Not too long ago, the only acknowledgment of diversity at American theme parks was Disney World’s boat ride through a lineup of dolls in native garb singing, “It’s a small world…after all.”
But, with the U.S. Hispanic population topping 50 million as of the 2010 census, change is in the air. Recent market trends show that Latinos are more likely to visit amusement parks than any other ethnic group: 189 percent more at Knott’s Berry Farm, 150 percent more at Disneyland, and 89 percent more at Sea World.
And theme parks are starting to take notice.
“It’s a small world” still plays at Disney World and Disneyland, but newer Latino characters – Nickelodeon’s Dora and Diego – interact with spectators at Universal’s Superstar Parade. Today, most theme park websites – including Disneyland, Busch Gardens, and Six Flags – offer at least one language translation – in Español. Most striking are new theme park trends designed with a Latino audience in mind.
Theme parks with regional Latino flavor
Two Six Flags theme park locations stand seemingly in sharp contrast on ambos sides of the border: Six Flags Mexico and Six Flags Fiesta Texas. Family attractions at Six Flags Mexico include: Cabaña del Tío Chueco, Curandero, and Piña Loca. Back in Texas, family rides sport regional labels: Texas Tumbler, The Hustler, and the Lone Star Lagoon.
Given a long history of theme park design with local flavor, it shouldn’t be surprising to find that Six Flags Fiesta Texas offers an ”energetic Latin show,” Ritmos Del Corazon. What’s more interesting is that Latin culture is seeping into traditionally “American” events such as Halloween celebrations at theme parks set in heavily Latino regions.
In 2010, Universal Studios Hollywood introduced the ghostly repentant, La Llorona, in its annual Halloween Horror Nights. The next year, Six Flags Magic Mountain (Los Angeles) added the scourge of Latin American goats, the fearsome Chupacabra, to its Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festival.
Which Latino tradition?
Now it appears that the Latino infusion is being tailored to the cultural traditions of the specific demographic in the region as seen at Viva la Música festivals in Busch Gardens Tampa, FL, SeaWorld Orlando, and SeaWorld San Diego.
If you go to Bush Garden’s Viva la Música in Tampa, FL April 15 through May 6, you will be treated to traditional Spanish Cuban cuisine from historic restaurants – The Colombia and La Teresita – who plan to serve Paella de Pollo, Ropa Vieja, Pinchos, and Smoked and Seasoned Suckling Pig.
Head to Sea World Orlando on April 15 through May 5, where Viva la Música highlights a Special Recipe: the Puerto Rican side dish, Mofongo. Meanwhile, on weekends in May 5 to 20, Sea World San Diego’s Viva la Música promises Mexican fare at a “fiery festival… with savory cuisine such as arroz con leche, shredded birria style beef tacos, escabeche shrimp cocktail.”
Is the hyper-local Viva la Música festival a sign of things to come? Savvy marketing? Both? Seems to me that Latino cultural appreciation is long overdue at theme parks around the nation.