Entertainment park

"Theme park" redirects here. For the video game, see Theme Park (video game).
"Amusement Park" redirects here. For the song by 50 Cent, see Amusement Park (song).

An Amusement park or theme park is a group of entertainment attractions, rides, and other events in a location for the enjoyment of large numbers of people. An amusement park is more elaborate than a simple city park or playground, usually providing attractions meant to cater specifically to certain age groups, as well as some that are aimed towards all ages. Theme parks, a specific type of amusement park, are usually much more intricately themed to a certain subject or group of subjects than normal amusement parks.

Amusement parks evolved from European fairs and pleasure gardens, which were created for people's recreation. The oldest amusement park in the world is Bakken, north of Copenhagen, Denmark, which opened in 1583. In the United States, world's fairs and expositions were another influence on development of the amusement park industry.[1] Amusement parks have a fixed location, as opposed to travelling funfairs and carnivals.

In common language, the terms theme park and amusement park are often synonymous. However, a theme park can be regarded as a distinct style of amusement park. A theme park has landscaping, buildings, and attractions that are based on one or more specific themes or stories.[2][3] Despite many older parks adding themed rides and areas, qualifying the park as a theme park, the first park built with the original intention of promoting a specific theme, Santa Claus Land, in Santa Claus, Indiana, did not open until 1946.[4][5] Disneyland, located in Anaheim, California, built around the concept of encapsulating multiple theme parks into a single amusement park is often mistakenly cited as the first themed amusement park, but is instead the park that made the idea popular.


Fairs and pleasure gardens

Periodic fairs, such as the Bartholomew Fair which began in England in 1133, are a parent for the modern amusement park. Beginning in the Elizabethan period the fair had evolved into a center of amusement with entertainment, food, games, and carnival-like freak-show attractions.[1] The seasonal celebration was a natural place for development of amusement attractions. Oktoberfest is not only a beer festival but also provided amusement park features beginning in 1810, when the first event was held in Munich, Germany. In the United States, the county and state fairs also played a part in the history of amusement parks. These were annual events that were usually held for a short time, a week or two, to celebrate a good harvest. These fairs featured livestock exhibits, baking and cooking competitions.[6]

Amusement parks also grew out of the pleasure gardens that became especially popular at the beginning of the Industrial revolution as an area where one could escape from the grim urban environment. The oldest intact still-surviving amusement park in the world (opened 1583) is Bakken ("The Hill") at Klampenborg, north of Copenhagen, Denmark. The best known of the parks in London, was Vauxhall Gardens founded in 1661 and closed in 1859.[1] Another long-standing park is Prater in Vienna, Austria, which opened in 1766. This park was conceived as a place where the common person could enjoy a respite in a pastoral setting and participate in the musical culture of the city. Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen is another example of a European park, dating from 1843, which still exists. These parks consisted of booths, entertainment, fireworks displays and some “rides” such as introduction to the modern railroad. The parks grew to accommodate the expectations of their customers—who were increasingly familiar with the mechanical wonders of industrialization. Rides became a required part of the pleasure garden and by 1896 there were 65 such pleasure parks in London.[1]

Another type of fair is the exposition or world’s fair. World's fairs began in 1851 with the construction of the landmark Crystal Palace in London, England. The purpose of the exposition was to celebrate the industrial achievement of the nations of the world (of which Britain just so happened to be the leader).[7] America cities and business saw the world’s fair as a way of demonstrating economic and industrial success.[7] People particularly point to the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago, Illinois as an early precursor to the modern amusement park. This fair was an enclosed site that merged entertainment, engineering and education to entertain the masses. It set out to bedazzle the visitors, and successfully did so with a blaze of lights from the “White City.” [1] To make sure that the fair was a financial success, the planners included a dedicated amusement concessions area called the Midway Plaisance.[7] Rides from this fair, such as the original Ferris Wheel, captured the imagination of the visitors and of amusement parks around the world. Also, the experience of the enclosed ideal city with wonder, rides, culture and progress (electricity), was based on the creation of an illusory place. Certainly the precursor of the amusement park experience to come.[1]

The “midway” introduced at the Columbian Exposition would become a standard part of most amusement parks, fairs, carnivals and circuses. The midway contained not only the rides, but other concessions and entertainments such as shooting galleries, penny arcades, games of chance and shows.[6]

Trolley parks, Atlantic City, and Coney Island

Main article: Trolley park

In the final decade of the 19th century, the electric trolley lines were developed in most of the larger American cities. Companies that established the trolley lines were directly responsible for establishing amusement parks --

Some of these parks were developed in resort locations, such as bathing resorts at the seaside in New Jersey and New York. A premiere example in New Jersey was Atlantic City, a famous vacation resort. Enterprisers erected amusement parks on piers that extended from the boardwalk out over the ocean. The first of several was Ocean Pier in 1891, followed later by Steel Pier in 1898, both of which boasted rides and attractions typical of that time, such as Midway-style games and electric trolley rides. The boardwalk also had the first Roundabout installed in 1892 by William Somers, a wooden predecessor to the steel Ferris Wheel. Somers installed two others in Asbury Park and Coney Island.[8][9][10]

The Eldorado Amusement Park opened in 1891 on the banks of the Hudson River, overlooking New York City. It consisted of 25 acres.[11]

Other such parks were found along rivers and lakes that provided bathing and water sports such as Riverside Park in Massachusetts, which was founded along the Connecticut River in the 1840s, and Lake Compounce in Connecticut, first established as a public beach in 1846.[12]

Another similar location was Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York, where a horse-drawn streetcar line brought pleasure seekers to the beach beginning in 1829. In 1875, a million passengers rode the Coney Island Railroad, and in 1876 two million visited Coney Island. Hotels and amusements were built to accommodate both the upper-classes and the working-class. The first carousel was installed in the 1870s, the first roller coaster, the "Switchback Railway", in 1884. It was not until 1895 that the first permanent amusement park in North America opened: Sea Lion Park at Coney Island in Brooklyn. This park was one of the first to charge admission to get into the park in addition to sell tickets for rides within the park.[1]

In 1897, Sea Lion Park was joined by Steeplechase Park, the first of three major amusement parks that would open in the Coney Island area. George Tilyou designed the park to provide thrills and entertainment. The combination of the nearby population center of New York City and the ease of access to the area made Coney Island the embodiment of the American amusement park.[1] Coney Island also featured Luna Park and Dreamland. Coney Island was a huge success and by year 1910 attendance on days could reach a million people.[1] Fueled by the efforts of Frederick Ingersoll, other "Luna Parks" were quickly erected worldwide and opened to rave reviews.

Fire was a constant threat in those days, as much of the construction within the amusement parks of the era was wooden. In 1911, Dreamland was the first Coney Island amusement park to completely burn down; in 1944, Luna Park also burned to the ground. Most of Ingersoll's Luna Parks were similarly destroyed, usually by arson, before his death in 1927.

The Golden Age

During the Gilded Age, many Americans began working fewer hours[13] and had more disposable income. With new-found money and time to spend on leisure activities, Americans sought new venues for entertainment. Amusement parks, set up outside major cities and in rural areas, emerged to meet this new economic opportunity. These parks served as source of fantasy and escape from real life.[1] By the early 1900s, hundreds of amusement parks were operating in the United States and Canada. Trolley parks stood outside many cities. Parks like Atlanta's Ponce de Leon[14] and Idora Park,[15] near Youngstown, OH, took passengers to traditionally popular picnic grounds, which by the late 1890s also often included rides like the Giant Swing, Carousel, and Shoot-the-Chutes. These amusement parks were often based on nationally-known parks or world's fairs: they had names like Coney Island, White City, Luna Park, or Dreamland. The American Gilded Age was, in fact, amusement parks' Golden Age that reigned until the late 1920s.

The Golden Age of amusement parks also included the advent of the kiddie park. Founded in 1925, the original Kiddie Park is located in San Antonio, Texas and is still in operation today. The kiddie parks became popular all over America after World War II.[16]

This era saw the development of the new innovations in roller coasters that included extreme drops and speeds to thrill the riders. By the end of the First World War, people seemed to want an even more exciting entertainment, a need met by roller coasters.[17] Although the development of the automobile provided people with more options for satisfying their entertainment needs, the amusement parks after the war continued to be successful, while urban amusement parks saw declining attendance.[1] The 1920s is more properly known as the Golden Age of roller coasters, being the decade of frenetic building for these rides.[17]

Depression and post-World War II decline

The Great Depression of the 1930s and World War II during the 1940s saw the decline of the amusement park industry. War caused the affluent urban population to move to the suburbs, television became a source of entertainment, and families went to amusement parks less often.[1]

By the 1950s, factors such as urban decay, crime, and even desegregation in the ghettos led to changing patterns in how people chose to spend their free time. Many of the older, traditional amusement parks closed or burned to the ground. Many would be taken out by the wrecking ball to make way for suburban housing and development. In 1964, Steeplechase Park, once the king of all amusement parks, closed down for good. The traditional amusement parks which survived, for example, Kennywood, in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania, and Cedar Point, in Sandusky, Ohio, did so in spite of the odds.[1]

The rise of theme parks

In 1955, Disneyland opened to rave reviews, and completely changed the landscape of the amusement park industry. No longer did guests want a group of rides in a field by a lake, they wanted an entire perfect world to take them out of the real world for a day. The thrills of theme parks are often obscured from the outside by landscaping or berms, re-enforcing the feeling of escape. They are kept clean and new 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, or "lands".

Following Disneyland, many other parks trying to copy its ideas, such as the hub-and-spoke layout and themed "lands", popped up across the country. Examples include Great Adventure in New Jersey and Universal Studios Hollywood in Los Angeles, California. However, none could match the success of Disneyland.

15 years after Disneyland, The Walt Disney Company opened its second theme park, Magic Kingdom near Orlando, Florida. This park pushed the definition of theme park even further, as it was surrounded by over 47 square miles of pristine, undeveloped land, creating a massive natural barrier between the real world and the park. Today, it is now the Walt Disney World Resort, consisting of four theme parks in the most visited vacation resort in the world.

Amusement and theme parks today

The amusement park industry's offerings range from large, worldwide type theme parks such as Walt Disney World and Universal Studios Hollywood to smaller and medium-sized theme parks such as the Six Flags parks and Cedar Fair parks. 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, such as Legoland.

Examples of amusement parks in shopping malls exist in West Edmonton Mall, Alberta, Canada; Pier 39, San Francisco; Mall of America, Bloomington, Minnesota.

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.

As of 2008, the Walt Disney Company accounted for around half of the total industry's revenue in the US as a result of more than 50 million visitors of its U.S.-based attractions each year.[18]

Other types of amusement park

Educational theme parks

Some parks use rides and attractions for educational purposes. Disney was the first to successfully open a large-scale theme park built around education. Named Epcot, it opened in 1982 as the second park in the Walt Disney World Resort. There are also Holy Land USA[19] and the Holy Land Experience,[20] which are theme parks built to inspire Christian piety. Dinosaur World entertains families with dinosaurs in natural settings, while the Seaworld and Busch Gardens parks also offer educational experiences, with each of the parks housing several thousand animals, fish and other sea life in dozens of attractions and exhibits focusing on animal education.[21]

Family-owned theme parks

Some theme parks did evolve from more traditional amusement park enterprises, such as Knott's Berry Farm. In the 1920s, Walter Knott and his family sold berries from a roadside stand, which grew to include a restaurant serving fried chicken dinners. Within a few years, lines outside the restaurant were often several hours long. To entertain the waiting crowds, Walter Knott built a Ghost Town in 1940, using buildings relocated from real old west towns such as the Calico, California ghost town and Prescott, Arizona. In 1968, the Knott family fenced the farm, charged admission for the first time, and Knott's Berry Farm officially became an amusement park.[1] Because of its long history, Knott's Berry Farm currently claims to be "America's First Theme Park." Knott's Berry Farm is now owned by Cedar Fair Entertainment Company. Lake Compounce in Bristol, Connecticut may be the true oldest continuously operating amusement park in the United States, open since 1846. Santa Claus Town, which opened in Santa Claus, Indiana in 1935 and included Santa's Candy Castle and other Santa Claus-themed attractions, is considered the first themed attraction in the United States: a pre-cursor to the modern day theme park. Santa Claus Land (renamed Holiday World in 1984) opened in 1946 in Santa Claus, Indiana and many people will argue that it was the first true Theme Park despite Knott's history.[12] In the 1950s the Herschend family took over operation of the tourist attraction, Marvel Cave near Branson, Missouri. Over the next decade they modernized the cave, which led to large numbers of people waiting to take the tour. The Herschend family opened a recreation of the old mining town that once existed atop Marvel Cave. The small village eventually became the theme park, Silver Dollar City. The park is still owned and operated by the Herschends and the family has several other parks including Dollywood, Celebration City and Wild Adventures.

Regional parks

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.[22] 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, with the Magic Kingdom (1971), Epcot (1982), Disney's Hollywood Studios (1989) and Disney's Animal Kingdom (1998).

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 amusement parks using the pay-as-you-go scheme, 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 four tickets to ride a roller coaster.

The park may allow guests to purchase a pass providing unlimited admissions to all attractions within the park for a specified duration of time. 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.[23] 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.[23] 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 following:

  • guests pay for only what they choose to experience, allowed them to visit the park for a short periods of time (whereas guests who get day passes in "Pay-one-price" are generally compelled to spend hours to make the most of the cost)
  • attraction costs can be changed easily to encourage use or capitalize on popularity
  • best suited to parks located in areas with high pedestrian traffic and surrounded by competing points-of-interest (i.e. shopping arcade or theatre not operated by the park) and/or natural attractions, that make it hard to charge an admission fee. For instance, Centreville Amusement Park was one of the numerous attractions on the Toronto Islands alongside beaches and boating clubs, and its pay-as-you-go fare scheme was suited its guests who usually spent only 1–2 hours at the park. For amusement parks inside shopping centers such as the West Edmonton Mall's Galaxyland, where amusement attractions exist alongside stores, pedestrian traffic consists of both shoppers and park guests, so it may not be practical to segregate the park premises and charge an admission fee.

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

  • guests may get tired of spending money almost continuously
  • guests may not spend as much on food or souvenirs
  • results in high volumes of low-spending guests, and the resultant low profit margins are only sufficient for mature amusement parks that are not expanding[24]


An amusement park using the pay-one-price scheme will charge guests a single, large admission fee. The guest is then entitled to use most of the attractions (usually including flagship roller coasters) in the park as often as they wish during their visit. A daily admission pass (daypass) is the most basic fare on sale, also sold are season tickets which offer holders admission for the entire operating year[25] (plus special privileges for the newest attractions), and express passes which gives holders priority in bypassing lineup queues for popular attractions.

Pay-one-price format parks also have attractions that are not included in the admission charge; these are called "up-charge attractions" and can include Skycoasters or go-kart tracks, or games of skill where prizes are won.

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.[26] He thought that a family would be more likely to visit his park if they knew, up front, how much it would cost to attend.[26]

The advantages of pay-one-price include

  • lower costs for the park operators, since ticket-takers are not needed at each attractions
  • guests need not worry about spending money continuously on attractions, so they may spend more money on food and souvenirs
  • more predictable price to offer guests since upfront cost is known.
  • better suited to amusement parks located in the suburbs or rural areas, with the park often as the only attraction there, which allows for a more captive audience to charge higher admission fees.
  • the higher profit margins, in turn, allow the park to add new attractions.

The disadvantages of pay-one-price include:

  • price may be unattractive for guests who just visit the park to be with their families or use only few attractions
  • guests are generally compelled to spend hours in order to make the most of the cost of a day pass, pricing is geared towards guests making a full day excursion rather than a short visit

Rides and attractions

Mechanized thrill machines are a defining feature of amusement parks. 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. Many 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

Main article: Roller coaster

Amusement parks often feature multiple roller coasters of primarily timber or steel construction. In essence a specialized railroad system with steep drops and sharp curves, passengers sit and are restrained in cars, usually with two or more cars joined to form a train. Some roller coasters feature one or more inversions (such as vertical loops) which turn the riders upside down.

Train rides

Main article: 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:

  • Crown Metal Products
  • Custom Locomotives
  • Miniature Train Co. (MTC)
  • The National Amusement Devices Co.(NAD)
  • Ottaway
  • Sandley
  • Tampa Metal Products

Water rides

Main article: Water ride

Amusement parks with water resources generally feature a few water rides, such as the log flume, bumper boats, rapids 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.

Dark rides

Main article: Dark ride

Overlapping with both train rides and water rides, dark rides are enclosed attractions in which patrons travel in guided vehicles along a predetermined path, through an array of illuminated scenes which may include lighting effects, animation, music and recorded dialogue, and other special effects,.

Ferris wheels

Main article: Ferris wheel

Ferris wheels are the most common type of carnival ride at state fairs in the US.[27]

Transport rides

Transport rides are used to take large amounts of guests from one area of the park to another, as an alternative to walking, especially for parks that are large or separated into several distant areas. Transports can include chairlifts, monorails, aerial trams, and escalators.

While originally intended for practicality rather "thrills" or enjoyment, Ocean Park Hong Kong is well known for its 1.5-kilometre (0.93 mi) cable car connecting the Lowland and Headland areas of the park, and having the world's second longest outdoor escalator in the Headland. Both transportation links providing scenic views of the park's hilly surroundings and have become significant park attractions in their own right.[28]


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, hot dogs, cotton candy, candy apples, donuts and local street foods up to full-service gourmet dishes. Theme 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.

See also


Further reading

  • Futrell, Jim. Amusement Parks of New Jersey. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2004.
  • Futrell, Jim. Amusement Parks of New York. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2006.
  • Futrell, Jim. Amusement Parks of Pennsylvania. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2002.
  • Futrell, Jim. Amusement Parks of Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2008.
  • Rabinovitz, Lauren. Electric Dreamland: Amusement Parks, Movies, and American Modernity (Columbia University Press; 2012) 237 pages
  • Gottlock, Barbara and Wesley. Lost Amusement Parks of New York City . (History Press, 2013)
  • Gottlock, Wesley and Barbara. Lost Amusement Parks of the Hudson Valley (Blurb Publishing, 2011)

External links

  • International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions
  • Themed Entertainment Association (USA)
  • California Attractions and Parks Association (CAPA)
  • Indian Association of Amusement Parks and Industries

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