Of course, Disney offers some amazing theme park experience and you absolutely should visit -even if you’re an adult. That being said, there are so many other great parks across the USA that don’t get enough recognition. This year, switch up your family vacation destination and skip Disney for one of the following parks instead.
Insider Tip: No matter what park you plan on visiting, always check online tickets first. You’ll often get a better rate. Moreover, consider weekdays and evenings vs. weekends, as they can be cheaper and less crowded.
Story Land, open since 1954, is a place where kid’s favorite fairy tales come to life — literally. You’ll have 23 rides to choose from across 35 beautiful acres, so green with rolling hills you’ll constantly be reminded you’re in the White Mountains. Kids can start by interacting with their favorite nursery rhymes by meeting the Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe, sitting on Little Miss Muffet’s tuffet and exploring the Three Little Bears’ home, to name a few. From there head on to the Castle Area for a coach ride to Cinderella’s castle to get your photo taken with the princess. For some cultural exploration, regional areas make you feel like you’ve traveled to Asia (where you can ride a bamboo log flume), a Dutch Village (to hop on the Dutch Flying Shoes ride) and beyond. The newest section of the park is where you can ride the Roar-O-Saurus, a 12-passenger wooden coaster made to resemble a giant dinosaur named Rory. The pre-historic fun continues with animatronic dinosaurs and a digging pit where you’ll uncover a 75-foot dinosaur fossil.
Touted as "America’s Largest Indoor Waterpark," you’ll find 220,000 square feet of rides under a retractable roof (which means even if the weather is bad you can still play!). Along with chill adventures like lazy rivers and whirlpool spas, there are a number of wet thrills. Don’t miss the Anaconda, a fast-paced water coaster where you’ll zoom around sharp turns, close your eyes on fast drops and laugh in surprise as you’re blasted with water throughout. Another fun one is the Wild Wildebeest, where you’ll feel like you’re rafting quickly through a waterfall-filled cave. After water rides get your virtual reality on in The Arena or conquer that fear of heights as you maneuver through treetops using ziplines, tightropes and climbable rope nets in Gorilla Grove. And for adults needing to unwind, a swim up bar provides tasty cocktails while private lounge cabanas feature fridges and TVs.
For families seeking out the country’s most epic roller coaster, Adventureland Park should be on your radar; specifically for The Monster, added in 2016. Along the 2,500 feet of track you’ll roll up a 133-foot hill before going upside down five times, screaming during a 101-degree drop and feeling like you’re falling off the rollercoaster during a negative G stall loop (don’t worry, you’re not). The park also has three other rollercoasters, a 260-foot-high giant swing and more. Want to get wet? You’ll also get admission to Adventure Bay Water Park for water slides, a lazy river, a wave pool and more!
If you’re looking for a cultural park experience, Busch Gardens features a European theme. And just how the continent makes it easy to visit various countries by train, you’ll walk or ride the monorail to the various "countries" in the park — England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Germany and Italy — exploring regional food, landmarks and entertainment. There are about 40 dry and wet rides plus cultural shows and regional restaurants, and you can float through the ancient ruins of Pompeii, reach speeds of 60 miles per hour on the Scottish Loch Ness Monster Roller Coaster, check out talented Irish dancers and savor the best of Germany during the autumn Bier Fest.
Bonus: You can also visit the 400-acre Kings Dominion in nearby Doswell, Virginia, about an hour away. The park features over 60 rides (including 15 roller coasters!) plus a 20-acre waterpark. It’s definitely worth the trip!
Most kids — and adults — find a smile spreading across their face them they think of iconic LEGOs. If you want to go beyond simply building and actually play in a life-size LEGOLAND then, well, LEGOLAND is your theme park. Home to over 60 dry and wet rides and attractions, an aquarium and a hotel (with new NINJAGO-themed rooms), the park is geared toward families with kids aged 2-12. Oh, and did we mention there are over 30,000 models crafted from more than 30 million LEGO bricks? This year, they’re adding a LEGO®Star Wars™: The Force Awakens Miniland Model Display showcasing notable Star Wars scenes. In terms of rides, don’t miss the medieval-themed Dragon coaster that zooms around the intricate LEGOLAND Castle, and the Technic Coaster that resembles a Technic car (just be ready for that first drop!). In LEGOLAND Water Park, kids can head to the new Surfers’ Cove to compete against other youngsters on a waterslide-filled raceway.
What’s your favorite theme park?
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Jessica Festa is a full-time travel writer who is always up for an adventure. She enjoys getting lost in new cities and having experiences you don’t read about in guidebooks. Some of her favorite travel experiences have been teaching English in Thailand, trekking her way through South America, backpacking Europe solo, road tripping through Australia and doing orphanage work in Ghana. You can follow her adventures on her travel websites, Epicure & Culture and Jessie On A Journey. You can also connect with Jessica directly on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus, or follow her epicurean adventures on Facebook and Twitter.
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