Theme parks across the nation lately have been feeling the effects of a summer slowdown caused by a number of factors, such as inflation, fears of an upcoming recession or extremely hot temperatures around the country. Several theme park news sites reported smaller crowds at certain parks on July 4.
Universal Orlando Resort had record low attendance on July 4, based on thrill-data.com statistics, InsideTheMagic.com reported. Disney World in Florida had its slowest Fourth of July holiday in 10 years, based on average ride wait times tracked by thrill-data.com, BlogMickey reported. This reporter’s first-hand experience on July 4 at Cedar Fair’s California’s Great America in Santa Clara, Calif., confirmed sparse crowds during the day, with short waits of 5 or 10 minutes on some of the parks most popular rides, including The Grizzly and The Demon.
Hot weather may have been a factor in lower crowds in Florida, but not in Northern California. It was a nice sunny day, and not too hot on July 4. Ticket prices may have contributed to lower attendance at Disney and Universal parks, but that probably wouldn’t be the case at Great America. Disney World’s top ticket was $189, while Universal Orlando’s was $164 on July 4. The holiday ticket to Great America was about $50, while it would be about $45 on a lower demand day.
Lower Attendance at Theme Parks
Disney executives had predicted that Disney World parks’ attendance might begin to decrease once the resort’s 50th Anniversary celebration ended on March 31. Curiously, Disneyland Resort parks in Anaheim, Calif., were experiencing a slowdown in February, Inside The Magic reported March 1.
Disneyland also had a drop in wait times after mid June, after rising for a period since Spring Break, Disney Tourist blog reported. But it also asserted that wait times are an imperfect measure of Disneyland crowds. Ticket prices, inflation and recession fears might have played a role in perceived lower crowds.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s “woke” attack on Disney in Florida likely has very little effect on attendance at Disney World and really no effect at the Disneyland Resort. It was most likely hot weather and financial issues keeping people away. And Disney’s California clientele really don’t care about DeSantis and his political games.
New Competition for Disney and Universal Parks
A new theme park development company, however, is taking a chapter out of the Walt Disney Company’s (DIS) – Get Free Report playbook and will soon be competing directly with Disney, as well as Comcast’s (CMCSA) – Get Free Report Universal Studios and Six Flags Entertainment’s (SIX) – Get Free Report and Cedar Fair’s (FUN) – Get Free Report amusement parks.
Mansion Entertainment Group, based out of Branson, Mo., where it operates The Mansion Theater, has hired no fewer than 15 longtime staff members from various divisions of Disney’s theme parks, including Walt Disney Imagineering, Disney Entertainment, Walt Disney World Operations, Disneyland and Disneyland International. Led by Gene Bicknell, executive director of the board, and Larry Wilhite, president, Mansion Entertainment is pumping $2 billion into a 1,000-acre resort project that will include a 125-acre American Heartland Theme Park and Resort in Vinita, Okla., west of Grand Lake on Route 66.
The resort project will include a 300-room hotel, recreational vehicle park and campground.
It’s just a coincidence that Vinita is just about 18 miles from a small Mayes County, Okla., town of Disney, which has no affiliation with the Walt Disney Co. It was apparently named after a US congressman.
Mansion Entertainment also operates sound and animation studios, as well as film and television production, in Branson.
The theme park and resort, which will be similar in size to Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and Disneyland, is expected to open in 2026. Artist renderings of the various rides and lands planned for the theme park on the American Heartland website resemble similar ideas and styles used at Disney parks.
The park will feature an Americana-themed environment with a variety of rides, live shows, family attractions, waterways and restaurant-quality food and beverages. American Heartland has tapped creative agency THG to provide attraction design, art direction, and overall creative development of the park. Pasadena, Calif.-based THG in the past has worked with clients Universal Creative, Walt Disney Imagineering, DreamWorks, Sony, Paramount, Nickelodeon, Los Angeles Dodgers, Galaxy Entertainment Group, Cedar Fair.
Some of the park’s planned features might remind future visitors of competing parks. American Heartland’s Home Town USA might remind guests of Disneyland’s Main Street USA. Big Foot Falls in the Big Timber Falls land looks very similar to Splash Mountain at both Disney World and Disneyland, but much larger. And the park’s Electropolis land might be its version of Tomorrowland at Disneyland and Disney World.