Theme Park Insider

What kind of tourist are you?

October 5, 2017, 4:28 PM · If you've booked a vacation with Disney or Universal recently ā€” of if you own a seasonal pass with any of the regional amusement park chains ā€” you've probably been asked to complete a guest survey at one point or another. (I fit all of the above categories, so I get these surveys via email all the time!)

The especially interesting surveys, to me, aren't those that ask about my recent visits to the parks. The ones that really get my attention are those that are looking for some information that the parks can use to guide their future development. Now, almost all of these surveys have some confidentiality requirement attached, so I can't write about any specific surveys I've seen. (And some of the surveys that ask about specific ideas for new stuff are just tests that don't actually mean the park is actually considering building those things.) But a common theme I have seen on multiple companies' surveys tries to get at defining what kind of tourists we are.

I thought that would be an interesting topic of conversation for us here. So I have gone ahead and created our own Theme Park Insider survey to ask "what kind of tourist are you?" (A Google account is required to answer the survey, so that we can limit the responses to one per reader.)

Allow me to get the conversation flowing with my answers.

Familiar or New? This question was the toughest call for me, because the nature of my job here requires me to keep coming back to the destinations most popular with theme park fans. (I've been to Orlando five times this year, with a sixth trip planned for next month.) Don't get me wrong, I enjoy every visit to familiar destinations, but going someplace new excites me too... well, so long as it is somewhere I want to go. Wow, what a cop-out answer. Anyway, I picked "new" here.

Journey or Destination? Journey for me, easily. I am Mr. Roadtrip, after all, and I'm also one of those seemingly rare souls who loves being in an airport. Walking into the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX makes my heart soar, because I know I am not just heading for a far-off destination, but that I get to enjoy the privilege of the journey to get there.

Group or Immediate family or Solo? I remain emotionally scarred by school and Boy Scout trips that shepherded me in a crowd through wherever we were visiting. Whenever I got the chance to go off alone, I took it. I've loved going on roadtrips with my family over the years, but I most enjoy traveling on my own, at my own (usually breakneck) pace and doing whatever it is that I want. So... Solo.

Luxury or Utilitarian? Ask me this 20 years ago, and my cheap ass would have answered utilitarian without hesitation. These days? In the immortal words of Roger Murtaugh, "I'm getting to old for this s---." Luxury. But... I feel bad about it?

Service or DIY? This was the clearest choice for me. I took a cruise for the first time this summer, and I realized on it how much I cannot stand the loss of freedom to go do stuff for myself. And let me carry my own darned bag, please. DIY, all the way.

Plan in advance or Play it by ear? What is my job again? Yeah, I make a living based upon people's need to plan stuff in advance, and I do practice what I preach. We are going to have a significant selection bias on this one, given that it's our survey. All this said, I always am happy to considering ditching a plan for a better, unforeseen alternative, but I believe in first having a plan to ditch.

Step by step or General concepts? This one might seem redundant to the previous question, but the Internet has made these two distinct qualities, IMHO. People who plan in advance can go either way here, but so can "play it ear" people. The "play it by ear" by people who need step by step instructions are the ones you see pulling out their phones to Google a plan on the fly, just as soon as they decide what to do. While I gladly will fire up Waze to get me though traffic, I generally prefer to stick to general concepts and not get tied down with inflexible step-by-step itineraries.

So, in summary, I like to plan in advance to fly solo to a variety of destinations, while enjoying the journey even more, staying in as nice an accommodation as I can afford, so long as they let me handle my stuff and my business myself.

What about you? Please fill out the survey above, then fill in some detail in the comments.

Replies (12)

October 5, 2017 at 5:39 PM · Iā€™m surprised you take the confidentiality agreements seriously. They are largely general questions. Will they sue you for revealing your own answers to their questions? They can try. I try to be helpful, but I feel they are about marketing than improving their services or new attractions.
October 5, 2017 at 5:45 PM · I'm in a unique position because I cover the parks for a living, and I strive to do that as ethically as possible. So if I say that I won't reveal something, I won't.

Now, if someone else forwards me the info from a park survey, hey... I didn't agree to any confidentiality. If they want to snitch to me, that's their business. A fine line, I know, but one that is important to me.

October 5, 2017 at 7:31 PM · It's funny, I used to be a HUGE advance planner, but since moving to Orlando two years ago, I get to go to Disney/Universal all the time and thus have the luxury of just strolling down to the parks to do whatever for a few hours. It's helped me relax when I go to other parks that aren't local and kind of go with the flow. I still answered "plan in advance" because I do like to have strong knowledge of what the destination has on offer, but I'm no longer rigidly locked into one specific gameplan months before I arrive at the front gate.

As for the other answers, the familiar/new one was the other, like Robert, that really threw me for a loop. My favorite parks I've visited, in order, are DIsneyland, Islands of Adventure, Hersheypark, and Magic Kingdom, and if you told me I could only go to those four parks the rest of my life, I'd take you up on it. But I had to go with new because there are places I haven't explored, like Europa Park or the Tokyo Disney Resort, that I'd have to jump at the chance at. Fun to think about!

October 6, 2017 at 3:44 AM · A lifelong personal friend of mine is a world traveler and loves to fly by the seat of his pants. He hates "package tour deals" and refuses to follow any kind of rules or plans. I on the other hand am the polar opposite. So when he said to me "the next time you go to Disney, I am going along", you can only imagine how THAT trip would play out!

I find much less anxiety in the familiarity and knowing that every step of my journey is planned. I live my life by the clock and sadly my vacations are no different. If you say to me "tomorrow we are heading to Ireland...we'll find a hotel when we get there!"...well..have fun! I would need AT LEAST a year to plan such a thing!

October 6, 2017 at 3:51 AM · Interesting questions, but many of the answers, for me, could easily be both/all. And, for me, depending on the answer to one question, it would affect the answer to another; ie plan step-by-step when travelling with family VS play it by ear when by myself. Love the journey with friends or self VS get me to the destination ASAP with family (please, for the love of gawd, get me there!). Love going somewhere familiar with new-and-added luxury (thank-you increasingly expensive Disney World hotels) VS can go somewhere new and happily sleep on a park bench.
October 6, 2017 at 7:31 AM · Familiar or new was also a challenging question for me. As much as I enjoy visiting parks for the first time and experiencing something novel, the only new parks I visited this season were Alton Towers and Quassy. I find myself returning to the 2 Texas Six Flags parks regularly and this is for both entertainment and economic reasons. Both have coasters on my personal top ten steel coaster list and both are serviced by low budget airlines. The destination rather than the journey is everything with one exception: I'll be making my 2nd trip this year to Six Flags New England at the end of the month because I discovered that I enjoy travelling by train. And I do prefer to travel alone because that way I can do what I want to do whether that means riding Iron Rattler 10 times or having lunch at an ice cream stand. As to accommodations, my budget doesn't usually allow anything other than strictly utilitarian although over Labor Day weekend on a trip to Dollywood I did pay for a room with a whirlpool. That being said, there are definitely new places I'd like to visit, Fuji- Q Highland being at the top of my bucket list, but I don't see that happening for economic reasons.
October 6, 2017 at 10:25 AM · Great topic.

The Husband and I work in the hotel industry. One of the best perks of this is we get lots of free accommodations. The trade off on getting free rooms is that we have to plan a year in advance on where we are going. There are pros and cons on that. The pro is having something to look forward to. Research has proven that the anticipation is often better than the experience. The con is we can't be as "spur of the moment" as we would like.
As a trade off - when we travel we try to not schedule every moment. We do research and have a general idea of what we want to do while we are there, but we don't like to have a hour by hour agenda.
We enjoy going to new places for big trips, but we also have our regular places for weekend trips and holidays - Orlando, Atlanta and Seattle for family, but in the last couple of years we've also gone to Japan, Mexico City, and the south of France on big vacations.
Above all the most important thing to me is to travel. I love to exercise my passport and see new places. As much as I love Theme Parks, I don't understand the mindset that Worldshowcase at Epcot is a substitute for going to the real places.

October 6, 2017 at 12:28 PM · I think some of these questions can be interpreted in slightly different ways.

1. Familiar or new - Going someplace new is always a goal for our vacations, but it may be in a familiar location. Those of us that frequent theme parks may go to the same parks over and over again, but try to find something new to see or do every time. I think this in particular is what makes so many theme parks so appealing as vacation destinations. So many add new experiences every single year that a visit changes every year because of the new additions. Our visit to Orlando next week will be the tenth (I think) trip my wife and I have taken together, but this will be our first trip to Legoland, our first time staying at the Royal Pacific Resort, our first experience on Jimmy Fallon and Skull Island, my first time doing RIP at HHN, first visit to PtWoA, first time on the new Mission: Space, Soarin', and Frozen Ever After, and first time our son will be tall enough to do a lot of big boy rides. So while we're going to a familiar place, we'll being doing a lot of new stuff while still enjoying many of our all-time favorites we've experienced dozens of times before.

2. Journey or Destination - The destination is always the goal for us. Traveling is such a chore (we'll be driving 12 hours overnight to and from Orlando from DC), especially when airplanes are involved. While fun things can happen along the way (our son's amazement at the NYC subway system was pretty cool on our trip earlier this year), getting between places is usually an exercise in distraction and finding ways to occupy the time.

3. Group, Family, Solo - I have to say that I really don't like traveling in large groups. I remember trips in high school and college where we were forced to stay with the group, and it was constant frustration with keeping groups together and those that felt like they could always be 5-10 minutes late for a meet-up. We're the type of people that like to see as much as we can while we're there, so the burden of catering to a large group always slows us down. I don't mind traveling solo if it's part of a business trip or there are other extenuating circumstances (going solo to HHN because it's not appropriate for my son and my wife's not a fan of haunted attractions), but I find it's far more exciting and enjoyable to share trips with my close family.

4. Luxury or utilitarian - We are absolutely in the utilitarian category, but don't mind paying for luxury if there are distinct advantages like Staying at Royal Pacific (or Hard Rock or Portofino Bay) so we can get unlimited Universal Express or upgrading that reservation to the Club Level so we can get breakfast, snacks, and dinner in the lounge. We're always looking for deals, so if you give us value for an upgraded room or other vacation item, we might consider it. We typically view hotels more as bedrooms and breakfast than integral parts of our vacation.

5. Service or DIY - It's so easy to plan trips these days with the internet, and as Rob noted, planning can be almost as fun as the vacation, despite the stress it can cause. Services/Travel agents, no matter how hard they work and get to know you, will never know every nuance of your personality and how you like to travel. While letting someone else plan and book your vacation takes that annoyance and stress out of the equation, I'm always worried that they'll forget something, screw something up, or not get us the very best deal. If something in a DIY vacation gets screwed up, you only have yourself to blame and you have more control over it.

6.Advance/play by ear - This kinda depends on where we're going and what we're doing. An Orlando/WDW vacation usually requires some intensive planning thanks to Disney's reservation systems. Failure to plan at WDW can result in long lines, fewer choices of things to do, and general frustration. However, once all of the planning Disney allows you to do is complete, there's still some spontaneity we like to build in. While we generally plan how we expect to walk around the parks, we may allow time to wander or double back to ride something a second or third time. Other vacations we take (even to other theme parks) are rarely planned to the intensity of a WDW trip. My wife and I just got back from a long weekend in Colorado (Denver/Ft. Collins), and while we had some things we knew we wanted to do, we spent a lot of time just wandering, and checking Yelp, Trip Adviser, and other services on the fly to see if places we were going past were worth checking out. Even on trips to most other theme parks, we'll just wander after hitting the headliners after opening.

7. Step by step/General - Again, this one depends on where we're going. A WDW vacation requires a pretty rigorous itinerary to maximize your visit, but there's still some general parts of our day built into a WDW vacation. For instance: we might have FP+ reservations at 10 AM at Space Mountain, but after we ride at 10, we might generally stay in Tomorrowland before a Seven Dwarfs Mine Train FP at 11 AM or decide to walk over to Fantasyland with a general plan to see what rides have short lines that we could do before 11. Aside from our WDW trips, our itineraries tend to be very general unless event tickets are involved, though we do tend to plan on seeing certain attractions on certain days based on hours and expected crowds. We occasionally will even build in flexibility for certain things based upon the weather.

We definitely fall into one category for each of these questions, but some of these depend on where we're going and what we're doing. While we tend to be pretty rigorous planners and enjoy exploring what a destination offers online before arriving, WDW necessitates taking that planning to an extreme. But, as Rob said, no matter how you do it, it's important to go out and see the world. Though I think the World Showcase is an appropriate substitute for families that may not have the means or courage to travel outside the US.

October 6, 2017 at 2:12 PM · I recently got a survey from a competitor to Disney (it's confidential remember ;-) .
It asked about my planning habits and I was really stumped on how to answer. I am a planner, but not to the degree now required at Disney World. I don't mind making a few dinner/lunch reservations, but I do not make reservations for "every" meal. Same thing with rides. I appreciate the "theory" behind the reservation system, but it's just gotten to be too much.
I got mad the last time I went to Disney World four years ago because I couldn't get reservations to one specific attraction (and I tried as soon as the reservation window opened). I haven't been back since. The whole thing turned me off. I've been a Universal fan since. I am a business realist and accept there will always be a "few" people who stay at the upper hotels and pay a premium price and get special access. Universal has the right combination now. I hope they don't get "Disneyfied."
October 7, 2017 at 1:48 AM · With "theme park world" becoming obesessively driven by apps with options to pre-book everything then those who "play it by ear" will become increasingly rarer and at a distinct disadvantage unfortuately. Guests' experience is becoming robotic.
October 9, 2017 at 9:07 AM · Neglected to address the planning issue. Trips to local parks are often last minute but trips out of the area have required advance planning to the extent of booking a flight or train and hotel room. An international trip is a different story altogether. For my trip to Alton Towers I had to book a flight to London, package for Alton Towers including hotel/park entry/Fast Track and roundtrip on Virgin Trains. I was somewhat apprehensive as to whether I would be able to retrieve my prepaid train ticket from a machine at Euston station but it worked fine and to this day I continue to get emails from Virgin Trains despite the fact that it may be a long time before I get back to the UK.
October 9, 2017 at 9:50 AM · When I go on trips I have to plan them out very carefully because I never just go one place. For example last year I went on a trip to China, Hong Kong, Japan, and Australia. It's pretty much impossible to see a lot (not only parks, but historical sites as well as other things I want to see) without a huge amount of pre-planning.

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