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2010 in Review: What was the top story of the year in the theme park business?

December 14, 2010, 2:44 PM · We're just a couple weeks away from 2011, so it's time for our annual look back at the year past. What was the top story of the 2010 in theme parks?

Based on site traffic here at Theme Park Insider, here are the five finalists I've selected. At the end of the post, I've put up a vote for you to help decide the top story of the year.

In selecting the top story, I hope that you will vote for the event you consider to be the significant for the entire theme park industry, not just for the people and businesses directly involved, but also for the fans who love and support theme and amusement parks.

Here are the finalists, ordered randomly:

Universal Studios Singapore opens

Universal Studios opened its fifth theme park in March of 2010, as part of the Resorts World Sentosa development in Singapore. Theme Park Insider editor Robert Niles got a sneak-peek tour of Universal Studios Singapore in February.

Like many theme park openings, this one was not without troubles. The park's Madagascar: A Crate Adventure ride was delayed until 2011, and the park's dueling Battlestar: Galactica roller coasters closed within a few days of the park's soft opening. Ongoing repairs are supposed to have that ride open by next year, as well, when a new Transformers 3D ride is also set to debut. As a result, even though the park is open, it's not officially open, as the park continues to describe itself in a "soft opening period."

Killer whale attack at SeaWorld Orlando claims the life of a trainer

On February 24, Tillikum, a male orca at SeaWorld Orlando, attacked and drowned Dawn Brancheau, a veteran trainer who was lying on a ledge at the Shamu Stadium pool. SeaWorld closed the Believe show at all of its parks temporarily, then ordered its trainers out of the water pending investigations - one of which ultimately led to a $75,000 fine from the federal government. The incident revived debate over SeaWorld's use of orcas - and live marine mammals in general - in its shows.

Holiday World owner passes away at age 48

Holiday World has become one of the great stories in the theme park business over the past few years. A loyal and passionate fan base helped power the southern Indiana theme park's The Voyage roller coaster to a win in 2010's Best Theme Park Attraction tournament. In addition to the park's outstanding trio of wooden coasters, many fans cite the leadership of the Koch family in making Holiday World - which doesn't charge for parking, soft drinks or sunscreen - one of the friendliest parks in America.

On June 14, fans were stunned to learn that the park's president, Will Koch, had passed away at age 48. A medical examiner's report attributed the death to drowning in the family's swimming pool, though family members insisted that Will's diabetes played a role, as he was reportedly an excellent swimmer. Will Koch was inducted into the amusement attraction industry's hall of fame in November.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter debuts at Universal Orlando

On June 18, Universal Orlando officially opened The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal's Islands of Adventure theme park. And with that, the balance of power in the Orlando theme park market tipped: Universal's attendance would rise over 30 percent for the summer, while archival Walt Disney World saw its attendance slip.

Tens of thousands of fans queued for the opening day, with the line snaking through the entire park and spilling into CityWalk. TV helicopters ogled the scene, which helped pump up the buzz that made Universal Orlando the place to be in the theme park business in 2010.

Legoland Florida press conference

Legoland Florida confirmed

Legoland for years has been looking for a site for its second U.S. theme park. After several years trying sites in the Kansas City area, the company in January confirmed it would do what many fans had been suggesting all along: Legoland would come to Central Florida.

Instead of building new, though, the park would redevelop the space formerly occupied by the now-defunct Cypress Gardens park in Winter Haven. The park will open in October 2011, providing another major family-oriented attraction along the Orlando-to-Tampa corridor.

Let's hear, in the comments, your thoughts about how the top stories of 2010 will affect the industry in the years ahead.

Replies (16)

December 14, 2010 at 2:54 PM · A fourth major player (Legoland) in Orlando will freshen the tourism business there and keep all the parks competitive.
December 14, 2010 at 3:27 PM · All big stories. The most shocking to me was the passing of Will Koch. We've known about Harry Potter at Universal for a while...the real story with Harry Potter now is the attendance boost it's given Universal.
December 14, 2010 at 4:12 PM · Harry Potter, by a landslide. No land or ride has garnered such acclaim and instant popularity in a very long time. I can't wait to visit WWOHP for the first time next year!
December 14, 2010 at 4:21 PM · Harry Potter has had such a major impact on attendance that makes it a a game changer in the theme park capital of the world.
December 14, 2010 at 4:45 PM · The team at Universal Creative set a new standard for theme park attractions. It's difficult to imagine how they would ever top it!
December 14, 2010 at 7:25 PM · Dont forget about zamperla opening LUNAPARK and the bad accidents of the year we had the china one where the car fell off and hurt numerous people. then we also had the extremeworld accdient with the bungee tower.
December 14, 2010 at 7:52 PM · I voted for Potter, but what I'd like to hear from Robert and others is not regarding the top theme park story; but rather the top theme park trends and predictions. What did many parks share this year? Where are they going from here?
December 14, 2010 at 10:10 PM · I voted Singapore. I checked the voting totals afterward and I see few agreed with me..... lol.

I think one of the biggest stories of the year was the Sea World incident, but it just seemed so unhappy of a thing to vote for.... I found the Singapore news to be more pleasant.
I suppose Harry Potter Land really was one of the biggest deals this year (the turnout for it was impressive I suppose, although somewhat expected maybe?). I just thought that the Singapore park had a lot of interesting elements and features (it seems a little different from the other Universal Parks..... and some of the rides are pretty unique to me).
I really enjoyed reading about Universatl Singapore and seeing pictures of it (and it's attractions), and it was probably the thing I searched youtube to find footage of the most this past year (out of the things on the list). Only thing is..... I wish I would not have to get a passport to go see it!!

December 15, 2010 at 2:30 AM · Where is Singapore? And who cares? Harry Potter all the way - such a fantastic new opening.

The sad news about Will's death shocked everybody in the industry - park fans too. But looking back I'd rather think of the positives each year.

So here's to Harry Potter!

December 15, 2010 at 9:13 AM · It seemed so disrespectful to not give my vote to either of the people who passed away as they were both people who dedicated their lives to the industry that gives us all so much pleasure. So I'd just like to give them an honorary mention here along with my own personal thanks to both them and their families.

It is , however, the opening of Harry Potter at IOA that was undoubtedly the news story of the year. The number of visitors to it must have matched, or even exceeded , Universal's hopes and wishes and has been a real success story thus far. In most cases the prospect of long lines and interminable waits would put customers off. In the world of theme parks it only serves to encourage and thousands are attracted to it like moths to a flame. Such is the power of this particular franchise and I can almost hear the cash registers playing their own chinking theme music as I write. Congratulations to Universal on a job well done.

December 15, 2010 at 10:18 AM · I am so impressed at what Universal Creative has done with creating the Harry Potter attractions. It beats anything that has been done in the past 10 years.
December 15, 2010 at 11:08 AM · Thanks for including the life and accomplishments of Will Koch as a top story for the year. I know he would have been humbled. We will continue to follow the long-term plans he and his brother Dan created. Will's family and staff will see to it that his legacy continues for generations to come.

Paula Werne
Holiday World

December 15, 2010 at 6:30 PM · In response to "Where is Singapore? And who cares? Harry Potter all the way"

I care. :-)

December 16, 2010 at 9:46 AM · Legoland's purchase of a defunct Cypress Gardens and sudden presence in a theme-park heavy Orlando area should be the top story, because it will have the most impact upon the bottom lines of industry members when compared to any individual park's single attraction opening. This will be a major driver in bottom line movement for many players in the industry. What happens in the themepark business happens in Florida first.
December 17, 2010 at 7:15 AM · Harry Potter - hands down. I went there three times!
December 17, 2010 at 9:17 AM · I enjoyed this post...reminded me of some of these events. Some good times and some bad times this year. Did anyone hear of any big news related to concessions at theme parks?

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