Twenty years ago today, I registered the domain ThemeParkInsider.com. Over the past two decades, I have been honored to bring you coverage and commentary about top theme parks and attractions around the world. To celebrate our anniversary today, I would like to present links to 20 of my favorite Theme Park Insider posts from the past 20 years.
What became Theme Park Insider actually started a year before I registered the domain, as a rating-and-reviews feature called "The Interactive Guide to Disney Attractions" on my personal website. Think of it as Yelp for theme parks, years before Yelp was a thing. After I added the Universal theme parks, I decided I needed a more inclusive, and less clunky, name for the project, as well as its own website home. And thus, Theme Park Insider was born.
Along the way, we became the first publication to win a major journalism award for a crowd-sourced reporting project, when our old Accident Watch feature won an Online Journalism Award from the Online News Association and Columbia Graduate School of Journalism in 2001. The Webby Awards honored us as a finalist and official honoree in 2005 and 2006.
But the bulk of today's selections first ran after I went full-time working on Theme Park Insider in 2012. In selecting these 20 posts for today's anniversary, I chose not to include any posts that I previously included in Stories from a Theme Park Insider, my book about working at the Walt Disney World Resort. But if you would like to see those... well, keep reading, because I have a special birthday surprise for some readers that I will tell you about at the end of this article.
Beyond those posts, though, I wanted in this list to offer a representative sample of the breadth of work that we publish here on Theme Park Insider, from ride and restaurant reviews, to travel planning advice, to insider interviews and perspective. I hope that you will tap through to read each of these pieces and might share a few with friends and co-workers, as well. It's your support that has enabled Theme Park Insider to keep publishing for 20 years and, I hope, for many more years to come.
In more or less chronological order, here we go....
Sometimes, we expand our focus beyond theme parks. In this post, I wrote about my experience as a contestant on the game show, Jeopardy!, including my detailed advice for would-be contestants. Even if you'll never share the stage with Alex Trebek, I hope you'll find this an interesting "insider" look at what it's like to be on one of America's most enduring game shows.
One of my favorite parts of running this site is getting to talk with so many of the artists who have created beloved attractions around the world. One of our first interviews was a crowd-sourced conversation with a now-longtime friend of Theme Park Insider - Dave Cobb. Dave not only headed up the "Men in Black" project at Universal Studios Florida, he went on to lead the design team for Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi, which won our Theme Park Insider Award as the world's best theme park right after it opened.
Our most ambitious interview project was one I completed this spring, to commemorate June's 10th anniversary of the opening of the original The Wizarding World of Harry Potter land at Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure. This is an oral history of the land's opening day, as told by Universal team members and Harry Potter cast members who were there.
What Disney can and cannot do with its Marvel characters has fueled debate on the site ever since Disney bought the comic book company. To ground that debate in facts rather than speculation, I went into federal financial records to show fans the details of legal agreements involving Marvel, Universal, DC, and Six Flags.
When I worked at the Magic Kingdom, accommodating people with disabilities was simple. If you saw someone in a wheelchair, you sent their party to the attraction exit to get on the ride or into the show. The idea was to keep wheelchairs from getting stuck in switchback queues. But that policy wasn't sustainable, as I explained in this post - one of many times we've tried to explain the "why" behind operational changes in the parks.
Epcot long has been the outlier among the world's top theme parks. Based more upon World's Fairs than Magic Kingdoms, Epcot's themes have been non-fiction... or at least, they were until Disney started loading the park with its franchise IP. But people need to hear engaging stories from real life as well as fantasy.
Each of us should be so lucky in life as to have someone love us the way that James Koehl loves Cedar Point. In this post, James walks us through a section of the park too often overlooked by fans rushing to get to the next record-setting coaster.
I can't remember the last time I played a midway game in a theme park. But if parks didn't make money from people playing their games, they wouldn't keep offering so many of them. If you are going to play, you might as well play smart - and that's what you can learn to do in this detailed "how to" post.
A site called "Theme Park Insider" should take you places where most fans never get the chance to visit. And there might be no more exclusive destination at the Walt Disney World Resort that the chef's table at the award-winning Victoria and Albert's restaurant. Russell Meyer has written some of the best articles we've ever published on Theme Park Insider, including his insightful coverage of so many roller coaster debuts. But I also love his restaurant reviews, so I simply had to include this one on our anniversary list.
We've published many front-page trip reports over the years, including multi-page reports on parks from Tokyo to Singapore to the UAE to Paris. But even though this one's "just" from Disney World, it stands out for me as an essay on the importance of storytelling.
Trip planning advice might be the heart of Theme Park Insider. Running a website allows you to work from anywhere, and before Covid hit, "anywhere" during the summer months for me was often a cross-country roadtrip. If you're in love with the idea of driving from coast to coast, this post can help you make that dream reality... without seeing it morph into a logistical nightmare.
Sometimes, writing reviews can be as much fun as going on the rides themselves. I had a lot of fun with this one, in which I included some great "insider" voices from video interviews with the ride's creators.
My undergrad degree was in statistics, so I'm not afraid of data. But it didn't take much skill with numbers to find the story in 10 years of reported attendance data from America's top theme parks - just the ability to sort by percentage change. The result provides more evidence that storytelling is king in this industry.
Many dedicated theme park fans come here to learn more about the design and operation of the parks they love. In this post, I write about best practices for keeping a park's rides and shows running... while keeping guests happy.
This one takes a deep dive into age demographics to help readers see why theme parks change their product line-up. As the audience changes, parks have to change what they offer to stay relevant.
One of the buzzwords in modern urban planning is "walkability." Why does that matter to theme park fans? Because great theme park design reflects the best of urban design principles. Here's how Universal Orlando got it right - and how that success has bought the resort an opportunity to blow it in the future.
No one cares what some random person on the Internet thinks about a new theme park ride. So when I write a review, I try to focus on providing context that helps a reader understand a new attraction rather than a simplistic "love it" or "hate it." And I try to make the review itself an entertaining and engaging story, too. By those standards, this might be my favorite new-ride review that I've written in 20 years doing this site.
Criticism isn't just for new attractions. As time passes and audiences change, we need to check in with old favorites - and look with fresh eyes - to see how they hold up. I understand why Disney has chosen to back off its plans to change Epcot's Spaceship Earth, at least for now. With the pandemic costing the company billions in lost revenue, it just doesn't make sense to go ahead with every plan the company had announced. But I hope that Disney does not abandon its plans for a Spaceship Earth rewrite, for all the reasons I detail here.
The perspective of time provides a unifying theme for the final three posts on this list. Natalie Niles takes a roadtrip out to the Salton Sea to show us how Mother Nature shows little patience for poor destination design. Which leads us to our final post on the list...
This summer will not soon be omitted from history books. What we do now will be judged by future generations, not forgotten. I wrote this post before Disney announced its plans to retheme its Splash Mountain flume rides. Frankly, I was lobbying for that change, after what I believe to be trial balloons from Disney blew up fans' social media feeds. With an audience of millions of fans, theme parks are creative leaders in this world. Why not, then, use that leadership to change and improve the parks to the benefit of all - providing an example to inspire leaders around the world to change and improve their communities, too?
So there you go. Twenty articles to celebrate 20 years of what I have tried to do to help improve readers' lives - in whatever small way I can - with better trip planning advice, insight, and inspiration. I hope that you have enjoyed whatever time you've spent with us here and will continue to share your time with Theme Park Insider in the years to come.
And, oh yes, that birthday surprise? To thank you for 20 years of support for Theme Park Insider, I am giving away 20 signed copies of Stories from a Theme Park Insider. To enter to win, just register for our email newsletter and respond to this post. Or share this post on Twitter, tagging @ThemePark. I'll pick 20 readers at random this weekend from among the eligible responses and Twitter posts. (You also must have a U.S. postal address to be eligible, due to book shipping costs.)
As always, thank you for reading.
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