These Are the Best Theme Parks in the U.S. to Visit This Summer
Jaw dropping thrill rides and dizzying roller coasters can be found all over the U.S., but which ones are truly the best?
With thousands of users and reviews for different attractions around the world, TripAdvisor is a treasure trove of incredible and highly-recommended places to visit on your next vacation. We asked the travel review website for the best amusement parks in the U.S., and naturally, there are a lot of amazing places to choose from.
For the purposes of this list, we decided to combine all parks within Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Disneyland in Anaheim, and Universal Studios in Hollywood and Orlando in order to see greater diversity in the types of theme parks included below, even though TripAdvisor’s collection of the highest rated theme parks in the country separates them. The list itself is based on overall TripAdvisor ratings from users and are winners of the site’s 2018 Choice Awards.
From sea to shining sea, there are plenty of places to enjoy a calming Ferris wheel, ride a classic wooden roller coaster, or scream your head off on a state-of-the-art thrill ride.
Naturally, Disney World and Disneyland take some of the top spots, since there seems to be something for everyone at these two locations. Of course, Disney rides in general, tend to be pretty mild in terms of thrills since both parks are designs to be family friendly and good for all ages. But if you’re a true coaster lover, there are some incredible parks with record-breaking rides that will truly blow your hair back.
Some locations are owned by beloved international brands, while others are more of a local favorite, but every park listed below practically guarantees a day of fun.
Take a look at this list of the highest rated theme parks across the U.S., according to TripAdvisor, and get ready to pack your bags.
1. Universal Studios: Los Angeles, California and Orlando, Florida
One of the only bicoastal parks to rival Disney, Universal Studios is the number one place for movie and roller coaster lovers alike. With the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter parks opening up in both Orlando and Los Angeles, Potterheads have been flocking to Universal Studios to grab their wands, drink some butterbeer, and ride some magical rides.
2. Walt Disney World Resort: Orlando, Florida
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Walt Disney World Resort, with its many parks, restaurants, lovable Disney characters, and things to do for guests of all ages, takes a top spot for TripAdvisor users. Even if you spend all week at this massive park (roughly the size of two Manhattan islands), you still might not be able to do absolutely everything, so naturally, people are eager to visit over and over again.
3. The Island in Pigeon Forge: Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
The number one thing you absolutely have to ride while you’re at this family-friendly park in Tennessee is the multi-colored, fully lit Ferris wheel. The Great Smoky Mountain wheel is a 200-foot-high observation wheel where you can see the entire park and surrounding scenery. Not only does The Island in Pigeon Forge offer some fun rides, but it’s also a great shopping and restaurant destination in the area.
4. SeaWorld: Orlando, Florida
This aquarium and theme park is also a certified autism center, so all kids can enjoy the park safely. The park has always had shows, including ones with Orca whales that have sparked some controversy, as well as ones with seals and dolphins. Outside of the aquarium, you can also find fun roller coasters and water-based rides that are sure to put a smile on your face.
5. Disneyland, Anaheim: California
The first Disney park is nothing to sneeze at. Disneyland officially opened in 1955 and has been getting better ever since. Like its Florida cousin, this park has something for everyone, including a few classic roller coasters like Space Mountain, as well as family friendly rides, shows, and restaurants. With the opening of new Star Wars attractions on the horizon, park attendance has nowhere to go but up.
6. Silver Dollar City: Branson, Missouri
This 1880’s theme park is truly a celebration of Americana. Not only can you enjoy the thrill of wooden roller coasters, log rides, and even some classic carnival rides, you can also take in some unique shows, watch crafts being made, and tour Marvel Cave. There are also lots of delicious places to eat within the park, including lots of places with classic American dishes and pioneer-themed eateries.
7. Busch Gardens: Tampa, Florida and Williamsburg, Virginia
Busch Gardens has some of the best roller coasters in the country. The Tampa Bay park is actually home to the tallest and scariest roller coaster in Florida. In Virginia, guests can visit Colonial Williamsburg, a popular early-America themed amusement park with some fun activities including craftwork and tours in the world’s largest living history museum. Water Country USA, Busch Gardens’ water park, is also a popular destination for summer vacationers.
8. Santa’s Village: Jefferson, New Hampshire
Enjoy the Christmas spirit all year long in this quirky, holiday-themed park. Christmas lovers can enjoy the magic of the North Pole even when it’s mid-July by riding antique cars, a Christmas train, and rides like the Chimney Drop and elf Flying School (a circular, flying sleigh ride). In the summer, you can even enjoy a trip to the water park, which opens in late May.
9. Knoebels Amusement Resort: Elysburg, Pennsylvania
Welcome to America’s largest free admission park. That’s right. Admission is 100 percent free. Classic coasters, swimming, camping, golf, and kid-friendly rides and attractions make this an incredible destination for families. There is even a bald eagle habitat with two eagle residents where you can take your kids to learn about the majestic, endangered species. Guests who are especially interested in Americana will also love the Carousel Museum and Mining Museum.
10. Cedar Point: Sandusky, Ohio
This park is the so-called roller coaster capital of the world with a grand total of 18 roller coasters throughout the park. Perhaps the most famous is the Steel Vengeance, the fastest and longest hybrid roller coaster in the world. In addition to roller coasters, Cedar Point is also chock full of thrill rides, family-friendly rides, and a water park for visitors during the summer.
11. Bay Beach Amusement Park: Green Bay, Wisconsin
Bay Beach is another family-friendly and affordable park, with tickets at only 25 cents a pop. Considering that many theme parks charge upwards of $100 per person, this is music to any parents’ ears. The local favorite has 16 carnival-like rides, including a small Ferris wheel, for a fun afternoon no matter your age.
12. Hersheypark: Hershey, Pensylvania
Chocolate lovers, of course, have to visit Hersheypark at some point. Named after the famous chocolate brand Hershey’s, this park touts over 70 attractions, including 14 roller coasters and a water park. While you’re walking around, be sure to say hello to the adorable chocolate-bar characters strolling through the park and stop by ZooAmerica to visit more than 200 animals within the park’s 11-acre zoo.
13. Nickelodeon Universe: Bloomington, Minnesota
90’s kids, rejoice. This park is themed for everyone’s favorite kids TV channel, Nickelodeon. If you’ve ever been a fan of SpongeBob Squarepants, Dora the Explorer, Teenage Ninja Turtles and the long list of classic Nick shows, this is a bucket list destination for you. It’s also extra kid-friendly, as it is a certified autism center. Get ready to have your fill of bright orange attractions and try not to get slimed.
14. Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park: Glenwood Springs, Colorado
This park might be the most fun and thrills you can get while you’re in the Rockies. Some of the more popular attractions include the country’s first alpine coaster, a gold-rush themed haunted mine drop, and a canyon swing. Guests can also enjoy cave tours inside Colorado’s largest show cave (also known as a public or tourist cave).
15. Funland: Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
This boardwalk theme park is fun at the beach and then some. It’s also a great destination for the whole family, with kid-friendly rides like a carousel and kiddie wheel, and more thrilling attractions like a haunted mansion and a few gravity-defying rides. You can also take a walk on the boardwalk to find yourself some old-fashioned snacks like hot roasted peanuts, cotton candy, pretzels, and popcorn.