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Tuesday theme park news round-up: Disney, Legoland, Universal, Star Wars and Halloween

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Published: July 2, 2013 at 11:49 AM

We've got tons of theme park news flowing in this week, so let's clear it with a round-up, shall we?

Disney's Chairman and CEO, Bob Iger, has agreed to stay on until 2016, instead of retiring from his CEO gig next year, as originally planned. That keeps Iger on board through the planned opening of the Shanghai Disneyland park in 2015, as well the seventh episode of the Star Wars saga, also scheduled to drop that year.

Bob Iger

Remember the big CALIFORNIA letters that stood at the front of the Disney California Adventure park up until its billion-dollar refurb? They've returned this week, in their new "retirement home" at the California state fairgrounds in Sacramento.

Legoland Florida this week opens its new "World of Chima" attractions, based on the Cartoon Network's "Legends of Chima" show debuting next week. The centerpiece is The Quest for CHI, a themed "Splash Battle"-type water shooter ride, where riders use their shooting skills to "help their hero, Laval the Lion Prince, defeat Cragger the Crocodile King as he attempts to steal the precious supply of CHI." A 4-D movie and interactive play area round out the expansion, which opens to the public tomorrow, July 3.

The Quest for CHI
Photo courtesy Legoland

Sure, it's the middle of summer, but July's the month when theme parks begin releasing details of their annual Halloween events. Disneyland's revealed the 13 dates for this year's Mickey's Halloween Party, and Universal Studios Hollywood is about to start the voting on its Facebook page to determine the winner for its fan-designed character contest. Universal Orlando's revealed its first maze concept for this year's Halloween Horror Nights. And Knott's has a press conference scheduled for next week to reveal details about this year's Halloween Haunt (including the return of Elvira?), and we'll be there for that.

The Orlando Business Journal followed up on our report that Disney will build a Star Wars land at Disney's Hollywood Studios with its own confirmation of the report, then it found some more details on how Star Wars might be taking over a good chunk of the park.

We've had a discussion going for a week or so about Universal Studios Florida visitors being surveyed about The Smurfs replacing the park's ET ride. The Orlando Business Journal says that one's a go, too.

Universal fans also are buzzing about a report that the park will replace Disaster! with a new King Kong attraction. This isn't a clone of Hollywood's 360: 3D experience, but a new attraction with practical effects and an animatronic Kong.

Something to think about on those last couple of reports: The word "rumor" is pretty much worthless in describing theme park developments. Either something exists in a design life-cycle, or it doesn't. I like to think of the development process in three steps. An attraction starts as an idea, when creative design employee or team envisions what an attraction might be. Creative teams have tons of ideas, many of which never proceed in development, but that sometimes get leaked or released before that decision gets made, anyway.

The second step in development is becoming a plan. This is when designers start working up advanced models, blueprints and other tangible assets that will be used to guide construction or implementation of the development. Again, many projects get to this stage, but never proceed.

The third step is for a development to become a project. This is the stage where parks start spending real money, green-lighting budgets, hiring contractors, and filing permits. When a development hits the project stage, I'm confident in reporting here on Theme Park Insider that it's going to happen. So whenever you hear about "rumors," what you really want to know is: Is this an idea, a plan, or a project? The answer to that question tells you how likely that development is to happen some day.

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Readers' Opinions

From N B on July 2, 2013 at 12:00 PM
I sure hope ET being replaced with the Smurfs is wrong... If the ride had to go away, it should be something better than that.

Disaster was just re-tooled a few years ago and they just updated the outside queue... No way that is being replaced anytime soon.

From 86.135.56.228 on July 2, 2013 at 12:47 PM
star wars land will be brilliant. only downside is that my husband will not shut up about going back and we havn't even been this year yet!
From Anon Mouse on July 2, 2013 at 1:23 PM
I can understand that you want to be precise when discussing "rumors", but that's not the point of rumors. Rumors are designed to get people speculating. Thus, ideas and plans are enough. Besides, I don't know how an idea or plan is spending no money. People are still drawing a salary. Doing blue sky concepts takes up time and money. And projects can still be abandoned. Also, unannounced projects are rumors. This happens a lot with Universal's unannounced new attractions.
From Robert Niles on July 2, 2013 at 2:06 PM
By "real money" I mean additions to the corporate budget beyond the already allocated budget for the creative department, which would include designers' salaries and equipment.
From 85.150.173.168 on July 2, 2013 at 2:55 PM
Lets hope they first kick the horrible Fear Factor show to the curb before replacing anything else. Why does Universal has this awful show still running. And what about the always empty toon lagoon stadium at ioa? Get something good in there or put a Middel Earth land in there to gobble up toon lagoon or Marvel Island.
From 92.237.20.57 on July 2, 2013 at 3:51 PM
The Disaster story is more than a rumour and will be happening as Universal realise that this is a major weak point so close to the new HP development. I think this is fantastic news and something that will keep the die hard Universal fans happy - most of which have become a little despondent with the tearing out of all the classic "ride the movie" rides to be replaced with a world that can only be called Simulator world! The removal of ET is bad news in itself, but to replace it with The Smurfs!!!! seriously??? have a word with yourselves Universal, stop this silly idea now, if you must remove the last iconic Universal ride, then don't rip it out for something that was a shocking film and really wasn't universally appreciated worldwide!!
From 173.217.250.201 on July 2, 2013 at 3:52 PM
I'd hate to see ET replaced with Smurfs. I'd love to see ET updated some, though. A Smurfs ride would definitely keep me away from that area of the park. - Melissa
From TH Creative on July 2, 2013 at 5:06 PM
Kudos to Mr. Iger! Ironically Mr. Iger's candidacy for CEO (which was advocated by Mr. Michael Eisner) was initially opposed by Mr. Roy E. Disney.
From Robert Niles on July 2, 2013 at 9:37 PM
If I recall, Iger assuming the CEO/Chairman job was the compromise between Eisner and Roy Disney that allowed the "Save Disney" skirmish to end. Roy got Eisner out the door, and Eisner got his man as successor. Then Iger brought Pixar back into the fold, Roy Disney was delighted, and everyone lived filthy rich ever after. (Thanks in large part to ESPN.)
From James Trexen on July 3, 2013 at 12:34 AM
^Just not ESPN 3D, right? ; )
From Json Son on July 3, 2013 at 1:41 AM
They should put in a studio ride to replace disaster. Have all the greatest hits come back, Kong, Jaws, BTTF, etc... Something like the Great Movie, but with more special effects and animatronics trying to hurt you. Make it BIG and perhaps expand into the Beattlejuice area. Make it the heart of the park. Universal gets criticized for not having as much heart as Disney.

Turn ET into that Space Fantasy Ride from Universal Japan. Perhaps use Nickelodeon characters instead to cater to the US audience.


anything but the smurfs please

From Doug Jenkins on July 3, 2013 at 4:13 AM
ET is tired and will be changed into something children related. Not sure why a SpongeBob ride would not do better than Smurfs. I agree with changing Disaster, but not sure King Kong is the way to go. Most younger people don't feel strongly about KK, but I'm feeling some cost cutting measures being considered. They must still have the sets and parts from the old KK ride. Put them to good use. I think the next really big stuff to be announced will be what replaces Fear Factor and, in IOA, Toon Lagoons unused theatre. They are both tear downs and will offer room to do something very cool!
From Rob Pastor on July 3, 2013 at 6:33 AM
I wouldn't pay much attention to the Orlando Business Journal's comment on Smurfs replacing ET, since their industry source was Screamscape, which is rarely ever right on rumor info.
From Steve Griswold on July 3, 2013 at 7:46 AM
The legoland photo of that water ride is just like the water ride at Dollywood in TN. It's a blast and you get soaked. Great addition to Legoland and perfect for that parks age group. - Pixie Steve
From 208.125.225.18 on July 3, 2013 at 9:12 AM
The Smurfs replacing ET? Did I read that correctly!? What is the theme park world coming too. Two steps forward one step back for universal. They start dominating the theme park world in Orlando, then put that on the table? Look out Universal, I'm not going to be the only one voicing my opinion on this one!
From 166.216.162.195 on July 3, 2013 at 12:16 PM
As for the Star Wars "expansion", I did not read how it actually will expand the park. Replacing and re-theming is one thing. When Universal expanded for Harry Potter, they used some space that had been employee parking, so an expansion would be an appropriate term.

I hope Hollywood Studios expands. If they increase attendance because if Star Wars, they will need more parking and better entrance/exits.

From James Rao on July 4, 2013 at 6:58 AM
King Kong for Disaster! is not an issue in my book. I would like to see the change. But, replacing ET with the Smurfs would be the first big misstep by Universal in years and could kill their phenomenal momentum. Granted, ET could use some retooling, or could even be replaced, but Dear God, not with Smurfs!

As for the other big news, the idea of spreading Star Wars throughout the park at DHS is an interesting one, but it breaks the mold of what has been successful over the past few years: adding wholly immersive new lands/sections to a park - not piecemeal work. We'll have to wait and see, but FWIW (which ain't much) I do question this approach - at least right now.

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