Theme Park Management Major Advice/Help

July 16, 2020, 9:51 PM

After reading articles, comments, and threads on this site now for two years I've come to conclusion that alot of you either have a job in the theme park industry, know people in the theme park industry, or know a lot about how the industry itself (more than just the yearly upcoming rides and attractions) works. Without releasing too much information about myself, I want to ask for advice in how to get into the industry.

This fall I will be going into my freshmen year of college and after thinking about it for months, I want to switch my original major and try to go into the industry. This is where I'm stumped. I have no idea what to change my major into. I'm not a science guy and I dont want to build or design attractions. I prefer the business side and decision making of a park. I've done research about what I could possibly go into like business management, hospitality, etc. I wanted to work at Magic Mountain or Disneyland as (hopefully) a ride operator this summer to get a start in the industry and set my foot in, but we all know how that turned out...

If anyone has any advice/help on what I should do then I'd greatly appreciate it.
Also, I love this site. Sure it's had it's rusty moments but I've never met other people who know what I'm talking about or understand what I'm saying when it comes to coasters and parks. You all have brought a lot of joy into my life, so thanks.

Replies (8)

July 17, 2020, 12:41 AM

If I were you, I'd gather a few fellow theme park geeks and create a simulated theme park study group, like a theme park business version of a D&D club. In addition, start from the bottom - get a lower job or internship at a park, and then the only place you'll be able to go is up :)

Edited: July 17, 2020, 5:46 PM

You are fortunate to be in a market where you can pick from pretty much any company, so if you want a career in the business I would strongly advise against getting involved with Six Flags. There is never any good news when you work for Six Flags, while it will may be fun as a front-line ride operator, as you move into management you will start to realize the company really sucks in every way. Going to a meeting when you work for Six Flags is like the DirecTV commercial where the cable company executives are in a meeting and they say "Well we can't do anything about the service, but we can fix the price, we can raise it." That is pretty much exactly what its like at every meeting at Six Flags the discussion is always about what corners can be cut: operations, maintenance, etc take a back seat to sales 100% of the time.
Of course all companies are always trying to increase sales and profit so sometimes it will feel like that when you work for any company, but at least at Disney or Universal the people who work in operational fields have legitimate jobs and can focus on that, whereas at Six Flags that is more of an afterthought than anything else. The one benefit to Six Flags is that it's easier to move up but also there is a reason for that. Disneyland has the opposite problem, they are so over staffed and there are so many people that want to work there that when you start you will probably just get like 4-6 hour closing shifts a few days a week.

My other suggestion would be do not wait. If you want to get in the industry start as young as possible, because [especially with Disney] they have hundreds or thousands of people who have been working there a long time who are trying to work their way up and the longer you wait the more behind you will be. Start off with a front line job and see what areas you are interested as a career, and then talk to the people who work full time in those fields and get an idea of what they do on a day to day basis. Get a degree in the field and keep grinding until you can work your way into what you want.

The theme park/hospitality industry is tough: it's hard work, crazy hours, low pay, hot, cold, etc. Also many positions you work in you will end up being a defacto human punching bag. It's not for everyone. However it's also a business with a low barrier to entry career wise and is extremely diverse with lots of different fields. If you have any more specific questions feel free to ask and i'll do my best to answer all as thoroughly as possible.

*Note: for right now and at least a bit longer trying to get a job is going to be a crapshoot as every company majorly cuts back on expenses, so you are coming in basically at the worst time possible in regards to getting a job. Sorry not sure what else I can say about that other than hopefully the economy picks up soon.

July 18, 2020, 2:00 PM

@Welcome2RadiatorSprings- yeah I’m thinking about doing something like that regardless of what I end up studying, thanks!

@the__man- thanks for the info! I’ve heard that six flags was bad but never heard anyone describe it like a DirecTV commercial. I know many people in the Disney company but honestly, even though I love the parks, it would take forever to get a decent position there. I think I’d really enjoy something at Universal but we’ll see. Would it look better if I had first hand experience at the parks (like a ride operator) and then try to rise from that position or should I try to go straight into a business type job at a company?

July 22, 2020, 12:42 PM

Take some initiative on your own. Read Buzz Price's 'Walt's Revolution: By the Numbers'.

Also, look into the podcasts, blogs and books by Dan Cockerell. Dan started working in the WDW College Program (working as a parking lot host) and rose to be the VP of the Magic Kingdom. His work focuses on park operations. His media focuses on his experiences at the Disney parks as well as approaches to employee management and guest service.

Edited: July 24, 2020, 11:53 PM

It depends on what you want to do specifically, but in most cases having experience trumps not having experience. If you want to work in management getting in as young as possible is a huge advantage as parks always promote from within. Of course you can past a point of diminishing returns as a front line employee if you don't balance things correctly. For example, if you want to work in PR and you work front line in the park but you don't have a PR or Communications degree the chance of getting that job are practically zero.

July 29, 2020, 5:55 PM

Dan Cockerell's 'How's the Culture in Your Kingdom' is a great book on park operations.

https://m.barnesandnoble.com/w/hows-the-culture-in-your-kingdom-dan-cockerell/1134209448

Dan is also hosting an online event called "A Walk in the Park with Dan" which is probably well worth your time

Edited: August 3, 2020, 11:42 AM

Warning: A bit lengthy. May be a bit of an advertisement/rant, but I have experience on this topic.

@postcott, if you want a college degree in theme park management, like I did, I would HIGHLY recommend checking out UCF's Rosen College of Hospitality Management. Firstly - they have an entire advisory board dedicated to theme parks (https://hospitality.ucf.edu/college-advisory-boards/theme-park-attraction-management-advisory-board/), with some high profile people in the industry on it. Why do they have such a board - because they offer a programme in theme park management as part of their hospitality degree (https://catalog.ucf.edu/preview_program.php?catoid=18&poid=8274&returnto=1603), as well as a certificate covering basically the same classes. And that's not even talking about other parts of the college...

It is, beyond the program Cedar Fair is setting up in Ohio (with the first class meeting this fall), the only program like it in the western hemisphere - and the best one by far. My problem with the CF program is that it's more or less tied down to that park, or at least that chain, and limits your experience and exposure to other parks in comparison to UCF.(The faculty also seems incredibly dependent on CF, which depending on your view of the industry can be a good or bad thing.) Nowhere else in the world beyond Rosen can you meet students with scholarships backed by the Saudi or Korean governments, for example. And we are literally across from Seaworld - so close you can see coasters in the daytime (which I haven't seen) and fireworks at night (something I actually saw once). Which gives you a lot of flexibility, and the benefits of being so close to your future employers.

As a current student myself, I've had the opportunity to learn from people like Disney Legend Ron Logan (who, among other things, lead the creation of Illuminations, Fantasmic, probably two dozen parades, and had input in or helped design most of the Disney parks that opened post MK, plus founded Disney Theatricals and put B&TB on Broadway), as well as people who've run multiple superbowls for the NFL, a professor who used to run Marriott's timeshare division, and countless other things. Ron in particular, if you're a Disney fan, is an amazing resource. Like seriously, the amount of stories he told me during just my first class with him back in the spring (which got cut short due to a certain disease) are amazing. His stories about the Disney family (including Walt) alone were worth the cost for the class - never mind my conversations with him. Heck, our school even has Buzz Price's papers (something I only learned yesterday). World-class professors in every department, with connections all over the industry.

The entire department is amazing - the school is absolutely beautiful (for God's sake the dorms have housekeeping), and Disney, Universal, Seaworld, and parks further afield come to recruit every year. Even our clubs get some amazing opportunities - I have the opportunity to meet and actually have a convo with Dan Cockerell when he came to give a presentation back last fall for one of the clubs I belong to. Nice guy, and an interesting presentation. That club also has a habit of down behind-the-scenes tours of the local parks frequently. Heck, until COVID we were supposed to meet with Josh D’Amaro - while he was still WDW President. That sort of thing is not uncommon here - we regularly have major players in the theme park and hospitality industries stop by, donate, and speak, if they aren't teaching. The parks hire our grads as managers - and you're required to work internships to get your feet in the door. I don't know a single person who've I met who's graduating from the theme park track and not having some sort of theme park experience.

Did I mention that TPI is actually listed on the school's library website as a resource (https://guides.ucf.edu/rosen/theme-parks/news)? (I actually cited some of Robert's work for a project in Ron's class, which as a reader since the earliest archived days of the site - 2004, when I used this very site to plan my family's first vacation to Disney World - was an absolute treat.) All the professors in the theme park department seem to mention this site at least once a semester. Seriously, they know what this site is - and I've been told to read it for news more than once.

August 13, 2020, 11:28 PM

@TH- thanks for the suggestion!

@the_man- yeah I’ve definitely thought of that. I hope getting experience young will look better when I actually try to shoot for a bigger position.

@Matt- Thanks! I’ve looked into UCF’s theme park major and it seems pretty cool, but I’m going to college on the other side of the country. It definitely sounds like a great experience though.


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