Holiday events at regional parks growing this year

Posted | Contributed by Jeff

The destination parks have been presenting holiday events for years. More recently, smaller regional parks, which traditionally had only been open during the warmer months, have been hanging Christmas lights, serving hot chocolate, and, yes, cranking up their roller coasters and other rides for holiday celebrations.

Read more from USA Today.

Parks being open until the beginning of January and making the offseason 3 months instead of 5 months has been a really nice addition. It used to be horrible for me to have to countdown the days until opening day and seeing it meant around 150 days in between coaster rides unless I went to Florida, Texas or California.

I also like that it's not just the smaller coasters running at many parks. For years I was hoping Great Adventure would be open in November and December and would have been happy with just The Dark Knight and Skull Mountain. 2 years ago when I saw the ride list and that Nitro, Green Lantern, Superman and Batman would be open as well in addition to the indoor coasters (and Joker as well the next year), I was really impressed that they would have so many major coasters running this time of year.

Jeff's avatar

What's an "off-season?" I can hear the train whistles right now...

Jeff - Editor - - My Blog - Phrazy

I have to wonder, though, what does this change mean for the maintenance crew. My understanding is that in general, they actually were busier during the offseason than the on season. With the offseason being shorter and shorter, that means a lot more for them to do in a short timeframe. I suppose newer rides and newer technologies may make part of their job easier, but I don't think it replaces everything they do in the offseason.

TheAcrophobicEnthusiast's avatar

As one of the people that does such work I can tell you the answer is more contractors hired to do off season maintenance.

The best of all the jokers is clearly Mark Hamill.

These events are pure gold. The parks don't have to open their big coasters or a lot of rides. A few are fine. Most of the day can be spent seeing the holiday shows, attractions and the lights. The rides are just bonus.

Quite honestly I have enjoyed Christmastown at BGW with 1 or 2 coasters as much as the regular season at the park with everything open. Same applies to King's Island's event last weekend.

Dollywood is one of the parks where it almost fully operates for this event. That helps offset their cheesy entertainment quality.

I wonder though how profitable these events are. I have a feeling that a lot of people are local season passholders, so there probably isn’t a lot of sales at the gate. Does this drive season pass sales? I think they would have to sell a TON of food & beverage and merchandise to make this worthwhile.

But then again, what do I know?

If they're doing the events, then I would say they're turning a decent profit. There may be some year-to-year variance if weather spoils a few days, but I think it's safe to say that they're making money if they keep them around.

Jeff's avatar

When Paramount's Kings Island did it before the Cedar Fair acquisition, they didn't have an expectation of profit the first year, but rather expected to plant the seeds for a new annual tradition among families. My understanding was that it was at least a break even affair, but Dick Kinzel squashed it after the acquisition. If you go back to the first interview I did with Ouimet, he talked a bit about setting "vacation DNA" or something like that, where you get people coming and they'll literally do it for generations if you treat them right. These events can be the same thing. Seriously, if you can take money from people willing to drive around a parking lot with light displays (that seems to be a thing everywhere now), you can talk them into this.

Jeff - Editor - - My Blog - Phrazy

Raven-Phile's avatar

If the food lines were any indication on opening night at KI's WinterFest, I'd say they're turning a decent profit.

Place was mobbed, and even getting a whiskey spiked cider was a bit of an adventure.

Interesting about the vacation DNA... I can see that being a thing.

But then again, what do I know?

Well, the title is “Holiday events at regional parks growing...” so I’d say right off the bat that these things are successful. I can’t imagine they’re spending the money for shows and decorations on the off chance people will come.

The Halloween thing has taught everyone that this sort of outdoor entertainment has life after Labor Day. Extending it further only makes sense.

While KI has a huge number of season passers, and I’m sure every one of them will show up, I’m certain non pass holders are showing up at the gate or online in droves. We’ve had decent weather in Ohio and I’m sure that helps.

To Jeff’s point, holiday activities like this are super popular. I know our zoo’s Wildlight Wonderland, or whatever it’s called, is so jammed you can’t get near. We also have the Chinese Lantern Festival on the fairgrounds that packed em in last year, so they expanded the layout and they increased the number of displays this time.

During the past 2 years going to Great Adventure during Holiday in the Park there have been times that I left without getting dinner or a snack using the season dining pass because I wasn't willing to wait in an hour line for dinner or 30 minutes for a snack. Even with more places open this year, I heard it was the same thing this past Saturday where it took over an hour to get food once it was ordered at the stand near Justice League because the park was so crowded. Many of those in line were probably others with the season dining pass as well but there are the other items like the refillable hot chocolate mugs that always seem to be very popular (and I saw a lot of people carrying them around at Hersheypark on Sunday as well).

There is also seasonal merchandise like ornaments that usually seem to sell well (judging by the lines in some of the stores) and the longest line at Great Adventure is usually to see Santa, where personal cameras aren't allowed and the cheapest photo package is around $15 or $20.

I know the Orlando parks have been doing the holiday stuff seemingly forever, but it always floors me how the Disney nerds who are either passholders or even Cast Members with free admission are willing to essentially pay for a ticket to a park they already have access to to go to the Halloween and Christmas hard ticket evening events.

Seeing this phenomenon in Orlando, it doesn't surprise me the regional destinations are having some of their highest attendance days during Halloween and Christmas events. Especially when weather cooperates.

Last edited by BrettV,
Jeff's avatar

I don't get those people either.

Jeff - Editor - - My Blog - Phrazy

Maybe it’s a weather thing for me. Here in Rochester, NY it’s friggin COLD and usually miserable. Sure there is skiing, sledding, snowmobiles, etc but I can’t wrap my head around walking around a park. Must be the weather in these places is drastically different than it is here... I have played with the idea of checking out WinterFest at Kings Dominion next year but that’s a pretty serious drive.

But then again, what do I know?

99er's avatar

BrettV said:

but it always floors me how the Disney nerds who are either passholders or even Cast Members with free admission are willing to essentially pay for a ticket to a park they already have access to to go to the Halloween and Christmas hard ticket evening events.

The offerings are different for those hard ticket events than what you will find the rest of the year. So if the only way to see those offerings is to pay, and you want to see them, why wouldn't you? I have an Annual Pass to Universal but I still pay to go to Halloween Horror Nights each year.


I have a UO AP as well and pay for HHN every year. To me, HHN is an entirely separate event that happens to take place in the park. The Magic Kingdom Halloween and Christmas events are Magic Kingdom with a different parade and fireworks. And my HHN pass that I can use for six weeks costs less than one night at one of the Disney special events.

Not saying I don't get the appeal. It just amazes me how many people are willing to pay.

Jeff's avatar

I don't see the appeal, but then, I can see the fireworks from my house every night, and I'm just not a parade guy.

Jeff - Editor - - My Blog - Phrazy

I'm not a parade guy either, although I will admit that the Halloween parade at Magic Kingdom is one of the very few parades that is pretty cool to me. The Haunted Mansion gravediggers are pretty neat, as are the dancing ghosts. But not for $60-80 a ticket when my Cast ID and then Annual Pass used to get me as much Magic Kingdom as I wanted for a year and I can pull up the Haunted Mansion float on YouTube if I ever really want to check it out.

Last edited by BrettV,

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