The World’s Worst Theme Parks

Where not to take the kids on your summer vacation.

People play roles such as pioneers, partisans, secretaries of the central committee, Lenin, Stalin, and other characters of the Soviet period, on May 1, 2008, as is the tradition each year at Grutas Park, about 120km south from the capital, Vilnius. Grutas Park is situated on a 20 hectare area, and exhibits 86 works by 46 artists and has a unique collection of Soviet relics. In Grutas Park, monumental sculptures are positioned in a 2 km-long exhibition, where guard towers, fragments of concentration camps and other details resemble Siberia. AFP PHOTO / PETRAS MALUKAS (Photo credit should read PETRAS MALUKAS/AFP/Getty Images)

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.


Where: Druskininkai, Lithuania

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.


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. 



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 ( really hit the nail on the head.




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.




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.




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.




Where: Dubai, United Arab Emirates

What: Dubailand

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.


More from Foreign Policy

Volker Perthes, U.N. special representative for Sudan, addresses the media in Khartoum, Sudan, on Jan. 10.

Sudan’s Future Hangs in the Balance

Demonstrators find themselves at odds with key U.N. and U.S. mediators.

In an aerial view, traffic creeps along Virginia Highway 1 after being diverted away from Interstate 95 after it was closed due to a winter storm.

Traffic Jams Are a Very American Disaster

The I-95 backup shows how easily highways can become traps.

Relatives and neighbors gather around a burned vehicle targeted and hit by an American drone strike in Kabul.

The Human Rights vs. National Security Dilemma Is a Fallacy

Advocacy organizations can’t protect human rights without challenging U.S. military support for tyrants and the corrupt influence of the defense industry and foreign governments.


The Problem With Sanctions

From the White House to Turtle Bay, sanctions have never been more popular. But why are they so hard to make work?