5+ Best Amusement Parks for Kids of All Ages
Kids and amusement parks go hand-in-hand like ice cream and summer days. From the first great Americana parks like Coney Island to today’s amusement resorts, the great family vacation includes an amusement park somewhere along the line.
In decades past parents often dreaded the pleas to visit Coney Island or the boardwalk, knowing they would encounter crowds, noise and junk food galore. Too much money would be spent on funnel cakes, popcorn and carnival games, but in the end seeing the looks of utter joy on kids’ faces made those trips worthwhile.
In the late 20th century and into the beginning of the 21st, amusement parks have changed dramatically, and are often geared more towards teens and adults than children now. Many rides have a minimum height requirement of 48”, though most of the newer roller coasters require a 54” height. Even if you’re six or seven year old meets the 48” requirement, they may not want to get on that scary-looking ride with an 80 foot drop. Whereas finding an amusement park entertaining for adults was once a problem, the opposite is increasingly becoming true. For example, try dragging an eight year old through Epcot’s international food mania, or ask a six year old to sit quietly on a safari ride in the Animal Kingdom.
Fortunately, the innovative parks recognize the need for balanced entertainment. Most offer a kiddie area with kid-sized rides, and many have built whole parks designed with children in mind.
Disney Parks are Some of the Best Kids Amusement Parks
Without a doubt, the king of amusement parks is Disney. Starting with a small park in California and adding a larger one in Florida several years later, Disney’s amusement park empire has branched out to the rest of the world, including France and Tokyo. Back home Disney has always remembered that the kids create the magic, and appreciate it the most. With Disneyland Park in California and the Magic Kingdom in Florida, Disney created two family-friendly parks geared specifically towards children. Both parks proudly display Cinderella’s castle as the focal point with small themed parks radiating from there. In Florida, young kids can enjoy Dumbo’s flyer or the Mad Tea Party, sing along with the Country Bear Jamboree, or explore Mickey and Minnie’s houses. Older kids can still enjoy the Magic Kingdom on the roller coasters Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, or on the dark rides Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean. These last two have been staples of Disney’s parks for 40 years and are still favorites among visitors.
Disneyland Park also offers the Mad Tea Party as well as Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin, Chip N Dale’s Treehouse and Donald’s Boat for the little ones to explore. Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, and Indiana Jones Adventures are popular rides for older kids, as are the classics Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion. Pirates in California is purported to be the better of the two Pirates, though of the two Haunted Mansions, the one in Florida is the better of the two. Regardless of which rides the family chooses to enjoy, the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland Park are two of the best family-friendly amusement parks in the world.
Busch Gardens is another family-friendly park. It perfectly marries theme park with wildlife preserve and conservation. Located in Tampa, Florida and Williamsburg, Virginia, Busch Gardens provides visitors with education opportunities, fun rides and thrillers, a rare combination of true fun-for-everyone family enjoyment. The little ones delight in having fun in their own park within the park – Sesame Street Safari of Fun – complete with kid-sized rides. The jewel of the Sesame Street Safari is Elmo’s Tree House where kids can climb, explore and wear themselves out. In the summer, Bert and Ernie’s Watering Hole cools kids off (and some adults, too!). The Safari offers parents a great tool – “let’s see the animal shows first (education) and then we’ll go to the Sesame Street Safari.” The kids may not mind though as they feed sting rays, get up close to animals in the petting zoo and take in one of many wildlife shows. Busch Gardens also offers a train ride around the park, a wonderful way to end the day with tired children. The ride lasts approximately 45 minutes, and besides providing transportation between parts of the park, winds through the Serengeti Plain for views of hundreds of exotic animals. One of the newest additions to the park that older children (and younger ones, too) will enjoy is Jungala. In here, youngsters and their parents can enjoy four acres of up-close animal interactions, a three-story maze of rope bridges and nets to climb, two new rides and a zip-line through the forest. The rest of Busch Gardens offers a large variety of rides, such as the Sheikra roller coaster in Tampa, wildlife shows, the Rhino Rally 4X4 “road trip” through Serengeti Plain, and the Sky Ride. There is definitely something for everyone in this park.
The name Lego conjures childhood memories; the company has taken the concept of their wildly popular toys and built several theme parks geared towards families with kids between the ages of 2 and 12. Legoland can be found in California, Florida, Germany, Denmark and the United Kingdom. In California, 128 acres have been transformed into family fun. Only a handful of rides have height requirements but even those that do are okay for kids accompanied by an adult. Legoland, like many other parks, has several parks within the park – Land of Adventure, Pirate Shores, Fun Town, Castle Hill, Explore Village, Imagination Zone, Miniland USA, and Dino Island. Many new rides await youngsters and their families. One of the newest rides at the park is Lost Kingdom Adventure in Land of Adventure. Blazing along in an all-terrain roadster, riders recover stolen treasure by blasting targets with laser guns and compete for high score. In Pirate Shores, Legoland’s water park, Splash Battle pits riders against each other and spectators as riders fire water cannons. Knight’s Tournament in Castle Hill delivers a new ride experience. Riders cross the castle’s moat then select their ride intensity. Robotic arms carry passengers through the ride. Fun Town takes the local gaming center to the extreme, with go-cart races, electric car races, bumper cars, bumper boats, flyers and a mini-roller coaster. Explore Village allows visitors to explore in a safari or river cruise. In Miniland USA, visitors can experience the wonders of the United States, including seven different regions of the US as well as famous landmarks. Imagination Zone brings roller coasters, log flume rides, engineering and museum-like displays of Legos and Bionicles for older kids. Throughout the park, Lego statues greet visitors and offer outstanding photo ops.
Water Parks Make Great Amusement Parks for Kids
When summer heats up and the family wants cool waters and the beach for a vacation, it isn’t necessary to drive to Florida or go to the Caribbean. Wilderness Territory in Wisconsin is one of a new breed of amusement resort – a water park resort. The park’s highlight is 250,000 square feet of indoor water fun in five different parks and 250,000 square feet of outdoor water fun in four different parks. Indoors, the kids can enjoy their own water park in Cubby’s Cove Indoor with age appropriate slides, flumes and pools. Outdoors there is also a Cubby’s Cove Outdoor. Wilderness Territory also features two indoor mini golf courses, one outdoor mini golf course, an arcade, a play park, go-carts, bumpers boats, laser tag, a zip-line canopy and a haunted hotel. Parents can enjoy the water parks, of course, but if you need to relax a little, try the 18-hole championship golf course or Wilderland with a hiking trail, picnic area, and benches placed around two lakes. If you’re looking for something a little different in your family’s amusement park vacation, Wilderness Territory may be just the place for you.
Nearly all amusement parks have parks-within-the-park designed specifically for kids. Universal Studios has Toy Story Midway Mania in Islands of Adventures, a favorite ride among families. Sea World teaches wildlife preservation and conservation through beautiful animal shows and exhibits, and also has Shamu’s Happy Harbor in Orlando, and several kids rides in San Diego and San Antonio. Cedar Point, the roller coaster capital of the world, has four children’s play areas – Planet Snoopy, Camp Snoopy, Kiddie Kingdom and Gemini Children’s Area. There are hundreds more parks with designated kiddie areas.
Childhood comes once and is a time to play and live life in the moment. Those who have children know the thrill of living childhood again through their kids, seeing the wonder and excitement in their faces, hearing their laughter in the most unusual situations. Taking a family vacation to an amusement park with the kids in mind is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. They grow up fast. Take advantage of sharing their youth and enthusiasm while they’re young – vacation at an amusement park just for families.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2010 Cristina Vanthul