And don't let anybody tell you any different ...
Written by Gregg Condon
Originally Published 4/19/17
Updated 2/28/19 because Galaxy's Edge. =)
Look, I get it. Your favorite park is Disney, or it's Universal, or it's Cedar Point, or it's a Six Flags park. You think Disney is too crowded (OK it might be) or that Universal uses too many Screenz (maybe they do) and Cedar Fair and Six Flags don't theme their coasters (what's the point when they're going 70 mph). So for ALL of these reasons and more, you'll only visit one theme park chain.
But why? It's probably the greatest time in the history of theme parks to be a theme park fan. They are all trying to one-up each other and it's AMAZING.
In the 90's and early 00's we had the great coaster wars. Amusement Parks from, well really Illinois to New Jersey were trying to one-up each other with taller and faster coasters (California and the West Coast somehow got left out of this). But that didn't do anything for fans of Disney or Universal parks.
Disney was the king of the themed environment for decades. Not only themed rides, but lands around those rides. A recreation of New Orleans for a Pirates themed ride. Old west themed lands. Castles. World's of "tomorrow" that never really came to fruition (but that's a whole other article).
But the fact is, Disney was the top. Even after Universal Studios Florida opened Universal was really second fiddle to Disney and it seemed that's where they were destined to stay.
And then in the late 90's and into 2001 Disney built a couple of parks that weren't quite as successful as they probably should have been, because Disney was trying to save some money. Disney was always the "first offer" when it came to franchises to create themed environments for (yes, even Potter) but they were famously hesitant to give up any control when it came to the final say over what was in their parks.
And it is for that reason JK Rowling found the perfect partner to re-create her Wizarding World of Harry Potter ... and then everything changed.
On May 10, 2010 the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened at Islands of Adventure and thus started the theme park war that we now see ourselves in.
No longer would off-the-shelf mouse coasters themed to Dinosaur parking lots or twisty roads in the Santa Monica Mountains be enough. Swing rides that looked like oranges, gone. Special effects shows featuring crappy war movies, gone.
But the impact wasn't just for Disney. It opened up a whole new era for Universal Studios across the world which has probably benefited the Hollywood Park more than any other.
Just look at the timeline for Disney and Universal just since Wizarding World opened:
Unknown opening as of this time: Tron Coaster (MK), Guardians of the Galaxy (Epcot), Marvel Land (DCA), Nintendo Land (USF/USH), Secret Life of Pets (USH)
And these are just the highlights, and that's just in the US, so much has been done at all of these parks since 2010. And we're just getting started.
In addition to these attractions at Disney and Universal, the other park chains are starting to catch on to themed rides and environments. We've seen the Justice League rides at Six Flags parks. Coasters with themed elements like Mystic Timbers at Kings Island, Cobra's Curse at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay and Verbolten at Busch Gardens Williamsburg.
The complete re-do of Ghost Town at Knott's Berry Farm. Interactive dark rides at Legoland. Even smaller parks like Glenwood Caverns are opening themed rides that fit their parks.
And of course for the coaster fans we've seen the complete re-imagining of classic wooden coasters thanks to Rocky Mountain Construction, the continued success of B&M Hyper Coasters and the infusion of newer manufacturers (to the US) like MACK and Gerstlauer. Parks like Lagoon are even building their own coasters.
As I said, it's an AMAZING time to be a Theme Park Fan.
Sure, there are always there are those who will find fault with anything. Guardians of the Galaxy Tower, Volcano Bay, World of Pandora, Soarin' Around The World, duplication of rides at Six Flags. There is not ONE attraction opening up at any park that is beyond critique. No matter the chain, theme, ride system, fan-base ... inevitably somebody out there is going to hate it, or at least give the perception that they hate it.
But now that the theme park war is almost a decade old it shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, with all of the rumors going around with Tron coming to Magic Kingdom, Guardians and Ratatouille coming to EPCOT, NintendoLand coming to Universal, more Potter coming, Marvel and of course Star Wars Land there is going to be more choice than ever.
For those of us that can look beyond what company is creating what environment and enjoy lots of different things at different parks, it's absolutely amazing. For those that continue to support only one company while still criticizing everything that company does you are likely going to be continually disappointed.
IP's aren't going anywhere. Screenz aren't going anywhere. Overlays of existing rides to fit what's new and hip aren't going anywhere. Synergy is where it's at. And why not. When you have franchises that are pulling in BILLIONS of dollars every year at the Box Office it's no surprise that corporations want to capitalize on that with attractions and most importantly, merchandising.
So you can either continue to be disappointed with the highest quality attractions theme parks have ever created or just go with the flow and enjoy the ride ...