Robert's Tour, Conclusion -- Questions Answered
Robert's answers your questions about his summer theme park tour, including where to go, what not to miss and what parks are doing the best job.
Written by Robert Niles
Published: August 13, 2004 at 8:33 PM
Okay, so what did I learn from my summer theme park tour
? For those of you who haven't been following along, I hit five theme parks in five days in Southern California, followed by three Orlando parks the next week and a trip to Cedar Point in Ohio later in the month. Throw in earlier visits to two San Diego parks, and I've visited 11 theme parks this summer and a total of 15 in the past year.
Short story... if you've got questions about theme parks, I've got your answers. So let's get to 'em.
- Which theme park should I visit?
- If you're visiting Southern California, go to Universal Studios Hollywood, unless you have kids under age 8. In that case, take them to Legoland. Both parks offer top-quality attractions and entertainment -- stunt shows, studio tours and thrill rides at Universal, and play areas and kids' rides at Legoland.
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.
- That's nice, but I'm a roller coaster fan. Where do I go for the best thrills?
- C'mon. Give me a tough one. Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. Only Six Flags Magic Mountain comes close to offering the number of coasters as Cedar Point, but the Ohio park wins for better installations, a far better setting and much cooler summer weather. Plus, the park offers a wider selection of non-coaster attractions to help break up the day, and provide a little recovery time for those of us without iron stomachs.
- What are the best attractions at the theme parks you've visited in the past year?
- In alphabetical order...
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
- Which park's employees do the best job of creating theme park "magic"?
- Give that honor to the crew at Universal Studios Hollywood. I've never seen a group of employees try harder to sell their shows, communicate with guests and in general work to see that everyone in the park was having a good time. Sure, not every employee excelled. But more did there than at any other park I visited this year.
- Which theme park destinations offer the best selection of "other" things to do in the area?
- You gotta go with Southern California. Beaches, celebrities, museums, great restaurants and shopping. Visit at the right time of year, and you can surf in the ocean in the morning and ski in the mountains in the evening.
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.
- All this is nice, but theme parks are too expensive. How can I afford to visit?
- Don't pay retail! Almost all parks offer discounts, from two-for-one deals with cans of Coke (a Six Flags summer tradition) to discounts for buying tickets online (such as at the Cedar Fair and Busch parks). Even Disney and Universal offer deals, if you keep your ears open. Read our Deals & Discounts page, or visit the "Inside Scoop" sections in my tour articles to find specific deals.
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.
- Where do wish you'd visited? And where are you going next year?
- Busch Gardens Williamsburg tops my travel wish-list for 2005. I fell in love with the park's look and themed thrill rides when I first visited as a teen-ager, and I'm looking forward to seeing some of the park's recent additions, as well as it new mystery attraction, next summer.
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.
And, of course, at some point, I'd love to travel overseas, and visit parks such as Tokyo DisneySea and Disneyland Paris.
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