Long lines, expensive food and terrifying rides - who doesn’t love a day at the theme park? It may be exhausting for parents, but for the kids they’re a true place of dreams.
Thankfully, theme parks aren’t all Disneyland and death-defying roller coasters. From car lovers to country music aficionados, these six different amusement parks have something for everyone.
1. Dollywood - Tennessee, USA
What better way to show your devotion to your favourite artist than spending a day at their theme park? Well, if you’re a fan of Dolly Parton’s music, you’re in luck. Dollywood in Tennessee is an entirely Dolly Parton-themed amusement park, co-owned by the woman herself.
Encompassing a resort, water park and traditional theme park, Dollywood is actually the largest employer in the area. It boasts over 40 rides, including the world’s fastest wooden roller coaster, the aptly named Lightning Rod.
Die-hard fans can also take a stroll through Dolly Parton’s touring bus, view countless country-themed shows and even catch a glimpse of Dolly in person at various festival shows throughout the year.
2. Ferrari World - Dubai, United Arab Emirates
If fast cars are more your taste than country stars, Dubai’s Ferrari World will get your motor running. The huge indoor facility is the only Ferrari-themed amusement park in the world, and also houses the world’s fastest roller coaster - Formula Rossa.
Are you game enough to brave the Formula Rossa? If reaching 240km/h in just 5 seconds sounds like a fun day’s work, be our guest - but hang on tight!
In typical Dubai fashion, there was no expense spared in the construction of Ferrari World. In fact, if the huge complex was turned upright, it would be the tallest man-made structure in the world.
But Dubai’s entertainment doesn’t stop with Ferrari World. We listed Dubai as one of the best unique destinations to visit in 2016 because of its wealth of attractions for all kind of travellers.
3. Mini-Europe - Brussels, Belgium
Mini-Europe in Brussels is a unique and quirky alternative to the traditionally high-velocity attractions at amusement parks. Visitors stroll through miniature recreations of Europe’s most famous cities, which are scrupulously built and authentically designed.
The park includes around 80 cities with 350 buildings on display. There are even live displays, like the popular erupting Mount Vesuvius. Some of the more detailed displays, like the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, reportedly took more than 24,000 hours of work to complete.
You’ll marvel at the intricate displays and learn a thing or two while doing so. In August 2016, Mini-Europe will put of a series of night-time fairytale displays and fireworks (in case the kids needed an extra reason to be excited).
4. Suoi Tien Amusement Park - Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
We’ve had Dolly Parton, Ferraris and iPhone apps, now for something a little more cultural.
Suoi Tien Amusement Park in Ho Chi Minh City is entirely Buddhist-themed, with impressive religious iconography set against dramatic and sometimes jarring rides.
The park includes a bay with more than 1500 crocodiles, a bat-ridden boat ride through dark caves and a dinosaur garden. It’s not all weird and wacky, Suoi Tien also has more traditional amusement park facilities like ferris wheels, fairytale castles, water worlds and roller coasters.
Like Mini-Europe, Suoi Tien is a great opportunity for the kids to learn the local culture and have fun doing it. If you’re travelling with the youngsters in tow, check out our top smartphone apps to make the journey smooth sailing.
5. Kingdom of the Little People - Yunnan, China
China’s controversial ‘Kingdom of the Little People’, also known as the ‘Dwarf Empire’, is about as far from your regular theme park as they come. The ‘attraction’ is staffed by people with dwarfism, who perform songs, dances and fairytale shows.
The park’s operators say they are providing employment opportunities to individuals who would otherwise struggle to find work, however the park has been widely criticised.
There are more than 100 performers at the park, the majority of whom live in nearby dormitories. Comedy shows and ballets like Swan Lake are popular attractions, however the audiences are largely local.
Little People of America and Handicap International have likened the park to a human zoo, and western tourists seem to largely agree. Here’s their website so you can decide whether you agree with them or not.
6. Wunderland Kalkar – Dusseldorf, Germany
Those Germans sure are resourceful people. Development of a nuclear power plant just outside Dusseldorf stalled in the 1980s due to construction issues and protests. Following the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, the project was abandoned.
In 1991, a Dutch entrepreneur stepped up to convert the space into an amusement park – and a family-friendly one at that. Wunderland Kalkar now features over 40 rides and a hotel complex, providing kids and their parents with hours of entertainment.
Perhaps the eeriest attractions are the climbing wall and 58-metre vertical swing built into the main cooling tower. They provide a stark reminder of the original intent of the site and how different the area – and German society as a whole – is today.
Wunderland Kalkar is a great day out for families, nuclear or otherwise. Thrill-seekers are completely safe from radiation because the plant never went into production.
Theme park hacks for the smart traveller
When you do brave the crowds at a theme park, a little planning goes a long way.
Ticket queues can quickly take the thrill out of your day. Save time by securing tickets online in advance so you can waltz through the turnstiles. You might even snag a discount.
Tag your children
A lost child in a crowded theme park is everyone’s nightmare. Write your phone number on a piece of paper for your kids to carry in a secure pocket.
Time your run
A few minutes of research will help you get your timing right. When are things open? What are the big events? When does it get most crowded? Get strategic with your itinerary to keep the little ones happy.
Obviously theme parks are fertile ground for pickpockets, but you also wouldn’t want jewellery and phones becoming unexpected casualties of gravity. Or water. Have a look online and see if the park has any secure locker facilities where you can leave your valuables for the day.
Lots of theme parks are open air, so if you’re visiting in the summer months, make sure you slap the sunscreen on and drink plenty of water throughout the day.
Protect your gadgets
Chances are you’re going to want to keep your phone on you so you can stay in touch with your friends and family, and get some Instagram worthy action shots of the day. Wear clothing that has a secure zipped pocket and keep your phone in a Ziploc bag to protect it when you aren’t using it.