When Jack Silkstone was deciding where to go to college, he weighed his options carefully.
He looked at the selection of film courses, the quality of the faculty, and the standard of accommodations. And — of course — how close it was to his favorite theme park.
The 22-year-old from the U.K. has always been a theme park enthusiast. “My mom would just take me and my brother out on family days to Chessington World of Adventure, Legoland, and all of that stuff,” he says. One family holiday to Disneyland Paris was a momentous occasion. But Silkstone’s true love is Thorpe Park, a 500-acre theme park located 25 miles west of London.
Silkstone first went to Thorpe Park around a decade ago. He became infatuated with it, and it played a major role in his decision to enroll at a university in London in 2018. Silkstone loved the fact that he could be out of class and onto rides within about an hour.
The visits to Thorpe Park were for fun, of course, but they also provided content for his now eight-year-old YouTube lifestyle channel, TheJackSilkstone. “My two hobbies — YouTube and theme parks — just came together very nicely,” he says. Today, his channel has nearly 27,000 subscribers who watch him for theme park construction updates, which he delivers from his bedroom, as well as his on-camera visits to the park, during which he reviews the rides as he goes.
Silkstone is one of a burgeoning community of YouTube vloggers who use the colorful environs of theme parks as their backdrops for an endless stream of videos. Some, like All Ears (253,000 subscribers), which offers Walt Disney World guides, and DisneyFoodBlog (810,000 subscribers), which looks at Disney food and park experiences, are media machines, with multiple personalities appearing on camera. Others, like Orlando, Florida resident Tim Tracker, who has 881,000 subscribers, live in areas near theme parks and visit them regularly.
Then there is another group of YouTubers — thrill-ride lovers who travel the world supported by their fans. Which is why I’m speaking to Shawn Sanbrooke as he waits in the departure lounge at his local airport on his way to Vienna, Austria. There, Sanbrooke, who is 29 and from the U.K., will end up filming, editing, and posting six videos, totaling 230 minutes of content, documenting his trips to various theme parks and rides dotted around Vienna and the surrounding area.
Like Silkstone, Sanbrooke’s interest in theme parks was spurred by his mother, who worked at a local park, Alton Towers, in Stoke, England, as a child. “If it wasn’t for Alton Towers, I’d have never fallen in love with theme parks like I have done,” he says. When Sanbrooke left school, he went to work at Alton Towers; he set up Theme Park Worldwide, his YouTube channel in 2012, while he was working there.
Six years later, he took the channel full-time. Today, it has more than 300,000 subscribers on YouTube. Initially the channel focused on Sanbrooke’s trips to theme parks with friends, but following allegations made on social media about the behavior of some of them, the videos now only feature Sanbrooke, with semiregular appearances from his partner, Charlotte Charteris. Charteris became Sanbrooke’s fiancée in January 2022, with the proposal captured — of course — on camera at Disneyland.
Theme Park Worldwide has a large coaster fanbase, which enjoys the encyclopedic knowledge of attractions that Sanbrooke shoehorns into videos — a wonkishness that has earned the channel an ironic following among some — as well as breathtaking on-ride footage.
Sanbrooke’s passport is “very full,” he says. He’s visited 26 U.S. states and most of Europe. In 2017, he toured Asia and the Middle East, filming in theme parks in Hong Kong, China, Japan, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi, with thousands watching along.
While a number of parks forbid such filming, many recognize its value as a marketing tool. “It’s good for advertising and promotion,” says Bobby Schweizer, who studies the theme park YouTube space and creative media at Texas Tech University. One recent Theme Park Worldwide trip to Denmark came at the suggestion of the local parks themselves.
Theme park YouTubers often struggle to keep the organizations they depend on for their livelihood happy enough for them to film, while maintaining their integrity with their audience. There has been controversy within the theme park YouTube community around major new attractions that are near-universally disliked — such as Disney’s pricey Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser hotel — but that vloggers refrain from panning for fear of being blacklisted from future media opportunities.
Sanbrooke hasn’t yet visited the hotel, but does say more generally that “we always point out the things we don’t like, but keep it fair and offer constructive criticism to theme parks.”
“Unlike having your favorite TV show at the click of a button, theme parks are not an entertainment form many of us can engage with immediately.”
In Silkstone’s case, he’s actually struck up a professional working relationship with Thorpe Park. Alongside his independent videos, he produces branded content and advertisements for the place through a production company he co-owns with friends. Roughly half of Silkstone’s income comes from the branded content and half from his independent YouTube presence.
And why is all this theme park content so popular? “It’s because a theme park is a place most of us can only get to once every few years — if that,” Schweizer says. “Unlike having your favorite TV show at the click of a button on Netflix, this is not an entertainment form many of us can engage with immediately.”
Schweizer himself has only filmed content for wider consumption at a theme park once: When Disneyland reopened in spring 2021. But the experience helped crystalize why he thinks the genre is so popular with viewers: “It was fun to share in the enthusiasm for the things that otherwise we just don’t get to access.”