by Paul Ruben
When the original Disneyland opened in California back in 1955, it wrote the book on theming for amusement parks. America’s first regional theme park, Six Flags Over Texas, opened in 1961, and was themed to the six nations that have had sovereignty over some or all of Texas over the years. The theming was pervasive.
As other theme parks appeared, their theming was just as thorough, thanks in part to former movie set designers such as Randall Duell. All the Disney parks, plus those of Universal and Busch Entertainment for example, maintain strong, consistent themes. Over the years, however, theming has been de-emphasised in many parks. Nowadays, at least in the US, a new ride is considered themed if the signage is themed, so it was refreshing recently to find two parks that remain dedicated to their themes.
I’m referring to two children’s parks that preceded Disneyland and are less than 40 miles apart in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, Story Land and Santa’s Village. By their names you can guess their themes – fairytales and Christmas.
Founded in 1954 in by Bob and Ruth Morrell in the village of Glen, Story Land was recently purchased by Kennywood Entertainment, which was subsequently acquired by Parques Reunidos. Hopefully the Spanish group now at the helm will continue to deliver the same memorable Story Land experience.
Using characters, rides and attractions inspired by children’s literature, Story Land offers an interactive fairy tale experience. Visitors meet Peter Rabbit, ride in Alice’s Tea Cups and climb aboard Cinderella’s Pumpkin Coach. As you’ll see in next month’s Park World, just about every element of the park is themed. Even Humpty Dumpty is there, as in “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall, all the King’s horses and all the King’s men, came and ate scrambled eggs again.”
Santa’s Village, which you can read about this issue, was the brainchild of Normand and Cecile Dubois, who opened the park in 1953 in the town of Jefferson, and whose family continue the traditions. The landscaping, music, architecture and rides all are there to help guests feel like it’s Christmas, even when it’s summer.
Families can visit with Santa and feed his reindeer. The carousel animals are all reindeer, the flume is filled with yule logs, and there are even sleighs just like Santa’s flying through the sky on a monorail. Santa’s elves are scattered throughout the park. Talk about theming saturation! That’s me there, themed as Ruben the Red-Nosed Reindeer. After a stop in the gift shop, which is also themed, I learned how to make a slow reindeer fast. Don’t feed it.
I understand why many parks do not aggressively maintain their themes. It costs money, and many rides don’t particularly lend themselves to being themed. But it was refreshing to find theming alive and well in Story Land and in Santa’s Village. Why? Because theming enhances the visitor experience.