This Week in Theme Park News: NBA Experience Closes, Disney World’s Christmas Event, and More

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This Week in Theme Park News: NBA Experience Closes, Disney World’s Christmas Event, and More

I was halfway through writing this week’s wrap-up of theme park news when a surprising Disney World story broke, so let’s tip off with that one. It was announced today that the NBA Experience, the interactive basketball exhibit at Disney Springs, is permanently closed. It opened just two years ago, on Aug. 12, 2019, in the old location of Disney Quest, and closed in March 2020 due to the pandemic. It remained closed after Disney World reopened its theme parks in July 2020, and now won’t be reopening at all. It was only open for about seven months total. The standard NBA season, from opening night through the finals, takes eight months. It seems like not enough people were interested in experiencing the NBA during their trip to Disney World.

I never actually made it to the NBA Experience myself. (Hopefully I didn’t miss out on a Dominique Wilkins or Spud Webb meet and greet.) Billed as a combination of “the magic of Disney with the thrills of the NBA,” the NBA Experience offered guests 13 different games and basketball-related activities, like dribbling and dunking exercises, at a cost of $34 for adults and $29 for children under 10. I’m sure it was a fun, cool, exciting way to spend an afternoon for basketball fans, but it clearly didn’t resonate with enough guests to survive its lengthy Covid closure. There’s so much to do on resort at Disney World, even outside of the theme parks, that it can be hard for any one attraction or activity to really stand out. I honestly don’t see how any exhibit of this size and price point that’s devoted to a single sport could survive in such a saturated environment, regardless of how popular that sport is. If there’s an upside to this, perhaps whatever takes the NBA Experience’s place will be something that appeals to more guests, and maybe something that’s more uniquely Disney than a collaboration with a pro sports league. It’s not a secret that people go to Disney World because they like Disney, not to shoot some hoops or get their picture taken with a creepy Adam Silver statue.

It’s not all bad news out of Disney World this week. Space 220, one of the most hotly anticipated new theme park restaurants in recent memory, will be opening at Epcot in mid-September. The themed restaurant, which will make it feel like you’re dining in space, will be located right next to the Mission: Space attraction in the soon-to-be-renamed Future World part of the park. It’s been a long time coming; Space 220 was originally rumored to have a late 2019 target date, but that was pushed back, and then the pandemic put a freeze on everything for a while. Now guests will finally be able to grab a bite in space, starting in just a few weeks.

Disney Imagineer Zach Riddley released an Instagram video showing off what you can expect from Space 220’s theming. After entering the restaurant, you’ll take a “space elevator” up to the Centauri Space Station in orbit 220 miles above the Earth. You’ll be able to see the Earth below you through the window at the middle of the elevator, in what looks like a tribute to the long-gone Flight to the Moon / Mission to Mars attraction. All the windows throughout the restaurant look out onto outer space scenes, similar to what guests will see at the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser hotel. Space 220 will be offering prix fixe meals—two courses at lunch, three at dinner—along with what Disney is calling “atmospheric cocktails,” so if you don’t get your fill of space booze from Oga’s Cantina, here’s a new galactic watering hole for you. Despite opening in a few weeks, Space 220 is not yet available for reservations; if you’re determined to make like Bezos and hang out in space for a spell, you’ll probably need to keep a close eye on that reservation system, as Space 220 will no doubt be a hot ticket at Epcot for ages to come.

Speaking of space, that’s kind of what Santa Claus flies through while making his rounds every Christmas, which is good enough for a segue in my book. This week Disney also revealed details for this year’s Christmas festivities at Disney World. Disney Very Merriest After Hours is a special ticketed event that will happen at Magic Kingdom on 24 different nights throughout November and December, running from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. each time. Beyond the holiday decorations and special seasonal treats, you can expect a noticeably less crowded park, with shorter-than-average lines for over 20 attractions. You can also enjoy Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade, with an appearance from Santa; a unique Christmas-themed fireworks show, Minnie’s Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks Show; and a holiday dance party at Club Tinsel in Tomorrowland. You can find out more about Disney Very Merriest After Hours at the Disney Parks Blog. Tickets go on sale on Aug. 20, and depending on the dates will be available for $169 to $249—which is the most one of these events has cost yet. The event itself lasts for four hours, from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., but if you buy a ticket you can enter the park starting as early as 7 p.m. For the full 24-date schedule, along with a breakdown of price per day, check out the event’s page at Disney’s blog. This Christmas spectacular will also tie in to Disney World’s larger 50th anniversary celebration, which I’ll be discussing in greater detail in the weeks to come.

Before we make it to Christmas, though, we have a few other major holidays to get through—including Halloween. Universal announced the full Halloween Horror Nights lineup for Universal Orlando’s 30th anniversary celebration, which launches on Sept. 3 and runs on select nights through Oct. 31. Universal normally dribbles these announcements out over the summer, but with Covid making sure that everybody’s plans are permanently up in the air, they took a slower approach this year. Which means eventually the time came when they just had to hurry up and reveal everything left at the same time. That time came last week.

Here are the haunted houses you can expect from this year’s Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando. As previously announced, there will be houses based on Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House, Beetlejuice, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, with a fifth movie-based house, Universal Monsters: The Bride of Frankenstein Lives, that riffs on one of the most classic horror films ever made. There will also be six houses based on original concepts, including a 30th anniversary house, HHN Icons Captured, that brings together original characters from throughout the entire 30 year history of Halloween Horror Nights. Welcome to Scarey: Horror in the Heartland turns an idyllic Ohio small town into a brutal nightmare, while Case Files Unearthed: Legendary Truth stars what looks like a pulp-era private eye facing off against some Lovecraftian horrors and whatnot. The Wicked Growth: Realm of the Pumpkin puts you face-to-face with the evil Pumpkin Lord and his malicious minions; Puppet Theatre: Captive Audience stars a twisted puppeteer and ballet troupe in a turn-of-the-century theater; and Revenge of the Tooth Fairy returns us to a world where the Tooth Fairy doesn’t actually wait for a tooth to fall out before trying to take it.

As always, Halloween Horror Nights will also have five Scare Zones and a live show. Crypt TV is a Scare Zone set in the park’s San Francisco district that promises “a dark universe of monsters.” 30 Years 30 Fears is another flashback to the event’s past, while Seek and Destroy is some kind of cyberpunk thing with evil aliens set in the park’s version of New York. Lights Camera Hacktion: Eddie’s Revenge is a mock horror movie set where the scares come to life, and Gorewood Forest will let you walk through a bunch of trees with a bunch of skulls and creepy critters. Halloween Nightmare Fuel is this year’s show, featuring various aerial performers along with a bunch of fire effects. And the new lagoon show tradition that started in 2019 will return for its second go-round, with Marathon of Mayhem: Carnage Factory the name of this year’s show. Expect lights, water, projections, and all manner of frightful special effects.

Halloween Horror Nights tickets can be purchased for one or multiple nights, with single night tickets starting at $70.99 and rising up to $97.99 depending on the day. It runs most nights other than Monday and Tuesday from Sept. 3 through Oct. 31.

And that’s it for another week. If you work at a theme or amusement park and want to keep me and our readers updated on your latest news, feel free to reach out to me via email or on Twitter. And if you’re headed to any amusement parks this week, stay safe and have fun! And don’t forget your mask(s)—this stuff is far from over.

Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.

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