Theme Park of the Day: Knott's Berry Farm

The top five theme park destinations where you should spend your vacation money this summer

April 25, 2013, 5:16 PM · Where should you spend your theme park vacation money this summer?

The short answer is, of course, wherever you'd like. It's your money and you should spend it at whatever theme park or resort you feel delivers the best value for you and your family.

But if you'd like to send a message -- along with your cash -- perhaps you might give some extra consideration to the theme parks on this list. They're the ones that have spent most aggressively on new world-class attractions since last summer. If you'd like to send a message to the industry that says "we reward parks that invest in new rides and shows," supporting these parks with your vacation money this summer will help to do that.

SeaWorld ride engineers watch Antarctica during construction. Image courtesy SeaWorld.

SeaWorld Orlando -- SeaWorld tops our list for stepping up with the biggest capital investment in SeaWorld history: Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin. Utilizing first-of-its-kind, variable-motion trackless ride vehicles from the same company that created the vehicles for Universal's Transformers and Spider-Man rides, Antarctica will take riders into the coldest indoor dark ride environment ever created, allowing you to experience a virtual visit to the bottom of the world while getting up close to some very real penguins. Here's the latest video update from SeaWorld detailing its new attraction, which opens May 24:

Universal Orlando -- It was less than a year ago when we broke the news that Universal Orlando was about to begin construction on something big at Universal Studios Florida. And now, the Orlando version of Transformers: The Ride 3D is almost complete, looking ready to begin test rides at any time. Transformers follows last summer's debut of the popular Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem ride and accompanies the ongoing upgrades to the area surrounding the park's Simpsons Ride, which is slated to become a full-fledged Springfield land. And we haven't mentioned the biggest project at Universal Orlando these days -- the expansion of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter into USF with a new Diagon Alley land, which we're guessing might open sometime in 2014. Under new owners at Comcast, Universal Orlando's pouring money into its theme parks. You can send a message to the industry by putting your cash into them, too.

Six Flags Magic Mountain -- Magic Mountain builds its new rides for an order of magnitude less than SeaWorld and Universal spend on theirs. But Magic Mountain isn't settling to install the same old carnival rides and cloned coasters you'll find going in at so many other regional amusement parks around the country this year. This summer's Full Throttle not only will offer the world's tallest roller coaster loop, it'll have a unique design with a top hat element overlaid on that record-setting loop. Throw in three launches and a special effects tunnel, and any theme park fan has to give Six Flags Magic Mountain credit for trying something new.

Hong Kong Disneyland -- No new theme park attraction over the past six months has generated the buzz than Hong Kong Disneyland's Mystic Manor has. The centerpiece of the new Mystic Point section of the park, Mystic Manor utilizes a trackless ride system to bring visitors inside the artifact-laden mansion of Lord Henry Mystic, whose monkey sidekick, Albert, mischievously brings all those artifacts to life by opening an enchanted (or cursed?) music box. Filled with special effects, the first on-ride videos of Mystic Manor have Disney fans worldwide pulling out their calculators to figure out how to budget a trip to Hong Kong.

Mystic Point is the second new themed land to open at the park in the past 12 months, following last summer's debut of Grizzly Gulch and the Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars. That's a strong investment in new fun.

Universal Studios Singapore -- Want to get more value from a flight to Asia? Make it an "open jaw" multi-city itinerary with stops in Hong Kong and Singapore, where Universal Studios this winter opened its new Sesame Street-themed family ride, Spaghetti Space Chase. Yes, it's as a silly as you'd expect from Elmo and gang, but you'll enjoy a richly themed musical dark adventure with so many familiar Sesame Street characters. (If you're confused, Universal has the Asian theme park rights to the Sesame Street characters, while SeaWorld holds those rights in the United States.) Universal Studios Singapore is part of the Resorts World Sentosa development, which also opened Marine Life Park within the past 12 months. The park features the world's largest aquarium exhibit, giving your family even more new to do on a visit to Singapore.

Replies (12)

April 25, 2013 at 5:55 PM · As I have done both Singapore and Hong Kong many times, I recommend the easiest and best way to hit both parks, is to book a return flight to Hong Kong from wherever you are in the world with Singapore Airlines. That way, as you are changing planes in Singapore, you can make one of the transits a free stopover! Then you only have to book one ticket! Don't forget, for a limited time, if you fly Singapore Airlines, you get FREE ENTRY to Universal Studios and very cheap accommodation!! (and many more attractions around Singapore!)
April 25, 2013 at 5:58 PM · EDIT. The free entry to Universal is only if you include Australia or New Zealand on your Singapore Airlines ticket. Sorry for any disappointment.
April 25, 2013 at 7:29 PM · I think Magic Mountain should be replaced with Cedar Point. Magic Mountain doesn't offer any onsite lodging while CP has several hotels and offerings. While some of the conditions weren't great last time I went, they have lots of good restaurants and the marina. The expanding nighttime entertainment, the beach setting and the great views of the park makes it a really unforgettable vacation.

Also I think Gatekeeper looks a lot more exciting than Full Throttle. Premier us a solid coaster company but doesn't look that exciting or new.

April 25, 2013 at 7:57 PM · What about new Fantasyland?
April 25, 2013 at 8:01 PM · @Anthony: I think what Robert's intent was to list off new attractions that will be opening in time for or during this summer. New Fantasyland has been open for a while now.
April 25, 2013 at 11:44 PM · We are planning to visit Sea World in the fall. But I have a question. Just how cold is this Antartica attraction going to be?? How are we supposed to enjoy it when we're freezing to death?
I think they're taking the immersive theming a bit too far...
April 26, 2013 at 5:24 AM · The new ride wasn't open yet, but had a great time at Universal Singapore in January. Worth it to cross the border to Legoland Malaysia too.
April 26, 2013 at 7:41 AM · Just got back from another two day stint at Silver Dollar City, and in all honesty I think I prefer that park and their new, ground breaking wooden coaster, Outlaw Run, over any other park/ride combination on this list - except maybe HKDL/Mystic Manor.

For those out there who have never been to SDC, you really need to add it to your bucket list - and visit soon.

April 26, 2013 at 10:12 AM · What are the new, world-class attractions in New Fantasyland? Theme Park Insider readers have reacted to the Little Mermaid ride with a collective "Meh." Seven Dwarfs won't be open for another year. That leaves the Enchanted Tales show, which is nice, but is just too small and limited in audience to make the cut for this list.

Look, New Fantasyland is a wonderful atmospheric upgrade to the Magic Kingdom. But while Disney's building new restaurants and restrooms, other parks are building new rides. I'm trying to show them some love here, and hope you will, too. Disney will get its visitors. Other parks that are stepping up with ride investments should, too.

April 26, 2013 at 10:14 AM · I almost added SDC to this list, but decided to go hold it at five 'cause a top-six list just seemed a bit weird to me. But if you're in that part of the country, I'd definitely consider Silver Dollar City for a summer visit.
April 26, 2013 at 10:59 AM · The best way to see Hong Kong might be via Taiwan. That's what I did. I knew a family member that booked a separate trip from Taiwan, which is much more cheaper than booking directly from the U.S. You can also save money by booking a trip to Tokyo Japan via Taiwan.

If this isn't possible, then book a trip to Hong Kong, then book separate trip to Japan, which isn't much more expensive to do. Hong Kong is good for a weekend trip. Japan is worth an entire week.

April 26, 2013 at 3:52 PM · 1) Magic Kingdom
2) Busch Gardens
3) Epcot
4 Hollywood Studios
5 Seaworld.

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