Theme Park Insider: “People will endure long lines, brutal temperatures, shocking prices and whatever else you throw at ’em”

nilesRobert Niles is the founder and editor of Theme Park Insider, a Web site for theme park vacations. He’s a former Walt Disney World attractions host, trainer and lead and has worked as a staff writer, editor and Web site producer at the Los Angeles Times and the Rocky Mountain News. I asked him to share his summer theme park tips.

Q: What are some of the best theme park deals available now?

Niles: I think Universal Orlando’s got the best vacation deals going. You can get seven days at their two theme parks for just $99. And if you stay at one of their three on-site hotels, you get unlimited front of the line access on almost all of their theme park rides and shows.

I tried this deal for the first time last summer, and it changed the way I thought about theme parks. Having the ability to come and go as you please, with no thought about how crowded the park was at a given hour, made it the most relaxing and enjoyable theme park trip I’d ever taken. Universal’s also discounting those three hotels this year, too, with room-night discounts up to 40 percent.

For day trips, I’m hearing many of our readers rave about Holiday World, an amusement park in the delightfully names Santa Claus, Ind. It’s about an hour west of Louisville. The park what might be the best collection of wooden roller coasters in the country, and one-day tickets are just $36 online. But the best part is… the park offers unlimited free soft drinks and sunscreen. I think that’s the most creative deal I’ve seen anywhere.

Q: There are a number of new attractions that opened at theme parks this summer. In your opinion, which one is the most impressive — and why? Which one has impressed you the least?

Niles: Our readers voted Manta as the country’s best new attraction this year, with runner-up honors going to Prowler, a new wooden roller coaster at Worlds of Fun in Kansas City.

Manta’s a “flying coaster” from Swiss designers Bolliger & Mabilliard, the best in the business right now at building coasters. Hard-core coaster fans rave about the back rows, where you’ll much stronger G-forces than in the front. But even coaster novices love the coaster’s smooth ride and great waiting area – and underwater cavern filled with all kinds of marine life.

I’m also a big fan of Universal Hollywood’s Creature from the Black Lagoon show and I know that many fans are eagerly awaiting Universal Florida’s upcoming Hollywood Rip Ride and Rockit coaster, where riders will be able to choose their own on-ride music. Unfortunately, that ride was supposed to debut this spring, but it remains MIA as of early July. That makes it this year’s least impressive showing, so far.

Q: You offer reader reviews on your Web site. Is there anything about the write-ups that have surprised you, in terms of what people like and dislike?

Niles: It’s amazing to discover the variety of theme park fans out there — there are people at one extreme who just stick with anything Disney, and folks at the other who just love roller coasters and nothing else. You might think that theme park fans would be a friendly lot — and for the most part, they are — but some fan groups from various parks will just rip on fans from other parks if you give ’em the chance.

The Cedar Point vs. Six Flags Holy War knows few bounds. Sometimes, it’s fun to let folks engage in a little flame war, but many fans just fail to see the difference between a Heartline Roll and an Immelman. Those are roller coaster geek terms, for those who didn’t know. And before I started the site, I didn’t, either.

Q: When the recession started, the conventional wisdom was to head for a theme park, because no one was there. I live in Orlando, and I can tell you there are people here. Lots of people. Was that conventional wisdom wrong?

Niles: I think the discounts are working… for the parks. People are getting deals and packing the parks almost as much as they did at the height of the bubble economy. But they’re paying less to do that. Also, parks have cut back on their staffing, as well, so many lines are longer than they would have been had the parks kept their staffing at the same levels as they did in the boom years. That makes the parks seem even more crowded than they are, since fewer employees mean fewer ride units, fewer shows, fewer open registers and longer lines. But, hey, the admission’s cheap.

Q: It’s been a while since the last serious accident at a major theme park. Are rides getting safer, or have we just been lucky?

Niles: I think it’s a bit of both… but people and parks can make their own luck. So many of the fatal accidents that we have had have been due to carelessness and ignorance, such as last year’s fatality at Six Flags Over Georgia, where a guy ignored warning signs to cross into a restricted area under a roller coaster and was struck dead. We’ve been aggressive at in promoting visitor safety, linking safety tips off all our attraction listing pages. And parks are taking up the call, too. Disney now includes safety tips on its guidemaps.

I think that parks are more aware now of the need for aggressive maintenance on their rides, as well, and they’re shutting down rides when there’s concern about their safety, like Kings Island just did with Son of Beast. Better that than run the things until their breaking point. Years ago, parks could effectively cover up accidents. But with so many of us reporting on them now online, parks have to deal with the negative publicity. That’s a powerful incentive to keep rides running well.

Q: What do your readers complain about the most, when it comes to parks? Is there one park that gets the most complaints? Is there one that gets the least?

Niles: People will complain about anything, but the one that really gets folks fired up is lack of value. People will endure long lines, brutal temperatures, shocking prices and whatever else you throw at ’em, if they get a great ride or show in the end. But if you don’t deliver that value, people will find sites like and complain. Loudly.

A decade ago, folks were all over Disneyland, complaining about a decline in quality and value, but after many management changes at that park, it’s become one of the world’s best again. In fact, our readers just named it the best theme park in our annual awards. I’m not seeing consistent criticism against any one park or chain anymore. Even Six Flags has turned around its customer service. Parks really seem to be responding to online criticisms, and trying to make things right.

Q: In your opinion, what’s the biggest mistake people make when they visit a theme park?

Niles: They show up late in the morning or early afternoon, buy their tickets at the front gate, don’t bother researching any attractions, wear lousy shoes for walking and don’t wear sunscreen. Do these, and I guarantee you will have a miserable time, and complain that the park was no fun. Get there early, select and buy your tickets in advance and know what the popular rides are, so you can hit them first. And don’t forget the sunscreen!

Q: Which theme park do you visit just for fun? Which theme park do you consider it a chore to visit?

Niles: I adore Disneyland, and visit at least once a month. I wish I could visit Legoland California more often, but it’s a two hour drive from my home in LA, and a bit of a haul. My kids are going to be too old for that park soon, and I will miss visiting it with them, so I need to gut out the drive and get down there more often.

I wish Six Flags Magic Mountain weren’t in Valencia, which turns into a broiler in summer and fall. I used to dread the park because so many rides never worked right, but it has improve substantially on that front over the past two years. But they still haven’t built enough indoor and water rides to combat the brutal sun and heat.

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by

With nearly 20 years in the industry, over 128 airport covered in the U.S. and Canada, and over 1,000 Hotel and Parking Partners-we provide travelers the best options on how to get to the airport when flying. Whether you want to; drive yourself and park near an Airport (Airport Parking), stay the night before your flight at an airport hotel and leave your car (Hotel and Parking Package), or take a shared Shuttle/Private Car/Limo to the Airport- we got you covered. The best deals can be found online, and booking a reservation has never been easier. You can explore all of our options by visiting us at,,, and

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Generali Global Assistance

Generali Global Assistance has been a leading provider of travel insurance and other assistance services for more than 25 years. We offer a full suite of innovative, vertically integrated travel insurance and emergency services. Generali Global Assistance is part of The Europ Assistance (EA) Group, who pioneered the travel assistance industry in 1963 and continues to be the leader in providing real-time assistance anywhere in the world, delivering on our motto – You Live, We Care.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by

Since its inception over three decades ago, G1G has continued to revolutionize the travel insurance industry by being the only aggregator to operate a customer portal, placing all of the user's primary needs in one place. We have continued to innovate and disrupt the market by reimagining the way travel insurance can be delivered to the end user in ways no competition can. Simply put, no one knows the market as well as its founders and no one else shares G1G values and mission.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

VisitorsCoverage is one of the world’s most trusted providers of travel insurance for millions of global travelers in over 175 countries. Working with top-rated travel insurance partner providers, VisitorsCoverage’s award-winning search, compare and purchase technology simplifies the travel insurance process and finds the best deals for the coverage you need to explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at VisitorsCoverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International,, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.

Send this to a friend