So, I mentioned last week during my whole entirely important Jurassic Park rant that I have been to the Jurassic Park area of Islands of Adventure, and it got me thinking about theme parks. Namely, how I feel like I’m constantly surrounded by people who like to hate on them. Me, I absolutely ADORE theme parks, but at times I feel like I’m the only one in certain social circles. Here I am, the lone fan, the guy with annual passes to Disney World and who used to have annual passes to Universal until they decided to add metal detectors onto the roller coasters and staff said detectors with some of the rudest employees they could muster up (ultimately, there were other factors to dropping the Universal passes, but this was a large factor).
I think what bothers me is that the complaints are MOSTLY unfounded or at least not as founded as they could be, especially considering I am usually having these conversations with people that live just about an hour away from these parks. Main complaints are typically:
So let’s start from the top and address expensive first.
The thing that people like to lob the most here is “Why would I wanna go somewhere and pay $10 for a INSERT CHEAP ITEM HERE?” Well, honestly, that’s a non-issue if you’re smart about it. Think about the cheap things you may need: Water, snacks, maybe small toiletries, a little bit of crack, Necronomicon, various creams of assorted applications. The essentials, y’know. Thing is, yeah, if you find yourself IN the park and needing these things, you WILL have to buy them and pay more than you would from a grocery, but at that point you have no one to blame but yourself. Anytime you go to one of these parks, you should have a bag on you. In that bag you can put all the bottles of water, sunscreen, snacks, cracks, pepto bismol, ancient magical texts or bengay that you may want or need in an hours long visit to a sunshiney theme park. You can then bring all those things into the park, minus of course the crack. Don’t do drugs, kids. This was a test and you failed. Go unpack. You disgust me.
One bottle of water can last the whole day and be filled at any water fountain. Forgot you bottle of water? See above statement about water fountains. Not as convenient, sure, but everywhere, typically. Small thing of snacks, trail mix, protein bar, some nuts, maybe an apple, leg of lamb, whatever you might choose as your go to snack, and you just saved on having to throwdown a mortgage on munchies while walking around. Granted, the food at these parks has improved significantly and, depending on what park you’re in, you can find some fairly scrumptious gnosh (I may do a Chris’s Guide to Snack’ems series at some point for this purpose). I encourage eating at the parks, but if money is your concern, then no worries. As for the actual meals, save money by avoiding the sit down places, stick to the counter services spots, which for the most part give plenty of food for a reasonable price. In the end…. just don’t eat like very two hours and you’ll be fine. If that’s impossible for you, then you may have more serious issues than hot dog prices at the Empire of Mouse…. Namely a fairly large tapeworm breast stroking through you meaty parts. Go to a doctor.
And yes, the tickets to get into the park are also pricey, depending on which theme park you’re talking about, but they’re not as bad as I think people assume. However, like any trip you should be willing endure the necessary expenses before embarking. If you don’t feel you can swing the tickets, don’t go. If you feel like you can swing it but don’t feel like you’ll have enough fun to make the cost worthwhile, don’t go It’s that simple.
Alright, so next is crowded.
Moving on, Fake….
No, okay let’s actually talk crowded a bit. First of, if crowds are just NOT your thing, even small crowds, then Theme Parks are probably just not for you. If you get nervous at Walmart at like 5-7pm, you may wanna skip the Magical Dynasty. However, if your main concern is that the crowds are HUGE, then you just need to rethink when you actually GO to these places. Like I said, these conversations I have are usually with people who live somewhat NEAR these parks, so going at any time shouldn’t be a problem. This goes for anyone anywhere that lives near a theme park that is open year round. And sure, if you DON’T live near your park of choice, it may be more difficult to got at any point in the year, but it’s not IMPOSSIBLE and your experience will be much more rewarding.
What I’m getting at is that any park you’re trying to go to is going to have TWO and only TWO times of the year that it will be almost guaranteed to be packed: Summer and around Christmas. These are the times that 98% of people take time away from their socially implanted burdens to make their way to parks in order to escape the depressing reality of home -er, uh to “vacation.” If you go during the like 4 week period of Christmas (two weeks before, two after) or ANYTIME between halfway through may to halfway through August, you’re gonna find massive crowds. Because, these families and students have this opportunity and only this opportunity since the kids are only free from the confines of Standardized Test Preparatory Camp for these periods. Granted, there may be random times of the year outside these specific periods where the crowds are thicker than others. Knowing the right time to go is the best way to go and have a less crowded, less cramped experience. Rule of thumb
Normal Weekday < Normal Weekend ≤ Weekday during special event < weekend during special event < Any of the periods I’ve listed above
If your park of choice is the type to ONLY be open during the summer, then best time to go is typically 2nd to 4th weekend that it is open, or waiting for any day that it is supposed to rain. Rain is an absolute blessing for park goers, especially rain that lasts an hour and then stops. One hour of good rain clears out a park for easily 4 to 6 hours. Use weather to your advantage.
Finally we come to the one that honestly I can’t argue against or rationalize away: That the theme parks are just too fake. They have that corporate polish to them. They feel forced or cliché. Well…. true. They are not real. Gong to the World Showcase at Epcot does not mystically transport one to China and then around to Norway. Realism is not entirely the point for Theme Parks. True, the “theme” aspect is meant to take you away to some degree, give you a sense of something exotic, but I don’t think the direct intention is to fool you into believing you’re somewhere else. For some people, the mystique of replicated environments adds to the ambiance: The colors, the music, the sounds, the strucures. For others, it may just be too hard to look past the faux-stone pillars or the employees in period clothing and walmart slip-resistant shoes. Like I said, I can’t will this stuff away here. It’s there. If it bothers you, it’s probably gonna bother you. Maybe then you need to alter your perspective a bit.
You have breached the veil of illusion that the theme park is trying to drape over everyone, congrats! If this is affecting your ambiance, maybe new ambiance is in order. One of the major ways to do this is good ol’ fashioned people watching. Even if you go during one of the less crowded times, there will be plenty of targets for you voyeuristic eyes. Are you a particularly cynical person? Maybe you’ll enjoy pinpointing families that are on the precipice of “which one can we leave here when we leave?” Maybe chatting up employees is your speed, getting to know them and maybe some secrets of park functions (be careful not to get anyone in trouble). Are you more on the compassionate/idealistic side? Maybe watch out for those people that are having a great time. Social butterfly? Meet some people, hang with a new group, ride some rides with strangers. You’re guaranteed to have other people at these parks, might as well put them to work.
Is the “expensive” complaint not a concern of yours? Then focus on the food and beverage choices. Go during a food and wine festival or some sort of tasting event. Maybe you like to shop and want to hunt down weird toys or souvenirs for your friends. Some of these parks have games, jump on those. Focus on the rides and figuring out how to get the best experience on those. Or just sit back and marvel at the corporateness of it all, the effort spent in replicating these structures, the proliferation of speakers, the sheer scheduling and organization nightmare that staffing must be. Ultimately, if the environment is just gonna bother you, then focus on the things. People, rides, items, food, booze, whatever. If your brain is telling you “They’re trying to pass this off as a Rococo villa, but look at the symmetry of that balustrade. Disgusting.” Then focus your view more specifically on whatever does appeal to you. The fakeness is not going away, so ignore it.
And just have some fun.
Ultimately, that’s what these parks exist for (blah blah money blah blah). They are here for us to break away from stress and boredom and negativity. To have some high-speed thrills, eat some tasty treats and enjoy the company of great people. I have some of my best memories from theme parks. Disney, Universal, Busch Gardens, Kentucky Kingdom. They’re great places where great moments can be had. I have spent entire days just laughing and having a great time with the people I love. That’s what they mean to me. Why I go as much as I do and why I’m making this post. Because I’d hate to see so many people miss out on memories because of cynical proclivities that are easily peeled away. Just try it. Pick a park and go. Do so under the pretense of removing all the bias, eschewing all the contrived BS you’ve picked up from others or maybe a bad past experience. Make it fresh, a clean start with theme parks. Go with someone important to you or your preferred group of individuals.
Go and just have some fun.
That’s what life is all about.