Amusement park explained

Amusement park (for US citizens, as there is little reference to anything outside eg UK and Europe) is the generic term for a collection of rides and other entertainment attractions assembled for the purpose of entertaining a large group of people. An amusement park is more elaborate than a simple city park or playground, usually providing attractions meant to cater to adults, teenagers, and small children. A theme park is a type of amusement park which has been built around one or more themes, such as an American West theme, or Atlantis. Today, the terms amusement parks and theme parks are often used interchangeably.

Amusement parks evolved in Europe from fairs and pleasure gardens which were created for people’s recreation. The oldest amusement park of the world (opened 1583) is Bakken, at Klampenborg, north of Copenhagen, Denmark. In the United States, world's fairs and expositions were another influence on development of the amusement park industry.[1]

Most amusement parks have a fixed location, as compared to traveling funfairs and carnivals. These temporary types of amusement parks, are usually present for a few days or weeks per year, such as funfairs in the United Kingdom, and carnivals (temporarily set up in a vacant lot or parking lots) and fairs (temporarily operated in a fair ground) in the United States. The temporary nature of these fairs helps to convey the feeling that people are in a different place or time.

Often a theme park will have various 'lands' (sections) of the park devoted to telling a particular story. Non-theme amusement park rides will usually have little in terms of theming or additional design elements while in a theme park all the rides go all with the theme of the park, for example Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World.

The modern amusement park

The Blackgang Chine amusement park, established in 1843 by Victorian entrepreneur Alexander Dabell, on the Isle of Wight, UK can be considered the oldest existing theme park in the world. The first amusement park on Coney Island, Sea Lion Park was built around a nautical theme. Today, central Florida and most notably Orlando boasts more theme parks than any other worldwide destination. The northeastern USA region, most notably Pennsylvania, is now a hotbed of traditional surviving amusement parks. In its truest traditional form is Conneaut Lake Park in Conneaut Lake, Pennsylvania. Others include Knoebels Groves in Elysburg, Pennsylvania, Kennywood in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania, Idlewild Park in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, Lakemont Park in Altoona, Pennsylvania, Dorney Park in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and Waldameer Park in Erie, Pennsylvania.

Modern amusement parks now run differently than those of years past. Amusement parks are usually owned by a large corporate conglomerate which allows capital investment unknown by the traditional family-owned parks. Starting with Disneyland in the 1950s, the park experience became part of a larger package, reflected in a television show, movies, lunch boxes, action figures and finally park rides and costumed characters that make up the "theme." These parks offer a world with no violence or social problems. The thrills of the theme parks are often obscured from the outside by high fences or barriers re-enforcing the feeling of escape, they are kept clean and new thrill rides are frequently added to keep people coming back. In addition to this experience, the theme park is either based on a central theme or, divided into several distinctly themed areas, lands or "spaces." Large resorts, such as Walt Disney World in Florida (United States), actually house several different theme parks within their confines.

Disneyland and the corporate-owned park

Walt Disney, however, is often credited with having originated the concept of the themed amusement park, although he was obviously influenced by Knotts Berry Farm owned by Walter Knott (at the time owner of Calico Ghost town) whom brought buildings from Calico to increase business at his berry stand located in nearby Buena Park, CA. As well as Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen and De Efteling, Netherlands to which Walt was a regular visitor. Disney took these influences and melded them 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. Key to the design process of Disney's new park was the replacement of architects with art directors from the film industry.

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. Cedar Point was set to be torn down in the 1950s when local businesspeople were intrigued by the success of Disneyland and saved it from destruction. Other parks were not as lucky, with Steeplechase Park at Coney Island closing in 1964; Riverview Park, Chicago, Illinois, closed in 1967. Some traditional parks were able to borrow a page from Disneyland and use television to its advantage, such as Kennywood, a park started in 1898 and continuing to operate to the present which used television advertising and featured television personalities at the park.

The first regional theme park, as well as the first Six Flags park, 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.

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 identical theme parks named "Great America" in northern California and Illinois. The former is now California's Great America and is owned by Cedar Fair, L.P., which now also owns Kings Island and Cedar Point; 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.Most of today’s major amusement parks were built in the 1970s.

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 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 is now the third-largest theme park company in the world, behind Disney and Merlin.

Although domestic visitors still make up around 80 percent of admissions to theme and amusement parks, an aging population in the U.S. and a slowing economy in 2008 are forcing The Walt Disney Company and its competitors to seek their fortunes in emerging tourist markets such as in the Middle East and in China. The Walt Disney Company, accounts for around half of the total industry's revenue in the US as a result of more than 50 million adventure seekers pouring through the gates of its U.S.-based attractions each year.[2]

Present and future of amusement parks

Since the 1980s, the amusement 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 one's imagination.

In 2001, Disney opened the Disney's California Adventure which includes Paradise Pier, a recreation of the traditional seaside amusement park of yesteryear.

Amusement parks in shopping malls began in the 1990s, blending traditional amusement park entertainments - roller coasters, water parks, carousels, and live entertainment-- with hotels, movie theaters, and shopping facilities. Examples of giant mall parks are West Edmonton Mall, Alberta, Canada; Pier 39, San Francisco; Mall of America, Bloomington, Minnesota. Amusement park owners are also aware of the need to satisfy their aging baby boomer customer base with more restaurants, landscaping, gardens and live entertainment. Kennywood has created the "Lost Kennywood" area with classic rides that recall the possibly more tranquil times of the early twentieth century.

Family fun parks starting as miniature golf courses have begun to grow to include batting cages, go-karts, bumper cars, bumper boats and water slides. Some of these parks have grown to include even roller coasters, and traditional amusement parks now also have these competition areas in addition to their thrill rides.

The popularity of theme parks has led to the increase of theming--"the use of an overarching theme, such as western, to create a holistic and integrated spatial organization of a consumer venue"--[3] in non-theme park venues. While theme restaurants, casinos, and other themed spaces lack the rides and other features of theme parks, they owe much to the legacy of the theme lands and spatial organization that became popular in theme parks.

Admission prices and admission policies

Amusement parks collect much of their revenue from admission fees paid by guests attending the park. Other revenue sources include parking fees, food and beverage sales and souvenirs.

Practically all amusement parks operate using one of two admission principles:


In this format, a guest enters the park at little or no charge. The guest must then purchase rides individually, either at the attraction's entrance or by purchasing ride tickets (or a similar exchange method, like a token). The cost of the attraction is often based on its complexity or popularity. For example, a guest might pay one ticket to ride a carousel, but would pay four tickets to ride a roller coaster. The park may allow guests to purchase unlimited admissions to all attractions within the park. A wristband or pass is then shown at the attraction entrance to gain admission.

Disneyland opened in 1955 using the pay-as-you-go format[4] . Initially, guests paid the ride admission fees at the attractions. Within a short time, the problems of handling such large amounts of coins led to the development of a ticket system that, while now out of use, is still part of the amusement-park lexicon.[4] In this new format, guests purchased ticket books that contained a number of tickets, labeled "A," "B" and "C." Rides and attractions using an "A-ticket" were generally simple, with "B-tickets" and "C-tickets" used for the larger, more popular rides. Later, the "D-ticket" was added, then finally the now-famous "E-ticket," which was used on the biggest and most elaborate rides, like Space Mountain. Smaller tickets could be traded up for use on larger rides (i.e., two or three A-tickets would equal a single B-ticket). Disneyland, as well as the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, abandoned this practice in 1982.

The advantages of pay-as-you-go include:

The disadvantages of pay-as-you-go include:


An amusement park using the pay-one-price format will charge guests a single, large admission fee. The guest is then entitled to use almost all of the attractions in the park as often as they wish during their visit. The park might have some attractions that are not included in the admission charge; these are called "up-charge attractions" and can include bungee jumping or go-kart tracks or games of skill. However, the majority of the park's attractions are included in the admission cost.

The “pay-one-price” ticket was first used by George Tilyou at Steeplechase Park, Coney Island in 1897. The entrance fee was 25 cents for entrance to the 15acres park and visitors could enjoy all of the attractions as much as they wanted.

When Angus Wynne, founder of Six Flags Over Texas, first visited Disneyland in 1959, he noted that park's pay-as-you-go format as a reason to make his park pay-one-price.[5] He felt that a family would be more likely to visit his park if they knew, up front, how much it would cost to attend.[5]

The advantages of pay-one-price include:

The disadvantages of pay-one-price include:

Rides and attractions

Mechanized thrill machines are what makes an amusement park out of a pastoral, relaxing picnic grove or retreat. Earliest rides include the carousel which was originally developed as a way of practicing and then showing-off expertise at tournament skills such as riding and spearing the ring. By the 19th century, carousels were common in parks around the world. Another such ride which shaped the future of the amusement park was the roller coaster. Beginning as a winter sport in 17th century Russia, these gravity driven railroads were the beginning of the search for even more thrilling amusement park rides. The Columbian Exposition of 1893 was a particular fertile testing ground for amusement rides. The Ferris wheel is the most recognized product of the fair. All rides are set round a theme.

A park contains a mixture of attractions which can be divided into several categories.

Thrill rides

There is a core set of thrill rides which most amusement parks have, including the enterprise, tilt-a-whirl, the gravitron, chairswing, swinging inverter ship, twister, and the top spin. However, there is constant innovation, with new variations on ways to spin and throw passengers around appearing in an effort to keep attracting customers.

Roller coasters

Since the late 19th century, amusement parks have featured roller coasters. Roller coasters feature steep drops, sharp curves, and inversions. Roller coasters may be the most attractive aspect of a park, but many people come for other reasons. Amusement parks generally have anywhere from two to seven coasters, depending on space and budget. The record for the most coasters in one park is held by Cedar Point with 17; Canada's Wonderland and Six Flags Magic Mountain are tied for second with 15.

Train rides

See also: Train ride. Amusement park trains have had long and varied history in American amusement parks as well as overseas. According to various websites and historians, the earliest park trains weren't really trains -- they were trolleys. The earliest park trains were mostly custom built. Some of the most common manufacturers were:

Water rides

Amusement parks with water resources generally feature a few water rides, such as the log flume, bumper boats, and rowing boats. Such rides are usually gentler and shorter than roller coasters and many are suitable for all ages. Water rides are especially popular on hot days.

Transport rides

Transport rides are used to take large amount of guests from one area in the park to another. They usually cost extra, even in parks where rides are free. They are generally popular as they offer an alternative to walking. Transport rides include chairlifts, monorails, and trains.


Amusement parks generate a portion of their income through the sale of food and drink to their patrons. Food is routinely sold through food booths, push carts and indoor restaurants. The offerings vary as widely as the amusement parks themselves, and range from common fast food items, like hamburgers and hot dogs, and local street foods up to full-service gourmet dishes. Amusement parks with exotic themes may include specialty items or delicacies related to the park's theme. Many restaurants and food stands are operated by the amusement parks themselves, while others are branches of regional or national chains.

Trade Associations

See also


  1. Book: Adams, Judith A.. The American Amusement Park Industry: A History of Technology and Thrills. Twayne Publishers. 1991. Boston. 0805798218.
  2. July 2008, Disney & Co., Six Flags, And Other U.S. Theme And Amusement Park Operators Look To Drive Up Revenue With Foreign Visitors
  3. Scott A. Lukas, “The Themed Space: Locating Culture, Nation, and Self,” p. 296, in The Themed Space: Locating Culture, Nation, and Self, ed. Scott A. Lukas (Lanham, MD, Lexington Books, 2007), ISBN 0739121421
  4. Book: Bright, Randy. Disneyland: Inside Story. 1987. Harry N. Abrams. 978-0810908116.
  5. Book: O'Brien, Tim. The Essential Guide to Six Flags Theme Parks. 1996. Oxmoor House, Inc.. Birmingham, Alabama. 0-8487-1247-1.

Further reading

External links