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Lewis Cox February 2002 (this was meant to be January, but I (Tom) am a lazy git)

lewis@reride.net

Before we begin class, a belated HAPPY NEW YEAR for 2002. And I hope you all had a good Christmas.
The reason my greetings are so late, are that I have been out of the country for the duration of both
them (and an extra week at the end) in that place just over the pond, the US. (Why do they say "Over
the pond?" The 8 hours journey aint no picnic on the back I tell you!)

But whereabouts in the US I hear you cry? Well, no less then Florida, home of Disney, Universal, and
many other theme parks. This month, I shall take you for a whirlwing comparison between the US and the
UK's theme parks. But first, its time for me to put on my Professors hat and asnwer some more of your
UK Theme Park Questions, and my haven't we been bogged down this week. Thousands upon thousands of
emails were received, asking for this column to be discontinued, but amongst the hatred emails were a
couple of questions which are:

Q. Dear Sir, Whilst in the Mystic East area of Chessington last summer, I noticed an ugly looking
beast having a go at people for touching some of her personal belongings. She would do this at least
every couple of minutes whilst kids ran around her in a frantic hurry. Do you have her name?

A. Why yes I do. That'll be Miriam, one of the Samurai operators.*

Q. Do you like the Swans at Alton Towers?

A. I am glad you asked that, yes I do. I particularly like Number 4, I have named her Sharon. She has
a nice beak.

Q. Now look here old boy. I am throughly unimpressed. Your last coloumn, yet again, did not feature
AIR - the new rollercoaster at Alton Towers as many times as anticipated. I realise that the coloumn
was focused on Blackpool Pleasure Beach, and because of this I am willing to make an exception. But it
should still have totalled 324 mentions. Do you hear me boy!

Okay, on with the real McCorrr.
The first week of my "vacation" (please excuse the numerous Americanisms, they seem to dig themselves
into your Brain.) was spent in Disney World, staying in one of their resorts. The first thing to get
across, if you do not know Disney World, is that it is HUGE. Almost mind-blowingly big. Disney World
is not a theme park. Disney World is a world, that has theme parks in it. Anways. After that first
week, I was on International Drive - where Sea World, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure were
all within easy reach. After that, a week in Clearwater, near Tampa. Perfect for visiting Busch
Gardens.

I got to all the parks, with the exception being Sea World, more than once. But how differently do
their parks operate to what we are used to over here? The fist noticed change is the charge for
parking. Recently Alton Towers have discussed introducing this, but America has one onus over Alton
Towers: Their public transport facilities work really well, and shuttle buses are very regular and on
time.

The Magic Kingdom at Disney. The classic Disney Park - and its amazing how much Alton Towers have
tried to follow the park. Towers street was obviously shaped on Main Street USA, but was never going
to eclipse the original. Something that I am sure you are all aware of anyway, is the character and
personality of the staff over there. The "How're ur doin?" and "Have a nice day"s can grate on the
nervers after prolonged exposure, but do add to the atmosphere of Magic. Something that Alton Towers
tell us about, but Disney actually create a feeling of. Other then the staff, all of the areas in
Magic Kingdom are predominatly happy-clappy areas. Even the setting around the Haunted Mansion is a
happy American society. Alton Towers has so many depressing areas, Gloomy Wood, Forbidden Kingdom not
to mention X Sector which are designed to intimidate.

Ride operations in Amerca have a few differences: First of all, we are told everything. And I mean
everything. "Step into the train, and sit down with your head at the top end of the seat andyour feet
on the floor. Pull down the safety restraints until they are locked. Put bags beneath your legs,
secure all loose belongings blah blah blah..." This is all standard stuff, but you notice how here
most of these warnings in the UK are sufficiently covered with one or two signposts, not a mammoth
recording booming out every couple of minutes.

The American Parks have some GREAT dark rides, I think the one that springs to mind has to be
SpiderMan. However, the walls of the ride are absolutely plastered with Emergency Exit signs and
Directions. They are not cunningly hidden, as they can be in the UK, but blatently obvious. Another
interesting point to note is that if you are boarding a constantly moving ride, such as Haunted
Mansion, there will ALWAYS be a moving floor for you to use. This take the shape of a moving disc,
such as rapid rides, or a conveyor Belt. An interesting difference from the many rides in the UK which
requires you to board a moving vehicle, from a normal platform. But does it help? Not when the
converyor is moving faster then the ride, as was the case with the Haunted Mansion, where I put one
leg out of the ride and its was off on its own journey to the exit before my other leg was out of the
car. Nearly ended up doing the splits!

The parks I visited all have one annoying quality. It doesn't matter how humble the ride is, from the
scariest coaster, to the quantest train ride. A member of staff always tell which row to go to, and no
amount of pleading will make them change their mind. Even when there are no queues, which on my visits
to Busch Gardens, all the coasters were walk ons, it was still, "Go to Row Five". This makes for
speedier loading, although on Nemesis which is still "select your own row" I have never seen problems.
Back to Dark Rides. The rides always have storylines. You never go into a ride for the sake of going
into one. Two interesting comparisons are the Haunted House at AT, and the Haunted Mansion at Disney.
I think that the theming and general effects in the HH are better at AT, but the Disney ride was more
enjoyable. Why? Well there was a bit of sense to it - in this case our "Ghost Host" taking us on tour
of the house, then inviting us to become a ghoul ourselves.

Another system worth noting is theirr Fast Pass Schemes (Disney) , or Express schemes (Universal). The
Disney system worked best. Lots of rides have the facility, and times currently being issued for your
return are shown above the issuing counters, so you can plan your day easily. The scheme works
incredibly well, I cannot think how much time I saved from queueing in the parks. Of course, when you
do have to queue, the lines are shorter for the passes. My longest queue on the hole vacation was 40
minutes. It makes our "Virtual Q's" look really embarassing.

Theming at Disney and Universal are generally excellent, BUT. And there is a BUT. Whist the quality
and detail is good, the areas don't always fit with the rides withn them. (An exception is
Tomorrowland, at night, it turned into one of my favourite themed areas anywhere) Frontierland is wild
west, yes. Thats all very well. But the theming doesn't usually play much of a part with the
associated rides. Its a themed area, with some rides placed in it. UK theming, when done well, tends
to be a continuation of the ride. Amity Cove at Thorpe Park, Forbidden Valley at Alton and
Transylvania at Chessington continue from the ride expiriences. In America, the expirience tends to
end once your off the ride.

Dinoland USA at Animal Kingdom was a shambles. No theming in the slightest.
One unfortunate thing about the parks I visited was that each one seemed to have a target audience in
mind, and tended to forget about everyone else. Margic Kingdom is great for everyone, but Islands of
Adventure forgot about everyone who wasn't a kid but didn't want to ride many intense rides.
Food at Amercia is rarely anything more then Burgers and Fries, and always their own serveries at
that. I thank our parks for having more well-known names such as KFC and McDonalds.
Merchandise is slightly more expensive, but the quality and amazing range of items on offer is worth
it.

I didn't want to fill this article with my reviews on the rides I have ridden, even though I could
talk for hours about them. Which parks you enjoy most depends on your own likes and dislikes. Being a
Thespian, I enjoy atmosphere. Amercan parks ooze it, with spectacular shows and being open regularly
at night, you can't help but get into good spirits. You visit a park for enjoyment, to be relieved
from the burdens of outside problems. Not to get harassed by a member of staff because you have asked
them a question.

I personally like our rides, they are more atmospheric and enjoyable. But for a good park with the
ability to really allow visitors to leave with high spirits and total satisfaction, that is where the
Amercians have hit the spot.

* Made up name, any likeness to real lif is co-incidental. Or is it....