Amusement parks aren't all fun and games. Some are strange, some are boring. But those are exactly the ones we've been hunting for.
1. The Ocean Dome
Located in Miyazaki, Japan, Ocean Dome is the world's largest indoor water park. It features a massive (460x278 feet) heated fresh-water "ocean" bedded by 600 tons of polished marble chips and filled with 13,500 tons of water, all surrounded by a three-story promenade of shops. The Dome also has its own rainforest and a volcano that erupts hourly. The whole park is covered by a retractable roof that lets the sun shine in on Japanese tanners. Sounds great, right? A place that lets Japanese urbanites get a taste of the great outdoors. Not quite. The Ocean Dome is less than 1000 feet from a real beach.
2. Grutas Park
"Josef Stalin" and "amusement" aren't two words you normally associate with each other; but amusing or not, Lithuania's Grutas Park recreates life under the reign of the Man of Steel.
Grutas, a short drive south of the Lithuanian capital, features a zoo and a playground and a recreated gulag with guard towers and an electrified fence (you know, the same kind that Stalin imprisoned hundreds of thousands of Lithuanians in back in the day).
The real draw, though, is the 1.2-mile-long sculpture exposition, which is home to 82 Communist-era sculptures that were dismantled following the restoration of Lithuanian independence. Most of the sculptures were tossed into storehouses, people's yards and anywhere else there was room. Poor handling and storage damaged some of them, while others fell prey to scrap metal pickers. In 1998, Viliumas Malinauskas, a mushroom tycoon and former heavyweight wrestler, answered an open call from the Ministry of Culture to create a space that would preserve and display the statues. Municipalities and private citizens, desperate to dump the hunks of metal and the memories of Stalin on someone else, sent Malinauskas statues en masse. Where the petting zoo came into things, I have no idea.
3. The Nintendo Amusement Park
Why would the website for a video game theme park proclaim that there's "nothing digital"¦nothing projected"¦nothing virtual" about it? That sounds about as much fun as feeding the ducks at the gulag. What gives?
Well, the Nintendo Amusement Park has little to do with the Nintendo Corporation, less to do with video games, and isn't even really a park. It's a single "user-controlled interactive ride" (read: obstacle course) that "players" navigate using a mechanically powered harness to give them a sense of being inside a video game. If you ever wondered what a real-world Mario would look like, grab a chubby, mustachioed friend and watch as he bounces from platform to platform while strapped to a crane.
The ride is only a prototype right now, and its creators, who are just "borrowing" the Nintendo name and aesthetic, are still seeking venture capital and a contact at either Nintendo or Disney to develop a partnership.
BonBon-Land is an amusement park in Denmark based on a line of Danish candy. It's sort of like Pennsylvania's Hershey Park, except most of the rides involve toilet humor and the giant anthropomorphic candy people have been replaced by topless anthropomorphic hippos.
A day at BonBon-Land treats candy-loving Danes to rides like The Crazy Turtle, The Horse Dropping and Hundeprutterutchebane. That last one, which loosely translates to "Dog Fart Switchback," is a roller coaster that takes riders on an exciting journey around giant mounds of dog poo, while speakers around the track blare fart sounds the whole while. [Image courtesy of ThemeParkReview.com.]
Dog poo not your thing, but you still want to get down and dirty? Then head on down to one of four Diggerland locations in jolly ol' England, where you can "ride in, and drive, different types of construction machinery, including Dumper Trucks, Mini Diggers and Giant Diggers."
When they're done playing with heavy machinery, park visitors can take in a show put on by the Dancing Diggers, a stunt team that performs inside a front-end loader. [Image courtesy of midsurreylink.org.]
6. Suoi Tien Park
Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha, was a prince that gave up his material possessions, became an ascetic and sought Enlightenment through meditation. But just look at those tubby Buddha statues; there's something about the guy that screams "snow cones and water slides."
Suoi Tien Park is a Buddhist-themed amusement park in Vietnam that injects a little fun into the daily grind of unenlightened life. There are thrills like race cars, water slides and roller coasters. There are chills like the "bat cave with innumerable bats" and an air bike suspended over a crocodile farm ("which cause fearful feeling for tourist"). And then there's the serious side of the park, a Pirates of the Caribbean-style journey through 12 animatronics Hells. [Image courtesy of henrybechtold.freewebspace.com.]
7. Dracula Land
We're cheating a little on this one, since it doesn't actually exist, and probably won't for some time. What an idea, though: A Disney-style theme park revolving around the life and times of Vlad the Impaler, Romanian folk hero and inspiration for Count Dracula. A few years ago, the Romanians drew up plans for Dracula Land and Tourism Minister Agathon Dan made big promises like underground tunnels, live bats, thousands of gallons of fake blood, millions of dollars a year in revenue and 3,000 jobs for a nearby village. But alas, foreign investors weren't impressed the Romanians couldn't finance the park by themselves.
Romania has since dropped plans to build the massive park in Transylvania. Funding was one issue, but the stake in its heart was the risk of environmental damage. The proposed site of the park is an old-growth forest that's home to 400-year-old oak trees. But Dracula Land may rise from the grave yet. Recently, there's been talk of building closer to Bucharest, or near the site of Vlad's real castle (pictured).
8. Dickens World
Brutal dictatorships. The torments of Hell. Dog poop. Yessir, we've covered some pretty un-amusing stuff in this list. But what could be further from fun than the literary work of Mr. Charles Dickens?
If you want to experience poverty in 19th century London for yourself but don't have a time machine, then Dickens World is for you. It features the Great Expectations Boat Ride, the Haunted House of Ebenezer Scrooge and a Victorian School Room. Fun! Just stay away from that street urchin, kids, he looks like he might have a touch of cholera.