There's an Amusement Park for Everyone
  • Diggerland? Pre-Industrial Revolution Dickens World? Dwarf Empire? We visit 10 parks that are off-the-wall but popular, proving that if you build it, they will come.
Do you have kids with Bob the Builder on the brain? Take them to one of the four amusement parks in the United Kingdom. The rides, such as Spindizzy and Skyshuttle, are made from real construction equipment. Adults can take part in special “dumper” and backhoe loader races that test speed and coordination. The 8.5-ton backhoes are available for corporate events and private learning sessions, as well.

Ferrari World, Abu Dhabi

When the Italian automaker was choosing a spot for its unique Ferrari World amusement park, it made sense to build it in the oil-rich United Arab Emirates, where people love luxury — and speed. The park opened in 2010 and features the world’s fastest roller coaster, which reaches 149 mph, and a tower ride more than 200 feet tall that simulates the G forces of a Formula One race car.

Stalin’s World, Lithuania

Ever wonder what it was really like living in the Soviet Union? Visit Grutas Park in Lithuania, aka Stalin’s World, and you can visit the Totalitarian Sphere and come face to face with statues of Vladimir Lenin, Josef Stalin and Karl Marx. Or how about the Terror Sphere, which has monuments to the organizer of the Red Terror? The park, 80 miles from Vilnius, aims to expose the “naked Soviet ideology which suppressed and hurt the spirit of our nation for many decades.” The 86 statues around the park were originally installed around Lithuania, but were dismantled as the nation gained its independence in 1989 and are now stark reminders of a darker time. Playgrounds and a mini-zoo lighten the mood, and thankfully organizers ditched the idea of transporting visitors in a Gulag-style train.

Suoi Tien Park, Vietnam

Visitors to Ho Chi Minh City can stop by for a dose of Buddhist fun with a dash of Disneyland at Suoi Tien Park, an amusement park featuring attractions such as the Jar of Holy Water, the Holy Frog on Sacred Mount and the 12-Year Cycle Sacred Temple. The requisite attractions are all here, though: a huge pool to splash in, shows with performing dolphins, a laser zone, and festivals celebrating both national and spiritual culture.

GatorLand, Orlando, Fla.

Step into the gaping jaws of the alligator and you enter one of Florida’s oldest attractions: GatorLand. There are plenty of up-close encounters with alligators and other reptiles, but the highlight has to be the gator wrestling show, done “Florida Cracker Style.” The Gator Jumparoo show is also a must-see, when the huge animals leap out of the water to snap food out of a trainer’s hand. The 110-acre park is also a nature preserve for the alligators, which you can observe on a live webcam on the park’s website.

SantaPark, Arctic Circle, Finland

It makes sense that Santa would be holed up north of the Arctic Circle, but holed up in a series of underground caves? Why not? In Rovaniemi, Finland, Santa and his elves are busy at work year-round in the cozy caves of SantaPark. Stop by for a visit and you can meet Santa, take a ride on his sleigh, which shows off the animals and wonders of Lapland, and end up in the elves’ workshop. The kitchen has a never-ending supply of gingerbread, and you can get a head start on next year’s holiday shopping at the arcade.

Dwarf Empire, Kunming, Chin  

This so-called amusement park is the home of nearly 100 dwarfs who not only live here but put on twice-daily cabaret-style performances that could include ballet, singing or even a little break-dancing. All residents must be less than 5 feet tall, and those who don’t want to perform can contribute by keeping the empire running. (It’s a real community, overseen by an emperor, empress and parliament.) The performances are so popular with visitors that the community hopes to grow to 1,000 dwarfs by 2014.

Dickens World, Chatham, England

Travel to this town a half-hour from London and you’ll get immersed into Dickensian England, inspired by the characters and books of Charles Dickens, who spent part of his childhood in Chatham. Walk the cobblestone streets of this attraction and visit damp Marshalsea Prison, visit ghosts in Scrooge’s Haunted House, catch an animatronic show of Dickens characters, or take the Great Expectations Boat Ride. To top it all off, get scolded by a nasty schoolmaster at the Victorian Schoolhouse.

Windows of the World, Shenzhen, China

Who needs to travel the world when you can see 130 replicas of all the world’s best monuments and historical sites in one place? That’s the beauty of China’s Window of the World, where visitors can “visit” reproductions of attractions such as the Eiffel Tower, the Pyramids of Egypt, Mount Rushmore and Angkor Wat — all in handy miniature scale.  There’s even a version of Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon and, paradoxically, an indoor ski hill. Visit in summer to catch the International Beer Festival.

Harmonyland, Japan

This amusement park in Kyushu, Japan, is a pink Hello Kitty fantasyland. If you can’t get enough of Hello Kitty, Cinnamon and My Melody, you’re in luck: 12 attractions and rides highlight the characters, including Kitty Castle, a boat ride, the Lovely Angel Coaster and the Time Machine of Dreams interactive movie, with seats that give off “scent.”

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