There are four Diggerlands now in the UK — in Kent, Devon, Durham, and Yorkshire — and one in the United States at West Berlin, New Jersey. It’s the place to go to if you’ve ever walked past a construction site and wished you could have a go at driving a digger or a JCB. You can drive dumper trucks, use a six-tonne digger, have a go on a Monster JCB 3X, and watch JCB racing in the summer months. The first Diggerland was started in 2000 by Hugh Edeleanu, chairman of the leading JCB hire company in Europe. 20,000 people visited in the first year alone.
If machinery isn’t your thing, then how about Stalinism? Grūtas Park, southwest of Vilnius in Lithuania, is a theme park full of statues of old Soviet leaders and features taken from Siberian Gulags. Guard towers, barbed wire fencing, and 86 statues of the likes of Lenin, Stalin, and Marx are used to demonstrate the ideology of the USSR that — so the website says — suppressed the spirits of Lithuanians for years. Founded in 2009 by Viliumas Malinauskas, the park has proved controversial.
Grūtas Park, Gruto k, Druskininku r.66441, Lithuania +370 313 55511
Haw Par Villa
On the surface Haw Par Villa is a park full of statues and tableaux that depict scenes from Chinese mythology and folklore. That mythology, however, involves severed heads, bizarre demonic figures, human heads on the bodies of crabs, and frogs riding about on ostriches. Founded in 1937, Haw Par Villa was hugely popular in the 1970s among local families. In the Ten Courts of Hell display you’ll see sins and the punishments they deserve; people are hit with mallets, girls are thrown into mounds of blades, spikes pierce the flesh, and one poor malfeasant is tied to a pole and his intestines are pulled out.
Haw Par Villa, 262 Pasir Panjang Rd, Singapore +65 6736 6622
BonBon-Land will appeal to fans of scatological humor, while the rest of us are left scratching our heads wondering what the appeal is. Based in Holme Olstrup in Denmark, the park is an offshoot of the BonBon confectioners who made sweets with enticing names like Ear Wax, Dog Fart, and Seagull Droppings. In 1992, a theme park was opened with rides and sculptures of various creatures urinating and defecating. The main ride is the ‘Dog Fart Switchback’ which takes visitors over simulated piles of dog excrement while a giant sculpture of a dog with cocked leg emits fart sounds.
BonBon-Land, Gartnervej 2, 4684 Holmegaard, Denmark +45 5553 0700
The Holy Land Experience
From the profane to the sacred; The Holy Land Experience in Orlando, Florida, is a Christian theme park in which you can see scenes from 1st century Judaea re-enacted. The Great Temple, the Garden Tomb, and the Qumran Caves are some of the sites that have been reconstructed. Here, you can see events from Biblical history replayed, like the miracles of Christ, the Last Supper, and the Crucifixion. On top of that, there is a biblical study center, exhibitions of ancient scrolls, and church services are held at the theme park.
The Holy Land Experience, 4655 Vineland Rd, Orlando, FL, USA +1 407 872 2272
On Jeju Island in South Korea is what the Huffington Post calls ‘the world’s kinkiest theme park’. Love Land is dedicated to sex and eroticism, with sculptures of figures in various lovemaking positions, huge phalluses, and sculpted labia on show created by art students in Seoul. The theme park was set up in 2004, but the island has long been a honeymoon location for Koreans.
Anyone who’s into history will probably know that life in Victorian England for most was nasty, brutish, and short. Cities and towns were dark, miserable, and disease-ridden places. Dickens World is a recreation this era — or rather a heavily sanitized version of it — which formed the backdrop to the works of the novelist Charles Dickens. Opened in 2007 at Chatham Dockyard — Dickens once lived nearby — you can wander about through alleyways and streets and talk to the costumed staff about life in Victorian England.
Dickens World, Leviathan Way, Chatham, Medway, Kent, UK +44 0844 858 6656
If you liked the sound of a theme park filled with the relics of the gulag then you should also check out the Soviet Bunker in the forests of Nemencine in Lithuania. There you get the full Soviet-era experience, Isgyvenimo Drama or ‘Survival Drama’, in a bunker formerly used to house troops. You’re transported back to 1984, and on entry you relinquish all personal belongings to the guards. Then you’ll try out gas masks, eat Soviet food, learn the Soviet anthem, and be subjected to serious interrogation by ex-army questioners.
Isgyvenimo Drama, Nemencine, Vilnius County, Lithuania +370 614 48798
Also known as the ‘Kingdom of the Little People’, or The World Eco Garden of Butterflies and the Dwarf Empire. Based in Yunnan Province in China, the Dwarf Empire is both unusual and controversial. To many it’s no more than a human safari where 100 dwarves carry out daily performances for paying visitors. Ballet, qigong, and dance routines are put on by dwarves who live in the park under an ‘emperor’. But what seems like exploitation is also known to provide a feeling of community for those who work in the park and gives paid work which would be otherwise hard to find in China.
Dwarf Empire, Jiaomu Village, Kunming, China +86 0871 12301
In Oita Prefecture on Kyushu in Japan you’ll find Harmonyland, a theme park dedicated to the characters associated with the products of the Sanrio Company. They epitomise the Japanese culture of cuteness; the best known is Hello Kitty. At Harmonyland you can watch live shows with life-size versions of the characters Hello Kitty, My Melody, and Cinnamon, go on rides, explore Kitty Castle, and build your own robot Kitty.
Set to open later this year, Ark Encounter in Williamstown, Kentucky, is a full-size replica of Noah’s Ark, 510 feet long and big enough to hold 10,000 people. It will be the largest wooden structure in the world when complete and will hold displays of how Noah lived aboard the ark and how the animals were packed in. You can probably tell Ark Encounter is being built by a fundamentalist Christian non-profit organisation, AIG, at a cost of $92 million. AIG also runs the Creation Museum in Hebron.
Ark Encounter, Ark Encounter Dr, Williamsburg, KY, USA +1 855 284 3275
Republic of the Children
This curious park in Argentina was the inspiration for Disneyland after Walt Disney paid a visit in 1950. Located in La Plata in Buenos Aires Province and opened by the generalissimo Juan Peron, the Republic of the Children is an entire city built in miniature. There’s everything here that you’d expect to find in a city — parliament buildings, stations, an airport, and churches, all on a smaller scale for children. You can ride around on a narrow-gauge railway to get round the site, which was formerly a golf course.
The Parque EcoAlberto is a theme park that offers a unique experience — you’ll find out what it’s like to illegally cross the Mexican-American border. That means four nights of hiking out in the open and hiding from authorities in a simulated crossing. It’s all run by Native Americans to create new jobs for locals and to deter others from trying to head to America as so many communities are being damaged by men abandoning Mexico for the States.
Napoleonland is planned to open in 2017, though progress levels are a little mysterious. Napoleonland is the brainchild of the French politician Yves Jego and will be located at Montereau-Fault-Yonne south of Paris, scene of one of Napoleon’s last victories in 1814. The theme park will be dedicated to Bonaparte and feature re-enactments of battles and of the guillotining of Louis XVI, museums, and, most bizarrely, a ski run through a field covered in the corpses of fallen soldiers.
Napoleonland, 77580 Crecy-la-Chappelle, Paris, France +33 1 61 10 02 23
Weeki Wachee Springs
Weeki Wachee — or ‘The City of Live Mermaids’, as it’s sometimes known — is where the sirens of classical mythology come to life on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Once Weeki Wachee was just a freshwater spring, until former navy diving instructor Newton Perry set up live mermaid shows with an underwater theater built 16 feet below the earth’s surface. The mermaids are trained divers who use air hoses hidden in the underwater scenery. They still perform a daily mix of shows, and rides, water slides, and wildlife shows are also put on at the Springs.
Weeki Wachee Springs, 6131 Commercial Way, Weeki Wachee, FL, USA +1 352 592 5656