BEYOND THE HAPPIEST PLACE ON EARTH
To ease crowding, Disney raised the price of admission to its theme parks last year, with even children's tickets exceeding $100 per day. These increased rates may inspire budget-minded travelers to seek another vacation spot for a few days of family fun. Luckily, there's no shortage of alternative attractions to enjoy for less.
Thrill-seekers will find far plenty to enjoy at Cedar Point. The Sandusky, Ohio theme park is legendary for its roller coasters, including one opened last year that ranks as the world's tallest, fastest, and longest dive coaster. Save on the $49 daily admission by purchasing tickets as a group, for multiple days, or as part of a package covering other Ohio attractions like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Fifteen unique roller coasters speed through dense wooded terrain at Mason, Ohio's Kings Island. The park is also known for its Dinosaurs Alive! exhibit of 65 life-sized animatronic reptiles. Between high-flying thrill rides and daily shows featuring acrobatic stunts and themed music, the park also boasts reasonable ticket prices beginning at $40.
A one-third scale replica of the Eiffel Tower is only part of the park's showcase of European and colonial architecture. Kids will likely be more interested in the dozen roller coasters scattered throughout the park, including the East Coast's tallest, the Intimidator 305. Online tickets to Kings Dominion currently start at $51.
Guests can ride roller coasters in two states at Carowinds, a nearly-400-acre theme park straddling the border between North and South Carolina. In addition to its standard selection of thrill rides and family attractions, the park also features tasty classics of Carolina cuisine at Harmony Hall and other dining options onsite. A $47 daily ticket also includes admission to the attached waterpark Carolina Harbor and old-school County Fair area.
SIX FLAGS MAGIC MOUNTAIN
This Six Flags Magic Mountain's 262 acres feature water rides, live music, and Looney Tunes character meet-and-greets as well as 19 roller coasters. Buy daily tickets in advance and get up to $25 off the standard $85 price.
SIX FLAGS GREAT ADVENTURE
This East Coast park has 13 roller coasters plus a new interactive Justice League ride that lets guests fire blasters into animatronic scenes of DC Comics characters. Visit the Golden Kingdom area of the park for live animal presentations showcasing giraffes, sea lions, and more.
Canada's first major theme park remains its largest thanks to 16 roller coasters, spinning thrill rides, midway games, Peanuts-themed kids' shows, and the onsite water park Splash Works. Daily admission starts at $44 online and includes access to the water park.
KNOTT'S BERRY FARM
Divided into districts built to resemble a beach boardwalk, Mayan temples, and an Old West village at Knott's Berry Farm, Knott's Berry Farm is less than ten miles away from Disneyland. For the $45 admission, families can visit a blacksmith, participate in spontaneous street performances, or ride stomach-churning roller coasters. An extra $25 adds admission to onsite water park Soak City.
Pigeon Forge, TN
The Smoky Mountains are the backdrop for Dolly Parton's country-themed amusement park, famed for its music, vaudeville performances, and crafts demonstrations as much as spinning roller coasters and steam train excursions. A one-day ticket costs $68 per adult, but guests can stay three days and visit two parks for $99.
SILVER DOLLAR CITY
Experience thrill rides as well as Ozark hospitality at this Branson theme park, where guests can earn new culinary and craftsmanship skills as well as enjoy family-friendly thrill rides. The three-day, two-park access ticket offers visitors the best deal, with the $87 price tag only $15 more than the price of a single-day admission.
BUSCH GARDENS TAMPA BAY
At $89 per person tickets aren't exactly cheap, but families may even want to spend an extra $29 for the park's Serengeti Safari tour to see animals not typically found outside the African savannah. Otherwise, guests can spend their time watching live performances or riding the park's signature roller coaster, Cheetah Hunt.
This 121-acre amusement park has far more going for it than just chocolate, though guests can find plenty of that at onsite eateries or the adjacent Hershey's Chocolate World. For the single-day admission price of $65, visitors can enjoy 13 unique roller coasters and an educator-led stroll through the 11-acre animal showcase ZooAmerica.
KNOEBELS AMUSEMENT PARK
Knoebels has been the nation's largest free-admission amusement park for more than 90 years. Families can park, use picnic facilities, and explore the wooded grounds for free, then pay $1to $3 per person to experience thrill rides ranging from roller coasters and flume rides to sky swings and haunted houses.
Rehoboth Beach, DE
With just 20 rides, Funland in Rehoboth Beach doesn't compare in scope with many other theme parks, but it makes up for its small size with the authentic atmosphere of an Atlantic coast boardwalk. Guests can use tickets costing 35¢ each to access the rides or play old-fashioned arcade games.
BAY BEACH AMUSEMENT PARK
Green Bay, WI
Parking and admission are both free at this long-standing lakefront attraction, where experiencing one ride typically costs only two 25¢ ride tickets. The exception is the Zippin Pippin roller coaster, which costs four tickets. Don't like roller coasters? Order grilled hamburgers and soft-serve ice cream cones at the concession stands or enjoy classic rides like the bumper cars, tilt-a-whirl, or merry-go-round.
Santa Claus, IN
Located in the town of Santa Claus, Holiday World is open April through October and often has the jolly old elf hard at work reading stories to kids, but he's not the only attraction. Visitors can ride steel or wooden roller coasters or plummet down the two longest water coasters in the world. Free soft drinks and sunscreen are provided at kiosks throughout the parks, too.
At $99 online, an annual pass to Legoland currently costs only $9 more than a single day's admission to the park, so there's ample reason to make return visits. There are nine themed areas offering unique rides and attractions made from the colorful building block toys, plus onsite shops and an interactive adventure featuring "The Lego Movie" characters.
One of many attractions located within the sprawling Mall of America, Nickelodeon Universe is an indoor amusement park celebrating some of the TV network's series with family-friendly thrill rides like the Fairly Odd Coaster and Backyardigans Swing-Along. A one-day wristband with access to unlimited rides costs only $30.99 at the time of writing.
New Braunfels, TX
The flagship location of this water park chain distinguishes itself with unusual water rides like the inland surfing ride Boogie Bahn and an uphill water coaster called the Dragon Blaster. Families can rent a cabana near the park's heated pools and kiddie playgrounds, but should reserve in advance -- and be prepared for prices starting at $125 a day. Luckily, discounted online admission to Schlitterbahn starts at $51 for adults and $39 for children.
SAN DIEGO SAFARI PARK
Affiliated with the San Diego Zoo, the San Diego Safari Park offers a chance to see animals in their environment. For the price of a $52 adult pass ($42 for children ages 3 to 11), guests can take a safari tour through grasslands full of exotic animals and witness a cheetah reaching speeds of 70 miles per hour in just four seconds. Additional safari tours offer more specialized wildlife encounters for additional fees.
The oldest continuously operating theme park in North America, Lake Compounce opened in 1846 and stays up-to-date today with attractions like the Boulder Dash wooden coaster, the triple-launch Phobia Phear coaster, and a collection of water park slides and wave pools. Summer season passes are available online for $55, only $11 more than the price of a single-day ticket.
SANTA CRUZ BEACH BOARDWALK
Santa Cruz, CA
The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is a seaside amusement park offering classic thrill rides, vintage carnival games, mini-golf, laser tag, fried foods, and more in a setting that's quintessentially Californian. Visitors can buy $1 points to spend on individual attractions and games, or purchase combo tickets ranging in price from $36 for an all-day rides wristband to $82 for a season pass.
Kentucky Kingdom and its adjoining water park Hurricane Bay have more than 70 attractions, including five roller coasters While children enjoy the rides, adults can appreciate the park's meticulous color-coordinated landscaping, allowing visitors to see different plants blooming at different times of year. Standard tickets cost $50, but out-of-state visitors can currently buy a two-day ticket (including free drinks) for only $30.
PLAYLAND'S CASTAWAY COVE
Ocean City, NJ
Playland's Castaway Cove is the oldest amusement park in Ocean City and boasts an indoor arcade, a go-kart speedway, nautical-themed mini golf, and more. Visitors purchase packages of $1 tickets, which never expire, to pay for admission to individual rides and attractions.
CANOBIE LAKE PARK
Enjoy wooden roller coasters from yesteryear at Canobie Lake Park, which also has kid-friendly and water rides in a lakeside location. The park also has unique carnival games like their paintball shooting gallery, pinball machine parlor, and newly-added puzzle rooms. General admission costs $38. After 5 p.m., the price drops to $26.