What are some of the world's great, but overlooked, theme parks?
Are there any great, unsung theme and amusement parks out there to which we should pay more attention?
We know about the top-attended theme parks, the ones from Disney, Universal and SeaWorld. They top the attendance charts because they typically offer world-class attractions, presented with excellent service. People want to visit those parks; they do visit those parks, and that's why those parks earn the bulk of our coverage here on Theme Park Insider.
But Disney, Universal and the SeaWorld parks don't have exclusives on high quality. Smaller, regional parks can offer world-class rides and service. Over the years, for example, we've become big fans of Indiana's Holiday World, not only for its three outstanding wooden coasters - including The Voyage, the top-rated roller coaster on the website - but also for its customer-friendly policies, such as free parking, free sunscreen and free soft drinks.
What other great, unsung parks are out there?
Allow me a word of caution before you answer. I'm looking for parks which offer something worth driving across the country to experience. A nice, friendly park that's worth a 30-minute drive to visit might not seem so nice or so friendly once you drive 3,000 miles to experience it, only to realize that you passed 10 just like it along the way.
If we're going to direct people from all over the country, and all over the world, to this park, it needs to offer at least one notable thing on the level of the Big Three - or better. Otherwise, we'd just be setting up your fellow readers for disappointment, and the owners of the park for complaints from visitors with unrealistic expectations.
That said, I'm still willing to bet that some parks down the list for annual attendance are worth more international attention. Here's your chance to make the case for your favorite smaller park.
Over the years, I've heard from fans of places such as Silverwood in Idaho and Mt. Olympus in Wisconsin. In Europe, I've heard readers recommend Efteling in the Netherlands and Parc Astérix in France. Do you agree on any of these parks, or do you have another to recommend? Remember, we're looking for a place that offers some aspect that's exceptional (in a good way). And the more excellence, the better, of course.
I'd love to hear from some lurkers on this one, as well as from a few new readers. If you know someone who speaks well of a park we don't typically cover, please invite her or him to come on over and submit a comment on this post.
Thanks in advance, and I can't wait to read your recommendations, along with your specific examples why these parks are worthy of more visits from theme park fans.
I want to add Dollywood to the list. It gets a bit of publicity, but it really is a great park. Mystery Mine is a fantastic attraction and is by far the best themed Eurofighter in the world. Thunderhead is my al-time favorite wood coaster. Timber Tower is such a unique experience and still the only one of its kind in the States. The Tennessee Tornado is the smoothest and best Arrow (built pre-S&S) coaster I've ever been on.
I'm not saying it's the best park in the world, but I am really interested in hearing more about the new Euro-Fighter style coaster that is said to be the new for 2011 attraction at Six Flags Over Goergia. There has been so much Universal and Disney talk that I think this has been somewhat overlooked, but I think this is a big deal for that park. I also kind of look at it as thier awnswer to Carowinds adding a new coaster last year (for those of us in the middle of the two parks, they are competitors).
The efteling for sure,
Phantasialand In Germany is a truly stunning theme park with plenty of fantastic attractions.
while i haven't been to a real one, I would kind of consider sixflags over georgia one. It has a well rounded selection of coasters but most of them you can find many other places. Some attractions of note include: Thunder River(a rafting ride with far better rapids than Kali and excellent rock work and side buildings), Monster Mansion(a great darkride that's up to par with peter pan, snow white, and winnie the pooh), and Mind Bender(accredited by that coaster group that gives awards to rides, sorry i forgot their name). It's better known than dollywood and Holiday world but it's still better, and less known than other regional parks around the country.
It may only have one ride worth traveling 3,000 miles to visit right now, but by 2012, you will be wanting to drive all the way to Lagoon in Utah. By then they will have a new kiddie coaster (expected to be like Grover's Alpine Express) and a new coaster taller, faster, and overall better coaster than Wicked! at Lagoon (110 feet tall, 2,000+ ft., 55 mph)
I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pa., and went to Kennywood once a year during the "School Picnic." There was nothing more important to me than that once-a-year visit! The park remains a classic example of what's right with a family-friendly theme park. The classic rides (the Whip, Noah's Ark, the Turtle . . . ) compliment the wonderful wooden rollercoasters (the Jack Rabbit, the Racer, the Thunderbolt), and, of course, the Steel Phamtom. (I haven't ridden the newest coaster yet). All of Kennywood's wooden coasters are unique, incorporating the ravines and hillsides that are natural to the park. The Racer's double track, the Jack Rabbit's double dip, and the Thunderbolt's one-of-a-kind dips and mid-ride lift make visiting Kennywood an unforgettable experience. In addition to the rides, the Potato Patch and other wonderful food choices are all reasonably priced and delicious! A day at Kennywood will be unforgettable and nostalgic, and will give you a glimpse of Americana that stirs the soul!
I know that they are not "small" parks, but some of the best times that I have had at a theme park are at King's Island and more recently King's Dominion. Both of them are certainly worth the 3000 mile drive (I have driven 1500 miles for King's Island). With a nice blend of big new rides, innovative one of a kind rides, and classic rides, there is something for everyone there. Both of these parks have a very high coaster count as well.
Not really a "theme park," i gotta throw in the STRATOSPHERE IN LAS VEGAS!! Sure it's only got three rides, but come on... where ELSE can you do those rides while hundreds of feet in the air?????
The Efteling looks AMAZING! I wish I could go there right now! I checked out the website and watched a few YouTube videos, and I'm astonished that I'd never heard of it before. It's like an 80s fantasy film world brought to life (The Dark Crystal/Legend/Labyrinth, etc.) It's got something for everyone; a fantasy forest, haunted darkrides, fantasy darkrides, rollercoasters and beautiful grounds. Thanks for enlightening me!
In Europe: Futuruscope. Not the best, but the most unique attractions. The other top 20 parks have mostly attractions that are more or less similar to the ones at the big US franchise chains, just with a much smaller budget. Often they manage to do some aspects better anyway, sometimes they produce pathetic copies, but in the end, the 10 times bigger budgets always wins. Service doesnt need scale, unsurprising thats one area where they often run circles arround the 3 franchises. Less trained to robot staff, a couple off expirienced peak productivity age people mixed in, less merchandising push, less adverising are great advantages. Do i think that matters all that much? No, i think the attractions are the most important issue, trumping even the large staff differences. Just want to pushback against the praise for Disneys staff policy, where somehow staff is never obese, not even a little overweight, old, has bad teath, or is just smaller than average even so two of those things are much more common in Disneys home country than anywhere else in the developed world.
I also agree with Kennywood and I would also like to add Knoebels, although I would consider them to be an Amusement Park and not a Theme Park but I guess that's up for debate.
I don't know how overlooked it is, but
My local park is Kings Island and I would tell you that you should visit not only for the top-notch thrill rides like the Diamondback and Flight of Fear but also for the HUGE children's area and my favorite thing - the shows.
I think Wild Adventures in Valdosta Ga is a really nice park. They have 6 nice coasters all kinds of animals and the water park is included with addmission to the park. I believe a couple more years with the new owners and it should be a great park to visit. They need a nice dark ride that should really help them.
I have been to Knoebels several times. I just don't get it. I don't think the food is as good as people say. I have heard all this stuff about how great the Haunted Mansion is. When I rode it, I thought it was almost a complete waste. I like knoebels some, but I don't think it is that great.
^ Thomas, the Haunted Mansion is based on the classic dark rides of days gone bye. 60 years ago, this kind of dark ride was very popular and I rode a number of them back then. It's meant to look corney and plain, that's the way they were back then and people loved them. Things were simplier, easy going and taking a girl in a dark scary ride was the in thing to do, if you get my drift. Have you ever been in an old fashion Fun House, they had a great one at Crystal Beach in Canada before they closed the park down.
Should note something here tho -- a 'classic" park like Kennywood. Idlewild Conneaut Lake etc are NOT "theme parks". A "theme" park is Disney, Busch, etc where the experience is very strictly "scripted" so that what you see & do is very much controlled & directed.
I second and third the Kennywood idea. One of my best friends and I had a blast there.
^^ A few posts up (random stranger), I would like to say Six Flags and Cedar Fair and almost every park you call an "amusement park" now has begun adding themed attractions. Almost every park may now be considered a theme park. Please name one that can't?
It's good to see Kennywood getting some attention, but don't forget about it's sister park Idlewild. this park is mostly for the little ones but it is an affordable family park which most of the larger parks are not.
^ Nick, I can name one and you can even Google it up,
New here. First post.
In my native New Jersey, we have Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, but what about Wild West City in Netcong? This Werstern-themed park dosen't get much publicity, and I haven't been there. This place is perfect for kids who want to become cowboys (or cowgirls) for the day.
You can never count out Pennsylvania for a wealth of unique, family friendly parks. Every corner of the state has them and they are all very special to those who grew up with them. My heart will forever belong to Kennywood and her sister park Idlewild. But, a 2 1/2 hour drive north and you run into a 2 beautiful parks, Waldeemer(which offers FREE admission, and a well done remake of the Ravine Flyer, along with two classic dark rides) and Conneaut Lake (Currently still in need of donations to repair the Blue Streak.) In central PA, Altoona features Lakemont Park with the oldest running roller coaster in the world. Not far from there is DelGrossos, in Tipton. It's a great little family park. And still further east you have Knoebles Grove. All in all, PA is a great place for classic and modern rides combined with family values.
I forgot to mention Hershey in my rant about PA parks. It does feature some very modern rides and a family atmosphere, and you can smell chocolate in the park!
I must concur with Parc Futuroscope. The architecture is like a souped up Future World, and the theater with 21 iMax screens (one in front and one below the transparent floor) was amazing.
Another nod to Dollywood and Dollywood's Splash Country water park. Great theming, friendly people, terrific thrill rides and great family rides. Lots of things to do, takes more than a day to see it all even on a low attendance day. They also offer a q-bot reservation system for an additional cost that can reserve a spot on select rides and shows so you can take a bathroom break and grab a snack then walk right up to the front of the line. And unlike the FastPass system, you can be on the other side of the park when you reserve your spot on the portable device. Really on par with Disney's level of theming and attention to detail. Sadly almost as expensive as Disney as well.
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