Famous Disney destinations like the iconic original Disneyland Resort in California and the impressive Walt Disney World Resort in Florida have long stood out as exemplified options that everyone longs to go on vacation to at least once in their lifetime. The callout “I’m going to Disney World/Disneyland” has even become a common declaration by winning professional athletes as the ultimate way to celebrate victory and success. And when everyday families find out that they will, at last, be going on a Disney vacation themselves, they echo the same sentiments and feelings of felicitations.
To the ultimate Disney fan, the idea of going on vacation to any other theme park destination outside of the realm of all things Disney may seem unthinkable. But the truth is, there are many other exciting alternate options to consider all around the United States. You may even find that when you give some of them a chance, they actually rival Disney Parks in regard to certain rides, additional attractions, and other experiences across the board. Ready to find out about all the other viable theme park options you may have been overlooking? Here are eight top-rated amusement parks you may want to check out as an alternative to Disney.
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8. Universal Studios
You can’t talk about alternatives to Disney without mentioning its biggest contender in theme park rivalry. That’s right, Universal Studios has been giving Disney a run for its money for many years. But more recently different Universal Studios locations around the nation have been finding particular favor among former Disney traditionalists who have left their previous loyalties behind for a number of reasons.
Coincidentally enough, both of the most well-known Disney Resort locations around have corresponding Universal Studios alternatives in the vicinity. Rivaling Disneyland in Anaheim, California you have the impressive Universal Studios Hollywood. And answering the call for a Disney World alternative there is Universal Studios Orlando. Do take note, however, that like Disney Parks and Resorts, Universal has several international locations as well, including those in Japan, Beijing, and Singapore.
With a focus on movies and entertainment, Universal presents many comparable experiences to those at Disney Parks and Resorts, including character interactions, shows, onsite dining, and breathtaking rides and attractions that rightfully succeed at impressing visitors who previously thought only Disney could do such wonderful works. Some of the most favored Universal attractions that Disney Parks no doubt wish they also had include Revenge of the Mummy, E.T. Adventure, the Jurassic World VelociCoaster, Jurassic Park River Adventure, and the many rides making up the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. So many others can rightfully be included on the list also.
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7. SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment
Here is another rather large contender of Disney Parks. While headquartered in Orlando, Florida, SeaWorld has two other locations in the United States—one in San Antonio, Texas, and the other in San Diego, California. There’s also one based in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.
Many still incorrectly regard SeaWorld as being a solely marine-based zoological venue without any theme park attractions to its credit. It’s also easy to miss the fact that the SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment chain owns both Busch Gardens theme park locations in the United States—the original in Tampa, Florida, and the other in historic Williamsburg, Virginia. So together, both entertainment entities are a united front as dual Disney competitors. Other parks under the brand include Sesame Place (in Philadelphia and San Diego), Discovery Cove, and water park ventures, like Aquatica (in Orlando and San Antonio), Adventure Island, and Water Country USA.
Having a much larger presence than you probably realized, it goes without saying that SeaWorld is home to a broad range of thrill rides that any Disney Park could easily be jealous of. Some of their most notable attractions include their standout Kraken roller coaster in Orlando, Mako and Manta (also in Orlando), Steel Eel in San Antonio, The Great White (also in San Antonio), and the hybrid coaster/water attraction Journey to Atlantis, which has a presence at Orlando, San Antonio, and San Diego.
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Based in Orlando, this alternative to Disney Parks is a bit different from the others on this list in the fact that it is not your typical amusement park full of thrill rides. But it’s still a thrilling place to visit, especially given the fact that it has been declared the “Alligator Capital of the World” and rightly so. Situated on the 110 acres comprising of Gatorland you will find gator and croc wonders galore, including those rare specimens with leucism. Other animals make their home here too, including birds and mammals. In fact, several of the featured attractions onsite include animal-specific shows, educational programs, and more.
Additionally, the park features a wonderful boardwalk overlooking a breeding marsh, an impressive observation tower, vehicle tours of an off-road swamp, a nice miniature railroad, zip line adventures, and more. It’s truly an amazing place to visit, to say the least. Fans of Disney’s Animal Kingdom in particular find this park to be a most befitting alternative.
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5. Knott’s Berry Farm
On the California side of things, Knott’s Berry Farm stands out as an impressive amusement park to rival Disneyland even. It’s been referred to, time and again, as California’s best theme park, for many good reasons—a reputation that’s only grown (like ripe berries) throughout its 100-year tenure.
Based in Buena Park, California, Knott’s Berry Farm features an impressive setup of different rides. These range from thrilling and intense roller coasters to family-friendlier attractions, impressive dark rides to water rides you know you’re going to get wet with. Following along with a fun old-west theme, the park is comparable to Disney with its different themed land setups and other interactive features. They’re also known for dishing up fried chicken of great acclaim as well as tasty features that involve boysenberries.
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4. Cedar Point
This all-encompassing entertainment destination based in Sandusky, Ohio doesn’t get nearly the amount of credit it should, especially considering the fact that it is the second-oldest still-operating amusement park in the nation. Having opened in 1870, Cedar Point is a particularly pleasing park alternative to explore if you happen to be a great fan of roller coasters specifically. It does, after all, feature 18 world-class coasters of various distinctions, speeds, and overall thrill levels. Rated as a number one fan favorite, and arguably the best roller coaster in the whole world is their impressive Steel Vengeance. This coaster rises to a breathtaking 205 feet before plunging down at a 90-degree angle, hitting 74 mph and four inversions along the way.
Roller coasters, however, are not the extent of the impressive attractions making up the 364-acre Lake Eerie setup here. You’ll find great variation in all sorts of riding distinctions. And then, there are also those impressive extras, like live shows, entertainment, and more. And be sure to check out wet and wonderful fun over at Cedar Point Shores Water Park and Cedar Point Shores in addition to so many other awesome theme park pursuits.
If you are particularly turned off by Disney’s soaring ticket prices and the frustrations of needing to make a Park Reservation in advance then visiting Knoebels in Elysburg, Pennsylvania may be just the perfect alternative you’re looking for. Having opened back in 1926, this wonderful family-owned operation remains the largest admission-free amusement park in the nation. On top of that, they also offer free parking, free use of their picnic facilities, and free entertainment daily.
Options for paying to attend the different attractions are arranged once you’ve already entered. And there is certainly plenty to enjoy on location here, from thrill rides, dark rides, kiddie rides, and otherwise. Roller coaster enthusiasts take particular note that some of their star coaster attractions frequently make it onto various “top 10” lists. Two well-known favorites are the Twister and the Phoenix.
In addition to offering up diversified rides and attractions, Knoebels is also famous for dishing up some hearty home-cooked fare on location, sure to put other theme park eats to shame. They also feature a wonderful campground setup for those who want to stretch out staying and playing over a series of days. And golfers take note of their Three Ponds Golf Course as well.
Here is another Pennsylvania-based highlight, this one rightfully located in what’s known as the “Chocolate Capital of the United States”—Hershey, Pennsylvania. That’s right, this is where Hershey’s Chocolate comes from! So, where Disneyland has dibs on coining itself “the happiest place on Earth” and Disney World’s Magic Kingdom makes claims for being “the most magical place on Earth,” Hersheypark takes the cake (or in this case the chocolate) for being “the sweetest place on Earth.” It remains the largest and most visited theme park in Pennsylvania and the ninth most visited one in North America.
To say that Hersheypark’s offerings are sweet would be a vast understatement. The attractions have grown considerably over the years, and it’s now safe to say that this theme park is one of Disney’s top contenders in fandom. Ride offerings range in famous thrills, family favorites for the kiddies, and docile delights for those looking to take it easier. But it isn’t all about the rides here. There are so many other fantastic callouts to garner praise in addition, including their adjoining Board Walk water park area and even their impressive ZooAmerica—an attached zoological park that is home to more than 200 animals.
Hersheypark features live entertainment, onsite dining, and myriad other delights in addition. By opting to vacation here, you can really have a great extended stay and perhaps the sweetest time you will ever know.
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You don’t need to be a theme park expert to know that the popularity of Dollywood has been steadily increasing over the years. Based in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and owned and operated by the one and only singer Dolly Parton and Herschend Family Entertainment this is one family vacation destination that goes above and beyond traditional theme park rides and attractions serving as the primary anchor. Of course, nobody is denying that you’ll find those delights here too—if that’s what you’re after. But do take note of the many standout alternatives and extras to be enjoyed here as well, many of which rightfully celebrate the life and musical traditions of Appalachian culture. And their crafting opportunities and events are pretty big too!
The park is particularly known for hosting a vast range of concerts and musical events throughout the year. Even Dolly herself is known to make appearances along with family, friends, and both locally known and nationally renowned musical acts.
While both thrill rides and family-friendly attractions make up the majority of the amusement park sector, other features at Dollywood include the impressive 35-acre Dollywood Splash Country water park, Dolly’s Stampede Dinner Attraction, and the wonderful getaway experience allotted to out-of-town visitors, offered in the form of Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa. I could go on and on in listing all the reasons why this traipse over to the Smokey Mountains sector of the United States may just be a fitting alternative to the atmosphere at either Disneyland or Disney World respectfully, but I think you get the point.
This is just a meager list of the countless other theme park options to consider as viable alternatives to Disney Parks. Some other noted honorable mentions include Coney Island—a timeless wonder based in New York, Kings Island—another Ohio favorite, Kings Dominion in Virginia, and Canada’s Wonderland for the folks north of the border.
Closer to the Disney World scene some other favored venues to check out include ICON Park, LEGOLAND, and Fun Spot America Theme Parks with locations in Orlando, Kissimmee, and Atlanta, Georgia. Then, let’s not forget about the renowned Six Flags chain of theme parks dominating many locations throughout North America as well, although truth be told, not all Six Flags locations are created equal.
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All things considered, for better or worse, Disney Parks no longer rule the roost of iconic theme park glory. While it cannot be denied that Disney still gets high marks in overall favorability and familiarity, it also cannot be denied that there are some absolutely awesome alternatives worth trying out as well.