Theme parks or amusement parks have seemingly always been part of the fabric of the United States. From small roadside attractions to giant engineering marvels, amusement parks have entertained generations of Americans in more ways than one.
So what makes a theme park successful in 2022? Is it about characters, technology or the status symbol of “American holidays”? We asked theme park enthusiasts why they love their favorite “little” parks and why they come back to them every year.
Intellectual Property and the American Dream
Intellectual property, or IP for short, is a term used for creations of the mind, such as literary or artistic works. Companies like NBC Universal and the Walt Disney Company own many beloved IPs such as the Jurassic Park franchise and iconic characters like Mickey Mouse. The appeal of these theme parks is often tied to IP addresses and the American “dream” of a vacation in Florida or California.
In recent years, however, many average American families have been barred from visits to Disney and Universal theme parks. Rising ticket prices are an important factor, but not the only one. Additionally, the company’s involvement or, in some cases, non-involvement in the hot political issues of the day has caused many families to look elsewhere for their typical vacation plans.
Nostalgia is a driving factor for small theme parks
After talking to several avid amusement park fans, there seemed to be a common theme among the crowd: nostalgia. Many of the fans we spoke to grew up visiting theme parks near their hometown and continued that tradition with their own families.
Jenn Greene, a 43-year-old mother of two and a Hersheypark season pass holder for four years, said: “Since May 30, 1906, Hersheypark has been entertaining visitors. I have been visiting this park since 1983 because it is not is only an hour from where I grew up. My first upside down roller coaster was the Super Dooper Looper which still stands today. After that loop, my love of theme parks and thrill rides began.
She credits Hersheypark’s longevity to its ability to grow and change over time.
Cost and travel time are other considerations
Small amusement parks are also generally easier to get to and can cost significantly less than larger theme parks.
“Living in Owensboro, Kentucky, it’s only about 40 minutes from my driveway to the Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari parking lot in Santa Claus, Indiana. During the summer, my kids and I like to spend our Fridays at Holiday World, enjoying fewer crowds and just having a good family fun time,” says Andrea Shelton, 40, mother of 2. She is currently an annual pass holder at Holiday World and has been visiting for over 35 years .
Andrea believes Holiday World’s endurance over the years is due to its ability to stay true to what the park does well. “It’s known for its free parking, soft drinks and sunscreen. These free soft drink stations are such a game-changer – especially in the summer when it feels like you’re on the surface of the sun,” said Shelton.
Determination to survive and thrive over the years
Another theme park that offers freebies like Holiday World is Knoebels Amusement Resort in Elysburg, Pennsylvania. It prides itself on being the largest free amusement park in the United States. Knoebels offers free admission, parking, entertainment and picnic facilities.
So how do they work successfully? First, their pay-per-attraction system allows families to pay for what they want to ride and nothing more. Plus, on-site dining options and arcades, mini-golf, and carnival games require additional purchases.
Perhaps most impressively, Knoebels survived the World War II closure, two tropical storms and flooding of its park in early 2006. Passionate locals who care about the park’s history and what he means to the community have ensured the success of Knoebels over the years.
Other Pennsylvania theme parks with similar stories are Idlewild in Laurel Highlands and Dutch Wonderland in Lancaster. Monica Fish regularly visited Idlewild growing up and took her children when they were younger. She shares, “Over the decades they’ve added attractions and even a water park while keeping ticket prices affordable for families.”
“Season passes are the same price as a day ticket to Disney World, and one-time admission starts at $45 on their site,” Fish tells us.
Rachel Barry, mum-of-two, loves Dutch Wonderland because “as a parent I’ve seen how overwhelming large theme parks can be for young children, especially if they don’t have rides to ride on. they can go on. Dutch Wonderland has kept up with the times while providing a level of entertainment/service that people have come to know and love.”
Prominent personalities also boost customers’ positive feelings
Finally, while most would attribute Dollywood’s success to Dolly Parton’s financial contributions, it is also the friendliness of its hosts (the names of Dollywood employees) and the location of the theme park. Stephanie Brown is a mother of 3 and a Dollywood season ticket holder.
“Dollywood not only has rides for everyone, but it’s also located in the beautiful Smoky Mountains. You can’t beat that for a location,” says Brown. “All the staff are very friendly and ready to help customers with anything.”
Like other parks in this article, Dollywood’s ability to capture the public’s attention is due to the goodwill of its staff and the experience of its patrons. It also doesn’t hurt that Dolly Parton has wowed the American public with her generous contributions to local and national efforts in education and health care.
Successful theme parks continue to play to their strengths, know their audience, and capitalize on positivity in the court of public opinion.
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This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Featured Image Courtesy of Hersheypark.