September 2018

What Do Theme Parks Do When Summer is Over? Always Amused: September 2018

Erik Chalhoub

By Erik Chalhoub

Photos by: Erik Chalhoub. ALL NIGHT LONG it’s a bit like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when Santa Cruz kids get a chance to camp at the boardwalk all night this month.

School is back in session, summer is nearly over and the weather is mild.

September is here, and that means it’s one of the best times to visit a theme park. Yes, there may be fewer days and hours the parks are open, and the kids are busy with homework, but now is the time to hit the roller coasters, take a spin on the merry-go-round or take a splash in the pool.

Why? The crowds (or lack thereof).

Frequent park-goers know that June through August are the busiest months of the year in terms of attendance. Yet, September is that odd in-between month when the end-of-summer lull kicks in, just before Halloween in October begins the busy holiday season in November and December.

But parks are trying to keep the summer momentum going by offering a number of different events in the fall to keep those turnstiles spinning.

The Boardwalk Fall Campout returns from Sept. 21-22, a unique overnight event that allows guests to camp out right along the ‘walk. The event, benefiting the American Cancer Society, includes a movie on the beach, dinner and breakfast, a sand castle contest and more.

Girl and Boy Scouts can also get in the overnight fun. The Fall Girl Scout Overnight is Oct. 5-6, and its Boy Scout equivalent is Oct. 12-13.

The Boardwalk also has some- thing just for the parents. The park recently announced its first-ever “Bites & Brews,” taking place Sept. 29 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The event will pair a selection of local craft beer with dozens of Board- walk menu items such as corn dog bites, lobster tacos, deep fried Oreos and more.

Participating breweries include Discretion Brewing, East Cliff Brewing Company, Elkhorn Slough Brew- ing Company, Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing and many others.

“We’re excited to highlight our area’s best craft beers and our park’s tastiest food,” said Boardwalk event director Karley Pope. “We anticipate some epic pairings.”

Tickets and more information for all these events can be found at

Summer may be almost over, but it doesn’t mean you can’t still zoom down a water slide and splash into a pool. Raging Waters in San Jose is open through Sept. 9, and Califor- nia’s Great America’s Boomerang Bay water park closes Sept. 3. Gilroy Gardens’ Water Oasis stays open the longest of them all, closing on Oct. 7.

Speaking of Gilroy Gardens, its always-popular petting zoo has recently returned, running through Sept. 16. The park is also getting into the Halloween spirit early, as its annual “Halloween at Night” event opens Sept. 21, running through Oct. 28. So does California’s Great America, with Halloween Haunt kicking off for its 11th year on Sept. 21.

With all these events still to come, are fall and winter the new “summer” in terms of attendance for theme parks? According to Cedar Fair, the company that owns 12 theme parks across the country, including California’s Great America, the chain saw a three percent decrease in attendance for July. This is after attendance during the second quarter in 2017 flattened after a record 2016.

Six Flags saw a modest attendance increase during the summer of 2017. While other major theme park companies have not yet announced their summer attendance numbers for 2018, informal reports from visitors nationwide have stated that the summer season this year just didn’t seem as “packed” as it has been in years past. Some have even likened Disneyland’s summer as the “new offseason,” with rising ticket prices during that time deterring visitors.

Theme parks are still a growing business, with the annual Theme Index and Museum Index report stating that attendance for Northern America parks grew by more than three million from 2016-2017.

Attendance numbers have always fluctuated historically. But Cedar Fair’s announcement is something that industry followers are keeping a close eye on.

Writer Erik Chalhoub has never found a roller coaster too fast or a haunted house too scary. He travels the country riding the best thrill rides. He’s a former Cabrillo College student who is now editor at the Watsonville Register- Pajaronian.

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