Amusement Park Escapes

From dare-devil rides to water-soaking coasters to plain old-fashioned thrills and fun, amusement parks today often double as water parks and offer great, distinct destinations when you want to get away for just a few days. Some tips: Familiarize yourself with a park's layout and with the location of the rides your kids most want to check out to maximize your time at the park. Strategy is everything since kiddie rides may be separated from older-aged fare. Take advantage of off-peak times such as dinner time or first thing in the morning when lines may be shorter. Be sure to build in down-time at the pool. And think about extending your stay in the area by visiting other local sites. Here are some parks nationwide to consider. Enjoy!

Hersheypark, Hershey, PA

Hersheypark, celebrating its 95th birthday this year, lies in central Pennsylvania. This summer marks the debut of the Roller Soaker, an interactive water coaster. Besides this new drenching ride, the park boasts more than 60 rides, including 20 kiddies rides, and 8 roller coasters like Great Bear and the Sidewinder. Measure up at the front gate to see if you're a Hershey Kiss or Jolly Rancher, and which rides are right for your size.

Families can also visit ZooAmerica, a walk-through zoo you can enter right from the park. For a break from the rides and sun, step inside Chocolate World to hear the history of Hershey, browse the shops and sample some chocolate. Beyond the park, drive along streets lined with Hershey Kiss shaped lights, spend time at the Hershey Gardens or Hershey Museum, or search for bargains at the Outlets at Hershey.

Find out all about Hershey at www.hersheypa.com, or call 1-800-242-4236.

www.hersheypa.com

Just thirty minutes away lies Lancaster County, where families can learn more about the Amish heritage from a number of tours. Check out www.visitlancaster.com for more details.

www.visitlancaster.com

Or drive 45 minutes from Hershey to explore Gettysburg Battlefield National Park. Visit www.gettyburg.com for more information.

www.gettyburg.com

Busch Gardens, Williamsburg, VA

A 17th-century European-themed park, Busch Gardens features over 40 rides, shows, and attractions. The park is separated into six "countries" with attractions that take their inspiration from European heritage.

Visit the Roman Rapids in Festa Italia or Corkscrew Hill in Ireland, their newest country. Find some endangered and exotic animals in "Jack Hanna's Wild Reserve." Busch Gardens Williamsburg offers visitors a Rain Guarantee: If it rains during their visit, they can return again the next day compliments of the park.

For a refreshing experience, Water Country USA, a short distance from Busch Gardens, offers over 35 water rides, all with a 1950s-1960s surf theme. To find out more about both visit www.buschgardens.com and www.watercountryusa.com, or call 1-800-211-7165.

www.buschgardens.com

www.watercountryusa.com

For a look at early American culture, explore the "Historic Triangle of Virginia" including Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown Settlement, and The Yorktown Victory Center.

Colonial Williamsburg recreates the capital of the largest English colony in18th century America. This outdoor living-history museum includes public buildings, private homes, taverns, stores, gardens, and historical interpreters dressed in period costume.

Nearby Jamestown Settlement offers a glimpse of America's first permanent English colony, established in 1607. Here, visitors can see replicas of the colonists' fort, ships, and a Powhatan Indian village.

The Yorktown Victory Center, a museum of the American Revolution, holds exhibits of eyewitness accounts from the Revolutionary era.

To find out more information about the Historic Triangle, visit www.visitwilliamsburg.com.

www.visitwilliamsburg.com

For some relaxation by the seashore, try Virginia Beach, about an hour's drive away. Check out www.vbfun.com for details.

www.vbfun.com

Cedar Point, Sandusky, OH

Cedar Point, located on a Lake Erie peninsula, has the largest collection of rides and roller coasters in the world (both noted in the Guinness Book of Records). This year's addition, Wicked Twister (#15!), is the world's tallest and fastest, double-twisting, impulse roller coaster. Also new is Snoopy Rocks! On Ice—a 30-minute, family-oriented, ice-skating program.

While older kids and adults alike can enjoy the wilder rides, younger children can explore Camp Snoopy as well as two other areas with kiddie size rides. Soak City, adjacent to Cedar Point, offers water slides, inner tube rivers, a wave pool and more ways to cool off. Find out about both at www.cedarpoint.com.

www.cedarpoint.com

Extend your stay to take in the Lake Erie area with a visit to some of their beaches, such as Osborne Park in nearby Huron. Or cruise around Lake Erie and stop at some of the islands, such as Kelleys Island, the largest American island in Lake Erie and home to a state park known for its waterfront camping, hiking, fishing and sandy beach.

African Safari Wildlife Park in Port Clinton offers a drive-through tour of exotic animals. Historic Lyme, located in Bellevue, resembles a 19th century village complete with an 1880's mansion as a museum. Find out about more activities in Erie County area visit www.buckeyenorth.com.

www.buckeyenorth.com

LegoLand, Carlsbad, CA

The obvious theme to this park is Legos, and visitors will find more than 5,000 models, from miniature replicas of New Orleans to life-size creations of safari animals, totaling 30 million bricks.

Legoland is filled with over 47 rides, coasters and shows for families with children aged 3 to 12. The Kids Power Tower allows both children and adults to hoist themselves to the top then release the rope and free-fall back. At the Driving School, kids 6 through 13 can maneuver through the streets in an electric car. Take a Coast Cruise and tour the models surrounding the lake. For more information visit www.legoland.com.

www.legoland.com.

Carlsbad is located in San Diego County, near a number of family activities. Visit the San Diego Zoo and Wildlife Park, or San Diego Sea World. Spend some sun time on the 70-mile stretch of beaches. Or linger at some of the over 90 museums in the county housing exhibits of fine art, transportation, science and nature. Wander the streets of the historic Gas Lamp district, or pay a visit to one of the monasteries. Find out more about Carlsbad and its surrounding area by visiting www.visitcarlsbad.com, www.carlsbad.org and www.sandiego.org.

www.visitcarlsbad.com

www.carlsbad.org

www.sandiego.org

Six Flags AstroWorld, Houston, TX

With a collection of 32 rides, including 10 roller coasters, AstroWorld offers a number of thrills for the family. This park boasts the only suspended looping coaster in the Southwest, the Serial Thriller, as well as the steepest four-loop coaster in the world, the Texas Tornado. For younger family members, "Looney Tunes Town" features pint-sized attractions with a Bugs Bunny theme. Included in the one-day admission price, and part of the park, WaterWorld offers a number of drenching rides to cool the family on a hot summer's day. Find out more at www.sixflags.com, which also include park locations in fourteen other states.

www.sixflags.com

The Houston area has a number of attractions families can enjoy, including the Explore America's Space Program at Space Center Houston, where the newest exhibit, Blast Off, offers visitors a simulated space experience. For more information about the Greater Houston area, visit the Convention and Visitor Bureau's Web site, www.houston-guide.com.

www.houston-guide.com