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 in which case the original artist retains all rights. Otherwise photos and words @copyright by David P. Wahr