By M. Ryan Traylor
Disneyland has a brand new stage show, opening on May 25th at the Fantasyland Theatre.
In Mickey and the Magical Map, our hero, a mischievous Mickey Mouse, gets into a spot of trouble when he tries to be more than just an apprentice. The sorcerer has been working on a magical painting of a special map that will take dreamers to wherever they can imagine and it’s almost finished. Mickey decides that he can just fill in that one last spot and that’s when he starts his magical journey.
Mickey and the Sorcerer – Yen Sid
Mickey and the Magical Map takes the audience through a series of Disney films. First we meet King Louie from The Jungle Book. Next was a trio of princesses: Pocahontas, Mulan and Rapunzel. From there we are whisked under the sea with Sebastian. We come back to shore for an animated song and dance from Lilo & Stitch. Then Princess Tiana and her riverboat close the show.
The story structure is similar to Mickey’s Philharmagic across the country at Magic Kingdom, but unlike that attraction, this is a live show. Don’t worry, it’s still in 3D. Rounding out the cast of Disney characters is an ensemble chorus of singers and dancers and a live trumpet player who joins Louis and Tiana.
MMM is a nice addition to the Disneyland park, giving guests an opportunity to see a live show during the day. The only other daytime main stage show currently running is Aladdin at DCA. With this show, Disney also brings a diverse cast, showcasing four princesses of different ethnicities. Whereas Aladdin could have a small audience based on their taste, MMM reaches out to a greater range of viewers.
The Magical Map is the great technology winner of the show, with 35,000 square inches of LED screen surface. The choreography of live action and animation were perfectly in sync, especially as Mickey descends into the painting. To get the best view of the entire map, don’t sit in the front section. Be sure to grab a seat on one of the many rear benches. The close seats are slight obstructed due to the design of the map’s platforms. You won’t miss any of the live performance, but the map won’t line up perfectly between its sections.
Mickey and the Sorcerer – Yen Sid
Magical Map isn’t intended to be nighttime spectacular. If you’re looking for effects and fireworks, you’ll need to wait until the sun goes down in Anaheim. This show is just a wonderful mix of some of the greatest hits from Disney history.
Magical Map is shown in the newly renovated Fantasyland Theatre. Prior to this show, this area was used as the Princess Fantasy Faire for a Disney Princess meet and greet. You can now meet the princesses over at the new Fantasy Faire, open now and located just to the left of the Sleeping Beauty’s Castle on the old location of the Carnation Plaza. You can also see the tales of Belle and Rapunzel at the Royal Theatre in Fantasy Faire.
By Robert Niles
Universal Orlando today confirmed that it's building a Simpsons-themed Springfield street to open this summer at Universal Studios Florida.
Concept art of Universal Studios Florida's Springfield. Image courtesy Universal.
From the press release:
The expansive, new area within Universal Studios will be anchored by the mega-attraction, The Simpsons Ride, and will allow guests to enter the world of The Simpsons like never before. It will be the only place in the world where guests can walk the streets of Springfield. It will include a brand-new outdoor attraction, places and foods pulled right from the show and two new Simpsons characters who will make their debut with the new area – Krusty the Clown and Sideshow Bob.
So the big rival to Butterbeer turns out to be... Duff Beer? Universal's Springfield development illustrates the power that food can play in themed environments -- the various food brands in The Simpsons are as much a part of the narrative of Springfield as anything else in town, much as the food served as such an evocative element in Harry Potter. But how will Duff Beer and Krusty Burgers taste? We will have to wait until this summer to find out.
By Robert Niles
ORLANDO -- Twenty-one years after SeaWorld blended dark rides and live animal exhibits to take visitors to the North Pole with Wild Arctic, SeaWorld Orlando's completed the journey to the other side of the world.
Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin brings SeaWorld visitors to the South Pole for a unique ride adventure through the lives of a colony of penguins. Built amidst SeaWorld's largest-ever capital expenditure, Antarctica is set within an impressive vista of rock and ice, under a rockwork icon of a mother and child penguin.
Upon entering the ride, you begin your adventure with a two-minute pre-show, introducing you to a Gentoo penguin couple, standing guard over their egg as a storm approaches. It's the last egg in the colony to hatch this year, but will it hatch in time? The answer comes quickly -- yes, and we meet the center of our attention for the rest of the ride, young Puck the Penguin.
After this introduction, we're ushered into another waiting area, where we can select a "mild" or "wild" adventure. You'll be riding in unique trackless motion base vehicles from Oceaneering, the same firm that created the ride vehicles for Universal's Transformers and Spider-Man and Disney's Indiana Jones rides. The difference between wild and mild comes down to how much the ride vehicles spin on your adventure through the ice caverns of Antarctica.
On its preview evening, almost everyone selected "wild," leading to a much longer wait for that option. Keep in mind that SeaWorld's definition of "wild" is pretty mild, especially when compared with those much more intense motion-base rides. Still, if you're not a fan of what my wife calls "jiggle box rides," such as Star Tours and the like, or if you have any upper-torso strength issues, you should opt for the mild adventure. You'll see the same scenes as the "wild" riders -- in fact, you might get a better view of the ride's detail, as you won't be spinning gratuitously through much of it.
Once your party has selected its adventure option, you're ushered into yet another small waiting area, much like the final wait area on The Simpsons Ride (and Back to the Future before it). From there, you step into the eight-person saucer that will take you through the ride.
You begin in a room that struck me as a '60s-mod twist on a cavern, more like being inside a lava lamp than a cave. But as your vehicle slides out onto the floor, you're reunited with the baby Puck, who will soon grow up, lose his fuzz and face his first major life challenge -- diving into the sea water for the first time.
But as we wait for that, we're off into the most visually impressive scene of the ride -- a massive ice cavern, filled multiple colors, hanging icicles and dominated by a massive frozen waterfall. Mild riders will get to linger with the detail, while the wild riders shriek as they spin around the room. As you exit into the next scene, "fire" blasts from the cavern walls.
Then it's on to meet the grown-up Puck, on his way to a destiny with the sea. It's here that we encounter the conflict in the ride, and given how mildly SeaWorld's treated the narrative up until this point, that moment of conflict surprised everyone in my vehicle. Sensitive children might be frightened by Puck's moment of peril, but I found it engaging -- a moment of suspense that enlivened the ride's narrative.
I don't think I'm playing the spoiler by revealing that our young hero survives his test, but the highlight of the attraction is yet to come -- a chance to spend time with a colony of live penguins, in the ride's post-show exhibit.
As you approach the unload platform, you'll hit a blast of frigid air, and might notice your unload ride attendants wearing parkas and wool caps. It's cold in here -- nearly 30 degrees. You're on the penguins' turf now. The lights are kept low in late May, to simulate the penguin's native Antarctica habitat. The brutal chill will likely force most visitors to hurry along, but pack a jacket so that you can linger with these animals. Watching the penguins dive into the water and blast through it, just inches away from you, ought to provide more of a thrill than any spin through an ice cave, anyway.
Here's SeaWorld Creative Director Brian Morrow, telling me a bit about the ride's story, and its unique ride system, which allows anyone who can sit upright to ride:
And here's a POV video of the entire experience (minus the waiting, of course):
Ah, the wait. What we don't yet know about Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin is how long those wait times will be. The ride did not soft-open before its media premiere, and on its preview party night, the ride experienced several short downtimes, diminishing its capacity. Given the slow pace of dispatch last night and again this morning, it's hard for me to see how SeaWorld gets this ride operating at full capacity in time for its public debut Friday morning.
For most theme park fans, their enjoyment of a ride depends as much upon how long they waited as what they experienced once on board. If SeaWorld can dispatch a quartet of ride vehicles every minute or so, as designed, fans will find this a fun ride. But if dispatch happens once every 10 minutes or more, this is going to be a long wait for the payoff. We'll see what happens this weekend, and beyond.
By Amanda Jenkins
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...I went to my first ever Star Wars Weekend at the Disney Hollywood Studios. Our hopes and dreams were to meet the man that made the double lightsaber so awesome. The man who went on to play two more iconic characters in the land of geekdom. We are talking about the man known as Darth Maul, aka Snake Eyes, aka the Toad...Ray Park. I had read on many websites that if you wanted to meet one of the stars from the Star Wars galaxy, then you had to line up outside the entrance of DHS before the break of dawn. So, in order for us to have an easy time on opening day, I planned our entire trip around this weekend. We decided to arrive on Thursday, May 16th, and stay until Monday, May 20th. I even booked our room for the Boardwalk since it has easy walking access to the Disney Hollywood Studios. We were prepared to do battle and do all that we could to meet Ray Park.
Forget the Empire. It's Disney security that's putting the real heat on the Rebel Alliance.
When we arrived Thursday morning, we quickly checked into our resort and began to grill the concierge on what time we should arrive. Sadly to say, they were no help. Obviously these folks were not Star Wars fans. We then left these sad, uninformed people and went directly to Epcot to exchange our Annual Passes for the new ones that work with the new RFID technology. We grabbed a quick lunch in the World Showcase, then headed to DHS to see and talk with people concerning what time we should attempt to get in line. When we got through security, we noticed that they had the lines already divided and set up. Each line had the name of the actor and even one separate line for just the merchandise from Darth Mall. Now, it was at 2pm when we looked at these lines. And there was a woman with a tent and chair already set up. Needless to say, this scared us a little. We aren't big enough fans to camp out for this, especially when we have a beautiful room, soft bed, air conditioning, and bathroom waiting for us at the Boardwalk. We then went and talked to the people at Guest Relations. They told us that if we wanted autographs of stars, then we needed to get in line a few hours before opening. The lady already camping out was one who does it every year. Guest Relations has a running pool each year to pick what time she will arrive to camp out. The one we talked to said that he had lost since he had picked the 4:00-4:30am time slot. Since this lady obviously knew something that we didn't know (or else she just really enjoys camping out at DHS), we went to ask her opinion on what time we should arrive to be able to get Ray Park's autograph. She said to get there between 3am and 5am to get a Fastpass for his autograph. Or, we could just camp out. She already had everyone's autograph, she was just in line for merchandise. We wished her luck and went on our way. We decided to get up at 3am, and walk to DHS and get in line.
We headed over to the Darth Mall tent. There was a line at 8:02am that had a four- to five-hour wait time. We decided that we didn't really need anything at that moment, and walked onto Rock'n'Roller Coaster. After a ride and some breakfast, we found ourselves in our favorite part of the galaxy, the Empire's side of the park. My husband turned into a little boy and we had to get some pictures with Darth Vader, Darth Maul and some stormtroopers. Okay, okay, I had to get some pictures with the stormtroopers. The stormtroopers, along with bounty hunters, clone troopers and guards were moving constantly through the back lot near Toy Story Midway Mania. They would pause and give autographs, pose for pictures, and arrest people. When you asked an Empire character for an autograph, they really acted like they were being put out by doing so. We missed the Star Wars parade for wandering around this area and getting pictures. After getting some lunch and checking out the line at Darth Mall's (still about three hours), we went over to the Republic's side of the park. We saw some Jedi, Chip and Dale as Ewoks, and such. Star Tours and Tatooine Traders had extreme crowds. Soon it was time to head to Echo Lake and meet (cue cool music) Ray Park.
He was without a doubt the nicest actor I have ever met. He was humble, had a wonderful sense of humor, and was a big fan of my Agent Caulson shirt. He was very appreciative of us wanting to meet him and spent some time talking with us while autographing a book for our young sons and husband. On a side note, we found out he was staying at our resort, even on the same floor. We didn't see him, since we spent so much time at the parks, but it was still something to know he was there. After being in geek heaven for a few moments, we then headed back to the tent of the never-ending line. It was only about an hour wait. By now our curiosity was so peaked that we had to see what on earth was in this place to draw such a large group of people. Did this large tent named Darth Mall contain the lost ark of George Lucas? Was there a portal to another galaxy filled with Fastpasses? People were starting to come out with giant bags, big smiles, and saying how happy they were that their items were going to be shipped home. We walked slowly but steadily through the line. It was an incredibly hot day with no breeze. The humidity was high and we were in the back between the Tower of Terror and Rock'n'Roller Coaster. There is no shade there. It would have been a prime place to set up a kiosk of bottled drinks and ice cream. Sadly, no one had thought of that. We finally made it into the tent. It was incredibly crowded but there was a large selection of items that were limited addition and many others that weren't. There were photo ops with C3PO and R2-D2, a rancor, and a celebrity autograph place. I unfortunately became quite sick from the heat and left after a few minutes to find some shade and a seat. I left my husband with the credit cards and let him shop. We had been going now for about 14 hours now on less than three hours of sleep. We knew that our day needed to end before seeing the Hyperspace Hoopla. We began to make our way towards the exit to catch a friendship back to the Boardwalk.
Star Wars Weekends continue Fridays and Saturdays until June 8 at Disney's Hollywood Studios.
By Robert Niles
ORLANDO -- Per your request, here's an update on the I-Drive Live retail and dining project, under construction for a scheduled 2014 opening on the old Mercado site on Orlando's International Drive.
The project's icon will be the Orlando Eye, a 425-foot observation wheel. (You might remember that this project originally was called I-Walk, and was renamed after legal threats from Universal Orlando over that name.) Here's where the Orlando Eye will be built, looking east from International Drive:
Two structures have gone up on the site, which will include a 25,000-square-foot Madam Tussauds wax museum and 25,000-square-foot Sea Life Aquarium -- both properties of Merlin Entertainments, which is backing the project. (Merlin also owns Legoland Florida.)
Here's a view of the project site from the north, from the parking lot in front of the new Kings Bowl:
And here's the view from the south, next to the Pirates Cove Adventure Golf:
The project is slated to open in stages between 2014 and 2015.
By Robert Niles
Theme parks aren't simply an American phenomenon. Some of the most exciting developments in the theme park industry today are happening outside the United States, and few people have witnessed more of what's happening at theme parks around the world than "The Theme Park Guy," Stefan Zwanzger. A native of Germany who now lives in United Arab Emirates, Stefan's been covering theme parks on his website since 2007. I met Stefan in Singapore in late 2011, when we were both covering the debut of Transformers: The Ride. Some of our mutual followers on Twitter asked me to interview Stefan for Theme Park Insider, and I thought that a delightful idea -- well-fitting with my goal of bringing more Americans' attention to what's happening in other great theme parks around the world. We swapped emails over the past few days, and here's our conversation:
Robert: How did you get started writing about theme parks? What motivated you to get involved in this industry?
Stefan: Compared with you, Robert, who has a history with theme parks [I used to work at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom -- Robert], I have a filmmaking and online marketing past. When I started The Theme Park Guy in 2007, I had the rare combination of time and money, so I decided to learn a little, go travel and take a look at all of them. Who wouldn't? It's an ongoing journey, so let's see what it will lead to.
Robert: What were the first parks you visited in 2007, and what about those visits convinced you to continue doing this?
Stefan: The first park I visited was a new themed water park in Bahrain called "Lost Paradise of Dilmun." Exotic, beautiful, and empty. Very motivating. But I took the decision to do what I do after I had re-visited Tokyo DisneySea earlier that year. DisneySea is like Star Wars or Indiana Jones -- when you see those movies, you want to become a filmmaker.
Robert: How many theme parks, on in how many countries, on how many continents, have you visited?
Stefan: I just had to count. Right now I've got 188 theme park visits in 48 countries on the site. Add a few more that I have not mentioned or listed, and the total number will probably be just above 200. But it's really not about the numbers. Sometimes I return to the same park many times, because I can see and feel passion and attention to detail and enjoy spying on their progress.
Robert: So what is it that fascinates you about theme parks?
Stefan: Roller coasters are great fun, but for me nothing rivals a great dark ride. Of course that can be a coaster/dark ride combination, such as The Mummy or Flying Dutchman. Top-notch dark rides with real surprises are very, very rare, though. I am still looking for that perfect ride, and have high hopes for Mystic Manor which I will see next week. If I never find it, though, I'd probably have to get a team together and we'd have to try to create one ourselves.
Robert: So you are visiting Hong Kong Disneyland this week? What other trips do you have planned for the upcoming year, and will you be posting about them on thethemeparkguy.com?
Stefan: I surely will. I don't plan so far in advance, but in the upcoming months I hope to see Vladivostok's brand-new oceanarium, some theme parks in Malaysia and also take a look at the Shanghai Disneyland site again. Another visit to America is also long overdue. While writing this I realize that I have to motivate myself a little to cross the Pacific or Atlantic, so I can understand all those Americans who haven't been to Europe or Asia yet.
Robert: But we should! What are some of the best theme park attractions around the world that American theme park fans are missing if they don't travel beyond the United States? What makes those attractions so good?
Stefan: 'Journey to the Center of the Earth' at DisneySea. It's a brilliant dark ride with great theming and perfect timing. The Mount Prometheus volcano surrounding it, too. Also, DisneySea's uniquely themed Tower of Terror. Tokyo Disneyland's trackless Winnie the Pooh Ride. Japanese customer service, and Japanese Disney fans. Now, American theme park fans also might miss the Jaws Ride, but it's still operating at Universal Studios in Osaka. So you have lots of reasons to visit Japan. Beyond that, the gorgeous landscape surrounding Hong Kong Disneyland, giving it that special extra magic. The ingenious Atlantis resorts and water parks in the Bahamas and the United Arab Emirates, too. And the fastest roller coaster in the world [Formula Rossa at Ferrari World], installed by Intamin in the heart of the Middle East.
Robert: It seems that many of the big theme park announcements we've heard over the past decade (particularly those in the UAE) turned out to be vapor. Of the current proposals for big new parks around the world, which ones are least likely to be built, and which ones can visitors count on happening?
Stefan: You are asking me to predict the future -- that's tough. For example, even though Universal Studios Korea and Universal Studios Dubailand are delayed and, respectively, rot in the desert, I wouldn't rule out that they will be built eventually. The world economy and stock markets really took an impressive dive in the past years. Let me attempt this prediction: all those projects that have been announced prior to 2008, haven't been built yet and won't be restarted within the next five years, i.e. 2018, are probably dead.
Robert: What are some of the best values (relatively, of course) in international theme park travel these days?
Stefan: I just visited India's Adlabs Imagica, which has a ticket price of about US$22, and some great rides, too. That was one of the best values I have experienced so far. I think, in general, most theme parks provide great value when you compare what you pay for flights, hotel stays or fun fairs in which you pay for every single ride.
Robert: Let's talk about one of those expenses -- eating. Which theme park has the best food?
Stefan: Theme park food is a real issue for me. Epcot is an admirable exemption, but apart from that I rarely come across great food, especially outside Disney, Universal and Atlantis. I tend to look for fruits and vegetables, but find burgers and fries, instead. That's terrible, because you could easily lose a kilo or two from walking and running around the park the whole day, but then mess it all up by having a burger lunch and burger dinner in between. Where is the connection between theme parks and junk food? Who came to the conclusion that they are related?
Robert: No kidding. You mentioned Disney and Universal, and I have to say that I enjoyed every meal I ate at the Tokyo Disney Resort even more than I have enjoyed eating at Disney's U.S. theme parks. Another reason to go there! But let's address a concern that some people use an excuse not to travel. Based on your experience, do you see a difference in the safety of theme parks in various countries around the world? Where do you feel most safe, and are there any countries where you worry about your safety in a park or on its rides?
Stefan: In America, Europe, Japan, Korea and Australia, for example, I feel very safe. In countries with a GPD/capita of below US$2000, or in places where men stare, I don't. But why tremble? I ride everything. If I die on a coaster, or better yet, on a dark ride, what a great end!
Robert: (Laughing.) Okay, let's take down some more barriers. What mistakes do "rookie" international travelers make that hurt their enjoyment of traveling, and what should they do to avoid them?
Stefan: Rookie or not, if you REALLY want to travel, travel alone. If you travel with your family, partner, friends, group or you bring any kind of comfort-zone with you, you probably won't grow much through your travels. You just take an expedition out of your living room, with your living room. If you leave everything and everyone at home that defines you as the person you are at home, you will travel and rediscover yourself at the same time.
Robert: Wise advice. And let's not forget that traveling along allows you to take full advantage of single rider lines! Wrapping up here, what's your best argument to encourage theme park fans, especially Americans, to travel more?
Stefan: You are so so lucky. You just need to apply at the post office and get a passport. You have visa-free travel to most of the world's countries, including those with high theme-park density, e.g. Japan, Australia, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain and the UAE. Africans, Arabs, Indians and Chinese can't travel the way you can. They have to apply for visas to nearly every country in the world, one by one. Traveling is a tragedy for them, sometimes coupled with humiliation. Americans just book a trip online, and off you go.
I know you've got two big oceans on both sides separating you from the all the other continents packed with great theme parks, and that makes travel neither convenient nor cheap. But "Round-the-World" trips can be bought for a few thousand dollars, and you will see everything at once (and come back a different person). Theme park fan or not, if you can afford to travel, but you don't, you will miss incredibly much -- excruciatingly, incredibly much. Don't wait for someone to invite you or to drag you off the couch. (And take a look at themetours.com -- I have posted all my travel tools and experiences there. That might save you a little fortune.)
Robert: I suspect I know what your answer to this question will be, but I will ask it anyway. For an American theme park fan deciding whether to cross the Atlantic and visit Europe, or to cross the Pacific and visit Asia, which direction would you recommend? Where would theme park fans find the higher quality attractions and better value?
Stefan: Definitely Asia. But again, as an American I would take Round-the-World tickets, and do both in one go. The price may not differ much from what you pay for a return trip to Asia or Europe, especially if your itinerary includes several destinations on either continent. I can recall buying a RTW ticket for some $2,400 or less when I lived in London back in 2009. And that included Europe, Asia, Australia and America.
Robert: Thanks, Stefan. I look forward to reading more of your reports, and perhaps running into you again at another theme park premiere somewhere around the world.
Keep reading: May 2013 Archive
Plan your theme park vacation with our readers' travel guides:
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
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