Local 6 Theme World blog: I-Drive Live & I-Shops are a go

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January 17, 2013

Quick Update today.  Local 6's Evan Lambert is at a big announcement. 

I mentioned a few days ago, in some ways this is the year of I-Drive.

Today, developers of I-Drive Live & The nearby Wyndham hotel redevelopment I-Shops revealed more of their plans for their plots of land just south of Sand Lake Dr.

One big headline: construction on The Orlando Eye observation wheel will be the first big part of the project to start vertical construction.  It's base should start rising  in the next week or so.  

While the Orlando Eye won't be ready until Fall of 2014, Developer Chuck Whittall tells Local 6 that he expects the first phase, mainly restaurants and retail could open late this year.

A Madame Tussauds, and Sea Life aquarium are also part of the  20-acre, $250 million redevelopment of  the long-demolished Mercado shopping center.

Opening first -- in just weeks -- Kings Bowl America,  featuring 22 bowling lanes, billiards, bocce, plus a restaurant and lounge.

It is part of the I-Shops project next to I-Drive Live. This sister project is  a $50 million redevelopment of the old Wyndham Hotel site. It will include revamping 600 Guest rooms & has 13 spaces for shops and restaurants. Much of it will be  open by late this year.

Here's a link to a description of all of the projects underway on I-Drive, from the I-Drive District's web site.

We'll keep you posted on these and other developments here on Theme World and on Local 6.


January 15, 2013

Universal is transforming its image.

Think fast:  If you heard this in an ad: "Vacation is a precious thing. This year don't just take time off.  Put time in. Turn spending time with your family into spending time as a family" -- you'd probably think it was probably for one of Disney's Celebrate The Wishes of a Magical Family Dream Come True marketing campaigns. You'd be wrong.

 That  sentiment is the start and heart of Universal's new ad campaign: Vacation Like You Mean It.

Okay -- yes the  new commercial does have one fireball (this IS Universal after all) but overall -- this is the resort clearly taking aim at the Disney crowd and using a page from the Disney playbook.

Watch the TV Version of the commercial and take a look at what you DON'T See.

Not one image -- not one mention of the ultra-testosterone Transformers: The Ride-3D rapidly under construction and opening soon at a studios park near you.

It's Slogan: Prepare for Battle.

That's much more in line with OTHER Universal marketing slogans of the past: like "Experience the Thrill" and  "Shout Louder" -- even  the 2011 ad campaign: "I'm here because..."

That ad is full of "I" and "Me" and "THRILL" -- not "let's hold hands and spend time together with the kids." Universal is clearly repositioning itself for a reason.
See more at Universal's "Vacation Like You Mean it" web page.


January 14, 2013

Rumors, Rumors, Rumors....

Happy Monday --

Internet-loving Theme park fans are famous for spreading rumors. But there are several types of rumors. Let's look at some of them out there in the blogosphere/interweb:

Star Wars Land / Star Wars Minipark

Since Disney announced it was buying LucasFilm, and since CEO Robert Iger announced they were looking at exploiting the Star Wars properties in all of the companies divisions, fanboys & girls have been frothing at the bit of this idea: a Star Wars miniland at Disney's Hollywood Studios or at Disney's Animal Kingdom (replacing the generally-fan-hated AvatarLand). 

From what I hear, at this point at least, nothing Star Wars is coming to the US Disney parks for the foreseeable future. Doesn't mean it won't. Doesn't mean it wouldn't be popular. But this rumor is more hope and dream that reality at this point. Disneyland Paris looks like it might be the first place for an expanded Star Wars presence. The insightful DisneyandMore blog has long touted a plan to redo a corner of the Paris version of Tomorrowland (Discoveryland) with a Star Wars theme.

 Ok. This one should be a no-brainer. It was announced by Disney -- and was reiterated recently by Disney Big Wigs as being on the way.  Sources I trust, and some of the more reliable internet posters seem to back up, that this project remains very troubled. From what I glean, most of the powers-that-be recognize Animal Kingdom needs SOMETHING. But this project, from cost to design to attraction make-up has produced only one extremely vague concept model picture after years of work. That's not a promising sign, especially because the picture released (of James Cameron looking at said model) is said to be months old. 

Opening date has slipped from 2014 to 2015 to who knows? Not saying this won't happen, but I certainly wouldn't want to lay bets. Disney has a history of announcing projects that don't happen: From the Pleasure Island redo called "Hyperion Wharf"

to the Flamingo Crossings: a cheaper version of Downtown Disney, all the way back to the fan-fabled Western River Expedition ride that was usurped by Pirates of the Caribbean & Big Thunder Mountain.

Tangled/Rapunzel  Meet & Greet

It's an open secret Disney has been quietly constructing a Tangled-themed area in Fantasyland near Peter Pan's Flight & it's a small world.

When it has been referred to, this area has been presented as bathrooms & maybe a smartphone recharge area. To meet Rapunzel, the best bet seems to be on the Princess Fairy Tale Hall where the Snow White ride was until last year.

New Waterside restaurant for Epcot's Morocco

Ok. This one seems to be a go. The operator of the restaurants in this pavillion say it is happening, and though Disney is silent, we've seen how much they love to add restaurants to World Showcase.

Mexico in particular shows how much they love adding restaurants they can see Illuminations Dinner packages for. I expect the much-loved water wheel/garden area to be bulldozed very soon.
On a side note, I understand the new, much-larger pastry shop is now open in France -- near the exit of the movie. I've heard good things, and hope to bring you a first-hand report soon.

Springfield expansion at Universal.
Universal has been particularly coy lately about its construction plans: plans very much in the works and under way.  I don't have any first-hand photos, but have seen enough reports from the Universal-loving Parkscope blog & others to say: Yes -- this is absolutely under construction and due to open this year.

I've heard varying reports on the exact scope  -- but at the very least look for Moe's Tavern, Krusty Burger & a few other Simpsons Businesses very very soon. Persistant rumors say a small new ride will pop up. I haven't confirmed it with my sources, but I wouldn't be surprised at all. As I mentioned in an earlier update: the momentum is with Universal right now and the head of the parks division has a Disney background. Look for a lot of new attractions from Universal in the time it takes Disney to open the smallish Seven Dwarfs Mine Coaster.

Harry Potter: London at Universal Studios

Ummm. Yes. No doubt. Well under construction. Probably won't be announced for months. But one source who is working on the project says it will make the current Wizarding World look tiny and underwhelming in comparison. That's a bold claim. We'll see.

Seuss Landing/Jurassic Park/Universal KidZone

There are a lot of rumors about these three sections of the Universal parks. A lot could change, but currently it seems like an expansion of Jurassic Park will happen in conjunction with the new Jurassic Park 4 in 2014. We should know more soon.
I hear KidZone is very much in play -- with any or everything being bulldozed in the general area of the ET Ride to the Woody Woodpecker, Fievel and Barney areas. Again, plans for this area should be clearer soon.

LegoLand Florida expansion

We have brought you news that LegoLand has filed permits for what appears to be a pirate-themed area. 

This park will expand as rapidly as it can, and while I have no personal reason to doubt a new Pirate area is/was in the works,  the Orlando Business Journal  says another idea could take its place. 

CarsLand for Disney's Hollywood Studios.

Like Animal Kingdom, multiple sources tell me Disney sees their studio park as being particularly in need of a makeover. It is telling that Kathy Magnum (one of the lead creatives on Cars Land at Disney California Adventure) and the guy who did all of the fake rock work have both been moved to Florida. 

It does not appear any final decisions have been made, but most signs point to at least part of Cars Land coming to DHS. This may be the first of Disney's big announcements this year.

Then again, like Avatar, it could end up churning for a while. My money is on yes. But Disney changes its mind on projects big and small faster than anyone.

 That's a quick rumor roundup for you. There are a lot more that are out there, and as I hear more I will fill you in to the best of my knowledge.

If you have any tips or hints -- of projects from the big 3 -- or the smaller attractions, please email me at kpilcher@wkmg.com    

See you in the parks!


January 11, 2013

Disney's Marketing Magic: Off & Running

We have three examples today of different ways Disney can often be genius at attracting crowds during what, traditionally, is one of the slowest times of year, including this weekend's Disney Marathon.

First, Disney has brought back the 3-Day Florida Resident ticket deal. This year's edition is called "Discover Disney" and will set you back $119. Want to park hop? That's another $28. A better deal: Add a 4th day for $10.
The tickets must be used by June 7th and there are a  few blackout dates during times you probably don't want to be in the parks anyway.
 A good deal. The standard 3-day pass is $242.
 But last year's version of the special ran $99.
Here's a Link for more information.

By the way, here's a secret that I once found helpful: If you decide you'll end up going more than 4 times, the full price of the Discover Disney pass can be applied to the price of an Annual Pass as long as you do that before you use up your 3rd (or 4th) day.

The Second example of marketing is part of a new year-long promotion called "Limited Time Magic."
The Official Disney Parks Blog (tm) announced today that Epcot's Canada Pavilion is turning into a winter wonderland complete with "falling snow." (hmmm... maybe those soap blowers from Mickey's Christmas Party & The Osbourne Lights aren't going into the attic just yet)

Winter will strike next week only. January 14th-20th. Even more curious, Winter only runs from 10:30am-2:10pm. It takes a lunch break and comes back from 3:05pm-5:45pm.

  Read More  on the Disney Parks Blog. 

The 3rd, and biggest, example of Marketing Magic: The 20th Walt Disney World Marathon. It was started in 1994, as a way to bring people to Walt Disney World in what was, as I mentioned, a very empty time for the resort.

The first race went through the (then) 3 theme parks and drew about 8,200 runners who each earned these medals:

Today it has an official sponsor (Cigna) and Disney says more than 55,000 will lace up their shoes this weekend to run through all 4 parks. 

More than 88,000 paying participants are expected at all events.

 The full 26.2 mile Marathon is Sunday.  There's a half-marathon tomorrow. There was a family run this morning, and children's races.
Here's more on the history of the race.

And for more on the events, head to RunDisney.com.  Yes, it has its own web site. Proof that one small race has evolved into multiple marathons throughout the year both here and in Disneyland in California.
 And  it's probably no surprise, there's a large line of marathon merchandise to snap up. Including an official shoe.

Yes, less than 2 weeks into the new year, Disney's marketing is off and running. We'll see what else Mickey will conjour up with his sorcerer's hat.
See you at the races.


January 10, 2013

A few thoughts on the shakeup at Disney.
The number one question people have asked me since news broke that Walt Disney World was getting a new president: Will it mean new attractions, and will maintenance improve at what are now, rightly or wrongly, considered by many to be the worst-maintained parks in the Disney chain.

To that end, critics point out that the Yeti in Animal Kingdom's biggest draw, Expedition Everest, has been motionless for years.  

A small branch fell from the Tree of Life last year. Disney's response: tack up netting above the heads of people waiting in line for "It's Tough To Be a Bug."  

Most recently, ride workers say a chunk of concrete fell from Splash Mountain. The temporary solution there: tarps were added over the load and unload area, and sprinklers for some planters were  turned off.

 Fortunately, that ride just went down for rehab. Hopefully a permanent solution will be part of that work, and hopefully all animatronics, projectors and effects are working again, too!

All of this happened during Meg Crofton's stint at the top of the largest theme park complex in the world.

 Crofton is well-known for her work on local charities, and was recently named the Orlando Sentinel's 3rd most powerful person in Central Florida.
What she wasn't really known for was getting out in the theme parks except for formal announcements.

Her replacement, George Kalogridis has a very different reputation.

As president of the Disneyland resort since 2009, he's been known as someone who is out in the Disneyland parks regularly, talking to cast members,  watching guests and fighting for quality.
 He also did that in his last major job at Walt Disney World. As Vice President of Epcot, insiders say he fought and won to have the Millennium Celebration centered at that park  from 1999-2001. He is also generally credited with pushing hard for Mission: Space as a way to boost attendance.

Like Crofton, Kalogridis is a long-time Disney veteran.
 She started at Disney's now-sold telephone company back in 1977.
He started in 1971 as a busboy at the Contemporary Resort, during its opening year.
 While Crofton has largely an HR background, most of  Kalogridis' career has been in the parks and resorts.

In short, Kalogridis has the reputation of someone who cares about quality and the guest experience, but as President of Walt Disney World, he will have a lot more to worry about than a broken Yeti.

He has to manage 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, Downtown Disney (and its Pleasure Island problems), 24 Resort Hotels (with nearly 28,000 rooms and DVC Timeshare Units), 67,000 Cast members,  a sports complex, government outreach, and the list goes on and on.

Good luck, to you George. I look forward to seeing what changes you bring starting Feb. 1. And congrats to Meg Crofton on being able to devote more time to the big picture, now that she is in charge of operations at all US Parks & Disneyland Paris.


January 9, 2013

I-Drive's big year

2013 could be called the Year of I-Drive. At one end, as I've mentioned, Universal will open its groundbreaking Transformers ride.

At the other end, SeaWorld is opening its first-of-its kind Antarctica: Empire of the Penguins land & ride.

But in between some pretty exciting projects are under construction.

Among them are 2 sister projects that are redeveloping some of the attractions area's oldest and most run-down areas just south of Sand Lake Rd.

I-Drive Live is well under construction. It is a 20-acre, $250 million redevelopment of  the long-demolished Mercado shopping center that will eventually include  Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, Sea Life Aquarium and the 425 foot high Orlando Eye Wheel, plus restaurants, shops and, eventually hotels. It will open in phases around the Summer of 2014.

Virtually next-door,  I-Shops is a $50 million redevelopment of the old Wyndham Hotel site. It will include revamping 600 Guest rooms & has 13 spaces for shops and restaurants. It is due to open by late this year.

But on its property, Kings Bowl America is due to open late next month,  featuring 22 bowling lanes, billiards, bocce, plus a restaurant and lounge.

And, as we've shown you, Fun Spot America's doubling in size with two new roller coasters opening by June.

Here's a link to a description of all of the projects underway on I-Drive, from the I-Drive District's web site.

We'll keep you posted on all of these new attractions coming to I-Drive here on Theme World and on Local 6.

And while it isn't directly on I-Drive, congrats to the staff of the Ritz-Carlton Orlando. Their hard work earned the resort 2nd place on the list of Top 10 Hotel Spas in the U.S. From TripAdvisor.com.
Here's what TripAdvisor said about the  Ritz-Carlton Orlando:

"Resembling an Italian palazzo, the 40,000 square-foot spa at this Floridian hotel pampers travelers with unparalleled services and amenities. After unwinding in one of 40 treatment rooms, guests can take a dip in the heated outdoor pool or put their feet up on a plush chaise lounge in the sanctuary room.  A TripAdvisor traveler said, "I adore their level of service, love the grounds, the pool is beautiful; the spa is relaxing and soothing."

You can read the full list here.

And while we're at it, here's a link to our previous blog entries so far, including the post that has many of you talking: "Is Big Mickey Watching you?"

Expect an update on MyMagic+, FastPass+ and how testing is going at Disney soon.

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