In The Parks - Knott's opens Windseeker, Disneyland and DCA, Universal update
by, 08-25-2011 at 08:10 PM
Windseeker has swept into the Southern Californian skies at last. The high flying new attraction quietly made its debut this past week at Knott's Berry Farm. We were among the first ones to get a chance to ride this new "thrill" ride, and we have thoughts and photos to share. We'll also bring you news and updates from Disneyland where Main Street U.S.A. is getting some very interesting renovations. After a brief walk through Disney California Adventure to see the construction progress taking place there, we land at Universal Studios Hollywood where we find all sorts of work going on in preparation of Halloween Horror Nights!
Speaking of Halloween, We are asking everyone to SAVE THE DATES of Sat. September 24th for the MiceChat Knott's Scary Farm event and Fri. September 30th for the MiceChat Universal Halloween Horror nights meet. They will both include AMAZING behind the scenes access, dinner, and front of the line access to the scary fun. All at a price that won't scare you to death!
Now let's get into it!
YES, the wait is over. Knott's latest thrill ride, Windseeker, soft opened to the public during the busy D23 weekend. But not to worry, we are here with a full review of this new high-in-the-sky flight. At a lofty 301 ft. the Windseeker hoists brave souls high above Knott's Berry farm for a gentle, carousel rotation in the clouds.
Aside from the terrifying height, this is a gentle and very smooth ride. This is the tallest ride at Knott's, rising well above Supreme Scream's once extreme altitude. The view is simply breathtaking. The gentle, gliding bucket seats really make you feel secure, contrary to what it may seem. Your feet dangle but you are in a reclined position and it is pretty relaxing.
Our only complaints? First, there is the removal of the trees near Jaguar. The new area is nicely done but in much need of shade. With the beautiful trees removed, there is virtually no shade for those waiting for their aviator friends on the new ride. Hopefully this will be addressed soon. Then there is the out-of-place music played at the ride. Music fills the area. This is a good thing. But they use licensed clips from such highly recognizable songs as the John Williams Superman theme or his other theme from the Harry Potter films. It would have been a very simple thing to select movie themes from more "southwestern" films. As it stands now hearing the theme from E.T. playing steps away from the Mayan pyramid of Jaguar just doesn't work.
But really, the music is a trifle compared to the breathtaking view afforded by this new attraction. Great stuff. Get a ride on it as soon as you can!
52" height requirement.
The new facade for the operational housing is all decked out too.
Fishbulb with Knott's Berry Farm's Jennifer Blazey at 301 ft. in the air
Knott's Legend, John Waite, took several spins on the ride.
Fishbulb and MiceChat featured in Knott's official ride video
Along with the new attraction, Fiesta Village got a much needed sprucing up. The new, vibrant color scheme and details are a welcome change and really liven up the area. Jeff Shaddic and team really deserve all the credit they get for such a nice job on bringing this beloved part of the park back to life.
Still lovely after all these years
Alright folks, here is the latest on what is happening to get Knott's Halloween Haunt ready for a frightened public. We want to let you know about a fantastical event hosted by MiceChat, as well as look at some of the progress being made on the mazes. It is now one month away and construction of mazes can now be seen on-stage. Soon the creepy crawly creations of the Entertainment design team will be placed throughout the park. Let's see what's there now...
SAVE THE DATE:
THE EVENT WILL INCLUDE:
Get ready to buy your tickets because they will go fast!
- Backstage tour (Maze/costuming/make-up)
- Pre-Scare Dinner
- Meet and Greet with Haunt makers and legends
- Raffle with your chance to be a monster in a haunt maze that night
- Front of the line access to mazes
- VIP seating to all shows
- Early entry into Haunt
The old town of Pleasanton is once again going to be home to a zombie outbreak. One of the more terrifying mazes of last year, Virus Z returns. And we are promised some new surprises!!!
The atomic age maze, Fallout Shelter, returns with its fun mix of kitsch and creepy. Mutant monsters have begun to take over the areas under Jaguar and Silver Bullet.
UNCLE BoBo's Big Top of the Bizarre:
The less that is said about the Big Top of the Bizarre, the better! This clown maze is getting a new entrance, and here are the pics to prove it.
Soon to be installed props
Yes, the cannibalistic country bumpkins are back and ready to serve up the scares in Slaughterhouse. This maze, built mostly under the stage coach path, can be seen from Camp Snoopy.
Dia De Los Muertos:
Over near the back-side of the Wheeler Dealer Bumper Cars, an out-door portion of the maze Dia De Los Muertos has begun construction.
While at the park we also spotted a crew doing some work on the much missed Sky Cabin ride. We were promised a while ago that it would eventually return. Let's hope that day comes soon.
Sarah gives us the D23 wrap-up in the later MiceChatter. Check it out here
Ah Disneyland. Just when you think you know it, BAM! Things change overnight. Main Street is buzzing with changes everywhere and the Matterhorn is set to re-open next Friday. There is also news about the Hub of the park and what will be coming to the long-dormant kitchen of the Plaza Pavilion and the often ignored Carnation Gardens.
MAIN STREET EMPORIUM:
Yes folks, the main floor space of the Main Street Emporium has re-opened. A freshened look and reconfigured layout of the registers are the highlights here.
The globe is gone and so is the center cash wrap, opening the space and easing crowd flow.
A stunning Tiffany-style chandelier is the centerpiece
With the opening of the front of the store, the back portion is now closed to complete the job.
Doors wide open!
Above the entrance a more refined decor.
Overall a very nice job.
The new registers and queue.
The construction walls have come down in front of the Disney Gallery where the windows for Disney's Credit Card once stood.
MAIN STREET FOOD SERVICE SHUFFLE:
Okay, here is the game plan. Carnation Cafe is expanding into what is currently the Blue Ribbon Bakery. Because of that, the Blue Ribbon Bakery will be closing just before Halloween time. Due to this change, the wildly popular Ice Cream Parlor will be rearranged to accommodate their ever-long queue. And, since they are doing that, Candy Palace will be receiving some re-jiggering as well with an expanded kitchen and counter space. That leads us to Coke Corner which will likely be untouched. But where does that leave us if we want to grab a coffee AND a pastry? A new Mary Poppins themed, Jolly Holiday Bakery, will open in what was once the Plaza Pavilion. Which, of course means that annual pass processing had to be kicked out of that location. Passes are now processed at the ticket booths. Got all that? Okay. Let's see where things are.
Set to begin expansion at the beginning of September.
Construction walls have popped up inside the ice Cream parlors back dining area.
Penny Arcade's candy counter has been emptied.
Inside the penny arcade, more construction walls can be found.
Now onto the Candy Palace.
The walkway leading into the Penny Arcade is closed up.
The little booth where they make the candy will soon be expanded.
Jolly Holiday Bakery:
The Mary Poppins-themed Jolly Holiday Bakery is well underway here. Some have criticized the loss of Americana on Main Street to Mary, while others see it as another change that they can live with. What makes the whole thing far more palatable for us is the fact that this plan has resurrected the kitchen that once served Plaza Pavilion. This facility is also attached to the Tiki Room and old Tahitian Terrace. Wouldn't it be nice to see that dining location resurrected as well? This is a great opportunity for Disney. New kitchen, revived source of dining revenue, why leave the old Tahitian Terrace/Aladdin's Oasis area closed? If you'd like to see a dinner show return to the park, be sure to add your voices to a growing chorus of fans who are just aching to see the old classic return.
PRINCESS FANTASY FAIRE:
It was announced at the D23 Convention that the Carnation Gardens stage area will be converted into a new Fantasy Faire Princess meet-and-greet area. This new themed area will offer meet and greets with all of the princesses, a Tangled Streetmosphere show, and a recurring stage show...along with dining and shopping, of course. The good news... Tom Staggs reassured the audience that the venue would remain a dance floor in the evening hours. Hopefully, this will help keep everyone happy.
This backdrop makes sense.
Get ready for sledding' The Matterhorn Bobsleds are set to reopen a week from today on Friday, September 2nd. The waterfalls are already on and vehicle testing is taking place.
The old sleds will be back for now. The ride will close again this winter to complete the project and install new sleds.
The finishing touches.
Disney California Adventure is proving to be a "Disney Adventure" all its own. Teams of construction workers are racing the clock to get both Cars Land and the new entrance to the park ready by June 2012. Let's see how things are coming.
BUENA VISTA STREET:
By the beginning of September, the main entryway for DCA will finally be closed in order to allow a phalanx of carpenters, construction teams and imagineers to swarm the area and create the first act of the brand new Disney California Adventure. How will guests get into the park during construction? They will enter through the brand new gates and travel behind Soarin' over California into the park. This won't just be a rinkydink walkway. They are currently theming and landscaping what will serve as the temporary entrance for the next 9 months.
The new entry gates.
Pan-pacific theme is carried through backstage.
Brand new landscaping.
The new main hub of the park, the Carthay Circle theatre is well underway.
A new two-story restaurant and lounge will be housed here.
Pass under the Monorail beam one last time.
The Zephyr train facade is now long gone.
The construction walls are closing in.
Carthay Circle from HollywoodLand.
Carsland continues to shape up. The scaffolding is being removed from the top of the ridge. They are also planning on getting the detailed rock work closest to the tracks done in order to allow vehicle testing by mid-September.
The detail is just breathtaking.
The row of holes left by the removed scaffold will be patched and painted.
The court house has been framed and will be finished as one of the last structures in this area.
Here's your word for the day. WING-NUT! The top of Flo's Diner features what Disney is calling the worlds largest wing nut. The eatery will also feature a dining room that looks out onto the backdrop of Cars Land's Cadillac Ridge. Dustysage and Fishbulb were able to sit down with John Lasseter for about 40 minute during the D23 Expo and he claims that this restaurant will command views so breathtaking that some may not want to leave their seats. It is exciting to see DCA building such a highly themed and completely immersive area. We'll have more from our interview with John Lasseter very soon.
Luigi's Flying Tires:
At D23 we learned that Luigi's Flying Tires ride system will soon be turned on for the first time. Described as a big air-hockey table, the flat, fluted surface is designed to gently lift the tires off the floor and allow them to float. There is a concern about the noise. So, listen closely in the coming weeks and you may hear the gusts of air coming from Cars-Land.
Mater's Junkyard Jamboree:
Mater's Junkyard Jamboree could be described as Francis' Lady-Bug Boogie times 4 and with a twist. This sprawling, flat ride will feature original hoe-down music and a tour through Mater's home where you will be able to spot different curios from Mater's Tall Tale adventures.
Yes, Halloween-time has begun to bleed into DCA with the arrival of Merchandise and candy.
Here we are at beautiful Universal Studios Hollywood. While the park continues to ready for this year's Halloween Horror Nights, we see that the Infusion Lounge is nearly prepared to open and the facade has had a key element installed.
The infusion dragon has found a home at City Walk. It actually looks pretty cool. Looks like a fierce dragon will be guarding this new club.
Well, hello there handsome!
HALLOWEEN HORROR NIGHTS 2011:Halloween is just around the corner, and that has us giddy with anticipation. This year promises to be phenomenal at Halloween Horror Nights in Hollywood. Details are still being revealed, if you can believe it. But here is the list of mazes so far. We also want to remind all to join us on Friday September 30th for a freighting night of fun. Ticket prices will be announced shortly.
SAVE THE DATE:
The final maze, in the line up of 6 mazes, was announced this morning
“La Llorona: Villa De Almas Perdidas,”
“Weeping Woman: Village of Lost Souls,”
Hostel: Hunting Season
Oh Eli Roth. Why you gots to be so bloody? The Hostel themed maze is making great progress.
JP Extended Queue:
The maze in the extended JP queue seems to be coming along quite nicely.
The new Studio Tour bathrooms are almost there guys. Just keep holding it.
A car has been parked in front of the Chicken Ranch House.
Work is being done on the Whooville set
The biggest surprise of last year's haunt season was the Queen Mary's Dark Harbor. Dark Harbor was a fiendishly inventive multiple haunted attraction venue that took advantage of the Queen Mary's maritime setting and expansive history to create a creepy atmosphere just perfect for a haunt destination. One of the creative forces involved with last year’s event was Talent Director David Wally, who returns to direct again this year. MiceChat recently sat down with David to talk about what made Dark Harbor such a success and what we can expect to see this year.
MC: Prior to Dark Harbor what had you been involved with?
David: I have done TV, Film, Stage, themed entertainment. I went to Long Beach State as an actor and realized what I really wanted to do was direct. Then I went to Purdue University and got my MFA in Directing. After starting my career in Chicago, I ended up moving back to L.A. I landed a job as a production assistant with Martin Brest and I ended up working with him for ten years and became a producer. While I was with Marty, we made "Scent of a Woman" and "Meet Joe Black". Then I worked for four years with Bruce Willis' production company, where I was a producer on "Hostage". Fun stuff.
I had been writing and directing my own short films and plays and then a friend of mine invited me to come and work at Thinkwell, a terrific concept and themed entertainment company. That was about 2006/2007. I was working on the Warner Brothers, Abu Dhabi project and then the economy tanked in '08 and my work on that project ended.
So, last year around June/July, I was in the middle of directing a play I also wrote and produced up in Hollywood when Sam Russo contacted me about Dark Harbor. I came to the Queen Mary project with this wide range of disparate experience in all these entertainment fields and I tried to bring it all with me to this entirely new challenge; theme park, film, stage, it's all in there.
MC: It is hard to believe that you had never directed a haunt event before. The actors were great.
David: Thank you, I tried. I hit the ground running because I came in and I started to wrap my head around this event, but Tom Cluff was already deep into the job. He was the Creative Director and developed the whole concept for Dark Harbor.
MC: Explain the concept of Dark Harbor. What was the initial storyline?
David: Dark Harbor is the haunted community populated by the souls ripped from the earth by Bundara – the all-powerful sadistic She-demon who controls the sea and the land as well as her sisters (Searer and Mattenoot) and hatchet men, the Barkers. ALL of Dark Harbor’s monsters take great joy in taunting and tormenting the mere mortals – the guests – who dare to wander into their dominion. And all of the guests' souls are up for grabs!!
MC: Are there any changes to the storyline this year?
David: Yes. Last year, Bundara's sisters were in exile. Bundara selfishly chose not to include them in her bacchanal. But this year, Searer and Mattenoot return and they are NOT happy at missing out on last year’s feast!!! There will be great interplay between the three sisters throughout each evening.
MC: So Tom Cluff came up with that concept and you were asked to direct. Who else was involved in bringing Tom's idea to life last year?
David: Jeff Schiefelbein, of Sinister Pointe, was already on board designing and crafting the interiors of the other mazes. He did Village of the Damned and all three of the mazes on the ship (Submerged, Hellfire and Containment). We had Katy Brisbois as our costume designer, Christina Rodriguez as our make-up designer and then we had Cindy Caviedes as a production coordinator and Edward Hodge as our tech director and Jay Bolton as our lighting director, and George Walker as an art director and Bonnie Hallman and Marissa Parr were our Stage Managers and that was the core team. We were this lean, mean unit all on the same page. And we were all tasked with creating an entirely new Halloween Haunt experience for the Queen Mary.
MC: And your job was to train and guide the actors who would interact with the guests in mazes and out in the open. Was that a difficult task?
David: Getting started, the team kept telling me, "Look David, this isn't like a play or a film shoot. Half of your cast is going to quit on the first weekend and you will lose another 60 percent of your cast by the end of the run." I told them, “Okay... That's not going to happen." They didn't believe me, but I knew we could do it. The time for auditions came and they also told me, based on previous years, to expect about 800 people to show up at the audition. Well, we only had about 300 people actually show up. So I realized that we had to expand the auditions and reach out to places like Hollywood and surrounding areas. We also had a deal in place with Long Beach State University, my alma mater, to provide performers who would work for school credit. But, while the University guaranteed us 50 kids a night, they told us that it would not always be the same ones every night. So that made it hard. I mean, how do you work and train a cast that is always brand new?MC: So you went from an expected pool of 800 people down to only 300 people showing up to audition and then an additional revolving group of 50 actors who were only here for school credit. How many did you end up hiring?
David: Just a little over 250. Additionally, in preparing for our orientations and rehearsals, I realized that one big obstacle we were going to have to overcome was addressing how these performers had been treated in the past and convincing them that things were going to be different in 2010. So I took the time to memorize all of the performers’ names before the first rehearsal. Over 250 performers. And when they all came in for orientation - after having met me once at auditions a month previously - here I was walking past all of them, "Hey Susie how are you doing? Hey Bob, great to have you with us." And I think this accomplished two very important things. First, it made them feel involved and important, and, secondly, it also gave them the impression that I knew what the hell I was doing. And once I had their trust I knew we could build on that.
When I looked at the scope of the project I had to remind myself that this was not like shooting a film where you could do a bunch of takes and pick the one you wanted, or a play where you could rehearse and refine to get a certain moment. There were so many active, moving parts to it all and it would be physically impossible to be at every spot of every maze, for every scare, every time. So, it was crucial that I instill in the actors that they really needed to trust their instincts and own what they were doing.
While all the other popular haunts are terrific, I come to this world from a different field and I just wanted to create a huge sense of atmosphere and space that the audience could buy into also. I looked at the whole event as one big story. I directed it so that everyone knew they were part of one big show.
MC: Like a big piece of interactive theatre.
David: Exactly. You could jump in and follow whatever path to the story that you wanted. What we created last year was special.
MC: The work seemed to pay off. People liked it. It seemed like every day last year there was another review popping up talking about how amazing Dark Harbor was.
David: It was very, very validating for everybody on the whole project. Certainly for the actors. And, by the time we were done on Halloween night, we had only lost 5 people along the way.
MC: But now you have to worry about this year. When did you start planning for 2011?
David: On closing night of last year. We gathered everybody in the Dome and handed out awards for Monster of the Year for each maze and we let everyone know we planned on returning to do it again the next year if we were invited back. And if we were coming back, we wanted them - the performers - to come back, too.
The next step for me after the event ended was to keep in touch with as many of the people from last year as possible. I friended as many as I could on Facebook and over the past year we all became this huge, wonderful, dysfunctional family, you know? A wide range of people from all walks of life, all there to have fun at Halloween and who love to do what they do. I have grown enormously fond of my Monsters!
MC: Let's talk about the mazes. What do you have in store for this year? Are there any new mazes?
David: None of the mazes will be completely new but our art directors and tech team are going through every maze and coming up with a whole bunch of changes and improvements in theming. Last year we were tasked with completely rebooting the Queen Mary Haunt with an entirely new concept and we delivered very well on that mandate. This year, we want to pick up right where we left off last year and punch it up. Yes, there will be some new surprises all over. And we have increased the number of performers by 20 percent, which will have a HUGE effect on the guest experience. There will definitely be more bang for your buck. We want the fans who are returning this year to at least have as good an experience as they did last year, and hopefully have a great time with all the enhancements. And I think the addition of Bundara's sisters and the expansion of that storyline is going to pay huge dividends throughout the event. But we also want the new fans, the ones who read all the great reviews but didn't get the chance to come out last year, to see what they may have missed.
MC: One of our favorite mazes of the entire haunt season last year was The Cage that was housed in the Spruce Goose Dome. Our favorite room in The Cage was the first room. It felt like all bets were off.
David: The fabric room, yeah that was great. Very disorienting. It was a real assault on the senses. That was Tom Cluff's maze. The other four mazes, Village of the Damned, Hellfire, Containment and Submerged, they were all designed by Jeff Schiefelbein. And, one of the first challenges that I had to overcome was that I didn't come onto the project until after the mazes were already fully developed by Tom and Jeff. I was not part of that creative process so I had to get underneath their concepts to figure out the logic of each maze and both Tom and Jeff were enormously helpful. Still, figuring out how best to give the performers their unique personas and motivations was a bit of a task. And I do feel all of the mazes turned out great last year. But, this year I feel I can improve on my work with Submerged (a water themed maze) and Hellfire (the fire maze) because they were really quite similar in tone last year.
MC: They were polar opposites though.
David: Yes, but similar in that they were both elemental and took place in the ship and - from a performance perspective - I felt we were kind of telling too similar a story or, at least, providing the audience too similar a guest experience. Containment was the asylum filled with sick people, so that was unique in its theme. What I'm getting at is, this year I am trying to articulate two uniquely different performances between the two mazes. I want Submerged to feel murky and ethereal. Whereas, I want Hellfire to be very aggressive and in your face. And, again, the art directors and tech team are collaborating with me to enhance and differentiate these two great mazes.
MC: Is everybody coming back from last year?
David: Most of the original creative team is back for more this year. A few people who were instrumental in creating the new concept are not back because, for the most part, they accomplished their job last year. Our task this year is to recreate and remount that brilliant work. As far as my job is concerned, directing the talent, most of the original performers have already let me know they are returning. But we are still looking for more.
MC: So, this year is as much about maintaining buzz as it is winning over new haunt goers.
David: Right. I mean, last year we started from scratch. This year we have all of this shared, collective experience under our belts and are in a great place creatively. And I would say that 90 percent of the people involved with last year’s event are here for this year. So, actually, I think we are in excellent shape to win over people who did not come to Dark Harbor last year and I think we will also deliver another great event for those who came last year, too.MC: What Haunts have you been to in the past?
David: Oh, I've been to Halloween Horror Nights at Universal, I've gone to Knott's, but the one I really want to hit is Sinister Pointe. I'd love to see what Jeff is doing down there. But, of course, most of my nights in October will be spent right here at Dark Harbor.MC: What frightens you?
David: Mostly my wife. But only on Thursdays! Seriously, I am probably most frightened by the anticipation of the unseen and unknown. Both in everyday life and in entertainment as well. I pride myself, as a director and producer and man, for my ability to "see around corners" - which is one of my favorite compliments anybody ever paid me - because I think I have the ability to think and plan ahead. But I'm always a little bit nervous of that danger I never anticipated. My strength comes from the self-confidence I have that I can face those unexpected crises.
MC: Thank you, David, for taking the time to talk to us about the Queen Mary's Dark Harbor. There are theme park events and independent haunts across the country, but what you've got here at the Queen Mary is a real live reportedly haunted ship 365 days a year. Using this iconic landmark as the canvas for a Halloween Haunt is a real advantage. As we stated at the outset, Dark Harbor was a nearly perfect event last year and we just can't wait to come and visit again this year. In fact, we'll be announcing a big MiceChat event at Dark Harbor as part of our Nights of Horror series. We hope to introduce lots of new folks to the Queen Mary this year for Halloween.
Giveaway!!! We have a Green Lantern light-up Yo-Yo to give away to one random poster who correctly answers this Magic Mountain trivia question. The winner will be contacted via Private Message on MiceChat.
We have one more prize to give away.
Question: What park is Deja Vu rumored to be moving to this off-season?
Post your answer below for your chance to win (winner will be selected at random from a list of elligible answers)
P.S. Here is a shot from THIS MORNING, August, 26th 2011
So they are at the Deja-Vu sight doing survey work. Interesting.
Today's update was brought to you by the following members of our fantastic and talented crew of photographers and news contributors: Capt Phoebus, F!an, Ericbramey, Fishbulb, and Dustysage.
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