The evolution of theme parks

The evolution of theme parks

26 January 2020 Off By Facto Edizioni

/ by Valerio Mazzoli /

New roads and new perspectives under the lens.

Valerio Mazzoli, theme park & attraction designer

It is now 65 years since Disneyland opened in Anaheim, California, the first amusement park opened by the Walt Disney Company and the first true theme park at the time. Thanks to the genius of Walt Disney, who still to this day remains unparalleled, this park paved the way for a new world of entertainment and fantasy and we are all indebted to it. 

Certainly, the quality of the large theme parks has now reached a very high level: just think of Universal Studios (Disney’s most direct competitor), as well as other large operators such as Merlin Entertainments, Six Flags, Cedar Fair, Parques Reunidos, Compagnie Des Alpes and all the other important companies that have developed grandiose projects all over the world. Unfortunately, the race for success – in terms of both prestige and popularity, and (above all) profit – has overshadowed the imagination of designers and creators, who often draw inspiration from attractions or themes that have already been used in other projects and above all tend to reproduce the themes or technologies of giants such as Disney and Universal, however with inadequate budgets. 

Just like in all things, the moment of great changes and transformations has now arrived. We have all seen how virtual reality has been more abused than used by parks, trying to transform old roller coasters into something new. However, the public is not easily deceived; they are better prepared, more critical and expert, and are not satisfied by simple tricks (also because park admission tickets are a considerable cost for the budget of a typical family), rather demanding the maximum for the ‘investment’ they make in a fun day out. 

In my opinion, we are coming to a new era in theme parks. The giants will certainly continue to create unique attractions – take for example Disney’s Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and Universal Studios’ The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – with budgets that are unimaginable for anyone else, and surely we must expect bigger and bigger things from countries such as China and Saudi Arabia, where there are already major structures and a new market with huge investments. 

What I personally find interesting, however, is the effort that is being made in smaller parks, substituting massive investments with the application of new technologies and with a new way of presenting stories and adventures involving the visitors with live shows, special events (in some cases, corporate events), visits to the park that are diversified based on the type of users, etc. The theme park thus becomes a small city of entertainment that guests can experience almost every day, in different ways. 

The location is certainly crucial: if the park is located in an place with a large catchment area, a major project can be developed given the continuous changeover in guests. Conversely, if the theme park attracts more repeat visitors, the attractions will need to be replaced or upgraded every 2/3 years in order to keep the interest of regular visitors alive. 

Now as in the past, the magic of a theme park is still something unique, as is the joy of experiencing in that dream place a special day out, filled with excitement, something you can’t get from computers, TV and video games. I like to think that theme parks are non-polluting and healthy places, where visitors willingly invest the cost of the admission ticket. 

Taken from Games&Parks Industry January 2020, page 74

Valerio Mazzoli /  theme park & attraction designer /