Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom Names New VP & GM

© Dorney Park
Dorney Park has announced the transitioning of the Vice President and General Manager role from Michael Fehnel to Jessica Naderman, who will be the first female in the park's 128 year history to hold this role.  Congratulations to Jessica!

Michael Fehnel is moving into a position with the corporate side of Cedar Fair, now serving as the company's Director of Business Intelligence.  He started at Dorney Park in 1992 and worked his way up to the highest position at the park, becoming VP & GM in 2013.  He also led Carowinds as their VP & GM for two years before returning to lead Dorney Park in 2016.

Jessica Naderman © Dorney Park
Jessica has had an equally impressive history with Cedar Fair, and the amusement industry in general.  She most previously was the Assistant General Manager of Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Galveston, but also held jobs at Kings Island, California's Great America, Valleyfair and outside of Cedar Fair for Herschend Entertainment and Palace Entertainment.

“I am thrilled to take on this new role and lead the talented team at Dorney Park,” Naderman said. “My passion for the industry will contribute to our mission of inspiring lasting connections and lifelong memories for all by delivering amazing experiences. I am honored to be Dorney Park’s first female general manager.”


While Jessica moves to the front lines of Dorney Park's operations, Mike Fehnel will move to a behind the scenes role.  He will "focus on evaluating and implementing strategic initiatives aimed at maximizing the operational performance of the company’s premium products such as Fast Lane."


“I am enthusiastic for this new opportunity to draw upon my past experience at Dorney Park and Carowinds to impact another area of our company,” said Fehnel. “Business Intelligence has become an important part of Cedar Fair, and I couldn’t be more excited to join that talented team.”

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Heard On... Six Flags Entertainment's Q1 2022 Earnings Call

© Six Flags
Six Flags Entertainment Company also had some generally good news to share when they recently announced their Q1 2022 earnings.  The company is moving ahead with their new CEO at the helm, and the bulk of their priorities have shifted to a focus on guest comfort visit experience.  To that end, let's take a look at some notes from the call.

•  In the first quarter, revenues were $138 million, up from $82 million in 2021.  That translated to a EBITDA loss of $16 million, improved from a loss of $46 million in 2021.  Attendance was 1.7 million guests, up from 1.3 million guests in 2021.  Total guest spending per capita was $75.46, an impressive increase from $56.16 in 2021.


•  Comparing 2022 to 2019 we see that revenue increased by $10 million, based off a $15 admission per capital increase and a $12 in park per capital increase.  2022 saw a 22% reduction in attendance when compared to 2019, and EBITDA in 2022 improved by $16 million over 2019.

•  Active pass base at the end of the quarter was 3.6 million, down 12% from last year.  They've stopped selling memberships, so that is to be expected.  The 3.6 million is split evenly between 1.8 million members and 1.8 million season pass holders.  The company expects their active pass base to decrease over time as they raise prices and legacy memberships end.


© Six Flags
•  However, the Six Flags leaders do recognize that someone people like to pay on a monthly basis for budget reasons, so they'll probably bring back a payment plan option for season passes this summer.  But it won't be a membership... it sounds more like how Cedar Fair lets you pay over a certain number of months.


•  The new CEO seems to really hate the all season dining plans that he eliminated.  He went on for a good while about how people would pay $80 for an all season plan and it was very unprofitable for the company, and made food lines super long and terrible.  And alienated day visitors who just wanted to get their family dinner.  By increasing admission prices, eliminating season dining and getting rid of free tickets they are pleased with the guest quality, noting that security incidents this year are down 80% compared to last year.

•  Interestingly, Six Flags has almost 3 million non-paid visits last year, a result of various program benefits.  They've eliminated that for this year, and are trending about 20% less attendance year to date than 2019.  However, guest scores and spending are up.  They believe that running at 30 million visitors a year is far too many guests for the parks to hold, and having all season dining attracts a certain kind of visitors that clogs the parks up.  They think that an overall decrease needed in attendance is probably between 10% and 15%.

© Six Flags
•  Progress is being made on six initiatives listed three months ago; priorities set out by the new CEO.  Ride throughput has been helped by adding single rider lines at many parks on busy days.  Second, staffing levels have been improved and more training is creating friendlier employees.  Third is the appearance of the parks, which is being worked on through brand new entrances at a couple parks, improved landscaping, renovated restrooms and improved dining facilities.  Fourth is offering better food, which a new executive chef has debuted items like rotisserie chicken, salads, and better versions of park staples like hamburgers and pizza.  They also debuted their own brand of coffee shop - Roller Coasters Coffee.  Fifth is guest amenities, and more benches, sun covers, more dining areas, seat cushions and improved wifi.  Sixth is upgrading park apps for guests to use, allowing them to reserve a parking spot, plan which lines to pay to skip, order food on their mobile, and in the park actually posting digital sign with ride wait times listed.

•  The park has been able to bring up the daily ticket price, part of their strategy of not giving away the gate, and that resulted in an $5 or so average increase per visitor in admission revenue.  They note that their competitors, Cedar Fair and SeaWorld, have 25-30% higher ticket prices across all types.  But, they expect to close that gap this summer or by the start of 2023.

•  2022 full year capital expenditures should be a bit higher when compared to 2021, as they have a balanced approach of "several exciting roller coasters and a focus on guest facing technology and amenities" that they are spending on.  I could not find any updates on what they plan to spend next year and moving forward.

•  The company has opted to no longer just try to grow attendance, now they're focusing on their premiumization strategy and improving guest experience to build a base to grow from.  That means reducing attendance for more comfortable visits that in turn create higher guest pending on premium products - everything from reserving lounge chairs to being able to sit and buy fancy coffee drinks and pastries.  The new CEO does a lot of defending of how that is a good plan, which makes sense, since it is his plan.  There was even a lot of justifying how parks will be busy since people want to get out of the house post-pandemic... things we already well know.  But he says that his plan is working, referencing how they plussed up the France area of Six Flags Over Texas and added a shop to buy coffee and pastries and the guests are loving it and spending money. 

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Heard On... Cedar Fair's Q1 2022 Earnings Call

© Cedar Fair

Cedar Fair announced record results for the first quarter of 2022, with strong indicators of a busy season ahead.  It seems that theme parks are still experiencing a post-pandemic rush, which is a great thing for us fans.  Cedar Fair had their usual conference call after the earnings came out, here are some notes from that:

• The January through April period had record revenues of $193 million, a $48 million increase over the first quarter of 2019 (the last really comparable quarter).  For the first three months revenues were $99 million, per capita spending was $58.86, and out of park revenues were $16 million.  Operating loss was $84 million, up from a loss of $92 million last year.  EBITDA was a loss of $68 million, up $15 million from last year.  Attendance was 1.45 million, up 24% from 2019.

•  At quarter close deferred revenue was at $234 million, up $36 million from the end of the calendar year.  Specifically, season passes were up $59 million over 2019 at the end of April, and "add on" features to passes were up $17 million.  Resort bookings were also ahead of 2019 levels, and bookings for the Cedar Point Sports Center are "very strong."

•  This year out of park revenues will be bolstered by the reopening of both Castaway Bay and Sawmill Creek resorts, which were closed last year.


© Cedar Fair
•  The labor market so far this year is somewhat better than last year, though hourly rates are still at a history record high.  They've introduced a "wage scale based on seniority, responsibility and job specialization" and are participating in the J-1 Visa Exchange program as much as they can.  This year Cedar Fair expects 2,400 total operating days across all parks and operating hours of 23,000, which is up 60% from 2021.  In 2021 the average seasonal labor rate was just over $17 per hour, so far this year it's 2-3% above that.

• With a big focus (and big spending to match) on culinary operations at the park, Cedar Fair reports that through the first 4 months of the year they had a F&B transaction count increase of 6%, which equates to 150,000 additional transactions, over 2019.  The average value of each transaction also increased by 25%.

•  The company is spending around $200 - $215 million on capital expenditures this year, $40 million of that was for Castaway Bay and Sawmill Creek.  Another $25 million will be for a full renovation of the Knott's Berry Farm hotel over the next year.  $60 million is being used to upgrade in-park culinary offerings and food delivery systems.  The rest (around $75 million to $90 million) is for "traditional investments in new rides, attractions and events designed to drive visitation, as well as technology and park infrastructure enhancements aimed at improving the overall guest experience." 


•  The CEO commented on capital expenditures and noted that he is excited about plans for 2023 and 2024.  He explained they're contracted on rides for those years and you always have to be contracted 24 months out for a new ride, and that manufacturer slots are filling up very fast as a sign of the strong industry recovery.


© Cedar Fair
•  The company aims to reduce long term debit to less than $2 billion, and last December paid off 50% of the loans they had to take out during the pandemic.  At the end of the first quarter total debt was $2.6 billion.  They also intend to reinstate the quarterly dividend by the 3rd quarter of this year, or sooner. 

• It sounds like the company is done giving out financial guidance.  Instead they will give updated trends at earnings releases that go past the quarter end, and trends after Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor Day weekends.  So our next updated form the company will just be a couple weeks away or less.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Dorney Park Opens For 139th Season - Let's See What's New

© NewsPlusNotes
Dorney Park opened this past weekend for the official start of its 139th season, the weekend before marked a preview for only season pass holders.  The park is operating pretty much as they did pre-covid which is a nice thing to see - granted some smaller changes (like smoking) that took place during the pandemic stuck, but things are generally back as they were.  I want to write something about being happy I won't be alive in 100 years for the next pandemic, but I'm not ready to risk jinxing things quite yet.

I digress.  The park is open!!  Granted I didn't have the best photo-taking weather but I can't complain.  Let's start at the start and take a look at all that's new or changed for 2022... a tradition we've been doing here on NewsPlusNotes for many years.

© NewsPlusNotes
When you approach the parking booths you may notice that the booths are brand new.  Finally!  That capital request must have been lost behind a desk for the last twenty or so years.  I kid.  They look nice and are much more comfortable appearing for cashiers.  Granted we didn't get a really nice structure built over them as we've seen at other Cedar Fair parks in recent years, but it's still a welcome change.

© NewsPlusNotes
Always fun to see what the park wanted to advertise on their giant posters... this year we've got season passes, plenty of jobs, and Grand Carnivale. That checks out.  However regarding staffing I will say that on my visit the park appeared very well staffed, and I hope they're able to maintain that during the summer.

© NewsPlusNotes
All Cedar Fair parks are cashless now, and that's not really news.  You can find several cash conversion machines throughout the park, with the above one located outside the entrance near the ticket booths.  The process seems about as seamless as you'd expect considering you can do most anything at a kiosk these days.  I have heard a few people mention they feel the cards are only valid at Dorney, obviously untrue, so hopefully the messaging on that will get stronger in time.

© NewsPlusNotes
I am not sure why anyone would show up anywhere without having purchased tickets online beforehand, or at least researched purchasing tickets online beforehand... but if you do that at Dorney Park the gate price this year is $70.00.  As always, all the more reason to get a season pass, which is only $109.


© NewsPlusNotes
I also noticed that the main entrance turnstiles are no longer turnstiles!  Yes, as most parks have in recent years the area has been opened up with lanes for guests to easily pass through.   This makes stroller entry much easier and just makes sense considering most guests just have their phones scanned by the host as they pass by.  Also, and not a surprise, park maps are still a thing of the past as far as I can tell, with them not returning this year.


© NewsPlusNotes
The park has cleared the mini-stage that was in the middle of the Main Midway just past the Carousel, originally the location of a water fountain, then a planter, then a box stage.  This should help open up the area during Grand Carnivale which is smart.  This part of the park is quite busy during Grand Carnivale season.

© NewsPlusNotes
Like the other parks in the Cedar Fair family, Coasters Drive-In has had some renovations take place that make the restaurant much more efficient this year.  Plus, the food offerings are somewhat different and definitely improved.

© NewsPlusNotes
The inside of the restaurant features cafeteria style serving, akin to what you find at Tidal Wave Cafe in Wildwater Kingdom.  After the serving area there are 4 different registers that can be staffed, and beyond that a self serve drink station.  This is a giant improvement on operations, it wasn't crowded on my visit but I'm anxious to see how it holds up during the busy summer evenings.  

Food choices were also changed, but still include hamburgers.  Now there are other dishes such as meatloaf, hand breaded chicken tenders and pot roast as well.


© NewsPlusNotes
There is a chance that some items I note in this article were new last year, and I just missed them, but I'll mention them regardless.  I believe that Talon's on ride photos got a snazzy new sign. 

© NewsPlusNotes
The arcade on the main midway has been changed considerably inside.  This comes as Cedar Fair has partnered with an outside company to run the arcades at many of their parks, Dorney included.  There is new paint on the walls, all new games to explore, and a new prize area as well.  It looks great this year, and still serves as an excellent place to get a bit of air conditioning on a hot day.  Also of note, I think the same company is handling the vending style games that are located down by the gift shop across from Possessed.

© NewsPlusNotes
Also on the Main Midway is a brand new game, the Soccer Challenge, located next to the Wild Mouse's exit ramp.  Pretty straight forward game, kick the ball through the goal and win!

© NewsPlusNotes

© NewsPlusNotes
White Water Landing has received love in the past few off-seasons, as the ride ages the park is spending considerable cash to keep it in tip top shape.  This year the ride's supports have been repainted a much darker shade than they've ever been before.

© NewsPlusNotes
The lighting on the day I visited was poor due to the cloudy sky, so here is a photo from last year that gives a decent comparison to the above photos - you can definitely see the supports rocking their new look.

© NewsPlusNotes
The Seasons of Fun marketing message is popular with many Cedar Fair parks, and I don't recall seeing it at Dorney before.  As the year just is getting started, we still have the hot summer season, the fun of Grand Carnivale, and spooky Halloween activity (spooky, thank goodness) to look forward to.

© NewsPlusNotes
A look at the live entertainment being offered in 2022 at Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom.  The park should be proud, as the Uprights dueling piano show has really taken off and is now featured at several parks in the chain!  I could be wrong, but I think it originated at Dorney.

© NewsPlusNotes
The change in pavement here made me think something was new, and yes, this planter is new.  Why does that matter?  It doesn't, I just noticed it was different, then doubted myself, but then thankfully...

© Google
Google Street View to the rescue!  The park has a lot of large mature trees, and unfortunately sometimes they get diseased and have to come down.  Such is life.

© NewsPlusNotes
Dorney has been making strides in upping the comfort level of the park, with additional seating in recent years.  They definitely took another step forward this year by adding these nice little covered seating areas for guests to relax in.  I spotted at least 4 of them, and did take a minute to relax at one.  Great improvement!

© NewsPlusNotes
I'm not sure if the more permanent sign about Thunderhawk being an ACE Roller Coaster Landmark is new or not, but it was new to me.  The ride will have its 100th season next year, and it's 100th anniversary the following year.  #bringbackthetunnel

© NewsPlusNotes
Stinger field is looking.... grassy.  And undisturbed in any way.  However I did notice that the park cleared the treeline that was bordering the entrance road, back behind that green fence you can see.  They planted some small bushes in place of the removed trees, some of which were pretty big.  

© NewsPlusNotes
And luckily because I take far too many photos of an empty field each year I have one from last year for comparison.  I put a rectangle around some of the trees you could see along the road that are no longer there.

Does this mean anything?  Maybe.  Probably not.  I'm not ready to get too excited yet... let's wait a bit longer.

© NewsPlusNotes
Monster got a brand new entrance marquee, looking good with the tentacle font!  I'd like to use the tentacle font to type these stories, if available please.

© NewsPlusNotes

© NewsPlusNotes

The Whip had some work done to the roof, very noticeable as the facade that was applied to the top of the roof line was removed.  I'm thinking the roof needed some work, or the facade was just at the end of its life, but either way the building has a cleaner, simpler look now.  The inside got some new popcorn lights, I believe.  I adore that the park takes such good care of such a classic ride.

© NewsPlusNotes
There is a nice covered seating area (again, might have been last year) that is situated next to the ice cream and funnel cake outlet in the lower part of the park.  Plus, the park relocated the ice cream sign that was located at the soft serve stand which was removed a couple years ago.  That sign is very much a part of older-Dorney, nice to see it back.

© NewsPlusNotes
Last but not least, in fact probably most importantly, the park now offers six custom designed Made to Thrill posters.  Alfundo gets his own, Steel Force, Talon, Thunderhawk and Hydra each have one, and Hercules has one too!  Just so awesome.  I cannot reveal how many of them are already in my home!  They're exclusively available at the park, so make sure to grab one, or six, while visiting.

That's it for now, stay tuned for future updates this season!

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Pirates of Speelunker Cave Opens at Six Flags Over Texas

© Six Flags Over Texas
Six Flags Over Texas celebrated this weekend by opening their all new dark ride attraction, Pirates of Speelunker Cave to excited guests.  The attraction is a heavy renovation of the ride that was known as Yosemite Sam and the Gold River Adventure, and is a tribute and retelling of the original attraction in that spot - The Cave.

© Six Flags Over Texas
The Cave featured "speelunkers" characters which were a part of the original storyline, and they have made their triumphant return in the modern attraction - but with pirates, too!  The ride utilizes many  special effects in addition to traditional sets to tell the ride's storyline plus it features an original soundtrack.  Riders board a six passenger boat as they set sail into the Speelunker Cave, and pass through an impressive total of 17 scenes before the journey is over.  As a nod to the ride's original opening in 1964 the park has filled the path with 64 Speelunker characters... a fun quest would be to try to find them all!

If you're interested in taking a virtual spin into the Pirates of Speelunker Cave, Six Flags Over Texas has you covered.  Just click this link and check out a brand new point of view video of the ride!

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Darien Lake's Predator Receives New GCI Steel Titan Track

© Darien Lake
Darien Lake, err Six Flags Darien Lake, has spilled the beans that their wooden roller coaster, Predator, has received an undisclosed amount of Great Coasters International's new steel Titan Track.  Technically the park didn't say much more than some eye balls and the above photo, but we get the idea and this is definitely Great Coasters' new steel track in place.  The new steel track is aimed at smoothing out the ride experience on some older wooden coasters that have become a bit rough as they age.

Titan Track is advertised as being able to to support much more extreme elements, including inversions, on wooden coasters.  These include rides that Great Coasters created over the years but also ones they did not - like the Predator at Darien Lake.  That ride was built by Dinn Corp. and opened in 1990.  The Titan Track also contains no welds, so it requires less maintenance and also is fast and easy to install, so says Great Coasters.

© Great Coasters International
Great Coasters, who have partnered with Skyline Attractions on the Titan Track, first installed a section of the track on White Lightning at FunSpot in Orlando, as a kind of proof of concept, back in 2019.  There was a lot of interest in the product but then as we well know the amusement industry kinda stopped for 2 years due to the pandemic, and now things are moving again.  There's another unannounced wooden coaster expected to get Titan Track this year, and these first steps could lead to parks having a choice - do they want to "RMC" their wooden coasters, or "Titan Track" them?

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Hersheypark to Open New Attractions Memorial Day Weekend

© Hersheypark
Hersheypark has announced that the theme park's two new attractions - the Jolly Rancher Remix coaster and Mix'd Flavored by Jolly Rancher - will both open on Saturday May 28th, during Memorial Day weekend.  Both themed after Jolly Rancher candies, one attraction is a total makeover of one of the park's existing roller coasters, and the other is a brand new family thrill ride.

© Hersheypark

Mix'd Flavored by Jolly Rancher is a new flat ride the features spinning arms that look like they might collide, however that's all in the fun of the mixing attraction (seen in the first photo up top).  Riders will sit back to back as the arms spin and the attraction is sure to be memorizing for those watching it from the ground.  There are not many of this style of ride in the U.S. at the moment, so it will be great to have another one open up.

© Hersheypark
The other photos in this article are of the Jolly Rancher Remix coaster, which is a renovation of the park's existing Boomerang roller coaster.  The new attraction features a bright paint job reflecting the flavors of the Jolly Rancher candies, but has some extra treats as well.  A new tunnel has been added (see middle photo) which features both special lighting and scents that randomly change each time the train is dispatched.  So while inverting 6 times both forward and backward, guests will also smell scents like Watermelon and Green Apple.

Thursday, May 5, 2022

The Latest on ArieForce One From Fun Spot America Atlanta

© Fun Spot America Atlanta
Fun Spot America Atlanta has topped off their new Rocky Mountain Construction roller coaster, ArieForce One.  Standing 154 feet tall, the new coaster has also had track placed all the way up the lift hill, first drop and the entrance to the ride's second element.  That's as far as vertical construction has gone thus far, though new footings, supports and track are going in quickly now that major construction is underway.

In the top photo the ride's second element will be just to the left of the view - that will be a giant Raven Truss Drive, which inverts trains as they plummet toward the ground.

© Fun Spot America Atlanta
This second photo that the park has shared gives us a look at the location of the rest of ArieForce One's layout.  There looks to be a significant amount of work still to be done on the second half of the ride.  The coaster will turn to the left and go past the mini-golf course seen here, then up over the building on the far left and turn around in the cleared area on the upper left of the shot.  I don't see footings yet in these areas, which obviously have to happen before vertical construction moves that way.  We will stay tuned to see the rest of the ride come to life!

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Cedar Point Announces New After Hours Event: Wild Frontier Nights

© Cedar Point
Cedar Point has announced plans to hold an all new after hours, adults only event several times this season, a first for the park.  Named Wild Frontier Nights, the party will feature plenty of exclusive ride time, food and beverage, special entertainment and more.  The event will feature a limited attendance base so that there will be plenty of opportunities for rides and other fun.  Plus, as an additional layer of exclusivity, the event is only open to those age 21 and over.

Wild Frontier Nights will be located in the park's Frontier Town and will be hosted by Lusty Lil, who is throwing quite a party for visitors.  Starting at 9 pm the action will begin with a kickoff by Lil herself, and the fun extends all the way till midnight.  Visitors of this separate admission ticket required event will be able to take in plenty of "wild frontier eats, beats and feats" with special food and alcoholic beverages offered, tons of live entertainment and activities in addition to rides.

Some of the park's best rides will be open for Wild Frontier Nights, including Steel Vengeance, Maverick, SkyHawk, Cedar Creek Mine Ride and the Wave Swinger.  Additional activities include axe throwing and mechanical bull riding, and there are 5 live shows plus a DJ!  Lots of fun packed into the three hours the event will run.

Tickets start at $99.99 for admission, with food and beverage costs additional.  Wild Frontier Nights will take place on June 3rd, 4th, 10th and 11th.  Lots more information on the event can be found on the park's website.