Monday Top 10: For Which Theme Park Fans Give Thanks

November 24, 2014, 1:17 PM · With the Thanksgiving holiday this week in the United States, crowds are returning to the theme parks for the start of the annual holiday travel season. We will hit another lull in the crowds next week until the biggest two travel weeks of the year hit, starting the Saturday before Christmas, Dec. 20 this year. But let us avoid the temptation that so many theme parks and retailers succumb to in looking ahead to Christmas and forgetting about Thanksgiving.

Diagon Alley
We're thankful this year for Diagon Alley, among many other things.

So let us devote our Monday Top 10 list this week to the top 10 things for which theme park fans ought to give thanks this year. We would like to invite you to submit a personal Top 10 Thanksgiving list in the comments, but for now we will get the thanksgiving started with our own list.

10. Everything to eat at theme parks

The star of almost any Thanksgiving celebration is the food, and theme parks excel at keeping people well-fed. Where else can you get turkey leg year-'round?

9. Healthier food options

As theme parks have expanded their menus over the years, they haven't gone the "state fair" route of simply frying anything they could fit into a vat of boiling oil. Theme parks have added healthier options to their menus and have devoted more resources to accommodating people with food allergies and special diets. Last week in Orlando, I ate rotisserie chicken, green beans, grilled mahi mahi, sautéed vegetables, sushi, edamame, gluten-free cookies — food far from the old stereotype of pizza, chicken fingers, and burgers. Sure, the trend toward healthier options is inconsistent across the industry, and people continue to buy a lot of the same old stuff. But we're thankful to have the option of eating better than that when we visit our favorite parks.

8. Improved accessibility

Accommodation isn't just a dietary issue. Over the years, theme parks have become more accommodating of people of differing physical abilities. Whether you or travel with a person with disabilities, you should welcome this trend toward accessibility. Accommodation requires creativity, and anything that inspires designers to be more creative is all right in our book. Does anyone really wish for more of those narrow, metal-railed, back-and-forth queues? We didn't think so. People love rides that accommodate their entire family. (Think: Hogwarts Express, which might be the most immersive totally-accessible attraction ever built.)

7. The return of the dark ride

Fans of dark rides know they're having a year to be thankful for when they're getting new dark rides from Cedar Fair and Six Flags. Imagine, a Six Flags dark ride might be the best new attraction next year!

6. Immersive environments

It's not just dark rides putting the theme into theme parks. The past few years have brought fans some of the most immersive themed environments ever built for parks, led by the Wizarding World of Harry Potter lands at Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Japan. Disney's upping its game, too, with Cars Land at Disney California Adventure, the Ratatouille miniland at Walt Disney Studios Paris, and the upcoming World of Avatar at Disney's Animal Kingdom.

5. J.K. Rowling

Let's be honest: It's highly doubtful that the current boom in the theme park industry, including all these new dark rides and immersive lands, would be happening if not for a certain Scottish author and her boy wizard. J.K. Rowling didn't just create Harry Potter — she's wisely used her influence as Potter's creator to demand that her partners follow an uncompromising set of standards in protecting and expanding her wizarding world. And fans are the better for it, as her vision has led to unprecedented growth at Universal Orlando, which has inspired other parks to invest to try to chase some of that market growth, too.

4. Creative designers

Of course, none of this happens without the work of the themed entertainment industry's creative designers, too. So let us give thanks to the designers, engineers, and other creative professionals who develop new attractions for us at theme parks around the world.

3. Visitors who know what they are doing

Designers can do their best in developing high-capacity attractions that promote smooth guest flow, but it really does help when visitors know what they're doing when visiting the parks. So thank you to all visitors who take the time to do some advance research before visiting a theme park — those who buy their tickets in advance, read about the available attractions, and make decisions about where to visit and what to eat so that they're not gumming up the park by standing around lost and arguing all day. Yes, we are talking about you, dear Theme Park Insider readers. We're thankful for you every single day of the year!

2. Visitors who help other visitors

Knowing your own business is helpful, but people who take time to help other visitors with theirs deserve an extra helping of thanks this holiday season. Whether you stop to give directions, take a photo for someone, allow someone to go ahead or just offer a needed smile to a stressed-out guest, please accept our thanks for doing so much to make theme parks among the most welcoming destinations on Earth.

1. Cast members, Team members, Model citizens and all other in-park employees

But we're the amateurs in making theme parks welcoming destinations. The top spot on our list must go to the pros. Thank you to every front-line theme park employee — the people who run the rides, perform the shows, sell the tickets, drive the trams, prepare and serve the food, and keep everything clean and working throughout the day. Be sure to be extra generous with your tips this holiday season to those who can accept tips, and to be extra-generous with your smiles, thanks you's and compliments to those who cannot. Theme park employees should know that theme park fans love them, appreciate them, and give thanks for the work that they do.

For what are you giving thanks as a theme park fan this holiday season?

Replies (7)

November 24, 2014 at 1:50 PM · I'm thankful for the annual pass.
I'm struggling with my health and a full day in the park is not an option, 1 of 2 hours at the least is my max and I need a few days to re-generate before I can go again. Thanks to the annual pass it's possible for me to visit my favorite theme park (Universal Studios Orlando) in small bursts without springing the bank.
November 24, 2014 at 2:21 PM · Thanks for bringing up "being nice to people." Walt really wanted his urban design to have just that effect, and I think it does! We enjoyed giving away our Magic Band charms to kids, giving away toys we won in the carnival games, helping people with strollers on the trams -- all things that we should probably do more everyday but, as you said, theme parks give us a great opportunity. I'm also thankful for the wonderful childhood memories that these parks help us relive. That was another one of Walt's reasons for doing this in the first place, and it still works every time!
November 24, 2014 at 5:51 PM · Great list, Robert! We're also thankful for TPI always keeping us in the loop :-).
November 24, 2014 at 9:53 PM · Darn it. Melanie took the words out of my mouth (or out of my keyboard). Loyal reader since 2010!

Robert... where did you have the Gluten Free Cookies???

November 24, 2014 at 10:23 PM · Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. (Video report coming later this week.) They're an under-the-counter alternative to the free snickerdoodles. Chocolate chip. Very tasty, IMHO.
November 25, 2014 at 2:05 AM · I am thankful for the great new and recently launched attractions we enjoyed in Orlando this year: DA, 7DMT (and the rest of New Fantasyland), FOF Parade, and Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem.
November 25, 2014 at 7:17 AM · I give thanks that Universal and Walt Disney World are not located in Missouri. It looks like a friendly unbiased state…

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