Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Legoland it is!

According to the Orlando Sentinel, they've been able to get ahold of an email that mentions Legoland's 5th location will be built at Cypress Gardens.

That didn't take long at all, only a few hours after my last post.

I still don't believe in this product. Sure, I'll probably go to Legoland once to check it out (I've been to Busch Gardens once for this same purpose) but I won't be tempted to drive out to Legoland every few months or days. That is, unless they want to hire me to be their Executive VP. Then I'd drive out there every day.

I am looking forward to what they bring - Legoland ususally brings a good number of dark rides and good experiences - plus all those little Lego recreations will certainly be fun.

I do wonder what drove them to purchase this site - it had to be a rock bottom price, as there's really no upside to its location or infrastructure - the rides that weren't sold are off the shelf designs, if they intend to keep them it'll take a lot of money to re-theme. Plus, Legoland is really all about custom built rides that are heavily Lego themed, I'd really hesitate to believe any of the old rides will stay.

I also wonder how this will affect Lego's store at Downtown Disney. Much like the speculation about Marvel Superhero Island when Disney bought Marvel earlier last year, this sends mixed messages. Lego has their own park, but they still have a presence in Disney? I'm sure the store makes a buttload of money, but I just wonder how many people will be in Downtown Disney saying "which way to Legoland?"

I am looking forward to tomorrow's press conference where Merlin will hopefully shed more details as to what the new park will look like. I guess only time will tell!

Cypress Gardens

So the big news out of Orlando this week is that Merlin Entertainment (the owners of Legoland, amongst other things) are buying Cypress Gardens.

A brief history of Cypress Gardens is necessary to understand its current position.

The park opened in 1936 as a botanical garden - and became the most popular attraction in Florida, thanks in part to the beautiful scenery and the waterski shows. The original owners held onto it until their retirement, then passed it to their son. Their son decided he didn't want to run the park anymore, and moved to sell it.

A group of investors including rival Circus World theme park (which would later become Boardwalk and Baseball) and SeaWorld/Anheuser Busch bought the park in the early 1980's - but the partners relenquished their stake in the park to Busch. 6 years later, the park's management bought the park from Busch.

Then, in 2003, after the tourism decline thanks to 9/11, the park shut down for the first time. Enter Adventure Parks Group, who bought the park in 2004. They intended to reopen in late Summer 2004, but the awful hurricane season intervened and delayed it.

Adventure parks, however, did a good thing - they decided to add rides to the park. They bought some off the shelf thrill rides (mostly from Vekoma), and a handful of roller coasters from other parks to try to inject some fun into the park. They also built a waterpark on site, expanding the park and its appeal. Unfortunately, by the fall of 2006 the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The cost of repairs from the hurricanes proved too much to recover from. It should be noted that the park did not close at this point.

Land South Adventures bought the park in a bankruptcy auction in late 2007, and replaced the management team with Baker Leisure Group in early 2008. Baker Leisure Group has been the management team for dozens of attractions and has a huge amount of experience in the industry, including taking over operations at Freestyle Music Park (Formerly Hard Rock Park).

Land South temporarily closed the park in late 2008, reopening in March 2009, and did something I don't understand - they removed all the rides. Remember, the reason the park was sold last was because of the financial difficulty they had after the hurricanes and repairs, and at least publically the issue was not park attendance or profitability. Insurance companies were notoriously slow in paying out to ANYONE, but businesses had an especially tough time.

So the rides are now gone, and they split the waterpark off into a separate gate from Cypress Gardens, and reopen in March 2009. Not surprisingly, 6 months later, the park was immediately closed stating that they'd investigated every possible avenue to keep the park open, and it wasn't a possibility.

Then this week Merlin Entertainment bought the park (or if you read the Orlando Sentinel newspaper, Legoland bought it). Do they own and operate much more than Legoland - they operate the London Eye, the Madam Tussaud's locations, and plenty more locations - mostly overseas.

This is the map that shows the distance between Walt Disney World and Cypress Gardens. It's about a 1 hour drive, give or take a little bit. If you're trying to open a new park in the Orlando area - you don't do it in Winter Haven, an hour away from the market you're trying to be in.

It's been no secret that there has been some interest in building a Legoland in the Orlando area - this past summer speculation ran wild that Legoland was close to buying a spot on Highway 192, but was also considering buying Cypress Gardens.

So with no official confirmation as to what their plans are, who knows what Merlin is up to. Could they be building a Legoland park in Florida? Or are they looking to revitalize the park and run it mostly as is?

My question about this whole situation would be who wants to buy a park that's closed 3 times and has changed hands 6 times now?

Was the price so cheap that they couldn't refuse? Or is there some charm in those gardens that you just can't find anywhere else? Personally, I wouldn't touch that area with a 10 foot pole. Who wants to start the countdown for when the park closes again? If it is indeed a Legoland, the park will not sell again - it will close. Merlin isn't about to let a Legoland location be owned by someone else.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Cap'n Wacky World

I promised I wouldn't write about Universal again right away.

Today I keep that promise - and I share with out something a good friend of mine, Brodie Brockie, did:

Click here to visit Cap'n Wacky World!


Ready to visit the theme park that’s dreamier than Disneyland, morethrilling than Cedar Point, wetter than Sea World, knottier than Knott’sBerry Farm, and less bankrupt than Six Flags? Amalgamated Humor is proud to finally present the website of our family resort destination, Cap’n Wacky World

In reality, Cap’n Wacky World is a hilarious and detailed satire of themodern-day amusement park. In its extensive list of attractions, shows,dining locations, and ubiquitous giftshops, you’ll find parodies of the Disney family of parks, Sea World, Six Flags, and all the also-rans.

At the heart of Cap’n Wacky World is Five Points Park, our premiere themepark, and an intensely-themed amusement destination divided into six distinct sections: Sea Point, Kiddie Point, Thrill Point, Education Point, Giftshop Point, and Lighthouse Court. Five Point Park is the home of such famous rides as the spooky Retirement Mansion, the overly-traditional Grimm’s Traditional Fairy Tales, and the now-closed It’s a World of Ethnic Stereotypes, plus shows like The Giant Mermaid, the allegedly-educational Kablooey: The Musical, and the humiliating Shame-oo The Killer Whale, and much, much more.

Sea Point and Giftshop Point are now open for guests. In the coming weeks, we’ll reveal the rest of the park with Kiddie Point opening onJanuary 22, Thrill Point on January 29, and Education Point and Lighthouse Court both opening on February 5th. Check out the full list of attractions, shows, dining locations, and more in each of the park’s sections, and you’ll want to visit Cap’n Wacky World so badly that you’ll wish it wasn’t fictional.

Cap’n Wacky World is the latest creation from Cap’n Wacky’s Boatload ofFun, the ten-year old internet humor diversion that previously brought the world hits like the Gallery of Unfortunate Valentines, the Parade of Unfortunate Star Wars Costumes, The Deadly Follies of Stick Figure Warning Man, eGad, and lots more.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

U Select Magic Your Way

I promised myself I wouldn't write another article about Universal next. I lied.

To be fair - how couldn't I? They have the biggest story this week: A new pricing structure called Magic Your Way U Select.

Click here to see the new price structure.

Magic Your Way was seen as a revolution in pricing. People wanted a 1 day park hopper, which didn't exist. Someone can correct me, but I believe park hopping wasn't an option until a 3 or 4 day ticket.

Anyone who's worked a Disney main gate can tell you the amount of trouble the park hopping option causes. Most people understand it, but the ones who don't get very upset. For example - If I buy Three 1 Day tickets to Disney, I could use them all in one day at Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Studios. Oh look - they have a 3 day ticket - great, I'll just hop over to a park and use another one of my days. Sorry - that's considered park hopping, not using another day on your ticket. That'll cost you an upcharge.

What I do like about Universal's option is that the park-to-park feature costs as little as $10 more - and at most $30 more. What's unfortunate is that the 7 Day 2 park ticket that cost you $99 a week ago now costs you $170 - a 72% increase (Orlando Sentinel - 1/11/10). That's a pretty steep price.

Disney base tickets have 3 options to add - Fun (WaterParks/DisneyQuest/Oak Trail/Sports Complex), Park Hopping, and No Expiration. The tickets expire 14 days after the first use if you don't add No Expiration - but it's not immediately clear whether these tickets expire or not (they do, and not surprisingly, 14 days after the first use.)

A lot of people view this as Comcast (the new owner of NBC Universal) is instituting these changes - however, they don't actually own them yet. What does surprise me is that Blackstone - owning both Universal and Sea World didn't take the opportunity to add an option to park hop between Sea World, Busch Gardens and the Universal Parks. Of course, from an outsider's perspective that's an obvious choice, but not necessarily an easy one to determine internally - who gets revenue from the ticket? Ticket sellers? First use in a day? Someone is going to get hosed in that scenario.

So why couldn't Universal come up with their own ticket structure? Is this a clever way to hide a price hike (and a substantial one at that) ahead of Harry Potter (those theme park attractions don't pay for themselves)? Or is this truly giving the consumers the options they want to choose to have a customizable ticket? One thing is for sure - it will be easier for people who are using both Disney and Universal tickets, they'll get a heck of a lot of consistency... you can't park hop at either without paying, and the tickets expire in 14 days. Not a lot of confusion to be had....

... Nah, they'll still get confused. Who am I kidding?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Universal Mardi Gras 2010 vs 2009

Universal annoucned their Mardi Gras concert series for 2009 the other day, and the list is as follows:

- Sat., Feb. 6: KC and The Sunshine Band
- Sat., Feb. 13: Heart
- Sun., Feb. 14: Kool & the Gang
- Sat., Feb. 20: Blondie
- Sat., Feb. 27: Dierks Bentley
- Sat., March 6: Akon
- Sat., March 13: Aretha Franklin
- Sat., March 20: Miranda Lambert
- Sat., March 27: 3 Doors Down
- Sat., April 3: Beach Boys
- Fri., April 9: Sheryl Crow
- Sat., April 10: Flo Rida
- Sat., April 17: Chicago

Now compare that to 2009's lineup:

KC and the Sunshine Band
Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons
The Village People
Pat Benatar(featuring Neil Giraldo on guitar)
Barenaked Ladies
Montgomery Gentry
Collective Soul
Boys Like Girls
Kelly Clarkson
MC Hammer
Trace Adkins

Am I alone in thinking that this year's lineup is geared to an older group of fans? That was the very first thing that struck me. The Beach Boys? Chicago? Heart? I kind of doubt a Nelly or Kelly Clarkson fan would be able to tell you one song of theirs.

In Milwaukee they hold the World's largest Music Festival called "Summerfest." A few years back they made the decision to change from booking headliner acts like Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake to booking Stevie Wonder, Chicago & Earth Wind and Fire, Bon Jovi and KISS. Why the change? Because they were smart enough to realize that the generation who likes those artists was the one that had the money.

I think Universal is smart in going after the, dare I say, older crowd. Times are still tough, and we all have cut back in our spending habits, but in an article in this week's Time Magazine, it says that more teens have lost their jobs in this recession than they did in the Great Depression. Teen disposable income (which is basically all their income) is drastically down - and they won't be buying your Univeral annual passes to see these concerts any time soon (though they did throw in a couple younger shows to not exclude them entirely). It's much better to entice the generation with money to come back to Universal a few times - sell them an annual pass since it'll pay for itself after a couple visits, then they come back all year, since it's free.

I used to have a Universal Annual pass. You know how many times I went and spent money? Every time. Even if it was just a soda (a $4 soda, I'm sure) - I bought something every time. The adults will go to Margaritaville, Rising Star, Hard Rock, etc, maybe dance at The Groove... plus the adults who come to the theme park repeatedly aren't likely to cause the problems that come with repeat teen visitors.

So who'll play Mardi Gras 2011? Older groups? Younger, newer stars? Or a mix? Only time will tell - but Mardi Gras is obviously part of Universal's strategic plan for annual pass sales and boosting a slow period's attendance (February/March is always a slow time in Orlando until Spring Break hits).

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Harry Potter and the Unmeetable Deadline

Today, reports that the biggest thing to hit Universal Orlando since IOA itself, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, will be ready to debut its signature attraction on March 1st.


Who here thinks that's even a remote possibility? I know the intent is to have it open for Summer, and I realize they even want it open for Grad Bash, but March 1st is awfully lofty. That gives you 7 weeks to select and train an opening cast, get through soft openings (though Rip, Ride, Rockit sure showed us that soft openings are really just optional at this point) and be completely show ready.

If you were to tell me that Hogwarts Castle would be complete by March 1st I'd believe it - anyone who drives by Universal can see Hogwarts from I-4, and what a sight to see it is - but in order to have that attraction ready, wouldn't you have to have the land surrounding it ready for guests as well?

Assuming what Screamscape heard is true (and they have a respectable batting average), my question about this is why push forward the opening of one part of this land before the rest is ready? You'd think rather than putting an extreme stress test on that one attraction, you'd finish The Flying Hippogriff, and the re-do of Dueling Dragons and be ready with the shops and interactive spots to divert some traffic flow from what's likely the best attraction to hit Orlando in many years, certain to have long, long lines for years to come.

I guess we'll know soon enough if this is a real plan, a miscommunicated message, or complete hogwartswash.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A room with a Universal view

According to the Orlando Sentinel, Universal is building an on-site apartment complex with the intent of providing housing for their Team Members.

This is an awesome strategy for Universal, and a great idea to provide affordable apartments to keep workers (not everyone is a great budgeter and can afford to live off of the wages they get), and keep them on site (how can you be late when you life that close to work?)

Anyone who's worked for Disney can tell you it's a pain trying to find a nice apartment complex close to work. Due to the fact that Disney is twice the size of Manhattan, you can understand the challenge. The closest places are, well, shall we say, less than desirable. Sabal Palms is across from Vista Way, Buena Vista Place is right behind the Magic Kingdom, and the latter provides walking access to the Magic Kingdom cast parking lot and property control (which, on a side note, now sells low priced food staples to tie in with Disney's Healthy Living drive), but living there is usually only a temporary solution as low cost living usually brings low cost tenants, which usually brings crime. Not to be a sensationalist, but a friend of mine lived there and did see someone get shot. Could that happen anywhere? Sure, but it happened.

Universal's challenge is that it backs up to the Dr. Phillips area - a nicer (more expensive) part of Orlando. MetroWest is nearby, which has some nicer, affordable places, but you're getting farther away. I used to live in MetroWest on the corner of Conroy and Kirkman, and drove through Universal on my way to school at Rosen - getting to Universal's employee parking on Turkey lake is probably a 10-14 minute drive down some of the busiest roads in the area.

The structure is going to be built behind the Men in Black ride, approximately where I put this lovely X on the map below. (Don't you love MS Paint?)

Technically, Universal doesn't own the properties - it sold the land last year for about $8 million dollars (guess that real estate bust didn't hit them) - but worked together with the management company to set some ground rules - IE, no buildings higher than 45 feet (to protect sight lines in the park), and a clause that doesn't let the tenants make noise complaints about events like Halloween Horror Nights or Rock the Universe.

Universal already has plenty of experience with noise complaints - Islands of Adventure's signature attraction, The Incredible Hulk, cannot be operated after a certain time of night due to the neighborhood's noise restrictions. The ride itself isn't noisy at all, it's the rider's screams that put it over the top.

Disney has its own apartment complexes, but in a different style. I'm sure we're all familiar with Vista Way and its followers, Chatham Square, The Commons, and Patterson Court. While not physically in the confines of Disney, it houses nothing but Disney College Program participants, providing a safe, convenient place for that workforce.

What are your thoughts on Universal's decision to move forward with these units? By the way - in 10 years, the development has the right to turn all the units into condos - because that's worked out so well for all the other developments that did that in the area...


Hello readers!

My name is Jeremy and I work in the Theme Park and Attractions industry. I went to college at the University of Central Florida in the Rosen College of Hospitality Management - and am just starting the MBA Program in their College of Business Administration. I'm employed as a manager at a large theme park in the Orlando area, and feel I have a pretty good view of the Attractions industry from where I am. I love reading news and tidbits from theme parks, zoos, attractions, museums, etc. I'm a proud IAAPA member and

The intent of this blog is to capture some of the industry news and put my own personal commentary on it. I'd love to hear your comments on it as well.

So - just for the legal sake of it - let's get this out of the way. All the views expressed in this blog are, in fact, MY OWN. I don't claim to represent any area companies, and even though I am privy to restricted and priveledged information, I will not be leaking it - so don't expect that. I'll be linking to my sources or at least citing them, so all the information provided on this site will be public knowledge.

Now that we've got that out of the way - on with the show!