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  • When Should You Buy a Universal Annual Pass?When does it make sense to upgrade from daily tickets?
  • Top 10 Theme Park CastlesOur editor's picks for the world's best theme park castles
  • Our Wizarding World of Harry Potter GuidebookOur in-depth guidebook to Universal's Harry Potter lands is now on sale!
  • A Closer Look at Universal Studios BeijingUniversal's building a new theme park in China. But what will be in it?
When Should You Buy a Universal Annual Pass? Top 10 Theme Park Castles Our Wizarding World of Harry Potter Guidebook A Closer Look at Universal Studios Beijing
Robert Niles

Vote of the Week: When Was the 'Golden Age' for Disney Theme Parks?

Published: October 24, 2014 at 11:06 AM

Perhaps the only thing that some Disney fans love more than the parks themselves are their memories of the way the parks used to be.

Nostalgia fuels big business at the Disney theme parks, from sales of throwback T-shirts to various collectibles from long-closed attractions. Even more than the merchandise sales, though, Disney cultivates nostalgia as a way to entice people to book future visits to its theme parks. How better to relive a golden memory from your past than by coming back and visiting again?

Magic Kingdom in 1990
Remember the old hub at the Magic Kingdom?

But too much idealizing of the past creates a risk that people will decide that today's parks aren't as good as what they remember. When nostalgia stops motivating people to visit and begins discouraging them instead, well, that's a problem for any destination. Disney loves for its fans to buy retro Epcot T-shirts and Horizons posters. But Disney doesn't want potential visitors to stay home because all they hear online is "the parks just aren't as good as they used to be."

So let's test that statement. Are Disney's theme parks the best they've ever been, right now? Or is there some decade in the past when they were better? If so, when was that? It's one thing to have this warm, fuzzy ideal of a better past — but it's something else to assign that ideal to a specific date.

We will start with the 1970s, when Disney went from having a single theme park to begin building a chain. The '70s saw the opening of Walt Disney World and the introduction of iconic new rides such as Space Mountain ad Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. The 1980s brought the opening of Epcot Center, Tokyo Disneyland and the Disney-MGM Studios, as well as the New Fantasyland expansion in Disneyland and the debut of Splash Mountain.

Disney World's Frontierland
Disney World's Frontierland in 1990.

In the 1990s, Disneyland Paris opened, as well as Disney's Animal Kingdom. Fantasmic! debuted, and Disney expanded the Studios park in Florida, adding Sunset Boulevard and the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, as well as multiple hotels. In the 2000s, Disney added four theme parks: Tokyo DisneySea, California Adventure, the Walt Disney Studios Paris, and Hong Kong Disneyland. Disneyland celebrated its 50th birthday and Disney World kept building hotels.

In this decade, Disneyland rebuilt much of California Adventure, adding Cars Land, while Hong Kong built Grizzly Mountain and Mystic Manor. Disney World introduced its New Fantasyland and by the end of the decade, Animal Kingdom will have added Avatar while Downtown Disney becomes Disney Springs.

And yet, each decade had negatives, too. The biggest development in theme parks in the 2010s hasn't been anything Disney has built — it's been the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal, which is taking market share from Disney in Orlando. Three of the parks Disney built in the 2000s were the weakest theme park developments in the company's history, requiring multi-billion dollar investments to fix in the 2010s. The 1990s saw a dramatic decline in quality at Disneyland, with the nadir being the accidental killing of a park guest on the Sailing Ship Columbia dock. For much of the early 1980s, Disney's future as a company was in doubt, with corporate raiders ready to buy and carve up the business. And those of us who were around in the 1970s remember that Disney was hardly the premier theme park brand in the country then. Believe it or not, the Six Flags brand was as, if not more, respected among theme park fans back then.

So there's much to debate here. Let's start that debate with a vote:

Tell us in the comments which era you consider the best for Disney's theme parks, and why.

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Robert Niles

Insider's Update: Fix 'er Up and Let 'er Fly

Published: October 23, 2014 at 2:12 PM

A few news items as you get ready for Friday:

The Swan and Dolphin hotels at the Walt Disney World Resort have announced a $125-million room-renovation plan, now underway at the hotels. The 758-room Swan goes first, with renovations to 500 of its rooms expected to be completed by the end of this year. Renovations at the 1,509-room Dolphin start early in 2015. The entire project is expected to be completed in 2016. Renovations will include the addition of newer, larger, high-definition televisions, additional power outlets, new beds, and a back-lit mirror in the bathroom.

New room at the Swan Hotel
The new Swan room. Image courtesy Starwood Hotels & Resorts

Harry Potter continues to pay off for Universal Parks & Resorts, as the debut of the The Wizarding World and Harry Potter - Diagon Alley pushed Universal Orlando to record attendance for the third quarter and Comcast's theme park division to a nearly 19 percent increase in revenue over the same period last year.

The Disneyland Paris Resort will offer a free fireworks show on Lake Disney for three nights early next month. Mickey’s Magical Fireworks and Bonfire will run on November 3rd, 5th and 7th, starting at 8.30pm on the Lake Disney at resort's Disney Village. Here's a teaser video from the resort, which is worth watching just to see the difference in PR production value withe Disney's U.S. theme parks.

Finally, Blackpool Pleasure Beach in the United Kingdom today announced a new ride for 2015: Skyforce. Themed to the Royal Air Force's aerobatic team, the Red Arrows, Skyforce will give riders the ability to control the spinning of their own fighter-themed cockpit seat. From the park's press release:

Image courtesy Blackpool Pleasure Beach

The 72-ft high, 12-seat white-knuckle ride will take you on a 360-degree tour of the skies and sits in the shadow of the world famous Big One rollercoaster. Stepping into your very own Red Arrows cockpit, you take control of the plane and spin, glide and take formation in your very own display.

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Robert Niles

When Should You Buy a Universal Studios Annual Pass?

Published: October 23, 2014 at 10:25 AM

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Anthony Murphy

Review: Six Flags Great America’s Fright Fest 2014

Published: October 22, 2014 at 12:50 PM

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Robert Niles

Disney California Adventure reportedly set to close Luigi's Flying Tires in January

Published: October 21, 2014 at 2:59 PM

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Robert Niles

Monday Top 10: The World's Best Theme Park Castles

Published: October 20, 2014 at 3:19 PM

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Robert Niles

Disney Rebrands 'Glow with the Show' and Introduces Its Own Interactive Magic Wands

Published: October 20, 2014 at 10:13 AM

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James Koehl

Review: Midnight Syndicate Live! Legacy of Shadows, at Cedar Point

Published: October 20, 2014 at 9:46 AM

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Russell Meyer

How to Plan an Orlando Vacation: Part Two

Published: October 18, 2014 at 4:49 PM

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Robert Niles

Vote of the Week: What is Your Theme Park Dream Job?

Published: October 17, 2014 at 2:39 PM

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