Theme Parks Know They're Not Just for Kids

Article excerpt

LIKE OTHER SEGMENTS of the travel industry, the savviest theme and amusement parks are taking steps to make themselves more inviting to seniors, who are regular visitors to entertainment parks.

In 1994, 55-plus patrons totaled 26 percent of the attendance at the Anheuser-Busch theme parks in Florida - Sea World in Orlando, Busch Gardens in Tampa, Adventure Islands in Tampa and Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven.

In the January 1994 issue of Funworld magazine, published by the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, Margaret Hartman reported that 83 percent of the 55-plus members of a small focus group of active seniors in York, Pa., had visited an amusement park in the past five years. Those figures are probably higher than for the overall United States.

"The parks are paying greater attention than ever to seniors, absolutely," says Susan Mosedale, spokeswoman for the association. "Globally, many facilities are looking at how to provide the kind of services and environment an aging population wants."

Older people particularly enjoy live, sit-down entertainment, Mosedale says. If it's indoors and air-conditioned, even better.

The Ryman Auditorium, reopened by Opryland USA owners last year in downtown Nashville, is attracting people who recall it from 1943 to 1972, when it was the home of the Grand Ole Opry.

Anheuser-Busch, whose Busch Gardens in Tampa is renowned for its landscaping and conservation-oriented animal exhibits, cites the self-guided tour through its great ape habitat as the type of attraction popular among seniors.

Busch Gardens also sponsors a Senior Safari and has made its maps easier to read to attract and satisfy older visitors.

Walt Disney World officials believe that the most popular activities for senior travelers include dining and shopping in EPCOT, guided tours of EPCOT's backstage operations and landscaping, and Disney-MGM Studios tours and stage shows.

Next February, Disney opens the Disney Institute, with expert speakers, forums, participatory workshops and classes that Disney officials tout as a resort for all ages. The institute's education, arts and fitness programs sound a lot like a theme park version of the highly successful Elderhostel, which links seniors with short-term residential academic programs at hundreds of places in the United States and abroad. …