I wrote this article about creating memorable moments for the June 2018 edition of Seasonal Entertainment Source (A free industry magazine for professionals in the seasonal attraction industry).

Create Memorable Moments – Elevate Moments At Your Attraction Into Memories

The most successful attractions in the industry are able to create memorable moments that frequently become lifetime memories for guests. What’s the special alchemy for turning memorable moments into lifetime memories? Prolific business writers Chip and Dan Heath explore this question in their latest book “The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact”. This article combines research with my real-world examples from the attractions industry.


One of the main methods the writers recommend for crafting these types of moments is called elevation. Elevation refers to experiences that rise above the routine to make you feel engaged, joyful, or motivated. Elevation is a natural component for attractions to lean into. Picture a heart monitor and imagine the jagged line on the monitor as your customer’s journey at your attraction throughout the day. So, how can you take your guests’ natural peaks and elevate the highlights of their day even higher? Attractions can raise elevation and create more memorable moments by boosting sensory appeal, raising the stakes, and breaking the script.

Boost The Sensory Appeal

Sensory appeal involves engaging as many of the senses as possible to make your attraction’s experience create memories that last. Visually, some examples include colorful landscaping or over-the-top scenic pieces that capture guests’ attention. In addition to memory making, successful visual appeal translates into more photos being taken at your attraction and shared throughout social media. Another way to visually boost sensory appeal is by encouraging your guests to dress up in costumes. During the recent PEANUTS Celebration at Knott’s Berry Farm, our team created “Charlie Brown Day.” Guests were encouraged to dress up as the lovable blockhead from the PEANUTS comic strip to win prizes and set a world record. Throughout the park, hundreds of people were dressed in Charlie Brown’s trademark yellow with black stripe. The event boosted sensory appeal for guests that were not participating or even aware of the promotion in a cost-effective way.

Charlie Brown Day Memorable Moment at Knott's Berry Farm
Charlie Brown Day © Knott’s Berry Farm

Don’t forget about the other four main senses. In addition to sight, sensory appeal can be boosted through hearing, touch, taste and even smell too. The key is ensuring your attraction is activating these senses in unique ways. Custom soundtracks can become iconically tied to attractions for guests. Disney has perfected tieing music into attractions, firework shows, parades and lands. Just the first few notes of a song from a beloved attraction transports guests back to that moment in their life. Haunted houses have used scent machines for years in creative ways to boost the realism and impact of certain scenes. Blackout mazes in the haunt industry have tapped into the sense of touch using different materials for walls to invoke a variety of fears. The growth of high-quality food at theme parks continue to elevate the sense of taste by creating uniquely delicious dishes that can’t be found anywhere else. The most successful attractions in the industry don’t focus on boosting only one sense, but instead try to activate all five as much as possible to achieve maximum sensory appeal.

Memorable Moments Through Food FunBun At Knott's Berry Farm
Fun Bun at Knott’s Boysenberry Festival © Knott’s Berry Farm

Raise The Stakes

Another method to achieve elevation is by raising the stakes for guests at your attractions. This method has been employed since the attraction industry’s beginning in festivals and fairs well over a century ago. Competitiveness is a strong emotion to tie into that continues to help the raise the stakes. From the earliest midway games to today’s 4-D interactive scoring rides, competition drives emotions and creates memorable moments. The scoring component of attractions such as Toy Story Mania at Disney’s California Adventure and Voyage to the Iron Reef at Knott’s Berry Farm help continue the conversation between guests about the experience after it’s over and are a big part of the re-rideability of both attractions.

Jurassic Park Memorable Moment at Universal Studios
Jurassic Park: The Ride © Universal Studios

The vast majority of story-driven rides and attractions seize upon the successful trope of “then things went terribly wrong” to amp up the stakes and increase the adrenaline of guests. Jurassic Park: The Ride at Universal Studios starts off as a leisurely boat ride showcasing friendly herbivore dinosaurs in a safe zoo-like environment before the ride “malfunctions.” The stakes are raised as guests are sent hurtling down the wrong path into the habitat full of carnivorous dinosaurs before coming face-to-face with a massive t-rex and 85-foot drop finale.

Shanghai Disneyland’s incredible Pirates of the Caribbean Battle for the Sunken Treasure attraction takes sensory appeal to a completely new level thanks to groundbreaking technology and an over $100 million budget.

Memorable Moments At Shanghai Disneyland Pirates of the Caribbean Boat Battle
Shanghai Disneyland Pirates of the Caribbean Boat Battle © Disney

There are a number of other ways to raise the stakes. Most successful escape rooms combine the storytelling trope with competitiveness and a ticking clock to raise stakes to an even higher level. Haunted houses seize on different fears to increase blood pressure and raise the emotional stakes of the experience Seasonal events help raise the stakes by creating a fear of missing out through a limited time offering that can help convince people to get off the couch and into your attraction. There’s just so many options in today’s world that if they think, “OK, that’s going to be there next year, the year after,” there’s not that urgency to go and do it. Both Cedar Fair and Six Flags chains have expanded seasonal event offerings in recent years with great success. From multi-million dollar attractions to pop-up events, there are a variety of ways to raise the stakes no matter your attraction’s size, budget or theme.

Break The Script

There’s a lot of potential for breaking the script at attractions. Take the normal rhythm of what guests expect from your attraction culture, and then do something to surprise them, to elevate it. Holiday World in Santa Claus, Indiana is famous for providing free sunscreen, soda and parking to every guest. The park has built a brand around breaking the script that the rest of the industry employs. The interactive summer experience, Ghost Town Alive!, at Knott’s Berry Farm, breaks the script by bringing over 25 characters to life that tell an immersive story that guests can become a part of. Most live entertainment is a passive experience yet Ghost Town Alive! breaks the script by involving guests and having them play starring roles. Haunted houses and attractions with various “choose your adventure” type paths have employed a similar technique of breaking guest expectations with what an attraction experience can be.

Ghost Town Alive! Memorable Moment At Knott's Berry Farm
Ghost Town Alive! Interactive Experience © Knott’s Berry Farm

Big ideas are great, but there are also small things like giving out a free birthday button that can go a long way to making that a memorable moment and just elevating that experience. So, it doesn’t have to be some huge grand gesture all the time, you can balance it out with smaller moments that are more scalable if you’re at a bigger attraction. It’s all about the concept of reducing negative variance and increasing positive variance. There needs to be that balance of still breaking the script but not becoming part of the script. The key is making these moments genuine too, and that’s why employees are so important in the process. They can make so many of these moments when they’re given the freedom to, when they’re able to turn that frown upside down with something as simple as when a kid has dropped an ice cream cone and you just go over and give them a new one. That’s a memorable moment that’s unexpected. Empower your employees by providing them with the ability to create these little moments without needing permission from management.

The Business Case

Research suggests that organizations dramatically under-invest in building peaks, choosing instead to fill potholes. Forester’s researchers built a model of financial value for a customer and they found that an airline customer who gives a 7 out of 10 rating spends $2,200 on air travel throughout the year versus customers who give a 4 rating spend only $800. The study shows that if you can elevate a positive guest experience you earn about 9 times more revenue than if you just go and eliminate the negatives.

The attractions industry sees this same effect by converting happy day guests or first-time Season Passholders into long-term Season Passholders. Over the years, these returning Season Passholders generate significant revenue and become the attractions best brand ambassadors. Many regional theme parks bring in 50% or more of their attendance from Season Passholders.

One example mentioned in “Power of Moments” from the airline industry is from Southwest Airlines. The analytics groups for the company calculated that if they could double the number of customers hearing a funny on-board announcement, that would result in more than 140 million in revenue per year. Southwest empowered their flight attendants to be more creative and funny by not requiring them to follow the usual script.

Memorable Moments Create Lifetime Memories and Nostalgia

How do you create nostalgia? You start by building memorable moments that can turn into lifetime memories down the line. These investments in your experience pay dividends later on. If you do it really well, if you’re able to build those connections and memorable moments, this is what the kids remember when they’re 13, 14, 15, when they’re 20, 30, when they have kids and want to bring their kids back, is those memorable moments they had at your attraction.

Thank your for reading this article. If you would like to learn more about this topic, check out Episode 2 of the “Marketing Your Attraction” podcast where I discussed this topic in-depth with my co-host Philip. Make sure to also subscribe to the free industry magazine Seasonal Entertainment Source.