Thursday, May 31, 2012

Shots Fired!

Universal Studios Hollywood has fired the first shot in the Southern California theme park war. Transformers: The Ride had its grand opening and boy was it entertaining. Watch the video below from Universal Studios' own Youtube channel to see what I mean.

The new attraction has been getting rave reviews from guests and critics alike.

Personally, I cannot wait to see how Disneyland Resort will counter on June 15th with the relaunch of Disney California Adventure. It is an exciting time to be a theme park fan!

-Mr. X


Wow. So the Themed Entertainment Association released the 2011 theme park attendance figures earlier tonight, and I have to say I'm blown away by what I see from Islands of Adventure and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. For a second straight year, IoA jumped about 30%, from 5,949,000 in 2010 to 7,674,000 in 2011. It has now broken the top 10 most visited parks in the world, and is showing no signs of slowing down. Couple this with the phenomenal per-guest spending numbers, and you can see why Comcast is "bullish" in regards to adding to the Orlando resort. Not to mention this is all in the worst economy we've seen in a long, long time.

The Disney parks in Orlando all had minimal gains, or in the case of Epcot stayed flat. The numbers show Disney's dilemma in Orlando. They aren't losing their customer base, but they also aren't growing. But there are obviously more customers to be out there, as evident by IoA's massive jump. And I've been told Disney's real problem with the boy wizard's lair is those pesky guest spending numbers, which are close to (possibly even higher) than the mouse's in Orlando. Without additions to make parks like EPCOT, Disney Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom "must visits", I don't see those three parks gaining significantly, especially EPCOT who's capacity is woefully missed every day, without major investment. Unfortunately, Bob Iger and Jay Rasulo have been quoted that the parks will significantly cut spending after the Fantasyland Expansion and DCA redo.

Universal Studios Orlando barely gained as well, and after seeing the gains IoA received back to back years, it's obvious to see why the boy wizard will be buying more real estate next door. There's no more magical property in theme parks than Harry Potter, that's for sure, though it will be interesting to see what affects this years additions will have on USF.

Overall, this years numbers are great news for Universal, and great news for those looking for some UOR upgrades.

Around the world, Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySEA had understandable drops due to the closures they endured after the devastating earthquake and tsunami. While on the other hand, Disneyland Paris went up about 5%.

It's obvious that the state of the theme park is strong, and will continue to grow as long as parks continue to invest. That's it for this short report, check back tomorrow for our weekly wrap up, and as always follow @Parkscope for up to the minute news and dsicussion.


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

They raised prices... AGAIN?!?!?!?!?!?!?

Today, we shall take on a recent bit of news (one that we talk about every year) ticket price increases. Are the recent ticket price increases erroneously high or should we consider other factors when we look at what has recently went on? Let's sit back and discuss, shall we?

In case you didn't get the memo, the Orlando Sentinel announced a Universal Orlando Resort ticket price increase of 3.5% on Monday, May 29th. This brings the cost of a one day - one park ticket to either Universal Studios Florida theme park or Universal's Islands of Adventures theme park to $88. The catch with the price increase is that Universal did not act in the typical manner this time. Rather than reacting to a Walt Disney World price increase, they were proactive!

©2012 Universal Orlando. All Rights Reserved

This says a lot about where Universal is after the $265 million dollar investment that resulted in the critically acclaimed Wizarding World of Harry Potter. After years of following the mouse, demand for tickets at Universal Orlando Resort have finally reached the point where they can set ticket prices at their on accord.

©2012 Universal Orlando. All Rights Reserved

Some questions that always come up when ticket prices change are only logical. Is the new price worth it? Will I get what I pay for? Have they priced themselves too high? Is my return on investment going to be worth the cost of admission? In order to figure out that question, we must compare one form of entertainment to another.

Movies are a mainstay in America when it comes to entertainment, but the cost is ever increasing. Right now, if you were to attend a 3-D movie at a theater in my area, it would cost you over $10 a person, but that is just the start.

Football! The number 1 sport in the United States! How much does it cost for one person to go to one football game? Well, that depends. I graduated from Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Ga. They are an NCAA Div 1 - FCS powerhouse. Since football was reinstated in the early 80's they have won 6 National Championships and set a record for playoff appearances. For one ticket to a game featuring our archrivel, Appalachine State, you will pay $25 to enter Paulson Stadium. This is the same price you would pay for a ticket to see them play The Citadel or anyone else on schedule, playoffs or regular seaon. Not bad for a few hours of entertainment.

(Courtsey of

My wife graduated from this little school located in Athens, GA called the University of Georgia. Last season, we attended homecoming in Athens. For $45 each we were presented with a ticket to an SEC football game that required oxygen tanks to reach the seats because they were so high. Want closer, you pay more!
We also attended the Outback Bowl in Tampa on New Years Day to watch the Michigan State Spartans defeat my wife's beloved Bulldogs for $75 a person, which is what the average person pays for a regular season ticket to any NFL game in the nation.

(Courtsey of

For $75, people are paying for about 3 hours of entertainment. If you were at the NASCAR All-Star race with me at Charlotte Motorspeedway this year, you paid about $80 a person to be on the front streightaway. With that ticket, you recieved action on the track for about 4 hours.
Now, consider that for $8 more than what I paid to see Jimmie Johnson win the All-Star event I could've visited Islands of Adventure and it doesn't seem so bad. For $88, you are going to get 10 - 12 hours of world class entertainment, fireworks, and outstanding customer service. Universal Orlando has certainly stepped up their game and are asking people to pay a primemum for the world class entertainment they offer.

©2012 Universal Orlando. All Rights Reserved

Is $88 expensive to visit a theme park? Yes! However, you get what you pay for. If the price Increase is justified, which it seems to be this time, it is understandable. Once you start pricing multi day tickets and annual passes, it becomes even more economical to visit Universal Orlando Resort.

Just something to chew on before you begin complaining on your favorite forum.

Until next time, duces!
-Mr. X

The Cost of Success

In the past week, both Disneyland Resort and Universal Orlando Resort have announced price increases for admission.  These two resorts have one thing in common: success.

Disneyland Resort has nearly one million annual pass holders.  This incredible number is the result of a  re-dedication to quality that Disneyland Resort undertook in the early 2000's on the cusp of the resort's 50th anniversary.  This movement will culminate with the June 15th grand opening of Disney California Adventure (note the lack of 's.)

The breathtaking Cars Land expansion coming to California Adventure
AP Photo/Disney, Paul Hiffmeyer

Disneyland Resort has a problem, a good problem:  too many people want to visit.  People want to visit, and often, because Team Disney Anaheim has brought back the quality to Disneyland Park that Disney built its reputation on and they have finally made California Adventure worthy of the Disney name.  Due to the expectation of unprecedented attendance at the resort this summer, cast members have been blacked-out from using their maingates, and the price of a Disneyland Resort Annual Pass has increased substantially.

California Adventure's new icon, Carthay Circle Theatre.
Credit: Disney Parks Blog
 Is the increase fair?  Well, the market suggests so.  Demand exceeds supply.  One million locals cannot visit California Adventure on June 15th.  If an annual passholder decides to not renew, I daresay many more will be willing to replace them.  What a problem to have!

Universal Orlando Resort does not have nearly the annual passholders that Disneyland Resort has.  Instead, it has a large amount of single day visitors who do not take advantage of the things that would make the resort money.  Universal Orlando, like Walt Disney World Resort, covets multi-day stays.  Walt Disney World has been very successful at keeping guests on property for multiple days, eating its restaurants, staying in its hotels, and shopping in its shops. Universal Orlando wants to replicate that model.

Universal's Cinematic Spectacular
©2012 Universal Orlando. All Rights Reserved

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter made Universal a player in Orlando again.  Since the success of Potter, Universal Orlando has taken steps to becoming the resort it aspired to be when it added CityWalk, three resort hotels, and Islands of Adventure in 1999.  Additions such as Hollywood Drive-In Mini Golf, Cinematic Spectacular, Superstar Parade, and the new Blue Man Group show are all designed with the intention of keeping guests on property.  With the new offerings, guests need to stay later and longer on Universal Orlando property to get the full resort experience.

Beautiful Portofino Bay Hotel
©2012 Universal Orlando. All Rights Reserved
Most guests only come to Universal Orlando for a day and leave to return to their Walt Disney World resort hotel.  By raising single day prices, Universal Orlando is taking advantage of demand for its product while it is popular and also enticing guests to extend their stays to take advantage of reduced ticket prices the longer they stay (again, the Disney model.)  Universal may even be slowly raising prices to make a possible mandatory 2-park ticket more palatable in a few years when Potter Phase 2 is complete (but this possibility is pure conjecture on my part.)

Blue Man Group received a new show this year
©2012 Universal Orlando. All Rights Reserved
Is a theme park worth $80-90 a day?  That is your prerogative.  Personally, I do not think so, but obviously,  the majority disagrees.  Attendance continues to increase as resorts raise prices yearly.  Americans have shown they are willing to pay premiums for themed entertainment.  I will say that the increases are at least more palatable when you can see the revenue at work.  At Universal you can see where the money is going: Spider-Man refurb, Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, Cinematic Spectacular, Spongebob Storepants, Superstar Parade, CityWalk Promenade,Wizarding World of Harry Potter Phase 2, and whatever else the "UniBlitz" brings in the next five years.  At Disneyland Resort, you can see the $1 billion+ pumped into California Adventure.  These are tangible additions and changes that you can see where the money is going.

I am just glad that I have cast member friends with maingates, and Universal annual passes are affordable.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Cleansing Wave?

If you're walking by Woody Woodpecker's KidZone in Universal Studios Florida, you might be hearing something. Wanna know what it is? It's the winds of change. This past weekend, the KidZone's radically redone gift shop opened as Spongebob Storepants, a highly themed and detailed store/meet and greet dedicated to Bikini Bottom's most famous resident.

Personally, the project was low on my list of things to keep an eye on. Universal's new night show, parade, Busch Garden's Williamsburg's Verbolten, and Disney's big California Adventure redo were taking up most of my theme park attention. To me, Storepants was merely going to be the possible first step on a newly revamped KidZone. But as I said, the store opened this past weekend, and what I see has really impressed me, and given me a whole heck of a lot of hope for the future of this decrepit area of the park.

The facade is a huge improvement over the former Universal's Cartoon Store's boring exterior. The detail and color really explode off the building and welcome you in.

Spongebob Storepants Facade (Source: Orlando Attractions)
Once inside you can meet Spongebob, or explore the store to see some clever puns right up this Jungle Cruise Skipper's alley.
Punny! (Source: Orlando United)
But I'm not here to give an in-depth look at the store. You can find more of those across the internet from people that have actually been inside it (check out for a good one). No, I'm here to talk about the bigger ramifications the store can have for a long ignored area of USF, the KidZone.

As a theme park fan who often defends Universal against Disney fans who often don't know any better, KidZone is one thing I just can't defend. Okay, Ripsaw Falls I can't defend either, but that's a different story.

KidZone is just there. No thought went into its design, and it's just ugly building after ugly building, with two (TWO!?) playgrounds thrown in with an off the shelf kiddie coaster and the ET Adventure. Stepping into KidZone after wandering the rest of the terrific Studios park is like stepping into a bizarro portal to a Six Flags. Okay, maybe not that bad, but you get the point. There are walkways that scream late 80s/early 90s and a haphazard approach that just leaves me scratching my head.

The properties represented aren't horrible (Woody, ET, Barney, Curious Geroge), but they're a group with very little relate-able connection, which furthers the feeling of disconnect. But for the past year I've, along with a few others I confer with, have been hearing whispers about a KidZone extreme makeover. And after seeing the store, I'm excited.
Remember Fievel? No? That's cool. Most people don't. (Source:
The rumors state that a much more unified area is on the way, and the whole area will receive a facelift. Which is great. As it stands now, we have a lot of concrete and very little theming. We have ugly, ugly buildings in a semi circle. And if Bikini Bottom is on its way, I welcome it.

I'd expect Fievel's Playland to go first, as well as KidZone Pizza, to be replaced by a Bikini Bottom play area and the Krusty Krab respectively. As for the rest, well that gets tricky. Will the whole land become a Spongebob land? I personally doubt it, but I have heard rumblings of such a change.

Which brings us to the elephant in the room of this situation... The ET Adventure.
It's like an acid trip you can ride.
©2012 Universal Orlando. All Rights Reserved
Listen...I know ET is a classic attraction. I love it, in an ironic kind of way. But let's not act like it's some hallmark of themed design and is untouchable. Would it be a shame to lose a classic ride like this? Sure. But I think ET's days are numbered. And if the park has survived (and thrived) without Back to the Future, Jaws, and King Kong, losing ET won't be a killing blow.

Now, I'm sure you're all asking what could replace ET. Well, I think we should keep a weathered eye on what's going on in Singapore. They're in the process of building a Sesame Street attraction that apparently has the same ride system as ET. While they wouldn't be able to clone the attraction to USF (Busch has the Sesame Street rights in the states), it could give us a clue as to what kind of ride Universal can produce in the same kind of ride space. Plus, some of those Green Planet scenes inside the ET Adventure could turn into Bikini Bottom quickly, no?

We don't know exactly what's going to happen, but we're excited. The store has turned out very well. Now let's just hope merch sales boom and we can get a new land that lives up to the Universal standard, rather than what we have now.

Stay tuned to Parkscope for further developments on KidZone and theme parks around the world, and make sure to follow @Parkscope on twitter. Thanks for reading!


UOR Permit Update 5/29/12 (Updated 5/31)

Universal City Development recently filed 2 building permits of interest with the City of Orlando.  Both permits call for new foundations, but additional details are scarce.

The first permit is for "Project 7448" and calls for "Foundation layout and details for primary structural system."  This could be anything, but perhaps its our first sign the rumored 4th Universal on-site hotel?  Most recently, the site designated for the 4th hotel has been used as a place to crush Amity debris.  However, some have spotted other work possibly being done on the site.

The second permit is for "Project 7542 Universal Studios" and calls for "foundation layout and details for primary structural system including below grade concrete pits, through wall penetration details and waterproofing details."  As this permit includes Universal Studios in the name of the project, one would assume it has something to do with USF.  But what could it be?  In the past, anything regarding WWoHP Phase 2 has been filed under "Project 722", most recently, the new London Waterfront carried that moniker.

5/30/12: Permit was updated by Plumbing.  Addition of gas lines approved.
5/31/12: Permit was updated by Site Engineering.  Talks about existing permit for "demo/mass grading" which we are guessing refers to the permits filed last December for Project 722 aka Jaws/Amity.  This suggests that this permit is indeed for the expansion of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at USF.

What could these projects be?  Tweet us or join the ongoing Wizarding World of Harry Potter Phase 2 discussion at Orlando United.

Follow @CaptMichael87 and @Parkscope for future developments.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Universal Century Part 2: From Comcast with Love

In 2011, Comcast acquired NBC-Universal.  It was and is a merger of epic proportions and major consequences for the entertainment industry.  In the merger, Comcast acquired the portion of Universal Orlando owned by G.E./NBC, but a share of ownership was not enough for them. Due to the success of the resort since the opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Comcast decided to buy out Blackstone completely for full ownership of Universal Orlando.  For the first time in a long time, Universal had stable ownership with deep pockets.

Stephen B. Burke
"very bullish"
With Comcast came Stephen B. Burke, executive vice president and executive in charge of NBC-Universal.  Burke spent a decade with Disney in a theme park management position.  In the New York Times article, he  is quoted as saying he is "very bullish" about the theme parks.  So, not only does Comcast have the money, they have an executive who is excited and passionate about the theme parks.  On paper, every thing about the current management and ownership of Universal Parks and Resorts looks great.

 “There is an incredible sense of energy and forward motion around here, no doubt about it,” said Thomas L. Williams, chief executive of Universal Parks & Resorts.
“We’re really feeling the love,” said Mr. Williams, Universal’s chief.
If you're a theme park fan, you have to be excited.  Universal execs are excited and Comcast is dedicated.  The "Year to be Here" is just the beginning.  Earlier this year, the iconic "JAWS" attraction closed at Universal Studios Florida to make way for the much anticipated expansion to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  Insider information has London, Diagon Alley, and the Hogwarts Express all coming to the Orlando resort with an ambitious construction timeline.

Plans for WWoHP2 files with SFWMD

On top of Wizarding World expansion at Universal Orlando, the resort will be receiving an ambitious amount of construction over the next 5 years.  Rumors have Universal building a moderately priced 4th onsite hotel, a possible Transformers attraction at Universal Studios Florida (different from the one at USH), and a Seuss attraction at Islands of Adventure.  Currently, Universal is expanding its City Walk offerings with the forthcoming "City Walk Promenade" addition which was originally supposed to be a part of "Year to be Here."  The Promenade is yet another step to becoming a more well-rounded resort where guests can spend an extended vacation solely at Universal Orlando.

Concept art of City Walk Promenade
©2012 Universal Orlando. All Rights Reserved
Harry Potter's magic is spreading to Universal resorts around the world.  In November, news leaked that Universal Studios Hollywood will be getting the popular Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride and their own Hogwarts Castle.  On top of Harry Potter, USH is said to be getting other attractions in order to compete in the California market dominated by Disneyland Resort including the soon-to-be rechristened Disney California Adventure.  This month, it was announced that Universal Japan will also be getting a Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Phelps twins helped announce WWoHP at USH and USJ
The future is bright for Universal Parks and Resorts.  After a decade languishing in ownership limbo, they are ready to take on the theme park industry yet again.  Fans and the media (as evidenced by the NYT article) have taken notice.  It is and will continue to be a great time to be a theme park fan in California and Orlando.

“We’re the best, we think, at creating the world’s greatest theme park attractions."-Chick Russell, Universal Creative

Universal Creative continues to set a high bar for itself and with Comcast, they finally have the funds to really flex their muscles.  It will interesting to see what's in store for Wizarding World of Harry Potter Phase 2 and the other host of attractions Universal plans on unleashing on the world in the coming years.  Universal Century is here, welcome.

To be continued with Universal Century Part 3: USF Revival

"Universal Century" was inspired by an article published by "The New York Times" on May 21, 2012.

Universal Century Part 1: Expecto Patronum!

Throughout the Harry Potter series, we are told that magic cannot bring people back from the dead.   However, magic can apparently resurrect dying theme park divisions.  For all intents and purposes, the magic of Harry Potter has resurrected Universal Parks and Resorts in spite of a poor economy and Disney’s stranglehold on the theme park industry.

©2012 Universal Orlando. All Rights Reserved

 Since the opening of Islands of Adventure, Universal Orlando experienced little expansion, minimum maintenance, and dwindling attendance.  This was due, in part, to 9/11, recessions, and lack of stable ownership.  General Electric and Blackstone only saw the parks as a way to make a quick buck.  As a result, neither invested much capital into the parks.  They invested the bare minimum and were always looking to dump the parks to the highest bidder.

Early Concept Art for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

 In 2007, Universal shocked the world by acquiring the theme park rights to the Harry Potter franchise.  Universal gave complete creative control to Warner Bros and JK Rowling and hired the designers of the films to help design every aspect of the land.  This gamble was pretty much Universal Orlando’s last stand.  It paid off.  The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened in June 2010 to great success and critical acclaim.  It was the exact shot in the arm Universal needed.

Credit: Theme Park Review
Now, it is 2012, Universal’s “Year to be Here.”   Universal is seeing unprecedented merchandise sales, increased attendance, and experiencing growth it has not seen since 1999 when the resort gained City Walk, Islands of Adventure, and its resort hotels.  This is all thanks to Harry Potter.  So far this year, Universal has upgraded the popular Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, opened two well-themed mini golf courses, and debuted a parade and nighttime spectacular.  This summer, Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem (which is looking to be a vast improvement over Jimmy Neutron) will open at Universal Studios Florida.  The “Year to be Here” additions are Universal Orlando’s steps toward becoming a well-rounded resort for guests of all ages.  Universal has lacked the little extras like a parade and nightly fireworks show.  These things keep guests coming back and staying later.  And the “Year to be Here” is just the beginning.

"Universal Century Part 2: From Comcast with Love" coming soon!

"Universal Century" was inspired by an article published by "The New York Times" on May 21, 2012.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Braving the Black Forest

Well hello again fellow adventurers! Skip here to report in for another wonderful adventure to Busch Gardens Williamsburg to take a trip through the Black Forest on their brand new coaster Verbolten!

Verbolten is the final part of the park's effort to revitalize the Oktoberfest area of the park that began with the closing of The Big Bad Wolf coaster in 2009, and to be honest they succeeded beyond my expectations. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a bit sad at the closing of Big Bad Wolf. When I was younger it was my first "big boy" coaster, and its loss was definitely one I felt the first time I visited the park after the closing. But after seeing the new area that began to spring up around its former station which included Mach Tower and the new specialty pretzel stand (more on that later!), I started to get a good feeling about the changes.

And then as more and more information about Verbolten began to trickle out, I began to get legitimately excited about Busch's new addition. It was apparently going to have everything I look for in a ride. Heavy theming? Check. A well thought out story? Check. Never before seen technology? Check. And the Rhine River Drop was even coming back! What's not to love!?

The Rhine River Drop returns!

Well, I'm happy to report that the experience lives up to the hype...for the most part. Now, I know that sounds like I was a tad bit disappointed with the attraction, but know that I wasn't. The small amount of negatives I took away from the experience was the bit of wasted potential, not from a bad ride experience.

So, long story short, Verbolten is an amazing experience. If you were on the fence about going to Busch Gardens to check it out, I'd recommend taking the trip. It's completely worth it, and the ride deserves your time. That's my quick, non-spoiler review. If you don't want the ride spoiled, scroll down and read the rest of my thoughts from the trip, or leave. I'm not forcing you to stay. (But seriously...don't leave)

Thar Be Spoilers Ahead

The Queue
Approaching Verbolten through Oktoberfest is such a great experience. The festive atmosphere is alive and well with bright colors exploding off the buildings, decorations, and theming of the area as you get further away from Darkastle (which in all honesty feels incredibly out of place in the land now).

The story of Verbolten is that you are a tourist coming to Germany for the festival, and have decided to rent a car to tour the countryside. To do so, you've come to Gerta and Gunter's visitor center. The two siblings run the quaint business, with Gerta being the face and Gunter being the mechanical whiz that keeps their cars going. Of course all is not as happy and festive as it seems. I mean when is it ever in a theme park ride? Cars (and one would assume, people) have been disappearing in the fabled Black Forest, and the brother and sister have been perplexed as to why.

The backstory is played out in the wonderfully themed queue. While it's not up to the level of rides like Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey or Star Tours, Verbolten has the best queue I've ever encountered outside a Disney or Universal ride. The best way I can describe it is "Expedition Everest light". The same basic concept applies, as you're a traveler headed through buildings preparing you for your trip through a famous local. Of course Everest is more in-depth and longer, but Verbolten's still impresses.

As you enter the queue, you pass by one of the cars Gunter managed to pull out of the forest. It has a big vine growing right through it and moss covering the inside. Every now and again it tries to turn over, and smoke billows from the smashed hood.

You then wander around the outside of the visitor center, before entering it. Inside is a quaint setting with posters detailing destinations, cupboards containing books and trinkets from Germany, as well as Gerta's office. The detail on the office stands out, and the placemaking of the rest of the building is very effective.
Gerta and Gunter's Tourist Center

Gerta's Office
One a small, old-timey  TV, Gerta greets us and gives us the backstory of what's going on with the forest. It would have been a nice touch if it wasn't such a struggle to hear the majority of what she was saying...and if what you could hear all too well wasn't incredibly annoying. Gerta's explanation's have painfully low audio, save for when she imitates the sound of a car revving up and screeching, which is cringe inducing. Seriously, someone needs to tinker with that audio.

More from her office
After that, you head back outside for a few switchbacks that give you your first good view of the coaster trains, and let me tell you they are sexy. Yes, sexy. It's the only word I can use to describe them. They're the prettiest looking coaster cars I've ever seen. Forget the blocky awkwardness of the Rockin' Roller Coaster cars, this is what a car-themed train should look like. Clean, sleek, and bright colors highlight these feasts for the eyes. And they come complete with European-style vanity plates complete with sayings like "WOL FXNG", "YLB DRPN", and "BLK 4ST". They really made some great trains, but I do have a complaint I'll save for later in the review.
Sexy train is sexy
We then head into Gunter's office/laboratory. Gerta's brother seems intent on finding out what's going on with the forest. A map filled with notes, newspaper clippings, and samples from the forest highlights one wall of the cramped space filled with lost people's luggage. On the opposite wall, we can see shifting, grainy video feeds from cameras he's set up in the forest to really find out what's going on. We exit and head up to the station.
Gunter investigates the Black Forest
Gunter's observation post
More from his office
Before moving onto the ride review, I have to commend what a capacity beast Verbolten is. The dual loading platform works wonders, and allows 32 people to load simultaneously with 16 to a train. I waited in the full queue all three times I rode the ride throughout the day, and each time it only took anywhere between 40-50 minutes. This will be great for the heavy summer crowds that will no doubt start descending on the park in the next few weeks.

The Ride
After waiting in the station and heading onto the train, I was pretty happy with the zero-entry walk onto the car. Having a flat surface even with the loading platform is such a great idea and really expedites loading/unloading. The seats are nice and comfortable and the lap bars are nice and snug. Personally, I prefer a coaster that doesn't loop since you can get the lap bar instead of over the shoulder restraints. The freedom is great, and adds to the out of control feeling. The front of the car also has a camera that records your experience like Rip, Ride, Rockit does at Universal.

But the train also has one of the rides biggest missed opportunities. No on-ride audio was a big mistake, in my opinion. A whole score isn't necessary, but it would have been great to have engine noises constantly going in the background. We get a bit at the beginning as we exit the station thanks to offboard speakers, but then nothing the rest of the way. It's a bit odd.

Once we leave the station, we coast past 2 turns, and then come face to face with the event building. There it is, just sitting there on stilts with some simple theming on the entrance face, which is one of my other nit-picky problems with the ride. The event building is just there. There's no reason to believe we're going into the Black Forest. In fact, it looks like we're just going into a warehouse. If SeaWorld Parks and Resorts was dead set on making this a themed ride, this is a gaff on their part. make me believe I'm headed into the forest, guys. At least plant some trees around the building to make it more than a floating box. Again, it's not a huge deal, but the lack of theming definitely took me out of the moment for a moment.

But then we're rocketed up the first launch and into the event building. Inside, we're surrounded by black-lit trees, branches, swirling mist, and other things. This is probably the best use of black light settings I've seen in a coaster. You really do feel surrounded, and the setting is very effective.

One thing that really surprised me about the event building is how intense it was. You pull some serious Gs in there, and I was not expecting that.

As you approach the event building's...well...event, the ride's re-ride ability comes into play. Three different encounters will play out, and luckily I caught all 3 in 3 rides. The first I saw was definitely the weakest of the bunch, which was the spirit of the forest threatening us and telling us we shouldn't be there. The second I encountered was a pack of wolves stalking the car, their red eyes the only visible thing in the inky darkness. This was more interesting than the spirit, and I enjoyed the nod to the ride's predecessor. But the final storyline was the best, and involves lightening and a violent storm. As all three reach their crescendo, the track and train freefall. It's a surprising and thrilling moment, and something I've never experienced.

The train then rockets out of the building and through the second launch, performing some twists and turns before the "broken bridge" scene. On the bridge we hear creaking and crumbling before our train plummets towards the Rhine River, and then twists back up to the station.

Overall, it's a fun, thrilling, and exciting attraction. The coaster is smooth and exhilarating, and the event building is much more involved than I expected once you're inside.

But there was still something that nagged me about the ride, even though I enjoyed the hell out of it. The ride and the story just don't mesh. The whole time we're supposed to be avoiding the Black Forest, and then supposed to be lured in there somehow. But instead, we speed into it mere seconds after leaving the station. The transition from "simple drive in the country" to "brave the Black Forest" just isn't there, and the flow between story and ride suffers for it. I feel this was a pretty big oversight, especially considering how much the ride's story and theming was hyped.

Spoilers End Here

One thing I really have to lambast BGW on is the merchandise options for Verbolten. I mean, almost everything is centered are around a fart joke. You see, fahrt means travel in German, and ALL the shirts are centered around making fun of that. There was a single polo shirt with the ride's symbol, but not simple t-shirts. I mean come on. Most of us don't want to wear around a shirt that makes us a walking fart joke.
The Loch Ness Monster's interlocking loops
The rest of the park was as beautiful as ever. If you've never been to BGW, you really need to see the place once. The natural hills and setting of the park is breathtaking, and the coasters weaving in and out of said setting only adds to the beauty. I've never been the theme park fan that equates traditional roller coasters as bad theming though, so maybe I'm weird. Plus, the lands are very well themed. Think of it as a step below World Showcase with roller coasters, and you've got BGW.

They even have a Spider-man/Transformers type ride called Curse of Darkastle. Now, the ride's story is a jumbled mess that seemingly has pieces missing and weird, random spurts of dialogue, but it's fun none the less.

But something has really bothered be about Busch Gardens' queues, and it really sticks out in Darkastle's the most. Look at the following progression of pictures.

Yup, that's a LCD TV screen smack dab in the middle of the queue. And I know some of you probably figure it's just a poorly themed preshow thing. Nope. It just runs commercials for their Quick Queue service, behind the scenes tours, and their iPhone app. And it's not just in Darkastle's queue. It's all of them.

Listen, I'm not going to blame Busch for trying to inform people about these services, but putting it in every queue is tacky and seemingly desperate. People don't like waiting in line, and considering the majority of BGW's queues are boring and simple, I doubt they want to be hawked at as well. If they want to be taken seriously as a theme park, SeaWorld Parks and Resorts should rethink this strategy.

On a random note, the front row on BGW's Griffon is a religious experience if you're a coaster fan. Seriously, the ride is great regularly, but in the front it's mindblowing. It really feels like you're flying. For those that don't know, Griffon and Sheikra are sister coasters.
Griffon is amazing    

Also, pretzel sandwiches. Seriously.
Seriously delicious

And that's all for today everyone! Hope you enjoyed it.