When it comes to family theme parks, Disney World has always been thought of as the gold standard. And with good reason — it was one of the original big family destinations, meant to delight guests of all ages. And it still does! But maybe your family has done Disney a few times now, and you’re looking to broaden your theme park horizons. Or maybe your budget this year just can’t handle a Disney World vacation hit, so you’re searching for options that might come with a smaller price tag.

In the 50+ years since Disney World was created (and nearly 70 years since Disneyland Resort opened), we’ve gotten quite a few new theme park options to consider as an alternative. The choices are endless, from the charm of Dollywood in the Smoky Mountains to the innovative Universal Orlando Resort.

With that in mind, we’re sharing a handful of theme parks to consider for your next vacation if you’re looking outside of Walt Disney World.

Theme Parks for All Ages

If you’re traveling with kids of any age, there are plenty of other theme parks to consider. Some of these picks even include rides that are more thrilling than you’ll find at Disney World, making them the perfect choice for older kids who may want more adrenaline-pumping options.

Universal Orlando

Miami Herald/Getty Images

It’s impossible to discuss an alternative to Disney World without bringing up the nearby Universal Orlando. Universal is home to two theme parks: Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida (a third theme park, Epic Universe, will arrive in 2025). You’ll find rides and lands that immerse you in some of your favorite movie and TV franchises, with highlights including The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which spans both parks and offers experiences like the Hogwarts Express and Diagon Alley.

Universal rivals Disney in its ability to immerse guests in the experience with state-of-the-art rides, entertainment, food, and more. With plenty of hotels to stay at on-site, you can easily make a full vacation out of just Universal the next time you visit Orlando.



Nestled in the scenic Smoky Mountains of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, Dollywood stands out for its unique blend of thrilling rides, live music, and regional culture. Founded by country music legend Dolly Parton, the park features more than 40 rides, including the Wild Eagle, one of the longest and fastest wing coasters in the world.

Beyond the rides, Dollywood hosts a variety of musical and theatrical performances that celebrate the cultural heritage of the region. It’s also home to Dollywood’s Splash Country water park, making it an expansive entertainment destination to visit. There’s a reason Dollywood is consistently rated as one of the top theme parks in the country!

Busch Gardens

Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Busch Gardens operates two locations in the United States: one in Tampa, Florida, and another in Williamsburg, Virginia. Both parks are known for their wide variety of rides. Busch Gardens Tampa focuses on an Asian and African theme and is renowned for its thrilling roller coasters like SheiKra and Falcon’s Fury. It even has its own Food and Wine Festival available each spring!

Meanwhile, Busch Gardens Williamsburg is themed around various European countries and is known for its seasonal events and roller coasters like Apollo’s Chariot and Verbolten. Both parks also feature a range of wildlife exhibits, making them a hybrid between a zoo and a theme park.

Six Flags

Hans Gutknecht/MediaNews Group/Los Angeles Daily News via Getty Images

Six Flags is one of the largest amusement park chains in the world, with locations across North America, including Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey, Six Flags Magic Mountain in California, and Six Flags Fiesta Texas in San Antonio.

Each park offers a vast array of thrill rides, family-friendly attractions, and water parks integrated into the complexes. Six Flags is largely known for its world-class roller coasters, such as Kingda Ka in New Jersey, the tallest coaster in the world, and the innovative single-rail coaster, Wonder Woman Golden Lasso Coaster, in Texas. If you’re looking for particularly thrilling coasters, the Six Flags parks are the place to find them.

Knott’s Berry Farm

Allen J. Schaben/Getty Images

Located in Buena Park, California, Knott’s Berry Farm is America’s oldest theme park. Originally a small berry farm, it has evolved into a 160-acre amusement park filled with roller coasters, family rides, and historical recreations.

The park is famous for its boysenberry-themed foods and Old West Ghost Town. It also includes Knott’s Soak City, a water park that offers a refreshing escape with a variety of water slides and wave pools.

Best Theme Parks for Younger Kids

If you’re traveling with younger kids who enjoy Disney for the tame rides and characters, there are also some great options geared just toward the smaller set.

Legoland Florida

Orlando Sentinel/Getty Images

Located in Winter Haven, which is just a short drive from Orlando, Legoland Florida is a dream come true for fans of Lego. The park features a variety of rides and attractions, all themed around the iconic Lego bricks.

Highlights include the Dragon Coaster, Lego Ninjago World, and the interactive Lego City, where children can drive cars and earn their own driver’s licenses. Legoland also includes a botanical garden and a water park, making it an excellent choice for families with young kids to visit.

Peppa Pig Theme Park

Orlando Sentinel/Getty Images

Adjacent to Legoland Florida, you’ll find the Peppa Pig Theme Park, the first standalone park in the United States centered around the Peppa Pig TV show. This park is specially designed for preschoolers, with rides, play areas, and a water play zone themed around Peppa Pig and her friends.

While slightly older kids may be more inclined to visit Legoland, the young toddler set will love the accessibility of everything there is to do at the Peppa Pig Theme Park. It’s a great venue for young children to explore, learn, and enjoy in a setting that feels designed just for them.

The Peppa Pig Theme Park also provides a Sensory Guide for its rides and attractions, created in collaboration with the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES). This guide provides ratings for touch, taste, sound, sight, and smell based on how high or low the sensory stimulation may be. The system allows for a better experience for all children, especially those with special needs.

Sesame Place

Getty Images

As you may have guessed, Sesame Place Philadelphia is based on Sesame Street. The park, located in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, includes a variety of Sesame Street-themed rides, shows, and water attractions.

It’s primarily geared towards younger children and provides sensory guides, quiet rooms, and specialized staff training to help ensure a welcoming environment for children with autism and their families. In fact, it’s the first theme park in the world to have been designated as a Certified Autism Center. That means Sesame Place Philadelphia Ambassadors received special training to make sure they had the requisite knowledge, skills, temperament, and expertise to cater to all children, including those with special needs.

Coming Soon: Universal Kids Theme Park

While still being built, a new Universal Kids Resort will be coming to Frisco, Texas, in 2026. The smaller-scale theme park will be specifically geared towards young kids and their families, bringing to life beloved characters and stories aimed at the smaller set. There will also be an on-site 300-room hotel for families to stay at when it opens in two years.

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *