Tuesday, April 24, 2007

 

DOH! It's the Simpsons

Well, the mystery, such, as it was, about what was going to replace the now shuttered Back To The Future ride at Universal Studios Florida is over.

Various fan web sites have been predicting "The Simpsons" as the heirs apparent for many months. Still, it's nice to get official confirmation.

Here's the "official" announcement:
"Woo Hoo!" Universal's theme parks add animated fun and excitement to their roster as FOX's blockbuster hit series, The Simpsons, becomes the inspiration for the world's most highly anticipated new theme park ride.

Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie Simpson - stars of TV's longest running series - will ride along with guests in a new mega-attraction opening at Universal Orlando Resort and Universal Studios Hollywood in Spring 2008.

Based in a new fantasy theme park created by Krusty the Clown, the ride will provide a new "interpretation of thrill rides, dark rides and “live” shows."

Best lines in the press release go to Matt Groening and James Brooks.
"The ride is designed to duplicate the Simpsons home-viewing experience, only at high speed and with lots of screaming," stated Matt Groening.

“I am particularly thrilled since, like most people, I'm forever looking for a way to cut the line at Universal Theme Parks,” added James L. Brooks.

Universal Orlando Chairman, Tom Williams, on the other hand, needs to hire new writers.
“Universal takes the most popular characters in blockbuster movies and hit TV shows and creates fun, exhilarating entertainment experiences,” said Tom Williams, Chairman and CEO of Universal Parks & Resorts. “With its unique sense of humor and enormous popularity, The Simpsons is a perfect complement to our brand of entertainment.”

No specific confirmation in the official announcement that the new ride will be in the old BTTF building, but where else could it go?

Monday, April 23, 2007

 

SeaWorld's Penguins Weigh In

It's not quite Shamu leaping out of the water, but it's a pretty nifty trick nonetheless.

The intrepid aviculturists (bird geeks) at SeaWorld have snagged the "Husbandry Behavior of the Year Award" from the International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators. Here, from SeaWorld's press release, is how they did it.
In February 2006, the aviculturists team began training king penguins to weigh themselves, a task that had been no easy “feet” in the past due to the penguins large size (weighing up to 40 pounds) and strong flippers.

In an effort to make the weigh-in process easier, the aviculturist team worked diligently around the clock on the new training procedure that included many elements, such as a portable scale introduced in the penguin’s snowy habitat. Successfully, by February of 2007, the aviculture team had the king penguins lining up one after the other to get weighed.

“The new weigh-in process is less time consuming with remarkable benefits for the king penguins as well as our staff,” said Courtney Falke, Senior Aviculturist at SeaWorld Orlando, who spearheaded the entire project. “Who ever said you can’t teach an old bird new tricks?”

I sorta wish they'd provided more detail. Yeah, I get the portable scale, but exactly how did they train them to stand in line, hop on the scale, stand still long enough to be weighed, and then hop off for the next penguin?

Check out my review of SeaWorld's Penguin Encounter and learn how you can pet a penguin during your SeaWorld visit.

 

More Scenic Air Tours

I just heard of another outfit offering scenic flights over the Orlando area.

Preston Aviation's Scenic Flights is located in Leesburg, in Lake County, about 45 minutes or an hour north of Orlando. They offer flights in a Piper Cub or (more exciting to my way of thinking) in an open cockpit PT-17 Stearman Biplane.
As the Barnstormers of yesterday used to say..."We will take you high or low, fast or slow, anywhere you care to go. It's worth the ride just to see whether you like it or not! Fly over your house to see who is visiting your spouse. Special one-way trips for mothers-in-law. Our pilot will set you down so softly even the grass won't object....

Passenger sits in the front seat. One passenger at a time. Must be 48" tall. Helmet, headset and goggles provided.

Piper Cub rides start at $30 for a short 15 minute hop, or $120 an hour. The Biplane is pricier, with prices starting at $80 or $320 an hour.

More information on the web site, above, or at 352-326-9975. The address is 9020 Airport Blvd. (they're at the Leesburg Airport), Leesburg, FL 34748.

Be sure to check out Orlando's other plane ride options. If you are more adventuorous (and have deep pockets), you can actually take control of an airplane on your Orlando trip!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

 

New Mouse Notes

Two debuts of note at Walt Disney World. As is so often the case, Orlando Weekly Arts & Culture critic Seth Kubersky has the final word.
At the Magic Kingdom, Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor has been “previewing” for test audiences since last December but only recently had its official opening. The new show is the most ambitious implementation yet of Disney’s “living character initiative,” and it’s been the subject of an unusually public fine-tuning, with scripts being rewritten on an almost daily basis. Plus, it has the least appropriate acronym ever. The former home of The Timekeeper (a Circle-Vision film featuring Robin Williams) has been transformed into a faux comedy club, where the one-eyed Mike Wazowski is milking laughs to generate power for Monstropolis. Mike and Roz, along with a handful of forgettable new characters, appear “onstage” in the form of CGI projections, interacting with the audience via the same technology that powers Epcot’s Turtle Talk With Crush.

Unfortunately, while the surfer-terrapin is a dude, this new show is a dud. The computer animation, though improving, still stutters; best-loved characters Sully and Boo are absent; and the stale puns are aimed at second-grade kids. Some of Orlando’s best improv actors are working hard behind the scenes, saving it from being an outright disaster (like its neighbor Stitch’s Great Escape). Just don’t hurt yourself trying to rationalize how contemporary cartoons fit into Tomorrowland’s rapidly dissipating theme.

He has kinder words for the revamping of the Ageing Rio Del Tiempo ride at the Mexico Pavilion in Epcot's World Showcase.
El Rio del Tiempo, has re-emerged from a brief rehab as Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros. By adding Donald Duck and his feathered co-stars from the 1944 Latin American travelogue, much-needed life has been injected into a ride that was formerly only notable for a theme song that burrowed into your brain.

Though the Mexican-American artists who helped craft the opening-day original were attempting to give visitors a taste of their culture, many riders dismissed it as It’s a Small World en Español. The video projections of bewildering interpretive dancers and late-’70s-vintage tourist traps have all been replaced with fresh animation featuring Donald and his poultry pals as they race to a concert in Mexico City. The best elements of the old have been retained (the atmospheric riverside volcano and Acapulco cliff divers) while the most cringe-inducing (stereotypical street vendors and creepy marionettes) are history.

The renovation isn’t perfect (the finale is sorely lacking in animatronic fowl) but it’s enough to give fans hope that the upcoming changes to Spaceship Earth will be worth the wait.

 

Gatorland Splash Zone Delayed

Gatorland has delayed the opening of its new water play area. The Sentinel has the skinny:
The small attraction on South Orange Blossom Trail had planned to open the area, called Gator Gully Splash Park, on Saturday, but spokeswoman Michelle Harris said last-minute modifications to the water-flow system forced a postponement.

"They want to make sure the area meet the maximum fun factor for all the kids who will play in it," Harris said.

I don't know how Gatorland feels about being called a "small attraction." It ain't Disney World, but it ain't a miniature golf course either.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

 

Get Launched into Space at KSC

Well, okay, not quite. But the new ride scheduled to open at Kennedy Space Center Visitors Center on Memorial Day sounds pretty nifty nonetheless.

The Space Shuttle Experience cost $65 million and is being billed as a major departure for the attraction.

"We have a lot of artifacts and history here, but the modern visitor wants more than a static display," LeBlanc said. "We wanted to do something motion-based with our storytelling here. Visitors really want to learn more about the shuttle program, and they also want to experience a launch."

The ride is housed in a 44,000-square-foot building, which visitors enter through a gantry walkway. Once inside the building, they are seated in any of four simulator cabins, each holding as many as 44 people. The cabin faces a large projection and plasma television screen held on robotic arms.

The ride simulates a launch, replete with vibrations and jolts. Once in space, riders get a view of the Earth when a likeness of payload-bay doors opens. Unlike Walt Disney World's Mission: Space ride, the visitor center's equipment doesn't spin and won't increase G-force pressure on its occupants.


According to KSC, the ride will outlive the Space Shuttle program, which is scheduled to end in a few years.

Be sure to check out all the other great things to see and do at Kennedy Space Center.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

 

Universal Conjures Harry Potter Deal

In an epic battle between Disney and Universal, the smart money would be on Disney. But lo and behold, Universal seems to have come out on top in the struggle to land the rights to turn the boy wizard's fantastical world ionto a theme park attraction. Or should that be attractions?

According to reports surfacing here and there, this looks like a done deal.

No word on when or exactly where (let alone what shape) the new attraction will take, but one interesting note is Nikki Finke's contention that "the themed area would be at a previously unused portion of the amusement park."

That would seem to quash all the rumors that Lost Continent would be become Potterville. But what "unused portion" could we be talking about here? If we're talking a single ride, then there's some vacant real estate at the original Studios park (over in the corner of World Expo).

But it seems to me that Harry cries out for something bigger than that, if only because it must have cost a very big bundle to snatch the rights from Disney's grasp. I wonder if that vast open space between IOA and I-4, once set aside for a fourth and fifth hotel could become a whole new theme park? Probably not, but nice to contemplate.

Jim Hill has more (and more realistic sounding) speculation about a ride based on Harry's flying Ford Anglia. But wouldn't that be an obvious replacement for Back to the Future's DeLoreans?

What then about the much ballyhooed Simpsons ride that's supposed to go there?

BTW, Hill's article, linked above, is also worth reading for info on the hi-tech Kuka robotic arm technology that Universal is said to now have exclusive rights to.

Exciting times ahead.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

 

Hidden River Canoe Price Update

The rates for canoe "trips" at Hidden River RV Park & Canoe Rentals is now $50 per canoe with a two canoe minimum.

The benefit of booking a trip is that they'll come and pick you up. Otherwise you have to paddle back.

More information here.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

 

PR Pirates Are Looting Disney's Treasure Ship

Can there be anyone who doesn't yet know that the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie is coming out soon?

It should be a lot of fun. But almost as much fun is watching the ways in which clever marketers are piggybacking on the Disney PR juggernaut. You see, while Disney can copyright Mickey and gang and come down hard on anyone who tries to muscle in on their intellectual property, the Mouse House can't claim exclusive ownership of the word "pirate."

The result? Well among other things, the clever folks at the humongous Gaylord Palms Resort hotel have announced the Pirates Treasure Hunt Challenge and they make no bones about the tie-in, though they don't mention Disney by name. From their press release:

Gaylord Palms Resort is giving Memorial Day weekend visitors a opportunity to compete for a treasure of $10,000 in cold cash. This interactive family experience, called the Pirates Treasure Hunt Challenge, will be offered May 25-28, 2007. This unique holiday package is timed to coincide with an anticipated swell in “pirate mania” throughout the nation.

Pirates Treasure Hunt Challenge is a contest of skill that will give package guests an opportunity to act and think like pirates as they traverse the resort and decipher clever clues, solve intricate puzzles, and perform other “piratey” tasks for a panel of judges. At the end of the holiday weekend, the family who accumulates the greatest number of points during their treasure hunt challenge will claim the $10,000 pirate’s prize.

The Pirates Treasure Hunt Challenge room package is $199 per night plus tax and parking. The package, which must be purchased for a minimum of two nights, includes deluxe accommodations, resort fee, a treasure hunt kit, and access to special activities and skill contests related to the Pirates Treasure Hunt Challenge.


Borrowing another page from Disney's "keep 'em as long as you can and milk 'em for all they've got" playbook, Gaylord has built in some fun add-ons:

Pirates Treasure Hunt Challenge package guests also have the opportunity to purchase additional themed experiences, like:
• Buccaneer’s Barbecue: a swashbuckling pirate-filled outdoor banquet featuring barbecue and brouhaha.
• Camp Pirate: pirate-themed arts and crafts sessions held at the on-site La Petite Academy Kids Station, reserved for our guests ages 5-13.


Brilliant! My tri-cornered, beplumed hat's off to these guys. Hope they do well with it.

To book call 407-586-HUNT, or visit www.GaylordTreasureHunt.com.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

 

Gay Weddings Come To WDW

Here's an announcement that's going to raise more than a few eyebrows.

Walt Disney Parks & Resorts said Friday that it has "updated" its policies to allow gay and lesbian couples to buy wedding packages at Walt Disney World or Disneyland, and use all the same wedding spots previously reserved for heterosexual couples.


Wow! If Disney says it's okay for gay couples to get married in the Happiest Place on Earth®, can the rest of America be far behind?

 

The Latest Attendance Figures

Here, courtesy of TEA-ERA (pdf), are estimated attendance figures for Orlando parks in 2006.

1. Magic Kingdom (16.6M)
2. Epcot (10.4M)
3. Disney-MGM (9.1M)
4. Animal Kingdom ((8.9M)
5. Universal Studios Florida (6M)
6. SeaWorld Orlando (5.7M)
7. Islands of Adventure (5.3M)
8. Busch Gardens Tampa (4.3M)

Disney continues to lead the pack. All it's parks posted attendance gains, with Animal Kingdom up an impressive 8.6% on the strength of the new Everest ride. It's a testament not only to the excellence of the Disney product but to the marketing juggernaut that followed the extended 50th anniversary celebration with the Year of a Million Dreams. The success of the Disney Express didn't hurt either.

A good showing by SeaWorld, up 2.5%, overtaking Islands of Adventure, down a surprising 4.8%. (Universal Studios posted a modest 1.2% gain.)

 

Universal's $120 Million Shopping Spree

Wow! The people who have been complaining about how Universal isn't investing enough in keeping its Orlando theme parks competitive may have to shut up.

Tucked away in a quiet corner of a recent financial report is the exciting news that Universal will spend $100 to $120 million on "capital improvements. That can buy a lot of excitement.

Of course, there's the new ride to replace Back To The Future. The building in World Expo now sports an "Opening in 2008" sign, although there's still no word on what it will be.

There's also talk of something new for Islands of Adventure.

Stay tuned.

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