Sunday 1 October 2017

The Store of Requirement

This is not a theme park post, but what are you gonna do.

Over the last two decades the Harry Potter books have spawned possibly the most successful creative franchise of all time. JK Rowling's Boy Wizard is a global juggernaut showing little sign of stopping. The extended universe of the Fantastic Beasts movies will keep this franchise fresh for many years to come.

The theme park world has been similarly transformed by Harry Potter with the multiple Wizarding World of Harry Potters that have opened at Universal parks round the world. They've set the standard for theming and immersion for the next 10 years of Theme Park developments. And the London Stuidio tour is incredibly popular.  It feels like Harry Potter is everywhere.

Except that it isn't. Places like Australia have a huge fanbase for Harry,  but we are a million miles from anywhere that we can have a Butterbeer. Until now...

The Store of Requirement is a brand new Harry Potter themed shop in Samford, just outside of  Brisbane in Queensland. It's been setup in a converted chapel and brilliantly themed to the HP universe. And they have Butterbeer on tap!

Let's take a look at the shop...

Signs for the shop are really nicely designed, and while they don't say "Harry Potter" as such (and probably can't for legal reasons), they are consistent with the care that has been taken with putting this shop together.

The shop runs 5 days a week, and the signs continue to be sprinkled with hints of what is inside.

The chapel that the shop is built in has beautiful stained glass windows, that really adds to the old English feel inside. 
When first entering the shop, you are greeted by the Sorting Hat. At various times we saw staff members (all dressed in Harry Potter style) using the Sorting Hat to sort youngsters into the various Hogwarts houses (and take photos). Very neat!

The shop is decked out with merchandise and memorabilia from every part of the Harry Potter universe.
While it's clearly a shop, but even the most over the top merch (see the giant stuff harry) does not feel out of place.

There are brooms for sale, and incidentally I did read online that the Queensland Quidditch association has been known to have meets and training sessions in the park across the road. Not joking!

And all manner of Weasley and Weasley treats.

The front half of the shop is dedicated to everything that you can buy, the back of it takes on a more House Common-room vibe with comfy couches and cool air conditioning (a blessing on the day we went).

It is here where you find some of the more unique (read expensive) items on display. Seriously cool stuff!!

While my photos might not show it, this place was utterly packed on the day we visited. Niche stores like this live and die by the strength of their patronage, so at least for now that is a very promising sign. The most popular item for sale, and I think what will really keep this place afloat, was this...
On tap too!! Cost was $7.50 for a plain Butterbeer, $9.00 for a Butterbeer with cream.

I could not resist it.

Neither could my son.

Butterbeer Verdict: I loved it. While I haven't tasted the Universal Orlando (or WB Studio tour) versions, it was exactly how I have heard it described. It was sweet, and butterscotchy. Super cold and very refreshing. Others in our group like it more for the novelty than the taste, but I was sold on every front. The cream on top gave it sort of a Splice or Spider taste at the end, which is not what I've heard of the foam on the theme park Butterbeer, but it was still delicious.

The shop also had a number of delicious treats...
Delicious cupcakes, even some with Mandrakes on top, as well as frogs and other treats.

And of course the Golden Snitch.

My wife was a big fan of these cupcakes, she felt they were very clever!

Overall Verdict: The Store of Requirement is an immaculately themed and presented Harry Potter shop that all fans would enjoy. While the space they have setup in Samford is perfect, you could easily drop one of these into ever major city in Australia and they would make a killing. This is clearly run by fans for fans, and that is what is best about it. Being able to sit back with a Butterbeer, and watch all walks of life loving being immersed in this world, is what has made the WWoHP a massive success for Universal. While this is not on the same scale, it is awesome to have something that approaches that in our little corner of the globe. If you are a Harry Potter fan in the greater Brisbane area, you must visit this shop and then spread the word. This kind of unique shop can only last as long as it's fans support it. In my opinion, it is worth the visit for the Butterbeer alone!!

Saturday 29 July 2017

News Update - Pirate Auctions, Symbolica, D23 and Marty Sklar

July has been an absolutely enormous month for theme park news, from around the world and especially from the D23 Disney fan convention that was in Anaheim a couple of weeks ago. We'll get to all the news on that in the second, but first it is only right to acknowledge that Disney legend Marty Sklar passed away at age 83 yesterday. One of Walt's right hand men, Sklar has long been seen as a link to the opening of Disneyland and Walt's philosophies on parks and entertainment. Quite impressively he is the only Disney cast member to have been at the opening of all 12 of the Disney theme parks world wide. He was an inspiration to many in Walt Disney Imagineering, and had an undeniable impact on the parks and attractions as they stand today.

So on that sad note, let's move onto some general theme park news from July 2017.

At the start of the month, Disney announced that it was changing the Auction scene in the Pirates of the Caribbean at all of it's installations, to remove what could be considered a depiction of human trafficking. They announced that "the redhead" at the centre of the scene would now be armed, and the auction would be for things (guns and booty) rather than people. Strangely this became quite a debated issue, where people were taking this to mean that Disney was trying to "destroy" or "whitewash" one of it's early attrations. When the Disneyland Paris version of this ride re-opened, we got a taste for how this scene would now play out in the US parks. From my perspective this is a good change. I understand those that are nostalgic for the ride in it's original form, but people need to understand that ride has not existed for years. This ride has been updated in multiple ways, particularly since the success of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. It's never been a true depiction of what pirates were like either, so arguments to that effect are flawed as well. I think social change should impact parks that have long standing attractions. I'm not saying everything has to be It's a small world type peaches and cream, it's just that when an issue like human trafficking becomes much more part of the social consciousness, then vague depictions like this are much more easily interpreted. Once interpreted like this, one scene can be jarring inside a ride like this, especially for parents of young girls. So, in short I'm for the change, let's all move on.

Moving over to the Netherlands where super park Efteling have opened there much anticipated new trackless dark ride "Symbolica: Palace of Fantasy" on the first of July. The ride features Pardoes, one of the main characters for the park, who guides vistors through the hidden and enchanting parts of Hartenhof Castle. The ride has three separate tours which you can be taken on, which separate and come back together at various parts of the ride. It also has an interactive element with touch pads on the ride vehicles which control different parts of the ride. At 35 million Euro this represents the largest investment in Efteling's history and really is one of the most impressive dark rides to open in the last 10 years.

The biggest news stories of the last month MOSTLY came out of the D23 fan convention that was held in Anaheim two weeks ago. Even before the event started we were treated to an in depth look at the Star Wars Land model which teased the wonderful details of this land coming to Disneyland and Disney's Hollywood Studios very soon. We got even more details at the start of D23, when we learnt that this new land would be called Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, and that it would open in 2019 with the west coast version to open first.

Across from Disneyland at Disney California Adventure, they are getting a new Pixar Fest event and Paradise Pier will be rethemed to Pixar Pier. We also got our first official hints at the Marvel Superhero Universe themed area is currently in development for Disney California Adventure, which will have much more announced in the future.

On the east coast, and there is plenty happening at Disney's Hollywood Studios where Toy Story Land is opening in 2018, followed by Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge in 2019. The surprise news of the event was the brand new Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway to replace the Great Movie Ride at the centre of the park. But DHS isn't the only park set for a makeover with Epcot to be enhanced in phases, with first phase to be completed by 2022 for the 40th aniversary of the park. In World Showcase the France Pavilion is receiving a clone of Ratatouille from Walt Disney Studios Paris and the China Pavillion will be getting a new film to replace Reflections of China. In Future World Ellen's Energy Adventure is being replaced by a new E-ticket attraction themed to the Guardians of the Galaxy which we don't have any hard details about. Mission: Space to recieve a more kid friendly mission, the Green Mission, which will be an orbit of Earth featuring much greater sights and sounds. The new mission will debut in August. Mission: Space will now also feature a full-service restaurant where guests eat in space! Which will be awesome!

In Magic Kingdom,  a new theatre on main street modeled after the Willis Theater in 1920s Kansas City, and in 2021, Magic Kingdom will open Tron Lightcycle Power Run, in tomorrowland adjacent to Space Mountain, which is a clone from Shanghai Disneyland. But the biggest news for WDW was really outside the parks where Disney announced Star Wars luxury hotel coming to the Hollywood Studios resort area. This immersive hotel will be themed to a space craft in the Star Wars universe with each guest room having a view of space. There is also a new vacation club resort Disney Riviera Resort opening in the Epcot resort area. Some new transportation portions were also announced with
Disney's Minnie Van service to start operating as an Uber style point to point transport at a flat rate of $20 per trip. Also the rumoured Disney Skyliner, an aerial gondola system, was announced to connect the Epcot and Hollywood Studios areas. With stops at Epcot's International Gateway and the main gate of Disney's Hollywood Studios, in addition to Disney's Pop Century, Art of Animation, Caribbean Beach, and Riviera resorts.

Outside of the US the only real news from D23 was that Disneyland Paris to be home to the first Marvel-themed Resort.

Post D23 we've seen the re-opening of Fantasmic! and just this weekend, the re-opening of the Disneyland Railroad and the Rivers of America at Disneyland. At WDW, there has been an announcement that  "Grand Avenue" will open at Disney's Hollywood Studios. This will be themed to the Los Angeles street of the same name, and will put a touch of modern day California into the park.

Outside of Disney and D23 over at Universal Orlando, they have announced that they are closing the Dragon Challenge twin roller coasters to make way for a new attraction in the original Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure. Exactly what this will be is unclear but rumour has it that it could tie in to the Forbidden Forrest that surrounds Hogwarts.

So that is the news for a massive month of theme park news! Keep looking ahead though, as August 16th is National Roller Coaster day in the US, which is very likely to bring on announcements from Knott's Berry Farm, Silver Dollar City, Great America and King's Dominion.

That's it for this month's News Update. For more Theme Park coverage, follow me on Twitter @themeparknut. Until next time, Cheers!

Sunday 18 June 2017

The DC Rivals Hypercoaster: The Suicide Squad Theory

This week WB Movie Worl have FINALLY announced the name and theme of the up coming Hypercoaster; the DC Rivals Hypercoaster! Now we've known about this coaster for a long time so we already knew this was going to be the biggest, longest, pinkest  coaster in the country. The big reveal however was not just the theme of DC Rivals but also the fact that the back row of the ride will be reversed, so you can ride it backwards. 

What do I think of the theme? It's weak. Generic and bland in a park that usually is at l But I've got my own crackpot theory for why this theme exists. What do I think of the backwards ride? It's great but it's odd. It is our first Hypercoaster, it's going to be insanely popular, why add this feature for opening? Surely this could have been added after popularity had dipped 2-3 years in. Particularly since it affects capacity (the back two rows have been replaced with a single backwards facing row). Well good news, my crackpot theory covers that too.

Tinfoil hats everyone! Here we go:
I believe this coaster was originally going to be themed to the Suicide Squad. When we first heard about this coaster there was a strong suggestion it would be announced last September/October. There was industry buzz around before that time about the upcoming Suicide Squad movie. Then two things happened, first the horrible tragedy at Dreamworld where 4 people lost their lives. Secondly the Suicide Squad movie tanked, and tanked hard. Obviously even if the theme wasn't Suicide Squad, Movie World would have delayed announcing their coaster out of reapect. But I expected a pause for two or three months, since we could see construction starting. There was nothing. Maybe they were waiting to see the Suicide Squad be enough of a hit they could get away with the obvious lack of sensitivity. Think about this, a fuscia tracked coaster with a giant Joker face launching from the middle of their "Heroes" precinct? (Remember the villains are now relegated to the back of the park.) Smells like Suicide Squad to me!

No one in their right mind could try to sell a coaster with the word Suicide in the title, themed to a failed movie in this climate. So they had to retheme. But what about the pink track, the joker face and the hero location. It's not like the could drop a Flash or Wonderwoman theme on it without a bucket of cash. I imagine somewhere a Movie World executive is crying himself to sleep over not choosing Wonderwoman from the start. So that is why we have this brand new concept,  the DC Rivals. 

But by now everyone who cared knew it was a Hypercoaster, so people would notice that lack of theme straight off the bat. How do you distract the hardcore theme park nerds from a lack of theme? You can ride it backwards! Now maybe I'm reading too much into it and they always planned for backwards on open, but you've got to admit the Suicide Squad theory has legs. 

Let me know in the comments below if you think the DC Rivals is just some makeup on top of the Suicide Squad Coaster, or if I am crazy? Bonus question, why wouldn't Movie World build a Wonderwoman coaster?

Tuesday 13 June 2017

2016 Annual Attendance Data Review

So it is that time of year when the Annual TEA/AECOM Theme Index, is released! This report gives us a deep insight into the global theme park market, by listing out the attendance data for the top 25 Theme Parks. As in previous years, I've pulled out the data, and had a detailed study of it, and made my own conclusions.

If I was to summarize this years results very quickly, Universal maintains rapid growth, however Disney maintains it's mammoth lead. Paris is tanking badly, as is the Hong Kong market, but all points success for Shanghai. Let's take a look at a few pretty graphs.

If we look at the overall attendance graph, we see that the general trend for this year is very flat, if not slightly lower attendance. It's hard to pick out much out of this, so let's look at Disney and Universal separately and then some winners and losers.

It's a very flat year for Disney Parks, with two obvious exceptions. Disneyland Paris is really starting to nosedive, and Shanghai Disneyland had a strong debut. We'll come back to Paris in a second, but you should notice that Shanghai is just a fraction under Hong Kong Disneyland. That is despite Shanghai not being open for the full year. It opened on June 16, which means that it was only open for 54.25% of the year.  It this was extrapolated to a full year result, they would have just topped 10 Million (I calculated 10,323,232) would have put the park straight in between DCA and Animal Kingdom on this graph. I predict that next year we will see them around the DCA mark, which is pretty phenomenal for a new park. Let's take a look at the competition:

Universal is all about growth. Steady growth across the board, is great news for this chain. Only Singapore had a slight loss, but we must remember it is very different to the other Universal Parks. By that, I mean, no Harry Potter. I have left Magic Kingdom on this chart, only to show that while these parks keep growing, there is a long way to go. USJ, one of our biggest Big Winners, still needs to grow by a THIRD of it's current size, to catch up to Magic Kingdom.

The Biggest winners are really the 4 Universal Parks, but it is definitely worth mentioning Lotte World and Chimelong Ocean Kingdom who had incredible years. While parts of Asia flourished, other parts fizzled:

Hong Kong was a big loser this year. It's two big parks both had major losses in 2016, but this isn't surprising. Hong Kong had a large tourism problem last year as it's currency is pegged to the US Dollar which was rising, while the Chinese economy slowed, which mean that Hong Kong was very unattractive to local Chinese tourists.  As for Sea World Florida and Disneyland Paris, these are parks with well documented image problems at the moment, that don't seem to be going away any time soon.

If we look the the overall Growth graph, we can see the main pattern is almost a direct reversal of 2015. Most of the parks that were up in 2015 were down in 2016 and vice versa. If we look just at Disney:

It's a very flat year. The little improvements of 2015 are very much flattened out.

Universal's growth is certainly more positive. While there is slowing growth at the Florida parks, there is still an improvement going on here. The hardest thing about looking at these graphs is that individual years can have a lot of variation, even due to things like the weather. So it pays to look at a more long term growth chart. So here is how Disney is growing over 5 year averages:

You can see most of the parks are averaging between 0 and 5 percent attendance growth, which I think is a good achievement! Until you compare it to Universal:

Universal (if you discount Singapore) only have one in that 0-5% range, while the 3 main Studio parks are all averaging around 5-12% growth, which is extraordinary!

But I don't want Universal to get to far ahead of itself:

This graph shows the average attendance per park at the multi-park resorts. For me this just illustrates how far Universal have to come to pass Disney. The Tokyo, WDW and Disneyland Resort all average around 14-15 Million guests per park, while Universal Orlando is just started to crest 10 Million. This is a lot more quests over a lot of parks, which just goes to show that while Universal is making up ground at the moment, there is no foreseeable reason why Disney shouldn't be the leading theme park operator for many years to come.

Saturday 27 May 2017

News Update - End of May 2017

It's been pretty much the biggest month in the US theme park industry for the last few years, and to be perfectly honest for personal/professional reasons, I've been sitting on the sidelines. No excuses, time for a news update to round up all the thing that have happened over the last few weeks of May 2017.

Pandora: The World of Avatar
Over the last month we have seen the previews, soft opening and finally the dedication of Disney's single biggest investment on a single land at WDW resort: Pandora: The World of Avatar. The land is Disney's response to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter,  and their first real attempt to match that level of immersion. And it is spectatular. Anchored by two new rides, the Na'vi River Journey and Flight of Passage, the land sets a new standard for theming in a Disney park. The bulk of the criticism around this land is about the relvance of Avatar as an I.P., and how well it thematically fits into Animal Kingdom. It's always going to be hard to match perennial behemoth of Potter for relevance  (except if you are Star Wars). The real question is whether people will want to visit Pandora. For now the answer appears to be a resounding yes, but for an investment this large we will only know for sure in 5-10 years time.

Volcano Bay
I dont usually cover water parks on this blog, but when Universal Orlando claim it as a 3rd gate, I have to make an exception. Volcano Bay is described by Universal as a water theme park, and it certainly has pretty comprehensive theme with a standalone I.P.  This park has both started it's previews and opened in the last week. And it looks pretty cool! I'm taken with the layout, organization and theme more than the slides,  like I said I'm not one for water parks. This is much more than a replacement for Wet 'n' Wild, which Universal closed at the end of last year. However, with a sudden hard opening on a park full of innovations there are going to be some problems. The biggest for Volcano Bay have been issues with the TapuTapu virtual queuing system. But all in all it looks like another great success for Universal. Is it worthy being considered the 3rd gate of Universal Orlando? No. Will I keep covering it on this blog? About as much as I cover Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon. For me a well themed water park, is still just a water park.

Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: Breakout!
Over on the west coast, Disney California Adventure opened it's latest attraction Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: Breakout. I would have called it a brand new attraction, but of course it isn't new at all. This ride is a complete re skin, inside and out, of the Tower of Terror. You can see a number of
reviews and POVs online now thwt show how th ride system has been repurposed quite successfully for the Marvel universe. Now doubt it'll popular short-term , but again it's the medium term which should be the test for this I.P.

In other news while all these openings have happened :
- Happily Ever After fireworks debuted at Magic Kingdom
- First attendance reports from Dubai Parks and Resorts are disappointing
- SeaWorld has expanded it's license for Sesame Street
- Halloween Horror Nights have announced a house based on Stephen King's The Shining

That's it for this month's News Update. For more Theme Park coverage, follow me on Twitter @themeparknut. Until next time, Cheers!

Monday 1 May 2017

News Update - 1st May 2017

As I said in my Pandora update, it's been a couple of weeks since my last update, and even though it hasn't been a super busy period, there is plenty to cover. So here is another Theme Park Nut News Update.

Earlier in the month Disneyland Paris celebrated its 25th anniversary. We detailed some of the additions to the park for the celebration last month, so you can check that our if you wish. Staying in Europe, Efteling has announced that there brand new dark ride Symbolica will be opening on the 1st of July. This highly anticipated dark ride looks like it will be an absolute gem, and a great addition to a park that is already known for it's dark rides.

Sea World Orlando has announced plans for a new River Rapids ride in 2018. This park continues its transformation towards a "thrill and animal" park, rather than purely an animal park, as it struggles to survive in a crowded Orlando market.

At Universal Orlando, it was announced a couple of weeks back that Island's of Adventure would hold a new night time seasonal show for Christmas projected onto Hogwarts Castle. This area of the park is already a site to behold at Christmas, and it's perfectly suited to Christmas celebrations, so this makes a lot of sense for Universal. On the other coast Universal Studios Hollywood reported a 60% jump in attendance compared to last year, due to the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (despite the Easter holiday period falling into the second quarter this year unusually).

For all the ultra-rich followers, Club 33, the exclusive members only club at Disneyland, is now coming to Walt Disney World in Orlando. There are no details as to where this Club will be based, but you can expect a pretty extravagant (and expensive!) restaurant to be opening sometime in the next 2-3 years. But most of us, will never see it.

Also at WDW (and much more relevant), is that we got a whole lot more details about Star Wars land as this year's Star Wars celebration kicked off in Orlando. Most particularly we heard that the land is going to be based around an outer-rim space port on the edge of the unknown region. The other major bit of information was that there will be some level of user control in the Millennium Falcon ride, and that guests will be treated different by the in-land characters on the basis of their performance on this ride. Disney is really betting on the kind of deep immersion that has been popular with the Potter franchise at Universal, so let's hope they can pull this off in Disney style.

Probably the most exciting for me this month was movement of one of the projects that has been rumored for a couple of months. Last week contractors were named to build a Gondola transportation system between Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios and two resort areas (the Caribbean Beach and Art of Animation resorts). While it's no monorail, this will add plenty of transport capacity between these resort locations, which is great for those planning future trips to one of those resorts (Go Art of Animation!!).

And 'tis the season to open the new Dining Plan Off-season offers for this year, which can be a major saving for people that can take advantage of this offer.

And don't forget that this month we also will start seeing the soft-opening and previews of Pandora: The World of Avatar at Disney's Animal Kingdom.

At Disneyland Resort in California, we got the first sneak peak inside the Collector's Fortress, as details of the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout ride come out. There is no question that it looks cool, but I want to see in 5 years time whether it is going to be as popular as the Tower of Terror was (it might well be, since the sequel to GotG looks like it's going to be a big hit).

Over the road as Disneyland itself, Pirates of the Caribbean celebrated the opening of the latest Pirates movie by have Johnny Depp doing a shift as Captain Jack Sparrow. This would have been a pretty unique treat for the park goers, as he was not only greeting guests outside the park, but also did a stint inside the attraction. Very interesting stunt, but still just a stunt.

Tokyo Disneyland is preparing for it's 35th anniversary. Highlights include the return of the It's a Small World ride, along with the normal anniversary stables, a new daytime parade, and a new nighttime projection show.

Tokyo DisneySea this week opened up their new ride re-theme, the Nemo and Friends Sea Rider, which replaces the Stormrider 4D attraction. This Pixar retheme shrinks guests down to Nemo size for an ocean adventure that looks like a lot of fun.

Over in Abu Dhabi, we got the first concept art of Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi park, which for Australians, this is Movie World on steriods. It features a similar set of IP's as the Australian park (DC Comics, Looney Tunes, Scooby Doo), but with (seemingly) a much larger canvas to paint upon.

That's it for this week's News Update. For more Theme Park coverage, follow me on Twitter @themeparknut. Until next time, Cheers!

Sunday 30 April 2017

Special News Update - Pandora - 30th April 2017

It's been a couple of weeks since I've done a proper news update. I have been wrapped up with a new real life work project, and sadly haven't had time. However, I cannot ignore the media preview of Pandora - The World of Avatar that happened at Disney's Animal Kingdom today. So here is an update with a bunch of interesting stuff from this Orlando expansion.

Obviously, SPOILERS. If you don't want to see anything about this new land, look away now.

Firstly, the animatronics that have been added for this new land are amazing, but also a bit frightening:

And if you've got 15 minutes and want to see where she fits in, here is a POV from Inside the Magic:

The other major ride to open is the Flight of Passage, which I've seen today as a cross between Soarin' and the Tower of Terror, so it will be interesting to see more about this, but we have seen another incredibly detailed Queue, with a massive "Avatar" animatronic:

As of yet, we haven't seen a POV of Flight of Passage, I'm sure that will appear (even given the rough nature of the ride) over the next month as the previews and soft opens occur. But this land is as much about the place than these two rides, So if you want to just look at the immersive environment they have build, So it's worth taking a look around:

And if you haven't heard the word Bioluminescence enough yet...

... it looks even better at night (which is apparently not fully operational).

And of course, no new land is complete without food, so here is a preview of the Satu'li Canteen:

 For all your shopping needs, pop over to Windtraders:

If you want a summary from one of the lucky media people that was able to tour the site today, check out this article in the Orlando Sentinel from Sarah Pedicini. Pandora: The World of Avatar opens May 27th at Disney's Animal Kingdom.

Saturday 8 April 2017

News Update - 9th April 2017

Starting this week in Spain (something I rarely say), this week saw the opening of Ferrari Land at Port Aventura World! This second gate for the resort now contains Europe's fastest and tallest ride, Big Red. The ride has made viral news this week, not just for it's opening, but for the bizarre footage of a rider being struck by a bird.

In Orlando, Universal has officially opened the Race through New York starrring Jimmy Fallon. This ride had been soft opened for a few weeks, but this marked the opening ceremony. It also included a great moment where Jimmy Fallon and the Rock dressed up as themselves as mascots, and pranked fans around Universal Orlando.

For U.S. residents, Disney has announced a Twitter and Instagram competition for the opening of the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie, where winner will get win a trip on a Disney Cruise and a trip to Walt Disney World. Details on the Disney parks blog.

After "disappointing" attendance results in the last week, Tokyo Disney redirected attention this week with a groundbreaking ceremony for their 2020 Fantasyland expansion. The expansion will include a Beauty and the Beast sub-land with a brand new dark ride. 2020 is the year that Tokyo will host the Summer Olympics (and rival Universal will open their Super Nintendo land).

At home, Dreamworld opened the first Australian Jelly Belly store on Main Street yesterday. Check out Dreamworld on Instagram for a tonne of photos.

That's it for this week's News Update. For more Theme Park coverage, follow me on Twitter @themeparknut. Until next time, Cheers!

Sunday 2 April 2017

News Update - 2nd April 2017

It's April! Can you believe it? Let's get into another Theme park news update for the first week of April 2017!

The biggest news stories this week, come out of Paris and Japan. Firstly in Paris, Disneyland Paris started it's 25th anniversary celebrations this week! They celebrated by adding a couple of new shows; the "Mickey Presents: Happy Anniversary, Disneyland Paris" and "The Starlit Princess Waltz". The also debuted a new parade, "Disney Stars On Parade" and new nighttime show "Disney Illuminations".

In Japan yesterday saw the opening of LEGOLAND JAPAN! If you jump onto you can see an absolute TONNE of videos and photos from the opening day of this little park. Honestly, I'm totally jealous of this. Legoland Parks are super fun little parks, and I have a theory that one day they will be the first of the major chains to open in Australia, but until then we will have to survive by looking at the overseas parks (and perhaps visiting the Legoland Discovery Centre, that is opening in Melbourne later in the year).

Over in Orlando, Universal has some anger pointed towards it this week as it  announced the new 3-Park Annual Passes, and upgrade options for their upcoming water park Volcano Bay (I refuse to call this a Theme Park, even though it looks great!). Currently annual park holders are apparently outraged that they have to pay to get access to this park. Honestly, these people they were going to get to enter this water park for free? People baffle me. Often Annual Park holders are paying significantly less per day than day pass people, so I'm not sure why that should give you some kind of golden ticket to new things outside what you have paid for. Anyway!

Staying with Universal, it seems Halloween Horror Nights is now pretty much a year round news machine. This week we found out that American Horror Story was returning to Universal Orlando's HHN in September this year. This isn't really surprising, it's pretty much the perfect franchise for this event.

Controversial Sea World Orlando this week closed their long time Dolphin Show Blue Horizons, which was then followed the next day by opening their brand new Dolphin Show Dolphin Days. Apparently the new show is designed to be more educational less entertainment than the previous show, which is a pointer to the way that public opinion has changed in the last 10 years about animal based theme parks.

Over at Walt Disney World, security at Magic Kingdom is changing, in that the security check points are being back to the entrance of the ferry and Monorail terminals. This effectively puts the Monorail loop inside the secure zone, which mirrors a similar move at Disneyland Resort, which moved the security checks to the Car Park and hotel entrances, which effectively put all of Downtown Disney into the secure zone. It's unclear whether these changes are in response to a specific threat, however I must admit the more security at Disney Parks, the better, in my opinion. These parks are such obvious targets as symbols of wealth and decadence, as well as being highly populated, so I have no qualms with having to go through multiple security checks if that is what has to happen.

Also at WDW, we've seen a response from Disney's water parks over the upcoming Volcano Bay upcoming Tapu Tapu virtual queuing devices. Disney's response is essentially the old school FastPass, but now in temporary wrist band form. It's interesting that this hasn't incorporated Magic Band technology (perhaps it isn't water proof??). Regardless, anytime that Universal is putting pressure on Disney, I'm excited!

Finally at Disneyland Resort, the Main Street Electrical Parade has extended it's temporary run through to August 20, effectively finishing the American Summer. This will hopefully spread the crowd for this parade, particularly as the previous finishing date had limited time for the Annual Pass members that were not blocked out.

Over in Europe, we've seen the second biggest park on the continent Europa Park, has opened for it's summer season. Along with it is a number of new features, as can be seen in videos that have been added to Youtube this week (I say videos, just because they do multiple of these in different languages. Particularly of note for me is the brand new Voletarium flying theatre ride, which looks awesome (a Soarin' clone, but still awesome!). Voletarium is said to be "almost ready to open", with a massive 21 meter screen.

In the UK, we have had a review this week of the re-launch of Derren Brown's Ghost Train attraction at Thorpe Park by This attraction looks much improved over the previous version of the attraction, and looks like it's going to scare the pants off a lot of people.

At home in Australia, Dreamworld this week is about to open up (on the 8th of April) a new Jelly Belly Store. The store is inside the park, next to the in-park entrance for the Lego Store, on Main Street, just in time for the Easter School Holidays. This is a welcome bit of good news for the Gold Coast parks, as this week all 3 major parks (Dreamworld, Movie World and Sea World) all had to close on Thursday last week after low pressure system following Tropical Cyclone Debbie, came down the coast. Thankfully the parks themselves were spared any major damage, and were able to open on Friday. Unfortunately the surrounding areas of Logan and the Gold Coast were not so lucky, with large amounts of damage from the storms and the subsequent flooding. The flood waters peaked yesterday (Saturday), and further north in Rockhampton the flood waters are expect to peak on next Wednesday (a week after the storm hit that region) which gives you an idea about the massive amount of water that has been dumped on Queensland this week. Hopefully we get back to our clear skies soon, and can stay that way for a little while.

That's it for this week's News Update. For more Theme Park coverage, follow me on Twitter @themeparknut. Until next time, Cheers!

Saturday 25 March 2017

News Update - 26th March 2017

Starting in WDW this week, at Disney's Hollywood Studios a new show has been added to the roster at night in the Theater of the Stars. The awkwardly named The Music of Pixar LIVE!: A Symphony of Characters will feature a live orchestra playing Pixar movie hits, which are numerous these days.

Over at Disney's Animal Kingdom reservations have opened (and reportedly sold out) for the DVC previews for Pandora from May 13-22. We've also had details about the ordering process at the restaurant in Pandora. The Satu'li Canteen will be the first at WDW to support mobile ordering through the My Disney Experience app. We are seeing more details coming out about this land as the WDW marketing machine winds up,  this week was all about creating "real" environments.

At Universal Orlando Resort, we've had it confirmed that the Wet'n'Wild site, which closed last year, will be converted into 4000 hotel rooms. There is definitely a need for more onsite accommodation, so this seemed like the obvious use of this land.

A few weeks ago we talked about Shanghai Disneyland having a problem with scalping of Fastpasses. This week we've seen Disney add a new paid Fastpass program called Premier Access. For as little as US$10, a fastpass for one of the big 7 attractions can be purchased effectively cutting out scalpers and increasing profit.

Staying in China, the Zhonghong group has bought a 21% share in SeaWorld from the Blackstone group (who previously part owned Universal Orlando). It's not clear what action the group plans to take, but I would expect given their current operating issues these parks would not have been heavily expensive.

At home, a fan made video has popped up online this week with a rendering of the upcoming Movie World hypercoaster. It's worth noting that there are a lot of assumptions made in this rendering, so we definitely can't consider it real. But it is definitely cool!

We also got confirmation this week of the colour of this coaster, as the first track pieces were spotted. To my personal surprise the new coaster is going to be pink. Bets are still being made as to the theme of this coaster. I had expected either Wonder woman  (Blue and Red) or Flash (Red and Yellow). So pink has me scratching my head for sure. Time will tell!!

That's it for this week's News Update. For more Theme Park coverage, follow me on Twitter @themeparknut. Until next time, Cheers!

Saturday 4 March 2017

News Update - 19th March 2017

Its been almost three weeks since my last update. Life can be overwhelming! Sorry about that! On to a long news update!

One of the strangest Theme Park stories this week was an English mum who set up GoFundMe page for a trip to Walt Disney World. Now this wasn't illegal but the GoFundMe has morphed into largely a charitable fundraising platform, rather than the personal fundraising platform it started as, so acts like this are now poor form.  Personally  I don't have a problem with people doing this. I won't pay for your holiday, but i won't stop you asking. Anyway!

At Walt Disney World itself, it was announced earlier this month that the Cirque Du Soliel show La Nouba which has a permanent residence at Disney Springs, is due to close at the end of the year. Nothing has yet been announced as the replacement, but I really hope that it is another Cirque show.

The focus at WDW has turned to Animal Kingdom where we've seen more details released on Pandora: The World of Avatar. While I'm excited for this, if I hear the word bioluminescence much more I'm going to scream. If you are interested you can see everything we know about Pandora here. We also saw the full opening of Rivers of Life nighttime show.

At Universal Orlando, the Race through New York featuring Jimmy Fallon soft opened earlier this month. Theme Park Insider had a review of this new attraction, showing that this ride is much more than just another flying cinema ride.

Going further north, Busch Gardens Williamsburg announced this week they are adding US's first VR Motion Simulator. We've seen many VR coasters in the last year but this is the first specialist VR attraction being constructed during this new VR boom. So it'll be good to see what it's like!

At Disneyland Star Wars fans are getting pretty excited as two Imperial AT-AT Walkers under construction. They also celebrated the 50th anniversary of Pirates of the Caribbean this week.

If you can't wait for Star Wars Land, Legoland California has expanded it's  Star Wars miniland to include new scenes from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. These look seriously cool but no doubt you all know that I love Lego and Star Wars.

Outside of the US, Efteling in the Netherlands is deep in construction of its 4th dark ride Symbolica at the moment and this week gave a sneak peak of the ride vehicles.

At home, Movie World has released the second in their series of Ride Safety videos, which detailed why rides have emergency stops. The video was even picked up by Theme Park Insider! Of course they say what we've been saying for a while, E-Stops are a necessary evil in a well designed attraction.

That's it for this week's News Update . For more Theme Park coverage, follow me on Twitter @themeparknut. Until next time, Cheers!

Thursday 2 March 2017

News Update - 2nd March 2017

It's time for another Theme Park Nut New Update.

Just the other week, while talking about Disney buying out Paris resort, we mentioned that Universal's owners Comcast had bought out a controlling 51% share of the Universal Studios Japan Resort. Well this week, Comcast bought out the remaining 49%! This can only be good news for USJ as the resort continues to thrive over the next few years leading up to the Tokyo Olympics.

At Disneyland Resort, we also saw this week the opening of the Red Rose Tavern, the temporary Beauty and the Beast overlay of Village Haus. From all reports, there were ridiculous queues and they did sell out of "The Grey Stuff" at least once. Interesting that the Grey Stuff in Disneyland is different to the Grey Stuff in WDW. Anyway, if you want a review of a number of the dishes (including the Grey Stuff) then check out Theme Park Insider.

Also at Disneyland this week, we've seen a change in policy over marking space before the daily parades. The new rule is, that you can't save space before the parade route is marked out, and that if you don't stay in your space, you lose it. This has a lot to do with the changes to the night time entertainment at the park, and it is probably just preventative before the situation got much worse.

I don't know if this is news or not, but some prominent French politicians went to Disneyland Paris to have pot shots at Donald Trump over his continued rubbishing of France. Fair enough too!

And because it's never to early to start thinking about Halloween, Universal Orlando announced the date for this years Halloween Horror Nights. The event will be on for 34 nights starting from September 15.

At home, Movie World have the released the first in their short series of videos on Safety and Maintenance. You can watch the video on YouTube and Facebook, and it's really good to see a bit of behind the scenes information. Interesting choice to have Green Lantern Coaster in the first video, given the incident that occurred on this ride 2 years ago.

All of this comes in response to last year's fatal incident at Dreamworld, which this week was reported to have cost the park $95.4 million dollars. In the half yearly results, the park reported that attendance is down 27 percent.

That's it for this week's News Update . For more Theme Park coverage, follow me on Twitter @themeparknut. Until next time, Cheers!

Tuesday 21 February 2017

News Update - 23rd February 2017

It's time for another week's news update!

Last week we told you about Disney theme park tickets going up. This week it's Universal's turn! Universal Orlando raised 1 day single park tickets to US$110. The OCRegister this week did an article on whether the Tickets and Passes for Disneyland and WDW represent "good value" for the entertainment they deliver. This is genuinely subjective, but it's hard to expect the recent rises are going to have any effect on the number of people through the gates, so I suggest they still are good value.

Over at Walt Disney World, we've seen interesting rumors about the return (in a way) of a previous attraction the Skyway. However it won't be an attraction in a park like the original Skyway, the rumor says it will be a park-to-park transportation that might link up the International Gateway rear-entrance of Epcot to the Studios park. That would be an awesome addition, as one of the biggest problem in WDW is the ability to park hop quickly!

At the same time this week, we heard that Disney's Hollywood Studios could be adding a BB-8 meet and greet sometime this April, which would be super cool!!

Over at Universal Orlando, there has been very quiet testing of a new technology in conjunction with their Express Pass system, Face Recognition. The system they call "Photo Validation Technology", is being tested in a couple of locations, and good help aid with Pass security within the park!

Theme Park Insider reports this week on another new phenomenon (for theme parks at least) that has started at Shanghai Disneyland, ticket scalping. The tickets being sold in this case, are FastPass tickets, which can then be used to see an attraction faster than the standby queue. The process seems awfully complicated, they need to get a family worth of passes, and then you have to go on the ride with the scalper pretending to be part of his family, however it doesn't breach any rules strictly. No doubts Disney will attempt to stamp out this from happening as soon as they can, but in such a big popular park (over 1 million visitors per month!!) it will be hard to change quickly!

In Dubai this week, apparently the Cloudy with a Change of Meatballs River Expedition opened at MotionGate Dubai, however I haven't yet heard from anyone who has ridden it. If you follow Theme Park Insider this week, you would have also seen an interview with Mycotoo, one of the designers of the MotionGate Dubai theme park.

Over in Germany, Movie Park Germany (which for the Australians reading started life as an almost exact clone of Warner Brother's Movie World), provided a sneak peak at their new attraction, a triple launching MACK coaster themed to the Star Trek series. Star Trek: Operation Enterprise will open for the park for their summer season, however it isn't yet clear whether it will have much more than a name to represent the Star Trek theme. Star Trek has always been a little bit of an awkward IP for theme parks, so it will be interesting to see if this attraction will draw much interest for this German park.

That's it for this week's News Update . For more Theme Park coverage, follow me on Twitter @themeparknut. Until next time, Cheers!

Friday 17 February 2017

News Update - 16th February 2017

It's been a short week since my last news update, so let's jump into a short theme park nut news update!

Firstly, ticket prices are going up at Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World. This seems to happn 3 or 4 times a year at the moment, so no one is really surprised.

At Disneyland Resort we had an announcement this week of the opening date for the new Guardians of the Galaxy ride at Disney California Adventure. Mission - Breakout, the re-theming of the Tower of Terror, will open on May 27th. This is the same day that Walt Disney World is opening Pandora at Disney's Animal Kingdom.

Staying on the West Coast, Disneyland also announced this week that the Village Haus restaurant is getting a temporary Beauty and the Beast overlay for the opening of the live action Beauty and the Beast movie. While it's definitely not a clone of Be Our Guest, it has been reported they will be serving the grey stuff. If you are in the area, try the grey stuff; it's delicious (or so I've been told).

Up the road at Knott's Berry Farm various park icons are turning pink for a cure for Breast Cancer. Supreme Scream and the Calico Mine Ride will be lit pink up until March 5th to support  Susan G. Komen Orange County. Check out the Knott's website for ways that you can support this worthy cause!

This week there was a Fire in the park structure at Disneyland Resort. Thankfully no one was injured and the blaze was quickly put out. This made it totally okay for @disneylandcats to post the tweet:
In Australia, protest this week interrupted the Dolphin show at Sea World on the Gold Coast. While I can understand the point that they were making, that no animals should be in captivity, I think that they are a bit misguided targeting our Sea World park, which has reasonably large facilities (by international standards) for their Dolphins, and has a record of assisting and rehabilitation local marine life. Personally I think that Zoos and Marine parks that do a good job of looking after their animals have a positive effect on the environment by increasing public awareness and empathy for these animals. That is my personal opinion only, and I understand not all will agree.

That's it for this week's News Update . For more Theme Park coverage, follow me on Twitter @themeparknut. Until next time, Cheers!

Friday 10 February 2017

News Update - 11th February 2017

Well it's a little late, but better late than never. Here is another Theme Park Nut News Update.

The big news this week is all about opening dates! We have had two massive pieces of news out of WDW this week, where we go an official opening date for Pandora: The World of Avatar, and (perhaps more excitingly) we have finally got at timeline for Star Wars land at Disney's Hollywood Studios. Pandora will open to the public on May 26th (the day after Volcano Bay!) but it is expected it might soft open in the weeks leading up to that date. For me, Star Wars land is the more exciting project, and we found out this week that is due to be opened in 2019, which for Disney is actually pretty rapid. Disney traditionally moves at a snails pace with new development, while this isn't exactly rapid, it's probably a year sooner than a lot of theme park enthusiasts were predicting. 

And to add to the opening date news, Disney announced that Rivers of Light at Disney's Animal Kingdom will finally open on February 17th, of this year! This was scheduled to open April last year, but has been delayed multiple time for production reasons. This week we were treated to a preview, which you can watch online, of the new show which looks really impressive.

At the Magic Kingdom the long running Wishes firework show will be ending on May 11. A new night time show Happily Ever After will start on the next night May 12th. Wishes had been running at the Magic Kingdom since 2003, when it replaced the original fireworks show Fantasy in the Sky which started in 1971. WDW released a teaser for the new show on YouTube this week.

This week the Madri Gras celebrations started for this year at Universal Orlando, with it's usual bluster and fun. The event runs through to March 23rd.

Universal Orlando announced this week a deal up until the end of May, which gives 2 free days (within a week) when booking a 2 day pass. This gives an added incentive to visit the parks right up until the opening of the new water park Volcano Bay on May 25th. Entry to Volcano Bay is not included for this deal, but the fact that it overlaps with the opening period suggests that crowds at the resort that week are going to be very large! We also saw a little bit more detail this week on the Tapu Tapu devices, which will be used for queuing inside the brand new water park. Theme Park Insider did an article comparing the Tapu Tapu device and their capabilities with the Magic Bands used an competitor WDW. There is a little doubt that the new devices will be great in the water park, but so far they don't have the wide reaching capabilities of the Magic Bands. It will be interesting to see how these devices go when the park opens in May.

Over in Universal Studios Japan, planning and construction is starting on the Super Nintendo World, which will open in the park in 2019. This week Theme Park Insider, had a chat to the Creative Director of USJ Steve Tatham about everything Nintendo. While he couldn't leak anything about the project that hadn't already been a approved by PR, it is a great little interview that shows just how serious Universal are about this Nintendo world, which is awesome news!

Over in Paris, Disney has made a play for complete ownership of the Disneyland Paris Resort, by buying a share of the parent company back from a Saudi prince, taking their ownership up to 87.5% of the entity. They also offered a reasonable share offer for the remaining shares, in the hopes of getting full control of the resort. The last movement like this by a major chain occurred in Japan, where Universal's owners Comcast, bought out the remaining shares of the USJ resort to take full ownership. They then followed this up by investing pretty heavily in the resort, which has shown very high attendance over the last few years. Let's hope that the Walt Disney Company wants to re-invest in Disneyland Paris Resort.

In the strangest news this week, there was a major drug bust on the grounds of the Legoland Windsor resort in the UK. The plants and equipment where found in a derelict shack, outside the boundary of the park (but still on land that is owned by Merlin, which owners), by maintenance staff and then reported to the police. To make things even more confusing the Legoland park is very close to Windsor Castle, which is the royal residence of the Queen and her family. It was stated in the article that this derelict shack was not accessible from the Legoland park, and could only be accessed from Crown land (meaning land owned by the Royal family/State). Who knows what that really means, but funny news none the less!

In Australian news, has had a brutal shut down of the Gold Coast Bulletin, for it's reporting of badly researched and incorrect information about the upcoming Hypercoaster at Movie World on the Gold Coast. In a week where fake news, and real journalism was a focus of mainstream news, with the suggestion that "real" news can only be reported by journalist, it's nice to see a the enthusiast community calling out professional journalist for failing to report true and accurate information. Let's be clear, the Hypercoaster is going to be massive, but it will NOT be taller than Dreamworld's Tower of Terror.

That's it for this week's News Update . For more Theme Park coverage, follow me on Twitter @themeparknut. Until next time, Cheers!

Thursday 2 February 2017

News Update - 2nd February 2017

It's time for another week's News Update!

Last Friday, at Dreamworld on the Gold Coast we saw yet another ride incident make the headlines with an E-Stop on Giant Drop hours after it's reopening  Riders were stuck at the top for a period of about 5 minutes, as a safety sensor was tripped. No riders were in any danger at any point during the incident.

We are now at a stage that no matter the what the nature of the ride incident at an Australian park, it is going to make the news. This is somewhat understandable for the general public given last years tragedy, but can be frustrating to theme park enthusiasts who understand a safe Emergency Stop is actually a good thing. This is the ride operating as desired, with safety sensors functioning as you would want; detecting an anomaly and shutting down the ride. An emergency stop is designed to stop an accident from occurring, so each time on of those happens, and the riders are safely and easily removed from a ride, this should be good news! followed up this week's incident with on an article about how safe Theme Park Rides are, and of course the answer is they are very safe. You are far more likely to be killed by being struck by lightning, than you are being INJURED on ride (let alone killed).

Just to show a different perspective on the issue, this week Theme Park Insider showcased some memorable breakdowns. It's true that a lot of Theme Park fans treasure the unique experience of a ride evacuation, and (as long as no one is hurt) they often make for great stories.

In Orlando, Walt Disney World has finally announced that July 2nd would be the closing day of DisneyQuest. It was announce, almost two years ago, that the "indoor Theme Park" was going to be replaced with a basketball themed restaurant and bar called the NBA Experience. There is no word yet on when the NBA Experience might open.

Across town this week at Universal Orlando, thousand of Harry Potter fans gathered to take part in the annual Harry Potter Celebration. This years celebration was made all the more poignant, with the passing of John Hurt, who played wand-maker Ollivander in the Harry Potter film series, only a few days before the event. There was a touching moment when a number of fans raised their wand's outside the Ollivander's in tribute to the late actor.

In slight more off beat news this week, a patent application has been uncovered this week from the Disney company of a trackless ride where the ride itself responds to emotional queues from riders. What Theme Park Insider have dubbed, the emotional roller coaster, responds to bio-metric sensors and cameras tracking the rider, and the ride or entertainment responds using "emotion/attention determination software" to give an enhanced ride experience. This really is a fascinating idea, where a ride could respond to you, or change the ride experience depending on what you think or feel. Imagine being able to alter a ride like the Tower of Terror, which has random drop sequences, so that the way the drop sequence play out responds to how the occupants of the ride are feeling.

And finally in some good news from Dreamworld this week, Saturday saw them open their brand new Lego Store. The first official Lego brand store opened on the edge of the park, with access from both inside and outside the park. The store is anchored by 10 life-size LEGO models including several 'Dreamworld-inspired' models including a tiger, koala and didgeridoo. Dreamworld CEO Craig Davidson said it was hard not to be happy with the turnout to the opening day, with a queues "out the door and into the carpark".

That's it for this week's News Update . For more Theme Park coverage, follow me on Twitter @themeparknut. Until next time, Cheers!