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
Best Site for Travel Packages: HolidayPirates.com"For great package deals, check out the website HolidayPirates.com. They find incredible deals for packages, flights and more departing to and from Europe. I've found some incredible, hard-to-find offers on that website, like $500-roundtrip flights to Europe or $50 flights from Europe to Turkey." -- Matthew Kepnes, Nomadic Matt 960 1280
Best Times for Off-Peak Travel: Jan. 15 to Feb. 28; Oct. 15 to May 15"US Airways offers economy round-trip tickets to Europe from North America for just 35,000 miles from Jan. 15 to Feb. 28. If you have their co-branded credit card, that price drops to 30,000 miles roundtrip. American Airlines also offers off-peak discounted award tickets to Europe from Oct. 15 to May 15 for 40,000 miles, down from the usual 60,000. If you have their co-branded credit card, you can even get 10% of those redeemed miles back, up to an annual cap." -- Summer Hull, Mommy Points 960 1280
Best Hotel Rewards Program: Starwood Preferred Guest"Starwood Preferred Guest is a great hotel program, with a vast portfolio of hotels throughout the world. Redemptions start at just 2,000 points and members have the option to transfer points to dozens of airlines at a 1-to-1 ratio, with a 5,000 point bonus on every 20,000 points transferred." -- Rick Ingersoll, Frugal Travel Guy 960 1280
Best Phone App for International Travel: Viber"Calling, texting and emailing while abroad can rack up thousands of dollars in fees. However, there are great apps like Viber that you can use for free with an internet connection. Viber users can send free text messages, photo messages, video messages and more with other users, and it’s compatible with iPhone, Android, and other major mobile and desktop devices." -- Brian Kelly, The Points Guy 960 1280
Best-Value Trip: Eastern Europe"For a great-value trip, head to Eastern Europe (Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine) for very cheap destinations, great food, friendly people and few tourists. It's the medieval Europe you want without the crowds in Prague or Tallinn." -- Matthew Kepnes, Nomadic Matt 960 1280
Best Car Rental Option: Costco Travel"If you have a Costco membership, you can get good deals from Costco Travel such as no additional driver fees with certain rental companies. If booking abroad, AutoEurope.com gives good rates in Europe. I used it to book a wagon for a trip to Paris which saved me about 40% off booking directly with the rental company." -- Arthur Hsu, Mileage Runner 960 1280
Best Frequent Flyer Program: United MileagePlus"United MileagePlus is a great program, as it offers access to an extensive route network and award inventory. In short, they make it easy to redeem your miles. United miles are also easy to earn, with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card offering instant 1-to-1 transfer of points to United." -- Rick Ingersoll, Frugal Travel Guy 960 1280
Best Site for Fare Alerts: Yapta"If you don’t want to constantly check and recheck websites for the best fares, then sign up for Yapta’s fare alerts. They will automatically keep you updated on the fares you are interested in. All you have to do is set the date(s), city pairs and the price point, and they will alert you via email." -- John E. DiScala, Johnny Jet 960 1280
Best Site for Blind Travel Bids: BiddingForTravel.com"When I shop around for hotels and car rentals, I don't think there is any better place than Priceline. But keep in mind when you use their Name Your Own Price feature, you can't cancel. Before I make a blind bid, I always log on to BiddingForTravel.com to see what other people's luck was with their bids. It shows how much people paid for which dates and will give you a pretty good idea of which hotel you will end up with." -- John E. DiScala, Johnny Jet 960 1280
Best Credit Card for Travel: Chase Sapphire Preferred"The Chase Sapphire Preferred card offers generous sign-up bonuses and flexible points that can be transferred to both airline and hotel partners. The Sapphire Preferred makes it easy to amass points quickly, with 2x points on travel and dining. The original signup bonuses can be worth over $500 in travel after you meet the required minimum spend, within the first 3 months typically." -- Rick Ingersoll, Frugal Travel Guy 960 1280
Best Exotic Beach: Tavarua, FijiThere are not many beaches in the world that offer as diverse and incredible experience as Fiji's tropical paradise of Tavarua. "You can dive, fish, snorkel, and surf in the crystal clear seas surrounding the vibrant coral reefs teeming with sea life," says Alison Teal, host of Alison's Adventures. "As an avid surfer, it's a dream come true to sit along the white sandy beach and then head out into a world-class surf break. The moment that sealed my love affair with this place is when I saw it from the sky: The island is shaped perfectly like a heart." 960 1280
Sexiest Beach: White Bay, Jost Van Dyke, British Virgin IslandsAccording to Beach Tomato co-founder Tom Marchant, White Bay's secluded half-mile stretch of beach has the ideal balance of undisturbed white sand and turquoise sea at one end and secluded caves where you can watch the sun go down (with mouthwatering cocktail in hand) at the other. "Head down to the Soggy Dollar bar at night to stargaze with your loved one before retiring for the night in one of the islands stunning hotels," Marchant says. "What more could you want?" 960 1280
Best Family Beach: Clearwater Beach, FL"The sand at Clearwater Beach is as soft as baby powder, and the gradual slope to the warm Gulf water makes it an ideal beach for babies and toddlers" according to Have Baby Will Travel founder Corrine McDermott. "Parents will love the shaded jungle gym, as well as full facilities and a snack bar with healthy options." The Gulf Coast beach has many accommodation, food, and public transportation options, appealing to many families' tastes and vacation budgets. 960 1280
Best Party Beach: Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janeiro, BrazilBrazil's Maracanã Stadium will be center stage for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, but the real party is on Ipanema Beach, where there’s always a steady stream of vendors selling beer and Cachaça. "Rio has already revamped Post 9 (the area right off Rua Vinícius de Moraes) with a new look, new changing facilities, lockers for surfboards, and showers." says managing producer Kwin Mosby. Watch Cariocas -- Rio natives -- play volleyball, foot volley, soccer or surf. Mosby adds, "After the sun goes down, eat at the popular churrascaria Porcao and go bar hopping at some of the best nightspots in the world like the exclusive Baronneti nightclub." 960 1280
Best Romantic Beach: The MaldivesStartlingly turquoise seas and shimmering white sands ring the islands comprising the Maldives archipelago, a chain of 26 atolls, or rings, in the Indian Ocean. "These postcard-perfect isles are home to ultra-exclusive resorts, where long stretches of private beach unfold before sprinklings of overwater bungalows complete with private decks and outdoor showers," says travel writer Valerie Conners. "Let romance kindle while enjoying sunset strolls, snorkeling exquisite coral reefs and lounging -- cocktail in hand -- under thatched umbrellas in paradise." 960 1280
Best Beach for Adventure: Leo Carrillo State Beach, Malibu, CA"For surfers, the 1.5-mile stretch of rocky coastline creates the perfect point break with slow rolling lines good for longboarders and an outside takeoff for shortboarders," says Cali local and our resident beach host Marianela. One of the few beaches boasting both wind and waves depending on the weather, Leo Carrillo attracts kite and windsurfers, as well as kayakers and stand up paddle boarders. An array of marine life lurk in hidden caves and tidal pools. "There are also tons of challenging trails offering wonderful ocean overlooks," Marianela adds. "I've seen many brave souls bike the trails hugging the steep cliffs and others scaling down the rocks to climb out onto the staggering bluffs." 960 1280
Best Beach Bars: Rick's Cafe, Negril, JamaicaA Jamaican mainstay since 1974, Rick's Cafe, nestled in Negril's West End Cliffs, takes this title for the second year in a row, as it's much more than your average beachfront watering hole. For the price of a refreshing Jamaican beer, you'll witness an unrivaled view of the sunset and some unforgettable entertainment. "Don't miss the locals launching themselves from 30-foot-high cliffs into the water below" says interactive producer Ben Breslerman. "And if you're feeling really adventurous, go ahead and take the dive for yourself … Just be safe!" 960 1280
Best Unusual Beach: Vik, IcelandStunning beaches aren’t only in the tropics. "Driving through Iceland, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I first saw the beach at Vík, a small village at the southernmost tip" says interactive producer Kathleen Rellihan. "Black volcanic sand covered with ice and snow with the legendary “troll” rock formations jetting out from the sea -- I have never seen a beach so jaw-dropping beautiful in my life.” Vík is only 110 miles from Reykjavik, so it makes for a perfect stop on a road trip along Iceland's Ring Road. You'll have plenty of other reasons to stop your car along the way — such as seeing the volcanic Lake Myvatn. 960 1280
Best Beach You Haven't Heard of ... Yet: Don Pedro Island State Park, FLThis off-the-beaten-path beach park located in Charlotte County on the Southwest coast of Florida is only accessible by private boat or ferry -- but once you've made the trip you're in for a treat, according to Dr. Beach. The island beach is a mile of fine, white sand adorned with a plethora of shells and black petrified shark teeth! In addition to beachcombing, Don Pedro is a great place for swimming in the clear, clean waters, and for fishing both on the island itself and the park's mainland. "I recommend that you bring your kayak or canoe for the trip across the bay and to explore the mangrove tunnels," Dr. Beach adds, "keep your eyes peeled for manatees, oystercatchers and bald eagles." 960 1280
Best Beach Boardwalks: Atlantic City Boardwalk, Atlantic City, NJStill standing after Superstorm Sandy, there's never been a better time to visit the Atlantic City Boardwalk, America's first boardwalk and the home of Miss America, according to senior interactive producer Sara Gilliam. "For a mix of old and new, take a ride in an iconic rolling chair while snacking on salt water taffy and people watching, indulge in some high-end shopping at Louis Vuitton or Gucci at The Pier Shops at Caesars, and splurge on a night out at one of the city's spectacular casinos or see some of the world's top entertainers perform at Boardwalk Hall," Gilliam says. Families with kids of all ages will find endless amusement at the Steel Pier across from the Trump Taj Mahal. 960 1280
Best Overall Beach: Clearwater Beach, FLWe asked you to weigh in on our expert picks and determine the Best Overall Beach. Travel Channel fans voted and chose Clearwater Beach, FL, as their fan favorite, lauding its "laid-back family atmosphere," blue waters and "snow white sand." 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