Thursday, July 23, 2015

4.12- Drew Must Die

Joe, Nick, and Sean join forces to battle the evils of Universal third park rumors, talk Star Wars plans, Sapphire Falls news, and then answer your listener questions.

Email us at parkscopeblog at gmail dot com or follow us at ParkscopeParkscopeJoeCaptMichael87ParkscopeNick, and/or Parkscope_Sean.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Rumor: Land Acquisition? Maybe Something, Probably Nothing

UPDATE: The following is wrong. It was not a land purchase, but more shell games from the owner of the land. It looks like he mortgaged himself some money to begin building on the land. Nothing more. No bearing on theme parks whatsoever.

Okay, I kind of fought myself with this, but I guess it's better to get it out there and let the people who can figure this out get the info. I have no idea if this is anything noteworthy or just another new developer trying to snatch up some prime land, but here we go.

On Monday, documents filed with the Orange County Comptroller indicated that a portion of the old land that Universal, then owned by Vivendi, once considered its next step in Orlando before being sold to a developer in 2003, had been bought by a company named AFF Universal. AFF Universal is what looks to be nothing more than a shell company, as it was only created at the end of last month. They paid 27 million for the property, so they shelled out a decent amount.

Again, I have no idea if this is anything of substance, but I thought it deserved mention. We'll keep you updated on any pertinent developments.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

4.11- Mikey Actually Likes It

Joe, Mike, and Nick congress to discuss Portofino Bay, menu changes at UOR, hotel mini-bars, and then spend a ton of time talking about Shanghai Disneyland announcements. Also Joe has an Uh-Oa during the episode.

Email us at parkscopeblog at gmail dot com or follow us at ParkscopeParkscopeJoeCaptMichael87ParkscopeNick, and/or Parkscope_Sean.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

4.10- Throw a Cow at Them

Joe, Mike, and Brian from are joined by the one, the only Jim Hill to discussion Disney's Hollywood Studios make over and closures, Star Wars, Toy Story Playland, Epcot changes, Illuminations replacement, Jurassic World, Marvel, Nintendo, and more.

Email us at parkscopeblog at gmail dot com or follow us at ParkscopeParkscopeJoeParkscopeMikeParkscopeNick, and/or Parkscope_Sean.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Disney's Quest for The Future of Theme Parks

The future of Disney Parks tried to jump start in 1998, not in 2014 with MyMagic+. And it dies in 2016.

Chuck and Nolan looking good in 1978. Photo from SF Gate
In the late 1970s Atari founder Nolan Bushnell planned on offering a family friendly location to experience his games compared to the bowling allies, pool halls, and bars they currently existed. Bushnell focused on a family dining establishment that served a cheap to make, long time to serve (so guests spend more money), kid friendly food option: pizza. In 1977 the first Chuck E Cheese opened and quickly expanded into a 1980s cultural institution.

Taking the concept in a teenage to young adult direction, Sega opened several Sega City and SegaWorld locations throughout the world. Here teens and young adults played the latest Sega games in clean, modern arcade environments. As the space grew Sega partnered with Universal Studios and Dreamworks SKG to develop GameWorks, an experimental alcoholic, dining, and game entertainment complex. The first location opened in 1997 and currently has half a dozen locations open.

Photo from AllEars.Net
In the mid 1990s Disney was looking to expand beyond the Orlando and Anaheim properties in the USA and considered regional theme park and resort projects in Virginia and Long Beach. While a theme park would need to service a large metropolitan, a smaller location taking up one city block could be supported by one city. Taking inspiration from the models set by SegaWorld and GameWorks, Disney started developing small regional concepts.

Photo from
DisneyQuest, as it was christened, would be a virtual theme park housed in a multi-story, one city block sized building. Guests depart from the terribly named VenturePort on an elevator to the themed "zones" of DisneyQuest. Similar to lands at a Disneyland style park, each zone focused on one theme. Explore Zone focused on games of exploration to master and win. Score Zone was a more traditional gaming experience with massive games based on shooters and sports games. Create Zone embraced technology and artistic talent so you can draw your own disney characters or build a hybrid toy. And finally Replay Zone focused on retro games from Pac-Man to bumper cars. And Food Quest.... yeah it was a bad quick service Cheesecake Factory location.

Each attraction cost money per use via a refillable swipe card or all access with a steep fee. Yes, attractions.  GameWorks started to embrace larger video game concepts beyond game cabinets, but DisneyQuest took this to the next level with full virtual attractions. Explore Zone allowed you to pilot and battle other pirate ships in a Pirates of the Caribbean ride or a literal Virtual Jungle Curise. Score had you playing a massive air hockey game with 12 other players or go to an alien planet to destroy clients. Create Zone had CyberSpace Mountain, an early precursor to Sum of All Thrills. And in Replay Zone had Buzz Lightyear AstroBasters bumper cars use foam balls to hit opponents.

DisneyQuest opened first as the corner stone to the Downtown Disney West Side Expansion in 1998. A sister store opened in Chicago in the same year with plans to open one in Philadelphia shortly after. In 2001 the Chicago location was shuttered due to lack of attendance, the Philadelphia location never went beyond some light construction, and plans for a DisneyQuest at Downtown Disney Anaheim never got off the board. DisneyQuest was dead on arrival, but why?
Photo from
An article from the Chicago Tribune postulates several reasons for the failure of the virtual theme park. Several possible reasons were presented, such as lack of parking and inflexible ticketing options for only a few hour experience. But two valid issues were presented as the nails in the coffin: low capacity and lack of family friendly options. Attractions where only 25 people at a time could play created incredibly long lines for a full priced Disney theme park experience. And while video games every year were becoming more accessible and adopted, in 1998 to 2001 it was still a niche product. Families were paying full Disney prices for experience only the kids wanted to do after waiting a very long time.

After the closure of the Chicago location DisneyQuest was turned over to Walt Disney World for running. Some small enhancements and changes were made, such as turning the Hercules ride into a Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, but nothing else was done for decades. On June 30th, 2015 it was announced the park would be closing in 2016 to become a NBA dining and retail center.

DisneyQuest stands as a monument to a highly experimental, and yet dead, side of the company in the 1990s and 2000s. DisneyQuest is joined by other experiments such as the the Disney Store, Disney Cruise Line, Disney on Broadway, and ESPN Zone as a way to expand the Disney experience beyond the theme parks in 1982. Some ideas from DisneyQuest made it into future theme attractions, such as the Animation Building in Disney California Adventure and Toy Story Midway Mania. And while this much maligned experience is closing it should be celebrated for the risk it was and how we all wish the company would take such risks again.

UOR Permit Update: New Parade Building

Hello, everyone. Just wanted to pop in to say that Universal has filed permits for a new parade building (Building 79B), which will be a 23,000sqft warehouse. Veterans of HHN permits will know that the existing Building 79 is where Universal often houses one of HHN's houses each year. It's rumored that the coming Nintendo replacement of KidZone, itself a rumor at this point, will involve the demolition of the existing parade facility, so this could be a step to be ready for when that day comes.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Diagon Alley- London & the Streets of Diagon Alley

London & the Streets of Diagon Alley - Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts - Kings Cross Hogwarts Express

Cameron, Felipe, and myself just 'hanging around
I grew up on Harry Potter. I remember back in late elementary school (or so) a neighbor giving me this hot book from England, saying the book was too advanced for her kids but thought it was perfect
for me. The book obsession continued through to college where I waited in lines for the latest released. The movies started my first year of high school and continued till I graduated college, helping me transition out of my childhood and into adulthood. Then as I drank on the porches in the ghetto at the University of Dayton I discussed the upcoming Wizarding World of Harry Potter coming to Islands of Adventure in 2010.

JK Rowling created a world where readers wanted to live in the lives of the characters. She tethered the real London locations to this new world in extraordinary ways with things such as Platform 9 3/4, Diagon Alley, and the Ford Anglia. These locations were (at least initially) warm and welcoming with a hint of mystery and danger. The vaults of Gringotts are a fantastic example, here goblins control the bank and the most secure vaults are guarded by a tortured dragon. And finally the plot of books revolved around a fantastical version of growing up in the 1990s and 2000s. The characters dealt with studies, sports, rivalries, other schools, and romantic entanglements, but of the most magical sort. JK Rowling left readers of the books wanting to visit the locations in real life.

The wish was granted when The Wizarding World of Harry Potter- Hogsmeade opened in 2010 to unprecedented crowds. Guests engulfed the resort; Islands of Adventure was turned into a massive queue for the land while guests waited all through CityWalk in a massive queue. An operations nightmare quickly turned into the golden goose as the profits from sales of Butterbeer reportedly paid off the expansion in months.

I first visited Hogsmeade in 2012 after a disastrous stint in my first job out of college. I was depressed, I was confused, and I was a huge doubter in what could be delivered by Universal. While I was relieved seeing videos of the land on YouTube, it wasn't till I visited that I became a believer. I have memories of my first Forbidden Journey ride, Olivander's visit, and chilling at the giant round table in Hog's Head drinking a beer with a friend. Every visit to the resort since opening,  I've always hopped on over visit for a few hours.

Based on the success of Hogsmeade, Warner Brothers and Universal Creative started work on creating concepts for a Diagon Alley at the parks. JK Rowling demanded a physical separation of the locations, just like in the books and movies. Diagon Alley was then designed to fit into the aging, and expensive to run, Amity Island and Jaws attraction plot. On January 2, 2012 Jaws closed forever.

Theme Park Insider leaked Diagon Alley plans and attractions were coming to USF in December 2011. Demolition started in January, with vertical construction starting in September 2012. Universal finally announced the worst kept secret in theme parks in May 2013

Photo from Orlando United


A London waterfront embarkment dotted with lampposts and popcorn lights is our entrance to the Wizarding World. A beautiful recreation of the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain is situated in the
middle of a large green garden. Behind it Wyndham's Theatre and Leicester Station false facades simulate a cramped, overdeveloped city. As a nod to what is hidden, The Knight Bus conductor and shrunken head, as featured in Prisoner of Azkaban, greet guests outside the bus for a comedic banter and a photo op. When I visited with Mike the shrunken head said I had to be an escapee from Azkaban (and my lack of answers I was "a pain in the Azkaban"). 12 Grimmauld place’s dark brickwork and sagging gutters stick out among the pristine residential block, and Kreetcher frequently sneers out the window at the passing mud-bloods.

A musical shop is selling vinyl records of “Bow Legged Women” (Jaws reference to the prior attraction in that location) and “Joe Sez No” (referring to JK Rowling and her final approval of all decisions). Next door a book store featuring The Wind and the Willows and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (jabs at Disney) complete the facade into Diagon Alley.

Kings Cross station completes the location and is the entry way to the Hogwarts Express. More about that later.

Photo from Orlando United

The Wizarding World

Diagon Alley

Diagon Alley features four zones: Diagon Alley proper, Carket Market, Horizont Alley, and Knockturn Alley.

Diagon Alley opens up just like walking through the Disneyland portal, directing your view down a forced perspective street towards the Gringotts Bank facade. Diagon Alley, the street, has a slight gradient which combines with the overhead train tracks to create a perfect, picturesque view that makes the street look twice as long. Even above the tracks is a Stop/Go light supposed to be only visible to muggle drivers of trains, a fantastic random detail. I have never been as dumb-struck as the first time I entered both during the day and at night. Universal Creative has knocked it out of the park with this reveal.

Diagon Alley is home to the Leaky Cauldron, Madam Malken’s Wizards Robes for All Occasions, Wizard Weasley's Wizzes, Quality Quddich Supplies, Eeylops Owl Emporium, and Ollivander’s.

Leaky Cauldron offers a more spacious version of Three Broomsticks. While offering a similar style of food the food is more metropolitan over the rustic Three Broomsticks. You'll find sausages and puddings instead of roasted corn on the cob and roast chickens. I prefer the more intimate nature of Three Broomsticks over the cavern of Leaky Cauldron. But don't worry, the awesome Fish & Chips are at both locations.

Olivander's is the expanded, full scale version of the Hogsmeade location. Instead of a cramped queue in the elements, here an interior queue and three 'theaters' reduce and make the wait more pleasant. The queue has several stories of stacked wand boxes gathering dust, waiting for the correct witch or wizard to come. The show itself is identical to the one in Hogsmeade, except with the addition of additional sound proofing and female wand keepers. A nice touch are the books the wand keepers record all the wand pairings in. Olivander's is a must see for me several times a trip.

Wizard Weasley's is a high energy, smaller shop with gags and candies offered in the movies. Here you can buy your Nosebleed Nougats or more muggle toys like egg and spoon races. The biggest disappointment is that you cannot buy the unicycling Umbridge on the wire, only one that runs on a desk. The cutest thing in Diagon Alley is the Pigmy Puff naming ceremony, where an adoptive parent celebrates the naming of their new Pigmy Puff. News has come out that Shutterbuttons, located adjacent but in Carket Market, will be shut down and replaced with an expansion to Weasley's.

Madam Malken's offers robes and dress items for the Hogwarts houses. Here you can pick up robes, shirts, ties, shorts, t-shirts, wallets, and more. Two cool features in Malken's are a mirror that judges your fashion sense and a dress that is enchanted to display animated patterns. Next door is Eeylops, a disappointing shell of a store set up as a queue for Malken's during busier times of the year. An odd location, it would make more sense to reconfigure the line at Fortescue's.

Quality Quiddich Supplies is a slight let down, offering more Hogwarts house shirts than items from known Quiddich teams. A recent trip offered shirts from other Quiddich teams, but the selection still remains too similar to what Madam Malken's offers. I want to see more t shirts, uniforms, signs, flags, and merch from the professional teams in the Wizarding World.

Universal decided to only offer one official interactive wand spot on Diagon Alley due to traffic concerns. At Weasley's you can flush a toilet for You-Know-Poo, but down the street are several hidden effects, such as wafting dragon dung. More interesting and frequent windows are offered on the other streets.

Photo from Orlando United

Horizont Alley

Horizont Alley is the main  spur-street to Diagon, offering Florean Fortescue’s, The Fountain of Fair Fortune, Magical Menagerie  the only restrooms in Diagon Alley, additional interactive windows, and the entrance to Gringotts Bank. Unlike Diagon Alley, Horizont features many large windows placed on the second floors, giving an appearance of being more residential and lived in. A stairway next to Gringotts leads up several flights to facades suggesting more beyond the barricade. Chandeliers are hung in a large picture window, which react to the weather spells cast in the area. Near the restrooms an interactive umbrella is held over the street and with the right spell one can make it rain (which isn't so miraculous in Florida when you think about it).

Florean Fortescue's offers a dozen ice cream choices from Butterbeer to Chocolate Chili. The most disappointing option, in our opinion, is the Butterbeer. It's weaker and more vanilla like than we expected. Sean likes the Strawberry and Peanut Butter, while I love the clotted cream and sticky toffy pudding. Fortescue's always has a huge line, and due to poor placement, it's all outdoors.

Magical Menagerie services all our magical animal needs in Diagon Alley. Here you can pick up your Pigmy Puff, Phoenix, Owl, or Fang plush figure. A covered cage above the guests show a group of rats are attempting to escape. Outside, a large snake in a back window speaks parseltounge . While a well done store, it doesn't speak to my current interests, but it is a hit with small kids.

The Fountain of Fair Fortune, named after the short story by the fictitious Beedle the Bard, is an indoor bar serving all the Butterbeer varieties, several beer options, and exclusive to Diagon Alley beers: Wizards Brew and Dragon Scale. Wizards Brew is a very drinkable stout, with large chocolate notes without having the "I just ate a loaf of bread" heaviness. I prefer Dragon Scale, a pale lager, which resembles a cross between a crisp lager and a light pale ale like Sierra Nevada. This location is the least busy out of all the drink locations and is a good bet when Leaky Cauldron and Hopping Pot are busy.

Carket Market

Carket Market is a covered, open air market to the north east of Diagon Alley. Designed to offer protection from the elements, the roof is improperly designed and allows water in at several points. For such a well designed land, this is a massive oversight and one of the few complaints I have with the land. If properly designed, this area could have been a perfect location during downpours. Even the stage isn't protected from the elements.

To the north, The Hopping Pot is the outdoor bar, offering a similar selection to The Fountain of Fair Fortune. Here you can pick up Butterbeer, several cider options, and the exclusive beers Wizards Brew and Dragon Scale. Newly offered is Fire Whisky, a smooth but flavorful cinnamon whisky. Much finer and higher quality than its name-brank relative Fireball, the whisky is offered in shot form or mixed with other drink options. Unlike Fountain of Fair Fortune, the bar features several picnic benches to sit on while drinking.

Gringotts Money Exchange sells wallets, gift cards, and trinkets while an interactive goblin watches and comments from his post. This is your store to buy anything Gringotts related or pick up a gift card for a muggle at home. Wiseacre's is the gift shop to Gringotts and sells house merchandise, writing items, and limited edition merchandise. If you want to pick up a $200 hour glass, $150 limited edition poster from opening, or a wax stamp with the Hogwarts logo on it, this is your location. Just make sure to look up at the telescopes and pay your respects to Jaws...

Between Hopping Pot and Gringotts Money Exchange is a large elevated stage set to look like a sales and storage area for Carket. Here Celestina Warbeck and Tales of Beedle the Bard perform.

Celestina Warbeck and the Bashees is a 1930s big band swing live song performance written by  Broadway composers Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner. Celestina is joined by the Bashees, a three piece back up. The show Broadway-style show features hits as 'You Stole My Cauldron', Puddlmier United’s Quiddich anthem, and 'You Stole My Cauldron But You Can't Have My Heart'. During 'You Charmed the Heart Right Out of Me', Celestina brings someone she needs, more than a Butterbeer, on stage to dance and be the direction of her affection for the song. The performance is high energy, swing jazz style of songs that muggles will tap their toes while those enrolled in Hogwarts will understand all the lyrics. Celestina Warbeck is one of the best shows of its size in Orlando.

The Wizarding Academy of Dramatic Arts (WADA) is an ancillary artistic school to Hogwarts' school of witchcraft and wizardry in the Wizarding World. In Diagon Alley a roaming group of WADA street performers reenact the Tales of Beedle the Bard, the wizarding world's Aesop. Using the same market stage as Celestina, They use special hidden effects and props hidden in the set pieces to draw guests into the tales.

Puppets designed by Michael Curry resemble those used in traditional Japanese theater, where the performer and puppet are visible yet both disappear into one character. The characters in the tales randomly perform one of two morality plays: a cautionary tale of cheating death or the importance of overcoming ones own struggles no matter ones skill. I love Celestina Warbeck but Beedle the Bard is the best performance in Diagon Alley.

In Carket are three wand locations at the armory, drinking fountain, Wiseacre's, and one hidden. At the armory are two stations, one for activating a flame stoker and one that assembles a broken piece of armor, both cool physical effects. A double drinking fountain, located near the Hopping Pot, is only activated using a spell. Be careful, the water fountain doesn't alway agree with sending out water to just that casting the spell. One of the Wiseacre's display windows has a telescope that lights up with constellations with the correct spell. Carket Market's wand locations are the most popular ones in Diagon Alley and are best hit early in the morning.

Photo from Orlando United

Knockturn Alley

Knockturn Alley is the dark, seedy underbelly of the Wizarding World. Permanently engulfed in darkness, this is where the unusual and dangerous wizards and witches shop for strong and unusual items. Just like Mexico at Epcot or Blue Bayou at Disneyland, this area offers a 'day for night' effect using an all interior space, black light, and good design. Knockturn is 'L' shaped, with one entrance
near Leaky Cauldron and another near the restrooms in Horizont Alley. Four separate 'compartments' help diffuse light and create darkness. Two compartments are initial entrances, another is the main courtyard, and the last is for Borgin and Burkes retail shop.

The real strengths of Universal's design team comes into play here. The posters for dark and evil members of society are hung on the walls, laughing and taunting those who walk by. Tattoos animate in a parlor while dingy clouds pass overhead. Knockturn's wand stations are some of the least attended in Diagon Alley. One whole room is dedicated  to two effects; a speak easy like door you must enchant to open and a caged canary in a window you temporarily curse. In the main courtyard a stylized house elf is inside a chimney and a well placed incendio spell animates the elf to climb up as fire chases him below. Next door is a doctor's shop where you can maneuver a skeleton by moving waving limbs.

Knockturn is the location of Borgin and Burkes, the shop for all your strong magic needs. The first employer of Tom Riddle, Borgin and Burkes sells dark magic supplies, cursed items, and magical antiques such as the vanishing cabinet or see the hand that grabs Harry in Chamber of Secrets. If you want to pick up deathly hallow or death eater merchandise, this is the location to buy it. You can buy mugs with the deathly hollows logo, Bellatrix Lestrange t-shirts, and more. The shop is dark, errie, and imposing by design; here you can feel the real brunt of bloodlines and social conformity of older generations of wizards and witches.

Diagon Alley creates a location where all fans of the Wizarding World want to be. A real inner city is recreated both through visual illusion of depth and physical immersive locations. There has been nowhere else in theme parks that has caught my imagination as much as Diagon Alley.

London & the Streets of Diagon Alley - Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts - Kings Cross & Hogwarts Express

Photos by Parkscope Joe and Thanks to Brian and HTF for use of photos from