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jzarley's Achievements

KIC Double Platinum Member

KIC Double Platinum Member (9/13)



  1. A few weeks ago I got to do an early CM “play testing” of the new Moana Journey of Water attraction at Epcot, but any sharing of photos was under embargo until a few days ago. It’s a cool attraction—very lush and pretty with a lot of interactive elements and some “edutainment” about the role of water in the world. I think it will be a good recharge spot for guests wanting a break from the hub bub of a day in the theme park, and of course water elements are always welcome in Florida! I was surprised at how much fun we had with the interactive water elements—it’s not something I’d normally think I’d find that engaging, but it really was. Everyone (of all ages) seemed to be having a lot of fun with it.
  2. I’m making no commentary on the KI communications staff, because honestly I have no basis to form an opinion. But, when talking about park communications, do you know who I think does it *really* well? Holiday World! The local CBS affiliate station in Orlando ran a story (with animation) about the new “Good Gravy” coaster yesterday morning—it ran for a couple of minutes and invoked commentary from the whole news team. (Granted, they were laughing a bit about the silliness, but still…). And, this was in Orlando—arguably the theme park capital of the world and the local media is talking about a new coaster at a little park in Indiana! That little park and the people that run it have always impressed the hell out of me! :-)
  3. I think it’s also important to remember that while CF’s numbers are definitely troubling, there still seems to be larger macro forces in play on the industry as a whole. Orange County’s tourism tax revenue has seen consecutive declines over the past three months, and hotel occupancy gives a very clear view into park attendance in Orlando: https://www.fox35orlando.com/news/orange-countys-tourism-tax-collections-down-for-3-months-in-a-row I work for a theme park company (although, not currently in a park division) and I’ve worked for two previous ones prior to my current company—all three of those companies are struggling with attendance right now. BoddaH1994 makes an excellent point about CF’s amount of leveraged debt and the stress that is putting on the balance sheet. It’s been a lurking issue for them ever since the $1.24B acquisition of Paramount Parks, but when combined with the significant lost revenue from the COVID year(s), it raises the concern significantly.
  4. You sound like every park ops guy I’ve ever worked with But, I completely agree with you on this point. I’m all for using technology where possible to reduce overall costs—especially if it does not impact the guest experience. If you can save enough on process improvement and lean reengineering, maybe you can save enough to avoid closing attractions and outlets which definitely do negatively impact the guest. At a previous company I worked for, we did some pretty advanced things with employee scheduling/staff modeling that was designed to reduce cost but have positive guest experience—it had a good ROI, and was a good use of technology. One of my big pet peeves at pretty much every park are the Coke Free Style machines. I love the concept and think they work well in most restaurants (and I love my customized Grape Sprite Zero), but they are just not designed to handle the volume they get in a theme park. Every park seems to think you can put some poor kid alone at a cash register with four or five of these machines and expect them to handle the volume of hundreds of guests an hour. Of course, they run out of ice (constantly), machines stop working, cups run out, etc. (not to mention the mess some guests make). It’s one of those ideas that sound like it will work great on paper, but you need to adjust for real-world experience once you see it in action.
  5. Not a great earnings report, but not a disaster either. The industry is cyclical, and we’re just in a down cycle right now—but it’s been a while since we’ve been in one. (In a “normal” world we most likely would have had a mild recession in mid-to-late 2020 which would have been a normal down cycle—of course 2020 shot everything everything to Hell…) FUN’s results are pretty much on-par with SEAS and what the Orlando parks are reporting. I wonder how SIX will fare? After all, they were having attendance/revenue issues in 2022 when everyone else was booming… (Of course, maybe that just makes their YTY comps easier to hit.) One item of note that didn’t get a lot of discussion, but actually makes the attendance and revenue numbers even worse in comparison—2022 had 28 fewer total operating days during the period than 2023—meaning attendance and revenue was lower even with almost a full month more of park operating days.
  6. I think this will definitely improve the ride experience—instead of being a 1-trick pony TTD (TT2?) will now be a 3-trick pony . I’m also thinking there may be less regular downtime with switching from a mechanical launch system to LSM. My big issue with TTD was always the wait times—it was a slow loader, and turning it into an impulse coaster will only exacerbate that. I’m trying to picture how the loading process will work. There will have to be a transfer track of some sort to send you to the spike, so I’m guessing that shift will occur after the train moves into position for the first launch? Then loading can still occur in multiple stations with the returning trains (prior to reaching the transfer track)? I also haven’t seen anything showing a before and after on ride time—but it would have to be longer with the new elements. On another note, I was reading an article elsewhere and in one of the comments someone suggested they should have named it “Wicked Dragster” instead—that made me laugh
  7. It doesn’t explain it at all. I’m not sure we can relate current state to the normal pre-pandemic world. The industry has always had peaks and valleys, and 2019 seemed to be a normal peak (FWIW, the first few months of 2020–at least in Orlando-were starting really strong too.) Most economists predicted a mild recession setting in in later 2020, but of course that normal cyclical recession never occurred (which would have been a normal valley) because huge segments of the economy shut down suddenly, then restarted (not quite as suddenly, but still pretty quickly). 2020 really reset everything. I can honestly say that the pandemic is easily the most disrupting event I’ve ever experienced in my 30 year career. I was working for one of the major park companies in 2020 (I’m working for my third park company now), and clearly remember Tuesday, 3/10/20. It was the day the NBA cancelled all upcoming games, and Disneyland announced it was closing temporarily. At the time I thought “oh, there’s no way the parks in Orlando would ever close.” Then, on that Thursday I was sitting in all day meetings and we were planning precisely that—shutting down all parks chain-wide and the logistics of how that would occur. I really don’t think anything about the business (or probably most hospitality businesses) has ever felt completely “normal” since.
  8. Unfortunately, those other businesses are struggling right now too—adjusted for inflation, box office revenue since the pandemic is currently about equal to what it was back in 1982. And, the WGA/SAG strikes mean nothing new is being produced which is going to cause downstream shortages of content later which will further restrict entertainment revenues. I think the issue with theme parks right now (and, it seems across the board—from the destination resorts to the regional parks) is that there was a huge appetite to get out and go to the parks as soon as things reopened as the pandemic was waning. This also coincided with a time when cruises and other foreign travel was still restricted, so the domestic parks were the best and easiest options. The typical person doesn’t necessarily visit Disney, Universal, or even Cedar Fair or Six Flags parks every year so we may be in a lull of visits after the rushes over the past few years. Anecdotally, I’ve heard that cruise traffic and European travel are up this summer as those options have become much more available, so that competition is likely challenging the parks right now too.
  9. A family coaster is a good fit for the park, and am glad to see the old Empire of the Penguin show area being utilized for something else. I think the big surprise is that it is a B&M—I had assumed it was going to be an Intamin. I really wish the Sesame Street dark ride would start moving forward
  10. Don’t underestimate the lower free cash flow that resulted from the COVID year(s). While every park chain has come back like gangbusters since the pandemic finally ended, you can’t lose basically a full season (and reduced capacity the following season) and not have it impact the bottom line. Every park had to think very differently about their five year capital spending plan after the events of 2020.
  11. Yeah, there’s only one inversion and a few overbanked curves (including coming off the first hill). To be honest, I’m not sure the inversion adds much to the ride—the best part of this coaster really is the airtime. I think adding a few more smaller hills and crests would make it more fun than additional inversions.
  12. In full disclosure, I worked for SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment previously, but this is from the standpoint of a coaster/park lover—so, no bias as a former employee intended. First off, let me also say that my least favorite coaster type is without a doubt the B&M standup. I think I’ve given the model a fair shake, and rode different ones whenever I had the chance-thinking maybe some day I’d actually like one. But after Mantis, Iron Wolf, Chang, Vortex (Carowinds) and probably a few I’ve forgotten about, no such luck—I hated every single one of them. Years ago, I actually liked King Cobra at KI, so have pretty fond memories of the Togo standup. (Although, I wonder if I’d still hold that opinion if I could ride one today…) So, I was less than enthused when I found out SeaWorld Orlando’s new coaster was going to be a new model of B&M standup. But, I’m pleased (and a little surprised to say) that this new breed of B&M standup is a pretty good coaster! Visuals & Layout: Pipeline is built at the very edge of the park alongside the parking lot—just feet from the fence. It encompasses the front of the park space from the front gate thru the old festival area heading toward Ports of Call. The placement is pretty good, because the coaster action is clearly viewable as you’re entering the park and from the parking lot. I had heard rumors that the original plan was for a longer coaster that would extend over the entrance, with a new gate being built to accommodate it (ala GateKeeper at CP) but that plan died in budget cuts (and, knowing how this capital spending funding works—doesn’t surprise me a bit!). It’s an attractive coaster, and it’s placement is good for building excitement as guests enter the park. The Trains & “Seating”: Of course, there’s not really “seating” since it’s a standing coaster, but obviously you are secured into the train. The “saddle” (I guess that’s the best term) looks pretty similar to the other B&M stand ups, kind of like a bicycle seat with about the same level of comfort (so, not terribly comfortable, but ok). The main thing I hated about the other stand-ups was the head banging from the OTSRs. Pipeline has resolved this by having a hard plastic vest (kind of similar to Banshee or GateKeeper, except it drops over your head instead of connecting two sides in front). There’s still OTS bars to hold onto, but they’re so far from your head there’s no danger of banging against it. The vest was a little tight, especially around the collarbone. I’m not a particularly large person (5’8” and 160lbs or so), so don’t know how the vests would feel on larger body types. The trains are unique because they’re perfectly flat with no edges—I was surprised at what a visual difference that would make in the ride experience. The really unique difference in these trains compared to the old standup models, is the vertical movement of the seats. Once you’re locked in, your seat has an up and down range of motion of about 4” or so—that movement plays a big role in the ride experience later on. Ride Experience: Short answer-it’s fun! I’ve complained recently that it seems like every new coaster is launched and the traditional lift hill was disappearing. But, despite my Gex X old guy complaints, a launch works really well in a stand up! The launch is fast and occurs before you’re expecting it. After the launch you hit a “bunny dip” before ascending the first hill. The dip really gives you a preview of the airtime to expect for the rest of the ride-and there’s a lot of it. I never thought “airtime” and “stand-up” would be terms used in the same description, but the airtime is what really makes this coaster stand out. At least four times during the ride course, my feet completely left the floor—that’s a really cool feeling on a coaster. The pacing of the ride is good—quick and disorienting with equal mixes of positive and negative Gs. I’ve read some complaints about people saying the ride is too short. It is short, but I didn’t think it felt overly so (no more than pretty much any other coaster). Misc. Operations & Stuff: Pipeline only runs a two train operation, and there was almost always one stacked or in the station. It *felt* like a really slow loader, but I timed several dispatches and it was consistently 01:30-01:50 dispatch times—so not horrible. But, it just felt really slow. I think operationally, it would have improved throughput a lot if there there would have been a separate unloading station, instead of unloading/loading in the same spot. Of course, that would have increased the staffing needed—and, again understanding the thought that goes into labor costs & planning at SEAS, it’s not a big surprise it wasn’t done this way. The ride theming was pretty much non-existent, which is sad because the SeaWorld and Busch Gardens parks used to do a pretty admirable job with this. But, after Ice Breaker and Pipeline, I’d say that Cedar Point actually puts more effort into ride theming than SWF does now (and that’s a sad thing to say about a theme park in Orlando!). All-in-all, I definitely rank Pipeline as my #2 favorite coaster at SWF now (after Mako—which IMHO is an under-appreciated masterpiece!). If you’ve always despised stand-up coasters like me and find yourself in Orlando, give Pipeline a chance. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised!
  13. Back in the 90s there was a push to make Vegas more “family friendly” (i.e., Orlando-like) and there were several theme park-like attractions around at that time. There was actually a small attempt at a traditional outdoor theme park on the grounds of the MGM Grand resort called MGM Grand Adventures. I was there one time on opening day of a season in very early Spring. It was a pretty and well-themed park, but very small. I remember very little about the rides, except not feeling too impressed. I do remember thinking at the time “well, I never need to do this again” The Luxor resort had three attractions that told different parts of the same story. If I recall there was a motion simulator, a 4-D movie and (I think?) a boat dark ride. The thing that was interesting was that you could experience the attractions in any order and the storyline still made sense. I thought it was a really interesting and imaginative concept. I see some elements of that storytelling approach today in “Rise of the Resistance” at Disney. Granted, you don’t experience the ride elements separately on your own like at Luxor, but there are multiple ride experiences combined together to tell one overall story. But, I think the best attractions in Vegas (or really, ANYWHERE at that time) was Star Trek: The Experience at the LV Hilton! For a Star Trek fan, this place was nirvana! It really showed how good Paramount Parks creative could be when not limited to the budget of a seasonal park. The theming, attractions and quality was top notch. The Klingon Encounter motion simulator was state-of-the-art and easily the best simulator of that type. They also introduced immersive themed food & beverage and retail many years before Universal did it with Harry Potter. (At Quark’s Bar, I remember drinking two “Warp Core Breach” drinks which were especially potent). Part of the queue for the simulator included a part where you were “beamed” into the future and onto the Enterprise-D. It’s surprisingly similar to the same flavor of experience today on the Guardians of the Galaxy coaster at Epcot (just done 30 years later). There was also a Borg 4D movie that was very well done. I’m pretty sure that if I could go back and experience ANY attraction from the past, it would be ST:TE! Then, I guess Vegas decided to re-embrace their “sin city” roots (the whole “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” campaign) and the effort to be Orlando-in-the-desert was left behind. That’s not a bad thing—Vegas is its own very unique part of American culture the way it is. But, during that brief attempt there were a few really well done themed attractions.
  14. I think a big focus for all of the park chains right now is free cash flow…yes, attendance and revenue have come roaring back since the pandemic ended (well, at least I *think* it’s finally ended), but nearly a year (or more in the case of CA) with no revenue coming has to have an impact on spending in subsequent years. The focus on themed lands, food upgrades and a few smaller off-the-shelf rides are a lot more CapEx friendly than a $30m new generation coaster. Plus, I think these experiential things have proven popular with customers, so it’s kind of a win/win. One of my major peeves with the Paramount Parks was their tendency to over promise then under deliver on themed experiences. (Every year it was going to be the most “fantastic, incredible, Hollywood-ized experience ever!!!”). From what I’ve seen so far, CF doesn’t seem to be over promising on their new themed lands, but is delivering a good, solid quality experience.
  15. I haven’t been to KI since 2017 (live in Orlando now and of course the pandemic…) but am definitely planning on making a trip this year. (I haven’t ridden Orion yet!!) I really enjoyed the opening day video, although I have to say that “Italian Job” (or whatever its CF generic name is) is such an eye sore. I think the worst thing Paramount/Viacom/CBS did during their tenure was to remove the beautiful park-like area of the antique cars just to replace it with that.
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