The World’s Worst Theme Parks
Where not to take the kids on your summer vacation.
Disneyland and Six Flags may conjure up images of log flumes and roller coasters, long lines and egregiously priced cotton candy, but it's not always fun and games. Here are six theme parks where it's more propaganda than Pinocchio, more geopolitics than Goofy.
Disneyland and Six Flags may conjure up images of log flumes and roller coasters, long lines and egregiously priced cotton candy, but it’s not always fun and games. Here are six theme parks where it’s more propaganda than Pinocchio, more geopolitics than Goofy.
RED DEAD REDEMPTION
Where: Druskininkai, Lithuania
What: Grutas Park
Step back into the halcyon days of Stalinism, experience the joys of Gulag life, immerse yourself in the warm embrace of totalitarianism — and when you get a bit peckish, enjoy a tasty meal of “Nostalgija” borscht, “Deer’s Eye” cocktail, and “Reminiscence” starch jelly in the cafe. The brainchild of entrepreneur Viliumas Malinauskas, who purchased dozens of statues of communist figureheads left discarded and vandalized in the wake of Lithuania’s independence, Grutas Park is actually intended as a reminder of the dark days of totalitarianism. It’s not all doom and gloom, though: There’s a playground for the kids and the Gulag train, which puts a lovely spin on being sent to Siberia in a cattle car in the dead of winter. Just make sure they haven’t read Animal Farm before heading to the petting zoo.
PETRAS MALUKAS/AFP/Getty Images
IT’S ONLY A SMALL COPYRIGHT VIOLATION AFTER ALL
Where: Beijing, China
What: Shijingshan Amusement Park
In the western suburbs of China’s sprawling capital lies Shijingshan Amusement Park, a blatant example of Beijing’s disregard for intellectual property. A near replica of Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle graces the center of the park, and visitors are greeted by costumed employees in stuffed Donald Duck and Minnie Mouse outfits. Lawyers for the Walt Disney Co. complained back in 2007, but these rip-off artists don’t pick favorites: Among the rides are Jurassic Adventure and Spinning Batman roller coasters. Given the legal wranglings, it’s not surprising that the owners have taken down the website. It’s a shame, as the URL (www.bs-amusement-park.com) really hit the nail on the head.
TEH ENG KOON/AFP/Getty Images
LET’S GET IT ON
Where: Jeju Island, South Korea
What: Love Land
South Korea has one of the lowest birth rates in the world, with just 1.2 children produced by each woman — far below the level required to maintain a steady population. And with arranged marriages still not uncommon and a prudish, button-down society, it’s only getting worse. The solution might lie on the popular honeymoon destination of Jeju Island, at the amusement park Love Land, which opened in 2004. To get nervous couples in the mood for procreation, the park invites visitors to “appreciate the natural beauty of love,” with attractions such as Breast Mountains, Giant Stone Penis, and the masturbation bike.
CHUNG SUNG-JUN/Getty Images
Where: Kent, England
What: Dickens World
With new Prime Minister David Cameron promising severe spending cuts and warning citizens of “decades” of austerity, it might behoove young Britons to go back to the future at Dickens World, a recreation of grimy, hardscrabble life in the Victorian era. Bring along your prepubescent chimney sweep — umm, child — and show him what decades of welfare spending and the financial crisis has wreaked. Stop by Peerybingles Pawnbrokers or tour Marshalsea Prison for a charming afternoon in the squalor, poverty, and disease of late 1800s London.
CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images
SOUTH OF THE BORDER
Where: Hidalgo, Mexico
What: La Caminata Nocturna
Come hiking in the beautiful desert hills and river valleys of Parque EcoAlberto, just three hours north of Mexico City — at night, while being chased. The Caminata Nocturna, or night hike, is meant to simulate what it’s like for the thousands of Mexicans that attempt the illegal border crossing into the United States each year. And the local Hñahñu Indians, who run the simulation, should know: Hundreds of their fellow men and women have made the dangerous journey. For well-heeled denizens of Mexico City and a few foreign tourists, it’s a chance to see how the other half lives. Border Patrol agents emerge out of the darkness in pickup trucks, sirens blaring, firing guns loaded with blanks — while visitors run for cover, ducking behind cacti, and scrambling under fences.
LUIS ACOSTA/AFP/Getty Images
FILE THIS UNDER: VAPORWARE
Where: Dubai, United Arab Emirates
It was to be the world’s largest theme park — a $63 billion, 3 billion-square-foot wonderland of rides, sports facilities, and hotels. Conceived by the Tatweer corporation, Dubailand humbly claimed to be “world’s most ambitious tourism, leisure and entertainment project,” and its 45 “mega projects” were planned to attract some 2.5 million people (including homeowners, workers, and tourists) to the desert country. Today however, following the stunning collapse of Dubai’s economy in November 2009, the complex is just a collection of half-finished homes amid piles of construction equipment. But if you came all the way to the Emirates hoping to hit the links at the Tiger Woods Dubai or Six Flags, fear not. Wild Wadi Waterpark and Ski Dubai offer a break from the heat, and for those aspiring sheikhs, there’s Abu Dhabi’s Ferrari World, scheduled to open in October.
KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images
Ben Pauker is a former executive editor at Foreign Policy.
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