Disneyland. Let's try not to lose sight of the real risks in life. /rant

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What's new on the discussion board: Late-night Disney trips and Food & Wine tips

By Robert Niles
Published: October 18, 2011 at 11:55 AM
Here are a few of the new discussion threads you won't want to miss on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board:

Victoria Jurkowski tells her "tale of two teenagers, two hours, and one memorable night at Disneyland" in A Half Baked Disney Adventure.

Goofy
Is a late-night trip to Disneyland a Goofy idea?

Dominick D wants to know what are the Rides you chicken out on?

We could use some additions to Daniel Etcheberry's list of Tips from Epcot's food and wine festival. What do you suggest?

Tom Rigg gets us thinking about some of the many projects Disney's considered over the years, and asks What Project Do You Wish Disney Had of Followed Through With?

Jeff Elliott brings us home with Last Week At Your Amusement Park......October 17.

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Readers choose Orlando attractions over Southern California's in TPI's Theme Park Showdown

By Robert Niles
Published: October 17, 2011 at 10:06 AM
Thank you to everyone who voted in our Theme Park Insider Orlando/Southern California Showdown last week. The final score was Orlando 9, Southern California 3, but I think it's interesting to note that the score was Orlando 3, SoCal 0 on the non-Disney attractions that competed. I don't think I'd get much disputing that Orlando's got a deeper pool of theme park attractions outside the Disney parks than Southern California does, thanks to the extra offerings at Universal Orlando and SeaWorld. (Though, if we were voting on thrill rides, I have no doubt that Southern California would rout Orlando in that voting.)

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney's Hollywood Studios
Your biggest Showdown winner? The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney's Hollywood Studios

Of course, we were voting only on attractions shared in both locations. While I made a pitch for the virtues of San Diego's version of Journey to Atlantis, I expected that ride to lose overwhelmingly to the Orlando original, which it did. But I still think readers stiffed Universal Studios Hollywood's version of Jurassic Park, by choosing the Islands of Adventure version instead.

On the Disney rides and shows, the final score was Orlando 6, Southern California 3. I think the Orlando parks enjoyed a natural advantage, given how many more people visit the Orlando parks than the Southern California ones each year. If you look at the annual theme park attendance figures, each Orlando park outdraws its Southern California counterpart. In addition, the SoCal parks rely more on multiple visits from locals to boost their attendance than do the Orlando parks, further widening the gap in the number of actual individuals who visit the parks each year.

That said - Space Ranger Spin over Astro Blasters? Really? I voted for Disneyland's Space Mountain over Orlando's too, given the on-ride music, better starfield and much smoother ride. (Though I concede that Disney World's version has the comfiest roller coaster seats ever and a better queue.)

If you are interested, we didn't vote on Star Tours or Toy Story because those are identical on both coasts, once you get past the queues. I wanted to limit the voting to attractions where there was some significant difference in the ride or show itself. Same goes for Shrek 4-D, The Simpsons Ride, and a slew of attractions in the Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland.

Finally, I want to announce that I am planning to bring back the annual Theme Park Insider ride tournament next spring, and learned a few things from this mini-tournament that I'll be applying to that event. I've got some ideas on how I can distinguish it from many of the other ride tournaments that have appeared on the Web since we first ran ours back in 2008. Keep reading - I'll be revealing more details this winter.

Orlando/Southern California Theme Park Showdown winners:

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Legoland Florida celebrates its grand opening

By Domenik Jost
Published: October 15, 2011 at 12:33 PM
This morning at 10 am local time, the world's largest Legoland officially opened it's doors to everyone in Winter Haven, Florida. Legoland Florida features 50 rides, shows, and "pink knuckle" attractions built for kids and also has hundreds of displays made up of over 50 million lego bricks.

Legoland_Grand_Opening_Confetti

Check out my two photo galleries and see everything there is to see at Legoland Florida:

- Media Preview Day Pictures
- Grand Opening Day Pictures

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Orlando/SoCal Theme Park Showdown: Fantasmic! vs. Fantasmic!

By Robert Niles
Published: October 14, 2011 at 3:54 PM
And now we come to the final vote in the Theme Park Insider Orlando/Southern California Showdown. Since this is the end, why not wrap up with a night-time spectacular? Our final contest is Fantasmic! versus Fantasmic! The vote will be open for 24 hours.

Disneyland's Fantasmic!: Frontierland

Disneyland's Fantasmic!

Walt Disney World Disney's Hollywood Studio's Fantasmic!

Walt Disney World Disney's Hollywood Studio's Fantasmic!

The differences? Fantasmic! debuted on the Rivers of America at Disneyland in May 1992, revolutionizing the theme park night-time show with its blend of water screens, fireworks and live actors, on stage and on boats, floating by the audience. In October 1998, Disney brought Fantasmic! east, building a decicated amphitheater at the then-Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park. The shows are largely the same, though a Pocohantas replaces the Peter Pan sequence that plays on the Sailing Ship Columbia at Disneyland. Then, there's the whole how-does-Mickey-kill-Maleficent thing, too. In 2009, Disneyland debuted a new Maleficent dragon (nicknamed Murphy for all the things that went wrong with it during development), as well as adding Flotsam & Jetsam to the Ursula scene.

Feel free to further break down the match-up in the comments.

Other Showdown winners:

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Orlando/SoCal Theme Park Showdown: Journey to Atlantis

By Robert Niles
Published: October 14, 2011 at 2:11 PM
Okay, SeaWorld fans, it's your turn to play in the Theme Park Insider Orlando/Southern California showdown. For most SeaWorld shows, there's more difference from show to show than there is between the Orlando and San Diego versions, since most SeaWorld shows involve live animals. But there is one SeaWorld attraction that appears on both coasts in substantially different versions. That's Journey to Atlantis. So let's vote on which one you like best. Consider whatever details you'd like when voting, including setting, decor, ride or narrative. The vote will be open for 24 hours.

SeaWorld Orlando's Journey to Atlantis

SeaWorld Orlando's Journey to Atlantis

SeaWorld San Diego's Journey to Atlantis

SeaWorld San Diego's Journey to Atlantis

The differences? Sure, they're both Mack Rides water coasters, but that and their names are about the only things these rides have in common. Orlando's Journey to Atlantis debuted in 1998, an impressive blend of dark ride, flume ride and roller coaster, which took visitors into the lost city of Atlantis before drenching them with a flume drop, drying them in a roller coaster, then drenching them again just before the unload station. San Diego's version debuted in May 2004 and dropped the dark ride portion of the ride, while adding a unique element, a vertical lift in the dark in between the flume drop and roller coaster sections of the ride. The San Diego version also includes a Commerson's Dolphin exhibit. Feel free to further break down the match-up in the comments.

Other Showdown winners:

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Orlando/SoCal Theme Park Showdown: It's a Small World vs. It's a Small World

By Robert Niles
Published: October 14, 2011 at 10:05 AM
Ever hear of an earworm? That's a song that gets stuck in your brain, like a worm slithering into your ear, and you just can't get it out of your mind. I mention that because the next match-up in the Theme Park Insider Orlando/Southern California Showdown is It's a Small World. Consider whatever details you'd like when voting, including setting, decor, ride or narrative. The vote will be open for 24 hours. Just try not to think of the song.

Whoops. Too late.

Disneyland's It's a Small World: Fantasyland

Disneyland's It's a Small World

Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom's It's a Small World: Fantasyland

Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom's It's a Small World

The differences? Do you like your musical boat ride past a world of singing dolls to be in a flume, or a flooded show room? Do you want some Disney characters sprinkled through the Mary Blair-designed show scenes, allowing you to play a "Where's Waldo?"-like game as you try to spot them all? Do you want to wait outside in the Southern California sunshine, looking at an impressive facade with its regular "cuckoo clock" show, or under cover, protected from Florida thunderstorms, while looking at a static interior facade?

Those are your main differences between the original "It's a Small World," which debuted at the 1964 New York World's Fair before relocating to Disneyland, and its Walt Disney World sibling. (Disneyland has the flume, the added Disney characters and the animated outdoor facade.) Feel free to further break down the match-up in the comments.

Other Showdown winners:

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Party for the Senseless? Epcot Food & Wine Event Gets Off on Wrong Soggy Foot

By Scott Joseph
Published: October 14, 2011 at 9:44 AM
The Walt Disney World people can be pretty impressive in their guest services, but when they fail, they fail epically. Guest who paid as much as $234 to attend the first Party for the Senses, the Saturday night extravaganzas during the Epcot Food & Wine Festival, were made to queue up outside in the middle of a tropical storm. Once inside? Well, you can decide if it was worth the money, the wait or the wet. Read more...

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Orlando/SoCal Theme Park Showdown: Tower of Terror vs. Tower of Terror

By Robert Niles
Published: October 14, 2011 at 8:02 AM
The Orlando parks have dominated the Theme Park Insider Orlando/Southern California Showdown so far. Will that trend continue today? Let's find with our first match-up of the day, featuring the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror rides at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World and at Disney's California Adventure in Anaheim. Consider whatever details you'd like when voting, including setting, decor, ride or narrative. The vote will be open for 24 hours.

Disney's Hollywood Studios' Twilight Zone Tower of Terror: Sunset Boulevard

Disney's Hollywood Studios' Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

Disney California Adventure's Twilight Zone Tower of Terror: Hollywood Pictures Backlot

Disney California Adventure's Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

The differences? Both versions of Tower or Terror are, at their heart, themed drop rides set in a hotel. Beyond that, though, the differences are substantial. The Hollywood Studios original in Florida opened in July 1994 and its exterior is inspired by the Hollywood Tower in California. (You can see it just north of the 101 freeway in Hollywood, if you're ever out our way). The California Adventure version opened 10 years later, in May 2004, and its exterior is inspired by Pasadena's Castle Green.

On the inside, once you've boarded the elevator, you are in for different ride experiences on each coast, In Florida's Tower of Terror, you proceed up the first elevator shaft, before proceeding forward into a Fifth Dimension scene that will lead you to the drop shaft. In the drop shaft, riders get a randomized pattern of drops, before descending to the unload station. In California, your elevator pushes back immediately, before rising to the "ghost riders" scene, then proceeding to the drop sequence in the same shaft.

Feel free to further break down the match-up in the comments.

Other Showdown winners:

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Orlando/SoCal Theme Park Showdown: Splash Mountain vs. Splash Mountain

By Robert Niles
Published: October 13, 2011 at 1:58 PM
Let's head out to the laughing place for today's last vote in the Theme Park Insider Orlando/Southern California Showdown. Which version of Disney's Splash Mountain is your favorite - Disneyland's original, or Walt Disney World's? Consider whatever details you'd like - setting, decor, ride, narrative, or whatever petty individual bias you'd like to throw into the mix. The vote will be open for 24 hours.

Disneyland's Splash Mountain: Critter Country

Disneyland's Splash Mountain

Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom's Splash Mountain: Frontierland

Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom's Splash Mountain

The differences? Do you like to sit in single file on a flume ride, or side-by-side? That's been the big difference between these two versions of Disney's theme park-reincarnation of "Song of the South." The Disneyland original, which debuted in July 1989, features traditional single-file seating (except now in the back row, where an adult and child may sit together), while the Walt Disney World version, which opened in October 1992, offers side-by-side seating. That allows the Florida version of the ride to put through more visitors per hour than the Disneyland version, which typically translates to shorter waits.

On both rides, you follow the story of Brer Rabbit and his attempt to escape Brer Fox, ultimately leading to Brer Fox throwing Brer Rabbit (and you) down the waterfall into the Brier Patch. Feel free to further break down the match-up in the comments.

Other Showdown winners:

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Orlando/SoCal Theme Park Showdown: Jurassic Park vs. Jurassic Park

By Robert Niles
Published: October 13, 2011 at 12:22 PM
Let's switch back to Universal for the next round of the Theme Park Insider Orlando/Southern California Showdown. This time, we'll match up Universal Studios Hollywood's Jurassic Park - The Ride versus Universal Islands of Adventure's Jurassic Park River Adventure. Which is your favorite between the two versions? Consider whatever details you'd like - setting, decor, ride, narrative, or whatever petty individual bias you'd like to throw into the mix. The vote will be open for 24 hours.

Universal Studios Hollywood's Jurassic Park - The Ride: Lower Lot

Universal Studios Hollywood's Jurassic Park - The Ride

Universal Islands of Adventure's Jurassic Park River Adventure: Jurassic Park

Universal Islands of Adventure's Jurassic Park River Adventure

The differences? Jurassic Park - The Ride debuted at Universal Studios Hollywood in June 1996, the new flagship attraction for the park's Lower Lot. This Vekoma flume ride offered a five-minute riff on a dinosaur-themed "Jungle Cruise," where something, of course, goes terribly, terribly wrong. The Orlando version opened in May 1999 with the rest of Islands of Adventure.

The theme and basic structure of the two rides are similar, with one exception. At certain times of the year, Universal Studios Hollywood flips a switch (actually, I don't know exactly what they do) and turns on new programming for the ride which makes it much, much wetter. Here's what I wrote about the enhanced Hollywood version, after riding for the first time in 2007:

I have never gotten wetter on any theme or amusement park ride than I did today on Jurassic Park. The ride takes no mercy on its guests, with water streams, waterfalls and geysers soaking everyone on board before your boat ever gets to the final drop.

It's really become a theme park convention that animals spitting water on boat rides always miss the boat. The boat always turns at the last moment to avoid the water.... These were the conventions established by the Jungle Cruise, Jurassic Park's obvious inspiration, but JP willfully violates them all.

Frankly, I was a little perturbed at the beginning of the ride: 'What? Don't they realize that they're breaking the rules here?" But after a very short while, I gave in and enjoyed the absurdity. As well as the cooling soak.

Is that a good thing, or bad? That's up for you to debate. Feel free to further break down the match-up in the comments.

Other Showdown winners:

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Orlando/SoCal Theme Park Showdown: Tom Sawyer's Island vs. Tom's Sawyer' Island

By Robert Niles
Published: October 13, 2011 at 10:42 AM
The Theme Park Insider Orlando/Southern California Showdown continues with two of my favorite attractions, including my former Walt Disney World home. It's Tom Sawyer vs. Tom Sawyer as the two islands face off. Which is your favorite between the two versions? Consider whatever details you'd like - setting, decor, ride, narrative, or whatever petty individual bias you'd like to throw into the mix. The vote will be open for 24 hours.

Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom's Tom Sawyer's Island: Frontierland

Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom's Tom Sawyer's Island

Pirates Lair on Tom Sawyer Island: Frontierland

Pirates Lair on Tom Sawyer Island

The differences? The obvious difference is the pirate overlay at Disneyland, which was installed in 2007 to take advantage of the immense success of Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. But the pirate overlay's not inconsistent with the original theme as Tom and Huck Finn's river play place - in the original "The Adventure of Tom Sawyer" by Mark Twain, Tom and Huck did pretend to be pirates when playing. Plus, the pirate overlay provided Disney Imagineers with an excuse to do some needed freshening and upgrades throughout the island. Unfortunately, Disney did not restore Fort Wilderness at the northern side of the island, which remains off-limits to visitors.

I began working as a Tom Sawyer's Island raft driver at Walt Disney World in 1988, and have spent more hours than I care to count walking the trails, caves and play areas on the island. Maintenance standards on the island have fluctuated over the years, with elements such as the windmill, grist mill and fort coming, going, coming back and going away again. But it remains a great place for children with a love for books and an active imagination to run around, burn some energy and pretend.

Feel free to further break down the match-up in the comments.

Other Showdown winners:

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Orlando/SoCal Theme Park Showdown: Pirates of the Caribbean vs. Pirates of the Caribbean

By Robert Niles
Published: October 13, 2011 at 7:59 AM
Our first match-up on day two of the Theme Park Insider Orlando/Southern California Showdown matches Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean versus the Magic Kingdom's Pirates of the Caribbean. Which is your favorite between the two versions? Consider whatever details you'd like - setting, decor, ride, narrative, or whatever petty individual bias you'd like to throw into the mix. The vote will be open for 24 hours.

Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean: New Orleans Square

Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean

Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom's Pirates of the Caribbean: Adventureland

Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom's Pirates of the Caribbean

The differences? Pirates of the Caribbean opened the New Orleans Square expansion of Disneyland park in March 1967, just three months after Walt Disney's death. The ride remains one of the most impressive musical animatronic displays in the theme park industry. And at more than 15 minutes, it's also one of the longest theme park rides in the world. Pirates has spawned an entertainment empire, with four films that have grossed billions of dollars, not to mention video games, books and YouTube parodies (lyrics NSFW, BTW).

Disneyland's original version of the ride sends guests down two waterfalls into a misty realm where "dead men tell no tales." Disney's Imagineers have tweaked the ride several times since its 1967 debut, most recently in 2007, with the addition of characters from the Pirates of the Caribbean films, including Davy Jones and Johnny Depp's Capt. Jack Sparrow. The show's burning city finale features the rousing theme "Yo Ho, Yo Ho, A Pirate's Life for Me" by X. Atencio and George Bruns, followed by a coda in the city's crumbling prison, where the pirates face their comeuppance. (Except for Jack Sparrow, of course.)

Walt Disney World wasn't supposed to get Pirates. Instead, Disney Imagineers contemplated a massive "Western River Expedition" indoor boat ride through scenes from the American west. (A western-themed coaster that became Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was to be built on top of the Western River Expedition.) But early Disney World visitors demanded their Pirates and Disney rushed an abbreviated version of the ride into the park by Christmas 1973.

Disney World's version of Pirates of the Caribbean offers a much more elaborate queue, themed to a Spanish fortress. Once on board, guests sail immediately into the grotto, then drop down a single waterfall into the battle scene. The Blue Bayou and scenes of cursed treasure that follow the waterfall in Disneyland's version are omitted in Florida, as is about half of the interior of the burning city. Disney World visitors exit the ride after the jail and final treasure scene, and boats are transported up the final lift backstage. At Disneyland, riders stay in the boats for the entire circuit, exiting at the loading station.

Feel free to further break down the match-up in the comments.

Other Showdown winners:

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Orlando/SoCal Theme Park Showdown: Space Mountain vs. Space Mountain

By Robert Niles
Published: October 12, 2011 at 2:06 PM
Our final match-up of the day in the Theme Park Insider Orlando/Southern California Showdown matches Disneyland's Space Mountain versus the Magic Kingdom's Space Mountain. Which is your favorite between the two versions? Consider whatever details you'd like - setting, decor, ride, narrative, or whatever petty individual bias you'd like to throw into the mix. The vote will be open for 24 hours.

Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom's Space Mountain: Tomorrowland

Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom's Space Mountain

Disneyland's Space Mountain: Tomorrowland

Disneyland's Space Mountain

The differences? Space Mountain debuted at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom in December 1974, then came to Disneyland in May 1977. The Orlando Space Mountain features two, nearly identical, Arrow tracks while Anaheim's coaster offers just one. But the Disneyland version added an on-board musical soundtrack in 1996 and the track was completely rebuilt in California between 2003-2005. The Disney World version got its own substantial refurbishment in 2009, adding interactive elements to the queue as well as sound effects within the ride. Fans of the old Epcot attraction Horizons will find some familiar sights in Disney World Space Mountain's post-show. Disneyland fans, though, get to enjoy a Halloween overlay on Space Mountain each year: Ghost Galaxy, featuring a holiday-themed musical soundtrack and special on-ride visual effects.

I've leave to you to argue about the smoothness and feel of the two rides. Feel free to further break down the match-up in the comments.

Other Showdown winners:

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Orlando/SoCal Theme Park Showdown: Revenge of the Mummy vs. Revenge of the Mummy

By Robert Niles
Published: October 12, 2011 at 12:14 PM
Theme Park Insider Orlando/Southern California Showdown isn't just for Disney theme parks. Our third match-up pits two Universal attractions against one another: Mummy vs. Revenge of the Mummy. Which is your favorite between the two versions? Consider whatever details you'd like - setting, decor, ride, narrative, or whatever petty individual bias you'd like to throw into the mix. The vote will be open for 24 hours.

Universal Studios Florida's Revenge of the Mummy: New York

Universal Studios Florida's Revenge of the Mummy

Universal Studios Hollywood's Revenge of the Mummy: Lower Lot

Universal Studios Hollywood's Revenge of the Mummy

The differences? Universal Florida's Revenge of the Mummy opened in May 2004, in the old Kongfrontation building on New York street. Set amidst the filming of the fictional "Revenge of the Mummy" sequel to 1999's The Mummy and 2001's The Mummy Returns, the ride features an elaborate pre-show narrative starring Brendan Fraser, star of The Mummy films. The Hollywood version opened a month later in the old E.T. soundstage on the park's Lower Lot. Ironically, the Hollywood version skips the Fraser narrative "wrap" around the ride, despite the fact that the Hollywood park, unlike its Orlando sibling, actually is a working daily film studio.

On both versions of the ride, you are tempted by the evil Imhotep with a room filled with treasure before mummy soldiers attack to claim your souls for all eternity. In the Hollywood version, you launch then into the roller coaster portion of the ride, which is interrupted in the middle by the scarab attack before you plunge backward into the darkness. In Florida, you move first to the scarab beetle attack, then your car drops and turns around before launching into the coaster portion of the ride.

In Hollywood, you encounter Imhotep one final time before the curse is broken with fog and fire and you return to the living. In Florida, well, let's just say you get to see Imhotep a couple more times. Perhaps that's the biggest difference between the two rides. The Orlando version might be a bit longer, and include the Fraser overlay. But in Hollywood you know that Imhotep is defeated. In Orlando? You're not so sure...

Feel free to further break down the match-up in the comments.

Other Showdown winners:

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Orlando/SoCal Theme Park Showdown: Buzz Lightyear vs. Buzz Lightyear

By Robert Niles
Published: October 12, 2011 at 9:23 AM
Our second match-up in the Theme Park Insider Orlando/Southern California Showdown is Buzz Lightyear vs Buzz Lightyear. Which is your favorite between the two versions? Consider whatever details you'd like - setting, decor, ride, narrative, or whatever petty individual bias you'd like to throw into the mix. The vote will be open for 24 hours.

Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom's Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin: Tomorrowland

Disney World Buzz Lightyear

Disneyland's Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters: Tomorrowland

Disneyland Buzz Lightyear

The differences? The original Buzz Lightyear ride Space Ranger Spin, opened in the old "If You Had Wings" ride building at the Magic Kingdom in November 1998, introducing millions of theme park fans to the shoot-'em-up dark ride format that would endure with attractions such as Men in Black: Alien Attack, Toy Story Midway Mania and dozens of Sally rides at regional parks around the world. Disneyland's Astro Blasters opened in March 2005, in the old CircleVision theater in Tomorrowland. Disneyland's version is a few seconds longer than Disney World's, but the big difference is the guns. At Disney World, your laser blaster is mounted to the car, while at Disneyland, the guns are connected with a cord, allowing much greater freedom of movement. But that's not always a plus. With the guns mounted to the car at Disney World, spinning strategy plays a much more important role in trying to beat your opponent (or work together) for a high score.

Feel free to further break down the match-up in the comments.

Other Showdown winners:

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Disney World restaurants will charge $10 for no-shows

By Robert Niles
Published: October 12, 2011 at 8:17 AM
In an effort to discourage guests from making dining reservations that they won't use, starting October 26, several popular table service restaurants at the Walt Disney World resort will start requiring credit cards to make a reservation, and will charge those cards $10 if you don't show up.

Hollywood Brown Derby

If your plans change, you will be able to save the $10 fee if you cancel your priority seating time at least 24 hours in advance, by calling Disney's new cancellation line - 407-WDW-CNCL. (You make reservations by calling 407-WDW-DINE.)

In-park restaurants charging the new fee include Le Cellier Steakhouse, The Hollywood Brown Derby and the Crystal Palace. Cinderella's Royal Table in the Magic Kingdom's castle previously had switched to a pre-pay system to discourage reservation hoarding there.

Obviously, if you already have a priority seating time and didn't give a credit card number, the no-show fee won't apply to you. But after the 26th? Well, remember that cancellation number, and don't forget to use it if your touring plan or vacation dates change.

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Orlando/SoCal Theme Park Showdown: Haunted Mansion vs. Haunted Mansion

By Robert Niles
Published: October 12, 2011 at 7:38 AM
For the next three days, we're going to be matching up Orlando-area versions of popular theme park attractions with their Southern California counterparts. It's the Theme Park Insider Orlando/Southern California Showdown. We'll be posting four match-ups a day, every two hours starting at 11am ET (8am PT) each day.

We're asking you to pick your favorite between the two versions. Consider whatever details you'd like - setting, decor, ride, narrative, or whatever petty individual bias you'd like to throw into the mix. We've tried to select match-ups where there are enough significant differences between the two versions that you can make something other than a purely random choice. Each vote will be open for 24 hours. If you feel strongly, campaign all you want. You know what to do.

First up is a match-up of classic attractions from Disneyland and Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. It's Haunted Mansion versus Haunted Mansion.

Disneyland's Haunted Mansion: New Orleans Square

Disneyland Haunted Mansion

Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom Haunted Mansion: Liberty Square

Disney World Haunted Mansion

The differences? Disneyland's Haunted Mansion opened in 1969 in the New Orleans Square section of the park, an antebellum mansion on the outside, with 999 happy haunts within. In order to transport guests from the entry foyer into the larger show building, which was located behind the Mansion and outside the park's berm, Disney built two "stretch" rooms - elevators in which guests would descend below the level of the train tracks behind the Mansion facade. Walt Disney World's Mansion opened with the park in 1971. Located in Liberty Square, the Magic Kingdom's Mansion is a Gothic Revival style. Guests enter not through the front door, but through a side entrance in the basement. That's because the stretch rooms at Disney World aren't elevators. The floor doesn't move - it's the ceiling that's stretching up above you. Disney World's larger show building also accommodates an additional library scene at the beginning of the ride.

Oh, and there's Haunted Mansion Holiday at Disneyland, too. But Disney World has the nifty new additions to the queue.

Feel free to further break down the match-up in the comments.

Other Showdown winners:

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What to expect from Legoland Florida

By Robert Niles
Published: October 11, 2011 at 12:24 PM
Central Florida's newest theme park, Legoland Florida officially opens this Saturday. But the park's been open for previews to annual passholders, AAA members, sponsors, reporters and invited guests this week, so we've opened our Legoland Florida page for reader ratings and reviews on the park's new rides, play areas and shows.

What should you expect from Legoland Florida? I've not been to the park, which has been built on the site of the old Cypress Gardens park in Winter Haven, southwest of Orlando. But I've been to its sister park, Legoland California, more times than I can count. And the former Legoland California general manager is running Florida park, which will offer a similar ride line-up to its California sibling.

Legoland might be the first major new theme park in Central Florida since Islands of Adventure debuted in 1999, but I can tell you from my experience with the California park that Legoland Florida won't be like Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, SeaWorld or Busch Gardens. Legoland theme parks are built to serve a specific niche - families with kids ages 2-12. (IMHO, it's really best for families with kids between ages 4-10.)

Notice that I didn't write "built to appeal" to those kids and families. This isn't just marketing schtick. Legolands really are built as active play places for those children. If you don't have kids in that age range, you might enjoy the impressive Lego models of famous landmarks in Miniland, or the restored gardens. But you won't enjoy the park nearly as much as if you visited with kids.

This might be heresy to Central Florida theme park managers and marketing pros, who have spent 40 years now trying to appeal to as massive an audience as possible. But Legoland management really doesn't mind if people who don't have kids between 2-12 never visit their park. It is, after all, built for kids.

Expect Legoland, then, to market this park to local families. Sure, Legoland would be thrilled if some of the millions of out-of-state and international visitors who come to Orlando each year made the drive down I-4 and through the back roads of Polk County to visit the new park. But it won't count on that. First, Disney's Magic Your Way tickets lock most of those visitors into Disney World for the duration of their vacation. Those who do get away are far more likely to stay in town and visit Harry Potter at Universal or even Shamu at SeaWorld than to make the drive to Legoland.

I know some park fans have scratched their heads and wondered why Lego chose to rebuild the Cypress Gardens property, where multiple parks have failed before, rather than build closer to Orlando. Again, based on my experience with the California park, allow me to suggest that, second, Legoland doesn't want to be in the center the action.

Attractions such as the Driving School and Rescue Academy, which forces families to play together, rather than just sit together watching a movie or animatronics, handle many hundreds fewer visitors per hour than higher-capacity rides like Pirates of the Caribbean or The Simpsons Ride. Because Legoland is designed for active play by kids who sometimes linger, it simply can't handle crowds the same way as the Magic Kingdom or Universal Studios Florida.

If Legoland were built on I-Drive, crowds would smother the park. Lines would last for hours and few families would ever want to visit again. But out in Winter Haven, only Legoland's fans will make the drive to visit the park. Crowds will be more manageable, and local families can have a park of their own, far from the madness of I-4 between Universal and Disney.

I've made a lot about this being a park for kids, but parents can expect to find many details in the park intended just for them, too. Take a close look when you visit Miniland. You might be surprised at some of the sights you find. Legoland revels in sly, sarcastic humor - visual jokes that often fly over the heads of the kids, but give the parents something to chuckle about.

Busted in Miniland

Expect Legoland to offer events for local families, too. The park's already promoting itself as a site for school field trips, and in California it has offered a popular "Model Moms" program, an in-park get-together for mothers of pre-schoolers on certain weekday mornings. (The name is one of the most brilliant examples of theme park marketing ever - what stay-at-home mother of a toddler wouldn't want to be called a "model"?)

I'd love to hear reports from Theme Park Insider readers who visit during the premiere weekend. (Please post to the site or email photos and reports to me at themeparkinsider@gmail.com.)

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How will Disney's Art of Animation Resort affect the Orlando area hotel market this summer?

By Robert Niles
Published: October 11, 2011 at 11:34 AM
Disney fans will have another option for where to stay on Walt Disney World property next summer, as Disney has announced a May 31 opening date for its new Art of Animation Resort.

Disney's Art of Animation Resort will be a value resort in the ESPN Wide World of Sports area, with 1,120 family suites and 840 rooms. The resort will be themed to four Disney and Pixar animated films, The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, Finding Nemo and Cars, with exterior decorations and interior accents themed to these films and their settings. (Think Pop Century Resort, but with giant Disney mermaids instead of Rubik's Cubes. For what it's worth, the Mermaid and Cars concept drawings in the video above looked a lot like the concept art we saw here in California for the Disney California Adventure expansion.)

The Disney World Animation Resort's been in the planning phase for years, mothballed due to the sluggish economy. So why is Disney moving ahead with the resort now? Ultimately, Disney best strategy for maintaining its lead in the competitive Orlando-area tourism market is its package deals - Magic Your Way tickets, often combined with on-site stays that come with free bus rides to and from the airport, making it inconvenient, at best, for visitors to stray off Disney property.

But Disney needs more capacity at the high season to maximize the number of visitors buying its packages, especially with the New Fantasyland and Avatar on the horizon. So it makes sense for Disney to proceed with a new hotel. Sure, Disney adding 2,000 rooms to the market also means a tougher time for off-site hotels, but that usually translates into even lower hotel prices for bargain-hunters who don't stay on property with Disney.

Thoughts?

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What's new on the discussion board: Halloween advice, and Universal's Korea plans

By Robert Niles
Published: October 11, 2011 at 8:28 AM
Got a question about theme parks? We've got answers on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board.

(And if we don't have the answers, at least we'll have a fun time white-water-rafting on the stream of consciousness.)

If you haven't been to Busch Gardens Tampa's Halloween event before, take a look at How Does Howl-O-Scream Work for some good advice.

Howl-O-Scream

And here's a reminder that you can rate and review theme park Halloween events on Theme Park Insider now, too. (We'd love to get some photos, too, if you'd like to submit some via the listings.)

It's an oldie, but a good one. Readers are ranking their Top 10 in Orlando.

Okay, all you aspiring theme park designers out there: What rides do you think Universal is going to build in Universal Studios Korea?

I've got a preview piece on Central Florida's newest theme park coming later today. But for now - Legoland Florida is opening this weekend; anyone planning to visit the park?

Catch the rest of the week's news in Jeff Elliott's Last Week At Your Amusement Park......October 10.

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When things really go terribly wrong in a theme park...

By Adam Dodds
Published: October 10, 2011 at 10:52 AM
What was the biggest in-park disaster have you experienced?

Mine was when I worked at the Jungle Cruise, I was working Parade Audience Control on New Years Day, the busiest day of the year at the Magic Kingdom. I was in Liberty Square when a warning came along. At the Liberty Belle dock, there is a pipe connected to the sewers (I don't understand why it is there) but early in the day, it started leaking. This happened before, and like before they fixed it.

Then about 40 minutes later, all of Frontierland from the Little Mississippi to Pecos Bill was flooded with sewage.

Remember, we are at capacity, around 80,000 guest who need all the space they could get. Instead, we close the major thoroughfare to both Splash and Thunder, causing all that traffic to go through Adventureland.

On top of that, all the restrooms on the west side of the park were closed...

On top of that, the sewage access point was smartly placed in the patio of Pecos Bill, so we taped all the windows of the restaurant with black costuming fabric so the diners wouldn't be repulsed by the men diving in and out of the manhole covered in...stuff.

On top of canceling the day parade where 30,000 people were lined up do see because we couldn't sweep up and sanitize the street fast enough, and we had a mob of angry 30,000 people to whom we couldn't explain what was happening and to five angry guest bands who couldn't perform.

On top of that was because if all the secrecy of hiding the patio, blocking picture taking at all of the executives (I got to meet some pretty high up people that day) a lot of the guest thought some one died.

The candle on the cake was that Splash would leak animatronic fluid into the ride water and would have to be shut down for half the day.

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Bob Iger to step down as Disney CEO in 2015

By Robert Niles
Published: October 7, 2011 at 12:16 PM
Disney announced today that CEO Bob Iger will step down in 2015. No word yet on who will replace him, though presumably Disney's planning to promote a successor from within, given the long lead time on the announcement.

Iger will stay with the company for a year after stepping down as CEO, then leave Disney entirely. Iger will be 65 when he leaves the company.

Current Disney Parks chairman Tom Staggs and former parks chairman Jay Rasulo are tipped as the most likely replacements.

What do you think of the job Iger's done at Disney? Who would you like to see as his replacement?

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Vote of the week: Should Disney give Steve Jobs a window on Main Street?

By Robert Niles
Published: October 6, 2011 at 9:05 PM
When someone who made a profound impact on the Walt Disney Company, especially its theme parks, retires, often Disney chooses to honor that individual with a window on Main Street USA at Disneyland or Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. Look up at the second story windows the next time you visit one of those parks, and you'll see the names of dozens of former Imagineers, company executives and creative personnel who have helped make Disney the world's most popular entertainment brand.

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs, who died this week at 56, wasn't a Disney employee, but he was part of the Disney family. Though he was world-famous as the Chairman and former CEO of Apple, he was the largest individual shareholder in the Walt Disney Company, a member of the Disney board, and the founder of Pixar Animation, which created a dozen blockbuster hits for Disney, as well as providing the inspiration for many popular attractions in the Disney theme parks.

So here's my question for you, as theme park fans. Do you think that Disney should honor Jobs with a window on Main Street?

No, he wasn't a Disney employee. Apple didn't sponsor any Disney theme park attractions. Jobs wasn't directly involved in the creation of any Disney theme park rides or shows.

But without Pixar, Disney wouldn't be the company it is today. Without Jobs' mentoring the career of John Lasseter, Disney wouldn't have its chief creative officer. And Jobs captured the imagination and earned the gratitude of the public more than any other CEO of a company in the creative arts since Walt Disney himself.

Let's hear what you think. (If you think Disney should honor Jobs, but not with a window, go ahead and vote no, then offer your suggestion in the comments.)


Thank you, again, for reading Theme Park Insider.

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New on the site: Rate and review Halloween events at the world's top theme parks

By Robert Niles
Published: October 6, 2011 at 2:03 PM
I know, this is way overdue, but today we're debuting our page where you can rate and review Halloween events at the world's top theme parks. I've gotten things going by listing the events at the top parks we cover - Disney, Universal, and SeaWorld/Busch Gardens. But I've included a few other events in the SoCal and Central Florida areas as well, including the original theme park Halloween event - Knott's Berry Farm's Halloween Haunt.

Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando

This isn't a complete list, so if you're passionate about an Halloween event you think should be included, please let me know, or go ahead and add it yourself using the "Add a Missing Attraction" link at the bottom of the page. (As usual, I have to approve any new listing submissions before they go live to keep the spambots at bay.)

If you have any event photos you'd like to submit, you can do that using the "Submit a Photo" link on any listing page. And if you'd like to help by fleshing out some of the event descriptions, please do by clicking the "Update this description" link. Keep in mind, though, that the description is not the place to leave your review or impression of the event. The description should be the "just the facts, ma'am" overview of the event, which could include this year's dates, admission fees and attraction and event line-ups.

When you are rating these events, please don't just give everything a 10 because you love Halloween. Consider how each of these events stacks up to the competition, and rate accordingly. The 9 and 10 events should be the industry standards, with professional, Hollywood-quality make-up and effects and outstanding show quality. Kids in make-up they put on themselves, jumping out from behind hay bales while a strobe light flashes, should get somewhat lower scores. ;^)

Also, I know it's a little tough to compare haunts with kid-friendly events, so consider the kid-friendly trick-or-treat events against other such events, not against the horror-themed ones.

I hope that you'll enjoy this new feature, and that Halloween fans will take advantage to create a great resource of reviews and opinion on Halloween events, the way you all have with all the other theme park rides, shows, restaurants and hotels you've rated on the site.

Let's get started rating and reviewing!

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Pixar founder, Disney board member Steve Jobs dies at 56

By Robert Niles
Published: October 5, 2011 at 5:39 PM
Everyone knows Steve Jobs as the former head of Apple, but theme park fans should also note that in 1986 Jobs bought the computer graphics division of Lucasfilm from George Lucas and turned it into a company called Pixar.Steve Jobs

He bought the division for $10 million. Twenty years later, in 2006, Disney acquired Pixar for $7.4 billion. Jobs served on the Disney board after the acquisition of Pixar, and Pixar's lead creative force - John Lasseter - today holds the title of chief creative officer for The Walt Disney Company and principal creative advisor for Walt Disney Imagineering, making Lasseter one of the most important creative forces in theme parks today.

Frankly, I suspect Disney wouldn't be nearly as successful and influential as it is today if it weren't for Lasseter, Pixar... and Steve Jobs.

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Where to eat? Lunch at Disneyland's French Market Restaurant

By Robert Niles
Published: October 5, 2011 at 9:13 AM
Last weekend, Laurie and I had lunch at the French Market Restaurant in Disneyland's New Orleans Square.

Disney, appropriately, has loaded New Orleans Square with restaurants - the Blue Bayou, Cafe Orleans and even its members-only Club 33. Even the Harbor Galley (across from the Haunted Mansion) offers some nice entree salads now, emerging from its long hibernation as a McDonald's french fry stand.

With all these choice, it's sometimes easy to overlook the French Market, which is the first of the land's eateries closed on those rare days when Disneyland crowds are light. But the French Market offers hearty, balanced meals that will keep you well-filled for the rest of your day in the park.

The French Market is one of Disneyland's slide-tray cafeterias. Pick an entree and you'll be served, then pass by the desserts and drinks on your way to pay. My only complaint with the service is the wait you sometimes have to endure between getting your entree and paying, allowing your meal to cool. I'm thankful Disney serves its meals on real plates, which allows them to retain heat during the wait, but it'd be nice if Disney could find a way to minimize that cooling-off time.

I chose the jambalaya and my wife opted for the roast beef.

French Market Restaurant photo, from ThemeParkInsider.com
Seafood & Chicken Jambalaya at Disneyland's French Market: Chicken, shrimp and diced andouille sausage, with a cornbread and vegetables. ($13.49)

French Market Restaurant photo, from ThemeParkInsider.com
Roast Beef Royale: Roast beef in gravy, served over onion-laced mashed potatoes, with a cornbread and vegetables. ($13.49)

The julienned zucchini and peppers made a great complement to the roast beef, but I thought that serving sauteed carrots and jicama with the jambalaya was kinda weird. Jambalaya is, at its heart, a vegetable stew, so vegetables on the side of that struck me redundant.

Not that Disneyland's jambalaya was lacking for meat. If anything, there was too much of it. Even in New Orleans itself, I'ver never had a jambalaya that had this much more meat than rice. (Not that I'm complaining.)

This isn't foodie heaven - it's a quick-service cafeteria after all. Both entrees tasted like something that'd been dished up from a steam tray than meals individually assembled by a chef. Because that's what they were. But they were balanced meals, with tasty vegetables, that left us both satisfied and kept us from feeling hungry for the rest of the day.

Have you eaten at Disneyland's French Market? Share your impression in the comments, or cast your vote on our French Market Restaurant page.

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What's new on the discussion board: Theme park birthdays, T-shirts and is Manta the best coaster ever?

By Robert Niles
Published: October 4, 2011 at 8:59 AM
Lots of fun conversations on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board this week:

Zackiel Marsh was inspired by the 40th anniversary of Walt Disney World to ask what Attractions Opened On Your Birthday?

Remember that YouTube video about the plight of Disney's animatronic hippos? Well, here's the reply: Animatronic Hippos are Not In Danger!

Scott B kicked off a long discussion with his report about Wearing a Mickey Mouse shirt to Universal Islands of Adventure (apparently this shouldn't be done).

Mark Walker lays down his 10 Reasons Why Manta Is The Best Roller Coaster In The World.

Manta

After facing a 40 minute wait in the return line at Space Mountain this weekend, I ask What's the longest you've waited *with* a Fastpass?

Nick Dakuginow details his 13 1/2 Hour Theme Park Gauntlet from Walt Disney World to Halloween Horror Nights XXI.

KJ Simpson Needs advice for my Universal visit.

Mark Fairleigh offers a suggestion for a new attraction that would involve The Beatles at Universal Studios Florida.

Wok Creative found a great link to a 1988 EuroDisney in-house planning video.

Finally, let's wrap up with some news: SeaWorld rumors: New ride at Penguin Encounter confirmed and New 65-foot swing ride coming to Holiday World. And, as always, the rest of the week's news is in Jeff Elliott's Last Week At Your Amusement Park......October 3.

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A photo tour of HalloweenTime at Disneyland

By Robert Niles
Published: October 3, 2011 at 10:36 AM
October means HalloweenTime at the Disneyland Resort.

Halloween at Disneyland

The big Mickey pumpkin's back in his place at the head of Town Square.

Pumpkin Mickey

And don't miss the banners and jack-o-lanterns above every storefront on Main Street.

Main Street at Halloween

The display extends all the way to the hub.

Disneyland castle

Beyond Main Street, you'll find additional Halloween decor in Frontierland and New Orleans Square. Keep your eyes open for some of the character pumpkins.

Cheshire cat pumpkin

You'll find the Cheshire Cat and Minnie Mouse in Big Thunder Ranch.

Minnie Mouse pumpkin

Along with these fellas:

Pumpkin cowboys

Decorations are nice, but Halloween's really all about the treats, isn't it? Getting hungry yet?

Halloween wreath

Disney's laying out plenty of Halloween-themed sweets for sale during the month.

Ghost cookies and Mickey pumpkin cupcakes

Including this "Coffin Cake," at the French Market.

Coffin cake

Disneyland's also offering some Halloween-themed entrees, such as the "Mayor's Muffuletta," also at the French Market.

Mayor's Muffuletta

If that's not enough, and you're in the mood for all the candy you can eat, I'd recommend the Mickey's Halloween Party, Disneyland's family-friendly, after-hours trick-or-treating event, which we visited last year.

Mickey and Minnie Mouse

Next week, we'll take a look inside one of the highlights of HalloweenTime and Mickey's Halloween Party: Haunted Mansion Holiday.

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Walt Disney World celebrates its 40th birthday

By Robert Niles
Published: October 1, 2011 at 9:50 AM
Updates: Scroll down for an additional report from TPI reader TH Creative, and video of the 40th birthday ceremony.

Thanks to TPI reader Amy Smith for these photos from this morning's 40th anniversary celebration at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.

I love how Disney played with the design of the olf A-E ticket books for the front of today's anniversary guidemap. (All visitors to the park today also got a birthday button.)

Guidemap

And here's the inside of today's guidemap. (How many will we see on eBay today?) Yes, that's Orange Bird at the bottom!

Inside the guidemap

At the castle at 10am, the Disney characters marched in to music from each of the park's previous anniversary celebrations. Walt Disney World president Meg Crofton spoke to the crowd, then the Dapper Dans led the crowd in singing "When You Wish Upon a Star."

Dapper Dans at the castle

With a blast of pyro and streamers, the show came to an end.

Finale

There will be a special anniversary edition of the fireworks tonight. Relatively low-key for a Disney celebration, but we knew that would be the case. (Hey, it was still better than my 40th birthday party!) Here's hoping Disney makes up for the relative lack of festivities today with something truly awesome for its 50th.

Update: Disney's provided an edited video of ceremony highlights:

Another report, from Theme Park Insider reader TH Creative: We arrived in the Magic Kingdom parking lot at 7:30 AM, took the ferry across the Seven Seas Lagoon and were at the turnstiles just before eight. Crowds had already started to form. Park operators relieved pressure on the entrance by letting guests into the area in front of Main Street Station just after 8 AM. At 9 AM, the steam train rolled in with the characters, the park opened and everyone moved forward (snatching up stacks of commemorative guide maps).

We started by dropping in on Mickey and Minnie. Mickey signed my copy of the commemorative edition of the 'Eyes and Ears.' We then moved to the Hub just to the left of Cinderella's Castle. While we waited for the 40th Anniversary parade and ceremony my son darted to Tomorrowland (where he reported via text that the wait time for "Space Mountain" was just 10 minutes). When the parade passed we dropped in behind the trailing rope and moved forward with the crowd during the ceremony we were about twenty feet from the edge of the stage. The presentation (see YouTube link above) was extremely well-done -- relatively low-key, but classy.

Mickey Mouse

At the castle

I imagine crowds became more intense as the day got longer, but between 10:30 AM and 3:00 PM we saw only moderate lines. After the ceremony we walked into the "Enchanted Tiki Room" (no wait at all). It was great seeing the original show again for the fist time in many years. "Jungle Cruise" was a 20-minute wait (thank you for cleaning off the Indian elephants). My wife Barbara went over to Frontierland to pick up Fastpasses for "Big Thunder Mountain." My son and I hit "Pirates of the Caribbean" (equal time for J. Rao). Again the wait time was 20 minutes. We ate lunch at Tortuga Tavern and used the Fastpasses. My son headed to "Haunted Mansion" (he reported a 30-minute wait) while Barb and I wandered over toward Liberty Square. We were delighted to catch a performance by the FANTASTIC Main Street Philharmonic. On the way back we walked right up to the "Move It! Shake It" which my wife loves – Barb likes to dance.

After that we headed back down Main Street. My son ventured off on his own to ride the "People Mover."

It had always been our plan to only stay until around 3 PM. But Barbara ran into some fellow entertainment department cast members who tipped her off that they were having a reunion that day of characters who were working at the park's "Tencennial" celebration. We elected to meet up with the group for the 3 PM parade. With time to kill we ventured over to Tomorrowland and took in a showing of "Stitch's Great Escape." If they tweaked that attraction just a bit it would be one of the park's most entertaining. Having caught a dose of Stitch fever, Barbara ended up dancing with the fuzzy blue alien and Chip and Dale over at the Club 626 Dance Party before eventually moving back to Main Street to meet up with the reunion group.

UNBELIEVABLE! The reunion consisted of more than 40-plus current and former cast members, plus their families. That grabbed curb space in the shade in front of the Emporium. Barb was in heaven. Before the parade the Dapper Dan's strolled up and performed right in front of the group. The quartet was spot-on.

As the parade passed it was clear that many of the characters on the floats recognized members of the reunion group (who cheered and shouted character names throughout the parade's run).

But then to make the day in the park perfect, Barbara was invited to join her fellow cast members in a group photo (professionally taken) on the lawn near the rose garden at the front of Cinderella's Castle. Had we not accidentally bumped in to her fellow cast members she would have never had the chance to pose with her friends.

Posing

Group photo

We headed home after that (at around 4 PM). I am sure that the park became very crowded that night. But in the seven hours we were actually in the park (9 AM to 4 PM) our party of three took in a character greeting, eight attractions, three parades, the 40th Anniversary ceremony, had lunch and took in multiple performances by the Main Street Philharmonic and the Dapper Dans.

Since arriving in Orlando in 1982, I have been inside the Magic Kingdom on hundreds of occasions. Yesterday really was among the most memorable. And the number one, primary reason it was such a great experience was the park's cast members. The people running that park (front line cast members, entertainers and managers) carry themselves with so much thoughtful charm – and that's what makes a park like the Magic Kingdom so amazing. On the 40th anniversary it was apparent that the Magic Kingdom cast members were genuinely proud to be a part of the company's heritage – it really showed. Every cast member we encountered was outgoing, engaging, witty and genuinely nice.

It was a terrific day to be in the Magic Kingdom.

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Keep reading: September 2011 Archive