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Army, Air Force, and Navy Times....




Comedians aren't the only ones that take funny (and fun) business seriously. Amusement parks are in the business of creating fun environments for the entire family and statistics show they succeed in a big (and fun) way.

While economic conditions in the Armed Forces and around the world today may vary, the pursuit of enjoyment during leave and other time off remains constant. Today's busy military families are turning out in record numbers at affordable entertainment destinations and mega-theme parks worldwide, finding a mini-vacation at an amusement park can be as fun as a longer trip to some exotic land.

"Amusement parks and entertainment attractions provide convenient, affordable, and enriching vacation experiences," says Gena Romano, current president of the International Association of Amusement Parks & Attractions (IAAPA), as well as Nellie Bly Park in Brooklyn, New York. "The amusement industry strives to appeal to a broad range of consumers by offering everything from major theme parks to water parks to miniature golf courses and family entertainment centers."

To bolster new and repeat visitors, park operators are always adding enticing new rides, themes, games, entertainment, educational and cultural events, and varied culinary delights. These are not your parents' ferris wheels or food items anymore.

Figures reported by Amusement Business magazine for last year show record growth in amusement park attendance and spending. More than 280 million people flocked to more than 600 amusement parks and attractions in the U.S. alone, creating revenues of more than $6 billion. Of course, the likes of Disney, Six Flags, Busch, Universal, and Paramount led the way, with multi-million attendance at their parks. These parks just keep getting bigger, better, and more popular every year.

However, smaller park chains like Premier Parks, Cedar Fair, and Silver Dollar City also hosted millions at their varied parks throughout the U.S., with attractions like several Waterwold USA attractions in California, Cedar Point in Sanduskey, Ohio, Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and White Water parks in Branson and Marietta, Georgia. In addition, independent Hersheypark, Knott's Berry Farm and Knott's Camp Snoopy, and Grand Slam Canyon also topped the worldwide top 50 list.

Even smaller parks attract big-time numbers from near and far. Some of the varied options include: Opryland in Nashville; Casino Pier in Seaside Heights, New Jersey; Darine Lake in Darien Center, New York; Valleyfairi in Shakopee, Minnesota; Geauga Lake in Aurora, Ohip; Lagoon in Farmington, New York; Planyland Park in Rye, New York; Morey's Pier in Wildwood, New Jersey; Knoebels Amusement Park in Etysburg, Pennsylvania; Mariner's Landing in Wildwood, New Jersey; and Elitch Gardens in Denver. Family entertainment centers, miniature golf, waterparks, games and arcades, animal shows, special effects attractions, and many other possibilities add to the mix.

Waterparks are a big part of the amusement park boom. Record attendance is in the drink at Orlando's Wet 'n Wild, Typhoon Lagoon, and Blizzard Beach; Schlitterbahn, Six Flags Wet 'n Wild, and Six Flags Waterworld in Texas; Raging Waters and Wild Rivers in Califonia; and Water Country USA in Virginia.

But water-oriented parks don't have to be big to be fun...the two oldest marine parks in the world are still open in Florida's St. Augustine and Marathon in the Florida Keys. This is a business and attraction where it's okay to be all wet.

Of course, roller coasters are still a prime amusement park draw. Last year, IAAPA and the American Coaster Enthusiasts (ACE) promoted a worldwide celebration called "The International Year of the Roller Coaster." The year saw a record number of 70 roller coaster openings worldwide (26 in North America). In April, the world's tallest, fastest, and most twisted inverted roller coaster in the world opened at Virginia's Busch Gardens Williamsburg. Called Alpengeist, it's 195 feet tall, goes 67 miles per hour, and has the world's largest vertical loop (106 feet) and largest vertical drop (170 feet). This breaks world records in all four categories.

But there's a coaster for every enthusiast, including gently rolling family rides and clackety old-feel new construction wooden coasters. Family entertainment centers and even Las Vegas gaming resorts are installing soft coasters and indoor activity centers to attract vacationing families.

But big drops and lots of water aren't just for North America, as the growth of amusement parks worldwide has meant more fun for globetrotting military members stationed overseas. IAAPA membership comes from 72 countries throughout Europe, Asia, and South America, comprising more than 30% of its membership.

A few of the many top amusement and theme parks outside the U.S. include: Japan's Disneyland and Sea Paradise; Korea's Everland and Lotte World; Hong Kong's Ocean Park; France's Disneyland; England's Pleasure Beach; Denmark's Tivoli Gardens; Germany's Europa Park; Mexico City's Chapultepec; and Brazil's Playcenter. Overseas attendance at Disney parks alone topped an incredible 28 million people and Tokyo Disneyland was the most-attended park in the world, with a record 16,980,000 visitors.

Another big development is the combination of resorts and amusement parks into one attraction. This can be seen at several Las Vegas resorts, where families are drawn to the all-in-one concept, as well as many other destinations worldwide.

It can also be seen in a big way at Atlantis on Paradise Island, located in The Bahamas just off the coast of southeast Florida. Is it a resort or is it an amusement park? It's a little (actually a lot) of both. It's seemingly a hint of things to come worldwide, as resorts and amusement parks (or combinations of the two) vie for entertainment dollars.

Atlantis was the most expensive resort development ever attempted in The Bahamas, opening on December 22, 1994 with something no other resort can claim--a living, 3.2 million-gallon saltwater habitat, the largest outdoor open-air aquarium in the world. It's the calling card of this $250 million combination Sun International resort/amusement park that melds the 14-acre "Waterscape" with a grand 1,870-room (and growing) hotel, casino, and conference center complex.

Whether just around the corner, just off Florida, or around the world, amusement parks can mean a choice of fun for families. Just pick you place of pleasure!