Why entertainment is important for every theme park
Originally I wanted to use this blog for sharing updates, reviews, trip reports and similar things. But recently I wanted to talk about something which didn’t meet these categories. I’ve been debating this for a long period of time now, but finally I decided to write this blog post and give my opinion on entertainment in theme parks.
Some of you might know that I was a regular visitor of the Efteling, one of the biggest theme parks in Europe, located in the Netherlands. The park is well known for its excellent theming and high visitor ratings. My parents and I have visited the park at least once a year since I was a toddler, and as of 2014 I even had a annual pass to the park. This means that I’ve visited the park several hundred times since then. It also means that I’ve seen the park change in those years, for better and for worse.
As this blog post is about entertainment in all theme parks, I will focus on that and get back to the Efteling later on.
Why do I think entertainment is important?
I myself like attractions a lot, but what makes or breaks a theme park in my opinion is the ability to submerge visitors in the themed land. Disney is well known for making some of the most detailed themed lands in the world, with amazing sceneries and stories that really make guests feel like they’re in a different environment. But there’s more to it than only theming, and that’s where entertainment comes in.
To truly submerge guests into a different world, this world needs inhabitants. Depending on the theming of the land and the budget a park has, this part of the entertainment can vary massively. At Walt Disney World you have the Dapper Dans and Citizens of Main Street to make you feel like you’re actually on a 20th century U.S. main street. Even the Main Street Vehicles contribute to this experience. But smaller parks, such as Attractiepark Slagharen in the Netherlands, also invest in walk-around characters. Whilst walking around on their Wild West Main Street you might encounter a cowboy or bandit. This all contributes to creating a more immersive themed land.
But entertainment doesn’t stop with submerging visitors into themed lands. As a matter of fact, entertainment can also be a way to improve the capacity of a theme park and can even decrease wait times for attractions. One of the most frequently heard complaints about theme parks are the “long wait times” for attractions, with most people saying that you’re paying for a day filled with waiting hours for attractions that only are a few minutes long. Shows are the perfect way to solve this issue, or at least improve the situation.
Many of the larger theme parks have big stage shows during the entire season and present these shows multiple times a day. I don’t want to get repetitive, but Disney invests massively in both daytime and nighttime shows, with a typical day having at least a dozen performances in total. Smaller parks, such as Movie Park Germany and Phantasialand (both in Germany) have two or three larger productions each day and present these shows a couple times a day. These shows can vary from small scale stunt shows to long musical performances, but they all serve the same purpose: to entertain guests without having them wait a couple hours for a two minute experience, and thus improving overall visitor satisfaction.
And entertainment doesn’t stop there. Many parks invest in large scale events, like Halloween celebrations, New Year’s Eve parties and summer time events. Disney, for example, (yeah, I know, third time already) invests massively in these kind of events, as the profits are usually even higher than on normal opening days. Even smaller parks, such as Walibi Holland, invest in these kind of events. At Walibi you can visit the Halloween Fright Nights every year and with it come large limited time scare zones and scare mazes. These kind of events do not only attract new visitors, but definitely will attract returning visitors who don’t want to miss all the limited time attractions and shows.
What happens when a theme park ignores the importance of entertainment?
This brings me back to the Efteling, the Netherlands’ number one theme park and fourth in Europe. The Efteling has invested massively in the park over the past years, with many new rides, restaurants and events. However, in more recent years, the Efteling has been neglecting entertainment. The last new show that was welcomed to the park, was the Aquanura fountain show in 2012. Since then the amount of entertainment has slowly declined, year by year.
As an example I will be looking at the “Negen Pleinen Festijn”, an annual summer festival in which extra entertainment is located at nine squares in the park. In 2014 there were a total of 6 large acts and performances, 13 small acts and at least 2 guest performances on each saturday. However, in 2019 there were 6 large acts and performances, but only 6 small acts and no guest performances whatsoever. You can argue that the event is now twice a week, but this has already been the case since 2017 and comparing the amount of entertainment with that edition doesn’t make it look any better.
And the Efteling has made even more budget cuts in the past year. Two puppet shows, which were originally performed with two performers, are now performed with only one performer. And adding to these budget cuts, many of the random and unscheduled acts that roamed the park back in the days have all been cancelled. Many of those acts haven’t performed for years now. And to top things of, rumors which state that there will not be a Negen Pleinen Festijn next year have been going around, which might mean an even bigger decline in entertainment at the park.
In all fairness, if other investments have a higher priority, I can understand that budget cuts need to be made. But seeing what the Efteling does with the money that has been saved on entertainment is simply unacceptable. There are many malfunctions at a lot of the Efteling’s rides, some effects have been broken for years now, and the Efteling doesn’t spend any of the saved money to repair these defects. At the same time they spend millions on unnecessary upgrades (sometimes even entire rebuilds) of rides which weren’t even that popular to begin with. It seems like the people who are in charge at the moment do not know anything about smart investments.
But what I think is the most shocking fact of all, is that somehow the Efteling keeps attracting more visitors and keeps charging those visitors more and more money, for less of an experience.
I know that there are a lot of people who aren’t interested in entertainment, who don’t stop and watch an street act, who don’t want to watch a 30 minute show and who are only interested in the rides. Those people will probably disagree with me on a lot of points, and that’s fine, everybody has their own interests and preferences. But just use your imagination and envision a theme park without any entertainment, no shows, no street acts, no walk-around characters. Would it feel right to you?