Surcharge Attractions: How Parks Are Adding Value to the Visit

September 11, 2012 No Comments

Ever since Disney’s parks evolved from a “pay as you ride” ticketing strategy to a single admission approach, other theme parks have, by and large, incorporated that same method.  The advantage is that a facility can project admission revenue with more certainty because all entering guests, whether they ride one ride or 20, pay the same amount.
The downside, though, is that once the guest has paid the single admission price, there is no more opportunity to generate revenue from the attractions side of the house (granted, food and beverage and merchandise sales remain a possibility.)
Recently, several of the industry’s larger parks have begun to offer a modified approach.  This hybrid model keeps the single admission ticket as the base strategy but then offers a limited number of in-park revenue enhancers such as climbing walls or ziplines.  These additional attractions require a surcharge to use, which creates a new ride revenue stream that supplements the single ticket.

Is this a good idea?

From purely a revenue perspective, the answer is easily quantified as yes.  But, from a public relation and guest expectation perspective, the response is more complicated.  After all, most guests have become accustomed to paying a single price and riding as often and as much as they want once inside the park.
Kevin Yee, a Disney commentator and operator of, sees both benefits and challenges to charging more for certain attractions.
“I can think of several positive aspects to surcharge attractions,” explained Yee. “They keep costs down for everyone. If you add something new but know that most folks won’t want to do it, why make everyone pay for it with an additional price hike at the gate? That goes double if the capacity just isn’t there to service more than a fraction of the total day’s population.”
At the same time, Yee notes the “guest expectation” challenge that in-park ride surcharges can foster:  “Since Disney’s move to an all-inclusive passport in 1982, major parks have all gravitated toward the model of everything being included (except arcades and midway games.) Attractions costing separate money stand out like a sore thumb because except for this one activity, everything else is included. It’s part of the logic of the place – if you see it, you can just wander over and do it.”
Disney author Jeff Heimbuch also notes another issue, one that is especially important for parks that rely upon heavy theming.  According to Heimbuch, less themed parks may find including these attractions less intrusive than others that invest in immersively themed areas.
“Places such as Disney and IOA need to be careful in their placement of them, because they can ruin the illusion they are trying to create in their heavily themed areas,” explained Heimbuch.  “You can’t just throw one in the middle of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and expect people to accept it at face value. Same for Disney; I would rather not see a climbing wall in the middle of Adventureland just because they want to make an extra buck.”
This certainly does not mean that ziplines and climbing walls cannot be incorporated into well-themed parks.  Just that, if you do so, be sure to budget for the increased cost that will likely be required in adapting otherwise generic rides into your heavily themed environments.

Ziplines at Large Parks and Resorts

Clearly, the decision to add or not add attractions that require a surcharge requires a careful consideration of all of these issues.  Once that decision is made, though, large parks have an increasing number of options available when deciding whether to add these type rides.
One of the most popular is the zipline.  An increasing number of parks are looking at adding this high-thrill concept as part of their ride inventory.  Recently, The Large Park Report visited with Philip Wilson of zipline manufacturer Extreme Engineering to discuss how zipline attractions can work at large parks and resorts:
Tourist Attractions & Parks Magazine:  From a design perspective, what are the key features for a zipline in high traffic large parks?
Philip Wilson:  Safety is always the key or most important feature in any zipline design.  There are a lot of zipline devices out there but only a few resolve the safety and high traffic issues.  I had the pleasure of spending a week in the greater Orlando, Fla., area and was able to spend time with Legoland, Universal, Sea World and Disney.  The common response I received on ziplines, other than that they all agree on the popularity of them, is that cycle times, safety and theming are crucial in a successful zipline product. We can only speak on our design, the Zippin Zone, which has been designed based off the theme parks’ feedback.  Our zipline features provide quick cycle times (over 90 participants per hour,) safety through a series of redundancies and breaking systems on our patent pending “Decelinator™” decelerating device, easy-to-read tension gauges that tell operators that the zip cords are tight and safe to zipline, a simple method of keeping zipliners off the ground at all times, which also lower them to the ground when the ride is finished, and theming that can be customized to fit the theme park’s desired look.
TAP:  From a capacity and throughput perspective, what are the general needs for high traffic large parks for zipline?
Wilson:  Theme parks such as Universal or Disney, who can expect up to 500,000 guests a month, or 50,000 guests on any given day, see fast cycle times as a crucial feature in an amusement ride.  Fast cycle times are a major concern for most operators.  We all strive on getting people through a product to improve revenue and satisfy customers.  Much like roller coasters, ziplines must have a good method on entering and exiting the product.  This is resolved through product design and training.  The process on getting people into safety harnesses, attached to zip cords is just as important as the design of the product.  Training and design go hand in hand.  When a great product design is combined with a great operational staff, cycle times are quick, safe and very successful.
TAP:  What are some of the latest innovations in ziplines that could be used at large parks?
Wilson:   The latest technology on ziplines is Extreme Engineering’s Decelinator™, which has been nominated for “Best New Technology” at this year’s 2012 IAAPA.  The Decelinator™ lowers zipliners safely to the ground.  The hydraulically activated Decelinator™ raises up in the air with lift rams, keeping participants safely off the ground while descending to the end of the zipline ride.  Once the zipline trolley eases into a “Power Pack,” the participant then is hydraulically lowered to the ground with the Decelinator’s™ lift rams.  Participants are experiencing up to 21 MPH on this system with a smooth and safe decent at the end of the ride.  This system never allows a zipliner to get stuck.  This would have been great to see at the London Olympic Games, which would have prevented the embarrassing moment of the mayor of London getting stuck on a zipline on global television.
Most people, unless you are engineering geeks, don’t care about the engineering details.  Operators just want it to work safely and quickly.  This breakthrough in technology wasn’t easy.  Engineering simple, safe and quick cycle times into one always sets the bar high.  [This technology] is going to be what sets apart a high traffic zipline from a low traffic zipline ride.  This product will revolutionize the way amusement ziplines are used today, minimize staff and provide safety. This is the next product that was created by engineering elves.
(Reach Contributor Chad Emerson at


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