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Vote of the week: Which Hogwarts house are you?

Robert Niles

By Robert Niles
Published: April 18, 2014 at 11:03 AM

It's no stretch to declare: theme park fans love Harry Potter. After inspiring a new generation of kids to fall in love with reading and busting box office registers around the world, Harry Potter's success in driving theme park attendance shouldn't have surprised anyone. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has helped attract record numbers of visitors to Central Florida, while helping Universal Orlando increase its market share relative to both Walt Disney World and SeaWorld Orlando. Record revenue from admissions, hotel bookings and merchandise sales helped NBCUniversal buy out its former partner Blackstone Group to take full ownership of the Universal Orlando Resort. Now Universal is expanding The Wizarding World around the Muggle world, with today's announcement that Universal Studios Japan will open its version on July 15 this summer, and the announcement earlier this month that Universal Studios Hollywood's version will open in 2016.

Harry Potter announcement in Japan
Photo courtesy Universal Studios Japan

It was nice to see Evanna Lynch, who played Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter films, staying true to Luna's Ravenclaw house during today's press event in Osaka, while all the other dignitaries around her jumped on the Gryffindor bandwagon. (That's former First Daughter and current U.S. ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy on the left, with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Universal Studios Japan president Glenn Gumpel in between.) Just once, for the lulz, wouldn't you love to see a politician rocking a Slytherin scarf at one of these events? Unless Tom Felton gets elected somewhere, though, I doubt we'll ever see that happen.

Part of the appeal of the Harry Potter franchise is the ease with which it draws people into its wizarding world, inspiring you to think of yourself as part of that world, and a member of one of those four Hogwarts houses. I love the story that Dave Cobb has told about finding Dr. Phillips High School students sitting around a table at the Three Broomsticks restaurant in Islands of Adventure, in full Hogwarts robes, drinking Butterbeer and doing their Muggle school homework in their daily afternoon ritual. It almost makes me wish I were in school again, to have a better excuse to do something like that! (FWIW, my sister went to Dr. Phillips, long ago, when it first opened, and we lived across the street from what was then only Universal Studios Florida and a huge parking lot.)

I'm willing to bet that many Theme Park Insider readers have a Hogwarts house scarf or T-shirt in their drawer or closet, a souvenir of a visit to Universal Orlando. Which house's stuff did you buy? Readers can find abundant "Which House are you?" quizzes littering the Internet, but we'll consider the House sorting questionnaire on J.K. Rowling's Pottermore site to be canon here. Whether you've been sorted as part of joining the Pottermore communtity or you've just decided on your own, tell us which Hogwarts house you consider yourself to belong.

According to Pottermore, I'm a Gryffindor, my son is Ravenclaw and my daughter Hufflepuff. Honestly, that's about right, as I consider our personalities. What's your favorite part of the Harry Potter franchise? Or tell us your Harry Potter-related travel plans, in the comments.

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Kings Island debuts Banshee, the world's longest inverted coaster

Derek Potter

By Derek Potter
Published: April 18, 2014 at 9:19 AM

Yesterday was a day of celebration for a few reasons. First, it seems that after a final gasp, the never-ending crappy winter weather has finally subsided in this part of the country. Second, after a whirlwind five months or so, I (along with my lovely wife) get a couple of much needed days away from life, a chance to recharge the batteries. There aren’t too many places in the world better for me than the park. Finally, it seems Kings Island had much to celebrate, for they’ve hit another home run with Banshee.


The name is a bit curious. Once upon a time about 20 years ago it was even controversial, dumped at Cedar Point because people were offended by its connotation. In Irish folklore, the Banshee was a spirit; a wailing woman who would weep and mourn for the dead or soon to be dead family member…subsequent cultures would paint the character in a much darker and malignant tone. Perhaps it’s a more fitting name this time around, given it now sits where the much maligned (and now deceased) Son of Beast once terrified coaster riders and Kings Island’s accountants and lawyers. The graveyard in the queue even pays tribute.

Son of Beast in the graveyard

And then there’s the ride: 167 feet, 68 mph, seven inversions, billed as the longest inverted coaster in the world at 4124 feet. These aren’t necessarily mind blowing numbers when you compare them with the others. The B&M inverted coaster concept certainly isn’t new. It’s been over twenty years since the first one, and Kings Island is one of the last major parks to build one. All that being said, design is everything. With Banshee, ride designer Bolliger and Mabillard pulled everything out of the bag of tricks. Elements old and new are present, combined with newer trains and low profile restraints that give more mobility to riders and free them from the bondage of head knocking giant bars over shoulders.

Banshee track

The end result is pure, nonstop coaster goodness. Banshee is absolutely relentless from start to finish. After a sharp first drop that ambushes even the most seasoned coaster rider, the train sails majestically through flawless elements with lots and lots of power. Taking full advantage of the hilly terrain, the train doesn’t reach top speed until halfway through the ride. The slowest portion contains a zero gravity, low speed, heartline roll in which one literally floats inside their restraints before barreling into the final helix.

There isn’t a straight piece of track in the course, and the front seat (my preference) is about the closest most of us can get to being a fighter pilot. In the dark, Banshee takes on a whole different look thanks to extensive use of lighting effects, taking the haunted graveyard theme to another level. Don’t look for any Disney-like storytelling themes here, just unbridled, unapologetic thrills. Riders should beware of two things…the assigned seating (GAAAHHH!) and the inexplicable lack of storage bins in the loading station. If you are a backpacker or have loose articles, you’ll need a locker.

On ride

Bottom line, when it comes to coaster thrills, Banshee delivers the goods in a big way. It is an absolute must ride for thrill seekers, and fans of the park will love it. There is little doubt it will be at the top of many lists for best new ride of the year. As for its place among the inverted coasters, it likely goes straight to the top. Kings Island scores big with this ride.

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Wizarding World of Harry Potter to open at Universal Studios Japan on July 15

Robert Niles

By Robert Niles
Published: April 18, 2014 at 6:44 AM

Universal Studios Japan in Osaka announced today that its Wizarding World of Harry Potter will open on July 15. Caroline Kennedy (US ambassador to Japan and daughter of President John Kennedy), Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter films) and Harry Potter production designer Stuart Craig made the announcement in an evening ceremony today in front of the park's new Hogwarts Castle.

Harry Potter announcement date
Photo courtesy Universal Studios Japan

The park also announced a Twitter contest for early access to the new land, which will be the second or third Wizarding World of Harry Potter to open, depending upon when The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley opens at Universal Studios Florida. The Hollywood version will follow in 2016, leaving Universal Studios Singapore as the only Universal theme park without a Wizarding World under construction. For now, at least.

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Solo travel for theme park fans

Robert Niles

By Robert Niles
Published: April 17, 2014 at 10:54 AM

Have you ever gone on vacation by yourself? If not, have you ever thought about it?

Solo travel changes your vacation. It's not just the social aspect, either. When you travel alone, you change the economics of your trip. And that just might allow you to visit someplace you though you'd never be able to go before.

Solo travel in Singapore
Your truly, traveling solo to Universal Studios Singapore

Think about how much money you spend per person when you travel in a group. When you take a roadtrip alone, you're paying the same for gas and maintenance as you would if you had other people in the car with you. A hotel room often costs the same whether you're traveling alone or with a partner. That's why it makes sense to pile the family into the car and hit the road for a relatively affordable vacation.

But when you travel alone, the price per person of that hotel-filled roadtrip skyrockets. If you're used to traveling with your family and taking the car because you think it's the cheapest way to travel, it's time to rethink that assumption before a solo trip.

Here's when solo travel makes more financial sense — when you fly. Unlike driving, adding a second, third, or fourth person to the trip when you're buying airplane tickets sends the cost, as well as the passengers, sky high. Price the cost a single plane ticket against the cost of driving to that place you've always wanted to visit and you might find that flying is the better and cheaper way to go.

But don't stop there. Since flying is often cheaper than driving for solo travelers, why not take a look at the price of going even farther on your solo trip? Perhaps you'd never consider that dream trip to Tokyo Disney or to Disneyland Paris if you had to take the family. But what if you had the opportunity to go somewhere alone? Could a trip to Tokyo or Paris, or some other far-off destination, actually be affordable? You won't know until you start checking prices.

If you're flying to some far-off city, obviously, you'll need a place to stay. While the price of a hotel room for a single often isn't cheaper than when you bring a partner or the family, traveling alone gives you some flexibility in choosing a place to stay that you might not have when you go with a group.

Unless you know someone with a lot of extra space in their home, it's harder to bring the family to stay at someone else's home than it is for one person to claim a space on the couch or in a spare bedroom. (Even if you don't know anyone where you want to go, you can find available spare rooms and places to stay on sites such as AirBnB and Couchsurfing.) Hostels can provide a decent place to get a night's sleep for a solo traveler. Also consider that if you plan a trip to multiple cities, you can avoid expensive hotel costs by traveling at night — flying red-eyes or taking night trains from one destination to another. Never stay somewhere you're uncomfortable, but take the opportunity solo travel gives you to consider alternatives to the same old hotels you'd use as a family.

So where should you go? Theme parks provide an ideal destination for solo travelers who don't just want to get away from civilization and be alone. When you're in a theme park, you're surrounded by many other theme park fans, even if you've come to the park by yourself. Sure, you could just obsess over your cell phone's screen like many other visitors when you're going it alone, but you also could ask the person in line next to you if he or she's ever been on this ride before, then see where the conversation flows. No, you can't bond with your family or friends on a solo trip, but you can meet a world filled with other interesting, engaging people with whom you'd never have talked if you'd been there with your own family or friends.

And let's not overlook the great advantage of traveling alone to a theme park — single rider lines! Traveling alone, you can fly through a park, using every single rider line available, and doing the park on your schedule without having to wait for anyone else to catch up, take a break, or anything else that slows down a group trying to move through the park as one.

Who's going to take your picture, to show that you were there? You don't have to take selfies when you're a solo traveler in a theme park. Any park photographer will take your picture with your own phone or camera, in addition to snapping a picture with their pro outfit.

In Tokyo
At Tokyo Disneyland

Worried about eating alone? Don't be. It might be easier to find a single seat somewhere in a crowded counter-service restaurant than it is to find a table with enough seats for the group. in certain restaurants, you can eat at the bar, without having to wait for a table. But don't rule out other table service restaurants, either. Book your table for one, chat up the servers, and enjoy a little time with that cell phone or guidebook that you didn't get while waiting in line because you were sprinting through a single rider queue, or hanging out talking with the people around you in the regular one.

Have you ever traveled alone for a vacation? Please tell us about your experiences, in the comments.

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Beyond CaliFlorida: Blowin' in the wind

Jeff Elliott

By Jeff Elliott
Published: April 16, 2014 at 8:45 AM

Carowinds – The park is getting a new roller coaster for 2015. Here is what we know currently – it will be a B&M roller coaster around 300ft tall and just under a mile long, that will cross between North Carolina and South Carolina. Demolition on the Skycoaster and go-carts is already underway, and construction should start by the end of the month for it to open by this time next year. Here is what the rumor mill is circulating (i.e. the following may go from educated guess to wild speculation). The roller coaster will cross over the entrance plaza similar to what GateKeeper does at Cedar Point. The roller coaster will be named Centurion – Cedar Fair has filed for a trademark for this name. Since the roller coaster will be named Centurion (roughly the Roman equivalent of an officer in the military who, incidentally, wore a skirt into battle), it only makes sense that there will be tall statues of muscular Centurions in full regimental attire for the ladies to gawp at before they get on the roller coaster. This roller coaster was specifically purchased from B&M because of their track record of building silky smooth roller coasters, since most of the female riders will have a strained neck from looking up before getting anywhere near the loading station. With a height of 300 ft., we can guess that the roller coaster will hit somewhere around 92mph, which is fast enough to blow up a skirt, even one made of leather and chain.

Canada’s Wonderland – We finally have a teaser video that shows us what Wonder Mountain’s Guardian might be about. If I am allow to speculate wildly, the ride story is about you getting eaten by a Dragon and then you have to navigate all of the dragon’s inner working before you are released out the other end…and then something goes horribly wrong.

Las Vegas – The High Roller is now open. We’ve got some video to prove it. I just don’t see a minibar anywhere. It looks like you are going to have to take it with you…either previously imbibed or in a large backpack…like the kind used for hiking to the North Pole. And there is no bathroom either…and I know that is going to be an issue. If someone even claims that the bathroom is going to be closed for the next 10 minutes, even though there are bathrooms on the other side of the office, I suddenly have an emergency on my hands. No bathroom, no bar…this Ferris Wheel is really roughing it.

Walt Disney Studios Paris – Spiderman is going to show up in this park soon, a first for any of the Disney Parks and the first of any Marvel superheroes to show up in Paris. I mean, at least I think so. It’s not like I get out there every other day to check on these things. But I am pretty certain my information is good. Quite certain. With Spiderman in the park, it will make decorating for the Halloween event much easier. Not only can Spidey hang upside-down to reach those high, hard to reach areas, he can also precision place cobwebs anywhere you need them.

Nigloland (France) – Alpina Blitz just opened. It is interesting that Mack rides would install a roller coaster for someone so close to their home turf. I mean the coaster looks nice and all, but Colorado is where that thing should have been installed, not France. That is way, way too close. That is like letting your neighbor borrow your grill and your super-secret recipe for stuffed bacon-wrapped brauts. Maybe one, maybe the other, but not both at the same time. It’s just not done. Oh, yeah, sure, ask me the tough question about where in Colorado it should go. Like I have an answer for that question…even if the roller coaster was free.

Denver area amusement parks – I took a wrong turn when driving to a friend’s house a couple of days ago in the Denver area and found an amusement park I had never heard of nestled back into a hidden valley, complete with volcano, roller coasters, and parachute ride. I did some research and figured out what it was.

SeaWorld San Antonio – Over the last week, human remains were found on the property of SeaWorld, in a wooded area away from the rest of the park. Apparently the killer whales are getting much more subtle about retribution when things are not quite going their way. I have no idea how the killer whales were able to dispose of a body so far away from their tanks, but since the area looked too perfect to be completely undisturbed, it is nearly proof positive that they were the ones to blame. Although now that I think about it, those little evil sea otters are bad news as well, and certain have the ability to drag a body out to the back nine of the park. But, come to think about it, otters would have gone after the eyeballs. Hmm. Maybe the sea lions? That funny act is just a way to disarm you so you don’t see the hate brimming behind those evil eyes and lurid mustaches. Or maybe it was the human security staff trying make a very public statement about what happens to people who break into the park to take selfies and raid the Dippin' Dots storage trailer.

Movie Park (Germany) – It looks like this park is hard at work on a rip off of King Kong and Jurassic Park, called The Lost Temple. And, yes, I know that the pictures repeat after the first 30 seconds. It’s not like I made the video myself. But it is frankly ironic that the pictures repeat themselves just like the attraction they are creating in Germany is a repeat of other attractions that have already been made.

Thought of the week – You’re never too old to have fun.

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Keep reading: April 2014 Archive

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Theme Park Insider: Orlando 2014

Theme Park Insider: Orlando 2014

Get all of Theme Park Insider's reader ratings, tips, and advice for planning a trip to Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, or SeaWorld, in our new 2014 Orlando guidebook! It's more than 200 pages of well-tested, insider information that will help you get the most from your vacation.
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