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Theme Park In A Box: New Tech Allows Shopping Centers To Install Turnkey Theme Park Experiences


Shoppers don’t often go to the mall to meet basic needs, they’re looking for something more—an experience they can share with family and friends. While most megamalls feature amusement park rides and indoor ski slopes, regional malls in small markets can’t justify the capital expenditure required for such attractions. However, that just got easier.

New technologies are allowing centers to offer a theme park-like experience, but with turnkey convenience and the economies of scale that come with amortizing design costs across multiple locations. DreamWorks and Crayola, and companies like them, are producing new attractions that can fill excess space in a regional mall and draw in more visitors.

Many shoppers that live in smaller metros do not have a quality theme park nearby, and now retailers and mall owners can turn centers into must-visit family destinations. Indeed, investors might consider buying and repositioning a B mall to become a themed destination.

A Mall Santa Like No Other

Visitors to one of 14 DreamWorks DreamPlace mall locations over the 2015 holiday season had a meeting with Santa unlike any other. The DreamPlace itself is a 2k SF cottage, covered in LED screens depicting snowfall and animated characters from the Shrek films. The family adventure features multiple stages of interactive activities culminating in a virtual sleigh ride to the North Pole with Shrek and friends. Guests are then deposited at Santa’s workshop for photos with Kris Kringle. The use of LED screens means that the cottage can be reprogrammed with new and different adventures.

However, the novelty of the attraction has not yet worn off. DreamWorks reports a high percentage of visits came from repeat guests. Malls pay a license fee to DreamWorks, and in exchange receive the increased footfall, along with a trove of consumer data that comes from families that have registered for their visits online.

Personalized Experience for Each Visitor

Until recently, visitors to Sawgrass Mills Mall and Mall of America were able to visit a life-size Barbie Dreamhouse. They might make cupcakes in Barbie’s kitchen, try on one of her outfits virtually via a magic mirror or see what it’s like to be on the runway of a fashion show. With RFID identity bracelets, the experience was personalized for each visitor.

While Barbie’s Dreamhouse has concluded its run, EMS Entertainment, the firm that created the exhibit, has produced other licensed exhibits ready for a mall near you, including CSI: The Experience and Star Trek: The Exhibition.

A Day of Fun for Kids and Parents

Have you ever wanted to create your own crayon color? Visitors to one of three Crayola Experiences can do that and much more in a series of attractions designed as a day’s worth of activities for children and their parents. With locations at Mall of America, The Florida Mall and downtown Easton, PA, the Crayola company says that it is on the lookout for future expansion. Crayola Experience locations are rather large. The Florida Mall location takes up 70k SF over two stories. Crayola also offers an example of smart co-tenancy moves. At the Florida Mall, Crayola is near an American Girl store and at Mall of America, the Rainforest Café was moved to be closer to the location.

Interactive Ice Palace is a New Experience Every Year

Visitors to one of ten Taubman shopping centers during the 2015 holiday season had a chance to visit the Peanuts Ice Palace. The 30-foot indoor dome featured simulated snow, a light show, a life-size Snoopy dog house and scenes from the newly released Peanuts movie. While this was the first year for Snoopy and the gang, the ice palace has been recycled for several years, being re-themed in partnership with a variety of films including Disney’s Frozen and recent Ice Age and Chronicles of Narnia installments.

Related Topics: James Cook, Retail Theme Parks