Theme Park, Amusement Park and Attractions Industry News

Catching up with Gary Goddard

Designer discusses new projects

Since its founding in 2001, Gary Goddard Entertainment has established itself as one of the leading design sources for themed attractions and destinations across the globe. Goddard has built his career on creating attractions that form emotional connections with their audience. He recently took time to discuss his current projects and some emerging trends with Park World.

Industry Trends

Goddard notes that new casinos, hotels and other public facilities are taking the best theme park elements and adapting them for use in their projects, raising the expectation for guests. “Theme parks are still competing as if it was 1960 and 1970,” he observes. “They are recycling coasters, dark rides and other ‘tried and true’ elements for which they have become known. And yet, this misses the point. Theme parks were different when they started. Places like Disneyland, Knotts Berry Farm and Universal Studios were interesting for the kids and the parents.”

“Now,” he continues, “with the plethora of offerings at retail malls, casinos, resort hotels and so on, the perception from guests is that much of what a theme park offers can be found elsewhere ‘for free.’ Parks have to meet the challenge of the next generation and to do this a shake up is required. ‘Higher, steeper, faster’ is no longer enough to create long-term value in the theme park experience. Parks should offer experiences not found anywhere else.”


Goddard once said, “Everyone wants to be an Orlando,” and singled out Dubailand as a good example. Here he is currently working on a project for Six Flags. “In Dubai, we are working now to redefine the Six Flags experience for what will be first new Six Flags Theme Park designed in some 40 years. Dubailand is allowing Six Flags to take its strong foundation and heritage in thrill rides, and to expand upon that by creating an entirely new kind of park experience.

“We have really worked hard to take the theme park experience apart and redefine certain elements. While we cannot yet detail what we’re creating for Six Flags Dubailand, I think we can say it will have unique offerings for younger kids and young parents, as well as parents and grandparents. This park also takes into consideration both the international aspect of the Dubai market and the equally important sophistication of audiences today.

“Our goal is to bring back the wonder that we all felt the first time we visited Disneyland, when Walt Disney and his team were inventing something the world had never experienced before. It’s a lofty goal, but we are really trying to sets a new standard for theme park experiences in a way that will surprise and delight everyone who pass through the gates. As the saying goes, ‘This is not your dad’s theme park.'”

More with Six Flags

GGE’s Glow In The Park Parades, installed this season at three Six Flags parks, were featured in our June issue as transforming “each park into a fantasy-land of light, sound and motion.” And now, “on just about every measurable level the parades have been a major hit for Six Flags,” reports Goddard. In 2009, Six Flags Over Texas and Six Flags St Louis will add the Glow In The Park Parade to their venues.

In 1980 Six Flags Over Georgia approached Gary Goddard with a 25,000 sq ft dark building with a stream running through it. Formerly home to the Tales of the Okefenokee ride, this was to be Goddard’s first ride as an independent contractor, and his team turned it into Monster Plantation, now one of the park’s oldest attractions. This year the park asked Goddard to update the attraction but not ruin the memory. The result will be a makeover that is expected to last. “It will be memory,” Goddard promises, “times 10.”


“This ride was one of the first things I did after leaving Walt Disney Imagineering. It’s rare that a ride lasts a generation, and even rarer that one gets to revisit it and bring it back to life with some new ideas and new surprises. The new and improved Monster Mansion will retain much of its original charm. Just as audiences didn’t want Disney to change Small World, we are keeping most of the classic original ride, while giving it all a new coat of magic and colour including some new characters, new music and immersive effects.”

Kingdom of Nine Dragons 

Comprising a theme park, resort hotels, waterpark, aquarium and other entertainment-based experiences, the Kingdom of Nine Dragons (above) is expected to become China’s first true destination resort when it opens close to Shanghai around 2012.

“This is a massive project already under construction,” explains Goddard, “and promises to be something truly spectacular and ‘home grown’ in that it is a park and resort complex that is being created without the branding of Disney, Universal or other such entities. As Hong Kong has proven, when Disney stumbles with its own product, the the local experience, in this case Ocean Park, can actually beat them at their own game. By building upon local legends and mythologies, but adding western storytelling and attraction creation, we are developing a theme park and guest experience that will be original and unique.


Floraland is a small park located outside Chengdu, China, opened in 2005, where Goddard has been brought in to create a new masterplan for expansion. “We have created a unique concept for a real family based theme park,” he declares.

“For one thing, we are making a concerted effort to put the ‘park’ back in theme parks. Operations people have whittled back the charm of theme parks in their quest to improve operating efficiencies. And while I can appreciate this to a certain degree, I think the pendulum has swung far too much to the side of concrete plazas, wide open streets and easy to see storefronts and signage, all to the detriment of the overall park experience. There is rarely any sense of discovery in modern day theme parks – everything is set out for ‘instant read’ and I think the parks lose something when this happens.

Our expansion concept for Floraland is called ‘Happy Little Shangri-La’ (above) and is essentially a theme park designed by the young child of an emperor. It’s a child-sized world of fantasy, fun, rides, shows, magic and mazes, all set within a beautiful garden. I think this will become a little jewel of a park, and one that will gain international recognition.”

Korea and Sweden

“We have completed a project in Korea,” Goddard says, “a sports/entertainment complex called One Mount that has a theme based upon a year-round “summer/winter” destination with the summer area having a 12-month waterpark and spa, and the winter area having a year-round snow world with ice skating, some skiing and snowboarding and a complete winter village with restaurants and live entertainment.”

Goddard’s plans for a 3D boat ride at the Tropicana in Las Vegas have been put on hold as the casino tackles the financing issues plaguing almost all Vegas developments right now. He is, however, redirecting his attentions and is now planning major 3D boat ride as part of a new project in Sweden.

“While we cannot really divulge the details yet, this will be a true destination resort with a theme park, waterpark, unique themed hotel, retail centre and several other exciting attractions,” he explains. “A dynamic 3D water-based voyage wil be at the heart of this and will follow the path of ancient Vikings on a quest. The concept and plan for merging a boat ride, physical settings and 3D film to create large scale environments remains an integral part of the storytelling.”

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