National press takes note of trend toward more family-friendly theme parks

July 7, 2006, 9:58 AM · I wanted to draw TPI readers' attention to a couple articles that add to the theme I wrote upon last week after the death on Rock N' Roller Coaster.

I wrote that the death would accelerate the emerging industry trend away from thrill rides toward more family-friendly, story-driven interactive attractions. Writing for the Christian Science Monitor, Daniel B. Wood examines the shift toward family fun. (And quotes yours truly in the process.)

And today, in the Los Angeles Times, Kimi Yoshino offers another interview with Six Flags CEO Mark Shapiro, [BugMeNot for a log-in to read] where reality's set in and he vents his frustration with huge problems the chain faces in switching to that more family-friendly model. (FWIW, Yoshino's stories demonstrate the best grasp of theme park industry on the Times' staff. It's nice to see her on the Business page and, presumably, getting more attention than she did in the relative obscurity of the Orange County edition.)

Replies (8)

July 7, 2006 at 10:53 AM · This is good in my opinion. No one loves scary roller coasters more than my husband, myself, and young adult and teenage daughters. However, we are 52 and 49 years old and there may come a time when our health won't let us ride the extreme G force stuff (I hope not but you don't see many 80 year olds on coasters). And we do need things for my 44" 5 year old granddaughter to do. That's why after coasters, I love darkrides with themes and interactions best.

I hope they do keep up with roller coasters, but I think eventually there will be a limit to what the human body can tolerate regarding height, speed and G forces. So after they build the 700 foot, 200 mph roller coaster, and only jet pilots in perfect health can ride it, they need another direction to develop into.

July 8, 2006 at 6:50 PM · Robert,

Dude, you have a Six Flags fixation. Do you own a Mark Shapiro bobblehead doll or something? Everything you write about is reference Mark Shapiro of Six Flags.

I don't want to rub current events in your face, but Six Flags is hurting right now. It appears that most of Six Flags operation will be closed or is up for sale. I'm sure the captain of the Titanic had a plan too, but gee wiz already. Enough is enough.

Try writing about some successful parks like Cedar Point and their CEO's. A few people out of millions die at WDW in one year and you sound like you want to moth-ball all thrill rides and replace them with "It's a Small World" rides and petting zoo's.

I'm sure you mean well, but one story on the LA Times doesn't spell the death of thrill rides. Family-Friendly theme parks are here and now. Theme/amusement parks don't have employees forcing people to ride Rock and Roll Roller Coaster or Top Fuel Dragster. I'm sure they want people to read their warnings and stay off rides they can't physically handle.

The market will dicate wich parks are successful and which are not. The parks will follow the market. As usual, we won't need speeches from CEO's and the press to dictate which ones turnout cash. Simply follow the money.

Capitalism is a very scary ride. It should come with a whole bunch of warnings. It has very few friends in the press.

Get what you can out of your Mark Shapiro bobblehead on eBay. Maybe you can buy a share in Six Flags. $6 should cover it.

July 8, 2006 at 7:04 PM · ^Well said.

I was thinking the same thing .

Cedar Fair will surely keep adding high speed, high g-force thrill rides and coasters.Thats what their parks are all about.

Universal is mostly movie based dark rides and atractions, but even once in a while they will add the high speed, high g-force ride.

Look at Cedar Fair and Islands of Adventure. Many of their attractions are much more "intense" than anything at Disney, and nothing like those deaths on Mission Space and Rockin' Rollercoaster have happened at Cedar Fair parks or Islands. It's just the false sense of security people get at Disney.

The only park chain that I would say would go completely toward family friendly dark rides is Disney. And that is because rides like Mission Space and Rockin' Rollercoaster don't belong there in the first place.Disney was never about the intense coasters and thrilling attractions. It was about good family fun and entertainment, and thats the way it should continue to be.

Six Flags will start gearing toward families (as they already stated they would)but on the odd occasion I expect them to build a coaster or two.

The botton line is, I think the whole "parks are going to build more dark rides and less high-g rides" thing is a bit too far. This really only applies to Disney, all other parks will continue to build high g-force rides and high thrill attractions.

And I also agree that this site is going on too much about Six Flags. All this negativity towards Six Flags and lack of real theme park news has made me lose interest in this site.

Robert, maybe if you focused less on bringing down Six Flags and more about the actual theme park news, this site would be better.

Six flags is going through hard times. I'd like to see you fill the shoes of Shapiro. It's not as easy as it looks. He's trying his best to turn the company around. some of his desicions may not hav been the greatest, but thats no reason to bring on all this negativity.

July 8, 2006 at 7:02 PM · Chris P.

I'm sure that you would have done just fine. Just sit down and type whatever you are feeling. If it is from the heart and truly what you think then don't worry about it. Just don't swear or personally attack the author.

Like I said, I'm sure this guy is writing from the heart and truly believes what he is writing. The fact that he is a TPI writer should not stop you. I've been intimidated by better and more important people. Your opinion is important and needs to be heard. If for nothing else than the credibility of this website.

If you happen to get banned from this site for posting your opinion,then this site is not worthy of your opinion. Their loss not yours. Some folks have a very high opion of themselves and no regard for other views.

July 8, 2006 at 7:13 PM · Wow. How did everyone get so paranoid?

Hey, the market will decide. Which is why Disney, with a slew of family-friendly attractions, has dominated this industry for years. And why Busch, with a family-friendly strategy, places its parks at the top of this site's reader rankings and enjoys continued popularity.

And, which is why Six Flags' attendance tanked, leading to the company's buy-out by a management team that seems to believe what I, and hundreds of people on this site have been saying for years -- specifically, that people want themed environments, great storytelling, strong value and solid entertainment from their theme parks. Physical thrills are park of that mix, but must never overwhelm the rest.

The aging of the U.S. population, joined with its increasingly poor physical condition and an overdevelopment of thrill rides in recent years, is going to push the industry away from thrill-only or thrill-focused rides for the next few years, toward more story-driven ones. Cedar Fair is the only major chain that's not embracing this move at this time, but believe me, they will be watching what happens across the chain.

And hey, everyone's point of view is welcomed. That's why we have comments on the Flume, reader ratings all over the place, a discussion board and ride listings that are wikis. No other site on the Web is more accomodating of its readers' diverse views than TPI.

July 9, 2006 at 6:40 AM · I understand the point of view that you are taking on the whole family friendly/themed attraction thing, but I disagree on a few points here. The magic word here is balance.

While the coaster fetish the previous management had was somewhat responsible for their troubles, Six Flags attendance and the company didn't tank because of too many thrill rides, they tanked because of a lack of balance in their ride lineup and because they had too much debt built up from a buying spree of parks. They grew themselves too fast, and there wasn't enough money to spend on park upkeep, operations, good atmosphere, etc. While things have seemed to turn around a bit this year, people have grown tired of going to high priced parks that have no personality and that aren't worth the price of admission. The overpriced mediocre food, the high parking and ticket prices, the long lines due to low all reeks of the "corporate stench" that doesn't belong anywhere near an amusement or theme park. This company needs an entertainer to run it, not another businessman.

Also, when did Busch adopt a family friendly strategy? The only rides coming out lately for them have been thrill rides. Sheikra, DarKastle, the new coaster coming to BGE next year. These rides aren't really qualified as family friendly. Busch Gardens is successful because of balance. Great coasters, great atmosphere, great food, good shows in Williamsburg. Great coasters, great atmosphere, animal park in Tampa. Sea World has the rides, and obviously the marine life is a huge family draw. Busch knows how to balance their attractions. Kings Island knows how to balance their attractions. Coasters, atmosphere, personality and a great kids area. Even Cedar Point, the quintissential thrill park, has that same mix of something to do for everyone. Shapiro should take a look at Six Flags Fiesta Texas, which last I heard had a pretty good mix as well.

Theres another issue at hand here. Themed rides, the ones that are done correctly, cost money. Attention to detail is ultra important when creating these rides, and attention to detail costs money. Six Flags properties for the most part are seasonal, have no hotels for extra income, and have low guest spending to begin with. Quite simply, they don't have the money to make a Universal/Disneyesque themed ride happen. So should they go the Disaster Transport route and retheme an existing ride by enclosing it and splattering glow in the dark paint everywhere? For those who don't get the analogy, Disaster Transport is the great failed theme ride experiment at Cedar Point. Quite simply, there is no money to spend on good themed attractions at Six Flags right now....which makes me wonder why they are so fast to sell parks like Magic Mountain. I read an interview with Shapiro that sounds like he had already made up his mind to dump the park. It's in too big of a market and there are too many possibilities for it to get rid of. Mark my words... Unless he collects a billion, it's a big mistake.

Family rides and attractions are very important to have, and low thrill high immersion technology will play a big part in future rides, however I still maintain that the roller coaster is the center of the universe. The shape of the coaster may be different, but it's still the center, and no man made technology will be able to substitute for the thrill of gravity. Is it the only ride in the park? absolutely not, but show me a successful park without at least one around in some form or another. The coasters don't need to change at Six Flags, their surroundings do.

July 9, 2006 at 9:37 AM · I think we're all pretty close to agreement here, actually. I don't think that thrill rides are going to away. I do, howver, think that proposals for high G force rides are going to find a difficult path to getting built during the next five years. And, that any initiative to build a thrill ride is going to have to come wrapped with elements (theming, surroundings, complimentary attractions) to appeal to a non-thrill riding family market. Busch has always done this well. As did Universal with IoA. Look at what Six Flags did with Kingda Ka for another example. (Though I would be shocked to see anyone try a rocket coaster again, given their maintenance problems.)

Disney's going to go for interactive rides over thrill rides for the near future, and if the past teaches us anything here, it is that as Disney goes, many in the industry follow. Heck, I'd entertain a debate that Disney's California Adventure experiment helped Six Flags management justify its unthemed coaster binge. ("Hey, Disney's trying to be more like us!") Maybe... maybe not. It'd be an interesting debate.

The real question that I, we and everyone really out to be asking Mark Shapiro is... Just what do you mean now by family-friendly attractions? Men in Black? Haunted Mansion? Disaster Transport? Or rubberheads standing in front of yet another Scrambler?

I think that a lot of coaster fans get really defensive when this topic comes up, because they see this as a threat to their beloved coasters. But I see this as an opportunity to create coasters that will appeal beyond a small and declining market of extreme enthusiasts -- to build coasters that will have strong safety records and that will be ridden by a large and loyal market for many years into the future.

Simply subbing high G force for speed and height didn't work. But I am confident that great designers can come up with coasters -- and theme parks -- that satisfy everyone. But the status quo is going to change in this industry. As it always does... ;-)

July 9, 2006 at 1:09 PM · Robert,

I think that one of the previous posters hit the mark. Balance. I also think that is what you and I are both talking about. Something for everyone is what will save the parks. Disney has always been out in front of this. The four parks of WDW are a symposium of balance. MK could never be called a thrill park. It is a theme park extraordinare. The other three parks have their thrill rides but the also offer balance. 17 to 70, everyone can find something equally enjoyable at each park. I'm as happy on the Haunted Mansion as I am on Mission Space or watching the Country Bear Jamboree. Balance.

On the other hand, there are times that I want a ride to attempt to rip the intestines out of my body. Thrill rides are awesome for that. Maybe in ten years I will feel different, but there will be a whole bunch of people behind me looking for just that thrill. Balance.

I can't do wooden coasters because of my back. But I sure do love to look at them and see and listen to those that rode them. It's awesome.

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