By Robert Niles
Today is the final day of operation for Snow White's Scary Adventures at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.
The Fantasyland dark ride closes after today, to make way for the new Princess Fairytale Hall meet-and-greet. Snow White and the dwarfs will "relocate" to the new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, which will open in 2014. Snow White fans can continue to ride the Scary Adventures ride at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, where it remains open.
Please share your thoughts and memories of the Snow White ride, in the comments.
Update: In other Disney World news, Disney's Art of Animation value resort hotel opens today. Would love to hear comments on that one, too.
By Robert Niles
Walt Disney theme parks claimed the top eight spots worldwide in the 2011 TEA/AECOM theme park industry attendance report, released today. In North America, Universal's Islands of Adventure led the attendance gains by percentage, with an immense 29% jump in attendance from 2010 to 2011, which was the first full year of operation for the park's award-winning Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
SeaWorld San Diego jumped in attendance in 2011
SeaWorld San Diego was the only other North American park to score a double-digit percentage attendance increase, with a 13 percent jump that pushed the Southern California theme park to 11th place on the North American list and 22nd in the world.
Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom continued to land in the top spot on both the North American and world lists, with 17.1 million visitors last year, up 1 percent from 2010.
Here are the North American Top 20, according to TEA/AECOM, with 2011 attendance and change from 2010:
Six Flags Great Adventure
Six Flags Great America
And the World Top 25:
Yokohama Hakkeijima Sea Paradise, Yokohama, Japan
As we mentioned last week, the top 25 parks in the world drew 198.1 million visitors in 2011, up 4.8 percent from 2010. The top 20 theme parks in the United States last year drew 127 million visitors, combined, up 2.8% from 2010.
By Robert Niles
Disneyland announced today that it has donated the old "California" letters that originally stood in front of Disney California Adventure theme park to the California State Fair.
Disney removed the letters a few years ago to make way for the new, Pan Pacific-inspired entry plaza to the Disneyland Resort's second theme park. The letters now will stand in front of a new entrance to Cal Expo, the site of the state fair in Sacramento.
Artist's concept of the new Cal Expo entry, with the Disney 'California' Adventure letters. Image courtesy Disney
The letters will make their debut in northern California sometime in September. (The 2012 California State Fair will be held at Cal Expo July 12-29.)
So now Californians who want to pose with their initial will get to do that in Sacramento, instead of Anaheim.
By Scott Joseph
Walt Disney World's Culineers have announced the dates of this year's Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, which will run a record 46 days (one day longer than usual). New to the marketplace: a vegan kiosk and chef-led tours around the World Showcase. More information
By Robert Niles
Universal Studios Singapore has confirmed the rumors - Sesame Street is coming to the park.
Photo courtesy Resorts World Sentosa
The highlight will be a new Sesame Street-themed dark ride, under construction in the New York area of the theme park for a scheduled debut by the end of the year. But Sesame Street fans won't have to wait to see the characters in the park. Universal Studios Singapore this week introduced three live shows featuring the Sesame Street characters, a stage show and two street shows, as well as meet-and-greets.
From the press release [PDF]:
The 12-minute stage show, fondly called "When I Grow Up", features a vast cast of all-time Sesame Street favourites, including Big Bird, Elmo, Cookie Monster, Bert and Ernie, Grover and Abby Cadabby. Oscar will also join the line-up in "Our Favourite Things", one of the two street shows; the other titled "Dance with Bert and Ernie".
The addition of Sesame Street gives Universal Studios Singapore another attraction with appeal for families with young children, to complement its Shrek and Madagascar lands. Universal Studios Singapore Vice President for Operations John Hallenbeck talked with me late last year about the need to appeal to young theme park fans: "Looking at the demographics of this region, again, family is a huge thing. Asia is very family-driven. Any attraction that we can get more from the youngsters to the grandparents is going to be more of a blockbuster for us."
Universal Studios Japan also features the Sesame Street characters, joining Hello Kitty and the Peanuts characters in a Universal Wonderland kids' area.
By Robert Niles
Universal Orlando has raised its ticket prices, following the price increase at its west-coast "twin," the Disneyland Resort, last week. Universal's increase on one-day, one-park tickets tops Disneyland's by a buck - $88 to Disneyland's new $87 price. Universal's old one-day, one-park ticket price was $85.
Universal's Superstar Parade is one of the new things you'll get for the extra admission price at Universal Orlando theme parks this summer.
But - and this is where sharp readers should pay close attention - Universal Orlando kept its discount on multi-day admission tickets sold through Universal Orlando's website. The online price for a two-day, park-to-park ticket is $139.99 online, compared to $159.99 at the gate. (The old front-gate price was $154.99.)
Industry group TEA reported last week that Universal Orlando's attendance surged in 2011 - accounting for half of all the industry-wide increase in attendance in the United States last year. Since demand drives prices, it shouldn't be a surprise that Universal Orlando moved to raise its prices in advance of the busy summer season.
And with Disneyland and Universal Orlando raising prices, all eyes now turn to Walt Disney World in expectation of a price increase there, too. So if you're thinking about a trip to the Walt Disney World Resort, it might be a good time to buy now, and lock in your price. (And if you're a frequent visitor to WDW, go for a 10-day ticket with the "no expire" option to lock in your price on visits for years to come.)
By Robert Niles
Summer's almost here, which - among many other things - means that it's almost time for the annual Theme Park Insider Awards. So I'd like to remind all Theme Park Insider readers to take a few moments and rate the theme park attractions, restaurants and on-property theme park hotels that you've visited in the past year. Your votes will determine the winners in this year's awards, which will honor the world's best theme park, new attraction, restaurant, and hotel.
Last year's winner for Best Theme Park: Universal's Islands of Adventure
Here are this year's candidates for Best New Attraction - rides and shows that debuted at major theme parks since July 1, 2011. Please rate only those new attractions you've actually experienced - this isn't supposed to be a brand-name popularity contest. But you have been on some of these rides or shows, please click through to submit your rating and review:
We're still awaiting the opening of Radiator Springs Racers at Disney California Adventure on June 15. And if Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem at Universal Studios Florida and Lex Luthor: Drop of Doom open by the first day of summer - June 20, they'll be eligible, too.
We'd like to make these international awards, but we need to make sure that we have an adequate number of ratings submitted for attractions at major parks outside North America. So if you've been to any of these potential "Best Theme Park" candidates in the past year, please click through and submit ratings for the all attractions there which you experienced during your visit.
The award winners will be announced this year on July 2. (We're doing it a couple days early because on July 4, I'll be on a plane to Disneyland Paris! Look for that coverage later in July.)
I'm also making a change to selection criterion for Best Theme Park this year, employing the technique I used to determine the Best Roller Coaster Park earlier this spring. That changes the criterion from the winner being the park with the overall average rating for all attractions and restaurants, to one which rewards parks for having a large number of highly-rated attractions and restaurants. Under the old system, a park could jump in the awards ranking simply by closing low-rated attractions. That rewarded parks with a relatively small number of rides and shows, so long as they were consistently good. The new system will help make parks with 30+ attractions more competitive, so long as they have more great rides and shows than any "smaller" park.
Anyway, thanks again to all Theme Park Insider readers who help support the site by rating and reviewing the attractions, restaurants, and on-site hotels that we list. Your reviews always have been the heart of the site, and I greatly appreciate them. Thanks again.
By Robert Niles
The Themed Entertainment Association's annual TEA/AECOM Global Attendance Report will be out in a few days, but TEA's promoting the report today with a press release [PDF], teasing a few facts and figures from the report.
The top four parks worldwide in attendance are unchanged from 2010, which is remarkable considering that Disney's Tokyo parks were closed for a month following the deadly earthquake, tsunami and power crisis in Japan last year. But strong attendance following the disasters (in part driven by Japanese tourists staying close to home rather than traveling abroad) helped the Tokyo Disney Resort to attendance gains in 2011.
Here are the top five, and again, they're all Disney:
Disneyland Paris bumped Epcot from the fifth spot in 2011, thanks to an attendance increase that outpaced European parks' average for the year.
Overall, the top 25 parks in the world drew 198.1 million visitors in 2011, up 4.8 percent from 2010. The top 20 theme parks in the United States counted 127 million visitors, combined, last year, up 2.8% from 2010. Half that US attendance increase, however, came from a single park - Universal's Islands of Adventure, which continued to enjoy the huge appeal of its hit Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Makes sense that Universal's rolling Harry out to three more of its parks in the years to come, doesn't it?
We'll have more news here on Theme Park Insider from the full TEA/AECOM Global Attendance Report when it is released.
By Robert Niles
It's time to decide the winner of our Spring 2012 Theme Park Insider video contests. After looking through the nominees, and judging them based on the rules of the contest, here are your finalists:
Now it's your turn to pick the winner, who will receive a Theme Park Insider T-shirt, a signed copy of Stories from a Theme Park Insider, and a place for the winning video on the Theme Park Insider YouTube channel.
By Robert Niles
Transformers: The Ride 3D is now open, officially, at Universal Studios Hollywood.
Photo courtesy Universal
Universal celebrated its newest attraction this morning with a red-carpet ceremony at the park. We at Theme Park Insider have been covering this ride ever since it first debuted in Singapore late last year. Follow the links for all our Transformers: The Ride coverage!
Ride listings and reader reviews:
I can't believe this, but with everything that we were doing last December (and man, was that the best month ever for coverage here on TPI!), I never managed to upload the video from the Transformers opening ceremony in Singapore. So here it is, now:
Universal Studios Hollywood will open early this weekend, at 7:30 am Saturday-Monday, for extra-ride-time access to Transformers: The Ride 3D. The Studio Tour also will open early on those days.
By Robert Niles
Wednesday morning, SeaWorld San Diego invited Theme Park Insider to take a "sneak peek" ride on its new family launch coaster, Manta.
The San Diego park, located on the shore of Mission Bay, operates under some tough building-height restrictions imposed by the California Coastal Commission. That left SeaWorld and coaster designer Mack Rides with only 30 feet of above-grade height to work with on this ride. So they delivered a terrain-hugging coaster that uses two launches and some impressive track design to deliver a swift, twisty ride with surprising airtime. (SeaWorld also dug some trenches for the ride, to allow a 54-foot drop after its initial launch.)
Frequent Theme Park Insider readers and SeaWorld fans no doubt are familiar with SeaWorld Orlando's Manta, a Bolliger & Mabillard Flying coaster that won our Theme Park Insider Award for World's Best New Attraction in 2009. But if you're looking for an east-coast, SeaWorld-family roller coaster to compare with this Manta, I think Busch Gardens Tampa's Cheetah Hunt provides a better match. Cheetah Hunt is an Intamin production, but it also spends much of its time rolling from side to side as it skims the ground, powered by multiple launches that push it through its twists and turns.
I haven't ridden Cheetah Hunt, and was surprised to discover that a terrain coaster could deliver so much airtime. Forget yoga or Pilates. If you want to air out your spine with a refreshing stretch, try Manta. I felt I spent more time pulling out of my seat than sitting in it, as Manta used its minimal vertical changes to maximum effect.
Part of the trick of making airtime on a terrain coaster is to use shifts in banking to achieve the zero and negative G-forces that lift you from your seat. Essentially, instead of leaning deep into turns, the track banking every so slightly leans you away from them, pulling you from your seat instead of pushing you into it.
Ride in the back for the most airtime, and the smoothest ride. And ride in the back, as well, for the best view of Manta's unique feature - a wrap-around high-definition video tunnel that starts the ride. You'll "dive underwater" for a video view into the realm of the Manta ray, before blasting from the tunnel for your ride toward the shore of Mission Bay.
I didn't get a chance to walk the attraction's new queue, which was not completed, but it promised some amazing views of its own, as it will take visitors around and underneath the ride's adjacent ray pool, which houses California bat rays and diamond stingrays. (But no Manta rays - at up to 20 feet wide, they're too big for this pool. And remember, on this ride, you're the Manta.)
Park president John Reilly joined me for my first trip on the coaster, and he explained several of its elements along the way. On the day I visited, workers were still planting much of the ride's landscaping, so in the video you'll see people in construction vests instead of the foliage that eventually will cover much of the ground around the ride.
With Manta coming online at SeaWorld San Diego, now Walt Disney World's Epcot stands alone as the only of the nation's top 20 most-attended theme parks not to offer a roller coaster. (SeaWorld has had a Journey to Atlantis water coaster, but Manta will be the park's first "proper" roller coaster.) Manta helps round out the San Diego park's ride line-up, and gives it a delightful coaster that's both accessible (no inversions!) and thrilling.
Manta opens to the public this Saturday, May 26.
Update: Another review, quoting yours truly.
By Robert Niles
In just a couple weeks, we'll be getting our first look at the completed changes underway at Disney California Adventure. Disney's poured $1 billion into the changes and additions at the Disneyland Resort's second gate, and the glimpses we've seen so far have been dazzling.
But in a few years, when Buena Vista Street and Cars Land have grown familiar and Disney's looking for something else to do to add a little more spark to DCA, I hope that they'll think about giving Harrison Hightower a call.
Who is Harrison Hightower?
Harrison Hightower, in a stained glass tribute to himself
World traveller. Real estate developer. Collector of rare antiques and antiquities. Billionaire. Celebrity.
And, oh yeah, completely fictional.
Harrison Hightower is the protagonist in Tokyo DisneySea's version of Tower of Terror. Without a Twilight Zone overlay for the ride in Japan, Disney's Imagineers concocted Mr. Hightower (get it?), the wealthy, vain, and egomaniacal (not necessarily in that order) developer who built the Hotel Hightower at the corner of Broadway and Park Avenue in New York. (Look at a map of Manhattan for the joke.)
And, I hope, one day he will become the proprietor of Disney California Adventure's Tower of Terror, as well.
Why? Because California Adventure's Tower of Terror, while great fun, isn't as good an attraction as the original in Florida, which Theme Park Insider readers consistently rate among the very best in the world for its wild ride of random drops and special effects. If Disney isn't about to spend tens of millions of dollars to improve the DCA ToT's ride to that level, it could, with much less expense, improve its story.
I love The Twilight Zone. The best episodes of Rod Serling's anthology series from the 1960s brilliantly illustrated irony in the human existence, often using the supernatural to place in sharp relief our very natural, human flaws. No one believes the crazy man on the airplane, even though he turns out to be the only one who's right. A selfish man wishes away all of mankind so he can read in peace, only to be left with no one to repair his eyeglasses after a holocaust. Invaders hold back, allowing the residents of Maple Street turn on each other out of fear and eventually do themselves in.
Disney did amazing work to craft a video introduction for the Florida and California Tower of Terror attractions. Smart video editing allows Serling himself (long dead at the time of the ride's development) to set up the story, which involves a lightning strike sending visitors at the Hollywood Tower Hotel into the Twilight Zone.
But something's missing: the irony. Why are these nameless guests destined for oblivion? What did they do to deserve or enable what ought to be a deliciously ironic punishment? Heck, who are these people, anyway? We never get to meet any of them. Without any emotional stakes, we're left with the supernatural gimmickry of the Twilight Zone, without the human insight that made the series so special.
In Tokyo, we instead get the story of one Harrison Hightower, a pompous man who's returned to America with his greatest prize, the Shiriki Utundu idol from Africa.
Newspaper account of Harrison Hightower's fateful journey, on display in the attraction queue.
To the natives, Shiriki Utundu is no mere idol. He is their god - an angry god, ready to curse whomever takes him from his people. Hightower, being the arrogant man he is, will have no such silliness, and he invites the press to a party where he will show off his new prize.
But on "that fateful night," Shiriki Utundu has his revenge. In an amazing pre-show, we learn Harrison Hightower's fate, then are ushered into the hotel's elevators to see the outcome for ourselves. As we ascend, we see Shiriki Utundu deliver Harrison Hightower to his fate before turning to face us, to ensure that we get the message: Don't mess with Shiriki Utundu.
Harrison Hightower paid for his sins of arrogance, excess, and hubris. The prize he thought would validate him became his undoing. The ironic punishment is served.
Rod Serling would approve.
So, perhaps, we've found our irony, after all: Disney best expresses the spirit of The Twilight Zone in the one Tower of Terror that never mentions its name.
By Robert Niles
It's spring, which means new attraction openings - and the big media outlets paying their annual glance at the theme park business. The New York Times framed this year's openings as a battle between Disney and Universal, which it certainly is. But I think there's a more useful angle from which to look at what's happening in the world of theme parks.
It's a race to win market share, and theme park companies are aiming at you.
(And before I go too far down this path, allow me to point out another take on this issue from the Boston Globe, which happens to quote a pretty good source, too.)
Here it is: Narrative washes over our lives. Books led to movies then to radio, then to television, then to video games, and then to the Internet. Now, all have converged, and with mobile devices we can immerse ourselves in narrative 24/7, anywhere there's a WiFi or cellular data connection around the globe.
Yet we don't consume narrative as passive readers, listeners, or viewers any longer, either. Video games opened the door, and the Internet carried us through it. Now, we create narratives even as we consume them, mashing them up, riffing on them, and even collaborating with them to spread them virally across our communities, both physical and virtual.
A decade ago, amusement parks were engaged in a Coaster War, ever-building taller and faster roller coasters in pursuit of world records for height, speed, length and intensity. But in that battle, parks discovered the limits both of practical engineering and human endurance. Parks were spending tens of millions of dollars on roller coasters that kept breaking down under the strain of all that height and speed. And too many people were blacking out, or clutching their heads and stomachs in pain, vowing never to ride these rides again.
So the industry shifted. The focus changed from bigger and faster to more creative and unique. Record-seeking gave way to innovate design, and parks began promoting things like wing seating over raw track specs. Millions of fans learned a new vocabulary, writing online about cobra rolls, dive loops, and Immelmanns. People started talking about the progression of elements on roller coasters as if they, too, were a narrative, leading riders along a physical "story" of flight.
Parks continue to take the next step, too, further blurring the decaying lines between roller coasters and dark rides by adding show scenes to their coasters, as Busch Gardens Williamsburg has this year with Verbolten and SeaWorld San Diego with its version of Manta.
In other words, narrative won out over simple physical thrills.
So the "battle" in the theme park industry, if there is one, is not simply a contest between companies. It's better described as a race to imbue more (and more engaging) narrative into the experience of visiting a theme park. In this race, Disney and Universal start with huge leads, thanks to their decades of developing and acquiring rights to popular entertainment franchises. Iron parks and carnival rides alone no longer can compete in a narrative-laden entertainment world.
But people are looking for more than the same old theme park dark rides, too. To attract and engage today's media-soaked consumers, theme park attractions need to offer characters who inhabit alluring worlds, rich with narrative possibilities. It helps parks to start with franchises that have proven themselves in other media, such as Harry Potter, Transformers, and Pixar's Cars.
The successful theme parks in the 2010s and beyond will be the ones that fully develop these franchises into engaging experiences, filling rides with so many details that visitors will need to ride and ride again to catch them all. Parks also will do well to allow their visitors to shape and to own their own versions of the narratives that the parks present. Interactive games such as Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom build upon the shoot-'em-up rides of recent years, such as Buzz Lightyear and Men in Black, giving visitors the opportunity to create new and unique experiences on every visit.
This is a race to extend narrative from individual rides into every facet of the park experience, where visitors have the chance to become actors in their own adventure, not just consuming, but mashing up, riffing on and collaborating with the master storytellers behind the parks' franchises, in creating truly awesome, live entertainment experiences that staying home surfing the Internet can never match.
But to win this race, you need those master storytellers. You need the rights to blockbuster entertainment franchises. And you need the ride designers and creative leaders who can bring engaging characters and worlds to life in an interactive theme park environment.
This isn't just Disney versus Universal. Or anyone versus anyone else. It's about writing a new narrative for out-of-home interactive entertainment. And when someone gets that right, theme park fans win.
By Robert Niles
We've (finally!) gotten the video from Russell Meyer's trip on Busch Gardens Williamsburg's new roller coaster, Verbolten.
If you missed Russell's review of the new family launch coaster (with a first-in-America track-drop), here it is: Busch Gardens Williamsburg Caps Oktoberfest Renovation with Debut of Verbolten.
By Robert Niles
Disneyland Resort announced ticket price increases today, topping out at a 35 percent increase on the price of the parks' SoCal Select Annual Pass.
The SoCal Select is Disneyland's lowest-priced annual pass, and is blocked out 195 days a year (weekends, holidays and summer break). Its price will jump from $199 to $269, starting Sunday, May 20. If you want to add parking an annual pass, that price will increase 30 percent, form $99 a year to $129.
Disneyland's top-of-the-line Premium AP, which is good 365 days a year and includes parking, jumps from $499 to $649 - another 30% increase.
Daily park-hopper tickets will increase up to 19 percent. The single-day park-hopper will jump $20, from $105 to $125. Non-park hopper daily tickets will see smaller increases, from five to nearly nine percent. The one-day, one-park ticket will increase $7, form $80 to $87.
Here are the old prices, the new prices, and the percentage increases:
By Robert Niles
When was the last time you had a character meal in a theme park?
And by "character meal," I don't mean one where you actually eat a character:
But one where you dine with the characters:
The upside of character dining is the chance to multi-task: You take care of a character meet-and-greet and a meal, at the same time! The downside is the expense: Character meals often cost more than non-character meals with the same food. You're paying for that character experience.
But many theme park visitors welcome the chance to pay a little extra to ensure some one-on-one time with the favorite characters without having to wait, often outside in the sun. That's why character meals often require advance reservations, and sometimes weeks in advance.
Not every character meal's a tough ticket, though. Several years ago, the kids and I walked over to the hotel at Knott's Berry Farm for dinner, and ended up being the only party with kids at a Snoopy character dinner. The kids were thrilled to have Snoopy all to themselves, but after about 10 minutes, we discovered that too much character time can get, well, awkward. Once Snoopy had mimed his way through all his gags, the encounter started to feel like a bad blind date. The kids had nothing left to say, and Snoopy, well, he's a giant theme park dog. There wasn't anything he could say. So after several moments of awkward silence, Snoopy mercifully called it a night and shuffled away.
I'd love to hear your stories and opinions about character dining in the theme parks. Please share your tips and advice, or just a funny, silly or crazy story, in the comments.
By Russell Meyer
In the summer of 2009, fans of Busch Gardens Williamsburg and coaster fans around the country were shocked to hear that the Big Bad Wolf would be removed. Busch Gardens immediately began dropping hints about what would replace a coaster that not only had a custom layout and unusual design, but was many a young theme park fan’s first “real” roller coaster. All that the park was willing to say when the Oktoberfest renovation was announced was that 2012 would bring a new multi-launch roller coaster. The rumors began flying, and many, including myself, were expecting a coaster similar to Cheetah Hunt, which was already under construction at Busch Gardens Tampa. Throughout the past 2 years, Busch Gardens has been slowly revealing details about the new roller coaster that have been keeping theme park and roller coaster fans in suspense, culminating with the official opening of Verbolten this week.
Verbolten is being billed as a thrilling family roller coaster but is not quite as accessible with a rider height requirement of 48” compared to Big Bad Wolf’s 42”. In my opinion, Busch should have tried to maintain the 42” limit, but I understand the demand for a more thrilling and innovative family coaster likely overruled that possibility. Still, the lack of inversions makes it more accessible to children who may be afraid of going upside-down.
Verbolten is an intricately themed attraction that fits well in the revamped Oktoberfest area. The level of detail is comparable to a ride in a Florida or California park, with trains designed to look like European roadsters, right down to unique license plates. The backstory of the attraction involves siblings Gerta and Gunter Schwartzwald, who own and operate a quaint Bavarian visitor’s center. Gerta is the manager of the establishment, and ensures everything runs as planned. Gunter lacks Gerta’s business acumen, but makes up for it with his curiosity and mechanical aptitude. Both are concerned with the rental cars that continue to disappear, along with their passengers, despite being equipped with GPS and persistent warnings to avoid the Black Forest. Gunter has gathered their personal effects and crumpled vehicle remains along with mysterious vines in his shop, and has even set up video cameras in attempt to solve the ongoing mystery.
The pre-show video is a bit on the corny side, but does a good job of establishing the backstory for the ride, along with the two well-themed rooms along the queue. The queue is actually a bit reminiscent of the Expedition Everest queue, just on a much smaller scale. However, if guests are expecting a full-blown queue experience like the attractions opened within the past 5-10 years at Disney or Universal parks, they’ll probably be a bit disappointed.
Once guests reach the station, they’ll see a double-loading platform that allows the crew to board 32 passengers on two trains simultaneously. The station is a complete renovation of the old Big Bad Wolf station, and appropriately looks like a garage with mufflers marking the rows of the trains, and oil hoses and other vehicle maintenance equipment hanging from the ceiling. The coaster trains are also highly themed to look like European sports cars complete with racing stripes, rear view mirrors, and sporty wheels. The cars have a flat entry, unlike other vehicular-based coaster trains like Stunt Coaster at nearby Kings Dominion or Rock ‘n Rollercoaster at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. There’s nothing for guests to trip on as they make their way to their seats, and this feature makes loading and unloading a much faster and more efficient process. The trains have 8 rows with 2 seats per row, and passengers are secured in their comfortable seats with a simple lapbar restraint. It appears that the seats will accommodate most guests, but those with larger hip measurements might want to check the tester seat at the entrance before waiting in line to ride.
Once secured, the train slowly makes its way out of the garage and on the way to the Black Forest. The first set of linear induction motors (LIMs) launches the train into the show building and the mysteries of the Black Forest. Once inside, guests are subjected to some pretty tight twists and turns along with some surprisingly intense g-forces, particularly for those sitting towards the back of the train. The forest scenery, illuminated primarily with black lighting, zooms by as the train makes its way through a block brake and then a dead end. At that dead end, riders encounter one of three randomly selected experiences: a pack of deadly wolves, a fierce lightning storm, or an encounter with the mysterious spirit of the Black Forest. After that, technology takes over, as the train, along with the track it is sitting on, drops vertically before eventually exiting the building. The drop is not more than 20 or 30 feet, but the unexpectedness and dark environment make it really effective and thrilling. As the train exits the building, another set of LIMs accelerate the train through a couple of upward twists to another set of block brakes overlooking the Rhine River. The remaining track follows the Big Bad Wolf finish with a set of cameras before the final turn back towards the garage.
Verbolten is probably not going to intimidate hard core coaster fans or even the weekend ride warrior. However, that is not what Busch Gardens was shooting for when conceiving this attraction. In fact, extreme coaster aficionados may stick their nose up at this ride as a “Maverick-light” (Cedar Point’s very intense multi-launch coaster) with a clever, but ultimately unsatisfying twist. Compared to other coasters I’ve ridden, Verbolten is most like Universal’s Revenge of the Mummy minus the impressive animatronics. It has enough intense moments to keep adults interested and their kids exhilarated. The real question will be if can the ride operate efficiently and consistently throughout the busy summer months, and keep the flood of guests wanting to experience the park’s newest roller coaster coming back for more.
More than 2 years ago, Busch Gardens Williamsburg looked to transform the most iconic section of their park, Oktoberfest, from an outdated and clichéd theme park land into a lively, whimsical village. Verbolten represents the completion of that face-lift, and while the coaster, along with Mach Tower, are not the biggest, fastest, most intense rides on the planet, they work together to solidify and strengthen the overall theming of the area.
This season the park has also replaced the famous Festhaus show with “Entwined”, bringing Grimm’s Fairy Tales into the beer hall. To those who preferred the direction the park was taking with attractions like Griffon, Alpengeist, and Apollo’s Chariot, this renovation is probably not what they would have preferred. However, many theme park visitors and families will see the commitment of the park to try to be far more than just a regional theme park.
Update: We've just posted Russell's on-ride video of Verbolten!
By Robert Niles
Universal Studios Singapore is launching a "teaser" campaign for a new attraction in the theme park. Here's the video:
Insider scoop says it's Sesame Street. The clues? Oscar the Grouch trash can, "sunny days" is from the theme song, and the video shows the New York land in the park. Plus, Universal already has a Sesame Street-themed kids' area in Japan, so they have the international rights.
Rumor is an Elmo-themed dark ride, plus street-side meet-and-greets, and there is some show building space behind the New York section of the park and the nearby Hotel Michael.
By Scott Joseph
Tutto Italia, the signature restaurant at Epcot's Italy pavilion. reopened recently after a four-month remodel. Part of the redo included the addition of Tutto Gusto, a wine bar that also serves small plates of Italian goodies.
I visited both Tutti recently and had lunch with the founder and CEO of Patina Group, which owns the restaurants along with the pavilion's other venue, Via Napoli. Here are some details
By Robert Niles
Next week is the deadline to enter our Spring 2012 video contest, so hurry up and get those videos shot, edited and uploaded!
We had two new entries on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board this week:
Daniel Cernuschi submitted Spring 2012 Video Contest: The Florida Experience
Pyra-Danny V offered Spring 2012 Video Contest: POV from Blue Shoes
Here are the previous entries:
Thomas tskogg, with A Decade of Disney (and Universal) 2001-2011
Jake Mappes' The Attractions of Islands of Adventure
And Jason Kwan's The Florida Project [Video about Walt Disney World]
If you'd like to enter, just embed your original video, shot in a theme park, in a new thread on the Discussion Board. (Upload your video to YouTube, Vimeo or any service of your choice that allows Web embedding. Videos should be embedded with a width no more than 450 pixels.) Please use "Spring 2012 Video Contest:" in your discussion title, so we can all find it easily. Your video can be a travelogue, a fictional story, or anything else you'd like, so long as it is set inside a theme park and wasn't shot in violation of the park's safety rules. (So no POV on rides where cameras are not permitted, please.) Campaign for your favorites in the comments!
Next Friday, I'll select the top five videos, which will be embedded on the Theme Park Insider home page, and put up to a reader vote. The video that gets the most votes over the weekend will be our winner. In addition to the attention, extra traffic and bragging rights, the winner will receive a Theme Park Insider T-shirt and a signed copy of Stories from a Theme Park Insider.
By the way, here are a few more top new, non-video discussions from the past week:
Dan Babbitt asks about Rain Delayed or Rain Shortened/Cancelled Shows
B Higgins wants to know about Disney World in (early) December
And, finally, Jeff Elliott steps up to the mic for his weekly Trenches of Amusement humor column.
By Robert Niles
Let's recap where we're at with new attraction openings this spring, shall we?
Our early leader for Best New Ride of the year: Transformers The Ride 3D at Universal Studios Hollywood
Here's what is open already:
I've also heard that these two have opened, though we didn't have anyone assigned to cover them. Trip reports welcomed!
So now here's what's still to come (at least, officially):
June pretty much belongs to Disneyland Resort, with the reopening of Disney California Adventure on June 15 headlining a slew of openings mid-month. (DCA will be closed to the public on June 14.)
We have a couple of other openings elsewhere that we're expecting sometime next month:
And looking ahead, later this year:
So, what are you planning to see this year?
By Frank Forrester
Busch Gardens Williamsburg' s Verbolten had a soft opening this weekend starting on Friday May 11th. It was open all three days of the weekend for the soft opening. I heard about the soft opening from a friend on Friday and even saw posts on Twitter & Facebook from Busch Gardens about it.
Verbolten's coaster train. Photo by TPI member Tom Rigg
I got to the park around 3pm on Friday and the wait time was shown to be around 45 minutes. It seem as the day went along the wait time got shorter. I rode it three times before 5pm. I was able to ride it in the middle row, front row and back row. The queue and the station for the ride have a lot of little details in it. They were running four trains on Friday and like Cheetah Hunt in Tampa they loaded two trains at a time. This helps make the line move a lot quicker. You will need to go through the queue multiple times to be able to see all the little details that are in it. After I saw the final showing of the day of Celtic Fyre I came back over to the ride and rode it twice more. On my final ride the car before me had about half the cast from Celtic Fyre in it as they had come over to the ride after the final performance of the show that day.
The ride itself is different depending on which scenario you get in the Black Forest. There are three different scenarios you could encounter in the Black Forest and they are a Storm, a Spirit or the Wolf. I only encounter two of them in my five rides, but know of people who encountered all three of them. The experience for the ride is basically the same for every train except if you are at the loading station and get in the back train instead of the front train. The back train will pull out of the station and stop for a few seconds and you will hear sounds like a car engine trying to rev up. The train will then head down the track toward the Black Forest building. Right before you enter the Black Forest is the first launch of two. Inside the Black Forest it will be dark and you will see different lighting effects. Before you exit the building you will get one of the three scenarios while you are stopped and than the train will drop. You will then go down a little incline before being launched out of the building toward the worn down bridge. When you reach the bridge the train slows down and you hear the sound of creaking like the bridge is going to give out before you go down the drop over the Rhine River.
They didn't have the video available during the soft opening, but you were able to buy a photo of yourself on the ride. They have also added sound effects to the wrecked car outside the queue. The ride itself seems short, but is a worthy replacement for the Big Bad Wolf. I expect this ride to top many peoples top coaster lists after they ride it.
The seats on the train are comfortable and when you pull the restraint toward you it isn't tight like Apollo's Chariot. They do have a seat outside the building that you can try out before you get in line.
By Robert Niles
With Universal's Superstar Parade debuting this week, let's talk about parades.
Many observers don't realize this, but there's a simple logistical reason for top theme parks to run parades in the middle of the afternoon. That's the busiest time of day at a theme park - even the late-comers have arrived by that point and few of the earliest-arriving guests have left for the day. So the park is packed.
Having a parade at that time helps draw visitors away from crowded queues, making wait times a little more manageable during the worst part of the day. The guests who opt for the parade get to enjoy a fun show, instead of more frustration in hours-long queues, and those who don't get to enjoy slightly shorter wait times for their favorite attractions.
This summer, with attendance rising at the Universal theme parks after 2010's hit debut of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal Orlando's jumped in the game, too, with a cartoon character parade in the Universal Studios Florida theme park.
It's early to see what impact this new parade will have on Universal's attendance patterns, but it's not too early to draw some impressions about the new show and how it matches up with existing parades from Walt Disney World, especially with our Domenik Jost's full video and photos of the Universal's Superstar Parade.
My first thought was to ask what you think is the best parade in Orlando? But that question seems a bit simple, and even a touch cheap, given how few people have seen Universal's new parade by this point. So allow me to tweak the wording a bit, and to ask - based on what you know and have seen of these parades - which parade would you most want to see in Orlando this summer, if you were going to Orlando and could pick only one parade?
Your options are (click the links for videos):
By Anthony Murphy
Thursday, Six Flags Great America, right outside of Chicago, unveiled its newest roller coaster: X Flight.
"X Flight is unlike any other coaster in the world" said Great America President Hank Salemi. "Soaring through 3,000 feet of twisted steel with no track above or below you is an amazing experience."
X Flight joins the other 13 coasters of Great America, greatly increasing the span and thrills of the park. Here's video of the opening ceremony:
X Flight is one of the first coasters of its kind in the United States - a Bolliger & Mabillard Wing Coaster, which means that there is no track above or below the rider. The guests are seated in pairs on the left and right side of the car, hanging over the sides of the track, which allows guests to feel as if they are flying though the air. The attraction begins with a 12-story drop and various inversions, and a breathtaking vertical flip though the keyhole in the control tower. Check out the closeup video.
I got to ride this roller coaster in all four possible seats (inside and outside). No matter where you sit, you are in the front seat of thrills since there is literally nothing around you while riding this roller coaster. I found the right hand side to be a bit more thrilling because it gets closer to the small lake on the attraction, which is rigged with spray fountains as if the coaster is hitting the water.
There are many parts of this attraction that have guests either at a 90-degree angle or completely traveling upside down. I can’t recall another roller coaster that does this so often and so well. One of the bigger complaints by Theme Park Insider readers about Six Flags Great America has been the lack of scenery surrounding its roller coasters. This changes on X Flight with themed buildings, lakes, and soon-to-be impressive landscaping.
This coaster actually reminded me of another Six Flags Great America coaster: X Flight's Bolliger & Mabillard cousin, Raging Bull. X Flight is a very smooth ride that is like Raging Bull, except it inverts. I also was reminded of Disney's Soarin' - except the smells and wind are real. I was greatly impressed by this attraction and I predict it will be a very popular roller coaster for this season. If you happen to be in the Chicagoland area, stop by and ride this soon-to-be classic.
By Domenik Jost
Tuesday night, Universal Studios Florida had the red carpet rolled out to officially reveal it's two newest experiences: Universal's Superstar Parade and Universal's Cinematic Spectacular – 100 Years of Movie Memories. While some had gotten the chance to see the new lagoon show during soft opening over the last couple of weeks and the parade since this past Saturday, Tuesday night, May 8th, was the official kick off date for both daily shows.
Universal Orlando has branded this year as the "Year to Be Here" which they officially kicked off with the new Blue Man Group show and Spiderman 4K makeover earlier this year. Now they have added two more daily shows to Universal Studios Florida.
The first is Universal's Superstar Parade, which runs in the late afternoon/early evening each day. (The parade can run both in daylight and after sundown.) The parade features four big extravagantly detailed floats themed to different cartoons, dozens of dancer and performers, and of course the favorite characters of each cartoon.
The first of which will come your way is Despicable Me. Creatively made to look very industrial like Gru's creations in the movie. Minions are all over the place including on a big LED screen that can be seen from both sides of the float.
The second float to round the corner is Spongebob Square Pants. Themed entirely to Bikini Bottom the float is the famous pineapple under the sea. Look to the top of the pineapple house and you will find Gary the snail making his way back and forth. Spongebob,, his friends Patrick and Squidward, as well as a bunch of Bikini Bottom resident fish are all there to greet you.
Next to make it's way into view is the third float themed to the Universal hit movie HOP. E.B. and his friends have a party and truly bring the beat. There are lots and lots of drums all around and it's a very up beat and colorful float.
Last but not least is the fourth and final float themed to Dora The Explorer. The setting is in the Jungle with a tree house in the back of the float. Dora brought out her friend Diego and many jungle monkeys. The monkeys on the float swing back and forth out over the edge of the float making funny faces at everyone around.
The parade has two stopping points inside Universal Studios, one in the Hollywood section of the park and the other in the New York section of the park. At both stopping points all the characters break out into a giant choreographed dance party. During the stop, there are a total of 14 different mini shows in one with each float having it's own mini shows. The idea behind this is to encourage guests to come back to see the parade not just once or twice but maybe three or four times from different vantage points to see the different mini shows.
Characters will also break out into dance with instrumental versions of songs ranging from Boom Boom Pow to a remix of the Spongebob Square Pants theme music. Unfortunately the way the parade stops and all the little mini shows and dancing going on all up and down the street, depending on where you are standing, you will be awkwardly stuck with whatever is right in front of you. At least until the parade starts to move again but then all the dancing and choreography is already over and you only got to see one small little section of it.
At least throughout the day, the floats will also come out on an individual basis and parade down the streets to a certain preset area where they will perform a mini show and then have a meet and greet session. The times for each of these will be listed in the daily park guide map. I would encourage people to visit those individual meet and greet mini shows throughout the day as the parades stop does not allow you to see what is going on at the other end of the street.
Here's a full parade video from the Grand Opening:
Once the parade has gone by and the dance party is over, Universal is inviting guests to stay for it's new lagoon show: Cinematic Spectacular – 100 Years of Movie Memories. This new show is in show director and designer Mike Aiello's words, "A love letter to Universal films." It's a tribute to Universal celebrating its centennial anniversary. The show idea started off as just another update to the old Universal 360 lagoon show, but quickly turned into a completely resigned experience. I am calling it an experience because pictures and video don't do it justice and you truly have to be there in person to appreciate it to it's fullest (which can be said of other nighttime shows as well).
With the help of an amazing piece of new technology Universal is using a waterfall screen to project not just a crystal clear HD image onto the water, but is also using this new waterfall screen to add special effects during the show like making the waterfall like a film reel and in the preshow creating some recognizable logos like Jurassic Park, E.T., and others. The show features over 200 film clips in several different themes ranging from Heroes and Good vs. Evil, to Laughter and touching on Universal's roots in Horror.
Throughout the show, water fountains, fireworks, and moving lights fill in the space between the screens and act as an extension to what is on the screens. The entire show lasts 17 minutes and is narrated by none other than Morgan Freeman. The Cinematic Spectacular is a wonderfully orchestrated experience that you just have to see in person. It does exactly what it was designed as, which is a tribute to the legacy that is Universal films. I have to congratulate show designer Mike Aiello and the creative team for a job well done. Now some may want to compare the Cinematic Spectacular to other nighttime shows but you just can't do that. Some may say, well it is no World of Color, or Reflections of the Earth, and definitely no Magic, Memories, and You and it definitely is none of those. The only thing that these shows truly all have in common is they were created to be seen at nighttime. The Cinematic Spectacular is not a fountain show; it's not a fireworks show, but a tribute to 100 years of Universal films. To which I can well say it is an absolutely fantastic tribute and truly makes me want to go back and watch several of these films.
Here's a full show video from the grand opening:
Both the Cinematic Spectacular and the Superstar Parade will run year-round at Universal Studios Florida except during annual and special events. If you want to see more pictures of both experiences follow this link to flickr.
By Robert Niles
I've been getting into the habit of starting "Tweet Chats" via the @themepark account on Twitter most weekday afternoons. Yesterday, I chatted with Theme Park Insider followers about ways to build a better ride reservation system at theme parks.
I started with this:
"Throwing this out there: I'd prefer Disney allowing guests to book two FPs in advance, and removing in-park FP machines, over status quo."
My thoughts behind that? I hate having to double-back throughout the Disney parks to get Fastpasses from various attraction sites throughout the day. I much rather use something like the new Fastpass+ system being tested with Disney hotel guests, where I have a couple of reservations "in the bag," if you will, before I arrive at the park, so I don't need to worry about making ride reservations once I'm there.
Let's compare it to when Disney switched from in-park restaurant reservations at Epcot to its current call-in-advance system. I'd prefer a system where Disney limited the number of ride reservations to just two per day, and no more than one per week at the same attraction, to help increase of ride capacity for the standby lines, speeding up those waits.
@DLthings: " I agree it's a hassle running around collecting FP's. Any new reservation system should be free and available to everyone."
@DisneyDuchess: "I absolutely think a pay-only would be completely unfair. Park admission is expensive as it is."
@ItsAllAboutTour: "If others want to pay for extras; They should be able to. Universal/Sea World/Legoland all pay for FotL Passes. Why not Disney?"
@woodfieldalty: "As an overseas visitor to WDW I am against this, keep the FP system, it works. We enjoy the impromptu nature of the day"
@kellyloumugg: "I could get on board with advanced reservations if they were available to all guests - not just onsite, in the same way ADR's are"
@DisneyDuchess: "How tough is it to collect a fastpass, really? Standing in a 3 hour line is a bigger pain."
@DLthings: "@DisneyDuchess True, but collecting FP means you have to visit every attraction twice, and may still require waiting to get it."
@THEWILDWILL: "I agree it's imperfect, but as long as millions keep flocking into the parks annually, though the system is flawed, it is working"
@theADTraylor: "ride reservations seems to defeat the purpose of enjoying the themes of a theme park. Why skip the queue?"
@CraiGomez: "Imagine a Peter Pan's Flight queue that actually moved faster than a snails pace. Fastpass can just go away."
@m3nt4lwr3ck: "A bit late to the discussion (just got up in UK) - never need to use a FP if you get to the parks at opening time."
And that's just a sampling of the responses.
You're invited to join us for these afternoon chats (usually after 4pm ET/1pm PT), by following Theme Park Insider on Twitter. And to make following all the conversations easier, I'm going to start using the hashtag #themeparkchat. Please join us!
This is one of the ways that I'm trying to use Twitter beyond just pushing links to our latest Blog Flume stories. If you're on Facebook, I'm also offering some unique stuff over there for people who "Like" our Theme Park Insider page, usually daily photos and caption fun. I hope you'll join us at both places, as well as here on the website, for the complete Theme Park Insider theme park geek experience!
By Robert Niles
We've been talking about Walt Disney World's NextGen project. Most the attention has been to the resort new, unnamed advance ride reservation system for hotel guests. But NextGen includes in-park attraction elements, as well. And now I've seen plans for what might be the next implementation of NextGen in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.
It's called "Pirates Adventure: Jewels of the Seven Seas" and it will transform the Magic Kingdom's Adventureland into an interactive treasure hunt. Using RFID-enabled tap points, participating Disney World guests will be able to shoot the cannons on top of the Pirates of the Caribbean fortress queue, interact with animatronic idols, parrots and snakes, and search for and open a treasure chest which has been left somewhere in Adventureland.
There might soon be much more to do in Caribbean Plaza than shop and wait for Pirates of the Caribbean.
The adventure will take place in newly decorated scenes throughout the land, including sites inside merchandise shops, along walkways and near attraction queues. A fountain in Caribbean Plaza that was long ago converted to a planter would be restored - and stocked with animatronic piranhas, poised to attack upon your request.
The scale is intimate, much like the new Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom game, so that guests who aren't playing - and who haven't memorized every decoration detail in the park - probably won't notice any of the interactive elements. Unless someone's there activating them, of course.
Disney's not announced or confirmed any of this publicly, of course. And I don't have any inside information on whether this will be opened to everyone to play, like Sorcerer's, or restricted to invited hotel guests, like with the current Fastpass+ test. Nor did my sources provide me with any guess on an opening date.
But "Pirates Adventure: Jewels of the Seven Seas" would take Disney a step closer to that NextGen ideal we've discussed, where themed lands become platforms for customized attraction adventures, rather than simply serving as well-decorated location for rides and shows.
By Robert Niles
News is leaking that Universal Studios Japan will announce tomorrow that it will the site of the world's second Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Coming soon to Japan
The Osaka theme park is set to begin construction on the Japanese version of the Wizarding World, which will likely be built on the site of a current parking lot between Jurassic Park and the Waterworld theater. Since Universal Studios Japan won't have to clear away any existing attractions for its Wizarding World, it should be ready for a late 2014 debut, opening before the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood, which was announced last December.
No opening date has been announced for the California version of the Harry Potter land, and there are no publicly visible signs yet of construction, which is tipped to involve the demolition of existing structures at the park. (To be fair, Universal Studios Hollywood's getting ready for the public debut of Transformers: The Ride 3D on May 25, so it's not like USH hasn't been busy building new stuff.)
The Japanese Wizarding World is said to include Hogwarts Castle and the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride from the original "Hogsmeade" version of the Wizarding World, which opened at Universal's Islands of Adventure in Orlando in 2010. There's no word on any possible inclusion of elements from the rumored "Diagon Alley" version of the Wizarding World, which is said to be coming to Universal Studios Florida in 2015 or so.
This announcement would leave Universal Studios Singapore as the only Universal theme park without a Harry Potter attraction in the works. Park vice president John Hallenbeck last December dismissed speculation about Harry Potter coming to Singapore, and having toured that park and its surroundings in person, I can't imagine where Universal could make an additional attraction of this size fit in that space-constrained theme park.
Now I gotta start scrounging the cash for a plane trip to Osaka.... :^)
Update: Here's the release from USJ.
By Robert Niles
Here are this week's top new topics on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board:
Melissa Faulkner wants to hear your pick as the best place for Lunch in EPCOT.
Executive Chef Charlie Restivo at Epcot's Via Napoli, which is Robert's answer to Melissa's question.
Speaking of food, now drink: Zach Nelson asks about your in-park Favorite Alcoholic Beverage.
Mark Fairleigh keeps us talking about the Updated Test Track blog release.
On the topic of refurbished attractions, Andrew Dougherty wants to know If you could refurbish a ride what would it be?
Taking a look at the Transformers and Cars Lands premieres in Southern California this year, Daniel Etcheberry says This Summer Go West.
Finally, don't forget to get your entry ready for our video contest. Nathan Alexander checks in this week with an entry: Spring 2012 Video Contest: Dreamworld Australia.
By Skipper Adam
There is an unending battle online over which theme parks have the best tech. Universal's Harry Potter and Transformers expansions have set the bar high. Disney's Xpass, NextGen, Carsland and Fantasyland incorporate vast amounts of new tech too. But the problem is comparing apples and oranges. Both company's approaches to technology innovations are different with different goals.
However, Disney has just released info on its new technology Touché, which will not only change the face of the theme park industry, it may change the world, leaving many, many companies in the dust.
Here is the official discription.
"Touché proposes a novel Swept Frequency Capacitive Sensing technique that can not only detect a touch event, but also recognize complex configurations of the human hands and body. Such contextual information significantly enhances touch interaction in a broad range of applications, from conventional touchscreens to unique contexts and materials. For example, in our explorations we add touch and gesture sensitivity to the human body and liquids. We demonstrate the rich capabilities of Touché with five example setups from different application domains and conduct experimental studies that show gesture classification accuracies of 99% are achievable with our technology."
Some of the applications they describe are mediocre at best to what applications really may be paramount. However, can you imagine what this could do to Disney parks?
Disney Research Pittsburgh is a project that combines the efforts of Walt Disney Company with Carnegie Mellon University (CMU).
If you recall, Randy Pausch, the inspirational Last Lecture Imagineer, was from CMU's Entertainment Technology Center. CMU is the alma mater of many Imagineers.
By Robert Niles
Why is Disney's Haunted Mansion such a popular attraction? It reached the finals of our Best Themed Attraction tournament earlier this year, and won that title two years ago. Haunted Mansion consistently ranks among the top rides in Theme Park Insider reader ratings, and it's attracted a large and devoted following on Mansion fan sites around the Internet.
Haunted Mansion in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom
But why? I'm not satisfied with a simplistic explanation - so saying "because it's good" doesn't cut it for me. I want to delve into specific design decisions made by Disney's Imagineers that have helped make Mansion such a popular attraction.
Haunted Mansion in Disneyland
First, let me fess up that I'm not as big a fan of the ride as many on the site. To me, Haunted Mansion has an incomprehensible narrative (that Disney's filled in, erased, and changed over the years) and a theme song that's not nearly as catchy and memorable as "A Pirate's Life for Me" and "It's a Small World." The Pepper's Ghost effect in the Ballroom isn't as visually convincing as the one at Knott's Mystery Lodge (the gold standard for Pepper's Ghost effect shows in the world), and while I love the Haunted Mansion Holiday overlay in Anaheim and Tokyo, the reflected light off the snow-covered graveyard totally illuminates the scrim and ceiling, spoiling many of the effects in the ride's climactic scene.
Haunted Mansion in Tokyo Disneyland, with the Haunted Mansion Holiday overlay
So what makes this a great ride, strong enough to overcome even those weaknesses? Of course, it's a long, sit-down ride in the air-conditioned darkness, a underrated attraction in its own right on a hot summer day. And there's the whole Goth appeal, too. But Goth hardly delivers blockbuster followings on its own. If it did, the upcoming Dark Shadows movie wouldn't be a spoof, and we'd be hailing Depeche Mode instead of U2 as the best band to break out in the 1980s.
Here's my answer to the question of the Haunted Mansion's popularity: It's the Ghost Host.
Paul Frees' narration makes the Haunted Mansion an intimate, personal experience. You're not riding anonymously through huge show scenes, as on Pirates of the Caribbean and It's a Small World. You're taking an individual tour through the Mansion, guided by your own, personal host. That design decision helps the guest feel more involved in the experience on Haunted Mansion than on many other classic theme park attractions. For 10 minutes, this is your ride, not just a ride that you're on.
The ghosts even invade your ride vehicle on the attraction's final scene, visually bringing you into the haunted action. (That effect's best in Orlando, where it was recently upgraded with new tech, but it's still pretty neat in Anaheim and Tokyo.)
The entire experience is designed to create an impression of a personal experience with the 999 happy haunts of the Mansion. Even the decision to assign that number to the ghosts in the ride helps personalize the experience. You can't help but think of yourself as that ghost number 1,000, forever putting yourself into the scene. Disney doesn't tell you the number of pirates sacking the Caribbean. You never feel like maybe you could be one of them. (Which undercuts Disney's attempt to sell all those Pirate makeovers to little boys.)
Haunted Mansion's hardly the only attraction to use in-car narration in a small ride vehicle, to create an intimate, personal effect. I think that style of narration is one of the reasons why so many fans continue to mourn the loss of Epcot's Horizons, which used the same concept. And it's one reason why I continue to enjoy Epcot's Spaceship Earth, which also now puts you into the scene by laying your photograph into on-monitor show scenes.
But those rides lack the fun of Haunted Mansion, with its giddy whismy of singing and dancing ghosts. The only ride I believe to have used personal narration as effectively as Haunted Mansion is the attraction that beat it in this year's tournament - Universal's Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.
In my conversation with them, Universal Creative ride designers Thierry Coup and Mark Woodbury have explicitly cited their wish to create a personal connection between riders and the Harry Potter characters. They intentionally designed the ride vehicles and show scene placement in a way that you'd feel like Harry and Ron were speaking directly to the four of you on that flying bench, with no other ride vehicles to be seen. (FJ does this better than Mansion, IMHO.) And Forbidden Journey brings you into the action, as well, with the Dementor's Kiss effect. (Which Theme Park Insider readers have reported fails too work far too often for Universal to be satisfied with its performance. It's always worked for me, but it should always work for everyone. FJ without the Dementor's Kiss is like, well, Haunted Mansion without its hitchhiking ghosts.)
What do you think about my theory? How important is personal narration to you on a theme park ride? And what's the appeal of Haunted Mansion for you? Let's break down this ride in more detail, with your comments.
By Robert Niles
Thanks to Theme Park Insider reader and correspondent Domenik Jost's Twitter feed, we have our first look at the floats from the new Universal's Superstar Parade at Universal Studios Florida.
Here's Spongebob SquarePants:
Dora the Explorer and Diego:
And Gru with the Minions:
And here's one more look at the Despicable Me float, in an photo courtesy Universal Orlando:
The parade's official debut is this Tuesday, May 8.
By Robert Niles
We've been talking a lot about theme park's ride reservation systems lately. Disney's testing its new, NextGen "xPass" system this week, and Jim Hill's got a great description of how that system's working. At the same time, Universal Orlando is testing a new Q-Bot system for ride reservations, and chains such as Cedar Fair are expanding their reservation systems.
It might be free of charge, but Toy Story Midway Mania is likely Disney's toughest FastPass to get.
Disney remains unique in the industry in offering its ride reservation service, Fastpass, for free to daily visitors. (You do have to be staying at a Disney Hotel to be considered for inclusion in the xPass trial.) Universal Orlando offers its Universal Express access to on-site hotel guests at no additional charge, as well. But at all the other chains, if you want to skip a line, you have to pay first.
Will you consider buying one of these skip-the-line tickets this year? That's our vote of the week. Let's review what the ride-skipping options are at the major theme park chains:
Universal Studios Hollywood: The Front of Line pass gets you access to the priority boarding lane or reserved seating area at all attractions, as well as access to behind-the-scenes presentations at Waterworld, Terminator2: 3D, and Animal Actors. The price is $149, but that also includes park admission, which is $77 at the gate.
SeaWorld and Busch Gardens: Quick Queue offers two options, one that allows a single time skipping the line, and another that allows unlimited skips. Prices range from $15 - $55, based on the option you select, as well as the day and park you visit.
Cedar Fair parks (including Knott's Berry Farm, Kings Island and Cedar Point): Fast Lane gives you unlimited skips to selected attractions. Prices range from $30 - $55, based on when and which park you visit. Discounts are available if you buy multiple passes.
Six Flags parks: Flash Pass offers three levels: On the Regular level, you don't get to skip any waits, but don't have to stay in the actual line. The Gold level offers you sharply reduced wait times, and the Platinum level allows you to ride twice after the shorter Gold-level waits. Prices are $45 for the Regular option, $60 for Gold and $105 for Platinum. Discounts are available for buying multiple passes at once.
Thanks for reading Theme Park Insider, and have a great weekend!
By Robert Niles
Got $35,000 to burn? Want some awesome Disney-fan bragging rights?
You now can put your name on the waiting list for a membership to Disneyland's famed Club 33. Disney's taking names again, in anticipation of the opening of the new Club 33 annex - 1901 - in the Carthay Circle at Disney California Adventure.
It's $25,000 grand to join if you get in, with yearly dues of $10,000 - the first year paid up front. But several of us on Twitter have wondered if that's the only price to be paid to get into Walt's exclusive club.
"Is there any hazing involved?" Arthur Levine from About Theme Parks asked on Twitter. "Do applicants have to consume insane amounts of Dole Whip while Mickey goads them on?"
So we'll take your silly suggestions for #Club33HazingRituals in the comments.
By the way, if you're loaded (and not just on Dole Whip) and really want to sign up, the email to send your inquiry is firstname.lastname@example.org. The email link to invite me, once you join, is at the bottom of the page. ;^)
By Robert Niles
Yesterday, in our post about Wildcat closing at Cedar Point, Theme Park Insider reader James Rao asked an intriguing question: "What park has the most GOOD coasters on the planet?"
James' question was prompted by the fact that Cedar Point's decision to close the Schwarzkopf roller coaster ceded the supposed "coaster crown" - for the park that has the most roller coasters in the world - to rival Six Flags Magic Mountain. Quantity is one thing, but as James asked, what about quality? Bu how can we determine which parks has the most "good" coasters?
Well, Theme Park Insider readers have been voting on that question for years. So I decided to run the numbers on our reader ratings to determine what you - collectively - think is the best quality coaster park in the world.
Six Flags Magic Mountain is Theme Park Insider readers' pick as the number one roller coaster park in the world.
I decided that to be qualified as a "good" coaster, a ride had to have an average reader rating of 8 or higher (Actually, 7.5 or higher due to rounding). But that still left a lot of coasters on the table. So I decided to look for "elite" coasters, as well. To be listed as "elite," I decided a coaster needed an average reader rating 9 or higher. (Coasters had to have a minimum number of votes to be eligible, and "kiddie coasters" didn't count.)
The spirit of this exercise was quality over quantity, so I ranked the parks by the total number of elite coasters, with total number of good coasters as the first tie-breaker. Since that still left quite a few ties, I used the average reader rating of the park's top coaster as the second tie-breaker - meaning that all else being equal, the park with the better top coaster got the higher spot on the list. If there were to be a tie among the top-rated coasters at two parks, I was going to go with total coaster count as the third tie-breaker, but I didn't need to go that far.
So here's the list - Theme Park Insider's best roller coaster parks in the world. Remember, these are your cumulative rankings before the 2012 season. I'd expect Hersheypark, Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Port Aventura and Canada's Wonderland to move up the rankings after their roller coaster openings this season.
Plan your summer roadtrips accordingly! The hornet's nest is open in the comments. ;^)
By Bob Liebe
On my current Orlando vacation, I was lucky enough to experience Universal's Cinematic Spectacular in soft-open twice! The first show was on April 25th and the second was on April 30th. The show started at 8:30pm both of those nights. It lasted approximately 20 minutes and could be viewed from every angle in the lagoon. I grabbed a seat about 10 minutes before the show started. Almost all the seats were taken, but I was able to find a few still empty on the deck behind the Richter's Burgers Co. building. The area was posted "Splash Zone". During my first viewing, I hardly got wet. An occasional mist cloud blew in my face during a breeze. The second show was a different story. I only sat one table further down from the previous show, but this time there were 25mph wind gusts. High winds, plus 50 foot water fountains, equals SOAKED! I had to laugh because I told my family that we'd be fine because I knew that I didn't really get wet the first time around. Well there goes my credibility!
The show itself was great! The water screens are surprisingly clear and the colored fountains help set the mood for what is on the screen. There are clips from pretty much all of Universal's most memorable movies over the last hundred years. Everything from action, to comedy, to romance, and of course horror. And the commentary from Morgan Freeman really brings everything together. It even gave me the chills a couple of times... or maybe it was the water and wind!
Universal did a great job all in all. I have seen some of Disney's night time shows and I'd have to put this on par with them. This show is way better than the Universal 360 lagoon show in my opinion.
I asked a team member and they told me that the show should be running in soft-open every night that the park is open until 8:30pm from now to the official open on May 8th (weather permitting). To find out for sure, check for signs around the lagoon that say sneak preview or ask a cast member at the gate.
By Bob Liebe
Yesterday the construction walls in front of Gru's house came down and the only ones that remain are on the left side of the show building on Minion Way. The removal of the walls revealed the entire house and garage. You now can also see part of the outdoor queue area (between the house and the gift shop) which appears to be the last section of the queue that is outside before you enter the show building. There are speakers and LCD TV’s above the line queue. Universal had the audio playing but no video. The audio was setting up the storyline; Gru needs more Minions and he is going to turn us into them… though we don’t know how he does it. The audio also had several multiple choice questions asking what you would do if you were a Minion.
Today as I was walking by the ride building I noticed a side door open. Inside was Universal Creative President, Mark Woodbury. He was accompanied by a few other important looking people. I was about to take a picture, but they closed the doors before I had a chance. From what I could see inside, it looked similar to the concept pictures that were released. Also on a side note, the sign for the ride now lights up at night as well. It appears that Universal is moving quickly to open the ride which makes sense due to the closing of Jaws.
By Robert Niles
Many of we, uh, older Disney fans remember the days before 1982, when you needed individual tickets to get on most of the attractions at Disneyland and Walt Disney World.
I visited Walt Disney World with my Boy Scout troop in October 1981, and marveled at the newfangled "World Passport" that allowed me to visit any ride I wanted, as often as I wanted. No more fumbling with the little paper books of A through E tickets that I'd grown up with in Anaheim. And, better yet, no running out of tickets!
While the World Passport was great, there was another ticket before it that allowed you to ride whatever you wanted in the Magic Kingdom. But I'd forgotten about it until Theme Park Insider reader Susan Jackson emailed me these photos of the "Magic Key" coupon.
Anyone else remember these?
A big thank you to Susan, for sharing these memories.
If you have some fun and interesting items of theme park memorabilia (old maps, tickets, photos, etc.), let me know and we'll feature them on Theme Park Insider's home page.
By Robert Niles
Cedar Point announced this morning that it will demolish the Wildcat roller coaster. The Schwarzkopf steel coaster opened for the 1979 season, and Cedar Point cited "low ridership and increased maintenance costs" as factors in the decision to eliminate the aging coaster, which will make way for an expansion of the park's Celebration Plaza.
There'll be one fewer coaster on the Roller Coast this summer
The removal of the Wildcat takes Cedar Point down to 16 coasters, giving Six Flags Magic Mountain the "most coasters" title to itself. Cedar Point is now tied for second with Canada's Wonderland.
By Robert Niles
Sharp-eyed Disney fans were buzzing this morning when the online version of Walt Disney World's annual passholder newsletter announced plans for a new Pirates of the Caribbean-themed attraction: The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow.
Unlike the original Pirates rides, this would be a walk-through attraction, and it wouldn't be placed in a Magic Kingdom park. Instead, it would be coming to the Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park.
The description of the attraction in the AP newsletter said that this would be an immersive experience, using special effects to allow guests to experience moments from the Pirates of the Caribbean films from the perspective of Capt. Jack Sparrow. (Of course, if the guests were to be Capt. Jack, I wonder how long it would take for some of those guests to complain that they couldn't see Capt. Jack in the show. Sigh.)
No matter, though, because Disney quickly pulled the AP newsletter offline. And no mention of the ride appears in the printed version, either. Neither did Disney mention the new attraction during its big press wine-and-dine junket last week (which we didn't attend).
So we shall await an insider snitching to us (anonymously in the comments, or via email) to get more information. You know what to do. :^)
Update: Disney's confirming it now. And, yes, it is going in the old Prince Caspian space. No official opening date yet.
By Robert Niles
Here's your weekly round-up of the top new conversations on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board:
Domenik Jost was on top of the news about Disney's Tree of Life is losing its branches.
Terry O'Neal asked Is Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom a time drain?
Tony Bartlett was looking for a list of Walk Around Characters in WDW Parks.
And Justin M wanted to make a decision about the Universal Orlando hotels: Loews Royal Pacific vs Portofino vs Hard Rock
kaci henderson asked about Plus size and Forbidden Journey
Valerie Lindquist wanted to know if it was to okay for Sharing a 7 day hopper ticket all on one day. (Short answer: No.)
And Jeff Elliott covers just about every last remaining news item from the world of theme parks last week in From the Trenches of Amusement……April 30, 2012.
Finally, your weekly reminder to enter the 2012 Theme Park Insider Spring Video Contest. I'll be selecting the top five reader videos submitted to the Theme Park Insider discussion board between now and May 24. Then, we'll have a reader vote to determine the winning video, which receives bragging rights, lots of new views, a Theme Park Insider T-shirt, and (new prize!) a signed copy of Stories from a Theme Park Insider, now available in paperback for just $7.99 from Amazon. (Yeah, I worked in yet another plug....)
Keep reading: May 2012 Archive
Stories from a Theme Park Insider
Stories from a Theme Park Insider offers a warm and often-funny look at what it's like to work inside the world's most popular theme park. It's a great read for theme park fans!
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Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom
Other Top International Parks
Readers' Top Themed Rides
Top Roller Coasters
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