Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Heard On... Cedar Fair's 4th Quarter and 2017 Year End Conference Call

Last week Cedar Fair announced their 2017 full year and 4th Quarter earnings, showing another positive year of results.  For the year revenues were up 3% to $1.32 billion, with attendance of 25.7 million, up 2%.  Full year EBITDA was down less than 1% to $479 million and overall in park spending hit a record $47.30, up 1%.  The company had a conference call to discuss the details, and here are some notes from that:

•  Through the end of 2017, advance purchase revenues are up 10% from the sales of season passes and other season long benefits, like dining programs.  Advance reservations at the company's various hotels and resorts are currently up 15% from prior year levels.

•  The 4th quarter saw total attendance of 4.4 million guests, and was the first one with a handful of new WinterFest events running.  The quarter's revenues were $228 million, up $36 million from the prior year, and 4th quarter EBITDA was $61 million, up $8 million.

© Cedar Fair
•  Early signs of success of Knott's Peanuts Celebration festival already has the operator looking at ways to bring the event to other parks to possibly extend their season on the front end, and draw visitors during a traditionally slow time of the year.

•  The company is continuing to push multi-week special events at the parks to give a reason for season pass holders, and other guests, to return throughout the year.  They aim to have three to four of these events at each park each season.

•  Recent tax reform laws will benefit the company, they estimate that they will pay between $10 and $15 million less per year in taxes as a result.  Cedar Fair plans to reinvest that savings into the business to address "seasonal labor pressures" they felt in 2017.  They are looking at adding dormitories at additional parks to have more international workers during the season.

© Cedar Fair
•  Carowinds' newly announced hotel, along with more fancy RV sites at Cedar Point show they want to keep expanding resorts at the parks.  They see the opportunity for more resort growth at Cedar Point and are entering the final stages of a hotel plan for Canada's Wonderland, hopefully announcing that by next quarter's call.

•  A total of five parks will see upgraded restaurant or catering operations for 2018.  This continues a trend the company has had for several years, and helps to support group sales along with the all-season dining passes.

• Cedar Point began a new marketing program in 2017 to help position the park as a regional resort destination.  Cedar Fair wants to appeal to more guests who are looking for a true vacation, focusing on the park, beach, entertainment and food as well as the renovated Hotel Breakers.  This push will continue in 2018 as they move into new markets.

© Cedar Fair
•  WinterFest opening at three more parks in 2017 weighed heavily on the cost side of operations, which didn't help the bottom line.  However, they point out that at California's Great America the event had its second year, which saw larger crowds and revenues, and a bottom line that is more in line with expectations.  So it sounds like the start up costs of these events are big, but even out over future years.  The event at all parks had very high satisfaction and intent to return scores.

•  Roughly 10% of revenues are still being spent in marketable capital expenditures per year, so around $130 to $140 million per year.  They will spend another $20 to $30 million this year on business developments, like Carowinds' new hotel, above and beyond that.

•  Future capital most likely won't include a year with four new roller coasters for some times as the parks focus on being not just a place for thrills but a place to have fun.  This means expect capital to be used more broadly, not only on rides but also on special events, dining improvements and the like.  Especially with a new CEO now on board, it will be interesting to see what new attractions opens in 2019 and 2020.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Alabama Splash Adventure Announces New Ride Package for 2018 Season

Alabama Splash Adventure previously announced a new waterpark addition for 2018, a large children's area with many spray-ground features along with several kiddie slides.  Costing more than $1 million, we all thought that would be the park's biggest addition for the year.  Remember, Alabama Splash Adventure is currently the little-park-that-could after all, slowly growing back from having been closed with all rides stripped and sold from its previous life.

Well, surprise!  The park just revealed a new rides package for 2018 that will see the amusement side of the park grow by 5 new rides, along with a new live entertainment show.

© Alabama Splash Adventure
The new rides announced will be suited for the whole family, but three of them will be a bit bigger than the flat rides currently offered by Alabama Splash Adventure.  One of them, seen above, is a classic YoYo ride, popular at many parks along with fairs.  There will also be two other amusement park staples added back to the ride lineup, a Scrambler and a Tilt-a-Whirl.  Both of these are go-to rides for parks everywhere, so it will be wonderful for Alabama Splash Adventure to feature them.

© Alabama Splash Adventure
That's not to say that little ones won't have anything new to look forward to, however.  The park will debut both a Rockin' Tug (pictured above), and also the Royal Express train ride.

Alabama Splash Adventure will be featuring new live entertainment this year as well, as it is constructing a High Dive show arena for guests.  Plus, the park is going to start to stay open for Halloween weekends as well, extending their season.

All of these additions are also covered in detail in the below video, from Alabama Splash Adventure.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Alton Towers Releases Beautiful New Photos of Wicker Man Coaster

© Alton Towers
Alton Towers has released some new promotional photos of Wicker Man, the park's new wooden roller coaster, that are pretty stunning.  The park used the moodiness of the evening sky along with thematic lighting and smoke to really set the feeling of the coaster.

The custom design was built by Great Coasters International and has a total track length of just over 2,000 feet.

© Alton Towers
One of the main features of the ride is the actual Wicker Man statue that the track passes through several times.  The theme park is advertising that the coaster combines both wood and fire - it is still open for debate how much of the fire will be real and how much will be lighting and special effects.

Either way, the ride looks great so far!

© Alton Towers
Wicker Man isn't the tallest or fastest wooden coaster but appears to have been designed as a thrilling family ride, something that will appeal to a wide variety of rider ages.  It was built on hilly land that once was home to Alton Towers' log flume, and it takes advantage of the elevation changes throughout the course.

Testing video should hopefully be right around the corner, it will be great fun to see the Wicker Man explode into flames as the trains roar through him!

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Sesame Place + California's Great America Share New Roller Coaster Updates

© Sesame Place
Sesame Place, which is building North America's only new wooden roller coaster in 2018, has given us a nice update on the construction of Oscar's Wacky Taxi.  Seen above, the park managed to fit the entire ride into one photo, showing the completed ride layout.  Last time we saw the Gravity Group creation only the lift hill and first drop were in place.  Now, the entire layout appears to have been finished!

The photo allows you to track the ride's path, which features green steel supports to match the Oscar The Grouch theme.  The coaster starts with a 40 foot lift and has around 1,200 feet of track.  There will be a large section that goes through a tunnel, which can be seen on the left of this photo.  The ride' station, transfer track, and queue are also well under way - it also appears as though a new ride retail store will open just below the station.

While aimed at families, the zippy ride still looks like it will provide a thrilling experience complete with some gentle airtime thrown in.  Oscar's Wacky Taxi is looking great so far, I can't wait to see even more as Spring rolls around!

© California's Great America
California's Great America also had a special delivery recently, the first train for RailBlazer arrived and looks pretty awesome!  Decked out as an ATV, complete with a grill and handle bars, this is the first good look we've had at the finished one-seat-wide trains.  Since this, and the sister ride going in at Six Flags Fiesta Texas, are the first of their kind, we've all been waiting to see what the finished product would be like.

Even with a vest-style restraint system these trains should give a very open view of the rider's surroundings.  I also can't wait to see if those front headlights turn on when the sun goes down!

California's Great America has completed instillation of most of the ride's major track and support pieces, and has now started building the elaborate rockwork that will surround much of the base of the ride.  The park shared a photo of that work underway recently, too.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Carowinds and Cedar Point Reveal New Overnight Accommodations

© Carowinds
Both Carowinds and Cedar Point are on the move again, this time adding new overnight accommodations to their properties.

For Carowinds, the park has announced that their first traditional style hotel will be built, set to open sometime in 2019.  They will break ground on the hotel this Spring, and when it opens will be licensed as a franchise under the SpringHill Suites by Marriott brand.  It will be located in a currently undeveloped area on the Northeast part of Carowinds' expansive property.

The aerial above gives an overview of what is planned for the 5 story, 130 room hotel.

© Carowinds
Being located adjacent to the park is a major plus for the SpringHill Suites, which will be well suited for families that are going to play at the park.  It will have amenities such as a "pool, fitness center, an outdoor seating area with a fire pit, suites and a small bar."  The hotel will be open 365 days a year, generating extra revenue for Cedar Fair even when the park is closed.

Carowinds notes that the hotel's rooms will be slightly larger than an average room, with separate sleeping, living and working sections.  The hotel's design will be focused on proving "calm, relaxing spaces" to visitors.  It is quite exciting to see Cedar Fair moving forward with adding hotels to more of their parks, hopefully this is the first in many announcements to come!

© Cedar Point
Cedar Point, which already has a robust offering of overnight accommodations, also announced the addition of 25 "Ultimate RV Sites" on part of the land that Sandcastle Suites once occupied.  Seen above, the sites will offer amenities and special benefits that set them apart from Cedar Point's exiting RV sites.

This addition will actually open in 2018, the same year that a brand new tower will open at Hotel Breakers.

© Cedar Point
The "Ultimate RV Sites" will have features such as a private, landscaped patios with adirondack chairs, a fire pit, built-in charcoal grill and a dining table with chairs.  The above concept art shows what one of these private spaces will look like when complete.

The development will also have a new restroom and bathhouse located adjacent to it.  Cedar Point has surely developed into a multi-day resort destination, and is expanding their overnight accommodations to keep up with demand - I'm sure we will see even more to come in the future.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Six Flags Great America Names New Looping Thrill Ride "Mardi Gras Hangover" + New Festival Announced

© Six Flags Great America
It has been a while since Six Flags Great America announced their plan to build the "largest loop coaster," a Larson Giant Loop that will stand 100 feet tall.  At the time of the announcement, the park wasn't ready to reveal the name that had chosen, but now they have.  The new thrill ride will be named the Mardi Gras Hangover, and will be located within the Mardi Gras themed section of the park.

The Mardi Gras Hangover will feature back to back seating that allows riders to see each other as the car moves through the 100 foot tall circle, completing several inversions during the process - both forward and backward.

The announcement of the ride's name also came with another exciting announcement for Six Flags Great America, the addition of a new Mardi Gras festival that will run the course of the season.  It will feature a new parade, nightly fireworks, live shows, unique food offerings and more.

"Naming such a unique and record-breaking coaster required out-of-the-box thinking,” said Park President Hank Salemi. “Riders will experience multiple moments of hang-time on Mardi Gras Hangover, with the addition of our Mardi Gras Festival debuting this summer, it was the perfect fit.”