By Robert Niles
So, just how expensive is Walt Disney World's $95-a-day ticket price for the Magic Kingdom? Let's compare the cost of one day at the world's most-attended theme park with the cost of other popular out-of-home entertainment options.
Since we considered average ticket prices for some of those options, let's acknowledge that the large majority of visitors to Walt Disney World do not buy single-day admission tickets, but instead purchase multi-day tickets that allow them to see all four of the resort's theme parks.
A four-day, one-park-per-day ticket to Walt Disney World costs $279 for adults, working out to an average ticket cost of $69.70 per day in a park. Let's compare that with the two other multi-park theme park resorts in America, whose parks represent the other four of the nation's top eight most-attended theme parks. Again, these prices assume a visit of one park per day, with no park-hopping.
At the Disneyland Resort in California, a two-day ticket costs $175, working out to an average ticket price of $87.50 per day to see its two theme parks.
At the Universal Orlando Resort, a two-day ticket costs $125.99, working out to an average ticket price of $63 per day to see its two parks.
Computed this way, a visit to the Disneyland Resort in California is quite a bit more expensive per day than a visit to either of the top Orlando theme park resorts: Walt Disney World or Universal Orlando. However, even the Disneyland Resort tickets cost less than seeing a top NFL game, a day on the slopes skiing, going to a popular concert, or seeing a top Broadway show.
Of course, one can find cheaper football, skiing, concert and theater tickets out there. But you can find cheaper theme and amusement park tickets across the nation, too. The question for consumers, as always, remains: Are you getting appropriate value in return for the money you're spending on out-of-home entertainment?
By Robert Niles
Once the target of jokes about building a theme park on the cheap, Disney California Adventure in Anaheim today stands an example of how luxuriant investment can attract millions of new visitors to a park.
Disney California Adventure opened in 2001, then "reopened" in 2012 following a billion-dollar investment in new rides and shows including the centerpiece "Cars Land," based on the Disney-Pixar animated films. That's made California Adventure a much more popular park, one that demands some advance planning in order to get the most value from your day.
What to do before you go
Please read our guide to planning a day at Disneyland for information on scheduling your trip, booking a hotel, buying theme park tickets and arranging transportation to the Disneyland Resort. Disneyland and California Adventure are located within a few yards of each other, on either side of a football-field-sized esplanade, so many visitors choose "park hopper" tickets and treat the two parks as one during their multi-day visit.
California Adventure's new icon is the Carthay Circle theater, a replica of the movie house where Walt Disney premiered his first animated feature, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." This Carthay Circle isn't a movie theater -- it's a restaurant, and if you'd like to dine there, advance reservations are highly recommended. Call 714-781-DINE before you visit. Also note that with your reservation, if you choose at least two courses during your meal (entree and either appetizer or dessert), you'll get a Fastpass viewing location reservation for that night's World of Color show, saving you to have to pick up one of those reserved places on the morning of your visit. You can also get World of Color Fastpasses by booking World of Color dining packages at the Wine Country Trattoria or Ariel's Grotto restaurants.
Disney offers Extra Magic Hours in the mornings on selected days to its hotel guests, as well to Annual Passholders and holders of certain multi-day tickets. If you've got an Extra Magic early admission, use it on a day when you can get into California Adventure early, to secure a Fastpass or ride on the highly popular Radiator Springs Racers before it opens to the rest of the park's visitors. If you don't have Extra Magic Hour access, avoid California Adventure on an Extra Magic early opening day, as you'll find Cars Land filled with other visitors and many of the Fastpasses gone by the time you enter the park. Check Disneyland's online calendar to see which days have Extra Magic Hour early admission to California Adventure. (You'll have to look at each day's schedule -- it's not listed on the monthly view.)
When you get to Disney California Adventure
Please note that since we published our post on visiting the Disneyland Resort, Disney's raised the daily parking fee to $16. Plan to arrive at the parking structure at least one hour before park opening to allow time to park your car, ride the tram to the parks and go through the bag check in order to queue up at the park entrance early enough to be among the first in when the park opens. Pick up a show schedule as you enter the turnstiles -- you'll want it to find when the Aladdin show is playing, later in the day.
Your first destination should be to get a Fastpass ride reservation time for Radiator Springs Racers, which are distributed just past the Carthay Circle Restaurant, on the pathway next to A Bug's Land, before you get to Cars Land. Your "must see" rides at Disney California Adventure, according to Theme Park Insider reader ratings, are:
And your "must-see" shows are:
If you've been to Walt Disney World, you should note that Toy Story Midway Mania here does not offer Fastpass, and has much shorter waits than the same ride at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida. Soarin' Over California also offers shorter waits here than at its Epcot sibling.
World of Color has several reserved viewing areas for the night's shows (you'll be standing to watch the show), which are assigned by Fastpasses you can obtain in the morning. You also can get World of Color Fastpasses by dining at one of the park's table service restaurants (see above).
Disney California Adventure also offers a Twilight Zone Tower of Terror ride, but readers rate it inferior to the Hollywood Studios version in Florida, so if you're pressed for time, feel free to skip it. But if you want to pick up a Fastpass while you're waiting for the Aladdin show next door, it's a nice way to cap off your day in the park before heading over to World of Color in the evening.
If you're not using one of the World of Color dining packages, go ahead and walk over to the Grizzly River Run queue in the Grizzly Peak section of the park, where the World of Color Fastpasses are distributed, to get one after getting your Radiator Springs Racers Fastpass. Don't worry about Disney's traditional two-hour waiting period between getting Fastpasses. World of Color Fastpasses aren't counted against your "One Fastpass at a Time" limit.
From there, head back down to Condor Flats to ride Soarin' Over California, then cut back behind Grizzly Peak to Paradise Pier to ride Toy Story Midway Mania and California Screamin'. Don't forget your Radiator Springs Racers return time! Disneyland Resort is now enforcing return-time windows, just like Disney World, so don't be late and miss your return time.
We recommend seeing the Aladdin show later in the day, after you've hit the "must see" attractions on the other side of the park. Arrive at the theater 30-60 minutes before show time (depending upon the size of the crowd in the park), to ensure you get seats. If you're planning to ride Tower of Terror, get a Fastpass for it before queueing for the Aladdin show. Don't just walk into the standby queue after the show. The Aladdin crowd floods that ride after each show, leading to its longest waits of the day.
Other notable attractions: If it's a hot day and you're looking to cool down, try the white-water rapids ride Grizzly River Run in the afternoon, or, if you don't want to get wet or wait as long, choose the indoor, air-conditioned Little Mermaid ride in Paradise Pier. The Animation Academy in the Disney Animation building in Hollywood Land offers free classes where you can learn how to draw a Disney character, and take your work home for a free souvenir. Finally, locals flock to the nightly Mad T outdoor dance party in Hollywood Land, where the White Rabbit DJ spins dance tunes while street vendors sell a variety of alcoholic beverages.
Where to eat
Theme Park Insider readers highly recommend the Carthay Circle restaurant, especially its signature fried biscuits and Fire Cracker Duck Wings. If you don't have reservations and are looking for counter service options, try the Fiddler, Fifer and Practical Cafe in the mornings for Starbucks coffee and pastries (have one person in your party get the coffees while another gets the Radiator Springs Fastpasses), or Flo's V8 Cafe in Cars Land for a lunch or dinner of diner-style roast pork, turkey or beef platters, served with two sides. Over in Paradise Pier, readers also give high marks to Boardwalk Pizza and Pasta and the Paradise Garden Grill, which serves a variety of meat and veggie skewers.
The year since Cars Land opened has provided a welcome break from the non-stop construction this park saw for years during its refurbishment. But rumors are flying that Disney's going to make changes to the Hollywood Land section of the park, perhaps retheming the area around the current Monsters Inc. ride as Monstropolis, adding another Monsters Inc ride in one of the sound stages next to the current ride.
Next week: Universal Studios Florida
By Bobbie Butterfield
Historically, Six Flags Great Adventure featured a drive-through safari with an entrance separate from the main entrance to the theme park. This was closed late last year in order to pave the way for a new Safari Off Road Adventure with vehicles and tour guides provided by the park.
The Safari Off Road Adventure officially opened on May 25, 2013 and is accessed from the Frontier Adventures section of the park, near Runaway Mine Train and Saw Mill Log Flume. Riders board one of 18 safari-style open-air vehicles seating 30 people. These trucks are painted with zebra stripes and topped with a canopy. To add to the air of authenticity, drivers are outfitted in safari gear. (The promotional literature hypes onboard videos depicting a fictitious conservationist family but I paid no attention to this so will cut to the chase.)
Prior to entering the boarding area, park guests are required to have their photographs taken against a backdrop depicting a safari vehicle and giraffe. From the boarding area, the truck makes a turn and follows a winding gravel path before entering the animal preserve. It negotiates varying and sometimes hilly terrain, from gravel to dirt to grass to asphalt. At one point it traverses a pond. The ride was so bumpy that I found it difficult to hold my camera steady or jot down notes. Where appropriate, the driver pulled off the path to get closer to the animals.
According to the park, there are more than 1,200 animals inhabiting this preserve. I don't know how many actual species are represented but saw a wide range of animals including, but by no means limited to, white rhinos, bison, giraffes, elephants, bears, ostriches, lions and tigers. Although the safari is divided into sections, zebra seemed to be almost everywhere. Appropriately, the didgeridoo section near the end of the journey contains kangaroos and emus. Our tour guide was extremely knowledgeable about the animals and I picked up tidbits of information here and there, such as the fact that the way to determine the gender of an ostrich is that males have black feathers. Tigers, unlike most felines, like the water, are good swimmers, often entice their prey into the water and kill them while their victims are drowning.
The safari adventure includes a stop at Camp Aventura, where adventurers can purchase refreshments, use the rest rooms and get closer to some of the animals. All passengers must disembark at this point; those who wish to continue the journey without further interruption have to line up for the next available truck whereas those who wish to hang out at Camp Aventura may do so for as long as they please and pick up another truck later. For an additional charge not specified in the literature, park guests can feed the animals. In hindsight I'm sorry that I elected not to spend time at the camp, as a tour guide later told me that giraffe feeding typically takes place between 2:30 and 4:30pm.
Having had to get off the truck on which I began the journey, I continued on a different truck with a new tour guide equally knowledgeable as the first. Our journey was somewhat delayed by the fact that bears were too close to the fenced gate separating the bears from the lions, so that we had to wait until the coast was clear before the gate could be opened to allow our vehicle to proceed.
I thought that the new safari adventure was a great way to see the animals while sitting back, relaxing and actually learning something. Because the park incorporated the terrain used for the old drive-through safari into the main theme park, Six Flags Great Adventure is now the largest theme park in the world, with 510 acres. The safari is included in the price of admission to the park. And now that the Safari Off Road Adventure has been open for a couple of weeks, the wait time to get on has decreased, unless I just happened to pick a good day on the second go-round. It was my intention to do the safari as soon as it opened but there was a three-hour wait; this past Saturday, the wait was just over an hour. I would recommend this attraction to anyone visiting the park. It's a great addition to Six Flags Great Adventure and something that can be enjoyed by families and people of all ages.
By Robert Niles
We know that Star Wars Land is happening at Disney's Hollywood Studios. But what we don't know yet is exactly where the new land will be set.
Both literally and figuratively.
Of course, if someone associated with the project would like to leak us a copy or description of the plans, we're at firstname.lastname@example.org. Until that happens, though, let's talk about the setting of Star Wars Land. Not the physical setting: where the land will be built in the park. Let's talk about the thematic setting, because Star Wars Land provides what might be the greatest placemaking challenge in recent theme park history.
One of many Star Wars settings: Mos Espa (Image from Wookieepedia)
Harry Potter was easy. Build Hogwarts Castle in the town of Hogsmeade -- almost all of the action in the seven books and eight movies takes place there. Star Wars plays across an entire universe, however. How do you decide which of the multiple planets that have hosted Star Wars stories should provide the setting for Disney's Star Wars Land? And if one were to choose to place the land on multiple planets, how would one logically explain guest movement between the different planetary settings?
Disney's current Star Tours ride never addresses the location of its Star Tours terminal. But the ride makes clear that there are multiple planetary destinations in the Star Wars universe beyond its setting. Given that Star Tours ought to be part of Star Tours Land, how would the ride's inclusion affect a decision about the land's setting?
Of course, given that Star Wars Land will be built in a movie studio-themed park, Disney could punt and theme Star Wars Land as a Star Wars movie set, avoiding the issue of deciding on which planet the land's action takes place. But we've described the challenges facing movie set-themed parks and attractions. Given the passionate desire that so many Star Wars fans have to immerse themselves in this universe, Disney might be blowing an opportunity to win multiple future visits from these fans by taking a cheaper and easier choice to go with a movie set-themed land. (But you can tell us below if you think that's the best option.)
Let's assume that the setting will be a planet, and not on a Death Star or other spaceship, which would necessitate building a much more-expensive all-indoor land. The top two choices, given the action of the first six films, would appear to be the Skywalkers' home planet of Tatooine, or the Republic/Imperial Capital of Coruscant. Yet, other planets surely will appear in the new Star Wars movies Disney is beginning to produce and will be eager to promote to its millions of theme park visitors. Perhaps the land's setting should be one of them?
It's vote of the week time.
Finally, welcome to all our new readers this week, and thank you to all of our readers for being part of Theme Park Insider. Our reporting on Disney's Star Wars Land really heated up as a result of conversations on our Twitter feed. If you're not already following Theme Park Insider on Twitter, please consider this your invitation to join us over there, too!
By Robert Niles
So how is Cars Land holding up, one year after its wildly popular debut at Disney California Adventure theme park?
Yesterday, I took my wife to the Disneyland Resort, to see Cars Land for the first time. I've been in the parks multiple times since Cars Land opened last June, but hadn't really lingered in the new land, or ridden its centerpiece attraction, Radiator Springs Racers, since last summer. So I was looking forward to revisiting the area, too.
Cars Land, as well as the rest of the Disneyland Resort, remains wildly popular. We arrived at the Mickey and Friends parking garage at 10am to find every toll plaza entry lane filled, all the way back out of the structure. We would need another 45 minutes to get in, park, ride the tram over to the parks and go through the bag check, before getting into California Adventure.
This is why we tell people to get an early start on their theme park days!
Cars Land looks as good as ever, and my wife kept talking about the impressive setting, from the massive rock work surrounding Radiator Springs to the seemingly minor details that enliven the queues. We found the food at Flo's V8 Cafe as tasty as I remembered it from last year, making quick work of the roasted turkey and pork platters. We both especially liked the roasted corn, though we agreed that the turkey gravy was a bit on the salty side. (My wife wondered if she could just order it on the side next time.)
The roast pork loin plate, with Coca-Cola barbecue sauce, mashed potatoes with gravy, and roasted corn. ($11.49)
One thing I hadn't tried last summer was one of Flo's pies, so we decided to take care of that oversight by ordering the blueberry and peach pie ($4.99).
Yes, that's a real plate and cutlery. Take that, Orlando theme parks! This is how you're supposed to serve food.
Delicious! The pies are supposed to be an individual serving, but we shared, as we didn't have much space left after each finishing an entree platter. The pie offered more peach than blueberry, but that helped keep the sweetness reasonable, providing a nice final note to the meal, rather than overwhelming it with an explosion of sugar.
As for the attractions, we started with Luigi's Flying Tires, which posted a 40-minute wait. The removal of the giant beach balls has helped the attraction in multiple ways. Operators are loading this ride much faster -- we were on and riding within 20 minutes, with the queue starting inside the Luigi's tire showroom. And with the beach balls no longer distracting riders, I see more people paying attention to learning how to "fly" the tires themselves, instead of just batting balls around the platform. That made for a much more enjoyable ride, as people start working together to get the tires to move around.
I love this attraction, despite the hate it elicits from so many visitors. And my wife enjoyed it, too, as we turned several high-speed laps around the platform on this unique "flying saucer"-style ride.
With our late start, all the day's Fastpasses for Radiator Springs Racers were gone by the time we entered California Adventure at 10:45am. With a posted 135-minute stand-by queue wait, we opted for the single rider line, which posted a blank wait time. With the single rider queue backed up just past the bridge, we ended up waiting about 45 minutes to get on the ride. We were making the same pace through the queue as people in the stand-by line, but, of course, we didn't have to go through those three hidden rooms of queue that await stand-by visitors at the attraction.
So what about the ride? I'd heard from many visitors over the past months that the tractor-tipping scene didn't work. But that was just one of the many effects that no longer function properly on this once wild and exciting ride.
Here's a POV video I recorded, so you can see for yourself:
Let's recap: No tipping tractors. No Frank. No Mater sailing over the moon. No dialogue in the Radiator Springs town scene. No conversation between Lightning McQueen and Sally. Basically, between Mater and the track split between the Luigi's tires and Ramone's paint shop options, there's no audio at all in the heart of the ride, save for snoring cars and light background music.
And I thought Disco Yeti was bad. That's a fully functioning attraction compared with this.
Of course, the race itself remains great fun. And the animatronics that still work continue to impress -- Sheriff, Mater, Doc Hudson, and Luigi and Guido. Many of the first-time riders around me exclaimed how much they'd loved it, upon exiting the ride. But knowing what was once in this attraction, I was just stunned as I walked away.
When Radiator Springs Racers first opened, it suffered frequent downtimes, which are now pretty much nonexistent. I think I know why, now: Disney's just given up on maintaining the show elements inside the ride. If the cars run, you ride. And if any of the animatronics, work… hey, bonus.
And visitor reaction justifies that decision. People who don't know what this ride once offered love it. And people continue to pack the queue to see it. Which is great for tourism and for Disneyland. But I wish that, for a few months at least, people would love this ride a little less so that Disney could have the time to go in and fix it with a much-needed refurbishment.
Keep reading: June 2013 Archive
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