Monday 29 December 2014

2014 Year in Review - Australian Parks

It was another quiet year in Australian Theme Parks, with sadly little happening across our major parks.

Movie World was the Gold Coast park to see the most change this year, although compared to recent years like 2012 it was still a quiet year. Early in the year (February, I believe) they opened a new version of the Stunt Driver show called, Hollywood Stunt Driver 2. I haven't seen the show, but from all reports it has minimal set changes, a new (but thin) story and some new stunts. In September, Movie world opened a new kids ride (in the show building that was the Looney Tunes River Ride) called the Movie World Junior Driving School. This attraction is designed for kids taller than 90cm, as they drive around a miniature version of Movie World. This attraction was due to open much earlier than it's September opening, but progress on this stalled with the arrival of the Henry the Polar Bear Cub at Sea World in 2013. This arrival changed a lot of planning within the VRTP company, however it is good to see that this attraction made it largely unchanged. Movie World offered it's traditional Fright Nights and White Christmas events with moderate success, as well as adding a new event Carnivale to their arsenal. This new event ran in June and July, with a theme of the New Orleans/Rio Carnivale. There was a distinct focus on food, with a large number of pop-up food stalls filling Main Street. Movie World has confirmed that Carnivale will return in April 2015.

Over at the big competitor Dreamworld, there was probably the largest ride opening of the year, when it opened Tail Spin (a Sky Fly from Gerstlauer) on Ocean Parade in September. This was a replacement for the very aged and unpopular Reef Diver. Dreamworld has counted this as the ninth of it's Big 9 Thrill Rides. Readers of my earlier posts would know that I wasn't exactly thrilled with the addition of another flat ride to Dreamworld, however I can't criticise the ride itself as I am yet to ride it. In December 2013 Dreamworld opened the Dreamworld Corroboree re-theming of the Australian Wildlife experience, which continued to get good press for the park into the new year.

It was a complicated year for Sea World. Riding high on the back of (finally) replacing the Bermuda Triangle with the Storm Coaster in 2013, there was mostly bad news from Sea World. The biggest news for the year was the closure and demolition of the Sea Viper roller coaster, one of the oldest steel roller coasters in the country. The ride itself had been reportedly having structural problems for some time, and eventually the cost of maintenance and repairs must have gotten to high. Once this closure was made a official, Sea World wasted no time in ripping down the ride. It was gone within a matter of weeks. Another slightly quieter change at Sea World, was the removal of advertising for the "Wild" attraction that was originally slated for 2014. It had been suggested that the land which as being reclaimed behind the lighthouse was to be used for this attraction, whatever it was going to be. It is likely that the arrival of Henry the polar bear cub, and the rapid construction of the Polar Bear Pre School habitat changed at the very least the timeline for Wild. It is possible that they likely (and now completed) removal of the Sea Viper on land adjacent to the reclaimed land may also have altered plans. It is hard to predict what will happen with the Wild at this stage, as we have had no further news on this project. This year also marked the end of the Dinosaur Island attraction, which was always known to only be a temporary addition while the Storm Coaster was completed. In some good news, the end of the year (literally boxing day) has seen the opening of a new version of the Dolphin Show (called Affinity) and the addition of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to the park, as part of the Nickelodeon licencing deal.

In other parks around Australia, Aussie World on the Sunshine Coast continued to grow opening a wave swinger called Ballroom Blitz. They have also closed down the Town Hall and are working on a new attraction called the Illusionarium, which will open in 2015. Aussie World have also run Halloween and Christmas events (for the first time that I know of), which a great thing for this little park. Adventure World in Perth had a quiet year, after opening the Abyss last year. They added new theming to two existing rides (Rampage and The Black Widow), and a new kids show stage. Adventure World are also adding a temporary Dinosaur Island exhibit, which is a walkthrough of animatronic Dinosaurs. Hmm.. that sounds vaguely familiar. Let's hope that this little park keeps on improving. We've heard rumours that another big Abyss style addition is on it's way in 2015 or 2016, so let's keep our fingers crossed.

The strangest Australian theme park news from this year has to be from Luna Park Sydney, which in December 2013 opened Hair Raiser, it's first new permanent ride in a decade (that is from my recollection). The ride is a Larson International Super Shot drop tower with beautiful views of Sydney Harbour. The only bad news about that is that they might have to tear it down. The ride is still operating at the Sydney park, and hopefully this mess has all been cleared up, but I haven't heard any official word about it yet.

So, that is a full round up of happenings in Australian theme parks in 2014. To be honest, I'd hoped for a little more investment in the Gold Coast parks.  My expectation would be for a quiet start to 2015 but hopefully we'll start to see a bit more action towards then end of the year. I'm looking at you Sea World. Hopefully, Adventure World and Aussie World will both continue to grow and reinvest in their parks.

Tuesday 28 October 2014

Tail Spin @ Dreamworld

In late September Dreamworld opened their brand new thrill ride, Tail Spin. The ride, a Gerstlauer Sky Fly replaced the aged Reef Diver flat at the end of the Ocean Parade. The ride itself stands 22 metres tall, and has a throughput of 240-360 riders per hour.

Overall, the ride is a step up from the unpopular Reef Diver, without question. However it does show a disturbing trend in Australia's largest theme park. That is the tendency to favour "cheap" flats over any other type of ride. While I am a fan of flats in general, I think Dreamworld has now reached the maximum number of flats that a park can sustain without starting to be criticized for it.

But why wait, when I can rant about it now!

Don't get me wrong, Dreamworld has some great flats. I am a huge fan of The Claw, I think it is one of the best rides in the park. However, when your last 4 additions are flats (well, Buzzsaw is a coaster, but it's a very flat-like coaster) some questions have to be asked. As a consumer, it is hard to see why they have added two flying flats (Pandamonium and Tail Spin) in a row. I'm sure there will be some that haven't even realised they are different rides.

Enthusiasts tend to champion coasters over flats. Dreamworld has 5 coaster. However, Buzzsaw, is a single loop coaster. Tower of Terror (as good as it is) is just a straight up and back. Mick Doohan's Motocoaster is wildly unpopular, mainly because it is to big for kids, and a bit lame for the tweens. That just leaves a very good kiddy coaster, and Cyclone as the only true full circuit coasters.

What about dark rides? Realistically Dreamworld has one, the Big Red Car Ride in Wiggles World. I don't know a grown person who's ridden it without a toddler.

Dreamworld had one amazing Drop tower in the Giant Drop, so it doesn't need to go there again.

They have a raft ride, and an aged flume ride. They lack any kind of interactive ride (although they do have a walk through). They do have a drive yourself Model-T Ford ride, but I'd be surprised if many people even knew that was still there.

In terms of flats, they have 5 majors, and a number (rough count of 6 or 7) kids flats. What will Dreamworld put in next? If it's a flat, I'm going to scream.

Sunday 26 October 2014

Rick's Cafe - Movie World

In the last couple of years, Movie World has revamped it's major sit-down restaurant Rick's Café. It has turned it from a mixed buffet, into an all you can eat Pizza-Pasta-Salad and Dessert meal. Earlier in the year we had a look at this revamp. We aren't big on sit down meals in Theme Parks, so it took us a while to check it out. Having been to both the old and the new, I can say it is definitely an improvement.

At the old Rick's your choices where somewhat limited to a handful of particular meals. They were okay food wise, from memory, but not outstanding. The actual buffet space was very small, and was easily crowded. The deserts were below par in the old Rick's. And drinks had to be purchased individually, which was always a little difficult.

The new Rick's has opened up the space nicely, and focuses on a large selection of Pizza, with a few additional options for the younger crowd. The pizza was nice, it wasn't amazing, but it was a good as you'll find at an all you can eat pizza joint. The serving seemed to keep speed with the crowd, so there was always options to choose from. The dessert selection was massively improved, simply by adding a soft serve machine. I'm not fancy, I don't want much more than that.

You could add on an all you can drink soft drink for 5 dollars, which is cheaper than you can buy soft drink anywhere in the park.

The only negative was the salad. There was so little salad on the day we went, with such little variety that it really doesn't belong on the sign in my opinion. You couldn't eat just a salad lunch here, you would have to have something else.

At $25 for all you can eat and drink, Rick's Café is surprisingly good value in a park that charges way way to much for food and beverage ($4 for a churro?). Think of it like this, you can get a soft drink and a soft serve ice cream for just under $20. If you are going to eat in park, it's a good deal, even if you don't plan to stuff yourself silly.

My problem is that I find it hard to go to buffet and not stuff myself silly. A big danger in a theme park is being unable to ride because of to much food. That is the only other major problem with the new Rick's Café, and that is only an issue if you lack self control.

If you've been there before, it's definitely worth checking out the new(ish) Rick's Café.

Is a rebrand on the cards for Disney's Hollywood Studios?

There is one thing that is clear in the theme park developments in Central Florida in the last 6 months. Something is happening to Disney's Hollywood Studios. The original "half-day" park has seen closure after closure on a scale that has been rarely (if ever) seen at Walt Disney World. Friday's official confirmation of the removal of the Sorcerer's Hat from the middle of the park, has led to some pretty wild speculation about what is happening to this park. One particular rumour has peaked my interest in the last day, that they are going to rebrand the entire park. I've been thinking about both the likelihood and the reasoning for this to occur, but to be honest I can't decide if I like the idea or not.

Certainly, DHS has lost anything that tied it to it's original Studio theme. Without Studio facilities, Animation Production or a fake Studio tour, it is now a park that is themed to what it used to be. Other people would call this, a collection of attractions with individual settings, but no over aching theme. Having said that, I'm not sure that needs to be true to it's roots. I don't know that consumer's would ignore the park because of it's lack of Studio credibility. Let's face it, Epcot is not a Community of Tomorrow, and while we are nit picking Islands of Adventure isn't really made up of islands.

One suggestion for the rebranding of DHS would be to change it to Disney's Hollywood Adventure. This would forever twin the park with Disney's California Adventure. Personally, I dislike this idea. It would be a costly sideways move for the Florida park, which for me would weaken the DCA brand. Surely, the differentiation of DCA from the Florida parks is a positive for the Disneyland Resort. If Joe Public starts to see the Florida Parks as the same parks as Disneyland Resort plus two more, this will hurt Disneyland. That would be a shame for Disney, as they have fought so hard to strengthen DCA's reputation in the last 5 years.

While it isn't unheard of for a Disney park or resort to be rebranded, this would be the biggest change to the WDW Resort since the addition of Animal Kingdom. This would be a big deal. This is more than the name change from Disney-MGM Studios to DHS,  or EuroDisney to Disneyland Paris. Both of those had clear reasons for the change. The motivation for rebranding the 8th most popular theme park in the world here would be, because the brand it's had since opening sucks.

Having said that I don't understand the motivation for the change, doesn't mean I don't think it will happen. I hope I won't be Disney's Hollywood Adventure, but there could be a million other ideas floating around. All Disney has to do is find a theme that covers Star Wars, Pixar, Muppets, Fantasmic, Twilight Zone and Aerosmith. How hard can that be?

And what does it mean to the possibility of a 5th gate, if DHS becomes almost a new park in terms of branding?

Personally I'm excited for the overhaul. I am happy that there will be increased Star Wars presence at WDW. I want expansion and to maximize the amount of potential guest time in this park. If that means shutting 25% of the park, as they have now, then so be it. However, do I think a rebranding is a good idea? Only if they can come up with a more specific brand that incorporates their current intellectual properties. I think Disney's Hollywood Adventure is a bland and generic brand who will not appeal to more people that the current Disney's Hollywood Studios.

If they did rebrand it though, I'd still go to the park. So who am I to say it shouldn't happen?

Friday 27 June 2014

Australia's Best Dark Ride

A few weeks a go I had the opportunity to ride on what I now consider to be the best dark ride in Australia, and it isn't at any of our big 3 Theme Parks. It is Overboard at The Ginger Factory on Queensland's Sunshine Coast. It is a simple boat ride, through the nations of the world. That might sound familiar, but there is a unique story and it's own ear worm song.

The ride was constructed by local Queensland firm Promotions in Motion, and is a wonderful 8 minute journey through an animated (and at times vaguely racist) world, searching for the elusive Gingerbread Man. It is fun, silly and colourful. If you lucky and it isn't busy they may even let you ride it twice. It is well worth the individual ride price to ride it. The Ginger Factory itself is more of an oasis than a tourist attraction. Hidden, but beautifully built and maintained. Be warned you couldn't find it by accident, but if you do seek it out it's well worth a half day visit!

And I don't like Ginger!

Sure Overboard is a rip off of It's a Small World, but there is nothing like it currently in Australia. The only other real Dark Ride in the whole country is the Justice League ride at Movie World on the Gold Coast. This, plus small parts of the Superman and Scooby Doo coasters, are the only dark rides in any of our parks.

If you are around Yandina on the Sunshine Coast, you should check it out. If you can't, well just watch it on YouTube and enjoy!

Behold: Overboard at The Ginger Factory POV

WWoHP - Diagon Alley: An Outsider's Perspective

In the last week the big news in the Theme Park industry has been the media previews of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley and the Hogwarts Express in Universal Studios Orlando. It is interesting to watch this from all the way over in Australia. Obviously we don't have our mainstream media covering this opening, so we are very much reliant on the blogs and YouTube videos for our coverage. This poses a dilemma, which I'm going to discuss in an upcoming blog, about what to watch and what not to watch. Particularly because I do intend to see it in person one day, come hell or high water. So considering that I tried not to spoil things for myself, I thought I'd report what I thought of the new additions.

Wow. I know everyone is saying it, but wow! This land looks breathtaking from start to finish. As far as I've seen, there are no holes, no gaps, no wasted space and most importantly no stop to the theming. Now there are things that I thought would be better, and I think a few things that don't translate as well to video as they do in person. The walk in through the "wall" in London is one, but to be honest I'm not sure what I expected Universal to do here. On the flipside, the illusion for the Platform 9 and 3/4 at the Hogwarts Express looks phenomenal on film, but by all reports the actual experience is more about watching the people in front of you do it. Hopefully when the crowds die down in 5-10 years time, this will be an amazing photo opportunity.

I like that this land feels very intimate, but they have obviously planned to cope with large crowds in the area (at least better than the original WWoHP did). To be honest though, I can't see how they can possibly cope with the amount of traffic they will get. I know they have return time controls in place to stop the area being flooded, but people are just going to linger in Diagon Alley for hours and hours. I wouldn't be surprised if people didn't plan half a day for this land by itself, I know I will when going to Universal.
I wasn't as impressed with the food an beverage options. In my view they've given too many options, and not one simple choice. Butterbeer was genius from start to finish, so that is hard to follow. I do like the ice cream parlour though!

What I've read about the Gringotts and Hogwarts rides are super impressive, but I'm being very careful to avoid watching the actual ride POVs on YouTube. As mush as I want to see them, these seem like the kind of rides that you should enjoy first in person before you get on the ride. I have been impressed at how accurate the leaks that went to Robert Niles of were, since they surfaced two and half years ago.

In a way I am glad that it going to take me so long to get over to see WWoHP in the flesh, because I think even with all the beauty and immersion, it's going to be a long time before it will be a comfortable place to visit, even in the quiet months. At the same time, I can't wait to see it. I wish all those that are going to the soft openings, and the official opening (July 8th), the best of luck!

Friday 3 January 2014

Movie World - January 2014

Yesterday I had a very uninspiring day at Movie World. In retrospect it was a bad time to visit the parks, however it give me a view of the park that I rarely experience. I also experienced the down side to the Fast Track system that Movie World implement during the school holidays.

The park was as busy as I had seen it during the day. I've only seen more people there for Fright Nights. Waits were very quickly over and hour for all the major rides. We saw Scooby Doo peak at 120 minutes before we left. What it proved to me was that this park can't handle that volume of people. It is probably 2-3 crowd drawing attractions short of where it needs to be for this size of crowd.

The biggest irritation of the day was Fast Track. Not the people with Fast Track, but the way the queues were altered to deal with them. The trouble with these passes is that none of the queues were built with this in mind.

The best of the bunch should have been Justice League, which has an inside split in the line, however the crowd yesterday was so big, they had to use the outside overflow queue. Which meant both fast trackers and normals had to wait outside in steaming heat, so the entry could be controlled, and switched between the two queues. The outside staff member was letting people in so slow, that only half the internal queue was used, while the overflow queue was completely full. We waited 1 and a quarter hours between the two queues (the posted wait was 45 minutes). When we eventually rode we had screen failures (videos playing incorrectly, audio not lining up, and one hilarious Windows desktop on it's side. I've rode it 3 times now, once it was perfect, but ever since, no good. I wouldn't wait more than 20 minutes for it next time.

Superman had the same issue. The fast track integration point was at the front gate, which meant that the people where queued outside in the sun. We didn't ride Scooby, but it looked like the same setup.

The Green Lantern had a different setup. The Fast Trackers queued at the ride exit and loaded from the other side. This worked okay except the loading was slow because staff had to decide when to Fast Track and count out the people. Even though there was 6 cars running, and 4 platform staff, it was the slowest loading I have seen. We only queued for 35 mins (posted wait of 50 mins), but we saw at least 4 cars stop hard because of the full station.

We did walk straight into the 4D movie, Journey 2 the mysterious island. It was a long 4 hours to only cover 4 rides.

Queues as long as they were that day make you consider the quality of attractions and how long you'd wait for them. For instance, I love the Scooby Doo coaster, but I would only wait 30 minutes for it. This isn't the haunted mansion or splash mountain. To be honest, only Superman is really worth waiting an hour for. When you have enough time to value the rides, you also consider the value of having annual passes. If I, as a total theme park nerd, am rethinking getting passes next year, then normal people must do the same. I don't mean to sound alarmist, but there must be a measurable cost to having days that busy. I'm not suggesting limiting numbers, what I believe the park needs is more crowd sponges to even out the crowd.

Thursday 2 January 2014

2013 Year in review - Australian Parks

It's been another interesting year to be a theme park fan in Australia. We didn't have the big openings of 2012, but we did see a couple of changes of note. Let's take a quick tour of our parks, and see what changes have occurred.

Firstly Sea World, the park with the most changes this year. Early in the year, Seal Harbour opened, at the back of penguin point. To be honest, I'm not sure anyone noticed. I thought it was a great addition. I love the animals and the stylish enclosure. I also liked it because it allowed me to get a sneak peak at what was meant to be the second big opening of the year, the Storm Coaster. This opened for the school  holidays in December, to mostly positive reviews despite opening late. There was clearly great effort on the external theming, which is always a plus in my book. I haven't had a chance to ride this yet, but what I hear riders get absolutely soaked. The big surprise for the year was the birth of Polar Bear cub Henry, which has turned out to be a big hit. This surprise caused a number of VRTP projects to be delayed, including the storm coaster, while an enclosure was specifically constructed for mother and cub.  There has been great progress  on the future Wild project, as the fill in part of the main lake to house a number of yet to be confirmed wild animals. Likely to be Gorillas and crocodiles. That will be a project to watch this year.

Next, over to Movie World. After big years in 2011 and 2012 with the opening of Green  Lantern and Justice League, and the retheme of Arkham Asylum, 2013 was a quiet year for Movie World. We saw a new version of the stunt show, a new 4D movie and a refresh of Ricks restaurant, and that's about all. The Halloween and Christmas events were big hits. We know there is work going on for a new Kids Driving attraction in the show building of the former Looney Tunes River Ride, however it was delayed massively by the arrival of Henry at Sea World. We now have no idea when it will be finished, but I'd guess second quarter this year would be the plan.

To Dreamworld which also had a smaller year after a big 2012. The DreamWorks Experience opened it's last ride, Pandamonium, on Boxing Day 2012, so this was the focus of the start of 2013 for Dreamworld. The middle of the year saw the closure of AVPX, alien laser tag, which has been redesigned as Zombie Evilution, zombie laser tag. In the end of the year we saw a retheming of the Australian Wildlife Experience to our indigenous  Australians. With sponsorship from the state government, this will be a positive addition  for the park. We also saw a new version of the Tiger show open in the final quarter.

Without a doubt the biggest Australian theme park news this year came from Adventure Park in Perth, Western Australia. This little park stumped up 12 million for a Gerstlauer Euro-Fighter similar to Saw – The Ride at Thorpe Park, called The Abyss. This is a huge investment for the park, and we are hopeful it has paid off. Sadly they were in the news again not long after the opening of their new ride,  when Halloween  fireworks set fire to the  parks iconic, but out of style, castle.

Amusingly, this addition, plus the construction of Wet 'n' Wild  Sydney, has caused a little panic from our big gold coast parks. As these two openings occurred our TV screens were plastered with state government tourism adverts for the Gold Coast as Australia's Theme Park capital. Just like all theme park fans, my view is that competition is good and drives improvement. We've always had competition   between our Gold Coast parks, it's good to see some regional competitions well.

So that wraps up 2013 in Australian theme parks. A quiet but surprising year! Let's hope for big things this year in preparation for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.