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'Hey isn’t that….?' Your guide to guest stars on Disney attractions

Bryan Wawzenek

By Bryan Wawzenek
Published: April 20, 2014 at 7:29 PM

When you step inside a Disney park, you’re prepared to see the usual cavalcade of stars: there’s Mickey, the princesses, Indy, Vader and even Iron Man. But some of the most entertainment-savvy visitors might be caught off guard by the actors that pop up in various spots in the Disneyland and Walt Disney World parks. Who would have guessed that Puddy was preparing you for a California flight or that Claire Huxtable was sending you back to prehistoric times? If you’ve ever watched a pre-show and thought, “Where have I seen (or heard) that guy before?” – allow us to offer some assistance.

Patrick Warburton
Disney Parks Role: He’s the stately and thorough flight attendant who prepares you for your trip Soarin’ Over California – or simply Soarin’, for you Epcot devotees. Nice work, pal. Warburton is also the voice of a security droid that guests encounter in the line for Star Tours – The Adventures Continue.

Where You’ve Seen Him Before: Warburton has been a fixture on network sitcoms for a couple of decades. He was most recently seen as Jeff on CBS’s “Rules of Engagement.” But others might remember him as The Tick (on the live-action version of the series) or from his voice acting on shows including “Buzz Lightyear of Star Command,” “Kim Possible” and “Family Guy.” Still, his signature role has to be Elaine’s Arby’s-loving boyfriend, David Puddy, on “Seinfeld.” Yeah, that’s right.

Allison Janney
Disney Parks Role: Joining Warburton as one of the voices in the Star Tours – The Adventures Continue queue, Janney does the voice for Aly San San, the flight attendant droid that delivers the safety spiel before loading guests into their Starspeeder 3000.

Where You’ve Heard Her Before: Disney fans might realize that they are listening to the voice of Peach, the aquarium-dwelling starfish from “Finding Nemo.” But Janney has earned more fame in front of the camera, both in movies such as “American Beauty” and “Juno” and TV series such as the current sitcom “Mom” and Aaron Sorkin’s Washington drama, “The West Wing.” Janney won four Primetime Emmy Awards for her work as White House Press Secretary C.J. Cregg, which means she pretty much mastered the walk-and-talk.

Phil Hartman and Don Rickles
Disney Parks Role: These two comedy legends provided the voices for the winged talent agents William and Morris, who argued during the pre-show for the revamped Enchanted Tiki Room (Under New Management) at WDW’s Magic Kingdom. Rickles and Hartman’s banter was the highlight of the now defunct attraction… although that’s not saying much.

Where You’ve Heard Them Before: Stand-up comedy titan Rickles can be heard elsewhere in the Disney parks as the voice of Mr. Potato Head, reprising his part from the “Toy Story” films. You may remember Hartman from such “Simpsons” voice roles as Troy McClure and Lionel Hutz, in addition to being one of the most talented cast members of “Saturday Night Live.” Hartman was murdered by his wife less than a month after the Under New Management version of the Tiki Room opened in 1998, making his role as Morris one of his last.

John Michael Higgins
Disney Parks Role: Speaking of old versions of attractions, on the original Test Track, Higgins played GM host Bill McKim who helped guide riders through automobile prototype tests. Yeah, he was the guy who arranged for the final “surprise test.”

Where You’ve Seen Him Before: Over the years, Higgins has had countless guest appearances on television series, including “Arrested Development,” “Community,” “Ally McBeal” and “Seinfeld.” But, he might be most recognizable for his improv work in Christopher Guest’s movies “Best in Show,” “A Mighty Wind” and “For Your Consideration.” Others may recall him for one of his earliest roles as David Letterman in the 1996 HBO movie “The Late Shift.”

Illeana Douglas
Disney Parks Role: In the pre-show for Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, she’s Aerosmith’s stressed-out manager who comes through with backstage passes and a super stretch limo for the big show at the Forum… because she knows how Aerosmith feel about their fans.

Where You’ve Seen Her Before: Douglas has been in a handful of Martin Scorsese movies including “Goodfellas” and “Cape Fear” (she dated the director for a decade) in addition to indie flicks like “Ghost World” and “Grace of My Heart.” She also has been a frequent TV guest star, appearing on shows including “The Larry Sanders Show,” “Seinfeld,” “Six Feet Under” and “Entourage.”

Ken Marino
Disney Parks Role: Another member of the Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster pre-show, Marino is front-and-center (although completely silent) as an engineer manning the boards for the band’s “recording session.”

(See Rock ’n’ Roller Coastervideo above, starting at 2:40 mark)

Where You’ve Seen Him Before: Before he did a lot of nodding and head-shaking in Aerosmith’s studio, Marino was a member of comedy troupe The State, best-known for their ’90s sketch show on MTV. The comedic actor has gone on to appear in projects made by his State-mates (including “Wet Hot American Summer,” “Reno 911!” and “Role Models”) and landed regular roles on “Dawson’s Creek,” “Eastbound and Down” and “Veronica Mars” – he even reprised the obnoxious Vinnie Van Lowe for the new movie.

Judi Dench
Disney Parks Role: Following Lawrence Dobkin, Walter Cronkite and Jeremy Irons, this Dame began serving as the narrator inside Epcot’s Spaceship Earth in 2008. Nothing against Scar, but you can’t beat hearing about the history of communication from 007’s boss.

Where You’ve Heard Her Before: Dench has done her share of narrating, but most fans will know the Oscar-winning Brit for her recurring role as M in the James Bond movies, Jean on the English TV series “As Time Goes By” or from any number of acclaimed films, including 2013’s “Philomena.” She’s also a legend of the British and American stage, having won a Tony and multiple Laurence Olivier Awards. But did Sir Lawrence know his way around an Omnimover?

Wallace Langham
Disney Parks Role: As is often the case on theme park rides, “something goes terribly wrong” on Animal Kingdom’s Dinosaur attraction and the man responsible is the mischievous Dr. Seeker, played by Langham. By requesting the sneaky retrieval of Aladar, he’s Dinosaur’s equivalent to Paul Reiser’s Burke in “Aliens.”

Where You’ve Seen Him Before: Langham has been a cast member of a number of TV series, from “The Larry Sanders Show” to “Veronica’s Closet” to “What About Joan.” But, for the past 11 years, he’s been most widely seen as trace technician David Hodges on “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” At 14 seasons (and counting), some might consider CBS long-running hit a – wait for it – dinosaur.

Phylicia Rashad
Disney Parks Role: Another TV veteran (slightly more iconic than Langham) plays the Dino Institute’s motherly Dr. Marsh, who prepares visitors for their journey on the Time Rovers.

Where You’ve Seen Her Before: Rashad is only one of the most famous sitcom moms in TV history, playing the no-nonsense Clair Huxtable on “The Cosby Show” (for which she won two Emmys). If Denise or Rudy had tried to bring an Iguanodon into the Huxtable residence, I think we all know that Clair would have laid down the law. Rashad also starred alongside Bill Cosby in “Cosby” and, in 2004, was the first African-American woman to win a Tony for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play (for “A Raisin in the Sun”).

Neil Patrick Harris
Disney Parks Role: He serves as the carnival barker voice delivering the safety spiel and launch countdown on California Adventure’s California Screamin’.

Where You’ve Heard Him Before: Unless he was narrating his computer diary on “Doogie Howser, M.D.,” you’ve probably seen more of NPH than heard him (although he’s done a fair amount of singing in his stints hosting the Tony and Emmy awards). The actor recently wrapped up a nine-season run as alpha male Barney Stinson on “How I Met Your Mother.” But we’ll be hearing more from him soon. Harris is the voice of Cliff, the middle-sibling Apatosaurus, in Disney-Pixar’s “The Good Dinosaur.”

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Insider's Update: When will (fill in the blank) open?

Robert Niles

By Robert Niles
Published: April 19, 2014 at 10:57 AM

Universal Orlando has told its team members that NBC's Today show will be broadcasting from the resort next Friday, April 25. The consensus among team members seems to be that the visit is to announce the official opening date for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida. We've estimated an official opening on June 13 with a soft open on May 14, but now we're hearing that both might slip a week from those original projections. When Universal Orlando opened the original Wizarding World, it held an opening ceremony on Wednesday, June 16, 2010, a media day on Thursday, and the public grand opening on Friday morning, June 18, 2010. If Universal goes with the same type of schedule this time, that could put the ceremony on June 18 and the public opening on June 20. But we might know for certain on Friday.

Harry Potter opening day in 2010
Tom Felton, Daniel Radcliffe, Oliver Phelps and Rupert Grint greet fans at the opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Hogsmeade on June 18, 2010.

Meanwhile, the Walt Disney World Resort has scheduled a media event for April 30-May 2 to introduce the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. However, it appears that the ride has yet to be turned over to the attraction operations department for cast member training and check-out. (*Update: Now hearing that ops training IS going on! WDW CMs, email or hit the anonymous comments, please!) Back in the day, ops cast members needed five days to check out and be cleared to operate roller coasters in the park. That leaves almost no time for any public soft open before the press event, even if the ride were to go over to ops immediately, which doesn't appear to be happening. In fact, there's some skepticism among cast members in the Magic Kingdom that the Mine Train will be ready to ride in fully functioning form in time for the press event, which Disney's now calling a "preview" anyway. Could Diagon Alley soft open to the public before the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train? It's looking like it might be close.

Busch Gardens Tampa has gone ahead and cancelled its media days next week for the debut of Falcon's Fury, citing construction delays. The park's not announced a new date for a media debut, though the park's still aiming for a public debut in early May.

Walt Disney World has started the countdown to the 25th anniversary of the Studios theme park, which opened May 1, 1989. The Disney Parks blog this week teased some of the merchandise that the resort is selling to commemorate the anniversary. Notice anything missing?

Anniversary logo

That would be the original name of the park, Disney-MGM Studios, and its original Mickey-Mouse-and-Leo-the-Lion logo. Disney no longer has the rights to use the MGM name or logo, so it can't issue any anniversary merchandise that includes it. So if you want a more authentic opening-day throwback tchotchke, you'd better hit eBay or Theme Park Connection.

Moving into Jeff's "Beyond CaliFlorida" territory, Holiday World in Santa Claus, Indiana, has confirmed that it will tear down the former Pilgrim's Plunge shoot-the-chutes ride. The ride featured a unique 90-degree-vertical lift to a 165-foot drop, which left riders absolutely drenched.

The lift and drop
The splash
The evidence

Last year, Holiday World removed the attraction from the Holiday World map, reassigning it to the Splashin' Safari water park and renaming the ride Giraffica to better fit the water park's theme. But the ride suffered from too-frequent downtimes and this year the park is throwing in the (very often used after riding) towel and removing the attraction entirely.

Wow. This has been a downer of an update. Let's hope for better news next week! If you'd like to keep in touch with Theme Park Insider throughout the week, we're on just about any social media network out there. If you haven't connected with us yet, please take a moment to follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, YouTube, Pinterest, Instgram, LinkedIn or Tumblr, or subscribe to our weekly newsletter. That way, you can get Theme Park Insider updates through those networks, as well as here on the Web. Thank you, as always, for being part of the Theme Park Insider community!

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Vote of the week: Which Hogwarts house are you?

Robert Niles

By Robert Niles
Published: April 18, 2014 at 11:03 AM

It's no stretch to declare: theme park fans love Harry Potter. After inspiring a new generation of kids to fall in love with reading and busting box office registers around the world, Harry Potter's success in driving theme park attendance shouldn't have surprised anyone. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has helped attract record numbers of visitors to Central Florida, while helping Universal Orlando increase its market share relative to both Walt Disney World and SeaWorld Orlando. Record revenue from admissions, hotel bookings and merchandise sales helped NBCUniversal buy out its former partner Blackstone Group to take full ownership of the Universal Orlando Resort. Now Universal is expanding The Wizarding World around the Muggle world, with today's announcement that Universal Studios Japan will open its version on July 15 this summer, and the announcement earlier this month that Universal Studios Hollywood's version will open in 2016.

Harry Potter announcement in Japan
Photo courtesy Universal Studios Japan

It was nice to see Evanna Lynch, who played Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter films, staying true to Luna's Ravenclaw house during today's press event in Osaka, while all the other dignitaries around her jumped on the Gryffindor bandwagon. (That's former First Daughter and current U.S. ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy on the left, with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Universal Studios Japan president Glenn Gumpel in between.) Just once, for the lulz, wouldn't you love to see a politician rocking a Slytherin scarf at one of these events? Unless Tom Felton gets elected somewhere, though, I doubt we'll ever see that happen.

Part of the appeal of the Harry Potter franchise is the ease with which it draws people into its wizarding world, inspiring you to think of yourself as part of that world, and a member of one of those four Hogwarts houses. I love the story that Dave Cobb has told about finding Dr. Phillips High School students sitting around a table at the Three Broomsticks restaurant in Islands of Adventure, in full Hogwarts robes, drinking Butterbeer and doing their Muggle school homework in their daily afternoon ritual. It almost makes me wish I were in school again, to have a better excuse to do something like that! (FWIW, my sister went to Dr. Phillips, long ago, when it first opened, and we lived across the street from what was then only Universal Studios Florida and a huge parking lot.)

I'm willing to bet that many Theme Park Insider readers have a Hogwarts house scarf or T-shirt in their drawer or closet, a souvenir of a visit to Universal Orlando. Which house's stuff did you buy? Readers can find abundant "Which House are you?" quizzes littering the Internet, but we'll consider the House sorting questionnaire on J.K. Rowling's Pottermore site to be canon here. Whether you've been sorted as part of joining the Pottermore communtity or you've just decided on your own, tell us which Hogwarts house you consider yourself to belong.

According to Pottermore, I'm a Gryffindor, my son is Ravenclaw and my daughter Hufflepuff. Honestly, that's about right, as I consider our personalities. What's your favorite part of the Harry Potter franchise? Or tell us your Harry Potter-related travel plans, in the comments.

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Kings Island debuts Banshee, the world's longest inverted coaster

Derek Potter

By Derek Potter
Published: April 18, 2014 at 9:19 AM

Yesterday was a day of celebration for a few reasons. First, it seems that after a final gasp, the never-ending crappy winter weather has finally subsided in this part of the country. Second, after a whirlwind five months or so, I (along with my lovely wife) get a couple of much needed days away from life, a chance to recharge the batteries. There aren’t too many places in the world better for me than the park. Finally, it seems Kings Island had much to celebrate, for they’ve hit another home run with Banshee.


The name is a bit curious. Once upon a time about 20 years ago it was even controversial, dumped at Cedar Point because people were offended by its connotation. In Irish folklore, the Banshee was a spirit; a wailing woman who would weep and mourn for the dead or soon to be dead family member…subsequent cultures would paint the character in a much darker and malignant tone. Perhaps it’s a more fitting name this time around, given it now sits where the much maligned (and now deceased) Son of Beast once terrified coaster riders and Kings Island’s accountants and lawyers. The graveyard in the queue even pays tribute.

Son of Beast in the graveyard

And then there’s the ride: 167 feet, 68 mph, seven inversions, billed as the longest inverted coaster in the world at 4124 feet. These aren’t necessarily mind blowing numbers when you compare them with the others. The B&M inverted coaster concept certainly isn’t new. It’s been over twenty years since the first one, and Kings Island is one of the last major parks to build one. All that being said, design is everything. With Banshee, ride designer Bolliger and Mabillard pulled everything out of the bag of tricks. Elements old and new are present, combined with newer trains and low profile restraints that give more mobility to riders and free them from the bondage of head knocking giant bars over shoulders.

Banshee track

The end result is pure, nonstop coaster goodness. Banshee is absolutely relentless from start to finish. After a sharp first drop that ambushes even the most seasoned coaster rider, the train sails majestically through flawless elements with lots and lots of power. Taking full advantage of the hilly terrain, the train doesn’t reach top speed until halfway through the ride. The slowest portion contains a zero gravity, low speed, heartline roll in which one literally floats inside their restraints before barreling into the final helix.

There isn’t a straight piece of track in the course, and the front seat (my preference) is about the closest most of us can get to being a fighter pilot. In the dark, Banshee takes on a whole different look thanks to extensive use of lighting effects, taking the haunted graveyard theme to another level. Don’t look for any Disney-like storytelling themes here, just unbridled, unapologetic thrills. Riders should beware of two things…the assigned seating (GAAAHHH!) and the inexplicable lack of storage bins in the loading station. If you are a backpacker or have loose articles, you’ll need a locker.

On ride

Bottom line, when it comes to coaster thrills, Banshee delivers the goods in a big way. It is an absolute must ride for thrill seekers, and fans of the park will love it. There is little doubt it will be at the top of many lists for best new ride of the year. As for its place among the inverted coasters, it likely goes straight to the top. Kings Island scores big with this ride.

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Wizarding World of Harry Potter to open at Universal Studios Japan on July 15

Robert Niles

By Robert Niles
Published: April 18, 2014 at 6:44 AM

Universal Studios Japan in Osaka announced today that its Wizarding World of Harry Potter will open on July 15. Caroline Kennedy (US ambassador to Japan and daughter of President John Kennedy), Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter films) and Harry Potter production designer Stuart Craig made the announcement in an evening ceremony today in front of the park's new Hogwarts Castle.

Harry Potter announcement date
Photo courtesy Universal Studios Japan

The park also announced a Twitter contest for early access to the new land, which will be the second or third Wizarding World of Harry Potter to open, depending upon when The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley opens at Universal Studios Florida. The Hollywood version will follow in 2016, leaving Universal Studios Singapore as the only Universal theme park without a Wizarding World under construction. For now, at least.

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Theme Park Insider: Orlando 2014

Theme Park Insider: Orlando 2014

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