Published: June 23, 2011 at 7:01 AMRobert you hit the nail right on the head for the food situation at Knott's. When they get it right, they are easily the best in the business, even dare I say on par with Epcot. That being said, when its bad, its reaalllly bad. Make the menu your strong suit, maybe even consider a food festival like Epcot. The "farm" was built on the quality of its fried chicken so ride that horse and push it forward.
Published: June 23, 2011 at 7:24 AMRobert, I agree with your suggestions just about 100%. I can only speak for Cedar Point, but I think that a long-term plan to attract the family market and not just the thrill-loving teen crowd would increase atttendence numbers and repeat visitors. Maintenance problems has been obvious at Cedar Point, which by the end of the season is covered with burned-out light bulbs and lots of spider webs- and not spider-webs from Halloweekends. I fondly remember the spotless CP of my youth, with great food and some really fun dark rides (San Francisco Earthquake and Pirate Ride (before POTC!) and hope that I can see that park again.
Published: June 23, 2011 at 7:36 AMI disagree with your point on characters and licensing deals. They should be used judiciously. I have a toddler at home. It is quickly apparent that the licensing of Peanuts holds the park cohesively and it is a major draw for young kids at Knott's. Peanuts in the newspapers are a poor example. Who read newspapers? Not the kids especially young ones. They moved on to other media, but the Peanuts characters live on in television where they are still popular. They should use Peanuts in their other theme parks so each park has something to tie them together. I would add that Mickey Mouse is hardly the most popular character around. I remember in my youth that they were barely used in Disney movies or television shows. Today, Pixar rules with new and different characters. Mickey is almost a backdrop and there are hardly any Mickey attractions (Philharmonic?).
I don't get what are the unique ride experience of "amusement parks". There are only so many ways of getting spinned around and up and down on a roller coaster.
One things Knott's does very well is their shows. They need more entertainment like concerts and ice shows.
Published: June 23, 2011 at 8:01 AMI do agree with Anon about the attractions of the Peanuts characters. My kids are 16 and 12, and they still love to meet and interact with Snoopy, Charlie Brown, etc. They might not read the strips in the newspaper, but they know that they live at Cedar Point at Camp Snoopy and Planet Snoopy. It would be a mistake for Cedar Fair to turn its back on them without something very strong and long-lasting to fall back on.
Published: June 23, 2011 at 8:27 AMPeanuts is still very popular with kids as mine love Charlie Brown, Snoopy, etc. And parents and grandparents love Peanuts too. They're probably some of the most lucrative intellectual property around to set up a kiddie land that the whole family can enjoy with an emotional connection.
My best advice to Matt is to realize that each park in the Cedar Fair chain is very, very different, unlike Disney parks. While theme may not matter at Cedar Point, theme is critical at Knott's and the focus should be on getting Ghost Town and the rest of the park's theming up-front and high-quality. Forget bringing in more themeless roller coasters because Six Flags at Magic Mountain has you beat by a mile.
Bring a family dark ride back to Knott's, even if it's just a Sally Corp. Peanuts themed ride. Imagine the overlays that could be done for Halloween and Christmas, and the emotional connection that the young, middle-aged and old have to those great, classic cartoon specials. Can you hear the sound of money, Matt? Build a Peanuts dark ride with seasonal overlays, and they'll come in droves over and over again, year after year.
Published: June 23, 2011 at 9:05 AMI only know Knott's, but my advice is to do the EXACT opposite of what they are doing now and you can't go wrong.
Published: June 23, 2011 at 9:12 AMKnott's have a few major weaknesses and it has nothing to do with its rides or shows. It's infrastructure is a mess.
The bathrooms are dirty and outdated. I don't enjoy going into one with crumbing grout and obvious holes in the walls.
The stores next to the Chicken restaurant are old and ugly. They are still selling old merchandise from grandma's attic. They need to completely gut the stores and start from scratch.
The Chicken restaurant needs a makeover in its decor and menu. The chicken is delicious, but the side orders are puny. They need to fix the weaknesses in their offerings.
Published: June 23, 2011 at 10:03 AMTo get a surge of attendance to an amusement park, you need to have a fresh new ride or attraction.
The parks that are sneered at are the ones that have gone more than 5 years without anything new. The parks that are doing the best are ones that are constantly adding new things to the parks. While we all like to consider the parks to be touristy attraction that can bring in visitors from long distances, the reality of the situation is that other than Orlando, every park is a local park with a local market. To tap into that local market, you constantly need new things to bring the local market back in.
There has also been a trend, particularly with Six Flags and Cedar Fair, where the cost of a season pass is extremely low, less than the cost of two visits to the park. This is financial suicide. The cost of a season pass should be closer to 4 trips to the park, although, to be fair it would be ok to have a cost of 2 tickets season pass if it blacked out all weekends and special days.
In a park like Disney and Universal where the parks are immersive, large, have a large merchandising section, and are hard to leave, less expensive season passes make sense because they are getting money from people even if they got in for free. Places like Six Flags that are extremely easy to leave, have little in regards to merchandising, need higher prices at the gate in order to recover monies that they are not making in other areas. The odd thing is that the reality of the situation is that these are reversed. Disney charges a small fortune for a season pass and Six Flags charges very little. Six Flags then has to deal with teenagers running through their parks as if they own the place and spending very little extra money, dropping the experience of the other guests, and clogging the queues for the rides. The whole paid FastPass concept works because people are telling you that they willing to pay more to have shorter waits in lines. You can shorten the lines at the rides by charging more for the season pass and make much more money up front. Cedar Fair charges a little more for a season pass, but I don’t think it is enough. I live in Denver and the ski resorts that are 3-5 hours away charge somewhere around $400 - $500 for a season that is November to April, so roughly what it cost for 4-5 visits, and that is only for daylight hours which are much shorter than an amusement park. Keeping people out of the parks for free would also go a long way toward keeping queue lines down for the people who paid full price to get in, adding to their enjoyment of the parks.
I think at the same time, I would raise the price of a day at the amusement park and take a page out of Holiday World’s book and offer free drinks and sunscreen at the parks. Use small disposable glasses, and still charge people for large plastic souvenir containers.
Published: June 23, 2011 at 10:37 AMI agree with all of your article (ESPECIALLY the part about repainting and making the parks look better overall) except for the part about the PEANUTS. Snoopy and the gang are a worldwide phenomenon, and they will always be the perfect characters for Cedar Fair's parks. But othere than that, I totally agree!
Published: June 23, 2011 at 11:01 AMIt's funny, I was just at King's Dominion (one of the Paramount Parks that Cedar Fair acquired) a few weeks ago. The park has improved somewhat from the dereliction that paramount left it in the last few years of their ownership, but some issues are still prevalent. Graffiti is one of those issues. When I was there a few weeks ago a person had written on one of the stanchions for a ride "KD is better than BG", which meant Kings Dominion is better than Busch Gardens in sharpie permanent marker. All I could think to myself was: "Actually that's the exact reason why it's not better."
Published: June 23, 2011 at 5:44 PMLots of great input and an excellent article. I agree on most points, especially on the food point. I absolutely will not eat at Cedar Fair or Six Flags parks. Their food is crap, absolute crap. I would argue that they should just get rid of food altogether and only serve things they can't mess up like popcorn, pretzels, nachos, sodas, etc. For whatever reason food is just not a priority at these two chains and it is doubtful even a stud like Ouimet can change the culture of food-crappiness that has been in place for the last couple of decades.
As James Koehl mentioned above I would really like to see the addition of more indoor attractions. I do not expect Disney or Universal indoor masterpieces, but there is no reason why more attractions cannot be built inside mildly themed, air-conditioned buildings. As it is now at World of Fun, my local Cedar Fair park, there is only ONE attraction that is indoors - so if you get a thunder storm you can do one of three things: ride Cyclone Sams (an indoor wipeout ride), leave, or watch one of the embarrassingly bad shows at the park (honestly, you only have one choice: leave). A few indoor rides would be a huge boon to most of the asphalt/concrete jungles that comprise the Cedar Fair/Six Flags empires. Again, I am not looking for something on the level of Pirates of the Caribbean, but some indoor flats, an indoor coaster or two (Disaster Transport doesn't count!), a shooting gallery ride or two, an old school funhouse, and maybe even some sort of leisurely boat ride in the dark like the surprisingly good Yosemite Sam attraction at Six Flags Over Texas. Indoor rides... make it happen. A/C Rulz!
Just one last note to back up Mr. Niles: my kids do NOT like Snoopy or Peanuts at all. In fact, my daughter is scared of Snoopy. She'll hug every character at Disney, and pose with Scooby Doo and Superman at Six Flags, but Snoopy...she runs and hides. I have no idea why. Just thought I'd let you know that not everyone is in love with Mr. Schultz's big nosed beagle.
Published: June 23, 2011 at 9:05 PMI second your comment about keeping lines short and it being frustrating having a single train on a coaster.
One of my biggest frustrations with Carowinds (our closest amusement park) a few years ago, was that we would go on a weekday for the purpose of avoiding the lines and then they would have one roller coaster running on rides like the Carolina Cyclone. So even though the line may not be completely filling up the back and forth cattle style line that so many rides have, it would take a long time to get on the ride..... and the long time is somewhat frustrating when you know you are not going anywhere until that train makes it's full lap and comes back and gets unloaded for the next groups turn. I have not even had that much of a problem with that at Six Flags.... and I hope it is not as much of a problem at Carowinds going forward.
Published: June 23, 2011 at 9:16 PMI have had a season pass several times to Carowinds.... but the park got old to me and these are two major things the new management could do to renew my interest in being a season pass holder.
1) Rethink the pricing plan for the season pass.... one of the things that made me not want one was being frustrated that the ammount it jumped in cost to make it where I could use it at more than one singular park. If I have a Carowinds season pass I should not have to pay a bunch more to be able to use that pass once in a summer to go to Kings Dominion. This is actually one reason I pretty much decided against getting a season pass one year.
2) Get a more well rounded group of rides (especially at Carowinds). It is mainly roller coasters and then a waterpark on the side (and it's such a change in gears to have to get dressed for swimming and waterslides if you were not wanting your whole day to be that). I understand that Cedar Fair will not be Disney and I agree, but they can have family rides and rides that appeal to a wide group of people without spending Expedition Everest money every year to do it. Carowinds has lost a lot of their rides that were okay for an older crowd or that parents could ride with their kids. They even ditched the log flume for a roller coaster that may be a big draw, but it is specific to thrill seekers of the extreme type. I would not want to take a child on that before they were like 12 (and only if they really wanted to). I'm not bashing them for putting in the roller coasters, but I think they just need to assess where their weakness are and address it so those people will want to come to the park and will not be the person maybe in the family who when someone brings up going says.... there is nothing for me to do, I don't want to pay that much to go watch you ride Intimidator.
Published: June 24, 2011 at 12:09 AMLet's clear something up. Cedar Fair didn't loose any Paramount licensing, including Nickelodeon. They chose to give it up because they didn't want to pay the licensing fees. The Peanuts characters were viewed as more valuable and are now in use in most of their parks.
I also don't think it's fair to say that Cedar Fair doesn't own theme parks. Knott's Berry Farm is very much a theme park. However, not all of their parks are by definition. Cedar Point, Valleyfair, Dorney Park, Michigan's Adventure are most certainly amusement parks.
In regards to the food I've found that in Southern California park patrons really react positively to good food, but in other markets they do not. Walt Disney World, for example, has some of the worst theme park food anywhere with a few exceptions namely the restaurants in World Showcase in EPCOT.
I agree that the food at Knott's has declined over the years, but it was never the best. The Chicken Dinner is still delicious if you dine in the restaurant and let's get this out in the open. Regardless of what the signage may say you can't get Mrs. Knott's Fried Chicken inside the park.
However, I disagree that food is the winning combination for many of these parks. You need to look at the individual properties and the demographics the park attracts. Food at Disneyland works great, but the parks attract a very different crowd than say those who fill Dorney Park or Kings Dominion. In those parks the rides are what matters, not so much the food.
Also, you suggest one of the biggest gripes I have with Disney at this moment. Food & Beverage decisions for the California Disney parks are being driven by Florida unless that has changed in the past year. The Florida folks don't get the California market!
Each individual park should run as a self-contained unit and have its own food and beverage director who can make decisions based on the individual market. A home office executive chef is a horrible idea. Contracts for some common items like hot dogs, ketchup, etc. can be chain wide, but specialized menus and pricing should be customized for the market.
In the end, Matt Ouimet should in fact focus on exactly what he did at Disney and that is to deliver an exceptional guest experience across the board with whatever the property has to offer. It's really that simple.
Published: June 24, 2011 at 9:15 AMJust a few more comments other than my snarky earlier comment.
I also agree about Peanuts. They are largely unknown characters and are getting more unknown every year. Although I would keep them unless they could get something better.
It doesn't take a lot of money to make well themed, family attractions. Legoland is a perfect example of this. I doubt if they are spending enormous amounts of money on their attractions, but I think that they are able to make something that is fun and puts a little twist on otherwise off the shelf attractions. Plus, Knott's USED to do a fairly good job at this as well. Knott's Berry Tales or the later Kingdom of the Dinosaurs didn't cost "Pirates of the Caribeen" money, but they were both entertaining. Same with the Wacky Soapbox Derby or the Haunted Shack or Bigfoot Rapids or (the best example) Spirit Lodge. But Knott's doesn't even try anymore. They think that by painting a roller coaster a different color and calling it "Silver Bullet" makes it a "themed coaster". IT DOESN'T. And in the case of Silver Bullet, it destroyed large parts of the older parts of Knotts (including Reflection Lake) and ruined the ambiance of Ghost Town. Although Pony Express was a better attempt at theming.
I disagree with an earlier comment about Knotts being a theme park. Knotts USED to be a theme park until Cedar Fair largely destroyed that theme and tried to turn it into just another roller coaster park. See comments above.
Published: June 24, 2011 at 11:01 AMAnon Mouse, you don't get it. You can go to the counter service location near GhostRider or the one in GhostTown, but you'll get the same crappy fried chicken that Mr. Niles experienced, prepared and served by a 16-year-old. I will go to the original Mrs. Knott's restaurant and get the delicious chicken prepared and served by a real kitchen staff.
Despite the label it's not the same stuff and if it is then there is a quality control issue that Knott's should address.
Published: June 24, 2011 at 2:23 PMAs a former employee at Carowinds, I remember well the multi-generational guests... grandparents, parents, teenagers and children. No more-- the place is for teenagers. I LOVED working at Carowinds and tried to make it a career. But I don't take my kids there because it simply is not a good value for them (there's so little they can ride/enjoy that it's not worth the cost). I certainly would not pay to for the grandparents to tag along.
I long for the days of rides/attractions that everyone could do together (train, monorail, gas powered cars, shows, paddlewheel boat (with a dixieland band aboard), movie attractions in a cool theater, canoes, chairlifts, log ride, petting zoo, indian tee pee, stagecoach/carriage rides, horses, trolley.
Nothing against the rides that have been added. But all were multi-generational attractions. Yes, I understand some were removed because of maintenance or insurance issues. Yes, some were labor intensive and costly. However, the point is there is no longer a reason for a normal family to go to Carowinds together anymore.
Now the trouble is, you can't add "one" multi-generational attraction because having just "one" would not be enough to attract those families back. The bean counters would point to the low turnstile count and justify not having more.
Published: June 24, 2011 at 5:34 PMI hate to say it, but the ADA laws and lawyers destroyed portions of Knott's.
Kingdom of the Dinosaurs was a mix of both and Cedar Fair couldn't handle the fact that riders had to load and unload the vehicles while they were moving. I'm sure they were equally dismayed at the lack of seat belts on the attraction (I'll get back to that in a minute). Haunted Shack also a victim of accessibility.
Cedar Fair didn't take out the Soap Box Racers. You can blame the Knott family for buying the TOGO hunk of junk that replaced it and literally came to a stop with a breath of wind. Fortunately, CF removed it.
You can also blame the Knott family for the demise of the signature Sky Jump parachute ride. Had they done the regular, required maintenance it would likely still be in operation today.
Personally, I think Silver Bullet is one of the greatest additions ever to the park. Great ride and it looks fantastic. The majority of the ride isn't even located in the Ghost Town. However, I can understand why the thousands of guests who used to surround the lake on a daily basis and stare for hours on end into the reflecting water are upset.
Getting back on topic. You know what Matt Ouimet needs to do? Rip out all of the unnecessary, capacity killing seat belts from all of the Cedar Fair rides chain wide. That would be a welcome start!
Published: June 24, 2011 at 7:32 PMI feel the parks need to once again be parks that any age group can enjoy. Have rides for all, shows for all that are quality, food that is good and for a price that is not well over its value. Kings Entertainment had some of the best parks out there in their day. Paramount turned them into parks that only teens would really enjoy. At Kings Dominion most of the theaters were removed and those that stayed now run very poor shows when they do. Most rides that the whole family could enjoy have been removed and replaced with coasters or games. KD's other area parks such as Hersheypark and Busch Gardens both see the value in providing entertainment for the whole family and year after year they top KD's numbers. Before Paramount, most years KD topped them. This should tell Cedar Fair much about what they need to do. By the way, Thank you Theme Park Insider for all you do!!!
Published: June 24, 2011 at 10:32 PMTo the poster who is a former employee of Carowinds....
I agree. Well said. They do need to work on making it more of an experience that has appeal to all the members of the family so it is not just a destination for a group of teenagers who found someone in their group who had a license to get them there (not that they are not welcome, but just them alone is not going to really help increase park profits). Bring back the family rides.... the Old Timey Cars (for example) and things almost everyone can ride. Even having some additional flat rides might help. Great shows and other park included entertainment options besides rides might not hurt eithor.
Published: June 25, 2011 at 3:33 PMI was just at Kings Island and Kings Dominion a few weeks ago - having visited both parks right after Cedar Fair acquired them a few years back. I must say - I felt the effects of Cedar Point at Kings Island - the employees were great, the park was clean and the rides stayed operational - with multiple cars on the track even with low capacity crowds! (3 on Diamondback with no line!) They've done a good job re-theming the rides to the Peanuts, etc. or the Scooby Doo stripped "Boo Blasters."
On the flip side, Kings Dominion still struggles. Intimidator 305 is awesome - but 1 car on the track all day?? And the ride breakdowns are constant at KD - especially Volcano (one of my all time favorites). I'm making the assumption that Cedar Fair started with Kings Island (because of the Brady's visit perhaps?) and they haven't quite gotten to KD yet.
Surprisingly, I recommend that Mr. Ouimet check out Six Flags St. Louis. A buddy and I were absolutely blown away by this park when we visited at the end of the May for our very first time. Throughout the day, if we had the map out, a nearby employee would ask us if we needed help finding something. A security guard who helped point me in the right direction early in the day remembered me that night and asked if I had found what I was looking for! All the rides remained operational without a breakdown - their Flash Pass system was flawless and the employees were just so dang NICE. They actually high-fived us when we exited the rides!! One complaint as others have mentioned is the food sucked - but everything else was absolutely phenomenal. I don't know if this is just St. Louis - or if Six Flags is really hitting their groove.
I still can't believe I just recommended an amusement park CEO look to a Six Flags park as a good example of customer experience. But, SFSL just blew me away!
Published: June 26, 2011 at 12:12 PMKnotts was originally a theme park. It'd be nice to see that park get back to its roots. There's no reason why it shouldn't be able to pull more attendance from those coming to see disneyland. Another good focus would be entertainment. Nothing else kills the day or eats up crowds like a quality show.
Published: June 26, 2011 at 1:29 PM@Scottland - really, Six Flags Saint Louis? How could you tell you were getting good service through all the weeds, dilapidated ride structures, and overflowing trashcans? =) In all fairness, I have not been to SFSTL this season, but in the past I have never been overly impressed with that park - although the last time I went the employees were pretty cool. Now, my visits to SF Over Texas and SF New England earlier this summer very much surpassed my expectations. So maybe something is up at the SF parks this year? A bold new beginning? One can only hope!
Published: June 26, 2011 at 7:24 PMActually, I think Busch Gardens Williamsburg would be a great model for Knott's to follow. BGW has big thrill rides along with some family rides, and there's a strong emphasis on entertainment, food, and seasonal events--all at a reasonable price. A park like that in SoCal would probably draw 5+ mil visitors annually.
Published: June 27, 2011 at 1:29 AMI was just at King's Island myself. It's really changed for the better. It's clean, the kid's section looks good again, the employees are pleasant again. It's back the way it used to be when I first went- (Back when the Brady's were filming.)
Paramount did a number on this park. It's good to be able to walk around and not have posters of Tom Cruise assault your vision.
Getting rid of the carcass that is the Son of Beast would be good, too. It just lays there like a dinosaur corpse, reminding you that people got hurt.