Theme Park Insider

Which theme park company will do the best job over the next four years?

November 7, 2016, 9:49 PM · Just in case you were not satisfied with your selection of hotly contested elections to decide this week... we bring you Decision 2016: Theme Park Insider Style.

The question before you is this: Which major theme park company do you trust most to develop the best attractions over the next four years? That doesn't mean who's doing the best job right now. Or who's done the best in the past. Or even which company is your favorite. We are asking you to look at where each of these companies is today and their expected trajectory over the next four years to decide which one you believe will end up having done the most to improve the industry over that time.

To help you decide, we've crafted five "candidate statements" that we imagined the companies would write to elicit your vote. We picked the five largest theme park operators in North America from the 2015 TEA/AECOM Theme Index for this race. Initial ballot order is based upon overall annual attendance at their parks worldwide.

Disney Parks & Resorts: The industry leader is building its biggest themed lands to date and is on track to complete those Star Wars lands at Disneyland and Disney's Hollywood Studios within the next four years. Disney's also bringing its most technologically advanced new land — Pandora: The World of Avatar — to Disney's Animal Kingdom next year. Following the success refurbishment of Disney California Adventure and a popular refresh of Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World - not to mention winning your Theme Park Insider Award for the world's Best New Attraction this year with Pirates of the Caribbean Battle for the Sunken Treasure at the new Shanghai Disneyland - Disney has the capacity and expertise to lead the industry for four more years.

Universal Parks & Resorts: The fastest-growing major theme park company set the standard for themed entertainment with its wildly popular Wizarding World of Harry Potter lands. While the "industry leader" slow-walked new development, Universal rebuilt its original park, Universal Studios Hollywood, adding Despicable Me and The Simpsons-themed mini-lands before bringing Harry Potter to Hollywood this year. In Florida, Universal rebuilt Hulk, brought back King Kong, opened a fifth hotel, added Transformers and started work on a sixth hotel, a new water park, and two new attractions for USF. And, of yeah, let's not forget Diagon Alley, which is simply the greatest theme park land ever built. In the next four years, expect The Secret Life of Pets and Nintendo coming to Universal, along with plans for a third major park in Orlando. Like the cast of Hamilton, Universal's scrappy and hungry... and getting it done.

Six Flags: You might think just of roller coasters when you think of Six Flags, but don't forget which company brought together 3D gaming with a trackless motion base ride to win your Theme Park Insider Award for Best New Attraction last year. Or which company finally brought virtual reality to the park on a large scale — with no upcharges! — by adding VR to nine coasters this year. The fact is that it is Six Flags that is pushing hardest the boundaries of technology in theme park attractions these days. Not Disney. Not Universal. Six Flags has put years of financial uncertainty behind it to enjoy the best financial performance in its history. New parks are under development in China and Dubai and those fat royalty checks will help pay for continued development here at home. The next four years look brighter than ever for Six Flags.

Cedar Fair: No other company has established as strong a track record for dependable thrills as Cedar Fair. At Cedar Point, Kings Island, Carowinds and its other theme parks, Cedar Fair provides some of the world's most exciting roller coasters, running with a "track" record of reliability that keeps wait times manageable and visitors happy. And at Knott's Berry Farm, Cedar Fair is showing its love for America's First Theme Park with refurbishments of the Timber Mountain Log Ride and Calico Mine Train that have won raves from fans. From great food to record-setting thrills, Cedar Fair delivers the service that deserves your support for the next four years.

SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment: While other companies deal in fantasy and entertainment, SeaWorld does the hard and needed work of inspiring a new generation of fans to care for our precious environment. When animals are injured on our nation's coasts, it's SeaWorld there doing the rescues. And when families are looking for an affordable vacation alternative that provides fun, thrills, and lesson for an affordable price... it's SeaWorld and Busch Gardens there, again. With outstanding coasters in Orlando and new themed experiences coming to San Diego, SeaWorld is poised to create great new attractions that you can be proud of over the next four years.

So there you have the candidates' statements. In the words of Jeff Probst, "it's time to vote."


Last-minute campaigning is not just allowed in the comments, it's encouraged!

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Replies (31)

November 7, 2016 at 10:21 PM · Voted Disney due to Pandora and Star Wars on the way. Universal did a great job with HP, but all the screen based attractions just leave me feeling meh...
November 7, 2016 at 11:07 PM · Cedar Fair is the Ralph Nader of this theme park election.
November 7, 2016 at 11:58 PM · I voted Disney, because the industry leader offers the complete theme park experience, including a wide variety of rides, parades, shows, fireworks, the best meet and greets, etc. Universal has given us Wizarding World, but also an excess of screen-based attractions. And Universal seems unable to create great parades, and their record for shows is hit and miss (and I'm saying this as a fan of their parks!).
November 8, 2016 at 12:50 AM · I voted Universal because the Iron Man Experience opening in HK Disneyland does not seem to be anything particularly innovative. I cannot see it competing for the title of best Marvel ride against the Spiderman ride at Universal. Disney has become stagnant.
November 8, 2016 at 2:18 AM · There are only 2 real candidates (besides Efteling) and that are Disney and Universal.
Disney is on a slow boat to memberberry land and is building a kiddy coaster and 2 spinners in more Toy Story offerings. A Star Wars land that bares any resemblance of the movies locations with a screen based ride and a boat ride with screens. Pandora, adding 2 rides in a park hungry for more, with 1 copy of Soarin (a bad tech demo) and another boring boat ride. Maybe they get the river of light boat and projection show to work or maybe it's another dead Jetty. A third parking garage is being build the next four years and maybe a new parade will come to MK. Not excited.

Universal is building an amazing water park and are opening many successful rides, not letting their parks get old and tired. With a third park full of new amazing new rides and lands to explore I'm a happy Universal voter but hope Disney will return to it's roots and become the resort I once fell in love with.

November 8, 2016 at 5:43 AM · I think Universal could build a 4th gate before Disney finishes a land.
November 8, 2016 at 6:31 AM · SeaWorld. The others will have new rides but only SeaWorld will be truly make or break these next 5 yrs. Out of desperation comes innovation. SeaWorld will shift its focus and become an industry leader that designs amazing attractions for themselves and others.
November 8, 2016 at 6:37 AM · What??? No mention of the highly anticipated Jimmy Fallon ride?!? Simply deplorable!
November 8, 2016 at 7:32 AM · Universal brings the most exciting new adventures over the past several years. No reason to believe this will change any time soon.

Volcano Bay is on the way. Plus a new hotel.

November 8, 2016 at 8:00 AM · Even though I have yet to visit a Universal park in person, I found it swallowing up my vote. The guilt is starting to get to me....I'm sorry Disney! We'll still be friends, I promise!!
November 8, 2016 at 8:02 AM · I voted for Disney. I love, love, love Universal, but Avatar looks much more promising than either Fallon or Fast and Furious. In 4 years, if the third Orlando park has begun work, I'll switch my vote.
November 8, 2016 at 9:41 AM · Hard to say. Disney is slow but I think they might nail this star wars land. On the other hand Universal does things well and doesn't drag its feet. So with that I agree with Sarah above. Sorry Disney.
November 8, 2016 at 9:47 AM · Disney always manages to surpass Universal despite being much slower to build its attractions. Over time, it succeeds spectacularly. Universal's emphasis on screen rides gets old. There's not enough repeatability.
November 8, 2016 at 10:49 AM · I voted for Universal due to their proven track record with new attractions, but I loved, loved, LOVED your candidate statement for SeaWorld. The first two sentences sum up everything I've always loved about those parks.
November 8, 2016 at 10:59 AM · Thank you Melanie for reading the "candidate statements." I enjoyed writing those and hoped people would get a kick out them.
November 8, 2016 at 11:44 AM · OT above is judging the new Disney lands without even trying them. By the way, where did he get the idea that Star Wars Land will have a boat ride??

Disney is opening three new lands, while Universal has Jimmy Fallon on tap. 'Nuff said.

November 8, 2016 at 11:53 AM · "Jimmy Fallon on Tap" really does need to be a new beer at Universal, doesn't it?
November 8, 2016 at 12:08 PM · My vote is for Universal based on their past track record the last 4 years and where they're going. If anyone has not seen the new waterpark video do watch it. Robert is correct at Diagon Alley as the number land ever built. I got to see the New Fantasyland last year for the first time and was disappointed. Snow White should've been longer and more dark ride, not faster but just more to it. Little Mermaid is just the ride there needs to be some kind of food stand/restaurant theres so much theming dedicated to a ride that is so and so. Disney isn't creating splash mountain/haunted mansion style rides anymore. Universal is doing that with Kong and Potter, Minions ride, Simpsons Land, i mean just the train ride going from london to hogsmeade is amazing detail. The food is knockout. Disney is slow to move relying on their IPs for success. Universal has been creating rides, scenery and food above disney for the last 4 years.
These 3 lands would not be moving forward if it were not for Universal. Universal has hotels ready for a third gate theres a plan to put it altogether. How was the new frozen ride everyone? Disney has already cheapen their food at belles castle. I had the same oak fired steak and it was horrendous a second time. Ive read on disboards the same that they have cheapen the food quality. Does everyone have the confidence that toy story land is not going to be new fantasyland 2 with fair rides. Pandora reskinned rides and experiences, and i did love the launch bay at studios. I don't think they can mess up star wars except with food. I enjoyed the new star tours. But thats my point, disney has destroyed my confidence of them putting together food, rides, scenery to that of universal.

I love disney but universal has shown they do a better job at making you feel you're somewhere else then disney. I plan on taking my kids to disney first but after they're out of the toddler years then universal is where we will spend the majority of time.

November 8, 2016 at 1:39 PM · Listen, I know theme parks. Believe me. I've been to the best theme parks. My theme parks are gonna be yoooge.
November 8, 2016 at 2:37 PM · Up until this year Universal has been thrashing Disney, but Kong was such a huge let down (more screens!!!) that it makes it really hard to get excited about Universals next two attractions. Avatar land is going to be incredible, I have no doubt that this land will be astonishing and really out Disney in a totally separate league.
BUT universals secret weapon is Volcanoe Bay, that water park looks spectacular and hopefully if they start hitting the numbers the Disney Water parks get then Disney will be forced to start adding more much needed slides and attractions in their own water parks.
Star Wars land will be incredible, Toy Story land meh (can't get excited about a kiddy coaster and spinny ride)...Disney will be the leader for the next few years but Universal could still be in the game if they listen to feedback about less screens.
November 8, 2016 at 3:02 PM · My opinions may change once I actually visit the Florida parks, but for now I see the chains this way:

-Disney is slow to create new attractions, but when they actually create something original (as opposed to re-purposing existing equipment), the result is often outstanding. In the past four years, they've created what is arguably the single greatest theme park land (Cars Land), and there are two or three projects coming in the next four years that may meet or exceed it.
-Universal is adding attractions to their parks rapidly, but little of what they've been adding has the wow factor of a Disney E ticket. Additionally, with everything based on current IP they risk attractions that will become outdated within a decade. On the rare occasion that they do a full land, it is almost on par with what Disney has been doing, but many of their stand-alone attractions have a similar feel with different characters and settings.
-Six Flags is doing things at the regional park level that nobody would have expected four years ago. They have created a dark ride that rivals a Disney D-ticket on a tenth of the budget, and they have managed to create some of the best roller coasters in the world for half the price of a new B&M. That said, Six Flags has adopted a model of developing one concept and installing it at all of their parks, which is great for locals but severely diminishes the desire to travel to other Six Flags parks (particularly those that have been visited previously).
-Cedar Fair is doing extraordinarily well in the industry, and has managed to improve most of their parks without compromising the identity of any. That said, Cedar Fair is opting for tried and true additions rather than taking a risk with something more unique. The chain is well known for pushing the envelope in the past, and they need to return to that mentality at least partially in order to avoid becoming stale, especially in their more competitive markets.
-SeaWorld is in the middle of a transitional period, morphing from an animal park with rides to a theme park with animals. The process is slow, and for the time being major additions are limited and often take the form of relatively standard rides. That said, the future is looking more interesting for the company, and if they can start growing their parks again they may become a serious competitor for all but Disney.

Honestly, if Cedar Fair was more innovative with their additions, I would probably vote for them. Of the five companies, I feel they are the only one that is increasing revenue and improving their parks without upsetting fans. However, in the past four years they haven't added anything that I've looked at and said, "I have to ride this." Therefore, my vote goes to Disney, as they are creating top tier attractions that are not only outstanding, but are completely unique (and, if the rumors about Star Wars Land are true, will set a new standard for the industry). I will give Universal huge points for Harry Potter, but while their other recent additions have ranged from good to great there hasn't been anything I would consider extraordinary.

November 8, 2016 at 10:40 PM · I seriously doubt I will now ever visit Florida again so my vote and money will stay in California and of the ones listed I'll go with Universal Studios Hollywood even though Disneyland stuff looks more interesting. And if I want more and explore parks (outside of California) I'll will defiantly be spending my money oversees from now on.
November 9, 2016 at 12:06 AM · The next 4 years? Disney. I don't see how anyone could compare Volcano Bay, Jimmy Fallon, and Fast & Furious to Avatar and Star Wars.

My long-term outlook is heavily weighted to Universal. I do think they're going to add a third gate in Orlando, and new hotels where Wet N Wild is. As for post-Avatar/Star Wars...I just have no idea, and with the whole bleak ESPN news dragging Disney down, I don't think they'll be willing to invest in any new lands or eTickets.

But as this is a poll for the next four years, I voted for Disney.

November 9, 2016 at 2:54 AM · The muppets in front of the hall of presidents...+1.
The hall of president with a Donald Trump statue...-1.
Total 0.
November 9, 2016 at 7:24 AM · I picked Disney.

Reviewing the voting results, it looks like I can't pick a winner this week.

However, better Disney parks or better Universal parks is a win/win for me. As for other recent choices...not so much.

November 9, 2016 at 8:58 AM · LOL @ O T
November 9, 2016 at 9:34 AM · Disney's new attractions seem to take several years to come to execution. I'm tired of waiting for Disneyland to produce a new ride. The Star Wars overlays on existing attractions felt like an insult to us parkgoers. And SW Land is not a good fit for DL. Universal just seems to be cranking out new attractions every year, and sometimes multiple attractions per year. They do need to stop giving us the screen base attractions, until they've perfected it (they're nowhere near the perfection of Star Tours DL or POTC in Shanghai).
November 9, 2016 at 11:09 AM · With the upgrades Matt Ouimet has done at Knotts over the last set few years I will have to go with Cedar Fair. Knotts is the only park in the US that is building up upon their legacy rather than tearing it down. Knotts today feels like Disneyland did in the 80s. Knotts today offers the best family experience in the USA.
November 9, 2016 at 1:54 PM · Knott's has a lot of potential but still needs a great deal of infusion of cash- with a DCA type expansion and district overhaul. I'm not sure Cedar Fair has that kind of money or if they do is willing to spend it. But Knott's is their highest revenue producing park so maybe they could.
November 11, 2016 at 1:20 AM · At first, it was a toss up for me between Disney and Universal. The past few years have been great for both, but have had a few hiccups. For every Carsland or Harry Potter, there is a lackluster Mine Cars or over reliance on screens Fast and Furious. But with the announcement of an uninspiring Jimmy Fallon Ride, and Star Warsland, the easy choice for me looking forward is Disney.

Shanghai Disney's POTC took what was learned from Harry Potter's use of both screens and practical effects, and took it in another direction. If that is where things are going, then Disney should take it. Universal on the other hand needs to take what they learned from HP, and run with that without making it stale... I enjoy watching Jimmy Fallon's talk show, but a ride?!?! I'll pass.

November 11, 2016 at 11:46 AM · I really liked the candidate statements for both Cedar Fair and Six Flags but voted for Cedar Fair b/c Six Flags has too many clones, as A.J. mentioned. Offhand I can't think of any Cedar Fair attractions that are duplicative.

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