THE EVOLUTION OF FUN
DISNEYLAND | ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA
Walt Disney would soon prove everybody who called it "Walt's Folly" wrong. Despite a rocky start without enough food and not all the rides yet ready to open, Disneyland's first visitors got to see Main Street USA, Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland and Tomorrowland with now classic rides like Jungle Cruise, Mad Tea Party, and Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.
Over the years, rides like the Pirates of the Caribbean cruise, The Haunted Mansion ride, and Space Mountain roller coaster became Disneyland staples. The 21st century saw the addition of California Adventure Park. Now rides based on famous movies like "Indiana Jones," "Star Wars," "Guardians of the Galaxy," and Pixar films let fans enter their favorite movies. There's more on the way with a Star Wars land.
CONEY ISLAND | BROOKLYN, NEW YORK
For a place so iconic for its amusement rides, it's bittersweet that so few remain. Sea Lion Park was the first amusement park to open on Coney Island, and it was indoors. The Shoot the Chutes was Sea Lion's calling card, and the park also boasted the first looping roller coaster in the U.S. True to its name, trained sea lions performed for awestruck families.
Steeplechase, Dreamland, and Astroland have come and gone during the 20th century. Even Luna Park is not even the same Luna Park that burned down in 1944. The current Luna Park opened in 2010 and pays homage with rides like the aptly named Steeplechase horse-themed roller coaster, and they preserve the iconic Cyclone roller coaster. Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park still offers a few rides a la carte including it famous Ferris wheel.
UNIVERSAL STUDIOS HOLLYWOOD | UNIVERSAL CITY, CALIFORNIA
Studio chief Carl Laemmle originally opened the back lot to the public for just 25 cents a piece. Only 18 years into the film industry, observing production was a real attraction. This only worked during the silent era. Once sound had to be recorded, they had to keep noisy tourists out. The studio tour went dark until 1961.
UNIVERSAL STUDIOS HOLLYWOOD
Now Universal lets visitors be in the movies. The tram tour drives through active productions plus immersive King Kong and The Fast and the Furious experiences. You're only as good as your last hit, so rides based on Back to the Future and Terminator 2 have given way to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Walking Dead, Despicable Me, Transformers, and The Simpsons. Universal went bicoastal with a Florida park, and annually hosts Halloween Horror Nights.
CEDAR POINT | SANDUSKY, OHIO
Cedar Point calls 1870 their first season, when it was just a beer garden, bath house and dance floor on the Lake Erie peninsula. The first roller coaster, the Switchback Railway, wasn't opened until 1892. Many of the 19th century buildings are still part of the architecture of the modern Cedar Point.
Cedar Point has since become the "roller coaster capital of the world." Since 1978, Cedar Point coasters set height and speed records, from the race-themed Gemini to the Top Thrill Dragster, which drops from 420 feet in the air reaching 120 mph in 3.8 seconds. The new Steel Vengeance coaster set new records for its intimidating drop. Peanuts characters welcome kids to Camp Snoopy with easy rides for the little tykes.
HERSHEY PARK | HERSHEY, PENNSYLVANIA
After Milton S. Hershey founded Hershey, Pennsylvania, in 1903, he opened a baseball stadium in 1907. That technically constituted the beginning of Hershey Park, but if you want to talk rides, 1908-1923 saw a merry-go-round, scenic train, Wild Cat roller coaster, Ferris wheel, aeroplane swing, and Skooter. Back then, you could tour the actual chocolate factory where Hershey made the sweets.
Except for the Kissing Tower, which offers an amazing 360-degree view of the surrounding area, there are relatively few chocolate-themed rides. Hersheypark is all about thrills with new additions like Skyrush, its 12th roller coaster, and the bouncy Hershey Triple Tower. Classic coasters like the 1940s Comet and the '70s-era SooperDooperLooper remain linchpins of the park. By the '70s, tourist capacity far outgrew the actual chocolate factory, so now Hershey's Chocolate World recreates the factory animatronically, with free samples, too.
SIX FLAGS OVER TEXAS | ARLINGTON, TEXAS
Six Flags opened its first park in Arlington, Texas. The six flags represented the countries that had a historical presence in Texas: Spain, Mexico, France, Texas, the Old South, and the U.S.A. Opening with 46 rides and attractions including a log flume and mine train, admission was only $2.75 for adults and 50 cents less for kids.
SIX FLAGS OVER TEXAS
Since 2017, all six flags are now the United States flag. Its six themed areas have merged or been replaced by the likes of modern superheroes. The gyroscope-like Harley Quinn Spinsanity has joined the park's Batman-themed Gotham City section. The original steam train still rides, but it's now called the Boomtown Depot. There's also a Bugs Bunny section for kids.
KNOTT'S BERRY FARM | BUENA PARK, CALIFORNIA
Walter Knott had a vision bigger than his family berry, jelly, and pie business. In 1940, Knott built a ghost town attraction next to his shops and restaurants. In the '50s and '60s, he added rides like the Calico Railroad and Calico Mine Ride. It was only in 1968 that Knott charged admission ($1 according to Knott's website) and one year later added the Calico log ride.
KNOTT'S BERRY FARM
The Knott's tract has expanded to include Knott's Soak City water park and a hotel, but the berry farm and Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner restaurant are still there. In the theme park, the GhostRider is the longest, fastest and tallest West Coast roller coaster at 118 feet overlooking the classic Ghost Town. Knott's got more intense with thrilling drops but still has rides for the whole family. Every fall, Knott's turns into Knott's Scary Farm, a Halloween themed scare-a-thon.
LAKE COMPOUNCE | BRISTOL, CONNECTICUT
Lake Compounce may not have been the first amusement park ever built, but it is the oldest one still operating. Back in 1846, Gad Norton opened the park with science experiments performed for crowds by Samuel Botsford, picnic areas, swimming in the lake, and just a handful of rides.
Today Lake Compounce has some 50 rides, including the Wildcat roller coaster since 1927 and 2000s Boulder Dash. Lake Compounce is perhaps most noted as a haunted amusement park. From the Native American heritage and failed science experiments to famous performers in the Starlight Ballroom (including Cab Calloway and Frank Sinatra), visitors claim they still hear the music and see the dancers.
BUSCH GARDENS | WILLIAMSBURG, VIRGINIA
In 1975, Anheuser-Busch opened The Old Country, a European-themed park near its Virginia brewing plant. It offers quite a juxtaposition from Colonial Williamsburg, the American Revolution-era city that lets modern visitors interact with the past. "Tonight Show" personality Ed McMahon and Virginia Gov. Mill E. Goodwin Jr. welcomed more than 6,000 visitors to The Old Country.
Like many modern theme parks, Busch Gardens now has an adjoining water park. This year, the amusement park is adding an Irish-themed swinging ride called Finnegan's Flyer. Ten years ago, Sesame Street joined the European villas with rides like Grover's Alpine Express coaster and Prince Elmo's Spire drop tower. The 21st century has seen five innovative new coasters from the floorless Griffon to the seven-story InvadR, somehow the park's first wooden roller coaster. The twisting Loch Ness Monster from 1978 still stands.
DISNEY WORLD MAGIC KINGDOM | ORLANDO, FLORIDA
The word "World" accurately describes this bigger, more elaborate Disney park that has become an international destination for millions of families a year. Initially, they actually charged for separate tickets to additional rides after entry. The Magic Kingdom opened with such famous rides as The Haunted Mansion, Hall of Presidents, Mad Tea Party, Jungle Cruise, Peter Pan's Flight, Tomorrowland Speedway, and Dumbo the Flying Elephant.
DISNEY WORLD MAGIC KINGDOM
Always evolving, this decade has seen new attractions based on Disney animated classics like "The Little Mermaid," "Beauty and the Beast," and "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." Families can still take an It's A Small World boat tour as well as rides on the Big Thunder Mountain train and Splash Mountain water flume. Children's greatest joys often come from meeting Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, and the rest.
SIX FLAGS NEW ENGLAND | AGAWAM, MASSACHUSETTS
When Six Flags took over the old Gallups Grove, it became the oldest park in the Six Flags chain. Gallups Grove opened as a picnic area on the Connecticut River, which visitors sailed by steamship. The name was changed to Riverside Grove and then Riverside Park when rides were installed.
SIX FLAGS NEW ENGLAND
Once Six Flags took over in 2000, they moved the parking lot to make room for new rides. Six Flags added superhero rides and even imported some rides from other Six Flags like the Flashback roller coaster from Kentucky Kingdom and Goliath roller coaster from Magic Mountain in Valencia, California. The New England Screamer is the tallest swing ride in the world. Its water park also took the Six Flags name Hurricane Harbor.
DOLLYWOOD | PIGEON FORGE, TENNESSEE
In 1986, Dolly Parton partnered with the owners of the history-focused Silver Dollar City site to turn it into Tennessee's most visited attraction. The Klondike Katie coal train and Robert F. Thomas Chapel still remain in Dollywood from the Silver Dollar days, although the Klondike Katie is now called the Dollywood Express. Long gone 1986 rides include the Flooded Mine and Smoky Mountain River Rampage.
Now Dollywood has a water park, and thrill rides like the Lightning Rod and Tennessee Tornado coasters. The indoor Blazing Fury ride is still there and the Fun Country Log Flume has become Daredevil Falls. But you want to see Dolly themed attractions, so take a tour of Dolly's Home-on-Wheels and see how the country icon lives while she's touring.
SIX FLAGS MAGIC MOUNTAIN | VALENCIA, CALIFORNIA
Magic Mountain was not a Six Flags property when it opened in 1971; Six Flags bought it in 1979. Opening rides like the 35 mph Gold Rusher roller coaster, El Bumpo bumper boats, the Galaxy exponential Ferris wheel, the short-lived Billy the Squid and Log Jammer flume ride offered stiff competition to nearby Disneyland. Only the Gold Rusher remains.
SIX FLAGS MAGIC MOUNTAIN
Now you can join the Justice League with Six Flags' DC Superhero rides. Batman the Ride makes you feel like Batman. Let Lex Luthor drop you from tower; take a whirling spin on Wonder Woman's Lasso of Truth; travel like The Flash on the Speed Force track, or fly like Superman with the Escape from Krypton ride. Or slow down with all the Looney Tunes rides for the kids.
LAKESIDE AMUSEMENT PARK | LAKESIDE, COLORADO
Denver Mayor Robert Speer and brewer Adolph Zang opened the park in Lakeside to sell alcohol all week (Denver had blue laws on Sundays). 1908 featured the boat splasher Shoot the Chutes, Lakeshore Railway train, star-shaped Ferris wheel Staride, shake 'em up Tickler ride, two roller coasters, Circle Swing, and Merry-Go-Round. You could see its 100,000 white lights and Tower of Jewels entrance from the outside.
LAKESIDE AMUSEMENT PARK
The Lakeshore Railway still rides. The Tower of Jewels needs some new bulbs after more than a century. The Cyclone coaster has been there since 1940, but visitors grow wary of hopping aboard now. Last year, Lakeside Amusement imported the Zyklon coaster to give visitors a new ride after 30 years. It will open this year, but it was formerly the Big Ohhh! in Omaha's Fun-Plex.
LEGOLAND | CARLSBAD, CALIFORNIA
After creating two European parks, the Lego company brought the joy of their brick parks to the U.S. Legoland opened with 40 rides to compete with the Disneys and Six Flags, but only Legoland has intricate brick towns over which kids can tower (or build their own with loose bricks). The inaugural Miniland took three years and 16 million bricks to build miniature scenes of New York, San Francisco, New Orleans, and rural New England.
The park now boasts 60 rides. For a break from your kids playing "The Lego Movie" on repeat, they can experience a "4D" version of the show at the park. An aquarium, water park, and Lego-themed hotel rooms add to the experience, but the highlights are still the new Lego builds like the Star Wars and Las Vegas minilands. Even a mini Death Star is bigger than you.
DISNEY HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS | ORLANDO, FLORIDA
Originally opened as the Disney MGM Studios, which had only a Backstage Studio Tour and a single ride, it beat Universal to Orlando by a year. The Great Movie Ride was a funhouse through animatronic scenes from "The Wizard of Oz," "Casablanca," "Mary Poppins," "Singing in the Rain," "Alien," and "Raiders of the Lost Ark." They did teach kids how sound effects worked and let them make their own.
DISNEY HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS
This park's name was changed and has been known as Disney Hollywood Studios since 2008. Toy Story Land is the newest attraction simulating being a small toy in a big kid world. Star Wars-themed Star Tours has been updated with multiple Star Wars attractions added, and more coming soon. You can still watch Indiana Jones dodge boulders and Nazis live in a stunt spectacular, brave the Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror and have a laugh with Muppet-Vision 3D.
ADVENTURELAND | ALTOONA, IOWA
When Jack Kranz opened Adventureland, the centerpiece ride was the Sky Ride in the middle of a cornfield. A Main Town included small rides like kiddie helicopters, Jaunty Jeeps, Silly Silo, River Rapids, a trolley tour, and Bavarian Scrambler.
Now with 100 rides, shows and attractions, Adventureland is a full-blown theme park. Bernie Bernard is the mascot well known throughout the state, joined by other favorites like Toby the tiger, dogs Heather and Henry, Gilda the gorilla, and the animatronic barker P.T. Barnaby. Two years ago, Adventureland debuted The Monster, its first new roller coaster in 23 years.
EPCOT CENTER | ORLANDO, FLORIDA
"Center" would ultimately be dropped and EPCOT stood for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, but to families, it meant double the Disney World. Walt Disney envisioned Epcot as a functioning city. The company realized it as a theme park. Future World sort of eclipsed Tomorrowland; the World of Imagination was hosted by the dragon Figment himself; and World Showcase introduced American kids to international culture.
Perhaps the most significant change to Disney World is the Park Hopper pass, which grants families access to all three Orlando parks, rather than a la carte. Epcot now includes the Disney entertainment attractions such as Frozen Forever After, The Seas with Nemo and Friends, and Phineas and Ferb: Agent P's World Showcase Adventure. After a temporary hiatus from 1999-2000, the Figment the dragon is also back.
WILD WORLD / SIX FLAGS AMERICA | MARLBORO, MARYLAND
Wild World opened after buying a wildlife preserve from Jim Fowler of "Wild Kingdom" fame, who had taken over from ABC Television. Through the '80s, it was more of a water-slide and wave-pool park with rides. It got a real roller coaster in 1986 when The Wild One was imported from Paragon Park in Massachusetts. 1980s kids can remember drying off on the rides after soaking on the water slides.
WILD WORLD / SIX FLAGS AMERICA
Renamed Adventure World in the '90s, the park was taken over by Six Flags in 1999. The Wild One turns 102 this year. The water park is more of a separate attraction now. The rides have been expanded, including Six Flags' DC Comics licenses, with a different spin on Wonder Woman's Lasso of Truth. No longer just a local day trip, Wild World became a full on Six Flags destination.
NICKELODEON UNIVERSE | BLOOMINGTON, MINNESOTA
The Knott's family expanded their theme park empire out of California to open a Peanuts-themed kiddie park in Minnesota's Mall of America. They still managed to fit 23 rides and attractions under the indoor dome including river rapids and a roller coaster. Peanuts themes abounded, but just in case you weren't a Snoopy fan, there were general rides. But who wouldn't like Snoopy?
SIX FLAGS ST. LOUIS
Six Flags Over Mid-America opened in 1971 with 16 rides, a dolphin show, and petting zoo, back when it took only 1,400 employees to serve the park. They didn't even sell alcohol back then.
SIX FLAGS ST. LOUIS
The park adopted the name Six Flags St. Louis in 1997, and you can still drive the original Moon Antique Cars. Newest attractions include a Typhoon Twister in Six Flags St. Louis' Hurricane Harbor, an additional Funnel Cake Factory because you need immediate funnel cake access, and now Batman: The Ride goes backwards. A Supergirl spinning wheel is coming this year to test your stomach of steel.
SANTA'S VILLAGE | JEFFERSON, NEW HAMPSHIRE
Dry cleaners Norman and Cecile Dubois opened Santa's Village with pony rides and a Francis the Mule and Santa Claus show. They charged $1 to get in and a quarter to ride a pony. Playgrounds, restaurants and rides wouldn't become part of the village until the '60s as Santa's Village remained in the Dubois family, with its third generation operating the park today.
Tickets now cost $34, but a few decades of added rides make it a steal compared to the Six Flags and Disneys of the world. Classic rides get a yuletide twist like the Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree swings, Chimney Drop free fall, and Little Drummer Boy spinning drums. Who needs teacups? New Hampshire magazine recommends Sunday visits for lighter crowds.
SIX FLAGS GREAT ADVENTURE | JACKSON, NEW JERSEY
Businessman and Hollywood scion Warner LeRoy had big plans for his own magic kingdom, but on opening day, only two areas were ready: The Enchanted Forest and Safari. The Fort and Western sections were developed soon after. Its Antique Cars ride lasted only one season and its short-lived roller coaster, the Jumbo Jet, lasted only one year in 1975. The undersea-themed Pretty Monster spinning cars were next on the chopping block.
SIX FLAGS GREAT ADVENTURE
Six Flags turned Great Adventure into one of their standard-bearing parks. Six original rides — the Log Flume, Runaway Mine, Skyride, Big Wheel and Carousel — are still nestled among big coasters and superhero rides. Great Adventure also has a Six Flags branded Hurricane Harbor water park next door.
FAMILY KINGDOM AMUSEMENT PARK | MYRTLE BEACH, SOUTH CAROLINA
Grand Strand Amusement Park opened to compete with nearby Pirateland and the older Myrtle Beach Pavilion Amusement Park. The Swamp Fox roller coaster that opened in 1966 still rolls, thanks to refurbishment by Family Kingdom. On the peak of the Swamp Fox and the top of the Ferris Wheel, riders can see the Atlantic Ocean.
FAMILY KINGDOM AMUSEMENT PARK
KINGS DOMINION | DOSWELL, VIRGINIA
Virginia made a good day trip when East Coasters couldn't go all the way to Orlando. Opening rides on May 3, 1975 included The Rebel Yell roller coaster, Lion Country Safari monorail, Log Flume, Steam Train, and a one-third scale Eiffel Tower. In the Happy Land of Hanna Barbera, children could meet Scooby-Doo, Fred Flintstone and other animated favorites in person.
The Rebel Yell is now called Racer 75, one of 12 coasters. The classic 1982 Grizzly wooden roller coaster is still there, too. In the ' 90s, Hanna Barbera land became Nickelodeon. Peanuts took over in 2010, so the Scooby Doo coaster became the Woodstock Express in 2013. Many old favorites (King Cobra, Smurf Mountain, The Hurler, and The Shockwave) are gone, too, in Kings Dominion's pursuit of new thrills.