Since their creation amusement and theme parks have utilized landscaping and theming as an important part of the experience. The massive popularity of Disneyland standardized the idea of themed lands within a park. Most parks which opened in the resulting regional park boom incorporated this idea. Theme parks have the ability to transport guests to different times and worlds. A well-themed area can be an attraction in and of itself. But these areas often fall flat. The following are five of the weakest theme park areas. Also included are some ideas on how they might be refreshed. This is by no means an exhaustive list so please make your own suggestions, they may find their way to a part two!
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The various Paramount Action Zones
The 1992 acquisition of the various King’s Entertainment parks by Paramount would lead to some of the best themed attractions in America(Tomb Raider and the Top Gun coasters spring to mind). However this was at the cost of cohesive themed areas. Nowhere is this more apartment than the various “Action Zones.” Great America and Canada’s Wonderland had established themed areas subdivided(County Fair and Grand World Exposition respectively). Kings Dominion saw the part of The Grove towards Hurler became a dumping ground for “thrill” themed attractions. Carowinds renamed the Wayne’s World area Thrill Zone. The most fleshed out “Action Zone” replaced Kings Island’s Adventure Village in 1999. This version came complete with a studio water tower and short lived stunt show. The problem with this theme is that it offers no immersion in the world of movie-making. Cedar Fair seems to have recognized this problem and are slowly working to remedy the shortcomings caused by Paramount. The return of Candy Apple Grove to Kings Dominion hopefully signals the redevelopment of these concrete jungles. The top candidates for a refresh? Kings Island and Canada’s Wonderland. Bat and Banshee both indicate a haunted theme for Kings Island. Canada’s Wonderland can finally put Flight Deck and Time Warp out of their misery with the full return of Grande World Exposition.
Pixar Pier, Disney California Adventure
Third time was not the charm for this problematic opening day land. Envisioned as “the ultimate beachfront amusement zone” that paid tribute to “the great seaside amusement park piers” the result felt more like a late 90s shopping center than an old-fashioned amusement park. All of Disney California Adventure 1.0 was criticized but Paradise Pier quickly became emblematic of its problems(an unthemed S&S space shot in a Disney Park still feels like one of the oddest choices). It is still regarded as one of the weakest themed areas Disney imagineering ever designed. When the massive overhaul of California Adventure began in 2010 plans were to provide Victorian details that would bring Paradise Pier into the turn of the century. The introduction of Victorian facades and signage to the area all seemed to indicate the gradual transformation of Paradise Pier. When the area closed for major renovations it was to transform Paradise Pier into Pixar Pier. The results are little more than a reskin with little done to address the cohesiveness of the land. With its mix of mid-century (Incredicoaster), Victorian (Midway Mania), and fantasy (Emotional Whirlwind) Pixar Pier is eclectic with very little connection to real seaside amusement piers. The Victorian façade of Midway Mania remains the strongest in the land. This Victorian aesthetic should be applied to the land and Pixar touches added to the remaining Paradise Park. Neighboring Cars Land and the Knott’s Berry Farm Boardwalk both execute the mid-century aesthetic better.
Samurai Summit, Six Flags Magic Mountain
One of the coolest features of Six Flags Magic Mountain is its mountainous setting. When the park opened in 1971 it did not feature traditional themed lands. Magic Mountain utilized landscaping and architecture to distinguish different parts of the park while still offering a consistent aesthetic. Early park maps do not divide the park by themed areas at all. The Japanese gardens at the top of the mountain demonstrate this focus on landscaping to highlight the park’s striking terrain. This area was accessible by all the parks major transportation rides(and there were a lot). For years simply featured the only attractions were the Sky Tower, The Four Winds Restaurant, and the Japanese gardens. In 1988 Ninja brought the area its first official name, Samurai Summit. Over the years the landscaping and buildings in the area have slowly fallen into disrepair. The construction of Superman in 1998 and Tatsu in 2006 brought some renewed interest but it remains a neglected area. With an increased guest focus on park atmosphere it is the perfect time for a thorough revitalization of Samurai Summit. A top priority should be bringing the Sky Tower up to code and landscaping the surrounding Japanese Gardens. The re-opening the former Laughing Dragon/Four Winds could provide the park with a signature dining experience. An interactive ninja challenge play area would compliment the area’s natural beauty and add a much needed family attraction to Magic Mountain’s line up.
Thorpe Park Overall
You could describe Thorpe Park’s approach to theming as “micro-lands.” This works well when an attraction is on its own island (Swarm Island) or has a well executed theme (Amity), but falls flat throughout the rest of the park. The result is a muddled park where themed areas feel incomplete and the entire park feels disjointed. The majority of the park’s buildings do not align with the theme they were built for. Little more than a coat of paint and new name tie them to their current theme or flashy intellectual properties. Angry Birds Land is the most guilty of this but this approach means much of Thorpe Park’s infrastructure feels dated. The park’s iconic dome entrance is impressive but has a dark and dated interior that does little to inspire visitors. Another problem is the lack of family attractions. Wicked Witches Haunt and Mr Rabbit’s tropical travels were brought to and end by a massive fire twenty years ago. The absence of a family friendly dark ride is still sorely felt. What would help with this park’s many weak and muddled themes? With the space left from Logger’s Leap Old Town could be redeveloped into an expanded return of Canada Creek. Samurai would easily fit in a proper Saw mini-land. A new ocean exploration area could bring together the disparate themes seen in Lost City, The Dockyard, and Port and Basecamp. Thorpe’s biggest problem remains its inconsistent operations and shuttered attractions. A little paint and fresh theming could do much to liven up this park.
The American Tomorrowlands
Tomorrowland remains the “cool kid” of the castle park lands. Unfortunately in both American parks Tomorrowland has become a middle aged man trying to be cool. Both are easily the weakest land in the park. The “problem of Tomorrowland” is that today will catch up with it. How do you solve this problem? In the 90s Disney attempted with their half-hearted fantasy-driven reskins in both parks. Yet these efforts felt dated very quickly. This stems from a misunderstanding of the “Problem of Tomorrowland.” Technology will catch up with future predictions but futurism has an ability to be timeless. Tomorrowland in Shanghai took a new approach to the land. Its futurism is not rooted in specific technology but in an mood and aesthetic. Similarly Paris’s Discoveryland applies a consistent aesthetic and feeling which makes it feel cohesive. Even Tokyo’s dated Tomorrowland is at least largely consistent with its 1970s aesthetic. Both American Tomorrowlands need to commit to an aesthetic with strong architectural and environmental choices. If the haphazard shoehorning of Tron in Magic Kingdom is any indication inspired Tomorrowlands in the United States remain a distant dream.
That’s it for this list of some of the weakest theme park areas. Let me know what areas you think need a refresh or re-theme! If you like our content and are looking to support our website, consider shopping on Shop Coaster Kings! If you want to join the conversation, be part of the Coaster Kings Discord server!