Thursday, September 28, 2017

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #136 - Halloween Horror Nights 27 Review, Pt 1

Joe is joined by Brian to talk all about their Halloween Horror Nights experiences. Plus some Toothsome and Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon.

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

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

YouTube Tuesday #12: Thrill Rides: Designing Fear

How extreme do you think roller coasters can get?

We’ve been grappling with that question since 1989. That was the year that Magnum XL-200 broke the hypercoaster 200-foot barrier. Up until then, when coasters got taller, they also gained more loops. That was pretty much a given for aspiring scream parks. Corkscrew changed the game when it debuted in 1975 at Knott’s Berry Farm by adding inversions to a roller coaster, something that hadn’t been seen since the circle-loops of the turn of the century. From 1975 to 1989, roller coasters getting “more extreme” meant they were taller or they had more inversions. Usually both.

Every other year, it seemed, some coaster somewhere in the country would either add another 10 feet to the height record, or just one more inversion than the previous record-holder. In fact, many of the new coaster designs took a back seat to the thrill of going higher, faster, and upside-down more often.

Different extreme designs like the stand-up coaster, the suspended coaster, the bobsled coaster, and the heartline (Ultra-Twister) coaster were fun, but they often did not make top headlines. The allure of the stand-up King Kobra at Kings Island was soon forgotten when the park added the record-setting Vortex. The suspended Iron Dragon quickly gave way to Magnum at Cedar Point.

Then 1989/1990 gave us the dual whammy of Magnum and Viper at Six Flags Magic Mountain. Viper opened as the second-tallest in the world (after Magnum), but pulled a ridiculous seven inversions out of its hat. At this point, it seemed that a pendulum began to swing the other way. Only once over the next decade would Magnum’s height record be topped: by the Desperado at Buffalo Bill’s casino (of all places, I know. It’s like Elton John performing live at the Katella Avenue Seven-Eleven). Though, it should be noted that Magnum’s drop height record would also be broken by Steel Phantom at Kennywood.
And Viper had nary a challenger over the next decade to its inversions record, being outpaced only by Dragon Kahn at Port Aventura in Spain.

Suddenly, starting in 1990, amusement parks seem to want something different, not just the same old “add ten feet for the height record and call it a day.” Throughout the 1990s, we certainly got our fair share of hypers and many, many inversion, but the 1990s was also when we started seeing a wooden coaster renaissance, and B&M’s stand-up, inverted, and even floorless designs. We started seeing flying coasters in 2000. And perhaps most important of all, we experienced the glory of Linear Induction Motors.

Launched coasters added an extra dimension to roller coasters. It was no longer even necessary to have a lift hill, yet still be among the most exciting coasters on the planet! One could be launched into giant inversions or straight up lift hills, with nary a chain in sight. And the launches could happen at any time!

When the launched coaster came to us in the form of Discovery Mountain/Space Mountain in 1995, and then to the states as Flight of Fear in 1996, it was dynamite for our imaginations. We knew roller coasters had pushed beyond their pre-defined limits, almost like they suddenly gained super-powers. You could launch tom 70 mph at any time! And this was something only 200-foot+ coasters were allowed to do!

This is where TLC’s Thrill Rides: Designing Fear picks up. It’s another in a long line of ubiquitous 2000-era roller coaster specials. But this is the only one, at least in my archive, that dives right into the consequences of roller coasters being too extreme. Yes, I have to admit, this show is very uncomfortable.

We’re releasing this show in deference to the 2017 Ohio State Fair Tragedy, when we all were reminded how dangerous amusement rides can be. These really are scary machines. One loose bolt or one failed brake can seriously injure passengers. It’s not a pleasant topic of discussion.

I do like that Designing Fear chooses to bring up a topic that nobody likes to talk about. In a way, it’s like an amusement park episode of 60 Minutes. However, Joe and I feel the presentation style of the show could have been handled better.

The topics of the show itself run the gamut, from how a coaster is designed, to the effects that g-forces have on the body, to the future of extreme rides. Even a biodynamics engineer is interviewed at multiple points to offer her take on the coaster’s effect on the spine and the brain. We talk to coaster fans, writers, designers, military engineers, and maintenance engineers. It jumps topics frequently, sometimes without any warning or buildup. But the worst is when the show randomly introduces tales of death and horror at the amusement park faster than a scare-actor at HHN. An interview with a coaster maintenance manager is followed by an upturned rapids vehicle incident. It doesn’t hang together. I think the big miscue in Designing Fear is that they were really making two shows: a show about thrills and g-forces and a show about maintenance and safety. One show plays on the excitement one gets for the amusement park, the other is a warning to be careful when playing at the park because disaster can happen at any time. The viewer gets emotionally frazzled when both are packed together.

But even with its flaws, in the wake of the Ohio State Fair tragedy, I believe this show is just as relevant as ever. Maintenance and safety continue to be main topics of concern today, even with ever-advancing technology. And as we continue to push the envelope in how extreme rides can be, we have to ask ourselves, what is the line we’re not willing to cross? How extreme does a ride have to be for us to hesitate and walk away? It’s an interesting topic of discussion, and I think one that speaks to our base desires and psychology. How extreme is too extreme for you? Answer the question honestly and you’ll find out a lot about yourself.

--ParkScopeJeff (@ParkScopeJeff)

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

YouTube Tuesday #11: Inside Disneyland Paris

Was Euro Disney the most significant Disney Parks historical development post-1971?

It very well could be. When looking at the history of Disney Attractions following the creation of the Vacation Kingdom, could one find any other momentous occasion that meant so much to the future of the theme park industry?

We all know the story of what happened. An original budget of $1 billion quickly ballooned into $4 billion. Disney had placed the resort right next to Paris, which is practically ground zero for Europe’s entire transportation network, and expected (or so some of their consultants said) to get as many as 30 million visitors by the time the second Disney MGM-Studios park would be built next door.

The exact reasons why the resort failed initially are far too complex for this piece. But the resulting fallout would be almost the equivalent of an asteroid impact within theme park circles.

Disney had always been the bellwether for the theme park industry since Disneyland opened in 1955. At its best, Disney has the financial and creative resources necessary to move the ball downfield in the themed entertainment industry. It’s no accident that the theme park industry seems to stagnate at the same time that Disney’s fortitude diminishes.

Look at the creative boom that happened within the parks industry during Disney’s golden years of the 1960s and 1970s (with the opening of Walt Disney World in Florida). To be fair, the Disneyland imitators of Freedomland and Pleasure Island and Magic Mountain (the one in Colorado, NOT the one in California) all went bust in the 1950s. But they all learned a very important lesson: don’t try to be Disneyland. Only Disney can be Disneyland.

After the failure of these initial parks came the big breakthrough: Angus Wynne’s Six Flags concept. Here was a pleasant family park concept (or at least it was back then) that did not provide themed areas per se, but did provide clean, well-kept, wholesome entertainment for the whole family. And at a fraction of the cost of a Disneyland presentation.

And so the race was on. Practically every major amusement park concept we know of today follows this model, and came to fruition in the 1960s and 1970s. The Six Flags concept. The Marriott parks in Illinois and California. The Kings parks. Carowinds. Busch Gardens. SeaWorld. Magic Mountain (the California one). Astroworld. Marineland. Worlds of Fun. And the old parks all learned these lessons and made themselves better. Cedar Point. Knotts. Kennywood. Hershey. Holiday World. And all of this booming success was predicated on Disney’s popularity and innovation. It’s true.

Let’s even put aside the fact that Six Flags and their ilk were built trying to catch the Disney conceptual wave that amusement parks could be fun, clean, friendly places again. In the 1950s, Walt had a small company called Arrow Dynamics manufacture and build the ride mechanisms for his attractions, from the Fantasyland dark rides to the Mad Tea Party and many others. Arrow had become quite adept at manufacturing these (very new) mechanical ride concepts, to the point where they were the ones Walt called on when he wanted to create a new kind of roller coaster to dive in and around his new Matterhorn mountain. And so, Arrow created the first tubular steel roller coaster.

As many of you know, the steel roller coaster is now the rock that amusement parks build their churches on. One would be hard-pressed to find an amusement park of any stripe without one today. And after Arrow success with the Matterhorn (and later Space Mountain), they proliferated the steel coaster concept across the amusement park landscape. First it was the form of the family-friendly mine train coaster concept, which the Six Flags of the world were happy to utilize in their family park concept. But later, Arrow would revolutionize the industry again by creating the Corkscrew for Knotts Berry Farm, the first steel coaster with inversions, in 1975 (the same year as Space Mountain opened). Amusement parks again rode the dual waves of the steel coaster boom and the popularity of the new Walt Disney World Resort.

A similar boom happened in the late 1980s and early 1990s. While one could certainly argue that the soon to be booming economy would have much to do with the “coaster wars” and innovation wheelhouse that would commence, it’s also of note that this came at a time when Disney began a second golden age of innovation for its theme parks. As Disney began to build bigger and better parks and attractions, other parks felt emboldened to loosen the purse strings as well.

Look at all of the 3-D movies that spread into the theme park world after the success of Magic Journeys and Captain EO. Or the umpteen billion simulators after Star Tours. Universal Studios and MGM Grand opened new studio-themed parks after Disney opened theirs. The world of water parks was changed forever with the opening of Typhoon Lagoon, as was the world of themed hotels after the Swan & Dolphin and Grand Floridian made their debuts (it should be noted, 3 years and 1 year, respectively, before The Mirage opened in Las Vegas and began that revival). The expansions of Disneyland and Walt Disney World led to new expansions at Club Med, Las Vegas, Branson Missouri, and Universal Orlando.

Then Euro Disney happened. And everything began to…slowly…stagnate again. Budgets began to be cut, little by little, every subsequent year for Disney, until by 2001/2002 they would hit the literal bottom-basement of Disney’s California Adventure, Dino-Rama, and Disney Studios Paris. And it seemed that, every year, other parks also began to give up. It was like a themed entertainment ice age. After a $1 billion-plus expansion at Universal Orlando (which should be pointed out was approved in 1993), the jolly merry-go-round of Universal ownership decided to hang it up for about a decade. Las Vegas slowly demolished its themed rides. All the amusement parks seemed to ditch the simulators and dark rides and went right back to steel coasters (though some very creative ones). Amusement park owners seemed more interested on installing Fastpass systems and meal deals.

There’s a controversial new theory (work with me here) in archeology that suggests that a 1,200 year “instant ice age” in humanity’s past was caused by a comet impact. Our climate history shows that, after thousands of years of gradual warming, the earth was plunged very suddenly back into the teeth of the ice age approximately 12,800 years ago. This began a period of intense cold called the Younger Dryas that lasted for 1,200 years. This weather event literally happened out of nowhere. New evidence suggests that a piece of an enormous comet (or even several pieces) smashed into the earth and kicked up so much dust and loess that the sun was blocked for years and caused a reverse greenhouse effect, basically plunging humanity back into the ice age after it had almost escaped. This comet is sometimes called the “Clovis Comet” because it seems to have been the cause of the extinction of the proto-Native American people called the Clovis culture.

Hot take: Euro Disney is the Clovis Comet of the current ice age in the theme park industry.

And it always seemed like it. Even in this featured show, Inside Disneyland Paris, there seems to be an air of awakening from a very long winter. Because realistically, Disneyland Paris was in a deep, biting winter for years and years.

One thing that always fascinated me about Inside Disneyland Paris was that it was the first Disney-specific special to ever air on a Discovery Channel, TLC, or Travel Channel-style show. This always made me wonder. Though Disney attractions would be featured in specials like Funhouse, only through Buena Vista video and the Disney Channel could one find Disney-specific documentaries, such as with the Walt Disney World: Inside Out specials. Amusement parks like Cedar Point and Magic Mountain were featured multiple times. Universal was featured all the damn time (to our great consternation). But Disney never entered the fray. Until this show.

We were all giddy about this show, because it was the first Disney effort on the Travel Channel. We awaited with great anticipation. And it makes total sense now, looking back, that Disneyland Paris would be featured first. We can expect that Disney didn’t allow Travel Channel to make these kinds of documentaries for a variety of reasons, be it the hesitation of letting a third party into Disney’s backstage areas or the idea that Disney “doesn’t need” someone else’s help to advertise its own products. But Disneyland Paris needed all the help it could get.

And so we see Disney’s freshman effort at letting the Travel Channel world into the backstage magic. And the final product is good, but not spectacular. We see a lot of what we expect from park specials: the peak inside the food warehouse, the construction of HISTA, the landscaping, etc. Some better highlights include the challenge of swiveling Indy’s mine cars backward, the behind the scenes at parade rehearsals, and the insiders look at the Space Mountain launch area. Lowlights include every shot of Jay Rasulo.

My personal favorite highlights are the extensive interviews with Tom K. Morris about the conception of Fantasyland and the magnificent Sleeping Beauty Castle, as well as the sequence at the end that reveals the behind the scenes of the Cheyenne’s wild west dinner show (complete with real buffalo!)

So enjoy Disney’s first Travel Channel effort. We promise there will be many, many more to come ;)

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #134 - The 17 Year Itch

Joe, Mike, Nick, and special guest Paulie join to discuss some HHN27 TM member impressions, the disgusting idea of a candy corn alcoholic drink, the Cleveland Indians, and Joe's car woes. Then the rest of the episode we deep dive into Paulie's trip to Orlando as he tackles Universal Orlando for the first time in 17 years, his daughter's first time to the Wizarding World, Toothsome, Volcano Bay (good and bad), and more! Then we close it out with his trip to Walt Disney World with his stay at the brand new Copper Creek, Pandora, BOATHOUSE, Trader Sam's, and adventures in car rental.

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

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

YouTube Tuesday #10: Scream Parks: Inside Six Flags Magic Mountain

Can you handle 200 Davids conquering Goliath? You’re about to find out!

Full disclosure: I grew up close to Cedar Point. It’s where my family and I liked to spend Memorial Day weekend since I can remember. We’d load up for 2 days/1 night at the Hotel Breakers (which, for the first 15 or so years of my life, was a complete piece of crap hotel. Thanks Dick Kinzel) and spend 2 VERY uncrowded days at the park (HERE’S A SECRET: Cedar Point is DEAD on Sunday/Monday Memorial weekend). Many, if not most, of my fondest amusement park memories come from the Queen of American Watering Places. And, since I grew up with Cedar Point, Six Flags Magic Mountain was evil.

It was. I (along with Joe and most likely anyone else in our tight age bracket and who didn’t live close to a SF park) first learned about Six Flags Magic Mountain (and SF in general) through an annual “Math and Science Day” math contest in the early 1990s. Every year during elementary/middle school, our classes would go into the library to watch the VHS introduction to the math contest, which took place from Six Flags Magic Mountain and featured the overly-hyped Michael Keaton Batman and Looney Tunes characters as they…talked about maths. And we’d all want to do better at math so we could win a trip to “Math and Science Day” at SFMM. And of course, though they were supposed to be talking about math, we got a glimpse of all the rides, coasters, and character encounters at SFMM. And we all thought, “cool, Six Flags is like Cedar Point but with Looney Tunes and Batman.”

Well played, Six Flags marketing team. Well played. But as we got older, we learned of the coaster war between CP and SFMM. And, since CP was in our backyard, we had nothing but disdain for SFMM. And in fact, we refused to visit Six Flags whenever we traveled to a nearby city just out of sheer spite. Six Flags was to Cedar Point as Universal was to Disney in the mid-1990s: an alien parasite that must be shunned and destroyed.

My first visit to a Six Flags came in 1999, when Geauga Lake became Six Flags Ohio. At that point I was old enough not to have a weird grudge against Six Flags any more (okay, I still did a little), but the fact that Geauga Lake would be getting a B&M Floorless, a CCI Woodie, and an Impulse (as well as a Vekoma Flyer the next year) I was absolutely over the moon. So I got a season pass RIGHT AWAY.

That leads us to just recently. I finally was able to visit Magic Mountain a few years ago, and the first time I went was with Joe (I think, I might have gone once before that). And it is legitimately an excellent thrill park. Though, the fact that the middle of the park is a literal mountain makes walking around annoying. But riding Superman, X2, Tatsu, Terminator (at the time), Riddler’s Revenge, etc. for the first time was going into a candy store. And I was impressed they still kept the pleasant central plaza area with the fountains, as well as all the green on the mountain. Those are memories I’m certain an uncountable number of SoCal residents have from their childhoods, just as Joe and I have memories of Cedar Point.

In 2000/2001, the Discovery Channel was on an absolute tear with theme park documentaries. I don’t know if there was an executive there who was obsessed with roller coasters, or if they got huge ratings on the initial shows they released in the late-1990s, but they seemed to be making them every five minutes. This particular show focused on Six Flags Magic Mountain, and was to my knowledge the first of a series they hoped to call “Scream Parks.”

One would assume, for example, that calling the actual show “Scream Parks” would begin a continuing series. You would expect, too, that most likely Cedar Point would be next. But instead, the next year Cedar Point would get its own show, called “World’s Largest Amusement Park.” And to my knowledge, the Scream Parks series would never really get off the ground.

Which is a shame, because Discovery Channel seemed to have a good thing going here. The show is framed with the periodic storyline of “building a new coaster,” as the construction of Goliath in 1999/2000 is explored in full detail during some transition points of the show, from the conceptual stage, to design, to the construction of the load area, to the testing, and finally to 200 DAVIDS RIDING GOLIATH DURING THE OPENING CEREMONY. Which, let’s be real, is brilliant marketing. Well played again, Six Flags marketing team.

I think this kind of series could have really took off. Think of the potential of doing a show on each of the major “Scream Parks” around the world. They could have followed the construction of Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure, or Hypersonic XLC at King’s Dominion, or Lightning Racer at Hersheypark, or Powder Keg at Silver Dollar City, or Voyage at Holiday World, or Manta, or any one of 100 Supermans. The possibilities are endless.

And, as I said in last week's Busch Gardens article, even though these amusement park shows seem to take us through the same behind the scenes activities (“look how big our central kitchen/gift shop/maintenance sheds are!”), since these areas are different at every park, it always seems new. So, tethered to the storyline of Goliath rising, we get some behind the scenes roller coaster maintenance footage (safety inspections on Viper, sensor maintenance on Riddler, , as well as some great footage of the tool crib, the landscaping with the Facilities Manager, the vehicle maintenance on the Batman stunt show, the communications center, Bugs Bunny World, and the restaurant kitchens.

But my favorite part starts at 35:38, when we see the FrightFest segment, and the behind-the-scenes of how they do the monster make-up and some scary effects. As a HHN fan, this made me happy.

“Scream Parks are all about thrills. If you don’t have major roller coasters, you’re never going to be a Scream Park.” –Six Flags PR Guy

Oh, and one last thing. Since apparently I fell asleep or something while recording this, there’s an old-school Apple iMac “Think Different” commercial starting at 29:32. You’re welcome, internet.

--ParkScopeJeff (@ParkScopeJeff)

Other YouTube Tuesday Features:

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Thursday, September 7, 2017

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #134 - Vesper Slush

On this episode Joe, Lane, and Mike talk more Halloween Horror Nights 27 reactions, Dueling Dragons/Dragons Challenge closing, T2:3D October 8th closure announcement, T2 replacement ideas, Shrek 4D rumors, and lots and lots of James Bond talk.

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

Terminator 2 3D Closing October 8th

Terminator 2 3D will be closing October 8th to be replaced by an 'all new live action experience based on a high energy Universal franchise.'

It's not Sing or The Walking Dead, so just stop that for now.

T2:3D has been earmarked for replacement over the past 7 years. Several projects have been considered including The Walking Dead haunt found at USH and an original plan of an Avatar attraction before Disney told Cameron they'd give him a Potter-like land (not just one attraction).

We believe the replacement attraction will be another live action show (duh) similar to T2:3D using modern projection systems, new effects, and bigger stunts. Universal and WB are bidding to distribute the next few James Bond movies and an attraction in a theme park could be part of that proposal. Additionally Universal has it's own James Bond-like franchise, Jason Bourne, that could fill in if the right negotiations fall through.

The new replacement attraction opens in 2019.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

YouTube Tuesday #9: Busch Gardens Tampa Revealed

The power of the Travel Channel special returns.

This gem comes from the BGT era when Gwazi was “new,” which gives you an idea of what to expect.

Last week was our introduction to these early 2000s Travel Channel specials, but to be fair, our entry last week was the behind the scenes look at a hotel complex. Now we get a full peek into the world of theme parks. And, dare I say, it will be far from the last.

I feel like you could fill 30-40 hours of documentary TV time on theme parks. It seems like there is always some additional quirk to talk about. I have a few theme park-specific documentaries coming down the pipe for all of you (you’re welcome!) and I can’t help thinking that I could watch these shows for days. No matter which roller coaster is being talked about (whether it’s behind-the-scenes at the Gwazi tower position, as we see here, or the generator at the Incredible Hulk Coaster, or the machine shop, or the train barn) I always feel like I’m learning something new, even though I’ve seen about six different park maintenance crews talk about what it takes to perform preventative maintenance on wooden coasters every day (hint: they have to WALK THE TRACK EVERY MORNING…you’ll get used to hearing this in a few weeks). But regardless of the repeating information, it always seems new because they’re talking about different rides. It’s a weird thing to get excited about. But that’s why I love watching these videos so much.

What I love about watching Busch Gardens Tamps Revealed is the fact that BGT really is a hybrid park. When you think about it, this is far more rare than what we might think. How many other parks have duel purpose to BGT’s extent, which is practically as much of a zoo as it is a theme park? After all, there’s BGT, SeaWorld, DAK…but who else could truly be considered a hybrid park? There are legions and legions of thrill parks, amusement parks, theme parks, zoos, aquariums. But how many of them have a true 50/50 split, or close to it?

Because of this split, the documentary itself showcases both the animal encounters (safaris, bird shows, etc.) and the ride mechanics (including the rare-for-TV look at the operator control panels on multiple attractions). A nice bonus, we also get to see the behind the scenes at the food service locations, the traveling calypso band preparation, and the weather detection system for the park (awesomely stationed at the skyway buildings).

The cherry on top is the “exclusive” preview of the “all-new” Rhino Rally, which basically acts as a six minute-long infomercial. I have to say though, looking at the CGI mock-ups of the eventual ride made me think that Rhino Rally really wasn’t a bad idea (though the theme was questionable and the concept could have placed more emphasis on the animals). I unfortunately was never able to ride Rhino Rally, since the only time I visited since the ride opened it was broken down. But, it was quite interesting to see how excited the BGT executives were about that ride.

This is part of the reason why I love Travel Channel specials so much. They combine real backstage operations with what is essentially a vacation planning video. And I love both. Enjoy your trip through the Tampa wilderness, and we’ll have another theme park special rarin’ to go for your enjoyment next week!

--ParkScopeJeff (@ParkScopeJeff)

Other YouTube Tuesday Articles:

#8: Inside Universal's Hard Rock Orlando

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