When you think about it, every theme park is a crazy idea. Who would think that, for entertainment, human beings would want to be dropped from intense heights, or flung forward at biologically impossible speeds? Who would think that tourists would want to visit a purely artificial destination, where the structures, culture, and characters are all entirely fictional? Theme parks are a fundamentally ludicrous idea...but evidently are appealing to a large, diverse audience.
Theme parks connect to childlike fantasies: desires for environmental escape, and for the human body to transcend its natural capacity for movement.
When you’re a kid, your favorite characters are restricted to the pages within a book, or images flickering upon a tv screen. Reality is a stark contrast to the bright, endless fun that exists in fantasies. In a theme park; however, the child within each of us can temporarily forget the limits of the real world.
When you’re a kid, you are tinier than the adults around you, incapable of true speed or dexterity. In a theme park; however, the child within each of us can move impossibly fast, fly, and experience adrenaline-surging loops and dips.
Theme parks are ridiculous, impossible, and endlessly alluring, simply because they connect to our childhood fantasies of alternative realities. And now, we have compiled a list of both the craziest theme parks in existence today, as well as some dreamy landscapes that were prematurely shut down.
25 Closed: Gulliver’s Kingdom was creepy from the start.
Gulliver’s Kingdom was based upon Jonathan Swift’s satire from 1726: Gulliver’s Travels. In the novel, the protagonist washes ashore a mysterious island where he is held captive by a race of tiny people. As you can glean from the above photo, visitors were meant to feel like that race of tiny people.
The park opened in 1997, but, according to WebUrbanist, seemed doomed from the start due to financial mismanagement, a nearby nerve gas facility, and a general lack of planning (the park didn’t have any real rides). Gulliver’s Kingdom was closed in 2001 and demolished in 2007, so nothing remains in this patch of earth but bits of concrete.
24 Closed: Pripyat Park in Ukraine was closed due to nuclear disaster.
Pripyat Park once had a bright future. The rides were completed, the i’s dotted, the t’s crossed, and everything was in place for a grand opening on May 1, 1986. Then, Chernobyl happened.
Chernobyl was a catastrophic nuclear accident which occurred only 3 kilometers away, in central Pripyat, Ukraine, on April 26, 1986. Pripyat Park has laid a sad, abandoned artifact of unrealized optimism ever since.
23 Closed: Berlin’s Spreepark was left to the elements.
Spreepark is an abandoned amusement park in what was once East Berlin. This isn’t just an abandoned theme park; this is an abandoned communist theme park. It was originally opened in 1969 as a cheerful respite from day-to-day East German life under Stasi control. As you may have guessed, the park was initially wildly successful.
Then, the park steadily declined after the reunification of Germany in 1989....because, you know, suddenly the entire world opened up for the inhabitants of East Germany.
Spreepark was officially closed in 2002, and its remains can be seen by visitors today.
22 Closed: Dreamland was too ambitious for reality.
SHORPY on Pinterest did a magnificent job of coloring this old black and white photo from 1909. That’s right: the above photo is from 1909.
Dreamland was Coney Island’s most ambitious theme park, existing a short seven years between 1904 and 1911. Dreamland was insane. It had artificial Venetian canals with gondola rides, trains through a Swiss alpine landscape (with artificial snow in freaking 1904), an “End of the World” performance imitating the eruption of Vesuvius, and a fire drama in which two thousand people quenched a six-story building fire every half-hour (oh, the fire was real. They actually set a six-story building on fire every half hour).
This grandiosity is what led to Dreamland’s demise. According to Westland, a new attraction called HellGate, a boat ride through Underworld-inspired caverns, caught fire on May 26, 1911. A new high-tech water system was recently installed to prevent accidental fires, but the plumbing failed and all of Dreamland was consumed in tragic, unintentional flames.
21 Closed: The heavens stopped smiling upon Heritage U.S.A.
Heritage USA was a Christian theme park and residential complex in Fort Mill, South Carolina built by televangelist Jim Bakker and his wife Tammy Faye Bakker. In 1986, this was quite the happening place.
Then, according to Gizmodo, cracks emerged in Jim Bakker’s squeaky clean television persona. Scandals surfaced regarding Bakker’s fundraising efforts to build a park hotel, and the IRS revoked the park’s tax-exempt status as a”house of worship.”
Then, Hurricane Hugo demolished many of park's buildings in 1989, and Heritage USA permanently shut its doors.
20 Closed: Nara Dreamland was once a Disney parallel universe.
Even in its heyday, Nara was a lawsuit waiting to happen. Strutting through the park grounds were adults in costumes, overwhelmingly similar to Disney princesses and characters from the Mickey Mouse family. I mean, it’s one thing to be inspired by someone else’s ideas, and imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, yadda yadda yadda, but this was really crossing a boundary into copyright infringement.
But, lawyers did not need to become involved as nature took its course. Attendance gradually fell between the late 1990s and early 2000s, and Nara was no more in 2006.
19 Closed: Disney’s River Lake Country is one of two abandoned Disney parks in the whole world.
River Country was the first water park every opened by the Disney franchise. It was themed as a rustic, American South watering hole, and honestly, it looks like it was oodles of fun. River Country opened on June 20, 1976, and closed indefinitely on November 2, 2001. The nearby Disney-owned Discovery Island closed in 1999, and it is the only other abandoned Disney Park in the world. For some reason, Disney decided to allow these two dead attractions to lay vacant, rather than demolished. Well then... more creepy abandoned photos for us.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, Disney has recently returned to River Country, with plans to construct a new resort on the site by 2022.
18 Closed: After abandonment, Chippewa Lake Park served as a set for a horror movie.
Chippewa Lake was a thriving theme park for an entire century, from 1878 to 1978. Then, it was left to rot. Looks pretty spooky, right? Well, director Jay Woelfel would tend to agree. The horror film Closed For the Season, shot in 2008 and released in 2010, had several scenes take place within the long-closed amusement park, and featured many of the park's decaying rides as backgrounds.
Unfortunately, this film was a critical failure. Any amateur directors with an eye for horror are welcome to stage a drama upon Chippewa Lake’s remnants, and perhaps pay this historical spooky site proper homage.
17 Closed: Umoja Children’s Park in Pemba Island, Zanzibar now lies desolate.
According to Abandoned Playgrounds, not much is known about the derelict Umoja Children’s Park. Lonely Planet claims that Umoja was built by Pemba Island’s socialist government, but after I found this scrap of information, the trail became rather fuzzy. Other photos online indicate remains of a Ferris wheel, train tracks, and a building called then “Wacky Shack.”
Was this park ever popular, or was it a failure from the start? I suppose we will never know.
16 Closed: New Orleans’ Six Flags was snuffed out by Hurricane Katrina.
This theme park opened under the name “Jazzland” in 2000. In early 2003, Six Flags updated and renamed the part to fit its expanding franchise. Things seemed to be going well, both for New Orleans and Six Flags as a whole. Then, Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005
. This storm devastated the entirety of New Orleans, and it rendered Six Flags inoperable. The park has laid vacant since then, and city police constantly border the perimeter in attempts to keep photographers and videographers away from the dangerous, defunct rides.
15 Closed: SaltAir was the Mormon response to Coney Island.
Previously in this article, I talked about Dreamland in Coney Island. Well, Coney Island also contained two other theme parks: Steeplechase and Luna Park. And at the time, these three theme parks were perceived as controversial, too-modern, and morally deviant.
The Mormons in Utah reacted to the societal corruption implicit in Coney Island by imagining a theme park founded upon the principles of good, clean fun. Hence, SaltAir was founded in 1893.
According to Utah History to Go, SaltAir was a family place, intended to provide a safe and wholesome atmosphere with the open supervision of Mormon Church leaders. Over time, SaltAir became more fun than wholesome, and eventually amassed a reputation akin to its east coast counterparts.
In the 1920s, SaltAir entertained more than 1 million visitors per year, with its lake, dance hall, roller coasters, rodeos, and merry-go-round. Sadly, SaltAir burned to the ground in 1925.
14 Craziest: You can swim with alligators in Crocosaurus Cove.
Have you ever wanted to look a crocodile straight in the eye, while simultaneously swimming underwater? Well, your dream can be realized at Crocosaurus Cove, in the heart of Darwin, Australia.
The homepage of the park’s website advertises the aptly named “Cage of Death,” in which glass is the only barricade between human and vicious reptile. I don’t care how strong that glass is, I wouldn’t enter for all the money in the world.
13 Craziest: In Lithuania’s Soviet Theme Park, you can pay to be interrogated by faux-KGB.
Išgyvenimo Drama, which translates to “Survival Drama,” is a theme park and reenactment museum located in a former Soviet bunker and prison. According to the Lithuania Tribune, visitors to the park experience life in the Soviet Union as they are changed into Soviet clothing, wear gas masks, eat Soviet meals, undergo medical exams, and face Soviet-style interrogation at the hands of both actors and former members of the Soviet army. Although it would be easy to dismiss this as a rather strange concept, there really isn’t a better way to teach the oppression of the Soviet Union than through firsthand experience.
Išgyvenimo Drama is an innovative, immersive way of ensuring the fact that history will be remembered and not repeated.
12 Craziest: You can pedal through a precarious track in Japan’s Washuzan Highland amusement park.
While most rollercoasters derive their thrills from speed and 360-degree loops, Washuzan Highland’s SkyCycle offers both terror and delight through its lack of mechanical manipulation.
According to the Daily Mail, the SkyCycle is a rollercoaster in which riders must pedal their way around a 4-story-tall track. The ride lasts about 3 or 4 minutes, depending on the rider’s speed and physical fitness. Oh, and the ride contains little more safety precautions than a seatbelt; there are no guardrails around the cycle cart. That’s right: there is nothing but open air separating the rider from a 4-story plummet. The payoff? Participants can soak in an unparalleled view of Okayama’s waterfront and Great Seto Bridge.
11 Craziest: Haw Par Villa houses life-size dioramas depicting moralistic myths.
Haw Par Villa, once known as Tiger Balm Gardens, is a massive theme park in Singapore. According to Visit Singapore.com, the park contains over 1,000 statues and 150 full-scale dioramas, whose contents are derived from ancient Chinese folklore and literature.
Apparently, many Singaporeans are brought here as children by their parents to be immersed in the teachings of traditional Chinese morality. I can’t imagine a stranger childhood experience. The park stages some rather absurd scenes, from bowing sumo wrestlers, to animals chatting on telephones.
10 Craziest: The construction-inspired Diggerland. Enough said.
I don’t know about you, but “construction worker” is last on my list of desirable jobs. Apparently, there are thousands of people who would oppose my sentiment. Diggerland is a world where adults and children alike can ride, drive, and operate construction vehicles. And it’s a growing craze.
According to the Diggerland website, there are currently four parks in England, and a fifth park recently opened in New Jersey. I am not certain how this concept gained so much traction, but I suppose I do not understand the world as well as I thought.
9 Craziest: Ferrari World....why?
Leave it to Abu Dhabi to create an entire theme park devoted to Italian luxury sports cars. It’s like a massive shrine to commercialism. But, if you are a coaster freak, there is one beacon of light shining within Ferrari World.
Since 2010, Ferrari World has boasted the Formula Rossa, which is the world’s fastest roller coaster. If you ride this death-defying contraption, you will be flung forward, reaching the maximum speed of 149 mph in less than 5 seconds. I will certainly never step within 100 feet of this ride, but now all of you thrill-seeking readers know where to spend your next vacation.
8 Craziest: We would all be blown away by the absurdity of Disney World, if only we weren’t so used to it.
Disney World is definitely one of the world’s craziest theme parks, and it’s incredible that this oddity has wormed its way into our collective, mainstream psyche.
Disney World contains hundreds of singing, dancing robots, coated in faux-fur and latex in order to resemble cartoon characters. Visitors can ride in a cart and watch a sequence of vignettes in which a woman befriends a disguised witch, eats a poison apple, and is saved by dwarves. Children beg for autographs from ordinary adults in costumes.
There is a mini-park within this massive park that contains 11 segmented, synthetic environments which attempt to mimic the cultures of Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, Canada, Japan, Morocco, France, Italy, and the U.K.
Really, can any theme park rival Disney in terms of weirdness?
7 Craziest: Xcaret Theme Park merges ancient Mayan history and contemporary fun.
Xcaret Theme Park sits on the Playa Del Carmen, about an hour and a half south of Cancun. Xcaret is part waterpark, part homage to the history of Mexico. In the park, visitors can swim or sail through underground rivers, visit a village re-enacting ancient Mayan culture, dig within an archaeological site, and observe a traditional Dia de los Muertos-style Mexican cemetery. There is also a scenic observatory in which one can see the splendor of Xcaret and its beaches.
6 Craziest: Colombians love coffee so much, they made a theme park about it.
Every year, Colombia produces more than 11.5 million bags of coffee, which are then distributed and consumed worldwide. So, they decided to make a theme park celebrating this cultural staple.
The Parque del Cafe is located in Montenegro, Colombia, which is about a 6-hour drive from either Bogota or Medellin. It has roller coasters, coffee gardens, bumper cars, coffee samplings, and coffee-themed boat rides. It’s a fully-caffeinated, jittery, exciting experience.
5 Craziest: Disney World isn’t Orlando’s only theme park...
The Holy Land Experience is a Christian theme park, only a twenty-minute drive north of Disney World. According to the Guardian, the park is essentially various depictions of biblical scenes, with gift shops stuffed in between.
There are no roller coasters or rides, but there are re-enactments of the Last Supper and the Crucifixion occurring multiple times a week.
4 Craziest: Kunming, China, has had its share of controversy.
This park, aside from being one of the craziest in the world, is perhaps the most controversial. The Kingdom of the Little People employs over 100 people who meet the requisite height of less than 4 feet.
According to CNN, the Kingdom has been criticized by the US activist group, Little People of America, for its demeaning depiction of people with dwarfism. However, some of the performers working inside the park claim that the kingdom provides a safe haven against the stereotypes and discrimination otherwise experienced while seeking employment in China.
3 Craziest: You can see an animatronic Jesus perform the resurrection in Tierra Santa.
Tierra Santa is yet another Christian-centric theme park, located in Argentina. According to Atlas Obscura, visitors can participate in the Last Supper by eating next to mannequins of the apostles. This faux-Jerusalem is fitted with over 500 life-size plastic figurines, depicting various Romans, Gentiles, Jews, and biblical legends.
The most striking feat within Tierra Santa is the simulated resurrection, which occurs every hour as a robotic 40-ft Jesus springs forth from a mountaintop.
2 Craziest: You are encouraged to LARP your brains out in Planet J.
Planet J is the first ever LARPing theme park, located in China’s autonomous Macau region. In Planet J, families are immersed into a world with detailed plots, characters, and quests. You could be cast as a warrior princess, alien soldier, or knight in shining armor - anything is possible in Planet J!
As I was researching this park online, I found mixed reviews about the park’s ability to create a fully convincing virtual reality. Apparently, as the park has only been open for a few years, the staff of Planet J is still working out a few kinks. If you want to visit Planet J, I recommend waiting a little while for the park to reach its full potential.
1 Closed: Given its concept, it’s no surprise that Dickens World was shut down.
Have you read any Dickens books? I remember reading Great Expectations in high school, and I gotta say, Victorian England was a miserable slice of history. No offense to any die-hard Dickens World fans, but I am not surprised that this park permanently shut its doors in 2016. In Dickens World, you could pay to ride along an 1870s River Thames, gawk at an artificial Victorian jail fitted with old Dickens characters, and slide down a drop sewer. Ick, yikes, and no thanks.
References: Atlas Obscura, CNN, Pinterest, Abandoned Playgrounds