ally The whole concept of a theme park is meant to transport people away from their everyday lives using the most fantastic means possible—but in many cases, what happens behind the scenes is even more unbelievable than what’s on the surface. From devil-banishing roller coasters to gruesome accidents, here are facts about the best—and worst—that the world’s wackiest and wildest theme parks have to offer.
1. The Aristocats
When you’ve got a pest problem, who do you call? Exterminators, right? Well, apparently not, even when you’re one of the biggest theme parks in the world. Just ask Disneyland. When feral cats first took over Disneyland in the 1950s, the staff let the cats stick around to take care of the rodents that were plaguing the park.
Fast forward to 2020, and up to 200 feral cats still have a home in the theme park.
2. Ready or Not, Here They Come
In Hidalgo, Mexico, far from the US-Mexico border, a theme park offers an immersive, educative experience in an unexpected subject: border crossing. In what is meant to be an act of dissuading people from attempting to cross the border illegally, people are dragged through the wringer with dogs, coyotes, border control, and wild chases. While the experience is fake, it can get pretty intense, as the park administrators are serious about the issue.
They are a part of the indigenous Hñähñu community, which has lost nearly 80% of its contemporary population to migration.
3. Back in the USSR
Are you disappointed you missed out on the Soviet experience? Perhaps you were alive and are feeling nostalgic? Well, a place in Lithuania has got you covered! Known as the Survival Drama, some businessmen have renovated an abandoned Soviet bunker in the countryside of Lithuania to give tourists an authentic Soviet experience from the year 1984.
4. Interrogation Games
When entering the Survival Drama bunker, security guards force the visitors to give up all of their personal belongings, change into vintage Soviet clothing, and spend the next 2.5 hours eating the food, watching the programs, and even more bizarrely, undergoing the medical check-ups that Lithuanians experienced in 1984.
There is even an interrogation that the tourists must endure.
5. A Great Day for Freedom
As if the experience at Survival Drama wasn’t intense enough, there is an extra layer to it all. The actors who accompany the tourists are former Soviet officers, and the interrogators are actual former Soviet interrogators. The idea behind the bunker is to show younger generations what the older generations lived through.
To top it all off, when the experience comes to an end, visitors are giving a parting gift: a shot of vodka.
6. The Pain of Waiting
From the rides to the advertising to the food, theme parks function on pure psychological force—but there is another psychological force at play: the act of waiting. The idea of waiting in line evokes a universal groan, and it is one of the most frustrating things about the theme park experience; however, without it, we wouldn’t be as satisfied.
Research suggests that the length of the line dictates our valuation of the ride. So, when there are more people lined up with us, our value of the experience increases.
7. Dopamine Deception
While we wait in line and listen to the chatter of the people surrounding us, we also take in the sounds of the rollercoaster. The creak creeping in from the wooden beams, the heaving crank, the sinister woosh of the overhanging steel beams—but few realize that there’s a dark motivation behind it all. These sounds set us up for the ride itself when our heads almost crash into low hanging beams, and we feel the sway of the suspension
The noises are a psychological deception that goes back to the earliest amusement parks to create an illusion of danger and increase tension.
8. Fried Fun
Disney will do anything to save a buck—uh, we mean to protect the environment. Their world-famous Disneyland Railroad has drawn a crowd since the very first day the Disneyland theme park opened. Initially, it was powered by diesel fuel, but Disney changed the railroad’s fuel source to Biodiesel. They do so by recycling the park’s cooking oil. At first, they tried to use soybean oil, but after that failed, they settled on an in-house solution.
9. Steam and Run
Walt Disney had a lifelong obsession with trains. As a kid, he wanted to be a train engineer. Disney was so crazy about trains, he set up a train attraction in his very own backyard before Disneyland opened. After it opened, the Disneyland Railroad went on to a be a huge success—but first, it was marred by a horrific accident.
10. Escape from Disney
Within a week of opening, the railroad had an accident when the vehicle’s operator pulled the switch too soon, and a caboose went down the wrong rail. After the accident, the operator of the vehicle jumped ship and fled the scene—actually vanishing into the steamy air. Fortunately, no one was injured, though they had no one to steer the train.
11. Tragedy on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Hiding beneath Disneyland’s shiny veneer is a dark history of terrifying accidents. In 2003, its Big Thunder Mountain Railroad crashed after an assembly wheel fell off of the vehicle, resulting in severe injuries and the unfortunate passing of a 22-year-old man. The railroad’s mechanic did not adequately secure the wheel, and the manager passed it without inspection.
After the trial and settlement, lawyers revealed that the incident was a result of a more significant, systematic issue at the park.
12. Six Flags to Rule Them All
The founder of Six Flags created a theme park to honor and represent the Wild West Texas of lore. The name “Six Flags” represents the six flags that have ruled over Texas since the European conquest of its territory. The six countries are the United States, Spain, France, Mexico, the Confederate States of America, and, of course, the Republic of Texas.
13. Famous Friends
There are a lot of Six Flags parks throughout the world, so it comes as no surprise to learn that there has been a fair share of famous people to work at Six Flags before they achieved their dreams. American Idol and super pop star Kelly Clarkson worked there, as did the popular ventriloquist comedian Jeff Dunham.
14. To Catch a Stilt Walker
Modern celebrities aren’t the only ones to have worked at a theme park to earn some cash while they worked on their craft. Back in the 1920s, Cary Grant worked with an English vaudeville group, where he learned how to dance, tumble, and walk on stilts. While the first two skills would propel his Hollywood career, the stilt walking would help him land a gig at Coney Island’s famed Steeplechase Park.
15. Not Cool, Dude
Ready to show off some sick mutton chops, a serious handlebar mustache, or some gnarly dreadlocks at work? Well, don’t go looking for a job at Six Flags. Like the New York Yankees, Six Flags cares about its prestige. Though they don’t have nearly as many world championships, they adhere to a strict grooming policy, barring “any hairstyle that detracts or takes away from Six Flags theming.”
16. No Riding the Lightning
So you’re bummed that you had to cut your locks and clean up your facial hair, but at least your favorite metal band is touring! Well, don’t get your hopes up that you’ll see them at Six Flags. Six Flags also has a no-tolerance policy on metal bands performing at their parks. This was a result of too many rowdy metal concerts through the years, which led them to state that they simply don’t want to be promoting “metal-themed” entertainment.
17. Ain’t Nothing But a Hound Dog
Themes parks have seen an incredible amount of characters over the years, fictional and real. But the real-life characters are the ones to watch out for. A man in the United States, who went by the nickname Flume Dog, is serving a lifetime ban from his favorite park, Six Flags. For 20 years, he traveled the country, going on all the log flumes Six Flags had to offer—until one day when he went too far.
What got him in serious trouble was when he needed two more passengers to enjoy a ride, and asked some mothers to “borrow” their young boys. Big mistake. As a practicing Jewish man, he could not be alone on the ride with a young female, but he left that part out when approaching the mothers.
18. Selfie Sorrow
You may think that your selfie stick is awesome and is one of the true highlights of your experience on Earth, no matter what anyone else says. That conviction won’t help if you are trying to bring your selfie stick into some theme parks, however. Both Disney and Universal Studios theme parks have banned the accessory. Womp Womp.
19. The Pirates Skeleton Key
Pirates of the Caribbean is one of the most popular media franchises ever, and if it is hard to believe that it was based on a theme park attraction, that’s probably because you’ve never experienced the incredible ride. It was the last attraction Walt Disney himself oversaw, and the attention to detail was immaculate—and utterly disturbing.
He insisted on using real human skeletons to decorate the attraction.
20. Rumor Has it
Real human skeletons were used for the Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland because the creators felt that the manufactured skeletons that were available back during its construction just weren’t good enough for the job. Eventually, the skeletons were replaced and given proper burials, but rumors remain that there are still some skeletons left on the ride.
21. Snakes and a Beer
When people hear the phrase “south of the border,” theme parks are not the first thing that comes to mind. In fact, people probably don’t think of the Carolinas as being south of the border, but that’s the theme of this small amusement park. Home to the largest indoor reptile exhibit in the United States, “South of the Border” began as a beer vendor for people who lived in the neighboring dry counties.
22. No Bumping the Bumper Cars
Butlin Skegness was the first amusement park in the United Kingdom to have bumper cars. They had an exclusive claim on the popular attraction; however, the fun wouldn’t last forever. The theme park that was famous in the UK specifically for bumper cars became infamous for their sign hanging above the cars: NO BUMPIN.
In 2011, they outlawed the bumper cars because of visitor injuries.
23. From Ashes to Ashes
Disneyland is a popular theme park for just about everyone on the planet—but the reasons behind the pilgrimages that some visitors make there are utterly disturbing. It is actually a common occurrence for people to bring the ashes of a loved one to the park and try to spread them, particularly in the Haunted Mansion.
There is even a code alert for the event to notify the staff without the visitors being disgusted: White Power Alert.
24. Disney Codes Unknown
Disney has a wide array of codewords and secret alert phrases for the staff to use when something goes down at the park. Protein Spill and Code Winnie are two common ones, representing a vomit accident and pee in the pool, respectively. These phrases may seem evident to anyone paying attention, but there is another that is used to trick unsuspecting guests.
25. For the Special Ones
If you are ever at Disneyland and you hear the staff refer to someone as a “treasured guest,” there is a problem. The problem is that the visitor is being a jerk. This phrase is used for staff members to introduce the “treasured guest” to other staff members and subtly communicate that they should proceed with caution.
26. Lego Cash Money Millionaires
Lego can do it all. Even money. In 2015, Legoland became the first theme park in the world to create their own currency. At their park in Florida, visitors can exchange their US dollars at a ratio of 1:1. And just in case you’re wondering how legitimate Legoland’s currency is, you can exchange just about any world currency for LEGOLAND Dollars.
27. Roller Coaster Salvation
Coney Island’s original slow-moving roller coasters powered by gravity were nothing like today’s adrenaline junkie coasters. LaMarcus Adna Thompson is known as the father of roller coasters because he brought the rides to amusement parks—but it was all for a sinister reason. He originally made his machines to steer people away from Satan.
Yes, that Satan.
28. Riding the Russian Mountains
Way before Thompson built his roller coasters to distract people away from the devil’s temptations at saloons, Catherine the Great was creating her own theme parks for visitors. Known as Russian Mountains, her subjects were sledding down mountains of ice blocks, going up to 80 km/h—even way back in the 15th century.
When Catherine the Great came to power, she installed one on her property and fitted wheels onto the sleds so that people could also enjoy the ride during the summer.
29. Where Words Fail, Theme Parks Speak
The oldest theme park in the world is actually still open. And the best part is that it is still free to enter. Located in Denmark, just outside of Copenhagen, Dyrehavsbakken, which is translated as “The Deer Pasture’s Hill,” is responsible for creating the modern amusement park—but not for the reasons you may think.
30. The Emperor’s New Spring
Dyrehavsbakken is a natural spring, located in a vast national forest. In 1583, Kristen Pill discovered the spring. Before long, the spring became a hotspot because Copenhagen did not have a quality water source. Local people believed the water to have holistic properties—probably because they had been drinking dirty water and beer— and entertainers, along with vendors flocked to the area to make a buck while amusing the people.
Through the centuries, some kings expanded the park while other kings closed it off to the public, until 1756 when Frederick V reopened it for all to enjoy.
31. Get Your Tank On
In the state of Minnesota, there is a niche theme park where visitors can drive a tank. All things are tank at…Drive A Tank theme park. Whether you simply want to slither on at the control of a powerful tank or utterly crush some cars, Drive A Tank offers up nearly any experience you can think of with a tank. What more can you possibly want out of life?
32. Can You Dig It
Yes, you can! Just like driving a tank, people love getting behind the control of large machinery. Fit with massive bulldozers, excavators, and other equipment, Dig It Las Vegas allows people to fulfill their desires at their theme park. Whether you want to pick things up and put them down, smash something, or get your kid acquainted with the lifestyle, they’ve got you covered.
33. Disney’s Big Bang
There is no way to know exactly how much Disney spends on their firework shows because they keep the numbers secret. However, what we do know is that they represent the second-largest purchaser of explosives in the entire United States, second to only the United States government.
34. The Wheel of Pleasure
A staple of all theme parks, whether it’s in Canada or Bulgaria, is the Ferris wheel. Its simple brilliance is enjoyed by everyone around the globe and carries the classic theme park appearance. It almost seems like something that has been around for centuries. That’s because it has been around for centuries!
It dates back to the 17th century when Bulgarians enjoyed a hand-cranked proto Ferris Wheel. They called these machines “pleasure wheels.”
35. Getting Cozy with the Grim Reaper
Death is inevitable. It is a difficult pill to swallow, but once one comes to accept the presence of it in life, they can live more freely. This, of course, is easier said than done. Luckily, there is a theme park in China doing what they can to make people more comfortable with our final experience—in an utterly gruesome way.
At the Window of the World theme park, there is a 4D simulator where people can experience the act of being cremated, just as if they were in an incinerator.
36. No Place Like an Oz Theme Park
In the 1970s, there was an Oz theme park in North Carolina that gave their visitors a view of Oz from Dorothy’s perspective. Crafted after the books, not the movie, Land of Oz had a good run, but the park eventually closed its doors to the public. However, some former employees couldn’t give up their slice of Oz and started an Autumn at Oz tradition.
Every year, for two days in autumn, they open the park to visitors.
38. Tomorrow is Yesterday
The world of Disney’s Tomorrowland, the land of the future, opened up in 1955. Indeed, it still depicts a utopian vision of an agrarian society working in harmony, but we are way behind the timeline. Disney meant for Tomorrowland to predict what our world would look like in 1986. We’ve got our work cut out for us.
39. Chew on Tomorrow
All of the greenery at Tomorrowland is edible. That’s right. You can simply reach down, snatch up a plant, and enjoy it without worrying about any consequences. It is all about creating a mold for a sustainable future, just as Walt Disney originally wanted. He set out to create a blueprint for the future of Earth when he opened Tomorrowland.
40. The Tree of Oil
Although the plants may be edible at Disney’s Tomorrowland and the Epcot garden is entirely organic, not everything at Disney theme parks is all-natural. The Tree of Life at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is not an actual tree, but is actually artificially sculpted from an old oil platform. It was created to withstand the elements, particularly hurricanes, and can stand up against the toughest of hurricane winds.
41. Walt’s Hideaway
There is actually a fire station inside of Disneyland. That comes as no surprise, but what is inside of that firehouse certainly is. Walt Disney built a secret apartment that functioned as a hideout pad for him and his family on top of the fire station. Today, the apartment is still there and has a light on when the park is open to honor the late founder.
However, the park would shut the light whenever his children entered the park to respect their loss.
42. Mickey Mouse Secret Clubhouse
Disneyland is home to one of the most exclusive clubs in the world. Situated near the secret family apartment, right above the famed Pirates of the Caribbean ride, is Club 33. The secret, increasingly not-so-secret Club 33 is exclusive to members only, who pay a $25,000 initiation fee—$40,000 for corporate members—and have to wait up to five years to receive their membership.
43. Nacho Origins
Everybody loves Doritos. Honestly, it is kind of hard not to. They were the first tortilla chip to become distributed nationally in the US, and for a good reason. But, did you know that a theme park brought them to the US? And not just any theme park. Disneyland! It was initially a move to reduce food waste by chopping up and frying leftover tortillas.
44. Too Big to Fail
The Wiener Reisenrad in Vienna, Austria, is the oldest Ferris wheel in the world still in operation. For most of the 20th century, the wheel was the largest in the world. Constructed in 1897 with old gondolas, the government planned to demolish it early in the 20th century, as a permit was issued to tear it down.
However, there weren’t enough funds to get the job done, so it was left alone.
45. Fabio Gets Goosed
Fabio is famous for his good looks, but a goose almost ruined his face for the world. Sitting in the front row during the grand opening of Busch Gardens’ first “hypercoaster,” all Fabio had to do was enjoy the roller coaster, and another successful promo was in the books. However, the wildlife in the area clearly wasn’t ready for a hypercoaster, and the ride struck a wild goose.
The bird’s neck broke before crashing into Fabio’s face and breaking his nose.
46. Finding Disneyland
You never know what you’re going to see at a theme park. Sometimes celebrities even show up, because they’re people who wanna have a fun time too. Even better, sometimes celebrities appear in character to give the guests some extra fun. Johnny Depp has hung out at Disneyland as his characters from both Pirates of the Caribbean and Alice in Wonderland.
47. Loving Pablo’s Hacienda
The public has obsessed over Pablo Escobar since he was ruling over the world’s narcotics trade, and the fascination with his life has never faded. Although an incredible amount of people suffered at his hands, his image continues to make a lot of people money. While alive, Escobar built a massive estate named Hacienda Nápoles that housed a zoo and a sculpture park, among other things.
When the government took over the estate, they made many changes and hired different companies to come in and take care of it. Naturally, one of them opened up a theme park.
48. Hippo Wonderland
Hacienda Nápoles has a long history and has changed through many hands over the years. “Parque Temático Hacienda Nápoles” operates a jungle safari, a water park, aquariums, replica caves, and allows access to Escobar’s property “ruins,” which includes his burnt car collection and house. There are also upwards of 40 hippos who wander around the estate.
49. Hungry, Hungry Mascot
With so many hippos hanging out at Hacienda Nápoles, of course, the theme park has a hippo as its mascot. Her name is Vanessa, and she seems very sweet. She even answers to her name!
50. Recycling is Fun
If you have been around long enough, perhaps you have experienced déjà vu at a theme park. It might even be a common occurrence. Luckily, there is a good reason for this, and you are not actually experiencing déjà vu all over again! Theme parks often recycle old coasters and sell them off for pennies on the dollar.
It is standard practice, whether it is for a park suffering after a natural disaster or a park just trying to make way for a bigger, better attraction. As modern roller coasters are made of steel, all they need is proper maintenance and care to remain operational and safe.
51. Disney in a Bottle
July 17, 2035, will be an interesting day at Disneyland. In 1995, a time capsule was buried inside of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle to celebrate the park’s 40th anniversary. Not many know what is inside of the time capsule, but one thing is for sure: on the park’s 80th anniversary, the world will get a blast from the past.
52. Hidden Hoop Dreams
For years, a strange rumor spread about Disneyland’s Matterhorn—that here is a basketball court at the top of the ride. Surprisingly enough, the rumor is true! But the “court” is merely a small attic with one basket. Hidden away close to the top of Matterhorn Mountain, the court was installed by a climber to pass the time in bad weather.
It was obviously a great idea, and no one felt the need to take it down, meaning it is still used by climbers and staff to pass the time.
53. Fast and Furious Ferrari
Skydivers are required to wear goggles because of how fast they are flying through the air. The same goes for those who ride the Formula Rossa roller coaster at Ferrari World Abu Dubai. A hydraulic launch system blasts the ride into motion, and in only five seconds, the ride hits top speed at 240 km/h. How about that for fast?
54. How High Can You Go?
Before Formula Rossa took the world record for the fastest roller coaster, the record belonged to Six Flags’ Kingda Ka coaster. Though Kingda Ka lost this record, it still holds the record for the tallest roller coaster at the incredible height of 139 meters. It has a top speed of 206 km/h, and its highest drop is 127 meters.
55. Ready, Set, Broken Bones
Action Park may be the most infamous theme park in the world. At its height in the 1980s and 90s, people visited the park not just to have fun but to push themselves to their physical limits. Broken bones, head injuries, and severe scars were a regular occurrence at the park. So much so, that Action Park bought their home town new ambulances to deal with all of the action the hospitals were seeing.
56. Santa’s New Home
Disneyland is one of the largest and most famous theme parks in the US. And while it certainly is old, it isn’t the oldest! The oldest is a place in Santa Claus, Indiana, known as Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari. However, the place was originally named Santa Claus Land, from when it opened in 1946 until 1986. The park was set in a Christmas theme, with all things Santa.
Over the years, however, ownership expanded the theme to all holidays, not wanting to discriminate against people—and their money.