Iowa’s Lost Island theme park faces a rocky start

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July 8, 2022, 12:20 p.m. Despite the lesson taught by one of Iowa’s most notable tourist attractions, if you build it, people don’t necessarily come. The state’s new Lost Island theme park appears to be off to a dismal start, with owners reporting deeply disappointing attendance for its first few weeks of operation.

Lost Island opened on June 18 near Waterloo, north of Cedar Rapids. It’s a sister property to the established Lost Island water park, which is located a short distance across the road, making it impossible to walk between the two gates. This limited cross-traffic between the two, which the owners relied on to help attract attendance to the new park.

Still, owner Eric Bertch told The Gazette in Cedar Rapids that the new theme park only sees 100 to 300 patrons a day, about a tenth of the water park’s attendance. They only attracted 415 guests over the July 4 weekend, which is usually one of the biggest weekends of the year for attractions. Bertch said they expected the new park to attract 2,500 to 3,000 visitors per day.

Lost Island faced multiple challenges on the road to its debut. A fire in March destroyed the queue building for the Yuta Falls park ride, which should have been one of the park’s most popular attractions. As a result, this ride will not be open this year. Additionally, the park was unable to open what should have been its top roller coaster, Matugani, the Kanonen Intamin launch roller coaster relocated from Liseberg. Bertch blamed supply chain delays preventing Lost Island from receiving a needed brake motor part on this coaster, according to The Gazette.

Sally’s new interactive dark ride Volkanu: Quest For The Golden Idol has been a hit with riders, but one dark ride won’t take over an entire theme park. Lost Island’s next biggest draw is a relocated Vekoma SLC…which isn’t much of an attraction for many roller coaster fans, for whom the Vekoma SLC might be the most hated roller coaster model on the market.

So what was wrong with Lost Island? The park has no outside IP, but it offers an original and creative IP concept, themed around five “realms”, four representing ancient elements – fire, water, air and earth – as well as the spirits that keep them in balance. The location, an hour north of Cedar Rapids, is a challenge. It is adjacent to the Isle Casino, but the casino/theme park combinations have had mixed success over the years. (Sentosa Island was a win, Las Vegas generally failed, and the jury is still out on Genting in Malaysia.)

The model for Lost Island should probably be Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari, which is also located off the beaten path in Santa Claus, Indiana, and is also family owned. But Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari operate as one gate, with both parks accessible on one ticket and located on the same site. Holiday World has also evolved over the decades from its origins as a Santa Claus Land roadside attraction, putting less of a financial strain on the family.

Lost Island’s rocky start draws comparisons to Hard Rock Park, the failed theme park in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, which changed its name after one season and then closed soon after. Hard Rock was located in a booming tourist town, but unrealistic attendance expectations doomed the park’s finances.

We don’t know what the fate of Lost Island will be. It depends on how long the Bertch family can continue to run the park until attendance increases to the point where the park becomes financially viable. The challenge is that the park will need more attractions and promotion — possibly including discounts on $49 admission tickets — to attract more visitors. And all of these solutions are costing the park money that it is not currently earning.

For a list of park attractions, please see our article on Lost Island on opening day.

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