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It's been a very interesting week to be in Orlando. What with IAAPA's Attractions Expo currently being loaded into the Orange County Convention Center.
Photo by Jim Hill
Out in the parking lot, all manner of sample amusement park rides are still being assembled.
While inside the convention center itself, banners are being hung ...
... and exhibits & displays are being assembled on the show floor.
As the OCCC gets ready for the tens of thousands of themed entertainment professionals who -- starting on Tuesday morning -- will begin pouring down these escalators ...
... walking over the miles of red carpet that have been laid down all over this cavernous convention center.
And speaking of red ... Yesterday, I made a special trip over to Disney's Animal Kingdom Park to pay my respects to Big Red and Little Red.
For those of you who don't know: DAK's Kilimanjaro Safaris Expedition has undergone a bit of a freshening-up / facelift over the the past few months. And while this faux safari still gets you ridiculously close to some very real animals like giraffes ...
... white rhinos ...
... and lions.
What's no longer part of this attraction's narrative is that the-poachers-have-taken-Little-Red storyline. And where there was once that not-exactly-satisfying vignette of a live game warden with a machine gun rescuing an Audio Animatronic baby elephant from some pretend poachers, there are now ... Zebras!
Based by the audible reaction on yesterday's safari vehicle (All of these WDW visitors first said "Awww!" in unison and then scrambled for their cameras), I would say that Kilimanjaro Safari's new finale is a hit.
Though -- that said -- I have to say that I felt sorry for the Guests on the safari vehicle right behind us. Given that -- the moment that 4:30 p.m. arrived -- this entire herd of plains zebras got up and headed for this enclosure's back gate. Where dinner was waiting for them in a backstage barn.
This is why I always kind of feel sorry for those Disney World visitors who take those last few Kilimanjaro Safaris of the day. They climb aboard those vehicles, thinking that they're going to get these great sunset shots of DAK's majestic menagerie. But what they get instead is a collection of photographs that then show a bunch of animal butts headed for the back door.
And speaking of things that me feel sad / sorry for other people ... As I was driving down I-4 headed to Walt Disney World, I noticed that they were in the process of tearing down Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede.
This was one of those off-property attractions that I always meant to get around to visiting. I kept hearing from friends that Dixie Stampede was a well themed, fun, high quality mix of food and entertainment. More importantly, that the nightly pig race was not to be missed. So I kept telling myself that the next time I was in Orlando, I had to get over to this 1,086-seat dinner theatre and finally check this attraction out for myself.
But then in January 2008 with little or no warning, Dixie Stampede closed its doors. And while there were rumors for a while that WDW officials were eyeballing the place, possibly as a home for a High School Musical-themed dinner theatre / pep rally experience ... In the end, the 13 acre site that the Dolly Parton place occupied was far too valuable. At least as far as the folks who managed the Orlando Premium Outlets mall were concerned. They needed additional parking & retail space. So out came the backhoes and down went Dixie Stampede.
Which brings me to my final observation for today's story. You want to know how you know that you're dealing with a real Orlando local? When their driving directions include phrases like "It's right across the street from where the Mercado used to be?" Or "Do you remember where the entrance road to Splendid China was? The restaurant that I was telling you about in the plaza right past that."
Which makes me think: How long is it going to be before Orlando locals start describing Lake Buena Vista's Premium Outlets mall as that shopping center which is located right next to where Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede used to be?
So did any of you folks actually get to the Orlando version of Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede during the five-years-or-that this dinner theatre was open? If so, what was the show like? Was it really worth going off-property to see as part of a WDW vacation?
Smart money says count on it becoming a Target. Targets are like the gravestones of failed Orlando attractions. Back half of Splendid China? It's a Target. The parking lot of Boardwalk & Baseball/Circus World? A Target. Across the street from Xanadu, The House of the Future (ironically the house is gone but the sign remains)? There's another Target. That chain is like the theme park grim reaper.
So they finally demolished Dixie Stampede. Sad to see a visual landmark like that go, but I guess it makes sense - it sat empty for way too long. Never went, I'm sorry to say - a Civil War version of Medieval Times never sounded all that appealing to me.
71, if they build a Target on the site, I swear I'll double over laughing; you're absolutely right about Targets being the grave markers of failed Orlando attractions.
Jim, I assume you're in Orlando to provide some breaking news from IAAPA Expo. I've always wondered: Is IAAPA one of those events that a theme park geek would want to try to visit? From IAAPA's descriptions, the convention sounds like it'd be fascinating for someone really interested in the themed entertainment business, between the panels of theme park operators and designers, the "behind the scenes" visits to area parks, and all the exhibitors on the show floor. But trade shows tend to be either an interesting place to learn about an industry or an event where if you're not actually a part of the industry, you're wasting your time; I was curious as to which category you feel the IAAPA Expo would fall into.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Mr. Schneibs! As always, a pleasure to talk with you.
You've kind of nailed IAAPA's Attractions Expo. In this show combines the best & the worst of a theme park as well as the best & the worst of a trade show.
I mean, I've been walking the show floor of the main exhibit hall for the past four hours (From 12 Noon to 2 p.m. I was with Len Testa looking for fodder for a future Unofficial Guide Disney Dish podcast). And I saw some very amazing things. The only problem is that you're the one who has to make all of the connections. As in "If I took that projection system and combined it with that ride system and used animatronic figures from this company and combined it with the interactive technology that this other campany is manufacturing, I'd then have one hell of a ride."
Theme entertainment professional, they can easily do that sort of math. They're the ones who can see all of this raw material which fills the aisles of the Orange County Convention and immediately see all of its potential. Me? After a few hours of the crowds and people constantly shoving things in your hands, with the hope that you're the buyer for some massive theme park conglomerate ... It just gets tiring. Which is why I then have to get off the floor for a while and regroup. Go someplace quiet like the press room for a while and work.
This is why I don't usually do IAAPA every year. Once every two years, once every three years is fine by me. That way, I get to actually appreciate the craziness of the event rather than just get exhausted by it all.
So -- in the long run -- I guess what I'm saying, Mr. Scheibs, is you gotta do it at least once. Cause it's like being inside a theme park that was designed by Fellini. You never experience anything like. Until -- of course -- next year's IAAPA Attractions Expo.