When Fred Thompson and Elmer Dundy decided way back in 1903 to name their new Coney Island amusement park “Luna Park,” they didn’t know they were starting a trend that would spread worldwide, and even today it shows no sign of ending.
The original park closed in 1944, and reopened to great acclaim on a nearby Coney Island site in 2010. By then it had been joined by numerous other Luna Parks, most famously the two in Australia: Melbourne and Sydney, both of which are operating today.
The name, though, really caught on in other countries: in Italy, Greece and Turkey, every amusement park, whether it be stable or travelling, is called Lunapark. Dundy had at one stage claimed that he named the park for is sister in Des Moines, Luna Dundy, but historians suggest the more likely source for this very wise naming decision was the spectacularly successful ride that that Dundy and Thompson had created a few years before. Part of an exhibition staged in Buffalo, New York in 1901, it was called “A Trip To The Moon.”
I visited Coney Island a few months ago, but,- you guessed it, Luna Park was closed for the winter season. I’ve been spending some time in Australia lately, however, and I can pass on some good intelligence about the Sydney and Melbourne parks, both of which are successful and popular attractions.
In Sydney, go for the ride
And I don’t mean “go for the rides”… I mean “go for the ride.” Both Australian parks are in great locations and part of the fun should definitely be getting there.
Luna Park Sydney first opened in 1935 and is in the most magnificent location you can imagine, right under the north towers of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, looking back across the harbour to one of the world’s greatest pieces of architecture, the Sydney Opera House. Unless you are staying on the North Shore, you can take a ferry from Circular Quay. It only takes a few minutes and a few dollars but it’s ten times more fun than the train, a cab or a bus; all of which will get you there, but none of which should even be considered!
If you’re visiting outside the winter months, take your swimsuits along too: Luna Park Sydney is right next door to a magnificent open air Olympic-sized pool. And if you are a parent with kids who can take care of themselves, you might consider having lunch or dinner at the superb Aqua Restaurant, also right next to Luna Park’s front gates, while the kids do their own thing.
Melbourne never stops
Melbourne may not have Sydney’s superb harbour, but its Luna Park is also on the water – or at least across the road – and visitors invariably spend some time on the foreshore after they’ve exhausted themselves on the rides. And they’ve been doing that for years: of all the Luna Park’s worldwide, Melbourne is the only one to operate continuously (well, a brief gap during WWI) since its opening, in 1912. Yes, that’s right: this is its Centenary Year, so an excellent time to visit.
And once again, getting there is fun. From the city take the famous Number 96 tram right to the front gates. A 16 tram will get you to the same place; driving or taking a taxi might be quicker, but catching the tram really is half the fun, and part of the whole tradition.
History buffs will enjoy the fact that the Melbourne park’s Scenic Railway, a wooden roller coaster, has been operating since the park was opened, and the whole park is on the National Heritage Register as a listed structure.
Visiting Luna Park Melbourne means visiting St Kilda; besides a walk along the beach, the shops of Acland Street are a real draw for weekend crowds, with the famous cake shop window displays hindering many, many diet plans; and Readings reminding people how great an independent bookstore can be. Bars, restaurants and good shopping abound; on Sundays there’s also an extensive art and crafts market along the Esplanade.
Just for fun
Well, if you’ve been to Coney Island lately, let us know what you think of the new Luna Park. And if you’re in either Melbourne or Sydney anytime soon, plan a trip to Luna Park. Not just for the rides, but for the ride as well!
- Viator Travel Team