Monday 31 December 2012

A Nutty Theme Park Christmas

What do you get a guy who is nuts about theme parks for Christmas? Well there is a lot of park gear and passes available in the various parks around the world. But I am a slightly different nut to most. So here is a selection of the awesome theme park related gifts I got this Christmas from my awesome wife and daughter:

It's been both a wonderful and difficult year for our little family. I'm very blessed to have such a wonderful pair of women in my life! I'm going to love the next year of watching my daughter grow, and following theme parks around the world. I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas!

Monday 3 September 2012

The Myth of Story: Response

Just read a fascinating article from 2006 on The Myth of Story from the Reimagineering Blog. The basic hypothesis of this article is that the attitude of "It's all about story" hasn't had the great affect on Disney theme parks that the wider community thinks it has. It is an interesting theory, which I am very much sympathetic too. I definitely agree that story is not the be all and end all of theme park rides and can be used badly. However, I must admit that most of my favourite theme park rides, contain a story or at least story elements.

There is a lot made in the article about the difference between rides with story elements, and rides with a conventional linear story. My view is slightly different to the authors of The Myth of Story article. They maintain that the first generation of imagineers didn't frame everything as being part of a story. This may be true. My reading tends to suggest that they used the phrases experience and show; which are undoubtedly looser terms than story. However, I find it hard to believe that they never used the word story. My view is that what we describe as a story has subtly changed over time, particularly in the American film and television industry, and by extension the American theme park industry.

When people use the word story, it is very normal to think of a conventional linear stories, with a begining, a middle and an end. There is no doubt that this is the dominant form of story in literature and film these days. But this hasn't always been the case. Indeed you only need to look to other international film industries, like the French industry for example. For me the last 15 years of the American film industry has been centred around more and more similar stories. Structures are similar, plot lines are similar, even the characterizations are similar. Even more frustrating for me is the rise of sequels and reboots. This combined with the increase of analysis and criticism of the entertainment industry, and the corporatisation of creative decision making has lead us to where we are now. We now have an extremely narrow definition of story.

For me, the focus should not be whether Walt used the word story, or whether story elements forming an experience are always better than conventional linear stories for theme park rides. The focus should be that there are many rich types and structures of stories that should be being used as the basis for theme park attractions. It shouldn't always about having to search for something. An attraction can be just about things you fear, or about the wonder of beuty, or the joys of other cultures, etc. I totally agree with The Myth of Story article, that we have plenty of major attractions with conventional linear stories. That doesn't mean it can't be done well, it just means people want a more varied experience. While I feel this is clear in the world of theme park attractions, where we constantly speak of story versus thrill, it is also true for the entire entertainment industry.

I don't always want a story. When I do want a story, I don't always want it spoon fed to me. Sometimes I want to marvel and not understand. Sometimes I want to be surprised or confused. Sometimes I want gags without structure. And sometimes, just sometimes I want the conventional linear story.

Saturday 1 September 2012

Movie World Fright Night 2012 Rumours

Okay, so there has been talk of a leak of information on this years addition of Fright Nights at WB Movie World on the Australian theme park blogs for a number of days now. The story is that a page on the MyFun website was accidentally made public while it was still under development. I've ignored the rumours at this point because you can't really tell how accurate a leak can be. However, Thrill Zone International have posted on their facebook a number of images relating to shows and mazes for this years event, so I thought I might share the rumours.

So the talk is that there will be a zombie based maze (no surprises there) called the Walking Dead maze. There is no indication yet whether this will be related to the tv show Walking Dead, as the mae in Halloween Horror Nights is going to be. There will also be a Film Vault maze, which will have villians from movies past (very fitting for Movie World, and undoubtedly cheap for them too). The other new maze will be based on a hillbilly psychopathic killer preying on completely suspecting victims (I mean how many hillbillies do we really have around here, if it was a psycho bogan maybe..). Finally, we will be seeing a return to the maze that just won't die, the Psycho 3D maze! Thrill Zone has also posted that there will be a show called "Death Derby" in the Hollywood Stunt Driver arena. Zombies and car stunts, sounds about right. Rumour has it that this years Fright Nights has been done entirely in house by Movie World, which should mean it is at least a little different to previous years!!

I will keep you posted as real news becomes available, and I'll let you know when tickets are on sale!

Sunday 22 July 2012

What a difference a year makes!

When I started this blog just under a year ago, I had no idea what a huge year of Australian Theme Park development lay ahead. This past financial year would have to go down as one of the biggest in recent memory for our parks. Each in their own way expanded and enhanced their offerings in surprising ways, and all are promising more to come! For this quarterly essay I'm going to focus on breaking down everything that has happened during the 2011-12 financial year at my 4 local Theme Parks. I might even speculate on a few changes we'll see in the year to come!

Where we began

The 2010-11 financial year was a quiet one for Australian parks. Due to the dipping tourism market, and the heavy discounting of Annual Passes, profit for the overall sector had been quite flat. I prefer to think that the parks were preparing for the year to come, rather than resting on their laurels, but from the outside it is very hard to tell. The most significant changes from that financial year was the closing of two long standing rides in the Bermuda Triangle at Sea World and the Looney Tunes River Ride at WB Movie World. Dreamworld took some time to revamp and relaunch one of their signature rides, the Tower of Terror. The creatively names Tower of Terror 2 launched on September 2010, featuring a new tunnel, some extra light effects, but most importantly, an escape pod travelling backwards. Amusingly, the only park to add a brand new major attraction in 2010-11 was Aussie World on Queensland's Sunshine Coast. It opened it's biggest thrill ride, The Giant Redback, a 2 million dollar Disk'O on April 1 2011. We had very little idea that this was the first clue of what was to come.


The first of the big 3 parks to fire a shot in this war was Dreamworld.  In April 2011 they announced that by June they would be opening a new family ride. On the 25th of June they opened there own Zamprela Disk'O Coaster called Shockwave. At the same time, they had mysteriously started removing theming from the Nickoledean Central kids area. This area was also relaunched on the 25th of June as the ultra generic Kid's World. Speculation was rife as to what had happened between Nickelodean and Dreamworld, and what Dreamworld would do to this area. In September Dreamworld launched their big ride for the year, the Maurer Söhne SkyLoop coaster Buzzsaw. Themed to an old haunted saw mill, this attraction certainly added to the Dreamworld skyline in a dramatic way.

The third big opening for the park this financial year, was announced in November last year. DreamWorks was coming to Dreamworld. This was met with some initial scepticism from the Australian park community, as they weren't known for putting in the most detailed theming. When the major phase of the DreamWorks experience opened for Easter 2012, everyone was pleasantly surprised. Together Dreamworld and DreamWorks had created a wonderful and detailed world, perfect for the market they they were trying to meet. The very end of the 2011-12 year was tinged with sadness for the Dreamworld community, as Mohan their 18 year old White Tiger passed away.

WB Movie World

After news had broken that Dreamworld was planning on adding 2 rides within 12 months, there started to be rumblings about something big occurring at Movie World. Initially pegs in the sand out the front of the park, turned into shipping containers with green track, which finally turned into the S&S El Loco Green Lantern Coaster. The coaster soft opened on the 16th of December, for an official opening on the 23rd of December. Before opened Movie World reported that it would have the steepest drop in the world, however when the ride was officially measured it was only the second steepest drop in the world after Takabashi in Japan. The official advertisement correctly claimed that it is the steepest drop in the southern hemisphere. In late 2011, Batman Adventure the Ride 2 closed to make way for a new attraction in late 2012 (which has now been announced to be the Justice League Alien Adventure 3D).

Around the same time we started to hear rumours that the ageing Lethal Weapon suspended looping coaster was going to receive both a new train and also a new theme. This was well supported in the Australian Theme Park community as the ride had been wildly criticised for it's increasingly rough and uncomfortable ride. On the 7th of April Lethal Weapon re-opened as Arkham Asylum - Shock Therapy. While the new trains and restraints were well received, many theme park fans were more impressed by the theming. Without spending much money, they were able to transform an old empty shed into a tour through the Joker's Insane Asylum from the Batman video game. The final major change for Movie World in the 2011-12 was the replacement of the Journey to the Centre of the Earth 4D with the Ice Age Dawn of the Dinosaurs – The 4D Experience on 23rd of June.

Sea World

At Movie World's sister park Sea World, there were also a number of changes this financial year. The biggest change was the removal of Sesame Street characters and the addition of Nickelodean characters which were stolen from Dreamworld. The centre piece of this was the multi-million dollar SpongeBob ParadePants Parade. This parade has been critically acclaimed as one of the best shows in this already show heavy park. SpongeBob is a great fit for Sea World, and the show is truly impressive. They also opened a smaller show based on Dora the Explorer and a SpongeBob 3D Movie. Sesame Street Beach was replaced by Beach Break Bay, which is inhabited by generic Sea World characters.

Finally in mid June 2012 Sea World opened a brand new (but sadly temporary) attraction called Dinosaur Island. This attraction had life size animatronic dinosaurs with sound and smoke effects covering a small "island" within the park, as well as inside discovery centre and a shop. The very best part of this attraction was the enormous T-Rex at the very entrance to the island. I'm sure there was more than a few confused dolphins swimming next to these pre-historic beasts.

Aussie World

The smallest genuine theme park in South-East Queensland was definitely striving to enhance it's credibility this year. After opening the Giant Redback late in the 2010-11 financial year, they followed it up this year with another major investment for a park this size, the Plunge log flume ride. This opened in December 2011, and had it's theming enhanced (with water shed added at the top) in early 2012. The also opened a fairly standard Giant Slide in September 2011. They were rumoured to be opening an Australian theme playground in early 2012, but unfortunately I have not been able to visit and verify that. The opening of these 3 rides account for a $2 million investment by the owners of Aussie World. On the back of record attendance, the rumours are there might be more of this to come.


All of the 4 parks have signalled that while they have been happy to spend during the 2011-12 financial year, none of them are done yet. The attraction that we have heard most about in the last few months is the replacement for Movie World's Batman Adventure the Ride 2, the Justice League: Alien Encounter 3D. This dark 3D projection and live action shooter is being developed by Sally Corp, who have said it is one of their biggest projects to date. If it is done to the quality that is being rumoured, this could be a fantastic addition to the DC Superhero area of Movie World. What remains to be seen, is what will become of the Looney Tunes River Ride. While it is not taking up valuable real estate, it was a great ride for families which also soaked up a lot of guests at time. I hope that a revamped kids dark ride with improved animatronics would be an excellent enhancement. We can only hope that Sally Corp continue working with Movie World, and give us a couple of great things in the next few years.

Not to be outdone, Dreamworld is planning their final expansion of the DreamWorks experience, which will be themed to the Kung Fu Panda movies. Rumours have been extremely varied, but even in the last few weeks we have seen closures to the bumper cars as part of work in this area. This joins the near by Avalanche as possible places for the rumoured new ride/attraction to be built. I'd love to see a dark ride themed to Kung Fu Panda, or a dark theatre show at the very least. It's the one area where Dreamworld has never really challenged Movie World. DreamWorks finally gives Dreamworld a decent piece of IP that is worth of a dark ride. Although I'd love it, the chance of Dreamworld having real life panda's is extremely small from what I have heard. Dreamworld have also announced a partnership with the Australian government to re-theme it's Australian Wildlife experience to include Indiginous Australians.

Being just as mysterious as Dreamworld is being about Kung Fu Panda, both Sea World and Aussie World have signalled there are upcoming attractions that they don't wish to talk publicly about. At Sea World action has been seen around the back of the Bermuda Triangle building during the last year. Very little is known about this, but speculation is rife that a small park like Sea World can't afford to have a central and prominent location like the Bermuda Triangle out of action for much longer than they already have. There has been a report of demolition permits for the internal structure of the Bermuda Triangle building. Interestingly, popular website Parkz has reported that German manfucturer Mack have announced they will be building a water coaster somewhere in Australia in 2013. While this might not be at Sea World, it stands to reason that it would be a good fit for this park. Mack rides have been linked with planned but not completed Sea World projects in the past.  A water coaster with a dark ride elements would be perfect for Sea World. I've even heard speculation that Dinosaur Island has been design to test the waters for a full dinosaur themed ride.

Just as mysteriously Aussie World have announced that they are in discussions for the addition of another million dollar ride in 2013. It would be nice to see a full circuit coaster added to Aussie World's lineup. Something like a compact woodie would be a prefect fit for their market.


If every 12 months of theme park enhancement was the same as the 2011-12 financial year, the parks would run out of money in no time. Having said that, we would have some truely world class parks. We can only help that the rumours of what is to come for the parks in 2012-13 is going to be exciting enough, and also increase park number enough, to keep up this level of investment. Personally as my first year as a theme park twit/blogger, the last 12 months couldn't have been much more exciting. My only hope is that next year is even bigger!

Sunday 15 July 2012

Ovo Review

I very rarely tred outside of Theme Park news and reviews on this blog, but there is one type of event that will make me break this rule time and time again. That is when a touring show of Cirque Du Soleil comes to town. The quality of theming, showmanship and thrills in any given Cirque show have few peers, even in the rich world of Theme Parks. This is probably why I enjoy them so much.

Last night I was able to catch one of the first Australian perfomances of Ovo, one of the more recent shows in Cirque catalogue. As always the show exceeded my expectations in many ways, and left me with a fantastic feeling of euphoria.

To be honest the story of Ovo is not one of Cirque's richest. A group of insects find a big egg and as a result they do a bunch of circus tricks. What Ovo lacks in richness of story, it more than makes up for in theming. The world of insects is richly and vividly portrade in a way that may even surpass the previous touring Cirque shows. The costuming, lighting and staging was extremely well done.

A number of the acts fit the theme very elegantly. On the whole most acts were very enjoyable. Certainly the first half of the show was one of the best that I have seen since Cirque first toured here in 1999. My particular favourites were the foot-juggling Ants, diablo wielding Firefly and wonderful dancing Creatura. The first half ended with a wonderful flying trapeze act of Scarabs. The second half was not as exciting for me, but still had some wonderful moments. The Slackwire spider was truely extraordinary, and the Acrosport Fleas were great fun. The finale of climbing wall and trampoline tricks was a little bit underwhelming for me. While impressive there was so much going on, and a lot of it had been seen in previous Cirque shows. In the Cirque tradition, it was over far too quickly, and when the final "Banquete" started, I was expecting it to be one last full act.

Overall Ovo's acts and theming were as good or better than any Cirque Du Soleil touring show I have seen. It was a wonderful show, and I highly recommend it (if you can afford to go).

Saturday 14 July 2012

Forgive the lateness of my reply!

Just a quick note to say that I'm sorry that my promised 3 monthly essay is now 2 weeks late! I even changed topic because I knew I was going to run out of time. It is safe to say that things have been pretty hectic around here in the last few weeks. Both my work and real life have been incredibly busy! I am working on it, and I do have one I'm working on for a couple of months time!!

I should also make one note, this is the first month in a number of years that I haven't held a single annual pass to one of the Australian Theme Parks. My wife and I have alternated for the last few years between Dreamworld Annual Pass and the My Fun 3 Park Annual Passes. We simply don't have the time or money this year! There is a very good reason for this, and it is the same reason why we have been so busy...

my wife and I are just a couple of months away from having our first baby!!!

This is very exciting for us, but I can understand that people who follow ThemeParkNut may see this as bad news in the short term. However in the long term this should mean a lot of trips to Theme Parks with our kids in the years to come! There may even be a Disney trip planned, in 10-12 years time.

So please bear with us as we go through some significant changes! I can promise that I'll still be giving ThemeParkNut as much spare time and energy as possible!

Saturday 30 June 2012

Sea World - Dinosaur Island

Just opened for the school holidays at Sea World on the Gold Coast is a new attraction called Dinosaur Island. What do dinosaurs have to do with the sea I hear you ask? Don't ask questions! Just focus on the fact it fits the Sea World naming convention; animal name then type of place (e.g Dolphin Cove, Shark Bay, Penguin Point, Polar Bear Shores, etc.).

Unlike most of Sea World's attractions, the animals in question aren't exactly alive. So this time, we have (vaguely) life-size animatronic Dinosaur "roaming" an indoor discovery centre and an outdoor island. The animations are triggered by passing traffic in most cases, and some of them have timed audio effects. With added smoke effects, a few fountains and some greenery to help sell the reality. Overall it's not bad. They've clearly tried hard with this attraction, but there are still things that could be better.

The star of this attraction without a doubt is the gigantic T-Rex next to the gate to the area. It does look fantastic. I even saw it scare a small child! Isn't that what going to a theme park is all about?

Since it's raining, lets head into the Dinosaur Discovery Centre:

Inside is a nicely layed out two-level display with some interesting moving animatronics. The focus of the inside section was more educational, although the main point seemed to be that lots of dinosaurs had feathers. But they really just looked kind of hairy, and a little bit wierd to be honest.
Is it a bird, a dinosaur or a sloth?

A furry baby T-Rex.

A Velociraptor that I suspect may be wearing a toupee.

No, that's entirely natural.

This little fella was cute though.

Let's head out to the actual island. For the avoidance of doubt when they say island, they don't really mean island. I guess since Polar Bear Shores isn't really a shore, and Penguin Point doesn't have a point; it's not that important. You will notice a few things on Dinosaur Island that may take you out of the moment. For instance, the Lighthouse which has been a part of Sea World for many years. It doesn't detract from the attraction greatly, but it's just enough to give a sharp eyed person a few giggles. As I said before, the star of the attraction is the T-Rex, who is right at the gate. For those that know Sea World, the path leads from the main path before the dolphins out to the lighthouse and back into the kids area at the back of the Dockside Tavern. Let's take a look:

The prehistoric Lighthouse on Dinosaur Island.

Who's a pretty boy?

I'd be worried if I lived in Bikini Bottom!

T-Rex has the best movement, design and sound effects of all the Dinosaurs. I really enjoyed the way his tail was whipping around. He really is the star of the show!

To be honext after the T-Rex, things started to get a little wierd.

It's just things didn't quite look right.

Like when someone's head is far too small for their body.

Or when a dinosaur is roaming in front of a pirate ship. Hey, that gives me an idea for a sitcom.

I liked the trike, but I think his sound effect should have been "Heeeeyyyyy!".

If what you wanted was Dinosaurs at Sea World, this attraction certainly gives you that. The biggest problem that I found was that it was definitely a temporary attraction. Some stuff was very well done certainly, others was just added to soak up some space. In general I enjoyed it, but I couldn't help feeling that this would have been great if it was part of a bigger attraction. If that T-Rex stood outside a dinosaur themed ride, it would be awesome! As it stands the attraction peaks far too early, and interest is mostly lost by the end. Dinosaur Island (nee Peninsula) adds something new to a park that has remained fairly stagnant for the past year or two which is a positive thing. I'd rate Dinosaur Island a 6.5/10.

Saturday 5 May 2012

Sea World - 5th May

My lovely wife and I headed down to Sea World on the Gold Coast for the first time in months and months, and it was a beautiful day for it. The park was the busy in the morning, but the crowds slowly dried up as the day went on. It gave us a chance check out a few changes around the park in the last 6 months. Starting with the SpongeBob ParadePants.

My overall thoughts? The parade was great, except for a few tiny hitches. The floats and costumes were great, and the story worked well. The biggest problem for me (other than the lakeside amphitheatre having no shade which I've always hated) was the audio. It may have just been because we were at the back, but the local microphones where so loud that they were barely intelligible and the soundtrack for the show was so quiet that you could barely follow the dialogue between songs. Turn down Patchy the Pirate and turn up the show audio and it would have been great. The other complaint from me was that the video on the Plankton float was entirely out of synch with the audio for the entire show. This totally ruined the illusion of what would be an amazing float. If not for those two serious flaws, it would have been a 9 out of 10 show. I was impressed and I hope Sea World try to fix these issues.


We also checked out the SpongeBob 3D and Beach Break Bay kids area. Both were pretty much as expected. It's been a while since I'd seen any 3D at Sea World, I did laugh at the plastic chairs inside the  3D theatre, but I guess it doesn't make a big difference. The show itself was alright. Beach Break Bay is really just a Sesame Street Beach without Sesame Street. My favourite attraction is what I call the shade ride.

During the week Sea World officially announced Dinosaur Island! A new attraction coming in June. While they haven't officially announced where this will be located, they have indicated it will be a new space. Rumours that it might be at least partially using the island with the Lighthouse  on the main lake appear to be true. They have closed off the paths leading to the front and back of this "island", and appear to be replacing them. I grabbed a couple of shots of the front walkway (coming from the main path next to the paddle boats) being resurfaced, and of the construction walls next to the Dockside Tavern.

Highlights of the day included Dolphin Show, Penguins, Monorail and Jet Rescue (which had a medium sized but suprisingly slow moving line). Overall I must say that it was a wonderful day and I enjoyed it greatly!!

The Sea Viper is still undergoing extended maintenance. It continues to be sad to see the Bermuda Triangle looking completely untouched on the outside (although there could have been some work going on to the show building visible from the Monorail, but don't quote me).  I'll leave you with a unfortunate photo of nothing happening.

Saturday 7 April 2012

Arkham Asylum WB Movie World

As suggested on Friday, Arkham Asylum coaster has opened at WB Movie World on the Gold Coast. Parkz has done a detailed report on the whole area, which you can check it out here .

Friday 6 April 2012

Australian Theme Park News - Easter 2012

This has been a big week for two of Australia's biggest parks, Dreamworld and WB Movie World. First week of school holidays in Queensland always means the action heats up on the Gold Coast. Firstly Dreamworld open the first 2 (and a half) lands of their much discussed DreamWorks Experience. The reviews I've seen have been largely unanimous; the theming is excellent and it's just a few new attractions short of outstanding. Hopefully this will come with the opening of the rest of the Kung Fu Panda area later this year. The best look at the new experience is from Parkz (, who always do great detailed photo updates. Check it out!

Just down the road WB Movie World have soft opened there newly themed suspended looping coaster. The former Leathal Weapon has rapidly transformed into Arkham Asylum: Shock Therapy based on the popular Batman video game. Reviews have been mixed. Many found the theming better than expected, but not necessarily up to the parks high standards. The win for me here is the new vehicle and restraints which deliver a much smoother ride. Given my last Lethal Weapon experience was almost unbearable, this has me excited. I might be able to ride it again! It officially opens tomorrow. Movie World also trialed a Fast Pass style virtual queuing system called Fast Track. It will be interesting to see how this trial goes, and whether Fast Track becomes a permanent addition to the park (paid or free).

Around the world this week we have seen a few exciting events. Disneyland Paris has open their new show Disney Dreams. They marked this by streaming the production online, and receiving lots of positive attention for it. It looks amazing!! We also found out that one of our most anticipated US coaters Verbolten, will be opening in May! That's the news for this week!

Saturday 31 March 2012

The Future of Disney Parks and Resorts

What would I do if I was Tom Staggs?

I've decided that I am a rubbish blogger. Rather than attempting to get lots of little posts done regularly, I've decided to work on one detailed essay on a topic of my own choice. This quarter I've decided to go with a staple for those in the theme park industry, The Future of Disney Parks and Resorts: What would I do if I was Tom Staggs?

Who is Tom Staggs?

Thomas O. Staggs is Chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. Staggs has been with Disney since 1990, and rapidly moved up the ladder to Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President in 1998. On January 1st 2010 he took up his current role as Chairman of Parks and Resorts as part of an executive job switch with Jay Rasulo who now holds his former position as CFO/EVP. He reports directly to Disney CEO Robert Iger. In his role as Chairman, Staggs is responsible for all Disney theme parks, resorts and cruise lines. Walt Disney Parks and Resorts is the largest Amusement Park Corporation in the world, attracting 120 million visitors to their parks annually (which is approximately 3 times the size of the closest competitors). They operate the 8 largest parks internationally and the 2 largest water parks in terms of annual attendance. They have resorts over 3 continents, and are currently constructing their 12th theme park in Shanghai China. In terms of theme parks, Disney is the big kahuna. In terms of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Tom Staggs is the boss.

Why should Tom Staggs (or anyone at Disney for that matter) care what anyone else thinks? Simply put, because Disney cares about good ideas. They know that strong well-constructed ideas were the basis for Disneyland in the first place, and a large part of why it was successful. Now I am not claiming that my ideas are amazing (or even good) but I have come to the realization that I am never going to become an Imagineer. These ideas are of no value to me. I would rather have these thoughts out there being thought about, discussed and ridiculed, than wait for things to change on their own. So let's get into my thoughts!

International Branding

Before I go to deep, I'd like to take a look at Disney Parks & Resorts from a global view. Let's have a look at all of the open Disney resorts internationally. Firstly, the Disneyland Resort in California has 2 parks, Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure. Walt Disney World in Florida has 4 parks Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney's Hollywood Studios and Disney's Animal Kingdom, and two water parks Disney's Typhoon Lagoon and Disney's Blizzard Beach. Tokyo Disney Resort in Japan has 2 parks Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea. Disneyland Paris in France has 2 parks Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studios Park. Finally, Hong Kong Disneyland Resort has 1 park Hong Kong Disneyland. There are two things I notice when I look at the names of these parks and resorts. Firstly, they are a mess! Why is Disneyland Paris a resort, but Hong Kong Disneyland a park? Why is Disneyland Park not just Disneyland? The second thing that is obvious to me is that everything is over branded with the Disney name. We get it. It's a Disney park at a Disney resort. My suggestion here is simple. The resorts should have a clear name which is Disney branded. I would prefer to leave the original US resorts as they are; and have the international resorts follow the Tokyo convention. That would give us the Paris Disney Resort and the Hong Kong Disney Resort. The parks at these resorts are a brand-name themselves. They should be Animal Kingdom and DisneySea. People are at the resorts to go to these parks; they don't need to be reminded that they are Disney or Tokyo parks.

Next I'm going to have a deep dive into all of the current and planned Disney Resorts, and give you my views on what's there currently and what I think would be worth investing in for the future. Before I do that I should explain that a number of my suggestions revolve around a similar theme. This is that even though Disney is one of the great international brands, not every park should be a Disney brand park. Disney has a unique opportunity to sell its guests on international experiences of the Disney quality using one of the many brands which Disney own. Now before any fanbois hunt me down, I think each resort should be centred on a Disney park and it should remain a Disney Resort. However brands like Pixar and Marvel have a following of their own which can be used to entice guests to visit resorts they never planned too. Let's take a look at Disney's Resorts.

Disneyland Resort

The Disneyland Resort is home to the most famous theme park in the world, Disneyland. This park is still, in my view, the greatest theme park in the world. Designed by Walt himself, opening in 1955, the park has had almost 600 million visitors. What would I do to improve this park? Nothing. I would spend money in this resort taking pressure off Disneyland by improving its sister park Disney California Adventure. I would up the parks budget for maintenance, and spare it from the whims of Imagineers who are trying to make their mark and increase synergy.

Before I start to dissect Disney California Adventure (DCA), I must say I like the idea but I didn't like the initial implementation of it. I do think that Disneyland Resort needs a second park. While there was a lot to like about WestCOT, I understand why it wasn't built. I must say I don't like the layout of DCA. I've never liked parks that have a main street with a bend. For me it is yet to be determined whether the addition of Carsland and Buena Vista Street improves my view on this park. My recommendation is that this park should become Pixar Park (or Pixar Studios or something to that effect). It already has some great Pixar attractions, Toy Story Midway, a Bug's land, Carsland (by the way, Carsland, why not Radiator Springs?), the Monsters, Inc. Ride, etc. There would need to be changes, and some Disney attractions would need to be replaced, but I believe this would really reshape this park as a major feature of the resort. The whole point is to have a park as a positive alternative to Disneyland. Not everything in the park has to be Pixar themed, area's like Paradise Pier could remain largely untouched, but there is now enough Pixar IP that it could support its own park. I believe this change could be made while the park is in operation. My only condition is that it is not called Disney Pixar Park.

Would I build a third gate in California? Yes, but not for a long time. I would want to see DCA draw in 10 Million guests annually. It currently draws in 6 Million every year, compared to Disneyland's 16 Million. The strategy should be to build DCA capacity, and slow the growth of Disneyland. Given decent investment, DCA should reach 10 Million before Disneyland reaches 20 Million. I don't believe that Disneyland can sustain 20 Million, so there must be some attempt to aid capacity at some point. I believe we will see a large water park (a la Typhoon Lagoon) added to the south west of the current parks in the early to mid-2020s.

Walt Disney World Resort

The 4 parks of the Walt Disney World (WDW) represent half of the 8 highest attended theme parks in the world. The centre piece, the Magic Kingdom, is the world most visited park with approximately 17 Million guests annually. Each of the other parks average around 10 Million guests each year. It also has the 2 most popular water parks in the world, each receiving approximately 2 Million guests annually. Even though it is the most successful theme park resort to ever exist, does not mean that it is beyond questioning. Certainly the size of these parks has led to an organisational structure which has clear inefficiencies as it stands. Rather than worrying about that structure in this essay, I'm going to focus on just what I would do to these parks.

What changes would I make in Magic Kingdom? Believe it or not, I would keep things going along the lines of the recent enhancements. I would want to maintain the current timeless style of the Kingdom, while make subtle changes which increase Rides Per Capita and increase consumer engagement. From what I have seen the Fantasyland Expansion will be a wonderful addition to the park with great attention to detail. For me, nothing less than outstanding attention to detail would fit within Magic Kingdom. I would possible look at adding a couple of crowd-soaking attractions, just to help with the growing park numbers. As with Disneyland, I want more money for maintenance. It is important that Magic Kingdom remain a dream land for visitors from around the world.

EPCOT is a unique park in terms of theme parks internationally. I'm not aware of a park that has a similar range of attractions and style. I know that a lot of people don't like EPCOT or don't understand EPCOT. I should tell you right now, I like EPCOT. I think it is wonderfully designed, and full of rich experiences. I still think that it is in need of large investment. While it currently is the 2nd most popular WDW Park, I think without investment in the next 5 years crowds will be ignoring in favour of the growing Animal Kingdom. In my opinion 3-4 nations should be added to world Showcase. I believe that Disney should have been adding to the current 11 pavilions over the last 15 years, but have not felt it was worth their wild. The nations added (such as Egypt, India, Brazil) should have strong architectural beacons and opportunities for shows, rides and cuisine. This may shock you reading an Australian blog but, no I don't believe Australia should be added. I'll explain why in a minute. Future World is also an attraction or two short, but I'll leave that to wise heads than mine to work out what they could fit in here. My main problem with EPCOT overall is the overriding sense that guests are being advertised towards. There is a strong argument to make some of this a little more subtle, particularly since most younger guests consider themselves to be more advertising savvy.

Let's move onto the newest WDW park, Animal Kingdom. Scrap Avatarland. There I said it! I'm sure it could be amazing, but I can't imagine people will ever feel that it belongs in Animal Kingdom. I am seriously worried that a lot of planning money will be spent on it before the sequels are released. We will then see a period where the whole exercise is questioned on the basis of the success of the sequels. I do want to see the end of Camp Minnie and Mickey. If I was in charge I would plan for two additional lands. Firstly Beastly Europe! Think medieval village with Dragons and other traditional fantasy creatures. This can draw heavily from the plans for the often mentioned Beastly Kingdom. I think giving this land a location would be essential to its success. Secondly, I would add Australia. Here is where our little continent can come into its own. We don't have classy food or unique architecture, but we do have lots of weird looking animals. For me these two additions would make the Animal Kingdom a real magnet inside WDW.

The final park at WDW is Disney's Hollywood Studios (DHS). While this park has some of the strongest individual attractions in WDW, for me it is a disappointment in theming and layout. It always felt like a cheap copy of Universal to me. While we can't do too much on the layout of the park, we can change the theme! My concept for revitalizing Disney's Hollywood Studios is a full site conversion into Muppet Studios. This would be a major task, and I imagine an undertaking this big would require some down town for the park. There are clear ways that some of the major attractions could be Muppetized. For instance, The Rock'n'Roller Coaster featuring Dr Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, and Gonzo presenting the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. For me the major problems are Star Tours (which I'd move to EPCOT), Pixar Place (which I don't know what to do with), Fantasmic (which would need to be replaced with a new show sadly) and The Sorcerer's Hat (which I love, but I know many people don't).

Closing DHS, even for 3 months, would cost Disney far too much money to consider this as a realistic option. This could only be done if a viable alternative opened to soak up the extra guest numbers, such as a fifth Gate. While a fifth Gate is inevitable in the long term, with the popularity and space that WDW has, it could easily be 20-25 years away if Disney doesn't see any value in it. If I were Tom Staggs, I would seriously be looking at starting planning and development for a fifth Gate over the next 5-6 years. What would be my choice for a fifth gate park? Something different. Something big. Something revolutionary in terms of layout and theme. While there are many possible options for this, my personal favourite would be based on yet another Disney-related brand, Tim Burton. I think a holiday themed park, based on Tim Burton's Nightmare before Christmas would add a new dimension to WDW Resort. While having clearly themed worlds for Christmas and Halloween from the source movie, the potential of having other holiday worlds allows for almost limitless artistic potential for rides, shows and experiences. Using Tim Burton's widely recognisable aesthetic would allow for a park experience of pure fantasy. Perhaps this is far to flimsy pretext for a major theme park, but for fans of his work "Tim Burton's Holiday Worlds of Old" would be a must visit attraction.

What do I think will realistically be the fifth gate? It will probably be a DisneySea style park in about 10-15 years’ time. But it doesn't hurt to dream right?

Tokyo Disney Resort

If ever a Disney Resort needed expansion, it is Tokyo Disney Resort right now. Tokyo Disneyland is the 3rd largest theme park in the world based on annual attendance. Tokyo DisneySea is the largest non-Magic Kingdom style Theme Park in the world on the same basis. The Japanese have an insatiable appetite for Disney. Why isn’t Disney building a third Tokyo gate right now? They have no space! TDR is entirely reclaimed land, and if they wanted to build more, they'd have to reclaim more. I imagine they will wait until attendance reaches about 16 Million per park (currently 12 Million per park per annum), and then build south western side of DisneySea. My view is that then next addition to TDR will have to cater towards the youth market. I'd love to see a tie in with Japanese culture, like Studio Ghibli, although that may be far too costly. Given that DisneySea is such a wonderful unique park, TDR could afford to have a "sequel" of a U.S. park like EPCOT, Studios or California Adventure (I think Shanghai will get an Animal Kingdom, so I don't want to have too much repetition).

What would I do for the current two parks in TDR? Maintain what's currently there, keep the current enhancements going, hope for no devastating earthquakes, and let the good times roll! I could not be more impressed by DisneySea, it looks like an amazing park!

Disneyland Paris Resort

This is quite a complicated question. What do you do with Paris? For my money, the current announced enhancements are more than enough. There is no use sending good money after bad. Paris Disney expanded too early. Walt Disney Studios Park was built because every other resort was getting a second park, not because it was needed. This park is only cannibalising Disneyland Paris attendance at the moment. Only if the current enhancements (like Disney Dreams) make a huge splash could this resort have the potential of the other resorts. In my view it will be at least 10 years before there is need for 2 parks, and at least 20 more years before a third gate could be needed. I have thought about rebranding Walt Disney Studios but I don't think it is worth it in the foreseeable future. At least there isn't a direct Universal-style competitor for this park. It's great that there is room for expansion in Paris, but at this stage there is no point. Sorry to be so pessimistic Europe, but you have no money!

Hong Kong Disneyland Resort

Hong Kong is home to the youngest and smallest Magic Kingdom style park, and the only single park Resort in the Disney chain. Firstly, I would like to say that I am a big fan of everything I've seen from the 2 upcoming expansions. I think they are really on the right track. My problem with Hong Kong Disneyland, even though it is the closest Disneyland to Australia I have no motivation to go there. The last time I was in Hong Kong I tossed up going, and decided it wasn't worth it because I'd seen everything there in Disneyland or WDW. Even the castle is a knock off! Why wouldn't they build a castle for a new princess in Hong Kong?? Anyway! I think the new lands mean that I would visit next time I was in the area. I hope that this will slowly increase the visitor base towards 8-10 Million per annum. I guess that depends how much buy in we are going to get from locals and Chinese nationals from around Hong Kong over the next 10 years.

The good news about Hong Kong Disneyland Resort is that when they reach the 8-10 Million guests mark, they have room for expansion! However, it will come at a cost. There are even rumours that adjacent land owned by Hong Kong Government may be up for sale to the highest bidder (I'm looking at you, Universal). While they may not be able to secure the land, I wouldn't be surprised if there were plans for the second gate at Hong Kong Disney regardless. What it could be is an open question at this stage. If it were me, I'd be planning something brand new for Hong Kong. Disney must be careful that it does not repeat itself between Tokyo, Hong Kong and Shanghai. Fans will be fine with 3 Magic Kingdom parks, but the second and third gates must be used to differentiate the resorts. I'd love to have a second gate in Hong Kong based on Marvel. A more grown up and "real world" second park would suit the weird mixture of cultures in Hong Kong. The other thought I had would be an EPCOT/WestCOT style park, which could easily take advantage of the multicultural nature of Hong Kong. It would be important though to have plenty of E-Tickets in any additional park. Hong Kong is a very different market to all of the other Disney Resorts, and this would need to be taken into account. The other card that Disney might play, is let one of their opponents take the adjacent land, and hope that this competition brings foot traffic towards Honk Kong Disneyland.

Shanghai Disney Resort

I have been told by people within Disney that Shanghai is going to be a game changer. I hope it will be! I want a park in China which will blow the Chinese public away. If nothing else Disney need to make a decent profit on this park, if nothing else so it won't be a burden to the other parks in the first 5 years of operation. The rumour mill suggests the largest Magic Kingdom park yet, with a huge central castle. Can we please have a castle themed to a different Disney princess this time? It's not like you don't have a franchise full. Other than that, I've heard good things about cherry-picking the best new attractions from all the Magic Kingdoms for opening day. I also head there will be large open public spaces, which could be a great asset to the park. 
The good news with Shanghai is that the space available should have space for a second gate. The resort space is roughly three times what is currently in use at Hong Kong. If the return on investment is large enough in Shanghai, the second park may be the next Disney park to break ground. What should this park be? It would have to be big and different! It can't be DisneySea, but I think it will have to be along those lines. In my view they should go to town on a new concept of park. I'm just going to throw this out there as an idea, DisneySky. Realistically what do I think will be built? Probably an Animal Kingdom style park. I wouldn’t mind that though. Whatever the second gate is, it needs to set Shanghai apart from Tokyo and Hong Kong. It will give a greater reason for Japanese, Chinese and Korean nationals to visit each of the resorts. As with all of these resorts it is important that it be localised, but ultimately focus on fostering the love for the Disney brand. When Chinese children grow with the brand as they have in Japan, it has the potential to top Walt Disney World in terms of popularity.

New Resorts

I agree that Shanghai was a smart move for Disney. However, if I was looking for the next locations to build a resort I would be starting to look Eastern Asia. With 3 resorts so close to each other, another resort in Korea or Singapore would devalue the brand in my view. The same is true in North America. Building in the U.S. (except maybe in the North-East) would be a total waste. I can identify to clear target regions for Disney in the next 20 years. They are South America and the West Asia/Eastern Europe/Middle East Region. These are problematic regions though. Disney has tended to target Alpha+ World Cities with their international expansion. Dubai seems an obvious choice, but many people view this region as already over capitalized. India is a great choice for its population alone, but it is such an internally focused country that it is difficult to understand how it could work. Central Europe is coming out of a major overhaul politically and socially, but is it stable enough to support a Disney resort? Would Disney even be popular enough to support Dubai/Zurich/New Delhi Disney? It is very hard to see.

For me, South America is where I would target next. It is much more stable, and much easier to predict. I would expect that Brazil would be the candidate country, with Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. I think São Paulo is the most qualified city, but doesn't the Rio Disney Resort sound good? Brazilians already frequent WDW in droves. You would have to suspect that given the right location to build, South America would be shooting fish in a barrel for Disney. It is true that theme parks have never been big business in South America but the same could have been said for Asia 40 years ago. If I were Tom Staggs, I would take a holiday to Brazil in the next 12 months, and be thinking very hard about the West Asia/Eastern Europe/Middle East Region. I'm sure people will be surprised that I haven't added Australia to the list for a Disney theme park and resort. While I hope we will get a park here eventually, I can't see Australia having the population to support a Disney scale park within the next 50 years. It would be amazing for our tourism, but it could only happen with serious funding from the Australian government. Come back in 30 years Tom! I do hope that Disney is looking outside of East Asia for their next park. That is certainly what I would do.


If I were Tom Staggs, I'd be a very busy boy! I would standardize the names of the parks and resorts. I would change the way that the Disney name is used in branding. I'd rebrand Disney California Adventure and Disney's Hollywood Studios to Pixar and the Muppets respectively.  I'd be planning extra gates for Tokyo Disney and Walt Disney World. I'd be thinking about how to expand Disneyland and Hong Kong, but not yet acting upon it. I would ramp up maintenance on the Magic Kingdom style parks, but largely not meddle with them too much. I wouldn't touch Tokyo DisneySea either. I would add several nations to EPCOT's World Showcase, and reduce obvious attraction sponsorship. I would scrap Avatarland, and build Medieval Europe and Australia in the Animal Kingdom. I wouldn't overinvest in Disneyland Paris until guest numbers improved. I would make sure that Mystic Point and Grizzly Gulch were beautifully detailed in Hong Kong Disneyland. And Finally, I would take a holiday to Brazil and consider my options in terms of southern expansion.

I know that is a long list of things that I would do differently. Please don't see this as criticism. I do think that Disney Theme Parks and Resorts is the most amazing company of its kind in the world. Disney has won the love and respect of generations of guests from all over the world. For me it is all about sustaining and increasing that fan base. Not by building the latest fad, but by doing what Disney does best creating unique, rich, immersive and timeless experiences. This is how I would attempt to do that. I'm sure you will have your own ideas as well, so now I'll open it up to you. What would you do if you were Tom Staggs?

Saturday 10 March 2012

Arkham Asylum - Shock Therapy

The news finally broke yesterday that Arkham is going to be the new theme for the Lethal Weapon Ride at WB Movie World on the Gold Coast. It will be opening for the Easter break in April! There have been a lot of rumours of what we are going to see, but here is the official words from Movie World (via the forums):

Arkham Asylum – Shock Therapy - A new experience is opening at Movie World
  • The coaster is the world’s first ride themed around the very popular Arkham Asylum game
  • This exciting new ride will reach speeds of up to 85kmh and pull 4.2Gs
  • The ride will feature 5 gut wrenching inversions as well as on-board audio
  • Riders will need to beware as The Joker tries to takeover Gotham City
Ride Statistics:
  • Speed= 85km/hr
  • Height= 32 metres approx
  • G Forces= 4.2Gs
  • Track Length= 765m
  • Ride Duration= 120 seconds approx (station to station)
  • Height Restriction = 140cm
  • Number of inversions= 5
  • First of its kind in the world

 We also got some artwork of the new KumbaK trains. The restraint system looks vastly different. It almost looks like a lapbar with over the shoulder seat belts. Fans of this ride will note the lack of head-bashing next restraint! You may still get a sore neck, but at least you should have less bruises!

Also check out the little handles for gripping. Rumours have included everything from a pulse measure (similar to the Blue Fire Megacoaster in Europa Park) to a device to deliver a small electric shock! Though one wonders how this could possibly be done safely.

Movie World also warns riders to beware of various villians, including the Joker. This could simple be additional theming of the queue area, which could reuse parts of the wildly popular Fright Nights Arkham Maze. It is hard to see any parts of the coaster going undercover for additional theming, but it's always possible!

Now we will all have to wait until April to see whether Movie World are able to breathe life into a 17 year old SLC. I hope they can!!