Since I was tall enough to ride roller coasters, I have absolutely loved the thrill of pure adrenaline rush going up, down, and upside down on some of the best roller coasters in the world. Growing up south of Dayton, Ohio, we used to make regular trips to Kings Island. Now living in Findlay, I’m about equal distant from both Kinds Island and Cedar Point, giving me access to two of the best roller coaster parks in the world.
A couple years ago, I decided to relive my childhood experiences and invest in a season pass so that I could take full advantage of these great parks during the summer months. If you’re looking to go to an amusement park this summer and want to avoid the crowds, not overpay for food, and get in all your favorite rides, then this article is for you!
Where to Buy Tickets
Don’t ever pay full price for your ticket! The gate prices are way too high and unaffordable for a family. There’s no need to shell out $70 at the gate when you can take advantage of other great deals.
The best price I’ve found is at AAA. If you’re a AAA member, then call your local AAA office to see what prices they’re offering on tickets. I bought some tickets through AAA last year for a group of us that were going to Kings Island and they were $40 each. Much better than the $70 gate price.
Another place you can buy cheaper tickets is online. Cedar Point is selling tickets online for $49 each.
If you’d rather have a ticket in your hand, you may try the big box grocery stores such as Kroger or Meijer. The Meijer in Findlay sells Cedar Point tickets for $55. You can also purchase a ticket that comes with an all-day drink band for a few bucks more. Based on the prices of drinks in the park, it’s more than likely going to pay off to spend the extra couple bucks to get the drink band.
If you have a friend who owns a season pass, your friend can get you a ticket at Cedar Point for $43 and Kings Island for $42 at the gate. I will warn you though that there are restrictions on the number of tickets your friend can purchase on a given day. Cedar Point only allows a season pass holder to purchase one bring-a-friend ticket per day and Kings Island allows four.
Lastly, if you are planning to visit both Cedar Point and Kings Island this year, you can purchase a combo pack which gets you tickets to both parks for $65.
For a family of four at $50 a ticket, you’d be spending $200 on tickets which really isn’t that bad considering attending any type of professional sporting event costs about the same amount for only about three hours of entertainment.
Not only do you get charged to enter the park, you also get charged to park in their designated lots. Cedar Point and Kings Island both charge $20 per vehicle to park. Ouch! Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to get around it, but there are a few cost saving measures you can take.
Most of the Cedar Fair amusement parks offer the ability to purchase parking tickets online at a reduced rate. For both Cedar Point and Kings Island, they can be purchased for $15 each. It’s only a $5 savings, but hey, $5 is better than nothing.
Since parking is charged per vehicle rather than per person, if you have a group of people going, pack as many people as you can fit into one car. This may save you a few bucks.
Lastly, if you have a friend who is a gold or platinum season pass holder, they get to park for free. So if you’re planning on going, invite one of your season-pass-holding friends and offer to drive.
If you think everything else about amusement parks is overpriced, then you haven’t seen the food. A slice of pizza costs around $6 or $7! How are you supposed to feed a family at those prices?
Being pretty cheap, I tried to go an entire day at the parks without eating. But I quickly discovered that not eating was very detrimental to my body. One day while at Cedar Point, I developed a severe migraine and could hardly eat when I finally got food in front of me. Not a good situation. So I developed a new strategy for staying well-nourished while also not spending money on overpriced food.
Most amusement parks are within 10 minutes of a restaurant, so I’ve started leaving the park to grab a bite to eat for lunch and then again for dinner. It’s so much cheaper, gets me away from the crowd for a little while, and gets me into air conditioning on hot summer days, all things which I’ve found to be necessary in order to have a great amusement park experience.
When to Go to Amusement Parks
How fun is it when you go to an amusement park from open to close and only get to ride five rides? It doesn’t exactly make for a fun experience. So here are some tips on the best times to go.
If possible, avoid weekends and holidays! Do not…let me repeat…DO NOT go on Saturdays. You’ll spend your entire day waiting in long lines with thousands of other sweaty, stinky people and only get to ride a few rides. Sundays are typically better than Saturdays, but if you can avoid weekends and holidays, do it. If you absolutely can’t avoid them, then make a priority list of rides you want to ride so that you make sure to get those in. Or if your visit is a once in a lifetime thing, then invest in a fast pass so that you can get on every ride.
I’ve found that the best times to go are during the middle of the week before school lets out and after school is back in session. Over the summer, Tuesdays are typically the least-busy days, but there are a lot of other factors involved which can impact the crowds. If you’re willing to take the risk, then go on a day when the forecast shows it to be cloudy with scattered showers throughout the day. Definitely don’t plan to go on days when it’s supposed to rain all day.
How to Ride the Most Rides
When I go to amusement parks with my friends, they typically have some idea of the order in which they want to ride certain rides. For example, sometimes they want to ease in to riding the big roller coasters by riding the small ones first. If you want to maximize the number of rides, then I’d suggest a different strategy.
The best rides are going to have the longest lines throughout the day. That’s a given. So the best time to ride them is typically at the beginning and the end of the day. When the park first opens, go to the best rides first so that you don’t have to wait in a long line. Then you can ride all the other ones throughout the day while everyone else is waiting in line for the rides you’ve already ridden. The time you have at the beginning of the day before the crowds hit is about an hour, so don’t squander it.
Once the crowds start flooding into the park, then you can get in line for all the non-roller coaster rides. Those lines are typically much shorter throughout the day. If you’re not a coaster enthusiast at all, then I’d suggest going to a coaster enthusiast park because most of the people want to ride the coasters, which means you won’t have to wait long in the lines for all the other rides.
Each park is different, but some only have one primary entry gate. People tend to work their way from the front of the park to the back of the park. If you get there during the morning hours, skip the front of the park and head straight to the back. The lines will be shorter early in the day, but longer later in the day. Once the crowds have moved to the back of the park by the early afternoon, the rides at the front of the park tend to have shorter wait times.
A great tool which is available at many amusement parks is a free phone app which gives the ride wait times. Depending on the day and park, sometimes they aren’t very accurate, but other days they are spot on. You may have to run from one side of the park to the other throughout the day, but if it helps you get on more rides, then it’s probably worth it.
If you have a season-pass-holder friend, then once again, I’d suggest inviting your friend to go with you. Some amusement parks open early for season pass holders. Cedar Point opens an hour early and Kings Island opens a half hour early. Not all the rides are open at this time, but some of the best rides will be, and you’ll only have to wait up to 15 minutes to ride them! I regularly get three to four rides in during the first hour at Cedar Point.
Many amusement parks have recently introduced the fast pass system which allows guests to buy a pass that allows them to skip quite a few of the lines.
Don’t you hate it when you’ve been standing in line for two hours for a roller coaster and watch someone with a fast pass walk right up to the gate and get on? Not fair! But if you were shelling out that kind of money for a fast pass, you’d want the same treatment. They can cost over a $100 in addition to your ticket. But I think there are strategic times to invest in them.
If the only time you can go to an amusement park is on the weekends, you’re only planning to go once every few years, and you want to make sure you get to ride every ride in the park, then buy a fast pass. Otherwise, I don’t think they’re worth the cost.
If you plan to go to an amusement park more than two or three times in a given year, then I’d encourage you to check out the season pass options.
In the Cedar Fair park system, the gold and platinum passes get you free admission to the park and free parking (at least a $60 value). The platinum passes get you free admission and parking not only to one park, but to every Cedar Fair park. For Ohioans, this means you can get into Cedar Point, the Cedar Point Water Park (requires separate admission for regular guests), Kings Island, and Michigan’s Adventure with a platinum pass. A few other options which are a day’s drive away are Canada’s Wonderland in Toronto, Kings Dominion in Virginia, Carowinds in the Carolinas, and Dorney Park in Allentown, Pennsylvania. With a gold or platinum pass, you also get access to early ride times, a huge benefit if you like to ride big coasters.
Roller Coaster Suggestions
What would this article be without offering some suggestions on which roller coasters to ride? I’ll admit that for being such a coaster enthusiast, I’ve only been to a handful of amusement parks. But of those parks, I’ll share a little about ten of my favorite coasters.
My favorite coaster is Millennium Force at Cedar Point. It’s definitely not the most sexy coaster in the world, but its simple elements make it one of the best. It takes you to a height of 310 feet, accelerates to a speed of 93 mph, takes you through some wide, banked turns accompanied by a couple small hills, and has no inversions. I absolutely love the speed, wide banked turns, air time, and the fact that there are no brakes until the end. If you have the chance, wait the extra 20 minutes to ride in the front seat. You won’t regret it.
My second favorite coaster is the Fury 325 at Carowinds in Charlotte, North Carolina. It takes you to a height of 325 feet (hence the number in the name), accelerates down the first hill to a speed of 95 mph, and takes you through a series of banked turns and small hills where you get some air time similar to Millennium Force.
My third favorite coaster is Diamondback at Kings Island. The entire ride is virtually nothing but going up and down hills at a high enough speed to give you some air time at the peak of every hill. I’ve ridden another coaster, Intimidator 2, which is very similar, but has brakes on every hill. I hate brakes! Diamondback only has brakes on one hill, giving it a very smooth and exhilarating ride experience. If you like speed, air time, and no inversions, these three coasters are for you. If you can’t tell, these are the elements I prefer the most.
The next three coasters aren’t necessarily my next three favorite, but have some similar elements, so I wanted to group them together. If you like lots of inversions, then coasters like the Maverick at Cedar Point, Intimidator 305 at Kings Dominion, and Banshee at Kings Island are for you. Maverick only takes you up 105 feet, but it then drops you at a 95 degree angle and takes you through a series of quick turns and inversions. Just when you think you’re done, it speeds up again to 70 mph and takes you through a few more twists and turns before arriving back at the station. The Intimidator 305 is like a combination of Millennium Force and Maverick. It’s got the speed of Millennium Force and the quick turns of Maverick. It’s definitely an excellent choice if you’re ever in Virginia. Lastly, the Banshee at Kings Island is the longest inverted roller coaster in the world. It takes you through a series of seven inversions which include two loops, three half loops/half corkscrews, and two inline twists. It’s literally one inversion followed by another. If you love inversions, then you should definitely check this one out.
If you have a need for speed, then you should definitely ride the Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point. It accelerates you from 0 to 120 in 3.8 seconds, sends you up a huge hill, and then back down on the other side for the biggest 17 second adrenaline rush of your life. The only downside is that the ride is nothing more than this 17 second thrill.
If you want a unique roller coaster experience, check out Kings Island’s Firehawk. You lay on your back as you go up the first hill, but then turn over once you reach the top to give you the feeling of flying. At first it’s kind of scary because you’re being suspended above the ground without track or the floor of a car under you, but once you get over that fear, it’s an awesome ride. Carowinds has a comparable coaster in Nighthawk, but Firehawk is definitely better.
The last two coasters I’ll mention are Gatekeeper at Cedar Point and the Beast at Kings Island. Gatekeeper is unique because it suspends you either to the right or left of the track (rather than on top of it of below it) and takes you through a series of turns and inversions, one of which is right over top of the main entrance to the park. The Beast is the longest wooden roller coaster in the world with over a mile of track and two hills. Maybe it’s the nostalgia of growing up riding this coaster, but it will forever by my favorite wooden coaster. Hands down, the best part of the ride is the double helix after the second hill. It’ll rattle you up, but man is it exciting.
Roller Coaster Suggestions for Non-Coaster Enthusiasts
I fully understand that not everyone loves roller coasters. But that doesn’t stop me from wanting you to have the same experience! If you’re not a coaster enthusiast, but are considering trying a coaster or two, here are a few of my suggestions.
It all starts with what you like or don’t like about coasters. Are you afraid of heights? Do you get sick with lots of tight turns and inversions? Does your body hurt after begin jerked around for the whole ride? I’ll offer a few suggestions for the rider who falls in each of these three categories.
If you don’t like heights, especially not going straight down a hill, then I’d suggest riding something like the Adventure Express (Kings Island), Backlot Stunt Coaster (Kings Island), Cedar Creek Mine Ride (Cedar Point), or Corkscrew (Cedar Point). Honestly though, if you can conquer your fear of heights, I think you’re going to have a lot more fun riding the biggest coasters than continuing to ride the ones I named above.
If you don’t do well with tight turns and inversions, then I’d suggest riding Millennium Force (Cedar Point), Fury 325 (Carowinds), Diamondback (Kings Island), Intimidator 2 (Carowinds), The Beast (Kings Island), or Mystic Timbers (Kings Island).
If you feel sore after getting off rough roller coasters, then stay away from all wooden and old steel coasters. Instead, I’d suggest riding any of the ones in the previous paragraph except The Beast and Mystic Timbers and I’d add Valravn (Cedar Point) and Banshee (Kings Island) to that list. If all your friends pressure you into riding a jerky coaster, I’ve found that sitting in the middle of a car (a car may have three sets of seats in it, so sit in the middle one) and sitting closer to the front makes it much less jerky.
Stop sitting around thinking about going to an amusement park and just do it! Pack up your vehicle and make a road trip. If you’d like a personal tour guide/riding buddy, I come free of charge. Hit me up if you want to take a trip to Cedar Point or Kings Island this summer and I’d be happy to join you.