Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...New Mexico

New Mexico celebrated statehood back in the year of 1912, making it only slightly older than the wreck of the Titanic. The land hadn't become part of the nation until after the Mexican American War and Gadsen Purchase in the mid 1800s, and it has taken it's sweet time to populate. With just over 2 million people, the entire state has fewer residents than the city of Houston, Texas. Nearly half of these people live in Albuquerque's Metro area, with the next largest chunk living near the Mexican/Texas border creating the El Paso-Las Cruces Combined Statistical area. It is in these two specific locations that we unsurprisingly find the state's largest attractions.

Cliff's Amusement Park is probably the most well known to coaster enthusiasts - located in Albuquerque proper, it is a compact and landlocked park surrounded by commercial real estate. One of Custom Coasters' later wood rides, The New Mexico Rattler, serves as the premier attraction. Interestingly, it is actually Western Playland in the Las Cruces/El Paso suburb of Sunland Park that contains the highest number of coasters and acreage in the state. The park actually moved to its current location in 2006 when it was lured over the border from Texas by the Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino, taking most of its largest rides with it. Outside of the collected production model coasters (El Bandito, a extra large Z64 Zyclon being the rarest), the park contains Larson Flying Scooters, a skyride, and several other attractions.

Interestingly, while many people associate New Mexico with "desert", there is very little in terms of water parks there. Cliff's has a few slides, and the City of Carlsbad has a municipal aquatics facility that opened in 2016. However, that's about it. Surprising, I know. "Dry slides" are about as common - Red River Ski Area has summer tubing runs to go with its multi-person and single person ziplines.

Trains and carousels operate in smaller parks, just as they do elsewhere in the nation. Spring River Park and Zoo in Roswell features both along with a collection of animal exhibits. Meanwhile, the Toy Train Depot in Alamogordo has a couple of different narrow gauge tracks that humans can ride as part of their overall exhibition.

The state has some living museums as well, providing people with a glimpse into history. Both the Aztec Museum and Pioneer Village and Sacramento Mountain Museum & Pioneer Village go into the past and pull out costumes and buildings to try and bring back that homesteader feel.

Finally, there's the Meow Wolf Collaborative piece known as the House of Eternal Return. Its part art installation, part fun house, all original, and a Themed Entertainment Award winner attraction. Only City Museum in St. Louis is comparable.

Bill & Ted Excellent Halloween Adventure To Bow After HHN 27

Copyright Universal Orlando Resort
Bill and Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure will end after this year's Halloween Horror Nights. Per the Universal Orlando Blog this will be their "Farewell Tour".

No reason was given for ending the show but consistent rumors of a replacement for Fear Factor Live, the stage used for the show, have swirled around. Additionally the contract to use the characters (remember: Universal doesn't won them) expires after a five year renewal signed in 2013.

We will be sharing more information and our review of the show in the coming months.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #132 - Hooray for Hollywood

Join Joe and David Daut (Twitter) as they talk about their evolved views on studios parks, The Star Wars Hotel/Experience, role playing in parks, immersive theater experiences, and if/how theme parks should be archived once changed or removed.

As discussed in the show:

Email us at parkscopeblog at gmail dot com or follow us at ParkscopeParkscopeJoeParkscopeNick,  ParkscopeLane, and Sean.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #131 - SWEEPSTAKES

Joe and Lane talk about ALL THE HALLOWEEN HORROR NIGHTS 27 NEWS. Or not really. Our bad. We talk about local parks additions with Cedar Fair, Six Flags Fiesta Texas' Wonder Woman Golden Lasso, and some Busch rumors. Then we talk about some Star Wars VR, more Harry Potter construction news, and then your questions! SWEEPSTAKES!

Email us at parkscopeblog at gmail dot com or follow us at ParkscopeParkscopeJoeParkscopeNick,  ParkscopeLane, and Sean.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Project 942 Permits (Dragon Challenge Replacement)

Here's something we haven't talked about in a very long time: building permits!

Permits are our look into upcoming work at Universal Orlando Resort. Today we're looking at Project 942, a new project number we have yet to see. We believe P942 is for the Dragon Challenge replacement.

So far the permits call for demolition and moving stormwater ponds.

Thanks to TheNJBrandon for digging these up!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Making of Disney-MGM Studios: Parkscope YouTube Tuesday #7


Disney-MGM Studios is probably the oddest duck in the Disney Parks empire. It was created in fire, through a particularly horrible mud-wrestling contest between Michael Eisner and Lew Wasserman, and never really reached even a fraction of its potential. It’s actually astounding that it garnered a higher attendance than Animal Kingdom until 2006, despite having no main differentiators like the pull of the real-life animal enclosures. It set the stage for decades to come as being a Michael Eisner park through and through, with budget cuts and confusing future . I think the most astonishing thing about this “making of” special is the fact they were able to fill 53 minutes worth of content!

All the official Disney propaganda would have you believe that Disney-MGM Studios was created when Michael Eisner and Frank Wells took a trip through the Glendale Imagineering HQ and thought that the “Great Movie Ride” would make a great central attraction for a theme park themed to Hollywood and the movies, rather than what it was originally destined to be, which was an EPCOT Center pavilion next to Imagination. The Disney executives then all held hands, cavorted through flower beds, and sang good Christian songs as the innocent Hollywood park was built. By most accounts, the creation of Disney-MGM Studios was much more insidious.

As witnesses have attested, Lew Wasserman (then head at Universal) was shopping around the idea of creating a Universal Studios in Florida to bask in the success of Walt Disney World, which opened in 1971. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Lew was passionate about the idea of turning Orlando into Hollywood East, and a Universal Studios would help this image by offering movie and TV studios lower taxes, lower costs on materials and housing, lower wages, and the opportunity to avoid the Hollywood unions. As Lew would envision it, Universal Studios Florida would have a Disney-style theme park along with a working soundstage and backlot area, where real movies, TV shows, and commercials would be filmed. The problem was, Lew was also a notorious cheapskate. Even though he was passionate about the project, he refused to have Universal pay more than half the cost of the new park. So, he visited the executives of other movie studios to pitch them on the idea of investing in the new park (for real, think of the umpteen-millions of dollars Universal lost by not building the Florida park a decade earlier than it did!)

One of the executive teams he visited was the Paramount team. This team consisted of studio head Barry Diller, along with…Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg, who were major studio executives at Paramount at the time. Paramount ultimately turned Universal down on the prospect of investing in the park.

Eisner and Katzenberg would migrate to Disney in 1984 (after Wasserman told Eisner over the phone that he was “stupid” to go to Disney). And, lo and behold, a year after their terms began, Eisner and Katzenberg came up with a crazy new idea for a Disney Studios theme park, with rides and a working soundstage/backlot area! Amazing!

Wasserman of course was furious. Disney denied the allegations from Wasserman that Disney stole Universal’s idea, and instead concocted the Great Movie Ride story. So began an arms race to build the first studio park in Florida.

Unfortunately, both companies had problems. Wasserman still didn’t want to pay for the entire Universal Studios project. And Disney, well…didn’t have any movies to make any rides out of.

Strange but true, folks (channeling me some Jim Hill there). Remember, in the mid-1980s when the Disney Studios project was announced, Disney’s major hits were almost all animated movies. Besides these, Disney’s only movies that could be considered major hits were Mary Poppins, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Swiss Family Robinson, The Absent-Minded Professor, and The Love Bug. Hardly the material for an entire theme park’s worth of attractions. So Disney had to spend time to find a deal with another movie studio to gain the rights to their material.

Eventually, Disney was able to strike a deal with MGM, makers of all-time classics like Singin’ in the Rain, Gone With the Wind, and The Wizard of Oz. They announced that not only would the Disney-MGM Studios be moving forward, but that there would be multiple Disney-MGM Studios, specifically in France and in Burbank. Michael Eisner loved the idea of a “movie park” so much that he wanted it duplicated in as many places as possible.

Eisner’s aggressive tactics to target the Disney-MGM Studios Burbank project in Universal Studios Hollywood’s backyard enraged Wasserman to the point where he dropped his own stingy demeanor (seriously, this would be like Walt Disney’s moustache spontaneously falling off) and decided to go ahead with Universal Studios Florida, with Universal paying 100%. Both companies were determined to open their park first.

Unfortunately for Universal, Disney’s far greater experience in the theme park arena ensured that their park would open first. But it was not without paying the price. To hurry along construction, only two rides at Disney-MGM Studios were ready for opening day (the Great Movie Ride and the Backlot Tour). The Indiana Jones stunt show was not ready for opening day and had to open several months late. All other attractions were show or tour-based attractions, much cheaper and easier to install.

This lack of things to do did not go unnoticed. Guests swarmed Guest Relations with complaints as to how small the park was and the fact that they had to pay full admission for a half-day park (sound familiar? Disney really doesn’t learn its lessons does it?). Remember, this was before Star Tours, so the entire park terminated at Mickey Avenue (where Voyage of the Little Mermaid is now) for the Backlot Tour, and there was no Star Tours or MuppetVision on the other side. And no Sunset Boulevard. And New York Street was a closed set and available only on the tram portion of the Backlot Tour. That, my friends, is a tiny park. And why I’m continually impressed how Disney was able to fit 53 minutes of material into the making of the park, especially when the opening-day attraction lineup could barely deliver more than 53 minutes of entertainment! Wakka Wakka!


In the Orlando studio park war Universal Studios Florida won.

Bu that's not today's story. No, as Jeff said, this story is about Disney-MGM Studios.

The concept art always looked too crisp, too precise, too... 80s.

Disney-MGM Studios has been a a park at war with its own success and ambitions. A park born in the fire of Michael Eisner and died under his own cooling power; the park was on the brink of a major power play with The Muppets, Maroon Studios, Dick Tracey, and more before Eisner's own decisions brought all those plans down to the ground.

This special highlights the beginnings of this vision hosted by one Fred Newman. While he might not be a household name he did work with Who Framed Rodger Rabbit. But he's probably best know by us millennials for a later show he did..

Sorry I had to get that out there.

--Jeff (@ParkScopeJeff) & Joe (@ParksopeJoe)

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

What we know: 2017 Ohio State Fair Tragedy


Like everyone in the amusement community, we here at Parkscope are horrified by accident that took place at the Ohio State Fair earlier today (July 26th). Because lots of misinformation hits the net and straight up exploitative view-grabbing pieces find their way to your eyeballs, we wanted to take a moment to try and give you a little better perspective here.

The ride in question is known as a KMG Fireball or KMG Afterburner. KMG is a Dutch firm who primarily builds portable rides, though they have park models as well, and they have an outstanding overall safety record. Their attractions all meet the very high TUV standards for safety that are often considered the gold standard in the amusement and theme park industry. Amusements of America is the carnival provider for the Ohio State Fair, and while they do book in a number of independent attractions and other carnival operators to help fill the midways, this ride belongs to them. Last year, the Moonraker ride they had brought in to the Delta Fair in Tennessee had a malfunction, injuring several riders. However, that ride was contracted in from Belle City Amusements, and was not owned or operated by them. Also, a Polish copy of the ride had a similar accident in Toledo, Spain back in 2013. However, it was not a KMG ride. 

Video of the accident exists, but does not show the exact moment that the seats decoupled clearly. The aftermath is, however, clearly evident and horrifying - seat restraints release immediately, bodies crash into the spinning arm and then are shot out as projectiles to the midway. 1 person has died, multiple people are critically injured. Confirmation as to whether or not the deaths and injuries are solely to riders or involve people on the midway observing the ride is unknown at the time of this writing.

In discussing the accident with other hobbyists who know a thing or two about these attractions, one of them made some very interesting points. I thank Mike Parker for his time (and pictures) -

Attached here is a photo of a different KMG Fireball. If you look closely at the arrow, you'll see a LED light array, and directly below that is where the cabin meets the arm. Look closely at the photo from the news helicopter above, and you'll see that the light array is still attached. 

At some point down the line, KMG moved the weld point further up the arm. You can see here from the pictures of Morey's Piers' "It" attraction that it is now located just above the seat assemblies themselves. Based on existing documentation of KMG service bulletins, there have been no specific notes made about ultrasonic testing finding stress fractures or cracks where the seats/gondola meet the arm, though service bulletins related to the arm and restraints having stress fractures has occurred. 

Annual inspections are required by a "Level 1 or higher Non-Destructive Test (NDT) Company" are required for all welds on KMG's pendulum rides. Whom is contracted by Amusements of America is not known, however it likely would have been subjected to ultrasonic testing at some point during winter quarters. At this point there, there is can be no doubt that there was a catastrophic structural failure with the arm. Questions of how and when will likely take months to fully determine. 

UPDATE 7/27/2017: As one would expect, KMG Fireball/Afterburner rides almost everywhere are to stop running almost immediately until this accident is evaluated. Poster "distroyer" on themepark.nl provided this shot of the ride - source was not revealed.

Dave Althoff wrote about a similar issue that affected the KMG Remix ride back in 2002 at the Ohio State Fair, leading to the ride being effectively banned from the premises and two riders being injured. He points out how the Fireball differs in construction. As you can see from the photo above, however, the point of failure was well above this. 

EDIT 7/27/17, 11:35AM EST - At roughly 9AM EST, KMG Europe BV's Facebook page indicated that they would be issuing an official announcement later related to the accident and that "thoughts and prayers are with all involved."

EDIT 7/27/17, 12:05PM EST - The names of victims have been released:

Tyler Jarrell, 18, of Columbus, was killed in the accident and declared dead at the scene. For reference: people are rarely declared dead at the scene of any accident unless their injuries are so grave and unsurvivable that there is no reason to transport them. Tyler may have been the victim seen not moving in footage and pictures released in which legs are seen on top of the seats. An individual matching his age and location has a Facebook account indicating he had recently signed up to join the Marines. It is not confirmed that this is the same individual.

The following people were injured. Based on what information we have from Ohio State Medical Center, we know that three of these people are still hospitalized in intensive care and require additional surgeries and long rehabilitation periods. Those reports seem to suggest that two of these people are those starred below. Three additional people were sent to Grant Medical Center, and one individual is still in critical condition there. A child was treated and released from Nationwide Children's Hospital: it is assumed but not confirmed that it is the 14 year old listed below. 

Tamika Dunlap, 36, of Reynoldsburg, Ohio
Russell Franks, 42, of Columbus, Ohio*
Keziah Lewis, 19, of Columbus, Ohio
Jacob Andrews, 22, of Pataskala, Ohio*
Jennifer Lambert, 18, of Columbus, Ohio
Abdihakim Hussein, 19, of Columbus, Ohio
A 14 year-old male whose name is being withheld. 

EDIT 7/27/17, 1:35PM EST - KMG has issued a statement indicating that the gondola had detached from the swing arm and that all KMG Fireball/Afterburner rides and Move-Its are to be shut down with the exception of those Fireball/Afterburners with serial numbers 40 and over.

Amusements of America's Fireball was Serial # KMG98FRB24006. The photo shown of Morey's under construction with the different bent for the gondola is of a later model, serial number KMG-2011-FRB-24P-162.

EDIT: 7/27/17, 4:30PM EST - Tyler Jarrell, the 18 year old victim who died at the scene, had signed paperwork for his intent to join the Marines and participated in the Columbus Police Explorer. His girlfriend, Keziah Lewis, has undergone multiple surgeries for injuries to the pelvis, ankle, and ribs, and was informed following surgery of his passing. 

The State of Tennessee through the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development has banned the KMG Fireball from setting up in the state. 

EDIT: 7/28/17, 10:00 AM - Several riders who have been released from care have done interviews with local news. Abdihakim Hussein was on the ride when he was injured by debris & people ejected from the ride when the gondola across from them broke free on Wednesday evening. He has a small neck fracture and is currently in a neck brace. Jacob Andrews and Jennifer Lambert, injured in the accident, were non-riders who were struck by debris. Jacob Andrews was reportedly injured in his leg, while Lambert was struck in the back of the head. Lambert was still listed in critical condition as of late July 27th.

EDIT: 7/31/17, 2:00 PM - Facebook account Amusement Ride Accidents posted additional shots of the damage to the Fireball ride:

As we reported first and they showed in a subsequent photo, there was a significant change in weld design for the Fireball. This redesign likely makes it that water cannot flow/be held in the weld point, which might cut down on corrosion and certainly be easier to visually inspect than what previously existed. 

Additionally, the family of the deceased victim has filed a wrongful death suit in relation to the accident. 

EDIT: 8/7/17, 9AM - There's a series of updates to provide, so let's get to it. 

First, the most important thing is the well-being of the victims. All of the critically or seriously injured people from the accident are still inpatients in similar/identical conditions at area hospitals. Jennifer Lambert is reported to be in a coma by her parents. While this may be remembered as an accident that "only" killed one person, the final toll may not be known for years.

Second, the ride itself. Investigation has largely concluded. The cause of the accident is the corrosion, which happened over a long period of time as water seeped into the empty space in this connection.

What does this mean? Well, all rides in this run (Serial #s 1-40) will likely see new gondolas need be attached before they return to service, or at the very least a very in depth inspection of this space and perhaps others on the rides.