The 10 Best Theme Parks in America
There are dozens of theme parks in America today. Picking the top five or so, however, isn’t really that hard. All of them can be readily identified by most Americans. And one stands out from the rest as the undisputed winner – the top dog of all theme parks.
Disneyland, Where It All Started
What child, or adult for that matter, doesn’t love Mickey Mouse? And where better to see him, and other lovable characters, than at a theme park built around them?
Disneyland, or its younger brother Disneyworld is considered by most number one. And it should be, given that Walt Disney pretty much invented the whole idea of modern day theme parks.
Before Disneyland was opened in the mid-1950’s in Southern California, there were, of course, other theme parks. New York’s Coney Island well pre-dates Disneyland, as do others. However, most of today’s parks are much more anchored to a “theme” and go well beyond being simply a collection rides, games and entertainment.
Disneyworld, Orlando, Florida
Disneyworld is the most visited theme park in the world with a whopping 52 million visitors a year. It is a massive entertainment complex which opened in 1971 to mirror and expand upon the original Disneyland in Southern California. The park has four theme parks; Epcot, Disney Hollywood Studios, Disney Animal Kingdom and, of course, the Magic Kingdom which features many of the new and original Disney characters and rides.
If that weren’t enough, there are 27 themed hotels and two water parks in the complex. The entire park is 25,000 acres, much of it still undeveloped.
Disneyworld, and its older brother, Disneyland are true entertainment blockbusters. They are an American cultural phenomena one that has spread worldwide.
Disneyland Park (originally Disneyland), Anaheim, California
Although much smaller than Disneyworld, Disneyland is the mother of all American theme parks. It was founded in 1955 by Walt Disney and has remained an extremely popular holiday destination. This is due, in part, to the company’s ability to retain their traditional cartoon and fairytale characters – Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Snow White, etc. – while adding newer franchises such as Star Wars and Pixar’s many lovable computer animated characters.
Disneyland Park consists of nine themed “lands” such as Frontierland, Futureland and Adventureland. But what really makes Disneyland Park special after all these years is that it has remained true to its original vision to be “the happiest place on earth.”
Epcot. Bay Lake, Florida
Epcot is part of Walt Disney World Resorts and is one of Florida’s most unusual theme parks. The park is dedicated to human achievement, technical innovation and international culture, It’s something like a year around World’s Fair. Epcot is the fourth most visited theme park in the U.S. with over 13-million visitors a year.
The park is divided into two themed areas. Future World is just that, showcasing science and technology innovations for the future. The other area is World Showcase which features eleven pavilions, each built around a particular country. Among the eleven are those from France, Japan, Germany, Italy, China.
For something different than your run of the mill theme park, you should visit Epcot.
Six Flags Magic Mountain. Anaheim, California
If you want to get scared out of your wits, Six Flags Magic Mountain is the place to go. Voted America’s Best Theme Park by readers of USA Today, this park features an amazing 17-story, 75-miles an hour ride called CraZanity. Couple that with the 19 world class roller coasters and 100 rides, and you’ve got a theme park that will really rattle your brains and body.
For those seeking something less adventure, Six Flags Magic Mountain has Bugs Bunny World, a 6-acre attraction which has numerous rides that won’t give you a heart attack.
Sea World. San Diego, California
Started in the 1960’s, SeaWorld was one of the first themed oceanariums, or water mammal entertainment parks. It’s known the world over for its performing killer whale shows. If you want to get up close and personal to dolphins, sharks and sea lions, this is the place to be.
The park is on 190 acres in always sunny San Diego, California. It features interactive attractions, rides, aquariums and has amazing landscaping. Visitors get to see the mysteries of the deep blue sea and all the creatures that call it home. It also offers visitors the world’s first horizontal infinity-loop coaster.
Importantly, all the fun at SeaWorld helps finance rescue programs which have, to date, saved over 35,000 animals. SeaWorld – doing good while having fun.
Universal Studios Hollywood. Universal City, California
Another popular theme park in California is Universal Studios Hollywood. It’s focus is on TV and movie programs and characters. The park has exciting rides, live shows, many based on popular characters such as Harry Potter.
If you have a strong stomach, the Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket, will give you a thrill of a lifetime. This roller-coaster reaches 65-miles an hour and blasts loud rock music to muffle the screams of those brave enough to ride this monster.
Bring a lot of sunscreen when you go, because it never gets cloudy in Southern California.
Bush Gardens. Tampa, Florida
Owned by SeaWorld Entertainment and one of America’s oldest theme parks, Bush Gardens first opened its doors in 1959 in Tampa, Florida. The original purpose of the park was to promote products made by the large beer company Anheuser-Busch.
USA Today ranks Bush Gardens as among the top five theme parks in the U.S. Visitors can take a safari tour, see world class shows and ride hair-raising roller coasters. And you can see a true American icon, the famous Clydesdale horses pulling a large wagon-sized barrel of beer.
When you go, don’t drink too much of the sponsor’s product otherwise you may lose your lunch on one of their wild rides.
Knox Berry Farms. Buena Park, California
Southern California’s Knox Berry Farm is a family focused theme park that features over 40 rides including roller coasters, water rides and other exciting amusements. Over 4-million people visit the park every year.
Started in the 1920’s as a small roadside berry stand, Knox Berry Farm has grown into one of Southern California’s most popular theme parks. There’s a replica of an old Western ghost town and thrill rides like Shoot-the-Chute and Perilous Plunge which is the steepest and tallest water ride in the world.
This is a fun and wholesome theme park for the entire family.
Hersey Park. Hershey, Pennsylvania
Named after the famous chocolate bar company, Hersey Park is a popular East Coast family fun destination 95-miles west of Philadelphia. The park has 70 rides and live entertainment at the Hershey Park Amphitheatre and Music Box Theatre.
The price of admission also includes access to ZooAmerica, an 11-acre, year around attraction which features over 200 animals from five regions of North America. Hershey Park has appeared on many TV shows, movies, and popular books including the 2019 suspense novel “Beneath the Lights”.
They say you can smell the chocolate from Hersey Park long before you see it from the road.
Silver Dollar City. Stone County, Missouri
Located in America’s heartland, Silver Dollar City is a theme park in the popular country western music mecca of Branson, Missouri. The theme here is more down-home, traditional Americana than most of the country’s other theme parks.
It has 40 rides, live shows and 100 resident craftsmen who demonstrate America’s historical crafts. The park in open from March through December and is guaranteed to provide visitors with a real taste of old time America.
How to Get into the U.S. as a Tourist: Waivers and Visas
If you are coming to the U.S. from oversees, from countries outside of Europe, you may need to apply for a B-2 tourist visa. There are about 40 countries that don’t have to apply in-person for this visa most of them are in Europe. Others are South Korea, Australia, Singapore, New Zealand to name a few.
People from these countries can travel under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) but they must apply online for this through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) prior to boarding a flight to the U.S.
Getting a B-2 visa is time consuming and depends a great deal on what country you come from. A person must apply online through the Online Visa Application (DS-160) to set up an interview which will take place at an American consulate or embassy. You can go to the U.S. government website to see what documents are required and what the wait time is to get your tourist visa or check on your ESTA visa status. Wait times vary from country to country.
These are America’s 10 best theme parks. They are well worth visiting when you come to the U.S. After all, what trip to America would be complete without having your picture taken with Mickey Mouse?