Competition is fierce in the theme park industry, with the major parks spending hundreds of millions of dollars on new attractions in order to stay ahead. The hottest new trend we’re seeing in the themed attraction industry is the construction of hyper-themed lands at parks. Themed beyond imagination and costing more than ever. Let us explain….
Where once you would have an amazing ride like The Haunted Mansion within an existing land like Liberty Square, now the attractions are just the beginning. We’re seeing entire lands themed around movies, books and even places. It’s now expected that in these lands, the merchandise, stores, restaurants, shows and costumes all revolve around a central theme. For the guest, it’s a way to step right into the story, for the parks, it translates into millions of dollars in revenue each year.
Thank the success of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter for starting the next major push for parks to compete in this ever evolving game of cat and mouse. They were certain they had a hot property, and poured over $200 million dollars into the project, including a reported $100 million alone for the signature attraction, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.
Once upon a time Disney had the chance to own the theme park rights to this project and build a Harry Potter themed land, but passed when J.K. Rowling wanted too much control. Thank goodness for that, as the project turned out to be spectacular!
At the time that Universal unveiled it’s plans to incorporate Harry Potter into their existing Islands of Adventure park, Disney didn’t perceive Universal Orlando a huge threat. That is until this brand new land opened in Summer 2010 at Islands of Adventure and smashed all projections for attendance and sales. The merchandise sales alone would make any park manager green with envy.
Now Disney is playing catch up, with two major projects of their own on opposite coasts (see below). Disney set the bar for theme parks, but now the rest of the industry is catching up and setting the bar even higher. Universal has spent millions of dollars improving its parks and creating game changing attractions. For every Soarin’ at Disney, Universal has a Transformers: The Ride or Harry Potter and The Forbidden Journey. With a mix of next-generation technology, amazing story-lines and perfect themeing, these two attractions are ranked among the best in the world.
At the end of the day, everyone wins. The parks make more money, and the guests get to immerse themselves in million dollar adventures where every detail is designed and controlled. At its essence, that’s what visiting a theme park is all about. Leaving the ordinary and stepping into another world. It’s exciting to see parks invest more money into creating these amazing attractions.
Here’s an overview of hyper-themed attractions in the works:
New Fantasyland at The Magic Kingdom
This is the biggest expansion in the parks history, essentially doubling the size of Fantasyland. They took advantage of all the unused space from the former 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction to create this fantastic new area. With Storybook Circus soft opening earlier this month, expect the rest of this expansion to open in phases through 2012. You can look forward to a magical fairytale forest-style setting with attractions such as Under the Sea: Journey of The Little Mermaid ride and the Be Our Guest Restaurant. The only attraction that will take longer is the added at the last-minute Seven Dwarfs Mine Train coaster. No date is set for its opening.
Cars Land at Disney California Adventure
Part of the billion dollar expansion, this 12 acre hyper-themed area brings the world of Cars to life. Radiator Springs Racers is the main attraction (based on Test Track at Epcot), along with Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree and Luigi’s Flying Tires attractions. In addition, shops and restaurants themed to Radiator Springs help build upon the theme of being right in the film. Looks very impressive.
Where once stood a park filled with stores, restaurants and only a handful of attractions, California Adventure has been transformed into a full-day park after 11 long years of growing pains. From a re-built entrance, Buena Vista Street, World of Color, The Little Mermaid and various other multimillion dollar upgrades, this is the park that should have opened in 2001.
Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin at Seaworld Orlando
Set to open Spring 2013, this major expansion of the Orlando park looks spectacular. Details are sparse about the new land, but Seaworld describes it as an experience through the mystery and wonder of life on the ice through the eyes of a penguin, sensing the beauty and drama of their sometimes-dangerous habitat. Antarctica – Empire of the Penguin combines closer-then-ever animal connections with state-of-the-art interactive ride technologies for adventures that are different each time. We’ll have to wait until 2012 to find out what that means.
Avatarland at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Not many details exist of this yet to be built land other than the fact it will be at Animal Kingdom in a yet to be decided location. the budget is reported to be $500 million. As long as it looks as incredible as the movie, expect this to be the most breathtaking hyper-themed land on the planet when it opens around 2017. After all, we are waiting 6 years for this thing to happen, so it better be good!
Harry Potter Phase 2
With the success of the original Wizarding World, Universal is rumoured to be expanding into the Universal Studios side. Project 722 is utilizing the former site of the Jaws attraction, a few of the expected additions include a Hogwarts Express linking both sites, Gringotts Bank rollercoaster, Diagon Ally and the original Ollivanders wand shop.
A carbon copy of the Forbidden Journey attraction, and parts of Hogsmeade are being built at Universal Studios Hollywood. Size is a major issue in the park, as they have limited space to expand. So far, nothing groundbreaking has been announced that will make this different from Orlando’s version.