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Have we passed the golden age of theme parks?

Matt N

Well-Known Member
Hi guys. Being a UK enthusiast, I follow a lot of UK park forums and pages, and one thing I often hear tossed around on these places is "[insert park here] was so much better in the 1990s" or "[insert park here] has really passed its prime". And to be truthful, I don't just hear this in the UK community; for parks across the world, I often hear people say "[insert park here] has gone way downhill since its heyday in the [insert decade here]s" and "[insert park here] doesn't build major rides as often as it used to". Even with some manufacturers, I often hear "they don't build them like they used to" tossed around. So my question to you today is; do you think we have passed the golden age of theme parks? Was there a better time for our industry that has now gone by?

Personally, I think there are valid arguments to justify both sides, but I'm controversially going to say no. Even though roller coasters aren't necessarily breaking records or pushing the envelope like they used to, I personally think that the quality of the rides produced in the 2010s far outweighs that of the rides produced in the decades before it, on average. There are of course exceptions, but on the whole, I think coaster quality is arguably the highest it's ever been. I think that the same goes for other types of theme park attraction; for example, dark rides and immersive attractions are arguably on levels of quality we've never seen before, and even outside of the rides, parks around the world are thinking up new and inventive ways to improve guest experience and make the best possible days out for people.

But what are your thoughts?
 

Heth

New Member
I think it varies a lot. For the UK the 1990s was definitely the heyday of parks, but contrast that to The Netherlands and Germany and their parks seem to be on a very upward trajectory!
 

Hyde

I Lied About My Age!
Staff member
Moderator
Social Media Team
It depends geographically for sure, but globally yes things are doing well. This comes especially on the heels of China boosting it's own amusement park industry; this has, for instance, led to a rapid spur of wooden coaster development in that country from GG and GCI. Searching through RCDB's "New for XXXX Year", you'll see coaster entries above 200 for the last few years, while the previous decade saw many lower returns (also partly to do with the economic recession/downturn in 2008).

As for "Golden Age", that would speak to a more broad question of do we see innovation the likes of which not seen yet, harkening back to the first Golden Age of coasters in the 1910s and 1920s with wooden coaster's first emerging, or the second Golden Age with the Racer opening at Kings Island, the first park with a roller coaster as the central attraction. I would argue we are still within the second Golden Age, at least as far as that we haven't seen coaster development slowdown/stop since 1972. There's a lot of reasons why, such as integration of computer design (CAD), continuingly strong economies that spur continued tourism, and other factors. Rapid advancement of technology still continues - while the 2000s were focused on height and speed, the 2010s were above layout innovation and tight transitions - headed into 2020s, swing launches and other innovations are almost merging the two, packing tight transitions with high speed in a smaller footprint. All of which is to say, barring a major economic decline or downturn of tourism, there's no current indicators that we are "not" within a Golden Age.
 

cocoa

New Member
I think we're in a maybe decade or two long 'golden age' of chinese theme parks... get to these while you can, I can't imagine they'll be sticking around for long!
 

cookie

Member
I would argue a lot of mainland European theme parks, especially those owned independently, have been on the uptick in the last decade. Europa Park, Phantasialand, Energylandia, the Walibi parks, Liseberg, Djurs, Parc Asterix, PortAventura, Toverland, Efteling, Hansa Park etc. have been pushing the envelope on big, new attractions — including major, impressive coasters — with theming efforts not seen in previous decades from them.

That's not even mentioning up and comers like Paultons, Tayto, Tripsdrill etc. and previously non-coaster parks like Futuroscope and Vulcania getting in on the action.

It's not China where parks are springing up left and right, but there's an increased effort in making the existing parks feel more like themed experiences than just collections of rides, and I've had great enjoyment in watching them grow.
 
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Pokemaniac

Mountain monkey
Staff member
Administrator
Moderator
I think coaster designs have improved greatly only in the time I've been an enthusiast (12 years on CF already, welp, where did the time go?) and that new big-budget coasters built today are generally leagues above those built 20 years ago, but it seems less common for parks to put down those big budgets now than back then. At least in the West, that is, the Chinese market is still booming.

Take the UK as an example. There's basically just three big parks left that could build any thrill coaster bigger than a fifth-hand clone, and neither of them seem to be doing well enough to afford to do so any time soon. As an example, more Pinfari coasters have been built in the UK over the last decade than Intamin, Vekoma, Mack, B&M, S&S, RMC and GCI put together, even though Pinfari went bankrupt in 2004 and hasn't built a coaster since. The smaller parks are just shuffling around used Zyklons and Reverchon spinners and occasionally one of them is going bankrupt. The UK amusement park scene is but a shadow of what it was twenty years ago. It seems almost unthinkable that a regional park would put up something like The Ultimate, Jubilee Odyssey, or Shockwave.

Over in the US, things aren't so hot either. Six Flags is still struggling after its bankruptcy and its parks are mostly surfing on the lineup built during the spending spree in the early 2000s. Cedar Fair are stepping down their investments as well, despite many of their parks having gone without significant new additions in the last decade. However, Sea World are going against the current at the moment, and the big independent parks seem to be doing all right too. Of course, Disney is raking in money and Universal isn't doing bad either, but they're hardly representative for the situation in the country at large.

There are spots of hope in the rest of Europe - exciting things are built in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany. In Poland, Energylandia is going bananas at the moment. But the theme park scene in Spain hasn't seen much in terms of additions for quite a while (PortAventura aside), same in Italy. Scandinavia has been quiet outside a few parks in Sweden and the occasional Danish park building a mid-size ride. The few active French parks seem to be trudging forward at their usual pace. Eastern Europe is as barren as ever in terms of amusement parks.

Japan is another interesting case. So many people. So many theme parks. And significant construction activity seems to be restrained to Disney/Universal, Fuji-Q, and Nagashima Spaland. What happened to the activity in the rest of the country?

Or the UAE? There are good parks there, but the ones in Dubai are struggling pretty badly, and we aren't hearing much from the Abu Dhabi ones either nowadays. I wonder how many people are seriously expecting the Six Flags park in Saudi Arabia to materialize. There's a bit of an economic slump going on in the region at the moment, and investors seem less keen to invest in "fairy tale projects" than they were 15 years ago.

As for all of Latin America and all of Africa, has anybody heard anything lately? A handful of years back, it seemed like a park or two in Brazil could be on track for something decent, but little seems to have come out of it. One of the two major parks in South Africa closed recently, while the other hasn't built a coaster since a Big Apple in 2008.


In general, it seems like we're seeing the same trend across most of the world (again, barring China): Small parks closing at a much faster rate than new ones are opening, mid-size parks stagnating by going a decade or more without a new coaster of the same size as their current backbone lineup, and a handful of large parks occasionally splurging on something big. Granted, the large parks have always been the ones to push the envelope, and they've always been few in number, but it seems like 15-20 years ago, mid-size parks would occasionally show some innovation and ambition and build something relatively big, which is a rarity today.

Hopefully I'm wrong, but it just seems to me as if there's a lot less ambition and innovation going on among the smaller actors in the amusement park scene, while the big actors aren't competing as fiercely as they used to. Are parks in general just a lot less profitable than they were?
 

Nitefly

Member
I don’t know much... but I think theme parks have suffered due to:

- A desire to maximise short-term profits at the expense of consumer experience for the purposes of selling shares and distributing dividends / bonuses.

- The idea of a ‘theme park’ is a little “quaint and outdated” compared to binging on Netflix, arguing on the internet, cheap drugs, smart phones and video games.

With that said, the quality of new rollercoasters is surely at its absolute peak - in the US at least. In the 90s I’m pretty sure everyone thought B&M was the bees knees ‘in a class of its own’ and look where we are today. Cheaper travel has also made this hobby / passion more readily accessible on an international level.

I think it’s a great time to be an enthusiast and as long as we retain enthusiasm, there should be an industry to cater to us... even if it’s just Cedar Point left standing :)
 
The Answer is yes and no

Undoubtedly the UK went through a Golden Era of sorts in the 1990s - the Uk were quite late to the 'theme park' table (Amusement parks exempt) beginning in the 80s - and peaking in the 90s Creatively!

what people lament about (and I'm a nostalgic) is the quality and theming that was apparent, along with investment in small details and overall maintenance!
in terms of ride hardware and coasters however - the 90s where just the beginning - Id say we defiantly have better coasters now

however there's no balance and variety, and that's a lot to do with the UK market and ownership/Management (Im not going to go there)

But in different localities I think its totally different.

I think the central/Western Europe Market has gone from strength to strength - and I'm always excited by European parks that just keep getting better, 50 year old parks that have maintained their consistency and inertia and small parks suddenly take off and blossoming.

There are a lot more parks with theming (and good quality theming at that) than there ever used to be - it seems to be an important component in the European market at the moment.

Coasterwise In Europe I think there's excellent and exciting momentum at the moment - healthy competition is producing a lot of great coasters, and that comes to my next point, we're going through a period where good quality instead of gimmicky rides are the order or the day.

also both wood and steel coasters are in favour, b&m are still going strong with the same designs they brought out 30 years ago (because they have stood the test of time).

As for other types of ride - such as dark rides, I do hope the whole screen based and interactive trend will fade again - because good story based rides with practical effects (or practical/projection mixed) rides are what give a park 'flavor' - which some parks understand - but for others they are seen as a maintenance nightmare/unpopular because visitors may only ride them once per visit (unpopular in terms of re-rides but not in the greater context).

I can't speak for the US - as outside Disney/Universal most US parks are more Amusement parks and don't feature theming or dark rides heavily, and coaster wise there appears to be more new ones than old ones are being closed - an ongoing equilibrium seems to be apparent.

I've watched POV's of many defunct Disney/Universal rides which looked amazing - such as the Epcot dark rides, which certainly looked like it was much more 'my' sort of place in its 80s/early 90s heyday. And Universal seems to have got rid of some crackers such as Jaws - but then you have Harry potter world which is just next level, so that sort of thing is hard to call! But I do understand people bemoaning that their are too many 'screen based' attractions now!
But in the place of full dark rides we have seen the rise of dark ride 'sections' 'pre-shows and immersive queue lines etc to many a coaster (and other ride types) a trend I really appreciate.

And then we loose classic coasters, from long defunct manufactures - I suppose what we must learn is nothing lasts forever, and why when visiting a new park, riding the oldest rides as well as the newest is JUST as important because it may be the only time you do!

But going full circle I will say Thorpe, Chessington and Alton WERE better - they just were - they had heart and were well rounded cohesive packages of consistent quality.

I'd love to hear from people of other countries whether you feel your parks have got better/worse or if many of your parks have closed etc, as I often feel we are unique in bemoaning our native parks!
 
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SeanC

New Member
I thought this was an interesting, relevant article: https://www.theringer.com/movies/20...PQQGA8oFbTCbq6s3_agTCPMWUQUh7K1dUZnnT8CRrekLk

Despite recent market declines related to the coronavirus, there has been more wealth being created globally and the entertainment industry -- of which parks are a part of -- isn't slowing down. Disney and Comcast (Universal) are continuing an arms race for the best attractions that only seems to be escalating. Where does that leave more regional parks? In my opinion, it comes down to whether the new attractions they build present more enticing options at a fraction of the price of the Disney/Universal ones. I don't have any data supporting this, but I feel like most of the general public couldn't care less about a Premier Rides Launch Coaster or S&S 4D Free Spin, and that might be a big factor why Six Flags is struggling. At the same time, a record breaking giga coaster or hyper hybrid could make the decision to forgo one of the big parks a lot more intriguing. As simple as it sounds, I feel like a park or park chain's ability to survive depends on the quality of its new rides.

One other thing to monitor is that if some of these park chains like Six Flags continue to flounder, would a larger entertainment behemoth with tentacles in branding (e.g. Amazon) look to take some of them over? Some larger entertainment companies like Viacom with some of the current Cedar Fair parks didn't feel like it was a worthwhile investment for them, but I wonder if this shifts as the competition from larger media companies only gets more intense...
 
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