Saturday, December 16, 2017

Regional Theme Park Industry 101, Part 2: How?

In Part One, we detailed what the regional theme park industry was and how it got started. In Part Two, we look at the development of the business to the present day to see how companies evolved, grew, and shrunk.

By the 1990s, regional park consolidation had created four significant players; Time Warner's Six Flags, Paramount Parks, Anheuser Busch, and lowly Cedar Fair. Six Flags was bought and sold multiple times at this point, being a subsidiary of Bally's and Penn Central at various points. Time Warner saw the potential in using the theme park chain to promote their IPs and made a steal of the chain, acquiring it in full by 1993 and investing heavily into the facilities with real success. Paramount had wound up with Taft Broadcasting's parks after the company was the target of a hostile takeover from, what else, a guy with no actual entertainment experience but plenty in the realm of convenience stores (he ran it into the ground and lost $560 million in the process). Paramount similarly saw the same opportunity Walt had to promote offerings in the 1950s drop into their laps across a multitude of markets. AB hadn't really planned on running a theme park empire, but when HBJ Inc. sold them the SeaWorld chain in 1989, they had some of the most beloved facilities in the country. And then there was Cedar Fair: they were the little guys. Dick Kinzel was a mere popcorn salesman when he started there in the 1970s, and he rose through the ranks to CEO, masterminding the takeovers of Worlds of Fun (70s themer) and Dorney Park (traditional amusement park).

There were still, however, a number of smaller operators throughout the United States. While most major markets had been consumed, a number of smaller or developing markets were still run outside the chains: Denver, Buffalo, Seattle, and Boston, just to name a few. As the 80s and 90s progressed, real estate development had driven the cost of real estate in these markets higher, while skilled unionized labor to build the parks had equally kept creeping up. There were no great changes to make acquisition and construction more efficient than it had been in the 50s; there still aren't any either. New construction was largely impractical, and when it was being attempted, was failing even harder than it had in the 70s. Alfa Smartparks development of Jazzland and Visionland was a total flop. Only Elitch Gardens, which had been given land by the city of Denver and a package of incentives to relocate downtown, built a "new" park, even then mostly with used rides from their prior location. There were opportunities there for someone with deep pockets.

Gary Story was a theme park lifer who wound up in charge of a small facility in Oklahoma known as Frontier City. He wasn't intended to run it forever; just long enough to get through a season before it could be sold off and dismantled for residential real estate. Instead, he managed to balloon attendance. The owners, a company called Tierco, was primarily in the oil business, but Story's unexpected success opened their minds to the potential in theme parks. Behind Story and a young Harvard Law grad named Kieran Burke, Tierco changed names to Premier Parks and decided to make a go of the thing themselves. Their strategy for expansion was bold: acquire parks, make significant upgrades to the facilities, watch money roll in. In 1995, Premier made its first big move, acquiring Funtime Parks Inc. and with it four parks with "Lake" in the name: Geauga, Compounce, Wyandot, and Darien. Not much is remembered about Funtime, but they had been birthed of ex-Cedar Point management and investors, and had brought such innovations as season pass acceptance across a chain to the US theme park industry. With Premier's purchase of Funtime, they immediately became a real player. But this was only a prelude of things to come.

In 1996 and 1997, Premier Parks spread like wildfire, assuming debt in return for purchases of Riverside Park, Marine World, Kentucky Kingdom, Great Escape, Waterworld USA, and Elitch Gardens. In three years, Premier Parks had grown into the second largest regional park operator behind only Six Flags. Burke and Story's plans had been working too - capital investment continuously resulted in double digit attendance growth. Return on investment for new attractions went from half a decade to just a single season. Looking for a park that could be a centerpiece for their growing empire, Story and Burke approached Time Warner with the possibility of taking over operations of Six Flags over Texas in 1997 and buying into its independent ownership group. At some point, the question came up: "What if we wanted the whole chain?" On April 1, 1998, David bought Goliath, and Premier Parks became the undisputed king of the regional theme park world. The expansion continued on into 2002, with the acquisition of Europe's Walibi Parks chain, Jazzland, Wild Waves in Washington, La Ronde in Montreal, Fiesta Texas, SeaWorld Ohio, and Mexico City's Reino Aventura.

Capital expenditure came hot and heavy at their new parks; Geauga Lake alone was subject to well over $100 million dollars of investment overall between 1999 and 2002. And in the short term, things looked great: Geauga's attendance in 2000 was up 42% year over year. Creating debt is not necessarily an issue if one knows that they can pay it off - think of the average mortgage, for example. But repaying the loans quickly became an issue for Story and Burke, as attendance plateaued in 2001 and began to falter in 2002. By 2003, attendance chain wide was in free fall. The huge initial gains driven by the ride construction proved incapable of retaining guests. But why?

General orthodoxy in the theme park world is that Six Flags' rapid decline was the result not of poor attraction choices, but perhaps of too many and too soon. Revolutionizing the industry to create a new fleet of super parks required far too many managers, maintenance crews, and operations staff with experience, as well as too many new front line employees too quickly for the chain's human resources and recruiting departments to possibly catch up. Six Flags Great Adventure's 1999 expansion was called "The War on Lines," featuring twenty-seven new rides. Without proper staff to run or maintain them, rides like the Evolution sometimes went literally years between days of operation. Today, 14 of the 27 rides remain at the park, with most of the adult attractions having been removed and the kiddie rides being shuffled around and re-skinned multiple times.

The events at Great Adventure were not a unique occurrence: Six Flags Magic Mountain's 2001 headliner X never opened that year. Six Flags Ohio opened 4 roller coasters for the 2000 season, but found the park largely incapable of operating more than one train on their coasters at any given time while their attendance crested 2 million. Physical infrastructure also had not been upgraded to deal with the crowds: bathroom and water fountains were either not built to accommodate the throngs or outright removed as part of expansion efforts. Six Flags America to this day suffers from a lack of bathroom or food facilities in half the park as the Premier regime simply never considered it important to run plumbing back to its most popular attractions and themed areas. The volume of work done also meant much of it was unfinished at opening: one trip report on rec.roller-coaster speaking on Six Flags America's opening day stated the blacktop sidewalks caught fire due to not properly curing.

A perfect storm was brewing for Six Flags; meanwhile, Viacom was in the mood to split itself up and send a new IPO into the world (CBS Corporation). As part of the restructuring, lots of non-core assets had to get shuttled off to make way for revenue that would please the shareholders holding onto Viacom stock. Paramount's theme parks were just such a asset. The only problem for Viacom is that they were selling the asset into a buyer's market. Six Flags divested itself first of its European parks, followed by its Ohio properties in early 2004 to Cedar Fair to raise cash for debt service, taking a huge loss in the process. They were in no position whatsoever to make the acquisition of a successful park brand, and had eliminated most of the other market players during their rise. Anheuser-Busch was out there, but to call AB poorly run in 2004/2005 would be a vast understatement, and they passed. Private capital aside (Blackstone owned controlling interest in Universal Orlando meant they were busy; Apollo and Vanguard seemingly passed the opportunity up), there was just one other player available. Cedar Fair had somehow managed itself competently enough to have a reasonable debt load and a fine history of operating amusement and theme parks. Competent enough that they could borrow the $1.25 billion dollars necessary.

America's Great Recession only worsened things for Six Flags, shuttering Astroworld for a cash infusion and seeing a shareholder revolt as a result. Mark Shapiro came in to run the company on behalf of Washington Racial Slurs owner Dan Snyder, and attempted to perform a family friendly facelift on Six Flags. To fund this, Shapiro ditched many of its smaller market parks to rot (Kentucky Kingdom, New Orleans) or private capital (the properties like Darien Lake which wound up with CNL), and sought to reinforce their largest key markets with more extensively themed attractions. The gambit bore some fruit: per capita spending increased, but attendance continued to stay static or drop, with new attractions built often not meeting the expectations of the general public. Six Flags' Dark Knight indoor mouse coasters were a prime example of this - the ride's preshow elements and theming were some of the best attempted by the chain in over a decade, but the ride itself (a production model Mack mouse housed indoors) didn't meet the expectations of those waiting long periods of time.

In 2009, Six Flags filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. That same year, Cedar Fair announced plans after multiple years of poor stock performance to be acquired by Apollo Management. InBev had taken over in St. Louis and divested of the Busch parks to pay back the debt to Blackstone; Blackstone's intent was to spin the parks off into public offering and fill the new corporation with debt. Kennywood Corporation too, a proud family business, was consumed by foreign money as it was integrated into Parque Reunidos' Palace Entertainment arm in 2007. The period between 1997 and 2001 had become known in enthusiast circles as "The Coaster Wars"; now clearly over, it seemed that no one had really won.

Quietly during 2007, Herschend Family Entertainment began to make a series of acquisition. First was Wild Adventures in Valdosta, GA, a theme park which opened in the 1990s and never found its legs in spite of expanding quickly to have ten roller coasters and safari attraction. They also purchased two large aquariums in the Cincinnati and Philadelphia metro areas. Herschend had been steadily increasing their overall portfolio for some time, building water parks to complement their theme parks in Branson and Pigeon Forge while eliminating their competition in Branson via acquisition and closure. Expansions became much more aggressive with bigger themed areas, intellectual property rights, and the kind of large roller coasters the chain had never before built. Their success was such that many of the temporary entrants in the industry sought their assistance: CNL placed many of their parks under their management during the late 2000s.

Another recent entrant to the North American market was Merlin Entertainments; in fairness, they're recent to exist. Merlin was a small time player until Blackstone acquired them in 2005 and ramped up investment, merging a number of European companies into them. LEGO's theme park division was one of these acquisitions, and Merlin began its movement into the US market first in California at the existing Legoland park, followed by the acquisition of Cypress Gardens and its rebranding to the nation's second such facility in 2011. Merlin had other ideas though beyond just building big new theme parks: expanding existing brands like The Dungeon and Madame Tussauds was certainly one, but they went back to the idea of an arcade-amusement facility hybrid experimented with since the 1970s under the LEGO branding. 12 Legoland Discovery Centers have popped up in retail areas around the US and Canada, each offering things like 4D cinemas and trackless dark rides.

The early part of the 2010s saw an economic recovery, and with it a new clarity in the theme park landscape. Cedar Fair's leadership was changed and the shareholders retained control, successfully managing to prevent Apollo from taking over. Six Flags emerged from bankruptcy with some adjusted strategies and much, much less debt. Others were on shakier foundations: SeaWorld was healthy and turning fine profits until the emergence of the film Blackfish, and began to make appeals for foreign investment that led to Chinese minority ownership in 2017. Hard Rock Park came and went. Parque Reunidos was traded between private equity firms, as were most of the CNL Lifestyle Properties.

Experimentation over the lean years had led to the return of some old ideas and the institution of some new ones. In the early 20th century, rides were frequently rethemed or added on to in order to create budget conscious new attractions annually. Six Flags' gamble with a thorough redevelopment of the Texas Giant at it's Arlington, TX park brought Rocky Mountain Coasters to the forefront of innovation in the industry, but also proved that a significant re-imagining of a ride beyond a mere name change or re-theme could seriously improve attendance and pass sales. Lodging was renovated (Hotel Breakers at Cedar Point) or constructed (Great Escape in NY, Lake Compounce in CT). Seasonal parks, starting with Herschend and Six Flags Over Texas, expanded their seasons from summer operation to many running March or April to New Years. Virtually all have also followed the "festival" blueprint of EPCOT and SeaWorld as well to increase return visitation. Dark rides have started to find their way back in with Sally's Justice League and Triotech's Iron Reef and Wonder Mountain attractions, and extended seasons may further push the need for more indoor attractions yet such as flying theaters.


In Part Three, we look at the "who" of the industry with the major and minor players, operators, owners, and more.

Parkscope Bonus YouTube Video #1: Universal Studios Florida 1994 Souvenir Video

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas everyone! As a special holiday gift to our Parkscope readers, over the next few days we will be releasing some bonus videos of old theme park shows and documentaries as an an extra bonus from our YouTube Tuesday column!

Our first video is the 1994 USF souvenir video. Catch all of the original USF movie-based attractions in action, from Back to the Future to Jaws, Ghostbusters, Nickelodeon Studios, Earthquake, Kongfrontation, Hitchcock, Murder She Wrote, and all of the original rides at Universal Orlando! Get ready to Ride the Movies (Copyright all rights reserved patent pending)!

--ParkScopeJeff (@ParkScopeJeff)

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #140 - So You Want To Go To The Middle East

Grab yourself a beverage or listen on your plane trip to the UAE, here it is. Joe is joined by Andrew Hyde and Alan to talk about Alan's massive, 16 day trip to the Middle East. They cover Dubai Parks and Resorts, IMG Worlds of Adventure, Ferrari World, HubZero, Global Village, Trader Vic's pants, being buzzed by a helicoper, quarter tanks of gas, and much much more.

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

YouTube Tuesday #23: ORIGINAL 1992 DVC Sales Video AND Disneyland Fun (1990 Disney Sing-Along #7)

That’s right folks, this week you get a double-dose of YouTube magic! And if you call in the next 5 minutes, you’ll get 100% more videos absolutely free! So what are you waiting for? Don’t miss out on a chance of a lifetime!

In actuality, the DVC Sales video was short enough that we felt two videos were warranted this week. Enter one of our all-time favorites to the rescue, Disney Sing-Along #7, that’s right, Disneyland Fun! Nostalgia romp month continues!

Some highlights from our two videos this week:

·       Member Berries Moments: Member when Old Key West used to be The DVC Resort? Member when DVC pretended that “the magic starts with flexibility?” (Oh wait they still pretend that? Nevermind) Member Top of the World (footage within!)? Member when Disney used to pretend that transportation from Old Key West was “convenient?” (Oh wait they still pretend that? Bloody hell)
·       Goofy singing songs from Snow White never ceases to amuse
·       Member the old park strollers? I think they took some of the queue chains and steel posts and fashioned them into a serviceable model
·       Is it clever or coincidental that Disney set the music for the Park Open Morning Mini Marathon to Step In Time?
·       Member Roger Rabbit? Wait, member Roger Rabbit again? Now he’s…wait…there he is again…member ROGER RABBIT WAS FREAKING EVERYWHERE BUY OUR MERCHANDISE
·       Note THE definitive version of Makin’ Memories. An all-time classic
·       I think everyone who was young in the early-1990s will recall the nightmares forever of the Grim Grinnin’ Ghosts segment. The foggy Mansion. The spooky tree people. The menacing Disney villains. The Witch, Captain Hook, Big Bad Wolf, Maleficent…and Donald with a white sheet over his head. I’m not making that up

Line up at the curb
Come on everyone
Hear the excitement
The fun has just begun!

As your Disney friends
Come dancing down the street
This sure is a show
That can’t be beat

For music and color
And laughter it brings
Toes’ll be tapping
When everybody sings

You’ll hear shouts of joy
As all your troubles fade
At the wonderful
Disneyland Parade!

And of course the beautiful rendition of “When You Wish…” at the end, transposing a moment of heaven that every child wished they had in 1990. Could anything be more celestial? 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Regional Theme Park Industry 101, Part 1: What?

Here on Parkscope and across the Orlando/Cali-centric theme park internet spaces, most pieces revolve around the existence of the two primary chains (Universal and Disney) and their year round operating facilities. There's good reason for this economically: They are the highest performing parks in the World, have huge customer bases who grit their teeth for any announcement, no matter how small, and thus generate ad income, views, replies, and all the usual things necessary to motivate individuals to keep working on writing pieces about them. The market, has, ostensibly, spoken.

What isn't so well understood is the regional amusement/theme park operations in the United States. That's not to say that there isn't knowledge about it out there. There are a lot of people who know that the primary players are Herschend, Cedar Fair, Six Flags, SeaWorld, and Palace Entertainment. But how did those become the primary figures? Why are the parks the way they are? You know, centered around roller coasters instead of big dark rides? Why aren't there more parks being built? This series will attempt to inform you as best we can.


First off, let's make something perfectly clear: the regional theme park scene is an evolution of the regional amusement park scene. In many cases, these parks which were born out of the trolley parks of the late 19th century. Cedar Point, Lake Compounce, Six Flags New England, the deceased Geauga Lake, and Kennywood were literally these sorts of facilities. Kings Island, Elitch Gardens, and Adventureland in Iowa, meanwhile, are more spiritual descendants who are the result of their traditionalist fore bearer being consumed and eliminated. However, that these parks are regional in scope rather than national is not entirely what was desired by their creators. And that is an extremely important part of the story around which everything else rotates.

The basic summary of the genesis of the theme park industry that you'll read almost anywhere is that after the success of Disneyland, several attempts at copying came and went rather quickly Freedomland is generally a prime example. Depending on the narrative being pushed, either everyone else ever failed from that point because none of them had the success of Eisner-era Disney's growth, or there was an explosion of parks and the story basically ends there because no one saw through the maturation and consolidation periods of the industry in written form. The parks we recognize today as being Six Flags' properties consist of three purpose built Six Flags facilities under the vision of the Wynne Family (Over Texas, Over Georgia, St. Louis), who also has significant financial interest in two of them. Cedar Fair has never constructed a new gate, buying and selling parks over the years beginning with the acquisition of Valleyfair in 1978. Those two operators, in spite of only being responsible for actually producing 4 parks into existence, represent the present operations of 25 "dry" parks with 20 separate founding groups. Add in the parks they've shuttered in the last 15 years (Astroworld, Geauga, New Orleans), and all three of those were constructed by 3 more entirely separate founding groups. If that wasn't enough, Six Flags can claim 4 more branches on their family tree thanks to their water park division.

2 operators. 27 different founders for their parks. How did this happen?

To answer this, we need to go back in time to the boom. 15 of the 25 dry parks owned by Six Flags and Cedar Fair were constructed between 1961 and 1975. 11 of those opened between the years of 1971 and 1976. This is a period of growth in the theme park industry we will simply never see again representing a paradigm shift of amusements away from urban cores to suburbia along with the white people fleeing the inner cities. The idea of following these crowds was, of course, part of the attraction - parks sought to be built near large shopping and residential developments and with excellent access to interstates, but with enough mass as to make them effectively impossible to NIMBY from noise complaints and the like. And virtually every one of these parks was built with the promise of becoming the new Disneyland with Disneyland like attendance and effects to the local economy.

The problem is, of course, that none of these parks were as successful. Disneyland had an incredibly prime location near Los Angeles, guaranteeing it great weather for much of the year. Most parks built in this era didn't have that benefit. Many of those which did have good weather - Busch Gardens California and Texas, for example, or Marco Polo Park near Jacksonville, FL - found their real estate being more valuable for other developments, and they closed up in short order. Most parks were in areas with strong winters, making them seasonal propositions who are deeply challenged at attaining enough revenue in a limited season.

These parks didn't necessarily fail because they lacked intellectual properties that were recognizable to the public or because they lacked innovative and themed attractions either. Most featured large indoor rides or walk through attractions which were actually quite impressive for the time, and the likes of Hanna Barbera and Looney Tunes were regularly licensed for use at these facilities. KECO, the developers of Kings Island, Kings Dominion, and Canada's Wonderland, was in fact a branch of the media company Taft Communications, who used the parks to promote programs appearing on their slates of networks as well as leveraging their position to gain promotion via television productions. The Brady Bunch famously nearly died on Kings Islands' Racer while filming an episode at the park. The parks weren't bad, and they weren't "glorified carnivals". They generally had a theme or series of them and stuck to them. They ranged from Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days (Worlds of Fun, Kansas City), the Li'l Abner comic strip (Dogpatch USA), to, well, America (Great America in California and Illinois).

The simple reality is that most of the parks were developed by businessmen who simply didn't understand the theme park industry. The costs of development were as high or higher due to the inflated valuation of land acquisition and labor costs compared to places like Central Florida, making the parks equally or more expensive to develop initially and costly to maintain in their opening state in perpetuity. The sheer volume of cash burn in the theme park industry, something that was well outside the knowledge base of many institutional investors with real estate or entertainment backgrounds who entered the space, drove many an aspiring operator who hadn't outright failed at turning an initial profit off: Marriott (Great America) and Harcourt (SeaWorld) are probably the most well known examples of such corporations. Other park operators (Carowinds, for example) simply came nowhere near to the marks suggested because of a combination of poor attraction choices, wrong/still developing market, or poor timing (The OPEC Oil Crises of 1973 and 1979 also overlaps this time period).

Spending untold sums of money for upkeep on legacy attractions while locals demanded constant updates was a serious concern and challenge for the new themers. While Disney had made its name with family friendly indoor attractions like the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean, early attempts at copying that success for the regional operators simply hadn't panned out. What was panning out was the roller coaster, and it was a mighty fine time to start investing in those. Arrow's development of tubular steel track in 1959 directly led to a number of huge innovations in coaster design. While Disney was afraid to install large thrill rides, regional parks looked at the cost/benefit ratio and realized that building inverting roller coasters was the only rational path for them. They had already generally buried their traditional park competition at this point, and the markets demanded that the thrill ride space be filled. And it was: New and Huge won the day, with Dinn/Summers and RCCA constructing massive wood coasters and Arrow and Vekoma building enormous twisted steel creations. Mind you, most of it sucked, but was huge and drew.


In Part Two, we get into the "How?" - The rise and fall of Six Flags, the ascendancy of Cedar Fair, private capital ruining everything, and some guys with a cave.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

YouTube Tuesday #22: Disneyland: a Day at the Happiest Place on Earth (1993)

A Day at the Happiest Place on Earth is a very special item for me. This video was released in 1993, when I was 7 years old. Our family visited Disneyland that year, and I was just old enough to ride everything and have the absolute time of my life. On the way out, of course, we bought this video tape, which acted as a “This year at Disneyland” type of video souvenir. Of course, back in the day, Disney would make different videos with original content, whereas now they practically either copy what they did last year or simply leave the same version on the shelf for five years. But make no mistake, these videos were heaven on earth before the YouTube generation. This was LITERALLY the only place to get ride-through coverage of attractions in video form, save your own personal home movies. So every time we see a ride-through of Pirates or even Snow White, we giddied with excitement! This video particularly stood out because Fantasmic! was not yet a year old, and it was mind-blowing to everyone in all the right ways. Getting home to watch the video, we were astonished and delighted to see the extended video coverage of Fantasmic! at the end of the presentation, which helped us relive our joy and wonder from our trip. I adored this video and practically wore it out. I was surprised to find it in such good condition when I finally digitized it a few weeks ago.

Rather than write several paragraphs on each of these vacation planning early-1990s videos (I practically said most of what I had to say in our last installment), I’ll go over the highlights of the video:

·       It always makes me smile when Mickey knows everyone’s name, including Cast Members. As a symbolic entity he always shared certain similarities with Santa Clause, and in this case I always felt him as the omni-benevolent overseer of Walt’s theme parks. He can walk the park and know everything that’s going on and he knows everyone’s name instinctively. And he’s not above self-deprecation! Notice how he laughs at himself when he tells the CMs there’s five minutes until park open but realizes he only has four digits on his hand!
·       Quite a bit of this video is a nostalgia romp (check out the original DL parking marquee), but an underrated aspect of this is the fact that we get to see all the old Costumes! I think the old parking costumes are my favorite. Would you like fries with that?
·       It makes me smile whenever we hear Jack Wagner’s soothing tones. He makes all the park announcements throughout this video, including park close. Most unexpected: he makes the opening safety announcement for Fantasmic!
·       For whatever reason, the voiceovers for the attraction characters in the video are just horrific. The replacement voices for Disney direct-to-video sequels are better. That sounds NOTHING like Jose! Paging Dan Castellaneta!
·       Is Goofy guilty of copyright infringement for literally stealing all the skipper’s jokes on his ride through the jungle? I’d get sued for that. But his mosquito veil is hilarious and causes him to hit the little kid in front of him with his binoculars multiple times.
·       This video has a lot of strange examples of characters riding certain attractions that don’t really make sense thematically. Roger Rabbit on Big Thunder Mountain? I guess? Pluto on Space Mountain? Maybe? Chip and Dale on Mansion? Did they get lost coming from Toontown? At least Smee and Hook on Pirates of the Caribbean makes sense. Hook even complements them on such a “splendid job of pillage and plunder.”
·       The Splash Mountain segment has the most hilarious example of anti-continuity in the whole show. First Brer Bear is the only character in the log, with 4 Guests sitting in front of him. Then Brer Fox suddenly pops in when they go into the main show building. Then they both disappear. Then they come back seated in different positions. Then Brer Rabbit appears in the boat going down Chick-A-Pin, and the Guests have all vanished! Then Brer Bear and Brer Fox get off the ride and curse that “next time we’ll get that Brer Rabbit.” He was sitting in your log! How incompetent of a cartoon villain do you have to be?! And then for some reason Mickey’s standing at the exit and forces them into the Country Bear Playhouse! What is going on?
·       Yes, the SKYWAY’s here too and gets some great photo coverage from many parts of its ride path! And it’s the old super-technicolor Small World!
·       A good tour of the Fantasyland Classics (sans Toad, how dare they), but what the hell background music is being played through the Pinocchio and Snow White segments? That music has absolutely nothing to do with the source material? Why aren’t they just playing the original music content? IT’S DISNEY’S MUSIC! Am I missing something?
·       We get a very cool tour of the new Toontown and a peak into every attraction (except for Roger Rabbit, which possibly hadn’t opened yet), including the fully-working Jolly Trolley!
·       That Matterhorn ride is good but has some hilarious fake screams. Like Rollercoaster Tycoon-level bad. But seriously, that ghostly fingerprint of Harold as we ride past is LEGIT.
·       The old Tomorrowland tour is great, but like the last video I wish it was longer in hindsight. We do get to see the old Autopia, the old Subs, PeopleMover, Star Jets, the old Space Mountain Speedramp entrance, and the old TLT, complete with character dancing! And Launchpad McQuack!
·       In the Space Mountain footage, WHAT ON EARTH IS THAT LIFT HILL? It’s 100 times better than the pre-1998 lift hill we had. Why didn’t they just do THAT?!
·       Remember those “Mickey in the weeds” t-shirts from the 90s that were as ubiquitous as the “thinking Mickey” cups? Me too.
·       MSEP gets some good footage here, but again, WHAT IS THIS MYSTERY MUSIC? This is not the music of the parade! And furthermore, what the h is Prince John dancing to? That’s not Disney appropriate!
·       The extended Fantasmic! coverage is the E-Ticket of this video. They practically go through the entire show, albeit in a cliff-notes version. But seriously, in the days before YouTube, this was absolute heaven. You could WATCH FANTASMIC! IN THE COMFORT OF YOUR OWN HOME. WHENEVER YOU WANTED! WOW!
·       Remember to order your Day at Disneyland by calling this now-long-out-of-service number! Operators were standing by but they’ve been abducted by Doc Ock and the Sinister Syndicate. Due to the recent unpleasantness caused by Doc Ock and his gang of villains, we will be closed until further notice, or at least until Spider-Man can make our city safe again. 

--ParkScopeJeff (@ParkScopeJeff)

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

YouTube Tuesday #21: 1993 Walt Disney World Vacation Planner

But seriously, “Wo-ho, Wo-ho, A Piwates Wife For Me” is just adorable.

Back in the day, Disney Vacation Planning videos combined all sorts of presentation elements to make you DROP EVERYTHING AND GO TO DISNEY WORLD RIGHT NOW YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYY!!! For whatever reason, many of these elements are lacking in modern Disney Parks videos. But for whatever reason, the early 90s videos did a better job of showcasing everything at the resort, rather than just the most profitable elements. They showed an opportunity to relax and have a vacation. They showed options for all walks of life, not just the core demographic. And they use phrases like “fun is the only thing Mickey takes seriously.”

My favorite part about these videos (besides the EPCOT Center footage obviously) is the music. They are special, barely-recognizable BGM versions of classics from Mary Poppins, Beauty and the Beast, Journey Into Imagination, and Spectromagic. You really have to listen to hear them, but they’re there in full glory. And they’re tuned in such a way to make you FEEL like you’re in a more relaxed era, where the best way to spend an afternoon is to sit at the Dixie Landings food court, and the best way to spend an evening is to golf or go ride World of Motion. There’s literally no pressure. No Fastpass+ to make. No advanced dining or character reservation to run to. Just relaxation and fun.

Notice how Disney by this time still wasn’t afraid to be authentic. I mean, just look at how many REAL PEOPLE they interview! And you can tell it’s authentic. These people are not being fed lines. Especially the British guy who rhapsodizes about the Country Bears (saying pithily they’re “a bunch of bears dancing and singing”) or the teenagers who literally can’t remember what they saw in the costume warehouse portion of the Backlot Tour, or the woman who says Space Mountain “hits the ceiling” (whatever that means). And the Cast Member interactions are authentic too. You can tell they’re not actors. And it makes all the difference. A short rundown of some random musings:

·       I love seeing a lot of the old footage and costumes. The skippers with their old costumes and using real guns. The (real) old video footage of Mansion and Space. The Old Tomorrowland (though we don’t see much of it outside of the Speedway, Space, and Delta Dreamflight), and of course Mickey’s Starland.
·       This is the point in history when Disney Animation still considered Rescuers Down Under a classic. Also, Goofy and Donald are considered “fairy tale characters.”
·       There’s an interesting Roger Rabbit sighting riding Thunder of all things, maybe he got lost on the way back from Griffith Park?
·       As expected, there is some absolutely choice EPCOT Center footage. Everything from the Rainbow Tunnel to Mesa Verde. And a tour of the countries before all the margarita wagons. Le sigh.
·       There’s a quick tour of MGM in the Superstar Television/Monster Sound days, where half the appeal of the Backlot Tour was Residential Street and Ernest’s house.
·       I want to go to Pleasure Island again. Right now. Take me. Especially since apparently the entirety of Orlando can get shoved in front of the West End Stage for the New Year’s celebration.
·       The exploration of the hotels is quite welcome and quite a contrast to today’s tourist brochures. Notice how much they play up the sailing and motor-boating aspects. And they’re very quick to point out that Caribbean Beach, Port Orleans, and Dixie Landings are “light on your pocketbook.” And the Disney Inn!
·       They actually mention the non-Disney property hotels! Swan and Dolphin and the Hotel Plaza are featured in short segments.
·       Remember kids, Disney had villas/condos before there was the Disney Vacation Club. It was called Disney’s Village Resort, right where Saratoga Springs is currently.

And remember to fly with Delta, kids! Remember when Disney had such strong ties to sponsors, and when Disney cared about advertising with them? What happened to that? Now it's "presented by Siemens...we think?...we guess? Did they pay for this exhibit?" But here we actually get TESTIMONIALS from customers on why Delta Airlines is so spiffy. Be Our Guest, indeed!

For the next few weeks we’ll be taking a break from roller coaster specials and featuring the old 1990s Disney planning videos. So we hope you enjoy a nice nostalgia romp. Or, conversely, you’ve been warned.

--ParkScopeJeff (@ParkScopeJeff)