Orlando Thrill Park – More details emerge, why Disney should take note

The latest player on the amusement park scene in Orlando still has to cross quite a number of hurdles before construction can even begin, but the people behind it are busy talking up its features and its benefits to the community. A good plan that should help them overcome objections from a nearby neighborhood and attract funding. If everything aligns correctly, the Orlando Thrill Park should open in 2013.

The LA Times has more details on the park and the initial mix of attractions that will occupy the 75 acre property. Of the 14 attractions, 8 will be roller coasters and 6 will be other thrill rides. Orlando is not exactly known for being a roller coaster destination, so 8 coasters will immediately put this park in the lead for thrill seekers, definitely an under tapped market in Central Florida.

A lot of the same players who opened the FreeStyle Music park in Myrtle Beach California are behind the Orlando Thrill Park. I remember commenting that FreeStyle would have problems attracting enough travelers to Myrtle Beach and wondered why they didn’t build near Orlando instead. Looks like they figured that out. Heck, even the Cypress Gardens Adventure Park would have worked had the debt from three hurricanes not laid them low. If Cypress Gardens could make it work 45 minutes away from Disney, Orlando Thrill Park should have no problem 10 minutes from Disney and 3 minutes from Universal.

Disney fans may have heard of the rumored 5th gate at Walt Disney World that would have been a villains themed park with a heavy emphasis on roller coasters and thrill rides. Disney has given a couple of reasons for not building a fifth gate. Either they think their four parks and two water parks provide enough to do for the average vacation length or they think they haven’t reached capacity yet at their existing parks.

I think the number crunchers at Disney have miscalculated. Orlando current attracts between 44 and 50 million tourists each year (depending on the economy), second only to Las Vegas which does a better job attracting conventions to their town. Orlando has the hotel capacity to accommodate quite a bit more and work will begin soon on both High Speed Rail and additional gates at Orlando International Airport (not to mention Sanford and Melbourne both about 1 to 2 hours from the resort). Plus with Harry Potter Universal Orlando has shown that people will make plans to add another day or so if there is something to see. I think Orlando is capable of hosting 55 to 65 million in the next few years, particularly seeing an increase of traffic from the rest of Florida and Georgia.

Disney could have built this thrill park first and claimed the teen and twenty something market for themselves. But now there will be another company making that profit. Add Legoland to that mix (certain to draw a certain number of families with 4 to 10 year olds away from Disney for a day) and include Harry Potters current influence and Disney risk being caught watching from the sidelines while the game play leaves them behind.

I believe Disney really needs to elevate their plans for the next three years to compete. Wait much longer and it will cost a lot more to win back the loyalty of tourists who have found entertainment value elsewhere. Disney can do a couple of things immediately:

  • Announce an expansion plan for all four parks, this will cause guests to continue to include Disney in their long range plans.
  • Return to the sort of year long celebration (A parade and giveaway in honor of Magic Kingdom’s 40th Anniversary springs to mind) that drives traffic instead of the last few varieties, which just add value to people already planning a vacation.
  • Reduce admission and dining costs, continue the ‘free’ program for off-season hotel guests, but find additional ways to offer a value to day guests (inclusive dining deal, discounts on return visits (especially for locals, including Georgia,
  • A partnership with Legoland. Offer Legoland some sort of partnership, so Disney at least gets the hotel portion of a families visit to Legoland Florida.

Is Disney really in trouble? If so, what are your ideas?

11 thoughts on “Orlando Thrill Park – More details emerge, why Disney should take note”

  1. I think this article is totally off base (and feel this website is more and more so recently). The thoughts expressed here are very short term and short sighted in my opinion. Disney never was about attracting this demographic or that demographic, it’s about a place for all families regardless. Building a park or area all about thrill rides cuts out most of your older and younger audiences and caters to one specific group. Sure the company has begun targeting certain groups (young girls and boys) but what they create still can appeal and be enjoyed by all.
    Harry Potter is huge in orlando….now. Based on how universal cares for their attractions in 5 years or so i think it will simply be another ride. Pirates of the Carribbean was huge while the movies were still coming out and attendance there has dropped back to normal.
    building another park is a horrible idea, Disney already has issues hiring enough staff and keeping the good ones around who actually care. Another park requires even more workers from an already very tapped orlando area. Should the company hire more college program kids tmeporary or bring more international students over? I’ve seen plenty of complaints about the “young kids who don’t understand english” posted on numerous boards, this will make it worse for all local parks. Besides didn’t this site already report a few weeks ago on expansions for AK, and Studios in addition to Fantasyland and Downtown Disney? 4 expansions not good enough to counteract 1 new themed land and 2 unbuilt parks?
    And discounted food and tickets only makes the park more crowded which angers the “regulars” who can’t make dining reservations already. Not to mention the people who book trips because of the free/cheap things and then are mad no one told them nothing would be available.

    This site should spend more time actually observing the guests and things happening in the parks and stop playing as armchair Imagineers. I appreciate the news posted here, but the speculation is way off base and rooted in little fact.

  2. The bigwigs of Freestyle Music Park left with their tails between their legs, bankrupt, and now the park is closed. Again. A huge eyesore, rusting and crumbling. I’d be wary of anything having to do with that team.

  3. I tend to agree that the Harry Potter momentum will subside in the very near future. There are no more books coming, and only one more movie. After that, it probably won’t remain a destination all to itself. I haven’t been to HP yet, but my friends who have are amazed at how small it really is. And I don’t see Universal sinking a lot more money into expansion because of the facts that I have already mentioned. I would love to see Disney add more thrill rides, and there are plenty of opportunities for them to do so at all the parks. Personally, I think that Adventureland is long past due for a complete overhaul. Who needs fake animals on the Jungle Cruise when the Animal Kingdom exists next door? And Pirates is hopelessly dated. Both should be demolished, and a modern adventure theme planted there. Until then, I will continue to make the short drive to Busch Gardens Tampa for roller coasters.

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  5. Disney offers more then just cheap thrills and rollar coasters. The six flags of the world are hit and miss and I’d rather Disney not invest money into a whole part dedicated to just this aspect.

    Theming and story are everything at Disney Parks, it’s more then just thrills and attracting one demographic. Disney needs to appeal to a broader demographic, families of all ages being the key element to their success. The truth is Disney is hurting because they are to afraid to break ground on any expansions truly groundbreaking or exciting. The fantasyland expansion in the Magic Kingdom are purely aesthetic and look beautiful in design, but bring very little substance to the park. It appeals to purely one demographic, the princess crowd. Adding a second Dumbo ride and circus area only clutters the area and ruins the excitement of the classic. The little mermaid so far is the only attraction we’re guaranteed and as a Dark Ride we don’t know if it’ll turn out great (Snow White, Pinocchio) or bland (Monsters Inc. Finding Nemo). The newer dark rides don’t do as well as they used to. The idea of a Seven Dwarfs Mine Roller Coaster is intriguing and could be a very fun indoors ride. But the parks need to take some risks right now and to beyond the safe route (princess, pixar) but stay within their entity of classic stories and theming.

    Whether or not Harry Potter at Universal proves to be everlasting or a short term fad, Universal took that chance and invested greatly into the land. Word of mouth is proving that Universal has more then Harry Potter and people are discovering it. Disney needs this. Tightening the wallet and pinching pennies isn’t very smart and could prove to be Disney’s biggest folly.

    One last note. Just look at California Adventure. They’re truly invested into this park and brought in some daring and uncertain ideas that keep up with the magic of disney parks that people love. While it isn’t perfect and I see plenty more opportunity to improve the park. Disney World needs this now too.

  6. Interesting article. I do think Disney has decided to rest on its laurels and needs some serious competition to really get pushed into doing more. Although the execs won’t admit it, the Fantasyland expansion is a reaction to Harry Potter (and possibly Legoland). The recent updates announced to focus on more than just princesses also reflects that trend. I expect Disney will go forward with the Australia rumors in the Animal Kingdom, but that should be the tip of the iceberg. Disney made a name for itself by consistently updating its attractions and lands and being the forerunner. Now they just seem to be making a few changes here and there to keep visitors arriving. They seem a lot more interested in new resorts and restaurants than attractions.

    I also agree about the admission prices, which are getting crazier by the year. At some point, they’re going to price out the average family for good.

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  8. Historically, thrill-ride-laden sites haven’t done well in the Central Florida corridor (anyone else remember the really neat coasters at Boardwalk and Baseball? They were walk on attractions when I visited a year before the park closed). My guess is that this is going to be another I-Sore (ala the pop up attractions along I-Drive).

    Part of the reason why thrill-ride-based theme parks don’t work from a financial standpoint is that they are expensive to maintain and are low revenue generators. A majority of the coaster-based places only end up with two of the trifecta of revenue generation aspects–admission tickets and food (and depending on how savage the coasters, you might not eat all that much). They largely miss out on the biggest revenue generation aspect–merchandise. Which do you think Universal is more happy about–a single-day ticket for $80 for a person to go see Harry Potter or the person who plunks down $30 on a wand, $50 on a sweatshirt, $20 on a scarf, and $20 on nickel candy, plus $10 for Butterbeer and Pumpkin Juice and another $30 for lunch at a themed counter service restaurant? Without merchandise sales, Universal wouldn’t be able to afford to run the Harry Potter experience. They knew that going in. Getting legs in the park is okay, but merchandise is what it is all about. For a coaster-based system, you might sell a t-shirt or hat here or there, but it’s hard to market coaster merch.

    Why doesn’t Disney offer more thrill rides? Two more reasons: 1. Liability (anyone who gets so much as a hangnail on a Disney thrill ride wants to sue these days) and 2. They don’t need to. In the busy season, the parks are insanely busy. There really isn’t a “non-busy” season anymore…just a smidge less busy than normal.

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