Thursday, March 09, 2006

Wanna Go Parking?

I have a friend who applied to become a Disney imagineer. He didn’t get the job, but I admired his passion for their mission.

One day, I want to build the theme park of the future. I want to step outside the model that we now know and design a place where people are not only entertained, but interconnected. So that you leave with a full heart not just an empty wallet. Using the same creative process it takes to be an imagineer (or to write a novel for that matter) but taking it one step farther.

To do this, I’ll need to find the answer to the question "What were you looking for when you decided to go to a theme park?" I’m sure there will be some different answers. Thrills. Relaxation. Adventure. But you can get thrills driving down the highway really fast, relaxation by taking a nap, and adventure getting lost in the woods. All by yourself. And yet, most folks head to the theme park with a group or a special someone.

I think what people may really be interested in is having a shared experience outside the humdrum of everyday life without worrying for their safety. And for the promise of satisfying this desire, they’ll endure long drives, queue lines, hot sun, enormous crowds, and huge expense.

It must be a pretty important need.

And unfortunately things seem to often break down as soon as you burst through the turnstiles, grab a park map, and learn that everybody in your party has a different idea about which attractions will best meet this need. So, you’re left either heading your separate ways or choosing to ignore the whining.

I'm probably a snob about this, but there are some parks that have at least gotten part of the formula right. And I appreciate them for it. My three favorite (existing) theme parks so far, and we’ve visited quite a few, are:

Universal’s Islands of Adventure, Orlando, FL
Fantastic park theming. To me this is one of the pillars of a great park. I want to forget I’m in a park, forget I’ve got to go back to work in a few days, and immerse myself in the themed environment. From Seuss Landing to Marvel Superhero Island to the fabulous newspaper comic strip-themed Toon Lagoon, Islands of Adventure does a great job. The sights, sounds, and smells all cooperate to provide the atmosphere. Disney’s resorts do a great job of this, too, but they aren’t a park per se.

Busch Gardens, Williamsburg, VA
The theming is good here as well, but it’s their park engineering that wallops the competition. And that is my second pillar of a great park. Attraction ingress and egress, food and bathroom locations, plentiful shade, cleanliness, consideration of small children and those with special needs, park layout, etc, etc, etc. are top notch. And it’s amazing how the attitude of the visitors is so greatly improved.

Legoland, Carlsbad, CA
Thinking outside the box. My third pillar. Perhaps, it’s because of their foreign roots, but Legoland dared to step outside the traditional Disney or Six Flags park model. They have allowed their creativity to extend beyond what name to give the requisite log flume ride, tea cup rides, and bumper cars or what obscure record they can claim for their coaster. The attractions open the door to teamwork, interaction, and activity rather than wearing yourself out trekking across the park and standing in line and then collapsing into the passive attraction for a rest. There is something to be said for the familiar, but at theme park prices, I want something new and different.

Lastly, I will make a couple of admissions:

My favorite attraction is not located at any of these parks. It’s the combination coaster, dramatic dark ride, special effects extravaganza known as Revenge of the Mummy located at Universal Studios. I could do it a hundred times and come out grinning from ear to ear each time.

And it is definitely hard to top the romantic feeling of walking down Main Street USA in the Magic Kingdom at 1 am when it’s barren and feels like Walt created his wonderful world just for you.

But enough about me, I want to hear about:

-- Your favorite park
-- Your favorite park attraction
-- Your worst park experience ever
-- What you look for in a theme park
-- Which park is most underrated in your opinion
-- Tips about little known parks or anything else theme park related.


codepoke said...

Well, I didn't answer this yesterday, but it deserves better :-)

My family didn't do amusement parks, or anything else fun. So, I loved any park I could get to. My primary criteria for an amusement park was that it be willing to accept me. I had no idea you could judge parks like this.

I went for one reason. I wanted to see whether I was brave enough to ride the scariest rides. I wasn't until I was 17 or so. So, add shame to the list of reasons not to love the parks. Now the fun rides just give me headaches, so I could care less if I never see one again.

My kids got to go to the close ones a couple times with me, though. So they have been like an infinite percentage more often with their parents than me. It's not much, but I tried.

WandaV said...

Oh Man! I love roller coasters!!!! My parents weren't rich by any means, but they always gave us a trip to Six Flags Over GA. I'll never forget the first time I got to ride the Scream Machine-- my first 'big' coaster. That first hill is a doozie.

My biggest disappointment came about '89 when my new hubby and I hit the park. I did what I always did... hit the fast and fun stuff first. Hubby turned green and stayed that way for the rest of the day. I married a man who gets motion sickness? Years later we did go to the Magic Kingdom in Orlando with sis and bro-in-law. Hubby took dramamine (sp?)

Last summer my two sisters and I along with the folks and one bro-in-law snuck away to SFOG for a day filled with adrenaline rushing rides. Wow! What a day!

Now I wonder if I'll get to go again. Speed is addictive.

As far as any other park-- I couldn't tell you. We went to SFOG, Disney World and Opryland while growing up. That's it for the parks.

Isn't there supposed to be a park somewhere here in AL? Anybody been? I think it's called VisionLand or something.


DugALug said...


Ohio has some pretty great parks. King's Island is based on Hanna-Barbarra cartoons (Like Scooby-Doo). Also way north is Cedar Point. Right on the shores of Erie... both parks were roller-coaster laiden and lots of fun.

In addition In Kiaogga Falls was another 6-flags park.

All in Ohio! Go Figure!


codepoke said...

Cool. I took my kids to Six Flags over GA too. We lived out in Lithia Springs for 3 years or so.

You're right about the Scream Machine. (And you had better get that little bicycle seat adjusted right!)

P&S said...

I'm seeing thrills as a big driver for you guys, and that doesn't surprise me.

However, I also see that the standard park solution for thrills, roller coasters, may not be for everyone because of motion sickness, headaches, or whatever.

And the fact that most parks are basically built on this same coaster-centric model may lead people to a simple cost-benefit decision that theme parks are not for them.

This is one of the issues that I hope to address with my park.

Also, I admitted that I'm something of a snob about this, but I make a distinction between amusement parks and theme parks. Six Flags, King's Island, etc make a less than half-hearted attempt at theming, if you ask me. And I think they are motivated primarily by marketing and brand identification. They want you to associate their park with some other beloved character or icon. But there is very little investment in creating an overall environment that has anything to do with that association. What does the Scream Machine have to do with Bugs Bunny or an Old West town or a Batman ride? Nothing.

I want to build a theme park. Disney has made great strides in this area and some others have chosen to follow. And I think it's this immersion into a theme, whatever the theme might be, that leaves you feeling that the park is a magical place. And while the comments so far haven't identified this feeling as a driver for visiting the park, it is to me (and I think to others as well).

I also think that unfortunately there seems to be a trade-off between family-friendly parks and parks that encourage attendance by groups of kids who visit with some para-family organization and might not get to experience the park any other way. I'm studying on ways to meet the needs of both sides of this issue.

Your continued feedback is welcomed.

codepoke said...

Yeah. You nailed my "bent."

Since this headache thing started, I have no use for any kind of amusement park.

Your theming idea sounds pretty cool. I have a hard time imagining it, I guess.

DugALug said...


How right you are about Disney, but the result is that their Roller-coaster aren't very great.

Six-Flags and Busch Garden's parks are both thematically lame. Even Universal very much pales in comparison to Disney.

But I would go to Islands of Adventure any day over any Disney Park. The rides are just plainly better. The quality is not as good as at any of the Disney Parks... in fact it makes you appreciate Disney all the more considering this is the only challenge to the Family Gauntlet.

King's Island and Cedar Point are less themed and more thrills. Still I love King's Island and always will. As a bonus you can stop by Wright-Patterson Airforce Base Air Museum. It is about 15 minutes from the park and there isn't a better theme park in the world.


P&S said...

I've been to King's Island twice. Once I was too afraid to try the Beast, and the next time I bought a T-Shirt to commemorate the harrowing experience that was the Beast.

Cedar Point is on the to-do list. My wife and I would like to try them all. So far we've hit:

Magic Kingdom
Animal Kingdom
Blizzard Beach
Typhoon Lagoon
Universal Studios, FL
Islands of Adventure
Cypress Gardens
Six Flags, GA
American Adventures, GA
White Water, GA
King's Island
Fiesta Texas w/waterpark
Busch Gardens, Tampa
Adventure Island, Tampa
Busch Gardens, Williamsburg
Disneyland, CA
Knott's Berry Farm
SeaWorld, FL
Stone Mountain, GA
Lake Winnepesauka

and I'm sure I'm forgetting something. We have several must-dos on the list, but are open to new suggestions.