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Business Lessons From Great Theme Parks

I'm an eclectic gal with many diverse interests. They include relationships, film, trivia, and an assortment of other things.

Theme Parks Excel at Experience Creation

Look around. There are bright colors, tempting food, and great rides. However, it's what is not so obvious that makes them really interesting. That underlying mystery is what separates the great from the dull.

Obviously, if you're building a theme park, you need to have certain elements to make it successful and profitable. There is a very specific psychology that goes into developing a great theme park. Customers must want to come back again and again.

Think about it, theme parks are prime examples of how to run a great business. They abound with lessons about customer relationships, sales, and brand management. By understanding what makes a great theme park, we can understand what makes a great business.

So here are some of the elements that make a great theme park.

Hogwarts Castle at Universal Orlando

Hogwarts Castle at Universal Orlando

Experience Focused

In a great theme park, experience is everything. And it's not just about getting the consumer into the park. It's about giving them an experience and making that experience seem special and personal. Of course, this is not an easy thing to do. Consider that the theme park guest is often walking side-by-side with what seems like 10,000 other guests. Yet, every single one is looking for that personal, special experience. How do you create a personal experience in a giant crowd?

The experience has to begin from the time the guest arrives at the park to the time she leaves. That means the designers can't overlook any detail. If the guest drives to the theme park, her experience needs to begin the second she enters the park grounds. If he arrives by shuttle, then the experience needs to begin there. It needs to being in the parking lot. Or in the hotel. Or even before the guest even arrives. It's critical parks meet their guests' expectations. Ever have your mouth water before entering your favorite restaurant? You are anticipating the experience. The same is true of a theme park. The same should be true for any business.

Cat in the Hat ride entrance at Universal Orlando.

Cat in the Hat ride entrance at Universal Orlando.

Rides Must Have a Personal Element

Having rides that offer a personal element creates a unique experience. When guests recall their ride, they only remember themselves. Across the board, the greatest theme park rides have this quality. I'll use the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride at Universal Orlando as a great example. It offers an unbelievable personal experience.

The basic idea of a great ride is that the rider feels as though she is the only one there. This is an incredibly hard thing to do. Consider that the theme park is trying to move as many people through the ride as efficiently manner as possible.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey has all the elements of a great ride. And yes, I'm a huge Harry Potter fan. However, I swear I'm unbiased. I'm writing that because the ride designers understood that Harry Potter fans want that personal connection. The designers give it to them.

Half the fun of getting on the ride for the first time is walking through Hogwarts Castle. It's an experience unto itself. Consequently, the ride often has wait times of an hour or more. Obviously, being able to look around and experience the castle is a big deal.

When you first get on the ride, it looks as though it never stops moving. It doesn't, unless it breaks. The chairs line up and seem to go on endlessly. There are four riders to a seat group. The seats are not unlike those of a roller coaster. However, each group separates as the ride takes off with about a five second gap between each group. So, essentially, each group is following one right after the other. Yet somehow the ride feels completely self-contained. Despite the fact that the next group of riders is right behind you, you never seem them. Actually, you can barely see the rider sitting right next to you. The rider never sees the other cars. It's the mark of a great ride.

During two parts of the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, the ride simulates flying. A movie projects on a screen, basically a simulation, not unlike other simulation rides in the park. But how is this done when the next set of seats is right behind?

Each set of seats moves into the concave screen, obscured from seeing others. Numerous screens rotate on a carousel. As each set of seats enters, they move into a different screen. All the while, the seats, move on a track attached to a forklift. They follow the carousel. Each set of seats enters and then exits as everything turns in sequence. It's amazingly complex and interesting. However, the important point is that riders feel as though they are experiencing the sequence themselves. It's almost as if no other riders exist.

This is a great lesson for most businesses. Make your customer feel as though he or she is the only one there. Provide a personal, memorable experience. Treat each customer as though she is the only one that matters.

Good Food. Reasonable Lines.

There's nothing worse than spending tons of money and getting really bad food at a theme park. If a family is going to a theme park, it has already spent what is probably a lot of money. There's just no reason the food has to be bad. Because waiting in a line is practically a given, bad food is a huge bummer.

Diners also want to feel like they're getting good value for their money. After all, they've already paid out the nose for tickets, parking, and hotel. Having a good meal is important.

The best theme parks provide lots of food choices. Sometimes, if the food isn't great, the environment will make up for it. If I'm eating in Hogwarts Castle or Cinderella's Castle, I may not care what I'm eating. The experience takes over.

Nevertheless, providing good food always helps guests enjoy the experience more. Again, another great lesson for businesses. If you offer non-essential services, make absolutely sure that they are the same quality as everything else you do. Tangential business that is substandard, reflects poorly on your core business.

Universal Orlando

Universal Orlando


There are lots of ways to be kid-friendly in a theme park.

Obviously, the rides are an important way. The more a theme park can build rides that both kids and adults enjoy, the better the theme park. Among the best parts of theme parks for kids are the play areas. Often, these areas don't cost any additional money. They're just areas where kids can run around and play.

Every good theme park focuses on experiences for kids. Character appearances are the most common. For every baby screaming at a human-sized Elmo, there's another child for whom it makes their trip.

Sure, adults love the rides. Kids love the things that spark their imagination. The more of those, the better. Appealing to more people is always a good idea.

It's a Small World ride at Disney World.

It's a Small World ride at Disney World.

Miniland at Legoland.

Miniland at Legoland.

Sell Stuff People Can't Buy Anywhere Else

Stuff at theme parks is notoriously expensive - from the food to the t-shirt, things just seem to cost more. You don't want to anybody whipping out their phone and scanning items and ordering those things on Amazon. Theme parks cannot be showrooms. That's why the stuff you sell in a theme park can't be stuff that people can buy anywhere else. While it may not be possible, every item available in the theme park should be unique.

Universal Orlando has nailed this aspect of theme park design. Unless Universal discontinued the product, items offered in their stores are only available in their stores. You can't buy them anywhere else.

Again, this goes to experience. Every aspect of the park is unique, including the shopping. If you run a business that's not a theme park, what do you offer that nobody else offers? What can you offer than nobody else offers? What makes you unique?

Land of Imagination at Legoland.

Land of Imagination at Legoland.

Have Adequate On-Site Motorized Cart Rental

This is a sad one, but a true one. It's simply a fact that more people in our country are obese. They simply can't walk around a theme park for very long. The fatter people get, the more they need some way to get around the park. They aren't capable of walking. That's where motorized cart rental comes in.

Keep in mind too, many theme parks are in warm climates. If it's 100 degrees outside, you don't want grandma collapsing due to heat stroke.

The Simpsons at Universal Orlando.

The Simpsons at Universal Orlando.

Line Entertainment

The lines at major theme and amusement parks can be long. Frequently, they're so long it's hard to believe that anybody would wait in them. However, the great theme parks have learned a valuable lesson. The more entertaining you make the line, the longer people will wait in it.

Whether it's pre-show entertainment or pre-recorded video, great rides have great lines.

As a business, how do you handle your busiest times? Do your customers become frustrated or are they happy to be there?

Ability to Skip the Lines

Disney has the Fast Pass. Universal has the Express Pass. It's true that those who can afford to skip the lines create social status issues. It's no fun to watch somebody who has more money than you skip ahead. However, it's a big money maker. It's a huge reason to stay at an on-site hotel. Bottom line, knowing that you can skip the lines and avoid standing around is a motivator to go more often.

What does your business do to offer your customers an advantage? Amazon has Prime. What do you have?


Anyone in business can learn a lot from the great theme parks. The customer is everything. Experience is everything. From the employees to the rides, it's all designed to make the customer feel special.

All business would benefit from learning the lessons of the great theme parks.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Sychophantastic


Sychophantastic (author) from Texas on July 30, 2020:

Thanks for the comment. There are many things theme parks do exceptionally well. Every time I go, I think about applying those lessons to my own business.

Liz Westwood from UK on July 30, 2020:

This article gives an interesting insight into theme parks. It draws out points that could apply to and help other lines of business. The hospitality industry springs immediately to mind for me.