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Theme Parks Lure With Summer Fun

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By Victor Block

In 1829, a Pennsylvania man named Henry Knoebel bought a small wooded area that he used for farming. Decades later, when roadside attractions were becoming popular, a creek-fed swimming hole and picnic area were added, and visitors could purchase snacks, ice cream and soft drinks.

Over time, this evolved into the Knoebels Amusement Resort, which continues to be operated by the members of the founding family. Along with more than 60 rides, it offers some unusual features, including two haunted houses and historic carousels that were constructed in 1910 and 1913, with music provided by organs dating back even earlier. Adding to the unexpected attractions are museums devoted to carousels, mining and history.

These welcome surprises would be worth a visit even without the traditional appeals of most amusement and theme parks. They offer added enjoyment to those seeking something more than the adrenaline rush provided by roller coasters and other thrill rides.

History also comes alive at other theme complexes such as Carousel Gardens Amusement Park in New Orleans City Park. Founded in 1854, it is home to the largest collection of mature live oak trees in the world, some more than 600 years old. The wooden carousel, which is more than a century old, is known as the Flying Horses.

Live animals vie with artificial creatures at some complexes. The Wild Safari Drive-Thru Adventure at Six Flags Great Adventure Theme Park in New Jersey is one of the largest self-guided trips of its kind outside of Africa. It allows guests driving their own cars to get an up-close view of more than 1,200 animals from around the globe.

 

Smaller representatives of the wildlife world await visitors who descend into the deepest cave in Missouri, where some 70,000 bats make the cavern their home. Osage Native Americans discovered the grotto in present-day Branson around 1500, and miners entered it in the late 1800s. Commercial cave tours began in 1894, and from that modest beginning evolved a destination that is known for fun and frivolity, exciting thrill rides and enticing entertainment options.

Those who take time to descend into Marvel Cave, formerly called the "Devil's Den," in Silver Dollar City come upon a 40-foot-high underground waterfall and massive 20-story-tall Cathedral Room. Human visitors are unlikely to spot the shy resident bats or endangered blind cave salamanders that live there.

Florida's animal life greets those who come to enjoy the Weeki Wachee family destination, which includes a state park, wildlife shows, manatee watching and mermaid performances. Water rides through the natural setting are available on tour boats and rental kayaks and paddleboards.

The setting is very different where venues mimic international towns, cities and countries. Guests at Walt Disney World in Florida have opportunities to virtually visit 11 nations at EPCOT Center. World Showcase Pavilions present the architecture, food, entertainment and other features of nations ranging from Canada, China and Japan to France, Germany and Italy.

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