Summer Lovin’, Had Me A Blast: A Friday Chat About Amusement Parks

Ester: Hello! Happy approaching-the-end-of-proper-summer. How do you feel about the conclusion of this particular season?

Nicole: I am so ready. Today my new iPhone 6 told me that the temperature was going to be in the 70s, and I was all “FINALLY.” How about you?

Ester: Ack! God no. It’s still hot here, maybe slightly less broiling than it was for a while, but still hot enough that I don’t have to grab a light sweater even when I go out at night and that’s my favorite. SUMMER 4EVA. I rage against the dying of the midsummer light.

Nicole: I mean, I do appreciate summer. But it is nice to be able to sleep under a blanket, instead of on top of turned-down sheets. If only we had a season with all the daylight but also comfortable temperatures! Is that, like, Iceland? And then you get six months of none of the daylight in exchange?

Ester: Yeah, not worth it, probably. Though people in Iceland do seem pretty happy. All 60 of them.

Anyway, this weekend we’re celebrating the last happy days by taking Babygirl to a water park for the very first time. I’m a little apprehensive, since we’ve never taken her to anything like that before, but … it should be fun? Probably?

Nicole: Does Babygirl swim? Has she been in pools before? Or is this both First Water Park and First Pool Experience?

Ester: Whoa, yeah, that would be intense. That would be like when I was at a summer program at Barnard and a friend of mine told me that, for her boyfriend’s birthday, she gave him a threesome with her and her best friend — even though he had never had sex before. The people involved were all 15.

Nicole: Okay. I’m just… okay. I mean, that is nothing like a water park, I hope.

Ester: Well, it is in that it is not starting out slow! She told me all this, by the way, as context, cause she wanted to know what to get him for his next birthday, which was coming up, and I was like, “It’s true, you set the bar pretty high.”

Anyway, yes, Babygirl has done lots of water this summer: pools, beaches, and so on. She’s loved it. So we’re going to graduate to a water park, which is, I think, generally, is how these things ought to go.

Nicole: Well, since we’ve already brought threesomes into it, I will ask: are you prepared to find poop and vomit in the waterslides?

Ester: WHAT??

Nicole: That is like, the top Child Water Park hazard. Right? Isn’t it “take your kid to a water park, find out that some other child pooped in the slide?”

Ester: Holy God, Nicole, I hope not! Ben and I have been to this particular water park before and we did not encounter any bio-hazards. Of course, we weren’t in the kiddie part, but still. This is a thing? Ugh, never mind, don’t tell me, I’m going to try to wipe my memory of this entire exchange, Men In Black-style. Quick, talk about something else.

Nicole: Okay. Money. Because that’s our topic. So when you plan for things like water parks, do you include all the extras, like the candy and the fan on a stick and the hat that reads “Babygirl’s First Water Park?” Or do you go bare-bones? Just the water, no extras?

Ester: My plan is bare bones plus. That’s to say, water park, check. And maybe one food treat while we’re there. No souvenirs that become worthless as soon as the gate closes behind us. I wasn’t raised to think those were a part of the experience so I’m comfortable raising Babygirl that way too.

What about you? Do you factor those expenses into your own amusement park experiences? Or do you go to the other extreme and bring your own sandwiches, even to, like, Six Flags?

Nicole: We used to go to Six Flags once or twice a year, and I don’t remember them letting you bring food in. And when I did Disney last year we didn’t bring food in, although I believe they’ll let you bring in a very little bit. So for me my big park expense is food. I didn’t buy any Disney souvenirs last year, and I don’t recall owning any Six Flags souvenirs. But I do impulse-buy snacks. Because that food thing shaped like a Mickey head looks so tasty.

Ester: Of course it does! I think the food is part of the experience. Funnel cake bought in real life would be disgusting but at a fair it’s crucial. Ditto, I’m sure, something shaped like a Mickey head or, if you were visiting that Harry Potter theme park, their version of Butterbeer. Something you can’t get on the outside, or something that would taste terrible on the outside, is usually worth paying for. Except bad fries. I draw the line at bad fries.

I wonder if theme parks operate like movie theaters, which is to say they make most of their money on the food and drinks and so rely on customers making those purchases.

Nicole: I bet Six Flags does, or at least it did when I was a kid 20 years ago. I remember they were practically giving tickets away. Buy a six-pack of Coke, get a Six Flags ticket. But Disney makes money at every turn, right?

Ester: I imagine! I think I’ve mentioned that my family never took us to Disney, and I’ve still never been, even as an adult. My entire conception of the place comes from pop culture and commercials, and I have a hard time remembering which one is ‘Land and which one is ‘World.

Nicole: I hope you get to go someday. The thing about Disney is that they have designed every experience to maximize your happiness and delight, unlike, say, airports, where they design every experience to corral you until you get to the main event. At Disney, waiting in line for a ride is fun. How is that even possible.

Ester: I don’t know! I’m even a little skeptical, though I’m willing to take your word for it. They have some savvy marketing and party planning-type people in their employ. Was your favorite theme park-type experience as a kid at Disney? At Six Flags? Or elsewhere?

Nicole: I have yet to meet an amusement park I haven’t LOVED. So all of the above. I have a soft spot in my heart for Silver Dollar City, which is this little gem hidden in Missouri that is like “amusement park plus old-timey town,” which hits both my amusement park and historical re-enactment buttons. What about you? Do you have fond memories of rides and funnel cakes and people in costumes dancing around from your own childhood?

Ester: That sounds so cute! Kind of like Busch Gardens / Williamsburg in Virginia, maybe?

Nicole: You know I wanted to go to Colonial Williamsburg SO BADLY. I was like “pleeeeeeease Mom, I want to wander around and pretend I’m Felicity.”

Ester: It’s fun! Though it’s also a little awkward watching women in billowing skirts churn butter in 100 degree heat. We went through a different old timey village on the drive up to Maine, too, thanks to a tip from our neighbors: while we had lunch, we got to watch people strolling around in Revolutionary War garb getting ready for a reenactment. Babygirl is such a New Yorker already that she wasn’t even phased; she just watched everyone go by with their drums and fifes and three-corner hats and shrugged like, “Cool, you do you.”

Nicole: So has Babygirl figured out yet that there are souvenirs and things at these parks and events for people to buy, and that her family is not buying them?

Ester: She remains entirely innocent, bless her soul. How long can that last? I don’t know. She turns three in a few weeks. Perhaps then capitalism will sink its harpy claws into the tender underside of her heart and she will start demanding that we buy her things. For now she lives in blissful ignorance.

In terms of my favorite theme park experience, I think it was when I was a little older and the summer camp I was at took us all on a day trip to some low-rent, small time Massachusetts thingy full of creaky, adorable rides and it was amazing. A boy I had a crush on won me a little purple stuffed animal and then we rode the Ferris wheel together … I totally felt like I was #winning at pre-adolescent romance.

Nicole: Yes. That feeling of riding the Scrambler with a boy, and snuggling up into his arm while he holds you to provide that extra bit of protection from BEING SCRAMBLED, is so very very teenager. And then they always want to buy you souvenirs, and you put that little piece of plush toy on your dresser and it slowly collects dust and you love it.

Ester: Yes, exactly, yes. That is summer. And that is worth paying for.

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