Published online at www.msn.ca, July, 2010.
Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio
Dubbed the “Roller Coaster Capital of the World,” Cedar Point holds the record for the most coasters in one single park at 17, in addition to boasting four coasters taller than 61 m — the most of any park. It seems the park also succeeded in nabbing the most dastardly of coaster architects: their Millennium Force stands 95 m (310 feet) tall and plunges towards the earth at an 80-degree angle, at speeds of 150 km/hr. For nine consecutive years, Cedar Point — the second oldest in North America — has been named the Best Amusement Park in the World by Texas-based industry publication Amusement Today.
Six Flags, Great Adventure & Wild Safari, New Jersey
Here’s something we always wondered: why the name Six Flags? Well, apparently the name refers to the six flags that have flown over the state of Texas — site of the original Six Flags park in 1960 — during its history: Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Confederate States of America and the U.S.A. So now you know. Six Flags is now a mini-empire as the world’s largest amusement park corporation with 21 properties in North America, and boasts the tallest, fastest roller coaster in the world at their New Jersey location, Six Flags Great Adventure. The Kingda Ka will launch you from 0 to 206 km/hr in 3.5 seconds, whip you around 90 degree, quarter-turns and catapult you 45 stories or 139 m into the sky, all under one minute. We’re exhausted just describing it. It’s perhaps the one place where it’s common to hear grown men scream like little girls.
Walt Disney World Resort, Florida
It’s called the happiest place on earth; where princesses live happily ever after and forever maintain their girlish figure, and where oversized rodents are cute and cuddly. There is perhaps no more magical, fantastical place than this, the world’s largest and most visited recreational resort. With four theme parks and two water parks covering 100 square kilometres, the grandfather of animation, Walt Disney, has created an alternate universe for children where their favourite characters come to life. For the older crowd, Space Mountain is always a favourite, as you blast off into space in a six-passenger rocket — or in the words of another favourite Disney character, “To infinity, and beyond.”
Busch Gardens, Tampa Bay, Fla., Williamsburg, Va.
Voted the world’s “Most Beautiful Park” for 20 consecutive years by the National Amusement Park Historical Association, the Virginia park whisks visitors away to the best of old world Europe, taking them to England, Scotland, France, Germany and Italy. Williamsburg also boasts the tallest, floorless dive coaster in the world: the Griffon will take you 62 m in the sky and then drop you over the edge at a 90 degree angle, at 113 km/hr. The Tampa Bay park, meanwhile, is the cheapest trip to the African Serengeti you’ll find, with nearly 3,000 exotic animals including rhinos, tigers, giraffes and zebras roaming the Florida coast.
Paramount Canada’s Wonderland, Vaughan, Ontario
It’s an annual pilgrimage for Toronto-area thrill seekers. Just north of the city, Canada’s Wonderland offers a good variety of adrenaline pumping thrill rides, including Canada’s longest wooden coaster, The Mighty Canadian Minebuster, and the fastest, tallest roller coaster in Canada — the Behemoth. Stretching out over 1, 616 m in length, you plummet from a height of 70 m at 125 km/hr in 3.9 seconds. New this year for the kiddies is everyone’s favourite beagle with Planet Snoopy and the rest of the Peanuts gang. And a timeless classic, which has survived corporate takeovers and name changes, are the high divers who leap 20 m off Victoria Falls to the base of Wonder Mountains.
The mysteries of the sea are illuminated — literally and figuratively — in this oceanarium-cum-amusement park, where visitors can get up close and personal with sharks, penguins, whales and dolphins. In their “Shark Encounter” exhibit, visitors pass through an 18 m underwater tunnel, surrounded by marine predators like sharks, eels and barracuda. The park also boasts the world’s only flying roller coaster of its kind, the Manta, which simulates the gentle movements of the manta ray — only at high-voltage, breakneck speeds. After being strapped in, riders are pulled back mechanically so they’re parallel to the ground, before spinning, gliding, skimming and flying through the air, head-first, face-down. And if that’s not thrilling enough, you also have the option of going deep aquarium diving for a 90-minute close encounter with the sharks.
Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York
It’s not half as slick as the other theme parks on our list. Nor does it hold any bragging rights to the biggest or baddest thrill ride. But there’s a romanticism to this historic, east coast fair ground circa 1927, with its iconic boardwalk and famous Coney Island hot dogs. And no visit to Coney Island would be complete without taking a spin on the iconic Cyclone, one of the world’s most famous roller coasters, if not just for its longevity.
While dozens of newer models can boast being the biggest and the fastest in the world, The Cyclone continues to thrill. It’s claimed that a man who had been a mute since birth, regained his voice after riding The Cyclone, uttering his first words ever with: “I feel sick!” And in what could be their best ringing endorsement, aviator Charles Lindbergh said that a ride on The Cyclone was more thrilling than his historic first solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean.
LEGOLAND, Carlsbad, Calif., and Polk County, Fla.
It may be disorienting at first, seeing life-sized animals appearing before you like pixelated, digital holograms. But that’s what happens when a 128-acre park is dedicated entirely to LEGO statues. A whopping 35 million LEGO bricks have been artfully stacked on top of each other to create 15,000 LEGO models, including Bronte the Brontosaurus, which stands nine feet tall, and is made up of two million bricks alone. Life-sized giraffes, zebras and lions also greet you at the Duplo village, one of nine sections within the park. While some areas encourage kids to play with the LEGO building blocks, other sections like Miniland USA, which has reproduced seven regions of the U.S. in a 1:20 scale, are for viewing enjoyment only. You break it, you build it.
Universal Studios, Orlando, Fla., and Hollywood, Calif.
Depending on point of view, this is where the magic of moviemaking is either brought to life, or comes to die. At the Hollywood location, for example, visitors are given a backstage pass where they’ll learn the secrets behind their favourite special effects like CGI and 3-D technology. You can also visit working studios where you’ll go behind the scenes of blockbuster movies in the making. One of their biggest attractions is the King Kong 360 3-D, created by director Peter Jackson — the world’s largest and most intense 3-D experience. But perhaps the most anticipated exhibit to arrive at the Orlando location, is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, where fans can meander through the village of Hogsmeade, amble the halls of Hogwart’s Castle, and swoop past Hagrid’s hut on the Flight of the Hippogriff, a family-friendly ride. When you get pekish, stop by the Three Broomsticks for a plate of shepherd’s pie and a pint of Butterbeer.
Sesame Place, Langhorne, Pa.
It’s the age-old question: can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street? Well friends, we’re here to tell you, you can find it in Bucks County, Penn., near Langhorne. But be forewarned, many a tyke has erupted into tears after beholding their favourite, furry Sesame Street friend in life size. Wouldn’t you, if you’ve only known these creatures to fit the size of your TV screen and then are suddenly confronted by overgrown puppets? Anyway, in addition to the rides and water park, kiddies can rock out with Elmo and gang, at his headlining gig, Elmo Rocks! If he takes requests, we’d like to hear a reggae ska version of their theme song that begins with “Sunny days, sweeping the clouds, away...” Please and thank you.