The List

The Not-So-Magic Kingdoms

Forget Disney. If Barack Obama wants to know where the world goes to play, here are five global theme parks he should visit.

President Barack Obama was down in the soon-to-be electoral hotbed of Florida on Jan. 19, giving a speech at Walt Disney World, in which he outlined a plan to make it easier for international visitors from countries like Brazil to spend money in the United States. But Walt Disney World is so, well, the land of yesteryear. We at Foreign Policy, with the help of theme park expert Stefan Zwanzger, have compiled a list of the five world parks that Obama should visit for the future.

DISNEY SEA, Tokyo, Japan

"This the best theme park in the world! It has a Jules Verne-inspired volcano ride that is both retro and futuristic, a Tower of Terror better than [the one] in the United States of America, and an impeccable love for detail in theme and composition of the attractions," says Zwanzger, who visited in February 2008 and July 2009. He also notes that the park featured an Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull ride six years before the corresponding movie was actually shot, featuring a surprisingly life-like tornado. "The atmosphere everywhere, the eye for detail, and the evidence of a real budget make me wish I could buy property inside the park and live there," he says. The 21st century belongs to Asia, and Obama could come and literally bow to the inevitable.

ERAM PARK, Tehran, Iran

"I've been to more than 150 theme parks and this park featured the worst roller coaster I've sat in so far. A local industry source told me later that the ride manufacturer himself was killed while working on it," says Zwanzger, who visited in September 2011. "This coaster must feel like living in Iran today. It doesn't kill you, but it is genuinely uncomfortable and, in the long term, not really healthy." The park also hosts two fun fairs at opposite ends, a zoo in the middle, other rusty amusement rides like carousels, bumper cars, and Ferris wheels. Of course, Obama has no plans to visit Tehran anytime soon, but what better way to empathize with the sub-standard entertainment Iranians have to suffer on a daily basis?

WONDERLAND, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

"Built in the center of Dubai, yet this park remains off the tourist circuit. I've never seen any cars in the parking lot," says Zwanzger, who nonetheless visited in December 2007 and October 2008. "There are always 5 to 10 times more employees in the park than there are guests. Come during the week and the staff will be all busy estimating which ride they should switch on for you," says Zwanzger. Obama may not need the royal treatment, but he'd get it here.


What would be "an exceptionally promising major theme park venture," according to Zwanzger, who visited in November 2011, for now is just a dusty field. The $1.5 billion Paramount amusement park is slated to include rides based on the movies Mission Impossible and Titanic. That is, if the country doesn't run out of money first; Moody's just downgraded Spain's credit rating and the International Monetary Fund predicts the country's gross domestic product will contract 1.7 percent in 2012 and 0.3 percent in 2013, hardly a good environment in which to build an amusement park. For those who argue that the president hasn't paid enough attention to Europe, here's a U.S.-based company that's trying to inject a bit of life back into the continent.


The U.S. influence spreads far and wide. When Zwanzger visited in September 2011, he saw a river rapids ride (not in operation), a flume ride through a mountain (not in operation), an indoor attraction with animatronics depicting local fairy tales (in operation, and not bad), and a show arena (with no shows). What does seem to work is this mural of Lady Liberty. Obama can take pride at this beacon of American democracy -- even in this particularly corrupt corner of Central Asia, ruled by president (and mouthful) Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov


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