June 03, 2011
On Site: Disneyland's Soundsational Summer Begins
Disneyland holds a lot of personal memories for me. Growing up in Southern California, it was an annual family vacation spot. Every year, we would travel to Disneyland to take in the same familiar rides, sights and sounds. But what's always struck me about Disneyland is that while many things are still the same as I remember them to be, they're also different, too.
Those differences can be attributed to the fact that the theme park is always changing and improving, and this year is no different. This month, Disneyland Resort is welcoming two new major rides and a brand-new parade, in addition to making improvements to the historic Disneyland Hotel and overhauling the Disney California Adventure Park.
Today, Travel Agent attended the opening ceremony of The Little Mermaid - Ariel's Undersea Adventure. This "dark ride," which is located in Disney California Advenuture Park, takes guests through the world of Ariel from Disney's "The Little Mermaid," infusing the film's famed musical score and numbers throughout the ride. To celebrate the opening of the ride, Disney Parks & Resorts Chairman Tom Staggs welcomed the film's composer, Alan Menken, to the stage, as well as Jodi Benson, the original voice of the film's main character. Benson performed "Part of Your World" for more than 250 journalists who were in attendance to cover the grand opening.
Just before the Memorial Day weekend, Disneyland also welcomed its newest parade, Mickey's Soundsational Parade. The parade featured nine themed units, all with an emphasis on melodies and dance performances inspired by some of Disney's most popular films, from "The Lion King" to "Mary Poppins."
Tomorrow marks the official grand reopening of the Star Tours motion simulator ride in Disneyland's Tomorrowland. The ride has been updated with new storylines--more than 50 different onces to be exact--and now features eye-pooping 3-D technology.
Tomorrow is also when we'll get a recap stratight from Disney executives about all of the company's new projects--including the makeover of Disney California Adventure Park (expected for completion in April 2012), the debut of Aulani, A Disney Resort on Oahu in August and much more.
By: Deanna Ting
February 07, 2011
Wizarding Whimsy: On Location at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Okay, I'll come clean. I am a die-hard Harry Potter fan. I've read all the books (multiple times), seen all the movies (multiple times) and I'll stop right there before I embarrass myself further. So when last summer I heard about the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios, I knew it would only be a matter of time before I was riding on Hippogriffs and swilling butter beer, all donning a wizard's cap. (Okay, I'm not that bad, but I hope I've created a nice picture for you.)
In September my family suffered the loss of my grandmother, and in the spirit of bringing the family closer together, my cousins and I decided to make a pilgrimage to Orlando and finally embrace the magic. Just back from the highly anticipated trip, I can say with certainty that a vacation to theme park is one that is sure to please your clients young and old and is a genuine feel-good, family vacation.
Where to Stay
I suggest staying at one of Universal Studios' three Loews hotels, including the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, the Loews Royal Pacific Resort and the Hard Rock Hotel. Each of the three is within walking distance to Universal Studios and Universal Studios' Islands of Adventure and CityWalk. What's more, guests of these resorts can use their key cards to jump the long lines at the majority of the rides in the parks. Note: Key cards may not be used to cut the line at Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey or Universal Studios' Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit roller coaster.
We stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel in a Deluxe Room. All of the 650 guest rooms (including 29 suites) have 32 inch HD flat screen televisions, wireless internet, Keurig coffee makers. The resort is also home to six food and beverage outlets, and is the closest to the parks.
The Magic Begins
Like anything that receives so much publicity, the first question to ask is 'will this live up to the hype?' In short, yes. Walking into the Wizarding World went way beyond walking onto the set of the movie - it was like we were actually there.
The journey starts in Hogsmeade, where your clients will find replicas of all the beloved shops mentioned in the books, from the Hogwart's Express to Honeydukes to Olivander's. The buildings (some with sweetly crooked chimneys for that whimsical effect) stand on cobblestone streets lined with butter beer carts. Nice touch: Not a single detail was spared. Moaning Myrtle even makes an appearance in the public restroom.
At the top of the street sits Hogwarts, the main event, and home to the attraction that started all the buzz - Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. I highly recommend visiting this ride in the evening, because it is nearly impossible to even move in the area during the day time. According to a receptionist at the Hard Rock, January is typically the slowest month, but thanks to Harry Potter, the resort was completely sold out when we visited in early January. As a nice treat, during the evening the castle's windows are illuminated and the waiting area is aglow with lanterns. It's easy to believe in the magic.
Your clients won't mind the long wait to get onto the ride, as the designers of the attraction have created it so that you wind your way through the castle. Here, paintings come alive just like in the books, and characters appear through very realistic hologram effects. When you finally do get to the ride itself, you feel as if you have been on it the whole time.
I don't want to ruin all of the fun, so I'll leave the surprises of the ride up to your clients to find out. But let me just say that it is a whirl and twist of 3D special effects, IMAX-style images and some other turns that will leave them lining up for more. Personally, I jumped on that line another three more times. Note: For your clients who are above the ages of 21, like my cousins and myself, there are several beer carts located throughout the World and on the line leading up to the castle, for a little adult refreshment.
Universal After Dark
After a trip (or two or three) on the rides, head out of the parks to Universal Studios' CityWalk for a little late night fun. The flurry of restaurants and bars was the perfect way for my adult cousins and myself to unwind after a day running around with scores of high-pitched kids (yes the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is fantastic, but it is still a theme park).
After a few Coronas and a spicy Mahi Mahi at Latin Quarter, we were ready for after hours when the restaurant transforms into a nightclub.
Who to Sell to
Yes, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is most definitely a family attraction, and is best sold to your typical family traveler. But if you know how to combine the fun and nostalgia of childhood fantasy with the right hotel, good restaurants and late night revelry, this can be a perfect sell to the over 21 crowd. For the record, not one of my cousins is under 21, and we will definitely be going back for another helping.
October 27, 2008
Resorts World at Sentosa
When attendees gathered at last week’s ITB Asia in Singapore, there was a pair of integrated resort projects that came up in conversation time and again— one was Marina Bay Sands and the other was Resorts World at Sentosa. Singapore’s Sentosa Island is only minutes away from the city and is seamlessly accessed via a causeway. The new Resorts World Sentosa project will cover 49 hectares of the 500 hectare CONVERT Sentosa Island. When it opens in early 2010, Resorts World at Sentosa will dominate Singapore’s leisure offerings, and will be especially appealing for families, offering a combination of theme parks, hotels, casino gaming, a spa and an assortment of shops and dining venues.
An artist's rendering of Resorts World at Sentosa
“Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World at Sentosa are both integrated resorts,” said Robin Goh, assistant vice president of communications, Resorts World at Sentosa. “The difference between them is Marina Bay Sands is a MICE hotel while Resorts World at Sentosa is a family destination and attraction that is without parallel in this part of the world.”
Half of Resorts World at Sentosa will be taken up by Universal Studios Singapore, which will have 24 rides and attractions, with 18 of these being either brand new or newly designed for Singapore. The big news is the Transformers attraction, which is debuting at Universals Studio Singapore.
The resort will also have Marine Life Park, the largest oceanarium in the world, according to Goh. The park will have 700,000 marine creatures and 20 million gallons of water. There will also be a “wet experience” feature which allows guest to have an up-close experience feeding tiger sharks.
“We’re a casino resort with family attractions,” said Goh. “Our goal is 15 million visitors in the first year— 8 to 9 million of these will be tourists.”
The resort will have six hotels with a combined room count of 1,800 rooms and suites.
The two major hotels are Hotel Michael, which is designed by celebrated architect Michael Graves, and Maxims Residences, where the resort’s casino will be located. Both hotels will be very high-end. Rounding out the hotel offerings are the Equarius Hotel, a good recommendation for nature lovers, the Festive Hotel, a good match for families, and ESPA Villas, where the resort’s spa will be located.
An artist's rendering of Hotel Michael and Maxim's Residences at Resort World at Sentosa
“Resorts World at Sentosa is not a phased opening, although the spa villas and Equarius will probably open for business three months after the official opening,” said Goh.
The casino will be one of two legalized casinos in Singapore. A government bill was passed that requires Singapore citizens to pay $100 to enter the casinos, a bid to discourage problem gambling among locals. “It may sound Draconian, but it’s a safeguard,” said Goh.
Additional attractions at the resort include the interactive maritime Xperiential Museum, which chronicles the history of the maritime Silk Route; ESPA, a destination spa and wellness retreat that will be the first ESPA destination spa on its own and not part of a hotel; the Festive Walk, a promenade lined with shops and restaurants; and La Vie— the Magic of Life, a theatrical production created by Mark Fisher (stage designer of the Las Vegas production "Ka") that can only be seen at Resorts World at Sentosa and the Equarius Water Park.
The resort can host 35,000 delegates for meetings at any one time, and 7,300 can be seated in the largest ballroom. Since 20 percent of business travelers bring their families with them to Singapore, the new resort should have tremendous appeal.
By: Mark Rogers
August 25, 2008
MS Europa: Copenhagen
Travel Agent’s Dave Eisen is sailing aboard the MS Europa this week.
Copenhagen’s cruise port is within walking distance from the center of the city, which is nice when you don’t have a single krone in your pocket (I recommend older cruise passengers splurge on a taxi; most of the cruise lines also offer free shuttles). The walk is about 20 minutes, but there are many attractions to see on your way. For instance, the Little Mermaid statue is one of Copenhagen’s favorite sites and a character in a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. Regular sites within Copenhagen conjure images of a different time, from the postmen in bright red jackets to the horde of cycling commuters.
Once inside the city, our first stop was Amalienborg Palace, home of the royal family. Our favorite part about the visit: watching a palace sentry shoo away an unsuspecting tourist who got a little too close to a restricted area.
From there, we walked the many cobblestone streets, taking in the magnificent architecture that survived the bombing campaigns of World War II. Before leaving, everyone who had been to Copenhagen told me to visit Tivoli Gardens, situated across the street from Radhuspladsen, the city’s town square, which attracts many tourists.
Tivoli Gardens costs about $17 per person to enter and, while striking and well-maintained, is truly meant for children more than for adults. There are many rides and novelty stores— it’s reminiscent of a Busch Gardens, but on a smaller level. Myself? I was suspecting well-manicured gardens, waterways and colorful flower beds. What we got was a slimmed down amusement park. Oddly, there was one building of slot machines, which, because our ship is non-gambling, gave us pause. Ultimately, the stench of stale cigarette smoke mixed with despair prompted our quick exit.
Lunch was now a top priority. When in Copenhagen you have to try a smorrebrod, or open sandwich. You can choose from salmon, eel, shrimp, steak herring, roast beef or other delicacies. My American tastes steered me toward salami. Note: I don’t know whether it was the August weather (comfortable at around 68 degrees) or the Carlsberg draft (Carlsberg is Denmark’s national beer and a tour of the Carlsberg Brewery is a sought-out excursion), but we were swarmed by bees while sitting outside the café. I wouldn’t make it a point if it wasn’t egregious. Just know if it ever happens to you, it’s not an aberration.
After lunch, we walked Holmens Kanal and its beautiful stretch of canal houses. Canals wind their way through much of Copenhagen, albeit on a smaller scale than that of Amsterdam or Venice. Another must stop is the Christiansborg Palace, once the home of the royal family and now that of the Danish Parliament.
We took the circuitous route back to the ship and happily stumbled upon the botanical gardens, which actually is what I went in thinking Tivoli Gardens was (silly me!). It reminded my traveling companion of Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and is perfect for idling afternoon walks.
Copenhagen is an enchanting Scandinavian city with narrow secluded streets, small unassuming shops and an array of stuccoed houses, which gives it a very fairytale-like atmosphere, perfect for the birthplace of the famed children’s writer, Andersen, mentioned previously.
Tomorrow: Tallin, Estonia.
See more of the Copenhagen region in the video below:
By: David Eisen