Walt Disney World, opened near Orlando, Fla., in 1971, is the most popular theme park in the world; it draws over 40 million visitors annually. It is modeled as a utopian city of leisure, pitched by personalities from Disney animation and operated by 26,000 employees. The original Magic Kingdom theme park is divided into thematic domains (e.g., Tomorrowland, Frontierland, Fantasyland), which flow into one another; other areas added later include Epcot Center, Disney-MGM Studios, and Animal Kingdom. The original Disneyland opened in 1955 in Anaheim, Calif.; Disney's California Adventure opened adjacent to it in 2001. Other Disney parks have opened near Tokyo (1983) and Paris (1992). Other examples of theme parks include the Universal Studios Tours in Universal City, Calif., and Orlando, Fla., in which visitors are treated to a tour of the movie studio grounds, see various demonstrations of stunts and special effects, and can go on rides inspired by popular films. In Tennessee, Dollywood, a theme park founded by the country musician Dolly Parton, offers rides, country music, and a hearty dose of Americana. Six Flags, Cedar Fair, Busch Gardens, and other amusement park chains have facilities in several areas.
Beginning in the 1990s a trend at some theme parks was to create rides based on popular action films, such as Batman, Jurassic Park, and Back to the Future. Some resort hotels in Las Vegas also began adding theme-park rides in the late 1990s. Meanwhile, thrill rides, especially roller coasters built of old-fashioned wood or high-tech tubular steel, were becoming faster and more complex, with water elements, loops, steep upside-down drops, and other scream-inducing features.
See G. Kyriazi, The Great American Amusement Parks (1976), S. Paschen, Shooting in the Chutes (1989), J. Adams and E. Perkins, The American Amusement Park Industry (1991), M. Sorkin, ed., Variations on a Theme Park (1992), K. A. Marling, ed., Designing Disney's Theme Parks (1997), D. Bennett, Roller Coaster (1998), R. Reynolds, Roller Coasters, Flumes and Flying Saucers (1999), and W. Register, The Kid of Coney Island: Fred Thompson and the Rise of American Amusements (2001). For guides to amusement parks, see The National Directory of Theme & Amusement Parks (1997), T. H. Throgmorton, Roller Coasters: United States and Canada (2000), and T. O'Brien, The Amusement Park Guide (4th ed., 2001).
The park also hosted many musical activities and local business family day entertainment in the shaded outdoor stage area. Smaller kids enjoyed their birthday parties in the large indoor kiddie-ride area, featuring "The Whip" and a helicopter ride, and of course a carousel.
The midway featured rides such as the "Paratrooper", the yellow and black "Yo-Yo", bumper cars, the "Scrambler", "Tilt-a-Whirl", and "Magic Carpet". Also featured was a rifle-target game (which broke down for long stretches, but was fun when it was operational) and the ubiquitous cotton-candy, funnel-cake, frozen-ices, and hot-dog vendors.
The park fell into hard times in the early 1990's when a tornado literally bent their Ferris wheel in half, and with the rides removed, the park served as grounds for a monthly arts and crafts exposition. Shortly thereafter, in 1999 it closed permanently. The Hamel family is one of the wealthiest and best known of Louisiana, rivaled only by The Copelands in wealth. This is an interesting site to visit in Louisiana, as the buildings still stand, as well as the log-ride which can be seen from the Jimmie Davis bridge.