Theme Park or IP Park?

With all the recent, present, and future changes coming to the legacy theme parks of Central Florida and Southern California, are we witnessing the next evolution in theme parks? I’ve been tossing around the idea of exploring this trend, and those same feelings were echoed recently on the No Midnight Podcast (a Disney-centric podcast that unpacks history and discusses current happenings in the parks). After listening to the episode, it’s become clear that this anecdotal observation I’ve made is shared by others. As I love exploring the history of the parks from a scholarly perspective (as evident in my past articles and book), this is a topic that deserves consideration.

In order to truly explore this trend that some of us in the theme park blog and podcast communities have observed, it’s important to take a brief look at the development of the very concept of a theme park. And before you think that Disneyland was the first theme park concept, think again. Contrary to popular belief, Universal Studios Hollywood was the first to pioneer the idea of a theme park. More than 40 years before Disneyland was opened, the founder of Universal Studios (studio) German immigrant Carl Laemmle, opened his 250-acre-movie-making ranch, just north of Los Angeles, to the public for a mere $0.25. More than side income for the trailblazing studio, most well-known for its pioneering of the horror film, the original studio tour began on the outdoor backlot in March 1915. Laemmle desired to immerse guests into the magic behind the screen. The happy marriage, however, was not to last very long. Upon the introduction of cinema sound, Laemmle was forced to close the studio “park” to the not-so-quiet guests in order to facilitate appropriate recording sound for the motion pictures. The Universal Studios tour would remain closed to the general public for over 30 years. But, in 1961, the studio would once again open its gates to a new generation of movie lovers through the still world famous studio tram tour.

Combining inspiration from what Laemmle began 40 years prior, visionary Walt Disney made the decision to create an entire land that would immerse guests into the world (or land) of Disney. More than an amusement park, Walt Disney set out to create a multi-dimensional experience complete with continuous coherent storytelling from the architecture to the attractions and restaurants themselves. Even before the park would open its doors in 1955, Walt Disney produced a television special that sought to energize enthusiasm for the groundbreaking concept that took the stories, settings, and characters from the screen and translated them to exist in the real world. Disneyland was so popular that Walt began to develop an idea that would forever change the theme park business forever. The “Florida Project,” as it was called, would eventually become Walt Disney World. Sadly, Walt passed away before the park would open, but Walt Disney World is the manifestation of Walt’s ultimate dream. Disneyland was first and is the park that Walt built, but Disney World is truly what Walt envisioned when he dreamt his innovative idea inspired by his imagination.

In the mid 20th century, Universal Studios Hollywood, Knott’s Berry Farm, Busch Gardens parks, SeaWorld parks, and later in the 20th century Universal Studios Florida were all opened to eager crowds! Each of these parks had a distinct theme, a specific story into which guests were immersed. With the cases of Busch Gardens and SeaWorld parks, the storytelling was also accompanied by a conservation message. Attractions were built that matched well with the theme of the respective land. It’s important to note that, for the most part, there was significant thought put into an attraction fitting into the design (architecture) of the land in order to never take the park guest out of the overarching theme of the area FIRST and the whether or not a particular intellectual property (IP) works in that land second. Make the attraction fit the theme, not retheme the area to match the attraction. Whereas I am oversimplifying this practice or concept, the point is to get you thinking of how theme parks processed new attractions for the longest time; that is, until Universal Studios Islands of Adventure redefined themed entertainment.

Entire volumes of articles could be written on how Islands of Adventure (IOA) redefined themed entertainment; but for the sake of argument, the impact will be streamlined. Prior to IOA, theme parks, including Disney and Universal, were largely built with theme first and properties second. Now, themed entertainment designers are busy taking major IPs, placing them in the park, and then rethemeing around it. Each land or area is themed to the attraction versus the attraction designed to fit the theme of the park area. But in doing so, does this negate the very concept of a theme park, traditionally speaking? What happens when the movie is no longer relevant?

Unlike the other theme parks, at the time, Universal’s IoA was different in that it took popular IPs with entire universes (or worlds) if you will, and built vast lands in which there are attractions based on the movies/books represented. Prior to this, the closest examples were Disney-MGM Studios and Universal Studios. But even with the two aforementioned examples, they weren’t concerned with lands of the movies, but integrating the movie properties into the backlot look and feel of the park. With Disney-MGM (now Hollywood Studios, until it changes again) and Universal Studios Florida, the theme was a combination of Hollywood and the magic of motion pictures. So individual movie or TV properties were included as part of the them park experience, and guests were prevued to studio audience opportunities or the ability to audition to be on a show (think Nickelodeon Studios). The theme was “the movies” or “Hollywood.” From the architecture, to street names, to real-life locations, both of these parks that incorporated different movies or TV shows into the layout and design. The location was largely Hollywood, but could include New York City, San Francisco, a canyon in Arizona, or Amity Island. The attractions were built into the existing landscape versus selecting a property then changing the environment to match the IP. As these “movie parks” have been moving away from the magic of moviemaking to more immersive experiential environments, the “theme” has been changing rapidly. One could draw the conclusion that the “theme” of these parks is now an anti-theme. An anti-theme in that there are a variety of experiences that do not exist within a themed landscape that connects them together.

The theme of Islands of Adventure was just that, islands of adventure. Each island around the lagoon was a different land inspired by a different IP. Personally, Jurassic Park, Harry Potter, and Seuss Landing are my favorite islands! Arguably, Jurassic Park was the centerpiece of the then-innovative concept as it was the biggest fandom represented. Today, that crown rests on the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (since 2010). Not only was IoA the first to pioneer this concept of individual themes within the park, it was the first to create an immersive world in extreme detail. And it was the Wizarding World of Harry Potter that completely changed the theme park game, rewrote the rules, and began the trend away from “theme” parks to IP parks. Instead of a collection of attractions around a shared theme (or collection of themes), now parks are trending toward a park that is a collection of disconnected IPs. While Magic Kingdom has the different themed lands, the overall theme of magic kingdom was largely fantasy and adventure not connected to any specific singular IP. And in each of the lands, there were attractions that fit the theme of the lands, some of which had movie counterparts. But the focus was not on the individual movies as much as it was the idea of escaping to, being transported to a world of high flying adventure or whimsical fantasy.

Ever since the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened, Disney and Universal parks (mainly) but also joined by Movie Park Germany and MotionGate Dubai are principally concerned with attaching movie and literary IPs to the park for the guests. Reminiscent of the space race between the US and Russia of the mid 20th century, the race for theme parks is for IPs for the parks. This pattern continues into the film distribution and production company interests for new content–content that will lend itself to successful translation from screen to park. It’s more important than ever for media conglomerates and umbrella companies that have theme park and distribution interests to know what movies or entire franchises make for viable theme park lands and attractions. I cover this very topic in my study and book On the Convergence of Cinema and Theme Parks, which you can buy an Amazon! Just because a movie or entire franchise is popular, does not mean that it is material for a theme park. For more on that topic, checkout the book.

While building entire lands based upon a popularly established IP to create an immersive environment looks and sounds like a great idea to draw the enthusiastic crowds and significantly increase revenue, there is a darker side to this that will not be realized or observed for years down the road. With the more traditional theme park design, attractions can be changed out of the show buildings far more easily than having to retheme and rebuild an entire land. But why would thinking about the ability to change a land be important? Because it is not unreasonable to arrive at the conclusion that a particular IP may not continue to be popular after an IP has had its run. Although not as big as Star Wars or Harry Potter, the former A Bug’s Life is an example of the lengths a park has to go to to remove and rebuild. Razing to the ground and rebuilding is always more costly than building a’fresh. But this does not seem to detour the parks from moving from the traditional theme park concept to an IP park. A collection of IPs that a company either owns or licenses. In the concept of a collection of IPs, is there actually an over all theme? There appears to be more evidence to suggest that theme, in the traditional sense, is lost when focusing on attaching IPs.

With the continuing trend to focus on IP acquisition instead of original themes, it would appear that the traditional theme park may be dying in exchange for IP park. Take Disney’s Hollywood Studios for example. The theme was “Hollywood” or movie-making. What is the theme now? Well, to be honest, the answer that query is vague at best. You’ve Star Wars land on one side of the park, Toy Story in the middle, and a little bit of Hollywood in the front. No consistency in theme. With the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and Aerosmith being licensed from CBS (Sony), and the facade of the Chinese Theatre licensed from TCL, the theme is NOT Disney IPs. Same with Universal Studios, the theme is not Universal IP because other than the first two installments, all others are Paramount. Not to mention that Simpsons is Fox. Even the headliner Wizarding World of Harry Potter is Warner Brothers (AT&T). Looking at the Disney and Universal parks, I am left in a state of confusion when attempting to understand the theme of the respective parks. So, since a consistent and coherent theme cannot be identified, I am left with the conclusion that there is no theme–just a collection of original and licensed IPs.

While many may not see the differences between the concepts of a theme and IP park because, on the surface, they both look indifferent from one another, the difference seems to be the story or the diegesis of the park, as a whole, from entry gate to back of the park. So, it’s not a matter of semantics. Going from IP to IP, the experience is disrupted, and reminds you that you have not actually been transported to any of these worlds. Part of what makes the traditional theme park a powerful conduit of creating an experiential continuous story is the ability for the park to consistently suspend your disbelief. To understand the difference a little better, think of it this way: the trending IP park concept is a series of “theme parks” joined together by a unifying gate. Instead of the overarching unifying theme that connects all the areas of the park together in one coherent, continuous story, the IP park is a concourse that takes you to different themed lands. So, the importance is not in the theming of the park as a whole, but in the individual lands within the gate. Think of it as a mall. A mall is a “single gate” structure (whether indoor or outdoor mall) that has many different stores. No two stores are the same (even if carrying similar products). The entryways and hallways/concourses are glorified conduits for transportation to and from the various anchor and supporting stores. That’s not unlike the IP park. Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, Toy Story, Pandora, and Star Wars lands are examples of your anchor stores with the other areas as supporting stores.

There is a magic that is lost in transitioning from the theme to IP park. Not that the newly emerging IP heavy lands are lacking in a great experiential factor–obviously, that is not the case–but the park as a whole demonstrates a perpetual identity confusion. If you cannot state the theme of a park in a single statement (much like the logline of a movie), then it is does not have a theme, but a collection of IPs with individual themes. Each of the IPs (whether original or licensed) are incredibly fun, immersive, and innovative, but just because you have a collection of IPs does not mean they make a theme park. More like a theme mall. Whatever the case, it appears that there is a trend away from the conventional theme park to the emerging IP park and any studio-based theme park is transitioning away from any connection to Hollywood or the magic of moviemaking. We are at a transitional stage in themed entertainment, and we will see an increasing number of separate IPs housed around a series of concourses to each experience.\

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa and works in creative services in live themed entertainment. He’s also published prolifically on theme parks and produced a peer-reviewed study. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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“Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom” movie review

“Your (executives) were so pre-occupied with whether or not could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Ironic, isn’t it. A haunting but accurate assessment by Dr. Ian Malcolm. Let me say first, Jurassic Park is my favorite movie of all time, followed closely by Sunset Boulevard and Psycho, so it’s difficult to separate fanboy me from critic me. However, I shall do my best to keep my personal bias in check. As a longtime fan of the franchise that captured my imagination as a kid and with the original filled with depth, irony, tragedy, and more, I was excited as I sat down in the theatre last night to watch Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom (JWFK). And suffice it to say, my friends and I enjoyed our time and felt entertained; however, it’s simply not a great movie. And it pains me to write those words. At the end of the day, the movie suffers from a poorly written screenplay. Some may even describe the screenplay as a generic, vapid paint-by-the-numbers summer popcorn crunching blockbuster movie. The movie is not without its thrills, but I wish more attention was paid to the plot. Director J.A. Bayona takes suspension of disbelief to far reaching levels. The life of this franchise is in the balance; how I hope it finds a way to overcome the weak sequels since the strong original in 1993 that still holds up (and I’m not talking about the technology). Reasons for why it holds up could be entire articles in and of themselves (a lot has to do with the screenplay), but we are here to talk about JWFK.

Three years after the destruction of the Jurassic World theme park, Owen Grady and Claire Dearing return to the island of Isla Nublar to save the remaining dinosaurs from a volcano that’s about to erupt. When the search and transport operation meets with capitalistic opposition, the mission takes them to an underground arms market, they must stop the demented auction from placing humanity it mortal danger. During their covert operation, they encounter terrifying new breeds of gigantic dinosaurs, while uncovering a conspiracy that threatens the entire planet.

Unlike the soft opening of Jurassic World, the sequel begins with an opening scene similar to the tone of the opening of Jurassic Park. Encouraging, right? It’s dark, filled with tension, and ends with a kill. All this, and it doesn’t feel overstuffed with dinosaurs. Like a screenplay should, it hooks the audience without lots of gimmicks. The focus is on the drama, and not simply “look what we can do with dinos.” After this scene, I was looking forward to the rest of the movie. And even in the senate hearing with Dr. Ian Malcolm, this could’ve been used as a great setup for a dynamic ethics debate but it was not followed through. Like other ideas of Colin Trevorrow’s, many turning points, characters, and events are introduced but not developed. These elements often play off as mere plot devices to hurriedly cause something to be able to happen without having to truly develop it. Every character is flat. No dimension to anyone or anything, really. I cannot help but take note of the many opportunities that Trevorrow had to truly craft a cinematic story, and ostensibly ignored it. In an effort to help the vapid screenplay, J.A. Bayona attempted to add dimension to the flat plot but only so much can be done to fix a flawed story.

Examples of characters as mere plot devises are systems analyst Franklin and paleo-veterinarian Zia. Both were setup to be developed further beyond their main skill, but were abandoned. They exist only so two important actions can happen, but that is the extent of their respective development. Such wonderful opportunities to include strong characters, buy they are left as flat as the plot, lacking in any subplot or goals of their own. There is also a fantastic opportunity to provide some exposition on the days before John Hammond’s innovative theme park resort destination. We meet his former partner Benjamin Lockwood, and he explains how the first DNA was extracted in a state of the art lab in the basement of his mansion. There is also a nostalgic shot of a model of the original park’s Visitors Center, complete with Jungle Explorers and the famous gate. Although we have lost Sir Richard Attenborough, there is certainly ways of crafting a flashback to the first time DNA was extracted or even just a few moments of exposition through dialogue to learn about the early days and ultimately why Hammond and Lockwood split. We are given a reason that likely led to the split, but I imagine there was more to it, including the direction to go with the dinosaurs. Again, this is another example of exposition and dimension lost. Could’ve been used as character building and development time.

On the topic of nostalgia, there is plenty of fan service in the movie. Lockwood delivers a line taken directly from Hammond at the end of Lost World and we get to revisit the site of the Jungle Explorer that T-Rex pushed over the retaining wall in the original. There are other moments as well that remind me of the raptor kitchen and more. Furthermore, there are moments in the movie that act as a mirror to the original. Instead of seeking to lock the dinosaurs up, the goal is to free them. But I won’t get into details.

Whatever Universal and Amblin are doing presently, they need to stop and throw out the playbook from Jurassic Park III, Jurassic World, and now JWFK. I liked Jurassic World well enough but I thought the next installment was going to be more gripping, thrilling, exciting, but it went out with a whimper. I was cautiously optimistic when I heard it was going to be darker, closer to the horror that was the original 1993 blockbuster, but it wasn’t terrifying at all. And what parts were creepy, were already shown in the trailer (but that’s the marketing company’s fault, not the director or writer). Crichton is likely rolling over in his grave right about now, rest his soul. The next writer in the Jurassic franchise needs to be someone who understands what it takes to create a great story that CAN sell tickets and reach blockbuster status while holding up years down the road. Take the iconic Tim Burton Batman and Batman Returns, for examples. The reason why these, especially Returns, hold up so well is because Returns is a classic Tim Burton film that happens to have Batman characters, whereas the original is a Batman movie directed by Burton. So, the third installment in the Jurassic franchise needs to attach a writer and/or director who can write/direct a science-fiction horror movie that happens to have dinosaurs and legacy Jurassic Park characters.

While many critics are calling for this franchise to go extinct, this film scholar believes strongly that it can be saved. Much like Claire and Owen are determined to save the cloned dinos from a second extinction, Universal and Amblin need to go back to the beginning and study WHY the first one worked well. The short answer is the screenplay, followed by casting, and lastly the directing. An approach could be to write the screenplay without dinosaurs; write a solid, compelling narrative. Make sure there is a clearly defined goal with clearly defined opposition to the goal, simple plot, and complex characters. Then find places to add in the dinosaurs as anti-heroes. It’s far more effective to retroactively add dinos in and modify the screenplay than write it with a focus on seeing dinosaurs and write a story around them. The former is narrative-heavy with supporting, terrifying action sequences whereas the latter is spectacle heavy with a one-dimensional narrative. Subtext, subplot, and theme need to be infused back into the Jurassic franchise.

At the end of the day, I enjoyed myself. I did not feel as if my time was wasted. You know what, I had fun. And for that, I appreciate the movie. It may not have truly memorable characters or scenes, but it was a fun watch. If more fans speak up, perhaps the next film will go back to its DNA and deliver a sequel that would make the original proud.

For my review of Jurassic World click here.

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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Twitter: RLTerry1

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Jurassic Park at Universal Parks: A Retrospective

It’s been 25 years since Dr. John Hammond so confidently and proudly stated “Welcome to Jurassic Park.” And in 1996 in California and 1999 in Florida, Universal Studios welcomed the world to visit John Hammond’s resort destination park. With the 25th anniversary of Jurassic Park today, I thought it would be fun to take a look at the real Jurassic Park that you can visit as part of your epic adventure at Universal Studios Hollywood (USH) and Islands of Adventure (IoA) in Orlando. As you have heard, the original Jurassic Park the Ride is closing in September in Hollywood to make way for a Jurassic World themed attraction and the one in Orlando will likely be rethemed as well (but we don’t have a date for that closure yet). Although there have been changes to Jurassic Park at IoA over the years, it has largely remained the same as is the case with the location in Hollywood. I was fortunate enough to get to preview IoA before it opened in the Spring of 1999, so I’ve been able to watch as it’s evolved over the years. And I was able to visit the USH location for the first time in 2012. Hoping to make it back before JP the Ride closes in Sept.

I can distinctly remember making my way through the IoA Port of Entry down to the lagoon. And there it was. The Jurassic Park Visitors Center across the water proudly standing to welcome you to an island “65 million years in the making.” After spending time with the whimsical characters of the world of Dr. Seuss and exploring the ruins of left behind on the Lost Continent including an AOL Internet Kiosk (no, really, that was a thing), we approached the trademark gateway to Jurassic Park complete with fire and that timeless trumpet fanfare from the Jurassic Park Main Theme written by John Williams. You felt instantly transported to that island off the coast of Costa Rica that Hammond “leased from the government to set up a kind of biological preserve–really spectacular–spared no expense.” And the attractions really did and still do “drive kids out of their minds.” My parents, sister, and I were completely awestruck at just how real everything felt. It was one of our favorite movies, as a family, and to experience the real thing (figuratively anyway), was an incredible feeling. The most noticeable difference between Jurassic Park at USH and IoA is size. Although the Jurassic Park area at USH was the original, it is mostly the ride itself and new Raptor Encounter whereas Jurassic Park is an entire land at IoA boasting more offerings. But there is a magic at USH that doesn’t exist at IoA. When at USH, you feel more of a connection to the film itself because you are mere steps from the sound stages where it came to life.

Before the photo stops were automated, there were Jurassic Park photogs to take your pictures at vignettes from Jurassic Park and The Lost World. So many park vehicles along the park’s pathways. You had the original Jungle Explorer, gas Jeep Wrangler, and customized Mercedes-Benz M320. A side note: I’m such a fan of the franchise that I owned a Ford Explorer and ML320. We never really spend anytime in the park aside from the basic tour, but I imagine the park must’ve looked similar to what we experiences walking through the jungle. Just like in the movie, our first stop was the Visitors Center (“Discovery” Center). So incredibly similar to the one from the film! It was nearly uncanny. Instead of walking into it from the main pathway, my family and I walked down to the lagoon so we could enter in from the front just like in the film. Ascending the stairs, the imposing structure was soon directly in front of us, with only a door left to be opened. Even the entry doors were nearly identical to the ones in the film. Since my parents knew how much I loved the movie, they opened the doors and I walked in!

Everything was there, the murals, giant T-Rex and Brachiosaurus skeletons, staircase, and more. So many educational exhibits around the perimeter of the main gallery. You could watch baby dinosaurs hatch, build your own dino with DNA, climb inside a dinosaur to look out of its eyes, and so much more. Even Mr. DNA was featured at one of the exhibits. The interior reminded me a little of Innoventions at Epcot, in that there were educational exhibits based on various parts of the movie. Not on this trip, but later after I moved to the area and became a passholder. I had the opportunity to adopt a baby raptor from the Visitors Center and I named it Barbra as I’m a fan of Streisand! Back to my first experience. It was lunchtime so we walked up the staircase rounding the trademark skeletons in the center of the gallery and dined at Burger Digs (at lease I think it was called Burger Digs back then–that is a little foggy at this point). On the upper level, I love coming across nods to the film in the paintings, wall art, and murals. Wish the dining room resembled the one from the movie a little more, bur I can understand how that could be problematic logistically with it being a quick service restaurant. Fortunately, there are lots of tables inside and out! Personally, I enjoy dining al fresco.

After we finished our dino-sized burgers at the restaurant, we exited and continued to stroll around the park. To our left was a big fossil of a triceratops at the entrance to the (former) Triceratops Encounter! Located where the Raptor Encounter is today, was an attraction that left a talking impression on me and my family. Unfortunately, the attraction did not last long but the memories are still there. I can still remember meandering the long pathway along the electric fence through the jungle. Through open gates and past open of the gas Jeeps. At the end of the pathway was an unassuming shed. But the magic happened on the inside! On the inside of that shed was a life-sized triceratops who was going into labor. For real! Or for all intents and purposes, real. Remember that scene from the movie where the park gusts stumble upon the sick Tric? That same feeling you got when you saw that majestic creature on screen? You got that same feeling at this attraction. It was so incredibly real–even to the touch. You even got to see the baby! The technology reminded me of how the dinosaur must’ve been built for the movie. I imagine the complex technology is what lead to the closure of the attraction. Once it broke, perhaps it was just not cost effective to repair (i.e. Disco Yeti at Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom).

From a triceratops encounter to a river adventure, we made our way to the flagship attraction. The Jurassic Park River Adventure. Based on the Jurassic Park the Ride at USH, this attraction began with inspiration from the novel more so than the film. In the novel (and in the Jurassic Park video game in the 90s), there was an entire sequence of events and on the river. So instead of a replica of the basic tour, Spielberg desired to immerse the park guests into the river adventure from the novel because it’s something he wanted in the movie, but just didn’t work out that way. The queue for the attraction takes you through a series of switchbacks with models of the island and other information along the way. Overhead are park broadcasters who inform you about dinosaurs you will see. Just as if you are in THE Jurassic Park about to take a tour. It feels as if you are actually there. Even the park employees are in Jurassic Park uniforms. Eventually you make your way down to the river and board your raft boat.

For the most part, the attractions at USH and IoA are largely the same. There is a notable exception though. The original attraction in USH includes the wrecked Jungle Explorer falling over the retaining wall and crashing below–a crash with a big splash! Otherwise, the ride path is the same. Other minor differences exist as in the placement of dinosaurs in the lagoon and in the command center. Just like in the movie, your river tour is narrated! I remember floating along the river in the boat for the very first time. Amazed at everything! One of the most memorable parts is the beginning as the narrator welcomes you to Jurassic Park as the big gates open to reveal all the dinosaurs in the lagoon! With the growing trend of simulated reality, this attraction is still a testament to physical movement through an attraction that you can “see, feel, and touch.” You cannot replace the way real light bounces off real objects and into the human eye. Same can be said the filmmaking. That’s one of the things that I still love about the attraction–is the commitment to truly immersing you into the world of Jurassic Park without use of screens, glasses, or some other type of VR. As a kid, I almost thought the dinosaurs were real–like I was a guest at Jurassic Park taking the tour.

Everything seems to be going according to John Hammond’s plan until the raft is knocked off course–heading for the Raptor containment unit and command center/genetics lab. Something is definitely not right, as evident from the crashed watercraft and compys fighting over a JP uniform with the nametag Mickey on it. Love that touch! The first time we went underneath the raptor transport contained I remember screaming as it came crashing overhead. Nothing beats the first time on Jurassic Park River Adventure or Ride! I wish there was a little more to the command center/genetics lab than there is, but it’s still a lot of fun to go through. The first time has surprises around every corner. As soon as you go inside, you know that you’re about to be in trouble. As a kid, this moment was so incredibly tense. Especially coming face to face with velociraptors and dilophosaurus attacking your raft as it ascends to the top of the lab. I remember heading the iconic stomps of T-Rex and the tears through the walls. One of the scariest moments going up the ramp was the electric fence with the raptor lunging out of it. And just when you think it’s all over, you encounter a fog, and in that thick fog is THE dino herself T-Rex. Before the park operations eased up on the movement and fog, I distinctly recall the mouth of T-Rex coming into close proximity with the raft just before the steep plunge into the watery depths below. What a fall! Definitely steeper than Splash Mountain and Dudly Do Right Falls. Just as the characters in the movie narrowly evade being eaten by the dinosaurs, we too narrowly escape the jaws of T-Rex. When we exited through the gift shop, I recall looking at all the merchandise that you can actually find in the film. During the scene when Hammond and Ellie are debating about control and illusion. Some of that merchandise can still be found today in the shop, but most of it has sense been replaced by Jurassic World merch.

What wonderful memories have been had at Jurassic Park at Universal Parks! I am glad that I have been able to experience both parks but most of my memories are at the IoA location. Although parts of me will be sad to see the Jurassic Park branding and attractions change to Jurassic World, it’s all part of the evolutionary process a theme park goes through. I have hope that there will always be some uniquely Jurassic Park moments or locations because “life cannot be contained…does not adhere to park schedules…life finds a way.”

Checkout the linked videos to both the attractions at USH and IoA

“Jurassic Park” (1993), Sci-Fi Horror NOT Action-Adventure

In honor of Jurassic Park‘s 25th Anniversary, I want to revisit why the film works so incredibly well, and never gets old. Just like Dr. Alan Grant states at the beginning of the film, “raptors have far more in common with present day birds than they do with reptiles,” that same analogy can be drawn with the original Jurassic Park and its proximity to horror compared to action-adventure. Borrowing from Dr. Grant, the original Jurassic Park has far more in common with scifi-horror than it does with action-adventure, hence why it has held up over the years and continues to be a favorite film for many cinephiles and fans alike. While all the sequels, including Jurassic World are far more action-adventure than the original, Jurassic Park can be likened to Ridley Scott’s Alien. The latter is a quintessential space scifi-horror with action-adventure sequels just like the former. And like Jurassic Park, the original Alien is considered far superior to that of the sequels. But why is this? There are many reasons from script to director to cinematography; but at the end of the day, it’s the fact that both these critically acclaimed and admired films have their respective roots in the American horror film and not action-adventure movies. More so than any other genre, horror is (1) uniquely American and (2) the most time tested, given it can trace its roots back to the 1890s and was perfected by Universal Pictures in the 1920s and 30s.

So what separates Jurassic Park from the sequels? Both have life-threatening dinosaurs, both have action, both have adventure, etc. But, only the original carries with it social commentary, rich subtext, and well-developed themes told through a brilliant combination of horrific frights and believable sciences taking place within a world of fiction grounded in reality. Furthermore, the focus in both Jurassic Park and Alien is largely on the drama between the characters and the oppositional forces in the film. The sequels in both franchises place far less emphasis on well-developed conflict and drama, and instead sacrifice those golden elements of cinematic storytelling for high-concept CGI-filled adventure movies with lots of dinosaurs or aliens. The proliferation of gimmicks and effects is often used to hide a weak story. Fortunately, Jurassic Park provides audiences with a strong plot told through exceptional cinematic storytelling.

Jurassic Park‘s screenplay benefitted from being penned by the award-winning author Michael Crichton who also wrote the novel by the same name. Often times, when the author of the novel also writes the screenplay, the screenplay forms a stronger foundation upon which the technical elements can be build. A more recent example of a brilliant screenplay adaptation of a novel is Gone Girl, the author of the novel was the screenwriter. Although a screenplay is visually driven whereas a novel is internally driven, when a novelist with a penchant for visual storytelling writes the screenplay for the movie adaptation, the screenplay tends to contain better developed characters, strong subtext, effective conflict, and excellent dialogue. Crichton created incredibly memorable characters who each spoke with their own voice. Casting the right actors to portray the characters is obviously important–and the cast for Jurassic Park is exemplary–but even before the actor steps into the character’s shoes, the character has to be created. Each character in Jurassic Park possesses unique traits, strengths, weaknesses, dialect, and behaviors. Instead of the conflict being arbitrary, the conflict develops through the interpersonal relationships between the characters and the relationship between the characters and the opposition–human and nature.

I was in elementary school when the movie hit theatres in the summer of 1993; and although under 13, my parents allowed me to go see the movie. It was my first PG-13 film, and what an experience! Not unlike Dr. Grant’s reaction to his first encounter with a dinosaur in the film, my reaction to Spielberg’s masterpiece was eyes-wide-open, mouth gaping wide, and racing endorphins. And then comes the macabre contrast in Acts II and III. “Ooo, ahh–that’s how it begins, and then there’s running and screaming” (Dr. Ian Malcolm, The Lost World). Aptly stated. The opening scene hooks the audience with a disaster, but does not reveal much about the dinosaur in the secured transport–brilliant. Because this scene did not show a dinosaur, the audience’s curiosity is pricked which creates an eagerness to see a dinosaur and a degree of nervousness or apprehension accompanying that curiosity. We wanted to see more. If you’re familiar with Hitchcock’s bomb theory, he states “you must never let the bomb go off.” More than simply shock audiences with the death of that employee at the beginning of the movie, this scene serves as information more than a glimpse at that which would be horrific in real life. This delay of seeing a dinosaur forces the audiences to pay more attention to the characters, dialogue, and conflict than looking for the next dino. Furthermore, the delay in seeing a dinosaur, perfectly setup audiences for the grand reveal on the way from the helipad to the Visitors Center. Interestingly, if you add up all the screen time that dinosaurs receive in the film, you’ll find that they are only on screen for about 20-minutes. Just like Hitchcock transferred the terror from the screen into the minds of the audience after the Psycho “shower scene,” Crichton and Spielberg did the same with Jurassic Park.

It’s the soft introduction to the man-made dinosaurs that makes the horror of the dinosaurs feel so much more intense later on in the film–and make you scream! In terms of the type of science-fiction horror film Jurassic Park could be classified as, it shares many commonalities with man vs nature and man vs technology horror films. Crichton is known for his believable science within his works of fiction. It is obvious that genetics and paleontology were researched enough to use real, hard science to inspire a fictional science that feels just out of reach of the current trends in the science, technology, and engineering fields. Pair that with horror, and you have a solid cinematic film. The brilliance of horror films is how they can creatively comment on or provide a different perfective on a anthropological or psychological observation; moreover, it can be helpful when exploring philosophical questions. And these topics are visually explored through the movie and externalize the themes. One area that separates popcorn action-adventure movies from horror films is the cultural significance of the subtext and themes. Typically, action adventure movies do not carry with them social commentary nor significantly pull on our emotions and tap into our most primal fears. Jurassic Park contains all of this. There is something about horror films that beckons the audiences to find enjoyment in, that which in real life, would not be enjoyable—and not only see it once, but repeat it. And furthermore, find the unfamiliar and grotesque fascinating to behold as what should remain hidden comes to light. Certainly the dinosaurs in the movie should have remained “extinct,” but were brought back to life and engaged in violence in which we find enjoyment. 

Some of the themes found in Jurassic Park that are told through the visceral horror and tense dramatic moments are: man vs nature, foolishness and folly, greed, wisdom vs knowledge, man vs technology, and parenting. Why don’t the Jurassic films have the chache that the original does? You try to find to find rich themes such as these in the subsequent films. They don’t exist. Why? Because it is far more difficult to explore what it means to be human and social constructs in a scifi action movie than in scifi horror. An action movie would be ill-equipped to tackle questions of a philosophical nature because the focus is largely on the action itself and not necessarily the characters, and almost never the subtext and theme. For an action film to delve into that which causes the film to take on an intellectual nature, it would lose the attention of those who simply want a good popcorn movie. Don’t get me wrong, there are excellent action-adventure movies that contribute to the world of cinema in exceptional ways. Indiana Jones Raiders, Doom, and Last Crusade do that. Obviously, the inability to reconcile nature’s resistance to control is one of the most important themes of Jurassic Park. Dr. Ian Malcolm tells the group that “life finds a way,” and it immediately becomes the film’s mantra (and a quotable line), true in every demonstrable, measurable way; the dinosaurs survive outside their design and engineering, the lost children survive with the help of a kid-averted paleontologist who discovers his parental side, humanity survives despite meddling in the natural order of things by playing God because that’s what we do–we survive. Every character in the film either understands or is reminded of this–some of them, by force when it’s too late–through the course of events.

Jurassic Park uses horror film techniques in a brilliant fashion to force its audience into considering the larger philosophical questions mentioned in the previous paragraph. It reinforces those questions with clever parallels: Dr Grant’s way of paleontology is about to go “extinct” due to the rise of computer technology (the line “don’t you mean extinct” came from a comment behind-the-scenes regarding CGI encroaching upon animatronics, puppetry, and special effects); the power of the natural world is exponentially magnified when the park’s technology failure is combined with a disastrous tropical storm; money causes literally every ill in the film, even when it is being used for supposedly admirable purposes; and “you were so pre-occupied with whether or not you could, you didn’t stop to think if you should.” The inability to reconcile nature’s resistance to control is one of the most important themes of the film, of course. Ian Malcolm tells the group that “life finds a way,” and it abruptly becomes the tale’s rallying cry, true in every conceivable way; the dinosaurs survive outside their engineering, the lost children survive with the help of a paleontologist who discovers his paternal side, humanity survives despite its meddling because it’s what we do. Every character in the film either understands this, or is made to by the course of events.

Beyond exploring themes, it’s the intent of the film that determines whether is a thriller (suspense) or horror film. The films speak for themselves. If the intent is to horrify, then it’s a horror film; if the intent is to thrill, then it is a thriller. In all fairness, Jurassic Park is borderline; but it’s the level of shock, fear, and dread that may just be enough to tip the scale toward horror instead of thriller, and certainly evidence enough to prove that it is NOT simply a dark action-adventure movie. Much like Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and Scott’s Alien, Spielberg’s Jurassic Park is also an intellectual film. Whereas an action-adventure movie would have provided audiences with a few minutes collectively of some surface-level chit-chat above ethics in order to technically give the film a theme, Jurassic Park provides audiences with an entire film about ethics that will have them talking about the various dilemmas and challenges facing the characters throughout the film. It’s brilliant! And quite the rarity these days. The hand of Spielberg’s penchant for horror (Jaws and Poltergeist) is seen in Jurassic Park from requesting that Crichton rewrite the original screenplay to be more cinematic and less internally driven because Spielberg desired to take the novel and adapt it to screen as a Jaws on land. If his intent was to make a sequel to Jaws, then we have to conclude that his intention was to horrify audiences in some measurable amount.

With a film as dynamic as Jurassic Park, it may be nearly impossible to prove that it is a horror film at its roots; but, the body of information provided in this article help to support the thesis that it is a horror film based upon the intention, conflict, themes, and visceral terror. “Well, there is it.”

You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, let him know and you can join him at the cinema.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter!

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Take Mom to the Parks this Mother’s Day

With Mother’s Day quickly approaching, you may be thinking of something special to do for her that weekend. For those of you who live in Florida, California, Texas, or the many other places where theme and amusement parks are located, then perhaps consider taking her to one of them for a day of magic, thrills, and enjoyment. I have many fond memories of hanging out with my mother in the theme parks, and thought that I would explore some different theme parks and outline some ideas that you may want to use if you decide to whisk your mom away for a day of excitement and adventure. Even before living in Florida, I grew up going to the parks, and some of my favorite memories are experiencing all the attractions with my family. Even when I go today (which is practically weekly), I often remember the ride and show experiences with my mom. As a little side note, the first time I saw Wishes: a Magical Gathering of Dreams fireworks spectacular at Magic Kingdom was when my mom moved me to Orlando. Perhaps your mom enjoys the familiar characters of Disney, maybe she loves the thrill of being chased by dinosaurs at Universal, the aquatic life of SeaWorld, or the intimate animal encounters of Busch Gardens. Whatever your mom likes, there is a plan for you! For those of you who may have lost your mom, my heart goes out to you; but, maybe there remains a mother-figure in your life that could use a special day. Since you may only be able to visit a theme park for one day, the following articles combine attractions or experiences that can easily be accomplished, even on a moderately busy day. Let’s hit the road and see what endearing adventures lie in waiting for you and your mom this Mother’s Day.

As this is a rather lengthy series articles, you can jump to a particular park by clicking on the one you want below, or simply scroll through browsing the headlines.

Universal Orlando

The first stop on our Mother’s Day theme park day is Universal Orlando Resort! You can start your day by grabbing some delicious pastries or breakfast sandwiches at the Beverly Hills Boulangerie, located near the entrance of Universal Studios. Don’t let the pretentious name deter you; this is a quick-service style restaurant that will provide you with a carb-filled fare and coffee to boost your energy. Next, walk along Hollywood Blvd for some star searching; you may run into Marilyn Monroe, Lucille Ball, or Betty Boop. After sightseeing in Hollywood, your help is needed! E.T. must make it home to the Green Planet to save it. Stop by the E.T. Adventure to pickup a bike and take him home. Not all aliens are good guys. Your mom’s skills are needed by the MIB Agency to clean up the city streets and protect earth’s citizens at MIB: Alien Attack. After this close  encounter of the third kind, head back to Hollywood to learn about Universal’s horror film legacy and perhaps some scares along the way at the Horror Makeup Show.

By now, you and your mom are probably getting a little hungry, and there is no better place within the park to grab lunch than The Leaky Cauldron. After leaving the Horror Makeup Show, head directly across the lagoon to walk though the wall into The Wizarding World of Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley. Here, your mom can be immersed in the nostalgia and magic of J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World. Located near the entrance, on the left, is the famous Leaky Cauldron. You’ll find a better assortment of British favorites at this quick casual dining restaurant. Now that your energy is back up, make your way to Gringotts Bank because you are needed to help Harry and his friends escape capture by him who shall not be named. Climb aboard a mine cart and race through the bank’s underworld to retrieve a horcrux. If you happen to hear the wickedly talented Celestina Warbeck and her banshees performing when you exit Gringotts, don’t miss her jazz concert! After winding your way through Knockturn Alley, head over to Kings Cross Station to climb aboard the Hogwarts Express, destination Hogsmeade (park-hopper ticket required).

Once in Hogsmeade, head for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry because Harry, Ron, and Hermione require your assistance in defeating some dementors at Forbidden Journey. Before leaving Hogsmeade, be sure to stop by the Butterbeer cart. From flying on park benches to running from dinosaurs, your mom’s next stop should be Jurassic Park! From the time you walk under the iconic gates, become immersed in the epic franchise. Before setting out into the park, stop by the JP Discovery Center located in the replica of the original Visitors Center. There, you can adopt a baby Raptor, learn about genetic sequencing, or pickup some JP merchandise. You can take a memorable picture at the Raptor Encounter, one that the memories will never become extinct. Instead of the Jungle Explorers, hop aboard the river raft for a tour through the prehistoric park. You never know what you’ll encounter on the tour at the River Adventure! Leaving Isla Nublar, you and your mom need to sail over to Skull Island where you will come face to face with the Rein of Kong. Your expedition will take you deep into the heart of Skull Island where bugs are larger than life, giant worm-like creatures exist in the mercy waters, and dinosaurs still roam about. Just don’t forget who’s the king of the jungle.

Following the dark adventures of Skull Island and Jurassic Park, walk through the colorful, fun Toon Lagoon. If you and your mom enjoy water rides, there are two exciting ones right there: Popeye’s Barges and Rip Saw Falls. Rather hang with Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk? Then stop by Marvel Superhero Island for some web-slinging action at the Spider-Man 4D ride or volunteer to be turned into a Hulk at the exhilarating Incredible Hulk Coaster. Passing the Port of Entry at Islands of Adventure, prepare to be transported to the whimsical world of beloved Dr. Seuss. Here you’ll want to experience the nostalgia of The Cat in the Hat, stop by the Lorax to save the Truffula Trees, or take to the skies on the Seuss Train! By this time, you’re day is nearly over, but you’ve still likely got time for a few more attractions. Your next stop is New York City, but you need to make a stop in London at Kings Cross station. Make your may to the Hogsmeade Station on the other side of the Lost Continent. If you have time, though, you don’t want to miss the immersive spectacle of the special effects walk-through show at Poseidon’s Fury located in the heart of The Lost Continent. If time allows, and you want to grab a bite to eat for dinner, then check out Mythos, the highly rated restaurant, located directly across from Poseidon’s temple.

After the Hogwarts Express stops at Kings Cross, journey to the museum of antiquities, housing the treasures from a recent Egyptian excavation. At Revenge of the Mummy, you and you mom will be faced with a daring escape from Imhotep. Along the way, you’ll encounter treasures beyond your wildest imagination and ancient curses as well. What better way to end the night than to surprise your mom with studio audience tickets to an exclusive Universal Orlando taping of The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon! No need to hail a cab or take the subway to 30 Rock, just walk a couple blocks from the museum. No conventional queue here, you and your mom will have the freedom to walk about the NBC Studios while waiting for Jimmy Fallon’s studio to open. During your wait, you can enjoy the musical offerings of The Ragtime Gals and even kick back and charge your phone. When Jimmy Fallon challenges you to a race, then you and your mom will Race Through New York in an attempt to beat Fallon for first place! On you way out of the park, you and your mom definitely need to stop by the Universal Studios globe for a photo to remember your world of adventure.

SeaWorld Orlando

Maybe movies just aren’t your mom’s thing. Perhaps she prefers close encounters of another kind. Then head west on the I-4 to SeaWorld Orlando for Mothers Day. With a balanced combination of aquatic animal encounters and some thrilling coasters, SeaWorld Orlando may be just the ticket for mom. Before heading into the park, you may want to grab breakfast outside because the breakfast food selections are rather anemic. Upon entering the park, stop by the giant SeaWorld Anniversary Celebration photo op to start your day out right. Next, want to feel what its like to fly through the waters of the ocean? Then your first stop should be Manta! This inverted coaster will give you the sensation that you are a manta ray smoothly and quickly gliding around the sea. When you exit Manta, spend some time in the aquarium to get up close and personal with hundreds of tropical fish including some stingrays.

After spending time with stingrays, take your mom on down to Key West for some dolphin viewing! For an extra special treat, check out the close encounter times where she can touch a dolphin. On the backside of the dolphin lagoon is the underwear viewing area. Perfect for watching the dolphins frolic in the water; you might even catch one smiling at you. Beyond the dolphin cove lies the Turtle Trek aquarium and 360-degree 3D theatre experience. Become a turtle and journey from your egg to the ocean, back to lay your eggs, and return to the ocean in this suspenseful film. Along the way, you’ll meet some manatees and other oceanlife too. By the time you’ve returned to the surface, it will likely be time to catch the new Dolphin Days show. Watch a trainers give you glimpse into their world of training, educating, and playing with the dolphins–you’ll catch some great tricks too!

Next, Journey to Atlantis in SeaWorld’s water ride that sends you on an adventure to the legendary lost city ending with a plunge into the deep blue sea. If your mom has a slight aversion to wear rides, just make sure you bring ponchos. You’re probably a little hungry at this point, but don’t grab lunch just yet–definitely grab a snack though.  From Atlantis to facing off with a mythological creature, head directly for Kraken. A more traditional coaster, Kraken includes drops loops and cobra rolls. When you’ve defeated the Kraken, head on over to cool off in Antarctica where you can follow a cute little penguin named Puff to meet all his friends and family on a moderately thrilling ride through icy caverns and chilly waters. From cute penguins to cute sea lions, the next part of your Mother’s Day with Mom is visiting with the seals located near Sea Lion and Otter stadium. Be sure not to miss Clyde and Seamore Sea Lion High comedy show.

Finally, time to eat! And you’re not just going to eat anywhere, but you’re going to take mom to Sharks Underwater Grill (make reservations ahead of time). Sharks provides an upscale dining atmosphere complete with Sharkquarium side tables, comprehensive menu including fish, steak, and more. The lobster bisque is incredibly good! Don’t forget to order a signature cocktail to accompany your meal. When you’ve finished dining, swim on down to the walkthrough aquarium. Here, you will be surrounded on three sides by a wide variety of fish and sharks. Upon exiting, you’re in the perfect place to experience SeaWorld’s newest coaster Mako! No inversions here, but the speed, drops, and smooth ride will have you wanting to ride it again. Excellent coaster experience!

With the day coming to a close, you want to head for Shamu Stadium for One Ocean, SeaWorld’s premiere show that is best viewed in the evening. Orcas (or Killer Whales) accompany you on an adventure including beautiful music, breathtaking colors, and outstanding trailed behaviors that highlight the magic of Orcas and even teach you a conservation message. After the show, if you have time, you can checkout the Wild Arctic attraction that puts you right in the middle of the excitement and danger of the the frozen wilderness. On your way out of the park, be sure to stop by the many merchandise shops. A percentage of SeaWorld’s profits go to fund not only theirs, but other conservation organizations and animal rescues around the world.

Walt Disney World

Has your mom ever dreamed of flying on an elephant, cruising through the jungle, or rocketing through space? Then make her “dreams come true” at the Walt Disney World Resort. Wish so much to see and do, it can be overwhelming. If you’re on a budget and can only spend one day–a’chem Mother’s Day–at the world’s premiere theme park destination, then you’ll find everything you need right here to create magical memories for mom this year. But which park? That is a toughie for sure. Each park offers something that the others do not. Hence why many opt for a park-hopper pass (a little pricy). When choosing one park at which to spend the day, then I typically recommend choosing either Magic Kingdom or Epcot. Don’t get me wrong, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios are fun too; in fact, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is my favorite ride in the parks. But, my goal is to help you plan out a day that fits time and budget constraints. For purposes of this article, I am going to talk about Magic Kingdom; however, if your mom prefers a more educational experience, enjoys tasting wines, beers, and foods from around the world, and likes some innovative ride experiences, then Epcot would be the best pick. The new Soarin’ is dope!

After making your way to Magic Kingdom (MK) from the Transportation and Ticket Center on either the monorail or ferry, you just have to take a photo with your mother in front of the iconic train station. There is usually a PhotoPass photographer available to take your picture. Before venturing too far, visit a FastPass+ kiosk to make reservations for rides, character experiences, etc. Once on Main Street USA, you may want to visit Mickey and Minnie in Town Square Theatre before setting out into the park. Who doesn’t love waffles??? With a day of adventure ahead, be sure to boost your energy with a stop at Starbucks and the Plaza Ice Cream Parlor. There, you can get Mickey Waffles with strawberries on top! So many shoppes! If your mom likes to browse the latest Disney merchandise, then she will likely find something she’ll love in one of the many shoppes along Main Street. Of course, it’s Mother’s Day, so be sure to buy her something. In order to make the most of your time, I do not suggest stopping at the shoppes until you are leaving the park. Before you go any further, you and your mom have to take pictures in front of one of the most recognizable castles in the world! So many wonderful locations from which to take pictures with Cinderella’s Castle in the background. From the castle hub, you can head anywhere!

I suggest first heading to Fantasyland to catch a ride on the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train! Ordinarily, I like going in a circle in the parks, but this ride tends to have a very long line, and if you don’t have a FastPass+ reservation for it, then you want to hit it first. Here are a couple fun tips: (1) when in the standby queue, if you can get all the barrels of jewels spinning at the same time, then you might just catch a glimpse of Snow White dancing on the ceiling! (2) once on board the mine train, try to rock your cart left and right–so much fun! Following your visit with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, then head on over to Storybook Circus where you can take flight on the world’s most famous flying elephant. After Dumbo returns you safely to the ground, you’re going to continue your magical journey under the sea in Fantasyland with Ariel! Climb inside a clamshell and relive the magic of the movie that radically shifted Disney animated films. For a little pick me up, check out Gaston’s Tavern where you can get Disney’s answer to Butterbeer, Lafou’s Brew. If time allows, head next door to enjoy some Storytime with Belle and become part of the enchanting tale of Beauty and the Beast.

Walking around the back of the castle and to the right, you’ll want to choose between It’s a Small World After All or Peter Pan’s Flight. Both are so iconic that it is hard to choose, but I’m trying to get you through MK in one day. You’re probably glancing at your watch and wondering when lunchtime is, I suggest stopping by the Columbia Harbor House or Liberty Tree Tavern, both located near one another. Located in that same area of Liberty Square is The Haunted Mansion. They have 999 happy haunts, but there’s room for a thousand, any volunteers??? When nearing the exit of Mansion, be aware of hitchhiking ghosts, they might just follow you home. As you round the lagoon, you’ll make your way to Frontierland! This exciting wild west town is home to two iconic mountains: Big Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain. Won’t likely be time for both, so I suggest Thunder Mountain! From the wild west to jungles and pirate infested waters, you’re heading for Adventureland! Climb aboard if you dare, the Pirates of the Caribbean. Who knows? You might just spy the infamous Captain Jack Sparrow. If you make it out unscathed, then sail for the world famous Jungle Cruise! After cruising down so many of the most famous rivers on the planet, you are definitely in need of some dinner. Thankfully, there is a great place to grab some great food at the Skippers Canteen (I suggest reservations).

No Mother’s Day trip to Disney World would be complete without a visit to Tomorrowland! Skip across the hub to where there is always “a great big beautiful tomorrow shining at the end of everyday.” Located in the back of Tomorrowland is Space Mountain! Prepare to rocket through space on this classic Disney coaster. Before heading back to the hub to catch the new Happily Ever After nighttime firework spectacular, you need to stop by the longest running stage show in the history of American theatre Carousel of Progress! Here you will witness the history of the American family and technology from the early 1900s to “present day” (1990s). I seldom miss experiencing Carousel on my many trips to the park. After the beautiful firework display over the castle, now’ time to hit the shoppes on Main Street! There is something for everyone, especially mom! Sometimes it’s the little things that mean the most such as time spend with your mother, but never under estimate how much she’ll appreciate a souvenir from Mickey’s Emporium or Uptown Jewelers. I enjoy taking the ferry back to parking at night because of the cooler night air and breeze.

Busch Gardens Tampa

Feel the wilds of Africa calling your name? Does you mom like getting up close with lions, tigers, and kangaroos??? Then, take her to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay for Mother’s Day! Only an hour away from Disney World, Busch Gardens Tampa boasts a fantastic assortment of intimate animal encounters and thrilling coasters. For an extra special treat, book a seat on the Serengeti Safari to feed giraffes. With many shows, rides, and animal encounters to choose from, a day at Busch Gardens will make for a memorable Mother’s Day. Due to limited breakfast options in the park, I suggest grabbing bite to eat at First Watch near USF to boost your energy! After entering the park, head for Adventure Photo to take a picture of you and your mom that can help you remember your adventure-filled day through Africa, Australia, and more. If you need an extra boost of caffein, then there is  a Starbucks located near the entrance of the park. Heading to the right, you’ll pass the Moroccan Palace, home of the Iceploration Show–come back later as you don’t want to miss it! The entrance of the first animal habitat you want to his is near the palace. Get ready to encounter gorillas in the Myombe Reserve. Meandering through the lush forests and exploring caverns, you’ll have the opportunity to get some rare glimpses of gorillas and other African animals.

Upon exiting the Myombe Reserve, head to the right to head back toward the Morocco area in order to make your way to Egypt! Egypt is home to three of Busch Gardens’ best coasters: Cheetah Hunt, Cobra’s Curse, and (my personal favorite) Montu. Each coaster offers a very different ride experience. On your way to Cheetah Hunt, you’ll get the opportunity to meet some cheetahs. Cheetah Hunt is a high speed more traditional coaster that gives you the feeling of being a cheetah racing through the Savana. After sprinting through the wild African plains, you’ll want to check out one of nature’s most mysterious and terrifying creatures the King Cobra. Hope in a spinning mine cart at Cobra’s Curse and ride the elevator to the top to come face to face with the King of Cobras himself. This entry level coaster is fun for the whole family, especially if you can get everyone spinning the cart. Oh yeah, it has an indoor queue too! Just up the hill from Cobra on of my favorite coasters period–Montu! A lengthy gravity defying inverted coaster, Montu constantly ranks as a top coaster from blogs and enthusiasts. Returning from your Egyptian exclusion, make your way to the Edge of Africa animal walkabout. There, you’ll have excellent views of the Serengeti and lots of photo opportunities. Along the way, you’ll see lions, giraffes, ostriches, hyenas, zebra, and more! You’ll feel as if you are right there with the animals. If you’re lucky, then you’ll find the lions right up next to the viewing area.

For an even closer experience, you can climb aboard the Serengeti Express for a steam train ride around the animal preserve! When you return to the Nairobi train station, you can head back toward the Moroccan Palace for Iceploration! This ice skating show is a treasure! Simply beautiful, and some humor as well. After backtracking a little to the ice palace, head back to the Cheetah Hunt area to dine at the Serengeti Overlook Restaurant. This 19th century themed restaurant, offers great views of the Serengeti and two dining options: table service and quick service. Once you’ve replenished your energy, take a stroll along the wooded path beyond the railroad tracks, and you’ll meander past the hippo and Nile crocodile viewing areas. Eventually the path will lead back to the Nairobi area. Take a right and head to see the elephants and onward to Pantopia! Pantopia is home to Falcon’s Fury, the midway area, Opening Night Critters show and a few other attractions. Depending on what your mom is most interested in, you can decide how to best use your time; but I recommend soaring through the sky like a falcon and watching the show. I find the scariest part of Falcon’s Fury is rising up and the comedy in the Opening Night Critters show is adorable!

Over the ridge from Pantopia lies the Congo! By now, you and your mom are probably roasting in the hot humid Florida weather and desire a fun way to cool off. Consider river rafting at Congo River Rapids! You’re liable to get soaking wet on this thrilling adventure through this mysterious river region of Africa. Deep in the jungles of Africa lie some mysterious creatures, but thankfully Busch Gardens has a journey to send you on to face off with Kumba! If you and you mom love looping coasters, then you’ll definitely enjoy Kumba. While waiting for the coaster, you’ll get to hear the roar of Kumba as it races by. Next door to Congo is Junglala, home the Bengal Tigers! Jungala offers a fabulous Bengal Tiger animal habitat with lot of different views. As you make your way through the jungle, you’ll find yourself in Stanleyville surrounded by great food options, a log flume, and you’ll encounter Sheikra! Complete with a freefall and inversions, this coaster is incredibly exciting. You’ll probably only have time for either the coaster or log flume.

With all the best rides out of the way, you and mom are probably ready to cool off and calm down. If you’re interested in feeding colorful birds in a large aviary, you and your mom will enjoy Lory Landing. You’ll need to walk through the Sesame Street area in order to get to your next destination: Australia! Best part of Australia is the Walkabout Way, home of kangaroos, wallabies, and other animals native to Australia. Finish off the day with a stroll past the flamingos and then you’re back where you began near Morocco. Stop by Adventure Photo to get photos printed to visually capture your memories from your trek across Africa, Australia, and beyond!

I hope I’ve been able to give you some exciting ideas of how to spend this Mother’s Day in the theme parks with your mom. There are so many other activities and experiences that I could not include; but I hope that I’ve been able to layout some solid ideas of how to make the most of your day in the parks with your mother. In addition to the regularly operating attractions, there are special brunches and uncharges on Mother’s Day that you may want to take advantage of. However, if you’re trying to do a theme park on a dime, then what I’ve laid out for you should fit the bill nicely! It’s not the money you spend on mom, but the TIME spent with her. THAT is what she will remember most.

And to my mom, Happy Mother’s Day! Thank you for the memories. I love you!