What were the biggest theme park news stories of 2018?

December 31, 2018, 1:45 PM · It's time for our annual recap of the year that comes to an end tonight. Let's look back at our editor's picks for the top 10 news stories of the year... and enjoy some of our top theme park ride and show videos of 2018 along the way.

10. Universal Orlando premieres its Cinematic Celebration

Dubbed "Universe of Color" by those inclined to Universal-like snark, the new nighttime show at Universal Studios Florida is a 20-minute love letter to the resort's fans. What better way to wrap a day spent with these favorite characters than such a sweet wish farewell?

9. ...And opens its sixth on-site hotel

Universal's Aventura Hotel opened in August, with an impressive rooftop bar... and an awkward Fidget Spinner logo.

8. Disneyland vs. Anaheim

A Disneyland's PR team got a workout in 2018, as a political battle erupted between the resort and the City of Anaheim, coupled with an intense public relations scrum with Disney's unions as labor contracts expired. A dispute over a tax credit eventually led to Disney scrapping its plans to build a fourth on-site hotel, following last year's abandonment of the controversial Eastern Gateway project. Tax credits continued to be an issue throughout the year, becoming the focus of a local ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage for companies that accept city tax deals. In the end, though, Disneyland's cast members got a big raise, and guests got Downtown Disney's Earl of Sandwich back.

7. Fast & Furious opens to mixed reviews in Florida

Fast & Furious is Universal's second-highest grossing movie franchise of all time, following Jurassic Park/World. After the Supercharged encounter opened to rave reviews on the Universal Studios Hollywood Studio Tour in 2015, it was inevitable that Universal would look for a way to bring it to Orlando. And this spring it did, replacing the old Earthquake/Disaster ride. But Universal Orlando fans — many tired of so many screen-based attractions at the resort — didn't show anywhere near the love that Californians did.

6. Halloween Horror Nights gets Stranger

Universal landed one of its hottest "gets" for Halloween Horror Nights this year, bringing Netflix's hit "Stranger Things" to its events in Orlando, Hollywood, and Singapore. That inspired an 80s theme for the event in Orlando, and helped expand the appeal of the already wildly popular events to new fans.

5. Disneyland goes all in on Pixar for 2018

With Pixar Fest in the spring and summer and the refurbished Pixar Pier opening at Disney California Adventure, the Disneyland Resort leaned on some of Disney's most popular characters to drive attendance in the year before the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge. With new parades, shows, themed food, restaurants and an enhanced Incredicoaster, Pixar packed the parks.

4. Disney's ticket changes

For several years now, Disney has been trying to balance its daily attendance, without having to pull a Thanos and make half (or any) of its guests disappear. In 2018, Disney added two more tools to its kit, in anticipation of crowds flooding the parks for next year's new Star Wars lands: park-specific blockout calendars at the Disneyland Resort and date-specific, variable pricing on multi-day tickets at Walt Disney World.

3. Steel Vengeance sets records at Cedar Point

Cedar Point this year opened the biggest wood-to-steel conversion from Rocky Mountain Construction yet — Steel Vengeance, a makeover of the old, rickety Mean Streak into a "hyper-hybrid" that delighted fans with enough ejector airtime to feel like a stand-up coaster.

2. Toy Story Land debuts at Walt Disney World

Disney kicked off the "reimagining" of Disney's Hollywood Studios with the opening of its most ambitious Toy Story Land yet, adding a nimble new family coaster and a spinner ride to go along with a new entrance to the popular Toy Story Mania ride.

1. Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi opens

But the biggest story of the year was the opening of the most impressive new theme park in over a decade. Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi proved that the Middle East can develop a top-quality theme park that is worthy of the world's attention. We were there for the grand opening, then recapped the park's development with its creative leader.

Thank you for being part of the Theme Park Insider community in 2018, and we wish you the happiest of years for 2019.

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Replies (4)

December 31, 2018 at 3:02 PM

The number one story of 2018 is that Disney agreed to pay cast members a bonus and then incrementally increase the hourly wage rate to $15 per hour by 2021. With the labor shortage reaching critical levels in Central Florida, ticket prices and new attractions are secondary considerations when you don't have the personnel to provide the exception level of service that guests expect.

December 31, 2018 at 3:05 PM

For me it’s the amazing turnaround for Seaworld in Orlando. For the past 4 years that I’ve been going on a regular basis I have never seen it so full. Sunday was jammed packed, and from the BGT passholder blogs, it seems that park is also seeing a big increase in attendance.

PETA tried to stage a protest yesterday (30th) but were nullified quickly by Seaworld’s own large and ‘loud’ rescue banners at the front gate. With all the news coming out of SWE in 2018, it could be an even better year in 2019.

..... all they have to do now is get Infinity Falls back up and running ... DOH !! Big old crane was there Saturday, and it was once again drained dry on Sunday :(

December 31, 2018 at 7:12 PM

Sorry, don't find much to agree with on this list. Seriously doubt anyone will look back on 2018 fondly recalling any of these things. Hype aside, Shanghai Disneyland and Chimelong Ocean Kingdom opened within the past decade and both are way more impressive than the latest, often empty addition to the UAE- and that's from someone who likes Thinkwell and Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi fine- just not impressed enough to claim it anything more than "best indoor"new theme park. Note plenty of online posts showing off empty queues at that park, just like its recently over-hyped predecessors in Dubai. To me, Evermore is the most impressive new theme park to debut in 2018, filled with details, immersive and unique- with no need for any established IP. As for the two mega-operators, I would say Disney committing $24 billion and Universal committing $23 billion to their respective theme park businesses is the biggest story of 2018.

January 2, 2019 at 9:48 AM

Agreed 100% all of these cookie cutter licensed IP parks in the middle east look look terribly boring compared to American/European and even Chinese parks.

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