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Theme Parks!


Wishes nighttime spectacular in the Magic Kingdom. This was taken in December, when the castle is lit by the castle lights...
My really, really old copy (it has a re-issue date of 1983) of Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language, has the following definition:

es•cap’ism (-iz'm) n. a tendency to escape from reality, responsibilities, etc, through the imagination.

Welcome to my definition of a Theme Park.

We're not talking about amusement parks, or thrill ride parks, or any type of Six Flags type park. If you had to press me for the difference, I'd have to say that Theme Park attractions (for the most part) tell a story, or are a part of a story, or put you into a story.

Theme Parks also hide the dirty, underbelly of the amusement park industry (unless that's what they intend to show you,) and cover it up with enough stage dressing to let your imagination dictate how much you want to believe. For instance, take Cindy's Castle. Is it real? Well, yes, it's there, it might be made of fiberglass and not masonry, but it looks real enough. But is it really Cinderella's Castle? That depends on whether or not you believe it's Cinderella's Castle...

I will admit, the Theme Park experience is a bit more expensive than say, a weekend camping in your back yard, but if you know how to control the costs, it's not that terrible, either. Unless you want it to be. But you do generally get what you pay for.

I would also admit that Theme Parks are also shopping malls with some rides thrown in. I once joked that "The shopping opportunities to the square footage ratio must be one of the highest in the country." But I'm aware of that going in, so it doesn't bother me. (A legal disclaimer should be put here that I don't have kids, either. Other than me...)

Hard Rock Hotel
The Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando
Disney Parks (and Universal Orlando, for the most part) have not only perfected the Theme Park experience, but have transformed themselves into an attraction unto themselves. They're now complete resorts, with food, hotels and other venues; so complete that you'll be hard pressed to figure out why you'd want to leave the grounds at all. (As a matter of fact, I usually don't. Unless I have to. For instance, fetching someone from an airport...)

I had been to Disneyland for a day in 1969. I was at Disneyworld in 1977 for a week, but after being in the Magic Kingdom for a couple of days, the adventure turned into travelling from the Contemporary (where I was staying) to the Polynesian to sample the different exotic adult beverages. After all, there were no other parks at the time, and Disneyworld was still on a ticket system, so if you really liked the E-ticket rides, things got expensive in a hurry. (At least I'm *pretty* sure they were on a ticket system. I could be wrong, but that was 30 years ago. :-)

Along comes 2000, and I'm in Orlando on business. The natural thing to do was Disneyworld. I came as a cynic, and I left impressed. After doing a lot of research, and figuring out the cost/benefits of how to do Disneyworld, I found it wasn't that much more expensive than any of my *other* vacations.

Since that time, I've been to Central Florida more times than I care to admit. To this day, the parks are still my favorite places to go to just relax, and escape from reality for a few days.

There are five main parks I have pictures of. (Okay, 4.5, since I don't have many pictures of Seaworld, but I do have a lot of HD video. Then there's Disneyland and Kennedy Space Center... But I digress.)

We'll visit them in the order I did.
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Disneyland Resort, California
Disneyland Resort California

'Course, good ol' Uncle Walt is given the credit for inventing the Theme Park, and the Disney Company has made sure that the Disney brand stays the elite of the genre. And for the past 50 years, they have. In that time, Disneyland has been joined by a second Theme Park, three hotels and a nightclub/shopping area, now known as Disneyland Resort. I was at Disneyland Resort in September 2005, as part of my Desert Southwest Vacation but is broken out here, because, well, it's a Theme Park.

There is also a page of 59 pictures from my 1969 trip.

Walt Disney World is a destination unto itself. Four Theme Parks, two nightclub areas, five golf courses, two miniature golf courses, two water parks and more resort hotel rooms than you can shake a stick at. It's the undisputed king of vacation resorts, and with good reason. They can provide an experience unmatched anywhere else in the world.
Walt Disney World
Walt Disney World
Universal Orlando
Universal Orlando

Universal Orlando is Disneyworld's biggest competition in Orlando. Islands of Adventure, one of the two Theme Parks here, is an equal to any Disney park in America in terms of themeing, attractions, food and ambiance. Anyway, with two Theme Parks, three on-site hotels (run by Loews Hotels) and a nightclub venue, it's more like Disneyworld than anything else East of the San Andreas Fault.

Seaworld is a venue I only went to because a friend wanted to go there. It's a day trip, and if you've never been to a Seaworld, it's an interesting experience. They too, like Universal, has to compete with Disney, so there's a lot of Disneyesque type venues, but underneath it all, it's a bunch of creatures that have a lot of learned behaviors. Just like us.

There's also a page on Marineland of the Pacific from 1969, which is vaguely, sorta connected to Seaworld...

Sea World Orlando
Kennedy Space Center
Kennedy Space Center

Kennedy Space Center is the real deal. It's history, it's facts, and it's deals more with reality than any other theme park in Florida. But in the end, reality never could compete with Fantasy and Thrill Rides.

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Trip Reports

This is a quick index into the trip reports. Go here for the full page...

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  • 01/14/2011 - Photographing the parks section removed
  • 07/22/2011 - Page redesigned, moved Trip Reports to their own page
  • 02/10/2012 - Theme Parks and Trip Reports recombined, updated to new format
  • 11/10/2012 - Made Trip Reports its own page again, minor updates
  • 12/30/2012 - Update to v3.1
  • 08/31/2014 - Update to v3.2