SeaWorld’s Owner to Offload Majority Stake

SeaWorld-Orlando-TurtleIt has been a very tough year for SeaWorld as the park group fights off a tidal wave of adverse publicity, but amazingly, despite hefty ticket price increases, then reductions and operational cutbacks, turnover and profits jumped significantly over the summer of 2013.

Despite only floating publicly in the spring, SeaWorld has appeared to manage itself well during tough times.  Investors like that kind of spirit.

For park guests, the planned move by Blackstone to sell part of its majority stake is probably great news, as the sell off is rumored to place $480m in the hands of the park’s management.  Vital investment funds in an industry that favors those that invest continually in new attractions.

I’ve predicted for some time that the SeaWorld management team will steadily swing the emphasis away from animal performance to themed leisure and conservation and that happy prospect looks closer than ever before with $0.5b at their disposal.
Those kinds of money won’t go far though, when you consider that SeaWorld/Bush currently operate 3 SeaWorld Parks, 2 Busch Gardens Parks and Discovery Cove.

One thing that I certainly didn’t predict, was one of my favorite theme parks turning in a profit!  Busch Gardens has been trimmed to the bone in recent months, so much so, that many rumors about the survival of major attractions have been circulating as the management cut back operations and close areas down.

SeaWorld and Busch are great parks.  Sure they have a few issues to address to regain public acceptance, but finally, they seem to be on their way!

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Disney Build Some Bridges for the Spring!

If the title of this blog post means something to you, give yourself a very well deserved round of applause for being right up to speed with the latest developments at Walt Disney World!

The rest of us, including most of my family, might need a little explanation!

Walt Disney World’s Downtown Disney area has provided Orlando visitors with an ever expanding array of shops and restaurants just a few miles away from four glorious theme parks for almost 40 years.

Disney recently decided that they could do better.  The result is a colossal expansion of Downtown Disney that will double the number of the 75 current locations.
Along with a multi level parking lot, Downtown Disney also gets a whole new name (in fact a rather historically themed name): Disney Springs.

The concept takes us back in time, to the turn of the 20th Century and the beautiful theme sounds a winner doesn’t it?

And so to those bridges!
As huge areas of Downtown Disney go under the wrecking ball, water ways and land areas are giving way to construction boards right just now.  The result is that the Marketplace area of Downtown Disney (The Christmas Shop end) and the West Side (Cirque du Soleil end) are effectively severed by construction work.
No problem for Disney!  They are just opening up a bunch of lovely wooden walkways to get guests over the water between A and B.

When Disney want you, they make sure that it is fun while those builders make your future vacation dreams come true!

Another Park Restricts Fastpass+ Choices

According to touringplans.com guests will now be restricted as to how many Fastpass+ reservations they will be able to make at WDW.

Column A (Choose one only)

  • Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage
  • Fantasmic!
  • Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster
  • Toy Story Mania!

Column B (Choose two only)

  • Disney Junior – Live on Stage
  • The Great Movie Ride
  • Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular!
  • Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show
  • Muppet*Vision 3D
  • Star Tours: The Adventures Continue
  • The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

The change now restricts a guest to book one A attraction and two B attractions per day inside Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
This appears to be a move by Disney that people immediately hate, before they even try it.

In reality though, the new rule probably favors the experienced Disney fan that loves attractions like Toy Story Midway Mania, but rarely get chance to grab a paper fastpass because it is past 11am.
Now, it seems, guests can assure themselves of a Fastpass+ by going online, months in advance, provided that they are booked on Disney property or are Annual Pass Holders.

Overall, once the newness has faded, I think people will either love or hate the new Fastpass+ restrictions.  Sure, you may get to ride some stuff at guaranteed times, but the spontaneity that the old ‘fastpass’ system offers will probably fizzle out as the online bookings snap up the regular fastpass slots quicker than ever.
During peak holidays and weekends, brace yourself for those paper passes to be gone just after park opening as fastpass+ users steal every spare gap in the lines.

As Disney experiment with Fastpass+, I begin to wonder what’s around the corner for the park’s priority line wait system.  Fastpass ++ that allows a few more picks from each category for an additional fee?

Would Disney offer an unlimited Fastpass to guests willing to pay $100 per person, or free of charge if they are staying in any of the Deluxe Resorts?

If they have spent the $1.5bn that is rumored on MyMagic+, you can be sure that they have some hefty upgrade packages in mind for that rubbery wristband on your arm next vacation!

Rhino Rally looks closed forever at Busch Gardens Tampa!

Busch Gardens certainly seems to be in a bit of a spot at the moment.
After turning in a great Howl O Scream event over Halloween, then beginning construction of the main tower of the Falcon’s Fury drop ride, we catch hold of a rumor update about the dubious future of the Rhino Rally attraction in the heart of the park.

Rhino Rally, like Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, takes guests out in a Land Rover across a mock safari trail.  The Busch version was a little more modest than Disney’s version, but it was still a great attraction that offered a chance to get out ‘into the wild’ for a few minutes.

Over the years a water feature suffered lots of technical issues and for most recent seasons, appeared out of action and part drained.

Our friends at Screamscape yesterday announced that they had heard that the attraction looks set to extend its ‘end of season closure’ indefinitely.
They added that the nearby elephant enclosure would be extended to allow for a breeding program.

The move, if true, indicates that the SeaWorld / Busch parks might be aligning their animal programs more towards conservation and research, rather than entertainment as they desperately try to shrug off adverse publicity surrounding their Killer Whale issues, not least Tilikum over at SeaWorld.

I wish them luck as Busch Gardens is without doubt one of the very best of the theme parks, thanks to its amazing roller coaster collection and beautiful landscaping.  let’s hope they get things back on track!

Goodbye Lion King Festival until Summer?

A smiling woman performer in a colorful outfit with long blades of grass in her headpieceA shirtless performer wearing a skull-cap decorated with bones twirls a burning batonThree performers in orange monkey outfits sit in a row and groom one another

My favorite Disney show is about to get covered in dust sheets for a while and I’m not happy one bit!  A trip to Disney’s Animal Kingdom means different things to different people of course, but the Festival of the Lion King is pretty much top of the list for just about anyone that has ever seen it.

Disney seem to have messed around for years with james Cameron, as they try to work out what on ‘another earth’ to do with their Pandora project together.
The delay and silence from Disney seems to have lasted so long that guests are now all caught up in Disney’s panic to make up ground.  While I love Animal Kingdom, there’s no doubt that the park needs a big boost, so Disney are dead right to turn on the style with a great area like Avatar, but the impact of bull dozing the area that currently houses the Festival of the Lion King theatre seems a little ‘ill planned’ to say the least!
Why would a fairly limited park give up one of its major headline attractions for so long?

In terms of really big draws, AK will be cut down to Kilimanjaro Safaris, Expedition Everest, Finding Nemo – The Musical and the Kali River Rapids alone.
Sure, there’s other stuff going on, such as Dinosaur, but beyond that, are we really expected to cough up $90 for 4 or 5 mainstream attractions plus a view of the Tree of Life shrouded in safety netting (to catch bits falling off it).

As a very positive and loyal Disney fan, I have to confess that the Animal Kingdom is letting me down a little.
Lots of much needed work will come, but surely Disney can work to a schedule that doesn’t make a half day park even smaller!

Gringott’s Bank Ride Looks Amazing!

The Orlandoinformer website posted a fantastic link to a youtube video that was recently uploaded.
The video is made by well renowned ride maker; Dynamic Attractions and shows what can only be described as an un-named version of what has long been anticipated to be the Gringott’s Bank Roller coaster that is due to debut some time over the summer of 2014.

The computer simulation of the Gringott’s Bank ride, looks set to be an incredible adventure ride if it makes reality in this design.  In reality, if Universal want to lunch by next summer, there’s not much time to make radical changes anyway!
As it is, the attraction is a combination of ‘white knuckle’, immersive video and lots of Universal’s trademark track switches.  This is without doubt going to be one of the hottest attractions in Orlando when it runs.

And so the disappointment continues for families with younger kids.
Universal\s two parks are quite simply weak at the very lest when it comes to entertaining under 10s.
With little more than the Woody Woodpecker zone and Dr Zeuss Landing to entertain, Universal really do seem to have gone for headline rides rather than family fun.
Many rumors abound that the Woodpecker area will receive a big makeover, but for now, Universal seem content at targeting teens and adults for its soon to be connected theme parks in Orlando.

Wizards or not, there’s no magic in that.

 

Glow With the Show Ears make a very Dim Appearance

Just a few weeks into Walt Disney Word’s roll out of the Glow With the Show ears and take up of the $25 mouse ears is a little lower than the effect really needs.

Fantasmic’s first night at Hollywood Studios looked amazing, and a sure sign that things looked great for the hi-tech ears that pulse, glow and change color in time with the show.  The official Disney video (above) looks awesome for the debut evening show!

Once the PR hype, and the realisation that Disney had probably handed out hats free of charge takes effect, we can see a more recent show has a lesser effect.

 

Although the Glow with the Show ears still looked great, the more recent video reveals what guests could probably expect to see during a regular evening.

Disney have a big task ahead of them with the Glow with the Show ears.  Sure they will be popular, but the practicalities of these amazing hats is always going to create a challenge!

  • $100 + tax for a family of four!
  • The first ears sold, get used once or twice then are packed away for a year or more.  Lots of Ears need to be sold each and every day to ensure that the shows have the glow!
  • People might own them, but leave them at home or in the room
  • Battery life is relatively short (a few shows at best).  Many ears will stop working before the show commences!
  • Some guests dislike being distracted from the main show by flashing ears on the person’s head in front.