Written by Russell Meyer
Published: January 2, 2005 at 11:02 PM
I reported a couple of weeks ago about Universal Studios matching Disney with its own ticket price increase, leaving Sea World the only park in Orlando you could visit for under $55.00. Well, that’s no longer true. Sea World, as it seems to always do, reacts with the rest of the Orlando parks to raise its single-day admission price to $59.75. Unlike the other Orlando parks, Sea World has not added a major attraction to its lineup in the past year, unless you count the revamped waterfront area and “new” Shamu show. While Universal has added Mummy and Disney has added Stitch and Mission: Space in 2005, Sea World has not added a thing to counter its competitors. Sea World cites increased operating costs, consumer demand, and competition as reasons for the increase. I thought competition was supposed to keep prices down, not the opposite. Just a year and a half ago, we were talking about parks breaching the $50 barrier, and next year we may be looking at a single day at a theme park costing more than $60! Come on guys, we’re not made of money.
Record Breaker Tops Out
Six Flags Great Adventure’s soon-to-be record breaking roller coaster Kingda Ka is just about topped out with its 456 foot tower nearly complete. While the construction is a couple of weeks ahead of the progress Top Thrill Dragster had reached 2 years ago, there’s still a lot of work to do, including the construction of an entire new land, The Golden Kingdom. Also, unlike Cedar Point, Six Flags opens for the season in April, a month ahead of Cedar Point’s opening day. I’d really like to see this whole situation work out for Six Flags, because this investment could make or break the company. However, I’m still incredibly skeptical that Kingda Ka is going to pay off as much as Six Flags wants. Stay tuned, as this huge coaster may very well be the story of the year.
What’s Your Resolution?
With holidays and the slow off-season comes incredibly slow news days. January 2nd, 2005 happens to be one of those rare days where the news is slower than the lines at Six Flags Magic Mountain. What else can you talk about in January? New Year’s Resolutions! Everyone makes them, and most of them have to do with breaking bad habits, loosing weight, or getting of the snide. Just about every park in the country should be making some resolutions this year also.
First off, every single park needs to look at its books, and try to find a way to make ends meet without raising ticket prices. Aside from Six Flags, every major park chain is raising prices at least in one of its parks. The admission prices are out of control, and a breaking point does not seem to be anywhere in sight. I don’t think I could ever advocate people not visiting theme parks, but the only way prices are going to stabilize is to have guests seeking alternate forms of entertainment to theme parks. A major drawback of capitalism is the law of supply and demand, so as long as the public continues to demand the entertainment provided at theme parks at the price that they’re offered at, the parks will continue to jacking up the prices until the demand cools off.
Next I’ll give you of a couple of specific resolutions for each of the major theme park chains, and whether I think they will be able to keep them…
Disney—The world’s largest and most successful theme park chain needs to resolve to introduce original ideas. Besides Expedition Everest, which looks to be one of the most interesting attractions at a Disney Park, every attraction that will be debuting in 2005 will be a copy of another Disney attraction. Disney should also resolve to maintain its focus on safety in its parks. While just about every guest thoroughly enjoys their stay at one of the “happiest places on earth,” too many guests are finding their visits ending in a hospital. It is true that most park accidents are caused because of guest ignorance, Disney needs to make it very clear that they are focused on making their parks the “safest places on earth.” I have yet to read a press release from the Walt Disney Company that has enforced the company’s focus on keeping guests safe.
Disney should be able to keep its resolution to give all of its guests as safe as possible. However, in order for Disney to keep cloned attractions out of its parks, WDI needs to come up with ideas that are innovative and economical, 2 traits that are on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to Disney attractions.
Universal--Universal will resolve to give Islands of Adventure a new attraction to advertise. While the lack of new attractions has not seemed to have hurt the park’s attendance numbers, I don’t know how much longer the thrill park can continue increasing its numbers without something new on the horizon. Rumors are always flying about different roller coasters and dark rides that may be added to the park, but no activity has been seen at the park. Aside from Fear Factor and a couple of special events, there’s no new reason to visit the park if you’ve been in the past few years. The studio parks are looking great with the Mummy attractions, but IOA’s luster is beginning to dull.
Universal may very well have something planned for IOA in 2005, and if it’s big, it may keep IOA as the hottest park in the country for a few more years.
Busch--Both Busch Gardens parks are adding major new attractions in 2005. However, the chain’s most popular park, Sea World Orlando, may not make any additions in 2005 after revamping its waterfront in 2004 and adding a new nighttime spectacular. Sea World needs to resolve to use its newfound income from its 11% admission increase to add a major new attraction by 2006.
Something tells me that if Curse of DarKasle is a huge hit in Williamsburg, we can expect a similar attraction with an underwater theme at the Orlando park within 2 years. A fantastic dark ride could justify a $60 expenditure for Sea World instead of one of the other parks in the city.
Cedar Fair--Cedar Fair needs to resolve to re-theme its parks towards families and to stop trying to compete with Six Flags. As much as they want to remain the “roller coaster capital of the world,” Cedar Point needs to realize that there are only so many coaster enthusiasts in the world. Their new indoor water park should bring in families to Sandusky for the winter, but the ultimate thrill park needs to find a way to get families in the park in the summer. King’s Island seems to be making all of the right moves, and now with Geauga Lake diluting the market, Cedar Point will have a harder time keeping up.
Cedar Point has a big flat ride coming in 2005, but still nothing for the whole family. Coaster rumors are already buzzing for 2006, but there seems to always be a coaster rumor for a park that just cannot seem to build enough roller coasters. This is another park that could benefit from a great hybrid dark ride. A Mummy-style coaster dark ride could be perfect, and Cedar Point could kill 2 birds with one stone. Will it happen? I doubt it, but anything’s possible I suppose.
Paramount--The park chain that has made the most progress in the past few years is continuing to realize the importance of creating great stories around their rides. Their parks are getting much improved reviews, and with a new attraction coming to just about every park, including 2 very intricately themed launching roller coasters, Paramount may just need to resolve to keep up the good work, and to continue to listen to guest opinions.
Six Flags--The lowest rung on the totem pole when it comes to major theme park chains, Six Flags needs the most help. Six Flags needs to resolve to improve the guest experience in their parks. From running attractions at full capacity, to crowd control, to food quality, Six Flags needs to improve just about everywhere to increase their popularity in the theme park world. Building a record-breaking roller coaster is just not enough. To many guests, $45 million could be much better spent on better employee training, nicer queue areas, new parking areas, and nicer landscaping. However, many people, including myself, are interested to see if Great Adventure can pull Kingda Ka off, which would dramatically improve the company’s reputation in the industry.
Many of the Six Flags parks are going to be relatively quiet over the winter, but if just a small amount of capital can be spent on minor capital improvements, like in early 2004, all of the parks would be better off. Will it get done? Well, I’m hopeful, but skeptical.