15 Reasons Why Theme Parks and Amusement Parks Fail

With the recent announcements of two, proposed new theme parks in the U.S., the American Heartland Theme Park and the Texas-themed TexasLand USA park – and addressing all of the public comments about the potential success of these two theme parks – I felt, as a themed entertainment design consultant and insider, it was important to provide the critical factors and case studies affecting a theme park and amusement park’s success.

The world of theme parks and amusement parks has long been a source of joy and excitement for people of all ages, offering an escape from the routines of everyday life. From towering roller coasters to enchanting themed lands, these sprawling playgrounds have the power to create unforgettable memories for millions of visitors each year.

Yet, amidst the thrill and wonder, lies a sobering reality – not all theme parks flourish as expected. Behind the dazzling facades, there are tales of unsuccessful ventures and abandoned dreams. We explore the key reasons why some theme parks and amusement parks fail to achieve the success they aspire to attain.

By delving into the intricacies of the amusement park and themed entertainment industry, we aim to shed light on the critical challenges that can turn the dreams of park owners into unexpected nightmares. Many are built and then fail shortly after their initial grand opening, others never make it off the drawing board to be archived for eternity.

American Heartland Theme Park aerial concept rendering daytime
American Heartland Theme Park Artist Rendering. Image courtesy Mansion Entertainment Group

Table of Contents

  • List of Critical Factors Contributing to Theme Park and Amusement Park Failures
    • Competition
    • Poor Location and Poor Masterplanning
    • Lack of Innovation
    • High Operating Costs
    • Season Operating Hours
    • Weather Dependency
    • Safety Incidents
    • Negative Reviews and Publicity
    • Inadequate Marketing
    • Economic Downturn
    • Changing Demographics and Taste
    • Land Use and Zoning Issues
    • High Debt and Financial Management
    • Inadequate Preventative Maintenance
    • Lack of Thematic Consistency
  • Case Study: Hard Rock Park
  • Case Study: Disney’s America
  • Case Study: Boardwalk and Baseball
  • Conclusion

How Theme Parks and Amusement Parks Fail

Successful theme parks often address these challenges by staying innovative, providing a high-quality and safe experience, strategically managing their resources, and adapting to changing consumer preferences.

However, some theme parks and amusement parks fail due to unforeseen economic downturns, poor marketing strategies, poor or unstable financial planning, or the owner’s inability to accurately understand the park’s regional demographics and compounding social impacts on the region.

List of Critical Factors Contributing to Theme Park and Amusement Park Failures

1. Competition

The amusement park industry can be highly competitive, especially in popular tourist destinations. If a park fails to differentiate itself or offer unique attractions and experiences, it may struggle to attract visitors – see the Boardwalk and Baseball Amusement Park Case Study (below).

If a park’s competition is too large, too close in proximity, or fails to make itself standout, visitors will not adorn the ticket gates for sustained attendance.

2. Poor Location and Poor Masterplanning

The location of a theme park is crucial to its success. If it’s in an inconvenient or less accessible area, potential visitors may choose other parks that are easier to reach. Also, if a theme park’s location is too remote or too far from larger towns and cities that can provide a diverse set of visitor demographics it can fail – the argument by many for the new, proposed American Heartland Theme Park.

Plan the park efficiently by aligning the budget with an expansion strategy. Knowing how much to build and when is necessary for successful park planning.” – Forrec, March 11, 2020

Additionally, if a theme park is located to an existing, established theme park resort or complex, it will fail to capture the marketshare of visitors, i.e. Boardwalk and Baseball Amusement Park. In the case of Disney’s America (see Case Study below), the park’s proposed site was too close to an existing, historically significant Civil War battlefield in Virginia.

3. Lack of Innovation

Theme parks need to constantly evolve and introduce new attractions to keep visitors coming back. Failing to invest in innovative rides and experiences can lead to a decline in interest over time.

Prior to the announcement of Harry Potter land in Universal Orlando, and prior to the green lighting of the Magic Kingdom Fantasyland Expansion to compete with Harry Potter, this was a complaint by Guest visiting Walt Disney World. Guests complained Disney was not providing any new attractions or innovating its existing attractions – resting on it laurels – while at the same time increasing its park ticket rates.

4. High Operating Costs

Theme parks require significant financial resources to operate and maintain. If a park can’t manage its operating costs efficiently, it might struggle to generate enough revenue to stay afloat. Or, if a theme park or amusement parks’ financial model is failed from the beginning – see the Hard Rock Park Case Study (below) – it cannot weather any unforeseen financial crisis.

5. Seasonal Operating Hours

Many parks heavily rely on seasonal visitors, and they may struggle during off-peak months when attendance drops significantly. This can lead to cash flow issues and financial strain.

Program attractions and event to even out the seasonality, avoid peak volumes. This means spreading entertainment activities out throughout the day/night and week.” – Forrec, March 11, 2020

6. Weather Dependency

Bad weather can greatly impact park attendance. A park located in an area prone to extreme weather conditions may find it challenging to maintain consistent visitation levels.

When Walt Disney was searching for a site, state, and property for his second theme park complex, outside of California, good weather and environmental impacts of land features played a roll in situating what would eventually become Walt Disney World. Florida was a smart choice, due to its year-round good weather conditions, however, an original site was considered closer to the ocean – near Deland, Florida – but given its closer proximity to the beach and its salt air impacts on advanced weathering of built structures, it was one of many factors taken under consideration to move the future Disney World more inland and closer to two major highways criss-crossing Florida.

7. Safety Incidents

One major safety incident can severely damage a park’s reputation and deter potential visitors. Maintaining high safety standards is essential for building trust with the public.

8. Negative Reviews and Publicity

In the age of social media, negative reviews and publicity can spread quickly, deterring potential visitors from choosing a particular park. This can tie into number 7. Safety Incidents, as well. One who follows the theme park and amusement park industry is not remiss of the recent ride safety issues in recent years, the latest being the Carowinds Fury 325 roller coaster structural ride column failure incident that could’ve led to a major rider safety issue.

9. Inadequate Marketing

Even the best park will struggle if it doesn’t effectively market itself. A lack of marketing efforts can result in low awareness and limited visitor numbers.

10. Economic Downturn

During economic recessions or downturns, consumers may cut back on discretionary spending, leading to decreased park attendance. Something that greatly affected the Hard Rock Park’s demise – see below.

11. Changing Demographics and Taste

If a park’s offerings fail to appeal to changing demographics or shifting consumer preferences, it may lose its relevance and popularity.

12. Land Use and Zoning Issues

Obtaining appropriate permits and dealing with zoning restrictions can be challenging, delaying park development and adding to its costs. Case in point, Disney’s America theme park – see below.

13. High Debt and Financial Mismanagement

Theme park projects that are burdened with excessive debt or suffer from financial mismanagement can face bankruptcy or closure.

14. Inadequate Preventative Maintenance

Failing to maintain the park’s facilities, rides, and infrastructure can lead to safety issues and a decline in visitor satisfaction.

15. Lack of Thematic Consistency

Incoherent theming or an unclear target audience can confuse visitors and diminish the overall park experience.

Case Study: Hard Rock Park

Nights in White Satin Dark Ride at Hard Rock Park
Moody Blues Nights in White Satin Dark Ride – Hard Rock Park. Image Mattersfact, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Quite possibly one of the most epic theme park failures in U.S. theme park history, Hard Rock Park formerly located in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina took years to design and construct and only five months to fail.

This case study hits a little closer as I was an employee of the architecture firm that designed Hard Rock Park. Though I did not personally work on this project during my tenure at the firm – but I distinctly remember the talented team and their hard work and efforts designing the theme park – most of us at the firm and the demise of the built theme park were victims of the 2008 financial crisis.

The theme, overall concept, and implementation of the design for the Hard Rock Park was spot on. Each ‘land’ of the theme park was a different genre of music. The 50-acre theme park was sited inland from Myrtle Beach, SC near the established and sprawling Waccamaw shopping area.

Marketed as the world’s first rock and roll theme park, Hard Rock Park opened in the spring of 2008. With iconic attractions like the Led Zeppelin: The Ride a 150-foot tall rollercoaster designed in tandem with members of the band, boasting on-board music and songs made famous by Led Zeppelin, to a Moody Blues inspired dark ride called ‘Nights in White Satin: The Trip’ that was a trippy sensory experience. The park leveraged some of the most iconic bands and songs in rock history to convey the overall theme and storyline.

Myrtle Beach is a seasonal, family-friendly tourist town in South Carolina. Boasting millions of regional and Canadian visitors each year – approximately 16 million annually. Beyond the beach resorts, the area boasts extensive shopping venues, a plethora of restaurants, golfing, RVing campgrounds, and more. So, market segment and demographics were not the issue or the cause for the final demise of this highly immersive and well-designed theme park.

Why Did Hard Rock Park Fail

Hard Rock Park’s funding stemmed from a $305 million bond offering – interest-paying debt instrument quite similar to loans. The Park’s debt was at the bottom end of junk-bond ratings. In laymen’s terms this means financially, the park had zero wiggle room for any financial hiccups or errors. With the impending 2008 financial disaster in the U.S., a downturn in tourist spending, a sharp decline in tourism and pleasure travel, a new theme park who’s credit rating was based on optimistic annual attendance assumptions to meet it’s minimum financial expectations and operating costs – it was doomed right out of the gate. Currently, the former theme park was raised and is now a FedEx distribution facility surrounded by new megachurches, a Medieval Times, and retail stores.

Case Study: Disney’s America

Disney's America Aerial Rendering
Disney’s America Artist Rendering. Image courtesy Richmond Times-Dispatch

Disney’s America theme park, proposed in 1992 to be located near the town of Haymarket, in Prince William County, Virginia was 5-miles from the historic Manassas National Battlefield Park site and only 35 miles from Washington, D.C.. Planned to sit on a 3,000 acre parcel, the America-themed park was designed to have an annual attendance of 6 million Guests and boast nine themed lands telling the story of U.S. History. Those lands included:

  • Presidents’ Square: The home of the park’s version of the Hall of Presidents attraction
  • Native America: A recreation of a Native American village, with a Lewis and Clark-themed river rapids ride
  • Enterprise: An homage to the Industrial Revolution in the form of a factory’s company town, complete with a roller coaster
  • We the People: A showcase building resembling Ellis Island with food vendors representing the countries of origin for immigrant groups
  • Crossroads USA: The central hub of Disney’s America, from which guests could enter the other territories
  • Civil War Fort: A Civil War camp, complete with re-enactments and a nightly fireworks show on “Freedom Bay” featuring the battle between the Monitor and Merrimack
  • State Fair: A classic state fair with a wooden roller coaster, Ferris wheel and baseball diamond for exhibition games
  • Victory Field: A hangar with exhibits and rides celebrating American aircraft, including their role in World War II
  • Family Farm: A tribute to America’s farms, with exhibits on harvesting crops and taking care of livestock

Why Did Disney’s America Fail

Disney's America failed theme park in Virginia colored site location map.
Disney’s America Location Map, Image courtesy Mliu92, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Can the meaning of the Civil War be conveyed next to a roller coaster? Once a visitor has seen the Disney version of Ellis Island, will the real thing retain its appeal? Can slavery be properly interpreted in an amusement park?” – National Trust for Historic Preservation President Richard Moe, December 1993

A coalition of eminent historians, notably Shelby Foote, James McPherson, and David McCullough, coalesced under the banner of Protect Historic America. This consortium of scholars was steadfastly dedicated to thwarting the construction of a park, driven not only by apprehensions about historical authenticity but also by the park’s perilous proximity to revered Civil War battlegrounds. Furthermore, apprehensions were raised regarding the nomenclature of the project itself; “Disney’s America” appeared to insinuate a sense of ownership over the nation by the Disney corporation. Consequently, the media, in response, dubbed it the “Third Battle of Bull Run.”

Succumbing to the deluge of adverse publicity and apprehensive about its financial viability—owing to assessments indicating that the park would likely need to close for four months annually due to inclement weather—Disney made the decision to terminate the Virginia park project in September 1994.

Despite asserting, at that time, that the concept was not entirely abandoned, Disney’s America never regained serious consideration. Ultimately, Disney came to the realization that fusing its iconic Mickey Mouse fantasies with the harsh and unvarnished truths of American history constituted an impracticable and ill-conceived notion.

As is common with various discontinued Disney endeavors, certain elements of Disney’s America found new manifestations in other forms. Notably, three of the park’s discarded rides found a place in California Adventure, which commenced operations in 2001. The Lewis and Clark river rapids experience metamorphosed into Grizzly River Run, while the World War II area materialized as Soarin’ and Condor Flats. Additionally, the state fair concept found a new home at Paradise Pier, thus preserving aspects of the abandoned project in an alternate context.

However, the early failure of Disney’s California Adventure warrants an entire article unto itself. For that park cost Disney an additional estimated $1 billion to fix – a figure much higher than its estimated original budget cut during design and construction – and make successful after its initial failed launch.

Today, the property is a ‘planned’ community with track housing surrounding a golf course all in a ‘colonial’ style, but with an overall look indicative of Celebration, Florida or the Horizons West development northwest of the Magic Kingdom.

Case Study: Boardwalk and Baseball

Boardwalk and Baseball Amusement Park Map
Boardwalk and Baseball Park Map

Boardwalk and Baseball was an amusement park located in Haines City, Florida adjacent to the Kansas City Royals baseball team’s spring training facility and reborn on the same site of the previously defunct Circus World amusement park. The park was built on a 100-acre site and opened in 1987. Unfortunately, it did not succeed as expected, and several factors contributed to its failure:

  1. Location: The park was situated in Haines City, which was not a prime tourist destination like Orlando or other popular Florida cities. This made it difficult to attract a consistent flow of visitors, particularly compared to the more well-known and established amusement parks in the region.
  2. Competition: Florida is home to numerous popular and world-famous theme parks like Disney World, Universal Studios, and SeaWorld. These well-established and highly-visited parks drew significant crowds and overshadowed the relatively lesser-known Boardwalk and Baseball.
  3. Financial Troubles: The park faced financial difficulties from the beginning, and it struggled to secure sufficient investment and operational funding. Lack of capital can severely limit an amusement park’s ability to maintain and expand its attractions, leading to a decline in visitor interest over time.
  4. Marketing and Advertising: The park failed to effectively market itself and did not receive as much media attention as other major theme parks in the area. As a result, many potential visitors may not have been aware of its existence or what it had to offer.
  5. Seasonal Nature of Tourism: Florida’s tourism industry is heavily influenced by the weather and seasonal patterns. The amusement park’s ability to generate revenue was likely hampered during off-peak seasons due to lower visitor numbers.
  6. Attraction Variety: While Boardwalk and Baseball had some notable attractions, it might not have had the same range and diversity of offerings as the larger and more established parks, making it less appealing to visitors seeking a wide variety of experiences.

Due to a combination of these factors, the park failed to generate enough revenue to sustain operations, leading to its closure in 1990, only three years after it opened. While the park’s specific circumstances may have been unique, the failure of Boardwalk and Baseball serves as a cautionary example of the challenges faced by amusement parks trying to compete in an already highly competitive and saturated market.

Fortunately, I had the opportunity to visit this amusement park prior to its closing during a Junior High school field trip in the late 1980’s. While, at the time, the park was fun it didn’t have the thrills and sustained ‘wow factor’ as its close neighbor a mere 9-miles away, the Walt Disney World Resort. Today, the baseball stadium and amusement park have long since been leveled, and a set of big box shopping centers adorn the property.


The world of theme parks, though seemingly a realm of enchantment and mirth, is a complex one that demands careful navigation. As we have explored the anatomy of theme park failures, it becomes evident that these captivating wonderlands are not impervious to the challenges of the business world. The path to prosperity for amusement parks is paved with innovation, strategic planning, and unwavering commitment to safety and quality.

By acknowledging the pitfalls that have befallen past endeavors, prospective park owners and operators can fortify themselves against potential missteps and aspire to create enduring havens of joy and imagination for generations to come. Ultimately, it is the pursuit of excellence and an unwavering passion for creating moments of magic that will distinguish the successful theme parks from the ones lost to history.

Related Topics

Scroll to Top