Booming Amusement Parks: The Theme Is Extreme

By Gegax, T. Trent | Newsweek, March 30, 1998 | Go to article overview

Booming Amusement Parks: The Theme Is Extreme


Gegax, T. Trent, Newsweek


After "jurassic park" ordinary amusement parks looked so ... ordinary. But fear not, adrenaline junkies: at the total-immersion theme parks of the future, guests will get to play pulse-quickening roles. "The illusion of danger and close brushes with death are a reliable part of theme parks," says Bob Rogers, the theme-park industry's resident futurist, "and the experiences will become more and more intense."

We're about to enter a golden age of ersatz adventure--extreme theming, you might call it. "Everything will be themed," says Harrison Price, the park planner whom Walt tapped in 1953 to study the feasibility of Disneyland. "But it'll still be the same idea: storytelling, thrill and an entertaining design response." Theme parks' wildly successful formula, already copied by theme retail stores and restaurants, will work its way into museums and visitor centers. Airports, movie theaters, office buildings--all will "theme out." Even hospitals could get into the act. "We know how to create environments that manipulate people's feelings and health," says Rogers. "Why not apply this to the health industry?" Some well-established themes may start wheezing with age: boredom with theme machines like Hard Rock Cafe and Planet Hollywood could produce extreme mutations. Already, there's a hospital-themed London restaurant and a car-crash-themed American eatery.

As for traditional theme parks, they've never been healthier. Operators can's build them fast enough or raise prices high enough. Admission to Walt Disney World recently sped past the $40 mark. By 2010, more than 182 million parkgoers are expected to hit U.S. turnstiles, up from today's 161 million. To battle the long lines, parks will splinter into every conceivable niche-ethnic, age-based, economic and religious. Not that any of this portends the end of the classic scream ride. "The coaster will always be king," says Dennis Speigel, a perk developer. Today's roller coasters go from 0 to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds and drop 200 feet. Tomorrow they'll go even faster and drop 500 feet. And every year, technology gets better at simulating reality. …

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