33 Amazing Facts About Theme Parks That Will Make Your Heart Race
Get ready for a doozy of a mental thrill ride.
The best theme parks create a sense of magic. You feel transported to another world, with crazy rides and costumed characters (and no lack of overpriced snacks). But since so many work so hard to create thrilling fantasy escapes, it can be easy to forget that there are real facts behind the make believe—astonishing histories, jaw-dropping stats, totally odd quirks. All in all, it’s yet another a reminder that life—real life—is the greatest magic.
It might seem like a brilliant plan: go on a roller coaster, pretend to get whiplash, and sue the amusement park owner for millions. You wouldn’t be the first to come up with the idea, though. One Six Flags employee said on Reddit that, “Everyone thinks they can try and fake an injury and try to sue, but they just get themselves nowhere. It happens too often.”
Another theme park worker chimed in with their own experience: “We once had an entire family (5 people) come up saying they were all injured on the bumpers cars (that they were all riding at the same time) and were going to sue us. They made written statements and everything for it. I was pretty amused reading those.” Better to just enjoy yourself.
Theme parks have to be careful to protect themselves from any legal action on the part of unhappy or injured guests. Part of this effort means instructing employees not to talk to guests who mention bringing a lawsuit and to simply connect them with security. As one Six Flags employee explained on Reddit: “DON’T TALK ABOUT SUEING [sic] AT ANY POINT IF YOU WANT TO GET SOMETHING. I can’t stress this enough, because if you mention ‘sue,’ ‘court,’ or ‘lawyer,’ all employees are trained to stop talking to you and call security.”
It’s a move that would no doubt get a laugh from Captain Jack Sparrow. When Disneyland first opened, the ride’s creators were not impressed by the faux skeletons that were available. So they decided to get some real ones, reaching out to the nearby UCLA Medical Center for some actual human remains that proved plenty believable.
But, as times and attitudes changed, the real ones were replaced by more convincing fakes and “returned to their countries of origin and given a proper burial,” as former Disney producer Jason Surrell writes in his book about the ride, Pirates of the Caribbean: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies.
Roller coasters go way back: the earliest rides in which people boarded a vehicle and rolled down sloping hills were introduced at the Russian Imperial Summer Palace in the late 18th Century. According to roller coaster expert Steven J. Urbanowitcz, “The person who devised this avant-garde pleasure was the palace’s occupant, Catherine the Great.” Though he’s sure to add that she got the idea from 16th-century ice slides that were popular in the region during the colder months.
Like something out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the plants in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland are actually edible. It grew out of the Space Age theme of the part of the park, going back to when it first opened in 1959. It’s based on an idea the park’s planners called “Agrifuture.” As Disneyland’s site explains, “The plants in Tomorrowland are meant to be edible! The visionary landscaping doubles as a potential farm, projecting an ecologically astute future, where humanity makes the most of its resources.”
While the masked characters aren’t allowed to speak to the kids who are so fascinated by them, princesses do, which creates plenty of situations where they might have to take certain liberties with the truth—or else risk puncturing the fantasy. The folks at Mental Floss spoke with a person playing Mulan who was asked to speak Chinese: “She would respond, ‘I bet Mushu if I could go an entire day without speaking Chinese, he’d feed the chickens for me tomorrow.’ The same woman also played Silvermist the fairy. When kids asked her to fly, she would say, ‘I’m saving my pixie dust for later.’”
Called Club 33, this semi-secret restaurant and lounge, located above the park’s Café Orleans and French Market restaurants offers visitors high-end meals and experiences. The venue is invite-only—with a years-long waitlist—and has an initiation fee of $25,000 to $100,000, with an annual fee of as much as $30,000, according to some reports. If you don’t have, oh, a decade to wait, plus a spare 50-large lying around, worry not: Members regularly sell reservations on CraigsList.
While roller coasters seem like the perfect conditions for causing someone to feel ill, guests don’t get overcome by the rides as often as you might expect. According to one former Six Flags employee, speaking as part of a Reddit AMA, “People don’t throw up nearly as much as you would expect. Maybe I was just lucky. I worked a majority of my time at a ride called Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth: a spinning wheel that raises and tilts with the guest against the wall. Couple people threw up. One of my coworkers actually enjoyed cleaning it up… which was weird but I didn’t mind!”
Getting ill may not be as common as you’d expect, but Six Flags does have a specific code for taking care of a mess: 10-38. So it must happen often enough. The code for guest illness is 10-5A. At Disneyland? The code for vomit is “Code V.”
The theme park giant has a whole list of codes for possible situations. These range from the mundane (10-17: Meet Guest; 10-22: Disregard) to the dramatic (10-57: Hit & Run; 11-10: Stolen Vehicle; 10-70: Actual Fire).
Sanrio Puroland, in Tama New Town, Tokyo, gives visitors the chance to step inside Hello Kitty’s house, Sanrio-themed games, and something called a “Bell of Happiness.” Reportedly, 1.5 million people visit the park each year.
For those looking to get more bang for their amusement-park buck, Japan’s Nagashima Spa Land, just outside of Nagoya, offers the lengthiest coaster you can ride: the Steel Dragon 2000. Since it’s in an area that’s seen its share of earthquakes, extra precautions had to be taken. It took about $50 million—plus far more steel than any other coaster on the planet—to ensure it was not just a long, but a safe ride.
What’s more fun than going to work? That’s the idea behind KidZania, a global theme park with two dozen locations—the first U.S. location is coming to Dallas in the fall—that gives kids a chance to “learn about different careers, the inner-workings of a city, and the concept of managing money.” The “park” is a bona fide miniature city, with a hospital, a fire station, a supermarket, and more, where guests can work, make purchases, open bank accounts, and even pay taxes. The fun never stops!
Back behind the park’s most morbid attraction is a small plot dedicated to deceased pets, with animal tombstones, such “Lilac the skunk,” “Rosie the pig,” and dogs named Fifi and Buddy. It even includes the upturned grave of Sparky—the undead canine from Disney’s Frankenweenie.
According to Six Flags, “All of our rides have hundreds of sensors constantly measuring and watching every aspect of the ride, similar to the sensors in your car that flash an alert if you’ve forgotten to buckle your seat belt or left one of your car doors open.” But, unlike your car, which continues to drive when sensors are activated (for bad weather, for a nearby vehicle, for an unclasped seatbelt), when one of the ride’s sensors is activated, the whole thing stops.
Formula Rossa in Ferrari World Abu Dhabi can hit a top speed of 149 miles per hour. But what’s more impressive than how fast it gets is how quickly it accelerates. Using a hydraulic launch system that mimics the release velocity similar to steam catapults on an aircraft carrier, it hits top speed within a mere five seconds. It’s so fast, riders are required to wear protective glasses like those skydivers would use.
You can thank the Smoky Mountain Songbird for the speediest wooden roller coaster in the world. Dolly Parton’s Dollywood theme park is home to Lighting Rod, tricked out to look like a 1950s hot rod, and which gets up to speeds of 76 miles per hour along its 3,800-foot track. Like the namesake of the park in which it sits, it’s a bit of a throwback that still packs plenty of thrills.
Car fanatics should make their way to Spain’s PortaVentura theme park (an hour outside Barcelona) to experience Ferrari Land. As you’d expect, the park includes some fast rides, such as Red Force (which goes from 0 to 180 kilometers an hour in five seconds), a “Free Fall Tower,” and a Maranello Grand Race track, where visitors can race against their friends and family.
The beloved bobsled-themed ride in Disneyland hides a half-court basketball court at its top. It’s part of a rest area where the park’s “cast members” can relax before scaling the mountain for the amusement of park guests. According to Snopes, “the basketball court came to be when one of these climbers brought in and installed a basketball hoop and backboard for use as an amusement to pass the time when inclement weather or other conditions prevented the climbers from working outside the mountain.”
That would be Kingda Ka in Six Flags Great Adventure, based in Jackson, New Jersey. Reaching a height of 456 feet (36 feet higher than the next-tallest coaster—Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point), it then takes a 418 foot drop as it takes riders along its 3,118-foot-long track. First opened in May 2005, it’s held the record ever since.
Safety remains a top concern for any theme park, which means checking the rides constantly to ensure they are running as they are supposed to. According to one Six Flags employee, “Every day, before we open the parks to you and your family, all Six Flags rides and attractions are thoroughly inspected by highly skilled maintenance and operations staff.”
Disneyland’s iconic castle holds a time capsule. Buried there in 1995 to celebrate the park’s 40th anniversary, the contents of the capsule are mysterious, but they will be unveiled on the park’s 80th birthday, on July 17, 2035.
It’s not actually in Mount Rushmore, but Rush Mountain Adventure Park has plenty of attractions, including the cavernous Rushmore Cave, recently opened Rushmore Mountain Coaster, and a zipline course.
You might think that a roller coaster stuck on the tracks is the sign of something very wrong. But Six Flags says that while having to wait a few minutes while a ride starts back up again might not be ideal, it’s actually a reflection of just how safe the rides are. “While it may look dangerous, and generate media interest, these controlled ride stops are proof that our ride safety systems are working exactly as they should,” says the company. “All of our rides are engineered to stop in a safe location.”
Specifically, Coney Island, Brooklyn, which debuted the Switchback Railway in 1884, in which passengers sat in a vehicle that went down a 600-foot track along the beach, up to a second tower where the car was switched and made a return. This was soon followed by the Gravity Pleasure Road at Coney Island in 1885, and soon the rides were appearing across the country.
Nowadays, the Switchback is very much closed, but Coney Island is still home to another ancient ride: The Cyclone (pictured), which opened up in 1927. It may not be as fast or tall as other, more modern roller coasters, but we contend it’s the country’s most terrifying—because, again, it was opened in 1927. Three people have died riding the Cyclone.
The Switchback Railway only went about 6 miles per hour down its slope. At the time, that was considered a terrifying speed.
Belgium’s Mini Europe is just what it sounds like: a small version of some of Europe’s many architectural and historic attractions. It includes miniature replicas of Holland’s windmills, Paris’ Eiffel Tower and England’s Buckingham Palace. Viking ships and even the Berlin Wall make appearances.
The theme park Lakemont Park, in Altoona, Pennsylvania, is home to Leap-The-Dips, a wooden “figure-8” coaster that was opened in 1902. It’s been regularly restored and improved over that century-and-change, particularly during a 14-year hiatus in the 1980s and ’90s. Still, more than 70 percent of the original wood remains intact.
Dyrehavsakken (or just Bakken), in Klampenborg, Denmark, just north of Copenhagen, opened up in 1583 Though it looked very different than it does now, the park originated as a “pleasure garden” of fireworks, games and live entertainment. But it was an early adopter of cutting-edge attractions, opening a wooden roller coaster in 1932—the Rutschebanen, which is still operating today.
True risk-takers will want to make their way to Wunderland Kalkar, also (terrifyingly) known as “the Energy Factory,” built on the site of a former nuclear power plant. We kid—the plant never actually held radioactive chemicals, as it was mothballed before being completed. But it does offer a number of family-friendly rides, and even its own hotel.
It may be offensive to some, but there’s a very real theme park in Mexico—Parque EcoAlberto, in El Alberto—that recreates the experience of what it’s like to attempt to cross the border into the United States without authorization. Though no actual borders are crossed, the fully immersive experience takes place at night—and lasts a grueling four to six hours.
From Gulliver’s Kingdom Amusement Park, where a giant, graffiti-covered Gulliver still lays, to Vietnam’s Hồ Thuỷ Tiên, which has empty waterslides and a giant, kind-of-terrifying dragon, it seems harder than ever these days for amusement parks to keep the crowds coming. As a result, you can find such graveyards of fun in nearly every corner of the globe. Talk about fodder for a real-life horror movie!
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