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To Be or Knotts to Be? THAT is the Question.
The race in on in Southern California between once-friendly competitors Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm to see who comes in ahead of the race in sales and overall profits. Granted, no other theme park company in the game can compare to entertainment giant Disney; thats a given.
There are, however, things happening in Buena Park and Anaheim that will have a direct impact on Southern California tourism in the coming months and years. Knotts has recently been bought by another industry player, Cedar Fair, L.P. The new company behind the Berry Farm is proceeding at an unrelenting pace to upgrade and turn the park into a world-class thrill ride destination, as are several of its other parks such as famed Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio.
The two most evident changes that have taken place at Knotts Berry Farm since being under the ownership of Cedar Fair, L.P. are the additions of Supreme Scream, a drop tower attraction and one of the worlds finest wooden roller coasters, Ghost Rider.
What does this all have to do with Disneyland, you might be wondering? A lot, when you look at the up-coming Disneys California Adventure park currently under construction in the area that once was the Magic Kingdoms parking lot. California Adventure is to be the newest theme park in the Disney empire and is sure to be a big hit with tourists. But is it going to live up to the ideals and philosophies of Walt Disney and his team of WED Imagineers? One would hope so, considering this is a permanent counterpart to Disneyland, possibly the most famous and respected theme park in the world.
Almost 10 years ago, the industry was buzzing with the announcement of WESTCOT - our coasts version of Walt Disney Worlds Epcot. While smaller in size, the new park (to be located in the same area where California Adventure is now under construction) was to be remarkable, packed with new rides and attractions and incredible detail on all levels. It would borrow the best elements from Epcot and World Showcase and take them to a new level of themed entertainment within this new Anaheim park. Unfortunately, red tape and local politics combined with Disneys constant concern over the bottom-line cost of any new project and all hopes and dreams for WESTCOT were dashed. Despite enormous public support and community effort (yours truly delivered a very heart-felt off-the-cuff speech during one of the several WESTCOT public hearings), all was lost.
With the announcement that Disney had decided on a new park to compliment Disneyland, new hope was booming amongst enthusiasts. Unfortunately, for many, Disneys California Adventure simply doesnt measure up on paper to what we were expecting or wanting at all. I must stress that the finished product could very well be wonderful; God knows, I hope its amazingly beautiful and filled with excitement. However, as someone who follows the industry not only as a Disney enthusiast but as an honest, objective journalist, I have to say that I am with the many out there who think that this new Disney park just doesnt measure up in a day and age where bigger is better and cost of execution is becoming more and more expensive.
Disneys theme park strengths lie in both themed detail and ride design. Most of the attractions at California Adventure either have a paper-thin theme applied to them or not theme at all. The majority of these attractions will be located in a Southern California boardwalk area called Paradise Pier, and are going to be nothing more than glamorized flat rides and one huge white roller coaster, California Screamin; its theme is that its a wooden pier coaster of years ago when actually its as metal as metal gets, including one inversion along the way. The Pier also includes a looming Ferris wheel that will be visible, as will several of its other counterparts within DCA, from areas inside Disneyland Park. The third object that will redefine Anaheims skyline is a drop tower attraction called The Maliboomer. This is the same class of attraction that Knotts installed within the past few months; at the Farm, its known as Supreme Scream and is actually taller than the version being readied for Disney.
The new theme park will be heavy on merchandise and restaurant locations. Several displays and exhibits such as a glimpse of Disney Feature Animation will be available as well, which most guests will find amusing. But how many times can you be excited about exhibits and restaurants?
The icon for the new park is Grizzly Peak, a white water rapid ride that pays homage to the American Northwest of California. The flume ride will include a 20+-foot plunge and is sure to thrill guests of all ages. But does Southern California really need another whitewater raft ride? Sea World of San Diego has one called Shipwreck Rapids. Knotts Berry Farms is called Bigfoot Rapids and Magic Mountain has had one for years. What Southern California does not need is another raft ride.
Before all hope is lost, it should be noted that there are a handful of attractions going in to California Adventure that do hold some promise, including Its Tough to be a Bug, fresh from Disneys Animal Kingdom in Florida. Three other attractions of mention are Soarin Over California, Circle of Hands and MupperVision 3-D (although its been at The Disney Studios for ages and has been completely dated by sister attractions such as Honey, I Shrunk the Audience and Universals Terminator 2: 3-D, which is the superior of them all). Many Disney fan pages online have vast details about all of these attractions and more going in to DCA.
A Disney park wouldnt feel right without a dark ride. California Adventures is called Superstar Limo. This attraction whisks guests through a mock-up of Hollywood at breakneck speeds. However, as fun as it sounds, the scenery may leave little to be desired. In the concept art and mock-up for this ride, Dreamworks Animation Studio looms behind a massive gate with the name DreamJerks Animation displayed plainly. Nice mud slinging from a Company living in a BIG glass house these days. Im not exactly sure anyone is going to find this particularly amusing, and I wouldnt be surprised if that fine detail is left out of the final version of the attraction. Other elements guests may pass include Madonnas home - two gigantic cones that will leave parents at a loss when their little ones ask what everyones laughing about. Grotesque caricatures of now-famous celebrities such as Jerry Seinfeld are supposed line the route, which may be amusing now; but will anyone know or even care about these individuals 10 years from now? Walt Disney was very specific when he told his WED designers that they were to use no personalities in their Disneyland attractions that could ultimately date the ride. My feeling is that money could have been much better spent creating a tie-in dark ride through many of the newer animated Disney films such as The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid and Tarzan as part of the Animation exhibit in the Hollywood section of DCA. For a company that is so synergy-driven, it seems to me that this would have been a no brainer!
Now the line has been drawn in the sand of both Disneys California Adventures and Knotts Berry Farms boardwalk areas. The showdown is coming and is inevitable. In the next few years, which park will win the most attention and praise from everyday guests and hardcore fans? Knotts, with Cedar Fair behind it determined to turn the nearly 100 year-old park into a world-class coaster and thrill ride property, or Disneys California Adventure with its 50s style Pleasure Pier and tamer attractions? Ill let you decide. As someone who has seen hundreds of concept images and has walked through several models at WDI of these new attractions, my hope is that some last-minute Imagineering magic can raise California Adventures stake a bit higher.
There are already several websies on Disney's California Adventure including:
There are two Knott's Berry Farm websites of note:
To keep up on the competition between Disney, Knott's and other theme parks around the country, visit:
Disney is at the disadvantage in this situation. California Adventure is already built out, which means that once the new park is open, there will be little room for expansion, shy of removing existing attractions to replace them with new ones. Knotts on the other hand, is not only removing existing attractions within the Farm (Whirlpool and the Dolphin Stadium are about to go to make way for a massive flume ride that is going to be the biggest of its kind anywhere), but they are building a second park - a much-needed water park across the street, next to Independence Hall. Years ago, it was rumored that Disneyland Resort was going to install a West Coast version of Typhoon Lagoon where the new Pinocchio parking lot now sits. It was a welcome idea, as Orange County only has one other park of its kind, Wild Rivers in South County, near Irvine. Raging Waters, which is in San Dimas is the only other water park worthy of mention in the Los Angeles area. Guests further north may also find Magic Mountains counterpart, Hurricane Harbor. Note that Hurricane Harbor was built long after rumors of Disneys intended water park were circulating throughout the industry. What could have been a cash cow for Disney became expansion plans for both Knotts and Magic Mountain. Both companies will profit from that long into the future.
While Disney is down on conventional roller coasters (thats the official line, although some of their newer attractions seem to say otherwise), Cedar Fair, L.P. most certainly will be bringing more metal and wooden behemoths to Buena Park in the coming years. Many enthusiasts eyeball the large area at Knotts currently taken by the not-so-great Windjammer roller coaster. That area is ripe for the Farms first B&M coaster. B&M is considered by many to be the premiere coaster design company in the world. Unfortunately, because The Walt Disney Company can be shall we say, rather rigid at times to work with, B&M has told them that they will never work with them in any capacity. That is a critical blow to Disney, as its competitors are installing their own B&M attractions left and right on both coasts. Disney guests are the true losers in this situation. All eyes are on Knotts however, which will most likely add a B&M to their lineup within the next couple of years and prosper greatly from it.
Am I down on Disneys California Adventure or the hundreds of artists involved? Not necessarily. I wish them the best and look forward to seeing the finished product just as much as the next Disney enthusiast. Am I down on apparent lack of true Imagineering that Disney is known and respected for in return for smaller, less expensive and creative rides? You bet I am, in a Walt Disney minute. What Disneyland deserves as a counterpart is a true gem. Tokyo Disney Sea comes to mind; that is something worth getting excited about! Its going to be interesting to see who is going to come out on top in Southern California shortly. To be, or Knotts to be? That, is the question that only time will tell.
-- Rick West (October 13, 1999)
Rick West is the publisher/editor-in-chief of Theme Park Adventure Magazine.
Through his involvement with that he has been able to meet and interview some of the
biggest names - past and present - in Walt Disney Imagineering. Rick draws on those
experiences, and his experience in the theme park industry, for The West Side of the
Be sure to read about Rick West's haunted house, Boot Hill, to be held Halloween weekend in Irvine.
The West Side of the Kingdom is published the second Wednesday of each month.
The opinions expressed by Rick West, and all of our columnists, do not necessarily represent the feelings of LaughingPlace.com or any of its employees or advertisers. All speculation and rumors about the future of Disneyland and the Walt Disney Company are just that - speculation and rumors - and should be treated as such.
©1999 Theme Park Adventure Magazine and LaughingPlace.com. All rights reserved.