What an amazing week for Southern California theme park enthusiasts! On Thursday, two theme parks opened two major attractions. Universal finally officially opened Transformers the Ride 3D, and SeaWorld San Diego opened Manta. How do they measure up? Were they worth the wait? We'll let you know. We also check up on Disneyland's preparations for summer and follow the last remaining weeks of Cars Land and Buena Vista Street Construction (hint, construction walls are coming down). Finally, with the recent price increases at the Disneyland resort, we thought it would be wise to review all of the pricing for the major theme parks and bring you a breakdown of the best values. You'll be surprised just what you could do in the theme park world for the cost of a single Disneyland Premium Annual Pass. Ready for a whopping week of fun? Let's get to it!

It was a HUGE week for Universal Studios Hollywood as the opening of one of the biggest attractions in years has brought them attention from media around the world. We also have updates on other little projects and news around the resort.

We've been covering construction in the Jurassic Park queue for quite some time. Finally, DINO PLAY: For Kids, has opened. It's a minor thing, but really well done and very cute.

Mind you, this is FOR KIDS. So the adults will have to let Jurassic Park: The Ride suffice.

But if mom and dad have to leave you behind, this is a great place for a kid to spend some time.

This little queue enhancement not only makes the queue more approachable for kids, but it really looks good too.

After 4 weeks of "Technical rehearsal", or soft opening for you Disney folk, Transformers: The Ride 3D officially opened with fanfare, a little pyro, and a few celebrities thrown into the mix on Thursday.

The Bumblebee walk around character is a big hit.

Imagine having to walk around in one of these costumes in the heat of summer.

The king of cinema, Steven Spielberg, was hanging out at the grand opening ceremony.

Optimus Prime chatting up the crowd.

After a taped message from Michael Bay, Director of the Transformers movies, and the arrival of General Moreshower, a staged battle took place that culminated in the opening of the ride.

General Morshower began the ceremony.

"I'm Michael Bay and this @#%! just got real. Thank you."

Then the explosions happened.


You can almost see Optimus Prime.

Larry Kurzweil, President, Universal Hollywood.
He should be happy

While there were many interesting people in attendance, not the least of which was executive producer Steven Speilberg, none of them took the stage during the ceremony. They just stood there. No matter really. The star of this show was the ride itself.

Bumblebee made an appearance

The Allspark

All of the creative and executive teams got first dibs on the ride. The VIP's, celebrities, and then the throngs of press from around the globe were given the green light to head in. We were joined, this week by our friends Doug Barnes from the MiceChat Podcast (and the Season Pass Podcast), Rick West and Johana Atilano from Theme Park Adventure, and Ricky Brigante from Inside the Magic.

The Ride:
As we stated in our initial review of the attraction a few weeks ago, this is one amazing ride. Really. This is one of the most substantial rides to come to California since Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye back in 1995. It's that good.

That is not to say that it is perfect. In fact, I'm not sure that there are any theme park attractions which are perfect or couldn't be made better (even Harry Potter). But they accomplished a lot with this ride and it's a rollicking, fast paced (but not extreme) thrill

Rick West, Doug Barnes, and Johanna Atilano joined the MiceChat crew for a little fun.

The 3D is on par or better than what you see on Star Tours, but on this attraction, the simulator seats 12 and moves on a track with a full range of motion (up, down, dodge, shake, spin), with crisp audio, and an action packed story line which will have you exhausted at the end. Yes, it's as amazing as it sounds.

Official Web Site: Transformers The Ride 3D at Universal Studios Hollywood
Ride Length: about Four minutes long
Height RestrictionsFront of Line: Gate A (Universal's front of line program) and Single Rider line
Track Length: 2000 ft
Top Speed: Simulated speeds up to 60mph

The ride vehicles

Vehicles:Vehicle onboard sound: 5,000 watts of sound, 14 channel audio
Practical Effects:
Strobe, Water, Heat, Fog
HD3D Screens : 14 total, maximum height: 60', front, rear and compound curve screens
Projectors: 34

The queue sets up the storyline of the ride. We strongly suggest waiting in the regular line on your first ride so you don't miss out on anything. You also have the option of Single Rider or Gate A (Universal's front of the line option).

Not only is the queue well themed, it is also quite large and completely temperature controlled (which will be a blessing this summer).

While in the queue, you'll learn that it is a time of extreme danger. The Decepticons are on the attack in pursuit of the "All Spark" that would give them ultimate power. As you might expect from a theme park attraction, you are recruited to help fight the Decepticons and soon find yourself aboard your very own Transformer vehicle to join the fight.

Click for larger, downloadable image.

grab your protective glasses and get in the EVAC

Each vehicle is a roaming flight simulator that darts, spins and careens through practical sets that are perfectly blended with High Definition 3D projections to create an impressive illusion of reality. The attraction fuses rear-projection HD3D screens, practical sets, heat, water and smoke, and flight simulator technology.

As the executives and creative team exited the attraction after the press event, we caught their reactions

Peter Cullen, the voice of Optimus Prime exiting the ride...

and smiling

General Morshower

Chick Russell, Show Producer, Universal Creative, Universal Parks and Resorts.

The First Official Guests:

We were able to catch the first official guests arriving at the attraction in a wave of excitement

And in they went

And the Lower Lot filled with guests

We asked one of the first little boys out of the attraction what he thought, his answer "Freakin' AWESOME!". It's going to be a very good summer for Universal.

In other news the new Mummy Snacks counter has opened.

Transformers aren't the only major new attraction to open this week. SeaWorld built an impressive new ride of their own, the family coaster, Manta. Our reporter, CaptPhoebus, was lucky to be able to ride it multiple times at a press preview on Thursday and it far surpassed his expectations. It's smooth, no more extreme than Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and one of the best themed outdoor roller coasters in a non-Disney park. In fact, we liked the ride so much, we are headed back on Saturday for the official opening.

SeaWorld San Diego has been locked in an epic battle with the coastal commission of California for years. While SeaWorld tries to maintain and build out its theme park, there are a myriad of obstacles they must go through to produce any addition to the park. It is for this reason that the park doesn't hold the collection of thrill rides that its Orlando counterpart contains.

But 2012 is the year that they were finally able to add a substantial coaster to the mix with Manta. This terrain hugging coaster walks the fine line that the local government demands by not being too invasive to the existing sight lines, yet it still packs a substantial punch.

48" Height limit

The Landscaping is far from complete. They were planting all day long while the press and passholder previews were being conducted.

While many of the queue features were still being installed, we were told that the ride itself is at 100%.

The inside of the loading station is beautiful.

We entered the queue and hopped onboard.

The train leaves the station and into the show building, a projection screen tunnel that fully surrounds the vehicle. After "diving" into the water the track actually moves, mimicking the ebb and flow of the ocean current. We are now, Mantas. With that established, the train shoots out of the tunnel and out into the track.


The ride is impressive, with plenty of air time and strong but not extreme G's. This is not a kiddie coaster. It could be described as a very aggressive family coaster.

The Orlando version of the ride is a completely different kind of coaster and quite extreme. The San Diego version is much more tame, but still quite fun. The trademark Manta splashdown makes and appearance (happens along the ride queue).

Now for a little bit of the bad. Manta is not plus-size friendly. At all. Luckily, they do have a sample seat out in front of the attraction so that riders can try the seats on for size. But this may become a real problem as the guidelines are pretty stringent.

Next, they require that you store your bags in a locker, for free, prior to boarding.

This is fine, in fact it is common. But there are currently only 100 lockers available for the entire queue. They have gotten around the issue by allowing what could best be described as a child switch pass for bag holders. One in your party can stand off to the side and hold the bags for the entire party while the rest ride. Then, of course, switch. It's an interesting solution, but we are assured that more lockers are on the way.

The Manta pools were not ready at the time of this review, but we will show you what we saw.

The queue

Looking up into the Manta tank above

Later there were annual pass holder previews being held

Everyone really seemed to enjoy it.

The restrooms still need a little work

There are still incomplete planters and walkways.

Overall we think that SeaWorld has a very positive addition to the park. Manta is a dynamic little zinger of a coaster that may not seem like much at first glance, but it is a heck of a lot of fun. It almost gets us to forget how sad Journey To Atlantis made us. Good job SeaWorld, you have a winner on your hands.

2,800 feet
Maximum Height: 30ft
Highest Drop: 54ft
Top Speed: 43mph
Duration: 2 Minutes
Height Requirement: 48"
4 trains total

Not as exciting as Transformers and Manta, but there have been some long awaited changes at Disneytown Disney in Anaheim.

The tarps came down around La Berea Bakery, revealing the newly expanded Express section and it looks very nice indeed.

On the other end of DownTown Disney, the walls have finally As La Brea Bakery's walls come down, they are going up around the future home of Earl of Sandwich (the old Compass Books).

It's almost too much good news that two affordable restaurants are soon to open in Downtown Disney. We have no doubt they will both be quite popular (they will be with us for sure).

Screens sprang up this week as painting gets underway in the construction area for the rebuilt Carnation Cafe.

The Shootin' expedition remains under refurbishment as well. As you can see, they have replaced the wooden pillars that make up the awning.

The most exciting Disneyland news is that the new bobsleds can be seen careening around the icy slopes of this majestic mountain. Harold hasn't been heard just yet, but we are expecting him very soon.

This attraction looks fabulous!

Al Lutz had warned us that ticket prices were set to go up before Cars Land opening, but none of us expected such a huge jump. Premium Annual Passes went up by $150 (that's an extra $600 for a family of 4).

There's a poll in the MiceChat forums which asks the readers how the increase will impact them. About half have indicated they will need to downgrade their current ticket preference or stop going to the park altogether.

We've got some suggestions for you.

1st, our ticket partner, Discount Tickets and Tours, is offering tickets at the old Disneyland rate for a limited time. That means you can save $20 on a park hopper ticket and up to $150 on a Premium Annual Pass.

2nd, get in for free. The Anabella Hotel and the Carousel Inn and Suites are conducting a contest on MiceChat to give away two 2 night stays plus 4 park hopper tickets so you can see the new Cars Land. So if you've decided that you can no longer afford that ticket to the happiest place on earth, take 2 minutes to enter our contest. Who knows, you might just win! Enter The Road To Cars Land Contest HERE

3rd, and this will be a stretch for some of you, but Southern California is absolutely overflowing with great attractions. However, many Disney fans feel they are being disloyal by visiting other attractions. We say nonsense! Nothing makes Disney more competitive and on their toes than strong competitors. And with the huge twice a year price increases that the Disneyland Resort has been churning out lately, it might just be a good opportunity for you to try out something new.

In fact, for about $300 LESS than the current Disneyland Premium Annual Pass, you could buy a pass to Universal Studios, Knott's Berry Farm, Six Flags AND SeaWorld! That's 4 major attractions with some of the best rides and attractions in the world. And for just a bit more than that, you could add the Discovery Science Center, Getty Center, Long Beach Aquarium, Huntington Gardens, San Diego Zoo and Legoland!

What we are saying is, Disneyland is making it clear that they will be VERY crowded, so crowded that they need to thin the herd of Pass Holders through huge price increases. Sounds like a great opportunity to take some time to explore the riches of Southern California this year. By the time the Cars Land crowds die down, you'll have a new appreciation for just how lucky we are to be right here in beautiful SoCal.

Here are some current ticket prices to the big 4 attractions in the area:

Universal Studios Hollywood

BUY A DAY GET 2012 FREE (admission until the end of the year
Ages 3+ $80.00
12 Month Value Pass (annual pass)

12-Month no blackout pass

12-Month Premium Star Pass
Ages 3+ $169.00 (parking, no blackouts and priority boarding on Studio Tour)

Knott's Berry Farm:
Single Day Regular
Online- $36.99, Gate $57.99

Single Day Jr. Sr.
Online $26.99/ Gate $28.99

2012 Season Pass

2012 Season Pass GOLD
$94.99 (Admission to Knott's Berry Farm and Soak City Water Parks through 2012)

2012 Season Pass GOLD
$165.00 (Admission to Knott's Berry Farm and all Cedar Fair Parks and Soak City Water Parks through 2012, Free Parking)


2012 Season Pass - $61.99

2012 Season pass to Magic Mountain and Hurricane Harbor

XTreme Thrill Pass
$125.00 (Includes parking, discounts and tickets for friends


Single Day Ticket
Adult $73.00
Child $65.00

SeaWorld San Diego 1-Year Silver Pass
$130.00 (includes parking)

SeaWorld San Diego 2-Year Silver Pass
$190.00 (includes parking)

And just so you won't feel all alone out there in all those other parks, MiceChat will be scheduling a series of events in parks and attractions all over Southern California this year. Please be sure to sign up for our Events Newsletter so you don't miss out. Of course, we'll keep you up to date right here in this column as well!

Knott's is the odd man out this summer without a major new attraction opening. However since their big ride of last year was delayed until after the summer season, Windseeker is really still their new ride. Plus, a full slate of summer entertainment and new walk around character actors in Ghost Town and lots of improvements everywhere. In many ways, Knott's is the value leader in SoCal. You can get a season pass to Knott's for about half the cost of a one day park hopper into Disneyland.

As we entered the park this week, we encountered more employee training groups. They were being taught the history of the Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner and what it means to the park. This is excellent! Real history training at Knott's Berry Farm. We are thrilled with the changes which have recently been made at this park (for the most part).


Knott's Berry farm is under some intense pressure from the fans this year (us included) for Haunt. Why? Because it will be Knott's Scary Farm's 40th Anniversary. But if you want more information from them you'll have to visit their KSF Facebook page and give them a like. Once they reach 10,040 likes, they will begin sharing more info! We are dying to know what they have planned, so please GO LIKE THEM HERE!


Save the Date! Saturday, September 22nd

Yes, it's a little bit early. But we would like to give all of our Halloween Haunt fans the first heads up. The MiceChat Knott's Scary Farm Halloween Haunt event this year will be on September 22nd.

This is a very special year as it will be the 40th Anniversary of Halloween Haunt and Knott's has already promised a frightful evening of fun for our group.

Save the day for some spooky fun!

The preparation for the infectiously adorable Snoopy's Starlight Spectacular are underway. The wonderful, nighttime lighting event opens in June.

Montezuma has returned to revenging once again.

The shop in Fiesta Village opened after refurbishment. It seems a little barren right now, but we are sure they will fill it up.

Perilous Plunge is currently down for refurbishment.

Though we wish they'd just remove it. It takes up so much space for a ride which delivers so little thrill for a very long wait.

Xcelerator is also down for refurbishment. The Red train is getting a complete overhaul and the restrooms near the entrance are getting some attention as well.

The new entrance to the restrooms in Ghost town is now open. It is now fully wheel chair accessible.

In other news, the water pump has returned to Main Street, but is slightly different and more authentic than the one they place here earlier in the year.

As we visit Ghost Town each week we can't help but notice the bizarre pop music they are playing in the area. The refurbishments are great, but Knott's PLEASE change the music. This is the listing of pop tunes we heard in this western setting.

There's SO much right that's going on at Knott's, but this music really takes the wind out of our sails. Come on Knott's, fix the music and you'll earn lots of loyal new fans. Who's willing to take the MiceChat pledge? If Knott's fixes the Ghost Town music, we'll reward them by buying annual passes. Who's with us!?!

Here we are at Buena Vista Street. The new heart of the park. The first guests will get previews of the area in just a couple weeks. But, we'll all get an early look at the center piece for the park as the walls have finally come down around the Carthay Circle Theater. And the walls around the fountain will be down by the time this article goes to print. We'll grab photos of that and upload to MiceChat as quickly as possible.

Planters just to the left of the entrance will be unveiled soon.

From the center of Buena Vista Street Looking towards the gates

Oswald's Gas Station in the far right

From the center of Buena Vista Street looking towards the Carthay Circle Theater

Lots of new details like this stained glass window at the Cafe.

News Boys will be handing out free copies of the Buena Vista Bugle - they will also burst into song and dance a la Newsies. This harkens back to the early days of Main Street USA when papers were sold to guest. They are really going all out to make Buena Vista Street a really amazing experience with street actors, entertainment and interactivity. We can't wait to see more.

The big news this week was the removal of the construction walls from around the Carthay Circle Theater. The detail that is on display here is remarkable and beautiful. The design has real substance and lends the much needed sense of place that the golden hubcap never could, even when the special reflective mirrors WERE working properly.

The cast costumes look great!

Walt Disney introduced Snow White to the world in this theater on December 21, 1937.

The prices are similar to Blue Bayou

The only odd thing is the placement of the lettering on the sign. Is it meant to say "Carthay Premiere and Circle Cuisine" or "Carthay Circle and Premiere Cuisine"? It just looks a bit off. The side panels are blank, so we assume that some signage is still on the way.


Entering Hollywood Land, we see that one of the former pedestals has a new paint job which deemphasizes the Egyptian details.

This morning, Friday, May 25th, Disney removed the walls surrounding the fountain in front of the theater.

For more pics of the fountain visit this thread here. NEW FOUNTAIN PICS from Buena Vista Street

Mad T Party:

The design rule for the Mad T Party seems to be, "More is More". While this is probably going to look wonderful at night, it is a remarkable eyesore during the day. Still, Al Lutz reported that a soft opening should happen this evening for the night time party. So, if you are at the park, stop by and see if there is a party in the rabbit hole.

The giant clock contains a video screen. The arches have misters in them which will create a sort of projection screen. Should be a whimsical effect.

The stage lanterns.

The stage is done (and looks like the Mad Hatter's table).

The House of Cards bar and stage

And just behind the house of cards is the arcade

The food truck now sports a "Fuze" logo.

And the real reason for the Mad T Party . . . alcohol sales.

Cars Land looks pretty much finished and there is actually plenty of good buzz about both Radiator Springs Racers and Mater's Junkyard Jamboree. In fact, one early rider told us that "Mater's was WAY more awesome of a ride than I thought it was going to be." The trouble child is Luigi's Flying Tires. Let's hope that they can find a way to help guests figure out how it works so they can enjoy it on the first try.

Fast Pass location for Radiator Springs Racers still under construction next to It's Tough To Be A Bug.

As we look down the main strip of Cars Land, we see nearly everything looks to be in place.

Just a final few touches.

Luigi's Flying Tires:
We caught Luigi's without the beach balls this time.

Cozy Cone Cafe:
The details from the Cozy Cone Cafe continue to beguile.

Radiator Springs Racers:
We happened to catch Radiator Springs Racers in a rare dormant state this week with no vehicle testing happening.

The Ghirardelli facade is almost fully visible now.

Cars Land Special Events
If you are willing to pay $50-$75 you can get into Cars Land for a few hours on June 9th and 10th. And if you have $500 you can dine in the new Carthay Circle restaurant (ouch). Tickets appear to still be available.

The morning spots cost $50 and there is a $75 opportunity in the evening to see Cars Land AND a special performance of World of Color. Are you going to BRAVE it?

How can you get into the event on the 9th and 10th? Visit this link: Disneyland Just Got Happier

If the Disneyland Passholder tickets sell out, check with D23, they'll have a limited number of tickets available for the event today as well at the same prices for all of the options.

And don't miss this week's MICECHATTER Video with Sara Snitch on the MiceTube. She's really excited about the recent changes at the Disneyland Resort. So much so, that she changed her hair for the occasion.

Imagineer, Steve Davison (of Haunted Mansion Holiday, World of Color, fabulous fireworks and parades), does a lot more than design night time extravaganzas. He also stages some pretty amazing choir performances in Long Beach. His latest creation is called The Sound of Muzak.

Poor Maria! All her life she's dreamed of being a lounge singer in Reno, but growing up in a failing convent-turned-mall run by the Sisters isn't as fabulous as she would like. She receives a new lease on life (and a reprieve from the hot-dog-on-a-stick cart) when she goes to assist the owner of the mall daycare manage unruly children. Will Maria find love or will she receive the calling? Will the Sisters save the mall or will they lose their home to a certain goose-stepping jeweler? These questions (and more) will be answered when SCC presents "The Sounds of Muzak.

We'll be there. How can we resist with a description like that?!

Tickets are already available here.

Today's In The Parks Update Has Been Brought To You By The WONDERFUL Folks At . . .

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Contact the Carousel today, and for the lowest rates, be sure to tell them MiceChat sent you.

Call: 1(800)854-6767 to book your stay today!

Don't miss their special MiceChat contest this week, which gives away a two night stay and 4 park hopper tickets which may have you zooming into Cars Land at the Disneyland Resort! Sign up HERE!

We'd like to extend a huge thanks to this week's contributors CaptPhoebus, Fishbulb and Dustysage. (If you've got breaking news or photos to share, we'd love to hear from you too! Contact Dusty today

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Wherever you go and whatever you do this weekend, we hope you have a wonderful time. We'll see you In The Parks . . .