13 Amusement Parks You Don’t Want to Miss This Summer

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Bucket List Worthy   Hot off the Press  

Photo credit: Lawrence Rayner
Photo credit: Lawrence Rayner

No place in the world knows amusement parks quite like North America does, and with so many corkscrew coasters, death-defying drops, soaking slides and fun for the whole family in store, there’s no better time than now to start planning your summer vacation to one of these illustrious amusement parks.

#1. Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio

Photo credit: Vlasta Juricek
Photo credit: Vlasta Juricek

Cedar Point is known as the roller coaster capital of the world, and for good reasons too. With 17 coasters and a wide variety of thrill, water and family-friendly rides, Cedar Point has long earned its place among the world’s best amusement parks.

Tips:

– Tuesdays and Wednesdays host the smallest crowds at Cedar Point, but if you’re forced to visit on weekends, head to the busiest rides during popular meal times like noon and 6 p.m.

#2. Canada’s Wonderland, Vaughan, Ontario

Photo credit: Roller Coaster Philosophy
Photo credit: Roller Coaster Philosophy

If you haven’t been to Canada’s favorite amusement park yet, put it on your summer bucket list. Canada’s Wonderland is jam-packed with over 69 exciting rides including the fastest and tallest roller coaster in Canada — Leviathan. The 2014 season offers new experiences for all ages including an innovative, four-dimensional dark ride (Wonder Mountain’s Guardian), the seven-acre Dinosaurs Alive! dinosaur park and the nighttime Starlight Spectacular.

Tips:

– If you’re planning to head to the park multiple times this year, consider a season pass which will save you tons of money on admission as well as 15 percent on food and drinks throughout the park.

– Arrive early, around 9 a.m., to enjoy the attractions without long lines. By noon on a sunny summer day, lines can exceed an hour long.

#3. Universal’s Islands of Adventure, Orlando, Florida

Photo credit: Lawrence Rayner
Photo credit: Lawrence Rayner

With exciting new attractions like The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and the Incredible Hulk Coaster, Universal’s Islands of Adventure is a must-visit park if you haven’t been in the last few years.

Tips:

– Because The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is the park’s most crowded attraction, it’s best to experience the park’s many other rides and activities before visiting it. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter tends to be less crowded in the afternoon and evening.

– Stay at one of Universal’s on-site hotels and get exclusive access to the front of the line at almost every ride or attraction at Universal’s Islands of Adventure as well as Universal Studios Florida.

#4. Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, Lake Buena Vista, Florida

Photo credit: RichardStep.com
Photo credit: RichardStep.com

If you’ve got limited time at Walt Disney World and can only make it to one theme park — make it Magic Kingdom. From Cinderella’s Castle to the classic Space Mountain, Tower of Terror and the Rockin’ Rollercoaster, Magic Kingdom succeeds in pleasing fairytale lovers and adrenaline junkies alike.

Tips:

– The best times of year to visit Magic Kingdom are from Labor Day to Thanksgiving and the weeks directly before and after spring break. The park is slowest during these times, so you can enjoy more rides with shorter lines.

– When you arrive at the park, get Fast Passes for your family’s must-visit attractions, so you’re guaranteed to get on those attractions later.

#5. La Ronde, Montreal, Quebec

Photo credit: abdallahh
Photo credit: abdallahh

La Ronde is a Six Flag’s amusement park known for its thrilling rides like the treacherous wooden roller coaster, Monster, and the 75-kilometer-per-hour Boomerang, but an entirely new thrill ride for 2014 — the Demon — is guaranteed to make visitors scream louder than ever. And with over 20 different rides suitable for kids and families, you can’t go wrong with a summer trip to La Ronde.

 Tips:

– Unlike many theme parks, La Ronde allows you to bring your own food and drink on-site, which can save you tons of money normally spent on pricey amusement park meals.

#6. Knoebels, Elysburg, Pennsylvania

Photo credit: pennuja
Photo credit: pennuja

Knoebels is one of North America’s favorite amusement parks for its sheer affordability. It’s one of the few admission-free amusement parks still in existence in North America, but you don’t have to sacrifice thrill for cost. With over 20 thrill rides and countless other family and kid’s rides — all for less than $3 per ride — you can plan your trip to Knoebels at the drop of a hat.

Tips:

– Knoebels offers a pay-one-price stamp for the entire day, but it’s important to get there early because the line to purchase can get extremely long and cut into your park time.

– Knoebels’ website features an event calendar, so you can tell if any large groups will be visiting the park on the days you plan to visit.

#7. Dollywood, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

Photo credit: Darryl Kenyon
Photo credit: Darryl Kenyon

Southern hospitality really does exit at Dollywood — an amusement park that has been hailed by Amusement Today for its overall park appeal, cleanliness, friendliness and its famous Dollywood’s Splash Park water park. Dollywood’s location nestled in the gorgeous smokey mountains just makes it that much better.

Tips:

– Upgrade your single-day Dollywood ticket to a season pass for just $32 extra. Even if you’ll only be in town for a few days, the season pass can be well worth the money.

– To experience the true southern appeal of Dollywood, attend Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede for a four-course meal of old-fashioned southern cooking.

#8. Busch Gardens, Tampa Bay, Florida

Photo credit: holl7510
Photo credit: holl7510

Busch Gardens is the ultimate family vacation destination with one of North America’s greatest zoos (featuring over 12,000 animals) and 297 acres of thrilling rides, shows and plenty of attractions to wow kids and adults alike.

Tips:

– Call ahead to learn about feeding times, so you can enjoy the most animal activity.

– Show up close to opening time (10 a.m.), because the park closes at 6 p.m. daily.

#9. Knott’s Berry Farm, Buena Park, California

Photo credit: Roller Coaster Philosophy
Photo credit: Roller Coaster Philosophy

California’s affordable alternative to Disneyland — Knott’s Berry Farm features everything from hair-brained roller coasters to a 6-acre-wide children’s wonderland. Games and arcades, live entertainment, water rides and the Knott’s Berry Farm California Marketplace are just a few more features that make this diverse amusement park one of the best in North America.

Tips:

– While ticket prices to Knott’s are affordable, the food and drink prices are high. Bring your own snacks and drinks to avoid unexpected expenses.

#10. Galaxyland Amusement Park, Edmonton, Alberta

Photo credit: JasonParis
Photo credit: JasonParis

Located inside the massive West Edmonton Mall, the Galaxyland Amusement Park is the largest indoor amusement park in the world featuring 24 diverse rides ranging from the world’s largest indoor triple-loop coaster to the Space Bump, carousel and Galaxyland Raceway for kids.

Tips:
– Purchase family passes online to Galaxyland and/or the World Water Park to save time and money when you arrive at the park.

– Head to the park for Wacky Wednesdays when day passes cost only $16.15

– If you plan on hitting just a couple of rides while you visit the mall, individual tickets can be purchased for $1.50 each (attractions require 2-7 tickets to ride).

 #11. Disneyland Park, Anaheim, California

Photo credit: Rene Mensen
Photo credit: Rene Mensen

Nothing beats the magic of Disney’s fairytales, pirates, fireworks, adventures and thrill rides, so if you’re in California this summer, a visit to “The Happiest Place on Earth,” simply should not be missed.

Tips:
– Stay at a hotel within walking distance of the park, and you’ll save time and money on busy California traffic and parking.

– The big crowds show up at Disneyland at 11:30 a.m., so beat the lines by getting there at opening time (8 a.m.). And don’t forget to hit the most popular rides during those early hours when lines are small.

 #12. Schlitterbahn Water Park, New Braunfels, Texas

Photo credit: CJ TravelTips
Photo credit: CJ TravelTips

Whether you’re looking for some of the most thrilling water slides in the world or a relaxing day beside The Beach Wave Pool, Schlitterbahn Water Park has some of the world’s best pools, chutes, water coasters, rivers and kids’ parks in the world. In fact, Schlitterbahn Water Park has been named the world’s best water park 13 years in a row by Amusement Today.

Tips:
– Show up in the late afternoon when the prices are lower and the crowds are thinner.

#13. Six Flags Magic Mountain, Valencia, California

Photo credit: Roller Coaster Philosophy
Photo credit: Roller Coaster Philosophy

Now with more roller coasters than its rival Cedar Point, Six Flags Magic Mountain is a must-visit park for thrill seekers. But that doesn’t mean it’s not suitable for kids too — Six Flags Magic Mountain features even more family-friendly and kids’ rides than it does coasters.

Tips:
– To avoid unnecessary spending on the expensive food inside the park, pack a lunch to enjoy in the picnic area just outside the park grounds.

– Use the Orient Express people mover to get from one end of the park to the other and to save your (and your kids) legs from tiring out before the day is done.

– Download the Magic Mountain app before you hit the park to make finding your way around the park a breeze.

About the Author: Courtney McCaffrey

Courtney McCaffrey is a travel writer and editor based in Wilmington, N.C, Mexico and around the world. In addition to writing, she lives for travel - seeing new places, experiencing new cultures and surfing new waves.

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