hashing out that event in another post, but I thought this a good opportunity to talk about some general best practices in dealing with theme parks' guest relations employees.An unexpected rainstorm created a guest relations mess at Universal Studios Hollywood last week, where almost all the Halloween Horror Nights mazes are built in tents that work best in Southern California's typically rainless weather. We've been
So here is my advice for theme park fans on what they can do to help make things right when something goes wrong in a theme park.
First, adjust your expectations. You almost never will get a ticket refund from a theme park. If the park was open and you went in, a refund is pretty much off the table. You did get the admission you paid for, after all.
Theme parks do offer various forms of compensation to guests after bad experiences in the park. But keep in mind that a compensation is intended to make up for what you paid for and did not get. It's not a lottery prize for getting unlucky.
What people get in return for paying for an admission ticket varies wildly. Some people can blow through a park and get on every attraction in a single day, while others might only experience one hand's count of rides or shows. Parks are not going to base their compensation on a few pros who know how to maximize their time. No, the park is going to start with the assumption that you're an average guest who might have enjoyed quite a bit of value from the park that day already.
That's why timing matters. One time we had to take a child to an urgent care just after entering a park. The details don't matter here as much as the timing did. Because it was early in the day, we hadn't had the opportunity to go on anything yet when we needed to leave. So as we left first aid, I stopped in the guest relations office to explain the situation. The guest relations host quickly issued us replacement tickets for a future day. If this had happened around dinner time, instead of before lunch, we'd likely not have gotten any compensation, since we'd already enjoyed the bulk of a day in the park.
Compensation should match the loss. If a ride shuts down after you've waited but before you got through, a line-skip pass for when the ride re-opens is fair compensation. A free admission ticket to the park isn't. If rain or a power glitch closes several rides for a while, that's just part of normal operation. Go do something else in the park. But if something causes the majority of attractions in the park to be closed for the bulk of the day, preventing you from enjoying anything, then you have a plausible case for a return ticket.
If you're upset, no matter the cause, prepare to adjust your attitude, because you are going to have a much more productive experience with park personnel if you treat them with respect and kindness. Quickly explain the problem you need help to solve, instead of shouting demands to be met. Don't make a scene. In fact, if you can talk privately, out of sight and earshot of others, you might be more likely to get a compensation that the park might not be ready to offer to everyone affected. Even if you're in a crowded guest relations office, if you lower your voice, that invites park employees to lower theirs in response, potentially allowing you to get that private deal.
All the park employee needs to know is how you failed to get what you paid for, and a brief explanation why, so they can decide how to make things right. It might be that you just need better information how to navigate what could be a confusing system. That's the compensation parks love to provide — directions, advice, or maybe even a last-minute reservation to get where you wanted to go.
If there's a big problem in the park, the person you are speaking with almost certainly knows about it, so you don't need to explain the whole scene. Park personnel might already have decided what the appropriate compensation is and will be handing it out to affected guests. Take it, say thank you and move on. If the offered compensation seems wildly inadequate, look for a supervisor or someone who looks like they can be taken aside for a conversation. Again, no scenes. Explain calmly why you think what was offered was not enough to make you even for what you paid and suggest what you think would be more appropriate compensation.
For the Halloween Horror Nights debacle, when I got to the front of the line, I would have thanked the team member for being there for us, then said that because I arrived at [insert time here] and only got to do [one or two] houses before the rain hit and closed everything else, would it be possible to get a return ticket for another night?
To me, that was the reasonable compensation. Yes, the event runs rain or shine, but if almost all of the attractions close in the rain, it's not really "running rain or shine," is it? I wouldn't have bothered asking for a return ticket if I had managed to get through at least half the attractions, as that's a reasonable result from an evening's admission. If the team member didn't provide the return ticket, I would have held on to my ticket for the night, then tried calling or emailing the park later to try again.
Park employees are not your therapist. They're not there to pick up your emotional baggage or to endure people lashing out at them. That's not appropriate, and no responsible theme park guest should take out their frustration on front-line employees. They're not the ones pocketing the money you spent. Even if your effort fails and the park doesn't provide what you believe to be a reasonable compensation for whatever went wrong on your trip, then prepare to write it off as the cost of experience.
Smart theme parks offer compensation for things that go wrong because they don't want to sever their relationship with you. If you're not happy, they want another opportunity to make you happy in the future. That's what the return ticket, the line-skip pass, or the other compensation is supposed to do.
If you're not happy and the park seems okay with that, then you don't need to spend any more money with that park in the future. Consider that lesson the cost of the day, the ride, or the experience that you didn't get for the money you spent.
In my experience, and the experience of many other Theme Park Insider readers, parks will do whatever they can to help make reasonable and polite customers happy. Give them that chance — without being abusive — and you likely will find much better experiences awaiting you in the future.
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