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5 Wacky and Wonderful Amusement Parks to Try This Summer

Done with Disney? Sick of long lines at mainstream amusement parks? Try these quirky parks and attractions instead


Published on: March 11, 2016

Photo credit: Dollywood

We’ve all heard of Disneyland, Disney World, Legoland and Six Flags, but our country is dotted with smaller amusement parks that have their own regional attractions, as well as decidedly non-Disney themes. Consider pairing one of these charmers with your next family trip to Oregon, Florida, Pennsylvania and beyond.

1. Dollywood, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

Dolly Parton might not own this park, but she makes sure her presence is felt. Everything about Dollywood embraces the culture and history of the South, all in the shadow of Tennessee's gorgeous Smoky Mountains.

Little ones might enjoy calm rides at the County Fair while bigger kids will rave about roller coasters such as Barnstormer and Blazing Fury. Meanwhile, parents and grandparents can meet craftsmen as they demonstrate glass-blowing and candle-making.

For the "Dolly" part of Dollywood, tour Parton’s Home-On-Wheels, wander through the Southern Gospel Museum and Hall of Fame and don't be surprised if you find Dolly performing when she's in town, too. 

Oh, and there's a water park! Dollywood’s Splash World is easy to get to via tram with a combo ticket that lets you hop back and forth between the parks.

Tips: Skip long lines with a TimeSaver. Like Disney's FastPass, TimeSaver allows you to reserve your spot for shows and bypass lines at more popular attractions.

Stay: Dollywood DreamMore Resort, located just down the street from Dollywood, is an easy spot to stay when touring Pigeon Forge, Sevierville and Gatlinburg. Three hundred rooms and suites are available and can fit any size group (all the more reason to bring Grandma and Grandpa along).

Photo credit: Diggerland

2. Diggerland, West Berlin, New Jersey

Got a kid that loves diggers, bulldozers, cranes and everything else that has to do with construction? Diggerland is for you.

Little ones 36 inches and taller can actually drive machinery including a backhoe, a JCB Skidsteer Loader 135 and yes, a real-life digger. But don't worry, parents. Your kids will be operating these machines, but a staff member is always nearby.

Other fun areas of Diggerand include a mini-Land Rover track and a Diggerland train pulling Terex TA1EH Dumpers. Kids taller than 42 inches can test their skills on the ropes course and rock wall, among other attractions.

Tip: Special Abilities Nights at Diggerland offers a safe, judgment-free place for kids with different abilities to come and play. 

Stay: Diggerland has several hotel partners including nearby hotel Wingate by Wyndham Voorhees.

Photo credit: Gatorland

3. Gatorland, Orlando, Florida

This 110-acre theme park and wildlife preserve doesn't have any famous mice — unless you count the ones fed to the gators! The self-proclaimed alligator capital of the world, Gatorland features an aviary, petting zoo, animal shows, natural alligator breeding marsh and the Screamin' Gator Zip Line. And don't miss seeing the park's four rare white alligators.

Tips: Multiple packages are available, so think carefully about what you want to see and do. Many packages included tours, photographer passes, night admission and trainer-for-a-day.

Stay: Gatorland is located between Orlando and Kissimmee, which means easy access to all your Disney World and Universal needs when the half-day visit to Gatorland concludes. 

Photo credit: Enchanted Forest

4. Enchanted Forest, Turner, Oregon

First, note that Enchanted Forest is in fact open despite what you may see on Google. Get specific hours of operation.

If you visit, remember that you don’t need a huge amusement park to have a good time. The Tofte family opened Enchanted Forest Theme Park in 1971 and they're still running it today. Stroll through the lush forest of Storybook Lane, explore Fort Fearless with its underground tunnels and passageways or throw on your dancing shoes as you step to a few Irish tunes in the Old European Village. 

Tips: This park is built with younger children in mind. Toddlers and grade-school children will love it, but there isn't much for teens and tweens.

Stay: There are no hotels directly associated with Enchanted Forest, but The Grand Hotel Salem and Best Western Plus Mill Creek Inn are great options for families looking to explore the area.

Photo credit: Hershey Park

5. Hersheypark, Hershey, Pennsylvania

One word for you: chocolate. Do you really need more of a reason to visit Hersheypark?

Favorite attractions include the wooden roller coaster Wildcat and "boomerang" style coaster Sidewinder, not to mention the candy-themed fun around every corner. You won’t see any princesses strolling around but keep an eye out for human-size Hershey Kisses and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Also, take a tour of Hershey's Chocolate World to learn how they make world-famous sweet treats.

Tips: Gluten-free and vegetarian visitors don't have to miss out on the tasty food offerings. The Outpost resturant offers gluten-, nut- and dairy-free items as well as vegetarian options.

Stay: The Hotel Hershey, Hershey Lodge and Hersheypark Camping Resort are the official resorts of Hersheypark, and great places to stay for easy access to all those roller coasters. Don't miss the Sunday brunch buffet at The Hotel Hershey!


Want more weird? Here are 6 wacky festivals to visit

1. DucK Tape Festival: Avon, Ohio, June 17–19, 2016

Grab your favorite color of Duck Tape brand duct tape and head to this festival for a parade of Duck Tape floats and a Duck Tape fashion show.

2. Roadkill Cook-off: Pocohontas County, West Virginia, Sept. 24–25, 2016

Yes, this is a real festival. Every autumn, cooks whip up delicacies like squirrel gravy over biscuits, teriyaki-marinated bear or deer sausage. Bring your appetite and a few antacids. 

3. Dance Mile: Multiple locations and dates

"Why run when you could dance?" is this event’s motto. Dance Mile features a DJ, beach balls and lots and lots of dancing. It's a fun excuse to shake what your mama gave you. 

4. Twins Day Festival: Twinsburg, Ohio, Aug 5-7, 2016

If you love twins or have twins, meet more multiples in Twinsburg, Ohio. This annual event is the largest such gathering in the world; last year marked its 40th anniversary. There's a different theme every year as well as a costume contest, parade, talent show and more.

5. Eeyore’s Birthday Party: April 29, 2017

Leave it to Austin to keep it weird even when they're fundraising. Dance around the maypole, wear a costume, listen to music and wish Winnie the Pooh's friend Eeyore a happy birthday. 

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