New twists on old thrills South­land theme parks are mak­ing up­grades to ex­ist­ing at­trac­tions

Los Angeles Times - - BUSINESS - By Hugo Martin

It’s se­quel sum­mer at South­ern Cal­i­for­nia theme parks.

Park op­er­a­tors tra­di­tion­ally rip out ag­ing rides to make way for fresh, cut­ting-edge of­fer­ings. But this sea­son, lo­cal theme parks are rolling out up­grades of old stal­warts.

Six Flags Magic Moun­tain has re­worked its his­toric wooden roller coaster with gut-churn­ing twists and turns. Dis­ney­land has en­hanced its fire­works show, adding lasers and high-def­i­ni­tion video pro­jec­tors. Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios Hol­ly­wood is slip­ping a 3-D rac­ing fea­ture into its fa­mous stu- dio tour.

By re­mak­ing ex­ist­ing rides, land­locked theme parks can avoid bull­doz­ing pop­u­lar at­trac­tions or buy­ing more acreage to make room for a new ride. The cost and time it takes to freshen up an ex­ist­ing at­trac­tion is nearly half of what it would take to build a ride from scratch, theme park ex­perts said.

“Some­times a re­fur­bish­ment make sense for these iconic at­trac­tions,” said Melissa Ru­minot, di­rec­tor of mar­ket­ing and busi­ness de­vel­op­ment at the Nas­sal Co., an Or­lando firm that builds fea­tures such as faux rock work and large char­ac­ter stat­ues for theme parks. “There is a lim­ited cost, but it pro­vides a big im­pact to the guests.”

How much South­ern Cal­i­for­nia parks have spent is be­ing kept un­der wraps, but such in­vest­ments usu­ally pay off.

At­ten­dance at North Amer­ica’s 20 big­gest parks rose an es­ti­mated 2.2% in 2014, but crowd to­tals jumped much higher at those that launched new at­trac­tions, ac­cord­ing to the Los An­ge­les en­gi­neer­ing firm Aecom.

Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios Hol­ly­wood, for ex­am­ple, had an 11% at­ten­dance in­crease in 2014 com­pared with the pre­vi­ous year, Aecom es­ti­mated. The boost came from the open­ing of the “De­spi­ca­ble Me: Min­ion May­hem”

ride and a hugely pop­u­lar “Hal­loween Hor­ror Nights” event.

“The goal of cre­at­ing new at­trac­tions is not just to spend money but to spend money wisely,” said Tony Christo­pher, pres­i­dent and founder of Land­mark En­ter­tain­ment Group, a de­sign and pro­duc­tion com­pany for theme parks and live theater.

“It’s a clever idea for the theme park in­dus­try to make se­quels,” Christo­pher said, “to bring peo­ple back again and give them a great ex­pe­ri­ence.”

By up­grad­ing an ex­ist­ing at­trac­tion, theme park com­pa­nies can save money for a big­ger projects down the road.

The Walt Dis­ney Co., for in­stance, will open a $4.4-bil­lion Dis­ney­land in Shang­hai next year and add an “Iron Man” at­trac­tion at Hong Kong Dis­ney­land, as well as a new at­trac­tion based on the block­buster movie “Avatar” at its An­i­mal King­dom park in Or­lando in 2017. Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios Hol­ly­wood plans a spring 2016 un­veil­ing of an at­trac­tion based on the wildly suc­cess­ful “Harry Pot­ter” books and movies.

The re­mak­ing of pop­u­lar at­trac­tions is wel­comed by some theme park fans.

Ex­ec­u­tives at Six Flags Magic Moun­tain sparked back­lash over plans to close the Va­len­cia park’s 36-yearold wooden roller coaster, Colos­sus. In­stead, the ride was re­built with steel tracks and a new name: Twisted Colos­sus.

The new tracks al­low the hy­brid coaster to take riders up­side down and through sharp banks, some­thing wood alone couldn’t ac­com­plish.

“The Twisted Colos­sus has lost the al­lure of a clas­sic wooden roller coaster, but that has been re­placed by crazy fun,” said Duane Mar­den, a roller coaster fan and founder of the online Roller Coaster Data­base. “The orig­i­nal can­not com­plete with the longer, steeper drop, wacky in­ver­sions and all-around smooth­ness of the Twisted Colos­sus.”

Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park has opened “Voy­age to the Iron Reef,” which lets riders shoot at 3-D tar­gets. Although it is new, the ride was in­stalled in an ex­ist­ing build­ing that was for­merly home to an ag­ing di­nosaur at­trac­tion.

“This is a very prac­ti­cal way of do­ing things,” said Bob Gurr, one of Dis­ney’s orig­i­nal Imag­i­neers and a theme park con­sul­tant who worked on the “Iron Reef ” ride.

To celebrate Dis­ney­land’s 60th an­niver­sary, the park’s night­time fire­works show got a boost from new lasers, mu­sic, fake snow and high-tech pro­jec­tion map­ping that splashes mov­ing im­ages on build­ings and at­trac­tions.

The park also has re­vived a night­time pa­rade sim­i­lar to the “Main Street Elec­tri­cal Pa­rade” that it shelved nearly two decades ago. The pa­rade, dubbed “Paint the Night,” has been en­hanced with 1.5 mil­lion LED lights and other new ef­fects.

The park has also up­dated its Haunted Man­sion at­trac­tion and Mat­ter­horn Bob­sleds ride with new or up­graded au­dio-an­i­ma­tronic char­ac­ters.

At the ad­ja­cent Cal­i­for­nia Ad­ven­ture Park, the light-and-wa­ter spec­tac­u­lar “World of Color” has been re­worked with new songs and im­ages to tell the story of Walt Dis­ney.

“We use the latest tech- nolo­gies to con­tin­u­ally en­hance the guest ex­pe­ri­ence,” Dis­ney spokes­woman Suzi Brown said.

On the Stu­dio Tour at Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios Hol­ly­wood, the park has re­moved a dated sec­tion known as the “Mummy’s Tomb,” where the tram en­ters a cave that seems to spin around the guests.

In its place, the park has built a 3-D high-speed rac­ing at­trac­tion based on the hugely pop­u­lar “Fast and Fu­ri­ous” ac­tion movies.

In­stead of en­ter­ing a spooky haunted cave, guests rid­ing the Stu­dio Tour get the sen­sa­tion that they are rac­ing cars along­side the stars of the films. The at­trac­tion opens June 24.

“The ad­di­tion of the all­new ‘Fast and Fu­ri­ous — Su­per­charged’ thrill ride to the Stu­dio Tour is an ex­am­ple of how we con­tin­u­ally evolve and up­date this iconic at­trac­tion,” said Larry Kurzweil, pres­i­dent of Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios Hol­ly­wood. hugo.martin@latimes.com Twit­ter: @hugo­martin

Six Flags En­ter tain­ment Corp.

SIX FLAGS

Magic Moun­tain’s wooden roller coaster was re­built with a new name: Twisted Colos­sus.

Tri­oTech

ALTHOUGH Knott’s Berry Farm’s “Voy­age to the Iron Reef” is a new ride, it was in­stalled in an ex­ist­ing build­ing that housed an ag­ing di­nosaur at­trac­tion.

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