Know Before You Go: Planning a Theme Park Vacation

If you’re planning a theme park vacation this summer, you’re in luck: We’ve chosen five of our favorites to highlight, so you’ll know exactly what to see and do while you’re there. Make this summer your best yet, whether you’re looking for roller coaster thrills, family fun or an adventure to remember.


Pigeon Forge, Tenn.
This 15-acre theme park evokes the homespun fun and traditions of the Smoky Mountains, offering craft demonstrations, award-winning entertainment, five seasonal festivals and more than 40 rides and attractions. Be sure not to miss these highlights:

  • The Wild Eagle steel wing coaster, the Thunderhead wooden coaster, Whistle Punk Chaser junior roller coaster and the FireChaser Express, which launches passengers backward and forward.
  • SkyZip, a coal-fire steam train ride.
  • Drop Line, a 200-foot-tall free-fall attraction.
  • The Southern Gospel Museum and Hall of Fame and the Chasing Rainbows attraction, which traces Dolly Parton’s rise to stardom.
  • Dollywood’s Splash Country, a 35-acre adjoining waterpark with speed slides, a four-story watercoaster, a lazy river, whitewater rafting and more.

Cedar Point

Sandusky, Ohio
Nearly 150 years old, Cedar Point has evoked summer memories for generations of families. More than 150 rides, shows and attractions, including 17 roller coasters, mean there’s something for everyone.

  • Roller coaster aficionados, rejoice: The newest coaster, Valravn, reaches 75 mph and includes a 90-degree drop; The Top Thrill Dragster soars 420 feet tall and moves up to 120 mph; Raptor makes six full inversions.
  • Family-friendly areas and rides like carousels, Cedar Point & Lake Erie Railroad, PEANUTS live shows and more.
  • Pioneer crafts, a marina and a stretch of Lake Erie beachfront.
  • Dinosaurs Alive!, an attraction with more than 40 animatronic, interactive dinosaurs.

Kings Island

Mason, Ohio
Another Ohio theme park, this family entertainment park offers more than 100 rides, shows, and attractions. It’s also home to some of the world’s most famous roller coasters. Kings Island is a destination that’s equally good for a theme park vacation or a day trip away.

  • Explore Banshee, the world’s longest steel inverted coaster; Diamondback, the tallest and fastest coaster in the park; and The Beast, the world’s longest wooden roller coaster.
  • Brave Mystic Timbers, a 109-foot-tall wooden roller coaster voted the “Best New Ride in the World” in 2017 by Amusement Today.
  • Cool off at Soak City Waterpark, the 33-acre water playground with more than 50 water activities, 30 waterslides, tropical lagoons, waterfalls and more.
  • Feast on everything from hand-dipped ice cream to gourmet grilled cheese, all prepared under the direction of the park’s new executive chef.

Universal Studios Florida

Orlando, Fla.
Immerse yourself in the next generation of blockbuster entertainment, journey through the legendary worlds of incredible heroes, and enjoy the thrills and relaxation of a tropical paradise like no other. Three parks mean triple the fun at this resort in the heart of Orlando.

  • At Universal Studios Florida, you’ll immerse yourself in the next generation of blockbuster entertainment. Explore the worlds of your favorite characters and step into a real-life film studio to make your own movie magic.
  • Step right into some of the greatest myths, legends, cartoons and comic books ever created at Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Dive into your favorite worlds brought to life — Marvel, Jurassic Park, Harry Potter and more.
  • The newest park, Volcano Bay, is a tropical water paradise with amazing thrills and relaxing indulgence. Explore attractions like the Krakatau Aqua Coaster, the Kopiko Wai Winding River and Hammerhead Beach, and enjoy the flavors of the South Pacific with everything from Hawaiian ribs to poke.

Walt Disney World Resort

Orlando, Fla.
Perhaps the most famous of all theme parks, Walt Disney World Resort is a magical experience for every visitor, young and old alike. Covering 40 square miles, the resort includes four theme parks: Magic Kingdom Park, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park. There’s so much to see and do, we’ve picked a few can’t-miss attractions to explore this summer.

  • Celebrate an incredible summer and join the ultimate pool party at the Typhoon Lagoon Water Park on select summer nights.
  • Immerse yourself in cultures from the world over at Epcot events, like the International Food & Wine Festival and the International Festival of the Arts.
  • Experience the timeless charm of Disney’s BoardWalk, a quarter-mile promenade of dining, shops and nightlife. Stroll along the water’s edge, play afternoon midway games and discover evening street performers.
  • With more than 25 unique resort hotels, from campsites to deluxe villas, there are accommodations for every family’s needs and budget. Special benefits like express checkout, complimentary airport transportation and extra time in the parks can make a Disney hotel well worth it.

The travel experts at AAA can help make your theme park vacation your best yet. And what’s more, AAA members save on tickets to all the attractions mentioned here.

For more information, call or visit your local AAA location – and get ready for a summer to remember.

Originally published May 1, 2016. Updated for new content March 29, 2018.