The USA is practically bursting with amusement parks, from the sprawling and city-sized to the off-beat and unexpectedly endearing. Cotton candy and corn dogs, kiddie rides and coasters – here are the best theme parks in America.
Six Flags Magic Mountain, California
Magic Mountain boasts the world record for most roller coasters in a single amusement park, clocking in with a whopping 19, plus heaps of other rides. Thrills deserving of mention include Superman (launching you backwards from 0 to 100 miles per hour in seven seconds) and Tatsu (the tallest, fastest, longest flying roller coaster in the world).
Cedar Point, Ohio
Though only two coasters short of Magic Mountain’s record, Cedar Point can still brag about its 72 other rides. A long stretch of sandy swimming beach along Lake Erie and array of attractions catering to all ages have kept this park an American favourite since its opening in 1870.
Walt Disney World, Florida
What list of amusement parks could go without mentioning Disney World? Indeed, the complex really is a world unto itself, with four gigantic theme parks, two top-notch waterparks, nonstop entertainment and 28 different Disney resorts suited to a variety of tastes and budgets.
From the cheery nostalgia of Magic Kingdom to the looping coasters of Hollywood Studios, Disney World’s immensity doesn’t just warrant a day trip, but a whole holiday.
Few places put such a charming spin on celebrity cultism as Dollywood, Dolly Parton’s very own amusement park. Built in her Great Smoky Mountains homeland, the park draws its inspiration from the history and culture of East Tennessee.
An impressive breadth of rides, award-winning shows and festivals, a full-size steam train and the world’s fastest wooden roller coaster keep more than three million guests a season steadily rolling in.
Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, Florida
Universal Studios used to have an unspoken reputation as secondary to Disney, though by all means still a brilliant park. However since the opening of Islands of Adventure, particularly the recently expanded and incredibly detailed Wizarding World of Harry Potter, they just might be the best in the country.
A replica of the Hogwarts Express now connects the two parks. Both are bursting full of attractions, ranging from cutting-edge coasters on Marvel Superhero Island to whimsical ride-alongs in the land of Dr. Seuss.
Founded in 1926, Knoebels is a classic American amusement park running the types of nostalgic attractions and mighty wooden coasters you’d happily relive every summer. But above all, Knoebels should be praised for its prices. General admittance is free, and rides range from $1.25 to a maximum of $3 per person.
The park’s rather famous freshly-baked apple dumplings with ice cream also deserve special mention, as well as its dogs-allowed policy.
Pacific Park, Santa Monica, California
Though the thought that Pacific Park’s whirring rides are supported by a wooden pier alone might feel a little death-defying, the oceanfront ambience here will have you feeling California carefree.
There are only thirteen rides but remember: you’re in Santa Monica. Stroll through the gorgeous Venice Canals Walkway to Venice Beach, where Californian bodybuilders pump iron under the sun, skateboards and surfers showcase their skills, and all manner of bric-a-brac sellers, psychics and ragtag performers set up along the boardwalk. Welcome to people-watching paradise.
Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari, Indiana
The automatic two-parks-for-the-price-of-one-ticket is a huge draw here. Holiday World consistently wins awards for being the cleanest park in America, and it boasts some top-notch rides too.
Neighbouring Splashin’ Safari is home to the two longest water coasters on Earth, and it provides a refreshing relief after a hot summer morning spent in the sun. Plus, the thoughtful inclusion of free parking, sunscreen, wifi, all-day soft drinks and refreshments with the purchase of your entry ticket adds bonus value for your tourist buck.
Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York City
During the first half of the twentieth century Coney Island was a resort attracting the wealthy, home to grand hotels and extravagant carousels. Though no longer in its heyday, the East Coast atmosphere of the place is tough to beat.
Romantic old rides (three of which are protected NYC historic landmarks) look over 2.5 miles of white-sand beach and a lively boardwalk. Mid-century signage still adorns classic carnival games and stalls dishing out grade-A American comfort foods. New coasters are also in the works, and classic events such as Nathan’s Famous frankfurters Hot Dog Eating Contest and The Mermaid Parade continue their legacy each year.
A great park for younger children, a day at Legoland provides a nice change of pace from the unbearable wait times of America’s most popular parks.
The nature of the park itself inspires kiddie creativity, and the success of 2014’s Lego Movie has breathed new life into the place. That said, those looking for an adrenaline fix may be left wanting.
Explore more of America with the Rough Guide to the USA. Compare flights, find tours, book hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. Cover image from: Pixabay/CC0