by Terry Mulcahy
Theme parks might be expensive, tiring and stressful, but take a step back and you’ll see that they can also be emotional training-grounds.
It’s the thing that most coaster-boys hate: the queue-line. Standing in the sun with a toddler might be hell, but waiting patiently is a great way for the young ‘uns to learn that sometimes, that’s the only way to get what you want. Even electronic q-bots and fast-passes can teach them this, if you explain that you’re waiting your turn to do something awesome.
They’ll half enjoy, half dread the tension a line builds before their first big ride. And the stories that queue-line theming can tell visually, without words, are a good way for kids to think of narrative in a more lateral way.
It’s also a great place to talk to them about what they’re going to experience and allay their fears - or scare the crap out of them, if you’re that sort of parent.
You gotta do what you gotta do
We’ve all seen it. That one kid who is so terrified to ride something, they’ll happily scream until they puke. Being a good parent is learning to get to know your kid and what they can handle, but sometimes it’s important to push through that fear. And if that means tears, it might be for the best.
We’re talking Haunted Mansion / first big log flume, not Kingda Ka but learning that you can’t back out just because you’re scared of something is important.
Asking that girl out on a date, applying for that one job you don’t think you can get or giving a public speech, it’s a similar lesson and for many of us we learned it first at a theme park.
And if they do push past the wide-eyed terror, not only do they deserve a high-five but they’ll love themselves for it. Remember conquering your first drop-tower? Or your first grown-up flat ride? Isn’t that feeling of adrenaline and pride one of the best things ever? Whether Big Thunder Mountain was your Everest or The Hulk was your nemesis, it feels pretty good walking down the exit ramp a hero.
Sometimes you just can’t have it. And with theme park prices for food/merch/waterpark entry/upcharge extras, most kids are going to learn that they can’t have everything, so they should enjoy what they can have. Bah Humbug.
But the most important rite of passage? The all-out assault on the senses that a theme park can be. Whether it’s passing under Islands of Adventure’s Port of Entry bridge, strolling down Disney’s Mainstreet USA or catching a parade, those are moments that you’ll never forget.
The mist effect pumped into a haunted attraction, the soaring musical score of rides like Jurassic Park: River Adventure or the suspension of disbelief that, “something has gone terribly wrong.” These are what memories are made of.