Saturday, December 28, 2019

Universal Orlando's Horror Make-Up Show and "Making-Of" Attractions

Photo copyright Universal Orlando
The end of a year a time of retrospectives and remembrances. We sit around a tree, candles, table, or aluminum pole and talk about the past year with family and friends. Some tend to take the last few weeks of the year to write or produce retrospectives for their jobs. We look back and remember the fond times and hardships we've gone through. When sadness creeps its way into the holidays through regret, loss, or post-holiday depression these look backs can take an even more important meaning. The happier times gives us hope for a more positive future.

This is a post about a show, one that I had a good time with this year and one I will be having a good time with in 2020. It's a simple show with a long history that seems to operate out of view of the contemporary theme park management style. I even hesitate to post about it because it always feels on the edge of being closed or co-opted into something more synergistic. 

I am talking about Universal Orlando's Horror Make-Up Show.


Thursday, December 26, 2019

Immersive Irony Experience Theme Park Podcast - 2010s Memorial Episode



In the last episode of the decade, Alan and Alex begin by discussing Alan's trip to Philadelphia as Alex obsesses over the cheesesteak details. Alan talks about his Thanksgiving weekend trip to the Netherlands and nerd out on the perfection of Efteling. Alex discusses his recent trip to Orlando with in-depth details about his first experience with Hollywood studios in nearly 20 years. The current state of operations on Hagrids Motorbike are also given. We wrap up the decade talking about all the different areas of the industry and predict what the upcoming decade will hold.

Monday, December 23, 2019

More Major Changes Coming to Universal Orlando CityWalk

In late November everyone's friend Universal Orlando Permit Bot (seriously follow them) discovered a new permit to combine four retail locations into one. No locations were given so speculation ran rampant.



Well we think we know what is closing now: Fresh Produce, the women's clothing store, is running a closing sale through the end of the year.



This spot of CityWalk currently contains four non-Universal owned shops: aforementioned Fresh Produce, Piq novelty shop, Fossil watches and leather, and Quiet Flight, a clothing store where half the foot traffic is from UOAP holders cutting through going to Universal Studios. While we have not seen indication the other three stores are closing yet it is likely they will in 2020.

So, why close these four stores and consolidate them into one? Some are posturing it could be the second American Nintendo World Store or a preview center for Epic Universe. I don't think it's likely those, it's still too early to open a Nintendo World Store in Orlando and a location on the west coast first makes more sense. Plus a preview center for a park that's still not fully revealed, in a huge area to boot, makes no sense. Instead I speculate the Universal Studios Store is moving from its current location and into an expanded, more prominent location.



Currently the store is located off the main walking path and is quite small. By moving to a larger location space can be made for dedicated Potter, Nintendo, Dreamworks, Illumination, and Marvel sections. Of course this is speculation and until Universal confirms their plans it is best to treat it as a rumor.

As for what would going into the old Studio Store area could be the much desired Epic Universe preview center, a new store, the much rumored escape room, or something else entirely.

With the further reduction of 3rd party vendors at CityWalk eyes now turn to two notable stand outs: Bubba Gump's and Margaritaville. Both occupy prime real-estate, including the first thing guests see walking in from the parking garages. I would not be surprised if Bubba Gumps closes soon to be replaced with another, new Universal owned restaurant.

Update: Posters on Inside Universal have said that Island Trading Company and Fossil are currently discounting their merchandise. It remains to be seen if Piq or Quiet Flight are part of the closing too. Additionally Fresh Produce has closed.

THEME PARK BOOK CORNER: "The New York World's Fair, 1939/1940: In 155 Photographs"



Before the 1964/65 World's Fair could be built on it's site and duplicate it's inability to make money, the 1939/1940 World's Fair occurred. One of the most fondly remembered Expos in American/World History, the fair took place at a time of grave danger for many participating nations, with some being occupied during it's run or being kicked out due to their activities during the two seasons it ran in Flushing Meadows, Queens, NYC. 

This photo book expressly tells you as you read the introduction that it will not have any pictures of the amusement zone, as the world needs no additional pictures of roller coasters and carnivals. Au contraire, mon ami. Meanwhile, my copy of "Highbrow Lowbrow", freshly handed to me, sits in the pile of books to be read. Almost like I'm suggesting it could wind up here. You do, however, get photos of many international pavillions, show spaces, and of course the large corporate pavilions as well. 

DO I WANT THS?

How Does It Read?: It's a photo book. You can be illiterate and still get something out of this.

Will I Learn Anything?: Always the big question with these - for me, I hadn't really thought of or even knew much about the 1939 Futurama ride at the GM Pavilion, and now I know it was basically an omnimover before there was an omnimover. Fair enough. Some of the other pavilions also featured "rides" of sorts, like the Ford pavilion where cars were driven around a short course. Also I frankly knew little of how many pavilions closed up shop or were replaced during the run of the fair and how some of that tied into the burgeoning World War 2. 

Did You Take Anything Away From This?: Optimism is great, but without any degree of practicality or realism, ultimately meaningless. Fascist Italy was allowed to keep their grand pavilion as their allies stormed Eastern Europe and they themselves began to enter quagmires in Africa and the Yugoslavic republics. Doesn't seem to have stopped them from rethinking their greatness. 

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #185 - Christmas at Dollywood



Merry Christmas! This week Joe is joined by Ashley from Parks & Wreked to discuss the Hallmark Christmas Movie 'Christmas at Dollywood'! We give our hot takes, all the feels, and what things made us ask what the hallmark? Ok we didn't steal that blatantly from another podcast. But we do talk about how they made the streets of Pidgeon Forge look great, line dancing, creating a parade in three days, bad green screens, and more!

Monday, December 16, 2019

THEME PARK BOOK CORNER: "Marc Davis: Walt Disney's Renaissance Man"


Published in 2014 by Disney Enterprises, Inc., I decided to take a flyer on this book given the rave reviews a 2019 release dedicated to Marc Davis has gotten in Disney fan circles. This is expressly an art book, and any text that it contains isn't terribly in-depth, though it helps to flesh out aspects of Marc Davis' personal life, his background prior to animation, and his contributions to Imagineering. Marty Sklar makes the point that Marc Davis' touch for gags and humor was a cornerstone of the Disney Parks successes. He is attributed as to having gone into the parks and reporting that the place needed more humor, leading to his transition from animator to imagineer. The most prolific designer of his era, Davis saw attractions as things to experience rather than interactive narratives driven by the designers and as you may or may not be aware, that is a major sticking point in all arguments about theme parks before and after.

DO I WANT THS?

How Does It Read?: As this is an art book, words take a back seat unless they specifically describe aspects of the highlighted art. Theme park fans will be most interested in the 7th chapter with oodles of concept drawings for attractions like World of Motion, Carousel of Progress, and Pirates of the Caribbean.

Will I Learn Anything?: Depends on the audience. For those who are hardcore Disney fans, I imagine some of the knowledge about his art is probably known. I'm not an animation history type of person or a Disneyana type, so I largely flew through those sections of the book as impressive as all the drawings were. It's less likely that you'll know as much about his time as a draftsman or his adoration of Papua New Guinea, and there is quite a bit there to unpack. I certainly know something about his relationship with his wife Alice now, but this isn't really the reason I read books related to the theme park industry either.

Did You Take Anything Away From This?: I mean, sure, Marc Davis is a very good artist and it was interesting that he would dabble in modern art work aside from his time working on animation and creating so many of the characters we know from the Disney theme parks. It's interesting to see all the sketches and such, but for me, I'm just not the target audience.

CHAPTERS:

Introduction by John Canemaker

Chapter 1: Marc as Teacher (Bob Kurtz)

Chapter 2: Animal Studies (Andreas Deja)

Chapter 3: Sketchbooks (Glen Keane)

Chapter 4: Anatomy of Motion (Marc Davis)

Chapter 5: Animation Art (Pete Docter)

Chapter 6: Chanticleer (Charles Solomon)

Chapter 7: Imagineering (Marty Sklar)

Chapter 8: Fine Art (Don Hahn)

Chapter 9: Papua New Guniea and the Pacific Islands (Paula Sigman Lowery)

Chapter 10: The Divine Miss Alice (Mindy Johnson)

Afterword by Randy Haberkamp

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #184 - Line Culture



Joe and Nick are joined by Alex and Danny to discuss the biggest opening in Orlando in years... plus Rise of the Resistance! We go into SPOILERS as we discuss the queue, pre-shows, and ride experience of Rise of the Experience.


Monday, December 9, 2019

THEME PARK BOOK CORNER: "Total Landscape, Theme Parks, Public Space," by Miodrag Mitrasinovic


Published by Ashgate (an academic book/journal publisher, now since absorbed into Informa) in 2007, Professor Mitrasinovic's book lets you know the ground rules of what it will and will not cover very early on and how. This is a book intended for an academic audience; it is a book about theme parks, theming, and public space, it is about the concept of "Total Landscape", and it is not about solutions, alternatives, etc. It is meant to be a novel criticism different from Vinyl Leaves in that it expands on not just looking at the impact of theme parks in and of themselves within their own corporate structures and pop culture, but the way in which the "theme park model" has become inexorably linked with public space development post Reagan/Thatcher neoliberalism.

Dr. Mitrasinovic is not a sociologist, but rather an architect and urbanist who has studied in his native Serbia, the Netherlands, and ultimately the US. Today he has a lab at the Parsons School of Design, which is pretty much as close to peaking in the context of that academic field as you can possibly get. Should you have not heard of Parsons, take a look at this list of famous alumni on Wikipedia: Hitchens, Kerouac, Tennessee Williams, Shimon Peres, Norman Rockwell, Marc Jacobs, Marlon Brando, just, you know, some of the most important artists in modern history. Past faculty isn't any less impressive: W.E.B. Dubois, Derrida, John Cage, Robert Frost, John Maynard Keanes, Bertrand Russell, Frank Lloyd Wright. That second list is the group in which Dr. Mitrasinovic winds up being placed. When you are in a role that has previously been filled with titans of their space like a Charles Tilly or Slavoj Zizek, it is fair to say that this not going to be a picture book, nor is it some sort of Mitch Albom-like aw shucks fluff.

I wouldn't call this a "theory" book though it most certainly is as much of the book is also review of the subject. The theory brought to the table is "Total Landscape"; which was the original title of the book long before theme parks were even intended to be the target. Total Landscape refers to the definition of totalizing; comprehend in an all-encompassing way. Theme parks, especially Disneyland, sell reassurance rather than escapism as Imagineer John Hench is famed for saying. Mitrasinovic suggests that they sell far more than that: they so alter psychology that they relate socially conservative concepts about family and relationship to the state with consumption and social activity simultaneously. The author effectively uses the first three chapters to state his case relating "themeparking" and "theming" as separate things before doing an enormously indepth autopsy of how precisely theme parks are framed to do what he says vis-a-vis Japan's massive Huis Ten Bosch. No writer in history that I have seen, even among the imagineering books out there, is so detailed in breakdown and analysis of the exterior design and landscaping of a theme park as Dr. Mitrasinovic is in Chapter 4 of this book. Chapter 5 then discusses how theme parks were then used as the basis for reforming public spaces from the 1970s and forwards: Bryant Park receives a similarly in depth review.

Do I Want This: If Judith Adams' book was too much reading for you, you might as well not even try to obtain a copy of this book.

How does it read?: Phew. Buddy. Pal. It isn't a narrative or a story. It's kinda like a 200 page essay where the beginning and conclusion kinda sorta say the same thing and the middle is just establishing the case for why this is true. Every term in here is defined. Everything. You can't just breeze through this fucker and think you'll get 100% of what he's saying. You're gonna have to sit down and read this for comprehension. There's like, no humor here. None.

Will I learn anything?: At the very least, I learned a significant amount about the Japanese theme/amusement park industry and how it effectively parallels the development of the American outdoor amusement industry. And about some individual parks - Huis Ten Bosch for sure. It's a major focus of the book because that specific park had the most significant planning of any in history. Original plans had 20,000 residents living inside and around the park, though ultimately they fell way, way short of that due to completely misreading the real estate market and the viability of living at a theme park resort built on reclaimed land/former industrial space.

In greater detail, however, this book provides opinions - well defended opinions with an enormous amount of citations to back them both empirical and theoretical - about the privatization of public space. According to Mitrasinovic, to understand the expansion of private leisure space is to understand capitalism and to understand the underlying desire for both control and social conservative attitudes that are inherent to capitalism and liberalism. This is traced back to the 19th century and the Crystal Palace; a fine starting point for modern outdoor recreation influenced by the West. He claims that at the very root of this is the application of military theory - gathering of demographic information, topography, determinations about ease of transporting people in and out, supply chain management, and so on. Inherently militaristic, there are natural appeals to traditionalist family values, ruralism, agriarian life, and so on. Ultimately these are ploys to eliminate/prevent diversity through the guise of meritocracy, enforce class division, and inevitably merge back with the state & police structure as the "theme park model" becomes standardized for all public space while parks welcome surveillance apparatus onto their guests.

This is a very, very rough read of what he spends many thousands of words to say and is lacking in much nuance, so I would recommend that one actually take the time to read the book or at least some excerpts rather than merely take on my review of the book as the entirety of the argument. I am dubious of much of what is said here knowing full well the amusement and theme parks are not merely a western liberal construct, but as the author himself recognizes, follow traditions and models passed down through the centuries long before Adam Smith or Malthus. In addition, recreational spaces including amusement rides were prevalent in every reasonably developed socialist nation during the Cold War period: we know now increasingly how many public amusement parks existed in Russia, but there is clear and indisputable evidence of their existence in pre-Deng China, in Castro's Cuba, and certainly even Juche-era North Korea. To some degree this is acknowledged but it is also pointed out as to not be relevant as it is not the subject of the book. So be it. I am dubious of other things stated, particularly the relationship of military theory and liberalism; I find it hard to believe that amusement facilities and public space were built primarily upon developments made by generals still fighting in ordered rows exclusively in open fields rather than innovations primarily generated by mercantilism (European, Middle Eastern, Indian, or other).

However, having said that, there is certainly merit to many arguments and in some ways it seems prescient. Universal Beijing has announced that they will be using facial recognition for their park's entry: without a doubt this should be considered part of a large scale test of that same software for the purposes of the police and military in China and ultimately any nation desiring access to the software/hardware down the line. Theme parks as we know them are absolutely, unequivocally spaces that exclude persons, especially on the grounds of economic class. Much of the discussion about how theme parks increasingly seem to be exclusionary does so because of price increases to passes that make it more difficult than ever for local persons of middle class economic distinction to attend in lieu of a global audience traveling to see Disney and Universal. Alternately, discussion of Cedar Fair's new pricing options that helped drive massive increases in attendance over the Halloween season at parks like Cedar Point is frequently seen as not excluding enough persons.

Ultimately, reading this led me to request another book from the library which he contributed to and edited titled Concurrent Urbanities. Unlike Total Landscape..., this book is prescriptive and seeks to look at how design can be used to create spaces that are more conducive to community building and inclusion. These are things which Dr. Mitrasinovic sees as being the result of neoliberal policy and the commodification of the state, which are intrinsically negative and necessarily lead to establishing obstacles to upward mobility and an increase in policing. That having been said, the book won't be part of the Theme Park book series (after all, Prof. Mitrosinovic is not a fan of theme parks by and large!) as it simply doesn't deal with that topic.

CHAPTERS:

1. YOU ARE HERE

2. THEMEPARKING

3. THEMEING

4. DEPARTING

5. BECOMING







Monday, December 2, 2019

THEME PARK BOOK CORNER: "County Fairs: Where America Meets" by John McCarby & Randy Olsen

Finally! Light reading and lots of pictures - the sorts of coffee table books this hobby is known for and ones for which I can tear through the contents in about a day or two.



This book was produced by the National Geographic Society in 1997, and my copy was acquired through a name you'll come to see frequently here in this feature: John K. King Books, the largest used book seller in Michigan and among the largest in the world. The former glove factory contains a reputed million books, which is entirely believable given the size and sheer volume of items inside. I go roughly 3-4 times a year on average, and I almost always bring back a variety of rarities and common books. This trends more to the common end.

Monday, November 25, 2019

THEME PARK BOOK CORNER: "Walt Disney and the Quest for Community" by Steve Mannheim

This is not my first attempt at reading this - I did some time ago long before Distwitter as I was barrelling through literature during my tenure at MSU. However, now I've picked up on even more than I did then about the history of EPCOT Center, the subsequent theme park, and of course Walt's vision having done my own extensive research through the years, aging, and so on. You have not come here to read a review of me, though. You came for a review of the book.



It's a short book - only about 120 pages with a huge section of footnotes and a biographical essay at the end. It's classic academic text from a historian: little in the way of opinion, citations for everything that isn't, little to no speculation that's unwarranted. That immediately puts a damper on where the book could have gone, but leaves it lean, mean, and packed with facts. By the time you're done digesting it, you should feel fairly comfortable understanding where Walt's beliefs were on why he was doing EPCOT, what inspired him to make the decisions he did about it's early design, and how incredibly far he was from actually achieving any of the intended goals related to the project. In fact, if there is any conclusion that you can take from this book, it is that Walt and no one but Walt really had any individual vision for EPCOT. He gave people ideas and took feedback. He certainly had people draw sketches of the layouts and planning and greenspace. He approved models. He allowed for input, but the entirety of the project was truly Walt's.

Monday, November 18, 2019

THEME PARK BOOK CORNER: “The Great American Amusement Parks: A Pictoral History” by Gary Kyriazi


Going back to the 1970s, the next book reviewed is Gary Kyriazi’s tome, “The Great American Amusement Parks.” The 1970s were really the first period which sees multiple books on the industry published, and Kyriazi’s is an example of a book that isn’t particularly heavy on text. If you’ve read the first couple primers I’ve brought up in prior reviews, you know most of the background information that Kyriazi is going to reveal already. Anyways, Citadel Press put this book out in 1978, and it is nice and chunky, filled with glossy black and white shots of rides from bygone eras.

Monday, November 11, 2019

THEME PARK BOOK CORNER: The American Amusement Park Industry… by Judith A. Adams

I opened the blog up with a review of the first history told of the Amusement industry from William Mangels, and this, the second review, is essentially of the spiritual successor. Released in 1991, Adams book is still the closest thing we have to a contemporary analysis of the industry over 20 years onward. The timing of her book was fortuitous: arriving at the death of many traditional parks and at the point in which the regional themers were becoming entrenched and maturing, she writes of an industry much different from that seen in the 50s. Also, because her book is more recent, it is easier to point out flaws or inconsistencies, something that Mangels’ text and its near biblical importance to future researchers doesn’t have.

Adams’ preface describes the book’s three most formative themes: the importance of the 1893 Columbian Expo in Chicago, the reliance on the “future utopian” ideal, and the effect of societal change on the industry. Theme one and two are effectively tied at the hip given the “White City” of the Columbian Expo. The third part, while it is touched on at times, does not get to heavily leaned on. If anything, Adams is more open to looking at social critique rather than change either enacted by or affecting amusements.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #183 - A Horror Nights Second Opinion



We're not letting Halloween go without a fight as Joe is joined by Alex and Dan to discuss Halloween Horror Nights 29. We will cover their second opinions of the event, including Dan's thoughts on attending the event for the first time. Plus some discussion on the Kings Dominion coaster leak.


Monday, November 4, 2019

THEME PARK BOOK CORNER: “The Outdoor Amusement Industry…” by William Mangels

Back in 2014, I had started on a blog to provide detailed reviews of books on theme parks - not just coffee table books filled with pictures, but academic tomes, histories, and so on. And then I got busy (usually writing here) and it became a secondary concern at best. I've decided to port over the old reviews here and then provide you, our few and proud readers, with fresh reviews of books ranging from early 20th century academia to travel guides and much much more. Some of these are from my personal collection: others are made available to me thanks to the super rad university I work at. But some have never seen a review hit the light of day on the internet for a general audience until now. 
----------------------
And for that all important first post, I didn’t think there was any better tome of information to start with than this – one of the first books to ever discuss the topic of amusements, William Mangels’ “The Outdoor Amusement Industry: From Earliest Times to Present.” This was printed all the way back in 1952 – yes, 62 years ago, pre-Disneyland. The topic is broad – outdoor amusements means a lot of different things, and Mangels attempts to give a brief history over the course of 206 printed pages about all of it.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #182 - Fall 2019 Orlando Trip Report



Another massive Parkscope trip is in the books and Joe, Mike, and Nick cover all the non-Horror Nights things they did this trip. We cover the final showing of Illuminations, the Japanese signature dining experince Takumi-Tei, Star Wars Galaxy's Edge, the Skyliner, and more at Disney. Over at Unviersal we talk about our stay at Endless Summer Resort, Hagrid, Bigfire, and more. Plus news from the past few weeks including The Bourne Stuntacular, Cookie-Ann, and the Epcot re-do.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Immersive Irony Experience Theme Park Podcast - Vortex Memorial Episode



In this episode Alan and Alex discuss the latest news including the closing of Vortex at Kings Island. Then Alex discusses his European trip in the first part of his trip report. First he discusses... the let downs from the trip.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Worlds or Rides: Is Immersion Reconcilable with Function in Theme Parks?

Disneyland and Disney Hollywood Studios' newest expansion, Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge (SW:GE), has led to a lot of divisive opinions. None is more divisive than the argument of why it has, at it's best, turned out to simply draw crowds close to numbers of people who came last year before the expansion was completed. Most of these discussions ultimately revolve around the fact that Rise of the Resistance, arguably Disney's most complex attraction ever constructed, will not be open for months. No Rise, no armies of humanity demanding entry.

Beyond the fact that this is not provable now given that it is a hypothesis about the future, that this is usually agreed upon doesn't necessarily mean that everyone agrees upon what that means about what presently exists at Galaxy's Edge. The land itself is completed minus Rise: it is done, and by all accounts, it looks great. You can go and see it and "fly" the Millennium Falcon, eat at Oga's Cantina, buy a Blue Milk, build a light saber, and make things beep with your phone. For those who purely want to "experience Star Wars", there really aren't any barriers beyond the expense of a one day ticket, which if we are being very frank here, anyone actively in this exorbitantly expensive hobby should have the capacity to afford.



As Galaxy's Edge has opened to guests in Florida however, there are concerns which have arisen from guests demanding the utmost in "immersion". Many revenue centers (restaurants, shops) don't feature any form of air conditioning, given that they are open air markets, so fans were frequently seen propped up in corners during the summer months. Seating is at a premium in the land, which has led Operations to go to the store and buy stock patio furniture to give people a place to sit down and eat. Much rumoured live entertainment and character interactions in the land did not appear, with Bob Chapek being blamed as some sort of villainous accountant. If the intent is absolute pitch perfect world building, these things obviously are a detriment to it as functional as they may be. This question of functionality is in fact a fundamental question about the parks themselves: What is the function of a theme park? This seems an almost ridiculously basic question, but it is rarely asked and merely accepted to be inferred as self evident. There is in fact a significant divide in this.

SW:GE is generally accepted to have been influenced by the construction of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands Of Adventure, which was the first US example of what one might term "hyperreal". Rather than produce a theme park space that was a pastiche of known entities in a safe-for-children-and-mass-tourists manner (like how Adventureland is basically every place brown people live smashed together), these new hyperreal places intend to build fully-formed worlds for people to explore and interact with. Whether that is Avatar's "interactive" sperm cannon plant, Potter's wands, or the Play Disney App in Star Wars, these places put you in your own individual role playing game (full cooperation optional) to be part of the land. That then is the point of theme parks, isn't it? To put us in foreign worlds where we get to "escape" and become someone else; to transform ourselves into junk traders and wizards and, uhhh, intergalactic tourists. Or is it?



That is perhaps what some people would like theme parks to be. The media portals we use boost the negative signals because negatives attract attention, and advertisers crave content that gets attention, creating a sort of death spiral in which no matter who you are, we are in constant global peril from some sort of existential threat. Many people are exhausted of constant worry; worry about global climate change, billionaire rapists, financial ruin due to medical bills, armed conflict, mass shooters, fentanyl, immigration, loss of individual freedoms. No matter what side of the political fence you are on, there is someone, somewhere who wants to radicalize you (and subsequently sell you media, dietary supplements, and possibly donate to a political campaign or ten) even if you are the sort of individual who has well paying work and can easily afford a luxury hobby such as "attend theme parks". These worlds are then a potential escape for you, a thoroughly psychologically taxed and beaten individual. It should be no surprise then that on Twitter, Facebook, and the like there are many, many people who relate to these parks as a form of therapy. Walt did intend for his park to be an escape from every day life. That is true. So did Walter Knott. So did literally everyone who built traditional amusement parks or zoological gardens.



And this is where the problem with this thinking lies: "immersion" is not simply a thing that exists in the confines of Disney theme parks. Modern and postmodern art has played with the interactivity of art and the public for much of the 20th century, and in the 21st century this has been taken to bold new places by the likes of Meow Wolf and teamLab, as well as theater troupes and museums. There are many places in the US with spaces reserved purely for renaissance festivals (not unlike fairgrounds, which of course they mimic the European precursor to), and Evermore Park was constructed to more impressively/permanently fulfill these role playing fantasies. Cedar Point constructed Forbidden Frontier for 2019 following the success of the Ghost Town Alive summer "game" in Knott's Berry Farm. Immersive theater has been used by the Smithsonian; Orlando has had a fairly authentic and expensive representation of ancient Israel in the Holy Land Experience for many, many years. The Ark Encounter in Kentucky? It's built to the cubit based on the descriptions in the Bible and filled with animatronics to make you know just what Noah was doing. Can't immerse more than that.


So clearly, if world construction and relocating to that fantasy is the demand, then these things must be doing strong business. Ark Encounter? Attendance there is sluggish and it would probably have shuttered inside of 5 years if not for state tax breaks. Holy Land Experience - which has never had a ride - failed financially and had to be bought out and operated by a religious TV station. Evermore is operating at a whopping three nights a week. Cedar Point announced they're going to bring back a family boat ride that just so happens to encircle where Forbidden Frontier is....on an island. That means the bridges to the island have to go. Turns out immersive themed experiences at "big iron rides" parks - no matter how well done - aren't appealing to people who don't like "big iron rides" parks since it's still a "big iron rides" park. Art installations like Otherworld in Columbus. OH or THE EXPERIENCE in Tulsa, OK are expanding, but the cost for entry in that space is dramatically lower than that of a theme park world (or theme park sized entity). And more importantly: these art installations are not theme parks.



What separates immersive art experiences from a "theme park" is that a "theme park," very specifically by the language we use, refers to themed amusement facilities. Amusement facilities have shows, rides, dancing, swimming, and so on. Theme Parks have existed for decades with people flocking to them to experience things: Country Bear Jamboree, Haunted Mansion, Space Mountain, just to name a few of these. Things happen around them and occasionally to them, but never do they make things truly happen. The idea of immersive world building as the future of theme parks changes this dramatically. The impact of the art is maximized by interaction with it, then the art must be encouraged to be interacted with. For those who've seen the parks as that kind of escape - a space for reinvention of themselves - this is a dream come true.

But what about everyone else? What about the people who just want to go on a ride? What about kids? Children will have the least ability to accumulate points in Galaxy's Edge compared to childless adults who use it as an after work escape, and the younger they are, the less likely that they will be turned on by a series of games and missions with such stringent rules. In creating a rich mythology for visitors, Disney imagineers have left nothing to the imagination of the guests. There is not intended to be much in terms of individual interpretation. The scenes mean what they mean; they communicate with brute force intensity. It sees the lack of narrative in Pirates of the Caribbean not as an asset, but a liability. Star Wars as a intellectual property shows this conflict in the parks as well. As bound to canon as Galaxy's Edge is, many early reviews and anecdotal evidence suggest Smuggler's Run doesn't on average receive as high of marks from guests Star Tours (a ride that plays liberally with canon).

If the functionality of theme parks is to merely to entertain rather than "immerse" in a realistic world, this wouldn't be surprising. Star Tours introduces us to old favorites and worlds we've always wanted to explore, in addition to huge battle sequences. It's been updated fairly recently and has reasonably good animation and animatronic figures aboard the craft (Smuggler's Run has one animatronic in a pre-show, and he's from a cartoon series that averaged about 3 million viewers). It hits the right notes of nostalgia (a huge part of Disney's success in general) while also providing variation in experience to draw guests back. Star Tours offers no buttons to mash and no points to get, but still manages to have an average wait not far from a half hour even after the construction of Galaxy's Edge.



Function subsequently has led to changes in form elsewhere in Disney World's Galaxy's Edge. Recently, news that menu boards would see the names of food items changed to reflect what they actually were instead of "in character" names; Fried Endorian Tip-Yip became Fried Chicken. Guests apparently had been confused by the names and cast members were complaining the refusal of paying customers to play along with the conceit of being on another planet (a planet, it should be noted, where Coca Cola and paper receipts saying the park name are apparently Star Wars canon) when attempting to spend huge amounts of money on food for their family. To an outsider, the notion that customers would be forced to change their behavior in this way is hilarious, but is largely accepted as a given by those deep in the bubble of hyperimmersion. Cast members have increasingly moved away from calling water fountains as "hydrators" and restrooms as "refreshers" given that those words mean nothing in the context of actual reality when people need to drink water.

This isn't to say that Galaxy's Edge is a total failure: while domestic park attendance dropped in spite of this massive investment, there have been increases in per capita spending related to the new restaurants and retail shops inside. And of course there's the small issue of Rise Of The Resistance not being open. Without it operating, it feels like that period of time this section is opened is more or less a control for the real experiment of "Worlds or rides?"

For all the hand wringing to the contrary, theme parks are just a subgenre of amusement park. Without the function - the rides, in this case - there's no need to see what the section has until they've arrived. If you disagree, ask yourself this: would hundreds of thousands of guests refuse to book travel to Disney if Rise of The Resistance was open but it was Oga's Cantina that was behind in development? How about if it was Droid Depot that was delayed 9 months? Do you really think if they pushed out the roving bots and doubled the number of costumed characters that it would lead to monster lines and record attendance more than if it was the 20+ minute, multi-system, multi-sensory E-ticket ride to end all E-tickets? Be honest with not just yourself but what you know about other people.

I've learned there's always someone who has the contrarian position. I once had someone on Twitter tell me they traveled to stay at Disney moderate resorts for a week and never go to the parks. To be entirely honest, that claim was mind blowing. Doesn't mean I think they're a bad person or anything (they are probably very nice people who I would bet are shy as hell in real life), but I reserve the right to question some people's life choices and what it says about the relationship they have with the rest of society. I also know that going to Disney World for a week and not going to parks because "pools" and "Disney Springs" is not standard procedure for most people who are hardened Disney fans, much less regular, normal people. There would absolutely be one or two people who would wait out Droid Depot out of 20 million. But that's what you're looking at. Theme parks can't be geared to that one or two: it has to be to the 20 million, and maybe the way guests have reacted (or not reacted) to Galaxy's Edge is the path back to that.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #181 - Halloween Horror Nights 29 Review



Yup, it's that time of the year again. Mike, Nick, and Joe give our thoughts, impressions, and final review of Halloween Horror Nights 29. We discuss the houses, scare zones, shows, merch, and food of this years event. Overall we would consider this a weak year, but one made fun thanks to the peopel we attended the event with.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The Bourne Stuntacular


Hey remember when there were two shows in Hollywood at Universal Studios Florida? I do too! It's been two years since T2:3D Battle Across Time closed and today Universal Orlando announced the replacement: The Bourne Stuntacular. Opening in Spring 2020 the show will combine "live performers, interactive props and an immense LED screen" to bring us on the chase for Jason Bourne. 

The first question a lot of people have is: what sort of experience is this? Well, it's first and foremost a stunt show, more so than T2. Second, it will combine digital video, choreography, and massive set pieces to envelope the guests in the show. The best way I can describe the show is to the theater and screen melding elements of T2 with no middle 3D movie segment.

The two companies behind the show are Action Horizons and TAIT. Action Horizons are best known as the stunt company who provides the stunt performers for Universal Studios Hollywood's WaterWorld show. Action Horizon will provide the stunt performers, choreography, and gun work for this show. TAIT is "the world market leader in design, construction, and delivering the finest live entertainment solutions int he world". Stripping out the PR speak, that means they're really good at all the non-live people stuff. TAIT has worked with the Lady Gaga residency in Vegas, Blue Man Group in Orlando, awards shows, the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremonies, and King Kong on Broadway




What this means is expect a high intensity, media bending show that blurs the line between stage and digital actors. Imagine a giant fight scene between actors both on screen and in the theater with actors reacting to in person stunts and digital stunts in real time. 

The Bourne Stuntacular opens Spring 2020.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #180 - 20th Anniversary



In this episode Joe and Jeff are joined by Justin Stone from the WDW Tales podcast to discuss the 20th anniversary of the Millennium Celebration! Held from October 1, 1999 till December 31, 2000, the Millennium Celebration featured new attractions around the resort, a refresh of Epcot as the global hub of the celebration, new programs, and even a Super Bowl Halftime show.

In this commemorative podcast we discuss the history of the celebration, the new attractions around the resort, Epcot's new look, Justin's time as a drummer for Tapestry of Nations, and much more. Includes our thoughts on Epcot as a whole, how this was the last major project from Disney Parks before Paul Pressler got his hands on everything, and the time Justin was on GUTS.







Thursday, September 19, 2019

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #179 - River of Critters



Alan, Joe, and Mike hunker down for a long episode covering Six Flag's announcements of The Jersey Devil and Aquaman, Busch and SeaWorld announcements, and SeaWorld's ongoing power struggle and layoffs. Then we discuss Alan's first trip to Japan where he discusses the culture, the health of the amusement industry in the country, and his thoughts on Tokyo Disney Resort.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Parkscope YouTube Saturday 8/31 Premieres

by @ParkScopeJeff

Parkscope YouTube is back! This week, we have FOURTEEN Travel Channel specials awaiting release, and we're going to do something a little different. Every night, for seven nights starting Sunday 8/25, we will be Premiering our videos on YouTube at 8 pm and 9 pm, Eastern Time! Join us as we revel in the latest batch of early-2000s travel special goodness! If you miss the theme park specials of 2001/2002, you will have an EPIC amount of fun over the next week, at a time when cable TV is really boring and unfulfilling! It's a win/win for you!

Every night we will reveal the next night's two video releases, so check back every day here to Parkscope.net!

Saturday 8/31 Premieres:

8 pm EST



"A man-made mountain that erupts on cue. Strange and exotic lands. Ancient civilizations brought back to life. You're looking at the most ambitious theme park in the world: DisneySea, Tokyo. The best-kept secret in the Far East. Until now. In a world exclusive, Travel Channel's cameras are the first to be given full access to Disney's first water-based theme park. It's a front-row ticket to a multi-billion dollar adventure. It's a journey across continents and across time. We'll travel across seas, and beneath them too. It all takes place in one mega-theme park. And on this journey, nothing is as it seems!"


9 pm EST


"Technical Wizards. Creative Masterminds. The Walt Disney Company's ultimate secret weapon. They are the artistic geniuses behind every Disney theme park experience, ride, and attraction. They're called Imagineers, and they might just have one of the best jobs in the world. We'll go inside their wonderful world of insidious elevators (Tower of Terror), realistic robotic figures (Hall of Presidents), and spectacular splashes (Splash Mountain). And, find out how they design and create the amazing rides and mind-boggling attractions that delight, thrill, and terrify the entire world. We've gone straight to the secret vault of Disney's Imagineers and uncovered footage that has never been seen before. Watch now, because we're revealing the unknown secrets behind Disney's biggest and best attractions: going inside the top-secret world of the master magicians who bring them to life. They're Disney's Imagineers!"


Find Jeff on Twitter: @ParkScopeJeff


Thursday, August 29, 2019

Parkscope YouTube Friday 8/30 Premieres

by @ParkScopeJeff

Parkscope YouTube is back! This week, we have FOURTEEN Travel Channel specials awaiting release, and we're going to do something a little different. Every night, for seven nights starting Sunday 8/25, we will be Premiering our videos on YouTube at 8 pm and 9 pm, Eastern Time! Join us as we revel in the latest batch of early-2000s travel special goodness! If you miss the theme park specials of 2001/2002, you will have an EPIC amount of fun over the next week, at a time when cable TV is really boring and unfulfilling! It's a win/win for you!

Every night we will reveal the next night's two video releases, so check back every day here to Parkscope.net!

Friday 8/30 Premieres:

8 pm EST



"Disneyland, California. The world's first modern theme park. The only Disney park that Walt Disney ever saw completed. Launched in 1955, it set the standard for theme parks, and that trend has continued to this very day. Over the years, Disneyland has had its share of changes, improvements, and growth spurts, to become what it is today: a complete vacation resort. From a Magic Kingdom, to three resort hotels, a vibrant nightlife and entertainment district, and a whole new kind of theme park: Disney's California Adventure. But how did it all come to pass? What is the story behind one of the great man-made marvels of the 20th century? Now, for the first time ever, we go back in time, and behind the scenes, to uncover the mysteries and the legends of a most extraordinary land: Disneyland."


9 pm EST


Walt Disney World Resort: Behind the Scenes

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rH8FMi2DWfQ&feature=youtu.be

"Fantasy. Adventure. The Mouse. Walt Disney World. Like no other place on earth, it's where people check reality at the door. Escape is the name of the game because Disney invented what everyone calls "theme parks." We go inside their fantasy world, and uncover the incredible story behind what makes Walt Disney World tick. Watch as we reveal the secrets to their success, and explore the makings of their colossal parks, thrill rides, and attractions. Forget everything you thought you knew. We're going behind the scenes, and we've got exclusive footage that has never been seen before. Join us, as we uncover the hidden world that is this Orlando-based empire, and reveal some of Disney's best-kept secrets, in Walt Disney World Resort: Behind the Scenes."


Find Jeff on Twitter: @ParkScopeJeff

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #178 - Project Gemini



Joe and Mike are joined by Brian from Inside Universal! We discuss all the D23 announcements, hand wringing over Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, and then diving into a preview of Halloween Horror Nights 29.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Parkscope YouTube Thursday 8/29 Premieres

by @ParkScopeJeff

Parkscope YouTube is back! This week, we have FOURTEEN Travel Channel specials awaiting release, and we're going to do something a little different. Every night, for seven nights starting Sunday 8/25, we will be Premiering our videos on YouTube at 8 pm and 9 pm, Eastern Time! Join us as we revel in the latest batch of early-2000s travel special goodness! If you miss the theme park specials of 2001/2002, you will have an EPIC amount of fun over the next week, at a time when cable TV is really boring and unfulfilling! It's a win/win for you!

Every night we will reveal the next night's two video releases, so check back every day here to Parkscope.net!

Thursday 8/29 Premieres:

8 pm EST


"What are the latest, greatest favorite roller coasters in the world? Last may Discovery.com asked viewers to e-mail their recommendations for the world's Top 10 Coasters. The Raven. Millenium Force. Nitro. Ghostrider. The Beast. Magnum. And what separates an ordinary coaster from the cream of the coaster crop? The drop? The G-Forces? Speed? Change of direction? Terror? Pacing? Re-rideability? Constant excitement. So what was the results of the online poll? To find what 5 wooden and 5 steel coasters rose to the top, jump in and hold on to your lap bar! We're going to give you an in-depth look, so hold on for a thrilling ride aboard each of our Top Ten Coasters!"


9 pm EST


"Millions of people flock to amusement parks each year to experience the latest and greatest extreme thrill machines. They push the envelope of human creativity and imagination. Fuel in this industry is the human need to challenge our bodies and minds. They make you feel out of control. They're heart-stopping and heart-pounding. And you want to ride them over and over again! To quench the insatiable human thirst for extreme rides, parks and ride designers must devise novel ways to deliver the ultimate thrill. They continue to get bigger, faster, and more intense. Hold on tight as we take you over the edge to explore and experience the world's most thrilling extreme rides!"


Find Jeff on Twitter: @ParkScopeJeff

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Parkscope YouTube Wednesday 8/28 Premieres

by @ParkScopeJeff

Parkscope YouTube is back! This week, we have FOURTEEN Travel Channel specials awaiting release, and we're going to do something a little different. Every night, for seven nights starting Sunday 8/25, we will be Premiering our videos on YouTube at 8 pm and 9 pm, Eastern Time! Join us as we revel in the latest batch of early-2000s travel special goodness! If you miss the theme park specials of 2001/2002, you will have an EPIC amount of fun over the next week, at a time when cable TV is really boring and unfulfilling! It's a win/win for you!

Every night we will reveal the next night's two video releases, so check back every day here to Parkscope.net!

Wednesday 8/28 Premieres:

8 pm EST


"Is it Wild Africa? Are these man-eating dinosaurs? Is this an Asian rafting expedition? No, it's Disney's Animal Kingdom. Imaginary. Endangered. Extinct. If it has to do with animals, you'll find it here. We'll go inside a world of giant grasshoppers, safari adventures, and crazy coasters. Discover how Disney overcame great obstacles to bring this theme park to life. And explore the secrets behind their rides, shows, and animal habitats. It's our journey to the four corners of the world and beyond, at Disney's Animal Kingdom."


9 pm EST


"The Walt Disney World Resort in Central Florida is home to over two dozen themed hotels, a nighttime entertainment district, and plenty of activities. It's become an ultimate vacation destination. It's at Disney four theme parks: the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney-MGM Studios, Disney's Animal Kingdom, and two water parks, where's you'll find out what ultimate really means!"


Find Jeff on Twitter: @ParkScopeJeff


Monday, August 26, 2019

Parkscope YouTube Tuesday 8/27 Premieres

by @ParkScopeJeff

Parkscope YouTube is back! This week, we have FOURTEEN Travel Channel specials awaiting release, and we're going to do something a little different. Every night, for seven nights starting Sunday 8/25, we will be Premiering our videos on YouTube at 8 pm and 9 pm, Eastern Time! Join us as we revel in the latest batch of early-2000s travel special goodness! If you miss the theme park specials of 2001/2002, you will have an EPIC amount of fun over the next week, at a time when cable TV is really boring and unfulfilling! It's a win/win for you!

Every night we will reveal the next night's two video releases, so check back every day here to Parkscope.net!

Tuesday 8/27 Premieres:

8 pm EST



Great Hotels: Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F3ew9a_8mf8&feature=youtu.be

"The year is 1920...and you've escaped to Florida to bask in the ocean breezes of your seaside Victorian paradise. Guests here find the grace and elegance of a grand hotel awaiting them. Is it all but a wistful, lingering dream? Nope, it's still here...at the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. "


9 pm EST


Great Hotels: Disney's Yacht and Beach Club Resorts

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Libwqp2mEfg&feature=youtu.be

"So you've saved up your money for a vacation at a great hotel in a terrific location. So where do your family and friends spend the most time? The pool! What if I told you you could have one of the coolest hotels and an amazing pool all in one? Nestled on sleepy Crescent Lake, within eyeshot of Epcot at Walt Disney World lie a couple of fantasy-themed resorts that take you back in time to the 20th century summer homes of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket: the Disney Yacht & Beach Club Resorts."


Find Jeff on Twitter: @ParkScopeJeff



Sunday, August 25, 2019

Parkscope YouTube Monday 8/26 Premieres

by @ParkScopeJeff

Parkscope YouTube is back! This week, we have FOURTEEN Travel Channel specials awaiting release, and we're going to do something a little different. Every night, for seven nights starting Sunday 8/25, we will be Premiering our videos on YouTube at 8 pm and 9 pm, Eastern Time! Join us as we revel in the latest batch of early-2000s travel special goodness! If you miss the theme park specials of 2001/2002, you will have an EPIC amount of fun over the next week, at a time when cable TV is really boring and unfulfilling! It's a win/win for you!

Every night we will reveal the next night's two video releases, so check back every day here to Parkscope.net!

Monday 8/26 Premieres:

8 pm EST



"Take one part carnival, two parts sunshine, and a whole lot of water, and stir. That's the recipe for a great boardwalk, and this show is a guide to find the very best. From the classic style of Coney Island, to the west coast pleasures of Venice Beach and Santa Monica, we'll sample the southern charms of Myrtle Beach, grab a bite in Ocean City, and visit the home of Miss America in Atlantic City. The fun starts now and you've got a front row seat to America's favorite Boardwalks!"


9 pm EST


Coasters of the West: Terrifying Thrills

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CpcoKq-rjf4&feature=youtu.be

"California: this land of dazzling sun is literally bursting at the seams with non-stop outdoor fun, including some of the world's most spectacular theme parks. It's also the king of the roller coaster hill, with more roller coasters than any other state in the USA. How did one of America's biggest states also become the thrill ride leader? Why are California's theme parks famous around the globe? And what gives them that special cutting edge? What's the real story behind these screaming metal dynamos that overwhelm us with pleasure, and terror, all at once? It's Coasters of the West: Terrifying Thrills!"


Find Jeff on Twitter: @ParkScopeJeff



SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: Parkscope YouTube Premieres Week!

by @ParkScopeJeff

Parkscope YouTube is back! This week, we have FOURTEEN Travel Channel specials awaiting release, and we're going to do something a little different. Every night, for seven nights starting Sunday 8/25, we will be Premiering our videos on YouTube at 8 pm and 9 pm, Eastern Time! Join us as we revel in the latest batch of early-2000s travel special goodness! If you miss the theme park specials of 2001/2002, you will have an EPIC amount of fun over the next week, at a time when cable TV is really boring and unfulfilling! It's a win/win for you!

Every night we will reveal the next night's two video releases, so check back every day here to Parkscope.net!

Sunday 8/25 Releases:

8 pm EST




"Welcome to Universal Studios Japan. Hollywood and the Far East. In the Backlots the stars shine 24 hours a day. No wonder tourists flock here in their millions. We're about to take you behind the scenes of one of the busiest theme parks in the world. To a city within a city. You'll see how Hollywood's heavyweights join forces for one of the most ambitious and expensive productions ever (Terminator 2: 3-D and the Jurassic Park River Adventure). Learn the tricks of the trade behind the Wild Wild West Stunt Show., plus the dynamite-charged Waterworld show. We'll let you in on the secrets of the ET Adventure and Jurassic Park!"



9 pm EST


Travel Channel Secrets: Walt Disney Studios Paris

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZoZ6caumqw8&feature=youtu.be

"Lights, Motors, Action, a stunt show where you become part of the movie action. Catastrophe Canyon, an earthquake which causes chaos right before your eyes. And Rock n' Rollercoaster, a roller coaster ride where you're blasted into an Aerosmith rock music video. It's all in a theme park right in the heart of Europe: Walt Disney Studios Paris!"


Visit Jeff on Twitter: @ParkScopeJeff





Friday, August 16, 2019

Immersive Irony Experience Theme Park Podcast - I Drive Motels Memorial Episode



Alan and Alex have OPINIONZ 4 U about Epic Universe and a host of trip reports ranging from immersive art experiences like Otherworld to good 'ol fashioned coaster riding.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #177 - Whats Behind the Fireworks




It's an emergency podcast time! Universal announced their new theme park, Universal's Epic Universe. The crack reporting staff of Nick, Joe, Jeff, and Banks Lee from Attractions talk about the press conference, concept art, rumored lands, and more!

Monday, July 29, 2019

Speculation On Universal Orlando's Epic Announcement



On Thursday, August 1st at 10am Comcast will host a press event at the Orange County Convention Center to announce major news and changes to the Universal Orlando resort. Comcast leadership has not been shy in stating their goals: increasing on site hotel rooms, aggressively expanding the resort, and investing more money than the competition to build out a week long vacation experience.

As with any tight lipped media event and vague promises expectations easily skyrocket to include everything and anything imaginable. I have already seen people say they need to show expanded Nintendo concept art, a hotel, and more. The fandom's anticipation has reached a boiling point where even the loftiest announcements could be met with disappointment. I reject these pie-in-the-sky wishes because they quickly become expectations. Instead I want to take the time to pontificate, based on Universal's own words and actions, on what could be discussed on Thursday.

Disclaimer, this is speculation and should be treated as such.

First, let's start with Alicia's January 2019 leak of Fantastic Worlds documentation and a follow up article about Classic Monsters land. The presentation highlights some general concepts of the land: Super Nintendo World, multiple lands, a hub-and-spoke style design, along with the name Fantastic Worlds. In addition to Alicia's column make sure to read our break down of several rumors of lands coming to Fantastic Worlds.

On August 1st I believe we will be left with more questions than we came into the event with. I do not expect we'll find out every land in the new park let alone the attraction concepts. Parks like Shanghai Disneyland did not show their attractions until closer to opening and Universal Studios Beijing still has not discussed its additions. Islands of Adventure's preview center, opened in 1997, featured general themes and broad attraction concepts without diving into details. Do not come into Thursday expecting details of the third park.

Second, there are a lot of outstanding news items Universal can cover while they have the attention of the media: Halloween Horror Nights 29 announcements, the T2:3D replacement attraction still slated for 2019, entertainment announcements like the Dark Arts at Hogwarts show, and Jurassic World enhancements in IoA for 2021. It would make sense for Universal to include at least one of those announcements in a "current state of the parks" opening overview.

Third, I want to focus on two quotes. One, is this quote from the leaked documents Alicia posted:
"Our major competition in our theme park segment had been [given a] "free ride" due to a lack of aggressive competition in stepping up. Over the next five years Comcast is increasing this competition, through investing [more] in our theme park segment than it spent to acquire Universal."
The other is from the Comcast investment call on July 26th, 2019:
"Just looping back to Parks, which was part of your question, Jessica. We continue to remain very bullish on the Parks business and obviously we're investing in Beijing. We're investing in our domestic parks. We think there is a lot of opportunity down in Orlando. We've built a lot of hotel rooms we will be talking more about investment in the state of Florida and it's now about a third of NBCUniversal's total operating cash flow and we continue to love the business and think it fits very well with our animated movie business and other things that we're doing."
Universal isn't mincing words here: they are investing significant amounts of money into Orlando due to Disney's Blue Ocean strategy of My Disney Experience/FastPass+/MagicBands over rides. Universal sees their position as weak competition now flush with guests and cash that can take advantage of their unique position. Disney's weaknesses are complicated planning, poor value, and, up until recently, a lack of new attractions comparative to attendance. Universal so far has attacked at those weaknesses: a focus on relaxation over reservations, on site room deals and ticket promotions, and yearly major additions.

I speculate Universal Orlando will now move to chip away or remove the last remaining pillars of Walt Disney World's lock on the market. Now, I know Universal will never, ever, be able to compete with the animation and movie history Disney now has. Nor will it compete with Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, World Showcase, or Animal Kingdom. Nor the decades of Disneyana fandoms and preserved history. All of these are nearly impossible to hurdle and core pillars of Disney fandom.

Instead Disney has set up several monumental programs and infrastructure in place that keep guests returning and locked in. The primary of those programs is Magical Express, the "free" bus transportation from Orlando International Airport (MCO) to Walt Disney World resorts (in 2013 over 2 million guests rode the Magical Express). By removing the cost of transportation on the ground from the equation guests are more likely not to spring for a rental car, taxi, or Uber to explore the rest of Orlando. 

Walt Disney said it best, Walt Disney World has "a blessing of size". Large resorts, entertainment districts, and the ability to build custom facilities was not available to the landlocked Universal Orlando property. Look at what WDW built so far this year: conference space, convention hotels, and transportation infrastructure. While Royal Pacific does offer some convention space it is severely limited compared to WDW's.

With the new land acquired Universal can expand the resort but they're in a unique location to form partnerships in the community. As speculated on Inside Universal a large part of the announcement could focus on Universal partnering with the Orange County Convention Center, local hotels, and one of the major rail projects to drive attendance to the resort. Partnering with the OCCC can bring in over 1.4 million guests as part of Universal hotel/park packages. Working with local hotels will let Universal focus on their new park and premier resort while the vast majority of accommodations will be handled by others (with that likely being reduced as more Universal hotels are opened).

The bigger news would be partnering with an in development Orlando rail line to transport guests from Orlando International to the parks. Over 44 million guests fly through MCO yearly with over 2 million of those using Magical Express, by offering an alternative low cost or free transportation solution to Universal would dislodge Disney's hold on large chunks of the market.

So, what will be announced? At this point here's what's likely:

  • New Universal theme park
  • Overview of the park
  • Partners with local businesses, OCCC, and rail
  • Vision statement
Here's what I'd bet a beer on but am not sure about:
  • Updates on the state of the resort including Bourne announcement
  • Hotel updates, focus on Endless Summer
What I'm betting won't be covered:
  • Halloween Horror Nights 29 announcement
  • Jurassic World coaster or Jurassic Park land overhaul
  • Other attraction projects for USF and IOA
We will know all this by lunch time on Thursday, August 1st. We will be recording a special emergency podcast that evening to cover all the news, so stay tuned for that on Friday, August 2nd.