Taking a vacation to hang with the world’s most famous mouse and his fairy tale friends may not be in the budget this year, but that doesn’t mean that adventurous, family-friendly fun is out of reach. Check out these comparatively budget-friendly options that offer everything from free parking and drinks to complimentary preview days.
Adventureland, Altoona, IA
Located just east of Des Moines, Adventureland entertains visitors with over 100 rides, live shows and attractions, including some of the nations most exciting coasters that challenge even the most avid thrill-seekers. Beyond the large-scale coasters, there’s also an array of water attractions at Adventure Bay, like Iowa’s longest lazy river, 20 water slides, pool with swim-up bar for both parents and little ones, 25,000-square-foot wave pool, sand beach sundeck, kid’s activity pool, splash pad and children’s rides throughout the park.
Photo: Adventure Bay via altoonachamber.org
The newest attraction to the park is Storm Chaser, a giant swing ride that takes riders 260 feet off the ground and spins them at 35mph. We recommend testing your bravery on this one with an empty stomach.
Discount coupons are usually available at Iowa HyVee and Taco John stores, so check them out when you’re in the neighborhood.
General Admission: $40 (ages 10+); $35 (ages 4-9 and 69+)
Photo: Lake Canobie via ZelenyOko on Flickr
Canobie Lake Park, Salem, NH
Canobie Lake Park got it’s start in 1902 as a trolley park, which were parks created by U.S. rail companies, typically at the end of their lines by lakes, rivers and beaches, to drum up weekend business and provide a resting place for weekday commuters. It’s also one of only a handful of family-owned amusement parks remaining in the country. A strong sense of nostalgia remains in the park with their carousel that’s been running since 1906 and the 1930’s Dodgems bumper cars; but, the vintage charm is tempered by the thrilling appeals of a modern-day amusement park.
Photo: Canobie Lake Park Ferris Wheel via milst1 on flickr
Wooden coaster, Yankee Cannonball, with it’s stomach-in-the-throat, air-time hills and the 97-degree drop of the steel behemoth, Untamed, provide the much-needed juxtaposition to the gentle rides remaining from the parks earlier, gentler days.
While Canobie doesn’t offer a full-scale water park, Castaway Island’s interactive play station with water slides, a tipping bucket and a variety of sprayers and water cannons provides the perfect cool-down spot for toasty travelers. For more water fun, hop on the Policy Pond log flume or get dunked like a tea bag on the Boston Tea Party splashdown ride that unleashes a gigantic plume of water guaranteed to drench the camera-toting bystanders.
Unlike most parks, parking is always free. Before visiting, check their Specials page for online-only promotions or to join CanobieClub for access to email promotions.
General Admission: $36 (over 48”); $27 (under 48” and age 60+); ages 3 and under are free; $25 (after 5pm)
Photo: Coney Island via drpavloff on Flickr
Coney Island, Brooklyn, NY
Clear your schedule for a rite-of-passage journey to the sacred birthplace of the hot dog. Come packing a Costco-sized supply of Pepto with stomachs empty as there’s no shortage of vendors eager to sell their version of this American culinary icon.
Located in the southernmost tip of Brooklyn, Coney Island is a neighborhood and beach well-known for it’s amusement area that includes more than 50 rides and attractions. It’s unique in that since it’s inception, it’s never been a singularly owned entity but rather a collection of independent owners, operators and vendors. For this reason, admission to enjoy the grounds is free and rides are pay-as-you-go, allowing the budget conscious to control their spend.
Photo: Coney Island Wonder Wheel via wallyg on flickr
While its true Coney Island suffered setbacks and seemed to be headed for permanent closure, the passion of several organizations has helped to revitalize this important piece of Americana. Luna Park opened in 2010 and new rides and shows have been attracting the world’s most curious to this uniquely urban play land.
Hours of operation vary and depend on the crowd and the whim of the owners. Enjoy a spectacular fireworks display every Friday starting the last weekend of June, running until the Friday before Labor Day.
General Admission: Free, pay as you go for rides and games
Hersheypark, Hershey, PA
Hershey, Pennsylvania is a fun-packed destination committed to preserving the well-respected legacy of Milton S. Hersey, founder of an American favorite, The Hershey Chocolate Company. Initially built as a place for Hershey Chocolate Company employees to relax, Hersheypark draws visitors from all over the world with over 70 rides and attractions, including 12 coasters, 14 unique water attractions in The Boardwalk at Hershey and 20 kiddie rides.
Photo: Hersheypark via Joe Shlabtonik on Flickr
New this year is Laff Trakk, the first indoor, spinning, glow-coaster in the U.S. Riders spin through an exhilarating sensory adventure of sights and sounds with glimpses of colorful characters and a dizzying hall of mirrors.
Hershey Park’s website offers insider money-saving tips from where to get coupons to information on their preview program, which allows visitors to enter the park the night before their scheduled date of entry for a free 2 1/2 hour preview.
General Admission: $61.95 (ages 9-54); $38.95 (ages 3-8 and 55-69); $24.95 (ages 70+)
Photo: Lake Compounce via milst1 on Flickr
Lake Compounce, Bristol, CT
Not only is Lake Compounce the oldest, continuously-operating amusement park in North America, it’s home to Boulder Dash, which has been consistently voted as the world’s #1 wooden roller coaster. Known as a terrain coaster, Boulder Dash uses the mountain as it’s base and follows it’s thrilling topography past trees and boulders with 115’ drops and speeds up to 60mph.
Photo: Boulder Dash at Lake Compounce via milst1 on flickr
Surrounded on three sides by a mountain and boasting a lake, the park stays in synch with the natural beauty of its setting. The Mark Twain sternwheeler cruises the lake, while a vintage open air electric trolley transports guests to the base of Southington Mountain where they can board gondola cars with promises of breathtaking views on Skyride’s 700-foot climb to the summit.
Crocodile Cove Water Park is included in the price of admission and offers guests an opportunity to cool down on those hot summer days. While not as large as some other water parks, this watering hole is unique in that park-goers can choose to ride traditional slides that empty out into the lake or soak up the sun on the sandy beach.
The Dino Expedition attraction is the latest addition to this park and guests of all ages will come face-to-very-large-teeth with lifelike animatronic dinosaurs up to 40 foot long on self-guided pathways. Even the smallest paleontology-enthusiast can get in on the action with the open-air fossil dig where they can unearth fossils.
Those looking to trim costs will be happy to hear this park offers free water and sodas all day.
General Admission: $40.99 (52” or taller); $30.99 (under 52”)
Photo: Michigan’s Adventure via Roller Coaster Philosophy on Flickr
Michigan’s Adventure, Muskegon, MI
Having the distinction of being Michigan’s largest amusement park, Michigan’s Adventure doesn’t disappoint with over 60 rides and attractions, including Wildwater Adventure. The price of admission gives park-goers access to both parks, good news for those watching their bottom line.
This park appeals to all ages with their balance of family-centric rides, like bumper cars, go-karts, and paddle boats fashioned to look like swans, with thrill-seeking rides like mile-long Shivering Timbers wooden coaster that reaches heights of 125 feet. It’s also one of the only coasters in the world to feature a crooked trick track that unexpectedly tosses riders from left to right.
Photo: Shivering Timbers at Michigan’s Adventure via Roller Coaster Philosophy on Flickr
Like most parks, eating onsite can leave you scraping the bottom of your pocketbook, so many visitors chose to pack a cooler and picnic in the parking lot. General admission, food and drink discounts are available when purchased online and local retailer, Meijer, often offers in-store discounts.
General Admission: purchase online for $29.99, ages 2 and under are free
Photo: Palace Playland via Joe Shlabotnik on Flickr
Palace Playland, Old Orchard Beach, ME
With free admission and ample parking, New England’s only beach-front amusement park covers 4 acres and lets vacationers set their own budget. Pay for rides individually by purchasing tickets or splurge for the all-day pass that gives your unlimited access to over 25 rides and attractions. The park delivers fun for all ages, with gentle giants such as the carousel and Ferris wheel to the hold-onto-your britches pendulum swing of the Adrenalin. The steel Italian-made coaster, Galaxi, taxis riders several stories up for the best views of the beach before sending them careening back to solid ground.
The 24,000 square foot arcade contains more than 200 games, with such classics like Skeeball and Fortune Tellers and the modern coin-operated video games.
Photo: Palace Playland Arcade via Joe Shlabotnik on Flickr
Palace Playland lets attendance and weather be their guide when setting a daily closing time, creating the romantic illusion of an endless summer.
General Admission: No fee for admission. $32 day pass with unlimited rides, $24 kiddie pass recommended for kids under 42” tall. $1.30 single ticket (each ride takes 2-4 tickets)
Story by Maria Barnes