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The Shocking Truth about the Best Theme Park Deals

In a prior Theme Park Tourist article, I evaluated whether Disney and Universal get a bad rap for their high ticket prices. These two theme parks dominate the industry, yet they face the perception that they overcharge for admission prices. You can read that piece to see whether the perception is the reality or not.

Today, I’m taking a different approach. I want to underscore the value of a few famous parks. While others in the industry raise rates on an annual basis, these places have kept their prices fairly static. They’ve done so while adding great attractions that sustain public interest. All of the parks listed here are among the most trafficked in the United States, one of the primary criteria for the list. So, which parks have the cheapest admission prices and are the best deals? Read on…

6. Knott’s Berry Farm $79

Image: Cedar FairI don’t want this to sound like “Old MacDonald had a farm…”, but Walter and Cordelia Knott had a farm. E-I-E-I-O. Okay, maybe I do want it to sound like that. Anyway, the couple’s farm featured delicious berries, and it became the family business for several generations.

Over a 35-year period, their roadside berry sales business evolved into an entertainment center. Walter Knott added a Ghost Town on the property to entice more guests to visit. They came for the shows and rides but stayed for Cordelia’s famous fried chicken. Yes, Knott’s Berry Farm has what is probably the strangest origin story of any theme park.

Over time, the rides became so popular that the Knotts started charging admission. They even appreciated the value of theming, adding a Peanuts license during the early 1980s. Alas, the couple had died by that point, leaving their children to run the park.

Image: Cedar FairAfter a time, they chose to sell their family’s heritage, an amazing berry farm, to Cedar Fair, albeit with one major caveat. No one can ever turn around and sell the property to The Walt Disney Company, whose Disneyland popped up in 1955 and overshadowed Knott’s Berry Farm.

To this day, Cedar Fair runs the park with almost a familial level of caretaking, as exemplified by the price. This park hosts 39 rides but charges an admission price of only $79. That’s about $2 a ride. Somewhere, Walter and Cordelia are smiling at the treatment of their genteel berry farm.

5. Six Flags Great America $74.99

Image: Six FlagsFor several decades now, the Six Flags chain has employed a simple business model. They’ve constructed similar theme parks on cheap land near thriving metropolitan areas. Their expectation is that theme park tourists will drive a bit to discover relatively affordable entertainment.

To keep costs under control, even the rides at the various Six Flags parks are copycats. Building a clone is much cheaper than starting one from scratch. Whether you agree with this form of theme park construction or deem it soulless, you cannot argue with the efficiency of it.

Take Six Flags Great America as the blueprint example. You’ll find 53 roller coasters at this park in a Chicago suburb, and 16 of them are roller coasters. Rides like Viper and River Rocker might not be original, but the sheer volume of options at this park is remarkable. The value shines through when you realize that an admission price of $74.99 means that you’re paying less than $1.50 per ride.

4. Cedar Point $72

Image: Cedar FairI won’t lie. My heart belongs to Cedar Point. Outside of the Orlando parks and the number one entry on this list, I’ve visited Cedar Point by far the most. It’s my happy place due to the presence of several sublime roller coasters, including my favorite attraction on the planet, Millennium Force.

Cedar Point is the pride and joy of the company that owns it, Cedar Fair, as reflected in their name. They treat it as the crown jewel of the dozen amusement parks that they own and operate. They even base their headquarters in the same city, Sandusky, Ohio. I mention all of this to explain why Cedar Fair invests so much in maintaining the excitement quotient at Cedar Point.

Seemingly every year, this park gains a new attraction. Usually, this ride breaks a world record or two, also. The self-professed roller coaster capital of the world, Cedar Point’s held a claim to that title since at least the debut of Magnum XL-200 in 1989. Today, they somehow manage to offer 72 rides, 16 of which are roller coasters, for a modest admission fee of $72. With all due respect to the other parks listed above and below it, the bang for the buck at Cedar Point destroys almost everything on this list save for the park with the cheapest admission price.

3. Dollywood $69

Image: DollywoodDolly Parton is a local institution in East Tennessee. She famously pays for children’s educations. She even donates to those in need when tragedy strikes. And she once purchased a flagging amusement park called Silver Dollar City, evolving it into one of the best run facilities on the planet.

As I type this, Dollywood is either a former or current champion in the Golden Ticket Awards categories of Best Christmas Event, Best Food, Best Show, and Friendliest Park.  That’s an amazing demonstrated of cross-category dominance in a hyper-competitive industry. Dollywood also sports 27 rides, eight of which are very good roller coasters.

The park planners at Dollywood have emphasized adrenaline rush attractions in recent years, including the Lightning Rod and Wild Eagle. They’re also adding eight more attractions in coming years, which will make the park that much better in terms of value. Until then, the rides are a bit top-heavy, with several great ones and a string of mediocre ones. The award-winning shows elevate Dollywood over some of its peers on this list, though.

2. Kings Island $68.99

Image: Cedar FairKings Island is the third Cedar Fair theme park listed here, which speaks to two linchpins of their business model. The company believes in a large number of high-quality, high-volume rides, with a priority on roller coasters. Also, they provide a low price point to guarantee that their parks are inclusive. You don’t have to fear for the safety of your wallet at a Cedar Fair property.

While Kings Island isn’t quite as good a value as Cedar Point, it does offer more for the money than Knott’s Berry Farm…albeit without the vaunted chicken recipe. At Kings Island, you’ll find 50 different rides, 15 of which are roller coasters. The park has hosted The Beast since 1979, and it remains the status symbol attraction. Kings Island isn’t afraid to play with the wooden roller coaster formula, though. They also added Mystic Timbers in 2017. It tops out at a spectacular 53 miles per hour and won Best New Ride from the Golden Ticket Awards. This place is a steal for $68.99.

1. Hersheypark $66.95

Image: HersheyparkI could open with a bunch of chocolate jokes, but you’ve read them all before. Instead, I’d like to emphasize the history of this place. Hersheypark will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its first roller coaster in 2023! It’s been in the business of pleasing theme park tourists for many decades now. The one thing it hasn’t done, however, is raise prices at a dramatic rate.

Despite its heritage and status as an IAAPA Applause Award winner, Hersheypark is the second cheapest major theme park in the United States. Its modest admission price of $66.95 represents stunning value for a place with 76 (!) rides, 13 of which are roller coasters. Hersheypark charges less than a dollar a ride. Even the park with the lowest admission price doesn’t provide such an amazing ratio. The only knock against the place is that it lacks that one E Ticket attraction that dazzles the industry. Here, you’ll embrace the quantity more than the quality. Still, it’s the cheapest admission price in the country right now. Who could complain about that deal?