Theme parks introduce their visitors to a world of the unusual and the fantastical. People meet colorful characters, go on exciting rides and experience one-of-a-kind attractions temporarily accessible there. Some theme parks are the results of unique, fascinating imaginations realising their wildest ideas in a mecca of family fun.
The theme park industry has proved itself to be a formidable cash cow. Other industries like food and hospitality get on the bandwagon, collaborating with theme parks to provide visitors a great time and making huge money in the process. New York’s Coney Island is often cited as a pioneer in the amusement park industry. It opened up the first ever hotel in 1829 and by the post-Civil War years, the region flourished as a resort with theaters, restaurants and a race track. Coney Island opened up what’s believed to be one of the first ever roller coasters in 1884; its immediate success spawned hundreds of roller coasters across the nation by the start of the 20th century. Between 1897 and 1904, three theme parks popped up at Coney Island: Luna Park, Dreamland and Steeplechase. By the 1920s, a million people per day during the summer traveled to Coney Island to visit the area’s various attractions.
The Great Depression and World War II impacted amusement parks. Both historical events walloped Americans’ wallets and curtailed their spending on entertainment. The year 1955, however, was a renaissance for the modern theme park and the roller coaster when Walt Disney opened Disneyland in Anaheim, CA. According to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, the latest statistics show that American amusement parks and attractions see an annual turnover of about $12 billion, while the industry generates about €4.3 billion (U.S. $5.3 billion) in total revenue in Europe.
Some theme parks like Disney and Universal Studios strive to solely entertain visitors. Others aim to not only entertain but also educate. Indeed, some ‘amusement’ parks want to entertain and expose the public to the utterly bizarre, as the following list shows. This list of the world’s most bizarre amusement parks shows how each of these odd attractions are wondrous and wacky in their own ways.
10. Dickens World, Chatham, Kent, England
It’s fitting that Dickens World is located in the English town of Chatham, as author Charles Dickens’ boyhood hometown. The theme park brings to life much of the writer’s popular literary characters including Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol and Great Expectations. The indoor theme park strives to “recreate a believable Dickensian experience from entry to exit”, according to the park’s mission statement. Victorian-era characters stroll around a replica of Victorian London, while Dickensian attractions like Dotheby’s Hall Victorian Schoolroom, the Haunted House (where three frightening Dickens stories are presented) and the Great Expectations Boat Ride let visitors experience classic literature like never before.
9. Diggerland, various locations, England
“Buckets of Fun” is Diggerland’s slogan, and its visitors have embraced the park’s bizarre offerings since it opened its doors at the turn of the 21st century. At this park, children experience full-sized construction machines including tractors and diggers. The park not only offers machines for families to ride, but also other exciting attractions like the Land Rover Safari and the Spindizzy. Understandably, the park emphasizes safety as much as it does on fun, with strict height and age restrictions in place for those wishing to ride and drive Diggerland’s different attractions. The park has four locations throughout England: Kent, Devon, Durham and Yorkshire. The first site opened in Kent in 2000. The park proved such a success that three more locations opened up in quick succession, with the latest site opening in Yorkshire during Easter 2007.
8. Mukluk Land, Tok, Alaska, USA
Known alternately as Jeju Loveland, Loveland is Korea’s only sexual theme park that features over 140 erotic statues. New exhibitions are introduced every month. Jeju Island has long been the honeymoon destination for Korean newlyweds, and it grew in popularity when newlyweds from as far as India flocked there. Seoul’s Hongik University graduates first presented Loveland’s sculptures in 2002; the park opened in 2004. “Jeju Loveland breaks the traditional taboos surrounding sex and (it’s a)… place where the visitor can appreciate the natural beauty of sexuality,” the theme park’s website boasts.
6. Dwarf Empire, outside Kunming, Yunnan Province, China
Dwarf Empire is exactly the kind of theme park the name implies: an “empire” of dwarfs. First opened in 2009, the theme park is situated on the Xishan mountain outside Kunming, Yunnan Province, China. All of the 100 or so employees, from entertainers to managers and staff, are dwarfs that stand at around four feet three inches. Workers receive 1,000 yuan ($147) per month plus complimentary room and board on site, complete with full-functioning kitchens. Much controversy surrounds Dwarf Empire’s reported exploitation of its inhabitants. However, writer Christ Horton of GoKunming.com says employees are better compensated than most university graduates in nearby Kunming. What’s more, “Chinese visitors to the park are obviously attracted by the novelty of a dwarf village, but there does not appear to be any belittling of the park’s residents,” Horton writes.
5. Bon Bon Land, Holme-Olstrup, Sjælland, Denmark
One of Denmark’s most popular theme parks, the name Bon Bon Land doesn’t just refer to chocolate delights, but also… animal dung. Founded in 1992, Bon Bon Land’s concept came about when the son of Michael Spangsberg, the owner of a candy factory in the Danish town of Holme-Olstrup, commented that the factory’s newest sweets “look like dog farts.”
Soon, the factory’s candies were dubbed with unappealing names like ‘ear wax’ and ‘seagull droppings’ and, counterintuitively, generated hot sales. Danish citizens even sent the company their ideas for unique names and children visited the factory to witness firsthand the candy making. The factory’s restrictive hygiene policies spurred Spangsberg to develop a candy-making site away from the factory, for visitors. That site eventually flourished into a full-fledged theme park with restaurants, shops and rides. Among the rides Bon Bon Land offers are the Water Rat, Beaver Rafting and the Dogfart Roller Coaster, the park’s first ride.
4. Bekonscot, Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, England
Experience a theme park where everything is model scale! Located in Beaconsfield, a town in Southern England, Bekonscot Model Village and Railway is the world’s oldest – and the original – model village. Launched in 1929, the park’s appearance was consistently updated in accordance with contemporary times until 1992, when it reverted back to 1930s buildings and transplantation. London accountant and Bekonscot founder Roland Callingham intended his brainchild to be “eccentric, fun and full of character – Bekonscot was never been made to be taken too seriously.” The theme park will celebrate its 85th anniversary in August 2014. Another factor that sets Bekonscot apart from other theme parks? It donates its profits to charity.
3. Grutas Park (Stalin World), Grutas, Lithuania
The 50-acre theme park is dedicated to all things U.S.S.R., replete with statues of past Soviet leaders including Joseph Stalin and Vladimir Lenin, alongside other Communist-themed exhibitions. After the fall of the U.S.S.R., much debate ensued about what to do with the fallen government’s collected monuments. Lithuanian millionaire Viliunas Malinauskas used his own money to start the exposition that opened as Grutas Park in April 2001. “It’s my gift to future generations,” Malinauskas said, according to NBC News. “People can come here and joke about these grim statues. This means that Lithuania is no longer afraid of communism.”
2. Republic of Children, Manuel B Gonnet, La Plata, Argentina
First opened in 1951 by then-president Juan Perón, the 131-acre Republic of Children is located in the town of Manuel B. Gonnet, a neighborhood in La Plata, Argentina. The park features buildings like castles, restaurants, public buildings and even a chapel scaled to children’s size so as to teach kids about various societal institutions’ functions like government, education, culture, sports and science. The park’s influences include fairy tales by various authors like Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen, and European and Islamic architectural designs. Walt Disney took inspiration from the Republic of Children to develop Disneyland in Anaheim, CA because he was “amazed at such beauty” of the Argentinian park, according to the Republic of Children’s website.
1. Haw Par Villa (Tiger Balm Gardens), Singapore
Ever imagine a theme park featuring macabre scenes like decapitated heads, hellish torture scenes and bizarre statues like a human crab and a grandmother sucking on the breast of another woman? If you haven’t, the Haw Par Villa in Singapore can definitely help you accomplish this. Built in 1937 by Burmese-Chinese American brothers Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Park, the theme park boasts more than 1,000 statues and dioramas depicting Chinese folk tales, mythology, Taoism and Confucianism with the intent of educating visitors (children included!) about morality and the afterlife. The park’s central attraction is the Ten Courts, which showcases scenes of graphic torture on wrongdoers as punishment for various sins. Such sinners include an exam cheater getting disemboweled and a woman lacking in gratitude literally getting her heart ripped out. Fun for all the family…