For Project Five, my team was tasked with expanding the lore of the Society of Explorers and Adventurers (S.E.A.) at Walt Disney World parks. I ended up creating a ride for Epcot’s Italy pavilion focused on Fr. Antonio Piaggio, who created a machine to study the scrolls of Pompeii. Read about my ride idea here: sites.google.com/view/teamlore-project5/epcot?authuser=0
For Project 3, my team was asked to create a small ("boutique") Halloween theme park. I had the family-friendly land and included IPs such as Charlie Brown, Scooby-Doo, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Casper. For our project starting with my land (Halloweenland), you can find it at the following link:
As mentioned in my D23 post, the biggest news for Disney theme parks is that Dinoland USA at Animal Kingdom is being redesigned as a Tropical Americas land. It will include the first-ever Encanto ride as well as an Indiana Jones ride.
As a warm-up to a new Imagineering competition called "Manor of Mysteries," a group of us took on the task of creating the land given some of the parameters (while having free reign on other parameters, such as the locations of the IP-driven rides). The following Google Site explores the land but starts first with the Encanto water ride I designed called "Encanto: Antonio's Adventure": https://sites.google.com/view/manor-mysteries-project-0/attractions/encanto. Credits to muppetsfan#1 for the Indiana Jones write-up.
September 9th (yesterday as I write this) was the day of the Destination D23 Conference’s Disney Parks Panel. I did not realize that until after the Panel was finished, which is pretty telling of itself. For one thing, the odd-numbered years for D23 (“Destination D23”) are generally the off-years for parks announcements. However, the very disappointing announcements at the 2022 D23 Conference (which should have had major announcements, especially due to Universal’s investment in parks) kept me from seeking out information about the Parks Panel this year before it actually happened.
Mickey Views’ video sums up the updates from the Parks Panel but also expresses the disappointment of the announcements:
I share the disappointment. Now granted, there were some announcements that were not on my radar. However, many of the things that were announced are still far from starting construction on, so they seem to still be rather “blue sky.”
The biggest update was on the current Dinoland U.S.A. at Animal Kingdom. The announcement in 2022 was rather blue sky–a Moana-themed land but really just concept art. Apparently Disney Imagineering has modified its plans in the past 12 months. Now the land will be themed to “tropical Americas” and house rides such as an Encanto dark ride (replacing the defunct Dinorama coaster) and an Indiana Jones jeep ride (like Disneyland but replacing Dinosaur). In addition, the plan is to re-theme the “It’s Tough to be a Bug” in the Tree of Life to a Zootopia-themed show. There is disagreement as to whether those IPs belong in Animal Kingdom; I tend to agree with those who say that it is not keeping with animal and habitat conservation efforts as is the major thrust of Animal Kingdom (for example, Encanto would better work as a Colombia pavilion in Epcot and Indiana Jones would work better in Hollywood Studios). However, the plans could have been more disruptive to Animal Kingdom’s theme if, for example, Zootopia had received an urbanized land like what Shanghai Disneyland is opening soon.
The other major news that I took from the announcements is that Test Track at Epcot is going to be rethemed thanks to the partnership with Chevrolet. It sounds like it will incorporate some of the “edutainment” (i.e. educational and entertainment) elements of the original pavilion World of Motion.
There were other small announcements for the various parks, but I will not discuss them here as they are not anything that excites me significantly.
In short, I feel a little better about the 2023 Destination D23 announcements than the 2022 D23 ones. However, I stated last year (click link) that anything short of major announcements would be troubling for Disney. Since there were not really any major announcements this year, I would say it is time for Disney to step aside and let Universal take over the lead company on theme parks.
Bible: Rev 11:19, 12:1-6, 10; Ps 45; 1 Cor 15:20-27; Luke 1:39-56 (although the assumption is not explicitly found in the Bible, the passages are used at Mass on the feast day)
Catholic Feast Day: August 15
Mary’s assumption was declared a dogma for Catholics in 1950 by Pope Pius XII although there was wide understanding and support of the belief since the early Church. For example, a Latin document named "Transitus Mariae," (meaning "The Crossing Over of Mary") is an extra-biblical account that dates back either the second and third centuries. The Catholic Tradition of the Assumption is that Mary, at the end of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into Heaven. The phrase “at the end of her earthly life” can be believed in one of two ways–either when she died or when she fell asleep (sometimes called “dormition”).
“Assumption Orbiter” in Apostolic Age Land replaces Astro Orbiter. At the center of the ride (where a golden sphere is located right now) is Mary lying on the ground. Going up the tower are parts of a mobile (stars, planets, etc.) that give the impression that guests are making their way up to Heaven. When it is their time to ride, guests board one of 12 capsules. Each of the capsules (which can hold a maximum of 2 guests) is supported by an angel who follows the up-down direction of the rider’s controls. The ride takes 90 seconds.
American Heartland Theme Park is set to open in fall 2026 to the tune of $2 billion (see https://www.oklahoman.com/story/news/2023/07/26/american-heartland-theme-park-oklahoma-amusement-park-owner-mansion-entertainment-gene-bicknell/70465387007/). It will be 125 acres (so similar in size to the Magic Kingdom or Disneyland) and located near Vinita, Oklahoma, which is in the northeast part of the state. The current population of Vinita is 5743, although that number will increase significantly by the time the park opens, especially if it is going to handle 4.9 million guests per year (as announced). In addition to the theme park, the resort will include an indoor water park, a hotel, and a RV Park with campgrounds; the latter is part of Phase 1 set to open spring 2025. Mansion Entertainment Company out of Branson, Missouri is the developer, although to date, they have a limited project inventory. Gene Bicknell is the financier of the park; he had run hundreds of Pizza Hut franchises around the world. There are at least 20 former Disney and Universal employees with hundreds of years of experience working on the project.
In Reviewtyme’s video (see above), the commentator mentions that the park calls to mind a canceled Disney theme park that was to be called Disney’s America. That park had been proposed for Haymarket, Virginia in November 1993 but canceled in September 1994 after underperforming at Euro Disney. There is the possibility that the park will never see the light of day, although the fact that it is privately financed gives it a greater probability.
ReviewTyme describes the 6 lands as he can best tell from the concept art (although the final design is subject to change). Liberty Village is the entrance land with shops, restaurants, and a theatre. There is some sort of transportation system akin to the Disneyland Railroad but which allows guests to drive vehicles around the park. Bayou Bay has a swamp boat cruise and a stunt show. Great Plains features a wooden roller coaster, family coaster, flat rides, a flying theater, and a Charlotte’s Web dark ride. Big Timber Falls features a Big Foot Falls log flume. Stony Point Harbor has flat rides, a concert venue, and a Haunted Lighthouse boat ride; this is also where the hotel will have an entrance to the park. Electropolis is the park’s futuristic land. It features a S&S shot tower and a Terminal Velocity launch coaster
I researched and analyzed the new theme park based on what I have done for other potential locations in this project of mine. The overall location rating of 59.4 suggests that Vinita will be a relatively good location for a theme park (accepting for things like a limited workforce and proximity to a major airport). Being 1169 miles from the closest top tier theme parks in Orlando gives the park a high probability of not having to compete seriously with Disney and Universal theme parks (note: the small Universal park opening in Frisco, TX was not counted as a top tier theme park for this analysis). The weather score of 73 makes it comparable to San Francisco and Frisco, TX, worse than Los Angeles, but better than Orlando. The population of 2.6 million people within 100 miles (with Tulsa being the largest city) puts it behind most locations that would be considered for a major theme park (except for places like Dubai and Stockholm).
In conclusion, I am hopeful that American Heartland will be a 2nd tier theme park if and when it opens. Like my recent review of the Lost Island Park (Waterloo, Iowa), I believe attendance will be an issue. However, it should be a good and inexpensive alternative to the Disney and Universal parks found in southern California and Florida.
My teammates and I (along with another team) made it to the Finale for the "What If?" Imagineering Competition. As typical with Imagineering competitions, the finale is a solo project. Not everyone who qualified for the finale actually put together a project. Although the project was submitted on 8/20, the result is not expected until 8/27.
I was looking for an Intellectual Property (i.e. IP) that would work well with a patented Disney technology for a rocking boat ride (which Disney may use on a Moana ride). I settled on Life of Pi (of 20th Century Fox, which is now owned by Disney). I put together a Google Slides presentation (somewhat resembling a book report) for my presentation. You can access the presentation at the following link: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1bF_0ADo7PXhzfGO8DgvKY2u53VqHGq31_43rkVuzQMk/edit?usp=sharing.
My first trip to the Lost Island Theme Park in Waterloo, Iowa (opened in 2022) occurred on Monday, July 24, 2023. I had only decided to go to it the week before after seeing the attraction line-up. The park is about 4 hours from where I currently live, so it does require some planning. The date I chose was basically the last open date I had for the remainder of the park’s operating season (which goes until late August) due to the fact that I had upcoming vacation time followed by Vacation Bible School at my church.
The theme park’s hours on my day were 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. The waterpark, which carries the same name and actually preceded the park, also had the same hours that day. Of planning note, there is a 1-Day Island Pass that allows one admission into both the theme park and the water park. The water park is located down and across the street from the theme park, so it’s not a simple park hopping (although probably not too different from Disneyland Paris and Walt Disney Studios).
I was about the 8th car in the parking lot at 10:15 a.m. on my day. I took a quick picture of the entrance sign and was the first one to walk up to the front gates. There were 4 cast members there who were chatting a bit. None of the ticket kiosks were open as their system doesn’t come online until the park opens. Having done my planning, I had purchased my ticket online. When the clock hit 10:30 a.m. right on my phone, the cast member scanned my ticket. I went in and had my picture taken with the costumed Tamariki–a black human-like creature with beady eyes.
Lost Island is divided into 5 lands called “realms.” Rather than using the official names of the realms, I will keep it simple by using their English equivalents (with associated color in parenthesis): Fire (red), Water (blue), Earth (green), Air (purple), and Spirit (multi-colored). There are 3 main attractions in the park: Volkanu: Quest for the Golden Idol shooting ride in Fire, Matugani launch coaster in Earth (opened in 2023), and Nopuku Air Coaster in Air. I rode each of those rides 4, 5, and 4 times, respectively. My first ride was Volkanu as I figured I would want to do it a lot during the day.
Volkanu is a shooting dark ride from Sally Dark Rides. It cost $5 million to design and construct the ride, so you would not expect to see such a ride in a theme park in Iowa! Although I was the first regular guest into the park, there were some others ahead of me in-line. The cast member told me it was a group of special guests from a company that had helped to market the park. On my first time, I was ushered into the well-themed pre-show ride, which told me that I was needed to break some idols (why do they have to involve those?) as part of helping to save the inhabitants from those who want to do some evil. The queue was rather darkened but had some special props. After grabbing some 4-D glasses (although I managed to forget on my 4th ride), I got in-line at the loading station. Two of the times I rode by myself and the other two times I rode with others (it’s a little easier to score higher by yourself). The ride uses a combination of screens and Audio Animatronics to tell the story. The theme of the ride is rather dark, and it feels like I was facing pure evil when I encountered the lava monster. Not to spoil it, but he gets defeated each time. The scores for shooting targets allowed for good re-rideability as well as a break from the summer heat.
Matugani (the launch coaster) was still undergoing testing when I came out of Volkanu, so I rode some flat rides (“flat rides” basically refers to rides that are outdoors, off-the-shelf style rides that are not roller coasters). They have a good variety around the park, including some that are not so common at other amusement parks. Surprisingly the drop tower has a pre-show.
I was able to walk right on Matugani without a wait, as I did the other 5 times throughout the day. Matugani was delayed in shipment from Europe so it did not open with most of the rest of the park in its initial year. But it is arguably the best ride in the park! It’s a super smooth coaster that launches out of a snake’s head. One fan, in particular, likes it so much that he has ridden it over 1000 times in its first season.
It took me a while to get over to the Nopuku air coaster as I was prioritizing some of the other rides in some of the other realms. In an air coaster, riders are suspended from the train so that their feet dangle. Although the coaster went through some testing for smoothness before opening to the public, there are some rough patches where the train feels like it lunges forward. To go on it four times was enough of a challenge for me.
The other attraction that is worth describing is Yuta Falls, which is the other ride that opened in 2023. It is a chute-the-chute style ride (similar to the Wave at Minnesota’s ValleyFair). It is the only water ride in the park, so it is an important one on a hot day (I rode it 3 times). Unlike most chute-the-chutes, this one has two drops–first a small one and then the main one. It gives the ride a really neat aesthetic. One of the times, I rode with some other people, including a teenage girl (probably an orphan) who was distraught the whole time due to her chaperone not being able to ride it with her. I felt really sorry for the girl.
The food was fine. For lunch, I had coconut shrimp and French Fries (one of the cast members brought the latter to me as they were out when I was paying). I also had a pineapple twist ice cream (essentially a Dole whip).
I had previously described the opportunity to pray in a theme park. To cool off in the afternoon, I found some shade and did 30 minutes of prayer. It was a good way to rehydrate and recharge for the last few hours of my time in the park.
As you can see in my pictures, attendance was rather light the day I was at the park. I think they have struggled with attendance into their second year. They have definitely invested a lot in the park, including things like costumed characters, a children’s book based on the park, and workers that they have brought in from around the world. I hope the park makes it through the next few years, because once people know about it, I could see families from the upper midwest making it part of their regular summer plans.
It has been a 1.5 months since my last post. My time has been spent with time away (priest gathering, mission trip) and working on tasks for my team in the Imagineering competition. I will have my trip review of Lost Island up soon, but for now I wanted to link you to a recent video by an acquaintance from the Imaginering forum. This 3:14 video (he goes by "Pi" for a reason) highlights Barbie's connection to Walt Disney World. This video will especially be enjoyed by those who enjoy the current cinematic offerings of The Barbie Movie/Barbenheimer.