By Robert Niles
The past three summers have brought us some blockbuster theme park attractions, packing parks with crowds we haven't seen in years. With four-hour-plus waits for Star Tours: The Adventures Continue at Disneyland last year, up to six-hour waits for Radiator Springs Racers at Disney California Adventure this month, and waits of eight hours and more for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey when it opened in 2010, I've gotta ask:
Just how long are you willing to wait to ride a theme park attraction?
The first fans lined up to ride Radiator Springs Racers on its opening day, June 15, 2012. The wait time would reach six hours later that day.
Let's make that our vote of the week. Now, I'm not talking about your average ride - one that's been around for years. I want to know the absolute maximum you're willing to wait in line. So let's assume that we're talking about a hot new ride, with great word-of-mouth and online reviews - by all accounts a fantastic experience you've not experienced before. How long would you be willing to stand in line for that?
We asked a similar question several years ago, but that was before Harry and the Blockbusters arrived on the scene. Now that you've seen some of these new rides, have they raised your patience level?
Thank you, as always, for reading Theme Park Insider. And mark your calendars for Monday, July 2, when we'll be announcing the winners of the 11th annual Theme Park Insider Awards.
By Robert Niles
What's the best entertainment franchise to bring into a theme park? Let's start by defining what "best" is - and I'm going to go with an entertainment franchise that's already proven itself with the public through movie box-office success, guaranteeing a big launch for a well-executed theme park attraction that recreates the franchise's creative universe.
Star Wars needs to be Disney's next big play in theme parks. Keep reading to see why.
So here's the data on the top US movie franchises, from Box Office Mojo. I'm including franchises that have grossed more than $1 billion, with an average of at least $200 million per film. That eliminates franchises such as James Bond and Star Trek, which have earned huge grosses over their life-spans thanks to having so many titles, but that don't move the needle much with each release.
This list is incomplete in that it doesn't include other entertainment income that supports a franchise, such as toys and books. Toy revenue is what helped drive Disney to develop Cars Land, which did well at the box office, but absolutely killed in the toy store. But the list gives us a good place to start a discussion.
The list shows why the Marvel deal is such a BFD for Universal Orlando. It effectively keeps two of the country's top 10 entertainment franchises out of the hands of its archrival, the Walt Disney Company - which owns Marvel, the creator of Avengers and Spider-Man. Given that Avengers and Spider-Man are both active franchises, with new films in development, these figures convince me that Disney's going to have to make a billion-dollar offer to Universal to have any hope of getting those Orlando-area theme park rights.
The franchise data also explain many recent moves in the theme park industry. We all know at this point what a game-changer Harry Potter has been, and can see why Universal's is hot to bring Potter to its Universal Studios parks in Japan, Florida and Hollywood, too. But Universal also made a great call in bringing Transformers into its Singapore and Hollywood parks. (The data explain why some of us believe that Transformers will be coming to Orlando soon, too.) The list also explains why Universal just dropped that money to upgrade The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man at Universal Orlando, and why Shrek isn't going anywhere in its parks anytime soon (and why Universal gave Shrek an entire land in its newest park, in Singapore).
So should Disney and Universal make a play for Twilight or Lord of the Rings? Perhaps, but I see a couple bigger targets higher up on the list. First, Six Flags has in no way maximized the theme park income potential of the Batman franchise. It simply lacks the capital to build the immersive Gotham environment, with high-tech attractions, that could rival Harry Potter and Cars Land in popularity. I can't believe that Six Flags' rights deal for the DC Comics franchises, including Batman - a remnant of the days when Six Flags was also owned by DC's parent, Warner Bros. - is so costly and iron-clad that neither Disney or Universal could make a play to wrest it away. (Heck, if I ran Disney, I would buy the DC rights out from under Six Flags and give them away to Universal as part of a deal to get the Florida theme park rights to Marvel. But if I ran Universal, I'd still demand a billion-dollar check in addition to the DC rights. This is why I can't negotiate with myself.)
The big target here is the franchise sitting at number two - Star Wars. One ride and a few fan-fest weekends don't come close to realizing the theme park potential of this franchise. Yesterday, we wrote about Disneyland's two options for expansion. One of them was in Tomorrowland. Given the commercial potential of the Star Wars franchise, I'm going to make a seemingly radical proposal - that Disneyland rebuild all of Tomorrowland as Star Wars Land.
Star Tours remains. Space Mountain gets a Star Wars overlay. But everything else goes - even Buzz Lightyear (there's a Toy Story-themed shooter over at California Adventure now. That'll do.) Make Tomorrowland an immersive physical visit to the Star Wars universe, using all the space from the Hub back to It's a Small World. Then use that as a template to remake the southern end of Disney's Hollywood Studios in Orlando.
Who here would pay up to visit that? I know I would.
At this point, from all I've heard in the industry, Disney's not yet decided for certain what it will do next in Disneyland. But I'm a big fan of the late Buzz Price, the consultant for Disney who helped select the locations for Disneyland and Walt Disney World. He devoted his life to the study of data and wrote, "Guessing is dysfunctional. Ignoring prior experience is denial. Using valid numbers to project performance is rational."
The box office data provide clear, rational data to guide the theme park industry. They've worked for Universal, and they can work for Disney, too. Whatever else Disney might consider for its theme park properties, it'd be most rational for Disney to do something new - and big - with Star Wars.
By Robert Niles
Several weeks ago, Disney CEO Bob Iger made his annual declaration to investors that the company would begin to scale back its capital spending on theme parks. I called BS on that at the time, and today Al Lutz provided more detail on the next wave of big new projects under consideration for the Disneyland Resort.
With Cars Land's success, a big new project at Disneyland is in the bag. The only questions now are what, and where? The two potential answers for the "where" question are in Frontierland - in the space behind Thunder Mountain where the barbecue and festival arena stand - and in Tomorrowland - which would displace Innovations, part or all of Autopia, and possibly the Finding Nemo submarine ride.
Here's the aerial view of Disneyland. You find the space for a major new theme park attraction. (Click for the Google Maps page.)
The problem with the Tomorrowland site is the monorail track, which would prevent whatever project goes in there from having clean vertical space unless the monorail were rerouted - which Disneyland didn't do for California Adventure, Buena Vista Street, or Downtown Disney, so don't bet on that happening anytime soon.
But Disney's learned the Big Lesson of Cars Land and Harry Potter, which is that if you spend big bucks on creating a well-detailed and immersive, themed environment, people pay you way more in return to visit it. Disney's not going to leave theme park fans' money on the table. It will identify a franchise to develop and, based on which of those two sites provides a better thematic fit, will proceed with building it, starting within the next couple of years.
Beyond that, many people in Disney are convinced that Disneyland can support a third theme park. But don't expect construction on that to start anytime soon.
Nothing's going to happen beyond the new land or mini-land at Disneyland until the resort addresses its major transportation issue. Disney faces a huge barrier to additional expansion at the resort - the lack of space to park additional vehicles and the road access to get those cars into and out of resort property. Disney's big problem is that too many of its visitors are driving to the parks alone. They're annual passholders dropping in for the day, perhaps meeting other APers at the park. This isn't Orlando's crowd, where entire families fill the majority of cars through the tollbooths.
It's too bad for Disney that Orange County's decided to spend its transportation dollars on expanding freeways instead of building a rail system, as neighboring Los Angeles County is doing. Disney's two other two-park resorts - Disneyland Paris and Tokyo Disneyland - have local transit train stations on property, connecting those resorts to the regions' mass-transit systems. Imagine if those old LA-area Red Cars weren't just an attraction on Buena Vista Street, but if their successors were around today to bring individuals from around Southern California to the Disneyland Resort.
There is a Metrolink line that runs near the Disneyland Resort, but its nearest stop is the Anaheim Stadium parking lot. And those Metrolink trains are scheduled to serve 9-5/Monday-Friday commuters, not tourists. Even if you could get a bus to take you from Disneyland to the station, there'd be no train coming until the next morning if you tried to use it to get home at the end of your Disneyland day.
That leaves Disneyland dependent upon cars and buses to bring people to the resort. But even if Disney spent the money to build additional parking garages to accommodate more cars, it would still face the challenge of getting those cars into and out of the resort via Interstate 5 and Anaheim's surface streets, which are often gridlocked when the parks reach their current capacity. Just imagine how bad they'd be with a third theme park.
If Disney's going to add a third theme park in Anaheim (or a fourth hotel, or an expanded Downtown Disney) it's simply got to find a way to increase the number of guests for every car that parks at the resort. Here are two options:
Option 1: Bring Disney's Magical Express to Anaheim
I have no idea how many people typically fly into the Los Angeles or Orange County airports each week on a Disneyland vacation package. But it's conceivable that some of those guests would opt not to rent a car - and take space in a Disneyland Resort parking lot - if Disney provided a free coach to take them to their hotel instead. Just like they can choose in Orlando.
As Disney mulls additional hotels and attractions in Anaheim, the lure of saving several hundred parking spaces daily might be enough to convince the company to start Magical Express on the west coast, especially if it helps sell additional vacation packages to would-be visitors apprehensive about driving in Southern California traffic. Again, it all comes down to the numbers. If Magical Express only keeps a few dozen rental cars out of the Disneyland hotel and theme park lots, it wouldn't be worth the expense. But several hundred? (I assume that if out-of-market Disneyland guests were taking up more than a thousand spaces in resort lots on a daily basis, Disney would be doing this already.)
Option 2: Restrict the parking benefit on Annual Passports to cars carrying two or more guests
If Disney really wants to get serious about increasing the ratio of guests to cars on property, this is the step to take, despite the wailing it'd provoke on Disney fan sites.
Got someone with you in the car? Fine, you get your free parking. Driving in by yourself? That'll be $15, please, no matter if you have a Premium AP or a parking add-on on another pass. If Disney wants to add a spoonful of sugar to help that medicine go down, it could offer free parking to any annual passholder with four or more people in a vehicle, even if they haven't bought the parking pass.
This move would encourage some Disneyland fans to carpool to the park, and might encourage some others to visit less often or to drop their annual pass. Either way, the visitor-to-car ratio would go up, as Disneyland needs.
Got any other ideas? I'm sure that some frustrated Disney executives in Anaheim and Burbank would love to hear 'em.
By Robert Niles
Disney's announced a partial menu for the Be Our Guest Restaurant that will open later this year in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. Which raises the question: Just how closely will Disney's chefs recreate the culinary experience of the original song?
Concept art courtesy Disney
"Be Our Guest" was the show-stopper in Disney's 1991 classic, "Beauty and the Beast," which inspired the new restaurant (even though it lost the Academy Award for Best Original Song to the title track, "Beauty and the Beast.") While no one reasonably expected singing and dancing animated tableware (though some animatronics in the room would be nice - Disney's suggested we'll get a push-around Lumiere character, much like Remy at Les Chefs de France), Howard Ashman's lyrics do reference several specific dishes:
We'll leave it to diners to decide what, if anything on the menu, the "grey stuff" might turn out to be. But otherwise, it appears that Disney's Chef Michael Deardorff pretty much steered clear of letting the late Mr. Ashman set his menu.
Sure, we'll get soups - a potato/leek and a French onion - and steamed mussels as an appetizer might count as a "hot hors d'oeuvre." There will be a braised pork dish available at lunch, when the restaurant operates as a counter service eatery, but that's the closest thing to a beef ragout (stew) on the announced menu. No sign of any souffles, or of desserts "en flambe." Just cupcakes and cream puffs, served with no flames in sight.
Expect French bistro fare. At lunch, diners may select from a Salad Nicoise, Croque Monsieur, or carved turkey or steak sandwich served with fries. A vegetable quiche and a quinoa salad also will be available, in addition to the aforementioned braised pork.
At dinner, when the restaurant converts to table service, Disney's announced "thyme-scented pork rack chop with au gratin pasta, rotisserie rock hen with roasted fingerling potatoes, pan-seared salmon in leek fondue, grilled strip steak with pommes frites, sautéed shrimp and scallops with veggies in puff pastry with creamy lobster sauce, and an oven-baked ratatouille." Appetizers include a charcuterie plate, the mussels, soups and a green salad with Champagne vinaigrette dressing. Kids get a choice of steak, fish, grilled chicken, or macaroni.
No prices yet. Nor is there a definite opening date, or specific day when Disney will begin accepting reservations. ("August" for accepting reservations is all Disney will say about that at this point.)
By Robert Niles
Here are this week's top new conversations on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board:
Don Neal starts us off with his Universal Orlando Trip Report - June 2012, documenting his recent three days at the Universal parks with the family.
Alvaro Reyes asks, Just half-day for Sea World - worth it?
Sue Harve is also thinking ahead about an Orlando trip and wants to hear your thoughts about Thomas Donovan starts a conversation about storytelling technology in theme parks - Projections in Attractions: Disney vs Universal. What do you think? James Rao posts a bunch of construction photos in his update: New Coaster At Silver Dollar City Is Growing Fast. Want to talk about movies for a bit? Brian Emery started a thread on Disney's Brave. Wrapping up, Jeff Elliott's back with a dose of snark and theme park news in From the Trenches of Amusement……June 25, 2012. And we've opened up Theme Park Apprentice 4: Challenge 4, which is to design a Halloween Haunt attraction based on natural disasters.
Thomas Donovan starts a conversation about storytelling technology in theme parks - Projections in Attractions: Disney vs Universal. What do you think?
James Rao posts a bunch of construction photos in his update: New Coaster At Silver Dollar City Is Growing Fast.
Want to talk about movies for a bit? Brian Emery started a thread on Disney's Brave.
Wrapping up, Jeff Elliott's back with a dose of snark and theme park news in From the Trenches of Amusement……June 25, 2012.
And we've opened up Theme Park Apprentice 4: Challenge 4, which is to design a Halloween Haunt attraction based on natural disasters.
By Tim W
Hello Theme Park Insider readers. We are now into the third week of the new Theme Park Apprentice season.
To recap, you will be voting on your favorite of the bottom three contestants. Two contestants will be saved, and one contestant will be eliminated. It is up to you, so use your vote wisely.
For this week, our contestants designed nighttime attractions for SeaWorld Orlando. The attractions ranged from parades to laser show and everything in between. Please be sure to vote for the contestant you would like to see saved.
By Robert Niles
We're coming up on June 25, meaning that we're halfway to Christmas!
Not the first thing on your mind? (I suspect that the first thing on the minds of many of our Florida readers today is... rain.) Let's celebrate anyway with one of theme park fans' favorite Christmas shows - the Country Bear Christmas Special, which I recorded last December.
Oh, did I forget to mention that the show only plays now at Tokyo Disneyland? No matter, I think you can get the gist of the show even in Japanese. :^) Happy Halfway Holidays, everyone!
By James Koehl
"Amazing!" That was the first thing my 13 year old son said when I asked him what he thought of "Luminosity", the new end-of-day show at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. I agreed, and so did several thousand guests who filled the new Celebration Plaza and shared in the driving music, energetic dancing and dazzling lighting effects of this new multimillion-dollar show that takes place nightly through August 19th.
"Luminosity, Powered by Pepsi", which is its full title, is also sometimes called "Luminosity: Ignite the Night." It should not be compared to any of the growing number of night time shows so popular at the Disney and Universal parks - Cedar Point does not have the deep vault of music and movie memories to draw from that those parks do, and it does not even mention the family-oriented Peanuts characters found throughout several areas of the park. "Luminosity" does not try to give its audience a warm, fuzzy, nostalgic feeling, but instead surrounds it with a high-octane production loaded with excitement that leaves its thousands of viewers energized and literally dancing into the night. "Luminosity" does not try to tell a story, but carries its viewers through the general themes of land, air and water with the use of a driving score with songs from Jennifer Lopez, LMFAO, Pitbull and many other musical artists. A three-storied set with LED screens, musicians throughout the steel structure, satellite stages throughout the Plaza and hundreds of lighting instruments surrounding it help make this a spectacle that stimulates the senses and energizes the crowd.
A cast of 30 talented and very energetic singer-dancers performed non-stop for over 40 minutes, with numerous costume changes and a multitude of props to carry the audience through a production themed on movement over land and sea and through the sky. Aerial dancers performed on rings over two of the satellite stages in the middle of the audience, water drummers splashed to the beat, and live video feeds broadcast close-ups of the many solo singers onto large screens throughout the plaza. The finale of the show was a visual treat - lasers, fireworks, floodlights playing all over the entire park, including Power Tower (which stands directly behind the stage and was wisely kept operating during the show, adding that much more movement to the production), and jets of fire blasting from the top of the multiple lighting towers that surrounded the plaza.
"Luminosity" has a big challenge to meet - exciting a crowd that is tired from a long day of walking and riding in the heat and sun. This is not an easy task, and I think that for the most part it succeeded. It is not a viewers-only show like "Illuminations" or "Wishes", where the crowd can sit (or stand), relax and be entertained without having to do anything else. "Luminosity" involves the crowd with the dancing and high-energy of the show, starting with the pre-show where volunteers from the audience are invited to join cast members in a dance-off competition. Six teams, named after some of the major coasters at Cedar Point, work for a few minutes with cast members who teach them a basic but fun dance routine, then perform with them on the stage. The audience votes for the best team, and the winner gets to watch the rest of the show from the VIP viewing area. Cheesy? Yes, but great fun and the audience really seemed to get into it. I heard lots of people debating which team was best - Team Millennium won the night I was there, even though I think Team Raptor was better.
I was concerned that a 40-minute long show would be too long, but I was amazing how fast the time went by. It never stopped long enough for the audience to get bored or distracted. If anything, the size of the crowd grew from people who were passing through the plaza on their way to the front gate and decided to stop and join the party, and that is exactly what it became - a big dance party with a DJ who rose up from the stage on a giant scissor-lift and began to take requests for dance music, and the crowd filling Celebration Plaza did just that - danced, sang-along, sent txt-messages that were displayed on the screens surrounding the Plaza, and had a great time. We decided to leave before the party really got going - I think my kids were worried that I might embarrass them by joining in the dancing - and we headed towards the front gate.
The actual show is just part of the major improvements that Cedar Point has instituted this year to "Ignite the Night." For those of you not familiar with Cedar Point and its layout (and if you're not, why haven't you gotten there yet?), Celebration Plaza is the former Iron Dragon Midway. To reach the front gate, guests must walk or take the Skyride the full length of the Main Midway, a considerable walk. Cedar Point has lined all the buildings and rides with millions of colorful and constantly-changing LED lights. Moving gobo lights project swirling patterns on the walkways and surrounding buildings, and the new brilliant LED light shows on Windseeker and the Giant Wheel are worth stopping for and watching. Another DJ is found on the balcony of the Coliseum over looking the Midway, and he was working the crowd below him with great music and great one-liners, keeping the dance party feeling all the way to the front gate.
This is not the first night-time show that Cedar Point has had. For years it has had rather low-budgeted "Hot Summer Nights," and last year it showed the patriotic but not-well-received "American Portrait." These films were shown on a large and obtrusive movie screen that blocked one end of the Iron Dragon midway. The screen is gone, Millennium Force can now be seen in all its repainted and relit glory, and Celebration Plaza is a major improvement to the look and feel of Cedar Point.
Is "Luminosity: Ignite the Night" a fun show to experience? Absolutely! It is the kind of show that you can watch over and over from different vantage points and see a different show every time. We watched it from the bleachers set up on the former site of Wildcat to get the full view of the Plaza. The next time I go I want to watch it from the center of Celebration Plaza, standing right next to the stage, with the production surrounding me. Is it worth staying later at the park to see it? Once again, absolutely! While I doubt that this show, regardless of how terrific it is, will attract thousands of new visitors to Cedar Point just to see it (except for season passholders, who, like us, made a special trip that night to see it), I am sure that it will entice many people to stay in the park longer to enjoy the coolness of the evening on Lake Erie and the beauty of what has been called "The Amazement Park." It is a terrific addition to Cedar Point's entertainment options and one that no guest should miss.
This old park is starting to look and feel brand new, and the promise of what is potentially to come in the future is almost as exciting as "Luminosity" itself. If you haven't been to Cedar Point before, or if it has been a long time, what are you waiting for? Get to The Point! And stay for "Luminosity: Ignite the Night"!
By Robert Niles
A recent comment from a Theme Park Insider reader got me thinking about the optimum size for a theme park resort. This reader was responding to a discussion about new attractions at the Universal Orlando Resort by saying that Universal will always lack one of Walt Disney World's assets - abundant land for expansion.
I started to nod my head in agreement, then caught myself. Why? I don't think that Disney World's 30,000+ acres are an asset. The wide open spaces outside Lake Buena Vista have allowed Disney to create a sprawling, late 20th-Century exurban development, where guests waste hours and hours during the visit traveling between theme parks, hotels and other attractions on property. Who wants to commute on vacation?
Certainly, Disney would love to have another hundred acres or so at the Disneyland Resort, positioned in just the proper location to make a third park easier to develop at the resort. But not having tens of thousands of acres to work with in Anaheim eventually forced Disney to create a theme park resort on a much more human scale.
Forget the new land in California Adventure. Walt Disney World is the real "cars land," because you can't get around the resort without one. Okay, maybe you'll take a bus - and wait for it - but you've no hope of getting anywhere at the Walt Disney World Resort without motorized road transport.
That's not the case at every other multi-park theme park resort in the world. Once you arrive on property at the 510-acre Disneyland Resort or the 840-acre Universal Orlando Resort, everything's accessible in walking distance. At Universal Orlando, if you don't care to walk to the nearby on-property resorts, you can choose to take a short boat ride over to them, instead.
At Tokyo Disneyland, the two theme parks stand within walking distance of one another, separated by a long shopping area. If you're staying at one of the non-Disney hotels on site, a monorail awaits to whisk you to those hotels, if you're not up for a longish walk. I've not yet been to Disneyland Paris, but it also clusters its two theme parks, shopping district and many hotels around a walkable hub. And at both Tokyo Disney and Disneyland Paris, commuter rail stations connect the resorts to the regional mass-transit system, meaning that you don't even need a car to get to the resort!
So the question is - at what point does additional acreage become a liability, instead of an asset, for a theme park resort? I understand that many theme park fans in the United States have become acclimated to exurbia. They've gotten use to seeing acres of empty space around every grocery store, school, restaurant, and shopping mall in their communities and expect to have to drive to every destination outside their home. So, for them, there's no problem with the long distances between hotels and theme parks at the Walt Disney World Resort. That extra space simply provides Disney with nearly limitless options for future expansion, and less need to consider siting issues than would exist in a more densely developed resort.
But I don't live in a far-flung suburb, nor do millions of other Americans. I live in a city, where I can walk a block to a pharmacy, three blocks to a full-service grocery store, and least a dozen restaurants stand within four blocks of my home. While I love taking long roadtrips with my family, once we get someplace, we like to get out of the car and enjoy being there. That's why we're such big fans of Disneyland and Universal Orlando, and our favorite spot at Walt Disney World is perhaps the most walkable section of the resort - the "Boardwalk" area between the Swan and Dolphin and Epcot's World Showcase.
So, for me, acreage becomes a liability when it tempts planners to start designing for cars, instead of for people. Once you've placed your theme parks and hotels miles away from one another, there's no going back. Even creating a workable mass-transit system to connect them becomes nearly impossible. (Witness Disney's inability to develop any other transit solution at WDW save for buses, and a few boats.)
Of course, having extra space for expansion's a huge asset for a theme park. But I think that experience with Walt Disney World, Disneyland and other multi-park resorts should suggest that the appropriate size for a theme park resort is measured in hundreds of acres - not tens of thousands. While I hope that Disneyland finds a way to expand its attractions, perhaps even adding a third park to the resort, I also hope that no developer ever makes the mistake of creating another spread-out, far-flung, car-dependent, unwalkable tourist destination like Disney World turned out to be. There's a better way to pack a ton of entertainment into a livable, well-themed and visually isolated space. Lots of extra acres aren't always an asset to a vacation destination.
Of course, you might think I'm full of it. :^) So let's put this up for a vote:
Thank you for reading Theme Park Insider, and a special thanks to everyone who helps spread the word about the site via Facebook, Twitter, blog links and just telling your friends. Thanks, again.
By Robert Niles
It's long overdue, and I can't put it off any longer. It's time to do a server upgrade on Theme Park Insider, so I'll be busy with that over the next few hours. While we're upgrading, I'll be turning off the features on the site that allow you to add new content - input forms for comments, ratings, discussions, etc. All the blog posts and attraction listings should remain up, so you can keep reading like a lurker.
Once everything's moved over, I'll bring the website input forms back up. Wish us luck! (Not that you'll be able to do that in the comments, of course....)
By Russell Meyer
For years, Hersheypark, has been building a world-class and diverse collection of roller coasters. From the historic Comet and its double-down-and-back to Fahrenheit and its beyond-vertical first drop, Hersheypark has just about every kind of roller coaster an aficionado could ever want. However, the park’s compact design and limited open space has always resulted in coaster designs that were solid, but rarely best of their kind. In fact, aside from Lightning Racer, Hersheypark has rarely had one of their roller coasters appear on most polls and best coaster lists. Great Bear is a fine B&M inverted coaster, but pales in comparison to nearby Dorney Park’s Talon, and doesn’t come close to world-class custom layout inverts like Montu, Alpengeist, Raptor, and Afterburn. Storm Runner is a great launching coaster, and incredibly reliable, but can’t hold a candle to the likes of stratacoasters Top Thrill Dragster and Kingda Ka. Fahrenheit is pretty unique with its vertical chain lift, 97-degree drop, and compact, intense layout, but is generally superseded by Maverick. In general, Hersheypark doesn’t have any bad coasters, but none of them have been home runs that are constantly debated as the best in any ranking system.
However, Hersheypark has finally hit their first bulls-eye with Skyrush. The park’s tallest and fastest coaster is not only their best creation, but could quite possibly be one of the best steel roller coasters on the planet right now. As with their other coasters, Hersheypark is not breaking any height or speed records with Skyrush’s 200-foot lift hill and 75 MPH top speed. It’s also not a highly themed attraction like other nearby new coasters like Apocalypse at Six Flags America or Verbolten at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. What Skyrush lacks in theming and extreme height and speed, it makes up in pure adrenaline. It’s also not the most elegant looking roller coasters with grouped I-beams used to form not only the primary supports of the lift hill, but also the track superstructure beneath the rails of the lift hill. That lift hill may not win a beauty contest, but it packs a wallop that doesn’t relent until the train hits a set of magnetic brakes before making a final controlled turn into the station.
Skyrush is an extreme force machine. The trains employ a 4-across staggered layout similar to Intimidator at Carowinds and Diamondback at Kings Island, but these Intamin trains place the outer seats off the edge of the track like a B&M floorless coaster with nothing below your feet. They also feature some pretty unusual restraints that result in my only negative critique of the ride. The bars work very similar to standard Intamin over-the-shoulder restraints, but only have a lapbar. It seems like a pretty good idea until the bar is subjected to the forces of the ride and gradually pushes further and further down onto riders’ legs at the bottom of each and every hill until the train makes its way back to the station with riders’ legs sore and stapled between the bar and the seat. This is definitely one of those coasters that riders might want to consider what they have in their pockets before boarding.
Aside from the discomfort from the extreme g’s stapling the restraints into your legs and the industrial-looking lift hill, Skyrush is just about perfect in every other way. The layout zooms by at light speed as riders are subjected to intense forces. The highlight is probably the overbanked turn about halfway through the course that is about as close as you can get to an inversion without actually going upside down. The transition between elements is so quick and effortless that riders don’t even have a chance to catch their breath or brace themselves for what’s to come. It’s like riding a bucking bronco as the train is dragged along the 3,600-foot long course. It might not be for coaster novices, but for aficionados and extreme thrill seekers, Skyrush is Nirvana. This is the coaster Intamin was attempting to create when they built Intimidator 305 at Kings Dominion; but instead of sweeping turns and prolonged exposures to intense g’s, so much so that the track had to be modified to reduce the possibility of riders blacking out, Skyrush feeds riders quick doses of alternating positive, negative, and lateral g’s that keeps you guessing and craving more.
After years of building coasters that have been simply okay, pedestrian, and moderately cool, Hersheypark has finally built a coaster that every single roller coaster fan in the country must experience. The park that has been known as a place to experience a “world-class collection” of coasters now has one that will truly knock your socks off, giving fans a singular reason to make a trip to the park. Skyrush is almost assured to be near the top of every single steel roller coaster list this year, and will likely continue to appear near the top for many years to come. This is the roller coaster every fan has been waiting for. It’s by no means a record breaker, but from top to bottom it is one of the best steel creations on the planet. I can’t help but heap so much praise on this ride, and my only regret is that I don’t have a season pass to Hersheypark so I can ride this amazing creation as many times as I want this year.
By Robert Niles
"Disney has only one ride," a colleague said to my mother the other day.
"It's Mr. Toad's Wild Ride," that person said. "All the rest are attractions."
I've heard this joke before, but it got me thinking this time. Sure, Toad's called a ride, but what about all those "journey"s and "adventure"s in the names of Disney attractions? Shouldn't they count for something, too? And by the way, I'm not so certain that other Disney attractions don't use the word "ride," either. If only I had access to a database that listed the names of all active, open Walt Disney attractions around the world....
Hey, wait a minute! ;^)
So I whipped up a little SQL query and here are the results.
[Notes: I thought it a bit cheap to count one name several times because it appeared on the same attraction at multiple parks, so I didn't do that. That decision got tricky with the five Fantasyland carousels, each of which has a different name - even with different spellings of "carousel". But they're all identical go-around-in-a-circle with white horses under a festival tent behind the castle - so I counted them as the same "carousel." That said, "carousel" still tied for third place. An attraction could have two "names," as well, such as Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, which counted as both a "tour" and an "adventure." Finally, I stopped the list at three instances of the same name, to keep the post length reasonable.]
For what it's worth, Disney has four rides, not just one. And a whole slew of adventures, races, spins, and tours, as well. Here's the breakdown:
Adventures (10, including an entire park)
So what's your favorite type of Disney, uh, experience?
By Robert Niles
First up, my apologies for neglecting to link in last week's Discussion Board update to the latest From the Trenches of Amusement from Jeff Elliott. So here ya go, a bit late. (It's still fun. Go read it.)
Karly Tenney keeps the conversation flowing about Transformers at USF, and readers supply some relevant information in the comments that confidentiality promises have prevented me from reporting.
But let's not forget that if you're willing and able to get to Los Angeles (or Singapore!), you can ride Transformers right now. Manny Barron has, and he offers his thoughts, along with those about SeaWorld San Diego's new terrain coaster, in Transformers and Manta.
M. Ryan Traylor's also visited two new theme park attractions, except he made a cross-country trip to do it. Hear about his trips to Verbolten and Cars Land in Two New Attractions - One Epic Weekend.
Too much optimism for you, you dark, cynical Theme Park Insider reader? Andrew Dougherty's got you covered with a lively discussion about your Least favorite attractions.
Finally, Theme Park Apprentice 4: Challenge 3 is up and our contestants are working on their plans for nighttime experience at any of the SeaWorld theme parks. Check them out - you'll get to vote on the plans next Monday.
By Robert Niles
Of all the new attractions in Disney California Adventure, Luigi's Flying Tires holds the most re-ride appeal for me. Why? Not only is every ride different on Luigi's, it's one of those rare and welcomed attractions where your input makes the difference in your enjoyment of the ride.
Luigi's Flying Tires rewards you for paying attention back in your math and physics classes. The tires themselves float on a cushion of air, like a puck on an air hockey table. But it's up to you to make the tires move around the platform. Take a look at this video:
For the TL;DW (too long; didn't watch) crowd: As you lean to one side, you're tilting the tire, changing the angle of the underside of the tire relative to the platform. That changes the angle at which the air coming up from the platform is hitting the underside of the tire, pushing the tire to one side. That is what moves your tire around the platform.
The trouble is, if you lean too far to the side, the edge of your tire will hit the platform and the friction between the tire edge and the platform will bring you to a stop. So you've got to find a balance that gives you a push without scraping an edge and slowing to a halt.
It's easier for beginners to get the feel for the ride if you go alone. But if you're in a group, breaking up is going to reduce the ride's hourly capacity and blow up the line - so at least try to get everyone in your group to work together when you ride. Select a leader who'll make the decisions when to shift direction, and try to steer your tire in a circle for a moment so everyone can get a feel for the ride when you start.
That's Tire Flying 101. Now let's move on to more advanced flying technique!
Remember momentum. If you keep leaning in one direction, your momentum will build, moving you faster across the platform. If you need to change direction, try to do so gradually, so you don't scrub off your speed with a sudden change in direction.
Watch for traffic. The last thing you want to happen is to get boxed in by a bunch of other tires. Look for open spaces on the platform and aim for them.
Use traffic to your advantage. This is the really cool part of the ride. If you remember force vectors, here's your chance to test that in a theme park. Look for tires going in your general direction, and try to glance off them to get a get a momentum boost. If you're really good, you might even be able to get your tire to start spinning when you do. Be careful, though. If you hit the angle wrong, you'll lose your speed.
As crowds settle down in Cars Land this summer, I recommend going to get a Radiator Springs Racers Fastpass first thing when you arrive in the park at opening. Then go make Luigi's your first ride in the morning, as it doesn't have Fastpass and a low hourly capacity will result in some pretty long waits later in the day. Keep riding Luigi's until the line backs up over 15 minutes or so, then move on to Racers, or wherever else you'd like to do in the park. But take a moment to think about the physics before giving Luigi's a try. If you know what you're doing, Luigi's Flying Tires can be one of the more unique and delightful ride experiences you've ever had in a theme park.
By Robert Niles
Facebook's recently made some changes that mean you're probably seeing a lot fewer posts from the pages you've chosen to follow.
We're seeing the flip side of those changes here on Theme Park Insider. Before the changes, whenever we posted an item to Facebook, about 40 percent of our followers would see it, according to the data Facebook gives back to us. That's because Facebook has an algorithm that decides which of all the posts from your friends and pages you follow to show you at any given point in time, leaving the rest out of your News Feed. But recently, Facebook added a feature where page publishers could pay to have a post shown to all 100 percent of the page's followers, overriding Facebook's selection algorithm.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the percentage of followers Facebook shows our posts to plunged at the same time - to an average of about 20 percent. In the weeks since Facebook introduced the "Promote" button to page publishers, our display rate had dropped further - now averaging a little over 10 percent.
That means that just one out of every 10 Theme Park Insider followers on Facebook is seeing the updates, photos, and links that we post. (As you might have guessed, we haven't chose to pay to promote any posts yet.)
But there is a way around Facebook's algorithm - one that allows you to see all the posts from any page or friend you really want to follow. TPI reader Lisa Jacobs points out that you can create a list including those people and pages, and Facebook will show you all their posts on that list page.
It's easy to do, too. Just find look in the left column on Facebook for the label "Friends." Click the little "More" link below it, and Facebook will bring you to a page that looks like this in the middle:
This page lists all the lists that Facebook's created automatically for you, based on where you live, where you've worked, or where you went to school. But you can create your own list, too, by clicking the "+ Create List" button at the upper right. Just do that, name the list "Theme Parks," or "Disney," or "Awesome Stuff," or whatever you'd like. Then type "Theme Park Insider" in the search box that comes up to the right on the new list page. When our flume-riding Kokopelli logo comes up, click it - and we're added to your list! (You might need to follow us on Facebook first, if you're not already.)
Then go ahead and search for and add any other theme park or travel-related pages or friends you'd like to include on the list. Whenever you want to see our posts - as well as the complete list of other posts from other people or pages on the same list - just click your list's name in the left column of Facebook.
That's just one trick you can use to take greater control over what you see on Facebook. If you feel like you're missing posts from close friends in your News Feed, and seeing too many posts from people you who aren't that close to you, Facebook's given you another tool to help control your News Feed.
Just hold your mouse over the upper left corner of any post from a person (not from a page) on your News Feed. Then you'll see a little menu, like the one above, pop up. You can use it to tell Facebook whether you want to see "All Updates," "Most Updates," or "Only Important Updates" from that person. You also can use the menu to "unsubscribe" from all posts from that person (meaning you're still "friends" but that none of their posts appear in your feed). If you're not ready to take that step, you can unsubscribe from all of a certain type of posts from that person - such as status updates, photos, comments and likes, or - this is the really big one - game updates.)
Do that for all the people in your feed, and you'll soon find your feed showing you a much more interesting mix of posts from people you actually care about. Remember though that this specific tip only applies to people you follow. For pages (such as Theme Park Insider), you'll need to use the list option. Using lists also allows you to categorize the people and pages you follow, which can be very helpful if you follow a lot of people and pages on Facebook.
I hope these tips help you get more from Facebook, and to keep in closer touch with us on Theme Park Insider, too. (And if you're growing too frustrated with Facebook anyway, please follow us over on Twitter - which shows you all the posts from everyone you follow over there.)
By Robert Niles
A big deal is brewing in Orlando. Here's what we know:
- Universal appears to be demolishing Soundstage 44 at Universal Studios Florida, the former home of the Xena and Murder, She Wrote attractions. Sources on the ground in Orlando report having seen height-test balloons on that site last week, rising to or above the height of the tallest New York area facades.
- Universal has filed multiple building permits for a new attraction facility in the Universal Studios Florida theme park, apparently on the Soundstage 44 site.
- Whatever this project is, it has happened *fast*, with a swift selection of contractor and a fast-track mandate from Universal.
- Halloween Horror Nights had planned to use Soundstage 44, and would have to change its designs at this late date if Soundstage 44 were unavailable, as it looks to be.
- The size of the Soundstage 44 lot in Universal Studios Florida, at the heights flown by the test balloons, appears to roughly match the dimensions of the Transformers building at Universal Studios in Hollywood and Singapore.
- Universal Creative's Thierry Coup last December in Singapore denied plans to bring Transformers to Orlando, saying that Orlando already had a motion-base ride in Spider-Man, and that Universal wanted to build different types of experiences with new rides at each resort, not duplicative ones.
- Universal just launched an high-def upgrade to the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man attraction, using the same project system as on Transformers.
I offer the next two facts as potentially relevant context:
- Disney had a huge, huge hit with Avengers, and is accelerating plans to get attractions based on Marvel characters in its theme parks.
- Disney can't use Marvel characters inside the Walt Disney World theme parks - its most popular, flagship resort - due to Universal owning the exclusive theme park rights to the Marvel characters within several hundred miles of Central Florida.
And now, please keep your hands and arms inside the blog post at all times, and buckle your seat belts, because we're going for a ride through the Wonderful World of Speculation.
The situation with Halloween Horror Nights convinces me that something big happened here very suddenly. If Universal had had plans to tear down Soundstage 44 this summer, it never would have green-lit a HHN facility in that space. That suggests that the decision to do something else with 44 came after HHN had been given the go-ahead to use it.
I'm fully aware that theme park designers and spokespersons can be, shall we say, less than forthcoming about their theme parks' future plans. But Coup's didn't simply dodge the question about Transformers in Orlando. He offered a well-reasoned explanation why they wouldn't do that.
So I'm going to assume that, as of last December, Universal really didn't have any plans to bring Transformers to Orlando. And that it was planning to have Spider-Man be its motion-base ride in Orlando for years to come, investing in a big upgrade. And that, as of last fall, Universal didn't have any plans to tear down Soundstage 44, either.
Setting aside Transformers for a moment, I don't think it's too much of a stretch to assume that whatever Universal's planning for the 44 space, it's facing a hard deadline to get it built, one that pre-empts the need to use the space for HHN. And that that hard deadline was set recently, perhaps within the last few weeks and certainly within the last few months.
What could have happened to create this hard deadline so suddenly? That's the interesting question I want to explore.
Rereading what Coup told me from another perspective, I see a heartfelt argument for including a motion-base 3D ride at each of Universal's theme park resorts. Orlando and Japan had Spier-Man. So Singapore and Hollywood needed one, too, and got Transformers. But what if something were to happen that would force Universal to remove one of those rides? Coup just spoke of how important they were. Wouldn't Universal want to replace it?
Fans long have speculated that if Universal were to sell the Marvel theme park rights to Disney, it would simply convert Spider-Man to Transformers. But Transformers plays in a much different show building than Spider-Man. And a replacement would require an extended downtime, especially considering the need to reconstruct the show building to fit Transformers' vertical orientation. Universal wouldn't want to be without its signature ride system at its flagship resort for more than a year, possibly two, while that changeover took place.
So if Universal ever were to bring Transformers to Orlando, it wouldn't go in Spider-Man's place. It would go in someplace else at the resort. And if Transformers were to replace Spider-Man, instead of just supplementing it, Universal would want Transformers open before Spider-Man closed.
At this point, based on what I've seen from multiple sources, I believe that Transformers *is* coming to Orlando. But why the rush?
Here's where I'm much less confident, but see an explanation that makes logical sense. What if Disney, flush with cash from Avengers and desperate to bring Marvel into its Orlando theme parks, made Universal a massive offer - so large that Universal couldn't afford to refuse? Universal would want Transformers at the Universal Orlando Resort to replace Spider-Man ASAP, even if that meant blowing up existing operational plans.
Disney executives have said that they are accelerating plans to get Marvel in their theme parks. Universal is rushing now to build something that sure looks like Transformers in Orlando.
Maybe there's another explanation for Universal's haste on the Soundstage 44 project. As I said, while I believe Transformers is coming to Orlando, I'm less confident about the Disney/Marvel angle. The apparent decision to put Transformers in USF instead of IOA could suggest that Universal intends Transformers as a supplement to Spider-Man in the other park. But if that's the case, why the rush? Why not wait until November to begin construction, after HHN and the busy summer season? I don't have explanation for that. Maybe someone else will.
The confluence of events here fits together so well logically that I think it's worth bringing up for discussion, in the hope that knowledgeable sources on the ground in Orlando might see fit to show/tell/leak us some additional information that provides us a definitive explanation.
By Tim W
Hello Theme Park Insider readers. We have our first poll of the new Theme Park Apprentice 4 Season. This year, you will be voting on your favorite of the bottom three contestants. Two contestants will be saved, but one contestant will be eliminated this week.
For this week, our contestants designed attractions for Busch Gardens in Tampa, FL. These attractions had to include some type of animal interaction component to them. The attractions ranged from coasters, to dark ride, and walkthroughs this week. Please be sure to vote below for the contestant you would like to see saved.
By Robert Niles
Last night during the Disney California Adventure press event, Disney presented a special showing of World of Color, handing out thousands of free "Glow with the Show" mouseketeer ears to the park's invited guests.
The Mickey ears glowed in a seemingly random alteration of ever-changing colors, creating a wild visual effect as the crowd filled in the view areas in front of Paradise Bay.
But, just before the show started, when every single one of those ears shut down, plunging the area into darkness, the crowd let out a collective gasp. These weren't just light-up ears. They were synchronized, by Disney, to make each one of us a participant in the World of Color show. You can hear on the video before another cheer at the start of the show, when our ears began to light up - together - in conjunction with the show.
"Glow with the Show" changes the dynamic of World of Color. No longer do you want to get close to the Bay, to see the water screen projection and fountains. Instead, you'll want to stand farther back, so you can see the full scope of the ears flashing, with waves of color rolling across the crowd. (I'd wished I'd stood father back for this recording.) It's just a stunning, awesome sight.
That said, I wonder if the effect ever again will be as visually impressive as it was last night. "Glow with the Show" awes when the entire crowd is involved in the show, with thousands of pairs of ears lighting up around the lagoon. That's easy to make happen when Disney hands out free ears to everyone. But you're probably not going to get that deal - the ears are now on sale for $23.95 each. (There will be other free hand-outs for Disneyland Resort annual passholders during a few advance-reservation showings for them later this month.)
So here's the problem, and it's a classic one in the field Game Theory, which I studied in college. It's a variation of the Prisoner's Dilemma. You see, "Glow with the Show" works best when everyone else pays $23.95 to buy the light-up ears. But you can't see the ears on top of your head. So the show's no better for you if you buy the ears, which serves to encourage people not to buy the ears. But if no one buys the ears, "Glow with the Show" doesn't work. The effect depends on people acting irrationally, and buying a set of ears they won't see during the performance, to create a better show for all the people around them.
Are Disney fans irrational (or, depending upon your point of view, optimistic) enough to make this work? I guess we'll find out this summer.
By Robert Niles
Disney CEO Bob Iger rededicated the company's Disney California Adventure theme park this morning, as thousands of fans awaited their chance to see the results of the park's $1-billion, five-year transformation.
The creative team behind the most recent additions to DCA: Imagineer Kathy Mangum, John Lasseter, and Imagineer Lisa Girolami, before the ceremony
Fans started lining up Thursday afternoon for the grand re-opening, but a super-early arrival wasn't essential to claim space in the park at its opening.
Though the waiting crowd filled the Disneyland Resort's drop-off lot on Harbor by 11pm last night, by 6am the resort's esplanade between the two parks was only two-thirds full, and Disney admitted most of those fans into Buena Vista Street in time for the 8am ceremony. (You would have a had a better view by remaining in the esplanade and watching it on the giant screen Disney had erected there.)
After the short ceremony, where Iger was joined by Mickey and Minnie Mouse, as well as hundreds of costumed Disney California Adventure cast members, the crew from Cars Land's Radiator Springs Racers walked the crowd back to the park's new land.
With the Goodyear blimp overhead
Within half an hour, the wait already was pushing an hour, but the early crowd didn't match the throng that swarmed Disneyland last summer for the opening of Star Tours: The Adventures Continue.
We'll have video of the opening ceremony later today, and I hope that any Theme Park Insider readers visiting California Adventure today (or this weekend) will share their experiences in the comments.
Here are the links to our coverage and reviews:
Update: Here's the video:
Radiator Springs Racers went down for about an hour around 9:30, backing up the queue through Cars Land. Late arrivals (perhaps encouraged by reports of the lighter-than-feared crowd) also packed into the area, and by noon, Radiator Springs Racers was reporting an estimated six-hour wait. I'm wondering what the crowd will be like when people get off work this evening and think about heading to the park.
By Robert Niles
Universal Orlando has filed a slew of construction permits with the City of Orlando for a project in Universal Studios Florida that appears not to be the second Harry Potter land.
There's a contractor attached to the project and approvals are coming in, so this project appears fast-tracked. There's been movement around the old "Murder, She Wrote" soundstage in the park, too, leading to speculation that might be the site of the impending demolition work.
What could this project be? Well, let's start by thinking about franchises for which Universal holds rights, but doesn't yet have in Orlando. There are plenty of such franchises in other Universal parks, especially the international parks in Singapore and Japan. But Universal doesn't hold the US rights to many of those franchises, most notably Sesame Street and Peanuts. And is Universal really all that keen on bringing Space Fantasy to the US?
What does that leave? Waterworld? (Really? Please.) Bringing back Kong, with the 360/3D display from Hollywood? Maybe, but Florida would have to expand that to make it a stand-alone attraction.
That leaves us with... well, something, right?
To be clear, I have no confirmation of this now, just permits in the city building office, some eyewitness reports from the park, and some chitchat flying around Orlando. And Universal could be bringing in a new property, for all we know at this stage. But this element of the picture is clear:
Universal Orlando is staying aggressive. Very aggressive. The Central Florida Theme Park War is on. And that's great news for theme park fans.
Updated, June 17: Reports on the ground in Orlando say that demolition of the old Soundstage 44 has begun, and that height-test balloons were in the park last week on that site, rising several stories in the air.
By Robert Niles
Cars Land might be attracting the bulk of the media's attention in Disney California Adventure's relaunch this week. But I wouldn't be surprised if Buena Vista Street turns out to be the change that ultimately convinces the public that California Adventure is now a first-class Disney park.
California Adventure's original entryway was supposed to represent a giant tourist postcard from California. But people want to exist in three-dimensional, livable spaces, not a 2-D stereotype. That's the genius of Disneyland's original Main Street, with its well-spaced storefronts and abundant places to sit and just "hang out." California Adventure's original entry area didn't have much identity. It felt like an airport terminal- a place to get through as quickly as possible, and never a place you'd linger voluntarily.
Disney's torn that failed space to the ground, replacing it with a fanciful recreation of the Los Angeles Walt Disney arrived in during the summer of 1923. Buena Vista Street brings us an idealized Los Angeles of eternal possibility - where a man with little more than a suitcase and an idea for a cartoon character can build an entertainment business empire.
But Buena Vista Street works primarily because it is not a stereotype - a crude notion of what people who don't live in California think California somehow must be. Buena Vista Street draws its inspiration from actual buildings that grace (or once graced) the city Los Angeles, anchored by the Carthay Circle theater, the movie palace where Walt premiered the first featured-length animated movie, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The Carthay Circle, home to a table-service restaurant, looms over the park, much like Cinderella's Castle at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. It's the visual weenie that draws you into the park, and a symbol of the success that awaits the 1923 Walt, who is memorialized in a new statue in Buena Vista Street's heart.
Walk through the doors of the Elias & Co. store on Buena Vista Street (named for Walt's middle name), and you'll see echos of classic LA department stores, such as the Bullocks Wilshire. Disney's use of high-quality building material pays off here, as you feel part of a real place people would long to visit, and not like you're stuck inside a cheap amusement park.
An imported Italian chandelier inside Elias & Co.
Sit down for a sandwich or Starbucks coffee inside the Fiddler, Fifer & Practical Cafe, and you'll enter an Arts-and-Crafts inspired space, evoking Greene and Greene's classic homes such as the Gamble House in Pasadena.
The dumb city-inspired puns on location names are gone, replaced by a physical memory of a Los Angeles that many of us who were born here long to visit again. Disney's provided multiple places in this land where we can sit and, for a moment, be back in that old LA once more.
Plenty of seating on the Carthay Circle 'hub', outside Elias & Co.
Disneyland's Main Street USA was inspired by towns "back east," such as Walt's childhood home of Marceline, Missouri and Disney art Director Harper Goff's hometown of Fort Collins, Colorado. But this, Buena Vista Street, is more for and by people from here. This place isn't a stereotype of California presented by and for people who aren't from here. It's what California really was and continues to stand for to anyone who longs for a California adventure.
By Robert Niles
Pixar's "Cars" provides what might be Hollywood's purest depiction of story from a child's perspective. Like a child imagining a narrative for his collection of toy cars, "Cars" creates a world where every character is an automobile, from a Porsche working as a lawyer to a Fiat who sells tires. It's as if Douglas Adams' Ford Prefect actually got it right in the "Hitchhiker's Guide to Galaxy," and the cars really are the dominant life form.
Yet unlike other movies where toys come to life - most notably Pixar's own "Toy Story" - there's no attempt in "Cars" to ground the movie's narrative in a human world. The cars don't revert to inanimate form when the people happen by. In "Cars," there are no people, so the cars are free to go on being whatever imagination dreams them to be. It's pure fantasy, with no concessions - or apologies - for its conceit.
But now, people are entering the land of "Cars," in Disney California Adventure's simply just-as-simply-named Cars Land, the new theme park land which opens to the public tomorrow.
As in the movie, Disney's made no attempt to explain how Cars Land fits into the human universe. Cars Land is just here, and now you can visit it. Disney didn't take the route Universal Orlando did, when it stretched Harry Potter canon by explaining that Professor Dumbledore had invited us "Muggles" to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter for the day. Hey, we're playing here. There's no need to explain it.
Not that "Cars" didn't have its conflicts. Fitting with its child-like perspective, "Cars" told the story of a child-like racer named Lightning McQueen, a spectacularly talented rookie who turned away his crew and many fans with his selfish immaturity. Heck, Lightning McQueen was so young, so inexperienced, that he didn't even know how to make what might be the most basic move in auto racing, driving in "opposite lock" to carry maximum speed through a turn. But when Lightning's selfish insistence on rushing to California for a championship race landed him in the forgotten Route 66 town of Radiator Springs, he was forced to grow up, by learning how to make friends.
In Cars Land, Disney's Imagineers have faithfully recreated the entire town of Radiator Springs, from its courthouse square, framed by the towering rockwork "tailfins" of Cadillac Range, to Mater's weathered junkyard on the edge of town. Disney's even shown us more of Radiator Springs than we saw in the movie, with a queue for its centerpiece Radiator Springs Racers which shows us for the first time the "Original Radiator Spring" which gave the town its name.
While the physical setting dazzles, the time setting for Cars Land looked to me a bit fuzzy - the Lightning McQueen that drives around town greeting guests sports "Allinol" stickers from "Cars 2," but Doc Hudson, who died before the events of "Cars 2," appears in Radiator Springs Racers. Then again, it's just play. There's no explaining Cars Land's place in the human universe, or in the human timeframe.
So what of the rides? We often joke here on Theme Park Insider about that moment in every theme park attraction when something goes terribly wrong. But Radiator Springs Racers is one major theme park ride where nothing ever does go terribly wrong. It's a day in the "Happily Ever After" instead - when Lightning McQueen's made his friends, there are no villains to be found, and there's nothing more important facing us than a high-speed race around Carburetor County.
We're along for the ride as 'toon convertibles race through the desert surrounding Radiator Springs. Using the same high-speed, flat-track ride system as Epcot's Test Track and Tokyo Disney Sea's Journey to the Center of the Earth, Radiator Springs Racers starts us with a drive past the Ornament Valley waterfall before returning us to Radiator Springs at nightfall, where Mater's tipping tractors, and Lightning McQueen and Sally await us before we prepare for our big race.
At this point, the track splits and we are sent into one of two alternative routes on the ride - a visit to Luigi's tire shop for fresh whitewalls, or a trip through Ramone's body shop for a fresh coat of paint. (Ride enough times and you might also notice the interior colors in Ramone's shop changing to match your car's color.) From there, Doc Hudson offers you a last-minute tip before Luigi and Guido drop the green flag for our high-speed race through Ornament Valley. At the finish line, we pass through Tail-light Caverns, where Lightning and his best friend Mater congratulate us before we exit.
It's all in good fun, without the high-stakes, good-vs.-evil conflict that defines Universal Creative's Transformers ride, which debuted at cross-town rival Universal Studios Hollywood last month. That absence left me without the same adrenaline rush I felt after riding Transformers for the first time, though I remain amazed at the animation quality in Radiator Springs Racers' Audio-Animatronics. The lifelike eyes and mouths of the cars leave you completely convinced that these are the animated characters of "Cars" brought to life in front of you. The rich detail throughout the ride rewards repeat visitors (keep your eye on the moon after you escape Frank in the tractor-tipping scene), and for the best experience, ride at night, which not only better fits the narrative of the ride, but also gives you some sweet views of the awesome neon display that Disney's created for the town of Radiator Springs.
The land's other rides - Luigi's Flying Tires and Mater's Junkyard Jamboree - offer simple physical thrills, each with its own twist. On Mater's Junkyard Jamboree, one of six original songs crooned by Larry the Cable Guy (the voice of Mater) serenades you as you whip around the junkyard behind one of Mater's tractors.
On Luigi's Flying Tires, you're floating on a cushion of air (like on an air hockey table), which forces you to learn how to shift you weight to change the angle that your tire sits on the air, allowing the air to push it in different directions. Get the feel right, and Luigi's rewards you with a truly unique ride experience, where you can bounce and glance off other tires to race your way around the yard. Get the feel wrong, though, and you'll stay glued in place, unable to get your tire moving.
But the greatest attraction in Cars Land is the land itself - a buffet of eye candy that keeps rewarding visitors even as they slow down to linger over its details. That planter over there? A tire on its side, filled with "flowers" of tail-lights. The waterwheel in front of the Cozy Cone? Upside-down traffic cones. And Cars Land's greatest highlight might be that moment in the twilight each evening when the land's abundant neon comes to life - bathing the land in waves of color.
For in a land where nothing goes terribly wrong, it's nice to get to savor a moment, instead, when something goes wonderfully right.
By Robert Niles
Tonight Disney California Adventure celebrated its celebrity grand opening ceremony for Cars Land. Now, even though the "Grand Opening" was tonight, remember that the new land won't be open to the public until Friday morning. (Disney California Adventure will be closed to the public tomorrow, June 14, for its media day.)
Larry the Cable Guy, the voice of Mater in the films, walks the red carpet. See Theme Park Insider's Facebook page for the complete red carpet photo gallery.
After the red carpet, everyone made their way down the pathway toward the entrance to Cars Land for the opening ceremony, where Disney Park chief Tom Staggs and Cars director (and Disney Creative Chief) John Lasseter opened the land with a jump start.
Thousands of invited guests pour into Cars Land for the post-premiere party.
We'll be in Anaheim tomorrow for the media day, and Friday morning for the rededication ceremony for Disney California Adventure at 8am. Keep watching Theme Park Insider here on the Web, on Twitter and on Facebook for updates.
By Robert Niles
Universal Orlando Resort today confirmed that July 2 will be the official public opening date for Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem, which is now in "technical rehearsals" at Universal Studios Florida.
The show replaces the Jimmy Neutron attraction, near the front gate of the Orlando park. So far, initial reports from Theme Park Insider readers have been positive, with the first review calling Minion Mayhem "a fun and heartwarming simulator ride. The dance party at the end was the icing on top of the cake."
If you're wondering about that dance party, Despicable Me's "post show" features live and filmed Minion characters who lead visitors in some dancing before ushering them into the requisite gift shop. The soft-opening technical rehearsals seem to be happening frequently, so there's a good chance that patient visitors can get a crack at the ride before July 2. If you do, please stop by our Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem page to leave a rating and review.
By Robert Niles
We love trip reports on the Discussion Board, and Nick Dakuginow sets us up with one this week in Trip Report: Universal Orlando at Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida.
We've also got readers first reactions to Universal's Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem in Soft Opening.
On the west coast, Lori Schueren is looking for tips for a First trip to Universal Hollywood.
For all you aspiring theme park employees out there, j minnee offers some encouragement for Getting a job with Universal Florida!
Want to work on the design side? Brandon Townsend asks about Planning for a career as an Imagineer.
Finally, our "armchair" designers get back to work in Theme Park Apprentice 4: Challenge 2, designing an animal-inspired attraction for Busch Gardens Tampa.
By Robert Niles
Today, we're continuing our look behind the construction walls at the final phases of the $1-billion makeover of Disney California Adventure. Yesterday, we looked at Cars Land, so today we'll continue with the park's new entry plaza, Buena Vista Street.
Mickey Mouse welcomes you to Buena Vista Street
Disney Imagineers have said that Buena Vista Street is meant to represent the Los Angeles that Walt Disney first encountered when he moved from Kansas City in 1923 to start his animation business.
The street recreates storefronts from 1920s LA in sumptuous detail, with a "Main Street"-style collection of retail, services and dining behind the facades. But look down just as you pass through the gates to the new park entrance, you might already see the park's rededication plaque awaiting you.
The only attraction on Buena Vista Street is the Red Car Trolley, a faithful visual recreation of the Pacific Electric Red Cars that once provided transportation across the Los Angeles metro area. (See Disney's Who Framed Roger Rabbit? for a somewhat accurate portrayal of what happened to the Red Cars.)
With construction walls still blocking the Red Car tracks at the end of Buena Vista Street, the ride was not operating during the recent annual passholder previews. But you don't need to have a preview ticket to see the outside of the new centerpiece of Disney California Adventure: the Carthay Circle Restaurant.
The Carthay Circle recreates the movie palace where Walt Disney premiered his first animated feature film, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." DCA's Carthay Circle will house a bar, a lounge for Club 33 members, and a new table-service restaurant, on its second floor. It's not yet open to the public, so if you want a bite to eat during the preview days, you'll have to head back across the circle to the Fiddler, Fifer & Practical Cafe.
The FF&P is Disney's first in-park Starbucks location, but the Cafe serves much more than just Starbucks drinks, in a large Arts & Crafts-inspired dining room.
And you can't help looking more closely at that pastry case, can you?
The new Buena Vista Street mirrors Disneyland's Main Street USA, across the esplanade, with multiple such cozy places to sit and hang out. It's a far more inviting and true cityscape than the sterile, cartoon-inspired entry plaza that California Adventure offered before. (If you're interested in a discussion on why Main Street USA provides such a great example of urban architecture, read my interview with author and urban planner Sam Gennawey from last year.)
But to get a feel for the quality of design and materials used on Buena Vista Street, let's step across the street to the flagship Elias & Co. merchandise location. It features a couple of just stunning Art Deco-inspired entrances.
High-quality finishes and an art deco style allow Elias & Co. to evoke classic Los Angeles department stores such as the Bullocks Wilshire.
Look up to see this imported Italian chandelier inside the "jewelry" room at Elias & Co.
A 'Storytellers' T-shirt and a Walt Disney fedora are available at Elias & Co.
Looking for a more traditional souvenir? Keep walking down through the Buena Vista Street stores, where you'll find a selection of plush toys - in both color and 1920's black & white.
I'll have more to write about Buena Vista Street, Cars Land and the rest of Disney California Adventure during its official media preview day this Thursday. Buena Vista Street officially opens to the public on Friday, June 15, 2012.
By Robert Niles
Disney is letting the public have its first look at the final stages in its $1-billion expansion and makeover of Disney California Adventure theme park. Today, we'll take a look around Cars Land.
Annual passholder preview day crowd at Cars Land. AP-holders could visit Cars Land for a morning or afternoon this weekend for an extra $50 charge.
Cars Land faithfully recreates the town of Radiator Springs, the setting for much of the first Cars film, where Lightning McQueen gets stranded on his way to the Piston Cup final, only to learn some lessons about friendship while he's there.
You'll see Lightning, along with other Cars characters, driving the streets, greeting guests throughout the day. But let's not dawdle too long out on Route 66. Let's take a look at each of the rides and restaurants in the new land. I'll have more details and full reviews, plus additional photos and video, after Cars Land's media preview day this Thursday. In the meantime, you can follow the links below to submit your own ratings and reviews for these Cars Land attractions, if you were among the preview crowds this week.
Radiator Springs Racers is the centerpiece attraction in Cars Land, a high-speed race through the desert-scene Ornament Valley.
You'll want to pick up a Fastpass from the machine located next to A Bug's Land on your way into the park, to avoid what promises to be an hours-long wait when this ride opens to the public, starting Friday, June 15.
Inside the queue, you'll find Stanley's Oasis, home of the Original Radiator Spring (and the source of the town's name).
I was among the first to board the ride this morning, only to have the ride stop just as we entered the main show building. The work lights came up, and Disney cast members evacuated the car in front of us. But after working on the car ahead, the cast members retreated off stage, dimmed the lights and allowed us to continue.
Within moments, we were flying through Ornament Valley.
And crossing the finish line.
Lightning McQueen and Mater congratulate the racers at the end of the ride. (And the cast members at unload allowed us to ride again, since our first journey was interrupted.)
Luigi's Flying Tires is a unique attraction where riders float on air in giant tires around Luigi's back yard.
I don't want to get into too much opinion here, but I absolutely loved this ride. And I found making the tire move around the giant "air hockey"-like platform to be a snap. It's just basic geometry.
Did you ever stick your hand outside a car window, or in front of a fan? Do your remember how, if you tilt your hand in one direction, the rushing air pushed your hand in that direction? The same principle's at work here. Your tire is floating on a cushion of air. If you lean your body weight to one side, it will create an angle underneath your tire that the air coming up from the ground will push against, pushing you in that direction.
But if you lean too hard, the edge of the tire will hit the ground, and the friction between the tire and ground will stop you immediately. You've got to find the right balance to ride the air. I think this will be much easier for single riders, since you won't have to coordinate with anyone else. I got the hang of this almost instantly, and enjoyed making my tire spin, bump into and avoid other tires, and even race around the platform a bit.
One of the many "planters" inside Cars Land
Mater's Junkyard Jamboree is a classic "whip" ride.
You ride behind Mater's tow trucks, which will whip you around the junkyard, as Mater serenades you with several original songs, written and recorded for the ride.
The action on this ride surprised me. It's quick, you move from side to side quite a bit, and the songs are fun.
Now, on to the food. The Cozy Cone Motel serves snacks and light meals in five different giant roadside cones. Cone 1 serves churros bites. Cone 2 offers soft-serve ice cream and root beer floats. Cone 3 has bread cones with scramble eggs for breakfast, and chicken verde or chili con queso for lunch and dinner. Cone 4 serves pretzel bites and "Red's Apple Freeze," a frozen drink. Cone 5 offers two different flavored popcorns daily.
Since it was early, and I needed breakfast, I chose the bacon and scrambled egg cone, with cheddar cheese sauce ($6.49)
The bacon was pretty much just a garnish, a single thin and crispy slice. The scrambled eggs were covered in a thick, though not very sharp, cheddar sauce. The bread cones at the Cozy Cone tasted like a pretzel bread (without salt) - firm and not doughy. The people in front of me chose the salsa verde-sauced scrambled eggs, and I'd wished I'd gotten that instead.
For the grown-ups, Cone 3 also serves a pomegranate limeade with vodka. Yep, the booze flows in Cars Land, with speciality beers and hard liquor available in the land. Throw in the huge amount of neon that will illuminate Cars Land each night, and this place has the potential to seem more like a club than a kiddie land.
Cars Land's main restaurant is Flo's V8 Cafe.
Look up when you enter Flo's to see the light fixture mounted inside the "air filter" rotunda. The light display changes color every few moments.
I was amused by the inscription on the back of the many cans of "Quality Oil" stacked in front of Flo's, too.
Flo's is a counter-service restaurant, serving roasted meats with vegetable sides, salads and vegetarian casserole, in addition to those speciality beers and wines by the glass. For dessert, Flo's offers milkshakes, as well as individual pies, including apple/Cheddar, and chocolate Mud pies.
I opted for the citrus-marinated roast turkey breast, sliced thinly and served with turkey gravy, cranberry sauce and a roll. For my two sides, I picked the mashed potatoes and a roasted corn medley. ($11.49)
This is old-fashioned diner food, just like I've had in several family-run joints on the real Route 66 over the years. (But tastier!) Yet one family next to me in line just had to complain that they couldn't get hamburgers at Flo's.
Check out the giant rear-view mirror, mounted above the back dining room at Flo's.
Just kill me now. Let every other freakin' theme park on the planet have their cliche, 50's burger joints. Thank goodness Disney's trying for something better with Cars Land. I'll get into more detail later this week, but Cars Land abounds with such touches where Disney could easily have opted for the conventional, but instead chose to try something quite a bit more ambitious. To me, that's something to celebrate - and not to complain about.
Cars Land opens to the public on Friday, June 15. Tomorrow, I'll write about Disney California Adventure's new Buena Vista Street.
By Robert Niles
A judge this week upheld the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration's decision that SeaWorld must not allow its trainers in the water with orcas during shows at the company's U.S. theme parks.
Getting close with Corky the orca, backstage at SeaWorld San Diego
The judge's decision does not prohibit physical contact with the whales outside show times, which I find ironic because the incident that precipitated all this didn't happen during a show.
So here's my question for you: After reading all the information above, what do you think about SeaWorld ever putting trainers back in the water during its Shamu shows? Should SeaWorld pursue technology that it would allow it to do so? Should it continue to appeal or seek a political solution that would allow the trainers back in the water during shows? Or should it give up that fight, and continue to operate the shows as they have been for the past two years - with trainers out of the water?
As the judge in the case noted, SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment enjoyed record revenue and strong attendance last year, with the trainers out of the water, so it's not like the decision has hurt SeaWorld's business. But that doesn't mean that some fans don't continue to miss that iconic moment when a SeaWorld trainer launches from the water and into the air, flying off the nose of a killer whale.
What do you think?
By Robert Niles
Here's a quick round-up of today's theme park news:
Image courtesy SeaWorld
Disney California Adventure
Disney California Adventure is also offering annual passholders the chance to attend special after-hours showings of World of Color this month, where Disney will be testing "Glow with the Show" merchandise that, well, glows along with musical cues during the show. Guests who attend will receive a free pair of Glow with the Show Mouseketeer ears. You'll have to RSVP at a Disneyland Resort ticket booth. Instruction are on the Disneyland website.
Next week is the big premiere of Cars Land, Buena Vista Street and the revamped Disney California Adventure theme park. Here's the schedule of coverage on Theme Park Insider: Sunday morning, I'll be attending the Annual Passholder preview of Cars Land, and will file a report with some photo and initial impressions of the land. Thursday night is the red carpet opening ceremony for Cars Land, which won't actually open to the public until DCA is rededicated Friday morning at 8am. Friday is the media day at the park, where we'll be taking photos and video and I'll be working up my reviews of Radiator Springs Racers and everything else in the new lands at the park.
By Robert Niles
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - Thousands of costumed Disney fans overwhelmed cast members at the four Walt Disney World theme parks this morning, in an uprising inspired by a local teenager.
The fans were demanding free Disney apparel and unlimited Fastpasses in exchange for their costumes, insisting that they should be entitled to the same deal as 15-year-old April Spielman and her family received from Disney last weekend.
"I saw on TV that some girl got to skip the lines because she broke a rule, so I want to do that, too," said 12-year-old Dwayne Garcia of Winter Park. Garcia was dressed as Mowgli from Disney's Jungle Book, wearing only a loincloth while waiting in line to enter Disney's Animal Kingdom, the park where Spielman and her family had been detained.
Garcia said that if the costume he was wearing did not earn him the free front-of-the-line passes, he would try not keeping his hands and arms inside a ride vehicle at all times instead.
Other visitors targeted different Disney admission rules.
Susan Fox and Mandy Rice of Celebration said that they'd been drinking since 4am, trying to become so intoxicated that Disney would reward them with a free Disney Dining plan to sober them up.
"To hell with a free T-shirt, I want a free steak at Le Cellier," Rice said, just before passing out at the Epcot turnstiles.
The gathering attracted the attention not only of local television stations and law enforcement, but representatives of rival theme parks, as well. Undercover Universal Orlando lawyers infiltrated the crowd, with Tasers in hand, ready to subdue any visitors dressed as Marvel characters before they could be seen inside a Disney theme park.
"A deal's a deal," said one Universal lawyer who refused to give his name, before sprinting through the Hollywood Studios parking lot after a visitor dressed as Iron Man.
Local television camera crews ultimately had call police for help in escaping Disney property, as thousands of angry Disney visitors blocked their retreat, demanding that the stations air sympathetic stories about them, too.
"Put me on TV!" the crowd chanted, as Florida Highway Patrol officers attempted to clear a path through the Magic Kingdom parking lot.
Walt Disney World officials could not be reached for comment, as they'd all split town for the Cars Land press event at Disney California Adventure in Anaheim next week.
(*Note: If you haven't figured it out already, this story is a spoof. But the incident that inspired it was very real.)
By Robert Niles
Walt Disney World yesterday previewed the new Big Top Tent "queue" for the twin Dumbo rides in the Magic Kingdom. One of the Dumbo carousels is now open, but Disney will add a second - along with the Big Top Tent queue - in July.
The Big Top Tent, under construction earlier this year. The new Dumbo carousel is to the left, and the original will be installed behind the construction wall to the right.
The Big Top Tent, as the name implies, is an indoor waiting area. But it's not a traditional queue. It's actually an indoor playground, where children can burn off steam while they wait their turn on the Dumbo ride. Parents will be given a restaurant-style pager which will light up when it's time to ride.
Here's a look, from Disney:
Dumbo long was known as the most brutal wait in the park. The spinner ride offers a low capacity (only a couple hundred riders per hour) and used to be positioned in a shadeless place in Fantasyland, with a simple back-and-forth linear queue. Given the huge number of kids who wanted to ride with Dumbo, the wait time for the ride blew up early in the morning, and typically remained among the longest in the park throughout the day.
As part of the New Fantasyland expansion, Disney smartly added a second Dumbo carousel, doubling the ride's capacity. (And causing some of us to dub the new version of the ride "Dueling Dumbos.") That should help to cut the ride's wait time in half, and the addition of an indoor wait area should help make even that wait more bearable.
But here's my question: Will some kids decide that they prefer the new indoor playground to the ride itself? It looks kinda neat, and you can't beat an indoor, air-conditioned play area during a hot, sunny Central Florida summer. Will the play area become an attraction unto itself, drawing even more kids to Dumbo and expanding the wait? Will the need to pry kids away from the play area and onto the ride when their "ticket" buzzes slow down the loading on the ride, negating the capacity advantage of the second carousel?
I'm curious to see how this new wait area concept plays out in the world's most popular theme park. If it is a hit, and does make the wait more enjoyable without making it significantly longer, I suspect that this might be a move that Disney - and other parks - look to duplicate on other child-focused theme park rides.
Update: Hearing that the Big Top Tent play area soft-opened today. Reports?
By Robert Niles
We're always talking over on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Board, sharing questions, answers, advice, rumors, and trip reports. Here are a few of the past week's top new threads:
An Aussie reacts to her county's depiction in Disney's It's a Small World and asks what you think about the various countries in the ride: A world of laughter, a world of tears
Thinking about apply for a job at Disney, or any other theme park? Tyler Bell elicits some Walt Disney World Casting Interview Ins and Outs.
For Universal Orlando fans, Ren Pearson asks Could the Lost Continent rise again?
What specific parts of theme park rides really excite you - or tick you off? Phil B. gets that conversation going in Love/Hate Attractions.
Tim Chatlos brings us up to date on the latest roller coaster rumor: Cedar Point 2013: Wing Coaster?
Finally, Theme Park Apprentice 4: Challenge 1 kicks off as our contestants submit their plans for dark ride in the Fantasyland section of Shanghai Disneyland.
By Robert Niles
Recent news of price increases at Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando and the Disneyland Resort have elicited quite a bot of anger and anguish from readers, many of whom feel that they won't be able to afford the theme park vacations they've enjoyed in the past.
That passion speaks well for the quality of experience that these theme parks provide, actually. The parks have created something that many fans don't want to lose. But these price increases send another message, too - that the nation's top theme parks aren't necessarily middle class destinations any longer.
When I was a kid, wealthy families wouldn't have been caught dead slumming it on vacation at a place like Walt Disney World. Disney was strictly a middle-class destination, the choice of families that could never afford a week at Hilton Head or some other rich person's golf-and-beach resort. The upper-middle-class families who came to Disney might stay on-property, in one of the few hundred rooms available at the Contemporary and Polynesian Resorts. But for the rest of us, thousands of rooms in low-cost motels on 192 awaited. With two-day passports less than $20 in the 1970s, a family of four could spend a couple days at the Magic Kingdom - including counter-service food - for under $100. Pair that with a drive over to the free beaches on either coast, and Florida offered an affordable vacation get-away to millions of middle-class families.
But over the past 30 years, the American economy changed. Real wages (in other words, hourly wages adjusted for inflation) haven't budged since the early 1970s, despite massive gains in worker productivity. Real wages went up a bit in the late 1990s, but Americans gave those gains back in the 2000s. The American middle class has shrunk, and the gap between wealthy and working class Americans has grown to the widest level since just before the Great Depression.
The people running Disney and Universal aren't stupid. They've reacted by gradually shifting their business to go where the money is. Walt Disney World has transitioned from a middle-class destination to one for upper-middle class and wealthy vacationers. When the dollar weakens, the Orlando parks market aggressively to tourists from outside the United States. Each of the top 10 most attended parks in the United States have added ticket options and resort amenities designed to appeal to wealthy visitors, adding price points that the crowds who came to the parks in the 1970s would never have supported.
Today, if you have the money, you can choose from thousands of hotel rooms in four-star hotels on Disney and Universal property. You can spend hundreds of dollars (per person!) to have tea with a princess. You can dine in award-winning cuisine in world-class, table-service restaurants. And, for the price of staying in the correct, on-property, hotels, you can even have exclusive ride time on selected attractions, or skip the lines entirely. Appropriately, parks are adding and improving attractions in return for all this extra income, too. Today, park visitors can enjoy wonders such as The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and soon will have an expanded Fantasyland in Orlando and a new Cars Land in Anaheim.
Now, middle class families still can - and do! - afford Orlando theme park vacations. It's just that, today, staying off-site on 192, visiting the parks during "normal" operating hours, waiting in lines, and eating only counter-service meals gives a family of vacationers the low end of what the Orlando theme parks have to offer, instead of the typical experience enjoyed by the vast majority of visitors.
Even as the parks raise their "rack rates" for admission and hotel rooms, they continue to offer discounts that sharp consumers can exploit. But to get the most value from an Orlando theme park vacation, families can't just pile in the car and hit the road for Central Florida, as they once could do. Today, middle class families that want more than a bare-bones Disney or Universal theme park vacation are going online, doing research, and getting engaged with fan communities. They're not just tracking discount opportunities, they're learning tips and lessons on how to navigate the increasingly complex offerings at the parks, to get the most value for what they're paying.
While that's great for site such as Theme Park Insider :^) - that's tough for time-pressed middle-class parents who are working harder than ever for the same wages their parents earned in the 1970s.
So what happens to middle-class theme park fans who can't afford Orlando any longer? Many of them have been discovering high-quality, but more affordable, regional parks closer to home. One of my goals on Theme Park Insider is to bring to your attention world-class offerings at these regional parks, such as themed lands of Busch Gardens Williamsburg, the Broadway-quality entertainment at Dollywood, and the free amenities and top-notch wooden roller coasters at Holiday World.
Why do theme parks raise their ticket prices? Because they can. Demand drives ticket prices in the theme park business. So long as people keep buying tickets and booking theme park vacations, parks will continue to raise prices as they seek the "optimum market price" - the price point just before they start losing so much business that it reduced their overall income. With wealthy Americans earning more than ever, the nation's high-end theme parks have decided to go after that market. And so far, they're getting it.
Want to know why Disney and Universal are raising their prices? There you go. The smart thing for you to do - as a consumer and a theme park fan - is to set your emotion aside and to make a smart, well-informed decision about where you'll spend your vacation dollars. (And that's true no matter what your income level.) Research discount opportunities in Orlando. Learn how to get the most from your vacation dollars at the parks. Improve your money management skills. And look into world-class alternatives at competing regional parks.
Enjoy yourself while on vacation, but treat your vacation planning like it's business. Get informed. Look at the alternatives. And find the option that delivers you the maximum enjoyment without breaking your family's budget. For theme parks, ticket prices are a calculated business decision. Your decision whether or not to pay those prices should be just as well calculated.
By Robert Niles
Prices go up Sunday, June 3.
One-day tickets go from $85 to $89, topping Universal Orlando's recent price increase by $1. A 10-day base ticket goes from $291 to $318. The park-hopper and 'water parks & more' add-ons go from $55 each to $57 each for base tickets of two days or more. (Park-hopper remains $35 extra for a one-day ticket... but why would you buy that?)
Apparently, there is a pot of gold at the end of that rainbow. But not for you.
For those of you who like to buy in advance to lock in your ticket price, the no-expiration option rises from $225 for a 10-day ticket to $275.
The premiere annual pass goes from $649 to $699, while the "regular" annual pass increases from $519 to $574. The 11 percent increase on annual passes is much smaller than the 30 percent increase levied on Disneyland annual passholders last month.
However, Disney World will now match Disneyland's policy of no long offering child's prices for annual passes. That means a big increase for kids' APs - from $478 to $574 for the regular AP, and $598 to $699 for the premium. That's a 20 percent increase for the annual pass for a child, age 3-9.
Here's the full list new admission prices at the Walt Disney World Resort.
By Robert Niles
How much fun do you want to have in a queue, before you get to a theme park ride?
Traditionally, queues have simply provided a place to wait while the crowd ahead of you files onto a ride. Now and then, Disney or Universal would try to make the wait a bit more interesting, with the immersive themed decor of the Magic Kingdom Pirates of the Caribbean or the old Islands of Adventure Dueling Dragons queues.
Universal reestablished the standard for immersive queues with Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, which offers a walk-through tour of Hogwarts Castle, a queue that's so popular some visitors wait in an exterior queue to walk through the castle portion even though they don't want to go on the ride itself.
Disney's responded with some queue innovations of its own. It's been adding "interactive" elements to the Magic Kingdom's Space Mountain and the Haunted Mansion, where you can not only get up close and touch props from the Mansion's graveyard, but also make some of them respond - mostly with sound or water effects.
A nice tribute to the voice of the Haunted Mansion
Disney's done this sort of thing before, notably in Disneyland's Indiana Jones queue, but now Disney seems to be making this a "thing" - we've been promised interactive elements in the queue for the upcoming Little Mermaid ride in Fantasyland, for example.
So here's my question for you: Does it matter? Would you rather stop and play some of the interactive games in the Space Mountain queue, or hurry your way onto the ride? At Haunted Mansion, the choice is explicit - you can choose to queue on the side with the interactive elements, or move directly into the foyer. Which side do you select?
Keep reading: May 2012 Archive
Stories from a Theme Park Insider
What's it like to work in a theme park? Stories from a Theme Park Insider takes you inside the famous tunnels and backstage at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom for a look at how theme parks really work, sharing the funny moments and embarrassments that can happen when your job is someone else's vacation.
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