The question before you is this: Which major theme park company do you trust most to develop the best attractions over the next four years? That doesn't mean who's doing the best job right now. Or who's done the best in the past. Or even which company is your favorite. We are asking you to look at where each of these companies is today and their expected trajectory over the next four years to decide which one you believe will end up having done the most to improve the industry over that time.
To help you decide, we've crafted five "candidate statements" that we imagined the companies would write to elicit your vote. We picked the five largest theme park operators in North America from the 2015 TEA/AECOM Theme Index for this race. Initial ballot order is based upon overall annual attendance at their parks worldwide.
Disney Parks & Resorts: The industry leader is building its biggest themed lands to date and is on track to complete those Star Wars lands at Disneyland and Disney's Hollywood Studios within the next four years. Disney's also bringing its most technologically advanced new land — Pandora: The World of Avatar — to Disney's Animal Kingdom next year. Following the success refurbishment of Disney California Adventure and a popular refresh of Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World - not to mention winning your Theme Park Insider Award for the world's Best New Attraction this year with Pirates of the Caribbean Battle for the Sunken Treasure at the new Shanghai Disneyland - Disney has the capacity and expertise to lead the industry for four more years.
Universal Parks & Resorts: The fastest-growing major theme park company set the standard for themed entertainment with its wildly popular Wizarding World of Harry Potter lands. While the "industry leader" slow-walked new development, Universal rebuilt its original park, Universal Studios Hollywood, adding Despicable Me and The Simpsons-themed mini-lands before bringing Harry Potter to Hollywood this year. In Florida, Universal rebuilt Hulk, brought back King Kong, opened a fifth hotel, added Transformers and started work on a sixth hotel, a new water park, and two new attractions for USF. And, of yeah, let's not forget Diagon Alley, which is simply the greatest theme park land ever built. In the next four years, expect The Secret Life of Pets and Nintendo coming to Universal, along with plans for a third major park in Orlando. Like the cast of Hamilton, Universal's scrappy and hungry... and getting it done.
Six Flags: You might think just of roller coasters when you think of Six Flags, but don't forget which company brought together 3D gaming with a trackless motion base ride to win your Theme Park Insider Award for Best New Attraction last year. Or which company finally brought virtual reality to the park on a large scale — with no upcharges! — by adding VR to nine coasters this year. The fact is that it is Six Flags that is pushing hardest the boundaries of technology in theme park attractions these days. Not Disney. Not Universal. Six Flags has put years of financial uncertainty behind it to enjoy the best financial performance in its history. New parks are under development in China and Dubai and those fat royalty checks will help pay for continued development here at home. The next four years look brighter than ever for Six Flags.
Cedar Fair: No other company has established as strong a track record for dependable thrills as Cedar Fair. At Cedar Point, Kings Island, Carowinds and its other theme parks, Cedar Fair provides some of the world's most exciting roller coasters, running with a "track" record of reliability that keeps wait times manageable and visitors happy. And at Knott's Berry Farm, Cedar Fair is showing its love for America's First Theme Park with refurbishments of the Timber Mountain Log Ride and Calico Mine Train that have won raves from fans. From great food to record-setting thrills, Cedar Fair delivers the service that deserves your support for the next four years.
SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment: While other companies deal in fantasy and entertainment, SeaWorld does the hard and needed work of inspiring a new generation of fans to care for our precious environment. When animals are injured on our nation's coasts, it's SeaWorld there doing the rescues. And when families are looking for an affordable vacation alternative that provides fun, thrills, and lesson for an affordable price... it's SeaWorld and Busch Gardens there, again. With outstanding coasters in Orlando and new themed experiences coming to San Diego, SeaWorld is poised to create great new attractions that you can be proud of over the next four years.
So there you have the candidates' statements. In the words of Jeff Probst, "it's time to vote."
Last-minute campaigning is not just allowed in the comments, it's encouraged!
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Universal is building an amazing water park and are opening many successful rides, not letting their parks get old and tired. With a third park full of new amazing new rides and lands to explore I'm a happy Universal voter but hope Disney will return to it's roots and become the resort I once fell in love with.
Volcano Bay is on the way. Plus a new hotel.
Disney is opening three new lands, while Universal has Jimmy Fallon on tap. 'Nuff said.
I love disney but universal has shown they do a better job at making you feel you're somewhere else then disney. I plan on taking my kids to disney first but after they're out of the toddler years then universal is where we will spend the majority of time.
-Disney is slow to create new attractions, but when they actually create something original (as opposed to re-purposing existing equipment), the result is often outstanding. In the past four years, they've created what is arguably the single greatest theme park land (Cars Land), and there are two or three projects coming in the next four years that may meet or exceed it.
-Universal is adding attractions to their parks rapidly, but little of what they've been adding has the wow factor of a Disney E ticket. Additionally, with everything based on current IP they risk attractions that will become outdated within a decade. On the rare occasion that they do a full land, it is almost on par with what Disney has been doing, but many of their stand-alone attractions have a similar feel with different characters and settings.
-Six Flags is doing things at the regional park level that nobody would have expected four years ago. They have created a dark ride that rivals a Disney D-ticket on a tenth of the budget, and they have managed to create some of the best roller coasters in the world for half the price of a new B&M. That said, Six Flags has adopted a model of developing one concept and installing it at all of their parks, which is great for locals but severely diminishes the desire to travel to other Six Flags parks (particularly those that have been visited previously).
-Cedar Fair is doing extraordinarily well in the industry, and has managed to improve most of their parks without compromising the identity of any. That said, Cedar Fair is opting for tried and true additions rather than taking a risk with something more unique. The chain is well known for pushing the envelope in the past, and they need to return to that mentality at least partially in order to avoid becoming stale, especially in their more competitive markets.
-SeaWorld is in the middle of a transitional period, morphing from an animal park with rides to a theme park with animals. The process is slow, and for the time being major additions are limited and often take the form of relatively standard rides. That said, the future is looking more interesting for the company, and if they can start growing their parks again they may become a serious competitor for all but Disney.
Honestly, if Cedar Fair was more innovative with their additions, I would probably vote for them. Of the five companies, I feel they are the only one that is increasing revenue and improving their parks without upsetting fans. However, in the past four years they haven't added anything that I've looked at and said, "I have to ride this." Therefore, my vote goes to Disney, as they are creating top tier attractions that are not only outstanding, but are completely unique (and, if the rumors about Star Wars Land are true, will set a new standard for the industry). I will give Universal huge points for Harry Potter, but while their other recent additions have ranged from good to great there hasn't been anything I would consider extraordinary.
My long-term outlook is heavily weighted to Universal. I do think they're going to add a third gate in Orlando, and new hotels where Wet N Wild is. As for post-Avatar/Star Wars...I just have no idea, and with the whole bleak ESPN news dragging Disney down, I don't think they'll be willing to invest in any new lands or eTickets.
But as this is a poll for the next four years, I voted for Disney.
Reviewing the voting results, it looks like I can't pick a winner this week.
However, better Disney parks or better Universal parks is a win/win for me. As for other recent choices...not so much.
Shanghai Disney's POTC took what was learned from Harry Potter's use of both screens and practical effects, and took it in another direction. If that is where things are going, then Disney should take it. Universal on the other hand needs to take what they learned from HP, and run with that without making it stale... I enjoy watching Jimmy Fallon's talk show, but a ride?!?! I'll pass.
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