Vote of the week: The emerging Blackstone theme park empire

October 9, 2009, 10:13 AM · The week's big news was Blackstone Group finally announcing its deal to buy the Busch Entertainment Corp. theme parks, including SeaWorld and Busch Gardens. In separate investments, Blackstone holds a major interest in the Universal Orlando theme parks, as well a majority control of Legoland California. Essentially, with this deal, Blackstone's now got its money in just about every top-quality, high-budget theme park in the United States not owned by Disney.

My questions for the week are about your experience with and opinion of the parks now owned (wholly or in part) by Blackstone.

What would you like to see Blackstone do with the Busch theme parks? Post your suggestions in the comments, please. Have a great weekend, and thanks for reading Theme Park Insider!

Update: At around the 400-vote mark, I crunched the numbers a bit. Here's a ranking of the parks, dividing the number of people who claimed each park as their favorite by the number of people who voted that they'd visited that park in the past five years:

  1. Busch Gardens Williamsburg - 70% of visitors claim as favorite
  2. Universal's Islands of Adventure - 38%
  3. Legoland California - 25%
  4. SeaWorld San Diego - 21%
  5. Universal Studios Florida - 15%
  6. SeaWorld Orlando - 14%
  7. Busch Gardens Tampa - 14%
  8. SeaWorld San Antonio - 12%
  9. Sesame Place - 9%

This is an open thread for theme park news that happens over the weekend. Please post it in the comments.

Replies (17)

October 9, 2009 at 10:50 AM · I would like for them to not do a whole lot of change. Expansion, however, would be great. It's about time for a new country at BGW. It would be great for them to keep up the animal and conservation causes, and would be in their best interest, too. Since I've only been to Orlando once (5 years ago) and haven't gotten to Tampa yet, I can't say much about them. It just would be nice for Blackstone to funnel some money into these parks for improvements without taking anything away that makes the parks so great now.
October 9, 2009 at 10:52 AM · I'd like to see Blackstone maintain the high quality of food and entertainment without raising prices beyond the range of inflation. Oh, and come up with more perks for platinum pass holders...
October 9, 2009 at 10:56 AM · I would LOVE to see more interactive attractions. Even simple ones are fine.

Example: Since I'm a photo-hog, I love having wild or even man-made scenery that BEGS me to take a picture of it. Like the Toon Lagoon of Islands of Adventure, there's all those floating thought bubbles that BEG a person to stand beneath it and take a picture.

Ooh yea... and more extra events! (Why hasn't there ever been a hip-hop/rock/pop concert that appeals to teens at the Busch parks? I think the concerts they bring in appeals more to the 30 and up crowd. Oh well, at least there's Howl-O-Scream...) Like maybe a Food and Wine like Epcot...

October 9, 2009 at 11:13 AM · I agree - add another country to BG: W. That want has been discussed endlessly over the last several years among BG: W fans (as well as EPCOT fans) and I think the obvious choice would be Spain, a country rich in heritage and still different enough from the other nations to stand out.

That would give you:
France/New France

Am I missing one? Another avenue to go would be Scandanavia, which would be interesting as well.

In addition I'm not sure I would want another coaster necessarily to replace Big Bad Wolf (I want that one back!). They still have four, and think the park should have another dark ride. Curse of DarkCastle is one of the newer, non-traditional dark rides in the same vein as IOA's Spiderman, and Corkscrew Hill is a 3-D projection with stationary (albeit jumpy) vehicle. Is the day truly past for any new Pirates/Haunted Mansion type dark rides where you, in a small or medium-sized vehicle travel slowly past unfolding scenes of animatronics? I wonder...

October 9, 2009 at 11:14 AM · I would like to see them offer transportation between orlando parks and Tampa. the "flex" ticket has always been a great option for guest. witha few more perks a blackstone orlando vacation would be way more exciting then a disney park hopper.
October 9, 2009 at 11:30 AM · Ask, and ye shall receive. I believe that the Flex Ticket and the multi-park SeaWorld/Busch Gardens tickets get you on the bus for free.
October 9, 2009 at 1:08 PM · I would like to see more highly themed dark rides. DarKastle was a great start at BGW, but they shouldn't stop at that. BGT needs some dark rides, and it wouldn't hurt if Sea World got one as well, even though they have Journey to Atlantis and Wild Artic. Other than that, I don't think they should change anything else, except for always improving upon what they already have, and more dark rides.
October 9, 2009 at 2:28 PM · more roller coasters
October 9, 2009 at 2:59 PM · Free beer, need I say more ;)
October 9, 2009 at 5:18 PM · Alas, I don't think the free beer will be returning. Come to think of it though, I would have to pay for a few good beers before drinking a free Bud Light.
October 9, 2009 at 5:19 PM · Sorry, no free beer.
October 9, 2009 at 10:17 PM · I wish there was a "none of the above" since I might have not been to any of those in the past five years.
October 10, 2009 at 2:27 AM · There are more places in the world than the US!

I think it's sad you don't mention the British and European parks Blackstone/Merlin own.

Please add to the list:

Thorpe Park
Chessington World of Adventures
Alton Towers
The London Dungeon
The York Dungeon
The Hamburg Dungeon
The Amsterdam Dungeon
Legoland Windsor
Heide Park

October 10, 2009 at 7:55 AM · You're right; I should have offered none if the above as an option. My bad. On the European parks, I was afraid the response rate would be too low on those, but you are also right, I should have added 'em anyway. My bad again.
October 10, 2009 at 3:50 PM · I hope they add more rides to Busch Gardens Europe. I realy disliked them taking out the Big Bad Wolf and cetanly hope they add something better.
October 11, 2009 at 7:59 PM · I think the real reason that Blackstone is buying all these theme parks is for the cash flow.
They were majority owners of several newspaper and media companies, and are now losing their shirts as those companies are declaring bankruptcy...meaning Blackstone will get none of its investment back, and has made no money on it.
So Blackstone is looking around for a way to get its hands on some money and theme parks are the answer they have found.
Don't look for them to spend too much money on expanding the parks. Rather, they will attempt to squeeze as much cash out of them as they can to pay themselves a big fat dividend and make back the $700 plus million they lost on Freedom Newpapers and other media companies in the last 5 years.
So anyone hoping they will see a resurgence of additions at Busch Gardens and the other theme parks they just bought, don't count on it. They intend to let the parks rest on their laurels with minimal additional investment and milk those cash cows for all the money they can.
October 12, 2009 at 1:48 AM · I'm not a great believer in monopolies like this. There are plusses admittedly in that any part of the Empire that's falling short can be subsidised by the more profitable areas. The downside is that without any competition ( Disney apart ) the whole portfolio of that business can become complacent.
It's serious competition in all parts of life , whether it's business or politics or sport or whatever, that promotes excellence.
This can't be good for the industry.

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