But before we tackle the question of how a kids' area should be themed, let's take on the bigger question of whether theme parks should build kids' areas at all.
Nickelodeon Universe at Kings Island has won awards as the country's best kids area. But what does the rest of the park look like? An increasingly themeless iron park, built for teens and grown-ups. That's the danger inherent when parks commit to building large kids' areas: They divide the park's audience, herding the kids and their parents into a ghetto in one corner, while the rest of the property evolves into a PG-13 thrill park.
It's a pattern we've seen repeated at dozens of Cedar Fair and Six Flags parks across the country. With the kids' area supposedly taking care of the "family" market, park management feels no need to develop truly family-friendly attractions that people of all ages and abilities can enjoy.
So families are left with their ghettos of lightly-themed, low-capacity carnival rides, which stop having appeal to kids somewhere in the middle elementary years.
And what happens then? Yes, some of those kids become roller coaster fans and begin to explore the other attractions in the park. But let's not forget that many kids don't ever develop a love for coasters. Too old for the kiddie land, and uninterested in thrill rides, they find nothing appealing in these parks... and quit wanting to go.
Smarter, more successful theme park companies - Disney, Universal and Busch - build attractions for those consumers, and they win those families' loyalty, and money, as a result.
I've had a tough time finding rides for the whole family at parks like Kings Island and Knott's Berry Farm. At KI, we rode the Scooby-Doo shoot-'em-up together, as well as the elevator ride up the Eiffel Tower. That's it. We split up for every other ride of the day, with 12-year-old Natalie hitting the coasters and nine-year-old Brian Nick Universe. At Knott's, we all enjoyed the Mystery Lodge, the Log Flume and the Mine Ride (three attractions that, not coincidentally, precede Cedar Fair ownership). Natalie and I hit a few coasters and Brian, too old now for Camp Snoopy, was bored out of his mind.
Kiddie rides can enhance theme parks. Built to a smaller scale, they don't overwhelm toddlers they way that even all-ages Omnimover and flume rides can. And schlepping strollers around an entire theme park is a pain. As a parent, I appreciated when parks concentrated their toddler attractions in one section of the park.
Parks need to find a sweet spot that accommodates stroller-friendly toddler attractions without consigning them to a ghetto within what is otherwise an iron park. I liked the way that Busch Gardens Williamsburg pulled this off. BGW offers a Sesame Street-themed kids' area for toddlers, but it also built kiddie versions of some of its larger rides, next to their bigger siblings. That way, the youngest visitors has their own land, but the younger elementary kids weren't confined to their own section of the park. They could roam the rest of the property with their parents and older siblings, enjoying their own versions of several rides, right next door. And BGW didn't skimp on shows and rides that folks who don't like coasters could enjoy, as well.
Disneyland and Universal's Islands of Adventure provide even better models. With Fantasyland and Seuss Landing, both parks have created collections of rides that appeal to toddlers and young children, while accommodating older kids and parents, as well. As kids grow up, they easily can transition into other attractions in those parks, such as Tom Sawyer's Island and Camp Jurassic. And everyone in the family, even non-coaster fans, can enjoy a wide variety of shows and rides in either park.
Perhaps it is not a coincidence that the three parks I've cited for handling kids well - Disneyland, Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Islands of Adventure - were the top three theme parks in this year's Theme Park Insider Awards.
Slapping a kids' land at the side of your theme park doesn't make that park "family friendly." Nor does it put your park in position to maximize its audience. Only a more integrated approach, one that focuses on meeting the needs of a wide range of visitors, from toddlers to thrill fans and everyone in between, puts you in position to offer a truly great theme park, one that will endure any economic downturn with turnstiles spinning throughout.
Check in tomorrow, when we talk about themes for kid-focused attractions: what works... and what won't any longer.Tweet
This terrific corner of USF is a clear demonstration that you can build an excellent corner of a theme park designated only for children.
Reading this article made me think of 3 local parks that exemplify the spread of different ways to do this. ( Magic Mountain, Knotts and Disneyland. ) Magic Mountain is almost strictly a rollercoaster thrill park. I recall a small kiddie area in there but for the most part it's a rollercoaster park for "big kids". To me it feels like a barrier catering to two different audiences, not a smooth flow.
Knotts always felt like it landed in the center of the three parks because of how well it balances "theme park" and "thrill park." Like their Disney counterpart, there is something for everyone in each of the themed lands. Yes, even the Snoopy-themed land has a rollercoaster that can spin the lunch out of me. Major points to them for blending it all very well.
This isn't to say that Disney didn't get it right either. In fact I think Disney did it best of all. There is a combo of both a child-dedicated land in the back as well as a park with an excellent blend of attractions themed for all ages in the park. ( Not old enough for Space Mountain? Head over to Buzz Lightyear's ride. ) In fact with such a great blend like this, it's almost hard to imagine there are so many parks out there that continue to have such bordered zones that sequester the young and older kids rather than cater to them both with an even blend.
And don't forget about their 3 FAMILY roller coasters Pony Express, Jaguar, and Sierra Sidewinder. So, all and all, this park really is inculding in the Disney/Universal/Busch section ast well. Not much to say for the rest of Cedar Fair and Six Flags though.
So, bring on the Planet Snoopys and the Camp Snoopys of the world!
Not to be redundant, but I posted a comment/rant about this topic in a discussion thread a few months back after another frustrating visit to the Camp Snoopy section of my local Cedar Fair park, Worlds of Fun. I think that post has application in this discussion as well (forgive me for the indulgence of re-posting my past comments but I feel very strongly about these ghetto kiddie sections as Robert aptly described them and want to be sure my voice is heard!).
Camp Snoopy [at Worlds of Fun] just blows in every possible way. Who in the world would ever think it was a good idea to design a section of a theme park to cater only to children who are three or younger? The rides are so lame that even many of the little kids riding looked bored and embarrassed. And the fact that you have to split your group (send the older kids off with mom to ride "big kid rides" while the littlest ones are forced to ride carnival quality spinners) is an abomination. I mean, I sat on various benches for an hour watching my daughter spin slowly on rides that were only slightly better than the 50 cent spinners found in grocery store parking lots. It is unfathomable to me that park designers would opt for these cheap amusements rather than spend a little bit more money on attractions suitable for an entire family to share in together. Other than uber coasters, and high tech thrill rides, you should never have to split your group at a theme park. Camp Snoopy, and all the crappy little three-year-old exclusive ride areas at parks across the nation, should be eradicated from existence. Curse you, Red Baron Biplanes, curse you!
See, I told you I feel strongly about this topic! ;)
The nice thing about Kings Island is that parents with children can spend all day in the kids land because of it's size. You can't do that at Busch Gardens or Universal. In fact, short of Disney or Legoland, you can't do it anywhere else. My most recent family visit to KI a couple of weeks ago was spent mostly in Nick Central. We left Nick Central for a half hour to eat Potatoworks (well they ate Potatoworks, and I waited 10 minutes for the front seat of Diamondback...ha ha ha ha), to go on the Grand Carousel, and to go to the waterpark for a while. We spent all day with no crowd to be found, which is a testament to Nick Universe's size and appeal. It remains to be seen if Cedar Fair can be as effective and keep the people coming to see the Peanuts. I hope they do, but the traditional Cedar Fair model doesn't emphasize kid lands. Perhaps that will change with Kings Island, because they have to know about the huge role that Nick Universe has played in Kings Island's attendance for the past several years.
I see why amusement parks go for the thrill rides. They are big ticket attractions, they move a lot of people, and they get a lot of attention. Transitional rides aren't as "sexy" in the seasonal market because it costs a lot of money to build good ones, and you don't get much attention from them. Nobody really cared about Avatar being built at Kings Island a few years back, but Diamondback created an insane amount of buzz. Even the theme parks know this. Name the last half dozen large attractions that the Orlando parks have built. Manta, Rip Ride Rockit, Mummy, Everest...etc etc etc. Thrill rides make money. Transitional rides are the offensive lineman of the park industry. They are ultra important, but most don't get the attention, and many teams don't spend the necessary money to build them. Kids lands and big thrill rides bring the attendance and make the money.
This could not be further from the truth. Almost all of Kings Island is beautifully landscaped with lively music, appealing colors, and clean pathways. Friendly employees greet you at almost every turn, as do family rides, thrill rides, pay rides, water rides, and every other type of attraction imaginable.
I'm not sure why other rides aren't considered family-friendly. I should think bumper cars are fun for the entire family.
Much to their chagrin, what the family quickly finds out is that a dozen of the best rides are only accessible to the mom, dad, and 11 year old. That sucks. Oh, but since they already paid, they decide to split up the family and mom forgoes the intense pleasure of roller coasters to spend the first half of the day with the 9 year old and 6 year old in the Nickelodeon area of the park.
Well, the Dad and 11 year old are elated. They buzz from uber coaster to uber coaster having a blast. The mom is disappointed to be missing the coasters, but happy to accommodate her other kids. The 6 year old has a blast, but the 9 year old has mixed feelings. A few of the Nick rides are a lot of fun, but the rest are "too baby-ish."
Later that day the family meets for lunch and relates their separate adventures. Then the dad and mom switch off and the mom and the 11 year old go ride the big rides while dad and the other two go back to the family rides.
At the end of the the day, the family hooks up and catches the half dozen or so midway rides common to most amusement parks. Family time at last. It has not been a bad day per se, but for a family unit on a family vacation it was not a very good family day.
One more point. Close your eyes for a second and imagine King's Island WITHOUT the following attractions: Diamondback, Flight of Fear, Firehawk, Back Lot Stunt Coaster, Delirium, Drop Tower, Invertigo, Beast, Son of Beast (if it ever re-opens), The Racer, Adventure Express, The Crypt, Flight Deck, and Vortex.
Imagine further that instead of all those great rides, all you have is Fairly Odd Coaster, Rugrats Runaway Reptar, a Scooby-Doo shooter, and a bunch of carnival spinners you've ridden for years.
Hold that image.
You just saw King's Island through the eyes of a 9 year old boy who is only 46" tall.
It wasn't a pretty sight, was it?
Even Disney haters would take Tower of Terror, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Thunder Mountain Railroad, Dinosaur, Soarin', Toy Story Mania, Test Track, Mission: Space, and Expedition Everest over Fairly Odd Coaster, Rugrats Runaway Reptar, and Scooby-Doo, wouldn't they?
It is an easy decision when you look at it from a whole-family perspective.
Now you know why Walt Disney World is the number one vacation destination in the world.
Sorry, but KI simply isn't in Busch Gardens' league for entertainment, landscaping, food and family rides. Nor is it in the same league as SeaWorld, Universal or Disney. Like Knott's, it was once a solid theme park that is now deteriorating to iron park status under Cedar Fair management. Give it a few more years, and it will be where Knott's is now.
This doesn't have to be. There's no law which declares that only Disney, Universal and Busch can build and run great theme parks that offer something for all fans throughout.
James, I am just not sure how you can read my posts and derive so much venom and bile towards your hometown amusement parks. I guess I am just not a very good writer as my points are completely lost on the Cedar Fair faithful.
Once again, I personally like Cedar Point and Kings Island, and even my local affiliate, Worlds of Fun. And to be honest, I love roller coasters, which all those parks do very well. However, they just are not very good places for me to take my whole family on a week long vacation (for the exact reasons I tried, and failed apparently, to describe above). They are decent enough places to visit for a day, maybe two (in the case of Cedar Point), but they are not what I would consider vacation destinations. At this point in the life of my family, those parks are places I stop at on the way to somewhere else.
But then Cedar Fair is not catering to my family, so of course I feel the way I do. Maybe when my two boys and my girl are all 13+ years old and in that in between stage where some of the Disney magic grows a little childish for a big, tough teenager, then Cedar Point might become more viable. However, I would contend that even then the Universal Parks still offer a better option.
I guess it is all about what you love, and subjectivity is never really as objective as we try to make it seem. For me and mine, attractions that have thrills and immersive, narrative theming are always better than attractions that feature thrills alone.
Busch Gardens is an A number one park, and I understand it's top status, but it doesn't have that kind of offering. It has great quality attractions, but not as many. It has more theming, and in many cases, better food and shows, but it doesn't have the heart of the kids like Kings Island does, and it doesn't have as much to do. That being said, placing Busch Gardens head and shoulders above Kings Island isn't exactly what I would call an accurate statement. The Peanuts addition raises some questions about KI's quality kids area status, but show me a park that offers as many attractions for people of all ages and tastes. Cedar Point although great, is thrill ride heavy and doesn't include the waterpark in it's admission price. Universal? Yeah ok, even though the attraction list is smaller and it's spread over two parks. You could say Disney, but it's spread over 4 parks, and they don't have the coasters. Keep in mind also that to have those complete Orlando experiences (although great) will cost you hundreds (and hundreds) of dollars more. Kings Island tickets were $23 bucks a piece at the Louisville Kroger ($33 at Ohio Kroger). I spent maybe a hundred inside the park for food, drink, gifts, and games for 4. There's something to be said for value, and the economic and attendance issues for Orlando this year show that.
Sorry for ranting a little, but I have a soft spot for this place, and I'll put it up against any park, any time. I hope that Cedar Fair realizes what they have in this park and keeps the balance that KI currently has. As for kids not becoming coaster fans Robert, didn't one of yours come to the dark side during your visit to Kings Island?
Just a little background first , I live 1.5 hours from KI's. I grew up going to the KI and Cedar Point every year. I have also been to Seasme Place and Dutch Wonderland this year and Universal and Disney many times.
Just for small kids KI is one of the best parks around espcially for only $30 entry fee. While, no doubt Disney is the best place for kids it also very expensive. Don't kill me for this but i think for the small children only, KI's has a better offering than Universal. IOA had about 4 or 5 rides for them and the kids didn't seem to enjoy them that much. They did like the fievel's playgound at US but not as much as they do riding the whip or waterslides at KI.
So to sum it up, KI's is really great for small children as some of the magizines have given them credit for. While it might not have that many whole family rides, it certainly has it's place.
P.S. KI does have a log flume.
I have a 3 and a 5 yo and when we go to our local park canobie lake we stay for 4 or 5 hours hit the kiddie rides and leave. The kiddie section is nothing more than a bunch of midway rides lumped together. My kids enjoy them, there usually isn't much more than a 5 minute wait, and they can ride several rides in an outing without having to venture across the entire park. They keep Canobie nice and clean, it is reasonably priced and so for a day out with the kids the local park is nice.
For a family "destination" I expect more. If I am going to vacation to a theme park then I fully expect that there be rides for the entire family and that we are not just jammed into one section of the park. We visit WDW about once a year and I love the fact that we can enjoy the attractions together as a family and not have to split up (my 4 y/o at the time was tall enough to ride test track, thunder mountain, and soarin and loved them) because of the child swap. Mom and oldest could ride soarin while I took the little one to see circle of life then I could ride soarin with the oldest while mom and the little one rode the living with the land ride.
We were given one day passes this past spring for Universal (we went to the studios park)and while we enjoyed it, I would not have been too happy about spending $74 a piece so my family would have to split up for a good part of the day. As the whole point of the family vacation for us is spending it with the family.
As far as the Ohio parks go...sorry but they just don't have enough appeal for me right now. When the kids are older (10-12 ish range) then I will definitely be making the trip but for right now I feel my money is better spent at a park that my family can enjoy together.
Last summer, we all went to Cedar Point as a smaller & more affordable summer vacation. The only thing we did as a family was ride Maverick, which my mom immediately regretted. The only other thing she really did was ride a merry-go-round. There really is nothing in the park for a whole family. And this summer, when we all went to King's Island, my parents never even entered the park because they didn't want to spend the money for my mom to walk around and ride very little.
I absolutely LOVE Cedar Point and it's been a huge part of my life, but the company [Cedar Fair] absolutely DOES NOT cater to families and I think it's something they need to wise up to, and fast. Families are going to bring in a lot more money than a bunch of teens and coaster enthusiasts who run from coaster to coaster and eat out of their cars. I'm frustrated with the lack of focus on the family stuff because I want to see this company succeed and continue to grow and do well.
Nick Universe was a huge win for my kids and was better than anything I had seen short of Disney for kids at parks across the US.
Snoopy means nothing to them and while the quality of ride may stay the same, the branding was a huge draw and got my kids to take a chance on rides they would not have normally tried.
I do agree that KI is on a decline and this may be the final nail in the coffin. :(
I am actually reading a lot of love and concern for Cedar Point/Kings Island. Everyone just wants the parent company to be a little more imaginative with their rides and a little more whole-family oriented at the same time. They have the coaster thing down pat, now it is time to work on implementing a few more themed attractions.
And that sentiment extends to all the amusement companies, not just Cedar Fair. Six Flags has the same issue, as does PARC management, and a myriad of other independent, small town parks across the nation.
Families (especially those with non-teen age kids) like to tour theme parks together.
At least, that is what I am reading.
Besides, you don't want to go to the Lurker's Loft, it only has one family ride (a scrambler), they play It's All Small World in a continuous loop, and there are no coasters at all. Ugh.
Ok, I'm going to try this again. Cedar Fair is good the way it is. They do not have to be like Disney. Not every park has to be like Disney to be successful. It is unfair to say that they should add more themed rides. I could say the same thing towards Disney, that they should add more thrill rides and coasters. I'm willing to bet that if Cedar Point was in Orlando, it would bring just as many people as Disney. It's a totally different experience.
But I do agree with part of your post: Disney should add more coasters and thrill rides... however they need to be unique, narrative, themed attractions not just steel.
And you're right, the place just wouldn't be as pretty without the lake in the backdrop. But, hey, moving the park to the already over-crowded theme park scene in Orlando was Brandon's idea, not mine!
Now, scoot over, James, and let me ride too. I hate scramblers, but there isn't anything else to do in this darn loft! Stay on your own side, blast it, and stop singing that stupid song! Ugh! It stinks in here! Doesn't Robert ever clean this place out? Jeez...
BGW has great shows, shows that you could stand to see more than once. It has good food that you can eat as a family. It has family rides, it has atmosphere.
It only has 4 roller coasters. It's certainly not thrill-park material. It has no wooden coasters. And frankly, the only rides I generally ride at BGW other than the big 3 coasters (I'm not a lochness fan) is DarKastle, the bumper cars, and corkscrew hill.
But I go back several times every year. I go back for the summer concerts. I go back for the shows (I actually stopped by on the way home from a business trip just to see the acrobat show and eat an ice cream cone). I go back for Halloween. I go back because it's the only park my wife actually seems to look forward to, while she tolerates the rest.
I bet our entire family would love Disney. But it's twice as expensive, and a day away, and more crowded than I would ever like.
So I do Kings DOminion and the entire Cedar Point park group. But I still do BGW every year. It's the only park I can think of where I could visit 3 times without riding a single ride (the aforementioned ice cream stop, and two summer concerts).
CP is at home right where it is, I agree. It is certainly one of the wonders of the amusement park world and a destination to which all fans of coasters and thrills should travel at least once every couple of years after reaching 54" tall.
But back to the original discussion topic, Cedar Fair, the company, does need to modify some of its practices and provide more consistent operations across the expanse of its empire. While not up to my Orlando-centric standards, Cedar Point, Kings Island, Kings Dominion, and Knotts Berry Farm do offer quite a bit more fun and adventure than the average CF park. Continued effort should be made to bring parks like Worlds of Fun up to snuff. Furthermore, the company needs to make a concerted effort to provide better and tastier food options. Face it, the food at Cedar Fair parks is pretty darn sucky. I don't mind paying high prices for amusement park food if the quality and variety is above that which can be found at the local fast food joint. Additionally, some measure of creativity should be employed in the design and placement of new attractions. I've seen some nice things lately at my local park with the addition of Prowler, but continued progress must be made. Also, an emphasis on things the entire family can experience together would be a huge bonus. Don't get me wrong, I still want to see lots of roller coasters and uber thrill rides, but perhaps CF can work with engineers to design some top notch attractions that accommodate the 40 - 44 inch height ranges (and a dark ride or two would not be a bad thing at all!). Finally, keep in mind, the aesthetics of the park cannot slip... maintenance, cleanliness, and beauty are all still requisite.
Everything I just wrote goes for Six Flags, PARC, and a host of independent amusement park operators as well. All these companies function similarly by placing new attractions in such as way as to cause a segregation of the family unit. Greater emphasis on combining uber rides with whole-family and kiddie rides should be on the agendas of all amusement park companies.
It has been a stimulating discussion folks, but the horse is long since dead and buried, and we just keep digging it up and kicking the crap out of it. It is now time to turn our attention to FOOTBALL. A couple college games are about to kick off, and we have a huge dose of THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE heading our way tomorrow and Monday. I am putting on my adult diapers and getting the TV remote ready... have a great sports weekend!
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But I will mention that Great America, which is guilty as charged of putting kiddie areas in strange places, did build Buccaneer Battle which I guess is for everybody. However, Bugs National Park is in BIG need of a rehab. The place looks like trash, but with Wiggles World and Camp Cartoon Network, the kiddies don't seem to notice.
I think the reasoning behind not too many good "universal" rides for all is that many I can think of and you mentioned are extremly well themed. The Caraseussal is amazingly detailed (as with the rest of Seussland). Same can be said about Tom Sayer's Island. I think it would cost too much money to build a ride for all ages, at least for the non Disney or Universal Crowd.