We all know that coasters are the mainstay of many parks. They often drive the marketing campaigns with the eternal race for statistics such as the “tallest”, “fastest”, or “steepest.”
And they work. Guests show up wide-eyed and thrilled to ride the latest and greatest record breaking coaster. The coaster enthusiasts hungrily review every airtime hill and new maneuver. The rides are applauded by the industry and competitors, both parks and manufacturers, while at the same time they begin to lay plans to unseat the latest king. I’m a fan of this competitive spirit. It drives the industry to dream, innovate, design, and build. But I think that they can do more than simply fuel marketing and excite the enthusiasts.
If you look at the penetration of big coasters in a family park, they’re often quite lower than one would expect. Height restrictions, health restrictions, age, and the “fear factor” cause many guests to be non-riders, or “non-enthusiasts.” Shouldn’t these record-breaking coasters, which also often set records for capital expenditure, strive to capture the attention of the non-enthusiast as well? I believe these monumental attractions need to engage guests in ways other than just riding. For example, they should create a visual icon strong enough to be appreciated as a piece of sculpture like the tower of Cheetah Hunt (above) at Busch Gardens Tampa (BGT).
The ride should engage the guest on the surrounding walkways where the speed, force, and exhilaration can be experienced by everyone. Air at Alton Towers or Griffon (below) at Busch Gardens Williamsburg (BGW) are excellent examples, especially where the first drop of Griffon dives below the bridge.
When a guest on the path can see the coaster speed past, feel the wind, hear the roar, and see the faces of the riders, it creates a powerful, lasting impression. Add some interaction like the water effect at BGT’s Sheikra and BGW’s Griffon, and you have broadened the appeal well beyond the bounds of those that just ride the ride. On a hot day, there are often more people waiting for that splash than are in the ride queue (a slight exaggeration, but you get the point).
This broadening of appeal is tremendously important because it directly correlates to overall guest satisfaction. This enduring appeal will help continue to bring guests back to the park long after the first year attendance surge has died down, and another coaster has stolen the top spot. I do realize things are easier said than done. Mature parks that are trying to incorporate a big, new ride with a massive footprint and, worst of all, crane access to reach a 300-foot tall track, are forced to make room by tearing something down, placing the coaster on the outskirts of the park, or plowing through the parking lot.
But it doesn’t take much to draw the non-enthusiast in. Bringing the spectators in close to just a short piece of track (not the break run before the station) that showcases the ride’s speed, height, nimbleness, or whatever makes it special, can go a long way. When we look at the rankings of best coasters, the ones that have endured year to year, they aren’t all record holders. Some of the best ones are the ones that engage the non-enthusiast in enduring, thrilling, memory-making ways.