Theme Park, Thrill Park, Amusement Park – What’s In A Name?

As you are probably already well aware, at, Rex and the Beast refer to and discuss various destinations that we visit.  A basic question that we are asked from time to time is:  What is the difference between a “Theme Park”, a “Thrill Park” and an “Amusement Park?”  The answer to that question is different based upon who you ask and in what context you ask.  For example, all Theme Parks, Thrill Parks (and Water Parks for that matter) are technically “amusement parks.” And certain parks cross over into more than one category if you are just looking at the generic definition of the categories.  In addition, the marketing departments of various parks may want to call them one type of park even if they don’t seem to technically fit within that definition—for example, no park really wants to be called a Thrill Park because it is a limiting designation, meaning young kids, older people and non-thrill loving people may not feel welcome.

So, what we are doing in this article is not trying to give a definitive answer in all circumstances, but to explain for purposes of, how we look at and reference various parks.  Also, Rex and the Beast feel that all three types of parks have their place, and our discussion is to classify them for you so that you will understand the references on, not to rank them or otherwise state one type of park is better than the other—those type of arguments will come later!

Theme Park

A Theme Park is a park that is based substantially upon an overriding theme or “feel.”  The theme does not have to be the same theme throughout the park, but there is no doubt that a “theme” exists.  Examples of this are Animal Kingdom, where the theme is, not surprisingly, the animal world, and Holiday World, where the theme is different holidays, and various portions of the park are centered around those holidays.  Compare those parks to Cedar Point, which although it has various “areas” throughout the park, does not have an overriding theme—except of course, the greatest collection of coasters in one park (can you say, Thrill Park?).  Although it is more of an art than a science, usually you will know when you walk out of a park whether it should be classified as a Theme Park.

One important factor to understand with regard to Theme Parks is that they can still have a thrill aspect.  Many people automatically throw any parks with roller coasters or other exciting rides into the Thrill Park bucket, but that is not always correct.  The issue of being a Theme Park does not preclude excitement or certain thrill rides.  The classic example of this is Islands of Adventure.  Although IOA has a few of the great thrill rides in all of Parkdom (i.e., The Hulk, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Spiderman, Dragon Challenge), there is no doubt that IOA is a Theme Park, in fact, the island theme is one of Rex and the Beast’s favorite set of themes in all of Theme Parkdom.

Classic Theme Park Example:  Dollywood

Adrenaline Theme Park Example:  Islands of Adventure at Universal Studios Florida

Rex and the Beast’s Favorite Theme Park:  Islands of Adventure

 Thrill Park

A Thrill Park is a park that is substantially based upon and famous for its roller coasters and other thrill rides, which rides dominate the discussion when the park is the subject of any conversation.  There is quite often some level of theming at Thrill Parks, but the theme is not a large feature (or in some cases, even relevant) to a decision to go to the park or in enjoying the park.  When you enter a Thrill Park, rather than feel like you may be entering into a different world—as in a Theme Park—you are usually just planning the speed at which you can get to the first set of thrill rides.  The Beast lives in Louisville, Kentucky near a favorite Thrill Park–Kings Island.  Kings Island is one of those parks that covers many different levels and categories (it has a great kids area for example), but we still believe it best belongs in this category.

Classic Thrill Park Example:  Six Flags Magic Mountain

Rex’s Favorite Thrill Park:  Cedar Point

The Beast’s Favorite Thrill Park:  Kings Island

Amusement Park

In some ways an Amusement Park is the most difficult park to quantify.  Usually it has attributes of a Theme Park and attributes of a Thrill Park but really doesn’t fit squarely within either definition.  Often, but not always, an Amusement Park is a smaller park that has great history behind it.  Also, this is probably the default type of park.  If you can’t decide if a park is a Theme Park or a Thrill Park, then it is probably not either of those types of parks but is an Amusement Park.  Rex lives near a couple of classic Amusement Parks in Denver, including Elitch Gardens (formerly Six Flags Elitch Gardens) and Lakeside Amusement Park.

Classic Amusement Parks:  Elitch Gardens, Lake Winnepesaukah

Remember that an amusement park can also be a generic reference to all of the types of parks for most people. Also remember, these are not neat, unrelated categories—they inter-related and overlap.  Theme Parks have thrills, Thrill Parks have themes, all parks are at some level Amusement Parks, so don’t get too hung up on the categories—just enjoy whichever park you are at!  Until next time, Join the Journey with!

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1 comment on “Theme Park, Thrill Park, Amusement Park – What’s In A Name?

  1. Caden Dahl says:

    Now when you say the three types of parts, I honestly think of just the same thing. It is interesting to see how for each name, they do pick off one another to make it their own. I do like how you mentioned that pretty much everything can be classified as an amusement park as we generally go there to be “amused”. However, the examples you gave of the different parks are pretty much spot on and I agree with you on all of them.

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