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Awesome Family Amusement Parks in America

Looking for thrills close to (and far from) southeast Michigan? Find summer 2013 fun for kids, from roller coasters to carousels, at these U.S. theme parks.

Hitting the amusement park is a summer rite of passage for kids. After all, charting how much your kids have grown over the past year becomes a matter of what rides they're tall enough to board. Inching up to the point that your child will finally be able to go on the most talked-about, scream-worthy rides – a badge of pride among younger kids. For tweens and teens, they feel a sense of independence when they're old enough to venture through the park, sans mom and dad.

Michigan thrill-seeking kids have been lucky enough to grow up going to one of the best amusement parks in the country, next door in Ohio. But real ride enthusiasts won't be satisfied with one place. There are a slew of family-friendly amusement parks just waiting to be discovered. Here's a taste of some marvelous meccas that are worth the trip!

Busch Gardens Tampa

  • Address: 10165 N. McKinley Drive Tampa, Fla.
  • Phone: 813-987-5000
  • Roller coasters: 8
  • Rides/attractions: 27
  • Hours: vary; check online for the day you're visiting
  • Tickets: $85/general; $77/ages 3-9
  • Parking fees: $15

Walk into a safari at this amusement spot suited for animal lovers. Experience the jungle with up-close encounters in the Jungala attraction. For more of an adrenaline rush, soar above the park 200 feet before dropping 90 degrees on the SheiKra roller coaster. If that's not enough excitement for you, head over to the Kumba, which includes a 360-degree spiral … after a 135 drop. Whew!

Busch Gardens Williamsburg

  • Address: 1 Busch Gardens Blvd., Williamsburg, Va.
  • Phone: 800-343-7946
  • Roller coasters: 6
  • Rides/attractions: 100-plus
  • Hours: 10 a.m.-10 p.m. daily; check ahead for possible variation
  • Tickets: $70/ages 10 and up, $60/ages 3-7
  • Parking fees: $15

The indoor/outdoor Verbolten whisks riders through the Black Forest before plunging them 88 feet toward a river. Don't worry: It's all in good fun at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. Along with thrill rides, the European-themed park features variety shows, food festivals and much more.

Carowinds

  • Address: 14523 Carowinds Blvd., Charlotte, N.C.
  • Phone: 704-588-2600
  • Roller coasters: 13
  • Rides/attractions: 50
  • Hours: vary; check website for the day you're visiting
  • Tickets: start around $56.99/adults and $39.99/juniors and seniors; see website for pricing and specials
  • Parking fees: $15

Celebrating its 40th anniversary season in 2013, Carowinds' 398-acre park is spread over two states – both North and South Carolina. The thrill park boasts the tallest, fastest, longest roller coaster in the Southeast, aptly dubbed the Intimidator! But it also has plenty of rides to thrill youngsters. Your price of admission also includes the 20-acre water park.

Cedar Point

  • Address: 1 Cedar Point Drive, Sandusky, Ohio
  • Phone: 419-627-2350
  • Roller coasters: 16
  • Rides/attractions: 150
  • Hours: 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Friday; check ahead for possible variation
  • Tickets: $54.99/adults, $29.99/kids (online discounts available)
  • Parking fees: $15

Just across the border in Ohio, Cedar Point is known as the roller coaster capital of the world. Since 1870, this haven for adrenaline junkies boasts some of the tallest, longest and fastest roller coasters around. Everyone has a favorite among the various coasters. For diehard coaster fans, the Millennium Force is the ride. After all, this 310-foot behemoth was the very first giga coaster (yes, "mega" didn't cut it when the ride debuted in 2000). In 2013, it's breaking more records with the GateKeeper, its Wing Coaster.

 

Disney Theme Parks

  • Locations: Anaheim, Calif. and Orlando, Fla.
  • Prices, hours, attractions: see website

No list of family amusement parks would be complete without a mention of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. Disneyland, which opened in Anaheim, Calif. in 1955, started it all. Today, the 500-acre Disneyland includes two theme parks. In Orlando, Fla., Disney World has four theme parks to visit and boasts more than 25,000 acres of amusement. A trip to see Mickey and Minnie is at the top of many kids' wish lists and definitely something the whole family will never forget.

Hersheypark

  • Address: 100 W. Hersheypark Drive, Hershey, Penn.
  • Phone: 717-534-3900
  • Roller coasters: 11
  • Rides/attractions: 65 (including 20 kiddy rides)
  • Hours: vary; check online for the day you're visiting
  • Tickets: $57.95/ages 9-54, $36.95/ages 3-8, free/2 and under
  • Parking fees: $12

With chocolate as the backbone of this 110-acre theme park, it's no wonder kids love it. Rides' thrill level is measured according to candy. That's right – youngsters can look for signs for Hershey's miniatures for kiddy rides all the way up to Jolly Ranchers for high-speed rides (Twizzlers and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups are somewhere in the middle).

Six Flags Great Adventure & Safari, New Jersey

  • Address: 1 Six Flags Blvd., Jackson, N.J.
  • Phone: 732-928-1821
  • Roller coasters: 13
  • Rides/attractions: 75
  • Hours: vary; check online for the day you're visiting
  • Tickets: $62.99/general, $37.99/kids under 54 inches; free/2 and under (online discounts available)
  • Parking fees: $22

Signature rides at this amusement park include El Toro, which has the steepest drop of any wooden coaster in the United States, Nitro, a steel coaster that speeds along at 80 miles per hour, and the Kingda Ka, the tallest roller coaster in the world and fastest in the country. Younger riders have three different areas of the park to go to for rides tailored just for them. New this year: On the Safari Off Road Adventure, you can go on a guided tour to see 1,200 animals from six different continents within a 350-acre area.

Six Flags Great America

  • Address: 1 Great America Parkway, Gurnee, Ill.
  • Phone: 847-249-4636
  • Roller coasters: 14
  • Rides/attractions: 60
  • Hours: vary; check online for the day you're visiting
  • Tickets: $61.99/general, $41.99/kids under 48 inches (online discounts available)
  • Parking fees: $22

From Batman: The Ride, known for its one-of-a-kind zero-gravity "heart line" spin, to the wooden thriller Viper, there are tons of rides to explore here (and, every now and then, the two we just mentioned are run in reverse!). The 2013 season also debuts a new Wing Coaster called X Flight. If you're not up for twists and turns, there are plenty of family rides, too.

Six Flags Magic Mountain

  • Address: 26101 Magic Mountain Parkway, Valencia, Calif.
  • Phone: 661-255-4100
  • Roller coasters: 17 (one more coming this year)
  • Rides/attractions: 100-plus
  • Hours: vary; check website for the day you're visiting
  • Tickets: $64.99/general, $39.99/kids under under 48 inches, free/2 and under (online discounts available)
  • Parking fees: $18

In the quest for bigger and better roller coasters, Six Flags Magic Mountain adds a doozy to its list that's slated to open this summer – Full Throttle. The ride includes a 160-foot loop, a zero-to-70 mph jump and, at one point, the ride lurches backward. Want to take the plunge? For youngsters that aren't ready for inverted loop-de-loops, you'll find an assortment of kiddy rides, too.

Universal's Islands of Adventure

  • Address: 6000 Universal Blvd., Orlando, Fla.
  • Phone: 407-363-8000
  • Roller coasters: 3
  • Rides/attractions: 15
  • Hours: vary; check website for the day you're visiting
  • Tickets: $92/adults, $86/kids
  • Parking fees: $15

Become part of your favorite story in Universal's Islands of Adventures. For wannabe wizards, there's no better place to go than The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Kids can also step into the role of Spider-Man, The Cat in the Hat, dinosaurs from Jurassic Park – and the list goes on. The attractions literally let you become like the characters. Wanna feel like the Hulk? You will when the gamma-ray accelerator is warning you of imminent danger as you're accelerating from zero to 45 mph in two seconds.

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