The ultimate guide to the world's theme parks
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The Top 10 Theme Parks in the United States of AmericaSubmitted by Nick Sim on Wednesday, June 18, 2014 09:00
The USA is home to many of the world's leading theme parks, including several operated by giants Disney and Universal. Every year, the Themed Entertainment Assocation publishes a report that lists the most heavily-attended parks in the country, with the most recent having been published in June 2014.
In this article, we've highlighted the 10 most popular theme parks in America, based on the TEA's report. Major chains Cedar Fair and Six Flags don't feature at all in a list that is dominated by Disney and Universal (perhaps unsurprisingly, given that most of their parks are seasonal). We've picked out the essential attractions that are not-to-be-missed at each park, and we'd love to hear your views.
You can find full details of the attractions and restaurants at each park in our theme park guides section.
10. SeaWorld Orlando
2012 attendance: 5.36 million
2013 attendance: 5.09 million (down 5%)`
Combining marine life exhibits and shows with a selection of major theme park rides, SeaWorld Orlando is located in Florida's theme park hotspot. To compete effectively with giants Disney and Universal, it has installed multi-million dollar roller coasters Kraken and Manta, as well as the Journey to Atlantis water coaster. Its main draw, however, remains its killer whale shows, which are highly controversial but consistently pull in massive crowds.
The third park in the SeaWorld chain (after SeaWorld San Diego and the now-defunct SeaWorld Ohio), SeaWorld Orlando was expanded considerably following a takeover by Anheuser Busch in 1989. Now part of the broader SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment chain, it invested in another major expansion in 2013 which didn't have the impact in terms of attendance that management were hoping for.
Don't miss: Opened in May 2013, Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin is billed as "the world's coldest theme park ride". Using a trackless ride system, it offers a different experience every time, with guests disembarking into an all-new penguin exhibit.
9. Universal Studios Hollywood
2012 attendance: 5.91 million
2013 attendance: 6.15 million (up 4.0%)
The original movie studio theme park is still widely regarded as one of the best, and benefits from being attached to a world-class production facility. Universal Studios Hollywood first began offering tram tours of its backlot in 1964, building on walkthrough tours that started in the 1920s. Gradually, it installed additional attractions, culminating in the opening of a second "lot" in 1991.
The Upper and Lower Lots form two distinct sections of the park, which are joined by a series of escalators. Major attractions including Jurassic Park: The Ride, Revenge of the Mummy: The Ride and Transformers: The Ride - 3D can be found in the Lower Lot, while the Upper Lot hosts the famous Studio Tour.
Don't miss: The Studio Tour may have been running for decades, but it still offers a stunning experience. It effectively packs multiple attractions into one lengthy 45-minute ride, culminating in an impressive "4-D" encounter with King Kong.
8. Universal Studios Florida
2012 attendance: 6.20 million
2013 attendance: 7.06 million (up 14%)
Universal's second theme park was the company's first to be designed from the ground-up as a tourist attraction. These days, not much production takes place at Universal Studios Florida, but it offers some of the most unique and original ride experiences anywhere in the world.
Spread across seven heavily-themed areas are impressive attractions such as hybrid coaster-dark ride Revenge of the Mummy: The Ride (superior to the Hollywood version), Shrek 4-D and towering musical coaster Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit.
The park received a huge attendance boost in 2013 thanks to the debut of Transformers: The Ride - 3D. Expect an even bigger leap in performance when the Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley opens in summer 2014.
Don't miss: Men in Black: Alien Attack, one of the most immersive laser-gun rides to be found anywhere on the planet.
7. Islands of Adventure
2012 attendance: 7.98 million
2013 attendance: 8.14 million (up 2%)
Universal Orlando's second theme park has pulled ahead of sister park Universal Studios Florida in the popularity stakes in recent years, almost entirely due to the 2010 debut of the the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. This has helped turn the resort into a true multi-day destination, and put pressure on rival Walt Disney World for the first time.
The park seeks to immerse visitors into movies themselves, with 6 themed "islands" located around a lagoon. After passing through the Port of Entry, guests can head to Marvel Super Hero Island, Toon Lagoon, Jurassic Park, The Lost Continent, Seuss Landing and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The Wizarding World has become the focal point of Islands of Adventure, with Hogwarts Castle dominating the park's skyline.
Like its sister park, Islands of Adventure is likely to see a spike in attendance in 2014. Although Diagon Alley is opening at the Studios park, it will be linked to the original Wizarding World via the Hogwarts Express attraction.
Don't miss: The innovative Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, which employs cutting-edge technology and special effects to take guests on an adventure with Harry and his friends.
6. Disney California Adventure
2012 attendance: 7.78 million
2013 attendance: 8.51 million (up 9.5%)
For Disneyland fans who had long looked forward to a second park opening at the resort, the debut of Disney California Adventure in 2001 proved to be a huge disappointment. The park was heavily critized for both its theme and for its lack of major attractions, with Disney being accused of having thrown it together "on the cheap". The addition of the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and Toy Story Midway Mania helped, but the park remained in the shadow of the original Disneyland.
Eventually, Disney decided to virtually completely rebuild California Adventure, at massive expense. The spectacular World of Color show, several new attractions and the Cars Land expansion have begun to change the perception of the park, which is finally beginning to to fulfill its potential.
Don't miss: Radiator Springs Racers, a dazzling attraction that combines the ride system of Epcot's test track with the humorous characters of Pixar's Cars.