6 Theme Park Vacations That Cost Less Than Disney World

Check out these budget-friendly alternatives to Mickey’s house

Splash! The Log Jammer log flume ride at Kennywood in Pittsburgh is a great ride on a hot day. Photo credit: Kurt Miller


If you’re not up for spending $100 per person (or more) on a ticket to visit the country’s most famous mouse, there are plenty of inexpensive family vacation destinations out there. Adrenaline junkies can find parks chock-full of thrill rides in Buena Park, California or Tampa, Florida, while families will love themed attractions in cities like Charlotte and San Antonio that offer a little something for everyone. Read on for our favorite theme park vacation destinations, where you can get maximum thrills without maxing out the budget.

Family-friendly fun at Kennywood (West Mifflin, Pennsylvania) Tickets from $45 per adult, $28 per kid

Just 10 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, Kennywood is one of the country’s oldest amusement parks. Plan an itinerary that lets you experience its 30-plus attractions, like the 146-foot-tall Black Widow roller coaster and the classic Noah’s Ark walkthrough funhouse. The Kennywood stages host Vegas-worthy magic shows and rock ‘n’ roll hits by the park’s own Party Band, while the 4-D Theater offers a blend of adventure and entertainment. Fuel up with lunch and snacks at the 13 restaurants on-site, and don’t miss an ice cream dessert at the Golden Nugget next to the entrance to Kiddieland.

Adventure for all ages: Six Flags Fiesta Texas (San Antonio, Texas) Tickets from $55 per person

This Acme factory and gas station greets riders of the Road Runner Express at Six Flags Fiesta in San Antonio. Photo credit: Brandon Watts

Surrounded by towering quarry walls, this sprawling theme park is a stunner known for its thrill rides and water park attractions. Fly through Batman: The Ride, the world’s first 4-D free-fly coaster. Keep it classic at the wooden Iron Rattler coaster, with its 70-mph top speed and tummy-turning drops. Or take a ride on the Road Runner Express, a runaway mine car that travels through the elaborately staged mining town of Acme. Junior riders love the Kiddee Koaster and Splish Splash Zone, while the whole family can stick together on flume rides and in the bumper cars.

On safari in Florida: Busch Gardens Tampa Bay (Tampa, Florida) Tickets from $90 per person

Tampa’s Busch Gardens, which opened in 1959 as a tropical garden and bird sanctuary, has grown to feature rides, roller coasters and the Serengeti Safari, where guests can sign up for animal encounters. Photo credit: Supplied by park

Busch Gardens’ Tampa outpost, which hosts more than four million visitors every year, is one of the most popular theme parks in the country. And for good reason: There are rides for everyone, like the SheiKra floorless dive roller coaster and the award-winning, 360-degree-spinning Kumba. Beyond the rails, don’t miss the Edge of Africa attraction, a walking safari with animal encounters and feeding time in the flamingo enclosure.

A favorite toy comes to life at Legoland Discovery Center (Atlanta, Georgia) Tickets from $12.50 per person

Kids love the Merlin’s Apprentice Ride at Legoland in Atlanta.

This city-center Legoland theme park supplies an action-packed half or full day out for the younger set, with two family rides, 10 build-and-play areas and a 4-D cinema. Conjure up a spell and soar into the sky on the Merlin’s Apprentice Ride or splash around at Pirate Adventure Island, always a favorite for its huge water table and air cannons. There’s also a Lego-themed cafe that serves small snacks and sandwiches.

Farm to roller coaster: Knott’s Berry Farm (Buena Park, California) Tickets from $45 per person

Stay dry on the coasters or speed down the water slides at Knott’s Berry Farm. Photo credit: Laura Favrow

Once a working berry farm, this amusement park has roller coasters, thrill rides, stables and Wild West shops. Train lovers should head directly to the Timber Mountain Log Ride for a leisurely roll past scenes of the Old West. Or hit the throttle on one of nine scream-worthy roller coasters, including the 82-mph Xcelerator. Save time for unique experiences like the Pan for Gold area and the Ghost Town enclave, which features a working blacksmith.

Satisfy your need for speed at Carowinds (Charlotte, North Carolina) Tickets from $44 per person

Get in the swing of things at Carowinds, an amusement park that covers nearly 400 acres in North and South Carolina. Photo credit: Supplied by Carowinds

This is worth the trip for one coaster alone: The Fury 325 attracts thousands of riders every day thanks to its 81-degree drop, overbanked horseshoe turn, super-fast top speed (95 mph!) and state-hopping track, which crosses the North Carolina-South Carolina state line twice. While amusement park food is generally more about fueling up than chowing down, Carowinds offers a variety of restaurants. Don’t miss classic Carolina barbecue at the indoor-outdoor Harbor House in Carowinds’ Carolina Harbor Waterpark, or the desserts at the popular Funnel Cake Emporium.

Ready to plan your trip? Find hotels in West Mifflin, San Antonio, Tampa, Atlanta, Buena Park, Charlotte.



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