Much the pity there have never been any specifically LGBTQ+ theme parks in the world… well, unless you count the ill-fated “Gay World ” of Singapore back in 1937 – but I don’t think that’s what they meant by “gay” at the time. However, most theme parks make the bold claim of being welcoming to all, irrespective of sexuality or gender identity. Yet there are some which go that extra step when it comes to being inclusive and supportive to the LGTBQ+ community.
‘Gay Days’, Pride marches and inclusive policies push these theme parks above the rest. So, fasten those bars – yes, you knew that metaphor was coming – as we visit the most LGBTQ-friendly theme parks in the world.
Disneyland Paris and Disney World
Any list of theme parks in any context would be remiss to not talk about Disney – and let’s be real, gays love Disney. The rides are of course iconic, such as the indoor roller coaster Space Mountain, the Pirates of the Caribbean boat ride and rides connected to any Disney film or character you can name from Mickey Mouse to Frozen.
Disney has had a lot of controversy with regards to how much they actually support the LGBTQ+ community over the last few years. News that Disney has donated to legislators backing anti-gay bills and cut queer content from movies has tainted their reputation somewhat. On the flip side gay characters are slowly beginning to creep into their films with the likes of LeFou in Beauty and the Beast, Artie in Cruella and The Valkyrie in Marvel.
The question is: where do their amusement parks stand in all this? Thankfully, they are known for promoting inclusiveness and diversity, but some are more outspoken in their support than others. The most supportive being Disneyland Paris. Almost all the Disney parks have ‘Gay Days’ – a week in early June where Disney loving gays descend upon Disney theme parks and heart-warmingly reclaim a childhood lost by many to homophobia. However, these are organized externally and not an official part of the parks. Disneyland Paris goes further than their international counterparts and have their own Pride celebrations for ‘Magical Pride’ – an event with a parade, live concert and attractions staying open until 2am. They have also been by far the most outspoken about their events and in openly supporting the LGBTQ+ community.
Disney World in Orlando has been slightly less loud about their events despite being where Gay Days originated and always having Pride merchandise proudly displayed during Pride month. Pink Mickey Mouse ears aside though, they've also made clear that they stand with the LGBTQ+ community in Florida by being involved in a feud with the state over the “Don't Say Gay” bill. Finally, although they're not officially affiliated with it, to coincide with Disney World's Gay Days ‘One Magical Weekend' takes place – a circuit party where gay men from around the world visit Orlando to spend a weekend partying, including a Friday night at Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon.
PortAventura World (Spain)
Spain is one of the most gay-friendly countries in the world and PortAventura is found in the Catalonian region – home to the most assuredly gay holiday hot spots of Barcelona and Sitges. Across the board the Spanish theme park has received positive feedback for being inclusive and diverse – in both its hiring practices and events. PortAventura runs its own Pride night once a year from 6pm to 11pm – a unique event where the best rides stay open late and there’s themed shows, gay-focused entertainment (like drag shows) and a DJ.
With PortAventura you get the potential of three parks in PortAventura Park, Caribe Water Park and Ferrari Land – yes, that is a theme park about Ferraris. Furthermore, it has some of the most memorable rides in the world, including the legendary Dragon Khan roller coaster – which passes through a terrifying count of eight loops in – the rather magical number of – 69 seconds.
Tivoli Gardens (Denmark)
Tivoli in Copenhagen is the progressive grandad of theme parks, being the second oldest in the world – after Bakken (also in Denmark). The old-school amusement park has managed to maintain its classic charm while incorporating modern elements to keep its visitors entertained. It also has some banging rides, ranging from classical carousels and a wooden roller coaster to the 63-meter high freefalling Golden Tower. Legend has it the park inspired Walt Disney himself to create Disneyland.
Don’t let their traditional setting trick you though, Denmark is known for its LGBTQ+ friendly policies and Tivoli Gardens is no exception. It is not an uncommon date location for gay couples, they have held gay themed days within the park and fairytale-like gay weddings have been hosted along its adjacent lake.
Efteling (The Netherlands)
Let’s face it, fairytales are a little bit camp by nature and Efteling park in The Netherlands takes the theme and runs with it. The fantasy-themed amusement park is twice the size of the original Disneyland but is darker in its style and draws inspiration from ancient myths and legends of old, as well as traditional fairytales and somewhat sinister folklore. The park’s highlights include The Flying Dutchman – which is a combination of indoor roller coaster and water coaster – and the Steampunk roller coaster that plunges 123 feet into a mineshaft. Efteling has also received praise for its inclusive policies and support for LGBTQ+ events, with dress-in-red Gay Days given full support by the park and even having attractions related to it – like dancing red slippers.
Europa Park (Germany)
The third most visited amusement park in Europe, Europa Park in Rust, Germany, has a European theme. The park is split into areas made to represent countries of the continent with replicas of 18 European monuments. Europa Park is especially well-known for its roller coasters, which include Silver Star – a “hypercoaster” with a drop of 67 meters – and Euro-Mir – a roller coaster with rotating gondolas. Furthermore, it has a water park adjacent to it, Rulantica, offering a variety of water attractions, slides, and themed experiences.
Just like Europe in general – Western Europe at least – the park is extremely gay-friendly. Europa Park has an unofficial GayRedDay once a year inspired by the Gay Days of Orlando’s Disney World. However, it is worth noting that the event isn’t officially recognised by the park… yet.
Universal Studios (Hollywood)
Looping the loop back to the US, Universal Studios Hollywood is a world-renowned film studio and theme park located in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles, California. It is one of the oldest and most famous Hollywood film studios and has been a popular tourist destination since it opened its doors to the public in 1964. All their rides are based around popular movies and TV shows with notable attractions including The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Jurassic World – The Ride, Transformers: The Ride 3D, and The Simpsons Ride. You can also take a tram ride through their studio for a behind-the-scenes look at various film and television production sets and includes encounters with special effects, animatronics, and iconic film locations.
Universal Studios is extremely inclusive and welcoming. They have participated in LGBTQ+ events and often feature diverse LGBTQ+ characters and themes in their attractions. Like Disneyland Paris it hosts an official themed Pride night – unlike anywhere else in the States, during which Universal Studios Hollywood works with LA Pride for ‘Pride is Universal' – a night of late-night attractions, vibrant drag shows using local talent, meet and greets with queer characters, DJs and a lot of drinking. The iconic entrance arch even lights up with a rainbow at night!
Theme Parks bring out the inner child in all of us and if anyone deserves a little childlike fun, it’s the LGBTQ+ community. So push those bars down and get riding!