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February 2013

The ultimate guide to planning an exclusive, luxury Disney World vacation, when price is no obstacle

By Robert Niles
Published: February 28, 2013 at 2:40 PM

Planning a vacation to the Walt Disney World Resort? Sure, you can find plenty of articles offering advice to families on a budget. But you're not looking to skimp on your holiday get-away. What about planning an ultra-luxury trip to the world's top vacation resort, instead?

For the "one percent" of family vacationers, we offer our Insider's guide to the best of Walt Disney World's most exclusive vacation options.

Start planning your get-away with a call to Walt Disney World's VIP Tour Services at +1-407-560-4033. Disney's VIP Tour guides will pick you up at your hotel and escort your family through Disney's four theme parks. On a VIP Tour, you'll skip the lines at most attractions and enjoy priority seating at your choice of Disney's top restaurants. Why wait for a space on one of the Disney parade routes, when a VIP host can reserve a private viewing for you?

Reserved parade viewing

VIP Tours start at $275 per hour, with a six-hour minimum, in addition to your park tickets. Of course, while Disney's VIP hosts can provide expert insight about the resort, you didn't get to where you are in life without doing some research on important issues. And what's more important than enjoying a wonderful experience with your family? So let's explore some of the other exclusive options you also might consider during your Walt Disney World vacation.

Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa

Let's start with where to stay. For the best experience during your vacation, consider a club level room with a theme park view at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa (starting at $942 a night) or a Savanna view club-level room or suite at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge (starting $473 a night for rooms and $912 for suites). From the Grand Floridian, you're just a monorail ride away from Disney's Magic Kingdom theme park, which you'll be able to see from your room's window. At the Animal Kingdom Lodge, you'll watch the wild residents of Disney's Animal Kingdom from the privacy of your own room. Both hotels offer top-quality dining and award-winning customer service in addition to the resort's best views.

Speaking of dining, you won't want to leave Disney without experiencing the most exclusive dinner available at the resort: The Chef's Table at Victoria & Albert's in the Grand Floridian, rated as one of only three five-diamond restaurants in Florida by AAA. Only one party per evening is seated for this three-hour, 10-course dining adventure, with prices starting at $210 per person, with wine pairings available for an addition $105 per guest.

Inside the parks, don't miss the new Monsieur Paul, at Epcot's France pavilion. Under the guidance of legendary French chef Paul Bocuse, this gourmet restaurant serving classic French cuisine recently replaced Bistro de Paris, a three-time winner of the Theme Park Insider Award as the world's best theme park restaurant. Entrees start at $38.

For a spectacular end to a day visiting Disney's theme parks, head to Disney's Contemporary Resort for a late dinner at the California Grill, where you can watch the Magic Kingdom's fireworks for the dining room atop the Contemporary. The California Grill's currently undergoing a transformation with a fresh new interior design and menu from Chef Brian Piasecki, featuring the latest in California-inspired cuisine. The restaurant will reopen in September.

In the mood for a luau? Disney's Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show at the Polynesian Resort (located one monorail stop from the Grand Floridian) offers an all-you-can-eat tropical feast, along with the spectacle of hula and fire-knife dancers. The best seats range from $70-74 per person for adults and $36-40 for children.

If you have a young daughter, treat her to an afternoon at the My Disney Girl's Perfectly Princess Tea Party at the Garden View Tea Room in the Grand Floridian.

Perfectly Princess Tea Party

You'll enjoy a delightful tea service while a Disney princess visit your table. Young guests each take home an 18-inch My Disney Girl doll dressed in a Princess Aurora gown as a memento of their special afternoon. ($176 for children ages 3-11 and $90 per person for adults)

While a VIP Tour is the best way to see Disney World's four theme parks, Disney also offers behind-the-scenes experiences you won't want to miss. Get a closer look at the residents of Disney's Animal Kingdom with the Wild Africa Trek, a three-hour safari adventure through the park's Safi River Valley. You'll closer looks at hippos, crocodiles, giraffe and rhinos than regular park visitors, while Disney photographers capture the highlights of your tour. The $189-249 price (depending upon season) also includes gourmet snacks, such as smoked salmon, brie, tandoori shrimp or chicken curry salad, as well as a complimentary gift at the end of your adventure.

Want to explore the seas instead? Sign up for Disney's Epcot DiveQuest, a 40-minute dive into one of the world's largest aquariums, Epcot's The Seas with Nemo & Friends Pavilion. You'll swim with more than 6,000 sea creatures, including sea turtles, dolphins… and sharks! If you're not SCUBA-certified (a requirement for the DiveQuest tour), don't worry. Choose the Epcot Seas Aqua Tour instead, a 30-minute snorkeling adventure in the aquarium. The total DiveQuest experience lasts about three hours and costs $175 per person, while the Aqua Tour lasts about two and a half hours total and costs $140 per person. (The rest of your tour time will include a private backstage tour of the pavilion.)

You can get even more of an insider's look at Disney's theme parks with the seven-hour Backstage Magic Tour, which will take you behind the scenes of all four Disney World theme parks, including a look inside the Magic Kingdom's "secret" tunnel system that runs underneath the park. You'll also learn how Disney creates the live and animatronic shows that have made Disney's theme parks the world's most popular attractions. ($229 per person)

The Walt Disney World Resort offers more than theme parks, too. You can challenge yourself with a round of golf on a PGA Tour course at Disney's Osprey Ridge, or take some high-speed laps in a Ferrari, Lamborghini or Porsche on a former IndyCar track with Disney's Exotic Driving Experience. Or just have some fun with the family while water-skiing, wakeboarding or parasailing on Disney's Bay Lake and Seven Seas Lagoon at Sammy Duvall's Watersports Centre. Finally, if you're looking to unwind after all that excitement, treat yourself to an afternoon at the Mandara Spa at the Dolphin Hotel, or anyone of the other world-class spas located in hotels throughout the resort.


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The Blog Flume Filter for February 28, 2013

By Jeff Elliott
Published: February 28, 2013 at 1:21 PM

Universal Studios Florida – The Orlando mayor either talked from insider knowledge or was talking out of his butt when he said that the new Harry Potter expansion will open in 2014. This is the first time we have heard any hint about when the expansion would open…and the source is not one that we normally get news stories from. Transformers: The Ride is now under the 100 day mark before it opens…and yet we have a new rumor. It sounds like the Monsters Café will be closing soon in order to be skinned to something related to the Transformers ride. Now what that rumor means is anyone’s guess, but if I get served a steak the consistency of aluminum siding with a tall glass of something resembling motor oil, I have to think that a complaint will be lodged. For those of you interested in being the first on the Transformers or Harry Potter rides, you will need to get your job applications into Universal soon.

Universal Studios Singapore – Here is the POV video of the most impressive ride opening this year.

Walt Disney Studios Paris and Disneyland Paris - Disney's shown something it can do better than Universal…actually announce a ride that everyone knows is coming anyway. So Disney's no longer pretending that Walt Disney Studios Park isn't getting a new Ratatouille ride. I wonder how Mickey will handle the competition? Disneyland Paris is also getting Glow with the Show ears for its Disney Dream castle show, so that's two resorts not named "Walt Disney World" that will have the light-up Mickey ears.

Disneyland – What the new Fantasy Faire is lacking in rides, it is definitely making up for in video updates. I don’t know why Disney is going to all this trouble for little girls. Isn't enough to give them a fluffy animal, a bag full of cosmetics that they normally aren’t allowed to have, and, most importantly, a younger sibling to blame for everything?

On this website I don’t really need to have an excuse to post a video of Splash Mountain (since it is one of TPI readers' favorite rides), but I will give you one anyway. Splash Mountain just reopened after a bit of a rehab, still containing all of the thinly veiled racism guests have grown to love.

(Thanks to ThemeParkHD for letting us know that they posted the video, and you may want to check out their video collection on Youtube. They are posting about at least a couple of videos per day and starting to build a nice portfolio of rides. Hopefully one of the next couple of attractions that they post will be the Haranguing Main Street Customer Service attraction or the Doling Out the Parade Barrier attraction. Maybe they should take their eye for good video and make a couple of Being a Good Guest videos. There are many being a good cast member videos, but none about being a good guest.)

Magic Kingdom – Big Thunder Mountain – The Imagineers shut down the ride so that they could work on people being bored while waiting for the ride…that seems like a good use of time and effort…as opposed to making people talk to each other…

Alton Towers – Secret Weapon 7 – Alton Towers is trying to start up the campaign to get a fair amount of publicity going for their newest roller coaster addition. Apparently there is a game involved with it as well. I haven’t been able to download the game yet, but I have to wonder if it involves taking a flame thrower to a certain mouse.

Cedar Point – Gatekeeper – The final bit of track has been slotted into place for this new roller coaster. As per the contract, it means the lads can take the next two months off.

Six Flags Fiesta Texas – Iron Rattler – This newly reborn roller coaster is quickly approaching test runs.


Sources: Screamscape and Amusement Today

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A Full Throttle construction tour... and a taste test?

By Robert Niles
Published: February 27, 2013 at 6:46 PM

In four months (or so), it'll be the tallest roller coaster loop on Earth. Right now, it's just a dirt hillside in the middle of Six Flags Magic Mountain. But Six Flags' Tim Burkhart still wanted to show it off.

Tim Burkhart

Burkhart is the Director of Maintenance, Construction and Engineering for Six Flags Magic Mountain and is leading the project to build that loop, the highlight of the park's newest roller coaster, Full Throttle. He described the ride today during a construction tour for invited reporters.

Future site of the Full Throttle station

If you've visited Magic Mountain before, that partial building in the background might look familiar. It's the former station of the park's old Log Jammer flume ride, which the park closed a few years back to clear space for what would become Full Throttle. Crews are building Full Throttle's station on the site, which will retain the old Log Jammer facade on the side facing the park's High Sierra Territory land. Riders will enter the Full Throttle queue from this side, though, walking under the coaster's launch on their way up the ramp to the new loading station.

Once on board, riders will launch from the station directly into the 160-foot loop, which will be built just in front of the massive crane you see here. Six Flags is billing the loop as the world's tallest, and Burkhart explained why fans should see that as an especially impressive record.

Full Throttle construction

"Building a loop is much, much, much harder than building an inversion," Burkhart said. "Anyone can take a track and flip it. I've done it a million times -- it's easy to do. But to build an actual loop, with all the supporting structure, and the dynamics you have to do to be at 160 feet, that is a much [more] difficult thing."

Burkhart described the rest of the ride: "You'll go through that loop, and you'll make a sweeping turn [you can see the black track supports to the right in the photo above]… the track will climb the hill and go over the Superman midway, dive down, then go up into the Immelmann, which is an element where the coaster will go up, then make a turn, then dive back down. When it makes that dive, it will go in the tunnel. As we've talked about, the train will stop, we'll have some special effects business in there than will remain secret until we open up. Then we'll launch you backwards, out of the tunnel, back up the Immelmann. You'll come straight back down into the tunnel again and this time instead of stopping you, we're going to hit it and it's going to push you out of the tunnel. You'll go over the top of the loop, so the top section of loop will have interior track [for the initial loop] and exterior track for coming over the top.

Full Throttle track
Workers install Full Throttle track in the ride's special effects tunnel.

"On paper, it says you'll have a second to a second and a quarter of airtime [on the top hat over the loop]. That doesn't sound like a lot but most of the airtime you get on a roller coaster is measured in tenths of seconds, so you'll have a great amount of airtime as you come over that and you'll have a great view. Then you'll come down off the top into a set of brakes… you'll make a turn, come back into the station and that's the end of it. The entire ride cycle from the moment you get into it until the moment you get out of it will be in the neighborhood of a minute-twenty to a minute-thirty seconds. It'll be a lot like Superman, where you've got a hard launch. You're just going for it the entire time. The only time you're going to pause is when you're up on top of that loop. You'll slow down just as you crest and before you come down that 160-foot drop."

Burkhart noted that Full Throttle's trains will launch directly from station, unlike what was shown in the original concept video that the park showed earlier this year, in which riders launched from a separate tunnel. If you're wondering about wait times, Burkhart estimated that Full Throttle will be able to accommodate about 750-800 riders per hour, with two trains of 18 riders running simultaneously.

The coaster won't be the only element in the park's Full Throttle project. Magic Mountain is also building two new food counter service restaurants which will stand near the ride's entrance.

New restaurant site

It doesn't look like much now, but this summer the old arcade building will become home to a new version of the park's Loaded Dogs hot dog stand and High Octane Wings, serving six styles of chicken wings. After the construction tour, Six Flags representatives invited us into the nearby Mooseburger Lodge to taste the wings they'll be serving at High Octane Wings.

Clockwise from bottom left: Six Flags Magic Mountain's new Lemon Pepper, Buffalo, Hot Habenero, Barbeque, Garlic Parmesan and Orange chicken wings

Six Flags has invited reporters on construction tours before, but I can't remember ever being part of a Six Flags restaurant taste test. After trying the new wings, I understand why Six Flags seemed so eager to show them off. Each of the sauces, which Six Flags said were developed and made on-site, delivered the "full throttle" flavor park reps promised. If I were buying wings in the park this summer, I'd select the original Buffalo and the Garlic Parmesan. Rate the Buffalo a medium on spice. If you're looking for major heat, choose the Habanero, which builds on the basic Buffalo sauce and amplifies the spice, leaving your mouth tingling for several moments after a bite.

The Garlic Parmesan offered a nice crunch, with mellow garlic flavor. There's a hint of Sriracha in the Barbeque, but not enough to cut the overly sweet taste. The Lemon Pepper offered up bright flavor with a nice pepper kick on the first bite, but by the third bite I found the citrus overwhelming. The Orange wing delivered a more mellow sweetness with a hint of citrus that didn't overpower the wing. It'd be my choice if I were looking for a sweet wing. That said, it's refreshing to see Magic Mountain looking to build up its food service along with its record-setting coaster collection.

Full Throttle and the new restaurants open "this summer," according to park representatives. No more detailed opening date than that, yet.

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Hong Kong Disneyland will be the first Disney park to get a Marvel-themed land

By Robert Niles
Published: February 27, 2013 at 9:43 AM

A government official in Hong Kong revealed today that Hong Kong Disneyland will be getting a Marvel-themed land as part of the park's ongoing expansion project.

Marvel's Avengers

The Marvel land will be the first for a Disney theme park, following Disney's acquisition of Marvel in 2009. No word yet on when the new land will open. Hong Kong Disneyland will open Mystic Point later this year, following last year's debut of Grizzly Gulch and the earlier opening of Toy Story Land. Hong Kong Disneyland drew 5.9 million visitors in 2011, lagging all other Disney theme parks save Paris' Walt Disney Studios Park, according to the annual TEA/AECOM theme park industry attendance report.

Universal continues to retain the Orlando-area theme park rights to Marvel, with its Marvel Super Hero Island at the Islands of Adventure theme park. But it's not uncommon for different chains to hold the rights to the same intellectual property inside and outside the United States. Universal holds international theme park rights to characters from Peanuts, Sesame Street and Dreamworks Animation's Madagascar, even though you'll find those characters at Cedar Fair and SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment theme parks in the United States.

Let the attraction speculation continue!

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Theme Park History: Launching an industry with 'A Trip to the Moon'

By Derek Potter
Published: February 26, 2013 at 5:03 PM

When most fans today think of themed rides, Disney is with good reason, usually the first to come to mind. For over 60 years, the name Disney and more recently Universal have become synonymous with creating cutting-edge themed attractions that capture the imagination. Walt Disney and his team of Imagineers certainly can be credited with building some of the most-celebrated attractions in history. However, the themed attraction was a concept that was developed and perfected at the beginning of the 20th century, over 50 years before the opening of Disneyland. Ladies and gentleman, say hello to Frederic Thompson, the inventor of the dark ride and theme park pioneer.

Frederic Thompson

In 1901, Frederic Thompson was a restless architect who was designing buildings for fairs and expositions all over the country. He sought to develop a new form of entertainment that would appeal to the senses and provide the public with an escape from everyday life. His solution was to utilize modern technology (electricity and light bulbs) with machinery and lots of plaster to create what was essentially the first flight simulator. Drawing from many popular stories of the day, Thompson decided to name his attraction “A Trip to the Moon.”

A Trip to the Moon

These days, it’s easy for people to dismiss the novelty of flying, but in 1901 flight was merely something out of a science fiction novel to most people, let alone flying to the moon. Similarly, electric lights were a luxury that most simply didn’t have. Using that premise and his knack for showmanship, Thompson spent a then-handsome sum of around $85,000 (over $2M in today’s money) constructing his attraction. The main portion of the ride was a 30-passenger airship that resembled a giant canoe with red wings. It was suspended from the ceiling by a few central steel cables, permitting the ship to rock and swing lightly. The wings were controlled by a pulley system, and small fans were installed on the inside for a wind effect. Adding to the simulation were hundreds of lights and sound effects. Visitors would first gather in an auditorium, where a guide from the “Aerial Navigation Company” would give a small lecture about flying through the air. The passengers would then board the airship Luna and the ride would begin.

A Trip to the Moon promo

To further give the illusion of flight, several painted canvases were cycled past the ship, simulating a takeoff from New York, past Niagara Falls, through the clouds, and eventually into space and then the moon. When the ship completed its voyage, passengers would leave the ship and enter into a labyrinthine lunar cavern carefully crafted with plaster, and encounter a city of moon people called “Selenites.”

Lunar cavern

Inside the city were gift shops, green cheese samples, and other small attractions. The finale took place inside the palace of the man in the moon, where guests were treated to a stage/light show featuring actors and dancing fountains.

Man in the Moon show

The attraction was housed in an 80 foot tall, 40,000 square foot ornate building, and employed almost 250 people. Thompson later stated that he recouped four times the money he spent during the first summer.

“A Trip to the Moon” was built for the 1901 Buffalo Exposition, and was so wildly successful that it was brought to Coney Island the following year. The ride quickly became the most popular and most lucrative attraction at Coney, and Thompson along with his partner Elmer “Skip” Dundy then used the proceeds from the 1902 season to build Luna Park in 1903. The theme park dazzled with its architecture, thousands of lights, and ability to completely immerse visitors, and “A Trip to the Moon” entertained millions of riders for the next several years. Thompson created several other themed attractions for his park, and was heralded as a master entertainer. For all of his creative genius and ability to entertain, Fred Thompson was also a poor businessman and an alcoholic. After his business partner died in 1907, he struggled on his own. In 1912 he filed for bankruptcy and was forced to hand over Luna Park to his creditors. Frederic Thompson died in 1919 at age 46. His concept of combining escapism with technology, psychology, and grandiosity remains to this day the master blueprint for designers.

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Universal Orlando is taking reservations for its new Cabana Bay Hotel

By Robert Niles
Published: February 26, 2013 at 8:59 AM

Universal Orlando announced today that it is now accepting reservations for its new Cabana Bay Beach Resort hotel.

Cabana Bay Beach Resort hotel
Concept art courtesy Universal

The Cabana Bay, Universal's fourth on-site hotel in Orlando, won't actually be on the beach, but it will feature an extensive pool area, including a lazy river. Aimed at a lower price point than Universal Orlando's three other official hotels, the Cabana Bay will not offer the "front of the line" Universal Express benefit that guests at the other three hotels now get at no additional charge during their stays. Standard rooms on opening night are available starting at $164 a night, according to a search of the reservation website.

Universal's opened the family suites at the new hotel for stays beginning March 31, 2014. The rest of the hotel is open for bookings on and after July 1, 2014. Reservations are available on Universal's website.

Will the Cabana Bay be part of your future Orlando vacation plans? Please tell us in the comments.

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Free souvenirs anyone? A guide to finding freebies at Walt Disney World

By Amanda Jenkins
Published: February 25, 2013 at 12:56 PM

Being the mother of young boys, traveling to Walt Disney World can cost more than initially planned. One does plan on the price of accommodations, dining, and travel. And then...you find yourself at the end of the ride surrounded by toys. Your children's pitiful eyes look up at you pleading for that Mickey Mouse dressed as Obi-Wan Kenobi because, "I need that Mickey Mouse Kenobi." What do you do? One thing we plan on is that we do not allow our children to get any toys until they have seen all that there is. We then allow them to only get one item each day as long as it is something that cannot be purchased at home. Needless to say, Obi-Wan Mickey came home with us. But there is a silver lining to souvenirs at Disney World. Not everything special has to be purchased. There are free souvenirs that are just as special and exciting as a stuffed Mickey Mouse dressed in a new outfit.

Do your children love Disney transportation? If you approach the cast members working at any transportation station and ask, you will be given a set of cards. There are cards with Disney characters and the different modes of transportation on them. Our boys looked forward to our monorail, bus, and boat rides more so this past trip due to the excitement of the new cards they might possibly receive. Our boys actually asked to ride the "friendships" more than once between Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios in hopes of getting more ship cards. Even my husband and I were curious to see what we might get.

Disney transportation cards

Though it is not something I relish, riding upon the Tomorrrowland Speedway with your children will give them something they will enjoy showing to everyone they meet---a driver's license. Thankfully it does only allow the young driver to legally drive at the Magic Kingdom's speedway. Our eldest, who is eight years old, tried to convince us since he passed this driving test he could most likely drive when we came back home.

Our favorite of all the free souvenirs though are the two diplomas one can receive while enjoying the parks. The first is easier to achieve. At the Magic Kingdom, your young ones can be a part of Captain Jack Sparrow's Pirate Tutorial. The times sheet you pick up along with your park map will let you know the different times you can join Jack's crew. This show is across from the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction. We have seen and been a part of this three times. The show originally was to the side with only a rope and Jack walking around. Happily, Jack and a fellow crew member now have a stage. The rope is still a divider, but now it also allows a Disney photographer to snap pictures of all that is happening. Even if your child is not initially picked to go on stage, they all will be able to join Jack Sparrow on the stage and swear the pirate oath. They are handed their diplomas and you are handed a special Photopass pirate card with all the pictures of the tutorial upon it. This past trip was our six year old son's first time to join Jack Sparrow's crew. He is still quite proud of this and even let his stuffed Captain Jack Sparrow Mickey look at the diploma.

Joining Captain Jack's crew

The next place to receive a special diploma is through the Jedi Training Academy at Disney's Hollywood Studios. If your child is like mine and loves Star Wars, then this is a very fun event that is free! For your best chance for your children to be a part of this, one needs to go first thing to sign up their children. Time slots go quickly. In December, we arrived at the park opening. While my husband rushed to get some Toy Story Midway Mania Fastpasses, the boys and I rushed to the side of the American Idol Experience. Next to it and a drink/souvenir area is an opening with a small sign for the Jedi Training Academy. The line was already quite full. While waiting, there is a large screen that plays Disney cartoons, mostly Disney Junior ones. When we finally got up to the front to sign up, our time slot was for 3:45pm. I had arrived in line at 9:05am, moved through the line within 35 minutes and received this time. It is highly popular. You must return 30 minutes before your allotted time. If you do not, your time slot will be given to a hopeful standby. Your children will be given (just for the show) a Jedi robe and lightsaber.

Jedi Training Academy

It is something to watch them line up with their lightsabers and walk proudly toward the stage by Star Tours. Here again, during the show, there is a Disney Photopass photographer taking pictures of the entire show. Your children will each get to face off with Darth Vader (on the weekends and during peak season, Darth Maul is also there to battle with a group at the foot of the stage). After they have sent the Lord of the Sith away in defeat, they line up to receive their diplomas. Once you are given your special Jedi Photopass card, you can take it to one of the Photopass stops at DHS to edit out those you do not want. I recommend doing this unless you want a headache of going through over two hundred pictures to find those of your children. I decided to skip Disney editing and got the lovely job of going through those pictures once we were home.

These diplomas are perfect for framing and hanging in your child's room. Ours love showing them off to their friends when they come over. Disney can be expensive when one has little ones who see nothing but the toys at the end of the attractions, but if you look hard enough, you can find free ones that will make many lovely memories.

In addition:


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Vote of the week: Theme parks in the snow?

By Robert Niles
Published: February 22, 2013 at 12:53 PM

How would you like to visit a theme park in the snow?

I know that many Theme Park Insider readers around America are enjoying a "snow day" today, with winter storms making their way across the country. And more than a few of you might be daydreaming about escaping to a nice, warm Florida or California theme park.

But theme parks don't always operate in the warm sunshine. Tokyo Disneyland recently got buried in a snow storm:

Tokyo Disneyland in the snow
Photos courtesy Disney

And Disneyland Paris gets its share of snowfall, too.

Disneyland Paris in the snow

Heck, it's not unheard of for the Orlando theme parks to see a stray flake every decade or so.

And in Southern California? Well, forget about snow in Anaheim. (But if you crave winter, just drive up into our mountains. Only an hour away!)

Regional theme parks have tried snow-covered holiday events from time to time. I remember the WinterFest event at Kings Island in Ohio, though my wife starts shivering uncontrollably each time I mention it.

Let's make this a Vote of the Week. What do you think about visit a snow-covered, winter-wonderland, temperatures-below-freezing theme park?

If you've got some theme park snow stories, please share 'em in the comments. Have a great weekend, stay warm, and thank you again for being part of Theme Park Insider!

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The Blog Flume Filter for February 21, 2013

By Jeff Elliott
Published: February 21, 2013 at 3:29 PM

Game Day – Disney Character Vault: There is a contest underway on the discussion board. Please join the fun and identify the wildly varying characters that Disney owns after its many buying sprees. The current best score is slightly over 50%...I’m sure YOU can do better.

Disneyland – There is less than a month before Fantasy Faire opens up at this park. For those of you who really like watching people paint, look at blueprints, and give interviews all while wearing safety goggles, this one is for you…

In other Disneyland news, the monorail short circuited and was closed for a spell on President’s Day. Rumors claim that the short circuit was caused by an errant coin dropping out of a guest’s pocket as they were being held upside down and shaken for every last penny in their pocket. Having a coin get away and short circuit a major attraction is extremely rare as usually Disney can catch anything resembling money before it hits the ground.

Disney Parks – I guess I really have to file this one under “I don’t get it”. I realize that I am not in the right demographic nor even the right gender for this…but…I still don’t get it. Disney is releasing a line of cosmetics exclusive to the Disney theme parks under the name Beautifully Disney. Maybe I don’t get it because Walt was not what I would consider to be a beautiful man. Maybe I don’t get it because the logo (as seen below) features a non-descript princess over the top of a frowning evil queen. Maybe I don’t get it because the different cosmetics are named after different Disney characters. Maybe I don’t get it because it reeks of crass consumerism aimed at little girls. Maybe for the boys they can come up with a park exclusive line of different colors of spray paint for the male inner-deviant mind to start tagging walls with. Maybe “Oswald Dancing in Mickey’s Blood Red” paint, “Uncle Scrooge’s Vault Gold” paint, or “Paddle Alice’s Hide For Wondering Off Blackish Blue” paint.

Beautifully Disney

Epcot – At least Disney is starting to figure out that waiting until 20 years (or more) after a movie has come out before building an attraction to it tends to lessen the impact of the investment. Before the movie has even come out (although the argument could be made that the movie actually came out in 1939) they have thrown together a kids play area with a little bit of theming and called it an attraction. While kudos to them for getting on the ball so quickly, shame on them for ruining a slide so that they could slap their advertising on it.

Disneyland Paris – Minnie Mouse celebrated the 20th anniversary of Disneyland Paris by going out and buying an expensive, customized, jewel laden, Alber Elbaz created dress from the Lanvin fashion house. Sigh. And we wonder why Disneyland Paris is running low on funds. In other news, Star Wars is now confirmed to be coming to the park in a big way with Star Tours 2, a Jedi Academy, the Cantina and hints about a Phase 2 that may have even more Star Wars goodness.

Walt Disney Studios Paris – The next attraction has been confirmed to NOT be Toy Story Mania. With all of the Star Wars stuff going on at the other park, one can only imagine that the next thing in line would be something from the Marvel Universe.

Star Wars – The deal is done for Harrison Ford to return to the Star Wars Universe as Han Solo. Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher (Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia for those of you who have never gotten past the mucky first three movies) have also been rumored to be in the know and while not signed yet, it is merely a matter of paperwork at this point.

Monsters University – Here is the latest promo for the movie. I don’t know about you but an improv club is just about scary enough for my tastes. It puts chills down my spine just thinking about it.

Mickey Mouse & Roger Rabbit – I looks like the original writer and creator of Roger Rabbit has been brought on board to a new animated feature film, called “The Stooge”, pairing M. Mouse and R. Rabbit in a buddy comedy about a mouse who has lost his audience and is trying to get it back. The news said that the proposal is currently with Pixar/Disney, which to me can only mean that John Lasseter is currently looking at it. This seems like a pretty good idea to me to bring back two long unused characters in what sounds like a pretty good premise. But do keep in mind that the difference between proposal and movie is like the difference between an empty lot and the Taj Mahal.

Coney Island – After figuring out that residents and tourist alike will flock in droves to Coney Island as long as it is not a creepy, decrepit, crime-littered place and has rides that are thrilling but not because you think they may fall apart while you ride them, Coney Island has decided to increase its thrill quotient by adding in a skydiving simulator, 50-foot climbing wall, rope climbing obstacle course, and beer. I am looking forward to what happens after someone has a little too much to drink and then gets on the skydiving simulator.

Long Island Aquarium – How bad is it when the zoo keepers have absolutely no idea what is going on with their charges? I mean it is bad enough that they put a female and male river otter together in the same exhibit and then name them Peanut Butter and Jelly. But it is even worse when you have no idea that your animals were pregnant until you enter the exhibit to find 4 more otters than were originally expected. Then, to make matters even more worse (worser? worstest? worstacular?), rumor has it that the new otter pups were named Salami, Roast Beef, Ham, and Swiss Cheese.

Six Flags Magic Mountain – Vertical construction on Full Throttle looks like it will begin this week. Ba da dum de daa, Ba da dum de daa, ba weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee, Ba da dum de daa… (see last week’s update for some kind of key to the humor)

DreamWorks Animation – This animation studio is working on opening not one, but three indoor amusement parks in Russia. They are also aiming for an opening that beats Universal’s plans for their Russia debut by three years. For two companies that occasionally share the same bed, they are really ruthless to each other…they act like they are married.

Universal Studios Hollywood – While you probably already figured this one out months ago, it has been officially confirmed that Despicable Me is coming to the park. We still don’t know what the mysterious middle attraction is between Despicable Me and Harry Potter, but we will keep you posted.

Universal Studios Singapore – A candidate for the best new attraction for 2013 is gearing up to open on March 1st. It is called the Sesame Street Spaghetti Space Chase. The plot of the ride is to help Super Grover and Super Elmo battle against villains who stole all of the spaghetti and noodles on Earth. Where the %$^&#% were rides like that when I was a kid??

Universal Studios Florida – Potterverse London – The Hogwarts Express seems to be two tracks side by side instead of one track with a bypass in the middle. With very little other information out in regards to the Hogwarts express, this had to be reported just to mention it.

Orlando – Orlando made the first cut to host the Olympics in 2024. Now keep in mind that the decision is nowhere close to being final and there are still 35 other cities in the U.S. alone that are still in the running. But it is still fun to theorize what the events would be, knowing full well that if Orlando hosted the Olympics, it would really be Disney hosting the Olympics. Space Mountain Climbing. Lifting Mickey’s Wallet. 1000 Meter Backstroke through It’s a Small World. The Hammer or Discus throw from the Teacups. Most equestrian events could be done from the carousel. Please feel free to come up with your own ideas and post them below in the feedback section. [Editor's note: Post 'em on Twitter, too, with the hashtag #orlandoolympicevents. If we could get #disneybudgetcuts trending nationally, we can do this one!]

Sources: Amusement Today, Screamscape, Ain’t It Cool News

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Planning a trip to Southern California's Disneyland Resort

By Robert Niles
Published: February 21, 2013 at 12:45 PM

American theme park fans -- as well as visitors to the United States -- have two choices for Disney theme parks. But while the Walt Disney World Resort attracts more visitors than any other theme park resort, theme park fans have an excellent alternative in California's Disneyland Resort.

Sleeping Beauty's Castle at Disneyland in Anaheim, California

Why Disneyland?

Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California is Walt Disney's original theme park -- the only park Walt ever visited. If you're a theme park fan with a sense for history, Disneyland must be on your life's to-do list. But this isn't simply a nostalgia trip. We've ranked Disneyland as the best Disney theme park in the United States, with its sibling, Disney California Adventure, right behind. The Disneyland Resort is the only place on Earth where you can find Disney's acclaimed new Cars Land, the highly-rated World of Color show, the Matterhorn and Indiana Jones Adventure, as well as the country's best versions of classic Disney attractions such as Pirates of the Caribbean and Space Mountain.

Disneyland's a better buy than Walt Disney World, too. Sure, Disneyland offers just two theme parks, instead of WDW's four, but the Disneyland parks are jam-packed with attractions and located within walking distance of each other, allowing you to see more stuff in less time. You can buy a three-day adult park-hopper ticket to the Disneyland Resort for $250, which includes one Magic Morning early admission. The same ticket at Walt Disney World costs $318.44, and doesn't include the early admission. A night's stay at the Grand Californian Hotel -- Disneyland's top hotel, and the closest to the parks, costs about $150 a night less than a stay at the comparable Grand Floridian Hotel at Walt Disney World. Disneyland's dining options also consistently outrank Disney World's for value, too.

Getting to Disneyland

By air - The closest airport to the Disneyland Resort is Orange Country's John Wayne Airport (SNA), which connects with most major (and many not-so-major) cities in the western half of the United States. If want to fly to Disneyland and can avoid Los Angeles International (LAX) by flying into SNA instead, do it! LAX can be a daunting, confusing airport, and the nearby 405 freeway is one of Southern California's most congested. Compared to LAX, getting to and from John Wayne's a breeze.

Disney World veterans should note that Disneyland does not offer a Disney's Magical Express shuttle to and from any of the Southern California airports. You're on your own to find your way to Disneyland. You could choose to rent a car, but if you want to avoid driving, Gray Line buses run a Disneyland Resort Express [the link is to a PDF of their brochure] hourly from both LAX and SNA, with extra buses every half-hour in the mid-day. The only public transportation options to Disneyland involve buses and transfers and simply aren't worth the hassle. Pay for a car or the shuttle bus.

By car - Most visitors to the Disneyland Resort drive, and the resort has its own offramp from Interstate 5, leading into the massive Mickey and Friends parking garage. The downside to bringing a car to Disneyland? You won't need it once you're here, and you'll pay for parking every day of your visit, even if you're staying off-site and walking to the park. (Almost all off-site hotels charge for parking.) If you're flying to Southern California just to visit Disneyland, and won't be driving to other sites in the region, skip the expense, hassle and traffic frustration of the car in favor of taking the shuttle bus and then just walking around.

Where to stay?

Disneyland has three on-site hotels: The Grand Californian (multiple winner of the Theme Park Insider Award as World's Best Theme Park Hotel), the original Disneyland Hotel and Disney's Paradise Pier Hotel. In addition, you can find dozens of other hotels along Harbor and Katella Boulevards, all within easy walking distance of the park. Visit our Disneyland hotels page for listings and readers' ratings and reviews. You'll find lower rates at the off-site hotels, some of which are closer to the theme parks' front gates than Disney's own Paradise Pier. Given the hassle of Southern California freeway traffic, try to avoid staying too far away from the park. The few dollars you might save won't be worth getting to the park late because you were stuck on a freeway during morning rush hour.

If you're not up for the walk from your off-site hotels, many of them offer shuttle service to and from the parks. Anaheim Resort Transportation also runs buses from Disneyland to area hotels and other attractions (Route 18 goes from Disneyland to Knott's Berry Farm).

Getting around the Disneyland Resort

This one's easy: You walk. The two theme parks' entrance face each other, separated by only a few yards. California's Disney theme parks take up much less space than the ones in Florida, making park-hopping easy. In fact, most visitors simply treat the two parks as one, hopping between them throughout the day. Want to duck out of the park for lunch? No problem. Just get your hand stamped and walk across Harbor Boulevard to one of the many chain restaurants on the other side of the street. Or stroll the other direction into Anaheim's version of Downtown Disney. All that's closer to the parks' front gates than your car, which is likely in the Mickey and Friends complex, half a mile away.

Buying your Disneyland tickets

As always, buy your tickets in advance. Check Disneyland's website for prices, or ask at your local auto club, your school's student union or your employers' human resources office for discount tickets. Also take a look at Disneyland's offers and discounts page for special deals, particularly on hotel vacation packages.

Be aware that Disneyland's started taking pictures of anyone using a multi-day pass, so don't buy from ticket brokers offering unused days on previously-used passes. They won't work. Stay away from eBay and Craigslist "offers."

If you're planning to visit Universal Studios Hollywood or SeaWorld in San Diego on your visit, consider the Southern California CityPass (available on Disneyland's website). It covers three days at Disneyland as well as a day at each of the other parks.

With the exception of Knott's Berry Farm, all of Southern California's other theme parks are located about an hour's drive (or more, depending upon traffic) from the Disneyland Resort. So if you want to visit multiple parks on your trip, expect to spend a lot of time in your car, or book into other hotels closer to those sites on the evenings you'll visit them. Universal Studios Hollywood does offer a shuttle service to Anaheim-area hotels -- a one-day USH park ticket with the round-trip Anaheim-shuttle service is $105 ($25 over the regular one-day USH ticket price).

Arrive early and avoid the annual passholders

On many days, the majority of people visiting the Disneyland theme parks are the park's annual passholders. If you have some flexibility in when you visit Disneyland, look at the parks' blockout day calendar and select the days blocked to the most passholders. That'll reduce the number of potential visitors on the days you visit. Southern California's rare rainy days are your friend, as they'll typically deter thousands of potential visitors, too. But they shouldn't deter you.

As always, plan to arrive at the parks a half-hour before the park opens and start with the park that doesn't have early admission that day. (Check Disneyland's calendar to see.) Annual passholders typically crowd the park after work each day, so Disneyland parks don't clear out in the early evening, like Disney World's. They often get busier, so get as much done early in the day as you can.

Call 714-781-DINE for dining reservations before you visit (much easier to get than priority seating times at Walt Disney World), and go immediately to get Radiator Springs Racers Fastpasses on the morning that you visit California Adventure. You can get reserved viewing for World of Color with several dining packages (click the "Dining" tab after following the link), or by getting a Fastpass for the show early in the day.

Got tips for getting the most from a Disneyland Resort visit? Please share your best advice for Disneyland visitors, in the comments.


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Disney submits plans for an omnimover boat ride

By Robert Niles
Published: February 20, 2013 at 12:27 PM

In case you missed it last night, theme park fans' corner of Twitter erupted with the discovery that the US Patent and Trademark Office last month published a patent application from Disney for a omnimover boat ride. (Here's an easier-to-read version of the application, from Google.)

Omnimover boat ride channel map
Images from Disney's patent application

Into geekspeak? Here's the abstract of Disney's application:

"A floating omnimover ride with high capacity throughput and enhanced control over speeds of passenger boats. The ride includes a water containment structure with spaced apart sidewalls defining an elongated guide channel that defines a loop-shaped ride path or circuit. The ride includes a volume of liquid contained in the guide channel to a desired depth. The ride also includes a chain of passenger boats floating in the liquid contained in the guide channel. Each of the boats is linked to the two adjacent boats with a connecting link such that the chain of boats is a continuous loop. The chain of boats has a length that is approximately equal to a length of the ride path, and during operation of the ride, the boats in the chain are moved along the loop-shaped ride path at a predefined rate by a pump station moving the liquid in the guide channel."

Translation? Picture Pirates of the Caribbean or It's a Small World with the boats all hooked together, nose to tail, a la the Doombuggies on the Haunted Mansion.

Omnimover boat ride vehicle plan

By linking the boats into a continuous chain, Disney would eliminate bumping and slower boats, which can disrupt the flow of guests through a ride. To maximize hourly capacity, the chain wouldn't stop to load and upload riders, so a moving walkway at the load and unload points would be necessary, as on Mansion. But Disney's been thinking about nifty ways to alter the omnimover ride experience. Here's one:

"In addition to the guide channel or trough, the ride system may also include an open bay or free-floating portion or section in which the boats are not guided by and do not contact nearby sidewalls. As long as a sufficient number of the floating vehicles are contained in and guided within the guide channel (or flowing or drive) portion or section of the ride system, other sections of the vehicle chain may be “undriven” by the water in the free-floating section or bay portion of the ride system. In this portion, the water may be relatively still or unflowing, but the boats in the vehicle chain will still follow a path between an exit of the guide channel and an entrance to the guide channel because they are pulled and/or pushed by the boats or vehicles traveling in the guide channel (where water is flowing to push the boats along the path between adjacent sidewalls). In the open bay or free-floating portion, the boats or vehicles may even be caused to traverse over land or out of the water by placing ramps in the path of the boats and providing pads or rollers/wheels on the bottom of the boat hulls/bodies. The pushing and pulling forces provided along the vehicle chain by the boats in the guide channel due to the flowing water will roll the boats in the open bay or free-floating portion over the dry or shallow portion of the ride. By including an open waterway in the ride system, the ride experience is enhanced as the boats appear to be magically guided and propelled through the still water with their boats spaced apart from guiding sidewalls."

The TL;DR? As long as you've got the boats chained together, you can take away the guide channel for a section of the ride, and the boats will continue to follow one another through that section. Heck, you could even move the chain of "boats" onto a land segment for a bit.

So where will we see this new type of omnimover boat ride? The consensus on Twitter seemed to be Shanghai Disneyland. But once a company proves a technology in one park, it's nice to get a return on that tech development expense by spreading the technology to other parks. Of course, if Disney gets this patent, that would block other theme park companies from developing similar rides, so US theme park fans would need to wait for Disney to decide to bring it over here.

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SeaWorld Orlando announces grand opening for Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin

By Domenik Jost
Published: February 19, 2013 at 6:11 PM

SeaWorld Orlando today announced it will officially open its newest addition, Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin, on May 24, 2013. The attraction is replacing the old Penguin Encounter and is billed to be the coldest theme park attraction in the world. SeaWorld says its construction is right on time and offered us these two sneak peeks.

Antarctica 1

Antarctica 2

The park has also released a free Antarctica app that is available for iPhone, iPad and Android devices. The app gives users access to pictures, videos, and facts related to Antarctica and allows you to become an explorer.

Explorer Domenik

Within the app there is also info to Antarctica sneak peek tour stops coming to New York City, Chicago, and more.

Over the last several months, SeaWorld Orlando has also released several "Behind the Freeze" behind the scenes videos with a look at everything going into the making of the attraction.

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Walt Disney World Resort planning parking garages, new retail for Downtown Disney

By Robert Niles
Published: February 19, 2013 at 12:17 PM

Get ready for lots of new construction around the Downtown Disney district in Florida. Disney's just filed a slew of permit applications for infrastructure work in and around the Downtown Disney area. The work should add new retail space to the district, while addressing the parking traffic problems that have plagued the area in recent years.

Mickey constructionA source tipped me to the project over the weekend, and yesterday, Park Rumors dropped a bunch of documents related to the project. If you're into civil engineering, you can find Disney's permit applications on the South Florida Water Management District's website. (Insider's tip: Although Disney famously lobbied the Florida Legislature to create the Reedy Creek Improvement District to allow Disney to oversee its own zoning and planning -- and thus, to avoid public filings on new projects -- Disney still has to file permits with the water district for any new construction that affects storm- or ground-water use. Which is just about every significant project in water-soaked Florida. So the water district's a great place to look for advance news about new construction at the Walt Disney World Resort.)

Disney's pitched new plans for Downtown Disney before, of course. The Pleasure Island nightclubs closed years ago, but now the much-publicized Hyperion Wharf replacement's gone, too. Whether Disney manages to sign up new partners for a retail expansion or not, this new project's gone to the permitting stage because, at the very least, Disney needs to do something about traffic and parking at Downtown Disney.

Which any recent Disney World visitor can tell you, is a mess. The new plans call for two multi-story parking garages, with one replacing the current surface lots south of the movie theaters and the other going in south of the World of Disney building. The surface lot south of Planet Hollywood would become a new bus station and the surface lots south of the old Pleasure Island would become a new retail area.

The new garages should add thousands of parking spaces to the area, even with the loss of several current surface lots. To address the persistent traffic jams on Buena Vista Drive, Disney's planning to build several overpasses, allowing traffic to flow into the new parking garages without having to hold so many cars at lights on BVD. The concept should be familiar to any recent visitors to Disneyland, where Disney in the late 1990s built an overpass above an existing street to ease access into a new parking structure.

And to address pedestrian congestion inside Downtown Disney, the plans include a footbridge spanning the bay between Fulton's and Cap'n Jack's.

So what new retail can we expect with this project? Concept art and notes suggest a World of Coca-Cola and an American Girl Place, as well as a makeover of Planet Hollywood into something called The Observatory. Park Rumors reported that the entire district would be renamed Disney Springs, while the new retail area would be called Town Center, the old Pleasure Island would be called The Landing, and the West Side and Village Marketplace would retain their names. No word yet on construction start or completion dates.


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Don't be bugged on vacation: How to inspect your hotel room for bed bugs

By Amanda Jenkins
Published: February 19, 2013 at 8:54 AM

We have all been there. We plan a wonderful vacation to a theme park. We anticipate spending all of our waking moments enjoying the rides, shows, and dining. Most of us even think that our hotel room is nothing more than a place to clean up and faint after a long day and evening of fun. But there could be something in your room that can turn your dream vacation into a nightmare. That something is bugs.

They are out there, and sadly are becoming more of a problem in hotels across the country. Even our so-called "nice" hotels are having some discoveries of the creepy, crawly type.

Bed bugs
You're looking for (and, we hope you will not find) this. A real bed bug's about the size of a head of a pin. File photo via Wikimedia Commons.

After reading all the articles and watching the news programs, my husband and I became very frightened of bed bugs. Before traveling now, we make sure to carry something that can make all of these worries go away. A LED flashlight. You can buy these mini flashlights at your local store for around $5.00. This little tool can help save you a lot of headache and scratching in the end. There are a few simple steps to take to ensure that you, your family, and your luggage do not become infested.

LED flashlight Using the LED flashlight to look for bed bugs

First off, do not bring your luggage into your room before you have checked your beds. This is highly important, because if there are bedbugs, they will get into your luggage, and thus follow you home. Keep your luggage either in your car, or if using Disney's Magical Express, ask the concierge to hold your luggage until you call for it. While vacationing in Walt Disney World at the All-Star Sports Resort, we discovered some bugs in our bed. We were not certain if they were a type of bed bug, since they were more gray than the usual reddish brown. While Disney inspected them, they told us that they would take all of our luggage to be treated if the bugs were bed bugs. If you do not want your luggage and items to be taken for a time for treatment, or the chance of some unwanted souvenirs then do not let your luggage into your room.

Once you are in your room, go immediately to each bed and remove all of the linens near the headboards. This is where bed bugs are most likely to be. With your LED flashlight, look in the creases of the mattresses. Bed bugs are about the size of a pin head. To be on the safe side, we check all over the mattress, even though they typically stay near the top and upper sides of the bed. Once you have done this for each mattress and all is clear, then you can bring in your luggage without worry. If you do discover something questionable, then tell the hotel staff immediately. We called and were put on hold for some time. We decided to leave our room and go directly to the front desk and talk to a manager. We were calm and kept it quiet as to what we had discovered which they greatly appreciated. Once all was checked we were moved to a different building and room. We were also offered dinner vouchers to anywhere of our choice for the inconvenience.

We were told that our bugs were not bed bugs. This was a relief, especially since our youngest son ran into the room with his stuffed animals. When dealing with Disney and bugs (as this was not our first encounter with bugs on Disney property), I suggest that you always go in person to talk to someone about it. While staying at Bay Lake Tower the previous year, we had an ant infestation in one of our bathrooms. Each call to the front desk was ignored. I sent a long detailed email after we had returned home about this to Disney. I was called immediately by Disney Vacation Club (since we are members) and told to call them directly next time we find something amiss in our room. We were given a refund of points to use on another vacation. Disney will work with you if you talk to the right person.

Though we all cringe at the thought of finding something, do check your room. You will be able to easily lay your head down after a long day if you know without a doubt that you are bug free.

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An Insider's guide to planning a holiday from the U.K. to the Orlando theme parks

By Duncan Henny
Published: February 18, 2013 at 1:30 AM

I have loved Orlando ever since my parents first took me in July 1990. I've visited about 10 times more since -- the most recent being 2012 -- and already have started thinking about my next visit in 2014. This is my guide to planning a two-week holiday to Orlando, from the U.K.

Kings Cross station in London
A bit of planning can help U.K. residents get from here,

Hogwarts Castle
to here! And to all the rest of the theme parks in Central Florida.

Over the years I have searched pretty much all travel companies and travel agents for the best deal available to book a holiday as a package, including booking with Universal and Disney direct which can be quite expensive. The one that I have found to be best value for price and holiday options is Travel City Direct. I used them before when they were run by XL but they went into administration three days before our holiday in 2008 and I was lucky enough that my Dad had money and we rebooked through Holiday Genie Florida (another travel site which is OK, but TCD is a few hundred pounds cheaper). We never got the hotel we were going to stay at, but at least we still got our holiday. (I was numb that day when I watched it on the news, I can tell you). It took me about a year to get our money back for the original holiday. The new Travel City Direct, now run by Virgin, uses their own planes and scheduled flights, and is also ATOL protected.

Whether you take a villa, an off-site hotel or a resort hotel will depend on type of vacation you prefer and size/age of group you have. We travel as a couple, and we travel in September, as it is really quiet, the queues are short, and the weather is good. previously I have travelled in May, June, July and August when I was younger with my parents, as they had to fit the vacation around my school holidays. (A note about May and September: Good weather and quiet, but it is also around the time of the year you get the love bugs or double-headed bug, which are harmless but there can be lots of them everywhere mainly in the afternoons.)

Our vacation usually consists of mainly theme parks and a little shopping. We hit the both Universal parks, SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and all four of the Disney parks a number of times during the visit and stay off-site at the DoubleTree Universal. We don't take a hire car as we find this cuts down on stress, as it can be quite daunting driving in America for people from the U.K., especially for the first time or if you're not a very confident driver. We get free airport transfers to and from our resort as part of our package traveling economy class. The resort we stay at is the Doubletree Universal by Hilton on Major Blvd (a Universal Partner Hotel) -- it is very clean; the staff are great and it's in a good location for getting to all the parks.

So how to get to the parks from our resort? Our resort does run free shuttles to Universal, SeaWorld and Wet 'n' Wild, but we like to get to parks for opening and some of the shuttles get you there slightly after. For SeaWorld, we take an I-Ride trolley from the stop outside our hotel down International Drive all the way to Sea World. I-Ride Prices are as follows:

  • Single fare is $1.50
  • Senior citizen (65 and over) fare is $0.25 per ride
  • KIDS RIDE FREE (age 12 and under when accompanied by a paying adult)
  • Exact change is required

Both Universal Parks we just take a nice 10-minute walk across the road. Busch Gardens we walk to Universal and take the complimentary shuttle. (You need to book your place on this bus 24 hours in advance: 001-800-221-1339.) [Editor's note: Drop the first two zeros if you're calling from within America.]

Now for Disney you have two different options, the cheapest being this: I-ride to the stop before SeaWorld -- this should also be a LYNX bus stop. If you say to the I-Ride driver you are getting the bus to Disney he can help you with which stop. You then get the LYNX 50 bus to the Transport and Ticket Centre at Disney. Now this option takes over an hour of traveling and costs around $8 each adult return. The other way which is great for all hotels, whether you're staying at Disney and are traveling to Universal or SeaWorld, or or staying on International Drive and traveling to Disney, is using Mears Shuttles. They have a attraction "shared shuttle service" which cost us $16 each adult return, which you can get to any of the parks for the opening and book your return from any of the parks, which means if you're park hopping it gives you more freedom. You can book your return journey up to 2 hours before you wish to return and they tell you which lane to wait in.

Now for the ticket options, I usually buy these in the U.K before I travel as it is easier to stick to a budget for the holiday and Disney sells an Ultimate Ticket in the U.K, which runs for the whole 14 days, letting you come and go as you please. And it works out only around £10 more than a five-day park-hopper pass. We also take the Flex-ticket Plus, as this covers the rest of the parks we visit.

  • 14-day Ultimate Ticket for hopping all parks and water parks: £249 each
  • 14-day Flex-ticket Plus for Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, SeaWorld, Aquatica, Wet 'n' Wild and Busch Gardens: £219 each

If you have any questions or any advice for others please put it in the comments.

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Vote of the week: Counter service or table service for theme park dining?

By Robert Niles
Published: February 15, 2013 at 12:30 PM

Our post this week on planning a low-cost Walt Disney World vacation inspired a discussion in the forum on counter service vs. table service restaurants at the Walt Disney World Resort. The Disney Dining Plan has changed the economics of food service at Disney World, and now some fans are noting that they're finding significantly better value (and sometimes, even lower cost!) at the table service restaurants than the ubiquitous "quick service" food windows in the parks.

Crescent City Salmon Salad at Disney;and's Cafe Orleans
Table service (Crescent City Salmon Salad at Disneyland's Cafe Orleans)...

So let's make this our Vote of the Week. Which kind of food service do you prefer when eating a meal in a theme park? But let's not limit ourselves to the counter service vs. table service question. Plenty of visitors make a meal of a turkey leg or some other favorite food item available at the various snack carts in the parks. Others bring their own food with them, either to save money to accommodate their unique dietary needs. And some fans never eat inside a theme park, choosing to have lunch or dinner somewhere outside the park, or just to go without meals altogether. After all, if you're eating, you're not riding!

Ham and cheese quiche with house salad at Disneyland's Jolly Holiday Bakery
...or counter service (Ham and cheese quiche with house salad at Disneyland's Jolly Holiday Bakery)?

Of course, few people stick exclusively with just one of these options. Most theme parks fans mix it up. But what's your preferred option among these, the one you'd pick most often?

Please tell us, in the comments, some of your current favorite places to eat in a theme park, based on value and experience. And thank you, as always, for reading Theme Park Insider. We hope that you're enjoying our new look and will tell the other theme parks fans about the site!

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Florida to Canadian theme park fans: 'Take off'

By Robert Niles
Published: February 14, 2013 at 8:44 PM

The State of Florida is making it harder for Canadians to drive in the Sunshine State, and that's upsetting theme park fans north of the border.

Welcome to Florida sign
"Welcome to Florida! Unless you're from Canada and don't have the newly correct papers…"

A new law this year in Florida requires that all visitors from foreign countries must carry an international driving permit in addition to their local driver's license when driving a car in Florida. In the past, Canadian drivers had not needed the international permit and were allowed to drive in the US while carrying just their Canadian licenses. (For what it's worth, when we visited Canada two summers ago, we drove around British Columbia on our US licenses. We didn't need an international permit, either.)

Why the change? "Security," of course. An international driving permit translates license information into 10 languages, helping local authorities understand the personal information on licenses issued by foreign countries. Of course, one wonders why Florida police officers would need a translation of the English-language licenses from all those Canadian provinces that aren't spelled "Quebec." [Let's try this as an easy way to translate Canadian English to Floridian English: Swap the "eh" for "y'all" and we're good to go, okay?]

Theme Park Insider reader Kathy McPherson alerted me to the change, emailing me a Toronto Star article about Canadians' reaction to the new law.

"Our local CAA [Canadian auto club] offices are going crazy because this is the only place you can get them," McPherson wrote. "We are heading to Florida in a couple weeks and will have to line up and get ours before we go."

Today, the Florida Highway Patrol reacted to the uproar in Canada by announcing that it won't enforce the new law against Canadian drivers with English-language licenses, at least for the time being. But that doesn't apply to local law enforcement, and some car rental companies are continuing to insist on the international permit to rent to Canadian visitors. So many Canadians who want to visit Walt Disney World or Universal Orlando will need to keep queuing for the permits, or else risk not being pulled over when they drive in Florida (assuming they're bringing their own cars down or can rent one in Florida despite not having the international permit).

Florida tourism officials told The Star that they're hoping to convince Florida lawmakers to change the law when the legislature meets again next month.

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The Blog Flume Filter for February 14, 2013

By Jeff Elliott
Published: February 14, 2013 at 3:56 PM

Google Doodles – Today is an interesting mash-up of two different notable holidays. First and most important is the 154th birthday of George Ferris, so therefore the Google Doodle has been changed to spelling out Google with an amusement park and twin Ferris wheels for the two O's. Today also appears to be a holiday that extorts men into buying expensive gifts for the lady that they are dating right before they buy their plane tickets to go alone to some tropical paradise for spring break. What I don't get is that Valentine's Day is for men as well as women, but you don't see a run on Home Depot or Best Buy to purchase extravagant gifts for men… Anyway, the Google Doodle also contains a heart button that spins the Ferris wheels like a wheel of fortune and matches up two different animals, then gives you story boards about how the date went. It is actually pretty amusing. Check it out at www.google.com, but do that in a different browser window later, there is much more good information to follow here before you go.

BREAKING NEWSYour editor interrupts for a late-breaking development: SeaWorld San Diego – Kasatka, an orca at the San Diego park, gave birth to a baby killer whale at 6:33 this morning. It's Kasatka's fourth calf and the sixth killer whale birth at the park.

Mom and baby

Regardless, someone probably should mention to Kasatka that she's doing it wrong. Valentine's Day is when you're supposed to conceive the baby, not give birth. (Of course, now someone probably will tell me that an orca's gestation period is, like, 12 months, and I'd feel like a complete idiot. Whoops. Too late. I always feel like a complete idiot.) Now back to Jeff….

Aquatica San Diego– The new Aquatica park is hard at work on the site formerly occupied by Knott's Soak City. As someone who wrote a brilliant commercial only to have it watered down and dumbed down to the point of painfulness by noncreative types and horrific acting, I can complete understand where this type of concept came from. I think they missed the final steps in the production process where they gravely injure the actors and director and burn the footage.

SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Parks – The "show" is called Madagascar Live! Operation: Vacation. It will merely be a sign over a stage that says "Show temporarily closed, stars on vacation." It won't actually feature any of the characters other than just in the signs, but the concept is pretty good and fairly cheap. The original show consisted of inviting members up out of the audience to punch the whiny giraffe, but those plans, while scoring high in customer satisfaction surveys, were quickly scrapped.

Universal Studios – I noticed something on the news in the last couple of days that seems to be somewhat encouraging. Comcast is buying the rest of NBC/Universal away from GE. This makes me think that they really like the idea of firming settling into the their overlordship of parks and studios. Something else that bothered me about it was how much money was being spent. Comcast doesn't just print money, unlike the government, it has to take money from someone else to buy things. So if you ever wanted to know why your cable rates are so high, just keep in mind that Comcast just spent 16.7 billion dollars (or $16,700,000,000) of our subscription money and then claims poverty so that it doesn't have to lower our rates, or quit charging us extra for the NFL Network, or stop throttling Netflix, or hire/train some better customer service people.

Islands of Adventure – There is a new possible ride addition rumor that is going around the circuit. I wouldn't mention it except for the fact that I get complaints if I don't at least mention every deep fanboy sigh that has to do with the Islands. Ready for it? King Kong is the latest in a series of possible new attractions that could come to Islands of Adventure. The ride would be tucked in right next to Jurassic Park and use the King Kong 360 3D ride film Universal Studios Hollywood is using on their tram tour, which if you have never ridden on it, contains aggressive dinosaurs (and a great big monkey, but I figured you already knew that part). File that one next to the Lord of the Rings idea. We shall see… and don't hold your breath.

Universal Studios Florida – Construction on Harry Potter continues, the large construction cranes have come down and work has shifted to the interiors and facades. We also hear that the supports for the Hogwarts Train have been completed and we should see the train tracks going in soon for that. Transformers is also cranking right along on its construction schedule with new lettering and decorations starting to show up on the outside of the building. Am I going to be the only one to miss Murder She Wrote and Xena?

Kennedy Space Center – While most people would have thought that being one of only three places in the country that feature an actual real space shuttle, the Kennedy Space Center has decided that it is also going to open an interactive Angry Birds themed attraction as well. And we wonder why the nation went into the toilet… Don't get me wrong, I like the Angry Birds. I just don't like being pandered to as I go a science exhibit only to hit over the head with kitschy pop culture. Why don't they open an video game arcade in there as well?

Six Flags Magic Mountain – Their new Full Throttle roller coaster is not only being named after an energy drink, but it is also getting its own theme song. I really hope that it is not something sung by Justin Bieber, 98 Degrees, or David Hasselhoff. Maybe it could be as cool of a theme song as the clip below.

Six Flags St. Louis – Here is video of new roller coaster track showing up at Six Flags St. Louis. Please take a look at it, there will be a quiz. I’ll wait…

Ok, I realize that the video is grating in all of the ways that theme park fans hate when it comes to non-themed rides, but it goes much deeper than that. First off is that the interviewer looks like he doesn’t care if the roller coaster is built or made into steel cans for the local Chef Boyardee spaghetti cannery. On top of that, the spokeswoman is so fake hyped about putting in this roller coaster that she makes a huge faux pas in the middle of the interview. She says, “You have to look at the park and say what kind of coaster do we want and where will it fit and how will it lay out.” What she doesn’t say is that the roller coaster is a 24 year old relic castoff from another park that didn’t want it anymore, and she doesn’t mention a single time whether or not anyone is going to care to ride the thing, noting that there are about a hundred of this type of roller coaster all over the country. Who gives a crap about the ride going over a path? I didn’t think that was a design element that packed people into a park. Mean Streak has a queue that winds underneath the track, but I am never going to ride that rough thing again. This doesn’t quite beat the out and out lies of the PR machine that Full Throttle has, but it is close.

Finding Nemo 2 – Disney has confirmed that Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brook, and Andrew Stanton are all on board for this new movie. Early rumors seem to indicate that the movie will be about Nemo figuring out where baby fish comes from after he accidentally wonders into a nudist beach, all while running away from a swordfish that runs a sushi stand, with a final chase seen that comically ends when the characters break through the walls of their film set and end up on the set of a western where the townsfolk are trying to save the town of Rockridge. We have also heard rumors that Turtle Talk with Crush will be closed for a couple of months while Crush films his bits for the movie.

Disney's Animal Kingdom – Disney is confirming that they are currently working on designs to bring Avatar to the park. According to the math, it could be opened in 2018 as they cite five years from design to finished, with construction starting this year. But in my world that means that it should be opened by 2016 since they announced Avatar in September of 2011. And based on Universal's schedules, it would be done in 9 months. What is taking so long?

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Variable pricing comes to US theme park tickets

By Robert Niles
Published: February 14, 2013 at 10:07 AM

If you've visited Legoland Florida's website recently to buy a ticket for the Winter Haven, Fla. theme park, you might have noticed a new offer on the site: Discounts for tickets bought for use on certain days.

Legoland Florida website

Yep, variable pricing has come to American theme parks.

I like the way Legoland's framing this: You get a discount for visiting the park on certain (presumably, less popular) days. That makes sense in a couple of ways.

If you look at theme parks' current daily ticket price as representing the fair-market value of visiting on an average day, it's reasonable to assume that less popular days should be priced less under a variable pricing scheme. Of course, that means more popular days should be more expensive, but by starting the with discounted days, Legoland can introduce variable pricing in a way that the public's more likely to accept.

Variable pricing gives theme parks another way to manage their crowds. Instead of closing the gates and turning people away on busy days (such as during Christmas week), variable pricing and advance-sale, date-specific tickets can allow parks to reduce the number of people showing up at the park on those days. In the same way, parks can use variable pricing to encourage more people to visit on slower days, better distributing visitors throughout the year.

Of course, there are limits, especially for a park targeted specifically at school-aged children, such as Legoland. Most families just aren't willing to pull their kids out of school to visit a theme park, so all the discounts Legoland can offer won't entice those families to visit on those days.

Date-specific tickets and variable pricing aren't new outside the United States. When I visited Tokyo Disneyland and Universal Studios Singapore, I bought tickets that were tied to the specific dates I visited, unlike U.S. theme park tickets, which typically can be used anytime after they're purchased.

And if you look at theme park tickets on a cost-per-hour basis, US theme parks long have had variable prices, except that parks charged less per hour on their busiest days. With variable pricing, perhaps the cost-per-hour price will even out, with parks charging less on days they're opened for fewer hours, and more for days when they open early and close late.

What do you think about variable pricing for theme park tickets? Please tell us, in the comments.

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Happy Valentine's Day!

By Robert Niles
Published: February 14, 2013 at 12:23 AM

Happy Valentine's Day, theme park fans!

Waking Sleeping Beauty

(*From Le Chateau de la Belle au Bois Dormant at Disneyland Paris)

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Visiting theme parks with a wheelchair: Standard or ECV?

By Daniel Etcheberry
Published: February 13, 2013 at 3:53 PM

For anyone planning a theme park trip who happens to be in a wheelchair, the decision of choosing the kind of wheelchair that it will be used at any park is a crucial one. The right choice will make the difference between a smooth experience or a complicated one. Let's start by looking at the theme parks rules for wheelchairs; not all theme parks have the same rules.

ECV at Disneyland
Thinking about taking an ECV [Electric Conveyance Vehicle] to a theme park?

Let's take Universal and Disney as an example. Universal is the stricter one; the following warning is taken from its website:

"NOTE: We apologize, but due to their dramatic motion, none of the ride vehicles at Universal Orlando will accommodate Electric Convenience Vehicles (ECV's) or electric wheelchairs. At those rides which can accommodate standard wheelchairs, guests may transfer from their ECV or electric wheelchair into a standard wheelchair, which can be provided at each location."

With this information you can tell that taking your electric wheelchair to Universal would mean unnecessary transfers that you can avoid if you take your standard (manual) wheelchair with you to the park. On the other hand, Disney let you take your electric wheelchair into their wheelchair accessible ride vehicles. However, if you choose to rent an ECV, most rides do not allow you to get it into a vehicle.

In my own experience as a wheelchair user, I can say that is very nice to go to Universal in my standard wheelchair; I get to ride E.T., Men in Black, Disaster, and the now-defunct Jaws without leaving my wheelchair. At the Disney parks I have ridden Toy Story, the Great Movie Ride, and the Studio Tour in my electric wheelchair which is a Go-Travel wheelchair that is not very stable. Even worse, it does not have any place to put the ride's hooks that keeps your wheelchair steady.

Not all electric wheelchairs are the same, so if you go to any Disney park be sure that your electric wheelchair has straps or other device that can be hooked to the ride's vehicle. Otherwise, in the rides that have more movement (like the Studio Tour at Disney's Hollywood Studios) your wheelchair will move and you will not enjoy the experience. For that reason, I also take my standard wheelchair to the Disney parks. Nevertheless, choosing standard means that there has to be someone willing to push your wheelchair all day (I'm lucky to have that person) or it means that you have strong arms.

The decision on the type of wheelchair that you are going to take with you depends on other factors as well. For example, if you are going to Epcot just for the Food and Wine Festival, the electric wheelchair would be a better choice since the person who is pushing you will need to have his/her hands free in order to take the food and drinks; even though we got the clever idea of bringing a tray with us where it sits on my lap. Also, there is the freedom that an electric wheelchair gives you. The only problem is the battery; my electric wheelchair runs up to 10 miles, and when I go to Epcot I end up the day with almost no charge. I recommend you taking an electric wheelchair that runs at least 15 miles (20 miles would be ideal).

In my case, I prefer to go with my standard wheelchair because I want to enjoy the parks. Otherwise, I'm looking all day at the wheelchair panel watching how every bar disappears. Not my idea of a relaxed day at a theme park.

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The ultimate guide to planning a budget Disney World vacation, for cheap

By Robert Niles
Published: February 13, 2013 at 12:44 PM

How can you visit the Walt Disney World Resort for cheap? What's the secret to an inexpensive Disney World vacation? How do you get Disney tickets, hotel and transportation on a tight budget?

Advice on doing Disney cheap litters the Internet. That's because Disney World is wildly popular -- and can be wildly expensive. People want to find ways to cut the cost of visiting the world's most popular theme park resort.

Visiting Walt Disney World
With some planning and the right know-how, your family could be here, too.

But too much budget travel advice relies on tricks and cheats that, frankly, don't apply to most visitors. Have you seen them? Sorry, but most people don't have a vast reservoir of frequent flyer miles to dip into for free tickets to Orlando. Or the sterling credit that enables them to open up another credit card account to snag more free miles. The worst piece I saw bragged that they've gotten a "free" room on-site at Disney World by… using their DVC points.

You've got to be kidding me. (For those who don't know, DVC stands for the "Disney Vacation Club" and is Disney's time-share business. While DVC can be a great deal for devoted Disney fans, buying into a timeshare isn't something that a family looking for a budget vacation ought to have to do.)

If you want a trick like that to save money on a Disney vacation, you might as well go for the best one: find a Disney World cast member who can sign you into the parks for free, then let you stay over at his or her house while you're in the area. That's the ultimate in getting into Disney on the cheap.

But let's get real. Let's look at how a family can enjoy a Disney World vacation for the lowest possible price -- without resorting to frequent flyer miles, timeshare points, credit cards or knowing someone who can get you into the parks for free.

Step One: Getting to Orlando

You drive. If you've got more than two people in your family, driving's likely going to be cheaper than buying plane tickets for everyone to fly to Orlando. Plus, you'll have a car with you when you get there. Orlando is not a good city for walking or mass transit. A car is essential for getting around. Sure, Disney will pick you up at the airport and you can use its free transportation system if you stay at one of its official, on-site hotels. But you're on a budget and need a cheaper place to stay. Having a car with you allows you to stay off-site in a budget-priced hotel.

What about the time, and the cost of gas? If you live outside the United States, your best bet for a discount Orlando vacation is to book through a tour operator that's working with Disney to package low-cost Orlando vacations. (We'll have an article about that next week, so you can skip the rest of this piece.) If you live in the Mountain or Pacific time zones in the US, you'll be better off driving to Disneyland instead. It's closer and cheaper than Disney World for you.

If you're worried about road conditions, postpone your trip until a time of year when the weather's clear. We're talking about doing Disney cheap here. Convenience costs money. And if you can't afford to drive because you've got a gas guzzler, well, you're not helping yourself by looking at your vacation costs to save money. You'd do better to save money every day by trading in for a fuel-efficient car instead. Do that, then plan your Disney roadtrip.

Step Two: Find a hotel

Disney's got some great on-site hotels, with free transportation to and early admission into the parks. But they cost more than other hotel rooms in the area. We're talking cheap, remember? So we're going to look off-site.

You can search website such as Hotels.com for low rates on hotels near the Walt Disney World Resort. But if you want cheap, try bidding for a room on a blind-bid site such as Priceline. Here are the areas you want to include:

  • Disney Maingate - Celebration
  • Downtown Disney - Lake Buena Vista
  • Sea World - Intl. Drive - Convention Center
  • West Disney Area

Don't go elsewhere, or you'll be wasting too much of your vacation time driving in traffic. Now, what to bid? I'd start with $20 a night. Yep. Twenty bucks. Believe it or not, unless you're visiting during Christmas week or over the Fourth of July, you can find hotel rooms in the Disney World area for that little each night, especially if you wait until the last minute to bid. They're not luxury rooms -- far from it. But you'll have a roof over your head, a bed to sleep in and a bathroom and shower for the morning. And you'll cram your entire family into it, even if the kids have to sleep in sleeping bags on the floor.

And if a hotel's too rich for your taste, there's always Couchsurfing.

Step Three: Buying Disney tickets

Do not, repeat, do not wait until you get to the park to buy your tickets. For best deal, you're going to buy your ticket in advance. Start with the Disney World website to see your options and find what's Disney's charging these days. The Walt Disney World Resort has four theme parks and you'll want to spend at least one full day in each. Don't bother with the "park-hopper" option. That costs more, and you're looking for the lowest possible ticket prices, remember? Notice that the price per day of Disney World tickets drops with every extra day you add. Decide how many days you can afford, but don't buy your tickets yet.

Disney's website is your worst-case scenario. Keeping that price in mind, it's time to shop around. Check with your local auto club, your human resources office at work, or your student union at school. (If you're in the military, check with your base, too.) See if any of them sell Disney World tickets, and if they can beat Disney's price on the ticket you want. Finally, look online at Undercover Tourist. Do not look at Craigslist, eBay or other online ticket brokers that sell unused days on someone else's Disney ticket. They won't work, and you'll lose your money. (Disney scans the finger of whoever who uses a ticket and won't let anyone else use that ticket to get into the park.)

Step Four: Inside the park

Bring everything you need from home for your vacation: toiletries, sunscreen, plastic bandages (for blisters and such), snacks for the road, refillable water bottles, etc. You'll be in your car, so there's room for your stuff in back and no TSA "security theater" rules to follow. Never buy anything in a theme park that you can buy outside the park and bring with you.

Parking at the parks will cost you each day, unless your hotel provides free shuttle to the park, or you sneak into the Magic Kingdom parking lot. (Officially, I am telling you: "Don't do that.") Remember that once you pay to park for the day, your parking ticket allows you to come and go into any other Disney World theme park parking lot for no additional charge for the rest of the day. So you can leave and come back, if you'd like.

Get the most from your theme park tickets by arriving at the park before it opens in the morning. You're paying for every minute that park's open, so start at the beginning of the day, before crowds and lines have a chance to build. It's fine to take a break in the middle of the day -- when heat and crowds are at their worst -- then come back to the park in the evening, when the temperature and the lines start coming down.

You can bring food into the Disney theme parks, if you'd like (though no coolers, just in backpacks). But you can save money by ordering wisely and splitting meals in the parks, as well. Remember, you can't take the leftovers home in a doggie bag here. If you're not certain you'll finish it, don't order it. Stick with free water to drink and lay off the sugar. It'll just burn off quickly and leave you hungry again.

You're not buying souvenirs on your budget Disney World vacation, either. That doesn't mean you can't take home some mementos, though. Photos make great souvenirs and those Disney employees trying to take your picture so they can sell you a copy will be more than happy to snap a shot with your camera, too -- for no charge. I always pick up a couple of park guidemaps. I use one during the day and then pick up another (unwrinkled) one as I leave, for a souvenir. If you're celebrating a birthday, anniversary or any other occasion, many parks will give you a free button to wear around the park -- ask for it at the guest relations desk near the front gate. Bring a blank notebook and pen from home and characters will sign autographs for you, too.

So there you go -- those are the "secrets" to a cheap, inexpensive, budget Disney World vacation. Now that you know what's involved, you can ask yourself, "do I really want to go that cheaply?" Start with this plan as a base, then plan to spend more to get more comfort and enjoyment from your trip, as your budget allows.

First step, just man up and pay for the parking, if you can't get a free shuttle. Then consider upgrading the quality of your hotel, by restricting your bid to a higher star rating (and bidding more), or booking directly with a specific hotel. If you can visit during the school year, go ahead and take a look at Disney World's special offers page. For stays during the fall and spring, Disney often offers discounted hotel rooms and even free dining plans for people who stay on-site. Those might bring an "official" Disney hotel within your budget. Finally, think about setting aside a budget for souvenirs (stick to stuff that's unique to the parks, though), or even considering a budget airfare, if you can find one and really hate the idea of a long roadtrip.

Ultimately, you've got options here. If you want to go with a more expensive vacation, Disney would be more than happy to accommodate you. But you can keep your costs down, too. You can plan a Walt Disney World vacation for cheap. Without cheating.

Please share your favorite budget travel tips, in the comments.

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Theme Park Tech: An Insider's look at Linear Induction Motors

By Russell Meyer
Published: February 12, 2013 at 12:05 PM

In 1996, Premier Rides of Maryland changed the roller coaster landscape forever with the debuts of two coaster installations both named Outer Limits: Flight of Fear. When they first opened at Paramount's Kings Island and Paramount's Kings Dominion, they brought an entire new technology to the table: Linear Induction Motors (or LIMs) for launching a coaster. There were many indoor coasters in the world, and there were already a few launching roller coasters in the world. However, before 1996, launching roller coasters involved the use of cables, pulleys, and huge counterweights. The old launch systems originated by Schwarzkopf not only were maintenance nightmares, but the launch speeds and intensity were very limited, maxing out just under 60 MPH in about 6 seconds.

The Outer Limits: Flight of Fear installations saw pretty similar top speeds to the old launching coasters, but reaching top speed in nearly half the time. Add the element of complete darkness, and the launch feels even more intense. The two coasters also paved the way for a new wave of launching roller coasters from many different manufacturers, including the first roller coaster to break the 100 MPH barrier. The technology is not only used to launch trains to high rates of speed, but it is also used to mimic chain-driven lift hills and slowly move trains through rooms like a dark ride.

The terms Linear Induction Motors (LIMs) and Linear Synchronous Motors (LSMs) are sometimes used interchangeably, but the technologies do vary. LIMs utilize electric "motors" that create opposing magnetic fields to propel a conductive or magnetic plate connected to the train. LSMs utilize very much the same type of electric "motors", but instead of creating opposing magnetic fields, the motors turn on and off as plates containing alternating pole magnets are propelled down the track. The trick with both technologies is to time the powering on or alternating current of the magnets at just the right time to actually move the train in the desired direction. The concept had been used for years on passenger trains, airport trams, and Disney's Peoplemover. However, until Premier figured it out, attempts to quickly accelerate objects using the technology was inconsistent and choppy. Sophisticated sensors and computer systems eventually solved the problems, and the limits of the technology merely became the amount of electricity parks were willing to consume, the tolerance of the human body, and designers' imagination.

For those that have experienced a LIMs or LSMs launch (especially before newer hydraulic or pneumatic launch systems), the feeling is like nothing you can get anywhere. With the technology employed in just about every major theme park in the United States and even more parks overseas, you don't have to go far to get your fix. The initial coaster designs were pretty uninspiring. The two Outer Limits coasters were identical, and two more clones were built as outdoor coasters at Six Flags America (Joker's Jinx) and Six Flags Fiesta Texas (Poltergeist), and many of the LIMs and LSMs launching coasters built in the late 90's were simple shuttle coasters like Mr. Freeze (Six Flags Over Texas and Six Flags St. Louis) and Batman and Robin: The Chiller (Six Flags Great Adventure).

In 1997, Six Flags Magic Mountain built the ultimate LSMs coaster with the debut of Superman: The Escape. With a 100 MPH top speed and a 400-foot tower, it held the world record for height and speed for almost 5 years, but operational costs (primarily electricity) and poor maintenance caused it to only run at half capacity, if it even ran it all, until it was revitalized in 2011.

In 1998, Paramount's Kings Dominion upped the ante with what is still one of the more unique launching roller coasters in the world with Volcano: The Blast Coaster. Built into what was an old shoot-the-chutes dark ride called The Haunted River, Volcano was the first inverted launching roller coaster, and at a top speed of 70 MPH, it is still the world's fastest complete circuit inverted roller coaster. The train is launched through a tunnel and speeds around a sweeping left turn before getting another blast of speed and up and out the top of the mountain. When the coaster debuted there were a number of problems accelerating the train fast enough to get it out of the mountain, and the solution was to run the coaster with just 8 seats per train instead of the designed 16, which caused immense lines in its first season. However, the problems were solved the following season, and it's never looked back. There is really still nothing like Volcano, and while the second half of the ride containing a series of slow barrel rolls is nothing special, the coaster is still a destination for any coaster junkie. If you can't experience the full-circuit of Volcano, Intamin created a number of inverted shuttle LIMs coasters that are found at a number of parks around the country, including V2 at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom.


In 2007, Cedar Point showcased the versatility of LIMs and LSMs with the debut of Maverick. The coaster hides much of its technology, but it is quite possibly one of the most technologically advanced in the world. Maverick is marketed for is beyond vertical first drop, but the LIMs/LSMs make it one of the most unique sit down coasters in the country. The circuit starts with a slow crawl up a "lift" hill that is actually a series of LSMs that power the train up the incline much like a traditional chain lift. After a series of ground hugging turns and inversions, the train comes to a stop in a tunnel directly beneath the station. A set of LIMs then launches the train to 70 MPH and through a series of high speed maneuvers, one that was so extreme that it had to be removed because it exceeded human tolerance.


However, not all LIMs and LSMs coasters are speed machines. In fact, many park operators are incorporating the technology into more family friendly rides. Revenge of the Mummy (Universal Studios Orlando and Hollywood) actually uses the technology to slowly propel trains through the first half of the ride that is very much like a traditional dark ride, and then launches the train up a hill and into a traditional roller coaster course. Back Lot Stunt Coasters (formerly themed around "The Italian Job" at Canada's Wonderland, Kings Dominion and Kings Island) use LIMs for less intense launches to a maximum speed of 40 MPH, while Cheetah Hunt uses three different sets of LSMs to not only launch the train up a 100-foot tower, but to give it an extra shot of speed through terrain-hugging curves up to 60 MPH.

Italian Job

Cheetah Hunt

Two of the newest coasters in the US, Manta at Sea World San Diego, and Verbolten at Busch Gardens Williamsburg demonstrate that the speed-harnessing technology of LIMs/LSMs can be incorporated with other technologies to create more immersive attractions that are far more than just G-forces and inversions. In 2013, Six Flags Magic Mountain will again tap the technology in Full Throttle in the first complete circuit coaster to feature a forwards and backwards launch.


In 17 years, LIMs/LSMs have completely changed the landscape of the theme park industry. They're featured on some of the fastest, most intense, and most unique roller coasters on the planet. The systems can be a little pricey to operate, but the results are unmatched, and parks may just now be figuring out how to really utilize the technology.

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SeaWorld gets the US theme park rights to DreamWorks' Madagascar

By Robert Niles
Published: February 12, 2013 at 8:47 AM

SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment today announced that it has obtained the U.S. theme park rights to DreamWorks Animation's popular Madagascar characters and will debut a musical show featuring the characters at its Tampa and San Diego theme parks.

Madagascar Live! Operation: Vacation
Promotional art, courtesy SeaWorld

"Madagascar Live! Operation: Vacation" will debut this summer at Busch Gardens Tampa and SeaWorld San Diego. From SeaWorld's press release:

The 20-minute musical show follows the antics of Alex the Lion, Gloria the Hippo, King Julien, Mort and the Penguins during a vacation adventure. The show will feature rock/pop music performed by a live band and include both classic and original songs. The characters also will conduct meet and greets with park guests. Additionally, special co-branded merchandise exclusive to the parks, will be available.

The show will open in Florida on May 18 and in California on June 15. SeaWorld has the rights to bring the show to its other parks, as well.

"At this point, our relationship is only to bring the Madagascar characters to our parks," a SeaWorld representative told me via email in response to my question about whether the chain had obtained the rights to other DreamWorks properties.

Up until now, Universal has had the rights to use DreamWorks Animation characters in its theme parks, and it continues to feature Shrek in both of its US parks. Universal devoted an entire land to Madagascar in its Singapore theme park, where Universal retains the license for the characters.

Madagascar live shows also play in theme parks in the UK and Australia, so it's a familiar property to theme parks fans outside the US.

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Disneyland also will begin enforcing Fastpass return times, starting next week

By Robert Niles
Published: February 11, 2013 at 5:26 PM

Following the lead of Walt Disney World, the Disneyland theme parks in California will begin enforcing return times for Fastpass ride-reservation tickets, starting next week.

With the new return-time requirements, let's hope that you don't end up with FPs for returns at the same time, on opposite sides of the park, as I did at Disneyland Paris last summer.

Until now, you simply had to come back at any time after your Fastpass return window opened in order to get into the shorter Fastpass-holders' queue for a participating attraction. Starting Monday, you'll need to return within the specific one-hour time window listed on the ticket. Show up after your return time window closes, and Disney won't let you into the shorter Fastpass queue.

Disney World made the switch to prepare for its new Fastpass+ ride reservation system, which allows hotel guests to schedule visits to multiple attractions in advance of their visit. While many (if not most) visitors did return within their specified time window, more and more visitors had figured out that they could come back any time later in the day, which was compromising Disney's ability to keep the Fastpass queues as short as possible, as returns backed up later in the day. With Fastpass+, Disney wants more precision in the system.

Disney's not said a word yet about bringing FastPass+ and its NextGen reservation systems to Disneyland, which serves a much, much larger number of local visitors and annual passholders than the Walt Disney World Resort. But if Disney's going to provide a specific time window for a return, as opposed to saying "come back anytime after X o'clock," it simply makes sense for Disney to try to enforce that time.

That said, Disneyland fans, now you know. No more stashing Fastpasses through the day. It's use it or lose it time, starting next week.

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Attraction of the Week: The Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois

By Anthony Murphy
Published: February 11, 2013 at 12:20 AM

With President's Day just around the corner (and Lincoln's Birthday tomorrow), we turn to another popular type of themed attraction found outside of theme parks -- presidential libraries and museums. Here you will find the presidents' legacies in both their professional and private lives. The libraries also showcase the state or city the former president calls home. I was able to visit the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois, which opened in 2005. Up to this point, Lincoln did not have an official presidential library (the practice is relatively modern), but the state of Illinois has provided a library and museum that is both modern and educational on the 16th president.

Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum

[Editor's note: The museum's interior experience was designed by BRC Imagination Arts, the theme park design firm headed by TPI community member Bob Rogers, who produced the Impressions de France movie at Epcot, among many, many other industry accomplishments. So the connection between presidential museums and theme parks is even closer than you might have thought!]

Springfield is situated in the middle of Illinois, making it not really near any major American city (the closest isn't Chicago -- it's St. Louis). Getting there by car is pretty easy, but I traveled like Lincoln, the train! The Amtrak Lincoln Line connects Chicago to St. Louis and makes a stop only a couple of blocks away from the Lincoln Museum. The entire train ride takes about two and a half hours, but this line is one of the recipients of federal grants to build a high speed rail line. In a few years, this travel time will be half.

The Lincoln Library and Museum is split into two buildings: the library and the museum. The library is pretty much just a library and really doesn't have anything on display. It is also closed on the weekends. The Museum is the main attraction and what we'll visit here.

From the entrances of the museum, we come to the main hall which features wax figures of the Lincoln family that welcome us in front of a replica of the White House. There is soft music wafting in this main area which are said to be some of Abraham Lincoln's favorite music. From here are the entry point to the two walkthroughs, two permanent shows, the kids' area, and the two "traveling" exhibits.


Lincoln's cabin

Beginnings: Going left, we enter into Abraham Lincoln's boyhood cabin to experience Lincoln's life before becoming president. We see the cramped corners where he grew up and, later, his family with son Tad and Willie playing a rousing game of baseball with their father's inkwell in the law office. Dispersed though these scenes are various trinkets and artifacts, including a debate program, Mary Todd's Fan, and Lincoln's shaving kit. This area ends with a pretty clever news report with a cameo by the late Tim Russert informing us on the race for president in 1860 (there were four people who got electoral votes). Each candidate also had video political ads as if they were actually running in 2004, not 1860. These were ads that were supposed to be humorous, but gave the slogans and positions of the candidates too. Throughout this exhibit, there were small little signs giving the addresses of the locations being portrayed in the scenery. It also stated how far away you were from the actual location. Because this is Springfield, many were less than three blocks away from the museum.

At the White House

Life in the White House: Going right, you would enter into the White House and learn about Abraham Lincoln's time as President of the United States. There are not as many artifacts on this side of the walkthrough because it is designed to evoke strong visuals. This side also takes a bit of a more serious tone, such as with the Whispering Gallery. This is a winding and disorienting hall with many of the political cartoons framed on the walls and speakers whispering many distortions and lies about the president. There is also a hallway where videos of people are yelling at you (as Lincoln) that you are tearing apart the country and you should not run for a second term. Other subjects covered include the death of Willie Lincoln (which put Mary Todd into a huge bout of depression), the Civil War in four minutes, which showed on the map the deaths on both sides, and the assassination in Ford's Theatre. This side of the walkthrough ends with Lincoln's casket lying in state in the Illinois State Capitol. This room is very dark and has church organ music playing in the scenery. There are the same signs that tell you where to find the actual locations being portrayed, but most are in Washington D.C.


Ghosts of the Library: This show includes a live actor who describes the wonders that this Presidential Library has in store from the artifacts. It uses much of the same Pepper's Ghost technology that is used in the Haunted Mansion and Knott's Farm's Mystery Lodge [another BRC Imagination Arts production]. The actor opens books and out flies Civil War scenes, Lincoln giving a speech, and a finale that transforms the entire stage. (I won't give away the ending and spoil the magic.)

Though Lincoln's Eyes: This show gives a brief history of Abraham Lincoln's life. This is similar to a 4D show, but does not require 3D glasses. There are many physical effects that include shaking chairs, cannon fire with real smoke, and an appearance by John Wilkes Booth in the rafters. It is also much more packed with information than Ghosts of the Library.


To Kill and to Heal: This is an exhibit that showcased many of the weapons and artillery that were used during the Civil War. It also showcased medical supplies used by doctors and nurses during the war. One fact is that more people died during the Civil War from disease than from battles or injuries.

State of Illinois: This exhibit rotates many pieces in the archives of the Library including, yes, Abraham Lincoln's hat. There were also other personal pieces, including a photo of Lincoln's daughter in law for her wedding (one of the first color photographs ever made) and Tad's "chocolate letters" which were chocolates wrapped in handwritten letters to Tad's friends (the chocolate has mostly melted!)

Because of the reading and the somewhat intense scenery in the exhibits and the shows, this Presidential Library is most enjoyed by visitors age 8 and up. However, there is very nice play area called Mrs. Lincoln's Attic where kids can dress up like the famous first family, compare their heights with Abraham, Tad, and Mary Todd, and, you guessed it, play with Lincoln Logs.

This Presidential Museum is designed to educate and entertain. Between the shows and exhibits, it is very similar to the American Adventure or the Hall of Presidents. The one downside I found was that there is very little photography allowed. The museum takes about four hours to experience everything. It is a good precursor before visiting Lincoln Tomb and his Springfield home, all within walking distance. It is $12 for adults, $6 for kids (under 15).

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Editor's note: New design, and new writers!

By Robert Niles
Published: February 10, 2013 at 3:32 PM

Hello, Theme Park Insiders!

As you've probably noticed (if you've visited with us before), everything looks a bit different today. Yes, we've changed the design a bit.

I wanted to change the typography on the site, to take advantage of the higher-resolution screens most people use these days. I wanted to try something a bit nicer than the old sans-serif font faces I had used to ensure maximum readability on the types of screens we had back in the mid-2000s, when I last redesigned the site.

And since I was changing that, I might as well widen the screen a bit, and change the line-up of links in the right column, and move the search form up on the page (and put another one at the bottom of the site). With all the changes, though, we've tried to keep the site friendly to smartphone and tablet displays.

You'll also notice we're highlighting some of our best photos up in the navigation bar at the top of the page. Those photos will rotate, allowing for a different line-up each time you view a Theme Park Insider page. I'll be adding more photos into that mix as time goes by, too.

There's also one new design feature for registered members of the site. Starting today, on the front page, logged-in members will see the full versions only of articles posted since your last visit to the site. You'll see summaries of the previous articles, instead. That will allow return visitors to the front page to skip more quickly to the comments on those older posts, rather than having to scroll through the whole things.

Now for the bigger news... you might also have noticed some additional bylines here on the front page. I'm thrilled to announce that we're expanding here on Theme Park Insider, and that some of your fellow Insiders have stepped up and will be writing here on the front page, too. In addition to the posts you've seen already, we've got some great new features coming up in the next week from five other writers (whose names will be familiar to long-time readers of the discussion board and attraction comments).

Please join me in welcoming our new front-pagers and I hope that you'll visit Theme Park Insider more often in the weeks to come. Thanks for being part of the community!

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Silver Dollar City's Outlaw Run takes its first test runs

By James Rao
Published: February 9, 2013 at 9:09 PM

How about some theme park news that's not coming from Orlando or SoCal?

Silver Dollar City's new Outlaw Run made its first test runs this week, bringing roller coaster fans closer to being able to ride a wooden coaster with inversions since the infamous Son of Beast.

Built by the Rocky Mountain Construction Group, famous for their highly successful redo of the classic Texas Giant at Six Flags Over Texas, Outlaw Run promises to be a coaster lover's dream. It has exhilarating speed (the second fastest wooden coaster on the planet), gut-wrenching drops (the world's steepest drop on a wooden coaster), custom-designed stagecoach-inspired vehicles, and a record-breaking three inversions.

Overbanked turn
A test train rolls through the overbanked turn. All photos courtesy Silver Dollar City

It is those inversions that have grabbed the attention of theme park enthusiasts around the world. The only other wooden coaster to feature an inversion prior to Outlaw Run was Son of Beast at Kings Island in Mason, Ohio. Most of us know something about the history of this beleaguered thriller, but I asked Derek Potter, a long-time contributor to TPI and a Kings Island regular, to give us his first-hand perspective:

"Some of the things I'll always remember about SOB were its imposing, magnificent structure, its first drop, and the first helix.  One thing I would like to forget is the pain that the first version caused.  In my case, most of the pain was attributed to those first trains, which had very little legroom and horrible rolling stock.  I'm about 6'2", not terribly taller than most, and my knees had nowhere to go except lodged against a handrail with very little padding.  To put it in terms that someone who didn't ride might understand, think of the most intense wooden coaster you ever rode.  Now double (or maybe triple) that intensity and think about your knees being firmly lodged against a piece of cold hard steel during the ride as the train jerked and rumbled down the track.  For a taller guy like me, riding it during the loop days was sort of like being packed in a tin can during an earthquake.

"From the drawing board, this coaster was destined to have problems, problems that were eventually made worse with bad construction and [cheap] materials.  The force of a 100-foot vertical loop at 60mph (estimated 4.5 Gs) required trains that were much heavier than a standard wooden coaster train.  Extra weight meant more force on the structure, the riders, and the trains themselves. The forces brought upon the structure were enormous, to the point where portions of the first helix would visibly sway after the train had passed over its track.  In the end, the enormous forces brought on by the trains resulted in the 2006 structural failure that injured 27 people.  It was then that SOB's loop was removed and lighter trains were installed."

And since 2006, no other theme park has dared to incorporate inversions into a wooden coaster – until now. I spoke with Brad Thomas, General Manager and Senior Vice President of Silver Dollar City Attractions / Herschend Family Entertainment Corporation and asked him to discuss what advances have been made in wooden coaster technology that will help Outlaw Run avoid the pitfalls of the world's first looping wood coaster.

"Rocky Mountain Coaster's innovative approach to the track combines current technology with the traditional wood coaster structure (steel track on top of traditional layers of wood). Their approach will quickly make Outlaw Run a must-ride wood coaster."

Rocky Mountain Construction refers to this technology as Topper Track, layers of laminated wood with a steel plate located in the upper layers of the track.

Topper Track
A close-up of Outlaw Run's track

Designed to reduce maintenance and provide a comfortable ride experience, RMC has installed Topper Track at various sites around the country in an attempt to rejuvenate some classic old coasters, but Outlaw Run is the first coaster the company has designed and built from the ground up -– and the first with loops… well, sort of. Thomas continues:

"Outlaw Run is not a looping coaster, but it does provide 3 energizing inversions:   the first, a 153 degree angle over the steam train tracks and the next (2) are 360 degree inversions included in a double barrel roll, just before the train moves back into the load station."

Barrel roll
Outlaw Run's barrel roll

But, why now? What makes 2013 such a great time for the rebirth of the inverted wooden coaster? And what makes Silver Dollar City the right park for such a unique ride?

"Wood coasters remain popular with guests of parks around the world," Thomas said. "Silver Dollar City conducts market research/customer testing on attraction, show, and ride concepts frequently. Typically, a wood coaster concept has tested strongly against other new products which we were researching. While Silver Dollar City has other coasters (classic indoor concept Fire in the Hole, Arrow mine train Thunderation, B&M 5-looped Wildfire, S&S launch coaster Powderkeg), Outlaw Run is actually Silver Dollar City's first wood coaster.

"We made the decision to add a wood coaster two years ago. We saw several great coaster concepts, but the innovation and unique elements of Outlaw Run make this ride a perfect complement to Silver Dollar City. The 81-degree drop, 3 inversions, and 68 mph speed quickly grabbed our attention.   As we did additional customer testing, our guests -- and our potential guests -- said they would be highly motivated to visit Silver Dollar City with the addition of that type of ride.

"Rocky Mountain's innovative approach allowed us to add not just a wood coaster, but a wood coaster that would provide families a strong reason to visit Branson and Silver Dollar City. The majority of our visitors live 200+ miles away; this ride provides a strong reason for folks to make the trip to Branson."

Strong reason, indeed. Herschend is expecting quite a payoff for its $10 million investment.

"We are planning an increase of 85,000 in total attendance," Thomas said. "Helping us is the addition of Southwest Airlines' flights with daily nonstop service direct into Branson to/from Chicago, Dallas, and Houston."

Opening day for Silver Dollar City (and for Outlaw Run), March 15th, is fast approaching. And for this coaster fan, it can't get here soon enough! Even my cube wall at work is decorated appropriately:

Outlaw Run promos

See you in Branson!

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Vote of the week: Antarctica vs. Transformers, the Battle for Orlando 2013

By Robert Niles
Published: February 8, 2013 at 2:37 PM

There's an epic theme park battle shaping up in Orlando this summer.

And Disney isn't involved.

You'll find the top two attractions debuting this year in Orlando theme parks at... SeaWorld and Universal Studios Florida. Sometime this spring, SeaWorld will unveil its most ambitious (and expensive) ride attraction yet, Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin. Then, later in the summer, Universal will counter with Transformers: The Ride 3D, based on the popular Michael Bay films.



So, which one has you more excited to visit the Orlando theme parks this year? That's our vote of the week.

Before we get to that, let's take a look at the current park promotions for each new attraction. SeaWorld's created a website for Antarctica, where you can download an app and check out the schedule for a national promotional tour, previewing the ride in several cities, with upcoming stops in Philadelphia, Washington DC, Jacksonville, Atlanta and Miami.

In addition, SeaWorld's running a YouTube series, called "Behind the Freeze," detailing the making of the ride. Here's the latest:

To promote Transformers, Universal kept up PrepareforBattle.com, the website it first launched in 2011 to promote the opening of the ride at Universal Studios Singapore. Universal's updated the site with a slew of information about Transformers, its characters and the making of the ride, including this announcement video:

Universal doesn't need a promotional tour to introduce the ride around the country, as it's been open in Hollywood since last May. (And in Singapore since December 2011. We were there for both openings!) But waaaay more people go to theme parks in Orlando than in Southern California and many fans from the eastern half of the country are looking forward to the chance to get on Transformers themselves later this year.

So let's vote. Which one of these rides are you most anticipating?

Tell us why, in the comments. And thank you, as always, for reading Theme Park Insider!

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On the whole White Rabbit/Black family thing...

By Rod Whitenack
Published: February 8, 2013 at 1:53 PM

Another controversy has unfolded in “The Happiest Place on Earth.” A San Diego family has accused the cast member playing the “Alice in Wonderland” White Rabbit of snubbing their black children in favor of white children in the Anaheim park. The family, who have filed a lawsuit against the company, also say they were offered VIP tickets and $500 in exchange for signing a confidentiality agreement after they complained to park management.

Jason and Annelia Black say the cast member acted as if he/she did not want to hug or touch their children, even turning his back to them to openly embrace a family of white children who approached. Apparently, the White Rabbit even “flicked” the children's hands away if they tried to touch him. Photos taken show the White Rabbit without his arms around the children.

The New York Daily News has all the details here.

It's a delicate situation to which we don't have all the facts, but it certainly invites discussion. It creates sensational headlines that seem like they might have been written as a fictional, ironic article for The Onion. The White Rabbit snubs a family whose actual last name is Black? That's mind-boggling in its own right.

How well can the cast members in costume actually see the children at their feet? Can some or any of the White Rabbit's behavior be written off as accidental/coincidental? We don't know the cast member here, and it isn't fair to judge his or her behavior without the all the facts, but clearly the Black family felt “horrible” at their treatment and that is certainly not how Disney wants its Guests to feel.

The other issue to contemplate is how Disney management handled the situation on the day of the event. Offering upset Guests freebies as compensation is standard practice, but asking them to sign a non-disclosure/confidentiality agreement in exchange for upgrades and cash back seems like it would look shady if things “didn't work out” and the situation landed in both the legal court and the court of public opinion. What do TPI readers think of this situation?

[Editor's note: Thanks to Rod for submitting the post. Follow me into the comments for my take. -- Robert]

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The Blog Flume Filter for February 7, 2013

By Jeff Elliott
Published: February 7, 2013 at 3:09 PM

Islands of Adventure - While we have been trying to keep tabs on how the Lord of the Rings is going, it seems that there is now a court battle between the different owners of the licenses over who has control of what types of activities in regards to the use of the Middle-Earth name. Unfortunately, this may spell the demise of any hope to see the Hobbit/Lord of the Rings in a theme park, as this may be extremely lengthy legal wrangling. No one is going to spend a cent on building anything until this is all settled, and with movies, there is a certain "sell by" date that an attraction needs to be opened by before the public is bored with the property.

Disneyland – There are some rumblings that the Main Street Electrical Parade could be heading back to Disneyland in 2014 as soon as it completes its run in the Magic Kingdom.

Electric Parade

More Disneyland – Mickey and the Magical Map – It seems like Disneyland shares some of the same feelings that I have about Epic Mickey, namely: great concept, bad execution. This new show at Disneyland's Fantasyland Theater is taking a couple of pages out of Epic Mickey and gives Mickey a paintbrush to fill in the missing portion of a magical map. While we are little sparse on details, I am thinking that it revolves around cast members who glare at Mickey for not being able to figure out what is written on the map and are disappointed that Mickey didn't read the fine print.

Star Wars – While Episode 7, 8, & 9 are currently being worked on, Disney has confirmed that they are also proceeding with other Star Wars Universe movies, the first of which will be a movie about Yoda. I have heard that a Boba Fett & Han Solo movie are also in the consideration stage. Unfortunately, I'm sure to follow the Yoda movie will be a movie about Jar Jar, because that is just what Star Wars needs is more &^$%#$ Jar Jar.

Marvel – We have found out that Marvel is currently putting together a pilot for a TV show called S.H.I.E.L.D. with Joss Whedon (The Avengers & Buffy the Vampire Slayer) that ties directly into the movies.

Disney Movies – Attack of the Sequels – I really hate to draw a parallel here between what Bob Iger is doing and what Michael Eisner did. Uncle Mike was fired because he was diluting the Disney name by making crappy sequels to every property that Disney owned…and everything that Disney touched seemed to be cheap and crappy, including any new properties they had. The only thing that didn't suck toward the end of Uncle Mike's tenure was Pixar, who were allowed to work completely outside of the Disney system…and then even that relationship broke down, despite the fact that Pixar was propping up the entire Disney company. Now the Uncle Bob is in charge of the Kingdom, I see him stepping in some of the same potholes that Uncle Mike stepped in. Really the only difference here is that Uncle Bob is handing out huge budgets as if they were on a roll in the lavatory. I really hate to see Disney become the land of the sequels, and had no idea how bad it was getting. Check out the list of sequels:

Spiderman 7, Avengers 2 & 3, Muppets 2, Hulk 4, Captain America 2, Star Wars 7, 8, & 9 + Yoda movie, Pirates of the Caribbean 16, Wreck it Ralph 2 (with Tron), Iron Man 3, Wizard of Oz 3, The Lone Ranger, Monster Inc 2, Live Action Cinderella 2, X-men 23……and this list is only a partial list of movies that have been confirmed and are in some stage of production.

Shanghai Disneyland – This has been a good week for rumors for this rising park. We are mostly hearing what will not be at the park. There will be no train, no Main Street USA, no Frontierland, no Thunder Mountain, and no Space Mountain. The entrance area will be a cross between a hybrid of Toontown with an international flavor and character meet and greets. There's nothing like jamming up the entrance area with slow moving lines everywhere. Since most of these things have been discovered by people making wild theories on the Internet, let's throw one out there and have them disprove it for us. Wild Theory #1: Since Chinese labor is so cheap, Shanghai Disneyland is going to save a bunch of money on animatronics and have real people in costume at different points in the rides to save on costs.

Monty Python – OK, I realize that this has nothing to do with theme parks, but since this at least attempts to be a humor article, I figured you might want to know this. The Pythons are teaming up to do a new movie called "Absolutely Anything." Terry Jones will be directing. Former Pythons Terry Jones, John Cleese, Michael Palin, and usually director Terry Gilliam are already on board. They are currently talking with Eric Idle, but he has not signed yet. Talks with Graham Chapman appear to have hit a dead end. Robin Williams has also signed on as the voice of a dog, while the Pythons play aliens that give someone the godlike ability to do absolutely anything. This has my curiosity peaked, but it doesn't make up for the crappy Mr. Toad movie.

Cedar Point - Gatekeeper construction continues. While the video title implies that it shows construction, it actually shows the crane operator playing "keep away" from the people on the ground.

Abbottabad – The Mythbusters have experimented and decided that it is possible to polish a turd. It seems that Abbottabad has decided that if the Mythbusters can do it, then they should be able to do it too. The city is more commonly known is the one where they hid the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden for nearly 5 years before the US Special Forces decided in the middle of the night to propagate an international assassination. Aside from that it is a rising center of industry with an improving economy. To help improve the image of the city, they have commissioned a new tourist center complete with amusement park and sports facilities. Based on some of the other amusement parks in the area, this is not a Disney-quality amusement park. At a cost of $30 million, we are talking about maybe a single smaller-scale roller coaster and a handful of flat rides, after steps have been taken to secure the land, hire workers, and all of the other things that need to go into a new amusement park. I am thinking this is a completely non-issue…and certainly not anything approaching a theme park. Next…

Las Vegas – Circus Circus – The Rim Runner splashboat ride at the Adventure Dome looks to be closed for good. There is a silver lining here, though. Rumor has it that they are getting an S&S El Loco coaster.

Freestyle Music Park/Hard Rock Park – There is some activity going on at the park involving moving trucks. We will keep you posted.

The Centrifuge Brain Project – I understand that this starts off a little dry, but trust me, you will find yourself watching it at least twice. This is a research project that is trying to analyze brain activity as people ride new and extreme rides. Even if you are not interested in the science, at least check it out for the amazing rides they are showing. And if anyone knows where they have some of these built, please let us know.

Sources: Amusement Today, Screamscape, & Ain't It Cool News

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Attraction of the week: Cedar Point's Maverick

By Robert Niles
Published: February 5, 2013 at 3:31 PM

Great roller coasters do more than overwhelm you with physical force. They find a way to deliver something clever -- a literal twist or other element that catches you by surprise the first time you ride. Great coasters amuse and entertain, rather than push and pound.


In a park filled with one-time record breakers for height and for speed, Cedar Point's Maverick remains my favorite coaster in that park. It's far from tall -- topping out at (just) 105 feet. But this frisky Intamin launch coaster delivered a unique first drop when it opened in 2007, a 95-degree plunge. That's right, you're not just dropping straight down, but down and in.

From there, Maverick is a twisting and twirling delight, hugging the beach-side terrain at a top speed of 70 miles per hour. I especially enjoyed the in-tunnel launch mid-ride -- it reminded me of the false ending in Universal Studios Florida's Revenge of the Mummy. Returning to the station building for the launch setting "sold" the pause the better than on all those other coasters with mid-ride launches out on their farthest reaches of track. You're not tricking anyone by stopping out there.

For our friends up north, shake off the mid-winter blues with a video trip on Maverick, courtesy Cedar Point:

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Thank you, Tony Baxter

By Robert Niles
Published: February 3, 2013 at 9:39 PM

Tony Baxter stepped down last week. Baxter had served Walt Disney Imagineering as its Senior Vice President for Creative Development, but theme park fans will remember him better as the man behind some of the Disney theme parks' greatest hits: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Splash Mountain, and the Indiana Jones Adventure.

Baxter's departure shouldn't have surprised anyone. If I'm remembering my dates correctly, Baxter turns 65 this year and Disney's already unveiled an "unofficial" tribute to him in the new backstory for his Big Thunder Mountain at Walt Disney World. At the IAAPA convention in Orlando this year, Baxter tag-teamed with retired Disney Imagineer Marty Sklar to beat up on the current state of Epcot, something Disney Imagineers never do… until they're out the door, or walking through it.

Barnabas T. Bullion
Barnabas T. Bullion, my butt. That's Tony Baxter -- whom Disney soon ought to name an official "Disney Legend."

But Baxter surprised me (and others, I'm certain) by announcing not that he's retiring, but that he is changing his role to become a "part-time advisor" for Disney. Let's hope that's not just an empty title. Without Baxter's leadership, Disney -- and theme parks -- wouldn't have nearly as many fans as they enjoy today.

Baxter was The Man at Disney Imagineering when the company made the leap into theme park dominance in the late 1970s and 1980s. It might be hard for fans who weren't around in the 1970s to imagine, but Disney wasn't always the clear market leader in theme parks. As a kid growing up in the 1970s, a lot of my friends considered the Six Flags, Kings and Marriott theme parks every bit as good as Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom (which everyone back then just called "Disney World"). Disney had Pirates and Mansion, but those other parks had well-themed lands, too (really, they once did!). Yet while the industry's other chains shifted direction to become iron parks, Disney -- under Baxter's creative leadership -- created some of the most richly detailed, technically advanced and immersively rewarding attractions ever developed.

Thunder. The original New Fantasyland (at Disneyland). The original Imagination pavilion in Epcot. Splash. Disneyland Paris. Indy. The new New Tomorrowland at Disneyland. Baxter's projects got budgets from Disney bigwigs, and then they made the turnstiles click, justifying even bigger budgets for the next project.

Until the late 1990s, that is, when Baxter couldn't get the big budgets for ambitious new projects any longer. It's not that someone else became the favorite at WDI -- no one could get budgets during what became the (mercifully brief) dark ages at the Disney theme parks. Even Tony Baxter couldn't get Disney to do the right thing by its theme parks back in the dark days of Paul Pressler's run atop Disney Parks.

Fortunately, things have changed. But Baxter's not the man at WDI these days. Principle Creative Advisor John Lasseter is, thanks to his leadership of Disney's multi-billion dollar cash cow, Pixar. When Lasseter wanted a Cars Land at the Disneyland Resort, he turned not to Baxter, but to a new generation of Imagineers, led by Kathy Mangum.

In the long run, that's for the best. As John Hench and Marc Davis eventually gave way to Tony Baxter, Baxter eventually had to give way to someone else. But as any theme park fan who's enjoyed a ride on Thunder or Splash could suggest, so long Tony Baxter's around and willing to dream up some new ideas for fresh theme park experiences, Disney ought to be listening. The guy's got a pretty darned good track record, after all.

Let's thank Tony for all he's done for theme park fans with a ride on his first great attraction, Big Thunder Mountain (Disney World version):

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Vote of the week: Does Disney World or Universal Orlando offer better hotel benefits?

By Robert Niles
Published: February 1, 2013 at 12:01 PM

Have you started planning your summer vacation yet?

If you're thinking about a trip to the Orlando-area theme parks, one of the questions you'll likely be asking yourself is "where to stay?" Orlando's big two theme park resorts -- Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando -- each offer a variety of perks designed to encourage you to stay with them.

But which resort offers the better deal?

Universal's Portofino Bay Hotel
Universal Orlando's Portofino Bay Hotel is a former winner of the Theme Park Insider Award for the World's Best Theme Park Hotel.

Disney's Wilderness Lodge
Walt Disney World's Wilderness Lodge also ia a former winner of the Theme Park Insider Award.

We've talked many times before about the perks of staying on-site: free airport transportation, extended park hours and now, Fastpass+ ride reservations at Walt Disney World, and front-of-line privileges and early Harry Potter admission at Universal Orlando. Depending upon the time of year you visit, free dining or other benefits might be available at each resort, too.

But let's share your personal experiences. How many of you have stayed on-site at these resorts? And if you've stayed at both, which resort's total experience did you prefer? Let's limit this to the on-site hotel experience, coupled with the benefits you get from staying on-site at that resort. After all, you can visit the other parks in the area even when you're staying on-site at one resort.

Please tell us in the comments where you prefer to stay in Orlando, and why. If you've stayed on-site with both resorts, I've asked you to pick a favorite between the two. But if after staying with both, you now choose to stay off-site, tell us about that in the comments. Thank you, as always, for reading Theme Park Insider and have a great weekend!

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Keep reading: January 2013 Archive

Stories from a Theme Park Insider

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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