TODAY | May 23, 2013
>>> and welcome back to today's great american adventure , we're here at universal orlando resort . orlando is one of america's top vacation destinations, 56 million people visit this town every year.
>> most of them come, the main reason --
>> theme parks . exactly. there are incredible rides. everything from "despicable me," rocket roller coaster back here. but the reason really people coming back to these places is good old family fun.
>> wally world , here we come.
>> the family trek to the amusement parks truly american tradition. some say it's a right of passage.
>> first ones here.
>> almost everyone has a favorite part of the park.
>> i love roller coasters .
>> i like the funnel cakes . funnel cakes are good.
>> the adventure.
>> seeing it through their eyes.
>> but more than 400 amusement and theme parks across the country, it's not just fun and games , it's big business . the industry generates approximately $12 billion from the nearly 300 million people who visit u.s. parks each year. americans have been flocking to amusement parks for over a century. inspiration for the modern parks we know today is said to have come from the 1893 chicago world's fair.
>> that's what introduced the midway to the amusement industry, a walkway lined with rides and attractions. it's elaborate buildings and use of electric lighting was a foreshadow to today's big theme parks .
>> the fair also introduced a modern marvel by an engineer named george ferris .
>> people would line up for hours to ride it.
>> a few years later, coney island opened the doors to the famous amusement park . with some more rudimentary entertainment, eventually adding its own ferris wheel . and while these classic rides are still entertaining thrill seekers, today's parks are so much more.
>> these days, amusement parks are all about outdoing the last one. can it go higher, faster, can it propel you into the air? more dramatically --
>> universal hopes to kick that drama up a notch with truly high-tech rides fully immersing guests in 3d worlds where they can get up close and personal with favorites like harry potter , spider-man and the soon to be opened transformer. spread across 107 acres, the resort features 26 rides, 150-foot drops, one water park , 16 dinosaurs, 24 simpsons characters , countless minions, three hotels, 76 restaurants, and a whole lot of this.
>> nostalgia is a huge part of why they're flocking back. the look you get on a 6-year-old's face the first time they go on a roller coaster , that is a feeling we want to recreate every time we walk into