Wednesday, November 30, 2011

End of Season Review 2011

You know I had meant to write up an end of the season review, right after the park closed... Then life intervened as it often does. I debated quite a bit over the last 2-3 weeks about whether to write this blog, but finally decided to do so, after talking with a friend about it.

This blog will be a little bit different then previous blogs, it will be a little bit personal, which is quite unusual for me. First a little respective. has been online since November 1997, when I originally started the website as a free TRIPOD personal site, mostly as just a repository from some of the old WOF stuff I had discovered over the previous few years. But, to tell my story and make my point I have to go farther back then that. See in 1995 I had one of my first chances to get to know my father. Amazingly, though I had not grown up with him as most have, we had quite a bit in common. This included an interest in Worlds of Fun. My father had first worked at the park in 1973, on the Cotton Blossom, as a cook for the Paddlewheel Cafe. He had many great stories to tell, including my favorite being his joke about the "60 Somewhat new and Slightly exciting things to do" (the original tag line for WOF was "60 Brand New and Exciting Things to do").

More importantly to you my dear reader was on a Friday in 1995, he took me to the 4th floor of the Downtown Kansas City Library, known even today as the Missouri Valley Room. It is an amazing treasure trove for anything related to KC history. It was there, on that day that I first saw my VERY FIRST 1973 souvenir map. I was so excited, as there were the attractions that I rode as a child that were already removed by 1995. I made a black and white photo copy of that map, and it hung on my bedroom door for years. I was hooked. Worlds of Fun had turned from an interest, into a complete obsession. I have my dad to thank for that. That and much more.

Sadly, at the age of only 54 my father passed from this life two weeks ago.

I am not writing this blog to dwell on that sobering fact. At first, when reviewing old photos, and thinking about moments in the past, I had almost decided NOT to write an end of season review. After all rotting wood, chipping paint etc is not all that important when taken in the grand scheme of things.

Then I remembered one of my last conversations about WOF with my dad. About the carousel. About how he questioned how a American carousel fit into the theme of Scandinavia, and I remembered how he always used to poke fun at me with the Scandinavian yoddeling music... And I knew I had to write that end of season review.

All year I have been trying to find an argument for just WHY the themed music was important. Nothing I could come up seemed to really hit to nail on the head as to why it was so important to so many of us. When I seriously started thinking about this blog the very first thing I did was go to YouTube (don't we all love YouTube?) and found this...

For those unitiated, this was one of those pieces of music played in Scandinavia for years. Yes, it is a German Beer Drinking Song. I almost cried the moment I heard it. I had flashes of watching the boats drop down into the final flume on Voyager, of the silver maple trees at the front of the park turning yellow in the fall. I realized it doesn't just matter if the music fits the theme, but more importantly the memories it creates. I listen to the music and I remember intangible aspects and moments in time. It's like when I was kid I loved driving through NKC and smelling the bread baking at the Tasty Bread Factory. You could always smell it and I loved driving by for that reason. Those smells, just like the music at Worlds of Fun created wonderful vivid memories. Same thing with the Zinger and Express, it wasn't just the steel, or the concrete, but the memories those rides created.

Now no one can ask the park to bring those rides back. However, I don't think it is to out of line to ask to bring the music back. Please don't let the music, and the memories the music created... die.

So I ask the park one more time... Memories are too important to replace with the hot pop hit of the moment. Let those millions of people that have streamed through the gate have this one memory and keep it alive. Please don't let YouTube be the only way to remember our childhood memories.

And that's all I have to say about that.

As I mentioned that was a much more emotional argument then I usually make. There is a reason for that. The music, the crazy, zany, some may say weird themed music can evoke an emotional response, because of the memories it created. While its true guests will visit the park occasionally for the fact that it has great rides, but they will be return, loyal visitors to revisit their memories. If the park continues to remove the atmosphere, and hence the memories, they WILL lose loyal visitors. I guarantee it. Yes, over music.

There were many times this season I didn't want to stay at the park because it didn't feel this same this year, simply because of the music. For the first time it didn't feel like Worlds of Fun. If I feel that way, others will too I promise. I can also promise no one will come say... lets go to Worlds of Fun because they heard the goo goo dolls over the PA system. It IS just that simple.

So here again is my compromise. Bring back the themed music to the midways, but play popular music in the queue lines. After all queue lines are B.O.R.I.N.G. and could be tolerated better with popular music. After all Cedar Point put D.J's in their queue lines to entertain would-be-riders and many of those riders remember it to this day as an enjoyable experience. And isn't that the WHOLE point?

There were other things this season though that definitely had a more positive spin. Others have mentioned it (on Facebook) but I think kudos should be given to landscaping. Now if I had wrote this at the beginning of the season I would have had to disagree, landscaping started off looking rather dismal. However, thanks to a boost in staff it quickly recovered and the park ended up looking pretty nice this season.

Lovely Cacti Garden... with Lantana in the foreground.

I just had to include this it was so pretty... (Yes this was shot at WOF)

A potted flowering plant in Africa. I have no idea what type of plant this is, but the flowers are quite pretty.

I have to say my favorite part this year (as Jeff can attest to) was the American Cactus garden. The cactus garden was a staple at the park for years, and made its reappearance just last year. I was rather surprised that the cacti survived so well despite I am sure just a few rambunctious children.

A pine near Cyclone Sam's, succumbing to disease... sad.

Of course there were a few loses in the landscaping department this year too, namely many of the parks pines. As those more heavily involved in the landscaping field can probably attest to, the last few years have seen the spread of a deadly pine disease, that is virtually unstoppable and kills pines in a matter of weeks...

Many new trees recently planted near the new Festaus.

As kuddos to the park though there were just as many trees PLANTED this year. Plus, from what I have heard many of the dead pines will be replaced by other much more resistant species, which is good to hear. Just say no to the concrete jungle!

Of course themed music and landscaping are important to a park experience. One only has to look as far as your typical Six Flags park to realize that... However, one has to be honest and realize that most people come to the park for RIDES. Unfortunately, in the rides department the park did not fair favorably. There were some bright spots and I will get to those. First let me start out though, this will not be a tirade about Planet Snoopy rides opening late. While we all like to see attractions opening on time, weather is not always within a parks control.

Thunderhawk... about how it looked for most of the season.

However, certain other aspects ARE within the parks control. Thunderhawk for instance? Ouch... It didn't open for the season until FIVE months after the park had opened. Yes Huss Rides (Thunderhawk's manufacturer) is in Germany, however lets not forget the memo that the park was closed for six months. That means Thunderhawk went almost a full year without operating.

Another sore spot that the average guest many not always realize directly, but they will realize with the time in line.. is capacity. Prowler and Timberwolf didn't get their second train in operation until the almost two months after the park opened. For me atleast, that seems inexcusable. ESPECIALLY when your new attractions aren't open either.

So looking at this from your average guests point a view... They have to wait in line double the time they normally would (a 5 minute line becomes 15-20 minutes, or a 15-20 minute line becomes 30-45 minutes), PLUS over half of the family/children's area is still under construction, over a month into park operating season.

And no I'm not even done. There is one ride that I have failed to mention this year, or even the past several years. I should have. But I HOPED the park would remedy the issue, plus in the grand scheme of things its not a top billed ride. Autobahn. Or more appropriatly Der Fender Bender. (Yes and I am one of those people that still call it Forum Road). In this situation a picture is worth a thousand words....

Der Fender Bender in its early years (late 70's)

Same ride, but different name, now the Autobahn circa 2011

I am sorry... there is no way to sugar coat this. YUCK. Here are the options that I can see... Fix it, or Replace it. Sometime soon. Seriously you operate with only 7 cars? 7?!?! The park operates with 7 because the ride will not operate with fewer then that, and that is the reason it runs with 7 because it can.

The problem is there is way WAY to much patch fixing. Fix it enough that it will work (somewhat), or fix it to the minimum that it can operate, and leave it be. Until it breaks again. Autobahn falls in this category, so does Le Taxi Tour, (8 Cars are you serious?), and even Fury of the Nile. I refuse to ride Nile anymore, its not even a shadow of the ride it was in 1984. I primarily believe because of "easy" fixes. Yes the ride is safe, yes the ride operates, but is it fun? Or have the cheap fixes, just enough to keep the ride running safely, also had a negative impact on the overall ride experience? In other words has the ride ceased being fun? If you have to even think about that question then there is something seriously wrong.

Yes, that was painful. But you know it really needed to be said. For those that don't think it should be said, I welcome you to step into the park as a guest, and experience some of the rides and experiences I just mentioned, and not get frustrated.

Planet Snoopy... The old thought process with parks was to paint with garish colors so that guests would notice the new paint... (atleast that was the thought at Cedar Point in the 30's and 40's) well it worked.... and I actually really like the bright colors.

With that being said there were some very good experiences with rides this season too. Truthfully. Planet Snoopy for instance, not only did it double the number of Planet Snoopy rides, allowing children and parents to ride together, but it's also really nice looking! I can't even begin to tell you the times we headed to Planet Snoopy to find that's where the crowds were! Plus, it looked so fresh and clean, sparklingly so. I have admitted this once, but Planet Snoopy is easily one of the best looking children's areas in the entire almost 40 years of Worlds of Fun's existence.

The other big addition was the Illions Carousel. Now I understand no one in this area seems to get as excited about this as I do, but most will agree that it made the entrance plaza look about a million times better. For those that know me I might ask that you take a seat before I make my next comment. Cedar Fair did an exceptional job, exceptional. There was not a single corner cut with this project, and there were several ways they could have done so... They didn't have to completely restore the carousel, they didn't have to use REAL gold in the horses manes and tails, and most importantly they REALLY didn't have to restore the band organ. Most people may not realize this, but Worlds of Fun now has the only working band organ of the entire Cedar Fair chain, and folks it doesn't take both hands to count the operating band organs in parks across the country. They are rare, amazing creations that simply can't be reproduced by all but the most amazing sound systems in the world.

My drool moment is officially over. But seriously it is something that should be appreciated. Last comment and I will move on... but wouldn't that band organ music sound SO much better with Scandinavian music in the background as opposed to modern... errr... music playing instead? Yes I won't give up.

Of course the end of the season wrapped up with Halloween Haunt, the park's premier event for the season. There is no way of getting around the fact that Halloween Haunt is one of the park's best ideas in the last decade. It certainly brings folks in that's for sure, and that is a GREAT thing. I love seeing the crowds, and yes, even parking in the grass. What can I say I am weird. However I have to wonder why the park isn't exploiting the rest of the season? April thru September? I really think that festivals (and concerts) during the summer could turn out crowds just as big as October. After all they did it in the past, and its been proven that there are just as many people today that will come to the park.

There's not much to say about the Haunts that hasn't already been said. They were all quite good, but definitely there was a degree of improvement from the beginning of Halloween Haunt to the end on Oct 30th. One aspect I want to comment on is the Front of the Line Passes (FOL). Honestly I was skeptical about this idea. I have seen how well (or not so well I should say) they have worked at Cedar Point and Six Flags in the past. Not too well. However, I will be honest from what I saw there were no mass protests about FOL passes from stand-by guests (those without FOL passes). Overall it seemed those that used the passes were satisfied, the price wasn't obnoxious and I am sure it made the park money.

Some who read my comments may think that I am positively against the park making money. That all I want is the park to spend itself into a hole fixing everything, and forget about real life, and the fact that the park is a business. Nothing could be further from the truth. The reason I make the comments I do is that I want the park to prosper, not just this year, but next year, ten years from now... on and on. I want the park to bring in record profits, because it lets them invest in the park for the future. So when I see them making changes like Front of the Line passes, I don't express concern because the park is making money off of it (which is great), but because I see a concern that guests might be turned off by the idea. So far that is not the case, which is great.

However, it is one thing I think should be handled with caution. Think about a point a made earlier about reduced capacity on Prowler with only one train for the first two months. Guests are frustrated with a long wait now, how will they feel about an instituted Front of the Line program? If capacity issues are dealt with at the same time that Front of Line is instituted, I don't for see a huge problem. Otherwise, it could be. Just a word of caution FOL looks like a cash cow, it probably is, but long term quality guest experience should NEVER, EVER be traded for a quick dollar now.

So now it is the off season. Its getting cold, but next year it looks like we should see some great infrastructure improvements. My next blog post will look at that in more detail, and hopefully over the next few months we will have some photos to share with you. Until then, I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season and merry christmas!


brooksdbrewer said...

It never fails to make me smile whenever I read these blogs, and see that someone shares the love of Worlds of Fun like I do. Granted, I'm 18 and only been around the park as long as I've been alive, so you've seen more about the park than I have. But reading these posts brings to life the very thoughts that I have about WOF myself, and I thank you for doing that.

Getting to Know Brandon in the PR department has really been a pleasure, and a fantastic experience. In fact, thats the career I'm looking into. I've wanted to manage in Worlds of Fun since I was ten years old. Worlds of Fun is my dream job, and I know that not only would I take care of the park, but I would enjoy every second of it. Not only is it an amusement park, but a second home for you, me, and I'm sure plenty of other people alike.

I am deeply saddened to hear the news of your dad, and hope that you continue to move strong.

I can't wait until 2012 arrives, and I take the mic down at Fool the Guesser again, and begin what is sure to be just another season of many for me.

Rob B said...

Excellent post! It's been a few years since I've been to WOF as I was a season pass holder for many years. I can't agree more with you about the memories and the importance of keeping some themes. We live in a world that is ever so changing by the moment, it is nice to have those places, those momuments, those experiences you go to that seem to be consistent. That's not to say some change is good and necissary. I've realized after becoming a parent how important it is to have those places to take my kids to so I can share experiences. WOF was such a gem as a kid and is still a gem in many aspects. But the theming, landscaping, and shows were such critical points for visiting the park over and over again.

I can remember shows like the Stray Cats, Tom Schneider (Bow Duke), Richard Marx, Jan and Dean, and Jerry Lee Louis visiting the forum theater. This is one thing Six Flags has maintained and I think is a huge asset for them. I hope in 2012 to see the shows return.

I am so out of the loop and did not realize they brought the Geauga Lake carrousel to WOF. I rode this up in GL it's final year before the park closed. I remember what a marvelous piece of machinery it was but in a dungy old building. And Geuaga Lake is another sad gem that is now gone that parents can no longer share with their kids. The fact WOF did make this GOOD change does give me hope and a reason to make a visit in 2012.