From Hard Rock to Freestyle – Myrtle Beach’s Music-Themed Amusement Park’s Revival
After last year’s surprising failure of the $400 million Hard Rock Park that only survived for five months, many wondered if a theme park could survive in Myrtle Beach. Last winter it looked like the remnants of Hard Rock Park were going to be sold off piece-meal until Steve Baker and FPI swooped in and got the park at a bargain basement price of $25 million.
Baker had hopes to revamp, re-brand, and reopen it in a matter of months. As I learned in my interview with the new park President Steve Baker, he planned to soften the park’s image a bit and make it more family friendly. In addition, he wanted to use better marketing efforts to get people into the park as Hard Rock Park suffered from abysmal attendance. After my visit to Freestyle Music Park last month, I was able to see first-hand what the new management had done with the park.
Freestyle Shifts Focus to Families Among the first announcements that Freestyle Music Park made was the addition of the new Kids in America childrens’ area. The tiny kiddie area from the Hard Rock Park days was expanded from the previous year. There were a number of new flat rides and a large playground structure. Hang Ten, the park’s kiddie coaster anchored the area and Soak’d, the suspended coaster where guests can shoot water at riders, was also nearby. As I visited the park with my daughter, I can definitely see the value of adding kiddie rides. My family and others with younger kids could spend quite a bit of time riding the eight or so rides in that area. Kids in America was a smart addition that I’m sure many enthusiasts (including myself) had kind of overlooked.
Top Notch Shows Another change for 2009 was the addition of new shows. Flip 5 Live is described as a “singing, dancing, and tumbling entertainment experience for the entire family”. The Flip 5 Live show was fun and very engaging as members of the band came out into the crowd interacting with kids and fooling around with them. I don’t see a lot of shows at theme parks, but I can’t ever recall seeing performers interacting with the audience as much as they did during the show. The musical performances were high energy and included some cool trampoline work. Afterwards, Flip 5 met with guests and took pictures. My daughter was eager to meet them so I guess the show got her seal of approval.
The Ice Cold Country Show should be up for an industry award in my opinion. It’s an upbeat ice skating show featuring rock country and some really, really skilled skaters. I can see why it was unchanged from the year before. They were smart not to mess with a perfect show. Here’s a video with some highlights from their show. Not to mention, the ice show was a great way to get out of the heat, cool off, and be entertained. I didn’t see the CSI Show, but the concept sounds cool it was likely a draw for older kids and adults. Freestyle seemed to go all out for the fireworks show. We didn’t stay late enough for the show, but after watching this video of the fireworks from the 4th of July, it looks pretty impressive.
Freestyle Music Park’s Roller Coasters & Thrill Rides Freestyle Music Park’s signature ride has to be the Time Machine roller coaster (formerly the Led Zeppelin – The Ride). After losing the Led Zeppelin licensing, the park did a decent job re-theming the ride. Now, instead of just one song, the coaster featured music from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, & 00’s. Aside from the music theme and on-board speakers the Time Machine featured: six loops, a top speed of 65 mph, and a layout that was partially over water. I will say that the loading was a little slow and the ride was a bit shakier than I was used to for a B&M coaster, but everyone seemed to love it. Again, with on-board speakers it’s a pretty unique ride and a perfect attraction to be Freestyle’s crown jewel. Read my full Led Zepellin Coaster review to read more about the ride’s layout and see the full song list for the Time Machine.
Round About (formerly Maximum RPM) is an even more unique ride. The prototype coaster features the hub of a ferris wheel that provides a first-of-a-kind way to lift the convertible sports car-themed cars to the top of the lift. The 80’s New Wave sound fits nicely as it sits in the UK-themed Across the Pond area of the park. The ride itself is short, but fun.
Iron Horse (formerly Eagles: Life in the Fast Lane) is a Vekoma mine train roller coaster. It features two lift hills and also has on-board speakers. I didn’t get to re-ride this one, but it was fun last year and the sound seemed especially good on this ride. The aforementioned Soak’d and Hang Ten round out the park’s collection of roller coasters. For a brand new park, it’s not a bad lineup. Sure, as a coaster enthusiast I would have liked to see larger roller coasters, but for a park in its infancy I couldn’t complain. At least the park didn’t have five clone coasters that I’ve already ridden at other parks..
Freestyle Music Park’s Improved Marketing & Promotion
As I learned in my interview with park President Steve Baker, the new management team wanted to do more marketing and promotions than the Hard Rock Park leadership had done. I can say that I’ve seen their efforts on both parts.
The park enlisted a big furry mascot named Boom the Troll. The sent him and his fairy sidekick around the Myrtle Beach area in hopes to drum up some business for the new park. See some of the sighting videos here. It may seem a bit silly, but things like this can only help the new park’s visibility and I like the outside the box thinking.
While admission was $10 less than the Hard Rock days, I had hoped that ticket prices were going to be reduced even more. As the summer went on, they were. The park had promotional price after promotional price as they were hard at work getting people into the park. It’s exactly what I thought a new park would need to do to build a fan base.
As I live about 4 hours from Myrtle Beach, I was glad to say that I actually saw the TV commercials. There were a few different commercials and one even made national headlines. A hair loss advocacy web site spoke out against one of the ads because a rider in the commercial lost his hairpiece after riding Time Machine. A local hair replacement businessman even came out to the park and rode Time Machine to prove that his hair piece would hold up against the g-forces, flips, and turns. Any press is good press, right? Read the full story and watch a CNN news story on the controversial commercial above.
My Take – Rome Wasn’t Built in a Year For its second year in existence, really first year in its new form, Freestyle Music Park did about as good as could be expected considering the economy. Coaster enthusiasts may scoff at the ‘small’ collection of roller coasters, but Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was your favorite theme park. Theme parks take years and years to grow and in my opinion, Freestyle Music Park is on the right path. By focusing on the families they’re giving themselves the best chance to survive as families spend more at theme parks than individuals or guests without kids. No, there’s not several days worth of stuff to do, but for families that experience entire parks, I can say that there’s about a day’s worth of shows, rides, and other attractions. Of course that depends on crowds. So, the next time you’re in the Myrtle Beach area, give Freestyle Music Park a try. It’s not Cedar Point or Disney World, but if you want some fun rides, great shows, and a break from the beach there’s no better place to be.
What’s Your Take? What do you think of Freestyle Music Park’s first year? How do you think it compared to Hard Rock Park? What do you think the park needs in the future? Leave a comment below.