Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #125 - A B&M Hyper in Every Park


This episode Lane briefly joins us from the SunTrust Park to lay out his plan to fix all of WDW for less money than it took to build Pandora, Joe talks about his Cedar Point trip, Sean talks about visiting the Harry Potter Studio Tour in England, and Nick cuts in and out of connectivity. We also discuss Pandora previews, Volcano Bay media day, locals overhyping projects, The Shining and Conjuring at HHN, new hotels, Sesame Street, and then answer your non-theme park questions!

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

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...Missouri

Few states can manage to embody so many of the contrasts of the American Midwest in the way that Missouri can. Geographically, it's larger than New York or Florida. There are the plains and wetlands of both the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. There's vast rolling farmland, as well as forests, mountains, and enormous lakes (many of which are man made). Around the rural beauty is also the unfortunate backstory of Missouri's slave state status and continuing racial turmoil in its urban areas. For outsiders, Missouri is a place anchored by two cities on opposite corners - Kansas City and St. Louis. Both cities have a pall of decay and despair about them with the ever changing global economy increasingly leaving them behind. Outside of those metropolitan strongholds are the capital (Jefferson City), college towns (Columbia, Rolla, Cape Giradeau), and a major resort destination (The Ozarks, anchored by Branson).

As always with the series, we start with that which is known:



-Six Flags St. Louis opened as the third of the original Six Flags parks under the moniker "Six Flags Mid-America". The name was changed during the Gary Story years after the chain expanded and took on new facilities in Chicago, Louisville, and Cleveland, but the name has stuck even since. Unlike Six Flags Over Texas and Six Flags Over Georgia, which saw ownership stakes retained by the Wynne family, Six Flags Over Georgia is a wholly owned by Six Flags Inc. facility and thus requires a certain amount of cultural anthropology to see much of what was original to the park remaining as it has crumbled away over time. Highlights of the current lineup include the John Allen out-and-back Screamin' Eagle, the GCI wood coaster American Thunder, the launched Premier coaster Mr. Freeze, an Arrow log flume, a train ride, (Six Flags Mid America logos still in cast iron), and a Sally Justice League dark ride.



-Worlds of Fun was, I hear, a really cool looking regional themer in the late 90s before Dick Kinzel and Cedar Fair went about tearing all the charm out of it in stages. The park that exists now has a GCI woodie that is generally well regarded (Prowler), a Morgan hypercoaster that is generally well regarded, and a train ride that actually went back to having staged robberies of late. The raft ride (Fury of the Nile) might actually be a top 3 attraction at this park which lacks really solid show facilities or a dark ride.



-Silver Dollar City is where the Herschend empire got started. Aesthetically similar to Dollywood, it has a number of really awesome aspects that Dollywood just can't match now: The Flooded Mine boat dark ride, the Grandfather's Mansion fun house, the fact that the first attraction here was a real life cave big enough to fit hot air balloons into, a top mine train coaster, a great custom S&S launched ride in Powder Keg, and oh so much more. SDC is one of my favorite parks in the world, no doubt about it.

-The St. Louis Arch and Museum of Westward Expansion are visited by several million people each year, and in addition to the one of a kind elevator system, the underground museum features an array of animatronic figures detailing the colonization of the Wild West.

...and from there, we go to that which is unknown....

BEYOND THE GATEWAY



St. Louis is home to the state's largest metro population, and it shouldn't surprise people that it also has some of the more interesting attractions I'll be noting. The first of these is a modern creation: The City Museum. Not merely just a museum, but a sort of "fun house on steroids", City Museum was the brain child of Bob Cassilly, an artist who realized the potential in an abandoned shoe factory to create an interactive art installation unlike any other. Like other fun houses in the world, there barrels to roll in and slides to go down, but this "fun house" also has an array of interconnected tunnels, miniatures, pinball machines, a safe, opera posters, an airplane, and more jungle gym-esque equipment to climb on than can reasonably be imagined. When this series is over and done with, City Museum will be near the top of the list of awesome things to see.

St. Louis has other above average sights to see as well. The St. Louis Zoo is a free admission zoo (rare) which occupies part of the grounds of the 1904 World's Fair held here. A 4-D theater and Chance CP Huntington Train offer non-animal attractions. Union Station will soon be home to an aquarium and Chance 200-foot ferris wheel in addition to the impressive projection show already taking place in the main hall. Staying in the area and closer to Six Flags is the Endangered Wolf Center in Eureka, another AZA accredited institution.

Finally, we head to a county park to get a look back into living history. Faust Park in Chesterfield has two carousels; one an 1898 Armitage-Herschell, the other a 1921 Dentzel. The older of the two was converted to electric operation from steam, but the engine has been retained as a museum piece.

WALK IN WALT'S FOOTSTEPS

Walt Disney is probably the most iconic and important figures in the theme park industry, and much of what made Walt who he was occurred in Missouri. He grew up in the town of Marceline and later in Kansas City, where he established his first animation studio before moving to LA. As such, for the ardent Disney fan, Missouri offers an interesting glimpse unto better understanding Walt Disney: The Man.

Starting in Marceline, The Walt Disney Hometown Museum features a number of artifacts related to the man, his animation, and even the parks. In 1966, the Midget Autopia ride was donated to the city of Marceline along with an ampitheater, and though a spirited attempt to bring the ride back via Kickstarter was made in 2015, the effort fell short. In February 2016, the Marceline City Council voted to demolish the ampitheater and track where the Midget Autopia cars once ran. An Arrow Arrowflite Freeway Ride, Idlewild Park in Pennsylvania still operates a ride nearly identical to Midget Autopia to this day. Knoebel's Grove also operates what is likely a Arrowflite Freeway. As for the town itself, remember that this was the model for Main Street USA, Walt's tribute to small town America.



Over in Kansas City, the primary amusement park of Walt's childhood had closed by the mid-1920s. However, what does certainly still exist is Country Club Plaza. Opened in 1923, this was the first shopping mall/mixed use facility intended to be accessed primarily by automobile. It also appears on this list because the building exteriors have been heavily themed to resemble the Moorish architecture of Seville, Spain. This is also one of the early adopters of that now famous theme park tradition of garish Christmas lighting arrays and accompanying lighting ceremonies. While it's opening would have been significant, and the eventual effect of its innovations seemingly influential to an almost obvious degree, Country Club Plaza is not often mentioned in relation to Walt's development.

Kansas City also has another big mixed use development of note in what is known as Crown Center. Merlin operates both a Sea Life Aquarium and Legoland Discovery Center in the shopping complex. "Crown" is for the Hallmark logo, as this is abutting corporate headquarters and the Hallmark Visitor Center. Architecture and disaster buffs might also note that the Sheraton Crown Plaza here opened as the Hyatt Regency, and was the scene of a horrific disaster in 1981 where 114 people were crushed to death in an atrium walkway collapse.

FLANDERS' VERSION OF LAS VEGAS



Branson is not a boom town. The best days for this city were in the mid 90s, when musicians and entertainers from around the globe packed enormous theaters filled with Middle American tourists seeking escape. As the demographic who made Branson what it is died off, and was replaced with lower income people with less interest in bluegrass music or comedy bits about Soviet Russia, hotels stopped getting filled. Branson USA, a new build park in the 1990s, was purchased by Herschend to effectively close it (they left it standing and abandoned in clear view for many years) and cut competition. Theaters are empty with grass poking through the parking lots. Meanwhile, Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg has boomed, suggesting that there is only room for one such tourist draw.



In lieu of all this, two mountain coasters will be operating in Branson in 2017. The first, at Branson Mountain Adventure Park, actually opened last year. The second, currently under construction, replaces the Cool Off Water Chute, an early concrete water slide that predated Wet N' Wild and River Country. They join a bevy of existing attractions, such as the Professor Hacker's Lost Treasure Golf location and its train ride to the first hole and the Hollywood Wax Museum. The latter even has the throw-ins of the "5D" Castle of Chaos interactive theater attraction and Shoot for The Stars Mini-Golf (which may actually be slightly racist in its depiction of your manager, whom offers encouragement at each hole while describing your ascent in Hollywood).

Herschend operates White Water, a fairly compact water park near the main drag in town, and that competes primarily with a couple of indoor water parks as well as Big Surf (no relation to the Arizona park). With Cool Off Water Chute being dead, the most unique slide to the state is gone with it.

UNCHARTED MISSOURI

Outside the major cities, few bother to roam. I can't say I really blame them. But those who have came back with information about some weird parks. Bless them and their spending of money.



Hydro Adventures in Poplar Bluff isn't really near anything you'd go to, but since opening in 2003 has slowly obtained an audience. Since 2015, the dry ride options were added, and it is now home to the largest coaster in the state (an SDC built Galaxi) outside the big chain owned themers. There's a mix of cheaper Italian and American built rides otherwise. In the city of Osage Beach, halfway between Columbia and Springfield, is Miner Mike's Adventure Town. It is a classic, but large, family entertainment center. The rustic frontier theme is above average for the genre, but being honest, its primary function is children's birthday parties.



St. Joseph's is home to the Patee House, a museum complex that features a truly one-of-a-kind ride. The "Wild Thing" carousel, carved entirely by Bruce White, was taken in from the local mall. White is actually the guy responsible for the horses Applebee's restaurants use as flair/decor in the restaurants. That's not the only strange carousel in the state either. Perryville, a town located southeast of St. Louis, has a Herschell-Spillman carousel dating to 1905 which operates only for the 3 day run of the Annual Seminary Picnic the first weekend of August. 

Saturday, May 20, 2017

New Plan for Universal Orlando Resort Hotel on Old Wet n Wild Property

Copyright Universal Orlando Resort
Universal Orlando has updated their Wet n Wild development plan with the City of Orlando to include new details and concept renderings of the proposed hotels. The Orlando Business Journal and Orlando Sentinel published the updates.

Copyright Universal Orlando Resort
Universal says the resorts "will be branded/themed to complement existing on-site Universal hotels, and will feature resort-style landscaping, resort amenities including retail and food and beverage outlets, resort-style pools and other resort features in keeping with the brands for each respective property." 1,200 rooms will sit on the former Wet n Wild plot with an additional 2,800 rooms sitting on the former water parks' parking lot.

Copyright Universal Orlando Resort
The theme of the 1,200 room resort appears to be surf or boardwalk themed while the 2,800 room resort's theme is more ambiguous.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Immersive Irony Experience Theme Park Podcast- Shark Fin Soup Memorial Episode


Alan is joined by Tom Mehrmann, owner and founder of Themed Advisers Ltd. They discuss Tom's past as VP of Operations and Entertainment at Knotts Berry Farm, VP and GM of several Six Flags parks around the world, his twelve years as CEO of Ocean Park in Hong Kong, Tom's philosophy on running amusement parks, the future of the Asian amusement park industry, and more!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...Mississippi




In the 1953 Billboard list of amusement parks, one state is strangely absent. Even when heading back in time to the 1917 Billboard list, Mississippi barely shows signs of life. Only three parks show: Washington Park and Lake Park in Columbus, and Highland Park in Meridian. The National Amusement Park Historical Association doesn't list any of these, but does have an Echo Park in Meridian. Obtaining a copy of "Mississippi: The WPA Guide To The Magnolia State" only created more questions, as it cites the existence of Freeman's Amusement Park in the city of Laurel. So to channel my inner Seinfeld: "What's the deal with Mississippi?"

So let's clear a few things up: Meridian was, up until 1930, the largest city in the state. As such, it shouldn't be surprising that they amusement parks. Echo Park is known today as "Lakemont", and is a residential neighborhood, but the park started as Hamilton's Lake in the 1800s before changing names in the 30s. Lake Park has since become Propst Park, and the lake apparently filled in (or dried up). Washington Park, the "colored" facility in Columbus, was a short distance away, somewhere between 23rd and 27th, likely on the southern end of that closer to 1st Ave N where it would have been in tighter connection to the African American cemetery nearby. Freeman's Amusement Park is noted as being located on Washington in Laurel, however no traces remain. There is no information available about it beyond references to it and it's pool during late 20s in the local newspaper. Looking at aerial photos, it isn't even certain where it might have been placed: Perhaps the location of the Town House Apartments or somewhere in the 11th Ave-13th Ave blocks seem likely. None of those four can be verified to have had a single amusement ride.



One that can be noted as having definitely had a ride and which still has a ride is Highland Park in Meridian. There's a Dentzel 2 row carousel here, one of very few he produced and the only still in operation. But when it comes to classic Mississippi amusements, that's it. Even the hope I had stumbled onto something by finding Canton's Madison County Amusement Park was empty: it's really a horse racing track that seems to be related to the segregation of every form of activity in the state (virtually all the patrons appear to be black; same with the nearby drag strip). There just isn't a lot to talk about. No coasters. No great dark rides. No anything. Mississippi has always had a bit of a reputation as a backwater, but this was surprising to even me.



In more recent times, there have been numerous small parks located near the Gulf of Mexico. Most of these parks were entirely wiped out by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 (4 in total between Mississippi and Louisiana). Fun Time USA is supposedly working on a 2017 reopening and crowd funding to get themselves up and operational in Gulfport, but 12 years have passed and all I can say is that I wish them luck. This has left the state with a single operational permanent coaster, and guess what? It's at a fairground run by a non-profit organization. The Brookhaven Exchange Club Park has the "All American Coaster", acquired in the 1950s, which fires up roughly the first week in August every year. That's it. 8 days.



This may seem a dire situation, and I would tend to agree. Perhaps the lack of stimuli has led people down different paths than we might otherwise expect and do things that seem extremely out of the ordinary. Things like collecting animatronics to use in a recreation of a early 80s Showbiz Pizza restaurant in a rural community miles from anything. Smitty’s Super Service Station should not exist. The creation of one hyper fan who had never left Mississippi prior to being highlighted in a film about Showbiz Pizza fans (he lives about 10 minutes from the Louisiana border, FWIW), it exists and can be booked to be visited. It is there.



What about water slides? Yes! Water slides! Mississippi oddly enough has some kinda interesting water parks. Slip-N-Dip in Columbus, Splash of Fun in Wiggins, and Pep's Point Water Park in Hattiesburg both feature ancient 70s style concrete slides. Gulf Islands in Gulfport features more modern slides including the state's sole water coaster.

Hey, let's talk haunts! The Bailey Haunted Firehouse in Meridian has some presence on the internet beyond its own poorly put together site, but there's also The Dark Zone in Brandon put together by the Crossgates Exchange Club. How deeply dysfunctional is Mississippi that everything has to be run by community organizations? Well, it appears "really deep". There are no AZA accredited zoos in the state after the Jackson Zoo (who have a carousel and train) opted to resign their accreditation due to budget shortfalls caused by city and state cuts. There is nothing appealing about Mississippi at all to almost anyone outside of perhaps an auto parts manufacturer hoping to use cheap labor. And yet, local voters manage to fall for the line that local tax cuts will somehow drive growth out of nothing but swamp land and long decaying mills every single time. Cuts far exceed the anemic growth in the state theoretically derived from them.

I'll step down from the soap box now. I will instead tell you that the (non-accredited) Tupelo Zoo and Buffalo Park has a school bus with monster truck tires you can rid in to see bison. They're really American Bison. Buffalo are European and a whole other thing that just happened to look kinda like them (but not really). By the way: People are dumb.


Now that I've ragged on Mississippi plenty and made everyone act as though they are the devil incarnate, I will offer you something actively different and interesting. I will offer you the Neshoba County Fair, Mississippi's "Giant House Party." What separates this from every other fairgrounds in the world is the existence of family run cabins - 600 of them, with many neighborhoods, streets, and alleys - which occupy most of the grounds. These cabins, often garishly painted, are only in use for the fair itself. The environment is entirely unique to the US and creates a party environment really very...cool. It may not be an "immersive themed environment" but who knows? You also might enjoy yourself a lot more there than riding a virtual banshee.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #124- Spay and Neuter Your Banshees


Joe, Nick, and Lane are joined by Banks Lee of Attractions Magazine the Show to do a quick news run down before discussing Bank's visit to Pandora - The World of Avatar at Disney's Animal Kingdom. Yes there are two Price is Right jokes in the episode.

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

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...Minnesota

Minneapolis is the greatest secret in America. I say this often, but seriously, it is true. They have an airport with all sorts of international flights thanks to being a Delta hub. There's passable public transport with airport connections, which is incredibly rare even in cities with light rail. The most famous hospital in the world isn't that far away, and there's a great research university. All four major pro sports are represented. Minnesota was so well developed, peaceful, and frankly "socialist" (google the Minnesota Miracle) that the federal government made it the dumping ground for diaspora running from their homelands simply because it, more than any other city in the nation, was capable of accepting and integrating them. Don't believe me? Go look at the huge Hmong and Somali populations and tell me otherwise. The city consistently rates as one of the world's most livable.



As a whole, the state has elected the likes of a pro wrestler (Jesse Ventura) and stand up comedian (Al Franken) to high office. Garrison Keillor is from here, and he's the most NPR thing in the world. So was Prince, who never left Minneapolis even at the peak of his fame. They're "different" in the way Vermonters are different, except by most criteria, they're also better than most everywhere in the United States at literally every aspect of civilization. And yet they get no credit. Funny how that works, right?

But this isn't just a blog for recitation of random factoids about places you, likely a US resident within 150 miles of an ocean, have thought beneath you. This is a blog specifically about amusement rides, theme parks, and all the things that fall under that umbrella. It is a big umbrella. If Minnesota is so livable and so good, clearly, it must have rides worth talking about. How could it not?



As always here, we start with the known quantities, and that means we're spending lots of time in the Twin Cities. Valleyfair is a Cedar Fair owned and constructed park that opened in 1976. Cedar Fair's corporate name stems from the combination of Cedar Point and Valleyfair. As a Cedar Fair park of the vintage, it certainly shows in the midway and building design. Some of the more unique rides in the park include the Renegade GCI wood coaster, Wild Thing (Morgan Hypercoaster), and Excaliber, a Arrow Mine Train with some serious kick. Not too far away is the Mall of America, home to Nickelodeon Universe and its unique collection of rides, ranging from a Zierer Hexentanz to a Gerstlauer Eurofighter coaster and a Sally shooting dark ride. Don't forget that the mall is also home to a Soarin' style ride (Flyover America), the huge Water Park of America, and a large aquarium, now operated by Merlin.

And now, the less known:



It might be a stretch to call the Minnesota State Fair "unknown". One of the nation's 3 most attended fairs, Minnesota and Texas have been the two pillars on which the increasing number of independent midways in America have been built. In addition to the unique rides that come to Minneapolis each August, there's a number of permanent rides here that operate only during the Fair. Among these: a 100+ year old Old Mill dark ride, a Von Roll skyride, a rotating observation tower, and a one-off Barr Engineering rapids ride. Staying in the metro area, Como Town and Zoo in St. Paul recently welcomed an Interpark Zyklon to join their collection of family rides and attractions.



Now, yes, more than half of the state's population lives within the confines of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metropolitan Statistical Area. But there's still a couple million people elsewhere, and they do stuff too. Some of it is kinda unique. Take for example the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion in Hawley. Located 3 1/2 hours northwest of Minneapolis itself, it might be the single largest collection of steam powered equipment in the world, and two of those pieces are ride-able. There are train rides (surprise!) but also a steam powered carousel, one of very few anywhere in the world. Back east a little ways in Brainerd is Paul Bunyan Land, which has two notable attractions: one is the home built haunted house that operates during its full season. The other is the last known permanent installation of Flying Cages anywhere in the the US. Wonder what these look like? Well, wonder no further:




Southeast of Minneapolis, in the city of Kellogg, is LARK Toys. Whomever it is that ranks toy stores finds this one to be among the tops in the nation, and they've got a unique new build wood carousel and mini golf as draws aside from the toys. Heading well north to Lake Superior, the city of Duluth has a ski resort (Spirit Mountain) which became one of the first in the nation to acquire a Wiegland Alpine Coaster in 2010. It's really the only such ride in this region of the nation (world if you count Western Ontario and Manitoba). The next closest one is a day's drive away in Branson, MO. If having underwheels is too risk adverse for your taste, Wild Mountain in Taylors Falls has an old fashioned concrete alpine slide, plus an airbag platform to jump off of. You climb a tower and jump off, no restraints, no assistance, into an airbag.

                                     

There are a ton of aquatics facilities in Minnesota: 15 or so qualify as full bore parks outside of the big one attached to Mall of America. Few of them have really defining and strange characteristics aside from Wild Mountain's Big Country slide (a long slide featuring 9 splashdown points and a ground hugging layout suggesting a past history of being concrete) and the Venetian Indoor Waterpark. The latter doesn't have anything colossal, just a comparatively unique theme.



LARK Toys is not the only retail location to have a themed attraction. Tom's Logging Camp outside Duluth features a Gravity House attraction in the classic 1950s tradition. But there's also some historical exhibits showing life for loggers from turn of the century-era frontier time too.