Amusement Parks have become a part of American iconography, and that means the crowds have followed: from Disneyland to the new Harry Potter World, theme parks attract millions of people every year. Take your family somewhere a little different this summer to beat the crowds, skip the lines, and see what these family-friendly amusement parks have to offer!
We’ll start with something for the littlest ones. Ride in Cinderella’s pumpkin coach, visit the Little Old Woman who Lived In a Shoe and meet Snow White herself at this fairytale-themed park. You won’t find any giant, thrilling roller coasters here, but can take your littles on the Polar Coaster or the Spinning Teacups for their first theme park experience. Tucked away in the mountains of New Hampshire, the weather is moderate and there is an abundance of family-friendly hiking, swimming in the rivers, and nature trails in the White Mountain National Forest. Parking is free, and admission is $33 for ages 3 and up, making Storyland a great way to make a family budget work better and stretch farther — tickets to Character Dinners or Tea Time with Cinderella are extra.
In the hills of Virginia, you’ll hear screams from the Drop Zone as families plunge toward the earth. You’ll see the shadows of 43 animatronic dinosaurs in “Dinosaurs Alive!”, where kids will not only see scientifically accurate recreations of the dinosaurs but have the opportunity to do a mock archaeological dig. In the heat of the afternoon, you’ll want to stroll over to Soak City Water Park to take a dip in the wave pool or go cruising down the water slides. There is never a shortage of things to do at King’s Dominion for ‘kids’ of all ages. The park offers a few different deals on tickets, but buying an ‘any day’ ticket online will cost $56 for an adult, $45 for a child or senior.
The same year the U.S. kicked off the Mexican-American War, Lake Compounce was born. Yes, that makes it over 170 years old for you history buffs, but a major overhaul in the 1990’s means the gorgeous historic wooden roller coasters and nostalgic charm are up-to-date and safe enough for even the most cautious parent. Hydration centers throughout the park will help you remember to drink water between rides, and the water park and river rapids will help keep you cool on humid New England days. Season pass admission for families is very affordable, and even day passes are manageable at $44 for adults, $34 for kids over 3.
Santa Claus, IN
First: bet you didn’t know that Santa Claus, IN, exists. It does, and it’s home to a holiday-themed amusement park where families can visit all the biggest holidays and their characters in one place – Christmas, Thanksgiving, July 4th, and Halloween. Drinks, sunscreen, parking, and wi-fi are all free in this family-focused park, which is renowned for being extremely clean and staffed by some of the friendliest folks around. Splashin’ Safari is also right on the grounds, so the family can cool down on some of the longest water coasters in the country. Don’t miss the food in Thanksgiving — we’ve heard it’s the best. Buy tickets online using their “Pick Your Price” feature, and you’ll have a view of the ‘off days’ with lower costs as well as save up to $20 off gate costs.
Just outside of Des Moines, your family will love the absence of long lines to massive coasters like Outlaw and The Dragon. Over 100 attractions for all ages with a wide selection of more low-key options for the little ones, you’ll stay entertained all day. Relax on the Lazy River in Adventure Bay or watch as the kids laugh on the Splash Pads. The staff is friendly and attentive, and the most you’ll pay for a day pass is $47 for an adult — with discounts available if you decide to go a second consecutive day. Which you just might, once you ride the rapids in the Raging River.
For the thrill-seeking family on a budget, Knoebels might just be the best deal out there. Parking, admission, and shows are all free — purchase an all-access rides wristband or pay per ride for the adventurous ones among you, and the rest can enjoy the fun at no cost. Visit the Carousel Museum, see the Bald Eagle habitat, or check out the Americana Museum for a historical tribute to a time gone by with steam-powered tools. Knoebels is truly wholesome, old-timey family fun in the heart of Pennsylvania.
Buena Park, CA
Berries and amusement park rides? You bet. This now-retired berry farm has retained its historic charm and the craft-centered marketplace as it has been updated with thrilling rides and a large water park. Sample some classic Western fried chicken and don’t miss the berry-topped fried dough. Knott’s is one of the more crowded destinations on this list, but we think you’ll find its charm and ride selection worth it.
Moving this year? Check out our list of the top 6 cities for raising a family in 2017!