Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series examining the entertainment scene in the Greater Lehigh Valley.
There’s absolutely no reason for a child living in the Greater Lehigh Valley to utter the classic words “I’m bored. There’s nothing to do.”
The Greater Lehigh Valley is home to a number of world-class family entertainment venues – whether a family is looking for sports, spelunking or getting up close and personal with a crayon.
Here’s a look at some of the options:
Being within driving distance of Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom alone should be enough entertainment for the average family with a love for water slides or roller coasters.
Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom, an amusement park owned by Cedar Faire Entertainment, is on about 208 acres just west of Allentown. It is one of the largest amusement parks in the Northeast.
The park has a total market area of about 35 million people, including major metro areas Philadelphia, New York City and northern New Jersey. Most guests travel from within a three-hour drive, spokeswoman Carrie Basta-Stoltzfus said.
Of course, the Lehigh Valley is at the core of that market, she said.
“We definitely approach how we get our local guests here a little bit differently,” she said.
Marketing season passes and special events is the key way the park reaches out to those who live in its own backyard.
“If they live nearby, we want to get them here more than once a season,” she said.
Events such as the recent Color Me Rad run and special Halloween themed weekends in the fall give Lehigh Valley area folks an extra reason to take a trip to the park.
While Dorney generates its revenues primarily from sales of admission to the park, food, merchandise and games inside the park, the park generates revenue for surrounding businesses such as hotels, gas stations, fast food restaurants.
The Lehigh Valley IronPigs are another big draw. The minor league affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies plays at Coca-Cola Park near the center of the Lehigh Valley in East Allentown.
One of the most popular franchises in all of the minor leagues, the baseball team has consistently brought in more than 600,000 patrons a year in its first full six seasons and is on track to bring in similar numbers this season.
The Phillies have another popular affiliate in Reading, the Fightin Phils, which for decades have been a big draw. In fact, the team set a FirstEnergy Stadium attendance record in July when 9,967 fans showed up to see the Fightin Phils defeat Akron.
Family entertainment is really what the business is all about, said Jon Schaeffer, spokesman for the IronPigs.
“I think everything we do is about getting families into the ballpark and offering them affordable entertainment,” he said.
There are challenges to offering family entertainment. Child and teenager tastes have certainly changed over the years, especially since the advent of video games and their easy access on mobile devices.
Howard Redford, owner of Skateaway in Shillington, said his small family entertainment business still offers good old-fashioned roller skating in a facility that’s been operating since the 1970s.
Redford, who has been running the skating rink for 10 years, said skating is still popular for young people and families – though nothing like it was during its heyday in the 1970s.
“It’s not what it used to be. Kids like their electronics nowadays. They like to stay in and play those,” he said.
But families are still getting off the iPad and out of the home for entertainment. The key, said Kelly-Anne Suarez, spokeswoman for the Crayola Experience in Easton, is to meet those changing tastes.
“The way kids play is always evolving and so are we. We have several attractions that leverage digital technologies in amazing ways,” Suarez said.
She said features such as “Be a Star,– where guests can be the star of their own coloring page, and “Art Alive,” where art comes to life when guests touch on huge projected surfaces, help attract tech-fan families.
But don’t discount the old outdoor adventures for family entertainment. Businesses seem to be confident that the market is still there and they are investing a lot of money to draw those families, especially in the Poconos.
After decades of billing itself as a destination for lovers and honeymooners, Pocono tourism professionals have switched gears and started marketing the region as a destination for year-round family entertainment.
With the $163 million, 453-suite Camelback Lodge & Indoor Waterpark, and a massive $350 million resort and water park being built by Kalahari Resorts and Conventions, the region is rapidly evolving into the goal of being a “close-to-home destination for outdoor adventure and indoor luxuries” – which is the target of tourism officials.
Carl Wilgus, president and CEO of the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau, said such development is a trend that is Pocono-wide as the region’s image evolves.
“Tourism is currently a $3 billion-a-year industry in the Pocono Mountains, powered by 25 million annual visitors. We expect to see visitation grow by 10 to 15 percent over the next five years,” Wilgus told Lehigh Valley Business. “With more than a half-billion dollars in development and two of the nation’s top five markets within 90 minutes of the region, I believe we can achieve that.”
Next week: Concert venues.