Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer, and in a typical year that would mean it's time to get really excited about summer travel plans to theme parks and other destinations. As is obvious by this point, that's not going to happen this year. While it is likely things will be opening up throughout the summer, and it is possible there will be time for a vacation, theme park visits for this year (and possibly beyond) are going to look very different from before.
Sure, Universal Orlando is opening on June 5th, and we're likely going to see many of Florida's other parks open in the weeks that follow, but I'm going to say it: DO NOT visit Florida this summer! Beyond the obvious hassles of capacity restrictions and wearing masks in summer heat and humidity, the offerings of the parks are going to be diminished yet they'll still be charging full price to get every penny of revenue they can. On top of that, traveling is not going to be fun, and you've got a far greater chance of either catching something or bringing something if you fly across the country. If you must visit Florida this year, I highly urge waiting until the fall or winter when more will be known about the situation and mask wearing will become more tolerable (if it is even still necessary).
Where, then, should theme park fans get their fix this summer? Obviously, one option is the local Six Flags or Cedar Fair park, as most major population centers have one within a couple hours. This is a good option if you've got a pass as the cost of visiting is low. However, it's unknown when these parks will open, and it's likely to be unexciting to those who have visited countless times yet now must deal with hassles they are unaccustomed to just to experience the same old attractions. If you have a pass, then yes...I recommend going. However, I wouldn't travel a significant distance for one of these parks this year, particularly if you'll need to buy admission.
Instead, I recommend theme park fans use this summer to check out some of the smaller regional parks in their area, particularly those that are independently owned. Over the past few years, I've been writing trip reports on this site that showcase some of these out of the way parks the typical enthusiast may never stumble upon in the hopes that some may choose to check them out. Well, if there was a year for it, this is the year~ Many small parks are going to be hit far worse by the economic downturn than the major players, and it is likely a fair number won't survive. Unlike corporate parks, these places hold certain unique charms that will be lost forever if they shut their gates permanently. Some are choosing to remain closed this season, but most intend to open. Those that do need all the business they can get, as some have openly acknowledged one poor summer could put them under for good.
Below, I submit a list of regional parks that I suggest checking out, based on where I've been on my travels. Of the hundred or so parks I've visited, these are the most worthy of checking out for those who may not be directly local. The parks are either hidden gems that offer a fantastic experience, regional parks that aren't tied to a national chain, or places that have something unique about them. Some are more well known than others, some have bigger rides than others, and some rely more on theming than others, but all will satisfy enthusiasts who don't need IP for a day of fun at a much lower cost than the big players. If you're looking to take a theme park vacation this year, I'd highly recommend picking one or two of these parks within road trip range and building a trip to take advantage of some new sights rather than getting a subpar experience somewhere you've been dozens of times.
Canobie Lake Park (Salem, NH - near Manchester)
Kennywood (West Mifflin, PA - near Pittsburgh) - Targeting mid-June
Knoebels Amusement Resort (Elysburg, PA) - Targeting July
Lake Compounce (Bristol, CT - near Hartford) - Targeting early July
Morey's Piers (Wildwood, NJ)
Waldameer (Erie, PA) - Targeting July
Adventureland (Altoona, IA - near Des Moines) - NOW OPEN
Arnolds Park (Arnolds Park, IA) - NOW OPEN
Holiday World (Santa Claus, IN) - Opening June 17th
Indiana Beach (Monticello, IN) - Opening June 27th
Silver Dollar City (Branson, MO) - Opening June 12th
Dollywood (Pigeon Forge, TN) - Opening June 15th
Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park (Glenwood Springs, CO)
Lagoon (Farmington, UT - near Salt Lake City) - NOW OPEN
Lakeside Amusement Park (Denver, CO)
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk (Santa Cruz, CA)
Silverwood Theme Park (Athol, ID) - NOW OPEN
I'll try to keep this list updated as parks announce opening dates, but especially this year I highly recommend checking park websites a couple times per week if you're thinking of visiting. With new updates daily, things can change rapidly, and operating schedules are being modified frequently.
If you've got independent parks not listed above you'd like to campaign for, give them a shout below and I'll add them to the list. Also, sorry the South is so bare...I haven't gotten to most of the independent parks down there.Tweet
Now open, or date announced:
Still waiting on these: