The DC area is well situated to access a number of amusement parks within an a couple of hours, making a trip to ride a roller coaster manageable as a day trip or weekend getaway. With so many options, it can be difficult to decide which one is right for you.
Hershey Park: Hershey Park bills itself as the Sweetest Place on Earth. While Hershey Chocolate Milkshakes and easy access to giant chocolate bars are undoubtedly part of the appeal, the real appeal lies in the attractions. Thrill seekers will love roller coasters like the legendary Super Dooper Looper. There are also plenty of attractions for younger visitors. There is also a waterpark included with admission with a large spashpark with waterslides and water-based thrill rides for adventure seekers. Although Hershey Park is a manageable day trip from DC as it is about a two hour ride, it is a great choice for an overnight trip with a stay at the affiliated Hershey Lodge which features a candy-themed indoor water park, outdoor pool, and mini-golf. Next to park, visitors can also explore Hershey’s Chocolate World to see how chocolate is made and make their own enormous chocolate bar. Highlights for my older kids were the multiple roller coasters while my younger child liked the variety of car, truck, and animal-themed rides. My younger child also loved getting a hug from the Hershey Syrup bottle and seeing a variety of Hershey candies perform a show.
Six Flags America: Six Flags America is the only park firmly in the DMV. Proximity alone makes it a great choice for families who don’t have a lot of time to travel to get to an amusement park. Six Flags has a great variety of rides for all ages. There are plenty of thrill rides, including an upside down “Ring of Fire” and several superhero-themed roller coasters. There are also not one but two areas dedicated just to younger kids. One in Looney-Toons themed and includes a large enclosed paly area in addition to several rides and a train-themed area. There is also a large waterpark that is included with admission, good for little ones on up. My family put off going to Six Flags until my kids were a little older, but when we finally visited I regretted that since the park has a lot of little kids as well. Many don’t think Six Flags is the nicest park, but as the closest it is well worth a visit.
Dutch Wonderland: Dutch Wonderland is the first amusement park many kids in the DC area visit for good reason. This park was designed with little ones in mind. Even kids under two will find many rides they can enjoy. Unlike the any other amusement park, young children will be able to go on just about every ride in the park, from little trucks to a flume to a smaller roller coaster. Although designed with younger kids in mind, older kids can still enjoy the rides, which include two larger roller coasters, making this a good option for families with siblings who are not close in age. Although my 10 year old prefers the upside-down rides not present at Dutch Wonderland, he still had a blast during a recent visit with his much younger three year old brother.
King’s Dominion: Located just north of Richmond, King’s Dominion is a great destination for the day or as part of a longer trip to Richmond to see other attractions like the Children’s Museum of Richmond and the Science Museum of Virginia. King’s Dominion is a large, beautiful park with plenty do experience for visitors of all ages and thrill levels – including 15 roller coasters ranging from mild enough for little ones to death-defying drops. For little ones, there is Planet Snoopy and another section filled with little-kid rides including kid-sized bumper cars. King’s Dominion also boasts a fun waterpark.
Busch Gardens: Busch Gardens is a little bit farther from the DC area clocking in at about three hours from DC, but is worth the extra drive. Busch Gardens is divided into distinct areas with different country themes. For the little ones, there is a Sesame-street themed area with a few rides and small play area, a large Dragon-themed playground with rides, and other kid-rides located within each country. There is also a large steam engine which There is no waterpark in Busch Gardens, but a separate park, Water Country USA is just minutes from Busch Gardens and is operated by the park. Some tickets allow visitors to visit both parks on the same day.
- Many parks allow visitors to enter the park a couple of hours before closing the night before they are visiting the park for the day. If you stay overnight for a park visit, see if this is an option. My family loves the atmosphere of parks at night when the rides are lit up and this can be a great way to get that experience without having a very long day at the parks.
- Research food options at the parks before you go. Most parks do not allow outside food. Some families pack a lunch and eat it in the parking lot as an economical option. Several parks offer “meal deals” that allow you to get a meal every 90 minutes. These can be a good deal. My family finds that one adult and child can easily share one meal plan, especially if you don’t mind easting smaller portions every few hours. This is a good way to get to try lots of foods available in park too. Some parks allow you to bring in small snacks or only fruit and veggies. Check it out in advance and plan accordingly. All parks allow you to re-enter the same day so some families leave the park to eat off-site. This is a good option, but may be time consuming and take a lot of time away from the rides.
- Think about drinks! My family usually packs a couple of water bottles. Anywhere that serves food in the park should fill up your bottle with ice-cold water at no charge. As a treat, we sometimes buy a soda bottle that can be used for unlimited refills the day of purchase. If you plan on buying beverages, these bottles can be a good deal.
- Bring plenty of sunscreen, especially if going on rides that will get you wet. We always pack non-aerosol sunscreen bottles in part so that we can use some of our time waiting in line to apply more sunscreen without bothering anyone near us.
- If you want to avoid larger crowds, try visiting during the week. Most parks also open for limited hours around Halloween and Christmas. Crowds tend to be lighter and temperatures are more mild, which makes for a nice visit outside of peak summer months. There are often discount tickets available. Do a little research before you pay full price!