And don't let anybody tell you any different ...
Written by Gregg Condon
Look, I get it. Your favorite park is Disney, or it's Universal, or it's Cedar Point, or it's a Six Flags park. You think Disney is too crowded (OK it might be) or that Universal uses too many Screenz (maybe they do) and Cedar Fair and Six Flags don't theme their coasters (what's the point when they're going 70 mph). So for ALL of these reasons and more, you'll only visit one theme park chain.
But why? It's probably the greatest time in the history of theme parks to be a theme park fan. They are all trying to one-up each other and it's AMAZING.
In the 90's and early 00's we had the great coaster wars. Amusement Parks from, well really Illinois to New Jersey were trying to one-up each other with taller and faster coasters (California and the West Coast somehow got left out of this). But that didn't do anything for fans of Disney or Universal parks.
Disney was the king of the themed environment for decades. Not only themed rides, but lands around those rides. A recreation of New Orleans for a Pirates themed ride. Old west themed lands. Castles. World's of "tomorrow" that never really came to fruition (but that's a whole other article).
But the fact is, Disney was the top. Even after Universal Studios Florida opened Universal was really second fiddle to Disney and it seemed that's where they were destined to stay.
And then in the late 90's and into 2001 Disney built a couple of parks that weren't quite as successful as they probably should have been, because Disney was trying to save some money. Disney was always the "first offer" when it came to franchises to create themed environments for (yes, even Potter) but they were famously hesitant to give up any control when it came to the final say over what was in their parks.
And it is for that reason JK Rowling found the perfect partner to re-create her Wizarding World of Harry Potter ... and then everything changed.
On May 10, 2010 the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened at Islands of Adventure and thus started the theme park war that we now see ourselves in.
No longer would off-the-shelf mouse coasters themed to Dinosaur parking lots or twisty roads in the Santa Monica Mountains be enough. Swing rides that looked like oranges, gone. Special effects shows featuring crappy war movies, gone.
But the impact wasn't just for Disney. It opened up a whole new era for Universal Studios across the world which has probably benefited the Hollywood Park more than any other.
Just look at the timeline for Disney and Universal just since Wizarding World opened:
And these are just the highlights, so much has been done at all of these parks since 2010. And we're just getting started.
In addition to these attractions at Disney and Universal, the other park chains are starting to catch on to themed rides and environments. We've seen the Justice League rides at Six Flags parks. Coasters with themed elements like Mystic Timbers at Kings Island, Cobra's Curse at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay and Verbolten at Busch Gardens Williamsburg.
The complete re-do of Ghost Town at Knott's Berry Farm. Interactive dark rides at Legoland. Even smaller parks like Glenwood Caverns are opening themed rides that fit their parks.
And of course for the coaster fans we've seen the complete re-imagining of classic wooden coasters thanks to Rocky Mountain Construction, the continued success of B&M Hyper Coasters and the infusion of newer manufacturers (to the US) like MACK and Gerstlauer. Parks like Lagoon are even building their own coasters.
As I said, it's an AMAZING time to be a Theme Park Fan.
Sure, there are always there are those who will find fault with anything. Guardians of the Galaxy Tower, Volcano Bay, World of Pandora, Soarin' Around The World, duplication of rides at Six Flags. There is not ONE attraction opening up at any park that is beyond critique. No matter the chain, theme, ride system, fan-base ... inevitably somebody out there is going to hate it, or at least give the perception that they hate it.
But now that the theme park war is almost a decade old it shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, with all of the rumors going around with Tron coming to Magic Kingdom, Guardians and Ratatouille coming to EPCOT, NintendoLand coming to Universal, more Potter coming, Marvel and of course Star Wars Land there is going to be more choice than ever.
For those of us that can look beyond what company is creating what environment and enjoy lots of different things at different parks, it's absolutely amazing. For those that continue to support only one company while still criticizing everything that company does you are likely going to be continually disappointed.
IP's aren't going anywhere. Screenz aren't going anywhere. Overlays of existing rides to fit what's new and hip aren't going anywhere. Synergy is where it's at. And why not. When you have franchises that are pulling in BILLIONS of dollars every year at the Box Office it's no surprise that corporations want to capitalize on that with attractions and most importantly, merchandising.
So you can either continue to be disappointed with the highest quality attractions theme parks have ever created or just go with the flow and enjoy the ride ...
Sometimes inspiration comes from the weirdest place. We're always trying to find a way to get more of "Team Park Journey" involved in things so you know who they all are, because we do have the best damn team ever. But sometimes with all of the goings on in the Theme Park World it's hard to.
Then we get a random PM and decide to try something new. And that's just what's happened here. We hope you enjoy our new segment "Ask Team Park Journey".
Written by Team Park Journey
A couple of weeks ago we got this PM on our Facebook page from fan of the site Matthew, so we decided to throw the question out to the team and then it just grew from there into what will hopefully become a new site segment. The question is:
Hello I was wondering if you could recommend the best theme parks in the USA excluding Southern California, Orlando, and Six Flags Over Texas. Just trying to make a bucket list. Thanks.
We're assuming Matthew has been to SFOT which is why it's included, but that doesn't mean we don't DEFINITELY have a list of Bucket List parks that every enthusiast should probably have on their list of "must visits".
First on our list is Pennsylvania. Yes, the entire state of Pennsylvania. Because the parks in PA are just THAT good and it was pretty impossible for Andrew to pick just one. From Hersheypark to Knoebels, Kennywood and Waldameer, and everything else in between. If these parks were in a year-round state like CA or FL they would be among the best parks in those states. But lets face it, if they were year-round parks it would take away some of what makes these parks so special.
Next up we're going to head south a bit and to RD and Randy's favorite vacation spot, Dollywood. I don't think we've ever hidden our love for this park, and why would we. From world class coasters, amazing food and the friendliest staff ever you really can't go wrong. Oh, and of course, Dolly. Be sure to visit on opening weekend when she opens the park herself.
From Dollywood we're going to head just a bit west and visit Holiday World in Indiana. Stephen being Stephen listed off a whole bunch of parks (not even in the US) but this one totally stood out as needing to be included in our list. If there is any park that can rival Dolly's park for most awesome staff and southern hospitality it's Holiday World. Home to three of the best wooden coasters on the planet they took the country by storm a few years ago with the first launched B&M Wing-Rider which isn't to be missed.
We'd be remiss if we failed to include the two amazing Busch Gardens parks located in Williamsburg and Tampa Bay. Sure, Tampa Bay is "Orlando adjacent" but even our Orlando resident Renée thinks it's far enough away and is amazing enough where we have no issues including it on any list of bucket-list parks.
The Williamsburg park on the other hand is charming and beautiful but that doesn't mean they don't have some of the best coasters on the planet in Apollo's Chariot, Verbolten, Loch Ness Monster, Alpengeist and of course the all new InvadR. I think this is the one park everybody on the team has visited and there was an overall consensus that this needed to be here.
Just down the road from Busch Gardens Williamsburg is the park which has arguably the #1 coaster in the US, Kings Dominion. But don't let Intimidator 305 fool you into thinking this is all about extreme thrills, they have one of the only Bobsled coasters in the US and if rumors are to believed, a kick-ass RMC coming for 2018.
We also have to include one of the other crown jewels in the Cedar Fair chain just a bit to the south in the Carolina's. Carowinds has made a name for itself over the past decade with some amazing thrilling coasters but they haven't forgotten about making an awesome well-rounded park with this years County Fair area.
Speaking of chain parks, we of course have to include a few of our favorite Six Flags parks in Georgia (RD and Randy's home park), San Antonio, St Louis, Chicago (JoAnna's home park) and Vallejo (Stephen and Andrews home park). These are some of the most well-rounded parks in the entire Six Flags chain with amazing thrills, great shows and family rides. Each of these parks has managed to keep their identity while definitely having the thrills worthy of the Six Flags name.
What would any "Bucket List" be without adding in some parks that you probably wouldn't think of, and two of those parks are Adventureland in Iowa and Glenwood Caverns in Colorado. You may have never even heard of these parks, but they are so worth going out of your way a few hours or in the case of Gregg's road-trip in 2014, many hours.
Adventureland is a great traditional park with a great line-up of coasters, flat rides and some rides you might not even expect. Glenwood Caverns on the other hand uses it's natural terrain better than any other park we've been to and is not to be missed.
No list of this kind would be complete without an amazing traditional boardwalk park and Matt blew it out of the water with the inclusion of Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Classic Woodie. Check. Haunted Dark Ride. Check. Amazing Flat Rides. Check. The beach. Check, check, and check.
Lastly, we're going to end this list with one of the parks that all coaster enthusiasts should visit at least once, and that's Lagoon in Farmington, UT. It's definitely an enthusiasts paradise as we saw with Andrew's trip report there last year with some amazing classic coasters and modern thrills all mixed into one amazing park.
So that's our Bucket List parks in the US. Sure, there are a LOT of parks out there, and some we left out, but for us, these are the parks that we love to visit or hope to visit someday. Visiting a park for us isn't always about the latest and greatest thrill, but more than anything, enjoying our hobby with family and friends. The least amount of stress the better, and I think one common thread you'll see for most of the parks on our list are an amazing staff, good food and spots where you can just chill out and relax.
Be sure to check out all of our related trip reports to many of these parks below.
So what parks are on your bucket list? Be sure to share them below.
And if you have an "Ask Team Park Journey" question feel free to send us a message on Facebook or Twitter, use our "Contact Us" form or send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We'd love to hear from you for future articles.