Theme Parks: The Unusual, the Outrageous and the Outright Awful

1. The Past


Hoppalong Cassidy movie posterA key marketing strategy during the emergence of theme parks in the 1950’s and 1960’s was to bring popular television characters to life. That was the theme behind Disneyland. Among the most popular shows of the era were westerns with cowboy heroes like the Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. And also Hoppalong Cassidy, aka William Boyd. An entrepreneur as well as an actor, Boyd tried to capitalize on his movie and TV success by opening Hoppyland in the Los Angeles area in 1951. Typical of the attractions was a pony cart ride around a man-made mountain stocked with goats. And Boyd himself made personal appearances espousing the “Hoppy code of conduct.” That involved drinking milk, eating vegetables and listening to your parents. One can only imagine how that resonated with the teenagers who the family dragged along. Apparently, Hoppyland didn’t resonate that well with anyone and was shuttered after four years.

Bedrock City

As the baby boom generation began to graduate from Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, in addition to Westerns they began to watch more mature (slightly) prime time animated shows like the Flintstones. The popularity of this cartoon saga of a caveman family with modern blue collar sensibilities inspired a number of theme parks. One of those was Bedrock City in Williams, Ariz., not far from the Grand Canyon. Opened in 1972 with actors playing Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble, Bedrock City offered attractions like foot-pedaled cars and a slide that looked like a brontosaurus tail. For lunch you could snag a Fishasaurus sandwich. Why is this park listed in the past when it is still open? One recent blogger visitor noted: “The park employs two or three people at best. Infrequent visitors drift in and out.” It is apparently in an advanced stage of decay although they continue to play Flintstones cartoons over the loudspeakers. A sister Bedrock City park in Custer, S.D., closed last year. This one has been up for sale for $2 million since 2015.

Entrance to Bedrock City

Entrance to Bedrock City, Custer, S.D.

Action Park

This northwest New Jersey water park has the reputation as the most dangerous theme park ever. It opened in 1978 at the site of the Great Gorge Ski Resort and closed in 1996. During that time six customers were reported to have died at the water park, which locals commonly refered to as “Traction Park” or “Class Action Park.” A Mashable story referred to it as “A lawless land that was ruled by drunk teenage employees, frequented by even drunker teenage guests, and filled with rides that seemed to defy even the most basic notions of physics and common sense.”

Mountain CreekThe park was reopened in 1998 with new owners, a new name, Mountain Creek, and without the unsafe rides. After the wave of publicity that followed the Mashable article and with a more adventurous new owner, the name was changed back to Action Park in 2014. But alas, the ownership changed again and with this owner not wishing to perpetuate the “lawless land” image, the name was changed back to Mountain Creek for this summer season. Mountain Creek is actually a lovely water park built on a ski slope in mostly wooded terrain. It is refreshingly pleasant on even the hottest summer days.  I visited recently and only whacked my head against a sidewall once.

2. The Present

Diggerland USA

sDiggerlandGranted this sounds like a better theme for a Playground sandbox than for a theme park. Diggerland, West Berlin, N.J., is a construction themed park and is the U.S. outlet for a group that includes five parks in the U.K. Attractions include “dumper trucks,” a back hoe adventure and big diggers. You might think the Shake N’ Roll attraction is about music, but no, it a vehicle with rollers like the ones that smooth newly paved asphalt. You can get a taste of Diggerland online by looking at their web site live goat cam. Since our governor has stalled all road construction projects because he is bickering with the state Senate about how to fund them, Diggerland might offer the most heavy equipment action in the state.

Holy Land Experience

Holy Land Experience

Sandwiched amidst some of the biggest and best theme parks in the world in Orlando, Fla, is the Bible-themed Holy Land Experience. I took a look at the daily schedule and noticed that you can begin the day with “Holy Communion with Jesus” and catch “Baptisms with Jesus” right before park closing, weather permitting of course. There are also dramas throughout the day including “Four Women Who Loved Jesus” (do they dance and sing?) and a 60 minute “Passion of the Christ.” What else spells family fun like a bloody Jesus? This is a theme park? Well, not exactly, according to the owners who classify it as a museum and hence avoid paying property taxes.

Jesus on the cross

Parque Ecoalberto

If crucifixion themed attractions aren’t your thing, how about this one? The Parque Ecoalberto in Cajon, Mexico, invites you to experience a simulated illegal border crossing. This 3-hour experience costs $20 and comes complete with sirens, whistles, chases and border guard impersonators yelling at you. The owners say this Caminata Nocturna attraction is in fact intended to discourage Mexicans from attempting to make the real trip. Though one wonders whether theme park goers are the right demographic for deterring illegal border crossers. There are some more conventional attractions like outdoor swimming pools and water slides. No word yet on whether they’ve been able to book Donald Trump to film a video in which he calls you a rapist as you leave the park.

3. The Future

Eataly World

Billed as Disneyland for foodies, this park is scheduled to open in Bologna in 2017. It promises to have some 25 restaurants as well as grocery stores and food courts. The intent is to cover all aspects of Italian food, “from farm to fork” according to a park spokesman. Other planned attractions include a chocolate fountain, oil mills and citrus greenhouses. And there will be lots of culinary education programs. But don’t book your trip yet as this was originally supposed to open in 2015 in conjunction with the Milan World Expo.


Erotic sculptureIf you’re not a foodie, perhaps you’re more interested in sex. Mauro Morata, who is in charge of the project to build a sex-themed park in Piracicaba, Brazil, offers some high-minded ideals for this clearly not family-friendly attraction. The park is intended, he says, to teach people about sex and the history of sex and to encourage the use of condoms. Among the planned educational experiences will be a nudist pool, a snack bar selling aphrodisiac laced food items, rides shaped like genitals and a theater with vibrating seats. What is not supposed to happen at this park is actual sex. (Will they be patrolling the restrooms?) But, no worry, there will be motels nearby, operated by none other than ErotikaLand.

(All photos, except the ones from Mountain Creek, are from Wikipedia Commons public domain collection.)

This entry was posted in History, History of Amusement Parks, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Theme Parks: The Unusual, the Outrageous and the Outright Awful

  1. Donna Janke says:

    Interesting collection of unusual theme parks. I wonder if attendance is largely driven by the “I can’t believe it” factor. I think Bedrock City would be fun, but I remember the Flinstones show. I can see it being hard to attract people now.


  2. Wow! I never heard of any of these theme parks. They should so unique and the topics are very, shall I say, interesting. If I were to visit one, it probably be Eataly World.


  3. tuhinmech says:

    I was totally unaware of all the parks mentioned in this post. Sounds interesting. A day spent in these parks will surely give some awesome memories to remember.


  4. heraldmarty says:

    Wow, what a collection. Parque Ecoalberto seems just really sad to me, but I can think of a few guys I know who would have a blast in Diggerland.


  5. Phoenicia says:

    The themed cowboy and Flinstones theme park did not go down too well at all. It is more appealing to have a generic theme park and various themes based within it. UK theme parks know exactly how to run with this.

    The sex statues are downright strange but then you did warn us!


  6. pjlazos says:

    Eataly world! OMG!!


  7. Erica says:

    Sign me up for Bedrock Park. I always wanted to try those cars you motor with you feet. An illegal border crossing park experience? Wow..Disney for illegal wanna bees. The way this election is going, a lot of people will want to play the game in reverse to see if they can escape into Mexico.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I would totally go to Bedrock City if I was in the area. Flintstones reruns were on every day when I got from school as a kid. Yabba dabba do! As your post points out, it’s mostly dead and decaying, but I’d still go. Just goes to show nostalgia can always bring a few folks in. When I was in middle school, north Idaho opened its own theme park outside of Sandpoint. It’s actually not too bad as far as smaller theme parks go, though the fake train robbery is definitely on the cheesy side 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Never heard of those theme parks. Have to admire you for still having an interest in amusements parks.


  10. I chuckled a few times throughout this blog, Ken. Glad that you only whacked your head once! We ate in Eataly in Milan with some Italian friends. I wouldn’t think of it as a theme park, but I could have spent hours wandering around the aisles of food and various restaurants. So, actually, for someone who won’t go to a theme park, Eataly is appropriate for me! Ha.

    Off to tell my husband about Flintstone-ville being for sale for a cool (are they kidding?) 2M.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. A fun post. It’s amazing to see what people think of as entertaining.


  12. Wow, some of these are weird.
    I am surprised some of these actually got funding to be built. I also wonder how they got past the local zoning laws.


  13. Andy says:

    A couple of points:
    (1) I like the sarcastic asides in this post. In this vein, I was going to snarkily suggest that the prison at Guantánamo be turned into a theme park if we ever close it down, but I suppose that would be in poor taste, wouldn’t it?
    (2) Maybe Hoppyland was ahead of its time. I think of the success of “The Dr. Laura Program” – there seems to be a market today for being nagged at.


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