By Krista Joy
Universal Orlando announced the Diagon Alley expansion of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter some time ago, but today during a press event about City Walk, Universal officially confirmed one new detail.Tweet
The Leaky Cauldron will be part of the expansion, offering a place to sit down and enjoy a "great, authentic meal."
As Universal officials said it, this photo from the film was presented. Universal executives noted that in the movie, you can only see what the camera allows you to see. The Leaky Cauldron at Universal will include new details that will make it more of a 360-degree experience. The ceiling will even have detailing that will encourage guests to look up.
As we've reported on Theme Park Insider before, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley also will include a London waterfront area with the Knight Bus parked out front, and a working Hogwarts Express train that guests can ride between the two Wizarding Worlds, and a Gringott’s Bank ride.
Universal ended the Potter segment of the presentation by saying that Diagon Alley will be so much bigger than people imagine. The word "huge" was mentioned. This is exciting news, but it is good to know that more details are coming in the new year.
By Krista Joy
Universal Orlando today announced multiple changes to its CityWalk shopping and dining district, coming this summer.Tweet
By June 2014, Universal expected to have added a new Starbucks, a Cold Stone Creamery, a Menchie's Frozen Yogurt, Bread Box handcrafted sandwiches, Pranzo Italian Kitchen, Antojitos Mexican Food, Hot Dog Hall of Fame, and a Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar.
Here are some additional details about the new additions to CityWalk, with images and information courtesy Universal.
ANTOJITOS AUTHENTIC MEXICAN FOOD
This one is almost finished and will open soon! Antojitos Authentic Mexican Food is a place where guests can journey through the cantinas, street carts and markets of Mexico City for unique tapas-style dining at Antojitos Authentic Mexican Food. Only the freshest ingredients are used to create craveable, made-from-scratch Mexican street fare in a very authentic environment.
COLD STONE CREAMERY
For more than 25 years, Cold Stone Creamery has served up the finest, freshest ice cream, cakes, smoothies and shakes using only the highest quality ingredients and their signature process of preparing your custom ice cream creation on a frozen granite stone.
Starbucks will move to a lower-level location near the escalators so you can pick up your coffee conveniently on the way in...or the way out of the parks. It will grow to 130 seats, and will be located next to Cold Stone Creamery. With more than 18,000 stores in 62 countries, Starbucks is the premier roaster and retailer of specialty coffee in the world.
THE COWFISH and ITALIAN KITCHEN CONCEPT
Innovative sushi joins forces with creative burgers for an untraditional dining experience at this reincarnation of the popular North Carolina hotspot. The result: “Burgushi,” a cutting-edge fusion of burger and sushi. Burgushi items include sushi rolls created using burger components and sandwiches created using sushi elements. It may the first time you've heard the term 'burgushi,' but it won't be the last.
Immerse yourself in the essence of modern Italian cuisine at the Italian Kitchen Concept, created by Universal Orlando. Watch as the culinary team handcrafts your pasta from scratch to create fresh takes on classic dishes in a clean, contemporary dining atmosphere.
HOT DOG HALL OF FAME
Hot Dog Hall of Fame, an outdoor quick-service offering, will sit between Emeril's and Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville. Strike out your hunger with some of the most iconic hot dog creations from our nation’s most famous ballparks. Take a seat in the bleachers and enjoy a loaded Chicago dog with all the toppings, a perfectly charred Boston brat, a monster LA dog and more. Jeff Bornmann, vice president of development for the restaurant said, "We have everything from your basic dog to Chicago dog, New York dog, deli dog — which will have pastrami, sour kraut, Swiss cheese — two footlong versions and then barbecue dogs," "The goal is to feature dogs that are iconic dogs from every region of the country." Just don't expect ketchup...they don't have that here. Instead look for a mustard bar containing what is said to be the best mustards in the world.
With a Bread Box sandwich, you’ll be transported back to your childhood kitchen or your favorite street corner deli. Here you’ll find that the combination of quality meats and vegetables, fresh bread, and simple preparation can transform a sandwich into something more.
One of the world’s most popular frozen yogurt shops is coming to Universal CityWalk. The dream was to create a place where people from all walks of life and ages could enjoy themselves—not only with great tasting, quality frozen yogurt and an expansive self-serve toppings bar, but with a unique experience in a fun and happy environment that makes you smile.
RED OVEN PIZZA BAKERY
Red Oven Pizza Bakery is already open. You order at the registers and then a server will bring you your food as you are seated outdoors. Universal CityWalk's Vice President of Revenue Operations Modesto Alcala seemed particularly proud of this location. He took a small group of us on a personal tour of Red Oven Pizza Bakery.
UNIVERSAL STUDIOS STORE
The new businesses will replace Pastamore and Latin Quarter, as well as the previous Starbucks location. CityWalk's candy shop and the cigar shop recently announced that they would close, too.
By Robert Niles
Theme park fans often like to play the "what if" game? As much as fans love their favorite attractions, students of theme park history can't help but ask "what if" other, considered attractions had been built instead?Tweet
What if Disney had gone ahead with the Western River Expedition at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, instead of killing the project in favor of a stripped-down recreation of Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean? What if Disney's Animal Kingdom had included its planned Beastly Kingdom land? What if Disney had exercised the option on land in Long Beach, California, and built DisneySea there instead of in Tokyo?
Universal hasn't built as many theme park attractions as Disney, nor has its Florida resort been around as long as its competitor's, down the road. But Universal theme park fans have a few "what ifs" of their own.
When Universal Studios was building Islands of Adventure in the late 1990s, managers worried that the park might simply cannibalize traffic from the existing Universal Studios Florida, instead of bringing new visitors to the resort and encouraging all to extend their stay there. They wanted to do something to ensure that fans continued to want to visit USF, too.
So Universal decided that the Studios theme park would need a new attraction, too. The effort to create that new attraction became part of what was called the "Universal Orlando Millennium Project."
Ultimately, Universal decided to develop Men in Black: Alien Attack, a blend of dark ride and shooting game that took the concept Disney introduced with Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin to another, more richly detailed level. Based on the 1997 Will Smith/Tommy Lee Jones movie, Men in Black Alien Attack opened at Universal Studios Florida in 2000.
But what were some of Universal's other options for the Millennium Project?
It's time to play "what if?"
Inspired by the 1995 Tom Hanks movie, Universal's Apollo 13 would have been an indoor roller coaster, housed in a scaled recreation of the Kennedy Space Center's Vehicle Assembly Building. Universal wanted to add a thrill ride to USF to balance the three world-class coasters it was commissioning for Islands of Adventure: the Hulk and then-Dueling Dragons coasters.
Riders on Apollo 13 would have boarded Apollo-style capsules by walking across a gangplank and crawling into their ride vehicle, before blasting off on a coaster ride around the moon and back. In an industry where something always "goes terribly wrong," the Apollo 13 mission provides one of real life's best-ever examples of how people can recover from "something goes terribly wrong" and survive.
Another indoor coaster concept, this one would have been themed to the set of a disaster movie, when, of course, a real disaster happens, sending your ride vehicles on their way. The host of the attraction would have been a wild-eyed, maybe-he's-crazy movie director who ends up putting you in harm's way. (Universal reportedly considered Jim Carrey for this role.)
Featuring scenes from several of King's stories, including The Shining and It, this dark ride would have featured a false ending. Riders would approach an unload platform and hear a spiel, then the lights would flicker, and a river of blood would pour from the doors at "unload" platform (a la The Shining). Pennywise the Dancing Clown would then emerge from the control booth to attack the riders, who would narrowly escape as their vehicle lunged forward.
Fortunately for theme park fans, designers and their bosses very often can't resist great ideas, even if they choose to go in another direction on a specific development. Let's go back to those Disney "what ifs." The Thunder Mesa coaster atop the Western River Expedition soon came to life as Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Many of Marc Davis' interior scenes for Western River Expedition eventually became part of the Phantom Manor dark ride at Disneyland Paris. The designers of Beastly Kingdom took their plans to Universal, where they became The Lost Continent at Islands of Adventure, laying a foundation for what would become The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. And DisneySea did get built, in far more spectacular fashion, by the Oriental Land Company's money in Tokyo.
As for these unbuilt Universal ride concepts, many fans will see some elements of those proposals in current Universal attractions. Disaster became the name for Universal's reworking of the old Earthquake attraction, with Christopher Walken assuming the role of the crazy director. And the false ending in the proposed Steven King ride found its way into Universal Studios Florida's version of the Revenge of the Mummy ride.
What's your favorite unbuilt theme park attraction concept?
By Russell Meyer
This story will be a little different for regular Theme Park Insider readers, but should be of some interest to even the most casual theme park fan.Tweet
Saving Mr. Banks is a new film from Walt Disney Pictures that dramatizes the development of Mary Poppins. The screenplay, from relative unknown writers Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith, follows the pre-production meetings and constant disagreements between author P.L. Travers and Walt Disney and his staff.
Academy Award-winner Emma Thompson (1992's Howard's End) plays the lead role of a writer wedded to her work but in need of financing. She has been receiving yearly requests for two decades to adapt her beloved children's book for a silver screen treatment by Walt Disney. After staring blankly at her typewriter and some nudging from her agent, she agrees to take a two-week trip to LA in 1961 to listen to the pitch. Thompson's Travers clings to her creation like a prized possession, and has a specific vision in mind for Poppins. She enters the meetings vehemently opposed to her character being given a musical treatment, and absolutely against it becoming an animated feature.
Walt Disney, played by Tom Hanks, does everything he can to woo the curmudgeonly stubborn writer. From a suite full of stuffed Disney characters and assorted gift baskets to cakes, donuts, and Mickey-shaped Jell-O at production meetings, to a private car with a charming chauffeur played by Paul Giamatti, Walt does everything he can do to make Mrs. Travers happy. Did I mention that Walt went to all of these lengths, along with oodles of pre-production, without even having a signed agreement giving his company production rights to the property? He did, after all, make a promise to his daughters that he would make Mary Poppins a reality. Disney introduces Travers to Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford of "West Wing" fame) and the Sherman brothers (Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak), who begin to lay out their vision for Mary Poppins. Unfortunately for them, Travers is disgusted with the treatment, right down to the mustache on the family patriarch's face.
The audience is left to wonder why Travers, an imaginative storyteller, would be so untrusting of Disney and his staff, and why is she so distant and reserved. Director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side and The Rookie) choses to reveal the development of Mary Poppins chronologically weaved in with flashbacks of Travers' childhood growing up in Australia with her parents (Colin Farrell and Ruth Wilson) and siblings. Farrell's father character lends insight into the source of Travers' imagination, but is far from a perfect role model.
Bring a period piece, Saving Mr. Banks features some wonderful costumes and props from Travers' childhood (turn of the 20th century) along with the early 60's. Disney and theme park fans will salivate over the level of detail in Walt's office and the look of the 60's-era Disneyland costumed characters. The producers even performed some principal photography in Disneyland, as in one scene, Walt invites Travers to the park to demonstrate his devotion to storytelling.
Travers initially scoffs at the invitation, calling Disneyland Walt's "personal dollar printing machine." Theme park fans are probably going to want to see more of Disneyland in this movie, but the park is rarely featured on film, and aside from Escape From Tomorrow, a film that may never get a wide big-screen release, Saving Mr. Banks provides the most extensive views of the park albeit for only about 6 minutes.
I don't think I'm giving anything away by saying that Travers eventually concedes to letting Disney make Mary Poppins, and the rest, they say, is history. Ultimately, the story is more about storytelling and family than the casting of Dick Van Dyke and animated penguins. Hanks' Disney is a little strange, probably caused by his identifiable look and portrayal of so many other historical figures (Jim Lovell, Carl Hanratty, Charlie Wilson, and the very recent captain Richard Phillips). He tries to summon Disney through his voice and characteristic syncopation, but it just didn't ring true for me. On the other hand, Thompson's Travers is mesmerizing, despite being an overly hyperbolic character. Farrell, Whitford, and Schwartzman provide strong supporting performances, but Giamatti was an under-utilized, yet key character.
The movie also features much of the music from the original movie, which audiences will be singing along with and humming long after the credits have stopped rolling. Scenes of the recently restored film (for its 50th anniversary Blu-Ray release) are shown at the end. Despite being a late-year release, Saving Mr. Banks probably won't garner any Best Picture award nominations, but it's possible that Thompson may receive recognition for her superb performance. Despite the limited length of Disneyland's appearance in the film, theme park fans, and especially Disney fans will really enjoy this movie.
By Robert Niles
More information continues to emerge about Shanghai Disneyland, now under construction. At a conference with investors, Disney Chief Financial Officer Jay Rasulo (the former head of Disney Parks) today said that Disney and its Chinese partners are envisioning a rapid expansion of the park after it opens in late 2015. "We're opening the park for a pretty healthy number of attendees but more importantly both we and our partners and the Shanghai government are eager and willing to expand rapidly after that," Rasulo said.Tweet
Shanghai Disneyland construction in September. Photo courtesy Stefan Zwanzger
Consider this a verbal Rorschach test of your optimism about Disney Parks. Does this mean that Disney's anticipating a hit, and making plans to follow up with even more attractions? Or that Disney's dropping yet another half-finished theme park on us in 2015 and already trying to pre-empt criticism with early promises of a fix?
Last week, Disney unveiled concept art for an 11-acre gardens that will stand at the hub of the park. Today, Rasulo said that the Shanghai Disney Resort will be 1,000 acres when it opens, third in size behind the Walt Disney World and Disneyland Paris resorts. But Rasulo said that Disney expects Shanghai ultimately could top Tokyo's 28 million annual attendance, placing it second behind only the Walt Disney World Resort. It's hard to imagine Shanghai doing that without a second gate. Is that the expansion Rasulo teased? We'll see.
Speaking of the Disney parks, Facebook has revealed the top 25 destinations worldwide for check-ins using the social media service in 2013. Facebook excluded airports and other transportation hubs to focus on destinations, instead. Four of the world's five Disney resorts made the list: Disneyland in Anaheim, California, Tokyo Disney in Japan, plus Disneyland Paris in France, and Hong Kong Disneyland. Curiously, the Disney resort with the most actual visitors — Walt Disney World — did not make the list. Does this that Disney World visitors are less likely to use Facebook? Or does it suggest that Facebook check-ins skew more toward locals on a day trip or night out than toward visitors on vacation away from home?
One more Disney item: Our new Orlando correspondent, Krista Joy, reports that the popular Beaches and Cream at Walt Disney World's Beach Club Resort will begin taking reservations December 18th.
Here's something for thrill fans: Adventuredome at Circus Circus in Las Vegas this week is planning to complete the track for its new El Loco roller coaster. This new S&S Worldwide model will allow "riders to enjoy movements never before experienced," according to a press release from MGM Resorts International, owner of Circus Circus. More details:
Accompanied by a customized soundtrack, El Loco’s unique elements will provide guests with a 72-second, adrenaline-pumping adventure, including:
The El Loco coaster car. Photo courtesy Circus Circus
The ride description and the car photo remind me of Universal's Rip, Ride, Rockit. Thoughts?
Finally, we're pleased to announce that our new Orlando guidebook, Theme Park Insider: Orlando 2014 is now available via iTunes! You can read Theme Park Insider: Orlando 2014 via the iBooks app on your iPhone or iPad. The guidebook also remains available for Kindle (and Kindle apps) at Amazon.com. Or you can buy the book in paperback. (Readers in the United Kingdom can buy the book via Amazon UK, too.)
If you've already gotten a copy, first, thank you! And, second, we'd certainly appreciate your reviews of the book, via Amazon or Apple. Positive reviews help encourage both Amazon and Apple to suggest the book to more readers, so please support your favorite authors by reviewing their books, no matter who they are!
Keep reading: December 2013 Archive
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Top U.S. Theme Parks
Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom
Other Top International Parks
Readers' Top Themed Rides
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