Sunday, 22 July 2012

What a difference a year makes!

When I started this blog just under a year ago, I had no idea what a huge year of Australian Theme Park development lay ahead. This past financial year would have to go down as one of the biggest in recent memory for our parks. Each in their own way expanded and enhanced their offerings in surprising ways, and all are promising more to come! For this quarterly essay I'm going to focus on breaking down everything that has happened during the 2011-12 financial year at my 4 local Theme Parks. I might even speculate on a few changes we'll see in the year to come!

Where we began

The 2010-11 financial year was a quiet one for Australian parks. Due to the dipping tourism market, and the heavy discounting of Annual Passes, profit for the overall sector had been quite flat. I prefer to think that the parks were preparing for the year to come, rather than resting on their laurels, but from the outside it is very hard to tell. The most significant changes from that financial year was the closing of two long standing rides in the Bermuda Triangle at Sea World and the Looney Tunes River Ride at WB Movie World. Dreamworld took some time to revamp and relaunch one of their signature rides, the Tower of Terror. The creatively names Tower of Terror 2 launched on September 2010, featuring a new tunnel, some extra light effects, but most importantly, an escape pod travelling backwards. Amusingly, the only park to add a brand new major attraction in 2010-11 was Aussie World on Queensland's Sunshine Coast. It opened it's biggest thrill ride, The Giant Redback, a 2 million dollar Disk'O on April 1 2011. We had very little idea that this was the first clue of what was to come.

Dreamworld

The first of the big 3 parks to fire a shot in this war was Dreamworld.  In April 2011 they announced that by June they would be opening a new family ride. On the 25th of June they opened there own Zamprela Disk'O Coaster called Shockwave. At the same time, they had mysteriously started removing theming from the Nickoledean Central kids area. This area was also relaunched on the 25th of June as the ultra generic Kid's World. Speculation was rife as to what had happened between Nickelodean and Dreamworld, and what Dreamworld would do to this area. In September Dreamworld launched their big ride for the year, the Maurer S√∂hne SkyLoop coaster Buzzsaw. Themed to an old haunted saw mill, this attraction certainly added to the Dreamworld skyline in a dramatic way.

The third big opening for the park this financial year, was announced in November last year. DreamWorks was coming to Dreamworld. This was met with some initial scepticism from the Australian park community, as they weren't known for putting in the most detailed theming. When the major phase of the DreamWorks experience opened for Easter 2012, everyone was pleasantly surprised. Together Dreamworld and DreamWorks had created a wonderful and detailed world, perfect for the market they they were trying to meet. The very end of the 2011-12 year was tinged with sadness for the Dreamworld community, as Mohan their 18 year old White Tiger passed away.


WB Movie World


After news had broken that Dreamworld was planning on adding 2 rides within 12 months, there started to be rumblings about something big occurring at Movie World. Initially pegs in the sand out the front of the park, turned into shipping containers with green track, which finally turned into the S&S El Loco Green Lantern Coaster. The coaster soft opened on the 16th of December, for an official opening on the 23rd of December. Before opened Movie World reported that it would have the steepest drop in the world, however when the ride was officially measured it was only the second steepest drop in the world after Takabashi in Japan. The official advertisement correctly claimed that it is the steepest drop in the southern hemisphere. In late 2011, Batman Adventure the Ride 2 closed to make way for a new attraction in late 2012 (which has now been announced to be the Justice League Alien Adventure 3D).

Around the same time we started to hear rumours that the ageing Lethal Weapon suspended looping coaster was going to receive both a new train and also a new theme. This was well supported in the Australian Theme Park community as the ride had been wildly criticised for it's increasingly rough and uncomfortable ride. On the 7th of April Lethal Weapon re-opened as Arkham Asylum - Shock Therapy. While the new trains and restraints were well received, many theme park fans were more impressed by the theming. Without spending much money, they were able to transform an old empty shed into a tour through the Joker's Insane Asylum from the Batman video game. The final major change for Movie World in the 2011-12 was the replacement of the Journey to the Centre of the Earth 4D with the Ice Age Dawn of the Dinosaurs – The 4D Experience on 23rd of June.

Sea World

At Movie World's sister park Sea World, there were also a number of changes this financial year. The biggest change was the removal of Sesame Street characters and the addition of Nickelodean characters which were stolen from Dreamworld. The centre piece of this was the multi-million dollar SpongeBob ParadePants Parade. This parade has been critically acclaimed as one of the best shows in this already show heavy park. SpongeBob is a great fit for Sea World, and the show is truly impressive. They also opened a smaller show based on Dora the Explorer and a SpongeBob 3D Movie. Sesame Street Beach was replaced by Beach Break Bay, which is inhabited by generic Sea World characters.

Finally in mid June 2012 Sea World opened a brand new (but sadly temporary) attraction called Dinosaur Island. This attraction had life size animatronic dinosaurs with sound and smoke effects covering a small "island" within the park, as well as inside discovery centre and a shop. The very best part of this attraction was the enormous T-Rex at the very entrance to the island. I'm sure there was more than a few confused dolphins swimming next to these pre-historic beasts.


Aussie World

The smallest genuine theme park in South-East Queensland was definitely striving to enhance it's credibility this year. After opening the Giant Redback late in the 2010-11 financial year, they followed it up this year with another major investment for a park this size, the Plunge log flume ride. This opened in December 2011, and had it's theming enhanced (with water shed added at the top) in early 2012. The also opened a fairly standard Giant Slide in September 2011. They were rumoured to be opening an Australian theme playground in early 2012, but unfortunately I have not been able to visit and verify that. The opening of these 3 rides account for a $2 million investment by the owners of Aussie World. On the back of record attendance, the rumours are there might be more of this to come.

2012-13

All of the 4 parks have signalled that while they have been happy to spend during the 2011-12 financial year, none of them are done yet. The attraction that we have heard most about in the last few months is the replacement for Movie World's Batman Adventure the Ride 2, the Justice League: Alien Encounter 3D. This dark 3D projection and live action shooter is being developed by Sally Corp, who have said it is one of their biggest projects to date. If it is done to the quality that is being rumoured, this could be a fantastic addition to the DC Superhero area of Movie World. What remains to be seen, is what will become of the Looney Tunes River Ride. While it is not taking up valuable real estate, it was a great ride for families which also soaked up a lot of guests at time. I hope that a revamped kids dark ride with improved animatronics would be an excellent enhancement. We can only hope that Sally Corp continue working with Movie World, and give us a couple of great things in the next few years.

Not to be outdone, Dreamworld is planning their final expansion of the DreamWorks experience, which will be themed to the Kung Fu Panda movies. Rumours have been extremely varied, but even in the last few weeks we have seen closures to the bumper cars as part of work in this area. This joins the near by Avalanche as possible places for the rumoured new ride/attraction to be built. I'd love to see a dark ride themed to Kung Fu Panda, or a dark theatre show at the very least. It's the one area where Dreamworld has never really challenged Movie World. DreamWorks finally gives Dreamworld a decent piece of IP that is worth of a dark ride. Although I'd love it, the chance of Dreamworld having real life panda's is extremely small from what I have heard. Dreamworld have also announced a partnership with the Australian government to re-theme it's Australian Wildlife experience to include Indiginous Australians.

Being just as mysterious as Dreamworld is being about Kung Fu Panda, both Sea World and Aussie World have signalled there are upcoming attractions that they don't wish to talk publicly about. At Sea World action has been seen around the back of the Bermuda Triangle building during the last year. Very little is known about this, but speculation is rife that a small park like Sea World can't afford to have a central and prominent location like the Bermuda Triangle out of action for much longer than they already have. There has been a report of demolition permits for the internal structure of the Bermuda Triangle building. Interestingly, popular website Parkz has reported that German manfucturer Mack have announced they will be building a water coaster somewhere in Australia in 2013. While this might not be at Sea World, it stands to reason that it would be a good fit for this park. Mack rides have been linked with planned but not completed Sea World projects in the past.  A water coaster with a dark ride elements would be perfect for Sea World. I've even heard speculation that Dinosaur Island has been design to test the waters for a full dinosaur themed ride.

Just as mysteriously Aussie World have announced that they are in discussions for the addition of another million dollar ride in 2013. It would be nice to see a full circuit coaster added to Aussie World's lineup. Something like a compact woodie would be a prefect fit for their market.

Summary

If every 12 months of theme park enhancement was the same as the 2011-12 financial year, the parks would run out of money in no time. Having said that, we would have some truely world class parks. We can only help that the rumours of what is to come for the parks in 2012-13 is going to be exciting enough, and also increase park number enough, to keep up this level of investment. Personally as my first year as a theme park twit/blogger, the last 12 months couldn't have been much more exciting. My only hope is that next year is even bigger!

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