Hot Springs man in the ‘fun’ business for years

By Lisa Burnett Originally Published April 7, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated April 5, 2013 at 2:08 p.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Steve Honeycutt is the general manager of Magic Springs and Crystal Falls in Hot Springs. He has worked at various theme parks for much of his life. Honeycutt graduated with a criminal justice degree and said he “never thought he would be in the theme-park business.”

— Steve Honeycutt is in the business of fun, and has been since he was 17 years old. He has worked his way up from being a seasonal employee to the man in charge.

Honeycutt is now general manager of Magic Springs and Crystal Falls in Hot Springs.

“My very first job was riding a horse around in the Carowinds parking lot,” Honeycutt said. This seasonal job opened Honeycutt up to a realm of possibility in the theme-park business.

After working at Carowinds in Charlotte, N.C., for one summer, Honeycutt was offered a position as a ride supervisor for the next season. He worked at the theme park while he was in college.

Upon graduation from the University of South Carolina, Honeycutt was offered a full-time position as a ride specialist with the theme park. He graduated with a criminal justice degree and said he “never thought he would be in the theme-park business.”

Honeycutt’s life has been a roller-coaster ride ever since.

In his career, Honeycutt has worked at eight theme parks across the United States and one in Canada.

Honeycutt has worked at Carowinds; Canada’s Wonderland in Vaughn, Ontario; Busch Gardens in Tampa, Fla., and Williamsburg, Va.; Silver Dollar City in Branson, Mo.; Wild Waves in Federal Way, Wash.; the Dixie Stampede in Orlando, Fla.; Elitch Gardens in Denver, Colo.; and Magic Springs and Crystal Falls.

Out of all nine theme parks, Honeycutt said, Silver Dollar City was his favorite.

“It’s such an authentic park,” Honeycutt said. The people who worked there were true to themselves, he said. “The way those people were dressed — that wasn’t their costume. That’s how they really dressed.”

While working at Silver Dollar City, Honeycutt often interacted with one of the founders, Jack Herschend.

“He was one of the most humble, intelligent people I’ve ever met,” Honeycutt said. “He was an inspiration to me businesswise.”

Herschend’s “servant leadership” style taught Honeycutt how to run a theme park and respect the people who work for it.

“He always said to serve people first, and then you can lead them,” Honeycutt said. “He doesn’t use the word ‘I.’”

Honeycutt said he has stayed in the theme-park business since 1974 because of the people he comes in contact with through his job.

“I truly love working with people,” Honeycutt said. “While working in the ‘fun’ business, we help people make memories that last a lifetime.”

Honeycutt has seven brothers and said he is used to being around lots of people.

“I tell [employees] on their first day here if they don’t like people to not come back,” Honeycutt said. “When the park opens, it’s all about the guests.”

His people skills come into play when problems arise in the park. Honeycutt said he finds joy in solving those problems.

“There’s always a resolution to whatever the problem is,” Honeycutt said.

While problem solving in the park, Honeycutt said he stresses to his employees the importance of being nice to others to keep each and every guest happy.

“When I’m out in the park, I make sure all of the employees are friendly,” Honeycutt said.

One of the key elements to being a successful theme park is listening to the guests who come to the park every day, Honeycutt said.

“We do customer surveys every season,” Honeycutt said. “One complaint we get is that the parks are ‘so hot’ in the summer.”

Even though no one can control the weather, Honeycutt said the temperature complaint led to the park installing mister fans in a shaded area where guests can go to cool off when the sun proves to be too much to handle in the Arkansas heat.

He’s been in the theme-park business for a long time but said he would like to retire as soon as he can.

“I want to spend time with my family and not work all the time,” Honeycutt said.

Although he is only in his third year as general manager of Magic Springs, Honeycutt said another enjoyable aspect of his job is the variety he has experienced on a daily basis.

“I work with marketing, retail, rides and food. It’s like your own little city,” Honeycutt said.

His job requires long, hard labor during the summer, but in the end, Honeycutt said, it is worth it.

“We came here in 2011 and invested a lot of money to get the park back to where it needed to be,” Honeycutt said.

Since working as the general manager of Magic Springs and Crystal Falls, Honeycutt said, he has learned to appreciate the town where he now lives.

“Hot Springs has some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met,” he said. “This community loves this park.”

When the park needs attention, Honeycutt said, the community does everything it can to make sure the park is successful.

“In 2013, I want to really exceed our budget in attendance and revenue,” Honeycutt said. “I’m excited about the changes we’ve made.”

Magic Springs and Crystal Falls will open for the season on Saturday.

Staff writer Lisa Burnett can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or lburnett@arkansasonline.com.

Online Reporter Lisa Burnett can be reached at 501-378-3887 or lburnett@arkansasonline.com.

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