If this economy is taking you on a ride, the theme parks in Southern California, including the biggies like Disneyland and Universal Studios, are about to give you more vacation bang for your buck!
In short, new light shows, roller coasters and a 3-D King Kong ride are aimed at helping attendance numbers rebound from last year’s slump, and all the parks are trying to keep the adventure at “discount prices.”
Buoyed by an improving economy, most major Southern California theme parks have made multimillion-dollar investments in new attractions opening this summer to help attendance numbers rebound from last year’s slump.
According to the Los Angeles Times, most theme park managers won’t disclose the cost of the new attractions, but industry experts say any investment signals confidence that theme parks are pulling out of the recession slump.
“There’s certainly a sense of optimism returning to the 2010 season,” said David Mandt to the Times, a spokesman for the International Assn. of Amusement Parks and Attractions, a trade group that represents parks and museums nationwide. “I think the parks have weathered the storm well.”
One positive indicator: Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park already is reporting a big jump over last year in early sales of season passes.
With the economy seemingly flattening out and possibly on a rebound, industry experts predict that theme parks will offer fewer discounts but will heavily promote this summer’s new rides.
“As market indicators improve, that message will be fine-tuned and tweaked,” Mandt said.
Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Bob Iger told industry analysts last week he expected to cut back on discounts and return to “more normal pricing” at Disney parks and hotels this year, but he believed that the visitor numbers would continue to grow.
“It’s possible that we are starting to see signs that consumer are looking past the smaller discount to take the vacation that they want to take,” Iger said.
Of course, the capital expenditures could also be the “more expensive Plan B” to get patronage on the rise, using bigger, better thrills to lure larger audiences.
Last year, everybody in the category focused on “family savings” and a “valued, memorable” experience. Yet, despite the bargain-ticket shootout at the ticket gate, attendance numbers dropped sharply last year for all Southern California theme parks, except for Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure.
Crowd numbers declined 6% last year at Universal Studios Hollywood, 6.5% at Knott’s Berry Farm and 12.6% at San Diego’s SeaWorld, according to the Themed Entertainment Association, a nonprofit that represents park designers and builders.
Meanwhile, attendance rose 8% at Disneyland in Anaheim last year and 9.5% at Disney’s California Adventure Park. During an earnings report for the second quarter of 2010, Iger said attendance at all of Disney’s domestic parks was down 4% compared with the same period last year.
Much like how ski areas cherish September in the Rockies during NFL broadcasts to tease the visitor to the upcoming season, early ticket sales suggest a brighter summer for all theme parks in 2010.
Fueled by the offer of potentially a 33 percent discount, Knott’s Berry Farm has sold about 100,000 season passes since November, nearly twice as many as the same period last year, park spokeswoman Jennifer Blazey said.
The ticket sales were bolstered the “act now, operators are standing by,” approach whereby the discounts increase if you prepay immediately.
Like other big parks, Knott’s Berry Farm plans to launch a new light show featuring the “Peanuts” gang May 29.
In the battle of titan Southern California parks, the two superpowers, Universal Studios Hollywood and Disneyland, roll out some massive new summer attractions, and others in the category — Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia; Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach; and at the waterpark Legoland in Carlsbadare — are spending heavily to “modernize.”
- Universal Studios: Using the trendy “3D” approach and hype, King Kong 360 3-D opens in July. It was designed by Academy Award-winning director Peter Jackson, and is the latest addition to the back lot studio tram ride. It uses massive curved movie screens, high-tech 3-D projectors, fans and a “tram mover” system to make visitors believe that they are watching Kong battle a 35-foot Tyrannosaurus rex. The attraction is replaces the mechanical Kong that was destroyed in a back lot fire in 2008. “We are spending the largest amount for a new attraction for the past decade. That is how much we believe in our brand,” said Universal Studios Hollywood President Larry Kurzweil. According to the Los Angeles Times, Kurzweil declined to discuss the construction cost.
- Disneyland: The California Adventure Park will offer a nighttime attraction called World of Color that opens June 11. It is a choreographed light show that displays Disney movie scenes on curtains of water that shoot up to 200 feet in the air from a lagoon called Paradise Bay.”It will give locals and out-of-town guests a compelling reason to visit the resort,” Disneyland spokeswoman Suzi Brown said of the new attraction, part of a $1-billion expansion to the California Adventure Park that is expected to be completed in 2011, the Times reported.
- Six Flags Magic Mountain: The Valencia theme park is adding a family-style roller coaster called Mr. Six’s DanceCoaster as well as a new interactive play area at its adjacent water park, Hurricane Harbor. The two new attractions represent an effort to draw more families and break away from the park’s reputation as a hangout for thrill-seeking teenagers, park President Jay Thomas said. “We are creating more diversified attractions at our park,” he said. “We’ve been working to clean up the parks, and guests are noticing the difference.”
- Aquarium of the Pacific: Located in Long Beach, a new $5.5-million Molina Animal Center opens next week, just in time for the holiday to open the summer. Visitors can watch veterinarians treat aquarium animals.
- SeaWorld: San Diego’s popular attraction is renovating an existing stadium for a new dolphin show opening May 29.
- Legoland: In a reflection of the economy, the Carlsbad water park is putting in a new slide. The $15-million, 5.5-acre water park addition is the biggest expansion since the theme park opened in 1999. The water park, featuring a 45-foot tall slide, opens May 28. Spokeswoman Julie Estrada says Legoland will offer visitors the new attraction, plus an online discount that includes entrance to the park for five days for the price of one.
Let the fun and games of summer begin!