Friday, December 15, 2017
News Roundup

Busch Gardens' Falcon's Fury misses opening in time for summer crowds

TAMPA — Busch Gardens is getting ready to open what was intended to be its top summer attraction — just as kids head back to school.

Park officials said Wednesday the long-awaited Falcon's Fury is opening soon but didn't have a specific date because operators are still doing ride training.

It must be close, though, because park president Jim Dean rode it this week and lived to talk about it.

"I can confirm that we're literally taking thrills to new heights,'' he said. "You won't be disappointed!"

The 335-foot drop tower ride was scheduled to open in early May but has been delayed because of construction issues and additional testing. Opening it in late summer means Busch Gardens missed the busy season, when families have vacation and more time to visit theme parks. Locally, most kids return to school Monday or Tuesday.

Although park officials said they wished the ride would have been open all summer, they weren't willing to compromise safety. Any attendance boost from Falcon's Fury will just come later.

"We have seen phenomenal crowds this summer through other offerings at the park, like Summer Nights,'' said Busch Gardens spokesman Travis Claytor. On July 19, Texas a cappella group Pentatonix drew what appeared to be a record crowd at the park's Gwazi Field venue.

Busch Gardens needed a strong summer, especially given the fresh competition from Disney's new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at the Magic Kingdom and Universal's latest addition to its Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Busch Gardens' attendance was down 6 percent last year to 4.1 million, its largest annual decline since the recession in 2009. It was also the steepest decrease of any of the top 20 amusement parks in North America, according to the Themed Entertainment Association's annual report, considered the best independent tracker of theme park attendance.

By contrast, attendance at the top park, Disney's Magic Kingdom in Orlando, was up 6 percent to 18.6 million.

The delay of Falcon's Fury comes at an especially bad time for Busch Gardens' parent company, SeaWorld Entertainment. The company's stock plummeted 33 percent Wednesday — its lowest since SeaWorld went public in April 2013 — based on lower-than-expected earnings and attendance for the three months ending June 30.

Combined, sales at SeaWorld's parks fell 1.5 percent to $405.2 million, and SeaWorld expects revenue to drop as much 7 percent in 2014. Quarterly attendance rose 0.3 percent to 6.6 million visitors but was down 4.3 percent for the first half of the year.

Some of the decline stems from negative publicity generated by Blackfish, a 2013 documentary about the dangers of keeping killer whales in captivity.

"The company believes attendance in the quarter was affected by demand pressures related to recent media attention surrounding proposed legislation in the state of California,'' Orlando-based SeaWorld said in a statement.

The legislation, which was tabled in April, would have banned orca (or killer) whales from performing at SeaWorld San Diego.

For Tampa's Busch Gardens, attendance was probably more influenced by not having a big new attraction than by Blackfish, said Paul Ruben, North American editor of Park World, a trade magazine for the amusement park industry. A new ride like Falcon's Fury can lift attendance by 3 to 8 percent.

"You have to give people a new reason to come back every year,'' Ruben said, noting that Busch Gardens' last major new thrill ride, Cheetah Hunt, opened in 2011. "This year, it was supposed to be the drop tower and it's late.''

Not having Falcon's Fury open early in the summer was unfortunate but not the end of the world, he said. Adrenaline junkies will seek it whenever it opens.

"It's less bad for them than it would be for a seasonal park that's only open during the summer,'' he said. "The fact that they are a year-round operation eases the pain.''

Described as the tallest free-standing drop tower ride in North America, Falcon's Fury is the first of its kind to tilt riders forward at the top, plunging them down face-first at 60 miles per hour.

Park officials have blamed the delay on a variety of issues related to building something new of this scale and scope. One reason is cables that didn't meet design specifications and had to be rebuilt and shipped from overseas.

Even if some visitors postponed a trip to Busch Gardens, they probably didn't substitute it for Disney or Universal, resort-style parks with broader draw. Disney's new Fantasyland train ride is geared toward families with children too young to stomach Falcon's Fury. Universal's new Potter area attracts Harry fans, not thrill seekers.

Contact Susan Thurston at [email protected] or (813) 225-3110. Follow @susan_thurston.

Comments

Pinellas jury: Clearwater man representing himself is guilty of killing his mother

LARGO — A jury found Daniel Richards guilty of second-degree murder on Friday for the fatal beating of his 83-year-old mother.Richards, a 61-year-old who represented himself during his trial, was sentenced to life in prison.On the night of July 17, 2...
Updated: 9 minutes ago

FHP: Overturned vehicle reported on northbound Howard Frankland

ST. PETERSBURG — Drivers should avoid the northbound Howard Frankland Bridge for a while: The Florida Highway Patrol is responding to a report of an overturned vehicle there.The incident was reported on northbound Interstate 275, near mile marker 32,...
Updated: 25 minutes ago
Tampa Bay Times’ all-Tampa Bay girls swim teams

Tampa Bay Times’ all-Tampa Bay girls swim teams

Hillsborough County Swimmer of the Year: Morgan Tankersley, Sr., PlantTankersley defended her state title in the 500 free (4:44.75) and placed second in one of the country’s fastest 200 free races in 1:46.75, 2.07 seconds behind Buchholz junior Isa...
Updated: 1 hour ago

No charges against motorist as bicyclist is hit from behind, killed in Seminole Heights

TAMPA — A 52-year-old man riding a bicycle was killed early Friday when he was struck from behind by a car in Seminole Heights, Tampa police said.Wayne Kersh, 52, was killed in the collision about 12:15 a.m. on Hillsborough Avenue near N Central Aven...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Tampa Bay Times’ all-Tampa Bay boys swim teams

Tampa Bay Times’ all-Tampa Bay boys swim teams

Hillsborough County Swimmer of the Year: Brendan Driscoll, Jr., JesuitDriscoll was the only boys swimmer from Hillsborough County to win an individual state title this year and he did it with emphasis, taking gold in the 500 free in 4:29.50, almost...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Ranking America’s top 10 chain restaurants. How does your favorite stack up

Ranking America’s top 10 chain restaurants. How does your favorite stack up

People love to pick on chain restaurants. Like used car salesmen, the mass feeders are easy targets. Their uniformity and ubiquity seem to go against a culture increasingly bent on personal customization. Indeed, it has been a rough past few years f...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Taxpayer subsidies of Tampa golf courses are on the rise as struggles continue

Taxpayer subsidies of Tampa golf courses are on the rise as struggles continue

TAMPA — For the half of the year that Harry Nichols lives in Oldsmar, he plays 18 holes several times a month at Rocky Point Golf Course. On a good day, Nichols said he shoots close to par on the Dana Shores course. And if he’s really lucky, it’ll on...
Updated: 2 hours ago
When you think you’ve got Brayden Point figured out, a surprise awaits

When you think you’ve got Brayden Point figured out, a surprise awaits

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Center Brayden Point is the Lightning’s calmest player, both on the ice and off, according to Victor Hedman.Point’s soft-spoken nature belies his baby face and 5-foot-10 frame. "I’ve never seen him angry before," Hedman said.That ma...
Updated: 2 hours ago
How to optimize your college football bowl-watching experience

How to optimize your college football bowl-watching experience

Game-day guide to watching bowl games over the next few weeks: Five locals to watch Toledo WR Diontae Johnson (Lennard High): Only two players in the country average more yards per touch than Johnson (19.1), who could light up Appalachian State in ...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Top 5 at Noon: Struggle, taxpayer subsidies continue at Tampa golf courses; Why the Bucs need a Dungy, not a Gruden; Submit your Festivus grievance

Top 5 at Noon: Struggle, taxpayer subsidies continue at Tampa golf courses; Why the Bucs need a Dungy, not a Gruden; Submit your Festivus grievance

Here are the top stories on Tampabay.com today. THE STRUGGLE, AND TAXPAYER SUBSIDIES, CONTINUE FOR TAMPA GOLF COURSES Tampa's golf courses are often a bargain in terms of cost versus quality, but for taxpayers, golf has become more expensive due to...
Updated: 3 hours ago