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Theme Park Insider vacation makeover: A roller coaster trip across America

By Robert Niles
Published: December 15, 2009 at 11:17 AM
This week's makeover candidate hails from Sydney, Australia wants to plan a roller coaster trip across America - riding 40 of the nation's top roller coasters for her 40th birthday. She's only been to California and Nevada before, so this will be her first trip to most of the country.

I have narrowed down the list of themeparks my partner and I want to go to and am in the process of planning the traveling around the parks and their locations, however I am still waiting for opening hours in 2010 for a few places - especially those parks in the northern part of the US. Therefore we are anticipating traveling for 4 - 5 weeks in May to June.

The current themeparks on my 'dream' rollercoaster tour are:
Cedar Point, Ohio
Kings Island, Ohio
Six Flags Magic Mountain, California
Six Flags Great Adventure, New Jersey
Six Flags Over Georgia
Hersheypark, Pennsylvania
Dollywood, Tennessee
Busch Gardens, Virgina
Circus Circus, Las Vegas

I am also starting my rollercoaster tour on the Gold Coast in Queensland Australia to ride the Tower of Terror at Dreamworld (and add some local flavour!

I'm going to lean on you folks, Theme Park Insider's readers, for this one, especially tips on hotels, side trips and money saving tips around the parks. Here are the coasters I would pick for this trip, in the order in which I would drive to the parks. Note that I'm dropping Six Flags Over Georgia from the list, since its coasters are pretty much redundant to what you'll have found elsewhere on the trip. But I am adding three Orlando parks, thanks to some top-quality original coasters at Universal Orlando. (See update below.) I've also skipped Adventuredome at Circus Circus in Las Vegas because it really only has the one coaster, Canyon Blaster, and I'd try to avoid any park where I could bag only one top coaster.

Also, rather than simply flying to LA and renting a car (which might be difficult, if not impossible, given the number of states and distance covered during this trip), I'm suggesting flying to three U.S. cities, then hitting parks in those regions of the country. This would be a three-stop "open jaw" itinerary, so check with a travel agent in Australia for help in booking the best airline deal.

The other option might be simply to buy an inexpensive used car in L.A. and use it to drive across the country and back, then selling it back to a dealer at the end of the trip. You'd need to do some research on reliability of various used U.S. car models first, though, as you wouldn't want to be caught paying for expensive repairs during your trip. (Or, finally, you could simply agree to take along a Theme Park Insider reader who'd be willing to drive you across in the country in exchange for being invited on this trip!)

Riddler's Revenge at Six Flags Magic Mountain
Riddler's Revenge at Six Flags Magic Mountain

1. Fly to LA

Six Flags Magic Mountain

  • Déjà Vu
  • Goliath
  • Tatsu
  • Terminator: Salvation
  • Riddler's Revenge
  • X2
Knott's Berry Farm
  • Ghostrider
  • Silver Bullet
  • Xcelerator

2. Fly to Washington, D.C. (You could try Baltimore of Philadelphia, as well, to find the best deal from LA)

Six Flags Great Adventure

  • Bizarro
  • El Toro
  • Kingda Ka
  • Nitro
  • Superman: Ultimate Flight
Hersheypark
  • Lightning Racer
  • Fahrenheit
  • Storm Runner: Vertical Horsepower!
Cedar Point
  • Magnum XL-200
  • Maverick
  • Millennium Force
  • Raptor
  • Top Thrill Dragster
Kings Island
  • The Beast
  • Diamondback
  • Firehawk
  • Flight of Fear
  • Vortex
Dollywood
  • Mystery Mine
  • Tennessee Tornado
  • Thunderhead
Busch Gardens Williamsburg
  • Alpengeist
  • Apollo's Chariot
  • Griffon
  • Loch Ness Monster

3. Fly to Orlando

SeaWorld Orlando

  • Kraken
  • Manta
Universal's Islands of Adventure
  • Dragon Challenge
  • Incredible Hulk Coaster
Universal Studios Florida
  • Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit
  • Revenge of the Mummy

As for park tickets, buy a Play Pass for $54.99 online for Six Flags Magic Mountain. That will also get you in to Great Adventure in New Jersey, for no additional fee.

Consider buying a Platinum Pass to Knott's Berry Farm online for $160. This will get you into Knott's, Cedar Point and Kings Island, with free parking at each. That works out to about $53 per park. With the parking fee, if you can find one-day ticket deals online under $40 for each park, you might go with those instead of the Platinum Pass.

I wouldn't bother with the Platinum pass for the Busch and SeaWorld parks. At nearly $300 for the two-year pass, it's cheaper to buy one-day tickets for the two parks on this itinerary.

Get the online $99 7-day/2-park ticket for Universal Orlando, though.

Okay, it's your turn: Additions, suggestions and thoughts in the comments, please.

Update: Much better suggestions in the comments. In fact, I'm now suggested dumping the Orlando leg in favor of adding Holiday World and Kings Dominion to the midwest/mid-Atlantic leg of the trip. Read the comments for more.

Readers' Opinions

From Anthony Murphy on December 15, 2009 at 11:55 AM
Why not put Six Flags Great America on the list, especially if you are going to skip GA? They have Raging Bull, Batman the Ride, American Eagle, Viper to name a few? Plus, you can visit my beloved Chicago which has some awesome stuff there too!


And I know I am in the minority, but I really do not like the Mummy as a Roller Coaster. Dragon Challenge and the Hulk are great, but the Mummy would not be top of my list.

If she wants roller coasters, a trip to Cedar Point and Six Flags Great America are in order. They are not that far away from each other! Also, with Great Adventure, she gets the whole SF experience with arguably the best parks that the chain offers.

From Vickie Boyd on December 15, 2009 at 11:33 AM
If they get the platinum pass for the Cedar Faire parks, they could hit Kings Dominion on the way back to I-95 from Williamsburg and catch I305, the new giga. Volcano is awesome, too, and a launching inverted.
From 153.9.155.4 on December 15, 2009 at 11:35 AM
If you're going to be in Orlando for Seaworld, you might as well make a side trip to Tampa for Busch Gardens Williamsburg. They have Montu, Kumba, and Sheikra, which are all great coasters.
From Jack Curley on December 15, 2009 at 11:47 AM
Also available with that Cedar Fair platinum pass is Dorney Park, which you will be driving directly past on your way to Hershey Park from Great Adventure. It may not pack in the huge coaster thrills like some of the other parks, but it's not usually very crowded, visible from the interstate that you'll be driving on, and let's not forget... free!

Who wouldn't want to throw an extra park in for free?

From 137.91.114.239 on December 15, 2009 at 1:32 PM
If you are already going to go to King's Island and Dollywood, it is worth the trip to go to Holiday World and catch three of the best wooden roller coasters in the country.

Also, if you are already going to Hersey park, Knoebel's Amusement park (the best family owned amusement park in the country) is just an hour or so away.

JOhn Bosler

From Robert Niles on December 15, 2009 at 2:01 PM
I appended the Orlando trip, but totally spaced adding Holiday World. That's a must. No excuse for missing it.

Since I would have done Terminator: Salvation at SFMM and Vortex at KI, I'd skip Dollywood in favor of Holiday World, to keep the coaster count the same. Or... you could drop the Orlando leg, keep Dollywood and add Holiday World, then pick up three extra coasters at parks currently on the itinerary to make up the difference, or do as suggested and stop by Kings Dominion using the Knott's Platinum Pass and ride the new Intimidator 305, as well as Volcano and Dominator.

From Leonard Dumas on December 15, 2009 at 2:28 PM
If you wanted to skip the Orlando leg of the Trip you could just extend your drive further south from Dollywood and still hit the number of coasters you are looking for.
From Dollywood head south... stop of breifly in Chattanooga at Lake Winnepesaukah and ride the Cannon Ball, then drive south to Atlanta to hit Six Flags Georgia... it has the GASM, Nija, Superman, Cyclone, Goliath, Mind Bender, and scorcher to pick from. Drive 3 hours west to Birmingham and hit Alabama Adventure, which has the Rampage and Zoomerang? Just a way to save on Airfare if needed.
From Larry Zimmerman on December 15, 2009 at 2:32 PM
As long as they're making your East Coast/Midwest round-robin (in their used/rented car), they could include Carowinds, and ride the OTHER "Intimidator," this one being installed by B&M this off season. It'll be a vastly different ride from the Intamin version at Kings Dominion. And, because Carowinds is a Cedar Fair park, it's included in the Cedar Fair platinum pass you so sagely advised.
From Derek Potter on December 15, 2009 at 2:36 PM
It would be a sad thing to miss Holiday World since you would be so close.

It all depends on where it will be the cheapest to fly from LA or Vegas. An idea is to fly into Indianapolis or Louisville and rent a car, making all the stops as you drive east and then a shade south. From either airport your route would go something like this.

1.Holiday World- Santa Claus, Indiana

2.Kings Island- Cincinatti, Ohio
(optional stop) Columbus Zoo in Columbus Ohio on your way to the third park. It's one of the better zoos in the country, also has a waterpark.

3.Cedar Point- Sandusky Ohio. Recommended hotel is the Breakers Express. It's inexpensive, yet nice, and you will get early entry into Cedar Point...which is a very good thing to have.
(optional stops on the way to the next park) Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

4.(added stop) Kennywood-Pittsburgh, PA. Highly underrated park. Good value, some of the oldest and most well kept wooden coasters in the country, and they are getting a new steel coaster next year.

5 Six Flags Great Adventure. Jersey Shore is nice in many spots. Atlantic City and Wildwood aren't too far away either.

6. Hersheypark-Hershey PA. Another coaster park relatively close to Hershey is Dorney Park in Allentown, PA. Not a bad stop to make if you have the time.

7. Busch Gardens- Williamsburg, Va. A handful of other things to do in that town, as well as a proximity to D.C.

8 (added stop) Kings Dominion- Richmond, Va. Another Cedar Fair park full of coasters to ride, including a new 300 footer for 2010.

9. Dollywood- Pigeon Forge TN. There are lots of other attractions in the area. Gatlinburg is just down the road, which has some things to do as well.

From Dollywood I would do one of two things if you wish to continue riding. The first option, head west to Nashville and catch a plane to Orlando, where you have Universal and Sea World, as well as Busch Gardens in Tampa. Another option is to drive towards Charlotte, where Carowinds and their new coaster resides. From there you can either fly to Orlando or drive, which is all interstate, and eventually runs close to the Atlantic Coast. Six Flags over Georgia isn't a bad park, but I wouldn't call it a must stop by any means. Traveling to the above parks in that sequence will prevent backtracking and keep the drive time between destinations to a minimum, reducing your time on the road. Most of this route is by car, but most parks are only a few hours apart, with plenty of other things to do around them and/or on the way.

If you do visit all the parks on the list, purchasing a Cedar Fair Platinum pass is highly recommended. There are 5 Cedar Fair parks on my list, and the pass will get you into all of them with free parking. They are about $150 a piece. If you go to Orlando, you can get a break with the Universal/SeaWorld/Busch Gardens combo pass that is available.

Good luck and have fun!

From Robert Niles on December 15, 2009 at 3:24 PM
If you dumped both the California and Orlando legs of this trip, the logistics become easier, assuming of course that your rental car agreement on the vehicle picked up in DC allows you to go to New Jersey to Indiana to Tennessee to North Carolina and back to DC.

In that case, you'd need to add Holiday World and Kings Dominion to replace the Orlando coasters, and you'd need to pick up nine coasters to replace those from Southern California.

From Jack Curley on December 15, 2009 at 4:38 PM
If you're planning to get on everything at Great Adventure, I highly recommend buying a Flash Pass at the park. I've never used one of them, but I've been to Great Adventure dozens of times and I've never gotten on everything that I wanted to ride. Great Adventure will ALWAYS be packed. If you want to hit everything, the Flash Pass is probably the only way you'll be able to do it.
From M. Ryan Traylor on December 15, 2009 at 9:45 PM
What's really great about this is that it's given me more ideas for my 30th BDay trip in 2011. I was planning a Cedar Fair trip to the east coast with Dollywood thrown in. Now I see I need to add some more days to get Holiday World and Hershey Park. (No need for Busch, unless they get something new by then, since I was there last year).
From 173.169.40.141 on December 15, 2009 at 10:08 PM
Dude. You worked for Disney World and thats not even included in your trip? I know IOA and SeaWorld's coasters are a bit more intense, but whilst in Orlando for a coaster trip, you should at least stop by either Animal Kingdom(Everest), Hollywood Studios(Rock 'N Roller Coaster) or Magic Kingdom(Big Thunder Mountain & Space Mountain).
From 173.169.40.141 on December 15, 2009 at 10:09 PM
Busch Gardens Tampa's got some good coasters too, don't forget BGT
From 76.26.184.25 on December 16, 2009 at 8:54 AM
I honestly think the best option is the idea of purchasing a used car and driving it-- especially if you are thinking this is going to be a 4-5 week trip. That will give you the flexibility you need and should be cost effective.

If money becomes a big factor I would suggest a major trim to your trip... make it a two week vacation and try hitting only our top three (IMO) regions...

1. LA
SFMM, KBF, Disneyland Resort, SeaWorld CA, and Legoland

2. Fly to Orlando
USF, SeaWorld/ Aquatica. Disney (other than Magic Kingdom since you did that in LA) and BGT.

3. Fly to Indianapolis or Cincinnati
Kings Island, Cedar Point, and Holiday World

The only 'great' park that I think you would be missing then would be Busch Gardens Williamsburg, so if you want to add a fourth then I would suggest...

4. Fly to Philadelphia
SF Great Adventure, BGW, Kings Dominion, Hersey Park, Dorney then fly home from Philly


Just my two cents-- I hope your trip works out what ever you choose!

From Mark Kausch on December 16, 2009 at 11:21 AM
If you don't dump the California leg, I would at least dump SFMM's Deja Vu. Hit Cedar Point's Wicked Twister or one of its clones instead. I haven't heard anything good about Deja Vu and the one time I went on it I almost passed out waiting to drop forward towards the ground.
From Will Chilcote on December 16, 2009 at 12:15 PM
I would skip Circus Circus, its not that great unless you have kids. Most adults would be bored there in like 30 minutes. If your going to Las Vegas to gamble, I would go to one of the many Indian Casinos just outside of Los Angeles in stead.

As to Busch Gardens, it is 3 hours from DC. I would go there first then north to Hersey and Six Flags Jersey. Then go to Kennywood. Its a great small park that has tons of classic rides and some great coasters. Its in Pittsburgh. After that head west to Cedar Point and Kings Island. Then fly to Los Angeles for Magic Mountain, Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm. I included Disneyland because you are really missing out if you don't go there or to the WDW in Florida. After doing LA fly to Florida. WDW, Universal Studios Florida and Busch Gardens Tampa are all great parks. There is no easy way to get to Dollywood. You could either drive from Florida or fly.

BTW, if you are going to both SF Great Adventure (the jersey park) and Magic Mountain buy Season passes to one of the parks it will save you a lot of money.

From Shawn Marie on December 16, 2009 at 8:45 PM
If you are going to stop in Hershey, you may also want to consider a side trip to Knoebels which is closer to Hershey than Dorney. You could pick up rides on the Phoenix and the Twister.

I hesitate to mention it 'cause it is almost a joke at this point, but IF Flying Turns is done that'd be a neat thing to catch also.

Knoebels won some more Golden Tickets for food and their carousel where you still grab the brass ring and they have the number one rated Dark Ride too. I know, not coasters but still good reasons to visit.

From sarah garske on December 16, 2009 at 9:28 PM
WHAT!?!? You're planning a roller coaster and theme park trip and you're considering skipping Orlando??? No way!!!

Here's why.

1. Five rides: Revenge of the Mummy, Manta, Kraken, Space mountain and Hollywood rip ride rockit.
The mummy is consistently on top lists and is a favorite of those who love great rides. Its unique and unexpected, and is my personal favorite- not to mention a major award winner as recently as last year!! Manta is by far the best flying coaster in existence. its almost a religious experience your first time. It should not be missed. Kraken has an edge over almost all other roller coasters for me- it still frightens me. The twists and turns are unexpected, it lends beautiful views and is incredibly smooth. Space mountain is a classic, and is fresh out of rehab!!! Lastly, the Rockit. For all its drama getting open, it really is a good ride and in a class all its own- there is truly nothing like it out there.

2. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter... Hello! Will be brand spankin new and the talk of all theme park junkies worldwide!!! How can you pass that up?

3. Disney world- in general. Any trip of roller coasters and theme parks is incomplete without the best of the best- the walk disney world complex. You'd be doing yourself an injustice to miss out. And your partner- if they've only visited cali and nevada, it would be the first time- how amazing!!!

And I would avoid Busch Gardens Tampa, certainly if you are visiting BG williamsburg. Sheikra has its doppelganger Griffon, and Montu is great, yes, but not enough to take a whole trip to BG. I won't even ride kumba these days- ouch!!!! Its rusty and rattley and needs major rehab.

Don't skip out on Orlando!!! We have some of the best!!!

From sarah garske on December 16, 2009 at 9:28 PM
WHAT!?!? You're planning a roller coaster and theme park trip and you're considering skipping Orlando??? No way!!!

Here's why.

1. Five rides: Revenge of the Mummy, Manta, Kraken, Space mountain and Hollywood rip ride rockit.
The mummy is consistently on top lists and is a favorite of those who love great rides. Its unique and unexpected, and is my personal favorite- not to mention a major award winner as recently as last year!! Manta is by far the best flying coaster in existence. its almost a religious experience your first time. It should not be missed. Kraken has an edge over almost all other roller coasters for me- it still frightens me. The twists and turns are unexpected, it lends beautiful views and is incredibly smooth. Space mountain is a classic, and is fresh out of rehab!!! Lastly, the Rockit. For all its drama getting open, it really is a good ride and in a class all its own- there is truly nothing like it out there.

2. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter... Hello! Will be brand spankin new and the talk of all theme park junkies worldwide!!! How can you pass that up?

3. Disney world- in general. Any trip of roller coasters and theme parks is incomplete without the best of the best- the walk disney world complex. You'd be doing yourself an injustice to miss out. And your partner- if they've only visited cali and nevada, it would be the first time- how amazing!!!

And I would avoid Busch Gardens Tampa, certainly if you are visiting BG williamsburg. Sheikra has its doppelganger Griffon, and Montu is great, yes, but not enough to take a whole trip to BG. I won't even ride kumba these days- ouch!!!! Its rusty and rattley and needs major rehab.

Don't skip out on Orlando!!! We have some of the best!!!

From sarah garske on December 16, 2009 at 9:29 PM
WHAT!?!? You're planning a roller coaster and theme park trip and you're considering skipping Orlando??? No way!!!

Here's why.

1. Five rides: Revenge of the Mummy, Manta, Kraken, Space mountain and Hollywood rip ride rockit.
The mummy is consistently on top lists and is a favorite of those who love great rides. Its unique and unexpected, and is my personal favorite- not to mention a major award winner as recently as last year!! Manta is by far the best flying coaster in existence. its almost a religious experience your first time. It should not be missed. Kraken has an edge over almost all other roller coasters for me- it still frightens me. The twists and turns are unexpected, it lends beautiful views and is incredibly smooth. Space mountain is a classic, and is fresh out of rehab!!! Lastly, the Rockit. For all its drama getting open, it really is a good ride and in a class all its own- there is truly nothing like it out there.

2. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter... Hello! Will be brand spankin new and the talk of all theme park junkies worldwide!!! How can you pass that up?

3. Disney world- in general. Any trip of roller coasters and theme parks is incomplete without the best of the best- the walk disney world complex. You'd be doing yourself an injustice to miss out. And your partner- if they've only visited cali and nevada, it would be the first time- how amazing!!!

And I would avoid Busch Gardens Tampa, certainly if you are visiting BG williamsburg. Sheikra has its doppelganger Griffon, and Montu is great, yes, but not enough to take a whole trip to BG. I won't even ride kumba these days- ouch!!!! Its rusty and rattley and needs major rehab.

Don't skip out on Orlando!!! We have some of the best!!!

From sarah garske on December 16, 2009 at 10:22 PM
WHAT!?!? You're planning a roller coaster and theme park trip and you're considering skipping Orlando??? No way!!!

Here's why.

1. Five rides: Revenge of the Mummy, Manta, Kraken, Space mountain and Hollywood rip ride rockit.
The mummy is consistently on top lists and is a favorite of those who love great rides. Its unique and unexpected, and is my personal favorite- not to mention a major award winner as recently as last year!! Manta is by far the best flying coaster in existence. its almost a religious experience your first time. It should not be missed. Kraken has an edge over almost all other roller coasters for me- it still frightens me. The twists and turns are unexpected, it lends beautiful views and is incredibly smooth. Space mountain is a classic, and is fresh out of rehab!!! Lastly, the Rockit. For all its drama getting open, it really is a good ride and in a class all its own- there is truly nothing like it out there.

2. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter... Hello! Will be brand spankin new and the talk of all theme park junkies worldwide!!! How can you pass that up?

3. Disney world- in general. Any trip of roller coasters and theme parks is incomplete without the best of the best- the walk disney world complex. You'd be doing yourself an injustice to miss out. And your partner- if they've only visited cali and nevada, it would be the first time- how amazing!!!

And I would avoid Busch Gardens Tampa, certainly if you are visiting BG williamsburg. Sheikra has its doppelganger Griffon, and Montu is great, yes, but not enough to take a whole trip to BG. I won't even ride kumba these days- ouch!!!! Its rusty and rattley and needs major rehab.

Don't skip out on Orlando!!! We have some of the best!!!

From Larry Zimmerman on December 17, 2009 at 6:53 AM
OK, Sarah, we get it... ;)
From sarah garske on December 18, 2009 at 9:40 PM
Omg, I'm so sorry!!!! Crackberry went crazy!!!!

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