This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons We’ll Never Forget 2016 (No Matter How Hard We Try). With the new year upon us, it is time for another SATURDAY SIX annual tradition of looking back at some of the most “memorable moments” of the previous year. Now we already covered some of the great things that happened during the past 365 days, and some of the worst as well, so today let’s look at six theme park stories that fall into a different area. Events that are almost hard to believe actually happened, but we promise they did, and we’re here with the proof. So let’s kick it off with…
# 6 – Disney Puts a Paper Bag Over the Tower of Terror
Disney has some truly incredible projects opening over the next couple years including Pandora: The World of Avatar in Florida and a huge Star Wars Land on both coasts. These projects look to give guests the same level of immersion – if not more – than the critically acclaimed Cars Land and Diagon Alley. For their first ever Marvel attraction in America, Disney went in a different direction. In a shocking announcement at last year’s San Diego Comic Con, it was revealed that the Hollywood Tower of Terror in DCA would be converted over to Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! While Pandora will have guests dropping their jaws while looking up at the “flying mountains” and Star Wars Land will fulfill many a fanboy dream of walking onto the Millenium Falcon, the Marvel attraction is going to look just like the iconic Hollywood Tower of Terror with a bunch of pipes on it.
The Tower of Terror prepares to undergo its transformation into the Collector’s Fortress. (photo by Guy Selga)
Here’s the thing: say what you will about California’s Tower of Terror versus Florida’s version (it stinks), the ride still has the memorable Tower of Terror hotel facade. This is one of the all time most iconic ride facades in Disney history. In fact, with the Sorcerer’s Hat now gone from DHS, it has become one of the four WDW park icons along with Spaceship Earth, the Tree of Life, and Cinderella Castle. Disney has owned Marvel now for almost a decade, and as they saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. No matter how good the actual Guardians of the Galaxy ride is or isn’t, being shoehorned into one of the most recognizable facades in any theme park is going to make the attraction look and feel out of place.
The most unbelievable part of this entire story is the fact that Disney started converting the Tower of Terror over to Mission: BREAKOUT! while guests were still enjoying the Terror of Terror. Large parts of the Tower were covered, and the attraction started to look like a sports fan wearing a paper bag over their head because they were ashamed of their team.
Paper of Plastic? (photo by Justin Martin)
Despite the Tower of Terror not being in anyone’s top ten ride list in DCA, the reaction to the hotel being changed was not received well on social media (to be fair, not much is anyway). Even crazier, DCA is just coming off a Billion dollar makeover that included making a large part of the park themed to early 20th century California, the exact same theme which Tower of Terror already had. Many have voiced their displeasure, but a few have also had a little fun with the idea of the hotel soon to be under new management….
This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at The Best Resort Specific Merchandise at WDW! Longtime readers of this fine blog series will remember that we have looked at the Best Souvenirs at Disney, the Best at Universal, and even the Best Pieces of Disney Merchandise That Don’t Exist. Heck, we even risk our lives and sanity each and every month to deliver you the fabled Disney Outlet Store Photo Report. So it is safe to say, we like merch. Now, one of our favorite types of theme park resort merchandise is the stuff you can get at the onsite hotels. When looking at them back at home, they instantly remind us of the great times we had on vacation and the places we have stayed at. Disney has always been the industry leader at incredible resort specific merchandise, but several years ago the company switched to a more homogeneous look for much of its hotel merchandise. With a very similar style of logo for various resorts all on the same type of items (t-shirts, coffee cups, keychains, etc), it was like Disney was running a Zazzle account writ large. Thankfully, more original merchandise has started to make its way back to the resorts, along with some old favorites. Today we’re going to look at our favorite resort specific merchandise, starting with…
# 6 – Camper Keychain at Fort Wilderness
Believe it or not, Disney’s Fort Wilderness campgound has one of the highest amounts of great resort specific merchandise on property. From great looking pins and shirts to amazing prints, Fort Wilderness offers an array of unique items that most other WDW hotels can’t compete with. There’s even a Fort Wilderness air freshener! Our absolute favorite piece of merch is the Camper Keychain ($9.99). Not only is this an incredibly creative keychain compared to what you’ll find at other resorts, the headlight of the camper is a working flashlight! Talk about the Disney Difference, and be prepared to talk about your Disney vacation when your friends and family back home see your cute keychain.
Fort Wilderness Camper Keychain.
The camper’s headlight is an actual working flashlight!
Plastic Mason Jar Travel Mug.
Fort Wilderness Air Freshener with “Wild Woods Scent.” To be fair, while we say it is unique that Fort Wilderness has its own air freshener, we will stipulate to the fact that no one would want an All Star Music air freshener anyway. We do wonder what the scent of “Pop Century” would be though….
The SATURDAY SIX mobile sits outside Coronado Springs with the inside smelling like Fort Wilderness.
This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Things We Can’t Wait To See In 2017! 2016 was another unbelievable year in the theme park world, containing a wide mix of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. 2017 is already shaping up to be even more amazing. We have a new immersive land that promises to eclipse what Disneyland has done with Cars Land and Universal with Diagon Alley, a new President being added to the Hall of Presidents, and the first of its kind “water theme park.” If that doesn’t get your blood pumping about the next 12 months you may actually be a Host from Westworld, but for the rest of you, here’s some of the things we can’t wait to see, starting with…
# 6 – Pandora: The World of Avatar (Animal Kingdom)
Our long national nightmare is almost over. First announced on September 20, 2011, Pandora: The World of Avatar is nearing completion. Disney is saying “Summer 2017” for this new land, and is going on record saying it is the most immersive area in any theme park. Just from what we can see from what rises over the construction walls and the Blogger-In-The-Sky helicopter camera shots, the land does look STUNNING. The info we’ve been given on the bioluminescent plants in the area along with the experience in the Na’vi River Journey make both seem like “wow” moments. Last year, this fine blog did question what Pandora will be doing in the areas of food and merchandise, two extremely important factors a theme park land needs to deliver on to satisfy its Return On Investment (ROI). These are also two areas that Disney has not released much info on for Pandora. We all know that Avatar the movie – by far and away the most financially successful film in the history of cinema – never really figured out a way to get its fans to buy merchandise the way that Star Wars, Marvel, Harry Potter, and even Star Trek have.
Na’vi River Journey. (photo courtesy of Disney Parks and Resorts)
One of the most exciting things about Pandora is that it appears the land will be using projection mapping on its incredible rock work. This is something that has never been mentioned by Disney over the course of the Pandora project, but Johnny-on-the-spot bloggers have seen this technology being tested. Your Humble Author thinks projection mapping is one of the areas that Disney is heads and tails above anyone else in the industry right now. Whether on the castle in the Magic Kingdom, the Great Movie Ride facade in DHS, or the jaw dropping Tree of Life Awakens shows at Animal Kingdom, Disney’s use of projection mapping in the parks is amazing.
What looks to be testing for projecting mapping on the rock work in Pandora. (photo by @Blog_Mickey)
# 5 – Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon (Universal Studios Florida)
Last year Universal fans lost Twister…Ride It Out! along with its Bill Paxton performance that was so mailed in he should have put a stamp on it. In Twister’s place will be the upcoming Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon. One of the most underrated aspects of this change, is that the attraction takes place in the New York area of Universal Studios Florida, so it is a perfect fit. There are many who do not like Fallon’s broad sense of humor, but his Late Night TV dominance shows there is most likely a much larger group of people who love what he brings to the table (Your Humble Author included). While there have been some debates on how the “flying theater” ride mechanics will actually work, one thing we do know is that Universal is trying something truly different with how people experience the attraction’s queue.
Much like how Dumbo at the Magic Kingdom allows kids to play in a themed area until it is time to ride, Race Through New York looks to have things for adults to do while waiting. There will be a woman’s quartet singing songs, a chance to check out classic bits from from Fallon’s Tonight Show run (including Lip Sync Battle), write your own “Thank You Notes” at an interactive desk, and even get a meet and greet with the Tonight Show’s mascot, Hashtag the Panda.
Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon is designed to get guests to laugh, and comedy is one thing Universal is very good at delivering on. From the criminally underrated Horror Make-Up Show to the non-stop gags in Springfield USA, be prepared to bring your smile when stepping into Universal Studios Florida.
Race Through New York starring Jimmy Fallon concept art.
Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon in Universal Studios Florida. (photo by @bioreconstruct).
This week’s SATURDAY SIX is an annual tradition. Six Disney Gifts Santa Can Bring Back to the North Pole (AKA The Best of the Disney Outlet Stores in 2016). Some readers of this weekly column may not know that we also have The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! where every single month for over three years we have braved the insanity of the Orlando Premium Outlet parking lots to cover the two Disney outlet stores (more info on them – including addresses – are at the end of the article.) In fact, we even had a very special Three Year Anniversary edition with some congratulatory notes from some very impressive names in the theme park community.
Now, while some Christmas dreams do come true, such as Ralphie Parker getting his official Red Ryder BB gun and Your Humble Author getting a Han Solo blaster back in the day, other Christmas gifts deserve to go straight to the Island of Misfit Toys. Today we will take a look at some of those very items, starting with…
# 6 – Glow With The Show Ears
Let it glow.
Our first item this week was the first ever Made With Magic piece of merchandise to hit the Outlets. These were the Mickey Ears that lit up with different colors to Glow With the Show during some of the nighttime spectaculars at the parks. I have no actual financial numbers to support my theory, but having been the parks many, many times and only seeing a handful of guests wearing these, I’m going to assume Disney took a complete bath on this idea. It’s an item that cost over $25, are heavier than a normal pair of Mickey Ears, and the person wearing it can’t even see it glow. They were reduced to $9.99. This pair of Ears is particularly garish in design.
# 5 – Hats that are “Big In Japan”
This next item I had been waiting for ever since they showed up at the regular Disney stores over two years ago. These hats where you look like you are wearing the carcass of a dead Disney character on your head and are next level bananas. Apparently these bonkers hats are huge over at the Tokyo parks, but to be fair they also line up for hours just for popcorn. Popcorn! To be even more fair, if I were out there I’d be in line with them. Originally $21.95, these were reduced to $5.99.
Donald hat, as seen in the Art of Animation gift shop.
This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Snacks at Universal Orlando That You Gotta Try! A couple weeks ago we flew across the country to check out some of the great Disneyland snacks, and today we’re back home in Florida to look at even more delectable delights. We’re going to head over to the Universal Orlando Resort, home of some of the most outrageous and most extreme food options we’ve ever seen in the theme park world. However, instead of looking at crazy desserts that should come with an insulin pump, we are going to set our sights on some of the most original, creative, or just plain fun treats in either Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios Florida. So sit back, prepare to channel your inner Homer Simpson, and let’s begin our list with…
# 6 – Lard Lad D’oh-nuts
The fine folks in Springfield USA are no strangers to delivering great donuts to us theme park fans. The area opened with the debut of the classic Lard Lad giant pink donut, which immediately became a huge hit. In 2016, Lard Lad introduced more donuts to the menu, but in true Simpsons fashion, they didn’t go with the same ol’ same ol. Instead we got the donuts we dreamed of. Donuts topped with crushed Oreos, Fruity Pebbles, bacon and more! This at least gives us in Orlando a small taste of the type of donut options available in Universal Studios Hollywood’s Lard Lad. Unlike Orlando, USH’s Lard Lad does not serve ice cream because their Springfield has Phineas Q. Butterfat’s Ice Cream Parlor, so instead they opened with a larger variety of donuts.
Lard Lard Oreo d’oh-nut. (photo by Brandon Glover)
Lard Lad Fruity Pebbles donuts. (photo by Brandon Glover)
A selection of some of the D’oh-nuts available, and take a look at that GIANT apple fritter in the back! Universal a clear supporter of #MAGA. (photo by Brandon Glover)
# 5 – Character Themed Candy Bars
Several years ago, Disney started releasing some very fun candy boxes featuring many of their iconic characters from both movies and the theme parks. However, the actual candy had very little to do with the characters outside of silly puns. For example, there was the Haunted Mansion’s Madam Leota on the box of I See Chocolate In Your Future (dark chocolate hot fudge truffle.) Alice in Wonderland’s Cheshire Cat was on the box of I’m Just Mad About Chocolate (milk chocolate mint meltaways) while Monster Inc’s Mike Wazowski and Celia Mae had the Eye Know What Women Want! Chocolate! (milk chocolate peanut butter.)
Universal has many generic candy options themed to their brands as well (including my favorite, the Jaws themed gummy fish candy,) but there are also ten candy bars which are completely tied into the characters they feature. The candy bar with Despicable Me’s Minions uses banana in its recipe, while the one with Agnes is cotton candy flavored (in the film, the kids came home from Super Silly Land with Cotton Candy.) The E.T. bar is a chocolate peanut butter bar with Reeses Pieces, while Spongebob Squarepants has a white chocolate pineapple bar with pineapple bits. The synergy between these bars and the characters they feature is a great touch, and something we can hopefully see more of from both Universal and Disney in the future.
This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Disneyland Snacks You Gotta Try! Longtime readers of the SATURDAY SIX know that we have a big case of the munchies going on 24/7. In fact, because of the articles on The 10 Gallon Challenge at Whispering Canyon and the E-Ticket milkshakes at Universal’s Toothsome Chocolate Emporium, this fine blog series is now the third leading cause of adult onset diabetes in America (and look out soda, we’re coming for you!) This week however we are gonna head across the country over to Guy Selga’s neck of the woods and check out the tasty treats at the Happiest Place on Earth, Disneyland. Despite having only two parks compared to our four here in Florida, the Disneyland resort is chock full of incredibly unique and delicious items that you can only get out in California. This week we are going to look at six of our absolute favorite snacks, so sit back, loosen your belt a couple notches, and let’s begin our list with…
# 6 Matterhorn Macaroon
The Matterhorn Macaroon in front of the fabled Matterhorn itself. (photo by Brandon Glover)
If you go to Disneyland and don’t stop by the Jolly Holiday Bakery to get a Matterhorn Macaroon, you’re doing it wrong. A coconut macaroon shaped like the iconic Disney mountain, topped with white chocolate, and sprinkled with powdered sugar on top for an awesome snow-like appearance, the Matterhorn Macaroon is ultimate in synergy between theme park attractions and snacks. Oh, and it just so happens to taste GREAT.
# 5 – Mickey Beignets
Mickey Beignet. (photo by Megan Stump)
Eventually we’ll be doing a blog on our favorite Mickey shaped food items, but one of our favorites is the sugary concoction found at the Mint Julep Bar or Cafe Orleans in New Orleans Square (the latter of which serves them with dipping sauces.) We often find ourselves stopping by Port Orleans French Quarter just to grab some beignets here in Florida, so seeing them in the classic Mickey shape in Anaheim brings two of our favorite things together in one. Now that’s synergy we can get behind. Even better, Disneyland also offers flavored beignets such as pumpkin spice during Halloween and peppermint for the Christmas season.
This week’s SATURDAY SIX is one of our favorites as we present the Third Annual “Turkeys” of the Year. For Thanksgiving this week we took a look back at things both Disney and Universal fans should be thankful for, but today we are going to go the other way. Gather ’round as we continue the fine tradition of awarding six Theme Park “Turkeys” to the craziest, most outrageous, or just downright weird stories of the year, concluding with the coveted Golden Turkey award. Let’s kick off the ceremony with a food situation that blew us away….
# 6 – That Time Disney Charged $12.99 For a “Hurricane Box”
Art by Juliette Elton (@JulietteElton)
In early October, the state of Florida had its biggest weather scare in almost a decade with the oncoming Hurricane Matthew. Most of the models used by meteorologists had Matthew slamming into the East Coast, and then continuing straight up through the center of the state hitting Orlando. Seemingly playing a weird game of chicken, Disney and Universal both waited until just about the last possible moment to announce their hard ticket events of Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and Halloween Horror Nights would be cancelled for Thursday, October 6th, and all the Orlando theme parks would be closed on Friday, October 7th.
With the storm bearing down on Florida, food everywhere was being cleared off the shelves at Walt Disney World. Lines appeared at the hotel food courts that seemed impossible to believe were true (but they absolutely were.) The food court at Port Orleans French Quarter was in the process of being refurbished, and there WDW was offering a $12.99 boxed meal that included a sandwich, an apple, a bag of chips, and a cookie. Pictures of the paltry boxed lunch hit social media and news outlets, including the Orlando Sentinel, with most of the reaction being very unfavorable to Disney.
Greetings! TouringPlans.com Blog Manager Brian here to welcome you to the continuation of TBT: Throwback Thanksgiving week here on the blog. All this week we will be revisiting a few wonderful Thanksgiving-related posts from the past. This wonderful entry from 2015 highlighting the six things that Derek Burgan gave thanks for during that year.
Make sure you come back Thursday at 9:00am for this years items to give thanks for!
This week’s SATURDAY SIX is our annual Thanksgiving Special and takes a look at Six Reasons for Theme Park Fans to Give Thanks. 2015 was another great year to be a theme park fan, and for this Thanksgiving we are going to take a quick break from all the turkey, football games, and Black Friday planning to count our blessings and thank the parks and resorts we love so much. So, for one day only, we ask that all Disney and Universal fans put aside their differences and spend a moment appreciating all the wonderful things that we can share together, starting with…
The selfie stick ban was definitely a controversial move to be sure. Universal had earlier become more strict on preventing selfie sticks on rides, but Disney outright stopped people from even entering the park with them. Now we joked earlier about only kids and narcissists using them, the truth is that selfie sticks have become increasingly popular across almost all demographics. While people using selfie sticks inside the parks can be a nuisance, they were starting to become a serious safety factor on attractions. You may have seen what is called an Envelope of Protection as Imagineers test out the attractions. This device makes sure that all the attractions are safe for every rider, basically simulating the possible reach of every guest in the ride vehicle. This is why while it may seem like your may lose your arms in Space Mountain if you hold them up during the ride, but in actuality you are nowhere close to hitting anything. What the Envelope of Protection doesn’t take into account though, is guests holding on to anything that extends their reach.
Greetings! TouringPlans.com Blog Manager Brian here to welcome you to TBT: Throwback Thanksgiving week here on the blog. All this week we will be revisiting a few wonderful Thanksgiving-related posts from the past. Starting us off is this gem from 2014 highlighting the six things that Derek Burgan gave thanks for during that year.
Make sure you come back Thursday at 9:00am for this years items to give thanks for!
This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons for Theme Park Fans to Give Thanks. 2014 was a great year to be a theme park fan, and for this Thanksgiving we are going to take a quick break from all the turkey, football games, and Black Friday planning, to count our blessings and thank the parks and resorts we love so much. So, for one day only, I ask that Disney and Universal fans put aside their differences and spend a moment appreciating all the wonderful things that we can share together, starting with…
# 6 – Disney and Universal Merchandise is Better than Ever
It wasn’t long ago, that the only merchandise people were buying at Universal were Thing 1 and Thing 2 shirts. Over at Disney, almost every single store, whether in the parks, hotels, or Downtown Disney, was selling the same generic”Disney Parks”stuff. A seismic shift started to occur in 2010, when the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened, and blew the doors off everyone’s projections in the area of merchandise and Butterbeer. Guests were now walking out of Universal with house robes, wands and chocolate frogs in hand. This success was then repeated throughout both of their theme parks, with unique and exclusive items found everywhere you looked, from the EVAC action figure at Transformers gift shop, to the faux girl scout cookies in Despicable Me’s Super Silly Store, to my personal favorite – The Film Vault – a whole new store focusing on retro merchandise.
Jungle Cruise merchandise found at the Marketplace Co-op in Downtown Disney. (photo by Brandon Glover)
This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons We LOVE the Walt Disney World SWAN and DOLPHIN. Disney has three classifications for their resorts: Value (including Pop Century and Art of Animation), Moderate (Caribbean Beach and Coronado Springs), and Deluxe (The Poly and The Contemporary). Three of the Deluxe resorts are not run by Disney, these include Shades of Green (owned and operated by the US Armed Forces) and the Swan and Dolphin. For over 25 years the Swan and Dolphin has been a part of the Starwood chain of resorts. While Starwood was bought by Marriott in September of this year, the hotels continue to be run under their respective brands (Swan being part of Westin, while the Dolphin part of Sheraton.)
Walt Disney World Swan.
Both the Swan and Dolphin are considered Disney Deluxe Resorts. While neither hotel offers the Disney Magical Express to and from the airport, or participates in the Disney Dining Plan, guests do get the normal WDW on-site ammenities including Extra Magic Hours, Disney transportation, and early access to Fast Pass+. How do the Swan and Dolphin stack up compared to the other on-site resorts? Well, today we are going to check out our favorite parts of these two incredible hotels, and let’s begin our list with…
# 6 – Todd English’s bluezoo
One of the most underrated restaurants on Disney property is Todd English’s bluezoo located on the ground floor of the Dolphin. The bar area is visually stunning, and sets up the unique food and drink menu perfectly. Recently we did a tongue in cheek look at a Disney Value Resort Bar Crawl, but one thing that stood out at those bars – along with many others on Disney property – is a reliance on the standard Disney bar menu. Todd English’s bluezoo is the complete opposite of that. Whether you get a Burnt Orange that arrives on fire or a Swedish Fish with its infused foam, the drinks served at bluezoo are served with creativity and flair.
The dining room of bluezoo is deceptively large. While the menu is filled with some great items (especially if you’re a seafood fan,) what shocked us was the crispy Asian pork ribs. I didn’t think anyone would come close to touching the quality of Morimoto Asia’s Hoisin sticky spare ribs, but bluezoo’s are somehow better. While many probably wouldn’t think of bluezoo as the first choice to bring your kids, there is actually a part of the menu for kid’s appetizers, entrees, and desserts. The whimsicly named “desserted island” is among the most fun at WDW.
Smoking Red Sangria. (photo by Brandon Glover)
Burnt Orange – “herradura blanco infused with brûléed orange and muddled with agave nectar, grand marnier, and orange juice. topped with a flaming orange.” (photo by Brandon Glover)