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How to Make Ride Announcements Better for Amusement Park Chains

Mako at SeaWorld San Diego

It’s that time of year again – time for park fans to begin serious speculation about what may (or may not) be coming to their favorite parks in 2020.

With SeaWorld Parks already making announcements (or teasing them) for all of their parks, Cedar Fair and Six Flags are up next to reveal what’s in the works for next season.

Mako at SeaWorld San Diego

All of the SeaWorld parks are expecting major, new additions to their facilities in 2020, including Mako at the original SeaWorld in San Diego, CA.

There seems to be two trains of thought on how to best make these announcements: by individual park or as a complete chain.

At Cedar Fair it appears the chain spreads out their announcements, usually over a two week period, so that each park receives their “day in the sun” with media coverage in their local markets.

Meanwhile at Six Flags, the chain has made it a tradition to announce every park’s newest addition in a single video, with each park sending out a release to their local media. The idea is that the single announcement carries more weight on a national level, which should translate into more traction with the national media.

But this “one day fits all” strategy does have a potential flaw: what if a park hasn’t opened their new ride from 2019? Wouldn’t that potentially kill the buzz for both?

Sadly, for the good folks at Six Flags Magic Mountain, they don’t have to imagine this scenario – they’re living it.

Since their “new for 2019” attraction, West Coast Racers, isn’t even finished being built, it’s highly likely the park will be forced to announce another new ride, without even finishing the last one they announced.

West Coast Racers at Six Flags Magic Mountain

Despite being announced in late August of 2018, West Coast Racers is still far from being complete.

Personally, I’m a fan of the spread out approach. The collective anticipation continues to build throughout the week or two you keep dropping announcements. Plus, there’s a smaller probability that your least-visited parks or smaller investments won’t be lost in the giant, one day announcement.

And if a situation like Magic Mountain’s sets up, there’s flexibility built into it to delay an announcement.

No matter the way you announce it, 2020 is setting up to be a record year for new capital investment. Let the speculation and intrigue begin!

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What do you think? Are you a fan of a “one day” or “spread out” announcement style for new rides and attractions? Let me know in the comment section below – and be sure to check us out on social media as well!

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No More Free Rides: Companies Need to Stop Asking for Free Marketing from Fans

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: a company puts out a call to its fans online, asking if they have any photos or videos of their product they might be able to use at upcoming trade shows.

The fans get the satisfaction of helping their favorite company. Sometimes, they get recognition for the project and some company swag.

Meanwhile, the company gets a life-long license to market and use that image or video to help sell their product(s), which can easily cost in the millions of dollars.

How is that fair?

As a whole, our industry has become too reliant on the kindness of our fans. Asking for free marketing material is reckless, outdated and insulting to professionals in the field.

It’s Reckless:

Were all the subjects in the photo aware they were being photographed commercially? Was everything properly permitted? Were there any releases signed for the photos or video?

If the answer is no to any of these, it could cost you hundreds of lost man-hours in the office and potentially thousands of dollars in unnecessary legal fees.

And who’s to say the work you get back is any good? If they aren’t being paid, what motivation is there to give you their best material?

It’s Outdated:

15-20 years ago, there might have been the argument that allowing a company to use a work, “with attribution” in order to gain exposure would be a good idea.

But with the advent of social media, that model has fundamentally changed. Fans don’t need companies to get famous – they can do it on their own, now.

It’s Insulting:

You would not build a ride for free if someone asked, right? So why then would you ask someone to give you something they worked hard on?

For the cost of one or two Allen Bradley Safety Relays, you can ensure that your company will have powerful and flexible marketing materials for years to come.

Kris Rowberry, Great Coasters International photo

Yours truly in front of a photo taken for GCI that was properly executed and compensated.

Bottom line: fans are a wonderful resource for parks and vendors, but their fandom should never be exploited by the very companies they love the most.

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What do you think? Should companies stop asking fans for free stuff? Or do you think it’s harmless interaction with their fans? Let me know in the comments below and be sure to follow us on our social networks!


Kris Rowberry Returns to Great American Thrills

Kris Rowberry

Hey everyone! It’s been awhile since we last talked. Two and a half years, to be precise.

No, it wasn’t you – it was me. A necessary hiatus what with me taking a position in the Communications Department of a major theme park here in the south.

But as of this week, that restriction have been lifted, so you’ll be able to expect hearing from me on a semi-regular basis once again.

I’m so sorry.

You’ll also be seeing some changes to the site over the next few months, with some new features as well as a new look. I’ll be sure to keep you all up to speed as we transition back into regular programming.

It’s been a long two and a half years – we’ve got a lot to catch up on.

But, just to be safe, let’s not wait that long to talk to one another ever again – okay?

– KR

Kris Rowberry

Kris Rowberry is back at Great American Thrills!


Winterfest at Great America Gives a Shimmering Debut

It is rare in the amusement industry to meet expectations, especially for hardcore park fans. It is an even rarer event to exceed those expectations.

After I experienced Winterfest at California’s Great America this past Friday, I am happy to report that my expectations for this park have been forever shattered, in the most wonderful of ways.

Star Tower has been magically transformed into the North Pole, complete with decorations and a new ob-board spiel.

Star Tower has been magically transformed into the North Pole, complete with decorations and a new on-board spiel.

With a little help from local figure skating Olympian Polina Edmunds and Snoopy, the park lit it’s impressive 60 foot tall tree:

Winterfest Main Tree

Now, if you live in Santa Clara and find it difficult to get a Christmas Tree in Santa Clara – blame this park – as hundreds of Douglas Firs are spread throughout it. They’re used both as ambiance as well as effective barriers to closed-off sections of the park. The result is quite striking: not only does it look like Christmas, it SMELLS like it, too.

 

Snowflake Lake:

Arguably the most striking feature of Winterfest, this honest-to-goodness ice rink is in the middle of Carousel Columbia’s reflection pond.

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If you intend on going skating, check-in first at the Stroller Rental. That’s where you’ll have to fill out the waiver (thanks, California) and if you’re under 18, you’ll need a parental signature to hit the rink. When we first arrived, it was unclear where we had to go to first, so we lost skating time as a result.

Also, you CAN bring your own skates, but the additional fee to skate still applies (I.E. no discount). Just be prepared to get a locker to keep them safe, unless you want to lug them around the park the rest of the evening.

Finally, if you happen to be late for your scheduled ice skating time (it’s given in blocks of 30 minutes) you’ll be given the final skate of the night by default.

Santa’s Reindeer:

Winterfest Reindeer

Sitting on the site of the much-beloved “Triple Play” Huss Troika, the reindeer paddock saw consistent crowds all evening long. If you’ve never seen a real one up-close, it’s quite a treat. Listen for the snapping from their hoof tendons as they prance around. The site also provides unique (albeit dark) photo opportunities for the Patriot coaster (nee Vortex) due to open in 2017.

 

Entertainment / Shows:

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Under the brilliant management of Entertainment Director, Clayton Lawrence, the quality of shows in the park and overall experiences available to guests during Winterfest has met or exceeded those of the Marriott-era.

Yes, I said it. Because it’s true.

As during “Taste of Orleans” – there were characters everywhere – happy to interact with you and your family. There was always a show you could go and see, all with high production value and jaw-dropping visuals. The decorations and lighting around the park brought it to life in a away none of us have seen before. When Santa appeared at the end of the show, the kids in the audience legitimately GEEKED OUT. It was fully immersive entertainment – my God it was a THEME park again.

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Be sure to get to the shows you wish to see early, as the best seats go fast. Both theatres saw STANDING ROOM ONLY crowds – and that was on a Friday night. Just imagine how packed it could be once the word gets out!

“It’s Christmas, Snoopy” was so good – after Linus’ famous speech on the true meaning of Christmas…people applauded. That tells you a LOT. And to ensure complete inclusion in this holiday event – in addition to a nativity scene, there’s a Hanukkah menorah and Kwanzaa kinara in the park itself.

 

Merchandise:

I have made it no secret my disdain for the merchandise offerings from corporate parks (The 8-car Demon shirt, the California’s Great Adventure Gold Striker shirts) but, I’m willing to forgive my home park for ALL OF THAT, when I saw this:

 

THIS is what fans want to see in their local amusement park!

THIS is what fans want to see in their local amusement park!

 

And this…

CGA Winterfest Merch 2

 

And finally, this:

CGA Winterfest Merch 3

Ladies and gentlemen, that is park-specific merchandise (which is increasingly rare in the corporate park world). It took effort to create and it can only be sold in one park in the chain.

I bought the ornament immediately and look forward to it gracing my tree for decades to come.

Want to make a park fan happy? Just keep making merchandise like this. Don’t keep pushing generic “I ride with Him / Her” shirts. I’ll never buy one of those. But I sure as hell will grab unique pieces like this – and happily hand over my credit card.

 

Coal in the Stocking:

But, much like Christmas morning, sometimes you don’t always get everything you want. For instance, with all the glitz and lighting around it, Carousel Columbia wasn’t very well lit or distinguishable once the sun set. Just leaving the regular white up-lights with those blue highlights would vastly improve everyone’s front entrance photos and ice-selfies.

Jaw dropping from Star Tower, but remarkably touch to spot from the ground, Carousel Columbia could use some more lights on the front to stand out better.

Speaking of Columbia, all of the park maps (paper, online and in-park poster) have three errors on them, including the misspelling of the iconic carousel (it’s misspelled “COLOMBIA,” like the country). It’s hard for die-hard park fans to ignore when someone misspells your signature attraction:

Insert head-slap here.

Insert head-slap here.

Gold Striker and Flight Deck are both on single train operation – which is understandable – given the three and-a-half weeks the park’s maintenance staff has had to do a complete winter rehabilitation (it’s usually several months). But, if you choose to go to Winterfest just to ride either of these e-tickets, expect longer than average wait times (you really shouldn’t be going for the rides, anyway).

Lines for food also seemed to be longer than usual. I’m chalking it up to having the main food service area (County Fair’s Food Festival) not open as part of the festivities. Also, because that and half of Planet Snoopy aren’t open for Winterfest (you’ll walk along a decorated part of the service road instead), the park can feel more crowded than usual, so just be sure to bring plenty of Christmas cheer on crowded nights.

Food lines CGA

Final Thoughts:

Despite these bits of coal, Winterfest isn’t just worth your time or money – it should be mandatory that every family in the greater Bay Area check it out sometime this holiday season. Winterfest combines everything that other holiday events do in the area (plus coasters and rides) in just one location. It’s worthy of “tradition” status and did I mention there’s a 100% chance of snow?

Winterfest Snow


The IAAPA Attractions Expo Experience

As I was looking at some of the park fan message boards online, a common theme emerged recently: people wanting to go to the IAAPA convention in Orlando, “because it looked like fun.” Another posted that, “It looks like Disney’s D23, only for the whole industry,” and another said, “…the website is written in business-speak…”

Well, of course it is, because IAAPA isn’t held for park fans. Don’t be confused by some of the coverage you see on park blogs, IAAPA is all about three things: buying goods, selling goods and networking for jobs. Orange County Convention Center IAAPA

Millions of dollars of purchases are done in just the four days the event is held. There’s a ton of business being done on the floor and if you decide to attend as a park fan, you have to know when to respect that boundary.

Barreling up to the B&M or RMC booth to swoon over Walter, Fred or Alan – while they’re trying to talk to park owners – is not going to go over very well. In some cases, a company’s livelihood can depend on the meetings they have at this show.

Also, snapping photos without permission is a BIG no-no here. ALWAYS ask vendors if it’s okay to take a photo or record part of the booth for a video.

If you’ve got actual business to discuss then go ahead and speak to them when they’re free. If you’re a fan and just taking in the convention for fun, grab some literature and just move on. Speaking of discussing business…

Standing next to one of my photos in the Great Coasters booth.

Standing next to one of my photos in the Great Coasters booth.

The amusement industry – despite being worldwide – is a very tight knit group of individuals. Everyone knows everyone and word gets around fast. That’s why IAAPA is the perfect event to go to if you’re looking to get a job in the industry. The show gives you the opportunity to meet with prospective employers face to face – as well as give them a copy of your resume.

Despite what you might think from some of the other bloggers out there – the dress code says a LOT about your purpose. Shorts and a t-shirt emblazoned with your blog’s logo are not commonplace nor looked upon well by attendees. If you want to make a good impression, stand out from the other “schlubs” and come in a suit and tie.

One of the least talked about parts of the Attractions Expo is the seminars they hold. As members of IAAPA, they’re free with an expo badge. From learning about the business from Disney legends, to how to properly curate social media for your brand, to symposiums on laser tag – these edu-sessions give attendees quite a bit of insight, but tend to not get the fanfare that the show floor does.

Speaking of the show floor – yes, it’s true – there are a few rides and attractions you can go on at the show. It’s just like purchasing a new car. Just remember that those vendors are there to sell that ride – not entertain you with an ERT session.

GCI Booth IAAPA

If you truly love this industry and want to make it part of your career, I would make it a point, nee a pilgrimage to visit the annual IAAPA Attractions Expo. However, if you’re going to the convention because you think it’ll be a giant version of D23 and you’ll get to play all day – save your money and don’t bother going.


California’s Great America Winterfest Details Slowly Emerge

Traditionally, the final day of operations at California’s Great America occurs in the last weekend of October (or on rare occasions, the first day of November). But this year will be different – markedly different. Details are now being released on the park’s first-annual “WinterFest” – only the second time in it’s history the park will remain open past the first weekend in November. And if there was any doubt as to whether or not the park would go “all-in” the first year of the event – those questions have been quickly answered. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights:

Snowflake Lake:winterfest-skating

This is shaping up to be the “signature” attraction of the event – and for good reason. The reflection pond in front of Carousel Columbia will be frozen over (real ice from what our park contacts say, not plastic faux-ice) to create arguably the Bay Area’s most beautiful skating rink. No word if S.J. Sharkie or Santa Clara native, (and Olympian) Polina Edmunds will make an appearance, but I’m sure as heck sharpening my skates for this.

tree-lighting-winterfest

As part of the entertainment, there will be an Snoopy-themed Ice show, several holiday themed shows, a min-trolley filled with carolers and a nightly tree lighting ceremony behind Carousel Columbia. Aren’t you glad you upgraded to a Gold or Platinum Pass so you can take it all in over a few weekends?

After a test-run with the “Taste of Orleans” food festival earlier this summer, the “lighting competition” that will be staged inside Orleans Place should blow away park-goers. I’m thinking that it’ll rival Gilroy Gardens’ spectacular nighttime event, “Lumination.”

In Hometown Square, you’ll be able to see it snow – meet real reindeer and even browse the famous Christmas tree lot to find your own fern that “just needs a little love.” It also appears many of the food locations will be re-tolled and re-themed to reflect the holidays.

I’m also very happy to see the park create and use it’s OWN photos for the promotion of the event. By that, I mean most collateral in park chains is re-used (I.E. even though it’s Great America’s TV commercial – you’re looking at a ride from Knott’s). That is not the case with WinterFest – because that’s most certainly Maggie Brown’s behind the trolley. And who else is excited that the trolley is (sort of) coming back?!?

winterfest-singers

Little rough on the ISO – but beautiful to see nonetheless! Photo credit: California’s Great America

It should be noted that the entire park will not be open as part of WinterFest. Everything from just about Planet Snoopy over to Hometown Square will be – but don’t expect to challenge the Demon, Drop Zone, Psycho Mouse or the rest of County Fair this winter. Also, some of these activities will require an additional fee to participate (mostly out of capacity concerns, I imagine).

There are two major challenges the park faces in order to make this event an annual tradition: the weather and 39 years of learned, guest behavior. First, let’s talk about rain. It’s always a threat here in Northern California (except the past 5 years thanks to drought) so hold off your rain dances on the weekend – otherwise the event could be a complete wash.

Coasters generally do not run as well in the cold, at least B&M’s tend to be like this. If temps are around 45 or so, I’d expect to see fairly short lines for most of the park’s bigger attractions.

The other big challenge the park must overcome is the public itself. Not since opening season in 1976 have guests been able to enjoy the park after October (and even then it was rained out most of the time and never re-attempted). In addition, the nearly four week closure (needed to move things around and set them up) between Haunt closing and WinterFest starting up will be crucial to keeping the park “front of mind” with guests. Remember, most people throw away their old passes after the last day – and many might still think that’s October 30th.

Also, the Bay Area is also a very crowded market when it comes to holiday events, with several very established events in the South Bay. The park will have to do a masterful job of building the awareness that they’re still open and ready for fun nearly all the way to the New Year. (Both the Boardwalk and Six Flags have already established

So, who’s ready for a little winter cheer in Santa Clara next month? Let me know what you think in the comments section below:


Could Great America’s Consulate become the next great season pass perk?

Hidden in plain sight above Bourbon Street in Orleans Place, lies a little bit of Disney magic inside the confines California’s Great America:

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The balcony of the Consulate as seen during the Taste of Orleans festival.

Known as “The Consulate” – it’s primary function is a meeting room, where some of the biggest decisions about the park have gone down.

Photo courtesy of The Coaster Guy - used with permission.

Some of the biggest deals in the park’s history have been signed at this table. Photo courtesy of The Coaster Guy – used with permission.

But that wasn’t always the intended purpose. In fact, it was originally built with the idea that the Marriott’s would use the space to stay during trips, a la the apartment above the firehouse at Disneyland. That is, until the Marriott’s realized they had nice hotels already near their properties with concierge service and a lack of crowds.

So while the Consulate is still used today for business – what if it’s wrought iron gates were opened to a select few park-goers as a VIP lounge? And what if you could upgrade your Platinum Pass to a “Consulate Pass?”

Photo courtesy of The Coaster Guy - used with permission.

Photo courtesy of The Coaster Guy – used with permission.

The idea isn’t that far fetched – several parks have hosted hospitality centers for bloggers and other influencers, where they could store items and get free refills and snacks, all away from the crowds. Why not give guests the opportunity to pay for that same, sweet access?

Plus, the pass could add a few other perks, maybe higher discounts for food and merchandise – or even a single fast lane per visit. It’s a Platinum, Platinum Pass.

Since upgrading to a Platinum Pass isn’t worth the cost for most Bay Area folks, with the exception of those who want to go to Knott’s (and I’ve covered that in a previous article) and considering an upgrade from a Gold Pass to a Platinum Pass doesn’t add any more value to a visit at CGA, maybe this benefit might be the incentive people need to pony up those extra bucks. And since we’re here in Silicon Valley, receiving that “premium” experience is not a hard sell.

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The Consulate seems frozen in time. Photo courtesy of The Coaster Guy – used with permission

Should it be by invite only? Probably to start. Parks tend to (or should) know their heaviest users and could easily identify probable candidates from common knowledge – or just looking at pass usage data.

What do you think? Would you pay up to get access to the Consulate? How much would you be willing to shell out to step up to the second floor? Let me know in the comments below.

Again, special thanks to Kurt (The Coaster Guy) for permission to use his photos of the Consulate during ACE’s Coaster Con XXXVII!