Today, in our next to last entry of the most essential theme park in every state in the nation, we traverse the American Southeast. It has been a considerable endeavor, as we’re seduced by every defunct theme park we come across (which isn’t the assignment, strictly speaking). This is why you’ll see a lot of entries that do double duty as a recommendation for an existing theme park and a celebration of one from the past. But we genuinely believe that an important part of the appeal of theme parks, in general, is their tie to nostalgia and history.
To pick our favorites, we had to figure out what is truly essential when it comes to theme parks. We don’t think having the best or newest coaster is essential, nor do we think being essential is the same as “the best.” Instead, our focus is on properties that are unlike any other in the state and therefore demand a spot on your travel list. We want to shout out those places that are fun and surprising and special. We believe every entry you are about to read fits the bill.
So take a peek at our picks for the Southeast, and then hop in the comments and tell us about the theme parks you find essential. There’s no wrong answer, and we love learning about the theme parks that have thrilled you, delighted you, and made you vomit because of the-super-fast-roller-coaster-and-cotton-candy-and-three-corndogs.
Virginia: Dinosaur Kingdom II (Natural Bridge)
You’re probably catching on to the fact that we consider things essential when they are singular oddities, and there is literally not a stranger theme park on this list than our pick for the lovely state of Virginia. If you are not familiar with Dinosaur Kingdom II, strap in and hold on.
The year is 1863, and a Southern family of paleontologists has discovered a valley filled with living dinos. The Garrison family are overjoyed and begin quietly and peacefully observing the dinosaurs…until the Union Army discovers what is happening under their very noses. Their response? Take control of the creatures as powerful weapons and use them against the South. But it is a terrible flipping plan and the Yankees are boned.
Yeah. It’s weird. And being all “revisionist history” about the Civil War is only fun until you realize the horrifying implications.
If you can suspend your disbelief, Artist Mark Cline is the man behind this theme park and Foamhenge, Professor Cline’s Haunted Monster Museum, and Dinosaur Kingdom, and his work should never ever be confused with Virginia’s other (decidedly more normal) dinosaur park, Dinosaur Land, because this park is whacky pants.
Prepare to be given a guided tour along a path punctuated by scenes of Yankees at the claws of the huge predators. And their defeats are damn bloody and often quite strange. But, for our money, the Civil War death by dino is less weird than Cyborg Stonewall Jackson. Oh yes, that happens too.