Amusement parks are destinations where there are grouped rides and attractions, with the aim of having as much sensible fun as law, safety and common sense allows.
No one's quite sure exactly when the 18th century concept of a 'pleasure garden' fully evolved into the late 19th and early 20th century amusement park.
By the 1920's, there were a number of amusement parks in Europe and North America. In the United Kingdom, major seafront resorts also had pleasure beaches, initially bringing in attractions from travelling fairgrounds, with some innovations of their own.
A theme park is a concept of the mid-20th century, where venues have a similar theme; sometimes with similar parks in different states or countries. Early theme parks include a false ghost town constructed at Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park (California) in 1940 and a Santa Claus village established 1949 in North Pole (New York). Many others opened in the post-war era. Although it was not the first, "the happiest place on Earth" opened in 1955, changing culture for good.
For the best attractions, and some popular ones, be prepared to queue. Some parks will also operate fast-pass schemes.
What to expect
Amusement parks often have a particular theme which directs the attractions that it would offer. Disneyland for example offers characters from Disney children's cartoons (such as Mickey Mouse), and rides from some of the studio's related studio films such as 'Pirates of the Caribbean'.
Some parks offer 'Dark Rides' where you sit in a 'car' and pass through a series of enclosed and lit tableaux. Depending on the ride these can vary from simple effects, through to multi-million-pound interactive experiences. The British 'Ghost Train' remains a firm favourite dark ride at some seaside parks in the UK.
Others offer thrill rides ranging from cutting edge roller coasters, to scaled up versions of carnival or fairground favourites. The types of thrill ride can be as varied as the themes.
The Top Tier parks are those that attract the most visitors, and which frequently implement the cutting edge in attraction design.
- Efteling, Kaatsheuvel , Netherlands. This European park opened as a 'pleasure gardens' with a Fairy-tale theme in 1952. It's first major rides being a minature railway and a carousel (later joined by others!). Today it has a good mixture of moderate thrill rides, and some beautifully created dark rides. The Spookslot (Haunted Castle) Walkthrough is also worth investigating.
- Universal Studios - Started off by providing tours on Universal's backlot in California, but has since expanded into a fully-fledged movie-themed amusement park. Currently at 4 different locations; 2 in the United States, 1 in Japan and 1 in Singapore.
- Disney parks are widely regarded as being in a category of their own. For these see the individual articles. Currently located at 6 different locations; 2 in the United States, 1 in France, 1 in Japan, 1 in Hong Kong and 1 in China.
Of special note:-
- Dyrehavsbakken, Klampenborg, Denmark, officially claimed by many to be the oldest amusement park in operation, has with updates been in operation in its current form since at least the mid-19th century. It has its basis in a spa resort and hunting park as far back as the mid-16th century. The modern attraction, as well as having a number of rides, presents a live Circus Revue during the summer season.
- Blackgang Chine, Blackgang, Isle of Wight, England. One of the United Kingdom's oldest amusement parks, this park eschews thrill rides in favour of a more relaxed English Eccentricity. The site is under continual redevelopment owing to the local geology, slowly changing where attractions can be put.
- Linnanmäki, Helsinki
- Europa Park - perhaps the country's biggest, themed with "countries" and located close to France and Switzerland thus rather full on respective national holidays, including a Bastille Day Parade
- Heide Park, Soltau
- Chessington World of Adventures, Epsom
- Alton Towers, Alton, Staffordshire
- Thorpe Park, Chertsey
- Drayton Manor, near Tamworth
- Lightwater Valley, North Stainley, near Ripon
- The Pleasure Beach, Blackpool, England
- Shanghai Disneyland
- Ocean Park
- Hong Kong Disneyland
Japan has a number of amusement parks, often utilising cutting edge technology, of parituclar note:-
- Tokyo Disneyland.
- Tokyo Disney Sea
- Fuji-Q Highland, Fujiyoshida
- Universal Studios Japan
- Lotte World
- Leofoo Village Theme Park
- Luna Park, Melbourne and Sydney
- Warner Bros. Movie World, Sea World, Wet n' Wild, WhiteWater World and Dreamworld, Gold Coast
- Aussie World, Sunshine Coast (Queensland)
Given that in North America, amusement parks of varying levels of quality are widespread, individual listings have not been provided. The interested traveller should consult region or city articles, to find parks in any given locality.
Of particular note however are:-
- Knotts Berry Farm. Attested by many as America's oldest theme park with the first ride attraction, the Ghost Town & Calico Railroad opening in 1952. Knott's Berry Farm has accomplished and set many technological milestones in the amusement industry with its unique ride and attractions. The Calico Mine Ride, introduced in 1960, is commonly recognized as one of the first themed amusement park attractions in the world.
- Home to one of America's first 'modern' Amusement Parks, Coney Island has something of an undeserved reputation for being more than a little seedy. That said if you keep your wits about you, and keep within the boardwalk, you should enjoy the rides and side-shows (including some that proved controversial). The Cyclone is a wooden coaster, which although not hyper thrill, is now a listed landmark.
- Kennywood, West Mifflin, Pennsylvania. One of only two parks listed on the US National Register of Historic Places.
- Six Flags is a well-regarded chain of amusement parks which is known for its innovative roller coasters, with multiple locations throughout the United States, as well a few in Canada and Mexico.
- Universal and Disney theme parks both originated in the Los Angeles area in California, though both of them now have a second, bigger location near Orlando in Florida, being Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World respectively.
- For more relaxed gardens, where the focus is on the flora, see Botanical tourism