Which theme parks have earned your lifetime loyalty?

January 23, 2018, 12:15 PM · When did you become a theme park fan? Have you stayed loyal to the same park ever since then?

Or did your tastes and preferences shift? Did you love one park when you were younger, only to switch your loyalty to other parks as you grew older... or as parks changed?

I'm sure that there are as many answers to these questions as there are people reading this post. We all have our own stories, as theme park fans. But collectively, our loyalty to various parks over the course of our lives shapes the industry.

Kids love going to Legoland when they are in elementary school. Once you get tall (and brave) enough to go on thrill rides, you might fall in love with Six Flags or Cedar Fair's coaster-driven parks. Once upon a time, turning 21 meant a new love for visiting SeaWorld and Busch Gardens (and their old free beer giveaways). The theme park industry offers well-targeted experiences for pretty much every stage in life.

But the parks that lead this industry are the ones that can capture fans as toddlers and keep them as fans throughout the entire lives. In my Orange County Register column this week, I write about Disney's success in positioning itself as a lifestyle brand, and how that has helped its theme park attendance to remain strong after years and years of aggressive price increases.

When a theme park ties itself to a beloved brand, it's no longer a commoditized experience that you can easily substitute with a day at any other park. Only Disney offers its princesses, Star Wars, and Radiator Springs. Only Universal offers the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Only Legoland offers Ninjago. It's easy to think of theme parks as being in competition with each other, but more and more, they really aren't. The top parks are trying to create unique experiences that you cannot find anywhere else.

That way, you won't price a day at Disneyland versus a day at Knott's Berry Farm. Disney wants you to see Disney as a unique experience and for you to price it relative to how badly you (and your kids) want to spend the day there. And with a line-up of characters and franchises you've likely fallen in love with — thanks to movies, TV shows, and even previous visits to the parks — you're likely to be willing to spend quite a bit for that visit.

Yes, spending more than $100 for a day in the parks seems nuts to a lot of people. But here's the industry's secret: Disney and Universal are okay with you thinking that's too much to pay. Why? Because Disney and Universal would be happy to show you their multi-day and annual passes that can reduce the cost of a day in their parks to less than the one-day price of going to your local Six Flags.

Because Disney has won so many people's loyalty as a lifestyle brand, it knows that those people will take the time to look into all of its pricing options — to find one that they can use to justify a trip to Disneyland or Walt Disney World. That's the power — and the reward — of creating a lifestyle brand.

Of course, for many of us reading this website, our favorite lifestyle brand isn't "Disney." It's "theme parks." We transition from Disney and Legoland as little kids, to Six Flags as teens, to Universal as young adults, and back to Disney and Legoland as parents. And somewhere along the way, we just start looking at everything the industry has to offer. We discover places such as Efteling and Ocean Park. We plan summer roadtrips to places such as Santa Claus, Indiana and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

Because we are not loyal to any single brand, we can price more efficiently, choosing the parks that offer the best value at any given moment. Unfortunately for our bank accounts, though, our loyalty to all the industry's brands often means that we ultimately end up spending way more on theme park visits than we care admit to ourselves, much less anyone else. (How many different companies' annual passes do you own right now?)

So what's your story? Where does your loyalty lie in this business?

Read Robert's column:

Replies (28)

January 23, 2018 at 12:53 PM · It's always been Disney for me. I do enjoy Universal a lot but something about WDW just feels great. It's the care, detail, just an overall feeling no other park can touch. Granted, it's changed (Epcot especially) and not as fun to me as in the early '90s when I was there a lot (although I can also chalk that up to me getting older) but it's still Disney. Again, I enjoy other parks a lot but WDW will always be my first choice and never get tired of going there.
January 23, 2018 at 1:35 PM · Universal for us. Disney was great and gave awesome memories of YOUNG children, but once they get about 9 or 10 its just a very very very expensive theme park (plus FP+ just made visiting worse). Universal is much more economical, still gives a great vacation and has more thrill rides for the older kids. The whole Universal experience is extremely less stressful than Disney.
Hopefully as they expand the price difference doesn't disappear.
January 23, 2018 at 2:30 PM · It all goes back to an experienced emotion. For me, it was my dad taking me on the "Scooby Doo" roller-coaster at Carowinds in Charlotte. I remember being just tall enough to see over the queue railings and watching the trains cycle through the station as we crept closer to the front... felling nervous and excited at the same time. While Carowinds was my "first," it was really a representation of doing something with my father and my family. That was the allure of Disney World... a place that transported families away from the real world into a magical/special world. I've tried to do the same with my children. Unfortunately, my wife is not a "fan" and my children are/were aware she really wasn't "enjoying" herself. I personally long for those family times with my dad and wish my boys felt the same. The world is crazy now and I would give anything for a return to innocence, even for a day or two. But considering the cost and the hassle of planning, Disney is slowly losing that special place in my heart.
January 23, 2018 at 3:18 PM · I suppose that my loyalty lies with Six Flags parks as a whole by default, primarily because season passes good for visits to multiple Six Flags parks are so reasonably underpriced. (This year for the 1st time I also bought a season pass to Cedar Fair parks and this cost more than double what the Six Flags pass cost.) My favorite park within easy driving distance, however, is Hershey. Other than that, the parks I find most beautiful and most enjoy visiting are Dollywood and the two Busch Gardens parks but I can't claim loyalty to them because it simply isn't feasible for me to get to them very often.
January 23, 2018 at 3:57 PM · The two Herschend parks, Dollywood and Silver Dollar City, have my pretty much undying loyalty. The parks are great, the food is awesome, and the staff members are almost universally wonderful and genuine. The Herschend parks have a way of making one truly feel like a guest. And now with DreamMore at Dollywood we can go even more all-in on the brand by staying inside the Dollywood "bubble".
January 23, 2018 at 4:03 PM · $1000 bonuses for every Disney worker. Yahoo!!!
January 23, 2018 at 4:17 PM · Knoebles is so strange and fantastic, I hope that place never dies.
January 23, 2018 at 4:25 PM · Loyalty? I like Disney!

The Magic Kingdom is for all Kids (I'm just a bigger kid at 67 years old now). EPCOT is for older Kids (Yep, that's me).

Hollywood Studios is for someone else. I like it, but my loyalty to HS just went out the window after my latest visit with all the construction. What a waste of a day.

Before I went to Animal Kingdom, I thought it would be another Zoo. I was wrong. I like it!

I like some changes, but I just think there are too many changes going on now. The changes I'd like to see aren't being done. But I will be back soon.

January 23, 2018 at 4:33 PM · It's MK all the way for me. The most magical of them all. Nowhere else is the themimg so precise and meaningful throughout the whole park with everything having a purpose. The fact that so much has been written about it, raising awareness, gives the experience a different level........and it has utilidors!
January 23, 2018 at 4:37 PM · I have lived within 30 min to 2 hours away from Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, NJ since the early 80's, and I would have to say my loyalies definitely lie in this theme park. I have been to many theme parks on the East Coast, Disney, Universal, Cedar Point, Carawinds, Dorney, Hersey, and a few more. However for me Six Flags is the best bang for the buck,(with season passes) and if I don't want to front the bill for a hotel I can still enjoy a whole day, and then drive home. My parents took us there as kids every year, and I continued the trend with my children who are now 21, 19, and 15. I has been great to watch the park transform and change over the years, and as roller coaster enthusiast it has been great to watch the evaluation of the coast in the park. Coasters such as "The Scream Machine", "Shockwave", and "Rolling Thunder will be greatly missed. However paved the way for a new era of coasters such as my favorites, "El Toro", and "Nitro". And what roller coaster enthusiast wouldn't want to say the rodw on one of the tallest roller coasters in the world, "Kinda Ka". With a season pass we are able to go multiple times a year, and enjoy all the park has to offer including extended seasonal themes for Halloween (Fright Fest) and Christmas (Holiday in the Park). I guess you can say my loyalties definitely lie in Six Flags Great Adventure.
January 23, 2018 at 5:15 PM · Go to Six Flags once a year, but the loyalty was Disney, specifically Magic Kingdom. Until......FP+. That caused us to shift to Universal simply because a vacation should be a vacation. I would love to shift back. I really would, but I don't think they will see past the problems with the system. When I get to Disneyland, it is great. Universal has the Unlimited Express Pass, you can easily walk from park to park, and the hotels are not as expensive. The food is not as good, and they do not stay open as long. My family is into more intense rides. That being said, I love the iconic feeling of Disney with the Haunted Mansion, Pirates, Space Mountain, EPCOT, the elaborate pools, fantastic restaurants, and those Mickey Head ice cream bars, not to mention the Dole Whips. I just do not want to be stuck to my phone on vacation, limited to the horrible FP system, and have to plan every second of the vacation out months in advance. It used to be their customer service was developed from the ground up to please the guest. The new system is set up for them, and it cost them a life long visitor.
January 23, 2018 at 7:01 PM · No company anywhere has "earned my lifetime loyalty" in any industry. I think the concept of that is kind of silly to begin with, times change, industries change, companies change. Imagine 20 years ago how many people thought Blockbuster and K-Mart had their lifetime loyalty...don't see anyone going there nowadays.
In regards to parks I always try to visit as many as possible opposed to favoring one company. I will happily revisit visit any park i've been to with the exception of a select few such as Mt Olympus, La Ronde, and Wild Adventures. Been to pretty much every major park out there and those are stand out awful.

I will say the best parks by far though are the Disney Parks and I don't see how there can be any debate about that. The attractions such as Flight of Passage and Tower of Terror, nighttime shows like Happily Ever After and World of Color, sheer amount of quality attractions that appeal to all groups are far superior at the Disney Parks than any other company. And they are generally clean and well ran (although the crowds can often make them difficult to enjoy...but their parks are always crowded for a reason).

I have the exact opposite opinion of the poster above me. I like Disney Parks more now with FP+ and the Universal Parks, while still enjoy visiting, I don't like anything new they've added over the past 10 years. Simpsons makes me dizzy, HRRR is just a bad ride, FJ makes me dizzy, Transformers makes me dizzy, Gringotts makes me dizzy, Kong is OK (I like the figure at the end but not much else about the ride), and I haven't ridden Fallon. Keep in mind I ride coasters all the time and can ride Mission Space no problem. I don't know what it is about Universal but most all the rides they've added over the past ten years have been way too fast paced (moving from screen to screen to screen) and disorienting to the point where they are not enjoyable.

On the other hand rides like Radiator Springs and Flight of Passage are absolutely fantastic: major e-tickets that are multi-generational but still got some thrill aspect. I think Disney in general have always been the masters at that but the new rides push the envelope and its going to be tough to top them. I also think the re-do's they've done such as Star Tours, Guardians, and Test Track have been wonderful improvements, and the smaller attractions like Frozen and Seven Dwarfs are very nice as well. And while i'm not a fan of queue management systems in general I think FP+ is by far the best of any that are out there. Being able to know when our FP's are takes stress off the day in the park and it's not a stereotypical "come shell out even more money to have a good time" like all the other companies have.

I also like how the Disney parks have a lot of other things to do that aren't rides and don't get lines: the world showcase shows, Hall of Presidents, Tiki Room...things like that.

I love the two major Herschend parks but absolutely hate the one in Georgia so my opinions are mixed on that. I also think Dollywood over the past decade or so has lost a bit of its charm and become more like a normal "rides park." There seem to be less friendly empty nesters working/visiting and more of a teenager/young adult crowd because of all the big coasters they have been adding. I still think its a good park though but i'd like to see some more emphasis going into the next few years on hospitality, entertainment, and food. I would say SDC/DW are probably my second favorite parks behind Disney's.

Six Flags has always been very inconsistent, sometimes they are fine other days they are flat out bad. The seasonal budgets for operations and maintenance seem to change dramatically from year to year and the staff is entirely seasonal and gets good groups and bad groups. Sadly the excessive amount of advertising in the parks is the norm now (it wasn't like this back when I frequented SF parks 15 or so years ago).

Oddly enough MM and GADV are two of my least favorite SF parks, for some reason the smaller ones seem to draw more of a family crowd while MM and GADV are more ghetto. Also while I have no problem with adding flats some of the "major rides" they've been adding the past few years are laughable (tilt a whirl and super loop advertised as big new rides).
I will say they have improved since the Premier Parks days though when the parks were all dirty, poorly ran, and had a rough crowd. The parks now are cleaner and nicer though still the most inconsistent of the major chains.

Never been a big CF fan although I do like CP and KI. Been to all of their parks and while I appreciate them for what they are, the majority of them are just boring to me (this includes the majority of the Paramount Parks they acquired). I know it's strange I like KI but not a big fan of KD for some reason...the themes of the park just seem like such an identity crises with the rides that are in them. If I remember correctly Intimidator 305 is in the Africa section?? lol. Also the park atmosphere just kind of lacked whereas KI seems more like a fully fleshed out park.
The other parks (Knotts, CGA, CW, WOF, VF, Carowinds, Dorney, MIA) are the definition of "meh." Like CP, CW is a huge park with a lot of rides, but most all of the coasters suck (with the obvious exception of two) and I don't do intense flat rides so I wasn't a huge fan of the park.

January 23, 2018 at 9:16 PM · Universal. I was never a theme park fan until they built the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Now I have an Annual Pass, stsy onsite, and visit regularly. The Wizarding World is such a detailed, creative, wondrous place to be; there is nothing like it. I'm looking forward to the Forbidden Forest expansion and hope it will be something the whole family can enjoy. Some day, I hope there will be a Harry Potter themed hotel, too, but for the time being, there's always the beautiful Portofino Bay.
January 24, 2018 at 1:37 AM · I have no loyalty to any brand. Every single time we check what parks have to offer for the money they ask and the amount of enjoyment we expect to get from that. It's the main reason we haven't visited Disney in more than 15 years. On the other hand Universal Orlando did a great job filling those shoes. If the market changes and when it's actually fun to go back to Disney we are sure to purchase our tickets but I don't see that happen soon unfortunately.
And then there is Efteling. For me a local park and probably taken for granted but I shouldn't do that because it's amazing and has been continuously for as long as I can remember.
January 24, 2018 at 4:18 AM · "The whole Universal experience is EXTREMELY less stressful than Disney."

Couldn't agree more ... so much so that I'll put EXTREMELY in all caps

January 24, 2018 at 5:29 AM · I like Efteling a lot and I think the park keeps getting better, but that's mainly because I'm a student now and don't have the money to travel around visiting all kinds of themeparks. I always loved disneyland in Paris though, but I went there 1 or 2 years ago, just before/during all the renovations/updates, so I was pretty dissapointed. Back then the attractions and the park looked like they didn't have an update in a long time. The park is now owned by Walt Disney Company, so I think it will get better, luckily. (I beleieve it already is.) I do not know how I feel about Disney slapping a Star Wars sticker on the space-mountain though, I personnally love the Jules Verne style. I guess I'll have to check it out some time.
January 24, 2018 at 6:23 AM · Oriental Land Company.
January 24, 2018 at 8:10 AM · Universal Orlando. Love this place... Something for everyone... Coasters, water rides, Dark rides, shows, WWOHP....

Disney World is nice but way too busy with many child meltdowns... Plus we stay offsite at a resort and never use magic hours.

But TPI will always be #1 place for info!!!!!!

January 24, 2018 at 9:34 AM · Definitely a lifer for Universal Orlando (Islands as well), SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa. I went to Disney, Universal & Sea World when I was 10 and didn't go back until I was 25-26. When I did go back, Disney just wasn't for me, it was a little boring for me as an adult. Halloween Horror at Universal is easily my favorite attraction at any of the parks. I think Sea World took a bad hit over Blackfish and they just haven't really figured out how to get around it.
January 24, 2018 at 10:25 AM · We were Sea World of Ohio season pass holders from the time my son was born until the takeover by Six Flags and the eventual closing. Cedar Point is close, but for a young family Sea World is missed.
January 25, 2018 at 6:22 AM · I've been a platinum passholder at SeaWorld Orlando for 15 years, so I suppose I could say that's my home park. Although I wish Busch Gardens was in the local area. I've certainly seen the ups and downs, and at the moment I can't see any signs of any ups sadly. It will be interesting to see what happens if Florida passes the Orca protection act, basically forcing Seaworld into constructing their Orca encounter. Down time at the Shamu stadium will be a huge loss for them and I wonder if they can survive. Time will tell.
January 24, 2018 at 11:49 AM · Knotts Berry farm! The park the history, the lineup of rides from Kids to thrill is great. Atmosphere is amazing. And the food!!!
January 24, 2018 at 2:46 PM · I don't have a lifetime loyalty to any theme park... otherwise they will stop building new rides.
January 24, 2018 at 3:05 PM · I still miss you, Australia's Wonderland/Wonderland Sydney. The Taft park that Paramound didn't pick up, and ultimately shut down to unlock its land value :(


January 24, 2018 at 3:22 PM · If anyone ever needs proof of the FP debacle, just compare wait times from MK to DL. There are days that blows the comparison with season pass blackout days with the locals, but a full year comparison, the wait times at DL are lower even though the crowds are comparable. You just have to trade off the SoCal traffic vs. the Florida heat.
January 25, 2018 at 12:26 PM · Univeral Orlando for sure. And mostly because of Halloween Horror Nights.
It keeps me coming back every year.
January 26, 2018 at 9:52 AM · Universal Orlando (especially Islands of Adventure) because I still feel like I’m stepping into the movies and tv shows of my favorite characters along with a world of adventure, Six Flags Great Adventure because of the awesome coasters and Looney Tunes/DC theming, Dorney Park due to nostalgia and two for one deal, and Busch Gardens Williamsburg for being absolutely gorgeous and thrilling at the same time.
January 26, 2018 at 6:59 PM · I grew up just outside Williamsburg, so naturally my first (paying) job ever was at BGW. After a decade away I moved back in '99 and since 2002 I have had my pass on auto-renew. I now have passes to CF and SF too but my SW/BG Platinum is the one pass I have never allowed to lapse in the last 15 years.

This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Park tickets

Weekly newsletter

New attraction reviews

News archive