Vote of the week: Which theme park company should build a new park in Orlando?

October 16, 2009, 9:52 AM · I realized that I was a bit heavy with California posts this week, writing about theme parks in the rain and hard ticket parties at Disneyland. So I'll offer a Florida-focused question as the Vote of the Week.

Central Florida is, as Theme Park Insider readers know, the world's top market for theme parks. Disney, Universal and Busch are three of the biggest theme park chains in the world due in large part to the success of their Orlando-area properties.

But not every big chain is in Orlando. Which one of those should be? That's our vote of the week.

Here are the candidates, along with some of their other, notable U.S. theme, amusement or water parks:

Tell us in the comments why you voted for your pick. What kind of park do you wish your pick would build in Central Florida, and where?

Replies (45)

October 16, 2009 at 9:58 AM · Six Flags, without a doubt. Six Flags arguably has the most coasters per park of any of the contenders, and you can never have enough thrill rides in Central Florida.

Actually, I was kinda hoping they'd be the ones to buy Busch Entertainment...

October 16, 2009 at 10:09 AM · Legoland East! That way I don't have to travel all the way across the country to visit. :)
October 16, 2009 at 10:35 AM · Sorry. Voting reset when I fixed a typo in the question. Working now.
October 16, 2009 at 10:45 AM · I went for Legoland because it quite frankly fits best in the atmosphere that Orlando holds. However, if a Six Flags were to be "Central Florida-ized" I would be all for that!
October 16, 2009 at 11:09 AM · I'm for Cedar Fair. I think they run the best traditional amusement parks, with great rides and good line management. Every 6 Flags I've visited seems to have unreasonable waits and not very interesting attractions. IMHO
October 16, 2009 at 11:35 AM · I voted Legoland, simply because their style of park fits into Orlando better than the others.

Legoland offer a number of great themed attractions primarily aimed at a younger audience. An expansion into Central Florida would allow them to expand their horizons and target a different demographic, such as the 18-30 market which Disney seem to be neglecting more and more as the years go by.

October 16, 2009 at 11:46 AM · Without question it should be Legoland. As Mr. Niles has noted on the site before Legoland has a business model which bases its success on drawing smaller crowds. Since any new park would base its strategy around being a secondary destination -- behind WDW and Universal -- Legoland would be a better fit. It would add a new dimension to Central Florida's family-oriented entertainment.

There's plenty of space on South International Drive.

October 16, 2009 at 11:50 AM · My biggest fear with Legoland Orlando would be that the park's design is inherently aimed toward a smaller crowd than a Central Florida theme park attracts. I don't think that a Legoland park, with its smaller-scale attractions designed for active play, could handle 5-million-plus visitors a year.

Perhaps if they placed it well off I-4, that wouldn't be as much of a problem, but then what's the point of going to Central Florida?

I'm not against it, heck, I'd love to see Legoland there. But this creates a significant design and pricing challenge that Legoland does not face in Carlsbad.

October 16, 2009 at 12:27 PM · People go to Orlando to enjoy amazing rides with the latest technology that have some sort of theme that fits in with the park around them. Six Flags contains none of this. The only park that comes close to this is Legoland.
October 16, 2009 at 1:37 PM · Definately Legoland. The theme will fit perfect in orlando with a company like that. If i saw another six flags pop up, this time in orlando, it would just be a disgrace. Six flags doesn't deserve to be there at all. but cedar fair would fit quite nicely in too.
October 16, 2009 at 2:15 PM · I went with Herschend. Their commitment to the whole-family experience would mesh nicely with the existing Orlando tenants.
October 16, 2009 at 2:38 PM · Six Flags, heck no! I can't stand Six Flags parks. Yeah, they always have awesome roller coasters, but they are horrible at everything else. They nickle and dime everyone to death with extra fees, expensive lockers, etc. Plus their employees are not very friendly. I think they would detract from the other parks in the area.

Plus, um, Legoland! That would rock completely. :-)

October 16, 2009 at 2:48 PM · I don't know enough about Parques Reunidos, but of the other four, Legoland (Merlin) is the only company that's actually built one of its own theme parks within the past generation.

So that might give the question to Legoland, by default. The other companies simply aren't in the business of building theme parks. They acquire and manage them.

October 16, 2009 at 2:58 PM · Wow them with your roller coasters CF!
October 16, 2009 at 3:42 PM · I would like to see what a really good, well stocked, well run thrill ride park would do in Orlando. Actually, Busch Gardens Tampa comes pretty close, but if one could transplant the almost 400 acre Cedar Point resort to Florida and replace the few bum rides they have...well lets just say that people would show up, and many of those international tourists would likely be curious about rides that are faster, steeper, and physically dwarf Disney and Universal attractions.

It would have to be a pretty special amusement park to grab such attention, but if a park that's open 120 days out of the year can record 3 million visitors (Cedar Fair has a few of those), I'm sure it would do just fine in Orlando. It's likely out of the question that any of the current thrill park companies will ever build in Florida for various reasons, so my answer is this. Which park company should build a new park in Orlando? The Derek Potter park company...I'm likely as close to building in Orlando as the rest of them are anyway. I'll design and build, and hire away the management from Holiday World to run day to day operations.

If I could only get around that darn money issue.

October 16, 2009 at 4:18 PM · florida has a 200 foot limit on coasters because of hurricanes,so a great big coaster park won't be coming anytime soon.
October 16, 2009 at 6:07 PM · A coaster park would be a BAD IDEA for Orlando. The VERY QUALIFIED opinion from TPI poster "E Ticket" pointed out that slam bang coasters have only negligible success because it plays to a narrow audience (only a portion of the buying demographic).

You have to remember the majority of people coming to Orlando are coming for (one) Disney, (two and/or two-and-a-half) Universal and/or Sea World). A new park (business model) would be (for a sizable majority of those travelling to Orlando) choice number three. If you throw a coaster park into the mix, those families with small children who don't do tear-your-face-off attractions ain't gonna pay for the gate.

Legoland (on the other hand) boasts an all ages brand. It is (would be) the best choice for a new Orlando park.

But if they are going to pull the trigger they need to do it sometime in the next two years.

The Orlando renaissance is coming.

October 16, 2009 at 7:16 PM · I choose Herschend. Herschend has great theme parks and water parks, they are all high quality attractions and never loose sight of there target audience, families.
October 16, 2009 at 8:30 PM · The answer is none. Central Florida would be a money pit for any other theme park operator to build at this late point in the game. The area is already saturated with parks and lacks a local base to sustain a park. The international visitors are dwindling with the continuing global recession and ultra-stringent visa regulations (the weak dollar is the only hope). We'll see more closures in Central Florida in the next few years, and it would be suicide for any other operator to open in the area.
October 16, 2009 at 8:34 PM · I'm trying to figure out what Disney is putting in their water. I don't buy that argument TH, and I'll tell you why.

Sea World reportedly had a great year in a recession. What did they build again? Oh yeah, a well dressed, yet unthemed B&M flying coaster. What other ride at Sea World is highly popular? Oh yeah...Kraken, the unthemed B&M floorless looper. What do you think are the 10 most popular rides at Busch Gardens aside from the safari? Islands of Adventure? Oh yeah they have a couple of those multilooping machines as well that have had "limited" success. The argument that coasters can only have negligible success is skewed at best, and myopic at worst. I'm not sure how or where said research came from, but if coasters were so marginally successful, then why do the Orlando parks (sans Disney) build them, and why do the vast majority of parks around the world anchor their operations around them?

A good thrill park would be less expensive to maintain, and a big construction budget would bring a lot of rides and attractions for the money. Of course there would have to be other rides, shows...etc. It can't just be iron and concrete. There has to be balance, but I have no doubts that a well funded, well designed, well managed thrill park would fly in a high tourist area such as Orlando.

By the way, Florida regulations require a light for aircraft at 200 feet, which is why Disney made the castle 199 feet...they didn't want a light on it. Structures can be built higher than 200 feet in Florida.

October 16, 2009 at 9:12 PM · Thank God Six Flags could not afford to buy Busch!
October 16, 2009 at 9:53 PM · Speaking of Herschend Entertainment why is Silver Dollar City not listed on Theme Park Insider? They receive over two million visitors a year, twice as many as Holiday World.
October 17, 2009 at 3:17 AM · Legoland could buy up and take over the area where Cypress Gardens is. It's up for sale and could tie Orlando & Tampa together. Heck, maybe it would even garner a train stop when they finally build that Tampa-Orlando connector. :)

Oh, but they'd BETTER advertise on I-4 - I STILL don't know what exit to take for Cypress Gardens & I drive between Orlando & Tampa weekly.

October 17, 2009 at 5:13 AM · I went with Six Flags.....only because of the many thrill rides.....but I must agree with one of the other reviewers....the 'entertainment' leaves much to be desired....something like DollyWood would certainly fill the bill....and Ms. Parton does have her 'rodeo' near Little Lake Bryan!
October 17, 2009 at 8:20 AM · The age old argument rears its ugly head, once again...

SeaWorld could just have easily added a top notch dark ride, and the same or a better attendance increase would have occurred. Heck, several parks added new coasters last year and actually saw attendance drop (Worlds of Fun, Magic Mountain, etc). Furthermore, as much as I like Kraken and as much as I am sure I will like Manta, they will take up about 90 minutes of my entire day at SeaWorld, while the other ten and a half hours will be spent watching shows and exploring the sights. If all SeaWorld had was Kraken and Manta...would anyone even visit? Coasters do not make the park, but they are a nice complement.

IMHO, the best attractions in Orlando are not uber 200 ft tall, 75mph coasters. I'll take Spider-Man, Mission: Space, Tower of Terror, Revenge of the Mummy, Expedition Everest, Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, Mickey's Philharmagic, Pirates of the Caribbean, Dinosaur, Kilimanjaro Safaris, Haunted Mansion, Ripsaw Falls, and Terminator 2 3D over Kraken and Manta any day of the week. While I love a good uber coaster, I love a good story even more. And when I go to Orlando, I want story and thrills, not just thrills alone.

As far as how a coaster park like Cedar Point would compete in Orlando, you need look no further than Southern California at the flagship of the Cedar Fair empire (attendance-wise), Knotts Berry Farm. Situated within 10 miles of Disneyland the park pulls less than 25% of the visitors of the original Disney park. Sure, Knotts pulls some nice numbers, but they are not really in the same league as the non-coaster focused Disney parks. Furthermore, even if you combine KBF's attendance with Six Flags Magic Mountain and its 16 coasters, you are still at less than half Disneyland's attendance.

If all it took was a few roller coasters to build the world's most successful park, then Cedar Point would have the #1 per day attendance in the world, which is just not the case. Not even close. CP averages about 23k a day (3.5 mil/150 days), while the Magic Kingdom (the number one theme park in the world) averages about 47k a day (17 mil/365 days). Furthermore, even Epcot, which has NO coasters of any sort, averages 30k attendance a day.

Coasters are great. I love them. But I can drive 20 minutes from my house and ride three of the best in the nation. On a vacation, I expect a lot more than a 200ft drops, high speeds turns, and a few inversions. For me, it is about park experience. Which is why Herschend offers the best Orlando alternative to Disney, Universal, and SeaWorld. Immersion, family experiences, great shows, great food, and even a few real nice coasters thrown in to keep adrenalin junkies happy. Go Herschend!

October 17, 2009 at 8:09 AM · NO MORE!!!! We have enough in Florida. This state has more than enough things for themepark enthusiasts and Central Florida is a mess of hotels, highways and kitsch. Support the parks that are already here. We have enough issues with water shortages, the impact of more construction on our ecosystem and the quality of life. Themeparks are fun, but they're not always the best neighbors.
October 17, 2009 at 8:13 AM · And to Steven's question about SDC, Robert if you put up a SDC page, I will dress it up real pretty with ride descriptions, reviews, ratings, and pictures! Heck, you can even get rid of SFSTL and/or Worlds of Fun if you need the space! =)
October 17, 2009 at 8:25 AM · Looking at both Derek and TH's comments I think they've both made good points.

I still think a thrill park like Cedar Point or Six Flags would flop in Orlando. Yes, I agree that parks with coasters have done well in Orlando, SeaWorld and Islands of Adventure being prime examples.

However, these parks aren't just thrill parks. SeaWorld offers a host of shows and exhibits as well as the highly themed Journey to Atlantis and to a lesser extent Wild Arctic. For me there has to be this mix at an Orlando park, you have to meet the needs of a wide range of customers and not just a small market of thrill ride fans, which is what a thrill-park would do.

October 17, 2009 at 8:49 AM · Anyone building a new park in Orlando is foolish, has too much money, or both...
October 17, 2009 at 10:46 AM · Lets pray that FLA isnt saddled with a SF park!!!

I think the best bet would be Herschend!!!! The parks that they already have like SDC/Dollywood are beautiful parks that are very clean, have a great atmosphere/good theming and a place where families/coaster fans can have a very good day at the park. They also have very good food and IMHO do the best job(besides the big boys like disney/Universal/Busch) of giving a theme park fan a very good day at the park for the money you pay.

October 17, 2009 at 11:44 AM · I agree with TH creative even though one roller coaster in a park could increase visitors an iron ride park is not the same it excludes all groups espicially families except thrill seekers. I think Six Flags has the ability to do great though I believe they can leave their iron ride theme. They do have the looney tunes and DC comics hasnt been sold to Disney yet. Looney tunes could make some great family rides/water rides, they could easily make their park similar to IOA.
October 17, 2009 at 12:01 PM · As much as I love Parques Reunidos (Kennywood rocks!!), what they are good at is restoring and updating classic parks. Without something to start with they would have problems.
I would vote for Herschend. I have heard really good things about both Dollywood and Silver Dollar City. I think Legoland would do well if they would set up further south maybe near Busch Gardens Tampa.
I also like Cedar Fair but, they don't understand the importance of theming especially when in direct competition with Disney and Universal. Cedar Fair would do horrible in the central Florida market.
October 17, 2009 at 2:02 PM · I completely agree with James. Herschend's parks create the perfect blend of theme and thrills for Central Florida.

Six Flags/Cedar aim too much at the teen and adult market. While Legoland is too kid-centered.

Let us not forget the failure of Circus World/Boardwalk and Baseball.

October 17, 2009 at 2:33 PM · Okay, James: Have at it.
October 17, 2009 at 3:13 PM · I HEART U, Robert Niles!

I have to run to the drug store for the wife, then I will get cracking!

October 17, 2009 at 9:38 PM · Dolly's Stampede closed in Orlando by the way.
October 17, 2009 at 9:51 PM · Robert, I submitted listings for most of SDC's main rides and attractions. I will add restaurants, key shows, and picures over the next few weeks, and flesh out the park's background and touring strategy. Rome wasn't built over night, you know! =)
October 18, 2009 at 5:57 AM · It should be Cedar Fair. When it comes to coasters who can beat them. They run some of the nicest amusement parks in the country. We have some of the best parks in the world here in Orlando, but its time to put a park in that is dedicated to just having the best coasters and rides in the world. That what Cedar Fair does. If a park like Cedar Fairs Cedar Point was to open in Orlando it would make the Orlando area complete. Then know matter what type of park you would like to go to you would find it here in Central Florida year round.
October 18, 2009 at 8:47 AM · I have heard good things about the other parks, but I would like to see a Legoland. We have one in the UK that I have never been to but always wanted to and surprisingly I think I would find it easier to visit one in Orlando in the future. I also think it would complement the existing parks well, although I also think Orlando needs some more proper coasters, which I doubt Legoland would really provide.
October 18, 2009 at 2:49 PM · Im going to take a guess at this and say, Cedar Fair is probably the only one that could afford to build a, year-round, park in Orlando!
October 18, 2009 at 5:12 PM · Sorry, Adam, but Cedar Fair blew its cash on the Paramount Parks purchase. Merlin's got more ability to raise capital than CF or Six Flags.
October 18, 2009 at 9:31 PM · James, but people going to Orlando already have a whole list "themed" parks to go to, and Hershend's theme would not top, nor come close to, Disney's or Universal's. This park could be an alternate park to Disney, with more coasters then theme, but still have theme (coasters like Bizarro, Evel Kneivel, Terminator Salvation:TR). This would not appeal to as many people, but it would still draw those who are looking for more. I am not saying build a SFGADV or Cedar Point, as this would not be unique. As long as the park just incorporated theme, and did not go all out, I think it would do fine.

James, how do you know WOF attendance is down? Is there a database which shows attendance, or did you ask an employee?

And yay for SDC page!

October 19, 2009 at 7:41 AM · Honestly, it doesn't make sense for Cedar Fair to enter that market. They are spread thin as it is. Their strong suit is almost a Six Flags approach in that they have many regional parks where they are the only game in town. Ride experience is paramount (as opposed to Disney where it's experience immersion).

Some may point to the fact that Knotts Berry is in a very crowded market with Disneyland, Universal, and Six Flags out in California. But, Cedar Fair purchased Knott's; they didn't choose to locate there. And, Disneyland is not Disney World.

CF seems to be sinking their cash right now into rides. Alsom, they have to convert a whole boat-load of kids areas to Peanuts.

LEGOLAND seems to me to fit - "Best Kids Park" according to Amusement Today out in Carlsbad. (Kids = one of WDW big audiences). Merlin has the cash to do it.

So, I think Merlin will do this if they can and CF won't really make a play for Orlando.

October 19, 2009 at 7:59 PM · Jason you are correct Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede did close in Orlando but if I remember correctly it was said it sold for $25 million and it was only a $20 million investment. After five years of profit and a $5 million profit from the sale I would say it was a success. Prior to the economic downturn Herschend/Dixie made the comment that they are looking for a new location to locate in central Florida now. I'm sure with the economy that has been prolonged though.
October 20, 2009 at 6:38 PM · In response to the question about Worlds of Fun's attendance, two items of note lead me to my observation:

1) The statement by Cedar Fair that "The [1 million admissions] decrease in attendance [through second quarter 2009] was the result of a decline in group sales business at most of our parks" and "a decline in the number of season passes sold for the year, combined with a reduction in season pass visits..."

2) I talk to people who work at Worlds of Fun all the time. And while the info they give me is not "gospel" I trust it. And when everyone is telling me business is "way down" you tend to trust it.

However, the verdict is not completely out, yet, and by the end of the season, I sure hope WoF has a good year. Lord knows they need it if us locals ever want to see another ride as good as Prowler.

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