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Are family-owned parks always superior to corporate parks?

Matt N

CF Legend
Hi guys. In my years as an enthusiast, I’ve noticed that there seems to be a big love for family-owned parks from enthusiasts. Over the years, I’ve noticed that there seems to be a prevailing opinion among enthusiasts that “family-owned is good and corporate is bad” when it comes to park ownership and management styles. However, I sometimes wonder if there is more nuance to the issue than is sometimes implied. With that in mind, I’d be interested to know; in your opinion, are family-owned parks always superior to corporate parks?

Personally, I think the answer is no, family-owned parks are not always superior to corporate parks. I think there is far more nuance to the issue than that, and I think that both types of park ownership have their pros and cons.

One notable pro of family-owned parks, in my view, is that they can do whatever they want with no corporate strings attached. Arguably one of the biggest family-owned park success stories is Europa Park in Germany. That park has been run by the Mack family since 1975, and it has gained truly revered status and a reputation for quality and widespread brilliant experiences. Having been to the park myself last year, I believe that the park deserves all of the praise it gets; it’s a brilliant product throughout! In terms of how Europa links into this point; one of the things that many people seem to believe makes Europa great are the finer touches of the experience, such as the quirky sideline dark rides and other sideline attractions. Many of these quirky sideline projects embarked upon by Europa Park are a true labour of love, and I can sense that many of them would not necessarily have been approved under corporate ownership. I don’t sense that the average corporate owner would necessarily have approved projects like Madame Freudenreich’s Curiosities or Snorri Touren, and many other aspects of Europa Park have a distinctly wholesome feel to them that I don’t think would necessarily be replicated by a corporate park.

One notable con of family-owned parks, however, is that they can sometimes lack expertise in certain areas compared to corporate parks. For instance, I’ve noticed that family-owned parks can sometimes appear to lack the refined project management of corporate parks; I’ve noticed that family-owned parks seem to be far more prone to having projects that get delayed repeatedly and run for years and years than corporate parks. I’m not saying that it doesn’t happen in corporate parks, but it seems more common in family-owned parks. For instance, I don’t think that Blackpool Pleasure Beach’s Valhalla refurbishment would necessarily have gone on for 4 years in a corporate park. Rookburgh at Phantasialand was constructed for nearly 5 years, and there was hot debate during the construction phase about whether the park even had a schedule. Lagoon have been constructing Primordial for what feels like about 5 years; it was originally intended for 2020, but has now become a 2024 project. Knoebels built Flying Turns for over 5 years before it opened. For whatever reason, it does seem like projects at family-owned parks are sometimes more prone to getting delayed and running for very long periods of time than projects at corporate parks. Family-owned parks can also sometimes lack marketing expertise compared to corporate parks; for instance, take the somewhat weakly received marketing campaign for Icon at Blackpool Pleasure Beach compared to the much more strongly received marketing campaign for Wicker Man at Alton Towers, another coaster investment of similar scale in the same year.

So overall, I think that the debate is much more nuanced than “family-owned good, corporate bad”, personally, and I feel that both family-owned and corporate parks have their pros and cons. But I’d be interested to know; do you think that family-owned parks are always superior to corporate parks?


Giga Poster
Rookburgh at Phantasialand was constructed for nearly 5 years, and there was hot debate during the construction phase about whether the park even had a schedule.
Jokes you mean? Of course they did. Also only was 3 and half years, including delays with ground work issues and covid.

For projects with crazy delays one only needs to look at the farce which is Disney World's Epcot overhaul or Tron. With their corporate planning and billions how come a walkthrough with water fountains (Moana), or an exact clone of an existing coaster, takes the same time as Rookburgh or longer. Covid excuse doesn't really fly given Universal are managing a whole new theme park within the same timescale as Tron. A family owned park typically couldn't get away with such unnecessary delays as they need to recuperate costs as soon as possible.

Corporate parks can have better booking systems, merchandise and be in a position to invest (at least Disney & Universal) in high quality expensive to run dark rides. But family parks often care more for the experience; they aren't looking for a quick buck and to satisfy shareholders and want and can to do their own unique creative things rather than copy and pasting rides & areas.

Ultimately both have of course pros and cons, generalisations don't always suit either way - but for the most part undoubtedly the family owned parks simply are superior.


Hyper Poster
As a long time season pass holder for Blackpool, I can give a wholehearted no!
Bring in a decent, competent, set of corporate management tomorrow please.
I'm sure their effect would be felt in days...


Strata Poster
Not always, Rob's example is where it's a detriment, but generally I find I prefer the family owned parks as they seem to care about guest satisfaction more, just for example;

Paultons is, imo, the best theme park in the UK, it's lacking that one big headline coaster but as park operations and variety goes, it's up there.
Phantasialand and Europa are constantly improving their parks, excellent operating hours, excellent food, some great rides.
Hershend's SDC and Dollywood are fantastic, Hersheypark is absolutely brilliant, Compounce has also invested heavily.

When you start looking at the big companies the parks vary;
Cedar Fair invests in the best ones, Cedar Point and Kings Island are damn good days out, but Dorney is shocking and Valleyfair hasn't had a decent cred in years. Food is hit and miss, but they do have good opening hours.
Six Flags is just a corporate sesspit most of the time, some decent creds dotted about but the parks are generally quite ****, but they do offer excellent value for money and operating hours are brilliant.
Merlin, the less said the better.

The ones that do it right are generally Disney and Universal, even if the cost is excessive, they strive for better guest satisfaction, high refreshing of rides, excellent food and great opening times.

I would say that to survive in this business the family owned parks simply have to put more in to compete, so they get noticed more when the others slack off.


Giga Poster
In simple terms, the reason that family owned parks are usually favoured is because these parks have a closer relationship to the paying customer and the owners are more emotionally invested in their parks. There is sometimes a history associated with said family owning the park over several generations. They are often the underdog, and are closer aligned to us enthusiasts, so us enthusiasts root for them most times. There is an intimacy associated with a family owned park as opposed to the more distant, strictly business type ownership that a large corporation presents.

Big corporations tend to own multiple parks and primarily answer to shareholders and focus more on the nitty gritty numbers rather than the semantics of the wider theme park experience. You may find more significant investments with a corporate park, but this is plainly because these investments are expected to drive up the numbers. The people at the top may be totally clueless about ride infrastructure, because ultimately it does not matter.

This isn't unique to the theme park industry. Retail, music, film etc are all industries where there is an ongoing battle and comparison between the big corporate entities vs the independent, passionate owners/creatives.
Like you said, it's not just a black and white issue. I find that you'll get more quantity of average or above coasters at the bigger chains, as well as more technologically advanced dark rides, typically. But with the chains, you run into the same clones, the same atmosphere, the same names, the same 20 dollar chicken wings, and a total lack of individuality. I don't find myself getting as excited to visit the major chain parks as much anymore in the same way I don't get too excited to ride a new B&M; they might be fun, but you always know what to expect.

Something as small as free sunscreen and pop at Holiday World can make a big impact on customers as well. I was, and still am, super impressed that they are okay with losing out on something that has a massive price point to ensure customers enjoy their day as much as they can.

So yeah, I'd say small parks I guess, and it seems like more and more family owned parks are getting world class coasters anyway so the chains don't have that full edge over them anymore.