What's your advice for improving Knott's Berry Farm?
I spoke today with someone who, let's just say he has an interest in Knott's Berry Farm
. We talked a bit about the park's history and my recollections of the park as a child in Southern California in the late 1960s and early 70s. He noted many of Disney's future Imagineers had grown up with the park, and found inspiration from Knott's rides such as the Log Flume and Calico Mine Ride. It was a beloved place, back in those days.
Southern California's other theme parks have left Knott's behind. In 1983, Knott's opened the theme park industry's first dedicated kids' land - Camp Snoopy. But today, if I'm looking for a great theme park experience made just for kids, I'm driving down the road to the much better Legoland California instead.
Knott's was once known for wilder thrill rides than neighboring Disneyland, but today, if I want to ride a great collection of roller coasters, I'll find a better time up at Six Flags Magic Mountain. My kids' friends even like California Screamin' at Disney California Adventure better than any coaster at Knott's.
Knott's trademark used to be fried chicken dinners - the best in Southern California. But the last time I visited Knott's, I had the fried chicken at Ghost Town Grill. It was inedible. The chicken's better in Mrs. Knott's original restaurant, but not enough to justify a trip to Buena Park. The best fried chicken in Southern California today is at Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles. I will fight people over this, BTW. ;^)
It looked better than it tasted.
So what's the "comparative advantage," as the business students say, that draws people to Knott's? Sad to say, today it's simply price. Knott's is the place local people and school groups go when they can't afford a day at Disneyland.
That's not enough to make people fall in love with a theme park.
How can Knott's recapture the hearts of theme park fans? Well, that's a question I'm going to pose to you today. You are invited to share your ideas for the park, or simply to share your thoughts on what makes you love visiting other parks. Is there anything Knott's could change, today, that would make it a more desirable place to visit? What sort of things would you like to see the park do, add, change or eliminate in the future?
First up, let me state again for the record that whenever I post an idea for a theme park on Theme Park Insider, I'm abandoning any ownership of the idea. Theme parks are welcome to take and implement any suggestion I make on this site, without compensation. I hate that creative designers at theme parks feel that they can't read fan discussions on the Internet for fear of being sued should they do something similar to what a fan suggested. So here's the rule at Theme Park Insider: Take our ideas, please. If you use something we suggest and want to be nice, I'm sure any of us would welcome a trip to the grand opening. But you don't need to do even that. We suggest things because we want to see them happen, not because we want to get paid. (And if you're not cool with that condition, just go ahead and keep your ideas to yourself then.)
Here's my suggestion: Knott's need to own food again. Make Knott's Berry Farm the best theme park for food in Southern California. The park should start by renovating Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant with the goal of making it be the best chicken dinner experience in the world.
And in doing that, Knott's needs to move the chicken dinner restaurant inside the park gates. Leave the takeaway window outside the park if it must, but Knott's needs to hold its signature attraction inside its theme park. That would not only encourage more park visits, it would reward people who do visit the park with a opportunity for a world-class dining experience they couldn't experience otherwise.
Knott's management needs to go back and talk with people who have worked the chicken restaurant over the years to make sure that the park will be using the best recipes and best practices for Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinners going forward. Don't let past lessons be forgotten.
While I love Roscoe's, the best chicken I ever tasted was a baked chicken at Spago in Beverly Hills. (I went for lunch - prices are much more reasonable then, FYI for any SoCal tourists. And I did get to meet Wolfgang Puck!) The chicken wasn't prepared in any fancy way - it was simply an amazing chicken. It reminded me that while there are some chickens out there that taste like chicken, there are a hell of a lot of chickens out there that taste like plastic, instead.
I'm not asking Knott's to hire Wolfgang Puck. (That didn't work out so well for California Adventure, after all.) But I will ask Knott's to ensure that it's buying the best quality, best-tasting chicken it can afford for its signature restaurant. If that means slightly higher prices, so be it. Focus on delivering value for the money paid, rather than simply providing something for the lowest possible price. (Low-ball pricing is Knott's current mistake, IMHO.) Southern California grows some of the best food in the world. Great Southern California restaurants should celebrate that, not truck in frozen crud from a low bidder elsewhere in the country.
I also wouldn't rebuild Mrs. Knott's restaurant on its current site. As I mentioned before, I would bring it inside the park. Two reasons: first, if Knott's rebuilt on the current site it would either have to close the restaurant for an extended period or subject diners to a noisy, unpleasant renovation. Second, by building a new restaurant, Knott's could employ a better, more comfortable and rewarding design that could signal a change in direction for the entire park.
Imagine a large 1930's, white clapboard farmhouse, with large windows opening into inviting dining rooms, where diners gather around polished wooden tables, sitting on well-upholstered chairs, enjoying dinners served on simple, buy high-quality servingware. This isn't the worn interior of current Knott's buildings. While the theme is a simple country farmhouse, it is built and appointed with the finest, most durable construction material available so that every inch of every surface always looks and feels sturdy, warm, comfortable and immaculately clean.
Nor is this a museum of Knott's history. The theme is a 1930s farmhouse, and when you step inside, it's the 1930s. Mrs. Knott herself is unseen in the kitchen, frying your chicken and baking your pie, while her friends bring it out to you and yours. That's the story, and they're sticking to it. The costumes, the decor and the employees themselves all must support this theming.
Serve us the best chicken we've ever tasted in this wonderful, inviting room and give Knott's a highlight no other theme park can duplicate.
I've got more, but let's give you your chance to speak. What advice do you have for Knott's?
I love Knott's but really think they need to improve their restrooms and changing tables.
For starters, take down the inaccurate first theme park sign. Santa's Candy Castle/Santa Claus Town was the first themed attraction. Santa Claus Land/Holiday World was first themed amusement park.
Putting the restaurant inside the park says nothing about the quality of the food or the park itself. My problem with the restaurant is the horrible sides that come with chicken. The chicken is still good, but the sides are inedible. I think you're too harsh about the chicken inside the park, but I agree that they are not the same. The chicken tastes different.
I enjoyed Knott's as a child. But over the years and ownership changes, the park has suffered and is very run down. Just as Disneyland upgraded the city streets surrounding their park, Buena Park might consider doing the same. If the outside looks great, Knott's may start to make improvements on the inside.
The single greatest improvement you could make to Knott's is to get rid of Cedar Fair. Despite allowing some of the admirable freshening of the Ghost Town buildings the corporate folks of Cedar Fair simply do not "get" Knott's Berry Farm. I have no doubt devoted long-time employees are doing everything they can to keep the spirit of the park alive they can only do so much against covering half of a small and quaint park with thrill rides.
Thanks, Tim. I agree that Knott's as it was feels much more like a Herschend park than a west coast Cedar Point.
I loved knott's growing up, but over the years it lost it's charm it once had. The park seems it's not upkept as it should be. There's no classic attractions it once had like KOD or Soap Box Racers. Lucily they haven't gotten rid of Log Ride or Mine Train.
While I have never been to Knott's I find your commentary on the chicken interesting, Robert. Having been raised in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia (Bread basket of the Confederacy) fried chicken is nearly an art form in these parts. The funny thing is, its not an expensive or extremely labor intensive entree to make. Honestly if the chicken is already broken down, the process of dredging and frying it takes maybe 20 minutes at most. And the fact of the matter is fried chicken keeps well in a warming/proofing cabinet. The major problem a lot of places have is they use directed heat to keep the chicken warm (heat lamps) rather than ambient heat. Cost wise, the difference between awesome fried chicken and crap fried chicken is the difference between frozen and fresh poultry.
I think it was the frying oil, honestly. The Ghost Town Grill just had an odd odor to it that day, while the original Mrs. Knott's restaurant smelled like good 'ol Knott's fried chicken. (I'm assuming that they fry the chicken on-site at the Ghost Town Grill. If that's not the case, then I need another theory.)
We went to Knotts in '07 and haven't returned. The best thing about the park was that it was a chance to escape the Disneyland crowds and their boysenberry turnovers (OMG). Between the 14 and 15 year olds close to having sex while standing in line and all the foul language, I was pretty disgusted with the behaviors I saw. We enjoyed the park itself, for the most part, but the behaviors from this tweens that I saw is what I expected to see at Magic Mountain. Magic Mountain WAS Disneyland compared to Knotts: clean, lots of security, friendly visitors and staff.
My name is Enzo Buscemi and I live in Amsterdam, Holland. I’ve never been to Knott’s and after reading your little review probably will never go.
I have been going to Knott's several times a year for longer than I remember. Although I do not think the park is horrible, it has definitely declined in quality since Cedar Fair took over. The park has transitioned from a theme park to a thrill park, and as a result it has become my least favorite major park.
Knott's could be a great park, but boy have they made bad decisions over the years in a continuously downward spiral. As others have said, they need to concentrate on theme, and cede the thrills to Magic Mountain. They need to stop competing with MM because they will never win that battle. They need to offer a themed experience that one cannot get at Disneyland. Therefore they need to strengthen the feeling of being in a Ghost Town (which is actually better themed than Frontierland at DL), a Spanish village, a Snoopy town, a Roarin' 20's boardwalk, a Native American village, etc. Just the past week Knott's started pumping background music into the park but... it was 1980's pop hits. You walk through Ghost Town and hear Kool and the Gang!?!? WTF? They just don't get it, and they need to get religion on theme:
Knotts in its hayday was a fantastic place. Wnoderful food lush landscaping. And tons of thigs to do besides rides. Enter Cedar Fair. Like the biggest compatition Six Flags lets take a regional theme park remove any of what made it great to begin with. And lets not forget fill it with more thrill rides then we can count. Remove all shows, fill it second rate merchandise. Charge for everything under the sun. And think weve done a great job....Alas the bean counters they all need to go on Undercover Boss
We as a family enjoyed Knotts when we went a few years ago while on vacation out west (We live in Florida, which of course is the theme park capitol of the world).
It has been a loooong time since my last visit to Knotts Berry Farm, but reading through these comments, and knowing what I know from my theme park travels, Mr. Chatlos (and a few others) are spot on: Cedar Fair needs to go. The company cannot do good food. They cannot do good narrative theming, and they absolutely cannot and will not change. So until CF leaves and a true THEME park company moves in, Knotts will continue to be somewhere between a good theme park and a good thrill park, making it an all around mediocre experience. And honestly, mediocre is the worse place to be.
My grandparents lived across the street from Knott's and I spend many a summer day in the '60's and '70's at the park (anyone remember Jungle Island?). Even up until the mid '80's my cousins and I would venture over to goof around and enjoy some fun and food (the candy parlor had the best black licorice I've ever tasted). It's so sad to see the state of the park today. I agree that Cedar Fair has not celebrate the rich history of Knott's, but rather transitioned it into a low rent amusement park; rides, food and all.
I agree, as long as it remains in Cedar Fair's hands it will likely continue to deteriorate into a third rate thrill park lacking any theme, that's their niche. Last time I was there, late last year, I took my niece and nephew to Independence Hall for a history lesson (they're home schooled). I couldn't help but wonder how long it will be before it gets cannibalized by the water park.
Based on one of the comments above, I'm going to amend my suggestion to include landscaping a boysenberry patch in front of Mrs. Knott's Chicken Farmhouse Restaurant. Great idea. There need to be berries in the berry farm.
I'll offer another (and I suspect unpopular idea - it's even difficult for me to suggest). Since the charm of the park is hanging by a thread anyway and given the profile of the rides in existence maybe you blow out Camp Snoopy entirely and expand Fiesta Village making way for more thrills. Young families have other options so why not go heavy into the rides that appeal to the target market Cedar Fair seems to be aiming. I honestly don't think CF is interested in Knott's family friendly past anymore and I don't see them selling the park anytime soon. Given a lot of the comments I've read I don't think the true demographic of their visitor base is heavy on pre-teen and younger, and I'm not sure they want it to be. You look at the cost of purchasing third party thrill rides and demand for a particular price point, I'm guessing they think that the young adult market makes the most sense for the park and it fills a niche.
If Six Flags Magic Mountain didn't exist, then as a business decision (not a nostalgic one) I'd support Knott's going to thrills exclusively. But MM blows away Knott's in the thrills department. If I want coasters and thrills, I go to MM, period. Knott's is caught in a tough position to be sure, but I think accentuating theme and history is the key to its future viability and profitability. Theme is where the money is, which is why Disney and Universal's Harry Potter land make huge, huge bucks. Six Flags and Cedar Fair parks barely tread water. Unlike Six Flags and other Cedar Fair parks, Knott's has a good foundation and history to build on to compete on theme and make a tidy profit. But Knott's decision-makers have made one bad decision after another the past few decades. For a park that puts on a world-class haunt every year, it's criminal Knott's doesn't have a year-round Haunted Shack like they used to. Knott's is a perfect example of stealing defeat from the jaws of victory.
I might be crazy, but I'm sure I read that Disney was interested to buy the park early on after the original owners died, but the family was concerned that Disney would mess up the theming and original concept of the park and sold it so some one else.
Disney looked into buying the park when it first started thinking about a second gate in Anaheim. (Remember Westcot?) The numbers worked out for Disney, but the Knott family was concerned that all traces of the Knott name and influence would be obliterated under Disney management. (I've also heard that it was simpler - that Cedar Fair offered easier and more favorable terms than a potentially more complex deal with Disney.)
If only Knott's would have gone to Disney (or nearly anyone else). Cedar Fair is generally pretty good at what they do, but what they do and what Knott's should be are too very different things. I am cautiously optimistic that new CEO Matt Ouimet will recognize why millions have loved Knott's through the years and make decisions accordingly. Still, he will have to make some significant changes to the very DNA of Cedar Fair to really make a difference. I'm not sure if he'll have the time or resources to do that.
I would agree when Cedar Fair initially took over Knott’s they were confused about the audience, but not so much in recent years. The recent additions to the park have been family oriented and I believe that Matt Ouimet really gets Knott’s, so the future should be great.
But why not have an entrance to the main restaurant from inside the park? Knott's needs to upgrade their game in the food department big-time. And bringing chains in is not the answer. I can eat at Panda Express (though I would never want to) or TGIFs anytime, anyplace. Knott's should keep these types of eateries to a minimum in the park, and accentuate what they are ostensibly famous for: chicken dinners with the traditional trimmings and berry everything for drinks and dessert. Give the guest a special experience and they will come back. This is so simple yet Knott's fails at it in a serious decline.
I'm an outsider on this topic, but it seems the problems that Knott's faces aren't unlike the ones at several other parks around major cities. Cedar Fair's style hasn't done much to help Knotts. The extra attention to coasters and thrill rides is ok, but they've ignored everything else for too long now. While it's easy to pin the responsibility on Cedar Fair and say they have to go, the fact is that they aren't going anywhere. Better to use this collection of well informed and intelligent fans to offer up ways to improve things. Another thing to keep in mind about Cedar Fair is that Dick Kinzel will no longer be running the company after this year. His replacement is a former Disney executive named Daniel Ouimet. I expect that he'll bring some different perspective to the picture.
Is Knotts even a park anymore?
The main thing that disappointed me was that I didn't know I'd be charged for parking while staying at the Knott's Resort. They did NOT tell me this when I checked in (I didn't even know to ask either) nor did I see it posted on the website. Now, it might be there somewhere on the website but I didn't see it. I think they should tell guests that they WILL be charged parking but even better if they didn't charge guests for parking at all. If I'm paying an exorbant amount of money to stay there (out of all the hotels in that area) then they should give me something in return besides a small, only adaquate, room...like free parking...maybe give guests a passcard to get in & out of the parking lot or one to put on the dashboard to say we're hotel guests so we won't get charged parking. I think it's pretty rediculous to charge hotel guests a parking fee. I know a hotel in Atlanta that does that. They didn't used to but now they do. Pretty selfish & rediculous IMO, especially in these hard times. Every little bit of money we can save to have a good time helps. I could've had $10 extra dollars to spend in the park but instead, that was $10 less I had to spend as I had to pay for parking in the lot of the hotel I was staying in. They also offered to checkout via the tv in the room but when I tried to do it, it wouldn't let me...I had to ck out at the front desk. Why have a service like that if I can't use it. So not only do guests have to spend a LOT of money if they stay at the resort, they hafta pay room fee, parking fee & park fee. Why not have a package deal...like a weekend getaway type thing, one price gives you free parking & deeper discount tickets to the park along w/a discounted room fee. If they need money, work WITH the guests, not for themselves in increasing or adding fees to US, the people that choose Knott's over other attractions.
Other than eliminating the parking fee for hotel guests, how about making the food more affordable. $16 for a burger & fries??? C'mon, that's a bit steep. Lower food prices, you'll have more food sales & happier, less hungry guests. Eliminate parking fee for hotel guests, you'll have happier guests & they'll have $10 more to spend in the park...why should I have to pay an extra $10 to park at the hotel that I'm actually staying in. I didn't even know I was going to be charged til I tried to check out & found out via the tv checkout...which wouldn't let me ckout, I had to go to the front desk. Have some type of transport system from the parking lot(s) that are further away from the park entrance to shuttle parkgoers to the entrance...THAT was a VERY long walk for some of us who have trouble getting around but want to enjoy the park. It seemed to take forever to get to the entrance & was so exhausted plus my knees were hurting to where I had to stop & rest a while before I could go in & when I DID get to go in, we had to stand for 30 mins in a crowd before they let us in to the ride lines...why make us stand there even longer (in a crowd no less) when we could get in line & wait for the ride(s) to open, is it REALLY that much trouble to let us get in line? Why make us stand in a crowd that will trample each other to "get there first" or try to beat ea other to the ride (figuratively speaking of course) once the rope is let down to let us in? Seems it'd be safer to just let us wander the park, even if the ride lines are not yet open. For those of us who've never been to the park, we could've been wandering the park & seeing where everything was to know where to go once the lines opened or we could be buying souvenirs or something while waiting for the rides to open. While some things may not be changed, I think if they at least lowered food prices & allowed people to wander the park, even before rides opened, will be very helpful. Lower food prices = more sales. Let people in once we get into the park, letting us wander around = less crowd control issues..simple.
Perhaps the obvious problem with Knott's is the limited space they have to work with, which results in rides being built (practically) on top of each other. It just seems a bit crazy to me. While the log ride remains one of the best flume rides on North America, some of the major attractions are very short, common clone rides and, quite frankly a waste of time to ride (i.e. Pony Express, Boomerang).
Cedar Fair had a good third quarter.
Some of you discussing this obviously haven’t been to Knott’s and some of the complaints (resort parking fee) are petty as they're inline with the hotel industry and other properties in the area.
This article is true; Knotts needs a lot of improvements. But that's all that's true; the rest of this article falls on it's face. So just down the street is Lego Land? What street?? Lego Land is at least an hour away from Orange County. As far as the Six Flags comments; yes Magic Mountain has the most impressive coaster count but again, it's at least an hour away from Orange County and they've been operating under the Six Flags name since 1979 vs. Knotts has been under Cedar only since 1998. So should Knotts not even bother with thrill coasters??? And which Knotts coasters are being compared to CA Screamin?? Yes, CA Screamin is better than Boomerang, Jaguar, and Montezuma, but no where near as thrilling as Xcelerator, Silver Bullet, and Ghostrider. Knotts is also a small park and for that, they are definately trying to stay competitive by opening up new thrill rides. Magic Mountain didn't just open up with the 17 coasters they have now; they built up to it, just like Knotts will. If anything, I would suggest Knotts continue with the thrills and move forward with the rumored Giga Coaster.
First, bring back beary tales and soap box racers. They took those major parts of my childhood away from me. Beary tales was perfect. Secondly, the theming of Bigfoot rapids blows. Redo it and theme it as race for your life Charlie brown similarly to Popeye in Florida. Thirdly, sell to herschund or anyone but six flags or cedar fair. Virtually all of their parks are identical. Lastly, put me in charge of the park. I vow to return it to it's former glory.
I'm not sure if Eric G is being facetious, or works for CF/Knott's PR and is astro-turfing the site, but I have obviously been to Knott's numerous times over the past few decades.
Where did I write that Legoland (get the name right, BTW) was "just down the street" from Knott's? I wrote that if I wanted a great kid-focused theme park experience "I'm driving down the road" (Interstate 5) to Legoland. The hour's drive is worth it for the superior experience over Camp Snoopy, which to me is an even more damaging point against KBF.
“It is a fact that Knott's sold as many tickets generating as much revenue as Disneyland in the early 80s.” – Tony Perkins
My two cents:
Legoland is a niche product. Knott's attracts another crowd. For Knott's to succeed, it needs a lot of money and a new licensed property. Six Flags abandoned its licenses. I wonder why. Maybe it wasn't worth the effort.
Never been to Knott's but much could be said about Carowinds (another Cedar Fair Park) in Charlotte. Originally opened as a "theme" park devoted the Carolina's. The entrance was a grand southern plantation house (fitted with antique furniture). The shops were made to look like colorful Charleston, SC buildings. There was a section that paid homage to the days of royal rule when the land was a colony (a huge theater showed a large screen film of the history of the carolinas-- it's now an arcade). A section featured native american teepees and canoes (Catawba Indians). My favorite was the area that looked the it was straight from Walton's Mountain with the general store and "Harmony Hall" theater.
Knott’s has never been exclusively focused on the 2 to 12 year-old crowd so I think LEGOLAND isn’t a great example.
"How many more do you need?"
I noticed a post regarding Cedar Fair's third quarter results. Is it possible that Cedar Fair is happy with Knott's performance? I know there is always room for improvement but it's possible their vision for Knott's is meeting expectations.
Large capacity show stages? For what crowds? When is Knott's so consistently busy to justify a large show stage? They already use the enormous Schultz theater for exactly that purpose during the summer and Christmas season. Even during the busier periods they rarely fill the show venues.
"Large capacity show stages? For what crowds?"
Disney's California Adventure left Knott's in the dust the day it opened - February 8, 2001. You can't compare Disney parks to regional theme parks. There is no comparison.
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