Why do people go to theme parks?

December 13, 2017, 12:50 PM · Why do you visit theme parks? Obviously, if you've found your way through the Internet to a website called "Theme Park Insider," you're probably a fan or maybe an industry employee (or perhaps both!) But that doesn't explain why you chose to get into all of this.

The simplistic answer to why people visit theme parks is "to go on rides," but that's hardly the only thing bringing hundreds of millions of fans to resorts such as Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Tokyo Disney, and Universal Orlando every year. In my Orange County Register column this week, I write about some of the many other reasons that people visit theme parks, which might be the most multi-functional public spaces in the world today.

Yeah, many of us love the rides. But what about the shows? Or the increasing emphasis on role-playing in interactive attractions such as the wand play in Universal's Wizarding World of Harry Potter or Knott's Berry Farm's Ghost Town Alive?

When was the last time you visited a park simply to eat and drink? Or to buy souvenirs (whether for yourself or to flip on eBay?) For many fans, visiting theme parks is primarily a social experience — to spend the day with friends or family... or maybe to take pictures and video to post to social media such as Instagram or Snapchat.

By the way, this is where I send a thankful shout-out to the folks at the official Disney Parks Blog. On the day that I drop a newspaper column pegged to so many people using Disneyland as an Instagram background, they put up a blog post with even more suggestions for social media photo ops at the Disney theme parks. Thanks for the synergy there, guys! Much appreciated.

Anyway... let's get to the discussion. What got you into visiting theme parks? What keeps you coming back? And what could parks do (other than lowering prices) that would get you into the parks even more often?

Read Robert's column:

Replies (21)

December 13, 2017 at 12:56 PM · Disney World when I was nine, fell in love instantly with it. Really helped by my family living in Florida from 1991-95 and got to visit it more. Done Universal as well as Six Flags park and yes, the rides and shows are a big deal. But do love atmosphere and such and the way you can enjoy a much different world.
December 13, 2017 at 1:07 PM · Nostalgia, escapism, a little staycation.

I'd love to see a broad expansion of virtual queue systems. I don't mind waiting, I just don't like the standing in queues.

December 13, 2017 at 1:40 PM · I think it's all about convenience, accessibility, and wide appeal. Theme parks are almost always located near major cities with easy to access airports, which allow guests to easily plan trips with few complications, even if you're going to multiple parks across multiple chains in a single trip. Once your in the parks, things can get complicated, but for the most part, planning the general logistics for a theme park vacation are pretty simple. Parks are making it even easier with airport connection shuttles, on-property hotels, and other amenities that can make a theme park vacation very much like an all-inclusive resort at a tropical paradise. Not only are theme parks easy destinations for vacation, they also are great options for day and weekend trips that are becoming more common in our fast paced world. If you live in or near a major city, visiting a theme park for a day is an easy and cheap alternative to more distant natural wonders or crowded and expensive urban attractions.

Then there's the appeal. Theme parks appeal to the entire family, and while not everything in every theme park appeals to every member of the family, most successful parks have something for everyone. Not many singular tourist attractions like museums, national/state parks, beaches, etc... can claim the breadth of appeal that theme parks have.

People are going to go on vacation, and the goal of most vacations is to get away, so whether you're bumming out on a beach or waving a wand in front of a window, you're still getting away from you day to day routine. Theme parks are one of many options, but have become popular because they're easy to visit, are a relatively decent value typically because they're east to get to, and they have something for just about everyone.

December 13, 2017 at 1:56 PM · For me it is two words - immersion and escapism. The deeper the immersion, the greater the escapism. From the actual themed park itself to its individual themed lands and areas to its attractions, rides and shows to its themed dining.....and above all, its emphasis on fun and enjoyment. Everybody is different but nowhere detaches me from today's intense world more than WDW and Universal Orlando to the point of addiction.
December 13, 2017 at 2:03 PM · I completely agree with ProfPlum, it’s all about escapism for me. The world we live in today can be so tiresome, frustrating and unfathomable that being immersed in a fantasy world that allows me to forget about it for even a day or so is immensely appealing.
December 13, 2017 at 2:09 PM · Going to Disneyland helps me feel like a kid again. I'm scared to try and go back with kids of my own, forcing me to be an adult in the park and ruining the joy.
December 14, 2017 at 9:13 AM · Theme parks are a cultural phenomenon. It's pretty much an American past time. But enjoying it has been less enjoyable lately. I can't tell if the major theme park operators are intentionally killing the golden goose by awful customer service decisions. Certainly, the customer isn't always right, but the operators aren't always honest. Just saw on Youtube a complaint that Disneyland doesn't fully staff Mickey and Friends parking structure an hour before the park opens. It forces all incoming traffic into one lane and one booth for collection parking fees. This ruins many people's moods that it takes one hour to get from parking entrance to park entrance. I had that experience going at the regular hours when they are fully staffed. It takes one hour to pay, park, security, and tram ride.
December 13, 2017 at 3:48 PM · Depends on your age. You try to avoid it but the main reason really is the rides, especially for k-12 kids. When kids are young they love the rides but they also like the characters and the theme. When kids are older it moves to mainly rides and immersion. As adults we enjoy a fully immersive land and having fun with our kids and seeing joy on there face.
December 13, 2017 at 4:07 PM · Why? I like the guest relations that Disney has. Orlando Studios is good, but certainly not the best. I don’t go to places like Six Flags America (near Washington DC), even though I live very close to it. The rides are great, but the guest relations just isn’t there. The food is more expensive than at Disney, and the quality at Six Flags is below... The guests at Six Flags were more like customers or visitors. The workers are there for a quick summer job, and many of them leave before the season is over to return to college.

I think the question should be, “Why do you keep going back to the same theme parks?” Most people will try any theme park one time. And people will give a theme park a second chance after a while. But I keep going back to Disney

I go back because of the changes that are being made. I don’t always like the changes, so I have to stop and think about why they made some of the changes.

You asked when was the last time I went to a theme park to simply eat or drink. Or to buy souvenirs? I don’t. Yes, I go for the social experience. Standing in a line is not my idea of fun, but I do enjoy meeting people, finding out where they are from, and hearing about their experiences.

What keeps me coming back? As I said, it’s the guest relations. But I have to admit that the rides are very special. The Disney Rides are state-or-the-art technology. Changes keep me coming back. But this past time, I saw too many changes going on. Hollywood Studios was basically, “under construction”. The guests are fantastic as well.

December 13, 2017 at 4:08 PM · Disney’s problem right now is that it has too many guests. They’ve raised prices, and the gusts just pay more. The crowd problem is still there. They have closed the Magic Kingdom early for special events (e.g., Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween, and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas party), and charged another exorbitant fee. Yes, this has reduced the evening crowd a little, but for those of us who spend the entire day there, we pay twice. The other way to reduce the crowd is to add new attractions, or open a new park. Disney has done a good job with 4 theme parks, plus a couple water parks, plus Disney Springs (Downtown Disney), plus all the things to do in and around the hotels. The problem is that the crowds continue to grow.
December 13, 2017 at 6:35 PM · I think Prof Plum got it right with immersion and escapism. It is also purely 'fun' and something the young and old, solo travellers, teenagers and families can enjoy. Walt was on to something when he set Disneyland up in the first place! I agree about the lines and queues- how they raise prices yet people still go. I was shocked about the price for a 2 day hopper pass for Universal Studios Orlando. OMG. But I will pay as I do want to experience it. By the way, the Disneylands in Hong Kong and Tokyo are cheaper!!
December 13, 2017 at 8:39 PM · Robert. Do you think disney will end up with the huge fox studio lot (in the buyout to be announced tomarrow) and make it into a additional gate theme park. Tons of disneyland patrons drive from LA county and ventura county and even kern, tulare and fresno counties. All of the calif parks, do not have to be adjacent to each other.
December 13, 2017 at 9:30 PM · I hate the escapism angle, it has brought too many mentally unstable folks to the parks (They aren't hard to spot). I do enjoy the fun aspect with family and still do. Good quality is good quality, and pretty much all the Orlando parks (and SoCal) have it in spades.
December 14, 2017 at 4:07 AM · It escapism and the quality of the experience. The highly themed areas, the atmosphere the beautifully kept grounds and gardens.
But to quote Russell Meyer above "visiting a theme park for a day is an easy and cheap alternative to more distant natural wonders or crowded and expensive urban attractions". Its not cheap and it is crowded and getting worse.
Anton M hit the nail on the head when he said "I can't tell if the major theme park operators are intentionally killing the golden goose by awful customer service decisions. Just saw on Youtube a complaint that Disneyland doesn't fully staff Mickey and Friends parking structure an hour before the park opens. It forces all incoming traffic into one lane and one booth for collection parking fees. This ruins many people's moods that it takes one hour to get from parking entrance to park entrance". Even though there are plenty of people coming in Disney cut back on their staffing levels. Really how much extra would this cost to solve. Just one of many areas where customer service falls down for the huge profits of Disney.
December 14, 2017 at 9:25 AM · Why do I visit theme parks? It's all about using machines and technology to create entertainment. For me, I find endless fascination in observing how all these different disciplines come together into a final product. From set design, to lighting and sound, to show control...an amazing final product emerges. Granted the main idea behind a great attraction is to provide immersion and you shouldn't even be focused on "how did they do that!" But for me, it's about the nuts and bolts.

Take for instance a general flat ride. Here is some large industrial machine that normally would be found in some factory bending metal or assembling some product but slap some seats on it and it becomes "a ride". Yes I know that's kind of far fetched, as there's much more to ride design than that. But I LOVE seeing machinery created for fun.

Parks are examples of science and engineering around every turn. And while science has improved our lives, cured diseases and countless other revelations, it also has made us giggle, laugh and scream. When you disembark and say "OMG!! That was COOL!" you know the efforts of many has paid off. And watching people's reactions can be just as entertaining as riding yourself.

December 14, 2017 at 9:35 AM · "Here is some large industrial machine that normally would be found in some factory bending metal or assembling some product but slap some seats on it and it becomes "a ride"."

Absolutely Sarah. Every time I ride on Forbidden Journey, I think about where the ride system came from - assembly line robotic arms used to paint and put together cars. The ingenuity in theme parks never ceases to amaze.

December 14, 2017 at 9:46 AM · I know industrial accidents and I don't want to be turned into ground beef.
December 14, 2017 at 11:08 AM · I initially started going to theme parks b/c my ex-fiance told me that I was too old to ride roller coasters and I didn't think that this was an accurate assessment. (At the time he was wrong but 7 years later he may be right, as I've sustained 2 rib contusions in the past 4 months from riding coasters.) I continued to go b/c 1) I became addicted to roller coasters; 2) I love a park atmosphere; and 3) I was hoping to establish myself as a coaster critic and that meant going to as many parks and riding as many coasters as possible. Now I go b/c it's just plain fun and a relatively cheap getaway. (It would be dirt cheap if I didn't have to figure in the cost of transportation.) Think about it: the price of admission at the gate at Six Flags Great Adventure has gone up to $76.99 and my season pass good for admission to any Six Flags park (including parking) cost about $85. This season I've been to Great Adventure probably between 8 and 10 times and to Six Flags parks in other areas of the country 4 times. That's over $900 worth of entertainment for $85. Can't beat it.
December 14, 2017 at 12:48 PM · "Its not cheap and it is crowded and getting worse."

It's cheap when compared to other alternatives and the level of entertainment provided. While admission to places like the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone National Parks is far less than a day at WDW, the cost to get to these remote areas can often be far more expensive than getting to a major theme park. As far as crowds, there are crowds EVERYWHERE. Theme parks are not immune to population increases, and crowds at theme parks are no different than other major tourist destinations. Certainly there are some out of the way places you can find that are far away from crowds, but again, you're going to pay a lot more to travel to those places, and you may not get the same diversity of entertainment in those locations. Also the statement was about theme parks in general, not just Disney parks. There are a number of great theme parks around the country that aren't nearly as crowded as the Disney parks, and even if you do choose to visit a Disney park, there are ways to avoid the crowds and get even better value from your admission.

December 16, 2017 at 3:30 PM · >> Do you think disney will end up with the huge fox studio lot (in the buyout to be announced tomarrow) and make it into a additional gate theme park.<<

No, the Murdoch's are keeping the property, it is a large money maker, the FOX Sports networks use the facility, and in fact Disney will be paying rent to the "new" FOX for the upcoming future. The LA Times had an Article about it today.


Disney had three good opportunities in the Southland lately, and didn't go after any of them. The old Military bases in Tustin and Irvine, plus a chance to revisit Long Beach and Disney Seas. Plus there was some San Diego properties that were in play when the Chargers were looking for a new Stadium, done went through, but it showed that there is enough land available if they wanted to build a third park.

I think Disney's best option in the US now is to buy a competitor, SeaWorld is at a depressed price and small enough to convert, plus they could reunite the Sesame Street Characters with the Muppets.

It would give Disney two more properties in SoCal, a property in Texas, A park in Virginia which could be converted to the Disney America idea. and three more parks in Florida. And there are a lot of ties to Disney Animal Kingdom to allow more of a separate franchise.

December 16, 2017 at 5:11 PM · Ok, I am one of the first latch-key kids. Both my Father and Mother had full time Professional careers. My mom went to work on Friday, and was born on Saturday in 1960. My mother was back to work full time shortly after. So I had a nanny at first, then when I started to go to school (Kindergarden), progressed to a Housekeeper, but in reality, a babysitter also. She would pick me up from school until the third grade, when I transferred too the nearby school and walked home. I read at a very young age (3 - surprised my parents by reading street/traffic signs). So my parents gave me some freedom, learned the bus system, and was lucky enough that my Father had connections through Hubbs to get me a Season Pass to SeaWorld when I was around. But the park I loved to go to as a pre-teen was Belmont Park, especially riding the Giant Dipper (San Diego Version) but things like the Fun House and the arcade also were great. there was a mini-Golf course in Pacific Beach on Grand I also loved.

Plus, since my dad was worked for an International Organization, he played Tour Guide to a lot of visitors, some who stayed in our home for a couple of weeks. And we are talking about Russians, Asians, and many other places, and they wanted to visit Disneyland, Knott's, and Universal, and I got to tag along. I ended up with so many Disney and Knott's tickets (The visitors leftovers) I could basically ride anything I wanted (Dad was a Magic Kingdom Club member, plus the equivalent at Knott's and Universal. Then when Magic Mountain opened, due to SeaWorld operating it, went in year one, and kept coming back.

So I truly grew up on the parks as my main source of entertainment, and got to know some of the staff, one in particular was Bud Hurlbut, who would let me visit him at his barn next to Knott's when I was in town, which allowed me to meet others who loved the business.

Also became a fan of County Fairs due to being able to use public transit to get to the Del Mar Fair. I got to know Don Diego, and one of my first girlfriends was a daughter of one of the Traveling Carnival companies. She worked the rolling bowling ball game, where I learned many tricks of the games played. And it was a nice 3 week yearly boy/girlfriend thing for a few summers, especially when I got my first car at 15. (I had a part time job which allowed me to get my drivers license a year early.)

So while I went on to my adult life and learned many skills and loved the ability to multi-task multiple jobs to keep my attention going plus a decent income. And due to all the people I met, ended up with some interesting ones, including getting a radio station gig on the weekends, working on a local TV show, a chain of saloons, a full time job as an Tax Accountant and even a sport referee/official in multiple sports. One of my roommates also invented the first board that allowed an Apple computer to accept multiple phone lines, creating BBS's. So ran a few of those. (I built my first computer in 1978, a Heathkit, which is on display in a San Diego Museum currently).

Ironically met my first serious girlfriend at a wedding on the Ides of March in Orange County. I was living in San Diego, and she lived in Tustin, so did a lot of commuting, and luckily we both loved Theme Parks, fairs, and soccer, so spent a lot of time at those in the 1980's.

The Disney Seas project in Long Beach got my attention and started to follow it and the Anaheim connection. But not just from the parks end, but the political end, due to my real job. I also liked to take photos, started in Junior High with a class, and kept with it. So ended up taking photos of construction projects, including the Disneyland conversion to a Resort (DCA 1.00). Well, that got the attention of Websites which were just starting to come into popularity in the early 2000's, so ended up providing content to some of them, and got to know many folks in the industry. In fact, Robert Niles suggested me for a Cable show that was working on a Jurassic Park at USH episode.

Well, I also got involved in the social circles, in which I met my current wife at Disneyland at a "Noon Meet at the Hub". Well, I announced my engagement at another Noon Meet (I actually proposed the night before). We ended up getting married at the Church of Reflections at Knott's Berry Farm in January, and planned our Honeymoon that summer to match up with all the Coaster events in Ohio, Pennsylvania and other states in June. Started at Cedar Point, rented a car for a month, went to Memphis to meet my Mother-in-Law, who couldn't fly to SoCal due to medical issues, ended up with over 3,000 miles of driving, riding over 80 different rollercoasters, and had a great time. (I am a long time member of American Coaster Enthusiasts (ACE) and been to multiple regional events in the area before).

Ironically, my wife lived less than a block away from my first main girlfriend from the 1980's in Tustin. Ended up buying a house in West Anaheim, basically in-between Disneyland and Knott's.

Currently, still involved in ACE, planning for the main 2018 event to be held at SFMM and Knott's. Following the Disney political angle with the city council, which I have dealings with for other reasons. We decided to give up our Disney AP's, it was getting too crowded and didn't have a good time. But we still go to Knott's on a regular basis, love the park, and I am enjoying watching Hangtime being built. We also still have Six Flags, Universal and Sea World passes.

(At one time (2006), when we set the World's Record of riding 11 different Roller Coasters in 11 different parks and fairs in less than 11 hours (SFMM to Belmont Park), we had passes to Six Flags, Universal, Cedar Fair, Disneyland, LEGOLAND and SeaWorld.

The one thing we love about ACE are the ERT (Exclusive Ride Time) events, when they open the park early and/or stay open late just for the group. So no crowds, no strollers, and very little screaming on the rides.

I love the AYCE options Six Flags and Cedar Fair offer, it is quite varied now, and many items are available.

I just posted this on our local Nextdoor section...

>>A Year's worth of fun, food and drink for less than $20 per month, per person.

If you are looking for gifts, especially kids who live in the area, here is one heck of a deal.

For a total of $239, you can buy a Knott's Gold Pass, which is admission to both Knott's Berry Farm and Knott's Soak City every day except Christmas in 2018. (No Blockout Days, but does not include the special Halloween Haunt evening events), plus an All You Can Drink pass (either a refillable bottle, or just get a small cup each time, your choice). Also the All You Can Eat pass, which is an entrée and side (see link below) each visit, stay more than 4 hours, and you can get a second meal.. And the meal list is pretty intensive and varied. (You can use the food pass at both parks if you get the Gold Pass).


If I lived anywhere near the park (The OCTA Route 29 bus runs up and down Beach Blvd frequently from the Huntington Beach Pier, or the LA Metro Route 460 from between Downtown LA and Disneyland, including Anaheim and many LA county cities just north of Knott's) and trusted my child enough to be left in a fairly safe area, that is one heck of a deal.

Heck, adults can also get the same deal.

What is not included is parking, but if one parent plans to go with the kids, a parking pass can be added to One pass. the rule is the passholder has to be in the vehicle when you park, so some families opt for one of the kids passes, and then either parent can take the child by themselves.

So even going only twice a month, that is $10 per visit for admission, at least one meal, plus drinks.


And as a bonus, one visit in 2017 (admission only).

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all.<<

My parents would have loved this, and if I had kids, I would buy them the package in a heartbeat.

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