Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #203 - Halloween Horror Lites

It's a late-night party as Joe drink some white wine with Mike! We discuss the latest Apple event, Jurassic World Velocicoaster announcement, then dive into Mike's trip to Universal Orlando to experience their Halloween event.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Immersive Irony Experience Theme Park Podcast: Summer 2020 Memorial Episode

 

Alan and Alex clean up the remaining trip reports from this summer and also discuss the underlying issues of sexual predators, abuse, and grooming in the amusement industry.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Jurassic World VelociCoaster Opening Summer 2021

Opening Summer 2021, Jurassic World VelociCoaster will dominate the Islands of Adventure landscape offering new thrills and a modern coaster aesthetic. Guests will enter the queue south of the Jurassic Park Discovery Center on the waterfront and will proceed through the Jurassic World design lab. From the press release:

Guests will join the original cast of the films – Chris Pratt as Owen Grady, Bryce Dallas Howard as Claire Dearing and BD Wong as Dr. Henry Wu – as Jurassic World unveils the next evolution of its “carnivore expansion”: the VelociCoaster, where riders embark on a high-speed chase and feel the rush of the hunt while racing alongside a nimble Velociraptor pack.

Some stats for you coaster heads out there:
  • 4700 feet of track
  • 155-foot tall top hat element
  • Two launches, including a second that reaches 70 mph in 2.4 seconds
  • 360 degree barrel roll over the Islands of Adventure lagoon
  • Zero-G stall over the bypass bridge
  • 12 seconds of airtime (comparison, Steel Vengeance claims 30 seconds of airtime over 5740 feet of track)
  • 51-inch height requirement

At this time there are no plans to turn the rest of Jurassic Park into Jurassic World, but Universal announced the new food and drink offerings from Hollywood will be making their way to the east coast. Rumors have also stated Orlando is looking into bringing over the walkaround puppets from Japan, though we do not know the current plans due to COVID-19 cutbacks.

We're super excited for this coaster, and lets be real, if they don't sell shirts that say "The Apex Predator of Coasters" then what are you even doing Universal?

Friday, September 25, 2020

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour - #202 Circus Peanut Regret

Joe is joined by Alex and Dan to discuss their last trip to the Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort. Laugh at Alex's misfortunes, amaze at Dan's Galaxy Edge impressions, wonder at an empty Magic Kingdom, and find out our impressions on Universal's Untitled 2020 Halloween Event including the two haunted houses.

Monday, September 14, 2020

The Agent Of Change Is You: Fighting Sexual Predation in Theme Park Fandom

Topic Warning: As suggested by our webmaster Joe, it is fair to warn you in advance that this piece will discuss sexual assault, molestation, predatory sexual behavior, physical and psychological abuse.

What you got ain't nothin' new. This country's hard on people. You can't stop what's coming. It ain't all waiting on you. That's vanity.

At the end of No Country for Old Men, Sheriff Bell goes to visit his uncle Ellis seeking some sort of comfort and understanding from a fellow lawman after engaging in one of the more maddening and violent pursuits of his career. In doing so, Bell winds up having his illusions about his career path and about the world largely shattered as Ellis tells him the uncomfortable truth: the violence and seeming chance nature of it in this world today is not a blip but the nature of our existence. The battles aren't infrequent but daily, regular occurrences. 

Earlier this week, I was informed of the news that someone who I know to some degree was alleged to have attempted to obtain images of a sexual nature from a minor. Certainly it was very disheartening to hear that this was the case, but at this point, "surprising" seems like the wrong word to use to describe it. I can't tell you that I've been on the road with Chad Miller of Ohio Valley Coasters. We've always been very cordial in passing since I met him for the first time years ago during a visit to Stricker's Grove. We have mutual friends whom we know very well, and that friend has never given me any reason to believe that things may not be on the up-and-up with him. I've also never dug to find out if there was anything "weird" there because, to be frank with you, doing that is in and of itself creepy activity. High school drama/gossip shit. But why not "surprising" as a word choice?

=====================

I first entered the coaster enthusiast scene in the late 90s, and as a teenager was introduced to all sorts of characters, many adults, who it was suggested to me by others had their shit together and were functional, decent human beings. There are plenty of people who I encountered back then who basically were that. There's also many people I encountered who, with the power of retrospection, I know or realize now probably were not. Among the most glaring examples of this was Larry Scott, who I met while on the American Coaster Enthusiasts (ACE) coach trip across Europe in 2002. He was a Northern Ohio regional representative for the the club, and people who I believed were decent believed him to be decent. We hung out and chatted a decent amount, and I learned about his work for a Toledo television station, about his perception of ACE's inner workings, about other people who were cool or not cool or whatever. When I had issues with my roommate, he offered to let me come crash with him. A year later, I was in a hotel room of ACE members after the 2003 NoCoasterCon when Larry had a heart attack. I visited him in the hospital after his surgery. We rarely crossed paths in subsequent years, but I did run into him at Cedar Point somewhere around 2008/2009 in the arcade. He was mentoring youth from Toledo and taking them on an excursion. That was pretty quality activity for anyone to be involved in, and I respected him.

A few months later, I was informed by my friend Sean that he had the most shocking call of his life, and it was about Larry Scott. He had been informed by an adult who had traveled with Larry extensively as an adolescent to coaster events that Larry had molested him for years. Larry was going to be brought up on charges, and there were other boys coming forwards. Today, Larry Scott is inmate # A658709 in the Madison Correctional Institution. He was sentenced to 16 years prison time for multiple counts of sexual battery. Should he ever emerge, he will likely be tried in other jurisdictions as he transported minors across state lines. Sadly, Larry was not even the first Regional Rep of ACE that I was introduced to by friends as a "good person" who went to prison for sexual crimes. That was Brian Plencher. I've heard stories that there were and are others who had been arrested or convicted even before either of them. I can't confirm them and they largely fall into the pile of urban mythology.

Learning more about Larry's actions in the years before I met him, there were numerous signs and suggestions that things were not right. He was even confronted at one stage by a mutual friend as to whether or not he was doing anything illicit with boys. But it was only once, and the topic was dropped forever after. No one had ever mentioned to me that he had a history of traveling with boys he "mentored" when I was introduced to him or even later on. He never referred to it himself. And why then would I have asked about such a thing not having seen it or being informed of it? I was shocked because I had no way of knowing. And that's precisely the issue at hand.

=====================

In recent months, other people from various YouTube channels and Instagram who had made their name appealing to younger audiences (and often were fairly young themselves) ranging from The Coaster Network and Theme Park Worldwide have been accused of and generally admitted to a range of antisocial behavior towards women, many of whom were underage. Chad Miller of Ohio Valley Coasters joined them this weekend for such dubious honors, admitting to having tried to obtain sexual photographs from a 16 year old girl after the accusations went public on Instagram. Going to various social media sites (Reddit, Instagram, Twitter, etc), you'll find a whole mountain of posts and memes dedicated to this and people talking big about trying to figure out what to do about it. As an older person who will be summarily ignored and dismissed for what I say by anyone not old enough to remember the Gulf War, I know that I'm probably yelling into the void, but I want to throw in my two cents because I'm a little sick and tired of this constantly happening.

Let's begin with the first and I think more important reality: Coaster/theme park channels appeal to kids. Kids, regardless of how smart they are, do not have a lot of important information or experience dealing with adults (especially sociopathic ones). If you are an adult in this space - a real adult trying to make really mature decisions - it is incumbent upon you to guard kids against adults looking to potentially exploit them. That exploitation may be sexual, that exploitation may be financial, it may be purely emotional, it may be a combination of those things. No one else is going to protect kids for us. There is no "Build a safe list of content creators." Even if you know these people in real life, you may not have the lived experience of who they are and what their true motivations are. 

But also, we need to recognize as adults that we will likely have limited influence on kids, teens, or adolescents that don't already know us or seek our counsel. People in general - anyone with a halfway developed frontal lobe - don't generally give a shit about "drama" that doesn't involve them with the exception of those who use other people's lives as entertainment. Accusations, even valid ones, may be "drama" to them because it does not directly affect them in any way except that it slows the flow of sweet, sweet content to their Youtube notifications. Still, as adults, there are things we can do: elevate people who have been exploited or escaped exploitation to provide warnings and provide them emotional support if they request it. That doesn't mean you should rush to send a podcast interview invites to underage girls on Instagram about how they felt to receive nudes from an adult man. 

Further drilling down on that: This situation should not be treated as an opportunity to get clout. You should absolutely call out people who are scene tourists or totally unknown and who have no obvious emotional stake, but have shown up to this moment seeking to use these predatory acts to run up their subscriber and follower numbers. Those people are not any different than anyone else in that they too might be a down-low scumbag. Plenty of "woke scolds" who traveled from outrage to outrage to build a following wound up canceled themselves. It does you and the people in the theme park communities you travel in no good if you attach yourself to the next Devin Faraci. Look for respected voices in the scene with a track record you can verify. Look for consistency in those voices.

We as a community also need to exercise some degree of common sense. Yes, I've detailed that I've been introduced to two convicted sex offenders. You probably have too, whether you recognize it or not. This is a core thing the members of the community need to acknowledge as a shortcoming and do our best to communicate to people. We must be vigiliant when it comes to those adults who are spending the most energy attempting to actively attract minors with their content.  We should want the theme park/coaster community to be a safe place. It's undoubtedly one of the safest communities I can think of when it comes to varying male sexualities, at the very least. That probably makes the community incrementally less threatening to women who often have to concern themselves disproportionately with being assaulted or abused by straight men. But we are not a safe space yet. Not even close. Not for boys or girls. 

Whether it was a family member who molested other family members, whether its a co-worker, whether its someone within the hobbies you transit, you've been in contact with people who did foul things in their lives. These are people with whom you will have complex relationships regardless of the nature of their crimes; sexual, violent, white collar, even just moral lapses that aren't illegal. Knowing someone who committed a crime doesn't make you an accomplise. Nor is it reasonable that a stranger can make demands about how two free adults can or should interact. I am comfortable with never talking to Larry Scott again because I find his actions to be reprehensible. I would also never demand his family absolutely never talk to him again lest they be "canceled." 

The community needs not to be more afraid to ask questions and point out questionable behavior than we are of being deemed confrontational for having done so. That doesn't mean that it is right to allege anyone you don't like to be a pedophile. That doesn't mean it is right to discourage people from entering the hobby by threatening them with stranger-caused sexual abuse if they engage. What it does mean is that we should be honest with parents who's kids come to events and meetups that this isn't just a part of the park's story but "real life," and that they still are the first and best line of defense against predators. We need to recognize our own capacity to influence. You and I and the next guy didn't necessarily sign up to be influential to children by posting on a Facebook group or making coaster videos, but you might be anyways. Lots of young people gravitate towards this at the hobbyist level because it gives them a sense of community, and you might be the cool older kid to them. Encourage younger enthusiasts to associate with other younger enthusiasts. Build up their own communities with peers rather than try and incorporate them into yours. It's better for everyone.

As a community, we should all demand clubs like ACE disclose if and when allegations are made towards people in the club which lead to their banning or demotion. We should also demand that there be a clear way in which these concerns can be brought to these organizations for investigation as well as a transparent method for review of these claims for members. In the meantime, without any good alternatives, public revelation and shaming is likely the sole way in which this struggle will play out. The world of theme park fandom is a decentralized one, and for what we can ask of a European Coaster Club, they cannot and will not police Disney Parks fandom, for example. That puts the onus all of us as individuals, especially in real life, to make difficult decisions and ask difficult questions. Maybe that's not part of the escapism you want, but it's the reality you've got to learn to live with on a daily basis. Until we are all willing to shoulder that burden, nothing will fundamentally change and we will recycle these stories time and time again.


Thursday, September 10, 2020

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #202 - Labor Days and Themed Coasters

Jeff and Joe talk about daytime spooks rumors. Then we discuss our weird, stupid, and odd Labor Day trip to Kings Island and Cedar Point! Then we debate "what's the point of theming a rollercoaster?"



Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Is Universal Orlando Planning a Daytime Fall Halloween Event?

Halloween Horror Nights 2020 (aka HHN 30) is canceled. Period. 10 houses, five scare zones, and shows are not happening this year. The event is likely to return in 2021 as travel returns to a pre-COVID level thanks to the use of face masks, vaccinations, and therapeutics for COVID-19.

Construction on HHN30 continued through the summer and up until the day of the cancelation announcement. Currently, most of the houses sit, complete, in soundstages and tents. 

Over Labor Day weekend rumors began to spread about a possible "#HHNLite" event to feature some of the HHN offerings. Lots and lots of speculation started to happen, quickly. Let us break down what we know, what is speculative, and what this fall could hold.

First, Team Members are scheduled for sound stage positions to start Friday, September 18, and Saturday, September 19. Several scare actors cast for two HHN30 houses received emails about their availability, though we do not know for what yet as their hiring is conditional over an NDA (non-disclosure agreement). 

Now, for speculation. The current information points to a daytime, upcharge experience featuring at least one haunted house featured in HHN30. Open houses would be staffed by a limited amount of scare actors distant from guests and likely feature social distancing/pulsing of groups. To keep the experience in check the tickets will be limited and require hour reservations for the experience. Universal is unlikely to label this as Halloween Horror Nights to keep branding separate, reduce confusion, and still use the HHN30 plans for next year (we jokingly refer to it as Universal's Fall Fright Days). The event sounds like it will appeal to locals as an upcharge to a day ticket, not a separate dedicated event.

At this point, Universal, like Busch Parks, is looking for all ways to generate revenue during this time. Disney's parks are placed under the consumer products banner where sales of Elsa dolls and DVC payments offsets losses in the parks. Busch found a niche at SeaWorld and BGW with offering exclusive upcharge events when their parks either couldn't open or were open and needed additional revenue. 

What does this mean for HHN30 in 2021? Probably not much, the houses will remain up till next year including any featured in this year's Fall Fright Days (again, our jokey name). As of this time, we expect all the originals to return for next year along with most of the IPs, the obvious question mark being Texas Chainsaw Massacre as that was a replacement and not complete with construction.

This is still a very fluid rumor with no confirmation by Universal, it is best to treat it as such and not jump to conclusions. An announcement might come as early as this week based on other's speculation but we have not heard any other such information.

*updated 12:30pm 9/8/2020 for clarity*

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Immersive Irony Experience Theme Park Podcast: Riley Gale Memorial Episode

 

Alan and Alex talk about their weekend adventures in Pennsylvania (and technically New Jersey). Hershey talk! Dorney Talk? Land of Make Believe; is that a real place? Also ALAN WITH HERETICAL STATEMENTS. It's all coming to you this week on Parkscope.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour - #201 - Revenge Tourism #1

 

OG Crew is back as Joe, Mike, and Sean talk about how this year has destroyed all our plans and how to exact our revenge next year. Our plans for crazy resorts, decadent dinners, and superfluous splurges all around Walt Disney World and Univeral Orlando Resort. 

Friday, August 14, 2020

Failure to Launch: Nighttime at Animal Kingdom


Recently word came down that two panned Animal Kingdom attractions were closed for good. On the one hand, it's not too surprising. Rivers of Light never functioned to show standards and Primeval Whirl is a literal death trap. But the staggard closures of attractions at Animal Kingdom point to a bigger issue and problem facing the park that haunts it to this day. Animal Kingdom, at best, remains a half-day park and any attempts to expand into the early evening and night time have failed.

First, why does this matter? If guests enjoy the park then who cares, after all, Flight of Passage is rated by many as the best ride in Orlando. First, there's a value proposition for those purchasing one-day tickets. While these who travel to WDW purchase multiday tickets there is still a good chunk of the audience who purchases one-day tickets and to them, a poor value is something they'll take back to their friends. Second, WDW has to increase infrastructure to handle their guests. A park that is built with the ability to serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner that only serves the first two means another location, like a hotel or park, needs to pick up the slack. This reduces profits and revenue. 

Friday, July 24, 2020

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #200 - Mourning HHN30 with Clint from ThrillGeek


Well... here we are. Joe is joined by Clint from ThrillGeek to talk about the cancelation of Halloween Horror Nights 30 in Orlando and Halloween Horror Nights 2020 in Hollywood. Come for the funeral, stay for the celebration.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #199 - Local Parks Reopen


It's July and all our favorite regional parks are reopening! Joe, Alan, and Alex discuss the reopening days and new attractions this year at Cedar Point, Kings Island, Kennywood, and others. Plus we dive into how our plans have been turned upside down this summer and more.



Thursday, July 2, 2020

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #198 - Flower and Garden and Food and Wine with Chris Wakefield


Joe and Nick are joined by theme park podcasting legend Chris Wakefield to discuss the massive amount of Walt Disney World news dropped this week plus Chris' small trip to Florida, including his stay at Endless Summer and ride on Hagrid.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #197 - Bracketology with Josh Spiegel


In this week's sports-themed podcast Joe and Lane are joined by writer and critic Josh Spiegel to discuss his Disney Parks Attractions bracket that swept the Twitter world. Plus the NBA and MLS playing at Walt Disney World, theme park additions to Disney+, the 10 year anniversary of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and The Bourne Stuntacular guest previews.

Mousterpiece Substack

Mousterpiece Cinema Podcast

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #195 - A Year of Star Wars Galaxy's Edge with David Daut



One year ago the much-hyped Star Wars Galaxy's Edge opened at Disneyland. Joe, Sean, and special guest David Daut discuss the land over the past year of operation, our disappointments, the triumphs, and final impressions. Included topics: Rise of the Resistance, Smuggler's Run, music vs atmosphere, lack of shows, food and beverage options, Data Pad, merchandise, and land design.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Universal Orlando Resort Proposes Reopening June 5

Today Universal Orlando Resort proposed to the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force their reopening plans. Watch the video below, which is time-stamped to start at the presentation. Universal is requesting to reopen all their parks on June 5.



Their proposal includes many policies and procedures already in place at CityWalk.


Universal's proposal passed the task force with unanimous approval but still needs final approval from Mayor Demings and Governor DeSantis.

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #194 - Friends of Gelitoni with Carlye Wisen



This week Joe, Lane, and Mike are joined by theme park and travel journalist Carlye Wisel! This podcast is jam-packed with news: Josh D'Amaro the new chairman of Disney Parks, Experience, and Products; Disney Springs and CityWalk reopening; SeaWorld aims to reopen in late June; Universal Orlando laying out plans; and Gatorland's Social Distancing Skunk Ape!

Plus Mike's disdain for Disney Springs, Carlye's shock to Mike's revelation, a kinship over the love of Gelatoni, what we miss from theme parks, and more!

You can find Carlye on her website, Twitter, Insta, and SyFy.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Universal Orlando's Reopening - Polices, Procedures, and Next Steps

Covering such a topic as COVID-19, the economy, and reopenings is tough. There are many people who are hurting now who's last thought is "can I get a nachos at Margaritaville?" If you are financially able to please consider donating to Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida. A $25 USD donation helps pay for 100 meals to those in need.



Universal Orlando's CityWalk started a phased reopening procedure on May 11, 2020. In this article, we'll cover the new policies, procedures, and venues open while also looking forward to Universal (and Disney) reopening the resorts and parks. Outside of concrete information offered on the Universal Orlando website, we will be diving into speculation on reopening. While we all hold our own opinions on the government and business response to this virus we are largely going to avoid this and focus on the nuts and bolts.



CityWalk is now operating from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. daily. Self-parking is free and valet is closed; parking attendants will space out cars to practice social distancing and then will come back later and repark cars in the unused spaces.

Temperature scans will occur on the rotunda level of the parking garage prior to entering the rotunda. Security TMs are set up in parallel to provide quick, unintrusive forehead temperature scans. Guests with temperatures below 100.4 are admitted into the resort; if a guest constantly tests 100.4 or above they will be denied entry. Afterward, the standard security screening will occur.

While at Universal Orlando guests will be required to wear face masks at all times unless they are eating or drinking. According to early reports, Universal Managers will be the only ones with the authority to enforce mask usage. Medical exceptions to the mask rules can be filed at Guest Relations. Additional TMs are around, sanitizing frequently touched objects such as handrails, tables, and chairs.



The shops and restaurants open at CityWalk Orlando are being updated with more locations, visit the Universal Orlando site for the most up-to-date list. For example, Toothsome and Cinnabun were added on the second day of operation. Restaurants are following local guidelines on capacity restrictions and table placing, for example, only the outdoor seating for Margaritaville was open. Retail is also slowly reopening with the Universal Studios Store and Margaritaville plus the Hollywood Drive-In mini-golf.

The novel coronavirus that spread COVID-19 transmits through water particles that are exhaled from an infected person. In addition to masks, a way to reduce spread is practicing "social distancing", the purposeful staging of groups of people so six feet is between all parties. Universal has laid-out distancing markers on the ground of locations with queues. Universal has started placing these markings outside of Islands of Adventure, too.



So what's next? Well, lets talk CityWalk. Social distancing markers have been placed outside of several currently closed restaurants including Hot Dog Hall of Fame and NBC Grill Brew. Hard Rock Cafe and Breadbox also are showing signs of reopening with new signage talking about mobile ordering and social distancing. We expect through the next two weeks more and more CityWalk locations will reopen based on menu item availability, staffing, and resources. Due to how novel coronavirus spreads we do not expect movie theaters, Hard Rock's music venue, or Blue Man Group to open soon.

Universal has not announced a reopening date for the resorts. Rumors suggest Universal is reaching out to TMs on reopening some aspects of the resorts in late May pending availability of TMs and supplies. Theme parks are even murkier with more signage, stock, and supplies needing to be ordered in addition to ramping up staffing. It is likely Universal will have staff testing new procedures and programs before guests return, meaning TMs could be called back and reports going out weeks before the parks reopen.



At this point it's nice to see CityWalk open again. It's nice to see Jacques and Penelope out greeting guests again. It's nice to see pink boxes full of donuts. And hopefully, soon it'll be nice to see guests riding Hagrid again. Be safe, wear a mask, wash your hands, and be smart.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Epic Universe Is Not "Paused" or "Cancelled"

Remember April? Man, that was eons ago! Well, we've all lost our patience and sense of time while self quarantining. Ah the good ole days of April, when Comcast during their investor call informed people that Epic Universe is delayed. This was backed up during an Orange County meeting where Mayor Demmings confirmed that park construction is delayed.


The response to this bit of news has been... interesting. Many sites have been stating Epic Universe is "paused" and several people on Twitter jumped to the conclusion that the park won't happen this decade or at all. This is simply not true, work continues on the park as we speak. Orlando Sentinel quotes from Universal Orlando spokesman Tom Schroder:

“This is about timing only. Our confidence in our business, our communities and our industry is as strong as ever. We will share more specifics as we move forward."

So, what's the deal? Well, it's a little bit of everything. Tom is 100% right, as state governments institute stay-at-home orders a lot of theme park work is considered non-critical. The offices, fabrication centers, testing locations, and more are now closed. While some work can be done from home there are communication and NDA impacts. This doesn't mean that all contractors are still working on the park, I have heard that some have stopped.

Construction on the park reportedly has slowed down, though I don't know why at this time. If I was to take a guess it would be to extend construction over a longer period of time to save money as the delivery dates for the park's various needs (creative work, ride hardware, theming elements, etc) fall behind. Construction on the road expansions to the new park are still on schedule.

So where does this leave us? Epic Universe has been delayed around a year to spring 2024. This is not due to cost or income but the very real supply chain issues from stay-at-home orders. Universal Creative is still working on the park and construction is still ongoing. The park is not paused, stopped, or canceled but instead, the development time is being stretched out.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Immersive Irony Experience Theme Park Podcast: 2020 Coaster Season (?) Memorial Episode



Alex and Alan talk mostly about the world of tomorrow, and we don't mean EPCOT. We literally mean the world...and tomorrow. Also some stuff about Indiana Beach and Alan's poor choices of YouTube viewing.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire - Play It!

Image copyright Walt Disney World Resort 2001.
It was impossible to escape Who Wants to Be a Millionaire in the late 90s.

The imported British game show was an instant hit when ABC started broadcasting their version in August 1999. Millionaire found a perfect balance between its regal presentation, the charm of its host Regis Philbin, and drop-dead simple premise: answer a series of questions of progressing difficulty to win a million dollars. After a short run in the fall of '99 the show was quickly renewed and a larger show order was requested. 

Every network wanted their own prime time TV game show featuring dramatic lighting, tense music, dark backgrounds, and a personable host. Greed, Weakest Link, 21, 1 vs 100, and more attempted to cash in on the Millionaire rush. ABC ran the plane into the ground, showing Millionaire several times a week (new episodes and reruns) plus specials with celebrities and more. Viewership figures dropped and the primetime show was canceled in 2002 but a condensed half-hour version debuted for daytime syndication soon after.

In the middle of Millionaire mayhem, Walt Disney World announced an interactive stage show version of the game show will debut at Disney-MGM Studios. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire - Play It! opened in April 2001 in Soundstage 3 at the Studios. Disney-MGM Studios Entertainment (not WDI) faithfully recreated the New York set with the addition of several large projection screens and 600 seats. The 25-minute show largely played out like the one on TV with three major changes: 1) contestants were picked from the full audience (who had little gamepads to select A B C or D) 2) each question had a time limit to answer 3) instead of cash prizes contestants won "points" with each major milestone featuring pins, hats, jackets, and the million point prize consisting of a trip to see the show record in New York.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #193 - Concierge For All with Len Testa



It's a full house with Joe, Lane, Mike, Nick, and Sean! This week we welcome back to the podcast Len Testa of The Unofficial Guide and Touring Plans to discuss all the craziest happening in the world of theme parks. Topics include The Bobs, the future of the Disney Cruise Line, how the parks could reopen with COVID-19, hotel deals, writing the Unofficial Guide, and the guest ratings for the latest additions to the parks.

You can find Len at TouringPlans.com, The Unofficial Guide, and Disney Disney with Jim Hill.

Universal Patents Autonomous Vehicle Transit System

We keep saying this but one of the most interesting Twitter bots to follow is Universal Orlando Permit Bot. The bot scrapes various government sites to pull applications, permits, and patents for the resort. We have been able to track progress on attractions like Diagon Alley, Kong, Velocicoaster, and more through these permits.

Today the bot scraped up a handful of USPO patents including a very interesting one.


Autonomous Vehicle Transportation Systems and Methods covers autonomous vehicles on the ground that interact and can board gondolas for park travel. The general gist of the patent focuses on the systems and communication paths between the autonomous vehicles, gondola systems, and a control station. The patent applicant is a director at Universal Creative, having worked in the company for 13 years.

Image from USPO application.
While in the abstract the patent talks about inner park travel among locations it's easy to see how such a system would easily apply to between park transportation. Even looking at the patent image you can easily see what could be I-4 with USF and IoA in the upper left, Volcano Bay in the lower left, and new resorts and Epic Universe on the right.

Because Universal applies for a patent does not mean they are actively looking on a project involving it or that their examples are analogous to what they're planning. A massive gondola system over private properties and public roads is a legal nightmare. It's also possible the actual systems are overstated or blue sky.

What the permits applied for today do show is an ambitious plan for Epic Universe and the future of the Universal Orland Resort.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #192 - Captain Geech Shrimp Shack Shooters with Justin McElroy



Joe and Sean are cooped up in their homes, dodging cabin fever, and longing to visit the parks again. So we invited fellow theme park fan and comedy legend Justin McElroy of My Brother, My Brother & Me to the podcast! We talk about all our favorite things from the Disney parks, what a path towards reopening them would look like, our favorite restaurants at WDW, and more.

Visit TheMcElroy.family to check out Justin and his family's universe of podcasts, videos, and books.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #191 - Remembering Astroworld



We are back baby! With nearly every park in the world currently closed, Joe, Alan, and Alex decide to discuss another park that closed in 2005: the odd duck Astroworld. Opened in 1968 and designed by the same man who brought us Six Flags over Texas, Kings Island, and Hersheypark; Astroworld offered an assortment of prototype and innovative attractions to the Houston area for nearly 40 years. We talk about its opening, our experiences at the park, the reasons for its closure, and cover some of the noteworthy rides inside the park.


Thursday, March 12, 2020

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #189 - Justice for Pluto and Donald with Brian Glenn and Banks Lee



The world is crumbling and we all we can do is talk about theme parks.

Joe is joined by Brian Glenn from Inside Universal and Banks Lee from Attractions the Show! They preview Universal's Endless Summer Resort - Dockside opening March 17. Then they close out the show covering Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway at Disney's Hollywood Studios and their impressions on this new family ride.

All of this while the world collapses around them.



Thursday, March 5, 2020

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour - #188 The Double EP



There is so much news this week Joe has teamed up with Andrew Hyde from In The Loop to create a two-episode EP of a podcast! The first half, available here, covers Endless Summer Dockside's food and drinks, Coronavirus closures and concerns, Six Flag's woes, Kings Dominion, South Dakota's new coaster, and the rash of incidents at the Magic Kingdom this past week.

On the second podcast available at In The Loop, Joe and Andrew cover Bob Chapek as Disney's CEO,  Disney's cost-cutting, Dollywood's expansion, the massive growth of the theme park fandom, and finally your questions!

Friday, February 28, 2020

Jesus Christ it's Jason Bourne


This morning TODAY broadcasted from Universal Studios Florida as part of their Family Vacation series in Florida. During the 3rd hour of TODAY, host Natalie went behind the scenes with the new Bourne Stuntacular in the park. In the above video, you can glimpse a few seconds of the new show including what appears to be a mission briefing, a rooftop fight and chase, a race through a busy street, an actor dangling above the audience on a helicopter, and hand to hand combat.

Using a high definition screen, real-time dynamic lighting, and moving set pieces this show will bring guests into the high action Bourne films. While Universal Orlando has not announced an opening date for the new attraction the rumor is preview performance for the new show is imminent for Team Members and guests.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Immersive Irony Experience Theme Park Podcast: Indiana Beach Memorial Episode



Alan and Alex confront their own mortality in the demise of Apex's amusement park division and decide to dance around it for a long period of time trying to find joy, before embracing the void. Plus the folly of virtual queues, Rise's woes, and more!

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #187 - Burger King of the Damned



Joe, Alan, and Alex join forces to survive the crazy random snowstorm to discuss the latest news! Disney's price increases, Super Nintendo World, Universal Studios Hollywood updates, Mission Ferrari ever opening?, and our yearly Owa Update. Finally Alan spills the beans on his long weekend trip to Orlando! He talks about FunSpot, the brutalist MCO airport, and his first time to Universal Orlando in four and a half years. Hot takes on Hagrid, Fast & Furious, Kong, and more!




Thursday, February 6, 2020

Immersive Irony Experience Theme Park Podcast: Desperado Memorial Episode



Talking about coaster construction from sea to shining sea. And we've got some trip reports too! Alan rides his 1000th coaster, Alex skis, Japan theme park woes, China's shut downs, and more.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #186 - A Long Weekend Trip



The dead speak!

Joe is joined by guest Kyle to discuss their long weekend trips over Marathon Weekend. Kyle talks about his first visit to Universal in 23 years, including The Wizarding World and reuniting with ET. Then Joe talks a little about his experience at Disney's Hollywood Studios and riding Star Wars Rise of the Resistance.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Super Nintendo World Update

Yesterday morning in Japan, Universal Creative's Theirry Coup unveiled the first real details and information on Super Nintendo World coming this summer to Universal Studios Japan. Lets tackle some of the information in bite-size chunks.

Photo courtesy Kurumi Mori of Bloomberg.

No Limit!

Universal Studios Japan is launching their new advertising and marketing push for the park. "No Limit!" is the new slogan, highlighting the energy and elation one will feel at the park. USJ Marketing Director Ayumu Yamamoto stated if Disney is for those who want a dream world then they want Universal to make you be awake and feel alive. Talk about a shot across the bow.

Image copyright Universal Studios Japan 2020

Power Up Band

Super Nintendo World will be loaded with interactive games and activities. Guests will climb, jump, and run as they score coins and defeat bosses. How will they do this? With the Power Up Band, a snap-bracelet with a RFID component that will track all your progress. Punch a Question Mark block with the band on? You'll get coins! While not confirmed at this time at the bands could interact with Nintendo products that can read Amiibo.

The bands will be for purchase but will likely cost less than a MagicBand at Walt Disney World or an interactive wand at the Wizarding World. 

Copyright Universal Studios Japan 2020.

Super Nintendo World App

To track all your achievements, coins, and unlocks a new Super Nintendo World app is in development. When launched the app will let you track progress and battle bosses based on real interactions in the land. 

More Information Soon

Yamamoto-san stated there will be a larger event in New York City in February 2020 where more information will be shared including an opening date. We expect more details on the attractions in the land along with a global launch of the Super Nintendo World projects. 

We Are Born to Play

In the weirdest part of it all Nintendo and Universal unveiled a preview of the land as a music video by Galantis and Charli XCX. Yeah it's really random but it's also a top trending video on YouTube with almost one million views within less than 24 hours.

Monday, January 13, 2020

THEME PARK BOOK CORNER: "Dick Kinzel - Roller Coaster King of Cedar Point Amusement Park"



It’s tough to think of the regional theme park scene from any point in recent memory and not think of Dick Kinzel, former CEO of Cedar Fair and GM of Cedar Point. A giant in his prime, Kinzel managed to consume CBS/Paramount’s theme park division, beat back a well capitalized Six Flags, expand a single park in coastal Ohio into a major international theme park chain. Tim O’Brien, a former Ripley’s creative and writer for Amusement Today, began working on a series of biographies of theme park legends sometime ago and Kinzel was a natural choice. His rise from selling popcorn to running the parks was meteoric and proof of the American Dream to some. Others saw him as a villain responsible for damaging the charm of parks he consumed while being wildly out of touch as the years went on.

The book is not a total puff piece, though it clearly shows that it was likely approved by Dick himself, and extensive interviews were done with him regarding the development of not just his early career, but of the coasters he’s best known for building and transactions that he both took part in and those which ultimately fell through. I do think that in the end, reasonably objective readers can come to their own conclusions about his intent, his specialties, his ethos, etc.

DO I WANT THIS?

How Does It Read?: It’s a simple read consisting of 111 pages of real text. You don’t need to have an MBA or PhD to read it. Why should you? Neither did Dick Kinzel, who attended one year of college, dropped out, and achieved more than most of us could ever hope to. That being said, if you’re specifically looking to read about Disney or Universal, or if you are only interested in the parts dealing with Knotts, you’ll probably be underwhelmed by the book’s focus on things that aren’t those (though amused that Dick wasn’t considered good enough to get an interview with Walt Disney World).

Will I Learn Anything?: At the very least, it will confirm countless stories told throughout the years from coaster enthusiasts - that Bandit at Yomiuriland was the inspiration for Magnum, that a board member pressured the decision to build Magnum at 200 ft, that Cedar Point discussed mergers with Six Flags and buyouts of tons of other parks, and so on. That’s a very surface level read.

For me, this also confirmed a lot of suspicions I had about why it was that certain beliefs were reinforced in the coaster community: Kinzel held a lot of sway and openly admits that he sought after advice from coaster enthusiasts for new attractions since they had the expertise of having been on many. That’s a two way street however: coaster enthusiasts also knew Kinzel was wildly successful and tended to take away from his understanding of the industry what the “right” and “wrong” things were to do. And that leads me to the last section of my reviews...

Did You Take Anything Away From This?: Oh did I ever. Let me be clear: Dick Kinzel was a very good CEO for Cedar Fair for a long time. And then criticisms of him later on in his career are also correct. What’s often totally lost on those “smart” enthusiasts is an understanding of just why he was a good CEO and why that was a bad fit for him later on when Cedar Fair was, for several years, the largest domestic US regional park operator. Kinzel understood how to cut costs and how to produce large margins when taking existing infrastructure. He intimately grasped the ways in which one could find synergies both at a micro and macro level to extend the profitability of Cedar Point and Valleyfair when in charge of both, as well as to find methods by which he could extend stays and increase per capita spending. In turn, discussion of theme park business by enthusiasts has almost always concerned increasing per capita spending above all else. This was revisited in the brief Mark Shapiro era of Six Flags too.

What is not grasped is that while Kinzel was absolutely great at doing this, he lacked the acumen to understand how this positioned Cedar Fair. By being cash rich, Cedar Fair nearly wound up consumed by private capital in the early 1980s and had to be privately bought out and turned into a limited partnership, a decision that has made it exceedingly difficult from a taxation perspective for Cedar Fair to merge with any other theme park operators in the present day. Without that push from fellow large shareholders and Kinzel himself throwing in his money, he’d have been out of a job and the business model the parks operated under at that point tossed away in order to mine the company for liquidity.

Still cash rich afterward, Cedar Fair began the process of buying independent parks, and later acquiring Paramount’s chain as well as Six Flags Ohio. This showed another concern with Kinzel: while he had been outstanding in terms of obtaining return on investment with his coasters early on and was doing this capital investment using basically nothing more than cash on hand, building up debt even on a sure thing like the Paramount parks was outside his knowledge base. Rather than learn how they worked, Kinzel instead tried to force them to operate like his own facilities. Remember what I said about how discussion of business in theme park fandom circles is related to per capital spending: those parks lost 10% of their attendance their first year of ownership in order to try and move them from passholder-heavy to single day ticket usage. That strategy was ultimately tossed out entirely by Kinzel’s successors who understood the suburban locations of the parks were naturally fits for pass usage unlike what Kinzel had become accustomed to in Sandusky.

Kinzel’s bag of tricks had diminishing returns, as big coasters in parks full of them failed to bring in returns and group sales as a business began to wither. One fascinating aspect of the book to me is an often repeated mistake by people even today with Cedar Fair: market research consistently showed that the parks were perceived not as inclusive vacation destinations that appealed to everyone, but primarily coaster parks for younger people. Still, as the skyline of Cedar Fair fills up more and more with giant thrill rides, the idea of marketing Cedar Point as a beach first and coaster park second in much of the advertising was a repeating theme in 2018 and 2019 as though the market saturated with Cedar Point knowledge was somehow unaware of what the park was.

CHAPTERS:

Part One: The Man and His Climb To The Top

Part Two: The King’s Creations

Part Three: Rounding Out The Package

Part Four: Dick’s $2 Billion Dollar Spending Spree

Part Five: After The Spending Spree

Friday, January 3, 2020

100 Coasters for 2019 (A Year In Review)

Every year since starting to post here on Parkscope, I've transitioned away from doing trip reports to doing year end reviews of all the coasters I rode in any given year. It saved me a lot of time so I could do other things, but also because I grew tired of writing them. Once the pace increases, the challenge increases with it, after all.

2019 was not projected to be another epic year as the prior two had. Then I had some expendable income, and that's what it became. 76 coasters later, 2019 became my second most productive year in terms of coaster count. I wound up visiting 30 states & the District of Columbia, 8 countries on 4 continents. There were 45 parks/FECs/etc (46 if you count the Helen Mountain Coaster I was denied due to weather) along with 12 fairs or carnivals (10 of which had coasters, 4 classified as state fairs).

2017 100 Coasters
2018 100 Coasters