Which theme parks have earned your lifetime loyalty?
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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".
$1000 bonuses for every Disney worker. Yahoo!!!
Knoebles is so strange and fantastic, I hope that place never dies.
Loyalty? I like Disney!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"The whole Universal experience is EXTREMELY less stressful than Disney."
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.
Oriental Land Company.
Universal Orlando. Love this place... Something for everyone... Coasters, water rides, Dark rides, shows, WWOHP....
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.
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.
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.
Knotts Berry farm! The park the history, the lineup of rides from Kids to thrill is great. Atmosphere is amazing. And the food!!!
I don't have a lifetime loyalty to any theme park... otherwise they will stop building new rides.
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 :(
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.
Univeral Orlando for sure. And mostly because of Halloween Horror Nights.
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.
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.
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