Things haven't been going according to plan in Central Florida's theme parks. Over the past few days, we've seen mishaps at Disney (DIS) -- one that required folks to be evacuated from a monorail, and another that cost a rider on the normally tame Pirates of the Caribbean boat ride parts of his fingers.
Operational breakdowns have also struck Comcast's (CMCSK) nearby Universal Studios Florida, where riders were stuck on its Transformers ride for reportedly about an hour on Tuesday before being escorted off. However, the most glaring problem child of the parks has to be Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts.
The attraction officially opened on July 8 as part of Universal Orlando's Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The queues have been long, the breakdowns plentiful. Maybe wizards just don't want us mere muggles to get in on the fun.
The Diagon Alley expansion is impressive. Park guests can explore the streets of faux London and the fictional Diagon Alley where shops, eateries and the mysterious Knockturn Alley have been thrilling guests downing frozen butterbeer refreshments and chocolate chili ice cream as they wave interactive wands at window displays that spring to life.
The Hogwarts Express train ride that connects the Wizarding World of Harry Potter areas in two theme parks is hands down the industry's neatest themed turn at a means of transportation. (Take notes, Disney.)
However, the long delays and perpetual setbacks at Escape from Gringotts must be debilitating to the otherwise well-received addition. Media coverage on opening day turned from excitement to frustration when breakdowns left patrons waiting more than seven hours for a ride. A week later, wait times have averaged two to three hours most days.
Making a Bank Withdrawal
There's nothing wrong with the rich details of the ride's queue. It includes a majestic bank lobby with audio-animatronic goblins leading to the office-lined hallway that ends in a pre-show. That in turn leads to a goblin explaining the ride's safety features, a sensory elevator experience and a spiraling staircase that winds its way up to the loading platform.
%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%The problem is that the seemingly perpetual breakdowns leave aspiring riders stalled. They get on Twitter. They get on Facebook. They post snapshots of bored park guests doing the same.
This is what Universal didn't want. The otherwise-spectacular ride -- and I won't play spoiler beyond saying that it's an immersive 3-D experience with some coaster elements -- is getting tagged as unreliable. Dedicated forums are ripe with stories of riders stuck on the ride and in some cases having to be escorted off the attraction if the outage can't be remedied quickly.
Universal should get it right -- in time. There's too much at stake, and there's something to be said about raising the bar at a time when Disney World a few exits away is playing it safe. It's rare when a trouble ride is closed rather than fixed, with Rocket Rods an example from Disneyland.
However, Universal is more likely to tone down problematic elements of Escape from Gringotts than it is to shutter the attraction. Muggles just need to be patient.
Call That New Ride 'Harry Potter and the Perpetual Breakdown'
Remember what your parents told you to do when you were bored? That's right: Go outside and play. Not only is this an important lesson for kids –- finding ways to have fun using only your imagination –- it's free. It's easy today to get caught in the trap of spending money to entertain our families, whether it's buying an smartphone app, spending money at the mall or the movies or buying new toys. These are fun treats every once in a while, but keep it to a minimum and remind your family of the great outdoors.
Libraries are fighting to stay relevant in today's technology-centric society, so why not help them out while you save money on books and entertainment? Library cards are still free, and your taxes pay for these resources. Borrow books as well as DVDs of movies and television shows and cut back on your digital purchases and on-demand subscriptions.
Before you protest, this is definitely a major lifestyle change if you already use a smartphone regularly, but worth considering if you want to save a lot of money each month. Opting for a phone without Internet access –- or even a pay-as-you-go phone, if you rarely need to use it –- will cut costs; it might offer the added benefit of unplugging from constant connectivity.
Carpooling became popular during a countrywide effort to save gas in the 1970s, and today there are signs of resurgence with technology that allows commuters in the same area to easily find each other. If you don't have the option of public transportation, search in your own community for carpooling groups or talk to your coworkers to figure out a schedule.
Commit to skip the expensive salad bar or lunch spot across the street and pack a bag lunch at least three or four days a week. This can add up to a lot of money saved over time.
While you don't need to use a pencil and paper to write down every purchase as was done years ago, the routine of tracking everything you buy can be an important habit for more careful spending. If you'd prefer to stay digital with this tactic, use Excel, Google (GOOG) Docs or an online tool that collects your daily transactions and sorts them for you.
This concept is no stranger to those who lived during economically challenging times years ago; if you didn't make enough money, you simply found another job to boost your income. Today, while job availability, familial roles and time commitments differ greatly from back then, you can still look for additional income opportunities. Freelancing is one option for those that need to spend time at home with family; you can also find seasonal opportunities in retail.
Take a tip from earlier generations and make your contributions to savings accounts the same, rather than adding more or less depending on other unexpected expenses. This might mean rethinking the amount you put away each month; even if you lower it, more regularity over time can have a bigger impact.