Was Hard Rock Park Family Friendly?

Warning: Today’s article may contain images and concepts that are NSFW. Unless, of course, you visited Hard Rock Park. In that case, you know exactly what you are getting yourself into. Enjoy!

After recently posting an article about the employees of Hard Rock Park, reader fan51 commented that saying phrases like “kick ass” doesn’t mean good customer service. He’s right. If any of you read that article felt that I was implying Hard Rock Park “Rockers” gave better service because they could be more liberal with their language, you’re reading between the lines a little too much. However, reader Jedited brings up an interesting point: “…as a father of four young children, I would not appreciate this kind of language spoken to my children. Although myself and my family would probably not be the target audience for this park.”

A photo seen very high on the wall of the Whammy Bar at Hard Rock Park Photo by Josh Young

A photo seen very high on the wall of the Whammy Bar at Hard Rock Park
Photo by Josh Young

Believe it or not, what the top brass told me over and over again, from their CEO Steven Goodwin on down is that Hard Rock Park was designed with the entire family in mind. Like it or not, “family values” is a constantly shifting needle that is interpreted differently based on a smattering of reasons, from age to religious beliefs to where you grew up or currently live. I am reminded of the story Annette Funicello tells in her auto-biography about specifically not wearing bikinis that showed her navel “out of respect for Mr. Disney” while she was under Walt’s contract. Disney Channel stars today are often allowed to show their navels (and more) on a station that is considered by most to be “wholesome.”

Annette Funicello

Annette Funicello

Hard Rock Park featured a show called Malibu Beach Party, a tribute/parody to all the great beach movies from the 1960’s featuring more current rock ‘n’ roll tunes mixed with classics from bands like The Beach Boys. There was a moment in Malibu where three guys that were referred to as “dead heads” come stumbling out of a van’s side door that has been filled with smoke. Keep in mind, there was no actual mention of marijuana, but it was inferred. I asked CEO Steven Goodwin what he would say if a guest complained about that moment in the show. With a smirk, he responded “Oh, that van? It’s having some engine problems. We just need to get it fixed.”

Photo by Josh Young

Photo by Josh Young

The finale of Malibu Beach Party featured high divers who jumped into a pool that was actually lit on fire. Before the three gentleman divers took the plunge, as a brief moment of comic interlude, they decided to have a “weeny roast.” Two scrawnier guys pulled out these oversized sausages on a comically large fork. A few seconds later, the buffest dude in the cast pulls out his weenie and it’s less than half the size of his companions. Clearly this is a wink at how well he is endowed, but it’s nothing more than that, just a wink. Most likely, if you are under 10-years-old, unless the gag is explained to you, it’ll sail right over your head.

Photo by Josh Young

Photo by Josh Young

Speaking of winking at an idea, I need to clear something up that many people who never visited the park have long misinterpreted. Nights in White Satin: The Trip was NOT about drugs or acid. Justin Hayward, of The Moody Blues, wrote the song in 1969 that the dark ride was based on when he was 19. “Nights in White Satin” was essentially about two love affairs that he was between at that time in his life. In essence, the song is about sex – but it’s far from descriptive compared to today’s standards. There were very vague silhouettes of a female dancing around at one point in the attraction, but that wasn’t scandalous.

Photo by Josh Young

Photo by Josh Young

Nowhere in the marketing of this attraction, which included billboards and the park maps, used the words drugs or acid to describe Nights in White Satin: The Trip. Nor did the employees. Riders were given a disposable pair of refractive glasses that made light seem to dance around like a prism. The various scenes presented for the latter half of the queue and throughout the ride used various lighting techniques to make the environment around you seem… trippy. To a seven-year-old, this just seemed like it was a ride with a weird song and even weirder “special effects,” which were actually quite simple and fairly cheap compared to Disney standards. Adults however, especially those that lived through the ‘60s and ‘70s got what “The Trip” part of the name was winking about 30 seconds into the ride. You could literally see parents laughing to themselves when that light bulb went off.

Photo by Josh Young

Photo by Josh Young

This is not to say that there wasn’t a blatant drug reference in Hard Rock Park. Located in the midway section near Born in the USA was a game called Pot Shot. It was a traditional milk bottle game where you hurled a ball at some bottles in hopes of knocking them all down. You’ve seen this in every theme park in America. However, the sign font design was of pot leaves.

Photo by Josh Young

Photo by Josh Young

Then there was the Great Meals Diner located just a few steps away from those midway games.  After the sunset, the neon sign would occasionally flicker and several letters “burned out” to reveal a sign that said “Eat Me Diner.” The sign only changed at night and at least during my time in the park, I never saw a kid under 10 even notice the change. Adults, however, loved it and constantly took pictures.

Photo Courtesy of HRP LLC USA

Photo Courtesy of HRP LLC USA

I have been told the most blasphemous thing in Hard Rock Park was this fanciful take on Michelangelo’s work in the Sistine Chapel entitled “Let There Be Rock”. Located under an archway in All Access Plaza (their version of Main Street USA), the mural shows God Himself bestowing the gift of rock ‘n’ roll to man. Considering Myrtle Beach, South Carolina is in the Bible Belt, plus the property sits directly adjacent to several churches, it helps explain why people were so upset. However, considering how much religious imagery is painted on to the ceiling of the Hard Rock Cafe in Orlando, I seriously have been scratching my head why this was such a big deal.

Photo by Josh Young

Photo by Josh Young

Finally, just beyond this mural in All Access Plaza was a shop where you could receive the full rock star treatment. Temporary tattoos as well as short term hair coloring were offered. Think of it like a Bibbity Bobbiti Boutique, except far less sparkly. To reader fan51’s response to my last article about Hard Rock Park Employees when he said, “There’s nothing wrong with a theme park hiring people who look like the intended theme park environment. They fit right in. Plus, the employees look like their intended customers. Also a plus. However, it can be a mistake to perceive that this is good customer service. It’s not quite the same.”  Make no mistake about it, “kick ass,” blue hair and tattoos have nothing to do with customer service. However, just because the employees are allowed to have tats, this does not mean they were trying to “attract a crowd” with body art. I am speaking as a 36-year-old white guy with no tattoos, no piercings and the hair I have left is not chemically altered, yet I loved Hard Rock Park.

Photo by Josh Young

Photo by Josh Young

The old school mentality of “people with tattoos are felons, drug dealers or worse” is slowly melting away. Now tattoo parlors are virtually everywhere. If you have one, most likely you’ve taken a trip down the street to the mall; hardly “bad ass” by anyone’s definition. Also, keep in mind that this article is stacking the deck against Hard Rock Park’s moral compass. I can also show you some extremely wholesome images and fantastic play places, arcades and dozens of photos of kids under the age of 10 having a blast. Also, if you are quick to jump the gun and say that the images and stories I shared above are part of the reason the place no longer exists, think again. Hardly anybody visited the place, period. Not enough word of mouth, good or bad, could have made a sizable impact on attendance during the short time they were open. My guess is, if you just read this article (being the savvy theme park junkie that you are) and you didn’t know about most of these details, hardly anyone else did either.

Personally? I applaud Hard Rock Park for moving the needle and pushing the boundaries of what is family-friendly. When you create theme parks about princesses and cartoon characters, it doesn’t make any sense to be edgy. However, an entire theme park centered around rock ‘n’ roll had to be less “magical” and a little more “bad ass” in order to do the brand and these bands any justice. Perhaps if Kidz Bop made their own theme park, it would have been a little “cleaner.” What do you think? Did Hard Rock Park push the boundaries a little too far? Also, what about Universal and Disney? Are they considered to be family friendly? I am going somewhere with this, so I genuinely do value your feedback.

Photo by Josh Young

Photo by Josh Young

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3 Comments

  1. jedited
    Posted April 22, 2014 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    I think that this type of thing is expected in a park that is themed to Rock and Roll. But I think that it pushes the boundary of “family friendly”. I think on the spectrum, you have Disney at the one end of family friendly, Universal in the middle and Hard Rock on the other end. Not to say that Hard Rock is not totally un-family friendly, but they definity push the boudaries. Look, I’m not alone here. The operators who took over Hard Rock, removed most of the questionable items. So obviously someone in their management agreed with me.
    We are definitely a “Disney” family. But for financial reasons we currently have passes to Universal Holllywood, but that has brought up things that I didn’t want to deal with, mostly with movies that my under 12 kids now wanted to see. Most of the attractions at Universal are based on PG-13 movies (and even the “kid” based ones, like Shrek, are naughty), while most of the Disney attractions are based on PG and (mostly) G movies.
    I understand that the problem for other operators is that Disney OWNS the family friendly market. So in order for them to survive, they have to go after a different market.

    • Josh Young
      Posted April 22, 2014 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

      Jedi, thanks for the feedback. I am actually going to write an article about Disney/Universal being family friendly as well. And, for the record, the new owners were forced to change the theming from Hard Rock Park to Freestyle Music Park because Jon Binkowski/Steven Goodwin still own all the intellectual property rights of Hard Rock Park. Anything from attraction names and themes to shows and Nights in White Satin The Trip all had to be changed due to intellectual property rights more so than “family friendly”.

  2. fan51
    Posted April 23, 2014 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    I feel honored to be quoted at least twice in this article. Since the park didn’t survive, I can’t help thinking that letting the park die peacefully is more respectful that being over critical, yet here we are. On your question, “Did Hard Rock Park push the boundaries a little too far?”, this is hard to say since I never really been there. While I might say yes based on how you’re describing it, I may need to see for myself. I will say your descriptions of the drug references as not real is a bit hard to believe. Whether they are or are explicit or actual, the park sure seem to go out of its way to not have the customer interpret the references “any other way”. Thus I have to conclude the park isn’t kid or family friendly.

    Being in the Bible belt, the religious imagery seems more daring. Its a matter of timing and location. Lets be clear, rock n roll pushes the boundaries. If it didn’t do it, then its not rock n roll. As a theme park, the owners have to decide if they are willing to dismiss a portion of this audience to adhere to their theme. I think its a costly mistake, along with charging the same price for kids and adults, implying the content is appropriate for both.

    With a toddler at home, I won’t make a special trip to such a park. It just seems weird and twisted. I can’t ignore the theme as the park focused on the hardcore rock music genre, which as a casual music lover, I don’t belong. Having been to numerous Hard Rock cafés around the world, I feel the theme park focuses on the cultural aspects of rock more than the music. Sex, Drugs, and Rock N Roll. Not my place.

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