Theme park fights escalate into a nationwide problem

Theme parks across the United States are gaining an unwanted reputation for teen brawls and hot-headed melees following a surge in fights over the past two years that threaten to brand the family-friendly playgrounds as unsafe havens of violence, chaos and panic.

“It’s something we’ve never really seen in our theme parks until last year,” said Dennis Speigel, an industry expert with International Theme Park Services. “Guests are shorter tempered as a result of the pandemic. The most minor altercation will set something off.”

The nationwide outbreak of fights since theme parks returned from COVID-19 pandemic closures finally reached Knott’s Berry Farm in mid-July when multiple altercations involving teenagers caused the Buena Park theme park to close early and institute a chaperone policy.

Theme park operators say increasingly rude and angry visitors with short fuses are getting into fights with other guests and employees at an alarming rate, according to Speigel.

“It’s not relegated just to teens,” Speigel said during a phone interview. “You’re seeing adults get into fights.”

The nationwide outbreak of theme park fights have happened at major players like Disney, Universal and Busch Gardens and regional parks like Kings Island, Kennywood and Waldameer.

The past month alone has seen fights break out at Knott’s Berry Farm, Disney’s Magic Kingdom and Universal Orlando.

Multiple teen fights forced Knott’s to close three hours early and institute a chaperone policy for visitors under 18 years old. The Florida Fantasyland brawl between two families led to arrests and park bans. The Universal fight involving juveniles forced the closure of the CityWalk shopping center and a parking garage.

In late May, a fistfight broke out in the crowd waiting for the return of the “Fantasmic” nighttime spectacular that required Disneyland security guards to pull apart the brawlers.

Pennsylvania’s family-owned Waldameer has had to deal with a series of fights. In early July, a fight between two Waldameer season passholders sent one to the hospital and got the “instigator” banned from the park. A year earlier, a Memorial Day weekend brawl resulted in charges for seven Waldameer visitors under 21 years old.

Last summer saw fights at several theme parks nationwide.

A verbal argument that quickly escalated into a large fight involving season passholders at Ohio’s Kings Island in May 2021 led to charges against six teens.

An ongoing problem with “unruly teenagers” pushed Denver’s Elitch Gardens to require chaperones for visitors under 18 in July 2021.

Seven visitors were arrested and 150 more were ejected from Pennsylvania’s Kennywood after fights broke out in July 2021.

Three women were arrested after a hair-pulling fight in the Griffon roller coaster queue at Virginia’s Busch Gardens Williamsburg in August 2021 that went viral on social media.

A Fright Fest fight in September 2021 at Six Flags America outside Washington D.C. that started inside the park spilled into the parking lot.