Stefan Zwanzger is obsessed with theme parks. From Africa to Russia, New Zealand and, of course, North America, he has been to over 200 and charted and rated them on his website The Theme Park Guy. He tells suitcases&strollers what fuels this passion for the tacky architecture and ridiculously frightening rides and which are the best theme parks for kids.
Why this obsession with theme parks?
They are pedestrian places totally dedicated to happiness, [whether it] be for families, thrill-seeking teens or lovers of architecture and engineering. That's fascinating, isn't it?
Aren’t theme parks just for kids? What do you, a grown man without children, get out of them?
A day without cars. Happy faces all around. The engineering and design marvels found at the Disney and Universal parks. The quality of storytelling and surprises in some of the cutting edge theme park rides. [For more on what makes Disneylands such special theme parks for kids, see the suitcases&strollers story Why Disneyland?]
Some might argue that theme parks are over-priced tourist traps just selling commercialism and consumerism.
Gargantuan shopping malls are tourist traps selling commercialism and consumerism, not theme parks. Theme parks are under-priced. Some can take 10 years to break even, even Disney parks. So you could call them a gift by investors and governments to the community.
What makes a good theme park versus a bad theme park?
The quality of the theming and the amount of creativity that went into the rides are the main factors for me. Whether a roller coaster makes your body release endorphins or vomit also plays a role.
Which is your favourite theme park in the world?
DisneySea in Tokyo, Japan. It's the most beautifully and meticulously designed theme park in the world with an amazing selection of rides. [For more on Tokyo DisneySea, see the suitcases&strollers story Theme Parks In Asia.]
Which is the most unusual or interesting theme park you’ve been to?
Tropical Islands close to Berlin, Germany, a themed water park built inside a giant hangar originally intended for producing cargo airships. This is how a theme park on a Mars colony would probably look.
What is the optimal age to start taking kids to theme parks?
I think at age 6 or 7 they start to have a really conscious, good time at Disneyland. But since I don't have any yet, ask me again in 10 years. [For more on the Disney theme parks, see the suitcases&strollers stories Disneyland Paris and Walt Disney World Florida Insider.]
Is there an age when kids are too young for theme parks?
There is a natural [age barrier] since below a certain body size they can't be restrained in the rides. LEGOLAND and KidZania do a good job of catering to families with really young kids and designing rides around them.
How should parents choose the right theme park to suit their family?
My reviews on thethemeparkguy.com! And [my other website] themetours.com, where you can organise trips and save some serious money while booking. I have put together all the tools on it that I used for my own theme park travels over the last six years.
Which are the top 3 must-visit theme parks?
Tokyo DisneySea in Japan. It's the most meticulously designed theme park in the world. [I also like] Universal's Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Florida and Atlantis Paradise Island in Nassau, The Bahamas.
Images: Theme Park Guy; Tropical Islands