In the first of a series of reviews of mobile applications targeted at theme park visitors, this week we take a look at the latest version of the Thrill Seeker application for iPhone and iPod Touch. In common with a flurry of other apps released recently by theme park operators and independent developers, Thrill Seeker is designed to help users make the most of their theme park visits. But does it succeed, and is it an essential purchase for iPhone-owning theme park fans?
Developed by UK-based Theme Park Nerd, Thrill Seeker covers a range of UK parks (Alton Towers, Chessington World of Adventures, Drayton Manor, Oakwood and Thorpe Park), along with the major parks in Florida (Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, SeaWorld Orlando, Busch Gardens Tampa and a number of water parks). Support for other parks is planned in the future, but for now UK residents and Florida visitors are the target users.
After purchasing (at an affordable $4.99 or £2.99) and installing the app, users face a short wait while it downloads the latest data on each park from the Internet. Luckily, though, this means that the majority of the data is available offline - so users aren't reliant on flaky 3G connections when they get to the park.
We installed Thrill Seeker on our iPod Touch (unfortunately, we're still waiting on an iPhone 4 due to stock issues in the UK), and took it for a test run at Chessington World of Adventures. Let's take a look at its key features, and whether or not they really enhanced our day out.
Thrill Seeker's trip planner functionality is designed to help users experience everything they want to during their theme park visit. It enables them to create a "wish list" of attractions that they plan to experience, and to check them off one-by-one during the day.
It's a neat feature, very easy to use and genuinely helped to give us an idea of how many attractions we had left to cram in before closing time (it was a busy Saturday at Chessington when we visited). As it stands, however, it's likely that few users will regard this as an essential feature. We'd like to see it enhanced in future - perhaps with tips on when to visit each ride in order to reduce queuing time. In the long run, we'd love to see the app generate "touring plans" - personalised schedules that are designed to minimise time spent in queues - but realise that this would require the development of complex algorithms and may be unrealistic.
Attraction, shop and restaurant information
For each park that it covers, Thrill Seeker offers basic descriptions, a brief history and photos of every attraction, shop and restaurant in the park. The information is brief, but just detailed enough to give users an idea of what each ride is about without having to plough through unnecessary text. Essential details such as height restrictions are included, alongside interesting tidbits such as the cost to build each ride and height, length and speed for rollercoasters.
This proved one of our favorite features of Thrill Seeker during our Chessington trip, as reading up on details of an attraction before riding it is the perfect way to pass the time spent in queues. Browsing through the listings is easy and intuitive, although it could perhaps be a little more obvious how to switch between displaying ride, shop and restaurant information.
Find nearby attractions and amenities
One of the best features of Thrill Seeker is the ability to discover what's nearby in a park - whether it is rides, retail outlets, dining locations, bathrooms or ATMs. Although most convenient for iPhone users (whose location can be detected automatically through the device's in-built GPS receiver), we found it easy to use on an iPod Touch as well. In search of donuts as a mid-morning snack, we informed the app of our current location (by selecting the nearest attraction from a list) and soon discovered that there was a donut stand just 150 metres away in Chessington's Market Square.
The obvious next step having found nearby rides and attractions is for the app to guide you to them - and Thrill Seeker can do just that, through its built-in Google Maps integration. Unfortunately, its not always easy to follow the visual directions (plotted on a satellite map) - with the guide lines often seeming to pass directly through buildings and rides. However, the application also provides detailed written instructions to get over any ambiguity.
Whether navigation is an essential feature or not probably depends on how happy you are to muddle through with a basic park map. We are generally blessed with no directional sense whatsoever, and in unfamiliar parks being able to get basic directions to rides and ameneties would be a feature we'd be prepared to pay a small amount for.
Live wait times
This is the essential feature for theme park applications, and it's great to see that Thrill Seeker now incorporates live wait time information for Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. The integration is achieved with brilliant simplicity, with the queue times showing up as an icon against each ride's entry in the park's attraction list. The app even makes use of "push notifications", allowing users to trigger an alarm when an attraction's wait time falls below a threshold level.
The only downside to the outstanding implementation of wait times for Universal Orlando is that it highlights how badly the functionality is missed in other parks - we hope Theme Park Nerd can pull off deals with a few other park operators. In the meantime, the functionality can be acquired separately in the developer's Universal Guide app for a bargain $1.99 / £1.19 - although we'd recommend that Florida visitors buy the full Thrill Seeker app unless money is really tight.
Although Thrill Seeker is a well-designed application and we found it to be a great time-filler, it's probably lacking a few "killer" features will would make it an essential purchase. These include:
- Ride and restaurant reviews - the ability to view ratings from other users for rides and restaurants in a park would help immensely with trip planning, and allowing users to enter ratings whilst in the park would provide a great form of interactivity.
- Touring plans - as mentioned above, we'd like to see the trip planner functionality become much more full-featured. Ultimately, it would be great if it could plot an optimal route around the park, taking in all of the rides that the user wants to experience. In the short-term, though, just some basic tips on when to visit each ride would be very useful.
- Greater coverage - although a great purchase for anyone planning to visit Florida, the non-existent coverage of other US parks (notably Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood) limits the potential user base of Thrill Seeker currently. The existing coverage is also much more detailed for some parks than others - there is a dearth of photos in the Busch Gardens Tampa section, for example.
Thrill Seeker is a well-designed application that undoubtedly offers some useful features for those visiting the theme parks that it covers. While it is difficult to fully recommend the app for iPod Touch users (who miss out on the navigation functionality), iPhone users could certainly benefit from some of its location-based features.
For visitors to Universal Orlando, we recommend purchasing Thrill Seeker (or the stripped-down Universal Guide) unreservedly. The ability to access wait times directly on your device is a great time-saver, and worth making the purchase for on its own.
For those visiting other locations, it's a closer call. With parks such as Thorpe Park and Six Flags' US parks starting to produce first-party apps which offer similar functionality at no cost (and in some cases incorporate queue time information), Theme Park Nerd face a battle to keep one step ahead. We recommend Thrill Seeker for theme park geeks like us who love to know the details behind every ride they experience, but for casual visitors we'd suggest holding off for future versions that incorporate some of the missing features we've outlined above.
Please note that Theme Park Tourist pays full price for all mobile applications reviewed on the site in order to maintain impartiality.