American Theme Parks Revisited

Young Laura Martone stands with candybar park characters.

Laura as a child at Hersheypark. © Laura Martone.

Three months ago, I addressed a reader’s inquiry about American theme parks in a post entitled “A Theme Park Smorgasbord.” In the post, I mentioned a wide array of theme parks, from Florida’s Walt Disney World Resort (3111 World Dr., Orlando, 407/939-6244, hours and ticket prices vary) to Pennsylvania’s Hersheypark (100 W. Hersheypark Dr., Hershey, 800/437-7439, hours and ticket prices vary)—which is pictured above, when I was just shy of 12 years old. Although it was by no means an exhaustive list of parks, I hope that it gave travelers some food for thought, especially those planning precious family vacations.

Well, since then, I’ve received another comment regarding theme parks in the United States. In a recent message, Laura D. kindly informed me of a curious place called the Enchanted Forest (8462 Enchanted Way SE, Turner, 503/371-4242, $10 adults, $9 seniors over 61 and children 3-12), a lesser-known park south of Salem, Oregon, that, as its name might indicate, mainly focuses on fairy tales. Storybook Lane, for instance, the first area created in the park, entices children to crawl through Alice’s rabbit hole or slide down the Old Lady’s shoe, among other kid-friendly activities. In addition, you’ll find a Wild West town, an old-fashioned English village, a haunted house, several rides, even a comedy theatre, which stages wacky musical comedy productions every summer.

Of course, one of the only drawbacks to the park is the length of its season. It’s only open from mid-March to September—much like Hersheypark, which is closed from January through March. Most theme parks, however, are open all year, especially the ones in mild-weather places, such as California’s Disneyland Resort (1313 S. Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, 714/781-4565, hours and ticket prices vary) and Universal Studios Hollywood (1000 Universal Center Dr., Universal City, 800/864-8377, hours and ticket prices vary)—which is good news for those wishing to escape winter for a little while. Off-season (that is, not summertime) is also ideal for those who wish to avoid crowds, especially on weekdays.

In her email to me, Laura D. wondered “which parks are best geared to children of different ages—as well as to grown-ups of different ages.” Well, although places like the Enchanted Forest and LEGOLAND California (1 LEGOLAND Dr., Carlsbad, 760/918-5346, hours and ticket prices vary) cater more to children—with tamer rides and more kid-friendly motifs—I think that most theme parks try to appeal to both children and adults. In my own experience, I was as enamored by Disney World at the age of nine as I was by Disneyland as a college student. But I’m curious about others’ opinions. Do you feel that some theme parks focus on specific age groups? If so, which ones?

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