Saturday, December 10, 2016

Universal Creative Patents (Hints at Things to Come)

Companies patent everything, and why not for when ideas come back around? Apple patents nearly every new idea even if it doesn't come to market. If a product does come to market this helps cover their asses, which is hinted at by Steve Jobs during the iPhone launch (after the patent lawsuits by Creative Tech sued over the iPod OS design).

Friend of the site Richard Bilbao from the Orlando Business Journal found several patent applications recently filed by Universal Orlando Resort's patent filing company Universal City Studios. Featured are five interesting, new ride system and water parks patents. All images are provided by OBJ and all rights reserved by Universal City Studios. Click an image for a larger version.

The 'drifting racers' patent covers a two guest cart ride system where one guest controls the speed while the second guest controls secondary functions. This completely matches up with consistent and reliable rumors of a next generation, interactive Mario Kart ride coming to the Nintendo areas at USJ, USH, and UOR.

Next is a "boom coaster" and no it's not a coaster that explodes. The boom is an arm that suspends a ride vehicle above a functional ride track to give the appearance of the ride vehicle moving on a fake ride track. This fake ride track could include jumps or other harrowing features not feasible with a typical coaster. This sounds familiar....

The last ride system patent is for a suspended simulator where guests move through ride scenes in flying mechanical suits. Sounds more fun than another cabin simulator.

Yo dawg, you like water rides and Rip Ride Rockit, cuz we put Rip Ride Rockit on your water rides (my apologies to that meme)! A "functional mat racer" would add lights, sound, and a screen to enhance the standard racing mat water slide. Considering Volcano Bay does not currently feature this popular water slide option this is a prime candidate for the park's expansion pad. This tech would also probably link into the TapuTapu system.

This next one is... out there. Universal has already stated a ProSlide SkyBOX drop slide will be located inside Krakatau volcano, but this patent suggests the slide compartment might fill with water before releasing the rider. The water could be used for story purposes, such as lava from the volcano filling the chamber. I'm skeptical about this appearing in Volcano Bay due to the practical implications being an insurance nightmare.

Friday, December 9, 2016

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...Florida

Florida has anything hidden? Yes, somehow, there are still bits and pieces of the amusement park universe largely uncovered beneath the array of super parks. If you want to read about historical Disney or Universal information, you'll have better luck reading someone else's material. The same can be said about the modern day SeaWorld properties and Fun Spot. God bless Fun Spot, but everyone has seen a "It's Huge!" commercial and made their mind up on going to ride White Lightning or not (you should because it is great).


I-Drive and Route 192 have both obtained infamy among visitors as large drags filled with traffic and poorly maintained tourist traps. All of it has been priced at exorbitant levels as a result of Disney and Universal's own race to and past the $100/park mark. Of these locales, Magical Midway is a rare exception of still having anything particularly notable with permanent rides. There's an early model S&S Space Shot (you can tell the difference vs. later models by the pneumatic tubing inside the structure) and Florida's only Funtime Starflyer. The Funtime Slingshot present here has a nearly perfect safety record, much unlike the older style reverse bungee attractions and their reliance on elastic bands.

To really understand Florida and the background of the tourism industry, it is really necessary though to leave the Orlando area and head elsewhere. The artesian springs of Florida have been attracting people for a century; several are relatively close to the Orlando area such as Blue Springs and Silver Springs. The latter was operated as a theme park attraction by Palace Amusements (the American wing of Parque Reunidos) until being released from their obligations in 2013. Still operating full bore though is a park north of Tampa: Weeki Wachee. While a small water park operates on site, most come to see the legendary mermaid show. A huge underwater window allows visitors to watch as the "mermaids" swim beneath the waters, aided by a constant stream of oxygen provided via a tube carried with them. Of the human centric shows in the state, it is this one, even more than La Nouba or Blue Man Group, which may be most technically impressive.


While there are a huge number of visitors to the parks, Florida itself is not really the center of the theme park industry. Sure, IAAPA has moved down there, and Universal Creative is centered there. Disney Imagineering is still based primarily in California along with most "themed attraction firms" not named after Jack Rouse. Most of the major ride firms are based outside the US, and those which are can often be found out west in states like Idaho (Rocky Mountain), Oregon (Miler), and Utah (S&S). The progenitor of the theme park industry though is the carnival industry, and there is no place in the world more associated with that industry than Gibtown. Look hard on Google Maps over Gibsonton, FL and you'll find more rides (defunct and operational) per square mile than anywhere else in the world. Unfortunately, virtually all of these are racked up for transport. Showmen tend to be collectors, and one can scarcely imagine what rarities are sitting in fields or under trees until someone can scratch together the money to do a full rehab and take some mystical piece of old steel back on the road.

(With all that carnie history and 5 fairs in the top 50 attended in the US, you might think the fairgrounds of Florida have some really great stuff. Well, for rides, just really the "Skyglider" skyride and giant slide at the State Fairgrounds in Tampa. Miami-Dade got rid of their skyride. Sorry!)

For the rest of us, there's the chance to visit the International Independent Showman's Museum and get hip to the history of the the american carnival. For something a little more permanent, there's also factory tours of the Sally Corporation facilities in Jacksonville, bookable just about any Monday-Friday. And while no tours or fun stuff is available to outsiders, Martin & Vleminckx has an office with a big ol' coaster painted on the side of it that those returning to Orlando from Legoland might run into along US-27.


While there are no shortage of large theme parks in the state, one other impressive asset the people of Florida have are zoos. There are over 23 AZA accredited/certified facilities in the state, plus plenty of legitimate non-accredited facilites, offering a wide array of different experiences.

-Central Florida has a fairly long narrow gauge train ride aboard a diesel engine along with some zip lines

-Palm Beach Zoo has a newer "Conservation Carousel" along with what appears to be an Italian made kiddie train (expressly not of interest to adults).

-Jacksonville Zoo also has a train and a carousel, but their train is significantly larger than most at these sorts of facilities

-Marineland of St. Augustine is among the first enclosures for Dolphins ever and has a wild backstory involving Leo Tolstoy's grandson. Today, it is owned and operated by the renowned Georgia Aquarium.

-Lion Country Safari once had sister locations at the two US KECO parks; Kings Island and Kings Dominion. Many years later, and this park that birthed the "drive thru safari" craze is still going strong. There are water slides, kiddie rides, and boat trips in addition to the safari itself, but that is undoubtedly the main draw.

-Naples Zoo also brings a boat tour, but this one passes a number of artificial islands which are home to primate "enclosures".

The two most significant ride sets at a nonprofit zoo can be found in Miami and Tampa. Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa has guided "safari tram" tours, carousel, and several kiddie rides. A log flume called "Gator Falls" opened at the park in 2008, but has disappeared from their website and appears to have been closed for some time. Zoo Miami will be opening a new section called "Mission Everglades" featuring a family flume attraction with airboat themed vehicles. Logos on the vehicles suggest a name of "Lostman's River Ride," and will be constructed by Whitewater Rides using tech developed by O.D. Hopkins (similar then to rides at Columbus Zoo and Fort Wayne Children's Zoo).


Almost as wild as the animals of Florida's many zoological parks are the swap meets. "Swap Meet Culture" is sometimes even referred to in rap and reggae music from the South Florida region, and they're so substantial that they often act as larger presences in communities than merely a place to buy junk. The less developed Kidstar Amusement Park at Port Charlotte's Sun Flea Market has few rides, but does have lazer tag, a large play structure, and go karts to go with an aging arcade. True enthusiasts of all things weird should make it a mission to get to the Swap Shop and Drive In Theater in Fort Lauderdale Florida, as there really is nothing quite like it in our great nation. Outside, almost anything you'd want from produce to knockoff electronics is available for procurement in a vast and undulating (seriously!) combination of lot spaces and tented storage spaces turned store fronts. Inside the large permanent building is a thing of wonderment. Not just cheap junk, but also a massive arcade (once center ring for the Hanneford Circus!) and food court (primarily selling food of Caribbean origin) and most incredible of all, a huge car museum showing off the Ferrari-intensive collection of the Swap Shop's octogenarian owner. But wait- there's more.

Back outside, closer to the street, lies Uncle Bernie's Amusement/Theme Park. A collection of used carnival rides in barely operable condition, it more or less resembles the small family entertainment centers that can be found throughout Central and South America near, what else? - shopping malls. RCDB lists both the gravity driven and powered coaster here, but there's a log flume and a Sartori Techno Jump (possibly previously owned by Playworld Amusements? if you know, hit the comments section!).


As hard as it is to believe, Southeastern Florida's only permanent and publicly open amusement park is Uncle Bernie's. Perhaps because of all the attractions up north, there just hasn't been much action down south. The Dania Beach Hurricane, a renowned wood coaster from the Coasterworks/Martin & Vleminckx boys mentioned before is in the midst of being removed, along with the large FEC (Boomers Dania) that it was attached to. There was also a strange duck that operated for over 60 years. The City of Miami Police Benevolent Association maintained a nonprofit amusement park beginning in at least 1943, but it eventually succumbed to maintenance costs and was sold off/razed in the early 2010s with little fanfare. Southwestern Florida is little better, with only the opening of Zoomers in Fort Myers to even mention. That project took nearly a decade to be developed before finally opening in 2012, and looks nothing like you'd expect an 8 year development cycle to appear like.


The last great wave of amusement park closures hit Red State America extra hard: Six Flags Astroworld & New Orleans, Pavilion, Ghost Town In The Sky, Branson USA, Opryland, and Bell's are all gone, and it hurts even more thinking that the majority were cash flow positive. Joining the list of parks that were too big a success to stay in business was Miracle Strip Amusement Park, located on Front Beach Park in Panama City. Can you blame the owners for taking a sweetheart deal from real estate developers that wound up taking a bath later? Maybe you can't. But like with Myrtle Beach Pavilion, the space where the park once occupied is still an empty void, drawing no one and looking an overgrown mess instead of being a profitable and important anchor for the community. When people talk about the perfection of the market, this is what they actually mean: People borrowing money (your money!) from banks in seemingly outrageous ponzi-esque schemes, losing it, destroying communities, and the banks having the gall to demand you pay them extra in federal loans for their poor business acumen. The developers and bank managers/executives are richer, but everyone else sure as hell isn't.

An attempt by the collective responsible for Boardwalk Amusements in Daytona managed to not succeed at bringing back Miracle Strip in Panama City, and now both of those parks were put up at auction this past IAAPA. As time has gone on since the closure, many of the more unique attractions in the area have gone by the wayside. Cobra Amusement Park has, at various points in times, featured such weirdo attractions as the S&S Snowshot launched drag racing ride (atop snowmobiles) and later an electric go-kart drag racing attraction with speeds over 60 MPH. There's still a unique looking Goofy Golf location, and Race City PCB is now home to the only adult coaster in the area. Can it be that it was all so much better then? I regret to inform you: yes.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

115- 2016 Holiday Extravaganza

Parkscope gathers around the fire to drink Christmas beers and talk theme parks. Sean talks about Grinchmas, Lane talks about his trips to Universal Studios Singapore and Disneyland, we discuss a seven hour Star Wars guided tour at Hollywood Studios, SeaWorld's slow decline, and then answer your questions! Happy holidays everyone and make sure to decorate that aluminum pole!

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

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...Delaware

Delaware. Delaware.

Let's level with each other for a moment, can we? There isn't a lot in Delaware. Ranked 45th out of 50 in population, more than half the population lives in New Castle County near the I-95 super-corridor connecting Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington DC. Perhaps strangely, few rides actually exist in this section of the state. Blue Diamond Park was Delaware's first new build ride park in generations when it came there in 2003, but the rides were closed and sold almost 10 years ago now. Prior to that, New Castle County needs to go back until at least the early 1940s, when Deemer Beach Amusement Park had been rechristened "Deemer Beach Colored Beach" and was a segregated African-American establishment. Most other similar places had closed by the 1930s. This included Brandywine Springs and Shellpot. 

So enough history: you want now. Now, as even 70 years ago, there is one place above all others in the state of Delaware to go for fun. That place is Rehoboth Beach. Conveniently located to the town of Lewes for those looking to march all the way up the coast, it is a summer resort community with tons of house rentals and cute motels as of yet not ruined by the encroachment of real estate speculation. Generally known as an inclusive and gay-friendly community, Rehoboth doesn't have the sheer number of attractions Wildwood or Ocean City NJ and MD have, but it does have some nice stuff. Funland doesn't seem like it should have anything notable at first glance, but look again, and you'll see this.

Constructed over a two year period before opening in 1978, almost entirely in-house, Funland's suspended dark ride Haunted Mansion frequently made the DAFE Top Ten. This is, without question, the shining jewel in the state and really the only significant reason for theme park fans to go. Funland's small list of attractions includes an arcade and a few flat/kiddie rides. There are other small parks in the area, but most of them concentrate on slide based attractions. Both Jungle Jim's and Midway Speedway Park have water slide complexes, but it's Jungle Jim's and their Cobra themed water coaster that is likely the one more worthy of inspection.

For those worried about finding parking, there's some more sedate water attractions elsewhere in the state: Killens Pond State Park has a small water park, and just north of Ocean City, MD in the Delaware town of Fenwick Island is Thunder Lagoon. And the biggest single attraction in the state is likely the state fair each year, with big steel brought in by Wade Shows.

There's one last item to review in Delaware, and that is of the seasonal haunt variety. Frightland in Middletown, DE creates an array of haunt walk throughs and hay rides, but also contracts with Houghton Enterprises to have a midway of amusement rides to go along with it. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

114- Nintendo, Woo-Hoo!

Joe, Sean, and Nick talk topical, HHN26! Then we cover monorail restaurant crawls, food and wine, trains outside Joe's window, Rivers of Light, Fantastic Beasts (we found them), Joe screwing up his mic input settings, and then some Nintendo news and speculation! Note my use of the oxford comma.

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

Nintendo and Universal Parks & Resorts Teaser Announcement

This delightful photo is copyright Universal Parks & Resorts and Nintendo.
I had a hard time deciding on how to write the title to this article. Do I do a play on "Sega Does What Nintendon't"? Nintendo and Universal announce projects? I think 'teaser' is a good descriptor; we hear some vague info on the locations, attractions, and goals of the project but not much else. To quote the press release, "All of the adventure, fun and whimsy you experience through a screen will now be all around you – in breathtakingly authentic ways," and "coming to... Universal Orlando," that's a very deliberate phrasing and a hint of what's to come.

I would be remiss to mention these bullet points Universal is highlighting:

  • Nintendo-themed areas are coming to Universal Studios Japan, Universal Orlando Resort, and Universal Studios Hollywood.
  • These will be expansive, immersive and interactive. They’ll be highly themed and authentic environments filled with multiple attractions, shops and restaurants.
  • You’ll feel as if you’re playing inside your favorite games – in real life.
  • There will be something for everyone—regardless of their age or gaming experience level.
  • Planning and creative work on these areas is well underway; they will open separately over the next several years.

Also, enjoy this video with Shigeru Miyamoto, because he is delightful.

Nintendo World (my name) has not opening date, but is expected to open at Universal Studios Japan before the Olympics and stateside shortly afterwards. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...Connecticut

For almost 20 years of my life, my primary location of residency was The Nutmeg State. All of my primary and secondary education from 1st grade through what college I completed took place here. Between 1989 and 2008, I went all over the damn place. Whether it was being the brat following his dad to work sites (he owned a paving company here), or on my own exploring every back corner, I know the state of Connecticut exceptionally well even many years after having moved west.

Connecticut is not a big place, but it is a place that is population dense. More people live here than in Arkansas or Mississippi, a fact that is often forgotten when discussing what is or isn't "real America". It claims to be the birthplace of the hamburger and the revolver, thus giving it the responsibility of having inadvertently killed more US citizens than any other state. Hartford was known for its position in the insurance industry, but that has eroded, and the state is primarily known for being home to major universities and where many a high powered executive lays his head after taking the train into Manhattan for work.

Geographically and ethnographically, the state is split in two pieces by the Connecticut River, which flows north to south, meeting the Atlantic Ocean in Long Island Sound. The eastern side of the river is home to a collection of old mill and whaling towns in various degrees of economic struggle. The western side is home to the 14 most populated cities in the state, and 21 of the top 25. As you'd expect under these circumstances, that means most of the amusements you'd ever have heard of exist on that half. But not all.


Most of my youth was spent in New London County, one of the three counties located east of the Connecticut River. Things were generally sleepy out this way until the Mashantucket Pequot tribe obtained the funding to expand their bingo hall and create the "indian casino" boom in the 1990s. Now branded as the MGM Grand, and facing competition from the Mohegan Sun Resort & Casino, more tourists pour into this area of Connecticut than at any other time in history. Most arrive via I-95 coming from Metro New York, with a smaller percentage heading in from Providence and Boston. Much of the tourist infrastructure intends to meet them on their way to gaming. Yet, this is also a summer playground for families and has been for generations thanks to the rare combination of historic attractions and sandy beaches. Mystic Seaport is by far the most well known such item, grabbing over 300,000 visitors a year to the open air museum facility.

New London, CT is home to Ocean Beach Park, a city beach with a small amusement park of mostly kiddie rides, water slides that date to the dawn of the modern aquatics industry, and the state's best arcade. Off of Route 85 heading south from Hartford towards the Crystal Mall, one can also run into Dinosaur Place at Natures Art Village. The main attraction here is a "Dinosaurs Alive"-esque walk through the woods to admire giant animatronics. The gift shop attached is huge and features a lot of interesting local food items that are worth perusing. Eastern CT is also the location of the largest fairgrounds in the state; Portland and Hebron are probably the most impressive you'll see in Southern New England outside of the Big E grounds in Springfield, MA.


Hartford, the state's capital, is seen by most as a literal crossroads. CT-2, I-91 and I-84 all crash into one another here in the sort of ghastly fashion most cities try extremely hard to avoid now. Also like many cities, there's still a reputation of danger downtown that makes it a virtual dead zone most days after 5PM. The city does operate a gorgeous 1914 Stein and Goldstein carousel in Bushnell Park, but that has limited drawing potential. If one chooses to, they can head down Route 15 towards the Merritt Parkway via the Berlin Turnpike, and discover the closest thing the state has to old Route 66. The Hartford area's Stew Leonard's grocery store is here: yes, the original is in Norwalk, but this one is just as good. There are three total in the state, and they all basically resemble a cross between Whole Foods and Jungle Jim's in Cincinnati. There are huge animatronic displays everywhere you turn. If static displays are OK with you too, you can go just a little further south on the same road and run across Safari Golf, a Doo-Wop era mini golf course with enormous plaster animals and bright blue waterfalls.


The major population centers of the Northeast are the nexus of the coaster enthusiast world. Trolley lines built amusement parks starting back in the 1800s at the end of their lines to promote off-peak use, and several are still operating today. Two of these are found in Connecticut. Now, in fairness, one is not really an "unknown" - Lake Compounce holds a number of notable distinctions. It is the oldest amusement park in the Americas. It is home to a wood coaster that has taken home both Amusement Today Golden Tickets and top Mitch's Wood Poll honors over the years. The Skyride there is a gem, running nearly vertical up the first 7 or so towers in one of the steepest ascents/descents in the world. There's also a real live trolley on loan from the folks at the CT Trolley Museum. I worked in rides there for the better part of 4 seasons, and there's a lot of memories and emotions attached to it. But again, it isn't that hidden. Less known is the New England Carousel Museum, roughly a 7 minute drive away from Lake Compounce's gates. No carousel here to ride, but horses undergoing restoration or kept as museum pieces and plenty of info about the history of the genre.

A few exits down I-84, another old trolley park operates on the shores of Lake Quassapag. Quassy Amusement Park, as it is known, would be borderline unrecognizable to me now having been years since my last visit. From the 1960s until the mid 2000s, the park's star attraction was a Herschell Monster Mouse, one of a dying breed of such old wild mice. However, with the ride wearing out and the park looking to modernize, it was removed in favor of a updated family coaster, the Gravity Group built Wooden Warrior. That ride (a much punchier attraction than the stat sheet suggests) has led to a wide scale rediscovery of the park, and it has ceased to act as little more than a "credit stopover" for enthusiasts traveling the New England/New York route in search of parks. As big an improvement as that is, I kinda miss the old Quassy, with its rickety Herschell Monster Mouse coaster, an arcade packed full of absurdly ancient claw machines and coin pushers, and a souvenir shop where the park's logo was screened onto literally any shirt they could find. My 1996 Fiesta Bowl Nebraska National Champions/Quassy Amusement Park shirt is a cherished possession.