3 big ways amusement parks are going digital

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Alton Towers Galactica
Concept art for Galactica at Alton Towers. (c) Alton Towers


Amusement parks are beginning to reach the physical limits of thrills, with coasters like Formula Rossa and Kingda Ka standing at the pinnacle of speed and intensity.

Sure, parks could build bigger and faster, designing within the limits of physics and comfort (and, of course, they plan to). But the payoff from an extra few feet or slightly higher speed is likely overshadowed in many cases by the related costs in capital, physical space, and diminishing returns on willing riders.

So, to push the limits of thrills, amusement parks are looking for more creative solutions. Enter: the digital age of the amusement park. Though the trend is young, here are three major ways amusement parks are going digital and bringing a whole new multi-sensory experience to guests.


1. Roller coasters with virtual reality augmentation

Europa Park Alpenexpress
Riders wearing VR headsets on Alpenexpress at Europa Park in Germany. (c) Europa Park

Technologies like Oculus Rift are offering users the chance to experience, at least visually, sights and scenes from worlds away, and ride designers have taken notice.

Bored of seeing sun, sky and ground when you ride roller coasters? You’re in luck; virtual reality headsets have opened up a new world of multi sensory thrill ride possibilities. In fact, Canada’s Wonderland in Toronto has already confirmed that the technology will be added to a mine train coaster. In the U.S., Cedar Point hopes to offer this same virtual experience on a ride. (Cedar Fair, parent company of both Canada’s Wonderland and Cedar Point, has yet to make a decision.) And, in the UK, Alton Towers plans to relaunch the flying coaster Air, with VR enhancements, as Galactica.

The addition of virtual reality can completely transform a ride experience. VR environments, as experienced through rider headsets, follow the motion of coasters but are not “bound” to a track. So, for example, a standard hill on a coaster might be a leap over a cloud, thousands of feet high, in the VR environment.

Jason McClure, vice president and general manager at Cedar Point, noted that VR headsets would likely be optional for riders. And, he says this technology integration, at least at Cedar Point and other parks in the Cedar Fair chain, is currently targeted for smaller and/or less popular coasters that might benefit from the enhanced experience.



2. Larger than life video games

Carowinds Plants vs Zombies
Plants vs Zombies, coming to Carowinds amusement park in 2016, will put riders right into the action of a favorite video game. (c) Carowinds

Some new attractions plan to rely completely on digital technology to bring video games to life on a grand scale in amusement parks.

LA Times ‘Funland’ columnist Brady McDonald reports that “a partnership between Cedar Fair amusement parks and Electronic Arts video games will bring the Mass Effect 4-D holographic experience to California’s Great America in Santa Clara and the Plants vs. Zombies interactive shoot-’em-up attraction to Carowinds outside Charlotte, N.C.”

These attractions (and, likely future ones in this new partnership) will combine motion simulator seats with massive screens, holograms, and laser blasters as guests on each side of the ride arena compete against each other. While dark rides are technically nothing new in amusement parks, these forthcoming attractions are bringing video games to life on a never-before-seen scale.


3. In-park Wi-Fi

No, it’s not a ride. No, it’s not as exciting as the massive attractions listed above. But, adding mass in-park Wi-Fi can offer a lot to guest experience in amusement parks.

And, like other digital ventures, Cedar Fair parks again seem to be the leaders. For 2016, Cedar Fair is making significant investments to upgrade Wi-Fi capabilities at five parks, reports coasteraddict.com, and that initiative opens new doors for guest engagement inside the gates.

The possibilities are many, and might include: more accurate wait times accessed via mobile apps or digital displays around parks (Cedar Point GM Jason McClure alluded to the latter during a May, 2015 interview); more opportunities for social media engagement; more efficient use of mobile apps, like Cedar Point’s new app debuting in 2016; easy access to showtimes and park maps; and, undoubtedly, more in the future!