There is some controversy in the theme park world whether or not Knotts Berry Farm was the nation’s first theme park. But if you ask Holiday World in Santa Claus, Ind., they will totally tell you they were the first. It opened its doors hoping to delight kids looking for the big guy in the red suit and succeeded. Today, it still delights kids with roller coasters, wave pools and preschooler friendly thrills like Doggone Trail and Rudolph’s Round up. It’s all holidays, all the time.
Since Holiday World’s inception, it seems like Six Flags-style theme parks with death-defying roller coasters started popping up overnight. But there are still theme parks the littlest travelers can enjoy while finding fun for everyone else. Here are five to try.
You can’t miss the pinnacle of all preschool-school friendly theme parks. Sesame Place was designed with tots and little kids in mind, although there is some fun for all ages. The rides are just right for ages 2 and up with flying Elmo and Oscar’s Wacky Taxi, followed by shows, parades and character meet and greets. Bigger kids will probably prefer the water rides and body slides before taking a dip in the lazy river. Sesame Place also offers hotel packages with lowest price guarantees on park tickets and a Kids Eat Free plan for dining with Elmo and friends.
Once upon a time, there was a pint-sized theme park with rides like Roar-o-Saurus, Alice’s Tea Cup, antique cars and a classic antique German Carousel. Located in Glen, N.H., the aptly named Story Land features Dig-M-Deeper play areas and Little Dreamers Nursery Rhyme play areas where little ones can unearth prehistoric fossils and watch their favorite nursery rhymes come to life. There’s also a mini geyser for hot days and real-life storybook animals.
You don’t have to be a chocolate lover (although it doesn’t hurt) to enjoy Hersheypark in Hershey, Pa. Roller coasters are plentiful, but so are family-focused rides and kiddie rides like the Bizzy Bees, Dinosaur-Go-Round, Tiny Tracks, Space Age and more. Like most family-friendly theme parks, Hershey Park also has a water theme park and slide area with fun for different ages. And if you are a chocolate lover, there are signature Hershey dining experiences like Simply Chocolate, S’mores Cart and combo carts with all things Hershey’s chocolate.
At LEGOLAND, rides are built for ages 2 to 12 in mind. You may be familiar with LEGOLANDs situated inside malls with a mini Ferris Wheel and LEGO experiences, but the LEGOLAND Parks resorts are full-scale theme parks. Hop on rides like Longboat Invader and L-Drivers, or head to an adorable Duplo Village for little ones with an indoor play area to cool off in the hot Orlando sun. LEGOLANDs are taking over the world, so check and see if there’s a theme park in your next vacation destination.
If you’re looking for an old-fashioned, old-school theme park without all the cutting-edge bells and whistles, Knoebels is it. This Elysburg, Pa., theme park houses plenty of thrill rides for older kids, but also offers a quality mix of family-friendly rides like Motor Boats, Scenic Skyway, Roto Jets and Tea Cups. You can either pay a flat price to play all day, or pick and choose what you want to do with rides costing as little as $1.25 with discounts on bulk tickets.
This list is also a good reminder theme parks are just that — themes. Pick the right theme for your kids from Sesame Street to LEGOLAND to find the right fun for you. And if you can swing it, plan to go off-season when the crowds dwindle and you aren’t fighting for real estate on a ride shaped like a cow.