Kids amusement parks are a summer right of passage. Many families pack up the car and head to an amusement park for a fun day or weekend.
Spending a day at a theme park is great for family vacations. Amusement parks offer thrill rides like rollercoasters that get your adrenaline going. But what are the best theme parks for little ones?
This article focuses on lesser-known amusement parks with a great selection of rides, specifically for little kids and toddlers. The most popular amusement park is not always the best, but there are others you may not think of that are.
Top Theme Parks for Young Kids
1. Six Flags America
Six Flags is known for its thrilling rides. They also have rides geared towards younger kids and sections for little kids. Six Flags is an option that is good for the whole family.
The ride times in the kids’ areas are age-appropriate, each ride lasting only 1 to 2 minutes. This means that the wait time between rides is shorter for anyone who may be waiting in line. In our experience, there’s often not any wait or only a 1 to 2 minutes waiting between rides.
One benefit to rides geared toward little kids and toddlers is that if there is no one in line, the attendant will often let you stay on for back-to-back rides.
Most rides can accommodate bigger kids or parents as well. That is great because sometimes kids need comfort and support from a big brother, sister, or mom or dad.
Six Flags Locations
Six Flags has many locations. There are 27 properties, including theme parks, amusement parks, water parks, and a family entertainment center. Finding one near you with so many park options shouldn’t be difficult.
Some of the most notable Six Flags locations include:
- Six Flags St Louis (St. Louis, Missouri)
- Six Flags Great America (Lake County, Illinois)
- Six Flags Over Georgia (Austell, Georgia)
- Six Flags Magic Mountain (Valencia, California)
- Six Flags Great Adventure (Jackson Township, New Jersey)
- Six Flags Fiesta Texas (aka Six Flags over Texas)
- Six Flags New England (Agawam, Massachusetts)
Six Flags Water Parks
Some Six Flags locations also have water parks that include water slides, a lazy river, and swimming. Typically admission to the water park is included in your ticket price.
Six Flags also has water rides like a log flume or plunge, which are appropriate for all ages, including small kids. The water park at Six Flags is Hurricane Harbor.
Six Flags Discounts
There are always many Six Flags discounts. For example, children two and under do not need a ticket at most Six Flags locations. Check each park’s site for specifics and verification.
2. Silver Dollar City
Silver Dollar City is in Branson, Missouri. It’s fun for all ages, and kids from 2 to 92 will be able to find rides to enjoy. The best part about bringing little kids to Silver Dollar City is that kids five and under are FREE!
Silver Dollar City Theme
When you step inside the 1880’s themed amusement park, you will feel like you’ve traveled back in time. Employees have dressed the part with more than 30 craftsmen and women working in shops on hand-blown glass, stretching taffy, and making soap or candles, to name of few.
Visiting these shops and seeing working trades shows the younger generations that the goods we purchase are created somewhere. They take time and effort to craft before ending up on store shelves or being delivered to our door.
Rides for All Ages and Heights
Similar to Six Flags, Silver Dollar City has rides for kids of all ages. They have an entire section geared towards younger kids and family fun.
One of the most appealing aspects of the rides at Silver Dollar City is the ones for little kids and toddlers aren’t lumped together in one area, forcing bigger kids and adults to stay with their group. Silver Dollar City does an excellent job of spreading rides across their 100-acre park.
In addition to various rides for all ages being in every park area, many rides indicate that riders must be 42 inches to join. However, most non-coaster, upside-down flip rides also allow riders between 36 and 41 inches to ride with an adult. Being a toddler is hard enough! But to be just a smidge too short to ride isn’t a concern at Silver Dollar City.
Dinner Show at Silver Dollar City
Before you wrap your trip, stop by the Dolly Parton Stampede for a dinner show filled with 31 horses and riders performing tricks and stunts. The stampede brings a whole new meaning to dinner and a show.
Like Six Flags, Silver Dollar City doesn’t stop the fun once summer ends. They play host to several autumn-themed events and festivals. The park ends the year by decorating its 100 acres with more than 6.5 million lights and hosting nightly parades with Rudolph and many more holiday characters.
3. Worlds of Fun
Worlds of Fun is in Kansas City, Missouri. Like most amusement parks, you find fun and appropriate rides for little kids and thrill rides for older children. Their website lists all their rides with a filter on whether they are thrill rides or kid-friendly.
Worlds of Fun offers a PreK pass for kids 3-5, which means no cost of admission. Proof of age is required.
Snoopy-Themed Kids Area
The little kid area at Worlds of Fun features 12 rides, all centered around Snoopy cartoons and its many characters.
In line with the Snoopy and Charlie Brown-themed kids area, Worlds Of Fun hosts The Great Pumpkin Fest each Saturday and Sunday from mid-September through the end of October.
In addition to The Great Pumpkin Fest on select nights from mid-September thru October after 6:30 pm, Worlds of Fun turns into a ghostly haunted-themed attraction with as many as 400 monsters lurking in the darkness to haunt you. Children under 14 should avoid this event.
The Best Kids Amusement Park You Didn’t Know Existed
4. Neli’s Dutch Village
Neli’s Dutch Village is perfect for little kids. It is tucked away in Holland, Michigan, and is an excellent stop for any family with small children. Upon entering, you feel like you’ve just landed in The Netherlands and are experiencing Dutch life.
Neli’s Dutch Village tickets are affordable for the entire family, with adult tickets costing a mere $14 (there are lower prices and no service charge when purchased online.) Children ages 4-17 are $13, and kids three and under are free.
They also have a petting zoo where you can feed goats, bunnies, llamas, and chickens. You can even retrieve any eggs you may find.
One of the best parts about Neli’s Dutch Village is its approach to families. Unlike many other big-name amusement parks, they will not charge you additional fees for parking or purchasing your tickets online.
Neli’s Dutch Village was the most fun of all the amusement parks our family has visited.
5. Air Zoo Kalamazoo
Also, in Michigan, you may stumble upon the Air Zoo, located in Kalamazoo. It’s a short 45 minutes from Grand Rapids.
Upon entering, you walk through tunnels covered with clouds on both sides, making you feel you’re soaring through the air. Once you’re through the tunnel, you find yourself surrounded by pristine aircraft dating from The Golden Age of Flight to Jet Aged AirCraft and everything in between.
Air Zoo Exhibits
This Smithsonian-affiliated museum is filled to the brim with planes and spacecraft in near-perfect condition. Each aircraft has a plaque stating facts about it, including the era. This museum is organized by dates and includes WWI and WWII with special sections for D-Day, Black Wings, Women in Flight, and the Golden Age of Flight.
In addition to its rides, you can also check out the aerospace sector. You will find many artifacts from the Apollo Air Missions to space travel vessels here.
Rides and Attractions at Air Zoo
What may surprise you the most about your visit to Air Zoo is the section filled with amusement park rides that the entire family can ride.
From the Parachute Drop to Hot Air Balloons floating through the air, little kids, teens, and adults will have the time of their lives taking in all the attractions. These rides require children under 36 to 48 inches to ride with an adult.
In addition to the amusement park rides, visitors can also take a ride in one of the 4 Flight Simulators in the far back of the main museum. Take a ride to see what it’s like flying in some of the world’s most amazing planes. You can even pay for a private ride in a biplane at the nearby airstrip.
Air Zoo is one of the best theme parks we visited with our three kids, ages five and younger. There are several kiddie rides, all with airplane themes. If we lived nearby, we would be season ticket holders.
What to Bring to Kids Amusement Parks
Create an items list to pack with you for your time at the parks.
Some ideas of what to bring include:
- Water bottles: this is especially important during super hot summer months.
- Snacks and food: not all parks will allow you to bring your food, but most have re-entry opportunities. Re-entry will allow you to exit the park for lunch and snacks, then come back for more fun. Some places, like Silver Dollar City, allow you to bring food into the park. That provides an excellent opportunity to save money.
- Many theme parks offer food plans, which significantly reduces the cost of eating in the parks.
- A change of clothes.
- A stocked diaper bag (including a wet bag if you are like us and use cloth diapers).
What About Disney Theme Parks
When you think about the “Happiest Place on Earth,” do you want crowds, lines, lots of walking, expensive theme park tickets, and high costs for lodging, parking, food, and everything else?
Disney is a wholly unique experience, but one you certainly pay a steep price for. If you want to make memories at the Happiest Place on Earth, but budget is a factor, it might be best to wait until your kids are older so their memories will be securely imprinted.
What to Look For in a Kids’ Amusement Park
Wildly Popular Theme Parks and Their Stroller Policies
Everyone knows about the popular amusement parks in Orlando and California. Parks like Walt Disney World (including its four parks: Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, and Epcot), Disneyland, Universal Studios, Legoland, and Busch Gardens are crowded and enormous.
These parks also come with a higher price tag. Kids’ tickets aren’t much cheaper than adult tickets, even though there are not as many ride options.
Larger parks geared towards older kids and adults also have long ride lines. Little kids don’t have the attention span or patience for all the waiting and walking. And parents don’t have the patience to deal with whining kids while waiting!
Additionally, it’s important to note that Disney theme parks changed their stroller policies, and the once-popular stroller wagons are no longer allowed inside their parks. That means you will have to purchase a stroller to bring with you that is permitted on the property or pay to rent one for your visit.
For younger kids, avoiding the crowds at Disney and Universal theme parks may be best.
Height Requirements and Size of the Park
Another reason to avoid the largest parks if your kids are younger is that little kids do not need the tallest Ferris Wheel or the fastest roller coaster. They get thrills and tummy tickles on rides sized for them.
Plus, they will get worn out walking around the larger parks, although that’s not necessarily a bad thing come bedtime!
Types of Attractions Available
You want your kiddos to scream and laugh with excitement, not scream from the thrill that older kids and adults seek. Young kids are not yet thrill-seekers. Instead, they need adventures and new experiences.
Teenagers and adults prefer park rides that are fast, high, go upside-down, and spin fast. Little kids are afraid of these rides and aren’t tall enough to ride them. Save the adrenaline rush and thrills for when they are older. For now, focus on rides and attractions designed for kids’ needs.
There are many amusement park options for your family vacation. The options are not limited to the top-rated California theme parks and the Orlando Theme parks. Many fun parks are less crowded, less expensive, and closer to home. The best amusement parks are not always the most popular ones.
After all, being with your whole family is part of what makes visits to theme parks fun—talking and deciding who will ride which coaster with who is part of the fun. Poking fun at siblings, cousins, or parents for being too ninny to ride one of the most thrilling coasters to deciding who will get the wettest on a water ride – regardless of the randomness of how the ride spins – is part of what makes memories at the best kids theme parks.
This post originally appeared on Savoteur.