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From Hard Rock to Hard Up

The 2008 Year in Review for Theme Parks and Water Parks


Despite rising gas prices and worries about the economy, the year started with a lot of promise for theme parks and water parks. Hard Rock Park and Aquatica opened to great fanfare and anticipation; major new attractions at the Disney and Universal parks sparked renewed interest in the perennial favorites; and other parks rolled out new coasters, water slides, and other attractions to get their turnstiles clicking. By the end of the year however, Hard Rock Park succumbed to the hard times that cast a pall over the rest of the industry.

Hard Rock Park Falls on Deaf Ears

Arthur Levine 2008. Licensed to About.com.
It took seven years and $400 million to build it. And it took five months to post dismal attendance, blow through its line of credit, rack up insurmountable debt, close its gates, and declare bankruptcy. An auction yielded no bidders. As of late December 2008, nobody had come forward to rescue the park--even at the bargain basement asking price of $35 million. Whew! How could something that seemed so right go so horribly wrong? Sure, the economy had something to do with the failure of Hard Rock Park. But there's much more to the story. Here are some of the pieces:

The Roller Coaster Economy

Maui Sands Resort. Used with permission.
Since the global economy began its historic nosedive, pundits have invariably likened its worrisome lurches to a roller coaster. The park industry is not immune to the larger economy, and has had its share of troubles. And yes, there has been an impact on actual roller coasters. While Six Flags and Cedar Fair (the owner of Cedar Point, Knott's Berry Farm, and many other regional parks) posted fairly resectable numbers this season, other parks were not so fortunate. A roundup of some of the trouble spots (beyond Hard Rock Park):

Aquatica Made a Splash

©Arthur Levine, 2008. Licensed to About.com
There were some bright spots amid 2008's economic gloom. And one of the brightest was the highly successful opening of Aquatica, the flashy water park at SeaWorld Orlando.

The Simpsons Ride into Universal Studios

Arthur Levine, 2008. Licensed to About.com.
After virtually ignoring its theme parks for a few years, parent company GE/NBC finally showed some love by introducing the wonderful Simpsons motion ride simulators at its parks in California and Florida.

The Disney Parks Went Crazy for Mania

©Arthur Levine, 2008. Licensed to About.com.
Disney unveiled the next generation of interactive park attractions with its giddy and highly addictive Toy Story Mania.

Welcome to the Jungala

©Arthur Levine, 2008. Licensed to About.com.
Busch Gardens Africa (which is actually in Florida) has always been as much about gawking at animals as soaring on roller coasters and rides. Both are prominently featured in the new land that the park debuted in 2008.

New Coasters in a Roller Coaster Economy

Cedar Fair, 2007. Used with permission.
There weren't any record breakers, but plenty of new--and enhanced--coasters debuted in 2008.

...And All the Rest

Six Flags, 2007. Used with permission.
There were plenty of other attractions that debuted in 2008.
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