En español | When visitors enter the Carowinds amusement park in Charlotte, N.C., they're immediately presented with a choice: roller coaster or rocking chair.
The coaster, called Fury 325, dips and soars around the entrance plaza, with blue-green steel tracks climbing hundreds of feet in the air. The brown wooden rockers are positioned so the seated grownups have a full view of the action while they take a load off.
Elsewhere in the park, a new section near the Copperhead Strike thrill ride includes a Smoky Mountains-themed waiting area with decorative pavers, seats and a firepit.
U.S. amusement parks, which brought in an estimated $45 billion in 2017, have figured out how to attract even more visitor dollars: by making adult parkgoers’ experiences as pleasant as possible. “We're looking at what might appeal to all our guests,” says Susie Storey of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. “We're not just throwing in rides that would appeal to one demographic.”
Comfy areas like those at Carowinds — where adults can take a breather from the high-energy, kid-focused fun — are just one way the parks are working to encourage more multigeneration family visits.
Many also now sponsor events. Disney holds its annual International Food & Wine Festival at Epcot Center, which brings a crowd of older visitors. This year's festival will be the longest ever — 87 days, from August 29 to November 23 — to accommodate the demand. “The festivals are designed to increase attendance and they do just that,” says Bob Sehlinger, a theme park expert and founder of the The Unofficial Guides book series.
And most parks have expanded their food offerings beyond hot dogs and fries to accommodate dietary concerns and grownup palates. You can now find salads and fruit as well as low-fat and low-sugar meal options. SeaWorld San Diego offers a quinoa salad wrap and turkey burger that you can have made without butter. Last summer, Pennsylvania's Hersheypark added the Yuengling Patio & Pavilion for beer lovers, and Lagoon Amusement Park in Utah just opened for the season with its new Lagoon Biergarten, serving local craft beers.
Sehlinger says many big parks focus on other things little kids might not care so much about — like pretty landscaping — to draw older visitors who may have no interest in bone-jarring rides but enjoy walking, people-watching and relaxing within view of lovely gardens.
The end goal is to make a park outing enjoyable for everyone, says Robert Ulrich, 65, president of American Coaster Enthusiasts, a national organization devoted to roller coasters, who looks forward to bringing a future grandchild along on his park adventures. “Ultimately, it's not about the thrill experience,” he says. “It's about making memories."