Many people visit theme parks for fun, but very few can say they do it as a career.
Arthur Levine is what you would call a theme park journalist. And for more than 30 years, he has covered the attractions industry — traveling to theme parks across the United States and beyond to ride new rides and explore new lands.
His articles have appeared in USAToday, FunWorld, TripSavvy (formerly About.com) and other publications, and his work has taken him to places like Shanghai Disneyland, where he attended the grand opening of the park in 2016.
Levine, who now spends his days writing articles for his Substack About Theme Parks, recently chatted with Attractions Insider about getting his start, the highlights of covering theme parks and some of the most memorable moments of his career.
Early career didn’t involve theme parks
Although Levine has been covering theme parks for decades, that wasn’t the case when he first started his career.
“In the early part of my career, I worked for a nonprofit health agency,” he said. “I was the director of an office and managed a staff, and I did fundraising and provided services to clients. So it was completely unrelated.”
Using his journalism background, he wrote about topics that didn’t involve theme parks.
“I had done some writing for my school newspaper in high school and in college,” he said. “And in my work, I had done quite a bit of writing…I put together a newsletter for the organization I was working for.
“I also did some freelance writing, I did some movie reviews and other things for local newspapers early on, just kind of on the side.”
An early interest in theme parks led to a career
Levine, a native of Massachusetts, didn’t grow up around theme parks. But even at a very young age, he was fascinated by them. That interest was sparked after a magazine cover featuring Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom caught his eye while at a magazine stand with his dad.
His “big break” came while working for Theme Park Magazine. He pestered the editor until he was given an assignment to write the debut issue’s cover story on the "Back to the Future" ride at Universal Studios Florida.
“That was the beginning of my theme park journalism career,” Levine said. “I wrote that article and I was absolutely hooked. I loved doing it.”
In the early 2000s, Levine began writing online for About.com as the website’s theme parks “guyde.” He also did a lot of freelance writing for USA Today and other publications like the New York Post.
A different kind of theme park journalism venture
After years of writing about theme parks for other publications, Levine now publishes his articles on his own Substack. It was something he did in response to what he noticed as an unpleasant shift in online journalism.
“It got to the point where things like clickbait, search engine optimization, the gratuitous negativity, controversy…anything to get eyeballs, and I just didn’t want any part of that,” he said.
On About Theme Parks, readers can still find stories about new attractions and his latest theme park adventures.
Memorable moments covering theme parks
Despite being a theme park journalist, Levine really considers himself a fan first. And many moments in his career have left him awestruck.
In 2016, Levine got to go to Shanghai Disneyland for the park’s debut.
“I was invited by Disney to be part of a very small contingent of journalists from the United States to attend the grand opening of Shanghai Disneyland,” he said. “That was great. I got to interview Bob Iger, who was CEO at the time…and now…CEO again.”
Levine also was once asked to speak to a group of Imagineers at Walt Disney Imagineering about the theme park industry.
“…To be able to have these experiences, it’s just kind of incredible. I feel like I have to pinch myself often,” Levine said. “I’m meeting people or going somewhere or having the opportunity to be at the opening of something…it remains a thrill to this day.”
Favorite rides and emerging theme park trends
When he was younger, Levine was a big fan of dark rides like Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean. Over the years, after covering theme parks, he’s also become a big roller coaster fan.
“Really big roller coasters, I was very intimidated and actually terrified of early on,” he said. “Through the years, I’ve come to love roller coasters, and I can go on virtually any of them. And I have been on virtually all of them, or at least most of them in the country. And I love them. I don’t know if I would pick one over the other.”
One of the trends he’s noticed lately in the industry is new attractions that combine dark ride elements with high-speed coasters such as Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure at Islands of Adventure and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind at EPCOT.
“I was blown away by the Guardians of the Galaxy coaster and just feel like we’re on the cusp of a whole new era of these huge E-ticket attractions that combine coaster elements and dark ride elements,” he said. “I find that fascinating and very encouraging.”
Changes in the theme park industry
One of the biggest shifts in the industry Levine said he’s noticed in his time covering theme parks came with the opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando.
“The opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, I think, really changed an awful lot of things. The incredible attention to detail is just kind of mind-boggling” he said. "And the fact that it’s a single intellectual property for one land. You know, you can’t buy a Coca-Cola at Wizarding World nor could you buy batteries because it wouldn’t fit the mythology of the story. So that really kind of changed a lot of things. Also, obviously, it helped establish Universal as being on a more level playing field with Disney.
“And I think it really inspired Disney to up its game and do things like Pandora and Cars Land and some of the other lands and attractions that they’ve developed after Wizarding World.”
What’s on his wishlist
Levine has traveled the world and visited dozens of parks across the U.S. But there are still parks and attractions that remain on his wish list.
“I have an awful lot of places that I need to get to," he said. "I’ve been to a few parks in Europe, and I’ve been to Shanghai. But there are huge gaps in my visits to theme parks outside the United States, and there are actually quite a few parks here in the United States that I haven’t been to.”
At the top of his list are two parks in Denmark.
“One is Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, and the other one is Bakken, just outside of Copenhagen," Levine said. "Tivoli Gardens, it’s an urban park. It’s in downtown Copenhagen sort of integrated into the city. Quite old, been there many, many years. Walt Disney visited Tivoli Gardens and, apparently, it was among the inspirations for Disneyland.
“It’s a very eclectic and unique park that I’m really hoping to get to.”
The other is Bakken, the oldest, continually operating park in the world.
“In its earliest days it wasn’t anything like what we would think of today as a modern-day amusement park. But the fact that this place still exists and is thriving and vital kind of fascinates me. So those are two parks at the very top of the list of places that I want to go to.”
Other places on his list include Europa Park, Efteling, the Disney parks in Japan.
Advice for someone who wants to become a theme park journalist
“If you are really passionate about it like I was many years ago and remain today and it’s something you really want to do, I would encourage people to go ahead and pursue their dreams and chase their passion," Levine said. "And be thankful there are all these opportunities to get involved and to do that these days.”