November 2018

How Parks are Surviving the Off-Season:

Always Amused November 2018

By Erik Chalhoub

It’s November. Summer is long past and Halloween is in the rear-view mirror.

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is now in limited operation mode, California’s Great America is closed until its WinterFest event starts at the end of the month, and rides in parks throughout the state and nation are down for their annual maintenance.

The off-season blues are kicking in. So why are parks reporting record numbers during this time of the year?

According to Cedar Fair, the company that owns Great America, revenues increased by 19 percent in 2017 from October through November compared to 2016. For Six Flags, fourth quarter revenue grew $17 mil- lion, or 7 percent, to a new record of $257 million.

Universal’s theme park division posted about $1.5 billion in revenue during the fourth quarter in 2017, a 9 percent increase.

For the casual observer, the numbers don’t add up. The roller coasters are down, the carousel horses are in the workshop and the bumper cars are getting a tune up. Why are people heading to the parks?

It’s simple, really. Park owners are realizing their theme parks are more than just rides; guests want an experience, as well.

Enter the special event.

“We are pleased to report a record fourth quarter performance as our parks had a strong finish to 2017,” Richard Zimmerman, Cedar Fair’s president and chief executive officer, stated in a press release. “Guests of all ages responded well to our new WinterFest celebrations and our expanded Haunt events were more popular than ever.”

Take Great America, for example. The park’s Halloween Haunt, now in its 11th year, sees arguably the highest-attended days throughout the entire season. Its new holiday event, WinterFest (more on that and other holiday events next month), has been growing every year since its debut in 2016, and will see its largest expansion yet this year.

Gilroy Gardens’ Holiday@Night draws the crowds during a time when it would otherwise be closed for the season.

The Boardwalk has the luxury of operating year-round facilities such as Neptune’s Kingdom and Casino Arcade, but it has been hugely successful in its fall programming with the Chili

Cook-off in October and Holiday Ice, which made its debut last year.

According to the International Association of Amusement Parks and At- tractions’ Global Theme and Amusement Park Outlook Report (2017 to 2021), in 2018 the anticipated U.S. theme and amusement park attendance estimate is 398.5 million and guest spending will grow to an estimated $23.58 billion.

In this era of screens and social media, it’s encouraging to see that people still value tangible experiences. What off-season?

– Keen observers at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk may have noticed a hole in the park’s ride lineup recently. No, I’m not talking about the Ferris wheel that was removed earlier this year; Crazy Surf, the gondola ride that rotates on two revolving arms, was dismantled and shipped out of the park in September.

But don’t fret. Boardwalk spokeswoman Brigid Fuller said the park is getting a brand new model of the same ride, also to be called Crazy Surf, which should be operational by spring.

Crazy Surf was installed in 2012 to replace the ‘90s-era ride of the same name and type.

– As of Oct. 21, California’s Great America has not announced what, if anything, is coming to the park in 2019, while other parks across the nation, including Six Flags Discovery Kingdom just an hour north, have al- ready unveiled their new rides. At the end of 2017, the park removed its original log flume ride, Logger’s Run, and surrounding rides and attractions, opening up a large plot of land for something major. Construction walls on site tease, “What’s Coming is Amazing.”

In an interview on Great America’s website, new General Manager Manny Gonzalez said 2019 will see “investments on infrastructure — in beautifying what we already have.”

However, Great America has applied for permits with the City of Santa Clara to construct buildings for “future drop slides” and “kiddie slides,” pointing to an expansion of the Boomerang Bay water park in the very near future.

The park has also gained clearance with the Federal Aviation Administration to construct a 210-foot “steel structure” beginning in March 2019, which is very likely a steel coaster the city’s architectural committee approved in December 2017. I predict the ride will open in 2020.

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