22 November, 2013

How the Rattlers can be Successfull in Rochester

The Major League Lacrosse schedule was released today, and for now, I was a little surprised to see the Rattlers were still on the schedule, and that their home games would still be in Rochester. There was a new team and a former city is now dark, but the relocated team was not the Rattlers (Hamilton will now be playing as the Florida Launch).

The Rattlers have never been a strong draw in Rochester, despite being an original team in the MLL, and having won a championship in 2008. For some reason, they can't draw as well as their indoor counterparts, the Knighthawks. The location of the stadium is a cop-out in my book. Sure it's not in the best part of town.. but there are a lot worse places, and I have never heard of anyone having an issue at or around a game.

The team moved to Toronto then Hamilton the year after their championship season. A few years later, the struggling Chicago Machine relocated to Rochester a few years later.

Except for Denver, Boston and Chesapeake, who each averaged over 8k attendance per home game last year, the league overall doesn't draw well. The league average last year was just over 5k with only 3 of the 8 teams in the league over 4k. Most teams are closer to the 3k range. Rochester was under 2k last year. Part of the reason the numbers were so low were inconvenient times of the home games, and having 'home' games down south. What can be done to boost them back to the 3k+ that they were at last the season before, or even push it into the Denver/Boston range? The question may be better than the answer.

In my experience, most people know who the Knighthawks are, but few but the diehard lacrosse fans know who the Rattlers are. Part of that is that the Hawks have been in town for 20 years, and have won multiple championships, including the last 2. The Rattlers have played in 11 of the last 13 years. They have had 3 venues that they have called their 'home field'. They started in Frontier Field. This was not a good fit, so they moved to Bishop Kearney. When Sahlen Stadium, (then Paetec Park) opened in 2006, they called it home. 

Let me start off by saying I have no sports marketing experience. I have no idea what kind of money the suggestions I have will cost. I am just a season ticket holder who doesn't want to see the Rattlers leave town again, because if they do, they probably won't ever be back. Many of my ideas are probably not feasible, I am just kind of spit-balling here.

What can they do to grow exposure? I think that regionalizing the team would be a good place to start. Work with the success of the Syracuse Orange and other local colleges. Maybe have 1 game a year in the Carrier Dome. Especially with 6 former Orange on the roster, not to mention the 3 former Hobart Statesmen and lone RIT Tiger. 

Another direction to expand to is to reach out to local high schools. Many high school coaches are hesitant to encourage their players to watch the indoor game because off the many differences, but they shouldn't have the same trepidations with the outdoor game. There are some minor differences (2 point line and the shot clock being the two big ones), but it is basically the same game. 

I know that the NLL and MLL are separate entities, but I think that there is an opportunity to form a symbiotic relationship in cities/regions where there are are teams in both leagues (currently this is a short list, only Denver an Rochester). Many players play in both leagues. They should push the opener back to Memorial day. Opening in April is too early. None of the teams are at full strength before the NLL season is done, and the rookies don't join their new pro teams until the end of the college season, and championship weekend is Memorial Day. 

I understand that this league will most likely never be more than a part time league, but by spending a little on marketing (billboards, buses, radio/tv spots)  and getting players out in the communities that they play in can get the league and local teams some good press. Watch what Soccer Sam is doing. Send players to local radio stations for some in-studio interviews where they can give away tickets, send them to Wegmans, send them to the malls.

Fan involvement is key. Make it about more than just the game. Take a page out of Dan Mason's book. Throw tee-shirts into the crowd, play stupid human trick sort of games for prizes. Have 2 for 1 ticket promos. Wrap a few fans' cars (like the 'Hawks did a few years ago, I would be the first to volunteer). What do Denver, Boston and Chesapeake of the MLL and Buffalo and Colorado of the NLL do different than the rest of the teams in their respective leagues do?

Like I said, I am by no means an expert on these sorts of things. I am just a fan, and these are some ideas. Hopefully, a few of them will give one of the experts an idea and attendance numbers will improve.

20 November, 2013

Disney's Hollywood Studios

Our final stop on the trip around the World is Disney’s Hollywood Studios. When it first opened, it was actually used as an animation studio, but any movie production has long since been moved to other locations. 
turn around, you are in San Francisco!

At Hollywood Studios, you are immersed in all things movies. There is a street set that you can walk down where if you look one direction, you are clearly in Manhattan, but when you turn around, you are transported to San Francisco.

As you walk around the park, you will run into mini-scenes. You will have a movie diva talking about the ‘little people that helped make it all possible’, or you will have a prop master chasing someone who just stole a prop,  or a director scolding the ‘extras’ (park visitors) for getting in the shot.

There aren’t many rides in this park, but the ones they have are some of the most popular at all of Disney World. One I haven’t  ridden (and don’t plan on..), one I have (and may or may not ride again) and the 3rd we couldn’t get on last year, but I was able to ride 2x this year.  

These rides (in order) are the Rocken’ Roller Coaster with Aerosmith. I love the technology and planning that they put into creating this ride, but it is not my bag, so I probably won’t ever actually experience it. It is a roller coaster that doesn’t have a giant main hill to start. It starts off with magnets thrusting the car forward to 60mph right off the bat, all with Steven Tyler singing in your ears. 

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
Next is the Tower of Terror. This is an hotel that was struck by lightning one Halloween night and all the guests mysteriously vanished, now the elevators are out of control. The engineering that went into this ride is great as well. It is a different ride every time. Basically the ride is, you are on this possessed elevator that will rise and drop at random. The amount of drops, and the distance of the drops are randomly generated each ride, so one time you will have several smaller drops, then the next you will have fewer longer drops. They left no detail out. It was more fun than I expected it to be, but as I said, this isn’t my kind of ride, so not sure I will brave it again.

The 3rd of the big popular rides it the Toy Story Midway Mania. When we went last year, we only spent part of a day there, and the Fast Passes were closed for the night. This year, the first day we went to the park, we went straight there to get FP, but they were already giving out fast passes for 4.30p, and our dinner reservation was at 5, not at that park, so that wouldn’t work out. When we passed by about an hour or so later, they had all the FP machines covered. They had given out all the FP they were going to for that day.  on our 2nd visit to the park, we got there earlier, and were able to get the fast passes and were able to ride that day. It was a much lighter crowd day, so I was actually able to get FP for another ride later that day! On this ride, it is a 3D ride that you play a few different carnival midway type games with a virtual shooter on your car. You play a ring toss game.. throw baseballs at plates.. throw darts.. etc.. it keeps score and gives you a virtual prize at the end. It is a lot of fun, and ranks as a ‘must do’ at Hollywood studios.

Some of the other rides are the Great Movie Ride, which takes you through some of the most iconic scenes from some of the most famous movies of all time. Another is the Backlot Tour, where you watch a scene of a boat being attacked by an unseen plane that is being produced including explosions and other special effects, you then go through a prop warehouse with props from all sorts of movies, you then board a tram which takes you through a bone yard of vehicles, through a prop shop, a wardrobe shop, past the greenhouses, and through a set that shows special effects of fire bursts and a flash flood. 

Another favorite is the Star Tours. This is a motion simulator that takes you all over the Star Wars universe. It is a different trip every time. you will get 3 of 9 possible scenes. It is in 3D and there is movement, and it feels pretty real. I enjoyed it when I rode it last year, but this year it was too much for me (I know.. I'm old and boring..).  

Fountain outside of the Muppet Show
There are several shows to watch at the park as well, with something for everyone. For the kids, there is Disney Jr, and the Little Mermaid. For the action junkie, there is Lights! Motors! Action! (a car stunt show), and the Indiana Jones stunt show (they show how movies like Raiders was made) and the American Idol Experience, a version of the show. And for everyone, there is a 3D Muppet movie! A museum of the history of Walt, including where he grew up, what he did and the things he developed is a very interesting stop.

Overall, this would rank as my 4th favorite of the Disneyworld parks. I enjoy the park, but wouldn’t be super disappointed if we didn’t get a chance to spend a lot of time there on trips. There are a few good photo-ops and character meet and greets, and it is all about movies.

One of these years, we will get to the water parks and golf courses, but I haven’t been yet. As always, if there is something Disneyworld that you would like to share, please do, and I would love to answer any questions you have (to the best of my ability).

18 November, 2013

Employee Polyester Costumes Of Torture. Part 2

Last time I went over the front half of EPCOT, also known as Future World. In this posting, I am going to go over the back half, the World's Showcase.

The World Showcase features pavilions representing 11 countries from around the world. When I go, I typically go counter clockwise around the lagoon, but most reviews go clockwise.

Each of the pavilions are host to gift shops with items from the homeland and restaurants with native food. Most have both table service and quick service as well as snacks. 

Air Supply
Each fall, the selection of food is greatly expanded during the Food and Wine fest. That just happened to be going on during our last trip. There are several temporary kiosks that serve a variety of different samplings of both food and beverages. Due to the way the schedule shook out, we really didn't get a chance to see much of the festival. In addition to the food, they put on a concert series, called the Eat to the Beat concert series. They bring in several bands to do a couple concerts a night for a couple nights. We got to see Air Supply. I was a bit skeptical about them, but I have to say, those old guys can still rock!
Last year, we ate at Germany and at Japan. I thoroughly enjoyed both meals.  Germany is a buffet featuring all kinds of sausages, and anything German you can imagine. It was more than just the food, they had German musicians and singers to entertain while you eat. There was even a dance floor for those who felt inspired to work off some of the schnitzel. Japan is a hibachi grill. Always a good show watching the onion volcano. Watch for flying rice!

Terra Cotta Warriors from China
Each of the pavilions is sort of a museum of that country's culture, art, and history. A couple have rides (Mexico and Norway), a couple have movies (Canada and China) and the US one has a multi-media show similar to the Hall of Presidents from Magic Kingdom.

As you walk through, watch for performers. Anything from candy making, to a band to acrobats and more. 

At closing, people gather around the World Showcase Lagoon to watch one of the best firework displays you will see. Illuminations kicks off about 9pm each night. Fireworks, water cannons, and flame throwers are on barges in the middle of the lagoon. These are complimented by laser lights mounted on the buildings around the park. The center piece of the show is a giant globe with led boards that floats out to the center of the show. 

There is plenty to see and do at EPCOT, and isn't to be missed on your trip to Disney.

14 November, 2013

Every Person Comes Out Tired (part 1)

Space Ship Earth
Next on the chopping block is EPCOT. I know it hasn’t been the EPCOT Center for several years.. but I still catch myself calling it that now and then. I love what EPCOT can be, but I think it misses the mark. It is close, but not quite there. Sure it has its main attractions (Sorin’, Test Track, and Mission: Space), but it also has The Universe of Energy, probably the biggest waste of space in Disney.

EPCOT is divided into 2 main areas, Future World and the World Showcase. When you first walk into the park, you are in Future World and are greeted by the giant golf ball, known as Space Ship Earth. Inside this giant sphere, we learn the history of communication, narrated by Dame Judy Dench. Most of the rides are in Future World, and most of them have a sciencey/educational motif. There is so much to do here, I think I will break EPCOT into 2 posts.

One of the most popular rides at Disney is in The Land. It is a high flying hang gliding trip over the key features of California called Sorin’. On it you fly over orange groves, the Golden Gate Bridge, the high desert, Pebble Beach golf course, Downtown LA at night, and ending at Disneyland during the fireworks display. The concept for this ride was created in the garage of one of Disney’s Imagineers, using his old erector set from when he was a kid. Each seat on the ride has a fan above you to blow air in your face to help simulate you are actually flying, and in certain scenes, they inject a scent into the fan to enhance the experience, like when you are flying over the orange grove, you can smell citrus. This ride often has wait times in excess of an hour, and fast passes often sell out quick, so go there first if you are there on a busy day. I would like to see them tweak this a bit. First off, they should take a duster to the giant dome screen, and fix the few black spots on the screen. I also think it would be cool if they would change up the scenes you fly through. They could take a page from the Star Tours ride at Hollywood Studios and change up the scenes every ride. Still finish up at Disneyland, but make the journey there different every time. Also, of all the movies they have, this one seems most suited to getting the 3D treatment.

Also in the Land pavilion is one of the hidden gems (at least in my book), Living with the Land. It is a gentile boat ride that highlights agriculture. It goes through a green house showing different types of food plants, fruits, vegetables etc.. from all over the world, and some that have been genetically engineered to be more efficient or bug resistant. One such plant is a tomato tree. There is seldom much of a line here, so it is a nice respite.

Time for lunch? Stop by Sunshine Seasons at the Land. It is routinely ranked among the best quick service places in the entire ‘World’. I have only been there for breakfast, but there is something for everyone.

Next to the Land pavilion, is the Seas. Here you will find a Nemo ride, Turtle Talk with Crush and other aquatic activities. On the Nemo ride, you board a clam shell car (similar to the Doombuggies at the Haunted Mansion) and go through some of the scenes from the movie. The coolest part of the ride is towards the end, when you go through and under aquariums that have Nemo characters projected into them. It looks like our friends from the movie are swimming among actual live fish. It’s pretty slick. Once you finish the ride, there are several aquarium exhibits featuring all sorts of sea life, including dolphins, sharks, manatees, rays, and more.

Another big draw in Future World is Test Track. This was recently re-done to re-brand it with Chevy as a title sponsor. As you stand in line, you design your car at a touch screen computer. You design everything from the type of vehicle (sporty.. compact.. truck.. etc), the shape, color, wheelbase, designs and accessories. After you design your car, you then put it to the test. It goes through breaking, swerving, hot and cold conditions, then for a speed test. At different points through the ride, you go past screens with testing results of your car. The speed test takes place around the outside of the building. The day we rode it, when we came out of the building for the speed test, we were staring straight into the morning sun. In one of the few instances of poor planning on behalf of the Disney Imagineers, the camera is right there. Because of this, most of the pictures taken, show people shading their eyes. After the ride, you are let out into a room with several Chevy based exhibits. You can sit in a new Camaro, Volt, S-10 or other Chevy vehicles. You can have your picture taken with the care you just designed, and you can race your car in a video game similar to the old ‘Off Road’ arcade game.

One ride that is a big draw, but I did not like is Mission: Space. On it, you board a rocket bound for Mars, narrated by Lt Dan. It is a centrifuge ride, and you experience some serious G-forces. It was too much for me to handle, but if you like that sort of thing, you would probably enjoy it.

One of the least impressive rides at all of Disney is here. It is The Universe of Energy. It is a long (45min) ride. In it you are in a dream of Ellen DeGeneres. It is an old movie, (special guests Alex Trebek has a mustache and Jamie Lee Curtis has red hair) where Bill Nye the Science Guy teaches Ellen about energy and where it comes from. Part of the ride does take you through a large room of animatronic dinosaurs, which are pretty cool, but not cool enough to rescue this ride. Unless you are looking for a place for a nap in a dark, air conditioned area, I’d skip this. This ride is definitely due for a redesign.

The world of imagination could use a re-boot, the Capitan EO movie with Michael Jackson is very dated, and it’s time to retire it. It does have some fun interactive things that kids can play, but it isn’t as cool as I remember it when I went in 1986.

The last thing that I will cover in today’s posting is another of the coolest parts of Future World. It is Club Cool, sponsored by Coke. In here, you can try several beverages bottled by Coke from around the world. In the last few weeks, they replaced all the flavors here, so I can’t comment on any of them except for the newly added Inca Kola, since I had it when I was down in Peru several years ago. I really liked the sample they had from Israel, and will miss it. Perhaps I will find a new favorite next time we go down there.

Next time, I will cover the back half of the park, the World Showcase.

08 November, 2013

Disney's Animal Kingdom

The Tree of Life
This week, we will look at probably my favorite park, Animal Kingdom. A lot of people don’t rank this as high as I do, and many consider it just a ½ day park. I guess I get that, but I think they are missing a lot. Sure.. there aren’t the rides that Magic Kingdom has, but most of the attractions that it does have, I find fascinating.

It is a large park, and one ride is larger than the Magic Kingdom and EPCOT combined. And it happens to be my favorite ride at Disney, more on that in a bit…). The park is divided into ‘lands’ like Magic Kingdom. You can travel from Asia to Africa, even back in time in a day. They did a good job of recreating the feel of being in an exotic village. There are several gift shops with uniquely themed items as well as the traditional Disney stand-bys (ears, hats etc...). The park has several animal viewing areas with lots of different kinds of wild life. For those of us not from Florida, it is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between the imported exotic animals, and the native ibis that you don’t see around Rochester.

At the center of the park is the Tree of Life, a giant artificial tree that is covered in animal carvings. It makes for a nice centerpiece of the park and a great backdrop for photos.

The 3 big draws for rides in the park include a roller coaster (Expedition Everest, which I have yet to ride, but it is on my list), a river rapid ride (Kali River, a lot of fun, and you will get wet riding it) and my favorite ride in all of Disney, Kilimanjaro Safari Ride. On this ride, you board a safari truck and go off into the wild. You will see several different types of African animals, everything from giraffes to hippos to elephants to rhinos and much more.  The designers of the ride did a great job of disguising the barriers between the territories, so it feels like it is one giant free-flowing wilderness preserve.
Most of the areas are very large, so the animals have a lot of room to roam. As a result, you may not have a great view of all animals, and sometimes, you won’t see them at all. In other cases, the ride is held up waiting for a rhino or giraffe to finish crossing the road. You can get some great shots of the animals that are not obstructed by fences or walls. You can almost reach out and touch them.

There are also several shows at the park, my favorite being the Flights of Wonder bird show. It is a good bird show that displays several birds and teaches a bit about them, with the typical Disney shtick (the guide that is afraid of birds, that is told to hide by that tree because birds hate trees). There are varying levels of audience participation.

Another show that I enjoy is a 3-D movie ‘It’s Tough to be a Bug’. It is in a theater that is actually inside the Tree of Life. It is a multi media movie with surprises with the bugs from Bugs Life. Some of the things are startling, so it might not be the best thing to take small children to.

My Niece Molly
and Simba
2 more shows that are well done, but I am not a fan of are the Festival of the Lion King, a colorful, high-energy performance based on the movie featuring costumed dancers and acrobats. People love it.. it is just not my thing, and the benches you sit on are not all that comfortable. The other is Finding Nemo. It is basically a Broadway version of the movie. Again, it is well done, but not my thing. I didn’t love the movie, and I don’t like the way they do the puppets. (And the benches are not all that comfortable either.) But it is air conditioned, so it is a nice break from the heat of the day, especially for a park that doesn’t have many indoor things to do.

There are wildlife experts throughout the park that are happy to answer any questions you have about the animals, and great photo-ops abound. We got one of the best pictures taken by one of the PhotoPass photogs.

All in all, I love this park. I am disappointed that we only got to spend part of 1 day there on our last trip. I plan on making up for that on our next trip.

04 November, 2013

Magic Kingdom

In keeping with the Disney Parks theme, I think I will now go with the attractions that I like best. I’ll do one column on each park. I’ll figure in what I like, why I like it, and what (if anything) I would do to make it better.

I’ll start with what most people think of when they say Disney World, the Magic Kingdom.

There is so much to like about the park. So many good rides, classics and new favorites. There are the iconic rides like the Mountains (Splash, Thunder and Space) and Small World, the Disney-ified carnival rides (i.e. Dumbo/Aladdin/AstroOrbiter and the Prince Charming Carousel, etc.. ), and the rides that only Disney would make interesting (i.e. People mover, carousel of progress, etc.. ).

I think my 2 favorite rides at the Magic Kingdom are the Jungle Cruise and the Haunted Mansion. I like to hit both rides multiple times each trip. Both have been there from the beginning, and have counterparts in Anaheim. Both rides have the high level of attention to detail that we have come to expect from Disney. There isn’t much I would do to improve either ride, other than updating the animatronics as technology improves, but be careful to not overdo it. Part of the charm is the corny-ness of them. They recently rehabbed the Jungle Cruise, and they did a good job of keeping the feel of the ride, while smoothing out the movement of the ‘animals’. As I mentioned in my last posting, I would like to see a camera added to the Haunted Mansion in the part where the hitchhiking ghosts are projected into your ‘doom-buggy’, and make it available for purchase or as part of the PhotoPass+ package. A close 3rd on this one is the Pirates of the Caribbean.

Other things that are ‘must dos’ in my book include:
-The Tomorrowland People Mover, it is a nice slow ride through Tomorrowland that goes past or through several of the rides/attractions in that part of the park
-Splash Mountain, a log flume ride themed after Song of the South
-Carrousel of Progress, a look at a family throughout several different eras and how technology has evolved. It is done well and is a nice comfortable air conditioned  break from the heat.

There has been a push to make things more interactive. This includes the rides as well as the queue. I like the Buzz Lightyear ride, which gives you a chance to beat your best score as you shoot your laser gun at targets throughout the ride. There is a picture on this one that is not a particularly intriguing (not like Splash Mountain) picture, that I only got because we had pre-paid for the PhotoPass+ which includes attraction pictures.

I am not usually a fan of the carnival style rides, nothing against them, but my general rule is there isn’t a need to ride a ride that can be done at a carnival or at Darien Lake, just because it has a picture of a Disney icon on it. This includes the flying rides, that are basically the same ride with a different theme (Dumbo, Aladdin and AstroOribiter), the Prince Charming Carrousel, the Tea Cups, etc.. I do have to say, that if the added a large Ferris Wheel in the back of Fantasyland, I would ride that every trip, and would make sure to ride it at night. Another one that I would just as soon skip is the Tiki room. It is a bunch of robot birds doing bad jokes and singing songs.. and the seats aren’t even that comfortable..

Other rides that I could take or leave, some (including my wife) would consider sacrilegious to have on this list would be It’s a Small World and Peter Pan’s flight. I won’t put up a fight, but I won’t ever suggest we go on either of them. The Peter Pan ride isn’t bad, but I just don’t get the lines it has.. It is a decent enough ride for a 15-20 min wait, but this ride often has a wait time well exceeding an hour..

All in all, there is more than enough to justify spending multiple days of your trip at the Magic Kingdom. There are some great snacks (3 words.. dole whip float..), fun restaurants (Liberty Tree Tavern is probably my favorite restaurant on property), and the Wishes fireworks show is always well done. There is enough variety of the rides and attractions that there is more than ‘something for the whole family’.