Amusement Parks vs Theme Parks

Amusement Parks vs Theme Parks: Knott’s Berry Farm, Holiday World, and the Influence on Disneyland

Welcome back to! In this post, we’re diving into a captivating topic – the difference between amusement parks and theme parks and the ongoing debate regarding the world’s first theme park. We’ll also explore how these early parks influenced Walt Disney’s creation of Disneyland. So, buckle up as we embark on this exciting journey of amusement parks vs theme parks

Amusement Parks vs Theme Parks: The Core Differences

While both amusement parks and theme parks provide thrilling rides and attractions, they offer distinctly different experiences.

Amusement Parks are large outdoor areas featuring a variety of rides, games, and other entertainment options. From roller coasters and bumper cars to Ferris wheels and water rides, the key characteristic of an amusement park is its diverse array of attractions, with no specific theme tying them together.

1974 map of Kings Island Amusement parks vs. theme parks
Special thanks to CPFoodBlog for this 1974 map of amusement park Kings Island.

On the contrary, Theme Parks revolve around a central theme or multiple themed areas. Every ride, restaurant, shop, and entertainment option within a theme park contributes to an overarching story or concept. Themes can vary widely – movies, fairy tales, historical periods, or even wildlife. The intention behind a theme park is to create immersive environments that transport visitors into different worlds or narratives.

Amusement parks vs. theme parks
Theme Park: A closeup of the Magic Kingdom section of the map from the 1971 Story of Walt Disney World. This was also the map that appeared in the guest rooms of the Contemporary and Polynesian Resorts. You can read more about the different Magic Kingdom maps, here.

The Battle for the Title: Knott’s Berry Farm vs Holiday World

The debate over which park holds the title of the world’s first theme park often centers around two contenders: Knott’s Berry Farm and Holiday World.

Knott’s Berry Farm, located in Buena Park, California, began in the 1920s as a small berry farm owned by Walter and Cordelia Knott. Over time, it expanded to include a restaurant, a ghost town attraction, and eventually various themed areas and rides. By the 1940s, Knott’s Berry Farm had developed into a full-fledged, themed experience, blending dining, shopping, and entertainment with a distinct Wild West theme.

The entrance to Knott’s Berry Farm. Check out this amazing book on the history of the park.

Meanwhile, Holiday World, located in Santa Claus, Indiana, opened in 1946 as Santa Claus Land. It was the first park ever to have a consistent theme – Christmas. The park expanded to include more themed areas like Halloween and Fourth of July sections, making it a strong contender for the title of the first theme park.

Amusement parks vs. theme parks
The entrance sign for Santa Clause Land at Holiday World.

So, who holds the title? It depends on how one defines a “theme park.” If a theme park is defined by its consistent use of a theme across attractions, then Holiday World may hold the title. However, if a theme park is defined by its combination of themed storytelling, landscaping, rides, and attractions, then Knott’s Berry Farm could be considered the first.

The Influence on Disneyland

Regardless of who holds the title, both Knott’s Berry Farm and Holiday World had a significant influence on Walt Disney’s creation of Disneyland.

The Calico Mine Ride at Knott’s Berry Farm is credited as the first themed queue and inspired Walt Disney to do the same with his Disneyland attractions. (It’s also an astounding dark ride.)

Walt Disney visited Knott’s Berry Farm several times in the years leading up to the opening of Disneyland in 1955. He was reportedly inspired by the immersive storytelling and attention to detail he saw at Knott’s, particularly in the Ghost Town area. This influence is evident in Disneyland’s Frontierland, which also offers guests a detailed and immersive Wild West experience.

Image courtesy Holiday World & Splashing’ Safari

As for Holiday World, its successful implementation of a consistent theme throughout the park demonstrated the viability and appeal of themed entertainment. This undoubtedly played a role in shaping Disney’s vision for a fully themed amusement park – a place where guests could step into different worlds and narratives.

In Summary

The debate over the title of the world’s first theme park continues, but one thing is clear: both Knott’s Berry Farm and Holiday World have played pivotal roles in the evolution of theme parks. They set the stage for immersive storytelling and themed entertainment, influencing countless parks worldwide, including Disneyland.

The Dollywood Express readies to leave the station. Dollywood is a wonderful theme park with fantastic food, superb entertainment, and several great coasters.

Whether you prefer the thrill-centric approach of amusement parks or the immersive storytelling of theme parks, both offer unforgettable experiences that continue to captivate millions of visitors each year.

Check out this book review of Imagineering an American Dreamscape about the development of regional amusement parks.

Thank you for joining us for this exploration of amusement parks and theme parks. Be sure to check back for more exciting insights into the world of amusement and theme parks, only on!

What Do You Think? Amusement Parks vs Theme Parks…is there a winner?

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