Affordable Adrenaline: America’s Most Budget-Friendly Theme Parks

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As of 2023, the United States is home to more than 600 amusement parks. In a nation where a visit to one epitomizes family fun, the subject of value for money is a significant factor in deciding which park to visit.

A study by JeffBet provides some guidance on the subject, ranking theme parks that deliver the most bang for the buck. Surprisingly, the crowns weren’t snagged by behemoths like Disney or Universal, but by smaller parks.

The ranking used a comprehensive scoring system based on a scale of 1-10. It evaluated the amusement and theme parks based on their online ticket prices, parking costs, number of attractions, visitor ratings, and typical opening hours. The aim was to ferret out the real value visitors receive for the price they pay.

The Most Budget-Friendly Park in America

Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio tops the list, scoring a perfect 10 on the scale.

Spanning 364 acres, Cedar Point is a haven for thrill-seekers with its 72 attractions. With an entry fee of $46.99 and parking costs of $25, the park is affordable and open up to 13 hours daily, especially during late September and October.

Cost-wise, this translates to a mere $5.53 per hour of fun or 99 cents per attraction. The park’s rating of 4.6 stars from 49,900 reviews on Google further sweetens the value proposition.

“The thought of buying tickets, booking a flight, and traveling to Disney World never seemed appealing to people living in blue-collar towns like my family did. Two days at Cedar Point would have been ideal and much more affordable than Disney World,” says Michael Pollick, editor at Media Decision.

Hersheypark Takes Second Place

The nearly century-old Hersheypark in Hershey, Pennsylvania is not far behind Cedar Point, also scoring a perfect 10. The entry fee is slightly higher at $49.99, and parking is $25. However, visitors get an extra hour to explore its 75 attractions, lowering the cost to $5.34 per hour or about $1 per attraction.

“Hersheypark is considered the ‘sweetest place on earth,’ and I totally agree,” says Alicia Richard, a travel writer at Travels With the Crew. My family has been to Hersheypark every other year for nearly 15 years. It’s a win because it is big enough to keep my teenagers happy, has a great kiddie section, and is less than half the price of other amusement parks.”

The park boasts a commendable rating of 4.5 stars across 57,000 reviews on Google, indicating an even higher level of visitor satisfaction.

Rounding Out the Top Five

The bronze medal in the value ranking goes to Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia, with a score of 9.8 out of 10. A day of endless fun costs $52.99 with an additional parking fee of $30. The park features 53 attractions and offers up to 13 hours of exploration time, translating to $6.38 per hour or $1.57 per attraction.

Kings Island in Cincinnati, Ohio and Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson Township, New Jersey also made it in the top five, scoring 9.5 and 9.3, respectively. Such rankings showcase the variety of options for families seeking thrill and value.

“Theme parks are a staple of American leisure, but the costs can add up quickly for a family. This ranking provides a clear picture of where families can get the most enjoyment for their money, with Cedar Point standing out as a clear winner,” says amusement park enthusiast Jake Cain

Getting the Most Value for the Money

The ranking is timely as families plan their fall excursions, with many eyeing the Halloween specials offered by these parks. The analysis guides families in good trip planning, ensuring a mix of thrill and value.

A spokesperson at JeffBet shares some tips to help people make the most of the time they spend in the park, saying, “Visiting a theme park is a treat, and for many of us, it’s not something we often do due to the high price, particularly when it comes to the entry fee for the most popular parks like Disney World Resort and Universal Studios.

“However, there are some ways to make your money go further when you’re preparing for your trip — and usually, preparation is key, so keep an eye out for any deals or discounts.”

Some of the ways families can make their money go further and get the most out of their time in the park include:

  • Book tickets in advance. Online prices are almost always cheaper than buying them at the gate, making it easier to take advantage of combination tickets that aren’t otherwise available. 
  • Bring drinks and snacks. If you can bring your own drinks and snacks to the park, this is one of the easiest ways to keep costs down throughout the day.
  • Download the app to keep an eye on queues. If the theme park you’re visiting has an app, downloading this can be a great way to monitor live ride wait times and find any amenities quickly — meaning you have more time to fill beyond the ride lines. 

The number of companies in the U.S. amusement parks industry has expanded by an average of 9.1% annually from 2018 to 2023, proving that Americans are as in love with thrill and adventure as they ever have been, and highlighting a solid upward trend for this form of entertainment.

The smaller parks leading the value chart underscore a significant shift in the theme park landscape. It’s a reminder that beyond the glitz and glamor of big names, there’s a world of amusement that is both within reach and satisfying in terms of cost and experience.

This article was written by Karee Blunt for Media Decision and syndicated by Our Woven Journey.

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Karee Blunt is a nationally syndicated travel journalist, focused on discovering destinations and experiences that captivate and inspire others through her writing. She is also the founder of Our Woven Journey, a travel site focused on inspiring others to create memory-making adventures with their loved ones. Karee is passionate about encouraging others to step out of their comfort zone and live the life they dream of. She is the mother of six kids, including four through adoption, and lives with her family in the Pacific Northwest. You can learn more about Karee on her about me page.