Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Heard On... SeaWorld Entertainment's 2nd Quarter 2020 Earnings Call


© SeaWorld Entertainment

This week it was SeaWorld Entertainment's turn to report their 2nd quarter 2020 earnings, their full press release is available at this link.  It seemed like the market was anticipating these results even more than Six Flags or Cedar Fair, as they (along with Disney and Universal) give some insight to what's been happening in the all-important Orlando market.  The 2nd quarter still had very limited operations for SeaWorld Entertainment, with more 'guts' to be found in the 3rd quarter announcement this fall, but here are some notes from their earnings call:

 

• Attendance April through June was 300,000, 6.2 million visitors lower than last year.  Revenue was $18 million, down from $388 million last year.  The company's net loss was $131 million, and EBITDA for the quarter was a loss of $53.8 million.  Per capita spending was up 5.5% and in park per capita spending was up 10%.

 

• Deferred revenue from passes and other products was down almost 16% from a year ago.  The total pass base is down 31%.  However, parks that have been open in the quarter the pass base grew more than 10%.


SeaWorld San Diego

• As we saw with the other operators cash burn is a hot topic here too, and SeaWorld spent about $12 million a month in the quarter when all was said and done.

 

• As of the date of the earnings release they have reopened 9 of their 12 parks, with only SeaWorld San Diego, Aquatica San Diego and Water Country USA in Virginia not open (and those two water parks will not open at all in 2020 they confirmed).  In the second quarter they only got to have 7 parks open, and those parks had only 98 operating days total compared to last year with 12 parks and 861 operating days.


• Right now they are seeing positive cash flow at their operating parks.  They also are seeing positive trends as they reintroduce events and entertainment to draw visitors.  They are even adding more operating days and longer park hours at some properties.  There is also some small growth in season pass sales, and Discovery Cove bookings for 2021 are up over this time last year (quite a bit, 176% higher).

 

• More on increasing attendance - for parks that have been open at least 30 days so far they are seeing around a 15% increase in attendance from the week ended June 28th to the week ended August 2nd.  Both Sesame Place and Busch Gardens Williamsburg have had high demand since they reopened (both at the end of July) and are both adding more operating days.  It sounds like Busch Gardens Williamsburg will continue to do special events this year to keep the gates open, even with very limited capacity.

 

© Busch Gardens Tampa

• For operating parks overall they have been seeing attendance vary from 10-15% of last year's attendance on some days, all the way up to 50% on others.

 

• The company plans to hold both Halloween and winter Holiday events this year as they have in the past.  The events will be different to address safety concerns around COVID-19, but they are confident they and operate the events profitably.

 

• Due to selling notes and receiving a large sum from them, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment appears to be on the lookout for parks that will be for sale due to their operators not being able to withstand these tough times.  What they're looking at are things like water parks, hotels or other small parks that could be converted into a Sesame Place.

 

• It was also noted that they believe they need to hit a out 40% of last year's revenue figures in order to be profitable overall for the year.

 

• Regarding capital expenditures.  They are about 87% complete with all the new rides that were supposed to be for 2020 but did not open, all of which have been pushed to 2021.  It will take another $15 million to finish those rides, but they still owe another $40 to $50 million on them as well - still to be paid.  No update was given on the conversion of Aquatica San Diego into Sesame Place San Diego.


Sunday, August 9, 2020

Several Prominent Ride Manufacturers to Cancel Exhibition at IAAPA 2020


More tough decisions for 2020 have had to be made, this time in relation to several prominent U.S. ride manufacturers which have decided to cancel their appearances at this year's IAAPA Expo.

As of right now the 2020 IAAPA Expo is still scheduled to be held in Orlando, Florida from November 17th through November 20th, 2020.  That may change however, as many events across all industries have been pushing back a year or going virtual.

One thing is for sure, Premier Rides, Great Coasters International, Chance Rides and Larson International will not be at the Expo if it does take place in person.

The below letter spells out the thought process wonderfully, and also note that these great companies are taking the opportunity to make donations to wonderful charities at a time when they're no doubt hurting themselves.  Bravo!

***

August 6, 2020

To our Valued Customers,

The IAAPA Expo in Orlando is the most important annual gathering of amusement industry professionals and enthusiasts and is truly the epicenter of attractions innovation and business.  In 2019, a record-setting 42,000 attendees including CEOs, global leaders, visionary designers, sales people, and technical experts gathered to conduct business, educate, and network at the industry’s gold standard conference and trade show.  The 2019 show was a confirmation of the strength of the attractions industry which this past year set all-time records globally for attendance.  Business had never been better.

2020 will not be the same.  The companies listed below represent well over 100 years of continuous exhibiting at the IAAPA Expo.  We are competitors, yet we work together closely to ensure amusement ride safety.  We put our heart and soul into this industry with the like goal of creating lifetime memories for millions of people around the globe.  And we all look forward to the opportunity each year to gather in Orlando and to be with colleagues and friends from nearly every country in the globe.  There are no better words to describe the show environment than “one big family”.  With that in mind, we are deeply saddened to share the news with you that we will not be exhibiting at the 2020 IAAPA Expo.  We know this news will come as a great disappointment to many of you, and we have made this hard decision with great angst and with significant consideration of several factors.  

First, the industry is hurting on all levels.  Even with a global effort lead by IAAPA to establish very safe facility operations, our guests have not come back to the parks in the numbers for which we had all hoped.  As suppliers to the industry, we know that successful business for us requires successful business for our valued clients.  We get it.  We understand there is a right time to sell and this is not the right time.  Parks and attractions need to focus all their attention on keeping their facilities healthy and well-maintained so they can open strong in 2021.  We are here to help you in any way possible, whether it be service or technical support and we will be here when the time is right to talk about new innovative attractions. 

Additionally, and understandably, the ability to travel from both a global and a domestic standpoint has been so greatly diminished to the point it is impractical.  Each day the news brings additional quarantines and restrictions.  Flying from around the globe to Florida is almost impossible, and even in the US with its myriad of quarantine rules it would presently require 28 days of quarantine to visit the show from New York.  Again, impractical.

And finally, and most importantly, we need to prioritize the health of our employees who have dedicated themselves to making our companies successful and who are what make visiting our booths so great and so welcoming.  We understand all the precautions that are being taken for the IAAPA Expo, and we are grateful for that significant effort.  There is indeed hope for the near future with rapid global achievements in the medical field.  But for this show, with just over three months to go, the clock has run out.
 
We have each reached out to our valued clients around the globe and also here in the United States.  The message has been the same.  For all the reasons above, “we can’t come” is what we are being told.  We understand and respect the situation and for the same reasons we will not be at the show either.  We will dearly miss you.

The show is a major investment and we have already spent significantly on the show; funds that can never be recovered.  We will use the savings from not exhibiting to maintain our company’s operations in order to be ready when you are.  In addition, our industry is known for giving and we are all making some generous donations with part of our savings.

We will be giving to:
- Give Kids The World to help make up for the annual IAAPA Expo Harley Davidson fundraiser.  https://www.gktw.org/
- Doctors Without Borders in recognition that we are indeed a global industry that positively impacts people arounds the world.  https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/
- Heart of Florida United Way because we care deeply about the people of Orlando, the home of IAAPA and the IAAPA Expo.  https://www.hfuw.org/

We encourage everyone who reads this to also consider contributing to one of more of these organizations, even if the amount is small.

We work in an industry that is extremely resilient.  Through wars, through recessions, and yes, even through pandemics, our industry has survived.  People have a basic need to smile, to have fun.  And in tough times, amusement parks are a place where families can enjoy themselves.

The show must go on and will go on!  Just not this year.

We will see you again in 2021.  And yes, we will once again smile.

Thank you for your understanding.


Saturday, August 8, 2020

Heard On... Cedar Fair's 2nd Quarter 2020 Earnings Call


Cedar Fair had their 2nd quarter 2020 earnings release and subsequent call last week, just after Six Flags Entertainment released theirs.  As was found in Six Flags' numbers, things weren't especially great for Cedar Fair - all of which is expected in these troubled times.  Here are some of our notes from the call:

• 2nd Quarter results include only Worlds of Fun and the two Schlitterbahn parks in Texas.  Net revenues were $7 million, which comes from a decrease in attendance of 8 million and a $44 million decrease in out of park revenues.  The operating loss for the quarter was $142 million, and the EBITDA loss was $85 million.

• With regard to liquidity, Cedar Fair is using about $30-$40 million per month through the end of 2020.  They also reaffirmed that they have enough liquidity to last until the end of 2021 even if all parks are forced to close until then.

© Kings Island

• The company is trying to keep its brand reputation strong by staying engaged with visitors and employees, using this season to base future investment decisions, operating strategies and park programming in the future, revising marketing to be as efficient as possible, using scalable technology based initiatives to improve safety, maintaining a disciplined approach to cash use and investing in new capabilities to capitalize on changes in consumer behavior and preferences.

• Overall season pass sales for the year are down more than 30% or 900,000 passes.

• For the rest of the season that the parks are open the company expects them to have 20% - 25% of historical attendance (which translates to 15% of theoretical capacity).  On some good days some of the bigger parks have seen attendance hit closer to 40% of historical attendance.  These rates have been affected by COVID-19 case spikes in markets.  The 7 parks that have been able to open so far this year represent 40% of historical attendance and revenues.

• The company has proceeded to "defer or eliminate" 2020 capital expenditures as they move into 2021.  They reduced 2020 capital expansion by $75 to $100 million.  While the call did not say this, I think a big part of that was cancelling many special limit time entertainment events and festivals.

• Regarding 2021 capital expenditures, the company is "reactivating certain capital projects to ensure the properties that should be fully operational for the 2021 season are prepared and ready to maximize revenue opportunities."  They promise to provide more visibility into those plans and their outlook on the 2021 capital program later in the year.  This sounds encouraging.  They also mention that they still believe strongly in experience based additions, like Grand Carnivale and other similar attractions that will help differentiate the parks from the competition.

© Canada's Wonderland

• There is still a chance that we could see Winterfest celebrations this year, but if so they will be at Knott's Berry Farm and Canada's Wonderland... if those parks are able to open.  Those are the two most profitable parks during winter so if they are able to open it sounds like Cedar Fair might jump at the chance to operate this winter.

• Operators are dedicated to keeping parks that couldn't open this year in the minds of visitors, including the use of social media and getting feedback on a variety of topics.  They want to continue to grow the consumer loyalty while they can't open.


Friday, August 7, 2020

Knoebels to Offer Joy Through The Grove Drive-Through Christmas Experience This Winter


© Knoebels

Knoebels has served up some nice news during this challenging summer - the park will host a new event this winter called Joy Through The Grove.  A drive-through Christmas light display, the new event will begin on November 27th.

These types of attractions are already popular in many towns, but the Knoebels version will take guests right through the center of the classic amusement park.  Joy Through The Grove will "begin near Impulse roller coaster, travel down the park’s main boulevard, and throughout much of the campground.  There will be over 15 miles of string lights, and over 400 light up pieces."

A lot of the details of the event are not yet finalized, but it sounds like it will be a great way to get to enjoy Knoebels during a festive time of the year.  

Right now the park plans to open the display nightly and its run will conclude the first week of January, 2021.  Keep a watch out on the park's official website for more details as they are decided.


Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Cedar Fair Updates on 2020 Operations + Looking Ahead at 2021


© Cedar Fair
Cedar Fair has given an update on their parks with regard to 2020 operations, clearing up which parks will remain open, which will close, and when the season will end for others.  The impact that COVID-19 has had on the industry is obvious, and the operator is having to make hard decisions on the rest of this year.

Of the seven parks that Cedar Fair has been able to reopen in 2020, 5 of them will close after Labor Day weekend on Monday September 7th.  That includes Worlds of Fun, Dorney Park, the two Schlitterbahn parks in Texas and Michigan's Adventure.  The remaining two, Cedar Point and Kings Islands, will continue to operate until November 1st.  They will not hold a traditional Halloween Haunt event, instead having a Tricks and Treats Fall Fest.  No parks will hold Winterfest this year.

At the same time of the announcement, Cedar Fair also clarified that Valleyfair, Kings Dominion, Carowinds, California's Great America and Gilroy Gardens (which they manage, not own) will not open in 2020.  The parks that will not open will give existing season passholders a Pass Perks Loyalty Reward to be used next year (sounds like more details to come on that one).

Canada's Wonderland is still in talks about possibly opening this year, so no final decision has been made there yet.  Knott's Berry Farm is opening again soon for a special food and retail event, and waiting on guidance for the future.

Each park has also posted an individual update, which has some more details worth sharing:

© Cedar Point

• Cedar Point's new Tricks and Treats Fall Fest will features special food tastings, special merchandise, family friendly activities and more - all based around the park's stringent COVID-19 safety measures.  The park is still planning on having their 150th celebration next year, with all the additions originally planned for 2020.

• Kings Island will also hold Tricks and Treats Fall Fest, and is expecting to bring back special events like Grand Carnivale in 2021.

• Valleyfair's update still lists the changes they prepared for 2020 such as restroom renovations, a new event space and Corn Feast, and also lists the Peanuts Celebration for 2021.  Gone are mentions of Grand Carnivale and Monster Jam Thunder Alley, which were to be new this year.

• Carowinds is listing Grand Carnivale as opening in 2021, along with their new Boogie Board Racer waterslide.  The park did not mention Carolina Summer Nights or Monster Jam Thunder Alley for 2021.

• California's Great America will open their newly renovated water park, South Bay Shores in 2021, but no longer mentions Monster Jam Thunder Alley.

• Worlds of Fun will open Riptide Raceway next year, but no longer makes mention of Grand Carnivale and Summer Nights as special events.

• Dorney Park did not get to open Seaside Splashworks in their water park this year, so it will debut next year.  No mention of the return of Grand Carnival or their Summer Nights promotion.

• Kings Dominon will open their new water park expansion, Coconut Shores, in 2021 and does mention Grand Carnivale returning as well.

• Last but not least, Knott's Berry Farm will not hold their popular Haunt event this year.  Their adjacent hotel will open toward the end of this month as well.

In summary it looks like as with Six Flags and SeaWorld Entertainment, 2020 attractions will become 2021 attractions across the board.  It's probably too early to tell if more special events could take place, as much of that is depending on the progression of the pandemic between now and then.


Sunday, August 2, 2020

Heard On... Six Flags Entertainment's 2nd Quarter 2020 Earnings Call


Six Flags Entertainment has released their 2nd quarter 2020 earnings, and as everyone expected they weren't good.  Here is the full press release detailing their numbers.  But that doesn't mean that all the news that they shared was bad.  As always, the company had their earnings call and here are some notes worth highlighting.

• Revenue in the quarter was $19 million, with attendance of 433,000 - both a decrease of 96% over 2019.  That led to a net loss in the quarter of $137 million, a decrease of $216 million over 2019.  EBITDA was a loss of $96 million, a decrease of $276 million from 2019. Guest spending was also down 15% over 2019 levels - but half of the attendance in this period came from the drive through safari at Great Adventure, which skewed things quite a bit.

© Six Flags
• Part of many companies survival these days depends on how much cash they have to spend each month.  Six Flags is proud to report that they have reduced their monthly cash spend to $25 million, down from the $30 to $35 million they estimated when the pandemic began.  Six Flags feels they have "adequate liquidity" to survive to the end of 2021 even if they have to close all the parks for some reason.

• Six Flags is currently testing a new virtual queue system that will allow visitors to reserve a spot on a ride from their phone, and not have to stand in a line.  This is a plus not only in terms of social distancing, but also to remove something that visitors always hated even during normal operations.  If the test is a success they will roll it out to all parks.

• When parks started to reopen they saw very strong demand for visits, however in recent days/weeks with COVID-19 cases increasing in many States they are starting to see softer demand.  The company expects to see daily attendance at 25-30% of previous levels for the "foreseeable future."  To further adapt, Six Flags has limited operating days and hours at its parks.

• The only international development that Six Flags still has on the books and earns revenue from is the park in Saudi Arabia. 

• Right now Six Flags has 14 of their 26 parks open.  Those 14 parks accounted for more than 50% of overall attendance in 2019.  In July those parks are seeing around 30% of 2019 daily attendance levels.  Parks in areas where COVID0-19 cases are not increasing are doing better than those where cases are high.  There is no way to know if they will be able to open any additional parks this year that are still closed.

• Some more details on attendance, in areas where the virus is not surging like New Jersey, they're seeing some days where they 45%+ of 2019 attendance levels.  They specifically mention Great Adventure and St. Louis.

© Six Flags
• The Active Pass hoder base was down 38% at the end of the quarter to 2.1 million people, they had 2.6 million at the end of calendar 2019.

• They have further reduced capital expenditure amounts for 2020 - they have pushed off or eliminated $50-$60 million of additions for this year so far.  They now expect to have 2020 capital expenditures come in between $80 and $90 million, $10 million lower than they first said.  Going forward they will be conservative with capital expenditures, adding only attractions with a "good return on investment."

• Six Flags has embarked on a mission to make themselves "a more agile, commercially driven and technology-savvy organization."  This will improve guest experience, help is growing the pass base and reduce operating costs.

• Changes include continuing to go after single-day visitors, redesign their websites to make them more user friendly, create better value in food and beverage offerings, restructure the company to make sure there are no duplicated efforts in the corporate office and at the parks but also reduce costs without reducing staffing.  They are also making a diversity and inclusion council within the company to guide things as training, addressing biases, building a diverse team and community outreach.

© Six Flags
• The company's COVID-19 changes are sitting very well with guests in regard to getting in the park quickly and easily.  They plan to keep many changes in the long run, such as advanced ticket sales and paying for parking ahead of time.  The reservation system is being monitored and it is not clear if they would keep it post-pandemic.

• Regarding Fright Fest and Holiday in the Park, both events are being planned but they are questioning best safety practices, how to make sure they are cash flow positive, and how to protect the Fright Fest image if they can't put on a traditional event... not to tarnish its reputation.  While they didn't go into details, social distancing does not work well with haunted houses, so things will have to be very different this Halloween.


Saturday, August 1, 2020

Elitch Gardens to Stay Closed in 2020 + Michigan's Adventure Update


© Elitch Gardens
Elitch Gardens has decided to keep the park closed for the 2020 season, it has announced.  Not an easy call to make, but with Colorado not providing an estimate for when they may be allowed to operate, too much of the year has already slipped away.

The park's full explanation of their decision is below, and I think you can tell from it that they feel pretty disappointed about how things have progressed in the state.

"Even though about 85% of the theme and water parks are open and operating safely around the U.S., and almost all other attractions in our Denver area community and throughout Colorado have been given permission to re-open, Elitch Gardens continues to be denied that opportunity.  We have held out hope for so long that our park would be treated fairly as we watched the Denver Zoo, Botanical Gardens, Aquarium, the Museum of Science & Nature open in various stages,  the casinos welcome back players, the ski resorts’ summertime attractions go into full swing, and even Red Rocks re-open this month for concerts. Park management has spent months consulting with industry experts and government officials to develop a comprehensive plan, including new sanitation and social distancing protocols, that would allow the Park to operate safely. We have also spent a considerable amount of resources training employees, inspecting rides, filling pools, and sprucing up the property, all in anticipation of opening day. Unfortunately, despite management’s substantial efforts, we have been unable to obtain government approval to open. As a result, Elitch Gardens will remain closed in 2020."

The park will transfer all guests who purchased a 2020 season pass into a new 2021 season pass VIP program.  Benefits include free admission, free parking, free souvenir cup with $0.99 refills, one free meal pass, one free skip the line pass, early ride times and plenty more.  The park estimates that their VIP program is worth $500 per pass.

© Michigan's Adventure
A curious thing happened at the end of this past week to Michigan's Adventure.  According to local news sources, the park was told they have to close once again due to an executive order from the State that calls for Michigan amusement and water parks to close.  The state is still mitigating COVID-19 cases and the order covers many outdoor recreational activities.

According to this article local health officials have confirmed that the park has to close, but there was a lot of confusion about the wording of the order and whether or not Michigan's Adventure, which is operating right now only as a water park, has to close.  There was another article that appears to make it perfectly clear that the park has to close again.

However, the amusement park posted on their social media yesterday evening that they will continue to be open throughout the month as scheduled, ending their season on September 7th. 

Either the park has some information that others do not, or perhaps they are digging their feet into the sand on the issue... not totally clear yet.  The park still has their hours listed on their website for the rest of the season.


Thursday, July 30, 2020

Busch Gardens Williamsburg to Reopen August 5th for Coasters and Craft Brews Event


© Busch Gardens Williamsurg
Busch Gardens Williamsburg has found a unique way to still open this summer while adhering to Virginia's order of only having 1,000 people at the park at any time.  Starting August 5th the park will be open to guests, but in a limited fashion to hold a new Coasters and Craft Brews event.

The park will feature the outdoor event in only some of the park's themed areas including Ireland, Scotland, France and New France.  Several of the park's large roller coasters, including Loch Ness Monster, Griffon, and InvadR will be open along with Le Catapult and Finnegan's Flyer.  The park will also offer a "variety of craft and local brews, savory BBQ cuisine, and more food and beverage options that will be available for purchase at select dining locations."  Several of the park's retail locations will also be open during the event.

It is almost like a combination of the special event that Knott's Berry Farm has found success with, only with a handful of rides open as well.

© Busch Gardens Williamsburg
Reservations will be required for the event and the park will follow all social distancing and sanitization efforts that other SeaWorld Parks have put into place.

The event starts on August 5th as a preview day for season members only, then it will run for two weeks Thursday through Sunday.  Thursday look to feature one reservation for a 5 pm to 9 pm slot, while Fridays through Sundays have two: 11 am to 3 pm and 5 pm until 9 pm.  With limited amounts of the park open it makes sense to get two different sets of guests into the park at different times of the day.

The park's calendar is showing plenty of operating days in September all the way through December, however it is unclear exactly how the park will operate at that time, or if it is even accurate. 

It is nice to see the park think outside the box in order to give visitors a fun experience that's within their limitations, hopefully it is a success for them.


Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Europa Park Opens New Version of Pirates in Batavia Family Dark Ride


© Europa Park
Ever since the devastating fire that destroyed Europa Park's Pirates in Batavia ride (and most of the Scandinavia themed area) in May of 2018 the park has vowed to rebuild the ride better than ever.  Today they made good on that promise and reopened the all new version of Pirates in Batavia to the public.  Understandably, the park is quite proud of their ability to totally design a brand new ride, featuring modern technology throughout, in a relatively quick turnaround.

The original ride opened in 1987 and featured a trip through Batavia, since known as Jakarta in Indonesia, complete with pirates battling the residents, invading the town and generally running amok in humorous ways.  Yes, there are parallels to Disney's famous Pirates of the Caribbean ride, but the Europa Park version was loved as much by fans and was sorely missed after the fire.

© Europa Park
The new version of the ride features a similar storyline, only with a bit more detail.  Now riders join "Bartholomeus van Robbemond on his search for the mystical Dagger of Batavia, the Fire Tiger.  Legend has it that whoever owns the dagger of Batavia is invulnerable," so that would be quite a find.  The additional story gives the new version of the ride some more depth.

The boat ride takes passengers through Batavia, isolated villages and jungles and includes an 8 minute long journey with over 125 animated characters along the way.  While most of the ride's inhabitants were lost in the fire, some have been preserved and placed in the new ride, giving extra fun for riders to locate.

The park has pulled out the stops and incorporated a ton of modern visual effects and lighting that works so well with large physical sets.  It's a great combination of a classic dark ride, but with a modern twist.

If you want to take your own journey on Pirates in Batavia, check out the video below!


Monday, July 27, 2020

Reduced Hours + Operating Days, Closures, No More Reservations + Halloween Events Paused


The industry is still trying to find its footing in this summer of uncertainty, and it appears as though a big part of that is scaling back operations to better fit with what has turned out to be a small demand for the amusement industry right now. 

We've seen a number of parks stop requiring reservations to visit the parks.  Dollywood stopped requiring day ticket visitors to have a reservation, though season pass holders still need them for the theme park.  A while back Worlds of Fun axed the reservation requirement, then Kings Island, Kennywood and Cedar Point followed soon after.  Dorney Park removed the reservation requirement for season pass holders, only asking single day ticket visitors to have one.  One can only assume that crowd levels are small enough that there is no need to monitor attendance with reservations.

Scaling back park hours is also becoming common.  Kings Island released their updated hours for August which will have the park closed Wednesday and Thursday, then to weekends only by the end of the month.  Closing times on Saturdays did get extended until 10 pm however.  Cedar Point will stay open daily until mid-August, then switch to Friday-Sunday operations only and right now are closed all of September aside from Labor day weekend.  Kennywood has also decided to stay closed Mondays and Tuesday in August, then go weekends only in September - and has also made it clear there will be no Phantom Fright Nights this year.  Idlewild is going even further, opening only on Friday - Sunday starting August 1st.

This is not a full list of changes, there are more out there as well.

© Raging Waters
We're also starting to see some Southern California properties throw in the towel on the year - that is just what Raging Waters Los Angeles did today.  They do note that they are excited to reopen in 2021.  The rest of the California theme park crew, and there's a lot of them, are still waiting on the ability to open.  As we discussed some parks are finding other ways to operate, such as Knott's super popular food festival Taste of Calico which actually got extended two more weeks and is selling out fast.

© Universal
It is almost to the point where parks are having to make tough decisions regarding their popular Halloween seasons.  Just recently we saw both Universal Studios Florida and Universal Studios Hollywood officially cancel their events for this year, with Halloween Horror Nights not taking place at either park.  Disney World has also called off Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and the Disneyland Resort cancelled the Oogie Boogie Bash even though no opening date is in sight for its parks.

No news yet from other park operators on Halloween, but with these big parks setting the standard it might not look to good.

Things may be a bit more quiet around this blog for the foreseeable future, as park seasons are shortened and events are cancelled - there simply isn't much to cover.  We will look forward to 2021 though!


Thursday, July 23, 2020

Intamin Shares Concept Videos for New Coaster and Water Ride Attractions


This unusual summer is a perfect time for fans to do a little day dreaming about new rides that could come to their favorite park, and in this case via Intamin.  The famous attraction manufacturer has released four new videos of rides that they've cooked up.  Let's take a look.


Up first is the Ultra Splash, which looks similar to Mack's PowerSplash rides in concept.  Intamin's version uses a unique track design that is more of an I-beam than traditional track, and it supports itself all on one beefy looking base.

The ride follows similar motions to the PowerSplash, launching the high capacity boats up two vertical towers, back and forth until water fills the chamber below and the boat makes a giant splash.

The video notes that the ride offers a traveling track length of 1,722 feet, stands 121 feet tall and moves at a maximum speed of 58 miles per hour.

Up next is the Giga Splash, which uses a similar track and boat style as the Ultra Splash, but uses a vertical elevator to send boats down a giant, steep drop toward the pool below.

It looks like an updated version of the Intamin ride created for Holiday World (since removed) originally called Pilgrims Plunge.  The new version can start with a meandering ride channel before the elevator, which turns boats (that have stadium seating) 285 degrees for a nice view.

The boats head up 131 feet then drop down at 87 degrees at 62 miles per hour, over a huge air-time hill and then into a giant splash.

Here we have the LSM Vertical Coaster 47-280, a wild new compact coaster that Intamin says is the most compact triple launch coaster design in the world.

The ride features a forward, backward and forward launch to get the train heading up toward the top of the structure, at which point an extra launch boost takes place while riders are upside down.  At the crest the trains start a twisting downward "torpedo dive," soar near the station, then head up into a zig-zag loop.

The ride can handle either one trip around the track or two per cycle depending on the customer.

Lastly, Intamin released a new video for a single rail style coaster branded under the name Hot Racer.  The ride looks like Intamin's answer to Rocky Mountain Construction's single rail coasters.

They have come up with three example layouts, all of which are racing coasters with two separate tracks.  There is a small, medium and large example and the video details several new element types along with other popular ones we've seen on existing rides.


Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Hurricane Harbor New Jersey to Reopen This Week


Six Flags Hurricane Harbor New Jersey has announced that it will reopen to visitors this Thursday, July 23rd.  The park will "operate with reduced attendance levels and in preview mode; then gradually increase attendance levels throughout the month."  The water park is located next door to Six Flags Great Adventure.

As of now, operating dates will include Thursday through Monday of each week through the end of August, plus select weekends in September.  As with all Six Flags properties, the park will employ new safety measures and hygiene protocols to keep both visitors and staff safe.

“We are thrilled to welcome families back to one of the Northeast’s most popular waterparks, Hurricane Harbor. The safety of our guests and team members remains our number one priority, and the new safety guidelines we have put in place are designed to create a safe environment for everyone,” said Six Flags Great Adventure and Hurricane Harbor Park President John Winkler.

© Six Flags
Safety measures include requiring advanced reservations to visit the park, thermal imaging to perform temperature checks on visitors, touchless bag checks, mobile food ordering, increased sanitization, social distancing and more.

Masks are required for a visit to Six Flags Hurricane Harbor New Jersey, but not required to be worn while on waterslides, water attractions or pools.  The park will open with as many attractions, food and retails stands and amenities as possible, with more coming online as the season progresses.

Reservations to visit the park are already available through their website.


Sunday, July 19, 2020

Hong Kong Disneyland is Closed Again, Sesame Place Sets Plans to Open


© Hong Kong Dineyland
Hong Kong Disneyland
was one of the first theme parks to close due to COVID-19, back toward the end of January.  It then reopened in the middle of June as one of the first in Disney's portfolio to welcome back visitors, but now due to new restrictions put in place by the Hong Kong government, it is once again closed.

The park officially closed again in the middle of last week as Hong Kong has seen increasing COVID-19 cases and is taking immediate and serious measures to stop that.  Per this news article, the area has seen 1,500 new cases since January, leading to the park's closure (and many other social restrictions).  Considering that a great number of states in the U.S. are filing way more cases than that per day, it isn't hard to figure out that Hong Kong is not messing around.

The closing of Hong Kong Disneyland does not have an official end date, and comes the same week that both the Disneyland Paris Resort and Walt Disney World in Florida were welcoming back visitors.

© Sesame Place
Pennsylvania's popular children's theme park, Sesame Place, has announced that it will reopen on July 24th.  While late in the summer, the park's water activities will certainly be welcomed by visitors as it has been one especially hot summer in the Northeast.

The park, as with other SeaWorld Entertainment properties, will have a full set of changes in place to operate in a COVID-19 world.  These measures include temperature checks for visitors and employees, mandatory face masks for those age 2 and older, social distancing protocols throughout the park, increased cleaning and sanitization and many changes to food and beverage services.  You can read through the park's full set of changes at this link.

In order to reduce interactions the park is also keeping several of their shows, their daily parade and some character interactions either restricted or closed.

Earlier this year Sesame Place announced two new attractions, a small family ride and a toddler play area, for the park's 40th birthday celebration.  Neither of these attractions are listed as part of the park's offerings, so it appears as they have been delayed or cancelled.


Saturday, July 18, 2020

Knott's Berry Farm Currently Holding Taste of Calico Special Event


© Knott's Berry Farm
Knott's Berry Farm, along with other theme parks in California, still are not allowed to open to provide guests a typical theme park experience.  Several have begun to find other ways to still provide visitors with a fun and meaningful experience that fits with the health and safety guidelines provided by the State.

We first saw Six Flags Discovery Kingdom reopen as the Marine World Experience, fitting in as an outdoor zoo experience which is allowed.  Now we have Knott's Berry Farm reopening part of its park for a "limited time outdoor food and retail experience" named Taste of Calico - also an event that works with current health guidelines.

With no end in sight of the issues surrounding COVID-19, I think that we will see more parks begin to think outside the box to come up with ways to attract visitors in a safe manner. 

© Knott's Berry Farm
Knott's Ghost Town is the location for the Taste of Calico event, one of the themed sections of Knott's Berry Farm.  The purpose of the event is pretty obvious, allowing "guests to be able to take a nostalgic stroll through the streets of Calico, sample unique Knott's culinary creations including boysenberry specialties, visit local crafters and shop at our unique stores."

To attend the event you have to purchase a tasting card online, there are both regular ($25) and junior ($15) cards available, and each allows for 5 tastings.  To keep things safe, there is a strict number of tasting cards sold to make sure there is plenty of room to properly social distance while at the event.

© Knott's Berry Farm
It looks like there are a ton of tasty treats available as a part of Taste of Calico.  As one would expect there are a lot of boysenberry flavored items, everything from boysenberry BBQ to a boysenberry smoothie.  There are also several craft beers and other beverages available.

The retail portion includes a lot of unique vendors as well, including Honey & Bee products from Flores Honey and Miss Doolittles which has "princess goodies" of all kinds.

The event already started this weekend and quickly sold out on Friday and Saturday.  Taste of Calico will take place tomorrow along with next weekend, July 24th 25th and 26th.


Wednesday, July 15, 2020

La Ronde to Open to Visitors on July 25th


© La Ronde
We are getting into a phase of the summer where it seems less likely that parks that have not been able to open yet will do so.  However La Ronde, Six Flags' Canadian park, has announced that it will start its season on July 25th.  Operating days at the start (July 25th, 26th, 31st and August 1st and 2nd) will be only for season pass holders and Members.

The park will initially open with very restricted maximum capacity and then gradually increase the total amount as time goes by.  Like all other Six Flags parks there will be a full set of COVID-19 related safety precautions set in place, including the use of reservations, required face masks, social distancing and more.

© La Ronde
"La Ronde is a much-beloved summer tradition for many Quebecers, and we look forward to welcoming them back to the park as we introduce new safety procedures for everyone's protection.  The health and safety of our guests and team members remains our number one priority," said Park President Janine Durette

Like nearly all Six Flags parks, La Ronde's new-for-2020 attraction, Vipere, will not be opening with the park and has been pushed to 2021.


Tuesday, July 14, 2020

New Plan Formed to Reopen New York's Fantasy Island Amusement Park


© Empire Adventures
The sudden closure of Western New York's Fantasy Island Amusement Park earlier this year left many fans of the property sad and disappointed.  The park has a history that dates back to 1961, meaning at this point it had been enjoyed by generations of visitors, making it a summertime tradition for many.

While the park has been mostly cleared of rides and definitely will not return exactly as it was in 2019, a new plan has been put together to reopen the park, possibly as soon as next year.

Empire Adventures is a group of individuals dedicated to reopening the park, and between them have a lot of history with both Fantasy Island and amusement parks.  However, there will be a lot of investors and help needed to get the park back up and running.

You can read more about Empire Adventure and their plan on their website - they currently have a several phase plan to reopen the park.  If it works out, rides could be added back to the park and opened as soon as 2021.

The group currently has a letter of intent with the company that owns the land under the park, and is working to grow their plan through additional investments using a grassroots style.  They even have a Go Fund Me page up right now.

The park is home to the Silver Comet, a Custom Coasters wooden ride that opened in 1999.  It is still standing at the park and Empire Adventures plans to reopen it along with the park.


Sunday, July 12, 2020

Mystic River Falls in Preview Mode at Silver Dollar City + New Ride POV


© Silver Dollar City
Silver Dollar City has not delayed their new for 2020 mega-attraction, Mystic River Falls, and is just about ready to open it to the public.  For right now, the park is doing previews of the ride for lucky visitors who are in the parks, and social media is buzzing about what a great attraction it is.

The ride replaces the park's former river rapids ride with a more modern version that includes a dramatic vertical lift hill that stands 82 feet tall and the tallest drop on a ride of this kind in the Western hemisphere.  Mystic River Falls represents a $23 million investment, part of an overall $27 million expansion this year.

The ride and its surroundings are beautiful, and I'm impressed by the speed of the river at various points through the ride.  Looks like a blast!

While many are traveling less this summer, you're still able to experience all that Mystic River Falls offers through a new point of view ride video that the park has released.  Check it out below!


Saturday, July 11, 2020

A Look at Dorney Park's Opening Week of the 2020 Season + What's New This Year


© NewsPlusNotes
To say that parks are having an unusual year in 2020 is an understatement, and we've all been closely watching to see just how they adapt to a "new normal" in light of the current global pandemic.

Dorney Park soft opened a few days this past week for season pass holders, and today was their official opening day for all ticket types.  The park has made a dramatic set of operational changes that are similar to other amusement parks - all in the name of safety surrounding COVID-19.  We'll be seeing them in this update, but the full set is available on their website.

I got to visit the park and see how things were going and to be honest I am quite pleased.  I felt safe while visiting, and these days that is a very important factor.

© NewsPlusNotes
When you arrive at the park the friendly parking attendant will inquire if your party has masks, and also if you've made a reservation.  I also noticed that parking is now only $10, which is at least half of what it was last year.

Once parked you make your way to the entrance and there are two sets of tent structures set up that allow the park to do thermal imaging of visitors to check for anyone with a high temperature.  The tents have big fans in them and honestly it was so hot today it was kind of a nice place to hang out!

After that is the security check, where I did not have to take anything out of my pockets so it was super fast and easy with no line.

© NewsPlusNotes
Also of note, the entire park is now non-smoking and vaping this year.  Makes sense considering the pandemic, I've noticed other business types that still allowed smoking in certain areas doing the same.  If you want to smoke at the park, the above area is located in the entrance plaza, outside the main gates. 

© NewsPlusNotes
The park's operations right now only include the rides in Dorney Park.  It is important to note that Wildwater Kingdom is not open.  There may be different ride closures each day, as the park works through various challenges that are unique to the 2020 season.  On my visit White Water Landing, Meteor and Possessed were not in operation.

© NewsPlusNotes
As with most parks, there will be changes nearly day to day as everyone continues to adapt to what are the best and most safe practices.  The pandemic disrupted a great deal of the time that the park usually prepares for the season and I'm honestly happy they were even able to open at all.  Whether or not the water park is able to open remains to be seen, so Seaside Splashworks may be a new for 2021 addition.

Also of note in the above photo, a nice new carousel horse topiary can be seen just after you enter the park.

Getting through the entrance turnstiles is also very quick and easy, as making a reservation and purchasing tickets beforehand means all you have to do is open the Dorney Park app and have your reservation scanned, and that's it.  There are some changes like this that may have been forced by the pandemic, but they sure make a lot of sense and I wouldn't mind seeing them stick around in the long term.

Also, no park maps this year as it's just one less thing for people to touch.  Plus, the Dorney Park app has a very detailed park map that's honestly way more efficient than a paper one.  And I adore printed park maps so that's a lot coming from me!

© NewsPlusNotes
If you need to exit the park and come back in you can stop in at one of these stations right by the exit to get a ticket to come back in.  The process is most important for those who purchased one day tickets online, as season pass holders can just have their pass re-scanned when they come back in.

© NewsPlusNotes

© NewsPlusNotes
Social distancing is a very important part of a visit to... anywhere right now, and Dorney Park is on the same page.  They've cleared the midways of various stands and other items to make as much room as possible for guests to move around.

I'm not sure if this is a part of it, but as seen above the park has moved the entrance to the park's Antique Carousel to the side of it closest to the Funnel Cake building.  The former entrance area is now the exit, which means less people in the area of the entrance gates.  A smart move, helping to keep people spread out.

© Dorney Park
All buildings have very clear signage showing where to enter and exit, and those with more than one door have a dedicated entrance and exit area.  The signs on the doors of the Funnel Cake building are an example of that, though every single place you go inside at the park is the same way. 

© Dorney Park
The park also has plentiful seating for guests, and they're all spread out to make sure there is proper social distancing in place.  In the case above, Dorney Park has even stored the classic cars out front of Coasters to make more room for comfortable seating that is safe.

It actually seems that there is more seating than ever before, perhaps a result of the additions that were made last year for Grand Carnivale.  The park has made the most of not being able to hold that event this year in that sense.

© NewsPlusNotes
It is also pretty easy to remember to keep your distance from others with a little help from the park, which has placed plenty of these ground markers all over the place. 

© NewsPlusNotes

© NewsPlusNotes
And if you're not looking down enough to notice the distance markers, the park also has plenty of signs out reminding all guests of their Stay Safe rules.  Plus, there are recordings (definitely Tony from Cedar Point) that are occasionally played that remind guests that "we're all in this together" and go over the requirements for a safe, fun day.

© NewsPlusNotes
Rides are pretty much why we came here though, and the park has done their best to figure out a way to let people enjoy them safely and keep their distance.  For example, the Wave Swinger has had many seats removed so that guests aren't too close to one another.

Other rides limit parties to one seating area, have closed off rows to allow distancing, and other tactics - each ride is different so the park is doing what makes the most sense on each.  For roller coasters, the goal is to keep people six feet apart so on some that means every other row, and others every third row.

© NewsPlusNotes

© NewsPlusNotes
Here are some example photos from Steel Force.  The entire queue is marked at six foot intervals to show visitors where to stand.  And the rows in the station are clearly marked so you know which are open and which are unavailable.

Obviously the closed seats result in reduced capacity, but the park has reduced overall capacity as well and so that means less people in the park, less people in lines.  There were anywhere from zero to about five minute waits when I visited, so no issues there.

Rides also go down at regular intervals for full cleaning of the trains, seats, etc.  Since this is all very new that process could be changed in the future as Dorney Park (and all parks) are looking for the best method to let people enjoy rides quickly but keep them clean and safe.

Obviously patience is an important part of a visit to an amusement park right now (or the grocery store, Old Navy, or anything at all) and if you have it, you're actually able to have an enjoyable time easily.

© NewsPlusNotes
Wearing a mask to an amusement park isn't the most fun thing on earth, but personally I'd like to protect my fellow humans so I keep it on.  Yes, it was a sweaty experience in there and today it was sunny, about 91 degrees and very high humidity.  The park gets this, so when it becomes too much there are several Relax Zones in the park where you can sit down, enjoy a giant industrial fan that blows at you, and have a drink from a couple of water stations.  Perfect idea!  I've seen other rest zones on social media at parks, but the giant fan plus the water is a huge bonus.

I'm also happy to report that the vast majority, I'd say around 80%, of visitors were properly wearing masks.  That was one of my larger concerns (not only for the park, but everywhere), and the ones who had pulled them down appeared to have done so due to the high heat/humidity combo, not in blatant disregard for the rules.  And I did see employees asking guests to wear them properly, which is a great move in my opinion.  Also, employees were 100% on point with mask wearing and safety.  Kudos to the park on their training initiatives.

I think that generally wraps up most of the COVID-19 changes in place, though I may be forgetting some details.  Now, on to some other changes I noticed.

© NewsPlusNotes

© NewsPlusNotes

Late last year the American Coaster Enthusiasts designated Thunderhawk as one of their International Roller Coaster Landmarks, given to rides of great significance in the history of coasters.  The park is celebrating the honor with new signage along the ride's path, noting that the coaster is now in its 97th operating season.  Only three more until 100!  Quite a milestone for old Thunderhawk.

© NewsPlusNotes
Center Stage has received some major renovations, and while it still has the same name it's now much more a beer garden atmosphere than a typical theme park musical review locations.  The bench seating has been removed, replaced with great high top tables, plenty of new theming, plants and festive lights.  It looks really great!

The area is central to many of the food stands in the lower part of the park so this is a nice place to chill and have a meal.  There is live entertainment here this year, The Uprights are a dueling piano show that changes theme constantly throughout the day adding tons of variety.  Crowds were loving the change and I can't agree more with them.

© NewsPlusNotes
The lower part of the park has seen other changes as well.  The former burrito location (and rotisserie before that and pizza before that) is now a funnel cake and ice cream stand.  This move allows for these amusement park classics to be presented much more efficiently... also indoors with air conditioning!

© NewsPlusNotes
Additionally, Center Stage Snacks now also offers both fresh lemonade and ice cream on one side of the operation.

And here is why these moves have taken place:

© NewsPlusNotes

© NewsPlusNotes

Dorney Park has done a little deconstruction in terms of older food buildings that were probably showing their age and just needed to be retired.  The first photo is the location near Dominator's entrance where the lemonade and funnel cake stands were, now an extension of a large green area that divides the midway.

The second photo is where the old soft serve ice cream stand was, which has also turned into more green space.  This one gives a nice view of the Sea Dragon in operation as well!

© NewsPlusNotes
Also, because inquiring minds may want to know, the former Stinger plot, rumored to be home to the park's next big roller coaster, is still just an empty field.  If you ride Steel Force you can see some weird circles in the area, suggested to me as soil sample locations, but I think it could just as easily be something left over from when the Monster Trucks were here last year.  Time will tell.

© NewsPlusNotes
The 2020 season will be one for the history books, no doubt, not just for Dorney Park but all parks.  There's still plenty of fun to be had at the park!  Just be sure to take your good friend patience along with you, and I think things will be just fine.