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A list of all the world’s amusement parks would run into the thousands, if not tens of thousands. The industry, with its origins in the 19th century, has boomed, ever since a certain anthropomorphic mouse welcomed his first guests in 1955. Today, almost every country has its own theme parks. Any attempt to rank them, or present a comprehensive list is doomed to failure. Instead, we decided to pick out 13 from around the world that are particularly geared up for families.
In some cases, these are relatively small parks with a particular theme that will appeal to kids. Other examples highlight larger, well-known parks that are among the best in their region for family entertainment. We’ve limited choices to no more than one per country - many alternatives might have been picked… perhaps in a part 2!
Latin America’s largest theme park has a bit - or a lot - of everything. The usual mix of roller coasters, water rides and zoo/aquarium areas are enlivened by a pirates’ island, a wild west town, a Germanic village and an area themed around the film Madagascar.
One of the world’s most famous theme parks, Canada’s Wonderland is particularly noted for its impressive list of roller-coasters. But it also caters for smaller children with its two major zones of KidZville and Planet Snoopy. As you’ll have guessed, the latter is themed entirely around the Peanuts comic strip, while the former boasts dozens of smaller rides and shows for little ones. Throw in a sizeable waterpark and dinosaur trail and you have a mainstream theme park that really knows how to make families feel welcome.
China has many large-scale theme parks that are mostly aimed at a domestic audience. This vast dinosaur park in Changzhou is among them, and perhaps off the radar for many Western tourists. Even so, it’s a beguiling option if you are in the region. Dubbed ‘the Eastern Jurassic Park’, the venue contains some of the most astounding dinosaur models on the planet, not to mention the futuristic architecture of the central complex. With numerous dinosaur-themed rides and museums showing off China’s renowned dinosaur fossils, this is a monster of a theme park.
The largest theme park in the Netherlands has its share of white-knuckle rides, but its biggest draw is the focus on myths, legends and folklore. The park has its origins back in 1952 (three years before Disneyland), when it opened as a fairy tail trail designed by the famous Dutch illustrator Anton Pieck. Efteling has since expanded to become one of the largest in Europe but has stayed true to its original values. Set in a pine forest and packed with enchantment, this is the original magic kingdom.
Home to the world’s tallest building, largest man-made harbour, largest shopping mall, largest flower garden and a whole chain of islands in the shape of the world, Dubai is something of a theme park in and of itself. IMG Worlds of Adventure - the city’s most notable actual theme park - is a sprawling, temperature-controlled indoor venue built for the family audience. Its fun-packed zones include an animatronic dinosaur experience, attractions inspired by Cartoon Network and a huge space devoted to Marvel superheroes.
The Legoland chain of parks now extends to over a dozen locations around the world, but the original opened in 1968 beside the Lego factory in Billund. Its nine themed areas include the Knight’s Kingdom, a Western-themed land, a Mini Land of replica landmarks, and Duplo Land for the smaller children. A recent addition is Ninjago Land, drawing on the popularity of the toy line and TV show. As with other Legoland parks, you can expect a mix of thrilling rides, shows, inspiring Lego models and plenty of smaller rides for youngsters.
At first glance, this top Kiwi attraction might look like it’s only for the big kids. Rides with names like Stratosfear, Power Surge and Fearfall are clearly not for the preschool audience. But the larger portion of this Auckland attraction is devoted to families and younger children. The Kidz Kingdom caters for those under 8 years, and includes a fortress of fun play zone, the Pirate Bay cannon blasters, and any number of other diversions. The wider park features family go-karts, bumper boats, virtual reality games and much more besides. Plenty of ways to work yourself up to the Stratosfear!
The USA has no shortage of family-oriented theme parks. We could have chosen one of the Disney parks, or movie-centric hubs like Universal Studios, one of the many SeaWorlds or numerous other venues. But nothing says “American family entertainment” like Sesame Street, and so we’ve picked its spin-off theme park in Philadelphia. Opened in 1980, the park is 100% themed around the long-running show, with attractions such as Oscar’s Wacky Taxi, Big Bird’s Rambling River, and water fun area The Count’s Splash Castle. The ever-popular Elmo and Cookie Monster also get their own areas.
Paultons Park (tickets) shares its initials with its most famous draw: Peppa Pig. The park contains dozens of Peppa-themed rides and activities, including George’s Dinosaur Adventure, Grandpa Pig’s Boat Trip and the Muddy Puddle water play area (don’t worry, it’s only water). Paultons includes numerous other rides and diversions that are not related to Peppa, but it’s the porcine character who attracts most families. “Everybody loves Peppa Pig!”
In the famous comic books, Asterix’s village was located in Normandy. The plucky Gaul’s theme park, however, is more convenient for international travellers, a short bus ride north-east of Paris. Parc Astérix is enormously popular, and second only to Disneyland Paris for visitor numbers in France. Its zones tend to reflect the historic cultures from the books (Gauls, Romans, Greeks, Egyptians…), with plenty of roller coasters, water rides and gentler rides for smaller children.
Hello Kitty is arguably the most famous cat in the world. Created in 1974, the Japanese icon is now rated as the second most lucrative media franchise on the planet (behind only Pokemon). Hello Kitty Land in Tokyo (officially known as Sanrio Puroland) is an indoor theme park with rides, shows, films and games themed around this megastar kitten. A second Hello Kitty theme park, known as Harmonyland, can be found in Hiji, Oita.
As the name suggests, uShaka Marine World is a theme park with a largely sea-based offering. Explore one of the largest aquariums in the world, or spend the day on the slides of the Wet and Wild water park. A separate Kids World section is designed for 2-12 year olds, and includes a giant sandpit and Africa’s largest jungle gym. Meanwhile, a rope adventure park and a ‘dangerous creatures’ animal zone offer further adventures.
Australia’s Gold Coast has numerous theme parks, but the one best suited for families is undoubtedly Movie World. This has some of the best roller coasters in Australia, including the Green Lantern with the third steepest drop in the world. But there’s also plenty here for younger visitors, with rides and attractions themed around the Looney Tunes characters, Scooby Doo, and DC Comics favourites such as Wonder Woman, Batman and Superman.
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