Can indoor theme parks ever be as good as outdoor parks?

October 31, 2019, 1:10 PM · All of the world's most popular theme parks are located outdoors. But the opening of Nickelodeon Universe this month in New Jersey and Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi last year demonstrate that indoor parks remain attractive for developers. The question is... can indoor parks ever be as successful as their outdoor competition? Do theme park fans find indoor parks at all appealing?

Ultimately, it all comes down to the individual park, doesn't it? If an indoor or outdoor park fails to offer an environment or attraction line-up that appeals, you're not going to choose to visit it. So this is really a question about whether you believe an indoor park ever could offer that kind of environment or attraction line-up.

The main appeal of an indoor park over an outdoor one — as a concept — is climate control. Whether it's Ferrari World in the brutal Middle Eastern heat or Nickelodeon Universe in the snowy north of the United States, indoor parks offer their visits the same pleasant conditions every day of the year.

While a controlled environment is great for locals who want to get their thrill ride fix no matter the weather, is that really a draw for travelers? After all, you can spend a comfortable day indoors pretty much anywhere. For many people, getting to great weather is the big attraction on their vacations. Spending a large part of a vacation indoors might be like going to Cedar Point without riding any coasters. Why bother?

There's a reason why America's theme park industry is focused on Southern California and Central Florida. Those are the locations in America with consistently attractive weather that not only allows parks to operate every day of the year but also to make people from all over the country and the world want to visit on almost all of those days.

So an indoor park has to offer an especially compelling attraction line-up and environment to compensate for (a) not being located somewhere that's experiencing great weather or (b) keeping people inside on a day when the weather happens to be great in that location. That leads us to the second major challenge facing indoor parks — it's really freakin' expensive to construct and maintain a building large enough to accommodate all the attractions that you would need to compete with those huge outdoor parks. People don't travel across the country or the world to go on a bunch of carnival flats in the middle of a shopping mall. A world-class theme park needs world class experiences, and those often require a decent amount of acreage to pull off successfully.

Fortunately, the people who design and build theme park attractions can be wonderfully creative. Ferrari World Abu Dhabi supports world-record coasters by siting their load/unload stations inside the climate-controlled park, even though their tracks are located outside the building. Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi uses pretty much every theater design trick in the book to create the illusion of infinite space within its building. And Nickelodeon Universe uses its space efficiently by twisting its record-setting coaster together like a master sculptor.

But is that enough? Are next-generation indoor parks such as Ferrari World, Warner Bros. World, and Nickelodeon Universe enough to entice you to book a trip and spend your money to visit? Or are the developers of indoor theme parks just wasting their time and money at this point?

It's time to vote.

In the comments, please tell us what you need to see from a theme park you haven't visited before in order to convince you to book a trip to it.

Replies (14)

October 31, 2019 at 3:17 PM

As a Floridian, I know our weather is usually appealing, but there are many days where we have scorching hot days and days with virtually non-stop afternoon lightning storms, etc. Some of these parks like Animal Kingdom or SeaWorld, with little to no indoor attractions come to a total stand-still during stormy weather and if they aren't the oppressive heat makes them a chore to traverse. On days like those I wish we had a true successor to DisneyQuest or a WB World nearby.

October 31, 2019 at 3:34 PM

Metropolis and Gotham at Warner Bros in Abu Dhabi is perhaps one of the best theme park areas built - the themeing indoors works to it's advantage (especially the dark atmospheric mood of Gotham).

Shame the rest of Warner Bros is utter rubbish.

But yes, of course it can work.

October 31, 2019 at 4:20 PM

I actually liked the pavilion idea at Epcot, so much that I wish the pavillions were bigger, so that I could spend more time when climate controlled.

The problem is when you decide to go indoor, you're artificially limiting how big you can dream. Escaping the footprint might be okay for one or two attractions, but any more than that and you're looking at a serious rebuild.

I also wonder if there might be unintentional consequences. In World War 2, Britian amongst other things built aircraft underground, and one of these things ended up becoming a continutity of government facility in teh cold war. That Aircraft factory was a complete disaster as a factory. If I recall correctly it was a disaster as an aircraft factory, almost everything that left the factory had major faults. Turns out people really really really don't like not seeing the sun.

October 31, 2019 at 5:29 PM

Purely as theme parks, I would say no simply because indoor parks have far too many limitations on them. Even with a gigantic budget, the simple nature of constructing something indoors will restrict what you're able to build and how much can be crammed in. That's not to say an indoor park can't be impressive, as with quality theming you can still create a very immersive environment. However, it would be incredibly difficult to recreate the wow factor of somewhere like Galaxy's Edge or Pandora in a confined indoor environment.

As far as entertainment options go, however, indoor theme parks could easily rival traditional outdoor parks, particularly in locations with variable climates and when part of a larger entertainment venue. For example, somewhere like the new Nickelodeon Universe is not a particularly impressive park on its own, and probably wouldn't draw too many people from beyond the New York metropolitan area. However, when coupled with a gigantic shopping mall that also features a water park, ski slope, skating rink, and more, what would ordinarily be a 2-4 hour outing for most can be made into part of an all-day adventure, and the whole complex has drawing power throughout the entire east coast (well, once everything is open). With such a wide variety of entertainment options, those who may not enjoy a traditional theme park experience can still accompany friends who do on an outing without anyone feeling they don't have anything of interest to do.

October 31, 2019 at 7:16 PM

In my opinion, the only way an indoor theme park can be better than an outdoor park is to create a convincing sky like in the Truman Show movie. The Forum Shops at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas does a pretty good job of simulating a sky, but a theme park needs to be much larger in scope. Maybe one day they'll have the technology to pull it off. A day in fresh air and sunshine is much different than an enclosed space. Imagine Sleeping Beauty's Castle or the Matterhorn in an indoor environment.

November 1, 2019 at 9:11 AM

The problem I have with indoor venues is usually the lack of fresh air. These places often have a specific smell that I just associate with an indoor park. Also the noise is terribly amplified as sound cannot dissipate into the atmosphere like it does outdoors. Talking and screaming are echoed around inside in a much different way.

And as I said earlier about the opening of American Dream, AJ is right...that indoor park isn't enough to make me gas up the car but an entire complex of shopping, food and fun, I'll make the trek.

November 1, 2019 at 9:30 AM

Obvious advantage: You can open all year. Robert wrote another article not too long ago, asking whether more parks should extend their seasons. It's an old formula. Steeplechase Park in Coney Island had a huge indoor pavilion. I've been very impressed with some great indoor parks not mentioned here: Lotte World in Seoul has about half of the park inside and it's amazing. IMG Worlds of Adventure is very impressive as indoor parks go. And Motiongate's Dreamworks building, comprising almost half the park, has some of the best rides in the world.

November 1, 2019 at 9:38 AM

Mrs Plum would strongly disagree as she gets her tan from the Orlando sun.

November 1, 2019 at 10:23 AM

I think like the park in Minnesota this place will probably do fine, though i'm not a fan of visiting indoor parks (been to MOA twice). The atmosphere sucks at indoor parks I don't think there's any way to get around it.

November 1, 2019 at 12:45 PM

I think designers have always underestimated the nuance of a theme park to properly translate it into an indoor space. For me, the biggest difference between an indoor and outdoor park is the SOUND. Even for an iron park, the sound of a roller coaster running in an outdoor environment is completely different than when it runs inside. I've noted this occasionally, but I think Talon is one of the most underrated roller coasters I've ever experienced. I think it's underrated because it's one of the quietest coasters in the world due to the sand filled supports to muffle vibrations and reduce noise given its location close to nearby homes. Talon lacks that characteristic roar, and if you stand nearby as it performs test runs in the morning, you'd be hard pressed to believe that it's anything more than a kiddie coaster. The opposite is true with indoor theme parks. When rides operate within an enclosed space, particularly one composed of glass and steel with thousands of harsh edges and corners, the sound of the attractions can be harsh, chaotic, and borderline deafening. Even with guests on board screaming for joy, these rides sound more like death traps than fun experiences.

Space constraints will always be a critical factor in an indoor theme park, but even for those that have been built from a blank slate, designers rarely take sound into consideration. In addition to the harsh sounds of the rides and attractions, the spaces sound cavernous, making guests feel small, which is counter-intuitive since you'd think an indoor theme park would feel more intimate. I think if park designers took more time to analyze the acoustics of indoor theme parks, they would stumble onto the biggest reason why they have not been more successful.

November 1, 2019 at 11:15 AM

I lean toward how they can work if done right and not look too cheap. I'd love a great indoor park even with issues of the sound and such but if the rides are great and the theming itself done well, I can overlook it to enjoy this immensely.

November 1, 2019 at 1:13 PM

To Russell's point, I want to give another shout-out to Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi, which offers one of the most amazing sound designs in the business. Metropolis, especially, is just amazing there.

November 1, 2019 at 4:52 PM

I remain convinced indoor theme parks are a different genre altogether from outdoor theme parks- not that there's anything intrinsically wrong with them being different by definition. Still can be great, just not the same experience.

November 7, 2019 at 6:58 AM

Another thing holding back indoor theme parks is that the contents is hidden away.
You can drive past outdoor theme parks and view their towering rollercoasters. Everyone has seen pictures of the magic Kingdom with its icons such as Cinderella's castle and space/splash mountains. Yet with an indoor theme park all you see is a shell. A big building.
Therefore you need a good USP. With so many movie based theme parks in the world WBW and IMG are relatively small fish. However how many fast car themed parks are out there?
But the biggest USP of them all: if you want to ride the fastest rollercoaster in the world, you have to go to the largest indoor theme park in the world. Ferrari World.

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