Thursday, December 13, 2018

Lets Talk About Universal's Fantastic Worlds

During the writing of this article Alicia Stella and Robert Niles have both covered rumors about the third park. This article was written independently of them and I have not listened to/read their coverage at time of posting as not to take any of their information without credit. I look forward to checking out their coverage once this is published and I hope you take the time too.

Since the buyout of Blackstone from Universal Parks & Resorts by Comcast the resort has been looking to build a third theme park (not counting Volcano Bay here, sorry). An additional theme park and resort area makes logical sense for Universal, they are developing a unique product that challenges, remains fresher, and is more affordable than what Disney offers. We'll cover a little bit of the history of this expansion along with our expectations for the new park.

In December 2015 Universal lead a weak astroturf opposition group against the proposed SkyPlex complex. For a resort located two miles away the questions asked were odd: sightline issues, traffic increases that were not proportional to the size of the project, light pollution, and more. The SkyPlex group responded seriously and in jest, with local supporters of the project chuckling about Universal not even showing up to the local government hearing about SkyPlex. As the SkyPlex crew got their approval a late breaking bit of news came out of GrowthSpotter that Universal was re-purchasing 475 acres of land for a massive expansion. Now the questions and opposition to SkyPlex made sense, their questions were to set a precedent prior to finalizing any property purchases.

In February 2018 Comcast Chairman and CEO Brian Roberts sat down for an interview with CNBC to talk about the 2018 Winter Olympics and 2017 tax cuts. During this interview Brian confirmed that the tax cuts have jump started the 3rd park and resort expansion plans. Shortly after the interview land preparation started, with mass grading of land and the installing of new retention ponds.

Late October 2018 Orlando Business Journal's and friend of the site Rich Bilboa reported the first road plans for the new property. These plans come from permits and plans filed by Universal to the local government.

The new plans show a large traffic circle and roads connecting Universal Boulevard to the new property. The large grey plot in the middle of the plans appears to be a parking lot and toll booths for the new park. In my prior article I speculated Universal could develop the southern property immediately like they did the northern property with a CityWalk, resorts, parking garages, and theme park. These plans show that I was wildly optimistic here, they're going the basic route of one theme park and attached parking lot. Said park will be located to the left of the parking lot with backstage areas attached via the northern part of the new roads. Comcast has constantly stated they want to add more on site rooms and even after the new Endless Summer resorts open they will not be at their desired room total. With the new property being located so close to the Orange County Convention Center it would be wise to open the new park with at least one high end resort. Below shows an overall view of the size of the land and proximity to other points of interest along I-Drive.

But enough about roads and parking, what will be in the third park? I will take some inside information, informed speculation, and a little bit of wishful thinking to layout and best describe the new park. Based on various trademarks it is possible the third park will be named Universal's Fantastic Worlds with a theme of large lands based around various worlds. If Islands of Adventure used highly themed lands then imagine Fantastic Worlds to combine multiple mini lands into one "world"; a Harry Potter "world" would be both Hogsmeade in IoA and Diagon Alley in USF combined, for an example of the scope. Mass grading of land has begun with dump trucks of dirt transported to the site daily but we are years away from an opening day; don't expect this third park to open before 2021 with a more likely date being 2022 or later.

So, what will be IN the park? Let's look at several rumors and ideas for the likelihood of each being in the new theme park. For consistency and brevity I will be referring to the Universal Orlando Resort's third park by the rumored name, Fantastic Worlds, or FW for short.


The big boy of speculation, Nintendo's partnership with Universal was announced in 2015 with groundbreaking for the new land taking place last year in Universal Studios Japan for opening by the 2020 summer Olympics. Japan will be receiving two rides with their Super Nintendo World: an E-Ticket Mario Kart thrill ride and a family friendly Yoshi dark ride. Universal Studios Hollywood has also started construction on their own Super Nintendo World with the expectation they're receiving something similar, or at least the Mario Kart attraction.

It's an open secret Orlando's Super Nintendo World was planned for the Animal Actors and KidZone area of the park (minus E.T. Adventure) but those plans changed once the third park became a priority for the resort and Comcast. Super Nintendo World in FW will expand upon the USJ land by adding the rumored Donkey Kong attraction to form a mini-world of Mushroom Kingdom and Donkey Kong Island. Mushroom Kingdom would featured the existing attractions from Japan while DK Island will feature a supposedly upgraded Donkey Kong coaster concept. Mushroom Kingdom appears to have one large gift shop complex and one counter service food location, we know less about Donkey Kong Island but a shop, food location, and maybe a kids climbing concept will be included.

What about other Nintendo properties? Will we see Hyrule or any of the areas featured in the Pokemon games appear in FW? At this point it's pretty clear Universal is working on Legend of Zelda attractions and Pokemon attractions but rumors have placed these in the two existing parks (reportedly Zelda in Islands and Pokemon in the KidZone plot).

Likelihood: It's a lock and will be the focal point of the park.

Jurassic World

Universal Studios Hollywood is in the process of adding new scenes and updating their Jurassic Park ride into Jurassic World attraction and Universal Studios Beijing will have a brand new Jurassic World attraction itself. So will we get a Jurassic World area in Fantastic Worlds? Hell, it even has World in the title!

If you asked me this summer I would have said "yes" but I am now firmly back in the "no" camp. The Jurassic Park in Islands of Adventure coaster is back on track after a questions this summer and some birdies have told us Jurassic World is flat out not in the cards for the new park. Too much is being spent in the existing land with just not enough credibility to back up adding it to the new park.

Likelihood: Probably not.


Isle of Berk, How to Train Your Dragon
DreamWorks was purchased by NBCUniversal in 2016 and so far has seen little inclusion in the parks outside of additional walk around characters. Universal Studios Hollywood opened a new mixed use theater with a KungFu Panda attraction but that can easily be swapped out for a new experience as the park sees fit. 

With rumors of Shrek 4-D's days being numbered DreamWorks feels like a natural fit for the new park. Several "worlds" could be offered such as; Far Far Away (Shrek), Isle of Berk (How to Train Your Dragon), Valley of Peace (Kung Fu Panda), and all the locations of Madagascar. Out of all of those choices Berk seems the biggest slam dunk with the areas beautiful vistas and many opportunities to ride a dragon.

Making the new park the DreamWorks park while letting the "studios" get Illumination films seems like a smart way to reboot which animated films appear in the parks.

Likelihood: Take it to the bank.

Illumination Entertainment

So if DreamWorks ends up at Fantastic Worlds, what about Illumination Entertainment? Well, I think Illumination will stay in Universal Studios Florida for the foreseeable future. With Shrek 4D closing it makes sense to build another Illumination attraction in that area to make a small "kids area" at the front of the park. The Secret Life of Pets going to Islands of Adventure rumor is still around too and the concept of adding a transition between the streets of Marvel to the cartoons of Toon Lagoon makes too much sense.

But, Minions.

Universal Studios Beijing has a whole Despicable Me land, a Minion cruise ship with a roller coaster and the standard 4D ride. Would this come to Fantastic Worlds? I don't see it because we already have Minions in Universal Studios Florida, splitting the attractions between parks without a larger context like how Harry Potter is split between Islands and Studios using the "Hogsmeade" and "Diagon Alley" subtitles.

Likelihood: Probably not, but if there was one to get wrong it would be this.

The Wizard of Oz


Ok fine I'll elaborate.

Wizard of Oz, or more specifically something based off the musical Wicked, is a frequent rumor pushed by Jim Hill. I like Jim but this has never been more than a rumor or a light plan, just like how Lost Continent won't be replaced by a Whomping Willow spinner and Chamber of Secrets walk through. Jim has pushed Wicked something in the parks as a replacement to Marvel Super Hero Island (not going anywhere), a Wicked show replacing Blue Man Group (not going anywhere), and more. 

Wicked has spent years in movie development hell with no sign of exiting. Any depiction of Oz based on the classic movie would need approval from MGM Studios, that's likely not happening. Going generic could work, but would that work as a whole World? I'm skeptical. Everything leans towards The Wizard of Oz being very unlikely at opening. Once a film version of Wicked is released and turns out to be successful and popular I can see something opening in the parks. But not at opening, and not necessarily in Fantastic Worlds.

Likelihood: I miss the Great Movie Ride too, but no. 

Classic Monsters

Van Helsign ride layout. Not location is where Forbidden Journey ended up being, between Unicorn and JPRA.

Attractions based on the classic Universal Monsters have been on and off the stove for years. Originally Islands of Adventure was to receive a Van Helsing ride, based off the 2004 movie, where Forbidden Journey ended up going. Universal Studios Hollywood had their classic monsters walk through maze. And now, if rumors turn out true, Fantastic Worlds will have their own World dedicated to monsters.

The plans as we understand them revolve around the original Van Helsing ride concept with a large village surrounding it. This would be a good location for shows, a coaster, and more based on the monsters. While I feel confident this is coming to the park it also feels like the first thing that could be cut if cost overruns occur. Because of that I'm tossed on it happening.

Likelihood: 50/50

Fantastic Beasts

A Ministry of Magic ride is rumored to be coming to Universal Studios Florida, but that plan seems to have been put on hold. We've heard something Potter is coming to the new park, so what if its a Fantastic Beasts era ride through all the Ministries of Magic around the world? You jump between all the locations using the floo network to catch and apprehend Grindelwald.

Likelihood: Likely, Potter is successful in the other parks, why not bring the rest of the Wizarding World to the new park as a lock in of success?

This is all I wrote till the night of December 12th. Then this came out in the morning.

So, yeah, I've blown past three scoops and now I'm just hitting publish. It's Fantastic Worlds. It's going to be awesome and it's coming sooner than you think.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Immersive Irony Experience Theme Park Podcast- IAAPA Memorial Episode

Alan and Alex march on after Joe calls in sick. They discuss all the news from IAAPA 2018, regional theme park news, and all the Halloween roundups imagineable. PUMPKIN FARMS!

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #159 - Space Bison

It is our Christmas shopping episode! Join Joe and Josh Reichlin from Made to Thrill to discuss his website, merchandise, his inspirations, and why most theme park merchandise is so bad. Then we talk about all the D23 news including Galaxy's Edge attraction names, Illumination replacement banter, Epcot talk, and more!

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Halloween Horror Nights 28 - Observations and Thoughts

This written review is a compliment to our podcast review of Halloween Horror Nights 28. For a first timers perspective of the event we recommend checking out Average Disney Nerd's podcast review.

In America, Halloween has been experiencing a kind of renaissance. Kids who grew up being told to value individuality and experiences over conformity and possessions find the holiday refreshingly undefined. Do you want to carve pumpkins and hand out candy to kids in a suburb? Do you want to dress as a sexy teacher and take shots at downtown club? Do you want to go on a hay ride and sip hot cider? Will you throw a party featuring "eyeball" deviled eggs and other spooky treats? Or will you totally ignore the holiday? Unlike other holidays which have been coopted by religious institutions, corporations, or nationalism, Halloween remains independent in the public conscious. The personal internalization of the holiday will always shine through.

Of the few Halloween institutions established the haunted house walk through remains a perennial favorite. Small businesses popped up to create walk through experiences and major amusement locations have built seasonal events around the concept. Six Flags, Cedar Fair, and Busch parks all transform their parks into halloween destinations but Universal's Halloween Horror Nights carved out a niche of movie quality haunted houses. While existing for nearly 30 years Halloween Horror Nights Orlando has exploded in popularity in the past decade from its use of familiar properties and cinematic presentation.

Image from Inside Universal
Now I sit in Pittsburgh after my Halloween Horror Nights vacation reminiscing about the event. As the fans and Universal approach the crossroads of the 30th anniversary I want to look at where the event was, where it is going, and offer thoughts on this year's event. In the end I hope to inspire everyone to look at the event in a different light, either as a long time attendee or someone booking their first trip soon.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #158 - Halloweeen Horror Nights 28

Like the Chilean miners emerging from the mines, we have returned!

This episode we talk about two bat-shit insane stories: Six Flags and SeaWorld rumors along with how the Schlitterbahn co-owner and killer slide designer Jeff Henry is accused of human trafficking and drug related charges! What a terrible person!

Last but not least we give our full breakdown and review of Halloween Horror Nights 28. We talk houses, scare zones, the future of the event, and more! Stay till the end to see when the Advil PM Joe takes finally kicks in.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #156 - Simulated Dive Bar

Aland and Andrew drive around Alabama and Florida hitting up small parks, dive bars, kiddie coaster credits, BBQ, closing coasters, and a review of Owa park.

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #155 - Game Show Land

It's a breezy, laid back affair as Joe, Mike, and Nick celebrate five years of podcasting. We talk Infinity Falls, Disney budget cuts (or not?!?!), game shows, Star Wars Galaxy's Edge's expectation to cure cancer, how messed up Disney's Hollywood Studios still is, HHN28, Parkscope Wolf, and more.

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #154 - Trip Report Dump Truck

Joe's travling for work so we have a hodgepodge of road trip reports to give y'all. First up Alan and Andrew talk about Alan's trip to Europe as they drive around Florida doing attractions. Then Alex and Jeff talk about their Cedar Point road trip.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...US and Canadian Territories

The United States has, over the last 120 years, come into ownership and possession of a number of overseas territories. These stretch from the Indian Ocean to the Caribbean Sea. But one thing we don't necessarily recognize in America is that Canada has territories too. Admittedly, the territories say "territory" right in the name, but we in the US often look at them no differently than the various provinces. They operate differently - very differently.

In this edition of Hidden Rides & Themed Attractions, we're about to travel the world but stay in America. From the arctic to the rainforest, yes - we've got it covered.


2017 was a bad year for the island, having been whacked with a Category 5 Hurricane that devastated large tracts of the island.  This presents some challenges with identifying locations for the island, as some of them have been wiped out entirely but no one is around to tell us which for sure. One thing is clear: Las Cascadas Water Park in Aguadilla never opened for the 2018 season. Whether or not it ever does again is largely a mystery. Parque Familiar Padua Adrian Sanchez is a small family amusement zone in Arecibo, a town most known for its massive radio telescope, but there's been total silence on its operation since early 2017. Arecibo has a splash pad that is being reopened this month, but the park with it's animatronic dinosaurs and mini golf appears to be quiet.

The most expansive offerings on the island are behind closed resort gates. El Conquistador, the massive beach resort managed by Waldorf Astoria, features a full water park called Coqui. There's a mix of body and tube slides present, along with a lazy river. Fewer slides are available at the Ritz Carlton-run Dorado Beach Resort's Watermill, but it too has a lazy river and a somewhat appropriate to the area theme built around an old sugar plantation. Families on the island are much more likely to be found at the small Arroyo's Surfing Park, which appears to be built around a single water play-platform and some small pools.

For dry rides, there's only one permanent option and a couple of larger temporary ones. Castillo Del Nino is a very small facility with some kids rides and a small carousel that seems to target the birthday party market more than anything, but it's the closest thing to a traditional amusement park in PR. There are a pair of fairs, both in Hato Rey - the largest is La Feria at Hiram Bithorn Stadium, which for several years prior to the hurricane was serviced by Wade Shows. It took 2017 off, but will be returning in the winter of 2018 as part of their typical Caribbean swing that includes Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. There's a smaller fair as well known as "Winter Park"at the Coliseo; pictures from the January 2018 version made it look not much bigger than a typical small county fair in the US, but that's more than nothing.


About 100,000 people live in the USVI spread primarily across three islands - St. Thomas is the most populated, followed by St. Croix and St. John brings up the rear. The latter is overwhelmingly national park land; St. Croix and St. Thomas by comparison are basically available for development. However, as many cruise passengers learn, both islands have treacherous terrain poorly suited for any kind of amusement development. Paradise Point Skyride (fully enclosed gondola) does exist, and offers views of the main harbor on St. Thomas from the restaurant/bar at the top. For a time, it was also home to an Eli Ferris Wheel on the top, but that was short lived. Coral World is also plenty popular with cruise passengers, offering experiences to enter the water with sea lions, turtles, and soft adventure diving activities like Snuba.


OK, nothing here. Sorry to get your hopes up! Majuro Atoll in the Marshall Islands has a reasonable amount of development, but the atoll shape is so thin that it is extraordinarily difficult to picture even a mini golf being built here as there is just not really any room. American Samoa's low wages from being the tuna canning capital of the American Pacific probably retard the ability of locals to demand a go kart track, mini golf course, or prefab steel building filled with inflatables.


Now we're talking about somewhere with rides! More than 160,000 people live on Guam, but it also has a healthy transient population thanks to the US Military and Japanese tourism. These entities have money, and people with money on vacation like fun, and ergo: rides!

First, a quick history - Guam's most beloved amusement center was Yigo Amusement Park; opened by Filipino investor Mark V. Pangilinan back in the 1970s. The park was unprofitable and abandoned sometime later (perhaps as late as the 1990s), and there are actually log flume vehicles which can be found on the old site based on various urbex pictures.

In subsequent years however, other attractions have opened up. Tagada Amusement Park opened in the tourist district of Tumon in 2012 anchored by - what else? - a Tagada. This may mean absolutely nothing to most people. I get that. But look:

The Tagada is a ride that is so outrageously dangerous on multiple levels to the unsuspecting guest that it has been the topic of discussion of being banned in the UK. There are none operating in the continental US or Canada, almost certainly due to liability insurance concerns. Having been on multiple and having been thrown to the floor aboard one, I can tell you that it is not an experience for everyone. Those intending something passive should stick to the pirate ship here (the only other ride is a set of Bumper Cars).

Funtastic Park, located inside the Micronesia Mall, is an indoor family entertainment center featuring a smattering of rides geared for children. There's a powered coaster, a small carousel, bumper cars, a children's swinging ship, ball pit, and lots of arcade games. Kid geared rides can also be found at Talofofo Falls Resort Park. This is a strange sight: the main draw are water falls and a swimming hole, but there's statuary of a outright sexual nature, a home built train ride, some kids flat rides, bumper cars, suspension bridges, Yokoi Cave (where the last Japanese soldier hid until the 1970s being unaware that World War 2 was over), a museum on the history of Guam, and a cable car.

For excitement that will trend older: Grand Prix Guam USA Go Kart Racing has modified racing karts that probably go twice as fast as what you'll find at the average mini golf in the US. Atlantis Submarines has an outpost here, and you can dive over 100 feet to a variety of sea creatures (St. Thomas in the USVI also has one, it should be noted). And then there's Slingshot -  a 70m (~220 or so foot) reverse bungee attraction using steel cables and springs to drive the bouncing motion. That's a good thing in terms of safety, by the way.


The commonwealth you forgot of the US! This is a big time vacation destination for the Japanese, and Saipan is the most significant island in the area. Much of the coolest amusements are located behind resort gates, kinda like Puerto Rico. Resorts World's Saipan World Resort has a whole water park (Wave Jungle) for it's guests complete with water coasters, but it is open to outsiders at a price. Mariana Resort and Spa has a racing go-kart track with lots of turns and really fast karts. Not much else though, unlike Guam can be found here.


Not all that long ago, Canada had one gigantic space north of its provences called "Northwest Territories". This was split up in the 90s into what we recognize today as the Yukon Territory, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut. Nunavut doesn't have any themed attractions: if you manage to get to Iqulit (or the smaller towns, for that matter - only 38,000 people live in a space larger than Alaska), you're in the frontier. The end of civilization. You're going to see things like Narwhals and eat seal flesh raw. Forget theming; this is what the theming is of. The other territories are kinda similar, but have slightly larger developments requiring an escape.

Whitehorse, Yukon Territory has a Rotary Club outpost, and they in turn run a small city park with a splash pad. There's also Sign Post Forest along the Alaska Highway - think of it as a crowd assembled attraction, where literally anyone can bring a sign and make it part of the overall array of thousands of various signs (homemade, stolen, "found", etc).


In 1987, the Wade Hamer Mini Putt was constructed in Yellowknife in memory of a young hockey player who died in a car accident that same year. It remains the sole "amusement" in the territory, and has a variety of themed holes such as shooting your ball through a curling puck. A news report in 2012 noted that the ticket booth for it burned down, and there's been no updates since though Google still reports that it is open.


Well, that's it! 62 pieces and 2 years after it started, we're finally through to the end. If you haven't looked through the other pieces in the series, click on the Label for "Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...." just below and leaf through all the states and provinces previously done. Most importantly - get out there and explore!

Friday, September 7, 2018

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...Wyoming

10th largest by area, least populated, and last in the alphabet - Wyoming appears on almost no one's radar unless they're thinking about skiing or hate crimes. Contending with Colorado as the nation's squarest state, Wyoming's entire population is eclipsed by that of the city of Milwaukee. Ohio State University has more students enrolled than the largest city in the state (Cheyenne) has residents. We're talking sparse here, people. Sparse. And where people are sparse, so are amusements.

As is often the case in places where there's not a ton of taxable income, citizen organizations often attempted to step in and fill the void by providing entertainment. The Lions in Cheyenne provided the space for a small park that ran until 1990 here called Fun City, home to the state's one known historic roller coaster (some kind of kiddie steel coaster with Allen Herschell cars). The Putt Hutt and Ampitheater still remain in operation, but the mechanical rides are long, long gone.

As the largest city and center of much activity, Cheyenne isn't without rides these days. Cheyenne Steamers operate a miniature train in the city at the Ice and Events Center; dates are limited for public rides, but they exist from time to time. Another location that's limited in terms of availability quite by design: The Party Pony. It's a children's event center with a carousel of indeterminate origin (probably a two row portable Herschell but I haven't seen a good enough picture). The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is one of the state's premier tourist destinations, and is home to a skyride and a 1925 Herschell carousel.

In 2015, the state once again welcomed a coaster: Cowboy Coaster, constructed at Snow King Mountain Ski Resort. Like so many in the US, it is Wiegland Mountain Coaster and is capable of year round operation. Like many other ski resorts, there's scenic chair lift rides and kids activities (mini golf, a maze).

Big dreams exist in a big land. Old Town Family Fun in Casper is a fairly substantive FEC that's been expanding right along; mini golf, climbing wall, and arcade. They also have impressively themed exteriors to the buildings, which suggests either they might have aspirations beyond this. Aspirations are running wild in Buffalo, WY where they're collecting money to restore a CW Parker carousel they've called the " Carousel". This rare machine features Cowboy and Native American pieces together, but is in need of significant restoration before returning to public utilization as part of an arts center in the town.


And with that, every state has been covered: but this project hasn't ended quite yet! Canada and the United States both claim a number of territories, ranging from the arctic to the South Pacific. What wonders do they conceal? Find out in our next installment!

Friday, August 24, 2018

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #153 - Kebab Puns

Part 1: Joe is joined by Alicia Stella of Orlando Park Stop and Theme Park Stop on YouTube. We have a breezy talk about the new Potter coaster, Universal's history, the "good ole days" were not good, Universal announcement pacing, Disney projects, and more!

Part 2: Brian McNichols from Touring Plans gives us his initial impressions and review of Universal's new Aventura Hotel.

Part 3: Joe and Mike talk to Brian about his first trip to HHN, give him some tips, and we share the scare zones and houses we are most excited for this year.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...Wisconsin

Wisconsin is known for two things on the global stage: beer and cheese. Sometimes these are put together and used to dip pretzels into or used to smother burgers. Under those circumstances, one might expect that its residents would perish from heart disease at some of the highest rates in the US. They actually rank around midpack - just like they rank in most categories such as overall population and size. How? Well, Wisconsin is a well educated state thanks to it's outstanding public institutions, and thus has above average doctors for the other demographics it otherwise shares. Very much a purple state, it is responsible for both Paul Ryan and Scott Walker's notoriety on the American political stage, but historically has a substantive number of democratic candidates which it has pushed forward (including current senator Tammy Baldwin).

It's biggest city isn't where the NFL team is located - it's actually the third largest city where you'd find that. There's also no NHL team here in spite of it being cold and conducive to hockey fandom thanks to the overbearing influence of the Chicago Blackhawks. Chicago as a whole really casts a shadow on much of the populated portions of the state. It's the top market from which Wisconsin Dells pulls tourists, and the existence of Six Flags Great America as being positioned halfway between Milwaukee and Chicago's respective downtowns forever dooms the city to never having a substantive park to truly call it's own. There's lots of outdoor space here and plenty of great summer recreation of the "real" kind. And more often than not, that recreation has led to amusements sprouting up near by.

The obvious starting point is the Wisconsin Dells. In the 1920ss, tourists flocked here because of the gorgeous glacially-carved sandstone that reflected off the calm waters of Lake Delton. That Lake Delton is actually a reservoir constructed pretty much entirely for establishing a leisure resort has become secondary in the discussion of the Dells, as Lake Delton itself increasingly becomes perceived as merely a source of water rather than an attraction. Noah's Ark was the first really big attraction in the area: it has historically been much more than a water park, even containing indoor attractions like a a 4-D Theater and a Haunted Swing (think Vekoma Mad House, but smaller) rethemed twice, most recently to Curse of The Crypt. Their premier attraction these days is the 1/4 mile long water coaster Black Anaconda, which was the world's longest when constructed.

It was the development of the first American full scale water park under a roof at The Polynesian that changed everything in the Dells. Soon, large water park resorts sprung up left and right, establishing brands: The Wilderness, Kalahari, and Great Wolf Lodge are its most well known by far. Chula Vista Resort doesn't have a national brand, but it does have both an indoor and outdoor water park with water coaster. And then there's Mount Olympus. Oh, Mount Olympus.

Jim Laskaris is the classic hard working immigrant story - arriving in the US from Greece as a teenager, he acquired a technical education and spent time in the Navy before moving his family to Wisconsin Dells in 1970. There he slowly built a variety of tourist aimed businesses: restaurants, small motel, and go-kart tracks. It was the last of those, the go-karts, for which he would ultimately become famed. Big Chief's expanded throughout the 80s and 90s, building larger and larger multi-level kart tracks, and then soon after, wooden roller coasters. 4 in all would ultimately be acquired, named after the figures of Greek antiquity: Cyclops, Zeus, Hades, and Pegasus. Jim Laskaris died in 2003 - struck down by an out of control motorcyclist as he walked out to get the mail at his winter home in Fort Lauderdale - leaving his son Nick in charge. In the years after, Big Chief's became Mt. Olympus, a Greek-themed theme & water park resort that absorbed neighbors.

In order to not invite ourselves too heavily to libel lawsuits, we should traffic in facts here. This year, Wisconsin Dells was selling tickets to the park for $3. Parking is usually in the $20 range, but there is still POP admission for the general public at $3. Three. US. Dollars. Over the years, the Laskaris family has expanded vastly it's holdings, buying up other attractions in the area as they've closed or never opened. The Indoor Theme Park, which certainly appears to be little more than a prefab steel warehouse, contains Zamperla rides acquired from a nearby restaurant who's efforts to get an amusement park off the ground came up short for some mysterious reason. Motels up and down the strip of WI-12 are now painted white and blue (though many Tripadvisor reviews show the phones in room having never been given new slips for identification of the hotel) having been acquired, with various "all inclusive" style packages being made available. Pizza, breadsticks, park admission, parking, towels, 3 hours of resort exclusive ERT (so exclusive you can pay extra for it at Mount Olympus if there for the day), and more can be yours for prices in the $80/night range.

Wisconsin Dells has a pile of smaller attractions worth noting, just as any other tourist trap would. Top Secret Attraction is also owned by the Laskaris family: shaped like an inverted White House (a la Wonderworks' upside down buildings), it has an array of upside-down house scenes, an appearance by some sort of rock monster, and dinosaurs. The sign outside proclaims "Today Only! $5" which really needs a comma as it has been $5 for many years consecutively. Mr Marvel's Wondertorium is independently owned and operated: there's sideshow acts and museum pieces inside this weird joint. For some light scare action, there's the Dells Zombie Outbreak (laser tag where you shoot zombies) and two more traditional haunted houses (Ghost Outpost and Haunted Mansion). I would be remiss not to reference the Tommy Bartlett empire, including a science center (Tommy Bartlett Exploratory) and water skiing show. Tragically, the largest independent parks in the area (Riverview Park and Timber Falls) have closed their largest rides or are outright defunct, including a really solid wood coaster. The entirety of the Dells seems to be shifting more and more in favor of the indoor water parks.

Green Bay has a gridiron football team (I use this to differentiate for all 4 readers outside North America who might be confused) which is publicly owned; the only such entity in American pro sports. It shouldn't be that big a surprise then that they also have a publicly owned and operated amusement park perhaps: That's what Bay Beach is. There's a really long train ride, some notable flats (Scat2!) and of course the Zippin Pippin. Elvis' favorite coaster, torn down at Libertyland many moons ago, was recreated here in Green Bay, Wisconsin. By most accounts, the ride which exists today is actually far superior to the original. I personally think it's among the 10-15 best wood coasters in the country, and I'm a big time wood coaster fan. The city also has a more traditional FEC called Kastle Park should you just be looking for some go karts. But really, just go to Bay Beach. Rides on the Zippin Pippin are something like $1.25. Really! No lie!

Museum or theme park or neither? Your call when it comes to Circus World in Baraboo, Wisconsin. Founded in the home of Ringling Bros/' headquarters, it is part open air museum dedicated to preserving "Ringlingville", a series of buildings that were used by the circus during the summer months. It is also part actual circus, with a permanent 3 ring circus with daily circus shows in the summer time. There's also historical collections related to carnivals and the wild west shows of the early 20th century that one can leaf through if they've got enough time.

On the outskirts of the metro Madison area is Little Amerricka; named for founder Lee Merrick and, well, America, it's the kind of park that I love to highlight in these pieces. Not enough is ever done to look at the work individuals do to create their dream amusement facilities, and this is one of those situations where one man's uncompromising vision has led to a super unique park with really cool stuff. At Little Amerricka, you'll find the prototype Chance Toboggan coaster, one of the last operating Herschell wild mouse coasters, Hillcrest Park from Chicago's PTC Little Dipper wood coaster (with all the custom metal work retained), a monorail (with single cars!), a haunted house built out of what looks to be a single wide trailer, and the Train. Custom built from the ground up with a roundhouse and a bunch of engines, the train looks slightly different than your average park train to start with, but once you realize it's a nearly 30 minute, two mile journey out into the country side and a farm, you really come to appreciate how unique this place is.

Unique. One Man's Vision. These are often quotes attribute to Walt Disney, but they describe any number of legendary figures of the 20th century, including a Wisconsin resident with a uncompromising attitude towards architecture. Frank Lloyd Wright was, and is, rightfully considered a legend. Many believe he is America's first truly great architect. Among the people he influenced was Alex Jordan Jr., a young architect who desired to train at Taliesin in Spring Green. At least, that's the apocryphal story. Whether or not he ever met. Wright is disputable, to say the least. What isn't in dispute is what Jordan Jr. constructed a short distance from the master's school. He constructed what must be considered the single most audacious "residence" in American history. He built "The House On The Rock".

When touring the House On The Rock, guests tour the unorthodox living spaces (there are no bedrooms here, but many, many sofas) and their myriad of themes. They will see the music machines. And then the music machines will get every larger. And larger. And larger. And with that, the other rooms will increase in scope and size. Eventually, you arrive in a room big enough to house a dirigible with a statue of a giant sea monster (sperm whale-ish) that's eating a row boat and it's off to the races. Nothing in your life prepares you for this or any of the spectacle that follows - steam punk, a carousel with hundreds of pieces, thousands of dolls, the list goes on and on. It is a modern spectacle on par with anything in the Americas, if not the world. Anyone seriously interested in themed spaces not only should go, but as a practical measure, must.

How much mini golf is there in Wisconsin? All the mini golf. When it comes to the most interesting, there's The Ruins Adventure Mini Golf in Oconto that has Mayan elements, Red Putter's Door County WI theme, and Nine Below in Milwaukee - a bar with "build it yourself" mini golf.  There's also a smattering of Family Entertainment Centers featuring golf, go-karts, and other stuff - Elmer's Fun Park, Bears' Den, Kartway, Settlers Mill, Egg Harbor Fun Park, and Eagle Falls all operate in Northern Wisconsin where residents often find themselves vacationing in the summer. Further south and closer to the population bases are Prarieville Park and the Chubby Seagull.

Carousels and Trains have some representation too: The Toy Train Barn in Argyle is not merely a place to buy trains, but has a fairly substantial miniature train to ride on too. The Lumberjack Steam Train and Camp 5 Museum is a shared experience: train to the camp museum to visit and see how the logging industry was in the olden days of the late 19th century, and train to leave. The Henry Vilas Zoo has a train ride and carousel (a modern "Conservation" one); same with Fond Du Lac's Lakeside Park (also has a kiddie whip ride). The Menominee Park Zoo has a 50s era Herschell metal carousel, and Waterloo's Fireman's Park just reopened their CW Parker Carousel from 1911 this past July. Sadly, one item can't be visited any more - Ella's Deli in Madison closed its doors early in 2018 as the owners seek to retire. The business is being parted off, including the metal Parker 2-row carousel that sat inside and a second Herschell carousel, not used by them, which had been in storage since acquisition a quarter century ago.

Finally, I would be remiss not to mention the biggest single attendance grabber in the state: The Wisconsin State Fair. According to Carnival Warehouse, attendance for the 2018 fair broke 1 million yet again. With an independent midway, there's plenty of large equipment that shows up to join the permanent skyride and one of the more impressive rows of permanent food stands you'll ever see (really - they're like full size restaurants and bars located in the shadow of the fairgrounds grandstand).

Thursday, August 9, 2018

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...West Virginia

Not long ago, a study was done to determine which state was the "most mountainous". Not which state had the biggest mountains, but the state where it seemed that people would encounter the most mountains or most perceptibly be around mountains. That state was, to some folk's suprirse, the one that had already received the nickname "The Mountaineer State" over a century prior. West Virginia usually gets short shrift from the coastal elite as a state that is deeply backwards culturally. History says that the state was created when Unionist counties in space not particularly conducive to cotton growing within Virginia broke away as a result of the US Civil War. In the late 19th century and early 20th century, West Virginia was home to much of the violent fighting between mercenaries hired by coal mines along with occasional assistance received from the US Army (including aerial bombardment!) against newly unionized workers seeking higher wages and safer conditions.

Yes, West Virginia has problems. That's what happens when the infrastructure for your area is largely left up to the state to fund and there's no flat land anywhere. If it wasn't for deals worked out by (former Klansman and future Democrat) Senator Robert Byrd via "pork barrel spending", who even knows what the state would resemble in terms of rail lines, freeways, and buildings. West Virginia probably needs a lot more of that long term to become more sustainable, if that is even a possibility.

Those ancient days of labor union fighting coincided with a period of of small trolley companies and their amusement parks. West Virginia had many such parks - I did some light research and came up with the names of 15 long, long gone parks. Some of these had closed a century ago with nary a sign of their existence except a road that had never been renamed. Only one park remains in the state - Camden Park, a 116 year old ex-trolley park built by the Camden Interstate Railway Company along the banks of the Ohio River. The park long appeared on the endangered list - I remember going there for the first time and seeing the long defunct Thunderbolt Express Arrow Shuttle coaster sitting there in an advanced state of decay - but has seemed to turn around with some reasonable investments and clean up. Camden is even making an unexpected appearance in a video game - Fallout '76.

With so few permanent facilities in the state, we should go about mentioning the largest single collection of amusement rides the state sees: the West Virginia State Fair. Reithoffer sources the rides at present, and this year's event will see 3 coasters going up, along with a pile of flat rides.

West Virginia has a few small water parks: Waves of Fun in Huntington and Water Ways in Julian are the main outdoor facilities the state has. ACE Adventure Resort in Oak Hill has a "water park" in so much as they have a swimming hole with a bunch of big inflatable things in it to climb on or jump off of. More interesting is the "non themed" attractions they have - walking the maintenance paths inside the New River Gorge Bridge, spelunking, zip lines, and white water rafting.

Finally, Wheeling's Oglebay Good Zoo is not only AZA accredited and alone in the state as such, but home to a train ride that's pretty lengthy and leaves the zoo itself to wander into the surrounding 1650 acres of Oglebay Park.

Monday, July 30, 2018

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...Washington

The Evergreen State! Full of lumber, rocky coast line, volcanoes, and rainy summers, Washington is pretty much defined by the Pacific coastline even though there's a lot of space in Eastern Washington consisting of rolling hills and farm land. There's 1000 dams, killer whales, and really expensive real estate (at least in greater Seattle). Also: state cops won't arrest you for possession of weed. How about that?

With no big theme parks in the state, Washington sure seems like an "under served" market, but it's worth keeping in mind that it's a pretty cheap flight from SEA-TAC to Southern California. What Washington does have is a surprising number of community and non-profit related amusement attractions. None of these is bigger than the State Fairgrounds in Puyallup. For two weeks a year, it entertains over a million people with a mix of permanent attractions that's greater than any other in the nation. Most famous: Classic Coaster, a wood coaster from 1935 that has the very last set of Prior and Church trains rolling in existence. It's kept in fantastic shape and is super fun (I've somehow managed to ride it?). Also - A Top Fun Typhoon coaster. Not good, but at least unique in all of North America. There's several interesting flat rides too (Huss Jump and Zierer Hexentanz for instance), a Von Roll 101, S&S Drop Tower, and a PTC Carousel at what is undoubtedly the coolest and best lineup overall of any fair in the hemisphere.

The largest permanent park in the state is Wild Waves Theme Park, operated by Premier Parks (who sold most of their operation contracts to Six Flags, except this one). There aren't any rides which one might consider a "global standout" - Timberhawk: Ride Of Prey, the park's wood coaster, was generally seen as a disappointment when it opened. Other rides and slides in the park are fairly standard production model attractions that are commonplace in the regional park universe with one possible exception. Wild Waves uses topography to its benefit by having installed a all season tubing hill - yes, snowless snowtubing is possible in the 2010s. Isn't technology incredible?

Less technologically advanced are the state's other permanent facilities. The Rides at Long Beach, WA have a set of 1960s/1970s era Fiberglass bodied Lusse bumper cars in addition to several other classic iron rides a short distance from the ocean. Remlinger Farms has a classic car ride of it's own: its Antique Car ride comes from the 1962 Seattle World's Fair. There's also train rides, a kiddie coaster, and several other attractions primarily geared for children to accompany the farm goods.

The City of Seattle is itself home to multiple attractions of note. The Seattle Great Wheel opened at Pier 57 in 2012 as the West Coast's tallest observation wheel. Standing 175 feet tall, it sure looks like a Bussink wheel (or at least from the Wheels of Excellence series he started), complete with air conditioned pods and everything. 300 feet away is Wings Over Washington, a flying theater attraction that had a lot of investment put into the theming and design of its queuing and station. It looks really fantastic for a standalone attraction of its kind.

Greater Seattle/Tacoma has a few family entertainment centers of note too. Tukwila Family Fun Center might sound like just another place with putt-putt and go-karts, but they have a strange selection of more thrilling rides like a S&S Screaming Swing installation and a small drop tower. There's also a "Driving School" attraction similar to what you would find at a Legoland park (small cars in a faux cityscape small children can drive). The Edmonds iteration of the same group's facility lacks some of the cooler and weirder stuff, but does have some 70s/80 era Italian bumper cars.

Washington, like the midwestern states detailed in previous iterations of the series, has a few fairgrounds with their own individual attractions. In the case of Washington, this means often means carousels. The Pioneer Picnic and Rodeo in Bickelton near the Oregon border in central Washington has a super rare Spillman-Herschell Carousel that is powered by a steam engine for just a few days a year during the event. Ferry County's got it's own mixed machine carousel full of rarely seen Dare, Armitage-Herschell, and Herschell-Spillman, and they were smart enough to put limitations on the sale of the carousel to prevent it ever leaving the county. The Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival has a carousel brought in exclusively for it by the Dentzel family - it's not for adults, but the Flying Horses style menagerie carousel only runs that week specifically there as an example of their "Village Carousel" concept. While not possessing a carousel, The Evergreen County Fairgrounds does have the Western Heritage Museum offering frontiersman living museum realness.

Outside of the Seattle orbit, there's a number of smaller parks and attractions which are have carved out their own little piece of the entertainment market. Miniature World Blaine, not far from the BC border and Bellingham, has train rides with a very not-off-the-shelf miniature train. During the holiday season, they take advantage of the region's surprisingly warm temperatures to run a Christmas train with lights and displays galore. Hunter's Christmas Tree Farm in Olympia has a carousel, Super Slide, Corn Maze, and stuff like pony rides for young kids. Riverfront Park on the old 1974 Expo grounds in Spokane has a Carousel with rings (plastic, but still; RINGS!), a modern scenic skyride with fully enclosed gondolas, and a smattering of kids rides. There's also a standalone carousel in Kennewick: Gesa Carousel of Dreams: the original Silver Beach Carousel from St. Joseph Michigan.

Washington has some water parks: Great Wolf Lodge has an outpost here in Grand Mound, and there are small water parks throughout the state like Slidewaters in Lake Chelan or Surf N' Slide in Lake Moses. Birch Bay Waterslides has some old school terrain slides and a big speed slide that differentiates itself from the pack. Splashdown serves the Spokane market with modern slide tech like bowls.

Its also worth noting that there are several reasonably sized zoos in the state. Point Defiance and Woodland Park Zoos have carousels in the Seattle/Tacoma area, and the latter has animatronic dinosaurs too. The Northwest Trek Wildlife Park has tram rides and ziplining for visitors who want to get different perspectives on the animal exhibits.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #151 - Black and Yellow

Alan and Joe talk news as we cover Kennywood's new Steelers Country and The Steel Curtain including sports representation in amusement parks, the prospect of other team ups, Steel Curtain's design, and thematic design in relation to the "sports ball" crowd. Then we dive into Cedar Fair, Cedar Point, and Carowinds news; Universal Orlando's Cinematic Celebration opens; and we close out with some trip reports to Toronto and Chicago.

Friday, July 13, 2018

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...Virginia

Virginia, the most metropolitan of the ex-Confederate states, has had a prodigious history of outdoor amusements. With long Atlantic coast and great beaches to the east and mountains to the west, proximity to the DC metropolis (cities like Alexandria and Arlington are its most well known suburbs), and its own substantive citites (Richmond, Norfolk), we could spend an entire article discussing the parks that were once here. There's enough going on now that we can move past that.

Modern regional themers like Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Kings Dominion certainly dominate the state's landscape when it comes to rides. Both are 1970s era theme parks with all the hallmarks of that design philosophy. Busch Gardens has retained much more of it's original character thanks to better management in the 90s and 2000s, but it is fair to say both parks are primarily a mix of roller coasters, water rides, and spinners. The only tracked dark ride at either is actually Kings Dominion's Ghost Blasters ride from Sally following the untimely demise of DarKastle. The state also has an exceptionally well known water park: Water Country USA is part of the SeaWorld empire, and could be described best as Aquatica North: many similar attractions like the action river and big modern slides. If that isn't enough, the area is also home to a Great Wolf Lodge, ensuring one can chase down water slides with more water slides. I also need to mention Colonial Williamsburg, a quasi-living history museum that's also a functioning set of businesses. Admission is required to enter many of the buildings, but individuals can walk around the majority of it for absolutely no price whatsoever. Again, this is pretty well known about, and that's not the purpose of the series.

We start with water parks: Massanutten Resort has both indoor and outdoor slides and attractions, allowing it to offer aquatic fun year round, highlighted by an indoor Flowrider setup. The largest water park not connected in some way to one of the big dog themers is Ocean Breeze in Virginia Beach, a fairly large facility with all super modern, first run slides mostly from the folks at ProSlide. Plus, being honest, their gigantic money wearing a Hawaiian shirt mascot that towers over guests at the entrance is pretty fantastic (equally great: named Hugh Mungus).

Virginia Beach's days as being a target for coaster enthusiasts is long gone now - same with dark ride fans following the closure of Capt' Cline's Pirate Ghost Ride. There is a small amusement facility called Atlantic Fun Park here still running with a few classic flat rides, as well as a related go-kart facility named Motor World a bit further from the beach. If you're looking for more excitement than that, you'll have to opt for miniature golf to get your kicks. There's several unique courses that o over the top in terms of theme; Jungles and Pirates may be typical for the genre, but Jungle Golf and Pirates Paradise still go all in to draw in visitors. And then for indoor courses, Top Gun Mini Golf with it's naval theme is certainly a unique spot to play.

Zoos in Virginia, like most of the nation, have expanded to offer amusement rides and attractions. Virginia Zoo in Norfolk and Metro Richmond Zoo both have train rides past animal exhibits, for example. Metro Richmond Zoo also ups the ante with a skyride over animal exhibits - it has chairlift seating rather than enclosed gondolas, but it's still really cool. Fort Chiswell Animal Park is a non AZA accredited facility which spends a lot of time breeding for captivity, and in turn they run "Safari Tours" using converted school buses.

In the family entertainment center side of things, Virginia has two noteworthy spots to reference. Central Park Fun-Land in Fredericksburg recently opened an SBF Visa Spinning coaster in the summer of 2018, replacing an older kiddie coaster. This bolstered their indoor/outdoor lineup of go kart tracks, mini golf, kiddie rides, virtual reality experience, laser tag, et al. Go-Karts Plus in Williamsburg has a Python Pit that shifted around the country from its original home in a Cleveland shopping mall. The FEC also has bumper cars and 3 Go-Kart tracks.

Virginia, as one of the original 13 states, has a lot of history. And what says "history" like carousels? Several small city parks have carousels: Burke Lake, Lee District, Lake Fairfax, Hampton Carousel Park, and Lake Accontink Parks all have rides, whether wood or metal. Bundoran Farm is the least known of the bunch: two kiddie carousels, meticulously restored, but with websites in various states of non-maintenance. The National Carousel Association hasn't updated their listing for the rides since 2002, so I went to the source and got an update. The hand cranked George Marx Carousel is now in downtown Charlottesville and owned by the Discovery Museum, whereas the Mangels portable carousel (which is built on a horse carriage) is still in the possession of Bundoran Farm. It also turns out that the Children's Museum of Richmond has a small carousel, but details about the maker are limited (it may be a modern Italian built one with fiberglass/metal pieces).

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #150 - LARP Your Face Off

OG crew is back as Joe, Lane, Mike, and Nick are here to talk Fast & Furious Supercharged impressions, Universal Orlando's Cinematic Celebration, catch up on Halloween Horror Nights news, and then invite on Lane's sister Amy to talk about Toy Story Land, Minnie Vans, Victoria and Alberts, and more!

Friday, July 6, 2018

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...Vermont

In the public eye thanks to the emergence of Bernie Sanders as an unlikely counterculture political figure, Vermont is the second least populated state in the US. Rugged and mountainous, far enough north to be plenty cold in the winter, low in crime, and home to top flight universities like Dartmouth: Vermont is certainly a place of contrasts. There's lots of guns, but also comparatively high taxation sometimes blamed for an outflow of people. I have things I could say about that further, but won't - I'll spare you a discussion of a sociological/economic nature today. What you're here for is talk about amusement/theme parks.

Without many people to have density of population, there was rarely a need for street cars, and with no street cars, no trolley parks. Only two amusement places are well established in the history of the state: Barber Park opened somewhere between 1900 and 1910, and closed its doors by 1924. Little is known of the park; a "Shoot The Chutes" postcard exist, which appears to be little more than a slide on a natural hillside. Concerts and Vaudeville shows seemed to be the primary attractions. Clement's Park is noted in Robert Cartmell's original coaster tome Incredible Scream Machine as having had a Figure 8 side friction coaster, and that's about the only record that exists of the park.

It would be nearly a century after the closing of the PTC built Figure 8 that Vermont would again obtain a permanent roller coaster of some kind. Okemo Mountain was first in the region with a Mountain Coaster, opening the Timber Ripper in 2010. They'd be followed by a huge Aquatic Development Group attraction at Killington Resort in 2015. Given the popularity of the ski resorts here, it makes a whole lot of sense to replace the long existing alpine slides with a safer 4 season option, and just like everywhere else in the country, that's happening at a torrid pace.

Kiddie parks do have a place in modern Vermont: Quechee Gorge Village opened in 1985 as a regional shopping destination, and plans to add children's rides (including a used Wisdom coaster) in 2018. Santa's Land USA has had many struggles over the years: the rumor that it occupies the space once held by the defunct Clement's Park maybe has something to do with it. It was purchased and reopened after some heavy renovations in 2017. They have a short summer season, but hopefully with a smaller collection of attractions, they can hang on for a good while.

The state is also pretty low on water parks. Pump House Water Park at Jay Peak Resort is the largest water park of any kind, indoor or outdoor, in the state. at 50,000 square feet, it probably could be listed as "midsize" in the genre, having an Aqualoop and a Flowrider.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...Utah

In this edition of the Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions, we will not go to that old trope of "Let's mock Mormons." You want a fact? Mormons are generally pretty nice people. They usually spend a lot of time with their kids, they aren't really rude, and while they have opinions I don't agree with related to caffeine or beer ABV or a lot of things, Mormons are a particularly offensive group. Enough of them nearly flipped to vote for a random FBI agent in the 2016 election that it could have sent the entire Presidential election to a drawing of straws. So we aren't going to do that. It's cheap and easy and shooting fish in a barrel.

Besides, it's a cop out to not talk about what Utah actually is like: it's an outdoor wonderland with incredible mountain and ski resorts (which we'll talk about), awesome river rafting, deserts, rock formations, cliffs, canyons, vast salt flats, prairie, yup, Utah has that. The golden spike was driven into the Transcontinential Railroad here. The Winter Olympics happened here in 2002. Other things happened here too. OK, so look, let's go back and talk about Mormons, but respectfully, OK? Salt Lake City isn't just a Delta Airlines pseudo-hub: it's literally the equivalent of the Vatican or Jerusalem to a distinct religious sect with a few million followers. There are 1 million more Mormons than Jews in the US. I just looked it up. It's true. I could even cite sources! And when you're someone's Vatican, it is fairly easy to say important things happened there at some point, even if I may be skeptical of certain claims related to those important things.

In the history of the region, Utah has had two significant amusement parks: Lagoon and Saltair Beach. Saltair Beach had some space for swimming, and if you look at photos from the period, you can see what is ostensibly an amusement pier style park. Except that unlike most of these types of parks, it is well inland. And unlike all of the inland boardwalk parks (I'm looking at you, Indiana Beach and Cedar Point), it had salt water. Really salty water from the Great Salt Lake, which if you have never been is admittedly not very attractive, smells funny, and has an enormous amount of brine flies. This may not sound like a conducive environment for outdoor recreation, but when you are otherwise at high altitude on a plateau, and this is the body of water you've got, it is the amusement park you have. Well, at least until it burned to the ground in 1925, then again in 1931, then when the water receded and a train had to be built to get people to the water in 1933, and then finally in 1967 and 1970 with, you guessed it, more fires. Big wood structures in the desert are flammable. Who knew?

That doesn't mean there isn't a Saltair now. The original's pylons are sitting in the dirt of the receding Great Salt Lake. Meanwhile, almost within visual distance, is Saltair II, built around an old Air Force hangar and nearish to the Salt Lake. It's a concert venue/convention center sorta thing. Primus and Mastodon are playing there on July 2nd if that sound appealing to you; Jack White shows up on July 9. The spirit lives on, kinda sorta. And if you step out to the water, you can imagine what it was like way back in the early 1900s, floating in water that won't let you do anything but, surrounded by the mummified corpses of seagulls who miscalculated dives at prey.

But enough about the past: There's the present, and that's Lagoon. Except Lagoon falls under every definition of "known" - it's big, it advertises outside it's market, it draws in excess of a million people, it even fabricates and builds it's own rides. Lagoon has some negatives: the water park isn't that great, I'm not that hot on the animal enclosures on the zoo train, and the food is generally pretty bad. However, the park does a lot in terms of fit and finish to rides with regards to stations and queue lines which rarely is seen by smaller parks or even regional themers. It is well landscaped. It has two dark rides, and an array of unique roller coasters. It's pretty wonderful. It even has its own Pioneer Village area with museum exhibitry and a prison. Yes, Lagoon has a jail, and they even used to put up prisoners in it. None of this is a lie.

But reading about Lagoon isn't enough to justify writing about this. You want different. You want new. Enter: The Train Shoppe and Ricochet Canyon Fun Center. Why is this place relevant? Well, there's two attractions in here that may actually qualify as dark rides: The Ricochet Canyon Scenic Railroad looks to be an Italian built kiddie train of some sort that cruises past small set scenes with animatronics on a tight loop. Salty Mine Exploration Company has individual cars and provides lights to riders to try and find "hidden items". Both attractions are geared towards a younger set, but adults seem able to ride as well. Train fans can also find occasional public days at the Canyon Meadows Park miniature train to get a fix of steam powered action.

In the greater vicinity, there ski resorts have predictably acquired Wiegland mountain coasters. Park City and Snowbird both have them, with Park City's being nearly twice as long (and one of the biggest in North America). For someone looking for bigger thrills, the Olympic Park has winter and summer bobsled experiences that are anything but "themed" - they're the real thing, just like actual bobsledders do. There's occasionally luge as well in the winter you can try out.

Salt Lake City and the related college down of Provo (home to BYU) have a few family entertainment center type destinations. Liberty Park in Salt Lake City has a small ride collection, anchored by a Eli Wheel. Seven Peaks Fun Center in Lehi is at the rough midway point between SLC and Provo, and features a mix of family rides, go karts, mini golf, and other typical FEC fare. The SLC location of Seven Peaks is a straightforward water park; probably significantly more refreshing than a visit to the Great Salt Lake. Provo Beach Resort can't be classified as a water park: it lacks enough aquatic attractions for that. It does have a Flowrider, as well as a ropes course, laser tag, and arcade. Strange mix, but it seems to be working.

When it comes to animals, Hogel Zoo is the state's sole AZA accredited facility. Like many zoos these days, it has a CP Huntington Train and a carousel with exotic animals. Exhibits are expanded and of course themed to resemble the areas the animals are from. For extinct creatures, Utah has a lot of dinosaur fossils, and thus as expected has a dinosaur attraction or two. Aside from the great natural history museums, those seeking to scratch the itch of seeing enormous reptile related things could hit up George S. Eccles Dinosaur Park. Several animatronic dinosaurs are placed outside for viewing in addition to indoor museum style exhibits and working paleontologists cleaning fossils.

One interesting phenomenon that is largely isolated to Utah is that of the Nickelcade: arcades in which people pay for entry, then pay for additional time playing games using nickels in some format. While this is not expressly limited to Utah, the density of them in Utah is far, far greater than any other. In Greater Salt Lake City alone, one can visit Nickel City, the Nickelcade of Taylorsville, or Sandy Nickelcade. My experience visiting these is that the games are typically at the end of their lifespan, not in the best of working order, and sometimes hilariously placed (e.g. Shoney's Claw Machines).

Utah's water parks aren't monsters: Cowabunga Bay emerged from the Huish family's FEC business, with Shane now heading the company. It features one enormous play structure; the largest in the world when it was built. Cherry Hill Water Park grew out of a campground, and is a mix of an outdoor FEC and aquatics center with some water slides. Classic Fun Center has 4 locations throughout the state, with 2 of them (Sandy and Riverdale), but neither is particularly huge either.