lace up ugg boots Expect theme park industry growth to continue booming
“I don’t think people realize what an asset that is,” said Bill Coan, president of Orlando based ITEC Entertainment, which designs and builds attractions at theme parks including Universal’s. “They’ve got quite a piece of real estate, probably one of the more robust pieces of real estate on International Drive.”
Experts say it would make sense for Universal to build more hotels on that property. Executives at Comcast Corp. have said they want to nearly triple the number of Universal’s hotel rooms.
It’s uncertain whether Universal will make any moves during 2016 to make use of 450 acres that was recently purchased near the Orange County Convention Center. The land was bought by an LLC that sources say is affiliated with Universal.
Here’s a look at what we know will be opening this year:
At Epcot, a “Frozen” ride will open at the old Maelstrom site in Norway. This spring, Disney’s Animal Kingdom will open its “Rivers of Light” show and begin running sunset versions of the Kilimanjaro Safaris ride. A newly themed Soarin’ at Epcot, replacing the California scenery with images from around the world, will reopen this year too.
The revamp of Disney Springs will also finish this year. A second parking garage that will hold 2,000 vehicles will open. Other debuts will include a new town center shopping area with Lilly Pulitzer, Zara, Tommy Bahama and Ugg; restaurants including STK and The Edison, and a “reimagined” Planet Hollywood with a dramatic redesign to look more like a four story astronomy observatory.
And the long awaited Flamingo Crossings development at Disney’s western gate will soon open its first two hotels. The 248 room SpringHill Suites and the 250 room TownePlace Suites will be the first of several hotels in an area aimed at budget travelers and teams competing at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
Universal Orlando will open its Skull Island: Reign of Kong dark ride at Islands of Adventure this summer. Also, the resort will open its fifth hotel, Sapphire Falls, a Caribbean themed resort which will have Universal’s largest hotel swimming pool.
And this summer, SeaWorld will open Mako, Orlando’s tallest and fastest roller coaster at 200 feet and 73 mph.
The smaller Fun Spot, meanwhile, will be working on an expansion plan it just announced, including water features that will open next spring.
Theme parks will continue ramping up technology, said Steve Brown, chief operating officer of North America and Europe at accesso,
a technology company which has its North American headquarters in Lake Mary. Accesso provides tech to many theme parks around the world.
“What we’re staying focused on is just the continued shift to mobile, whether it’s the line management options, the ticketing, and consumers’ preference for using their mobile device,” he said.
“As technology becomes more pervasive inside the experiences, were going to see a much more responsive offering for the guest,” he said.
Big issues for theme parks this year will be security and pricing, said Dennis Speigel, president of the International Theme Park Services consulting firm.
Theme parks have beefed up security over the past couple of months following high profile shooting attacks in Paris and San Bernardino. Disney and Universal have been advertising for more security officers, and keeping guests safe will continue to be a huge issue for the parks, Speigel said.
“No matter how we’ve lived before, it’s going to change and that applies to the employees of the parks, the operators, owners of the parks, the guests who come to the parks,” Speigel said.
Speigel said experts will be watching to see if Disney moves ahead with charging different prices depending on the time of the year a potential development Disney surveyed guests about last year.
“We believe dynamic pricing is coming,” Speigel said, though “it’s slower than I thought.”
Brown said “we’ll continue to see the attractions focusing on a segmented pricing strategy, promoting affordable options to drive more total visitors from the mass market alongside premium offerings” that will appeal to people “looking for higher end, highly differentiated experiences.”
Already this year, SeaWorld introduced a new price structure, It switched out a system with two different prices for online tickets, depending on the day of attendance, and replaced it with just one cost $79. Tickets at the gate still cost $99.
SeaWorld will continue to try to repair its brand,
which has been damaged by the 2013 documentary “Blackfish.” It recently announced a turnaround plan that includes emphasizing much more its rescue efforts and other conservation related work.
SeaWorld also this year will be fighting a decision by the California Coastal Commission that says it can only expand its killer whale habitat if it agrees to stop breeding orcas.