2009 Theme Park Year in Review

Happy New Year! It’s time once again to recap the biggest theme park news stories of 2009.

The Roller Coaster Class of 2009
The two huge roller coasters that opened in Orlando had very different fates. SeaWorld’s Manta opened early to rave reviews while Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit opened several months late with mixed reviews. To be fair, Rockit is a one-of-a-kind ride with several technological firsts, so it makes sense that it would take a while to get everything working properly.

Diamondback opened with a deluge of praise and a 4 hour line. In April, I predicted Diamondback would be the top ride of the year with my Top 9 of 2009 List. I feel pretty comfortable with my pick as it debuted at 7th in the Golden Ticket Awards and an impressive 4th on Mitch’s Coaster Poll (preliminary results). Read about more of the 2009 roller coasters.

The Year of Buy Outs & Acquisitions
The business side of the amusement industry saw several big changes including a number of acquisitions. Blackstone purchased Busch, Disney bought Marvel, Comcast bought NBC Universal, and Cedar Fair was sold to Apollo.  Only time will tell which of the changes will have the largest impact on the theme park experiences of the different chains. Which do you think will result in the most changes to guests experiences?

Six Flags: Bankrupt & Better Than Ever?
Meanwhile, Six Flags unsurprisingly declared bankruptcy. If you’ve been following this industry for a while then you know that the company has had financial trouble for quite some time. So, this might have been the least surprising news. Even with the Chapter 11 declaration, the company is trying to dig its way out of a hole created by the previous leadership. As I argued, not only does the bankruptcy not effect daily park operations, but the chain is really starting to turn things around. Read more: Six Flags is Better than Ever.

On the international scene, Six Flags announced plans to build a Six Flags in Nigeria. And, the once blazing hot Dubai has cooled off substantially due to the economic recession. Just a year ago there were at least a half dozen (probably more) new theme parks planned for the metropolis that’s rising out of the desert. Those plans hit the proverbial brake run in 2009.

Freestyle Music Park: Myrtle Beach Park Revived
It’s not every day that a new theme park opens, so Freestyle Music Park’s successful season is big news. Especially after it’s short lived run as Hard Rock Park in 2008. Read my Freestyle Music Park review.

Accidents & Incidents
Thankfully, there weren’t the type of gruesome, high-profile accidents in 2009 like there were in the past few years. But, there was a pretty scary accident at Knott’s Berry Farm that went viral after it was posted on YouTube. A cable snapped on Xcelerator sending debris into the air and injuring riders. Son of Beast closed again after a woman claimed that it injured her head. A Son of Beast closing hardly seems like news anymore. The troublesome woodie’s days are likely numbered. I can’t imagine Cedar Fair wants this kind of negative press no matter how many records it holds.

Not an accident, but an act of God, left Six Flags Over Georgia and parts of surrounding Atlanta completely under water. Read more and watch aerial footage of the flooded park here.

The Year in Entertainment – Theme Parks on TV & Movies (And Vice-Versa)
BrainRush, the Cartoon Network game show quizzed contestants while they rode roller coasters at Knott’s. And two major motion pictures featured theme parks (and Jesse Eisenberg). Adventureland was filmed at Kennywood and Zombieland featured Wild Adventures. A questionable Alltel commercial caused a healthy debate as to its inappropriateness. Also, Terminator Salvation and Saw: The Ride opened as did the American Idol Experience at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (MGM).

In Memoriam
Roy E. Disney passed away at 79. He was Walt’s nephew and he’s credited with reinvigorating Disney’s animated films starting with the Little Mermaid and throughout the 90’s. It doesn’t seem like his work at Disney was directly related to theme parks, but his story and impact at the company was quite amazing. Read more at the LA Times.

Florida’s oldest amusement park, Cypress Gardens closed after ditching its roller coasters and trying to reinvent itself. The great stand-up roller coaster (yes, that’s not an oxymoron) Chang was removed from Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom and shipped to Six Flags Great America (Chicago). This could signal the beginning of the end for Kentucky Kingdom. Rumors are that it may transition to a water park. And lastly, as I covered on the blog in much detail, the Big Bad Wolf closed at Busch Gardens. It had apparently reached the end of its service life and it was time for it to go. See coverage of Big Bad Wolf’s final run.

What’s Your Take?
What were the biggest theme park news stories of 2009 for you? Did I miss any big stories? Leave a comment below.