For the large park and resort segment of the amusement industry, 2010 was clearly the Year of Potter as Universal Orlando’s newest attraction overcame some curious design decisions to still become the year’s undisputed runaway hit. For the coming year, the big question for Universal and its large park competitors is whether the big gains that the boy wizard brought can be held onto or replicated elsewhere.
To answer this question, this month’s Large Park Report looks ahead to the new attractions that large parks and resorts have planned for 2011 and wonders if the industry can conjure up more magic in the New Year.
For the last several years, Universal Orlando has been on a spending binge aimed at finally challenging Walt Disney World for theme park supremacy in Central Florida. The resort’s big ticket items have included an exclusive Blue Man Group show in 2007, a Simpsons-themed simulator in 2008, a Maurer Söhne X Car coaster in 2009 and, finally, this year’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
With such a huge capital investment over the last half decade, it’s hardly a surprise that Universal Orlando has not announced any major attractions for 2011. Instead, the resort seems content to let Harry Potter play out and hopefully keep the large attendance gains that it discovered over the summer.
Turning Flat – Will this happen?
That’s clearly the big question, one whose answer is likely to define whether Universal Orlando can truly complete with Disney World for guests or whether it will continue to lag behind in attendance and revenue. Indeed, if the Wizarding World realizes sustained growth, then it very well could position Universal as a primary destination for guests to Central Florida as opposed to its more frequent role as a secondary option for vacationers visiting Disney.
The resort does have the advantage of the final two-part movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, opening in November of this year and July of next, so that should keep Potter momentum going through Summer 2011. However, with no new books or movies scheduled beyond next summer, Universal must hope that the Harry Potter brand is strong enough to keep guests coming despite the lack of new content.
For 2011, Disney can best be summed up as the “Tale of Two Resorts.” In California, work continues at a fast clip in the overhaul of Disney’s California Adventure. Long a lagging second to the original Disneyland next door, DCA is the middle of an extreme theme park makeover (including a name change that eliminates the apostrophe “s” in the park’s official title.)
The transformation kicked into high gear earlier this summer with the opening of the World of Color lagoon show that combined lights, lasers and other effects into an evening event that has packed DCA with crowds unlike ever before.
For 2011, the makeover continues with The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, a new family-friendly attraction that several key Disney creative execs have told us represents one of Disney’s most immersively designed dark rides ever. Lush theming, entertaining music and eye-catching animatronics combine with new special effects to tell the Mermaid story in a whimsical way.
Meanwhile, across the country at Disney World, that resort also awaits its own version of the Mermaid dark ride. Unfortunately, for visitors to Central Florida, they’ll have to wait until 2013 as the attraction will open as part of the resort’s major Fantasyland expansion and overhaul.
In the meantime, Disney World is planning for a more modest 2011 than Disneyland with the most prominent debut being Star Tours 2.0—a second edition remake to the original Star Tours attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Featuring new film footage and effects for the simulator-based attraction, Star Tours 2.0 is sure to generate excitement among fans of galaxies from far away.
What will be most interesting to follow though is whether Disney World’s approach of a lower key 2011 will end up being a wise move as it allows the initial Harry Potter excitement just down Interstate 4 to play out. The challenge is that the strategy could allow Universal to establish more of a foothold in Central Florida. At the same time, the benefit is that laying lower could help Disney avoid a situation where a major new offering beyond Star Tours was overwhelmed by interest the boy wizard’s world.
With the much anticipated Fantasyland expansion slotted to begin rolling out in two years, 2011 could be the proverbial calm before Disney World’s creative storm makes landfall in 2012.
Though they operate under the SeaWorld banner, the Busch Gardens parks in Tampa and Williamsburg certainly offer unique experiences different from their marine-based cousins. In 2011, it’s Busch Gardens Tampa’s turn to debut two new high profile attractions. The park’s roll-out starts this winter with Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy—a high energy story that replaces the award-winning KaTonga show in the Moroccan Palace Theater.
Then, as spring rolls into summer, the park will unveil Cheetaka—a new thrill ride that uses an Intamin coaster to immerse guests into a heavily themed world of both reality and fantasy. Operating with the tagline “Feel the spirit. Feel the Speed” the early anticipation for Cheetaka appears to be as high (if not higher) than that for the park’s popular SheiKra dive coaster that debuted in 2005. So much so that, if the attraction lives up to its hype, Busch Gardens might find itself with Central Florida’s hottest new ride for 2011.
Afraid of heights? If so, then 2011 will do nothing to cure that phobia for guests at several Cedar Fair parks. Cedar Point, Kings Island, Canada’s Wonderland and Knott’s Berry Farm will all debut a new Mondial swing ride known as the WindSeeker. The catch is that, unlike milder swing rides whose height is fairly limited, each of these $5 million attractions will reach upwards of 300 feet. Add in a design where the riders’ legs will fly unrestrained and it’s easy to imagine the extreme thrills that guests will experience over the course of the ride’s three-minute cycle.
The decision to add a mega-swing is an interesting one. In particular, several industry officials have commented to us that they are curious to see how the public responds to Cedar Fair’s decision to offer thrills in a non-coaster way. Without a doubt, a 300-foot swing ride should scare the wits out of even the most seasoned thrill seeker. However, one wonders if Cedar Fair guests will be willing to exchange a new type of thrill in 2011 in place of Cedar Fair’s more common strategy of debuting extreme coasters.
With a much smaller footprint and a significantly reduced cost, if the answer is “Yes,” then Cedar Fair is well-positioned to get an increased bang for its investment buck next year.
Meanwhile, at the family of Six Flags parks, 2011 is shaping up to be the Year of the Coaster for many venues. Clearly, the new management team at the nationwide chain of parks feels that big thrills are the equation for success next year.
Some of the rides fitting this bill in 2011 include a new stand-up coaster at Six Flags Great Adventure themed to the DC Comics’ Green Lantern character and a Gerstlauer Eurofighter named Dare Devil slated for Six Flags Over Georgia.
With Mark Shapiro and his strategy of re-making Six Flags into a more family-centric brand gone, next year could serve as a turning point for the company as it weighs whether to continue that trend or to return to its more thrill-based approach from the late 1990s. –
(Reach Contributor Chad Emerson at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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