One Of The Top Amusement Parks In The World Sits In Houston’s Shadow ? , Big Honor Surprises

Galveston-Island-Historic-Pleasure-Pier-entrance_091355September 28, 2013–
The Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier is one of the five Best Seaside Parks in the world, according to industry magazine Amusement Today, which extended the honor to the local beach pier during its recent annual Golden Ticket Awards announcement.

Pleasure Pier extends the fun over the gulf in the same location as Galveston’s original pier dedicated in May 1948 as the largest amusement park of its kind in the country, only to be destroyed in 1961 during Hurricane Carla. Much later, following three years of planning and a massive $60 million construction project by Landry’s Inc., the new Pleasure Pier opened for Memorial Day Weekend in May 2012.

Forbes-ranked billionaire Tilman Fertitta is the sole owner, chairman and CEO of Landry’s.

Pleasure Pier boasts 16 rides along with games, entertainment, food venues including Landry’s Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., retail shops and other family-oriented attractions. The Texas-sized 120-foot-wide, 1,130-foot-long pier spans from Galveston Seawall Boulevard into the Gulf of Mexico. All rides start 30 feet above the waves, and many take thrill seekers much higher. Texas Star Flyer, the state’s highest swing ride, swooshes guests back and forth 230 feet over the water.

In addition to Pleasure Pier, Amusement Today’s 2014 Golden Ticket Awards recipients are Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in Santa Cruz, Calif.; Pleasure Back in Blackpool, England; Morey’s Piers in Wildwood, N.J.; and Grona Lund in Stockholm, Sweden.

Amusement Today’s U.S. ballots are divided into four geographical regions, with about the same number of industry publication panel voters in each region.
By Deborah Fitts


Enchantment Is Afoot ( Ahoof ? ) In Horse-Drawn Carriages At Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground

hcr847589SMALLSeptember 28, 2013–
Sure, Walt Disney World Resort offers memorable moments beyond the fabulous attractions, dining, shopping and resort hotels. From the elegant, Victorian-themed Disney’s Wedding Pavilion to a luxurious cruise aboard the 52-foot Grand 1 yacht, the options abound. But did you know that you can take a private horse-drawn carriage ride through the verdant back trails of Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground?

I recently took one of these treks, and it was definitely memorable.
Parked under a sprawling moss-covered cypress tree outside Crockett’s Tavern, where the rides originate, my carriage was maroon with caramel-colored leather seats, two old-fashioned brass hanging lamps and spoked wooden wheels. Totally vintage looking. It was also covered (not all are, though), which comes in handy during light drizzles and when our familiar Florida sun graces us in all its glory. Ivan, my horse, was a 7-year-old dark brown Percheron draft horse, a breed originally hailing from France. Huge and muscular, Ivan was off with a command from Chris, my driver.

“I assume the horses are treated well,” was my first question for Chris. “Oh yeah,” he chuckled. “They are spoiled.”

We went past Fort Wilderness Pavilion and Tri-Circle-D Ranch and its stables. Numerous white ponies and other Percheron draft horses were out munching on hay in the pens. Then we headed down a paved trail at the back end of the property.

Along the way, I was surrounded by the lush nature that is Fort Wilderness with the clippity-clop of Ivan’s hooves filling the air. Pine and cypress trees. Thick, green foliage. Hawks screeching above. Chris was friendly and affable, answering my questions and offering tidbits on the area’s history. I was lucky enough to see three deer and some wild turkeys behind a stand of pine trees. Wildlife usually comes out around dusk; you might catch a glimpse of rabbits, ducks or even a bobcat.

After a while, we turned around (“a horse U-turn,” Chris called it), and headed back to Crockett’s Tavern, where Ivan’s trough of refreshing water was waiting. The ride lasted about 25 minutes.

Romantic and enticing, a private horse-drawn carriage ride is perfect to share with your significant other. “We have couples who get engaged on our carriages, then return year after year to celebrate their anniversary,” Jay K. Sanderson, Assistant Animal Operations Manager, Tri-Circle-D Ranch, told me.

But, with carriages holding four adults or two adults and three children, they’re also suitable for everyone. “Kids love hearing all about the horses: what their names are, where they live, how much they eat, everything,” Jay said.

You could consider these jaunts (also available at Disney’s Port Orleans Resort — Riverside) one of the unsung treasures of Walt Disney World Resort. A true ride to remember. Maybe not as well-known as other experiences on property, these charming outings are worth seeking out.

Rides commence at 5:30 p.m. and are open to all (in other words, you don’t have to be a registered guest of a Disney Resort hotel). Walkups are welcome, but it’s best not to leave availability to chance. Book early and inquire about rates by calling 407-WDW-PLAY (939-7529). Holiday update: From November 29 to December 30, holiday sleigh rides replace carriage rides at Fort Wilderness.
By Deborah Fitts

10 Best Cruise Ship’s Water Slides

1380207229019-NCL-GetawaySeptember 28, 2013–
Elaborate water parks are becoming a big draw onboard the mega cruise ships sailing the seas. With kid pools, splash zones, and water slides, they provide fun for all ages. Here are the 10 best ones at sea.

Disney AquaDuck
Onboard Disney Cruise Line’s Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy ships, passengers can get the thrill of going down the AquaDuck, a water slide that is four decks high and extends off the edge of the ship.

Carnival DrainPipe
Slide down into a looping funnel on the Carnival DrainPipe water slide, a large tunnel slide with a surprise end.

Norwegian Cruise Line Epic Plunge
As the only bowl slide at sea, the Epic Plunge — onboard Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Epic cruise ship — takes passengers loop-de-looping down a fun slide that ends in a splash.

Disney Mickey’s Pool Water Slide
Disney Cruise Line’s fleet of ships features a water slide ideal for children. Located next to Mickey’s Pool, the one-deck high slide twists around, exciting children who go down it, and ends in a shallow pool.

Carnival Twister
Fly down the fast Twister water slide, which twists and turns quickly and is guaranteed to get your heart racing. The attraction is a feature on several of Carnival’s newest ships,

MSC Vertigo
The MSC Preziosa offers its guests the Vertigo water slide, a long, winding chute that is MSC’s longest water slide on any of its ships, plus the longest single-rider body water slide at sea.

Carnival Speedway Splash
The line’s newest ship, the Carnival Sunshine, will introduce guests to the Speedway Splash, which will mimic a race as you slide your way to the finish line amid flashing lights.

Norwegian Cruise Line Whip
The Breakaway-class of ships have introduced the Whip water slides: two exciting new rides that let guests race to the bottom through tubes set up right next to each other.

Norwegian Cruise Line Free Fall
Take this vertical drop-slide that quickly cascades you down to the bottom. The Free Fall also gets to boast being the fastest water slide at sea.

Royal Caribbean Radiance-Class Water Slide
The cruise line has many activities onboard their ships, but water slides often isn’t one of them. However, on the Radiance-class of cruise ships, kids can find more entertainment options by going down the fun water slide adjacent to the kids pool.

Whether you like twisting water slides, plunge slides, or water slides that you can race down, you’ll find your ideal water slide onboard some of the world’s top cruise lines. In fact, you may find that they put some of the water slides at the best land water parks to shame.
Here are a few photos of these awesome waterslides!1380207229002-Carnival-Inspirations-Waterworks1380207229006-Carnival-Twister21380207229018-NCL-Epic-Plunge
By Deborah Fitts

Knott’s ‘Haunt’ vs. Universal’s ‘Horror Nights’

thSupervisors pump up scare actors at Knott’s Berry Farm by asking them to scream during a training session on Tuesday, Sept. 17. About 1,000 actors take part in the park’s month-long Haunt each year.
September 28, 2013–
Summer is over, and with Halloween only weeks away, Southern California theme parks such as Knott’s Berry Farm and Universal Studios Hollywood are gearing up for the annual throw-down in which they pour large sums of money into the construction of elaborate haunted mazes and the hiring thousands of actors, posing as monsters, to chase guests around.

It’s the season for the annual Halloween Battle Royale. So far, both parks are winners.
Knott’s Berry Farm, in Buena Park, uses this time of year to kick off “Haunt,” their signature “Knott’s Scary Farm” Halloween event.

“I think we bring in more people during the year in fall than anytime of the year now,” said Eric Lynxwiler, park historian for Knott’s. “People look forward to this. They have countdown calendars on their iPhones, waiting for Haunt to start up again.”


Knott’s isn’t the only game in town, and over the years, other theme parks have copied its formula.

Haunted house expert Larry Kirchner opines that Universal Studios has a superior Halloween product to Knott’s because the park works with studios to get more detailed, realistic sets, based on popular movies and TV shows such as “The Walking Dead.”

Grandaddy of Halloween Haunts

Knott’s calls itself the “granddaddy of Halloween haunts,” and it’s seen by many in the industry as the first major theme park to make a big deal out of the spooky holiday. It started in 1973, when members of Knott’s marketing department wanted to get more visitors to come to the park during the fall.

“It was only going to be three nights, but the demand was huge,” Lynxwiler said.

Today, the Halloween Haunt has become an elaborate event, lasting from September to November. Knott’s said it hires more than 1,000 people to pose as monsters and help with the execution. The park has staff that work year-round on Haunt, dreaming up the mazes that they say are sometimes based on their nightmares.

Knott’s declined to say how many people attend each year or how much money they budget for it.

Kirchner — he runs — said he estimates that more than 250,000 people attend each year. Visitors pay for admission, even if they have a season pass. Tickets costs $62 at the gate.

Then, there’s the audition process for the park’s “monsters,” where applicants are asked to perform a scene — such as, “you’re choking on acid but you really like it.” If you do poorly, you don’t make it to the next round.
Some of the people who landed the coveted monster roles have day jobs as nurses, retail clerks, students, a veterinarian and even a police sergeant, according to Craig Harreld, area manager of live entertainment and Haunt’s former creepy cat sheriff. After they’re hired, the actors undergo “scare school” — a training process to get into character.

“What other job can you go to in the working sector where you can scare people and get paid for it?” Harreld said. “You do that now at a company, and you wind up getting in trouble, you get a slap on the wrist. You scared Suzy in cubicle ‘A,’ and you get sent to HR.”

Knott’s said it puts lot of effort and attention to detail into its mazes. For example, in the new Black Magic maze, visitors are invited to experience what it would have been like if Houdini had been able to cross over to the afterlife. They’ll walk through a room full of fake skinned rabbits, homicidal magician’s assistants and an actor swooping through the air in a harness.

By Deborah Fitts

‘Disney Festival of Fantasy Parade’ Floats From ‘Little Mermaid’ & ‘Brave’ at Magic Kingdom Park

Today we have an exciting sneak peek at “Disney Festival of Fantasy Parade,” the new daytime parade that’s set to debut at Magic Kingdom Park in spring 2014.

As we previously announced, this procession will specifically highlight the stories of “Sleeping Beauty,” “Dumbo,” “Pinocchio,” “Peter Pan,” and “Tangled” among others. Today, we’re happy to share two new renderings of floats that will appear in “Disney Festival of Fantasy Parade” that are inspired by “The Little Mermaid” and the Disney●Pixar film “Brave.”
Ariel’s ‘Disney Festival of Fantasy Parade’ Float

Here, Ariel and her friends grace a larger-than-life music box that will showcase a colorful musical party “Under the Sea.”

Merida’s ‘Disney Festival of Fantasy Parade’ Float
And in this rendering, a troupe of Scottish dancers and an enormous bagpipe travel down Main Street, U.S.A., to announce the arrival of Merida, who is accompanied by her triplet brothers in their bear forms.

‘Disney Festival of Fantasy Parade’ Floats ‘Disney Festival of Fantasy Parade’ Floats ‘Disney Festival of Fantasy Parade’ Floats


Other floats on tap for the parade will celebrate Disney Princesses in a Royal Court Garden float. Rapunzel and Flynn Rider will appear on a longship off on a search for another “Best. Day. Ever.” And Peter Pan and Wendy will soar high above on a pirate galleon ship, joined by Captain Hook, Mr. Smee and Tinker Bell.

To make room for “Disney Festival of Fantasy Parade,” the park’s current daytime parade, “Celebrate a Dream Come True,” will end it’s daily run on December 20, 2013, with finale performances scheduled for January 1-4, 2014. During the holiday season, “Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime” Parade will be presented each day, and guests will still be able to enjoy performances of “Move It, Shake It, Celebrate It” and “Main Street Electrical Parade” at the park throughout the changeover, leading up to the spring debut of “Disney Festival of Fantasy Parade.”
By Deborah Fitts

Dorney Park Rose From Ashes of Devastating Fire 30 Years Ago

September 28 2013–
The recent fire at the FunTown Pier amusement park in Seaside Heights, N.J., brought to mind another devastating fire that destroyed a portion of an amusement park closer to home 30 years ago.
Wednesday, Sept. 28, 1983, was a sad day for everyone that loved Dorney Park.

That day, the very heart of Dorney Park had been destroyed when the carousel was reduced to rubble and ash, for the heart of any amusement park is its carousel. Operating at the park since the 1930s, Dorney Park’s ride had been built in 1915-16 by the Philadelphia Toboggan Co. Fellow Dorney Park historian Wally Ely and I recently reminisced about the brilliant colors of the carousel horses and paintings and the delightful sounds of the Wurlitzer band organ, which provided the music.

In addition to the carousel, the fire destroyed the Bucket of Blood dark ride (originally built in 1937 as Devil’s Cave and rethemed Pirate’s Cove in 1963 by Bill Tracy, the renowned dark ride designer), and the Flying Bobs, a ride similar to the present Musik Express and introduced in 1973. Several other rides were damaged, including the Iceberg, Sea Dragon and Paratrooper.

The fire began in the Mexican Border food stand around 2 p.m. that rather windy day, after a fat fryer malfunctioned. It quickly spread to the attached carousel building and moved its way up the hill. In its aftermath, around 10 acres of the park had been affected. A few days after the fire on Oct. 1, the management of the park thanked the community and declared, “We’ll be back — better than ever! Opening for our 100th Anniversary Season April 21, 1984!”

Twenty years later, Robert F. Ott, the former owner of the park, commented to me that Dorney Park had not been immune to fires in the past. (There was the Zoorama fire on Aug. 16, 1964, in which several animals perished, and another fire on Dec. 23, 1972, that destroyed the Whacky Shack fun house, which had also been designed by Bill Tracy in 1964. Years later on Nov. 27, 1985, fire would also destroy Castle Garden.) In addition, Ott commented that the carousel fire of 1983 allowed for the upgrade of the infrastructure of the oldest section of the park and the introduction of new rides.

And indeed the park did return in 1984, better than ever. The Enterprise, Musik Express, Apollo 2000 and Ranger (later removed) were introduced that year. The park also brought back its historic 1901 Dentzel Carousel, restored to its former glory. In addition, new refreshment and game stands were built along a new midway.

After Ott retired in 1985, the park underwent a massive expansion under the direction of Harris Weinstein. This was the time period in which Wildwater Kingdom, the Laser double loop roller coaster and the giant Hercules wooden roller coaster debuted. The success of these new attractions and other improvements helped transform Dorney Park into a mecca for thrills in the Northeast.

This success was noticed by Cedar Fair, which purchased the park in 1992. Today’s Dorney Park is a nice mix of the old and new rides. While other parks such as Allentown’s former Central Park on the East Side went out of business after a series of fires, Dorney Park rose from the ashes to become a stronger and better park, and has continued on into its 129th operating season this year.

So as we recall the fire of 1983, which forever changed the park, let us also remember that nothing can ever stay the same because change is inevitable and that the park is still here, 30 years later, for a new generation of thrill seekers to visit and enjoy
By Deborah Fitts

Six Flags Great Adventure’s Fright Fest is a One-Stop Scare Destination

September 28, 2013–
WHEN: Running weekends through Oct. 27, with 25 Halloween-themed shows and attractions
WHERE: 1 Six Flags Boulevard, Jackson. Heading from points north? Take the New Jersey Turnpike south to exit 7A, then take I-195 east to exit 16A, then head one mile west on Rt. 537 to Six Flags.
HOW MUCH: Park admission starts at $45.99 online, $65.99 per person at the park
INFO: For a full schedule, tickets and more

information, visit
Halloween comes with plenty of its own built-in traditions. Costumes, jack-o’-lanterns, the sound of Bobby “Boris” Pickett and plenty of sweet, sweet candy come to mind. But, here in New Jersey we add one more item to the seasonal itinerary: Fright Fest.

That’s right. If it’s autumn in the Garden State, that means it’s time for the return of Six Flags Great Adventure’s Fright Fest. Now on its 22nd year at the Jackson theme park, the extremely spooky extravaganza is back in full force through Oct. 27.

For the uninitiated, Fright Fest is the time of year when Great Adventure devotes itself to all things Hallow’s Eve, turning the park over to ghouls, ghosts and other ghastly guests. This year’s festivities feature terror trails, haunted mazes and nearly 200 zombies, plus the classic scream-inducing coasters such as Nitro, El Toro and Kingda Ka. In all, this year the park is boasting 25 Halloween-themed shows and attractions.

If you scare easy or are attending with little ones, don’t worry: There are plenty of tamer activities during the day, such as a trick-or-treat trail, creepy critters and magic shows and a corn maze.

But, after 6 p.m., things start to get spooky (and plenty crowded, too, but we’ll get to that in a minute).

For 2013, the park has six haunted walk-through areas and four designated “scare zones,” as well as a number of seasonal song-and-dance shows. The flashiest of the scary spots (such as the Voodoo Island, Wasteland and Asylum terror trails and the Manor and Total Darkness mazes) require an additional fee, while the scare zones, including the new Straw-Man Stalkers in the Park’s waterfront area, are included with park admission.

Haunted mazes and terror trails
The haunted mazes are, admittedly, a bit of a mixed-bag. Housed in the building that for years held “The Right Stuff” – Mach One Adventure, the Manor and Total Darkness are well-designed spots, a typical haunted house and a nearly pitch-black walk-through, respectively, both populated by costumed ghouls. But so much of the experience here is dependent on other guests, as you walk through each attraction with a group of approximately 10 people

If you’re stuck in the back of the group in the Manor, that means the folks a few paces ahead of you will get all the scares and you’ll get to see the performers get back into position before the next group comes through. And for Total Darkness, the whole group has to hold on to one length of rope, with the person in front leading the way by flashlight.

The terror trails, however, are an absolute blast. Well-paced, creatively conceived and incredibly well designed, these outdoor experiences are delightfully scary, with the Voodoo Island destination in the shadow of the Log Flume ride being a particularly terrific event.

Each terror trail has a clear theme, and monsters to match. For example, the Wasteland trail is a world of post-nuclear fallout horror, complete with mutated monstrosities, while the Asylum is appropriately nightmarish and Voodoo Island is exotically unsettling, with a killer set-piece as its grand finale. The fact that these are outdoor experiences with slightly wider paths than the indoor mazes means you can take your time to really soak in the set designs and get scared at your own pace (and you will be scared, time and time again.)

The problem with this year’s Fright Fest is a practical one: the Manor and Total Darkness open for business at 5:30, Fright Fest kicks off in full force at 6 p.m. with the Awakening celebration and subsequent ghoul parade, and the terror trails start running at 6:45. Depending on the night, the park is open until 10 or 11 p.m. On a recent visit, lines for each of the specialty attractions appeared to be around two hours long.

Then, there’s the cost factor: On the park’s website, tickets for park admission start at $45.99, and it’s $25 for parking. Terror trail combo passes run $15 for regular guests, $12 for those with season passes, but for $60 you can score a scare pass that lets you skip the frightful lines for the seasonal attractions.

So, one must choose wisely to maximize his or her time at the park. For those in the mood to get really spooked, the scare pass very well might be worth it. If you’re looking for a one-stop scare destination to get the pants thoroughly scared off of you, Fright Fest is sure to deliver.
By Deborah Fitts