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Theme Park City

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Why study theme parks?

A. Theme parks are a multi-billion dollar segment of the tourism industry -- but you wouldn't know it from the academic side of tourism study, which, suffering from what Redfoot called touristic angst, prefers to study segments outside of the mainstream of Mass Tourism. There may be no actual Institute For Theme Park Studies, but this website is dedicated to the proposition that there should be.

Q. Who is the Institute For Theme Park Studies?

A. We're a loose coalition of graduate students at the University of Florida with an interest in tourism and theme parks, one of our state's major industries. (This site is, however, not affiliated with the University).

Q. How does a book get to be listed in the bibliography?

A. Every book, journal article, dissertation, video, or other material listed in the bibliography has been personally screened by one of our reviewers for content and relevance. In order to keep this listing as accurate as possible no materials are included which we have not actually had in hand. Publishers interested in seeing their relevant publications included may suggest them via this link.

Q. Why does an academic site contain advertising?

A. Because servers and domain registrations aren't free. Advertising helps meet ongoing costs and thus supports the continued existence of this site. We also think the art.com posters make great illustrations.

Q. Can you get me a copy of...

A. No. Try the links provided or see your local library or bookstores.

Q. Can you answer a question or provide additional references about. . .

A. We cannot provide a reference service. Our intent is to stimulate research, not do yours for you. If you don't see any materials listed on this site which may help answer your question, see your local librarian.

In our experience many correspondents have an unrealistic expectation about what sort of information may be readily available. The theme park business is intensely competitive and Disney and the other major companies simply don't release detailed attendance or financial information and, while they all do a great deal of internal research, they simply are not going to share it with you. Other than what they have to release to investors (see their annual reports) they will not discuss detailed operating costs, business plans, or even safety records. Some information is available in the trade press (i.e. new products, estimates of annual attendance, comments on industry trends, etc.) but much is kept secret.

Other information, while available, is expensive to compile and is not available for free on the Internet. Stock analysts (such as Hoovers, Standard and Poors, etc.) prepare reports on industry trends and aggregate information about multiple companies which they will be glad to sell to you, but you won't find them giving it away. Some libraries may have such information available, however. Some trade organizations also compile and sell survey information across companies.

In some cases, safety statistics, for example, reporting standards and definitions vary widely between jurisdiction such that meaningful cross-comparison is difficult. What is available (such as CPSC reports) is thus lacking in detail. Want to know what ride at Walt Disney World was responsible for the most injuries? Who knows? They aren't required to release such statistics under Florida law, so they don't.

Q. How many "theme parks" are there in the United States?

A. Some questions that sound simple at first glance actually have multiple answers depending on your working definitions. How many "theme parks" are there in the United States? Depends on how you define "theme park".

If we apply a very broad definition, such as that from Merriam-Webster OnLine: "an amusement park in which the structures and settings are based on a central theme," and limit ourselves to outdoor amusement parks such as those operated by Disney (6 US parks, all figures as of 2002), Universal (3 US parks), Busch Entertainment (6 US parks, 8 if you include Discovery Cove and Grant Farm), Six Flags (21 US parks not including waterparks), CedarFair L.P. (6 US parks, 7 including the indoor Camp Snoopy), Paramount (4 US parks, not including Star Trek The Experience), and add several other similar parks with annual attendance higher than one million or so or that call themselves theme parks (HersheyPark, Dollywood, Kennywood, Silver Dollar City, Adventuredome, Holiday World, etc.) we find more than 50 candidates with varying levels of theming, such that it would begin to be a stretch to call some of them a "theme park" rather than just a general amusement park.

There are also additional smaller themed independent parks that could also be considered: western themed parks like Guntown Mountain, the various Santa Claus Lands, history themed attractions like Libertyland, and so on (there are more than 35 - 40 of these in the US, bringing our total up to around 90).

There are also many themed kiddielands such as small, fairy tale themed Storyland type parks, as well as other amusement parks where the only discernible theme is "vintage amusement park". Should they be included? Does the park have to put an emphasis on themed attractions and theatrical experiences, or can it still be a theme park if the only theming is in its exterior design but the rides are all stock roller coasters and flat rides?

Does it have to be outdoors, or do we include Camp Snoopy, Adventuredome, and similar operations? Do you count the Luxor hotel in Las Vegas as a theme park, since it has the Egyptian theme, rides, and shows? If so, what about Paris Las Vegas or New York New York?

Or how about small Family Entertainment Centers that want to call themselves theme parks? Is a themed miniature golf course a "theme park" or is there a size limitation? What about a Jeepers, Dave and Busters or Bullwinkles: FEC or theme park, or both? Is a mega-arcade, such as DisneyQuest, a theme park?

What about marine life parks? Are the SeaWorld parks zoos or theme parks, or something else? What about smaller operations like Gulfarium and Miami Seaquarium? Can a zoo be a theme park if the animal enclosures are themed (the operators of Florida's Silver Springs refer to the attraction as "Nature's Theme Park" although it is primarily a nature park with slow rides like glass bottom boats and animal shows and enclosures)?

Do you include or exclude waterparks from your count? What about themed water parks like Disney's Blizzard Beach?

Does a theme park have to include rides, or is a themed shopping area to be included? What if the themed shopping area includes a carousel or kiddie train ride? What about Science Centers?

Do you include parks or attractions dedicated to historical reenactment, such as Colonial Williamsburg or the Georgia Agrirama?

It's not such a simple question after all.

How many Amusement Parks are there in general? Here are some more figures:

  • The fourth edition of Tim O'Brien's The Amusement Park Guide lists "more than 290 locations" in North America, including theme and amusement parks, waterparks, and some miscellaneous attractions.
  • The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions estimated (as of 2002) that there were "approximately 450 parks" in the United States. The association represents theme and amusement parks, FECs, waterparks, and other attractions.
  • The World Waterpark Association estimated (in a 2004 "Fun Facts" press release) that there are "More than 1,000" waterparks in North America "including municipal/city-owned pools with waterpark features, as well as corporately owned waterparks, independently owned waterparks and indoor/resort style waterparks."
  • Our host site, Theme Park City, has (as of late 2002) links to more than 250 theme and amusement parks, 100 waterparks, and 200 zoos in the United States, using the most inclusive definitions of those terms possible so as not to exclude useful links. Note that this only includes parks with websites: parks without functioning websites can obviously not be included in a link list, and many smaller attractions still lack official sites. (Theme Park City rarely lists resort style or limited municipal pool waterparks, on the other hand).

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