Disney unveils a new luxury experience, Universal Orlando unveils escape rooms, Ghost Town Alive! and Forbidden Frontier are returning for the 2022 season, and Electric Ocean comes to SeaWorld Orlando.
Disney unveils a new luxury experience, Universal Orlando unveils escape rooms, Ghost Town Alive! and Forbidden Frontier are returning for the 2022 season, and Electric Ocean comes to SeaWorld Orlando.
Philip: From our studios in Los Angeles and Tampa, this is Green Tagged Theme Park in 30. We are back in our studios for another week of Theme Park in 30.
Scott: Yep, we're back, we're live. Well, we're not live, we're recording but we're back in our home studios and getting stuff done in the week. Yeah, so I'm glad to be back. Philip and I haven't seen each other in a while. Before we started the show we were actually just chatting and catching up and going through all kinds of stuff. We always say we should record those and then we realized, no, we probably shouldn't. Wouldn't be a good idea.
Philip: Scott, I have a question for you.
Scott: What is the question, Philip?
Philip: How much would you pay for a 24-night Disney Parks around the world tour? Every Disney Park, 24 nights. How much would you pay for that?
Scott: Oh my Lord. I have no idea. Well, let's see. So, considering that I just...
Philip: You're like, "I wouldn't go."
Scott: I'm not that much of a Disneyphile to really say. I mean, it would be fun and if somebody offered it to me I'd probably take it. So, let me think, let me think here just for a second. Let me just do a little bit of math in my head, because I just came back from a cruise, if I can compare it to like a cruise line thing. Is it all inclusive with meals and such?
Philip: Yes. All meals, all hotel nights, travel as well between the destinations, everything is included.
Scott: 24 nights?
Scott: I would guesstimate, including airfare, I would guesstimate between $55 and $60 grand.
Philip: So, double that. $110,000.
Scott: Stupid me.
Philip: I know, right?
Scott: Oh wait, I would have doubled it had you said it includes it includes Galactic Starcruiser
Philip: No, sorry. No, I don't think it does actually. So, Adventures by Disney has announced a new tour and it's called Disney Parks Around The World, A Private Jet Adventure, and it reads as follows. "Embark on a bucket list adventure for 75 ultimate Disney fans!" So, it's limited to 75 people. "This dream vacation spans 24 days and covers 6 countries that includes all 12 uniquely magical Disney theme parks worldwide, as well as 3 iconic landmarks: the Taj Mahal, Pyramids of Giza and Eiffel Tower. Throughout the trip, you’ll stay in world-class accommodations, including the rare opportunity to be a Guest at Summit Skywalker Ranch. Plus, you’ll travel in luxury via a VIP-configured Boeing 757, operated by Icelandair, with long-range capabilities that allows for direct flights to maximize your time in each destination. You’ll also enjoy personal access to experts and staff, who provide fun and fact-filled stories enabling you to be immersed in every location you visit." There's also a chef on the plane that you'll have access to, but the price tag is $110,000 per person.
Scott: So, it is a little higher end than I was imagining, but still, $110 grand for 24 days. Yeah, it's pricey.
Philip: That's pricey.
Scott: Now, you know, I think the experience would be phenomenal. As we have said many, many, many, many times on this show, there is always the next velvet rope, there's always going to be somebody who offers the next, again, going back to my cruise ship experience, because that's what's on my brain. I just got off the Carnival Mardi Gras, and there's a presidential cabin that was probably 6 times what I paid for our cabin per person. But it's lovely, I mean, it's on top of the bridge, so it has this gigantic outdoor space that looks out on three sides of the ship, and it's huge, and it sells. So, there's no doubt that this is going to sell, there's no doubt that it's going to sell. I know there are going to be people out there who are going to say, "well, you know, the economy is a little rugged and blah blah." But one of the things that we've learned is when the economy gets rough, high-end stuff does not stop happening, it's the low-end stuff that stops happening. If you make in the millions or even billions of dollars, $110 grand per person, so that's $220 per couple, yeah, they're still going to do it because they still deserve it in their minds. So, I can see this being huge, I can see them doing this, eventually, once a month.
Philip: Gosh, they just refuel it and take the next group. Oh my God.
Scott: Take the next group, but if you think about it, it's very much the cruise ship mentality, only, it's on a plane.
Philip: Right, yeah, and it is roughly like $190.00 an hour, right? Even while you're sleeping.
Scott: Well, you're sleeping in a lovely hotel, and you spent the day either at a Disney Park or seeing the Eiffel Tower, or seeing the Taj Mahal.
Philip: Well, I think overall what this kind of got a little bit, but all joking aside, I think the big takeaway that I was trying to get to here is just bringing up how there's a lot of people think this is a joke. I don't think it's a joke. I actually think that Disney is seeing how far they can push the velvet rope, and I think they are just, even more, trying to go into that mentality of--we've been talking about this for a while but not to get too political--obviously everyone knows we have like a vanishing middle class, we have a lot of people that have a lot more wealth than on the bottom sector. And you're right, when it comes to potential recession or stuff, gas prices, all this kind of thing, right, there are people are definitely unaffected by that. So, yeah, your options are basically make something that is still affordable with good value to capture locals or is to do this thing. So, I think it just shows that their strategy is evolving to really try and target more and more people in that area.
I also, honestly, I'm just not sure that their experience is good enough for the people they're targeting. That would be my valid criticism, or my only kind of valid criticism, well, if you have enough where this is throw-away money, I'm not sure you're even going to deal with 75 other people. Why don't you just take your private jet yourself and have a private planner that is going to do all this for you? Why are you dealing with all this nonsense? Plus the chef on the plane, sure, but like the Disney restaurants, we just talked about this, the service at the Disney places is not great right now and their restaurants are not top star restaurants, these are not like Michelin star restaurants. Why would you lower your experience to go with Disney if you're in that space? That would be my question.
Scott: I think that's very valid. I think, just like you and I would say, "OK, I'm going to splurge and pop down my money for an annual pass, and then I'm going to go do this addon event and that event." This is kind of for a socioeconomic level that's higher than, certainly mine, this is that kind of throw-away money. This is that kind of play in the park money, I think. But you're right, why wouldn't you just hire your own and just do your own family? Because if you think about it, you know, I said per couple, but it's more likely that this is going to be for a family, so let's take your average family of four. So, now we are approaching very, very quickly, a half a million. A family of five, we're there. So, you know, you may be right, it might be more cost effective to actually charter a jet and have a planner or hire a planner to do it all for yourself. At the same time, though, there are still those people who have drank the Disney Kool Aid and would much rather just say, "yes, all I have to do is sign the check. I don't have to hire an outside person. I don't have to hire a chef. I don't have to worry about my plane. I don't have to make any of the reservations. All I do is write a check to Disney and let you take care of it." And I promise you they aren't going to be waiting in line for burgers and fries. You know you're right, the Disney restaurants are not stellar, however, they are still high end. That's not a slam to Disney, we were just, again before the show Philip and I were talking how restaurant service in general has kind of dropped because of staffing, because of retraining, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. I can promise you, these people are not going to end up waiting in queue for anything. They're going to be walked onto everything. They're going to have that clout treatment that you may or may not be able to buy for this kind of price if you tried to A La Carte it. Does that make sense?
Philip: Yeah, I agree with that, I'm just still kind of thinking it's a little bit flawed because to me it sounds like it sounds like a budget luxury experience. Which is a little weird to say, I can't believe we're in this space where I'm saying this is a budget luxury experience that is $110,000.
Scott: But it's new money versus old money. Old money would not do this, new money will.
Philip: Yeah, that's true. And it could be a nice networking thing for other people that can afford it.
Scott: Hell yes! This is going to be the ultimate Real Estate Award Banquet Giveaway for a couple for some high-end company. The number of families that are just going to say, "you know what Honey, let's write a check for half a million and take the family on this 24-day Whirlwind Disney experience." No, this is going to be a corporate perks kind of thing.
Philip: OK, yeah. Well, let's switch gears a little bit. We'll talk about almost the reverse, or at least in my brain I see this next story as a reverse, the separate strategy. Which is, Universal Orlando is opening Jurassic World and Back To The Future escape rooms at CityWalk. Opening later this year in CityWalk are two escape rooms themed after some of the biggest blockbuster summer film franchises, Jurassic World and Back To The Future. In the attraction’s announcement, Universal said that escape rooms are being designed by some of the same minds behind the HHN houses and main sets.
Scott: You know, we know who those are.
Philip: Yeah, I was like, oh I we know them!
Scott: We know them. I'm going to take half a step back, every now and then I will randomly spew out something either on this show or on A Scott in the Dark, and it will echo back to me like four or five times throughout the course of the week. I made a statement a couple weeks ago, people are not looking for things to watch or looking for things to do, and that has now come back to me. It actually got me a job, which was even better, but that has echoed back to me now, through several people that I really respect, and I'm still going to stand by it. This is a perfect example of it. It's giving us, again, a smaller, private-so it may not be that much on the opposite end of the spectrum here Philip, now that I'm talking about it. It gives us a smaller, confined, controlled experience that fits a different budgetary category, obviously, but it's one of those things that still has the perception of a velvet rope, because you're not doing it with 10,000 other people. 10,000 other people may do it eventually, but you're not doing it with 10,000 other people at the time, it is you and your group escaping from the dinosaurs or getting back to the future in the right time frame. So, it falls right into line with a lot of what we've been talking about. I will agree with you that it's clearly on the opposite end of the spectrum, this is a value non-luxury experience that still takes advantage of the licensing and the intellectual property that they have, and that people want to see. Has there been any pricing announcements on these?
Philip: Not that I've seen, not yet.
Scott: So, if it's in CityWalk, my guess is this is not going to be necessarily a budget experience, because CityWalk if you look at it, they have to look at square footage and the people who make these big decisions are the people who make the most money, quite honestly, and they look at it and they go, "OK, well, we've got X amount of square feet here, and so therefore it has to generate so much per square foot." They're going to make certain that this has to be more profitable than Emeril's. So, I'm curious, I'm curious to see. But you're right, it is the same mentality for a lower budget.
Philip: Yeah, exactly. I also want to underline here some of the other things, but I actually think this is a really good idea and we'll see how it goes. But it's just it's funny because both of us being in the Halloween space, we've seen other independent haunts also tried this route where they use their skills that they develop of the year to make mazes, and they have built escape rooms, and they use that as a way to generate year-round revenue. Also, some places now are building the maze with that in mind so they can take some dividers out and they can turn their maze into an escape room in the offseason. So, I actually think, because of that, this is a good idea. Which is, that you can use the assets that you have been building year-round. You know instead of throwing them away, Universal throwing them away, or refurbishing them, or whatever, they can potentially move and relocate them into a different location and make escape rooms. Like just hypothetically speaking, you know, make an escape room out of some of the existing fabrications that they already paid for, and have that running you know after the season.
Scott: I think that would be really smart.
Philip: Probably won't do it. But good concept, you know?
Scott: With a little bit of insight and a of kernel knowledge as to how Universal Orlando works, they won't do that. They don't even store the stuff most of the time.
Philip: I know I'm aware, yeah.
Scott: It just hits a dumpster. So, even stuff that they're going to bring back the following year sometimes.
Philip: I've seen the dumpster.
Scott: Yes, well, yeah, me too. In fact, 100 years ago when I was still working for Busch Gardens, I actually tried to buy the dumpster.
Philip: Yeah, and it's no because of the licensing.
Scott: "Can I just buy that? I'll strip off all the licensing, but I just want the walls and the gack, and everything that's licensed, yeah we'll throw that away, we'll burn that." But couldn't do that either. The whole idea here is, I think what they're going to do here is I think they're going to build attractions that guests experience 15 people at a time.
Philip: Again, it goes to whatever everything we've been saying, A. B, I think it's a new way to attack the FOMO thing. See, it's a great way like we talked about, to lean into licensing or something like that. It's a great way to lean into these things to get boosts for what Comcast wants, of course as we know, Comcast sees the parks as a way to improve ratings and improve viewership on their IPs. That's what they see as, so this is another way to accomplish that goal, I think, over a restaurant. You're right, as long as the margins are the same, this is much better, it achieves all the goals instead of just 1 1/2 goals.
Scott: And because of its location, guests don't even have to experience the escape room to be reminded of the Back to the Future brand, which has been around a while.
Philip: Yeah, and they don't have to have park ticket either, they could go just for that.
Scott: Well, and what's interesting is, you broke down the last story into what it costs per hour, and my guess is when you see pricing on this, this is going to be actually more expensive than an hour in one of the parks.
Philip: I disagree.
Scott: We will see.
Philip: Well, oh, an hour in the park. Oh, I thought you meant like an hour on the jet, and I was like, I don't know if they can charge $200 a person.
Scott: No, not on the jet. No, no, no, I'm talking about if you buy a ticket to IOA, Islands of Adventure, and you stay there for 10 hours, which is what you're going to do most likely, especially if you don't have a pass. I mean, if you're going to buy a ticket, you're going to get there first thing in the morning and stay until the last night of the show, or you spend 30 minutes in an escape room. I'm going to guess that it's going to be a comparable per minute price.
Philip: Yeah, I agree. I'd agree with that. Yeah, I think that's the only way it'll work honestly. The other kind of thing I might try to gather in this is, I think Universal has definitely seen the success with their tribute store, and I think that is another maybe like a testing ground for these types of concepts. Because the tribute store is essentially it's very similar, right? It's like you can't have more than 15 people in one of the themed rooms in the tribute store, and they change out the themes, and look at how much coverage that gets them. It's starting to become similar to Disney, where Disney will say, "we have this new taco that's out of this stand," and everyone is like goes crazy about it. Well, now they're like, "oh, we've redone the tribute store," and people go crazy about it, they go there. It's increased shopping experience as well, and it's an opportunity for them to bring in additional merch, which they have very high revenue on. You know, like they're button-up shirts, which are $70.00, which is pretty up there for a button-up. So, I think this is all down that vein, basically, the same type of thing. I think it's a good trend, especially with what we're talking about now, which is that you know you have those two targets, and it seems like these two giants, in our world at least, are kind of chalking out the spaces they're going to compete in.
Scott: So, Universal Studios in Florida ticket price. Full ticket price starts at $109, so that's for a full day. Escape room's usually run what, $25 to $30 per person?
Scott: So, it's actually going to be more profitable per person per hour than a theme park ticket, but a significantly lower throughput granted, and a significantly lower operating expense.
Philip: Also, one last trend I want to tie in here, we've heard in our space, you know in the themed entertainment space, we've heard from a lot of our colleagues, Scott and I both have, about how they are being given assignments. It used to be, "we're going to build this water park. We're going to build this theme park or whatever." It used to be like classic-themed entertaining with alcohol. But now it's moving much more into the wider location-based entertainment form where you'll see people that are being hired to do an experience for a company, to do a storefront, or to redo the theming and guest experience in these other areas. I think this is universal, realizing, hey, we have these on-staff carpenters and developers and all this, and we have all this extra retail space that could be improved, and if it were improved, we could get higher profitability with it. We already have the resources to do it, we could put these two things together and we could make our areas, that we already have, more profitable.
Scott: Yes, and considering that people are shopping less in brick and mortar stores, this makes them hang out in CityWalk longer so that, hopefully, the surrounding stores will be more profitable and they will be willing to dish out the high rent that Universal is going to charge for them.
Philip: OK, well our next story here is also in the same vein, and this is actually a write-up from InPark magazine. It's just describing the events here. It's called the power of audience agency: Ken Parks and Cedar Fair’s landmark experiences. I'm just going to read a bit of the introduction, then we can talk about it, but I do suggest if you're curious about these events, that you read the full article, because it is a great not only Q&A, but a great like a history about these events that kind of goes to exactly what we've been talking about, which is kind of the audience engagement.
It reads, "Ghost Town Alive! is an immersive entertainment experience that opened in 2016 at Knott’s Berry Farm. Featuring themed events, shows, and interactive encounters, Ghost Town Alive! presents an “unfolding story of the wild west” – a cosplay setting where guests play a primary role in the outcome of the fictional town of Calico each day. This pioneering attraction was honored with a Thea Award for Outstanding Achievement in 2018."
"In 2019, Cedar Point – a Cedar Fair property, as is Knott’s – debuted a similar experience, Forbidden Frontier on Adventure Island. It focuses on two warring clans seeking riches... Both Ghost Town Alive! and Forbidden Frontier are returning for the 2022 season, operating on select days during the summer months."
Which is why we're talking about it. They are both already open, just to clarify, this Ghost Town Alive has now been couched under the kind of umbrella event of the summer festival happening at Knott's. Previously with its own like billed event, but now it's under the umbrella, and the umbrella includes the concert series includes all this stuff. The same with the Forbidden Frontier, but they're both returning back for 2022.
So, what do you think Scott?
Scott: Well, so now it's my turn to fanboy a little bit. I've been lucky enough to work with Ken Parks on a couple of different projects, and I continue to work with several of the Cedar Fair properties on a couple of different things. First let me tell you, and this is not just me sucking up, so Ken, if you're listening, this comes from my heart, I think Ken Parks is a genius. I think Ken Parks is an absolute genius, and I love the way he approaches things. Working with him is always a joy, because he makes me better, and I learn from him, and I think that we "yes and" each other into something really exciting. I had nothing to do with Ghost Town alive, but boy, I wish I did, because when I experienced it the first time, I just thought it was the coolest thing in the world. It's incredibly intelligent, super low tech, and relies on great performances and clever improvisational moments between guests and performers. This is Ken's wheelhouse, this is where he lives, sleeps, and breathes. So, I am so excited that these are successful for them, I'm excited that they're coming back. I honestly believe they were ahead of their time when they first started, and I think now they have not only defined what is possible but are now going to become the keystones in where this kind of immersive and interactive entertainment can go and should go.
One of the things that I would recommend if you're looking at this going, "Yeah, but this is, you know this is Cedar Fair, this is Knott's, we can't afford that. We're just a small little humble park." Go experience it. Go experience it, and this is a perfect opportunity to see where creativity and theatrical intelligence supersedes budget. There's nothing that happens in Ghost Town Alive, now I've not experienced the Forbidden Frontier, but there's nothing that happens in Ghost Town alive that can't be done by anybody if they have the right creative mind behind it. Because you have to create what I refer to as a story sphere, it's not a story line, it's a story sphere with latitude and longitude lines. So, you get from the North Pole to the South Pole, but not everybody goes on the same path, and sometimes they crossover and then diverge. So, it takes a lot of planning, it takes a lot of training, and it takes exactly the right cast. So, that may make it more difficult for some of you, especially in our staffing-challenged world that we live in. But that said, it does not require high-tech electronics. It does not require a bunch of animatronics. It does not require an intellectual property. It is creating your own unique, fully immersive guest experience. So, like I said, I'm fanboying a little bit because I just think, well again the one that I've experienced which is Ghost Town Alive, is great and Ken is just brilliant. I'll stop, because now I'm just gushing.
Philip: OK, well, I'm glad you mentioned the staffing thing because I did want to kind of mention that was kind of my takeaway in terms of the impact of the trends we've seen. Not that I was too surprised, I guess a tiny bit surprised, in that it is so staffing intensive. This is an experience that doesn't cost a lot in infrastructure, it costs a lot in staffing because these performers sell it all, they sell the whole thing. It's basically like you're hiring an improv theater troupe to come in for a show, and they're performing the show.
Scott: A huge improv theater troupe. A huge improv theater troupe!
Philip: And their and their stage is the ghost town space. It's that whole thing goes into a show, like imagine putting a whole show in a theater. It's the same work involved, and I think that's what makes it tricky, and that also is what makes it expensive on the staff side just now at this current moment in time. Anyway, that's my thing. I want to get one last story in, which is kind of another foil to this story, which is what SeaWorld Orlando is doing. So, we've seen from Disney kind of targeting the high end and making this jet experience, we've seen universal doing these escape rooms so they're experimenting with new things in low throughput, and, of course, the Cedar Fair parks are bringing back this highly immersive improv situation. Orlando is going the traditional route it seems with Electric Ocean returning. The colors, music, and delights abound at SeaWorld Orlando's event, featuring returning for its sixth year with special shows, fireworks, limited edition menu through September 5th. During the day they get new menu items, they also have Electric Ocean entertainment options for people to enjoy. They have Elmo and Sesame Street Pals at Elmo Rocks at the Nautilus Theater. New this year is the Rescued Tales Night Vision Show. If counterpart Rescue Tales began last year, sharing the story of SeaWorld conservation Ambassadors Animal Care and Rescue. While this show still available during the day, the evening set has been reworked and reinvented, featuring nocturnal creatures with Cuddly and Crawly. So, seems like a basic summer event. I'm glad it's coming back and I'm not trying to diss it, I'm just saying it seems like this is a standard recipe where you have the food, and you have the exclusive entertainment. I am happy that it's live entertainment that's coming back, they are pushing live entertainment. There's a new show, and they're involving the animal conservation as well into the evening show. So, what do you think Scott?
Scott: Well, I think SeaWorld parks entertainment throughout its history, again full transparency for those of you who haven't listened to the show ever before, I worked for SeaWorld Parks entertainment at Busch Gardens in Tampa. I was there for 21 years. SeaWorld Parks Entertainment or Busch Entertainment Corporation, or whatever it's been called throughout the years, has always been a bit more on the conservative side when it comes to what they're offering. That has worked to the company's advantage in many, many cases and to the company's disadvantage in a few situations. In this particular situation, I think this is the right thing to do because again it's offering a point of difference. One of the biggest challenges I see with the large theme park chains is for so many years they kept chasing each other's tails. It was, somebody is going to do something, so somebody else is going to try to do it, but they're going to try to do it with their own personal twist, and what ends up happening is they end up muddying what was done originally, and they don't have the infrastructure to do what was done originally. You know, you can't do, for example, Ghost Town Alive at SeaWorld Orlando because there is no ghost town, it doesn't make sense, you don't have that asset. So, to continue to build upon what they've already had success with and to have, we'll call this the comfort food of a theme park experience, that continues to focus on what they do have, which is animals and conservation, and a heartfelt message, and an important heartfelt message. I think that is a wise choice for them. I think it's wise because they're not trying to be Disney, they're not trying to be universal, they're trying to be SeaWorld Orlando, any of the other SeaWorld parks. I think that is where this is going to provide them with a great deal of success because it will provide variety to the guests.
Philip: Well, on that note, we're out of time.
Scott: So, guys, once again thank you all so much for watching and or listening, and hopefully you do get stuff out of this each week. On behalf of Philip Hernandez and myself, this is Green Tagged Theme Park in 30 and we will see you, or talk at you, next week.
For over 30 years, Scott Swenson has been a storyteller, bringing stories to life as a writer, director, producer and performer. His work in theme park, consumer events, live theatre and television has given him a broad spectrum of experiences. In 2014, after 21 years with SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, Scott formed Scott Swenson Creative Development LLC. Since then he has been providing impactful experiences for clients around the world. Whether he is installing shows on cruise ships or creating seasonal festivals for theme parks, writing educational presentations for zoos and museums or directing successful fund raisers, Scott is always finding new ways to tell stories that engage and entertain.