Insider's Update: There be dragons...

May 24, 2014, 12:13 PM · Welcome to Memorial Day Weekend, the widely-cited beginning of the summer vacation season here in the United States. The Disney theme parks in Orlando and Anaheim just wrapped up their annual 24-hour party this morning, and we've got new attractions opening all over the world. So let's get started!

The dragon now sits atop Gringotts Bank in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida. The dragon was the last major decoration piece to be installed in Diagon Alley, so the #Potterwatch continues for the construction walls to come down and a soft opening to begin.

Speaking of dragons. the new dragon-themed roller coaster/shooter ride Wonder Mountain's Guardian opened today at Canada's Wonderland, north of Toronto. If anyone's there today, we'd love a report.

Other debuts this weekend include CBeebies Land at Alton Towers in the United Kingdom and a soft open of Cookie's Monster Land at Sesame Place in Pennsylvania.

Our Russell Meyer has been covering the Food and Wine Festival at Busch Gardens Williamsburg in Virginia, running this weekend, and we'll have his report later today. (Update: now linked!)

Busch Gardens, SeaWorld, and Sesame Place all have new mobile apps, available free on the Apple and Google Play app stores. The new features include, according to SeaWorld's press release:

  • Planning: Up-to-the-minute ride wait times and show times, ride-height filters, car finder function and insider park tips help make the most out of a visit. The interactive map provides a walking path showing clear starting and ending points with estimated walking time.
  • Easy purchasing and upgrades: This summer, a mobile wallet will be added with one-touch purchasing. This allows guests to make spur-of-the-moment upgrades to skip lines with Quick Queue or add the All-Day Dining Deal. Later this year, new functionality will even allow guests to pre-order meals on the go for easy pick up at select locations.
  • Push notifications: Starting next month, guests inside the park will be alerted automatically on their mobile device with offers and discounts only for app users, such as tours or culinary specials. In future releases, guests will receive contextual notifications, based on interests particular to each guest.
  • Gaming: The 50th Celebration Scavenger Hunt follows a growing trend in gaming and is available at all three SeaWorld parks. Guests collect badges as they visit locations throughout the park to earn valuable in-park rewards. New games for additional parks will be added in 2014.
  • Sharing: Fun photo frames used to showcase photos taken in the parks can be easily shared on social channels.
  • Finally, if you'd like to hear more about all the new stuff opening at top parks around the world this year, please download my guest appearance on the Stacking Benjamins podcast from last week, where I talk about what's hot in theme parks for the summer of 2014 and share some trip-planning and budget-saving tips.

    Replies (9)

    May 24, 2014 at 1:11 PM · Really anxious to hear feedback about Wonder Mountain's Guardian. If it is a hit, then Cedar Fair may advance more coaster/dark ride experiences at their parks around the nation. Would love to see my local Cedar Fair park get something new and unique like Wonder Mountain.
    May 24, 2014 at 2:47 PM · I'll be seeing that dragon in person soon...
    May 24, 2014 at 4:29 PM · Diagon Alley Dragon......Awesome!!!!!!
    May 25, 2014 at 12:23 AM · Will Universal follow Disney's lead and remove the dragon after the media's preview, never to be seen again by the regular park goer?
    May 25, 2014 at 3:28 PM · I tried to watch the webcasts from both WDW and DLR. The feed from Magic Kingdom was pretty good quality, and it was nice to see the Electric parade without the 6'4" people standing in front of us as always happens to us anywhere in Orlando. The feeds from Disneyland were terrible quality- constantly freezing, and whenever there was any sort of flash of light (as happens during most of Fantasmic) the color went out and I was stuck watching a frozen mess of black-and-white pixels. Very disappointing. They should have had their friends at ABC come over and set up their cameras for them.

    It was a good idea, but technically didn't work on my end.

    May 25, 2014 at 6:37 PM · Same here James. At first I thought it was my network, but then I realized that it was the streaming that wasn't working. Maybe we live too far from CA for a proper signal.
    May 25, 2014 at 6:59 PM · Saw the dragon being installed as I left the resort. Just fantastic. Everything you can see at London and Hogsmeade Station are a hundred times better than any photos. A photo just cannot do this expansion justice. The sheer size & attention to detail are on another level. And the resort & park employees seem to be just as excited as we are. The one constant phrase I heard from employees we spoke to was "all hell is going to break loose when Diagon opens". This is going to be awesome.
    May 26, 2014 at 12:07 PM · Let's just hope it doesn't turn into "Disco Dragon" some day in the not-so-distant future...
    May 27, 2014 at 12:57 PM · Just looked at an entire album of photos from a helicopter of Diagon Alley with the dragon up... this is going to be the single greatest addition to any theme park, anywhere.

    You can finally see all the building detail from every angle. Absolutely amazing.

    Here is the link if you are interested:

    Diagon Alley Pics

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