Amusement Parks or Theme Parks?

I’ve been listening lately to several podcasts and watching YouTube videos devoted to the histories and attractions of a variety of amusement parks. While I enjoy most of them I’ve discovered I have a pet peeve, or maybe just a peeve, that I didn’t really know I had before. Many of the hosts of these various shows seem to use the terms “theme parks” and “amusement parks” interchangeably. In my mind this is not accurate because although all theme parks are amusement parks not all amusement parks are theme parks. Amusement park covers a wide variety of entertainment venues which may or may not be specifically themed.

For example: Cedar Point, on the shores of Lake Erie in Northern Ohio, is an amusement park. Though it has various areas which are loosely themed, such as their Frontier Town and Frontier Trail, the bulk of the park is a collection of roller coasters, circular rides, and other attractions. I would argue that other parks like Kennywood, near Pittsburgh, and most, if not all, Six Flags properties fall into this category. Yes, they have some themed rides and attractions but no one goes to these parks with the idea that they will be transported to the wild West or Gotham City. The theme is secondary to the rides themselves.

The Disney and Universal parks are closer to true theme parks with entire lands devoted to creating the impression that you are in another place and time and attractions which stick to the theme. I think the best examples of these are Disney’s Galaxy’s Edge and Main Street USA, as well as The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and even Springfield (at least in Florida) at Universal. When you go to these places the enjoyment of being surrounded by what feels like another place and time is the main source of enjoyment. The fact that you get to escape from Gringott’s is almost a bonus.

Now, from a historical perspective I think I can make the case that the real theme parks are some of the smaller places which don’t really exist anymore. A couple used to be found in the Irish Hills area of Michigan. The Prehistoric Forest which attempted to make you feel like you’ve walked into the time of the dinosaurs and Stagecoach Stop, which still appears to be operating, is the recreation of a town in the American Old West, complete with shoot outs and stage coach rides.

Anyway, that’s what I think. What do you think? Am I being too picky in my terminology or do you think that we need to be a little more precise in our use of the term “theme parks?”

Let me know if the comments!

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright David P. Wahr

Roller Coaster Prep: Tips to Better Enjoy Your Day of Thrill Riding

A friend recently asked me how he should prepare to spend a day riding roller coasters at a major amusement park. He asked this knowing that I’m an experienced roller coaster rider (I logged over 300 coasters before I stopped counting) and frequent visitor of theme parks all over North America (at least 70 in 25 states and 1 Canadian province). So even though my thrill ride days may be over on advice from my cardiologist, I thought it might be time to share some of my hard earned wisdom on how to prepare for a day of riding scream machines.

Tip #1: Pack as light as you can. You’ll be on your feet all day and most parks will not let you take anything on a coaster with you which isn’t strapped to your body. For this reason I’ve started wearing a small “fanny” pack with several pockets. These are good for keeping cell phones, portable chargers, glasses, credit/debit card, cash, keys and sunscreen on hand without weighing you down. An alternative to the small pack are cargo shorts with velcro or zippered pockets.

If you feel for some reason that you can’t pack light, many parks that specialize in thrill rides will have lockers located near the ride entrances. These are usually fee based. In the old days you could use a coin to rent a locker. Now days you will need a credit or debit card. Some parks, like Cedar Point, will also have “boxes” at the loading station that you can put your belongings in. You do use these boxes at your own risk, but I can tell you that I’ve never experienced a problem with someone taking my stuff from one of these boxes over the years. However, accidents do happen especially if you hat looks like another one in the same bin.

Walt Disney World parks are an exception to this tip. You can take a small back pack with you if you like as almost all of their rides have pockets or space for you to put the pack at your feet.

Tip #2: Only take your car keys into the park. There’s no need to risk losing anything more than that on a ride. Leave your house keys, etc. locked in your car and safely out of sight (glove compartment or under the seat). Likewise, I don’t take my wallet with me anymore either. Most parks now accept credit/debit cards at all their retail locations and if they don’t you can stuff a few bills into a pocket or the above mentioned fanny pack.

Tip 3#: Wear a hat. Especially for those of us who are “follicly-challenged.” However, don’t wear your favorite hat as you’ll want to sit on it when you are riding the rides (to prevent it from blowing off). I’ve lost a couple over the years because I’ve left them on the seat of the ride.

Tip #4: If you wear glasses pick up some sport straps to hold them onto your head while riding. The park may even sell them, but you can likely get them cheaper at a retailer near you. Be aware that some parks consider a few of the coasters to be so physical that you may not even wear glasses which are strapped on.

Tip #5: Follow the rules! They are there for your safety. Roller coasters on the whole are a safe form of amusement and you are more likely to have an accident driving to the park than on a ride. Generally when someone gets injured, or worse, it’s because they were not following the rules. For example: going beyond fences to retrieve a dropped item is an enormous risk and people have been killed doing this.

Tip #6: Check the park’s website before visiting. Most every park lists basic information regarding ride specifics (rider’s height and other physical limitations for example) and facilities (lockers). Taking a few minutes to “know before you go” will make your day more enjoyable.

Tip #7: Take breaks. Riding roller coasters can be physically demanding even though in most cases you are sitting down. Twisting and turning at high speeds can upset even the hardiest of us. Don’t be afraid to throw a dark ride or two into your day between thrills. This tip isn’t as crucial if you have to wait and hour or more between rides due to the length of the lines.

There you have them, my top tips to better enjoy your day of thrill seeking at your favorite amusement park. I’d love to hear yours – be sure to comment and share your top ideas.

Ride on!

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright David P. Wahr