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Theme parks should keep special events rolling

COVID-19 caused theme parks to think fast and offer a range of innovative special events. What lessons can the industry learn from this going forward?

Opinion
six flags great adventure safari drive-through

By Lance HartScreamscape

2020 was a terrible year for theme parks. However, one thing I’ve been encouraged by is the unique ways we saw attractions step up to the challenge. Many operators were able to figure out their strengths and see what they could still offer to their communities, without being able to open their attractions in a traditional way. 

For instance, there were drive-up junk-food gatherings offering corn dogs and funnel cakes galore. Some parks offered to cook up big family meals for guests who would drive-by and pick them up, even for holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Drive-in attractions, food festivals and more

Six Flags Great Adventure went retro and revived its Drive-Through Safari roots, bringing that unique adventure back to the masses. In addition, we saw drive-through haunted houses, drive-through Christmas light displays, drive-up concerts, comedy performances, fireworks shows and more!

six flags hallowfest halloween COVID 19
Six Flags

If anything, Six Flags theme parks are now getting even more creative, bringing in special car-themed events for the kids (Hot Wheels) and for gear-heads (West Coast Customs). It is also ready to move on to Drive-In Laser Music Spectaculars. This is all while setting official opening dates to begin the 2021 season in a more traditional way. 

For attractions lucky enough to allow foot-traffic, we saw more food festival themed events than I can count. There were Fall Festivals, Oktoberfests, Thanksgiving Feasts, Christmas WinterFests and more. Plus, the hits just keep rolling with Mardi Gras Celebrations, as well as plans for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations still to come.

Even in California, where the lockdowns have been the most severe on the theme park industry, Disney and Universal are ready to launch their own special branded events. 

A Touch of Disney at Disney California Adventure Park – Onward Guinevere Popcorn Bucket (Pixar Pier Popcorn Cart) special events theme park
(David Nguyen/Disneyland Resort)

Planning theme park special events

Anyone who knows the industry is aware that most big attractions and productions are planned out ahead of time. Work often begins six months to a year in advance, or more. Yet we saw so many theme parks and attractions able to pivot quickly and produce special events. This fact speaks volumes about the staff at each location.

This includes members of management who can recognize the unique talents they have within their respective teams. And those who can repurpose resources to try new things. 

universal orlando christmas theme park special events
Universal Orlando Resort

In my younger years, I was fortunate enough to encounter some managers who possessed that vision and foresight. Team leaders who were not afraid to tap a young enthusiastic kid with little experience on the shoulder and ask them what they would do if it was up to them. People who ask the next generation to dream big. And then go over the ways to pull off the creative vision without breaking the bank. 

It has been a long time since I’ve worked in a theme park. But I wonder how many times similar conversations have come up this year at attractions around the world. If nothing else, 2020 helped a lot of attractions focus within and come up with ways to present their brand in new and exciting ways. 

Building on the lessons of 2020

Going forward, we will see the lessons learned during 2020 play a valuable role, as parks continue to offer special events. For example, playing up the various holidays and digging deep to offer new themed food and beverage experiences. Plus, we may see fun experiences of the past returning, like laser and light shows, along with new ideas. For instance, custom car shows.

Six Flags Magic Mountain drive thru xmas california lockdown theme parks
Six Flags Magic Mountain

More than anything, this represents the entertainment of the future, along with the ability to pick out the latest trends and quickly take action to strike while the trend is hot and current. 

Looking back at all the innovations we’ve seen over the last year, they can only grow bigger, better and wilder. The smallest of ideas can become the biggest success. After all, Knott’s Berry Farm grew out of an actual farm, Hersheypark came from a candy bar, and we all know Disneyland all started with the idea of a cartoon mouse. 

Top image kind courtesy of Six Flags Great Adventure

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Lance Hart

Lance Hart

Lance has been running Screamscape for nearly 20 years. Married and a father to three roller coaster loving kids, he worked for SeaWorld (San Diego and Orlando) in Operations and Entertainment for 19 years.

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