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MAIN Arrow to RecreationRecreation Arrow to Amusement ParksAmusement Parks

America's Most Popular Amusement Parks (with the best
times to go and how to save on your summer vacation.)

theme parksIt seems that theme parks are on everyone's mind come Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer in the USA.

Stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific, the hottest places to cool off this summer are your local amusement or water park.

There are no worries about "I'm bored" from anyone in the group when the vacation destination is a collection of rides and games designed to make sure that grownups and kids of all ages have a good time.

Family-friendly fun and activities are the biggest reason that visitors flock there, of course. But with airfares getting higher -- and budgets getting tighter -- amusement parks are the place to be for cash-strapped families who still want affordable summer getaways that offer priceless memories for the whole family.

At the big theme parks - your ticket to money savings

Even when it comes to summer fun, it pays to shop around and compare special deals that the giant theme parks offer. On site hotel packages may seem expensive at first, but it may be well worth the extra outlay in the beginning when you consider all the perks. These might include free transporation, tickets to special events, or complimentary express passes to avoid long lines at the most popular rides (also see "The best time to go", below.)

Also, remember to check out deals that can be had with multi-day or even season passes. At larger theme park "chains" like Six Flags Great Adventure, you can obtain free admission to more than a dozen locations for a year coast to coast.

The best time to go

As always, peak summer times are the busiest time of year for theme parks, but there are still ways to save on time and costs with a few insider tips. Namely: avoid the weekends, when locals add to the throng. Also try to plan your visit midweek when crowds are traditionally lighter. The same goes for nighttime attendance.

Don't like to wait on line? Get there immediatley as the doors open, when waiting time for the most popular rides are almost non-existent. At some parks, arriving even an hour later may mean the difference between instant access and hours on line. If you want to pay extra, you can also look into theme park ride "express" passes offered by the bigger theme parks. These include Quick Queue at Busch Gardens, FastPass at World Disney World Magic Kingdom, or the Flash Pass offered by Six Flags.

Just up ahead, take a virtual tour to the biggest and best of them that are drawing record numbers. Then, decide which of the most popular is YOUR number one choice...

cinderella's castle
Cinderella's Castle,
Disney World

1. Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World - One of the most visited theme parks in the world, the Magic Kingdom in Florida calls to mind its most popular icon, Cinderella's Castle, and features magical lands to visit each with its own rides and attractions including Fantasyland, Adventureland, Frontierland, and Tomorrowland.

 2. Disneyland -
The first Disney theme park opened in 1955 in California under the first supervision of founder Walt Disney. Since then, new addition have included New Orleans Square in 1966, Bear Country (now Critter Country) in 1972, and Mickey's Toontown in 1993.

 3. Epcot at Walt Disney World -
This is part of Disney World Florida, a must-see for older kids and adults featuring exhibits that celebrate technological innovation and world cultures, and is often referred to as the "Permanent World's Fair." The park is represented by Spaceship Earth, a geodesic sphere that also serves as an attraction.

 4. Disney's Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World
- Yet another part of Disney World Fl, Disney's Hollywood Studios offers film fans lots fun and nostalgia featuring popular movie-inspired rides and attractions including live entertainment. Major sections include movie backlots in "Streets of America", special effects extravaganzas in "Animation Courtyard", and more popular attractions inspired by animated characters in Pixar Place.

killer whale at seaworld orlando
Killer whales perform
at Seaworld Orlando.

 5. Disney's Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World - The newest addition to Disney World FL opened on Earth Day, April 22, 1998 and is also the first Disney theme park to be themed entirely around animal conservation. Major attractions here include "Discovery Land". "Beastly Kingdom", "DinoLand USA".

 6. Universal Orlando -
Universal Orlando consists of two theme parks (Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure), as well as a night-time entertainment complex (Universal CityWalk Orlando), and three Loews Hotels (Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel, Loews Royal Pacific Resort).

 7. Seaworld Orlando - At Seaworld Orlando it's all about the water - with major attractions including Key West at SeaWorld designed to mimic the appearance of Key West, Florida; Shamu's Happy Harbor - a children's area hosted by Shamu, the park's killer whale mascot; The Waterfront at SeaWorld, the newest themed area of the park resembling a seaside Mediterranean village; and The Wild Arctic indoor pavilion serving as a combined attraction which includes an indoor animal exhibit hosting Polar bears, Beluga whales, and Pacific walrus.

 8. Disney's California Adventure -
The Disney company's ode to California includes acres of attractions dedicated to the Golden State separated into "districts" including Buena Vista Street, Paradise Pier, Grizzly Peak, Condor Flats, Pacific Wharf, and Hollywoodland.

 9. Islands of Adventure at Universal Orlando, FL -
Part of Universal Orlando (see above), Islands of Adventure is made up of Marvel Super Hero Island, Toon Lagoon, Jurassic Park, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, The Lost Continent, and Seuss Landing.

10. Universal Studios Hollywood, Universal City, CA
- On the west coast, Universal Studios Hollywood pulls out all the stops with their major thrill rides and top attractions including "Jurassic Park: Thew Ride" featuring encounters with dinosaurs and an 84-foot plunge splashdown; an intense "Revenge of the Mummy" indoor rollercoast ride; and "Transformers The Ride" featuring 3D technology based on the movie franchise.

Have fun!

 

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