Robert Niles is the founder and editor of Theme Park Insider, a Web site for theme park vacations. He’s a former Walt Disney World attractions host, trainer and lead and has worked as a staff writer, editor and Web site producer at the Los Angeles Times and the Rocky Mountain News. I asked him to share his summer theme park tips.
Q: What are some of the best theme park deals available now?
Niles: I think Universal Orlando’s got the best vacation deals going. You can get seven days at their two theme parks for just $99. And if you stay at one of their three on-site hotels, you get unlimited front of the line access on almost all of their theme park rides and shows.
I tried this deal for the first time last summer, and it changed the way I thought about theme parks. Having the ability to come and go as you please, with no thought about how crowded the park was at a given hour, made it the most relaxing and enjoyable theme park trip I’d ever taken. Universal’s also discounting those three hotels this year, too, with room-night discounts up to 40 percent.
For day trips, I’m hearing many of our readers rave about Holiday World, an amusement park in the delightfully names Santa Claus, Ind. It’s about an hour west of Louisville. The park what might be the best collection of wooden roller coasters in the country, and one-day tickets are just $36 online. But the best part is… the park offers unlimited free soft drinks and sunscreen. I think that’s the most creative deal I’ve seen anywhere.
Q: There are a number of new attractions that opened at theme parks this summer. In your opinion, which one is the most impressive — and why? Which one has impressed you the least?
Niles: Our readers voted Manta as the country’s best new attraction this year, with runner-up honors going to Prowler, a new wooden roller coaster at Worlds of Fun in Kansas City.
Manta’s a “flying coaster” from Swiss designers Bolliger & Mabilliard, the best in the business right now at building coasters. Hard-core coaster fans rave about the back rows, where you’ll much stronger G-forces than in the front. But even coaster novices love the coaster’s smooth ride and great waiting area – and underwater cavern filled with all kinds of marine life.
I’m also a big fan of Universal Hollywood’s Creature from the Black Lagoon show and I know that many fans are eagerly awaiting Universal Florida’s upcoming Hollywood Rip Ride and Rockit coaster, where riders will be able to choose their own on-ride music. Unfortunately, that ride was supposed to debut this spring, but it remains MIA as of early July. That makes it this year’s least impressive showing, so far.
Q: You offer reader reviews on your Web site. Is there anything about the write-ups that have surprised you, in terms of what people like and dislike?
Niles: It’s amazing to discover the variety of theme park fans out there — there are people at one extreme who just stick with anything Disney, and folks at the other who just love roller coasters and nothing else. You might think that theme park fans would be a friendly lot — and for the most part, they are — but some fan groups from various parks will just rip on fans from other parks if you give ’em the chance.