By Jeff Elliott
Middle-Earth – Not that this confirms anything at all, but a trademark was just taken out for use of Middle-Earth in a theme park. The rumors said that it was Universal that was trying to close a deal, and that much we cannot confirm, but it does look like it is moving past the wild theory stage. [Editor's note: The applicant is Middle-earth Enterprises (formerly known as Tolkien Enterprises), a division of The Saul Zaentz Company, which holds the worldwide licensing rights to The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. If the name sounds familiar, Zaentz is a film producer who won Oscars for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Amadeus, and The English Patient. He also produced the Ralph Bakshi version of LoTR.]
Transformers, under construction in Orlando late last year
Universal Studios Florida - Transformers the Ride is progressing on its lightening schedule and is now said to be doing test runs of the vehicles that were dropped off in the dead of the night. They are getting close to the last hundred days, so I am sure they are very close to the panic stage. In other news, work continues near the Simpsons ride were they are working on the facades in what looks like they may turn into Moe's Tavern, Krusty Burger, and Kentucky Fried Panda. Personally, I have never heard of a Kentucky Fried Panda, but if you want something to not go extinct, make food out of it and the ranchers will fall over themselves trying to figure out a way to keep the supply up. I wonder what Panda veal tastes like?
By Scott Joseph
Les Halles Boulangerie & Patisserie has opened at the France pavilion at Epcot. It serves the requisite pastries and sandwiches you'd find in a typical Parisian boulangerie. But what you can't see is the immense, professional bakery that was installed as part of the two-story expansion.
Photo from Scott Joseph
I got a sneak peek -- and a taste of some of the freshly baked goods.
By Robert Niles
Here's one more piece of information that might provide some welcome perspective about MyMagic+ and Disney's MagicBands for guiding and tracking your day in a Disney theme park.
In a few years, your cell phone is going to be a MagicBand.
Okay, a Lego iPhone might not have RFID technology. But in a few years, your real one might.
You see, a MagicBand contains a RFID (radio frequency identification) tag, and within the next few years, pretty much every techie expects cell phone manufacturers to begin installing RFID tags in cell phones in the United States. An RFID tag is a bit like a unique bar code that can transmit its data back to a reader located up to about 20 feet away. (The RFID tag gets its power from the reader, which limits its range.) There's related technology called NFC (near field communication) that works like RFID, but with a range of about four inches.
Right now, to use your cell phone as an admission ticket, boarding pass or payment system, you have to get it out and have its display scanned by a reader. With NFC, you simply have to place your phone next to the reader, and with RFID, you just have to walk within a few feet. That enables cell phones to become much more efficient and powerful tools for personal identification and transactions. With this technology, your cell phone finally can replace your wallet, becoming the single tool for managing everything you now carry around in that.
So why is Disney spending a billion bucks to create its own RFID system, when cell phones will provide this same functionality in just a few years? That's an excellent question, but let's remember that the big expense for Disney isn't in creating MagicBands (an RFID tag costs pennies to create) -- it's in building all that stuff that will do things in response to the presence of your RFID tag. By going ahead with MagicBands, Disney can be first to market with this functionality in its parks, while launching the system on its own timetable, rather than having to wait for Apple and everyone else in the mobile phone market to decide to start implementing RFID/NFC first.
But that implementation is coming. And it creates some real questions for the public about who's going to be reading our mobile-phone RFID tags, and what they're going to be doing with that information. Do really want every person and business you pass on the street to be able to see the content of your wallet?
Why pick on Disney, then? The company has a good reputation for customer service and protecting consumer data, and it ranks among the world's most trusted firms. As Disney theme park visitors, we already trust the company with gobs of information about us and what we're doing on our vacation.
Because this isn't about Disney. It's about Apple, Google, Verizon, AT&T and every other company that will one day engage in RFID-based consumer tracking, and letting them know that Congress will have some questions about the implementation of this technology. That's why Markey sent his letter to the press, instead of sending it privately to Disney days in advance.
By being the first big company to implement a wide-scale, RFID-based, consumer tracking system, Disney gets to be the company that Congress (the elected representative of the people, remember) asks to answer those questions. If Apple had installed RFID tags in the iPhone 5, and published the same information about privacy that Disney has about MyMagic+, you'd better believe that Apple would have gotten that letter, too.
RFID/NFC techology isn't going to help anyone if people are afraid to use it. That's why it's important -- for consumers and the businesses that invest in RFID/NFC -- to have some ground rules in place regarding the implementation of RFID reading that instill consumer confidence in these systems. Disney's already built that consumer trust. But other companies haven't -- and many don't deserve it.
By asking his questions, Rep. Ed Markey gave Disney CEO Bob Iger an opportunity to sell the public on the safety, convenience and power of RFID. Instead, Iger chose to attack Markey. By doing that, Iger missed a huge opportunity to sell his company's billion-dollar investment to the public. Perhaps that's why Disney PR reps are hustling now, making calls and sending emails to shift the focus back to Disney's privacy statements and explanations of the technology.
Many Disney fans are reflexively taking Iger's side (see the comments after my previous post). But I think it's important to see what's happening with MyMagic+ in context of a larger emerging public conversation over the use of RFID tracking. You might trust Disney. But do you trust every other company out there, too?
By Robert Niles
Imagine what would happen if a Disney cast member reacted this way the next time some parent complained about his or her child being too short to ride Big Thunder Mountain:
"It is truly unfortunate and extremely disappointing that you chose to publicly attack us before taking the time to review our policies and/or read your park guidemap, which would have obviated the need for your complaint. Had you or your family made the slightest effort, you would have found most of the answers to your questions already existed and were publicly available in our Magic Kingdom guidemap, which you're holding in your hand.
As emotionally satisfying as it might feel for a cast member to lash out at a guest who asks a much-answered question, Disney teaches its new-hire cast members, on their first day at Disney University training, that's simply not the way the company works. An hourly cast member who spoke to a member of the public that way would be terminated on the spot. There are no stupid questions at a Disney theme park.
Yet that didn't keep Disney CEO Bob Iger from throwing a public hissy fit over questions asked the Walt Disney Company this week. Disney's released Iger's response to questions from U.S. Rep. Ed Markey about Disney's new MyMagic+ program, and its effect on children's federal privacy rights.
If you're wondering how I came up with the wording for my little hypothetical above, I just copied and pasted Iger's words to Markey, substituting Thunder, guidemaps and safety for MyMagic+, letters and privacy.
If Iger wants to use his position to chew out a member of Congress, hey, it's his company. Markey's party is in the minority in the House, so I doubt Iger's response will result in a subpoena and a forced appearance in front of hostile Congressional committee. But as a parent who has a few questions of my own about how MyMagic+ will be implemented in the parks (and every detail of how this system will work is not yet set in stone, by the way), Iger's response leaves me even more worried.
Disney won its reputation for great customer service by acknowledging people's concerns, no matter how unfounded they might be. Disney listened, and worked to find an answer, no matter how many times it'd given that answer to others before. If people trash-talked Disney, Disney didn't trash-talk back (at least, not publicly). That "we'll take the high road" attitude encouraged people to trust Disney.
And especially so from Disney's Chariman and CEO.
Update: Just to make clear, the link behind "released Iger's response" above goes to the Deadline.com story with the full text of Iger's letter. (I use hyperlinks, uh, a bit more aggressively than the average writer, so I forget that sometimes I should spell things out.) Disney's also now sent me a copy of the letter, which I've uploaded to our Pinterest page. It includes an addendum not in the Deadline.com story.
Also, in the Iger letter is a URL to Disney's "FAQ" about MyMagic+, which Disney's reps say answers Markey's questions (follow that link to read it). And finally, here again is the link to our previous story about Markey's letter and my take on it.
Update 2: More thoughts: It's not really about Disney.
By Robert Niles
Disney today announced details for its Valentine's Day-themed "Limited Time Magic" promotion, which will run February 11-17, 2013 at the Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resorts.
Expect a Valentine's Day decor makeover in the parks, much like what we've seen for HalloweenTime at Disneyland Park. Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom will illuminate their castles with red and pink lights each evening during the promotion, with projections of flowers and hearts promised at Disneyland. You'll also find a giant floral heart photo op in Town Square at Disneyland, too.
You'll find Mickey and Minnie and Donald and Daisy smooching in the parks during this Limited Time Magic. But what about Duffy and Shellie May? ;^)
There will be the expected assortment of Valentine's Day-themed limited-edition pins, plush, apparel, Mickey ears and Vinylmations at select merchandise locations. But the big, in-demand feature promises to be the Valentine's dinners for two.
Special prix fixe menus will be available during the week at Blue Bayou and Cafe Orleans in Disneyland, Carthay Circle Restaurant in Disney California Adventure Park, Steakhouse 55 at the Disneyland Hotel, Napa Rose in Disney's Grand Californian Hotel, Artist Point at Disney's Wilderness Lodge Resort, The Wave of American Flavors at Disney's Contemporary Resort, Hollywood Brown Derby at Disney's Hollywood Studios, and Yachtsman Steakhouse at Disney's Yacht Club Resort. Reservations will probably be a must for these so call 714-781-DINE for the Disneyland venues and 407-WDW-DINE for the restaurants at Walt Disney World.
If you're looking for a simpler taste treat during the week, Disneyland Resort visitors will be able to buy special Valentine-themed chocolate cupcakes with raspberry mousse filling and dark chocolate mousse frosting at Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe in Disneyland, and the Fiddler, Fifer & Practical Café and Pacific Wharf Café in Disney California Adventure, as well as at Disneyland Hotel Coffee House.
By Robert Niles
You can find live musical shows in most any theme or amusement park. Local kids sing a few show tunes, usually in old timey costumes, and draw some visitors away from the ride queues in the heat of the afternoon. But when Disney started taking shows to Broadway in the 1990s, it elevated its theme park entertainment as well, bringing Broadway-style staging to its in-park shows.
The Mermaid Lagoon Theater's "Under the Sea" at Tokyo DisneySea provides one stunning example of the heights to which theme park shows can soar. Literally. In this 14-minute performance inside Triton's Kingdom, Ariel gets aerial as the characters from Disney's The Little Mermaid "swim" in the air above the stage, thanks to acrobatic harnesses and a lot of creative staging.
Here's a promotional clip from Tokyo Disney that gives you a taste of what happens:
Fans have uploaded a few longer clips from the show, as well:
Disney's use of three-dimensional space here reminds me a bit of its staging in the Finding Nemo show at Disney's Animal Kingdom as well as the aerial work in Aladdin at Disney California Adventure.
Disney's tried several times to bring The Little Mermaid to its theme parks, with a show at Disney's Hollywood Studios and the new dark ride at California Adventure and the Magic Kingdom joining this effort. But I believe that the aerial acrobatics here come closest to matching the dynamics of swimming in Ariel's undersea world. In the Hollywood Studios show, you never lose the sense that you're sitting in a theater, watching a stage. But in Tokyo, you really can believe, at least for a moment, that you finally have found your way "under the sea."
By Jeff Elliott
I honestly thought that 2013 was going to be the year of the barrel roll on a wooden roller coaster.
But after really looking into it, it turns out that these are not true wooden coaster barrel rolls. The Iron Rattler at Six Flags Fiesta Texas and Outlaw Run at Silver Dollar City are both wooden frames with steel tracks, making them hybrid coasters more than pure woodies. Another hybrid, Hades at Mt. Olympus, (it has a steel frame and a wooden track) is also getting a barrel roll.
So…that being said…this is NOT the year of the wooden coaster barrel roll. But if we fish around a bit, we find another trend in roller coasters for 2013.
Six Flags Magic Mountain's new Full Throttle will run backward for a bit, as well as forward
It seems like the maintenance people who work on roller coasters can’t seem to figure out which way the seats go on and have built Batman: The Ride at Six Flags Great America backwards. The roller coaster is still going to roll forward but the confused maintenance crew has the seats facing backwards. This cycle has been repeated for Hollywood Dream at Universal Studios Japan, but only for one train. The maintenance crews at Thorpe Park are a little bit less confused than the previous two and have only put the back two rows of The Swarm on backwards. [And let's not forget the backward launch on the new Full Throttle, coming this year to Six Flags Magic Mountain. -- Robert]
This is following a trend of Superman: Escape from Krypton at Six Flags Magic Mountain and Mr. Freeze Reverse Blast at both Six Flags Over Texas and Six Flags St. Louis where the trains ran backwards. I would guess that these must have been popular if they are continuing the trend. If you have been on any of these, please give your thoughts below.
Does this idea intrigue you? Are you more likely to go on one of these rides facing backwards? Would you be more willing to visit a park that had a backwards coaster?
Please vote below and let us know in the talkback your thoughts on this matter.
By Robert Niles
So Congress is asking questions about Disney's new MyMagic+ system for reserving ride and dining times on a Walt Disney World vacation.
U.S. Rep Ed Markey (D-Mass.) has sent a letter to Disney CEO Bob Iger, asking questions about Disney's new MagicBands and their use, particularly regarding children and privacy.
I think some perspective might be helpful before anyone reacts to this story, one way or the other.
Using an interactive element in the queue of the Haunted Mansion at Disney World's Magic Kingdom. Interactive queues, the new FastPass+ and MyMagic+ are all part of Disney's billion-dollar-plus "NextGen" initiative.
First, I believe it is entirely appropriate for lawmakers to be asking questions about new technology and its application in business. The last thing any of us should want is for legislators to make laws (or fail to make laws) in ignorance. They should be learning about new tech, and if it takes a letter to a corporate CEO to start that process, so be it. I also believe that it is entirely appropriate for our elected representatives to create laws that set ground rules about the application of technology, to ensure that it is not used to damage or destroy the quality of our lives. (And if we don't like the way our representatives are doing that, the solution is to elect different representatives, not to say that lawmakers should quit making laws.)
Also, keep in mind that lawmakers (and reporters!) often know the answers to the questions they ask. They're simply looking to get the person they're questioning "on the record" with a response. (I should note that Rep. Markey's office has helped get information for Theme Park Insider in the past, especially with the Accident Watch feature we started back in 2001.)
There's a federal law, called the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, that prohibits businesses from collecting personal information online about children under age 13, without their parents' consent. That's why website registration forms almost always include a line saying "You must be 13 years of age or older to register" or something like that. Does COPPA apply to My Magic+? That's a fair question -- it uses wireless technology that might (or might not) be transmitted over the Internet, and there's definitely an online registration element to the system. If parents are compelled to give up their kids' identity and personal info to get access to Disney attractions, the government might choose to argue that's a violation of COPPA, as Disney would be taking away something it previously offered kids in retaliation for their parents not giving up their personal information. (FWIW, I think continued standby lines provide Disney an easy "out" here.)
That said, as a parent, I want full control of how my children use their Disney wristbands. I don't want Disney making decisions for me about my kids using charging privileges, and such, based on arbitrary age cut-offs. Let me decide. The spirit of COPPA was to give us parents that control for our children under 13. It's appropriate for members of Congress to defend that.
Two more thoughts, about privacy. First, about the use of personal information for marketing purposes. The big fear seems to be that companies are collecting all this information about what we do, write and share in order to send us more ads. It's true that companies crave information about consumers, but having worked with many advertisers over the years as a news publisher, I think it's worth noting that the primary aim of microtargeted ads is to stop sending advertisements to people who don't want them. Companies want to stop wasting their money buying ads seen by people who aren't ever going to buy the company's stuff. When microtargeting works, you get fewer ads you don't care about, not more. So the whole "advertisers are collecting information about you!" thing's pretty much a non-starter for me.
It's the non-marketing use of my personal information that worries me. And that's my second thought. I want some assurance that anyone tracking my day in a theme park has locked down access to that information so that it can't be used for any purpose beyond what I and the theme park have intended. Here's an example: A cast member sees a cute guest during the day, then logs into the park's reservation system to find out where that guest will be going in the park later in the day, in order to stalk him/her. That's creepy and potentially dangerous and I'm totally cool with Congress tightening laws to try to prevent that from happening.
So I hope that Rep. Markey's questions lead to some honest answers from Disney and show that the company's done the planning necessary to prevent problems with MyMagic+, FastPass+ and all of its NextGen initiative. This is some really neat technology that creates the potential to make theme park vacations into even more fun and engaging experiences. If Disney (or any other theme park company) is going to take this step, they ought to do it right.
By Jeff Elliott
Just a note: There are at times attempts at humor and sarcasm in this article. If such things are not for you, I'm sure a different article will be along soon, probably written by someone who has much better writing credentials than this author.
You have been warned.
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Marvel Studios, via Wikimedia Commons
Muppets 2 – This movie is running right along in its casting stage and has picked up a fairly strong sounding cast including Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, Ty Burrell, and just announced that Ray Liotta would be joining the cast as well. There is no mention about Kermit, Piggy, Fozzie, and Gonzo, but hopefully they will get their contracts all squared away soon.
By Robert Niles
The theater that housed the Terminator 2 show at Universal Studios Hollywood caught fire today, less than a month after the attraction closed.
According to the local NBC affiliate, a firefighter was taken to a hospital for observation after participating in fighting the fire, which was extinguished a little over one hour after it was reported.
The cause of the fire is under investigation. The Terminator theater is widely tipped to be the site of Hollywood's version of the Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem attraction that first appeared at Universal Studios Florida. In 2008, a much, much larger fire destroyed much of Universal's backlot, including the old King Kong attraction.
By Scott Joseph
Splitsville is the newest tenant at WDW's Downtown Disney, and it aims to take bowling to a new level -- two levels, actually. It's a bowling themed restaurant with 30 alleys spread over two floors in the former Virgin Megastore space near the Cirque du Soleil theater. Here's a review of the experience and the food.
By Robert Niles
Walt Disney World today announced its latest in-park interactive "game": A Pirate’s Adventure: Treasures of the Seven Seas.
Concept art courtesy Disney
If this sounds a bit familiar, that would be because we first told you about the game last May. (We had the name as "Pirates Adventure: Jewels of the Seven Seas.")
From Disney's press release:
In A Pirate’s Adventure: Treasures of the Seven Seas, guests will use a pirate map and magic talisman to help them complete five different pirate raids throughout Adventureland. The goal is to help locate different Treasures of the Seven Seas and fight off pirate enemies like the Royal Navy and Captain Barbossa, among others. If guests help Captain Jack succeed in all the missions, they’ll be welcomed as part of his new crew. If not, they’ll face the wrath of the cruel sea – alone.
And here's how we described the game last year, from the plans we saw:
Using RFID-enabled tap points, participating Disney World guests will be able to shoot the cannons on top of the Pirates of the Caribbean fortress queue, interact with animatronic idols, parrots and snakes, and search for and open a treasure chest which has been left somewhere in Adventureland.
It's Disney's latest step to utilize those "magic wristbands" to transform the Walt Disney World Resort into an Easter Egg-filled video game-like interactive adventure that spills over from attractions themselves into their queues and the rest of the parks themselves.
By Robert Niles
Great theme park attractions leave you with something more than a moment's entertainment. Think about the first time you rode a "big" roller coaster. Or let a theme park ride truly surprise you. That sense of accomplishment -- that you not only went on a ride, but did something special during it -- elevates certain attractions into lifelong memories.
And as special as those moments can be for you, they're magnified when they happen for your children.
My attraction of the week this week is Legoland's Driving School, which my children experienced here in Southern California. But east coast theme park fans have a Driving School at Legoland Florida, too. (You'll find Driving Schools at the international Legolands, too.)
Driving School enables children between ages six and 12 to get behind the wheel of their own Lego car for a drive around a city street grid. I'll turn it over to Theme Park Insider Daughter (and Driving School veteran) Natalie to explain:
"The thing that makes Driving School different from rides like Disneyland's Autopia is you're not on a track. You can drive the car wherever you want -- and run over things if you're not careful. So you have to learn to be careful, to stay in your lane. It's safe, but it doesn't feel safe when you first drive. You've got to be in control; there's no track to keep you from hitting things. But you're not scared when you drive. If you crash the cars, you're going to be fine.
"Legoland also made the ride look like the real world. They put in a lot of details -- like a gas station, and people walking and lots of traffic signs and signals, so you can feel all grown up while you're driving around. You even can get a license afterward."
Sure, a few kids treat the Driving School like a well-decorated bumper car ride, careening into everything in sight. But two of my great thrills as a parent in a theme park were watching each of my kids navigate the Driving School course perfectly for the first time, with no collisions and obeying every traffic signal correctly. (Yeah, that required a few evasive maneuvers from each of them -- but that's part of life in the real Big City, too.)
By Joshua Counsil
Escape from Tomorrow, a newly premiered film which takes place in Walt Disney World and Disneyland, is causing a stir at the Sundance Film Festival, both critically and politically.
Why the latter? According to the LA Times, Randy Moore, the filmmaker, recorded and released the film entirely without the Walt Disney Company's knowledge or consent. Using a handheld camera, scripts on smartphones, and unknowing guests as extras, Moore recorded the entire film, including a scene in which Epcot blows up, entirely within the resort over the past 3 years, then edited the feature in South Korea to avoid leaks and rumors.
Critically, the movie is doing very well. The Walt Disney Company has yet to comment on the film, which arguably showcases the resort in a negative light.
While Disney may pursue legal action and prevent this film from ever being shown commercially, we may have some help on that front from pirates... and I don't mean Captain Jack Sparrow.
By Robert Niles
Could SeaWorld soon become Six Flags Over the Sea? According to a Reuters report, Six Flags is one of the companies looking at buying SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, as the owner of the SeaWorld and Busch Gardens theme parks approaches its initial public offering.
We've known that Blackstone Group, the private investment group that bought SeaWorld for $2.3 billion in 2009, has been looking to cash out. Reuters broke the story about SeaWorld's IPO last month, and now the wire service says that SeaWorld might be entertaining offers to buy the whole thing, instead.
The Reuters piece specifically mentioned Six Flags and Apollo Global Management, which recently bought Great Wolf Resorts. But a sale to Apollo would be exchanging one private equity owner for another. You've got to figure that, one day, Apollo would want to cash out, too. So where does SeaWorld end up in the long term?
With 23.6 million visitors in 2011, according to the TEA/AECOM theme park attendance report, SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment attracted nearly as many visitors as Six Flags, which drew 24.3 million that year. But SeaWorld does not see itself in the same class as Six Flags. Speaking with its managers, it's clear that SeaWorld aspires to take on Universal and Disney, which attract millions more visitors a year and can draw upon the deep pockets and intellectual property of parent corporations.
SeaWorld needs to get bigger to play with Disney and Universal, which suggests an acquisition or merger with some other entertainment firm. But which one?
Let's look at the possibilities:
The Walt Disney Co.
Disney's never bought another company's theme parks, so this seems an impossibility. If SeaWorld had built four-star, convention-friendly hotels at each of its properties, I suspect that Disney would have given SeaWorld a close look, simply as an option for a substantial expansion of DVC. SeaWorld/Busch Gardens hotels and theme parks could have been popular options for DVC members looking beyond Orlando and Anaheim. But SeaWorld didn't get into the hotel resort business, so I think you safely can scratch Disney from this list.
The owner of the Universal theme parks just wrote a big check to Blackstone, buying out its half of the Universal Orlando Resort. But the two chains would appear to complement each other creatively, with Universal developing attractions from the worlds of fantasy and SeaWorld creating ones from the world of nature. Universal Orlando and SeaWorld Orlando have packaged tickets in the past, and coming together under the same owner would help create an even more compelling challenger to Walt Disney World. But what about the rest of the chain? Universal Studios Hollywood and SeaWorld San Diego stand too far from each other to generate much synergy. And I can't see that Universal has any desire to enter SeaWorld's other markets. Universal doesn't have a timeshare product like DVC.
The Reuters story estimates SeaWorld's market cap around $4 billion, which would make it more valuable than Six Flags, which has a market cap around $3.3 billion. So stop me if you've heard this story before. Premier Parks' leveraged buyout of the larger Six Flags chain (whose name it took) nearly sunk the chain, ultimately leaving it in bankruptcy. New CEO Jim Reid-Anderson has gotten Six Flags' finances in order, but does the chain really want to jeopardize its new-found fiscal health with what would have to be another leveraged deal? Wouldn't SeaWorld's building and attraction standards suffer with an over-leveraged new owner that didn't exactly have a sterling reputation for thematic quality in the first place?
That said, the geographic markets line up well here. The only markets where both chains have parks are San Antonio and Southern California. In SoCal, SeaWorld San Diego and Six Flags Magic Mountain stand more than 100 miles apart, so there's not much synergy there. But SeaWorld San Antonio and Six Flags Fiesta Texas could be packaged into an attractive two-park ticket. And would Six Flags executives or roller coaster fans salivate more over the prospect of Busch Gardens Tampa becoming the long-rumored Six Flags Over Florida?
With a market cap of just $2.0 billion and fewer annual visitors than SeaWorld, Cedar Fair also would be trying to buy a chain bigger than it is. Cedar Fair made a big acquisition of Viacom's Paramount Parks not too long ago, so it's hard to imagine Cedar Fair coming up with the cash to pull off an even bigger deal for SeaWorld. And the markets don't line up as neatly as they do with Six Flags -- what would happen with Kings Dominion and Busch Gardens Williamsburg under the same owner? That said, Cedar Fair must covet SeaWorld's license with Sesame Street, which would represent a huge upgrade over the moribund Peanuts franchise for its expansive kiddie lands. New Cedar Fair CEO Matt Ouimet is a veteran of Disney and Starwood, so he knows world-class theme parks and hotels and might be able to do wonders with SeaWorld's assets. If only he had the cash.
Merlin is the world's second-biggest theme park chain by attendance (behind Disney), and has experience owning animal attractions with its SeaLife aquariums. Merlin's Legoland theme parks offer an education-friendly message that would complement SeaWorld well. But there are two huge challenges blocking this deal. First, Merlin's policies prohibit the type of animal performances SeaWorld's known for. And, second, Merlin's biggest owner is… Blackstone. Blackstone's looking for a payday here, not a journal transfer. Forget it.
How about an entertainment company that's not yet in the theme park business? If any of the nation's top cable channel owners wanted to challenge Disney and NBCUniversal by expanding into theme parks, Discovery Communications buying SeaWorld would seem the most logical thematic fit. The creators of "Shark Week" owning SeaWorld? With Discovery Channel and Animal Planet in the corporate portfolio, synergy abounds with this deal. This would also allow SeaWorld management to stay in place, while giving the company some additional financial resources to expand into hotels and TV-themed attractions. C'mon, who wouldn't want to see a Mythbusters theme park show?
Your other major cable-channel companies are Time Warner, Viacom, News Corp, and Scripps, but Time Warner and Viacom abandoned the theme park business in the past, selling Six Flags and Paramount Parks, respectively (see above). I cannot imagine SeaWorld's environmental messages fitting into the News Corp portfolio, either. That leaves Scripps, which has a market cap of $8.8 billion, but Food Network and HGTV aren't nearly as complementary to SeaWorld as Discovery's properties.
So for the sake of this little hypothetical, let's assume that one of these companies someday will either own or be owned along with SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment. Which company would you like to see become SeaWorld's new home? To keep us with five options, I'm eliminating Merlin and Scripps, leaving you with a choice of Disney, Universal, Six Flags, Cedar Fair and Discovery.
By Robert Niles
SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment today announced the debut of new mobile websites that support using your phone as a ticket to SeaWorld and Busch Gardens theme parks.
Mobile phone users, including iPhone and Android users, can point their browsers to seaworld.com or buschgardens.com to access the websites. You can buy one-day tickets, Fun Cards, or Silver or Platinum annual passes using your phone and a credit card. Once you've completed your purchase, you can use the parks' mobile websites to access your ticket, allowing you to go straight to the turnstiles upon arrival. No paper printouts. No lines at will call.
And, uh, no wristbands. ;^)
When a guest is near one of the SeaWorld or Busch Gardens parks and connects to the website, the guest’s phone will immediately default to driving directions. However, if the guest is actually in the park, the site will automatically default to a park map so they can find their next adventure without missing a beat.
The websites also will offer "upsells" of animal encounters, tours and dining packages, based on what ticket you buy. I haven't used the mobile site to buy a ticket yet, but the interface seems clean and easy. Plus, it's nice to see a major park chain finally step forward and allow us to use our phones as admission media. Downside? This works only with the mobile websites now -- SeaWorld's app doesn't yet support the ticketing.
By Jeff Elliott
Welcome to our new place and time.
It appears that the news/humor article formerly known as Last Week at Your Amusement Park and From the Trenches of Amusement has received a promotion and is now considered acceptable for polite company and front page treatment…something that will surely soon disappoint whoever made that rash decision.
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Star Wars Universe – The way the US Government works is that any citizen can petition the government with anything at any time at for any reason. Once enough people have signed that petition, the government is usually required to give a response to the petition. Several months ago someone came up with the idea to petition the US government to build the Death Star by 2016. Interestingly, the White House Chief of Science and Space responded to the petition. While the petition was denied, they did a very good job of reasoning through why we should not move forward with this idea.
Looks like we don't get to see this for real, after all....
With the United States passing on this project, the next country in line is of course Britain who knows a thing or two about empires, and since Star Wars was filmed in Britain, makes sense that they would be the ones to get this done. And if you do remember, all of the admirals and people that worked for the Empire had British accents…
Please feel free to read it for yourself, there is much more to the petition response if you need a chuckle.
Disney Movie Studios – Disney just dropped a bunch of dates of new live action films.
And add to that some dates that we already knew:
Frozen – 11/27/13, Planes – 8/9/13, Monsters University – 6/21/13, The Good Dinosaur – 5/30/14, The Inside Out – 6/19/15, Finding Nemo 2 – 2016, Star Wars 7 – 2015.
While not a complete list of what Disney is releasing and not including a strong lineup of Marvel movies that pick up on where the Avengers left off, not to mention Avenger 2 in 2015… this is an extremely strong lineup for many years… now quit messing about and make some rides off of some of this stuff.
Disney Games Studio – One more little bit before we get into the hardcore theme park news. Disney is trying to cash in on what Skylander is doing by combining collectable figurines and games with the June 2013 release of Disney Infinity. The figurines will integrate with a platform that will allow you to use your figurine characters in the game and then play with your friends. Infinity is an appropriate name for the game, because if the first sets of characters sell out, then there will be more and more sets until all of the Disney franchises have been used. The initial release of the game features The Incredibles, Monsters, Inc, Pirates of the Caribbean, Toy Story, Cars, Phineas and Ferb, Wreck-It Ralph, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Frankenweenie. I have to say that the on screen characters look like really poor quality renditions of the characters. Whereas most gaming studios are approaching photo realistic characters, these throwback style characters look like some second grader modeled the characters with papier-mâché right before a chemically induced naptime. Looks aside, the important thing is to get the personality and life of the characters right, and hopefully they have done that. If this is anything like Disney Universe, they have wasted their time developing it. If they really want a good game, why not lean on Square Enix to get the lead out and start putting some serious work into Kingdom Hearts III…and while you are at that, the fans would probably like a movie for Kingdom Hearts….as soon as you get over your spoiled brat tantrum and pay Terry Pratchett whatever he was asking for to get Mort back on track.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom – Do you remember that Wilderness Explorers game that they were testing out at DAK about 9 months ago? It looks like they are planning on officially launching the game “soon”. Now what does “soon” mean? It probably means sometime before this summer, but could also mean sometime before the sun burns out…you just never know with major corporations.
Plans have been uncovered showing that the Festival of the Lion King building is going to be moved to a location behind the Dawa Bar. The plans also show a path coming out of the Avatar area and giving the Avatar area an second entrance. So when the tall skinny Smurfs start shooting into the crowd with their bows, you now know that you don’t need to follow the rest of the sheeple, you can hook a hard left, hide in the brush until the stampede goes by, and then sneak over to the Lion King show where you can pretend you were the whole time.
By Scott Joseph
California Grill will close after the the final flicker of fireworks over the Magic Kingdom on Friday, Feb. 1. The 17-year-old restaurant will be completely overhauled and redesigned. Menu, too. Here are some of the details.
By Robert Niles
We haven't done one of these in a while, so, what the heck?
Where is this in the world of theme parks?
Answers in the comments, please.
By Robert Niles
Thousands of readers have downloaded or ordered our book, Stories from a Theme Park Insider, since it debuted in 2011. Now, I'd like to let you know about my new book, which I released just last month.
A warning, though: This isn't another theme park book, nor is it a collection of stories. But Theme Park Insider does play an important role within the book, and I'm mentioning it to you today because there's much in this volume that might help some Theme Park Insider readers in their "day jobs," away from visiting theme parks.
Some of you might remember that I've worked at several newspapers and taught journalism in the past, in addition to running Theme Park Insider. Thanks to my experience here at TPI, as well as our sister website, Violinist.com, I've become a bit of an expert in how lowly news reporters can become publishers, running their own website publishing businesses.
My new book, How to Make Money Publishing Community News Online, is a guidebook for doing that. And more, really. It's a practical guide for anyone who wants or needs to use the Internet to communicate better and connect with customers, clients, or an audience. Though I'm pitching the book for use in journalism schools, I didn't write it just for journalism students. I wanted it to be a useful guide for anyone who wanted to start a website, or even just to use online communication tools to help improve your career.
In the book, I detail seven steps that readers can use to connect with and organize a community around any project. I also include tips for writing online, shooting photos and video, engaging readers with interactivity, using social media without embarrassing yourself or your company, and even offer a tutorial in basic math skills that are helpful in business and reporting.
No, I don't have any funny stories about getting fired at the Haunted Mansion. But I believe that some of you will find the book useful, so I'm taking a few moments to mention it here. I hope that you'll take a look, and perhaps become a fan of the book on Facebook, too. If you're so inclined, "liking" the book on Amazon and leave a favorable review also can help promote the book to more readers, so I'd be ever grateful to anyone who helped by doing those things, too. (I've been running excerpts over on my Sensible Talk blog, too.)
Thanks for taking a look at the book, and now we resume our never-quite-normal theme park coverage.
By Robert Niles
Some of my favorite theme park attractions don't offer a narrative -- instead, they offer well-themed spaces that inspire your imagination and invite you to become a participant in your own story within that time and place.
Think of Dave Cobb's wonderful story about the high school kids cosplaying their homework at Universal's Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Great theme park environments draw you out of your world into theirs, allowing you to live a fantasy life that, for a few moments at least, seems every bit as real as the world you left outside the park's gates. No theme park environment has done that for me more thoroughly than Fortress Explorations at Tokyo DisneySea.
With the sailing ship Renaissance docked at its side the citadel home of the "Society of Explorers and Adventurers" (check out the acronym) offers 10 immersive scenes and displays, which you can explore at your own pace. Allow me to repeat a few paragraphs I wrote about this attraction a little over a year ago:
Inside this citadel, you'll find 10 individual exhibits, from a pendulum tower…
…to an alchemy laboratory…
…to my favorite, the Chamber of Planets.
This is a cathedral to astronomy, designed with exquisite detail, in tribute to an era when science stood up superstition and showed humanity a more enlightened way. The planets surround our sun, with the heavens painted on the ceiling above. Extending from the pedestal are several arms with handles, with which you can turn the planets in orbit around the sun. Alone with the solar system, I spent several minutes literally making the Earth move.
My most sublime moment in a theme park has been those times I stood on the island-side dock of an otherwise empty Tom Sawyer Island, at sunset in the Magic Kingdom, watching the lights come on in Frontierland. Thousands of people would be in my view, but I stood alone, separated from them by the waters of the Rivers of America - alone in a very public place during that graceful moment when day slipped into night.
I thought of that while standing inside the Chamber of Planets, enjoying another sublime moment, alone with all eternity.
Wander through and around the rest of the citadel, and you'll find cannons, an explorer's hall, an illusion room, a navigation center, a camera obscura, a sundial deck, and a replica of daVinci's Flying Machine. The citadel is also home to Magellan's Restaurant, one of the finest theme park restaurants in the world.
Click through for larger images of the map and guide to Fortress Explorations that DisneySea makes available to all visitors:
By creating a space that made me -- and countless other visitors -- fall in love with science and discovery all over again, Fortress Explorations well earns a nod as an Attraction of the Week.
By Robert Niles
Thanks to Twitter follower Dustin Harter for catching this. But when you go to the page to order tickets on Walt Disney World's new website, you'll find that you no longer can add the option to keep your Disney World theme park tickets from expiring.
In fact, Disney's website now says " All ticket days must be used within 14 days of first use" and "Tickets and options must be used within 14 days of first use."
This brings Walt Disney World's policy in line with Disneyland's where tickets also expire 14 days from first use. And it effectively ends the strategy of "overbuying" by getting a 10-day, no-expire ticket when you visit the Walt Disney World Resort, even if you won't be going to the parks for 10 days on your trip. Buying the 10-day ticket with a no-expire option "locked in" your unused visit days for future trips, at today's theme park prices. Given that Disney raises its ticket prices every year, this could be an effective way to hold down the cost of a Disney vacation. (I've got a few unused days on a 10-day ticket I bought a few years back, at an average cost of about $45 a day, with the park-hopper option included.)
Needless to say, this changes the calculus for loyal, long-time Disney visitors, eliminating one of the reasons why some of those visitors chose not to buy tickets along with an on-site hotel package.
Orlando-area readers, what are you seeing at the WDW ticket booths? Is "no-expire" gone there, too? Everyone else, what do you think of this change?
Update: Twitter user @GertieTheDino89 reports that the "no-expire" option is still available, at least for now, using the "old" version of the WDW website -- the one without the new "My Disney Experience" links.
Update 2: I've also heard from Twitter followers that the ticket booth signage for no-expire was removed last week, although other readers on our Facebook page have said you can get it if you ask, and the option remains available to travel agents through their portal into the WDW system.
So is Disney in the middle of removing the option, as it's gone from some places and remains available in others? If you want no-expire tickets at today's prices, and don't want to take chances, better get 'em now before they're gone.
By Robert Niles
Theme parks want to make sure you're spending money when you're inside their gates. And one of the ways that they do that is to offer deals that keep you in the park longer for each day that you visit.
Ultimately, that's one of the big reasons behind Fastpass and other ride reservation systems. If you've got a reserved time to ride an attraction later in the day, odds are you're more likely to stick around in the park until your reservation time comes.
That's also part of the reason behind dining and meal plans. Pay once for "all you can eat" plan, or get a dining plan that's tied into your hotel stay, you're probably going to stay in the park to get all those meals you've "paid for." Having bought into the plan, you're less likely to leave property early for dinner or another meal outside the park.
If you're celebrating a birthday or other special occasion at the Magic Kingdom's new Be Our Guest restaurant, let them know. You might get to try The Grey Stuff. (It tastes like chocolate mousse.) Photo by Amanda Jenkins.
But have you ever gotten one of these deals? Disney, Universal and SeaWorld each offer options in their Orlando-area parks. Disney's Dining Plan is tied into on-site hotel stays -- you buy the meal plan as part of a vacation package, and "free" meal plans are often thrown in as a discount for visits during certain times of the year.
You don't have to stay at an one-site hotel at Universal Orlando or SeaWorld to get their Meal Deal or All-Day Dining Deal -- they're available for purchase by any park visitor. But the Universal and SeaWorld deals only allow you to select from a handful of restaurants in their parks, and don't include any full-service dining. Disney's Dining Plan includes just about everything, depending upon the plan you select, and you'll have to use more points for certain locations.
And, as always, thank you for reading Theme Park Insider. Have a great weekend!
By Mike Gallagher
Apparently there's a pretty serious schism among various members of the Koch family over money and control of Holiday World.
A lawsuit filed by the widow of late park president Will Koch has given her control of the company that owns Holiday World, allowing her to fire Dan Koch as park president and replace him with former park general manager Matt Eckert. Dan Koch is appealing the verdict in the lawsuit, which will determine the future ownership and management of the theme park in Santa Claus, Indiana.
By Robert Niles
The Walt Disney Company today announced a rumored change in leadership among its top theme parks. Walt Disney World president Meg Crofton moves upstairs - to the "President, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Operations, U.S. and France" position that she's held concurrently with her job running the company's flagship resort, in Florida.
That leaves an opening to run the Walt Disney World Resort, and that job's going to Disneyland President George Kalogridis, who oversaw the wildly successful revamp of Disney California Adventure.
Meg Crofton, left, and George Kalogridis, right, watch the red carpet arrivals at the opening of Cars Land in June 2012, from the balcony of the Carthay Circle at Disney California Adventure.
Michael Colglazier is moving over from Disney's Animal Kingdom to run Disneyland, replacing Kalogridis.
What does this mean? Success equals promotion. Disneyland thrived under Kalogridis, who will now get the opportunity to pump up Walt Disney World the way Disneyland improved under his leadership. Remember, Disney recently sent Cars Land creative director Kathy Mangum east to oversee Imagineering and design at the WDW resort. Clearly, Disney Parks chairman Tom Staggs and Disney management have decided to entrust Walt Disney World to Disneyland's management team, instead.
But what about Crofton's "promotion"? Remember, this is a side gig that she was doing in addition to the very full-time job of running the Walt Disney World Resort. Whatever Crofton will be doing now, it appears clear that it's the Disneyland team that's now in charge at the Walt Disney World Resort.
Update: My favorite line from Disney's official bio for Kalogridis? "George began his career at Walt Disney World in 1971 as a busboy at the Contemporary Resort." This is no outsider.
By Robert Niles
For years, you've had to touch your finger to a scanner when using your ticket to enter or re-enter a Walt Disney World theme park. But at Disneyland? Just show your ticket and you're on your way. Re-entering the park? Just be sure to get a handstamp and show it when you return.
Disney World's "biometric" system was designed to foil visitors buying unused ticket days from brokers, who bought up partially used tickets from other park visitors. That gave visitors who bought those tickets a price break, but also left them vulnerable to scammers who would be selling voided, used-up or counterfeit tickets, too. (And, of course, by eliminating the secondary market for tickets, Disney set itself up to make plenty of extra money from ticket sales, too.)
Now, Disneyland appears to have started using a "biometric" system of its own. But instead of using those fancy, schmancy finger scanners, Walt's original park is going old-school.
They're taking visitors' pictures.
Disneyland's long used photos to verify the identity of annual passholders when they use their passes to enter the parks. Starting today, Disney's begun taking photos of anyone using a multi-day pass for the first time, according to the LA Times report linked above. When someone tries to enter the park on subsequent days, the turnstiles attendant will see the photo of the original user of that pass. If that picture doesn't look like you, you're not getting into the park.
Close... but, uh, no
Disneyland doesn't sell no-expire tickets, so conceivably Disney could purge the photos 14 days after the ticket's first use, when the multi-day ticket expires anyway. But the LAT report doesn't address that issue.
And taking photos seems to me a slower way to get the ID of visitors than the WDW finger scan. (FWIW, Universal Studios Hollywood uses the finger scan.) Throwing one more element into this, a much higher percentage of Disneyland's visitors are annual passholders than at WDW, so this system won't represent a change for them. (APers now get their photos taken by Photopass photographers in the park during their first visit on a new pass.)
What do you think?
By Robert Niles
Did you catch that interesting revelation in our post earlier this week about Knott's Berry Farm and its influential Log Ride? Knott's is taking the ride down for five months for a major refurbishment, including the addition of new animatronic figures and scenes to support the ride's story.
But that wasn't the news that treally got my attention. Instead, it was this, from the park's press release: "The Knott's Timber Mountain Log Ride remains the most popular ride in the park, surpassing all of Knott’s other attractions in ridership."
Wow. With all the money that Knott's (and its current owner, Cedar Fair) have invested in multi-million-dollar roller coasters over the years, it's still the Log Ride that's putting more people through day-in and day-out, more than forty years after its debut.
I suppose that makes sense, if you know about ride capacities. One awful secret of the amusement business is that most roller coasters have terrible ride capacity. You might think that coasters have such long lines because they're popular. Popularity brings people into the lines, sure, but low capacity is what really drives wait times. The fewer people a ride can put through in an average hour, the longer everyone who wants to ride will have to wait.
Log flumes, with an ever-flowing supply of "logs" to fill, typically put through more riders per hour than roller coasters, which have a limited number of trains that must be kept far apart from one another on the track. Flume-based dark rides often stand as their parks' capacity kings -- Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean and It's a Small World are crowd eaters, capable of putting through more than 2,000 riders per hour apiece.
But all the capacity in the world won't make an attraction a park's top dog for ridership if people don't want to go on it. That Knott's Log Ride is leading the park in ridership speaks not just to its capacity, but its enduring appeal to visitors, as well.
Which raises the question: If rides like the Log Ride are so popular, and so efficient in handling crowds, why don't parks build more of them? Why do regional amusement park chains such as Cedar Fair and Six Flags continue to spend millions a year to build roller coasters that put through hundreds of visitors per hour instead of investing in dark rides and log flumes that could serve thousands per hour?
When was the last time you saw a park debut a log flume ride? Or an indoor boat ride? The last I remember is Universal's Madagascar ride in Singapore, which remains the only indoor boat ride Universal's ever ordered. And that was the first new one in years. Outside of a few Sally Corp. shooters (and the defunct Hard Rock Park), I can't recall any new tracked dark rides at regional theme parks over the past decade.
Good log flumes and dark rides aren't cheap. Show scenes, lighting, climate control and water flow all cost money -- expenses you typically can avoid operating a roller coaster. But how much new market share does adding yet another roller coaster actually bring to a park? How many more new visitors could a park win by adding a new flume, non-soaking boat ride or indoor dark ride, instead? Let's not forget that there is one theme park company that's shown you can make a pretty strong return on investment by emphasizing boat and track rides over roller coasters.
Disney's not the far-and-away market leader in theme parks just because of its cartoon characters, movie- and TV-tie-ins and entertainment line-ups. The Disney theme parks offer a ride line-up substantially unlike most other theme park chains -- one that's heavy on dark rides, boat rides and, yes, even a very popular log flume. (Which, by all accounts, it totally ripped off from Knott's Berry Farm.)
I would love, love, love to see Knott's multi-million-dollar investment in its Log Flume represent a change in attitude at Cedar Fair (now run by ex-Disneyland President Matt Ouimet, by the way). We love roller coasters. But we love log flumes, boat rides and dark rides, too. Why not invest in building some new ones? Why make your customers wait hours in line for yet another coaster, when so many more visitors and would-be visitors could be enjoying one of these other popular types of rides instead?
By Robert Niles
Disney Parks President Tom Staggs posted to the Disney Parks Blog in the wee hours of the morning today, publicly confirming Walt Disney World's new FastPass+ system.
Staggs didn't reveal anything new: FastPass+ will be a "NextGen" system that allows certain WDW visitors to reserve multiple ride and show times in advance of their visit, instead of having to collect individual FastPass paper tickets on the day of their visit. Visitors will make their reservations via Disney World's new "My Disney Experience" website and mobile app, using a process that Disney's calling MyMagic+.
Photo courtesy Disney
Once visitors arrive, they'll get a "MagicBand" wristband, an RFID-enabled device that will function as their theme park ticket, FastPass+ ticket, Disney PhotoPass and hotel room key.
What we don't yet know for certain is if people not staying in a Disney hotel will have access to the MagicBand or FastPass+. (Could it become a paid extra for non-hotel guests? Your guess is as good as mine here. *See the update below....) Nor do we know if paper FastPass tickers will be going away, or what the percentage of available rides will be reserved for FastPass+ users, as opposed to traditional FastPass reservations or stand-by riders. (The more people using FastPass+, the longer the wait for stand-by riders, of course.)
Nor do we have an official launch date for the new systems, just Staggs' words that Disney will "be testing, adjusting and adding features to MyMagic+ and My Disney Experience over time and will continue to make improvements based on our guests’ feedback."
Update: Some additional information, from a WDW press release:
"The MagicBand is initially available to select Walt Disney World Resort hotel guests and guests who purchase other specific products. Other guests will be able to use their standard ticket to access the benefits of MyMagic+, such as making FastPass+ selections on My Disney Experience."
By Robert Niles
Amanda Jenkins' delightful review yesterday of Disney World's new Be Our Guest restaurant revealed an interesting bit of news about New Fantasyland's signature restaurant - it's booked for dinner all the way through May.
For years, Epcot's Le Cellier Steakhouse and the Magic Kingdom's have provided the toughest "gets" in Disney's Priority Seating system. Getting a ressie at the California Grill atop the Contemporary Resort (the restaurant closes Monday for refurbishment, reopening this summer) also has frustrated many Disney visitors. And Disney's just debuted Monsieur Paul, the replacement for the multiple Theme Park Insider Award-winning Bistro de Paris, in Epcot's France pavilion.
I suspect that many Disney fans would be thrilled to be able to land a table at any of these fives popular restaurants. But which is the one where you'd most want to dine?
Let's dream here, shall we? Imagine that a Disney cast member walks up to you at the park gate and tells you that you've won a special "Limited Time Magic" contest. You get to dine, for free, at one of the five restaurants for dinner tonight. (Let's assume this is happening after the California Grill reopens.) Which one do you pick?
That's our vote of the week.
Thank you, again, for being part of Theme Park Insider, and, again, Happy New Year!
By Amanda Jenkins
For our trip to Walt Disney World, December 8th-16th, I was able to attain something that many considered impossible...dinner reservations for Be Our Guest. The day that one could reserve a dinner time, I was on the phone and within thirty minutes I had my first choice for a dining time. It was meant to be.
When we arrived, there were many people who wanted to go in and look around. They were denied entrance. Desperate people came, hoping against hope that they too could be allowed to eat within the Beast's home. They were sadly turned away with, "We are booked until the middle of May 2013." These poor cast members were being cursed to the darkest pit in Hades by many a park visitor. While I on the other hand held my golden ticket, AKA beeper, tightly in my fist while standing on the bridge. When our beeper buzzed, we dashed madly towards the cast member who said that we were cordially invited to dine within the Beast's home. He hoped that we would enjoy dining in his ballroom. I was so excited that I nearly skipped through the door. Okay, I have to confess...I did skip through the door.
Once through the door though all skipping came to a stop. I had to gasp at the beautiful stained glass window that I had only seen on my TV and at the theater. I was ushered into the ballroom. Mere words are inadequate to describe my jaw drop. It was softly lit by the chandeliers. The cherubs were on the ceiling. A beautiful tile rose was in the middle of the floor. Candles were softly lit on each table and along the sconces. We were seated over by one of the ballroom windows. Snow is falling the entire time outside the window. Snow piles are even along the bannister of the balcony. My eyes could not stop popping out of their sockets. It was just too lovely.
Our waitress came and took our order. She informed us that our host would be making a special apperance and then would like to meet us after we dine within his drawing room. This was huge news for my little boys (who love it when he loses his temper in the movie). I just wished I had on a ball gown instead of blue jeans and t-shirt. While waiting on our food we took a quick tour of the West Wing. I loved the torn portrait and rose. The claw marks and tapestries reflected the time period and angst of the story we had walked into.
My husband ordered the sauteed shrimp and scallops in the puff pastry with lobster cream sauce. He was in awe at this heavenly dish that he immediately dove into. Being deathly allergic to seafood, I chose the grilled strip steak with garlic herb butter, pommes frites (thank you high school French class for not making me feel ignorant when reading french menus) and hericot vertes. My pommes frites came with a side of mayonnaise. Now being a red-blooded American (a southern one to boot), I have never in my life dipped a french fry in mayonnaise. But when in Rome...or the Beast's castle...do as they do. It wasn't bad at all. My steak was by far one of the best I have had at Disney World since I ate dinner at the California Grill. My green beans were steamed with red bell peppers and onions. I have now decided that this is the only way to prepare them. While eating our host made his entrance to blaring horns. He walked thought the Ballroom, bowing to us (who were clapping as if he were truly the prince of all of Fantasyland), and into the West Wing. He then went back into his drawing room to await his guests.
Since we were celebrating my birthday during this trip, I was brought a special treat. The famous Grey Stuff. It was brought on its on plate with "Try the grey stuff" written in gold. It had little grey and white pearls and a lit candle. I was told that they only bring it out to people who are celebrating something special. It was delicious. Then the cupcake cart was brought our way. All of my guys are chocolate men. I couldn't decide which one I wanted, so I let them choose for me. I was given the chocolate cupcake, naturally. There was not a crumb left when we were all finished.
After leaving our waitress a hefty tip, we made our way into the drawing room to thank our host for letting us enter in his castle. We had our pictures made with him and then left. On our way out, we walked through a hallway of suits of armor. If you pause you can hear them whispering to each other, sneezing and saying bless you. We left laughing, extremely well fed, and euphoric that we did not enter into the castle our entire trip until our dinner reservations. It was definitely one of the best meals I have ever had at the Magic Kingdom.
For those who have or are planning on dinner at Be Our Guest, I recommend waiting until your reservation to enter into the castle. It will make it all that much better. I would also refrain from looking at pictures or videos. You will be even more pleasantly surprised for it. I would post pictures, but sadly, technical difficulties have arisen.
By Robert Niles
Earlier today, Micechat.com blew up the theme park community with news that Universal had acquired the theme park rights to Lord of the Rings. A few hours later, however, the website backed off and now is reporting that Universal is "close to acquiring the rights."
Well, no kidding.
Middle Earth, coming to a Universal theme park someday? Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
That Universal wants the rights to Lord of the Rings is hardly a secret. We've had plenty of threads on this site where readers have offered their wishes and suggestions for what Universal should do with the franchise. By all accounts, Universal Creative and LOTR/Hobbit director Peter Jackson have a strong working relationship, dating to Jackson's work on the King Kong 360/3D experience at Universal Studios Hollywood. New Line Cinema, which produces the Lord of the Rings films, has worked with the Universal theme parks on Halloween Horror Nights attractions, and now is a subsidiary of Warner Bros., which is quite pleased with how Universal handled that other little film franchise it runs: Harry Potter.
The only connections missing are the blessings of Tolkien family, and of course, the little matter of money. Film rights are not theme park rights, and that deal would have to be negotiated separately, with all parties involved.
And that's where we've been. The Tolkien family's not taken an aggressive role in the development of Lord of the Rings, and apparently isn't all that happy with the resulting films (link in French). I've not heard any reputable reports about any potential relationship between Christopher Tolkien and J.K. Rowling, either, so I don't know if she'd be able to convince the Tolkien family to sign off on a deal.
But Universal Creative has impressed many people in the film industry with its handling of franchises such as Potter, Kong and Transformers. And Universal finally now enjoys stable ownership, with Comcast acquiring full control of the Universal Orlando Resort and demonstrating that it's willing to spend money to support its parks, with major expansions underway in Orlando, Hollywood and Japan. (Singapore lacks the room for any significant expansion, though it is getting a new Sesame Street dark ride this spring.)
Perhaps Disney can swoop in and write a bigger check than Comcast would be willing to put on the table. Perhaps the Tolkien family might decide that it'd rather not see a Lord of the Rings theme park land, no matter how credible Universal Creative and Comcast's money might be. But if those don't happen, Lord of the Rings at Universal seems a matter of "when" and not "if."
By Robert Niles
Knott's Berry Farm announced today that its classic Timber Mountain Log Ride - the second flume ride in the country and the widely-acknowdeged inspiration for Disney's Splash Mountain - will go down this month for a major five-month refurbishment.
From the press release:
The oldest log flume ride in the country will be the beneficiary of a multi-million dollar refurbishment and restoration project that will begin this January. The classic attraction which opened at Knott’s Berry Farm in 1969 was the second log flume ride in the U.S.
I love that Cedar Fair (Knott's owner) is investing in new characters and story with one of its few remaining "dark ride"-style attractions.
By Robert Niles
Happy New Year 2013 from Pasadena!
We're sitting at the corner of Orange Grove and Pasadena boulevards on New Year's morning, watching the 124th annual Rose Parade, which includes this year's float from the Disneyland Resort -- a 125-foot-long floral recreation of Cars Land at Disney California Adventure (and, if rumors prove true, coming soon to Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida -- we'll just ignore the existence of the severely abridged version at the Walt Disney Studios in Paris).
The Rose Parade float depicts the town of Radiator Springs, along with all three Cars Land attractions
But since it's a theme park ride, something has to go terribly wrong. In a flash of fireworks, the float "breaks down."
Fortunately, Cars Land is home to a certain tow truck, who drives up to give the float a jump, and save the day.
Lightning McQueen and Sally ride at the front of the float
Here's Sally, from the other side.
Here's Mater's Junkyard Jamboree
And Luigi's Flying Tires, followed by dancing waiters and waitresses from Flo's V8 Cafe
It's flowers depicting car parts depicting flowers!
Radiator Springs Racers brings up the rear of the float. The only thing missing? The two-hour-plus queue of visitors, of course.
And Mater and friend, bringing up the rear.
Here's a video of the float going by - I was sitting in the "TV bleachers" located across the street from the TV cameras at turn on the corner of Colorado and Orange Grove boulevards. Unfortunately, the sun came out just as the Cars Land float approached, so I was shooting into the sun.
This year's Rose Parade theme was "Oh, the Places You'll Go."
So, yes, Dr. Seuss' Cat in the Hat made an appearance, for you Universal Islands of Adventure fans:
As did Thing 1 and Thing 2 and a certain fish in a pot:
Happy New Year, theme park fans!
* * *
Of course, the Rose Parade leads up to the annual Rose Bowl Game, which this year features Wisconsin versus Stanford.
The uh, somewhat infamous Stanford Band behaved themselves for the TV cameras, though it made the turn at Colorado Boulevard in its own, distinct way:
* * *
Earlier, the people at Disney released a couple of videos documenting the construction and decoration of the Cars Land float:
Remember, every surface of a Rose Parade float must be covered in flowers or other organic material. That creates a huge last-minute rush to decorate these floats, as participants need to ensure all that flora will be fresh on New Year's morning.
Here's what the crew from Cars Land was wearing (from the Tournament of Roses' press release): "[Lightning] McQueen will be covered in red carnation petals, strawflower and seaweed. Sally will be covered in cut statice, lunaria and clover seed. The tractors will be covered in a variety of seeds, mums, seaweed and black beans. The animated signs will be decorated in a variety of seeds, strawflowers, mums and marigolds. The mountains and rocks throughout the float will be covered in lentils, clover seed, mums and strawflowers. Throughout the deck of the float will be live pinon trees, cactus, succulents and a variety of grasses. There will be thousands of roses, carnations and gerberas spread throughout the float."
P.S. Disney's other big event today is the opening of entries for Disney's 2013 sweepstakes - one Disney vacation given away every day in January.
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