Travel's Best Amusement Parks and Water Parks 2014
From Tokyo’s DisneySea to Tennessee’s Dollywood, our advisors handpicked the most thrilling theme parks for our family fun list, Travel's Best Amusement and Water Parks 2014.
Epcot at Walt Disney World, OrlandoTheme parks aren’t just for kids, especially ones like Epcot at Walt Disney World. "While it has fun and thrilling attractions for the whole family, including Test Track, Mission: SPACE, Soarin', Spaceship Earth, etc., the real attractions at Epcot are the World Showcase's 11 countries, where you can sample food and drinks from Germany, Mexico, Norway, Canada, Japan, Italy, France...," says Alvey. In the fall, Epcot's World Showcase transforms into the International Food & Wine Festival, an event featuring food and drink samples from nearly 30 different countries. 960 1280
Aquaventure, Atlantis Paradise Island, BahamasWhile the region's beautiful beaches might beckon you to the Bahamas, your kids will be in paradise at the largest water park in the Caribbean, Aquaventure at Atlantis. A free perk for overnight guests of the Atlantis resort, the water park has it all: a gentle lazy river, exciting rapid rides and multiple water slides that take guests on huge vertical drops, around 5-story corkscrews and along twisting water coasters. "Kids will love jungle-themed slides and fountains, as well as Splasher's, a Mayan-themed water playground that’s perfect for the smallest guests," adds Gifford. 960 1280
Schlitterbahn, Kansas CityGet ready for the world’s tallest waterslide, set to open at Schlitterbahn in summer 2014. According to Insane Coaster Wars producer Steve VanDis, the excitement is building for this one. "This 17-story waterslide will be the tallest waterslide in the world, with just the construction of this massive coaster dominating the skyline," he says. Those not so keen on stomach-hurling rides may be more comfortable floating on the lazy river or relaxing in a private beach cabana (which you can reserve ahead of time) while watching the kids play on 13 mini-slides. Looking to save money? Pack a picnic (you can bring your own food and drinks into the park) and grab a table near Henry’s Hideaway so you can have a breather while the kids play nearby, suggests VanDis. 960 1280
Hersheypark, Hershey, PAChocolate lovers of all ages will be in heaven at Hershey Park. Family travel expert and founder of Kidventurous.com, Erin Gifford says, "You can listen to singing cows and learn how chocolate is made from bean to bar at Chocolate World before riding multiple roller coasters and floating along a lazy river just next door at Hersheypark." Before you go, download the free mobile app to plan your day and navigate the park. While you might be here for the free chocolate samples, your kids won’t want to miss 3 new rides just for them, including the Cocoa Cruiser, a pint-sized roller coaster. 960 1280
Dollywood, Pigeon Forge, TennesseeCalling all Dolly Parton and country music fans! Nestled in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, Dollywood combines a family-fun atmosphere with down-home country music and fare, including a new lemonade stand featuring over 300 flavors. Kreischer says Dollywood is his favorite family-friendly park, and a perfect spot for a family reunion. Dollywood hosts 5 annual festivals in 2014, including the popular Barbeque & Bluegrass festival that pairs the best barbecue in the South with the biggest names in bluegrass (May 24 -June 8). Fair warning, don’t expect to see Dolly here in person, but you can visit Dolly’s Smoky Mountain Home, an attraction modeled after the country singer’s childhood home. 960 1280
Noah’s Ark, Wisconsin Dells, WisconsinWhen it comes to water parks, Kreischer’s pick is Noah's Ark, the largest water park in the US located in Wisconsin Dells, WI, and for one simple reason: Scorpion's Tail! "This is a ride you have to ride multiple times just to figure out what is happening to your body. You start in a coffin-like capsule, then the floor drops out from underneath you, and you freefall for roughly 40 to 50 feet before you're flipped upside down and around in the high-speed, G pulling loop. Before you know it you're squirted out for the masses with a look of shock on your face as they giggle and see you try to figure out what just happened," says Kreischer, who rode this ride over 20 times the first day it opened. Don’t miss trying to hang 10 on the park's newest attraction, Surfing Safari. Or for gentler rides, there’s Bumper Boats and several lazy rivers to relax on in family-size tubes. 960 1280
Busch Gardens, VirginiaDon’t have the time or money to take the family to Europe? Head to Busch Gardens for a taste of the "Old World" culture in Williamsburg, VA, which features attractions like Escape from Pompeii, Loch Ness Monster and the 3-D ride, Europe in the Air. There’s more here than just the coasters according to VanDis. "Whether you’re here for the annual Busch Gardens Food & Wine Festival or just enjoying the food stands and eateries, the food is always amazing. I love the BBQ spot and I try to stop by every time I’m there," he says. Steve’s all-time favorite coaster? Griffon. At over 200 feet high, it’s still the fastest dive coaster in the world, reaching speeds over 70 mph. Just plan on eating after riding this one. 960 1280
Tokyo DisneySea, Japan"There is nothing like Tokyo DisneySea anywhere else on the planet. The moment you step foot inside the park you are transported to another world unlike any other Disney park you've ever seen, with some of the best themed environments ever created," says Robb Alvey, theme park expert, Insane Coaster Wars. Attractions like Journey to the Center of the Earth (a thrilling voyage through the park's centerpiece volcano); a Japanese version of Tower of Terror; 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea; a section dedicated to The Little Mermaid, and the Raging Spirits roller coaster make up just a handful of the unique Disney rides and attractions found at this park. 960 1280
Cedar Point, OhioOur resident daredevil Bert Kreischer, host of Trip Flip, has visited amusement parks all around the world, but Cedar Point, located in Sandusky, OH, remains his number one pick. Cedar Point boasts to be the “Roller Coaster Capital of the World “ with 72 rides, including 17 roller coasters and more than 10 miles of roller coaster track. "Hands-down, no questions asked, the number 1 thrill park in the world. They have more intense rides per square inch than anywhere I've ever been in my entire life," says Kreischer. For an unforgettable "race to the sky" in 17 seconds, ride the accelerator roller coaster, Top Thrill Dragster. Or test your vocal chords on the newest ride opening this summer, Pipe Scream, a thrill ride that careens over 302 feet of track, flying 43 feet above the midway at 43 mph. 960 1280
Blizzard Beach at Walt Disney World, OrlandoWalt Disney World has more to offer than just its 4 main parks – there is also a water park you can’t miss during your stay, too. "Themed as a 'ski resort that is melting' this water park stands out as my favorite water park in the world," says Alvey. There is something for everyone here. For thrill seekers, there is Summit Plummet, once the world's tallest water slide, and for families there are many different attractions including Teamboat Springs, Alvey’s favorite "family raft ride." 960 1280
Blue Lagoon, Iceland"After I saw Samantha Brown and Anthony Bourdain take a dip (separately, of course) in the otherworldly Blue Lagoon, Iceland quickly moved to the top of my bucket list. Seeing the steamy Blue Lagoon firsthand literally took my breath away. I ended up spending an entire day soaking in the geothermal seawater and emerged feeling like a new person -- and looking like a new one, too. The mineral-rich water is a natural fountain of youth." -- Kathleen, Producer 960 1280
Spa at the St. Julien Hotel"As a man, I was skeptical at first … a spa, really? But after an evening of drinks, the only thing better than sleeping off an epic headache was to head down to the spa at the St. Julien Hotel. Take a dip in the spa’s indoor pool, then hop over to the hot tub -- fit for a king! Afterward, grab a cup of their extremely refreshing cucumber water (seriously, it was good). Top-notch facilities with a very friendly staff (not to mention good-looking), St. Julien’s spa is fit for any occasion." -- Ben, Producer 960 1280
Mii Amo Spa (Sedona, AZ)"There’s nothing more relaxing to me than experiencing the beauty of Mother Nature, from the comfort of a spa. This past year, I put the red rocks of Sedona, AZ, on my getaway list. One of my favorite stops was the Mii amo Spa at Enchantment Resort, where you can indulge in one of the many innovative spa treatments offered daily. Take a cue from Cleopatra herself and try the spa’s milk-and-honey bath inspired by her beauty regimen!"
-- Vanessa, Photo Editor 960 1280
Las Olas Surf Safari
"Calling all adventurous ladies! Get away from it all in one of Las Olas's open-air villas, complete with ocean view terraces, plunge pools and enough hibiscus and bougainvillea to make you feel like you've escaped to a secluded treehouse. Enjoy a yoga session, a sea mud facial or a sea salt body scrub before heading out for your twice-daily surf lesson. When you get back from hitting the waves, learn some vital life skills with on-site margarita and guacamole-making lessons." -- Amanda, Producer
Bishop, California“Go on a bouldering adventure in one of America’s best climbing spots. You may not think a physically demanding adventure is the best way to recharge, but not only do you escape the hectic urban chaos, you can take a few moments to relax and appreciate this stretch of California’s natural beauty, such as the view of the Buttermilks with its massive glacial boulders sitting on the foothills of the Sierras. Bishop offers a lifetime worth of climbing, so even if you can only go for a short time, be sure to grab a guidebook and escape to this bouldering mecca.” -- Arthur, Video Project Manager 960 1280
Big Timber, Montana“One of the best places to recharge is under the wide open skies of sunny Montana. June is the best time of year to visit this expanse of central Montana. Head to a working ranch like the Rocking M Bunkhouse, located near the Absaroka Mountains. Saddle up for an authentic western experience: Ride a horse, see nearby Yellowstone (and Old Faithful), and swing by a rodeo for more fast-paced action. At the end of a long day, enjoy a hearty home-cooked meal and do some stargazing from the private bunkhouse's wide porch. You might even meet a cowboy.” -- Lisa, Producer 960 1280
Red Fox Inn
“Sometimes all it takes to recharge is a weekend getaway. Middleburg, VA, may be just an hour from Washington, DC, but it feels like a world away. When I’m feeling a little suffocated by city life, I make my escape to this quaint, historic town's acres of well-tended pastures surrounded tidy post-and-beam fences. Stay at the downtown Red Fox Inn, browse the antique shops, stock up on horse- and hunt-inspired gifts, and spend an afternoon just sipping coffee at the Market Salamander.”
-- Allee, Producer 960 1280
East Canyon Hotel & Spa“Escape to California’s Coachella Valley and rejuvenate at the gay-friendly East Canyon Hotel and Spa in Palm Springs. This resort has a fully-staffed spa onsite, with a variety of massages, facials and treatments available to guests, including a heated-stone massage, an aloe vera full-body detoxifying wrap and a papaya enzyme peel. Also recommended, especially for the adventurous traveler, is a hike in the nearby San Jacinto Mountains.”
-- Kwin, Managing Producer 960 1280
Tabacon Grand Spa"A few years ago my best friend and I planned a last-minute trip to Costa Rica. A highlight was recharging at this spa, which harnesses the energy of the area’s active Arenal Volcano. In private open-air bungalows, we received volcanic mud wraps and rinsed off in a thermal-mineral-spring Jacuzzi. Word to the wise: The spa is a top honeymoon destination, so only couples should book appointments together -- or you might see a lot more of your friend than you intended." -- Sara, Producer 960 1280
Where We Recharge 9 Photos
Knott's Scary Farm (Buena Park, CA)"In late fall, Southern California's Knott's Berry Farm morphs into the most-attended Halloween attraction in the world. In addition to heart-stopping rides like GhostRider (one of the longest and tallest wooden roller coasters in the world), Knott’s Scary Farm Haunt's elaborately themed mazes, like the brand new Trapped: The New Experiment, will give you memories you'll never forget … try as you might. Six sinister live shows, including my very own Elvira's Sinema Séance, all add up to the ultimate horror experience!" -- Elvira, Mistress of the Dark 960 1280
The Haunting of Lemp Brewery (St. Louis)“I had the pleasure of walking around Lemp Brewery when I was filming in St. Louis for our 100th Ghost Adventures episode. The building alone is creepy, and to put an actual haunted attraction inside is freaky. Very cool history of the Lemp Brewery. A must-see.” -- Nick Groff, Ghost Adventures Investigator 960 1280
Markoff's Haunted Forest (Calleva Farm in Dickerson, MD)“Ask anyone in the DC area for a Halloween pick and they’ll tell you to head to Markoff’s Haunted Forest, where they’ve been freaking out guests for more than 20 years. Haunted hayrides, zombie hunts and a walk through the Not-So-Fun House Maze are just a few ways your creepy adventure unfolds on one of 2 terrifying trails. Dress in your warmest clothes and bring your best running shoes. Beware of the chainsaw-wielding stalker ... and be prepared to get spooked!” -- Kwin Mosby, Managing Producer, Travel Channel 960 1280
Disney's Haunted Mansion (Orlando, FL)“Such a classic family attraction! Beautiful sets and wonderful illusions. We definitely go through the Haunted Mansion whenever we're at Disneyland or Disney World! It's like having a Halloween experience year-round. Fun and spooky but not so scary that you would need to have your children in therapy for years!” -- Ed Edmunds and Marsha Taub-Edmunds, Owners of Distortions Unlimited Corporation 960 1280
Spooky Empire's The Ultimate Horror Weekend (Orlando, FL)“Spooky Empire is a horror convention that takes place in my hometown of Orlando, FL, a week or two before Oct. 31. It feels like a 3-day Halloween party full of treats when you're surrounded by horror icons such as George A. Romero, John Carpenter, Robert Englund, Kane Hodder, Bruce Campbell and Elvira. Besides appealing to my love of Halloween, this hometown event offers me the chance to see family and reminisce about Octobers gone by.” -- Aaron Sagers, Geek Culture & Paranormal Pop Culture Expert 960 1280
Eastern State Penitentiary's Terror Behind the Walls (Philadelphia)“Eastern State is by far my favorite supposedly haunted location in the country. And at Halloween, ESP gets even better. A haunted attraction in a haunted prison is cool enough, but the elaborate designs, effects and costumes at play here are artistically terrifying. I have been through countless scary attractions and Terror Behind the Walls is always good for a few startled jumps.” -- Aaron Sagers, Geek Culture & Paranormal Pop Culture Expert 960 1280
Salem Haunted Happenings (Salem, MA)“History and Halloween enthusiasts alike would be challenged to do better than to visit Salem, MA. Of course, events really ramp up as Halloween approaches. The notorious history here is an indescribably tangible addition to any one of the town’s attractions. There are haunts like Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery for thrill-seekers, as well as tours and museums like the Salem Witch Museum to satisfy your more cerebral needs. -- Scott Cummins, Artist & Pro Pumpkin Carver 960 1280
Spooky World's Nightmare New England (Litchfield, NH)“I really liked walking around Spooky World because of the variety of haunted attractions they offer. Spooky World has frights for everyone, as well as family fun, for extreme people who need a rush, like myself. I had a blast at Spooky World, especially when I got to shoot zombies with paintball guns!” -- Nick Groff, Ghost Adventures Investigator 960 1280
Zombie Pub Crawl (Minneapolis-St. Paul)“Sometimes for fun and sometimes to promote charitable causes, zombie crawls are organized public gatherings of people dressed up as zombies. In 2012, the largest zombie crawl was in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis-St. Paul), with an estimated 30,000 in attendance, making it the largest gathering of zombies according to Guinness World Records. It's not hard to become a zombie. Take some old cloths, cut them up and spray paint them with some dark brown and gray primer. -- Ed Edmunds and Marsha Taub-Edmunds, Owners of Distortions Unlimited Corporation 960 1280
KC West Bottoms' Haunted Houses (Kansas City, MO)“On Kansas City’s west side is one of the most unique haunted venues I’ve ever had the displeasure of visiting. The KC West Bottoms area is made up of several late 19th-century buildings that were just made to be haunted houses! This “village of the damned” has 4 -- count ’em 4 -- epic haunts: The Beast, The Chambers of Edgar Allan Poe, Macabre Cinema and the granddaddy of ’em all, The Edge of Hell -- each one is a unique, must-see experience for haunted house afflict-cianados.” -- Elvira, Mistress of the Dark 960 1280
Bloody Mary's New Orleans ToursFans chose Bloody Mary's New Orleans Tours as their favorite to add to our list of Travel's Best Halloween Attractions 2013. With historian, author and photographer Bloody Mary, tourists visiting the Big Easy have a few options for a spooky guided tour, including the French Quarter Walking Tour, the Tour of the Undead and the Moonlight Graveyard Tour. Explore NOLA's creepiest haunts to learn about the ghosts and spirits that still lurk in the French Quarter, Treme, the Garden District and the Mid-Cities of the Dead aka the New Orleans Cemetery District. 960 1280
Out-of-This-World Views: The Lasso, SD, to Devil’s Tower, WYTV host Don Wildman chose the 110-mile loop from Rapid City, SD, to Devil’s Tower, WY, as one of the country's best road trips. While Wildman was brave enough to cover the Badlands during the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, he says it’s just as memorable to travel by car, since either way you’ll drive through deep forests and thrilling mountain vistas. If you’re not brave enough to ride a Harley like Wildman, you can at least follow in his footsteps and stop at the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum in South Dakota.
"Maybe you’ll even have a close encounter to write home about,” adds Wildman; Devil’s Tower is the site where the iconic alien landing scene was filmed in the movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. 960 1280
Off-Road Adventure: Salar de Uyuni, BoliviaFor the intrepid road tripper, Bolivia offers off-road adventures across otherworldly landscapes. “The world’s largest salt flat, Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni is a surefire, natural amazement,” says Don Wildman, host of Mysteries at the Museum. After a short flight south from La Paz, Bolivia, a number of skilled tour companies will house you in a hotel constructed entirely of salt and then drive you out to experience extraordinary visuals not to be missed in this life, adds Wildman.
While the salt flats are the smoothest “road” you’re likely to drive on, keep in mind you’re at an altitude of 12,500 feet, so take measures to prevent altitude sickness. 960 1280
Unexpected Fall Foliage: Glacier National Park, MontanaOne of the most iconic drives in the country, Montana's “Going to the Sun Road,” is a true bucket list drive not to be missed, says RoadTrippers.com CEO and founder James Fisher. The road spans a breathtaking 50 miles of Glacier National Park's most beautiful twists and turns. Considered an engineering marvel, the road was completed in the fall of 1932, after workers blew through half a million pounds of explosives for its construction.
Jackson Glacier Overlook, between Logan Pass and St. Mary offers the park's best views of a glacier from the road. And while Montana might not be the first place that comes to mind for viewing fall foliage, we suggest taking a drive here in autumn to witness the dazzling color show. 960 1280
Castles, Caves and Cheese: Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, EnglandIt’s no surprise that Fisher, born and raised in the English countryside, also picks a road trip in the United Kingdom. It all starts at a castle, says Fisher: Tintagel Castle, located high atop the rugged coast of Cornwall. Fisher advises then taking the scenic route to Bath, past the fishing village of Boscastle, which dates back to the 1500s. The gorge itself is one of England's most interesting areas, a land of witches, caves and waterfalls.
Fisher adds, “But most importantly it is home to the original, cave-matured, cheddar cheese.” See the cheese being made by the town’s only remaining cheesemakers at Cheddar Gorge Cheese Factory, followed by free tastings of the town’s namesake. 960 1280
Mountains and Mining Towns: The San Juan Skyway, ColoradoNicknamed the "Road to the Sky," the San Juan Skyway loops through the heart of southern Colorado's towering San Juan Mountains and is a "must-do" for road tripping fans, says filmmaker, photographer and road tripper, Allison Otto. The Skyway passes through old Colorado mining towns like Ouray, Telluride, and Silverton, climbs to an elevation of more than 14,000 feet and circles down to the ancient cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde National Park.
“The views are dazzling, especially in the late summer/early fall, but be careful along the cliffside-clinging stretch known as the ‘The Million Dollar Highway,’ where there are parts of the road that lack guardrails," adds Otto. 960 1280
Adventure South of the Border: Creel to Batopilas, MexicoSkip the touristy beaches of Mexico and take an adventurous road trip instead. Otto suggests driving from the Mexican town of Creel to Batopilas: “This is an amazing white-knuckle, eye-popping drive to the base of Mexico's Copper Canyon, which is actually a series of 20 canyons formed over the years by 6 rivers,” says Otto. The narrow, mostly dirt road begins in Creel, which has a frontier feel, and ends in Batopilas, a sleepy old silver mining town at the base of the canyon.
There are no guardrails on this route and drivers can expect to weave through a few cattle, donkeys and goats along the way. “The views are truly breathtaking, though, and Batopilas, which was founded around 1632, is definitely worth a visit and a perfect base for day hikes in the canyon,” adds Otto. 960 1280
Beaches and Leaf Peeping: Michigan's Gold Coast“Leaves, lighthouses, and sugary beaches! New England? Nope: Michigan!” reveals Robert Firpo-Cappiello, executive editor of BudgetTravel.com. Treat yourself to a 3-day autumn road trip starting in Grand Rapids, MI, where you can soak up serious art, public gardens and craft beer, suggests Firpo-Cappiello. Drive along the “Gold Coast” highway west to the jaw-dropping shoreline of Lake Michigan. “From Grand Haven down to Saugatuck and on to South Haven, you'll have a great weekend and bring home bragging rights for having 'discovered' some of the finest beaches, highest dunes and freshest seafood in America,” says Firpo-Cappiello.
Take a break from driving and ride on Saugatuck’s ferry to Oval Beach, the only remaining chain-driven ferry in the United States. 960 1280
The European Tour: France to Italy to SwitzerlandSkip the train, and travel at your own speed on a road trip through Europe’s charming lakeside towns. Start your journey along the banks of Lake Annecy that sits under the French Alps’ Mount Blanc, advises travel writer and TV personality, Kim Mance. “You’ll cross many picturesque canal bridges as you drive toward Italy, with countless castles on hilltops,” says Mance.
After you stop for an Italian fondue lunch (yes, that exists!), Mance suggests you head back north toward Switzerland’s tiny villages, which dot the mountainside. From here, make your way to the stunningly beautiful Belle Époque city of Montreux, Switzerland on the shore of Lake Geneva. The entire drive from Annecy to Montreux can be done in about 4 hours, but Mance suggests taking a week. 960 1280
Tour of the Island: Oahu, HawaiiThe best way to explore the island of Oahu? By car, preferably a Mustang convertible to be exact, says Kathleen Rellihan, interactive producer for TravelChannel.com. Escape Honolulu’s crowds and explore the hidden gems on Oahu, from the Halona Blowhole to Lanikai Beach (often ranked as one of the world’s best beaches) and Tropical Farms’ Macadamia Nut Farm.
Plan to stay at least a night on Oahu’s famed North Shore , a relaxed surf mecca that’s home to Pipeline, a world famous surf break, and beach-basking sea turtles. “Don’t miss the garlic shrimp trucks along Kamehameha Highway and stop at Waimea Bay and Sunset Beach to watch big wave surfers and incredible sunsets,” adds Rellihan. 960 1280
Seaside Foodventure: Puglia, ItalyIf you’re looking for a road trip off the beaten track with plenty of unforgettable food stops, look no further than Italy’s Puglia region. With over 250 miles of ancient olive groves, charming fishing villages and glistening Adriatic coastline, Puglia “the heel on Italy’s boot,” is less tourist trodden than other regions in Italy and best explored on a slow-paced road trip, says Rellihan.
As you drive along the coast of Puglia, steering clear of cattle and steep rocky drops, stop at cliffside wonders like Vieste’s fortified whitewashed castle and Bari’s Grotta Palazzese, one of the many restaurants nestled inside ancient caves perched over the blue-green Adriatic Sea. 960 1280