Amusement parks rank among some of the favorite vacation destinations in the world. America’s theme park innovators have branched out to Europe and Asia, building Disney parks and Universal studios all over. The draw of the amusement park is the feeling of getting away from it all with the kids, parents reconnecting with their youth, thrill seekers finding the tallest or most extreme roller coasters, and families relaxing at indoor tropical resorts. Amusement parks offer an attraction for everyone, and the ability to lose oneself in a fantasy world. In today’s hi-tech, rat-race world, few activities can relax and recharge the mind and body as well as visiting an amusement park.
The two largest amusement parks in the world can be found in the United States. Each holds the title of largest park, though for different reasons. Cedar Point in Ohio holds the title due to its huge number of rides, 75 total rides 17 of which are roller coasters. Walt Disney World in Florida is the largest park in area comprising an astonishing 27,000 acres.
Located in Sandusky, Ohio on a narrow peninsula that juts into Lake Erie, Cedar Point encompasses 364 acres. It has 75 rides, the most in any amusement park in the world. Seventeen of those rides are roller coasters, tied with Six Flags Magic Mountain for the most roller coasters in a single amusement park. Cedar Point is the only park that has four coaster taller than 200 feet. Besides great rides, Cedar Point has a mile-long beach, the outdoor water park Soak City, the indoor water park and hotel Castaway Bay, two marinas, several hotels, and Challenge Park. Cedar Point is known as “America’s Roller Coast” and has been voted “Best Amusement Park in the World” for twelve years straight.
Cedar Point is the second oldest amusement park in North America, opening in 1870. It is owned by, and is the flagship park for, Cedar Fair Entertainment Company. The park opens daily from May through Labor Day, and on weekends only for nine weeks following Labor Day. Normal hours of operation are 10:00 AM to 10:00 PM though guests of the on-site hotel can get in one hour early.
The history of the Cedar Point peninsula dates back long before Cedar Point was developed. The area was covered in native vegetation and had clear waters providing excellent fishing. As early as the 1840s, local fishermen rented space on the peninsula to have better access to the fishing. In the 1860s the area housed a battery of four field artillery pieces. After the Civil War, Cedar Point once again served as a picnic area and great fishing spot.
The initial park was built in 1870, consisting of a beer garden, small dance floor, bathhouses and two children’s playgrounds. The builder, German immigrant Louis Zistel, charged a quarter to transport people from Sandusky to Cedar Point. Nearly no one used the peninsula during the 1870s. In 1880s improvements were made and the park brought in a few more visitors. New, clean bathhouses were built. Wooden walkways were constructed to picnic areas. Two steamboats provided round-trip transport to the peninsula. Throughout the remainder of the 1800s, construction continued as the Grand Pavilion and Candy Pagoda were built, followed by the first roller coaster in 1892 – the Switchback Railway. George Boeckling took over in 1899 and started an unprecedented period of expansion and building, including rides, hotels and restaurants. Boeckling died in 1931 and Cedar Point’s growth stifled through the Great Depression and War World II. From the mid-1950s onward, construction began and continued in earnest, rejuvenating the park and bringing in new and innovative rides.
Cedar Point is home to three water rides, six thrill rides and 17 roller coasters – including the world-famous Millenium Force and Top Thrill Dragster. There are also 19 family rides, including carnival favorites Giant Wheel, Matterhorn and Tilt-a-Whirl. The resort features several other attractions including hotels, restaurants and children’s rides. Cedar Point has won numerous rides over the years, including Best Amusement Park 12 years running and Best New Ride for 2007.
The largest, by area, and most visited amusement park in the world is Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. It officially opened in 1971 with the Magic Kingdom theme park, but today has four theme parks, two water parks, 24 hotels and many shops and restaurants.
Beginning in 1964, Walt Disney under several different dummy corporations began purchasing land in central Florida. At its height, WDW contained 30,000 acres. Over the years land has been sold and de-annexed so that the resort is now approximately 27,400 acres or 45 square miles, slightly smaller than San Francisco and nearly twice as big as Manhattan.
To see all of Disney World requires a couple of weeks of vacation. Besides the theme parks – Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom – WDW has two water parks – Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach – ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, WDW Speedway, four 18-hole golf courses and one nine-hole course, 32 on-site resorts and hotels, and several modes of on-site transportation including ferries, monorails and buses.
A resort similar to Walt Disney World is being constructed in Dubai. Dubailand, when finished, will hold the title of world’s largest amusement park. Plans include the world’s largest sports complex, the world’s largest water park, and numerous theme parks, hotels, golf courses, restaurants and shops.
The largest amusement parks in the world are true engineering masterpieces and the work of creative geniuses, each catering to specific tastes in entertainment. Whether a roller coaster aficionado or a family with kids, Cedar Point and Walt Disney World will delight the senses and provide a vacation worthy of life-long memories. As technology advances come to the forefront, amusement parks are sure to grow and provide ever more thrilling and relaxing attractions for their patrons.