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Worlds of Fun opened on May 26, 1973, at a cost of $10 million. It was situated at the northern edge of a vast industrial complex developed by Hunt in the bluffs above the Missouri River in Clay County, Missouri. Immediately south of the park is Hunt's SubTropolis underground business complex.
At the time, numerous modernization projects were transforming Kansas City including the opening of Kansas City International Airport, Bartle Hall and Kemper Arena. Lamar Hunt, seeking to capitalize on Kansas City's expansion, began construction on a new amusement park in 1969. The original plan featured Worlds of Fun as a side note attraction to the 500-acre (2.0 km2) entertainment and hotel corridor Hunt planned on creating. A lagging economy scaled down such grand plans.
In 1974, the first addition to Worlds of Fun was the 4000 seat Forum Amphitheater opened in the Europa section of the park. In 1976, a new section opened for America's Bicentennial called Bicentennial Square. The Screamroller coaster was also added to honor the 200th birthday of the nation. Three mascots also accompanied Worlds of Fun in the early days: Sam Panda, Gertrude Gorilla, and Dan'l Coon.
In 1982, ten years after Worlds of Fun's opening, Oceans of Fun (at the time the largest water park in the world) opened next door. However, it would take another ten years before the two parks were linked. Also a sub-world "River City" was opened in Americana bordering the Orient. The next year saw the Screamroller being transformed into Extremeroller the USA's first stand up roller coaster. Worlds of Fun ended the decade with a bang, with the addition of the Timber Wolf.
The 1990s would prove to be a decade of challenge, triumph, and struggle for Worlds of Fun. In 1995 Cedar Fair LP bought Worlds of Fun from Hunt Midwest, which took the park in a new direction. 1995 also was one of Worlds of Fun's most tragic years when a fatality occurred on the Timber Wolf (The first and only fatality at the park). The following years would see the removal of many original park rides, attractions, and thematic elements that made the park unique. But just as Hunt Midwest had ended the 1980s with the addition of a large attraction, Cedar Fair would close out the 1990s with the addition of Mamba, a D.H. Morgan Manufacturing steel hypercoaster.
2006: visitors soar with PATRIOT, the longest, tallest, and fastest full-circuit inverted roller coaster in the region, and the largest capital expenditure on a single attraction in the park’s history at over $14 million. Asylum Island is committed to Halloweekends.
2007: Serving wok-cooked Chinese favorites, Panda Express opens in the Orient section of the park. BloodShed and CarnEvil are added to Halloween Haunt.
2008: Worlds of Fun celebrates 35 years with the addition of the Celebrate America Festival, Oktoberfest, Cinnabon, a new shooting gallery. Mamba celebrates 10 years of thrills with special events throughout the season. Master McCarthy’s Doll Factory is added to Halloween Haunt
In September 2008, at "Coaster Mayhem" World's of Fun released the name, layout, and specs of its 7th roller coaster. "The Prowler" as it was named then opened in Spring 2009.
2009: PROWLER, a beast of a wooden coaster, is added to the Africa section of the park. This incredible ride hugs the wooded terrain below. Subway, serving fresh sandwiches, opens in the Americana section of the park. The Lift, a teen focused apparel store, opens in Scandinavia along with Tyke Town Cafe. Halloween Haunt expands with Club Blood and Overlords Awakening. Later that year, Prowler received the Golden Ticket Award for "Best New Ride Of 2009" by Amusement Today magazine.
2010: Snoopy's Hot Summer Lights, a $1 million immersive light and sound experience, opens in the Europa and Africa sections of the park. Subway opens at Oceans of Fun. Corn Stalkers is added to Halloween Haunt.
2011: Planet Snoopy, an $8 million expansion and one of the country's finest family areas, is added to Worlds of Fun, with over 20 rides and attractions in total. An Illions classic and one of the finest carousels in the world, The Grand Carousel is added to the Scandinavia section of the park. The carousel is now one of only two of its kind operating in the world. London Terror is added to Halloween Haunt.
2012: The park announced a number of general improvements to the park, including the refurbishment and relocation of the existing children's coaster "The Wacky Worm" to the entrance of Planet Snoopy. The coaster was rethemed to a space-ship theme and renamed "Cosmic Coaster." The park, along with all parks in the Cedar Fair chain, also introduced a "front of the line" premium ticket system called "Fast Lane," along with a number of ADA wheelchair accessibility improvements and several new food and retail shops.
2013: Oceans of Fun will receive six new water slides and no longer be separately gated. It will be included with admission to Worlds of Fun. Worlds of Fun will also switch from Pepsi to Coca-Cola as the official soft drink provider of the park.
2014: WindSeeker – a 301 ft Mondial swing ride at Knott's Berry Farm – will be renamed SteelHawk and moved to Worlds of Fun for the 2014 season, making it the park's tallest ride.
The park is themed around the Jules Verne book, Around the World in Eighty Days. Worlds of Fun is divided into five major sections (Scandinavia, Africa, Europa, the Orient, and Americana). Rides, attractions, shops, shows, and restaurants are named according to the area theme. Guests enter the park in Scandinavia. In 1997 the Americana "main entrance" was closed for the creation of Grand Prix, so the "back gate" became the "main gate" ever since. The next world to the left is Africa, continuing in a clockwise roation, guest would then enter the Americana section, followed by the Orient. The Europa section is located in the approximate center of the circle.
Within Americana, lies the sub-section of Planet Snoopy (the area of the park specifically for young children). Originally added in 1978 as an expansion of Americana, over the years the grounds have changed its identity several times. Initially it was called "Aerodrome" (1978–86) with futuristic rides for adults, it then became a children's area called "Pandamonium!" (1987–97), then "Berenstain Bear Country" (1997–2000), and "Camp Snoopy" (2001–2010), and is currently "Planet Snoopy", new to the 2011 season. Past sub-sections have also included Bicentennial Square, River City, and Beat Street, which all have been absorbed back into Americana.
Despite the lack of an Australian/Oceanic section, the Australian-themed Boomerang roller coaster is incorporated into Africa.
Schussboomer (picture), (1973–1984), a ski-themed steel roller coaster with ten separate 4-passenger cars.
Screamroller/Extremeroller , (1976–1988), the first stand-up roller coaster in the Western Hemisphere. Its only season as a stand-up coaster was in 1983, after which it was reverted to the original sit-down style.
Incred-O-Dome, (1981–1997), an OMNIMAX-style theater where viewers could go on a virtual ride of, among other things, the Orient Express coaster. This appealed to visitors who did not want to wait in line or experience the real ride, as well as those with physical conditions which would prevent them from riding at all. The show was presented less than 200 yards (180 m) away from the actual ride.
Omegatron, (1986–2001), a six-story, upside-down thrill ride.
Orient Express, (1980–2003), the first roller coaster in the world to feature a batwing (then known as a "Kamikaze Curve"), now a common element in thrill rides. Also, it was the second roller coaster in the world to have two interlocking loops.
Python Plunge, a water-slide type ride where the riders would carry the raft up to the top themselves. There were two types of slides. One slide was open aired and went straight down, the other was a twisting tube.
Fast Lane is Worlds of Fun's new 'two line' system for 2012. For a cost between $30 and $50 (in addition to normal admission charges), visitors receive a wrist band that enables them to bypass the 'normal-wait' line and enter the 'Fast Lane' to significantly reduce their wait time.
In 2005 Worlds of Fun opened the first on-site resort. The campground is adjacent to the park, and is located "behind" Mamba. The Village has 22 cabins and 20 cottages and 82 sites for RVs, complete with electric and TV cable hook ups. Each cabin or cottage can fit 6–8 people.
“Snoopy’s Hot Summer Lights” which debuted in 2010 is an immersive light and sound experience starring the Peanuts characters. Snoopy’s Hot Summer Lights features over 2 million LED lights and a variety of audio soundtracks through the Africa and Europa sections of the park. Along the walkway there are replicas of Snoopy and other characters for guests to view. Snoopy's Hot Summer Lights was a one million dollar investment that uses special effects and sound design, custom designed for Worlds of Fun by Emmy Award-Winning RWS and Associates. Snoopy’s Hot Summer Lights opened for its original run on June 4 and ran through September 5, 2010.
Cole Lindbergh, former manager of the park's games department, was featured in a 2011 episode of Public Radio International's This American Life, "Amusement Park." In the nine-minute prologue, host Ira Glass interviews Lindbergh about his management philosophy and plays segments from several YouTube videos he made to promote the park's games.