By Robert Niles
A friend of the site recently sent me this photo, from inside the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley, under construction at Universal Studios Florida.Tweet
We've given you the full line-up of attractions, restaurants and shops you'll find in Diagon Alley at Universal. We've shown you construction photos from outside and above the site. And we were first with a detailed look at the land's centerpiece attraction, the Gringotts coaster, nearly two years ago.
Friends of Theme Park Insider have been sending me photos from inside the construction zone, but I haven't been able to share most of them with you. At least, not yet. But, frankly, if you've seen one photo of scaffolding in front of a gray wall, you've seen 'em all.
This was one of the first photos I've gotten that hints at the level of decoration we'll be seeing in Diagon Alley. Though this is an outdoor shot, much of the new land will be under cover, including most of Knockturn Alley. The experience will be both intricate and intimate — I'm certain that crowds will jam every inch of space in the new land when it opens. Diagon Alley was not some broad Paris boulevard, after all. It's a cramped London back alleyway, and Universal's version will reflect that.
But it will be one wildly entertaining alleyway, themed and decorated to a level of detail not otherwise found in American theme parks. I'm getting more and more excited for this new land, from the photos I've seen. So I'm happy to be able to share one of those photos with you.
By Robert Niles
Australia's Sea World Gold Coast park has debuted its new US$18 million Mack water coaster, called Storm Coaster.Tweet
Photo courtesy Sea World
Storm Coaster features a 98-foot drop and 44-mph top speed. The ride begins in and ends in a show building, with the roller coaster portion of the ride at the beginning, followed by a splashdown return to the show building. You can see a POV video from the park in this news report. (For those of you wondering, Australia's Sea World is owned by Village Roadshow and is not affiliated with the US-based SeaWorld parks. Note that space in the name.)
The ride's the second big coaster to open in Australia this season, following the debut of Abyss, a Gerstlauer Euro-Fighter coaster, at Adventure World in Perth last month.
Disney buys the film distribution rights for Indiana Jones. So what's that mean for the theme parks?
By Robert Niles
Disney today announced that it had purchased the distribution rights to the Indiana Jones franchise from Paramount Pictures. Disney had obtained the character rights to Indiana Jones when it bought Lucasfilm, but Paramount had retained the right to distribute any future Indiana Jones movies. With today's deal, those rights now go to Disney.Tweet
Which invites speculation that Disney now will produce and distribute a fifth Indiana Jones film. After all, there's no value to buying the rights to distribute a movie that no one's going to make.
With Disney almost certain to at least be pursuing a fifth Indiana Jones film, theme park fans ought to be excused for wondering what Disney's long-term plan for the franchise might be. When Disney bought Lucasfilm, which counts Star Wars and Indiana Jones among its properties, the company quickly began work on a new Star Wars-themed land for Disney's Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World and a new Star Wars overlay for at least part of Disneyland's Tomorrowland. With new Indiana Jones movies on the horizon, might Disney also increase its investment in Indy as a theme park franchise?
Certain Disney World fans long have desired their own version of Disneyland's Indiana Jones ride, wanting more of a presence for the franchise than the stunt show now playing at DHS. But Disney World already has the Indiana Jones ride. Sort of. The Dinosaur ride at Disney's Animal Kingdom uses the same ride system and track layout as Disneyland's Indiana Jones Adventure.
Disney's 2000 Dinosaur movie didn't launch an enduring franchise. Heck, Don Bluth had more luck with The Land Before Time franchise in attracting kids with animated dinosaurs. For grown-ups, Universal's locked up the market with the Jurassic Park franchise. If Disney wants to increase the theme park presence of Indiana Jones, it might get the most return on its investment by giving up on dinosaurs and retheming the Dinosaur ride into an east-coast version of the Indiana Jones Adventure. Disney could complete the transformation of Dinoland USA into an Indiana Jones land by removing the troublesome Primeval Whirl roller coaster and replacing it with the Indiana Jones et le Temple du Peril/Raging Spirits coaster now found at Disneyland Paris and Tokyo DisneySea. It's not an especially popular coaster, but it's a fun ride that would give Disney a second looping coaster at the Walt Disney World Resort. Heck, Disney could lift much of the design for DisneySea's Lost River Delta to create an Indiana Jones land at Animal Kingdom.
Of course, Indy's an archeologist, not a paleontologist. But Disney already blew up the park's theme with the announced addition of an Avatar-themed land. Indiana Jones at least would provide a second powerhouse franchise to help make Animal Kingdom an even more popular destination for theme park fans.
What would you like to see the Walt Disney Company do with the Indiana Jones franchise in its theme parks?
By Robert Niles
Did you stop to get a picture with a character the last time you visited a theme park?Tweet
Meeting Princess Tiana in Disneyland's New Orleans Square
Meet and greets have become wildly popular, especially at the Disney parks, where meet-and-greets with Mickey and Minnie Mouse or with the Disney princesses have moved into permanent attraction buildings of their own. You can even get Fastpasses to meet those characters now.
Even the so-called "minor" characters can draw huge lines. And they're often slow-moving ones, too, as families take their time with the character, often fumbling around with a camera, coaxing a reluctant child forward, or lingering trying to get that perfect shot. A while back, we offered some advice on How to meet and greet a theme park character, to help make the experience as rewarding as possible for everyone (including that hard-working cast member portraying the character!)
But not everyone takes time to meet Mickey, or a Minion, when visiting a theme park. For some fans, the characters are simply a distraction. For those park visitors, the best thing they can say about character meet-and-greets is that they pull other park guests out of the ride and show lines they're running toward.
What do you think about theme park character meet-and-greets? Do you make them a regular part of your theme park visits, or do you usually skip 'em? Don't think that this is simply a "thing" for families with small kids. Plenty of grown-ups meet the characters, too! (See photo above.)
Got a great character meet-and-greet story? Tell us in the comments! And thank you, as always, for being part of the Theme Park Insider community.
Update: Here's my story: My now-teenage daughter loved Buzz Lightyear when she was a toddler. She carried a little Buzz doll pretty much 24/7 for over a year when she was four and often demanded that her mother and I "talk like Buzz" so she could have a conversation with it.
So when we moved to Southern California and I started taking her to Disneyland, of course, she wanted to meet her hero. We went one Saturday, waited in line in Tomorrowland, and finally had our turn. But when my daughter faced Disneyland's five-foot-tall Buzz, she crumpled. She wouldn't look at Buzz, buried her face onto the ground, sobbing, and refused to move until I agreed to carry her away. She just couldn't reconcile this gargantuan Buzz with the little five-inch doll she carried around and saw, as the same size, on her TV screen.
By Robert Niles
Disney's slowly revealing more details about the design of Shanghai Disneyland, where the company appears to be making the most significant changes yet to its classic "Magic Kingdom" park design.Tweet
The centerpiece of the park won't be the traditional basic "hub," as found in varying sizes in the five other Magic Kingdom/Disneyland parks: Anaheim, Orlando, Tokyo, Paris, and Hong Kong. The Shanghai hub will be an 11-acre "Gardens of Imagination."
Concept art courtesy Disney
Disney tonight released more detail about one of the gardens in this area: the Garden of the 12 Friends, a grove of peach trees with tile mosaic murals of various Disney and Pixar characters depicting the 12 Chinese Zodiac characters. (Remy gets the first one, for the Year of the Rat, of course.)
When we talked with theme park designer Dave Cobb last summer, he discussed the challenges of adapting Western theme park designs for a Chinese audience. The 11-acre Gardens of Imagination will provide plenty of space for multiple generations of families who visit together to sit and take photos in a beautiful environment filled with a blend of Chinese culture and Disney whimsy. It's a big change from the stripped-down Anaheim clone that Disney built in Hong Kong to lukewarm reviews and attendance, before the company responded with a massive investment to expand the park that ultimately resulted in Mystic Manor, a wildly popular new ride filled with cultural touch points for Chinese families.
Disney appears to have learned its lesson and is responding with an original design that promises to better reflect the desires of the Chinese audience. We will see how well Shanghai Disneyland accomplishes that goal when it opens in late 2015.
Keep reading: December 2013 Archive
Theme Park Insider Guidebooks
Top U.S. Theme Parks
Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom
Other Top International Parks
Readers' Top Themed Rides
Top Roller Coasters
Top Theme Park Shows
Features, News and Advice
2013 Blog PostsJan. Feb. Mar. Apr. May Jun. Jul. Aug. Sep. Oct. Nov. Dec.
2012 Blog PostsJan. Feb. Mar. Apr. May Jun. Jul. Aug. Sep. Oct. Nov. Dec.
2011 Blog PostsJan. Feb. Mar. Apr. May Jun. Jul. Aug. Sep. Oct. Nov. Dec.
2010 Blog PostsJan. Feb. Mar. Apr. May Jun. Jul. Aug. Sep. Oct. Nov. Dec.
2009 Blog PostsJan. Feb. Mar. Apr. May Jun. Jul. Aug. Sep. Oct. Nov. Dec.
2008 Blog PostsJan. Feb. Mar. Apr. May Jun. Jul. Aug. Sep. Oct. Nov. Dec.
2007 Blog PostsJan. Feb. Mar. Apr. May Jun. Jul. Aug. Sep. Oct. Nov. Dec.
2006 Blog PostsJan. Feb. Mar. Apr. May Jun. Jul. Aug. Sep. Oct. Nov. Dec.
2005 Blog PostsDec.
2004-2005Staff column archive