Dracula theme park to break ground this spring

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NEW YORK -- Dracula Land, a $31.5 million theme park based on the Dracula legend, will break ground three miles south of the Transylvanian city of Sighisoara, Romania, this spring.

Expect the theme park to entertain the historical, literary and Hollywood viewpoints of the man and the legend, acording to Simion Alb, director of the Romanian National Tourist Office in New York.

Slated to open in spring 2004, Dracula Land will feature a medieval castle; shops showcasing traditional Romanian handicrafts and art; restaurants serving regional dishes; an amusement rides area; and a horseback riding center.

The Sighisoara house where Vlad was born in 1431 is today a restaurant and musuem. The park also will house the International Institute of Vampirology, said Alb, which will present vampire-related folklore, art, movies and literary works from various cultures.

Alb said the development also will feature Romania's first golf course. At 150 acres, the nine-hole course will occupy more than half of the 285-acre property.

The local municipal government of Sighisoara donated the land to the developer, Alb said, and Romania's federal government will provide utilities and roads.

The government supports the project, Alb said, because "we do believe the park will help Romania be a better-known and more attractive destination for families."

Romania now receives about 80,000 Americans a year, who stay an average of 2.3 nights.

Alb said he expects Dracula Land to attract an additional 3,000 to 5,000 U.S. tourists in its first year, and between 20,000 and 25,000 more after three years.

By its fourth year of operation, Dracula Land is expected to host a steady 1.1 million visitors per year, said the tourist office, divided evenly between Romanians and foreigners.

The bite stuff?

Mary Williamson, owner of Campbell Travel Service, Sunnyvale, Calif., organizes an annual 10-night Dracula-themed Halloween tour to Romania.

At first, Williamson said she was saddened and disappointed by the prospect of a Dracula-themed amusement park in Romania, likening it to "bringing a Disney animal park to South Africa or Kenya," but she warmed to the plan upon hearing more details.

"I'm hoping they will explain the history of Dracula and about who he was in [Romanians'] eyes, not just how people [elsewhere] think of him because of the [Bram] Stoker novel."

Williamson plans to visit the park when it opens and decide then whether to include it in her Dracula tour.

"I really pictured a park with thrill rides, but apparently that's not what they're doing," she said.

Yet Williamson is sure Dracula Land will change Transylvania.

"You can't bring people there and not change things," she said, noting it's not uncommon near the planned park site to see farmers hauling hay with horse-drawn carts.

At Dracula's door

Alb said the decision to locate the park near Sighisoara was made because it is centrally located, contains one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Europe and was the birthplace in 1431 of the real Dracula, also known as Vlad Tepes, or Vlad the Impaler.

The house where Vlad was born is today a restaurant and a small museum of medieval weapons.

"The city and museum are very popular during Halloween," Alb said, "but also during July, when the city organizes a medieval festival.

A section of Dracula Land will present medieval Romanian history, centered around Vlad the Impaler, said Alb.

While learning something about history, those coming to the park with Hollywood notions in mind won't be disappointed, as the Romanian Ministry of Tourism received a transfer of copyrights for the image of "the Count" as depicted in movies produced by Universal Studios.

Most famously, those include the 1931 classic starring Bela Lugosi.

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