TODAY   |  May 23, 2013

Americans’ love affair with amusement parks

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.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> 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.

>> unbelievable.

>> 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