The false lure of the theme park |

The false lure of the theme park

Alex Miller

Like a film comedy that promises to make us laugh, theme parks hold out the idea that every second spent there will be fun, fun, fun.This is not always the case. In my experience, it’s pretty much never the case. Having spent nearly four years in self-imposed exile in Southern California, my family has a lot of big theme park experience, and while the kids may have slightly more favorable impressions, I think we’re agreed on the point that parks get might old mighty quick.For parents, a lot of this has to do with the basics of getting there and paying for it all. Since I worked for a parenting magazine in California, I got to bring the whole gang for free every time they had a new something-or-other they wanted us to see or check out. Even so, dropping $50 for a pizza lunch at DisneyLand was as painful as paying taxes or coughing up 20 bucks to park.Back to the film comparison, I believe theme parks have a preview’s worth of great stuff – a few truly fun rides or attractions, just like the funniest bits of the film we see advertised on TV. After that, it can be a real hell-ride. At DisneyLand, for example, all the cool stuff can be immediately offset by blistering SoCal temperatures that can make what’s supposed to be the time of your life into a plaintive longing for a quiet room with an overperforming air conditioner.So, weather and dollars aside, what’s left? By my estimate, there are about two or three good hours to be had at any theme park. You hit the best rides, take in the overall vibe, maybe see a passably cheesy show and get the obligatory picture to immortalize the occasion. Everything after that is a dispirited denouement of tired kids, empty wallets and a lower GI crying out from all the overpriced crapola consumed. It’s hard not to walk out of these places feeling slightly ashamed and desperate for something wholesome and clean. At the very least, they should provide showers, financial counseling and colon hydrotherapy just outside the exit turnstile. Despite all this, we still hit the occasional theme park – like Elitch’s in Denver, which opened last week for the season. After all, there are precious few commercial establishments aimed at entertaining the whole family. For every 10 golf courses in our state, there might be one amusement park or “fun center.” In the mountains, there’s almost none of this, and once the ski areas close and the snow melts away, the recreation options literally dry up almost completely.One of the reasons theme parks can be such a disappointment is that we put too much faith in the promise held out by the marketing departments of Disney, Six Flags or whomever. It’s their job to make these places look like the greatest thing going, and woe to those who believe it all. At best, they can only make a happy family slightly entertained for a few hours. For the dysfunctional, it will likely just exacerbate the problems, and it’s not unusual to see parent-child conflict in all its stark horror on parade at these places.Icky, overt displays of teen love also abound at Elitch’s, but that’s another story.On the bright side, most parents probably realize that artificial constructs such as theme parks are only temporary diversions. The best ride in the world – at least for the under-8 set – is probably dad tossing them on the bed, or mom offering a piggy-back ride down the stairs. No amount of hydraulics and machinery painted to look like Daffy Duck or whatever can ever compete with that.Alex Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14625, or Daily, Vail, Colorado

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