The (Almost) All-Year Attraction
The days when theme parks were open solely during the summer months are a distant industry memory. Visiting theme parks for Christmas and other winter festival events are now a favorite tradition, while Halloween haunted houses and corn mazes have transformed fall into a viable season on its own.
But what about the months of January through April, when the weather’s cold, rainy, or both, and staff members are harder to come by? Funworld looks at how attractions around the world have taken this challenge head-on by devising events that are irresistible to guests—no matter the time of year.
Sparking Sensational Spring Festivals
Festivals come in all shapes and themes—and among the most magical are the flower festivals held at Asian theme parks. In Japan, one of the most famous takes place in March when the cherry trees blossom. Cherry blossom viewing, called “Hanami,” is a beloved activity in the country, with friends and families often picnicking under the delicately flowered trees.
A prime spot to behold the blossoms: Toshimaen amusement park in Tokyo, where hundreds of cherry trees are planted throughout the park.
“In Japan, we eat and drink under the cherry trees for about two weeks when spring cherry blossoms bloom. At Toshimaen, we light up the trees and set a Japanese-style table outdoors at night to provide meals and drinks,” explains Tatsuya Yoda, president of Toshimaen.
Toshimaen has made this an unforgettable nighttime event, with lanterns strategically placed that brilliantly light up the trees, creating memorable views from different vantage points in the park, including its roller coasters. The festival is so popular, it’s almost in its third decade.
While March and April aren’t the rainiest times of year in Japan, spring showers do happen and compel some guests to cancel or postpone their visit. The park mitigates this by providing covered banquet areas.
The “Tulip Festival” at South Korea’s Everland Resort in Yongin, a city in Gyeonggi province, traditionally takes place in spring, beginning in mid-March and extending well into April. More than 1 million blooms from dozens of flower species honor the festival’s namesake flower.
In the Netherlands, Slagharen Park made the decision some years ago to coincide spring opening day with the Easter holiday, a strategy that saw an unprecedented 30,000 guests stream into the park on opening day. In Germany, where Easter egg hunts are said to have originated, Hansa-Park extended its Easter events over two days, with Easter egg hunts and other contests held on Easter Sunday and the following Monday.
From Flowers to Snowflakes
In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Tennessee, Dollywood launches its new “Flower and Food Festival” this month, featuring giant topiary sculptures, cuisine, and music. The new event follows “Festival of Nations,” which runs from March to April and features live acts playing different music genres from around the world.
The spring festivals follow the same formula that Dollywood perfected for its shoulder season events
that keep guests returning at the end of the year, including the park’s “Harvest Festival” and holiday event.
“Our ‘Smoky Mountain Christmas’ festival is consistently recognized as the best in the industry and really was a game changer for our region. Before the festival opened in 1990, we saw very little tourism activity in the area during winter. Now it is one of the busiest times of the year for us and the community,” explains Pete Owens, Dollywood’s vice president of marketing and public relations.
He adds, “With the addition of ‘Great Pumpkin LumiNights’ to our ‘Harvest Festival’ in 2017, we’ve also seen a major growth in visitation in a time of year that many consider outside that traditional window.”
Fun in February
In the United Kingdom, February—a month when many parks are closed—is turning into something of a mini-season. This is when the winter “half-term” break for many schools takes place, and even though temperatures are chilly, families are in an eager search for entertainment outside of the house.
Roarr! Dinosaur Adventure in Norfolk, England, provides a getaway with “Fantasy February,” an elaborately planned event that includes themed activities, crafts, and games. As an extra incentive to visit, children who appear in full costume receive half off admission.
Another U.K. attraction, Woodlands Family Theme Park, also applies a fantastical theme to half-term week, “Heroes and Princesses.” Costumed children receive a free return ticket.
Sometimes just opening at night can give a fresh spin on the experience for park guests. One of Roarr! Dinosaur Adventure’s most successful events is the award-winning “Dinos at Night” festival in early June.
“At evening, we transform the park into a family-friendly festival with live music, street food vendors, carnival games, and animal encounters. It’s a chance to see our dinosaurs and other attractions during the twilight hours,” says Adam Goymour, park manager and company director at Roarr! Dinosaur Adventure.
Stephanie Janard is a longtime contributor to Funworld. She can be reached at [email protected].