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Vote of the week: Which was the best decade for theme parks?

By Robert Niles
Published: December 31, 2009 at 10:37 AM
Today is not only the last day of 2009, it's the last day of a decade that we seem to be having the hardest time naming. The Oughts? The 2000s? The Voldemorts? (i.e. "The decade-that-shall-not-be-named"?)

Don't get me started on the "decade doesn't end until next year" thing, either. I'll agree that the first decade of the 21st century runs from 2001-2010. But the whatever-it-is decade runs from 2000-2009. Just like the '90s ran from 1990-1999. Saying that the "90s" ran from 1991-2000 makes no sense. The year 2000 isn't a "90." So there.

Anyway... how did the Voldemorts compare with previous decades, as far as theme parks are concerned? Let's take a look at some of the major parks we've covered on Theme Park Insider, and sort them into the decades when they were founded.

Some of these were tough calls, as parks such as Cedar Point evolved over the years. In that case, I put Cedar Point in the 1940s because that's when its oldest surviving rides were built. In other cases, such as Hersheypark and Dollywood, I put the parks into the decades when they were redeveloped into their current forms.

1940s

  • Cedar Point (oldest existing rides installed then)
  • Knott's Berry Farm (Ghost Town started)

1950s

  • Busch Gardens Tampa
  • Disneyland

1960s

  • SeaWorld San Diego
  • Silver Dollar City
  • Six Flags Over Georgia
  • Six Flags Over Texas

1970s

  • Busch Gardens Williamsburg
  • Enchanted Forest (now Six Flags Great Adventure)
  • Hersheypark (redeveloped from original Hershey Park in 1971)
  • Kings Dominion
  • Kings Island
  • Magic Mountain (now Six Flags Magic Mountain)
  • Marriott's Great America (now Six Flags Great America)
  • SeaWorld Orlando
  • Six Flags Over Mid-America (now Six Flags St. Louis)
  • Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom

1980s

  • Canada's Wonderland
  • Disney-MGM Studios (now Disney's Hollywood Studios)
  • Dollywood (expanded in 1986 from original Rebel Railroad/Silver Dollar City Tennessee)
  • Holiday World (expanded from Santa Claus Land in 1984)
  • Epcot
  • SeaWorld San Antonio
  • Tokyo Disneyland

1990s

  • Disney's Animal Kingdom
  • Disneyland Paris
  • Legoland California
  • Universal Studios Florida
  • Universal's Islands of Adventure

2000s

  • Disney's California Adventure
  • Hard Rock Park (now Freestyle Music Park)
  • Hong Kong Disneyland
  • Tokyo DisneySea
  • Universal Studios Japan
  • Walt Disney Studios Paris

Which brings us to our question for the week:

Tell us which is your favorite group of parks, and why, in the comments. And be sure to check back tomorrow, as Theme Park Insider brings you its annual coverage of the Rose Parade, from our home here in Pasadena, California. Happy New Year, everyone!

Readers' Opinions

From James Rao on December 31, 2009 at 10:55 AM
IOA and DAK are two of my most favorite parks. And while I loved Marriott's Great America (when I lived in Fremont), Busch Gardens, and Kings Dominion (when I lived in Annandale) back in the 70's (and early 80's), a world without IOA/Spider-Man & DAK/Everest is not a world in which I want to live! =)

Also, SDC in the 1960's had almost no attractions. Just a cave, a swinging bridge, and a small town with a few craftsmen/women. It really came into its own in the 90's and 00's.

From 65.12.173.131 on December 31, 2009 at 11:00 AM
The 1990s had IOA, DAK, and Disneyland Paris so the 90s take the cheese. And where is Magic Kingdom?
From Amanda Jenkins on December 31, 2009 at 11:07 AM
Without Disneyland, our theme parks of today would not have had a standard to measure up to. My vote went towards the 1950's. Without it, there never would have been any great decades of the past or any to look forward to.
From Anthony Murphy on December 31, 2009 at 11:27 AM
The creation of WDW and SFGA in the 70's tops my list as the best.

The 70s seem to have had a big explosion of theme parks too!

80s gets the next prize due to the creation of EPCOT and DHS to name a few


BTW, there are two Marriot's Great America(IL and CA). I think they both opened around the same time!

From James Rao on December 31, 2009 at 11:45 AM
Great point, Amanda. Hard to argue with it.

And Anthony you are right. Both parks opened in 1976. I was referring to the Great America in Santa Clara, CA, the one Cedar Fair/Apollo now owns.

From Allen Boerger on December 31, 2009 at 11:51 AM
I voted 1980's. Much of that is based on Disney's activity in that decade. 1980 opens with the United States in recession and destination parks suffering. Within two years, one of the most ambitious theme parks ever--EPCOT Center--opens, setting many new standards for attractions (including the role of food & beverage in a park) and establishes the viability of a multiple park location.

Seven years later, following the tumult of the Disney company's leadership shakeup, the WDW resort broadened its offerings significantly, with expansion that included a huge water park, a series of new hotels, nighttime entertainment, and a third theme park. All this happening at a time when Disney's service standards were at their highest.

Beyond WDW, the 1980's saw one of the most significant movements in destination parks: Universal Studios Florida. Although the park didn't debut until 1990, its announcement and mobilization had palpable effects, employing hundreds of non-Disney/former Disney designers and engineers and creating real competition that, in the end, resulted in Disney no longer in the "world's only superpower" position.

The 1980's saw all kinds of new attraction concepts that are (for better or worse) standards today. Cedar Point debuted the Magnum and, with it, the hyper coaster. Wet'n Wild debuted the Lazy River. Disneyland opened Star Tours and demonstrated what could could be done with simulators.

And, bringing it back to Disneyland, IMHO, the late 1980's were a golden age at that park, with the attraction count high, operating hours long, and management focused on the guest experience.

The 1980's rock!

From Derek Potter on December 31, 2009 at 12:41 PM
The 50's were what I would call the beginning of the resurrection of the industry. Disneyland's opening was indeed an important moment in park history. It reinforced the notion that people still wanted to be entertained in that manner, and also set the design blueprint that many future parks would follow. My issue with going with the 50's is twofold. First, Disneyland was not really the birth of the theme/amusement park industry, but rather the rebirth after the Great Depression and WW2. If you want to go to the beginning, you have to go to the 1900's and Coney Island. Second, the 40's, 50's, and 60's saw dozens of parks close due to TV, the automobile, and new entertainment trends,and rising property values in the city. Owners either couldn't keep up and went broke, or sold the parks in favor of more money in the form of commercial/real estate development. Cedar Point's rebirth was actually in the 50's as well. It was almost closed when it was bought by real estate investors in 1957. The only thing that saved it was public outcry and state intervention. Only then did the developers decide to sink big money into the park and lay the foundation for new success.

My vote goes for the 70's, when the industry was truly nationally reborn and the boom started. Disney World was born. Busch Gardens expanded, Six Flags and Taft Broadcasting (Kings Island, Kings Dominion) both made their mark on the industry around the country, and the roller coaster made a comeback. Other parks that survived the industry downturn started investing a lot of money and expanding. The 80's and 90's were a continuation of the 70's for those companies.

From Brandon S on December 31, 2009 at 3:43 PM
My vote goes to the 70s. That was the decade where we saw the largest countrywide expansion in parks, so it gets my vote.
From 67.249.1.109 on December 31, 2009 at 5:45 PM
1950's had to be the best decade for theme parks. Where would the theme park industry be if not for the ideals of Walt Disney. Granted there where places that offered rides and an attempted at theming, but Disney raised the bar and that was the domino the pushed other parks to create fun, safe environments.
From Ray Schroeder on January 4, 2010 at 11:54 AM
The 1950's. Besides being born 3 days after Disneyland opened, Disney started the theme park craze. What about Freedomland in New York? I believe it opened in the 50's. That place was great.

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