“About Theme Parks” with Writer Arthur Levine
For many years, I’ve been a listener of CoasterRadio.com. For those who are familiar (or unfamiliar), a frequent guest on the original theme park podcast is theme park writer Arthur Levine, who often helps CoasterRadio with their “Upcoming Year in Theme Parks” episodes, highlighting many of the new attractions in a coming year.
I’ve always wanted to learn more about the man behind the theme park coverage on TripSavvy (formerly About.com) and USA Today, and thankfully, Arthur was kind enough to give us a few minutes of his time!
C101: For our readers who might not know Arthur Levine, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?
I’m a lifelong fan of parks and attractions, and I’ve been a theme park journalist since 1992. I consider myself extremely blessed to be able to combine my avocation and my vocation–to be able to work on something about which I am so passionate. My primary gigs are with TripSavvy, which used to be About.com, USA Today, and Funworld, the industry trade publication for IAAPA. My content has also been published by Thrillist, Paste Magazine, The Denver Post, The Boston Globe, and many other outlets. Readers can find links to many of my articles at my About Theme Parks site: https://aboutthemeparks.net.
C101: When you’re not writing about theme parks, what are some of your other projects?
My park writing accounts for about half of my work. I also have my own writing and communications business and have clients in unrelated industries such as construction, labor organizations, and health care.
C101: How did you first develop your interest in and love for theme parks and attractions? Do you remember any of your amusement park “firsts?”
Literally, ever since I can remember, I’ve been in love with parks and attractions. Among my earliest memories are sitting on the sand as a toddler at Revere Beach (in Revere, Massachusetts) and watching the roller coasters, the double Ferris wheel, other rides, and the whole amusement scene for hours on end. I was just mesmerized. As I got older, I loved going on the rides and hanging out at Revere Beach (which sadly, like most seaside amusement areas, is all gone now), as well as Canobie Lake Park in New Hampshire, Pleasure Island (a defunct theme park that was New England’s version of Disneyland), Rocky Point in Rhode Island (also gone), and a host of other parks.
I was introduced to Disney attractions while I was a grade-schooler when I visited the 1964 New York World’s Fair. I was absolutely floored by the experience and couldn’t believe that type of entertainment existed. After watching Walt Disney promote Disneyland on his Sunday evening television program for years, I finally got to visit the park when I was about 10 or 11.
C101: You got your start writing travel features in 1992. Where and how did you get your “big break?”
I had a background in writing for my high school, college, and community newspapers. When I learned that a small publisher in New Hampshire was going to be producing a new magazine called “Theme Park,” I badgered and cajoled him until he gave me the assignment to write the cover story for the debut issue. It was about the “Back to the Future” attraction at Universal Studios Florida.
C101: How did you first get involved with About.com and USA Today?
I used to subscribe to About.com’s Theme Parks email newsletter. When I received a newsletter indicating that the Theme Parks “Guide” (which is what About.com used to call their topic writers) was leaving and the position was open, I applied and got the job in 2002. When USA Today was expanding its online coverage and was looking for a writer to cover parks, somebody referred me.
C101: In the last 28 years, what do you view as some of the biggest changes to the industry that it affect it as a whole?
The coaster wars were pretty wild and have yielded some pretty remarkable rides. The importance of Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter, with its single-IP focus for an entire land and its slavish devotion to immersive storytelling, can’t be overstated. Interactivity has been a significant trend. I’ve also been amazed at how Halloween events have expanded the shoulder season, and how that eventually flowed into the holiday season. How crazy is it that Canada’s Wonderland is now open for Christmas?
C101: As someone who is an enthusiast, do you find it difficult writing for a “broader” audience, like for USA Today?
Not really. I enjoy talking shop with enthusiasts on Twitter. But I also enjoy sharing the great things that are going on of parks and attractions with the GP in mainstream outlets such as “USA Today.”
C101: Do you have a favorite (or series of favorite) theme park/attraction story/stories you’ve written, or experience(s) you’ve had?
There are so many wonderful things that I’ve been able to do as a result of my park writing. I was invited to speak about the industry to a large group of Imagineers at Walt Disney Imagineering in California, which was simultaneously an incredible honor and incredibly intimidating. I’ve been invited to be the first person outside of the parks to experience rides such as Wonder Woman: Golden Lasso Coaster at Six Flags Fiesta Texas and Mako at SeaWorld Orlando. I’ve appeared on CBS This Morning to talk about coasters. Savannah College of Art and Design invited me to speak to the students and faculty of its School of Entertainment Arts. I’ve interviewed legends such as Disney’s Marty Sklar, Bob Gurr, and Tony Baxter. All in all, it’s been an incredible ride thus far.
C101: What do you feel is one of the amusement industry’s “hidden gems?”
There is a small, but wonderful family-owned park in New Hampshire called Santa’s Village. It pre-dates Disneyland. To say it is charming is an understatement.
C101: What is the most rewarding thing about writing about roller coasters?
Well, I get to ride a lot of them! But more than that, I get to meet the wonderful people who design them and operate the parks.
C101: What advice would you give for someone looking to become a travel writer?
Being a journalist covering any beat today is incredibly challenging. The industry has changed so much. But I strongly believe that journalism is an honorable and important profession. A free and vibrant press is absolutely essential to a functioning democracy. So I‘d say go for it, despite the challenges. Learn and practice the craft of writing, get as much hands-on experience as you can, and be very vigilant.
C101: We’ve read your list, but which new for 2020 roller coaster are you looking forward to riding the most?
Iron Gwazi. I’m a sucker for RMC.
C101: What’s your favorite:
Wooden Coaster: El Toro
Steel Coaster: Superman The Ride (Six Flags New England)
Hybrid Coaster: Twisted Colossus (which barely edges out Steel Vengeance)
Non-coaster Attraction: Toss-up: Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance and Pirates of the Caribbean Battle for the Sunken Treasure at Shanghai Disneyland
Attraction that’s no longer with us: Tough one. Probably Adventure Thru Inner Space at Disneyland. But maybe the Cyclone, the wooden coaster at Revere Beach that I used to stare at for hours on end as a toddler, but never got to actually ride.
Park: Too tough. I know it sounds like a cop out, but I love just about all of them.