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World's Strangest Theme Parks

Holy Land Experience, Orlando, Florida

Philippe Lissac/Corbis

Mickey has one. Dolly Parton has one. Heck, even the Budweiser Clydesdales have theirs. So it should come as no surprise that Jesus has a theme park, too, right? The Holy Land Experience may be in Orlando, but Disney World it’s not; thousands visit the park–cum–living museum annually to witness reenactments of the Passion of Christ, the Last Supper, and the Virgin Birth—all set to music. Weird, you say? Not according to the faithful.

Whatever your interest or taste for fun, chances are there’s a theme park created with you in mind. And Holy Land aside, many of the odder options are located overseas. From re-created 19th-century Dickensian towns to an imagination of Buddhist heaven, offbeat theme parks offer insights into culture rarely found from hobnobbing with life-size characters or riding a run-of-the-mill Ferris wheel.

“Even if you’re seeking out the strange and delicious, theme parks always hold the potential for unique and memorable experiences,” says Gene Jeffers, the executive director of Themed Entertainment Association (TEA), an international organization that represents park creators.

If you’ve hit up all the SeaWorlds and Wisconsin Dells of the globe, why not take a trip to a make-believe town populated by little people? According to TEA, Asia has the fastest-growing theme-park market—with 77.6 million visitors for Asia’s top 15 parks alone. One of the region’s biggest recent openings was the 2009 blockbuster debut of Dwarf Empire, a hilltop park in southern China devoted to—and almost entirely staffed by—people under four feet tall. The park also gained worldwide media coverage for employing many of the country’s height-challenged, who traditionally have had a hard time finding work. Thanks to the park, many of China’s dwarves are now gainfully employed as everything from janitors to crown-wearing empresses.

Thrill-seeking families might prefer a rendezvous down under with some of the planet’s most majestic (and ferocious) creatures—crocodiles. At Crocosaurus Cove in Darwin, Australia, park-goers can see the reptiles up close in the Cage of Death, or choose to tease and taunt baby crocs the old-fashioned way—with bait.

So forget the roller coasters, magic castles, and fuzzy rodents, and tour our list of the world’s strangest theme parks—it’s a different kind of small world, after all.

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