12 March 2014 // Thoughts

Defining Your Story, Part 3: A Place for Fact and Fiction

Through his IAAPA Leadership Conference presentation, “Defining Your Story”, JRA CEO/Owner Keith James has so far answered the question of why stories are used to create compelling experiences and offered examples of stories based on history and place. In part 3 of our excerpt, Keith takes us across the country and around the world to illustrate some attraction stories that are based in scientific fact, some drawn from cultural references, and others that are steeped in imagination.


Culture provides a great resource from which designers can develop a storyline and thematic approach. One of my favorite examples is Disney’s Aulani Resort in Hawai’i, which literally immerses guests within the art and culture of the Hawaiian people.

The resort features the largest private collection of Hawaiian art in the world, which can be found within its reception area.

Within its architectural details.

At each elevator lobby.

Within each room.

At the bar.

And even within its water attractions, where cultural icons are used as theming

As interactive elements

And are even used as part of a scavenger hunt.

Perhaps most importantly, guests can also learn more about Hawaiian culture through a variety of programs where the meet with native Hawaiians, who share stories.

Teach cultural art,


And dance

One of the neater examples of using culture as a storyline and theme can be found just outside of Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, where Suo Tien Amusement Park and Water Park is based upon the story of Buddha, which makes for some very elaborate theming.

Sometimes the storyline of a facility is a simple presentation of facts, conveyed in an interesting manner. One of the greatest examples of this is here in San Francisco at the Exploratorium, where Frank Oppenheimer’s vision for a place where art and science inspire guests has served as a model for the modern science museum. Here scientific fact and art is celebrated through exhibits


And even artistic installations such as this fog bridge.

The storyline at MSI’s Science Storms is based upon understanding the science behind nature’s power, and does so in an awe-inspiring manner.

Zoos are also based upon a fact-based storyline, whether its species, environments, conservation or man’s relationship with animals.

The same can be said for modern aquariums and sea parks.

Where even the attractions are based upon fact, such as at Turtle Trek

Or Empire of the Penguin at SeaWorld in Orlando.

At the other end of the spectrum, when we think about stories in attractions, especially at the large theme parks, we think about fantasy, where attractions are based upon the storylines created in popular movies

Television series

Comic books

And children’s toys

Whole areas,


And rides can be based upon books, such as at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal,

Or Seuss Landing

And again, to illustrate how stories can impact your bottom line, this is a picture of a restaurant at Kings Island, where, until the late 90’s

was themed as a German beer garden. The per caps were good, but not great.

My firm was commissioned to turn this same building into a shrimp shack, based upon the Forrest Gump story.

And as guests wanted to be immersed in the story of Forrest Gump, revenue skyrocketed, to where it became one of the most profitable centers in the entire park.

In tomorrow’s concluding excerpt, Keith explains that storylines don’t always need to be complete, and that the lines between storytelling styles need not always be defined. He’ll then offer tips on how you can tell your own tale based on one (or several) story types.