Announcing Theme Park Apprentice 8

Edited: May 9, 2016, 4:17 PM

Every year since 2010, Theme Park Insider has hosted a competition called Theme Park Apprentice. While the competition has changed much from its original form, it continues to maintain popularity and has successfully completed 7 seasons to date (along with a couple spin-off contests). Now, it is time to begin the eighth season of this competition. Welcome to…

Theme Park Apprentice 8

What is Theme Park Apprentice?

Put simply, Theme Park Apprentice is an imaginary design exercise for theme park fans. Each week, competitors are presented with a challenge relating to some aspect of a theme park and must submit a proposal that best satisfies the requirements of the challenge. Each week, the entries will be judged by a panel of judges, and the competitor who least satisfies the requirements will be eliminated from the competition. Eventually, one competitor will be crowned the champion. The competition was originally conceived by Tim W and patterned off the popular reality TV program The Apprentice, and while changes have occurred over time the basic premise has remained the same.

Who is AJ Hummel and what is he doing here?

For those of you who don’t know me, I’ve been a user of Theme Park Insider for several years and became more active on the site a couple years ago, including becoming an official writer in the fall of last year. While I live in Southern California and am often one of the first to answer questions about the region, I’ve been traveling North America to visit theme parks since 2008, and in that time I have visited over 70 theme parks and ridden over 350 roller coasters. There are still a few destinations that elude me (Florida being the most notable), but my hope is to visit all the decent sized parks in the United States by 2020. In real life, I have a Mechanical Engineering degree and have the eventual career goal of working in the themed entertainment industry in some form.

As far as Theme Park Apprentice is concerned, I first competed in Theme Park Apprentice 4 and was crowned champion at the end of a very intense competition. I also competed in Theme Park Apprentice 5, then joined the judging panel for future seasons. I was given the host position for Theme Park Apprentice 7 and will continue to serve as host this season.

What format is in use for this season?

This season, we will be using a cumulative park format. That means that you will draft a park of your own creation and everything presented during this competition will be for your specific park. If you competed in Theme Park Apprentice 6.1, this is the format that was used during that competition. This is different from the individual challenge format used during Theme Park Apprentice 7, but for fans of that format it will return at some point in the future.

What is the duration of this competition?

This season is scheduled for 7 challenges, plus a redemption challenge. In addition, there will be an entry round at the beginning. The entry challenge will begin on Sunday, May 15th, with the final challenge currently scheduled to end in late July. This schedule is subject to change if necessary.

How many competitors may participate?

In order to run Theme Park Apprentice 8, a minimum of 8 competitors are required. Ideally, I would like to have 10-12 competitors in case of drops. There is no maximum number of competitors, but if a large number sign up there may be more than one elimination per round.

Who is eligible to participate?

Any registered member of Theme Park Insider who has ever fantasized about designing a theme park or working in the industry AND who is willing to commit the time to writing quality proposals each week (this can vary, but expect to spend 5-10 hours per week on the competition) is welcome to participate. If you’ve never competed before, don’t be intimidated as first-timers tend to have just as much success as veterans in this competition. In fact, we’ve had more first-time champions than veteran champions.

What are the changes this season?

Those of you who competed in Theme Park Apprentice 7 may remember that it was an experimental season. Some of the concepts worked really well in that competition, and others were nearly disastrous. This season, we have used the results of that competition to implement some modifications and improvements to the competition as outlined below.

Challenge Constraints: Unlike last season, this season will be featuring very open-ended challenges. For the most part, the challenges will simply provide a definition of what the judges are looking for as well as some minimum requirements for the design. The goal here is going to be making something that fits within your park rather than trying to stick within strict design requirements. While realism is strongly recommended, we will not be looking for perfection as long as the design is within reason.

Point System: Due to problems with the point system, we will not be using it. Even though you are designing a cumulative park, there will be no cumulative effects on ranking this season, so regardless of past performance everyone will be on even footing at the start of every challenge.

Elimination Procedure: Each judge will critique and rank the proposals independently. After all judges have submitted critiques, the ranks will be summed and the lowest placing competitor will be eliminated. In the event of a double elimination challenge, the two lowest ranked competitors will be eliminated. In the event of a tie, there will be a tiebreaker challenge between the two competitors.

Tiebreaker Challenge: New this season, in the event of a tie the elimination will be determined by a tiebreaker challenge. This will be a short (48 hour) challenge between the tied competitors involving the creation of a minor element for their park. After the challenge, the judges will vote for a winner and the competitor with the fewest votes will be eliminated.

Late Penalty: In an effort to retain competitors, late proposals will be accepted up until the rankings are posted. However, late proposals will not receive a critique and any late proposal finishing in the bottom three (bottom four in a double elimination) on a challenge will be eliminated.

Real Life Pass: As another feature to prevent drops, competitors are permitted to skip one round of the competition if real life gets in the way. In order to use this pass, competitors must state a valid reason for using the pass and declare their usage a minimum of 24 hours before the challenge deadline. Valid reasons for using the pass include, but are not limited to, significant illness, major family events, pre-planned vacation, unexpected work events (such as last minute travel), and natural disasters. Invalid reasons for using the pass include, but are not limited to, disliking the challenge, difficulty in coming up with an idea, and procrastination. Usage of this pass does carry a penalty: If you finish in the bottom three in the following challenge (bottom four if a double elimination), you will be eliminated from the competition.

Redemption Challenge: For those who are eliminated early and feel they can do better, there will be one redemption challenge during the competition. This challenge will be open to anyone who was eliminated prior to the challenge (those who dropped will be ineligible for redemption). The winner in this challenge will return to the competition.

What’s happening in this season?

Now that we’ve got all the details out of the way, here’s what you’ll be doing this season…

Theme parks have been around for the better part of a century, evolving from the more basic amusement parks popular pre-WWII. These parks sometimes had individual themed attractions, but there was never a unifying theme. After the Great Depression, parks such as Knott’s Berry Farm, Disneyland, and Six Flags Over Texas emerged, sparking the idea of creating themed areas where each attraction within tied into a common theme. Now, parks are pushing for immersive themed environments and park-wide unifying themes. Your goal in this competition is to create one of these parks...a park where upon entering the gates, you are immersed within a themed world and nothing inside breaks that theme.

While there are multiple ways of doing this, it may be helpful to start with a question: What is a theme? In the context of this competition, a theme is an overall concept or idea which will act as your park’s “guiding light.” Every ride, attraction, or other element you pitch in a proposal during this competition should fit into the overall theme of your park. In general, themes can be classified into three tiers: broad themes, narrow themes, and single themes.

-A broad theme is one that is very general and often encompasses many smaller themes. These can often be thought of as genres, and while works within them may share some traits there are only a handful of absolutes that define these themes. Examples of broad themes would be Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Horror, etc.
-A narrow theme can be thought of as a small section of a broad theme. Narrow themes typically cover a smaller collection of works that all fit within a sub-genre of the main genre. For example, Traditional Fairy Tales would be a narrow theme within Fantasy, Dystopia/Utopia stories are a subset of Sci-Fi, and American History is one section of History.
-A single theme is a specific work or collection of related works that fit within a narrow theme. An individual book, movie, video game, etc., or a franchise of such fit this category, as would a bunch of stories all discussing the same event. The Legend of King Arthur and his knights, Panem (aka the Hunger Games franchise), and the American Civil War would all be examples of single themes fitting into the narrow themes above.

In order to avoid writing yourself into a corner, it is often best to start with a more broad theme and get narrower. For example, in a horror themed park, you might include a section based specifically on Gothic horror, and within would be an attraction based on one of Edgar Allen Poe’s poems.

What type of park am I creating?

For this competition, you are welcome to create either a park within an existing theme park chain or a fully independent park. However, your park must fit within the following criteria:

-Your park must be an original idea. It’s okay if some themes are used that exist at currently operating parks, but you must use them in a different way.
-Your park must be a stand-alone property. That means you cannot add on to an existing resort, so something like adding a fifth park to WDW or a third park to Universal Orlando would not be acceptable.
-Your park must be appealing to theme park guests in your region, including those who have visited the competition. For example, if you decide to build Universal Studios Texas, anyone who lives in Texas and cares about theme parks should be interested in your park even if they’ve visited the other Texas parks and/or other Universal parks.
-While you may borrow individual attractions from other parks within a chain, you may not borrow entire themed lands. Additionally, any cloned attractions do not count toward the minimum requirements for any challenge.
-While you are welcome to use IP in your park, you may not create an entire park based solely on a single IP. The judges feel this is too unrealistic and too limiting, likely resulting in a noncompetitive park.

What are the IP rules for this season?

For this season, IP rules will be based on what chain your park is in and where you build it. If you create a park within a chain, you have access to all of that chain’s current IP but cannot create or add additional IP. If you create an independent park, you have access to any IP not currently claimed by a park or chain operating in your region. If you are unsure of whether or not you have access to an IP, include a mention of it in your initial park outline and the judges will verify whether or not it is acceptable. You may also ask the judges about a specific IP at a later time, but using an IP in your final park (or for an attraction proposal) that you don’t have the rights to will carry a penalty.

How do I sign up?

If you are interested in competing in Theme Park Apprentice 8, you are welcome to state your interest in this thread. However, to enter the competition you must submit a park outline during the entry round. Anyone who completes an outline will be an official competitor of this season.

What about judging?

In addition to host, I will be acting as the head judge for this competition. Joining me is Blake Meredith, the champion of Theme Park Apprentice 6.1 and an assistant judge during Theme Park Apprentice 7 (I’ll let him do his own introduction). In addition, we are looking for 1 or 2 additional judges for the competition. Judges are primarily responsible for critiquing the proposals submitted by competitors and determining eliminations. In addition, judges act as moderators during the competition, assisting competitors when they have questions and dealing with issues if they arise.

If interested in being a judge, know that this position will require you to submit a ¼ to ½ page critique of each proposal each week (longer critiques will be expected for the final park round). Since challenges end on a Saturday, these critiques will need to be posted at some point on Sundays. You will also need to submit a ranking of competitors to determine elimination in each round. Lastly, you will be expected to respond promptly to emails from other judges and check the competition threads at least once every 2-3 days to monitor progress of competitors and assist with any questions.

If you are interested in applying to be a judge, please send me an email at that includes the following information:

-Your name
-Your preferred email address
-Your Theme Park Apprentice history
-If you have not judged a Theme Park Apprentice competition before, please complete three sample critiques from three proposals submitted in three different past challenges (these challenges can be from the same season or different seasons). You should be able to find previous competitions by searching the site for "Theme Park Apprentice #" (replace # with 1-7). Include a link to the original proposal. Alternatively, you may do one full park critique from a past competition instead.

Lastly, note that you must have competed in a previous season of Theme Park Apprentice in order to qualify as a judge. All judging applications are due by midnight on May 14th, and additional judges will be selected by Wednesday of the following week. Note that this position is not first-come first-served, so while preference will be given to former judges anyone who submits an application by the due date will be considered for the position.

Okay, I think that’s about it. Sorry for the long post, but there’s a lot of information to cover. The full rules will be posted below and the challenge schedule will be announced with the entry round next week. Feel free to post below if you’ve got any questions or comments about Theme Park Apprentice 8, and I look forward to seeing what everyone brings to the table this year.

Replies (30)

Edited: May 9, 2016, 4:19 PM

Theme Park Apprentice 8 Rules

1. Grammar counts. If we can’t read what you have written, it becomes next to impossible to get a good idea of what the attraction is about. We all understand that misspelling crop up (I’m sure there are several in this introduction article) but please do your best to make it as readable as possible. It is a shame for a really good idea to be hidden under an avalanche of fragmented sentences, bad grammar, bad spelling, and fragmented ideas. Use a spell checker and a grammar checker.

2. Deadlines count. If you can’t get something in on time, please let us know and we will attempt to work with you. While we want everyone to remain in the game, please note that extensions will only be granted if requested in advance and there is sufficient justification to do so. Late Proposals without an official extension will not receive a critique and will carry a penalty.

3. Creativity counts. The challenges have been designed to give you a wide variety of directions to go with a challenge. If we get three attractions that use the same characters and one that doesn’t, the one odd duck will be much more memorable when it comes time to vote. If you come up with an idea so obvious it is likely others will do so as well, it might be a good idea to see if you can come up with a second theme. That said, there is no rule prohibiting multiple competitors from using the same theme, and if you feel you can deliver a truly outstanding attraction then go for it regardless of what others do.

4. The judges' rulings are final, and since they make the determination of who moves on and who is dropped from the competition, it might not be a good idea to argue with or upset them. However, we are not here to make your life miserable, so if you feel that a judge has made a significant error you are welcome to respond to the judges’ critiques in a civil manner. If you have issues with a particular judge, please contact the judges privately to discuss it.

5. The judges will be casting all of the votes this season. This should make the criteria of a good proposal a little more clear since the popularity of, say, Black Caldron instead of Frozen, will not have nearly as much of an effect on the judges as it will with a popular front page vote. There have also been too many instances of vote manipulation, either actual or perceived, when a public vote was held, so we have decided to have the judges make the decisions as to who moves on and who is dropped from the competition. We assure you that we are going to base our votes on the quality of the proposals, their originality, creativity, professional presentation, etc. and not on anything else.

6a. Add-Ons: Pictures. Pictures are a handy way of saving you a thousand words in your proposal. Pictures are not an official requirement, but many competitors utilize them. We will be posting some documentation talking about the best way to go about posting pictures, so don’t worry too much about the mechanics of it. Most people don’t create the images themselves and merely find images on the internet through various search engines. Any images used in your proposal should be worthy of display, so unless you are creating something highly customized (such as a park map) it is preferable to find a photograph or high quality drawing close to what you envision rather than create the image yourself. There is a limit of 5 pictures per post unless otherwise noted. Pictures need to be limited down to a 560 width in order to keep it within the column structure of TPI. In addition to your five pictures, you may include one video in your proposal. If you choose to include a long video with irrelevant sections, please give times of the sections that should be viewed to avoid wasting the judges’ time and potentially lowering your score.

6b. Add-Ons: Title Logo and Footer. This is not an official requirement, much like putting any pictures into your post is not a requirement, but it is something that many contestants like to do to further fill out their idea. You are allowed a title picture before your posting and a footer picture after your posting in addition to the 5 pictures in the middle of the post. If you choose to use a title picture, it must contain an actual title and/or logo and not just be an additional picture. All pictures need to be limited down to a 560 width to keep in the column structure of TPI.

6c. Add-Ons: Audio. If you wish, you may provide a music or audio selection as your allotted video. Please use an appropriate length clip…”extended” tracks that are merely a loop of a shorter song are not permitted.

6d. Add-on pictures, videos, etc. are NOT a requirement, and a competitor should feel free to present their proposal with no added visual enhancement if they so choose. A poor picture can do as much harm to a proposal as a good one can benefit it.

7. If you need help, please ask for it. The judges should be able to respond very quickly to any inquiries, issues, problems, or calls for assistance. If you are unsure of the requirements for a particular challenge, please post questions in the official challenge thread. For anything else, please use this thread.

8. Under no circumstances will we tolerate criticism, attacks, bad mouthing, or chaos in general. Anyone who attempts to provoke a fight with other competitors, judges, or spectators, or who behaves in a general unsportsmanlike way, will be dismissed from the competition and may, at the judges’ discretion, be prohibited from participating in future Theme Park Apprentice competitions. We hate to have to include a rule like this, but trust us, this protects you as much as it protects us and the integrity of the game.

9. This season, all competitors will be permitted to skip one round of the competition if circumstances prevent them from submitting a quality proposal in a timely manner. Please note that, in fairness to other competitors, use of this privilege will require a valid reason and will carry a significant penalty. Failure to submit a proposal in more than one challenge will result in disqualification unless exceptional circumstances are present (major power failure, natural disaster, death of an immediate or close family member, etc.).

10. These rules are subject to change. If something is not working we are going to fix it so it does.

May 9, 2016, 7:53 PM

I can't wait to participate again! Looking forward to a great season.

May 9, 2016, 8:16 PM

Andy, I'm not participating in this competition this time, but I'm really glad to see you're coming back. You always amazed me with your proposals. I can't wait to see what you come up with!

May 9, 2016, 9:18 PM

I'll second James' sentiment. It was a bummer, Andy, when you couldn't participate in the finals. I'd've loved seeing your Disney park idea...though I'm even more stoked to see what sort of a cumulative park you devise for us.

To anyone else on the fence about participating - particularly any newcomers or longtime lurkers - I cannot recommend TPA highly enough! It's super fun, and surprisingly rewarding. Don't be scared off by returning veterans (P.S. I'm in).

May 10, 2016, 4:52 AM

I'm in! This is going to be great!

May 10, 2016, 7:45 AM

I'd be interested if I can come up with a good theme. Would a next-generation Disneyland be OK for a country that currently does not have one (e.g. UK, Australia, etc.)

May 10, 2016, 12:01 PM

Andy, Douglas, and Tyler, glad to see all of you back again this season. I look forward to seeing what all of you can come up with.

Christopher, a next-generation Disneyland would be okay if you can make it fundamentally different from those that exist now. You'd need to create a single park that both provides a complete experience to those with no Disney knowledge and is appealing enough that those who have visited other Disney parks would still want to book a trip there. For example, UK Disneyland would need to be equally enjoyable to those who have never visited a Disney park, those who have visited Walt Disney World, those who have visited Disneyland Paris, and those who have visited both resorts. I would say look at Magic Kingdom vs. Shanghai Disneyland for an idea of the minimum amount of change we are looking for from the classic formula.

May 10, 2016, 4:05 PM

Welcome all to TPA 8! I'm Blake Meredith and I'll be assisting AJ this season in judging! As you can already tell, AJ has put in a tremendous amount of work getting this put together and I'm here to assist him in any way I can. As for me, I was the champion of TPA 6.1 and was an assistant judge in TPA 7. In my personal life, I work as a security consultant for events and am happily married with two beautiful daughters. I look forward to this season and can't wait to see what the competitors come up with!

Edited: May 10, 2016, 4:06 PM

I'm getting off the judges bench and back into the game. I'm going for an independent park, the world doesn't need another disneyland or universal cookie cutter park- there are enough of those already (there, I said it).

I may however be using a few forgotten things... and bringing them back.

May 10, 2016, 4:07 PM


We would encourage that type of thinking in regards to location and we would be open to another Disneyland park. Just keep in mind that you must state your overall theme for this new park. My personal suggestion would be to tailor make your new Magic Kingdom-type park to fit your theme. A great example of this is embodied in Disney parks such as Tokyo DisneySea (Theme of the Sea), Animal Kingdom (Theme of Nature and oneness with the natural world), and reigning champion Douglas Hindley's DisneySky from TPA 7.

May 10, 2016, 4:23 PM

I have a question that could determine what I might use for my theme, so I figured it's best to ask now.

Are we allowed to put an independent park in the Dubai Parks and Resorts? While it is technically unified, all the parks are basically independent and separate from one another.

May 10, 2016, 4:51 PM

I'm really interested in participating in TPA this season, but before I commit I would like to ask some questions

1. How long do we have for each competition?
2. What is the penalty for using a real life pass?

May 10, 2016, 7:54 PM

Tyler, I would say that you could build a park in Dubai and position it to take advantage of traffic from Dubai Parks and Resorts, but that you could not build a park that is part of the resort. The idea of creating a standalone park is to create something that appeals to all audiences rather than simply going after a specific audience that is not satisfied by the existing properties, as well as to think a little outside the box when coming up with concepts instead of simply building off of existing ideas. The Dubai Parks and Resorts complex is unlike anything we've seen before as it is a joint venture between numerous companies, but it is still a single theme park resort with parks that work together with each other instead of directly competing against one another. Your park must be a competitor in your region, not a compliment to existing parks.

Juan, in general each challenge will last one week. The challenges will typically be posted on Sunday and due the following Saturday. There may be exceptions for specific challenges, but unless otherwise noted all challenges are one week. For the real life pass, the penalty is that in the following challenge, you will be eliminated if you finish anywhere in the bottom three competitors instead of simply for finishing in last place. We want everyone to remain in the game, but we also want to keep it fair and to prevent people from simply skipping a challenge they dislike, hence the restrictions on the pass.

May 11, 2016, 1:07 AM

Wish I could participate, unfortunately I couldn't commit to the time it takes on a regular basis. I do look forward to reading some of this year's entries though, there was some awesome stuff last time around. Kudos to those imaginative and dedicated guys who participate.

May 11, 2016, 11:17 AM

I was pondering the idea of an indoor Disney park for Dubai that would focus strictly on their animated characters. I plan on having lands based on Mickey and Friends, Winnie the Pooh, Pixar, the Princess movies as well as a "Backlot" area for recent hits (e.g. Zootopia, Big Hero 6, Wreck It Ralph). Each land would essentially be in a large "soundstage" environment with detailed buildings/attraction areas. I just wanted to know if the idea wasn't just another lazy rip-off and if the idea will stand out amongst the many new parks coming to Dubai with similar concepts. PS: Will I need to write a short pitch describing my park before the first challenge?

May 11, 2016, 12:44 PM


You could use the theme of Animation as your broad, overall theme if you so choose. As the introduction and rules dictate, you are free to create a park however you want. If you wish to create an entirely enclosed theme park, then go for it.

Edited: May 11, 2016, 3:11 PM

Christopher, that concept could definitely work. Your main challenges would be making it different enough from Motiongate (and the other Dubai parks) to attract visitors and dealing with the limitations of enclosed spaces, but it sounds like a creative new take on a Disney park. For the entry round, you will need to present an outline of your park that gives brief descriptions of each themed area as well as the park as a whole. More details about this will be posted on May 15th.

May 11, 2016, 8:40 PM

Is there possible to enter in the redemption round?

I would really like to start TPA from Challenge One, but I have finals coming up and four of them are the difference between getting an A or a B. TPA is great, but studying is probably more important.

May 11, 2016, 9:19 PM

Juan, in order to participate in the competition you must enter at the start. The redemption round is only for those who were eliminated early, as it would be unfair to allow someone to simply begin the competition at that point. The challenge schedule will be posted on Sunday with brief descriptions of each challenge. You are welcome to get a head start on proposals and then tweak them once the full challenge requirements are posted.

For anyone who has a schedule conflict, feel free to send an email and we will work with you. While we cannot allow anyone to skip a challenge (other than by using a Real Life Pass), we will make reasonable accommodations to allow you to remain in the competition.

May 15, 2016, 12:01 PM

I'd love to come back and compete. I'm looking forward to a cumulative park competition!

May 15, 2016, 12:53 PM

Getting my entry ready now. Hopefully I wont have to make too many adjustments.

May 15, 2016, 2:40 PM

Some Drop the mic. I hope I've dropped the Gauntlet instead :P.

May 16, 2016, 6:04 AM

Very impressive, Chad!

May 16, 2016, 6:11 AM

AJ, two things I would suggest. 1) get a discussion thread started so people don't post comments on the proposal thread and clutter it up, and 2) I am not competing, but as you know I'm still playing with my Americana park. If time permits I might present an idea or two that I've created for Americana that are new to the park. Not for competition, just for fun and critique. I hope that's all right. And I won't pretend to be Scott E. this time!

May 16, 2016, 12:16 PM


1. As soon as TPI's 24 hour restriction on creating new threads expires I'll be creating a chatter thread. Look for it later this afternoon.

2. Feel free to submit anything you may have for a particular challenge. The same applies to everyone...if you're not competing but get a spark of inspiration, you can submit something for that challenge. Just please mark it as an unofficial submission so we know to exclude it from the rankings. I'd also highly recommend those who are eliminated early keep playing along if they want to do the redemption challenge so that they can continue to receive feedback.

May 16, 2016, 1:33 PM

Thanks James, I can't wait to get into the detail on this one.

May 17, 2016, 7:59 AM

Perhaps we should create a thread specifically for proposals from non-competitors

May 17, 2016, 2:45 PM

^That is something we may want to consider if there are a lot of unofficial submissions. Last season only a couple people used the unofficial thread, so if we're only getting 2-3 it would probably be easier to not create a special thread for it. However, if we get more than that we'll definitely open it up.

On another note, I'm happy to announce that DPCC inc. has volunteered to join the judging panel and we've decided to appoint him as the third judge. He ran the competition for a season before I took over and also competed last season, so we feel he will do a great job assisting us with judging. I will let him post his own introduction here when time permits.

May 17, 2016, 3:15 PM

I would do some of the challenges as an unofficial participant.

May 18, 2016, 3:21 AM

Hello everyone!
I'm very excited to be back on the judging panel this year for what I expect to be a great season! Last season, I was a finalist, and I ran season 6.1. I'm rather young, so I feel that my age gives me a new, fresh perspective on the theme park industry. I can't wait to see the parks everyone comes up with. Here's to another great season!

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Park tickets

Weekly newsletter

New attraction reviews

News archive