Staying rooted in the family

AT: John W.C. Robinson,

The amusement industry was founded on  family entertainment. With beginnings such as trolley parks, picnic groves, and oceanside boardwalks, amusement parks were rooted in the idea of providing affordable fun for families and guests to enjoy for a day or an evening.


Theme parks and regional amusement parks remain destinations. They’re irreplaceable. Yet as their pricing structure increases, the modern Family Entertainment Center (FEC) has stepped up to fill the market for quality fun at an affordable price.

In recent years, large regional theme parks have grown, becoming far more prevalent and the smaller, family amusement parks have slowly disappeared from the entertainment map.  In my own hometown, no less than a half-dozen small amusement parks were within a twenty-minute drive of my parents’ home in 1980. Now, only one remains.

However, with the fading of the 50¢ gate admission comes the rise of FECs. Indoor facilities provide amusement in all kinds of weather, and with a history in arcade-based entertainment, the modern FEC is equipped to provide a wide-array of attractions and options for families looking for budget-friendly play.

FECs have evolved into a realm of endless possibilities. Go-kart tracks have gone multi-level. Family-friendly roller coasters such as the SBF-Visa spinning coaster offered by Rides-4-U have become easy for FECs to add to their lineup. The thrill ante continues to be upped as FECs buy zipline products from suppliers such Soaring Eagle and Extreme Engineering. The modern influx of virtual reality attractions allows for the smallest of spaces to be an adventure into the furthest reaches of space. Certainly the S&S Worldwide Frog Hopper has been a popular kids ride popping up and there’s been a resurgence in adding bowling lanes and laser tag.

The evolution of the modern FEC hasn’t been limited to attractions, either. Lunchtime hot dogs and pizza have been augmented with chef-inspired menus and restaurants.  While the kids enjoy a slushie or an ice cream, parents can enjoy samples from fully stocked bars. 

As the FEC market has jumped to new levels, it remains rooted in the classic “pay as you play” pricing format of the traditional amusement park.  Family budgets aren’t impacted drastically the moment parents take the kids through the front door. A family can bowl together, kids can ride a few of the rides, mom and dad can enjoy a drink while the kids play a few games and — when they leave — there’s still money left for a return visit on an upcoming weekend.

This column appears in the MARCH 2019 issue of Amusement Today.
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