Is Disney World a theme park or an amusement park? What about Cedar Point? Is there really a difference or do these two terms have the same thing? Does that even matter? Well, it might not be as important as some of the stuff out there, but theme park and theme park fans will find it interesting, if not important. There is a lot of confusion and misinformation out there. So, I thought I’d take the opportunity of this article to clear up some of the confusion.
Let’s start by defining the term “amusement park” first because amusement parks were the first to appear on the scene. By most definitions, an amusement park has been around for hundreds of years, since around the 16th century. It can simply be defined as a static website where various games and attractions are compiled for the entertainment of the people. Simple enough.
However, over the years, the definition of a park has been clouded by changes in ride design, the invention of the automobile and media, and the need for entertainment to match or exceed the expectations of its audience. These changes have caused upgrades and innovations in some parks and bankruptcies and closures in many others. But, one thing has remained constant, the parks, themselves, have always been just collections of attractions, no matter how disjointed or clichéd the set may seem. Excellent examples would be Coney Island in Brooklyn or Riverview Park in Chicago…neither of which exist today, by the way.
Although the origin of the “theme park” is debatable, most experts believe that Walt Disney was its inventor. However, Disney was heavily influenced by Knott’s Berry Farm and theme parks in Europe. So, you could claim that Knott’s Berry Farm was the first theme park, but Walt Disney certainly took theme parks to a whole new level. So what makes an amusement park different from an amusement park?
A real “theme” park consists of different lands or areas. Great efforts are made to create the illusion of another world or culture using scenery, architecture, music, food, staff, and attractions. In a theme park, rides often take second place to the environment in which they are placed. And the more a park can bring its guests out of the “real world” and into a world of fantasy, the more true the “theme” label is. Because Walt Disney used movie directors rather than architects to design his park, he was able to create a real escape from reality, as if the theme park was a movie on screen.
Theme resorts take theme parks to a whole new level
With the opening of Walt Disney World in Florida in 1971, the next step in the development of the theme park occurred. Beyond just Walt Disney World rides and attractions, Disney combined a theme park with hotels, golf courses, water recreation, and (eventually) more theme parks. We like to call this a “Themed Resort”.
The idea of a signature resort is to attract guests and then keep them on your property for whatever they want or imagine. It’s entirely possible that, with the advent of Disney’s wide world of sports – fishing, water and field sports, tournament abilities – everything one could possibly do on vacation can now be found in one place. The themed resort has become a unique one-stop-shop for the dream vacation and the numbers prove that the Disney theme is the right kind of thinking. Disney is not alone in this market. Universal Studios Orlando consists of two separate theme parks, hotels, and restaurants to create the Universal Orlando Resort. Disney learned in the 1980s that keeping people close was key to profits and that certainly proves true.
It’s easy to get frustrated by the comparisons that are often made between theme parks and theme parks, even though those comparisons shouldn’t be made by definition. When someone says “I think Cedar Point is a much better theme park than Disney World,” they are right in a way because Walt Disney World is not an amusement park, and it would never pretend to be a paradise for roller coaster lovers. However, at the same time, they are also wrong because they compare apples to oranges. To make things even more confusing, Cedar Point will sometimes call itself an amusement park simply because it gives labels to different areas of the park. Sorry Cedar Point. Design is more than just labels.
So, next time someone says they enjoyed Dollywood or Six Flags a lot more than Disney World, don’t bother arguing. They may also say they enjoy sushi more than a bicycle.