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Should theme parks build kids' lands?

By Robert Niles
Published: September 9, 2009 at 12:32 PM
Cedar Fair's made it official that it will be dropping the Nickelodeon theme from the kids' areas at its former Paramount Parks, in favor of the "Camp Snoopy" theme first debuted at Knott's Berry Farms in the 1980s. I, and others, have argued at Peanuts is no longer a compelling theme for today's kids (most of whom were not alive when Charles Schulz died nine years ago, and the strip stopped publishing fresh comics).

But before we tackle the question of how a kids' area should be themed, let's take on the bigger question of whether theme parks should build kids' areas at all.


Blue's Skidoo at Kings Island's Nickelodeon Universe

Nickelodeon Universe at Kings Island has won awards as the country's best kids area. But what does the rest of the park look like? An increasingly themeless iron park, built for teens and grown-ups. That's the danger inherent when parks commit to building large kids' areas: They divide the park's audience, herding the kids and their parents into a ghetto in one corner, while the rest of the property evolves into a PG-13 thrill park.

It's a pattern we've seen repeated at dozens of Cedar Fair and Six Flags parks across the country. With the kids' area supposedly taking care of the "family" market, park management feels no need to develop truly family-friendly attractions that people of all ages and abilities can enjoy.

So families are left with their ghettos of lightly-themed, low-capacity carnival rides, which stop having appeal to kids somewhere in the middle elementary years.

And what happens then? Yes, some of those kids become roller coaster fans and begin to explore the other attractions in the park. But let's not forget that many kids don't ever develop a love for coasters. Too old for the kiddie land, and uninterested in thrill rides, they find nothing appealing in these parks... and quit wanting to go.

Smarter, more successful theme park companies - Disney, Universal and Busch - build attractions for those consumers, and they win those families' loyalty, and money, as a result.

I've had a tough time finding rides for the whole family at parks like Kings Island and Knott's Berry Farm. At KI, we rode the Scooby-Doo shoot-'em-up together, as well as the elevator ride up the Eiffel Tower. That's it. We split up for every other ride of the day, with 12-year-old Natalie hitting the coasters and nine-year-old Brian Nick Universe. At Knott's, we all enjoyed the Mystery Lodge, the Log Flume and the Mine Ride (three attractions that, not coincidentally, precede Cedar Fair ownership). Natalie and I hit a few coasters and Brian, too old now for Camp Snoopy, was bored out of his mind.

Kiddie rides can enhance theme parks. Built to a smaller scale, they don't overwhelm toddlers they way that even all-ages Omnimover and flume rides can. And schlepping strollers around an entire theme park is a pain. As a parent, I appreciated when parks concentrated their toddler attractions in one section of the park.

Parks need to find a sweet spot that accommodates stroller-friendly toddler attractions without consigning them to a ghetto within what is otherwise an iron park. I liked the way that Busch Gardens Williamsburg pulled this off. BGW offers a Sesame Street-themed kids' area for toddlers, but it also built kiddie versions of some of its larger rides, next to their bigger siblings. That way, the youngest visitors has their own land, but the younger elementary kids weren't confined to their own section of the park. They could roam the rest of the property with their parents and older siblings, enjoying their own versions of several rides, right next door. And BGW didn't skimp on shows and rides that folks who don't like coasters could enjoy, as well.

Disneyland and Universal's Islands of Adventure provide even better models. With Fantasyland and Seuss Landing, both parks have created collections of rides that appeal to toddlers and young children, while accommodating older kids and parents, as well. As kids grow up, they easily can transition into other attractions in those parks, such as Tom Sawyer's Island and Camp Jurassic. And everyone in the family, even non-coaster fans, can enjoy a wide variety of shows and rides in either park.


On the Caro-Seuss-el at Islands of Adventure's Seuss Landing

Perhaps it is not a coincidence that the three parks I've cited for handling kids well - Disneyland, Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Islands of Adventure - were the top three theme parks in this year's Theme Park Insider Awards.

Slapping a kids' land at the side of your theme park doesn't make that park "family friendly." Nor does it put your park in position to maximize its audience. Only a more integrated approach, one that focuses on meeting the needs of a wide range of visitors, from toddlers to thrill fans and everyone in between, puts you in position to offer a truly great theme park, one that will endure any economic downturn with turnstiles spinning throughout.

Check in tomorrow, when we talk about themes for kid-focused attractions: what works... and what won't any longer.

Readers' Opinions

From Anthony Murphy on September 9, 2009 at 12:47 PM
Good point,

But I will mention that Great America, which is guilty as charged of putting kiddie areas in strange places, did build Buccaneer Battle which I guess is for everybody. However, Bugs National Park is in BIG need of a rehab. The place looks like trash, but with Wiggles World and Camp Cartoon Network, the kiddies don't seem to notice.

I think the reasoning behind not too many good "universal" rides for all is that many I can think of and you mentioned are extremly well themed. The Caraseussal is amazingly detailed (as with the rest of Seussland). Same can be said about Tom Sayer's Island. I think it would cost too much money to build a ride for all ages, at least for the non Disney or Universal Crowd.

From TH Creative on September 9, 2009 at 12:55 PM
While you acknowledge Seuss Landing at IOA you forgot to make note of Universal's greater achievement to the genre (and theme park planning), the area around KidsZone at Universal Studios Florida. This is an extraordinary collection of attractions and shows that is segregated from all the noisy and scary big kids stuff. 'Fievel's Playland' and 'Curious George Goes to Town' offer wet and dry play areas -- where kids can have fun (very often without having to stand in line and wait their turn). The kid-sized 'Nuthouse Coaster.' is fun without being too frightening. Regardless of what you may think about the too sugary sweet purple dinosaur 'A Day in the Park with Barney' is a great show. Anyone who has experienced Barney's sudden arrival on stage in a theater packed with 4 and 5 year olds will agree. And to keep their attention and relax in the shade the critters from 'Animal Actors on Location' gets kids and parents off their feet.

This terrific corner of USF is a clear demonstration that you can build an excellent corner of a theme park designated only for children.

From Robert Niles on September 9, 2009 at 1:01 PM
I think one of the compelling qualities of the Barney attraction is that it can be a *high capacity* toddler attraction. Capacity is what just kills parent satisfaction at so many toddler attractions. People can't stand the wait times. But, if they run shows back-to-back, Barney can put through hundreds more visitors per hour than rides like Dumbo can.
From luis gonzalez on September 9, 2009 at 1:50 PM
I think a big reason the large iron parks pay little mind to kid friendly attractions is that they count on locals for most of their customer base. They figure since the locals are probably coming to their park because they cant or dont want to travel to the major theme parks, they will have that business regardless of its appeal to small children. Why are you going to invest heavily into something that wont change your bottom line as much as a roller coaster. These parks cannot compete with disney and universal for family dollars, so they invest in what will draw their main customer base, teen to middle aged thrill seeking locals.
From 141.248.3.2 on September 9, 2009 at 2:55 PM
I love your articles. They always hit from an angle I never thought of.

Reading this article made me think of 3 local parks that exemplify the spread of different ways to do this. ( Magic Mountain, Knotts and Disneyland. ) Magic Mountain is almost strictly a rollercoaster thrill park. I recall a small kiddie area in there but for the most part it's a rollercoaster park for "big kids". To me it feels like a barrier catering to two different audiences, not a smooth flow.


Knotts always felt like it landed in the center of the three parks because of how well it balances "theme park" and "thrill park." Like their Disney counterpart, there is something for everyone in each of the themed lands. Yes, even the Snoopy-themed land has a rollercoaster that can spin the lunch out of me. Major points to them for blending it all very well.

This isn't to say that Disney didn't get it right either. In fact I think Disney did it best of all. There is a combo of both a child-dedicated land in the back as well as a park with an excellent blend of attractions themed for all ages in the park. ( Not old enough for Space Mountain? Head over to Buzz Lightyear's ride. ) In fact with such a great blend like this, it's almost hard to imagine there are so many parks out there that continue to have such bordered zones that sequester the young and older kids rather than cater to them both with an even blend.

From Nick Markham on September 9, 2009 at 2:57 PM
I have to argue your Knott's Berry Farm Point. Not only do they have Camp Snoopy for the younger ones, but the also have the Log Ride for all ages, The Calico Railroad (both the mine ride and normal railway) for family, and the shows? Everyone Loves Snoopy is definitely all family frinedly and what is cooler, on ice!

And don't forget about their 3 FAMILY roller coasters Pony Express, Jaguar, and Sierra Sidewinder. So, all and all, this park really is inculding in the Disney/Universal/Busch section ast well. Not much to say for the rest of Cedar Fair and Six Flags though.

From 152.30.227.9 on September 9, 2009 at 3:58 PM
To be totally fair, I think the Snoopy rides are more "family-oriented" than Nickelodeon, which has grown excessively needy of their cartoons to keep the kids tuning in, and their cartoons started royally sucking after Rugrats.

So, bring on the Planet Snoopys and the Camp Snoopys of the world!

BJ

From James Rao on September 9, 2009 at 4:52 PM
Robert, once again I totally agree with you. As the not-so-tall father of three not-so-tall kids, I have been increasingly frustrated with the "divide-the-family" mentality of amusement park companies these days. The perfect park (which not even Disney has yet achieved) would provide a completely immersive and thrilling environment that families could experience together. While it is probably impossible to make an entire park that is all things to everyone at the same time, the goal should be to keep families together not tear them apart! Attractions designed for a specific segment of the population should be the exception, not the rule.

Not to be redundant, but I posted a comment/rant about this topic in a discussion thread a few months back after another frustrating visit to the Camp Snoopy section of my local Cedar Fair park, Worlds of Fun. I think that post has application in this discussion as well (forgive me for the indulgence of re-posting my past comments but I feel very strongly about these ghetto kiddie sections as Robert aptly described them and want to be sure my voice is heard!).

Camp Snoopy [at Worlds of Fun] just blows in every possible way. Who in the world would ever think it was a good idea to design a section of a theme park to cater only to children who are three or younger? The rides are so lame that even many of the little kids riding looked bored and embarrassed. And the fact that you have to split your group (send the older kids off with mom to ride "big kid rides" while the littlest ones are forced to ride carnival quality spinners) is an abomination. I mean, I sat on various benches for an hour watching my daughter spin slowly on rides that were only slightly better than the 50 cent spinners found in grocery store parking lots. It is unfathomable to me that park designers would opt for these cheap amusements rather than spend a little bit more money on attractions suitable for an entire family to share in together. Other than uber coasters, and high tech thrill rides, you should never have to split your group at a theme park. Camp Snoopy, and all the crappy little three-year-old exclusive ride areas at parks across the nation, should be eradicated from existence. Curse you, Red Baron Biplanes, curse you!

See, I told you I feel strongly about this topic! ;)

From Derek Potter on September 9, 2009 at 5:08 PM
Yes....all parks should build kids lands. They draw kids, which draws their parents and their wallets. The scale of the kid land depends squarely on the park and it's budget, hence the question "should they build themed kids lands". The old Paramount Parks kept it balanced and actually started falling short in the quality thrill ride department. Kings Island still has plenty of rides for everyone. The water park, White Water Canyon, Adventure Express, Scooby Doo, the Log Flume, Motion Simulator, Avatar coaster, and the collection of old spinners are some of those rides. IOA and Busch Gardens doesn't really have any more transitional rides than Kings Island, but they are themed rides...which are the best kind of transition because they have broad appeal. Again though, it all comes back to one thing...money. Theme parks backed by major corporations have it, regional amusement parks don't. That doesn't mean they shouldn't be built, but they will always be different depending on where you are and the park in which you are.

The nice thing about Kings Island is that parents with children can spend all day in the kids land because of it's size. You can't do that at Busch Gardens or Universal. In fact, short of Disney or Legoland, you can't do it anywhere else. My most recent family visit to KI a couple of weeks ago was spent mostly in Nick Central. We left Nick Central for a half hour to eat Potatoworks (well they ate Potatoworks, and I waited 10 minutes for the front seat of Diamondback...ha ha ha ha), to go on the Grand Carousel, and to go to the waterpark for a while. We spent all day with no crowd to be found, which is a testament to Nick Universe's size and appeal. It remains to be seen if Cedar Fair can be as effective and keep the people coming to see the Peanuts. I hope they do, but the traditional Cedar Fair model doesn't emphasize kid lands. Perhaps that will change with Kings Island, because they have to know about the huge role that Nick Universe has played in Kings Island's attendance for the past several years.

I see why amusement parks go for the thrill rides. They are big ticket attractions, they move a lot of people, and they get a lot of attention. Transitional rides aren't as "sexy" in the seasonal market because it costs a lot of money to build good ones, and you don't get much attention from them. Nobody really cared about Avatar being built at Kings Island a few years back, but Diamondback created an insane amount of buzz. Even the theme parks know this. Name the last half dozen large attractions that the Orlando parks have built. Manta, Rip Ride Rockit, Mummy, Everest...etc etc etc. Thrill rides make money. Transitional rides are the offensive lineman of the park industry. They are ultra important, but most don't get the attention, and many teams don't spend the necessary money to build them. Kids lands and big thrill rides bring the attendance and make the money.

From James Rao on September 9, 2009 at 5:34 PM
Well put, Derek. However, the kiddie land at King's Island, by your own admission, is quite a bit different than most Cedar Fair kiddie areas. While King's Island as a whole suffers from the "divide-the-family" problem described by Robert, its family area is somewhat of an exception in this discussion.
From Brandon S on September 9, 2009 at 5:53 PM
As I do agree with you about most Cedar Fair parks and saying they need more family friendly attractions to be successful, there are exceptions. My home park Cedar Point, is more successful then Busch Gardens, or at least it brings more people in. Busch Gardens is family friendly, but still gets beat by Cedar Point. Also, you must have had a pretty bad trip to Kings Island! I think there is plenty for the family to do there, as Derek listed some of the many things.
From Ty Mullins on September 9, 2009 at 6:32 PM
"But what does the rest of the park look like? An increasingly themeless iron park, built for teens and grown-ups. That's the danger inherent when parks commit to building large kids' areas: They divide the park's audience, herding the kids and their parents into a ghetto in one corner, while the rest of the property evolves into a PG-13 thrill park."

This could not be further from the truth. Almost all of Kings Island is beautifully landscaped with lively music, appealing colors, and clean pathways. Friendly employees greet you at almost every turn, as do family rides, thrill rides, pay rides, water rides, and every other type of attraction imaginable.

From Brandon S on September 9, 2009 at 7:50 PM
^Put an emphasis on friendly employees. I haven't been down to Disney or Universal parks in awhile, but Cedar Fair employees are a lot more friendly and quite frankly better than workers in other chains. When I went to Hersheypark and Busch Gardens Williamsburg this summer, I was almost expecting their ride ops and employees to be as friendly and efficient as the Cedar Point employees I am so used to. This was not the case. Now the employees weren't mean or rude, but they kind of just, well sat there and did their job(but not efficiently), and there weren't too many exceptions to this. They were less than thrilled and weren't trying to get the lines going as quick as possible. The ride ops did not interact with people in line, and I believe they should. I guess that's one of the reasons that Cedar Point has been voted Best Amusement Park 11 years in a row. If you have ever visited Cedar Point, you know that the ride ops up here are some of the best you will ever find. They know how to have fun, while still doing their job.
From Charles Reichley on September 9, 2009 at 8:04 PM
Busch Gardens-Williamsburg just built a kids area based on Sesame Street. I agree that before that, they had their younger rides scattered throughout the park.

I'm not sure why other rides aren't considered family-friendly. I should think bumper cars are fun for the entire family.

From James Rao on September 9, 2009 at 8:20 PM
Imagine if you will a family of five: Mom, Dad, 54" tall 11 year old, 46" tall 9 year old, and 40" tall 5 year old, visiting King's Island with visions of family bliss dancing in their heads.

Much to their chagrin, what the family quickly finds out is that a dozen of the best rides are only accessible to the mom, dad, and 11 year old. That sucks. Oh, but since they already paid, they decide to split up the family and mom forgoes the intense pleasure of roller coasters to spend the first half of the day with the 9 year old and 6 year old in the Nickelodeon area of the park.

Well, the Dad and 11 year old are elated. They buzz from uber coaster to uber coaster having a blast. The mom is disappointed to be missing the coasters, but happy to accommodate her other kids. The 6 year old has a blast, but the 9 year old has mixed feelings. A few of the Nick rides are a lot of fun, but the rest are "too baby-ish."

Later that day the family meets for lunch and relates their separate adventures. Then the dad and mom switch off and the mom and the 11 year old go ride the big rides while dad and the other two go back to the family rides.

At the end of the the day, the family hooks up and catches the half dozen or so midway rides common to most amusement parks. Family time at last. It has not been a bad day per se, but for a family unit on a family vacation it was not a very good family day.

One more point. Close your eyes for a second and imagine King's Island WITHOUT the following attractions: Diamondback, Flight of Fear, Firehawk, Back Lot Stunt Coaster, Delirium, Drop Tower, Invertigo, Beast, Son of Beast (if it ever re-opens), The Racer, Adventure Express, The Crypt, Flight Deck, and Vortex.

Imagine further that instead of all those great rides, all you have is Fairly Odd Coaster, Rugrats Runaway Reptar, a Scooby-Doo shooter, and a bunch of carnival spinners you've ridden for years.

Hold that image.

You just saw King's Island through the eyes of a 9 year old boy who is only 46" tall.

It wasn't a pretty sight, was it?

Even Disney haters would take Tower of Terror, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Thunder Mountain Railroad, Dinosaur, Soarin', Toy Story Mania, Test Track, Mission: Space, and Expedition Everest over Fairly Odd Coaster, Rugrats Runaway Reptar, and Scooby-Doo, wouldn't they?

It is an easy decision when you look at it from a whole-family perspective.

Now you know why Walt Disney World is the number one vacation destination in the world.

From Robert Niles on September 9, 2009 at 10:17 PM
James nails it with his comment.

Sorry, but KI simply isn't in Busch Gardens' league for entertainment, landscaping, food and family rides. Nor is it in the same league as SeaWorld, Universal or Disney. Like Knott's, it was once a solid theme park that is now deteriorating to iron park status under Cedar Fair management. Give it a few more years, and it will be where Knott's is now.

This doesn't have to be. There's no law which declares that only Disney, Universal and Busch can build and run great theme parks that offer something for all fans throughout.

From James Koehl on September 10, 2009 at 3:08 AM
Brandon, do you ever get frustrated coming in here, hearing how much Cedar Point and everything that Cedar Fair touches sucks? How have we missed the fact that nothing good, in any way, can come out of Sandusky, Ohio? We should start setting our standards higher. We must accept the fact that Disney, BG and SeaWorld are the Father, Son and Holy Ghost of entertainment, and that we have somehow been following the Dark Side. The next time I see Snoopy at Cedar Point entertaining my kids I'll throw some holy water on him and see if he starts to mime,"It burns! It burns!!!" Perhaps the CDC, after they get this swine flu thing under control, can start to work on a vaccine for the virus that Cedar Fair is spreading throughout our nation.
From James Rao on September 10, 2009 at 3:47 AM
Now, that would be something I would pay to see! And my 6 year old daughter who is terrified of Snoopy at Worlds of Fun, would probably give you a vote of confidence as well.

James, I am just not sure how you can read my posts and derive so much venom and bile towards your hometown amusement parks. I guess I am just not a very good writer as my points are completely lost on the Cedar Fair faithful.

Once again, I personally like Cedar Point and Kings Island, and even my local affiliate, Worlds of Fun. And to be honest, I love roller coasters, which all those parks do very well. However, they just are not very good places for me to take my whole family on a week long vacation (for the exact reasons I tried, and failed apparently, to describe above). They are decent enough places to visit for a day, maybe two (in the case of Cedar Point), but they are not what I would consider vacation destinations. At this point in the life of my family, those parks are places I stop at on the way to somewhere else.

But then Cedar Fair is not catering to my family, so of course I feel the way I do. Maybe when my two boys and my girl are all 13+ years old and in that in between stage where some of the Disney magic grows a little childish for a big, tough teenager, then Cedar Point might become more viable. However, I would contend that even then the Universal Parks still offer a better option.

I guess it is all about what you love, and subjectivity is never really as objective as we try to make it seem. For me and mine, attractions that have thrills and immersive, narrative theming are always better than attractions that feature thrills alone.

From James Rao on September 10, 2009 at 3:48 AM
PS The Cedar Fair Virus (CFV) isn't "spreading throughout our nation" as you put it. In fact, with Worlds of Fun and Valleyfair! currently up for sale, CFV is finally coming under a modicum of control. ;)
From Derek Potter on September 10, 2009 at 6:26 AM
I'll be the first to admit that Cedar Fair kids lands aren't as good at the old Paramount ones. That's why I'm concerned about the Peanuts replacing Nickelodeon. Kings Island may or may not be headed towards iron ride status down the road, but as it stands right now, it offers plenty for everybody to do. Have a look at the ride and attraction list and you will find them. It's not a concrete and iron park (except in the Action Zone), in fact it's quite the opposite in terms of scenery. Theming? not really, but it's well planted, well taken care of, and there are plenty of nice places to sit down and take a break...and who doesn't like International Street. The addition of Firehawk and Diamondback made Kings Island the most well rounded park experience in the seasonal market. Coasters for all sizes, huge kids land, a big waterpark (free nonetheless), and a sufficient collection of filler rides. It could use the restaurants that they have gotten rid of over the years, but there are still some good eats if you know where to look.

Busch Gardens is an A number one park, and I understand it's top status, but it doesn't have that kind of offering. It has great quality attractions, but not as many. It has more theming, and in many cases, better food and shows, but it doesn't have the heart of the kids like Kings Island does, and it doesn't have as much to do. That being said, placing Busch Gardens head and shoulders above Kings Island isn't exactly what I would call an accurate statement. The Peanuts addition raises some questions about KI's quality kids area status, but show me a park that offers as many attractions for people of all ages and tastes. Cedar Point although great, is thrill ride heavy and doesn't include the waterpark in it's admission price. Universal? Yeah ok, even though the attraction list is smaller and it's spread over two parks. You could say Disney, but it's spread over 4 parks, and they don't have the coasters. Keep in mind also that to have those complete Orlando experiences (although great) will cost you hundreds (and hundreds) of dollars more. Kings Island tickets were $23 bucks a piece at the Louisville Kroger ($33 at Ohio Kroger). I spent maybe a hundred inside the park for food, drink, gifts, and games for 4. There's something to be said for value, and the economic and attendance issues for Orlando this year show that.

Sorry for ranting a little, but I have a soft spot for this place, and I'll put it up against any park, any time. I hope that Cedar Fair realizes what they have in this park and keeps the balance that KI currently has. As for kids not becoming coaster fans Robert, didn't one of yours come to the dark side during your visit to Kings Island?

From 173.107.86.199 on September 10, 2009 at 7:28 AM
Ok, I never comment but had to this time as i think you are missing one important part. Robert, did you go over to see the water park at Kings Island? KI has one of the best water park's around espically for little kids. My kids are 38" and 34" and have taken them every year since they were about 1.(Now 4 and 2) There are 4 to 5 large sections for them to play in, numerous waterslides(at least 6 that i can think of off the top of my head before they are 36"). Also a slide that you can ride parent and child, a large pool and a lazy river. When we go we spend at least 4 hours or so at the water park. There is also no additional charge for it.

Just a little background first , I live 1.5 hours from KI's. I grew up going to the KI and Cedar Point every year. I have also been to Seasme Place and Dutch Wonderland this year and Universal and Disney many times.

Just for small kids KI is one of the best parks around espcially for only $30 entry fee. While, no doubt Disney is the best place for kids it also very expensive. Don't kill me for this but i think for the small children only, KI's has a better offering than Universal. IOA had about 4 or 5 rides for them and the kids didn't seem to enjoy them that much. They did like the fievel's playgound at US but not as much as they do riding the whip or waterslides at KI.

So to sum it up, KI's is really great for small children as some of the magizines have given them credit for. While it might not have that many whole family rides, it certainly has it's place.

P.S. KI does have a log flume.

From 64.140.238.130 on September 10, 2009 at 8:15 AM
I don't comment very often and I sure don't want to get in the middle of the Cedar fair vs. the world discussion but for me kids lands are all about expectations.

I have a 3 and a 5 yo and when we go to our local park canobie lake we stay for 4 or 5 hours hit the kiddie rides and leave. The kiddie section is nothing more than a bunch of midway rides lumped together. My kids enjoy them, there usually isn't much more than a 5 minute wait, and they can ride several rides in an outing without having to venture across the entire park. They keep Canobie nice and clean, it is reasonably priced and so for a day out with the kids the local park is nice.

For a family "destination" I expect more. If I am going to vacation to a theme park then I fully expect that there be rides for the entire family and that we are not just jammed into one section of the park. We visit WDW about once a year and I love the fact that we can enjoy the attractions together as a family and not have to split up (my 4 y/o at the time was tall enough to ride test track, thunder mountain, and soarin and loved them) because of the child swap. Mom and oldest could ride soarin while I took the little one to see circle of life then I could ride soarin with the oldest while mom and the little one rode the living with the land ride.

We were given one day passes this past spring for Universal (we went to the studios park)and while we enjoyed it, I would not have been too happy about spending $74 a piece so my family would have to split up for a good part of the day. As the whole point of the family vacation for us is spending it with the family.

As far as the Ohio parks go...sorry but they just don't have enough appeal for me right now. When the kids are older (10-12 ish range) then I will definitely be making the trip but for right now I feel my money is better spent at a park that my family can enjoy together.

From Erin B on September 10, 2009 at 9:17 AM
I grew up going to Cedar Point every summer for as far back as I can remember & I still get a season pass each summer. But my experiences with my family go right along with the points made in Robert's article. My mom is afraid of heights and I have a sister 6 years younger than me. Once I graduated to a full-fledged coaster rider, trips to Cedar Point weren't much of a family thing. We'd all go, but mom would stay with my sister as my dad and I would go around the park and ride the coasters. The only ride we could all ride together was White Water Landing, which was only possible once my sister was tall enough.

Last summer, we all went to Cedar Point as a smaller & more affordable summer vacation. The only thing we did as a family was ride Maverick, which my mom immediately regretted. The only other thing she really did was ride a merry-go-round. There really is nothing in the park for a whole family. And this summer, when we all went to King's Island, my parents never even entered the park because they didn't want to spend the money for my mom to walk around and ride very little.

I absolutely LOVE Cedar Point and it's been a huge part of my life, but the company [Cedar Fair] absolutely DOES NOT cater to families and I think it's something they need to wise up to, and fast. Families are going to bring in a lot more money than a bunch of teens and coaster enthusiasts who run from coaster to coaster and eat out of their cars. I'm frustrated with the lack of focus on the family stuff because I want to see this company succeed and continue to grow and do well.

From Thomas Caselli on September 10, 2009 at 9:26 AM
I think kid's lands for the most part are a waist of time. A parent brings the little one to the kid's area, then has to just sit there for a while until the little one is done. Ooh, what fun! Not! Walt Disney's biggest thing with wanting to build his own theme park was that he wanted a place where parents and children alike could ride the rides and do the attractions together. That's the way it should be. At the Disney parks, there are some rides that the little ones can't do. But most things can be done together.
From Cole Ricks on September 10, 2009 at 12:14 PM
Its tough. I was in Kings Island on Sunday and was in line at the Beast (a rough and intimidating ride) in front of a couple with what looked like a 8-9 year old boy. They had just taken him on Diamondback and here he is standing in line scared to death, asking his parents if it goes underground and if its dark and scary. You Beast alumni know the answer to that (think like an 8 y/o). His mom told me that they had recently taken him on the ToT at Disney and were not prepared for that ride, and now the little fellow is justifiably gunshy. I wanted to stick around after the ride and see how he made out but decided to move on.
From 205.242.83.12 on September 10, 2009 at 1:46 PM
With King's Island getting rid of Nick Universe, this will most likely move us to Holiday World. Outside of being in Cincy to visit family, I would just as soon go to Holiday World and ride their great family of coasters, best in class water park, and beautiful grounds.

Nick Universe was a huge win for my kids and was better than anything I had seen short of Disney for kids at parks across the US.

Snoopy means nothing to them and while the quality of ride may stay the same, the branding was a huge draw and got my kids to take a chance on rides they would not have normally tried.

I do agree that KI is on a decline and this may be the final nail in the coffin. :(

From Brandon S on September 10, 2009 at 1:59 PM
James Koehl, yea I do get tired of people saying how Cedar Point isn't a good park. I know it is not the most family friendly park in the world. They are trying to make it more family friendly though, and are adding Shoot The Rapids this year as a result. Also, Cedar Point has many coasters for kids that aren't at that magical 48 inch mark. You can take a relaxing ride on the train, or go around in Paddlewheel Excursions. You can go on the Giant Wheel. If you want the family friendly coasters, you got Disaster Transport, Iron Dragon, Woodstock Express, and Jr. Gemini. Not the best lineup in the world, but they are decent. In no way am I saying Cedar Point is the best, as I do love Busch Gardens, but it's not fair to say that Busch Gardens is better at the business than Cedar Point when CP is the more successful company.
From James Koehl on September 10, 2009 at 3:07 PM
Brandon, let's not forget Cedar Downs, the three drive-yourself car attractions, dodgems, sky ride, swings in Frontier town, and all the live shows, including the ice show, and "Hot Summer Nights". I must have a really weird family- my kids both love the Peanuts gang and especially Snoopy. Many of the rides in Camp Snoopy are for all ages, and we often ride them together (and usually my kids tolerate the spinners much better than I do!). I think I'll just go up into the lurkers loft in this site. I'm not having much fun in here, since so many have such strong opinions about Cedar Fair doing so much wrong. Perhaps I'm a bit clueless about things- I always thought my family and I were having fun at Cedar Point.
From James Rao on September 10, 2009 at 5:59 PM
Too much Camp Snoopy for you two! I hear a lot of Why's everybody always pickin' on me playing in the background when I read your comments. =)

I am actually reading a lot of love and concern for Cedar Point/Kings Island. Everyone just wants the parent company to be a little more imaginative with their rides and a little more whole-family oriented at the same time. They have the coaster thing down pat, now it is time to work on implementing a few more themed attractions.

And that sentiment extends to all the amusement companies, not just Cedar Fair. Six Flags has the same issue, as does PARC management, and a myriad of other independent, small town parks across the nation.

Families (especially those with non-teen age kids) like to tour theme parks together.

At least, that is what I am reading.

Besides, you don't want to go to the Lurker's Loft, it only has one family ride (a scrambler), they play It's All Small World in a continuous loop, and there are no coasters at all. Ugh.

From W McDougal on September 10, 2009 at 6:15 PM
Based on that Blue spinner in the photo from KI, how the heck did the park win best kid's area? That spinner looks so sad and decrepit, something I expect at a traveling fair or carny. Had the judges ever been to Legoland?
Rather than build children's lands, the Six Flags and Cedar Fair iron parks should just cede the young family audience and give up. In business you can't be all things to all people. Disney doesn't try to build unthemed rides for adrenaline junkies either. The parks should stick to what they do best and hope there's enough of an audience for coasters to make a profit, which I actually doubt.
From James Koehl on September 11, 2009 at 3:35 AM
I think I should just sit this out from now on. Any comment I make stating my opinion that Cedar Point is a family-friendly park, with lots of family-oriented attractions, is at best ignored and at worst dismissed. It doesn't change my opinion, nor my family's enjoyment of Camp Snoopy, Planet Snoopy, Frontier Trail and Frontier Town, and all the family attractions at Cedar Point. Luckily Cedar Point is large enough to allow it to provide these areas AND provide top-notch coasters. Yes, it can and does cater to all ages, and does so very well, and those of you who insist on jumping up-and-down and hollering "Does not! Does not!" are welcome to your opinion. I obviously cannot change your opinion, and you will not change mine. I will be the first to admit that Disney does it best, and that Universal parks are top-notch. I also think that there is room in the park world for Cedar Point-type parks, parks with multiple types of attractions for multiple ages. There are attractions that my kids love that I don't. There are attractions that I love that my kids don't. There are attractions that we all love together. There is nothing wrong with that. We can and have spent all day at Cedar Point riding attractions together as a family, and have spent all day doing what others in the family want to do because we are a family and want to share our time with others. Watching my kids ride Balloon Race in Camp
Snoopy 5 times in a row is worth it, because they love it and I love watching their smiles.
OK, enough from me. Have fun dismissing my opinion.
From James Rao on September 11, 2009 at 7:18 AM
I am just glad you stayed out of the Lurker's Loft, James. That place is nasty.
From DV M on September 11, 2009 at 8:02 AM
I think Robert's assessment has a lot of merit, and I want to acknowledge up front that Robert has significantly raised my awareness of the value of well themed attractions. I disagree on one point though. In my opinion, ONLY Disney gets it right. Only Disney provides the mix of family friendly attractions that keeps the family together. Universal Studios is a distant second. IOA and Busch are in the exact same situation as the big Cedar Fair Parks (sorry never visited a Six Flags). At IOA and Busch, my family separated exactly the same as at Cedar Point, KI and KD. It is only at Disney that the family stays together 90% of the time (Everest, Space Mountain, TOT, Rock'n'RC and a couple Epcot rides are the only exceptions. There is simply more family oriented attractions (which are not nearly as fun as the iron...but that's another topic). The fascination with BGE and IOA is beyond my limited understanding. My family of five, given the choice of a trip to Busch in Williamsburg or King's Dominion has chosen KD 100% of the time after visiting both in 2006. BGE is fantastic, but thin. At KD there is simply more to do and that keeps everybody happier, longer, which means I get more rides on Volcano. KD also has Avalanche, Stunt Coaster, Fairly Odd Coaster, and Ricochet that appeal to 7 years of age and up. And just like KI, includes the water park in the price of admission! I am not disputing Robert's point. It is well thought out. It is the inclusion of IOA and Busch with Disney that simply blows my mind.
From 71.134.210.146 on September 11, 2009 at 11:36 AM
Big difference between "branded" vs. "themed." Is Six Flags a "themed" park? What's the theme of Busch? Disney is certainly tops because it was built around beloved stories and characters. No other theme park comes close to their generational appeal, because even adults have fond memories of the feelings they had for all those Disney fables. Licensing older characters such as Charlie Brown still works because it is the parents buying the tickets, but I agree that brand will continue to wane. Legoland is fascinating to me because it is a theme park that is genuinely focused on kids and doesn't try too hard to accommodate adults or teens. Risky given that it's parents who buy the tickets, parents never exposed to Mindstorm robots, Bionicle or even the ol' Lego bricks like the Europeans were. Can hi-tech replace Dumbo? I've been in lines at Disneyland where kids were begging there mom to go back to Legoland. This was remarkable given how kids tend to live in the moment and Legoland doesn't even have the endearing characters of a Disney, yet. Whatever the theme, it is very difficult to offer a park that all ages can enjoy.
From Brandon S on September 11, 2009 at 1:22 PM
^Busch Gardens Williamsburg is themed to Europe and Busch Gardens Tampa is themed to Africa.

Ok, I'm going to try this again. Cedar Fair is good the way it is. They do not have to be like Disney. Not every park has to be like Disney to be successful. It is unfair to say that they should add more themed rides. I could say the same thing towards Disney, that they should add more thrill rides and coasters. I'm willing to bet that if Cedar Point was in Orlando, it would bring just as many people as Disney. It's a totally different experience.

From James Rao on September 11, 2009 at 8:56 PM
^^I'll take that bet. If Cedar Point could pack in 17 million peeps a year just by moving to Orlando, they would have moved the park years ago.

But I do agree with part of your post: Disney should add more coasters and thrill rides... however they need to be unique, narrative, themed attractions not just steel.

From James Koehl on September 11, 2009 at 5:15 PM
Cedar Point is only open approximately four months out of the year. I think it does pretty well with the limited time it can be open. Also, if Cedar Point was in Orlando, it wouldn't have its unique and beautiful location in the middle of Lake Erie, on America's North Coast. It wouldn't be Cedar Point. Now pardon me while I climb back up into the loft (where I'll enjoy the Scrambler).
From James Rao on September 11, 2009 at 8:54 PM
Cedar Point does very well at #15 on the North American attendance list, drawing roughly 25,000 a day from mid-May to Halloween. However, if it moved to Orlando and wanted to meet Disney-style attendance numbers, the self proclaimed coaster capital of the world would need to draw in about 70,000 guests each and every day for seven additional months. Whew!

And you're right, the place just wouldn't be as pretty without the lake in the backdrop. But, hey, moving the park to the already over-crowded theme park scene in Orlando was Brandon's idea, not mine!

Now, scoot over, James, and let me ride too. I hate scramblers, but there isn't anything else to do in this darn loft! Stay on your own side, blast it, and stop singing that stupid song! Ugh! It stinks in here! Doesn't Robert ever clean this place out? Jeez...

From Charles Reichley on September 11, 2009 at 8:55 PM
If you want to understand BGW, think about a parent who isn't really into big rides.

BGW has great shows, shows that you could stand to see more than once. It has good food that you can eat as a family. It has family rides, it has atmosphere.

It only has 4 roller coasters. It's certainly not thrill-park material. It has no wooden coasters. And frankly, the only rides I generally ride at BGW other than the big 3 coasters (I'm not a lochness fan) is DarKastle, the bumper cars, and corkscrew hill.

But I go back several times every year. I go back for the summer concerts. I go back for the shows (I actually stopped by on the way home from a business trip just to see the acrobat show and eat an ice cream cone). I go back for Halloween. I go back because it's the only park my wife actually seems to look forward to, while she tolerates the rest.

I bet our entire family would love Disney. But it's twice as expensive, and a day away, and more crowded than I would ever like.

So I do Kings DOminion and the entire Cedar Point park group. But I still do BGW every year. It's the only park I can think of where I could visit 3 times without riding a single ride (the aforementioned ice cream stop, and two summer concerts).

From Brandon S on September 11, 2009 at 10:21 PM
Hey, I don't want Cedar Point to move to Orlando! I'm perfectly fine with it being right near my house :)
I was saying if they were located in Orlando, they would be bringing in a lot more visitors per year. They would be year round, and be getting some of Disney's customers too. I would have to bet that they would at least be in the Top 5 in attendence if CP was down there.
From James Rao on September 12, 2009 at 12:24 AM
It is all just speculation, so I will play along and say that Cedar Point would break the top ten. But that top five would be very hard to crack. Especially when Universal (Rip Ride Rockit) and SeaWorld (Manta) have already proven, with attendance losses all year long, that roller coasters do not directly lead to more customers. At least, not in Orlando.
From James Koehl on September 12, 2009 at 3:49 AM
James R., what song is that? "It's a Small World after all...?" Don't blame Cedar Fair for THAT! ;+) As far as moving CP to Orlando, I wouldn't want that, either, any more than I want Snoopy to be seen wearing MM ears. Having Theme Park World in Orlando gives us a good reason to go to Fl. every few winters, but give CP the summer season on the north coast. At least we can go into the water and swim at the Cedar Point beach. Show me a Disney World beach that is a mile long.
From James Rao on September 12, 2009 at 8:06 AM
I had to pick a song that would subject you to an infliction of intense cerebral pain, James! I didn't want you staying in that nasty, old loft...and so far my methods have been highly successful!

CP is at home right where it is, I agree. It is certainly one of the wonders of the amusement park world and a destination to which all fans of coasters and thrills should travel at least once every couple of years after reaching 54" tall.

But back to the original discussion topic, Cedar Fair, the company, does need to modify some of its practices and provide more consistent operations across the expanse of its empire. While not up to my Orlando-centric standards, Cedar Point, Kings Island, Kings Dominion, and Knotts Berry Farm do offer quite a bit more fun and adventure than the average CF park. Continued effort should be made to bring parks like Worlds of Fun up to snuff. Furthermore, the company needs to make a concerted effort to provide better and tastier food options. Face it, the food at Cedar Fair parks is pretty darn sucky. I don't mind paying high prices for amusement park food if the quality and variety is above that which can be found at the local fast food joint. Additionally, some measure of creativity should be employed in the design and placement of new attractions. I've seen some nice things lately at my local park with the addition of Prowler, but continued progress must be made. Also, an emphasis on things the entire family can experience together would be a huge bonus. Don't get me wrong, I still want to see lots of roller coasters and uber thrill rides, but perhaps CF can work with engineers to design some top notch attractions that accommodate the 40 - 44 inch height ranges (and a dark ride or two would not be a bad thing at all!). Finally, keep in mind, the aesthetics of the park cannot slip... maintenance, cleanliness, and beauty are all still requisite.

Everything I just wrote goes for Six Flags, PARC, and a host of independent amusement park operators as well. All these companies function similarly by placing new attractions in such as way as to cause a segregation of the family unit. Greater emphasis on combining uber rides with whole-family and kiddie rides should be on the agendas of all amusement park companies.

It has been a stimulating discussion folks, but the horse is long since dead and buried, and we just keep digging it up and kicking the crap out of it. It is now time to turn our attention to FOOTBALL. A couple college games are about to kick off, and we have a huge dose of THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE heading our way tomorrow and Monday. I am putting on my adult diapers and getting the TV remote ready... have a great sports weekend!

From 72.187.111.21 on September 13, 2009 at 7:45 AM
Personally I've always said that I think it's ridiculous to even TAKE toddlers to a theme park. They don't remember it, get exhausted, and often just dislike the entire experience. Parents should wait until thier child is old enough to be able to make the physical treck, and have great memories to last a lifetime. 6 and up at least.
As for the kiddie areas of a park? Funny thing is, I only have one child, and enjoy those areas just as much as the adult sections! Good example is the Dino area @ US Islands of Adventure. I was climbing around, exploring and having a general blast. Even in the Dr.Suess land. It's all about maintaining a youthful frame of mind. I think they definately should offer up some fun for the kids and find ways to keep things fresh and new for upcoming generations.
However, I have to say...making certain parks more geared for children than adults, is probably a bad thing as well. Look @ Disney. The place is crawling with families, but honestly unless you are there just to give your children some entertainment, it's boring as hell for adults. They even got rid of Pleasure Island!
I adored Busch Gardens for thier ability to mix the two age groups, and keep things fun. But now? Well, the prices went up, the attractions down, and I'm tired of all the corporate crap that seems to be invading the entire system. Almost makes you forget you are at a theme park. And not in a good way.

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