This week’s SATURDAY SIX is a very special one as we dust off the blue blazer and step behind the SATURDAY SIX News Desk. What a week. If you’re like us you’ve been too busy watching the return of The Walking Dead on AMC, the Cubs and Mets winning their playoff series, and Donald Trump being Donald Trump. However we’ve been informed that a whole lot of stuff happened in the theme park world in the past week. So we took a page out of our old college playbook and pulled an all-nighter, cramming as much information as we could into our brains so that we could report back to you, Dear Reader, with all the relevant facts (and before we forget it all tomorrow). So sit back, feel confident you’re getting updated by someone who is kind of a big deal in the Eastern seaboard theme park blogging circles, and let’s begin our countdown starting with…
# 6 – Mulch, Sweat, and Shears Plays Its Last Show at DHS.
Heaven needed a cover band.
This week, popular* live musicians Mulch, Sweat and Shears played their final show ever at DHS. Mulch joins Sounds Dangerous, the American Idol Experience, the Legend of Jack Sparrow, the Studio Backlot Tour, and the Magic of Disney Animation as attractions permanently removed from the park. This came just days after the popular** Duffy the Disney Bear meet and greet had its last day in Epcot. Toy Story Land and Star Wars Land can’t get here soon enough to stop the blood letting in DHS (and if I were Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular or One Man’s Dream I would lease, not buy). As for Duffy, maybe he can take Journey Into Imagination with Figment along with him in his journeys.
*At least in the Len Testa household
**At least in Japan
# 5 – California Coastal Commission tells SeaWorld they can no longer breed killer whales
Planned Parenthood is going to need bigger prophylactics.
Every time you think the SeaWorld drama can’t get any crazier, along comes the next story which is even more bananas. In a year where SeaWorld’s official Twitter lost their minds… when a SeaWorld employee got caught as a “plant” in PeTA… when both SeaWorld and the Orlando Sentinel were sued over a leaked telephone call…after all that (and even more) the weirdest twist actually came this week as the California Coastal Commission voted to allow SeaWorld San Diego to go forward with the Blue World Project, but added that SeaWorld would not be allowed to breed any more killer whales. This is a reach of power that the NFL’s own Roger Goodell would be proud of. SeaWorld is in the process of suing the Coastal Commission over this decision.
What hasn’t been explained is why SeaWorld Orlando and San Antonio haven’t started their versions of the Blue World Project, especially with the delay in San Diego.
# 4 – Universal Orlando Resort: 1, SKYPLEX Orlando: 0.
Bully for you Universal. Literally.
— Richard Bilbao (@RichOBJ) October 15, 2015
In another surprise vote, the Orlando County Planning and Zoning Commission voted 4-3 against rezoning for SKYPLEX Orlando and its planned 501 foot Polercoaster. The main opposition is the Universal Orlando Resort, who claim that the skyscraper coaster should be kept to the 200 foot maximum that Universal and Disney top out their attractions at. SKYPLEX counters that the selling point of the coaster would be the fact that it is the tallest in the world. Other things have been brought into play such as the effect on I-Drive traffic and our personal favorite “light pollution” (which may be the best legal defense since My Cousin Vinny’s “magic grits”).
SKYPLEX feels that Universal is being a “bully” and outright said so in their presentation to the P&Z Commission, complete with a slideshow. In terms of zoning, Universal has taken heat in the past by getting part of its property marked as a “high crime area” in order for the county to pay for a pedestrian walkway (that said, the Garden Bridge at Cabana Bay just may be the best pedestrian walkway ever built). The vote now goes to the Board of County Commissioners and there is certainly no guarantee they will vote along the same lines as the P&Z Commission.
# 3 – WDW Finally adds another monorail stop: in the middle of the track.
Unforgettable Happens Here.
No one can deny that the Walt Disney World monorail is one of the most special things on property. However, despite being shut down for long stretches of time over the past couple years for maintenance, the monorails seem to be running worse than ever. In the last year alone we’ve had several high profile instances of the monorail being stuck and guests having to be evacuated. We now live in a time where everyone has cameras on their phones and instant access to social media, so we’re probably seeing problems more now than before just because it is easier to share our experiences. But you try telling that to someone sitting in an un-air conditioned monorail for two hours waiting to be let out or anyone waiting in the sea of humanity at the end of a Magic Kingdom night with the monorail shut down. To steal a line from Saturday Night Live, “Fix it,” and by Fix It we mean buy new ones.
# 2 – Fall crowds are feast or famine.
What do you do when the Crowd Calendar is at an “11?”
September and October can be incredible months to visit the theme parks, but both Disney and Universal are doing their best to make sure ‘busy’ is the new ‘normal.’ When it comes to preparing for an Orlando vacation, the #1 thing you need to remember to pack is your patience. Whether it’s security, transportation, FP+, someone taking a flash photo on a dark ride (or any number of theme park pet peeves) there’s a good chance you will have your patience tested. The main thing to keep in mind is that you are here to have fun. So be as prepared as you possibly can be (reading The Unofficial Guide, creating customizable TouringPlans, listening to theme park podcasts) but know that some things are out of your control. The saying seems trite, but I guarantee you it is true, a bad day at Disney or Universal is still better than a good day just about anywhere else.
# 1 – Disney raises costs of Annual Passes on both coasts in order to manage crowds. In related news: WHAAAAAAAAAT?!
Donald Gennaro: And we can charge anything we want, 2,000 a day, 10,000 a day, and people will pay it. And then there’s the merchandise…
John Hammond: Donald, Donald… This park was not built to cater only for the super-rich. Everyone in the world has the right to enjoy these animals.
Donald Gennaro: Sure, they will. Well, we’ll have a, a coupon day or something.
– Jurassic Park
Last week when Disney announced massive increases to its Annual Passes in both Disneyland and Walt Disney World, watching the story play out on social media was better than anything found at your local cinema. Disney saw what Universal was doing in creating confusing ticket options over the years and – just like Jurassic Park – took it the next level. Silver, Gold, Platinum and Platinum Plus passes made their debut in Florida as people around the world collectively lost their minds.
Disney raising ticket prices is nothing new. If anything it has become disturbingly regular over the past decade. However the combination of price increases along with attractions and lands on both coasts being closed is frustrating to many. Years ago it was thought that the $100 ticket would be the “straw that broke the camel’s back” and cause guests to stop going to Disney (and Universal) but the parks have crossed that price point and attendance is only going up.
What hasn’t been going up as fast is how much money Americans make. Several countries with formerly booming economies have taken some hits (for example, it essentially costs someone from Brazil twice as much for a WDW vacation as it did just a couple years ago because of their currency’s value compared to the dollar). If both Universal and Disney are doing record business, it means much less of the pie is available for everyone else after those tourist dollars (SeaWorld, I-Drive, etc).
It’s going to be an interesting couple of years to see where all of this leads to. Universal Studios Hollywood is set to open their version of the Wizarding World in the Spring. With that will surely come a major ticket price increase. Will Universal be able to draw a noticeable crowd away from Disneyland? Will Disneyland raising one of its Annual Passes to over $1,000 have any effect on their crowds? Will WDW guests see Disney Springs as a better value than DHS?
For those interested, here is a good article by Steve Bloom showing the Breakeven Point for WDW Annual Passes.
HONORABLE MENTION – NBC Grill & Brew soft opens at Universal CityWalk
We’ll end this edition of the News Desk with a quick reminder that the NBC Grill & Brew soft opened this month at Universal CityWalk and is gearing up for its official grand opening on October 22nd. With giant pretzels, an even bigger banana cake, dining tables you can actually play games on, an exclusive beer (made by the same people behind Wizard’s Brew and Dufftoberfest), and tons of TVs to watch your favorite game on, NBC Grill & Brew is officially SATURDAY SIX APPROVED.
So there you have it: the SATURDAY SIX News Desk: Bait You Can Click On. See you next weekend for the latest installment of the SATURDAY SIX, where we’ll look at something fun from the world of Disney and Universal. If you enjoyed yourself, be sure to check out The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! articles, or, for your listening pleasure, check out the Pardon the Pixie Dust podcast. You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan)
If you enjoyed this article, you will surely like the following:
Special Thanks to crack staff photographer Brandon Glover, Master photo manipulator Matt Cleary, the Iron Stomach @AmusementBuzz, Autism at the Park‘s own Maureen Deal, Theme Park YouTube guy (no, not Tim Tracker, the other one) @kyzman, long time suffering Jets fan DrewofOU, and blogger to the stars Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. Be sure to also check out Brandon on The Park Blogger podcast with co-hosts Aengus Mackenzie and Brian Carey.
PLEASE NOTE THAT NO CORRESPONDENTS OF THE SATURDAY SIX NEWS DESK WERE EVER FAKE CIA SPYS
FINAL PLUG! Did you know The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando has a special edition of the SATURDAY SIX in it? Finally, someone came up with an actual reason to read a book. ORDER this baby now and support SIX NATION (boy do we need a better name than that.)