As lovers of theme parks and roller coasters we love traveling to new parks and trying out the latest rides and attractions. That being said, theme parks can get very expensive. With this in mind we’ve put together a list of some of the best values you’ll find in themed entertainment around the world. For the sake of this article the estimated costs I’ve included are for a group of four.
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Tokyo Dome City, Tokyo, Japan – $162-$196
The Tokyo Dome’s neighboring amusement park predates the construction of the iconic stadium. Originally opening in 1958 as Korakuen Amusement Park the amusement area has seen many changes and now shares a location in the Tokyo Dome City complex with the LaQua spa facility. The main attraction here remains the 2003 Intamin mega coaster, Thunder Dolphin(1200 Yen/$8.50). This impressive coaster famously threads both a cutout in the LaQua building and the park’s Big O Ferris Wheel(850 Yen/$6). The park’s other coaster is smaller in size but not to be missed. Back Daaan (850 Yen/$6) is a custom Gerstlauer family coaster that features both a forward and backward tire-driven launch. While not a high thrill, Back Daaan features just the right amount of Japanese quirkiness that shouldn’t be missed. If you’d prefer to ride multiple rides Tokyo Dome City offers a few deals on ride passes(https://www.tokyo-dome.co.jp/en/tourists/attractions/tickets.html). An all day pass will run adults 4200 yen or $29 which is reduced to 3200 yen/$22 after 5 pm. If you are able to plan your trip to utilize this night time special, it’s a great value! The Tokyo Dome complex features some amazing eateries from Japanese Denny’s (trust us it’s different) to takoyaki. Budget some money(∼3000 Yen/$20) for lunch or dinner at a restaurant or utilize the food court and share multiple options.
Coney Island, New York, NY, USA – $108
It’s hard to find a more iconic roller coaster than the Coney Island Cyclone($10). This National Historic Landmark opened in 1927 and remains a favorite of many coaster enthusiasts and has been meticulously maintained by its owners. Dino’s Wonder Wheel($10) is second only to the Cyclone in recognizable Coney Island landmarks. This ferris wheel has operated continually since 1920. It features 3 colored cars, red and blue which swing along tracks and white which remain stationary. After experiencing two pieces of Coney Island History, why don’t you eat your third? Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs got their start in 1916 with a store at the corner of Surf and Stillwell Avenues. Cap your Coney Island day with a classic New York hot dog(∼$7) and another walk along the boardwalk. Coney Island is easily accessible by subway but for those driving street parking and paid lots are also readily available.
Knoebels Amusement Resort Elysburg, PA, USA – $100-$150
Knoebels proudly proclaims itself “America’s Largest Free-Admission Amusement Park” but this title would be meaningless if it didn’t include some good attractions. Luckily Knoebels has an impressive collection of amusement rides and attractions all in a charming wooded setting. Your day starts off with free parking in an unpaved parking lot that includes a parking tram in case you don’t feel like walking from your car. The park is fully open admission and can be accessed from multiple points, including the Resort’s campground. Knoebels does offer unlimited ride poeasses but with reasonable ride prices you certainly can have a wonderful day for around $20-30 a person. Phoenix($4) has been awarded the Golden Ticket Award for best wooden coaster every year since 2018 and at four dollars a ride it remains the most accessible “elite” coaster experience in the world. I’m more partial to the ride’s intense Twister($4) which offers riders a potent mix of laterals and airtime. The park’s other can’t miss coasters are the one of a kind Flying Turns($4), Zierer looper Impulse($4), and unique indoor PTC dark ride coaster Black Diamond($3.50). Besides the coasters you also shouldn’t miss the park’s lengthy traditional dark ride Haunted Mansion ($3). With your remaining budget try out one of the park’s many comforting food offerings such as fresh cut fries, caramel apples, pierogies, or home made potato cakes. If you want a multi-day vacation Knoebels campground is hard to beat. Camping starts at $62 a night and you can add a pass to the park’s Crystal Pool and water slides for just $13.50 per adult.
Waldameer Park, Erie, PA, USA $90-$116
In many ways Waldameer feels like Knoebels little brother. Waldameer also features free parking, free admission, and focuses on classic amusement attractions. It is anchored by a standout woodie, Ravine Flyer II ($5.50), and also features a wonderful classic dark ride, Whacky Shack ($3.50). Of the park’s other coasters the most notable is the small scale PTC woodie, Comet ($4.00). We recommend rounding out a half-day at Waldameer with the classic Pirate’s Cove($3.50) fun house and one of Waldameer’s reasonably priced treats(∼$10). As its name suggests, Erie lies on the shores of Lake Erie. While a relatively quiet rust-belt town, Erie is bordered by Pennsylvania’s only “coastline,” Presque Isle State Park. This expansive state park includes sandy beaches, an environmental education center, and a historic lighthouse. Presque Isle makes for a great and free addition to any trip to Waldameer as you get to know the lake that’s visible from Ravine Flyer II.
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, Santa Cruz, CA, USA – $76-96
The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is absolutely one of our favorite places in the US. This admission-free amusement park offers a wonderful atmosphere. For a cost effective trip we recommend coming to the Boardwalk on a weekday where all-day parking is $20. To save more money consider finding street parking across the San Lorenzo River and crossing the iconic San Lorenzo River Railroad Bridge to get to The Boardwalk. Enjoy a ride on the Giant Dipper ($8) and Cave Train Adventure($6) and soak up the west coast atmosphere. After your rides you’ll want to spend some time enjoying the beautiful Monterey Bay. Just down Beach Street from The Boardwalk you’ll find the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf. This large shopping and entertainment complex is home to some great shops and restaurants and offers stunning free views of the bay. Keep an eye out for baby seagulls and sea lions! If you’re looking to enjoy the beach you have multiple options. The Santa Cruz Beach adjoining the boardwalk is a lively spot and often hosts concerts and events throughout the summer. If you’re looking to relax a little longer consider packing a picnic and some beach chairs in your car. After you’re done at the boardwalk you can walk back to your car and enjoy a quieter beach day at the nearby Twin Lakes State Beach. Regardless of where you enjoy the sun and sand, make sure to finish your day with a stop at Marianne’s Ice Cream on Ocean Street (∼$5). If you chose to park at the boardwalk the total for a group of four would be $96. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a better California beach day for under $100.
Bay Beach, Green Bay, WI, USA ($4-$40)
Bay Beach is a municipal park operated by the Department of Parks, Recreation & Forestry of Green Bay Wisconsin. The park offers free admission, free parking, and rides are exclusively paid for by 25 cent tickets. This pleasant traditional amusement park offers a wide array of classic rides like a Giant Ferris Wheel($0.75), Merry Go Round ($0.50), Tilt-A-Whirl ($0.50), and Scrambler ($0.50). The park’s headline attraction is Zippin Pippin ($1), a 2011 woodie modeled after the coaster of the same name that resided in Tennessee’s Libertyland Park. This coaster was famously the favorite of Elvis Presly and has quickly become a favorite among the public and coaster enthusiasts. At $1 a ride it might be the most affordable thrill coaster in the world. The park is also home to a rather rare flat ride, Scat($0.50). This Venture Rides creation is a two armed version of the classic Round-Up. A disorienting and intense experience that shouldn’t be missed by thrill seekers. The park offers plenty of space for a picnic lunch alongside an affordable concessions stand. While certainly not a sophisticated theme park experience Bay Beach does offer a wonderful day out for under $5 per person.
Hershey’s Chocolate World, Hershey, PA, USA – FREE
Hershey Pennsylvania may be home to one of the country’s most notable theme parks but did you know it’s also one of the only places where you can ride a fully themed attraction for free! The Hershey Chocolate Tour can trace its roots back to public tours given of the Hershey factory starting in the early 20th century. With demand higher than on-foot tours could provide, Hershey turned to Arrow Development and opened the Hershey’s Chocolate Tour dark ride in 1973. This omnimover ride system takes guests through a representation of the Hershey chocolate making process. It has seen many updates through the years and now includes signing animatronic cows, special effects, and a free candy sample at the end of the ride. Chocolate World offers other activities including “Create Your Own Candy Bar”(∼$30) and the “Hershey Trolley Works” city tours(∼$19). However, with free 3 hour parking you can enjoy a fun outing that includes a dark ride and sweet treat for the cost of your gas to get there. Our only advice is to consider going during neighboring Hersheypark’s off season. It will be hard to resist the siren’s call of that park’s impressive coaster skyline.