Balmy weather and school-free days signal that we’re in the throes of amusement park season. Naturally the lines at Six Flags and around-the-globe Disney escapes will be long, as will American classics like Hershey Park and Cedar Point.
If you’re going to fork over tons of cash on roller coasters and (mediocre) pretzels, though, it might as well be at a park with a spectacular setting. Herewith, AD’s roundup of the world’s most striking ride-fueled getaways.
In a brilliant example of early-day marketing, brewing powerhouse Anheuser-Busch initially opened Busch Gardens in Pasadena, at the winter estate of the company’s cofounder, in 1906. Today, with several shuttered locations confined to the past, two vibrant parks remain.
Tampa Bay debuted in 1959 with an African theme, and in 1975 Williamsburg, Virginia, followed, flaunting European style. The latter especially benefits from serene landscapes and views, elevated by relaxing loungers and lazy rivers at Water Country USA.
These low-key elements are juxtaposed with such action-packed rides as the Der Wirbelwind swings, the floorless Griffon roller coaster, the drop tower Mäch, and the newest draw: the 360-degree virtual reality Battle for Eire. A prime location means Busch Gardens can easily be paired with other enlightening experiences like Colonial Williamsburg and Colonial National Historical Park.
Plunge right into a fairy tale in Kaatsheuvel, a Dutch village some two hours south of Amsterdam.
Here, the enchanted discover Efteling, which started out as a sports park in 1930 and grew to feature an immersive Fairytale Forest. Beyond interactive odes to the likes of Sleeping Beauty and Hansel and Gretel, Efteling captivates with the Spookslot Haunted House and Aquanura, Europe’s largest water show.
Bold adventurists will want to rock back and forth on the massive swinging ship Halve Maen, and queue for Baron 1898, the roller coaster that free-falls into a mineshaft. Prolong the fantasy by spending the night at the Efteling Hotel, inside one of the kitted-out themed suites ranging from a circus caravan to the pumpkin-adorned Cinderella.
The majestic park, planted in the middle of Copenhagen, surely inspired the author, just as it does the hordes of tourists—and Annual Card–holding locals—who walk through its ornate, arched entrance gates all year long. They come for the rides, of course, including the animal-themed carousel, the Ferris wheel with striped hot-air balloon-shaped cars, and one of the world’s oldest wooden roller coasters, complete with brakeman aboard each train.
Wandering the gardens also makes them happy, finding contemplation, say, in the Chinese-inspired bamboo forest or the gurgling water fountains outside the newly revamped boutique hotel Nimb. Dinner at one of Nimb’s myriad restaurants, or an open-air concert come summer, allows patrons to luxuriate in Tivoli at night, when it’s at its illuminated best.
The Prater, Vienna
There are numerous landmarks synonymous with Vienna, the Hofburg and St.
Stephen’s Cathedral among them, but none conjure a sense of nostalgic playfulness like the Prater’s Giant Ferris Wheel. First opened to the public by Emperor Joseph II in 1766, the amusement park formally known as Wurstelprater is found inside the large public park Wiener Prater, in the city’s second district.
The famous wheel, called Weiner Riesengrad, was constructed in 1897 to commemorate the 50-year reign of Emperor Franz Joseph I, and at over 200 feet tall the iron structure towers over the city, seducing with its old-school red cabins. Ride it for a few loops, then take the Ghost Train through the macabre and soar on the Prater Tower’s swings.
Refreshment comes courtesy of Schweizerhaus, where the heartiest appetites are sated with colossal pig knuckles, a specialty of this convivial beer garden. praterwien.
Beto Carrero World, Santa Catarina, Brazil
Beaches dominate Santa Catarina in the very south of Brazil, but those who tear themselves away from the stunning coastline can find sanctuary of another variety at Beto Carrero World. Located in Penha, on the north coast, Latin America’s largest theme park opened in 1991.
The colorful, medieval-like Castle of Nations is at the heart of it all, greeting visitors before they make their way to other beloved sites like the spinning boats of the Madagascar Crazy River Adventure, the inverted roller coaster FireWhip, and the bilevel Venetian Carousel, spangled with close to 2,000 lights. betocarrero.
Europa-Park opened in 1975 in Rust, and it was essentially a showroom for the rides Mack designed and built as much as a carefree entertainment mecca. Over 40 years later, the family-run Europa-Park, with its themed areas nodding to different European countries, continues to pack in revelers with thrilling rides like Voletarium, which takes guests on flights across the continent, or the African Queen, a safari boat ride.
Roller-coaster fanatics in particular will love it here, racing through 15 different options such as the virtual Alpenexpress Coastiality, the upside-down Blue Fire Megacoaster Powered by Gazprom, and the new-this-summer Eurosat CanCan coaster, a foray into 19th-century Paris heightened by a replica of the Moulin Rouge. europapark.
A water park at a five-star hotel and resort built on a man-made island: Only in Dubai does no one raise an eyebrow at such a bizarre notion. Atlantis, the Palm, reinforces its aquatic theme on a grand scale with an underwater suite to sleep in, the Lost Chambers Aquarium, and swimming expeditions in Dolphin Bay.
Aquaventure adds to the allure with a shark safari, river rides through pulsating waves, and plenty of slides. In keeping with Atlantis, the Palm’s aura of luxury, the water park even offers private cabanas amid tropical gardens.
Dollywood, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Skeptics might have balked when in 1986 the former Silver Dollar City in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, reopened as the flashier Dollywood.
But the Herschend Brothers were smart to bring on Dolly Parton as a partner, because the singer, songwriter, actress, and fiercely proud East Tennessee native injected this Smoky Mountains retreat with new life. Kitschy touches abound on the 150-acre grounds, like Parton’s worth-peeking-into plush leather “home-on-wheels” and Stampede, the dinner show rife with horse stunts.
Such entertainment is balanced by the 20-story-high Lightning Rod roller coaster and the new toboggan-style Mountain Slidewinder. Dollywood is now a place to unwind in a hot tub at the DreamMore Resort and Spa, but one glimpse of Klondike Katie, the 110-ton coal-fired steam train that was the star attraction back when the park opened as the Rebel Railroad in 1961, and it’s clear it also stays true to its humble roots.
Fuji-Q Highland, Fujiyoshida, Japan
Opened in 1968 at the foot of Mount Fuji in Japan’s Fuji Five Lakes Region, Fuji-Q Highland is a shrine to speedy roller coasters, with clamored-for options like the rotating Eejanaika and steep-drop Takabisha.
This storied volcano is visible throughout, from the Shining Flower Ferris wheel with its transparent gondolas to the Mad Mouse two-seater coaster. Check in to the Highland Resort Spa, just outside the park’s main entrance, and an entire weekend can be plotted around visits to the Fujiyama Museum and wooden bathhouse Fujiyama Onsen.
Coney Island, Brooklyn, USA
Manhattanites, in just over an hour on the subway, escape the city’s chaos for cheerful Coney Island.
This stretch of South Brooklyn was first christened a resort getaway in the 19th century, soon to be known for its trifecta of whimsical amusement parks: Luna Park, Dreamland, and Steeplechase Park. Capture the soul of this golden era with a whirl on the circa-1920 Wonder Wheel, or the Cyclone, the legendary wooden roller coaster built in 1927.
A relish-topped hot dog and crinkle-cut fries from Nathan’s Famous, a stand that dates from 1916, are a must. Between the bumper cars, boardwalk strolls, and backdrop beach, childhood always seems wonderfully within reach at Coney Island.
Nagashima Spaland, Nagoya, Japan
At this busy park, it is roller coasters like the Acrobat and the Steel Dragon 2000 that lure in folks. The crowd’s nondaredevils might want to stick to the immense Aurora Ferris wheel and the slides and wave pool of Joyful Water Park.
Next to the water, with mountain sight lines in the distance, Nagashima Spaland is atmospheric, and its tranquil vibe invites lingering in the resort’s adjacent hot springs complex. nagashima-resortkohosuishin.
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