Standard Amenities: Comfort and the Weary Theme Park Guest

What are the amenities you think theme parks should offer standard to their guests?

From Tom Rigg
Posted May 26, 2012 at 1:27 PM
In the world of theme park, the list of standard amenities is surprisingly short. It seems not so long ago that parks just embarked on adding family bathrooms and package pick up. And before that, about the best one could hope for was water fountains that didn't taste like swamp water or the excitement of Disney changing over from powdered soap to the liquid type.

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?

From Carrie Hood
Posted May 27, 2012 at 6:54 AM
Honestly, it's not that hard with the soda. Fountain soda costs pennies on the dollar and if they offered a mug (say $10-15) the cost would easily be covered even if you offered ten cent refills. Personally I'd happily buy one of those for my day at the theme parks. I've seen a lot of zoos offer this kind of deal and nearly every time we'll buy the mug.

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.

From Derek Potter
Posted May 27, 2012 at 5:11 PM
The free soda thing has a couple of sides to it. Holiday World has made this service famous, however there are a few things to consider, namely the cost of running a park. The more rides and attractions, the bigger the cost. It costs more to run Cedar Point than it does Holiday World, yet their ticket prices are fairly close. Cedar Point has to look elsewhere to recover some of that cost and make some money. The same goes with all of those other perks like parking. Handing out free parking isn't always as simple as building and maintaining a parking lot. There are local governments, city imposed taxes for parking, and other things that are part of the equation. The park that charges customers $10-$20 to park is probably only seeing half or less of that go in their pocket...the rest are usually taxes.

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.

From Donna McKay
Posted June 6, 2012 at 5:06 AM
Free wifi. Not much point in offering all those lovely iPhone apps if your average guest (particularly those from overseas) is too scared to access them for fear of ridiculous phone bills.

From Anita Norman
Posted June 6, 2012 at 8:33 AM
Free Wifi is a great idea! While I wouldn't expect free soda, free ice water should be a given. Universal could benefit from those large outdoor fans similar to those at Busch Gardens complete with cooling mist. WDW does the airconditioned queue quite well however, Universal tends to leave their guests baking in the heat when waiting for the rides.

From Tom Rigg
Posted June 7, 2012 at 1:44 PM
I definitely agree about free wifi. Busch Gardens Williamsburg is in its own little valley which is beautiful, but also blocks consistent cell phone reception. So you end up with the double whammy of spotty service and a dead battery from searching for a signal. If they made the whole park a wifi hotspot I would be overjoyed.

From Tony Duda
Posted June 7, 2012 at 3:57 PM
I'm a little more basic in my wishes. Just have a lot of seating in the shade and many water fountains that dispense cold water. Maybe more shade in general along main walkways. Being at a park should not be like a season of Survivor: Theme Park.

From Jay R.
Posted June 7, 2012 at 4:40 PM
I'd say just rest areas. There are many visitors who may get tired & worn out Think about how many miles you cover when walking around a theme park all day.

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.

From Derek Potter
Posted June 10, 2012 at 12:55 PM
I'm not in favor of making a whole park wi-fi. I can see it in some spots, and I get it if there is a park app and the service area is horrible, but otherwise all it does is create distraction from the park experience. The park is for family, friends, and strangers to interact with each other and enjoy an escape. Instead of human interaction in line or on the Midway, you'll have a bunch of zombies looking down playing Angry Birds or checking their Facebook for the millionth time in the past hour. I guess it happens now anyway though.

From Tom Rigg
Posted June 12, 2012 at 6:00 PM
People already check their phones compulsively at the parks. I think wifi would be helpful for many other reasons. I would make it easier to find people in your group if you get separated by using chat features instead of texts in parks such as BGW where cell reception if pretty spotty. It could also be used to enhance so many aspects of the park. Universal has done a great job incorporating mobile devices into their HHN event. If they went completely wifi they could take it even farther.

From cynthia henisey
Posted June 12, 2012 at 9:31 PM
1) Seating! I will stay longer (and spend more) if I can relax in intervals.
2) Cold water fountains in queues is a great idea. Water Misters too.
3) Power outlets to recharge cell phones. Going with teens means we do some things together and others apart. Need the phone to last all day. And using MouseWait used to drain my battery until I got my Razr Maxx.

From Derek Potter
Posted June 14, 2012 at 11:28 AM
Call me old fashioned I guess...even though I'm only 31. I went to the park for a long time before all of the phone stuff started. I know that people are addicted to their phones and won't ever put them down. Our need for constant distraction and instant gratification can't possibly be good. Believe it or not, hundreds of millions of people went to theme parks before this stuff and had a blast. Whatever happened to standing in line and actually having a conversation with the people around you?

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?

From Tony Duda
Posted June 14, 2012 at 2:46 PM
Derek, I agree with you. Maybe they should put free wifi in out of the way areas apart from the general park population like the smoking areas so that the addicted can get their fix but not subject everyone else to their sad habit.

From M. Ryan Traylor
Posted June 14, 2012 at 6:49 PM
I've only seen this at Cedar Point, but more parks should jump on this one:

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.

From Anita Norman
Posted June 18, 2012 at 8:17 AM
Derek, good point. I take back my earlier opinion about wifi in the parks.

From Chad H
Posted June 18, 2012 at 11:12 AM
I can maybe see general Wifi in places like resturants, but unless you were tying it with say a FastPass app (request passes on your phone and use your phone as the ticket - For parks that charge also bill to the AppStore), I think its kinda surplus.

I'd rather see those giant "Drying Rooms" made free after water attractions.

From Derek Potter
Posted June 18, 2012 at 12:07 PM
Ditto on the drying rooms, although they are slow going because of their size. The trick would be to make it quick and easy for the masses. Maybe they could make a decent sized walk-through space (20 feet long or so) in the exit with "blow drying technology" that guests could use if they wanted to. Sort of like the car wash, but for people.

From Skipper Adam
Posted June 22, 2012 at 12:47 PM
I can't imagine Disney having park wide wifi. I agree it's not necessary, and that it's impractical.

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.

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