8 Best Theme Parks in the USA With Roller Coasters

Petr Novák

Fast roller coasters with looping and tens of metres long descents, state-of-the-art digital effects or characters from popular cartoons. Theme parks such as Disneyland, Universal Studios or Six Flags guarantee a great deal of fun concentrated in one place. You can hardly visit all the attractions in one day. In this article you will find tips on the best theme parks from all over the USA.

8 Best Theme Parks in the USA With Roller Coasters | © Jeremy Thompson / Flickr.com, © Unsplash.com

Table of Contents
  1. Best Tips for Visitors to Theme Parks in the USA
  2. Best Theme Parks in the USA
  3. Busch Gardens: Tampa Bay (Florida)
  4. Cedar Point (Ohio)
  5. Kings Island (Ohio)
  6. Disney World: Magic Kingdom (Florida)
  7. SeaWorld San Diego (California)
  8. Six Flags Great Adventure (New Jersey)
  9. Six Flags Magic Mountain (California)
  10. Universal Studios Hollywood (California)
  11. Fun Facts About Theme Parks in the USA

Best Tips for Visitors to Theme Parks in the USA

🎟️ Buy Theme Park Tickets in Advance

Ticket prices often vary by day of the week and season. When demand is high, ticket prices are higher. You can usually get the cheapest tickets on the least busy days in the middle of the working week, so I recommend buying them well in advance.

It’s worth keeping an eye on the park’s social media and mobile apps, from time to time there will be discount codes for tickets.

⚡ For an Extra Fee, You Don’t Have to Wait in Line

Every theme park offers the option to either skip the queue or go virtual for an extra fee. Just pay for a $60–$120 box known as an Express Plus Pass, Flash Pass or Quick Queue.

The price for skipping the line is very high, but you avoid hours spent waiting in line, which is the most boring thing about theme parks.

Some parks (such as Universal Studios Hollywood) have separate and shorter lines for visitors who don’t mind going to the attraction separately. The people in these queues fill the last available seats. They can save you dozens of minutes of waiting, and often you and your partners or friends will be seated close together.

📅 Best Day to Visit a Theme Park

The theme parks traditionally see the most visitors on weekends and, surprisingly, also on Mondays. During the summer season, holidays and public holidays are always crowded.

The best days to visit the theme parks are Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Google Maps gives you a very good idea, showing the park’s occupancy on different days and times. Just search for a park and click on the Overview section.

⌚ Stay In the Park From Open to Close

Most amusement parks work on the system that you pay one admission fee and can repeatedly go on open attractions without restrictions. Just stand in line. It’s usually not in a person’s power to catch all the rides in that day.

I recommend arriving at the park in the morning and leaving in the evening. At the very beginning, when the park is not so crowded yet, visit the best attractions that will have a long queue during the day.

🍔 Save On Expensive Food and Drink

Drinks and meals at theme parks tend to be very expensive and restaurants with long queues another time killer. The basic lesson is: Never buy at the park what you can buy outside and take away.

If the park allows self-serve food (check the website), pack a few cookies and a water bottle in your backpack. You’ll save money and valuable time.

🌧️ Keep an Eye on the Weather Forecast

If you are planning a last-minute visit to a theme park, check the weather forecast beforehand. In the event of rain, strong winds, thunderstorms or lightning invisible to the human eye, roller coasters and the most fun thrill rides are usually closed. If you visit the park on that day, you’re out of luck and won’t get a refund.

🎒 Hide Your Backpacks in the Lockers

Lockers are available in all parks, you pay a few dollars to use them, in some parks you just need to pay a refundable deposit. Using a locker is perfectly safe, sometimes too much so.

In one park in California, I happened to be unable to get into my locker, which I had secured with a fingerprint. It took a security guard to help me after verifying my identity, detailing the contents of the locker and signing an affidavit.

Remember to pack warmer clothes in your backpack in case of cold or rain. Pack sunscreen for summer days and use it regularly.

💡 A Few Small Tips to Finish

Take a plastic zip lock bag with you and hide your phone in it. It will protect it from water attractions. If you are in the park by car, take a picture of your parking spot. It’s easier to find in the giant parking lots.

If you’re traveling in a group, arrange to meet at an easy-to-reach spot if one of you gets lost. Write your phone number on your children’s hand just in case.

8 Best Theme Parks in the USA With Roller Coasters

Best Theme Parks in the USA

There are dozens of amusement parks in America, and they differ from each other not only in name. The classic amusement park is called an “amusement park”, and its attractions range from children’s rides to log flume rides to thrill rides.

In a theme park, the attractions are not as adrenaline-packed, but they tend to have a certain style. It could be a Disney cartoon or a medieval castle. Another type are water parks with water slides, water cannons or water cannons.

For inspiration, here are some of the alphabetically ordered theme parks that regularly top the best of the best lists.

  1. 8 Best Theme Parks in the USA With Roller Coasters | Unsplash.com

    Busch Gardens: Tampa Bay (Florida)

    There are two Busch Gardens theme parks in the US, one in Virginia and the other in Tampa, Florida.

    Busch Gardens Tampa Bay offers fewer attractions, but they are all the more fun. Worth mentioning is the 335 ft tall Falcon’s Fury free-fall tower, which can reach speeds up to 60 mph. In addition, just before takeoff, the seats tilt 90° so that visitors fall face down.

    The park is decorated in an African style and includes a safari that can be driven through by car.

    🎢 Attractions & Rides

    There are 10 roller coasters in the park, ranging from children’s rides to the really adrenaline-pumping ones. There are also the popular water rides Log Flume (a ride in a water trough on a wooden log) and Congo Rapids (a raft ride in wild rapids). Busch Gardens also has attractions for smaller children, a classic fairground carousel or a train ride. Attractions at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay

    📍 Location

    Busch Gardens is located in a suburb of Tampa Bay, Florida just north of downtown. View map

    🎟️ Tickets

    Ticket prices for Busch Gardens vary according to current demand, you can save money by visiting during the working week when there are fewer people in the park. For an additional fee, you can buy a ticket that includes food throughout the day. You will be entitled to a meal every 90 minutes.

    Purchase your ticket at a discounted price as part of CityPASS Tampa Bay. With it in your pocket, you can visit other attractions around Tampa Bay at no additional cost.

    💡 Good Advice

    If you’re planning a visit with kids, be sure to bring a swimsuit and a towel so they can have fun at the water attractions. Before your visit, download the park’s mobile app, which shows average wait times for each attraction.

    Busch Gardens does not allow flavored sodas, but you can bring a bottle of plain water. A bit disappointing is that the SkyRide cable car is charged extra.

  2. 8 Best Theme Parks in the USA With Roller Coasters | © Matt Dempsey / Flickr.com

    Cedar Point (Ohio)

    Cedar Point Amusement Park in Ohio claims to be the roller coaster capital of the world. And there’s no arguing with that. Adrenaline lovers will find something to do here, there are eighteen roller coasters in total. Several of the roller coasters are higher than 200 ft, so adrenaline junkies should line up for the Magnum XL-200, Millennium Force or Valravn.

    🎢 Attractions & Rides

    The second oldest amusement park in the US also holds the world record for the most rides, with a total of 72. In addition to the aforementioned roller coasters, you can ride roller coasters and giant slides, get shot into space, or ride a big merry-go-round. For younger children, Cedar Point Park has smaller rides, trains and pony rides. Attractions at Cedar Point

    📍 Location

    Cedar Point Amusement Park is located on the peninsula of the same name near Sandusky, Ohio. View map

    🎟️ Tickets

    Cedar Point always sells tickets for a specific day, they tend to be cheaper than other theme parks. You can save money if you buy your tickets in advance online. As is now standard, the price varies by day of the week.

    For an additional fee, you can buy a ticket that includes a free meal every 90 minutes. The other option is a ticket with unlimited refills every 15 minutes at the drink stands.

    💡 Good Advice

    On your way to the park, download the Cedar Point mobile app, where you can check the current wait times for each attraction online. You can store your backpack and other personal belongings for a fee either in the central storage area or use the lockers at some attractions.

  3. 8 Best Theme Parks in the USA With Roller Coasters | © Jeremy Thompson / Flickr.com

    Kings Island (Ohio)

    Kings Island is one of the most visited parks in the USA, located in the state of Ohio and is especially famous for its family-friendly attractions. The park is operated by the same company as Cedar Point.

    🎢 Attractions & Rides

    There are fourteen roller coasters in Kings Island Park. One of them is called Banshee and with a length of 4,124 ft it holds the record for the longest suspended roller coaster in the world. The second record is held by The Beast, a 1979 attraction that is the longest wooden roller coaster in the world for currency. The total length of the coaster is 7,361 ft, and the ride lasts over four minutes.

    Those who like the adrenaline rush of heights will be delighted by the giant WindSeeker chain carousel or the Xtreme Skyflyer swing, which swings at 153 ft at speeds of up to 60 mi.

    The range of attractions for young children is rather smaller, they can ride on the train, on the children’s carousel to swing in the airplane. Attractions in Kings Island

    📍 Location

    Kings Island Amusement Park is located in Mason, Ohio, and is easily accessible by car from nearby Cincinnati. View map

    🎟️ Tickets

    Ticket prices for Kings Canyon vary widely, so I don’t explicitly list the price here. You can save tens of dollars over the price at the box office if you buy them online in advance. As with other parks, weekday tickets are cheaper.

    For an additional fee, you can buy Fast Lane, which allows you to skip the regular line at select attractions. You can also pay extra for unlimited food all day.

    💡 Good Advice

    The most fun attraction in the whole park is the Banshee. Waiting time during the weekday is around 20-30 minutes for the most popular attractions, you can save time by buying a Fast Pass.

    Don’t carry backpacks or purses when riding the roller coasters (so nothing falls out). You must either pay for a locker or ask another party member to watch your stuff.

  4. 8 Best Theme Parks in the USA With Roller Coasters | © Chad Sparkes / Flickr.com

    Disney World: Magic Kingdom (Florida)

    Located in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, the Magic Kingdom theme park is styled after Walt Disney’s fairy tales. Although you can ride roller coasters in the park, families with young children will enjoy a visit there the most. The Magic Kingdom is unmistakable thanks to its entrance building, which is shaped like a fairy-tale castle.

    🎢 Attractions & Rides

    Disney World is a state within a state that consists of several theme parks. Magic Kingdom is just one of them, it’s geared towards families, so most of the attractions are fairy-tale themed. Compared to previous parks, it doesn’t offer as many roller coasters, but you can ride the rides or see a few Disney shows.

    Other parks in close proximity to Magic Kingdom are EPCOT (focuses more on world culture) or Disneys Animal Kingdom (a large zoo) or Hollywood Studios. Attractions at Disney World: Magic Kingdom

    📍 Location

    The Magic Kingdom is located in Lake Buena Vista near Orlando, Florida, and takes about 20 minutes by car on I-4. View map

    🎟️ Tickets

    Navigating tickets to Disney World in Florida is quite difficult, as there are various packages on sale that include access to other parks in the network.

    Compared to other parks, the price of a ticket to the Magic Kingdom is quite high. Disney World uses a similar principle to airlines, where the price of a ticket on a particular day is affected by current demand.

    💡 Good Advice

    Disney World is one of the most visited theme parks, with the biggest rush from June to August. If you want to take advantage of shorter lines at attractions, plan your visit for September or October.

    I also recommend arriving at the park as early as 20-30 minutes before opening and visiting the most popular attractions first, which will have the longest lines during the day. Most people head to the Tomorrowland section and then move counterclockwise.

    Lots of other tips and advice can be found in a separate article:

  5. 8 Best Theme Parks in the USA With Roller Coasters | © Unsplash.com

    SeaWorld San Diego (California)

    While SeaWorld San Diego offers rides on roller coasters or wild rapids, the main attractions at SeaWorld are the shows featuring killer whales, sea lions and dolphins.

    The park includes two giant aquariums with seawater, sixty sea turtles and countless fish. Interestingly, the park was originally a simple restaurant with a kitchen specialising in seafood.

    🎢 Attractions & Rides

    SeaWorld in San Diego offers five roller coasters, of note is the 2,800 ft long Arctic Rescue, which simulates a snowmobile ride. Don’t expect wild corkscrews, the top speed is only 40 mi.

    The main attraction of SeaWorld San Diego is the animals and the shows featuring them. Most popular are the shows with trained dolphins and killer whales; prepare to be wet from head to toe. A third animal show includes sea lions and otters, and children will be especially interested in the pavilions with other animals. There are penguins, flamingos, beluga whales, turtles and walruses at SeaWorld San Diego. Attractions at SeaWorld San Diego

    📍 Location

    SeaWorld is located in a suburb of San Diego near the Mexican border. The drive from San Diego takes just a few minutes on the I-5 freeway, and you can also take public transportation buses. View map

    🎟️ Tickets

    SeaWorld San Diego ticket prices vary by day of the week, I’ve tracked the lowest being Monday through Wednesday. Conversely, prices are highest during the weekend. You can save money by buying your tickets in advance.

    As with other parks, you can add unlimited free refreshments all day to your ticket. SeaWorld San Diego can be visited for free as part of the GoCity San Diego Pass.

    💡 Good Advice

    I recommend arriving at the park early in the morning, before opening hours. This way you can avoid waiting in queues for most of the attractions. The prices of food inside the park are quite high, but you can save money by bringing your own snacks. SeaWorld San Diego does not prohibit this, unlike other parks.

    It’s a pretty good idea to bring a raincoat or dry clothes to change into. Especially when attending the killer whale shows, expect to be as wet as getting out of the shower. Download a mobile app on your way to the park to access maps and show times.

  6. 8 Best Theme Parks in the USA With Roller Coasters | © Jeremy Thompson / Flickr.com

    Six Flags Great Adventure (New Jersey)

    For me, Six Flags Great Adventure is the prototype of the American theme park I always imagined as a kid. Long roller coasters are complemented by more or less adrenaline-pumping attractions. The park is located in New Jersey and is easily accessible by bus from Manhattan, so it is a great choice for those who fly to New York and want to ride roller coasters.

    🎢 Attractions & Rides

    An experience for adrenaline junkies is Kingda Ka, with 456 ft the tallest roller coaster in the world and with a top speed of 80 mph also the third fastest.

    Six Flags has a total of fourteen roller coasters. Of note is the seemingly unassuming but all the more fun wooden El Toro, which was named the most fun roller coaster in the US in 2022. The Green Lantern, for a change, excels at fast looping and speeds of up to 64 mph, with even higher speeds of 80 mph achieved in the Nitro ride.

    If you like roller coasters, a visit to Six Flags Great Adventure is a must. I also enjoyed the water rides during my visit – floating in a hollowed-out log flume and rafting through the wild rapids. Attractions at Six Flags Great Adventure

    Adjacent to Great Adventure is Hurricane Harbor Water Park with over a dozen attractions.

    📍 Location

    Six Flags Great Adventure is located in Jackson, New Jersey(view on map), about an hour and a half drive from Manhattan. There are regular buses that run there during peak season, which you can board at the Port Authority Bus Terminal.

    🎟️ Tickets

    Ticket prices for Six Flags Great Adventure vary throughout the year based on current demand. The cheapest tickets tend to be on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, while weekend prices are the highest.

    You can buy The Flash Pass with your day pass in several variations, which allows you to stand in a virtual queue for the attractions, or skip it all together.

    💡 Good Advice

    A visit to Six Flags Great Adventure is a day trip. We arrived before it opened and stayed until the end of opening hours, yet we didn’t manage to visit all the rides. If you want to enjoy as many attractions as possible and not spend every dollar, buy The Flash Pass.

    You can use the cable car for quick transportation across the park. Check the weather forecast before heading to the park, the Kinga Ka roller coaster and some other attractions are closed during rain or thunderstorms.

    For more information about the park and tips on how to visit, see the separate article:

  7. 8 Best Theme Parks in the USA With Roller Coasters | © Jeremy Thompson / Flickr.com

    Six Flags Magic Mountain (California)

    Magic Mountain vies with Cedar Point for the title of the theme park with the most roller coasters. One of them starred in the opening theme song of the Step by Step series, which was popular in the early 1990s.

    🎢 Attractions & Rides

    Six Flags Magic Mountain operates a total of twenty roller coasters. One of the more interesting ones is Full Throttle, where the coasters come to a complete stop several times during the ride, then shoot back up to 70 mi.

    Also worth mentioning is the Superman: Escape from Krypton track, which shoots the carts backwards at 100 mph to a height of 415 ft. Get your adrenaline pumping with the Goliath roller coaster, which features a descent with a height difference of 255 ft, where the carriage travels at speeds of up to 85 mph.

    Magic Mountain also offers rides for smaller children. Attractions at Six Flags Magic Mountain

    📍 Location

    Six Flags Magic Mountain is located in Valencia, California, and is approximately 40 minutes by car from Los Angeles on the I-5 freeway. View map

    🎟️ Tickets

    Ticket prices for Six Flags Magic Mountain vary by demand on different days of the week. The cheapest tickets are always on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, while weekend tickets are the most expensive. With a ticket in your pocket, you can visit more than a hundred attractions in the park as many times as you want.

    💡 Good Advice

    Be prepared for long queues, during summer holidays or public holidays you can wait up to an hour for a roller coaster ride. Paying for The Flash Pass will shorten that wait, but you can still spend up to 20 minutes in line.

    Six Flags Magic Mountain opened on May 29, 1971, and some rides haven’t received much care from mechanics since then. It happens quite often that some rides are out of service.

  8. 8 Best Theme Parks in the USA With Roller Coasters | © Jeremy Thompson / Flickr.com

    Universal Studios Hollywood (California)

    The park in Los Angeles has no classic roller coaster, its main attraction is the actual movie studios where famous TV series are filmed during normal operation. As part of your visit to the park, you can take a tour of the studios, see real cars from the Fast and the Furious movie franchise, or props from the Back to the Future movies.

    🎢 Attractions & Rides

    The attractions themselves rely more on virtual effects, but you won’t be disappointed. The most interesting attraction is the tour of the film studios in the train, you can see the sets from the series Desperate Housewives or CSI: Las Vegas. At the end of the tour, you’ll take part in a movie chase with characters from the Fast and Furious series.

    Other attractions in the park also look to movies and TV shows for inspiration. You can go on the Transformers and The Simpsons virtual roller coasters, the surprisingly good Jurrasic Park or the Revenge of the Mummy, which is complemented by special effects. Attractions at Universal Studios Hollywood

    📍 Location

    Universal Studios is located in Hollywood (show on map) near the “Universal / Studio City Station” of the Red Line subway. You can walk from there to the park (it takes about a quarter of an hour) or take the train.

    🎟️ Tickets

    Ticket prices for Universal Studios Hollywood vary, as do airfares. Generally, the further in advance you buy your tickets, the more you save.

    In addition to standard tickets, there is also the more expensive Universal Express, which (with the exception of Mario Kart) allows you to skip the entire line.

    When you buy a full day ticket through the link below, you get the chance to visit Universal Studios the next day for free. The condition is that you will be outside the US and Canada at the time of purchase. In addition, you can return your ticket up to 24 hours in advance for a 100% refund.

    💡 Good Advice

    In my experience, the best day to visit Universal Studios is Tuesday, when the park is least crowded. During peak season there are still a lot of people, but significantly less than on the weekend.

    Make the most of the park’s opening hours and arrive before opening. When selecting attractions, go from the most attractive to the less interesting ones to shorten your wait in line. If you don’t need to be next to your partner on an attraction, join the “Single Rider” queue. They’ll use you to fill an open seat, which will make your wait shorter.

    The food inside the park is expensive and not of good quality. Unlike some other parks, no one minded the snacks in their backpack. If you want to save money and have a quality meal, pack something good to eat with you.

    I’ve summarized my tips and experiences from my visit to Universal Studios in a separate article for you:

Fun Facts About Theme Parks in the USA

1️⃣ Theme Park as a Distraction for Employees

When it opened in 1908, Hersheypark in Pennsylvania was intended primarily to serve the employees of the local Hershey Chocolate Factory. Because it was more successful than expected, it was opened to the public and roller coasters or swimming pools were added to the original carousel, bowling alley and baseball field. One thing has remained the same to this day, the theme of the park is still chocolate.

2️⃣ What It Takes to Run a Theme Park

Working in amusement parks is a very popular form of part-time work for young Americans (and foreigners). Cedar Point Park alone hires 5,000 employees each summer. That same park uses 6,800 gallons of paint in 872 shades annually for maintenance.

3️⃣ The Vast Expanse of Amusement Parks

All theme parks tend to have a large area, for example the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida has an area of 39 mi2. This is just a little bit smaller than the size of San Francisco. A whopping 77,000 people work in the same park, the largest number of people working in one place within the US.

4️⃣ How Much Does It Cost to Build a Roller Coaster

Building a new roller coaster is very costly, with construction costs averaging around $8,000,000. The cost of a new coaster to become a new park attraction is usually around $25,000,000.

The Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind at EPCOT park in Walt Disney World in Florida is the record holder. It opened in 2022 after four years of construction, having required an estimated investment of $500,000,000. In terms of speed or height, it is only average. It is unique in its design and backwards ride.

💬 Which amusement park did you enjoy the most? Do you have any other valuable tips up your sleeve for park goers? Write in the discussion and make other readers happy.

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