Thursday, February 27, 2020

Six Flags Great Adventure to Introduce 5 New Species to Visitors in 2020

© Six Flags Great Adventure
Six Flags Great Adventure will be celebrating the "fast and the curious" in 2020 as it introduces five new special to visitors for the 2020 season.  New friends at the park include cheetahs, the great horned owl, the American kestrel, Patagonian cavy and mischievous ferrets.  Six Flags Great Adventure is home to over 75 species from six different continents and has focused on animal conservation since 1974.

The new inhabitants will be ready for guests on April 4th when the park opens for the season.  As a part of the theme park's massive Safari Off Road Adventure, visitors will be able to find the animals in the Wild Walkway section of Camp Aventura.

© Six Flags Great Adventure
The park has provided more details on the new animals, all with adorable names such as Amelia, Johnny, Luna and Bear, which include:

• Cheetahs “Bear” and “Bo” – These large cats are known for their signature yellowish tan or rufous coat uniformly covered with nearly 2,000 solid black spots. Native to Africa and parts of Iran, cheetahs rank as the fastest land animal. They can launch from 0 to 45 mph in 4.5 seconds, and run up to 75 mph during short, powerful sprints. Large members of the cat family, cheetahs are carnivores with a prowess for hunting. They are most closely related to the cougar and jaguarundi and are considered “vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List.

• Great Horned Owl “Luna” – These aggressive predators are sometimes known as the “tiger owl” and are native to the Americas. Signature feather tufts on their heads known as “plumicorns” resemble horns or even catlike ears. Great horned owls are powerful and protective parents. Females are larger than males and have much lower-pitched calls. These carnivores are largely nocturnal with an impressive wingspan of 3.3 to 4.8 feet.

• American Kestrel “Tyrion” – Despite being the littlest falcon in North America, the American kestrel is a fierce predator with a very distinctive hunting behavior. Kestrels hover before diving for their prey and are sometimes known as a “windhover.” They are ultraviolet sensitive, which helps them hunt mice in the dark by following their trails. They are one of the most colorful of all raptors.

• Patagonian Cavy “Amelia” – Also known as the Patagonian mara, the Patagonian cavy is a large, rabbit-like rodent in the guinea pig family. Cavies can run at speeds up to 45 mph and bounce on all fours, which is known as a “stot.” They are herbivores, eating only plants. Cavy pairs mate for life and raise their young communally. They are considered a “near threatened” species, greatly impacted by hunting and habitat loss in South America.

• Ferrets “Johnny” and “David” – The name “ferret” is derived from Latin and means “little thief,” which is a likely reference to their penchant for stealing small items. These very curious, active and playful mammals in the weasel family are a domesticated form of the European polecat. They have long, slender bodies – approximately 15 inches without the tail. Males are much larger than females. These carnivores sleep 14 to 18 hours a day and are crepuscular, meaning most active around dawn and dusk.

To help celebrate the arrival of the new animals, the park put together a fun video that introduces them.  Check it out below!

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Ice Breaker at SeaWorld Orlando is Now Complete!

© Premier Rides/Midway Mayhem/SeaWorld Orlando
Premier Rides has sent out news that their latest coaster in North America, Ice Breaker at SeaWorld Orlando, has had its final piece of track installed.  The ride's last piece, seen in the photo above, was installed on the ride's highly banked turnaround element.

The coaster is SeaWorld Orlando's first launched coaster, and features a total of 4 "air-time filled launches," both backwards and forwards.

© Premier Rides/Midway Mayhem/SeaWorld Orlando
The new coaster is themed after the icy Arctic summits and featured an educational component as with most SeaWorld park rides.  The queue will feature interactive educational exhibits that detail SeaWorld's partnership with the Alaska SeaLife Center.  The ride will help educate guests about the Arctic and its animal inhabitants, and also exemplify the rescue efforts of both SeaWorld and the Alaska SeaLife Center.

© Premier Rides/Midway Mayhem/SeaWorld Orlando
Passengers on Ice Breaker will travel over 2,700 feet at a top speed of 50 miles per hour starting with the four launches.  The ride's unique design features a 10 story spike that is curved at an angle of 100 degrees, creating a beyond-vertical drop as the trains launch up it.

Brian Andrelczyk, SeaWorld's Vice President of Design and Engineering described Ice Breaker, stating “it can run not one, but two trains through the use of a unique, high-speed horizontal track switch.” Brian continued, “the fun is just getting started … the launch track itself is special because we have an airtime hill on either side, so you’re going to get airtime on every hit of that launch – that totals to 16 hits of airtime throughout the entire layout! It’s going to be a really exciting ride keeping you out of your seat almost as much as you’re in it.”

© Premier Rides/Midway Mayhem/SeaWorld Orlando
While an official date has not yet been announced, SeaWorld Orlando plans to open Ice Breaker this spring.  Premier Rides is equally excited about the creation of the ride and its impact on the theme park.  Regarding the completion of the ride's track, the company's President, Jim Seay, commented that “We are extremely proud to reach this important milestone.  The ride looks spectacular and the installation has been a great team effort. We are honored to be a part of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment’s formula for success by supplying this one-of-a-kind, record-breaking coaster that is sure to be a must-see attraction this spring!”

For more on Ice Breaker at SeaWorld Orlando, check out the park's official website.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

A New RMC Raptor Coaster Headed to South Dakota's Wild Water West?

© Wild Water West
If you haven't heard of Sioux Falls, South Dakota's Wild Water West Waterpark (to be fair I hadn't), it is a name that you may be hearing a lot more of soon.  The water park has gone to their local government to seek approval to build what is shown as one of Rocky Mountain Construction's Raptor roller coasters.  From the images used in the planning, the ride looks to have the same layout as the prototype rides, which are operating at Six Flags Fiesta Texas as Wonder Woman Golden Lasso and RailBlazer at California's Great America.

© Wild Water West
The addition of a super-thrilling RMC Raptor to a small water park in South Dakota is about as surprising as can be, but at the same time - how awesome!  In reviewing the planning documents submitted, which start on page 18, it is noted that the new ride will stand 113 feet tall, feature no additional noise issues due to the monorail style track, and only operate within the parks existing hours of 11 am to 8 pm.

The best part is that the staff recommended that the plan be approved, with some generally easy conditions for the park to follow.  This means that formal plans for the ride can be submitted for engineering review and then a building permit issued.  A letter from the park's general manager confirms the plan is to open the ride for the 2020 season.

There were photos from this year's IAAPA Expo from RMC's booth that showed that they were trying to sell one of their Raptor coasters for a nice discount, which makes one wonder if this is the result of that sale.  However that sign did indicate the ride would be for 2021, but maybe they found some extra room in their production schedule.

© Wild Water West
If the coaster plan does make it all the way through the planning station and opens, it will certainly have a large impact on Wild Water West.  The park's water park offerings can been seen above in the aerial from Google Maps, and the park already offers some dry attractions such as go-karts, mini-golf, batting cages and paintball.  This would be their first large mechanical ride, and it certainly would draw a lot of people to the park.  RCDB lists the state of South Dakota as currently having two roller coasters, one small kiddie ride and one mountain coaster, so this would really be quite a improvement in that regard!

Monday, February 24, 2020

Heard On... Six Flags Entertainment's 2019 Full Year Earnings Call

© Six Flags Entertainment
This past week also saw the announcement of Six Flags Entertainment's full year 2019 results... and they weren't nearly as rosy as Cedar Fair's news.  The chain's stock took another plummet downward after the news was announced, for various reasons.  The company had their earnings call just the same, here are some notes from that along with their results.

• Overall, revenues were up 2% or $24 million to just under $1.5 billion.  They had a 2% or 788k increase in attendance to 32.8 million, a "slight decline" in per capita spending, and a 3% decline in sponsorship, international agreement and accommodations revenues.  These figures include 2019 full year totals from 5 new parks purchased in June of 2018 and one new water park purchased in April of 2019.

© Six Flags
 • Taking out those six new parks the legacy parks, revenues only grew $1 million, costs grew $15 million and EBITDA was down $15 million.  The six "new" parks contributed 90% of the attendance growth in the year, while the legacy parks only saw a small, 65,000 visitors increase.

• The bottom line suffered from these figures and certain other adjustments, however.  Net income was down $97 million to $179 million and EBITDA was down 5% or $27 million to $527 million.  Other factors challenging the bottom line included a $10 million charge due to the China parks agreement, higher costs from the new parks and higher stock-based compensation.

•  Six Flags has formally terminated their agreement with Riverside, and believe it is "unlikely" that they will recognize any revenue in 2020 related to park development in China.

© Six Flags
• Six Flags has seen challenges from their legacy, or existing, parks in the U.S. during 2019.  Attendance, per capita spending and revenues were flat this year, but operating costs were up 2% reducing EBITDA by 3% from those parks.

• The company now says they see 2020 EBITDA coming in at $435 - $465 million, which is way down from 2019's total of $527 million.  To fight this they have decided to "make incremental investments in the base business to enhance the guest experience," though they're not saying what that is at this point.

• More on their 2020 outlook.  They estimated EBITDA based off of $30 million less in international development (loss of China parks), $20 million less due to wage increases, another $20 million for OpEx spending for park maintenance projects and operational improvements along with marketing spend for single day visitors, and finally restoring a $20 million bonus program for employee recruitment and retention.

© Six Flags
• Due to the depressed earnings, the company has slashed their stock dividend by 70% for the first quarter of 2020, down to $0.25 a share from $0.83 a share in the 4th quarter of 2019.

• In quite a reversal from prior management, the park's new CEO, Mike Spanos, says they saw a big decline in single-day tickets, and need to work to get those back.  Prior leadership was all about getting everyone to be a pass member, seemingly ignoring the single day visitors.

• The company was trying to fight operational cost increases by saving money elsewhere in the parks, and that has shown up in the form of lower guest satisfaction scores.  That's a scary thing for them I would imagine, as that could be the start of unhappy visitors that will turn on the parks.

© Six Flags
• At the end of 2019 the total number of active pass members actually decreased by 3%.  The number of active pass members increased by 18% to 2.6 million, but that was fully offset by soft regular season pass sales during the holiday season.  Overall, the active pass base contributed 63% of attendance last year.

• Six Flags spent a total of $140 million in capital expenditures in 2019.  That feels quite low for the 26 parks they have, in fact that averages to $5.4 million per park.  Considering one large coaster probably costs 3 times that, or more, that doesn't leave much for the small guys.

• The chain's new CEO is embarking on a new comprehensive plan that will play out over the next 3 to 5 years.  They intend to address revenue growth, margin improvement and capital deployment and have hired the Boston Consulting Group to give an external perspective to their plan.  The full plan will be revealed at the May 28th Investor Day for Six Flags.  The Investor Day sounds like a very big deal, specifically regarding capital expenditures going forward, so be sure to watch out for that.

© Six Flags
• Understanding that former management's goal of 750 million in EBITDA "Project 750" is "not realistically attainable" a new, shorter reward system for employees will be uses.  Focused on awarding restricted stock units, the hope is to closely align employee reward with stock growth.  To help out, the new CEO will not participate in the award plan in 2020.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Orion Begins Test Runs at Kings Island

© Kings Island
Ahh, the smell of freshly run new-for-2020 roller coasters is in the air in Southwest Ohio, specifically at Kings Island where Orion has just started testing!

The theme park posted a surprise blog post on Saturday evening announcing that the giga-coater had completed the first runs.  Trains have now fully completed Orion's 300 foot first drop, and made quick work of the ride's 5,321 feet of track.

The new coaster will open with the park on April 11th, but those participating in the first riders benefit fundraiser will get a go on Orion on April 9th.  That's just over six weeks from now, not long to wait at all!

Check out the video of Orion testing below!

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Heard On... Cedar Fair's 2019 Full Year Earnings Call

© Cedar Fair
Cedar Fair has announced their 2019 full year results, and had very good news to share pretty much all around.  As always, they hosted a conference call to discuss their results and here are some tidbits from that event:

• Including their two new Schlitterbahn parks, overall revenues for the year increased $126 million or 9% to $1.47 billion.  That came from an increase in attendance of 8% or 2 million visits to a total of 27.9 million.  The company also saw a 1% increase in per-capita spending and an 11% or $16 million increase in out of park revenues for a record amount of $169 million.

• Excluding the Schlitterbahn parks the numbers were still good.  Revenues were up 6%, attendance was up 1.3 million or 5%, per capita spending was up 1% and out of park revenues were up 8% or $12 million.

© Cedar Point
• The company has seen an amazing 40% increase in season pass sales right now over last season.  In 2019 season pass visits totaled 53% of their attendance, up from 50% in 2018.  The increase has led to deferred revenues being up $40 million at year end.  We all know that Cedar Point is killing it with their season pass sales, but sales are up double digits this year at almost every park as well.

• In 2019 the number of unique visits, aka not season pass visits, were up almost 1 million.  The company knows the benefit of growing season pass sales but also sees unique visitor count as critical to sustained long term growth.  They credit the rise in unique tickets to events like Grand Carnivale and Monster Jam.  The company plans to continue these limited run events in the future, adding more like Grand Carnivale and Summer Nights.

© Cedar Fair
• The out of park revenue segment continues to shine, and they see that fact as an item that differentiates them from other regional companies.  Out of park revenues now represent 10% of overall yearly revenue totals, which is significant.  They're currently renovating both the Knott's Hotel and Castaway Bay and hope for significant returns like they saw with Hotel Breakers.

• Food and Beverage per capita spending was up 5% in 2019, which they credit to their culinary chefs and new efficient and immsersive dining establishments.  They also see their food program as something that differentiates them from competitors in the industry.

• 2019 saw both strong consumer spending trends as well as very nice weather through the summer and fall, both of which led to the record results.  You often hear parks talk of bad weather affecting their results, it is nice to hear about good weather for a change.

© Canada's Wonderland
• Canada's Wonderland just finished their first Winterfest event and it was a success.  They had two thirds of their visitors purchase single day tickets, meaning they were probably new visitors to the park.  That's different than the chain's other Winterfest events where 60-70% of guests are pass holders.

• The Pass Perks loyalty program is rolling out to all parks (except Schlitterbahn which they hope to add in 2021) this year.  The test parks last year helped gather data to improve the program.  They use Pass Perks not only to build loyalty but also to drive more visits through limited time offers and specials.

• Cedar Fair has set a new goal of reaching $600 million in EBITDA by 2024.  This year they hit $505 million, which was up $37 million.  Without the Schlitterbahn parks it was up $21 million, meaning those two parks contributed $16 million.

© Kings Island
• There was a lot of chatter about capital expenditures, which are ride-lovers best friend.  They're still planning to move toward more OpEx oriented and CapEx efficient additions, which are more like the limited events and such.  They will also continue to spread out the major thrill ride additions at individual parks by an additional one or two years.  So if it used to be 4 years between big rides at park X, now it will be 5 or 6 (as an example, they did not give specific data).  This allows them to have something new at each park, each year.

• More on capital spending - they want to get overall spending closer to 9% of revenues by the 2021 season.  In 2020 they're spending around $190 million, for comparison 9% of the 2019 revenues would be around $132 million.  By 2021 and 2022 their large spending on hotel renovations and bringing the Schlitterbahn parks up to speed should be over, allowing them to spend less overall.

© Carowinds
• A couple final tidbits.  Two more parks will be adding a parade during Winterfest in 2020, similar to the parade that Carowinds added this year.  They confirmed no new park will add Winterfest in 2020, which we knew already.  Lastly, they did remark on how they removed two roller coasters from Kings Island in order to make operating costs balance for the addition of Orion - so they're not afraid to remove old rides to add new ones in the future... at least that's what I gather.