October 6, 2018, 5:07 PM ·

When should you not visit a theme park?

We’re all big theme park fans here at Theme Park Insider. While I have visited more than 40 different theme parks around the world, I know that some Theme Park Insider readers have visited many, many more. From huge, multi-park resorts to roadside family entertainment centers, the sight of thrill rides and castle facades entices us.

But not always. Even dedicated theme park fans sometime say “no” to visiting. So what it is that makes a park a “no-go” for you? When does a theme park turn you off?

It’s the flip side of the questions we ask far more often around here, which usually boil down to… what makes you want to visit a theme park? From Disney to the dismal, parks try to lure you with all sorts of enticements: rides, shows, food, games, service, nostalgia. Obviously, the scope and quality of those attractions varies wildly based on the amount of money that parks can spend and the talent and skill of the people running them. Yet at some point these efforts can miss and become counter-productive instead.

So what are those points at which attractions repel? Let’s consider the seven deadly sins of running a theme park:

Filth — This tops my list. How about you? The core appeal of theme parks is their ability to create an idealized space in which to spend time. Set aside the rides, shows, and restaurants. If a theme park isn’t — at its heart — a pleasant place to be, then I don’t want to visit it. I can endure uninspired design and meager landscaping, but not trash, vermin, or decay. If you can’t keep your park clean, that makes me wonder what else is wrong there. Which brings me to…

Danger — Yes, great thrill rides are supposed to feel dangerous. The excitement of speed, falling, and G forces help draw millions of fans to theme parks each year. But that only works when people ultimately trust that the danger they feel is an illusion. A park must establish a basic confidence that it won’t put its visitors in any real danger. If I even begin to suspect that rides are not properly installed or maintained, I’m out. Ditto if queues are out of control. The only fights I want to see in a theme park are in its stunt shows.

Bad service — Crowd control is just the start here. Indifferent and hostile employees undercut even beautiful and well-maintained parks. Theme parks are experiences, and personal contact creates a far more powerful experience than the most expensive practical or media effects. Just one bad moment with a park employee can ruin an otherwise perfect day.

Lack of accommodation — There’s no point in visiting a place that cannot accommodate you. This isn’t just about wheelchair ramps and wide aisles. That type of physical accessibility represents only a fraction of the range of accommodations that a popular attraction must offer. Can restaurants support a variety of diets, including the production of food free of allergens? Can people with sensory or cognitive disabilities still navigate the park and enjoy its experiences? Yes, some fans have tried to exploit parks’ accommodations in order to skip waits, forcing parks to change the way they meet the needs of “people of determination” (that’s the new phrase of choice in the United Arab Emirates, by the way). But those needs must be met, one way or another.

Ubiquity — A visit to a theme park ought to be special. No one cares to watch the same movies they can see at home, play the same VR game they can at the mall, eat the same food available at countless fast food joints, or go on the same off-the-shelf carnival rides they’ve ridden at a dozen other parks. If a park offers nothing that distinguishes it from other places where I can spend my time and money, why should I bother with it?

Unjustifiable prices — Even if a park offers something — anything — unique, is it worth the price the park is charging for it? This is the fuzziest of the seven deadly sins, as everyone has a different standard for value. A park can be clean, safe, welcoming, accommodating, and unique, but if I don’t think the experience of its attractions and atmosphere will be worth the cost of visiting, I’m still not bothering with it. Even the world’s best theme parks can fail many fans by this standard.

Obscurity — What? That’s my point. If you’ve never heard of a park, there’s zero chance that you ever will visit it. Yes, we are trying to fight this sin here at Theme Park Insider by drawing attention to worthy attractions around the world. But parks can’t rely solely on third party media to spread the word. In addition to telling stories inside its attractions, a theme park must tell its own story to potential visitors, through media relations, the travel industry, advertising and promotions, social media, and ongoing customer service.

What are the worst sins that theme parks have committed to keep you away? Please share your cautionary tales in the comments.

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