Do different theme parks reflect differences in regional attitudes?
Written by Bobbie Butterfield
One of the things I observed during my visits to highly rated theme parks over the past two years is the extent to which they are defined by regional lifestyles and attitudes. I find that parks located near large metropolises in the Northeast are among the least welcoming whereas parks in rural areas are among the most welcoming. Even parks located near smaller cities in the South Atlantic or Southeastern regions tend to be more user-friendly than those along the Northeast Corridor. I also find that the closer you get to the Midwest, the closer you get to the level of hospitality desired at a theme park.Tweet
A prime example is my home park, Six Flags Great Adventure, a great park by any standard but not one of the most welcoming. Located between New York and Philadelphia, it attracts numerous visitors from those two cities. Urban living tends to promote a certain wariness and watch your back mindset, and this is reflected at the park. Security at SFGA is very tight. In order to enter the park it's necessary to empty your pockets of cell phones, cameras, keys, etc. and go through a metal detector. I should point out that metal detectors are standard at Six Flags parks, regardless of where they‘re located, but the screening process at this park was more obtrusive and intrusive than that at a sister park in another area of the country. At Six Flags Fiesta Texas the staff was friendlier and the atmosphere more relaxed than at the two Six Flags parks I've visited in the East. I also got exceptional follow-up from the marketing director of Six Flags Fiesta after my visit – not just one of those surveys that the park is prone to send but an actual one-on-one communication.
Jackson, New Jersey is by no means a large city but because of its location, SFGA has had to incorporate a big city mentality. Certainly this park attracts a different demographic from parks in more rural areas and it tends to be a faster crowd. At Hersheypark, only two hours away from Philadelphia but in a relatively rural area, I have never been subjected to the same level of scrutiny or seen such extremes of dress as at SFGA. The last time I went to SFGA there was a concert and the park was heavily populated by skinny young women bare from the midriff to the pelvis with navel rings and other body piercings. This is something I've never seen at Hershey, Knoebels or other parks located in rural areas. These parks tend to be more moderate and family-oriented. They also tend to be more hospitable. On my last visit to Hershey, I rode Skyrush with three little boys who were intrigued by my Theme Park Insider T-shirt, bombarding me with questions about where I'd been and which coasters I'd ridden, and shared a lunch table with a nice young couple. Only rarely has anyone at SFGA evinced any interest in talking with me. (Speaking of Knoebels, not only the park staff but the locals who gave me driving directions when I got lost were so approachable, helpful and friendly that I as a city person was amazed.)
The only theme park near a major city in the Northeast at which I felt like a truly valued patron is Lake Compounce, where the staff was absolutely wonderful, according me special consideration and privileges. The same cannot be said for Six Flags New England, located in the same region.
The Midwest is among the best places to visit a theme park. When I went to Holiday World, I was impressed by the relaxed setting, welcoming atmosphere and extreme friendliness of the staff. No metal detectors, no distrust, no hassle! This park stands out as one of the best I've visited in terms of pleasantness and customer service. In my experience, people in this region are simply more open, trusting and congenial than those back east, and this translates to area theme parks. A young lady stationed at the entrance to Pilgrims Plunge (don't know whether that ride is currently operating, as it's not showing up on Holiday World's website) was super friendly and gracious even after I made the serious gaffe of saying on camera that although The Voyage is a great ride, it's not as good as El Toro. (What could I have been thinking?) Also in the Midwest, Cedar Point gets high marks for being user-friendly (except for the long ride queues), as does Silver Dollar City.
Virginia is a nice place to visit a theme park but even there, the level of hospitality is not as high as in the Midwest. Still, on my recent visit to Kings Dominion I was favourably impressed by the fact that at Volcano The Blast Coaster, a staff member actually wheeled a cart through the loading area to collect loose articles that could not go along for the ride. This was largely a matter of necessity, as the trains load and unload in different areas, and from the loading area it's not possible to hop across the track and stash articles on the other side. Be that as it may, I suspect that some parks would let riders fend for themselves and either forfeit their property or pay to put it in a locker.
One of the nicest surprises I encountered during my travels was Dollywood. People in Pigeon Forge tend to be rather laid back by my standards and I had a very good feeling about this park. One of the ride ops was especially engaging, chatting with me about Wild Eagle and giving me advice about what to do on Mystery Mine to avoid a head-banging experience.
I cannot comment on the smaller and lesser known parks, as I haven't visited them, so that this may be somewhat slanted, but these are my observations after visits to a number of high profile theme parks.
It's been an interesting journey thus far and an illuminating one, to see how theme parks differ from one another as much as a result of their geographical location as anything else.
[Editor's note: What do you think? In composing your comment, let's keep this to personal experiences, and avoid stereotyping regions or parks where you haven't visited. Thanks!]
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