The world is huge

Don't miss any of it

Travel news, itineraries, and inspiration delivered straight to your inbox.

By proceeding, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.


Discover New Thrills at Your Favorite Theme Parks

The negotiations went right down to the wire.

Was he persuasive enough? Would she back away from the deal at the last moment?

I smile thinking of that hot day at Disney World when my son and older daughter worked so hard to convince their little sister that she really was “grown up” enough (and tall enough) to ride Space Mountain. “So cool!” they told her. “Not too scary,” they promised.

It wasn’t—at least for 5-year-old Melanie—and she spent the rest of that day and that trip preening about being “a big kid!”

Phew. I’m glad I didn’t have to buck her up if she’d decided at the last minute she simply couldn’t take the risk that the ride would be too scary. (There’s nothing I hate more at theme parks than parents cajoling kids onto rides they aren’t ready for.) {{{SmarterBuddy|align=left}}}So what if you’ve waited half an hour or more. “Just because he or she may be tall enough doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea. The same goes for parents—and teens—who would prefer to skip the coasters. Don’t push a child who’s overly scared. Rides taken under such circumstances can be truly frightening,” says Dr. David Fassler, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and professor at the University of Vermont.

Don’t fudge the height rules either. They are in place for a child’s safety. Nor should a child ride an attraction he’s outgrown. Always seat a younger child on the inside and make sure they keep their hands and feet inside at all times. (For more safety tips, check out Saferparks.)

“Start kids off with small, less intimidating roller coasters, and let them work their way up as they feel confident and ready,” said Dr. Fassler. “Remember, the goal is to have a good time!”

That should, of course, be our mantra as we head into theme park season with its ever-growing array of roller coasters, ropes courses, and waterslides. Some 400 U.S. theme parks have spent millions of dollars to wow us—and tempt us to visit—at a time when a day at a theme park can cost hundreds of dollars, not to mention untold frustration navigating crowds in the heat with kids in tow. And in case you’re wondering, about 300 million people, presumably many families, visit theme parks each year, according to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions.

No worries if you can’t make it to Orlando to meet up with Harry Potter and pals at Universal Orlando’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter, you have plenty to choose from wherever you are. offers a guide to the top 10 roller coasters in the world.

Did you know this year marks the 125th anniversary of the roller coaster—the Switchback Railway in Coney Island was the first. For those who want a dose of theme park history along with their 21st-century thrills, there’s Coney Island’s brand-new Luna Park, the first new amusement park to open in Coney Island in nearly 50 years. (Not to be outdone, the 100-year-old Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in Northern California is touting a new Haunted Castle ride where you will meet a ghoulish king, swamp monster, devil dog, and even demented kitchen staff.

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee’s Dollywood, meanwhile, has added Adventure Mountain, the country’s largest challenge course, which offers more than 140 rope bridges, net ladders, trails and flying islands. For the youngest adventurers, there’s Camp Teachittoome offering ground-based experiences. (Visit during KidsFest this summer.)

In California, gawk at World of Color at Disney’s California Adventure Park, which displays animation projected onto giant screens of water. Or, in what is being billed as the world’s largest, most intense 3-D experience, try King-Kong 360 3-D at Universal Studios Hollywood. Here, 3-D is designed to transport studio tour guests to Skull Island where you are suddenly in the middle of a struggle between giant dinosaurs and King Kong. Gulp!

There’s even a brand-new park in San Antonio, Texas designed for children and adults with special challenges. Morgan’s Wonderland is completely wheelchair accessible and, even better, admission for special needs guests is free, and just $5 a person for family members and caregivers. (Make a reservation before coming to the park.)

Take the littlest park goers to Sesame Street Safari of Fun at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay where you can ride the new “Air Grover” family coaster, or to Six Flags’ America where you’ll find a new Thomas Town—the largest permanent theme park attraction in the country based on Thomas & Friends. Kids will love to take a trip through Thomas’ home on the Island of Sodor.

To save some bucks wherever you go, check out season pass options, suggests David Mandt, a spokesman for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA). You may pay less for a season pass than for a two-day ticket. Bring reusable water bottles, snacks, and sandwiches too. Not only will you save money, but you also won’t have to wait on interminable lines with starving kids.

Take a virtual tour so you and the kids can decide where you want to go first. Everyone should get to choose at least one attraction. Divide the group if you have a great variety of ages, keeping in touch by cell phone.

Play the what-if game so kids will know what to do if you get separated. Make sure you have a meeting place for tweens. Make sure the kids—even younger ones—know to seek out someone in a uniform should they get lost. Make sure they have the name, phone number, and address of where you are staying on a card, as well as your cell numbers. (Check out SafetyTats, temporary tattoos for a child’s hand or arm that read, “If Lost, Please Call” and list a parent or guardian’s cell phone number.

And remember, said Ellen Schwartzberg, a mom from New Paltz, New York, “Roller coasters are optional. Fried dough, however, is not an option and is what you should munch on while your friends are riding roller coasters.”

See you at the fried dough stand.

Your Turn

What are your tricks for successful theme park visits? Share your thoughts, experiences, and advice by submitting a comment below!

We hand-pick everything we recommend and select items through testing and reviews. Some products are sent to us free of charge with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions and do not accept compensation to review products. All items are in stock and prices are accurate at the time of publication. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.

Top Fares From