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January 2012

2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Best High-Speed Indoor Ride?

By Robert Niles
Published: January 31, 2012 at 8:49 AM

Today's category in the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament honors a new type of hybrid ride, which marries the traditional, narrative-driven "dark" ride with a high-speed thrill experience. On one, the speed simulates the high-pressure launch and weightlessness of flight to Mars. On another, you grab a moment of airtime as you blast from the side of a volcano. And on the third, you're enjoying the wind-in-your-hair joy of pure speed on a racetrack.

Voting is open for 24 hours, and campaigning through Facebook and Twitter is not only allowed, but encouraged.

Journey to the Center of the Earth - at Tokyo DisneySea

Journey to the Center of the Earth

Mission: Space - at Epcot

Mission: Space

Test Track - at Epcot

Test Track

Feel free to campaign in the comments, too. In fact, follow me there as I'm going to jump into full campaign mode on behalf of one of today's nominees. (Opposing viewpoints welcomed, too, of course.) Please take a look before voting.

Tomorrow: We're voting on the best "mega" wooden hybrid coaster.

Comments (44) | Archive Link

What to do for the 'One More Disney Day'?

By Robert Niles
Published: January 30, 2012 at 11:20 AM

We're one month away from Disney's "One More Disney Day" Leap Day promotion - 24 hours of Disneyland and Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom on Feb. 29.

Sleeping Beauty's Castle at Disneyland

I'm torn on how effective a promotion this will be for Disney. It's just one day, after all, and on a "school" day at that, when relatively few families of Disney fans will be able to get away for a trip down to Disney World or Disneyland for the event. So I suspect that the attendance will be almost entirely locals - people with annual or seasonal passes, generating no additional admission income for Disney. Some might book hotel rooms for a night or two around the event, but I don't see this "Disney Day" generating any more in-park revenue for the company that a typical summer day would. Sure, it's nice to convert a Wednesday in February to a high-attendance day, but whatever additional income that brings in will be nothing more than a rounding error in Disney's budget.

So what is the value of this stunt? Publicity. The 6am-6am operation at Disney's two top theme parks will attract TV and newspaper reporters, as well as writers from every Disney-fan and theme park website. And all those stories will be drawing the public's attention three months before the start of summer vacation, when many families are considering their summer plans. So it's not the extra money that Disney makes on Feb. 29 that's driving this promotion. It's the extra money that Disney can make from the publicity around Feb. 29.

Hey, we'll play along. But how? That's what I want to talk about today. What should be our coverage angle for Feb. 29?

Here's my idea, and it's deceptively ambitious: Use the 24-hour window to try to visit every attraction at Disneyland. Keep in mind that there are 40 rides and shows at Disneyland, not counting the parade, Fantasmic! or fireworks. (Or Matterhorn, which will be down for refurbishment on Feb. 29.) That's just 36 minutes per attraction. And on a day when many at Disney are expecting to hit park capacity.

Disney's published calendar for Feb. 29 for both Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom lists no special entertainment for that day in either park - just the evening parade at Disneyland and the afternoon parade and Wishes at the MK, same as the day before and after. The calendars also note, ominously for this effort, that "select attractions, entertainment and services will be available" on that day. I'm taking that to mean that everything in the park won't be open for the full 24 hours.

So is a clean sweep of the park even possible? Is it worth trying? Is there a better idea for experiencing the 29th? Does anyone want to volunteer to cover the Magic Kingdom, since I'll be in Anaheim? Does anyone in Southern California want to join in for part of the day?

Have at it, in the comments.

Comments (19) | Archive Link

2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Best B&M Flying Coaster?

By Robert Niles
Published: January 30, 2012 at 8:25 AM

Bolliger & Mabillard roller coasters consistently score among the top-rated roller coasters in Theme Park Insider's reader ratings. Today in the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament, we're going to select our favorite of the company's Flying Coaster models.

Voting is open for 24 hours, and you're invited to campaign for your favorite by rallying votes on Facebook, Twitter or in the comments.

Air - at Alton Towers


Manta [link includes on-ride video] - at SeaWorld Orlando


Superman - Ultimate Flight - at Six Flags Great Adventure, Six Flags Great America and Six Flags Over Georgia

Superman - Ultimate Flight

Tatsu - at Six Flags Magic Mountain


Tomorrow: We'll vote on the best high-speed indoor rides.

Comments (20) | Archive Link

Theme Park Apprentice Tournament of Champions: Challenge 4 vote

By Robert Niles
Published: January 28, 2012 at 4:28 PM

It's time to vote on this week's challenge in Theme Park Apprentice: Tournament of Champions. Challenge 4 was to envision a boutique park for the Walt Disney World Resort. Please take a look at the submissions by our contestants before voting.

Archive Link

Busch Gardens Williamsburg completes the track for Verbolten

By Robert Niles
Published: January 27, 2012 at 11:05 AM

Busch Gardens Williamsburg has completed the track for its new multi-launch roller coaster Verbolten, which will open at the Virginia theme park this spring.

Here's an update from the park, with some footage from inside the ride's show building, currently under construction.

Verbolten will be a high-speed ride through the Black Forest, along the course of the old Bid Bad Wolf coaster.

Comments (8) | Archive Link

2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Best Musical?

By Robert Niles
Published: January 27, 2012 at 9:01 AM

We're celebrating musicals today in the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament by selecting the best theme park live musical. Here are the top five nominees, based on your Theme Park Insider reader ratings.

Campaign for your favorite by posting a link to today's post on Facebook or Twitter, and encouraging your friends to vote.

Aladdin - at Disney California Adventure


Beauty and the Beast - Live on Stage - at Disney's Hollywood Studios

Beauty and the Beast - Live on Stage

Beetlejuice's Graveyard Revue - at Universal Studios Florida

Beetlejuice's Graveyard Revue

Festival of the Lion King - at Disney's Animal Kingdom and Hong Kong Disneyland

Festival of the Lion King

Finding Nemo: The Musical - at Disney's Animal Kindgom

Finding Nemo: The Musical

On Monday: The tournament returns as we pick the best Bolliger & Mabillard Flying Coaster

Comments (19) | Archive Link

2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Best Indoor Ride?

By Robert Niles
Published: January 26, 2012 at 8:46 AM

Today in the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament we're honoring the dark ride - indoor track rides that take us to fantastical places or ancient times, telling us engaging stories along the way. Here we've listed the top five dark rides in your Theme Park Insider reader ratings. Note that these are only the "dry" dark rides - We voted earlier on best boat rides (winner: Pirates of the Caribbean), as well as for shoot-'em-up dark rides (winner: Men in Black).

Campaign in the comments, and on Facebook and Twitter, to rally the troops to vote for your favorite.

Haunted Mansion - top-rated version at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. Also at Disneyland, Tokyo Disneyland, and as Phantom Manor at Disneyland Paris.

Haunted Mansion

The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure - at Disney California Adventure and coming later this year to Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.

The Little Mermaid

Pooh's Hunny Hunt - at Tokyo Disneyland

Pooh's Hunny Hunt

Spaceship Earth - at Epcot

Spaceship Earth

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea - at Tokyo DisneySea

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Tomorrow: We close the week with a vote for the best theme park live musical show.

Comments (26) | Archive Link

Universal Orlando confirms 2012 parade, night show, Despicable Me opening and Spider-Man changes

By Robert Niles
Published: January 25, 2012 at 8:45 AM

Universal Orlando this morning declared 2012 its "Year to be Here."

"Never before have we created this many new experiences across the resort in a single year," said Mark Woodbury, President of Universal Creative during the invitation-only webcast (embedded below) to announce the resort's plans for the year. Here's what's coming to the resort, which we first told you about earlier this month:

  • Blue Man Group debuts a new show in February.

    Blue Man Group, with Mark Woodbury

  • Universal Creative is reanimating The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, with a 4K HD 3D film, to open in March. The Stan Lee cameo is confirmed, but Woodbury wouldn't say where in the show he will appear. (A "Hidden Stan?")

    We asked about down-time in preparation for the new show, but Jim Timon, Senior Vice President of Entertainment, didn't give a specific answer, saying only that there would be a "brief" closure and to check Universal's website for specific dates. Currently, there is no closure for Spider-Man listed. Update: Reader in the comments hears from guest relations that the ride will be closed starting Feb. 8.

    Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man

  • Universal Studios Florida will offer two new entertainment shows. Universal Super Star Parade will be a rolling "street show" with four show themed show stages: Despicable Me, Sponge Bob Square Pants, Dora and Diego and Hop. The parade will run once a day and open in "spring."

    Universal Super Star Parade

    Also in spring, Universal will debut its new nighttime show, Universal's Cinematic Spectacular - 100 Years of Movie Magic, a "World of Color"-like lagoon show narrated by Morgan Freeman, with screen projections, fountains and lights.

    Concept art

    Concept art

    So what will be the best place to see the show?

    "It's designed to be see from anywhere around the lagoon, so there's not a bad place to see it," Timon said. "It's the last kiss goodnight at the end of the day."

  • Finally, Woodbury showed some rough animation from Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem, the 3D adventure which will open this summer.

    Concept art for Despicable Me

    In addition, Woodbury confirmed that Hollywood Drive-In Golf will open in February, and he plugged a new water play area at Wet n' Wild, to open this summer.

    Universal told reporters before the webcast that there would be no announcements about the new Harry Potter land, but make no mistake. This announcement very much was influenced by Potter. Universal's trying hard to impress visitors with everything else the resort has to offer - to encourage people to visit this year, instead of waiting several years for the new Potter land.

    Update: Domenik was out at Universal today and took these shots of the lagoon. Coupled with the concept art, it looks like we're talking about actual physical screens for the lagoon show, and not the mist projections we saw in World of Color.

    Lagoon screens

    Lagoon screens

    Lagoon screens

    And here's the webcast, now available to all:

  • Comments (32) | Archive Link

    2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Best 2D Film?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: January 25, 2012 at 8:07 AM

    Film provides an important component in many theme park attractions, but a great film can stand on its own as an attraction, too. Today in the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament, we're honoring the best of the best in theme park 2-D film experiences.

    Here are your top nominees, based on Theme Park Insider reader ratings. For the winner, let's select the film that best engages the viewer, rewarding us with stunning visuals and a unique experience. Campaign for your favorite in the comments, or hit up Facebook and Twitter to rally the troops to your favorite film's cause.

    Impressions de France - at Epcot

    Impressions de France

    O Canada! - at Epcot

    O Canada!

    Reflections of China - at Epcot

    Reflections of China

    Walt Disney: One Man's Dream - ar Disney's Hollywood Studios

    Walt Disney One Man's Dream

    Tomorrow: It's a biggie. We'll be voting for the title of best indoor ride.

    Comments (12) | Archive Link

    2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Best Inverted Coaster?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: January 24, 2012 at 8:52 AM

    We're back to the roller coasters today in the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament. Today, we're voting for the best Bolliger & Mabillard Inverted Coaster. Here are the top five nominees, based on Theme Park Insider reader ratings.

    Afterburn - at Carowinds


    Dragon Challenge - at Universal's Islands of Adventure

    Dragon Challenge

    Montu - at Busch Gardens Tampa


    Nemesis - at Alton Towers


    Raptor - at Cedar Point


    Tomorrow: What's the best theme park movie attraction?

    Comments (46) | Archive Link

    Disney to allow cast members to wear beards

    By Robert Niles
    Published: January 23, 2012 at 8:50 AM

    The Orlando Sentinel's Jason Garcia's setting the Disney blogpsphere on fire this morning by breaking the news via Twitter that Disney's going to allow beards on cast members.

    Several years ago Disney started to undo its traditional no-facial-hair policy by allowing mustaches, prompting many to note that Walt now could work in the theme parks. (Imagineers and those in other divisions of the company haven't been held to the "Disney Look" facial-hair rules for parks employees.)

    That change helped Disney to recruit many more Latino males, who'd previously not seriously considered at Disney due to its facial-hair rules.

    The new change will help expand the labor market further for Disney, too. But don't expect to see Santa working the Jungle Cruise. Beard or goatee length is limited to just a quarter-inch under the new rules, quoted by Garcia.

    What do you think?

    Comments (24) | Archive Link

    2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Best Animal Show?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: January 23, 2012 at 8:32 AM

    Old vaudeville cliche says that you should never take the stage after children or animals - the audience just loves them too much to care about you. So animal acts have been part of live entertainment for generations, and many theme parks - notably SeaWorld - make them part of their offerings. Today inthe 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament, we're voting for the Best Animal Show in a theme park.

    In this category, we're looking not just for best performances by animals. We're looking for overall show quality - which show is the most engaging, unique, entertaining and worth coming early to get a good seat?

    Blue Horizons - at SeaWorld Orlando and SeaWorld San Diego

    Blue Horizons

    Clyde and Seamore - Known as Clyde and Seamore Take Pirate Island at SeaWorld San Diego, Clyde and Seamore's Cannery Row Caper at SeaWorld San Antonio and Sea Lions Live! at SeaWorld San Diego.

    Clyde and Seamore Take Pirate Island

    One Ocean - at SeaWorld Orlando and SeaWorld San Diego

    One Ocean

    Pets Ahoy! - at SeaWorld Orlando and playing as Pets Rule! at SeaWorld San Diego.

    Pets Rule!

    Universal's Animal Actors - at Universal Studios Hollywood and playing as Animal Actors on Location at Universal Studios Florida.

    Animal Actors on Location

    Tomorrow: We're voting on the best Bolliger & Mabillard Inverted Coaster.

    Comments (6) | Archive Link

    Theme Park Apprentice Tournament of Champions: Challenge 3 vote

    By Robert Niles
    Published: January 21, 2012 at 10:55 PM

    It's time to vote on this week's challenge in Theme Park Apprentice: Tournament of Champions. Challenge 3 was to envision a new land for Disney's Hollywood Studios with the theme of music. Please take a look at the submissions by our contestants before voting.

    Archive Link

    2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Best Rapids Ride?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: January 20, 2012 at 8:47 AM

    Earlier, we voted Disney's Splash Mountain as Best Flume Ride in the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament. Today. we're looking at another popular form of water ride, voting on Best Rapids Ride.

    In another fortunate coincidence, today also happens to be the day that one of our contestants, Jurassic Park Rapids Adventure at Universal Studios Singapore, reopens after a lengthy refurbishment.

    If you are unfamiliar with any of the candidates, take a look at their profile pages - linked below - for descriptions, photos and reader reviews. Or check out the campaigning in the comments. As always, we're looking not just for a fun ride, but an immersive themed experience as well. And if there's any chance of exiting a particular ride without being soaked to the bone, I think that's a big minus in this category, too. :^)

    Grizzly River Run - at Disney California Adventure

    Grizzly River Run

    Jurassic Park Rapids Adventure - at Universal Studios Singapore

    Jurassic Park Rapids Adventure

    Kali River Rapids - at Disney's Animal Kingdom

    Kali River Rapids

    Popeye & Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges - at Universal's Islands of Adventure

    Popeye & Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges

    Smoky Mountain River Rampage - at Dollywood

    Smoky Mountain River Rampage

    On Monday: We start in on the live shows, voting for the Best Animal Show.

    Comments (24) | Archive Link

    Legoland California announces pirate shoot-the-chutes ride for 2012

    By Robert Niles
    Published: January 19, 2012 at 8:31 PM

    Legoland California today announced its new ride for summer 2012, Pirate Reef, a shoot-the-chutes ride that will stand between the park's Pirate Shores area and the Legoland Water Park. The new splash ride will be accessible to visitors from both parks.

    Legoland California Project Designer Lindsay Burroughs explains the new ride in this video from the park:

    In addition, Legoland California will expand the Star Wars section of Miniland, adding additional elements to existing scenes and creating a gallery of famous Star Wars characters. If you've not yet seen Star Wars Miniland, we posted a gallery of up-close images to Theme Park Insider's Facebook page during the park's Lego Star Wars Day last summer.

    Comments (1) | Archive Link

    Universal Orlando releases new HD image from enhanced Spider-Man ride

    By Robert Niles
    Published: January 19, 2012 at 1:58 PM

    Universal Orlando has released this image of what Hobgoblin will look like in the new 4K HD version of The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man.

    Hobgoblin in Spider-Man HD

    The enhanced version of Islands of Adventure's Spider-Man ride debuts in March.

    Comments (13) | Archive Link

    President Obama calls for additional tourism to US in Disney World speech

    By Robert Niles
    Published: January 19, 2012 at 11:00 AM

    Hey, as a theme park fan, this sight is just cool, isn't it?

    President Obama at Walt Disney World

    President Obama visited the world's most popular theme park, Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, to announce plans to encourage and facilitate more international tourism to the United States.

    Requisite joke: "I'm excited to meet Mickey. It's always nice to meet a world leader who has bigger ears than me."

    Obama's plan includes additional industry-funded marketing for U.S. destinations, including the Orlando theme parks, as well as expedited visa processing for visitors from China and Brazil. Obama also expressed a desire for Congress to add more countries to the list of nations whose visitors do not need visas to visit the United States, including Brazil.

    Update: Legoland Florida wins the PR award for emailing the quickest response:

    “This development is a major game-changer for Florida. An improved visa process helps us roll out the welcome mat to our friends in Brazil and will result in record numbers of young families visiting Florida.

    Cost and convenience historically are two of the biggest barriers in travel. By addressing the hassle factor and making the visa process less onerous, we’ve just substantially improved our chance of attracting additional guests...

    The fact that we’re already seeing large numbers from Latin America combined with today’s announcement is pushing us to seek out more Portuguese- and Spanish-speaking model citizens to better accommodate our guests from across this region.” - Adrian Jones, General Manager - LEGOLAND Florida

    What's the PR equivalent of photobombing? :^) But Jones is right, making it easier for more people to visit Central Florida is nothing but good news for the area theme parks and the area economy. Get ready for more Brazilian tour groups*, everybody!

    Update 2: *Or maybe not. See my point in the comments.

    Comments (17) | Archive Link

    2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Best Animatronic Show?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: January 19, 2012 at 8:46 AM

    In honor of President Barack Obama's visit to the Magic Kingdom today, we're putting President Obama's animatronic alter ego and his electronic colleagues up against four other contenders for the title of Best Animatronic Show in the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament.

    Yeah, I totally planned the timing this way. ;^)

    Fortunate coincidences aside, this category illustrates Disney's dominance of this entertainment medium, as all five candidates come from Disney theme parks. In fact, there's an example of each at the company's flagship resort, Walt Disney World. I should note that this category does not include all attractions with animatronics. It's simply for theater shows - not rides with animatronic elements.

    Campaign in the comments, or be like TH and James Rao and rally the troops via Facebook and Twitter.

    The American Adventure - at Epcot

    The American Adventure

    Carousel of Progress - at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom

    Carousel of Progress

    Country Bear Jamboree - at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom and Tokyo Disneyland

    Country Bear Jamboree

    The Enchanted Tiki Room - at Disneyland and Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. Another version, Stitch Presents 'Aloha E Komo Mai!', plays at Tokyo Disneyland.

    The Enchanted Tiki Room

    Hall of Presidents - at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. (Disneyland fans can vote for this one in lieu of Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, if they'd like.)

    Hall of Presidents

    Tomorrow: We're voting on Best Rapids Ride.

    Comments (16) | Archive Link

    2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Best Traditional Wooden Roller Coaster?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: January 18, 2012 at 7:47 AM

    Let's go old school for our thrill rides today, and vote on the Best Traditional Wooden Roller Coaster in the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament. One note before anyone goes nuts here: This is only one of two categories in the tournament for wooden coasters. The wooden "megas," if you will, the next-generation wood/steel hybrid coasters such as The Voyage and El Toro, have their own category, and we'll see them on Feb. 2.

    Remember, these are the top five voted by Theme Park Insider readers over the past year. So if you don't see a particular coaster here, it's because it didn't make top five.

    If you've got a favorite among these, just jump down to the vote. If not, click through to our ride description pages, where you'll find photos, reader reviews and even a few videos. Still not decided? Check out the comments, where other readers will be campaigning for your vote.

    Apocalypse - at Six Flags Magic Mountain. (Formerly known as Terminator Salvation: The Ride.)


    The Beast - at Kings Island

    The Beast

    Lightning Racer - at Hersheypark

    Lightning Racer

    Prowler - at World of Fun


    Thunderhead - at Dollywood


    Tomorrow: We'll vote on the Best Animatronic Show.

    Comments (32) | Archive Link

    SeaWorld San Diego making progress toward Manta opening in May

    By Robert Niles
    Published: January 17, 2012 at 11:31 PM

    Looking forward to the west coast version of Manta, at SeaWorld San Diego?

    Did you know that there was going to be a west coast version of Manta, at SeaWorld San Diego?

    You can't miss that news now if you visit the San Diego park - SeaWorld's placed one of the new Manta coaster trains at the park entrance, to promote the upcoming ride.

    Manta coaster car

    San Diego's Manta will be a sit-down coaster from Mack Rides, a ground-hugging design with a top speed of 43 miles per hour and a maximum drop of just 54 feet (the park has to work within height restrictions imposed by the California Coastal Commission). So riders can expect a very difference experience from the original Manta, a Bolliger & Mabillard Flying Coaster at SeaWorld Orlando which won the Theme Park Insider Award for Best New Attraction in 2009.

    SeaWorld spokesperson Dave Koontz told me today that over half the track has been installed on San Diego's Manta, and construction will begin next week on the show building that will house the ride's launch. Ride testing will begin in April in advance of the scheduled May 26 opening.

    One more, though unrelated, new listing on the site: Katsura Grill, the new counter service restaurant that replaced the Yakitori House in the Japan pavilion at Epcot, opened officially today. Follow the link and rate away.

    Comments (2) | Archive Link

    Obama's going to Disney World, plus other theme park news

    By Robert Niles
    Published: January 17, 2012 at 9:47 AM

    The White House has announced that President Obama will be visiting Walt Disney World this Thursday. The president will "unveil a strategy that will significantly help boost tourism and travel," according to the Orlando Sentinel. (Note: Link updated. Obama will be in the Magic Kingdom sometime between noon and 2 pm Thursday, and Disney's trying to steer guests to the other three parks on that day.)

    Obama in the Hall of Presidents
    Obama will be in Orlando for real this week.

    No word yet on what that strategy might be, but might I suggest that if the US really wants to boost tourism, we might try treating visitors like welcomed guests instead of potential terrorists… whom we'll just soak with rental car and hotel taxes and airline security fees if they turn out not to be a threat?

    In other theme park news: also on Thursday, Legoland California will announce its new attraction for 2012.

    Then next week, on Wednesday, January 25, Universal Orlando will reveal details about the openings for Despicable Me and the new enhancements on The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man.

    Finally, Holiday World is said to be looking into Kentucky Kingdom. The family that owns the Santa Claus, Indiana theme park is "in talks" over the closed Louisville theme park. The Kentucky State Fair Board owns the lands upon which the park sits and has been in litigation with former Kentucky Kingdom operator Six Flags. (Has anyone been following that?) It's not uncommon for theme park companies to explore a bid for a competitor, when one goes on the block, simply as a way to get a peek into the competition's books. And it's sometimes possible for a park to pick up a few rides or other assets from a closed competitor, short of buying the whole thing, too. So anything's possible at this stage. Or nothing. But it certainly gives Midwestern theme park fans something to talk about during the winter.

    Update on the Universal announcement: Sources have told me what to expect from Universal's invitation-only webcast next week.

    First, the new 4K HD film for Spider-Man will debut in March. With the new high-def imagery on the ride, Universal's dropping some fresh new detail for us to spot, including a cameo from Marvel's Stan Lee.

    Second, Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem (note the new title) will open in "Summer." Perhaps Universal might narrow that window between now and the 25th, but that's the projected opening at this point. The film's original cast will be voicing the 3D film, including Steve Carell and Miranda Cosgrove, and the audience will be transformed into minions at the end.

    Third, Universal's getting both a new nighttime show and parade in 2012: Universal's Cinematic Spectacular - 100 Years of Movie Magic. Replacing "Universal 360 - A Cinesphere Spectacular," this new night-time show, with narration by Morgan Freeman, celebrates Universal Studios's 100th anniversary with scenes from some of the studio's top films, projected onto water screens in the Studios' lagoon. Choreographed lighting, fountains and pyrotechnics will complete the experience.

    The new parade will Universal's Superstar Parade, and feature several Universal and Nickelodeon animated characters, including the Minions, Spongebob Squarepants and Dora the Explorer. Both the parade and night-time show will debut in the spring.

    Finally, there will be a new Blue Man Group show debuting in February, as well.


    Comments (20) | Archive Link

    2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Best Arcade Dark Ride?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: January 17, 2012 at 8:52 AM

    A ride and a game, all in one? Today's category in the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament is Best Arcade Dark Ride, honoring those attractions that blend theme park experiences with video games. The winner in this category should be a challenging game that's fun to play and rewarding even for people who've played dozens of times. But it should also be a fully-immersive dark ride, with an engaging ride experience even for people who might not get into the full spirit of the game.

    Based on your Theme Park Insider readers' ratings, here are the nominees, in alphabetical order:

    Boo Blasters on Boo Hill - at Kings Dominion

    Boo Blasters on Boo Hill

    Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters - at Disneyland, Tokyo Disneyland and Hong Kong Disneyland. Other versions include Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast at Disneyland Paris and the original, Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.

    Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters

    Gobbler Getaway - at Holiday World

    Gobbler Getaway

    Men in Black Alien Attack - at Universal Studios Florida

    Men in Black Alien Attack

    Toy Story Midway Mania - at Disney California Adventure and at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

    Toy Story Midway Mania

    Yeah, I know I've been asking you to campaign in the comments, but I'm sure everyone would also love to hear your tips, strategy and found easter eggs from each of these rides. (I also want to take a moment to apologize for the lack of good on-ride pictures to post today. I suspect that too many of you are too busy shooting targets to shoot photos?)

    Tomorrow: We're voting for the Best Wooden Roller Coaster

    Comments (56) | Archive Link

    Theme Park Apprentice Tournament of Champions: Challenge 2 vote

    By Robert Niles
    Published: January 14, 2012 at 10:44 AM

    It's time to vote on this week's challenge in Theme Park Apprentice: Tournament of Champions. Challenge 2 was to envision a new hotel for Universal Orlando. Please take a look at the submissions by our contestants before voting.

    Comments (4) | Archive Link

    2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Best Intamin Accelerator Coaster?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: January 13, 2012 at 8:01 AM

    It's all about speed today in the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament. And just how quickly you can hit that top speed.

    The undisputed speed champion in roller coasters today is Intamin, with its line of accelerator/high-speed launch coasters. Formula Rossa in Abu Dhabi is the current official speed champ (which is why I included it with these other, Top-Hat-style accelerators), but a few others in today's vote have held that record in the past, too. If there's an Achilles' heel on these Intamins, it's uptime. Too many fans over the years have complained that the traveled to a theme or amusement park to ride one of these record-breakers, only to find them down for much or even all of the day.

    But when you do get on one? Sit back with your head against the rest, because you're in for one heck of a ride.

    Voting is open for 24 hours. Rally the troops in the comments, and on Facebook and Twitter. Here are your nominees:

    Formula Rossa - at Ferrari World Abu Dhabi

    Formula Rossa

    Kingda Ka - at Six Flags Great Adventure

    Kingda Ka

    Stealth - at Thorpe Park


    Top Thrill Dragster - at Cedar Point

    Top Thrill Dragster

    Xcelerator - at Knott's Berry Farm


    Tuesday: Arcade-style dark rides, including Buzz Lightyear and Men in Black.

    Comments (21) | Archive Link

    2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Best Indoor Boat Ride?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: January 12, 2012 at 8:55 AM

    Think about the last long summer day you spent at a theme park. How hot did it get by the middle of the day? Wouldn't you have loved to spend 10 minutes away from the sun, in a dark, air-conditioned building, sitting and gently floating along, instead of sweating up and down the streets of the park?

    Even if they didn't offer great scenes and stories, indoor boat rides would still be among the more popular rides at a theme park, simply for the escape they provide on a hot summer day. But the best indoor boat rides offer much more than a cool place to sit for a few minutes. They transport you to imaginative new worlds, often with songs that will remain stuck in your head for days.

    We have a couple of foreign rides in today's Theme Park Insider Tournament vote - if you've not been on them before, please take a few minutes to click through the links below and watch the on-ride videos to help you make a more informed decision on today's vote. And even if you have been on all these rides, why not take a few moments to read through other readers' reviews, look at the photos and watch the videos, too? Hey, it's a workday in the middle of January. What else are you gonna do today?

    Voting's up for 24 hours. Spread the word.

    It's a Small World - Beloved at Disneyland Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland, well-liked at Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland, and not exactly a favorite at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.

    It's a Small World

    Living with the Land - at Epcot

    Living with the Land

    Madagascar: A Crate Adventure - at Universal Studios Singapore

    Madagascar: A Crate Adventure

    Pirates of the Caribbean - Your top-rated version is the original at Disneyland, with other versions at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland Paris.

    Pirates of the Caribbean

    Sindbad's Storybook Voyage - at Tokyo DisneySea

    Sindbad's Storybook Voyage

    Tomorrow: We're picking the best Intamin Accelerator roller coaster.

    Comments (28) | Archive Link

    Busch Gardens Williamsburg drops Verbolten teaser video

    By Robert Niles
    Published: January 11, 2012 at 2:44 PM

    Busch Gardens Williamsburg has released a teaser video for its new multi-launch roller coaster, Verbolten, debuting this spring at the Virginia theme park.

    I gotta say, this is one of the more unusual coaster teaser videos I've ever seen. But it suggests that SeaWorld's aiming for a ride that's as much about theme as it is thrill, which could turn out to be a welcome development for theme park fans.

    What do you think?

    Comments (14) | Archive Link

    2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Best B&M Mega Coaster?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: January 11, 2012 at 8:36 AM

    Okay, roller coaster fans, it's time to get started on your bracket in the 2012 Theme Park Insider Best Attraction Tournament. Our first vote in that bracket is for the Best Bolliger & Mabillard Mega Coaster.

    Based on the Theme Park Insider reader ratings, B&M Megas have been TPI readers' favorite model of coaster for years. The first B&M Mega, Apollo's Chariot, debuted at Busch Gardens Williamsburg in 1999. Since then, B&M Megas have earned a reputation as some of the world's smoothest, swiftest coasters around. And while the B&M Mega offers no inversions, you'll enjoy airtime like you wouldn't believe.

    These are the top five B&M Megas, according to your ratings. Voting will be open for 24 hours. If you're unsure about your vote, click through to the attraction listings for reader reviews, or check out the comments. If you are sure, campaign away in the comments, or round up more votes for your favorite on Facebook and Twitter.

    Apollo's Chariot - at Busch Gardens Williamsburg

    Apollo's Chariot

    Diamondback - at Kings Island


    Goliath - at Six Flags Over Georgia


    Intimidator - at Carowinds


    Raging Bull - at Six Flags Great America

    Raging Bull

    Tomorrow: We vote for the world's best indoor boat ride.

    Comments (20) | Archive Link

    Universal is 100 years old - But what will that mean for the theme parks?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: January 10, 2012 at 2:59 PM

    Universal Studios will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2012, and the movie company has announced a new logo and series of film releases and special events to commemorate the birthday. Here's the press release.

    Universal 100th logo
    Now, with more Comcast!

    The highlight so far is the announcement that Universal will restore 13 of its top films this year, releasing many of them on Blu-Ray special editions. But what will Universal do at its theme parks? Here's the release, again:

    Universal’s Parks and Resorts will help highlight the campaign with centennial specific content and merchandise throughout both the Orlando and Hollywood locations. The Orlando resort will soon announce a specially themed entertainment experience that will celebrate Universal’s heritage. At the iconic Hollywood park, the world-famous Studio Tour features expert guides that will take guests on a tour through 100 years of moviemaking history on the Universal Studios production backlot. Tours are conducted daily, visiting TV and movie sets ranging from the early Universal Studios monster film classics to current productions.

    The TL/DR? A new movie-history exhibit in Orlando, new logo T-shirts, and... they'll keep running the Studio Tour in Hollywood. Ho..kay. To be fair, the 100th anniversary of the Universal City complex isn't until 2015, so there's time to do up something big for that. (Hmmm, I've got an idea.)

    What would you like to see Universal do in Orlando and in Hollywood to celebrate its 100th birthday?

    Comments (8) | Archive Link

    Stories from a Theme Park Insider: The Tom Sawyer Island Submarines

    By Robert Niles
    Published: January 10, 2012 at 12:33 PM

    I saw this sign, nailed to the cabin of Tom Sawyer Island raft, when I rode over to the island at Tokyo Disneyland last month.

    Guest Capacity 55

    "Guest Capacity 55"

    I laughed.

    Overloading a raft with 90 guests isn't the only way to make the ride to Tom Sawyer Island a Frontierland version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, though. One time, I got a raft to take the plunge with not that much extra effort.

    Save for one memorable day one December, pretty much all the mornings I worked at Tom Sawyer Island blend into one memory for me: A cloudless sky with blinding sunshine emerging from behind Liberty Square, casting long shadows across the still-wet streets of Frontierland, just-hosed by the third-shift maintenance crew. The air felt like nothing, which made it delightful. Only in the morning could you escape the steamy humidity that melted you for the rest of the day.

    The first trip to the island in the morning would be to take over the foods cast members who sold drinks and sandwiches at Aunt Polly's. With only three of us on the raft, it stood high in the water - you could see the almost all of the "logs" underneath the planks on the raft's broad surface. With a full load of the first guests of the day, the raft would run lower in the water - you might not see any of the logs at all.

    I probably had no more than 40 guests on the raft for the first run over one morning. A few walked to the back of the raft, but only to sit on the supply box - most guests just ignored the raft driver. The rest of the crowd stood up near the front, leaning against the rail as the watched the approaching island.

    Just like every other morning on Tom Sawyer Island - until two young men started climbing up the raft's mast. Typically, guests don't do anything that stupid this early in the day - usually people are smart enough to wait on doing things that might get them kicked out of the park until after they've been on at least a few rides. So I waited before hollering at them to come down.

    And in that moment, every other person at the front of the raft surged back toward me. Forgetting about yelling at the two guys shimmying up the mast, my mind instead imagined the grim possibilities. Snake on the raft? Gator? Little kid heaving up breakfast?

    The guests gave me the answer.


    The Rivers of America were pouring over the front of the raft, pushing water's edge past the front rail. I looked around, trying to find the 400-pound passengers that must be pushing my raft into the water. Instead, I found a crew of guests that looked and moved like the crowd at an aerobics class. I didn't have anywhere near 90 guests on this raft. We couldn't be overloaded. Why were we sinking?

    I swung the tiller around for a hard left into the island-side dock. Forget a smooth landing. I was getting everyone off this raft, quickly. Who cares if I bump the dock? I tied off the stern as the guests dropped the front rope and leapt onto the dock. I didn't mind. I wanted everyone off the raft ASAP.

    But the raft didn't spring back up as its load departed. It laid there, front end sliding further underwater, as if it was carrying the world's heaviest load of invisible passengers.

    I've got one shot at this. And no time to waste.

    I left the front rope down, hopped back to the rear of the raft, and gunned the throttle after casting off. Alone on the raft, I was driving a beeline for the parking spot on the back of the mainland dock, hoping that I'd get there before hitting the bottom of the river. I knew that driving faster would mean more water flowing over the front of the raft, but at the rate the raft was taking on water, I figured I'd be meeting Captain Nemo anyway if I didn't get back across within the minute. I held down the throttle as the water crept closer, closer, closer.

    Almost there. Slam into reverse. Swing the tiller around. Blast forward.

    Just as the first wave of water lapped my feet at the rear of the raft, I hit the mainland dock. I killed the engine, tied off the stern and jumped for land.

    By the time maintenance arrived, five minutes later, only the mast those guys were climbing poked above the water. I was told later that a flap or seam under the raft's engine compartment had been left open when it was being serviced. The opening rode above the water line when the raft was empty, but as soon as you put enough guests on it, the opening submerged, allowing water to flood the inside of the raft. That's why the "Huck Finn" was sleeping with the fishes that day.

    But by getting the sinking raft back to the mainland, and into that rear parking position, we could keep the attraction open - we had two other rafts and the front position to dock into, plus the sunken raft was out of the way of all river traffic. So maintenance told us to go ahead - we'd have close up for a few moments while they sent down a diver to look for what the problem was, but until he arrived we could keep cycling guests to and from the island.

    So I unhooked the rope in front of the waiting area and invited the next, very curious, group of guests aboard.

    "Welcome to Tom Sawyer Island, ladies and gentlemen!" I said. "You're here on a very special day. For one day and one day only you have the choice of two ways to get to the island.

    "Raft, or submarine!"

    * * *

    For more stories about working at Walt Disney World, "Stories from a Theme Park Insider," by Theme Park Insider editor Robert Niles, is available as an eBook from Amazon, Apple and Barnes and Noble.

    The book includes 40 stories about life working at the world's most popular theme park, plus many more incidents shared by Theme Park Insider readers who've also worked in the parks. Reviewers say it's a "Great Collection of Stories about the Happiest Place on Earth" and "Get this one if you love Disney parks."

    Comments (2) | Archive Link

    2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Best Theme Park Playground?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: January 10, 2012 at 7:55 AM

    Sick of waiting in lines? Looking for something more fun that sitting around watching shows and fake animals all day? (I kid, TH, I kid.) Then get yourself over to one of these top-rated theme park playgrounds.

    We're looking to pick the best of the best in today's vote in the 2012 Theme Park Insider Best Attraction Tournament. Vote for the playground that best isolates you from the rest of the park, providing a unique, immersive environment that really engages your imagination. And one that's got a ton of neat stuff to play on and with, too. The winner in this vote should be someplace where you can run away and play for hours and never feel bored.

    Here are your nominees, based on Theme Park Insider readers' ratings. (Note that I've made some changes since I first posted the brackets, due to me initially miscategorizing a couple attractions in the listings. Sorry.) The vote will be open for 24 hours. If you don't have a favorite already, please click through to the attraction descriptions and reader reviews, or read the comments below. If you do have a favorite, feel free to campaign in the comments and to drum up votes on Facebook and Twitter.

    Camp Jurassic - at Universal's Islands of Adventure

    Camp Jurassic

    Curious George Goes to Town - at Universal Studios Florida

    Curious George Goes to Town

    Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure - at Disney's Hollywood Studios

    Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure

    Me Ship, The Olive - at Universal's Islands of Adventure

    Me Ship, The Olive

    Tom Sawyer Island - Your best version is at Tokyo Disneyland, which remains the only of the three versions not to be substantially altered through closures and/or a pirate overlay. (But if you want to vote for TSI because of the pirate overlay at Disneyland, anyway, have at it.)

    Tom Sawyer Island

    Tomorrow: We've got our first roller coaster vote of the tournament, as we pick the Best Bolliger & Mabillard Mega/Giga Coaster.

    Comments (15) | Archive Link

    2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Best Narrated Ride?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: January 9, 2012 at 8:31 AM

    Today in the fifth annual Theme Park Insider Best Attraction Tournament, we're voting for the world's best narrated ride. These are theme park rides where a real, live cast member/team member/employee serves as host for your journey, spieling through your tour.

    While quality of spieling is important, that shouldn't be the only factor in your decision which attraction to vote for in this category. We're still looking for the best in overall theme, setting, visuals and narration. If you haven't been on all the attractions in today's vote, please click through the links for descriptions and other readers' ratings, or read the comments first.

    The vote is open for 24 hours. Please feel free to campaign in the comments, and to spread the word about the vote via Facebook and Twitter. Hear are your nominees:

    The Great Movie Ride - at Disney's Hollywood Studios

    The Great Movie Ride

    Jungle Cruise - Your top-rated version is the Jungle River Cruise at Hong Kong Disneyland, but the most-voted-upon version is at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.

    Jungle Cruise

    Kilimanjaro Safaris - at Disney's Animal Kingdom

    Kilimanjaro Safaris

    Studio Tour - at Universal Studios Hollywood

    Studio Tour

    Tomorrow: We vote for the best theme park playground.

    Comments (50) | Archive Link

    The '2fer' deal returns to Disneyland Resort

    By Robert Niles
    Published: January 7, 2012 at 1:50 PM

    The Disneyland 2fer deal for Southern California residents is back.

    Sleeping Beauty's Castle at Disneyland

    Just like last year, the deal is no longer two days for the price of one, but two days for a discounted prices of $99. And you can go to your choice of Disneyland or Disney California Adventure each day, you don't have to spend one day at each, as you did under the old 2fer deal.

    If you want to park hop, you can add that for $15 - making it a $114 for the two-day ticket. You also can add a third day for $30 - $129 without the park-hopper, and $144 with it.

    Tickets are available online and the offer is good for Southern California residents within ZIP codes 90000-93599 and Northern Baja California residents within ZIP codes 21000-22999. You must use all days of the tickets by June 9, 2012 and there are blockout days from March 30 - April 15, as well as June 4-5.

    June 4-5 are a Monday and Tuesday, which seem strange days for a blockout to me. Could that have anything to do with a Cars Land opening? (I have no idea, really - just taking a guess here. Insider tips welcomed.)

    Update, from the submission queue: For Florida residents, Walt Disney World is offering a three-day, one-park-per-day "Go Wild" Pass for $99 (plus tax). You can add an additional day for $30 more to hit all four parks, or add park-hopping for $27.50. Blockout dates are February 18-20 and April 1-13, 2012.

    Comments (9) | Archive Link

    Theme Park Apprentice: Tournament of Champions Challenge 1 Vote

    By Tim W
    Published: January 7, 2012 at 11:59 AM

    Here is the first poll for Theme Park Apprentice: Tournament of Champions. In this first challenge, our winners created Cirque du Soleil shows for Disneyland's Downtown Disney. Be sure to check them all out before voting, they were all magnificent.

    Comments (3) | Archive Link

    New Bobsleds for the Matterhorn at Disneyland

    By Frankie F
    Published: January 7, 2012 at 11:49 AM

    The long rumored change of Matterhorn cars was finally confirmed yesterday on the Disney Parks Blog.


    "On Monday, Jan. 9, the Matterhorn Bobsleds at Disneyland park will close so we can ready the iconic mountain for a new fleet of bobsleds. Featuring a new, sleek design, the vehicles will have three seats in each bobsled with two bobsleds linked together for a total of six guests." -Erin Glover

    Though there was no reference to any scene changes or enhancements throughout the ride.

    Comments (6) | Archive Link

    Disney to make changes to Epcot's Test Track ride

    By Dominick D
    Published: January 6, 2012 at 12:48 PM

    This fall, Disney will be making some changes to Epcot's Test Track, including a sponsor change from General Motors to GM brand Chevrolet.

    Test Track

    According to the Disney Parks Blog, the current testing workshop will be transformed into the "Chevrolet Design Center," where you can see how cars are designed. According to Disney, "Here, guests will become automotive designers and create their own custom vehicles. Next, they’ll buckle into a six-person SimCar ride vehicle and test out their design on the challenging track of the Test Track course."

    The post-show will be redesigned to include the latest Chevy vehicles in an all-new show room. The current version is schedueled to close in April or May, and the re-imagined version may open in October. What do you think? Me? I can't wait to check this out!

    Update from Robert: Also on the refurb front, Disneyland's closing Matterhorn on Monday in part to install the new sled cars - three riders to a car, with individual restraints. (Two cars will run in tandem.) The coaster will reopen this summer.

    Comments (21) | Archive Link

    2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Best Version of Tower of Terror?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: January 6, 2012 at 7:43 AM

    Universal Orlando's Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey earned a first-round bye in the 2012 Theme Park Insider Best Attraction Tournament. But there's one other ride we're certain will make it through to round two.

    Disney's Tower of Terror.

    But which version of Tower of Terror will advance? That's the question you will help answer today.

    I started by trying to put together a "Best Drop Ride" category for this year's tournament. But it quickly became clear that between the Towers of Terror and the competition there was, well, quite a drop-off. (Yes, I am as ashamed of myself for typing that as you are of me for typing it.)

    Again, please choose the option that - from your personal experience or Web surfing - strikes you as offering the most engaging blend of theming, story and thrill. Maintenance and upkeep always counts, too. You may click through on the attraction links if you're unfamiliar with any of the versions, to learn more about it before voting.

    Here are your options, presented in order of their opening. Voting is open for 24 hours. Campaign in the comments, or on Facebook, on Twitter or by declaring yourself the next Republican candidate for President.

    Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney's Hollywood Studios

    Disney's Hollywood Studios

    Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney California Adventure

    Disney California Adventure

    Tower Of Terror at Tokyo DisneySea

    Tokyo DisneySea

    Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Walt Disney Studios Park

    Walt Disney Studios Park

    On Monday: We'll vote on the Best Narrated Ride

    Comments (14) | Archive Link

    2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Best Flume Ride?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: January 5, 2012 at 9:00 AM

    Today's vote in the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament matches the top five flume rides from your Theme Park Insider reader ratings.

    In this category, like yesterday's vote for Best Themed Roller Coaster, we're looking for a winner that represents the best blend of thrills with theming and storytelling. The winner - in any category - should be an engaging ride that keeps you thinking about the experience long after you've exited, and wanting to ride again. If you get off a particular ride thinking "meh," or "was something broken?," or "I think I'm broken," pick another contestant. (Update: To clarify, in this category, we're including any boat or water coaster ride with a major, soaking drop and where the boats don't spin - those go into the Best Rapids Ride category.)

    Here are your nominees. You can click the links for descriptions and readers' reviews of each version of each ride.

    Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls - At Universal's Islands of Adventure

    Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls

    Journey to Atlantis - At SeaWorld Orlando. If you're really a fan, you can vote on behalf the version at SeaWorld San Diego, if you'd like. But let's just all pretend that the shoot-the-chutes at SeaWorld San Antonio has a different name, okay?

    Journey to Atlantis

    Jurassic Park The Ride/River Adventure - Your top-rated version is Jurassic Park - The Ride at Universal Studios Hollywood, but the more-often-rated version is at Jurassic Park River Adventure Universal's Islands of Adventure. There's also a version at Universal Studios Japan. (The Jurassic Park ride in Singapore is a rapids-style ride, and competing in that category instead.)

    Jurassic Park The Ride

    Splash Mountain - Your top-rated version is at Tokyo Disneyland, and your most-rated version is at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. The original version of the ride stands at Disneyland.

    Splash Mountain

    Timber Mountain Log Ride - At Knott's Berry Farm

    Timber Mountain Log Ride

    Tomorrow: Which is the best version of Disney's Tower of Terror?

    Comments (29) | Archive Link

    Florida toddlers get free admission to SeaWorld and Busch Gardens in 2012

    By Robert Niles
    Published: January 4, 2012 at 1:26 PM

    SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment today announced a special discount offer for families with toddlers. Florida residents age five and under can sign up online for a free "Preschool Pass," good for unlimited admission to SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa for all of 2012.

    Feeding the dolphins at SeaWorld

    Children under age three already get into Busch Gardens and SeaWorld (and all other major theme parks) for no charge, so this deal really applies to kids ages 3-5. Parents will need to sign up for the Preschool Pass online. You can pick up the pass at any Busch Gardens or SeaWorld ticket window - just bring the confirmation notice from the website along with a certified copy of your child's birth certificate.

    Will this deal help swing some local families toward Busch and SeaWorld, instead of going to (or back to) the new Legoland in Winter Haven? Does it help SeaWorld compete with the new Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom, debuting in stages this year? Will you sign up for the Preschool Pass? We'd love to hear your reaction, in the comments.

    Comments (3) | Archive Link

    2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Best Themed Roller Coaster?

    By Robert Niles
    Published: January 4, 2012 at 9:13 AM

    Welcome to the first contest of the 2012 Theme Park Insider Best Attraction Tournament. Today, we're voting for the Best Themed Roller Coaster.

    We're looking for a winner in this category that represents the best blend of thrills with theming and storytelling. The winner - in any category - should be an engaging ride that keeps you thinking about the experience long after you've exited, and wanting to ride again. If you get off a particular ride thinking "meh," or "was something broken?," or "I think I'm broken," pick another contestant.

    That said, here are your nominees, selected based on highest average reader ratings in this category. You can click the links for descriptions and readers' reviews of each version of each ride.

    Big Thunder Mountain Railroad - Your highest-rated version is at Disneyland Paris, your most-often-rated version is at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. Other versions are at Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland.

    Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

    Expedition Everest - at Disney's Animal Kingdom

    Expedition Everest

    Revenge of the Mummy - Your top-rated and most-rated version is at Universal Studios Florida. Other versions are at Universal Studios Singapore and Universal Studios Hollywood.

    Revenge of the Mummy

    Rock n' Roller Coaster - Your top-rated and most-rated version is at Disney's Hollywood Studios. There is also a version at Walt Disney Studios Paris.

    Rock n' Roller Coaster

    Space Mountain - Your top-rated version is at Disneyland, and your most-rated version is at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. Other versions are at Hong Kong Disneyland, Disneyland Paris and Tokyo Disneyland.

    Space Mountain

    Campaign for your favorite in the comments, or by posting to Facebook and Twitter.

    Tomorrow: Best Flume Ride

    Comments (31) | Archive Link

    Theme Park Insider's 2011 Year In Review - December

    By Jeff Elliott
    Published: January 4, 2012 at 8:48 AM

    Note: The editor of these articles has insisted that I make the soon to be obvious point that while there may be some real news in here, the key to these articles is a sense of humor. While your own recollection of these stories may be a little different than what is presented below, your recollection is quite possibly closer to truth. While it was requested that I keep to the facts, I realized quite quickly in this process that 1) If Santa could really see everything that I was doing, I would have never received a present and 2) I probably would have never taken a shower… I had enough problems with creepy old fat men without having to worry about being watched all of the time….


    December, my favorite month. Santa Claus and the whole present thing puts this month on top of the gotta do pile. Unfortunately, Universal was the only park that had any significant news, although that might have been because Robert and I were flooding the front page with this article and his reports from Singapore and Tokyo.

    Thank you for flying with TP Insider Airlines. If you are making a connection, I might point out that Morgan, our 7-year-old captain is heading to Orlando, and you may want to take a flight with him on it. Be sure to open the overhead bins with care as the contents may have shifted around a bit during our death plunge. Once you make it into the concourse, there is a bathroom to the right and an underpants vendor has been set up just to the left of our access tunnel specifically for the passengers of this flight.


    Theme Park Insider's Year In Review – December

    Universal Studios Florida – As of the writing of this article, Jaws in Florida is bye-bye. Which is a relief because it is frankly a miracle that a plastic shark lasted this long. If you want your daily dose of shooting at plastic animals, please feel free to stop by Jungle Cruise, another institution long overdue to be leveled and made into a halfway decent attraction, even if it is just another parking lot or amusement fair with off the shelf spinny rides. Jaws, however, is getting something cool in its place. As someone in the Discussion Boards mentioned, Jaws jumped the shark a long time ago… but there is relief in the future.

    Universal Studios Hollywood – The major announcement this month was the fairly ground-trembling announcement that Harry Potter is jumping on his broom and making the trek west to the other coast of the States to build a new Harry Potter Land in Hollywood. The unfortunate part is that this little tidbit of info is where the announcement ended. So there is no official word as to where it is going to go, what it is going to contain, when it will be opened, or anything of any value. What we do know is that the new land will somehow incorporate Butterbeer, but aside from that, we are just stuck with speculation, as the rumor mill seems to be a vacuum at this point. I get the feeling that similar to what happened with Disney’s Avatar announcement earlier in the year, the designers found out about the franchise license around the same time that we heard about it and are locked in a basement someplace trying to figure out how in the world they are going to make this work. As far as the first major announcement after Comcast took full control of the keys to the park, this one is pretty spectacular and shows that Comcast may not suddenly start treating the parks like they treat all of their cable subscribers.

    Harry Potter Expansion – Sometimes I get the feeling around here that Robert Niles does certain things to spite some of the readers here on Theme Park Insider. In this case, I believe it is yours truly, the Monkeyboy, that he is getting back at. In one of my weekly columns, as a joke, I met with some artists to come up with what the new Harry Potter expansion is going to look like. The resulting stick figure drawing didn’t show much in the way of detail, but it did show that the people were very happy with how it turned out, with the exception of the dog that somehow looked like a person the two kids were jumping on. Since our master is a wrathful master and he is not content to let his minions scoop him, even in jest, Robert Niles decided to write a final article of the year that once and for all dispenses with the rumors and confirms quite a few things that had been pure speculation earlier in the day, like Jaws becomes Harry Potter Land London, the Gringotts roller coaster with a motion base track element, and semi confirmed the Hogwarts Train linking the two lands. While many people appreciated the information and many theme park website are linking to each other to link back to Theme Park Insider, what Robert was really doing is taking away all of the fun that people were having in the vast speculation conspiracy that was cascading through the interwebs. As a finale, Robert then went home, broke all of his kids Christmas presents, and then served liver and onions for dinner.


    So there you have it: December… and the completion of the whole year. If you don't remember the month/year like I do, please set a monkey-boy straight in the discussion below.

    All monkey pictures have been lovingly borrowed from the amazing artist Frank Cho and his long deceased comic strip Liberty Meadows. I must also thank Santa for giving me a new monkey after I broke the last one. Now if he could just bring back Liberty Meadows for me… and that Gatling gun I have wanted since I was six….


    Whew! That was quite the assignment. I hope you enjoyed reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them. For more of this type of news/humor mix please check out the Discussion Boards of Theme Park Insider where almost every week we unleash upon the earth: Last Week At Your Amusement Park, which takes a look at the developments at your favorite amusement and theme parks over the previous week, including rumors, ongoing developments, a caption contest, and we may even get around to some news and other fun.

    Have a Happy New Year!

    Monkeyboy (aka Jeff Elliott)


    Comments (5) | Archive Link

    Farewell to a classic - Jaws closes at Universal Studios Florida

    By Domenik Jost
    Published: January 3, 2012 at 9:49 PM

    Monday, January 2, 2012 started like just another day in Central Florida. It was 48 degrees (Fahrenheit) in the morning and warmed up to a comfortable 64 degrees. The sun was out, a handful of small clouds in the sky. It was a picture perfect day to enjoy a theme park without having to worry about walking five feet and being drenched in sweat like one is accustomed of during a central Florida theme park visit. A couple of months ago no one would have suspected that this day would become so historic to theme park fans. At Theme Park Insider every year the first of the year would include the annual Rose Parade coverage, but that would have to be moved to the 2nd since the parade never happens on a Sunday. This is a tradition that dates back to the late 1800s to not disturb the horses at churches along the different first of the year parade routes. Of course no one could foresee that this is would also become such a significant day because it would be the last day that Jaws would be open at Universal Studios Florida.

    Of course I could not miss the opportunity to pay my respects to this iconic ride that has been with us for 22 years (20 years the way it was up till now). Many memories were created from people proposing on the boat tour to a couple of musicals (The Jaws Ride: Ballad of the Boat Skipper and Jaws the Musical: How to Tune a Fish) that put a smile on your face. Here’s what the last Fourth of July looked like at Amity:

    The closing team member shirts were so sad:

    “For the first time in Amity, it will be July 5th”

    The day didn’t go without a hitch for the old workshark though, around 2 hours before the ride was scheduled to close its doors forever it had it’s last “technical difficulty” breakdown. It didn’t take long though and it was back up and running again. Unfortunately after the break down the last shark attack scene did no longer work properly, so here is the last ride video I took ultimately before the ride broke down 15 minutes later.

    The sun set one last time on Amity and the darkness of the night was beginning to set in. The time was getting closer and closer to that dreaded 8 o’clock pm park closing time. Having been on the ride seven times through out the day and the time being 7:59 pm it was time to join the queue one last time. A minute later the door was shut behind us forever and skippers outside saluted the crowd goodnight.

    Not even 40 minutes later it was time to choose our row and get ready to board the last public boat tour. There was another voyage after us but that required you to have gotten one of the lucky lanyards for the last voyage. So I consider them being the last VIP group to have gotten a voyage on Jaws, while we were the last publicly open ride. Of course I recorded the last public ride, so here it is:

    Once we got back to the docks, the area was surrounded by Amity and Jaws team members that had worked in and around the attraction. Tears were pouring out, not just a little and by few, but a lot and by many of the skippers that have called this attraction home for the last years. It was tough not to let a few tears slip by seeing all the emotion that surrounded what was about to happen. The last and final Jaws boat tour came to the dock, and cheers erupted and tears once again began to flow. The team members began chanting “Jaws Ride, Jaws Ride, Jaws Ride!” followed by them singing a final tribute. It was a bittersweet end for Jaws.

    So here is my farewell to this great ride:

    “We were on the second to last voyage of Jaws to have left dock at Amity. Memories were made, tears were shed, and goodbyes were said. RIP Jaws! You were great when you weren't broken down even if you were slightly out dated. You symbolized a piece of film history and theme park history. Farewell and Bon Voyage!”

    Share with us your thoughts, memories, and farewells in the comments below.

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    Theme Park Insider's 2011 Year In Review - November

    By Jeff Elliott
    Published: January 3, 2012 at 6:20 PM

    Note: The editor of these articles has insisted that I make the soon to be obvious point that while there may be some real news in here, the key to these articles is a sense of humor. While your own recollection of these stories may be a little different than what is presented below, your recollection is quite possibly closer to truth. While it was requested that I keep to the facts, I realized quite quickly in this process that 1) I really like turkey and 2) It is really hard to write when your mind keeps wandering back to turkey…


    November, the long slow buildup to the holidays. It always seems to me that this is the longest month of the year, granted it has turkey at the end of it, so there is at least something to look forward to, but it seems to just be a short stepping stone before getting to Christmas month. Oddly, not so much is happening during this month, but there were a couple of announcements and a couple of openings that made news.

    Morgan, our new seven-year-old captain, has somehow managed to program the auto-pilot to safely (his word, not mine) bring the plane in for a normal landing using a hacked Nintendo Gameboy. Please prepare yourself for what may or may not be a very violent landing. Please keep your hands and feet securely attached to your body as we land. A bag is being passed around to support your deity of choice. The current favorite is Miscrashia, the goddess of avoiding inflight accidents.


    Theme Park Insider's Year In Review – November

    SeaWorld Orlando – Seeing the impending mauling that is coming with the Fantasyland update, Avatar, and Harry Potter expansion, SeaWorld had no choice but to go all in with the other resorts. But instead of forging a licensing agreement with the Ice Age or Happy Feet franchises, SeaWorld has decided to go it alone on a massive new expansion. This month, they announced plans to expand their Penguin Encounter with more animal habitats and a ride, as well as built a new Turtle exhibit with a 360-degree 3D theater, something that Disney got rid of years ago. While their hand was forced by the other theme parks, I fear that this is the beginning of the end for SeaWorld. There is hope, however, if they would do a new exhibit about how dangerous the animals are, something to the effect of "When Animals Attack" with live demonstrations, and open a few live hunting exhibits, I think there may be a slight glimmer of hope. This current expansion, however, makes no sense, since all it is going to do is create more mouths to feed and a sky high air conditioning bill.

    Universal Studios Singapore – The preview to the Transformers ride scheduled to open this spring in Hollywood, opened in Singapore. Built as a Spiderman 1.5, this ride is the next logical step with Scoop technology, but nothing mind blowing here. But people in California are easily fascinated with large things made out of plastic, so it should go over fairly well when the real ride opens. As a special treat to Theme Park Insider visitors, you actually get to learn something through the detailed coverage of the ride opening on this site. For example, I am sure that not many of you knew before that Singapore is located in Australia.

    Hong Kong Disneyland – The Disney Company is trying to bail out this park before Shanghai Disney opens up and sweeps away with all of this park’s guests, by throwing everything and the kitchen sink at major expansions set to open every year for the next three years. The first installment is of Toy Story Land, which is a copy of the same land at EuroDisney, which is a cheap copy of Disney Hollywood Studios. There is nothing like being a copy of a cheap copy. While the designers at Hong Kong Disneyland look like they have really done a good job, I am more of a Sid personality than an Andy personality and want to see a giant magnifying glass and scale model cherry bombs that I can have fun throwing at the people playing green army men.

    Disney World Speedway – For those of you that think that Test Track is tame, Disney unveiled the ultimate in fast car driving experiences. For three figures, you can have the pleasure of driving a high end luxury sports car at high speeds around their track. The only real problem here is that the Speedway has been designed for cars to run around the track at around 180+ MPH (1387+ KPH) and you will not feel like you are going that fast until you attempt to bury the speedometer. Another issue with this, instead of watching three episode of Top Gear and figuring out what a fast car really is, they decided on Eurotrash vehicles that you can test drive at any high end car dealership, instead of some real gut wrenching speed machines. And just for the record, whatever vehicle I take out is going to need a roll cage.


    So there you have it: November. If you don't remember the month like I do, please set a monkey-boy straight in the discussion below.

    All monkey pictures have been lovingly borrowed from the amazing artist Frank Cho and his long deceased comic strip Liberty Meadows. I didn’t mean to do it, but I broke my monkey.

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    Introducing the 2012 Theme Park Insider Best Attraction Tournament

    By Robert Niles
    Published: January 3, 2012 at 2:25 PM

    It's time again for the annual Theme Park Insider Best Attraction Tournament!

    The tournament will tip off tomorrow, but today I'd like to lay out the first round for you, and let you know how this year's tournament will run.

    Unlike in past years, the first round this year will not be head-to-head match-ups. Instead, we're going to be voting on the "best in class" for several categories of theme park rides and shows. Once those are selected, the winners will face off in head-to-head match-ups to determine our winners.

    Yes, winners. As we did the last time we ran a Best Attraction tournament, we're going to declare winners in four brackets: Best Themed Ride, Best Live Show, Best Animation Show and Best Roller Coaster. Attractions were selected for inclusion in the tournament based upon the average reader rating in Theme Park Insider's attraction listings, with editor's discretion as a tie-breaker. Deciding which was a "live" show and which was "animation" was tough. Basically, I went with "is a live actor involved?" to decide, but even that I violated in a couple cases to get more natural match-ups.

    Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
    Our top seed and first-round bye winner

    There's one attraction that didn't fit comfortably in any category, so it gets a first-round bye: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, which also happens to be the top-rated attraction on the site. I'd thought about including Forbidden Journey in the "motion base" category, but I already had five candidates for that field, and FJ is such a unique ride that it didn't really feel like a good fit in that category, anyway. (We have a limit of five options per poll because of the vote tool we're using.) Plus, being the top-rated ride on the site ought to come with some privilege, I think.

    Because the name of the site is "Theme Park" Insider, we have many more themed attractions listed on the site than roller coasters, so that's going to be our largest bracket. The two show brackets are our smallest, which surprised me a little - I always think of animatronic shows when I think of theme parks, but I was a little taken aback when started ranking attractions and found how few such shows are still in the parks.

    No matter, though, we still have 138 attractions in this year's tournament, including all your top favorites on the site. That said, we originally had 139 in the tourney - sorry, Jaws - so any subsequent attraction closing announcements might trim the field further over the next month.

    Also, many of the participating attractions exist in multiple parks. Just go with whichever version you consider best when voting - if I want you to consider a specific version, I will let you know on the day of the voting.

    Voting in each contest will be open for 24 hours, and anyone who reads the site may vote - you don't need to be a registered member of Theme Park Insider. Fans of various attractions are encouraged to use Facebook, Twitter or whatever else they feel like to encourage other people to come to the site and vote for their favorites.

    First-round contests will run each weekday between now and February 16, holidays excepted. On Feb. 17, I'll publish the brackets for additional rounds, taking us up to the tournament championships the last week in March.

    I hope that everyone will enjoy the tournament as much as I enjoyed putting it together.

    Here is the first-round schedule (attractions are listed in no particular order - I was cutting and pasting a lot...):

    Jan 4- Themed coaster (Revenge of the Mummy, Space Mountain, Expedition Everest, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Rock n' Roller Coaster)
    Jan 5- Flume ride (Splash Mountain, Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls, Jurassic Park River Adventure, Journey to Atlantis, Timber Mountain Log Ride)
    Jan 6- Tower of Terror (The four Disney Towers of Terror face off)

    Jan 9- Narrated ride (Kilimanjaro Safaris, Jungle Cruise, Universal Studios Hollywood Studio Tour, Great Movie Ride, Sorry, Jaws)
    Jan 10- Playground (Camp Jurassic, Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, Tom Sawyer Island, Curious George Goes to Town, Shamu's Happy Harbor)
    Jan 11- B&M Mega/Giga (Apollo's Chariot, Raging Bull, Six Flags Over Georgia's Goliath, Intimidator, Diamondback)
    Jan 12- Boat ride (Pirates of the Caribbean, It's a Small World, Living with the Land, Madagascar: A Crate Adventure, Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage)
    Jan 13- Intamin Accelerator (Xcelerator, Top Thrill Dragster, Stealth, Kingda Ka, Rita)

    Jan 17- Arcade dark ride (Men in Black Alien Attack, Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters, Toy Story Midway Mania, Monsters Inc Ride Go Seek, Lost Kingdom Adventure)
    Jan 18- Wooden roller coaster (Lightning Racer, The Beast, Apocalypse, Prowler, Thunderhead)
    Jan 19- Animatronic show (Country Bear Jamboree, The Enchanted Tiki Room, Hall of Presidents, The American Adventure, Carousel of Progress)
    Jan 20- Tub flume ride (Popeye & Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges, Kali River Rapids, Grizzly River Run, Universal Studios Singapore's Jurassic Park Rapids Adventure, Holiday World's Raging Rapids)

    Jan 23- Animal show (Sea Lions Tonight, Pets Ahoy, Clyde and Seamore, Blue Horizons, One Ocean)
    Jan 24- B&M Inverted (Afterburn, Nemesis, Montu, Raptor, Dragon Challenge)
    Jan 25- 2D movie (Impressions de France, Walt Disney One Man's Dream, Reflections of China, O Canada!)
    Jan 26- Indoor track ride (Haunted Mansion, The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure, Spaceship Earth, Peter Pan, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea)
    Jan 27- Live musical (Festival of the Lion King, Aladdin, Finding Nemo: The Musical, Beauty and the Beast, Beetlejuice's Graveyard Revue)

    Jan 30- B&M Flying (Manta, Tatsu, Air, Superman - Ultimate Flight)
    Jan 31- High-speed indoor ride (Test Track, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Mission: Space)
    Feb 1- 3D movie (Mickey's PhilharMagic, Terminator 2:3D, MuppetVision 360, Captain EO)
    Feb 2- Wooden Mega/Hybrid coaster (Voyage, El Toro, Texas Giant)
    Feb 3- Stunt show (Waterworld, Lights Motors Action, Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular)

    Feb 6- Animal exhibit (Turtle Reef, Maharajah Jungle Trek, Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, Shark Encounter, Wild Arctic)
    Feb 7- 4D show (Shrek, Tough to Be a Bug, Spellbreaker)
    Feb 8- Other Intamin coaster (Bizarro, Millennium Force, Maverick, Volcano: A Blast Coaster, Cheetah Hunt)
    Feb 9- Illusion show (Mystery Lodge, Turtle Talk, Laugh Floor, Poseidon's Fury)
    Feb 10- Single-screen simulator (Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, The Simpsons Ride, Soarin' Over California, StormRider, Back to the Future)

    Feb 13- Demonstration show (Universal's Horror Make-up Show, Special Effects Stage, Lights, Camera, Action Starring Steven Spielberg)
    Feb 14- Other B&M coaster (Griffon, SheiKra, Dominator, Riddler's Revenge, Incredible Hulk Coaster)
    Feb 15- Motion-base ride (Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, Curse of DarKastle, Transformers: The Ride, Dinosaur, Indiana Jones Adventure)
    Feb 16- Night show (Fantasmic!, IllumniNations, World of Color)

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    'I'm going to (Tokyo) Disneyland!' - Planning a trip to the Tokyo Disney Resort

    By Robert Niles
    Published: January 3, 2012 at 1:14 PM

    I hope that you've enjoyed reading about my trip to Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea. Perhaps they've inspired you to consider planning a trip to the Tokyo Disney Resort. If so, here are some tips on how to do it.

    Cinderella's Castle at Tokyo Disneyland

    Fundamentally, planning a trip to Tokyo's no different than planning a trip to Orlando - you book a plane flight, reserve a hotel room and buy some theme park tickets. That's pretty much it. The only substantial logistical difference for U.S. citizens is that you'll need to have a valid passport to travel to Japan.

    The big obstacle for many U.S. visitors, though, will be the cost. But that's where smart planning can make a difference. If you really want to see Disney's two best theme parks, a willingness to keep checking Orbitz.com or other airfare-tracking websites can help you find a flight at the lowest possible fare. From there, it's up to you to adjust your family budget to see if you can set aside enough money for the trip.

    Airfare to Tokyo
    Unless you're traveling alone, it's likely that airfare will be the biggest expense on your trip. Flying from Los Angeles to Tokyo' Narita Airport (airport code NRT, for quicker searching), I'm seeing roundtrip airfares starting at $820 (on Korean Airlines). Compare that will the $340 lowest round-trip price I'm finding for flights between LAX and Orlando.

    You can try to stretch your airfare dollars by including Tokyo as part of a multi-city itinerary that allows you to visit several dream destinations on the same trip. I ended up saving a couple hundred dollars on my airfare to Singapore, for example, by flying a red eye from Singapore to Tokyo and staying over in Japan for two extra days on way back to LA, which I turned into my Tokyo Disney trip. Just look for the "Multi-City" checkbox on the search form when researching flights, and see what you find. I've found the lowest prices by traveling mid-week, too.

    Where to stay?
    The easiest way to visit the Tokyo Disney Resort is to stay on property. Tokyo Disney offers three Disney-run hotels on site. (Okay, technically, they are Oriental Land Company-run hotels carrying the Disney brand.) Six other "Tokyo Disney Resort Official Hotels" also are available - including one from Hilton and one from Sheraton.

    Inside the Hilton
    Inside my room at the Hilton Tokyo Bay

    For an American visitor who doesn't speak Japanese, I would recommend selecting the Hilton, the Sheraton or one of the three Disney hotels - since they offer the most support for English-speaking guests. But expanding your search to include the other four hotels might yield a better rate, and a chance to practice either your Japanese or your "I'm a foreign tourist" pantomime.

    View from the room
    The view of Tokyo Bay from my hotel room

    Do note that wireless Internet is not always available in the Tokyo Disney hotels. The Hilton had it, but only in its most expensive class of rooms. If that's important to you, check the fine print in the room details before making a reservation.

    Getting from the airport to Tokyo Disney
    Once you're arrived in Tokyo, you'll need a way to get from the airport to the Tokyo Disney Resort. Don't even think about renting a car - plan to take either the train or a bus, instead. I chose the shuttle bus, which cost 2,400 yen (US$31) and had me at the resort in less than an hour on a Sunday morning. If you're planning a stop in Tokyo first, or really just want to take the wonderful Japan Railway (JR), you can take the JR Narita Express to Tokyo Station, then transfer to either the JR Keiyo Line or JR Musashino Line to Maihama station, which is the station for the Tokyo Disney Resort. It's cheaper, but will take more time than the bus and requires being comfortable making a transfer in the busy Tokyo rail station.

    Remember that English is the international language of aviation - all signs in the Narita airport were in English, as well as Japanese. When I finished in customs at the airport, I just followed the signs for bus transportation, and quickly found the shuttle bus counter. (The bus company goes to many other destinations around the Tokyo area, in addition to Disney.) When I got to the counter, I just said "Disney?" and the hosts there knew exactly want I wanted. I paid my fare, got my ticket and an English-speaking "greeter" walked me to the bus stop. Very efficient.

    Getting around Tokyo Disney Resort
    Once you arrive at the Maihama train station (or the Tokyo Disneyland bus stop directly below it), there's no need to go next to your hotel if you are staying on-site. Just walk to the Tokyo Disney Resort Welcome Center, where you can check into any of the nine on-site hotels, and drop your bags for delivery straight into your room. (Another bonus of staying at the Hilton or Sheraton? The check-in lines for those hotels were empty when I arrived on a busy Sunday morning - the other hotels' lines were packed.)

    Welcome Center

    Tokyo Disney has a monorail system that makes four stops - one for each of the parks, one for the Japan Rail station in between them, and one station for the cluster of six non-Disney hotels.

    The Tokyo Disney Monorail

    Inside the monorail
    Inside one of the Tokyo Disney Resort monorails

    Mickey Handle
    They love Decorative Mickeys at the Tokyo Disney Resort

    Unlike Walt Disney World's monorail, Tokyo's is not a free service - a one-way ride costs 250 yen (about $3.20), while a daily pass costs 650 yen ($8.34) and a two-day pass is 800 yen ($10.25). Buy your tickets at the automated machines at each station, just like on most U.S. subway systems. They're signed in both English and Japanese.

    If you're willing to walk a bit, you really only need the monorail for getting to the Bayside Station stop, which serves the non-Disney hotels. The Ikspiari shopping area (think, a glammed-up Downtown Disney) extends from Tokyo DisneySea to Tokyo Disneyland, spanning the two park and JR station monorail stops.

    Buying your Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea tickets
    Tokyo Disney offers online print-at-home tickets, but only for visitors from Japan. If you live outside the country, you can reserve tickets online, but you'll need to pick them up and pay for them at the Tokyo Disney Resort Ticket Center, which is located on the lower level of the Ikspiari complex, just steps from the Tokyo Disney Resort Welcome Center.

    Ticket Center

    You can buy a one-day, one-park ticket, or a two-day passport that allows entry to one park per day. (If you buy a multi-day passport, you'll be asked to say which park you will visit on each day.) If you want to park-hop on the same day, you'll have to buy either a three- or four-day "Magic" passport, which are the only ones that include park-hopping - and then only on the third and fourth days of your visit. "After 6pm" passports also are available, if you arrive in the afternoon, and don't want to spend full price for a partial day.

    I'd reserve online and use the Ticket Center - lines are much shorter there than at the general ticket booths, and you'll find English-speaking hosts or hostesses there. Use this opportunity to get an English map to the parks (they'll probably just give you one anyway), to ask any questions you might have about the resort, and - most importantly - to ask for help in making Priority Seating reservations for any table-service restaurants you want to eat at during your stay. Advance priority seating ressies are available online only through Tokyo Disney's Japanese-language website, but cast members at the Ticket Center or the parks' guest relations offices can make them for you, too.

    Arrive early to beat the crowds
    Try to get your tickets in hand early. Tokyo Disney visitors don't waste time - they get to the parks early, and you should, too, if you don't want to be stuck in long stand-by lines all day. Plan to arrive at the park gates at least half an hour before the park opens each day. And if you can avoid visiting on a Sunday, do. As with American theme parks, visiting on a weekday during the school year is always best for minimal crowds.

    Once you're inside, enjoy. Take lots of pictures (everyone else will be), and don't worry about cultural barriers. If you don't bring them with you, you'll find none there. Just remember than you don't need to leave tips, that you should sit down if you waiting for or watching a parade, and that you should arrive early for mealtimes if you don't have a priority seating reservation. (The last two apply in America, too.)

    Ask for "English?" at each attraction entrance, to see if they have a translation wand, if you really want one. But I found that I enjoyed the resort perfectly well without them. You can get nifty English-language story papers for major attractions at guest relations, too.

    Don't worry about ordering food, either. If you must, stick to the buffeterias or table-service restaurants, where you can just point. But at most counter-service locations, a greeter will present you with an ordering slip, upon which the selections will be listed in English and Japanese. Just point at that when ordering, and you'll be fine. Taxes always are included in listed prices.

    Order slip

    Finally, don't forget to come back to Theme Park Insider after your trip and submit your ratings and reviews for everything you experienced at Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea. And share a trip report on the Discussion Board, too. We'd all love to hear how what you thought of your trip to the Tokyo Disney Resort.

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    Where to eat? Dinner at Magellan's at Tokyo DisneySea

    By Robert Niles
    Published: January 2, 2012 at 9:00 PM

    For my final meal at Tokyo DisneySea, I followed the advice of several Theme Park Insider readers and booked my dinner at Magellan's, considered by many of those readers - and colleagues I know in the industry - as the finest restaurant at the Tokyo Disney Resort.

    As the sun was setting over Tokyo, I walked up to the restaurant with about a half hour to spare, so I spent that time wandering around the Fortress Explorations exhibits that surround Magellan's.

    Fortress Explorations

    Inside this citadel, you'll find 10 individual exhibits, from a pendulum tower…

    Pendulum Tower

    …to an alchemy laboratory…

    Alchemy Laboratory

    …to my favorite, the Chamber of Planets.

    Chamber of Planets

    This is a cathedral to astronomy, designed with exquisite detail, in tribute to an era when science stood up superstition and showed humanity a more enlightened way. The planets surround our sun, with the heavens painted on the ceiling above. Extending from the pedestal are several arms with handles, with which you can turn the planets in orbit around the sun. Alone with the solar system, I spent several minutes literally making the Earth move.

    Chamber of Planets

    My most sublime moment in a theme park has been those times I stood on the island-side dock of an otherwise empty Tom Sawyer Island, at sunset in the Magic Kingdom, watching the lights come on in Frontierland. Thousands of people would be in my view, but I stood alone, separated from them by the waters of the Rivers of America - alone in a very public place during that graceful moment when day slipped into night.

    I thought of that while standing inside the Chamber of Planets, enjoying another sublime moment, alone with all eternity.

    But it was time for dinner.


    Walking into the restaurant, you realize that you're on the second floor of a rotunda, which is dominated by an immense globe.

    Inside Magellan's

    The main dining room

    The hostess led me from this main dining room into a second, more intimate room on one the side of the restaurant.

    Inside the second dining room

    My hostess then presented me with the menu, which continued the story of the "Society of Explorers and Adventurers" who founded the citadel I'd just explored. (Take a moment to figure out that acronym, by the way.)


    Magellan's is not an a la cate restaurant, but offers several choices of multi-course meals. Watching my yen at the end of my journey, I opted for the least expensive one, at 4500 yen (about $59 US). Remembering how much I had enjoyed my lunch at the S.S. Columbia Dining Room, I was thrilled to see that the appetizer course was another serving of scallops.

    Scallops appetizer

    But as much as I again enjoyed the scallops, they couldn't match the salad - mesclun greens with cheese and walnuts in balsamic dressing. The peppery greens and astringent dressing balanced the rich cheddar perfectly. I noticed that the waitress didn't even ask if I wanted freshly ground pepper on my salad, which seems to be a federal regulation in America. She knew it didn't need a thing.


    The entree was roasted breast of duck with orange sauce (in a familiar pattern...)


    After two chewy bites of the duck, I'd wished I'd opted for the daily fish selection instead. I've only really enjoyed duck once in my life - roasted and served with a dark cherry sauce at Spago in Beverly Hills. Every now and then, when I'm in a restaurant that I think might be able to match that experience, I give duck another try. But I'm coming to realize that I just don't like duck as much as fish, or a good steak. So unless duck's the house speciality (which it's not, when it's on the least expensive menu at the restaurant), I probably should just go for another option.

    Dessert made me feel much better, though, as dessert inevitably does.

    A taste of hazelnut cake with a bite of grape ice cream.

    As I sipped my hot tea, after finishing the last crumbs, the feeling came over me that this trip was now finished. I'd entertained thoughts of taking the train into the city the next day, before my flight was to leave in the evening. But when a trip is over, it's done. I'd felt the same way at the end of each of our summer roadtrips - when I knew that there was no longer any need for diversions and side-trips - that it's time to get going straight home.

    And so, after paying my check (with no embarrassment this time), I did. I stood, zipped my jacket, pulling the collar up against my ears in meager defense against the cold Japanese winter night air, and made my way out of the restaurant and back to the front of the park.

    Aqua Sphere, at night
    Tokyo DisneySea's Aqua Sphere, illuminated at night with its 10th Anniversary decoration.

    The next morning, I slept in and started downloading the many photos that you've seen here on the site, before catching an express bus back to the airport for my flight home.

    I hope that you've enjoyed traveling through Asia's top theme parks with me. Tomorrow, I'll share some final thoughts about the trip, as well as some advice on planning a Tokyo Disney Resort vacation.

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    Theme Park Insider's 2011 Year In Review - October

    By Jeff Elliott
    Published: January 2, 2012 at 5:00 PM

    Note: The editor of these articles has insisted that I make the soon to be obvious point that while there may be some real news in here, the key to these articles is a sense of humor. While your own recollection of these stories may be a little different than what is presented below, your recollection is quite possibly closer to truth. While it was requested that I keep to the facts, I realized quite quickly in this process that 1) Hahahahahaaaa! and 2) Mwwwaaaahahaha!.


    October, my favorite month, where I can run around the neighborhood dressed up in some bizarre costume, scaring the living ^&%$^&* out of the teenagers that won't keep off my grass…although my wife has asked me to wait until Halloween before doing this anymore. Since then season is winding down at this point, not much happened.

    The captain is now a 7-year-old named Morgan. He was the most qualified of the passengers left on the plane, having rebuilt his dad's computer at the age of three. Morgan is not quite certain where the button for the seatbelt sign is, so just pretend that it is on. Keep your hands and feet inside the vehicle at all times. If there is anyone even slightly religious who can hear this, please pray for us.


    Theme Park Insider's Year In Review – October

    Legoland Florida – The Land of Magic and the Land of Potter finally has some new competition with the Land of Plastic. This month the plastic overlay of Cypress Gardens was finally completed to the joy of people who love petrol based non-biodegradable plastics. While some people are concerned about how a non-Disney or non-Universal park would hold up to the competition, I have this to say for you: In getting my house ready for a new baby, I found many old toys that have been saved since I was a kid. Among the very old toys was a bin of Legos. While all of the paper instructions have yellowed and crackled away into dust, the Legos themselves appear to be just fine, still showing the teeth marks that I put on them in my extremely weak youthful days. When all life is extinguished on this planet (supposedly sometime in this new year), when an alien species finds our planet in a million years, they are going to find only cockroaches and Legos, leading them to the conclusion that the petrified Lego people where the dominate race until the cockroaches took over. So will Legoland survive? The answer is yes, long after the human race has died out.

    Disney California Adventure – As a treat to the construction worker's hard work, the three different rides for the new Cars Land started testing this month. While at first thought, everyone thought this was a great idea, the aftermath is that construction then slowed down to a crawl right before stopping completely. The opening day of this new on its current schedule is looking to be opened sometime in 2023.

    McKamey Manor – While this is not really a themed park, it is a themed house, and quite an impressive one. A local DJ and Halloween enthusiast, Russ McKamey, spends nearly $30 thousand every year to update and improve his Halloween maze that wanders through the different rooms of his house. Since this is a person's house and not a corporate sponsored Halloween maze, the rules don't apply…especially after you sign an affidavit saying that you agree to whatever happens to you. No touchy? Broken. No dirty? Wrong again…don't wear nice clothes. No wet? Wrong yet again…you will be soaked, spit up on, made to reach in to a filthy toilet for a key, among many many other horrible things...not to mention your pants which may be self-soaked. The home haunt takes a staggering 45 minutes to complete and then whole thing is filmed so that later when you are boasting about it not being that bad, your friends can then play the video showing you screaming like a little girl. Now that Steve Jobs has passed on, Russ McKamey is now at the top of my list of really cool people I would like to meet someday.

    Since the subject of cool Halloween things has come up, honorable mention needs to go out to the Disney Zombies, a group of people who dress up as Disney animation stars that have been turned into zombies. Kudos needs to go out to these folks for creating the intricate costumes in the first place, but it was a stroke of genius and self-confidence that made them then stain the costumes with blood and zombify them. Someone needs to make a movie about Disney Zombies…although who would the hero be? The only thing cooler than Disney Zombies would be Star Wars Zombies…. Oh, yeah, Obi Won Kenobi, dripping in blood, lightsabre held limply in one hand, Jar Jar's head in the other…. There's a free idea for the world to take and run with… don't say I never gave you anything.

    Oh, and the Magic Kingdom turned 40 this month…celebrated with riots and pepper spray.


    So there you have it: October. If you don't remember the month like I do, please set a monkey-boy straight in the discussion below.

    All monkey pictures have been lovingly borrowed from the amazing artist Frank Cho and his long deceased comic strip Liberty Meadows. No monkeys were harmed during the production of this article…but it is amazing how much they can bleed… humanely…

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    Where to eat? Lunch at the S.S. Columbia Dining Room at Tokyo DisneySea

    By Robert Niles
    Published: January 1, 2012 at 10:18 PM

    When I planned my trip to Tokyo DisneySea, I knew that I didn't want to miss the chance to eat a meal on the S.S. Columbia. Who wouldn't want to eat at a theme park restaurant that looked like this?

    The exterior of the S.S. Columbia

    So with the help of someone I know inside Disney, I booked a lunch reservation at the S.S. Columbia Dining Room. (Tokyo DisneySea has a Web page for priority seating reservations, but it's only offered in Japanese.)

    As I walked up to the Columbia after riding Tower of Terror, I felt a moment of mild panic. I'd forgotten to look up how to say "I have a reservation" in Japanese. How was I going to be able to let the host or hostess know about my seating time? I was trying to devise an appropriate pantomime routine as I walked up the grand staircase in the dark wood-paneled hallway that would take me to the S.S. Columbia Dining Room.

    I walked up the final step, and saw the restaurant entrance. Moment of truth time.

    Entrance to the S.S. Columbia Dining Room

    Before I could do a thing, a host strode toward me.

    "Mr. Robert Niles?" he asked, bowing toward me.

    Stunned, I squeaked a "Yes?" and bowed my head in return, as had become reflex for me during my time in Japan.

    The host then smiled and pointed to the card he held in his hand:

    Priority seating reservation card

    He pointed at the name printed on it in Japanese: "Mr. Robert Niles?"

    I'll take your word for it, buddy. If I ever need to know how to write my name in Japanese now, I guess that's it.

    As a hostess walked me to my table, I'd wondered how on Earth the first host had recognized me. But before I could envision some grand scenario involving either Disney's "Big Brother"-like security or my imagined international fame as a theme park website publisher, I realized that I was the only non-Asian in the room. They knew they had a 12:30 reservation for some guy from America, and at 12:30 some white guy walks up the stairs. Two and two ain't that hard to put together. So much for my celebrity status.

    Inside the S.S. Columbia Dining Room.

    Prices in the Dining Room aren't cheap - ranging from about US$25 to US$50 per entree…

    The entree menu at the S.S. Columbia Dining Room in December 2011.

    …but a meal's only a bad deal if it isn't worth the price, no matter whether it costs $50 or five bucks. And I thought this lunch was worth every penny. Figuring that I'm in a park called "DisneySea" and I'm looking through a window at Tokyo Bay, I decided I'd best go with the seafood. So I selected the Baked Lobster Tail and Sauteed Scallops with Butter Sauce, served with noodles and seasonal vegetables. (2,480 yen, or about US$32.20)

    Baked Lobster Tail and Sauteed Scallops with Butter Sauce

    A chili sauce was dabbed between the scallops and the vegetables, which helped spice the butter sauce when I soaked it up with the al dente fettucine. But the real attraction, as it should have been, was the shellfish. Both the scallops and lobster remained moist and velvety, kissed with the taste of clean sea air. DisneySea's chefs had cooked each one just enough to draw out their full rich flavor, but not a moment too long to lose it, and leave the shellfish rubbery.

    As I lingered over each bite (hey, for 32 bucks, I'm staying in this seat as long as I darned well please), I noticed the detail on the edge of the china.

    Theme detail on the rim of the china

    No generic plates here. Every detail in the restaurant is themed to convince you that you really are dining on the high seas, under the care of the S.S. Columbia and its parent U.S. Steamship Co. (founded 1865). And after I'd scraped the last tidbit of food from my plate, and had my fill of rolls and butter the waitresses kept offering, here's what my bill arrived inside...

    U.S. Steamship Co. bill folder

    …not one of those awful, generic "Disney Parks" folders Disney curses us with back home. When I paid my bill in cash, here's how my change was returned to me:

    Hidden Mickey change

    They certainly love their "Hidden" Mickeys in Tokyo.

    As I picked up my change, that feeling of mild panic returned. I'd forgotten to look up about tipping in Japan. The people two tables over who were paying at the same time had used a credit card, so I couldn't see if they'd left any cash for their server. All I could remember was that in most European countries tips are not as large as in America. And tipping seemed to be the norm in Singapore. So I decided to discreetly leave a small tip next to the change tray and hightail it out of there.

    I got as far as the staircase before a running waitress could catch me. "We can't accept tips," she said while smiling and bowing. She extended her hands toward me, which held a washcloth on which my coins lain.

    Embarrassed, I apologized and took the money. But as the waitress returned to the restaurant, I felt grateful for the moment, and the lesson. In Japan, the price listed is what you pay - no extra incomprehensible taxes, no extra arbitrary tips. I imagined how uneasy a Japanese tourist must feel visiting America, where tax rates vary from city to city and state to state, and some people expect tips (waiters, cabbies and bellhops), while others don't (sales clerks). How easy would it be to succumb to fear that people were ripping you off, adding false charges to your bill and passing them off as taxes? Or by demanding tips that American customers would never pay?

    But it was the washcloth that drove home the lesson for me. Not only did the waitress run me down to return my change, she had picked it up with a washcloth, so that she would not even have to touch my money. It was mine, not hers, not hers even for the moment of return. The Japanese obsession with wrapping gifts suddenly made sense to me. Perhaps the moment when you give something is not the moment when you present it - it is the moment you wrap the gift to be presented. From that moment on, you never again touch the gift itself. And by wrapping the gift, you will let the recipient knows that its content is no longer claimed by you, but meant for the recipient.

    When I touched again those coins on that washcloth, I finally connected with Japanese culture. I might have eaten lunch on the American Waterfront, but I learned what it's like to dine in Japan.

    Next: Dinner at Magellan's, and the end of the journey.

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    A tour of Tokyo DisneySea: American Waterfront

    By Robert Niles
    Published: January 1, 2012 at 8:50 AM

    Welcome to the American Waterfront, the final land on our virtual tour of Tokyo DisneySea.

    American Waterfront

    Two sights dominate American Waterfront - the Tower of Terror ride and the S.S. Columbia. Southern Californians will recognize the S.S. Columbia - it's a dead ringer for the Queen Mary, which stands in Long Beach - the intended original home for DisneySea, as we explained in our first piece on the tour.

    Tower of Terror and S.S. Columbia

    We'll get to the S.S. Columbia in a bit, but let's start today with Tower of Terror.

    Tower of Terror

    You'll notice that I didn't write "Twilight Zone Tower of Terror." That's because this version does not carry the Twilight Zone theme. Instead of being the Hollywood Tower Hotel, this Tower of Terror is the Hightower Hotel, a New York landmark built by one Harrison Hightower. (Subtle name, huh?)

    Tower of Terror

    Hightower, of course, is a Disney Imagineering creation - a fictional billionaire and adventurer who disappeared in his signature hotel one fateful night many years ago.

    About Harrison Hightower

    What happened to Harrison Hightower? That's the mystery we're set to discover in a tour of the hotel.

    Hightower stained glass

    Wrecked elevator in the Hightower Hotel

    After queuing through the lobby, we're escorted into a small study at the side of the lobby, just as with the U.S. Towers of Terror. But instead of seeing Rod Serling on a TV set, an attendant plays an honest-to-goodness phonograph record for us. And if I darned nearly fainted from the shock of seeing someone place a needle on a spinning record again, just wait to hear what's coming in a moment.

    It seems that something's suspect about the Shiriki Utundu idol that Hightower pilfered on one of his expeditions - the same idol we see on a perch above the phonograph. As the tale tells, the stained glass window we see above the desk where the photograph stands begins to change. The image of the Hightower Hotel turns dark, and the confident Hightower in front of it adopts a worried, perhaps even terrified, look.

    Then an elevator car crashes from the Hightower Hotel in the window. The idol's eyes glow green. And then…

    The most amazing visual effect I've ever seen in a Disney theme park happens. The idol simply… disappears. A real, three-dimensional idol that appeared to be standing on a perch just barely beyond our arms' reach just vanishes. From there, we could have exited the pre-show into Billy Bob's County Fair Bumper Cars, and I would still rate this one of the best attractions I've ever seen.

    But we get to go on Tower of Terror now. Instead of entering an industrial sub-basement, we continue through a lavishly detailed collection of Hightower's antiques and artifacts as we await our elevator. Once we're aboard, though, the rest of the ride is essentially the California Adventure version of the ride, with the Harrison Hightower overlay instead of the tourist family from the Twilight Zone narrative.

    We get a three-point lap and shoulder belt instead of the stateside lap belt, the rise to see the idol blow away the not-so-poor, but very unfortunate Mr. Hightower. We rise another level to see ourselves "glow away" in the mirror, just as at California Adventure. One final rise brings us to the top of the shaft, when the real fun begins.

    An initial drop, then two half-shaft drops and finally two full-shaft drops complete the adventure, before we exit the elevators into the requisite gift shop. While I miss the fourth dimension and random drop sequences in Orlando, I'll take that disappearing idol over a CGI Rod Serling any day.

    Just down the street from Tower of Terror stands the future home of "Toyville Trolley Park." But wait, aren't those Hamm and Rex up on those spires? Yep, this is the future home of Tokyo's version of Toy Story Midway Mania, opening next summer.

    Toyville Trolley Park

    The rest of the land is an homage to New York City, with its own Columbus Circle,

    Columbus statue

    Broadway theater (showing "Big Band Beat," which I must admit I skipped),

    Broadway theater

    New York Deli,

    store fronts

    and public restrooms.

    Restrooms in American Waterfront

    Wait a minute! I knew this was really a theme park! ;^)

    Take the bridge past the S.S. Columbia, and you'll find the other half of American Waterfront, a Cape Cod-themed bay.

    Cape Cod

    There are no attractions over here, save a Duffy meet-and-greet, but you will find the popular Cape Cod Cook-Off restaurant.

    Cape Cod Cook-Off

    If you're not in the mood for burgers and fries, though, the best eats in American Waterfront can be found on board the S.S. Columbia. And that's where we are heading tomorrow.

    Also on the tour: History, layout and introduction, Mysterious Island, Mermaid Lagoon, Arabian Coast, Lost River Delta, Port Discovery

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    Keep reading: December 2011 Archive