More theme parks give up on year round operations

October 24, 2023, 3:29 PM · Several Cedar Fair theme parks are abandoning their year round operations. Three of the chain's theme parks revealed their 2024 operating schedules today, noting that they no longer will be open on weekends throughout the year.

Carowinds, Kings Dominion, and California's Great America are returning to their old, traditional calendars, closing for the winter and reopening for the 2024 season in the spring. Last year, the three parks announced that they would stay open on weekends during their former off season in early 2023. However, the parks failed to attract sizable crowds during those winter weekends.

All three parks now will close for the season after December 31, with Carowinds returning for the 2024 season on March 9. Kings Dominion and California's Great America will follow on March 23. All three parks will begin seven-day operation for the summer on May 24.

As for other formerly seasonal parks that have moved to year round ops, Busch Gardens Williamsburg is maintaining an almost year round schedule next year, closing for 18 days between January 7 and January 26, after which it will open for weekends until the Spring Break season in March. The Six Flags parks have not published their 2024 operating calendars yet.

To keep up to date with more theme park news, please sign up for Theme Park Insider's weekly newsletter.

And to help support Theme Park Insider while saving money on discounted theme park tickets, please follow the ticket icon links our Theme Park visitors guides.

Replies (14)

October 24, 2023 at 5:20 PM

it's wild to me that neither of the regional theme parks in the greater Bay Area (Discovery Kingdom and Great America) can't crack how to make year-round operation work.

October 24, 2023 at 5:47 PM

Heck, with all the rain in the state last winter and spring, even the SoCal parks were struggling. Can’t blame the NorCal parks for packing it in. CGA is on the clock to extinction anyway.

October 24, 2023 at 6:16 PM

You mean on the "Countdown to Extinction?"

I'll show myself the door for the lame joke...

October 24, 2023 at 8:29 PM

It's sad to see Cedar Fair give up on this after a single year, as it's very likely few knew it was a thing and that lead to low attendance. However, it's just the latest in a string of questionable decisions I've seen the company make lately, which makes me question if they're really performing as well as they claim they are these days.

October 24, 2023 at 11:36 PM

Shame on them for announcing this now, the last week of October, after selling annual passes with the understanding they were going to be open in the winter months. That's just a slimey corporate scumbag move.

"We understand we sold this to you with the agreement you would have two more months of use out of it, however our business isn't doing as well as we thought it would be and we want to save money, so F you we already got your $!"

October 25, 2023 at 6:00 AM

Who’s going to a theme park in the middle of winter ?? Other than holiday events which are expensive to put on, regular operating weekends can’t exactly be a big draw.

October 25, 2023 at 7:46 AM

I had always assumed last year's year-round operational calendar an "experiment", and not a permanent shift away from the seasonal operations. The juice just isn't worth the squeeze, and after giving it a real try, Cedar Fair probably crunched the numbers and discovered that it was costing them more money keeping the parks open in January-March than they were saving by not having to winterize/un-winterize attractions and having more full-time staff with greater retention and lower overall cost over temporary/annual employees.

I think BGW has been going about this in the best way. The Williamsburg park has been adding to their operational calendar a little bit at a time over the past 20 years. Adding a new weekend (or month) to the calendar every 2-3 years is a much better/safer approach than what Cedar Fair did by added 10-12 operational weekends all at once. Regional theme park guests are creatures of habit, and tend to visit on a seasonal rhythm/routine. By creating so many additional operational days all at once, it never gave those regular guests far too much choice, and spread that demand across too many dates, which were probably also dependent on weather.

I think the Cedar Fair could eventually make a year-round operational calendar work, but I think they should have taken it slower and created more incentives to get guests to visit during those new operational dates - promotions, rewards, festivals, and exclusive merchandise/food. From a pure scientific perspective, flinging the doors to the operational calendar like they did was probably the most revealing test of demand and practicality.

October 25, 2023 at 8:09 AM

I live in between Carowinds and King’s Dominion. It’s too cold in January and February to just ride rides outdoors in my opinion. I think if BGW were to make it work, they’d need another indoor attraction or three to go along with Darkoaster and their shows. I don’t see that happening.

October 25, 2023 at 12:45 PM

@ AJ - I've seen a number of your posts critical of Cedar Fair (and some more specific ones aimed at Cedar Point). I was wondering if you could elaborate on your criticisms. I visited Cedar Point for the first time last summer with my kids, the first time my 8 and 10 y.o. were tall enough for all of the rides/rollercoasters. We are a family that goes to Orlando at least once per year, and has season passes for Six Flags ,so we experience a lot of theme/amusement parks. Cedar Point just doesn't have any parks that are close enough to make trips before this year worthwhile.

We found Cedar Point far superior to SFGA (our "home park") in basically every way. At Cedar Point:

* The operations were better (actually far better)
* The food is way better
* Staff was better and more friendly
* The rides were far superior (Rugaru maybe not withstanding)

I could go on, but I think you get the point. I am just curious what your experience has been... Thanks!

October 25, 2023 at 1:26 PM

Judging the entire company based off one visit to their flagship park, in the summer when they are fully staffed, is not the full picture of the company. I have been to all the CF parks (except Worlds of Fun) many times and can say the last few years of Kinzel the parks were ran very poorly, they were ran very well during Ouimet, and then have gotten progressively worse year after year under Zimmerman. AJ's home CF park is Knott's which I have been hearing horror stories from the past few years. A co-worker of mine went to socal last year and said Knotts was the worst ran park she had ever been to and SFMM's operations, while not great, were far superior. Knotts best coaster (Xcelerator) has been closed for 2 years, and one of their other coasters (Montezuma's Revenge) was removed a couple years ago and was supposed to re-open this year but the new ride hasn't even been built yet as far as I know.

Also I want to add that my visit to CP in 2018 was probably the worst operations I have seen at any park ever due to extreme (and I mean EXTREME) understaffing. And I worked at Six Flags Great America for years and have been to pretty much every major park in the world. They literally had entire sections of the park closed because they didn't have enough staff. Almost every major coaster in the park had delayed openings both days we were there. Steel Vengeance had an accident in the morning and re-opened late that night with 1 train, then had a delayed opening the next day when it opened at like 1pm with one train operation.

Also to add on a friend of mine was at CP last weekend, and on a Halloweekends Saturday (the busiest days of the year), he said everything was running 2 trains except Rougaru and MF which went to 3 trains later in the day (Maverick had 4). But Raptor, Gatekeeper, Steel Vengeance, Magnum all were only running 2 trains with 90+ minute waits. Also if you look at Theme Park Worldwide's vlog from Worlds of Fun this summer it consisted of them walking around all morning looking for an open ride and i've been hearing thats been the norm at that park as well.

October 25, 2023 at 1:19 PM

Disappointed, but not surprised. NOBODY knew they were open last year!! There was zero marketing. In addition, based on the staff shortages I continue to see now in the fall, I bet they simply don't have the employees.

October 25, 2023 at 1:28 PM

@ The Man - I agree, my one visit is not something to judge the entire company by, which was partly why I asked the question. Our kids want to do an amusement park road trip next summer: Holiday World, Kinds Island, Cedar Point, and one other park mixed in. Trying to figure out if the CP parks are problematic/have a systemic issue. I think most (definitely not all) people look at parks outside their home park and long for what could be if they lived closer to that idealized park. I'd also say, when I was at CP, which definitely wasn't your experience, they had 3 trains (or more like Maverick) running at all times. The operations were much more smooth and well planned.

I'd also say this: SFGA's operations are awful - Maxx Force runs one train, Raging Bull is down to two, Superman Ultimate Flight has only two, etc.. But, I don't judge all of their parks by that standard. SFSL is a fun, if not small and without a major headliner, park with operations that have been top notch every time that I have been there. (Just don't ride the Ninja!) I would say both Cedar Point Shores and every Hurricane Harbor I've visited have operational problems. (I am also more aware of them as I grew up working at Wet 'n Wild in Orlando.)

October 25, 2023 at 5:27 PM

MLB, here's what I've experienced at the Cedar Fair parks I've visited since the pandemic closures...

-California's Great America (2021): Multiple coasters and flat rides closed for the day, plus slow operations on the rides that were open.
-Carowinds (2022): Three trains on Fury & Intimidator, but double stacking more often than not. Nighthawk was closed (it hadn't opened yet for the season). The park also refused to honor my season drink plan as they claimed it expired and wasn't extended like my pass was.
-Cedar Point (2021): All trains on everything, but double stacking pretty much across the board. Even with Fast Lane, we were routinely waiting 30+ minutes for the headliners, which I hadn't experienced on past visits. GateKeeper was also down for the day, and we missed one of the other coasters (can't remember which one) as it kept going down throughout the day.
-Dorney Park (2021): About half the rides weren't ready when the park opened and it took at least two hours after opening before everything was ready. Also some of the most lethargic operations I've seen at any Cedar Fair park.
-Kings Dominion (2022): This one was actually a pretty good day aside from a couple delayed openings (though nothing worse than an hour).
-Kings Island (2021): The best Cedar Fair visit I've had in recent years. Max trains on everything, fast operations, and pretty much all the rides were open with no downtime of note.
-Knott's Berry Farm (home park): This place has been a total cluster for the past several years. HangTime had a lengthy period of downtime in 2021/2022, Xcelerator hasn't operated since March 2022 (though they finally have been working on it over the past couple months), and Montezooma's Revenge looks abandoned despite it supposedly being remodeled. Fiesta Village was torn up for much of the past year for a refurbishment project, and now Camp Snoopy is torn up. Lots of rides have had refurbishments take way longer than they should recently. Furthermore, the park has been inundated with crowds from guests who can't afford (or can't purchase) Magic Keys, yet staffing is lower than it was before and entertainment has been scaled back significantly, so it's become a miserable experience even on moderately crowded days. I actually didn't get a pass for 2023 due to the poor experience at this park (plus only one Cedar Fair park in my travel plans for this year), and while I now have a pass again as 2024 tentatively includes a few Cedar Fair parks, I really feel very little desire to visit the park right now.
-Worlds of Fun (2023): Operationally, this park wasn't terrible (though did have more delayed openings and downtime than I'd expect), but they left a really sour taste when I was there due to their treatment of our group. I was there for an enthusiast event, and at the time Zambezi Zinger was in pass previews. We were taken out behind the ride in the morning and got to watch them test the ride, but then they informed us that because the ride wasn't officially open we couldn't ride unless we upgraded our event ticket to a season pass. To me, that's a F in customer service, and I felt pretty resentful my whole day there (if I wasn't with first timers, I probably would have bailed).

By comparison, here has been by experience at Six Flags parks over the same time period...

-Discovery Kingdom (2021 & 2023): Operations were slow and there were a couple coasters closed on each visit, but they were running two trains on the headliners and I didn't have trouble getting on everything either visit.
-Fiesta Texas (2023): Very busy due to spring break crowds, but all rides were open and running max trains (except Wonder Woman, which only had two). Lots of short downtimes throughout the day, unfortunately, and not the fastest operations, but good enough that I was still able to do everything at least once despite the crowds.
-Great Adventure (2021): Jersey Devil was brand new and was very temperamental, but everything else was open and running at full capacity. Operations were very efficient at this park as well.
-Great America (2023): I've had better days at this park, but I've also had worse. All the coasters were open and most rides were running two trains (Demon and Maxx Force being the exceptions), but quite a few smaller attractions were closed. Operations were a bit hit or miss, but generally good enough to not be an annoyance.
-Magic Mountain (home park): This one has been incredibly inconsistent. I've had some great days here where almost everything was open and almost everything was running two trains, but I've also had some pretty meh days with lots of one train ops and half the coasters closed. I will say that this park pulled out all the stops for the enthusiast event I attended this year, including bringing a ride out of refurb a week early so it would be ready for our group.
-New England (2021): Didn't have any major negatives on my visit to this park that were within the park's control. Decent operations, two trains on rides, and everything open aside from one or two minor downtimes.
-Over Georgia (2022): Despite the park being dead, they were running two trains on pretty much everything at this park, and other than Acrophobia everything notable was open. I ended up cutting the day short as I got all the rides in I wanted to in half a day.
-Over Texas (2023): Two trains, fast operations, short lines. Unfortunately, several rides were down for refurb that weren't listed on the website.
-St. Louis (2023): Here everything was on one train except Batman, but crowds were so light it wasn't an issue. Operators also tried to go as quick as possible, with crews on American Thunder and Batman probably dispatching 20-30 seconds faster than what I witnessed a couple days later at Worlds of Fun.

It's definitely not a universal "Cedar Fair is all bad and Six Flags is all good," but averaged out over the past couple years I'd say Six Flags visits have been more good than bad and Cedar Fair visits have been more bad than good for me over the past few years.

October 26, 2023 at 8:46 AM

Thanks AJ, I appreciate you sharing your experiences. I'd say that your experiences in StL mirror ours, and I'd say you hit SFGA on a relatively "good" day. Post-pandemic, whether due to staffing challenges or budget cuts, the operations at SFGA have been in a downward spiral. Now, I will give them credit, they did actually spend some (probably not a lot) of money fixing up broken details that hadn't been working in years on everything from Dark Knight (I think this had the most work done), to Batman, to Escape from Metropolis (even though the 3D has been removed - at least now the special effects work/correspond to the dialogue on the screens).

This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Park tickets

Weekly newsletter

New attraction reviews

News archive