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Amusement Parks: Fun for the Ages

Most amusement parks around the country share a number of common features, such as thrill rides, midway games, carnival foods and other staples. But these similarities don’t mean all amusement parks are the same. From small local favorites to historic institutions and world-famous names in entertainment, America’s amusement parks offer a wide diversity of fun experiences for visitors of all ages.

Groups looking to add some thrills and chills to their trips can find amusement parks that cater to their specific interests. In Indiana, Holiday World became the first theme park in the United States when it opened in 1946. California’s Disneyland became one of America’s most iconic tourist destinations when it opened in the 1950s.

Busch Gardens Williamsburg in Virginia is known for its beautiful landscaping and its European flair, Six Flags Over Texas has been thrilling visitors in the Dallas/Fort Worth area for more than 50 years, and in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Bay Beach Park boasts more than a century of local entertainment.


Holiday World

Santa Claus, Indiana

There’s a distinctly Midwestern feel to Holiday World, a park opened in 1946.

“We’re in a small town, Santa Claus, Indiana, and we’re known as the theme park in the middle of a corn field,” said director of communications Paula Werne. “We opened in 1946, nine years before Mr. Disney got started with his little project on the West Coast. We’re still owned and operated by the same family that opened the park, and we’re very family oriented.”

Holiday World guests will find plenty of Christmas-themed elements year-round, including daily visits from Santa Claus. But the park offers more than just Christmas kitsch. There are number of thrill rides throughout the park, including the new Thunderbird roller coaster.

“It’s America’s first launched, winged roller coaster,” Werne said. “You’re not above or below the track — you’re beside it. You’re riding on the wings of the thunderbird. And when you’re launched out of the station, you go from zero to 60 miles per hour in 3.5 seconds.”

Holiday World’s on-site water park, Splashin’ Safari, has two of the world’s longest “water coasters,” Wildebeest and Mammoth, which use magnet technology to propel riders up and down slides on their rafts. The water park also features a wave pool and a lazy river.

In addition to taking in rides and shows, groups can arrange to have special behind-the-scenes tours at Holiday World. The park also offers educational programs for student groups that teach young visitors the principles of physics at work in some of its signature rides.

Holiday World sets itself apart from many other amusement parks around the country by offering free parking, as well as free soft drinks and sunscreen at kiosks throughout the park.


Disneyland Resort

Anaheim, California

It’s not the oldest amusement park in the country, but to many people, Disneyland in California is the quintessential American attraction. The park opened in 1955, and many of the most famous rides and attractions from that time are still operational today.

What began as a theme park has grown into a large multiexperience property. Disneyland Resort now consists of Disneyland; its sister park, California Adventure; and three adjacent hotels.

“We’re beginning a yearlong celebration of our 60th anniversary this summer,” said John McClintock, a public relations representative at Disneyland Resort. “For the diamond celebration, we have three brand-new after-dark shows that will take our evening entertainment several steps beyond what it’s been in the past.”

The first of those special programs is a resurrection of the Main Street Electrical Parade, a Disneyland staple that was retired 20 years ago. The new version, called “Paint the Night,” features state-of-the-art light and music effects.

The park’s new fireworks program, Disneyland Forever, is choreographed to music and has its own storyline. It also integrates special projection images at many attractions.

“If the music is playing ‘Under the Sea’ and you’re standing out on Main Street, the buildings have been digitally mapped so they can project images of fish peeking out of the doorways or windows onto Main Street,” McClintock said. “When the fireworks do ‘Finding Nemo,’ the Matterhorn turns into the volcano from the movie.”

At California Adventure, the 60th-anniversary celebration is bringing a new version of the “World of Color” evening program, which uses images projected onto dense mist screens to tell the story of Walt Disney and his inspiration.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.