Amusement and Theme Park Styles

Not all parks are created equal. The distinctions between the various styles of parks may not be very obvious. Some people will automatically conjure up visions of highly themed parks, others might look to their non-themed local Amusement park. Let us take a look at the background and styles of Parks within the industry.

Best known Styles

  • Amusement Park
    Amusement parks are the oldest style of entertainment park. This grew as a way to draw locals; whether it was to a local area with promising development like coney Island or land at the end of a trolley line like Whalom and Canobie lake. The park lacked the highly thought out layouts of contemporary theme parks. At some parks, the layouts were simple; a Midway with rides, games, etc. When it came time to expand, they simply added more midway paths. Others grew out of a city park style layout with long paths in which rides and attraction were added over time. Themes not important at these parks though, some parks have opted to add rides that are individually themed. These parks also tend to be smaller is scale and overall size, often only 30-150 acres.
  • Theme Park
    A theme park is a specialized style of park that focuses on themes as its main attraction within the park, not just rides. A true theme park has multiple themed areas each portraying the architecture, and complementing attractions based on the subject matter. Themes have been based on fantasy, franchised characters, stories, time periods, cities, and even entire countries. The parks are highly thought out and designed to maximize the park goers experience. Many theme parks are an attraction unto themselves, with visitors coming from around the world and visiting the attraction every single day.
  • Themed Park
    Like theme parks, these parks specialize in a style of park that focuses on themes as one of the main attractions within the park, not just rides. But, unlike theme parks, there is only one theme present within the park. Themed parks have been around longer then theme parks coming into existence in a slight form in the early 1930’s. It wasn’t until the mid 1950’s that we saw full scale themed parks emerging around the United States. Their themes were based on ideas such as story book characters, Santa Claus, the Old West, just to name a few.
  • Water Park
    A sister of sorts to the amusement park, water parks set its focus on water-based attractions instead of mechanical rides. Ranging from simple set ups to highly themed. Utilizing simple fiberglass slides ranging in intensity to accommodate a range of visitors, slides have evolved into works of extreme engineering, bringing the experience to a new level. In rare cases, amusement rides have found their way into water parks, but normally in the form of water-based attractions.

Lesser Known Park Styles

  • Botanical Park
    A Botanical Garden park features both local and exotic plants as the main attraction within the park. The main attraction is not animals or rides but the landscaped displays of the plants. A lot of attention is given to the layout, design, unity of all aspects within the area. Water features are also abundant and accommodate the landscaping. The Terrain and natural environment is used rather than being modified to fit what is desired. Rides are not a focus though at times transport and observation rides are added.
  • Family Entertainment Center
    FEC or Family Entertainment Centers are most commonly found in or nearby urban areas. They are the next generation from the Arcades that sprung up in the 80’s. The attractions have expanded to include other entertainment; rides, sports simulators, and other family-oriented activities. Most FEC’s are privately owned though some are run by chains. A few Examples are Parques Reunidos/Palace Entertainment (NASCAR Speed Parks), Chuck E Cheese, and Dave and Busters.
  • Road-side Attraction
    These small attractions came about with the start of Automotive travel. With families traveling together Road side attractions came about as quick stops on their travels. A place to stretch your legs and see something unique for a few minutes, to a couple hours. Muffler men and world record displays are small forms of road side attractions. most were based on entertainment value; Crooked houses were big and Animal shows like that of Clark’s Trading Post and Gaterland were also popular stops. Road side attraction were always in prime locations connected to major Routs throughout the United States.
  • Zoological Park
    While most zoos can be considered Zoological parks the term more specifically reflects zoos of a certain level. More specifically it features animals in simulated natural habitats as the main attraction the park. Animals are arranged by region of origin similar to the themed areas within a theme park. It allows the visitors to better understand the animal’s true habitat. Like theme park’s zoological parks tend to be much larger in size to better accommodate the animal’s habitats.

Combination Parks:

  • Combination Zoological and Ride Park
    Examples of this style of park would be Busch Gardens Africa in Florida, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the former Benson’s Animal Farm in Hudson NH, York’s Wild Kingdom in York Beach, ME, and most recently Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, NJ.
  • Combination Botanical and Ride Park
    This style of parks takes the landscape driven botanical park and mixes it with the traditional mechanical ride attractions found at more traditional parks. Examples of this style of park would be Gilroy Gardens in Gilroy California and Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen Denmark.
  • Combination Water and Ride Park
    This is the most common combination of parks. In this case the water park and rides park area covered under one admission price. Examples of this style of park would be Lake Compounce in Bristol, CT, Wild Waves Enchanted Village, Federal Way, WA, and Carowinds, Charlotte, NC.

Occasionally, within the industry, multiple combinations featuring more than 2 styles of park has been used. Wild Adventures in Valdosta, Georgia for example has Zoological, Water, and a rides park in one. This goes to show that multiple styles can be mixed if kept within the operational budget and local demand the attraction can thrive.

Amusement Resorts

This style of resort is built around a major attraction. In most cases these resorts are owned and operated by the owners of the local attraction as a way of keeping guests on site. The stay and play concept provides overnight accommodations through hotels, campgrounds and cabins, or a combination of options. Visitors are able to take in amusement activities and other small-scale attractions over an extended period of time. Many amusement resorts offer large parks that require more than one day to experience. In some cases, they offer more than one park, creating an even broader experience and requiring a longer visit. Many of these resorts have become even more self-contained offering on-site shopping, food, movie theatres, etc.

  • Examples of Park Resorts
    Walt Disney World in Florida, Disneyland in California, Cedar Point in Sandusky Ohio,Darien Lake, Darien Center, NY, Kneobles in Elysburg Pennsylvania, and as of 2015 Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, TN.

The U.S. Theme Park Industry

The U.S. theme park industry is one of the largest in the world, displaying some of the best parks and attractions in respects to scale, product innovation, marketing savvy, and operating knowledge. The last 15 years has seen little growth in the industry in the US mostly due to a steady growth through the previous 15 years. Nearly half the industry growth has been seen from existing parks. New parks being a mix of major theme parks and smaller regional parks contribute to the other half. Much of the growth has stabilized in the US industry with large scale parks having trouble finding a strong market. Smaller parks and FEC’s have seen better success with less overhead and larger focus on regional needs. This goes to show there are opportunities for adjusting product to suit changing markets and to effectively compete with other entertainment for consumers’ leisure time and expenditures.

A Consolidation Trend

Typical for a maturing industry, there have been numerous changes in theme park ownership over the last several years. Over the past 25 years there has been a strong trend of consolidation. Major corporations control the dominant share of attendance and revenues in the industry. Re-investment is, of course, a key factor in the operation of any park. Now-a-days, major corporate owners in the industry have consolidated parks into chains under one corporate control. The formed chains normally have power to plan and complete large capital expenditure projects, due to the high percentage of the market share they bring combined with revenue sharing between all the properties in the chain. The US and Europe are headquarters for some of the world largest entertainment chains.

US Companies

Disney (Disney Resort Parks, Hotels, Cruse Line), Six Flags Inc. (Six Flags, White Water Water Parks), Universal Studios (Universal Parks, Wetn’ Wild), Sea World Parks & Ent. (Sea World, Busch Gardens, Sesame Place), Cedar Fair (Cedar Point, Knott’s Berry Farm, former Paramount Parks), Herschend Family Ent. (Dollywood, Silver Dollar City, Wild Adventure), CNL Lifestyle Properties (Theme parks, Ski Resorts, Wet n’ Wild Water parks, FEC’s)

European Companies

Parques Reunidos(Parque de Attractions, Mirabilandia, Kennywood Ent. parks, Palace Entertainment FEC’s and water parks), Merlin Ent. (Legoland, Madame Tussauds Museums, The Dungeons Attractions, Alton Towers Resort), CDA Group (Walibi World Parks, Parc Asterix, Pleasurewood Hills)