11 Highly Unusual Theme Parks

Interior of the Popeye village in Malta. Also known as Sweethaven Village. It is a film set purposely built village, now converted into a tourist attraction. Roberto Sorin/Shutterstock

The news that a Hello Kitty theme park is set to open in China in 2014 — two Sanrio-themed amusement parks, Puroland and Harmonyland, already exist in Japan — got us thinking: What other decidedly eccentric theme parks around the world will fun-loving folks be flocking to en masse this summer? What oddball theme parks make the Magic Kingdom look, well, middle-of-the-road?

We’ve found a few. Paying homage to historical figures both dead and alive (Charles Dickens, Dolly Parton, Joseph Stalin, Jesus) and creating amusements out of not-so-theme-park-y things (political ideology, physical impairments, religion, crime), the 11 following theme parks may not boast the hot-ticket status of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but they’ve certainly got us intrigued. Anyone up for a trip to Holme-Olstrup, Denmark?

Dickens World

Location: Chatham, Kent, England

Theme: The grime-coated works of revered 19th century English novelist, Charles Dickens

Imagine: High school Brit Lit class meets Colonial Williamsburg by way of Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride

Admission: $64.50 for “Family Ticket” (2 adults, 2 children)

Queue up for: Great Expectations Boat Ride, Europe’s “largest themed dark boat ride” through a stinking sewer filled with beggars, wenches, orphans, animatronic rats and other unsavory Victorian London sights and sounds.

Dine at: The Six Jolly Fellowship Porters Bar & Restaurant

Requisite souvenirs: “A Tale of Two Cities” paperback, mop cap

The Christian Science Monitor says: “And yet, here, Dickens has been crossbred with Disney, and the end result isn't so much amusement park as bemusement park. It's like Disney World dipped in rust-colored paint and starved of the Florida sunlight and with slightly cheaper prices — $25 for adults, $15 for kids — and significantly less than Disney World admission.”



Location: Holme-Olstrup, Denmark

Theme: Anthropomorphic animals (including topless hippos) based on the confectionary creations of a scatological-minded Danish candy company.

Imagine: The Garbage Pail Kids meets Hershey Park.

Admission: $39-$41 for general admission.

Queue up for: The Farting Dog Rollercoaster
Dine at: The buffet-style Jungle Restaurant

Requisite souvenirs: Boxes of Mågeklatter (Seagull Droppings) and Hundeprutter (Dog Farts) candy

Theme Park Reviews says: “It's difficult to find a word to describe BonBon-Land because this is like no other park I've ever been to! You can use the words: Quirky, Bizarre, Disturbing, Perverted, etc ... they all apply! How do you describe a park that has really nice theming, but themed to candy characters based on toilet humor? Yeah ... it's hard to describe!”


Grūto Parkas


Location: Druskininkai, Lithuania

Theme: All things Soviet

Imagine: The Storm King Arts Center meets a Soviet Gulag prison camp

Admission: $8. Children under 6 are admitted for free.

Queue up for: The Soviet sculpture exposition, the petting zoo

Dine at: Grūtas Park Café, where popular Soviet-style dishes include “Sprats Po Russki” (smoked fish, onions, vodka).

Requisite souvenir: Lenin bobblehead doll

Travel & Leisure says: “Opened in 2001, this park near the southern Belarus border won the offbeat Ig Nobel Peace Prize for improbable research from Harvard; the 2-mile-long playground and zoo is wrapped in an homage to the Soviet regime. Nicknamed Stalin World, it showcases icons stripped of their political power; visitors gawk at the Terror Sphere, featuring statues of Communist Party leaders and imitation watchtowers and trenches. Wisely, the park nixed the idea of carting guests around on a gulag train.”


Holy Land Experience

Location: Orlando, Fla.

Theme: Jesus

Imagine: Sunday school meets Six Flags

Admission: $31, adult; $18, youth; $7, child via online ticketing.

Queue up for: The Scriptorium, The Wilderness Tabernacle, Smile of a Child Adventure Land

Dine at: Oasis Palms Cafe

Requisite souvenirs: The Holy Family Collectible Nativity Musical Egg, Music Box Replica of the Glorious Temple of Solomon

Frommer's says: “This $20-million, 15-acre attraction near Universal Orlando is trying to court more believers by offering exhibits focusing on Jerusalem between the years 1450 B.C. and A.D. 66. Instead of thrill rides, visitors get lessons about Noah's Ark, the limestone caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, 1st-century Jerusalem, and Jesus' tomb.”


Dwarf Empire/World Ecological Garden of Butterfly

Location: Kunming, China

Theme: A for-profit fairy tale commune inhabited by short-of-stature people that’s located within a butterfly theme park.

Imagine: Munchkinland meets the Chinese version of “America’s Got Talent”

Admission: $9

Queue up for: Dwarf Empire’s signature, 90-minute variety show in which, according to GoKunming, the costumed “resident dwarves sing, dance, play musical gourds, breakdance and perform qigong tricks.”

Dine at: A snack bar staffed by a Dwarf Empire denizen.

Requisite souvenir: A photograph taken with the Dwarf Emperor.

The New York Times says: “Imagine a $115 million universe in miniature, set amid 13,000 acres of rolling hills and peaceful lakes in southern China’s Yunnan province, with tiny dogs, tiny fruit trees, a 230-foot-high performance hall that looks like the stump of a prehistoric tree and standard-size guest cabins. Also, a black BMW modified to resemble a flying saucer, from which dwarfs will spill forth to begin their performances.”


Rockome Gardens


Location: Arcola, Ill.

Theme: “Preserving a Simpler Time”

Imagine: Knotts Berry Farm meets “Witness”

Admission: $10 (adults)

Queue up for: The Illinois Amish Museum, buggy rides, petting zoo, antique barn

Dine at: Rockome Restaurant

Requisite souvenirs: Jars of pickled beet eggs and apple butter

The Chicago Tribune says: “Rockome Gardens, a quirky theme park near this Downstate Amish community, once featured a live chicken that would play a toy piano with its beak. The children who visited might have been reared on video games and MTV, but they were riveted by the attraction that cost a quarter. That is, until the company that trained the birds went out of business. Thankfully, the other old-time attractions survived. Visitors can ride in horse-drawn buggies, tour a ‘real Amish house’ as it might have appeared in the 1950s, or sit in an oversize rocking chair. Stone walls surround intricate gardens and a child-size house is fashioned from 7-Up bottles and concrete.”


Suoi Tien Park


Location: Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam

Theme: Buddhism

Imagine: Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon meets Mount Rushmore as envisioned by Salvador Dali ... and the Dalai Lama.

Admission: 50.000 VND, adult; 25.000 VND children (Less than $.01)

Queue up for: Dolphin Palace, Tien Dong Beach, Unicorn Palace, Crocodile Kingdom,

Dine at: Long Phung Restaurant

Requisite souvenir: Buddha Keychain

CNNGo.com says: “Vietnam’s spiritual history is Disneyfied in this 100-hectare park, built in 1995 and now undergoing a VND $1 trillion expansion. Children frolic under a giant waterfall shaped like an emperor’s face, water streaming from his nose and chin. Rainbow phoenixes and happy Buddhas populate Heaven, while the opposite end has a boat ride through the realms of Hell. If the bloody heads aren’t alarming enough, there’s always the 'cave of innumerable bats' and air bike suspended over a 'farm of 1,500 crocodiles.'”


Hacienda Napoles


Location: Puerto Triunfo, Colombia

Theme: Remembering murderous drug kingpin/folk hero Pablo Escobar through exotic animals.

Imagine: The San Diego Zoo meets “Scarface”

Admission: $24

Queue up for: Vanessa the hippopotamus, horseback riding, concrete dinosaurs, “anti-crime museum”

Dine on: Helado at one of the estate’s numerous snack bars

Requisite souvenirs: Fake mustache, commemorative spoon

NPR says: “Jungle music piped from loudspeakers greets visitors to the theme park. They pass through an archway mounted with an old plane: the Cessna that carried Escobar's first load of cocaine to the United States.”



Location: Pigeon Forge, Tenn.

Theme: Curvy country music songstress Dolly Parton and her Great Smoky Mountain upbringing.

Imagine: Busch Gardens meets “Deliverance”

Admission: $57, regular (ages 12-15); $45.80, child (ages 4-11)

Queue up for: Smoky Mountain River Rampage, Tennessee Tornado, Robert F. Thomas Chapel

Dine at: Granny Ogle’s Ham 'n' Beans, Miss Lillian’s Chicken House, pork rinds kiosk

Requisite souvenirs: "I Will Always Love You" Christmas ornament, Civil War cap pistol

The Economist says: “People do not fly to Dollywood; they drive there in big cars full of squabbling children. East Coast accents, let alone foreign ones, are rare. The park is thus an excellent window on what people in this part of the American heartland like. One thing they appear to like a lot is their country. The Liberty gift shop sells a staggering array of patriotic paraphernalia. You can buy a stars-and-stripes-decorated statuette of the Liberty Bell with an eagle perched on it. There are CDs of Ms. Parton, also in red, white and blue, singing ‘God bless the USA,’ and ‘My mom is a soldier’ photo frames for kids whose mothers are in Iraq. The park even has a sanctuary for bald eagles injured in the wild.”


Window of the World

Location: Shenzhen, China

Theme: Tourism without having to travel — Window of the World features the miniaturized replicas of over 130 tourist attractions from around the globe packed into the park’s 480,000 square meters.

Imagine: It’s a Small, Small World meets the Las Vegas Strip

Admission: $18

Queue up for: Grand Canyon Adventure Rafting, Alps Ice and Snow World, Fuji 4D Cinema.

Dine at: Numerous, international-themed in-park cafés

Requisite souvenir: No particular item, although we imagine that a visit to Window of the World would make for the most disorienting souvenir-shopping experience ever.

The Daily Mail says: “The park in China's Guangdong province has been providing a scaled-down site seeing experience since it opened its hobbit-sized doors in 1994. The landscape is crazily populated by randomly distributed miniature world class monuments, many of which are world heritage sites in their full-sized incantations.”


Popeye Village (Sweethaven Village)

Location: Anchor Bay, Malta Theme: Large-forearmed spinach enthusiast and corncob pipe smoker, Popeye the Sailor Man

Imagine: A Mediterranean beach club meets the eye-poppingly rustic film set of the 1980 Robert Altman-directed musical flop, “Popeye” (because it was built for the movie).

Admission: Summer rates: $18 adults; children, $14. Entrance to adjacent fun park is free.

Queue up for: Water trampolines, puppet shows, wine tastings, silversmith demonstrations

Dine at: Seafarers Snack Bar (unclear if spinach and Wimpy-endorsed hamburgers are served)

Requisite souvenir: Temporary anchor tattoo

The Malta Independent says: “Moreover, there are animation shows, a splash pool with slides for kiddies, a swimming pool and a sunbathing area for adults ... A family could easily enjoy an entire day. Furthermore, Popeye Village is used as an educational attraction for school-children, locals and tourists, welcomes conference and incentive business through lunches, dinners and team-building events, and organises parties of all kinds.”

Click for photo credits

Photo credits:

England: Dickens World

Denmark: BonBon-Land

Lithuania: Grūto Parkas

Florida: Rob Sheridan/Flickr Illinois: Musebrarian/Flickr

Vietnam: vuongat/Flickr

Colombia: XalD/Wikimedia Commons

Tennessee: timlovesbrian/Flickr

Shenzhen, China: Szy mon Kochanski/Flickr

Malta: Kev Allen/Flickr