Thanks to new technology, and record-breaking ticket sales, amusement parks may be entering 21st century golden age. In March 2008, Six Flags announced plans for a new park in Dubai alongside Busch Entertainment’s Busch Gardens/Sea World; in May, 2007, Universal announced plans for a movie-themed park in South Korea, to open in 2012. Already, each year more than 17 million people visit Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, and five million people visit Seoul, South Korea’s Lotte World.
All over the world, especially outside North America, new amusement parks are coming online. In fact, according to hospitality industry scholar Robert Clymer, “on a percentage basis, Asian theme parks will grow faster than the U.S., followed by Europe and the Middle East.”
Regardless of whether they’re located in the United States or South Korea, or even Denmark, amusement parks promise entertainment and escape—typically, for the whole family. But they’ve come a long way since their origins in 16th-century Europe. Modern amusement parks are high-tech experiences. The Kingda Ka roller coaster at New Jersey’s Six Flags Great Adventure, for example, uses hydraulic launch technologies to reach speeds of 128 miles per hour. And the Pooh’s Hunny Hunt ride at Tokyo Disneyland runs without tracks; it uses a local positioning system that was patented especially for this ride.
Unfortunately, with success come the crowds. At most of the world’s top amusement parks, long waits for the most popular rides are inevitable. Walt Disney World is infamous for the twisting lines that lead to Space Mountain and the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. It routinely takes one hour to reach the Speedway racetrack at South Korea’s Everland amusement park. It’s one of the universals of amusement parks: Wherever there are fun rides, there will be a not-so-fun wait.
For just this reason, many amusement parks now offer special access to visitors who demand a more exclusive experience. At Dolly Parton’s Dollywood amusement park in Tennessee, the $103 “Gold SuperPass” allows guests unlimited access to rides for one year and a 20 percent discount on all in-park purchases. Singapore’s Escape Theme Park and Wild Wild Wet offer a family package for $250 that includes unlimited visits to both parks and a free accommodation voucher for two adults and two children. Six Flags Magic Mountain, located outside of Los Angeles, even offers unlimited admission and the right to jump to the front of the line for just $125 a year.
Other amusement parks give guests the opportunity to go behind the scenes. At Arizona’s Out of Africa Wildlife Park, guests can arrange in advance for three-hour private tours that include the chance to feed a white tiger. At Universal Studios Hollywood, V.I.P.'s get a peek at actual soundstages and the enormous prop warehouse for $200 per person.
And then, famously, there’s the two-hour Around the World on a Segway tour at Disney’s Epcot Center. What started as a playful novelty for Segway nerds became expectedly popular. Epcot now offers four Segway tours each day, with the morning excursion held before the gates are opened to the general public. And no, guests are not expected to have any prior Segway experience.
For both amusement parks and guests, V.I.P. access is a win-win proposition. Guests can jump to the front of the line, experience parts of the park they normally wouldn’t see and ride their favorite rollercoaster over and over again. Meanwhile, amusement parks get to win that most valuable of non-corporeal commercial properties: customer loyalty. After all, a guest who has year-long access to every rollercoaster, log flume and go-kart track in your park is less likely to travel to the other park 200 miles down the road.