Brand-new rides and waterparks, discount tickets, line-skipping tips, and so much more
As summer temperatures rise and the school year becomes a distant memory, many families are packing up to head out on vacation. Sitting atop many summer bucket lists? A theme park trip. And 2023 may be the year to visit one of the many that the U.S. has to offer.
It’s not just Disney. From sea to shining sea, theme parks are shelling out the latest and greatest in attractions for all ages, from the littlest parkgoers to the serious thrill seekers. Travelers headed to Tennessee can experience Dollywood’s brand new family-friendly coaster, Big Bear Mountain, while Universal Studios Hollywood is ushering the 8-bit obsessed directly into the technicolor world of Mario and Luigi.
Theme park expert Carly Caramanna shared everything you can expect from the major theme parks this summer—and how to make the most of your time while there.
Universal Studios Hollywood
Cinema magic meets thrilling fun at Universal Studios Hollywood, in the heart of Los Angeles. Here, you can come face to face with a towering dinosaur aboard Jurassic World — The Ride while younger parkgoers will love the innovative dark attraction, The Secret Life of Pets: Off The Leash. Tinsel Town’s newest offering, Super Nintendo World, is the first in North America. Here, guests step directly inside the 360-degree, multicolored world of Mario, Luigi, and Princess Peach before battling Bowser inside his castle on an innovative, augmented-reality attraction thrusting you into real-life Mario Kart.
Before you say Let’s-A Go… With the opening of Super Nintendo World, the park has proved busier than ever. Theme park reservations aren’t required but reservations may be required to enter the land during peak visits via a virtual line. Universal offers an early access ticket to Super Nintendo World that is available for an additional fee while Universal Express Pass grants holders a one-time, reservation-free entry into the land. To make the most of your visit, purchase a Power-Up Band for a more immersive experience as you earn stamps, digital coins, and even interact with the famous ? blocks.
LEGOLAND New York
Everything is awesome at LEGOLAND New York, one of three theme parks in the U.S. based on the beloved toy. Less than an hour from New York City, the park is built for the LEGO-obsessed family with a number of attractions that everyone can enjoy together. Don’t miss LEGO Factory Adventure Ride, exclusive to the NY location, a state-of-the-art dark attraction that shrinks riders to the size of a LEGO minifigure.
This Memorial Day will welcome a brand-new water playground complete with four water slides, a 318-gallon water bucket, and a station to build and race your own LEGO boat—all included with park admission. Even better? The addition features a changing area so your kids won’t miss a beat splashing in the water but can be ready minutes later for all the dry fun the park has to offer.
Advanced ticket purchases are suggested and come with the perks of discounted rates. Vacation packages, including a stay at the neighboring LEGOLAND Hotel, offer further savings. Book a Pirate room. Trust us.
There’s a special sort of pixie-dusted magic that’s hard to pinpoint when you walk down the streets of Walt Disney’s original park. In the midst of the Disney100 celebration, Disneyland’s new offerings have already become instant favorites, like nighttime spectaculars, Wondrous Journeys and World of Color — One. This summer will see the opening of a newly reimagined Big Hero 6-themed land, San Fransokyo, and a Marvel-inspired “Rogers The Musical” running at the Hyperion Theater.
It’s important to note that Disneyland Resort still enforces theme park reservations, and those are known to completely book out well in advance. This summer, Disneyland Resort Hotels are offering discounts of up to 20% for Magic Key holders and US Military members.
With Dolly Parton as its Dreamer-In-Chief, Dollywood is a theme park like no other, offering a heaping dose of Southern hospitality alongside industry-recognized attractions. There’s plenty for guests of all ages, from its collection of record-breaking coasters, to lands designed just for the littler park goers. Kid-friendly Wildwood Grove is celebrating the opening of the park’s newest attraction, Big Bear Mountain, a family roller coaster marking the park’s longest and first with onboard audio. It’s just the beginning of many new additions planned for a decade-long $500 million investment property-wide.
With a neighboring waterpark, Splash Country, there’s plenty to make Dollywood not just a 9 to 5 visit but a multi-day affair. Guests staying at the on-site Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort & Spa can soak up its posh accommodations and receive shuttle services to the parks and complimentary TimeSaver passes offering expedited entrance to most attractions.
Walt Disney World
Its 50th-anniversary celebration may be in the rear-view mirror, but the fun marches on at the “most magical place on Earth.” Between the return of beloved Magic Kingdom fireworks, Happily Ever After, to brand new thrill attraction TRON Lightcycle / Run there are plenty of reasons to head to Walt Disney World this summer.
There’s no doubt that Walt Disney World is a pricey vacation destination, but the theme park resort is offering some smoking deals this summer, including $99 tickets with no theme park reservation required. Most tickets still require a park reservation and it’s critical to confirm ahead of your visit. Summer magic seekers can also take advantage of up to 25% off Disney Resort hotel stays.
Universal Orlando Resort
Home to three parks and eight on-site hotels, the mega Orlando vacation destination embraces movie nostalgia while showcasing the best in modern-day blockbusters, from classic attractions, like E.T. Adventure, to two fantastical lands exploring the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Did somebody say bananas? This summer families will want to check out a brand-new Minion Land, complete with new attraction Villain-Con Minion Blast, and a colorful Minion Café. Also a can’t-miss, Universal’s Volcano Bay, a South Seas-inspired oasis, is the perfect way to beat the heat with thrilling slides and a sparkling lagoon pool.
Ticket offers this summer include a buy 2 days, get the 3rd free. Summer is the perfect time to add an Express Pass, its version of expedited line access. With the sheer amount of attractions to explore, it can prove cost-effective to stay on-site at one of Universal’s Premier resorts where guests receive a complimentary Unlimited Express Pass for the duration of their stay, saving hundreds.
Peppa Pig Theme Park and LEGOLAND Florida
Since opening in 2011, LEGOLAND Florida Resort has grown into a bona fide destination complete with a LEGOLAND theme park and water park, on-site resorts, and its newest addition, a Peppa Pig Theme Park. The latter is a first-of-its-kind theme park in the US, targeted at the tiniest of travelers ages 2 to 6, taking families into the whimsical world of the British animated character. This summer will welcome a new character dining experience where guests can get up close and personal with Peppa over waffles. Over at LEGOLAND, the new Pirate River Quest is an all-ages pirate-themed boat ride that sails along the historic canals the park is built on.
Peppa Pig Theme Park is a separately ticketed admission from that of LEGOLAND. Hotel & ticket vacation packages can add savings, including free nights, and are perfect for a multi-day stay.
The first LEGOLAND to open in the US, LEGOLAND California sits just 30 minutes outside of San Diego. Its brick-tastically unique offerings include a LEGO-themed SEA LIFE Aquarium, a LEGO-themed water park, and a signature Miniland complete with a new installment depicting the iconic landmarks of San Diego. This year, all LEGOLAND North America parks became Certified Autism Centers, providing both advanced and on-site resources for families with sensory issues, setting a new industry standard.
Tickets begin at just $89 for a 1-day park ticket but savings can be found when bundling with the aquarium, water park, and hotel vacation packages.