Theme parks have an interesting legacy. Before Disneyland set the standard for a permanent entertainment venue that is open year-round, traveling carnivals gave people a temporary respite from their ordinary lives. These small festivals for endearingly sketchy but they provided a lot of the same attractions that amusement parks provide today (food, games, rides).
Disneyland changed the game, and every amusement park since has been trying to catch up to the mouse in his giant blue castle. A lot of parks have come close, and I don’t think that it is unfair to call this the golden era of amusement parks. But with all things, not every amusement park is created equal. In fact, some parks should thank their marketing teams for the fact that anyone still visits them.
This article will discuss the 11 most disappointing theme parks we can't believe are still open, plus 14 worth every dollar. One thing that I found most surprising when I was compiling this list is that there doesn’t seem to be any geographical patterns. That is, there are not any countries or regions that are immune from having disappointing theme parks.
25 Most Disappointing- Disneyland Paris
One way that Disneyland has managed to maintain the strength of its brand is by limiting the number of Disneyland parks that are opened. The more parks that there are that bear the Disneyland name, the more likely it is that one of these parks will fail to live up to Disneyland expectations.
One park that has toed this line in recent years is Disneyland Paris. The park's operators borrowed a lot of money to create this park and this has hindered its growth. They have to be tighter with their money which keeps them from updating some older attractions.
24 Worth Every Dollar- Europa Park
Chalk up another victory for western Europe in the amusement park category. Europa Park (sometimes called Eurosat) is a popular theme park in Rust, Germany. Europa is the largest theme park in Germany and it is the most popular theme park in Europe that doesn’t bare the Disneyland name. Europeans love their roller coasters and Europa Park has one of the best collections in the world.
Silver Star, Blue Fir, and the Wodan Timbur Coaster are just a few of the coasters that call this park home. Europa Park also has a diverse schedule of shows that are very popular.
23 Most Disappointing- Diggerland
Who would have guessed that the most obnoxiously white trash amusement park in the United States could be found in New Jersey? Diggerland (ridiculous name, I know) is an amusement park where every ride and attraction is based on a piece of construction equipment.
Instead of go-karts, they have Rugged Riders. There is nothing wrong with the rides themselves (though they are nothing spectacular) but it is the overall theme of the park that makes this entry so ridiculous. This park is also limited by a lack of space and attractions.
22 Worth Every Dollar- Disneyland, California
This next entry shouldn't surprise anyone. For decades, Disneyland has been a Mecca for theme park enthusiasts not just in the United States, but worldwide. In other articles, I have made the argument that Disney World in Orlando, Florida is actually superior to the Disneyland in California but that shouldn't come off as a criticism of Disneyland itself.
Despite being habitually overcrowded, the rides at Disneyland are so cool that they make standing in line worth it. But the engineers at Disney aren’t resting on their laurels, they are constantly updating the park with new and innovating rides.
21 Most Disappointing- Nickelodeon Universe
I don't know if I have ever been more personally disappointed by a theme park than I was when I visited Nickelodeon Universe Theme Park. This park is located inside the Mall of America in Minnesota. As someone that grew up watching, and loving, Nickelodeon cartoons, I thought that this was such a cool idea for a theme park.
Nickelodeon has almost the following that Disney has and we all know how that theme park worked out. Unfortunately, the limitations of being in a mall have made Nickelodeon Universe hugely disappointing.
20 Worth Every Dollar- Disneyland Tokyo
Japan loves its amusement parks. The over-the-top fun that theme parks specialize in is perfect for the culture in Japanese cities. There are a ton of great theme parks in Japan to choose from but I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about Disneyland Tokyo. Disneyland Tokyo was the first Disney park to be opened outside the United States.
The park first opened its doors in 1983. It has been improving ever since, and the argument could be made that it now rivals the original Disneyland in California. I don’t want to get bogged down in that argument but I will point out that Disneyland Tokyo is home to Pooh’s Hunny Hunt.
19 Most Disappointing- Seaworld
No theme park in the world has had a tougher decade than Seaworld. This infamous water park drew most of its customers because of its dolphin and whale shows, where these giant marine mammals would jump through hoops and perform other tricks with the Seaworld trainers.
The documentary Blackfish revealed a lot, and these parks have seen a major drop in attendance since the film's release.
18 Worth Every Dollar- Universal Studios: Singapore
There are several key themes throughout this article. One theme that should be very apparent is that Universal Studios consistently puts out superior theme parks. Another pattern that is shown in this article is that the best theme parks in the world are not only found in rich countries. There does not seem to be any connection between a nation’s economic strength and their chance of housing a superior theme park.
The Universal Studios amusement park in Singapore illustrates both of these patterns. The most popular rides at this park are the Battlestar Galactica ride and Jurassic Park Rapids Adventure.
17 Most Disappointing- Cedar Point
I have never been to a theme park which looked more like it was just randomly thrown together than Cedar Point in Ohio. Cedar Point is a seasonal park, so every year they recruit a new crop of college and high school kids to work at the park during the summer. Ohio can’t furnish enough kids to fully staff the park, so they actually have housing barracks reserved for their seasonal workers.
When I was in college, several of my friends worked at the park during the summer. From some of the stories that they have told me, I never want to risk my life on a Cedar Park ride.
16 Worth Every Dollar- Lotte World
South Korea has become a bit of a haven for over-the-top theme parks in recent years. The best of these is probably Lotte World. Lotte world includes the world’s largest indoor theme park and an additional outdoor park called “Magic Island.” Though the park does have some original rides, its best attractions are remakes of Disneyland classics.
Adventures of Sinbad is an obvious copy of Pirates of the Caribbean and you can definitely see the inspiration to Pharaoh’s Fury in the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland. It would be easy to write of Lotte World as a Disneyland rip off if it wasn’t for the fact that the South Korean park is cheaper and less crowded than the mouse’s palace.
15 Worth Every Dollar- Paradise Island: Atlantis
This is a bit of a weird choice for this list. The Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island in the Bahamas is very nice but most people don't go there for the water park. When I stayed in Atlantis, however, I was very impressed by the local theme park.
One of the things that I found most impressive was how unique the water rides are. There is a water slide that takes you beneath a pool filled with sharks and other water life. There is also a long "lazy river" that is anything but dull.
14 Worth Every Dollar- Universal Studios: U.S.
One of the worst decisions that Universal Studios ever made was basing its park in Orlando, Florida. Universal is one of the most intricate and well-developed parks in the world but they decided to put it right next to the Mecca of amusement parks, Disney World. I have read, however, several articles from people who have been to both parks and they say that Universal stands up to the mouse in almost every aspect.
For years, Jurassic Park was the most popular ride in the park but the recent creation of Harry Potter World has given it a ride for its money.
13 Worth Every Dollar- Universal Studios Japan
Japan is a pretty cool country. This island nation in Asia has a unique history and culture and they have gone all in on certain aspects of technology. Therefore, it should surprise no one that one of the best theme parks in the world is located in Japan. There are four Universal Studios theme parks worldwide, and the most popular one might be the Japanese satellite.
Located in Osaka, this park is visited by over 8 million people every year. Hollywood Dream and Space Fantasy are the most popular rides.
12 Most Disappointing- Mountain Creek Waterpark
There are a lot of factors that might make a theme park disappointing. The rides might not be as cool as you thought, the games and food vendors might be too expensive, or the overall atmosphere might just be crappy. One thing that is guaranteed to make a theme park disappointing is if it is dangerous.
Mountain Creek Waterpark in New Jersey is notorious for being unsafe. Several people have been injured on their rides and sometimes, the results were even worse.
11 Worth Every Dollar- Disney World
Most people don't even understand the difference between Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Disney World, which is based in Orlando, Florida, is the vastly superior park. It takes up over 50 acres of space and is home to four separate "magical kingdoms." Most of the popular Disney rides that you hear about are at this park (including Kilimanjaro Safari).
The Orlando park is also famous for its entertainment array. Its shows are consistently rated as better than its western counterparts. If Disney World is this superior to the infamous Disneyland, imagine how it matches up to all those lesser parks.
10 Most Disappointing- Splash Lagoon
Splash Lagoon is a giant indoor water park in Erie, Pennsylvania. The entire park is enclosed and heated, so you can enjoy this waterpark year-round. Sounds pretty cool right? Unfortunately, every little kid in the Rust Belt also thinks so, so this park is habitually overcrowded. Splash Lagoon pitches itself as a fun destination for children as young as 2, and parents take them up on this offer.
Little kids running around is a part of any theme park experience but Splash Lagoon has allowed their park to go too far in favor of the kiddies.
9 Worth Every Dollar- Legoland
Legoland is exactly what it sounds like, a full-sized theme park that is based around the classic toy. Unfortunately, the rides aren’t actually made out of Lego’s but that doesn’t take away from this park’s overall appeal. The theme of this park would be enough for it to attract visitors but the parks designers didn’t rest on their laurels.
Despite the parks small size, they have some rides that could be premier attractions in any theme park around the world. The coolest part of Legoland, however, is the larger than life displays built out of Legos.
8 Most Disappointing- Adventuredome Theme Park
Las Vegas prides itself as the mecca of entertainment. There was a time when people only went to Vegas to gamble but the city has since seen quite a bit of development. You can now do just about anything in the City of Sin, and that includes visiting a fairly large theme park. Adventuredome Theme Park is a full-sized amusement park in the middle of Circus Circus Hotel and Resort.
I like the idea of an amusement park ride inside your hotel but Adventuredome leaves a lot to be desired. Not only are the rides less than stellar, but a lot of visitors have also complained about the park’s cleanliness.
7 Worth Every Dollar- Alton Towers
One doesn’t normally associate jolly old England with amusement parks but the British Isles are actually home to one of the best theme parks in the world. Alton Towers is located in Staffordshire, England. The park is actually part of a huge resort complex that includes the theme park, water park, hotel, mini golf complex, and spa.
Alton Towers has a ton of good rides but it is mostly known for its roller coasters. The Smiler and the Wicker Man are two park staples that are both extremely popular.
6 Most Disappointing- Six Flags New England
Growing up, it seemed like Six Flags was the epitome of fun. You couldn’t watch kids TV in the late 1990s without seeing some over-the-top ad for this park. There are Six Flags parks all over North America and some are better than others. One Six Flags installation that is notoriously disappointing is Six Flags New England in Agawam, Massachusetts.
Massachusetts is pretty frigid for most of the year, so this park already has a disadvantage to other parks in warmer climates. But instead of trying to make up for the poor weather with cooler rides, the engineers at Six Flags have let the park fall into disrepair.