Two weeks ago we shared that we had heard enough to believe Fear Factor Live is closing. At the end of the post we hinted there were other rumblings going around about other closures and new attractions. Today the other shoe fell with a behind-the-scenes note, confirmed by Universal Orlando, that Shrek 4D is closing January 10, 2022. We had heard this too was closing but have not heard from enough other sources to confirm at that time. While there are several rumors of what could be replacing Shrek we believe Alicia at Orlando Park Stop has it right: it's a Minions Villains Con experience. This, plus Minion Mayhem, will flesh out a nice Minions mini-land at the front of the park for families.
On the same note, and also confirmed by Universal Orlando, is a lengthy refurbishment for Revenge of the Mummy from January 7, 2022, through "late summer". While we haven't yet heard the amount of work being done it would not be surprising to see at least a partial track replacement, upgrades to the effects, and possibly upgrading the queue. This is great news for the attraction as Universal views the ride as saving and not one to replace.
Over in Japan, The Pokemon Company and Universal Studios Japan announced a joint partnership for medium-term and long-term entertainment projects. This announcement is unique in that it's with that one park and not with the overall Parks & Resorts division. My thoughts are Pokemon will be part of the very popular summer anime entertainment offerings featured at USJ. My guess is this is a test run with Universal and once the event goes well Pokemon will enter into a longer-term partnership with the other parks for new rides, shows, and attractions.
Finally, it seems the pre-pandemic plan to fix the Fast & Furious Supercharged problem seems to be still on and possibly the much-rumored escape rooms for CityWalk. There seem to be several projects of various sizes happening throughout the resort prior to Epic Universe that will keep the resort fresh before Epic Universe arrives.
Ok, we’ve seen enough. The Fear Factor Live theater located in Universal Studios Florida is closing shortly after Halloween Horror Nights. It will be demolished for a future attraction.
Yes, we’ve all been here before, most notably in 2017 when walls went up around ET Adventure during Halloween Horror Nights for the rumored Super Nintendo World. Of course, it’s 2021, and Fievel, Curious George, and Barney Dreamworks are still here. But in terms of closed attractions, this one feels sealed and delivered similar to when Jaws and Twister closed.
So now for the actual info. We’ve heard for a while now that Fear Factor Live’s days were numbered, going all the way back to post-pandemic reopening in 2020. Late spring 2021 we began hearing about demolition prep going on in the theater and Universal started hiring for a new project to being soon. While we continued to hear a new attraction was on its way the theater wasn’t demolished and work began on Halloween Nightmare Fuel for HHN30. But now over the past week, we’ve heard louder and louder drum beats that the theater’s days are numbered.
So what’s coming? Secret Life of Pets? Super Nintendo World? Nah, it’s very likely the Potter VR attraction original designed for Epic Universe. Sounds like the attraction was spun off from the park and moved to USF as a stop-gap attraction addition before the new park is built.
While there are many questions that remain about the project we do not think it will physically connect to the interior to Diagon Alley due to backstage areas and access ways. Instead, we think the theming will extend from the current London waterfront down towards Men in Black to and the attraction will be accessed from outside Diagon Alley. This information is all conjecture based on what we’ve observed with theme park operations and safety and could be wrong.
Fear Factor Live started as the Wild Wild Wild West Stunt Show with the park back in 1991. The show closed in 2003 for a revamp into the Fear Factor Live show which opened in 2005. Since then the show played intermittently in the park, outliving not only the original television show’s run but the REBOOT’s run. Fear Factor Live closed in March 2020 with the rest of the resort due to COVID-19 and never reopened.
We also have heard of several other Universal Orlando projects in the works that will open prior to Epic Universe. We will share more as we can confirm our information.
Back in 2019, I sent emails and Facebook messages to a number of living coaster enthusiasts from the early days of that hobby's development for a piece I intended to write here on Parkscope. I had many theories and questions to ask: we don't always understand how fandoms develop and evolve (or one might argue, metastasize). Earlier in 2021, Paul Ruben, one of the subjects of my interviews, passed away at the age of 84. He had been actively travelling up to the pandemic, taking coaster trips and seeing the world through parks across the globe. Lots of people have surpassed his track record, but Ruben's influence was felt far and wide. He wasn't necessarily a loved figure in the hobby by a lot of people I knew, but he was important in a way few others were.
PAUL RUBEN: First of all, I visited parks and rode coasters since I can remember, about 5 years old I rode my first, the misnamed Giant Coaster at Crystal Beach outside Buffalo. Old parks, which had been built around the turn or the last century at the end of trolley lines, become valuable suburban property as the nation grew. As an adult, in the 1950s I began to see these parks demolished and coasters bulldozed to make way for shopping malls and condominiums. I thought coasters would soon become extinct and began photographing them. I had edited my high school newspaper so know how to write, and sold a few photos with words to our local penny saver newspaper.
ME: You had started working with Charles Jacques Jr back in the 1970s on Amusement Business Journal before (?) ACE was in existence - how did you get in contact with him?
PR: I read somewhere that Amusement Park Journal had begun publication, tracked Charlie down, told him I was traveling to San Jose on business, and asked if he would like a story from the region. Turns out Arrow Development was then located in the next town, Mountain View, and he asked me to write about them. He wanted more stories, so I became Associate Editor and wrote extensively about whatever park I would be visiting, and about it’s history. It was great training for what would come.
ME: Do you have any memories of the first writers in mass media who wrote about coaster enthusiasm (e.g. Robert Cartmell, Marion Clark)?
PR: I knew Bob Cartmell well, as well as Gary Kyriazi, who wrote The Great American Amusement Park. I now have Gary as a contributing writer to Park World. Didn’t know Clark. Cartmell was an art professor at SUNY Albany, very intrigued by the art of wooden coasters, where form follows function. He wrote an art piece for me when I edited RollerCoaster! Gary worked awhile in sales for Arrow.
ME: When and how did you first come in contact with the founders of ACE? What were your thoughts about the organization?
PR: I joined as soon as I heard of them. I’m member 392. I thought it was a great idea, because most people know about their local park but have little knowledge of others. Turns out there are now major theme parks within a short drive on nearly every metropolitan area, and this was a good way to find where there were other coasters.
ME: Do you have any specific memories/thoughts on any of the founders (Greenwald, Brashears, Munch) or other notable old-timers in the hobby (like Marie Miller)?
PR: Richard Munch is a stand-up guy, but Brashears and especially Greenwald had ulterior motives for forming the club (NOTE: I also reached out to Roy Brashears at the same time, and it would be fair to say there was a mutual feeling that each other had motivations beyond just going on rides. Given that this is intended more as a tribute, I've omitted that.). Marie was fun, a little crazy I thought, but now I’m her age and still like to ride. She just knew how to have fun. I’m up to having ridden 889 different coasters as of last week, not that I’m compulsive.
ME: Given how close you were with NCA/APCI (NOTE: Charles Jacques started two early amusment park related clubs in the late 60s/early 70s and was an early president of the NCA, the still existing National Carousel Association), did you perceive ACE at the time as a competitor or as complementary? What led to APCI's dissolution?
PR: I was not a member of NCA, but I was very active in APCI, organizing at least one of their conventions and writing for APJ. Charlie, a retired attorney, was more interested in writing, self-publishing, and selling his books about amusement parks. Since APCI was his creation, he chose to end it soon after I began to edit RollerCoaster! for ACE. We still exchange Christmas cards.
Unlike Charlie, I had planned a book about roller coasters using my photos, but I didn’t want to self-publish. I had a book outline and wrote the first chapter, but I wanted a contract to complete it. For awhile I had an agent, but found out there was not a significant market for a coaster book, or we never found a book editor who thought it was a money-making idea.
ME: How did you get involved with WYNCC (Western New York Coaster Club)? I've heard the suggestion that the regional clubs like it and GOCC(Greater Ohio Coaster Club)/MACC (Mid-Atlantic Coaster Club)/etc were complements to ACE often by ACE members. Is that an accurate depiction?
PR: Not really. I co-founded WYNCC with Greenwald at a meeting midway between Niagara Falls and Rochester, where we lived.
I was concerned that ACE had not published RollerCoaster! in over a year despite the fact we were paying for it. I was giving slide talks about roller coasters to civic groups, one of Greenwald’s friends contacted me, and we met to bemoan the lack of ACE publications and decided to form WNYCC in the absence of ACE. I soon learned Greenwald wanted to sell T-shirts to everyone in the club, then he was hunting for female members. We had a falling out when I discovered that during an early WNYCC convention he was pocketing money and accused him of doing so. Soon after the founding I attended an ACE convention, complained about the lack of publication, and I was asked to edit it. I refused twice, but agreed the third time, set up a staff of contributors, and edited it for four years. Near the end Park World came into existence and I contacted them. I sold them an article, they wanted more, and put me on retainer. All of a sudden I had a second part-time career, which blossomed after I retired from my first career. I had been in charge of lens design at Kodak, having designed optics for their many cameras and other products.
These days, while still a member, I’m no longer active with ACE. They are enthusiasts. I work with those in the business, but I’m still enthusiastic about parks and rides. For Park World I just returned from a 19-day 2,200 mile tour of Southeastern parks, collecting information for articles and news items, and riding at every opportunity. Flying out Friday to another park, then more a week later.
ME: Park World has had a highly successful run while magazines like Amusement Business and Inside Track have not. What do you attribute that success to?
PR: Inside Track was a one-person enthusiasts’ publication, and it was too much for one person to do.
AB just didn’t attack enough advertisers.
Park World is part of Datateam Business Media Ltd, England’s largest publisher of trade magazine. They have 40-50 different titles, but Park World is one of their most successful. Much to my dismay, they sell the front cover, and about half the magazine is glossy full-color ads. I think it is both colorful and more readable than its competitors. We write about a fun business, so the copy is often breezy.
PR: You were an amateur photographer before you started writing, per your interview with Season Pass. Have you considered doing any digitization of classic prints?
Season Pass? Don’t even remember doing that interview. I was interested in photography as a youth, started doing photos for my high school paper, then edited their sports page, eventually edited the paper. In high school I was good in math and science, good in English, and had to make a career decision. I went where the money was, into engineering. I learned there was a degree offered in Optical Engineering at the University of Rochester. Graduating, I soon learned lens design and have 41 patents on optical systems. But I always enjoyed writing and photography, and amusement parks, and eventually created this job as North American Editor for Park World. I tell people, find something you like to do, find someone to pay you, and now my job feels like a 52-week summer vacation. If I wasn’t writing I’d have to pay my way into the parks.
Not sure what you consider classic prints. I have about 18,000 color slides of roller coasters and amusement parks in my archives, now photograph with digital cameras. But I don’t digitize prints unless I need one for publication.
ME: The only other question I have for now: Long intro to something that can probably be wrapped up in a couple sentences I know, but I want to cover the bases. The industry has changed dramatically since you were first involved as a hobbyist obviously, from enormous growth in Asian and European markets to the 1980s liability insurance crisis to seeing a burst of North American regional theme park construction and subsequent maturation and M&A phase of the industry's life here. You yourself have, I'm sure as we all do in aging, changed to some degree as you've been able to monetize your interest in parks through Park World and transitioned into communicating with industry figures rather than the enthusiast community. Having encapsulated that 40+ years as best possible in few words: Do you think it is better, worse, or simply "different" to be an park guest, enthusiast, etc now than it was in the 70s? Both in the objective sense and the "If you could trade every Wanda park for Idora/original Elitch's/whatever to come back" ways.
PR: Remember, I go back to the ‘40s. Since then, liability laws have necessitated a safer industry, but I sure do miss the old fun houses where girl’s skirts were blown with air jets and dark rides where things jump out at you. The advent of computers have made rides operate more efficiently. I appreciate family-operated parks with an interesting variety of attractions and mature trees, but today’s modern parks overall are much better. (The old Elitch's was a more comfortable park, but the new one has better rides except for the wooden coasters. Old Steeplechase park was dirty but fun. New Luna park is almost antiseptic. ) I just wish there was more originality, plus pay parking is offensive. You don’t pay to park and shop in a mall, so why should one be expected to pay for parking in a remote location just so you can patronize the adjacent park? Offer free parking and add the cost to the entrance price. Obviously, I’m unskilled in marketing.
Joe drove to Columbus to be with his parents and Mike is drinking away a hurricane. Today's topics include Universal Studios Hollywood's very bad, very dumb, fatphobic tweet; the public backlash to perceived "fatphobia" at Universal in attraction design and test seats; and some more talking about Halloween Horror Nights
Well, Disney, ya finally did it! After lots of rumors, speculation, and angst, the stateside Disney Parks have announced Disney Genie and Fast Lightning Lane products. This week Joe is joined by Hastin and David Daut to discuss the new products, our thoughts, our worries, and where the puck is going with the Disney Parks. Then we switch gears to discuss HHN30 and David's first trip to the event.
This coming September will be the 8th anniversary of our podcast.
Since then we've had marriages, births, and moved all over the place. One big change is also our lack of time. As you might have seen the podcast has gotten more and more infrequent over the years as the gang just can't get together as much as we used to. Look, when you have a job, a house, a wife, and a kid you just don't have the 90 minutes to sit down on Skype and talk about theme parks.
So lets try something new. For the next month or so I'll do a weekly 15 minute (or so) show covering one topic, just long enough to finish one drink. Hence the "pints" part. But don't think this is glorifying drinking, I'll be having water, tea, and coffee too! My goal is to have a new episode up every Friday or so.
Our first episode is about the NBA Experience, from Iger's power grab after NBA City left to closure. We'll talk about all the weird points in this attraction's life, what went wrong, could it have worked, and my thoughts on a replacement.
Over the past few weeks DisTwitter has been up in arms over Disney's After Hours Boo Bash. The first event offered after the COVID-19 shutdowns in 2020, Boo Bash is an evening event for guests to ride rides, grab candy, see characters, and get some unlimited snacks. It's also NOT Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party, the long offered popular event that offers fireworks, parades, and more. For many Boo Bash seems to be a weak offering, cutting many popular entertainment options, and also raising the price. For others it's a "lol shut up people will still pay for it"... commentary? Trolling? I'm not sure.
Anyway, the worry is Boo Bash is in and MNSSHP is out. I don't think this is the case as the After Hours events are an already established brand offering low capacity for high prices so guests can ride more rides. With Disney, at the time of the event announcement, still controlling the number of guests in the parks, no fireworks, shifting the Halloween event to After Hours in nature made sense. MNSSHP has a certain amount of name brand recognition where if it was offered with reduced offerings it would tarnish that brand. I find hand wringing over the death of MNSSHP, or that Disney is just going to jack up prices and offer less, to be unfounded.
So looking at the news it appears Bend the Bao will be opening in the old Fusion location. This will likely be a fast-food Chinese restaurant with outdoor seating. So what will the menu look like? Well, Universal Orlando has not offered Chinese food yet (Comic Strip Cafe does not count). Except for ONE time.
The Starcourt Food Court at HHN29 featured a Chinese section. The menu included pot stickers, bao buns, and wonton chips. So based on previous options, and the name, we should expect a Bao-focused menu with other small plate options. I'm hoping we see more fresh, Szechuan offerings such as Gonbgao Jiding (kung pao chicken) and other lighter Chinese dishes.
Low-fi theme park podcast to chill and vibe to this week as Joe and Sean discuss their big mega Memorial Day trip through Ohio. Join us as Sean discovers Hoof Hearted, the magic of the Flight of Fear preshow, Mystic Timbers, Jacobs Field, Melt, Steel Vengeance, Maverick, Ballpark Mustard, and more!
In the last week, ripples went across the internet theme park/amusement park fan communities to Cedar Point announcing that it would be increasing its wages to $20 an hour, a virtually 100% increase over 3 years ago. This was shocking to many observers of the industry.... but not us at Parkscope. We here at Parkscope have been beating the drum for a while about the disastrous way in which many regional amusement and theme parks were opting to staff. There's an entire article written back in 2017 about this exact topic, and I assure you, very little has changed except for one key difference:
See, back in 2017, there was no pandemic, and without a pandemic, international travel could happen without any serious barriers. Visa workers could come to town, and in fact, Cedar Fair made it clear in their quarterly statements to shareholders that they would expect to rely on J-1 visa employees to staff the park. Those people do not exist in 2021. In spite of this clear and obvious issue for Cedar Fair's staffing, attention has primarily turned to Unemployment Insurance, a popular target of the Republican Party.
Let me first be clear: Is unemployment insurance a potential threat to getting people "back to work"? Yes. It is. Especially when it comes to people who might be waiting to get a higher paying, higher skill position like they used to have but feel compelled due to a lack of UI to do something in the meantime like work retail. But that's also largely theoretical. We at Parkscope prefer facts. Facts, I'm told rather consistently, don't care about feelings. So where do we find facts? We find them with the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
On this week's podcast, Joe and Alan discuss CDC's lifting of mask mandates for vaccinated people, what that means for the theme parks, and how we perceive discomfort with rapid changes. Then we dive into the WEB Shooters featured in Disney's WEB-slingers attraction and how it could work or go really, really wrong. Then Joe discusses his trip to Hersheypark and Alan talks about his trip to Meow Wolf's House of Eternal Return in Santa Fe. Finally, we close out the podcast discussing theme park operators, changes in operations, attracting guests, and attracting guests in a post-COVID boom.
There's no other themed attraction on the planet that has created so many rumors, fan mythology, and intrigue than the Haunted Mansion. The facade in Disneyland was completed years before the ride opened and caused countless rumors of a ride so scary people died of freight. But what about the Walt Disney World variant? Why are guests talking about floating lights, poles in the ground, or ghostly child spirits on the ride when it opened with the park?
Boundless Realms, by Foxx Nolte of the amazing Passport 2 Dreams site, covers the origins of the Disney-ified Haunted House ride with a special interest in the Walt Disney World version of the attractiopn. Whereas most themed entertainment books look at concept art versus what was built, Boundless goes into a multi-faceted approach looking at the Mansion.
Foxx easily blends American history, first-hand accounts of the attraction, second-hand reporting, original design intentions, and more to give us a walkthrough of WDW's Haunted Mansion. The book never dives too much into one given field at once, instead, it samples views as needed. A great example being The Stretching Rooms - here Foxx looks at original design documents to find that an elevator was planned, why it was changed (the answer might surprise you!), where that elevator ended up, the alternations made to the mansion for this change, and her own first-hand reports of the rooms themselves.
Using her unique position of working at the Mansion along with her honed research skills to pick apart the mansion in new and unique ways, Foxx is not interested in answering popular fan questions as much as she's answering questions right in front of our eyes. Besides the affirmation Stretching Room questions, she posits and answers dozens more. What time frame is the house from? Why was it redesigned? Why were there so many alterations to the attic? Why does the ghost host say "shh... listen"? Listen to what?
The book is like walking through the attraction with half a dozen experts that span themed design, history, mechanical engineering, operations, and more. The feeling created is a slowed down, extended ride-through of the attraction scene by scene, moment by moment. A curtain rod that blends into the background on most ride-throughs turns into swooping bird of prey imagery. After reading this book the Mansion changes, the subtle noise of the Doombuggies speak the secrets of the house.
While the majority of the book is covered in this scene-by-scene format there are also extended appendix sections that include notes on human and animal imagery in attractions, a short dissection of Phantom Manor (short as in it's not a full book on its own), a history of the sinister portraits from the portrait gallery, and a look at four attractions that took inspiration from the Mansion. The appendixes themselves can constitute a full blog post on their own and should not be missed.
Foxx sums up the book best in this line from Appendix E, "After decades of thought and thousands of rides I've realized that it isn't the scale of the Haunted Mansion that makes it so special. If ambition and scale were guarantors of excellence then the Mansion would have been long surpassed by such impressive, cutting edge extravaganzas as Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. That's an amazing ride, but it isn't the Haunted Mansion". This book is the deep dive in the X factor that makes the Mansion tick historically, thematically, mechanically, and which drives guests to become obsessed with it. Boundless is as much as a tome of the historical record for design inspirations as it is about the day-to-day realities of being a ride at the Magic Kingdom.
Boundless Realms is the perfect book for people who read websites like this, love the Haunted Mansion, or love seeing how American culture shaped the first few decades of Disney parks.
Boundless Realms is available at book stores online. The book was reviewed with a purchased copy.
Hey duders, this week Joe is joined by an above-average Disney nerd, Danny! We discuss the return of the Disney College Program, Project Kiwi, WDI R&D, ops vs creative, the Disney Wish, and Disneyland's reopening. Then we dive into Danny's ride on the Jurassic World VelociCoaster!
Trip reports a-hoy as Sean returns from his first visit to Pigeon Forge and Dollywood. Then Alan discusses his mega Nevada trip including leaking bathroom light fixtures, resort fees, Freemont Street, fainting in a Chi-Fil-A, and the incredible Omega Mart in Area 15! Plus Alex listens in and Joe grabs a spot of tea.
Alex and Alan both go to Texas but to do extremely different things and experience a world where the pandemic is treated as though it's imaginary. Some parks we think aren't good got acquired! California parks are reopening! Thrill as Alan defers to the people of Anaheim as to determine what's best for them!
We're back! Joe just got back from a huge Orlando trip with his sister Rachel, so she's on the podcast this week! We go through everything we did on the trip including firsts for Rachel such as ALL of Universal, Star Wars Galaxy's Edge, Slinky Dog Dash, Homecomin', and more! We discuss the delights, the triumphs, the pitfalls, and the disappointments of the trip PLUS our thoughts on Flower & Garden and Mardi Gras.
Last May we did a post about Universal's new park, Epic Universe, not being cancelled or paused. While construction on the project has continued, it has been at a snail's pace and not at the same speed we imagined. Last summer a majority of the project team was let go on a Friday in the summer and the park was given to senior leadership to shepherd through this tough time.
This morning Comcast CEO Brian Roberts has confirmed the project is full steam ahead now.
BREAKING NEWS: Comcast CEO says they are getting ready to resume construction at Epic Universe. @orlandosentinel
The project will take several months to re-ramp back up as contractors and project team are re-assembled per a statement from Universal.
From Universal: "The restart will begin immediately – but is expected to take several months before reaching full-speed as Universal re-staffs for the project and reassembles its vendor and contractor teams."
Alan and Alex discuss Kentucky Kingdom's acquisition by Herschend, Discovery Cove and Universal Orlando visits, Pigeon Forge, and trying to escape confrontation about leaving the house once in a while...
Joe gets a G&T, Sean talks about the Jungle Cruise, we contemplate the name of the show, and discuss what is coming in the future. PLUS we discuss all the video coverage of Super Nintendo World, from Mario Kart to Yoshi Adventure to the interactive elements. Sean and Joe also ask the questions about why an unbuilt or demolished attraction always garners more interest than something built.
Welcome to the Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour, your #1 Yusuf Islam and folk podcast! In this week's episode, we discuss Disneyland canceling annual passes and the future of that program before doing a deep dive into Las Vegas' lost history of themed entertainment. We discuss how Vegas ended up in the position it found itself in the 80s, the Mirage, free entertainment, lost attractions, closed parks, where things went wrong, and more.