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Getting closer to Diagon Alley opening: Construction update

Robert Niles

By Robert Niles
Published: April 15, 2014 at 7:41 PM

Over on the Theme Park Insider discussion board, reader NB notes that the Knight Bus is now parked in front of the London facade at Universal Studios Florida in Orlando. And Jaiden Cohen responded with this embed of a video overview of the construction:

Since your fearless editor is in Pasadena, Calif., and not able to get out to Orlando until the expected June opening, I'm relying on our Orlando-area readers (and readers visiting Orlando!) to keep the community up to date with photos, videos, and reports during soft opens.

For either Diagon Alley or the upcoming Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, please email themeparkinsider@gmail.com with your photos and first-person descriptions of these attractions if you happen to be among the lucky first visitors when they soft-open. Your fellow Theme Park Insider readers can't wait to hear and see what you find!

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Ratatouille to open at Walt Disney Studios Paris on July 10

Robert Niles

By Robert Niles
Published: April 15, 2014 at 11:08 AM

Disneyland Paris announced today that the new Ratatouille ride at Walt Disney Studios Paris will open officially on July 10.

Ratatouille: L'Aventure Totalement Toquee de Remi will use a Mystic Manor-style trackless ride system to take visitors through a Paris kitchen, from Remy's rodent-sized perspective. The ride anchors a new Ratatouille-themed mini land in the Paris resort's Studios park, which has lagged its older sibling in attendance and reader ratings since the park opened in 2002.

One quibble with Roger Gould, the theme parks creative director from Pixar, who says in the video above that "we've never built an attraction like this before, where you shrink down to this size and you feel that you truly are in this giant, wonderful world."

Uh, Flix's Fun Fair at Disney California Adventure? And before Pixar, how about Disney's Body Wars at Epcot? Or Adventures through Inner Space at Disneyland? (*Update: A Twitter follower reminds me: Honey, I Shrunk the Audience, too!) Disney's done "shrink rides" many times before.

Why? Because when done right, they're wild fun. And the combination of a shrink ride gimmick with a high-tech trackless system, Disney practical effects and props and newly-created Pixar animation and storytelling all together promise one of the most-anticipated new attractions of the year.

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A new look, at Six Flags Great Adventure's opening day

Bobbie Butterfield

By Bobbie Butterfield
Published: April 14, 2014 at 9:42 PM

Six Flags Great Adventure opened for the 2014 season on Saturday, April 12, a glorious and unseasonably warm day. Since my last visit to the park in October there have been some significant changes, both in appearance and in season pass processing procedures.

The most immediately striking visual change is the addition of the three Zumanjaro drop towers to the back of Kingda Ka. Kingda Ka was not operating for reasons which will become obvious in the below photograph and is not scheduled to resume operation until the opening of Zumanjaro on May 24. The Drop of Doom will load from behind Kingda Ka.

KINGDA KA AND ZUMANJARO photo dcacbfd7-2dc1-41b7-8f4c-2236eb76bf4f_zpsc4a33506.jpg

The other noticeable change is the absence of Rolling Thunder and consequent complete visibility of El Toro. Before the demolition of Rolling Thunder, El Toro’s track during the latter part of the ride was obscured from view by RT. Now it’s all out in the open and this is not necessarily advantageous, as it detracts from the element of surprise. The final drop, which offers some of the best ejector airtime I’ve ever experienced on any coaster, does not look at all prepossessing now that it is clearly visible. As oxymoronic as this sounds, the drop looked better when you couldn’t really see it and it seemed to come up out of nowhere. And the fact that El Toro crossed over Rolling Thunder’s track was pretty cool.
That being said, El Toro rides as well as it ever did and remains, IMHO, the best coaster in the park. Anyway, on to a new era. A small part of Rolling Thunder still remains, seen in the foreground of the photograph. This gives rise to speculation as to whether it will remain permanently in place, perhaps as a memorial?

EL TORO AND REMNANT OF ROLLING THUNDER photo e2b2430a-5a00-4dd4-8cf3-0804ba06bf8d_zps4fd19f6b.jpg

As to season pass processing, there has been a major change. First of all, the season pass processing tent has moved from a location between Superman and Green Lantern to a location a short distance off the boardwalk. Secondly, the protocol is completely different from that of previous seasons. Historically, season pass holders have been photographed then given a plastic card featuring the photograph along with a book of coupons to bring a friend for free and other discounts. As of this season, pass holders get a plastic card with no photograph; they will be identified by fingerprint. Upon entering the park, they’ll present their card and have their index finger scanned. Additionally, there are no coupon books. Coupons are available on line and will have to be uploaded onto the season pass.

It would be unrealistic to expect everything to go off without a hitch on opening day and indeed it did not. El Toro, Nitro and Bizarro all experienced “technical difficulties” while I was waiting to ride them, although park staff did a great job in getting them back up and running. A train on Superman is rumoured to have gotten stuck on the lift hill, forcing evacuation of the riders, but this is unconfirmed. All in all, a good day. The staff at Six Flags did an excellent job and it felt so very very good to get back on a roller coaster after a six-month absence!

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On the Road to Diagon Alley: Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour

Robert Niles

By Robert Niles
Published: April 14, 2014 at 11:55 AM

Looking for a refreshment break before (or after) tackling the long line for Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts this summer at Universal Studios Florida's Diagon Alley?

Just head across the street from the entrance to Gringotts Bank and enjoy a cone from Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour.

Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour
Concept art courtesy Universal

Harry Potter passed time enjoying ice cream sundaes at Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour during the two weeks he spent in Diagon Alley at the end of the summer at the beginning of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Unfortunately, this became one of the many Diagon Alley stores boarded up and abandoned during wizards' war in the final two Harry Potter books. Author J.K. Rowling later revealed in an online chat that owner Florean Fortescue was killed during that war, though he also was part of a subplot involving the Elder Wand that she opted not to include in the books. Perhaps we might discover some additional information about Florean in Universal's Diagon Alley?

At the very least, we will find some unique ice cream flavors here. Universal featured a peanut-butter-and-strawberry flavor at Three Broomsticks in its original Wizarding World in Islands of Adventure, and a Universal spokesperson has promised that the resort's culinary team has created some additional special flavors just for Diagon Alley.

You can read more about the upcoming Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley in our ongoing series, linked below. We continue to hear from insiders that a soft opening is scheduled for mid- to late-May, with an official opening in mid-June, though Universal has confirmed no opening dates more specific than it will be open in "summer."

Previously:

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Insider's Update: A peek inside new Disney attractions, and a look back at Universal history

Robert Niles

By Robert Niles
Published: April 12, 2014 at 11:30 AM

Walt Disney World this week released a YouTube video of the Audio Animatronics that will populate the Magic Kingdom's Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, which is expected to go into soft open sometime this month. Unlike Disney's traditional mechanical animatronics, the faces on these characters will be projections, creating a mash-up of practical animatronics with a screen effect. What do you think?

Over at Epcot, Disney's now offering a new, apres-Illuminations drinks-and-snacks package. The Epcot After Hours Wind Down will cost $35 per person and include a beverage flight and appetizers at one of four selected World Showcase lounges: La Cava del Tequila, Tutto Gusto Wine Cellar, Spice Road Table, or the Rose & Crown Pub. The event lasts until 11pm each night and runs from April 17 through Sept. 15.

It's been another good year for the Orlando theme parks. The "Visit Orlando" tourism board reported that Orlando welcomed a record 59 million visitors to the metropolitan area in 2013, a 3% increase over 2012 that kept Orlando as the nation's most-visited destination. For comparison, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced yesterday that the city of LA hit its own tourism record last year, too, at 42 million visitors.

Not all Orlando-area tourists are happy with their visits, however. A group of parents of children with autism has sued Disney over its changes to the overused and abused Guest Access Card system. Here's a PDF of the suit, which tries to make an ADA claim against the Disney Parks. If you're a legal geek, give it a read. Personally, it seems to me that the plaintiffs are trying to make a case based on what they wish for the ADA to be, rather than what it actually is.

If you've got the bandwidth and patience to download a 10 MB PDF file, there's some fascinating stuff in this citation honoring Shanghai Disneyland's Storybook Castle from the American Institute of Architects' Technology in Architectural Practice Building Information Model awards: construction photos, design process, renderings. It's great stuff for design fans.

Shanghai Disneyland construction photo
A construction photo of the Storybook Castle foundation work, from the report

It looks like SeaWorld is running out of options in trying to get its trainers back in the water for orca shows at its parks. A three-judge panel denied SeaWorld's latest appeal of an OSHA ruling mandating restrictions on contact between trainers and orcas. We're awaiting an expansion of OSHA's apparent new commitment to theme park employee protection, such as a new rule barring park employees from sitting in the front of Disney monorails, since, after all, Disney's monorails have killed the same number of theme park employees as SeaWorld's orcas have. Right? (sound of crickets)

Continuing our focus on Universal Studios Hollywood this week, we should note that the park has opened a new "grab-and-go" restaurant, the Palace Theatre Cafe, located in the former retail location next to Mel's Diner. By the way, I wouldn't recommend actually trying to just "grab-and-go" with food at any such restaurant serving pre-packaged meals. I'm pretty sure that a more accurate description for these types of places should be "grab-and-pay-and-go."

USH has brought back its Waterworld show after a refurbishment that included the transfer of the show to a new production company, the same outfit that oversees the show in Osaka and Singapore. I'm not an obsessive fan of Waterworld, so I couldn't tell any major differences between this and previous Waterworld productions, save for the irony of the rust on the atoll looking much fresher. ;^) Here's the finale of the show, recorded this week:

Universal hasn't been making as big a deal of this as Disney and SeaWorld did for their anniversaries, but 2014 is the 50th anniversary of the opening of Universal Studios Hollywood. Universal's devoted a window at its Universal Experience walk-through on the Lower Lot to memorabilia from the park's first 50 years.

View Masters
View Master reels and a promotional tour tram, on display. You can see more pictures from the exhibit on our Universal Experience photos page.

Finally, congratulations to the Tokyo Disney Resort today for welcoming guest number 600 million.

Guest number 600 million
Photo courtesy Tokyo Disney Resort

That's an average of 20 million guests per year for the resort's 30 years. Amazing, and a testimony to the continued excellence of Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea, a three-time winner of the Theme Park Insider Award as the world's best theme park. Well deserved!

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Keep reading: April 2014 Archive

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