Top 10 Theme Parks for Families

At almost any time of year, family planners can count on a theme park to shift the annual vacation into high gear. Whether you’re planning a long vacation or just a day trip, a themepark is the perfect destination for family bonding no matter the age of your children.

Ridgeway family from Ocean Springs, Mississippi rode Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland Resort. (Joshua Sudock/Disneyland Resort)

In “America’s Most Popular Family Vacations,” the community offers its top 10 picks for the best themeparks in destinations with so much to do that you can plan a whole vacation around them. This list is not in any particular order, and there are many other great amusement parks in North America, so you can tell the kids — no matter where you’re going — there’s fun ahead!

  1.  Dollywood, Tennessee

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee is known for its wholesome population of good ol’ country-music-loving residents who put on a warm welcome. One of the region’s most well-known locals, of course, is Dolly Parton.  In 1986, the spirited country singer opened Dollywood and it is now one of Tennessee’s most visited man-made attractions, receiving more than two-million visitors annually.  The ever-expanding park has rides and amusements for every age, from toddler to adult, and was spared by the November 2016 wildfires that engulfed the region and many homes.

  2.  Hershey Park, Pennsylvania

Set in the beautiful Pennsylvania region of Hershey, this chocolate-themed amusement park has everything from rides to games to food.  The park is open year-round and offers seasonal adventures for the whole family.  As the weather starts to get warmer, nothing is more exciting than a trip down “Tidal Force,” one of the world’s tallest waterslides.  And when the family is done trying all the rides, make sure to see some live entertainment or take a chocolate factory tour.

  3.  Lake Compounce, Connecticut

A family-friendly amusement park in the heart of small-town Connecticut, historic Lake Compounce attracts visitors from all over with its roller coasters, water rides and wave pool.  Lake Compounce is one of the oldest amusement parks in the country and boasts the #1 wooden roller coaster in the world. There are rides and waterplay for all ages during its May to October season.

  4.  Cedar Point, Sandusky Ohio

If you love roller coasters then check out Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio.  This 364-acre peninsula on Lake Eerie is known as the “Roller Coaster Capital of the World.”  With more than 70 rides, nearly a quarter of them world-class coasters, this park has fun for the entire family.  Even if you’re not a coaster fan, Cedar Point has waterparks, shows and mini-rides for your tiny travelers. On-site accommodations offer special incentives for staying and playing.

Busch Gardens Virginia coaster
Roller coaster at Busch Gardens Williamsburg in Virginia.

  5.  Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Virginia

Williamsburg, Virginia is a great family destination for living history, and it fits perfectly with the 21st Century escape available at nearby Busch Gardens. Featuring Europe-themed rides, attractions, shows, food and shopping, Busch Gardens is the right kind of distraction for the entire family.  The little ones will surely love running into the cast of “Sesame Street,” while older kids can have their share of thrills on a host of rides. Everyone in the family will appreciate this park’s beautiful landscaping.

  6.  Legoland, California

Targeted to the younger crowd, families with kids ages 2 through 12 will find Legoland a different kind of adventure. Featuring over 30 million Lego pieces assembled into the décor, Legoland offers a variety of activities from mild coasters to an “Imagination Zone” where kids can build their own Lego creations. Their waterpark is built of Legos, too! This park is very kid-friendly, providing water fountains, cafeteria counters and restrooms for the younger bunch. Health-conscious parents will also appreciate the food variety; the park offers gourmet-style restaurants and you are more likely to see fruit stands than candy or ice cream shops. If you are a real fan, you’ll want to stay at the on-site hotel and visit the Legoland Florida park too.

  7.  Universal Studios Hollywood, California

Always wanted to feel like a movie star? At Universal Studios, the whole family can experience the sights, sounds and glamour of Hollywood. Take the refreshed, thrilling backlot tour showcasing scenes and sets from popular TV shows and movies, ride TV- and movie-themed rides and meet with some of the most beloved characters, such as Shrek, SpongeBob, and Curious George. The whole family will enjoy the star-studded treatment and selfie spots at this glittering themepark.

  8.  Walt Disney World, Florida

When Disney says “come and experience the magic,” it’s no lie.  Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida is truly a magical destination. With four distinct theme parks, two water parks, over 25 hotels and more restaurants, shops and entertainment than you can count, there is truly something for everyone.  The vast number of rides, attractions and shows caters to every age from toddler to adult and the new Pandora: World of Avatar is creating a lot of buzz. Disney also has many options for families traveling with small children including babysitting services, stroller rentals and changing areas.

  9.  Schlitterbahn Waterpark, Texas

Take Schlitterbahn, the original German-themed waterpark in New Braunfels, Texas and multiply it by four (sister waterparks exist in South Padre Island and Galveston, Texas; Kansas City, Kansas; and Corpus Christi, Texas) and families can fashion a whole road trip around visiting these palaces of aquatic fun. This Hill Country amusement park that’s been voted No. 1 Waterpark in America for as long as we can remember, and its location between San Antonio and Austin make it a fun base for a true Texan vacation.

  10.  Universal Orlando, Florida

Although there are several themeparks to see in the Orlando area, no visit would be complete without a few day’s stop at Universal Studios. The movie-themed rides and attractions range from Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem for the little ones to Revenge of the Mummy for the more daring older set. Adjacent to Universal is the Islands of Adventure where the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is housed among other impressively entertaining attractions. While there are plenty of rides to choose from, families can also enjoy restaurants, shows, movies and shopping nightly at the fun CityWalk.

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3 Replies to “The 10 Best Themeparks For Family Vacations”

  • Macslure

    Originally created as a recreation area for employees of the Hershey Chocolate factory, today Hershey Park boasts plenty of chocolate paraphernalia, as well as roller coasters and a water park. Tickets include admission to the nearby ZOOAMERICA. Originally owned by the Knott’s jam producers, Knott’s Berry Farm amusement park is one of the older parks in the US, Knott’s Berry Farm is a classic for those looking for thrill rides, water rides and family fun.

  • Anonymous

    I am off to Orlando in October.

    How is the theme park here for under 3 yr olds? anyone been?

    • admin

      We've been. The parks are great for a toddler as long as you plan short days and keep the walking to a minimum; don't wait in a lot of lines. Weather should be cooler in October, that's good.  If you can afford one of the hotels that gets you the first in line access, that would be great. It's pretty exhausting but your kids will have fun, and  they have a rider swap so that your spouse can watch the baby, while one of you does the amazing Harry Potter ride, and then you can switch duty and the other rides too.

      At Universal Studios (the movie themed part of the parks), there are cartoon stars from Nickelodeon shows, and they're in gentle rides or in live shows. The best bet may be Woody Woodpecker's KidZone, where there is a fun interactive playground and sing-a-longs with characters.

      At Islands of Adventure, we all loved Suess Landing where you can go on the Cat in the Hat ride, and a very crazy carousel. Just love those books and our son remembered a lot of the words from having them read to him so often. The Jurassic Park ride area has a neat water playground you'll enjoy it if there aren't a lot of teens squirting each other.