20 Great Reads for 20 Years of Theme Park Insider

July 30, 2020, 1:52 AM · Twenty years ago today, I registered the domain ThemeParkInsider.com. Over the past two decades, I have been honored to bring you coverage and commentary about top theme parks and attractions around the world. To celebrate our anniversary today, I would like to present links to 20 of my favorite Theme Park Insider posts from the past 20 years.

What became Theme Park Insider actually started a year before I registered the domain, as a rating-and-reviews feature called "The Interactive Guide to Disney Attractions" on my personal website. Think of it as Yelp for theme parks, years before Yelp was a thing. After I added the Universal theme parks, I decided I needed a more inclusive, and less clunky, name for the project, as well as its own website home. And thus, Theme Park Insider was born.

Along the way, we became the first publication to win a major journalism award for a crowd-sourced reporting project, when our old Accident Watch feature won an Online Journalism Award from the Online News Association and Columbia Graduate School of Journalism in 2001. The Webby Awards honored us as a finalist and official honoree in 2005 and 2006.

But the bulk of today's selections first ran after I went full-time working on Theme Park Insider in 2012. In selecting these 20 posts for today's anniversary, I chose not to include any posts that I previously included in Stories from a Theme Park Insider, my book about working at the Walt Disney World Resort. But if you would like to see those... well, keep reading, because I have a special birthday surprise for some readers that I will tell you about at the end of this article.

Beyond those posts, though, I wanted in this list to offer a representative sample of the breadth of work that we publish here on Theme Park Insider, from ride and restaurant reviews, to travel planning advice, to insider interviews and perspective. I hope that you will tap through to read each of these pieces and might share a few with friends and co-workers, as well. It's your support that has enabled Theme Park Insider to keep publishing for 20 years and, I hope, for many more years to come.

In more or less chronological order, here we go....

Robert's Jeopardy Adventure

Robert's Jeopardy Adventure

Sometimes, we expand our focus beyond theme parks. In this post, I wrote about my experience as a contestant on the game show, Jeopardy!, including my detailed advice for would-be contestants. Even if you'll never share the stage with Alex Trebek, I hope you'll find this an interesting "insider" look at what it's like to be on one of America's most enduring game shows.

An Insider's Q&A with 'Men in Black Alien Attack' Creative Director Dave Cobb

An Insider's Q&A with 'Men in Black Alien Attack' Creative Director Dave Cobb

One of my favorite parts of running this site is getting to talk with so many of the artists who have created beloved attractions around the world. One of our first interviews was a crowd-sourced conversation with a now-longtime friend of Theme Park Insider - Dave Cobb. Dave not only headed up the "Men in Black" project at Universal Studios Florida, he went on to lead the design team for Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi, which won our Theme Park Insider Award as the world's best theme park right after it opened.

Harry Potter and the Day That Changed Theme Parks Forever

Harry Potter and the Day That Changed Theme Parks Forever

Our most ambitious interview project was one I completed this spring, to commemorate June's 10th anniversary of the opening of the original The Wizarding World of Harry Potter land at Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure. This is an oral history of the land's opening day, as told by Universal team members and Harry Potter cast members who were there.

Who Really Owns the Theme Park Rights to the DC and Marvel Comic Characters?

Who Really Owns the Theme Park Rights to the DC and Marvel Comic Characters?

What Disney can and cannot do with its Marvel characters has fueled debate on the site ever since Disney bought the comic book company. To ground that debate in facts rather than speculation, I went into federal financial records to show fans the details of legal agreements involving Marvel, Universal, DC, and Six Flags.

Use, Not Abuse, Forced Disney to Change its Disabled Access System

Use, Not Abuse, Forced Disney to Change its Disabled Access System

When I worked at the Magic Kingdom, accommodating people with disabilities was simple. If you saw someone in a wheelchair, you sent their party to the attraction exit to get on the ride or into the show. The idea was to keep wheelchairs from getting stuck in switchback queues. But that policy wasn't sustainable, as I explained in this post - one of many times we've tried to explain the "why" behind operational changes in the parks.

Why America Needs Epcot... and Other 'Non-fiction' Theme Parks

Why America Needs Epcot... and Other 'Non-fiction' Theme Parks

Epcot long has been the outlier among the world's top theme parks. Based more upon World's Fairs than Magic Kingdoms, Epcot's themes have been non-fiction... or at least, they were until Disney started loading the park with its franchise IP. But people need to hear engaging stories from real life as well as fantasy.

Let's Take a Walk Down Cedar Point's Frontier Trail

Let's Take a Walk Down Cedar Point's Frontier Trail

Each of us should be so lucky in life as to have someone love us the way that James Koehl loves Cedar Point. In this post, James walks us through a section of the park too often overlooked by fans rushing to get to the next record-setting coaster.

Master the Midway: The Theme Park Insider Guide to Winning Carnival Games

Master the Midway: The Theme Park Insider Guide to Winning Carnival Games

I can't remember the last time I played a midway game in a theme park. But if parks didn't make money from people playing their games, they wouldn't keep offering so many of them. If you are going to play, you might as well play smart - and that's what you can learn to do in this detailed "how to" post.

Where to Eat: Dinner at the Victoria and Albert's Chef's Table

Where to Eat: Dinner at the Victoria and Albert's Chef's Table

A site called "Theme Park Insider" should take you places where most fans never get the chance to visit. And there might be no more exclusive destination at the Walt Disney World Resort that the chef's table at the award-winning Victoria and Albert's restaurant. Russell Meyer has written some of the best articles we've ever published on Theme Park Insider, including his insightful coverage of so many roller coaster debuts. But I also love his restaurant reviews, so I simply had to include this one on our anniversary list.

What I Did Today at Walt Disney World... and Why It Mattered

What I Did Today at Walt Disney World... and Why It Mattered

We've published many front-page trip reports over the years, including multi-page reports on parks from Tokyo to Singapore to the UAE to Paris. But even though this one's "just" from Disney World, it stands out for me as an essay on the importance of storytelling.

Enjoy Your Summer Vacation with Robert's Rules for Roadtripping

Enjoy Your Summer Vacation with Robert's Rules for Roadtripping

Trip planning advice might be the heart of Theme Park Insider. Running a website allows you to work from anywhere, and before Covid hit, "anywhere" during the summer months for me was often a cross-country roadtrip. If you're in love with the idea of driving from coast to coast, this post can help you make that dream reality... without seeing it morph into a logistical nightmare.

Ride Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Mission Breakout

Ride Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Mission Breakout

Sometimes, writing reviews can be as much fun as going on the rides themselves. I had a lot of fun with this one, in which I included some great "insider" voices from video interviews with the ride's creators.

How Universal Won - and SeaWorld Lost - the Last 10 Years in the Theme Park Business

How Universal Won - and SeaWorld Lost - the Last 10 Years in the Theme Park Business

My undergrad degree was in statistics, so I'm not afraid of data. But it didn't take much skill with numbers to find the story in 10 years of reported attendance data from America's top theme parks - just the ability to sort by percentage change. The result provides more evidence that storytelling is king in this industry.

Introducing Robert's Rules of Theme Park Operations

Introducing Robert's Rules of Theme Park Operations

Many dedicated theme park fans come here to learn more about the design and operation of the parks they love. In this post, I write about best practices for keeping a park's rides and shows running... while keeping guests happy.

Why Does Walt Disney World Keep Creating Upcharge Dessert Parties?

Why Does Walt Disney World Keep Creating Upcharge Dessert Parties?

This one takes a deep dive into age demographics to help readers see why theme parks change their product line-up. As the audience changes, parks have to change what they offer to stay relevant.

Universal Orlando and the Irony of 'More'

Universal Orlando and the Irony of 'More'

One of the buzzwords in modern urban planning is "walkability." Why does that matter to theme park fans? Because great theme park design reflects the best of urban design principles. Here's how Universal Orlando got it right - and how that success has bought the resort an opportunity to blow it in the future.

Ride Review: Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure

Ride Review: Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure

No one cares what some random person on the Internet thinks about a new theme park ride. So when I write a review, I try to focus on providing context that helps a reader understand a new attraction rather than a simplistic "love it" or "hate it." And I try to make the review itself an entertaining and engaging story, too. By those standards, this might be my favorite new-ride review that I've written in 20 years doing this site.

Yes, It's Time for Disney to Rewrite its Spaceship Earth

Yes, It's Time for Disney to Rewrite its Spaceship Earth

Criticism isn't just for new attractions. As time passes and audiences change, we need to check in with old favorites - and look with fresh eyes - to see how they hold up. I understand why Disney has chosen to back off its plans to change Epcot's Spaceship Earth, at least for now. With the pandemic costing the company billions in lost revenue, it just doesn't make sense to go ahead with every plan the company had announced. But I hope that Disney does not abandon its plans for a Spaceship Earth rewrite, for all the reasons I detail here.

Exploring the Toxic Ruins of a Forgotten Resort

Exploring the Toxic Ruins of a Forgotten Resort

The perspective of time provides a unifying theme for the final three posts on this list. Natalie Niles takes a roadtrip out to the Salton Sea to show us how Mother Nature shows little patience for poor destination design. Which leads us to our final post on the list...

Can Theme Parks Get on the Right Side of History?

Can Theme Parks Get on the Right Side of History?

This summer will not soon be omitted from history books. What we do now will be judged by future generations, not forgotten. I wrote this post before Disney announced its plans to retheme its Splash Mountain flume rides. Frankly, I was lobbying for that change, after what I believe to be trial balloons from Disney blew up fans' social media feeds. With an audience of millions of fans, theme parks are creative leaders in this world. Why not, then, use that leadership to change and improve the parks to the benefit of all - providing an example to inspire leaders around the world to change and improve their communities, too?

So there you go. Twenty articles to celebrate 20 years of what I have tried to do to help improve readers' lives - in whatever small way I can - with better trip planning advice, insight, and inspiration. I hope that you have enjoyed whatever time you've spent with us here and will continue to share your time with Theme Park Insider in the years to come.

And, oh yes, that birthday surprise? To thank you for 20 years of support for Theme Park Insider, I am giving away 20 signed copies of Stories from a Theme Park Insider. To enter to win, just register for our email newsletter and respond to this post. Or share this post on Twitter, tagging @ThemePark. I'll pick 20 readers at random this weekend from among the eligible responses and Twitter posts. (You also must have a U.S. postal address to be eligible, due to book shipping costs.)

As always, thank you for reading.

* * *
If you would like to keep in touch with or support Theme Park Insider, please sign up for our email newsletter, follow us on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and shop our travel partner's discount theme park and attraction tickets store. Or just buy Robert a Butterbeer. Thank you again.

Replies (37)

July 30, 2020 at 2:25 AM

THis is a great post and I have enjoyed Theme Park Insider for many years and I reccomend the site to people who need more information about theme parks.

July 30, 2020 at 7:38 AM

Happy 20th, Robert! Thanks for all the great work you do on this site. I look forward to reading and/or re-reading these highlights.

July 30, 2020 at 8:08 AM

Congratulations Robert! Thank for you for many wonderful articles and for some of the lively comments that come with them! Looking forward to many more years of your posts!

July 30, 2020 at 8:14 AM

Congrats Robert! TPI has been my homepage for at least 12-13 years now, and I thoroughly enjoy it everyday! I don't post much...mainly never...but I'm always around! Thanks for the years of satisfying my theme park "addiction" even when life wouldn't allow me to travel and experience parks in person. My knowledge of the industry has grown because of you, the other writing contributors, and of course "the repliers". Here's to many more years! Cheers!

July 30, 2020 at 8:22 AM

Congratulations Robert on 20 years! Theme Park Insider helped fuel my interest in the theme park industry and lead to a career in the attractions industry. Thank you for providing such a unique and honest perspective about the inner workings of the industry.

July 30, 2020 at 8:33 AM

I'm humbled and honored to have been included in this list, especially for covering a once-in-a-lifetime type experience like V&A's Chef's Table. I'll admit that my writing in that 2014 piece was far more polished than it was in 2007-08 when I covered the opening of Hard Rock Park - the only major US theme park debut during TPI's existence - which ultimately was also a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The pandemic has afforded me some time to revisit my photo and video archives, and I had honestly forgotten how cool HRP was, particularly their shows and nighttime spectacular framed around Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody.

July 30, 2020 at 9:02 AM

Wow.....20 years.....Congratulations! Huge thanks to you, and the other writers / contributors for keeping us intrigued, entertained, informed and engaged. TPI is my go to source for all things theme park and I so enjoy reading the comments / responses from others. There is just no better way to get a complete picture of whats going on in the theme park world. Here's wishing you much success (and me continued enjoyment) for the next 20 years. A thousand thanks!!!

July 30, 2020 at 9:07 AM

Great Job on the 20!!!
I love it, all of it....

Also, I want to mention over the years we have seen some of our friends leave us.... Like the young man from Tampa that had some serious health issues and was in a wheelchair. He wrote some educational stories about having a disability. So I will raise a glass to Daniel Etcheberry. And to the others we have said goodbye to…

Thanks for all the efforts Robert....

July 30, 2020 at 9:50 AM

Robert - congrats on 20 years! This is my absolute favorite site and I’m giddy every time I get an e mail announcing new posts. I love your articles and all the reader discussions. Thank you for continuing to bring a combination of good information and fun to our phones and computers each day.

July 30, 2020 at 10:26 AM

Robert,

Thanks for the great articles over the past twenty years. I hope that you have as much fun writing and researching them as I have had reading.
Congrats on 20 years!!!!!!

July 30, 2020 at 10:19 AM

Congratulations on 20 years!! My family and I really appreciate the site and the time and effort you put into it.

(As a side note: Great Jeopardy story!!)

July 30, 2020 at 10:26 AM

Congrats on hitting the 20 year milestone... a fantastic accomplishment! Here's to 20 more!

July 30, 2020 at 10:46 AM

Congrats on reaching 20 years. Its been very informative and exciting reading all the articles Keep up the great work for many years to come.

July 30, 2020 at 10:47 AM

Sir, thank you and congratulations on 20 years. You are but one of the few items on the internet that can be entertaining,informative, and fun. Continued success!!!!

July 30, 2020 at 11:13 AM

Theme Park Insider and I have grown up together. It is a fantastic place to visit and "hang out." Great job Mr. Niles and here is to another 20 years of theme parks and of course TPI.

July 30, 2020 at 11:35 AM

Congrats on 20 years Robert. I remember those earlier years, has it really been that long? I don't make it in as much as I used to, but it's always good to be here.

Cheers to you all.

July 30, 2020 at 11:44 AM

Congrats on 20 great years Robert and here's to another 20 of amazing fun!

Man, to think back on WDW and USF in 2000, so much different in both yet still so much fun.

July 30, 2020 at 12:48 PM

Robert, I am honored to be included in your list. TPI has had a major impact on my life, all for the better, and it has been a privilege to be just a small part of it. Thank you! Looking forward to many more years of being a Theme Park Insider.

July 30, 2020 at 12:53 PM

Congrats on 20 years! I've enjoyed visiting TPI almost daily for a few of those years and always enjoy the variety of content and unique perspective.

July 30, 2020 at 2:15 PM

Happy webiversary, Robert! Same goes to the rest of the Theme Park Insider staff. I remember several of the articles on this list. Here's to another 20 years!

July 30, 2020 at 2:25 PM

Congratulations on the 20 year accomplishment, Robert! While this site isn't the largest out there, it possesses a level of quality and community stronger than many of those that are more well known, and I've enjoyed sharing my various trip reports here. While the industry is in a bit of an intermission right now, TPI has stayed strong, and here's to it continuing well into the future!

July 30, 2020 at 3:16 PM

Congratulations on 20 years, Robert! I haven’t been reading it for quite that long, but I’ve really enjoyed the perspective you provide on the Disney parks and the industry in general. Here’s hoping for many more!

July 30, 2020 at 3:26 PM

Congrats Robert! Thanks for all the insight & fun...TPI my #1 theme park site & just want to say thanks to you and all the regular contributors! Here’s to 20 more :)

July 30, 2020 at 3:57 PM

Congrats, Robert! Been following silently for about 10 years and an "active" member for about 5. It's been fun to have an online community to share our passion for theme parks!

July 30, 2020 at 5:32 PM

Congrats on 20 years! Reflecting on many of these articles, they have stood the test of time.

I think it is also a credit to many of the writers that have covered material and the comments on subjects.

July 30, 2020 at 5:41 PM

Here is to many happy returns of the day.

July 30, 2020 at 5:58 PM

Congratulations Robert and Happy Anniversary "Theme Park Insider"!

July 30, 2020 at 8:40 PM

Congrats on 20 years Robert! Theme Park Insider has been, and always will be, my go-to site for the latest theme park news. Thank you so much! As much as I love your theme park coverage, one of my favorite articles you did was when you were present for the kick off of The Amazing Race. When the world gets back to normal, I’m still hoping you and Natalie get to compete on the show. In the meantime, keep bringing us great stories.

July 30, 2020 at 9:59 PM

I’ll raise a Butterbeer sans the Butter to another 20 years! Thanks for never taking the easy way, and for diligently striving for integrity, quality and entertainment. A tough balance to meet, but you do it and we appreciate it. Thank you sir!

July 30, 2020 at 10:36 PM

Thank you to everyone for the kind words. Here are links to some of the posts you've mentioned here in the comments:

Hard Rock Park opens to the press - Russell Meyer's opening-day trip report. (Unfortunately, the photos are now broken links.)

At the Starting Line of The Amazing Race 27

Remembering Theme Park Insider Member Daniel Etcheberry

Show Me The Coasters - Part 1 - The start of AJ Hummel's road trip series from last summer.

Please feel welcome to link or mention other posts from the site that you've enjoyed that haven't been mentioned yet. I've been re-reading posts for more than a month now to prepare for this feature, and my "first cut" was more than 125 articles! So there's plenty more to discover in the archives.

Thanks again.

July 31, 2020 at 3:26 AM

I have been a relative newbie to the site......... but what a site! The premier theme park site by the proverbial mile. and more. Many congratulations on your 20th anniversary and for many more to come. Looking forward to reading the links over the weekend.

THANK YOU ROBERT!

July 31, 2020 at 8:17 AM

I don't normally comment but want to commend you, Robert, on your anniversary. It makes me think of the many sites I used to frequent over just the past couple years where the original talent jumps ship or sells out, leaving the dedicated reader suddenly alone in search of a new tech site or hockey blog. It's truly special that we've never had to go find a new theme park site, which is doubly fortunate as your critic's eye and insider's mandate make TPI still the best. Congratulations and thank you, on behalf of your less vociferous readers.

July 31, 2020 at 9:44 AM

Congratulations.

July 31, 2020 at 10:29 AM

Congratulations on 20 years of quality reporting. I especially enjoyed reading about Disney's modification to the disability policy and Robert's experience on Jeopardy. (I took the test myself in Atlantic City some years ago and flunked because I didn't know that Israel Beilin was Irving Berlin, among other things.) Since the pandemic I've been watching Jeopardy, currently in reruns, on a regular basis. Robert would have done well to use James Holzhauer's strategy!

July 31, 2020 at 8:25 PM

Congrats! Your site is literally my go-to. It's the first thing I pull up when I have a few spare minutes at work (or want to avoid work!). You can always trust this site to bring the facts, and needed perspective on what's happening in the industry. Kudos!

August 2, 2020 at 5:17 AM

Congratulations Robert!! 20 years (well more but you know) is a fantastic amount of time! Well done!

August 2, 2020 at 6:36 AM

Congrats and thank you!!

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