There’s been a lot of gee-whiz-wow-style theme park news lately. But if you want to know the future consider:
Sea World. Shrinking.
Walt Disney World Resort. Expanding.
Universal Studios. Expansion-minded, also.
Even more so than Disney, perhaps.
And even more movie-madness-minded.
But that is all an over simplification.
And add to that a disclaimer:
Orlando’s three major theme parks don’t carefully detail their future plans.
Actually, they are often secretive about what they plan.
Often for competitive reasons, among others.
But there have been hints and here are some indications, trends, etc.
Universal has made the biggest splash in recent news with the suggestion that it might build another new park.
So where are the parks going?
And what does it mean to you, visitors?
SeaWorld has made no secret that it’s daily prices for a more tranquil and laidback experience for visitors can’t keep up with the others.
So it is reinventing itself.
How to reinvent the theme park
Actually, nothing unusual about that.
Theme parks do it all the time.
But SeaWorld has been backed into a corner by all its critics over its animal treatment.
The bottom line here: it is looking at being a smaller regional theme park rather than an international destination.
The park has added roller coasters, ala Disney and Universal, but not anywhere to compete in the younger market for thrill rides.
Mako is OK, but still not enough.
So SeaWorld is looking at marketing more to locals…within say a 300 mile radius of the Orlando park.
That would also include its park in Tampa at Busch Gardens.
Tampa is only 90 miles from Orlando.
So it only makes sense to lure visitors willing to take the easy commute between the two cities.
Trend in Tampa, Orlando to seek locals
Theme park observers say the strategy makes sense.
“You have to make choices, and I’m not saying we’re not giving up on the international visitor, a long-vacation visitor, but we’re competing where we can compete the best,” said Chief Executive Officer Joel Manby.
That does not mean the park will rule out visitors from throughout the US and from international markets. But they might not expect the parks to keep doing present offers for all groups.
Those might include the usual discounts for locals, among other incentives. But perhaps not for out-of-towners.
A consolation for all visitors:
The gap in pricing will continue.
SeaWorld should continue to offer relatively bargain basement prices.
But for those seeking roller coaster thrills, SeaWorld in the future will continue to be something of a disappointment.
Enjoy it for the fish and the quiet atmosphere.
Pricing to be marketing tool?
SeaWorld will understandably and predictably emphasize this price difference.
Which will continue to be an ongoing advantage as the other parks predictably raise their prices regularly.
SeaWorld’s pricing for tickets is somewhere like $30 less than the other two parks. It has also offered good discounts for buying tickets online.
Daily rates are also expected to come down.
Experts suggest SeaWorld will try to shift visitors to select options such as multi-day tickets and passes.
SeaWorld lacks the resources of Disney and Universal of huge conglomerates: The Walt Disney Co. and Comcast Corp.
Is this a good strategy to retain the park’s popularity?
Experts says under the circumstances, it’s a good strategy.
This is particularly the case because the park lacks the huge spending potential of its rivals.
They suggest SeaWorld recognize it is a second-tier park but suggest they are the best in that field. Which experts say makes more sense than competing with the others who have more resources.
Is there room for a slimmed down SeaWorld in rough competitive waters of the world’s biggest theme park destination?
Experts agree that it can be a success.
They can compete not on cost and thrill rides but in attracting the type of visitors who might be looking for Disney-Universal alternative experiences.
For visitors, the park’s basic personality will probably not undergo any major changes in content or ambiance.
As a matter of fact, it may be an incentive to visitors who will find fewer crowds than at Disney and Universal.
New advantages for SeaWorld visitors
Less waiting times for rides and other entertainment.
SeaWorld has lost attendance in the wake of the controversy over its killer whales, particularly fueled by the anti-captivity documentary “Blackfish.”
SeaWorld’s attendance has fallen far behind other parks. It recently had three million fewer annual visitors than the others.
But SeaWorld’s problems are not only from its fish.
The other two parks have become much stronger and visitor-appealing with new additions such as Star Wars and Harry Potter.
Does all this mean you can’t expect any new attractions at SeaWorld?
They are still investing.
They have plans to open a new attraction annually for the next five years.
Underway is Mako, the 200-foot-tall shark-themed coaster that will be taller and faster than any other in Central Florida.
Taller and faster, at least for when it opens.
As for Disney…
Disney has not only been the No. 1 park in Orlando but has done well in controlling the land around them.
Which has given them a park that is accessed easily by mass transit and is buffeted from the world around them.
Allowing them to control visitors without worrying about enrichment from the outside world. Creating a sense of being only at Walt Disney World Resort.
Walt Disney World plans new areas based on “Star Wars,” “Toy Story” and “Avatar.”
The biggest news at Disney, of course, is that Star Wars finally coming here.
Starry-eyed at Disney
It is expected to draw not just fanatic fans but people of all ages who have experienced the movies over the decades (and are looking forward to the Dec. 18 release of the newest version: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
You’ve almost certainly read or heard of Disney plans for their most ambitious new undertaking of Star Wars.
It represents the largest single-themed land expansion ever at 14 acres, according to Disney.
“These new lands at Disneyland and Walt Disney World will transport guests to a whole new Star Wars planet, including an epic Star Wars adventure that puts you in the middle of a climactic battle between the First Order and the Resistance,” said Disney CEO Bob Iger.
Iger also said that the Star Wars land will be “every bit as thrilling as the films” and will include attractions and entertainment in an area populated by aliens and droids. There will also be a Cantina and the chance to take control of the Millennium Falcon — one of the signature attractions.
One adventure also promises to put guests “in the middle of a climactic battle between the First Order and the Resistance.”
The reference to the film was probably intentional, since rival Universal has long been known for its film tie-ins.
Disney is probably counting on even mildly interested Star Wars fans to be more inclined to visit.
For real fans, however, the development is not only long-awaited (and rumored). But it should also be immensely popular.
One common theme for those reacting to the news was that while they would not be enthusiastic about a recap of what the films were all about, they were enthused at the prospect of Disney creating an entirely new planet type of attraction.
They want something to evoke the feeling of being in a Star Wars locale. But judging by past performance, that should be case when the park opens.
Actually flying a Milennium Falcon should certainly be a crowd-pleaser — even for casual fans.
Non-fan theme park experts were pleased with the move.
The Motley Fool wrote:
“Disney needs Star Wars Land, particularly in Florida where Disney’s Hollywood Studios has been stagnant. It’s been dead last in attendance among Disney’s Florida parks since being passed by Animal Kingdom a couple of years ago. The addition of Star Wars Land — and Toy Story Land — should push the park back into bronze medal contention among Disney’s four Florida theme parks if not overtaking EPCOT for silver.”
As for Universal Studios…is adding a King Kong-themed thrill ride next year to its Islands of Adventure park in Florida.
It’s not a coincidence that the studio will have a new King Kong movie hitting theaters a year after that.
Comcast’s theme parks have been growing attendance at a much higher percentage rate than Disney in recent years. A big reason for that is that it’s perpetually adding new rides and attractions.
Speculation was that the new acres would mean a third theme park, as well as more hotels and supportive services.
During a dispute over a new ride at nearby International Drive, the news came out that Universal Orlando was in the process of buying 474 acres of land near the Orange County Convention Center.
New park drove up potential land prices
That buy was apparently the reason for Universal’s outspoken and failed opposition to the new attraction. They were fears the price would be driven up if Universal wanted even more acreage.
· Universal already has announced ambitions plans for the Orlando park. Comcast Corp. has invested huge sums in its development since purchasing it a few years ago.
Future plans also include a water park and an airport shuttle system similar to rival Walt Disney World Resort.
The obvious goal: get more crowds to stay longer and spend more.
The ultimate goal: to more Disney-like as a total destination.
All this activity has brought Universal closer to Disney’s attendance figures. Making it increasingly a close second.
What might a new park involve?
It could be used for present park uses, leaving more room for guests and others.
There are lots of possibilities, including Star Trek (to compete with Disney’s own Star Wars).
Rumors about it have been long-standing.
Star Trek would have one advantage: it spans an even longer time than Star Wars, and might have a broader appeal to audiences of all ages.
Lord of the Rings?
Diagon Alley already has a fire-breathing dragon? So why not?
A definite possibility.
Marvel is already here but why not an expansion? It’s done well so far.
All we can say for sure is why not?
Universal has announced a partnership with Nintendo.
They would be the most obvious choice for a new park experience based on video games.
That would fit in with Universal’s younger and more male-oriented guests.
It would also fit in with that group’s demand for newer experiences at theme parks.
Observers have not ignored those factors.
Lots of predictions for future park
For those who want to predict, that is the likely forecast: a Nintendo-oriented theme park — unlike anything else in the market.
The obvious problem for Universal, however, is that their new land is not right next door.
It is separated.
Universal’s present location is landlocked, though Wet ‘n Wild due to be closed next year and creates a new development opportunity.
Universal’s new parcel is zoned for entertainment uses but it would require guests’ to get from one park to another through mass transit or other means.
That is a different kind of model than Disney, which has vast acreage of land that it can develop.
Distance may define new park
That very distance, however, may help in defining what kind of park this might be.
The reason is that it would make sense to have an entirely separate park from Universal that can stand on its own without needing a connection with the rest of the attraction.
The park would be advertised on its own but connected with the rest of Universal with a monorail or other public transportation — ala Disney itself.
At one time, that might have been Universal’s plan.
They owned 2,000 acres way back in 1998.
That fueled speculation of a new park. But the owner at the time, Universal Vivendi, sold the plan to cut costs.
The new parcel includes a dozen pieces.
An advantage is its zoning, which will not require major changes to allow hotels and other visitor-related uses.
The property also has a prime location — directly across the street from the Orange County Convention Center.
So would a new park be used by convention-goers?
They may be older than the usual Universal roller-coaster riders, but why not? All ages like some rides. ###