That means this is the opinion of one person, not a trip report or news article. Please keep that in mind as you are reading.
RD is back this week with another article, this time talking about Cedar Point, the park nobody hates.
While I've never personally been to Cedar Point, even an outside observer can see what the focus of the park has been for the past 15-20 years, and it's certainly not families.
Read on to see how RD thinks "America's Best Amusement Park" can be fixed. - Gregg
Before y'all hang me in effigy, this isn't meant to trash Cedar Point - or the very hard working employees & people who make up the park. Instead, I'd like to focus a bit on the park itself - and some of the decisions made over the past 15 years that I feel are a mistake.
My last visit to the Point was in 2004 - at the dawn of the Top Thrill Dragster. And I will admit, the trip was a bust for me. Why? Not for the rides being broken - in fact, everything (even TTD) was operating at capacity, and efficiently. Or for the staff - many of whom were some of the friendliest I've met outside of Disney. But rather: I ran out of things I wanted to ride - or for that matter - things I felt comfortable riding. I found that I was out-sized for the park.
Everything had to be BIGGER! TALLER! FASTER! than anybody else - an ego complex of size & scale. And that's where I found that I was missing out.
And the trend has continued there unabated. Family coasters such as Wildcat, Disaster Transport & White Water landing have been removed; other family rides have been relocated or removed as well, and the focus has been almost entirely on larger attractions.
While this gives media draw to a park as well as patronage, it does start to remove the charm of a park, especially from a family perspective.
And this is where the park has lost its way. Seeing these attractions go by the wayside in favor of larger rides is not necessarily a good thing. I am all in favor of parks adding big attractions; it is a necessary thing to do in order to keep the turnstiles going. At the same time, it is also a bad thing not to keep a park in balance for what they should be.
To me, Cedar Point has lost its point.
As I grow older, as all of us do or will do, the market for the uber-coaster du jour is not as appealing as it once was. The 'WOW' factor is gone. So is the want to visit a park which does not have a balance of mega-coasters of note along with good, well-developed family coasters. Cedar Point's last major family coaster was nearly 15 years go - and that in the form of a Vekoma Roller-skater coaster. Since then, it has been all about size, height & speed. Millennium Force cracked the 300 foot level. Top Thrill Dragster elevated to the 400 foot level. Other coasters aimed square at the 'big' crowd followed : Wicked Twister, Maverick, and their latest creation, Gatekeeper. All of whom are aimed at the latest thrillseeking crowd to attend.
It is this move that has left me (and others) behind. It has alienated growing segments of the audience - the adult & family crowds. And in this lies a conundrum, of rather important proportions: Money.
In theme park attendance, your largest segment is also your least spending segment: Your season-pass holding people, aged 13-29. On average, they spend far less per head than do your family segment and your older crowds who are more likely to spend more at dining, shopping & other activities than anybody else. A pass-holder will often eat at home, go to the park for a few hours, ride things & leave; a family of four will make a day of it, eat meals & snacks in the park, buy souvenirs & other items, and will then leave at the end of a day, wallets lighter than when they entered earlier. Older guests will also tend to do more shopping - as well as eat more sit-down meals - than passholders do. While this is of course an average, it is one that has been well documented by many park management companies.
As an example of this 'size is better' mentality, let's look at Knott's Berry Farm. From 1995-2010, the park's focus was on larger & more thrill-seeking rides & attractions, aiming at an ill-fated attempt to take on the LA region's thrill park at Six Flags Magic Mountain. Additions such as Xcelerator, Ghost Rider, Supreme Scream & Perilous Plunge were aimed at the middle of the thrill-seeking crowd's attendance. And guess what?
It was a bust.
Perilous Plunge suffered from low ridership & infrequent operations. Xcelerator is popular - but suffers at the hands of frequent downtime & single train operations. Ghost Rider has had numerous repairs & adjustments to make the ride smoother & better for guest comfort. And the worst part of all of this, the crowds didn't budge - and instead were still going to the larger SFMM. Families left and headed to Disneyland, preferring the balance of family rides & thrills that those parks offered.
And Knott's responded by changing: More family friendly attractions opened, such as Coast Rider & Pony Express, family rides such as Calico Mine Ride & the Log Flume were overhauled & renovated, and the focus has been on returning Knott's focus on the family. And attendance has risen on this, as has revenues.
And in this is a lesson for Cedar Point. Building mega-attractions turns the gates, but it does not grow the spending audience. Attendance grows - but of the wrong crowds to make good money. While Cedar Point is profitable, it could learn a bit from its sister park in Orange County, in that investment in the family is a key to a well rounded and very profitable park.
Cedar Point needs to learn this: Invest in the family, in the older crowd, and the money will come in. A good family coaster will keep the turnstiles spinning, and at the same time add in guests who have little interest in the larger rides. Add more shade, more park to the rides, and see the families come in droves. Guests want a balanced experience, one that gives them thrills for Mom, Dad & the 2.7 kids, as well as places for them to eat, rest & enjoy the park. And sadly, it is in that where Cedar Point has failed the most.
As I write this, it has been confirmed that a theater in the park (The former Good Time Theater/Cedar Point Cinema) is being razed for 'future park growth.' While it is WAY too early to speculate on what is coming to the park in the future, it hasn't stopped the rumor mill from circulating rapidly.
If Cedar Point is wise, now is the time to begin re-investing in the family audience, by adding attractions that will draw this group back to the park. Building another mega-monstrosity will be a huge draw, and will further push away the family crowds. And the higher per-capita spending they bring to a park.