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?