New Transformers Ride Lifts Attendance at Universal Orlando

os-pictures-universal-transformers-20130620-013October 31, 2013–
Optimus Prime is picking up where Harry Potter left off.

A new Transformers-themed thrill ride helped lift attendance and guest spending at Universal Orlando during the summer, the resort’s parent company said Wednesday.

That, in turn, powered NBCUniversal’s overall theme-park business to the strongest quarterly performance in its history. Operating cash flow — a measure of core profitability — jumped 8.6 percent during the third quarter compared with a year ago, from $316 million to $343 million

NBCUniversal’s parent company, cable giant Comcast Corp., said it was the largest quarterly operating cash flow ever produced by the parks division, which also includes Universal Studios Hollywood in California and overseas resorts in Japan and Singapore. As recently as 2009 — the year before the opening of Universal Orlando’s smash-hit Wizarding World of Harry Potter — the business churned out about $400 million in operating cash flow for the entire year.

Total revenue across the parks rose 7.1 percent, to $661 million.
“We obviously have grown increasingly bullish about the theme-park business,” NBCUniversal Chief Executive Officer Steve Burke said on a conference call to discuss Comcast’s third-quarter earnings.

And Comcast executives expect even bigger numbers next year, when they will complete a second Potter-themed area, Diagon Alley, at Universal Orlando. Comcast Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Brian Roberts reminded analysts that 2014 will include the opening of “the much-anticipated Harry Potter II in Orlando.”

The new land, under construction in the resort’s Universal Studios Florida theme park, is scheduled to open in the spring. It will be connected to the original Wizarding World in the Islands of Adventures theme park by a first-of-its-kind train attraction, which is expected to drive gains in sales of more expensive multipark and multiday tickets.

Burke told analysts he was in Orlando last week to check on the Potter progress. He noted that the project will be timed to open after the debut of the 1,800-room Cabana Bay Beach Resort hotel, which will be Universal’s fourth on-site hotel and will boost the resort’s inventory to 4,200 rooms. Burke has said Universal Orlando eventually could have 10,000 to 15,000 rooms.

Analysts who follow Comcast are upbeat about its parks. Jessica Reif Cohen of Merrill Lynch called the segment’s third-quarter results “very impressive” during the conference call.

“It seems pretty clear that new attractions drive attendance,” she said.

Doug Mitchelson, an analyst with Deutsche Bank, predicted this week that the NBCUniversal theme parks will reach nearly $2.5 billion in annual revenue by 2015 — double the $1.2 billion in yearly sales they produced in 2009.

Burke said he thinks the theme parks also help NBCUniversal’s other businesses, including film, television and, eventually, consumer products, in much the same way parks and resorts feed Walt Disney Co.’s other operations.

To maintain momentum, Comcast has stepped up the pace of new attractions for its parks, with a goal of opening new rides annually at both its East and West Coast resorts. The strategy was evident in the company’s third-quarter financials, as NBCUniversal’s total capital spending nearly quadrupled — from $75 million to $284 million — primarily because of theme-park projects.

“We’re making these investments because we really like the business,” Burke said. “We think it’s synergistic with film: We’re opening a ‘Despicable Me’ attraction in Hollywood, [and] we already opened one in Orlando. And you’ll see us continue that back and forth.”

Although they were mostly an afterthought when Comcast struck its deal in late 2009 to acquire NBCUniversal from General Electric Co., the parks have blossomed into a major profit center. The parks produced 27 percent of NBCUniversal’s $1.3 billion in operating cash flow during the third quarter despite accounting for just 11 percent of its $5.9 billion in revenue.

Philadelphia-based Comcast, the country’s biggest cable provider, reported a companywide profit of $1.7 billion for the period, down 18 percent from a year ago. Total revenue was $16.2 billion, down about 2 percent.
By Deborah Fitts

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City Council Approves Staten Island’s Giant Ferris Wheel

statenislandferriswheel3October 31, 2013–
New York If Mayor Michael Bloomberg signs a law approved Wednesday by the City Council, Staten Island will soon have it’s very own giant attraction.

The City Council voted unanimously 45-0 on a plan to bring one of the world’s largest Ferris wheels to Staten Island.

Last month, New York City’s Planning Commission approved the plan for the 625-foot Ferris wheel, which is expected to have views of the Statue of Liberty, New York Harbor and the Manhattan skyline.

The mayor’s office estimated the wheel would draw as many as 30,000 riders per day and 4.5 million visitors a year. A ride on the Ferris wheel would take about 30 minutes, start to finish.

The wheel would have 36 capsules, capable of carrying 40 people each.

The Ferris wheel would be the centerpiece of a new complex which would also include a hotel, a 350,000 square foot retail space called “Harbor Commons” that would be adjacent to the Richmond County Bank Ballpark.

If the project is approved, construction is expected to begin in 2014, with a grand opening in 2016.

The New York Wheel would be the world’s tallest Ferris wheel if it were built today.

The “High Roller” in Las Vegas currently holds the title. At 550 feet, it is 9 feet taller than its closest competitor, the Singapore Flyer, and 100 feet taller than the London Eye.

The original Ferris wheel, at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, was 264 feet tall. The iconic replica Ferris wheel at Chicago’s Navy Pier is only 150 feet tall.

Developers in Dubai have plans to build a 689-foot Ferris Wheel.
By Deborah Fitts

NBCUniversal CEO: Diagon Alley To Open In “Spring”

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October 31, 2013–
Universal Orlando’s new Harry Potter land will open in “spring,” according the CEO of the theme parks’ parent company. NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke told investor analysts in a conference call this morning that the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida would open sometime in the spring of this year. For reference, Universal defined the same opening timeframe for the original Wizarding World in Islands of Adventure, which eventually opened on June 18, 2010.

Burke also said that the new Wizarding World would open after the Cabana Bay hotel, which he said would open in March. So let’s start with a potential opening date for Harry Potter 2 sometime between April 1 and Friday, June 20, which is the last day of spring. But Universal’s provided two more clues about Harry Potter’s debut.

Universal Orlando is now offering a third day free to U.S. and Canadian residents who buy a two-day ticket via Universal’s website. But those tickets must be used by May 22, 2014. And the Universal’s “Power Pass” annual pass is listing summer blockout days for Universal Studios Florida starting on Saturday, June 14, 2014.

Given these three parameters, it appears that the most likely opening date for Diagon Alley lies somewhere between May 23 and June 13, 2014. Also remember that the original Wizarding World was open on for “technical rehearsal” — Universal’s term for a soft-open — for a few weeks before its official opening. With a soft open, visitors could get their first look inside Diagon Alley sometime in early to mid-May.

By Deborah Fitts

Santa’s Enchanted Forest Opens Halloween Night

santas-enchanted-forest-entranceOctober 31, 2013–

Miami, Fla. Halloween just arrived, but Santa’s elves have been furiously making last-minute preparations at Santa’s Enchanted forest ahead of the park’s grand opening Thursday night.

The park will combine trick-or-treating, since Thursday is Halloween, and the more traditional Christmas activities at the park for attendees.

Santa’s Enchanted Forest will grant free admission on opening night to any kids who come to the park in costume.

The park has been under construction along the Palmetto Expressway for more than a week and will stay in operation through January 5th.

Park admission this year is $28.97 for people 10 and up, while children nine and under and seniors 65 and older will pay $19.63. Kids two and younger will get in free!!

By Deborah Fitts

Six Flags Great Adventure Hosts The Fourth Annual Grape Adventure Wine Festival

Wine%20Fest%20LadiesOctober 31, 2013–
Six Flags Great Adventure hosts the Fourth Annual Grape Adventure Wine Festival offering nearly 150 locally produced wines for sampling on Saturday and Sunday, November 2 and 3, 2013.

Sample award-winning New Jersey wines, enjoy live entertainment and stroll through a craft village. Wine glasses will be provided. Grape Adventure is sponsored by TD Bank and Kitchen Magic.

2013 Participating wineries
•Tomasello Winery
•Valenzano Winery
•Working Dog Winery
•4JG’s Winery
•Cava Winery
•Cream Ridge Winery
•Wagonhouse Winery
•Plagido’s Winery
•Coda Rossa Winery
•Auburn Road Vineyards
•Sharrott Winery
•DiMatteo Vineyards
•Renault Winery
•Amalthea Cellars

**Special Safari Tour Package – Limited Availability
Don’t miss out on this once in a lifetime opportunity to see our Wild Safari, get up close and personal with the giraffes and taste some exclusive wines! Choose your visit day! – Tours will be scheduled at the event on a first come, first serve basis. Tours begin at 10 am each day. Package includes admission to the wine festival, a partial tour and special wine tasting in the African Plains among the giraffes. Wines offered in the Wild Safari package are not available with general admission to the wine festival.

Live Entertainment!!!!
*Saturday, November 2
Jim Gaven 1:00-3:00 p.m.
Sammy Flow 1:00-3:00 p.m.
The Williamsboy 3:00-6:00 p.m.

*Sunday, November 3
Sammy Flow 1:00-3:00 p.m.
The Williamsboy 3:00-6:00 p.m.

**Ticket Information:
Purchase and print tickets online using with promo code: WINE
Season Pass Holder Discount for Safari Package only with promo code: SPWINE
(Must present Season Pass upon entry)

**Parking: FREE
Additional discounts are available to groups of 50 or more. Contact njspecialevents@sixflags.com.
Event is Rain or Shine.

**General Information:
•The theme park is closed November 2 & 3, 2013
•Event hours are 12 – 5pm
•Free parking
•Most wineries accept major credit cards
•Picnic baskets and coolers are permitted – Six Flags reserves the right to check these items upon entry
•Blankets and chairs are permitted – Six Flags offers seating at picnic tables for over 1,000 guests
•Outside Alcohol is NOT permitted
•Pets are not permitted – (excluding service animals)
•Pop-up tents and large beach or patio style umbrellas are NOT permitted.

By Deborah Fitts

They Say Phantoms Play After Dark in This Park

g2580000000000000009112b9cedd1533b7026ec2fa32a17fb7f513ecf6 October 31, 2013–Halloween is here and if there’s nothing strange in your neighborhood, then who ya gonna call? Gaylord White!
Well, you could call him if you want to visit an amusement park in Mercer County, near Princeton, that’s supposed to have more ghosts than Patrick Swayze’s film career. White is the owner of Lake Shawnee Amusement Park and he says it sits on a Native American burial ground.

White says he bought the park when it was around 1985.
“I rode by here every day on a school bus. It’s kind of funny. All the times that I would ride by here, I would tell people that I wanted to buy the place and everybody laughed at me told me that I’d never be able to afford it.”

I decided one day that it was time to buy it and to stop playing around. My problem was that I was 23. Go and try to borrow a million dollars when you’re 23. They kind of laugh at you a bit and think it’s kind of funny. All but one person, and that was C.T. Snidow. I went to him and I wanted to rent the land. He said, ‘Instead of renting it, why don’t you buy it?’ I told him I didn’t have that kind of money and he said, ‘You may have.’ We had a long talk and I ended up buying the place off of him.

“The Snidow family made it possible for us. It’s kind of funny. The man told me, he said I could make one payment a year and buy the land off of him. You’ll never meet anybody in your life that will let you pay one payment a year and pay the place off.”

White says he started carnival work for the same reason that many people start jobs: He had bills to pay and a mouth to feed.

“I was hungry,” he said. “I started working fairs. I painted license plates for people at carnivals. I did the state fair for 22 years. I’ve painted license plates here, there, and everywhere. I got to paying attention to what the carnies do and everything they do. The next thing you know, I’m in the carnival business.

“I think it’s cool. I own the only haunted amusement park in the country as far as I know. When we bought it, we knew it was haunted. We played around with the spirits and had a lot of fun. I wouldn’t change a thing.”

It’s not the handfuls of deaths that were supposed to have happened in the park that White finds weird though.

“It’s weird that news reporters come here and do interviews,” he said. “It’s newsworthy, but it’s just kind of funny that I had a group from Bulgaria come here and film the story. I’ve had people from Charleston, Wheeling and Morgantown here, but I could murder somebody and never make the paper. I put in an amusement park and I make the main page.”

White’s amusement park was supposed to have been the site of two murders though. According to a plaque in the park, two children of settler Mitchell Clay were killed by Shawnee Indians in 1783. White says Clay’s third child was taken back to Ohio and burned at the stake.

In the tour of the amusement park, guests are told Clay rode to Ohio and murdered as many Indians as he could in revenge.

Legends of the park say these are just a few of the spooky events that have taken place.

Other events center around a girl killed when the circle swing she was riding hit the side of a beverage truck that reportedly backed into the path of her swing. A little boy drowned after reportedly being left alone in the swimming pool; although some stories say two children drowned at the park.

Local legend says it was events like this that forced the park to close back in 1966.

Some of the other attractions in the park include a single-wide trailer that White says was used as a hot dog stand. The trailer now just serves terror instead of chili dogs.

“I’ve had people take a walk through it and hear drums beating, Indians chanting, and people talking,” White said.

The park’s rides also include a Ferris wheel that has several legends linked to it.

“You can’t take a picture of it,” White said. “You just can’t. Every time someone tries, it comes out blurry or too dark.”

White also says people have seen a dark shape sitting on the top of the Ferris wheel, even though the leg guards are up and there’s no room for the ghost to sit.

In spite of so many stories about guests seeing the unexplainable, not everyone got the chance to peek at the paranormal.

“I didn’t see anything,” Virginia-native Avree Turner said. “Nothing at all.”

Another man says he might have had an otherworldly experience.

“I gave it 50/50,” Maryland-native Eric Tartar said. “It was interesting. I did like the folklore behind it. I thought there would be a bit more. I just had a few off feelings. Nothing else though.”

Tartar says his belief in ghosts mostly depends on his mood at the moment. Turner says he just sticks to believing in what he knows.

“I just let it be what it is,” Turner said. “Sometimes you do get those strange occurrences where you can’t explain what’s happening to you. Other times it’s just as simple as ‘Those are the facts. Plain and simple.’ I like to take things based on what I can actually see.”

If you would like to take the chance to see a ghost or would like to find out when the next fishing tournament is, you can call Gaylord White at 304-921-1580 or 304-487-1819. Tours are $15 and flashlights are required.

That’s right. In spite of the park’s bloody history, White still hosts fishing tournaments in the park’s lake from time to time. One fishing tournament is scheduled for today, but White says he hasn’t decided when the tourney will start.

By Deborah Fitts

999 Happy Haunts Take Over The Disney Parks Blog!!!!

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October 31, 2013–
Attention foolish mortals – Halloween day has arrived and this year, the Disney Parks Blog is haunted by 999 ghosts from The Haunted Mansion attraction. During this day (and night) your favorite authors are no more – they’ve been replaced by some eerie characters dead set on haunting the blog with their stories.

We not only have a full day of Haunted Mansion-related stories, but there will also be a chance to win a special Haunted Mansion attraction treat this morning. Check in the morning!!!!

By Deborah Fitts