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Theme Park or Thrill Park: What is the Future for Knott's Berry Farm?

December 21, 2015, 12:02 PM · Whether your local park is closed for the season, or you are stuck in an endless line at Disney or Universal, chances are that you're not riding much at a theme park this week. So let's turn our thoughts to the future and what our favorite parks might do in the years to come.

Parks have announced most of their new attractions for 2016, so let's talk instead about 2017 and beyond. Sure, most parks will keep following the same pattern with their 2017 additions that they did for 2016, 2015, and every other year in recent memory. The iron parks will add new coasters or carnival rides, Universal will order some new screens, and Disney will announce some merchandise events. (It's Monday, and I'm feeling sassy.) But there's one major park that's been changing course over the last three years, and it's interesting to speculate about which path it will choose to follow in the future.

Not so long ago, Knott's Berry Farm seemed destined to become yet another iron park, adding a series of roller coasters and thrill rides, even to the point of bulldozing its themed entrance lagoon to put up a B&M Inverted. But a few years ago, Knott's switched direction. With two widely-lauded dark ride refurbishments and a new 4D shooter ride, Knott's is returning to its theme park roots.

In 2016, Knott's is plussing Ghost Town for its 75th anniversary, and rebuilding its GhostRider roller coaster as part of that effort. So that raises the question of what Knott's will do after that. Will it continue to redevelop itself to compete with Disney, adding a new dark ride, or it will return to the iron park path and go back to ordering more thrill rides? In my Orange County Register column this week, I ask, What do fans want to see Knott's Berry Farm do next?

Here are some initial responses, from Twitter:

Fans split on a suggestion that Knott's might consider an "addition by subtraction."

Please take a look at the column, then let us know what you think. Respond here, or on Twitter, tagging @ThemePark and @OCRegister.

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Replies (17)

December 21, 2015 at 1:37 PM · The Silver Bullet is a fine roller coaster in the wrong place. It should be moved to where the Pony Express is currently and partially in the south parking lot. The Aztec themed roller coaster should be removed permanently. So eliminate 2 and relocate one. Add an indoor elaborate dark ride with a western theme and add a detailed multilevel shopping and dining experience in the former Silver Bullet area.
December 21, 2015 at 2:26 PM · Knott's is at a very interesting place in that they appeal to all demographics. Not everyone enjoys Disney, and not everyone enjoys Six Flags, but I have found very few people who do not like Knott's Berry Farm (unless you require a fully immersive environment, which is not something Knott's can provide). The park has overdone both thrill rides and family rides in the past, and going forward I would really like to see a balance of the two. 2016 is an excellent example...something for the thrill seekers (GhostRider refurbishment) and something for families (Ghost Town Alive). The two additions don't necessary need to be related (for example, add the big hypercoaster that has been rumored for years but also add a couple new family flats to Camp Snoopy), but I really don't want the park to focus only on thrill rides or only on family rides for an extended period like they have done in the past. They cannot compete in just one demographic and need to continue to appeal to all audiences in order to remain successful in the So Cal theme park market.
December 21, 2015 at 2:50 PM · I've always thought that Knott's should get an almost Disney-level themed coaster that is borderline family coaster and borderline thrill coaster, something along the lines of Cheetah Hunt or Manta at SWSD. However, Knott's has VERY little room to expand within the boundaries of the park and outside of the park. However, while on Silver Bullet, I noticed an area of land outside of the park that could be the future location of this coaster I have in mind. Next to Fiesta Village on the other side of La Palma Avenue there is a relatively large piece of land that appears unused. Lengthwise it is a little less than half the length of Knott's and width-wise it is probably one eighth the width of Knott's. If it is somehow possible for Knott's to expand here, it would be a great location for a multi-launch thrilling family coaster with several moments of airtime, forceful turns, great theming, and maybe even an inversion.
December 21, 2015 at 2:50 PM · I've been lucky to experience various theme park all over the United States and when people ask me what the most unique park I've ever been to, I usually say Busch Gardens. I say Knotts stay on course and continue to add a thrill ride here and there and continue to focus on their western theme and add more to Camp Snoopy. Strive to keep the park clean and improve customer service just like Busch Gardens. Man I do miss the soap box racers.
December 21, 2015 at 4:27 PM · I think Knott's should continue to be the best of both worlds. They should build on their success with themed attractions like the Calico Mine The amazing log flume and Mystery lodge and also add the best of thrill rides. Before doing any other major attraction adds I'd like to see neglected sections of the park updated. The entire back side of the park from The Western Entrance, through the Boardwalk and around to Fiesta Village is in sad shape compared to Ghost Town, Camp Snoopy and Calico Square. I'm not talking about the attractions so much as the look of themed buildings, landscaping and viability of back of house areas. You can be the best of both worlds when it comes to themed attractions and thrill attractions, but it all must live in a great looking place. A lot of Knott's already is, but a lot of it needs some help.
December 21, 2015 at 4:48 PM · I think Knotts should go with more dark rides. Unless they want to compete with Six Flags for the newest coaster, I would harken back to what makes them great...the dark rides.

Ironically, I greatly dislike the Iron Reef

December 21, 2015 at 5:14 PM · I'm a big thrill ride fan, but I agree Knotts is really well balanced right now. I adore Calico Mine Ride and Timber Mountain. Though I don't mind getting the best of both worlds if they can fit it in or find creative ways to expand. For instance, I'd also like to see them get a Maverick style coaster, which has a really pliable layout and maybe some more dark rides, perhaps a Haunted attraction to save them a bit of work come haunt time. Maybe they could expand into the other lots by having a bridge over the road like Kentucky Kingdom had when it was Six Flags, or move admin buildings there. I think Knott's is in a good place at the moment and if they add a coaster it doesn't have to be the biggest to be great, cases in point: Expedition GeForce, Maverick and so on.
December 21, 2015 at 5:22 PM · Setting aside its merit as a coaster, Silver Bullet shouldn't have been placed where it was. Its removal or at least relocation would be one bold (and awesome) move on the part of Cedar Fair and a major vote for Knott's as a genuine theme park. While I hope to see that happen I doubt it ever will.
December 21, 2015 at 8:43 PM · I have always thought that Knott's Berry Farm should have built a very elaborate version of Knott's Beary Tales. This would be a major improvement over the much beloved original dark ride.
A great dark ride, with a beautiful entrance/loading area, would be a big hit. I thought the new "Voyage to the Iron Reef" was a mis-step in the wrong direction. A much-improved "Knott's Beary Tales" could wind up a classic for Knotts.
Also, bring back the "Soap Box Racers" with a few extra twists and turns. In my opinion, this is a formula for success.
December 22, 2015 at 1:52 AM · I often see Knott's Berry Farm get bashed on Disney fan sites, and a lot of it is because it's not as immersive or themed as other parks. My family and I spend a fair amount of time at Knott's, and it's clear to me that a decent number of people go there mainly for the thrill rides-- the roller coasters throughout the park and nausea-inducing rides which are concentrated in Boardwalk and Fiesta Village. And then you see parents with young children who spend all their time in Camp Snoopy and venture out to ride the Calico Train Ride or stagecoach. And there are older people who like to see shows like the Krazy Kirk band or hanging out among the shops and restaurants in Ghost Town. But almost everyone seems to like certain attractions like the Log Ride, the Snoopy ice show, and the Stunt Show.

So the question, do you want the park to focus on thrill rides or on themed attractions, kind of misses the point. The fact that they closed Perilous Plunge and replaced it with three family-friendly rides in Boardwalk says they don't want just thrill rides.

But as much as Knott's would like to become a park focusing on highly theme rides and areas, unlike Disney or Universal, Knott's doesn't have 100 million dollars to spend on a Radiator Springs Racers or even a Transformers-type ride. They will not be able to compete with Disney at Disney's level. They can't afford to buy the rights to Marvel or Star Wars IP, let alone buy out the entire company and make new intellectual property. They _can_ take advantage of the popularity of the new Peanuts movie at their new Peanuts meet and greet location in Camp Snoopy, but at the same time, Knott's didn't play previews of the Peanuts Movie in their Charles Schulz Theater which was sitting unused in November, and they're not running a Peanuts Movie promotion throughout the park.

It seems like Knott's is happy where they are--attracting the young crowd that likes thrill rides and can get excited about a rebuilt Ghost Rider, while bringing in more of the family and general audience by capitalizing on what makes Knott's unique-- refurbishing the signature rides like the Log Ride and Mine Train Ride, and putting on great promotions like the Boysenberry Festival and the old-fashioned feel of Knott's Merry Farm. They don't have to be all thrill rides or all theming because they've found a comfortable niche in between.

December 22, 2015 at 7:26 AM · I hope they keep both elements. I love themed environments and big honkin' roller coasters; not many parks feature both, and it's a long way to IOA from California.
December 22, 2015 at 8:57 AM · Knott's should concentrate on theme. Put in a Snoopy dark ride with seasonal overlays. Make Fiesta Village a worthy Mexican companion to Ghost Town in theme and food. Those are the next moves that Knott's should do before thinking about adding a coaster, which if they do then they should remove a bad one such as Boomerang or a poor flat ride like Riptide.
December 22, 2015 at 11:25 AM · As much as I'd love to see Knotts become a fully immersive and well themed amusement park like Disney or Universal, it just can't happen. Like Spaceman Spiff said above, Knotts doesn't nearly have the budget that either Disney or Universal can fork forward. Most Knotts attractions cost under $15 million while most Universal attractions cost over $50 million, and while most Disney attractions cost over $100 million. Just look at one of DLR's most popular rides, Radiator Springs Racers.Disney had to fork up over $200 million dollars for that ride, and that's the kind of budget that truly makes a park immersive, and I am 100% certain that Knotts cannot fork over $200 million for a ride let alone $20 million. Plus, Knotts doesn't have any honorable live shows, and I personally don't think that they have the budget to create a permanent full time show. With this into consideration, I would suggest that Knotts just stay to being a well maintained semi-thrill park. While, I don't recommend Knotts turn into a Six Flags, I do reccomend that they maintain a thrill level that is between Six Flags and Disney. I mean, if you look at Knotts's clientele, you'll notice that about at least 70% of them are teenagers who coincidently love thrill rides. So no, I don't think Knotts should start building family rides because family rides do not appeal to their clientele who are mostly between the ages of 10-20 . If anything, Knotts should stick with creating high speed coasters like Xcelerator and Silver Bullet, which are both the top 2 most popular rides at Knotts. There's a reason why the thrill rides at Knotts are by far more popular than the family rides.
December 22, 2015 at 11:39 AM · Knott's should add ambience while upgrading the quality of their thrill rides at the same time.

Steps to consider:

1) Build a parking garage to free up space for more ambience and less clutter within the park.

2) I like Anon Mouse's idea to relocate Silver Bullet and restore a beautiful entrance to Knott's. The entrance is the first thing customers see. Please spend some money at the entrance, Knott's.

3) A Space Mountain style wild mouse ride.

4) Bring back Haunted Shack.

5) Upgrade the theme of Knott's: less Western and more California Adventure natural beauty style. Also, upgrade Fiesta Village. A train ride around the upgraded park could be better than the Disneyland railroad. Consider adding a river boat and New Orleans square area as well. As Disney abandons traditional themes, Knott's should move aggressively to pick up Disney customers who feel forgotten and unwanted.

6) Upgrade existing attractions to compete with Disney's Grizzly River Rapids and Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.

Knott's has a tremendous advantage over Disney in the sense that adding a parking garage and reshuffling roller coasters throughout the park could create a virtual blank slate for a comprehensive park overhaul. Knott's can avoid Disney's initial mistakes and focus on plus-ing Disney's best attractions.

December 22, 2015 at 1:16 PM · I just went to knots yesterday and a few days ago with two sets of people...first time with my 4 year old and second time with adults...it has a good mix to satisfy both sets of visitors in my group...although camp snoopy is small it gets the job done , yeah it could be bigger but its not too bad. I also think they need rides that push riders thru faster...the excellerator is awesome but they spent 90 minutes in line yesterday (Monday before Christmas)...also that new 4-D ride line moves at a snails pace and unlike other parks no signage telling you approximate wait times. I do miss the days of coming here as a kid and this place seeming like a bigger version of a fair ground per se...now with Disneyland and universal making big constant changes knots needs to add a couple of big rides IMO to compete...at $71 to get in is sorta expensive for what you get
December 23, 2015 at 11:37 AM · Just curious, what would it cost to build something like Space Mountain today? If it cost $20 million to build in 1975, then adjusted for inflation the cost would be $88 million today. Does that sound like a reasonable estimate with today's regulations and technology upgrades?

Tony Baxter said that one of his main regrets at Disneyland was spreading money around on little projects in Tomorrowland, instead of focusing on one truly great project. Should Knott's take his advice and splurge on a knock-off of Space Mountain?

Another question: should Knott's pursue a partnership with a high end hotel chain to mold Knott's Berry Farm into a true resort destination?

December 24, 2015 at 12:11 PM · I don't have any guesses about what it would cost to build Space Mountain today, but a straight Space Mountain knock-off wouldn't fit thematically anywhere in Knott's Berry Farm.

More importantly, neither Knott's nor Cedar Fair has shown any indication that they would be willing to spend that kind of money on a single attraction at Knott's. (Iron Reef was said to have cost around $8 million.)

What you're proposing would be a huge shift in the strategic plans for Knott's, to change it into a themed park willing to compete with Disney and Universal on their terms.

If you look at Cedar Fair's portfolio of amusement/theme parks, Knott's is one of the few parks open throughout the year and has better revenue and earnings than most of the other parks, but the same kinds of themed kids areas, entertainment, Halloween events, and off-the-shelf rides you see at Knott's are at all or most of the other Cedar Fair parks.

You would not see Cedar Fair invest $80 or $100 million in a single attraction at one park. They would not build a Timber Mountain Log Ride from scratch today, but they are willing to spend the money to refurbish those classic signature rides at Knott's.

I would also prefer the Knott's entrance to look like it did in the 70s and 80s, but as long as Silver Bullet has long lines and is popular, I can't see it being removed or relocated. The roller coaster/thrill ride demographic is a big part of Knott's visitorship, and park management recognizes that and values those visitors.

I am gratified that Knott's also values the themed attractions it still has and the park's history. The seasonal festivals like Merry Farm and the Boysenberry Festival are fantastic. But Knott's is a hybrid theme park / amusement park without the financial resources of a Disney or a MCA Universal.

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