From the Sandusky Register…
As amusement park companies go, Cedar Fair is the industry’s juggernaut — it owns 11 amusement parks and six water parks throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Even in Sandusky, home of Cedar Point amusement park, news coverage in recent months has concentrated on Cedar Fair as it mulled an acquisition by New York private equity firm Apollo Global Management.
The deal fell through, leaving Cedar Fair to battle the recession and debt problems.
Which leaves everyone wondering: How is Cedar Point doing?
When Richard “Dick” Kinzel, 69, president, CEO and chairman of Cedar Fair sat down for a “Second Sunday” interview after months of requests, the Register concentrated questions on the local amusement park — Cedar Point, rated “the best amusement park in the world” for 12 years in a row by Amusement Today.
Q: How does Cedar Point fit in your mind in the Cedar Fair empire? Do you still see Cedar Point as the crown jewel, or realistically, is the attention shifting to those parks in the southern U.S., where you have a growing population?
A: No, Cedar Point is our crown jewel and always will be. This is our biggest entity. We have 1,400 hotel rooms. We have four hotels here. Two marinas. We have the largest amusement park in the world here — 17 roller coasters, over 70 rides.
Our top season was 1994. We did 3.6 million (annual visitors). Now we do about 3 million.
We can be a profitable company if we manage our expenses. If we can manage our expenses, and keep our hotels full and give the customer good value, this will always be our crown jewel.
No other park has what we have — Lake Erie, the beach, 1905, Knute Rockne, John Phillips Sousa, the history, the tradition. People have been coming here for years.
Our worst enemy that I worry about is ourselves. We have to keep the quality that people expect to be here.
Q: How disappointing is it to you that Shoot the Rapids opened late? Do you feel the availability of a new ride plays a lot in people’s decisions on coming out, or is it more of a minor blip?
A: It’s a major blip. It was a minor blip until we got to Memorial Day weekend. At that point, the weather’s a little chilly, and a flume ride didn’t have that much appeal. But certainly, once it got delayed and then it got delayed again, that was a major disappointment. As you know, we’ve had some problems with it, from electrical (since the ride launched June 26).
This is not new technology. We’ve had flumes at Cedar Point since 1964. The engineering was done wrong in Germany. We’re trying to correct it. And I got e-mail today from our manufacturer, Intamin, that the problem has been corrected. Hopefully it’s done now, and it’s going to be running correctly the rest of the summer.
Q: What problems have you had?
A: Some of the things we had to compromise with. We intended to have the height restriction at 42 inches. And we raised that to 46 inches. We intended to have more capacity. We had a 10-passenger boat. And because of the problems with the boat, we had to make that an eight-passenger boat. That cuts 20 percent of your capacity. And we’ve had electrical problems.
It certainly has not been because our maintenance department or our people have not worked 24-7 to get this thing in operation. Basically, it’s an engineering problem the manufacturer has had. They’ve assured us they’re going to get it worked out.
It’s very disappointing. You spend $11 million on something; you’re only open 140 days. It’s only been open nine days, and we’ve had a lot of down time.
Q: How has the rise in indoor water parks such as Kalahari and Great Wolf affected you? Is it an overall plus?
A: You know, I think it is. Certainly it hurt Castaway Bay. Because (Kalahari owner) Todd (Nelson) did a really good job with that. They’ve got everything you want in an indoor water park. We’re sort of more of a boutique facility. What we can offer is what they can’t offer — we have early entry into the park and coupons to get into the park and things like that.
They’ve certainly hurt us as far as our occupancy goes (at Castaway Bay). But on the other hand, if people come to stay in Kalahari, they’re certainly going to visit the best amusement park in the world. Along with going to the water park, they’ll still go to Cedar Point.
We welcome all competition in Sandusky. If we can get them into Sandusky, we feel pretty certain our entertainment package is such that they’ll come to Cedar Point.
Q: This is one of my few Cedar Fair questions: Where do you stand on the effort to refinance debt? Is that still on hold until the markets settle down?
A: It really is. Peter Crage and I, our chief financial officer, we hit the road three weeks ago. We were told by our bankers at that time, there was money. The bond markets had loosened up. The money was very reasonable. I’m not exaggerating. The minute we got in to start the road show, within 20 seconds, it was on a Thursday, they told us that the markets had crashed. At that (time), if you remember, Korea, and Israel, and the oil spill was hitting its peak. The markets just went berserk on us. What our advisers are telling us is just to wait, just be patient. We still have until 2012, so we still have time …. We can be patient and we will be patient, because every interest point is a lot of money.
Q: What is Cedar Point’s most successful ride ever? I don’t mean tallest or fastest or scariest — what’s the ride that was such a huge success that you guys said, “Boy, we’re sure glad we put that ride in.”
A: Probably the Magnum XL 200, in 1989, when we put the first 200-foot coaster in. The other one was in 1976, when we put the Corkscrew, the first coaster that did a helix and the 360.
The one that people really talk about is that first 200 foot. Nobody had really done that before …. The Magnum is the one that really made Cedar Point the coaster capital of the world.
When you go back to 1976 when we put the Corkscrew in, that changed the whole dynamics of the amusement park industry.
Q: How does Cedar Point decide what its next new ride is going to be?
A: We visit other parks. We see what’s new in the industry. We talk to other manufacturers. We try to get a feel for what people like, what they don’t like.
All the parks are different. Cedar Point, for example, we mix a family ride in for every other time or every third time. We go for a thrill ride probably two out of three rides. We put a thrill ride in, that really turns the turnstiles.
Q: So I guess the recession sort of slowed down that thrill-ride timetable. What can you tell us about next year’s thrill ride, and when is it likely to be announced?
A: Just backing up a little bit, the flume ride (Shoot the Rapids) was really due to be introduced last year, but the economy turned. Remember that in November of 2008 the banks crashed. We had a pretty good feeling it was going to be a bad year … so we put that off for a year.
It’s going to be a great ride. All thrill rides aren’t coasters. It’s going to be something that I think the teen market is really going to like.
We really plan on announcing that in the middle of August. That’s when we have our season passes for next year. Not especially Cedar Point, but in other parks, the season pass business is so big, we try to get a jump.
From the Sandusky Register…
The first splash came at 10:40 a.m.
The new Shoot the Rapids water ride finally began, after several weeks of delay while Cedar Point officials fixed the ride’s problems.
The first riders were 24 people who bid in a Red Cross charity auction for the privilege.
When that was completed — that first group actually got two rides apiece — it was opened up to the general public.
Cedar Point spokesman Robin Innes estimated that about 8,000 people would ride it on the first day.
Jeff Harper, 43, a Southfield, Mich., resident who bid $105 to be one of the first riders, said that although the ride is aimed at the entire family, its two hills make it substantial enough to please coaster fans.
“I think a lot of the coaster fans will really enjoy those drops,” Harper said. “Those are good drops.”
Harper can draw on plenty of experience when discussing Shoot the Rapids. He has been on 682 roller coasters in 191 amusement parks.
“Cedar Point is my favorite in all those parks,” he said.
“It was great. The first splashdown was the best. Really good stuff,” said Andy Rybarczyk, 28, of Chicago, who drove four and a half hours to get to Sandusky.
Rybarczyk had spent the whole winter watching the construction of Shoot the Rapids on a Cedar Point webcam and decided he’d be one of the first riders. He bid $125.
Cedar Point is marketing the ride as suitable for all ages. The youngest first rider Saturday was Abe Haprian, 8, of Wadsworth, Ohio. The oldest was his grandmother, Meredith Hickey, 70, Huron.
Cedar Point officials had not been completely sure the ride would launch on Saturday. It flunked a Thursday night state inspection, but inspectors from the Department of Agriculture returned Saturday morning to complete the licensing process.
Innes did not specify what the last-minute mechanical hitches were, but said Cedar Point and the state inspectors agreed to raise the height requirement for Shoot the Rapids. It had been 42 inches. That was raised to 46 inches for a person accompanied by an older adult, and 48 inches for a person riding by himself.
Shoot the Rapids originally had been supposed to open on May 15. That was delayed to May 29, and then was delayed further. Although other rides have launched behind schedule, the six-week delay for Shoot the Rapids was the longest ever logged for a Cedar Point ride, at least within recent memory, Innes said.
The Firelands Chapter of the American Red Cross has been having auctions for first riders since 1994, and has raised $150,500 with those auctions, said Judy Kinzel, who is active in the local chapter. Shoot the Rapids raised $7,000.
Not everyone could attend Saturday’s debut on short notice — the ride’s launch was announced Thursday — so a few of the people claiming the first 30 seats will come later.
Each rider who won a spot in the auction received the first two official rides on Shoot the Rapids and all-day admission to the park. They also got yellow Shoot the Rapids rain slickers, a Cedar Point mug, a Cedar Point beach towel, a Cedar Point T-shirt, a commemorative medallion and a certificate.
The highest bidder was Jeffrey Brashares of Columbus who bid a total of $2,400, or $800 apiece, to put himself and two family members on the ride. As the top bidder, Brashares got the first pick of available seats.
Cedar Point Press Release
SANDUSKY, Ohio — Cedar Point’s Shoot the Rapids water ride is now open!
The newest ride at the Sandusky, Ohio, amusement park/resort, Shoot the Rapids, opened for the season earlier today, Saturday, June 26.
“The first hill rocks,” said Jeff Braschares, from Delaware, Ohio, who rode the new water ride with his wife and 9-year-old daughter. “You get super wet at the bottom of the first hill!”
Located on the Frontier Trail, Shoot the Rapids is Cedar Point’s third water ride. The new family thrill ride features two hills and two splash landings. The first hill is 85 feet-tall, one of the tallest water ride hills in the world, while the second hill crests 49 feet above the ground. At the bottom of the first hill, boats are traveling nearly 50 mph! To ride Shoot the Rapids, guests must be at least 48 inches tall or 46 inches tall and accompanied by a responsible adult.
Shoot the Rapids uses more than 730,000 gallons of water. The 2,100-foot journey carries riders through a dark mist-filled tunnel and in between canyon walls with spraying water before sending the boats skimming across churning rapids at the bottom of the ride’s second hill.
Non-riders can also join in the fun. Eight water geysers are located along the ride’s meandering course. For only 25 cents, guests who want to stay dry can launch bursts of water at unsuspecting riders from an observation deck located near the bottom the ride’s grand finale!
Eight-year-old Abe Haprian of Wadsworth, Ohio, described the park’s newest ride in one word: “Awesome!” The first hill was cool and the geysers are really neat. Everybody gets wet!”
With the opening of Shoot the Rapids, Cedar Point now has 75 rides, including 17 roller coasters, more rides and more coasters than any park in the world.
In addition to Shoot the Rapids, the park has introduced five new shows to its entertainment package. This summer’s new shows range from country classics and a real-life version of MTV’s Rock Band video game to a high-energy ice skating show featuring Snoopy and the PEANUTS characters.
For more information, visit cedarpoint.com or call the park’s General Information Line at 419.627.2350.
From the Sandusky Register…
It’s finally here!
UPDATE: 10:40 a.m.
Inspectors and Cedar Point officials smoothed out last-minute snags and 24 Red Cross highest bidders took the inaugural ride today.
The ride is expected to be open through the weekend, barring any other problems.
Cedar Point official expect 8,000 people will ride the new offering on Saturday alone.
From the Sandusky Register…
The wait for the inaugural splash has ended. Well, maybe.
UPDATED 7:15 p.m. Friday:
Cedar Point is battling last-minute snags as it works to try to get its new Shoot the Rapids water ride opened on the weekend.
“We have experienced some last-minute delays that may prevent the ride from opening,” said park spokesman Robin Innes, emphasizing the word “may.”
He said the park is working with the manufacturer to work through the problems, which he declined to describe.
On Thursday, leaders at Cedar Point said they plan to launch the new Shoot the Rapids water ride on Saturday…