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Independent Amusement Parks Offer Small-Town Charms

by Carley Wade

Jul 6, 2018

© Rawpixelimages | Dreamstime.com


So Disney just upped their park fees and you’re tired of paying $8 for a slushie at Busch Gardens. Here are some charming, independent amusement parks where some of the attractions are free and food is as cheap as 50 cents, but the thrills are just as gigantic as the biggest coaster.

Canobie Lake Park

It may have one of the area’s most beloved wooden roller coasters (the Yankee Cannonball), but there’s always something new in store. Case in point: two new 2018 additions — a new waterpark and high-speed Ice Jet, set to funky lights and music. Untamed’s 72-foot vertical drop, grizzly bear-themed coaster was added just a few years ago, with loops, banked turns and zero gravity rolls that raise eyebrows from even the parking lot. Shows including musical tributes to Bruno Mars are free, with peacocks wandering the grounds and a quaint boat ride along the lake.

Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari

It’s Christmas — and much more — the whole season long at Holiday World, where 125 acres are split into Thanksgiving, Halloween, July 4th and Yuletide themes. Soft drinks, parking, sunscreen and WiFi are free, and the water park features two long coasters. New this year is Tembo Falls, a waterslide complex for younger kids with eight junior slides.

Swing rides at the amusement park

Swing rides at the amusement park © Nakisa | Dreamstime.com


Free admission? Sign us up! Knoebels, open for 90 years, is nestled in the wooded heart of mideastern Pennsylvania and features six coasters and 60 other rides. Each costs $1–3, from coasters to kiddie rides and water slides, a flume and a haunted house. Real theme park aficionados can rent a cabin, cottage or campsite and make a whole long weekend out of it.

Morgan’s Wonderland

Special-needs kids (and adults) now have a park built for them, with more than two-dozen wheelchair-accessible rides like a Ferris wheel, train ride and carousel. There are also costumed performers and puppet performances. Admission for kids with disabilities is free and adults are $17. Twice-a-month senior Fridays are just $8.


Good things come in threes at Edaville, where a trio of themed areas give kids an opportunity to become little train engineers at Thomas Land; prehistoric creatures come alive at Dino Land with life-sized animatronic dinosaurs; and Cran Central pays homage to Edaville’s location in the heart of Massachusetts’ cranberry-growing country. Model trains, mini carousels, a Thomas the Tank Engine ride (but of course!) and much more await. Christmas is especially fun, with Santa visits and holiday decorations.

Quassy Amusement Park

Don’t miss out on Fridays at Quassy, where hot dogs, soda and rides are just 50 cents each. One of the country’s few remaining trolley parks — created at the end of streetcar lines so travelers used the services on the weekends — the fun here is big but still feels downhome. Expect an amusement park with two coasters and 38 rides, including those at the Splash Away Bay waterpark. There’s also an arcade and “zoo” with fiberglass animals.


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