Theme Park Enjoyment Index for NOVEMBER 2021 (Christmas Season, Disney Fat Shaming, FastPass Documentary)

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The Theme Park Enjoyment Index (TPEI) is a monthly look at the events that have made an impact, both positive and negative, in this wild world of theme parks we all love so much. We’ll assign each piece of news a positive or negative number, tally it all up at the end and chart it. The range goes from 0-100 with 0 being Stitch’s Supersonic Celebration while a perfect score of 100 would be Pandora: The World of Avatar.

Remember, all links in TPEI open up in a new browser window. So feel free to check stuff out, we’ll be here when you get back!

So before we start, a quick note. Most of you reading this know that we had a big weekend with our sister series, the SATURDAY SIX. On Saturday we had the highly anticipated 8th annual Theme Park Turkeys of the Year article. We exhaustively covered the wildest stories that happened at Disney and Universal in 2021 in an article you don’t want to miss. The TikTok water fountain guy, the Cardboard Carballeros, Eric Idle vs. DisTwitter, and a whole lot more. CLICK HERE to check out The 2021 Turkeys.

The 2021 Theme Park Turkeys of the Year headline drawing. (artwork by Brian Cooper)
Len Testa, popping champagne after the release of the 8th annual Turkeys of the Year article. Probably.

On Sunday, we did the first ever TURKEY ADDENDUM. This gave readers a look at “how the sausage is made” when it came to creating the incredible headline drawing by Brian Cooper, along with going over each and every single reference in the artwork. If you asking what is ParksCon? why is there a wagon with RunDisney merchandise in it? or who are those two girls holding churros?  CLICK HERE to read the Turkey Addendum and you’ll get your answer.

From Brian Cooper’s initial rough sketch, to line work, to inks, to full color and a thorough explanation of all the references, the TURKEY ADDENDUM has it all!

With TPEI being my third published article in four days, I have been informed by my intrepid editor Julia Mascardo that if I “go long” on this one too that she will – and I quote – “Kathy Bates-in-Misery your ass.” Now, I don’t know exactly what that means, but it doesn’t sound good. So we are going our best to keep it light and airy this month. We’ll return next month with our normal shenanigans. The December edition of TPEI falls in between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, directly on New Year’s Eve, which is a week I’m pretty sure most people don’t have anything going on anyway.

*Theme Park Halloween is over, and Theme Park Christmas is here

After an incredible year for Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights celebrating the event’s 30th anniversary, it was time for all the spooks and scares to be put back up into the attic until 2022. We had a lot of fun, had Universal’s best Tribute Store to date, got to see some incredible artists inspired by HHN, and ate a whole bunch of tasty treats. You can’t ask for more than that.

Now it’s time for my personal favorite time of the year: Christmas season.

“Keep warm, buddy! ” Universal’s Earl the Squirrel to Halloween Horror Night’s own L’il Boo. (artwork by  @KipGhostlee)
Absolutely love this EPCOT Hanukkah design by Howard Bowers which features a menorah done in the style of the EPCOT Pavilion logos in 1982. Brilliant. (artwork by @GoAwayGreen)

TPEI Score: – 2 This score is based not on my personal love for Christmas, but for the fact that we have to say Goodbye to something the theme parks do better than anyone else in the world. Lots of places can do Christmas right. There are radio stations which now play Christmas music 24 hours a day. There’s one iconic Christmas movie after another on TV. Stores are filled with Christmas items. Christmas is everywhere. No one does Halloween better than the theme parks, especially Universal.

*Figment in his Holiday Sweater

The Christmas season means we get to see the return of our favorite Animated Little F—er wearing his Imagination Pavilion sweater!

How can you heart not grow three sizes seeing this? (photo by @MagicBandManiac)

TPEI Score: + 2 The only negative is that Figment’s sweater, along with the charming work done on the overlay for Living With the Land, shows how little effort Disney has to put in to make the parks that much more special during the Holidays and – for the most part – they won’t do it. I’m grateful for the scraps that we do get, but also dreaming of the winter wonderland we could – and more importantly, should – be enjoying.

*More Plastic Molds at Universal Orlando

The Tribute Store at Universal Studios Florida has already been converted over to Christmas, and with it came new plastic molds!  I remember growing up and taking trips to Florida with my family and many of the places we went to had the Mold-O-Matic machines. Fun souvenirs to bring home and you get the experience of watching the mold being made before your eyes. For the most part, Mold machines are almost impossible to find now, replaced by pressed penny machines. Several years ago, Universal Studios Florida began bringing the Mold machines back into their Tribute Stores, and have been consistently giving us new designs multiple times every year. Now that’s a Christmas miracle!

For the Holiday Tribute Store this year, we have two new shapes. The first is a Christmas Tree.

A new Christmas mold! (photo by Hunter Underwood)

We also got a reindeer mold.

Reindeer mold. (photo by Hunter Underwood)

Not to be outdone, over in CityWalk, the Universal Legacy Store got a new mold design as well and it is none other than KING KONG!

Pinch me, I’m dreaming! Also, if you notice in the photo above there is a red Christmas ornament on the machine. The Kong mold is red, but I have a sneaking suspicion that is a seasonal offering and early next year the Great Ape mold will be in a different color.  (photo by @bioreconstruct)

Here is a look at the four molds you can currently buy at Universal Orlando. The Jaws and Kong molds can be found at the Legacy Store in CityWalk, while the Reindeer and Tree are in Universal Studios Florida at the Tribute Store. The Jaws mold came out earlier this year and my reaction (as the owner of a million Disney Tsum Tsums) and the reaction of my Marie Kondo-loving girlfriend, were quite different.

Universal molds. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

TPEI Score: + 1 Confirmation that we are in the greatest timeline.

*Defunctland’s FastPass Documentary

Ok, if you have not watched Disney’s FastPass: A Complicated History, do so right now. Don’t be scared off by the 1 hour 42 minute run time. It flies by and you’ll be wanting more by the end. One of the greatest accomplishments in the theme park community this entire year. Seriously, WATCH IT NOW.

Wait, you’re still here? That means you already watched it, or need more convincing. How about this testimonial from none other than TouringPlans’s own Grand Poobah?
LEN TESTA: From the day it was introduced, Disney theme park fans have debated FASTPASS’ effect on lines.  Most people (including us) agreed that FastPass+ made at least some standby wait times go up,  The big unanswered question was whether smart use of FastPass+ at some rides could overcome not using FastPass+ at the others, so your overall wait time in line throughout the day was lower.
That’s a big question.  Thank goodness Kevin Perjurer came along and answered it.  A new video for Kevin’s Defunctland channel explores the history of  how FastPass came to be.  By writing a complex computer simulation of an actual theme park (called “Shapeland”), Kevin also shows us how FASTPASS and FastPass+ affected how long we wait in line.
Defunctland’s FastPass video is important for a number of reasons.  It explains the real reasons why Disney implemented FASTPASS in the late 1990s, and why they paid over $1 billion to overhaul it around 2010.  And it shows how different kinds of park guest were affected by these changes.  What started out as an Industrial Engineer’s dream to reduce waits, then to increase guest satisfaction, eventually became more important to the company as a revenue stream.
Besides being informative, Kevin’s video is fast-paced, funny, and has great visuals.  I guarantee that by the end of this video, you’ll be looking for “I Survived The Triangle” t-shirts to wear. ~END
Thanks Len! Users on social media had a lot of fun talking about the documentary and the concept of Shapeland.
Shapeland, as seen in the Defunctland FastPass documentary.

The master of time and space himself mocked up a picture of the molds which would be available in the Shapeland Tribute Store! There is nothing better than when the theme park community comes together and absolutely loves something.

TPEI Score: + 44 What a monumental achievement from the theme park fan community. Kevin Perjurer and the Defunctland team have put together a documentary that is more substantial and informative than anything which has been released on Disney+.

*Disney Says “Let Them Eat Cake…Just Not Too Much Of It.”

We can cut portion size, which is probably good for some people’s waistlines.” – Christine McCarthy, CFO, The Walt Disney Company

In early November, during a quarterly earnings call, Disney “said the quiet part out loud” with what they really think about all of us theme park fans. After years of cost cutting, penny-pinching, price increases, and introducing one upcharge after another, Disney was now trying to justify their actions because it’s for our own good. Now I’m sure the CFO did not intend her comment to be as mean-spirited and tone deaf as it came across, but it went over with theme park fans as well as you could expect.

For me, the most aggravating part of the comment is how is was overlooked by many in the theme park community. The same part of the comment who are chomping at the bit to go after Universal (or anyone not named Disney) for any perceived fat-shaming slights. For example, in August, the social media team in Universal Studios Hollywood made the following tweet.

One thing to keep in mind for context is that the “skip the salad” comment is one used often on social media, almost always in a humorous tweet. Now I’m not saying the USH social media team should have posted the above comment, but clearly it was a lighthearted attempt to mock the shallow, Instagram filter, and image obsessed culture of LA with us regular people who go to theme parks. However, the hounds were released and after a relentless beating online, the tweet was deleted.

One thing that a section of the Disney fan community is upset about is the fact that many people of a larger size cannot ride all the attractions at Universal. For the most part, at Disney people of any size can ride anything. Heck, even on their thrill rides like Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster and Big Thunder Mountain you can bring your backpack or bags of merchandise on to the ride vehicle. The reason you can’t at places like Universal Orlando is because they have a policy of 100% containment.

What this means is Universal does not want items falling off an ride vehicle, but more importantly under no conditions do they want a guest to get out of a ride vehicle.  If someone does get out of a vehicle during the ride, they either have to add more safety equipment (which usually limits who can ride) or require the ride’s restraint to go down further (which also limits who can ride).

Disney does not do this. That’s why earlier this year we saw A Guest Get Off Living With The Land To Steal A Cucumber.

Is that the only time guests have gotten out of a Disney ride while it was moving? NAY NAY. It has happened on Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, Big Thunder and many more. In fact, early this very year Disney had to install Barriers At Gran Fiesta Tour in EPCOT because so many guests were getting out of the ride vehicles before they were supposed to. That’s why Universal is so stringent on safety procedures. However it is important to note that Universal has test ride vehicles outside the entrances of many rides so that guests will know before even getting into line whether or not they will be able to ride the attraction. Rides such as Revenge of the Mummy, Rip Ride Rockit, and Forbidden Journey all have test seats out front to help.

Test seat at Rip Ride Rockit. (photo by Michael Carelli)

 

TPEI Score: – 12 After years of nickle-and-diming us, the biggest take away from Disney’s CFO’s comments during the earnings call is that they are going to try and cut expenses to the bone. So, the next couple years at Disney sound like they are going to be really fun.

*This Should Make Just About Everyone Reading This “Feel Seen”

I imagine everyone reading this article right now is a lot like me. You’re the “theme park person” in your circle of friends, family, and co-workers. You’re the one who gets all the questions like, “where can I get discounted tickets?” and of course things like the following…

 

TPEI Score – 9 Theme Park fandom, the gift that keeps on giving the whole year. Here’s a suggestion for all the people who gets requests like this. For Christmas this year, purchase your friends and families either A) a TouringPlans subscription or B) one of the Unofficial Guide books (they have great ones for Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and Universal Orlando, the latter of which has an exclusive SATURDAY SIX). You’ll be killing two birds with one stone. 1) You’re giving invaluable information – from sharp minds like Len Testa & Seth Kubersky – and a great gift to loved ones at a ridiculously cheap price. 2) When you’re invariably asked something like, “what is Genie+” You can just reply “read the book” instead of spending the next three weeks of your life pulling every single hair out of your head.

*Universal’s Theirry Coup Says What We’ve All Been Thinking

November brought the big IAAPA Expo to Orlando. Filled with all the latest innovations coming to amusement parks over the next few years, IAAPA also features a Legends panel featuring people from Disney and Universal. This year the Legends panel focused on the creation of the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man attraction at Islands of Adventure. Among those on the panel were Thierry Coup (current Senior VP of Universal Creative), Phil Hettema (former Senior VP of Universal Creative) and Scott Trowbridge. Trowbridge was one of the leads behind the creation of IOA, but is now at Disney and is responsible for the ground breaking Rise of the Resistance attraction in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

This is a wonderful panel you you can WATCH HERE. A must watch for theme park fans. Among other things it included this fantastic moment…

TPEI Score + 1 Thank you for saying what needed to be said Thierry.

* Disneyland Getting Ready For Runaway Railway

Out in Disneyland, new concept art was put out as the entire Toon Town land gets ready for the debut of Runaway Railway.

This led to many on social media pointing out that there are several places in Disneyland which could use some similar TLC.

No lies detected. (meme by @OpenMothersMale)

TPEI Score: – 1 Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway here in Florida. Love it. Fantastic ride. However, it does grind my gears that DHS – which only has a handful of attractions – had to lose one of the most iconic rides ever built – one that was the essence of the entire park – to make way for Runaway Railway, but Disneyland “found room” to add it in to California’s line-up of what seems like over 50 attractions. Blessing of size my @$$.

Okay let’s finish with some quick hits from this month…

*Bacini Goes To the Hard Rock Hotel

In case you missed it earlier this month, Bacini – the official dog of Universal Orlando – had his First Ever Stay at the Hard Rock Hotel.

What? You don’t get your pets a room key? (photo by Brandon Glover)

Bacini was there to check out the Hard Rock’s new UNLEASHED program for pets, but while we were there we checked out all the things we love about the hotel. This includes the WAX part of the Hard Rock’s Sound of Your Stay program. Here guests can get a record player and 10 albums delivered straight to their room.

Bacini appropriately listening to “Born to Run.” (photo by Brandon Glover)

Bacini made sure we brought his favorite albums.

While we were at the Hard Rock Hotel, we also went to my favorite buffet in all of Universal Orlando… the breakfast buffet at The Kitchen. Before we get to the actual buffet, check out the Kid’s Menu at The Kitchen. HOW GREAT ARE THESE NAMES?!!!

Now the buffet itself has a lot of wonderful options, including my favorite breakfast item in all of Orlando with the Elvis French toast, but you know the Hard Rock is bringing their A-game with themed waffles! Who doesn’t like seeing Mickey waffles at WDW or the great Stitch waffles at ‘Ohana? It’s a little detail that goes a long way in my book.

#BeFairToFlorida

The #BeFairToFlorida movement got another slap in the face this month as we had to endure WDW cutting almost 100 performers from the Christmas parade down here, but out in California THEY ADDED MUPPETS.

OUTRAGEOUS!!!!! (photo by Guy Selga)

Oh, it gets even BETTER. For character meets, Disneyland had Ebeneezer Scrooge McDuck and Goofy-as-Marley’s ghost from Mickey’s A Christmas Carol. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!!!

PREPOSTEROUS!!! (photo by Guy Selga)

Meanwhile out in Asia…

Duffy and his friend’s in special winter gear. (photo by Cyberbb Lawrence)

Just as I was about to flip over every table in the state of Florida out of anger, Universal Orlando soothed my soul with the release of a whole bunch of Earl the Squirrel items here in Florida. Among them was a throw blanket which features one of my favorite pieces of theme park related artwork every from Disney or Universal. Look at all the Easter Eggs on this one!! Absolutely incredible and best of all it’s fair to Florida.

Earl the Squirrel. (artwork by Andrew Stonecypher)

Last month’s Theme Park Enjoyment Index: 52
This month’s net change: +22
Current enjoyment level: 74

Writer Derek Burgan, when not cleaning Len Testa’s pool, can be found reading comic books, watching professional wrestling, and taking his dog Bacini to Universal and Disney. organizing his various Tsum Tsums in alphabetical order. He will not, we repeat not, be found at a Disney Outlet Store. An official DisTwitter Influencer, you can interact with him @derekburgan

Digital Artist Scott Walker hails from Scotland and is the fifth most famous person from this country following Alexander Graham Bell, Ewan McGregor, Gerard Butler, and Desmond Hume #4815162342.

Oh yeah, Spider-Man Far From Home tickets were released this month. (meme by @JordanAHill)

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5 thoughts on “Theme Park Enjoyment Index for NOVEMBER 2021 (Christmas Season, Disney Fat Shaming, FastPass Documentary)

  • November 30, 2021 at 4:46 pm
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    This is becoming my favorite column since the hiatus of The Outlet Report.

    Reply
  • December 1, 2021 at 12:15 am
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    I watched “Disney’s Fastpass: A Complicated History” this evening, and it is a fascinating video if you are a fan of Disney, math, and computer algorithms (guilty!). Not to spoil it, but it even has quite the twist in it when it is revealed that Shapeland is really….well, I won’t say. But I enjoyed every minute of it.

    Reply
  • December 1, 2021 at 1:05 pm
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    I also watched “Disney’s Fastpass: A Complicated History” yesterday. Fantastic video. Derek, thank you for the fun articles.

    Reply
  • December 6, 2021 at 5:33 pm
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    It’s a really great documentary, and an incredible achievement. That said, as a math guy I wasn’t fully convinced by the model or the conclusions. There are some factors that weren’t considered that I think might impact the results. Certainly quantitatively in terms of relative figures… unclear whether the overall picture would change.

    I’m also not convinced the answer is “just have standby lines”, because that won’t actually improve guest experience. It doesn’t actually fix the problem that lines suck. At most what this shows is that Disney’s approach doesn’t work as well as it could. Mandatory virtual queuing, with dynamic pricing for everything (including $0 when appropriate), without pre-booking is probably the answer that will have the most positive effects on wait times. Of course people following Disney would also be super mad because 1. more pricing, 2. mandatory phone use.

    Disney could make this better by reducing ticket prices to compensate, and making Disney Genie actually do its job properly for guests, allowing people to just do what Genie says instead of spending ages tinkering on their phone all day. (A glance is better than pressing lots of buttons.) But I’m not convinced Disney would ever do either of those things so…. meh.

    Still think this plan would lead to the lowest waits and greatest average satisfaction. You could even still give an on-site advantage by giving them a Discount, or X number of free rides or something. *shrugs* Pre-booking clearly isn’t very fair, even if I personally like it.

    Reply
    • December 6, 2021 at 5:35 pm
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      (Oh, also: My plan would of course re-introduce the problem of “where will guests go?” but to me this is a better problem to have. Redesign the parks to give guests more activities to do while they wait.)

      Reply

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