10 underrated, off-the-beaten path, and just plain bizarre theme parks

Boy, have we got the list for you!

Boy, have we got the list for you!

It’s no secret that we love theme parks here. From sipping butterbeer at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ to going behind the scenes of our favorite action flicks at Universal Studios Hollywood, there’s nothing like a day at a theme park to spark your imagination, transport you to another world, and make you feel like a kid again. The good news for theme park lovers like us:  There are lots out there. So where’s a rollercoaster-loving park-goer to go once you’ve checked off beloved standbys like Disneyland®, Six Flags, and LEGOLAND®?

Harmonyland: Niche cartoon fans unite at this Hello Kitty-inspired theme park in Japan. Complete with pastel pink-and-blue trains, a chance to tour Hello Kitty’s adorably decorated home, and a kitty robot-making machine, it’s hard to get away from the park’s lovable figurehead. But even if you’re not a diehard fan of this famous Japanese character, your kids will love the carousel, amusement park games, and kid-friendly coasters.

BonBon-Land: Derived from the low-brow humor of famish Danish candymaker BonBon, this sweet escape is filled with rides themed with irreverent references to everything from sex to dog farts. And it’s no surprise, coming from a company that manufactures candies with names like “Ear Wax,” “Seagull Droppings,” and “Pee Diapers.” Yum? After weaving past the vomit-spewing sewer rat sculptures and Henry the farting dog, check out high-speed coasters and log flume water rides sure to delight the childish sense of humor in all of us.

World Waterpark: In a place where daily temperatures average below freezing for 4 months out of the year, a massive indoor waterpark complete with a simulated wave pool makes plenty of sense. Set beside the shops and food courts of the West Edmonton Mall in Alberta, Canada, the World Waterpark hovers at a balmy 88 degrees Fahrenheit (31 C) inside. After you trade your parka for a pair of trunks, hit the waves on a body board, test your mettle on 83-foot (25-m) water slides, or learn to hang ten on the sheet wave surf simulator.

Popeye Village: Visit the seaside huts and charming streets of a village so cute it looks straight out of the movies—because it actually is. Built as the expansive set of the 1980 live action movie Popeye, starring Robin Williams as the forearm-flexing sailor, this cartoon village come to life is perfect for fans of the old cartoons or families looking for a unique experience on the seaside cliffs of Malta. See memorabilia from the movie, visit the actual sets where filming took place, or take a leisurely boat cruise around Anchor Bay before grabbing a bite to eat at the onsite winery or restaurant, where you’re sure to find more than spinach on the menu.

Parque Temático Hacienda Nápoles: Though it was once home to the world’s most powerful drug trafficker, the Parque Temático Hacienda Nápoles has been transformed from the days of its former owner. What you can see today is a space dedicated to tourism and families, with emphasis on themes such as the environment, culture, recreation, and fun. The Museo Memorial, built to honor the victims of Escobar’s violence, is the sole evidence of the murky past. Today, the safari-themed park houses wild animals, water features such as slides and a rushing river, a museum highlighting African cultures, and the estate’s favorite hippopotamus, Vanessa.

Crocosaurus Cove: If you really want to test your daring, go beyond your run-of-the-mill rollercoasters and thrill rides and opt for a dip with a giant saltwater crocodile at Crocosaurus Cove in Darwin, Australia. The aptly named Cage of Death experience gets you up close to these prehistoric predators, but there are plenty of slightly less nerve-racking attractions, too, from a sanctuary for Top End turtles to a baby crocodile-holding experience.

Republic of the Children: The name might bring to mind some sort of Lord of the Flies-esque political dystopia, but Argentina’s Republic of the Children is all fun and games—well, kind of.  Built by beloved Argentinean first lady Eva Peron, the Republic of Children is designed for play and to instruct children in republican ethics. Explore the proportionally petite city, which comes complete with a parliament, courthouse, church, and airport, all built to mimic real-world architecture (the bank, for example, looks like the Doge’s Palace in Venice, and the Palace of Culture is modeled on the Taj Mahal). Little visitors can elect congressional representatives, haggle over loan terms, and in general learn about the virtues of democracy.

Dickens World: You know what’s better than modern times? Victorian times! Dickens World—from the creators of Santa World, natch—is located in Chatham, England, where Dickens lived briefly as a child. Bring your greatest expectations (sorry) and get ready for the best of times (sorry again) as you step into the pages of literary masterpieces like A Christmas Story and A Tale of Two Cities. Meet and interact with characters like Tiny Tim, Oliver Twist, and Ebeneezer Scrooge as you stroll the soot-stained, cobbled streets of this recreation of the London that this beloved author preserved on the page.

Išgyvenimo Drama: Missed your chance to hang out in a Soviet bunker when the Iron Curtain was still around? Good news, comrade! At Išgyvenimo Drama—Lithuanian for “survival drama”—in Vilnius, you can hand in your phone, camera, money, and freedoms to don a threadbare jacket, travel back to 1984, and spend some quality time in an underground USSR bunker. It may feel a little bit like the Stanford Prison Experiment, and the park hasn’t been without its controversies, as tourists are made to wear gas masks, learn the Soviet anthem under duress, and undergo interrogations and medical checks overseen by real Soviet army members (now actors, but, still). If you survive your time in the bunker, a celebratory shot of vodka—and permission to leave—is your reward.

Suoi Tien Park: Oh, you’ve never rushed down a slide on the beard of a sage into a pool surrounded by dragons at a Buddhist waterpark? You’ve never gone from swimming in a kiddy pool to pedaling a suspended bike over a lagoon filled with 1,500 live crocodiles? You’ve never stepped into a fantastical Palace of Unicorns to find a chilling house of horrors that represents the 18 Gates of Hell? You’ve never paddled beneath neon trees in a colorful fairy stream, played in fountains next to a giant spinning frog, or ridden a dog- or turtle-shaped boat through a wild, technicolor dream land? Well, then, might we suggest Suoi Tien?

What theme parks are on your must-visit list?

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