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What is an Amusement Park?

By Eric Tallberg
Updated: May 23, 2024

Amusement parks are self-contained areas that include shops, rides, and restaurants, usually spread over several a significant amount of space. In contrast to carnivals or fairs, many of the larger amusement venues are sprawling, permanent conglomerations that take up a number of square miles (square kilometers). Many are more amusement complexes than parks.

When amusement parks are mentioned, most people in the United States immediately think of Disney World® and Disneyland®, Six Flags®, Busch Gardens®, or Knotts Berry Farm®. Actually, of these five, Disney World® and Disneyland® are actually theme parks. A theme park has a distinctive theme, or themes, to its layout, rides, shops, and attractions.

The idea can be traced back at least to medieval times, when bands of entertainers and musicians would gather in a town field or park to wield their skills for the amusement of the townsfolk. At the conclusion of a number of days or weeks, these performers would move on to the next town. Bartholomew Fair, begun in England around the year 1133, is often cited as the first dedicated amusement park.

The amusement park as people know it in modern is merely the latest incarnation of this ancient concept. In its early stages, it was a bucolic public park with tents, buildings, and stalls, erected to offer various forms of music, food, entertainment and amusement. The entertainment often ranged from circus acts to portrait artists. The Ferris wheel was the first amusement ride.

Reaching their zenith in the U.S. in the mid to late 1920s, amusement parks have been in decline ever since. One of the more well known vestiges of the their heyday is Coney Island in New York City. Another is the Navy Pier in Chicago.

Roller coasters, Ferris wheels, merry-go-rounds, and various other mechanical thrill-rides and amusements, are a staple of modern amusement complexes. In a theme park, these thrill-rides are devoted to a particular theme, such as the jungle or outer space. In the case of Disney World® and Disneyland®, the various themes are taken from Disney® cartoon characters and movies.

The park is designed, as the name implies, for amusement of young and old. A roller coaster is intended as a ride for adults and adolescents, the merry-go-round for younger children, and the Ferris wheel is suitable for just about anyone. A word of warning: those with a fear of heights, speed, or seemingly uncontrolled descents may want to stay away from the roller coasters.

WiseTour is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By bagley79 — On Nov 15, 2012

Our youth group would make an annual trip to Worlds of Fun amusement park. I used to go along as a sponsor but found as I got older I couldn't ride as many rides as I could when I was a teenager. The rides that would spin in circles would make me sick to my stomach.

I always told the kids to enjoy the rides now when they are young. Even though this was a long day for everyone it was something the kids always looked forward to every year.

I think one of my favorite attractions at an amusement park is the bumper cars. This is really a lot of fun when you know several other people who are also riding in one of the cars. It's a lot more fun crashing into someone you know than a stranger.

By SarahSon — On Nov 14, 2012

We have a local amusement park that is just about 10 miles from us. While this isn't anything nearly as big as some of the well known amusement parks, it is a great place to go with the kids. In addition to all the rides, it also has a water park. Even though this is considered a small amusement park it still has 3 roller coasters, which happen to be our favorites.

I think it can be kind of expensive for a one day pass to an amusement park and since we are so close we buy a season pass. This way we can enjoy the park even if we only have a few hours and only have to pay once a year for a season pass. This has saved us a lot of money and provided us with many days of fun.

By julies — On Nov 14, 2012

I am not surprised that the Ferris wheel was the first amusement ride. This is still one of my favorite rides when I go to an amusement park. Every year at our state fair they bring in a lot of rides and I make it a tradition to ride the Ferris wheel at least once. I especially love riding it at night when all the lights are on and I can see out over the whole fairgrounds.

By golf07 — On Nov 13, 2012

I have never met a child who didn't love to go to an amusement park. Even if they don't feel comfortable going on some of the rides, there a are a lot of activities to keep them entertained.

This is especially true of a place like Disneyland amusement park. At first my husband thought this would be similar to the small amusement park close to our home, but quickly found out it was much different than that.

This was a place where the whole family enjoyed spending time together. If you ask any of my kids what their favorite vacation was, they will tell you it was the year we went to Disneyland.

By Kristee — On Sep 14, 2012

Is it weird that I'm thirty-three and still love riding the merry-go-round? I get away with it, because I have my young cousin with me, but I secretly enjoy it as much as I did when I was her age.

I think that amusement parks are more fun when you have a young child with you. You get to introduce them to all these fun things that you know they will enjoy, and you get the right to be a kid right along with them for a day.

By feasting — On Sep 13, 2012

My favorite amusement park attractions were the thrill rides when I was a teenager. Now, I can't ride anything that jostles me around, because I have a kidney condition that could be aggravated by this.

I'm glad I got the full amusement park experience while I still could. I rode some roller coasters that went upside-down, and I even got on some rides that scared me so much that I never wanted to ride them again.

If I go to an amusement park these days, it's to accompany my niece and nephew. I still enjoy a funnel cake and some cotton candy, so it isn't a total loss!

By cloudel — On Sep 12, 2012

@giddion – I know what you mean. My family and I went to Six Flags in late October, and we learned that they were just about to shut down for several months.

The water park had already closed, but this was no surprise. Who would want to be splashed with icy water, anyway?

Years ago, I visited the park in August, and I vowed never to do that again. Many amusement parks advertise more in the summer, and I guess this is because kids are out of school. More families plan trips to these parks when the kids are free to go on vacation, so they have to go when it's hot.

By giddion — On Sep 12, 2012

I've never understood why amusement park attendance goes up in the summer. Why do people want to wait in long lines in the hot sun?

If I were going to an amusement park, I would plan my trip in the fall. Some amusement parks probably shut down in the winter, but I would wait as late in the year as possible to go. I hate being hot and sweaty, and if I'm impatient on top of that, it is even worse!

By chivebasil — On Sep 11, 2012

You can usually find amusement park discounts if you look around. I know some people who never go because they think it will be too expensive but I tell them to just look for coupons.

A lot of times they are printed on the sides of soda cans or available at participating businesses.

And if you think you will be going multiple times and want to get a real discount go for a season pass. They usually pay for themselves after just 2 visits.

By BAU79 — On Sep 11, 2012

I have always been interested in amusement park design. Not the rides but the actual parks themselves. Whose job is it to design them and how can I get the experience I need to design them myself?

By gravois — On Sep 10, 2012

I live in a small town and we do not have anything approaching an amusement within about 600 miles of us. But luckily once a year a traveling carnival comes to town and sets up on the fairgrounds.

It is not an amazing carnival but it is fun and the kids get a big kick out of it. Once you get to be about 15 the rides stop being the thrill that they once were. But everyone comes out and there is food and games. Its worth it.

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