Start your roller coasters: Memorial Day weekend marks the traditional beginning of summer theme park season.
Industry analysts are predicting that the improving economy, growing consumer confidence and a steady decline in gas prices will put more motorists on the road. And the parks are banking on it with new attractions and accompanying promotions, many aimed at families seeking value.
"Although it is too early to have a clear picture of how the season will play out, we are encouraged by the initial, positive trends in season-pass and group-business sales at the parks," said Dick Kinzel, CEO of Sandusky, Ohio-based Cedar Fair, during a recent earnings report conference. "We are aggressively doing all that we can through traditional marketing methods, as well as online and through social media, to capture our guests' attention and bring them to our parks."
Cedar Fair, one of the largest regional amusement-resort operators in the world, owns and operates 11 amusement parks, six outdoor water parks, one indoor water park and five hotels.
Cedar Fair's Cedar Point amusement park is trying to attract park goers with unusual giveaways and promotions. The "Take Home A Thrill" contest runs through June 19 with the prize of a John Deere XUV 825i Gator, valued at more than $11,000. During the first weekend in June, the park will hold its 23rd annual CoasterMania which includes a film festival featuring homemade Cedar Point videos. The event features free food, prizes, special presentations and exclusive deals for guests staying at any Cedar Point Resort.
Cedar Point also is unveiling a hot new ride, the WindSeeker, in June. The 301-foot-tall spinning ride features 32 swings carrying two people each. It will twirl around as the swings rise, increasing speeds as they spin higher and higher.
Three other parks owned by Cedar Point's corporate owner Cedar Fair also are debuting WindSeekers -- Kings Island near Cincinnati, Canada's Wonderland near Toronto and Knott's Berry Farm in California.
SeaWorld is opening "Cheetah Hunt," a nearly $40 million attraction that combines a rollercoaster and an animal habitat, at its Bush Gardens Tampa Bay location. It's one of 10 new attractions the company is opening around the country in 2011.
Although adding new rides annually is the norm, this season visitors will see fewer new big-ticket rides and more deals pegged to multi-day visits, according to analysts.