Thursday, July 21, 2016

104- Kong Is The Bomb Dot Com


Joe, Ann, Mike, Nick, and Sean talk about their last trip to Orlando. They discuss Soarin' Around the World, Frozen, Kong, and more!

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

Saturday, July 16, 2016

103- Shanghai Disneyland Review


Joe and Guillaume from Le Parcorama talk VR coasters, Europe parks, and Guillaume gives his review of Shanghai Disneyland. Make sure to follow Guillaume at on twitter and on his blog!

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

Friday, July 8, 2016

Wish Upon a Blue Sky, The Top 30 Disney Attractions Never Built #27: Do You Want to Build a Snow Palace?

Okay, close...but no

The timing of this article is very fortuitous. I had always intended to make this particular attraction the next on my Top 30 List, however rather strangely it coincides with a similar attraction-that-must-not-be-named which opened sort of/almost officially a few days ago. Whether I can convince you or not, I promise the planning for this article did not involve timing it to the opening of this particular attraction. But who am I to shy away from a gleefully juicy opportunity to skewer a New-Age Disney sacred cow like this? So, let’s mount our flaming horse and charge headlong into a hornet’s nest of surefire flaming and unpopularity! Woe to the wicked! Sancho, my armor, my sword!

For Gondor!

This past week Disney unveiled an attraction that is sure to be one of the most divisive among its fanbase in the long history of Disney theme parks. While some attractions can be universally agreed upon to be pointless (Journey Into YOUR Imagination, Superstar Limo, Stitch's Great Mistake, Under New Management), and some attractions are hated only because they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and followed an attraction that is universally beloved (The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Both Coasts Edition). There is a new cool (and I mean cool as in the actual temperature, not due to a presence with the in-crowd) attraction at the park that is most near and dear to an East Coast Disney old-schooler’s heart. The discord of this new attraction follows not so much what it is, but what it might represent. Though I think both might be problematic. Let’s look at this new attraction from three different perspectives: what it is, what it represents, and what it means.

What it is is a simple boat ride. Considering its scope and its budget, it will be lucky if in five years (when the new car smell has worn off) that it would escape C-Ticket status (excluding the length of its line as part of the equation). It follows in the footsteps of some other “character layovers” that Disney fans have gotten quite used to over the years: from Under New Management to the Gran Fiesta Tour. Remember that this new incarnation uses the exact same ride layout as what’s his face the Viking ride. Like Buzz Lightyear created over the husk of Take Flight (more popularly known as Delta Dreamflight), Imagineers had to make do with a set layout that may or may not be tabulated in an appropriate storytelling form for your specific new attraction.

Okay, define "appropriate"

What the attraction represents is the horror movie monster nightmare of old-school Disney fans. We’re afraid it’d under our bed, or in our closet, ready to pounce, the moment we fall asleep. But sometimes, it doesn’t wait until we’re asleep, does it? It reveals itself when we are still fully awake, scaring the bejeezus out of us and daring us to do something about it. It knows we can’t fight it alone. But, we can’t get help from others, because the others don’t believe. They think the monster is “only your imagination,” and they laugh, oh how deep do they laugh, at our infantile hallucinations. But we know better. The others are just normal, they’re unsuspecting zombies, living their lives while a plague threatens us all. It is still lurking under the bed, prowling in the closet, and when we let our guard down against this monster, we are doomed. The monster has a name. It’s called Core Brand Retrenchment.

Disney fans call it Cartoonization.

Our new Scandinavian adventure represents Disney’s continued crusade against product diversification. I honestly can’t think of a better example of the dichotomy until Disney replaces Spaceship Earth with a giant Mike Wazowski.

GOD DAMN IT

We’ve heard the arguments before, over and over again. Say it with me now. One side of the stadium yells “Epcot’s supposed to be different! It’s supposed to represent the countries of the world and the future of our society! It’s supposed to be a mature, adult park!” And the other side yells, “Epcot’s boring! My kids don’t want to do anything there except Soarin and Phineas & Ferb! Epcot isn’t Disney enough! Why aren’t there more characters?” Rinse, repeat, Jets vs. Sharks, we get it. We also get that Disney executives (the same ones who thought, “my toddler needs something more to do at Magic Kingdom, so I will build a Winnie the Pooh playground consisting of a mini-slide, a see-saw, and lots of recycled mulch on top of the 20K graveyard) read a bunch of numbers on a spreadsheet and conclude that these “more character” people are just what the doctor ordered. It is a crusade against product diversity.

Can't all products just live together in this world?

Core Brand Retrenchment is a common illness among the biggest, most lumbery corporations. Big lumbery companies like to stick to their big guns for fear that there’ll be a box on their Annual Report that’s all in red and screams “we didn’t make money from this division this year!” which somehow causes their stock to plummet and their jobs to disappear and Christmas not to come this year. These companies have to constantly fight to get new ideas pushed through the grey cloud of uncertainty. Why would Exxon expand into clean energy when it makes so much money from oil and gas? Why would auto makers try to pioneer new forms of electric or fuel cell cars when they could just…you know…not? And save a bunch of money in the process avoiding an “unproven” technology?

Put it this way: if Disney executives were running Coca-Cola, they would just try to sell Coke to as many distributors as possible, at the expense of the other brands. Coca-Cola also makes Sprite, Dasani water, Fanta, Minute Maid juices, Powerade, Odwalla, etc. Disney would just try to sell Coke to the distributors, and only when Coke is not enough will they throw in the others. This would be because Coke, since it is by far the most popular of the Coca-Cola drinks, has the highest profit margins. And Disney wants the highest profit margins it can get, at the expense of other considerations like market share, brand strength, etc.

This is where cartoonization comes from. Epcot visitors want “more characters” (more Coke!) according to spreadsheets, so Disney will look to add characters anywhere. Fantasyland (let’s call it Cokeland now…there’s an image you won’t get out of your head) is the proven favorite single area of Walt Disney World for Disney’s Core Audience Demographic (families with young kids and parents who will splurge hysterically to buy things for said kids), and therefore, Disney must turn everything into Fantasyland. This is how Epcot (of all things) now has attractions based on Frozen, Finding Nemo, and The Three Caballeros (that last one was literally a game of “which Mexican characters can we shoehorn into this pavilion?”), and how Tomorrowland has attractions based on Buzz Lightyear, Stitch, and Mike Wazowski. Believe you me, George of the Jungle Cruise isn’t far behind, if Disney can bear to spend the money. The same idea is also running amok (and has been since Darth Paul’s reign began in 1994/95) among Disney merchandise divisions, where unique specialty items are replaced with generic items at every store (High School Musical merchandise at the Space Mountain gift shop was my favorite back in the day). If anyone reading this is a West Coaster, next time you take a trip to Disneyland, go inside the Pioneer Mercantile store in Frontierland (a shop described on Disneyland.com as “a shop featuring Old West apparel”). We’re going to play a game. I want you to count what percentage of the items available in that store have anything to do with Frontierland. It’s one of the most depressing games you’ll play. And you can do this for every single area of the park, except of course, FANTASYLAND. Sigh.  

Pictured: Fantasyland, circa 2025

What this attraction means for Disney is, simply, what I had mentioned before, which is Core Brand Retrenchment taken to offensive extremes. We’ve seen this before. Oftentimes in other entertainment industries, potentially brilliant creative decisions are ignored for political reasons or in favor of guaranteed short-term revenue over potentially zonko future growth. Movie geeks know them by heart. Edgar Wright should have done Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The Doom movie should have been directed by Paul Verhoeven. Think of what someone like James Cameron, or Steven Spielberg, or Ridley Scott, could have done if they had directed a movie in the Star Wars franchise. Tim Burton probably would have made a hell of an Into the Woods. On and On and On.

In this case, Disney took the easy way out, the way it always takes. It’s a strategy that focuses on short-term goals and ignores, or in fact struggles with and represses, the long-term. Disney sees that guests feel that Epcot “needs more characters.” And this topic goes hand in hand with Disney’s “One (Fantasy)Land to Rule Them All” manifesto. And so, one by one, The Living Seas is replaced with Nemo, El Rio Del Tiempo is replaced with Donald, Panchito, and Jose, and Maelstrom is replaced with Frozen. And instead of building a brand new attraction, they will be recycling the same ride layout and the same ride vehicles (which have a notoriously slow load time and low THRC that turned an innocuous Viking ride into a forever-more 35 minute wait regardless of crowd conditions) in an effort to save time and money. What doom for the future, if Disney spends and cares so little for its shiniest new golden egg? What can we expect about the facets of the Disney empire that aren’t so shiny? Like the entire video games division? Too soon?

This used to be the home page for Disney Interactive
I mean, are you kidding?

As we begin to talk about what the new attraction means for Disney (and for us), we can now start to talk about our next entry of our list. This is because, strangely, our next entry is almost both a precursor and a direct influence on the new Frozen attraction. Additionally, it represents an easy synergistic slam-dunk for Disney that was completely ignored. To wit: why did Disney have to build this attraction in Epcot in the first place? What makes this attraction so puzzling is the fact that the way it went down was not the way it had to happen at all, and in fact could have easily been avoided. There was, curiously, and easy out in the form of our next entry, which could have effortlessly been themed to Frozen and churned out a bona-fide and (more importantly) inoffensive hit.

Getting back to the “what if Edgar Wright had directed Hitchhiker’s Guide” idea, Disney actually had a perfect attraction fit for Frozen’s first major attraction foray. The impetus, known to Disney historians, was Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of the Snow Queen. As is widely known by now, Disney had been pursuing possible full-length animated interpretations of Hans Christian Andersen’s stories ever since the early 1940s. At the time, Walt Disney was in talks with Samuel Goldwyn (of MGM) to collaborate on a live-action telling of Hans Christian Andersen’s life (at the time, Disney had only produced The Reluctant Dragon and Song of the South as live action movies, and was not fully equipped to take on such a project by itself). While studying Andersen’s line of work, Disney started to create concept art for potential animated versions of Andersen’s tales, including most famously The Little Mermaid (which would eventually get made 20+ years after Walt’s death, in 1989) and The Steadfast Tin Soldier (which would eventually be included in Fantasia 2000). One of the other projects on the list was the Snow Queen, a series of short chapters featuring the Snow Queen as a magical witch figure, who involves herself in the lives of certain human characters. The Snow Queen idea would go through so many permutations it could fill a book (and has!). After several abortive attempts from Walt Disney and his animation teams, the Eisner/Wells regime shortly resurrected the idea in the late 1980s as the animation team was looking to ramp up production and turn our a new animated movie every 12-18 months. The idea was put in limbo again, and was always brought up in the animation division’s creative summit meetings (as featured in James B. Stewart’s DisneyWar) until Glen Keane became interested, then John Lasseter and Pixar, until it was finally greenlit as a Disney-label CG film.

But during the Snow Queen’s limbo period after Walt Disney’s death, Marc Davis had an idea to bring the Snow Queen not to the silver screen, but to Disneyland. Everyone knows the story of the conception of Splash Mountain by heart (how Tony Baxter, stuck in rush hour traffic between Burbank and Anaheim, conjoined separate ideas of a ride based on Song of the South, Dick Nunis’s obsession over adding a log flume ride to Disneyland, and the question of what to do with the 100+ America Sings Audio-Animatronics into one glorious whole), but not everyone has read or heard of Marc Davis’s similar inspiration for Disneyland.

Marc was walking through Disneyland one day in the early 1970s. At the time, though he did not know for sure, Marc’s career was in its winter solstice phase. He was a rock star with Walt Disney, having created some of Disney Animation’s most beloved characters, such as Tinkerbell, Maleficent, and Cruella De Vil, before moving to WED Enterprises and collaborating on some of the most famous Disney attractions of all time, such as the Jungle Cruise, Enchanted Tiki Room, It’s a Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Haunted Mansion. Throughout the decades of the 1940s through the 1960s, he was (and treated like) one of Disney’s top creative talents. Even shortly after Walt’s death, Marc was a creative heavyweight for WED, designing attractions such as the Country Bear Jamboree, the Floridian Pirates of the Caribbean, and America Sings, as well as the entire Adventureland area of Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom along with Dorothea Redmond.

But unfortunately, Marc’s time at Disney would count down to its eventual doom after Walt Disney’s passing. He was a rock star in Walt’s eyes, which did not particularly endear him to the rest of the Disney creative teams. Though he certainly was not a firebrand in the same way as, say, Milt Kahl was, Marc did have an artist’s ego, and he was not one for mending fences. And so, when Walt passed away and new regimes took over control of the company, Marc was not given the spotlight he was used to, and his ideas were not given the same weight. He was no longer able to play the “Marc Davis Wins LOL” card that gave him automatic credibility under Walt’s supervision. This was all playing in the background as we continue our anecdote.

...Well...Something like that...

As Marc was walking through Disneyland, he had a similar revelation as Tony Baxter did with Splash Mountain. Marc was observing the behavior of guests and their demeanor (as well as his own family’s), and knew that Disneyland needed something that would cool down guests during the hotter periods of the day (which in Southern California, is every day from April through November). Many attractions at the time were indoors, but not all (Dumbo, Mad Tea Party, Tom Sawyer Island to name a few). The general walking areas were mostly open to the sky. And the queue areas were, almost without exception, entirely outdoors. So, Marc knew Disneyland guests were desperate for an attraction that would keep them cool for extended periods of time.

And so, a grand tradition was born

As he thought about what story ideas could arise from such a conception point, he thought about the abandoned Snow Queen concept from the animation archives. The attraction would be a natural fit as a “cooling off” attraction in more ways than one: not only would the attraction have the A/C on full blast, but there could also possibly be rooms where characters could play in real snow, in the middle of the 90-degree Anaheim summer days.

The story also lent itself to this idea (after all, this is Marc Davis we’re talking about here, who wouldn’t dare propose an attraction unless there was a good story behind it). The Snow Queen in the story lives in a magnificent ice palace, which would serve as an excellent show building and façade. The story (and specifically Disney’s proposed animated version of it) would have also featured plenty of animal characters who would undoubtedly cavorted around the palace/tundra area as Disney animal characters do. And then, of course, there was the Snow Queen herself, designed and conceived from the hand that gave life to Aurora in Sleeping Beauty. All these elements combined to get Marc’s creative mind flowing, until he was ready to present to Disney executives his finalized concept for the Enchanted Snow Palace.

 Though we don’t have much in the way of concept designs for the Enchanted Snow Palace, we do have enough to hypothesize what the attraction experience would have been like, circa the early to mid 1970s.

The attraction would have been tucked into the back of Fantasyland (pre-1983 renovation), which at the time is the approximate location of where the Fantasyland Theater is now. The Enchanted Snow Palace would have had an enormous, It’s a Small World-sized show building and façade, which would have been sculpted to look like a magnificent ice palace formed within an enormous glacier (yeah, I know. Dude.) Also keep in mind, this was 20+ years before Blizzard Beach and 5+ years before Big Thunder Mountain, where the Imagineering sculptors really got to shine, so Marc was thinking big for his WED group back in the day.

The ride itself would have been a mellow, slow moving boat ride a la Pirates of the Caribbean and It’s a Small World (Marc loved the bateaux form of conveyance, both for its storytelling potential as guests watched scenes fold and unfold, as well as its devouring capacity that could send 30,000+ guests through the attraction every day). A beautiful artistic touch by Marc was the idea that the flume for the boats would have been suggested to be formed by a moat of melting snow, which would power the boats through the snow kingdom.

Once through the entrance tunnel from the entrance, riders would have been treated to a parade of vintage Marc Davis scenes of animals doing adorable Disney animal things. There would have been ice-skating penguins, ice-bowling polar bears, ice-swimming seals, ice-…uh…howling wolves (?) sorry lost the thread there but there would be everything from reindeer to foxes, moose, walruses, rabbits, dogs, orcas, and snow owls. Guests would ride through scene after scene of classic Marc Davis funny animal tableaus. And as the guests floated past the animals, there would be several interactive elements. Snow piles would appear to give way and dump more snow into the flume. Walruses and seals would spray water at the boats. And all of these elements would have been set to the classic music of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, which I’m sure all of you know but also I might mention it is the music featured in the snow segment of Fantasia.

Pretty Awesome Marc, but...
What the heck are those gnome things?

After their friendly foray with the Disney animal brigade, Marc would take the guests into Act II. As the stars and the Aurora Borealis shine on the ceiling of the show building (wouldn’t that have been something to see), the boats sail into darker waters. Guests would have floated inside snow caves, where they would meet ice giants and fairies and other magical creatures.

:)

After the encounter with the magical creatures, Marc brings it all together in Act III. Guests would enter the main chambers of the Snow Palace, where the Snow Queen’s maidens and royal animals live.

But seriously, what are those things?
Grandparents of the Underpants Gnomes?

The Grand Finale would have been the throne room of the Snow Queen herself. Guests catch her just as she’s about to leave to go do whatever Snow Queens do. As they pass by, the Snow Queen waves her hand and snow begins to fall as guests exit the show building and disembark.

Okay...HELLLOOOO NURSE!

As you can see, this would have been a classic artistic subject undertaken by one of the best WED Imagineers of all-time, back in the period where it was still somewhat acceptable to make Walt-like decrees such as, “We should do something with that big dirt mound in the middle of Fantasyland…let’s build a Matterhorn!” This was back in the days when new attractions did not have to prove or show to make an obvious profit in merchandise sales, where new attractions like Marc’s Country Bear Jamboree and America Sings were made purely (gasp!) for fun.

Ultimately, it’s plainly obvious to see that Marc’s Enchanted Snow Palace had a very small probability of success in a post-Walt Disney universe. After Walt’s passing, Disney’s new executive regimes were far less likely to spend millions of dollars creating attractions simply on artistic merit. Disney’s fortunes would steadily decline after the opening of Walt Disney World, and Disney executives would demonstrably rather spend their money on flashier E-Tickets that would have a much easier marketing hook and weenie potential (Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain).  And so, Marc Davis’s lovely Enchanted Snow Palace would inevitably pass into Neverland.

Disney used to be big on taking old ideas and repurposing them. They say over and over and over again that “Good Ideas Never Die” (GIND, I guess) at Imagineering. International Street becomes World Showcase. Edison Square becomes the Carousel of Progress. Discovery Bay becomes Discoveryland. Et cetera. But nowadays, it seems that a new attraction has to either be ripped wholesale from an already physically existing attraction or completely ignore every possible iteration that has come before it (*cough* Seven Dwarfs Mine Train *cough cough*).

Come on, WDI...YOU KNOW YOU WANT TO

It should have been obvious to put Frozen and the Enchanted Snow Palace together, at least in some way. Instead of throwing away the still-popular Maelstrom and ignoring the mission and long-range plan of World Showcase, Disney could have easily created a Snow Palace-inspired boat ride to help anchor New Fantasyland (and, it should be added, it probably would have been a better use of space than what sits in the west coast Fantasyland Theater currently). Of course they can change it as necessary. Add characters, add a plot or narrative, add a waterfall if you feel you have to.  It could have been an easy slam-dunk for Disney: a high-capacity, indoor (no weather, except for snow), animated figure-filled boat ride based on Disney’s latest animated hit. I mean, could it get any easier? It could have reminded us all of the family-friendly runaway success of the old Smurfs boat ride from Kings Island.

Okaaaaayyyyy....maybe not

It’s almost embarrassing how Disney continues to refuse to swing at the fat pitches right over the plate. The list of missed opportunities would be longer than this already too-long article (which by now I think we can consider a dissertation), and it continues to be both frustrating and puzzling. How do you think they could justify producing what they did instead of the ten or twenty much better uses of money and space they could have used to celebrate their new golden goose? I think there are many possible reasons, but what really bothers me is the lack of money and effort Disney is putting into Frozen at the parks (and I say this as a very contented NON-fan of the film). I mean, Frozen is HUGE for them right now. HUGE. If we’re going to be annoyed with something, we should be annoyed when Disney showers us with endless Frozen attractions. But instead of a shower, we get a trickle. A small trickle, at that. We get character greets, a stage show at DCA, and a shoe-horned minor boat ride in a country’s pavilion that has nothing to do with the source material. It would be like putting a Ronald Reagan Circle-Vision documentary in a Greenland Pavilion. I mean, they’re not even trying any more.

Thinking of the reasons why Disney would ignore MK to begin with, most likely they’re using Frozen as a “shiny new thing” for parks that are not as popular as MK (note how all the major Frozen presentations are in DCA on the west coast). To them, it would be a legitimate attendance and revenue booster for under-performing parks. There’s also, I’m sure, a sort of “share the wealth” feeling associated with this, since both MKs are already up to their ears in cartoonization, certainly it’s time for the other parks to join in on the fun. But still, it’s hard to fathom why Disney refuses to put its full weight behind the Frozen franchise in the theme parks. Especially when there’s such an easy presentation format to present it in, and uncountable multitudes of fans ready to engorge such a presentation and violently throw money Disney’s way.

But thinking about it, even I would enjoy to take a trip with Anna and Elsa through a modified Enchanted Snow Palace. Nowadays, since I am not necessarily a fan of the film (honestly, I’ve never seen it, and have no desire to), I do not engage with the character meets and the small stage presentations, I won’t see the Hyperion Theater production (mostly because it’s a bloody hour long), and I wouldn’t wait more than 20 minutes for the Norway attraction (similar to Nemo, Circle of Life, Journey Into Your Imagination, and other minor attractions at Epcot). But I would certainly wait a fair amount to see an Enchanted Snow Palace-inspired Frozen attraction. And I wish Disney would understand why. An attraction is not character-deep. The popularity of an attraction isn’t determined by the copyrighted character names in the attraction’s title. There’s something to be said for the actual quality of the attraction, the aesthetics, the thematic thrills. It’s the reason why the Mount Rushmore of Disney attractions continues, to this day, to be Pirates, Mansion, It’s a Small World, Space Mountain, and the Jungle Cruise. And what do these attractions have in common (or did, until 2006)? They did not have any Disney movie characters in them. Not a one. For 40+ years. And yet, they continue to be at the top of the pile, year after year. Hopefully, one of these days, Disney will get back to doing what it’s good at. Until then, it’s Frozen Ever After from here on out.

Step 1: Collect Underpants
Step 2: ???
Step 3: Profit!


Previous Wish Upon a Blue Sky Articles by FiddlersGreen:

#28:  http://www.parkscope.net/2016/05/wish-upon-blue-sky-top-disney.html 

#29:  http://www.parkscope.net/2016/04/wish-upon-blue-sky-top-30-disney_23.html 

#30:  http://www.parkscope.net/2016/04/wish-upon-blue-sky-top-30-disney.html 

Introduction: http://www.parkscope.net/2016/04/wish-upon-blue-sky-top-30-attractions.html 



**Send Jeff a line at HamGamgee@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter @Parkscopejeff. 



  

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

5.20 - Walt's Frozen Head


Joe, Nick, and Benjamin Lancaster from The Further Adventures of Walt's Frozen Head all download Pokemon GO and pick which hats and backpacks to wear. After a little Nintendo and Halloween 2 talk we dive into the story behind, filming, and post production of The Further Adventures of Walt's Frozen Head. Go follow on Twitter and back them on Kickstarter!

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

Thursday, June 30, 2016

5.19- It's Tough to be a Water Bug


Joe, Lane, Nick, and Mike are joined by Banks Lee of Attractions the Show to talk about Volcano Bay, a new Universal Orlando hotel, Chance takes over Halloween Horror Nights, Guardians of the (annoyed grunt) Galaxy, and then Banks gives us the skinny on the new attractions in central Florida this summer!

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

Universal Files Plans for New 600 Room Hotel (Update 3)

Photo from GrowthSpotter
From GrowthSpotter and OU poster GAcoaster, Universal Orlando has filed plans with the City of Orlando to add 600 new rooms south of Sapphire Falls and adjacent to Adventure Way. We previously speculated this could be an expansion to Sapphire Falls, but it is quickly shaping up to be a new hotel. For comparison the Hard Rock Hotel has 650 rooms, Portofino Bay 750 rooms, both Royal Pacific and Sapphire have 1000 rooms, and 1800 rooms at Cabana Bay. The new Cabana Bay towers will each house an additional 200 rooms when they open in 2017.

Comparatively, the Four Points by Sheraton in Orlando is a similar design and has 300 rooms.

Permit found by TheNJBrandon on Twitter. 

Our friend Richard Bilboa at Orlando Business Journal reports the new hotel, Project 927,  could be called "Aventura Hotel" based on an October 2015 trademark filing. Below is an image provided by Richard and City of Orlando Documents relating to pedestrian walkways, shows the location and possible shape/direction of the hotel.

Image courtesy of Orlando Business Journal and the City of Orlando.
Based on the name of the hotel it is suspected it'll have a Spanish/Mediterranean theme. Due to the small plot size it's also likely the hotel will be a city style high rise hotel over a parking garage instead of a sprawling resort.

Check out our latest podcast for more speculation and information on the hotel.


*Update 3 removes speculation on location of hotel near Wet n Wild, notes this is a new hotel and not an expansion of Sapphire Falls, adds sizes of other hotels on UOR property, and adds images and additional information from the Orlando Business Journal.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Volcano Bay's Past & the Future of Water Parks

Concept art copyright Universal Orlando Resort
With the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure the next generation of themed entertainment began in the United States. Now three Hogmeads, Diagon Alley, Carsland, Avatar, and Star Wars later it is easy to forget how much the original changed the game. Hogsmeade was on level with only New Orleans Square in terms of leapfrogging the established, stale conventions.

The first modern water park, River Country, opened in 1976, themed to an ol' swimmin' hole. In 1977 Wet n Wild opened off International Drive about 20 minutes north of River Country. Wet n Wild offered a stripped down water park experience focusing on thrills and slide technology. Per Eisner's decree to compete in Orlando, Disney once again upped the game with Typhoon Lagoon (1989) and Blizzard Beach (1995). Large, expansive parks were designed with at the time modern slides and designs like Wet n Wild, but with a cohesive theme and unique visual design. Besides Aquatica in 2008 not much has changed in water parks in the Orlando area; even regional parks like Holiday World and the Schlitterbahn have evolved with mega slide complexes, water coasters, RFID wristbands, and other crazy features.

In 1998 Universal Studios Recreation Group (now Universal Parks & Resorts) purchased Wet n Wild from its previous owners. Universal continued to lease the land the park was built upon until buying the land outright in 2013. In 2011 Universal applied for the trademark "WonderSea Island" for a new water park. In addition several design patents were filed for such things as projections on sand and other water technology. In 2015 Volcano Bay was finally announced to open south of Cabana Bay while the historic Wet n Wild would to close in December 2016 for future resort development.

Where did Volcano Bay's ideas come from and what sort of advancements are we looking at?

Volcano Bay started... at Disneyland Paris. No joke.

Concept art copyright The Walt Disney Company. Image from Disney and More.
Thierry Coup worked with Walt Disney Imagineering in the 90s at Disneyland Paris and one of the projects developed at that time was Lava Lagoon, an indoor/outdoor water park for the resort. A giant Hawaiian volcano would rise up in the middle of the park and the park would blend Tiki, south Pacific, and more tropical themes into one. Read the great post by Disney and More for more information and amazing concept art.

Concept art copyright The Walt Disney Company. Image from Disney and More.
The concept of Volcano Bay, and WonderSea, started in Disneyland Paris and morphed over the years as the themed entertainment industry evolved. Large slides with single tubes at a swimming hole gave way to multi-passenger rafts in bowls, up steep walls, and propelled by electromagnets.

"To help shape our vision, we traveled around the world visiting water parks and tropical resorts. We went to Bali, the Middle East, Europe and all across the United States. And from there, we started designing what we wanted Volcano Bay to be."


Universal Creative traveled to tropic resorts and water park throughout the world to find the best experiences and slides to create a world class park. The volcano and surrounding villages are the home to the Waturi, a fictional south Pacific island culture (and a reference to Joe vs the Volcano, a joke I expect not to die anytime soon with me). According to the Waturi, "Water is Life. Life is Joy." The themes of relaxation, family, and play are emphasized in the design and marketing language of the parks four lands and 18 attractions.

Krakatau is the waterfall clad, water slide housing, 200 feet volcano in the middle of the park. Beyond acting as the weenie for the park during the day, Krakatau will use dramatic lighting to make it appear to spew lava at night. The volcano will house massive caves, what appears to be an observation deck, several body slides, and a top secret attraction "to be revealed at a later date". Using some deduction and inside information, we believe this top secret attraction will be a water coaster similar to Crush n Gusher at Typhoon Lagoon or Mammoth at Holiday World. But what pushes this attraction above all others at Volcano Bay is this attraction will feature dark ride show scenes. While we do not know the plot of the water coaster, imagine if you slowly go through caves and see plant and animal life. Then at the climax of the dark ride scene the Volcano starts to erupt, launching the coaster up and out of the volcano into water coaster like segments inside and outside of the volcano. Other slides in the volcano, like the Ko’okiri Body Plunge, will feature trap door, SkyBox speed slides. Imagine one moment you're standing in an enclosed tube, the next a bottom hatch opens, and then you're plummeting down a 125 foot tall slide at 70 degrees.

Concept art copyright Universal Orlando Resort
At the foot of Krakatau is Wave Village, home to the multi-directional wave pool (patented by Universal!) and The Reef, a leisure pool. Wave Village could use technology developed by Universal to make the sand look like lava at night to complement Krakatau's nighttime experience. Several pieces of concept art show large buildings themed to boats which could be the rumored themed restaurants and bars. As Volcano Bay bills itself as a deluxe relaxing destination, it's very likely these locations will be full service restaurants and bars. Yes, us at Parkscope are praying for a Tiki Bar.

River Village section of the park is the family section of the park. Runamukka Reef and Tot Tiki Reef  are water playgrounds for families with toddlers and younger kids to explore. One of the park's two lazy rivers and two multi-passenger raft slides are located here. Volcano Bay's theme of relaxation and luxury starts continues here as several cabanas will be built for guests to rent, ranging from one story to two stories. Cabanas at several existing water parks offer guaranteed chairs, shade, and towels but Volcano Bay is expected to match luxury water parks and resorts by offering fridges, water, TVs, couches, and more (see above photo). River Village will also have several food and beverage locations shared with Rainforest Village, to spare guests from hiking it to the front of the park. 

Concept art copyright Universal Orlando Resort.
Rainforest Village will be home to action slides, with slides that drop riders 4 to 6 feet over the water (see above photo), multi person raft rides, a saucer slide, fast paced body slides, and an action river (think lazy river with waves and white water rapids sections). Another modern convince built directly into the park will be raft conveyors. Most water parks require you to lug large tubes or rafts up stairs to the slide opening, but Volcano Bay will use lifts and conveyors to move rafts to the top of the slide platforms. Slide reservation systems and 

Concept art copyright Universal Orlando Resort.
Volcano Bay will be on par with Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard beach in terms of theming with large set pieces and incredible rock work. The huge leaps in quality of the park will come from new slide experiences and improved guest services. ProSlide will be providing their speed slides, America's first FlyingSaucer slide, water coasters, wall water slides (see above photo), and SkyBox speed slides. These slides are the latest in technology, with many first for the United States and the Orlando area. Guests will also find more food and drink options than other parks, with an emphasis on not having to walk to the front of the park to eat and drink.

Concierge service areas, private cabanas, and lockers controlled by RFID wristbands will be provided. And talking about RFID wristbands, these will be similar to other water parks and the pilot program currently at Wet n Wild; guests will be able to pay for items, unlock lockers, and make slide time reservations. "THAT'S EXACTLY LIKE A MAGICBAND!" you will yell, and no, no it is not; the comparisons end at being worn on the wrist and using near field communication systems. It is currently understood that no online profiles, mobile apps, days before reservations, or more will be offered; instead it's about convince of accessing features of the park and letting you swim in pools instead of stand on stairs. Similar to water parks around the world, the ride reservation system simply has a guest tap their wrist band at a kiosk and a return time will display on the band

Universal Orlando Resort made an interesting choice to label Volcano Bay as it's third theme park. Walt Disney World does not advertise their water parks as "theme parks" domestically but do so internationally. I believe Universal is attempting to counter the perception the resort has fewer attractions than Walt Disney World because it has fewer theme parks; consider it a modern version of the megahertz myth. Calling Volcano Bay a third theme park allows the new park opening on the newly acquired land down the road to be call the fourth theme park, bringing perceived attraction parity.

Volcano Bay has one expansion pad to add more slides, similar to Typhoon Lagoon's land where Crush n Gusher and new rumored slides are added. While there will be new slides at Volcano Bay before 27 years of operation (side eye Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach), we do not know what sort of slides would be added. If we think what the next addition could be, we notice that there are not any racing water slides, a fun and popular water park staple.

If you're a Universal Orlando Resort guest you can take a tram from the transportation hub, boat to Sapphire Falls, or walk to Volcano Bay. If you drive to Universal the southmost parking garage's lower levels will be turned into Volcano Bay parking only with a tram to the park. Additionally as part of Volcano Bay's opening preparation the entry plaza and toll booths will be reworked for better guest flow.

For more information, including slide names and more details, check out Universal Orlando Resort's Volcano Bay site and blog post.