Herschend to manage Darien Lake and Elitch Gardens

Posted | Contributed by ShaneDenmark

[Ed. note: The following is an excerpt of a press release. -J]

CNL Lifestyle Properties, Inc., owners of Darien Lake Theme Park Resort and Elitch Gardens, and Herschend Family Entertainment (HFE), the nation's largest family-owned theme park corporation, jointly announced today that HFE would assume the day-to-day management of both properties starting January 25, 2011. Based near Buffalo, New York, and in Denver, Colorado, respectively, Darien Lake Theme Park Resort and Elitch Gardens both include a theme park, a water park and a performance venue. In addition, Darien Lake Theme Park Resort also includes a hotel, cabins and a campground. HFE will become the management company for all properties; CNL Lifestyle Properties remains the owner. Curt Caffey, senior vice president and managing director, CNL Lifestyle Properties and Joel Manby, president and CEO, HFE, made the announcement.

“HFE was a natural choice due to the company’s solid history of operating first-class, successful theme parks with a reputation for top service and guest experience standards,” said Caffey. “Both Darien Lake and Elitch Gardens already have strong foundations as beautiful, fun and wholesome family parks. We’re confident Herschend will use its operations know-how to take these attractions to the next level.”

“We are eager to get to work managing the operations at these popular parks. With 50 years of experience serving millions of guests, and operating a variety of family entertainment enterprises including theme parks, water parks, tour businesses, hotels and campgrounds, HFE is committed to delivering great value while always bringing families closer together. These parks align well with that philosophy,” said Manby. “Our aim is to make the transition as seamless as possible for the parks’ employees and as transparent as possible to guests.”

As the parks’ new management company, HFE will oversee all operations including supervising more than 3,500 full-time and seasonal employees.

Darien Lake Theme Park Resort is New York State's largest theme and water park resort. Darien Lake Theme Park Resort provides accommodations at the Lodge on the Lake Hotel with Forts-o-Fun suites, Brown Bear Cabins, RV sites and campgrounds. It is also home to a 22,000-seat performing arts center featuring some of today’s hottest musical acts.

For more than 120 years, Elitch Gardens has been a gathering place for Colorado's families and children and the entertainment hub of the community. It was home to the first zoo, first theater, first movie house, first symphony orchestra and continues to be the oldest continually operating theme park west of the Mississippi.

Read the entire press release (PDF) from Herschend Family Entertainment.

Oh Hell Yeah!

Me Thinks Herschend is going to be in dyer need of issuing a HFE Pass :) All But Elitch are within a days drive :)

Vater's avatar


Well, passes are printed, and require color ink. So therefore, if you print a lot of passes, you will have a dyer need. :)

My author website: mgrantroberts.com

Hopefully Herschend will give these parks some attention and care... this could be a very good thing! (or they could just sit on the properties and do nothing)

If they're just managing them will they have a say with regards to additions and what not?

It doesn't sound like this will be the same kind of deal as Wild Adventures.

rollergator's avatar

If I understand correctly, you have it right. Wild Adventures was purchased, and is owned by HFEC to the best of my knowledge. The agreement with Elitch and Darien seems to be the properties are still owned by CNL (the land-ownership arm of PARC, apparently). The management deal seems to be more similar to what CF had with MoA, and Paramount with Gilroy Gardens...

Copy/paste of what I'd posted to the forum re: how HFEC has handled business at WA:

Wild Adventures had some really good cap-ex with the new (to the park) for '10 installations - Scrambler, flying skooters, and the relocated Miler from Celebration City. There was a major re-do of the footpaths, etc., whch led to considerable backtracking, etc. - but it clearly looks and feels like a more professional operation. Food options received a MAJOR upgrade. The $1M refurb of Cheetah made it infinitely more rideable (it should get out of the bottom 100 US wodies this year).

Overall, it was a "Wild"ly successful transformation. :)

edit: Did realize I might have come across as a little "gushy" - so here's the downsides: 1) Several dead-ends where there were walk-thru areas. 2). Loss of Power Surge. 3). Loss of S&S Screaming Swing (although it was replaced by a Frisbee-type ride, possibly Moser). 4). Double Shot toned down again. 5). Parking fees nearly doubled.

You still have Zoidberg.... You ALL have Zoidberg! (V) (;,,;) (V)

I know that under the previous management, CNL paid for all the big capital improvements. Ghost Blasters was paid for by CNL as well as the new LEDs on the Big Wheel and Obs tower. PARC also had some money that went into capital as well. Since I am no longer with the park I don't know what this new agreement entails.

Dave Dragon, go Dave Dragon, and the Star Force Five!

Tekwardo's avatar

Yes, Bill, Wild Adventures was purchased by HFEC. I would imagine that HFEC will manage and with management, they'll likely suggest what they'd like to add to the parks, and CNL will likely continue to pay. Or something like that.

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Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened.

I think the most noticable changes will be in merchandise, food, and live entertainment. I don't think the elaborate theming of rides that we see at SDC and Dollywood would integrate into EG or DL very well anyway.

CoasterDemon's avatar

If they can bring the type of crew training in, that exists at Dollywood, then WOW!!! The crews at Dollywood, particularly on Thunderhead, were the most amazing I have ever seen. Efficient, friendly, etc.

I know it may partly be a regional thing, but the training has gotta be in there too.

LostKause's avatar

Gotta love Dollywood's staff.

That's true, LK and CoasterDemon. Here's what we heard when "next up" for Mystery Mine- (please read in your best southern accent)...

"Oh-kay y'all, you're next and you're gonna have 30 seconds to git in the car, sit down, and pull your bar down. 30 seconds. Do y'all think you can do that for me? Thank-yew"

I was grinning from ear to ear, totally "charmed", and wondered how that spiel might sound if we standing elsewhere.

I'm going with "mostly" a regional thing. I've always felt that staff attitude and demeanor is largely determined by the area of the country where the park is located. Parks noted for friendliness, like Holiday World, Dollywood, and Silver Dollar City draw their employees from a population where people tend to be "nice" anyway, and I'm sure the management at those parks have at least a leg up over others when it comes to courtesy training. Also note the ratio of adult to teen workers at those locations.

Nothing against the fine people of Buffalo, but I've been to Darien and I think it's gonna take more than another management company showing up to make the youngsters employed there friendly and efficient. While Herschend sprinkles positivity wherever they go, I'd be happy if the only thing they accomplish at these parks is better food.

Tekwardo's avatar

...to make the youngsters employed there friendly and efficient.

If you notice, though, that the parks that you mentioned don't just hire a bunch of youngsters, and I really think that has a lot to do with it. Heck, the majority of workers at Dollywood especially are middle aged and older. And that is a lot of the difference. They tend to be people that look at it as a job and responsibility, and not as just a way to have money to party on the weekends.

Maybe they'll start a hiring push for older adults at the parks they're now managing. Not sure how they did with Wild Adventures.

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Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened.

rollergator's avatar

I remember when the average-aged employee at KBF was around 60...that was awesome. I tend to think there's a subconcious "follow the rules" vibe that permeates a park that employs older folks, esp. in the rides department...

You still have Zoidberg.... You ALL have Zoidberg! (V) (;,,;) (V)

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