Screamscape Speaks -
(5/13/13) For those still holding their breath, I’d like to announce Chuck Casassa of Washington DC as the winner of our random prize drawing for a free copy of “American Coasters: A Thrilling Photographic Ride” by Thomas Crymes. Thanks to everyone for playing along! Keep an eye out for it in your local book store or you can order a copy from Amazon as well.
(3/25/13) Today I had the pleasure of reading the new book “American Coasters: A Thrilling Photographic Ride” by Thomas Crymes. The new book is home to more than 200 fantastic color pictures of fantastic roller coasters from around the United States. It is more than just a pretty photo book however, as it breaks things down into sections on 12 very popular US theme parks, with featured entries all about a few of each park’s most iconic roller coasters, including a beautiful section showing off the infamous Son of Beast wooden coaster at Kings Island as it was when it opened, complete with the vertical loop.
Not only does the title serve as your virtual window into some of the nations best theme parks for roller coasters, but it certainly will give you the urge to get out there yourself and try these creations. It starts things off right by showing off Cedar Point followed by: Knoebels, Carowinds, Kennywood, Kings Island, Kings Dominion, Six Flags New England, Six Flags over Georgia, Six Flags America, Dorney Park, Six Flags Great Adventure as well as the always photogenic Busch Gardens Williamsburg.
If you don’t see your favorite park on the list, there is a small final section entitled, “Best of the Rest”, that quickly mentions a good number of other parks around the country. In particular you may notice the title is lacking sections on the big parks in California, Florida and Texas, but in the end I figure this just leaves Thomas Crymes plenty of material left to cover in the eventual follow up book I hope he authors. After all, clocking in at 172 pages, this book is certainly no slouch in the size department. The pages are big and beautiful, showing off his photography skills very well… from scenic backgrounds and stunning skylines to extreme close up photos… close enough to show off if the paint is peeling on your favorite coaster. Simply put, this book is a must have possession for any roller coaster fan!
That said, how would you like a chance to win a free copy of “American Coasters: A Thrilling Photographic Ride “? Thanks to the book’s Author and Publisher, Schiffer Publishing, Ltd, I have a free copy to give away to one lucky Screamscape.com reader picked at random in a drawing after April 28th, 2013.
Entering yourself into the drawing is easy. Just send in the answers to easy trivia questions (see below), using answers currently found within the Screamscape website, along with your NAME and a VALID and WORKING e-mail address where we can contact you if you are the winner to email@example.com.
At the start of each week (usually on Mondays) I will present a list of three new trivia questions. You can answer the question only once per week. Special additional entry questions may also be posted exclusively through the Screamscape Twitter, Facebook or Google+ pages, so be sure to follow us to increase your chances to win. (You must have a valid mailing address within the United States to win.)
CONTEST OVER... Better luck next time!
(11/19/12) A very disturbing article was written on the Orlando Sentinel that poses some very dangerous speculation about the future of the amusement industry. The title itself should send shivers down anyone’s spine, “Attractions dip toes into airline-style pricing”. In plain English… imagine a future trip to the Orlando theme parks where you might find cheaper than normal (say, $60?) ticket prices into the Disney parks if you visited in February, and yet if you wanted to visit in the busy summer months, you could encounter a $150 ticket price? How you would feel about visiting Shamu and pals at SeaWorld for just $75 on a weekday… but if you went on a weekend you would be asked to pay $135 to get in? Or maybe you were planning a day at Wet ‘n Wild with the kids, but sour weather ruins the fun, so as a backup plan you pop over to DisneyQuest instead, only to find out that the price of buying tickets last second at the door are double what you expected.
Anyone who travels by air has heard many a tale of woe from those who had the misfortune of bad dealings from the insufferable airline industry. So very concept of basing anything in the theme park industry on something that happens in the airline biz seems just seems simply bonkers. Even as the article points out that while other industries have dabbled in airfare style pricing where you benefit from off-season visits and are punished if you need to travel in peak season, the amusement industry has been very hesitant to do so. The only clear examples in Orlando where they have tried it are tied to extra-ticket special events like Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas or Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights where the price of admission can change depending on the day you visit.
A misguided (in my opinion) assistant college professor at a panel held at IAAPA last week to discuss the idea commented that the concept of raising the price on busy weekends at the park, as well as seasonal pricing changes was a virtual “gold mine” of opportunity. The practice is already rampant in the Ski Resort industry, who are closely tied to the Hotel side of things who have also been doing it for years.
According to Scott Sanders, a former WDW VP on the concept, “In general, consumers are wiling to accept pricing as long as they perceive it to be fair.” Of course given his Disney background, this also comes to someone who has clearly had blinders on for years as Disney and the rest of the Florida parks have already raised their ticket prices to levels previously undreamed of. Back in the early ‘90’s most people in the industry felt the price of a park ticket would never go above $50 a day. Once it did… many felt it would then never go over $75 a day. Now we are on the doorstep of $100 a day tickets, and I don’t know a single park guest who is even close to happy about that little fact, especially after stomaching the virtual kick in the groin from what the parks are asking at the parking lot toll booths these days.
While it is true, guests are still paying to get in… I’ve never been a fan of the management attitude of riding the price increase wave until it “breaks”. In other words… cranking up the prices over and over until people finally give in and stop going to the parks. While it does fill the theme park coffers rather quickly, the damage it does to their public image is irreversible, even amongst their own staff whom are often the first to groan when the prices go up. Park employees know full well that they are not going to benefit one bit from the price increases.
As we approach the new magical $100 price barrier, perhaps that is why there is talk about trying a new heavily disguised ways to raise ticket prices, by hiding them in a complicated matrix of high and low season prices. I really don’t think anyone wants to be the first to announce a triple digital ticket price, but I also firmly believe that if the parks this approach, this will be the straw that breaks the camels back once and for all. The general public already regards the Orlando theme parks as being very “greedy” over the prices they are grudgingly paying now and are very close to alienating their fans. Six Flags and Cedar Fair know this, as I recall several parks in both chains actually chose to cut their ticket prices rather than raise them in the early years of the recession due to declines in their local markets affecting not only basic park attendance, but also rampant declines in private event bookings as well.
Instead of finding new ways to shake every penny out of the Orlando tourist’s pockets, I’d rather see some goodwill price cuts, and the return of some valued lost benefits such as making park hopping included in all multi-day passes at Disney, or the abolishment of parking lot tolls. If a fantastic regional park like Holiday World in Indiana can gain nationwide fame for offering free parking, free sunscreen and free soda included with the price of park admission, what’s wrong with the big parks in Florida or California?
(7/21/12) It seems the lawsuit happy society we live in today has taken yet another step towards end of the world status. In the theme park world we’ve seen guests file appropriate lawsuits against parks for accidents and wrongful deaths of various kinds, but we’ve also seen countless other frivolous lawsuits from those attempting monetary gain from injuries caused by their own hand and even claims of embarrassment, emotional suffering or mental anguish.
Now that it seems about every park has been forced to defend itself in countless lawsuits, they’ve become very proactive about not only safety, but attempting to control every possible aspect of their environments to prevent any future lawsuits. As such, we’ve seen some interesting rule and policy changes come down the pipe over the last few years that you have likely read about here on Screamscape. Some are downright silly while others do have merit.
Go for a ride on a Ferris Wheel by yourself lately? These days it is getting harder to find a Ferris Wheel that will let a single rider go by themselves, as the paper pushers seems to think those who ride alone are either possible suicide jumpers, or will behave in an irresponsible way while riding putting their own life at risk. The silly actions of a few have punished us all in this case. You may also recall the issues about Muslim Hijabs being banned from certain attractions. A big riot broke out at Rye Playland last year when a large group of Muslim guests were told that the park’s safety rules did not permit guests to ride several of the park’s attractions while wearing any kind of head covering (ranging from Hijab’s to Baseball Hats) out of concern that they could get caught up in the machinery. Restrictions like these, if not in place already, were adopted more widely when a woman wearing a Burka was strangled to death on a go-kart when it became entangled in a wheel.
For the summer of 2012, it seems the newest development has been a sudden batch of lawsuits and media driven complaints from handicapped guests complaining over new and some existing policies that are preventing them from riding many of the park rides. Two amputee guests at Universal Studios Hollywood have filed a lawsuit this week after being barred from riding the Revenge of the Mummy Coaster. Angel Castelan had his forearms amputated, and was told back in 2010 that he couldn’t ride The Mummy because he did not have hands to grip the safety bars. He returned to the park a year later with a friend who was missing both legs, and his friend was also barred from the same ride because an update to the policy now requires riders to have at least one hand and one leg to ride.
Similar stories to this have been filling my news box all summer. A burn victim who lost both hands as an infant was the subject of several news articles earlier this summer when he visited Six Flags over Texas and was told he would not be permitted to ride the Texas Giant, nor most of the park’s other attractions. Earlier this year a teenager with no hands was barred from riding coasters at SeaWorld Orlando, and on a previous trip was barred from Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey at Islands of Adventure. Another man was stopped from riding Goliath at Six Flags over Georgia with only one leg. One similar story in 2011 did have a happy ending when a man in a wheelchair who was barred from riding the Zippin Pippin in Green Bay managed to get the policy revised to allow him to finally ride the coaster with his daughter. Of course not every story ends well, as most of you will also remember the army veteran was who missing both legs who was killed when he was thrown from the Ride of Steel at Darien Lake in 2011 when the employees failed to stop him from riding, despite a posted safety sign outside the ride stating that “guests must have two legs” to ride.
As sad and unfortunately as any of these stories are, I have to also acknowledge that we really seem to have brought this upon ourselves. The parks and ride manufactures are simply trying to protect themselves from future lawsuits in some cases, and simply stating the facts in terms of maintaining rider safety in others. In the case of leg amputees, it does seem reasonable why they would be banned from riding an airtime filled coaster like Ride of Steel that only has a lap bar style restraint. For those without hands, the issue is more complicated, as they are forced to sit on the sidelines and watch other rides go by with their hands in the air, and really should come down to the style restraint used on the ride itself. It may suck being told you can’t ride due to a disability, but it’s also these same safety policies also tell kids when they are still too short to ride and for some of us, when we are too big to ride. As someone who has struggled with weight issues for a number of years, I can say that indeed sucks being told you can’t ride something for any reason. In the end however, most of these rules are there for a good reason: to ensure that every guest sent out on a ride returns in one piece.
Now if you'll excuse me, there is an Elliptical machine in the other room with my name on it.
(1/11/12) Great news for Screamscape this week, as the results from the Behind The Thrills, The Thrill Weekly Awards: Best of 2011 have been announced and for the second year in a row Screamscape is proud to have won the award for Best Theme Park News Site.
Thanks to everyone who voted for Screamscape!!
(8/10/11) Industry watchers should be keeping a close eye on Cedar Fair right now, as the company is in the midst of change and transition right now. We will see the end of the Dick Kinzel era and vision for the chain of parks, soon to be replaced by whatever masterplan Matt Ouimet may be cooking up, which could be quite interesting given Matt’s Disney Pedigree. While I have big hopes for what we may see from Matt, I’m not to keen on what Kinzel has been cooking up this season in the form of a couple of test projects for upcharge cut-to-the-front-of-the-line pass programs.
Back in December 2010, Knott’s quietly rolled out their prototype upcharge program under the name, “Hate to Wait”. Guests were offered the chance to buy a Hate to Wait Pass for $40, which offered a one-time each front-of-line access to the parks top eight rides. Prior to this rollout, Knott’s had only the program briefly at the Haunt in October, but has continued to offer the Hate to Wait passes through this summer.
The follow up program is currently testing this summer at Kings Island under the name “Fast Lane”, with an upcharge price of $50 per person. Unlike Hate To Wait, the Fast Lane program offers unlimited front-of-line access to the park’s top 10 attractions, but only between Noon and 7pm. (UPDATE: Fast Lane was changed in late summer to now offer front of line access all day long.)
As Cedar Fair seemed to have been the one chain to resist the temptation of offering these upcharge style line-cutting passes, I’m more than a little disappointed by the thought that they could be planning on rolling them out chain wide as early as 2012. Each version of the program is very low-tech, requiring no major hardware installation to be done throughout the park (unlike Lo-Q or a Disney FastPass style program), making them easy to roll out without a huge set-up cost or making a multi-year term deal with an outside vendor.
So I’ve got to wonder, will these line-cutter upcharge programs go down as Kinzel’s departing shot to the Cedar Fair chain, or will Matt Ouimet’s Disney background put the kibosh on the idea of charging for such a program? I’m kind of hoping for the later, as I’ve never been fond of the concept of theme parks having a “tiered” guest experience program. Every guest pays for admission in some form (day ticket or annual pass) and deserves to have the same experience, and not being able to whip out their wallet to bribe their way to the front of a line. For every line cutter who drops $50 on a pass, you’ve got several hundred (or thousand) regular guests who are steaming angry on the inside watching these people cut in front of them.
In addition to line-cutting passes, Cedar Fair also seems to have been experimenting with a few other odd things in 2011 (and previously) that could affect the future of the parks. We’ve seen parking prices start to climb at certain parks, following the irrational rise of parking fees started by Six Flags. If high priced parking fees were not enough, you can now choose between normal parking (for $15) or a premium parking spot up front for $20 to $25. Want to ride a few waterslides? Not so simple anymore… you can’t visit a waterpark hardly anywhere anymore without a park trying to upsell you on the concept of renting a private cabana for your group for the day.
Then there is a possible rise of the seasonal “upcharge” attraction concept, like Dinosaur’s Alive at Kings Island. I’ve already heard rumbling rumors suggesting that we may see Dinosaur’s Alive spun out into as many as three other Cedar Fair parks for the 2012 season, where guests are asked to pay an extra fee to see this animatronic dinosaur display, and in the case of Kings Island, then asked to pay an extra fee if they want to see a Dino 4D film at the end, running inside the park’s previously free Action FX Theater attraction.
Then there are the little upcharge items being sold to ‘plus’ your experience. It may only be a buck or so, but I don’t really care for the upcharge concept of tricking some guests into buying 3D glasses to use on the Boo Hill dark rides, or trying to sell you 3D glasses for select Halloween Haunts or special glasses to plus the experience of the Starlight Spectacular light shows. To me, they add little to the experience, and as a parent, the sales tactics used here are akin to the grocery stores putting the candy at the checkout counter in order to instigate a riot from your kids if you don’t buy them one.
In short, I think we’ve got to the point where the true POP era (Pay One Price) of theme parks has come to an end, and has been replaced by the Upcharge Era where guests can add-on a variety of experience options and thus creating an unfortunately extremely tiered guest experience.
A tiered experience based entirely on the cash in your wallet, which cuts to the heart of the matter, because parks are now admitting that virtually anything you want is for sale… for the right price. And that just kind of takes a big chunk of the “fun” out of visiting the fun park, doesn’t it?
(7/27/11) Screamscape was honored earlier today as being named as the best theme park news and rumors site by Orlando Local Guide. Thanks guys, I’m honored. Check it out.
(1/4/11) Behind the Thrills has posted the results of their Best Of 2010 polls, and I’m happy to report that Screamscape ran away with the award for the Theme Park News Site of the Year. Thanks to everyone who voted! Check out the rest of the winners for things like Best Park, Friendliest Crowds, King of Halloween and much more over at Behind the Thrills.
(8/5/10) It’s that time of year again… the time of year when the industry groans as a whole as Disney and the other Orlando area parks push the ticket price envelop to see just how much further they can go. It’s a sick trend really, as Disney and the other Orlando area parks have raised priced each and every year for about the past 15 to 20 years, and the overall impact is staggering at just how much more they are taking from your wallet than they were just 10 years ago. The new adult ticket price starting today at Walt Disney World is an astounding $82, however it really wasn’t that long ago when tickets were still at $50 or much less!
All Ears Net has a great chart which documents all the Walt Disney World ticket prices since it opened in 1971 at a low price of $3.50 for an adult ticket. The last time Disney went more than a year without a price increase was back in December 1987 when they raised the ticket price to $28 and kept it until May 1989 (18 months) when it went up $1 to $29. When Disney did raise prices over the years, it was typically by just $1-2 up through 2003. More recently however annual price increase have typically been between $3-5, with a huge leap in 2006 when they raised priced twice in one year ($3.25 in January and another $4 in August!). Yep, that was a $7.25 increase… in just one year.
Now I did mention $50 previously, which was the price of WDW admission back from September 2002 to June 2003. Watching ticket prices really start to creep upwards throughout the biz in the 90’s, I had settled on $50 to be magic threshold number for the industry at that time. It has always been my opinion that there is a “glass threshold” point for ticket prices. If the ticket is raised past a certain point, the perceived value will shatter and the attraction will see their attendance figures plunge dramatically. Today I’d place at somewhere between $50-60, depending on the region.
Disney has unfortunately proved that with their perceived quality, marketing, image and product line, they were able to pass through this glass threshold and move far beyond it. For the most part, the rest of big players in Florida have been allowed to also pass through this barrier in Disney’s wake by being part of the same local market. The rest of the nations theme parks however, have not.
Lets take a look at Six Flags for a moment, as they have parks all over the country and have adjusted their ticket prices quite a bit for to account for this threshold point in each local market. For example the price of a ticket to Six Flags Great Adventure (New York/New Jersey market) is currently $54.99 at the gate, and $59.99 at Six Flags Magic Mountain (SoCal market). However you can buy tickets to both parks from the official website for just $34.99. By comparison, tickets are as low as $42.99 for SF New England and St. Louis, $44.99 for SF over Georgia, $49.99 for SF Discovery Kingdom and $51.99 at the Texas parks.
The Cedar Fair parks also show a similar spectrum: as low as $39.99 for Carowinds and Valleyfair, $41.99 for Worlds of Fun, $45.99 for Cedar Point, $49.99 for Kings Island, $54.99 for Knott’s Berry Farm, Kings Dominion and CA Great America. Much like Six Flags online discounts are plentiful and easy to find.
PARC Managements bigger parks (Elitch Gardens, Darien Lake) are close to $40 and Herschend’s biggest parks (Dollywood & Silver Dollar City) price themselves in the low to mid 50’s. The price to the SeaWorld / Busch Gardens parks also range quite a bit depending on the market: $75 for the Tampa, FL park while only $61 for the Williamsburg, VA park. SeaWorld Orlando is asking for $78 to visit while it’s only $59 to visit the California and Texas parks.
Keeping all that in mind, it looks like $60 is the current price threshold that no one outside of Florida (with the exception of Busch Gardens Williamsburg) has been willing to push through just yet, while clearly some areas of the country are still behind the $50 barrier as well. Disney though… they just keep pushing along, year after year, without the break. About the only thing that caused their attendance to fall in a major way was the time period following September 11th, 2001 which to be fair, shook up the entire travel industry as a whole. With Disney making big increase after increase every year however, I think it’s only a matter of “when” the world market says enough is enough and the barrier shatters in Orlando. Will it be $90? Will it be $100?
Hell, for $100 a person to visit the Magic Kingdom… I’m going to be expecting a lot more than just a fun day at the park. For $100+ per person I want Pooh to change my baby’s diaper, Lightning McQueen to shuttle us from park to park, Aladdin and his Genie to rub my wife’s feet when she’s tired and a nice back massage from Jessica Rabbit for me. Now shove that in your Project Next Gen folder.
(7/30/09) While discussing the impending removal of the Big Bad Wolf from Busch Gardens Williamsburg, an interesting point was brought up. After 25 years the park had stated that the Wolf had simply reached the end of it’s lifespan and it was just time for it to go. While the nearby Loch Ness Monster coaster turned 31 this same year, it’s been said that the unique forces and stresses related to the Wolf’s design style are part of the problem. However, Busch also felt the time was right in 2006 to remove the 30 year old Python coaster from their Tampa park. That said, there really isn’t too much difference in the technology behind Python and Loch Ness, as they are the same style of coaster, only running on a different layout.
With that in mind, the point was brought up that potentially we could end up seeing a large number of steel coasters being taken down over the next decade as they too begin to reach the end of their lifespans. The list of rides that could become affected by this is rather large as the time-period from the mid-70’s to mid-80’s was pretty much the Golden Era of steel coaster design after the introduction of inversions.
Going back to the grandfather of all tubular steel coaster track coasters leads us to Disneyland’s Matterhorn which actually opened in 1959. However it’s no secret to anyone that the Matterhorn has been going down for extensive off-season rehabs for the last 15 years or more where they do refurbish and replace sections of the track. Disney’s next steel coaster effort, Space Mountain in Walt Disney World, opened in 1975 and closed earlier this year (2009) for a nearly year-long rehab to fix, repair and replace it’s own coaster track after 34 years of use. Space Mountain at Disneyland opened in 1977 closed in 2003 (26 yrs) and didn’t open again until 2005 as after they had taken the time to completely rebuild the coaster from scratch.
I’ve come to realize that while we have slowly watched Disney come across this very problem and have quietly gone about their business to rebuild and preserve these classic attractions, most other parks out there are not going to react the same. After all, it’s far easier to scrap and existing ride and just build something new than to preserve a classic coaster. Wooden coasters are obviously the exception, as they are pretty much under a constant state of having their wood replaced, track sections rebuilt and so on. Carowinds is a good example here as they have removed and rebuilt entire sections of Thunder Road over the winter for the past two years as part of a 5 year plan to rebuild and refurbish the coaster. Unfortunately it’s just not that easy to do the same thing to an old steel coaster.
Just take a moment to think about all the great old classic steel coasters that could be getting too old to maintain or suffering from some form of fatigue or decay. We’re looking at several classic loopers like: Montezooma’s Revenge (1978), Revolution (1976), Sooperdooperlooper (1977), Corkscrew @ CP (1976) The Demon (1976), Shockwave (1978) or Mindbender (1978).
If you really want to venture into those at risk of being taken down due to age, what about the all those Arrow Mine Trains like: Gold Rusher (1971), Dahlonega Mine Train (1967), Mine Train @ SFOT (1967), Cedar Creek Mine Ride (1969), River King Mine Train (1971), Carolina Goldrusher (1973) or Runaway Mine Train (1974)?
Those are just the tip of the iceberg! I’m going to channel my inner-geek for a moment and paraphrase a quote from Blade Runner. “All those coasters will be lost in time… like tears in rain…”