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A great day to be a theme park fan

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Published: May 24, 2013 at 1:18 PM

ORLANDO -- The Memorial Day weekend unofficially kicks off the summer vacation season in the United States, so theme parks often use the weekend to launch new attractions and promotions. But the nation's top theme parks outdid themselves this year, with a fusillade of fun on both coasts.

We start this morning in Orlando, where Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom kicked off its "Monstrous Summer All-Nighter" 24-hour party at 6am. Guests arriving before that hour got a treat from Mickey at the park's toll booths -- free parking! Once across the Seven Seas Lagoon, media floodlights illuminated the park's iconic train station.

The Magic Kingdom

Crowds were slow to fill the park as the sun dawned over its attractions, including the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, under construction in the New Fantasyland expansion.

New Fantasyland, at dawn

But let's not dawdle too long in the Magic Kingdom. We've got a date at SeaWorld Orlando. At 8:45 this morning, the park officially opened its new Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin attraction to the public, launch the ride with a live rendition of its theme song from country singer Lauren Alaina.

Lauren Alaina an her band, at SeaWorld Orlando

As visitors rushed into the new ride at 9am, eventually pushing it to a five-hour wait, we'll switch focus to the west coast, where it was 6am, and the California edition of the "Monstrous Summer All-Nighter" 24-hour party was just getting underway.

The first riders on Antarctica
The first riders on SeaWorld's Antarctica

Our M. Ryan Traylor covered the press preview of the new Mickey and the Magical Map musical at Disneyland last night, and stayed over to watch the crowd assemble in Anaheim.

Morning crowds at Disneyland

He shot this fun time-lapse of the crowd massing around the Disney California Adventure gate,

As well as this panorama shot of an empty New Orleans Square.

New Orleans Square panorama
Click for a larger version.

While Disneyland guests streamed into the two California parks, back in Orlando, we were on our way back to Walt Disney World, to visit highlights in all four of the parks before the end of the day.

Spaceship Earth at Epcot

At Epcot, you'd asked me to visit Test Track, to offer my opinion on this ride, which recently opened in its new format.

Test Track

I like the Tron-like wireframe look of the new version, along with its nod toward involving riders with some interactivity. (You help select automobile design features that will be "tested" along the way as you ride through the Test Track.) With so much design done on computers these days, I found Test Track a welcome update of the original, though, as I noted on Twitter, I still wouldn't turn down the chance to ride once again the World of Motion attraction that Test Track replaced.

From Epcot, it's on to Disney's Animal Kingdom, where you suggested a ride on Expedition Everest.

Expedition Everest

So I thought I'd bring you along with me:

The "Disco Yeti" continues to appear to have become a permanent feature on this ride, as Disney's made no effect to repair and reanimate the massive Yeti animatronic within the mountain. So strobe lights flash continue to flash on it to create an illusion of movement (thus the "Disco Yeti" nickname).

Many theme park fans had hoped that Universal Orlando would jump into the mix today by soft-opening its Transformers: The Ride 3-D today, as well. Universal stepped on SeaWorld's big media premiere for Antarctica yesterday with its public confirmation of a new Simpsons-themed "Springfield" street to come this summer. But as of mid-afternoon, insiders were telling us that a soft open of the ride wouldn't come until next week. So my quest to ride Transformers in Singapore, Hollywood and Orlando, all before their public openings, appears to have failed. At least for now.

Following our advice for theme park visitors, I'm taking a mid-afternoon break, but will return to the parks this evening to visit Star Wars Weekend at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

Update: Just got back from Hollywood Studios, and I'm calling it a night. But Hyperspace Hoopla was worth the trip to Orlando. It's wonderful silliness -- pure fun.

Gangham Style
The Star Wars Stars dance "Gangham Style."

I know the knock on Hyperspace Hoopla -- that it's not respectful of the Star Wars characters. But that implies a definition of "respect" that turns on maintaining a rigorous narrative discipline within the franchise.

Jedi Mickey
Jedi Mickey dances the show to a close.

But there's a deeper form of respect, one that transcend intellect. And it's the love that this audience feels toward these Star Wars characters. Sure, we can respect their movies (well, most of them), but this is a love that also allows us to get silly, throw away our roles and just enjoy spending time together, even doing absurd things. Just like a family. As the Palaptine character said at the beginning of the show, "Are you really going to complain about logistics in a show that had Amidala dancing with Leia?"

Indeed. Just watch, and feel the love. (I didn't bother trying to record tonight's show -- I just wanted to enjoy it. So here's the video from Matt Roseboom's crew at Attractions Magazine, recorded last week.)

Have a great weekend, everyone. And whatever you do, take some time to feel the love.

How are you celebrating this holiday weekend? Please tell us your theme park travel plans, in the comments.

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Readers' Opinions

From Mike Gallagher on May 24, 2013 at 2:42 PM
Was supposed to go to a Mets game tonight, but my companion and I made the decision not to go based on bad weather here in the NY area..cold, rainy, windy, and I don't have a jacket with me. Tickets were comps, so we're not eating anything. Tomorrow we're supposed to go to Playland in Rye, home of one classic great wooden coaster, and several non-coaster rides I like a lot, including two old-fashioned ride-through haunted houses and the most vicious Whip in existence..the ride, people, get your minds out of the gutter!! Sunday's a much-needed breather, and I was asked to work Monday on the holiday. I wish everyone a great weekend, whatever you do!
From TH Creative on May 24, 2013 at 3:02 PM
Is there another park website that offers this level of coverage? I think NOT!
From James Rao on May 24, 2013 at 3:26 PM
Appreciate the updates here and on Twitter, Mr. Niles! Looking forward to a whole lot more as your 24 hour theme park blitzkrieg continues!
From James Rao on May 24, 2013 at 7:05 PM
Wow, Jedi Mickey's got some moves! Nice!
From 68.118.83.107 on May 24, 2013 at 11:53 PM
The official Disney Parks blog has live streaming (I hope it's ok to say this on your blog, it isn't a rival, it's the disneyparksblog - if not, feel free to remove this comment, sorry)of the hub between the train station and Main Street at Magic Kingdom for the 24 hours all night thing. Kind of fun to watch for a few minutes if you can't be there in person. Just don't wave back at the people waving at you. They can't really see you sitting there in your pjs dorkily waving at your computer screen.
From Daniel Etcheberry on May 25, 2013 at 8:36 AM
I wonder what George Lucas think about Disney making fun of his Star Wars characters. Maybe with the billions he received from Disney he doesn't care anymore.
From Robert Niles on May 25, 2013 at 11:56 AM
Daniel,

Disney's been doing Hyperspace Hoopla for years, so I think Lucas is cool with it. After all, Lucas has allowed quite a bit of irreverence with the Star Wars characters over the years. So long as no one ever mentions the Star Wars Christmas Special, they're cool. ;^)

From Daniel Etcheberry on May 25, 2013 at 2:29 PM
Well, as long as the new Star Wars movies don't look like Mel Brooks' Spaceballs, Lucas will be cool.

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