Do world-themed rides/parks still have a place in the modern day theme park industry?

Discussion in 'Rest of the World Parks and Attractions' started by Matt N, 10th Jun 2021.

  1. Matt N

    Matt N TowersStreet Member

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    Hi guys. Back in the 70s and 80s, many theme parks were built depicting certain regions of the world, such as a particular continent or even the entire world in some cases. The most famous of these is arguably Disney’s Epcot, which opened in 1982 and has many different “pavilions” dedicated to different countries around the world. But there are numerous other famed examples, as well, such as Europa Park, which displays many different countries in Europe, and the Busch Gardens parks, which display the different countries/regions of Europe (Williamsburg) and Africa (Tampa), respectively. Even places like Phantasialand and Chessington World of Adventures have lands displaying different regions of the world; for instance, Phantasialand has lands like Deep in Africa, Mexico and China, and Chessington has Mexicana and Wild Asia, and a few years back had lands like Mystic East and Transylvania. The list of parks incorporating different regions of the world within their theming is endless, and I could go on for days listing them! However, the question I wanted to ask was; do you think that rides and parks themed to regions of the world still have a place in the modern day theme park industry?

    I think there are numerous arguments as to why world-themed rides and parks don’t necessarily have a place in theme parks today, and also arguments as to why they still do. I’ll go through what I personally view as the key arguments for each side of the coin.

    Why they do have a place in the modern theme park industry

    • It’s still really important to celebrate other cultures, and world-themed attractions often do this brilliantly when done sensitively and are well-researched in terms of their knowledge of the culture being represented. For instance, I know that the designers of Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Florida actually travelled to the countries being represented in that park in order to be able to represent them more accurately, and that park’s representation of other cultures appears very sympathetic to the culture and a very accurate depiction of the countries being represented.
    • The native folklore and culture of many countries can often lend themselves to very compelling ride and area themes, that are far more than a simple caricature of a country. Folklore and cultural elements of countries can often be used to brilliant effect within theme parks, creating some of the most compelling attraction storylines ever devised, and a romanticised/fantasised take on the culture of a certain country or place can often seem just as magical and fantastical as a fictional theme.
    Why they don’t have a place in the modern day theme park industry

    • Many world-themed rides and parks were built in an era where air travel was more expensive and less commonly available, so the intention behind building them was to give people a slice of certain countries without actually needing to travel to them. For instance, I remember hearing in an old promo for Busch Gardens Williamsburg that the park was built to give Virginians a slice of Europe without them actually needing to go to Europe. Epcot was built to a similar end, and was designed to give tourists a slice of many different cultures in an era when air travel was less widely available. Now, though, air travel is very widely available to many different countries (or at least, it was prior to COVID grounding flights), so it does beg the question of; why would you go and see a theme park representation of a certain country when you can quite easily see the real thing?
    • Cultural appropriation has become a much greater societal issue, especially in recent years, and stereotyping certain cultures in certain ways has become far less accepted than it perhaps used to be. I know that many world-themed rides have come under fire for the way they represent certain cultures in recent years; for instance, the Jungle Cruise attractions at the Disney parks have been retooled due to apparent racist elements, and the Adventureland area at Europa Park is soon to be rethemed for similar reasons. Efteling also got into trouble about the way that Carnaval Festival depicts certain cultures, and even the likes of Epcot’s World Showcase have come under fire from some in recent years. These days, parks need to be more sensitive about how they portray certain cultures, so the often somewhat stereotype-heavy nature of some world-themed attractions isn’t necessarily politically correct in the modern world, where we are trying to be more inclusive of all cultures and accept everybody for who they are.
    Personally, I think that world-themed rides and parks do still have a place in the modern-day theme park industry. As long as they are sensitively executed and well-researched, I personally think that world-themed attractions are still very relevant and very compelling. I’m a huge fan of the concept of a world-themed park, and I loved visiting places such as Epcot and Animal Kingdom!
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    Posted 10th Jun 2021
  2. Thameslink Rail

    Thameslink Rail TowersStreet Member

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    I think world themed parks are very good, Europa is very good at what they do celebrating European cultures with food from the area and well researched rides and shows based on the area (although Adventure Land is a bit questionable)
    I would however like to see Chessington do the world themes properly, they have too many African and Asian themed areas, many of them look quite cheap and they also have Land of the Dragons which for me doesn't fit in very well. I would like to see Chessington try an Arctic themed area for example and make a Rainforest area that actually looks like a Rainforest rather than a council play area.
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    Posted 10th Jun 2021
  3. D4n

    D4n TowersStreet Member

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    I'm personally always going to be more interested in a park with a taste of culture from different regions / countries of the world than those that just hit the generic wild west / pirate themes over and over again.

    It's also preferable to the constant bleak themes that Merlin come out with.

    The more variety we see between theme parks the better! I think this will always be the case regardless of the ease of travel between countries.
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    Posted 10th Jun 2021
  4. Matt.GC

    Matt.GC TowersStreet Member

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    I must give it to you @Matt N, you do create some very thought provoking and interesting threads.

    A few thoughts of mine on this would be that I don't think the ease of foreign travel has much impact on how relevent country themed areas are in parks. You mentioned that Epcot opened in 1982 (so is the same age as me. Wow I feel old). Well the 1980's was when international travel started to become more pretty mainstream and these parks have still thrived alongside boom of air travel.

    An important factor of a proper theme park is escapism and this is still relevant in terms of areas themed to countries. Whether people can travel or not, very few people are still able to travel to most of the countries these areas are themed to. They're certainly not able to travel to some of these countries during the time periods in which they are often depicted. So the escapism and fantasy is still highly relevant.

    I would imagine cultural appropriation would be the main problem. Take the "England" area in Europa park for example. The park not only uses the UK Union Jack rather than the flag of St Georges, which is the actual national flag of England, but in my opinion it's also the worst area of the park which could be construed by some as a reflection of what the host nation think of England as a country. All this in a park which repeatedly uses American English translations as opposed to British English translations on signage (examples are the usage of the words Diaper and Vacation and some words spelt with a Z as opposed to the British spelling with an S). It's also full of clichés that I'm sure aren't intentional and I personally find them humourous rather than offensive, but it does make me wonder how other natives see the depictions of their respective countries.

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  5. Tim

    Tim TowersStreet Member

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    Europe Park is an interesting example because I don't think their representation of countrys are trying to go down the hyper real route of Epcot or Animal Kingdom.

    The English area is an interesting example because its not really trying to emulate England but give a flavour of Britan. Also while there are no headline rides in the area I think that's less a reflection of their thoughts on the UK but because of the areas original designation as a kids area and its location being right next to Rust (so no room for any major attractions). Until Voletarium opened I'd have actually said the German area was weaker.

    The only real area at Europa that is problematic is the Adventure area. And that's not really an area, just a lake with an outdated ride. It doesn't even try to represent a country like the others.

    As for the broader question of world themed areas I think location, time period and Mystery are the backbone of most theme park areas and I can't see that changing any time soon. Just the way they are built going forward is adapting to us being more culturally aware.
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  6. Benzin

    Benzin TowersStreet Member

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    Paultons just opened an area based off Route 66.

    There will always be a place for using "realistic" world elements in parks. You draw off what people know in popular culture, in a way its little different to using an IP.

    There's plenty of ways to instill the feel of a country without resorting to complete stereotypes. Though the reasons the likes of Efteling and Co who are having to rejig attractions are down to racial connotations given at those attractions in question. Which is a fair move in today's society. Look at what used to be in Tom & Jerry cartoons for example. Caricatures of "locals" has no place in the modern day.
    Matt N likes this.
  7. OilyWater

    OilyWater TowersStreet Member

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    I think it just depends if its entertaining and what the intention is. People dont find lazily stereotyping other cultures entertaining anymore, rightly so. But fantasy/exaggerated depictions of different lands is part of what a theme park is all about, so cultural themes still have a place depending. Less trying to be real and more fantasy, or the flipside taking real world elements but putting it all together in a fantasy park like Phantasialand.

    I think older attractions from the era of wanting to represent real locations and cultures (often badly) are actually really intriguing and cool in their own right, but would never be built that way today. River Caves at Blackpool with its weird cod depictions of the world has a really great weirdness. Updating that to be more "accurate" today would just make it a totally redundant charmless ride.

    After all, no matter how hard a theme park says they were authentic, the point of a theme park is that it's all fake at the end of the day. Creating a 100% real cultural environment would be boring because you should just go visit the real thing.
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