A new riff from Hard Rock

April 20, 2008|By John Bordsen | John Bordsen,Mcclatchy-Tribune

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. / / Little is permanent here, but much is reused.

That point will be made -- with a loud ka-raaaang -- this month with the launching of Hard Rock Park. The Southeast's first new amusement park in nine years opened Tuesday on the long-dormant Fantasy Harbor entertainment complex and partly on the rubble of the failed Waccamaw Factory Shoppes.

Hard Rock Park opened with 55 acres of rides, eateries and shops on a 140-acre site about half the size of Carowinds in North Carolina or Tennessee's Dollywood.

Anticipated price tag: $400 million.

Closed only in January-February, it will be the northernmost four-seasons amusement park in eastern North America, and the first anywhere associated with the incredibly successful Hard Rock Cafe. And it is the first theme park in the world hard-wired to the enduring appeal of rock 'n' roll.

The entry plaza harks back to the eclectic jumble of storefronts at the entrance to Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Fla. It has shops, food areas and a bar where cover bands will play. The small, air-conditioned Origins theater will show 12-minute films on aspects of pop entertainment.

Beyond that, arranged around a lagoon, are the park's five themed sections:

Born in the USA includes a midway-style, pay-to-play games area; climbing structures for kids; an all-ages Shake Rattle & Roller coaster (cars have a double lap-bar, so Junior can't wriggle free or fly out); plus the Slippery When Wet suspended coaster that's an easy target for folks on the ground, who can blast riders with water cannons.

An amphitheater can seat 2,000 visitors -- plus 10,000 standing and 8,000 on the lawn -- for performances by the local and regional bands that will play throughout the day, plus occasional major groups, including the Eagles and the Moody Blues, which are scheduled to play for the park's grand-opening celebration June 2-3.

Regular performances will be included in park admission. Another name act has been announced: Volunteer Jam, with Charlie Daniels and .38 Special, during Myrtle Beach's mid-May Bike Week.

British Invasion is the largest themed area. Its thriller is the Maximum RPM coaster: your "sports car" and a ride-in Ferris wheel rotates you to the track above.

Nights in White Satin: The Trip -- also pegged as a major draw -- is an indoor "dark" ride synchronized to a tweaked version of the 1967 Moody Blues standard; cars glide over 720 feet of track in 4.5 minutes (speed: 1.82 mph), passing 14 scenes.

The Roadies Stunt Show will have live-action stunts and comedy. Punk Pit is a musical cousin to the Moonwalk, with separate areas for small fry and for large-size moshers.

Lost in the '70s is an indoor amusement arcade that mixes new games with classics such as Pong, Donkey Kong and Pac-Man. (You pay to play.)

Rock & Roll Heaven has Led Zeppelin -- the Ride. It's the park's signature coaster, and is synchronized to the band's 1969 hit "Whole Lotta Love." The track is close to three-fourths of a mile in length, has six inversions and a 120-foot loop. Maximum speed: 65 mph. The ride entrance resembles an actual zeppelin.

Malibu Beach Party is a live show with acrobatics, diving and motorcycles. Reggae Falls is a kids' play area with water elements.

Cool Country attractions include Midnight Rider, a coaster where you hear Southern rock; there's also a giant swing ride; and Muddin' Monster Race, a circular ride. Country on the Rocks is an 860-seat indoor venue with a souped-up ice-skating show.

The exterior of Country on the Rocks resembles a rusty old factory but was originally a Fantasy Harbor attraction called Magic on Ice, then Snoopy's Magic on Ice. It was retooled as the Savoy, a big-band music venue, then Florida businessman Jon Binkowski bought it in 1999.

He turned it back to a skating show, but Binkowski's Ice Castle closed the following year just as the outlet-plus-attraction site slid into financial troubles. While Medieval Times survived -- it's still in business, m'lord -- the other theaters hit hard times.

Binkowski saw the writing on the asphalt -- and led a move by parcel owners to pool their holdings and get a theme park built on the site. His new development group got the Hard Rock people involved through a licensing agreement.

Binkowski is now chief creative officer at the park. He believes the unsung hero of all this is the late George Bishop, who developed the Waccamaw-Fantasy area in the 1980s and '90s and who actually envisioned more theaters than were ever constructed. What he did build played a role in cutting construction costs at the new park.

Like the Ice Castle, Mall 3 of Waccamaw Factory Shoppes has been repurposed. It holds Hard Rock Park's headquarters (in the onetime Belk outlet), the Nights in White Satin indoor ride and the Lost in the '70s game arcade.

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