Who doesn’t love a day out at a theme park?
Well, Ok, for some people the thought of being flown through the air at great height and speed, or getting soaked may not be their first choice for a fun day out, but I have to say, the inner child within me loves exploring those fun-filled amusement parks in the same way I did when I was 10-years-old.
I’m fortunate enough to have been to some amazing theme parks across the globe. So while there are thousands more to get to, I’ve narrowed it down to five of my favourite destinations so far (listed in no particular order).
Leave a comment below if you agree with this list or if there are others you’ve been to that you think should get an honouree mention.
1: Universal Studios / Island of Adventure (Orlando – USA)
Florida is well known for hosting some of the world’s most exciting theme parks that attract visitors from all over the globe.
So while I technically know this first choice is cheating – as it’s two parks – I couldn’t separate them. Also, I’ve giving myself a free-pass as they are linked by a certain ride that transports visitors from one park to the other with a valid park-to-park ticket. It’s my list, so I’m counting it!
These two theme parks provide a more adult experience than the Disney parks in the same area. Movie buffs – particularly in the older Universal Studios – will enjoy the opportunity to be a part of some classic films and take in a show with their favourite characters. It’s a living cinema experience.
The rides are pretty incredible too. Kids will love taking a magical bike ride with ET as he escapes the group of scientists looking to study him before helping everyone’s favourite extra-terrestrial get back to his home planet. After that who wouldn’t want to join Will Smith and his Men in Black team as you shoot your way through the streets after a massive alien attack. It’s such good fun! As a hint – even though they tell you not to hit the red button in the car in front of you, make sure you do at the end for a massive score bonus!
Sadly, Universal Studios has said goodbye to classic rides like Back to the Future (a simulator where you used to chase Biff in a bid to save the future) and Jaws (a calm boat ride around Amity Island until a certain shark reared it’s ugly head). They have replaced them with the enjoyable Simpsons simulator and Diagon Alley; as part of the parks huge Wizarding World of Harry Potter expansions. More on that in a bit.
The one thing Universal Studios used to be short on was roller coasters. This issue was addressed back in 2009 with the opening of the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit – a 51 m, 65 miles per hour X-Coaster that lets riders pick their own personal music to listen to while being spun, dropped and flung in all directions.
It’s worth point out also that if you visit around Halloween time each year to stick around for the infamous Halloween Horror Night evening events.
These thrilling spectacles see Universal Studios transformed into full-on horror films full of ghosts and ghouls and everyone’s favourite movie serials killers. For those brave enough, you also get the chance to step inside the numerous horror houses set-up that bring some of the scariest films and TV shows to life.
The Halloween Horror Nights alone are well worth a trip to Florida in October / November time.
Horror aside though, the parks do offer something a little more wholesome all year round.
The flagship part of the Universal complex now is their impressive homage to Harry Potter and all things Hogwarts.
Now. while I’m personally not a fan of the Harry Potter books (sorry, yes, I’m a muggle) nor a fan of the films, even I was amazed by how the parks transport you into this wizarding world.
They have also come up with the ingenious method of transporting guests from one park to the other using one of their newer rides; The Hogswarts Express!
The Hogwarts Express is located just outside of Diagon Alley at Universal Studios and at the entrance of Hogsmeade at Island’s of Adventure.
The Hogwarts Express is a ride suitable for all ages where you simply board the train and take a journey as though you’re travelling to Hogwarts yourself. The journey lasts around seven minutes, and families are able to sit together in a cartridge and enjoy the cinematic action taking place through the train window (which is really a very clever TV screen).
Once you exit the train you suddenly find yourself in the opposite park to the one you started in. Fantastic!
That brings me on quite nicely to Islands of Adventure. This is a park geared more at the thrill seakers.
Again, here, there are a wide range of Harry Potter-inspired rides including the fantastic Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, but there also areas of the park dedicated to other film genres, styles and fun gimmicks.
Some of my favourite parts are near the entrance to Islands of Adventure. Here you’ll find the Marvel Comics-inspired area (again I’m actually not a fan of the Marvel films – hope I’m not alienating too many of you with these remarks).
Top of any riders agenda should be The Incredible Hulk – a zero to 40mph in two seconds thrill ride – and the scary Doctor Doom’s Fearfall which throws riders about 50m into the air before dropping them back to the ground.
Also, don’t miss the amazing water rides in Toon Lagoon including the Popeye rapids ride where it is physically impossible to stay dry and the super-speedy Dudley Do-Right Ripsaw Falls.
While still dripping wet, take a step back 50 million years or so into Jurassic Park and try to avoid the hordes of Velociraptors and the menacing T-Rex as you escape, by boat, from the dinosaur-infested park.
Since my last visit, they have also opened a new section – back in 2016 – entitled Skull Island; a King Kong-inspired land. I’m personally looking forward to trying this areas sole attraction, Skull Island: Reign of Kong, during my next trip to the park in the future.
Now the scary bit. The ticket prices. If you buy the tickets on the door it will cost you a small fortune. Nobody does this. You can buy, at the time of writing, a three-park explorer ticket – valid for 14 consecutive days from the first time it’s activated – that gives you access to both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure – as well as Universal’s Volcano Bay waterpark – for £275 per person.
However, I’d advise shopping around for better deals when you are looking at booking. There are often good deals available for 14-day park tickets that come from other sources.
2: Tivoli Gardens (Copenhagen – Denmark)
Most great theme parks are hyper-modern, state-of-the-art affairs. Then again, most theme parks aren’t Tivoli Gardens.
Located in the centre of Copenhagen in Denmark, Tivoli Gardens first opened its doors on 15 August 1843 making it the third-oldest operating amusement park in the world!
The park is best known for its wooden roller coaster, Rutschebanen, (The Mountain Coaster). It is one of the world’s oldest wooden roller coasters that is still operating today.
Don’t think that just because it has older rides that this park is in anyway dated.
Situated throughout the park are three other modern roller coasters. The first – and largest – of these is the Dæmonen (The Demon) that features an Immelmann loop, a vertical loop, and a zero-G roll. This is a high-speed thrill-ride that rivals many coasters found throughout the world.
The next is Mælkevejen (Milky Way) – a 36 km/h coaster that opened in 2019 while the final one Kamelen (The Camel Trail) reaches a speed of 26 km/h and opened the same year.
It’s not just about the roller coasters. Tivoli Gardens offers a lot more.
The Star Flyer, opened in Tivoli in 2006 and takes riders some 80m (260 feet) into the sky providing amazing views of the park and the surround Copenhagen area. As it stands, it is one of the world’s tallest swing rides.
One of the parks newest rides – having opened in 2016 – is Fatamorgana. This spinning ride offers two separate seating arrangements across four different platforms that are rotated as they are elevated into the sky.
The first is a milder version with two-seater gondolas, while the other is a thrilling version in which riders are slung around at high speed while seated in a ring and facing away from the center
There are also a number of shows – usually either held in the streets or at one of the two concert halls on site – and plenty of child-friendly rides to keep the whole family entertained.
Visitors should also make a point to ride the always enjoyable bumper cars while it’s criminal to visit Tivoli Gardens without having played a game or two of Galoppen.
There are a few options for tickets at Tivoli Gardens that can either be purchased online before arriving or at the park entrance. The ticket you choose to buy will give you a different wristband to wear in the park and signify what you can do.
For just 135 Danish Kronar (about £16) an adult visitor can enter the park but will not have access to individual rides. Tickets per ride can then be purchased as they go around. This option is good for those who may only want to go on one or two rides during a trip.
The better bet is to get the Entrance and Unlimited Ride ticket for 245 Danish Kronar (about £30) which allows you on any number of rides as many times as you like.
3: Fuji-Q Highland (Fujiyoshida- Japan)
Picture the scene. You are climbing the initial slope of a giant roller coaster. Your heart is pumping with adrenaline and anticipation for the ride ahead. Then, as your car creeps over the peak of the coaster’s tallest point, the splendor of Mount Fuji opens up in front of you.
There are very few theme parks that can rival such a scene which is partly what makes Fuji-Q Highlands a great place to visit while in Japan.
Yet, this stunningly picturesque theme park is more than a pretty backdrop and is home to six incredible roller coasters with a seventh planned for 2022.
The pinnacle of these coasters is Fujiyama. When Fujiyama opened in 1996, it was the world’s tallest roller coaster at 259 feet (79 m), and had the largest drop in the world at 230 feet (70 m)! While it has lost its titles to newer rides, it still makes for an incredible experience.
Next up is Do-Dodonpa. Standing at 52m tall and reaching speeds of up to 172 km/h, it was once the world’s fastest roller coaster. As of 2013 it is the fourth fastest in the world but still boasts the highest acceleration at launch time (106.9 mph in 1.8 seconds).
Another showstopper is the terrifying Eejanaika. Standing at 76m tall, this ride is only the second fourth dimension roller coaster ever built. This insane concept allows the trains seats to rotate 360 degrees forward or backward in a controlled spin. This allows Eejanaika to invert 14 different times, even though the actual track inverts only three times.
Away from the adrenaline-filled roller coasters, Fuji Q Highlands has two haunted attractions: the Haunted Hospital, the world’s first largest haunted attraction and the newly built Hopeless Fortress.
There are also a series of other well thought out water, drop and swinging rides for thrill-seekers to try out. There are also activities for the younger audience too as children will enjoy a stroll around the sizable Thomas the Tank Engine Land.
For travellers in Japan who want to make the most of the area, there is also the impressive Fuji Q Highland Resort Hotel and Spa to stay in which affords great views of the park and Mount Fuji, while also housing a number of restaurants, shops, spa treatment areas and onsen bathing facilities.
While admission to the Fuji Q Highlands is free, you won’t be able to go on any rides unless you have purchased the correct ticket. This can be done online before you travel and gains you entry to the park 15 minutes before opening allowing you to get to the front of the queue for the ride of your choice.
If you want to pay per-ride then individual rides cost between 400 yen (about £3) and 2,000 yen (about £14). The better bet, though, is to buy a one-day pass for unlimited rides for 6,000 yen (around £40).
One thing to note about the park is that queues can be slow. At peak times it can take over two hours to get on one of the main rides. I’d advise that visitors to Fuji-Q Highlands do all the big rides they want to get on as early as possible during a visit.
4: Busch Gardens (Tampa – USA)
Back in the United States now, and back to the theme park packed state of Florida. And while Orlando is home to the vast majority of the visitor attractions, no trip to the Sunshine State would be complete without making the drive across the I4 to Tampa on the west coast of Florida for a day out at Busch Gardens.
The park is owned and operated by SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment and welcomes over 4 million guests through its gates every year.
The park has many high-octane roller coasters and thrill rides. Chief amongst these is the formidable SheiKra; the first Dive Coaster in North America. There is also Tigris, the tallest launch coaster in Florida and Montu, which was the tallest and fastest inverted roller coaster in the world at the time of opening. Special mention should also be made to Kumba that features a total of seven inversions across the three-minute ride.
Situated throughout the park there are also many other rides to enjoy including the incredible drop rides like Falcon’s Fury which currently stands as the tallest free-standing drop tower in North America. This huge ride reaches a maximum height of 335 feet (102 m) and then drops riders – face down – for five seconds of scream-filled free fall; reaching speeds of 60mph.
Despite all these amazing rides, the main focus of the park these days is Cheetah Hunt which opened back in 2011.
This ride aims to give riders the experience of being a cheetah as it chases down its prey. One of it’s key features is the multiple launches it operates during the course of the ride – three in total. The first launch takes riders out of the station from zero to 30mph in 1.8 seconds. Later on, there is a second – and fastest – launch which takes riders to 60mph in 2.4 seconds while a third a final launch takes riders to 40mph in 2.1 seconds.
With a host of dips, dives and long straights running almost the length of the park itself, Cheetah Hunt offers something slightly different for all roller coaster fans.
It’s worth remembering that Busch Gardens is more than just a theme park. It is also a working zoo which is home to many different species of animals that you can see during a visit.
Animals remain a key feature for Busch Gardens, with the different sections of the park being themed after different parts of the world.
Rides also make full use of the animals’ habitats, showcasing them to the guests. Rides like Rhino Rally – a safari-themed attraction – and the relaxing train ride that takes you around the full circumference of the park give visitors a break from the adrenaline-fuelled thrill rides on offer.
Like all parks in Florida, tickets can – and should – be purchased online before you travel.
Busch Gardens tickets often are linked to Adventure Island waterpark in Tampa and Aquatica waterpark and Seaworld Orlando. To purchase a 14 consecutive day unlimited ticket for all of these parks you’re looking at approximately $199.99 per adult (about £150).
While it’s a lot of money to pay out per person, each park on their own makes for a series of entertaining days out during a Florida holiday.
5: Lotte World (Seoul – South Korea)
Most theme parks are, by their very nature, outdoors. Yet in South Korea on the outskirts of the nation’s capital, Seoul, one park combines the regular outdoor fare with the world’s largest indoor theme park. That place is Lotte World!
The inside theme park is housed over four floors that circles above a large ice-rink (separate ticket needed for this) at the foot of the park.
The size of the park, with its many winding corridors, make for it to be somewhat of a maze to navigate. It is therefore, in my opinion, best to try and ‘complete’ each floor – starting from the top and working your way down – if you are to stand a chance of doing the whole park in a single day.
What makes Lotte World so intriguing is that rides appear almost out of nowhere. Rounding corners it is possible to come across a new ride that you didn’t even know existed moments before.
And there are a surprising number of large rides housed within the confines of the park. Keep your eyes peeled for Pharaoh’s Fury (an Indiana Jones inspired jeep ride on the fourth floor), the Jungle Adventure boat ride on floor three and the flume ride on floor one.
You’ll also notice a continuous series of hot air balloons circling the ceiling of Lotte World. These balloons – that run on a rail from the ceiling above – let you get a birds-eye-view of the park and are well worth the time it takes make a full lap.
There are also numerous other exciting rides inside the park that will entertain the whole family, as well as a few smaller roller coasters to keep the thrill seekers happy.
The second part of Lotte World is the smaller outside area known as Magic Island. You can reach this either by monorail or on foot via a bridge. This is because Magic Island has been built on artificial island within the Lotte World complex.
The area has a few larger rides including Atlantis Adventure – a steel roller coaster that is themed on the lost city of Atlantis – and Gyro Drop; a new attraction coupled with VR goggles to give a simulation of a futuristic landscape during the elevation sequence before dropping riders back to the base.
Lotte World can be accessed from Seoul by taking the Metro to Jamsil Station on Seoul Subway Line 2 or Seoul Subway Line 8.
After a short walk, a one-day ticket can be purchased for 55,000 South Korean Won per adult (around £36) on the door. A cheaper ticket is also available for entry after 4pm costing 44,000 South Korean Won per adult (about £29).
Lotte World remains extremely popular with South Korean locals and is a great way to spend a day away from the busy streets of the Korean capital.