The theme park industry is changing; gone are the days when roller coasters and cotton candy were enough to keep visitors standing in long lines. According to Ryan Harmon, President and Chief Creative Officer of Zeitgeist Design & Production a full-service creative agency that produces theme parks and other "out-of-home" entertainments such as tourist attractions and resorts a new era of immersive entertainment is dawning.
"Coming out of the [COVID-19] pandemic, people are eager for communal experiences," Harmon said. Based on his 36 years of experience, these attractions will be different from those of the past in important ways, delivering more fun to visitors than ever.
Putting the amusement back in amusement parks
"Walt Disney, and those who followed in his footsteps, designed parks in a cinematic way, as if their guests were living in a movie," Harmon said. This mindset resulted in projects like Disneyland and Epcot Center and even Universal Studios.
Harmon notes that, while these 20th-century theme parks offer immersive and cinematic environments, they neglect to make visitors a part of a story. Some have also gravitated toward incorporating more and more technology, resulting in an overly mediated, depleted experience that can even feel stressful and not fun.
"Because of the advent of the smartphone and what it can do, the owners or operators of these attractions have created apps that force guests to spend much of the day staring at their devices," said Zeitgeist's Executive Vice President and Chief Art Director Joe Lanzisero. "They almost turn the whole experience into a part-time job."
In contrast, Zeitgeist creates theme parks that tap into the initial reason for such attractions in the first place: to be entertained.
"We need to return to the way things were, where you can go on a whim, eat whatever you want, enjoy reasonable queue times, and get back to having fun together," Lanzisero said. "Theme parks need more spontaneity and a sense of discovery. Visitors should spend their time enjoying spectacular stories and environments."
New theme parks open portals to new worlds
Harmon and Lanzisero see a trend toward lengthier and more immersive attractions. "We call them 'feature-length experiences,'" Harmon said. "What Disney did with Galactic Starcruiser is a good example of where things are going."
Disney's Galactic Starcruiser is a two-night adventure in which visitors live out their fantasies of participating in the "Star Wars" universe. This is accomplished through appropriate science-fiction sets where participants can interact with beloved characters and even role-play their own secret mission.
In this way, the theme parks of the future entail longer stays, from full-day engagements to overnights. "Guests can dress up, role play, and truly live the experience much like they do in a video game," Lanzisero said. In effect, these next-generation entertainment experiences invite guests to step through a portal into another world.
Zeitgeist Design & Production knows all too well that while Walt's generation was all about cinema, today's theme park goers grew up with video games.
Zeitgeist's next-generation theme parks
"Zeitgeist recognizes that recent generations have grown up gamers," Harmon explained. "Today's visitors expect to play a role in the story. As such, we create projects where guests are part of the adventure and have agency to affect the experience, without losing track of the story and core emotional engagement."
Zeitgeist's portfolio includes such mind-boggling designs as the MNC World Lido theme park outside Jakarta, Indonesia, the "Sea Dreams" theme park currently in development on the Red Sea in Saudi Arabia, and "City of the Dead: The New Orleans Cemetery Experience" located on the edge of the city's historic French Quarter. The secret to these attractions' future success, according to Harmon and Lanzisero, is their ability to invoke guests' emotions.
"At Zeitgeist, we aim to move you without the need for a ride system," Harmon said. "We go for emotion tapping into and addressing the full spectrum of the human experience. Anyone can build a roller coaster, but we put you in the middle of a story, in a situation that you can relate to, with characters you care about."
"Like a great film," adds Lanzisero, "our attractions make you feel happiness, sadness, fear, and other emotions so that when you emerge safe and victorious, you have enjoyed an emotional roller coaster!"
Unforgettable memories, powerful connections
Zeitgeist's experienced team creates magical environments where people lose themselves in stories and experience a wide range of powerful emotions, ending their visit with a sense of triumph and personal accomplishment. As a result, the way they experience theme parks will never be the same. And according to Harmon and Lanzisero, their next-generation attractions will create unforgettable memories and bring families together more than ever before.