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Americans’ love affair with amusement parks

May 23, 2013 at 3:37 PM ET

Video: The inspiration for modern amusement parks is said to have come from the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893; Americans have been flocking to parks ever since. TODAY’s Natalie Morales reports on why theme parks have become an American tradition.

The rides, the food, the adventure! Summer just wouldn’t be the same for most Americans without a thrilling, sugar-filled, shriek-inducing visit to an amusement park.

TODAY’s Natalie Morales found out there are more than 400 amusement and theme parks across the country, attracting 300 million visitors a year and generating $12 billion.

But how did we get here? The 1893 Chicago World’s Fair is said to have inspired the entertainment meccas we flock to today, complete with a modern marvel at the time -- the Ferris wheel. Coney Island opened just a few years later.

“Nostalgia is a huge part of why Americans keep on flocking back to amusement parks. They’re real-life time machines,” said Nilou Motamed, features director for Travel+Leisure.

“(But) these days, amusement parks are all about outdoing the last one. Can it go higher? Can it go faster? Can it propel you into the air more dramatically?”

Eager to experience more than just roller coasters, visitors now expect high-tech thrills at amusement parks, including 3-D worlds. Personal encounters with popular characters, like Spiderman and Harry Potter, are also a big part of the fun.

No wonder Orlando, Fla., with its collection of theme parks, is one of America’s top destinations: 56 million people flock to the city each year.

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