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The BLOGFlume--Disappointment, Communism, and Controversy

Kings Island takes a title, a Mickey invasion, major "Turbulence," and Universal blinks

Written by Russell Meyer
Published: December 19, 2004 at 8:51 PM

Cedar Point Losing Its Clout
Cleveland Plain Dealer 12/17/04

This was a story I had to read twice to believe it, and I’m still stunned. In another attendance drop that was blamed on weather, Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, has lost its title of #1 seasonal theme park in the world. That designation has now been claimed by its Ohio rival Paramount’s Kings Island, which is located just outside of Cincinnati. Kings Island ranked 15th in attendance among all amusement parks while Cedar Point dropped to 17th. Cedar Point, located on a peninsula on Lake Erie, claims that 40% of its 146 operating days were hindered by weather, while Kings Island was much more fortunate with mild temperatures and below average rainfall. In recent years, the two parks have gone back and forth with the title. The public exhibited a “what have you done for me lately” attitude by rewarding Kings Island for its Boomerang Bay waterpark addition in 2004, while Cedar Point did not add a single major attraction to its lineup.

In related news, Geauga Lake, (formerly Six Flags Worlds of Adventure), acquired near the beginning of 2004 by Cedar Fair, has had attendance drop 25% over the past three years, and is out of this year’s top 50 among North American parks. The move to acquire Geauga Lake is looking more and more like a poor decision by Cedar Fair, as attendance has tumbled over its first year of ownership. I hope Cedar Fair has a plan to improve, because Kings Island is not resting on their laurels. PKI has Italian Job Stunt Track on the drawing board for next year, while Cedar Point is countering with maXair, a ride very similar to Delirium, already operating at Kings Island. Not to mention, Cedar Point will also lose its title to the world’s tallest and fastest roller coaster with Kingda Ka on the way. Geauga Lake is adding new movies to the already existing motion simulator and 4-D theater, which does not bode well for a dramatic attendance increase. With coaster enthusiasts jetting to New Jersey, and no dramatic additions for 2005, Cedar Fair may have trouble retaking the guests it lost in 2004.

Mickey Mouse is a Communist
Washington Times 12/17/04

We all know that Mickey Mouse is one of the most powerful icons of the success of capitalism in the world, but for the foreseeable future, Mickey Mouse has teamed up with the Chinese Communist Youth League. The partnership will promote Disney characters to all of the children of China before the opening of the company’s Hong Kong Disneyland in 2006. In return, the Chinese government will gain 57% share of the park’s profits, estimated around $19 billion over the next 40 years. While China gets a large sum of money, the youth of China will be bombarded and “poisoned” by the capitalistic principles represented by the Walt Disney Company. Somewhere Karl Marx is shaking his head at the largest surviving socialist society left on Earth.

The Trouble With Turbulence
Screamscape.com 12/17/04

A few weeks ago coaster enthusiasts were getting excited about the prospects of riding the world’s first “frequent faller” roller coaster at Hersheypark in 2005. Today though, dark clouds are shrouding the installation of this new attraction. Interactive Rides, the coaster’s manufacturer, claims that it is still unaware of Hersheypark’s decision to cancel the ride installation. They also claim ignorance of the lawsuit against them for monetary damages related to the park’s removal of the Giant Wheel and costs for marketing surrounding the new coaster. Hersheypark has made it very clear on its website and through local media that the ride is not going to be installed for the 2005 season, but Interactive Rides insists that it is still working on the attraction.

The controversy centers around the rumor that Interactive Rides wants to charge Hersheypark more because of the higher prices for steel now than was originally estimated when the ride was proposed. Hershey feels that it was misled about the cost of the attraction, and promptly announced its elimination from the 2005 line-up, but Interactive Rides has maintained its position that it has never been notified of the cancellation. Interactive Rides is currently working on the installation of Insanity on the Stratosphere Tower, and may still be working on Turbulence, or may be using the controversy to draw attention and sell the coaster to another park.

Universal Holiday Plans
Screamscape.com 12/17/04
Orlando Sentinel 12/19/04

Universal Orlando appears to be having a very successful holiday season. With “Grinchmas” in full swing at Islands of Adventure and the Macy’s Parade appearing every day at Universal Studios, it looks to be a very successful year for the theme park resort. What better way to finish off a great holiday season than to announce a superb headliner for their New Year’s Eve concert at Citywalk. Alas, Universal has announced that David Lee Roth - yes, the former singer of Van Halen - will be the headliner for the annual concert. I’m a huge Van Halen fan, but even I would not be terribly excited to see David Lee Roth on New Year’s Eve. His shows tend to be crude, and his act has become almost a parody of his former self. However, I will admit that at $109 including dinner, the tickets are rather affordable.

However, Universal’s other tickets are taking an unprecedented third hike in 2004. A single-day ticket to either of the two Universal properties will be going up another $5 to $59.75. Universal was in a perfect position to capitalize on Disney restructuring of their passes, but instead they are botching it by jacking up their prices 9%. The single-day pass has gone up nearly $8 since the beginning of last year, and even the multi-day passes are being hiked up with 5-day passes increasing a whopping 25%. This strategy is eventually going to backfire on these parks, because people’s paychecks cannot keep up with the seemingly unstoppable price increases. Expect Sea World to follow suit in a week or two, as the Busch-owned park is the low-man on the totem pole with the bargain price of $53.75. Just 5 years ago, $50 a day seemed ridiculous for a day at a theme park, but today, it’s a bargain.

Readers' Opinions

From Robert OGrosky on December 19, 2004 at 10:26 PM
I was at Universal last week and really enjoyed the Macy's parade. I think Universal did a very good job with the parade, though on the Friday i saw the parade the crowds were not large and a decent curbside seat could be had about 10-15 minutes before the parade.
As for Grinchmas, i thought the show was god and the kids enjoyed it, but they need to move it somewhere they have more rom to work with, like maybe the theater by toon lagoon??
Where it is held they have littel capacity for any type of crowd, especially bad for small kids and we were lucky to get there early enough to have a front row seat.
From Kevin Baxter on December 20, 2004 at 3:04 AM
Congrats to Paramount. They are heading in a new direction, and they deserve something for going beyond the boringass coaster-then-a-coaster-then-another-coaster mentality.
From Derek Potter on December 20, 2004 at 7:09 AM
At this point, I have to agree with Russell about Cedar Fair I posted a similar commentary on a Cedar Point fansite, and it wasn't too popular. People are surprised at this, but looking at the last two years, it was bound to happen sooner or later. PKI had only 300,000 fewer guests than Cedar Point last year, and because CP didn't add a new ride last year, they suffered. The passholders came, but the vacationers didn't come as much. I'll grant that the weather was indeed bad for them last year, but the Lake Erie weather is always an issue for them.

When it comes to CP's decline in attendance, I have to look at the acquisition of Geauga Lake as one of the main culprits. Geauga didn't take any attendance away, but the abrupt purchase of the park put a bit of a financial burden on the company. Instead of adding a new ride at Cedar Point this year, they chose to build an indoor waterpark. Not a bad move for the future, but most fans don't understand what "for the future" means. I could be wrong, but I think that had CF not bought Geauga Lake, we would be seeing a new coaster at Cedar Point this year. Instead they have chosen to go with a Huss Giant Frisbee, which PKI already has. In no way is it a bad expansion...Giant Frisbees are great rides, but I think that people were expecting more this coming year because they got nothing last year. Cedar Fair is not a company that spends freely, but maybe they should think about spending a little bit more.

As far as Geauga Lake is concerned, I wouldn't write it off just yet. Geauga Lake has started construction on a 24 acre waterpark that will be free with the now reduced admission price of 25 bucks. Phase one will open next year, and Phase two will be open the following year. Also as Russell stated, the 4D and motion sim ride, as well as two wooden coasters will get some much needed overhauling. The waterpark and the ten dollar drop in admission will help with attendance, and the other improvements will serve to help bring GL back from the dead. The place has fallen so far out of favor with parkgoers and local residents in the last 5 years. I hear that the locals are back on board, now the people need to come back. Geauga Lake will regain its respect.

As for Kings Island, my hat is off to them. For years they played Cedar Point's game with big thrill rides. Now they have changed their approach and have decided to become a theme park in a land that has no theme parks. Not only are they theming now, but they are doing a pretty good job of it as well. They totally transformed their dull blue and grey waterpark into the bright and colorful Boomerang Bay, which was a big hit. This coming year they are doing the Italian Job themed coaster, and they have some great concepts on the drawing board as well for the future. Give credit to the PKI management for running an excellent operation, and the PR/marketing department for bringing in the fans. I don't see them losing their title...at least until Cedar Point builds something significant. One thing is for sure. If PKI continues on its path, Cedar Point will have to work a little harder to get their guests in the gate in the future. I wouldn't count them out though, because they like to be at the top, and the next coaster is surely coming in 2006. Ohio isn't such a bad place to be right now for the parkgoer.

From Kenny Hitt on December 20, 2004 at 7:41 AM
...except that if history is any indicator, the Walt Disney Company will more than likely allow the re-editing of its cartoons as well as the airing of special programming featuring its characters to promote a Communist agenda, as was the case in the early 90s while the Mouse was courting China to invest in a pavillion in the World Showcase. Disney, it's also now known, was a silent partner in Kissimmee's Splendid China attraction, which was more or less a borderline racist (as demonstrated by its depiction of Tibet as a purely Chinese region) propaganda facility.
From Mike K on December 20, 2004 at 8:09 AM
I can speak for Cedar Point as the weather really hurt them this year. They had a lot of major Saturday's that were rained out which killed attendance. A lot of people base their whole trip to The Point on the weather, and if it is forecasted to be bad they will not go. This happened a lot this past year.

If Cedar Point gets good weather this year, they could easily beat out Kings Island.

From Arthur Cashin on December 20, 2004 at 9:36 AM
Russ, With PKI 15th and CF 17th, who came in as number 16? Was it seasonal or not?

From Anthony Murphy on December 20, 2004 at 10:12 AM
Now I don't want to be offensive or anything like that, but Disney is trying to build a Theme Park in a country that is starting to become less communist and more democratic. This is not the Cold War anymore! People make mistakes, perhaps it was not the best idea to tell everybody that they were doing it, but they are building a theme park. The Olympics are going to be there (aren't they?) so China might still be Commuist, but they are getting on the right track (hopefully)!
From Derek Potter on December 20, 2004 at 11:47 AM
Number 16 was another Paramount park and yes it is seasonal. Paramount's Canada's Wonderland was number 16, beating out Cedar Point by about 100,000 people. They had a 30% increase in attendance in 2004.
From J. Dana on December 20, 2004 at 12:19 PM
Kenny,

I never heard about Disney being a silent partner on the Splendid China theme park. Where did you read this? (please provide name of source and approximate date so I can check it out). Seems to me this is completely antithical to their normal modus operandi of corralling all guests onto Disney property and not letting them "escape." I find this statement highly suspect. Why would they invest in an attraction sitting directly outside their Animal Kingdom park? Doesn't make sense to me.

From J. Dana on December 20, 2004 at 12:24 PM
Also, Kenny, I'm again confused by your comment. When did Disney, as you suggest, allow "the airing of special programming featuring its characters to promote a Communist agenda." Was this done in China? I'd be interested to know how to check out the validity of this statement. Please provide some source here please. If it's true that Disney allowed its characters to be used by China to promote communism, I'd like to know.
From Robert Niles on December 20, 2004 at 12:58 PM
Well, thank goodness Cedar Point didn't have all that many guests this year, because from what I saw from my one visit, the park can't handle very many guests when they do show up.

I went on a Thursday in early August, and found most coasters operating with one or two trains, and wait times from two to five hours. Sorry, the park needs to free up the cash to run its coasters at full capacity if its parking lot is going to be filled to within three rows of the back.

From Russell Meyer on December 20, 2004 at 1:33 PM
The four days I have visited the park in the past two years, I have not experienced those problems. Two of the days were on weekdays and two on weekends, and not a single coaster was running fewer than 2 trains (except Wicked Twister of course), and most were running 3.

Yes, the lines are long, and unfortunately coaster capacities are not that high, even when they are running 2 and 3 trains. Even when Dragster is running at top it can only handle 1500 riders per hour, so even on a full 13 hour day, the coaster can only accomodate 19,500 guests in a day assuming each of those guests only rides once. Throw in the inevidable hour or so of down time and the fact that the ride just cannot attain full capacity, and not every person walking through the gates can ride the best ride in the park.

That's just what happens when you're the roller coaster capital of the world, instead of the high capacity flat ride or dark ride capital of the world. Cedar Point focusses on coasters which effects their ability to get every guest on every ride on every day.

From Derek Potter on December 20, 2004 at 5:13 PM
In all of my Cedar Point trips, I have yet to spend a whole lot of time in line there. Maybe it's because I go at times when I know the crowds will be down, or maybe I'm just lucky. It only took me one time to learn this...never go to Cedar Point on a Saturday. They have an award winning reputation for great capacity and moving the lines pretty fast, so when lines are more than a couple of hours, there are a ton of people there. Kings Island gets just as bad....sometimes worse, than Cedar Point does during the weekend in terms of crowds. My advice to anyone who goes to either place has always been to avoid Saturday, but in Cedar Point's case, if it has been raining recently, than you can bet that the park will see crowds on the first sunny day after the rain as well. After about 5 p.m. the crowds get even thicker because a lot of the passholders and their families get off of work and go to the park for the evening. Those are the kind of things that parkgoers and visitors alike have to look for in the non tourist, weird weather capital of the US called Ohio. That is one of the reasons why Geauga Lake will become an alternative. It's hardly ever busy at all.
From John Franklin on December 21, 2004 at 12:24 AM
Russell, you're behind the times with the opening of Hong Kong DL. The CORRECT OPENING DATE is September 12, 2005 now. NOT 2006.
From Kevin Baxter on December 21, 2004 at 6:03 AM
No one makes excuses better than a Cedar Point apologist. Let's deal with actual facts instead of If Thises or If Thats. Cedar Point is USUALLY up when they get a new coaster, but PKI is up most years, and doesn't drop much in its off years. In the last five years, CP has had only two (minor) up years: 3.43M in 2000 (which was down from 1999), then 3.1M, 3.25M, 3.3M, 3.2M. PKI, on the other hand, has had three, two of which were quite impressive: 3.2M in 2000 (down the same percentage as CP), 3.36M, 3.1M, 3.2M, 3.5M this year. And that is the number that is important. PKI had higher numbers this year than CP has had all century. That is significant. CP will continue this "roller coaster" attendance for many years to come. PKI, on the other hand, appears to be on an upward trajectory.

Let's get realistic though. We are talking about one or two hundreds of thousand of people. Clearly what is driving attendance there are Season Passes. Amusement parks do much better when they appeal to families, an audience CP has been seriously ignoring for years. Unless they want to build a coaster every year to increase attendance, they need to start addressing the non-coaster crowd or PKI will own the Biggest Regional Park title for some time to come.

From Derek Potter on December 21, 2004 at 5:10 PM
I have a feeling that Cedar Point will be addressing the family issue soon for two reasons. PKI taking their status away is one thing, but a couple of years from now, Cedar Fair will have themselves a new CEO when Dick Kinzel retires. I don't expect to see Cedar Point stop building coasters, but now that they see PKI's success, they will at the very least take a look at some family oriented attractions. They build coasters about every 3 years, so why not beef up the family attractions in between?
From Kenny Hitt on December 22, 2004 at 7:19 AM
According to page 257 of THE MOUSE BETRAYED by Peter and Rochelle Schweitzer, Frank Wells brokered a deal in 1985 with China's Communist party-run CCTV to allow the airing of Disney programming on state controlled television. Despite Disney's usually fastidious control of its copyrights and trademarks, it allowed CCTV to make the provision that it could re-edit and overdub the cartoons. The deal was signed that year in Burbank, allowing CCTV to censor for, in their own words, "idealogical content".

On pages 259-260 of the same book, we fast-forward to 1991 and the construction of SPLENDID CHINA. The Chinese government repeatedly denied having any part of the attraction, which sugarcoated the Chinese occupation of Tibet and the plight of its people, and presented a view that landmarks and cultural qualities of the Tibetan people were actually part of CHINESE culture. However, upon completion of the park in 1993, the deed to the project was turned over to the Chinese government OFFICIALLY. Among the ribboncutters, along with 4 members of China's Communist Party, were several representatives from the Walt Disney Company. Given the long-standing association that Disney under Eisner had with the Chinese Government (importation of cartoons, the Chinese pavillion, merch manufacture) it's quite probable that Disney assisted S.C. in the procurement of the land, funding, manpower and materials for the project.

Disney's relationship with the Chinese government seemed so close that Michael Ovits nearly torpedoed the whole thing by trying to get Scorsese's KUNDUN released through Buena Vista.


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