Written by Robert Niles
Published: August 13, 2004 at 8:33 PM
Short story... if you've got questions about theme parks, I've got your answers. So let's get to 'em.
Southern California's most famous park, Disneyland, looks better than it has in eight years, but too much of the park remains under tarps or down for rehab in anticipation of the park's 50th anniversary next year. Wait to visit 'til late 2005, when the new Buzz Lightyear shoot-'em-up ride and a renovated Space Mountain should enliven a now-vacant Tomorrowland.
In Central Florida, do the opposite of everyone else and start with SeaWorld and the Universal Orlando parks. Then mix in a one-day pass to one of the Disney parks, such as Epcot or, if you have little kids, Animal Kingdom. I'd pick Animal Kingdom over the Magic Kingdom based on the outstanding Festival of the Lion King show, as well as the parks' lighter crowds, earlier closing time and set-your-own-pace nature of its animal exhibits.
Cedar Point: Top Thrill Dragster, Raptor
Disney's California Adventure: Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
Disneyland: Pirates of the Caribbean, Splash Mountain
Knott's Berry Farm: GhostRider
Legoland California: Miniland, Driving School, Fun Town Fire Academy
SeaWorld Orlando: Kraken, Wild Arctic
SeaWorld San Diego: Cirque de la Mer, Shamu Adventure
Six Flags Magic Mountain: Riddler's Revenge, X (if you can get on it)
Universal's Islands of Adventure: Adventures of Spider-Man
Universal Studios Florida: Revenge of the Mummy, Men in Black: Alien Attack
Universal Studios Hollywood: Studio Tour, Terminator 2:3-D
Walt Disney World Disney's Animal Kingdom: Festival of the Lion King, Kilimanjaro Safaris
Walt Disney World Disney-MGM Studios: Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
Walt Disney World Epcot: Mission: Space and Impressions de France
Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom: Splash Mountain, Buzz Lightyear's Space-Ranger Spin
Don't overlook a couple of strong runners-up, though. Visit Busch Gardens Williamsburg and you can take in Colonial Williamsburg, some world-class dining and several Revolutionary War historical sights within a few minutes' drive from the park. And Ohio's Cedar Point lies less than a hour away from the seriously underrated city of Cleveland, with the Blossom Music Center, Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame and a now-thriving downtown.
If you do nothing else to find a discount, buy your tickets online before you visit and arrive in the parking lot at least 45 minutes before the park opens. That way, you can get the most for your money by riding several popular attractions before the lines get too long. Buy your film, suntan lotion and breakfast outside the park, too, to save the outrageous theme park mark-up. Keep everyone happy by getting a jump on the day and you can also save by not having to bribe grumpy kids with overpriced snacks and souvenirs later.
I also wish I'd seen Paramount's Kings Island. The park's improved its kids' area over the past few years and seems to be taking steps to upgrade its overall theming as well.