Over the past week, Cedar Fair announced its 2020 capital expansion plans for all of its theme parks. Typically known for big steel rides, it appears that the company is heading in a different direction next year by investing in nostalgia.

By Lance HartScreamscape

Based on the recent announcements, it seems clear that 2020 will be a very different year for the company. Recently, Cedar Fair has installed two or three new roller coasters each year. It also typically includes an assortment of flat rides to appeal to various ages, as well as the occasional waterslide addition.

However, for 2020 the company has announced only one new roller coaster for the entire chain, the Orion giga-coaster coming to Kings Island. There will be a small Planet Snoopy kiddie land coming to their smallest park, Michigan’s Adventure. Virtually every other park in the chain is adding some kind of new attraction to their waterparks, as well as a parade here or there.

The chain’s biggest parks are simply going to rely on nostalgia for 2020 with mega “Anniversary” celebrations.

Nostalgic Anniversary celebrations

Knott’s Berry Farm, the chain’s only year-round park, will be celebrating the park’s 100th Anniversary with “A Knott’s Family Reunion” summer-time celebration. It will see some special decor, entertainment, and displays of the park’s history. Likewise, there will also be special food, beverage and merchandise items for sale.

Cedar Point, the flagship park of the company will be celebrating a 150th Anniversary event. There will be new and throwback food items, nostalgic merchandise, displays about the park’s history, and a new nighttime celebration. While nothing else was confirmed at this time, there was a hint about a possible “river” expedition addition. This could be announced at a later time.

Cedar Fair expansion plans for 2020

The slate of announcements regarding Cedar Fair expansion plans for 2020 is very alien from what I’ve seen the company announce over the past 20 years. It does make me ask questions and wonder why. There is one major item worth noting that was not addressed at all during the past week’s press release frenzy. And this was the acquisition of the Schlitterbahn waterparks.

This includes both waterparks in Texas (New Braunfels and Galveston). It also includes the open offer window they have to also acquire a third Schlitterbahn waterpark in Kansas City.

At this point, we don’t know if Cedar Fair will make any additions or changes to the new Schlitterbahn waterparks. They will run as normal for the 2019 season due to the timing of the purchase. However, Cedar Fair is expected to begin putting its own corporate touches on the parks next season.

Expansions and additions for Cedar Fair’s waterparks

Again, this only adds to the trend that the company seems to be going all-in on its waterpark properties for 2020:

  • California’s Great America is rebranding its waterpark with a large expansion, South Bay Shores, which will also include a number of new waterpark attractions.
  • Canada’s Wonderland is adding the Mountain Bay Cliff diving pool along with a small kiddie ride.
  • CAROWINDS boogie board racerCarowinds is adding Boogie Board Racer, the largest mat racer slide in the Southeast, custom-designed by WhiteWater West.
  • Dorney Park is adding Seaside Splashworks, a new water fortress style play attraction.
  • Kings Dominion is adding Coconut Shores. It is a new kid-friendly area with a small wave pool and a new water fortress.
  • Worlds of Fun is adding Riptide Raceway, also designed by WhiteWater, the largest mat racer slide in the Midwest.

Cedar Fair expansion plans – a change in strategy for 2020?

The chain’s 2020 quarterly reports should be interesting to read. The heavy reliance on waterpark additions and summertime celebrations is likely to only benefit the company’s attendance and sales during the peak summer months. By comparison, the financial effects of more costly new steel ride additions tend to last all season long, assuming they are ready to open at the start of the season.

So I do have to wonder. Is this simply an example of Cedar Fair being more cautious for 2020 as it focuses on the absorption of the new Schlitterbahn waterparks? Or could the more family-friendly events like the Anniversary celebrations and Grand Carnivale parades be an attempt to lure in the ageing Baby Boomer population?

This older generation would have visited theme parks in their youth, but may now be opting out of riding the new thrill rides in favour of spending more bonding time with their now-adult children and grandchildren.