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Vote of the week: What was the top theme park story of 2008?

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Published: December 25, 2008 at 10:04 PM

It's time to decide what, of the many things that happened in the theme park industry in 2008, was the biggest story in theme parks last year.

Was it Aquatica opening at SeaWorld in Orlando? Hard Rock Park's opening... and closing? The fire that destroyed the King Kong attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood? The death at Six Flags Over Georgia? The InBev takeover at Busch? Or something else?

For what it is worth, here were the most-read articles from the Blog Flume on Theme Park Insider in 2008:

  1. Aquatica--SeaWorld's Waterpark
  2. 2007 theme park attendance report released
  3. Universal Orlando's top chef talks about Mythos, food trends... and Harry Potter
  4. The Four Hour Tour: Epcot
  5. The Four Hour Tour: Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom
  6. The Four Hour Tour: Universal Studios Florida
  7. SeaWorld's Aquatica: A trip report
  8. The Four Hour Tour: SeaWorld Orlando
  9. The Four Hour Tour: Universal's Islands of Adventure
  10. X2 launches at Six Flags Magic Mountain [with video]

As you can see, the most-read articles tend more toward "evergreen" trip-planning pieces than news reports. So let's take this opportunity to pick what you, Theme Park Insider readers, vote as the top theme park story of the year.

I've used my judgment as Theme Park Insider editor to nominate the top 10 stories of the year. Now, it is up to you to vote for number one. (I have left a "none of the above" option if you'd like to nominate another story. If you pick "Other" tell us in the comments which story you'd nominate as the top story of the year.)

Thanks for another great year here on Theme Park Insider, and watch next week for our previews and coverage of the Tournament of Roses Parade, from here in Pasadena, California.

Readers' Opinions

From Tony Duda on December 25, 2008 at 11:31 PM
I voted for Hard Rock Park opening and closing in one year as the biggest story of 2008. It is hard to underestimate this monumental failure. All the other big stories have happened in one way or another over the years. Big new rides open and are either lauded or deplored. Tragic accidents occur whenever you get tens of thousands of people congregating in a relatively small area surrounded by complicated machines. Theme parks are sold to new owners often. Big new parks open every year or so. But never has a major park, in planning and under construction for years, go belly up after only one season.
From TH Creative on December 26, 2008 at 5:51 AM
It sure seems like Hard Rock is the story of the year. And while the option "Industry cuts prices and projects as advance reservations tank for 2009" sort of covers it, I'd suggest that had there been an option to vote for the Disney "free admission on your birthday" promotion, it would have been a close second.
From Andy Guinigundo on December 26, 2008 at 6:49 AM
I find it somewhat amusing/interesting that many on this blog discuss HRP with disgust or contempt and yet it appears to be leading at this point as "the biggest story". It's early yet...

My biggest story is the multi-million $$$ redo of Disney's Califonia adventure. Is this an admission by the Mouse that DCA was a good idea poorly executed? Will the changes be what is necessary to get that park where it needs to be i.e. thought of in the the same light as the other 5 US Disney parks? The next 5 years should tell us.

From Christina Horwitz on December 26, 2008 at 7:15 AM
I took this vote to mean which story not only was interesting to us folks but also to the general public and the fire by far got the most coverage nationwide. Not sure people even knew a Hard Rock park existed - guess that's right since they closed up!
From David Sutter on December 26, 2008 at 7:30 AM
2008 has been an interesting year for the Theme Park Idustry....Weve seen so many parks go dark...sold, reworked, and managment changes..Even the Mouse has had an off year!....But lets keep it simple, how much of that has been to poor corperate decissions? But theres only so much of the pie to go around...And many greaat parks ..started their lives as a simple family day out for families..And over the years that changed. Most tried to become major vacation destanations...Multi day passes, of some kind...And, How many coasters does it take to make a great park really. Sure the coaster wars of the early 80s gave us many...But some where in that mass of steel the theme went out of the Theme Park...And most became white kunkle amusment parks...Which Ive seen come and go...Having worked for a major theme park company ..total 15 years...Ive seen it happen...Now many will tell me Im full of bug juice..but Ive seen it! And its a very sad day...But lets hope 2009 many start to see what the greed caused ....Wishing all the best for the new year....Robert keep up the great work..
From Joshua Counsil on December 26, 2008 at 10:55 AM
Andy -
Completely forgot about DCA's revamp. That's a big one, in my opinion, and comes in third on my scale.

For me, it came down to InBev and the Economy. It seems that the economic crisis covers too broad of a scale to simply tell it as one story, since each company is reacting differently to it, so I went for InBev. How often, in the theme park world, does an American company get purchased by a European one? And although nothing drastic has happened yet, it was the only story of the ones above that I heard non-theme park junkies (like my friends) talk about.

From Robert Niles on December 26, 2008 at 11:16 AM
The DCA revamp was announced last year, so I didn't include it on this year's list.
From Larry Zimmerman on December 26, 2008 at 12:26 PM
I still think InBev's purchase will destroy the Busch Entertainment parks as we know them, and there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth...
From Anthony Murphy on December 26, 2008 at 2:26 PM
My Dark Knight story didn't make it :(
Maybe I can redeem myself with the Pirates report at SFGA, lol

Its ok :)It wasn't big news anyway!

Anyway, Grand Opening! Grand Closing! HRP got my vote!

From Robert Niles on December 26, 2008 at 2:38 PM
FWIW, 2007's top story was the announcement of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando, followed by the accident at Kentucky Kingdom where the teen girl lost her feet. The California Adventure announcement placed third.
From Andy Guinigundo on December 26, 2008 at 2:54 PM
Yeah, in retrospect, the DCA announement happened around Nov/Dec of '07.

I like this debate though. In a way it's like the academy awards. A great movie that was released February gets forgotten while a good (but not great) movie becomes the toast of Hollywood come award time. This HRP saga keeps going and going...thankfully, mercifully, I just read that the rock 'n roll park in Arizona may never be built!

From steve lee on December 26, 2008 at 3:36 PM
I have to go with Hard Rock Park. Granted, I was a pretty strong fan of the park, but you have to look at it for what it ultimately is: the biggest disaster story in the theme park industry...possibly ever. A $400 million dollar disaster. While it's easy to look at parks like Joyland or Wild West World as other examples of colossal screw-ups, the money involved just doesn't compare. And it's such a shame, since the HRP folks got a lot of stuff right. But the 80 percent they got right was tragically overshadowed by the 20 percent they completely missed the mark on...

Can anyone think of a bigger investment that didn't go anywhere? The closest I can think of is (sorry, Disney) Mission:Space. I know that sounds silly, but when the park is crowded and the 150 million dollar attraction has a five minute standby wait, you know something has gone awry.

While I do think the inBev story is huge, I couldn't go with it because at this point there's not much more than speculation and conjecture. We won't know the full extent of how this development is really going to impact the industry for a little while.

From James Rao on December 27, 2008 at 11:48 AM
Mission: Space?! I love that attraction. However, I could see where the more squeamish park visitors would stay away. For those who have ridden it, though, I am sure it is not considered a disaster!

I am thinking X - X2 at Magic Mountain....a lot of money went into that ride, twice! And from what I have read it still has its share of problems.

My pick for top story was : "Industry cuts prices and projects as advance reservations tank for 2009" as it seems all encompassing. The disaster at Hard Rock Park is just one more casualty of the economic downturn of 2008. Sure the park probably would have failed anyway at some point, but you would like to think that it would have made it one full season before doing so if not for the recessed economy and the general timidness most travelers felt about spending money over the past 6 - 8 months.

So, any predictions on the top story of next year? Manta? Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit? Diminished spending and attendance at the major parks? Let's just hope the main story is something upbeat and not the same kind of depressing news we have had to deal with in the latter part of 2008!

With that in mind, I will wish a very Happy New Year to all my fellow Theme Park Insiders!

From Robert Niles on December 27, 2008 at 12:40 PM
I'll bite. My guess is that the free birthday promotion prompts Disneyland to move to the top of the most-attended theme parks list for 2009. The birthday promo will swell crowds at Disneyland more than it will at Disney World, which is less popular with day visitors.

Disney and Universal will slash overall prices, though many of the "cuts" will actually be along the lines of "buy this and get that" deals which lock people into vacations of certain length. Still, deals will be available and attendance will not suffer too much. USF might even go up with the new coaster, though IOA and USH will be flat, or down. WDW will be flat or down, DL will be up.

At the Busch parks, management uncertainty will affect the parks' ability to react with aggressive price deals, until InBev management wakes up to the fact that they're not gonna sell these parks immediately. BEC's immdeiate future depends upon InBev giving BEC management the green light to do whatever it needs to do to remain viable in the 2009 market, rather than telling it to "hold tight" and do little, pending a deal. That would be disaster.

At Six Flags and Cedar Fair parks, however, the story will be different. Lower priced Disney and Universal parks, coupled with lower priced gasoline, will rob SF and CF parks of many potential visitors. Those parks will respond with aggressive price cutting, which will end up hurting their bottom lines.

So my big prediction is... more local or regional amusement parks in 2009 will join Hard Rock by closing their gates for the foreseeable future.

From Anthony Murphy on December 27, 2008 at 1:38 PM
I disagree, I think with the economy being so bad, local parks will soar in 2009. Now I know that this might be probably the best attended "Local Park" on TPI, but SFGA seemed to have seen the bad market wave and beat everybody else to it. They are relasing a new ride next year and seemed to have a pretty good year. I think 2009 will be the year for Six Flags.
From steve lee on December 27, 2008 at 2:14 PM
I love Mission:Space as well, James, but that doesn't mean the ride has been a success for Disney. I'm looking at the ride's overall popularity. When we were there two weekends ago, everything in the park had a pretty decent line (including a 90 minute wait for Test Track and a 120 minute wait for Soarin) except Mission:Space. Mission:Space was rocking a five minute standby line.

I consider that a pretty big failure...

From James Rao on December 27, 2008 at 6:14 PM
Dunno, Steve, it could just mean the average tourist is a big wimp! ;)

I would hate to think Disney ever felt the need to replace Mission: Space....it is my favorite ride attraction at Epcot.

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