Should theme parks build kids' lands?
Cedar Fair's made it official that it will be dropping the Nickelodeon theme
from the kids' areas at its former Paramount Parks, in favor of the "Camp Snoopy" theme first debuted at Knott's Berry Farms in the 1980s. I, and others, have argued at Peanuts is no longer a compelling theme for today's kids (most of whom were not alive when Charles Schulz died nine years ago, and the strip stopped publishing fresh comics).
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.
Blue's Skidoo at Kings Island's Nickelodeon Universe
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.
On the Caro-Seuss-el at Islands of Adventure's Seuss Landing
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.
While you acknowledge Seuss Landing at IOA you forgot to make note of Universal's greater achievement to the genre (and theme park planning), the area around KidsZone at Universal Studios Florida. This is an extraordinary collection of attractions and shows that is segregated from all the noisy and scary big kids stuff. 'Fievel's Playland' and 'Curious George Goes to Town' offer wet and dry play areas -- where kids can have fun (very often without having to stand in line and wait their turn). The kid-sized 'Nuthouse Coaster.' is fun without being too frightening. Regardless of what you may think about the too sugary sweet purple dinosaur 'A Day in the Park with Barney' is a great show. Anyone who has experienced Barney's sudden arrival on stage in a theater packed with 4 and 5 year olds will agree. And to keep their attention and relax in the shade the critters from 'Animal Actors on Location' gets kids and parents off their feet.
I think one of the compelling qualities of the Barney attraction is that it can be a *high capacity* toddler attraction. Capacity is what just kills parent satisfaction at so many toddler attractions. People can't stand the wait times. But, if they run shows back-to-back, Barney can put through hundreds more visitors per hour than rides like Dumbo can.
I think a big reason the large iron parks pay little mind to kid friendly attractions is that they count on locals for most of their customer base. They figure since the locals are probably coming to their park because they cant or dont want to travel to the major theme parks, they will have that business regardless of its appeal to small children. Why are you going to invest heavily into something that wont change your bottom line as much as a roller coaster. These parks cannot compete with disney and universal for family dollars, so they invest in what will draw their main customer base, teen to middle aged thrill seeking locals.
I love your articles. They always hit from an angle I never thought of.
I have to argue your Knott's Berry Farm Point. Not only do they have Camp Snoopy for the younger ones, but the also have the Log Ride for all ages, The Calico Railroad (both the mine ride and normal railway) for family, and the shows? Everyone Loves Snoopy is definitely all family frinedly and what is cooler, on ice!
To be totally fair, I think the Snoopy rides are more "family-oriented" than Nickelodeon, which has grown excessively needy of their cartoons to keep the kids tuning in, and their cartoons started royally sucking after Rugrats.
Robert, once again I totally agree with you. As the not-so-tall father of three not-so-tall kids, I have been increasingly frustrated with the "divide-the-family" mentality of amusement park companies these days. The perfect park (which not even Disney has yet achieved) would provide a completely immersive and thrilling environment that families could experience together. While it is probably impossible to make an entire park that is all things to everyone at the same time, the goal should be to keep families together not tear them apart! Attractions designed for a specific segment of the population should be the exception, not the rule.
Yes....all parks should build kids lands. They draw kids, which draws their parents and their wallets. The scale of the kid land depends squarely on the park and it's budget, hence the question "should they build themed kids lands". The old Paramount Parks kept it balanced and actually started falling short in the quality thrill ride department. Kings Island still has plenty of rides for everyone. The water park, White Water Canyon, Adventure Express, Scooby Doo, the Log Flume, Motion Simulator, Avatar coaster, and the collection of old spinners are some of those rides. IOA and Busch Gardens doesn't really have any more transitional rides than Kings Island, but they are themed rides...which are the best kind of transition because they have broad appeal. Again though, it all comes back to one thing...money. Theme parks backed by major corporations have it, regional amusement parks don't. That doesn't mean they shouldn't be built, but they will always be different depending on where you are and the park in which you are.
Well put, Derek. However, the kiddie land at King's Island, by your own admission, is quite a bit different than most Cedar Fair kiddie areas. While King's Island as a whole suffers from the "divide-the-family" problem described by Robert, its
As I do agree with you about most Cedar Fair parks and saying they need more family friendly attractions to be successful, there are exceptions. My home park Cedar Point, is more successful then Busch Gardens, or at least it brings more people in. Busch Gardens is family friendly, but still gets beat by Cedar Point. Also, you must have had a pretty bad trip to Kings Island! I think there is plenty for the family to do there, as Derek listed some of the many things.
"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."
^Put an emphasis on friendly employees. I haven't been down to Disney or Universal parks in awhile, but Cedar Fair employees are a lot more friendly and quite frankly better than workers in other chains. When I went to Hersheypark and Busch Gardens Williamsburg this summer, I was almost expecting their ride ops and employees to be as friendly and efficient as the Cedar Point employees I am so used to. This was not the case. Now the employees weren't mean or rude, but they kind of just, well sat there and did their job(but not efficiently), and there weren't too many exceptions to this. They were less than thrilled and weren't trying to get the lines going as quick as possible. The ride ops did not interact with people in line, and I believe they should. I guess that's one of the reasons that Cedar Point has been voted Best Amusement Park 11 years in a row. If you have ever visited Cedar Point, you know that the ride ops up here are some of the best you will ever find. They know how to have fun, while still doing their job.
Busch Gardens-Williamsburg just built a kids area based on Sesame Street. I agree that before that, they had their younger rides scattered throughout the park.
Imagine if you will a family of five: Mom, Dad, 54" tall 11 year old, 46" tall 9 year old, and 40" tall 5 year old, visiting King's Island with visions of family bliss dancing in their heads.
James nails it with his comment.
Brandon, do you ever get frustrated coming in here, hearing how much Cedar Point and everything that Cedar Fair touches sucks? How have we missed the fact that nothing good, in any way, can come out of Sandusky, Ohio? We should start setting our standards higher. We must accept the fact that Disney, BG and SeaWorld are the Father, Son and Holy Ghost of entertainment, and that we have somehow been following the Dark Side. The next time I see Snoopy at Cedar Point entertaining my kids I'll throw some holy water on him and see if he starts to mime,"It burns! It burns!!!" Perhaps the CDC, after they get this swine flu thing under control, can start to work on a vaccine for the virus that Cedar Fair is spreading throughout our nation.
Now, that would be something I would pay to see! And my 6 year old daughter who is terrified of Snoopy at Worlds of Fun, would probably give you a vote of confidence as well.
I'll be the first to admit that Cedar Fair kids lands aren't as good at the old Paramount ones. That's why I'm concerned about the Peanuts replacing Nickelodeon. Kings Island may or may not be headed towards iron ride status down the road, but as it stands right now, it offers plenty for everybody to do. Have a look at the ride and attraction list and you will find them. It's not a concrete and iron park (except in the Action Zone), in fact it's quite the opposite in terms of scenery. Theming? not really, but it's well planted, well taken care of, and there are plenty of nice places to sit down and take a break...and who doesn't like International Street. The addition of Firehawk and Diamondback made Kings Island the most well rounded park experience in the seasonal market. Coasters for all sizes, huge kids land, a big waterpark (free nonetheless), and a sufficient collection of filler rides. It could use the restaurants that they have gotten rid of over the years, but there are still some good eats if you know where to look.
Ok, I never comment but had to this time as i think you are missing one important part. Robert, did you go over to see the water park at Kings Island? KI has one of the best water park's around espically for little kids. My kids are 38" and 34" and have taken them every year since they were about 1.(Now 4 and 2) There are 4 to 5 large sections for them to play in, numerous waterslides(at least 6 that i can think of off the top of my head before they are 36"). Also a slide that you can ride parent and child, a large pool and a lazy river. When we go we spend at least 4 hours or so at the water park. There is also no additional charge for it.
I don't comment very often and I sure don't want to get in the middle of the Cedar fair vs. the world discussion but for me kids lands are all about expectations.
I grew up going to Cedar Point every summer for as far back as I can remember & I still get a season pass each summer. But my experiences with my family go right along with the points made in Robert's article. My mom is afraid of heights and I have a sister 6 years younger than me. Once I graduated to a full-fledged coaster rider, trips to Cedar Point weren't much of a family thing. We'd all go, but mom would stay with my sister as my dad and I would go around the park and ride the coasters. The only ride we could all ride together was White Water Landing, which was only possible once my sister was tall enough.
I think kid's lands for the most part are a waist of time. A parent brings the little one to the kid's area, then has to just sit there for a while until the little one is done. Ooh, what fun! Not! Walt Disney's biggest thing with wanting to build his own theme park was that he wanted a place where parents and children alike could ride the rides and do the attractions together. That's the way it should be. At the Disney parks, there are some rides that the little ones can't do. But most things can be done together.
Its tough. I was in Kings Island on Sunday and was in line at the Beast (a rough and intimidating ride) in front of a couple with what looked like a 8-9 year old boy. They had just taken him on Diamondback and here he is standing in line scared to death, asking his parents if it goes underground and if its dark and scary. You Beast alumni know the answer to that (think like an 8 y/o). His mom told me that they had recently taken him on the ToT at Disney and were not prepared for that ride, and now the little fellow is justifiably gunshy. I wanted to stick around after the ride and see how he made out but decided to move on.
With King's Island getting rid of Nick Universe, this will most likely move us to Holiday World. Outside of being in Cincy to visit family, I would just as soon go to Holiday World and ride their great family of coasters, best in class water park, and beautiful grounds.
James Koehl, yea I do get tired of people saying how Cedar Point isn't a good park. I know it is not the most family friendly park in the world. They are trying to make it more family friendly though, and are adding Shoot The Rapids this year as a result. Also, Cedar Point has many coasters for kids that aren't at that magical 48 inch mark. You can take a relaxing ride on the train, or go around in Paddlewheel Excursions. You can go on the Giant Wheel. If you want the family friendly coasters, you got Disaster Transport, Iron Dragon, Woodstock Express, and Jr. Gemini. Not the best lineup in the world, but they are decent. In no way am I saying Cedar Point is the best, as I do love Busch Gardens, but it's not fair to say that Busch Gardens is better at the business than Cedar Point when CP is the more successful company.
Brandon, let's not forget Cedar Downs, the three drive-yourself car attractions, dodgems, sky ride, swings in Frontier town, and all the live shows, including the ice show, and "Hot Summer Nights". I must have a really weird family- my kids both love the Peanuts gang and especially Snoopy. Many of the rides in Camp Snoopy are for all ages, and we often ride them together (and usually my kids tolerate the spinners much better than I do!). I think I'll just go up into the lurkers loft in this site. I'm not having much fun in here, since so many have such strong opinions about Cedar Fair doing so much wrong. Perhaps I'm a bit clueless about things- I always thought my family and I were having fun at Cedar Point.
Too much Camp Snoopy for you two! I hear a lot of
Based on that Blue spinner in the photo from KI, how the heck did the park win best kid's area? That spinner looks so sad and decrepit, something I expect at a traveling fair or carny. Had the judges ever been to Legoland?
I think I should just sit this out from now on. Any comment I make stating my opinion that Cedar Point is a family-friendly park, with lots of family-oriented attractions, is at best ignored and at worst dismissed. It doesn't change my opinion, nor my family's enjoyment of Camp Snoopy, Planet Snoopy, Frontier Trail and Frontier Town, and all the family attractions at Cedar Point. Luckily Cedar Point is large enough to allow it to provide these areas AND provide top-notch coasters. Yes, it can and does cater to all ages, and does so very well, and those of you who insist on jumping up-and-down and hollering "Does not! Does not!" are welcome to your opinion. I obviously cannot change your opinion, and you will not change mine. I will be the first to admit that Disney does it best, and that Universal parks are top-notch. I also think that there is room in the park world for Cedar Point-type parks, parks with multiple types of attractions for multiple ages. There are attractions that my kids love that I don't. There are attractions that I love that my kids don't. There are attractions that we all love together. There is nothing wrong with that. We can and have spent all day at Cedar Point riding attractions together as a family, and have spent all day doing what others in the family want to do because we are a family and want to share our time with others. Watching my kids ride Balloon Race in Camp
I am just glad you stayed out of the Lurker's Loft, James. That place is nasty.
I think Robert's assessment has a lot of merit, and I want to acknowledge up front that Robert has significantly raised my awareness of the value of well themed attractions. I disagree on one point though. In my opinion, ONLY Disney gets it right. Only Disney provides the mix of family friendly attractions that keeps the family together. Universal Studios is a distant second. IOA and Busch are in the exact same situation as the big Cedar Fair Parks (sorry never visited a Six Flags). At IOA and Busch, my family separated exactly the same as at Cedar Point, KI and KD. It is only at Disney that the family stays together 90% of the time (Everest, Space Mountain, TOT, Rock'n'RC and a couple Epcot rides are the only exceptions. There is simply more family oriented attractions (which are not nearly as fun as the iron...but that's another topic). The fascination with BGE and IOA is beyond my limited understanding. My family of five, given the choice of a trip to Busch in Williamsburg or King's Dominion has chosen KD 100% of the time after visiting both in 2006. BGE is fantastic, but thin. At KD there is simply more to do and that keeps everybody happier, longer, which means I get more rides on Volcano. KD also has Avalanche, Stunt Coaster, Fairly Odd Coaster, and Ricochet that appeal to 7 years of age and up. And just like KI, includes the water park in the price of admission! I am not disputing Robert's point. It is well thought out. It is the inclusion of IOA and Busch with Disney that simply blows my mind.
Big difference between "branded" vs. "themed." Is Six Flags a "themed" park? What's the theme of Busch? Disney is certainly tops because it was built around beloved stories and characters. No other theme park comes close to their generational appeal, because even adults have fond memories of the feelings they had for all those Disney fables. Licensing older characters such as Charlie Brown still works because it is the parents buying the tickets, but I agree that brand will continue to wane. Legoland is fascinating to me because it is a theme park that is genuinely focused on kids and doesn't try too hard to accommodate adults or teens. Risky given that it's parents who buy the tickets, parents never exposed to Mindstorm robots, Bionicle or even the ol' Lego bricks like the Europeans were. Can hi-tech replace Dumbo? I've been in lines at Disneyland where kids were begging there mom to go back to Legoland. This was remarkable given how kids tend to live in the moment and Legoland doesn't even have the endearing characters of a Disney, yet. Whatever the theme, it is very difficult to offer a park that all ages can enjoy.
^Busch Gardens Williamsburg is themed to Europe and Busch Gardens Tampa is themed to Africa.
^^I'll take that bet. If Cedar Point could pack in 17 million peeps a year just by moving to Orlando, they would have moved the park years ago.
Cedar Point is only open approximately four months out of the year. I think it does pretty well with the limited time it can be open. Also, if Cedar Point was in Orlando, it wouldn't have its unique and beautiful location in the middle of Lake Erie, on America's North Coast. It wouldn't be Cedar Point. Now pardon me while I climb back up into the loft (where I'll enjoy the Scrambler).
Cedar Point does very well at #15 on the North American attendance list, drawing roughly 25,000 a day from mid-May to Halloween. However, if it moved to Orlando and wanted to meet Disney-style attendance numbers, the self proclaimed coaster capital of the world would need to draw in about 70,000 guests each and every day for seven additional months. Whew!
If you want to understand BGW, think about a parent who isn't really into big rides.
Hey, I don't want Cedar Point to move to Orlando! I'm perfectly fine with it being right near my house :)
It is all just speculation, so I will play along and say that Cedar Point would break the top ten. But that top five would be very hard to crack. Especially when Universal (Rip Ride Rockit) and SeaWorld (Manta) have already proven, with attendance losses all year long, that roller coasters do not directly lead to more customers. At least, not in Orlando.
James R., what song is that? "It's a Small World after all...?" Don't blame Cedar Fair for THAT! ;+) As far as moving CP to Orlando, I wouldn't want that, either, any more than I want Snoopy to be seen wearing MM ears. Having Theme Park World in Orlando gives us a good reason to go to Fl. every few winters, but give CP the summer season on the north coast. At least we can go into the water and swim at the Cedar Point beach. Show me a Disney World beach that is a mile long.
I had to pick a song that would subject you to an infliction of intense cerebral pain, James! I didn't want you staying in that nasty, old loft...and so far my methods have been highly successful!
Personally I've always said that I think it's ridiculous to even TAKE toddlers to a theme park. They don't remember it, get exhausted, and often just dislike the entire experience. Parents should wait until thier child is old enough to be able to make the physical treck, and have great memories to last a lifetime. 6 and up at least.
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