Just Published: Theme Park Insider: 2016 Year in Review
Theme parks need to make money. And just like any other entertainment venue, much of the black on the ledger comes from purchases once guests have passed the turnstiles. That said, the reason for going to a park is pleasure. And pleasure is generally attained while in a state of comfort. Therefore, parks should have a reasonable interest in adding to the comfort of their guests.
There are extremes in how well and how poorly parks can cater to a guest’s comfort. Holiday world offers free drinks and sun screen. Dollywood goes above and beyond in authentic customer service. On the other hand, King's Dominion lacks shade to a criminal degree, and many Six Flags parks cry out for a good scrubbing of all hard surfaces. All of these things relate directly to guest comfort and hence guest pleasure.
This all brings me to the point of this ramble: the parks that constantly show up in the top of most lists regarding theme park quality have some grasp on creating a decent level of comfort. So why is it that they don't build on this farther? And, maybe more importantly, why don't the other parks take the hint?
Parks like those in the Disney, Seaworld, and Universal franchises do well with customer service and the quality care and general beauty of their parks, but they could add a few touches to improve the comfort level of their guests. Who hasn’t been to a theme park all day and walked to their car at the end feeling like you just finished a week long trek through the Mojavi Desert? If you didn’t have the feeling that your tongue was sandpaper your feet may actually quit your body and catch a ride home with someone else would you be more apt to make a weekend out of a theme park rather than a day?
My first suggestion for standard guest amenities would be free wheelchairs and strollers. While I'm the first to decry the over use of scooters and strollers at parks, for those who truly need them it shouldn't cost anything. I would also suggest adding more COLD water fountains in attraction queues that are typically long, especially if they are outdoors. Nothing is worse than standing in line for an hour and being greeted ten minutes into the wait by a low pressure, lukewarm water fountain. My final amenity suggestion would be calm, indoor, air conditioned seating areas where you aren't being beaten over the head to buy something. This last one is a concept lost to time. At one point Disney was pretty good at creating lobbies or atriums that held back the pressure of the park. Now, air conditioning comes at a premium: your attention and/or your money. You can still find a few places where it is lovely to sit and collect yourself such as The American Adventure in Epcot.
Not every theme park needs to, nor can afford to, give out free soft drinks. And parks don’t need to lose money over the amenities. But, parks need to recognize the frailty of the human experience and support their guests through a slightly higher level of comfort. Air conditioning, easy access to cold water, and mobility assistance should be on the house.
What are the amenities you think theme parks should offer standard to their guests?
Free Water. Often you'll get nasty looks when just asking for a glass of ice water, then you get a tiny cup that wouldn't satisfy a two year old much less a weary, sweaty adult. Parks should have a set "cheap cup" for ice water that's a decent size and easily distinguishable from paid cups. Perhaps even a separate station from the soda where you can get ice and water, that way there isn't as much concern about "stealing soda". You could get refills easily without taking up space in food/vending line.
Another thing I'd like to see more of is bench seating, even if in the sun there never seem to be enough benches. It's cheap and quick to put up outdoor quality fans, more parks should look into this option for seating areas if they are in the sun.
What is considered "low cost" can also be called "high profit". It's the $3 sodas, the overpriced gifts, and all of the other goodies in the park that pay for these multimillion dollar rides, light shows, technology...etc. Holiday World's model works for them because they operate far away from a large city in Santa Claus, Indiana (see..middle of nowhere aka... low taxes), because they are a privately owned company who doesn't have to answer to shareholders or a corporate entity, and because they are content to live within their means and grow conservatively. They've prioritized service over growth and are comfortable with eating the cost and missing out on the profit.
On the subject of perks, I would like to see the parks work to keep their guests cooler during their visit. Less blacktop paving, more shady spots, more spots with A/C, and more water features would sure help to calm the heat. The hot sun drains the energy out of people quickly and it lowers morale. IMHO, a happy customer spends money. Better to make them as comfortable as possible so their length of stay is maximized. I also like the package drop off. Nobody likes to carry a bunch of stuff around the park, and that colors the decision to buy gifts, play games...etc. The option of package drop off removes that burden and at the very least doesn't discourage customers from spending their money on the games and in shops. The final thing is a ready supply of cold clean water...preferably with ice. No lakewater or chlorine smell, no lukewarm fountains. A hydrated guest is a happy guest, and a happy guest spends money. Better to have that than free soda, which brings sugar crashes and in the case of too much, an upset stomach.
It would be nice if there was an area designated just for that purpose.
In DCA, you'll see people just sitting on the floor at the Animation Academy, watching whatever is on the screen.
There could be an indoor monitored & staffed area where if people just need a 20 or 30 minute break, they could sit & either watch film clips or something in an air conditioned place.
On one hand I understand the parks implementing apps and other phone based functions because they are handy, are a reaction to the changing times, and are good for marketing. On the other hand, if it were my park, I want the guests immersed in my park as much as possible...not Words with Friends or with sending useless text messages to the person behind them. I'll give them an app and a handful of wi-fi spots from which to get it, but I'm not paying for everyone in the park to download games, watch Netflix, and be generally distracted from the show that is my park.
People can't go 5 minutes without picking up their phone. They would probably consume park-wide wi-fi like a junkie consumes heroin. Then when the wi-fi became slow due to excessive traffic, they would complain about it, creating even more distraction. Here's an interesting question with regards to phones and internet usage. Where is the line between implementing the technology and distracting the guests by feeding their addiction? Wouldn't you want them to be engaged in your show?
Changing stalls in restrooms near water rides.
A pleasant surprise when I discovered these. Didn't have to use the toilet stall to change from wet clothes to dry ones.
I'd rather see those giant "Drying Rooms" made free after water attractions.
The three things I would like is more shade, more benches and places to charge my phone. It's true, MK has a lack of large indoor spaces for AC or raincover in the MK, store wise or otherwise. But all the other parks seem OK.
As for water, I often get free cups of water from any place that has a soda fountain.
Walt Disney World
Tokyo Disney Resort