Bigger isn't always better when it comes to planning a great day out with the kids. Although you may think that the huge mega-theme parks of Orlando, California, and elsewhere may be the best way to entertain them, often these parks can be daunting and exhausting for tiny feet (and a few adult feet as well). There are plenty of smaller scale parks and attractions that can entertain, enthrall and provide the perfect quick break for you and your family.
Sesame Place, Langhorne, PA
Ninety minutes from New York City and half an hour's drive from Philadelphia, Sesame Place combines the characters of television's Sesame Street with a selection of rides, water slides, and shows for a park that's ideal for children aged two to seven. The park, which is run by Anheuser-Busch, is open daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day(and weekends at other times of the year. (www.sesameplace.com; admission $50.95 for 2 and over -- good for any day twos during the season; parking $15)
Legoland, Carlsbad, CA
Located 30 minutes north of San Diego and one hour south of Anaheim, Legoland is the American incarnation of the famous Danish construction toy maker's theme park. Featuring over 50 rides, attractions and shows, including massive displays of intricate lego constructions, the park is geared for kids aged three to 12 but is fun for all ages. Highlights include the Egyptian-themed "Land of Adventure," the pirate inspired "Battle Splash and Soak N Sail," and a Coastersaurus, a dinosaur roller-coaster. (www.legoland.com; one-day admission $53 for 3-12; $63 over 13; multi-day discounts available)
Knoebels Amusement Resort, Elysburg, PA
Situated in central Pennsylvania, Knoebels is an old-school Americana theme park, where entry is free and you just pay for the rides you want to go on. And with prices starting at just $0.75 cents, a day here can easily be affordable and entertaining. You can also opt for unlimited rides, priced at $29.50 for those over four feet tall and $19.50 for those under. These prices exclude the wooden roller coasters. With the coasters, an all-day pass is $37 and $24.50. With over 60 rides to choose from, many are geared for toddlers, while others have height restrictions for safety. Enjoy bumper cars, skyrides, carousels, a giant Ferris wheel, the Cosmotron, the Haunted Mansion or the new Wipeout. Next door is the Crystal Pool and Water Slides for particularly hot days, with pool entry priced at $6 and $4 and waterslide admission $0.80 per descent. (www.knoebels.com)
Lake Compounce, Bristol, CT
America's oldest amusement park, Lake Compounce bills itself as New England's Family Theme Park and is located 60 miles from Stamford an d40 miles from Danbury. It opened in 1846 as a picnic site on the shore of Lake Compounce in central Connecticut and features a water park with over fifty rides, roller-coasters, attractions and shows, including plenty of opportunities to get wet on a warm day. Play all day on rides like Boulder Dash, Zoomerang and Thunder n' Lightning, relax near the lake in Anchor Bay, Clipper Cove and Mammoth Falls and little thrill seekers will enjoy Circus World designed for three to ten year olds. If you visit in May, admission is two for one, plus there are regular savings if you purchase your tickets online. (www.lakecompounce.com; regular admission 52" and taller $35; junior admission $26, after 5pm and seniors $18; and children three and under are free; parking $6)
Crayola Factory, Easton, PA
Although not a theme park, the Crayola Factory will feel like a craft Disneyland for kids aged two to seven. Here children get to paint, paste, color, mould, cut and create for hours on end with helpful instructors available to lend a hand. There are different projects to put together each week and most are inclusive for all ages. Children also get to take home their masterpieces and are given plastic bags to hold their goodies. There's also a play area for smaller toddlers and a factory store that can make the price of your visit add up rapidly if you indulge all your children's requests
If you have the time, you should definitely go upstairs and visit the National Canal Museum, featuring an interactive exhibition space that lets kids experience the fascinating science and history of canal boats in its Waterworks area, watch model trains travel around an extensive track, and learn some basic engineering. Entry is included in the Crayola admission price. (www.crayola.com/factory; admission $9.50 per person over the age of three)
Gilroy Gardens, Gilroy, CA
Ideal for families with young children and garden lovers, Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park features 21 rides, 27 attractions, six majestic gardens and the historic Circus Trees. Highlights include Monarch Garden, a greenhouse so large that a train, a monorail, and a river runs through it; the "Quicksilver Express" mine coaster; a boat ride through gardens of annual color; and an antique car ride where you travel through the "back roads" in vintage 1920's and 1950's cars. (www.gilroygardens.org; open weekends in May, September, October and November and daily in June, July and August; admission $43 for adults and kids over 7; $33 for kids 3-6 and seniors; online tickets $30 per person irrespective of age)
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