My Top Ten Theme Parks

So last week on Twitter the lovely Jack Grant started a bit of a trend by sharing his Top 10 coasters following a trip to Phantasialand. Cue everyone and their mum doing the same and the TL was filled with people sharing lists of their favourite coasters for days after. Writing a top ten coaster list is not something I'm a stranger to. Since joining CoasterForce way back when and since reaching 100 coasters back in 2008 it's something I've updated religiously whenever I rode something new that blew my socks off. And it's been a staple post on here for a few years too.


But it got me thinking about parks and how, although I have in the past written a top ten list that I've shared on forums etc, it's not something I've ever blogged about for reasons unbeknown to me. A top ten theme park list is something a lot harder to put together than a coaster list in my opinion. There are so many more factors to take into consideration. You can have an absolute gem of a coaster sat in a shithole of a park and that would have no detriment to the awesomeness of the ride but if a park is full of shitty coasters then you wouldn't ever imagine adding it to your list. Then you have to think about theming, operations, staff, food, literally every single factor of the park that would tip it over the edge of making it on the list.

I guess what I'm saying is I've written a top ten list of theme parks and it was really, really hard to put together! Before I dive in, I thought I'd list some honourable mentions before my comments are full of 'OH HOW COULD YOU FORGET X PARK?!'

Hersheypark - home of my beloved SkyRush so feel like it's worth a mention. It IS very fab but for me it's very firmly in the 'amusement park' category and personally I much prefer a theme park.

Dollywood - Dollywood is bloody fabulous - the food, the friendly staff, the good ol'fashioned Americana of it all. Sad thing is that when I last went they didn't really have a stand out coaster for me so it lost points there.

Universal Studios Orlando - just a wonderful park, great cool vibe and some of the best attractions in the world. Something missing though that I can't put my finger on?

Six Flags Fiesta Texas - Easily my favourite Six Flags park by a long way. Excellent coaster line-up, fabulous backdrop but also has some great themed supporting attractions too!

Shanghai Disneyland - Stunning park, amazing food, incredible ground breaking attractions, too bad about the clientele...

Liseberg - Honestly this one was so hard not to include on the main list. This park was incredible and the only thing I would mark it down for is the food, but that's a nitpick.

Oriental Heritage - Adored this park, and individually the dark rides are all obscene but it is a little bit ropey in between attractions and feels like there's some finessing to do here.

Apart from the final park on this list, these parks are in no particular order. They're all parks I absolutely love for entirely different reasons and all shine in their own way that doesn't necessarily lend itself to them being comparable in a list situation. So let's get stuck in!

Silver Dollar City makes this list for the same reason Dollywood didn't quite make it. Aside from the Dolly association, these parks are extremely similar. I adore that old West, frontier, turn of the century theme. Like I'm forever in love with Wild West themed lands in theme parks and Silver Dollar City is an entire park of that. The food is insane - giant skillets full of sausage and onion and peppers and bbq goodness, good lord. Bakeries filled with giant apple and cinnamon flavoured treats that send you into a diabetic coma just by looking at them. The service is incredible - a lot of the staff are older/retired people who just work at the park for a bit of fun and the result is just and incredibly friendly and wholesome attitude all around.

And then there's the rides. Obviously you've got the incredible RMC Outlaw Run which is by far the standout coaster here, but then Wildfire is an excellent supporting coaster (and criminally underrated in my opinion) and the most gorgeous natural scenery surrounding the rides accented by subtle theming. It's just a stunning park with excellent rides and I really wish I had the opportunity to visit the park more. Just shows how good the place is that I have such a glowing opinion of it after just one visit!

I feel like this park is the ideal park you'd try to design on RollerCoaster Tycoon - it has probably one of the most complete ride line-ups of any park I've ever been to. Whilst there's nothing there that would sit in my top ten coasters, the large majority are what I would rate a 8 or 9 out of ten so it's a pretty solid line-up all round. The thing that sets BGW apart in the theme park world is that on paper it has this excellent amusement-park looking ride line-up, but then the park take it to the next level with theming. Obviously it's not going to touch Disney/Universal levels but then I'd argue that Disney/Universal couldn't touch BGW in the quality of coasters. I guess what I mean is that on a sliding scale BGW really strike the perfect balance of stunning theming and landscaping with thrilling and exciting attractions, which makes it a really unique and fantastic park.

Honestly I feel like I've said all I can say about this park on here in the past six months or so but hey, I'm always up for blabbing a little bit more about a park I love. So firstly I'll say this, the park is very weird. It's kind of got this Millennium Dome vibe about it and it's not stunning or anything in a traditional sense. Being owned by a car manufacturer it's obviously very techy led so it doesn't have that edge of stunning natural beauty or fantasy theming kind of thing going on, but everything it does have is so finessed and perfect that it's hard not to be impressed by the place. The theming bits it DOES have are absolutely incredible - the queueline for Flying Aces is one of the most detailed and thorough I've ever experienced when it comes to explaining a narrative through scenes. It's honestly Disney level and we were shocked when we walked through it for the first time.

But obviously the winner here are the reason I rate the place so highly is the coaster game. Formula Rossa is indescribably good (despite my best efforts) and Flying Aces would easily be top ten for me if I hadn't ridden SkyRush before I rode it. I'd be hard pressed to find a better double whammy of excellent coasters in other parks around the world, which is really saying something. We intended to head to this park for a few hours max and we ended up staying there all day just re-riding everything because we loved the place so much. It's absolutely a must visit park for any theme park fan.

It may not have the best rides, the biggest castle or the nicest surrounding Resort, but ask anybody who's visited the original Disneyland park in Anaheim and they'll testify to the fact that none of the other parks can hold a candle to the magic you feel when you're inside the gates of that park. Any true Disney fan just feels it in the air, you're following in Walt's real footsteps and seeing the actual fruits of his labour, his dream come true and it's fucking majestic and wonderful in so many ways. That's it, simple as. And even though I've now visited every Disney park in the world and ridden the bigger (better?) rides, nothing has compared to the feeling of walking down the original Main Street USA. Magic.


I don't even know where to begin with trying to describe how much I utterly adore Efteling, but I guess the entrance is as good a place as any. Like something straight of out The Lord Of The Rings, the giant fantasy structure welcomes you to a land of fairytales done in a truly weird and imagination fuelled way that only the Europeans can pull off. All my life I've been obsessed with fairytales, especially the darker side of fairytales as opposed to the slightly more sweetened Disney versions, and Efteling is like being able to explore those worlds in real life. To be able to wander aimlessly through the fairytale forest and stumble across an enchanted castle or talking tree, to eat a giant pancake in a bewitched kitchen or to literally fly through a fantasy fairy land in Druumvlucht. It always leaves my jaw agape and I can't believe a park exists that is so much like somebody has literally gone inside my fairytale obsessed brain and built the damn thing is endlessly magical to me.

The coasters aren't the biggest or best in Europe by any way, but what Efteling does with every single ride is take it beyond its prime function to a fully fledged, all encompassing vehicle to engulf riders inside a narrative in a way only rivalled by Disney. This isn't just a dive coaster, it's a vehicle that's going to take us into a haunted mine shaft, this isn't just a duelling wooden coaster, it's the battle of George and the Dragon, this isn't just a boat ride, it's a boat ride into an mystical Arabic land. Everything is steeped in this deep sense of fantasy and dripping with imagination and wonder, but somehow everything feels subtle and understated and humble.

You'll start sensing a theme here - I really fucking love magical and fantasy themed parks, especially when they're set against naturally enchanting settings so of course the fabulous Alton Towers makes it to this list. Unlike Efteling and Disneyland, which are both parks I didn't get to visit until I was an adult, I grew up visiting Alton Towers so the powerful wave of nostalgia I get every time I visit the park is very, very real. Even if I can't physically hear it, I feel like when I'm at the Towers my brain defaults to playing Hall Of The Mountain King wherever I am in the park. Again, it's one of those impossible parks that somehow exists in the way it does purely due to circumstance and building restrictions alone.

The mighty Nemesis sits in its dank pit because of the limits about building above tree level, the sprawling Skyride dangles ominously over the stunning Gardens because they're protected as part of the estate, the dramatic Alton Towers themselves that sit majestically at the end of Towers Street aren't synthetic like some Disney castle but are real, bringing with it its own back catalogue of stories and legends that add a whole new level of depth and backstory to the already fantastic park. We're privileged to have such a park in the UK and I honestly wish I could visit more often than I already do!

This park is infamously known by theme park fans as the best theme park in the world, and whilst I obviously don't agree with it being number one in the world it certainly is bloody magnificent. It really is a park that shouldn't exist other than on paper in Imagineers' offices as they're blue-skying ideas of future Disney parks without worldly anchors like money or building restrictions holding them back. Yet somehow with DisneySea everything fell into line and they were largely able to bring those gorgeous concepts and designs to life, and my god is it spectacular. Walking under the initial architecture of the MiraCosta hotel and out onto the open Mediterranean Harbour, framed by the ominous Mt Prometheus, it's hard not to be overwhelmed by a sense of adventure, like you've really been sucked into some turn of the century fantasy novel.

There aren't that many actual rides at DisneySea, that much is true, but what is there is absolutely exquisite. You cannot fathom the beauty and attention to detail of the place until you're there and seeing it with your own eyes as there's honestly too much for any camera to properly take in. And the food! Obviously Japanese food is a dream for me anyway but the fusion of the Japanese palate in a theme park snack setting is honestly what dreams are made of. It's fucking awesome and I can't wait to get back.

Another Japanese park on this list and for good reason - Universal Studios Japan really is like a 'greatest hits' of all the other Universal parks all rolled into one handy little park. It has all the stuff we know and love from the Western parks like Potter, Jurassic Park and Spiderman, rides we loved that are now defunct in the Western parks like Jaws, Terminator 2: 3D and Backdraft (Back to the Future was also there when I last visited too, RIP) PLUS an extra layer of Japanese madness including a B&M hyper coaster where you can listen to One Direction, an indoor spinning coaster with a very strange twist, a whole land themed to Hello Kitty AND a B&M flying coaster themed to dinosaurs. Basically the place is absolutely incredible.

Every Top 10 list needs a weirdo entry and EPCOT is mine. I'm obsessed with Disney as we know, but especially with the weirder stuff. The history of EPCOT is fascinating to me - from Walt's original idea for what he actually wanted it to be (an actual city at the forefront of technological advancement as opposed to a typical theme park) to the whole way they wanted to fund the place (all through industry sponsorship for each pavilion). It never should have happened, so the fact it not only exists but is one of the most visited theme parks in the world year after year is astonishing. The whole place is so retro - I'm actually kind of sad that the place is finally getting some TLC because it exists now as a kind of weird time capsule which is part of which I love it so much.

And the World Showcase - honestly could spend hours and hours walking around this part of the park and always end up kicking myself that I didn't schedule in two EPCOT days to the itinerary. There's nothing better to me than being able to grab a bao bun from China, some sweet poutine from Canada then washing it down with a Margarita in Mexico before taking a seat at the Rose & Crown to watch the fireworks. I adore EPCOT and I truly hope that the updates to the park don't strip it of its weird retro charm.

I mean, of course it's Phantasialand. Another park that I can't believe exists but somehow does. How can such a park exist where literally everything is good? Where the lands are so well themed and immersive that you can be walking over a service road and not even realise it and the theming literally surrounds you from all angles, swallowing you into the narrative of the park. And all the rides do something unexpected - track moves in unexpected directions, backwards sections out of nowhere, paths and tracks intertwining to save space and inexplicably forceful family coasters.

And the theming is all so imaginative - there's not a single 'standard' themed land in the entire park. You'll find no Wild West or generic jungle themes here - everything is extra imaginative and immersive and that only serves to make the park even more appealing because of its originality.

And of course, there's Klugheim and Taron - easily the most immersive theme land and coaster in the entire world. The way the paths sprawl all over the place on all levels like some kind of Escher painting around the viking/medieval style land as the 'evil' force that is Taron swoops ominously around the village. It's one of those places I could stand in for hours and just watch the world go by with a crepe and a pint, taking a million photos because every angle is just so damn photogenic. It's glorious.

My god, I'm exhausted after writing that! I just, have a lot of feelings about theme parks haha. Although putting that list together did make me appreciate how many bloody excellent parks there are out there in the world. I'll be intrigued to see if any of the new-for-me parks this year will make a dent in this list!

What's your top ten theme parks? Tweet your list using @jordanmid as I'd love to see!

Talk later xoxo,

CONVERSATION

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