Cue the Confetti
2021 is a banner year for amusement parks celebrating milestone anniversaries, including the two oldest parks in North America. Preparing to honor a landmark moment in a park’s history isn’t something that happens overnight; parks had been planning festivities long before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in early 2020.
It came time to pivot as global closures, reservation requirements, and other restrictive limitations changed parks’ focus from driving huge crowds through their gates to making special connections. Funworld looks at how parks marked their anniversaries and kept fun and safety in the spotlight.
NORTH AMERICA’S OLDEST PARK RENEWS ITSELF
175th Anniversary – Lake Compounce, Bristol, Connecticut, United States
Lake Compounce’s colorful origin begins on Oct. 5, 1846, when a local scientist in Bristol, Connecticut, named Samuel Botsford, attempted to blow up the lake … but failed. In the aftermath, a local property owner installed picnic tables and rowboats in a grove between the lake and the neighbor-ing mountain, and thus, the park was born.
Holding the distinction as North America’s oldest continuously operating amusement park, Lake Compounce didn’t just celebrate its 175th birthday by offering anniversary-themed merchandise and unique food and beverage items. Rather, Lake Compounce rejuvenated the park with fresh colors, new landscaping, additional seating, and a new water slide from WhiteWater at the Crocodile Cove water park, named “Venus Vortex.” The bounty of improvements helped drive guests through the gate—a gate than now features a colorful rearing horse as the main centerpiece.
“It’s part of the anniversary renovations, but it will remain at our front gate,” says Amy Thomas, the park’s director of marketing, adding “‘Venus Vortex’ has been a huge hit.”
150th Anniversary – Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio, United States
North America’s second oldest amusement park, Cedar Point, had its 150th birthday in 2020. However, the COVID-19 pandemic allowed the park to turn the event into a two-year celebration. In July 2020, when the park reopened, 150 Years décor, the new Legacy Walk plaza made of engraved brick pavers, and limited specialty merchandise greeted guests, with most shows and special events postponed until 2021.
“We still wanted to celebrate with our guests in true Cedar Point fashion,” says Tony Clark, the park’s director of communications. “Internally, 2021 has literally been ‘150th Anniversary: The Do-Over!’”
Cedar Point introduced an abundance of new attractions to draw guests in 2021, with three standing out.
First, the action-filled riverboat adventure “Snake River Expedition” opened to positive reviews. Unlike the retired “Paddlewheel Excursions” and “Western Cruise” rides that navigated the park’s central lagoons in the past, the new ride featured actors on board each boat to interact with guests during a gold smuggling venture. Next, the nighttime parade, “Celebrate 150 Spectacular,” presented more than 100 performers and illuminated floats that strolled down the park’s main mid-way each night and concluded in a large stage show.
Finally, the Legacy Walk in 2021 again allowed guests to purchase brick pavers for $75 to $100 and have their own name and a special message engraved on it.
Cedar Point also introduced a plethora of anniversary-themed merchandise, including wearables, home decor featuring the park’s skyline and logos, a special edition of the Cedar Point-opoly board game, and a keepsake book that proved so popular, a second printing was needed.
FEEL SO ALIVE
125th Anniversary – Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Blackpool, England, United Kingdom
Following 125 years of producing memories as a seaside attraction along England’s Irish Sea, Blackpool Pleasure Beach has a history of evolving with the times.
“We started to plan our 125th anniversary celebrations a number of years ago, but when COVID-19 hit, these plans had to be reviewed and changed due to the uncertainty around the park being open and what kind of visitor numbers we would be able to accommodate,” says Stephen Bur-ton, public relations executive at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. “As a result, focus was put onto the event being a yearlong celebration rather than a series of one-off events.”
The extensive planning led to several unique products. First, a team at the park partnered with Visit Blackpool (the tourism arm of Blackpool Council) to create a special eight-page anniversary supplement, complete with old photos, chronicling the colorful history of the park. The supplement is available for purchase or can be viewed for free on the park’s website.
Next, Blackpool Pleasure Beach began selling brick pavers for £45 to £70, giving guests the ability to engrave their name or share a special message. Each paver will be placed in an anniversary wall for years to come.
Finally, a special piece of music was commissioned to celebrate the anniversary. Called “Feel So Alive,” the musical score contains soundbites from the park’s ownership family, including Managing Director Amanda Thompson OBE, her father Geoffrey Thompson, and grandmother Lilian Doris Thompson. Besides serving as background music around the park, the score is used in advertising and was even released on iTunes, where it reached the top 100 in the United Kingdom.
A TIME CAPSULE OF PERSONAL CONNECTIONS
100th Anniversary – Knott’s Berry Farm, Buena Park, California, United States
Knott’s began planning its 100th anniversary celebration two years ago, and the park makes it clear the party is designed as more profound and meaningful than trying to increase in-park spending.
“Our team focused on highlighting the importance of family, memories, and our park’s significant history for the last 100 years,” says Diana Bahena, the park’s senior public relations representative. “The biggest surprise has been personally learning from our guests, friends, and colleagues all the stories and memories they’ve created throughout the years with their families. It’s incredible how many families in Southern California personally have or previously had ties with Knott’s Berry Farm.”
In a creative twist, Knott’s held a time capsule ceremony on June 30, 2021, to commemorate its past 100 years and to look to the future. A time capsule filled with notable items of the present time was placed at the entrance of the “Knott’s Bear-y Tales: Return to the Fair” ride, to be opened in 50 years. The new dark ride by Triotech—rooted in the story of a retired ride—became a highlight of the anniversary. A panoramic photo of everyone in attendance at the ceremony in front of the ride was also placed in the capsule, and attendees could purchase a copy of the photo, effectively providing them with a piece of the time capsule.
A MAGICAL CELEBRATION
50th Anniversary – Walt Disney World Resort, Orlando, Florida, United States
The massive Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando officially opened to guests on Oct. 1, 1971, and remains the largest theme park resort on Earth as it commemorates its 50th anniversary with a gala celebration lasting 18 months. When the resort originally opened, it included the Magic Kingdom Park, Disney’s Contemporary Resort, Disney’s Polynesian Resort, and Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground. But the 50th anniversary celebration will extend into Walt Disney World’s three additional parks: Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
The past five decades, Walt Disney World has continued growing its collection of attractions, and on Oct. 1, 2021, the resort bolsters this lineup with “Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure” at Epcot, a dark ride based on the Disney and Pixar film “Ratatouille.” Debuting the same day is “Disney Enchantment,” an extravagant nighttime spectacle at Magic Kingdom Park, and “Harmonious,” a nightly show featuring pyrotechnics at Epcot.
Countless other anniversary tributes are in the works, including a special one announced in June 2021 by Walt Disney World President Jeff Vahle. “Here come the ‘Disney Fab 50!’” he wrote on Instagram. “50 characters sculpted in gold will appear at Walt Disney World later this year as part of The World’s Most Magical Celebration. Two of them—the statues of Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse—will be dedicated to our Cast Members past, present, and future.”
25th Anniversary – Enchanted Kingdom, Santa Rosa, Laguna, Philippines
The COVID-19 pandemic hit Enchanted Kingdom especially hard, as the park was only allowed to operate from October 2020 to March 2021. Enchanted Kingdom had originally planned to observe its 25th anniversary in 2020 but opted to extend the celebration into 2021, and at press time, the park held hope of reopening by October.
During the closure, Enchanted Kingdom remained optimistic for its anniversary year and stayed active on social media, posting video clips and inviting social influencers to make video blogs from the park. The park also streamed live on Facebook and YouTube to showcase what to expect upon reopening.
“Twin Spin,” a new spinning coaster from Mack Rides that was set to open in 2020 and delayed because of COVID-19 lockdowns, will be a high-light of the anniversary celebration.
“The ride has been commissioned and now stands ready to receive our eager guests once we are able to reopen,” says Mario Mamon, chairman and president of Enchanted Kingdom.
The park worked with Mack Rides to incorporate its own branding and icons into the fabric of the new attraction.
“It’s [named] ‘Twin Spin’ after the twin princesses in our Enchanted Kingdom story, Princess Victoria and Princess Madeline. The three-coach train is anchored by a purple coach representing Eldar the Wizard, our main character and mascot,” Mamon shares with Funworld.
- Contact Funworld News Editor Keith Miller at [email protected]