From doughnuts to dollars: the big business of theme park sweets

November 4, 2016, 8:35 AM · No one goes to a theme park to start a diet. If anything, a day at a theme park is one when you forget about healthy eating and change your focus to eating for fun. Theme parks know this, and work to tempt you with an outlandish line-up of snacks that you'd never dream of putting on your family's weekly menu at home.

Funnel cakes. Churros. Fried Oreos. But it's not enough to load a treat with fat and sugar. They've got to look amazing, too — so wonderfully over-the-top that you just can't resist buying it, taking a photo, then devouring it before your conscience can raise any objection.

For the past several years, the Walt Disney World theme parks have rolled out fancy new cupcakes like Michael Phelps wins gold medals. At some point, you lose count and stop trying to keep track. But on the west coast, there's another treat that's become the latest battlefront in the Great Theme Park Snack War — doughnuts.

In my Orange County Register column this week, I write about the emerging doughnut rivalry between Universal Studios Hollywood and Disneyland. Universal got this one started with Lard Lad Donuts in its Simpsons-themed Springfield land. Then Disneyland countered last month with a new gourmet doughnut cart on Main Street. But Universal is looking to counterpunch with the original crazy doughnut purveyor, bringing Portland's Voodoo Doughnut to CityWalk in the next few weeks.

Big Pink doughnut
Cutting into Universal's "Big Pink," the signature doughnut at Lard Lad Donuts.

Orlando's got its emerging milkshake war, between Universal's Toothsome Chocolate Emporium and Savory Feast Kitchen and Disney's upcoming Planet Hollywood Observatory. Given these rivals' eagerness to entice every last dollar from their guests on both coasts, I don't think anyone would be surprised to see more fancy doughnuts in Orlando soon, or those extreme milkshakes coming to Southern California.

The real winners here? Our tastebuds today... and either fitness trainers or cardiologists tomorrow, depending upon how we play this. But sugar sells, and so long as we are buying, theme parks will keep finding creative new ways to sell it to us.

What's your favorite theme park sweet snack?

Read Robert's column:

Replies (12)

November 4, 2016 at 8:56 AM · But remember you do walk about 7 to 8 miles per day while visiting a Large Theme Park, therefore this will be burned off quickly.

I enjoy Turkey legs or Stuffed pretzels.

November 4, 2016 at 9:25 AM · I'm hooked on chocolate covered donuts that are sold at a bakery at a Japanese store. These usually require refrigeration. My wife enjoys cream puffs and eclairs that are also sold in Japanese bakeries since the cream is much richer and it has less sugar than the American counterparts.

Soon Downtown Disney will sell cup cakes at Sprinkles. I love cookies. Maybe heavily decorated cookies will find a new audience.

November 4, 2016 at 9:36 AM · I like theme park sweet snacks that are extending the theme of the ip presented or the story that is created and it should be unique or have an unique edge to it in how it's presented or taste. So Butterbeer, Lard Lad Donuts and stuff. Not a cupcake with Darth Vader slapped on it.
November 4, 2016 at 12:50 PM · It's a bit further out but the nicest thing I've ever eaten in a theme park is Churros with soft serve at Legoland Billund. It was freezing cold, so the Churros were fresh and the soft serve was so thick and creamy. The danish claim to have the creamest ice cream. Such a simple snack but man, execution is everything. I've had the same thing at other parks, but nothing has approached Legoland.
November 4, 2016 at 1:52 PM · Two words - Krispy Kreme. I was surprised that they had Krispy Kreme donuts on the Disney Cruise that I went on, it would be a fantastic hit, they could have the full store with donut making machine in Downtown Disney, then also sell them in the parks.

Also, I've always thought that Disneyland should sell chocolate croissants (Not sure if they do now, like in Starbucks?) Also, maybe they should take the lead from county fairs, who come up with a new way to deep fry something every year.

November 4, 2016 at 3:55 PM · No just no. I'm not a health nut but I have my limits. Of course, this crap sells better than healthier foods because people are sugar addicts (it takes one to know one). Should Disney sell crack and meth too? Ok I'm a being a tad extreme but there's enough fat people at the parks already and Disneyland is not a country fair. When I'm at the parks I usually stay away from that stuff because it doesn't mix well (for me) with the rides and heat.
November 5, 2016 at 1:14 AM · Legoland California's churros with chocolate dipping sauce is amazing and puts Disney's churros to shame. The churros are fresh and thick, and the dark chocolate sauce is divine.
I agree with the comment that a cupcake with a Darth Vader chocolate on top is just so incredibly lame. I'm embarrassed for Disney when they do something so cheap like that. On the other hand, the fresh candy canes at Christmas are great.
November 6, 2016 at 3:28 AM · I really like the fresh English Toffee at Disneyland/DCA.
November 6, 2016 at 11:33 AM · So far, I've been able to resist trying a Lard Lad doughnut. Maybe it's the images of the Lard Lad himself...
November 6, 2016 at 1:31 PM · Considering that for the rest of the year I rarely eat sweets & desserts, I look forward to treating myself while on vacation. I eat healthy on a day to day basis, so a few days of indulgence every 2-3 years is deserved. We really don't see any weight gain after a week at WDW or US because of all the walking we do anyway.
November 7, 2016 at 7:18 AM · Still a Fan, you're missing nothing on the Lard Lad doughnuts. They literally taste exactly like a frosted doughnut from Dunkin Donuts.
November 7, 2016 at 9:30 AM · Churros are fine, but if you are at LEGOLAND, you must try Granny's Apple Fries. They are thick cut shoestring shaped pieces of Granny Smith Apples, dusted with a lite coating and fried. Then they are tossed in cinnamon-sugar and served in a cardboard cone with a sweet vanilla dipping cream. Amamazing. Tart and sweet and crunchy and soft all at the same time.

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