Trends Report, December 2000. At the turn of the century, Family Travel Forum’s editor rounded up some of the more interesting trends of the past decade to share with readers. Trends Report, December 2000. At the turn of the century, Family Travel Forum’s editor rounded up some of the more interesting trends of the past decade to share with readers.
If we study the recent past to speculate on the future, the key travel trend we’re seeing is Entertainment Rules. Whether it’s a Jekyll & Hyde theme restaurant where cuisine is secondary to set design, or Medieval Times, which rates a B for at least educating children while thrilling and feeding them, children’s senses are being bombarded.
That’s both good and bad, as can be seen in three leading edge sectors of the travel industry — theme parks, transportation and lodging.
Here’s the Scorecard we used to rate the travel industry at the dawn of the new millennium:
- A = Super
- B = Above Average
- C = Satisfactory
- D = Needs Improvement
- F = Nightmare
Theme parks will continue to be the major attraction for families — over 54% cited them as the primary summer vacation destination in a 1999 ASTA/Fodor’s survey. However, I believe parents will demand more educational or experiential content, comfort, and convenience from increasingly expensive parks.
Through 2000 and beyond, you’ll certainly see more “You will get wet!” rides (B) sprout in rural theme parks and more virtual reality games (B), motion control rides (D) and video arcades (D-) dominate urban entertainment complexes.
Although Florida’s Walt Disney World has grown so large it’s self-defeating for families to try to see it all, Disney’s art direction and creativity are unparalleled. Individual attractions, such as Magic Kingdom’s Crystal Pavilion (A) where Pooh and friends genuinely entertain diners or Animal Kingdom’s creepy-crawly, holographic 3D “It’s Tough to be a Bug” show (B+) are among the best of their genre.
In contrast, California’s Disneyland is just the right size for preschoolers, who will love the Dumbo ride, Barney play park and easy-to-spot characters. Ironically, Disney’s charmingly retro Tomorrowland (C) appeals more to nostalgic adults than to children weaned on Star Wars. At Disneyland Paris, little ones can take a surprisingly delicious Toy Story High Tea (B+) with Buzz Lightyear and Woody.
Universal Studios Hollywood rules with teens because it so entertainingly teaches visitors about movie special effects. The sleight of hand at the King Kong (B+) and Earthquake (A-) rides is timed beautifully — little ones don’t notice the environment righting itself for the next tram full of tourists but older kids are fascinated by a glimpse of how everything works. At Orlando’s Universal Escape, the new Islands of Adventure theme park based on classic (and some dated) pop characters succeeds by integrating lots of activities for all ages with the rides. New technology experiences such as the Lost Continent’s Poseidon’s Fury (B+) multimedia show and the “You-Bet Jurassic” (A-) interactive game in the Jurassic Park Discovery Center may even educate some jaded young riders. Even children under the 54″ mega-ride height limit are empowered — the clever Camp Jurassic and Seuss Landing’s play areas (both armed with themed water squirters and climbing gyms) enable them to create their own world of play.
Perhaps because they don’t have a storehouse of adorable characters and movie heroes, Anheuser-Busch excels at ‘amusement’ in their amusement parks. World culture, wildlife and dramatic storylines are used to mask screaming coaster rides and interesting gift shops. Experience the super-splashy Congo River Rapids (B+) at the Africa-themed Busch Gardens Tampa or the evocative Escape from Pompeii (B+) in the European park at Busch Gardens Williamsburg and I guarantee all ages will feel as if they’ve been ‘away.’
SeaWorld leads the wildlife park pack, with excellent trained marinelife shows (A), entertaining stunt and extreme sports displays (B+), and imaginative aquarium exhibits (A-). The well-trained educational staff (B+) encourages questions from visitors to enhance the experience. Inexpensive behind-the-scenes tours (my family toured SeaWorld Orlando’s animal hospital and marine rehabilitation unit) get an A for reinforcing the learning.
It doesn’t take a seer to predict there will be increasing air travel in the future. But it took a visionary to realize that turning airports into entertainment venues could diffuse the negative experiences — from jet lag to air rage — of plane travel.
An A for effort goes to the following oases in an otherwise barren landscape of crowds, flight delays and aggravation. The Children’s Museum of Chicago-designed children’s play area in O’Hare International’s Terminal 2 is the place restless youth can fuel a cargo plane, play pilot in their own cockpit, or just chill with Legos until departure time. Boston’s Logan and Pittsburgh International have equally impressive facilities for the public.
At Amsterdam’s Schipol, you can bring the baby to a nursery full of cribs with fresh linens, where licensed nannies will watch her while you buy tulip bulbs or gamble.
British Airways operates a supervised creche at Heathrow; Madrid’s Barajas International andTokyo’s Narita provide run-around play areas. Frankfurt Am Main has both a play area and easy access to quick sightseeing on longer layovers. Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur Airport provides 48 free, high-speed Internet ports in the Plaza Premium Lounge, where you can entertain the kids with online gaming. Seoul’s Kimpo International is the starting point for Korean cultural tours if your family has six hours to spare.
The picture gets better. Singapore’s Changi International runs a super slick skytrain to its fitness rooms and swimming pools and a free city tour for those with a longer layover. Air France operates the chic Planète Bleue lounge for passengers age 2-12 at JFK’s Terminal One, near the new Vetport for Fido. Orlando International emulates Orlando the city, with a miniature arcade, gift shops from every imaginable media giant, a 2,000-gallon SeaWorld aquarium, and a cafe where the staff performs to blaring music every quarter hour.
At Miami International you can shop at all hours, swim in the airport hotel’s rooftop pool for a nominal fee, or snack on bocaditos and cafe con leché at Terminal D’s La Carreta or its arch Cuban rival, Versailles. Atop LAX’s spider-shaped Theme Building, there’s an observation deck and just below, the Disney-designed, space age Encounter, an elegant dining room featuring global nouvel.
Though adventuring families may get a rush from thatch-roof airports where bags are claimed on the tarmac, the future will bring more of the amenities that frequent business travelers (and their children) demand.
Hotels & Resorts
By consumer demand, targetted-to-families vacation housing has steadily evolved into apartment style units outfitted with the modcons of home. Holiday Inn’s new Family Suites
Resort Lake Buena Vista gets an A for taking the concept a step further. This mid-priced, wave – of – the – future, 24-acre property will soon boast 800 customized suites with kitchenettes, each decorated to lure a different segment of the Orlando market. Families with older children can reserve compact, well-furnished suites; those with young children will find safari decor and character-themed areas.
Best yet, every Family Suite second bedroom is stocked with bunk beds, a pullout sleeper, complimentary sleeping bags for extra siblings, TV, VCR, phone, and Nintendo player. The resort’s reservation system puts families with children near the large, safe yet playful pool, and reserves West Courtyard suites for business travelers, honeymooners and other adults. Public facilities include indoor and outdoor playgrounds, a video game arcade, guest laundry, free breakfast buffet and shuttles to DisneyWorld.
Recognizing that their family market wants more quality time with children, the pioneering Holiday Hound supervised kids’ camp is being phased out in favor of participatory and learning activities for parents and children together.
The Atlantis Resort in Paradise Island, Bahamas scores an A for effort among destination resorts trying to distinguish themselves as family-friendly. Despite its enormous size and the waiting lines at most restaurants, Atlantis is improving its expensive and not particularly kid-friendly food service. To the remarkable outdoor recreation spaces (which already boasted the world’s largest open air aquarium), they’ve added a state-of-the-art waterslide complex. The Dig, a stunning new underwater re-creation of the lost continent, reinforces what the resort likes to call its ‘highly interactive and participatory marine entertainment environment.’
Responding to their customers’ demand for supervised childcare, Atlantis recently launched a day and evening counselor-led program that is so innovative, it should serve as a model for America’s public school system. This impressive, educational and interactive camp (ages 5-12) was developed with the Discovery Channel to satisfy any parent feeling guilty about leaving their child to play tennis, get a facial, or even gamble. In my experience, the learning opportunities at the Discovery Channel Camp go so far beyond anything offered at other resorts, that parents should look upon it as enrichment rather than daycare.
And on that happy note, I want to thank every family traveler who flexed his/her collective market muscle to improve the facilities we all share. You deserve an A+ for a job that looks like it’s going to be pretty well done!
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