Robert's rules for the perfect theme park
Today feels like a bit of lost day, sandwiched between a weekend and Christmas. But I thought I'd stir up a fun little discussion for those of us who find ourselves browsing online today or on Christmas:
Let's talk about the perfect theme park!
Now that's a weenie! If Tokyo DisneySea isn't perfect, it was your selection as the Theme Park Insider Award winner for world's best theme park in 2012.
What are the qualities, features and characteristics that would make a theme park "perfect"? Conversely, what are the elements that, when missing, cause a theme park to fall short of its potential?
I'm going to offer some suggestions about physical elements, but if you'd like to add your own thoughts about other elements that go into the theme park experience, please, feel welcomed to do so!
So let's get to it. Here is my list of qualities of a perfect theme park. (In most cases, I've listed a few examples of parks that display that quality, though there usually are others, too.)
The perfect theme park should be easily accessible - not just by car, but it should be tied into the local community's mass-transit system as well. Ideally, the park should have its own regional train station in the resort, so people don't have to drive to reach it. (Examples: Disneyland Paris, Tokyo Disneyland)
The perfect theme park should be part of a walkable development, with not just the train station, but also the parking garages, hotels and any other assorted shops and development within walking distance. For things beyond a short walk away, the park should provide boats, monorails and other forms of out-of-the-ordinary transport to reach them (in other words, not just buses). Once you arrive at the park, you should never need your car again. (Examples: Universal Orlando, Universal Studios Singapore)
When you enter the perfect theme park, you should pass through some physical element that marks a defined transition from outside the park to inside. This helps reinforce the idea that you've entered a special place, different from your everyday life. (Examples: Walking under the train station at Disneyland, or under the Disneyland Hotel in Paris)
Once inside, the perfect theme park eases your transition into a fantasy world by starting with a "real" themed environment. This should be a recreation of a place that is or was once real - appealing to your senses of nostalgia, romance or adventure. (Examples: Main Street USA, Buena Vista Street)
This initial themed land leads you into the park, where you see some magnificent edifice in the distance, visually drawing you deeper into the park. (Walt Disney famously called this the "weenie.") Along the way into the park, comfortable diversions distract you: benches, seating areas, cafes, shops, character meet and greets. Despite that weenie in the distance, you want to hang out here, in a nostalgic place where you long to be (again). (Examples: Buena Vista Street, Mediterranean Harbor at Tokyo DisneySea)
Once you approach the weenie in the center of the park, your other options appear. It's here that you finally transition from the real to the fantastic, as some of the themed lands you'll see here represent places that never did - and never could - exist. Only after you enter the various lands, do the individual attractions appear. (Examples: the hubs in the Magic Kingdoms)
The perfect theme park hides the outside world from view. Sure, you might be able to see surrounding forest, ocean. mountains or a river (I do like the view of the James from atop Apollo's Chariot), but you won't find developed reminders of that outside world you've left.
Inside the perfect theme park, all back-of-house functionality also is hidden from your view.
You'll find different menus in each land throughout the perfect theme park, themed to that land. No lands share the same food items. Even the snacks - popcorn, ice cream and churros, feature different flavors in each land. (Examples: Wizarding World of Harry Potter, flavored popcorn in Tokyo Disneyland)
Every themed land in the perfect theme park has its own flora - trees, plants, flowers - that are unique and themed to the land. You'll find different pavement and architecture in each land, too.
The perfect theme park doesn't offer any flat, blank surfaces - anywhere. Every surface in the perfect theme park offers visual (and, usually, physical) texture. The perfect theme park is built with high-quality surface material that can stand up to touch, sunlight and rain, without fading or wearing. (Examples: Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Tokyo DisneySea)
So what elements would you add to the perfect theme park? As you (hopefully!) celebrate a perfect holiday, let's talk about our vision of a perfect place, as well. Merry Christmas and best wishes to all!
I think the perfect Theme Park has to have enough rides and attractions to satisfy audiences of every age group, have a nice assortment of attractions families can enjoy to together, enough dining options to cater to any appetite, alot of indoor rides for when the weather isn't so friendly, and refurbishing their classics while still adding new rides to cater to long time goers aswell to attract new visitors.
A perfect park should have a large number of rides that a 7 year old. a teenager and an adult can all enjoy (and want to re-ride) together.
Adding to Robert's exceptional work -- the perfect theme park changes when it transitions from daylight to evening operations -- using lighting, music, smaller atmospehere entertainment and special night time entertainment.
The perfect park has the following:
A perfect theme park should have a variety of rides that everyone can enjoy, amazing restuarants, and have amazing themeing. I'm talking about any of the Magic Kingdoms.
Take Robert's aesthetics and Mike G.'s coasters (substituting Volcano for Dominator, and NO bumper cars!) and you have a winner! Although, I am more inclined to agree with the assertion that the perfect theme park should have amazing, immersive attractions that everyone can ride together, and not just an uber collection of coasters.
Mike, so how are you going to ride the rides without a knowledgeable, efficient, and friendly staff?
I think the perfect park changes as you get older and for that matter changes from person to person. 20 years ago I'd probably have agreed with Mike G - it was all about what rides and attractions it had. But I've changed. My capacity for riding coasters has reduced considerably, (I still enjoy them but maybe just the once....), but balancing that has come an increased pleasure in the details of a park. For me now a perfect park has atmosphere, great surroundings and landscaping, and 'things' to occupy me. So, much as I know it will attract howls of derision, the 'perfect' park for my wife and I 8 weeks ago was the World Showcase at Epcot. We spent several half days just wandering around the lagoon, eating our way around the Food and Wine Festival, browsing the shops, watching the free entertainment, taking in the occasional show. Little details delighted me - such as the chair-balancing act in France, or the Liberty Singers in the American Pavilion.
A perfect theme park needs to have good customer service. Part of the reason that I was so happy when I visited the Disneyland Resort at Anaheim was the fact that the cast members were very nice with me. More than one went beyond their routine; the cast member at the entrance of Indy guided me through the queue and into the ride (and it's a long queue!), and then he waited for me in the loading area while I rode the ride. At Toy Story, the cast member who was operating the ride asked me if I wanted to ride it again. When I arrived for a second time to the loading area, she asked me again if I wanted another ride. Without a good customer service, a theme park will never be perfect.
Now that the presents are all opened, the Disney Parks Christmas Parade is over, and most folks are settling down for a nap, I have a few hours before my Les Mis showtime to write a few additional thoughts that coincide with those others have already made.
James: A lot of good points. I tend to agree with the vast majority of your opinions.
My perfect theme park would have a single price admission. That admission covers the cost of parking, rides, and a reasonably priced meal while visiting. So many theme parks claim to be "resorts" but nickle and dime you to death like no other resort on planet Earth. I really get tired of having to calculate the cost of a theme park trip when you have to add up all of the add-ons and non-included costs in the admission. If parks added $3-5 to their daily admission price, that could easily cover the $15+/car cost that seems to be standard nowadays. Add another $10 to the price of admission, and that easily covers the cost of a counter service meal. Even at parks with daily admissions in excess of $80, it still keeps a visit under $100/day, but gives guests the confidence that everything they need for that day is taken care of. It also gets rid of those parking lot booths and overhead parks need to shell out to employees to collect money from vehicles entering the parking lot.
James, I would take exception to your MCBR comment. There are some great coasters out there with MCBRs, it really has to do with the way park engineers program those MCBRs. Some coasters need those to separate blocks, while others use the MCBRs to give riders a quick breather before continuing the assault on your senses. No one wants to have their speed/energy deliberately scrubbed halfway through the ride, but I don't find them offensive when used to provide a consistant, enjoyable ride. Afterall, when parks really want to, MCBRs can be used to great advantage, like Revenge of the Mummy, or terribly like on so many Arrow loopers.
I should have been more specific, I guess. I don't like when a MCBR is added to or strengthened on an existing coaster because it is getting a little rough in its old age. If you can't fix the coaster and make it run like it was originally intended, then scrap it and build something new. Don't slow it down to the point of obsolescence.
I don't know---Adding brakes is sometimes necessary because what was calculated on the computer is not what is experienced in the real world. Take I-305 for example...I highly doubt Intamin intended to subject riders to 10 seconds of 4+ g's in that first turn, but that's what the design produced, and because of that, changes needed to be made, so the first turn was reprofiled, and the brakes that were initially installed on the first drop were moved back to the next to last bunny hill (I assume Intamin paid for those changes, not Cedar Fair).
A perfect theme park is one where there are no people. Only cast members. No more people standing in the middle of the walkway! Now, that's perfect.
There are exceptions to most every over qualified generalization, Russell. And in the "real world" of theme parks, I sense we are largely in agreement.
I can definitely agree with that. Perhaps I see "perfection" through a filter, and understand that there never will be true perfection, but instead expect minor flaws in every theme park. Afterall, sometimes those flaws are what make a park special. I approached the perfection question from a more realistic approach understanding that there will always be errors in design and/or construction.
^Hear, hear!!! That does sound perfect!!
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