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Jurassic Wizarding

It’s just too overwhelming here in Orlando. There’s always so much to do, and never is that more true than during the holiday season. Disney rolls out its usual complement of events (Candlelight, Osborne, paid MK parties) every year, and this year SeaWorld made a serious bid to join the Mouse in respectability courtesy of the Sea of Trees, a new dancing lights display amid the harbor. It’s better than I was expecting. While it lacks the grandeur and “spectacle” of the Osborne Lights, somehow it has more charm and heart.

There are a lot of professionally produced videos online of the show, but those
posted by regular visitors may give you a better idea of what to expect.

But the third big competitor in town gets into the act, too. Universal always has the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in one park, and Grinchmas in the other. This year, the flood of visitors sweeping into Harry Potter has generated enough capacity that they had to open an oldie but goodie: the Triceratops Encounter.

First, let’s get one thing straight: it’s crowded at Universal right now. A crush of humanity enveloped us as we stepped from the parking garage toward the main gate—this was unusual for so late in the day, we thought. Waits for the big rides were 45 and 50 minutes, akin to the busiest of summer days. Clearly, the lure of Potter is working its magic on out of town visitors. We also detected quite a few British accents; it should surprise no one, on reflection, that this book from England should garner so many English fans. I wonder if fewer of them are traveling to WDW these days as a result?

We still haven’t seen the show “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” They tunnel you over to
soundstage 20 in the other (studios) park for this show (park hopping isn’t allowed, though).

The Wizarding World is so busy, they routinely close the land to newcomers. There’s a standby line (join it next to the Jurassic Park restaurant, where the bridge to Potter starts) which promised a wait of 30 minutes just to get into the land. I didn’t inquire about the Forbidden Journey ride; one assumes a much longer wait is required there. What caught my eye, though, was a FastPass-type system in use just to gain admission to the land. Visitors were steered toward Toon Lagoon when entering IOA, and just before Jurassic Park, those wanting to see Potter were diverted backstage for an advertised “return-later” system.

“FastPass” to Harry Potter.

I had other primeval fish to fry, so I can’t report on how well this worked, but I liked the idea. The land is so crowded that park operators have no other choice. I’d read recently that analysts and other pundits tried to get Universal to admit its narrow aisles and streets were a mistake from a sales perspective, and I’ve got to give them major props for their answer. No, they said, this is true to the vision of the books and movies. Bully for them. Score one more for theme park visionaries who understand that squeezing every last available dollar out of the visitor is a poor policy. “Leave ‘em wanting more,” was Walt’s philosophy, and I see nothing wrong with that.

Universal’s record attendance clearly led to some soul-searching about what could be done to alleviate overcrowding, and one solution was to reopen the Triceratops Encounter, which was closed several years ago. Nothing much has changed in the new introduction of the attraction, so don’t fret that you missed out previously. You can still see it.

I do still like the “electrified” enclosures all over Jurassic Park.

This attraction has been completely hidden by foliage for the past five years. It sits between the signature two-story restaurant (“discovery center”) of Jurassic Park and the boat ride, and normally visitors have had to skirt around the entire winding trails, preshow, and show buildings. From the outside, it just looks like thick jungles, which is exactly the point. Entry pathways were blocked by potted plants.

The triceratops advertisement as it appeared for many years
(above). Did you know an attraction was back here?

The entrance now, (below) with a new sign and name.

Then, this past week, the plants were moved, and the attraction opened after a brief refurbishment. If you’re still in suspense about what it actually is, don’t get your hopes up too high. Think of this as a walkthrough attraction where you spend a few minutes watching an life-sized animatronic triceratops “interact” with a live human handler.

Years ago, the handler was inside the pen with the dinosaur, but no longer.

It’s done in full simulation modality – everyone pretends this is a real dinosaur. They’ve always done that (and still do it, for that matter, with the “dino egg” mini-attraction in the bottom floor of the Jurassic Park Discovery Center), and normally you’d expect that this sort of thing would irritate me. It annoys me when they do things like that for the movie studios parks (both Disney and Universal), for instance. But the movie studio thing is done in a way that implies the audience are idiots. The dino thing is so ludicrously impossible, it’s only fantasy and not masquerading as reality, like the fake-movie thing, so I find it much more palatable. It’s clearly aimed at kids.

Our handler introduced Topper and went over dino’s facts and figures. Topper moves her head, eyes, mouth, and legs (mostly rocking, but one leg lifts up). By and large, the encounter was presented as a brief observation. You’ll be told factoids about their day to day life, and it sounds convincing enough, like the writers had really done their homework. Topper will get agitated at one point, and the handler gesticulates wildly with palm fronds to calm her down (it didn’t make any more sense when you’re face to face, either). Eventually she bellows enough that our “observation” is cut short, and we’re ushered out.

The new queue is so direct, we no longer walk past the themed research station and
cargo pen we saw years ago. This picture is from 2004.

It’s a small, tiny little attraction, and one without a huge wait. But nothing everything needs to be a home run or E-ticket in a theme park. Little kids in particular may love the chance to meet a living, breathing dinosaur (you can see Topper’s lungs expand and contract with each breath).

WDW Hidden History – Now Available as a Kindle (or smartphone app) Download

My newest book, WDW Hidden History (dedicated to the remnants of old rides in the parks and tributes to park history and builders) is not only available at Amazon, it’s now also available as a Kindle download for $8.50. If you don’t have a Kindle (the hardware), don’t despair! You can also view Kindle books on a smartphone; just download the free Kindle app and then make purchases at the Kindle store to load onto your smartphone. So while my new book isn’t an app directly for the iPhone, BlackBerry, or Android phone, you can approximate the same effect with the Kindle app.

Reminder: Scavenger Hunt Game on December 26th

Recently I announced that I’m running another free scavenger hunt (and puzzle-oriented) game at WDW. I goofed on the name, though. These games are now called Magic Pursuit games; you can read about the history and download previous versions at www.magicpursuit.com.

Our December 26 game is free, like all previous incarnations, and takes place from 2-4 in Disney’s Hollywood Studios (admission you’ll need to handle on your own, of course). To register, email [email protected] with the names of your teammates, and I’ll send info to you about what to bring and where to meet.

The day will be busy – it’s always busy between Christmas and New Year’s – but we’re crafting games which can withstand the busy holiday crush!

Hurry! Registration should be sent by December 23 to guarantee a spot. I look forward to seeing you. Don’t be shy if you’ve never played before or never met me… no time like the present!

Reminder: “40 x 40” Ride Celebrations Start on January 1st

Also announced previously: I’m holding a private, fan-driven appreciation of all forty rides/shows in the Magic Kingdom in honor of its 40th birthday. Since I want to finish on the 40th weekend (which just happens to be the day of the 40th birthday), we have to start on January 1. We’ll meet every Saturday at 2pm, in the Enchanted Grove frozen drinks eatery (we refer to this area privately as the “Enchanted bathroom” since there are uncrowded restrooms nearby). No RSVP is required, but anyone who shows up can expect a free handout from me celebrating the “ride of the week” and giving some trivia. I’d love to meet you on your vacation to Orlando, so drop by if you can!

One thing has changed: because Snow White’s Scary Adventures is rumored to be on the chopping block (they need a new space for princess meet and greets after Toontown closes), I’ve moved it up on the list. If anyone needs the revised list and dates, drop me an email. But expect me each week to list a reminder in my update about which ride is next, anyway.

January 1 is our first meeting, and our destination will be Mickey’s House. This is our last reminder about this meeting, too, so please drop by if you can. Celebrate with me!

That’s it from me in 2010. See you in 2011!

Kevin Yee may be e-mailed at [email protected] - Please keep in mind he may not be able to respond to each note personally. FTC-Mandated Disclosure: As of December 2009, bloggers are required by the Federal Trade Commission to disclose payments and freebies. Kevin Yee pays for his own admission to theme parks and their associated events, unless otherwise explicitly noted.

2010 Kevin Yee

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Kevin's Disney Books

Kevin is the author of many books on Disney theme parks, including his latest:

Walt Disney World Hidden History: Remnants of Former Attractions and Other Tributes:

As the title implies, this is all about those little things in the parks that have significance to insiders and long-timers, but are never explained or highlighted. When a ride closes, sometimes pieces or props from that ride are folded into the replacement attraction (think of the World of Motion car seen in the queue of Test Track). Other times, designers intentionally craft a tribute to the previous ride—an example of that might be the carving of a submarine in the cement tree created for Pooh’s Playful Spot where the 20,000 Leagues subs used to be.

The other kind of homage in the parks concerns not rides, but individuals. The designers, artists, engineers, executives, and people important to Disney’s history often provide the inspiration for names and titles used at the attractions. Sadly, these are almost always unheralded. All of these remnants and tributes are normally left for the truly obsessed to spot piecemeal. They are usually not even discussed in the official Disney books and tours. This book sets out to change that, and catalog all such remnants and tributes in one spot.

The final result is 225 pages of hyper-detailed historical factoids. Broadly speaking this is a “trivia” book, but remember that it’s a particular kind of trivia. You’ve known before that the Walt Disney World theme parks wove a thick tapestry of details and backstory into a seamless (and peerless) experience. But armed with the specifics of homages and tributes, you’ll become aware that the parks are even more alive, and layered with meaning, that you could have ever imagined.

Might this be an ideal Christmas present or stocking stuffer for the Disney fan on your shopping list? If so, please have a look.

Also written by Kevin...

  • Your Day at the Magic Kingdom is a full-color, hardcover interactive children's book, where readers decide which attraction to ride next (and thus which page to turn to) - but watch out for some unexpected surprises!
  • Mouse Trap: Memoir of a Disneyland Cast Member provides the first authentic glimpse of what it's like to work at Disneyland.
  • The Walt Disney World Menu Book lists restaurants, their menus, and prices for entrees, all in one handy pocket-sized guide.
  • Tokyo Disney Made Easy is a travel guide to Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySeas, written to make the entire trip stress-free for non-speakers of Japanese.
  • Magic Quizdom offers an exhaustive trivia quiz on Disneyland park, with expansive paragraph-length answers that flesh out the fuller story on this place rich with details.
  • 101 Things You Never Knew About Disneyland is a list-oriented book that covers ground left intentionally unexposed in the trivia book, namely the tributes and homages around Disneyland, especially to past rides and attractions.
  • 101 Things You Never Knew About Walt Disney World follows the example of the Disneyland book, detailing tributes and homages in the four Disney World parks.

More information on the above titles, along with ordering options are at this link.