Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Could a New Water Park Arrive at Universal Orlando?

I've been reading a lot of speculation that the Universal Orlando resort's future could include a brand new, heavily themed water park at some point.  With the recent announcement of Sapphire Falls, the Resort appears to now have plans for all of its available land.  At least that's what I assumed, however, that may not be the case.

Here is the Southern portion of the Universal Orlando Resort.  The last large parcel of land that was open can be seen above, now announced for Sapphire Falls.  That made me think that a water park was no longer in the cards, with Royal Pacific and Cabana Bay also filling the area's real estate.

Universal Orlando now fully owns both Wet 'n Wild's land and attractions, seen at the bottom of this image - however you still need some form of transportation to get off property to visit it.  What I didn't initially realize is that the land in the very South-most point of the resort is a bit larger than I thought.

Located directly South of Cabana Bay, and bordered by Interstate 4 and Turkey Lake Road is a rather large plot of land that is still open, and owned by Universal.  After a closer look I realized those tiny dots are cars, and that started to give some sense of scale to the space.  I then wondered, despite its triangular shape, just how much water park could fit in there.  Thanks to Google maps, here are some fun comparisons:

Orlando's Wet 'n Wild also has a weird shape, but taken from aerial maps at the same "height" we can see that if rearranged all of the existing park could fit in the open plot South of Cabana Bay, with room to spare.  All of these comparisons assume that Universal would choose to not build separate parking for this new water park, instead relying on the massive garages and resort parking lots for cars.  Visitors would then use walking paths or other in-resort transportation to get to the water park's gates.

SeaWorld's Aquatica is a relatively new water park, also operating in the greater Orlando area.  It features a wide variety of water slides, pools, and attractions and has a much more regular shape.  It is also one of the busiest water parks in the country, with enough slides to handle tons of guests.  Still, its size can be squished fairly well into the plot of land still open at Universal.  Surprising.

Moving on to Disney properties, also in the same geographic area, here is Blizzard Beach.  This one fits with a substantial amount of room left over, and considering it serves Walt Disney World that says something.  It's also a great comparison because it was designed to utilize a big fake mountain, with slides very condensed as they move off of that mountain.  This shows that when you really try to keep things close together the amount of space you can save is substantial.

Typhoon Lagoon is Walt Disney World's other water park, and even with its absolutely gigantic wave pool and much more spread-out slides, things still could fit.  The part in the upper right was also a fairly recent addition, so for many years that part wasn't even applicable.  Either way, this one could fit, too.

One last Florida comparison, Adventure Island down by Busch Gardens Tampa.  This park has a rather weird shape, but one that almost works with the land available at Universal Orlando. 

Finally, I tried to think of a water park that was really spread out, and the largest that came to mind was in Virginia, Water Country USA.  There is forest and ravines between the slides and rides, and while there is a lot offered it is rather spread out.  Here we finally see a park that just wouldn't work in the space available.

Now granted I'm trusting that Google is accurate in showing these aerials at the correct size so they are all comparable, but my conclusion is clear.  It certainly seems like there's plenty of room for Universal Orlando to build a full sized water park on property - so then I suppose if the rumors are true the real question is when will they?

First Pieces of Fury 325 Now In Place at Carowinds

Yesterday was an exciting day in the history of Carowinds, as the first supports and track piece of Fury 325 were lifted into place.

© Mike Fehnel via Twitter
The park's General Manager, Mike Fehnel, was on hand as the sections were put into place, and shared these images with fans of the park.  When Fury 325 is complete the ride will be the tallest and fastest giga coaster on the planet.

As with most Bolliger and Mabillard rides, the park has started vertical construction with the final brake / station / transfer track area.  Above is the very first support being carefully set into place.

© Mike Fehnel via Twitter
By the end of the day another photo was shared, this time showing that a second support had been added, and the first piece of Fury 325's track was also set!

By the time that Fury 325 opens in 2015 it will stand 325 feet tall, feature an 81 degree first drop that will allow the trains to hit a maximum speed of 95 miles per hour, and stretch over 6,602 feet long - the 5th longest coaster on Earth.

Can't wait to see more of the ride go up!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Embrace the Fear at Dorney Park's Halloween Haunt VII

It is hard to believe that Dorney Park's annual fear-fest, Halloween Haunt, is already in its seventh year.  Previously known as HalloWeekends, the park kicked things up one giant notch in 2008 when the event was rebranded as the Haunt, and we've been screaming in terror ever since.

The event is continually expanded and changed each year to offer new attractions, and Haunt VII is continuing that tradition.  This year there really is "more to fear," as two new haunted houses, one scare zone, and a new ticket option with bonus scare rooms have been added.

Dorney Park invited us to check out all that Haunt VII has to offer, and while I want to detail all the scares offered I will try to keep things spoiler free for those who haven't visited yet!

Enter the Chamber of Horrors
One major change this year is the addition of Madame Plarr's Chamber of Horrors Wax Museum, a haunted house that took over Psycho Circus in Dorney Park's upper arcade building.  The building's existing architecture fits in great with the new theme, that of a wax museum where things most definitely aren't what they seem.  The wax museum idea has been used at other parks in the park, and honestly has been an idea I was hoping would come to Dorney's Haunt at some point.  I got my wish!

Now that Madame Plarr has reopened her museum for guests, we get to check out her collection of wax figures featuring the greatest known murders, villains, and other generally bad-guys.  The sets here are wonderful, with full-sizes wax figures placed dramatically along the path.  You eventually enter the the corridors of the "back of the house" section of the museum where we finally understand just how demented the workers are.

The haunt works so well because of the immense amount of figures - not knowing which one is an actor standing very still is nerve wracking to say the least.  There's also some creative scares in this one, things your eye won't catch at first until it is far too late.

Afraid of clowns? 
Since the Chamber of Horrors kicked the clowns out of the arcade building, they needed a new home.  Thankfully Dorney park wasn't ready to let go of the cast of clowns, so they created a whole new scare zone for them, CarnEvil.  Located in Hydra's plaza, CarnEvil meant that Cut Throat Island and its gigantic pirate ships were moved down the midway a bit, in front of the Wave Swinger.

I'm continually amazed at how freaked out people are by clowns, it must be a blast being one in the CarnEvil area.  With some folks no actual "scare" is needed - just approaching them would send them running and screaming!  CarnEvil features a collection of props, plenty of fog, crazy lighting and also is the home of one of Haunt's new live shows.

Set up on a stage in front of Meteor is the Skeleton Crew, a new acrobatic style show that features monster-esque performers both on the stage and above it.  The show is performed several times a night, and since the Hydra plaza serves as the viewing area there's no worries to be had about finding good "seats."  The production is one for Haunt that finally 'clicks,' arriving after a slew of different live entertainment productions in the past that never hit home with the crowds.  For once, since Skeleton Crew is located right on the midway in the center of a scare zone, it doesn't take much to get people to notice it.  That was always a problem for shows in the park's Good Time Theater, I believe.

The antics of Skeleton Crew
Skeleton Crew features some amazing aerialists, one of which first performs alone, and then as a pair (seen above).  They tricks keep the attention of the crowd, from whom you can hear plenty of "ooohs and ahhhs."  The ending highlight of Skeleton Crew is, well, the skeleton crew that comes out and performs a great trampoline act.  They're also seen above, shaking their skeleton-booties at the start of their performance.

The whole show is pretty high energy, and just the right length.  Not too long that people start to lose interest, and just short enough to leave us wanting more.  Skeleton Crew is definitely a hit for Haunt VII.

Thumping along with Blood Drums
Since we're looking at the Haunt's live entertainment offerings already, here's a shot of a returning favorite also featured this year - Blood Drums.  The pulse-pounding show has moved back to Center Stage from the main midway, giving it more breathing room and extra viewing space.  The drum troupe knows how to play to the crowd well and keep them entertained start to finish.

These two attractions make up Solomon's Farm
With so much new, there's still nine other returning mazes and scare zones to check out.  These include old favorites like the Asylum and CornStalkers, and more recent additions like Desolation and Head Hunters.

A big part of our visit to Haunt VII was to experience the all new Skeleton Key rooms that have been added to six haunted houses.  The ability to enter these rooms is granted to those who purchase Fright Lane passes, which also let you skip the regular queue for all the haunted houses.  The Skeleton Key rooms were started at Knott's Berry Farm's Haunt last year, and now phased into (thankfully) the other parks.

Desolation, Grave Walkers, Mansion House, and Head Hunters
Basically the Skeleton Key rooms take place somewhere along the regular haunted house path, with one or more in-character ghouls ensuring that Fright Lane guests head the correct way.  Featured at The Asylum, Blood Shed, CornStalkers, Desolation, Grave Walkers and the Mansion House Hotel, no two Skeleton Key rooms are the same.

Here is where I really want to give away details of the experiences that each holds, alas I won't.  Each room presents its own challenge of finding a way out, some require thought or action, while some you just need to hang in there for the ride.  Each room is themed appropriately for the house it is in, and all the actors we encountered were fantastic, stayed in character and really making the room work.  Without giving away too much, there's one that focuses on hands-on gore, one where claustrophobia reigns king, a couple where physical barriers must be overcome to get out, and even one where you have a time limit to find a given object to get out.

They're fun, exciting, and scary - and it's a great way to breath new life into some of the existing mazes.  Granted they come at an additional cost, but if you're a big fan of the Haunt or hate waiting in lines then Fright Lane passes are a great option.

There is one new attraction we did not cover yet, and that's because it is exclusive to Fight Lane ticket holders.  Known as Blackout, the new maze is a trip in the dark you won't soon forget.  I've been in similar all-dark mazes before, and although simple in concept they're not easy to make good.  You have to rely on talent to go after visitors as they stumble around in the pitch black and that's where the Haunt's Blackout gets an A+ from me.  We were followed, whispered at, even had air blown on our necks... it was creepy as it gets.  You can't see where you're going, yet are aware that ghouls are all around - this causes a kind of panic that greatly adds to Blackout.

Between the haunted houses, scare zones, live shows and new optional Skeleton Key rooms, Haunt VII has a lot of offer.  Many thanks to the park for having us to check out the offerings and get a scare or two in the process!

Haunt VII at Dorney Park will run weekends in October, ending on November 1st.  Check out the official Halloween Haunt website for more information.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Book Review - Universal Orlando: The Unofficial Story

To a follower of this industry we love, it may seem like Universal Orlando has been around forever.  It always surprises me to remember that the first theme park of the current resort, Universal Studios Florida, actually just opened in 1990 - not even 25 years ago.  What's even more surprising is to read just how horribly the opening of that first theme park went, and how it struggled to find its footing in the years that followed.

Universal Orlando: The Unofficial Story is a great way of looking back at those years, and all those that followed.  The book chronicles the development of the first park all the way through the addition of Harry Potter to Islands of Adventure - and as we've seen lately the resort is no where near done expanding.  I especially liked reading about all the issues that took place with the roster of opening day attractions at Universal Studios Florida - I knew Jaws was a dud at first but had no idea so many others gave such trouble!

There's a lot of facts packed into the pages of the book, at time it even feels a tad bit like a wikipedia entry on the park - but a really good one that's super long and filled with details you're interested in.  The author even points out that due to a rushed publishing schedule there would probably be some typos, and indeed my eyes spotted several.  Still, while there exists a plethora of Disney park related books, it's refreshing to have a good read about Universal now in existence.

It's especially fun for someone to read that's headed to the Universal parks soon, like myself, to be able to remember attractions that are now just a part of history.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Aerial Antics: Kentucky Kingdom's Chang + New 2014 Aerials

I noticed some recently updated aerials of Kentucky Kingdom and thought it might be fun to take a look at the transition of Change into water park expansion, over the course of 5 years or so.

Chang was built at Kentucky Kingdom in 1997, as the largest stand-up coaster at the time.  Built by B&M, the ride eventually had three different paint schemes while at the park.  First there was a bold all yellow look, then came lime green track with purple supports, and finally royal blue supports with yellow track once more.  The above photo is of Chang still at the park, sporting its third and final color scheme.

At the end of the park's 2009 season it was announced by then-owner Six Flags that Chang was being removed in favor of a water park expansion, to be named Bonzai Beach.  The park even went so far as to hang a banner in front of the ride announcing the expansion.  However, suddenly in the winter of 2010 Six Flags essentially ditched the park, announcing it had no intention of opening it again.

Chang had already been removed at that point, which left a graveyard of footers and not much else where the ride once stood - seen above.  This is how the site sat for years while failed negotiations took place to reopen Kentucky Kingdom.  Chang then opened at Six Flags Great Adventure as the Green Lantern in 2011.

When Ed Hart and company finally got a lease in place to reopen the park, the heavy work quickly started in 2013 to make that once announced water park expansion a reality.  Granted it isn't the same that was planned by Six Flags, but more water park is exactly what ended up replacing the home of Chang.

On the most recent aerial images available, you can see the final product, known as the Hurricane Bay Beach Club.  The expansion contains a fast water adventure river, family style wave lagoon, some extremely tall speed slides, a twisted family raft ride, and another slide tower with multiple slide styles.

I guess in a sense the promise that Six Flags made to expand Hurricane Bay came true, just 5 or so years later and not on their dollar!

The updated views also allow us to see the air-time machine known as Lightning Run, along with a new set of Larson Flying Scooters.  Next year a new pendulum ride will fill the rest of the open space behind the Scooters.

Check out the updated views on your own from Bing.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Mantis' Transformation into Rougarou Picking Up Speed

© Bryan Edwards via Twitter
Cedar Point is wasting no time on turning Mantis into the new floorless coaster, Rougarou!  If you follow the park's communications team on Twitter, then you've probably seen these images but I thought I would repost them just in case.

The top photo is the earliest one, showing Rougarou's new orange track color nearly complete on the lift hill and drop.  The orange stands out beautifully against the blue sky.

© Tony Clark via Twitter
This photo is even more recent, showing a bit of Rougarou's 119 foot tall vertical loop - now with orange track, but more importantly it shows off the ride's new support color in daylight.  I really like the green set against that orange, plus it fits with the coaster's location above part of the Cedar Point lagoon.

© Tony Clark via Twitter
This photo was taken at the same time this past week, showing a great panorama of Rougarou's transformation.  If you look close you can see that the new support color has been applied in various locations, some on the first turn before the drop, on the loop, and several lower areas as well.  The ride's really going to pop once the painting is complete!

If you missed it earlier, read more on the Mantis/Rougarou transformation here.