Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Theme park

The theme park is the modern amusement park, divided into several distinct themed areas, or "lands" as is often used. Large resorts, such as Walt Disney World in Florida (United States) actually house several different theme parks within its confines.

Walt Disney is credited with having originated the concept of the themed amusement park. Disneyland was based loosely on Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Fairyland in Oakland, California and various World's Fairs. Several Disneyland attractions -- Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, "it's a small world", and the dinosaurs of Primeval World -- were built by Disney's in-house manufacturing department (Imagineering) for the 1964 New York World's Fair. When the fair closed, Disney relocated the shows to a permanent home at Disneyland.

Disney took these influences and melded then with the popular Disney animated characters and his unique vision, and "Disneyland" was born. Disneyland officially opened in Anaheim, California in 1955 and changed the amusement industry forever.

The years in which Disneyland opened were a sort of stopgap period for the amusement park industry, as many of the older, traditional amusement parks had already closed and many were close to closing their doors. Even before Steeplechase Park at Coney Island closed in 1964, a new entry to the theme park world emerged in the first regional theme park, as well as the first Six Flags park, Six Flags over Texas.

Six Flags over Texas was officially opened in 1961 in Arlington, Texas near Dallas. The first Six Flags theme park was the vision of Angus Wynne, Jr. and helped create the modern, competitive theme park industry. By 1968, the second Six Flags park, Six Flags over Georgia, opened, and in 1971, Six Flags over Mid-America (now Six Flags St. Louis) opened near St. Louis, Missouri. Also in 1971 was the opening of the Walt Disney World resort complex in Florida, which is still the largest theme park and resort complex in the world.

Other important developments in early theme park history largely occurred in California. Knott's Berry Farm, located in Buena Park, California near Anaheim, originally *was* a berry farm owned by the Knott family that started in the 1920s. By the late 1950s, Knott's Berry Farm had established its Ghost Town, which became the first of several themed areas of the modern Knott's Berry Farm theme park.

During the 1970s, the theme park industry started to mature as a combination of revitalized traditional amusement parks and new ventures funded by larger corporations emerged. Magic Mountain (now a Six Flags park) opened in Valencia, California. Regional parks such as Cedar Point and Kings Island, popular amusement parks in Ohio, moved towards the more modern theme park-concept as well as rotating new roller coasters and modern thrill rides. Also during the mid-1970s, Marriott Corporation built two nearly identical theme parks named "Great America" in northern California and Illinois. The former is now owned by Paramount and the latter is now Six Flags Great America. Many theme parks were hit badly by the Arab oil embargo of 1973 and a number of planned theme parks were scrapped during this time.

Perhaps the most indirect evolution of an attraction into a full-fledged theme park is that of Universal Studios Hollywood. Originally just a backlot tram train-ride tour of the actual studios in Hollywood, California, the train ride that started in 1964 slowly evolved into a larger attraction with a western stunt show in 1967, "The Parting of the Red Sea" in 1973, a look at props from the movie Jaws in 1975, and the "Conan the Barbarian" show in 1984. By 1985, the modern era of the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park began with the "King Kong" ride and, in 1990, Universal Studios Florida in Orlando opened. Universal Studios in now the second-largest theme park company in the world, only rivalled in size by Disney itself.

Since the 1980s, the theme park industry has become larger than ever before, with everything from large, worldwide type theme parks such as Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood to smaller and medium-sized theme parks such as the Six Flags parks and countless smaller ventures in many of the states of the U.S and in countries around the world. Even simpler theme parks directly aimed at smaller children have emerged, including Legoland in Carlsbad, California (the first Legoland opened in Billund, Denmark). The only limit to future theme park ventures is ones imagination.

Other theme parks: