Posts tagged Millennium Force

New Cedar Fair CEO has fresh outlook on fun

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From the Toledo Blade

SANDUSKY — Walking along Cedar Point amusement park’s Midway and arriving at a spot where a new light-lasers-and-fireworks show will entertain guests this June, Matt Ouimet, Cedar Fair LP’s ebullient new chief executive officer, can no longer contain himself.

“Isn’t that a great view?” he says, gazing across a plaza where a large video screen has been removed to reveal the towering Millennium Force roller coaster bathed in the sunlight of a cloudless blue sky.

“We really should be open today. What a great day,” said Mr. Ouimet, not bothering to conceal his pride in Cedar Point, which this day is devoid of people other than a handful of workers painting, repairing, and primping the grand old amusement park for its May 12 opening.

The excitement in Mr. Ouimet’s voice is audible, the bounce in his step visible, and the twinkle in the eye of the former Disney Co. executive perceptible.

Although he spent 17 years as a trusted Disney lieutenant running its historic Disneyland theme park and popular cruise line, it is clear that in Sandusky, the 54-year-old Mr. Ouimet knows he finally is captain of his own ship: Cedar Fair, the nation’s third-largest amusement park chain with 11 parks, including the flagship Cedar Point, plus six water parks and five hotels.

Mr. Ouimet, who also spent short stints running Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide and Corinthian Colleges, was chosen last June to be president of Cedar Fair and heir-apparent to longtime company executive Dick Kinzel. When Mr. Kinzel retired on Jan. 1 after 25 years with Cedar Fair, Mr. Ouimet gained the CEO title and the keys to the candy store, so to speak.

The new CEO’s acumen as an amusement park executive is well documented — he developed and implemented a comprehensive strategic plan leading to a significantly improved and sustained performance for Disneyland’s 50th anniversary in 2005. And the Cedar Fair board clearly found in Mr. Ouimet a kindred replacement for Mr. Kinzel, whose fondness for walking the midway and riding the roller coasters revealed him to be both a top executive and a big kid at heart.

Mr. Ouimet acknowledged that if a staff meeting were to drag on too long, he isn’t above calling a halt and taking the participants into the park to ride a coaster, something he did one day last summer.

Above all, the new CEO said that he’s honored to be Cedar Fair’s new custodian and plans to take the company’s parks in directions they may not have gone before to enhance their value not just for customers, but also investors.

“A person once told me that there’s a difference between revering history and respecting history. Respecting history reminds you to look at what’s really important and learn from it,” Mr. Ouimet said. “Revering it means you never change anything, and if you don’t make change … we won’t be here in 20 or 30 years.

“And so I think that’s the delicate balance. When you’ve got such a loyal audience, you know you’re always going to have somebody disappointed that the ride they rode as a 5-year-old is no longer here,” Mr. Ouimet said. “But I hope they’re equally excited or more excited about what replaced it. I think that’s one of the hardest parts of my job is to try to figure out where change is good and where legacy is good.”

Though a confirmed Disney disciple — he still slips up and calls employees “cast members” about half the time — Mr. Ouimet said he has no plans to Disney-fy Cedar Fair.

The Millennium Force gets some new paint. A string of unseasonably warm days has helped maintenance workers get a jump-start on sprucing up the park before it opens on May 12. THE BLADE/AMY E. VOIGT

Instead, he said, he plans to use lessons he learned from the premier theme-park firm wherever applicable at the Sandusky-based chain.

“It’s funny, but when I was considering this job I went back to the history here — there’s some wonderful books on it — and what you realize is there’s a lot of parallels,” Mr. Ouimet said. “I think the other thing that’s common here is the value system of the people who visit us and the people who work here,” he said.

“Disney was really founded on Midwestern values, and I think that, clearly in the Cedar Fair portfolio, that’s part of the DNA both for our guests and for our employees. That’s maybe why I feel as comfortable as I do here,” he said.

Last week Mr. Ouimet was having a hard time staying at his desk, the warm weather and sprucing up of Cedar Point beckoning him into the park like a siren’s song.

“So the good news is the weather was, I’m told, unseasonably warm. Clearly we’ve been able to get ahead of our maintenance and cosmetics and annual maintenance scheduled,” he said. “So the Millennium Force is almost fully painted, the Blue Streak is almost done, the Giant Wheel is almost done.”

However, special lighting for the park’s new nighttime show, “Luminosity: Ignite the Night,” is proving more complex than he imagined.

“That will be a little bit of crunch time, but that show doesn’t launch until the beginning of June, so I’ve got a little bit more time to work at night. But obviously when I open the park in May I don’t want the consumer to see a lot of construction,” Mr. Ouimet said.

At Disneyland, Mr. Ouimet and other Disney execs always were aware of Cedar Fair and its southern California venue, Knott’s Berry Farm. Disney never viewed Knott’s as a true competitor, Mr. Ouimet said, but it was always jealous of the Sandusky company’s ability to turn high profits.

“I studied Cedar Fair on and off for 20 years. They were known — and I give Dick Kinzel the credit for this — as great operators. … We studied them and marveled at the quality of the product they could deliver and still deliver the margins they delivered, because that was, candidly, where my focus was,” Mr. Ouimet said. “How could they do this and still deliver the returns they did to their investors?”

Mr. Ouimet admits he “never fully cracked the code.”

Now in control of Knott’s, Mr. Ouimet admits it would be nice if Disney executives looked his way and wonder how he does it. “I hope my former colleagues feel a little pressure. I know that they’re paying a little more attention,” he said.

If Disney officials are paying attention they might recognize a similar philosophy, a “kind of emotional sentiment” that Mr. Ouimet plans to emphasize at Cedar Fair.

“We are successful here if I can get you to come with your family and friends and laugh and smile. I’ve created value for you and value for my shareholders,” Mr. Ouimet said. “And whether it be Cedar Point, Knott’s, Kings Island, or Kings Dominion, that’s really our mission.”

Mr. Ouimet is convinced laughs and smiles go best with friends and family. And while Cedar Fair parks have been good at providing thrills, a friend and family connection may have been somewhat overlooked.

In response, it will launch a new marketing campaign, “Thrills Connect,” to show people that they can go to a Cedar Fair park, never get on a coaster, but still have a great day with family.

“We want to remind people that time with family, time with friends is precious. This is the place to spend it,” Mr. Ouimet said.

Over time, Mr. Ouimet said he plans to build more rides that families, from a young child to a grandmother, can enjoy together.

“I think that we’re known for thrill rides. I think we will always be known for thrill rides. But there clearly is an opportunity to expand the offering for children,” Mr. Ouimet said. “So you’ll see us over time try to make sure we’re adding enough for the young families. Because if I can get you to come at that age …you start your relationship with us earlier, you stay with us longer. I’m absolutely convinced of it.”

Several Cedar Fair’s parks have room to add family rides, but Cedar Point, built on a peninsula, has always been land-challenged. But Mr. Ouimet said the problem isn’t huge. There are underutilized areas, and employee dormitories on the grounds could be relocated off the peninsula, he said.

Mr. Ouimet said the most under-used attraction at Cedar Point is its beach — which was the focus of the park when it was founded in 1906.

“You can come here and not even know we have a beach. So one of the things we’re going to encourage people to do is make more use of the beach, because it’s nice,” said Mr. Ouimet, adding that he plans to add cabanas, tents, chairs, and other recreational services this summer to lure more visitors to the Cedar Point beach.

Mr. Ouimet could have started his tenure as CEO slowly, but he seemed determined to hit the ground running when his hiring was announced last June. The company, which had record revenues of $1.028 billion, profits of $72.2 million, and a record attendance of 23.4 million in 2011, had already announced last year a new $1 million attraction, Dinosaurs Alive!, for 2012 at its flagship Cedar Point park. The attraction, which made its debut last year at Kings Island near Cincinnati, is being duplicated at three other parks.

But Mr. Ouimet wanted customers to have more.

He ordered the creation of Luminosity, a mix of lights, lasers, fireworks, music, and dancing that reportedly will cost $6 million and, he hopes, entice people to stay longer in the park. If the show performs as expected, it will be duplicated next year at other parks.

He also asked for and got two new Peanuts characters — Woodstock and Franklin — to delight children at the park’s Camp Snoopy area, and he will have a Snoopy show to fill the Luminosity stage in the daytime.

The former Disney executive also turned his focus on three other items he hopes will make a difference: food, marketing, and ecommerce.

Cedar Point used to be known for its delicious french fries, but the recipe was labor-intensive. So several years ago it abandoned its popular recipe in favor of quicker service.

“[Operations vice president] Phil Bender, who runs about half of our parks for us, is now bringing back the original recipe at all the parks. …It will take us longer, but they should taste really, really good,” Mr. Ouimet said.

“The food in the parks, to some degree, has been an afterthought. So this year we’re going to have in our major burger places all fresh burgers, never frozen,” he said. “So with those, the french fries, and we’ve got some other little surprises that we’re going to do for the food, we’re trying to make that part of it a little better.”

Marketing, in Mr. Ouimet’s view, wasn’t a Cedar Fair strength. So he created a chief marketing officer position and filled it with Kelly Semmelroth, a former Disney colleague.

“I needed someone like Kelly, who can take what I would call modern marketing techniques. She is very much into CRM — customer relationship marketing — which is, ‘How much do I understand my consumers?’ ‘How do I capture their information?’ ‘How do I communicate with them in the digital era?’ ”

If the individual parks gathered that information it would have produced 11 databases, Mr. Ouimet said. But Ms. Semmelroth can centralize data to find economies of scale, yet still allow each park the independence to do what is needed for their markets, he added.

An area where Mr. Ouimet already has made progress is ecommerce. Previously, each park had its own Web site and methods of ticket sales. But late last year the new CEO standardized the Web sites so they can offer discounts on tickets and other premium services.

“From a system technology standpoint, the rides were as technologically advanced as anything you’ll see in the industry. From a back of the house standpoint, we were probably behind the curve,” Mr. Ouimet said of Cedar Fair’s previous technological efforts.

The growth of smart phones and other devices has necessitated new ways to reach customers, he said.

“The way I see it today is, before you grab your car keys to go on a road trip to Cedar Point, you grab your keyboard to see what you’re going to do and what tickets you’re going to buy,” he said. “So clearly, today when somebody sees our commercial on television, I guarantee you the vast majority are going to the Web site, and I needed that Web site to be able to be of value to the consumer.”

In return, Cedar Fair can communicate with its guests in ways it couldn’t before, the CEO added.

“I can now talk to every kid instantly, and I think that’s how you balance out the technology side. I guarantee you we’ll come up with things we haven’t even thought of yet using technology for people to enjoy the parks better, to stay in touch with each other.”

Cedar Point Golden Ticket 2011

Cedar Point named Best Amusement Park in the World

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Cedar Point Golden Ticket 2011

Cedar Point Press Release

SANDUSKY, Ohio – For the 14th consecutive year, Cedar Point amusement park/resort in Sandusky, Ohio, was named as the “Best Amusement Park in the World” in the prestigious Golden Ticket Awards presented annually by Amusement Today newspaper.

Cedar Point also received another very special award as Dick Kinzel, CEO of Cedar Fair Entertainment Company that owns operates Cedar Point and 10 other amusement parks, was selected to become a member of the Legends Series as the 2011 Publisher’s Pick that recognizes the top examples of dedication, leadership and achievement in the amusement industry.

These announcements were made late Saturday afternoon, Sept. 17, during a special ceremony held at Holiday World amusement park in Santa Claus, Ind.

The Golden Ticket Awards are given to the highest-rated parks in approximately two dozen categories as determined by a panel of experienced amusement park fans from around the world. Headquartered in Arlington, Texas, Amusement Today is an international publication that covers amusement and waterpark news and trends.

“Dick Kinzel has been instrumental in the growth and success of the Cedar Fair family of parks,” said Gary Slade, publisher and editor-in-chief of Amusement Today. “Because of his leadership, Cedar Fair maintained stability during a very tumultuous period for the amusement park industry. He started, he continued and he won the Coaster Wars. His vision for family entertainment has made him a legend in the industry.”

In addition to winning the highly coveted award for the world’s best amusement park, Cedar Point’s Millennium Force roller coaster was also named as the “Best Steel Roller Coaster” for the second consecutive year and the sixth time since its introduction in 2000.

“This is a very special day for us,” said John Hildebrandt, vice president and general manager of Cedar Point. “Not only is our park and our roller coaster named as the best in the world, but Dick Kinzel, who has been a mentor and trusted friend to many of us in the industry, has been recognized for his many achievements. It is a very proud moment.”

Millennium Force had lots of company in the “Best Steel Roller Coaster” category, with two other Cedar Point coasters rated in the Top Ten and another pair ranked in the Top 25. The Top Thrill Dragster (9th) that stands 42-stories tall and perennial favorite Magnum Xl-200 (10th) were the park’s two other Top Ten finalists while the Raptor inverted roller coaster was ranked 18th and the twisting Maverick captured the 21st spot.

Located on the shores of Lake Erie, Cedar Point is one of the most popular family vacation destinations in the country. With 75 rides, including 17 roller coasters, the park has more rides than any park in the world. Built in 1870, Cedar Point is the second oldest amusement park in North America.

Cedar Point is now open for HalloWeekends 15, a family fall festival of fun and frights, Friday nights, Saturdays and Sundays, Sept. 16-18 through Oct. 28-30.

For more information, please visit the park’s website at cedarpoint.com or call Cedar Point’s General Information Line at 419.627.2350.

New Cedar Fair CEO Seen Ridding Millennium Force on July 31st

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Cedar Point - Matt Ouimet and John Hildebrandt on Millennium Force

I was in the park on Sunday, July 31st, when John Hildebrandt and Matt Ouimet came onto Millennium Force for a ride during early entry.

Millennium Force Repainting 2011 (Coaster-net.com)

New Paint on Millennium Force

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Millennium Force Repainting 2011 (Coaster-net.com)
Picture Copyright Carsten Anderson of COASTER-net.com, used with permission.

After 11 years, Millennium Force is finally being repainted.  It currently looks like the lift and queue line area of track has been painted so far.  Hopefully the whole ride will be sporting a new coat of paint by Opening Day. I would like thank Carsten Anderson of COASTER-net.com who allowed us to use his pictures.

Millennium Force Repainting 2011 (Coaster-net.com)
Picture Copyright Carsten Anderson of COASTER-net.com, used with permission.

Cedar Fair Wins Top Honors

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Cedar Fair Press Release

SANDUSKY, Ohio – Families looking for world-class fun and thrills will want to find their closest Cedar Fair Entertainment Company amusement or water park as the company earned several top honors at Amusement Today’s 2010 Golden Ticket Awards celebration, including the coveted “Best Amusement Park in the World” honor for its flagship Cedar Point amusement park/resort in Ohio. This marks the 13th consecutive year that Cedar Point has earned that title.

Cedar Fair also took home top honors for having the “Best Kids’ Area” for the 10th year in a row at Kings Island amusement park, in Mason, Ohio, and the “Best Steel Roller Coaster in the World” for its record-shattering Millennium Force roller coaster at Cedar Point.

“We are honored to receive these prestigious awards,” stated Dick Kinzel, Cedar Fair’s chairman, president and chief executive officer. “We strive to provide our guests with the absolute best in thrills, chills and family fun and these awards are a testament to that.”

Two new roller coasters made their highly-anticipated debuts this summer – Intimidator at Carowinds in Charlotte, N.C., and Intimidator 305 at Kings Dominion in Virginia and both were a huge hit with coaster lovers. Intimidator 305 at Kings Dominion earned the No. 2 spot in the “Best New Ride for 2010” category, while Intimidator at Carowinds came in at No. 4. Both scream machines also earned a spot in the “Top 50 Steel Roller Coasters in the World” list, along with numerous other Cedar Fair roller coasters. In fact, Cedar Fair placed nine coasters in the Top 25 alone, including four of the Top 10! Three Cedar Fair wooden coasters earned spots in the “Top 50 Wooden Roller Coasters in the World” category, with the legendary Beast at Kings Island finishing in the Top 10.

Guests looking for even more thrills and chills will enjoy special Halloween-themed events at a majority of Cedar Fair’s parks this fall. Two of these events, Knott’s Scary Farm and Kings Island’s Halloween Haunt, earned Top 5 billing in the “Best Halloween Event” category.

Other awards included Gilroy Gardens placing No. 3 for “Best Landscaping” and Knott’s Berry Farm placing fourth in the “Best Kids’ Area” category.

The Golden Ticket Awards are some of the most prestigious awards in the amusement industry. They are presented annually to the “best of the best” in the industry and are calculated from an international poll conducted by Amusement Today, an Arlington, Texas-based publication that covers amusement and water park news and trends.

Cedar Fair Entertainment Company

Cedar Fair Entertainment Company (NYSE: “FUN”) is a publicly traded partnership headquartered in Sandusky, Ohio. The Company, which owns and operates 11 amusement parks, six outdoor water parks, one indoor water park and five hotels, is one of the largest regional amusement park operators in the world. Its parks are located in Ohio, California, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Missouri, Michigan, and Toronto, Ontario. Cedar Fair also operates the Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park in California under a management contract. Cedar Fair’s flagship park, Cedar Point, has been consistently voted the “Best Amusement Park in the World” in a prestigious annual poll conducted by Amusement Today newspaper.

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