Disney World is more expensive than ever. The cost of a single-day admittance ticket during the Magic Kingdom’s debut in 1971 was just $3.50.
Now, depending on the day you want to visit, a one-day ticket to a single Disney World park might cost anywhere between $109 and $159.
A family vacation to Walt Disney World is no longer affordable for many families, and Disney loyalists have taken note.
Time2Play surveyed nearly 2,000 self-described Disney World fans, and the consensus is that it’s now a luxury destination and is longer affordable for middle-class families.
- 92.6% say the cost of a Disney vacation is now out of reach for average families
- Repeat travelers say they expect to pay 35.7% more for their next Disney trip compared to their last one
- 68.3% expressed Disney World has lost its magic due to rampant price increases
Fortunately, Walt Disney World is not the only option for theme park fun. Here are several regional theme parks that are considerably more affordable and perhaps even more fun than Disney-themed parks.
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Silver Dollar City, Branson Missouri
The internationally acclaimed 1880s-themed theme park Silver Dollar City is situated atop one of Missouri’s deepest caves and offers more than 40 exhilarating rides & attractions.
Silver Dollar City also has many live shows & concerts, 100 resident craftsmen demonstrating American heritage crafts, multiple restaurants, and 60 unique shops.
Season ticket holder Darius B. explains, “Silver Dollar City is a great option for those on a budget. Not only can you park for free (with a free tram ride into the park!), you can also bring in your own food and drink. That is a huge cost saving especially if you have multiple kids. Also, if you’re content with water, you can get free ice water at any food or concession stand.”
From spring to Christmas, top-notch festivals and activities are presented as the park is decorated with approximately 6.5 million lights.
Tickets to Silver Dollar City are only $79, and kids aged four and under are free.
Silver Dollar City Theme
When you enter the amusement park with its 1880s atmosphere, it will feel like a journey to another era. More than 30 artisans and craftspeople are represented by employees dressed in costume.
They practice various trades, such as making blown glass pieces, pulling taffy, and manufacturing soap and candles.
A visit to these shops demonstrates to younger generations that the products they buy are made somewhere other than just store shelves or their doorsteps.
Rides for all Ages and Heights
At Silver Dollar City, there are rides for children of all ages, including a dedicated section for little ones and families. Unlike other amusement parks where the smaller rides are all clustered in one area, Silver Dollar City’s 100-acre park sees various attractions spread across its grounds.
Most rides have a 42-inch minimum requirement, but many non-coaster, upside-down flip rides also accommodate children between 36 and 41 inches when accompanied by an adult.
This setup ensures that even toddlers can enjoy a ride without missing out due to lack of height.
Want to know more? Checkout The Best Silver Dollar City Review And Discounts
Dinner Show at Silver Dollar City
Before heading out, take a peek at the Dolly Parton Stampede for an evening performance of horsemanship. With its 31 riders and horses performing daring stunts and tricks, this stampede offers a unique dining experience.
Once summer is over, the fun-filled festivities at Silver Dollar City don’t come to an end. The park welcomes fall with a variety of themed events and festivals, topped off with a grand finale featuring 6.5 million holiday lights for friends and family to admire.
Plus, nightly parades with Rudolph and other favorite characters add to the spirit of the season.
Dollywood, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Dollywood was voted the #1 Theme Park in the US by TripAdvisor in 2022.
Dollywood and Silver Dollar City have a common parent company. Both resorts offer plenty of activities for kids, including playgrounds, storytelling, a game room, and Camp DW – with summer-themed fun for the imagination.
Dollywood is also home to its waterpark, Dollywood’s Splash Country, which guarantees an entire day of excitement.
Tickets to the park cost $89 and children under four do not need to purchase a ticket. Kids aged 4-9 can get discounted tickets.
Worlds of Fun, Kansas City, Missouri
Worlds of Fun is in Kansas City, Missouri. Like most amusement parks, you find fun and appropriate rides for little kids and thrill rides for older children.
Their website lists all their rides with a filter on whether they are thrill rides or kid-friendly.
Worlds of Fun offers a PreK pass for kids 3-5, which means no cost of admission. Proof of age is required.
Snoopy-Themed Kids Area
The little kid area at Worlds of Fun features 12 rides, all centered around Snoopy cartoons and its many characters.
In line with the Snoopy and Charlie Brown-themed kids area, Worlds Of Fun hosts The Great Pumpkin Fest each Saturday and Sunday from mid-September through the end of October.
In addition to The Great Pumpkin Fest on select nights from mid-September thru October after 6:30 pm, Worlds of Fun turns into a ghostly haunted-themed attraction with as many as 400 monsters lurking in the darkness to haunt you.
Children under 14 should avoid this event.
Worlds of Fun: Oceans of Fun
Worlds of Fun also has a waterpark called Oceans of Fun, which is connected to Worlds of Fun and included in the price of admission. Oceans of Fun has many family-friendly and little kid-approved water attractions.
In addition to the fun slides, there is a Captain Kidd’s area and Castaway Cove where the kids can splash and play while cooling off from the summer heat.
World of Fun only costs $29 for a day pass.
Six Flags, Many Locations
Six Flags is known for its thrilling rides. They also have rides geared toward younger kids and sections for little kids. Six Flags is an option that is good for the whole family.
The ride times in the kids’ areas are age-appropriate, each lasting only 1 to 2 minutes. This means that the wait time between rides is shorter for anyone who may be waiting in line. In our experience, there’s often not any wait or only a 1 to 2-minute waiting between rides.
One benefit to rides geared toward little kids and toddlers is that if there is no one in line, the attendant will often let you stay on for back-to-back rides.
Most rides can accommodate bigger kids or parents as well. That is great because sometimes kids need comfort and support from a big brother, sister, mom, or dad.
Six Flags Locations
With 27 locations across the United States, Six Flags could potentially be right around the corner. With an array of theme parks, amusement parks, water parks and family entertainment centers, it’s easy to find one that suits your needs nearby.
Some of the most notable Six Flags locations include:
- Six Flags St Louis (St. Louis, Missouri)
- Six Flags Great America (Lake County, Illinois)
- Six Flags Over Georgia (Austell, Georgia)
- Six Flags Magic Mountain (Valencia, California)
- Six Flags Great Adventure (Jackson Township, New Jersey)
- Six Flags Fiesta Texas (aka Six Flags over Texas)
- Six Flags New England (Agawam, Massachusetts)
Six Flags Water Parks
Apart from their regular rides, Six Flags locations also offer water parks with various activities for all ages such as water slides, lazy rivers and swimming pools. It’s often included in the ticket price too!
For even more family fun, log flume and plunge rides are available for all ages, including small kids. Hurricane Harbor is the go-to destination for all things water-related at Six Flags.
Six Flags Discounts
There are always many Six Flags discounts. For example, children two and under do not need a ticket at most Six Flags locations. Check each park’s site for specifics and verification.
Six Flags Halloween And Christmas Activities
Six Flags offers more than just thrilling rides. Many theme parks now remain open with weekend hours through the holiday season.
Many Six Flags locations have Halloween-themed events, and most offer special badges or buttons that little kids can wear to let the costumed employees know not to frighten these little ghouls.
If you don’t mind warming up with hot chocolate, some Six Flags locations have started decorating their parks with thousands of twinkling lights and displays for the Christmas season, Holiday in the Park.
The theme park is decorated with Christmas trees and lights, and there are even areas where children can work on fun holiday-themed crafts they can take home with them.
Rides are still open, weather permitting, during Holiday in the Park, but be warned, it will be more chilling than thrilling.
Six Flags Tickets are only $35. Plus, there are many ways to get discount tickets at Six Flags.
Neli’s Dutch Village, Holland, Michigan
In addition to experiencing the Dutch lifestyle, from cheese making to wooden shoe making, Neli’s Dutch Village also includes several perfectly sized rides for little kids and little kids at heart.
At Neli’s Dutch Village, you will find a traditional hand-painted carousel, swing ride, pedal cars, and a Ferris Wheel.
The buildings are designed and decorated as you would find them if you vacation in a European country.
There are also a wide variety of Dutch-themed shops at Neli’s where you can purchase cheese, dutch fudge and place an order for Tulips in the spring for pick up and planting by fall.
Holland, MI, is home to the Tulip Time Festival each spring, where thoughts of visitors flock to see the brilliantly beautiful Tulips bloom each year.
Neli’s Dutch Village tickets are affordable for the entire family, with adult tickets costing a mere $14 (there are lower prices and no service charge when purchased online.) Children ages 4-17 are $13, and kids three and under are free.
Air Zoo Kalamazoo
Also, in Michigan, you may stumble upon the Air Zoo, located in Kalamazoo. It’s a short 45 minutes from Grand Rapids.
Upon entering, you walk through tunnels covered with clouds on both sides, making you feel you’re soaring through the air. Once you’re through the tunnel, you find yourself surrounded by pristine aircraft dating from The Golden Age of Flight to Jet Aged AirCraft and everything in between.
Air Zoo Exhibits
This Smithsonian-affiliated museum is filled with planes and spacecraft in near-perfect condition. Each aircraft has a plaque stating facts about it, including the era.
This museum is organized by dates and includes WWI and WWII with special sections for D-Day, Black Wings, Women in Flight, and the Golden Age of Flight.
In addition to its rides, you can also check out the aerospace sector. There are many artifacts from the Apollo Air Missions to space travel vessels here.
Rides and Attractions at Air Zoo
What may surprise you the most about your visit to Air Zoo is the section filled with amusement park rides that the entire family can ride.
From the Parachute Drop to Hot Air Balloons floating through the air, little kids, teens, and adults will have the time of their lives taking in all the attractions. These rides require children under 36 to 48 inches to ride with an adult.
In addition to the amusement park rides, visitors can also take a ride in one of the 4 Flight Simulators in the far back of the main museum. Take a ride to see what it’s like flying in some of the world’s most amazing planes. You can even pay for a private ride in a biplane at the nearby airstrip.
Air Zoo is one of the best theme parks we visited with our three kids, ages five and younger. There are several kiddie rides, all with airplane themes. If we lived nearby, we would be season ticket holders.
What To Bring To Kids Amusement Parks
Create an items list to pack for your time at the parks.
Some ideas of what to bring include:
- Water bottles: this is especially important during super hot summer months.
- Snacks and food: not all parks will allow you to bring your food, but most have re-entry opportunities. Re-entry will allow you to exit the park for lunch and snacks, then come back for more fun. Some places, like Silver Dollar City, allow you to bring food into the park. That provides an excellent opportunity tosave money.
- Many theme parks offer food plans, which significantly reduces the cost of eating in the parks.
- A change of clothes.
- A stocked diaper bag (including a wet bag if you are like us and use cloth diapers).
What About Disney Theme Parks?
When you think about the “Happiest Place on Earth,” do you want crowds, lines, lots of walking, expensive theme park tickets, and high costs for lodging, parking, food, and everything else?
Disney is a wholly unique experience, but you certainly pay a steep price. If you want to make memories at the Happiest Place on Earth, but budget is a factor, it might be best to wait until your kids are older so their memories will be securely imprinted.
What to Look For in a Kids’ Amusement Park
Everyone knows about the popular amusement parks in Orlando and California. Parks like Walt Disney World (including its four parks: Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, and Epcot), Disneyland, Universal Studios, Legoland, and Busch Gardens are crowded and enormous.
These parks also come with a higher price tag. Kids’ tickets aren’t much cheaper than adult tickets, even though there are not as many ride options.
Larger parks geared towards older kids and adults also have long ride lines. Little kids don’t have the attention span or patience for all the waiting and walking. And parents don’t have the patience to deal with whining kids while waiting!
For younger kids, avoiding the crowds at Disney and Universal theme parks may be best.
Disney Theme Park Stroller Policy
Disney theme parks changed their stroller policies, and the once-popular stroller wagons are no longer allowed inside their parks.
That means you will have to purchase a stroller to bring with you that is permitted on the property or pay to rent one for your visit.
Height Requirements and Size of the Park
Another reason to avoid the largest parks if your kids are younger is that little kids do not need the tallest Ferris Wheel or the fastest roller coaster. They get thrills and tummy tickles on rides sized for them.
Plus, they will get worn out walking around the larger parks, although that’s not necessarily a bad thing come bedtime!
Types of Attractions Available
You want your kiddos to scream and laugh with excitement, not scream from the thrill that older kids and adults seek. Young kids are not yet thrill-seekers. Instead, they need adventures and new experiences.
Teenagers and adults prefer park rides that are fast, high, go upside-down, and spin fast. Little kids are afraid of these rides and aren’t tall enough to ride them. Save the adrenaline rush and thrills for when they are older. For now, focus on rides and attractions designed for kids’ needs.
Instead of spending Uncle Scrooge’s money bin at Walt Disney World, consider visiting one of these regional amusement parks. You’ll save quite a bit of money and have just as much fun.
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