Busch60! Busch Gardens Tampa Bay Celebrates 60 Years

March 2019 marks Busch Gardens Tampa Bay’s 60th anniversary! Opening on March 31, 1959 as a free-admission destination with a tour of the Anheuser-Busch brewery, tropical gardens, and a bird show, this one-time tourist stop offering free beer has become a world-class theme park known for its figure skating and animal shows, train safari, but mostly its exhilarating roller coasters, some of which are regularly ranked amongst the best in the world. Predating the opening of nearby Walt Disney World by more than a decade, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay has undergone name, identity, and leadership changes over the decades to become the theme park that it is today. Surprisingly, there are remnants of the original Tampa Anheuser-Busch park in plain sight. But what is the Busch Gardens story? And just how did it go from a free-admission brewery offering free beer to the word-class destination that it is today? Time for a history lesson. Let’s grab a beer and hop in our time machine to explore the history of Busch Gardens Tampa Bay.

In 1959, roller coasters were not thought of, but there was certainly a foreshadowing of what was to come. With the opening of the brewery, the Anheuser-Busch property featured a facility tour, free beer, exotic garden, and aviary. In addition to the aforementioned, there was also a “kind of a ride,” As Jurassic Parks‘s John Hammond would put it. This then-attraction was known as the Stairway to the Stars. At 80ft long, it was the longest single escalator in the world at the time. Not seen as a ride per se at the time, looking back, it is clear that Busch Gardens was always concerned about the guest experience and providing more than just the beer it produced. You can liken what Anheuser-Busch was doing with the Tampa brewery to the Coors Brewery tour in Golden, CO (near Denver). Instead of mountains for the guests, the Busch Brewery provided a tropical environment in order to immerse the guests into the world of the Tampa brewery. Although the brewery is no longer in existence, the Hospitality House, where guests exited the tour, is still there! You know it as The Garden Gate Cafe where Guests 21+ can enjoy complementary beer. This hospitality business model would continue until a pivotal change in 1965.

What was to open in 1965 would completely alter the hospitality facility, and set it on the course to become the Busch Gardens we see today–and can still experience. What I am speaking of is the world-famous Serengeti Plain! But before the African animal habitat opened, the 1960s also brought about other changes that paved the way for the still-popular attraction. Now named the Serengeti Overlook Restaurant, the Old Swiss House opened in 1964. In the same vein as today, this restaurant offered a cafe on the main level and a full-service upscale dining restaurant on the upper floor. In fact, it was recognized as one of the finest dining experiences in Tampa. To this day, you can enjoy a quick service restaurant in the pub and an upscale buffet on the top floor.

Years 1965-66 delivered guests attractions that began the transformation from a brewery to a theme park. In 1965 the Serengeti Plain, the first habitat of its kind, opened! Never before had an expansive animal habitat opened providing guests with the opportunity to observe exotic animals in their quasi natural environment. There was no Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Zoo Tampa was still evolving from a municipal animal park to a formal zoo. This unique offering began the transformation from elaborate brewery tour to zoological attraction! To provide guests with an up close and personal view of the African animals, it opened a monorail! That’s right, before Walt Disney World’s famous monorail opened in 1971, the Busch Gardens monorail was transporting guests through its highway in the sky five years prior. The monorail was not included in the brewery tour, but was a nominal $1.50 for adults and $0.75 for children. Think of Busch Gardens at this time as a state park that has a cheap admission with a la carte attraction offerings. The motto for the monorail tour and Serengeti Plain was “where people are caged and animals roam free.” During the 1960s, Busch Gardens was the No.1 tourist attraction in Florida!

The 1970s would introduce major competition just east of the park. What could have possibly opened in the 1970s that would drive up the competition exponentially? You guessed it, the opening of Walt Disney World on October 1, 1971. The 1970s and into the 80s saw massive expansions to keep the guests coming to the park with Disney World being just an hour away. In addition to the monorail experience, Busch Gardens added the Trans-Veldt railway (now the Serengeti Express, and during Christmas Town the Sing-a-long Express) to transport guests around the perimeter of the Serengeti Plain. In addition to the iconic train, Busch Gardens added the Moroccan Village, featuring performers, vendors, and artisans, which now functions as the entryway into the park. Stanleyville was opened to provide a space for additional animal encounters, shows, and gardens. Still, Busch Gardens had no rollercoasters. It had the Stairway to the Stars, monorail, and train, but no thrill rides. That would change in 1976 with the introduction of Python! Python would be the first rollercoaster at Busch Gardens, and it included two inversions (corkscrews). Elsewhere in the park, Skyride, Stanley Falls log flume, and the African Queen boat ride (similar to Magic Kingdom’s Jungle Cruise) were opened.

With all the African-centric animals, attractions, etc being added to the park, Busch Gardens began using the name Dark Continent, later changed to Busch Gardens Africa. During the 1970s, Busch Gardens Dark Continent changed from a free general admission plus a la carte pricing for all the attractions to a similar setup at Magic Kingdom in its early days. The general admission would be nominal and some offerings were included, but there were upgrades for many of the more elaborate attractions. What could have been a decade of setbacks, with the opening of WDW, was actually the most expansive in Busch Garden’s history! In order to support the growth of the theme park, Anheuser-Busch incorporated Busch Entertainment Corporation in 1979. Later that year, Busch Gardens Williamsburg opened, and the one-time brewer was now a theme park conglomerate.

 

The 1980s saw more expansions and attractions. Most notable is the addition of Timbuktu (now Pantopia), the largest (in land area) expansion at Busch Gardens to date. Attractions in Timbuktu included the kiddie coaster Scorpion and the Phoenix. Not far from Timbuktu,  the Congo area was added with the main attraction Congo River Rapids. Over in Stanleyville, Busch Gardens opened the Stanleyville Theatre, which offered a variety show. Between Stanleyville and the Bird Garden, the Dwarf Village, designed for children, opened. Many expansions during this time! And both kids and older guests where thought of in order to give everyone a quality experience.

Located where Sesame Street is now, the Dwarf Village featured a rustic, wood-shingled tree house, equipped with a tube slide, webbed rope for climbing, a miniature car ride, a canoe ride, a “cloud bounce” air mattress made for jumping, a ball crawl, and a tunnel maze, among other attractions. It also contained statues of dwarfs, mushroom houses, and Leprechaun Lane where the little people are busy all day long. Bringing Broadway to a theme park, the Moroccan Palace Theatre opened with the show Kaleidoscope. This show was regarded as the most lavish Broadway style attraction in any theme park in the world, at the time. During this time, the old monorail cars were replaced with newer versions that resemble the monorail at Disney World. The last part of the decade saw the African Queen boat ride close–well, get a refurbishment. It became the former Tidal Wave attraction, which has sense been replaced by the Tigris coaster opening this spring. Closing out the decade, Busch Entertainment acquired the Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Park Group that included neighboring SeaWorld and Cypress Gardens (which would eventually become LEGOland Florida). At this time, the Busch Gardens park in Florida was seen as the flagship park.

One of the biggest changes in the 1990s was the remodeling of the Moroccan Palace Theatre. The stage was converted to an ice stage, and Around the World on Ice debuted! To this day, there is a daily figure skating show at this unique venue. Busch Gardens would see–yet–another name change. This time changing to the name it has today Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. Coaster fever hit the Busch parks. In 1993, Kumba came roaring in, welcoming thrill seeking guests. Fortunately, this is a coaster that can still be experienced today. And I’m pleased to write that after some refurbishments, Kumba is much smoother than it used to be.

Across the park in Timbuktu, the Dolphin Theatre was added; this was a daily dolphin show similar to the one at SeaWorld. The Moroccan Palace Theatre also saw changes; the Around the World on Ice changed to Hollywood On Ice, a show featuring music and moments from classic Hollywood! The 90s was also a time of closures. The Stanleyville variety show, monorail, and Stairway to the Stars, the park’s very first “ride” closed. Due to leadership changes at Anheuser-Busch after the acquisition by InBev, it was decided to close the Tampa brewery. The last handful of workers punched out for the last time in December 1995. With the closure of the brewery, it seemed the heart of the park stopped beating. Although there was no more brewery to tour, the free beer would continue and guests could still visit the stables where the famous Clydesdales resided. Other closures included The Dwarf Village, which was replaced with The Land of Dragons.

The mid to latter 90s would also see another land expansion. This time, the park was turning to the pharaohs. Opening with the new land of Egypt is a coaster that is still ranked as one of the best in the world–Montu! As Busch Gardens has always had a commitment to education, a replica of King Tuts Tomb opened in the Egypt area. The ice show at the palace would change from Hollywood on Ice to World Rhythms on Ice in 1998. The ride simulator Questor was changed to Akbar’s Adventure Tours starring Martin Short. This attraction took park guests on a wacky tour of Egypt. In the center of the park, Busch Gardens erected a dueling wooden rollercoaster in 1999 that has since closed, but will be reimagined as a new hybrid coaster in 2020. You guessed it, this wooden coater is Gwazi. It was built on the former site of the brewery.

Probably the biggest addition to the park in the early 2000s came in 2000 with the inaugural year of Howl-O-Scream! Busch Gardens’ premiere Halloween seasonal event is still the biggest seasonal offering to date, drawing guests from all across the region and other parts of the country. Other additions in the early 2000s included the comedy safari themed Rhino Rally (an attraction that I sorely miss). If you were to take the Jungle Cruise and Kilimanjaro Safari from WDW, and combine them, this is the attraction that you would get! After a few years run, the Dolphin Theatre was closed and remodeled to be the Timbuktu Theatre.

The first attraction to call the Timbuku Theatre home was the former R.L. Stine’s Haunted Lighthouse 4D, but it was replaced with Pirates 4D early on. Rhythms on Ice closed to make way for Katonga. Coaster fever hit the park again, and the drop coaster Sheikra was opened! Not only was it the tallest coaster in Florida at the time, it was also the first dive coaster to include an inversion. More sad closures hit the park, the park’s very first coaster Python was closed after 30yrs of operation to the day (plus one). Midway through the 2000s decade, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay changes its name to Busch Gardens Africa. In place of the Python coaster, Busch Gardens created the Jungala area, which is home to the tigers and Congo River Rapids, along with smaller attractions for the younger guests at the park. In addition to the rides, Busch Gardens also added a streetmosphere show with characters on stilts in elaborate costumes. Towards the end of the 2000s, Busch Gardens Africa was renamed Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, the name it still holds today. In 2007, Anheuser-Busch (parent company to Busch Entertainment) conducted leadership changes and promotions. As a result, most of the executives were in Orlando as SeaWorld Orlando was now seen as the company’s flagship park, so the company headquarters was relocated to Orlando.

In 2009, InBev (owner of Anheuser-Busch) decided to divest itself of all the Busch Gardens and SeaWorld parks. It sold them off to the Blackstone Group. Over the next several months, the park removed the Anheuser-Busch branding, famous clydesdales, and the free beer. The company name changed from Busch Entertainment to SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment. As part of the acquisition, Anheuser-Busch licensed the name Busch Gardens to Blackstone in perpetuity. Other than the Garden Gate Cafe, Crown Colony House, and Skyride, very little of the early park was left. Land of Dragons, which was the Dwarf Village, was once again rethemed. This time, to Sesame Street. Across the park near the Garden Gate Cafe was a new area with Australia theming and animals! Walkabout Way, an area where you can get up close with kangaroos, wallabies, emus and more! Fans of Rhino Rally are going to remember this date development. In order to plan for the next big coaster, part of the former Rhino Rally had to be closed. The area closed was the water features. Using the old monorail building as the guest load and unload area, the launch coaster Cheetah Hunt was opened.

In the Moroccan Village theatre, Busch Gardens created the Motor City Groove show that entertained guests with a’cappella covers of some of the best music out of Detroit. Replacing Katonga at the Moroccan Palace Theatre was IcePloration! A spectacular combination of acrobatics, aerial acts, and of course figure skating that explored different parts of the world! 2012 was the inaugural year for Christmas Town, a hard-ticketed event that celebrated the season with a fabulous mixture of the traditional and contemporary Christmas music, decorations, light, shows and more! Since 2015, Christmas Town has been included in day admission.

From Timbuktu to Egypt, 2013 brought about more closures including the Pirates 4D show and King Tut’s Tomb. Timbuktu would see an identity change as well with the opening of the drop tower attraction Falcon’s Fury. When Falcon’s Fury opened, the land of Timbuktu became Pantopia. With the name change, the Timbuktu Theatre became the Pantopia Theatre. And this theatre would welcome a new show called Opening Night Critters. This show was quite similar to the Critter Castaways show that was in the old Bird Gardens theatre, but a few changes were made in order to freshen the show. After the opening of Pantopia, Rhino Rally closed permanently. The ride that replaced the iconic brewery, would see its own closure in 2015. And remains closed to this day until the newly reimagined Gwazi opens in 2020. The brewery tour lasted 36yrs; Gwazi was around for 10yrs. Just sayin. With the popularity of food and wine festivals increasing exponentially, Busch Gardens started its own festival in the spring of 2015. Back over in Egypt, a new family spinning-style coaster opened–Cobra’s Curse. The queue for the attraction was the park’s first indoor queue and used the old King Tut’s tomb. In fact, the main chamber of the queue is the former burial chamber of King Tut. To make preparations for the park’s next coaster, the Tidal Wave attraction, which was once home of the African Queen boat ride closed permanently.

The Moroccan Palace would once again see the ice show change, this time to a post-modern extravaganza of popular music and award-winning stunts. In May of 2017, the stage was completely renovated to make way for Turn It Up: the Hottest Show on Ice! The beauty of this show is that the music and choreography can be updated every few years without having to completely redo the show. Last year (2018), Busch Gardens brought back the complementary beer and an entire Bier Fest in the late summer to bridge the gap between Summer Nights and Howl-O-Scream. The biggest news lately is the upcoming opening of Tigris, which is being built on the location of the old African Queen boat ride turned Tidal Wave, turned queue for HOS house, now coaster. That land has certainly seen a variety of uses. Fortunately Tigris looks to be one of the most thrilling coasters anywhere around! It’s fast, has launches, drops, and more. Looking forward to experiencing the newest addition to the park this spring.

There you have it, folks! A history of Busch Gardens from 1959 to 2019. Although the park has undergone many changes over the decades, you can still visit places like the Garden Gate Cafe and Serengeti Overlook to walk where the park’s first guests experienced this outstanding park. With so many events going on at Busch Gardens for #Busch60, the 60th Anniversary of the park, you will want to upgrade your day ticket to an annual pass! Every month, there is something new to experience as Busch wants you to help celebrate in the festivities!

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa and works in live themed entertainment. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter!

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SeaWorld Christmas Celebration 2018 Review

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again, no theme park does Christmas better than SeaWorld! From the food to shows to lights, SeaWorld Christmas is a spectacular event. With so much to see and do, you’ll want to experience it multiple nights in order to make sure you create memories that will last for a lifetime. Although I’ve attended Christmas Celebration in the past, it is so magical that I just love experiencing it again and again. Perhaps you are like me in that you attend as many theme park and resort events at possible at Christmas, but if you can only select one for you and your friends/family, then I highly suggest SeaWorld Christmas Celebration!

Before we get into the shows (which are largely unchanged from previous years), I want to talk about the food. Oh, and speaking of food, you’ll want to treat yourself to the sampler lanyard (5 or 10 items) for all the delectable food and drink cabins. My invitation to the media event came with the 5 item sampler, but I can see the advantages of the 10 item option if you plan to attend multiple nights or are there with another person or group. As far as the 5-item lanyard, my friend Dani and I were able to share it and had plenty to eat and drink. Prior to setting out into the park, the SWO public relations team provided many food and drink items for us during the media mixer. My favorite is the s’mores waffle cone! Absolutely delicious. We also had the Christmas dinner and candied popcorn. Out in the park, we had the donut pulled pork sandwich (not included in the sampler), brisket macaroni and cheese, and chicken and waffles! Yes! Chicken and waffles, you heard me. For drinks, we had the Jingle Juice. All the speciality beverages I saw were hot (just FYI). For a cold beverage, there are options but they are not the specialty drinks.

We attended Clyde and Seamore’s Countdown to Christmas, Winter Wonderland on Ice, and Shamu’s Christmas Miracle. Unfortunately, we did not attend O Wondrous Night because of scheduling conflicts. Of course, we also enjoyed the Sea of Trees show on the lagoon that runs throughout the evening. Clyde and Seamore’s show is always hilarious!! You are in for a laugh for sure. Since we were attending during the same showtime as O Wondrous Night, it wasn’t terribly packed but was nicely filled. Largely unchanged, this show is pretty much the same as it was last year, but it is still such a fun show and will have you laughing the whole time. One of my favorite parts of the show is actually the pre-show when the audience all joins together to sing familiar Christmas songs and carols. Although it is a show geared towards the younger members of the audience, there are jokes and references for us adults to chuckle as well. At one point, one of the trainers forgot his line, and there was a comedically self-aware moment. And the Frozen jokes were great. New for this year were some meta jokes about the stores in the mall. So incredibly funny! Poor Blockbuster haha. Do yourself a favor and sit down for a heaping helping of laughter and merriment as Clyde and Seamore Countdown to Christmas!

Winter Wonderland on Ice returns this year! Arrive early for the preshow! Enjoy the beauty of the violin as a fantastically talented violinist plays Christmas music as you wait for the show to begin. Much like the Christmas on Ice show at Busch Gardens, this show features many talented figure skaters in beautifully choreographed skating numbers to your favorite Christmas songs. To be honest, I still prefer the Busch Gardens show, but those skaters are at the park year-round so they can put more time into the show design. That being said, with SeaWorld placing the show on the water’s edge, the exquisite Sea of Trees can be seen behind the ice stage. Since the show is outdoors, SeaWorld is able to integrate some lite pyrotechnics in the show! As a figure skating hobbiest, I have a high degree of appreciation for these shows. I love watching the movements and picking out the ones that I am able to do! Note: I still have a long way to go haha. Bayside Stadium is packed for this show, so make sure to arrive early.

The Christmas Village at Port of Entry is always a treat! With special a’cappella groups, the Christmas village train set, and of course, you can meet Rudolph and Friends! This is the area where you can also enjoy hot chocolate, eggnog, craft beer, and cookies! Located near the Christmas Village is Santa’s Base Camp where you can meet the big man himself. With many places to sit down and relax, this is a great place to slow down and take in the smells and songs that make this “the most wonderful time of the year.” I came across the most adorable plushies, once of which is a promotional item! I saw a Shamu with a Santa hat and a Santa Sloth!! There is also a hedgehog and other cuddly plushy animals that will be hard to resist.

Merry Christmas!

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa and works in creative services in live themed entertainment. He’s also published prolifically on theme parks and produced a peer-reviewed study. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW him!

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Light up the Night with Shamu and Ignite at SeaWorld Orlando during Electric Ocean!

I finally made it to the Electric Ocean Celebration at SeaWorld Orlando, and it was spectacular! With the never-ending rain we have had in Florida this summer, especially on weekends it seems, it took me until this past Saturday to make it for the summer seasonal special offering. And I am so glad that I did. Comparing last year’s summer celebration to this year’s, it is clear that SeaWorld Orlando stepped up their game exponentially! If you haven’t had a chance to visit SeaWorld this summer, you have through Labor Day to enjoy Electric Ocean including Shamu’s Light up the Night and Ignite at Bayside Stadium.

Before I talk about both shows, I’ve a neat story for you! After I arrived at SeaWorld, I went to Sharks Underwater Grill as I typically do in order to grab a drink (2 for 1) and slice of Key Lime Pie during happy hour! As is par for the course, I was sitting at the bar by myself at a table in the corner by the window so my phone would work. Shortly thereafter, another young lady arrived by herself at the bar. Since we were both there alone, we started chatting and struck up quite the conversation. As the restaurant got more crowded, we decided to consolidate since two people by themselves shouldn’t take up two tables. When you’re by yourself in the parks, it’s always nice when you can strike up a conversation because you never know who you will meet. Turns out she is one of the trainers at the Clyde and Seamore Show and just got off work, and was waiting for her husband and 14mo daughter! How cool is that! I enjoy the Clyde and Seamore Show a lot, so it gave me a chance to learn more about it, and develop an even greater appreciation of it. After her husband and daughter arrived, they were kind enough to invite me to join them at the Shamu show and Ignite since I was planning to go anyhow. Just when I thought I was going to enjoy both shows by myself, I was able to make new friends and enjoy pleasant company! You never know where you’ll make connections and meet new friends. So remember, even if you are alone in the parks, do not be afraid to talk to someone new. I’m certainly glad that I did.

High energy! Shamu’s Light Up the Night is a phenomenal nighttime show that is, start to finish, the most exciting Shamu show I’ve seen in a long time. Beautiful, non-stop, jaw-dropping aquabatics will entertain and inspire you! Prior to the show, the SeaWorld Shamu Stadium DJ will take you on a musical journey through the decades with familiar favorite songs that will have you dancing and singing along. Different from the daytime show, this special seasonal nighttime offering includes more performances from the orcas and less educational content. There is still a clear conservation message, but this particular show greatly increases the showmanship, which I appreciate! One of the most magical parts of the show is the quad backflip! To the best of my knowledge, never before has there been a show featuring four orcas simultaneously backflipping. It was fantastic! The music and lights that accompanied the show created a festive atmosphere filled with excitement. From beginning to end, your attention will be held by this incredible show.

After Shamu’s Light Up the Night, you’ll want to head over to Bayside Stadium for Ignite. When you arrive, you’ll be in the midst of a electric party full of lasers, fog, and colorful lights! The dance floor on the lagoon will be teaming with exuberance! With the music thumping and the lights illuminating the night sky, it will be no wonder why SeaWorld is calling the summer celebration Electric Ocean. High above the stadium seating, you’ll be mesmerized by the incredible synched choreography of the master of ceremonies. Watch as he manipulates the lasers and directs the lights. Reminds me of something you would see at a circus or Blue Man Group show. On the dance floor, party starters and movers guide the audience through an electrifying bank of songs to kick the bayside party into high gear. If you enjoy EDM, then you’re in the right place! As the DJ counts down to the start of the show, other puppeteers and character performers some out to join the party. Once the countdown ends, the choreographed water fountains put on a wonderful show! All around Bayside Stadium, fountains dance, lasers cut through the mist, and lights create magic over the water. Instead of holding off on pyro until the finale of the show, you will be in awe at the spectacular display of fireworks and other pyrotechnic effects for the entirely of the show. Fire shoots up out of the water and more! Of all the nighttime shows I’ve seen this summer, I have to say that SeaWorld Orlando is my pick for the most spectacular show!

Here are some highlights from both shows!

Although the Electric Ocean celebration has been going on for the whole summer, I am so glad that I finally had a chance to see it without fighting the perpetual state of rain we’ve had all summer. I got to make a new friend and enjoy two amazing shows. Definitely a great time! If you haven’t been to Electric Ocean yet, you have the rest of August through Labor Day weekend to enjoy the festivities.

2019: the Year of the Park

2019 is shaping up to be quite the year for U.S. theme parks in Florida and California. Many major theme parks have made announcements in the last few weeks that are of out-of-this-world Jurassic proportions! Looking to history, it feels as if we are in a “space race” of sorts. Except, instead of the United States and Russia vying to be the first in space or one the moon, major US theme parks are breaking new ground, pushing boundaries, and innovating new experiences to vie for your money. Arguably, the biggest expansion is Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (DHS) and Disneyland, followed by Lego Movie World and Sesame Street Land at Legoland Florida and SeaWorld Orlando respectively, the new Harry Potter themed rollercoaster at Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure, Jurassic World replacing Jurassic Park at Universal Studios Hollywood, and lastly Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway also at DHS. Just one of any of the aforementioned announcements would be big news, but collectively it is quite possibly the most massive collection of openings at any given time in recent years.

The sheer economic impact of these attractions on each of their respective parks will be of epic proportions. Beginning with Universal’s Islands of Adventure (IOA) in 1999, the last decade has seen a colossal convergence of cinema and theme parks like no other! And even more so since the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (WWoHP) at IOA in 2010. From the original concept of the movie park immersing guests into the magic of filmmaking to creating immersive environments that place the park guest into the world of the movie itself, the movie park has grown by leaps and bounds. As the process to make a film became less magical, the parks compensated by wowing guests with the ability to feel as if they are characters in the film itself. Attendance at theme parks took a dramatic downturn after the housing collapse and financial crash of 2007; and with theme parks being a vacation destination or luxury for many, they had to innovate new ways to attract guests–give them new reasons to return to the parks. By creating new experiences that were unlike any other, the parks knew they could increase their bottom line and share of the marketplace. Universal’s addition of Harry Potter and Disney’s addition of Pandora were major impacts. Moreover, the addition of Galaxy’s Edge (Star Wars land) at Disney’s Hollywood Studios & Disneyland Resort and the eventual Nintendo expansion at Universal Orlando Resort will each likely bring unprecedented numbers of guests into the parks.

News from Disney and Universal on new lands is not exactly groundbreaking–the news anyway–but when SeaWorld and Legoland are tossing their hats in, for a piece of the 2019 action, then you know that a wave of innovation is sweeping through the parks of Florida and California. California is interesting. For the longest time, the majority of the big theme park news came out of Florida but more recently the California Disney and Universal parks have made big expansions and announcements. Most recently, Radiator Springs at Disney’s California Adventure and WWoHP at Universal Hollywood opened to rave reviews and dramatically increased park attendance. Next year is bringing about an unprecedented number of additions to theme parks that will even more greatly increase the revenue and attendance than we’ve seen in the last several years. And it’s not just the parks that are going to feel the impact of all the 2019 openings. The local hotels, resorts, beaches, and secondary attractions (zoos, aquariums, museums, etc) will also feel a huge boost from the new theme park lands and rides.

More people than ever will be flocking to the parks next year. And let’s face it, the majority of those numbers will be boarding the Millennium Falcon and Mickey & Minnie’s very first attraction, but the numbers heading to experience their favorite Lego movies, Harry Potter, or your furriest friends at Sesame Street land will be impressive. Local hotels and resorts need to start planning on the massive influx of theme park guests, some of which may be visiting for the first time in a long time or for the first time ever. Although a tourist may spend most of their time at the parks, beach, etc when coming to Florida, the hotel stay can play an important role in the over all experience of the trip. Often times, it’s the hotel (whether on or off property) that sets the initial tone of the trip. So, I hope that non-Universal/Disney/Lego hotels are keeping up with the news because they are about to see crowds likely never seen in any other year, except for when a new park opens.

So far, we’ve heard big news from most the major theme parks of Florida and California, but Busch Gardens Tampa seems to be the wallflower this time around. It’s entirely possible that we will hear of a new attraction offering at Busch Gardens in 2019 but so far there do not seem to be any indicators for that. Fortunately, Busch Gardens may continue the complimentary beer promotion in order to not get completely left behind in 2019. But who knows, 2018 is only about halfway done, so there is still time for Busch to make a 2019 announcement as well. If so, hopefully it will revolve around the space occupied by the former Gwazi wooden coaster.

Okay so here’s a breakdown of what’s coming to theme parks in 2019, so far.

Walt Disney World

Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge– a new land with a 14 acres expansion, transporting guests to a never-before-seen planet, a remote trading port and one of the last stops before wild space where Star Wars characters and their stories come to life. And yes, you’ll be able to fly the Millennium Falcon!

Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway– After screening an exclusive cartoon in the theatre, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway will put you inside the wacky and unpredictable world of a Mickey Mouse Cartoon Short where you’re the star and anything can happen.

Universal Studios Florida

Harry Potter rollercoaster– The all-new attraction will take guests on a journey that incorporates the characters, creatures and transportative adventures of the wildly successful book and movie series when it opens in 2019. In its announcement, Universal positioned the ride as one of the most “highly-themed coaster experiences” they’ve ever created — which is major, considering The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is already known for immersive attractions utilizing ride systems and technology in ways rarely seen at other theme parks.

SeaWorld Orlando

Sesame Street Land– “We are excited to transport our guests into the colorful and creative world of Sesame Street through immersive theming, character interactions and interactive play,” said SeaWorld Orlando President Jim Dean in a statement. Sesame StreetLland also brings with it SeaWorld’s firs daily parade!

Legoland Florida

Lego Movie World– Based on “The LEGO Movie” and the upcoming sequel, the new world puts guests in the middle of Bricksburg, the city where Emmet lives in the movie. The area will feature two new rides, character meet-and-greets, and a giant themed playscape.

Universal Studios Hollywood

Jurassic World the Ride– Details of the “Jurassic World Ride” are being kept under wraps. But a press release release describes the plans as “epic,” featuring “never-before-seen dinosaurs, enhanced storytelling, lush scenic design, an entirely new color scheme and unparalleled state-of the art technology.”

Disneyland Resort

Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge– As of now, there are only two new rides in development. There’s the Millennium Falcon ride, where players are ranked on how well they perform their mission (if you bang up the ship, expect trouble at the cantina). There’s also one in the works where guests are inside a Star Destroyer hanger bay during a major battle between the First Order and the Resistance, though there isn’t a lot of information available on that one yet.

Are Theme Parks Pricing Millennials Out of the Ability to Experience the Magic?

If you’re a Millennial like me, then you may have asked yourself the same question. In fact, I read an article recently on another Theme Park website that explored how changing demographics are changing the theme park business. Fascinating article. However, there was an item of mention that troubled me. When commenting on the observation of the addition of food and wine festivals, expensive up-sell experiences, and line-skipping passes to appeal to adults without kids, it was stated in the form of this development being great for Millennials. And that got me to thinking. Is it, though? Considering the current economic climate and the career status of those who are in their early 20s and to early to mid 30s, are these new trends truly accommodating of this group?

Instead of limiting this topic to the changing population (baby booms versus baby busts), I think it’s more effective to explore this topic of how changing demographics are changing the theme park business with the addition of the income criteria coupled with population. This is an important element to add to the discussion because it’s no surprise that it’s taking much longer to land a full-time position earning a truly livable wage for us than it did for our parents (see images 1-3). In fact, the Pew Research center (image 4) shows that our parents had far more purchasing power when they were rearing us than we do today. Essentially, non high-level mangers or non-executives have exponentially less disposable income correlating to the cost of living than our parents did in the 1980s, 90s, and early 2000s. Furthermore, it’s much harder to get a mortgage than it was 10-20yrs ago, rent rates are way up, and student loans enter repayment. When theme parks keep adding expensive up-sell experiences in order to capture the young single adult or young couple without kids (as we are currently in a baby bust that doesn’t look like it will change with GenZ), I am not entirely sure they are considering the financial burdens and increasing cost of living that 20 and 30-somethings currently face. Our parents COULD afford more vacation than we can today.

Whenever I see a Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or blog post about a new experience at Disney Parks especially, but also Universal Parks, lesser so at Busch Gardens and SeaWorld (who DO tend to cater to where current finances are for Millennials), I wonder who is actually paying for these experiences? Most of these special tour and dining experiences are in excess of $100/person and often much more. After paying for either day tickets or annual passes, hotel nights (if applicable), plane tickets or fuel for the car, I find it difficult to believe that the typical Millennial is able to afford these experiences. Therefore, if the typical Millennial possesses an inability to afford all the increases and special experiences in the parks, then perhaps this “changing of the theme park business” is actually not a good thing for those of us who are in our 20s and 30s. Seems to me, that the more logical course of action would be to follow the median economic status of the biggest group of park guests.

According to the the article that inspired me to write mine, the largest group of park guests is trending toward late GenX and Millennials (with GenZ not being too far behind) without kids. It makes perfect sense for the parks to add in “adult” activities in order to entice Gen-Xers and Millennials such as food and wine festivals, line-skipping passes, and special events, but the prices of these events is outpacing the income of the group that the theme parks know will soon surpass the number of “families” that are guests at the parks. The disadvantage of a proliferation of high-priced up-sells is alienating the very group of current and potential park guests that is outpacing the more traditional families that have been the main source of income for the parks. More than anything else, in terms of spending money on entertainment, Millennials are looking for a good deal–more than our parents–because we have much higher overhead and less purchasing power than they did when they were out ages taking their kids (us) to the parks. Therefore, it’s important for the current theme park business model to recognize the desire for Millennials to continue to support and enjoy the parks as more traditional families get smaller and Baby Boomers getting older with currently empty or soon-to-be-empty nests.

Although it seems common sense for the parks to adapt their respective business models to accommodate the finances of Millennials, the opposite appears to be coming to pass. Instead of packing better deals for young professionals without kids, the trend seems to be catering to only upper-middle and upper class individuals and families. The antithesis of what should be done in order to capture the next generation planning vacations to the parks. If the trend of continuing to add expensive additions to your park ticket continues, then theme parks will become as exclusive a destination as a European vacation or exotic cruise. “This park wasn’t built to cater only to the super rich, everyone in the world has a right to enjoy…” as Dr. John Hammond countered the lawyer’s desire to charge exorbitant prices during the lunchtime debate scene in Jurassic Park (one of my favorite scenes from the iconic film)Disney and Universal should borrow a line from Hammond and modify the business model to create magic for Millennials–especially Disney Parks, as they are increasingly catering to only the super rich.

So yes, we are experiencing theme parks changing their business models to adjust for fewer families and more singles/couples without children. And Food and Wine festivals are a huge hit! I truly enjoy them. But, in developing offerings that attract adults without kids, the parks are in danger or pricing Millennials out of enjoying the magic. Millennials are looking for those after-hours events, food and wine fests, and line-skipping passes but not at the cost of not being able to go to begin with. Theme parks should reevaluate the pricing structure and take the current economic times facing millennials into question. Millennials represent the majority of folks soon to be going to the parks as young professionals, with the traditional families of 3-5 becoming less common. But, Millennials are burdened by rising rental costs, rising student loan repayment cost, lower salaries than our parents, and rising cost of transportation.