Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Dollywood Offers a Look Inside Park's All-New Wildwood Grove Themed Land

© Dollywood
Dollywood is hard at work on their largest expansion ever, the 5-acre, $37 million Wildwood Grove themed land.  Set to open in May, most of the area's rides and attractions have already been installed and work is continuing on adjacent buildings, landscaping, and other special features.  When complete, Wildwood Grove will offers visitors 11 attractions set in a beautifully themed grove filled with unique surroundings including the massive Wildwood Tree, filled with hundreds of glowing butterflies.

© Dollywood
Fans of the project have probably been keeping tabs on the construction via the park's webcam, available on the Wildwood Grove website.  A shot of the cam can be seen above, with all of Wildwood Grove visible.  Guests will enter the area right by Mystery Mine's entrance, encountering rides and attractions as they move deeper into the land.  One of the largest rides in Wildwood Grove is the green and black roller coaster you can see in the upper left, a family suspended coaster named DragonFlier.

© Knox News
Dollywood just held a construction tour of Wildwood Grove, showing off all they have completed thus far.  The Knox News has a feature story on the expansion, along with an expansive photo gallery of the area - one photo from the gallery is seen above.  Check out the full story and photos at this link.

Wildwood Grove looks like it's going to be quite beautiful when it is finished, as the park is spending heavily to cover the area in new trees and other landscaping. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Innovative Flying Theater Ride Slated to Open at The Island in Pigeon Forge

© The Island
Located in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, The Island is an entertainment, dining, and shopping destination that aims to give families a multitude of entertainment options.  The location just announced a brand new, $20 million flying theater attraction that is scheduled to open in 2020.

The Island already offers many rides and activities, including the massive Great Smoky Mountain Wheel, a ropes course, fountain show, family roller coaster, bumper cars, a 7-D dark ride and more.  There are dozens of shops at the Island, along with restaurants such as Paula Deen's Family Kitchen and Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville.

© The Island
The new flying theater will "combine a state-of-the-art ride system and a custom film featuring some of the nation’s most beautiful natural wonders and iconic landmarks."  The experience is being created by Dynamic Attractions, which has provided ride hardware to some of the biggest names in the theme park industry.

“We are very excited to bring another premier attraction to The Island in Pigeon Forge,” said Island President Bob McManus. “This flying theater will truly be a one-of-a-kind, immersive entertainment experience. From The Island, guests will be transported to places that they otherwise may never have the opportunity to see, and experience the beauty of America in a unique and unforgettable way.”

Monday, February 18, 2019

Rye Playland Gets Yet Another New Development Plan + A New Ride in 2019?

© Standard Amusements
Unfortunately the past decade hasn't been a very productive one in terms of developments at Rye Playland, a classic amusement park located in Rye, New York.

The history of the operations and future development of the park in recent memory have played out like a soap opera, with several big plans being drawn up only to have pretty much nothing actually happen.  If you scroll the posts here, you can follow along with that history.

Still, the park has been managed by Standard Amusements for a couple years now though disagreements between the County and the operator have persisted and there has been no tangible investment to date.  Yet another new plan (seen above) has hit the internet now, showing what Standard Amusements would like to do at Rye Playland long-term.

There are plenty of new ride additions, changes to the beach, restorations of the park's classic midways, and most notably a recreation of Rye's former Aeroplane wooden coaster.  I'm sure that has grabbed a lot of people's attention... but will it ever happen?  This news article features some quotes from government officials that make it sound like this is very much a blue-sky plan, and there are by no means shovels ready to hit the dirt.

And then... more drama - but this may result in a new ride (the first at the park since 2008).  The County has put out a request for bids for an operator to bring a new ride to the park by July 3rd, 2019.  It sounds like a flat ride of some sort is desired, at least when reading this story.  The odd thing is that the County is looking to add the ride, and it seems their operator, Standard Amusements, is playing no part in this request - pretty much the opposite of what you would expect.  Perhaps some development, regardless of how it gets done, is better than none?

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Heard On... Six Flags Entertainment's 2018 Full Year and 4th Quarter Earnings Call

This past week was also Six Flags Entertainment's earnings announcement, covering 2018 in total along with 4th quarter results.  The stock market had a pretty substantial negative impression of the results, even though they were record breaking in many aspects.  Let's take a closer look.

•  For full year 2018 Six Flags saw record revenues of $1.46 billion, an 8% increase.  Attendance was up 5% to 32 million, though mostly due to adding 5 new parks mid-year.  Adjusted EBITDA was up 7% to $554 million and per capita spending increased 2% for the year.  They also report spending $133 million on new capital expenditures in 2018, $23 million to acquire the 5 new parks, and paid $267 million to shareholders via dividends.

© Six Flags
•  The 4th quarter also saw new records achieved, with revenues of $270 million, up 5%, fueled by a 6% increase in guest spending and a 3% increase in attendance.  The numbers benefited from the addition of two new parks offering the Holiday in the Park event.

•  Six Flags is happy to report that during the year the Active Pass Base, those who have either a membership or season pass, increased 8%.  They rolled out new tiers at the start of 2018, and this led to pricing increases that also helped increase revenues as more signed up for higher tier plans than they expected.  For the year, pass and membership holders amounted to 63% of all attendance.  At the end of 2018 there were almost 8 million active pass members, more than 2 million of those are memberships.

•  Six Flags has had a Project 600 goal for some time now, which aimed to see $600 million in EBITDA by the end of last year.  They hit $554 million, but the failure to meet the goal meant some big bonuses were unaccrued which also helped the 4th quarter results.  They also wanted to hit $750 million by 2020, and now admit that probably won't happen, but think it could in 2021.

© Six Flags
•  In 2018 Six Flags recognized $42 million in revenue from licensing agreements.  They had to reverse $15 million in revenues in the 4th quarter due to delays on the parks in China.  The first parks are now expected to open in 2020, previously 2019, then more in 2021 and 2022.  The Dubai park is permanently on hold, and my never happen.  Since starting these agreements in 2014, Six Flags has booked $133 million in revenues from them.

•  Six Flags plans to continue to purchase water parks and other smaller operations in coming years located in "feeder" markets to the big parks, with "dozens" of opportunities available.  Since starting this in 2017 they've already added 8 parks.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Heard On... Cedar Fair's 2018 Year End and 4th Quarter Conference Call

Yesterday was Cedar Fair's 2018 Year End and 4th Quarter earning release, in which the company reported another successful year that saw record revenues of $1.35 billion.

Between the release and the usual earning conference call, there was plenty to be told about the company's year.  Let's dig in.

•  Looking at 2018 in total, revenues were up 2% to 1.35 billion, with a 1% increase of attendance (189,000 visits) to 25.9 million guests, per capita revenue was up 1%, and a 6% increase in out of park revenues to a total of $152 million.  Full year EBITDA was down 2% however, to $460 million.

•  The 4th quarter for the company was an especially good one.  During the period revenues hit $250 million, up 9% from last year, and record EBITDA for the period was achieve at $68 million, up 11% from last year.  The company had one more park started Winterfest this year, which helped the quarter greatly.

© Cedar Point
•  Season passes continue to be a focus for Cedar Fair, along with all park operators.  Right now season pass sales are up 25% over last year at this time.  During 2018 more than 50% of park attendance was from season pass holders.

•  Since 2012 the company has started stretched out payment options for passes along with utilizing a strong customer relation management system to increase pass sales.  Since that time the annual revenues from season pass sales have nearly doubled, with more room to grow in their opinion.  The current season pass base across all parks is around 2.5 million people.

•  This season a couple parks (not sure which) will roll out a rewards program for season pass holders.  It will let them redeem rewards at the parks and even some when the parks are closed.  2019 is a test of the program, will a full rollout planned for 2020.

© Carowinds
•  The company is pleased with their out of park revenues, which were a record.  Higher occupancy rates at their hotels, along with higher room rates, were the reason behind the results.  No new announcements have taken place aside from the hotels at Carowinds and Canada's Wonderland, but they're still focused on expanding in this area.

•  A new long term strategy has been set in place to achieve a yearly goal of $575 million in EBITDA by 2023 - which is about 4% growth each year.  The company will get there through three areas of focus - broadening the guest experience through new activities and events, expanding their season pass program even further, and increasing market penetration through focused marketing.  For example, Knott's has 49 million people living in the market around it, and they only get 2% of those as guests.  If they add even 1% more that's equal to 500,000 more guests at the park.

•  A lot of discussion on capital spending took place.  It seems in reaction to guests looking for "multidimensional entertainment" Cedar Fairs parks will push hard for more events, festivals, and special time-limited offerings.  They will leverage their existing inventory of thrill rides to space out larger investments, meaning more years in between the big rides, and focus each year on "interactive and immersive family attractions."

© Knott's Berry Farm
•  Knott's Berry Farm is the example of this method, where all their events - marketed as 5 seasons of fun - have pushed annual attendance up over the six million mark.  This year the company will roll out the 'seasons of fun' message to more parks.  They also cite Cedar Point's Forbidden Frontier and the addition of Winterfest at Canada's Wonderland as examples of how to build upon this plan.

•  This is not to say that rides will not be built, (even Knott's, as the example of the plan, got a big coaster this year) but there will be a stronger mix of other interactive and special events in between them.  Cedar Fair plans to spend around $140 - $150 million a year on capital, with items like hotel developments above and beyond that figure.  In 2019 they are spending $140 on marketable additions, and $30 - $40 million more on the two hotels at Carowinds and Canada's Wonderland.

•  Also worth noting is that the company feels they have accomplished some heavy capital plans that took years to finish, such as renovating group catering facilities at all the parks, investing in wifi (the last two parks will get it this year), etc.  With that behind them, they have created a new plan for the future focused on splitting between big rides and interactive attractions and events.

© Carowinds
•  And interesting quote was given on capital plans - they will "continue to place an emphasis on building to scale in all of our projects, as we believe it differentiates our parks and helps protect the integrity of our business models for years to come."  That can be taken different ways, and I wish they had elaborated more on it.  Still, they also said they will make sure they have something that they can market for each park each year... but that's not to say it is a new ride like Six Flags does.

•  In the next couple weeks they will be announcing some sort of new event that is designed to drive urgency and visits during the early season.  They would not give details, but reference the Boysenberry Festival at Knott's when speaking about it.  That event has created some of the busiest days at the park for the entire year when it takes place, and it sounds like they want to duplicate it (though not in focus on boysenberries) at the other parks.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Sesame Place Building New Sesame Street Neighborhood with Live Character Show in 2019

© Sesame Place
Sesame Place will be celebrating their 50th anniversary in 2019, and is completely redoing their Sesame Street Neighborhood to mark the occasion.

Nestled in the center of the park, the Neighborhood has long been a true recreation of the set of the popular children's show, however that set has evolved over time.  The park is updating to better match the current appearance of the neighborhood, and expanding with new offerings at the same time.

© Sesame Place
This concept art gives a sample of what the new Sesame Street Neighborhood will look like.  You can also see drawings of the entire block in this promotional video:

The street will feature famous storefronts such as Hooper's Store and the 123 stoop along with Abby's Garden and more.  There will be several photo spots, including a brand new Big Bird's Nest, along the route and Sesame Place promises special interactive areas that will engage guests and delight young visitors.  For the first time ever, visitors can meet Snuffleupagus in person at the park this year as well.

Another big premier will be a new live show titled "Our Street Is Sesame Street," featuring the actual Muppet characters, including Elmo, Abby Cadabby and Big Bird, for the first time at the park.  I'm not sure if the show will take place in the storefronts of the Neighborhood, but the concept art above does feature the characters looking out of the windows.  The show promises to have guests singing, dancing and clapping along to the production.

© Sesame Place
The Neighborhood will also have a new location to get delicious treats named Cookie Monster's Foodie Truck.  Guests can sample snacks that both Cookie Monster and Gonger would be sure to devour, according to Sesame Place.

“Having been in this position now for just over a year, it is incredible to think of the remarkable transformation that has taken place at the park,” said Cathy Valeriano, Sesame Place Park President. “We have invested more resources than ever before into ensuring an outstanding experience for our guests.  From becoming the world’s first theme park to be designated a Certified Autism Center, to the opening of our second roller coaster, Oscar’s Wacky Taxi, and now opening our brand-new Sesame Street Neighborhood, the entire park will come to life in a way guests have never experienced before.