Written by Gregg Condon
UPDATE 3/19/2015 - Scroll to the bottom of the article to see our thoughts on the hiring of new CEO Joel Manby
Since we started Park Journey, we have, for the most part, stayed away from any of the controversy surrounding Sea World, Blackfish or any of the other things that go along with that.
Not to say that we don't have an opinion, but we have decided to leave that to other sites that are more dedicated to the specific chain and to Sea World sponsored sites like Awesome Ocean.
But this is about Sea World the "Theme Park" not Sea World the "We need to defend ourselves" park.
That's not to say that the chain shouldn't speak out about all the good they do, because they do a LOT of good. They also should be fighting back against one sided movies that definitely have an agenda (see, there's our opinion).
Along with all of the controversy has come a few bad years for the chain as far as attendance and revenue, which has resulted in the resignation of CEO Jim Atchison and many other changes. People are still going to the parks, people love the parks, but for the most part the things you see coming from the chain have to do with conservation, animal rescue and other things to directly deny any of the controversy and put a good face on what it is they do. And again, that's all good and fine.
But what Sea World REALLY needs to do in order to turn around ... remind people that their parks are fun. Because they are!!
I hate the word "Edutainment", but that's really what Sea World is. Unfortunately because they've had to defend themselves, they've forgotten about the "Entertainment" part of that word.
Even looking at the front page of the Sea World website, all you see is "50 years of Connecting and Caring", "SeaWorld Cares", "SeaRescueTV", "Conservation Fun".
You have to go down to the bottom of the page to get to the ACTUAL fun stuff. Animal Cams, Bindi Irwin, Games and Apps. Not even one mention of a ride or a show on the front page.
The animal conservation is great, it's needed, people need to know, but it needs a mixture of both.
Due to distance, it's been a few years since we've been to a Sea World park. That's not due to any lack of desire, but anybody who's sat in weekend traffic trying to get to/from San Diego on the I-5 knows why we'd choose to not make that commute after a long week of working and commuting.
But some of our most fond memories of our kids growing up were at Sea World. As you'll see in the pictures below, while yes, we were interested in the conservation aspects of the parks, the big draw was the animals and just the great vibe of the parks in general.
The Sea World parks have a great collection of shows, rides, exhibits, great food, amazing staff and in the instance of the San Diego location, a prime location right on Mission Bay.
I'm not an expert by any means, but I've visited quite a few Theme Parks and I know what I like to do there.
A few random thoughts of things the chain could do that wouldn't take long or cost a lot of money:
By continuing to just be about defending themselves, they are really letting the anti-Sea World crowd win. They are getting what they want and hurting the company where it really matters, in their wallet. And less money for Sea World the "fun" park means less money for the things that really matter. The rescue and conservation of the animals we all want to our children and our children's children to be able to experience.
We are definitely going to be heading down to Sea World this year, maybe even to all 3 of the US parks depending on our travels this year, and I'm very excited about that. The future plans that were announced last year are going to be amazing and I really do think Sea World has it's best years in front of them, not behind them. They just need to realize it themselves.
Today Sea World announced that Herschend Family Entertainment CEO Joel Manby will be the new CEO. We actually think this is an excellent choice and here's why.
After a couple of weeks off, RD is back with a rather comical look at what we are calling Theme Park Olympics. But don't let the title fool you, these are things you SHOULD'NT do in parks.
For years now, I've been a grumpy man seeing the behavior in parks I visit around the world. However, we here in the USA do some much MUCH better than others; in fact, if there were a Theme Park Olympics, we'd get the gold medal for bad behavior. So let's look at this special breed of competitor - the ASSLETES - and their behavior, as ranked by park.
Let's start out with our first category: the 500 person LINE JUMPING competition. In this competition, the name of the game is to walk past or around as many guests as possible, as the line isn't moving, and our competitiors feel they don't have to stand in line! This is something that is pandemic across the USA - I have seen it at every major park I've been to, no matter how good or bad they are. Some of the worst of this is when there is the new attraction that has just opened; that three hour line means that line jumping is going to be a multi-player competition.
Who wins this for the worst? That's a tough call, as there are so many good assletes doing it. Some of the worst I've seen has been in the mid-Atlantic region, with Six Flags America having one of the worst problems of them all. During the time I was attending the park, even the smallest attractions would have chronic line jumping issues; apparently to the local clientele the lines are just suggestions, and you aren't bad-ass until you've jumped up and over every single guest in the queue. (Of course, having utterly awful operations at SFA tends to breed this bad behavior.) In a close second place, California's Great America comes into play. On one particular visit, I saw people go up the exit ramp, argue for a minute with a ride operator, and then get on the ride, completely bypassing the line. Coming up in third would be Six Flags Magic Mountain, where the entitled set come to play - and to line jump. Q-Bot? Nahhh. We're from Orange County. We don't need them. We're too entitled to stand in lines. I have actually been pushed aside by these assletes on rides where the line was moving at a very good pace- just because they wanted to ride without a wait.
For our next competiton: The 250 pounds of CRAP competition. In this sport, our assletes must carry as much junk with them onto the platform of a ride, empty their pockets of as much stuff as possible, and to make a general nuisance of themselves to slow loading of a ride as much as possible. Extra points are scored if these assletes argue with the operators that they must carry their (phone, camera, mainframe computer, luggage) onto the ride as it is IMPORTANT!
In this category, our assletes excelled primarily in Florida and the west coast. Nearly every park in the USA had a good chance of achieving this select status, but there were some who out-did themselves to win the gold.
In first place, with the gold medal for the 250 pounds of CRAP competition comes Busch Garden's Tampa! I have seen the worst of the worst for this there on numerous occasions, with their assletes carrying things I have rarely seen in a theme park before. On my last visit a few years back, I saw people actually trying to board one of the coasters with a 5'0 stuffed elephant, and saying that it was safe to ride with it. At the same park, somebody boarded with an early tablet, expecting to ride with it. And then there are the handbags of DOOM that I saw on nearly every ride. In second place with the Silver comes SFMM again - with the most badly behaved assletes as far as hauling things onto the ride. The difference here is our assletes at SFMM would actually bicker with the operators to bring their 250 pounds of crap onto any given ride, including ones where it would be assured that the items would go flying off to Ventura County. We're talking projectiles at 100 mph folks. In a close third for the Bronze medal, we have the Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World, tied with Disneyland. Our assletes here feel that the entry price also includes freight charges to haul their junk onto EVERY ride in the park, despite some of them not being the best to get things into and out of. And this, my beloved readers, is in light of Disney's very family friendly policy of sending packages to the main gate, where you can then pick them up at the end of the day. People love to board rides with everything and anything, from that unfinished Dole whip (WHY???) to Balloons & bags.
Our third competition is a sport of sports: The Bounce Your Basketball as often as possible competition. In this competition, our assletes win a basketball, and must dribble it as OFTEN as possible, hitting as many guests as possible along the way. Extra points for style & grace if you start throwing the ball over the heads of other people in line for the attraction, and you get a special award if the ball rolls off underneath the ride.
This personally is one of the WORST OF THE WORST things parks do: Give away basketballs fully inflated to park guests for winning something. As it is a hazard waiting to happen; I've seen these tokens of glory rolling all around a theme park loose because our budding assletes can't keep a hold of their balls. Our GOLD medal goes to Six Flags America, where the balls are flying! I have on numerous occasions been hit in the head, back, leg & arm by our assletes thinking the loading platform of a coaster is, in fact, a basketball court. And what is worse? SFA does nothing to stop this behavior. No signs, nobody cares - despite basketballs whizzing around everywhere. In a close second for the silver, Six Flags Over Georgia, where I have fallen due to runaway balls. Assletes here will get two or three during a day at the park, and then spend the rest of the day juggling their balls and dropping them often. Our third place winner in this category goes to Kings Dominion. They tried hard, but fortunately their operators attempt to limit the endless thunk thunk thunk on platforms.
Our final category in the Theme Park Olympics is the Empty Cup Splash & toss. In this category, our assletes must consume a large soda (or any food really) and then miss the trashcan by as far as possible. Style points are added if you can land the trash underneath a ride, and extra points if the trash is in a place that nobody can get to, ensuring that everybody can see where you've thrown your trash.
Here, just about every park in the USA could be credited for a win; however, some parks out did each other for this award. Our assletes did their best to make their park look the worst, and the Gold Medal was a tough call. Give a big round of applause to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom - where the trash is ample & placed so you can see it on every ride. I have seen people chuck their trash off the platform of ROAR, and into the audience below. Underneath the V2 coaster, I saw everything from sandwich wrappers and bags of popcorn, to the jumbo-sized drink mugs lining the ground underneath the ride. Our Silver Medal goes to SFMM, where littering isn't just a sport, but an art form elevated. I can say that I have seen littering in that park standing right next to the trash can with ZERO attempt to insert trash into the bin. Why throw it in the garbage, when it becomes part of the scenery! Coming up with the bronze medal is California's Great America, where trash seems to be organically strewn under and around rides as if naturally growing from the topsoil. The assletes here take pride in dumping trash as far away from trashcans as possible, and it shows.
Now mind you, I don't blame the parks entirely for these assletes; after all, parks can't control their patrons. However, I do blame parks for not doing the right things. Line Jumping is something parks need to eradicate by enforcing policies they post on rides & on the park maps. Basketballs should be obliterated from parks - or at least given out deflated to guests. These are things that can be done to end these Theme Park Olympics - and not a moment too soon.
it's Tuesday and RD is back with another one of his great articles.
Kind of a new series within a series, he's taking another look at Cedar Point today, but from a different point of view. Not necessarily what's "wrong" with Cedar Point, but what RD would do if he ran Cedar Point.
Written by RD Sussman
Starting with this post, every now and again I'll be taking a look at existing parks, and how I'd run them if I were the GM. To that end, I'll be using the park's own financial data, layouts, etc. to keep it within a reasonable window of actual financial & operational means - that is, I'd be running the park, but not in 'sandbox mode'.
This week, I decided to use Cedar Point as if I were GM. To start, I looked carefully at my past visits, as well as to what the park has done over the past 15 years. I looked at their financial records, attendence records & other factors, and then put myself in the position of GM.
As I look at the park currently, it is in relatively good shape. Most of the park is kept up with, with some areas needing more attention than others. I'm also discouraged with how I see the park has neglected certain areas. CP has some of the tallest rides on earth, as well as basic collection of coasters of different shapes & sizes. Flat rides are a relatively good balance, again different shapes & sizes. Food outlets tend to be placed in somewhat prominent areas, but in some cases necessary facilities such as restrooms & guest service areas are quite a distance from each other. Landscaping is pretty, but could use a few touch-ups.
First, let's address the coaster collection: CP has a broad base of coaster technologies. However, looking at the past 15 years, no real strides forward have been made in the balance of the collection. I see a huge problem in this, especially with the neglect of older attractions that have lost their lustre & their glory. Of note:
So, looking at these rides, I've come up with this:
As for the rest of the coasters, this is a hard picture to settle out. While many of the coasters are in good condition, some have outlasted more than they should. In this, there are a few that I would consider either retooling or replacing entirely with newer technology. The issue is, of course, space & placement. Some rides are squeezed into locations that would make efficient replacement nearly impossible.
Flat rides: Most of CP's flat rides are in good condition, but much like many parks around the world could always use a boost. The critical issue with most flat rides is capacity, something that CP has tended to try and boost as much as possible. To this end, there are holes in their lineup which could be easily filled with good, thrilling rides. Gerstlauer, MACK, Zamperla & many others offer new-generation thrills in a small space, some of which would be exceptional additions to CP's lineup. A SkyRoller from Gerstlauer, for example, would give a great new visual to the existing skyline, as well as giving a totally new concept in thrill rides at the same time.
Water rides: This is an area where CP, much like their sister parks in the chain, has pretty much turned over to their water parks. I find this to be a HUGE mistake, and one I'd rectify as a priority. While rides such as Shoot The Rapids have been added, classic rides are missing, including a standard Log Flume. What parks don't realize as these rides may not be top-ten thrillers, they do draw an audience, and on a warm day they are well worth the audience. River Rapids rides (Such as Thunder Canyon) do a good job - but some people don't want to get that wet, especially if walking around a theme park all day. Smaller water rides & other such attractions would work.
Family/Junior rides: This is an area where CP is failing at, particularly in the nature of additions & upgrades. While CP has added smaller flat rides over the past 15 years, the key focus on the total demograpic has been forgotten about. None of the coasters added in the past 15 years have addressed the family audience, and two family attractions were removed. This is a huge mistake, especially as there is a major demographic change going on throughout the USA. while families are getting smaller, parks are only focusing on the thrill audience (at high expense no less) who will soon want more middle-of-the-road experiences. Having a good, well maintained allotment of family rides & coasters will pay large dividends in attracting a slowly shrinking demographic to the park. Building a good audience base here is critical in a changing era of park operations.
Food & dining: This is an area where Cdear Point does a decent job of offering a broad base variety, as well as having plenty of options throughout the park. But there is always room for improvement, as well as differentiation of dining experiences. Having additional options is always a plus in a park, particularly a park as large as CP.
Shows: CP has a broad variety of stage shows & other related attraction areas. However, the removal this year of the CP theater (Formerly the Charles Schultz theater) is a step backwards. Every park needs a good air-conditioned theater where guests can rest & cool-off prior to heading out into the park again, and having one less theater is going to make that more difficult.
So, let's look at what I'd do specifically, year by year, starting in 2016:
So there it is, folks. My vision if I were running Cedar Point. Not too extreme, but in my opinion choices that are not only necessary, but would allow CP to flesh out the future very nicely, and keeping the feel & look of the park well into the future.
So what do you think of RD's plan? Are you on board? Anything you'd like to change or add? Feel free to let us know in the comments below.