Amusement parks are self-contained areas that include shops, rides, and restaurants, usually spread over several a significant amount of space. In contrast to carnivals or fairs, many of the larger amusement venues are sprawling, permanent conglomerations that take up a number of square miles (square kilometers). Many are more amusement complexes than parks.
When amusement parks are mentioned, most people in the United States immediately think of Disney World® and Disneyland®, Six Flags®, Busch Gardens®, or Knotts Berry Farm®. Actually, of these five, Disney World® and Disneyland® are actually theme parks. A theme park has a distinctive theme, or themes, to its layout, rides, shops, and attractions.
The idea can be traced back at least to medieval times, when bands of entertainers and musicians would gather in a town field or park to wield their skills for the amusement of the townsfolk. At the conclusion of a number of days or weeks, these performers would move on to the next town. Bartholomew Fair, begun in England around the year 1133, is often cited as the first dedicated amusement park.
The amusement park as people know it in modern is merely the latest incarnation of this ancient concept. In its early stages, it was a bucolic public park with tents, buildings, and stalls, erected to offer various forms of music, food, entertainment and amusement. The entertainment often ranged from circus acts to portrait artists. The Ferris wheel was the first amusement ride.
Reaching their zenith in the U.S. in the mid to late 1920s, amusement parks have been in decline ever since. One of the more well known vestiges of the their heyday is Coney Island in New York City. Another is the Navy Pier in Chicago.
Roller coasters, Ferris wheels, merry-go-rounds, and various other mechanical thrill-rides and amusements, are a staple of modern amusement complexes. In a theme park, these thrill-rides are devoted to a particular theme, such as the jungle or outer space. In the case of Disney World® and Disneyland®, the various themes are taken from Disney® cartoon characters and movies.
The park is designed, as the name implies, for amusement of young and old. A roller coaster is intended as a ride for adults and adolescents, the merry-go-round for younger children, and the Ferris wheel is suitable for just about anyone. A word of warning: those with a fear of heights, speed, or seemingly uncontrolled descents may want to stay away from the roller coasters.