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Hard Rock Park 6A: The Devil Is In The Details

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure is jam packed with details from the books and movie series. Die hard fans soak in every nook and cranny and often come back to uncover even more that they missed from previous visits. My personal favorite touch? As you are facing the Three Broomsticks restaurant, take a sharp left and head down the alley behind Honeydukes candy shop. Tucked in an area that doesn’t look like guests should even be around, there’s a window that looks into the “kitchen” of Three Broomsticks. Behind the glass, pans, cups and plates fly magically in the air, complete with sound effects. Details like this separate a theme park from an amusement park. Hard Rock Park had tons of little gems scattered everywhere.

In Part 5 of Theme Park University’s series on Hard Rock Park, we looked at two attractions that were completely unique. Maximum RPM featured a lift hill that took the form of a ferris wheel that sent convertible cars whizzing around a fairly tiny track. Its original soundtrack mimicked dialing a radio whose antenna could only receive British rock n roll songs. Nights In White Satin The Trip, the park’s signature attraction, was a psychedelic dark ride that featured the classic song by the Moody Blues. If you thought an entire ride that was designed to screw with your head was original, strap in.

Mirror in Men's restroom Hard Rock Park

Photo By Josh Young

The vanity of rock stars is legendary, so why not screw with them a little? This gag was located in a men’s bathroom in British Invasion. As you approached the “mirror”, nothing would happen. You could only see the reflection of the bathroom, but not yourself standing directly in front of it. Five seconds later, you would see yourself walking up. The mirror had a hidden camera that was hooked up to a computer programmed to project the image onto a very high resolution television screen – with a built in five second delay. Was the point just to screw with your head? Yes. Was it confusing? Intentionally so. Did it get a reaction? Every time.

Hard Rock Park Men's Restroom

Photo By Josh Young

Cool Country had likely the most photographed men’s urinals in theme park history. A subtle joke that most kids wouldn’t understand, but adults went nuts over it (no pun intended). Every time I visited the park there were guys who were urging their buddies to check it out and even a few women had to peek their heads in to see for themselves.

Cow Pie Checkers -  Cool Country

Photo by Josh Young

Just a few steps outside that restroom in cool country was an oversized checkerboard where families could play an actual game of checkers. In Cool Country‘s version, the red and black pieces were replaced with black and bronze cow patties. If I didn’t have the picture above, you would think I was making this up. I know what you’re thinking, what kind of cow’s poop would turn out bronze anyway?

Rockcow Billy - Cool Country

Copyright HRP USA LLC

Rockcow Billy stood out in front of Jon Binkowski’s original investment in Hard Rock Park: the Ice House Theater. The bronze statue, whose style closely resembled Elvis Presley, was Jon’s version of the talking fountain in the Lost Continent section of Islands of Adventure. An entertainer brought Billy to life via a room inside the theater equipped with a microphone and hidden cameras. Billy could crack jokes, as well as squirt “milk” out of his udders, “snot” from his nostrils, and I am sure you can figure out what the water coming from the backside of Billy was supposed to represent. This wasn’t Disney, kids.

Bear Metal Family - Hard Rock Park

Copyright HRP USA LLC

One luxury Disney has that most brands -including Hard Rock- don’t, is dozens of characters that guests have been in love with since the 1920’s. Getting the rights to use any established intellectual properties in a theme park can be an expensive and risky undertaking. Jon Binkowski knew that while Hard Rock’s brand included pretty much every rock n roll band in the universe, very few were geared specifically towards kids. So Jon created the Bear Metal Family and Winston – the punk rock dog. The characters made appearances throughout the park during the day, but the longer term goal was to create a stage show for them exclusive to the park.

Graffiti Wall - Hard Rock Park

Photo By Josh Young

If you’ve ever been to a regional park like Six Flags or Cedar Fair chains, it’s likely that you have seen graffiti in the queues of attractions or in the bathrooms. If you’ve never seen it, you probably have seen blotches of spray paint used to cover it up. Hard Rock Park had an enormous wall where they not only allowed graffiti, they encouraged it. You didn’t bring your own pens or markers? No problem. You only had to ask any of the Rockers nearby and they would provide you with any colored marker in the rainbow. Many theme parks provide crayons and paper cutouts of their characters for children to color while their parents check emails on their iPhones. That’s adorable. Hard Rock Park let the entire family leave a permanent legacy in the park, just like rock stars do at the coolest concert venues all over the world – for free. Bravo.

Arlo's Table - Hard Rock Park

Photo by Josh Young

At the end of the graffiti wall you would find the entrance to Alice’s Restaurant. Inspired by the classic Arlo Guthrie song, this was the “oasis of calm” in the park where guests could take a break from the higher energy music and rides. Here you could relax and have a full service meal with southern inspired cuisine like “City of New Orleans Shrimp Creole” or “Railroad Track-Skillet Fried Chicken Breast”. In the far right hand corner of the dining room lied “Arlo’s Table” featuring perhaps the most unique lazy susan in the world.

Arlo Guthrie Lazy Susan - Hard Rock Park

Photo by Josh Young

The anamorphic art piece by Kelly Hale featured a mirror in the center that distorted the image around the base to form two portraits of Arlo Guthrie in its reflection: one that represented him as a teenager (from when “Alice’s Restaurant” was written), and if you spun the lazy susan around 180 degrees, you would see Arlo as we know him today. The piece included more than sixty rock, counter-culture and folk artists who either inspired Arlo, or were inspired by him. Some of those featured include Jim Croce, Willie Nelson and Crosby, Stills & Nash. I highly encourage you to click on the image above to get a better idea of just how detailed this piece was.

Jon Binkowski and his team didn’t build an amusement park or buy a couple of off the shelf rides and nail on cheap theming. They built a theme park with multiple layers of details that guests would discover with each new visit. There are far too many to list in this article, so are you craving more, go ahead click here to peel back even more layers of the onion known as Hard Rock Park. Until then, what do you think about the details added to the park? Are they Disney/Universal quality? Does it make you think twice about your pre-conceived views of Hard Rock Park? Leave your comments in the section below.

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  1. jedited
    Posted April 8, 2013 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    Are you going to get into what happened with this park? Why did it fail and close after only one season?

  2. Josh Young
    Posted April 8, 2013 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

    Jedited, I absolutely will. First, I really wanted people to see what the park was all about. To get an idea, for better or worse, what they were offering and just how different the experience was. I think showcasing the Titanic before it sank makes a hell of a better story than just showing the aftermath. So hang tight with me for a few more articles, ok?

  3. titan0723
    Posted April 9, 2013 at 5:29 am | Permalink

    First of all I must say I really have enjoyed these stories about the Hard Rock Park. I was lucky enough to visit the park on May 18th 2008. I still have the park map with the event schedule on the back confirming the date. My wife and I have always enjoyed visting the different Hard Rock Cafes around the country. When I saw them combining them with another passion of mine (rollercoasters) I knew I had to go.
    I was able to ride all the coasters with the exception of Maximum RPM and the one where you got wet. I also ride the dark ride you talked about in the part 5 update. What a weird and fun experience that was. I do remember the wall you can write on I still have pics of where my wife and I left our mark on Hard Rock Park. Another detail I remember and I apologize if I spoil something. In the British Invasion the pathway was set up like British roadway where you drove on the opposite side of the road. When you crossed into the next section there were arrows painted on the groun to “remind” you to get back to the correct side of the road.
    I still hold hope someone will save his park before it decides to tear it down. I live in Louisville KY and have recently seen new life breathed into Kentucky Kingdom. I hope the same for this park.

    • Josh Young
      Posted April 11, 2013 at 12:14 am | Permalink

      Titan, thanks for the kind words about the series and I love that it’s stirring up so many positive memories. I can tell you that many people who were involved in creating the park are reading the series AND the comments – so I am sure your words mean a lot to them too. The next article will not include the signage on the road reminding you to drive on opposite sides, but that was a great one! I am not even going to come close to covering all the details in the park, just some highlights.

      The difference with Kentucky Kingdom and Hard Rock/Freestyle Park is – Kentucky Kingdom had a proven track record that under proper management and the right economy, the park could thrive and turn a profit. To potential investors in re-opening the park in Myrtle Beach – two entirely different management approaches (and different takes on theming) were tried – and failed. The mentality is, Myrtle Beach isn’t a town that can support a theme park when the beach is a few miles away and free. I am going into more detail about this in a future article. Sounds sexy, eh?

  4. BamBam2613
    Posted April 9, 2013 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

    Are there any current or very recent photos of the park? I have looked online but can’t find anything besides a shot of Led Zepplin from the road. I find it really fascinating to see pic and video of these abandoned parks all over the country. It’s sad, but interesting

    • Josh Young
      Posted April 11, 2013 at 12:06 am | Permalink

      Bam, Unfortunately – I don’t know of any pictures or video of the park as it looks today. I do know there is a small security team that makes sure people don’t go in and vandalize the place – which is the major reason you haven’t seen video. If you care to look it up, the NBC show Revolution filmed an episode at the park late last year, that’s the best I have got for you.

  5. Davidl
    Posted April 15, 2013 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

    When I first saw this park open I thought I may visit it one day with its unique attractions and seemingly decent theme. However, these articles are making me regret me not visiting more and more. I personally love parks that just have random things set up to mess around with and explore. On my last trip to WDW, I spent an hour exploring the Tree Of Life (nets and all!) at night. I really wish that one day this park can be resurrected with all of the details remaining. To me, they are a bigger draw than the coasters, and maybe even Nights in White Satin. Thanks again for these incredible articles!

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