Everyone loves a theme park. Except me, of course (I only love travel insurance and tea). Maybe I’m a bit of a grump, but if I’m going to spend £40 on something that makes me nauseated, I’d rather queue up at the sweet shop than Alton Towers.
My own experiences aside, amusement parks have been popular for hundreds of years so they must be doing something right. Here are five different theme park experiences from around the world:
Tivoli Gardens | Copenhagen
The world’s two oldest amusement parks are both in Denmark. I don’t know what this says about the Danes – perhaps they’re easily bored – but whatever it is they’ve ended up with more old wooden roller coasters than one country could possibly need. The oldest amusement park is Bakken which opened, amazingly, all the way back in the 1580s. Tivoli Gardens, in central Copenhagen, is 250 years younger but bigger and much more famous.
In contrast to modern theme parks, which are all about the rides, Tivoli really does try to cater for everyone – there are regular concerts, a theatre, and numerous bars and quality restaurants. Of course, there are also rides. Rutschbanen is a classic roller coaster that terrifies riders with the knowledge that it was built in 1914 (and is therefore old and untrustworthy). There are also many newer rides in the gardens, including the Star Flyer; the world’s tallest carousel. This 80 metre high swing offers panoramic views of Copenhagen, presumably in an attempt to distract customers from the fact that their seat is dangling from a weak-looking metal chain. The Star Flyer is so high that it can be used as a landmark – tourists can find their way simply by following the screams that are centrifugally flung across the city whenever the ride is in operation.
Stratosphere | Las Vegas
The top of a 350 metre tower, overlooking Las Vegas, is a pretty exciting location. However, for somebody, it clearly wasn’t exciting enough – they got up there and thought “you know, what this place really needs is some thrill rides!” And so thrill rides were built, making the top of the Stratosphere tower by far the highest theme park in the world.
If the park at the Stratosphere Casino has a theme, then that theme must be “you are about to die.” Each of the rides uses a different method to convince customers that they’re about to fall from the building. The X-Scream, for example, looks like a regular roller coaster, but rolls only a little way before the track tips up and riders find themselves hanging over the edge. Likewise, a ride called Insanity manoeuvres its brave participants gently over the edge before spinning them round and round and round. Disappointingly for Insanity’s customers, the ride has been positioned so that they’d fall to their death not in the glamour of the Vegas strip but in the glamour of a poorly-lit car park.
For people who think the tower is not high enough, there’s also a ride called Big Shot, which fires them an extra 49 metres into the air. This rapid vertical acceleration can make riders dizzy and lightheaded – from the casino’s point of view, the perfect state of mind for a trip to the roulette wheel.
The Pripyat amusement park | Ukraine
Some rides are scary because of their speed. Others are scary because of their height. The rides at Pripyat amusement park, Ukraine, are scary because they would give people a dangerous dose of plutonium poisoning. This explains why there are not, and never have been, any real customers.
Pripyat amusement park was due to open on 1st May 1986. Unfortunately, on April 26th that year, the nearby Chernobyl nuclear power plant went into meltdown and rather spoilt the plans. All 50,000 residents of the city left for a 3 day evacuation but, now almost 30 years later, they still haven’t been able to go back.
Some sources suggest that the park did open once, briefly, on the morning of 27th April. Apparently the idea behind this was to keep residents entertained while they waited to be evacuated. The Pripyat bumper cars and Ferris wheel were probably a lot of fun, and they would’ve needed to be to take people’s minds off the major radiation leak occurring just a few kilometres away.
Ferrari World | Abu Dhabi
Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi is a theme park dedicated to everything Ferrari (which is just cars, basically). If you thought theme parks such as Disneyworld or Legoland had a narrow remit, it’s nothing compared to Ferrari World, which concentrates exclusively on the Italian car manufacturer’s business and products. Visitors have the opportunity to explore a Ferrari factory, watch a film about Ferrari and take part in a Ferrari-based quiz. Visitors do not have the opportunity to actually drive a Ferrari.
In keeping with the UAE’s apparent obsession with everything being the biggest, Ferrari World is the world’s largest indoor theme park and features the world’s fastest roller coaster. The Formula Rossa ride uses a hydraulic launch system and (in terms familiar to Ferrari fans) goes from 0-150mph in under five seconds. During this acceleration, riders experience extreme G-force and have to wear special glasses so that they don’t get an insect in their eye. Worryingly, no such protection is provided for their screaming, open mouths.
Celebration | Florida
Walter “Walt” Disney achieved a lot during his life. His films dominated at the cinema and his theme park, Disneyland, was a triumph. However, conquering the entertainment world wasn’t enough for this frozen megalomaniac – he also had plans to build an entire Disney town. Although the company did not complete it until 30 years after his death, Celebration is that town.
Disney envisaged Celebration as an “experimental prototype community of tomorrow,” which, depending on your point of view, either sounds exciting or like something from a dystopian nightmare. The original plans were for a futuristic city under a dome, but these were eventually dropped in favour of trying to create a perfect, working example of small-town America. There are no Westworld-style robots working in the town (or mouse-suited entertainers), just regular people living their lives, albeit in a very strictly controlled way.
The Celebration town-planners keep a tight grip on the appearance of the streets – dictating what colour the houses are painted and what flowers are planted in each front lawn. In the town centre, the lampposts shoot out either fake snow or leaf-shaped confetti depending on which season is being represented. It’s these weird little touches that suggest Celebration is more theme park than real town; but it’s a theme park of the mind. Instead of spinning around upside-down, the ride here is to live your life in an idealised version of a classic American suburb – just going about your daily business, making friends with the neighbours, and trying to pretend that everything’s OK.