Are These the 7 Worst Amusement and Theme Parks in America? (Slideshow)
Action Park/Mountain Creek Waterpark, New Jersey
Back in 1978, the new owners of the Vernon Valley/Great Gorge ski area in New Jersey determined they needed an alternative, off-season attraction. Instead of building a tourist trap, they built what some have actually called “a death trap,” and named it Action Park. The first fatality occurred in 1980 when one of the cars on the Alpine Slide (which was described by one employee as having two speeds: extremely slow and “death awaits”) jumped the track. Two deaths followed in the span of one week: a drowning in the Tidal Wave pool and an in-water electrocution on the Kayak Experience. In 1984, extremely cold water may have contributed to the heart attack suffered by another guest, and that same year, the wave pool claimed its second victim, followed by a third in 1987. There have been countless injuries as well, with local hospitals reporting as many as 10 per day during the busy season. Still, the immense success of Action Park (also known as “Traction Park,” “Accident Park,” and “Class Action Park”) in the ‘80s has kept it open over all these years, even though it is now officially called Mountain Creek Waterpark (but still uses the actionpark.com web address). Comedian Chris Gethard summed up the appeal aptly: “Action Park was a true rite of passage for any New Jerseyan of my generation. When I get to talking about it with other Jerseyans, we share stories as if we are veterans who served in combat together. I suspect that many of us may have come closest to death on some of those rides up in Vernon Valley.”
Adventuredome Theme Park at Circus Circus Las Vegas
Adventuredome Theme Park/Yelp
There’s a hefty dose of nostalgia at work at Circus Circus Las Vegas, which successfully shields some loyal, older members from viewing its true, current state. Many Yelp reviewers can see through the haze (literally, as this kid-centric hotel still allows smoking on the casino floor) and have criticized both the Adventuredome Theme Park and surrounding hotel for its hordes of frantic and screaming children, dirty and outdated appearance, unpleasant odor, preachy buffet announcements repeatedly imploring guests to eat all they take (in English and Spanish!), unmanned games, and frequent closures of rides that weren’t all that interesting to begin with. Circus Circus and the park might not be terrible for the littlest of kids, but it has fallen a long way since opening as a somewhat legitimate attraction in 1968. Then again, this is the same place that, in 1972, Hunter S. Thompson described as “what the whole hep world would be doing Saturday night if the Nazis had won the war.”
Diggerland, New Jersey
Earlier this year, we told you about the 10 Craziest Things You Can Do on Your Next Trip to Las Vegas, and it included a visit to Dig This, where guests can operate a giant bulldozer or hydraulic excavator for an hour or two. In a limited setting with extra-large machinery this could be an enticing activity, but as an entire amusement park? Now you’re pushing it. Yet a place called Diggerland actually exists, and it’s basically Disneyland with farm equipment. Despite the larger park and greater selection of machines, the individual vehicles are smaller (as is the target audience) and include a host of less-exciting options such as tiny tractors (which can be “raced” around a track), WorkMax all-terrain vehicles (basically yellow golf carts), steam rollers, and a mini TA1EH Dumper truck. And if that’s not exciting enough, guests can also ride in a “train” pulled by the TA1EH Dumper or an excavator merry-go-round. In the park’s defense, there are a few larger machines, but this concept is still a bit too dull for an entire amusement park. Unless of course you just want to see Dozer and Diesel, the baby Nigerian dwarf goats that live at the park for some reason. But you can always just watch them live online via the “Goat Cam.”
Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park, Florida
Photo Modified: Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0
Examining Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park in Florida brings to mind numerous questions, the first of which is probably, “Is this even a theme park?” Well, it does have a theme – the Fountain of Youth – so that checks out. The second question: How a park based on a completely fictional place has managed to survived for almost 150 years and even make it on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places? That one, we admit, baffles us. Unless of course we drastically underestimated the amount of folks who are into fake shipwreck displays, cheesy dioramas, factually questionable lectures and tours, and an ancient “fountain” (actually a pipe, out of which you can drink sulfur-flavored water from Dixie cups) that doesn’t even appear to be as old as the park itself. Considering the large number of negative Yelp reviews, our estimates were likely correct. On the plus side, the grounds are nice.
Holy Land Experience, Florida
If you’ve ever seen the episode of The Simpsons titled “I’m Goin’ to Praiseland,” you’ll probably have a good idea of what to expect at the Holy Land Experience in Florida — even though that episode was written prior to the park’s existence. The main difference is that the real version doesn’t have a hallucination-inducing gas leak (as far as we know), and instead contains a whole lot more guilt. Notice that it’s not called Holy Land Amusement Park; that’s because when the main “attraction” is a bloody Jesus walking around screaming in pain and waiting to be crucified, tortured, and killed, it’s hard to call the park amusing — especially after he makes his second trip of the day. Other features include a 2,000-seat auditorium, a “Scriptorium” library/research center, the Jerusalem Street Market, a model of the ancient “Eternal City,” and numerous prayer gardens. If this venue existed solely as a museum or a serious education center (and didn’t try to pass itself off as a fun theme park), then we could let it go. It’s worth noting that Holy Land also boasts the creepily named “Smile of a Child Adventure Land,” featuring rock climbing, face-painting, a game area, and a mini golf course. Just how Jesus envisioned it.
Pedroland Park at South of the Border, South Carolina
When I was a kid, every year my family made the trip from New York down south via I-95. My brother and I eagerly counted down the miles to South of the Border resort and tourist attraction with help from the endless number of billboards that marked the remaining distance. “Only one more mile!” my father would say as we saw the park emerging in the distance, giant sombrero tower and all. Then, just as we got to the off-ramp, my father would gun the engine and fly by, continuing on to Florida, our true destination. As much as my brother and I wanted to stop each and every year, it turns out Dad was doing us a favor. South of the Border, despite its flashy signs, is the ultimate definition of a tourist trap. This 350-acre resort is devoid of anything that could actually qualify as “amusement” (save for the two mini-golf courses, perhaps), instead featuring some dinky rides at “Pedroland Park,” a mediocre “reptile lagoon,” a sketchy-looking motel, and a whole bunch of souvenir shops and empty parking spaces. South of the Border has made some strides in recent years to attain some sort of legitimacy with numerous updates, but we (and most Yelp reviewers) still feel like Pedro, the Mexican man mascot, is deceiving us all.
Once upon a time, SeaWorld shared a high-ranking status level with other major American theme parks like Disneyland, Disney World, and Universal Studios. But public opinion has turned on the animal park in recent years with the help of pro-animal-rights documentaries like 2013’s Blackfish. The film exposed SeaWorld’s alleged poor treatment of its orca whales (and other animals) in captivity, which the company has dismissed as lies and propaganda. Nevertheless, SeaWorld has since ended its captive breeding program in hopes of winning back some guests. The Orlando location had the smallest amount of attendance growth (2 percent) among the major parks in America, and the San Diego park’s attendance actually dropped by 7 percent. Similar to the Ringling Brothers Circus (who recently dropped elephants from its shows because of pressure from animal rights activists), SeaWorld will have to successfully change course or risk sinking completely. To their credit, they are now headed in the right direction.