2019: the Year of the Park

2019 is shaping up to be quite the year for U.S. theme parks in Florida and California. Many major theme parks have made announcements in the last few weeks that are of out-of-this-world Jurassic proportions! Looking to history, it feels as if we are in a “space race” of sorts. Except, instead of the United States and Russia vying to be the first in space or one the moon, major US theme parks are breaking new ground, pushing boundaries, and innovating new experiences to vie for your money. Arguably, the biggest expansion is Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (DHS) and Disneyland, followed by Lego Movie World and Sesame Street Land at Legoland Florida and SeaWorld Orlando respectively, the new Harry Potter themed rollercoaster at Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure, Jurassic World replacing Jurassic Park at Universal Studios Hollywood, and lastly Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway also at DHS. Just one of any of the aforementioned announcements would be big news, but collectively it is quite possibly the most massive collection of openings at any given time in recent years.

The sheer economic impact of these attractions on each of their respective parks will be of epic proportions. Beginning with Universal’s Islands of Adventure (IOA) in 1999, the last decade has seen a colossal convergence of cinema and theme parks like no other! And even more so since the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (WWoHP) at IOA in 2010. From the original concept of the movie park immersing guests into the magic of filmmaking to creating immersive environments that place the park guest into the world of the movie itself, the movie park has grown by leaps and bounds. As the process to make a film became less magical, the parks compensated by wowing guests with the ability to feel as if they are characters in the film itself. Attendance at theme parks took a dramatic downturn after the housing collapse and financial crash of 2007; and with theme parks being a vacation destination or luxury for many, they had to innovate new ways to attract guests–give them new reasons to return to the parks. By creating new experiences that were unlike any other, the parks knew they could increase their bottom line and share of the marketplace. Universal’s addition of Harry Potter and Disney’s addition of Pandora were major impacts. Moreover, the addition of Galaxy’s Edge (Star Wars land) at Disney’s Hollywood Studios & Disneyland Resort and the eventual Nintendo expansion at Universal Orlando Resort will each likely bring unprecedented numbers of guests into the parks.

News from Disney and Universal on new lands is not exactly groundbreaking–the news anyway–but when SeaWorld and Legoland are tossing their hats in, for a piece of the 2019 action, then you know that a wave of innovation is sweeping through the parks of Florida and California. California is interesting. For the longest time, the majority of the big theme park news came out of Florida but more recently the California Disney and Universal parks have made big expansions and announcements. Most recently, Radiator Springs at Disney’s California Adventure and WWoHP at Universal Hollywood opened to rave reviews and dramatically increased park attendance. Next year is bringing about an unprecedented number of additions to theme parks that will even more greatly increase the revenue and attendance than we’ve seen in the last several years. And it’s not just the parks that are going to feel the impact of all the 2019 openings. The local hotels, resorts, beaches, and secondary attractions (zoos, aquariums, museums, etc) will also feel a huge boost from the new theme park lands and rides.

More people than ever will be flocking to the parks next year. And let’s face it, the majority of those numbers will be boarding the Millennium Falcon and Mickey & Minnie’s very first attraction, but the numbers heading to experience their favorite Lego movies, Harry Potter, or your furriest friends at Sesame Street land will be impressive. Local hotels and resorts need to start planning on the massive influx of theme park guests, some of which may be visiting for the first time in a long time or for the first time ever. Although a tourist may spend most of their time at the parks, beach, etc when coming to Florida, the hotel stay can play an important role in the over all experience of the trip. Often times, it’s the hotel (whether on or off property) that sets the initial tone of the trip. So, I hope that non-Universal/Disney/Lego hotels are keeping up with the news because they are about to see crowds likely never seen in any other year, except for when a new park opens.

So far, we’ve heard big news from most the major theme parks of Florida and California, but Busch Gardens Tampa seems to be the wallflower this time around. It’s entirely possible that we will hear of a new attraction offering at Busch Gardens in 2019 but so far there do not seem to be any indicators for that. Fortunately, Busch Gardens may continue the complimentary beer promotion in order to not get completely left behind in 2019. But who knows, 2018 is only about halfway done, so there is still time for Busch to make a 2019 announcement as well. If so, hopefully it will revolve around the space occupied by the former Gwazi wooden coaster.

Okay so here’s a breakdown of what’s coming to theme parks in 2019, so far.

Walt Disney World

Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge– a new land with a 14 acres expansion, transporting guests to a never-before-seen planet, a remote trading port and one of the last stops before wild space where Star Wars characters and their stories come to life. And yes, you’ll be able to fly the Millennium Falcon!

Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway– After screening an exclusive cartoon in the theatre, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway will put you inside the wacky and unpredictable world of a Mickey Mouse Cartoon Short where you’re the star and anything can happen.

Universal Studios Florida

Harry Potter rollercoaster– The all-new attraction will take guests on a journey that incorporates the characters, creatures and transportative adventures of the wildly successful book and movie series when it opens in 2019. In its announcement, Universal positioned the ride as one of the most “highly-themed coaster experiences” they’ve ever created — which is major, considering The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is already known for immersive attractions utilizing ride systems and technology in ways rarely seen at other theme parks.

SeaWorld Orlando

Sesame Street Land– “We are excited to transport our guests into the colorful and creative world of Sesame Street through immersive theming, character interactions and interactive play,” said SeaWorld Orlando President Jim Dean in a statement. Sesame StreetLland also brings with it SeaWorld’s firs daily parade!

Legoland Florida

Lego Movie World– Based on “The LEGO Movie” and the upcoming sequel, the new world puts guests in the middle of Bricksburg, the city where Emmet lives in the movie. The area will feature two new rides, character meet-and-greets, and a giant themed playscape.

Universal Studios Hollywood

Jurassic World the Ride– Details of the “Jurassic World Ride” are being kept under wraps. But a press release release describes the plans as “epic,” featuring “never-before-seen dinosaurs, enhanced storytelling, lush scenic design, an entirely new color scheme and unparalleled state-of the art technology.”

Disneyland Resort

Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge– As of now, there are only two new rides in development. There’s the Millennium Falcon ride, where players are ranked on how well they perform their mission (if you bang up the ship, expect trouble at the cantina). There’s also one in the works where guests are inside a Star Destroyer hanger bay during a major battle between the First Order and the Resistance, though there isn’t a lot of information available on that one yet.


Christmas Arrives at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

The Holiday season is in full swing at Disney’s Hollywood Studios! Sunset Seasons Greetings debuted last week along with the return of Jingle Bell Jingle BAM. Accompanied by snow flurries surrounding you on Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards, you will be energized by the joy and cheer of crowds of guests singing some of your favorite Christmas songs–you’ll definitely want to join in. Although the park still feels empty at Christmastime without the late Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, the seasonal offerings at the park do help to fill the void. The present shows still fall short of the immersive experience of the incredible brilliance and beauty of the famous dancing light show. But I digress. My friend Dani and I had a fun time watching the two nighttime Christmas spectaculars….(more)

Sunset Seasons Greetings is Hollywood Studios’ newest seasonal offering for Christmastime that takes place on the Hollywood Tower Hotel (a-k-a The Tower of Terror). Initial impressions of the show leave me with the evaluation that it’s a cute show. Like so many other Disney nighttime shows these days, it relies upon mapped projection technology instead of precisely choreographed dancing Christmas lights. There are four different animation sequences and they repeat until 8pm. Between each roughly minute-long map projection animation transforming the Tower of Terror into a colorful array of images and shapes, there is a transitional animation on the Fantasmic billboard (note: Fantasmic is now sponsored by Pop Secret–not sure that’s the brand you want associated with your show) that highlights a different aspect to the Holiday season. My favorite sequence on the billboard was the one featuring clips from Mickey’s Christmas Carol. Each mapped projection show on the Tower features different music and imagery–each unique. To watch the show from start to finish takes 10-12mins. Since this is a show throughout the evening that rotates, it definitely alleviates any concerns of overcrowding on along Sunset Blvd.

Returning for its second year is Jingle Bell Jingle BAM. For a full review of the show, please see my article from last year. After experiencing the changes that Disney World made to the show, I must say that it feels a lot more Christmassy than it did last year. Last year, I was left wondering where all the Holiday spirit was. Perhaps others felt as strongly as I did that this “Christmas” show lacked Christmas, and Hollywood Studios decided to integrate more of a holiday feel to make it feel like a special seasonal offering. I especially appreciated the singalong of It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year as well as other Christmas standards. There truly is a little something for everyone at this new iteration of the infant show. After the show, my friend Dani and I still remarked that everything we experienced throughout the evening still does not feel as magical as the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, but we still had a great time!

If you are planning to visit Disney World this holiday season, don’t miss these seasonal nighttime spectacular offerings at Hollywood Studios.

Theme Parks’ Newest Attraction: Pokemon GO!

Screen Shot 2016-08-01 at 9.14.37 AM“Gotta Catch ‘Em All,” and catching’em in the theme parks adds a whole new level of fun! In many ways, as the record breaking app from Niantic continues to develop and attract new players, an unofficial attraction is being added to many theme parks, if not all of them at this point. In Florida, the park that has taken the lead in attracting Pokémon trainers is Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. But catching common and rare Pokémon is not limited to Busch Gardens, but SeaWorldDisney, and Universal are also hotbeds of PokéHunting! Although catching Pokémon is possible in all the Theme Parks, to the best of my knowledge, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay launched continual lurethons in July and August to capitalize on the summer crowds. A lure is an item earned or purchased in the game that can be placed at a PokéStop to draw Pokémon to that area for 30 mins and a PokéStop is a landmark or location that offers you items like Pokéballs and potions when you are in close range of said stop. These lurethons are also highly effective for luring in locals after work during the week and on weekends. As I have been catching Pokémon in the parks over the last couple of weeks, I have made some anecdotal observations that I’d like to share. The most important one being, better invest in a portable charger!

Safety Note: Please remember to always look where you’re walking, do not trespass, cut lines or run. There’s tons of Pokémon out there!

If you have been to the theme parks, whether in Florida, California, or pretty much anywhere for the matter, you have likely noticed many park guests with their respective faces glued to their phones–more than usual that is. Or, you may have been behind someone briskly walking and then all of a sudden slows down, if not stops. Most likely, those park guests are playing Pokémon GO. Perhaps YOU are that park guest–I know I am. Haha. One of the first observations I’ve made as I have played in the parks is the social element. There is already a social element to the game in general, but it appears to be amplified in the parks. While walking around the parks, it was not uncommon for other Pokémon GO players to ask me what team I was on (Mystic, btw) or what I was trying to catch. A security guard at Hollywood Studios asked me how many Pokéballs I had lost while catching three Pokémon near his post. We then proceeded to talk Pokémon for several minutes. I greatly appreciate this new dynamic to the theme park experience. As I seem to be perpetually caught in the single life (ugh), I normally go to the parks alone. Knowing that this app provides a great platform for starting conversations with others who may be by themselves or with other Pokémon Trainers is really encouraging! Perhaps you and your friends love to take over gyms together. If gym battling is of great importance to you, then you will find some great gyms in the parks, especially if you’re looking for level 3+.

From the social to the experiential, this app has you covered while enjoying the parks! Although Florida is nicknamed the sunshine state, summer thunderstorms are no stranger to the typical afternoon. For parks like Busch Gardens and SeaWorld that have many outdoor attractions, the lightning can greatly hinder ride operations. Last week on a PokéHunt at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, a message over the loudspeakers stated something to the effect of “outdoor attractions are temporarily closed due to inclement weather.” Under normal circumstances, I may have been disappointed that I couldn’t ride Cobra’s Curse, Montu, and more, but I was having so much fun catching Pokémon that I didn’t think twice about the coasters being closed. Many times when an announcement like that one is made, it is not uncommon to hear park guests complaining. Despite the closures, I did not hear nearly as many guests complaining about not being able to experience the coasters. Could that be because many of the guests, like me, were also playing Pokémon GO? Perhaps; although, without asking a significant number of guests, there is no way of knowing for sure. Pokémon GO is not unlike other scavenger hunts in the parks. Notably, Disney’s Sorcerers game is a prime example of an interactive scavenger hunt. It is entirely possible that there could be exclusive Pokémon primarily found in the parks if this trend continues. Playing games to pass the time in queue or walking between attractions is definitely not a new concept, but Pokémon GO provides park guests with a game that helps pass the time, provides opportunities to interact with other guests, contains many challenging and strategic elements, and will keep you entertained even when attractions are closed.

There have been many articles written previously on the health benefits of playing Pokémon GO, so I don’t feel the need to explore the required increased physical activity–required, that is, if you want to enjoy all the benefits of the game–that is associated with the app. However, I think it’s important to look at the physical activity element as it relates to playing in the theme parks. It can be quite physically, emotionally, and psychologically draining to walk from attraction to attraction in the summer heat. Fortunately, it appears as though playing Pokémon GO distracts one from negative thoughts or feelings during the endless walking. Now, walking between attractions or around the park, in general, is part of the fun! Racking up kilometers in the parks is a great way to hatch eggs. If you are unfamiliar with the game, one element of it is walking a certain number of kilometers (1.54mi/1K) to hatch the respective egg in the incubator. There are different distances (2km/5km/10km), and the longer the distance the more rare the Pokémon generally. I found myself taking the long way around a park or between attractions just to increase the number of kilometers walked.

Instead of taking away from the park experience, it appears as though playing Pokémon GO adds to the enjoyment of the parks. This is definitely true for those of us who frequent the parks weekly. Playing in the parks on a regular basis may generate a feeling of the theme park feeling like one’s backyard or neighborhood playground. And like with your childhood back yard or neighborhood playground, it forced you to use your imagination to create new adventures for you and your friends. It’s not that the neighborhood park was boring; it’s just that it was a regular part of your life. Being a theme park regular is not unlike the aforementioned. I have thoroughly enjoyed this new experiential element to my time in the parks. It’s like a whole new experience! In addition to enjoying my favorite rides, I can continually enjoy catching Pokémon and spinning the wheel at PokéStops. Oh yeah, there are SO MANY PokéStops in the parks. You may even find yourself having to empty your backpack because it becomes full. Although there have been some concerns about park guests finding themselves venturing into backstage areas, this does not appear to be a common occurrence. I am looking forward to witnessing how this game continues to affect theme park operations, offerings, and special events. Perhaps exclusive Pokémon will be added to the parks or special Disney Pokémon. With Universal acquiring the theme park rights to Nintendo in 2015, it is entirely possible that Pokémon GO may have a strong presence in the Nintendo themed areas even though Nintendo itself does not reserve the theme park rights to Pokémon GO. While Nintendo does own the rights to the regular Pokemon games, Nintendo currently has nothing to do with Pokémon GO; it’s strictly Niantic and The Pokémon Company. If you do not live close to the parks, I definitely want to encourage you not to be glued to the game when you have the opportunity to go; you may miss incredible sights, sounds, and time with family and friends. Playing Pokémon GO in the parks should add to the experience, not take away from valuable time with others. I’m always looking for folks with whom to catch Pokémon, so if you are ever in the Tampa or Orlando area, hit me up!

Find a rare Pokémon in a cool spot!? Tag @ThrillzCo or #Thrillz in your post to have a chance to win a Pokémon GO team decal for FREE! *Contest ends August 20, 2016. Many will play, not all will win.

Thank you Derek Rosenberg from Unmasked On Air for contributing to this article! If you enjoy video games, comic books, and movies, visit their website by clicking the link below.



“On Cinema and Theme Parks” part 4

My Book

Continued from Part 3

One medium being the extension of, or exhibiting a direct connection to, another medium is not a new concept. In fact, this concept of media convergence has been around for as long as multiple mediums have existed. In order to better understand the convergence or synergy that exists between cinema, in particular horror film, and theme parks, it is crucial to understand how we arrived at this point. One thing that film and themed entertainment both have in common is that each tells a story—in a different manner. But, the narrative is often quite similar. Prior to theme parks and cinema (film), there were plays, novels, and oral stories/traditions. The novel is an extension of the oral story, the play is an extension of the novel, cinema is an extension of the play, and the theme park is an extension of cinema. According to Dr. Henry Jenkins, “there has been an alarming concentration of the ownership of mainstream commercial media, with a small handful of multinational media conglomerates dominating all sectors of the entertainment industry” (2004, p1). This is clearly seen in the acquisition, exhibition, and development of theme park attractions based upon movies and, to a lesser extent, television shows.

The first cinemas were setup more like attractions than actual theatres. Perhaps more than coincidentally, theatres began springing up at the same time Coney Island opened its turnstiles around the beginning of the twentieth century; and at this time, cinema itself was still very much viewed as an attraction (Gunning, 1986). According to Tom Gunning (1986), “it was precisely the exhibitionist quality of turn-of-the-century popular art that made it attractive to the avant-garde” (1986, p66). So this concept of the convergence of cinema and theme park (or attraction) is one that dates all the way back to the early 1900s. Since some of the earliest films were of a surreal or horror nature, it is of no surprise that horror played a large role in the development of the cinema attraction. Much in the same way that early cinema was essentially a variety show, in essence, lacked a continuous diegesis, or narrative, the convergence of cinema and theme parks offers a variety of cinema-based attractions that are, indirectly at best, connected to each other. However, instead of the film, itself, being the attraction, cinema-based theme parks and attractions use the narrative provided by a work of cinema and uses elements of that film that can be translated into a real-world experience.

But as with any media convergence, there are also pitfalls to such a synergy between two powerful media. In order to best understand the pitfalls and promises in such a meeting, it is imperative to discuss convergence of two media in and of itself. Understanding the concept of convergence will better prepare filmmakers and themed entertainment designers to select the best elements of films to translate into themed attractions based on movies, in particular horror or action. According to the leader of research into the area of media convergence Henry Jenkins (2004), “media convergence is more than simply a technological shift. Convergence alters the relationship between existing technologies, industries, markets, genres, and audiences. Convergence refers to a process, but not an endpoint” (P1). Over the years, the relationship between cinema and theme parks has shifted. Before, cinema was the attraction; and now, the attraction is infused with cinema. And the handful of multinational media conglomerates own both methods of the exhibition of creativity. With the exception of the Walt Disney Company, many of the other media conglomerates have prominent interests in theme parks and film and television studios; and some also have interests in Broadway productions (i.e. Universal Studios’ Wicked and Sony Pictures’ Spider-Man).

Crossing over into new arenas of revenue requires access to vast media libraries, and that is what many of media conglomerates have at their disposal. This ability to converge areas of media interest in order to generate more revenue is something that contrasts with old Hollywood. Jenkins (2004) remarks that “old Hollywood focused on cinema, [and] the new media conglomerates have controlling interests across the entire entertainment industry” (P34). This convergence greatly influences the way society consumes media and entertainment (everything from movies to theme parks to music to toys and games). More than a cross-promotion of entertainment and media products, the convergence of cinema and theme parks is “a reconfiguration of media power and a reshaping of media aesthetics and economics” (Jenkins, 2004, P35). This reconfiguration comes in many shapes and forms. And, the horror film has found a place within the new configuration of entertainment media synergy. Specifically, the horror film has been used instrumentally in this reconfiguration; evidence of this can be seen in the prolific number of television shows (most popularly zombie shows), movies, and horror/Halloween themed events at theme parks (e.g. Busch Gardens’ Howl-O-Scream and Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights). In these events, horror films provide a vast heritage from which theme parks can draw characters and plots to create temporary attractions to generate more income for the media company. Looking at many of the opening day attractions at movie-based theme parks, horror films were the first films to be translated into themed entertainment.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3