Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...New Mexico

New Mexico celebrated statehood back in the year of 1912, making it only slightly older than the wreck of the Titanic. The land hadn't become part of the nation until after the Mexican American War and Gadsen Purchase in the mid 1800s, and it has taken it's sweet time to populate. With just over 2 million people, the entire state has fewer residents than the city of Houston, Texas. Nearly half of these people live in Albuquerque's Metro area, with the next largest chunk living near the Mexican/Texas border creating the El Paso-Las Cruces Combined Statistical area. It is in these two specific locations that we unsurprisingly find the state's largest attractions.

Cliff's Amusement Park is probably the most well known to coaster enthusiasts - located in Albuquerque proper, it is a compact and landlocked park surrounded by commercial real estate. One of Custom Coasters' later wood rides, The New Mexico Rattler, serves as the premier attraction. Interestingly, it is actually Western Playland in the Las Cruces/El Paso suburb of Sunland Park that contains the highest number of coasters and acreage in the state. The park actually moved to its current location in 2006 when it was lured over the border from Texas by the Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino, taking most of its largest rides with it. Outside of the collected production model coasters (El Bandito, a extra large Z64 Zyclon being the rarest), the park contains Larson Flying Scooters, a skyride, and several other attractions.

Interestingly, while many people associate New Mexico with "desert", there is very little in terms of water parks there. Cliff's has a few slides, and the City of Carlsbad has a municipal aquatics facility that opened in 2016. However, that's about it. Surprising, I know. "Dry slides" are about as common - Red River Ski Area has summer tubing runs to go with its multi-person and single person ziplines.

Trains and carousels operate in smaller parks, just as they do elsewhere in the nation. Spring River Park and Zoo in Roswell features both along with a collection of animal exhibits. Meanwhile, the Toy Train Depot in Alamogordo has a couple of different narrow gauge tracks that humans can ride as part of their overall exhibition.

The state has some living museums as well, providing people with a glimpse into history. Both the Aztec Museum and Pioneer Village and Sacramento Mountain Museum & Pioneer Village go into the past and pull out costumes and buildings to try and bring back that homesteader feel.

Finally, there's the Meow Wolf Collaborative piece known as the House of Eternal Return. Its part art installation, part fun house, all original, and a Themed Entertainment Award winner attraction. Only City Museum in St. Louis is comparable.

Bill & Ted Excellent Halloween Adventure To Bow After HHN 27

Copyright Universal Orlando Resort
Bill and Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure will end after this year's Halloween Horror Nights. Per the Universal Orlando Blog this will be their "Farewell Tour".

No reason was given for ending the show but consistent rumors of a replacement for Fear Factor Live, the stage used for the show, have swirled around. Additionally the contract to use the characters (remember: Universal doesn't won them) expires after a five year renewal signed in 2013.

We will be sharing more information and our review of the show in the coming months.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #132 - Hooray for Hollywood

Join Joe and David Daut (Twitter) as they talk about their evolved views on studios parks, The Star Wars Hotel/Experience, role playing in parks, immersive theater experiences, and if/how theme parks should be archived once changed or removed.

As discussed in the show:

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

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #131 - SWEEPSTAKES

Joe and Lane talk about ALL THE HALLOWEEN HORROR NIGHTS 27 NEWS. Or not really. Our bad. We talk about local parks additions with Cedar Fair, Six Flags Fiesta Texas' Wonder Woman Golden Lasso, and some Busch rumors. Then we talk about some Star Wars VR, more Harry Potter construction news, and then your questions! SWEEPSTAKES!

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

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Project 942 Permits (Dragon Challenge Replacement)

Here's something we haven't talked about in a very long time: building permits!

Permits are our look into upcoming work at Universal Orlando Resort. Today we're looking at Project 942, a new project number we have yet to see. We believe P942 is for the Dragon Challenge replacement.

So far the permits call for demolition and moving stormwater ponds.

Thanks to TheNJBrandon for digging these up!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Making of Disney-MGM Studios: Parkscope YouTube Tuesday #7


Disney-MGM Studios is probably the oddest duck in the Disney Parks empire. It was created in fire, through a particularly horrible mud-wrestling contest between Michael Eisner and Lew Wasserman, and never really reached even a fraction of its potential. It’s actually astounding that it garnered a higher attendance than Animal Kingdom until 2006, despite having no main differentiators like the pull of the real-life animal enclosures. It set the stage for decades to come as being a Michael Eisner park through and through, with budget cuts and confusing future . I think the most astonishing thing about this “making of” special is the fact they were able to fill 53 minutes worth of content!

All the official Disney propaganda would have you believe that Disney-MGM Studios was created when Michael Eisner and Frank Wells took a trip through the Glendale Imagineering HQ and thought that the “Great Movie Ride” would make a great central attraction for a theme park themed to Hollywood and the movies, rather than what it was originally destined to be, which was an EPCOT Center pavilion next to Imagination. The Disney executives then all held hands, cavorted through flower beds, and sang good Christian songs as the innocent Hollywood park was built. By most accounts, the creation of Disney-MGM Studios was much more insidious.

As witnesses have attested, Lew Wasserman (then head at Universal) was shopping around the idea of creating a Universal Studios in Florida to bask in the success of Walt Disney World, which opened in 1971. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Lew was passionate about the idea of turning Orlando into Hollywood East, and a Universal Studios would help this image by offering movie and TV studios lower taxes, lower costs on materials and housing, lower wages, and the opportunity to avoid the Hollywood unions. As Lew would envision it, Universal Studios Florida would have a Disney-style theme park along with a working soundstage and backlot area, where real movies, TV shows, and commercials would be filmed. The problem was, Lew was also a notorious cheapskate. Even though he was passionate about the project, he refused to have Universal pay more than half the cost of the new park. So, he visited the executives of other movie studios to pitch them on the idea of investing in the new park (for real, think of the umpteen-millions of dollars Universal lost by not building the Florida park a decade earlier than it did!)

One of the executive teams he visited was the Paramount team. This team consisted of studio head Barry Diller, along with…Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg, who were major studio executives at Paramount at the time. Paramount ultimately turned Universal down on the prospect of investing in the park.

Eisner and Katzenberg would migrate to Disney in 1984 (after Wasserman told Eisner over the phone that he was “stupid” to go to Disney). And, lo and behold, a year after their terms began, Eisner and Katzenberg came up with a crazy new idea for a Disney Studios theme park, with rides and a working soundstage/backlot area! Amazing!

Wasserman of course was furious. Disney denied the allegations from Wasserman that Disney stole Universal’s idea, and instead concocted the Great Movie Ride story. So began an arms race to build the first studio park in Florida.

Unfortunately, both companies had problems. Wasserman still didn’t want to pay for the entire Universal Studios project. And Disney, well…didn’t have any movies to make any rides out of.

Strange but true, folks (channeling me some Jim Hill there). Remember, in the mid-1980s when the Disney Studios project was announced, Disney’s major hits were almost all animated movies. Besides these, Disney’s only movies that could be considered major hits were Mary Poppins, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Swiss Family Robinson, The Absent-Minded Professor, and The Love Bug. Hardly the material for an entire theme park’s worth of attractions. So Disney had to spend time to find a deal with another movie studio to gain the rights to their material.

Eventually, Disney was able to strike a deal with MGM, makers of all-time classics like Singin’ in the Rain, Gone With the Wind, and The Wizard of Oz. They announced that not only would the Disney-MGM Studios be moving forward, but that there would be multiple Disney-MGM Studios, specifically in France and in Burbank. Michael Eisner loved the idea of a “movie park” so much that he wanted it duplicated in as many places as possible.

Eisner’s aggressive tactics to target the Disney-MGM Studios Burbank project in Universal Studios Hollywood’s backyard enraged Wasserman to the point where he dropped his own stingy demeanor (seriously, this would be like Walt Disney’s moustache spontaneously falling off) and decided to go ahead with Universal Studios Florida, with Universal paying 100%. Both companies were determined to open their park first.

Unfortunately for Universal, Disney’s far greater experience in the theme park arena ensured that their park would open first. But it was not without paying the price. To hurry along construction, only two rides at Disney-MGM Studios were ready for opening day (the Great Movie Ride and the Backlot Tour). The Indiana Jones stunt show was not ready for opening day and had to open several months late. All other attractions were show or tour-based attractions, much cheaper and easier to install.

This lack of things to do did not go unnoticed. Guests swarmed Guest Relations with complaints as to how small the park was and the fact that they had to pay full admission for a half-day park (sound familiar? Disney really doesn’t learn its lessons does it?). Remember, this was before Star Tours, so the entire park terminated at Mickey Avenue (where Voyage of the Little Mermaid is now) for the Backlot Tour, and there was no Star Tours or MuppetVision on the other side. And no Sunset Boulevard. And New York Street was a closed set and available only on the tram portion of the Backlot Tour. That, my friends, is a tiny park. And why I’m continually impressed how Disney was able to fit 53 minutes of material into the making of the park, especially when the opening-day attraction lineup could barely deliver more than 53 minutes of entertainment! Wakka Wakka!


In the Orlando studio park war Universal Studios Florida won.

Bu that's not today's story. No, as Jeff said, this story is about Disney-MGM Studios.

The concept art always looked too crisp, too precise, too... 80s.

Disney-MGM Studios has been a a park at war with its own success and ambitions. A park born in the fire of Michael Eisner and died under his own cooling power; the park was on the brink of a major power play with The Muppets, Maroon Studios, Dick Tracey, and more before Eisner's own decisions brought all those plans down to the ground.

This special highlights the beginnings of this vision hosted by one Fred Newman. While he might not be a household name he did work with Who Framed Rodger Rabbit. But he's probably best know by us millennials for a later show he did..

Sorry I had to get that out there.

--Jeff (@ParkScopeJeff) & Joe (@ParksopeJoe)

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

What we know: 2017 Ohio State Fair Tragedy


Like everyone in the amusement community, we here at Parkscope are horrified by accident that took place at the Ohio State Fair earlier today (July 26th). Because lots of misinformation hits the net and straight up exploitative view-grabbing pieces find their way to your eyeballs, we wanted to take a moment to try and give you a little better perspective here.

The ride in question is known as a KMG Fireball or KMG Afterburner. KMG is a Dutch firm who primarily builds portable rides, though they have park models as well, and they have an outstanding overall safety record. Their attractions all meet the very high TUV standards for safety that are often considered the gold standard in the amusement and theme park industry. Amusements of America is the carnival provider for the Ohio State Fair, and while they do book in a number of independent attractions and other carnival operators to help fill the midways, this ride belongs to them. Last year, the Moonraker ride they had brought in to the Delta Fair in Tennessee had a malfunction, injuring several riders. However, that ride was contracted in from Belle City Amusements, and was not owned or operated by them. Also, a Polish copy of the ride had a similar accident in Toledo, Spain back in 2013. However, it was not a KMG ride. 

Video of the accident exists, but does not show the exact moment that the seats decoupled clearly. The aftermath is, however, clearly evident and horrifying - seat restraints release immediately, bodies crash into the spinning arm and then are shot out as projectiles to the midway. 1 person has died, multiple people are critically injured. Confirmation as to whether or not the deaths and injuries are solely to riders or involve people on the midway observing the ride is unknown at the time of this writing.

In discussing the accident with other hobbyists who know a thing or two about these attractions, one of them made some very interesting points. I thank Mike Parker for his time (and pictures) -

Attached here is a photo of a different KMG Fireball. If you look closely at the arrow, you'll see a LED light array, and directly below that is where the cabin meets the arm. Look closely at the photo from the news helicopter above, and you'll see that the light array is still attached. 

At some point down the line, KMG moved the weld point further up the arm. You can see here from the pictures of Morey's Piers' "It" attraction that it is now located just above the seat assemblies themselves. Based on existing documentation of KMG service bulletins, there have been no specific notes made about ultrasonic testing finding stress fractures or cracks where the seats/gondola meet the arm, though service bulletins related to the arm and restraints having stress fractures has occurred. 

Annual inspections are required by a "Level 1 or higher Non-Destructive Test (NDT) Company" are required for all welds on KMG's pendulum rides. Whom is contracted by Amusements of America is not known, however it likely would have been subjected to ultrasonic testing at some point during winter quarters. At this point there, there is can be no doubt that there was a catastrophic structural failure with the arm. Questions of how and when will likely take months to fully determine. 

UPDATE 7/27/2017: As one would expect, KMG Fireball/Afterburner rides almost everywhere are to stop running almost immediately until this accident is evaluated. Poster "distroyer" on themepark.nl provided this shot of the ride - source was not revealed.

Dave Althoff wrote about a similar issue that affected the KMG Remix ride back in 2002 at the Ohio State Fair, leading to the ride being effectively banned from the premises and two riders being injured. He points out how the Fireball differs in construction. As you can see from the photo above, however, the point of failure was well above this. 

EDIT 7/27/17, 11:35AM EST - At roughly 9AM EST, KMG Europe BV's Facebook page indicated that they would be issuing an official announcement later related to the accident and that "thoughts and prayers are with all involved."

EDIT 7/27/17, 12:05PM EST - The names of victims have been released:

Tyler Jarrell, 18, of Columbus, was killed in the accident and declared dead at the scene. For reference: people are rarely declared dead at the scene of any accident unless their injuries are so grave and unsurvivable that there is no reason to transport them. Tyler may have been the victim seen not moving in footage and pictures released in which legs are seen on top of the seats. An individual matching his age and location has a Facebook account indicating he had recently signed up to join the Marines. It is not confirmed that this is the same individual.

The following people were injured. Based on what information we have from Ohio State Medical Center, we know that three of these people are still hospitalized in intensive care and require additional surgeries and long rehabilitation periods. Those reports seem to suggest that two of these people are those starred below. Three additional people were sent to Grant Medical Center, and one individual is still in critical condition there. A child was treated and released from Nationwide Children's Hospital: it is assumed but not confirmed that it is the 14 year old listed below. 

Tamika Dunlap, 36, of Reynoldsburg, Ohio
Russell Franks, 42, of Columbus, Ohio*
Keziah Lewis, 19, of Columbus, Ohio
Jacob Andrews, 22, of Pataskala, Ohio*
Jennifer Lambert, 18, of Columbus, Ohio
Abdihakim Hussein, 19, of Columbus, Ohio
A 14 year-old male whose name is being withheld. 

EDIT 7/27/17, 1:35PM EST - KMG has issued a statement indicating that the gondola had detached from the swing arm and that all KMG Fireball/Afterburner rides and Move-Its are to be shut down with the exception of those Fireball/Afterburners with serial numbers 40 and over.

Amusements of America's Fireball was Serial # KMG98FRB24006. The photo shown of Morey's under construction with the different bent for the gondola is of a later model, serial number KMG-2011-FRB-24P-162.

EDIT: 7/27/17, 4:30PM EST - Tyler Jarrell, the 18 year old victim who died at the scene, had signed paperwork for his intent to join the Marines and participated in the Columbus Police Explorer. His girlfriend, Keziah Lewis, has undergone multiple surgeries for injuries to the pelvis, ankle, and ribs, and was informed following surgery of his passing. 

The State of Tennessee through the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development has banned the KMG Fireball from setting up in the state. 

EDIT: 7/28/17, 10:00 AM - Several riders who have been released from care have done interviews with local news. Abdihakim Hussein was on the ride when he was injured by debris & people ejected from the ride when the gondola across from them broke free on Wednesday evening. He has a small neck fracture and is currently in a neck brace. Jacob Andrews and Jennifer Lambert, injured in the accident, were non-riders who were struck by debris. Jacob Andrews was reportedly injured in his leg, while Lambert was struck in the back of the head. Lambert was still listed in critical condition as of late July 27th.

EDIT: 7/31/17, 2:00 PM - Facebook account Amusement Ride Accidents posted additional shots of the damage to the Fireball ride:

As we reported first and they showed in a subsequent photo, there was a significant change in weld design for the Fireball. This redesign likely makes it that water cannot flow/be held in the weld point, which might cut down on corrosion and certainly be easier to visually inspect than what previously existed. 

Additionally, the family of the deceased victim has filed a wrongful death suit in relation to the accident. 

EDIT: 8/7/17, 9AM - There's a series of updates to provide, so let's get to it. 

First, the most important thing is the well-being of the victims. All of the critically or seriously injured people from the accident are still inpatients in similar/identical conditions at area hospitals. Jennifer Lambert is reported to be in a coma by her parents. While this may be remembered as an accident that "only" killed one person, the final toll may not be known for years.

Second, the ride itself. Investigation has largely concluded. The cause of the accident is the corrosion, which happened over a long period of time as water seeped into the empty space in this connection.

What does this mean? Well, all rides in this run (Serial #s 1-40) will likely see new gondolas need be attached before they return to service, or at the very least a very in depth inspection of this space and perhaps others on the rides. 

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #130 - Put Your Hyper in a Box

Joe, Mike, and Nick talk about National Rollercoaster Day announcements, recap D23 with some late news, talk about Minnie Vans, beer 'n' pretzels at DHS, your questions, and the new Harry Potter coaster coming to IoA!

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

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...New Jersey

We've done it. After 34 pieces, we've finally started to arrive to the Fatherland. Wait, you say - you already did Florida and California. Those are the two states most synonymous with the theme park industry in North America. And yet, in terms of raw numbers, the combination of population and infrastructure has and will always favor the likes of Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York as being where what certainly seems like a disproportionate number of parks are located. This is where people were in the late 19th Century, where commerce and industry was centered, and thus also where urban railroads and trolley parks blossomed. It's also where America learned to love seaside amusements. These places are full - Full! - of stuff.

We first delve into the "known" quantities: Six Flags Great Adventure is the region's largest theme park. Intended to be only a small part of an overall Disney World-esque facility, the big dreams never totally came to fruition. There are two significant indoor attractions (Justice League and Houdini's) and a whole slate of big impressive coasters, including the world's tallest, Kingda Ka. Other exemplaries (is that a word?) are one of the longest log flumes, the tallest drop ride (strapped to Kingda Ka, in fact), and a Safari ride/experience that's somewhere around 45 minutes in length. Meanwhile, down at the far southern tip of the state, there's Wildwood and Morey's Piers. Jack Morey started with a large fair slide in the 50s and has turned it into an empire of three amusement piers and water park equipment spanning much of the Wildwood boardwalk. Wildwood is in fact one of my favorite seaside towns, in that there are tons of amazing arcades, great food, and of course an outstanding collection of roller coasters, flat rides, dark rides, walkthroughs (Ghost Ship is likely the best permanent one in North America), and more.

With all that out the way, onto the fresh stuff:

New Jersey has no shortage of boardwalks or seaside parks. There are 7 such places outside of Wildwood, with the biggest collections of rides being in the towns of Seaside Heights, Keansburg, and Ocean City, NJ. Two of the three (Keansburg and Seaside Heights) were heavily affected by the landing of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and their amusement zones have undergone extensive repairs and replacements. Keansburg wound up replacing its Wildcat coaster with a heavily travelled Looping Star Zyklon model that had previously run with Amusements of America, Beech Bend Park in Kentucky, and Sauble Beach in Ontario. The park's dark ride was basically wiped out as well as their walkthrough scare house, but the latter has been restored with the intent of the dark ride joining it at some point in the future.

Seaside Heights, on the other hand, was flat out devastated. Images of the Star Jet coaster falling into the sea became the symbol of the storm's fury and were plastered on every news service imaginable. The Star Jet, as well as multiple other coasters, had belonged to Casino Pier, one of two amusement parks on the boardwalk. The other, Funtown Pier, existed in a different township, and following its complete destruction at the hands of Sandy, was never replaced. Casino has a different story - while still struggling to get visitors back who recall a more vibrant area, they've managed to rebuild much of the pier and installed a number of new attractions. 2017 has seen the opening of Hydrus, a Gerstlauer Eurofighter coaster with a beyond vertical drop; this should go a longer way in bringing back interest to the community.

One of the more well known dry communities in the state, Ocean City is considered exceptionally family friendly and the existence of two big amusement piers only solidifies that further. Playland's Castaway Cove has seen the most activity in the last two years, replacing their entire adult coaster lineup with a trio of new rides. Whirlwind, a kiddie spinning coaster, and the presently still under construction Wild Waves, a Miler family coaster, act in the supporting/family ride role. Meanwhile, there's GaleForce, a much more thrilling multi inversion, multi launch coaster that's a first of it's kind from S&S. Delayed heavily due to construction issues and track fit problems, it wound up opening over a year behind schedule on Memorial Day Weekend of 2017. Just down the boardwalk is Gillian's Wonderland, home to an awesome grouping of rides - there's a rare L&T Systems mine train, a monorail, ARM Drop Tower (the best kind!), and the Haunted Dark Ride, a recently built in-house production filled with new variations on classic stunts and gags.

But wait: There's more! Point Pleasant Beach also has an amusement park of it's own with Jenkinson's Boardwalk, in continuous operation since 1928. While there isn't that much to be excited about in the dry or water ride department, there is a really cool Funhouse constructed by the park in 1998. Not a typical year to build a scratch funhouse, but they did it, and bless them for it. Beach Haven also has a park called Fantasy Island, which isn't anywhere near as classic (it opened in 1985), but does have a mammoth arcade as seemingly all of these places do. Speaking of arcades, Asbury Park, NJ has one of the best in Silverball, which allows you to play tons and tons of arcade games for one low entry fee. Gaming begets mention of Atlantic City and Steel Pier is what is left of its fine amusement history. There's not much here, though a new ferris wheel is being installed to replace the Reverchon Spinning Mouse removed at the start of 2017.


The interior of New Jersey is not exactly beloved by most people. There's some pine scrub forests and touches of the Appalachian foothills at points, but it isn't exactly any kind of traditional outdoor paradise. However, that doesn't mean there aren't parks. Of course there's parks. Oh so many parks too. Since we're in 2017 and we flying towards its oblivion, Bowcraft Amusement Park in Northern New Jersey will start it off. This park is slated for sale and redevelopment after this season, making it obviously endangered. It has surprisingly nice grounds (concrete pavers!) and a punchy adult non-looping roller coaster from Zierer called Crossbow. But time is ticking to get there; who knows where the rides will turn up next?

New Jersey, like everywhere in America, had an array of kiddie parks spring up in the 1950s. Two have stuck around ever since: Hope, NJ's Land of Make Believe and Egg Harbor's Storybook Land. Land of Make Believe is water park-centric these days but still possesses some dry rides like the Miler kiddie coaster "Thriller" and a CP Huntington Train. There's also a walkthrough haunted house called inventively titled "Haunted Halloween House." Storybook Land is the more impressive of the two, sporting well-kept storybook theming pieces (many with push button story telling mechanisms and motion effects) and a train ride that is both adorable and surreal. Along with Idlewild and Enchanted Forest Water Safari, they're easily the region's (and maybe nation's) best examples of this disappearing breed of park.

New Jersey is home to the traditional and extremely non-traditional. When it comes to water parks, Funplex in East Hanover is fairly traditional, all things considered. Slides are primarily Whitewater West built, with the most "special" being a Constrictor tube slide. Mountain Creek, on the other hand? Traditional sorta - there's concrete slides here. Those are kinda traditional. Thing is, they're wild. They're so wild in fact that one of them requires helmets for riders. If you're thinking "that sounds crazy, like that Action Park I once heard of," guess what? This is Action Park. Yes. The same one with a wiki a mile long about all the accidents, injuries, and deaths that occurred on its plainly insane attractions. The same Action Park that once built a water slide with a vertical loop. It was closed, sold, and rebranded. There is just nothing else like it.

Again: Traditional, non-traditional. Clementon Park opened way back in 1907 as a trolley park, and at one point had the longest continuously operating roller coaster in the Americas - the 1919 Jackrabbit, which didn't even have upstops to prevent trains from flying off. Now home instead to the strange S&S Wood Coaster Hellcat and a collection of flat rides, it is run by the resurgent Premier Parks, a sort of band return for the ex-Six Flags executives that managed the takeover from Time Warner in the late 1990s.  In 2014, Diggerland USA opened in West Berlin. Diggerland is a theme park based around heavy construction equipment. People ride in seats attached to front end loaders and dig holes with small excavators. The idea was ported over from the UK, where 4 Diggerlands operate and do solid business.

Stanhope, NJ is home to Wild West City, a small kid-geared theme park that tries to simulate Dodge City in the late 1800s. There's not much for rides - a narrow gauge train runs there and that's about it. There are, however, gunfights. Of course there are, right? Also geared for kids:

-Soupy Island in New Jersey has a carousel as well as crazy slides,
-iPlay in North Laurel has some kids rides including a kiddie coaster
-Funplex in Mount Laurel has a knock-off of the Reverchon/Zamperla spinning mouse.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Walt Disney's EPCOT Film: Parkscope YouTube Tuesday #6

Is this the most momentous film in Disney history? Hard to argue. After all, where would Disney be today had Roy not decided to build Walt Disney World? Certainly no one else of the Disney regime, even Eisner and Wells, would have built it to the specifications they inherited in 1984. Certainly there would be no EPCOT Center. And certainly the Magic Kingdom would be at the intersection of 192, as the operators wanted, instead of in the northwest corner of the property, as Walt wanted. Would Disney be as successful, or as large, as it is today without Cinderella Castle and Space Mountain?

“But wait,” you say, “certainly the Disneyland announcement was just as crucial to the success of the Disney Company?” I agree completely, but the EPCOT film gave a  special element to Disney’s future that the Disneyland announcement did not have: the unbuilt dream of EPCOT. It would have been like Disneyland only opening Adventureland and Frontierland, and never building out the rest. The tantalizing unfinished EPCOT project fired a million imaginations, and forever included a dark cloud over any future Disney development. “Sure it’s good, but it’s not EPCOT.” Even to this day, ill-informed tour guides and fan sites regurgitate the corporatized, sugar-coated version of the inception of the Epcot theme park: that Walt had intended to make EPCOT a city, but that this city “turned into” a World’s Fair-like theme park. As hardcore Disney fans know, that is complete bull. The secret, of course, is in the name. The Imagineers called the theme park “EPCOT Center,” not “EPCOT.” It was not supposed to be a city. The theme park was supposed to be the center of the city. The city, of course, being the entirety of Walt Disney World. Even in 1982, Imagineers were still hoping against hope that at some point, Disney corporate might actually decide to build out the city. They even started to do just that. After all, the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village was designed to be a shopping village for the city. The Disney Villas across the lake were designed to be model homes for the city. But alas, it never came to pass.

Though certainly Walt made the EPCOT film to announce to the world his plans for the Florida Project and what wonderful things were in store for the next great Disney kingdom, the film also had two other goals: 1. Provide a “thesis” video for Walt to present to Florida legislators to convince them to allow Walt to have unprecedented regulatory power over his new land, and 2. Recruit possible corporate partners to invest and participate in the EPCOT project. The film worked so well that Disney received these grants even after his death. The Florida legislators did indeed grant Disney unprecedented regulatory powers via the Reedy Creek Improvement District. And years later, American and International corporate sponsors lined up around the block to be included in EPCOT Center. And it was all because of Walt’s presentation.

Walt was in full presentation mode in this pitch. Having practiced his delivery so many times on the Disneyland TV show (and after his very awkward first attempt to sell the opening of Disneyland), Walt had every Disney nuance and storytelling skill on display to announce his latest and greatest dream. He included a historical build-up (as he loved to do in most of his Disneyland educational shows like “Magic Highway USA,” and “Toot, Whistle, Plunk, and Boom) featuring the exciting happenings at Disneyland, then goes into a full speech about the Florida Project, and then includes a full animated demonstration from 13:10 to 24:18. These educational animated presentations, of course, had been perfected by Disney over the preceding 11+ years of the television show’s history (and even longer including the educational films Disney made for the military during WWII). These animations were simple and necessary to sell the concept to the public.

And boy, did he sell it. Throughout his time on screen, he gushes about the Florida project. “There is enough land here to hold all the ideas and plans we can possibly imagine.” And keep in mind folks, his entire speech was done without a script or a teleprompter. His countless Disneyland TV appearances had made him an excellent public speaker. And in this film, he speaks directly from the heart.

We all know this was Walt’s last filmed appearance. Only his closest friends and relatives knew how much pain he was in. When the cameras stopped rolling, he coughed incessantly and he had pain all over his body. But you’d never know it from looking at him here. This is our last time capsule of Walt Disney, with a twinkle in his eye and an endless passion about how he was going to change the world for the better. And I can think of no better lasting memory for the man himself.  

--Jeff (@ParkScopeJeff)

Monday, July 24, 2017

Intel Debrief: Dueling Dragons and the new Harry Potter Attraction

Dragon Challenge is closing at the end of the operating day, September 4th 2017.
Photo credit Benjamin Hendel
Dueling Dragons opened with Islands of Adventure in May 1999. Islands was designed as a counterbalance to the Universal Studios Florida park; where USF had large indoor E Tickets set in a studio lot theme, IoA focused on outdoor coasters, water rides, and family flat rides clustered in themed “islands”. The two parks complemented each other and their close proximity allowed for guests to quickly jump between parks.

Lost Continent, unlike the other islands in the park, was not based on a copyright or commercial property but based on mythology. The first part of the island focused on Greek and mediterranean mythology with the The Eighth Voyage of Sinbad, Poseidon's Fury, and Mythos. The second half of the island was based on European mythology and was called Merlinwood. Here guests found the Enchanted Oak restaurant, the Flying Unicorn a few years after the park opened, and finally the land’s biggest and iconic ride: Dueling Dragons.

Dueling Dragons was unlike any B&M Inverted Coaster in the world. The inverted coaster design was hugely successful and popular but this new design stepped up the game by having two separate layouts duel. The two sides of Dueling Dragons would swoop over and under each track and make many close calls, including the famous foot chopper dueling loop.

Guests entreated the exterior queue under the iconic fire and ice dragon sculpture. The path winds up and around to a derelict castle with a small bridge for guests to cross before entering the castle. Inside the castle three stain glass windows tell the tale of the castle, the warriors who came to fight, and the dragons who live there.

Further and further into the castle guests pass the remains of the knights who've attempted to slay the dragons, including one suspended and encased in ice. As the queue continues guests enter the catacombs full of skeletons, skulls, rib cages, and bones. Loud, ominous music and sounds come out of cavern holes and locked doors. This is the final warning to not proceed further to the loading platforms.

In 2007 Universal announced The Wizarding World of Harry Potter to replace Merlinwood and expand the park into an expansion plot originally designed for a Jurassic Park jeep ride. Enchanted Oak would be updated and redesigned to be the Three Broomsticks, Unicorn would become Flight of the Hippogryph, and Dueling Dragons would become Dragon Challenge. During this change the queue would be stripped of all its creepy aesthetic and replaced with some Goblet of Fire props and light Harry Potter theming. The coaster would duel until 2011 when an object fell from a train and struck a guest. After then the trains would be staggered and no longer duel.

Parkscope has heard about a Dueling Dragons replacement for some time. Reportedly B&M are not happy the coaster no longer duels and Warner Bros are not happy about the use of metal detectors before riding. Information started coming through in 2016 suggesting Universal Creative was actively working on a replacement attraction(s) and designs for an expansion to Hogsmeade.

Image from @BrianIU
The Dragon Challenge plot is huge, it equals roughly the same size as the existing Hogsmeade area. Why didn't Universal remove the coaster when they built Hogsmeade? Universal didn't have the money or time in 2007-2010 to redevelop such a large area. At that point in time the resort was struggling and this was a Hail Mary pass to increase profits and look better for a potential sale (both happened).

With such a large area, what do we expect to see here? Well it's nearly a lock the new addition will be of the Forbidden Forest, which just opened this past March at the WB Studios Tour in London. Lots of real and fake trees will line the paths to the attraction and give the Hogwarts Express station more ambiance. We will see a new roller coaster, but beyond that not much is known.

Where will the entrance to the land be? The first reaction would be to say where the current Dragon Challenge entrance is, but what about outside of Hogsmeade? Something closer to Hogwarts Express would alleviate congestion and spread out crowds. What about closer to Flights of the Hippogryph and Forbidden Journey? 

One of the complaints of Hogsmeade is the small walkway and congested guest areas. More walkways, shops, and interactive wand stations could be added in the former Dragon Challenge plot. 

Finally, what about the ride? We are still in the dark with the ride system and experience. Rumors have pointed to either a hyper coaster, Vekoma motorbike/side car attraction, a Dynamic Attractions SFX Coaster, or a powered inverted Mack coaster. The Universal press release has officially stated we'll be seeing creatures and characters in the attraction and rumors suggest Creature Technologies are working with Universal Creative again on new AA figures. Will the coaster be all outdoor, indoor, or a mix? 

At this point we believe the ride will be the Dynamic Attractions SFX Coaster with large show scenes, indoor coaster segments, and audio animatronic figures. One of the major issues and complaints of Islands of Adventure has been that most of the park closes when it rains. Reign of Kong helped even out the line up to provide an indoor attraction on the left side of the park and this new attraction could do the same on the right side. Universal hinted the attraction will "redefine the category" and "most-highly themed coaster experience" they've ever created. We think the Dynamic Attractions SFX coaster fits that bill.

Hopefully Universal won't keep us hanging for long and update us soon on this project and Super Nintendo World.

Dragons Challenge Last Day of Operation is September 4th, New Potter Coaster Announced for 2019

Photo credit Benjamin Hendel
A new Wizarding World attraction, the most detailed and themed coaster ever created by Universal Creative, is coming in 2019. To make way for this attraction Dragons Challenge will have its final day of operation September 4th.

Bullet points from the Universal Orlando blog post:

  • This all-new thrill ride will take you deeper into J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World, where you will encounter some of your favorite characters and creatures. It’ll be unlike anything we’ve ever done before and it will be fun for the entire family.
  • The new attraction will be one of the most highly-themed coaster experiences we’ve created. It will combine a new level of storytelling with an action-packed adventure…and a few surprises along the way.
  • Our award-winning Universal Creative team is once again collaborating with Warner Bros. and the production design team from the Harry Potter films to bring this new coaster experience to life.
  • This ride is going to redefine the category and transport you to thrilling places, drawing you into even more exciting adventures within the wizarding world. It’s going to be the perfect addition to Hogsmeade.
While Universal has not detailed what sort of experience this will be, there is steady speculation the attraction will be a motorbike/side car vehicles (like Hagrid's) through the Forbidden Forest. The attraction is expected to be indoors and feature many show scenes and a launched portion.

More details and updates as we hear about them.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #129 - Midnight D23 Post Show

Jeff's been at a NASCAR race all night so hasn't followed the D23 news this past Saturday. So Joe, drunk from the normal show, joins Jeff late at night to go over all the news with our thoughts and opinions.

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

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Disneyland Construction Presented by Tony Baxter: Parkscope YouTube Tuesday #5

It boggles the mind today how fast Disneyland was created. From its initial announcement on The Disneyland Story, it took a mere eleven months for Walt to turn pictures into a full theme park. Today, we’re so used to projects taking years and years and years and years (hey everyone, Guardians of the Galaxy will be coming “at some point!” Isn’t that exciting), the fact that Disneyland went from “it’s coming!” to “open” in less than a year is not even fathomable. The DCA expansion took six years. Avatar took six years. Even tiny little DCA itself took four. The Fantasyland expansion (which is two rides and some buildings) took four. But the entirety of Disneyland? Less than one year.

There are much better authors than I who have regaled tales of Disneyland’s construction to the masses, so I won’t do to repeat them hear. I would recommend you read them, though. Walt’s irascibility is in full form, as he is 100% involved in the process and obsessed over every detail. He sketched the final layout of Tom Sawyer Island, consistently pushed landscape guru Bill Evans to relocate taller and taller trees, insisted that the wagons for the pack mule ride be upholstered with the finest leather, and refused to build an administration building. You can pick up any copy of a Disneyland history book or Walt Disney biography to read all about them (my personal favorites being Walt Disney: An American Original by Bob Thomas and How to Be Like Walt by Pat Williams).

Today’s YouTube Tuesday video is a time-lapse (and in color!) film compilation of the construction of Disneyland from various cameras stationed in each of Disneyland’s major lands. It is featured as an Easter Egg in the Disneyland: Secrets, Stories and Magic DVD collection (as part of Wave Seven of the Walt Disney Treasures tin set). The footage is narrated by Tony Baxter (representing WDI), Ed Hobbleman and Walter Magnuson (representing the Disney Studio Inventory Group).

This was quite a find by Disney, as Tony explains in the narration. The footage, believe it or not, was found in a can inside a Pennsylvania salt mine. Yeah. It was a film canister with the word “Disneyland” scribbled on the front, and someone found it and returned it to Disney. While I usually don’t believe in UFOs or ghosts or time travelers, this is some serious X-Files material. How does something like that even happen? Did they also find Elvis and Jimmy Hoffa down there?

The material is presented in three parts: first, an opening section where we get to see Walt walking the property. Second is the time-lapse footage, one segment for each land. And finally, there is some video of Walt, Harper Goff and company overseeing the construction of the Jungle Cruise. Walt was famous for preserving his and his team’s thought processes (he hired stenographers to take detailed notes in every story meeting during the creation of the animated movies, and saved as many original sketches in the archives as he could), and here he realized that the construction of Disneyland would one day be something to study and reference back to. So, he set up numerous cameras and observation towers around the property to film the construction footage in time-lapse as it was happening. What we see here is an American historical landmark in all stages of construction. It’s like going back in time and seeing the building of the cathedral of Notre Dame or the Eiffel Tower.

The video does a good job of speaking for itself, however I’ve included a few ancillary thoughts of the footage:

00:05 Amazing (when you watch it in slo-mo) that the roads around Disneyland still exist in the familiar east-west box pattern. Though we can’t tell which streets are featured here, the North/South Walnut, Harbor, and West and the East/West Katella and Ball are surely included in this whirlwind footage.

00:25 It’s so incredible and fortunate today that we have most of this video in color footage. We can see what Walt wore to work in glorious color! Gotta love that red-checkered shirt and white hat. And his cigar isn’t edited out. The narrators discuss the infamous “Walt reel” found in the recovered footage.

01:20 Some rare footage of Roy in color as well.

02:00 Don’t know if this makeshift observation tower was mentioned in any historical books or records. But it just goes to show how efficient the Disneyland planners were. They built an observation deck not only for themselves, but for Walt so he could point out the layout of certain areas and whether he thought they were headed in the right direction. Remember, as Tony describes the actual construction of Disneyland was done in only 7 months! As this is with notorious perfectionist Walt Disney at the helm! Amazing. And it’s followed by incredible 360-degree view of the Disneyland site!

03:10 starts the time-lapse footage, starting with Main Street. A few notes here:

1.       Note how the Jungle Cruise foliage had already been planted by the time vertical construction on Main Street started, in order to get the best of a Spring “growth” season
2.       Because of the less strict building and construction regulations compared to today, vertical construction on Main Street was completed in only four months! Tony Baxter relates how it took a full five years to build Euro Disney.
3.       Tony mentions the split-second appearance of the infamous Town Square Gazebo, which Walt wanted to place in Town Square near the flagpole. However, once it was placed the team realized it blocked Guests’ view of the castle. So, the gazebo was moved to the Magnolia Park section of Frontierland, which is where New Orleans Square is now. As Tony reminds us, this again speaks to the practicality of Walt Disney’s creative design sense. If it didn’t work, it was out, no questions asked, no matter how much operational headache it causes.
4.       The Phantom Boats again prove to be the most unreliable mechanics imaginable. Even right before opening, the boats had still not made it to the lagoon!
5.       Tony explains that fiberglass was not used too much upon opening, though Disney became obsessed with it afterwards. This was because, in 1955, fiberglass was still a “miracle material” and thus expensive to acquire. So only a few elements of the park were featured in all their fiberglass glory.
6.       It’s just funny that Storybookland started out as a literal mud ditch with views of weeds and grass called Canal Boats of the World. The plants, you see, were from around the world. That’ll be a “B” Ticket, please.
7.       32:45 This is how guests are going to be greeted at my house one day.
8.       34:50 An absolutely amazing overlook view of the Jungle Cruise before the foliage fully grew in. As Tony mentions, this is probably the only time you’ll ever see such a clear overlook of the full ride layout.

The footage itself is, of course, incredible. The video presented here is a full 37 minutes of the literally hundreds of hours of material (Tony says he sat through 400 hours. And you thought a Hobbit/Lord of the Rings marathon was bad!). This is Disneyland construction footage in full color. Time-lapse for each land. With color footage of Walt, Roy, Davy Crockett and Joe Fowler walking around. It is truly a fine treasure for the Disney history hunter.