Now that it's summer time, families across the U.S. will be spending their hard-earned dollars on a day or week of pure fun: sunshine, roller coasters, junk food, water parks. Of course, we're talking about every kid's summer paradise and every parent's escape from home: amusement parks. But which one should you go to? Should you go for Disney's all-encompassing family experience or Six Flags' focus on thrills? We'll break down major amusement parks across the U.S. and see which one offers the best bang for your consumer buck.
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Disneyland Park in Anaheim, CA, is probably the most famous amusement park in the world. It was founded in 1955 and today boasts 58 attractions. Attractions is a catch-all term used by Disney that stands in for everything from "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride" to "Tarzan's Treehouse" to the Main Street Cinema. For a one-day pass to Disneyland, you're looking at a price of $62 for children (ages three to nine) and $72 for those 10 and older. This breaks down to $1.07 per attraction for kids and $1.24 per attraction for anyone over 10. The costs for food really changes; you can pay for the fine dining experience at Blue Bayou (where entrees will run you $27.99 - $39.99) to Blue Ribbon Bakery where you can grab a sandwich for around $8. Soft drinks will generally run you nearly $3 and water's not much less. (Shareholder activists can have a big impact on a company's operations. These battles turned ugly as management lost control. Find out more, in Nasty Shareholder Activist Battles And Why They Happened.)
SeaWorld is a different experience than Disneyland, and focuses on marine life rather than on rides – though there are still roller coasters and thrill rides. SeaWorld in Orlando, FL, boasts 10 different rides, nine animal exhibits, two combination attractions (marine life and rides) and six stadiums/theaters that have animal shows featuring dolphins, sea lions and more. Tickets for SeaWorld are $68.95 for children and $78.95 for adults. If we treat the shows at the stadiums/theaters as one attraction per venue, you're looking at a cost of $2.56 for kids and $2.92 for adults. Food costs are similar to Disneyland's lower-priced options, with soft drinks at $2.69 and water at $2.79 and sandwiches, pizza and burgers from $5.99 - $8.99 at Spice Mill Café and Seaport Pizza. SeaWorld offers an "all-day dining deal" for $29.99 for adults and $14.99 for kids.
- Cedar Point
This amusement park is in the Midwest and is the second oldest amusement park in North America and is more focused on roller coasters than themes. Cedar Point boasts 17 roller coasters, six thrill rides, three water rides, 19 family rides and 28 kid's rides. Overall, there are probably more rides than a family could get to in a single day, at 73 total. Cedar Point charges $45.99 if you're taller than four feet, and $19.99 if you're shorter or older than 62. Overall, Cedar Point gives incredible value at 27 cents per ride for kids and seniors, and 63 cents for adults. Food and drinks at Cedar Point are average for an amusement park, ranging from $2 for a snack to $15 for a meal. The only problem with this great deal is that you have to get to Sandusky, Ohio to experience it. (Keep the kids out of your hair and wallet by saving on summer camps, sports leagues, day trips and more. Find out how, in Budget-Friendly Summer Fun.)
Sticking with the Midwest, in Hershey, PA there is Hersheypark, located near the Hershey Chocolate Factory. Hersheypark has 11 roller coasters, eight water rides, and 65 rides in total - this isn't including shows. Tickets at Hersheypark are $52.95 for adults and $31.95 for children and seniors, making it 81 cents per ride for adults and only 49 cents per ride for kids. Food and drink is fairly affordable at Hershey, with available $12.75 meal tickets that will buy a full meal including a souvenir cup.
- Kings Island
Ohio is an amusement park hotbed, and second most visited theme park is in Mason, OH. Paramount formerly owned a number of amusement parks across North America, including Kings Island, but they were all sold to Cedar Fair, which also owns Cedar Point, in 2006. Kings has 14 thrill rides and rollercoasters, 18 kids' rides, 15 family rides and a plethora of shows. If tickets are bought in advance, it's $33.99 for adults and $29.99 for juniors and seniors. This works out to 72 cents per ride for adults and 63 cents per ride for kids and seniors. Food is in the normal range, except the Backyard BBQ, which offers a meal deal for $9.99 for adults and $5.99 for kids. (From lawn care to summer fairs, expenses can skyrocket if you're not paying attention. Read more, in Save Money On Summer Bills.)
- Six Flags
The best possible deal around for amusement parks is through Six Flags, the world's largest amusement park corporation. At Six Flags you can buy a Play Pass for $59.99 which gives you unlimited access to all participating Six Flag parks, from Montreal to San Antonio, Los Angeles and more. To check out the value per ride, we'll look at the first Six Flags amusement park in Arlington, TX. Six Flags Over Texas has 46 rides including 13 roller coasters and five water rides. Since day passes are $51.99 for adults and $32.99 for kids, we'll just look at the Play Passes. If you went just for one day, you are paying $1.30 per ride, and this obviously gets cut in half every time you go.
When choosing an amusement park to visit this summer, be sure to do your homework. You can find almost all of the stats online, and this way you can figure out which place will give you the most attractions per dollar. It's always going to be a personal choice as some people want the full family experience of Disneyland while others want the rollercoaster thrill ride of Cedar Point.
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