Katmandu Park turns industry tradition on its head
Unconventional theme park opens in Punta Cana
Heya ATP paid subscribers! (And if you are not a paid subscriber, get with the program.) Tomorrow (Friday, May 26) starting at 10 a.m ET, the monthly What’s the Attraction? discussion thread will take place, so please plan to participate. As we kick off the start of summer and daily operation at most seasonal parks, let’s talk about food. Be prepared to share your favorite and/or weirdest park eats.
Quick: I say “theme park,” and what comes to mind? A sprawling property with throngs of people and multiple lands? Massive roller coasters with trainloads of screaming passengers? Colorful spinning rides with dizzy kids?
Katmandu Park, which recently opened in Punta Cana, the Dominican Republic resort town known for its lovely beaches, bucks industry conventions and stretches the definition of a theme park. That’s not to say it doesn’t offer compelling, dynamic attractions. In fact, it features some that aspire to E-Ticket rides found at Disney and Universal. But Katmandu charts its own course in often surprising and intriguing ways.
Notably, it is quite small. Even by the standards of a micro park, the four-acre property is tiny. More compact than a typical land within a theme park, it is arranged as a long corridor with indoor attractions and shops nestled to the left and right of its narrow midway.
There are no roller coasters piercing its skyline. In fact, save the park’s Giant Swing, which requires an additional charge, there are no thrill rides of any kind. The only flat ride is a carousel (which had not yet been installed when I visited in early May, soon after the park opened).
The whimsical architecture and design flourishes are beckoning. There are nods to steampunk and Nepalese culture, including an abominable yeti who stands guard at the front entrance. That’s Boro, one of the characters created by Falcon’s Beyond for its proprietary Katmandu franchise. Rather than incorporate known intellectual properties, as is the norm, the company has built the park entirely around its own, original brand. It’s a bold move, given that awareness of Boro and his buddies from Katmandu’s hidden realms is scant–for now, anyways.
Falcon’s, which until recently was an attraction and media designer that worked with parks and other third-party clients, now also develops and operates its own destination parks (of which the Punta Cana property is the first that it has built). It is expanding the Katmandu franchise beyond the park with merchandise, mobile games and other online experiences, and a planned animated series.
The park has four major attractions, which I wrote about in an earlier article. They include the roving motion base 4-D dark ride, Legend of the Desirata; the 4-D flying theater ride, Voyage of the Fathom Wanderer; the interactive walk-through experience, EtherQuest; and the 4-D interactive theater attraction, Challenge of the Mad Mage. They are all quite sophisticated and showcase leading-edge attraction technology and creative storytelling acumen.
“Our philosophy is big experience, small footprint,” says Daryl White, VP of global licensing and business development for Falcon’s Beyond, explaining that the diminutive park nevertheless crams a lot into its high-end attractions. “They are as good quality, or better, than any theme park you’ve been to.”
Among the park’s other things to do is Quadagon, which offers interactive climbing courses, including a pint-sized one for little kids. Get this: For no additional charge, parents can drop their small children off for 45 minutes at the supervised attraction and check out the park’s shops or perhaps grab a drink. (Conveniently, there is a bar nearby.)
At the far end of the park, guest can challenge the outdoor High Point Adventure ropes course or try the two 18-hole Expedition Golf mini-golf courses. The Sky course is outdoors and draws players into and up a mountain, while the indoor Earth course descends down into a cave. According to Carlina Gomez, the park’s marketing manager, the lavishly themed Expedition Golf is the Dominican Republic’s first mini-golf to include themeing on such a grand scale.
Katmandu is free admission, so there is no gate. Visitors can peruse the handful of shops, get something to eat at the counter-service food trucks (which serve Mexican and American fare) or sit-down Italian restaurant, enjoy entertainment such as the wonderful guitarist who performed on the day I visited, and take in the ambiance, all at no charge. Free-admission parks are not common, but not unprecedented. What is especially unusual is that guests cannot purchase individual tickets for the attractions. It’s all or nothing. And it’s not inexpensive.
The cost (in U.S. dollars) is $120 for adults and $85 for children ages 4 to 12. I wouldn’t expect Katmandu to charge a micro price, but I would expect a pass to cost considerably less than a one-day ticket to a Disney or Universal park. After all, the tiny park is not designed as a full-day experience. Gomez says that in the off-season of May, crowd levels have been low, lines have been minimal, and guests have been staying about two hours. She expects visitors will remain in the park around twice as long as that when lines and wait times swell during during busier periods.
The passes come in two flavors. The standard one allows guests to only experience each attraction once, although they can visit as many days as they wish and spread out when they redeem their one-use attraction tickets.
“Because the park has limited space and number of attractions, we want everyone to have the same opportunity,” says Gomez, explaining the rationale for the one-use policy. “We don’t want people repeating the same attractions and denying others the chance.”
The park also offers a pass that includes unlimited attractions, but they must be experienced on one day. The one-day pass also includes transportation from and to select resorts in the area. A higher-priced VIP pass tosses in credits to be spent in the park, preferred parking, and other perks.
Instead of physical passes, guests receive bracelets embedded with the tickets they purchased. Since the park is free-admission, paying customers have to scan the wristbands to enter the attractions. Visitors can also choose their own digital avatars and store them on the wearable tech. The virtual identities can come into play when guests participate in the interactive attractions, such as Challenge of the Mad Mage. The bracelets also record the points that guests’ score in the park’s interactive experiences.
The avatars and points are part of Falcon’s recently developed BeyondME loyalty and and online game platform, in which guests can also engage outside of the park. Users can earn and spend experience points, or XP, in a variety of ways.
The incorporation of virtual identities at the park and Falcon’s larger digital ecosystem are quite clever. Game-savvy guests will find it compelling. The process of choosing and customizing my avatar at a kiosk adjacent to the box office was a bit confusing and cumbersome, however. Since the crowds were light on the day I visited, it wasn’t much of an issue. But I could see a bottleneck at the front of the park on busier days as guests labor to complete the sign-in process.
Katmandu is located adjacent to Falcon’s Resort by Meliá, a stunning five-star, all-inclusive hotel. (I’ll be writing about the resort in a future article.) It represents the first Falcon’s-themed property, created in partnership with the upscale Meliá hotel company. Park passes are included in the room rates. According to White of Falcon’s Beyond, additional destination resorts, with Katmandu parks and adjoining hotels, are in the works. An existing hotel and smaller Katmandu Park in Mallorca, Spain were the impetus for the partnership and the development of the new parks.
“The locations where we will be going will typically be all-inclusive beach resorts,” White says, citing the Canary Islands and Playa Del Carmen, Mexico as two future sites. “We call what we are doing ‘resortainment.’ ”
A second-phase of the Punta Cana development, Falcon’s Central, is scheduled to open next to the park in 2024. The dining, retail, and entertainment complex will include an aquarium, a next-gen arcade, and other venues and enhance the resortainment offerings.
Sounded amazing until $120 for people spending 2 hours there. I applaud the mini-park concept, and that miniature golf course looks incredible. But the price, yikes.
I assume this is because the real pitch is to say at the hotel and get the park as an add-on, and make the whole thing primarily to sell resort rooms.