Corporate Park News
---- THE LATEST INDUSTRY NEWS ----
(8/7/22) Universal Theme Parks Now Offering a 7th Kind of Butterbeer? (MORE...)
(8/5/22) Six Flags - A New Board Member and Possibly Layoffs (MORE...)
(8/5/22) Cedar Fair Released Q2 2022 Results (MORE...)
(8/5/22) SeaWorld Entertainment Releases Q2 2022 Earnings Report (MORE...)
(7/25/22) Herschend Will No Longer Manage Stone Mountain Park In August
(7/24/22) Six Flags Corporate Is Approaching a Significant Ownership Window (MORE...)
(7/9/22) Cedar Fair Sets Date To Release Q2 2022 Earnings Report (MORE...)
(7/7/22) Cedar Fair Releases Preliminary Net Revenue Figures For 2022
Cedar Fair - (8/5/22) Cedar Fair announced their Q2 2022 results this week and was said to have generated record revenue in the quarter. They were also able to pay down debt and bring back the popular quarterly dividend payment for the first time in two years. However, as has been rumored, attendance at the chain’s parks has yet to reach 2019 (pre-COVID) levels. The reported attendance in Q2 across from all the Cedar Fair parks was 7.8 million, which is down 8% from the attendance in the same quarter of 2019.
According to CEO, Richard Zimmerman, the softer attendance levels can be blamed on the slower-to-recover group travel figures. However the company has sold a record number of season passes (3.2 million) for 2022 season, so they expect to have a strong finish to the summer season, followed by the popular Halloween and Winterfest seasonal events. In addition, in park spending PerCaps are said to be up significantly so far this year.
Net Revenue is up to $509 million for Q2 2022, but operating expenses are also up from previous years due to increased costs, including higher paid wages for staff. Things will get exciting next week however, as the company plans to announce their major 2023 capital projects across the chain at that time. We know Carowinds is set to announce on August 11th (Thursday) so I’d expect the others to also happen around that same day.
(7/9/22) Cedar Fair has now posted that the company will post their Q2 2022 earnings report on Aug. 3, 2022. This will be followed by the usual investor call which you can listen into at the investor website.
(7/7/22) Cedar Fair has reported that the company’s preliminary net revenues year-to-date through Monday, July 4th 2022, have totaled a record $704 million, up 20% ($117 million) compared to the comparable fiscal period ending Monday, July 8 2019 (aka: Pre-COVID-19).
“Through the July 4th holiday weekend, we have continued to generate new highs for in-park per capita spending, as well as drive growth in our out-of-park revenue channels, most notably through our resort properties,” said President and Chief Executive Officer Richard A. Zimmerman. “We are seeing attendance in line with expectations, driven largely by our season passes, which represent more than 60% of our year-to-date attendance, and average attendance per operating day at our legacy parks is pacing ahead of comparable 2019 levels. Our commitment to enhancing and evolving the guest experience continues to produce strong guest spending levels and solid underlying consumer demand, positive indicators as we approach the busiest and most profitable weeks of the season. We are well positioned to continue to drive record performance through the balance of the 2022 season as we expect to pick up a meaningful number of operating days during the second half of the year.”
Given the material impact the coronavirus pandemic had on park operations in 2020 and 2021, year-to-date results through July 4, 2022 are not directly comparable to results for the same periods of the last two years. Total operating days through the July 4th weekend represented approximately 40% of the Company’s projected 2022 full-year operating days of approximately 2,315, which compare to 2,224 operating days in 2019, including approximately 80 additional operating days over the balance of 2022, versus the comparable period in 2019. The Company may adjust future park operating calendars in response to changes in weather, guest demand, labor availability, or other macro factors outside of the Company’s control.
The year-over-year increase in net revenues was driven by a 26%, or $12.13, increase in in-park per capita spending to a record $59.52, and a 20%, or $15 million, increase in out-of-park revenues to $88 million. These gains were offset in part by an attendance variance resulting from a slower recovery within the group sales channel, as well as the impact of 94 fewer operating days at the Company’s legacy parks due to a natural calendar shift and changes in early-season park operating schedules. The calendar shift and impact of group business contributed to a 507,000-visit, or 5%, attendance variance versus the comparable fiscal period in 2019. Overall, year-to-date attendance through the July 4th weekend totaled 10.7 million guests. Despite the recovery shortfall in group business, attendance per operating day at the Company’s legacy parks is up 2% year to date, reflecting the impact of strong demand trends within the season pass channel.
Look for the next performance update to be released in early August 2022 as part of the company’s 2022 Q2 financial results.
(6/3/22) Cedar Fair released a little financial update for the company this week, claiming that the company has seen Year-To-Date net revenues through May 30, 2022 (Memorial Day Weekend) of $343 million. This is 21% higher than what the company saw in roughly the same time period in 2019, pre-COVID. So this is an extremely encouraging benchmark for how the rest of the year’s performance could play out.
In addition they claim to have seen a 28% increase in guest in-park PerCap spending, and a 13% increase in out-of-park revenues. Season Pass sales are up 24% compared to 2019 and even with 14 fewer operating days this year, the chain still saw a 4% attendance increase. Traditionally the company’s performance up through the end of May usually represents 20% of the available operating days for the entire year.
(5/6/22) Cedar Fair posted their Q1 2022 earning report on Thursday, showing $193 million in revenue during the three month time period. While all the Cedar Fair parks were closed during Q1 2021, and most shut down during 2020, comparing this figure to Q1 2019 (pre COVID) shows a 33% increase.
While Cedar Fair still reported an $84 million loss for the quarter (again, all of their parks other than Knott’s Berry Farm are closed during Q1), they were able to report a $59 million increase in season pass sales, which is clearly a sign of increased guest demand for the season to come.
Cedar Fair reports that the chain will be able to have a 60% increase in operating hours for the 2022 season compared to 2021, and after increases in pay to their staff, they believe that they will not suffer from the same staffing issues that plagued the operations of many of their parks last year.
The combination of increased guest demand and a lull in the launch of new attractions at most parks should put them in a good financial position by the end of the year, just in time to announce some needed new attractions to come for the 2023 season late in the summer.
(4/24/22) If you had a season pass to a Cedar Fair theme park in 2020, you could now be part of a lawsuit against the company after a federal judge ruled that efforts to do just that can proceed. According to the ruling from US District Judge James Carr, he declared that it was reasonable that passholders to Cedar Fair parks in 2020 would have expected refunds for their purchase due to the pandemic related closures of the chain’s parks.
We know how 2020 went down, with some parks actually being able to open in 2020 while others were forced to remain closed for the entire season. Some parks who were able to open actually closed early for the season as well, so the issue of a full refund vs a partial or pro-rated refund would have to be address on a park-by-park basis. According to a lawsuit already filed, Cedar Fair apparently refused requests to offer prorated refunds for the park’s that were kept closed, and instead offered to simply extend all passes for the 2021 season.
While that was fine for many customers, there were some who simply just wanted refunds who were denied and have decided to take legal action. In many cases, I think we can all think of reasonable examples where a refund could have been allowed if the requests were taken on a case by case basis, such as the customer moving away from the area, or being unsatisfied with how the park would be run in 2020 or 2021 seasons (reservations, masks, reduced operating hours, reduced attraction lineup, etc). Clearly many changes did take place between when season passes were purchased (many in late 2019, pre-COVID) and the unique events that followed in each park location, not just in 2020, but in 2021 as well.
(4/10/22) Cedar Fair has announced that they will release their Q1 2022 earning report on May 4, 2022. You can listen in to the earning call with investors and reporters that follows later that morning at the Cedar Fair investor website, and clicking on the Investor Information / Events & Presentation tabs to find either the live webcast or the recording posted later.
(2/26/22) Just a reminder that Cedar Point and the entire Cedar Fair chain of theme parks will transition to featuring only cashless purchases when they open for the 2022 season. Several of the major parks in the chain already led the way with this during the 2021 season successfully, so the rest will follow in time for their 2022 season openers.
So if you missed this last summer, what this means is that purchases at the theme parks will only be accepted via credit/debit cards, or through mobile payment methods (Google Pay / Apple Pay). If you arrive at the park with only cash in hand, fear not, as there will be “Cash-to-Card” kiosks available that will convert your cash (up to $500) onto a pre-paid card. The great news is that this isn’t a card that can only be used at the theme park, but rather a true pre-paid credit card that can be used anywhere in the real world as well.
(1/20/22) Cedar Fair will post their Q4 / Year End 2021 results on Feb. 16, 2022. You can listen in to the earnings call online (at 10am or replays afterwards) by clicking here and looking under Investor Information.
(9/8/21) According to a statement from Cedar Fair, the chain’s theme parks have seen “ strong attendance and guest spending trends had continued across its portfolio of 13 properties through the 2021 Labor Day weekend, while strong initial sales of 2022 season passes offer early indications that market demand remains high for immersive, outdoor entertainment experiences.”
According to CEO, Richard Zimmerman, “The strength and resilience of our business model has quickly propelled operations back to near-historical levels over the last 10 weeks.”
Compared to the dismal 2020 numbers for this time period that caused many parks to have limited operations or stay closed entirely, Cedar Fair saw overall attendance through Labor Day 2021 hit 12.9 million visits (up from 2.1m), in-park per capita spending his $60.99 (up from $45.43), and out-of-park revenues of $122 million (up from $42 million).
Click here to read more details from the press release.
(6/30/21) Is Cedar Fair thinking of moving their corporate headquarters? Numerous trade publications have mentioned how Cedar Fair’s current CEO, Richard Zimmerman, works most days out of a Cedar Fair satellite office somewhere in Charlotte, as he has a home in the greater Charlotte area. A number of other corporate staffers also work out of this offer, which has caused the business trade publications to note this as a slow migration of staff from the current Sandusky, Ohio HQ to this Charlotte, NC office space.
This wouldn’t be the first time Charlotte was selected to serve as the corporate home for a theme park chain, as the former Paramount Parks chain kept their own corporate HQ in Charlotte, which is home to one of the former Paramount Parks, Carowinds. Why Charlotte? It’s a business kind of town that has served as primary office and HQ locations for several large banks over the years, as well as being a transportation hub for American Airlines, and a primary hub for US Airways for many years before American merged with US Airways.
Of course the region is also the current home location for Screamscape as well, and I had the pleasure to visit the Paramount Parks HQ in early 2006, just as I was moving to the area. By strange coincidence, the Viacom corporate overlords had just announced their intention to sell off the Paramount chain of parks not just before my visit, causing me to speculate during my visit that a purchase by Cedar Fair made the most sense to me at the time, not knowing how right I was.
While no actual location was given for the current Cedar Fair satellite office in Charlotte, I do have to wonder if it exists in the same location as the former Paramount Parks office. As Cedar Fair is a much bigger chain than they were before when the company’s primary focus was on the Sandusky, Ohio area, so moving their HQ to Charlotte does come with a whole list of positives as Cedar Fair continues to grow.
(5/7/21) Cedar Fair has announced that they will invest about $100 million into their theme parks over 2021, as they expect to see a lot of “pent-up” demand for theme parks in 2021. According to the rough breakdown, about a third of the money will got to finishing up various 2020 projects that were not completed due to COVID-19, another third will go to various internal improvements and infrastructure projects. The final third will actually go towards starting new projects in the works for the 2022 season.
Disney - (7/2/22) While on social media there always seems to be a constant barrage of backlash against Disney CEO, Bob Chapek since he replaced Bob Iger in 2020, it seems that Disney’s Board of Directors is now behind Chapek. The Walt Disney Company’s Board of Directors has just unanimously voted to extend Bob Chapek’s contract as CEO by another three years. According to a statement from the board, “Disney was dealt a tough hand by the pandemic, yet with Bob at the helm, our businesses – from parks to streaming – not only weathered the storm, but emerged in a position of strength.” “In this important time of growth and transformation, the board is committed to keeping Disney on the successful path it is on today, and Bob’s leadership is key to achieving that goal.”
Compared to many of Disney’s past leaders, Chapek’s rise to the top seat was one that went mostly unseen by the cameras of the media. They note that Chapek has worked for Disney for nearly 30 years now, serving as the Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products and Chairman of Disney Parks & Resorts before taking on the high profile role of CEO.
Bob Chapek’s old contract was set to expire on Feb. 28, 2023, so with the extension now in place, Chapek’s position as CEO is now secured through to Feb., 28, 2026.
(6/26/22) Add this to the long list of things that Disney has filed patents for, but has no intention to build a finished product at this time. According to Blooloop Disney has filed the patent for a robotic mobile locker system that guests could use inside their theme parks. And I don’t mean just another one of those walls of digital lockers… this would actually be a MOBILE LOCKER unit that guests could summon to come to them out in the parks through the use of a mobile device.
We’ve all seen guests who would benefit from just such a concept… those who visit the parks with too much stuff, lugging huge bags-of-crap around the theme park all day out of a fear of needing something and not having immediate access. Ponchos, Umbrellas, Sunscreen, a bottle of Tylenol, an iPad for Jr if he gets fussy waiting for the parade, spare socks in case you step in a puddle, a hat… a second hat in case you don’t like the first one, refillable water bottles, a portable charger for your mobile device, chapstick, lip gloss, hand sanitizer (because people are dirty), maybe a spare stick of deodorant… UGH! The list is endless and exhausting!
Me? I go as minimal as possible, unless I’m working a big media event and then I’ll probably have some camera gear, but otherwise I try to avoid taking anything I don’t need. But for those who just can’t make that work, imagine storing all that crap in a little robot locker on wheels who will then go off and park itself somewhere out of sight to charge up until you call it to come and find you. I can definitely see a need for just such a service in a theme park, provided the little suckers can roam the park and make their way through the crowded walkways without harassment.
What do I mean by harassment? My son attends the University of Tennessee where earlier this year an army of little food delivery robots from “Starship” were unleashed upon the campus with the job of delivering food to hungry students on campus (see video below). A very cool idea indeed, but it didn’t take more than two months before a couple of students are now facing “felony” charges for intentionally causing damage to the bots. I’m not sure what they were thinking as these are essentially rolling security-cameras, but then again these idiots also posted videos of themselves doing to deeds to social media accounts (which have since been deleted, but too late!)
Back to Disney’s idea… it’s wonderful and knowing Disney I’m sure they would design these things to be very cute too. Imagine little bots that look like Wall-E or something roaming the parks as digital lockers. So a great idea from Disney, but based on the practical roll out of similar technology right now, maybe not all members of our society are quite ready to embrace the concept just yet. Maybe a little more in the future…
(6/18/22) If you thought a stay at Disney’s Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser was expensive, Adventures by Disney has just kindly asked the world to “Hold my beer…” to make their latest announcement.
They call this particular adventure “Disney Parks Around The World - A Private Jet Adventure” which take you on a 24-day adventure with a starting cost of $109.995.00 to participate. The trip is limited to just 75 participants that take place from July 9 through August 1st, 2023, flying the group around the world on a custom VIP-configured Boeing 757 (complete with a chef and physician on board) and where you will not only hit every Disney theme park IN THE WORLD, but also stop at a number of other important Disney related locations along the way. Departing from California and ending in Orlando, you’ll also stop by the places like the Walt Disney Studios, the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, before moving on to Tokyo, Shanghai and Hong Kong, plus stops at some world famous landmarks like the Pyramids of Giza, Eiffel Tower and Taj Mahal.
Seriously, if you have the cash to go, this is very accurately described as the ultimate “bucket list adventure” for Disney fans. Ironically, the only Disney location I don’t see on the list of where you will get to go is actually the Galactic Starcruiser itself. But somehow after traveling the world to see this ultimate list of Disney places and experiences, I don’t think anyone will care about that one little omission.
(4/4/22) According to a post from Orlando Theme Park Zone, Disney has made some adjustments to their description of the Disney Genie+ Service in Walt Disney World that are not included on the Disneyland page for the service at this time. These new text additions seem to be a way of resetting guest expectations about how the service is currently working out, claiming that “On average, guests can enter 2 to 3 attractions or experiences per day using the Lightning Lane entrance”, provided you make your first selection “early in the day”.
This seems to be accurate based on reports I got from family members who used the Disney Genie+ service in both Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resort earlier this year. The family members who used it at Disney’s California theme parks raved about how well it worked for them, claiming that they managed to use it all day long at both parks on just about everything during their two day visit, and they would recommend it to everyone. Meanwhile a family member who visited Walt Disney World a short time later reported back that they felt the use of the Disney Genie+ service at the Walt Disney World parks was a complete waste of money, as every attraction on the service seemed to run out of availability for the entire day a couple of hours after the parks opened. During their three day visit to Walt Disney World, they reported back as only being able to use it on 1 or 2 attractions per day.
I know since their visit in January (normally a slow month) Walt Disney World has tried to address the capacity issues of the system by adding three more attractions to Genie+ (Space Mountain, Frozen Ever After and Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway), but based on the latest reports, it just hasn’t been enough. Meanwhile Disney has also said that they expect to continue requiring reservations to visit their parks through to at least January 18, 2024. In both the California and Florida markets, Disney Parks are now the only parks still requiring reservations. According to some reports, Disney has been keeping the reservation system in place not only as a way of preventing park over-crowding issues, but also as a way to keep the crowds dialed back a bit more than normal to cope with the ongoing staff shortage issues.
It is worth mentioning one major difference between how Disney Genie+ works in the California parks vs the Florida parks is that in California guests have to physically be geo-tagged by the app as being inside the theme parks before they can make their first reservation. At Walt Disney World, likely as a way to appease the on-site resort guests that kind of mucked-up the old FastPass service in the first place, they allow guests to make their first Genie+ reservations at 7am, no matter where you are on the WDW property. This goes a long way towards explaining how things are already so booked up first thing in the morning. Perhaps WDW may want to re-think this particular aspect and prevent booking until guests are actually inside the parks to see if it makes a positive difference in the service.
(4/2/22) According to the latest news reports Disney will be bringing back character meet & greets, some physical interactions (hugs) and character dining experiences at both Walt Disney World and the Disneyland Resort by April 18th, as well as to the Disney Cruise Line offerings.
(2/12/22) At this point I think it is safe to say that Disney Genie+ and the Lightning Lane line-cutting program is now here to stay. During the company’s latest earnings report it was revealed that Disney’s theme parks achieved record revenue performance during this past winter holiday season due not only to pent up demand for their theme park product, but also due in large part to the performance numbers of the Genie+ service that left a lot of company execs simply “blown away”. According to the numbers released, Disney says about a third of all domestic park guests purchased either Genie+ or a Lightning Lane pass, with that performance number rising to about 50% during the more busy holiday period.
According to Bob Chapek, despite the surge of Omicron that was running rampant during Disney Q1 2022 timeframe (Oct 3, 2021 through Jan. 1, 2022) “our domestic parks and resorts achieved all-time revenue and operating income records”. In fact Disney’s Parks, Experiences and Products division saw their revenue double in Q1 2022 to rake in $7.2 billion compared to just $3.6 billion from Q1 2021. It is worth noting that last year the Disneyland Resort was still closed due to California’s COVID restrictions, so that alone does play heavily into the increased numbers they are promoting. However, Disney was quick to point out that they have so far seen a 40% increase in guest spending over the same quarter from 2019 (pre pandemic), which includes the extra revenue brought it by the new Genie+ system.
(1/9/22) The Walt Disney Company will host a webcast to discuss their Q1 2022 results on Feb. 9, 2022 at 4:30pm EST / 1:30pm PT. You can listen in by clicking here.
(1/7/22) According to new reports the Walt Disney Company has filed new patents for the use of new “virtual-world simulator’ technology, able to create a simulated environment without the use of VR or AR style headsets. Instead the technology will use projector systems to project these virtual landscapes over real-world venues.
(1/2/22) According to various news mentions, Disney is at risk of losing the copyright to a couple of their more profitable characters in the coming years. According to the article Disney’s copyright protection for Winnie the Pooh will expire sometime in 2022, and while Disney can apply for an extension, it may not be granted. If the copyright ends, use of the Pooh character will be open for use by anyone, however they will have to come up with their own versions of Pooh that would be different from the version that Disney used. This
After that, the next Disney character trademark to expire would be for Steamboat Willie himself sometime in 2024. Steamboat Willie is actually the first version of Disney’s Mickey Mouse character, so this also puts Mickey in danger as well.
Well, maybe… as Disney worked with Congress back in the late 80s to create the Copyright Term Extension Act that has thus far been able to protect Mickey, however as Mickey is also essentially a corporate mascot for the Walt Disney Company this may allow Disney to maintain protection of the character in all forms, including Steamboat Willie.
This will just be the start of this issue for Disney however, as currently copyright law allows for the Copyright to exist for the lifetime of the creator + 70 years. Since Walt Disney passed away in 1966, the long line of Disney animated films will all come under the cross-hairs of copyright law starting with Snow White and the Seven Dwarves in 2036, followed by Fantasia, Pinocchio, Dumbo, Bambi and so on. With so much pending on the horizon, I can only imagine Disney may be looking into the possibility of working out another extension with the government, or some other alternatives.
Otherwise it is kind of hard to fathom a world where Mickey Mouse as a character would become public domain, allowing anyone to create their own variation of the character for use in any variety of projects, essentially as you see happen today with other public domain characters like Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, Robin Hood, Frankenstein’s Monster, Zorro, Hercules, King Arthur and so on.
(11/10/21) In an interesting development, Raven Sun Creative has filed a damages lawsuit against Disney, claiming that Disney violated their patent on one of the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge attractions. This technology patent is designed to “coordinate a vertical-moving rider trolley with videos on a screen”.
In other words, Raven Sun Creative says Disney ripped off their idea for the big surprise finale at the end of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance during the ride on the escape pod. I’m not sure how successful this lawsuit will be, as I can recall a few other concepts that added video footage to a vertically moving platform. Anyone remember the initial elevator ride experience at DisneyQuest where a video screen and sound effects made it feel like you were being launched like a rocket? Then going way back to the 90s… remember Gameworks? They early centers had a custom build game/ride experience where riders would climb into a ride vehicle and shoot at targets on a massive video tower in front of them. Perform well, and your ride vehicle would move up to a higher level with more difficult targets. Fail too many times and you would suddenly drop down a level without warning. If I’m not mistaken, it may have been called Vertical Reality.
In any case, this isn’t the first time someone has combined a synced video experience with a vertical motion ride, so not sure if the patent claim will hold.
(10/7/21) The Walt Disney Company has announced that they will discuss their full year and Q4 2021 earnings through a live audio webcast on Nov. 10th at 4:30pm ET. Follow the link to listen in.
(9/24/21) Do you think Disney endless stream of increasing prices will hit a ceiling soon? Like the new report on USA Today says, don’t count on it. While those of us with either a little common sense or who live on a more modest budget have been barking on social media for months now about what seems like an endless stream of new expensive prices for Disney experiences, these same items have been selling out in record time!
Keep in mind this is all happening during the ongoing pandemic, when most international visitors are still banned from reaching Walt Disney World, and yet the new high priced lunch and dinner experience at Epcot in Space 220 has already booked up all the reservation slots for the next 60 days. Disney’s after hours Halloween and Christmas party events are also selling out in record time with higher than ever prices, all while offering a little less time and perks in the parks. The telling day will be when Disney open reservations for the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser and we see if those reservations also vanish faster than Frog Lady’s eggs down Grogu’s hungry pie-hole.
As the article points out, you can mix this with the new higher annual pass prices, and a likely hefty daily ticket price increase as soon as Disney gets around to it, as the new Disney model seems to be re-shaping their theme park experience as a premium priced product, where they will be ok to have a few less visitors if they ones they have are all paying more than ever before.
(8/1/21) Just a quick update, but in addition to face masks now being required indoor at the Disneyland and Walt Disney World theme parks, upon visiting a mall yesterday I noted that The Disney Stores have also seem to have been looped into the new face mask mandate for all employees and shoppers. While COVID mask rules vary from location to location, state to state, I was actually surprised to see this, as they appeared to be the only retail location in the mall requiring masks. I’m not going to name the mall, but this was in North Carolina.
Fortunately they had a cast member stationed at the entrance to provide free masks to everyone, which was great, as the majority of shoppers in our region had abandoned mask wearing several months prior.
On a second note, and the reason we were at the mall in the first place, for the first time since the pandemic began, we returned to the movie theater to watch Disney’s latest creation, Jungle Cruise. If Disney was hoping to create a new film franchise to take the place of the seemingly retired Pirates film series, then I think they did exactly just that. Jungle Cruise is a great adventure film with just the right amounts of action, comedy, thrills and elements of the supernatural to make for a fantastic voyage. Normally when I see a movie like this, I’d say that it was deserving of having a theme park attraction. The problem is, Jungle Cruise is already a theme park attraction, so perhaps they need to look into expanding the concepts of the movie to create a whole land inspired by the IP instead.
While nothing has been announced, I’d be highly surprised if we don’t hear news about a sequel being put into works in the not too distant future, and I’m good with that, as I’d cruise with Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson anytime. Little easter egg nods to the film have already been deposited into the Disneyland attraction’s queue, and the film does create an interesting new take on the “Trader Sam” character that I’d love to see more of as well.
(7/30/21) In perhaps a bit of a surprise, The Walt Disney Company has also mandated that all salaried and non-union hourly employees in the US now must be “fully vaccinated” and that they will have the next 60 days to fall into compliance with the new corporate policy. Disney has also begun talks with their unions to get the change put into effect for those Cast Members as well. All new hires must also be fully vaccinated before they can start their new positions, and staff working from home must also get fully vaccinated before they can return to on-site work.
It’s no surprise that this comes into play after Disney had to put face mask rules back into effect that their US theme parks today only weeks after rolling back the mask mandates in Florida and California theme parks. The rise of the new Delta COVID variant serves as a wake-up call that stronger action is needed before they let the company slip back to the point that they could be forced to close the parks once again.
Disney isn't’ alone in this action either, as reports have gone out that Google, Facebook and even Walmart are putting new vaccination policies into effect for members of their staff.
(7/17/21) Disney Park’s Chairman, Josh D’Amaro, announced the other day that they were moving forward with a plan to open a new Disney work campus in the Lake Nona area of Orlando (located just South-East of Orlando’s airport). The plan will see roughly 2,000 jobs moved to the new Florida campus from Disney’s “Parks, Experiences and Products division”, including a number of Imagineering cast members. Many of these employees will be existing staff from Southern California who will be given the offer to relocate to Florida, provided their job isn’t dedicated to servicing just the Disneyland Resort only.
On the business side of things, they mention Florida’s more business-friendly climate (something that I’m sure came to light after California went on the nation’s most strict lockdown orders, plus the ability to “consolidate our teams and be more collaborative and impactful both from a creative and operational standpoint.” What hasn’t been mentioned is the likelihood that Disney will also be filling these positions at a cheaper pay-scale than what they are now paying for staff in California due to the state’s cheaper cost of living, plus no state taxes on income.
It is worth mentioning that each year more and more companies involved in the theme park business have been opening new offices in the Orlando area, even if they are just sales offices. With the annual IAAPA convention now effectively locked down to take place in Orlando each year for the foreseeable future, and the location’s global reputation as the theme park capital of the world, it does just make sense to locate more staff in Florida.
As a side thought, it does make me wonder if we’ll see Disney ramp up their efforts regarding the construction of new attractions and experiences in Florida going forward. With Universal Orlando moving ahead with their own new theme park project, many have wondered if Disney may be thinking of adding a fifth major park of their own. While I don’t believe this is the case just yet, as Disney seems focused on upgrading their existing parks currently, I do think this could be something they might consider as a more long-term concept plan.
Feld Entertainment - (5/21/22) After taking the final curtain call in early 2017, would you believe that the famous Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s Circus experience is set to return next year? Believe it, because Feld Entertainment has confirmed that “The Greatest Show On Earth” will return to touring in September 2023, but with one major change… no more animal performers.
The hope is that the revised show concept will continue to engage with today’s audiences and allow the famous show to continue on with their 146-year legacy for many more years to come. The search is now on to fill the roster with talented acts from around the globe for the new production, with tickets slated to go on sale once again in April 2023 for the initial tour that will cross through over 50 cities across North America.
Herschend Family Entertainment - (7/25/22) Georgia’s Stone Mountain Park will soon be under new management. In 2021 Herschend Family Entertainment who had been functioning as the management company for the attraction since 1998 asked to end their contract early. HFE was to keep running Stone Mountain through to early 2028, but instead their run will now come to an end on July 31, 2022.
A bidding process was opened to find a new management company, and a new company called Thrive Attractions Management LLC, created by a former HFE VP, will be taking over. Herschend has cited various reasons for leaving, including decreasing revenues from the property as well as “protests and division” fueled by the park’s Confederate imagery.
(2/13/22) In a huge move to not only help, but to hold onto employees, Herschend Enterprises announced that employees of Dollywood and their other parks and attractions would have 100% of their tuition, fees and books covered by the company if they opt to pursue a college education. The program is called GROW U and will officially launch with all details starting on Feb. 24, 2022, but the company has made it known that the program will be available to all 11,000 of their employees, no matter if seasonal, part-time or full-time status.
Given the ongoing concerns these days about the high costs of college education and the difficulty of students being able to pay off massive student loans after they graduate, a move like this is sure to be of great interest from the company’s current staff as well as a great way to attract new employees into the company.
(1/11/22) Herschend Family Entertainment is expanding their Pink Jeep Tours attraction to a new location in 2022, and will be bringing the adventure to Branson in Spring 2022. A preview page detailing four different tour options has already been posted to the official website along with pricing.
Branson is the 5th location for Pink Jeep Tours which also operates tours to Sedona, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas and around the Smoky Mountains (Pigeon Forge).
(4/17/21) Herschend made major headlines earlier this year when it was announced that they were adding Kentucky Kingdom into their small theme park chain and now Herschend is making headlines again. In addition to a small group of theme parks, Herschend is also known for owning a small collection of major aquariums which has now added the famous Vancouver Aquarium to that list as of this week.
This is great news for the Vancouver Aquarium who was forced to shut their doors in September 2020 after the impact of COVID-19 had just caused the former owners to financially bleed out to the point that they could no longer operate. Herschend now has 100% ownership of the attraction, but will keep existing Vancouver Aquarium CEO, Clint Wright, on to oversee the operations of the Aquarium as well as their Marine Mammal Rescue Center.
According to the statement from the Vancouver Aquarium, they are already working on their plan to safely reopen the Aquarium. Other Aquariums under the Herschend banner include Adventure Aquarium (New Jersey) and Newport Aquarium (Kentucky).
Loopings Group - (3/29/22) According to a report at Blooloop the Loopings Group has acquired Aquapark Istralandia, a popular waterpark in Croatia. The waterpark was built in 2014 and is said to be the first waterpark in Croatia. With the addition of Aquapark Istralandia, Loopings Group currently owns a collection of 17 parks and attractions, including theme parks, water parks, aquariums and animal parks.
Meow Wolf - (5/14/22) Meow Wolf has confirmed plans to expand into Texas next, with two brand new locations. While the original Meow Wolf location opened in Santa Fe, New Mexico back in 2016, the group was able to open two new locations in 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada (inside the Area 15 complex) and later in the year in Denver, Colorado.
According to an official statement from Meow Wolf they will open their next location at the Grapevine Mills mall in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in 2023 inside a former “big box retail” store site. The mall is also home to a few other attraction experiences from Merlin Entertainment, with a Legoland Discovery Center and SeaLife Aquarium already on site.
After that the next site will open in the Houston areas “Fifth Ward” in 2024.
According to the statement these two sites are set to be Meow Wolf’s “next permanent exhibitions”. This has left a big hanging question mark about just exactly what is planned for the recently announced second Area 15 location in Orlando, Florida. The original Area 15 in Las Vegas, which is a collection of interesting collection attractions that blend art and technology was home to the first expansion “portal” from Meow Wolf, named “Omega Mart”. Most were assuming another Meow Wolf location would be part of the Orlando Area 15 as well, so while it may just being kept under wraps for the time being, the wording here suggests that if Meow Wolf comes to Orlando, it won’t be until after the two locations in Texas open first. This could be the plan anyway, as the “Omega Mart” installation opened about 9 months after the rest of Area 15 in Las Vegas anyway.
Merlin Entertainment - (4/30/22) In an interesting bit of news, Merlin’s CEO, Nick Varney, has announced his plans to retire from the company, giving a 12-month notice to the company so they can find a suitable replacement to transition in. Merlin’s Chief Development Officer, Mark Fisher, has also announced his pending retirement in 12-months to allow time for his replacement as well.
According to a statement from Merlin, they will begin the search and will look for both internal and external candidates. Nick Varney has been with the company ever since he joined the Tussauds Group to work at Alton Towers back in 1990.
(3/25/22) A lengthy article posted to Blooloop looks over Merlin’s relationship with the Bear Grylls brand of adventure-tainment that resulted in the opening of the Bell Grylls Adventure attraction. Speaking with Marc Bell, the director of the “Merlin Magic Making Division”, they go over the creation of the attraction, how the unique collection of offerings within make it unique like the Royal Marines-inspired Assault Course, indoor skydiving or the opportunity to swim with sharks. Looking forward, they are exploring the idea of expanding the concept to other Merlin attraction sites in the UK as well as into the Asia-Pacific region.
(3/19/22) Various reports have confirmed that Sony Pictures Entertainment has signed a deal with Merlin Entertainment to allow the theme park chain to create various Jumanji themed attractions, rides and themed hotel experiences based on the film series across Europe, the UK and in North America. The first such attraction will open in Gardaland in Italy in early April and a second attraction was confirmed to be opening in 2023 at another park elsewhere. According to previous details uncovered, this second attraction should arrive at the Chessington theme park in the UK.
(2/16/22) The one and only ‘Dungeon” attraction from Merlin Entertainment to ever be built in the US has now closed forever. Popular all across Europe (with 6 versions in the UK alone), the first US location opened in San Francisco in 2014, but 8 short years later the San Fran Dungeon has now officially closed for good according to the website.
Merlin’s other area attraction, the Madame Tussauds wax museum at Fisherman’s Wharf, remains opens.
(1/8/22) Merlin Entertainments has announced that they have purchased a new stand-alone attraction to add to their huge European lineup. As of March 31, 2022 Merlin will be taking over the “This is Holland” flying theater attraction in Amsterdam. This is a fairly new attraction, having just opened in 2018 and uses Flying Theater hardware provided by Brogent to take guests on an unique 9-minute long aerial tour featuring the sights of Holland, complete with 5D style wind, mist and scent effects to give it an extra sense of realism.
This is Holland will now join Merlin’s collection of other attractions in The Netherlands that include: Madame Tussauds Amsterdam, the Amsterdam Dungeon, Sea Life Scheveningen, Legoland Discovery Center Scheveningen followed later this year by the opening of the new Peppa Pig World of Play Leidschendam.
(11/28/21) Merlin will open a new stand-alone attraction themed to the Peter Rabbit TV show at the Blackpool seafront area in 2022. This will be the first Peter Rabbit themed attraction from Merlin when it opens next to the Madame Tussauds attraction next year, that will give guests a chance to visit the characters through five different themed zones. This will be an interactive attraction that will ask guests to think, move or act like a rabbit in order to complete challenges and earn badges.
(8/31/21) Katapult has designed a new PLANET LEGOLAND experience that will premier at 8 different LEGOLAND theme parks across the world in a collaboration with The LEGO Group and Merlin Entertainment. You can now experience the PLANET LEGOLAND immersive experience at LEGOLAND theme parks in Windsor, Billund, Germany, California, Florida, Malaysia, Japan and the new LEGOLAND New York. Guests are invited to build their own LEGOLAND theme park creations and then attach them to a giant two-meter LEGO globe at the center of the exhibit.
(8/28/21) According to the latest news update, Merlin has broken ground and started construction for the new Legoland Shenzhen Resort, set to become the world’s largest Legoland Resort project. This unique new Legoland theme park will feature both indoor and outdoor play sections to the park, including the first indoor Miniland, the world’s largest Legoland theme waterpark, over 100 interactive rides, shows and attractions as well as three Lego themed resort hotels.
Some extra concept art, maps and a few aerial photos of the site can also be seen over at ThemeparX this week.
(8/2/21) According to a local news report, the Madame Tussauds location in Washington DC is now expected to be closed for good. Officially and according to the website the closure is listed as temporary, but behind the scenes the attraction is apparently working with a real estate broker to sublease the space that it has occupied for nearly 15 years. According to the report Merlin Entertainment has not been willing make any comments about it.
(7/24/21) Madame Tussauds has teamed up with Marvel to open a new experience called “Marvel Universe 4D”. The new 4D Theater experience can currently be found at the Madame Tussauds locations in New York and Las Vegas. This isn’t the first partnership between Marvel and Madame Tussauds, as I believe the London location opened a “Marvel Super Heroes 4D” attraction back in 2010, and I believe a different version of the “Marvel Super Heroes 4D” opened opened in the New York location in 2013 for a time, which should be different than the new film now showing in the US locations.
(6/19/21) Merlin has announced plans to open a brand new Madame Tussauds wax figure museum in the Hungarian capital city of Budapest in early 2022. In addition to the expected list of international figures and celebrities to be represented inside, the attraction will also feature of number of Hungarian celebrities, musicians, athletes and historical figures.
Miral - (3/27/21) According to a local news article Miral’s Abu Dhabi’s theme parks (Ferrari World, Yas Waterworld, Warner Bros World) will soon adopt a complete contact-free solution for the parks that will use face recognition technology. Miral has called the launch of this new tech at their theme parks as “FacePass” and that will be start at the theme parks and then roll out to other locations in the area as FacePass will not only be used as a form of admission, but also as a contact-free payment technology for guests who opt in to use the program.
Premier Parks - (6/3/22) Premier Parks has announced that they have “acquired operation” of the Canadain Valcartier-Calypso Group Resort and Water Parks. The deal includes taking over the operations of the group’s four-star resort hotel property that features a spa and indoor waterpark, as well as two outdoor waterparks, a campground, a “unique ice hotel” and “the largest winter games center in North America.”
The deal includes the Calypso Waterpark outside Ottawa, Canada and the Valcartier Vacances Village complex that includes the Hotel Valcartier, the Bora Parc indoor waterpark, the Valcartier Water Park (outdoor waterpark), the Hotel de Glace ice hotel, Valcartier Winter Playground and Camping Valcartier.
(9/4/21) Premier Parks has announced they’ve added a couple of names to their leadership team. According to the press release Premier Parks has hired Les Hudson as the their Exec. Vice President of Design and Planning after about three decades of experience with Six Flags.
Tom Iven has also joined Premier as Exec. Vice President of Business Development. That last name should sound familiar, as Tim Iven had just made headlines last month for leaving his new post at SeaWorld Entertainment after just 40 days. Iven had joined SeaWorld after a lengthy career at Six Flags, and had gained a reputation internally as the corporate “axe man” when it came to budgets.
Premier Parks Chairman and CEO, Kieran Burke, has previously worked with both gentlemen earlier in his career at the helm of Six Flags. The pair are joining the current Premier Parks Executive team, which is rounded up by an assortment of other previous Six Flags staff members. According to Burke, Premier Parks is looking to expand their “domestic and international portfolio by way of acquisition and management of properties.” Through ownership and management contracts, Premier’s current portfolio of 13 properties includes several waterparks around the US, along with the Wild Waves, Pacific Park, Elitch Gardens, and Magic Springs theme parks and City Museum in St. Louis.
Puy du Fou - (5/17/22) I hadn’t seen this before, but a tweet from Blooloop shares a look at concept art for the the “407: Gateway to Adventure” project, otherwise known as the gateway exit to Pigeon Forge where Puy du Fou is supposed to build a new stand-alone immersive attraction that will feature an authentic Cherokee story of the First World War. The artwork shows off a large building on the right with a rocky facade out front along with a large statue of what we assume to be a Cherokee soldier holding the American flag. According to the description, this and the surrounding complex of buildings will represent just phase 1 of the project.
(5/7/22) According to a local news report the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has “inked a deal” with Puy du Fou to develop a “spectacular immersive show” to be installed as part of their 200-acre development project on I-40’s exit 407. This matches up with a previous report that Puy du Fou was looking at this location amongst others in Tennessee for a future project.
(This is also the same overall project area that will include the world’s largest Buc-ee’s location.)
According to the report the tribal council that approved $75 million to move forward with Phase 1 of the site development as they seek out other world-class attractions that will appeal to the anticipated crowds (6.7 million visitors in the first year after phase 1 is complete). While the timeline is still fluid, they are hoping that this will all be ready before the end of 2024.
The creative team at Puy du Fou has been able to create fascinating attractions and shows based on actual historic events and timelines and according to a statement from the Tribal Council, “We are excited to take the first steps towards developing this world-class attraction that will help support our nation economically while creating a new platform to share dimensions of Cherokee history many have never heard.”
The early description of the Tennessee site is not going to be as massive as the full Puy du Fou theme park in France, Instead Puy du Fou will create an “immersive walk-through show inspired by the journeys of Cherokee Indians who served in World War I” that should be a “patriotic and moving journey for the entire family.”
As North America is considered “the new world” in terms of the overall history of the planet, the location is also rich with a variety of historic events and cultures that would serve as an excellent landing point for the Puy du Fou team who is rumored to be looking to expand into new locations across the world.
(2/26/22) Screamscape sources tell us that Puy du Fou is apparently looking into a second possible site in Tennessee. While last week we heard they were looking into a location at the gateway to Pigeon Forge in the eastern part of the state, I’m now being told they were also eyeballing a site on the west end, close to Nashville. It seems clear the company is serious about expanding into the US somewhere, so I wouldn’t be surprised to hear about them looking into other potential sites elsewhere as well over the next few months. If the rumors are true, they plan may be to narrow their choices down to one or two possible sites by the end of the year.
(2/18/22) Earlier this month we heard that Puy du Fou was looking into a possible site in Florida, just north of Daytona to build their first US theme park, but apparently the French theme park company is also wisely eyeballing some other locations in the US as possible sites as well. According to a local news article reps for Puy du Fou have also been meeting with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians who are currently developing a 200-acre site on I-40 at the main exit guests take to get to Pigeon Forge.
The site has already announced that it will be home to the world’s largest Buc-ee’s gas station and convenience store and now it seems there is a chance that Puy du Fou may also be willing to plant their flag in Tennessee.
(2/4/22) Would you believe that another theme park company is possibly looking to bring their brand of parks to Florida? According to Screamscape sources Puy du Fou who currently operates historic themed adventure parks in France and Spain, and developing another park in China, may be looking into buying a rather large plot of undeveloped property in Florida just north of Daytona Beach. Puy du For is unlike any theme park in Florida, and perhaps may better be described as a sort of turbo charged merger of a Renaissance Fair meets Medieval Times with the flair of Cirque du Soleil.
Check out this teaser video below for the 2022 season coming to the park in France as a prime example of what I mean. The only complication I see would potentially be weather related, as the Florida summers are hot and with the high potential for a very wet and lightning filled storm to pass overhead daily in the late afternoons or early evening. As Puy du Fou parks appear to be primarily outdoor environments, featuring many large outdoor show venues, some kind of modifications are going to be needed to operate in the theme park capital of the world.
(5/22/21) According to an article posted at BlooLoop, Puy du Fou is working on the launch of a new $76 million Euro ($92.5 million US) show called SAGA that is planned to open in Shanghai in 2022. Saga Shanghai will be located at the Everbright Convention center and feature the world of Shanghai from the 1930s with a new immersive experience.
In the meantime, Puy du Fou is also working on plans to build a new Puy du Fou theme park in China.
SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment - (8/5/22) SeaWorld Entertainment announced the results of their Q2 2022 report this week. Highlights include attendance of 6.3 million guests, an increase of half a million guests (7.8%) over Q2 2021, and only a 3.1% decrease from Q2 2019 attendance levels (pre-COVID). Over the first 6-months of 2022 total attendance was 9.7 million, up 1.6 million (20.5%) from the same time period of 2021.
Total Revenue hit a record level of $504.8 million in the quarter, up $65 million (14.8%) from Q2 2021, and up 24.3% compared to Q2 2019 (pre-COVID). Total revenue PerCap was up 6.4% compared to Q2 2019, with in-park PerCap’s up 8.2%.
Other notable actions being taken include a company repurchase of 7.1 million shares of common stock at a cost of $390.1 million, performed between April 2022 and July 2022. The Board of Directors also approved a new $250 million share repurchase program.
(5/5/22) According to the local news SeaWorld Entertainment published their Q1 2022 earnings report today. The company’s revenue for the quarter increased by $99 million compared to revenue posted in Q1 2021 and across the chain, they reported 3.4 million guests visited the parks, making this the best attendance in Q1 since 2013. While revenue and attendance levels are rising, the company has yet to see international traveler numbers return to pre-COVID levels, and staffing levels remains an issue that they plan to work on as in-park spending levels continue to rise.
(4/4/22) While doing a little searching through the US Trademark database I came across a new entry for the SeaWorld chain of parks to use the name “ABYSS” for a theme park ride, with a filing date of March 28, 2022. The other interesting thing is that SeaWorld had already filed to use the same name way back in August 2019, which was still listed as being active as well. Given the number of new projects throughout the company intended for 2020 that were delayed until 2022, it would make sense that the next wave of projects would be preparing to move forward now after two years of delays. The question is… just which park is likely to get an attraction worthy of the name Abyss?
While the name would have worked as an alternative for a Dive Coaster like Emperor in San Diego, keep in mind that Emperor was also first announced as Mako before they wisely changed that one. There are actually a few new rides rumored to be in the works that could use the name Abyss, such as the indoor dark coaster said to be planned for Busch Gardens Williamsburg inside the former DarKastle building structure, then there the new flume ride being planned for SeaWorld San Antonio. Perhaps more of a long shot may be the new coasters said to be in the works for SeaWorld Orlando and San Diego as well. Of course Abyss is always a perfect name for a waterslide, which could arrive at any one of the chains numerous waterparks, so I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
(2/16/22) I’ll admit that the extra long wait they put us through for this was a bit of a nail-biter, but a few hours ago SeaWorld Entertainment confirmed that “we confirm that our offer to acquire Cedar Fair was rejected. Unfortunately, we do not see a path to a transaction.”
My gut feeling was that this was the way things would play out, allowing SEAS to simply just walk away with a, “Hey, we tried…”
(2/10/22) Today I post the question: Can SeaWorld Entertainment really buy Cedar Fair? And perhaps more importantly… should they? Plus I discuss the possibility of who else out there may arrive to crash the party, all in my latest article for BlooLoop. Make the jump on over and give it a reason to see the pros and cons behind this buyout proposal.
(2/4/22) SeaWorld Entertainment dropped quite the bomb on Tuesday when it was announced that the theme park chain had submitted an unsolicited bid to buy the Cedar Fair theme park chain for $3.4 billion. Cedar Fair has only said that they will review it, but nothing more has been said since.
There has been a lot of discussion about this topic on the Screamscape FB page all week, both for and against it. Personally, I don’t see it happening for a number of reasons. Everything from the fact that Cedar Fair turned down a $4 billion purchase offer from Six Flags in 2019, before the pandemic, to the fact that over the past several years SeaWorld Entertainment has been in the news so much about high turnover rates from their top execs in the parks all the way up to the constant resolving door that has been the office of the company’s CEO, all said to be stemming from issues between department management and the Chairman and board of directors.
While things are definitely different between the state of things in 2019 and 2022 due to the pandemic, there is also a feeling out there that currently SeaWorld stock is overvalued, while Cedar Fair’s own stock is a bit undervalued after the company basically stumbled a bit over the 2021 season, being the last to open their parks and biggest one to suffer from staffing shortages because of this resulting in having several parks unable to even operate 7-days a week in the busy summer season.
Now let's go back… way way back! Pre-Pandemic! Pre-Blackfish! Back before the InBEV hostile takeover of Budweiser that cast the theme park division off and all alone from the Busch family’s guidance for the first time. Back when the SeaWorld / BuschGardens theme parks were under the protective and well-funded wings of Anheuser-Busch… would the company have been able to purchase Cedar Fair? Oh yeah, I could definitely see that kind of deal happening if the Busch family wanted it to happen. But the past 15 years have not been kind as we’ve watched many of the current SeaWorld Entertainment parks often struggling to find their way. Meanwhile the past 15 years only saw Cedar Fair double in size after purchasing the former Paramount Theme Parks chain, and for the most part they have only struggled while dealing with the pandemic over the past two years.
To be brutally honest, the past two years have not been kind to of any of the theme park chains out there. They are all struggling in different ways, though some have managed to find their way through the fog far more successfully than others. For the most part, we really just watched the SeaWorld Entertainment parks sort of just tread water… and roll around on their back a bit like a turtle, unwilling to make any huge forward moves. In 2022 that all seems ready to change with the chain enjoyer higher than average stock prices as of late, ready to open four major roller coaster projects at four parks across the US over the next 5 to 6 weeks that will keep the company in the media spotlight, as well as opening the a new Sesame Place theme park in San Diego. For potential investors who have not carefully followed the company over the years, 2022 is going to be a year of big hits for the company. So no matter if they really want Cedar Fair or not, putting out an offer to buy them at this time may simply be a huge show of strength for the company. If Cedar Fair says no, and I really think they will, as the bid seems low to me based on what the company is really worth in terms of assets and real estate, then SeaWorld can just shrug and walk away clean, saying “Hey, we tried”.
After all, it wasn’t all that long ago that most major players in the theme park industry were eyeballing SeaWorld as a potential acquisition target. So now I think we’re really seeing SeaWorld act like a Pufferfish by inflating itself to look far larger and more powerful that it really is to scare away any potential predators.
(10/24/21) SeaWorld Entertainment has announced that they will release their Q3 2021 earnings report and hold a conference call on Tuesday, Nov. 9th. The call will take place at 9am EST and you can listen in online through the investor site by clicking here.
(8/16/21) Earlier this month I sent out a warning claiming that SeaWorld’s new COO, Tom Iven, was about to live up to his previous reputation from his Six Flags days as the ‘axeman’, and start a series of budget cuts and possible layoffs within the SeaWorld parks. Before this could come to pass, this story took a drastic twist when it was suddenly announced a few days ago that Tom Iven was now resigning from his position at SeaWorld Entertainment after only about 40-days on the job. The reason for leaving was simply stated as being for “personal reasons”, but we’ve heard this song and dance many times before the days of COVID when a long-string of executives (including new CEOs) and various park GMs began to leave the company for similar “personal reasons”. Before long it became known that many of these previous departures were taking place due to disagreements with the Board of Directors, including Chairman Scott Ross, possibly coming down to comments that suggested the board was simply micromanaging things to the point that the people being hired felt they were unable to do the jobs they were hired to do.
In May 2021, SEAS did announce the appointment of yet another CEO in the form of Marc Swanson, who had previously served as interim CEO after previous hires (Sergio Rivera and Gustavo Antorcha) had each opted to jump ship after only 5-7 months on the job. While the jury is still out on how long Swanson may stay in the top seat, we’ve also heard this may have also been another reason for Iven’s sudden departure.
(8/7/21) SeaWorld Entertainment released performance information from Q2 2021 this week, and shows that their park performance had almost returned to normal pre-pandemic levels. Attendance in Q2 2021 for the chain was 5.8 million guests, down 700,000 from the Q2 2019 where attendance was 6.5 million. But compared to Q2 2020, attendance was up 5.5 million because the parks were mostly shut-down during this time-frame.
While attendance in 2021 is still a little down from 2019 levels, the chain reports that overall revenue is up 8.3% for the same time-frame. Guest spending is also up, driving this revenue increase, with per-cap spending up 22.7% and admission revenue up 18.8% when compared to 2019 levels. This seems to paint a clear picture that there is a clear demand for the SeaWorld parks product and guests along with a pent-up demand for theme park entertainment from the public after spending much of 2020 in a lock-down state and unable to visit most theme parks. With an expanded Howl-O-Scream offering coming this fall, bringing the event to SeaWorld San Diego and SeaWorld Orlando for the first time, the future for the parks is looking bright.
So I’m hoping that rumor about potential budget cuts and a wave of layoffs may be proven wrong in light of this latest performance report. Or at least if the market responds kindly to the news and the stock-price rises.
(8/5/21) Consider this fair warning, but a little bird has informed us that rough seas may be ahead for SeaWorld Entertainment team members. As we approach the end of the 2021 Summer season, word is that the new COO, Tom Iven, that SEAS hired away from Six Flags may be behind an all new series of staff layoffs, budget cuts and cuts to future capital expansion projects.
Unfortunately I don’t know when the axe is going to fall, only that the corporate office has now begun to sharpen it ahead of the upcoming culling. Stay tuned!
(6/29/21) SeaWorld Entertainment has appointed Tom Iven, formerly a VP of Park Operations for Six Flags, as the chain’s new Chief Operating Officer.
"We are excited to have Tom join the SeaWorld team as we continue to drive the business forward and emerge an even stronger company post COVID-19," said Marc Swanson, Chief Executive Officer of SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. "Tom brings significant theme park operating experience and a long, successful operating track record. I am confident he will make immediate contributions as we continue to execute on our strategic plans to realize the full, long-term potential of the company," continued Swanson.
SeaWorld Enterainment’s former COO, Walter Bogumil, is said to have been terminated as of June 27, 2021. No reason was given for Bogumil’s termination.
(5/26/21) According to statements issued by SeaWorld’s CEO Marc Swanson, the company is now looking to build hotels and add more new rides to their parks. After a long period of focus, and perhaps from watching smaller properties like the Legoland parks successfully launch their own resort hotels, the company is now focused on finding a way to execute plans to bring resort hotels to their US parks.
While they haven’t opened most of their latest batch of attractions, Swanson confirmed that the company’s goal is to be able to offer new rides and new attractions at every park, every year. “We have some things that we can’t obviously announce right now, but I think people will be excited when they see the future plans for not only our Florida parks, but really our parks all across the country.”
(5/6/21) According to a press release from SeaWorld Entertainment earlier today, interim CEO Marc Swanson has been officially appointed as the official CEO of the company effective immediately after having served as the interim CEO for the past year. Other company appointments include naming Elizabeth Castro Gulacsy as CFO and Treasurer, and like Marc Swanson, she was also serving in the same position as interim CFO and Treasurer for the past year prior to this.
In other news, the company released their Q1 2021 report this morning, and you can follow this link to read the details. Highlights include a reported attendance of 2.2 million guests in Q1 2021, which is actually only down 4.5% from Q1 2020, which isn’t that bad all things considered, but attendance this quarter compared with Q1 2019 however was down 1.1 million guests (33.7%).
Total revenue reported for Q1 2021 was $171.9 million which is actually up $18.4 million from Q1 2020, with total revenue per capita reported as up 17.2% compared to the same quarter in 2020. Admission per cap increased 10.8% and in-park per cap spending increased 26.4% compared to Q1 2020.
(9/23/20) Is SeaWorld just swirling around the inevitable drain of a bankruptcy filing? On Monday a pretty telling opinion piece on the possible future of SeaWorld was posted to SeekingAlpha by the “Bears of Wall Street”, claiming that SeaWorld was likely on the path to bankruptcy.
It is no secret that the theme park chain has been on unsteady ground since the whole Blackfish documentary came out in Summer 2013. Meanwhile over fiscal year 2018 and 2019 we finally saw the company crawling back to decent performance levels once again, despite a good amount of bad press about struggles between the board-room and the corporate leaders, causing many experienced execs and freshly tapped CEOs to resign and leave the company. Now rocked to the core by the COVID-19 pandemic, SeaWorld along with all fellow theme parks, are now struggling and trying to survive.
The bottom line of the Bear’s article to potential investors is to “Avoid, Avoid, Avoid” as the company is growing a huge debt level that will be difficult to pay off, especially in light that they are burning through cash daily. One line in particular also stood out to me, claiming that “ the latest private debt placement that SeaWorld executed is likely going to be used by debt lenders to take some portion of its assets during bankruptcy hearings. After all, the company is in a distressed state, and some parts of its assets, such as real estate, have more value on their own than under the roof of SeaWorld.”
Prior to the Pandemic closing the parks, there has also been a lot of speculation about the future of the theme park chain and what direction it will be, led by the company’s primary investor, Hill Path Capital, who’s CEO (Scott Ross) is also SeaWorld’s Chairman of the Board. Currently Hill Path Capital now owns roughly 34.8% of SEAS with over 27 million shares. At this point Ross is clearly driving the bus… but unfortunately no one seems to know just what his final destination will be and if all the parks will still be part of the chain by the time they get there.
Six Flags - (8/5/22) I’m not sure how true this is just yet, but rumor has it that Six Flags may have started a new round of layoffs that will affect positions throughout the chain. With the Q2 2022 earnings call set to take place next week on August 11th, a round of layoffs in addition to guests reporting cut-backs in operational hours at many parks, this doesn’t bode well for good news from the Q2 report.
Six Flags over Georgia also currently exists in a similar relationship with a set of partners in Georgia for that particular property, and a window to purchase 100% ownership in that park will also open when that lease expires in 2027.
In other news, Six Flags has announced the addition of Chieh Huang was nominated to the Board of Directors as of August 1st, 2022. He will fill the place of departing director, Denise M. Clark who has resigned from the Board for personal reasons, effective August 1st, 2022.
(7/24/22) Unlike how most chains essentially own all their respective theme parks, Six Flags has evolved into a different kind of beast. For example, Six Flags began leasing a number of parks from their respective owners under various Management Deals, especially in the past 5 years or so with the additions of properties like Six Flags Darien Lake, Frontier City and various water parks. The status of each property is shown in the chain’s annual report, but it is the ownership situation around of the chain’s first two theme parks that will be coming into focus very quickly.
Six Flags over Texas is actually owned by a Texas Limited Partnership group, and Six Flags Entertainment itself currently owns 54% of that group, with the remainder said to be owned by Six Flags Over Texas Fund, Ltd (a private-equity and asset management firm). On the horizon Six Flags Entertainment Corporation will have a rare option to purchase the remaining 46% ownership stake for the Six Flags over Texas property when the current lease expires in 2028.
It is hard to think that corporate Six Flags would pass up this opportunity to finally take complete ownership of these two important properties, but they will also have to budget ahead a decent amount of cash to fund these particular transactions as well, which could very well affect the budgets of all things to come over the next several years.
On a related note, it is also mentioned that Six Flags Mexico has a “permit agreement” with the Federal District of Mexico City to operate that particular park which will expire in 2024. Given the success that Six Flags Mexico has seen compared to other parks in the nation, I would be surprised if this deal wasn’t extended when the time comes.
(7/7/22) Six Flags has announced that they will release their Second Quarter 2022 earning report on Thursday, August 11, 2022. An investor conference will follow at 7am Central Time that can be access through the investor website or by dialing 1-833-629-0614 in the US.
(7/2/22) I have a small update regarding the conversion of the Justice League dark rides from 3D to 2D mode. After a discussion with some very technical minded folks, it was revealed that the installation of the Justice League rides actually just use one very high-end projector per scene rather than the normal two projections that are typically used to project a 3D image. The breakdown is a bit technical, and based on some assumptions, so I wont get too much into it, but the basic thought is that the projectors used at the Justice League attractions are said to be one of the Digital Projection company’s line of high-end Titan Laser Series units. The interactive images for Justice League’s projected scenes are then thought to be delivered at double the normal frame rate, but shot through a device that splits the image into two images to be bounced onto the screen. Think of it as a way of separating the individual frames intended for the left and right eyes, which are normally filtered through different polarized lenses in the glasses worn by the riders, which gives the illusion of 3D on the flat screens.
So currently the rides are through to be running in a 2D mode, with the 3D gateway splitter now only sending the 2D image frames through half of the system, which results in a dimmer and softer image on the screens. Also, you may notice that your targeting may be a bit off, as the interactive components are still calibrated to be running in 3D mode, where the true bullseye would normally be located somewhere just between the two 3D images seen on the screen. So the end result really is no saving for Six Flags on the projector end of things based on this news, as there is still only one projector for each scene. This means the only saving Six Flags is seeing from switching from 3D to 2D would be the elimination of the person who would be normally staffed to take care of the cleaning and use of 3D glasses for each shift, along with the cost savings of not having to purchase 3D glasses at all this year.
(7/1/22) A quick note for anyone interested, but it seems that as of this Summer, all of the Six Flags Theme Parks that have installed a Justice League: Battle for Metropolis dark ride attraction are now said to be running them in 2D mode only. My initial thought was that perhaps they were switched from 3D to 2D during the start of the COVID outbreak in 2020, but apparently this is not the case most of them switched to 2D mode at the start of the 2020 season, including the one at Six Flags Magic Mountain that was reported to have still been running in 3D until about a month or two ago. This latest move is thought to be a quiet cost-saving measure, as it allows the parks to eliminate a position (the person cleaning the glasses), eliminate the cost of replacing the glasses as they wear down, and eliminate half of their budget for maintaining / replacing the bulbs on the ride’s projector systems but shutting off a projector at every one of the 3D projection scenes. The unfortunate result is a dim and slightly fuzzy image, along with a now slightly inaccurate targeting system.
Reaching out on social media to guests of all the parks, it has been confirmed that this change has been chain-wide this season as part of a move likely ordered by the corporate office. So if you thought it was just your local park’s ride looking a little odd, it isn’t just you. So if you want to see Justice League restored to the way it was intended to operate, feel free to let Six Flags know at both your local park and the corporate level. Only you can “Make Metropolis Great Again”.
(6/13/22) If you are still interesting in purchasing a Six Flags Annual Pass, check out your local park’s website. Most, if not all of the Six Flags parks seem to be launching a few three-tiered group of APs this week, which once again allow for guests to purchase them with a monthly installment payment program once again, which was a key selling point of the retired Membership programs.
(5/17/22) Six Flags finally released their Q1 2022 earning report late last week. Between that and the investor call that followed, some interesting things came to light, especially comments from Six Flags’ new CEO, Selim Bassoul. He was very clear that he was on a mission to transform Six Flags into something new. It isn’t often in an earnings call where you hear the execs say that they want attendance to drop. I can’t recall hearing someone say that previously they were so focused on seeing increased attendance year after year, that free tickets given out were suffocating the parks at the expense of the guest experience.
Honestly, these were usually the kind of comments you would hear from critics, but in this case Six Flags honestly appears to be on a mission to distance themselves from their own past and try something new. Are they going about it the right way? In my latest article for Blooloop I dug into their latest efforts and how the market is reacting thus far.
(5/1/22) Starting in limited form at a few parks across North America in 2021, the trend of theme parks switching over to be entirely cash-free has surged in 2022. By cash-free, we mean that they will not be able to accept cash (dollar bills or coins) for transitions at or within the park, and instead have moved their entire system of financial transitions to require the use of card (credit or debit) or mobile payment systems (Google Pay, ApplePay, etc…). For those who arrive with cash, the trend has been to install cash-to-card kiosks that will convert the cash for use onto a pre-paid / non-reloadable credit-card that can be used anywhere inside or outside the park after you leave.
While we have posted stories that the entire Cedar Fair chain of theme parks as well as Hersheypark and some others have switched to a cash-free system, it is also worth mentioning that Six Flags Theme Parks also began the process of converting all of their parks last year and is now entirely cash-free as well.
(4/28/22) Six Flags has announced that they are rescheduling the release of their Q1 2022 earning report from the previous date of May 2 to May 12, 2022 instead. The change is due to “unanticipated delays” in completing the process of closing out the quarter due to the addition of a new “enterprise resource planning system” that was added at the start of the year.
(4/9/22) Six Flags has been in the news a lot so far this year, starting with a lot of internal staffing upheaval and changes from the corporate office, then for a complete overhaul to the park’s season pass/membership program. Now with the parks starting to reopen we’re seeing lots of internal improvements being put into play at the park level with some chain-wide initiatives to add more guest comfort, more dining options, more mobile ordering systems and an initiative to add single-rider lines to many attractions in order to fill every seat and maximize ride capacity in order to shorten wait times.
Now Six Flags is said to release their Q1 2022 financial results on May 2, 2022, with an investor conference call following this at 7am that you can listen to online at investors.sixflags.com or by calling 1-855-889-1976.
While it may be a bit early to see how the in-park changes are affecting things, as most parks in the system were closed for most for Q1, we may get some insight into how the changes to the season pass program are being seen by the folks in the HQ and if any more changes and initiatives are expected to come based on the early results they are seeing. This could include some forward thinking comments about their plans for future night events, such as Fright Fest or Holiday in the Park.
(4/3/22) As the new tiers of season pass options have been slowly making their way through to the various Six Flags parks, I think the one option you could previously purchase on the old plans that is quickly becoming the most missed option on the new passes is the dropping of the Unlimited Dining Pass option.
Quick possibly the reason for the canceling of this pass option was a story that went viral last fall about a guy who bought the $150 dining pass option at Six Flags Magic Mountain back in 2014 and then proceeded to visit the park almost daily for all his meals over a six year period of time. WIth all the money he saved on food he managed to pay down his student loan, get parried and buy a house, so the idea of the unlimited Six Flags dining became a viral “life hack” story that spread everywhere.
This would include the eyeballs of some big Six Flags stockholders, who I’m sure were not at all happy and expressed that to the new CEO who took over the company and began a series of major changes late last year as well. Funny how the story is still living on as the new changes arrive to each of the Six Flags parks where I believe the best you can get from the most expensive “Ultimate” season pass now is a Dining Plan for just 10 meals to use for the entire season.
(3/2/22) Another big corporate change has taken place at Six Flags HQ. According to a press release from the company the chain’s current Exec VP and CFO, Sandeep Reddy, has announced he will depart the company effective March 27, 2022 in order to pursue a new position at another unknown company.
Stephen Purtell (Senior VP of Corporate Communications, Investor Relations and Treasurer) will assume the role of interim CFO at this point until a new replacement can be brought on board.
(2/26/22) While the article does not go on to say much about the future of food quality at Six Flags theme parks, a brief news article with comments from Six Flags’ new CEO, Selim Bassoul” does claim that over the past 100 days he has tasted over 100 burgers, 200 slices of pizza and 100 orders of chicken tenders.” This is all part of the plan as “Over the past 100 days, we have been reformulating out menu and testing new recipes”, finishing with the comment that the new food they’ve been taste testing is “better than any theme park I’ve ever visited.”
While this follows along with the rumored reports Screamscape has been getting since late last year that Six Flags has serious plans to raise the quality of their food and beverage options at the theme park chain starting this season. Bassoul also confirmed that we can expect to see higher ticket prices at the parks this season, as the chain will shift away from their former business model that offered heavily discounted tickets in exchange for higher attendance. Instead the focus will be on lower attendance at slightly higher prices along with over needed improvements to the guest experience.
The company also released their Q4 2021 results this week, claiming attendance of 6 million for the final quarter (Oct 4, 2021 through Jan 2, 2022), is only down 363,000 from Q4 2019, just prior to the pandemic. Total Revenue for Q4 2021 was $317 million, up $56 million from Q4 2019, with a net loss of just $2 million, an improvement of $9 million compared to Q4 2019. All said and done, Six Flags seems to be on stable footing at this time, and ready to see where the new changes and directions from the CEO will take them going forward.
(2/20/22) Consider the following just a rumor of changes to come until it actually happens, but I’m posting it anyway to give anyone who wants to purchase these time to do so before the changes take place.
According to the rumor, this will be the last year ‘food passes’ are honored at the Six Flags theme parks, and if you still want to purchase one at your local park apparently the day they will be sold online is February 28th. As of March 1st they will be removed as a purchase option along with some other changes.
For example, chain wide, I’m told that the option to purchase a Memberships plan will be retired. They have already been retired from several of the parks with more year-round schedules already, but the changes are expected to go chain-wide on March 1st. Memberships purchased before the change with whatever perks they come with will be honored however. Keep in mind that this won’t grandfather you in to having a membership forever, as Six Flags has the right to cancel the memberships at any time, though they will likely be expected to honor them for at least the first year. After that you will likely be forced into upgrading to the new season pass program tiers (along with the new payment options), or just dropping out entirely.
(2/13/22) As rumored, Screamscape sources tell us that as of right now, the plan is that only a small group of select parks will bring back Holiday in the Park for the 2022 season. For the most part this move will see the elimination of the event from the more northern region parks and focus it on those more comfortable able to operate in the winter.
As of this moment, the list of parks given by our source to offer Holiday in the Park in 2022 will be: SF Magic Mountain, SF Over Texas, SF Fiesta Texas, SF over Georgia, and SF Discovery Kingdom and possibly… SF Great Adventure. Apparently the event could still possibly get cut from Six Flags Great Adventure, as the only northern park still on the list but for now it is on the books. I’m told that corporate could also change their mind on Six Flags Discovery Kingdom having it as well, but for now it was determined that the park would need it to be able to compete with the WinterFest event at California’s Great America.
As for Fright Fest… as profitable as the event is normally for the parks it looks like Fright Fest will continue at most parks in 2022, however look for cuts to have been made to the number of days the parks offer it, as well as a cut in the length of the event, where it will likely not run late into the night any longer. The more security issues each park has had regarding unruly guests, fights breaking out and such, the more cuts you can expect to see made at that location.
So far this follows along with operational cuts being spotted in the various park’s summer schedules as they are slowly getting posted on the website. The days where the parks were open to 10pm, 11pm and occasional midnight are gone, and have been replaced with summer schedules showing the various parks mostly closing at 7pm, 8pm or 9pm. So for locals who used to buy season passes (or memberships) who liked to just drop in after work to wind down for the evening with a few rides out of the hot sun, it’s going to be a lot harder to justify keeping those passes.
(2/4/22) Six Flags will release their Q4 2021 and Full Year 2021 financial results before the market opens on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022. A conference call will then take place at 7am Central Time that morning, and you can listen in through the Six Flags Investor website or by calling 1-855-889-1976 in the US or 1-937-641-0558 if you are outside the US.
(1/30/22) Robots may be coming to your local theme park sooner than you think. And no, I’m not talking about cute interactive character style robots, like the Star Wars themed R2D2 you can find roaming Galaxy’s Edge lands at Disney parks. And no… this isn’t a army of robots to replace workers in the kitchens flipping burgers and fries. Instead your first encounter with a robot at a theme park may actually be for enhanced security purposes.
According to Fortune a new autonomous robot called ROAMEO will begin patrolling Six Flags over Texas this week, with a second unit set to begin patrolling Six Flags Magic Mountain starting next week. Designed by a company named RAD, ROAMEO is is about 6.5 feet long and weighs in at 750-pounds, but as far as looks go, don’t expect to see anything like Robocop or ED-209. Instead ROAMEO looks more like a cross between a popcorn cart and a goggle maps camera car, featuring a large camero cluster around the top ring of the robot able to monitor and record in 360º everything that takes place around it. Don’t expect ROAMEO to come kick those line-jumpers out of the park either, as it really isn’t designed to respond directly to deal with “infractions”. Instead ROAMEO is designed as a “supplement” to the typical human security forces that already exist, able to assist and provide expanded security coverage. ROAMEO also features a touch screen able to provide assistance and information to guests in need, including wait times, map directions and more. Equipped with a communication system, ROAMEO will also be able to alert park security officers about issues it does discover on it’s own, with the ability to recognize when it spots humans inside “restricted areas”, as well as being able to tell the difference between humans wearing face masks and those who are not.
According to the RAD, they claim they are in talks with Orlando theme park companies at the moment as well, and feel that they could have a ROAMEO at work in an Orlando area park before the end of the year. Of course, if you’ve ever stayed at a Universal Orlando hotel, you may have come across a working robot already, as I’ve seen Universal testing out the RELAY robot on and off at the Cabana Bay and Aventura hotels since 2017. RELAY isn’t a security bot, but it proved to be a great way to offer contactless delivery of items to guests rooms that are needed, like fresh towels, shampoo and more. And yes, RELAY has the ability to remotely use the hotel elevators and alert you that it is outside your room’s door. I’ve even seen it go up to random guests in the lobby and offer them candy. So it looks like the era of robots is here… so how do you feel about it?
(1/23/22) Six Flags’s new CEO, Selim Bassoul, spoke with Seeking Alpha about the direction the chain is moving towards under his command. In short it was described as moving the company towards a “premiumization strategy” where the parks are looking to bring in fewer, but higher paying guests to increase their profits, rather than the old model of packing in as many guests as possible with cheap ticket offerings. If this sounds familiar, you are basically looking at Six Flags describing an attempt to follow Disney’s example in terms of theme park strategy.
Of course The Walt Disney Company has long managed to sell their theme parks as premium guest experiences through the promotion of it being an exclusive and high-quality experience with exclusive attractions you won't find anywhere else, themed around Disney’s vast vault of IPs. In my opinion, this is going to be a bit of a tough sell for most Six Flags theme parks, many of which simply evolved over the years by offering “clones” and “copies” of rides and roller coasters that became popular at other Six Flags theme parks. This has resulted in a chain of parks where both food and merchandise offerings are often identical to each other in most categories. I’m not even going to try to say that the “guest experience” of someone visiting a Six Flags park could be similar to that of a Disney park guest at this point in time. So clearly there is a lot of work that needs to take place within the Six Flags parks before this can happen, but I’m also going to assume we are seeing just the first baby-steps towards this concept right now.
After all, it has also become abundantly clear that the old strategy of being mostly focused on attendance based growth is not working for Six Flags in the long term. News headlines about fights breaking out in select parks over food lines, at special events or during Halloween events only serves to drive that message home. This itself goes a long way to explaining why we are seeing the end of sales of Six Flags “memberships” where guests could make monthly payments to visit Six Flags all year, rather than paying for a Season Pass up front. The cheap payment options have essentially turned some of the park’s into an easy to afford subscription based ‘daycare’ option.
Reducing attendance can very well be the first step towards creating a better guest experience in the parks, resulting in shorter lines for attractions and food. The key here is to follow this up with improved park offerings (both attractions and food), and we’ve been hearing rumors that 2022 may see some dramatic improvements in the food side of things under Bassoul’s new directives. Just don’t skimp out of the attractions… guests visit Six Flags primarily for the rides, and slacking in that department going forward is not going to sit well with potential guests looking for new thrills.
With this in mind, I continue to be intrigued with how Six Flags is evolving. While some of the changes are going to be painful, the overall intent is still to push the parks towards improvements that will better the guest experience. It just remains to be seen ow well these changes are executed.
(1/20/22) The evolution of the ‘season pass’ option for Six Flags theme parks just underwent another staggering change, in what has become a seemingly non-stop series of changes. First Memberships were dropped, leaving only the old style Season Passes as your only option. Now starting at Six Flags Magic Mountain and then quickly spreading to the parks in Texas, the only Season Pass options have been replaced by three new kinds of Season Pass options with new names, different benefits and new higher prices.
The lowest tier is the Thrill Seeker Pass, which at SFMM is $114.99 and is only good for admission to Magic Mountain and its Hurricane Harbor waterpark. The pass includes free parking, a single-use weekday visit ‘skip-the-line pass” and a couple of special discount rate ticket purchase options for friends. There is a note that there will also be “Blockout Dates”, and you must pay for the entire pass at the time or purchase.
The Extreme Pass will run you $179.99 and will give you unlimited admission to all ‘outdoor’ Six Flags parks, free parking, some food and merchandise discounts, a refillable drink bottle, 2 skip-the-line passes good on a weekday visit, 5 discount ticket offers for friends, a singe-day dining pass and the option to spread out the cost of the pass over four payments.
Lastly there is the “Ultimate Pass”, which will run you a steep $329.99. This pass comes with free ‘front gate’ parking, 10 discount ticket pass options for friends, 5 skip the line passes good on any day, access to all outdoor Six Flags parks, the drink bottle, discounts, a 10 Meal Dining Plan, a ride photo, “waterpark seating reservation’ and a $50 “Attractions Credit”. Oh, and you can split the payment up into four payments instead of one.
What appear to be about the same options are also available now at Six Flags Fiesta Texas, Six Flags over Texas, and Six Flags Discovery Kingdom at slightly lower prices. ($79.99 / $169.99 and $299.99) but remember that you’ll have to visit the park you buy your pass at to process it, so you can’t buy a cheaper pass from a Texas park and show up with the paperwork in California. I’m assuming we will see this new change roll out to the rest of the parks in the very near future.
(1/15/22) A quick update regarding the “retiring” of the Six Flags Membership program. While checking into the story myself, I checked the pages for Six Flags over Texas, Fiesta Texas and Magic Mountain, all parks currently open and who have all removed the Membership option. However a reader pointed out that the parks they checked still had memberships for sale (over Georgia, SF Great America, SF Great Adventure) which seems to be true, but those parks are also closed for the winter. So far it looks like the removal of the membership option has only made it onto the pages for the park’s currently open, so add Discovery Kingdom to the list of pages where the Membership option has been retired.
I can only assume all the park pages will slowing be changing to remove the Membership option, though the only currently open park I see with the option still intact is Six Flags Mexico, meanwhile the only closed park I see that has removed it so far was La Ronde.
(1/14/22) Something interesting is now going on at Six Flags in regards to their Season Pass / Membership programs. Based on what I am currently seeing on the various Six Flags park websites, there is now no longer any mention or ability to purchase a Six Flags “Membership”, the only option available is to purchase a “Season Pass” which are now available in the new membership style tiers.
As previously mentioned, once they added the same ‘tier’ levels to the Season Passes that were previously only offered to the Membership plans, the only real difference between Memberships and Season Passholders was that Memberships allowed for a monthly payment plan, while Season Passes had to be purchased as one lump-sum all at once.
To those currently on a monthly installment paid “Membership” plan, I do not know what the company’s current plan is for you. If I had to guess, since a payment agreement was set in place in advance when you started your membership, I would imagine Six Flags would be obligated to continue that original payment plan through to the end of your already scheduled 12-month payment plan. Once you come to the end of the pre-planned payment term, don’t be surprised if you are asked to migrate to the new system and pay up front to renew your passes. I suggest you contact your local Six Flags park where you purchased your membership to determine what the future plan is if you have not received any notice by email about the changes taking place.
(1/9/22) Six Flags made a number of changes in December at the corporate HQ and we were led to believe further changes would be coming this month at the park level, and with the departure of the Park President from Six Flags over Texas confirmed, it seems even more changes are also being made.
One of the success stories over the pandemic from Six Flags involved a significant improvement in their Six Flags America theme park. This had nothing to do with any new ride, but was more of a change in the upkeep and look of the park as well as employee training in all aspects, creating an overall better atmosphere for guests and staff alike for the 2021 season. At the time this was attributed to the rise of a new Park President, Richard Pretlow. Unfortunately it seems Pretlow’s run as Park Presidend of Six Flags America was just cut short, as he is now listed as the “Director of Food and Beverage” for Six Flags over Georgia as of January 2022.
If you’ve read our list of rumored changes coming to the parks, establishing Food & Beverage as a separate department, instead of being under the control of the Retail & Games department was said to be an immediate goal, so it looks like this is starting to happen, at least at Six Flags over Georgia thus far.
As for Six Flags America, I’m told that the previous Park President, Rick Howarth, has returned to SFA to serve as Park President yet again. Howarth departed SFA for the Six Flags corporate office in Texas to serve as VP of Procurement from Nov. 2020 until Dec. 2021. As we said before, a large number of VPs in the corporate office were let go in December under the restructuring of the new CEO, but in this case it looks like Howarth was kept and sent back to Maryland.
(1/1/22) In a fascinating move, events that took place earlier this week at Six Flags Mexico have resulted in the corporate Six Flags office dropping an old chain-wide policy banning public displays of affection. It all started on Wednesday when a gay couple at Six Flags Mexico were apparently spotted kissing while in line for a ride. Before long a group of park security members arrived on the scene, removed from the line and soon after they were also taken by security to the park exit and asked to leave.
Word spread quickly and LGBTQ social media activists asked for locals to arrive at the park entrance the next morning for a “kissathon” event in protest of the previous day’s events. To their credit, Six Flags corporate management got caught up on exactly what took place and responded fairly quickly, and before the end of the day they had posted a chain-wide policy revision stating that the old policy that “discourages guests from being overly affectionate” in their parks was originally intended just to maintain a “family-friendly atmosphere” and that it “applied equally to all guests, regards of race, religion, gender of sexual orientation.”
Regardless of how the policy was worded, I’d say that anyone with eyes who ever visited a park could probably tell you that the policy was likely not viewed to be equally enforced across all demographics and orientations. But the good news is that the policy is now no more. According to the statement from Six Flags, “based on guest feedback, we have determined that having a policy that speaks to affectionate behavior is not necessary and we have removed the policy.”
I doubt this will be the end of the issue just yet as there are already complaints that a statement about a change in policy is not the same as an apology, which is what is also wanted at this time by many.
(12/30/21) As previously mentioned elsewhere on Screamscape, Six Flags over Texas continues to test a system selling one-time use Flash Passes that guests can buy through their mobile device by scanning a QR code posted in the queues for select attractions. The same system has now also been spotted testing at Six Flags Magic Mountain with a QR code spotted in the queue for Twisted Colossus according to one local report.
According to the latest information coming from those seeing the system testing in Texas, they are selling these one-time use Flash Pass tickets right now for anywhere between $5 and $10 per ride. Guests just scan the code and are taken to an online page that lists all the different rides they can purchase and how long they will have to wait. And yes… this is not an immediate satisfaction where you can enter the ride as soon as you buy the Flash Pass, you will have to come back a little later.
Much like what we’ve seen the Disney parks do with their new Lightning Lane system, the price can fluctuate throughout the day and from day-to-day, presumably based on how the park anticipates crowd levels will be.
Keep that one word in mine… anticipates… because from what I’m told it sounds like Six Flags is just sort of pre-programming the system right now based on how they think it may need to work, and does not appear to be tied into any actual live metrics yet, such as actual queue length or live time crowd levels in the park. For a great example of this, I’m told the other day the system was trying to sell Flash Passes to ride Pandemonium in 2 Hours, meanwhile the regular queue to ride was only 30 minutes. Meanwhile they were also selling Flash Passes to ride Texas Giant for just $5 in 42 minutes, all while the actual line to ride Texas Giant was at least 2.5 hours.
As Disney sort of sets the bar for these kinds of things in the industry I would not be surprised if we start to see many of the other park chains trying to test out their own home-brewed versions of the same concept. After dealing with two years of the COVID-19 pandemic so far, most parks have already invested in the ability to handle live mobile purchases for a variety of things, ranging from park tickets and parking passes to mobile food orders, so adding the ability to purchase one-time queue-cutting passes should be easily within their grasp.
What I worry about is while parks have the ability to add these sort of purchases, they can also do so without making any attempt to make it an intelligent system, or one that is monitored and adjusted throughout the day to reflect the true crowd and queue levels, as well as to be smart enough to know if they system is also causing too much of a negative impact on the regular guests and then limit the number of sales available.
This also leads me to worry about how some parks might adjust their operations methods to push guests towards buying these queue-cutting passes. A great example would be for a park to only run one train on their roller coasters instead of standard two or three train operations. Running one train operations would allow them to not only save money by possibly running a ride with minimal staff, but would also artificially increase the line length for these rides. After all, a coaster that normally runs three trains with a 20-minute wait isn’t going to sell too many Flash Passes, but if they drop down to just one train, which would increase the wait time to 60 minutes, they may see their Flash Pass sales numbers increase, but at the expense of their regular guests from the lack of efficient operations. Putting “Profit” over “Guest Satisfaction” may just be too tempting for some park’s management to resist, especially when most companies are hell-bent on making themselves look good to the stockholders at all costs, which often unfortunately also comes at the expense of the guest experience far too often.
Just the latest theme park innovation that I think we all need to keep an eye on as this trend develops.
(12/24/21) Screamscape sources tell us that, for now at least, Holiday in the Park has been cut from the schedule for Six Flags St. Louis and that we can expect to see the event cut from a few more parks 2022 schedules where it has underperformed.
In a bit of good news, it also sounds like Six Flags may be preparing to up their Culinary game for the upcoming season. I wasn’t aware of this, but according to our source the management in charge of Retail & Games at Six Flags was also apparently over Food & Beverages. Keeping this in mind, suddenly the reason why the majority of food at Six Flags parks was generic and the same, no matter the location, suddenly makes more sense, as if it was being ordered and dispersed like park merchandise.
From what I’m being told, it sounds like the new leadership decided that this made no sense either, and may be preparing to launch park specific Culinary departments who will be able to customize and refresh their park menus based on the tastes of their local market. We’re hoping this means much more variety and unique food items to come to each park, which sounds quite a bit like what Cedar Fair has been doing the past few years at many of their parks. I know some of the Cedar Fair parks have taken this to new levels by offering special seasonal food events at their parks, so perhaps something like this could be in the long term plan for Six Flags parks as well.
Again, nothing official on this yet, but it sounds like this is the direct the parks may be heading. Hopefully we’ll hear more about this soon.
(12/22/21) Going into the 2022 season, it sounds like the plans and schedule for each park will be determined based on their own performance levels. We’ve seen some parks transition to year-long operations lately, but a few of those may either switch back to seasonal status, or perhaps just remain open on weekends only in the slower months, depending on how they have been performing. It is hard to tell right now, as most of the parks have not posted any hours for the 2022 season, beyond a few operational dates in January as they wrap up their winter holiday hours.
It was also mentioned that as a result of potential operational schedule changes coming for the 2022 season, some previous plans for off-season entertainment events meant for the slower months may also be cut in 2022. In an example of this, the Fire & Ice Festival for Six Flags over Texas may already be cut, as the previously announced event is no longer being promoted on the website.
(12/20/21) Screamscape was able to obtain a copy of the email sent out to Six Flags staff from Selim Bassoul, the new CEO, regarding all the management changes that have taken place at the corporate level so far this month.
(12/18/21) We hinted at this last week, but I’m hearing that big changes are starting to happen to the management structure at Six Flags, both in the corporate office as well as at the theme park level. All of this seems to be coming down from a restructuring plan from the new CEO who is of the belief that there are too many layers of management in the company, and has set forth a new plan to streamline everything. Unfortunately i’m not sure if this will involve some lay-offs at the management level, or if this is more of a restructure with positions being moved around, or perhaps a little bit of both.
One thing that was implied to Screamscape was that the new management structure may actually be more reminiscent of how Six Flags was run decades ago, long before the RedZone take-over and eras that followed. Back in the early days Six Flags Park Presidents were said to hold a lot more power and control over how their parks were run, and a significant amount of say in what kind of new attractions were needed. Under the management system the chain has used for the past couple decades, the power most Park Presidents said to be mostly limited to the point that all the big decisions were made at the corporate levels, leaving the Park President to mostly serve as a General Manager to ensure the corporate will was executed on the local level, but unable to make much in the way of decisions or policy on their own. Even under that system, select Park Presidents have made a name for themselves and were able to gain limited support from the corporate office, but this is the exception and not the rule. From the sound of things, the new CEO seems to be ready to give the power back to the Park Presidents and empower the parks once again, who best know their own demographics, to help guide and lead their own future development.
Again, this is a lot of speculation and rumor right now, but on the surface these changes may be leading Six Flags in a very positive new direction going forward. For the moment however, there is going to be a bit of chaos and change to deal with ahead of the 2022 season. Stay tuned!
(12/13/21) Interesting changes are said to have started taking place within the Six Flags corporate structure this past week. I don’t know all the details but our source claims that a good number of corporate VP positions have been eliminated, resulting in the individual Park Presidents now being able to report directly to newly appointed Six Flags CEO, Selim Bassoul. There is something certainly to be said for keeping a clear and direct line of communication open between these important positions, without putting an army of other corporate execs in-between to mediate the message.
I’m inclined to say that this could perhaps a sign of good things to come, along with further possible changes to the Six Flags corporate and park structure as it all comes under review by the new CEO who is clearly seeing organization changes they want in effect for the new year. Stay tuned!
(11/27/21) A post to twitter shows off a trio of interesting new experiences Six Flags may be considering for some of their theme parks. The images were part of a new guest survey Six Flags sent out to some members and passholders asking their opinions on adding things like a : Silent Disco, a Funhouse or a Game Show experience.
Personally, the concept of a silent disco seems a bit odd for the theme park chain, and while an interactive game show giving guests the opportunity to win prizes could actually be fun, Six Flags just has never been a park I’ve visited to see ‘shows’. I was most intrigued by the idea of adding a large fun house experience, because if done well with a great deal of theming, this could actually be a lot of fun. Now take that idea, and make the funhouse a creation of your favorite DC villain, like The Joker, and you might really have something special.
(11/17/21) In a surprising announcement, Six Flags has named a new CEO to lead the company after Michael Spanos has decided to step down after two years at the helm. As of now Selim Bassoul, who was formerly a Non-Executive Chairman of the Board has been tapped to take over as CEO and President of Six Flags.
I don’t know much about Bassoul, though the info sheet mentions his background as a previous CEO of Middleby Corporation, who led a large growth to that company’s business of being a manufacturer of “industrial and high-end residential appliances”. So while it is clear he knows business, his background does not appear to be one who has come up within the theme park or travel industry before serving on the Board for Six Flags.
No word on why Spanos has decided to step down from the company, though after leading Six Flags successfully through the past two years during COVID, I was curious to see how he would have lead the company as business was starting a return to more normal conditions.
(11/4/21) In late August we were sent word from many Six Flags passholders about a critical change that had been made to the 2022 Season Passes. Instead of the Season Pass being good at all Six Flags parks in the chain, it was now only good at the park you purchased it at. There was much boo’ing and hiss’ing over this, as it was described as a way to move Season Passholders into buying into the Six Flags Memberships plans, as it looked like only the Membership plans would keep the option to visit other parks in the chain.
Jumping ahead to today, and it seems like the change was made to the Season Pass option as the first step towards a brand new set of 2022 Season Pass options. Looking over the Six Flags Fiesta Texas website right now, in addition to a “Basic” 2022 Season Pass, there are now options to purchase 2022 Season Passes in four new flavors, named after the same four levels of Six Flags Membership plans. There is a Gold Plus, a Platinum, a Diamond and lastly, Diamond Elite 2022 Season Passes you can buy.
The Basic Pass, which is what you already have if you renewed your 2022 pass early, only allows for admission into the park you purchased it from for the rest of this year and all of 2022. It also includes admission into Fright Fest and Holiday in the Park events, but Parking is not included.
If you upgrade to the Gold Plus Season Pass you add Free Parking and Admission to ALL Six Flags outdoor parks once again, plus some discounts on purchases in the park, and more.
Upgrade to Platinum and you get “unlimited soft drinks”, 25% discount on most candy and merchandise, 15% off most food, discounts on Flash Pass, waterpark cabanas, tours and more.
Diamond level upgrades your free parking to free Preferred parking, one skip the line ride pass per visit, preferred waterpark seating and bigger in park discounts and some other free benefits.
Diamond Elite adds in two skip the line passes per visit, 50% off more food, candy and merchandise purchases, free Haunts at Fright Fest and “Much More!”.
Essentially, these are the exact same benefits you get from the Six Flags Membership tiers, which essentially breaks this down into the concept of, do you want pay for your Six Flags pass in one lump sums, or do you want to break it down into a monthly payment plan? The overall price over a 12 month term is virtually the same for each tier, but for those who detest having any kind of monthly membership able to auto-draft payments from your bank account, the ability to just pay once and be done may be exactly what they are looking for.
After all, this takes away the worry about trying to cancel your membership only to have something mess up and discover monthly charges still coming out, so I get it. Even more, I’m with you on that one, as I’m the kind of person who would rather just buy it up front and not worry about future payments.
(10/29/21) In an odd bit of news Fool.com reports that shares of Six Flags dropped 8.8% on Wednesday, despite delivering a ton of great news in the earnings report. Profits are up in Q3 2021 with the company reporting $638 million in sales. While attendance was reported as being down 8%, higher ticket prices meant that revenue still rose 3% compared to Q3 2019, while profits were still down 15%. Still the theme park experience is one that seems to be in high demand with the general public, a trend that is expected to continue for the next few years and Six Flags is, for the most part, poised to take advantage of that.
Universal Studios - (8/7/22) Would you believe that there is now a 7th kind of Butterbeer flavored treat at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter? Well… kinda…
Let me back up for a moment. If you didn’t know there were six kinds before, let me run them down. Butterbeer started off by coming in the two traditional drinkable forms, the regular Cold and Frozen varieties. This was followed in the years to come with additions like Butterbeer Ice Cream, Butterbeer Fudge, Butterbeer Potted Cream and finally Hot Butterbeer.
Back to today, and apparently a new “Vegan Butterbeer” option is now available as well. I’m a little fuzzy on the details, as I’m not sure if it is an entirely new concoction or if they are simply leaving off the foamy white topping layer to make it Vegan friendly, but either way, it is now an official option.
(6/27/22) Comcast, the parent company of NBC/Universal, will host their 2022 Q2 earnings conference call on Thursday, July 28th, 2022 at 8:30am EST. Prior to the call the company will also issue a press release of the results as well. You can listen in live to the earnings call by clicking here or calling 929-477-0336 and enter the ID number 722005. If you miss the live call, just visit the investor relations website to listen to a replay of the call starting at 11:30am EST which will be available through to August 4, 2022. You can also listen to the replay over the phone by calling 719-457-0820 and enter the ID number 1292809.
(5/2/22) As part of the latest Comcast earnings report, they did break down some impressive numbers from the Universal Parks & Resorts division of the company. According to the theme parks posted a 151.9% increase in revenue during Q1 2022 compared to the same time period from the previous year. This time period saw a revenue increase from $619 million to $1.56 billion over the first quarter of the year.
While this is fantastic news, you also have to keep in mind that during Q1 2021, the new Beijing park had yet to open and the Hollywood park had been closed for the previous 12 months straight. While Universal Orlando and Japan were open in Q1 2021, both were running at limited capacity restrictions. Despite all that however, the 2022 numbers don’t lie and the company’s theme park division is really performing well right now, with the reported revenue numbers still exceeding analyst projections.
According to CEO, Brian Roberts, “Our recovery from the pandemic at theme parks has been fantastic and shows no signs of slowing down”.
(11/27/21) Hey Jurassic World fans, if you haven’t seen it yet, Universal has posted the first five-minutes of the new Jurassic World Dominion film online for everyone to see. The brief cut starts things off 65-million years ago, where we get our first look in the franchise as what the actual dinosaurs looked like in their own era, instead of the modern-day renditions that have been genetically modified and altered with fill-in DNA sequences. So take a close look at the dinosaurs, as they have been altered in some interesting and subtle ways to represent some of today’s current thinking about how they really may have looked, such as small hairs or feathers covering sections of skin.
(11/18/21) Some big staff shifts will be happening at the Universal Parks & Resorts as it was announced that Chairman and CEO, Tom Williams, will be retiring effective March 16, 2022. Stepping in to replace Williams will be Mark Woodbury, current President of Universal Creative, and current Vice Chairman of Universal Parks & Resorts. Mark Woodbury will step up to the CEO desk starting Jan. 1st, 2022.
So congratulations to both, especially to Tom Williams who has served with Universal for 33 years now, 22 of those spent leading the Universal Parks & Resorts into the future, and what an awesome legacy of growth to leave behind as he steps into a well deserved retirement.
No official word on who will be taking over as President of Universal Creative, but I have my suspicions.
(10/30/21) Comcast released their Q3 2021 earnings report and while stock prices fell, they did note in the report that despite the pandemic, the Universal “Theme Parks Delivered Its Most Profitable Quarter Since the First Quarter of 2020, Driven by Universal Orlando; Celebrated the Grand Opening of Universal Beijing Resort on September 20th”.
Theme Park revenue was $1.4 billion in Q3 2021, which was a $1.1 billion increase over the same quarter in 2020 when most of the parks were closed or operating at very limited capacity due to COVID-19 protocols. Theme park revenue for the first 9 months of 2021 was $3.2 billion, an increase of $1.7 billion over the same time period the year before.
Comcast CEO Brian Roberts took a moment in the earning call to specifically put the spotlight on the Universal theme parks, ‘especially Orlando, which just reported the most profitable quarter in its history despite having virtually no international guests due to COVID related travel restraints.” As we mentioned the other day, many of those restrictions on international guest visits will soon come to an end in a little over a week, and I’d expect to see a flood of international guests hit the parks once again this holiday season (and beyond) as a result.
As mentioned, Comcast stock prices did fall after the announcement, despite the report confirming earnings and revenue growth that was above wall street analysts’ predictions, and reports confirming strong growth across all the various business segments. The only reported misfire I spotted in the report was from the new Peacock streaming service which seems to be due programming costs and loss of subscribers.
(8/1/21) Waterworld! The name of this particular Universal carries a lot of weight, not so much for the success of the film, or lack thereof, but more for the storied history of the film followed by the success of the IP as a theme park attraction. I’m not going to get into the history of the movie’s production, which includes massive cost overruns, sinking floating sets, to say nothing of the rumors that the production problems were played up by Hollywood management to drive off the studio’s Japanese parner, Matsushita, over increasing cultural-clash problems with the American studio.
In the end, Matsushita sold off their ownership stake of Universal for $5.7 billion to Seagram in 1995, the same year that Waterworld hit the theaters and “bombed”, at least on the books. Say what you want about the film and the performance that ended up on the screen, but the concept of the “world” put on display in the film was something that has retained interest over the years. After all, watch the news on any given night with tales of climate change and warnings of polar ice caps melting, and it feels like we’re living out the events that brought about “Waterworld”. Add in that every Universal Studios theme park resort on the globe, with the exception of the Orlando, has an extremely popular “Waterworld” themed stunt show and you’ll know that the IP has never been far from the studio’s mind.
This brings me to today where it was announced by the Hollywood Reporter that Universal has begun early development of a Waterworld follow-up “series” to the events of the film. This is aimed at taking advantage of the current trend of reviving old IPs for streaming services, such as Paramount+ new Star Trek series or Cobra Cai on Netflix. The concept would catch up with all the surviving characters, 20 years later, though no actors have been attached to the project yet, so I’m not sure if we might see Kevin Costner return as The Mariner or not. Either way, I’m actually curious to see where this leads, as it could prove to be far more successful than the film ever was, and potentially give new life to the theme park stunt shows as well. Stay tuned!
(7/31/21) According to various news reports things are definitely moving in the right direction over at Universal’s theme park division. According to the Q2 2021 earnings report from parent company, Comcast, for the first time since the pandemic began the Universal theme parks had their first profitable quarter, with the Universal Orlando resort leading the way.
According to the report the theme park division’s reported revenue was $1.1 billion, driven mostly by the Universal Orlando resort where the pent up demand for theme park experiences was described as being “exceptionally” strong. Attendance at the Orlando parks has already returned to the pre-pandemic levels seen in 2019, and this is without most international visitors being allowed into the country at this time due to travel restrictions.
Based on my own visit to Orlando in early June, I would confirm that this seems to be the case, as attendance at the parks seemed to me, visually, to be even stronger than what I had experienced at the same time period in previous years. The ultra successful launch of Universal's new VelociCoaster is expected to be a major piece of the success story here as well. The extreme themed coaster has been a huge draw, not only for coaster enthusiasts, but for all potential theme park guests from far and wide, and has received praise for being one of the best roller coasters on the planet right now. Universal Orlando just pointed out not long ago that the VelociCoaster had already delivered thrills to over one million riders so far since it opened on June 10th which is amazing.
Meanwhile Universal Studios Hollywood was able to finally reopen in April and premier a new dark ride based on The Secret Lives of Pets animated series, and run without restrictions since June. In the Japanese market the guests have been loving that park’s brand new Super Nintendo World land as well, and a scaled back version of it is already under construction for Universal Studios Hollywood, with plans to also bring it to Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Singapore in the future.
(2/3/21) According to the Q4 2020 earnings report from Universal’s parent company, Comcast, the Universal theme parks division was able to reach a breakeven point by the last quarter from having parks open in Orlando and Japan, despite the continued closure of their Hollywood theme park. Revenue dropped of course, but that is to be expected when attendance capacity limits are in place at the parks.
(1/2/21) An interesting series of drawings taken from a patent for a new ride system from Universal can be found at ThemeparX. The overall idea is fascinating, as the proposed ride concept would start off as a boat ride, not unlike the Jurassic Park River Adventure, but at some point that looks like a giant forklift style device hidden underwater, but mounted to an overhead track system would swoop in behind the riders and lock into place under the boat. The artwork then depicts the idea that the boat would drift towards a large waterfall, but instead of plunging down with the river, the boat would then leave the water and fly away, attached to the overhead track system. The second half of the ride would then be seen from the air, before the boat of riders would eventually be placed back in the water to drift back into the loading station.
It is a neat concept, and according to some rumors, it could have been something envisioned as a proposal for a Zelda themed ride concept as part of the Nintendo deal. Previous rumors once indicated that Universal was lining up possible ideas to add other Nintendo ride and land concepts to be added to Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida after Epic Universe opened with a Super Nintendo World land. The delay to the new park caused by COVID-19 has kind of put everything on hold at the moment, so there is no way to know what will still make it off the drawing board, and where it might land. One of the last popular rumors at the time, was that they were considering adding a Pokemon themed area to Universal Studios Florida and a Zelda themed land or attraction could fit into Islands of Adventure, either as a replacement for Toon Lagoon or the remainder of Lost Continent.