Friday, March 24, 2017

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...Manitoba

Fewer people live in Manitoba than in the state of Maine in spite of being bigger than France, Afghanistan or Madagascar. Over half of the population of the province lives in the Winnipeg metropolitan area. During this series, we've done some sparsely populated places. Manitoba is definitely sparsely populated. The capital city re-entered the spotlight to Americans when the Atlanta Thrashers were moved out of the American Deep South and back to proper hockey territory to become the new Winnipeg Jets. In addition, 2014 saw the opening of the largest museum in the region, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, open to rave reviews for its forward thinking design and impressive content.

Why would you be here though? Well, Winnipeg is a classic stop on the Transcanadian Railway and Highway, so those looking to cut through the entire country are bound to run into it. As one of the more important stops for the railroad, it has a gigantic railway hotel (Fort Garry). Geographically, we're talking primarily prairie land. The highest point in this massive area is Baldy Mountain, many hours north of Winnipeg, and less than 3,000 feet tall. Cities not necessarily thought of as "mountainous" like Oklahoma and Maryland actually have greater elevation changes. But stuff can be wild out here too. Bison are indigenous to the area just as they are America's great plains, and there are many of them on farm land today. But you might have seen that sort of thing prior. I understand.

We'll start then not with an amusement park, but straight up soft adventure tourism. From Winnipeg, Canada Rail will take you north, far beyond where most vehicles would dare venture. Churchill is, in the grand scheme of things, not that expensive to visit. The train fare is usually hovering in the $250 -350 USD round trip zone, which isn't that when you consider that it is a two night journey that takes you within 70 miles of the Nunavut border. Why go there? Well, there's a lot of unspoiled wilderness there, and there are opportunities that abound such as swimming with belugas and seeing polar bears. I'm not going to delve into a lot of the ramifications of global warming and how it is affecting polar bear populations/migration towards permanent land masses, but suffice to say that it is not a challenge for large parts of the year to see polar bears, and you see them via "tundra buggys," which is how this remote outpost is on our list. A Tundra Buggy is basically an airport shuttle like you'd see in much of Europe or at Cincinnati airport to take you between gates/planes with monster truck tires on it. You'll cruise around and see the largest land based apex predators in the world come up to bus and think very seriously about how they might eat you.

In recent years, time has worn down the permanent ride offerings in Winnipeg quite significantly. Grand Prix Amusements dropped its Chance Toboggan, and Tinker Town Family Fun Park's two Herschell coasters bit the dust after the 2011 season. Tinkertown is really the only true outdoor amusement park in the province now, offering a mix of family rides and kiddie attractions. Grand Prix Amusements joins the likes of fellow Winnipeggers at U-Puttz, Thunder Rapids in Headingley, and Meadows Golf and Amusements in Winkler as regional Family Entertainment Centers with the usual mix of arcade games, go-karts, and mini golf.

Assiniboine Park is home to a rideable miniature train and toboggan run in addition to the main attraction of a zoo. For those unable to make the adventurous journey north to Churchill, the Churchill-themed polar bear exhibit may scratch at least a little bit of that itch. Manitoba Live Steamers also run trains for the public during the weekend prior to Labor Day Weekend each year in Winnipeg.

For less permanent excitement, there's little doubt that the Red River Exhibition in Winnipeg is the biggest event in the province. The midway is brought in as part of the old Conklin Shows route now serviced by NAME, and will feature a nearly identical lineup as what is seen in Regina and at Calgary Stampede around this time frame. Come October, scares of a more ethereal nature may be found at Six Pines Haunted Attractions which seems to meet the basic criteria for a rural based haunt.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #122- BREAKING NEWS

In a world where all news is breaking, none of it is. Our resident existentialists Joe and Sean are joined by Nick to discuss all the rumors from Universal and Disney that broke this past week. We cover patents, Dry 'n Tame, Dragons Challenge replacements, WDW resorts hiking prices and planning to sell out, VR Sugar Rush, Tron coasters, World Showcase pavilions and rides, Cars in Test Track, The Great Mickey Ride, Rivers of Light 2.0, Pandora Annual Passholder previews, *catches breath*, and much much more.

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

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Dragon Challenge Replacement?

Dragon Challenge entrance. Photo from Wikipedia, creative commons.
Universal was in a bad spot during Hogsmeade's design, they couldn't afford to remove Dueling Dragons due to financial issues under Blackstone. WB and JK Rowling agreed to let the coaster remain as part of a Tri-Wizards tournament attraction tucked behind an archway in a wall. Ever since then the attraction has not hit capacity despite Hogsmeade being a resounding success. After metal detectors were installed the situation became worse as guests waited more in queues for lockers than getting on the ride.

We've been hearing about a Dragons Challenge replacement for quite some time now, for obvious reasons. Friend of the site Richard Bilbao is reporting sources indicating the attraction will indeed disappear sooner than later. In it's place will be a new dark ride concept combining indoor and outdoor segments, but unlike Reign of Kong across the lagoon, it will not feature 'mixed media' or movie screens.

Acreage of Dragon Challenge. From AlexShow.
Dragons Challenge takes place on a parcel of land slightly smaller than Diagon Alley, making it a good option to expand Hogsmead.The Harry Potter Studio Tour just announced a new expansion featuring the Forbidden Forest, which is very likely also to come to Islands of Adventure. Based on Diagon Alley construction timelines it's probable that Dragons Challenge will close later this year or early next year for it's replacement opening in 2019 or 2020.

Universal has not commented on any plans. Listen to our latest podcast episode for more news and speculation.

Universal Project 566- Dry 'n Tame

Paul Brinkermann at the Orlando Sentinel reports that Universal Orlando Resort has field with the city to add 4,000 hotel rooms and three parking structures to the former Wet 'n Wild water park and parking lot, cheekily naming the project 'Dry 'n Tame'.

At least one hotel is expected on this property, with up to three based on how many parking garages are present in the plans. To put it in perspective these one to three hotels will nearly double the hotel capacity at Universal Orlando Resort. It is likely a portion of the lake is filled in for the resorts and many insiders have suggested Universal has plans for retail, restaurants, and entertainment on the property too.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...Maine

Lobstah! Uhhh, being north! Yes, those are things Maine is primarily known for across the North American continent. New England's biggest and least population dense state, it features a rugged coast, rocky interior filled with glacial lakes. Its biggest city, Portland, ranks 519th in the nation. Capital city Augusta has the third smallest population of any state capital, only larger than Montpelier, VT and Pierre, SD. There's not a lot of people, OK? But Maine likes to call itself "Vacationland," and for many many years it has served the good people of the Boston Metro area in much the same way that upstate NY serves the 5 boroughs, Sulphur Springs, WV the DC area, or Northern/Western Michigan for Chicagoans and Detroiters. With this sort of resort demand comes amusements. It just always does.

The three most well known amusement facilities in the state are all found within a rough 25 mile radius of one another around the I-195 branch south of Portland. Biggest of these is Funtown/Splashtown USA, which opened in 1960 as a drive-in restaurant with a few amusements (kinda like the current state of Didley's Place in Illinois, previously detailed here). As time went on, new rides were installed, and eventually, you get what is there today: a midsize amusement park featuring some decent rides, most notably the CCI wood coaster Excalibur. It's never been a top contender at any point of the great coaster wars of the 2000s, but it is a really fun ride with a couple standout spots of airtime. The park also features an S&S drop tower (with above average decoration), antique cars, log flume, a Maurer Sohne Wild Mouse, and a full water park with all the fixins'.

3 miles away is a beachside park - Palace Playland. The park has operated on this spot since 1902, and was part of a much larger seaside resort area until fires and hurricanes wiped out the larger rides in the 1940s. The present park is jammed packed with rides and attractions across its microscopic 4 acres, and there are also some excellent arcades around to hit up. Finally, there's York's Wild Kingdom. For many years, this park was ignored by most people because it didn't have a roller coaster. It did, however, and still does have, 4 walkthrough attractions. 3 of these are trailer based, but there is the very permanent Haunted House in addition to those. In 2010, the decision was made to add a Wacky Worm kiddie coaster, ensuring it an RCDB entry and slightly more attention. There's also zoo enclosures here to see and an array of flat rides.

Now, were one to do their research, they could go to those old amusement park listings in Billboard and find that back in the 1950s, Old Orchard Beach and York's Wild Kingdom were the only amusement parks then too. If one delves much deeper - say, the 1917 list - the parks found are extremely rudimentary, often lacking in actual amusements. Maine's amusement history is, effectively, a living one. Living history is of course the goal of many open air museums, which 19th Century Willowbrook Village was one of. I say "was" because it closed after the 2016 season, citing that it had been running in the red for years. The carousel there, an 1894 Armitage-Herschell, is the most complete of its sort. Red slatted running boards, animated Sambo figure cranking it; it is from a totally different universe than almost anything in you can find today.

As a vacation destination, Maine pushes the outdoors elements heavily. Flat Rock Bridge Family Camping in Lebanon has what appears to be a resurfaced terrain slide which switched from concrete to plastic. Papoose Pond Resort has a Allen Herschell carousel that operates for limited hours on weekends for those staying there. Naples' Maine is home to the Steamboat Landing Mini Golf, which is fully themed over the 18 holes to the state's most well known symbols.

Like most of the states in New England, Maine does not have a state fair. It chooses instead to have a big ol' booth at the Eastern States Exhibition in Springfield, MA. There are county fairs, but none have anything permanent worth noting.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #121- Baby's First Podcast

Amelia joins us for her first podcast with Nick, Joe, Sean and Lane! We all talk about Miss Adventure Falls, Geyser Point, Pandora, Volcano Bay, and then close out with Sean's trip to the Jurassic World the Exhibition at the Franklyn Institute.

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

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...Louisiana

Louisiana is different. There aren't counties, there's parishes. Louisiana is different. Up until the 1990s, you could effectively drink alcohol if you were 18 (and they lost a lot of federal freeway money as a result). In fact, you still kinda can as long as a guardian buys it for you. Louisiana is different. Their heritage - Cajuns - is derived from French people kicked out of Canada's Atlantic Provinces by the British way back in the 18th century. "Acadian" does kinda sound like Cajuns once you put them next to one another, doesn't it? Louisiana is different.

Louisiana is a place that other things are themed to, not a thing that really needs escapism. Disney and Marriott both dug deep into the architecture of New Orleans' French Quarter for attractions. Alternately, the history of public recreation in Louisiana is not exactly all that wonderful. Early 20th Century Billboard Magazines place more amusement parks in Montana than Louisiana. In 1917, there were only three: City Park and Spanish Fort Park in New Orleans and Shreveport's Fair Park. Shoot forward to 1953, and we find Pontchartrain Beach replacing Fair Park and Spanish Fort in the list. That's it. Two parks. As for the Works Progress Administration, Huey Long and FDR had a falling out over federalism, and because of that, there were few projects in the state other than post offices. And there was racism. Desegregation is sometimes pointed at as a contributing factor for the demise of Pontchartrain Beach, the sole really significant park in the state's history prior to Alfa Smartparks' arrival.

Jazzland, later to be known as Six Flags New Orleans, has in many ways become symbolic of the Six Flags brand and of the tragedy that was Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Opened in 2000 and sold in 2002 to Six Flags after attendance had already dropped by half, its then owner was weighed down with debt and in a state of slow motion collapse. Their New Orleans park was to that point a losing proposition: wrong side of town, middling ride selection, reputation for poor service. It would be naive of me to suggest that the factors responsible for Louisiana's poor amusement options weren't a contributor to the demise of Six Flags New Orleans. However, in fairness, the park was under some 20 feet of water. All electronics were trashed. The dark ride and food stations were obliterated. The B&M constructed Batman: The Ride clone (itself a used ride from Japan) was built with a high enough base off the ground to not be affected and was moved. Everything else was pretty much trashed. Regardless of the financial situation, anyone would be hard pressed to rebuild. And so the park has sat for 12 years.

I sometimes note anecdotally that my one trip to the state was in 2002 - I went to three amusement parks on that trip having lacked enough time to go to City Park. Two were modern post-war themers and one built out family run place that seemed comparatively low rent. The themers were Six Flags Astroworld and Jazzland, neither one of which is still operating. The lower rent family run place - Blue Bayou Dixie Landin' - is the largest operating amusement park near the I-10 corridor anywhere between San Antonio and Valdosta, GA. Houston, Mobile, Pensacola, New Orleans: None of these cities has an amusement park larger than Blue Bayou Dixie Landin'.

There's not a lot aesthetically here to get one's blood pumping if you're a hardcore theme park nerd, but they do have a respectable collection of 4 roller coasters. All 4 were bought used; that's kinda unique. They've also managed to create a lineup that offers some variety; A junior coaster for the kids, a spinning coaster and a Galaxi for family thrills, and a Vekoma Boomerang to excite people just a little more. There's some flat rides, S&S tower, antique cars, and a log flume for the dry park, and a fairly standard selection of modern water slides to go with it. Back in New Orleans itself, Carousel Gardens at City Park has been pretty much totally rebuilt since Katrina, and a new junior coaster operates at the site. Thus concludes the major outdoor amusement parks of Louisiana.

Beyond the parks, what else lies in the state? There are some mildly interesting water parks like SPAR in Sulphur and Splash Kingdom in Shreveport. There's the Audubon Nature Institute, home to a zoo and aquarium. Those are pretty normal sorts of things. Prehistoric Park is Henderson isn't the only giant dinosaur display park in the country, but it certainly isn't as typical as a collection of Proslide flumes run by a civic institution. You walk by giant dinosaurs in a wooded setting. Why? Why not? Lafitte also looks into history at the Barataria Museum, which features a movie presentation and animatronic alligators to liven up the much more recent past of Louisiana's colonization.

During the Halloween season, a state known for its proclivity to voodoo should be expected to show well, and 13th Gate in Baton Rouge managed to be the top rated haunt in the US by Hauntworld twice.