The Great Outdoors
Across the globe, owners and operators moved fast to entertain guests safely in 2020. As the coronavirus continues to impact operations in 2021, Funworld spoke to facilities around the world to gain best practices in operations and planning, along with ideas that can be put to use in the year ahead.
Fort Fun Abenteuerland in Germany adapted fast to the realities of COVID-19. The park’s Halloween event, “Fort Fear Horrorland,” usually offers four haunted mazes–one outdoors and three indoors. Mindful of their scare actors’ safety, the park team closed the indoor mazes and added a second outdoor maze in 2020.
The new maze had to be achieved on a budget, so Fort Fun’s team looked to what they already had. The park’s original outdoor maze, “The Forest,” had made spooky use of the surrounding woodland. For the second maze, the team assembled odds and ends, including old attractions and cars, to create “The JunkYard.”
“We created a special atmosphere without too much effort,” says Andreas Sievering, CEO of Fort Fun Abenteuerland.
The park increased its street entertainment with “The Rotten Farmers Market,” where traders sold spoiled produce, along with real merchandise. According to Sievering, the actors who brought the event to life were so grateful to have work that they outdid themselves. Guests appreciated the park’s effort to add novelties. “It was a great party atmosphere,” he says.
Earlier in the season, the park turned its parking lot into a drive-in cinema through a partnership with a cinema operator and an events company. “We sold out every movie because everyone was looking for something to do,” says Sievering. On horror movie nights, scare actors appeared between the cars. The entertainment in the parking lot expanded to include comedy shows, concerts, and even drive-in church services.
Fort Fun also made changes to its food and beverage operations. The team arranged for guests at the park’s campsite to receive bagged breakfasts. “It turned out to be a really good idea,” says Sievering. Guests enjoyed having breakfast in the privacy of their log cabins. The park also expanded its snack offerings and outdoor seating areas.
Drive This Way
In the United States, strange times called for “Stranger Things: The Drive-Into Experience.” This live entertainment event brings the Netflix series’ Upside Down to Los Angeles. From the safety of their cars, guests can swap the pandemic’s weirdness for ’80s strangeness in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana. Netflix and event discovery platform Fever co-produced the experience. (Fever’s app generates a personalized list of events for users.) Secret Cinema, which specializes in immersive cinema adventures, provided creative direction. Launched on Oct. 28, 2020, the “Stranger Things”-themed attraction runs through spring 2021.
The theatrical production employs neat tricks to build anticipation. Before the live 60-minute show, fans can tune into Hawkins Radio, a digital channel playing ’80s classics punctuated by sonic intrusions, radio hijacks, and bursts of information. Guests dressed in ’80s fashions can cruise by Starcourt Mall and Lynx Labs. As they drive from scene to scene, the story unfolds around them. Live actors perform exclusive scenes inspired by “Stranger Things” season three and created in partnership with series creators The Duffer Brothers. The show features new music from series composers Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein. There’s also a drive-through food court and souvenir shop.
The event, at Skylight ROW DTLA, spans over 400,000 square feet. Ticket prices are based on the number of people per car. Prices start from $59 for two people to $125 for five or more. There’s also a VIP package.
Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, California, debuted its “Holiday in the Park Drive-Thru Experience” in November. This limited-time event allowed guests to drive through the 125-acre park, enjoying millions of dazzling lights, themed areas, distanced greetings from beloved characters, and a drive-by featuring Santa and Mrs. Claus.
Six Flags Magic Mountain President Don McCoy called it an “unprecedented and magical event.” The park was “proud and honored to help our guests create special holiday memories and to provide a feeling of hope and a small reprieve during this very difficult year,” he said in a statement.
Car karaoke proved popular at Powderham Castle in England. Live band Massaoke provided sing-along fun at the historic attraction’s “Car Park Party” last summer.
Drive-in experiences don’t always have to be outdoors. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in the Netherlands joined forces with the Rotterdam Ahoy convention center to organize a drive-through museum. Ahoy provided the venue, and Boijmans furnished 40 artworks. For three weeks last August, visitors could ride in electric cars through the events hall to discover the unique exhibition.
In 2020, the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill, New York, extended its galleries outwards. It created “Field of Dreams,” a free outdoor sculpture exhibition. “We are thrilled to provide visitors with rich art experiences during these times and meet our community where they are most comfortable: outdoors,” says Chris Siefert, interim director of Parrish Art Museum.
Elliott Museum on Hutchinson Island in Stuart, Florida, teamed up with Philly Down South Café owner Jim Leary to launch an outdoor food truck festival. The regular “Elliott Museum Food Truck Night” brings together food trucks, drinks vendors, and musicians in a socially distanced setting.
In the United Kingdom, Alton Towers enriched its outdoor spaces with the festive “Garden Lights Walk” during December. At nearby Trentham Gardens, walkers out for their daily exercise can see the “Three Counties Cubes” art installation until April 4. The four huge, illuminated cubes showcase work from local artists. The National Trust’s Shugborough Estate has hosted images from the International Garden Photographer of the Year competition in its walled garden.
There are many exciting possibilities for attraction operators who can think creatively about maximizing their outdoor activities in fun—and socially distanced—ways.
How to Embrace Alfresco Experiences
- Can existing assets be repurposed to create inviting spaces in the colder months? Mountain Tap Brewery in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, converted retired ski gondolas into private dining rooms for its patio. Guests can sit in comfort while enjoying craft beer and wood-fired cuisine.
- Encourage guests to swap screens for stargazing.
- Collaborate with artists to create eye-catching open-air displays.
- Create themed trails for outdoor spaces.
- Develop a campfire experience with hot chocolate and marshmallows. Rustle up takeaway drinks such as chai, mulled wine, and immune-boosting turmeric tea.
- Be inspired by hotel balcony concerts. Canadian event technology company Showpass pioneered the concept, partnering with hotel chains to allow people to watch live concerts from their hotel balconies. Showpass’s newest project, Rush Concerts’ “The MercyMe Show’tel – Music With A View” event, takes place in March at The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, Florida.
- Plan ahead and offer chilly guests warm winter wear for sale in merchandise locations.