Kings Dominion to remain open year-round
Hanover theme park adds nine weekends to operating calendar
Kings Dominion will expand to year-round operations beginning in January, the Doswell theme park announced Tuesday.
The park will now be open an additional nine weekends, or 18 more days, in January, February and early March. Historically, Kings Dominion opens for weekends in the spring and starts daily operations around Memorial Day, continuing through Labor Day, then it’s back to weekend operations. The 20-acre Soak City waterpark opens around Memorial Day, and Halloween Haunt and WinterFest typically close out the year.
“We’ve always wanted [to] find a way to extend our season to all 12 months, and now families and season passholders won’t have to wait until the spring for their favorite rides or their first taste of funnel cake,” Bridgette Bywater, vice president and general manager of Kings Dominion and Soak City, said in a statement.
Bywater told Virginia Business that the theme park expanded its operating calendar in response to demand from season passholders for an extended season. The plan is for a permanent calendar shift, but she anticipates “some learnings as we progress into a year-round operation.”
The Hanover County amusement park is a significant tourism draw and seasonal employer for Central Virginia. The park closed during the pandemic and reopened in a limited way in winter 2020, with a full reopening in May 2021 and Soak City opening a month later.
Hanover County Director of Economic Development E. Linwood Thomas IV told Virginia Business in 2020 that the park is one of Hanover’s top five taxpayers. In 2018, visitors to the park spent $258 million in the county on tourism, generating more than $5 million in tax revenue.
But things improved last year.
“According to the 2021 Economic Impact of Visitors in Virginia prepared for the Virginia Tourism Corporation, more than $204 million was spent in visitor spending in Hanover County in calendar year 2021, a resounding recovery of more than 55% over the previous calendar year which was plagued by the pandemic,” Thomas told Virginia Business. “Kings Dominion would be one of the major drivers in this rebound since it is our largest tourism asset.”
The expansion of operations is good news to Hanover.
“Kings Dominion is already one of our largest taxpayers and employers but we anticipate their move to open year-round will benefit the entire region while creating significant economic growth across multiple industry sectors,” Thomas said.
“We humbly recognize the positive impact Kings Dominion has on the local economy, and are dedicated to continuing our service as an active member of our local community,” Bywater said.
Plans to expand the park’s calendar have been in the works since last year.
“Expanding our operating calendar also provides more stability to the workforce, which in turn benefits both the park and our visitors. By being able to provide year-round employment opportunities, our dedicated staff can continue to provide excellent guest service on an ongoing basis,” she said.
In the past two years, Kings Dominion has transitioned about 120 positions from seasonal/part-time to full-time, year-round employment status for a total of about 400 workers now, Bywater said. At peak season, the theme park has 3,500 active staff members.
The park has been gradually increasing its number of full-time, year-round associates since 2021, in anticipation of a longer calendar, Bywater said. This year, Kings Dominion raised its minimum hourly wage from $9.25 to $15 and moved to cashless payments at the park.
Grand Carnivale, a summer event will return in 2023 as well as WinterFest. The newest attractions to the park are Jungle X-pedition, a new area, and a new roller coaster, Tumbili, as well as other changes. Soak City also received a refresh in 2021.
In 2021, rival theme park Busch Gardens Williamsburg announced it would also expand its calendar, opening in January, February and March, as well as adding “limited capacity” events to the early part of the year.
In February, Ohio-based Cedar Fair, Kings Dominion’s parent company, rejected a $3.4 billion acquisition offer from SeaWorld Entertainment Inc., owner of Busch Gardens Williamsburg theme park.
Cedar Fair owns and operates 13 properties composed of 11 amusement parks, four outdoor water parks and resort accommodations totaling more than 2,300 rooms and 600 RV sites. It reported record revenues of $1.37 billion through Labor Day, with 20.5 million guests across its 15 parks. For the five-week period ended Sept. 5, Cedar Fair had 5.1 million guests and generated preliminary net revenues of $343 million, representing an increase of $74 million, or 27%, when compared to the five-week period ended Sept. 9, 2019, according to a news release.