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March 2012

2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Best Theme Park Ride Final - Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey vs. Haunted Mansion

By Robert Niles
Published: March 30, 2012 at 9:50 AM

We're finally here. The final vote in the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament. And it's the biggie - the World's Best Theme Park Ride.

Your finalists are your top two seeds - the challenger is a former tournament bracket winner, Disney's Haunted Mansion, and the top seed is the 2010 Theme Park Insider Award winner for Best New Attraction, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey at Universal's Islands of Adventure. So who will wear the crown this year? You'll help decide that by your vote below.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey - at Universal's Islands of Adventure

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

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

Haunted Mansion

Voting is open for 24 hours. If you'd like to rally support for your favorite, please link to this post on Facebook and Twitter and encourage your friends and followers to vote.


Thank you for participating in this year's tournament and congratulations to all the winners! If you're new to Theme Park Insider, I'd like to invite you to like us on Facebook to get the latest news and fun photos from the world's top theme parks. Thanks.

Comments (82) | Archive Link

2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Best Roller Coaster Final - The Voyage vs. Incredible Hulk Coaster

By Robert Niles
Published: March 30, 2012 at 7:55 AM

It's time to award the title of Best Roller Coaster to one of our two finalists in the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament.

You've voted Holiday World's The Voyage and Universal Orlando's Incredible Hulk Coaster to this point. Now, it's time to decide which one will be crowned champion.

The Voyage - at Holiday World

The Voyage

Incredible Hulk Coaster - at Universal's Islands of Adventure

Incredible Hulk Coaster

Voting is open for 24 hours. If you'd like to rally support for your favorite, please link to this post on Facebook and Twitter and encourage your friends and followers to vote.


Next up: Universal Orlando's Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Disney's Haunted Mansion complete the Tournament in the battle for the Best Theme Park Ride crown.

Comments (41) | Archive Link

2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Best Theme Park Show Final - Soarin' Over California vs. Fantasmic!

By Robert Niles
Published: March 30, 2012 at 6:00 AM

It's Championship Friday in the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament, and we're going to start with the final in the Best Theme Park Show bracket.

We're got an all-Disney final for you, as Soarin' Over California takes on Fantasmic!, a defending Best Show tournament champion. Which is your pick as the winner?

Soarin' Over California - at Disney California Adventure, and at Epcot as Soarin'

Soarin' Over California

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

Fantasmic!

Voting is open for 24 hours. If you'd like to rally support for your favorite, please link to this post on Facebook and Twitter and encourage your friends and followers to vote.


Next up: Holiday World's The Voyage and Universal Orlando's Incredible Hulk Coaster battle for the title of Best Roller Coaster

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Six steps to a stress-free vacation

By Robert Niles
Published: March 29, 2012 at 2:20 PM

Last week I wrote about stressed-out visitors at Walt Disney World, so today I thought it might be helpful to talk about ways that you and your family can enjoy a (relatively) stress-free vacation.

Stress-free kids at a theme park

Here are my six steps to a stress-free theme park vacation. You're invited to add your best tips in the comments.

1. Don't plan more vacation than you can afford

Paying for something you can't afford ranks high among stressful experiences. I know that people want to enjoy a dream vacation, but booking a vacation you can't afford will just turn out to be a nightmare. We've got some good advice on our Tickets page showing how you can budget for a family vacation, then shop around for the best deal to fit your budget.

In short, save up the money you're going to spend on vacation, instead of putting in on a credit card. Charging your vacation (without paying it off immediately) means an automatic 10% - and probably much more - markup on the cost of your vacation when you figure in the interest you'll be paying on that debt. Go ahead and use a card on your trip for safety and convenience, especially if it is a miles or reward card, but have the money in your bank account to pay off those charges immediately.

If that means you have to plan a less expensive trip than a week in Orlando at the Grand Floridian, so be it. Better to enjoy a vacation you can afford that stress out over a vacation that will be hurting you financially for months or years to come.

2. It costs nothing to plan in advance, so do it

The more reading you do in advance about a destination, the more you can get to know about it, so that you can make the most from your visit when you are there. Find the closest hotel you can afford, and learn what frequent visitors have to say about getting the best airfares. If driving is possible, do the math and decide if that's cheaper than flying.

Ask about the true cost of a vacation - those hidden "resort fees" and taxes that show up at check-out, and the cost of food and other incidentals while you stay. Find what freebies you can get, too, such as transportation to and from the airport, front of the line passes, and meal deals. The more you know about a potential destination, the more informed decision you can make about whether it's the best destination for your family - and your family budget.

Surprises can be stressful - learn all you can about your destination so that you can avoid them.

3. Create a flexible plan, then let it flex

Once you've learned about a destination, you'll probably develop a list of things you want to while you're there. That's great. You'll get more for your money on your vacation than people who haven't thought ahead and discovered what's available. But don't let your to-do list become your vacation's hostage demand list.

Consider your to-do wish list as suggestions, rather than as a schedule. In theme parks, arrive before the park opens and try to get the most popular rides out of the way, so that you can avoid the crowds that build up later in the day. But don't try to schedule your visit like an invasion. Go with the flow of the day and if something throws you off your plan, just pick something else convenient from your to-do list and enjoy that. Or just let yourself explore what's in the area. If you did the work to chose a good destination, you'll enjoy yourself regardless if you're on a planned activity or not.

If you're having a good time, you're using the right strategy for your day. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

4. Once you've spent the money, let it go

Hey, if someone's trying to bump you from a flight, a room or a meal that you've reserved, politely show your reservation and ask for help in getting what you've booked. But don't try to squeeze every last ride, show and calorie from your trip at the expense of enjoying your vacation.

Measure value in how much you and your family are enjoying your vacation. Don't fall into the trap of measuring value by the number of rides you went on in the parks or the number of calories your consumed on your meal plan. I was a statistics geek in college, and there's what we called a Pareto relationship between stress and value on vacation: Most people create 95% of their stress trying to squeeze the last 5% of value from their trip. This isn't a competition. Who cares about bragging rights? Get 100% of your enjoyment by not worrying about maximizing anything else but your enjoyment. Remember the work you did on steps 1, 2 and 3 - you can afford this. :^)

5. Engage. Make friends, not enemies

You can go through life (and your vacation) in one of two ways: You can see everyone as a potential obstacle, standing in the way of your enjoyment, or you can see everyone as a potential friend and ally, someone who can help you get even more enjoyment out of life.

Unfortunately, too many people choose the first option. Their reflex reaction is to assume that anyone they don't know personally is trouble. What a shame. Going through seeing everyone else as an "other" just leaves you ever-more stressed and angry.

So be friendly when you're out in public. Smile. Talk with people who smile back. Say please and thank you and ask employees to help you instead of berating them. Don't push past everyone so quickly that you miss the social engagements that can make vacations magical.

6. Remember: Happiness isn't a destination. It's a path

Allow me to be both idealistic and brutally frank at the same time here. First, the frank park: Your vacation is not going to make you happy. That's because nothing in life will make you happy.

Now, the idealistic: Ultimately, only you can control whether you feel happy. Be happy with what you have and whom you are with, and you might feel comfortable enough to allow new opportunities, enjoyment and friendships into your life. Be angry and stressed and you might find yourself closing off opportunities that come your way.

At some point in your vacation, something's going to go "wrong." How will you react? Will you allow that moment to send you into a dark place, or will you cheerfully weave your way around it? That attitude, more than anything else, will determine whether you have a stress-free vacation.

And a stress-free life.

Good luck, and happy travels.

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2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Haunted Mansion vs. Pirates of the Caribbean

By Robert Niles
Published: March 28, 2012 at 7:38 PM

We've got just one decision to make before it's time to crown the champions in the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament.

Today, we're selecting the second finalist for the title of Best Themed Ride, and we've got two of Disney's classics slugging it out. Your vote will help decide which ride goes on to face Universal's Harry Potter in the final.

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

Haunted Mansion

Pirates of the Caribbean - at Disneyland, Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, Disneyland Paris, and Tokyo Disneyland

Pirates of the Caribbean

Voting is open for 24 hours. If you'd like to rally support for your favorite, please link to this post on Facebook and Twitter.


Next up: It's Championship Friday, when we will wrap up the Tournament by crowning champions for Best Theme Park Show, Best Roller Coaster, and Best Themed Ride.

Comments (37) | Archive Link

2012 Best Attraction Tournament: The Voyage vs. Montu

By Robert Niles
Published: March 28, 2012 at 9:09 AM

It's time to select the second finalist for the title of Best Roller Coaster in the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament.

Our top seed is no stranger to the tournament, being our defending Best Roller Coaster champion, Holiday World's The Voyage. But it's path to the final this year is blocked by our B&M Inverted Champion, Busch Gardens Tampa's Montu. Your vote will decide which coaster advances.

The Voyage - at Holiday World

The Voyage

Montu - at Busch Gardens Tampa

Montu

Voting is open for 24 hours. Please tell us in the comments why you voted the way you did, and if you'd like to drum up some more votes for your favorite, feel free to link to this post on Facebook and Twitter.


Wednesday evening: We'll get an early start on the last semifinal vote, so that we can have it wrapped up in time for Championship Friday. The last spot in the Best Themed Ride final will go to second-seed Haunted Mansion or third-seed Pirates of the Caribbean.

Comments (37) | Archive Link

What's new on the discussion board: Storybook Circus, The Swarm and The Hunger Games

By Robert Niles
Published: March 28, 2012 at 9:00 AM

Hello, theme park fans! Here are some of the top new threads on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board this week.

TH Creative takes a look at the new Storybook Circus section of the Magic Kingdom's renovated Fantasyland, and is Waiting for Timothy, who's nowhere to be found yet on the newly reinstalled Dumbo.

Dumbo
Notice anyone missing from the top of the new Dumbo at Walt Disney World?

Jason Jackson reports from Virginia and notes that Busch Gardens Williamsburg gives the park some TLC in addition to the new attractions.

Caroline Davis checks in from the UK with Thorpe Park - A Trip Report, including her report on the park's new roller coaster, The Swarm.

Back in the US, Scott Cline asks for your Advice on what else to do in Orlando.

Mark Fairleigh wants to know if you've Ever dreamt of Disney or Universal parks?

Mickey Taylan asks the inevitable question about The Hunger Games in the Theme Parks? Not only are we talking about the end of the third book (warning: spoilers!), we also take a detour into planning the line-up at a "Bad Idea Park." So far, we've got Duffy as our mascot. ;^)

Following TH's thread, I'll leave you with several photos of the new Storybook Circus:

Dumbo
A full view of the new Dumbo

Dumbo detail
A close-up of scenes from the Dumbo movie, which are depicted along the bottom of the new Dumbo spinner.

The Barnstormer

More Barnstormer
A couple close-ups of the Barnstormer, starring the Great Goofini

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2012 Best Attraction Tournament: It's Tough to Be a Bug! vs. Fantasmic!

By Robert Niles
Published: March 27, 2012 at 9:08 AM

Wow! Now that was a finish. Congratulations to Universal Orlando and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, which squeaked out an 8-vote win out of 1,300 votes cast in Monday's 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament vote.

Today, we're moving over to the Best Show bracket, as second-seed It's Tough to Be a Bug! takes on its exclamation-pointed Disney sibling, sixth-seed Fantasmic!

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

It's Tough to Be a Bug!

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

Fantasmic!

Voting is open for 24 hours. Please tell us in the comments why you voted the way you did, and if you'd like to drum up some more votes for your favorite, feel free to link to this post on Facebook and Twitter.


Wednesday morning: It's 1. The Voyage vs. 5. Montu for the final spot in the Best Roller Coaster final.

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2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey vs. Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

By Robert Niles
Published: March 26, 2012 at 9:08 AM

Today's winner in the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament might very well be the favorite to win this year's title for Best Themed Ride.

We've got a former champion of the tournament vying with the top-seed and a former winner of the Theme Park Insider Award for Best New Attraction. But only one of these award-winning attractions will make it to this year's final. So which will it be - Universal's Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey or Disney's Twilight Zone Tower of Terror?

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey - at Universal's Islands of Adventure

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror - at Disney's Hollywood Studios

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

Voting is open for 24 hours. Please tell us in the comments why you voted the way you did, and if you'd like to drum up some more votes for your favorite, feel free to link to this post on Facebook and Twitter.


Tuesday: 2. It's Tough to Be a Bug! vs. 6. Fantasmic! compete to take on Soarin's Over California in the Best Theme Park Show final.

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2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Incredible Hulk Coaster vs. Manta

By Robert Niles
Published: March 23, 2012 at 7:54 AM

We've haven't forgotten about the roller coasters. Today in the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament, we're selecting a coaster for one of the two spots in the Best Roller Coaster tournament final.

We've got two of Orlando's top coasters for your consideration today - Universal's Hulk and SeaWorld's Manta. Which is your pick to go on to the finals?

Incredible Hulk Coaster - at Universal's Islands of Adventure

Incredible Hulk Coaster

Manta - at SeaWorld Orlando

Manta

Voting is open for 24 hours. Please tell us in the comments why you voted the way you did, and if you'd like to drum up some more votes for your favorite, feel free to link to this post on Facebook and Twitter.


Monday: It's 1. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey vs. 5. Twilight Zone Tower of Terror for spot in the Best Themed Ride final.

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2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular vs. Soarin' Over California

By Robert Niles
Published: March 22, 2012 at 8:16 AM

We've arrived at the semifinal round of the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament, which starts today in the Best Theme Park Show bracket.

Two Disney shows have upset their way into the top four for this year's tournament: Soarin' Over California and the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular. Today, you'll vote on of these shows into the finals. But which one?

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

Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular

Soarin' Over California - at Disney California Adventure and Epcot

Soarin' Over California

Voting is open for 24 hours. Please tell us in the comments why you voted the way you did, and if you'd like to drum up some more votes for your favorite, feel free to link to this post on Facebook and Twitter.


Friday: We've got 2. Incredible Hulk Coaster vs. 3. Manta in the semifinals for Best Roller Coaster.

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Introducing Disney's 'StressPass'

By Robert Niles
Published: March 21, 2012 at 10:34 AM

Are visitors to Walt Disney World always this stressed out? Or am I just not used to it anymore?

In just a couple of hours on Monday, I saw more obviously stressed guests at the Disney World theme parks than I'd seen over the past several months while visiting the Disney parks in California and Japan. A five-minute hold on the WDW monorail sent one woman into a blue tirade on her cell phone. Another woman stopped complaining to her seatmate at the Beauty and Beast show only long enough to wrestle her children under control, after they'd grown restless trying to get Mom's attention. Men blasted strollers through crowds without concern for others, yelling at the rest of their families to catch up.

Magic Kingdom

And crowd levels on Monday didn't seem anywhere near as bad as they'd been a week ago, according to several cast members. I know that some theme park guests behave badly, but I can't recall seeing this level of stress recently.

Perhaps I've been spoiled by the crowds in Southern California. Most of the visitors to the Disneyland Resort are annual passholders, who know the parks, have a routine, and aren't concerned with squeezing the most from a once-in-a-lifetime visit, since they'll soon be back anyway. And even though the crowds in Japan tore through the parks' entry plazas like runners at the start of a marathon, I never saw stress on anyone's faces. They were simply trying to get into the park quickly. For the rest of the day, everyone in those parks was as polite to one another as the legendary Tokyo cast members were to all of us.

So what's the deal in Florida? Sure, the economy's still pretty weak in the U.S., and people are concerned about getting their money's worth while on vacation. But that's only part of the problem. The big issue, from what I overheard this week, is... Fastpass.

It seemed like every stressed-out person I saw in the Magic Kingdom, Disney's Hollywood Studios and Epcot this week was complaining about the same thing: getting across the park in time to use their Fastpasses. Disney earlier this month began enforcing Fastpass return time windows at the Walt Disney World Resort, and no longer honors the ride reservations after their return-time window. (You can continue to use Fastpasses anytime after their return-time windows at the Disneyland Resort theme parks.)

Years of tour plans and strategies based on using Fastpasses whenever you'd like later in the day have gone into the trash, and that's making some Disney guests miserable as they try to adjust. Any minor delay - a hold on the monorail, a show starting late, foot traffic slowing around the many pinchpoints in an under-construction Fantasyland - disrupts schedules that guests are trying to time to the minute. If you've got a Fastpass in the Magic Kingdom during a parade time, for example, you'd better plan to be on that side of the park before the parade starts, because with the construction in Fantasyland and a parade blocking the hub, there's no way you're crossing the Magic Kingdom quickly.

And now Disney's thinking about introducing a system where guests can schedule all of their rides, shows and meals to the minute?

Forget Avatar. All those blue-faced people in the Disney theme parks will be the guests, screaming at everyone else in their family to hurry up.

Universal's got a huge marketing opportunity here. I can see the commercial now: "Vacations shouldn't have deadlines. Stay at a Universal Orlando hotel and you can skip the lines at theme park attractions whenever you want. With no deadlines." I wonder how many more rooms Universal and Loews could book with a campaign like that. Hey, I go on vacation to get away from the Outlook calendar, not so I can use it throughout a 16-hour theme park day.

Ultimately, I think that Disney's move might be the thing that actually gets more people to give up on Fastpass, as those guests quit trying to hyper-analyze their day. Or perhaps Disney will take the pressure off by expanding the return windows, allowing people windows of 90 minutes or two hours in which to return, instead of the current 60 minutes. Or maybe people will just adapt, and learn to chill.

Whatever happens, though, I saw too many people who weren't enjoying their vacation this week. And that can't be good news, or good business, for Disney.

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2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Pirates of the Caribbean vs. Popeye & Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges

By Robert Niles
Published: March 21, 2012 at 7:50 AM

We've reached the last quarterfinal match-up in 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament, as your vote today will select the fourth semifinalist for the title of Best Themed Ride.

Please keep your hands and arms inside the boat at all times for this face-off between two popular Disney and Universal boat rides: the third-seed Pirates of the Caribbean and the sixth-seed Popeye & Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges.

Pirates of the Caribbean - at Disneyland, Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, Tokyo Disneyland, and Disneyland Paris

Pirates of the Caribbean

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

Popeye & Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges

Voting is open for 24 hours. Please tell us in the comments why you voted the way you did, and if you'd like to drum up some more votes for your favorite, feel free to link to this post on Facebook and Twitter.


Thursday: The Best Theme Park Show semifinals get underway as upstart ninth-seed Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular takes on fifth-seed Soarin' Over California.

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Where to eat? Lunch at Sleepy Hollow Refreshments

By Robert Niles
Published: March 20, 2012 at 8:38 AM

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida - A chicken and waffle sandwich? In Florida? I've got to try that.

Keep in mind that I come from Southern California - home of Roscoe's, the king of the fried-chicken-and-waffle combo. There's a Roscoe's not too far from my home in Pasadena, and I consider that the best fried chicken in town - never greasy, always crispy, and with just enough pepper in the batter to give it some zing. The waffles have a hint of cinnamon, too.

So the chicken and waffle sandwich at the Magic Kingdom's Sleepy Hollow Refreshments would face a high standard to meet.

Sleepy Hollow Refreshments

The waffle sandwiches are the featured item on Sleepy Hollow's new menu, which debuted earlier this year. In addition to the chicken sandwich, there's a ham and cheese sandwich and a Nutella sandwich on the menu, in addition to plain or topped waffles and funnel cakes, as well as cookies and ice cream cookie sandwiches.

Sleepy Hollow menu in March 2012

But I didn't consider any of those. My eyes were locked on the chicken sandwich.

The fried chicken waffle sandwich, with sweet and sour syrup and arugula

No, ain't Roscoe's. And that's fine. Disney's chicken waffle sandwich ($6.99) comes with a fried chicken breast patty, bathed in sweet-and-sour syrup, perched on a folded, made-to-order Belgian waffle like it were a taco. Argula and a bit of a creamy carrot slaw top the sandwich.

I've long thought that Walt Disney World under-spices its food, which simply doesn't have the flavor I find in dishes at either Disneyland or Universal Orlando. A waitress at Boatwright's at Port Orleans Riverside recently warned me, for my most recent example, that the etouffee I was ordering would have a kick - but I never tasted it. Perhaps Disney's trying too hard not to offend anyone's taste buds by playing it overly safe.

So I was very pleasantly surprised to find a warm kick of flavor in the sweet-and-sour syrup on the Sleepy Hollow chicken sandwich. Yeah, this one'll wake you up. The peppery arugula added to the spiciness of the sandwich, too.

The only problem - how to eat this thing? With a Belgian waffle wrapping the chicken, this sandwich is too big eat from the side, like a taco. So I started from the top, eating the chicken, until the syrup softened up the waffle a bit, allowing me to smush it all together for a comprehensive bite.

Watch what you're doing, though, or the syrup will come squirting out the back of the sandwich, all over your lap. Napkins are advised.

Now it's time for dessert. As I said, I skipped the ice cream sandwich at Sleepy Hollow in favor of a more elusive treat.

The Citrus Swirl.

Walt Disney World's one-time signature dessert is back at the Sunshine Tree Terrace, although Disney's sure making it hard to find.

Sunshine Tree Terrace

The Sunshine Tree Terrace in Adventureland is under construction tarps while Disney renovates the building's exterior. And the Citrus Swirl appears nowhere on the Terrace's menu boards. There's a small card on the counter advertising the treat, which costs $3.19 and comes either on a cone or in a cup.

Citrus Swirl

The Citrus Swirl is frozen orange juice swirled with vanilla soft-serve ice cream, and was the signature item at the Sunshine Tree Terrace when the park opened in 1971. The dessert was part of the Florida Orange Growers' sponsorship of the Tropical Serenade tiki room show, and Disney created the Orange Bird character as the "host" of the terrace, where you could buy the Citrus Swirl.

Orange Bird

After the orange growers dropped their sponsorship deal, the terrace dropped into seasonal operation, not opening for long stretches, and the Citrus Swirl often disappeared from the menu, too.

But Disney's reviving the Orange Bird (I just bought an Orange Bird shirt at a recent D23 event), and the Citrus Swirl is back, too. It's a tasty blend of sharp citrus and smooth ice cream, much like an old Creamsicle pop, but with better orange flavor and less icy consistency. I'd love to see it come back permanently to the Walt Disney World Resort, but the best way to make that happen is for fans to buy them while they're here. Disney might or might not listen to guest requests.

But all theme parks always listen to sales figures.

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2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Fantasmic! vs. MuppetVision 3D

By Robert Niles
Published: March 20, 2012 at 7:13 AM

We've got one spot remaining in the semifinals for Best Theme Park show in the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament. Which one of these two Disney favorites will get your vote?

The Muppets are enjoying a revival with the release of their new movie on Blu-Ray today, but Fantasmic! has been the king of this category for years on Theme Park Insider. Will its reign continue today, or will the Muppets pull another upset?

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

Fantasmic!

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

MuppetVision 3D

Tell us in the comments why you voted the way you did, and drum up some more votes for your favorite by linking to this post on Facebook and Twitter. Voting is open for 24 hours.


Wednesday: We've got 3. Pirates of the Caribbean vs. 6. Popeye & Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges for the final spot in the Best Themed Ride bracket.

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2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey vs. Toy Story Midway Mania

By Robert Niles
Published: March 19, 2012 at 5:33 AM

Just because it's Monday doesn't mean you have to go without tournament action. Let's open the polls for another quarterfinal match-up in the Best Themed Ride bracket of the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament.

The tournament's number one seed is in action today, as Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey takes on Disney's top arcade ride, Toy Story Midway Mania. Will the Harry Potter fans and Theme Park Insider readers who voted Potter to the top seed send Forbidden Journey to the next round, or will Disney fans power Toy Story to an upset?

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey - at Universal's Islands of Adventure

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

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

Toy Story Midway Mania

Tell us in the comments why you voted the way you did, and rally support for your favorite by linking to this post on Facebook and Twitter. Voting is open for just 24 hours, so get moving!


Tuesday: It's 6. Fantasmic! vs. 14. MuppetVision 3D in the Best Theme Park Show bracket.

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Review and Virtual Tour of Hollywood Drive-In Golf at Universal Orlando Resort

By Domenik Jost
Published: March 18, 2012 at 5:09 PM

This past week Universal Orlando Resort opened it's Hollywood Drive-In Golf for business. I had a chance this week to check it out and at the bottom of this post I want to invite you to go on a virtual tour of the course with me.

The Hollywood Drive-In Golf is located at the beginning of CityWalk between the AMC Cineplex Theater, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co, and Valet parking. It is made up of two full 18 hole mini golf courses: "The Haunting of Ghostly Greens" and "Invaders from Planet Putt".

Both courses are very well themed and have appropriate music for each. On "The Haunting of Ghostly Greens" you'll hear more horror music, whereas on "Invaders from Planet Putt" you'll hear more of a 1950's science fiction mix. Throughout the courses there are many interactive elements from moving lighting, moving obstacles, to water effects that will try to throw you off your game and make that shot more difficult. The first course I tackled was "The Haunting of Ghostly Greens" which is themed to classic drive-in era horror films. The course is filled with Graves, Spiders, and classic creepy scenes that are easily recognized from classic horror films. For Jaws fans, there is even a little tribute to our favorite Bruce.

This to me was the more challenging of the two courses for me and I went over par and ended with a 45 (par 42).

Next up was "Invaders from Planet Putt" which was themed to sci-fi films of the 1950s. There's cows, Area 51, UFOs, aliens, and even a giant alien robot.

On the sci-fi side I found the course difficulty was quite a bit easier and I even got four hole in ones. Hole 18 on this course is interesting as you have to shoot the ball down the giant worms mouth. Inside the hole is moving on a rotating circle plate so it is never in the same place making it quite the challenge to get a hole in one. I ended up with a 39 (par 42) on the course and definitely by the score it was easier than the other one for me. Overall both courses have some cool challenges and obstacles to get through making for quite a fun time. Personally I find these hands down the two best mini golf courses in Orlando.

Now here's a couple of 360 virtual tour shots I made to show you some of the amazing theming Universal has done with these two courses.

There's more than a dozen more 360 virtual tour pictures I took that you can find here.

Hollywood Drive-In Golf is open to the public daily from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. Admission rates to play one course are $13.99 plus tax for adults and $11.99 plus tax for children (ages 3 to 9). For more information on Hollywood Drive-In Golf, visit www.CityWalkOrlando.com.

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Pass Member Preview Day at Busch Gardens Williamsburg: Green Beer and Verbolten

By Tom Rigg
Published: March 18, 2012 at 5:06 PM

Yesterday I helped officially open the theme park season in Virginia by attending Pass Member Preview Day at my home park, Busch Gardens Williamsburg. A lot of smaller projects has taken place over the winter break. From new bathroom layouts, to a new stage and show in the Festhaus, the park looked wonderful. But all of that detail is for another discussion.

Pass member preview day also happened to be Saint Patrick's Day. As Busch Gardens Williamsburg has a European theme, the Ireland area of the park was buzzing with revelry. There was a DJ mixing up some traditional Irish music with top 40 hits, meet and greets with Leprechauns, and green beer!

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The other big buzz at the park was about the nearly completed Verbolten. Built on the hollowed grounds of the late Big Bad Wolf, this coaster has really taken shape over the past few months. Most of the work remaining appears to be cosmetic. An attendant stationed in front of the entrance said that they hoped was an early May opening, but I don't know the validity of that date as Busch Gardens has often opened new attractions on Memorial Day Weekend.

While we wait for it to open, how about a tour of the work so far? First, there appear to be two signs for the ride. One on a pole that is comprised of the previously released logo design, and another that builds on the roadway theme by having the attraction name covering a road sign.

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The queue for the attraction is housed in the same area that held the Big Bad Wolf queue. It looks as though the attraction designers have taken a page from the Disney playbook and are building a story with the queue. A display board out front explained that the queue is meant to be the office of a touring agency that is providing guests with vintage roadsters to enjoy the German countryside. Leaving the office, you enter into what was the Big Bad Wolf loading house. It serves the same purpose for Verbotlen, but it is now themed as a garage for the agency.

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The attendant in front of the attraction also stated that there are 6 trains (I could only see 4) and they had the ability to run 3 at a time. Each train is fashioned after a different type of vintage sports car. The cars are fairly open with only lap restraints. One interesting aspect can't be seen in the photo below, but there seemed to be a clear plastic shield attached to the lap bar arm that covered the riders legs below the knee.

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After leaving the station riders will cruise through the woods before entering what appears to be an abandoned tunnel. This tunnel contains the first launch which will take the train into the show building. The tunnel facade can bee seen int he background of the picture below. Concept are on display boards out front show trees framing the entrance to the tunnel which would explain the abrupt end to the facade.

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Once inside the show building riders will experience a helix meant to cause lateral Gs, heavy themeing and lighting, and a drop track (the first in the U.S.)

After the drop track the train will enter the second launch which will take riders to the top of a derelict covered bridge and then plummeting to the river below followed by an "S" curve back to the station. The river drop and "S" curve bring back two of the signature portions of the Big Bad Wolf experience.

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Over all there seems to be a great deal of excitement surrounding Verbolten. With no inversions, an 88' max drop, and only 2835' of track, it will have to depend heavily on its unique themeing and ride elements to bring the thrills. And from the look of things so far, it seems it will.

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2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Waterworld vs. Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular

By Robert Niles
Published: March 16, 2012 at 4:47 AM

Let's get fired up for today's vote in the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament!

We're in the Best Theme Park Show bracket today, with our top seed taking on a third-round upset winner. At stake is a spot in the semifinals. So, who ya got? Universal or Disney?

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

Waterworld

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

Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular

Tell us in the comments why you voted the way you did, and rally support for your favorite by linking to this post on Facebook and Twitter. Voting is open for 24 hours.


Monday: 1. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey vs. 8. Toy Story Midway Mania in the Best Themed Ride bracket.

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Lies the airlines tell me

By Robert Niles
Published: March 15, 2012 at 11:50 AM

My experience flying yesterday gave me an extra appreciation for something Disney does, or, more accurately, doesn't do.

How? My flight out of Denver left the gate on time, then spent the next 20 minutes on the tarmac. The pilot came on the intercom to tell us we were being held while "waiting for some paperwork." A half hour later, we were on our way back to the gate. A fluid line was reporting a problem, we were then told, and after two attempts to fix it, our flight was assigned to a different plane.

Of course, by that time, our pilots had exceeded their daily shift limit, so we had to wait for a new crew to arrive.

Frustrating, sure, but what bothered me most was the string of bogus departure times United issued. We were scheduled to depart at 1:02 pm. When the troubles started, our published departure time slid from 2:00 to 2:15 to 2:30 to 2:40 to 2:45 to 2:50 to 3:00 to 3:30 to 4:00 to 4:18 to 4:30 to 5:00 to 6:00, when we eventually did get on the new plane and off the ground.

Having worked for several years in the theme park attractions, I know that machines break down from time to time and that delays happen. But I appreciate Disney's policy of training cast members not to provide a definite reopening time when that occurs. Because, let's face it, you never know exactly when something's going to be fixed.

Sure, you can tell people how long previous fixes of the same time have taken. (And I've found many Disney cast members over the years who'll do that.) But every downtime is different. There's no guarantee that this power-up from a cascade stop on Big Thunder Mountain will take 15 minutes just because 90 percent of them do. This could be one of those annoying 10 percent.

So I appreciate when a business is honest and tells me "we don't know." I understand that it's good business to communicate with your customers - but only if you're communicating honestly. United just embarrassed itself with that string of bogus take-off times. I wish the airline industry would quit feeding us this garbage. Tell us what the problem is, and what you're doing about it. But don't insult us by making up a dozen departure times that you can't keep.

In the interest of getting some entertainment out of a frustrating day, I invited our Facebook fans to submit their airline delay horror stories, and promised to give a new Theme Park Insider T-shirt to the best one. You can check out the one that have been submitted already, or add your own. Vote for your favorite story by "liking" it.

I'm giving away two more of our T-shirts this week, as well - just publicly share our posts on Facebook or retweet our posts on Twitter to enter to win one of those.

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2012 Best Attraction Tournament: The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man vs. Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

By Robert Niles
Published: March 15, 2012 at 8:10 AM

Who's ready for a marquee match-up in the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament? That's what we've got in store for you today, as a former champion goes up against a perennial number one on the site, one that's just gotten a high-def upgrade that's winning raves.

That's right: It's Tower of Terror versus Spider-Man today. You pick the winner that advances to the semifinals.

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

The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror - at Disney's Hollywood Studios

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

Tell us in the comments why you voted the way you did, and rally support for your favorite by linking to this post on Facebook and Twitter. Voting is open for 24 hours.


Friday: 1. Waterworld vs. 9. Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular in the Best Theme Park Show bracket.

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2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Mickey's PhilharMagic vs. Soarin' Over California

By Robert Niles
Published: March 14, 2012 at 9:20 AM

Disney's It's Tough to Be a Bug! earlier this week claimed the first spot in the Best Theme Park Show semifinals of the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament. Now it's time for you to help select the second contestant to advance in this bracket. Here are your competitors:

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

Mickey's PhilharMagic

Soarin' Over California - at Disney's California Adventure and Epcot

Soarin' Over California

Tell us in the comments why you voted the way you did, and rally support for your favorite by linking to this post on Facebook and Twitter. Voting is open for 24 hours.


Thursday: Another biggie: 4. The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man vs. 5. Twilight Zone Tower of Terror in the Best Themed Ride bracket.

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2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Haunted Mansion vs. Splash Mountain

By Robert Niles
Published: March 13, 2012 at 8:08 AM

It's a neighborhood battle today in the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament.

Well, at least it's that way at Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland, where Splash Mountain and the Haunted Mansion stand side-by-side. (They're separated by the Rivers of America in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.) But as much as Disney fans might love both of these rides, only one can advance to the tournament semifinals. Which one will it be? That's your call.

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

Haunted Mansion

Splash Mountain - at Disneyland, Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom and Tokyo Disneyland

Splash Mountain

Rally the troops by linking to this post on Facebook and Twitter. Voting is open for 24 hours.


Wednesday: 4. Mickey's PhilharMagic vs. 5. Soarin' Over California in the Best Theme Park Show bracket.

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Universal Orlando CityWalk officially opens mini golf course

By Robert Niles
Published: March 12, 2012 at 12:59 PM

Universal Orlando today declared officially open the Hollywood Drive-In Golf mini-golf course that's been in a soft open for the past few weeks.

Men in Black on Hollywood Drive-In Golf

Which provides me the excuse to run this pretty awesome hand-out art Universal get e-mailed today. Gotta love Frank.

Have you played the course yet? If so, tell us what you thought, in the comments.

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First phase of Magic Kingdom's new Fantasyland soft-opens

By Robert Niles
Published: March 12, 2012 at 9:46 AM

Several readers have emailed this morning that The Great Goofini and Dumbo have soft opened to the public at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom this morning.

Goofini is the old Goofy's Barnstormer Vekoma family coaster that Disney relocated from the now-closed Mickey's Toontown Fair to the new circus-themed section in the renovated and expanded Fantasyland that's under construction. Dumbo's also been moved to the new circus section, though the Dumbo that opened today is a new spinner. The "old" Dumbo will be joining the mix, too, giving the Magic Kingdom two of those spinners to help reduce that popular ride's notoriously long lines.

I'd love to get some photos and accounts from Theme Park Insider readers in Orlando, so please, send 'em along or post in the comments.

Update: A source in the know reports that the Magic Kingdom did 61,000 guests Monday. Those are mid-summer numbers. Business is looking up in Orlando, it seems.

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2012 Best Attraction Tournament: It's Tough to Be a Bug! vs. Poseidon's Fury

By Robert Niles
Published: March 12, 2012 at 8:02 AM

We're starting the third round of the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament with a match-up from the Best Theme Park Show bracket.

Our contestants today include the 4D show that occupies the iconic Tree of Life at Disney's Animal Kingdom versus a walk-through adventure from Universal's Islands of Adventure park.

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

It's Tough to Be a Bug!

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

Poseidon's Fury

Tell us in the comments why you picked the one you did. Voting is open for 24 hours.


Tuesday: 2. Haunted Mansion vs. 10. Splash Mountain in the Best Themed Ride bracket.

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Schedule for round three and beyond in the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament

By Robert Niles
Published: March 11, 2012 at 10:41 AM

Here is the schedule of daily vote match-ups for the remainder of the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament:

Round Three

Monday, March 12
2. It's Tough to Be a Bug! vs. 10. Poseidon's Fury

Tuesday, March 13
2. Haunted Mansion vs. 10. Splash Mountain

Wednesday, March 14
4. Mickey's PhilharMagic vs. 5. Soarin' Over California

Thursday, March 15
4. The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man vs. 5. Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

Friday, March 16
1. Waterworld vs. 9. Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular

Monday, March 19
1. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey vs. 8. Toy Story Midway Mania

Tuesday, March 20
6. Fantasmic! vs. 14. MuppetVision 3D

Wednesday, March 21
3. Pirates of the Caribbean vs. 6. Popeye & Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges

Semifinals

Thursday, March 22
Best Theme Park Show - 3/16 winner vs. 3/14 winner

Friday, March 23
Best Roller Coaster - 2. Incredible Hulk Coaster vs. 3. Manta

Monday, March 26
Best Themed Ride - 3/19 winner vs. 3/15 winner

Tuesday, March 27
Best Theme Park Show - 3/12 winner vs. 3/20 winner

Wednesday, March 28
Best Roller Coaster - 1. The Voyage vs. 5. Montu

Thursday, March 29
Best Themed Ride - 3/13 winner vs. 3/21 winner

Championships

Championship Friday, March 30
Best Theme Park Show
Best Roller Coaster
Best Themed Ride

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2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Popeye & Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges vs. Maharajah Jungle Trek

By Robert Niles
Published: March 9, 2012 at 5:45 PM

We've reached the final contest in the second round of the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament.

With your selection today, we'll have filled out the quarterfinalists in two brackets - Best Ride and Best Show - and the semifinalists in the Best Roller Coaster contest. Please vote for your favorite of these two Orlando attractions below:

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

Popeye & Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges

Maharajah Jungle Trek - at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Maharajah Jungle Trek

Voting is open for 24 hours.


Monday: The third round begins. I'll announce the brackets going forward over the weekend.

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2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Fantasmic! vs. Festival of the Lion King

By Robert Niles
Published: March 9, 2012 at 9:50 AM

It's time to select the final participant in the quarterfinals for the Best Show bracket of the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament.

Which will Disney fan favorite will be moving on - Fantasmic! or Festival of the Lion King?

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

Fantasmic!

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

Festival of the Lion King

Voting is open for 24 hours. Campaign by your favorite with a comment, or by sharing this post on Facebook or Twitter.


Later today: The second round concludes with Popeye & Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges vs. Maharajah Jungle Trek. The third round begins Monday morning.

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2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Prowler vs. Montu

By Robert Niles
Published: March 8, 2012 at 2:32 PM

There's one spot left in the semifinals of the Best Roller Coaster bracket of the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament. Vying for that spot are a Great Coasters International wooden coaster from Kansas City's Worlds of Fun and a Bolliger & Mabillard Inverted coaster from Busch Gardens in Tampa.

Prowler - at Worlds of Fun

Prowler

Montu - at Busch Gardens Tampa

Montu

Voting is open for 24 hours. Campaign by your favorite with a comment, or by sharing this post on Facebook or Twitter.


Tomorrow: The final match-up in the Best Show's brackets second round will be Fantasmic! vs. Festival of the Lion King.

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Spider-Man is back! The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man re-opens at Universal Orlando

By Domenik Jost
Published: March 8, 2012 at 2:10 PM

“The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man was so wonderful before,” said comic book icon, Stan Lee. “But now – with all of the new technology that’s been added – it is indescribably spectacular.” I couldn’t agree with him more. The day has FINALLY arrived that Universal Orlando reopens The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man.

The ride has been down for the last month to allow for the upgrade to a new 4K digital high definition Infitec 3-D projection system, new audio system, new lighting, and upgraded attraction’s sets.

The morning began with a very brief opening ceremony and then it was straight onto the ride. The queue hasn’t changed asides from a few small minor touchups and display upgrades.

Getting closer to the ride, it was time to grab the new 3-D “Spider-Vision” glasses, which are made with new dichroic filtered lenses to allow for vivid colors and clarity. For those familiar with the Star Tours: The Adventure Continues 3-D glasses, the Spider-Man lenses are smaller in comparison and are more limiting in view. The frames themselves look about the same size but are also slightly smaller and not as prescription glasses friendly. They do not fit over the full frame of prescription glasses unlike the Star Tours 3-D frames, which comfortably fit over a set of modern prescription glasses and still allow for a full viewing experience of the ride. In addition the new lens filters make the rest of the sets on the ride look darker.

The vehicles have had their sound system upgraded from 8-channel to 16-channel surround sound making it even more immersive. The ride itself is for the most part the exact same story. Every scene on the ride has been rescored and re-animated to 4K high definition animation including added details of everything in the scenes as well as at least one new element in each scene.

Spider-Man6

Let me just say the new animations look stunning and the audio is clearer than ever. The new animation includes several cameos by Spider-Man co-creator Stan Lee (I managed to find him in two scenes but I heard he appears in three). The details in the images are stunningly crisp and the colors are vivid. Universal has taken what has been an amazing attraction for the past decade and made it even better. The 2002-2005 best attraction winner should now definitely be a strong award contender once again. It is definitely worth going to check out the updated ride.

Update: Here's a video from Universal, with some on-ride footage:

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2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Universal's Horror Make-Up Show vs. Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular

By Robert Niles
Published: March 8, 2012 at 8:59 AM

The second round of the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament continues with a match-up of two Central Florida attractions in the Best Show bracket.

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

Universal's Horror Make-Up Show

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

Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular

Voting is open for 24 hours. Campaign by your favorite with a comment, or by sharing this post on Facebook and Twitter.


Later today: We've got Prowler vs. Montu in the Best Roller Coaster bracket.

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Animator's Palate Dining Room Aboard Disney Fantasy Makes Everyone an Animator*

By Scott Joseph
Published: March 8, 2012 at 8:58 AM

There's a really impressive feature in the Animator's Palate dining room aboard the Disney Fantasy, which sets sail on March 31. You still get Crush, the interactive talking turtle, but on the second evening, there's a little bit of magic that has been added, and it all has to do with a seemingly plain-looking place mat. Guests draw features onto a crude outline, and later, after dessert, those drawings come to life as animated figures that interact with Disney characters. Here's a video of what it looks like.

*Update from Robert: On the topic of new Disney restaurants, here's video look from Disney at the progress of construction on the Be Our Guest restaurant in Fantasyland.

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Disneyland makes June 15 opening official for Cars Land, Buena Vista Street

By Robert Niles
Published: March 7, 2012 at 4:01 PM

Disneyland today made official the poorly kept "secret" that Disney California Adventure's expansion will open on June 15.

That's the day that everyone will "officially" get access to the new Buena Vista street entry plaza and the new Cars Land, including Radiator Springs Racers. I would expect some soft openings, at least for Cars Land, in the days leading up to the press debut on June 14.

Disneyland today released a new promo video, with plenty of construction footage from behind the walls at California Adventure:

Check out our recent Cars Land construction update from last week for more photos, too.

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2012 Best Attraction Tournament: The Voyage vs. Apollo's Chariot

By Robert Niles
Published: March 7, 2012 at 3:44 PM

It's time to return to the Best Roller Coaster bracket in the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament.

We're a step away from our final four contestants in this bracket, and your vote today will put one of these popular coasters there. Which will it be?

The Voyage - at Holiday World

The Voyage

Apollo's Chariot - at Busch Gardens Williamsburg

Apollo's Chariot

Voting is open for 24 hours. You can recruit more voters to your cause by sharing this post on Facebook and via Twitter.


Tomorrow: Universal's Horror Make-Up Show and the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular face off in the Best Show bracket.

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2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey vs. Carousel of Progress

By Robert Niles
Published: March 7, 2012 at 8:52 AM

The number one seed makes its tournament debut this morning in 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey earned a first round bye as a result of its standing atop the Theme Park Insider reader ratings. But from here on in, Harry's got to earn his way into the next round via your votes. Standing in the way of the wizarding crew today is one Disney's classic Audio Animatronic attractions.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey - at Universal's Islands of Adventure

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

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

Carousel of Progress

Voting is open for 24 hours. Recruit more voters to your cause by sharing this post on Facebook and via Twitter.


Later today: We return to the Best Roller Coaster bracket, as The Voyage takes on Apollo's Chariot.

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Christening of the Disney Fantasy a Star-studded Celebration in New York

By Scott Joseph
Published: March 6, 2012 at 7:40 PM

I went up to New York for the Christening Celebration for Disney Cruise Line's newest ship, the Fantasy last week. The event included a show headlined by Jerry Seinfeld and emceed by Neil Patrick Harris. Marian Carey, as the appointed godmother for the ship, did the christening honors. There were also performances by the casts of the three shows that will play in repertory aboard the ship. The Fantasy sailed in to Port Canaveral, its home, today. It will have its maiden voyage on March 31. Here's a video of some of the sights and sounds.

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2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Walt Disney: One Man's Dream vs. Poseidon's Fury

By Robert Niles
Published: March 6, 2012 at 11:40 AM

We're heading back into the Best Show bracket for our next second-round match-up in the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament.

We've got two Orlando favorites in this round, with one from Disney and the other from Universal. They're both as much walk-throughs as they are shows, but they do have their fans, and if you are one of them, here's your chance to vote for your favorite.

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

Walt Disney: One Man's Dream

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

Poseidon's Fury

Voting is open for 24 hours.


Tomorrow: The number one seed makes its tournament debut as Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey takes on Carousel of Progress.

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Where to eat? Lunch at Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe

By Robert Niles
Published: March 6, 2012 at 11:04 AM

The Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe is Disneyland's newest restaurant, serving sandwiches, soups and baked goods in the old Plaza Pavilion building on the hub, opposite Sleeping Beauty's Castle.

Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe

Menu
The menu at Jolly Holiday.

Display case
Display case at Jolly Holiday.

Matterhorn Macaroon
A Matterhorn Macaroon!

Roast beef sandwich
Hot roast beef on onion roll with melted white cheddar ($9.69)

Ham and cheese quiche
Ham and cheese quiche with house salad ($7.19)

Lobster bisque
Lobster bisque. ($5.99)

When I visited on One More Disney Day last Wednesday, Jolly Holiday was the longest line I waited in all day, at least until the crowd blew up in the evening. With the line backed up to the edge of the stairs, I waited 45 minutes to order and get my food - a long wait for a counter-service establishment. Jolly Holiday effectively replaces the Main Street Bakery at Disneyland, and with the Carnation Cafe closed to expand into the Main Street Bakery's old space, that's left one fewer restaurant at the front of the park, leaving the excess crowd to hit up the new place.

I selected the quiche, as well as the lobster bisque - which was the restaurant's special offering for One More Disney Day. The house salad with the quiche was butter lettuce with walnuts, cranberries, grape tomatoes and feta. You choose your dressing, and I would suggest a vinaigrette, since the salad comes with a cheese, the feta.

The selections at Jolly Holiday are not made to order, but served from the display cases. But with the volume the restaurant's now doing, few items stay in that case very long. My quiche still offered a flaky crust and the flavors of the ham and the cheese remained distinct.

While I enjoyed everything I ordered at Jolly Holiday, I can't say that I enjoyed them so much that I'd be willing make that wait again, not when equally tasty options abound throughout Disneyland, with little or no wait. Perhaps when the Carnation Cafe reopens in its larger space this summer, the crowds will go down at Jolly Holiday, and this counter service location will be worth stopping in for a quick snack or light meal.

If you've eaten at Jolly Holiday, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Twilight Zone Tower of Terror vs. Jungle Cruise

By Robert Niles
Published: March 6, 2012 at 9:12 AM

We've got what looks like a tough battle today in the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament. People don't just like the two Disney rides that are meeting in today's vote - they're often passionate about them. But only one of these rides will advance to the third round.

So which one will it be?

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror - at Disney's Hollywood Studios

Tower of Terror

Jungle Cruise - at Disneyland, Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom and Tokyo Disneyland

Jungle Cruise

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


Later today: Walt Disney: One Man's Dream vs. Poseidon's Fury

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Disney songwriter Robert Sherman passes away at 86

By Robert Niles
Published: March 5, 2012 at 10:55 PM

Robert Sherman, one half of the Sherman Brothers composing team who wrote some of the Disney theme parks' most beloved songs, has died at the age 86.

Robert's son Jeffrey posted the news on his Facebook page Monday night:

My Dad, Robert B. Sherman, passed away tonight in London. He went peacefully after months of truly valiantly fending off death. He loved life and his dear heart finally slowed to a stop when he could fight no more.

I will write more about this incredible man I love and admire so much when I am better rested and composed. He deserves that.

In the meantime, please say a prayer for him. As he said, he wanted to bring happiness to the world and, unquestionably, he succeeded. His love and his prayers, his philosophy and his poetry will live on forever. Forever his songs and his genius will bring hope, joy and love to this small, small world.

Robert and Richard Sherman were named Disney Legends in 1990 and won Academy Awards in 1965 for Best Original Song and Best Score for Mary Poppins. The Sherman Brothers' theme park songs include "The Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Room," "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" and the classic "It's a Small World."

I never met Robert, but I did meet his brother Richard at the 2009 IAAPA conference, and you can hear Richard's reminiscences about their music, from that event.

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2012 Best Attraction Tournament: It's Tough to Be a Bug! vs. Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor

By Robert Niles
Published: March 5, 2012 at 2:49 PM

Today's afternoon vote in the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament features two popular Disney shows that break the "fourth wall" between the screen and the audience.

In It's Tough to Be a Bug! the characters "leap out" into the audience and cause mayhem, thanks to 4D effects. In Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, the characters interact with specific audience members, even accepting jokes texted in by visitors. Which one gets your vote into Round Three?

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

It's Tough to Be a Bug!

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

Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor

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


Tomorrow morning: Tower of Terror vs. Jungle Cruise.

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SeaWorld San Diego's Manta track is complete

By Robert Niles
Published: March 5, 2012 at 2:02 PM

SeaWorld fans are one step closer toward getting to ride Manta in San Diego. The park announced today that it's installed the final section on the launch coaster's 2,835 feet of track.

Manta construction photo
Image courtesy SeaWorld

Next up for Manta is the installation of the glass viewing windows for the accompanying aquarium and the movie screens for the ride's launch tunnel. SeaWorld park president John Reilly said that Manta remains on schedule for its planned May 26 opening.

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2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Pirates of the Caribbean vs. Star Tours: The Adventures Continue

By Robert Niles
Published: March 5, 2012 at 11:01 AM

We're doubling the fun all this week in the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament, as we've got two votes each day.

Our first contest today pits two of Disney's most popular rides - an enduring classic versus a hot newcomer. Which one will you pick to advance?

Pirates of the Caribbean - at Disneyland, Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland Paris

Pirates of the Caribbean

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

Star Tours: The Adventures Continue

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


Later today: It's Tough to Be a Bug! vs. Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor in the Best Show field.

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What's the point of a bag check, anyway?

By Robert Niles
Published: March 5, 2012 at 10:53 AM

So what's the point of those theme park security bag checks, anyway?

That's the question I'm sure many Disneyland guests were asking themselves after this weekend's incident at the park. Sometime after 9am on Saturday, someone noticed a suspicious package in the esplanade between the Disneyland and California Adventure theme parks. Disney officials closed and cleared the esplanade, which effectively closed the gates to the two theme parks. If you were in the parks, you couldn't leave, and if you were outside, you were held behind the security checkpoints on either side of the esplanade.

Waiting in line
The line for the bag check at Disneyland on "One More Disney Day," Feb. 29, 2012. The line-up was even longer three days later, on Saturday, March 3.

While I'm sure the people who arrived at Disneyland early enjoyed getting the park to themselves for an extra hour or two, the tens of thousands of people who were queued up and denied entry to the parks that morning weren't happy about the extra wait. Call it "One Less Disney Day" for them.

The Anaheim bomb squad checked the package, which turned out to be a scroll of paper, and Disney reopened the parks by 11am. But here's the thing - the package was found inside the resort's security checkpoints. If a package has passed through the checkpoint, shouldn't the presumption be that it's okay? (*BTW, we were all over this Saturday morning on Twitter. If you've not subscribed to our Twitter feed, that's the best source for TPI coverage of breaking theme park news.)

Of course, Disney's "security" check isn't really all that secure. It's a soft check, designed to deter clumsy and obvious threats, as well as to keep out the paparazzi - one of the main things Disney is screening for these days is large tripods and long lenses on cameras. But even that soft check imposes inconvenience on guests, who are entitled to wonder what they are getting in return for that extra wait and having to put down and open all their bags.

Presumably, the trade-off is getting to enter the park free from worries about things such as suspicious packages. But Disney guests didn't get what they waited for on Saturday morning.

I don't know that most Disney guests would prefer that Disneyland increase the security at its checkpoints, adding metal detectors and asking people to either open or remove their coats, like at an airport security check. I do know that Disney deserves credit for trying to make up for the lost time in the parks by keeping the parks open for an additional hour that day, and for adding extra performances of World of Color and Fantasmic!

The blockhead who left the package told authorities he was trying to leave a message of goodwill. More than watching an extra late-night showing of World of Color, I think that many who were stuck outside the Disneyland gates on Saturday morning would have liked to give that guy a message of their own. Now that's something people would have waited in line for!

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2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Men in Black Alien Attack vs. Splash Mountain

By Robert Niles
Published: March 2, 2012 at 9:00 AM

We've got two long-time reader favorites facing off today in the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament's Best Themed Ride bracket.

And it's a classic Disney versus Universal match-up, to boot. So which will it be, a shoot up or a splash down?

Men in Black Alien Attack - at Universal Studios Florida

Men in Black Alien Attack

Splash Mountain - at Disneyland, Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, and Tokyo Disneyland

Splash Mountain

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


Monday: We start double-duty, with two votes each day all next week. We'll start with Pirates of the Caribbean vs. Star Tours: The Adventures Continue in the Best Ride bracket and It's Tough to Be a Bug! vs. Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor in the Best Show field.

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Modern Family does One More Disney Day, too

By Robert Niles
Published: March 2, 2012 at 8:51 AM

Adding to the fun Wednesday during Disneyland's 24-hour day, the cast of ABC's Modern Family was filming an episode inside the park.

Cast members worked earnestly to usher guests swiftly past the filming areas, but I caught a picture with my cell phone as the Modern Family cast prepared a scene just inside the park's front gate.

Modern Family at Disneyland

I'll let you pick out the actors, but I see Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Mitchell), Sofia Vergara (Gloria), Ty Burrell (Phil), Nolan Gould (Luke), and Eric Stonestreet (Cam) in the shot above. Ed O'Neill (Jay) and Sarah Hyland (Haley) were off to the right, but I couldn't fit them in this shot.

I ran into the filming later in the day at Big Thunder Mountain, which was closed while the Modern Family crew filmed a scene on the roller coaster. Look for the episode to air later this season.

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Cars Land construction update: March 2012

By Robert Niles
Published: March 1, 2012 at 8:16 PM

In the middle of yesterday's One More Disney Day at Disneyland, I took a few moments to hop across the esplanade to check out the construction at Disney California Adventure.

Buena Vista Street construction

Workers are making progress toward the planed June 15 opening date for Cars Land and the new Buena Vista Street entrance. In fact, the exterior of the park's new centerpiece, the Carthay Circle Theater, is already complete.

Carthay Circle

As is much of the exterior work on the big new attraction, Cars Land.

Main street of Cars Land, under construction

Zoom in for a closer look, and you can see the facade detail on the Radiator Springs Courthouse, as well as the sign for the Flo's V8 Cafe restaurant,

Flo's V8 sign

The Cozy Cone counter-service restaurant,

Cozy Cone sign

Mater's Junkyard Jamboree,

Tow Mater sign

And the Route 66 sign that will welcome visitors to the town of Radiator Springs.

Welcome to Radiator Springs

Yesterday, Disney opened its latest exhibit in the Blue Sky Cellar at California Adventure, focusing on Cars Land. In the center of the room, you'll find a scale model of the new land.

Scale model of Cars Land

Along one wall, you'll find concept art for the land's new attractions, including the high-speed track ride Radiator Springs Racers.

Radiator Springs Racers concept art

The images here show some of the early scenes in the ride, where your car will go through Test Track-style stations where your tires are checked and the car's paint is touched up before you race out onto the open road. Radiator Springs Racers will use the same basic ride system as Test Track, but the inclusion of an indoor cave scene raises my hopes that Radiator Springs Racers also will offer some moments reminiscent of Disney's other ride using that same system, Tokyo DisneySea's Journey to Center of the Earth.

Cars Land plans

That's an early design scheme for the new land, and here's a "tour map" of the caverns that Radiator Springs Racers will explore.

Caverns Tour Map

After seeing what Disney's Imagineers can do with this ride system when I rode Journey to the Center of the Earth in December, I'm eager to see what they've done with Radiator Springs Racers. We'll be there for the opening in June.

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2012 Best Attraction Tournament: Lights! Motors! Action! vs. MuppetVision 3D

By Robert Niles
Published: March 1, 2012 at 8:56 AM

Everyone up bright and early after yesterday's marathon Disney coverage? Me neither. But the 2012 Theme Park Insider Tournament continues, and we're bringing in March with a match-up of two of the more popular show at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida.

How do you like your mayhem - with hard metal, or fuzzy felt?

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

Lights! Motors! Action!

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

MuppetVision 3D

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


Tomorrow: Another Universal vs. Disney showdown - Men in Black Alien Attack vs. Splash Mountain

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Crowds flood the late hours of One More Disney Day at Disneyland

By Robert Niles
Published: March 1, 2012 at 12:18 AM

In the words of Ron Burgundy, "Boy, that escalated quickly... I mean, that really got out of hand fast."

At 7pm, I waited 10 minutes to ride Big Thunder Mountain, and when I exited, I noticed the line had gotten shorter than when I'd gotten on.

By 9, the line for Thunder was well over an hour, snaking around Frontierland.

At 8, I saw that half the rides in Fantasyland I still had yet to do for the day were walk-ons, so I started with them, waiting for the longer waits to go down. After two rides, I saw that the lines weren't getting smaller - they were getting longer. And fast. I switched plans, and got in line for Snow White and Pan, saving the castle and the carousel for my final rides of the day. By then, the carousel was a four-ride wait.

After then waiting another 15 minutes to buy a churro (!), I pushed my way down Main Street, against a flood of people coming into the park. When I exited the park, I saw every window open at the esplanade ticket booths, and the entire queue filled with people waiting to buy admission tickets.

Late night ticket buyers

At 9:45pm.

Disneyland had just announced that the park was now full - and that it would not admit additional visitors until more people had left the park.

That wasn't stopping the hundreds of people queued at the security tables from waiting. Or the three full trams of people we passed on the drive back to the Mickey and Friends parking garage.

Or the cars (and school buses!) that filled every lane entering Mickey and Friends. Or the cars that backed up all the way to Ball Road. Or even the cars that backed up all the way onto Interstate 5.

Yeah, that escalated quickly.

Perhaps we should have known when many of us started see tweets from Orlando describing huge crowds there in the mid-evening, after reports of few or no crowds in the Magic Kingdom all day.

Several readers had asked me during the day how the crowds at Disneyland were. And I reported the same thing that all the other people Tweeting in the park were saying - the park's got lots of people in it, but they're moving through the park well and the wait times were minimal.

Perhaps all those reports encouraged many Disney fans who'd been on the fence about One More Disney Day to come on down. Well, it appears that they all did, and in doing so, blew the whole thing up.

By 8pm, people were laying down blankets along the Rivers of America for the 1am Fantasmic! show. At the same time, more than a couple dozen others were queued up already for the 200 spots in the 11:45 "midnight snack" at Big Thunder. And while you couldn't find a wait time over an hour all day before 8, after 9 it was hard to find any attraction with a wait under an hour* (Okay, there were some - see the comments).

So I guess I got out in time - having accomplished my mission of riding every attraction at Disneyland (save for the ones down for refurbishment, of course.) If you stayed at Disneyland or the Magic Kingdom overnight, please leave your observations in the comments. I'd love to hear how it went.

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Keep reading: February 2012 Archive



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