With summer rapidly approaching, it’s time to start thinking about weekend getaways – those holiday weekends, after all, tend to creep up sooner than you think. While hiking a beautiful national park is always an option, adrenaline seekers might be craving something a littler more, shall we say, stomach-turning? Each year, a collective 290 million people visit America's 400+ amusement parks, a clear testament to Americans' love of fast rides; planning the right time to go, however, can be tricky. Below, we help you strategize how best to time your visit.
Cedar Point: Sandusky, Ohio
With 17 rollercoasters, including the number one-ranked coaster in the world, Millenium Force, there’s a reason Cedar Point gets nicknamed “America’s rockin’ roller coast.” This year, the park’s adding even more attractions to placate adrenaline junkies. The new Pipe Scream thrill ride combines roller coaster with flat ride, traveling 43 mph on over 300 feet of track. There are only a few rides like this in the entire world. Additionally, the Lake Erie Eagles operates as a swing in which guests control their adventure, from mild to wild. Like any theme park, long lines scare away riders, so, this year, Cedar Point added TV screens to their lines to keep guests entertained during that hour-long wait for “Top Thrill Dragster.” Book soon and you will be eligible for mid-week saver rates at Cedar Fair hotels, starting at $99 for Sunday through Thursday between May 11 and June 19.
When to visit: Generally, you’re safe from heavy crowds from the park’s opening date (May 10, 2014) until mid-June, which is when schools let out. Always visit during the week. After that, the park’s busy until the end of August, when school begins again. During Halloweekends, it’s best to visit Friday night for the smallest crowds.
Busch Gardens: Tampa, Florida
In Florida's most epic theme park, guests can explore Moroccan mythology atop the Gwazi roller coaster, observe alligators native to Nairobi, and even watch a cheetah run. This year, Busch Gardens opened a new attraction, the Falcon’s Fury, which stands at 335 feet and soars 60 mph straight down, mimicking the soaring pattern of a falcon (the ride has become the largest free-standing drop tower in North America). For guests looking for a deal, book tickets for Busch Gardens Tampa — not Williamsburg, VA — and save $10 on day passes. Also, there’s an all-day meal-saver to accompany each ticket. This seriously saves when racking up a tap at the pretzel stand.
When to visit: Visit during May and the months September to December, but avoid holiday periods like Thanksgiving and Halloween. From June 28th to August 17th, Summer Nights festival begins, featuring the award-winning Kinetix light show that’s full of music and acrobats.
Six Flags Magic Mountain: Valencia, California
Holding the world record for most roller coasters (18) in an amusement park, Magic Mountain lives up to the self-proclaimed title “Thrill Capital of the World.” As if eighteen roller coasters wasn't enough, Magic Mountain added another, albeit smaller, coaster this year, Speedy Gonzalez Hot Rod Racers. Now, it’s a coaster for the kiddies, topping out at a brisk 14 mph. Needless to say, it won’t have many trembling in their shoes. For those looking for fear, for a limited time this season, Magic Mountain will operate its “Batman” and “Colossus” coasters in reverse this spring season. Experience the drops, twists, and inversions without ever seeing what’s coming next. Be sure to buy your tickets five days before arrival to save $25.
When to visit: Weekdays during the summer and during the winter season. This winter from November 28th to January 5th, Magic Mountain transforms into a winter wonderland, in the middle of sunny California, for a Holiday in the Park celebration, complete with festive lights, carols, and maybe even some fake snow.
King’s Island: Mason, Ohio
Initially built in the 1970s in an effort to move and expand New York’s Coney Island, King’s Island has blossomed into a park of its own. Housing 14 roller coasters and what’s been voted the “Best Kids Area” for the past thirteen straight years, King’s Island welcomes a new park addition to their famed “Beast” series, Banshee. New to 2014, Banshee is the world’s longest inverted roller coaster with 4,200 feet of track and traveling 68 mph. This season, guests can save $15 by purchasing one-day tickets online. They’re also offering a special for 2-day park admission for $60/person, which totals over $30 in savings.
When to visit: Like most amusement parks, the optimal time to visit King’s Island is during the months of April and May when attendance is low. From there, weekday visits offer significantly shorter lines. Be sure to check out the Dinosaurs Alive exhibit ($2) this summer, which features 65 life-size moving dinosaurs.
Islands of Adventure: Orlando, Florida
Easily the most-visited theme park on this list due to its proximity to Disney, Islands of Adventure brings to life your favorite film and TV characters and takes guests on adventures with them. Although the park only maintains fifteen rides and four roller coasters, Islands of Adventure focuses on other, er...adventures like Toon Lagoon. This year welcomes the expansion of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter to include Diagon Alley and the Hogwarts Express. Still more, Islands of Adventure’s revamped their Spider-Man thrill and transformed it into an epic 3D animation. As with most parks, guests can save $20 off the gate price by ordering online. For those itching to spend a few days at Universal, an exclusive vacation offer, starting at $385/person, includes 4-night hotel accommodation, 2-day park tickets, early park admission (1 hour before regular opening), free transportation, and breakfast.
When to visit: May. Visit in May if you want to avoid the crowds. When we say crowds, we mean a two-hour wait just to enter (Note: Print your tickets before arrival, and you’ll have immediate gate access). The Harry Potter Diagon Alley expansion opens sometime this summer.