2014 was a huge year for Theme Park Adventure, as well as the themed entertainment industry as a whole. In addition to crazy new projects such as Diagon Alley opening, some old favorites had big moments as well, including the complete renovation of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Disneyland. TPA had its own major milestone, as we hit our 20th Anniversary in September and celebrated with a huge bash at the Knott’s Berry Farm Hotel with more than 200 friends and fans in attendance!
Theme Park Adventure has gained more momentum in 2014 than in most of its years combined. Our global readership has grown by leaps and bounds, as has our social media presence via Twitter and Facebook. The amount of news and information TPA publishes has risen sharply this past year from a few items per week to 1-3 new stories per day. As co-producers of ScareLA, Theme Park Adventure has also entrenched itself deeper into the Southern California haunt community, and using that platform, we have continued to work at bringing haunters together in unity not just from the region, but from around the world as our coverage of international dark attractions continues to pick up momentum. And then there’s our own Halloween content – that never-ending flow of imagery and video that we collect in October that is so voluminous that there’s just no way we can ever get it up and online as quickly as we’d like to. We surrender! Into the new year our Halloween madness continues – not that any of our TPAers seem to mind!
One of the greatest aspects of 2014 for Theme Park Adventure is how fantastically our monthly mixers have continued to grow, bringing fans, haunters, and industry professionals together in a fun (sometimes totally insane) environment where they can mix, mingle and network for one night each month. The TPA mixers have become a really wonderful monthly gathering and an on-going reminder of just how incredible those who support what we do truly are.
We look forward to all of the amazing adventures that next year has in store, but before the curtain lowers on 2014, let’s take a look back at some of the biggest stories and special moments that Theme Park Adventure celebrated over the past 12 months…
Universal Orlando set the stage for industry news domination in January when it revealed the first big details surrounding its Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley expansion. The world got its first glimpse at the elaborate concept art that would light up the internet like an electrical storm for months to follow leading up to the new area’s grand opening. Who can forget the rendering of Diagon Alley with the huge dragon perched atop Gringotts? That alone set the fans buzzing, debating whether or not it was an accurate representation of things to come, or simply sexy concept art. What a year it would become for Universal Orlando!
Knott’s Berry Farm announced that it would be completely revitalizing and adding three new attractions to its Camp Snoopy area in celebration of its 30th Anniversary this summer – a project that would turn out really nicely!
Six Flags Magic Mountain announced its new children’s roller coaster, Speedy Gonzales Hot Rod Racers, an anchor attraction for its newly-renovated Bugs Bunny World area.
Meanwhile, Universal Orlando continued to up the ante with a brand-new show, Beetlejuice’s Graveyard Mash-Up at its Studios park, along with the announcement that all of its 2014 expansion plans would provide nearly 3,500 new jobs in Central Florida!
March saw the industry happenings heating up with the return of Disneyland’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. The classic E Ticket attraction came back up from a very lengthy downtime that was the most extensive renovation in the ride’s history. In addition to all new track and new trains, Big Thunder received a fresh paint job, new lighting, spruced up animatronics, and a completely new finale scene that blew fans away – quite literally!
Disneyland also began celebrating the 50th Anniversary of It’s a Small World, which debuted at the UNICEF pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, culminating in a global sing-along of the attraction’s famous theme song.
Universal Orlando continued to fan the flames of anticipation by giving us more details about its Potter expansion, this time focusing on the Hogwarts Express experience – a completely revolutionary step in theme park entertainment. For the first time ever, two separately-gated theme parks would be connected by an immersive attraction while remaining in a cohesive environment and story. The excitement was off the charts as we all got our first look at some of the Hogwarts Express moments – and stunning locomotives!
Universal Orlando also kept the news coming with their super early announcement of their Halloween Horror Nights 24 event – talk about laying it on thick!
Just a few clicks away, SeaWorld Orlando’s Aquatica water park topped off Ihu’s Breakaway Falls, its new 80-foot-tall drop tower slide attraction!
Universal Orlando continued its news blitz with the opening of its newest on-site resort hotel, Cabana Bay. The retro-fantastic resort opened just months ahead of Diagon Alley, in full anticipation of the throngs of eager fans that would soon be making their way to London via Orlando!
On the West Coast, Universal Studios Hollywood announced its major attraction for 2015, Fast & Furious – Supercharged, which will become the grand finale spectacle for the world-famous Studio Tour. This announcement also made it clear that Comcast, the new owner of Universal, is adamant about ramping up its theme parks on both sides of the United States, which has made theme park fans really excited, and with good cause!
With spring in full swing, there was lots going on! LEGOLAND California continued its rapid expansion with the opening of its brand-new Legends of Chima Water Park, packed full of fun and adventure for the whole family. The addition of Chima was a significant one, as LEGOLAND California has grown so nicely into a multi-day young family destination here in the Southland.
Roaring Camp Railroads up north near Santa Cruz announced its 50th Anniversary. For anyone that’s from Northern California, or has spent time up that way around the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, the Roaring Camp trains are definitely nostalgic and tons of fun; here’s to the next 50 years!
An odd story came to us in May that quickly became one of the hottest items on Theme Park Adventure in 2014; the announcement of a Caribbean-themed large-scale resort called Port Royal, destined for the community of Jasper, Georgia. One of the firms responsible for the development sent TPA the announcement and renderings. We posted it, and people from the South came to the site in huge numbers to see what it was all about – whether or not the resort ever opens, it definitely was one of the hottest stories we ran on the site this year!
Anyone that has attended one of our monthly mixers knows that TPA loves tiki themes and environments! One of our dearest friends, Tom “Thor” Thordarson, who’s a world-famous tiki artist (as well as a major creative designer in the themed entertainment industry), fired up his renowned shrunken head crafting, which we announced here on the site. Thor’s shrunken heads are museum-quality and in such incredibly high demand that tiki fans, bar owners, and everyone in between usually rushes to order them sight-unseen the minute he announces that more are being made! This story certainly turned a lot of fans on to Thor’s work that weren’t already in the know, and his business has been anything but shrinking this year!
May saw two of the biggest stories published this year on TPA; one of them, the most popular story ever on the site.
The first was an update on the on-going saga of Rufus, the huge 40 year-old Pacu fish that was the lifelong “mascot” of the famous Southern California tiki bar and restaurant, Bahooka. With the sale of the restaurant, the business was shuttered and everything inside was gutted. Word began moving like wildfire through the tiki community that Rufus was nowhere to be seen, and demands started flying from user forums online to media publications – where has Rufus gone? Saldy, the story was left open-ended, as we have no information and the new owner of the property has all but fallen silent on the subject. Unfortunately, one of the most controversial and emotional stories on TPA this year just may actually be about the big one that got away.
From the tropics to the North Pole we go – and when it was announced that Santa’s Village in Skyforest, near Lake Arrowhead in the San Bernardino Mountains had been purchased with the intent of re-development and re-opening as the beloved theme park so many of us grew up with, Theme Park Adventure jumped on it and discussed the facts as were known at the time, as well as our own nostalgic feelings about the little theme park that operated from 1955 to 1998 in the mountains just east of Los Angeles.
We expected moderate interest in the story – which admittedly, wasn’t much more than a few current facts and a bunch of ancient images from Santa’s Village. What we never anticipated, was that our little piece about Santa’s Village being purchased and possibly re-opening would go on to be the single biggest story traffic-wise ever in the history of our website! Hundreds and hundreds of thousands of enthused and curious fans flooded our site – so many in fact, that our server was shut down temporarily because of the amazing amount of hits. In a year dominated by Diagon Alley, and numerous other major attraction events making news, Santa’s Village crushed them all in popularity; it wasn’t even a contest. The world still waits to see if Santa’s going to return to Skyforest; if our traffic on TPA is any indication of how badly everyone wants it to happen, it’s easy to see that if done correctly, the little park in the mountains absolutely could have a fantastic comeback!
Summer 2014 in Southern California belonged to Knott’s Berry Farm, hands-down. The major reason being the stunning renovation of the park’s iconic Calico Mine Ride. With the amazing team at Garner Holt Productions working with the Farm’s in-house team of designers, the mountain underwent an astonishing revitalization that saw the ride re-done from top to bottom; the theme and main scenes remained intact, but the attraction came alive with dozens of new animatronics, all-new show lighting and special effects that truly did the park proud! By far, this was one of our very favorite moments of 2014!
Camp Snoopy at Knott’s also celebrated a grand re-opening after being beautifully renovated, complete with several new attractions, new landscaping, lighting and new environments that are absolutely delightful for the whole family!
With summer heating up, we made a very special ScareLA-related announcement that got fans buzzing with excitement. TPA announced that Disney Legend Alice Davis would be joining fellow Disney Legend Bob Gurr, along with host Jeff Baham of Doombuggies.com for our convention’s kick-off presentation, When Hinges Creak: Celebrating 45 Years of the Haunted Mansion. Alice agreed to participate in our Halloween convention and represent her late husband, Disney Legend Marc Davis, who breathed life (perhaps death) into the Mansion with his famous character designs. Disney fans, Halloween fans, horror fans, and everyone else jumped online to read the announcement on TPA – and yes, the presentation went on to be a huge success!
Not to be forgotten, as the opening of Diagon Alley at Universal Orlando got closer, the news and images were coming almost daily from the resort! In one of the biggest final media pushes, Universal announced that several stars from the Harry Potter films had visited Diagon Alley for an exclusive preview, and of course, they all loved it and were amazed by its detail!
July 8th – The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley opens. * mic drop * Strangely enough, Universal Orlando flooded the industry with media beginning in January of this year, but when Diagon finally did open – there was weird radio silence from the resort. However, nothing more really needed to be said at that point; Diagon Alley is the single most amazing immersive environment and experience we’ve ever personally seen; huge props to Universal Creative and all associated for this project – you win. Everything. A lot.
July 2014 is when Theme Park Adventure entered a new phase of its online existence. We set this machine into high-gear and began publishing 1-3 stories every day of the week. There was a huge influx of zoo news, and after a long hiatus, our Las Vegas news started pouring in again, as MGM Resorts International began direct communication with us that has proven to be a tremendous source of exciting information for our TPAers regarding Sin City!
Due to the vast increase in online content from July of this year onward, we’ll pick just a few items from the remaining months that stood out as TPA’s “greatest hits” for the second half of 2014.
Unbeknownst to him, Theme Park Adventure’s founder and editor, Rick West, was nominated by peers as one of the top 10 most influential industry journalists in the United States. After a month of online fan voting, Rick secured a spot in USA Today’s 10Best list – something that was unexpected and really humbling. The true credit goes to our TPAers everywhere – especially the hard core ones that beat the drums and hung in there, voting for us every day and not letting people forget that the poll was still open! We exist because our readers want us to exist, and we are so very proud that TPA was able to stand up and be recognized with some of the greatest industry writers in the world; it truly was and is an honor for us!
The freak flags were flying wildly in July, as haunted attractions of all shapes and sizes, from Knott’s Scary Farm to Los Angeles Haunted Hayride to Universal Orlando began announcing their mazes for the 2014 Halloween season! The season of screams was rapidly approaching, as was ScareLA! In turn, Theme Park Adventure announced a very special panel called Making Monsters, which featured representatives from Knott’s, Universal, Queen Mary, and Magic Mountain’s makeup departments on stage together for the first time anywhere discussing their own events and how they each were similar as well as very different. The announcement was a big deal, and the entire haunt community became totally excited by this coming together of such major Halloween events in a show of support and unity as opposed to being fierce competitors.
In celebration of Disneyland’s 59th Anniversary, we published a unique story called Love Letters & Memories that featured pictures and intimate reflection about the park in Anaheim that we’ve all grown up with. We used submissions by many of our own readers, as well as industry movers and shakers including Bob Gurr, Garner Holt, and Tony Baxter. Some of the stories were humorous, others tugged at heart strings. All of them were very heartfelt and wonderful in their own way, and it was an honest love fest for Disneyland; not a piece written by PR folks or people paid to make the resort look good in writing. These were honest gut emotions and true memories shared by people from all walks of life with one thing in common – a deep connection and history with the house that Walt built. It’ll always be one of our favorite feature pieces we’ve run here on TPA.
More and more Halloween-related goodness was coming our way from all corners – Universal, Knott’s, Sinister Pointe, LA Haunted Hayride, Busch Gardens; you name it. However, TPA had its own little spook fest called ScareLA to tend to! For those unaware, TPA’s owners, Rick West and Johanna Atilano, are co-producers of ScareLA, making up 1/2 of the convention’s core team that puts the event together each summer here in Los Angeles. Rick wrote a kind of behind-the-scenes story on what it was like putting the show together this year for more than 6,000 fans that attended, called ScareLA – From the Inside Out, which was very popular with TPAers whether they experienced the convention or not!
Six Flags Magic Mountain unveiled its plans to turn the iconic wooden coaster Colossus into a hybrid metal-wood monster, named Twisted Colossus. This announcement was long-speculated about and absolutely did fans proud when Magic Mountain finally spilled the beans. One of the most exciting new ride announcements of 2014, Twisted Colossus is going to be an incredible experience when it opens next year here in Los Angeles – we cannot wait!
More coaster action exploded across the interwebs as Fury 325 was announced for Carowinds! When it opens in spring of 2015, Fury 325 will be the tallest and fastest giga coaster in the world, reaching speeds of 95 miles per hour. Designed by B&M, Fury 325 is absolutely going to get fans from around the globe heading to North Carolina to ride the metal monster for themselves very soon! We can’t wait – we’re looking at our schedules now to see if and when a Fury 325 trip is in TPA’s not-too-distant future!
September marked our 20th Anniversary, which was absolutely an astounding milestone for Theme Park Adventure. Started back in 1994 as a printed newsletter, there’s no way we’d have ever thought that we’d still be around two decades later, stronger than ever before and gaining momentum each day! Theme Park Adventure celebrated our special 20th Anniversary moment at the Knott’s Berry Farm Hotel, with more than 200 TPAers in attendance. We were thrilled to be joined for the night by Bob Barber and Shea Foley, two TPA Team Members from way back in the day – they each contributed so much to this organization over the years, it was only fitting to have them at our side once again as we crossed the 20 year mark! We’re forever indebted to Shea and Bob for their work and partnerships throughout our amazing journey and we love them dearly!
Halloween content was flowing like rivers of blood from all parks and attractions still, as some of the bigger theme park events got a very early start in September. Of note, Knott’s Berry Farm hosted a special Scare School 2014 night, where members of the media were invited to peek behind the curtain at its annual employee training/preparation for the debut of Halloween Haunt. It marked the beginning of our 20th season covering the Scary Farm with Knott’s, and we were very impressed by the variety of behind-the-scenes tours and offerings they planned for members of the press, from on-site monster training to tours of Warehouse P backstage, where Haunt comes to life and is stored year-round in Buena Park. Also included in Scare School 2014 was a walking trip through Ghost Town with Halloween Haunt expert Ted Dougherty, who gave a flawless historical tour of the events origins and lore; it was truly a highlight of the Halloween season for us this year!
The Queen Mary celebrated her 80th Anniversary in Long Beach, with an elaborate party throughout the ships ballrooms, decks and salons! Theme Park Adventure has worked closely with Queen Mary over the past several years, covering events such as Dark Harbor at Halloween, and CHILL in the winter months. We love that the historical ship is here in Southern California – its history is staggering, and so it’s an honor each and every time we step aboard, like so many countless people before us!
As you all know, October is a very slow, quiet month for Theme Park Adventure… yeah, right! In 2014, TPA made 39 haunted attraction stops here in Southern California; many nights were doubled and tripled-up to meet our demanding schedule of spooky fun! On October 1st, we released our 2014 review of Universal Studios Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights, which included video clips of the event, as well as images from each maze and scare zone! We had a tremendous season – and in the end, Rick West deemed Universal’s An American Werewolf in London his favorite haunt maze of the year – it was gorgeous!
Naturally, there are way too many haunts and spook events to name here in this year in review. Southern California is the best place on the planet for Halloween and haunted attractions, hands-down. The industry was born here, and this is where it thrives each year, with the best of the best creatives in the business lending their personal and professional touches to everything from full-blown theme park events to stand-alone home haunts and yard displays. Theme Park Adventure loves it all, and tries to see as much as we can each year, just to keep up! Reflecting on 2014, we have to say that one of our favorite stops along the way on our terror tour was Wicked Lit, a theatrical performance-based attraction that took place in a local cemetery and mausoleum here in the Los Angeles area. Wicked Lit is just pure Halloween fun – a little bit of spooky, a dash of naughty, and absolutely flawless performances by amazing actors!
Theme Park Adventure loves Halloween and the haunter community here in Southern California – this is the most difficult month to put in our 2014 review, because it was all so much fun, and filled with so many memories! A special thank you to each and every haunter out there and our friends/partners that worked so beautifully with us to get all of our visits done throughout the Halloween season!
In November, we made a huge decision in the evolution of TPA’s social mixers. We moved from Trader Sam’s at the Disneyland Resort to a brand new location in Huntington Beach – Don the Beachcomber. The move was not something we took lightly; for 2 1/2 years, TPA called Trader Sam’s home once a month, often attracting upward of 100 guests each time we hosted a gathering. To be honest, we out-grew Sam’s a year ago, once our mixers started attracting 80+ fans each month. We were very reluctant to shift locations, because we’re firm believers in not fixing things that aren’t broken. However, with our mixer size increasing and traffic in and around the Disneyland Resort getting to be nightmarish around the holidays, we knew that something had to give, in order to offer the very best and headache-free experience we could for our TPAers. With great anxiety, we moved in November away from Sam’s and said hello to our new home – the Hidden Village at Don the Beachcomber; a private indoor venue that reminds us very much of the old Tahitian Terrace at Disneyland. More than 150 TPAers showed up for our first Don’s gathering, cementing our new partnership with the amazing staff there! We cannot wait to spend many nights in the Hidden Village with all of our friends in the year to come!
Many of you know, we work in the themed entertainment industry. Rick is a creative director/show writer working with various companies at any given time, and Johanna works on the production end of projects as a coordinator at BRC Imagination Arts. Each November, IAAPA (International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions) holds its massive trade show at the convention center in Orlando, Florida. While the owners of TPA were there on professional business, they definitely kept TPAers in the loop via live tweets and Facebook posts from the show floor, as well as the various theme parks they visited during their 11-day visit! The highlight of course, was finally getting to see Diagon Alley at Universal Orlando in person – something that surpassed even their highest expectations on all levels! As professionals, we were floored by the level of design excellence throughout Diagon Alley (including the Hogwarts Express experience connecting both Universal parks). As fans, we were beside ourselves, giddy with the sheer amount of magic around us at each step – and we drank our weight in Butterbeer, including the brand-new hot Butterbeer that Universal happened to introduce so nicely on our final day visiting The Wizarding World of Harry Potter! Everything about IAAPA 2014 was fantastic – from the enormous show floor to the theme parks and attractions we visited while in Orlando; a definite highlight of the year!
With the arrival of November, came an onslaught of year-end holiday event announcements and the theme parks decked the halls in grand fashion, of course. However, it was with much respect that we said goodbye to Marion Knott, the youngest daughter of Walter and Cordelia Knott, who passed away here in Southern California at the age of 92. Marion spent her life helping develop Knott’s Berry Farm into an industry gem and icon. All of us who are Knott’s fans thank her eternally for helping to continue and preserve her parents’ legacy in Buena Park.
December is a weird transition month for TPA each year. Naturally, there are tons of theme park holiday events that we attend and post about online. Everywhere we look, it’s a winter wonderland – and that is very cool! However, the BIG thrill of the season here in Southern California is the rapid construction progress we’re witnessing at Universal Studios Hollywood, in preparation for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which will be opening in spring of 2016!
New Year’s Eve news has flowed in abundance on the site, and TPAers around the world are already celebrating the arrival of 2015. From London to Orlando, Disneyland and Knott’s to small gatherings at home with friends and loved ones, everyone is preparing for the magic moment at midnight, when we all get a fresh start and find ourselves at the beginning of a brand new adventure.
Here at TPA, the gears keep turning. We already have stories and content in the queue for the days to come, and yes, we are grinding away at more Halloween footage and images to get you through the bitter winter! With January 1 barreling down on us, we’re already looking to what comes next – more monthly mixers at Don’s, more unique TPA gatherings and events throughout the year, many more theme park travels, ScareLA 2015, and so much more. It all boils down to our TPAers. We do this because of you, and we couldn’t as for a better community than what we have. To the long-timers and newcomers alike, we thank you for your support and cannot wait to take you on a ride through the past, present, and the future in 2015!
Happy New Year, everyone!
– Rick & Johanna