As 2016 continued its wrath towards humanity, it took out somebody who was influential in my life in ways that only a few could perceive.
Carrie Fisher was more than just an actress - a person defined by a single role in four films - Leia. She was an outspoked advocate for mental health and depression. She fought her demons, Hollywood, and her past - and still looked dignified & beautiful.
But what was it that made her special? Other actresses have done great things, but it was Carrie who gave us something greater - a sense that it was OK to be imperfect, it was OK to be ourselves - and more importantly, that it was OK to not live by the standards that people were being dictated to be. All of this - while living in the shadow of her mother, of Hollywood's double standard, and while battling her own issues.
In a lot of ways I identify with Carrie so much more than what others would see. Her battles with addiction, depression & mental health - and her ability to be open & descriptive about it helped me overcome issues in the same vein - Her words brought me strength when the battle for me was almost lost - twice. To me, when she talked about her struggles with trying to find a normal touched me - and reminded me that I was not alone.
And then there's Leia.
For me, as a gay youth in a decade where tolerance was not acceptable, she represented a sense of empowerment and of great dignity. Carrie gave us this personality in Leia that demonstrated that it was OK to say things as they were, to let us be who we are, and to stand up for what was right. Here was this icon of a three film series that was larger than life, powerful in her message & an icon not compromising to anybody. Her strength kept me going through the tumultous years where I always felt that I would never be able to be me. I owe that to Carrie.
What made Carrie's portrayal of Leia so good was that she imparted the sense of self-empowerment. She was betrothed to no one, she was her own leader, and she was able to fight off the worst of an enemy while in the shadow battling her own loss. And you could feel her strength of her own life through this role.
On my 40th birthday, I was at Disneyland. I had battled through a very rough summer of a lot of depression & anxiety - and this was my ultimate way of letting go of the summer and its issues. I love Star Tours - even the new version (Watching the stupid alien creature from Episode I get splattered across the windshield of the Star Tours vehicle is satsifying!). As the ride started... I was the rebel spy! And it was Leia who projected out - and in a lot of ways, it sent a resounding message to me: Leia was watching over me. And it made me feel so good that in such a cheesy way she was there. It closed a dark chapter in my life - and opened another that would bring me forward.
I have read every book Carrie published, and have seen her stage shows as well - Wishful Drinking is a beautiful & very somber message that life doesn't always play by the rules. And it showed me that even the strongest people hit rock bottom. Carrie was telling me - and all of us - that we are human, that we are all fallable, and we are all able to overcome.
I often wonder if there is an internet/Facebook/web on the other side. If there is, I hope Carrie gets to read this. As I have a message for her:
Thank you for being you. Thank you for giving me the strength to keep moving forward. Thank you for telling me that it is OK to be me. And thank you for reminding me that no matter what we can all make mistakes and we can grow from them. Carrie - you are nothing short of an icon for my life, and somebody I take great strength from - and I will always carry with you the messages you taught me. The world is a better place because of you.
Yesterday Six Flags announced their numbers for 2016 and after a record-breaking year in 2015 the numbers were down almost 2% for 2016. While this doesn't seem like a huge number, it could be a trend that after their 2016 announcements could continue into the future.
While we think Justice League will be amazing for the 3 parks that are getting it, the rest of the announcements signal more duplication. So today RD share's his thoughts on this trend as only RD can.
Written by RD Sussman-Dewberry
Yesterday SF Inc rolled out their prime numbers for the peak season of 2016, the time of year when they will make the hard profits to keep the company running and to keep the investors happy.
It was revealed that the chain as a whole had a strong drop in traffic - nearly 2% - during the summer months, as well as a rather stunning drop in per-guest spending and a nearly 1/3rd drop in profits for the quarter. The most damning part is the 4.4% drop in gate revenue - an indicator of people willing to shell out the money to come into the parks to play.
SF Inc. blames this on "Weather and other adverse conditions..." Yet, the other major competitor in the park industry - Cedar Fair - had a RECORD quarter for attendance, up 2%, and overall guest spend up 4% - combined with record gate take. Yet CF operates parks in many of the same markets in the USA that SF Inc. does....
So what gives, SF Inc? Why can't you simply tell the truth...before it is too late.
It appears you could duplicate everything in the parks, except repeat visitors - and for that matter, money. In theory, according to Jim Reid Anderson, people don't care if you duplicate the rides in all the parks. That they are a regional chain, and that building multiple examples will draw guests in. And that using VR to dress up an attraction will be a success at a new line of customers.
Well, there it is... You missed. MISERABLY. As in: Please play the fail horn from "The Price Is Right"
Guess what, SF Inc: PEOPLE WANT ORIGINALITY! People want a new, different and special coaster - not a record breaker, not a 29 inversion megamonster - but something - ANYTHING different. People don't want a clone of a clone of a clone shooter dark ride. People DO want something to experience that celebrates a park's history & heritage (Shout out for my peeps & home park of SFoG - y'all deserved better...) People DON'T want to be coralled into buying an overpriced fast lane device because the VR coaster can't load or dispatch fast enough. People DO want to experience an attraction that is special to their park.
In short: Y'all cheaped yourselves into a corner... and next year is going to be much worse.
While it does make sense to duplicate attractions for cost sake (CF did it with WindSeeker; Disney with their various attractions) where you end up with an issue is when ALL of your parks lose their originality. Thus far, with 2017, almost every park will have a SkyScreamer, a BatClone, A Justice League 4D, a Larsen SuperLoop... and at the current pace, soon will have a S&S 4D Free Fly or similar. All the parks are gaining or have a DC Universe theme area; some better than others. Congratulations! All your parks have nearly identical theme areas. Nearly identical coasters. Nearly identical lines. And nearly identical problems.
Cedar Fair on the other hand has been adding new and larger big-ticket coasters & attraction to their parks - while similar in build, all are custom - and nearly all are themed differently. Look for a second at Cedar Point, Kings Dominion, Carowinds & Canada's Wonderland. All four have Giga coasters - two from Intamin, two from Bolliger - Mabillard. All four are different in layout, feel & theme; all four are fingerprint rides for their parks. All four have more investment in one season than many of SF Inc's parks have received in a five year span. And guess what: Attendance is up, spending is up - and revenue is up.
And it isn't just big-ticket spend on E-ticket attractions: Cedar Fair has invested a small fortune into Knott's Berry Farm - overhauling their Ghost Rider coaster, revitalizing the original Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner, rebuilding & re-inventing the Ghost Town of Knott's Berry farm. They completely rebuilt Calico Mine Ride & the Log Flume, and overhauled their boardwalk area adding several family flat rides & a great family coaster. And... voila! Attendance is up, revenue is up, guest spending is up.
So what now, SF Inc? Is "More of the same" working out? Is duplicating your parks into oblivion a working solution?
The answer is, quite clearly, NO.
Guests who visit a SF park want a clean experience, good rides of all sizes, lines that move quickly & efficiently, good staff & good food. They want to experience something new and original - not just something they may have already ridden elsewhere in the chain. They want a safe & pleasant day in the park with few hassles & very few issues as possible.
Let's take a look at a few of the key issues:
VR Coasters - DUMP THIS NOW. While it was a great idea, like Marxism it worked in theory, not in practice. Long, slow & painful lines, pitiful dispatch times, a lackluster experience, and countless other headaches have reduced the novelty of this concept down to nothing. While it is original... it also has been an abject failure on an epic scale. A good example of this: SFoG's own Dare Devil Dive VR - where dispatches during peak summer season were a STUNNING 10 minutes due to VR's slow loading & dispatch problems. And this on a ride not built to handle the low capacity of VR no less. Similar issues at other parks with the VR system on higher-capacity coasters have not alleviated the long wait times & mess that is involved with this system. It's time to (In the words of Disney...) "LET IT GO!"
Overduplication - Again, it worked in theory, not in practice, and your numbers now show this clearly. Originality sells... and with the past three years, this has vanished quickly.
Lack of appropriate ticket pricing & yield management - This too is another area where the depressing state of attendance & gate take is visible. While your competitors all have MUCH higher prices on season passes & gate prices, yours have been lacking for years now. Yes, it's a great value to advertise... but without great attractions & good operations, the value is gone. For me, somebody who visits multiple SF parks in a season, the value is nearly nothing -as the parks I tend to inhabit are looking mightly similar nowadays - while CF's parks (And to a lesser extent Herschend's parks) all look like places I want to visit. And I am willing to pay more for these experiences - though few of their parks are within my circle of distance, because they are different, unique places to visit.
No major investment in each park for custom or individual new experiences - Again, let's look at major new coaster installations and other e-ticket investments over the past five years: 5 RMC rebuilds of existing coasters, one new RMC build coaster, two Premier launch coasters, a revitalization of a historic coaster... and not much else beyond it. No major custom dark rides or water rides at any park. And a hell of a lot of duplication of existing attractions. This is a HUGE mistake, one that is now pointing out the obvious: It doesn't work. In the words of Walt Disney: You can't beat pigs with pigs. Duplication only works if you have some form of originality in between, of things that are designed to draw in guests in quantity, and something that makes your park stand out in a very crowded market. VR didn't work. Duplication didn't work.
It's time to throw out the "More of the same" attitude - and to retire the SF Inc. Xerox machine. It is time to go through everything in quantity, and start looking more closely at guest experience & value over the cheap duplication practice and poor yield management that is now plaguing the company. While you're still profitable, and that's a good thing, it is time to look to what your competitors are doing - and doing well - and start learning a thing or two. Instead of enacting policies that inconvienience guests, aim to improve their experence. Instead of duplicating attractions to save money & bland the parks into a single brand, diversify and build new and custom rides to fit the feel of each park's home region. Raise your prices & stop being a babysitting service for the masses, and turn the extra revenue into improving the parks overall, and raise the guests experience with better rides, shows, food & entertainment.
And stop being a bunch of wusses and blame it on the weather. Not a single person would believe that sorry excuse in the first place.
Does Disney actually value their Annual Passholders? Do they value any kind of loyalty to their parks that have over a million people shelling out up to $1200 per year for their parks (at Disneyland)? Or is each person who walks through that turnstile just another dollar sign that Disney can tout to it's shareholders? We'll try and figure that out.
Written by Gregg Condon
Like so many of these opinion pieces this came about through an interaction on Twitter, so shout out to Matthew Gottula (@DLThings on Twitter) for starting off this great conversation.
And the way this came about was a new Disney survey that asks about "would having blackout days around the opening of new attractions impact you getting an Annual Pass".
An obvious reaction to the Frozen debacle at EPCOT earlier this year, but possibly more for the potential opening of the new Guardians of the Galaxy Tower of Terror and Avatarland (whenever that actually opens).
But to be fair, with the amount of online anger surrounding Frozen at EPCOT (and now surrounding Guardians of the Galaxy) you could probably forgive Disney for being surprised that so many people who hated the idea showed up to ride it on opening day.
And there will be 4-5 hour long waits when Guardians of the Galaxy opens at DCA as well ... don't let the online hate fool you.
As a long time Annual Passholder (1998 to 2013) I always felt that I didn't need anything "extra" from Disneyland in order to make what I paid for my Annual Pass worth it. The joy of being able to go to Disneyland (and later DCA) was all I needed. But our first AP cost $199, and that pass had zero blackout days. And there was probably under 100,000 of us at the time.
That was a different time, a different social environment, a different Disneyland.
Not to say that Disneyland was better or worse, that's a topic for an entirely different article, but it was different. You could go on the first Sunday in November and have the park pretty much to yourself. The year at Disneyland wasn't filled with special event after special event designed to get people to use their AP's and more importantly, spend their money.
You came to the park, you rode some attractions, had a meal or two, maybe bought some beanie babies and then headed home.
Today's Disney designs events specifically geared towards AP's, which makes AP's expect more than they did even 10 years ago. And when Disney doesn't deliver on those things? Watch out Social media (which also didn't really exist 10 years ago).
Here's the thing, Disney has tried everything it can think of to reduce the amount of Annual Passholders over the past few years.
Raising prices. Check.
Taking away AP privileges. Check.
Increasing blackout days. Check.
Taking away fan favorite rides. Check.
The problem? It hasn't helped. Because people can defer their AP's by using payment plans it makes it easier for people to justify keeping their AP's even though they've seen benefits change and even though they take to social media to make their displeasure known.
It hasn't helped so much that in a big slap in the face to many Annual Passholders they've thrown in the towel and brought back the Southern California AP which will once again make Sunday's pretty much unbearable.
You aren't going to hurt Disney by going on Social Media and bad mouthing a change. Their fanbase is too large!!
You see Disneyland post a video about Tower of Terror closing or the band leaving ... you go on that status and complain about the change or you make an "angry" face instead of liking it. Guess what ... Disney doesn't care. Why? Because you've already given them your money, and you are continuing to do so.
Going to tell a sad truth here:
Disney, as it exists today, doesn't value your patronage. They don't value the "casual" visitor either, so we're both screwed.
Sure, they value your money, but you are a faceless Annual Pass number. They are in the business of making money. They don't need to add anything new. They don't need to give you any extra benefit for your patronage. They've already got your money.
And look, I'm not saying I don't love Disney, I'm not saying I don't love visiting once every few years (been almost 2 years since we've been to Disneyland as of this writing) and I'm not saying I'm not going to enjoy spending time at WDW when we go next year. I'm saying that the desire I once had to spend a significant amount of time at Disney Parks is gone. And it's not ALL me.
The ONLY way Disney is going to change is to see a SIGNIFICANT decrease in the amount of annual passholders. And by significant, we're probably talking half for it to make any difference and change the current model that Disney is using.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying you can't complain if you have an AP, by all means, you have more right than I do since I don't give money to the mouse anymore. I'm saying that instead of complaining with your fingers on social media, complain with your wallet.
And maybe then Disney will notice you.