amusement park, a commercially operated park offering various forms of entertainment, such as arcade games, carousels, roller coasters, and performers, as well as food, drink, and souvenirs. Amusement parks differ from circuses, carnivals, and world's fairs (see exposition) in that parks are permanently located entertainment complexes, open either all year or seasonally every year. Some amusement parks, known as theme parks, are designed to evoke distant or imaginary locales and/or eras, such as the Wild West, an African safari, or medieval Europe. Theme parks usually charge a substantial admission fee, whereas traditional amusement parks, such as those at Coney Island, do not charge entrance to the midway; theme-park admission, however, typically includes the cost of the rides, which are paid for individually in a traditional amusement park.
Walt Disney World, opened near Orlando, Fla., in 1971, is the most popular theme park in the world; it draws over 40 million visitors annually. It is modeled as a utopian city of leisure, pitched by personalities from Disney animation and operated by 26,000 employees. The original Magic Kingdom theme park is divided into thematic domains (e.g., Tomorrowland, Frontierland, Fantasyland), which flow into one another; other areas added later include Epcot Center, Disney-MGM Studios, and Animal Kingdom. The original Disneyland opened in 1955 in Anaheim, Calif.; Disney's California Adventure opened adjacent to it in 2001. Other Disney parks have opened near Tokyo (1983) and Paris (1992). Other examples of theme parks include the Universal Studios Tours in Universal City, Calif., and Orlando, Fla., in which visitors are treated to a tour of the movie studio grounds, see various demonstrations of stunts and special effects, and can go on rides inspired by popular films. In Tennessee, Dollywood, a theme park founded by the country musician Dolly Parton, offers rides, country music, and a hearty dose of Americana. Six Flags, Cedar Fair, Busch Gardens, and other amusement park chains have facilities in several areas.
Beginning in the 1990s a trend at some theme parks was to create rides based on popular action films, such as Batman, Jurassic Park, and Back to the Future. Some resort hotels in Las Vegas also began adding theme-park rides in the late 1990s. Meanwhile, thrill rides, especially roller coasters built of old-fashioned wood or high-tech tubular steel, were becoming faster and more complex, with water elements, loops, steep upside-down drops, and other scream-inducing features.
See G. Kyriazi, The Great American Amusement Parks (1976), S. Paschen, Shooting in the Chutes (1989), J. Adams and E. Perkins, The American Amusement Park Industry (1991), M. Sorkin, ed., Variations on a Theme Park (1992), K. A. Marling, ed., Designing Disney's Theme Parks (1997), D. Bennett, Roller Coaster (1998), R. Reynolds, Roller Coasters, Flumes and Flying Saucers (1999), and W. Register, The Kid of Coney Island: Fred Thompson and the Rise of American Amusements (2001). For guides to amusement parks, see The National Directory of Theme & Amusement Parks (1997), T. H. Throgmorton, Roller Coasters: United States and Canada (2000), and T. O'Brien, The Amusement Park Guide (4th ed., 2001).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.