I love theme parks. Always have. Since I was a little kid, I used to study park maps and read up on anything I could get my hands on to learn about the business. As an adult, I continue to study parks from an insider’s perspective, looking for unique story angles to share with Theme Park University readers.
Most theme park websites cover roller coasters, and as much as I love the big rides, I feel like the details of the park are often overlooked. Personally, I always find a sense of joy finding a theme park employee who excels at their job and makes a lasting impression long after I have gone.
Let’s face it. Ride operators are paid very little. Even though the job comes with its own unique set of challenges, no one is driving their BMW to work in order to hit the flashing green button. While the job does come with some perks like free park admission, it’s often a thankless role where you have to make your own magic to get through the day.
In my experience, giant theme park chains (Disney, Universal or Sea World) often force their employees to create some sort of “spontaneous moment” for their guests. It must be done on a certain schedule, as often as once an hour, or else that employee could face disciplinary action. These can be anything from having a child “pilot” a boat that’s on a fixed track to granting a random family VIP seating for a show or parade.
Often times these “spontaneous” interactions come off as forced because…. well… they are. However, if you hire the right people who have a passion for their job and give them the freedom to create truly memorable guest experiences, it will happen organically and those dividends pay off far more than any pre-planned moment ever could.
For example, on a recent trip to Hersheypark, I took a ride on the Trailblazer in the Pioneer Frontier section of the park. For those of you unfamiliar, the Trailblazer is a family coaster built by Arrow and opened in 1974. As for many kids, myself included, these smaller mine train style coasters are often a child’s first introduction to “big kid” rides. Thus, you see many youngsters on their very first ride with their parents on the Trailblazer. Seriously, next time you are in a park with one of these coasters, pay attention to how many kids are going through their first right of passage. It’ll bring back memories.
On the day of my visit, a Hersheypark employee named Jimmy was working the load station checking lap bars and helping to dispatch the trains. Jimmy is an older gentleman compared to most of the staff working the Traiblazer, which is a rarity seen in theme parks these days. Yet, regardless of his age, the guy had more spunk than any other employee I encountered at the park that day.
I never spoke to Jimmy. I didn’t have to. You could see it in the twinkle in his eye that he loved interacting with the children who rode the Trailblazer. And then? After he checked all the lap bars and the train was leaving the station, he proclaims to the riders: “Hands up! Or else…” Jimmy then pulls out a fully loaded water pistol from his back pocket. Anyone not putting their hands in the air was going to get the business end of a $1 squirt gun Jimmy clearly brought from home.
To the untrained eye, you may not think that Jimmy’s sly “stick ‘em up” Wild West routine is all that exciting compared to the ride on a roller coaster. For me? It was one of the highlights of my day at Hersheypark. He genuinely adored the guests, loved his job and did it well. Bravo, Jimmy!