Theme Park Time Machine


Do you ever find yourself in a YouTube hole twelve windows deep in theme park nostalgia/throwback defunct videos, wishing you were born in another time so you could've experienced these things for yourself? And I'm not just talking being able to ride something that is now defunct either - I'm talking about being able to soak up a particular atmosphere of a specific time and place that's not lost to the YouTube archives. Come with me today on my Theme Park Time Machine (you have to say that staring straight down the barrel of the camera like Hot Tub Time Machine for maximum effect) as we travel through the space-time continuum to pine over some cool theme park stuff I wish I'd have been able to experience. 

First stop, Coney Island, Brooklyn, circa early 1900s. To say I'm obsessed with this time period in general is a little bit of an understatement. Everything seemed heightened and exciting and new at the turn of the century, the world going through a major industrial shift leading to huge growth in innovation in every field from science and medicine to humanities to yes, theme parks. Or rather amusement parks or leisure parks as I guess they would have better been known. 

I think it's underestimated just how massive the leisure area of Coney Island was at the time - it's easy to imagine a like-for-like for what's there now, but it was sprawling and consisted of at least three large amusement areas: Luna Park, Steeplechase Park and Sea Lion Park. Each trying to outdo one another with the latest and greatest innovation in amusement technology and thus bursting at the seams with lavish dark rides, gorgeous themed show sets, death-defying shoot-the-chute/early coaster type attractions and whatever weird and wonderful oddities and side-shows were the latest craze at the time. I know they were generally viewed as a kind of 'low-brow' type of entertainment, and I'm most definitely romanticising of what would have been a stinky, crowded, inhumane function in reality, but to have been there in person and see it for myself would have been incredible. And, it would be fascinating to catch a glimpse of the original attractions that have inspired so many modern versions since. 

Jumping forward half a century now to Anaheim, CA. If you know, you know - the grand opening of the one and only Disneyland! Don't have a ticket? No problem, just grab a forgery from one of the MANY bootleggers flogging them and you're good to go. Can you imagine the excitement of being there on opening day after spending months following constructions of this fantastical place? And, unlike Coney Island, Disneyland promised to clean up the act of the rough-around-the-edges amusements before it, promising clean, wholesome family fun in a pleasant environment that allowed a proper escape from the everyday. 

Would it have been crowded? Yes. Would you have queued hours for just one ride on the infamous Jungle Cruise? Yes. Would it be worth every minute? Absolutely yes. I can't even begin to wrap my head around what it must have been like, but I like to think there was a collective buzz of excitement and wonder and hopefulness. With FastPass still decades down the line, everybody would have been in it together, so I doubt the queues would've been too much of a slog and at the end of the day you'd be able to go home and say you were at the opening day of the iconic Disneyland!

Jumping forward another few decades now but I genuinely do believe that following on from the initial opening of the Disneylands and Disney Worlds of this earth, the following decades didn't really bring much of interest in such a game-changing way (unless you're a coaster enthusiast and fancy riding the very first steel looping coaster or something like that). And this is my blog post so prepare for a few nineties-related stops as those are most steeped in nostalgia and longing for me. First off, the recently renamed Chessington World of Adventures!

So yes, technically I did go here in the early 90s. A lot, actually. BUT, I want to see if the reality of the place lives up to the rose-tinted memories in my head. Was Professor Burps Bubbleworks really as whimsical and fun as I remember it being? The Vampire really so terrifying? The Fifth Dimension dark ride so utterly British and bonkers? I need answers, and this is the only way. 

Now I know I said I didn't want to stop anywhere in the 70s or 80s because I'm not as much a coaster enthusiast as I am a theme park enthusiast, but there are SOME defunct coasters that are so legendary it would be rude not to make a potentially time-space continuum ruining stop at to check out for myself. And two of those happen to be located at none other than Busch Gardens Williamsburg circa mid-90s. I speak of course, of the infamous Drachen Fire and the legendary Big Bad Wolf. 

Drachen Fire has always intrigued me. Hiring Arrow to 'do a B&M' rather than just letting them make something incredible using their own style was NEVER going to work, but I think it's easy to say that with the power of hindsight. One of the deep, questions of the universe that keeps me up at night regards this ride. And I need to know. Was it REALLY that bad? So bad that they had to tear down the entire coaster and never speak of it again? And before you ask, yes I AM willing to risk my spinal health for this elusive credit and coaster experience. I must know. 

And Big Bad Wolf, well, this thing just looks fun as hell and I'm butt-hurt that I missed it by just a few years. The end. 

I've banged on about how gutted I am that I didn't even know this EXISTED until very recently, but it would be rude to be hanging out in the 90s and not make a quick detour to rural Bottrop to visit the newly opened Warner Bros. Movie World Germany. Our main reason for visiting? Aside from the glorious kitsch of nineties movie-themed parks, two reasons. Never-Ending Story RAPIDS RIDE. Yes, give me that weird horrifying kids-movie nostalgia that's been bizarrely mashed up into a fast-paced water ride and inject it into my veins. This ride still exists, I know, but it doesn't have the IP anymore and it's one of my all time favourite films so this is a must for me. 

The other is, of course, the Gremlins dark ride - officially known as Gremlin's Invasion. Guests would enter a show building under the guide of a behind-the-scenes tour of the movie lot (classic 90s movie theme-park narrative, love it) only for the Gremlins to show up, chaos ensues. The whole thing sounds like a weird 90s crossover episode as we travel through various famous movie scenes that are being terrorised by Gremlins. Honestly, with all the IP reboots we've seen in recent years and subsequent theme park things popping up everywhere (ahem, Ghostbusters), I'm surprised we've not seen the same happen with the Gremlins. To me they feel kind of like the Muppets - add Gremlins to add well known story or IP and you're guaranteed a fun time. 

Wait...I didn't realise this thing could go into the future too?! Well...if you insist...

Ah, that was a close one. I'd programmed the Theme Park Time Machine to land in what was previously the car park, but there's a coaster there now. In fact, there are coasters everywhere. As far as the eye can see. It looks like one of those mad RollerCoaster Tycoon scenarios where it's just coasters on top of coasters on top of coasters. Everybody in the park is lost due to the continuing trend of non-sensical pathway building, some have been trapped inside the park for days, unable to find their way out. The park is now home to 29 coasters, with 7 more currently under construction. Nobody knows where the money is coming from, only that the coasters keep multiplying. Zadra is still the best ride in the park and only two of the coasters built since then have toppled over during construction. 

OK...I was expecting some development in this area but it's literally just a patch of mud. The land is overrun with a thriving colony of rare British spider specimens. 


Well, I'm exhausted. I hope you enjoyed your trip on my Theme Park Time Machine! Where would you head to if you were in the driver's seat? Let me know in the comments, I'd love to have a chat.

Talk later xoxo,


  1. Riverview Chicago in the 1960s
    Action Park, NJ in the 80s/90s
    Dubai in 2050

    1. Also Freedomland in the Bronx in their first year with the Disneyland Knockoffs

  2. I would like to go back to Alton Towers 1997 , fresh Ripsaw, Energizer still on full form and Nemesis with the stall turn queue , Back when the magic was truly alive. Secondly back to Vegas so I could reride Speed.

  3. Yes, Drachen Fire was really that bad. Yes, BBW was really that much fun-- IMO easily the best Arrow suspended in the US.