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Trends in Theme Park Rides
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From food to fashion, trends come and trends go, and at theme parks and other entertainment attractions that is especially true. Venues constantly work to keep attractions fresh, and so while some rides gain desirability, others are out. In: large-scale, often digitally-enhanced observation wheels such as the 550-foot-tall High Roller in Las Vegas; also increasing in popularity are Flying Theatres, such as another Las Vegas attraction, FlyOver Las Vegas, that suspends riders in front of a 52.5-foot spherical screen with 4D effects, planned for debut in 2021. Cutting edge attractions such as these that include elements that stimulate all the senses are a growing trend both as stand-alone entertainment and in theme parks; Flight of Passage for Disney’s new Pandora is one such in-park ride. 

For a while, flat rides were on the decline in favor of large scale, themed roller coasters; today flat rides seem to be coming back, particularly those that evoke nostalgia for older riders and families, including the Tilt a Whirl. Some theme parks are even creating specific areas devoted to these traditional classics, such as the Carowinds County Fair which opened in 2017. The big coasters are still popular however, and particularly when they are themed. SeaWorld is rebranding itself by adding major new coasters at locations throughout the country. Busch Gardens Tampa is in the process of transforming its former Gwazi wooden coaster into a large-scale hybrid coaster designed to be North America’s tallest and the world’s steepest and fastest coaster.

Today, while water slides and water parks themselves are increasingly popular, “dry park” attractions that feature water seem to be on the decline, from flume rides to river rapids. Carowinds itself is a strong example of this trend, with its White Water Falls ride closed to make space for the park’s Copperhead Strike roller coaster. Recently, that park’s Rip Roarin’ Rapids ride was also announced as being permanently closed. 

While most theme parks nationwide continue to feature at least one water ride among their offerings, aging water attractions have been removed or are in the process of removal at many locations. 

Dollywood‘s Log Flume, Cedar Point‘s White Water Landing and Shoot the Rapids), and SeaWorld San Antonio‘s The Texas Splashdown have departed; as have both Six Flags Magic Mountain and Kennywood’s Log Jammer flume rides. Large boat-splash rides such as Rim Runner at Circus Circus Adventuredome, Diamond Falls at Kings Dominion, and Six Flags parks’ atttractions such as Movietown Water Effect and Splashwater Falls, have also “washed away.”

Reasons vary but the trend is pronounced. Some are taken out to allow parks the room to add new, more cutting edge attractions; others fall by the wayside in part due to riders’ reluctance to possibly soak their smart phones or leave phones in lockers. Additionally, another trend may be the partial cause for this one: year ‘round park calendars are becoming increasingly popular, including Christmas season celebrations and Halloween haunt events; in many parts of the U.S. water rides are simply not viable outside of the summer months, making them a waste of space during a large portion of park operating years. 

Another emerging trend when it comes to water rides is the fact that adjunct water parks are added to theme parks; the perception is that these attractions draw the water-ride-loving crowd, and eliminate the need for water rides on the dry side of the parks. 

And, with water rides themselves expensive to operate and keeping the water clean a costly proposition as well, making space for less labor-intensive rides has strong appeal for theme park operators.

Returning to burgeoning trends, revising annual pass membership programs to include tiered membership and a variety of pass types, as SeaWorld has successfully done; and offering a variety of special events throughout the year, are also growing trends. As mentioned, Halloween events and winter holiday events are becoming more and more business-as-usual for theme parks. 

Additionally, themed dining options are a big deal at parks. At the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge attractions at Disneyland Anaheim and Disney World Florida, there are a wide range of these options, each fully themed. Each food and drink menu item sold in Galaxy’s Edge will have a Star Wars universe name and otherworldly look along with a description of its earthly ingredients. At Oga’s Cantina, there will be a bartender mixing alien cocktails, while hip space tunes are played by a robotic DJ. Food items include Oga’s Obsession, a petri dish containing dried fruits, blueberries, raspberries and Pop Rocks. Inside Docking Bay 7, visitors will eat under a cargo pod being lowered into the hangar-like dining room from the food freighter docked on the restaurant’s roof.

Nighttime projection shows that keep guests enthralled after daytime thrills have drawn to a close are another trend, including Dark Arts at Hogwarts Castle with its own original musical score, debuting first at Universal Hollywood and then at Universal Orlando this year. While lights, music, and special effects have long been a part of theme park nighttime attractions, this new concept hews toward a darker look and feel that adds a different dimension to a theme park experience.

In short, from themed dining additions to a continued interest in large-scale, themed roller coasters, and fading interest in old-school water rides, new trends come while old trends are fading away.

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