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February 2012

One More Disney Day: Mid-day update

By Robert Niles
Published: February 29, 2012 at 4:04 PM

At 6 this morning, "One More Disney Day" kicked off in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, as Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom opened for its 24-hour Leap Day celebration.

Magic Kingdom entrance
Photo courtesy TPI reader Amy

The New Fantasyland, at 6am
Photo courtesy TH Creative

Three hours later, at 6am Pacific time, One More Disney Day started on the west coast, as Disneyland Park opened for its 24-hour run.


Video courtesy Disney

Here's the view I had, having arrived at the Mickey and Friends parking structure 20 minutes earlier. Disney held everyone entering from Mickey and Friends outside the security tables until the esplanade, which was filled with overnight campers, cleared.

Waiting to get in

All together, several thousand visitors were on hand in Anaheim to start the day. And Disney cast members were there to greet us, lining Main Street and offering us "High Fours" with Mickey hands.

High fours

I started the day in Tomorrowland, with the idea of working my way around the park, counterclockwise. With a Fastpass for Star Tours in hand, I started my day with a ride on Buzz Lightyear, where I learned a 6:30am start does not help my score. But today's not about racking up points on Buzz. It's about experiencing all the rides at Disneyland in a single day. From Buzz, I continued with Space Mountain, Finding Nemo, Astro Orbiter, Star Tours and Autopia. Captain EO started the day down, and Innoventions wasn't slated to open until 11:30, so I had the rest of Tomorrowland finished by 9.

Autopia
It'd been a long time since since I'd gotten to drive one of the Autopia cars!

From there, I hit the rides in Toontown, then started into Fantasyland - Small World, Storybook Land, the tea cups and Alice.

That's where I hit the day's first snag, as Alice went "101" (Disneyspeak for "broke down") as I was waiting. I chose to stick it out, and ended up getting on the ride within its posted 30 minutes wait time anyway.

By then, it was 11am, and decided to get an early lunch (or late breakfast - I hadn't eaten yet) over at the just-opened-in-January Jollu Holiday Bakery Cafe.

That turned out to be the longest line of the day (or as Homer Simpson would add, "so far"). I waited 45 minutes to get a ham and cheese quiche, side salad and the day's special Lobster Bisque. I'll file a separate post in the next few days with my review.

After lunch, I had a big surprise waiting for me. TPI reader Victoria emailed me at park opening to let me know she'd reserved a couple seats on the Disneyland Railroad's Lilly Belle car for the 1:30pm Grand Circle Tour. So thanks to Victoria, I got to experience my first trip on this "hidden Disney" gem, a comfortably appointed Victorian private rail car.

The Lilly Belle car

Inside the Lilly Belle

Thanks again, Victoria!

After the Lille Belle, I walked across the esplanade to visit the new Blue Sky Cellar exhibit on Cars Land, which I will write up in a Cars Land construction update tomorrow. So at "halftime," if you will, here's what I've visited so far:

Buzz Lightyear, Space Mountain, Finding Nemo, Astro Orbitor, Star Tours (Stormtroopers, Hoth, Leia, Naboo), Autopia, Roger Rabbit, Gadget's Go Coaster, Mickey's House, Chip n' Dale, Goofy's House, Small World, Storybook Land, Mad Tea Party, Alice, Jungle Cruise, Pirates, Tom Sawyer's Island, Disneyland Railroad.

Jungle Cruise
Keeping cool in the Jungle

So that leaves the following: Disney Gallery and Lincoln, Main Street Vehicles, Casey Jr, Dumbo, Carousel, Toad, Peter Pan, Pinocchio, Snow White, Castle, Thunder, Columbia, Mansion, Splash, Pooh, Indy, Treehouse, Tiki Room, and the skipped Innoventions and EO.

Time to head back into the park! I'll keep Tweeting - @themepark - as long as the phone battery lasts. And then I'll check back tomorrow with more news from the rest of the One More Disney Day. (Send in your photos and observations, and I'll include them, too!)

Comments (8) | Archive Link

2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Manta vs. Cheetah Hunt

By Robert Niles
Published: February 29, 2012 at 8:20 AM

It's all SeaWorld Parks in the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament today, as we've got a "surf and turf" match-up of two popular Florida coasters in the Best Roller Coaster bracket. Representing the "surf," it's SeaWorld Orlando's Bolliger & Mabillard flying coaster, Manta. And representing the "turf," it's Busch Gardens' Intamin coaster Cheetah Hunt. Forget the pictures we typically run with these entries. Today, we're running with on-ride videos.

Manta - at SeaWorld Orlando

Cheetah Hunt - at Busch Gardens Tampa

Voting is open for 24 hours. Campaign for your favorites in the comments, or rally the troops on Facebook and Twitter.


Tomorrow: Screeching tires or screaming Muppets? It's Lights! Motors! Action! vs. MuppetVision 3D in the Best Show bracket.

Comments (16) | Archive Link

'One More Disney Day' special events schedule for Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom and Disneyland Park

By Robert Niles
Published: February 28, 2012 at 6:06 PM

Tomorrow's the "One More Disney Day," the special 24-hour Leap Day celebration at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom and Disneyland Park, kicking off at 6am local time on each coast.

Cindy's castle at WDW

I'm planning to make the drive down from Pasadena early tomorrow to get to Disneyland before the 6am opening. We'll see how many people have camped out overnight for their chance to get one of those 2,000 special pairs of Mickey ears Disney's giving out in Anaheim. (Then you can check eBay later in the day to see how many show up there!)

If you're planning to take part, in Florida or California, please email your pictures or observations to me at themeparkinsider@gmail.com and I'll include them in our round-up of the day here on Theme Park Insider. I'd love to hear your reactions to the event! You can follow me on Twitter (@themepark) as I make my way through Disneyland tomorrow, too. I'll be using the #Disney24 hashtag. Place your bets now on how long I last.

Here is the schedule of events at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom:

6am - Magic Kingdom opens.

1:15pm - Dream-Along With Mickey show at Castle Forecourt

2:15pm - Dream-Along With Mickey

3pm - Celebrate A Dream Come True Parade

4:15pm - Dream-Along With Mickey

5:15pm - Dream-Along With Mickey

6:30pm - Dream-Along With Mickey

7:20pm - Dream-Along With Mickey

7:45pm - Magic, Memories and You

Overnight (no specific times yet) - Character meet-and-greets, including Mickey and Minnie in pajamas in Town Square, Phineas and Ferb in Tomorrowland and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in Fantasyland.

8pm - Wishes Fireworks

9pm - Magic, Memories and You

10pm - Main Street Electrical Parade

11pm - Magic, Memories and You

12am - Main Street Electrical Parade

1am – 5:30am - Disney's Dance the Night Away Party at Cinderella Castle

2:45am - Frontierland Hoedown

3:30am - Frontierland Hoedown

4:30am - Frontierland Hoedown

5:30am - Magic, Memories and You

6am - Park closes.

Here's the schedule of special events at Disneyland:

10pm Tuesday - Lineup starts for 6am park admission

6am - Disneyland opens. Special event commemorative mouse ears for first 2,000 guests. Free commemorative button to unspecified number of guests. ("While supplies last" is all Disney's said.)

10am - California Adventure opens next door.

7pm - Mickey's Soundsational Parade

7:45pm - Magic, Memories and You at It's a Small World plaza

8pm - California Adventure closes.

Overnight (no specific times yet) - Character meet-and-greets, including Mickey and Minnie in pajamas at Carnation Plaza Gardens, Darth Vader and Stormtroopers in Tomorrowland and the Country Bears in Frontierland.

8:30pm - 4am - Dance party at Tomorrowland Terrace, with DJs from LA's KIIS-FM.

10pm - Mickey's Soundsational Parade

10pm - Lineup starts at Big Thunder Ranch for 11:45 pm "Midnight snack," with free food and reserved seat at 1am showing of Fantasmic. Capacity is just 200 guests.

11pm - 5am - Special late-night menus at many restaurants, such as the special breakfast menu at Cafe Orleans, with three-cheese Monte Cristo French toast, Bananas Foster French toast, Creole eggs benedict and crab quiche.

11:15pm – 4:45am - Billy Hill & the Hillbillies at The Golden Horseshoe

1am - Fantasmic!

6am Thursday - Park closes.

Comments (9) | Archive Link

The Next Generation of Theming

By Marc Kleinhenz
Published: February 28, 2012 at 1:09 PM

The last time I was at Orlando, visiting both Walt Disney World and the then-brand-new Universal Studios Florida, was in 1991, when I was the tender age of 12. My grand return to the theme park capital of the world wasn’t until this past month, when I took my wife to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter for her 30th birthday. Needless to say, a lot had changed.

When walking the corridors of Hogwarts Castle, however, becoming immersed in the architectural detail and the bickering of the talking portraits and the gentle swell of John Williams’s score, a slow, small realization began working its way through me, gnawing at my periphery before gradually blossoming as something of an epiphany right in front of my mind’s eye: not nearly enough had changed.

Portrait Hall in Universal's Hogwarts Castle

There has been a remarkable trend towards heightening immersion – and, in a close corollary, reinforcing narrative – at literally every turn in an attraction, specifically, and in its home park, generally. Coupled with the technical acumen of imagineers in the form of, say, making enchanted benches fly, themed rides have become quite adept at painting a pervasive experience… except, of course, for those scattered, subtle elements that don’t help add towards a sum that is greater than its whole. As the general evolutionary tug has pulled more and more details into one overarching atmosphere (the physical topography of the abstract story), think of these items as anachronistic remnants of a narrative prehistory.

The biggest and most flagrant of these incongruities? Railings. They are, of course, a necessity in terms of crowd control, but no other single element jarred me out of the experience of truly believing I had been transported to Hogsmeade (or Jurassic Park or wherever it is that Marvel Super Hero Island is supposed to be located) more. If such great pains had been taken to include nearly every last detail in, say, the Defense against the Dark Arts classroom, if (nearly) no expense had been spared to incorporate the films’ actors into the set, then why not go the last two or three inches it takes to cross the finish line and find an organic way of building line boundaries into the environment? Especially considering the incredibly easy out that being in a wizarding world provides – Professors Dumbledore or McGonagall could easily have conjured the railings for the express purpose of corralling all those noisy, messy Muggles – the lack of an explanation is mystifying, to say the least.

(An even better example: the Poseidon’s Fury queue area contains beautifully painted murals and quite atmospheric torch lighting, but the effect is greatly undermined by the presence of Universal security cameras. Establishing that the excavation team has set these up to monitor the dig site and stay in contact with one another would require very little in the way of extra set dressing or [less ideally] exposition in dialogue; another, fake camera could be positioned next to one of the doors, or a television screen showing one or two archaeologists going about their business in a different chamber.)

Smaller but no less ruinous is the presence of other, legally-mandated items, such as exit signs, fire extinguishers, or modern lighting. (Looking up in the Gryffindor common room and seeing giant light bulbs shining down upon you somehow does not make for a magical, immersive moment – nor does seeing a semi-hidden exit sign right in the middle of the Forbidden Forest.) Incorporating these naturally into the themed environment is substantially more difficult, particularly as it relates to all relevant state or federal laws, but it is no less important to the cohesion or integrity of the illusion. If all elements don’t help reinforce the others to create a seamless world, to truly recreate Hogwarts Castle, then the theme is just a cheap and tacked-on veneer. It is the difference between a theme park and Cracker Barrel.

Then there’s the final frontier of theming, the one sensory boundary that has yet to be breached: touch. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey may have high-definition video projectors filled with flashy visual effects, precision-controlled ride movements, and Williams’s beautiful music, but when you touch one of Hogwarts’s walls, it still feels like warm plaster instead of the cold stone that the imagineers worked so assiduously at making you think it was. It’s an admittedly tiny detail, but it is, arguably, one of the most important – the day that either Disney or Universal can make you think you’re several miles under the ocean’s surface or several thousand miles up in the stratosphere or in a millennium-old magical castle by just a casual brush against a wall or a table is the day they have complete mastery over their audiences. Every sensory input will be sending one consistent message instead of providing contradictory messages, thus further allaying the suspension of disbelief.

Put altogether, Hogwarts Castle would still function nearly identically to the version that Universal Creative has provided, but the scant differences are dramatically and remarkably telling. Imagine a queue through the castle that featured ornately carved stone barriers – cold and hard to the touch – that channeled visitors down the correct path. Once outside, in the greenhouse, excited conversations between students and staff could be overheard about the imminent arrival of the Muggles and how Dumbledore has had to install special new (and quite temporary) precautions for their visit, such as something called “guardrails.” Once in the castle’s upper reaches, flickering torches and suspended candles between all of the talking portraits provide plenty of illumination, and a “Muggle exit” sign that continually writes itself, with just the right flourish, in a magical script floats off in the corner.

There is not one element out of place, not one detail overlooked, not one item incongruous with all of the others.

This is what the next generation of theme parks will look like.

Comments (17) | Archive Link

2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Haunted Mansion vs. Tom Sawyer's Island

By Robert Niles
Published: February 28, 2012 at 10:17 AM

And now, for the blow out.

Our second-round match-up today in the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament pits the defending Best Themed Ride champion and the attraction that gained the most votes in Round One, against my former home at the Walt Disney World Resort and the setting for about a third of the stories in my book about working at Disney, Stories from the Theme Park Insider.

It's Haunted Mansion (at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, Disneyland, Tokyo Disneyland and at Disneyland Paris as Phantom Manor)

Haunted Mansion

versus

Tom Saywer's Island (at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland).

Tom Saywer's Island

I weep gently into my keyboard for today's result. :^(

Do me a favor, please, as you vote Haunted Mansion onto the next round? Think a good thought about my dear island, and maybe leave a pleasant comment, too. Humor an old raft driver as he watches his island sink into the abyss. Foolish mortal, indeed.


Tomorrow: We got a surf n' turf roller coaster battle as Manta takes on Cheetah Hunt.

Comments (22) | Archive Link

Robert does a podcast - Top theme park dark rides

By Robert Niles
Published: February 27, 2012 at 11:34 AM

So what are the best dark rides in North America?

I'm sure that any experienced theme park fan could come up with a great list - and debate about it endlessly with other theme park fans. But if you'd like to hear four total theme park geeks go at this question in a podcast, here's your chance.

The Season Pass Podcast

Yours truly was the special guest on the most recent Season Pass podcast, counting down 10 top dark rides with Doug Barnes, Arthur Levine and Joel Bullock. You can download the podcast here or on iTunes.

I haven't surveyed Theme Park Insider readers on podcasts that I remember, so if you're a fan of podcasts, please let me know in the comments and perhaps I'll do some more of these for you. (Let me know any potential topics you'll like to hear about or guests you'd like to hear from, too.)

Comments (6) | Archive Link

2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Mickey's PhilharMagic vs. Shrek 4D

By Robert Niles
Published: February 27, 2012 at 11:23 AM

Welcome back, and I hope you're ready for some fun match-ups this week as we continue Round Two of the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament.

Today, we've got a three-dimensional show-down as Best 3D movie champion Mickey's PhilharMagic takes on challenger Shrek 4D. No need to put on the funny glasses for this vote, though, just pick your favorite and tell us why in the comments.

Mickey's PhilharMagic - at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, Tokyo Disneyland and Hong Kong Disneyland

Mickey's PhilharMagic

Shrek 4D - at Universal Studios Florida, Universal Studios Hollywood, Universal Studios Singapore and Universal Studios Japan

Shrek 4D

Voting is open for 24 hours.


Tomorrow: Haunted Mansion versus... Tom Sawyer Island. Sigh.

Comments (16) | Archive Link

Theme park refurbishment and reopening schedule for March 2012 and beyond

By Robert Niles
Published: February 24, 2012 at 9:32 AM

Here's the latest schedule for what will be opening and reopening at the Disney, Universal and SeaWorld theme parks in Central Florida and Southern California this year: [*with updates from the comments.]

The new Blue Sky Cellar exhibition, focusing on Cars Land, opens at Disney California Adventure on Feb. 29.

Mark Twain Riverboat at Disneyland reopens March 5.

Mark Twain

Disney California Adventure's Grizzly River Run reopens March 9. *The Disneyland Monorail will reopen that day, after a short refurbishment beginning Feb. 27.

The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man reopens with its HD 3D upgrade sometime in March. No specific date yet.

The first two elements of the new Fantasyland at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, the relocated Dumbo and the Great Goofini (formerly Goofy's Barnstormer) also reopen in March - *starting with Dumbo on the 11th.

SeaWorld Orlando's Turtle Trek opens April 27.

The Magic Kingdom's Liberty Square Riverboat reopens May 20.

SeaWorld San Diego's Manta roller coaster opens May 26.

Walt Disney World's Big Thunder Mountain Railroad reopens May 27.

Snow White's Scary Adventures closes permanently at the WDW Magic Kingdom on May 31.

Walt Disney World taketh away but also giveth: The Art of Animation Resort opens the same day, May 31.

Disneyland's Matterhorn Bobsleds reopen June 14.

The next day, is Disney California Adventure's big reopening, with the Cars Land attractions opening June 15.

Epcot's Test Track will be closed from April to September 2012.

No firm opening dates yet for Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, or Universal's Cinematic Spectacular and Universal's Superstar Parade at Universal Studios Florida.

Please add any other attraction opening/closing/reopening dates in the comments. Thanks!

Comments (19) | Archive Link

2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Toy Story Midway Mania vs. Test Track

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

Today in Round Two of the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament, we've got two of the more popular destinations at the Walt Disney World Resort for grabbing a Fastpass first thing in the morning.

But which is the one you most want to ride?

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

Toy Story Midway Mania

Test Track - at Epcot

Test Track

Campaign for your favorite in the comments. Voting is open for 24 hours.


On Monday: Mickey's PhilharMagic vs. Shrek 4D

Comments (28) | Archive Link

Holiday World owners approved to take over former Kentucky Kingdom theme park

By Lori Schueren
Published: February 23, 2012 at 3:49 PM

In a decision made by Kentucky's State Fair Board on Thursday, the Koch family has been approved to take over Kentucky Kingdom in Louisville, KY.

The park will be renamed Bluegrass Boardwalk. Holiday World president Dan Koch promised that it will be open by May 2013. The park will be a sister park to Holiday World in Santa Claus, Indiana and will provide similar guest experience, with free soft drinks, sunscreen and use of inner tubes at the water park.

Comments (8) | Archive Link

New Blue Man Group show debuts at Universal Orlando

By Domenik Jost
Published: February 23, 2012 at 9:37 AM

Tomorrow is the official debut premiere of the all-new Blue Man Group show at the Universal Orlando's Sharp Aquos Theater, next door to Universal Studios Florida. Back in January, Universal Orlando announced that the Blue Man Group show was getting a makeover. So just a few weeks ago, the original run of Blue Man Group at Universal Orlando ended after four years. The upgrades to the show include new music, new technology, and new show elements. We got to see an abridged version of the new show and it didn't disappoint. From the second you walk into the theater it feels fresh and new.

BMG - 01

Giant balloon balls hang from the ceiling, and a giant projection screen on stage greets guest. The new makeover included an upgrade of the technology used for the show. Once the big white screen lifted off the front of the stage there are LED screens that line the entire back wall of the stage from side to side.

BMG - 04

Another set of smaller LED screens are on lifts and move up in front of the bandstands on the top left and right side of the stage, and down to the stage floor. To top it off, there are three more high resolution LED's that can move all around the stage. The new show showcases our society's obsession with cutting-edge technology. So in good ol' Blue Man fashion, the show started with the Blue Men getting a call from the "GiPad", like Gigantic iPad, customer service.

BMG - 02

Like the saying goes, "there's an app for that", and the Blue Men have fun with exploring the apps that appear larger than life. The show also brings back signature moments that we have come to love about the BMG shows in a fresh updated way. The new show is even more energetic and electrifying than the previous one. The entire show is very colorful and filled with big musical numbers, from the Blue Men's solos on their drums to the full band chiming in to feeling like you are at a rock concert. There is plenty of audience interaction involved throughout the performance, and watch out you may be brought up on stage by the Blue Men to help them with some "tasks".

BMG - 25

The show builds from beginning to end and really ends with a bang. The show goes from comedy, to informational, to a rock concert, into an entire rave party at the end. The new finale puts together everything that people love about BMG and by the end you will find yourself in the middle of a gigantic rave party.

BMG - 35

During the finale, the big balloon balls drop from the ceiling and light up with colors, white paper flies off the rolls into the crowd, lights going on everywhere in all colors, and the place has transformed into a dance party. Once the music stops, the party is over (unfortunately), and the BMG wanted their balls back.

Blue Man Group has this unique ability to connect with people of all ages and walks of life. It's something that makes it special and I can definitely recommend this show to everyone. Everything is family friendly, though it may be too much for smaller kids to understand everything in the show (but they will sure laugh and have fun). If you have seen the old show, great, go see the new one, you won't regret it. If you have never seen it, it's a great introduction to the world that is Blue Man Group. The best way to describe this show would be it's like Broadway meets Rock Concert. The new show was refreshing, fun, thrilling, and I would definitely go see it again. This is in my opinion the best Blue Man Group show to date. For tickets, showtimes, and more information visit Universal's website.

Comments (2) | Archive Link

2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Soarin' Over California vs. Terminator 2: 3D

By Robert Niles
Published: February 23, 2012 at 9:19 AM

Today in Round Two of the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament, we've got our first Disney vs. Universal match-up of this round. Five versus 12 traditionally is one of the more popular "upset" match-ups. Will we see one here?

Soarin' Over California - at Disney California Adventure and Epcot

Soarin' Over California

Terminator 2: 3D - at Universal Studios Florida, Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Studios Japan

Terminator 2: 3D

Campaign for your favorite in the comments. Voting is open for 24 hours.


Tomorrow: Toy Story Midway Mania vs. Test Track.

Comments (22) | Archive Link

2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Incredible Hulk Coaster vs. Top Thrill Dragster

By Robert Niles
Published: February 22, 2012 at 10:38 AM

Today in Round Two of the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament, we're "launching" the Best Roller Coaster bracket with a high-speed match-up.

Incredible Hulk Coaster - at Universal's Islands of Adventure

Incredible Hulk Coaster

Top Thrill Dragster - at Cedar Point

Campaign for your favorite in the comments. Voting is open for 24 hours.


Tomorrow: We've got our first Disney vs. Universal contest of the second round, with Soarin' Over California vs. Terminator 2: 3D.

Comments (39) | Archive Link

2012 Best Attraction Tournament: The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man vs. Revenge of the Mummy

By Robert Niles
Published: February 21, 2012 at 8:56 AM

Today in Round Two of the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament, we're kicking off the Best Themed Ride bracket with a classic match-up of two of Universal's top thrill rides.

The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man - at Universal's Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Japan

The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man

Revenge of the Mummy - at Universal Studios Florida, Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Studios Singapore

Revenge of the Mummy

Voting is open for 24 hours. Campaign for your favorite in the comments.


Tomorrow: We "launch" the Best Roller Coaster bracket with a match-up between Universal's Incredible Hulk Coaster and Cedar Point's Top Thrill Dragster.

Comments (29) | Archive Link

SeaWorld San Diego's February Manta construction update

By Robert Niles
Published: February 20, 2012 at 4:23 PM

SeaWorld San Diego's just released a video update on construction for the west coast Manta roller coaster, which will open this May.

San Diego's Manta will be a Mack launch coaster that skims around the Forbidden Reef section of the park.

Comments (2) | Archive Link

2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Waterworld vs. Clyde and Seamore

By Robert Niles
Published: February 20, 2012 at 11:15 AM

Welcome to the first match of Round Two of the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament. Today, we're voting in the Best Show bracket, as top seed Waterworld faces off against 16-seed Clyde and Seamore.

Waterworld - at Universal Studios Hollywood, Universal Studios Singapore and Universal Studios Japan

Waterworld

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

Voting is open for 24 hours. Campaign for your favorite in the comments.


Tomorrow: We move over to the Best Themed Ride bracket as The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man takes on Revenge of the Mummy.

Comments (11) | Archive Link

2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Round Two match-ups and schedule

By Robert Niles
Published: February 17, 2012 at 1:04 PM

You certainly surprised me with some of your decisions so far in the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament. But that's created some really great match-ups for Round Two, and beyond.

Haunted Mansion
The Haunted Mansion earned the most votes of all the nominees in Round One.

When I set up the tournament, I had an idea which categories would feed into the Best Ride bracket and which ones would go into the show brackets. But then you selected Soarin' Over California for Best Simulator, and Carousel of Progress for Best Animatronic Show. Now, which one of those moves more? Which one is a ride, and which one is a show? I have to admit, I hadn't thought too hard about those specific rides, because I hadn't anticipated either one getting out of Round One.

Basically, you blew up my bracket. :^)

So I took the winners from Round One, ordered by the number of votes they'd received, and broke them into three brackets for Round Two and beyond. Initially, I'd planned on four brackets, but after looking at the line-up I decided there was no logical way to make clean fields for "live" shows and "animated" shows, as I'd planned. Too many shows blur the line between the two. So we're down to just one "Best Show" bracket.

After I made those changes, I decided to just go ahead and expand the fields so that there would be no more byes. That meant adding a couple attractions to the Best Themed Ride field and six shows to the Best Show field. Those slots went to runners-up from Round One with the highest vote totals. So, yes, Star Tours and Toy Story fans, your rides are back from the dead and live to fight at least one other day!

Here are the brackets for the rest of this year's tournament:

Best Themed Ride
1. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey vs. 16. Carousel of Progress
2. Haunted Mansion vs. 15. Tom Sawyer Island
3. Pirates of the Caribbean vs. 14. Star Tours: The Adventures Continue
4. The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man vs. 13. Revenge of the Mummy
5. Tower of Terror vs. 12. Jungle Cruise
6. Popeye & Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges vs. 11. Maharajah Jungle Trek
7. Men in Black Alien Attack vs. 10. Splash Mountain
8. Toy Story Midway Mania vs. 9. Test Track

Best Roller Coaster
1. The Voyage vs. 8. Apollo's Chariot
2. Incredible Hulk Coaster vs. 7. Top Thrill Dragster
3. Manta vs. 5. Cheetah Hunt
4. Prowler vs. 5. Montu

Best Theme Park Show
1. Waterworld vs. 16. Clyde and Seamore
2. It's Tough to Be a Bug! vs. 15. Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor
3. Lights! Motors! Action! vs. 14. MuppetVision 3D
4. Mickey's PhilharMagic vs. 13. Shrek 4D
5. Soarin' Over California vs. 12. Terminator 2: 3D
6. Fantasmic! vs. 11. Festival of the Lion King
7. Walt Disney: One Man's Dream vs. 10. Poseidon's Fury
8. Universal's Horror Make-Up Show vs. 9. Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular

And here's the match-up schedule for Round Two:

Monday, February 20: Waterworld vs. Clyde and Seamore
Tuesday, Feb. 21: The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man vs. Revenge of the Mummy
Wednesday, Feb. 22: Incredible Hulk Coaster vs. Top Thrill Dragster
Thursday, Feb. 23: Soarin' Over California vs. Terminator 2: 3D
Friday, Feb. 24: Toy Story Midway Mania vs. Test Track

Monday, February 27: Mickey's PhilharMagic vs. Shrek 4D
Tuesday, Feb. 28: Haunted Mansion vs. Tom Sawyer Island
Wednesday, Feb. 29: Manta vs. Cheetah Hunt
Thursday, March 1: Lights! Motors! Action! vs. MuppetVision 3D
Friday, Mar. 2: Men in Black Alien Attack vs. Splash Mountain

Monday, March 5: Pirates of the Caribbean vs. Star Tours: The Adventures Continue and It's Tough to Be a Bug! vs. Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor
Tuesday, Mar. 6: Tower of Terror vs. Jungle Cruise and Walt Disney: One Man's Dream vs. Poseidon's Fury
Wednesday, Mar. 7: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey vs. Carousel of Progress and The Voyage vs. Apollo's Chariot
Thursday, Mar. 8: Universal's Horror Make-Up Show vs. Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular and Prowler vs. Montu
Friday, Mar. 9: Fantasmic! vs. Festival of the Lion King and Popeye & Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges vs. Maharajah Jungle Trek

And on Monday, March 12, Round Three begins. There will be no reseeding, so the 8/9 winners will face the 1/16 winners, and so forth. (In the coaster bracket, the 1/8 winner will face the 4/5 winner, and we'll have one fewer round.)

Thanks to everyone who has voted so far, and I can't wait for Monday! (When has anyone ever typed those words before?)

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2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Best Nighttime Spectacular?

By Robert Niles
Published: February 16, 2012 at 10:13 AM

We're now at the end of the first round of the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament. And what better way to end the first round than the same way so many of us end a day at a theme park - with a nighttime spectacular?

The top three nominees in this category are the obvious candidates - Fantasmic!, World or Color and IllumiNations. For the remaining two slots, I've included Wishes and Remember, the fireworks shows at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom and Disneyland, respectively. But rather than split the votes of fireworks fans for two shows that most casual observers would consider relatively similar (fireworks coordinated with a castle light show), I decided to present them as a single entry. That opened the final space for Disney's Electrical Parade.

Why no entrants from non-Disney theme parks? Timing, alas. Universal's closed its CineSphere show, but not yet opened its replacement. Running this tournament in the winter and spring, when many of the regional parks are between shows, kept them out of the running, too.

But what we have here are some awesome shows, each one worthy of the title of Best Nighttime Spectacular. It's up to you now to choose which one will win. Voting will be open for 24 hours.

Fantasmic! - at Disneyland, Disney's Hollywood Studios and Tokyo DisneySea

Fantasmic!

IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth - at Epcot

IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth

Main Street Electrical Parade - at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom

Main Street Electrical Parade

Wishes/Remember - Fireworks at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom and Disneyland

Remember

World of Color - at Disney California Adventure [with video]

World of Color


Tomorrow: I'll announce the match-ups and brackets for Round Two and beyond.

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2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Best Motion Base Ride?

By Robert Niles
Published: February 15, 2012 at 8:42 AM

I just had to save this one for the final ride category in the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament. Today, we've got five of the most technologically advanced, thematically complete and totally immersive theme park experiences for your consideration. These are the top five reader-rated "motion base" rides, theme park attractions that deploy flight-simulator technology on ride vehicles that move through immersive themed environments to tell action-packed stories.

Find one of these rides, and you know you're visiting a world-class theme park. Honestly, it's hard for me to choose from among these winners, but that's your task. Voting will be open for 24 hours, and full-on campaigning in the comments, on Facebook and on Twitter, is encouraged.

The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man - at Universal's Islands of Adventure *and Universal Studios Japan

The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man

Curse of DarKastle - at Busch Gardens Williamsburg

Curse of DarKastle

Dinosaur - at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Dinosaur

Indiana Jones Adventure - at Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea (as Indiana Jones - Temple of the Crystal Skull)

Transformers: The Ride - at Universal Studios Singapore

Transformers: The Ride


Tomorrow: Round one concludes with, what else? Nighttime spectaculars.

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2012 Best Attraction Tournament: More Bolliger & Mabillard coasters

By Robert Niles
Published: February 14, 2012 at 8:45 AM

Thanks to everyone who has been following the first round of the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament. Today's we're welcoming the final contestant into the best roller coaster bracket of the tournament. This spot will go to the "best of the rest" Bolliger & Mabillard roller coasters, selected from the top five rated coasters that weren't part of the previous Mega, Inverted and Flying categories.

Voting is open for 24 hours.

Dominator - at Kings Dominion [with video]

Dominator

Griffon - at Busch Gardens Williamsburg [with video]

Griffon

Incredible Hulk Coaster - at Universal's Islands of Adventure

Incredible Hulk Coaster

The Riddler's Revenge - at Six Flags Magic Mountain

Riddler's Revenge

SheiKra - at Busch Gardens Tampa

SheiKra


Tomorrow: We vote for the world's best motion-base ride, with a stellar line-up that includes Spider-Man, Transformers and Dinosaur.

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Happy Valentine's Day, theme park fans!

By Robert Niles
Published: February 13, 2012 at 10:27 PM

Happy Valentine's Day, Theme Park Insider readers.

A few days ago, I asked on Twitter and Facebook for suggestions on a fun, romantic thing to do in the theme parks that didn't require using a time machine to go back three months and book and restaurant reservation. I thought the best response was from Brian, who suggested to go get an order of "Quick-serve S'ghetti & Meatballs, reenact scene from Lady & the Tramp."

Lady and the Tramp
Disney never misses a marketing opportunity, and just released a remastered Lady and the Tramp on Blu-Ray.

Cute!

Or try this other suggestion, if you're in Orlando today: "Drinks and appetizers at the California Grille [at Disney's Contemporary Hotel] around the time of the fireworks [8 pm tonight at the Magic Kingdom]. If you visit the concierge on the second level, you can usually schmooze your way up to the bar. Acquire your favorite beverage, wander to the exterior observation deck and enjoy the spectacular views of the seven Seas Lagoon and the fireworks exploding above Cinderella's Castle."

If you do have access to that time machine, though, take a look back at Mark Hollamon's post about arranging a special anniversary dinner at Mythos for some inspiration on what kind of romantic event you can put together at a theme park with some advance planning.

Are you doing anything special in a theme park today to celebrate? I'd love to hear about your plans (or a favorite theme park Valentine's Day from years past), in the comments.

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2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Best Demonstration Show?

By Robert Niles
Published: February 13, 2012 at 11:53 AM

Long before the era of DVD extras, if you wanted to know how filmmakers created their movie magic, you probably learned about that while watching a theme park show. Today's nominees in the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament are readers' top five demonstration shows, passing along the insiders' secrets and techniques of special effects, make-up and animation.

Four of these are obvious entries in the category. I've included Disaster! for its demonstration elements at the beginning of the attraction. Disaster! also includes the old Earthquake ride, but the attraction didn't rate highly enough to be eligible in the dark ride categories, so I slipped it in here. If you're wondering about Universal Studios Hollywood's Studio Tour, that attraction is more ride than demonstration show these days, and was included among the top five in the narrated ride category earlier in the tournament.

Voting is open for 24 hours.

Disaster! - at Universal Studios Florida

Disaster!

Lights! Camera! Action! Hosted by Steven Spielberg - at Universal Studios Singapore

Lights! Camera! Action! Hosted by Steven Spielberg

The Magic of Disney Animation - at Disney's Hollywood Studios, and in altered form at Disney California Adventure and Walt Disney Studios Paris

The Magic of Disney Animation

Special Effects Stage - at Universal Studios Hollywood

Special Effects Stage

Universal's Horror Make-up Show - at Universal Studios Florida

Universal's Horror Make-up Show


Tomorrow: It's our final roller coaster category, as we vote on the best-of-the-rest of the Bolliger & Mabillard coasters.

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Mardi Gras 2012 kicks off at Universal Orlando

By Domenik Jost
Published: February 11, 2012 at 7:02 PM

It's that time of year again, this weekend Universal Orlando kicks off its 2012 Mardi Gras season. We got to take a look the new floats for this year and got a taste of New Orleans.

Every year, Universal Orlando has a new set of themed floats made by Blain Kern Artists which is the same company that designs and builds the floats for the New Orleans Mardi Gras Parade. This years parade theme will take you on a journey through the "Blue Planet."

From the bayous and swamps…

to the rainforest…

to the deep blue sea…

and the Polar Regions.

Of course the lineup of floats will also bring back many of the old favorites like the Riverboat and Gator.



Let's not forget Mardi Gras also brings with it some tasty, delicious Cajun cuisines at Universal Studios' French Quarter Courtyard. There you'll be able to find Jambalaya, Shrimp Gumbo, Beignets, King Cake, and so much more. I definitely recommend if you are coming to Mardi Gras to take some time and try these delicious dishes.


And of course Mardi Gras will again play host to over a dozen concerts headlined by some of the biggest names in music starting off with the B-52's this weekend, and Kelly Clarkson next week. There will also be several New Orleans Bands straight from the Big Easy coming to perform in the French Quarter prior to the headliners taking the main stage.

Mardi Gras 2012 Lineup
Event DateHeadlinerNew Orleans Bands
Saturday, February 11The B-52sThe Daddy Mack Blues Band
Saturday, February 18Kelly ClarksonLil Malcolm and the House Rockers
Sunday, February 19Boyz II MenLil Malcolm and the House Rockers
Saturday, February 25Diana RossJohn Lisi & Delta Funk
Saturday, March 3Goo Goo DollsBeth McKee & The Sliders
Saturday, March 10Big Time RushGravy
Friday, March 16J. ColeLil’ Brian & The Zydeco Travelers
Saturday, March 17Sugar RayLil’ Brian & The Zydeco Travelers
Friday, March 23Hot Chelle RaeJ.J. Caillier & The Zydeco Knockouts
Saturday, March 24B.o.B.J.J. Caillier & The Zydeco Knockouts
Friday, March 30Plain White T'sSoul Project
Saturday, March 31Prince RoyceSoul Project
Saturday, April 7Cindy LauperRockin' Jake
Saturday, April 14KC & The Sunshine BandBig Al & The Heavyweights

Mardi Gras is included as a part of regular admission to Universal Studios Florida. For more information, visit www.universalorlando.com/mardigras.

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A visit to the Walt Disney Archives

By Robert Niles
Published: February 11, 2012 at 6:58 PM

I just posted a couple dozen photos to our Facebook page from my visit today to the Walt Disney Archives in Burbank, where I was honored to meet Disney Legend and Archives founder Dave Smith.

Robert Niles and Dave Smith

You can see the photos by becoming a fan of Theme Park Insider on Facebook. They include photos of the very first Disneyland ticket ever sold (to Walt's brother, Roy), the wardrobe from the Chronicles of Narnia, and my chance to meet a little guy named Oscar.

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Looks like they finally got Little Red

By Robert Niles
Published: February 10, 2012 at 10:16 AM

After all these years, Little Red's actually being taken from the wildlife preserve.

Walt Disney World announced today that it's removing the only Audio Animatronic from the Kilimanjaro Safaris ride at Disney's Animal Kingdom. Disney buried the news in its blog post, announcing the removal as part of an expansion of the savannah in the ride, allowing the park to add more zebras to the attraction.

Little Red
Bye-bye, Little Red

While I'm sure that fans will appreciate more opportunities to see the real stars of this show - the live animals - I'm curious to see how Little Red will be written out of the script. The changes on the ride will begin this spring and be complete by fall, and the ride will remain operational throughout.

Thoughts on the announced changes at Kilimanjaro Safaris?

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2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Best Simulator Ride?

By Robert Niles
Published: February 10, 2012 at 10:01 AM

We're down to the final five categories in the first round of the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament. One week from today, I'll announce the brackets for the second round and beyond, when we move to head-to-head match-ups in four categories: Best Themed Ride, Best Live Show, Best Roller Coaster and Best Automated Show.

Today's category honors the five top-rated simulators that play in front of single screens. It does not include "motion-base" simulator vehicles that travel through a show building, such as Spider-Man and Indiana Jones. Those rides will have their own category next week. We've got two entries from international parks today, though one is the final installation of a now-closed attraction in the U.S.

Back to the Future - The Ride - at Universal Studios Japan

Back to the Future

The Simpsons Ride - at Universal Studios Florida and Universal Studios Hollywood

The Simpsons Ride

Soarin' Over California - at Disney California Adventure and Epcot

Soarin' Over California

Star Tours: The Adventures Continue - at Disneyland and Disney's Hollywood Studios

Star Tours: The Adventures Continue

StormRider - at Tokyo DisneySea

StormRider


On Monday: We pick the best demonstration show.

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2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Best Illusion Show?

By Robert Niles
Published: February 9, 2012 at 9:53 AM

Obviously, live shows had to be part of the 2012 Theme Park Insider tournament. We've already honored the best live musical shows, but in going through the reader ratings submitted to the site, several non-musical shows stood out, too. These top-rated shows are ones where, well, not everything is as it seems. For that reason, I'm calling this category the "illusion" shows. Maybe it looks like a recorded movie, but the characters talk with the audience. Or something is there, and then it isn't. Whatever the illusion, these shows engage their viewers with trickery that distinguish them from other theme park attractions.

(FWIW, we've got one more category of live shows coming up, for demonstration shows such as Universal's Horror Make-up Show.)

Voting is open for 24 hours, and campaigning is encouraged, through the comments, Facebook and Twitter.

Donkey Live - at Universal Studios Singapore

Donkey Live

Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor - at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom

Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor

Mystery Lodge - at Knott's Berry Farm

Mystery Lodge

Poseidon's Fury - at Universal's Islands of Adventure

Poseidon's Fury

Turtle Talk with Crush - at Epcot, Disney California Adventure and Tokyo DisneySea

Turtle Talk with Crush


Tomorrow: It's time to vote for the Best Simulator Attraction.

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2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Best of the rest of the Intamin coasters?

By Robert Niles
Published: February 8, 2012 at 9:25 AM

Today in the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament we're voting on roller coasters from the Swiss amusement manufacturer Intamin. Now, Intamin has so many highly-rated versions of its Accelerator coaster that we split those into their own category - and Top Thrill Dragster was your winner there. Today, we're voting on the best of the rest of Intamin's collection.

Here are the top five non-Accelerator Intamin coasters in the Theme Park Insider reader ratings. Pick your favorite, and campaign in the comments or on Facebook and Twitter. Voting is open for 24 hours.

Bizarro - at Six Flags New England

Bizarro

Cheetah Hunt - at Busch Gardens Tampa (listing page includes on-ride video)

Cheetah Hunt

Maverick - at Cedar Point (listing page includes on-ride video)

Maverick

Millennium Force - at Cedar Point (listing page includes on-ride video)

Millennium Force

Volcano: The Blast Coaster - at Kings Dominion

Volcano: The Blast Coaster


Tomorrow: We'll vote on what we're calling "illusion" shows, that is, theme park live shows where what you see on stage is not always what it seems.

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And the Winner of Theme Park Apprentice: Tournament of Champions is...

By Tim W
Published: February 8, 2012 at 9:24 AM

The winner of the Tournament of Champions is James Koehl. Be sure to wish him a big congrats on this achievement. I would also like to thank the other 4 contestants, Nick Markham, Jeff Elliott, Dan Babbitt, and Joseph Catlett for competing. And a big thanks to everyone on the site for participating by voting in the weekly polls.

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Holiday World owners bid to reopen Kentucky Kingdom as Bluegrass Boardwalk

By Robert Niles
Published: February 7, 2012 at 3:32 PM

Here's what just hit my email in-box:

Members of the Koch family in Santa Claus, Indiana, continue to explore re-opening Louisville’s amusement and water park in 2013. Four family members have formed a new company – Bluegrass Boardwalk, Incorporated – to negotiate a lease agreement with the Kentucky State Fair Board, secure financing, and apply for economic development incentives from the Commonwealth of Kentucky. No public monies will be requested from the Kentucky Legislature by Bluegrass Boardwalk, Incorporated.

The members of the Koch family involved in discussions with the Kentucky State Fair Board as Bluegrass Boardwalk, Incorporated are Holiday World president Dan Koch, his sister Natalie Koch, their cousin Kathy Kamp, and her husband, Michael Kamp, who is a General Manager at Holiday World. Dan, Natalie and Kathy are grandchildren of Holiday World’s founder, Louis J. Koch, who opened the park (originally called Santa Claus Land) in 1946.

As updates about Bluegrass Boardwalk are made public, information will be posted online at http://BluegrassBoardwalk.com, on Facebook: http://Facebook.com/BluegrassBoardwalk and via Twitter: @BluegrassBwalk.

Thoughts?

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Earl of Sandwich is coming to Disneyland

By Robert Niles
Published: February 7, 2012 at 12:07 PM

The Disneyland Resort announced today that Earl of Sandwich is coming to the west coast as the popular Walt Disney World eatery will open a location in Disneyland's Downtown Disney later this year.

Earl of Sandwich

From the press release:

"The new restaurant, which continues to have historical ties to the inventor of the sandwich, the Sandwich family, will be adjacent to AMC Theatres. Signature hot sandwiches will be available including The Original 1762, a sandwich of freshly roasted beef, sharp cheddar and creamy horseradish sauce all on freshly baked artisan bread. Soups, salads, wraps and desserts also are on the menu. Earl of Sandwich offers a vast array of hot and cold beverages including The Earl’s Grey Lemonade. Breakfast sandwiches and pastries will be available in the morning and a variety of catering options will be offered at this location.

The restaurant is scheduled to open in "early summer." So, Walt Disney World fans, what should we Californians expect? And if it's worth a go, what should we order first?

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2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Best 4D Movie?

By Robert Niles
Published: February 7, 2012 at 10:40 AM

Remember the first time you saw a 4D movie? Mine was Disney's original, "Honey, I Shrunk the Audience." I knew that something was going to happen in the theater in addition to the 3D movie when I visited that first summer, but I didn't know what it would be. When it happened, well… I just started to write "I screamed like a little kid," but I don't remember ever screaming that loudly when I was a child. HISTA freaked me out, but I've gone on to enjoy many other 4D shows over the years.

Honey I Shrunk the Audience is gone now, but a field of 4D movies remains to battle for this year's title. As I noted when we voted on 3D movies last week, the line dividing 3D from 4D has grown blurry over the years. Basically, if a park labels an attraction "4D," it's eligible in this category. If the park instead calls the movie "3D," I put it in the 3D category. For other attractions with the 3D movies in stationary theaters, ones that parks didn't label 3D or 4D in either the show's name or official description, I assigned the attraction to this category if its seats jiggle or tickle you. Everything else went into 3D.

So here are your nominees in the 4D movie category. Voting is open for 24 hours.

It's Tough to Be a Bug! - at Disney's Animal Kingdom and Disney California Adventure

It's Tough to Be a Bug!

The Magic Lamp Theater - at Tokyo DisneySea

The Magic Lamp Theater

Sesame Street presents Lights, Camera, Imagination! - at Busch Gardens Williamsburg and SeaWorld San Diego

Sesame Street presents Lights, Camera, Imagination!

Shrek 4-D - at Universal Studios Florida, Universal Studios Hollywood, Universal Studios Singapore and Universal Studios Japan (Yes, this is the only attraction that appears at all four Universal Studios theme parks. There's also a Jurassic Park ride at all four locations, but the Orlando version is in Islands of Adventure, not USF.)

Shrek 4-D

Spellbreaker 4D - at Legoland California and Legoland Florida (Note: This show had the most votes among the 4D movies Legoland California shows in rotation, so it gets the nod for the tournament. FWIW, if you think we should start rating the movies separately in Florida as well, we can have a discussion about that.)

Spellbreaker 4D


Tomorrow: It's an Intamin roller coaster showdown as the builder's top non-accelerator coasters face off.

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The Super Bowl, theme parks and the lessons of Indianapolis

By Robert Niles
Published: February 6, 2012 at 3:07 PM

Something big happened in Indianapolis over the past week. And it wasn't just the football game between the New York Giants and New England Patriots. What Indianapolis did during its Super Bowl week will be getting the attention of many sharp thinkers in the travel and tourism industry, including those running theme parks. Theme park fans who care about the business side of the parks will want to pay attention to the lessons of Indianapolis, too.

Indianapolis Indianapolis is earning raves for its hosting of the Super Bowl, from network commentators, pro athletes, celebrities and newspaper columnists. Let's put that in perspective for a moment. Indy offers no natural advantages over cities that have hosted the National Football League's championship game in the past - it has no beaches, no ocean views, no 70-degree-plus average winter temperatures. There are no mountains or ski slopes that make other cities desirable winter destinations.

So what made last week so special? Indy nailed this Super Bowl because of infrastructure. No, its football stadium isn't the biggest. Its hotels aren't the fanciest nor are its restaurants world-renown. But they are packed together within walking distance of each other in Indianapolis' pedestrian-friendly downtown. Take a 20-minute cab ride from the city's new airport, and you don't have to get in a car again all week. The high density of attractions gave the city a critical mass, turning downtown into a multi-day street party.

Granted, Indy also relied on a strong local organizing committee and thousands of friendly volunteers to make the week come together. But if you're in the tourism business and you're looking for a edge that can help make your destination a preferred choice for conventions and vacationers, believe me, you're paying attention to how Indy won raves for a game played in a city that's never been considered an A-list tourism destination. (FWIW, I went to high school in Indianapolis and love the city. But facts are facts. This ain't Miami, New Orleans or San Diego - the top cities in the Super Bowl rotation.)

It's all about convenience and walkability. People don't want to have spend a big chunk of their vacation in taxis or rental cars, as they did in Dallas at last year's Super Bowl. If you can offer people a destination where hotels, restaurants and attractions are all within easy walking distance, you're going to have an advantage over an alternative that requires people to get into their cars and drive for 10, 20, 30 minutes or more between where they stay, where they eat and where they play.

Walkability's been an emerging issue in urban and attraction development for years. (We talked about this issue with Sam Gennawey in our interview last year.) But Indianapolis just illustrated the value of walkability to everyone in the tourism business, and at the same time. People involved in planning tourism attractions now have to ask themselves: Can I afford to give up the advantage of walkability to my competitors by building an old-fashioned, car-dependent, exurban-style development? Is my attraction really so alluring that I can get away with sticking people with the inconvenience of having to drive everywhere during their visit?

That's why I believe that the future of major theme park developments is something like Universal Studios Singapore. You've got a theme park, one of the world's largest casinos, five luxury hotels and dining and shopping all in one "integrated resort," where people walk from destination to destination. Here in the United States, the Universal Orlando and Disneyland Resorts are establishing an American template for what a walkable multi-attraction vacation destination can be.

I love walking between Disneyland and California Adventure, instead of what I have to go through to move between parks at Walt Disney World - take a tram to my car, get in and drive to another parking lot, where I'll wait for another tram to bring me to the next park's entrance plaza. (And as much of a pain as that it, the driving route is often faster than waiting for Disney World's buses.)

Walt Disney World's theme parks and hotels are good enough that they can overcome the inconvenience of Disney World's car-dependent transportation infrastructure. But looking 20, 30 or 40 years into the future, Disney's going to face a challenge in keeping its quality so far above the competition that it can continue to overcome its transportation disadvantages. Or, it's going to have to shell out the bucks to create a real mass-transit system linking the various Disney World parks and hotels.

Not everyone wants to spend a vacation in an integrated resort, of course. So people will continue to want to the extra space between them and others - to "get away" from everyone else. But theme parks are ultimately a social experience, and far-flung, car-dependent developments are anti-social at their heart.

The model of building a theme park, or a stadium or any other major social attraction and marooning it within a sea of surface parking spaces is dead. Indy just applied the final blow. That creates a design challenge for theme parks, as they'll have to find ways to keep the outside world from intruding upon the themed experiences within their parks. But successful parks won't be able to rely on distance and acres of trees to do that any longer. Walkability is becoming too important an asset for resort destinations.

Update: On the topic of the Super Bowl, here's MVP Eli Manning's visit today to Walt Disney World:

And here's that Universal Studios Hollywood commercial for Transformer 3D The Ride, from the pregame show:

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2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Best Animal Exhibit?

By Robert Niles
Published: February 6, 2012 at 8:45 AM

As the lines between theme park and zoos blur, animal exhibits have become popular attractions at more theme parks. Today's we're honoring five of your favorites, as voted on in the Theme Park Insider attraction listings. Please vote for your favorite from these five, selecting the one that you feel best represents the ideal blend of education, awe... and a faithfully engaging recreation of a native habitat.

Today's category draws from all walk-through animal exhibits in theme parks, and does not include animal exhibits included as part of other attractions, such as narrated rides, roller coaster queues and live shows - which were voted on in other categories.

Voting is open for 24 hours.

Eagle Ridge - at Busch Gardens Williamsburg

Eagle Ridge

Edge of Africa - at Busch Gardens Tampa

Edge of Africa

Maharajah Jungle Trek - at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Maharajah Jungle Trek

Pangani Forest Exploration Trail - at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Pangani Forest Exploration Trail

Turtle Reef - at SeaWorld San Diego

Turtle Reef


Tomorrow: It's the 4D show showdown.

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Theme Park Apprentice Tournament of Champions: The Final

By Robert Niles
Published: February 5, 2012 at 8:31 PM

Thanks to everyone who's been following the Theme Park Apprentice Tournament of Champions, including our contestants and organizer Tim W. It's time to vote on the final contest. As always, please take a look at the entries on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board before voting.

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2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Best Stunt Show?

By Robert Niles
Published: February 3, 2012 at 9:02 AM

Please do not try duplicating today's 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament blog post at home - it's for Best Stunt Show, and we must leave that to the professionals, right? :^)

We're looking for a champion in this category that delivers exhilarating stunts, an engaging show and that leaves you marveling about what you saw for hours afterward.

And, by the way, after yesterday, I'm wondering if anyone actually reads what I write between the headline and the first photo in these posts. So if you are reading this, let's have some fun. Please post the word "varmints" to either the site or the Theme Park Insider Facebook page sometime in the next day or two. Bonus points for being extra creative in how you work it in. You will have my undying gratitude.

Now let's cut to the chase. Literally.

High-Dive Theater - at Holiday World

High-Dive Theater

Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular - at Disney's Hollywood Studios

Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular

Lights! Motors! Action! - at Disney's Hollywood Studios and Walt Disney Studios Paris

Lights! Motors! Action!

Waterworld - at Universal Studios Hollywood, Universal Studios Singapore and Universal Studios Japan

Waterworld


On Sunday: Universal's continuing its emerging tradition of debuting theme park commercials on Super Bowl Sunday. This year, Universal's running a 30-second spot (here's a snippet) during the final hour of the Super Bowl pregame show, to promote the upcoming Transformers: The Ride 3D at Universal Studios Hollywood.

On Monday: The Tournament returns, and we'll pick the best animal exhibit.

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D23 offering Disney fans 'off the map' access to Disneyland, for $250

By Robert Niles
Published: February 2, 2012 at 10:46 AM

Remember that $2,500 Disneyland Candlelight Processional special that got you into Walt's Main Street apartment? Well, now Disney's lopped a zero of the end of that price, offering D23 members a chance to get into the apartment, as well as other "behind the scenes" sites at Disneyland, for "just" $250.

Walt's apartment

The D23 "Disneyland Off the Map" tour event run all day on Tuesday, March 6. Tickets go on sale Feb. 9 at 10am PT (at the link above - theme park admission is not included, but required to get into the event). The event will include tours of the Main Street Apartment, as well as the Dream Suite apartment above New Orleans Square that once was the publicly accessible home of the Disney Gallery. Participants also will get a ride on the Disneyland Railroad's Lilly Belle VIP parlor car. And then, there's this:

We will be meeting at 6 p.m. for a very special dinner (and drinks) inside one of the resort’s most unique restaurants.

For some reason, Disney's not mentioning the name of the restaurant, but the only place in Disneyland where you can get a "drink" - and the only "off the map" restaurant in the park - is Club 33. If dinner at Club 33 is included, does anyone know why Disney wouldn't advertise that? And if the dinner's not at Club 33, do you think it's a bit of a bait and switch to imply that it is?

I'd love to hear you thoughts about this event, and whether or not you think I should spring for the cost and go (and take lots of pictures for publication on the site, of course).

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2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Best 3D Movie?

By Robert Niles
Published: February 2, 2012 at 10:06 AM

Put on your special glasses and remain seated, as we're about to pick the best 3D movie in a theme park.

When I started putting together this year's tournament, I thought it'd be neat to start by matching up rides and shows of the same type to crown the best in each of those categories, before setting them against each other in a head-to-head bracket. Best flume ride? Best animatronic show? Best simulator ride? It'll be fun!

But when I sorted through the Theme Park Insider reader ratings to select the attractions for each vote, I was reminded just how fuzzy the lines between various types of theme park experiences have come. Let's consider today's category, 3D movies, for example.

Pretty easy, huh? If you sit in a theater and wear 3D glasses while watching a movie, that's a 3D movie. But what about 4D attractions, where the seats jiggle and tickle? Okay, we'll make those a different category. But what about 3D movies with live actors, or animatronics? Should they be in with the 3D movies, or the 4D ones? And what about 3D movies where the seats don't move, but you still get stuff sprayed at you? 3D or 4D?

Multiply those decisions by the number of categories in the tournament, and you can see that I had to make more decisions that Judge Judy.

So for today's vote, we've got the top 3D movies that don't include seats that "jiggle or tickle," and that parks haven't labeled as "4D." Those will be in the Best 4D Show category next week. But we do include today a couple of 3D movies that include live actors and/or animatronics. As with all tournament contests, voting is open for 24 hours and campaigning via the comments, Facebook and Twitter is encouraged.

Captain EO - at Disneyland, Epcot, Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland Paris

Captain EO

Mickey's PhilharMagic - at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, Tokyo Disneyland and Hong Kong Disneyland

Mickey's PhilharMagic

MuppetVision 3D - at Disney's Hollywood Studios and Disney California Adventure

MuppetVision 3D

Terminator 2: 3D - at Universal Studios Florida, Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Studios Japan

Terminator 2: 3D


Tomorrow: We'll be voting to pick the best theme park stunt show.

Comments (29) | Archive Link

2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Best Wooden 'Mega' Coaster?

By Robert Niles
Published: February 1, 2012 at 9:06 AM

Today in the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament we're honoring those roller coasters that blur the line between traditional wooden coasters and modern steel mega-coasters. These hybrid coasters deliver heights (over 150 feet), speed - and airtime - previously unheard of on woodies, thanks to their blend of materials or construction technique.

Three stand out, according to Theme Park Insider reader ratings - El Toro at Six Flags in New Jersey (prefabricated wood), last year's rebuild of Texas Giant at Six Flags' original park in Arlington (steel track on wood support), and the defending champion in this tournament, The Voyage at Holiday World in Santa Claus, Indiana (wood track on steel support). Voting is open for 24 hours, and campaigning - in the comments, and on Facebook and Twitter - is encouraged.

El Toro - at Six Flags Great Adventure

El Toro

Texas Giant - at Six Flags Over Texas

Texas Giant

The Voyage - at Holiday World

The Voyage


Tomorrow: It's time to vote for the best theme park 3D movie.

Comments (17) | Archive Link

Keep reading: January 2012 Archive



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