Top 6 Most Underrated Theme Parks In The World


Generally speaking I'd consider myself a glass half empty kinda gal. I know that sounds really pessimistic and negative, but the way I see it is if I expect to be disappointed at all times I'm either right (satisfying) or pleasantly surprised (also satisfying), so it's a win/win situation. You guys know I'm a big advocate for not overdoing it when it comes to hyping up a park as it can lead to impossible expectations and disappointment, but it does sometimes work the other way. Underrated theme parks certainly do come with that expected 'wow factor' which is always fun to experience, but it also leaves me feeling a little sad because, especially in these uncertain economic times for our beloved theme parks, we need to be giving these places all the praise they can get in order to inspire others to want to visit! So in the spirit of sharing some general love and positivity, here are my top 6 most underrated theme parks in the world. 

If I'm honest the only reason Valleyfair! was included on our itinerary was because it was in the area and it came with a healthy +8 to add to our coaster counts. Looking at the coaster line-up nothing particularly jumped out at me as a 'must-ride' and from photos and videos the place looked like a fairly standard 'nice' regional Cedar Fair park and nothing more. This was the first full park day we did of the trip and as such our adrenaline and excitement levels were running high which definitely played into the incredibly fun day we had at Valleyfair! but I don't want that to detract from the fact that the park is genuinely really good. 

Renegade, the park's GCI wooden coaster is an absolute rocket of a ride, akin to the likes of Troy over here in Europe and criminally underrated itself. Having now ridden the thing I would put THAT in as the reason to go out of your way to visit the park but the accompanying line-up of Morgan hyper coaster Wild Thing with its brutal airtime hills, the WTFness of hybrid coaster excalibur and the oh-so-rerideable Intamin Impulse coaster Steel Venom meant that we left the park at the end of our visit feeling exhilarated, grinning from ear to ear as we headed back to the car. Regional park yes but not one that should be dismissed or bypassed if you're considering a MidWest road trip!

If you have even the vaguest grasp of Chinese theme park assumptions you'll likely have heard these two things: Golden Horse are gross knock-offs and Happy Valley parks are trash. They're Western enthusiast hot-takes about Chinese theme parks, usually perpetuated by people who haven't actually been to a Chinese theme park. But yes, these were things I had heard said about Chinese theme parks before so I was a little nervous dedicated three days of our Chinese theme park trip to be spent in Happy Valley parks. I won't waffle on too much here on my thoughts about the chain in general, but my big take away was that Happy Valley Beijing was actually...really kinda great? The nightmare tales of hideous two hour queues for kiddie coasters and agonising operations were pretty unfounded and the park offering was incredibly varied from huge (OK, kind of 'Disney rip off') dark rides, to large themed structures across the entire park to world class roller coasters. 

My reasons for wanting to visit were two-fold - even though I'm not particularly fond of B&M flying coasters something about Crystal Wings had always entranced me so I was really keen to see it in person. Secondly was Extreme Rusher - I LOVE launch coasters and these things had always seemed absolutely brutal in terms of delivering gut-punching launches and airtime. And suffice to say both of those coasters exceeded my expectations greatly. But what I fell in love with was how bright and clean and colourful the whole place was. Having only opened in 2006 it's a fairly young park but not so new everything feels sterile and just out of the packet like some of the shinier newness in China - it had had a little time to break itself in a little and I was really impressed with both the variety and quality of the attractions in the park but also the general upkeep and theming as well. Certainly not the Happy Valley I had been warned to expect!

For some reason Disneyland Paris gets shat on from every direction when it comes to theme park enthusiasts - mostly because it doesn't have water rides, from as far as I've been able to gather. The great thing that I adore about Disney parks is that although they deliver that warm branded familiarity that we love from Disney, they all manage to carve out their own cultural experience and that is certainly true of Disneyland Paris. I've so often seen it referred to as by far the worst of the Disney 'castle parks' and personally I just don't see it. Look, yes, the food is pretty terrible (which is confusing to me because the French are famous for their cuisine and this was something Disney went on and on about honouring when building the place but y'know...) but the park is just such a wonderful place to simply...be in? 

Sure, it might not have Splash Mountain or Jungle Cruise but it has the best Pirates, the best Space Mountain, the best Big Thunder Mountain. It has all the notes of an excellent Disney park and then goes out of its way to be breathtakingly beautiful to boot! Gorgeously decorated arcades that run parallel to Main Street rich with hidden Imagineering details and narratives to discover, small hidden indoor walk-through attractions to enjoy when you're between E-ticket attractions, the ornate fairytale detailing of Fantasyland, the bold and adventurous metallic colour palette of the Jules Verne inspired Discoveryland. All of it is just so wonderful it breaks my heart to hear people dismissing it as not only not breathtakingly excellent but as the worst?! Could never be me.

This one was self-imposed due to my deep-rooted hatred of Kings Dominion and similarly to Valleyfair! there was nothing on the line-up that stuck out as a 'must-ride' for me. I'd heard for years that Diamondback was one of the worst hypers, that Mystic Timbers was a big marketing-gimmick led let-down, Banshee is the worst thing to ever grace this earth. The idea of Kings Island that those bad reviews had built up for me were so non-existent that I felt like I was in some sort of parallel universe or something where Kings Island is actually quite fab but Beast, often heralded as the park's saving grace and my 1000th coaster credit, is actually terrible. I know with these things it ultimately all comes down to personal taste and experience but Kings Island feels to me like one of those parks people, especially locals, love to hate meaning it gets a worse rap than it actually deserves.

Diamondback was so much fun and easily one of my favourite B&M hyper coasters, so much fun, great layout, awesome airtime, what's not to love? And yes what actually is in the shed on Mystic Timbers is a little...strange but my god is it refreshing for a regional park like this to try something themed and narratively different! Plus, the coaster itself is really good fun, like Joris en de Draak's slightly older brother. Even the in between coasters that nobody talks about are pretty great: Flight of Fear, Adventure Express, Bat. All great, fun coasters. And yes, Banshee is kind of lame for the size and cost of the thing and yes Beast is one of the biggest disappointments of my coaster career but truthfully we had a fantastic fun day at Kings Island riding some excellent coasters in a clean, pleasant park completely undeserving of the criticism it receives. 

Bellewaerde is a park that blew me away the first time I visited. Like a lot of the parks on this list, this park had no stand out attraction that I was visiting the park for, it was just a park I'd heard a lot of enthusiasts talking about in a pretty accessible location, so we popped in. It's a park that I cannot believe people don't talk about more because...it's actually kind of excellent and seems only to have gotten better over time with the addition of new coasters and attractions. The park is essentially Belgium's answer to Chessington - a proper zoo/theme park hybrid complete with excellently themed animal enclosures and rides to match! My memory of the park is one of joy - it was a park I knew precisely zero about so a surprise awaited around every corner - from excellently themed Jungle Cruise rip-off boat rides to HUGE Tidal Wave-esque shoot-the-chute rides to a train that literally goes through a tiger enclosure. 

It's just a really, really fun park. Despite adding a few new attractions since my last visit they still don't have anything majorly 'stand-out' in terms of what coaster enthusiasts might find interesting BUT I would implore you to make plans to visit anyway when you can. It's just, a really great park. The shows are great, the rides are great, the animals are great, the theming is great. It's a park that's very high up on my 'European parks to revisit' list as I haven't been since 2014 so I'm guessing it's changed a fair bit since then and I consider it my personal endeavour to take as many people as I can there to experience the glory for themselves. 

From the first moment I saw a glimpse of an Oriental Heritage theme park I knew I needed to visit, so of course we had to squeeze one in to our big China trip in 2018. Operated as part of the Fantawild group, the six Oriental Heritage parks are an unapologetically Chinese reply to the opening of Shanghai Disneyland, which aimed to capitalise on the Disney magic whilst embracing and showcasing Chinese culture as part of the big appeal of the parks. The entrance plazas are all pagodas and lanterns and focus on themes and stories from Chinese history, fantasy and folklore. Considering the heavily Western influence in pretty much all theme parks stemming from the original Disneyland in 1955, Oriental Heritage seemed to offer a uniquely fresh approach to what a theme park could be that actively rejected that Western Disney idea of a perfect theme park, opting instead for something more original. 

Although I've only been to one of the Oriental Heritage parks, it's clear to me that these parks are amazing at what they do and it's very refreshing to see Disney/Universal-standard dark ride technology utilised to tell tales we as Westerners haven't already heard a 1000 times. The theming is HUGE yet detailed and intricate, as are the sets and stages of the many shows that can be found throughout the park, each showcasing a different Chinese artform or folk story. My guess is that nobody really talks about these because they aren't located in the major Chinese tourism hubs but are more regionally situated and therefore a bit more challenging to get to, but honestly the journey out to Wuhu was entirely worth it because the place was brilliant. 

I think now more than ever it's important to check ourselves in our criticisms and ensure we're getting out as far and wide as we can to support the industry we love - paying particular attention to those parks we maybe haven't rated as highly as others for one reason or another in the past. Here in the UK we've already had the scary news of parks on the brink of bankruptcy and closure and I'm sure if you're reading this that is the last thing you want to happen!

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What park do you think is the most underrated? What's a park you went to expecting it to be bad based on the reviews of others that turned out to be great? Let me know in the comments and let's have a chat!

Talk later xoxo,



1 comments

  1. Adventure Island in the UK
    Tripsdrill cause I'm a dude.

    ReplyDelete