Theme Park Ranger
9:02 AM EST, December 27, 2012
Here are my picks for the best happenings at theme parks and attractions for 2012.
•Best new costumes: Storybook Circus, Magic Kingdom. Step right up and see the red, ringmaster-inspired costumes — complete with tails — that fit the color scheme and theme of the New Fantasyland subsection.
•Best (and biggest) costume change: Diana Ross, Mardi Gras concert, Universal Studios. The legendary singer found ways to keep warm last winter, including a gown that made a grand entrance for her finale. That dress may — or may not — have had its own airplane seat, rumor has it.
•Best rehabs: Test Track at Epcot and the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man at Islands of Adventure. The freshly re-Imagineered car attraction brings "Tron" to mind and pushes out memories of its old cacophonous pre-show. Spidey got a quick, high-def face-lift, which especially is notable in skin tones and other fine details of the attraction's film.
•Best reimagining of a grassy knoll: Hollywood Drive-In Golf, Universal CityWalk. They put 36 holes of mini-golf in the shadow of the moving sidewalk. Whodathunk?
•Best way to shake the snot out of you: Rattlesnake, Florida Eco-Safaris. This new zip line has its ups and downs by design. It swings, sways and may alter your swagger.
•Best big, scary, virtual bird award: TurtleTrek, SeaWorld Orlando. This 3-D, domed theater presentation demonstrates that it's tough to be a turtle, especially if you've just come out of your shell and a giant aerial predator attacks.
•Best surprise: Enchanted Tales with Belle, Magic Kingdom. Sure, it's princess-y, but appearances by impressive Audio-Animatronics Lumiere and Madame Wardrobe, performances by guests and even Belle's big dress that moves just so, put some fascination in New Fantasyland.
•Best use of charming orphans and fruit smells: Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, Universal Studios. I didn't really care about those sisters … and then I did.
•Best Halloween Horror Nights costumes: Gargoyles, Universal Studios. Head-to-curled-toe ensembles worked in dark and in light of day backstage.
•Best use of Force: "Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination" at Orlando Science Center and Star Wars Miniland at Legoland Florida. There were Skywalkers at every turn this year in Central Florida, and these two attractions caught the fear and the fancy of the franchise.
•Best animal acts caught on video: (Tie) Falling horse at Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, scampering squirrel on monorail track, Magic Kingdom. Citizen journalists caused a stir with YouTube postings of animals in peril. None were hurt in the writing of this column.
•Best semi-submerged attraction: Freshwater Oasis, Discovery Cove. The seating area is like a mod, South Beach sunken living room, where a zillionaire holds court and shows off his otters and marmosets.
•Best way to annoy me with punctuation in an attraction name: Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid, Magic Kingdom. Dear Walt Disney Co., it's just not acceptable to use a tilde as a swirly in a name. SeaWorld, don't get any ideas about Antarctica ~ Empire of the Penguin. (At least we're spared exclamation points!!!)
•Best bummer: Jaws, Universal Studios. The ride closed in January, and Amity became a construction site (see below). Runner-up: The demolition of Dixie Stampede.
•Best blankest expression from Disney fans: Snow White's Scary Adventures, Magic Kingdom. One of the original Disney World attractions was closed, and it happened without much outrage.
•Best rumor still not confirmed as fact: Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Part 2, Universal Studios. It's been more than a year since Universal Orlando said there was more Wizarding World coming our way. It was short on details. It's still short on details. Although everyone "knows" that the construction atop the old Jaws ride is the sequel, set in London, featuring a Gringotts ride, opening in 2014 or 2015. Or is it?
•Best recurring rumor-mill subjects: Death of Avatarland, Disney's Animal Kingdom; birth of Cars Land (or, hey, what about Star Wars Land?) at Disney's Hollywood Studios. Likewise, Disney has been somewhat mute about Avatar, although officially it still gets nods. So naturally, that's the one that rumormongers think is dead in the water. Cars Land, hatched this year at Disney California Adventure to positive reviews, has its fans. Is it just wishful thinking?
Time, or perhaps 2013, will tell.
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