Fantastic Caverns and Silver Dollar City

New photos from Fantastic Caverns will be showing up “soon” in the misc.disneyfans.com gallery. Near Kansas City you start seeing billboards for this place as you head south. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were hundreds of them on the way to Springfield, Missouri. There was one moment where we could see five of them at the same time. This, and tourism brochures, must be where they spend their advertising budget.

For those who have never had the pleasure to see all these billboards, they show a red jeep, loaded with passengers, pulling a red trailer, also loaded with passengers, through a cavern of stalagmites and stalagtites. This is what sets Fantastic Caverns apart from the half dozen or more caves I got to explore when I first visited the Branson, Missouri/Eureka Springs, Arkansas area as a teenage in 1984. All the other caverns you spend walking down (and up) stairs. I had incorrectly throught doing a “ride through” cavern tour would be lame, so I never put forth any effort to go see it.

After finally deciding to put forth effort to see it last year, we spent the extra $5 to upgrade to a yearly pass. This allowed us to see it again this year for free. Bonus.

You can find some photos from 2023 here. As I went to copy that link, I realize I have incorrectly placed Fantastic Caverns in my Branson, Missouri gallery, and it is about an hour or so away from Branson. I guess I’ll fix that when I update with this new batch.

Meanwhile, Silver Dollar City is a place I got to explore in 1984, and I told myself back then I should really do this again in forty years. So in 2024, I did. The three things I remembered from my first visit were still there! The Flooded Mine (though now it is a shooting gallery ride, and was missing one specific scene I was looking for), Grandfather’s Mansion (kind of a tilt house), and Fire in the Hole — an indoor roller coaster dark ride. Fire in the Hole actually closed in 2023, but a brand new one was built elsewhere in the park for 2024. The new remake is great, though I do not remember any specific details of the original to know how close or different it is to the original. (I did notice a female fire fighter mannequin in it, which I expect was not there in the 1970s version.)

The park has very strict photography/video rules, and only allows it on the steam train and Flooded Mine, so those will be the only rides I have any on-ride photos from. (Yep, lots of rule breakers on YouTube, I know.)

There is far too much to see and do at Silver Dollar City in one day, so my photos from this trip will barely scratch the surface of what this park has to offer. I was far more than I expected or remembered.

And all of it was up hill.

Both ways.

More to come…

More SeaWorld and Universal Orlando photos/videos coming.

About 2500 photos taken at the SeaWorld Orlando Seven Seas Food Festival and the Universal Mardi Gras: International Flavors of Carnaval are waiting for me to sort them and get them uploaded to the Universal/SeaWorld photo gallery.

This year, Universal had 18 food/drink booths, and SeaWorld had 28. It was quite the challenge to visit each one and take photos. Hopefully, I didn’t miss any this year… I hope to share some articles comparing the two different food events. We enjoyed both of them far better than we did the last time we went to EPCOT Food & Wine. As someone who grew up a Disneyland/Disney World kid since the 1970s, I never thought I’d say that!

We also got to visit the re-opened Mel’s Drive In on its first day open to the public (Tuesday, February 27, 2024). I had never eaten there, so it was a good excuse to try it out and get some new photos.

I also captured some more raw footage with my VR360 camera which I will share to my YouTube channel at some point.

Another upcoming project is to create a detailed page about the annual pass and how much it can save, even if you are an out-of-state visitor like I am. If you stay on site at a Universal hotel, you can save even more with pass discounts on rooms (sometimes; only a few trips have ever had them available–usually it’s just “Seasonal Rate”). For example, after several three-night hotel stays over the course of the year with the pass, the savings are more than what two Premium (most expensive) Universal APs cost! I have spreadsheets going back several years documenting the savings…

More to come…

Top 10 articles from 2023

I don’t like to brag, but literally dozens of folks visit this site every year. They tend to come here mostly via web searches for specific topics. For 2023, here were the most-viewed articles on this site:

Here is what those articles are about, in case you wanted to check them out in 2024…

1. Disneyland’s third theme park in 2000

“It seems like only yesterday” that Disneyland had announced plans to open a third theme park — all during the time when Disney’s California Adventure was still under construction. They set up a teaser website which gave us a look at what the re-development of the area around Disneyland could look like. It also mentioned some of the types of attractions that could be added to the third park.

With recent talk of “Disneyland Forward,” this probably explains the interest in this post about something from over 20 years ago.

2. Universal Orlando Garden Walk Maps

I grew up in the 1970s visiting Disneyland and Walt Disney World with my family. Although I had visited Universal Studios Florida as a teenage (during its first year or so of being open), most of our time was spent at Disney. I only visited Universal a few times until I got my first Universal annual pass a few years ago. I also had never stayed at an on-site resort hotel anywhere (well, I did stay at the Hersheypark Lodge once) until Universal.

My lack of experience with the park had me completely unaware that there was a beautiful walking path that connected all the hotels except Surfside/Dockside to Citywalk. I recall seeing them and trying to find information about them after a trip. Since I did not know the name “Garden Walk,” I could find nothing. After learning the game, I could find tons of videos and references to them…but no maps.

So I made a map. The map has layers that can be turned on showing locations of the water taxi docks, the walking paths, security checkpoints and such. It’s surprising how walking from a resort to the front of a theme park via Garden Walk can be LESS WALKING that walking to the bus stop and taking the bus where it drops you off at the far end of CityWalk.

I hope folks find these maps useful.

3. So that casino in Walt Disney World is finally happening?

With tongue firmly planted in cheek, this one goes back to things my father was told during visits to Walt Disney World in the 1970s — back when the only theme park there was Magic Kingdom. He had heard they build the Contemporary Resort to have a casino… A casino associated with Disney was quite a shocking idea back then, but in recent years, the topic actually has come up about Disney having casinos.

Well, I never thought we’d see alcohol at Disneyland or Magic Kingdom, or beer kegs at ice cream carts, so who knows. Modern Disney is very different.

4. Universal’s Islands of Adventure preview center in 1999

I bought my first digital camera in 1996, and began taking pictures at theme and amusement parks. I visited Universal Studios Florida the year before Islands of Adventure opened, and then the first year the new park opened. I have a few photos taken at the preview center that was were the New York tribute store and Mummy lockers are today.

I suspect interest in the upcoming (hopefully) Epic Universe tribute store is why this article has been getting views.

5. Space Mountain 1999 FastPass

There was a time when FastPass was new. There is alot of conflicting information on when and where it started, but this was the first time I got to use it.

6. Universal Studios Florida in 1998

I just wanted to share some of the photos I took during my first Universal trip with a digital camera.

7. The time(s) Disney changed the lyrics to the Pirates of the Caribbean theme song

I was practicing click-bait. Discussions come up from time to time about how folks swear the original song had the word “rape” in it. Until the modern internet, where lyrics and downloadable songs became a thing, I too had memories of that word being in the song and how out-of-place it seemed.

But history shows this was never the case.

But there have been times when the song was presented in edited form 😉 Click the bait to find out more.

8. Before Disney’s California Adventure, part 1

Although I had visited Disneyland in the 1970s — I remember being there before Space Mountain and before Big Thunder Mountain — I did not start going as an adult until 1995. By 1996, I was visiting with a digital camera. I put together some of the photos of what the park was like before Disney’s California Adventure was announced and construction began.

9. Visiting Disneyland in 1996

Just another one showing the earliest digital photos I have of Disneyland.

Happy 2024!

Universal and SeaWorld to get their own photo section

When I got my first digital camera in 1996, I never could have imagined there would be a time when I’d be updating photo galleries with over 150,000 photos in them. Initially, all my theme park photos were able to fit in one master “DisneyFans Photos” gallery. Today, the number of files in that gallery far exceed what my web host account can allow. Because of that, I had to split the gallery up in to multiple accounts – Disneyland, Disney World and non-Disney Theme Parks.

Due to how much time it takes to update the non-Disney gallery each time I return from Universal and SeaWorld (due to having to go through all the other theme park photos), I am finally going to split off Universal Studios (Hollywood and Orlando) and SeaWorld in to their own sub-gallery.

This will group photos as follows:

  • Disneyland
  • Walt Disney World
  • Universal Studios & SeaWorld
  • …other Theme Parks

I am in the process up creating the new US/SW gallery (over 31,000 photos just from those parks) and will begin uploading it later tonight. I will then redo the Theme Parks gallery to remove Universal and SeaWorld. Hopefully folks will find them at their new location.

As one of the longest running theme park sites on the Internet (from my pre-domain days back in 1996, to the DisneyFans.com days and now this site), I hate to make big changes like this. Apologies in advance for the links that will be broken…

More updates soon…

Disney Skyliner, Aventura Hotel, Mardi Gras and more…

A few of the upcoming topics for this site will likely include:

  • Walt Disney World’s Skyliner.
  • Skyliner resort exploration.
  • Universal’s Aventura Hotel.
  • Unviersal’s food festival and Mardi Gras.
  • Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland versus Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
  • And how to save 35% on Universal Studios food……..

Photo library update status…

Work continues on generating new versions of the non-Disney Theme Parks photo gallery and the Disneyland Resort photo gallery. There have been updates to the JAlbum program I use for the gallery, so I expect I’ll be redoing the gallery again soon to make use of some new features.

Meanwhile, I have gotten back to updating my Trips page (formerly listed as “About” in the menu). By using dates found in photos I have taken, I am trying to come up with a list of all the dates I was at various parks. Who knows … maybe you were at one of those parks on one of those days and might be somewhere in one of those photos.

I also plan to try to remember all the various digital cameras I have owned since the original Epson PhotoPC I bought in 1996. Some I kept for years, and at least one I used only for one trip then got rid of due to its inability to take good pictures inside Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion 😉 Unfortunately, unless the camera model is stored in the JPG photos (which some cameras do), I don’t expect to be able to come up with a complete list.

For what it’s worth, my current camera is a Canon G5X. It’s an old, discontinued model, but still serves me well. I still have my previous Panasonic Lumix camera as well, due to sentimental reasons.

Thanks for dropping by …