Theme parks are great fun for the whole family, and as countries realize the profit potential that these giant resorts can bring in, more and more are sprouting up all over the world. There will always be the super-conglomerate motherships of amusement parks, such as Walt Disney and Universal Studios, but these mega-corporations don’t hold all of the monopoly. Many other countries are getting a slice of the pie as time progresses and people realize that they want – and would pay big money for – a theme park in their city or country.
It may come as no surprise that Walt Disney Parks and Resorts brings in more than twice as many people annually as the #2 company on the list of amusement park corporations (126.5 million versus 54 million), but this is a list about the individual parks around the world, not the corporations. Theme parks might not be for everyone (i.e. people that hate long walks and longer lines), but as far as wholesome family fun goes, it’s hard to think of a better place to bring your kids.
10) Lotte World – Seoul, South Korea
South Korea squeaks by on the list with Lotte World, bringing in nearly 6.5 million attendees in 2012. The theme park has two main sections, an outdoor artificial island called “Magic Island,” linked with a monorail, shopping malls, a hotel, a museum, and movie theaters, and the world’s largest indoor theme park, called “Adventure.” Adventure is a four-level amusement park, beginning with Underland, with rides such as the viking ride Conquistador, The Adventures of Sinbad, and 15 other rides. Floor 2 has an indoor roller coaster with a constant near-crash feeling, and floors 3 and 4 have similar high-octane rides.
9) Hong Kong Disneyland – Hong Kong, People’s Republic of China
The first Disneyland to crack the list comes from the world’s most populated country. It is owned by the Hong Kong International Theme Parks, and brought in 6.7 million people in 2012. To prevent cultural backlash, Disney incorporated Chinese customs and traditions when designing the resort, including adherence to feng shui. For instance, a bend was put near the entrance of the park so good qi energy wouldn’t flow into the South China Sea. The park is divided into seven “lands,” or themed areas where guests that enter are unable to see or hear any other land. These are: Main Street, USA, designed to resemble early 20th-century Midwest towns; Adventureland (jungle-themed); Fantasyland (Disney’s classic characters); Tomorrowland (a utopian vision). In 2009 three new lands were opened: Toy Story Land, Grizzly Gulch, and Mystic Point.
8) Everland – Yongin, Gyeonggi-Do, South Korea
Surprisingly, South Korea makes two of the first three entries. Everland opened in 1976, and is South Korea’s largest theme park, bringing in 6.85 million people in 2012. Everland is operated by Samsung, and along with its main attractions, has a race track, a zoo, and a water park known as Caribbean Bay. In 2006, the park introduced T Express, the first, largest, and steepest wooden roller coaster in South Korea, and the 6th longest wooden coaster in the world at over a mile long. In 1985, the Jigu Maul (“Global Village”) was introduced in 1985 as the first dark boat ride in South Korea, showing worldwide traditions, cultural customs, and sceneries from over 18 countries.
7) Ocean Park Hong Kong – Hong Kong, People’s Republic of China
Together with Hong Kong Disneyland, Ocean Park is one of the two large theme parks in Hong Kong and the most visited theme park in the Greater China region. Opened in 1977 by then-Governor of Hong Kong Sir Murray MacLehose, it brought in 7.4 million attendees in 2012, and has over 80 attractions, including a marine mammal park, an animal theme park, an oceanarium, and of course an amusement park. Covering 226 acres, the park is separated into two areas by a large mountain, The Summit (Headland), and The Waterfront (Lowland). The areas can be reached by a mile-long cable car, or the Ocean Express railway. Besides the attractions, Ocean Park was the first institution in the world to find success in artificial insemination of bottlenose dolphins, as well as developing many new breeds of goldfish.
6) Universal Orlando Resort – Orlando, Florida, USA
The first US park to crack the list, Universal is owned by the third largest amusement park corporation in the world, Universal Studios Recreation Group, bringing in 35 million people to their parks annually. Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure make up this resort. While Universal Studios brought in 6.2 million people in 2012, it was the newly released Wizarding World of Harry Potter in 2010 that single-handedly carried Islands of Adventure up 29% in attendance, helping bring in a whopping 8 million people annually. The Islands of Adventure is a place of exploration, where visitors travel to seven distinctly themed islands, including The Port of Entry, The Lost Continent, Jurassic Park, Seuss Landing, Toon Lagoon, Marvel Super Hero Island, and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
5) Universal Studios Japan – Osaka, Japan
One of four Universal Studios theme parks, Universal Studios Japan is owned and operated by USJ Co., Ltd. with a license from NBCUniversal. The park opened in 2001, and had 9.7 million visitors in 2012. Many of their visitors are Japanese tourists and tourists from other Asian countries. The attractions are arranged in nine areas of the park, including New York (with Spider-Man and Terminator rides), Hollywood, San Francisco, Jurassic Park, Snoopy Studios, Hello Kitty Fashion Avenue, Sesame Street Fun Zone, Lagoon, Water World, and Amity Village. In 2014, the park will get its own Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a tenth area hoping to boost income and visitors.
4) Disneyland Paris – Marne-la-Vallée, France
Disneyland Park (11.2 million visitors), and Walt Disney Studios Park (4.8 million visitors) make up France’s Disneyland. Disneyland Park is based off of the original Disneyland in Anaheim, California, and Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. It is dedicated to Disney characters and fairy tales, and with 11.2 million visitors in 2012, is the most-visited theme park in Europe and the fifth-most visited in the world. The park opened in 1992 as Euro Disneyland, but the ‘Euro’ was phased out in 1994 after failing to meet financial expectations. Instead, Disney decided to identify the park with one of the most romantic cities in the world: Paris. Disneyland Paris is divided into five themed “lands,” with 49 attractions. These include: Main Street USA, Frontierland, Adventureland, Fantasyland, and Discoveryland.
3) Tokyo Disney Resort – Tokyo, Japan
Comprising of two parks: Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea, these two theme parks are the third and fourth most visited in the world, with 14.8 million and 12.6 million visitors in 2012, respectively. Tokyo Disneyland was the first Disney resort to be opened outside of the US, back in 1983. It is owned by the Oriental Land Company. These two parks are the only Disney parks not wholly or partially owned by the Walt Disney Company. There are seven themed areas in the Disneyland section. DisneySea opened in 2001 and was the fastest theme park in the world to reach 10 million visitors, in just 307 days (beating out former record-holder Universal Studios Japan by 31 days). Tokyo DisneySea is the most expensive theme park ever built, estimated to cost over U.S. $4 billion. DisneySea is a nautical themed park of exploration, with seven unique “ports of call.”
2) Disneyland Resort – Anaheim, California, USA
“The Happiest Place on Earth.” I’m sure it comes as no surprise to most readers that Disney has dominated the latter half of this list. Disneyland is the second most visited theme park in the world, with almost 16 million visitors in 2012, while its expansion Disney California Adventure brought in 7.8 million people. Disneyland was the first Disney theme park to open, back in 1955, designed and directly supervised by Walt Disney. California Adventure was opened on Disneyland’s original parking lot, and opened in 2001. With over 650 million guests since opening its doors, Disneyland has the largest cumulative attendance of any theme park in the world. Disneyland is home to such fabled and legendary rides as It’s a Small World, the Matterhorn, Space Mountain, Treasure Island, and many, many more.
1) Walt Disney World Resort – Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA
Disney World is the mother of all theme parks. It is the most visited vacation resort in the world, bringing in 52.5 million people annually, with 24 hotels, four theme parks, two water parks, four golf courses, and numerous other recreational venues. Magic Kingdom was the original theme park to open in the complex (and is the most visited theme park in the world, #1 on our list at 17.5 million visitors annually), followed by Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The three theme parks besides Magic Kingdom could all be in the top 10 here, as each of them bring in over 10 million people per year, but we decided to clump them all together so that Disney World didn’t take over this whole list). At it’s peak, the resort was the size of San Francisco (30,000 acres), and twice the size of Manhattan. Whether you like it or not, Disney World is the epitome of theme parks, and is truly deserving of the tagline: “The Most Magical Place on Earth.”