Theme Parks’ Newest Attraction: Pokémon GO!

Posted in Theme Parks on Monday, August 1, 2016
Author: Ryan L. Terry

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“Gotta Catch ‘Em All,” and catching’em in the theme parks adds a whole new level of fun! In many ways, as the record breaking app from Niantic continues to develop and attract new players, an unofficial attraction is being added to many theme parks, if not all of them at this point. In Florida, the park that has taken the lead in attracting Pokémon trainers is Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. But catching common and rare Pokémon is not limited to Busch Gardens, but SeaWorld, Disney, and Universal are also hotbeds of PokéHunting! Although catching Pokémon is possible in all the Theme Parks, to the best of my knowledge, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay launched continual lurethons in July and August to capitalize on the summer crowds. A lure is an item earned or purchased in the game that can be placed at a PokéStop to draw Pokémon to that area for 30 mins and a PokéStop is a landmark or location that offers you items like Pokéballs and potions when you are in close range of said stop. These lurethons are also highly effective for luring in locals after work during the week and on weekends. As I have been catching Pokémon in the parks over the last couple of weeks, I have made some anecdotal observations that I’d like to share. The most important one being, better invest in a portable charger!

Safety Note: Please remember to always look where you're walking, do not trespass, cut lines or run. There's tons of Pokémon out there!

If you have been to the theme parks, whether in Florida, California, or pretty much anywhere for the matter, you have likely noticed many park guests with their respective faces glued to their phones–more than usual that is. Or, you may have been behind someone briskly walking and then all of a sudden slows down, if not stops. Most likely, those park guests are playing Pokémon GO. Perhaps YOU are that park guest–I know I am. Haha. One of the first observations I’ve made as I have played in the parks is the social element. There is already a social element to the game in general, but it appears to be amplified in the parks. While walking around the parks, it was not uncommon for other Pokémon GO players to ask me what team I was on (Mystic, btw) or what I was trying to catch. A security guard at Hollywood Studios asked me how many Pokéballs I had lost while catching three Pokémon near his post. We then proceeded to talk Pokémon for several minutes. I greatly appreciate this new dynamic to the theme park experience. As I seem to be perpetually caught in the single life (ugh), I normally go to the parks alone. Knowing that this app provides a great platform for starting conversations with others who may be by themselves or with other Pokémon Trainers is really encouraging! Perhaps you and your friends love to take over gyms together. If gym battling is of great importance to you, then you will find some great gyms in the parks, especially if you’re looking for level 3+.

From the social to the experiential, this app has you covered while enjoying the parks! Although Florida is nicknamed the sunshine state, summer thunderstorms are no stranger to the typical afternoon. For parks like Busch Gardens and SeaWorld that have many outdoor attractions, the lightning can greatly hinder ride operations. Last week on a PokéHunt at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, a message over the loudspeakers stated something to the effect of “outdoor attractions are temporarily closed due to inclement weather.” Under normal circumstances, I may have been disappointed that I couldn’t ride Cobra’s Curse, Montu, and more, but I was having so much fun catching Pokémon that I didn’t think twice about the coasters being closed. Many times when an announcement like that one is made, it is not uncommon to hear park guests complaining. Despite the closures, I did not hear nearly as many guests complaining about not being able to experience the coasters. Could that be because many of the guests, like me, were also playing Pokémon GO? Perhaps; although, without asking a significant number of guests, there is no way of knowing for sure. Pokémon GO is not unlike other scavenger hunts in the parks. Notably, Disney’s Sorcerers game is a prime example of an interactive scavenger hunt. It is entirely possible that there could be exclusive Pokémon primarily found in the parks if this trend continues. Playing games to pass the time in queue or walking between attractions is definitely not a new concept, but Pokémon GO provides park guests with a game that helps pass the time, provides opportunities to interact with other guests, contains many challenging and strategic elements, and will keep you entertained even when attractions are closed.

There have been many articles written previously on the health benefits of playing Pokémon GO, so I don’t feel the need to explore the required increased physical activity–required, that is, if you want to enjoy all the benefits of the game–that is associated with the app. However, I think it’s important to look at the physical activity element as it relates to playing in the theme parks. It can be quite physically, emotionally, and psychologically draining to walk from attraction to attraction in the summer heat. Fortunately, it appears as though playing Pokémon GO distracts one from negative thoughts or feelings during the endless walking. Now, walking between attractions or around the park, in general, is part of the fun! Racking up kilometers in the parks is a great way to hatch eggs. If you are unfamiliar with the game, one element of it is walking a certain number of kilometers (1.54mi/1K) to hatch the respective egg in the incubator. There are different distances (2km/5km/10km), and the longer the distance the more rare the Pokémon generally. I found myself taking the long way around a park or between attractions just to increase the number of kilometers walked.

Instead of taking away from the park experience, it appears as though playing Pokémon GO adds to the enjoyment of the parks. This is definitely true for those of us who frequent the parks weekly. Playing in the parks on a regular basis may generate a feeling of the theme park feeling like one’s backyard or neighborhood playground. And like with your childhood back yard or neighborhood playground, it forced you to use your imagination to create new adventures for you and your friends. It’s not that the neighborhood park was boring; it’s just that it was a regular part of your life. Being a theme park regular is not unlike the aforementioned. I have thoroughly enjoyed this new experiential element to my time in the parks. It’s like a whole new experience! In addition to enjoying my favorite rides, I can continually enjoy catching Pokémon and spinning the wheel at PokéStops. Oh yeah, there are SO MANY PokéStops in the parks. You may even find yourself having to empty your backpack because it becomes full. Although there have been some concerns about park guests finding themselves venturing into backstage areas, this does not appear to be a common occurrence. I am looking forward to witnessing how this game continues to affect theme park operations, offerings, and special events. Perhaps exclusive Pokémon will be added to the parks or special Disney Pokémon. With Universal acquiring the theme park rights to Nintendo in 2015, it is entirely possible that Pokémon GO may have a strong presence in the Nintendo themed areas even though Nintendo itself does not reserve the theme park rights to Pokémon GO. While Nintendo does own the rights to the regular Pokemon games, Nintendo currently has nothing to do with Pokémon GO; it's strictly Niantic and The Pokémon Company. If you do not live close to the parks, I definitely want to encourage you not to be glued to the game when you have the opportunity to go; you may miss incredible sights, sounds, and time with family and friends. Playing Pokémon GO in the parks should add to the experience, not take away from valuable time with others. I’m always looking for folks with whom to catch Pokémon, so if you are ever in the Tampa or Orlando area, hit me up!

Find a rare Pokémon in a cool spot!? Tag @ThrillzCo or #Thrillz in your post to have a chance to win a Pokémon GO team decal for FREE! *Contest ends August 20, 2016. Many will play, not all will win.

Thank you Derek Rosenberg from Unmasked On Air for contributing to this article! If you enjoy video games, comic books, and movies, visit their website by clicking the link below.

Reference Link(s): Get The Pokémon GO App Today!

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Ryan L. Terry

Ryan L. Terry

Ryan (right) is a theme park enthusiast living in Central Florida, and loves going to the parks as often as possible! He's an annual passholder to Disney, Universal, Busch Gardens, and SeaWorld. In the Fall of 2017, his Thrillz article on Turn it Up: the Hottest Show on Ice at Busch Gardens was cited in a massive ad campaign. He also loves horror films and just movies in general! If you see him out and about in the Florida parks, stop him to say hi! 

Ryan holds a Master of Arts degree in Media Studies (with a concentration in cinema and themed entertainment) from the University of South Florida. His research area is on the convergence of cinema and theme parks. He explores ideas such as narrative, spectacle, setting, and setting in terms of movies and themed entertainment. Learning how to successfully translate an idea of intellectual property from one medium into another is the primary goal of his predictable model for creative design that affects both theme parks and the cinema.

Although he loves to write for Thrillz, his "day jobs" are working as a video editor for Disney on Ice and teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa.

He is also a figure skater.

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