It’s logical to think of Universal Studios Hollywood and its Halloween Horror Nights as being the big competition for Knott’s Scary Farm. But when Knott’s announced the line-up for its annual Halloween event last week, I couldn’t stop thinking about Disney.
No Disney doesn’t run a blood-and-guts Halloween scare event like the one that Knott’s created and most of the rest of the industry copied, including Universal. Disney’s Halloween event – Mickey’s Halloween Party – is strictly family friendly, playing to the trick-or-treat side of the holiday, instead of the scare-me-silly.
But as the market leader in theme parks, both in Southern California and around the world, Disney influences its competition, including Knott’s. Sometimes that influence leads parks such as Knott’s in one direction, but sometimes it drives them toward another.
The first thing that Knott’s highlighted in its Scary Farm reveal was a pure Disney knockoff. Knott’s is creating a “Halloween Hootenanny” overlay for its Timber Mountain Log Ride this Halloween season, just like Disneyland has created “Nightmare Before Christmas” and Ghost Galaxy seasonal themed overlays for its Haunted Mansion and Space Mountain rides for years. There’s another Disney connection with this overlay, too. Halloween Hootenanny will feature a new song from the park’s Krazy Kirk and the Hillbillies, who for years performed at Disneyland as Billy Hill and the Hillbillies.
Seasonal overlays can be a smart investment for parks with a strong local fan base, as they create fresh reasons for locals to return to the park without the expense of building a completely new attraction. But keeping up with Disney is always expensive, as Knott’s learned when it dropped more than a million bucks to upgrade the Timber Mountain Log Ride a few years back. We will have to wait to see if the Halloween Hootenanny wins over local fans the way that Disney’s Halloween attraction overlays have.
But even as Knott’s copies Disney is one way, it is rejecting Disney’s lead in another. At the Scary Farm reveal, Knott’s leaders on several occasions spoke of creating experiences that everyone coming to the event could enjoy. That marks a turnaround from last year, when Knott’s offered several “skeleton key” rooms that were available only to a limited number of visitors who paid an up-charge for the experience.
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