8 Affordable Amusement Parks That Are Just as Fun As Disney
School's out and it's time for summer vacation. You may be tempted to head down to Orlando and spend hundreds of dollars for a multi-day pass to Disney World.
I love Mickey Mouse as much as the next guy, but it's worth learning about the plethora of other theme and amusement parks around the country that offer fantastic experiences for a fraction of the cost. (And may not be as crowded.)
From the coast of Lake Erie to the outskirts of Hollywood, there are plenty of options for summer fun, usually with additional family-friendly attractions nearby.
Check out these suggestions and start planning that family trip now! (See also: Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards)
Location: Santa Claus, Indiana
Cost: $34.95 for kids under 54 inches, $39.95 for adults if you buy online. Kids under 2 are free.
The park is separated into sections based on popular holidays and is routinely rated one of the most family-friendly in the country, as well as one of the cleanest. It has plenty of great rides for adults and kids, plus the Splashin' Safari Water Park. The Voyager roller coaster is considered one of the best wooden coasters in the world. There are some interesting perks, like free parking, sunblock, and soda.
You're less than three hours from Indianapolis, home of the world's largest children's museum, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and other attractions. Louisville and Lexington, KY are also just a couple hours away and have a lot to offer for adults and kids. Also, basketball fans can check out French Lick, the hometown of NBA Hall of Famer Larry Bird.
Location: Hershey, PA
Cost: $59.95 for adults, $37.95 for kids. Children under 2 are free.
A dozen great roller coasters for adults and kids, plus an array of water rides. And it's adjacent to Hershey's Chocolate World, where you get to see how chocolate bars are made and get free samples.
Hershey itself has some other great attractions, including a zoo and trolley museum. You're also not far from Pennsylvania Dutch Country, so watch out for the Amish and their horse and buggies!
If you're a foodie, you don't have to settle for just chocolate. There are numerous factories in the area that offer public tours, including the Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery in Lititz; Herr's potato chips in Nottingham; Utz Snacks and Snyder's pretzels in Hanover; and the Turkey Hill Experience in Columbia.
Knoebels Amusement Resort
Location: Elysburg, PA
Cost: Free! (Ok, not exactly. Admission is free, but the rides are pay-per-ride and range between $1 and $3.)
The largest pay-per-ride park in the nation, which makes it a great deal if you have young kids or seniors who can't ride. Knoebels has been named among the friendliest parks by Amusement Today magazine. It is not far from Hershey Park (see above) and the well-regarded Dorney Park in Allentown, PA.
Dollywood and Dollywood Splash Country
Location: Pigeon Forge, TN
Cost: $92 for adults for for a multi-park ticket, $75 for kids under 12. Tickets to Dollywood alone are $58 for adults and $46 for kids. For Splash Country by itself, tickets are $47 for adults and $42 for kids.
Rated one of the best overall parks by Amusement Today, as well as one of the friendliest and cleanest. Country music legend Dolly Parton is the owner, and has her fingerprints all over the 150-acre park. There is plenty of entertainment, plus dozens of rides for adults and kids, including the new Fire Chaser Express, advertised as the first-ever family two-way launch coaster.
Dollywood is nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains, offering a beautiful experience for those looking for camping, hiking, and other outdoor activities. Pigeon Forge is also home to a large attraction dedicated to the Titanic, and the Great Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster.
Location: Sandusky, OH
Cost: $49.99 for adults, $34.99 for kids. Discounted tickets on weekdays and if you purchase in advance.
Widely regarded as the Roller Coaster Capital of the World, this park features 16 coasters, including the legendary Millenium Force, plus several other record breakers. You may need two days to ride everything you want.
Cedar Point itself is on the water, and offers parasailing, watercraft rides, boat rentals, and even fishing expeditions. The nearby Kalahari Resort offers one of the largest indoor water parks in the country. If you're up for a longer trip, Cleveland, Toledo, and Detroit are short drives away.
Busch Gardens/Water Country USA, Williamsburg
Location: Williamsburg, VA
Cost: Busch Gardens is $72 for adults, $62 for kids between 3 and 9. Water Country USA is $50 or $42 for kids. A two-park card offering unlimited visits for anyone over age 3 is $97.
One of the most beautifully landscaped parks in the country, Busch Gardens is separated into separate "countries" with their own unique character. There are great roller coasters, including the legendary Loch Ness Monster, plus good rides for younger kids. Water Country USA has about a dozen water rides, including the new Colossal Curl. And the entertainment and food is better than what you find at most theme parks.
History buffs will love visiting Colonial Williamsburg, along with the Yorktown battlefield and the Jamestown settlement.
Knott's Berry Farm
Location: Buena Park, CA
Cost: $40 if you buy in advance.
You could spend hundreds of dollars at nearby Disneyland, or spend $40 here for a day and have a blast. Check out Montezooma's Revenge, a steel coaster in its 36th year of operation.
Right in Buena Park, you can head to Medieval Times or the Titanic: The Experience show. You're also right near Anaheim, home of the Angels baseball team and a number of other attractions. And of course, Los Angeles is just a short stint away.
Six Flags Magic Mountain
Location: Valencia, CA
Cost: $44.99 with advance purchase.
Just a couple hours north of Knott's Berry Farm, it may be worth it to check out the parks back-to-back. Six Flags Magic Mountain has a whopping 19 roller coasters, including the unique X2 ride, featuring seats that rotate 360 degrees.
Valencia itself is a sleepy planned community. But Six Flags Magic Mountain is just a 30-mile drive north from Hollywood, and just an hour east of the Pacific Ocean.
Whats your favorite non-Disney amusement park? Please share in comments!