Published: July 9, 2006 at 6:40 AM
I understand the point of view that you are taking on the whole family friendly/themed attraction thing, but I disagree on a few points here. The magic word here is balance.
While the coaster fetish the previous management had was somewhat responsible for their troubles, Six Flags attendance and the company didn't tank because of too many thrill rides, they tanked because of a lack of balance in their ride lineup and because they had too much debt built up from a buying spree of parks. They grew themselves too fast, and there wasn't enough money to spend on park upkeep, operations, good atmosphere, etc. While things have seemed to turn around a bit this year, people have grown tired of going to high priced parks that have no personality and that aren't worth the price of admission. The overpriced mediocre food, the high parking and ticket prices, the long lines due to low capacity...it all reeks of the "corporate stench" that doesn't belong anywhere near an amusement or theme park. This company needs an entertainer to run it, not another businessman.
Also, when did Busch adopt a family friendly strategy? The only rides coming out lately for them have been thrill rides. Sheikra, DarKastle, the new coaster coming to BGE next year. These rides aren't really qualified as family friendly. Busch Gardens is successful because of balance. Great coasters, great atmosphere, great food, good shows in Williamsburg. Great coasters, great atmosphere, animal park in Tampa. Sea World has the rides, and obviously the marine life is a huge family draw. Busch knows how to balance their attractions. Kings Island knows how to balance their attractions. Coasters, atmosphere, personality and a great kids area. Even Cedar Point, the quintissential thrill park, has that same mix of something to do for everyone. Shapiro should take a look at Six Flags Fiesta Texas, which last I heard had a pretty good mix as well.
Theres another issue at hand here. Themed rides, the ones that are done correctly, cost money. Attention to detail is ultra important when creating these rides, and attention to detail costs money. Six Flags properties for the most part are seasonal, have no hotels for extra income, and have low guest spending to begin with. Quite simply, they don't have the money to make a Universal/Disneyesque themed ride happen. So should they go the Disaster Transport route and retheme an existing ride by enclosing it and splattering glow in the dark paint everywhere? For those who don't get the analogy, Disaster Transport is the great failed theme ride experiment at Cedar Point. Quite simply, there is no money to spend on good themed attractions at Six Flags right now....which makes me wonder why they are so fast to sell parks like Magic Mountain. I read an interview with Shapiro that sounds like he had already made up his mind to dump the park. It's in too big of a market and there are too many possibilities for it to get rid of. Mark my words... Unless he collects a billion, it's a big mistake.
Family rides and attractions are very important to have, and low thrill high immersion technology will play a big part in future rides, however I still maintain that the roller coaster is the center of the universe. The shape of the coaster may be different, but it's still the center, and no man made technology will be able to substitute for the thrill of gravity. Is it the only ride in the park? absolutely not, but show me a successful park without at least one around in some form or another. The coasters don't need to change at Six Flags, their surroundings do.