Joel Bullock writes The Coaster Critic’s Blog and is the creator of Theme Park Syndicate, the Web’s first theme park news aggregator. Joel has taken on some of the most famous (and dare we say some of the scariest) coasters amusement parks have to offer.
We got in touch with Joel (via email) and asked him to help us plan the perfect theme park/roller coaster summer vacation.
What are some of the must-see (or some of your favorite) theme parks for summer travel?
My favorite large theme parks are the Busch Gardens parks in Williamsburg, Virginia and Tampa, Florida. Both parks offer highly-themed, world-class roller coasters. While it all starts with the roller coasters for me, the Busch parks offer quite a bit more. Busch Gardens Williamsburg has a European theme and with its serene atmosphere it’s been voted “America’s Most Beautiful Theme Park” for twenty years running. Busch Gardens Tampa is a sprawling African-themed park that has integrated wildlife throughout the park. The wildlife exhibits are on-par or better than the zoos that I have visited. Both parks are well-rounded with a lot to do for all types of visitors.
Is there a roller coaster everyone should ride at least one time in their lives?
I’ve ridden nearly 200 roller coasters across the United States. Every once in a while I come across a ride that not only impresses roller coaster geeks like myself, but should really be experienced by anyone with a pulse. Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, New Jersey is home to the fastest and tallest roller coaster in the World in Kingda Ka. Riders are rocketed from to an insane 128 mph in 3.5 seconds. Then there’s a vertical climb to the lofty 456-foot (45 story) crest and a twisting descent back to Earth. It’s by no means the best roller coaster, but it is an unforgettable ride everyone should experience.
What is the best time of summer (and time of day) to hit a theme park if you want to avoid long lines (if that’s even possible)?
The best way to avoid long lines is to try to visit theme parks on the weekends early in the season (March and April) and late in the season (September and October). Often the weather isn’t quite as nice, but for me it’s a fair trade off. During the summer, your best bet is to visit on a weekday. I steer clear of weekends during the summer at all costs. And if I have to visit on a weekend, I choose Sunday. If I find myself at a park that’s very busy, I’m a big fan of the virtual queue systems that help you bypass lines. While they are pricey, ranging from $15 to $60 depending on the park, I’d rather pay the extra money than spend a good portion of my day waiting in long lines. In my opinion, once you’re at the park you get on some rides if that’s your goal. I also recommend looking into twilight visits as they can have reduced ticket prices and smaller crowds.
Any tips for saving money on amusement park travel?
Once you’re inside a park, you’re pretty much captive to the park’s high prices. Other than the coupons parks give to season pass holders, I can’t think of many ways to save money inside a park. If you’re looking for a way to have an overall cheaper trip consider visiting some of the smaller amusement parks around the country. They have a more friendly, old-school feel, more reasonable prices and a more relaxing atmosphere. For example, guests can enjoy free soft drinks at Holiday World (Santa Claus, IN) and Lake Compounce (Bristol, CT). And, everyone gets free entry to parks like Waldameer (Erie, PA) and Knoebels (Elysburgh, PA). I also recommend Playland Park (Rye, NY).
An additional bit of advice on saving money: When it comes to buying tickets, I keep an eye out for discounts offered by local grocery stores and fast food restaurants. Without fail a Burger King or pharmacy of some type located near the park will have coupons at the check out area. Also, if you know a season pass holder, they will often have reduced admission coupons to bring a friend. I can’t remember that last time that I paid full price for a theme park ticket.
— Follow Joel on Twitter @CoasterCritic.