How to write a complaint about a theme park

July 16, 2009, 9:00 PM · Over the years, many readers have submitted complaints about theme parks to Theme Park Insider. Whether it's on the discussion forum, the ratings and review pages, or here on the Blog Flume, reader feedback about the parks has helped millions of TPI readers plan better vacations.

However, I do sometimes delete complaints, or decide not to approve them when they are submitted as new threads to the forum. I'd like to explain why.

I can the complaints when I feel that they are presented in such a way that will focus TPI readers' anger not on the allegedly offending park, but on the reader who submitted the complaint. I don't want to TPI to become a forum for attacking its readers. Go someplace else if you want that virtual bloodsport. But, from time to time, I feel the need to protect readers from their fellow readers. And that's why I delete or decline to promote certain threads. (It's because I'm trying to protect certain parks or chains, or because I'm hostile to certain types or classes of people - all accusations I've had throw at me over the years.)

So how can you make a complain about something that went wrong at a theme park, without sounding so shrill that readers turn on you instead? Let's talk about that, today, as well.

I'm going to suggest a simple principle I learned in journalism school: show, don't tell.

Start by setting the scene. Show us where you went, and when. Then describe what happened to you that caused you to complain. Don't judge anyone or offer your opinion - just describe the scene and the people within it: What happened? To whom? And when?

Then describe for how you - or the person harmed - reacted. If there was no outward reaction, how did the incident make you (or the other person) feel? How did it affect your day, your vacation, and the days and weeks after? Keep this short and don't assign any blame to anyone else. Just describe.

Finally, if you see an obvious way that the incident could have been prevented, or the aftermath better addressed, suggest that. But don't accuse anyone of any ill will, and especially do not accuse anyone of a crime, including unlawful discrimination or negligence. If that is what happened, your description will make that clear - you do not need to make an accusation explicit.

Oh, and try to do this all in no more than 500 words. The shorter, and the more clear, the better.

The minute folks start throwing around words like "discrimination" and "lawsuit" and other punitive terms, the natural reaction of many readers is to become defensive of the parks that they love so well. And some of those readers then turn against the individual who wrote the complaint. They can accuse their fellow readers of all sorts of dark motives, from trying to get rich off suing a park, or trying to hog publicity and sympathy with trumped-up claims.

That the complaining reader might have a perfectly valid complaint falls beside the point. And I can't stand that. I hate to see people have a bad time at theme parks, and I hate even more to see that unfortunate experience compounded by a bad experience here.

So that's why I am offering this advice today. I want the necessary complaints written here - and those sent directly to the parks themselves - to get positive action. Valid complaints ought to lead to changes that make the parks better experiences for everyone. Not to inattention or further hostility. Thanks for reading.

Replies (8)

July 17, 2009 at 5:55 AM · Good topic Robert. A lot of people assume that everyone should just know how to write or communicate these types of situations but most don't. Topics related to online and written communication like this are very valuable to improving and sustaining communities like ours. So the more the merrier! THANKS! :)
July 17, 2009 at 7:41 AM · All I have to say about this is AMEN!!! I work at a theme park in VA. People usually love to "cast a stone" before they hear the story. Excellent topic Robert. The situations will speak for themselves as I have found working where I do.
July 17, 2009 at 8:25 AM · About this sentence: (It's because I'm trying to protect certain parks or chains, or because I'm hostile to certain types or classes of people - all accusations I've had throw at me over the years.). Can I assume that you meant to insert the word "not" in there somewhere?
July 17, 2009 at 8:27 AM · Good points.

Anyway, I do not think the people in charge are really reading TPI carefully enough to realize or care. Or are they???

But yeah, some of the complaints on the website (some you can find in accident reports) are pretty charged and wild. People gotta tell the park.

July 17, 2009 at 4:01 PM · First folks like to Bitch just to Bitch, makes them feel important…

Secondly, Millions, really, Millions…. Hahahaha

July 18, 2009 at 5:53 AM · With all due respect to TPI, if a reader or customer of a park has a major complaint they should be directing their attention to the park and not this site. Regardless of what anybody that deals with this site may think, very few (I want to say nobody, but that would be rude) from any theme park "complaint" department goes to this site looking for constructive critisizm or new complaints to deal with.

Voice your concern in an adult, educated and thoughtful manner at the theme park and you will be surprised at the result you will receive most of the time.

If you don't receive satisfaction from your concerns, you ultimately have the biggest power of all. Don't go back!

Also, if you are willing to go out of your way to report when you are unsatisfied with something, try to do the same when somebody goes above and beyond. I can assure you the reaction from people most of the time is not equal for both ends of the scale and the good gets lost in the shuffle.

July 19, 2009 at 12:09 AM · Not sure who might see this, but you always have to keep in mind that the reader is not you. The reader will interpret your writings in the mood they are in, not necessarily the tone of your writing. This holds true for e-mails, discussions, and comments. I have been misinterpreted many a time and have had to apologize. Keep this in mind when you post, you may think you are straightforward in your writing, but it might not be read that way. Hopefully I have not been misinterpreted......LOL.
July 21, 2009 at 8:40 AM · The main point I think everyone should take from Robert's article (which was great) is that when reporting a complaint/compliment/suggestion to a park, or a website such as TPI you should be 'objective'. By doing so, you take the personal emotions out of the equation and the commentary is considered more credible. I do alot of mystery shopping at various amusement parks which requires a complete evaluation of park operations from rides to food to employees. The last thing a park wants to hear is someone complaining or threatening their establishment. Even if a situation was upsetting, the best way to handle it is to be mature and understand that the only way to improve a situation is to provide constructive feedback that the parks can use to improve their ops. If they choose to ignore it, then you can always choose to send your business elsewhere.

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