Travel's Best Amusement Parks and Water Parks 2014
Photo By: Gene Duncan, Disney
Photo By: Courtesy of Kerzner International
Photo By: Dollywood
Photo By: Noah’s Ark
Photo By: SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment
Photo By: stevenocchipinti, flickr
Photo By: Gene Duncan, Disney
Epcot at Walt Disney World, Orlando
Theme 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.
Aquaventure, Atlantis Paradise Island, Bahamas
While 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.
Dollywood, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Calling 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.
Noah’s Ark, Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
When 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.
Busch Gardens, Virginia
Don’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.
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.
Blizzard Beach at Walt Disney World, Orlando
Walt 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."