Friday, June 5, 2020

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #196 - Universal Orlando Reopens



Joe is joined by Brian from Inside Universal this week to discuss the NBA and MLS playing at Walt Disney World's ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, Universal Orlando reopening, new public health and safety protocols at Universal, USF retro merch, and more.

#BlackLivesMatter Carrd.co for News, Resources, and How to Help

Thursday, May 28, 2020

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



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



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



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



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



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