It’s the middle of July, the weather is perfect and if you’re not on vacation, it’s time to take a mini-vacation at a nearby amusement park. We’re taking a look at some nearby parks, providing some helpful advice for all-ages of park attendees and what to do at an amusement park when you hate rides. Before we begin, here’s a amusement park based nightmare…
Kings Dominion, Doswell, Virginia
My mother has been bringing me to Kings Dominion since I was 18-months-old. Roller coasters are in my blood. I might as well have been riding in a stroller coaster (copyright pending). These trips quickly became our annual summer vacation. Hey fuck you Europe (we’ve been to Europe together…needs more roller coasters). The first adult roller coaster I went on at Kings Dominion was The Grizzly. It’s still in operation today. Below is a picture of my mom and I moments before that death defying ride.
I was not in fact tall enough to ride that ride but 1985 was a crazy time (people were time traveling in Deloreans). Rules be damned. Long story short I spent most of the time screaming at her that she was a horrible mother. She, in turn, laughed. That terrifying moment only solidified my love for a thing that could maybe kill me. Kings Dominion has changed a lot in 29 years. Some roller coasters have held on and held up, like The Rebel Yell for example. Some have lost their appeal like The Shockwave (pretty sure someone died on that once). A ton of roller coasters have been added and boy are they going to rip your brain right out of your skull. The Volcano replaced The Haunted River which replaced Smurf Mountain.
The Volcano boasted the first inverted loop and is still pretty crazy to this day, reaching up to 75 mph. It’s a hanging coaster which means you ride beneath the rails, something that has always added an extra bit of anxiety…the good kind. I kind of stopped going on The Anaconda, a ride which used to have a 2 hour wait. It says something about a park when its most popular coaster is suddenly free of lines. The best, fastest ride there is the Intimidator 305. That’s right it’s a Dale Earnhardt-themed roller coaster which means every time we ride it I get to make the following joke “What happens after that last turn, we crash into a wall and die?” This coaster has a 300 foot drop at an 85 degree angle and reaches 90mph. As a warning you will get tunnel vision. You may pass out. It’s fucking amazing and I’d save it for last because it makes the rest of the rides look like Dave & Busters. There are a few surprise coasters that don’t look like much from the outside but they kind of zing you like the Backlot Stunt Coaster which is much faster than it looks but the real joy of it is the effort they put into the story. At one point you stop in front of a tunnel, you hear helicopters circling (as you are in the midst of a high speed chase), then you are assaulted by fake bullet sounds. It’s great! The real dark horse in the running is a little coaster called Ricochet. There are various versions of this ride in other parks and it shouldn’t scare me as much as it does but it fucking does. Here’s why, you’re in this tiny 4 seater car that goes around several hairpin turns. Fast. Essentially every time you go around a turn you feel like it could, conceivably, just fly off the tracks. WHAT’S STOPPING IT. The final coaster I have to mention is special in that it’s entirely indoors. The Flight of Fear, formerly The Outer Limits, is built inside this huge warehouse right by the Intimidator 305. Do you know what adds that extra bit of fear to your ride? Having NO IDEA what’s coming next and that is the sugar and spice of this little darling. You are shrouded in complete darkness. This ride gets the most laughs out of me and is generally ridden more than once. When I die please bury in this ride. -Jenn Tisdale
Six Flags Great Adventure, Jackson, New Jersey
My mother and I are extremely loyal to Kings Dominion but we had to branch out at some point. Now there is a Six Flags (formerly Adventure World, formerly Wild World, really showing my age here) in Largo, MD a mere 20 minutes from where I grew up, but if you’ve ever been then you know that’s it’s garbage. I don’t know what went wrong. Is it because they built it up from a very shitty park and it just can’t shed the shackles of its horrible childhood?
I once went there with my best friend Mandy. While waiting in line for a water ride in the water park our towels were stolen. Our towels. Mandy’s exact words were “What kind of savages would steal towels?” Dry savages, that’s what kind. I don’t think I’ve been back since. My mom and I heard rumors about a gorgeous Six Flags in New Jersey so we decided to go to cleanse our palate of the Six Flags in MD. I could not say enough about the cleanliness of the park. It is stunning. STUNNING. It’s weird to not know your way around an amusement park. I don’t even need a map at Kings Dominion anymore. Going to Six Flags in NJ was kind of nice. I didn’t know where to go. I didn’t know what to expect around every corner. New food places! New characters! NEW COASTERS! First let’s head over to the Nitro which goes as high as 230 feet and as fast as 80 mph but the real treat is the fact that there are no shoulder harnesses and barely a lap belt in sight. You are literally holding on for dear life and praying to the centrifugal force Gods to keep you in your seat. By the way, there is something to be said about a wooden roller coaster. Even if it can’t go as fast as its sleeker, metal counterparts you find yourself more nervous because wood is SUCH A LIGHT UNSTABLE MATERIAL. While waiting in line for a wooden coaster like El Toro you can hear every creak and groan of the ride. El Toro has the steepest drop of any roller coaster anywhere. Ever. And like a bull it never gives up. This ride is HUGE. It’s so long and feels so fast because you experience every single bump. Ride it as many times as you can. Finally, my favorite ride in the park is Kingda MOTHER FUCKIN’ Ka.
The Kingda Ka is the baddest roller coaster I have ever ridden. It has an upside down U shaped track that goes 45 stories into the sky. You are basically in space. That is 456 feet of no Earth. You go from 0 to 128 mph in 3.5 seconds. You leave all of your internal organs behind. Forget them. You don’t need them. IT IS INCREDIBLE. If you only do one thing at the park, let it be the Kingda Ka. Then die because nothing will ever top that…not even giving birth. -Jenn Tisdale
Hersheypark, Hershey, Pennsylvania
Besides being a must for fans of all things chocolate, Hershey is home to one of the best amusement parks in Pennsylvania. Ranking ninth on the Travel Channel’s “Top 10 US Amusement Parks”, the once humble recreation center for Hershey’s factory workers now boasts a dozen roller coasters and a water park. While the two and ½ hour drive may seem daunting, the sheer volume of rides at Hersheypark should be enough to keep you busy all day – especially if you also hit up the waterpark. Oh, and this should all be caveated with the reminder that Hershey’s chocolate world is right next-door.* I know, it’s a haul, but Hersheypark is definitely worth the trip. Since we here at BYT love you almost as much as we love roller coasters, here are three killer rides to get you started.
*For best results visit chocolate world after you ride all the roller coasters. You’re welcome.
Type: Sit-down, launched
Ride time: 50sec
Want to accelerate faster than a Bugatti? Hell yeah you do. For those of you scoffing at this diminutive sounding ride, stop. Because when 2 of those precious 50 seconds are spent launching riders from 0 to 72mph, you’re going to forget all about Storm Runner’s diminutive stats. Let’s recap: 0 to 72 in two seconds. A Bugatti does 0 to 60 in 2.4 seconds. Yeah. Want to know where you go with all that speed? Up a 150-foot incline, obviously. After taking in the split-second view of Hershey at the top, riders are sent screaming down a 180-foot drop and into loops and twists and everything you never knew you wanted in a roller coaster. True, the ride only lasts about as long as it took you to read this, but think of how many times you can ride since those lines move along pretty quickly. But forget all the babbling on I’m doing – this is all time that could be better spent on Storm Runner.
Ride time: 1min 25sec
When was the last time you were dragged up 120 feet of roller coaster track at 90 degrees? Not recently enough, I can guarantee that. Let me put it another way – you know that feeling in your stomach when you can see the track slowly pulling you skyward? Yeah, forget that. You can’t even see the track as you ascend Fahrenheit’s principle incline, and it’s every bit as unsettling as it sounds. And if that’s somehow still not enough for you, rest assured that you’ll be thrown right back down that 120-foot incline at 60mph. For such a relatively quick ride, Fahrenheit packs in 6 loops including a double-whammy loop/twist inversion. This is a roller coaster that stands up well to repeated rides, and its quick turnaround due to the short ride time make Fahrenheit one of the best rides at Hershey, hands down.
Ride time: 3 minutes
Reaching top speeds of almost 60mph, Great Bear’s multi-loop track suspends riders a dizzying 125 feet above Hersheypark. I don’t care how fast you floor it down I-95, 60mph is really freaking fast and 125 feet is really freaking high when you’re essentially suspended in a chair with your feet dangling in the air (this is not a it-down coaster). 4 loops, including an inverted loop and a helix twist, will send blood rushing to your feet and leave you out of breath in the very best way. Do a barrel roll, kids. -Trent Burns
Busche Gardens, Williamsburg, Virginia
Imagine a Model UN, but instead of discussing what letterhead to use to ask Iran to be more polite, you have kick ass coasters. Busch Gardens is an internationally themed amusement park in Williamsburg, Virginia. Each segment of the park is named after a country that takes soccer seriously, with matching live theatrical and musical performances, regional culinary delights, costumed actors that can all sing and dance for you, and let’s not forget the roller coasters. Apollo’s Chariot has the biggest G Forces. Alpengeist has the most consecutive corkscrews. The Lochness Monster has the most loop-de-loops (and the shortest line). Its the park where Fabio rode a new coaster as a publicity stunt and during a giant drop, he broke his nose on a goose that flew into him, adding insult to injury. While that coaster and Fabio’s career are both gone, it was replaced with the two year old Griffon, which is already the tallest ride. They grow up so fast. There is a mini zoo with a bird sanctuary, Pompeii – a fire spitting log flume ride, Land of the Dragons – a kiddy park for the bored parents, Das Festhaus – a beer house with a live performance in the center, and its all compacted to the perfect size where its large enough to keep you excited, but not far apart enough to teach you to hate your feet and family. A year pass is $120, thats $10 a month. If you go 3 times, you’re already making it back. -David Carter
Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio
I’ve never been here. My mom once spent 3 days here with her now ex-boyfriend and regrets that trip because he is such a fun kill. I have NO idea why I wasn’t invited. There must have been a glitch in the Matrix. Because I have never gone I asked my mom for some insight into this park. She reminded me that the now ex made the trip very stressful so she might not have the best recollection of the trip. That’s what happens when you ditch your lifelong roller coaster buddy for a newbie. But I digress, here is what my moms had to say.
Regarding Cedar Point, it’s a great roller coaster extravaganza but you’ll need at least 3 days to experience everything. And, don’t be fooled by the Park’s classification of their “thrill rides.” Some of the thrill rides only go about 60 mph and, by today’s standards, that’s tame baby!!! It is a great place to go though – lots of other stuff to do besides rides and they do have a couple of really fast roller coasters (Magnum XL-200 72 mph; Millennium Force 93 mph). They also have a great water park, miniature golf, etc. Stay at one of the hotels right by the park! -Jenn Tisdale
Amusement Park Tips
As previously stated I have been going to amusement parks for 33 years which means I’ve gained a pretty fair amount of knowledge on how to make the most of your day there. First and foremost always spend the night if you can. It’s better to get up early and go to the the park then stay after as you are clearly more exhausted at the end of the day. Plus, if the hotel is close enough to the park (like the Best Western that is literally in the parking lot of Kings Dominion, fun fact I almost drowned in that pool when I was 2) then you can take a nap and freshen up in the middle of the day. You want to do that so you can last the entire day and into the night. Nothing is better than riding a roller coaster at night, reaching the top of the hill and seeing the entire park lit up can be quite lovely. Please do not reenact that creepy scene between Mark Wahlberg and Reese Witherspoon in Fear, you weirdos.
Bags are always tricky. I used to wear fanny packs (my mom still does) but I don’t do that anymore, obviously. I used to bring a small purse but you can’t take anything on a ride anymore and some rides make you pay for a locker before you even get in line so your best bet is to either bring no bag at all or pay a fair amount of money for a day locker that you can return to as needed. I prefer the locker because I have to reapply sunblock every 2 hours and need to keep it somewhere. Which reminds me, WEAR SUNBLOCK.
Amusement park food is quite expensive and mostly bad for you. My mom and I always pack a healthy snack in a cooler that we dig into during lunch. We even bring folding chairs so we can set up a little picnic of sorts in the parking lot. Our go-to meal is chicken salad, a wrap, brie cheese, some kind of crackers, blueberries, water, and then we officially become the WASPiest people we know (As WASP-y as two people can be while still hanging out at an amusement park -ed.). If we don’t do this then I feel bad about the 10 lbs. of funnel cake I’m going to eat at some point. Plus, it’s cheaper.
When is the best time to go to an amusement park? Always go during the week if you can take off work. Also, try to go early on in the season. Some parks are open as early as April and those weekends are always super light.
Random things to keep in mind…look into some kind of flash pass. They cost a bit of money but when you get one you don’t have to wait in line for most of the big rides. They really earn their keep when you’ve spent an hour on 5 rides as opposed to 5 hours on one ride. You can usually get a ticket discount through AAA or similar. Find out if there are any deals happening. Since my mom has been taking me to these parks since I was a baby she provided some hot tips for taking your toddlers to the park:
- Be sure to bring a grandparent along (they are the only people that won’t get bored watching your little one all day while you ride the roller coasters and they won’t abandon the baby somewhere in the park when they start screaming bloody murder).
- Grandparents are also handy to bring along because they will spend their money on silly things in the park in a last-ditch effort to stop the baby/toddler from screaming.
- Have the grandparents take the little one to the “kiddie” park while you and your mate ride roller coasters. That way, if your child makes a scene or is deathly afraid of the rides, the grandparents have probably had plenty of experience with this. After all, they did put up with you as a child.
Your father and I took your grandmother with us to Kings Dominion (along with you of course). You were only about 18 months old and easily bored. To your credit, it wasn’t exactly a cake walk for you that day (sitting in a plastic stroller for about 10 hours with temperatures hovering at about 95 in the shade. At one point, your dad and I were on our way up the “big” hill on one of the roller coasters when it occurred to us that if anything happened to us on the ride, you would be an orphan. Oops. -Jenn Tisdale with some helpful hints from Judy Tisdale
What to Do at an Amusement Park When You Hate Rides
I was ~6 y/o and visiting Chuck E. Cheese’s with a friend and her mom. Sounds fun, I know. Prior to this godforsaken day, I was a normal kid. (Normal in that I enjoyed rides–please do not get it twisted.) Alas, all hope of normalcy was SQUASHED when Karen (my ~6 y/o friend) suggested we ride the roller coaster. I thought “fun!” I thought wrong.
I don’t remember most of the ride, but I do remember the important part. The car pussyfooted up the first incline like a real asshole. Slowly, but surely, we reached the climax. The ride stopped for a moment—and then lurched forward, propelling us down the intimidating 7-foot (approximate, could have easily been 8′) drop and into a tunnel of sorts, wallpapered with glow-in-the-dark googly-eyes. The moment I felt that drop in my stomach—the one that feels like (alternatively) falling in love OR just, like, literally falling—I started screaming. Real loud. And with specific instructions too, I remember. The instructions were: “STOP THE RIDE.” So the teen behind the controls stopped the coaster, I got off, and have since carried this memory with me.
It’s not that I never got on another ride again. I did! (Ferris wheels can I get a “WOOP WOOP?!”) It’s just that I am not at all down with the feeling of dropping. Not one bit. And that’s limiting when it comes to visiting amusement parks. If you hate rides, as I do, my primary words of wisdom are: Don’t go to an amusement park. But it’s not a perfect world. Sometimes, you will find yourself at an amusement park. And you will have to amuse…yourself. It’s doable. Proof/advice (kinda) follows:
Family trip to Kings Dominion (~8 y/o)
-I got a Scooby-Doo shirt that still fits, so that’s cool. I was 8 though, so I don’t have much beyond that… I guess my Kings Dominion advice, then, is to buy an over-sized shirt and then try it on a few years later and be like “Ey! This still fits!”
Family trip to Hershey Park (~12 y/o)
-Well there’s chocolate, so that helps. Mostly though I just waited with my brother (who also doesn’t like rides) for my parents (who do like rides) to finish “enjoying” their “roller coasters,” or whatever. Hershey is fine, though, fellow ride-avoidant persons. (Because chocolate.)
8th grade graduation trip to Six Flags Maryland (~13 y/o)
-There’s a water park. I stayed in the lazy river and fake wave pool thing for the entirety of the trip. It wasn’t fun, but it was OK.
Family trip to Busche Gardens (~13 y/o)
-Busche Gardens is actually fun. It’s Europe-themed, which is nice. Everything is cute there, too. Yeah. I’d say if you don’t like rides maybe suggest Busche Gardens next time the subject of amusement parks comes up. You can just ride the ski-lift thing that circles the park, if you’re cool with heights. If not…focus on the croissants?
PARTING ADVICE: Don’t try to amuse yourself at the amusement park via games. They are all rat bastards. TRUST ME.
Okay! Well there you have it. I don’t know about you, but that felt good for me. I realized a few things about myself. Mostly just how many times my parents brought me and my fellow ride-hating brother to amusement parks. (THOSE ASS WIPES.) (JUST KIDDING, MOM AND DAD!) -Carly Loman