Written by Russell Meyer
Published: December 15, 2004 at 11:04 PM
LA Times 12/14/04
As we all know by now, the estimated attendance for U.S. theme parks rose this year an average of 4% over last year. Now let’s go a little bit further in depth into the numbers… The most promising aspect of these numbers is that the 2004 estimates are the first to increase since 9/11. Could the industry finally be turning the corner? I would have to say the answer is a resounding yes. This attendance increase came despite the weather in central Florida and lack of major park expansions from the top parks. Yes, yes, Universal added Mummy, Tower of Terror came to California Adventure, and Journey to Atlantis sailed across the country to San Diego. While all of the park additions were key to improving and enhancing guest experiences, none of them were huge attendance-driving additions to their respective parks. All of the top 10 parks increased their attendance over last year with the Florida Universal Parks yielding double-digit increases, particularly surprising since IOA has not added a new attraction since 2002’s Spider-Man. The only bad mark on the industry was the performance of Six Flags. 12 of the 13 Six Flags parks ranked in the top 50 world-wide were either flat or declined as much as 13%. Six Flags blames the decline on the weather and lack of new attractions in 2004, but those factors didn’t seem to effect most of the rest of the industry. One surprising exception is Busch Gardens Tampa, which also experienced an inexplicable decline in 2004 despite adding a new roller coaster (Cheetah Chase) and big-budget broadway-style theatrical show.
2005 is primed to be a monster year for the industry with just about every major park from coast to coast adding a new major attraction, including a world record breaking coaster at SFGAdv. Spending in this off-season is through the roof, especially at Disney, which is preparing to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Disneyland and numerous new attractions (albeit clones) in just about every single domestic park. Where do we go from here? Up, up, and away!
Yahoo News 12/15/04
No, this story has nothing to do with the excellent sequel to the movie starring Toby Maguire. As reported earlier, Busch Gardens Williamsburg has finally announced some of the details of the new attraction for 2005. The new attraction will be called The Curse of DarKastle, and has a ride system that looks a lot like The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man. I know, I know, everyone is clamoring that Busch is cloning the attraction that is regarded as the best theme park attraction in the world. This move was inevitable, and I’m actually surprised it took nearly 3 years for someone to attempt another 3-D motion-simulator dark ride. The key to the success of DarKastle will be the story, because I think that Spider-Man’s popularity is partially due to the popularity of the character in addition to the mind-blowing ride. The attraction will include a pre-show of nearly 2 minutes, which should lay the foundation of the story, and allow guests to be immersed in the ride. The attraction appears to have many of the same elements of the Spider-Man, including a “fall” which will probably mimic Spider-Man’s plunge off the side of the building near the end of the ride.
What I find interesting about the announcement is that there is no ride manufacturer credited with developing this attraction. Has Busch Gardens developed this ride independently? It appears so as the press release references reference an assemblage of ride engineers, graphic artists, and projection designers, and not a singular manufacturer that developed the concept. This may explain why this particular project has taken so long to design, construct, and complete. Another interesting part of the press release is that BGW is touting DarKastle as a combination of theme park technologies that has never been done before. Unless there is something about the attraction that they’re still keeping secret, this statement is untrue which bothers me a bit. I don’t have a problem with someone blowing their own horn, but they should at least recognize the existence of other achievements before calling attention to something described as a “cutting-edge ride…” and “…an experience like no other.”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely excited about this new attraction, and hope that the ride will be a huge hit. How can you go wrong when you design an attraction that uses the same technology as the #1 rated attraction in the world? As far as the opening date, May 2005 is probably given as an opening date so that the new attraction will officially open with the 30th anniversary of the park on May 16, 2005. A soft opening for passholders and/or employees will probably happen sometime in March or April. If I didn’t have a job and the honorable task of reporting theme park news to all of you, I would start the queue right now!
I attribute much of Spidey's success to it's characters. The Spiderman franchise offers popular, well known characters, and the nature of the character's stories offered itself well to developing the ride. In the case of darKastle, BGW doesn't have the comic book heroes, or premade stories to start with. I'm sure that the technology will work great. What will be the challenge is creating the story from scratch to go with it. I'm a little skeptical about the DarKastle theme, because I've never known BG to be able to tell a story that well, and while the haunted house theme has promise, it will be harder to make a good ride out of than Spiderman was. I hope that the ride turns out great, but I can't call it a big winner yet.
I imagine BGW is engaging in a wee bit of hyperbole, but what the hell? I'm glad that they've fianlly given me a good reason for renewing my annual passport, and that their new attraction is more ambitious than filling a building with fiberglass "animatronics" and cardboard cutouts. Maybe PKD will feel the urge to up the ante a bit beyond their new Scooby Doo ride (and yet another spinner themed to Tomb Raider).
It's a bit of difference in philosophy. BGW is counting on guest loyalty as they build really big rides every 3-4 years, while PKD is not so optimistic adding small to medium rides every year.
And thank's for the compliment, and I'm open to any critics out there who want to offer areas for improvement.
007 is as good of a fit as Spiderman was....possibly even better with the right director on board. However, I doubt that PKD would be the first Paramount park to get such a ride.
Who knows? Maybe there is going to be some kind of amazing never before seen element added to the ride. When is it opening?