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8 Odd Theme Parks

Disneyland not doing it for you anymore? How about visiting a Charles Dickens theme park, or an all-you-can-eat chocolate paradise instead? Indulge in the unusual, take a step off the beaten path, and check out the world’s strangest theme parks.

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1. Dollywood, Tennessee

Tennessee’s Dollywood is a testament to the unpredictable weather of the region, with rides named Barnstormer, Timber Tower, and Tennessee Tornado, which takes screaming patrons down a 128-foot drop in ore cars. There are also water rides to cool you down, like Daredevil Falls, which features a river escape from spinning saw blades concluded with a refreshing plunge into logjam-filled waters.

Dollywood is also a testament to anyone who’s ever dreamed of naming a place after themselves. Any guesses? Dollywood is owned by none other than famed country singer Dolly Parton! Dolly grew up in Tennessee and even installed a full-time chaplain who leads Sunday morning church services at the park’s chapel.

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2. Dig This, Las Vegas

Vegas was never meant to appeal to kids, but Dig This, just minutes from the strip, will have your inner child running to get in line. The brainchild of New Zealand home renovator Ed Mumm, Dig This is a five-acre sandbox filled with mammoth heavy machinery for you to pilot!

Although you only have to be over 4-feet tall and 14 years of age to drive one these giant earth moving machines, it’s unlikely that any teen could afford to drop $400 to “Dig Big” (the park’s standard three-hour activity offer).

Park admission comes complete with a one-hour training and safety orientation and a Certificate of Accomplishment to show-off that you’ve successfully maneuvered a big yellow monster. (Photo courtesy of Dig This)

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3. Dickens World, England

Who knew that visiting industrial-era England wouldn’t be the worst of times but instead fulfill your great expectations?

Enter the courtyard of Dickens World, where you’ll be immersed in the dreary 1800s, complete with hard cobblestone, gaslight streetlamps and a host of lively costumed characters straight from the pages of Charles Dickens’ greatest works.

Visit the damp and dark corridors of Marshalsea Prison, negotiate your price for a photograph (of yourself!) at Peerybingle’s Pawnbrokers, or go for a boat ride with Dickens’ famous criminal, Magwitch, through London’s ominous sewers.

To get a sense of the dark décor and mood of the park check out the The Hoosiers’ music video “Cops and Robbers”, which was filmed at Dickens World. (Photo courtesy of Dickens World)

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4. 1984 Išgyvenimo Drama (Soviet Bunker), Lithuania

For 75 euros ($105) you can visit 1984 Išgyvenimo Drama, a museum fashioned after a Soviet-era bunker in Vilinus, Lithuania. As part of the experience, visitors are treated to a three-hour long experience that includes a “Drama of Survival” performance (starring six actors and a “wolf-dog”), a friendly (though militant) costumed guide, and a tour through the Communist underworld.

Sights include political landmarks like a real KGB interrogation room, Soviet jail cell, a first-aid station (with a real teeth-drilling machine) and a Soviet citizen’s sleeping quarters and latrine.

By the time you’re through, you’ll be looking forward to the stiff drink and authentic Slavic lunch included with your ticket. A bunker party in the canteen, or on the forest floor in an enclosed tank area, takes place at the end of the journey. A great way to celebrate the end of oppressive rule, da? (Photo courtesy of Bunkeris® and sovietbunker.com)

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5. Holiday World, Indiana

If you think a place called Santa Claus, Indiana would be an obvious location for a children’s theme park, you’d be right.

Louis J. Koch built Santa Claus Land in 1946 for all the disappointed children who visited the town expecting to meet Santa. 65 years later, Santa Claus Land is not only a huge success, but has expanded into what is now known as Holiday World.

While visitors can still sit on Santa’s knee like they did in 1946, today they can also try the water park, rollercoasters, and the Fourth of July, Halloween and Thanksgiving pavilions.

Best of all, the park is an award winner. It nabbed six highly prized Golden Ticket Awards last year, including best wooden roller coaster, best new ride, and best overall water park ride – the Wildebeast

Oddly enough, despite messy holiday traditions, the park was also named 2010’s Friendliest and Cleanest, perhaps as an ironic reminder about what holidays are really all about: family fun and always remembering to clean up after yourself. (Photo courtesy of Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari)

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6. Republica de Los Ninos, Argentina

Argentina’s Republica de Los Ninos (Children’s Republic) is the nation’s equivalent to Disneyland. The twist? Rather than cartoon whimsy and fairytale princesses, this park’s theme encourages children to partake in a real-world republic.

Built in the 1950s, during Juan and Eva Peron’s reign, the park was intended as a place of learning and not childish entertainment. Behind its doors are kid-sized versions of citizenry must-haves, inspired by world landmarks like the Taj Mahal and the British Parliament.

The urban centre consists of buildings like an underground prison, a courthouse, and The Child City Bank (where each kid can take out a 50 pesos loan to pay their telephone bill). You can also mosey through the rural countryside and play some sports to take a break from all the democratic duties.

Entry will cost you $5, though it’s really a minor institutional obligation compared to the civic responsibilities that await you inside. (Photo courtesy of pablogrb/Flickr Creative Commons)

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7. Hersheypark, Pennsylvania

Hershey, PA, may truly be the sweetest place on earth. Not only is it the birthplace of the American chocolate bar, but it is also the home of Hersheypark.

Founded by Milton S. Hershey, the park originally served as a haven for workers in his chocolate factory. Today, you can enjoy chocolate-themed rides, meet giant Hershey’s kisses, and visit Hershey’s Chocolate World, where the whole family gets to taste free samples and discover how the yummy treats are made.

Hersheypark is a chocoholic’s dream – and every weak-willed diabetic’s nightmare (a pass for unlimited park indulgence costs $142, with a $10 discount for seniors.) (Photo courtesy of Hershey Entertainment & Resorts)

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8. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Florida

It wouldn’t be a list of the strange and unusual without mentioning Harry Potter, the most famous boy that never lived. Head to Orlando, Florida, where you’ll find The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, inspired by author J.K. Rowling’s famous universe.

The park’s greatest claim to fame may be its painstaking attention to detail. A massive, life-sized Hogwartz is the attraction’s crown jewel, complete with its panoramic view of the entire park from under its entrance arches.

Once inside, you can sample butterbeer, a frothy drink reminiscent of shortbread and butterscotch, at the Hog’s Head Pub, or have a wand choose you at Ollivanders.

You can also experience pulse-pounding rides like the Dragon Challenge, and Flight of the Hippogriff, or take an award winning hour-long tour of Hogwartz in Forbidden Journey.

While it costs $120 for admission, you’ll gain access to the rest of Universal Orlando Resort, and it’s a mere trifle compared to the Wizarding World’s rumoured $265 million price tag.  (Photo courtesy of © 2010 Universal Orlando Resort. All Rights Reserved.)