Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What's the difference?

Two posts in one day! How about that! But I'm not going to be around for the weekend, and I wanted to continue my train of thought on this theme park development thread, so here goes:

I have been thinking about WDW and Disneyland Resorts in relation to other parks around the country, and wondering, what is the difference? Not totally from simply a financial success perspective, but from a little different angle. WDW and DLR are destinations; other thrill parks are not.

For my example I used the only thrill park that I am fairly familiar with, that is, Six Flags Great America. It's a lot of fun, and I'm led to believe it is profitable, even if the parent company itself has either filed or is considering filing bankruptcy. And it might even be a destination for some people, sometimes. I don't know of people who make a trip specifically to the area to go to Great America, though I am sure there are people who spend a day or two there in conjunction with a trip to the great city of Chicago, or maybe with visiting family in northern Illinois or southern Wisconsin.

Disney resorts are, on the other hand, destinations in and of themselves. People like me save up for a week at Disney World, spend most of their waking hours at the parks, and eat at their restaurants. Everything's Disney for that week.

At Great America, there is one thrill park, and one water park. There is a large shopping facility nearby called Gurnee Mills, and another enclosed water park close by also. There may be other attractions in the area, but I don't know what they are, and I live here. By comparison, there are four major theme parks, two water parks, shopping and even those other facilities like the Wide World of Sports and the Race Track at WDW.

We haven't even touched on the hotels. Both US resorts have hotels on the grounds with dining options, nice pools, spas, and tons of themed environs to put their guests in the mood for the parks and resorts. Great America has no hotels of their own, though there are plenty of hotels nearby. The hotels help to drive the experience; they become part of the experience at Disney, while they are just utilitarian at Great America.

Disney offers something different; a one-of-a-kind experience for their guests. Both resorts, but especially WDW, are immersive, in that you don't have to leave the grounds. Everything you could want on your vacation is right there. The experiences at the parks are unique as well. There is no park in the world like EPCOT, none like Animal Kingdom, really, either, and there is nowhere that I know of that utilizes the monorail, which may not truly be futuristic transportation anymore, but it still SEEMS like it, and that is KEY. I don't know if Great America offers any sort of character dining; they might, but then again, the Warner Brothers characters just aren't lovable like the Disney pantheon of characters are.

Which brings us to CONTENT. This is probably the most important difference between Disney parks and resorts, and places like Six Flags Great America. Disney has that huge library of movies and characters, and they aren't shy about using our emotional attachment to their stories to pull us into their parks and attractions. Although Great America tries to incorporate Superman and Batman rides into the parks, the themes are lost except for in the very immediate vicinity of the rides themselves. Characters are not enough to bridge this gap; Great America can't use Bugs and Tweety Bird to the same effect as Disney uses its characters and stories.

You really don't have to travel too far to find something like Great America. Thrill ride parks are all around the country. Some are themed better than others. The Hard Rock park in one of the Carolinas has apparently already closed its doors, but it was trying to be themed around music - a pretty loose theme by my estimation. But the point is that if you live in Missouri, you don't travel to Gurnee Illinois to find your thrills, you go to St. Louis, or maybe to Branson. If you live in Ohio, maybe you go to Cincinatti, or maybe up to the Cleveland locale, but you don't drive to Illiois. Etc, etc. You get the point. However, you DO very much fly or drive to Florida or California to experience the Disney difference.

And that, in a lot of words, is why Disney is a destination, and the big thrill parks generally are not. There are exceptions, but Disney gets people from all over, they get repeat customers, and they get people from most demographic segments of society. Perhaps they draw a line at a certain level of affluence, since a Disney vacation is not cheap. But still, they cross over a lot of barriers. They provide an experience that is not duplicated, or even really attempted to be duplicated, by any other park, really, that I know of. (I've not been to Knott's Berry Farm; maybe it does some of this...but not to the level of Disney.)

So, Disney is the model to look at when we're contemplating what sort of park we want to make. Because one of the goals is to become something of a destination, a place where people will travel to visit, maybe as the secondary goal of their trip, but maybe as the primary goal. Again, that's an extremely tall order.

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