As a journalist, I’ve been visiting theme parks all over the United States since the 1980s.
I’ve found Dollywood, Universal Studios Hollywood, and Disneyland Parks to be among the best.
I’ve taken the attractions, atmosphere, immersive themes, entertainment, and food into account.
Universal Studios Hollywood seamlessly combines fantasy with real life.
Known for the World-Famous Studio Tour that dates back to 1964, the tinsel town comes to fruition through pioneering attractions, entertainment, and dining, like the impeccably-themed Moe’s Tavern from Fox’s animated series “The Simpsons.”
Two of its newest attractions, Secret Life of Pets: Off The Leash and Jurassic World — The Ride, are easily some of my favorite attractions in the country.
I’m betting the upcoming Super Nintendo World will further solidify this park as a top choice.
Dollywood in eastern Tennessee has a lineup of globally-recognized roller coasters.
Tennessee’s Dollywood is the brainchild of its dreamer-in-chief Dolly Parton.
This spot doesn’t need to rely on star power alone to make it one of the best theme parks in the country. Its selection of roller coasters will do just that.
Daily concerts from national artists, including Parton’s own family, and award-winning food come together with a heavy helping of Southern hospitality. Plus the cinnamon bread and pulled-pork sandwiches are iconic.
The magic is palpable as you walk down Main Street in Disneyland.
Disneyland may not have been the first theme park but it set the standard for what all others would follow.
This California park was the vision, and ultimately, the masterpiece of Walt Disney.
Classic attractions, like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, come together with innovations in theme-park technology, like Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, in a way that honors the past and maintains its bearing as an industry leader.
It’s not the biggest Disney park by any means, but it’s a rite of passage for any hard-core fan.
Located in the Ozark Mountains, Silver Dollar City flies under the radar but should be at the top of everyone’s list.
For me, the commitment to an immersive atmosphere makes Silver Dollar City stand out. Through intricate details, the park is a celebration of mountain craftsmen, like pottery makers and bakers.
There’s a special kind of magic felt in this total authenticity. Staff members aren’t actors — they’re trained professionals in their field.
The culture is further celebrated with standout food, like the Rivertown Smokehouse open-air kitchen inspired by the kinds of places you’d find in Texas.
Silver Dollar City arguably does the holidays better than the rest with over 1.5 million sparkling lights and a host of live shows.
Epcot, located in Walt Disney World in Florida, offers food and beverages from around the world.
The crown jewel of Epcot is World Showcase — a World’s Fair-style land where you can instantly transport to 11 different countries with shopping spots and food.
The park is home to some of my favorite attractions, like Frozen Ever After. I look forward to the upcoming addition of Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind which is poised to be one of the longest enclosed coasters in the world.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom was thoughtfully created by experts.
There’s been some criticism surrounding parks with living animals, but I think Disney’s Animal Kingdom, located at Walt Disney World in Florida, does it right.
Much of Walt Disney’s values, like animal conservation, are celebrated here and come to life thanks to celebrated former Imagineer Joe Rohde — who traveled the world ensuring the park would be thematically accurate.
Even if you aren’t a fan of the film, Pandora – The World of Avatar is an incredible land with one of Disney World’s best attractions, Avatar Flight of Passage.
The park’s dining options further spotlight global influences.
Knott’s Berry Farm is full of incredible boysenberry-filled history.
At Knott’s Berry Farm everything from the corn dogs to the wings and beer has boysenberries.
That’s because one of the oldest themed amusement parks in the US originated as a berry farm.
The Southern California farm’s incredible story is often overlooked by its thrill attractions, like California’s first dive coaster. However, its heritage is celebrated during the annual Boysenberry Festival.
What originated as a ghost town has since married the old with the new in the form of roller coasters. It’s also home to one of the largest Halloween events in Southern California as well as Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant, a nearly 100-year-old restaurant that first landed the Knotts on the map.
Universal Studios Florida feels like a nostalgic time capsule.
For all that has evolved over the years at Universal Studios Florida, that essence of nostalgia remains — and is most evident with the beloved attraction E.T. Adventure.
Nearly all of its opening day rides are gone, but it still embraces modern-day films.
This is where your favorite movies come to life in fantastic attractions and even on the streets. You can come face-to-face with some of your favorite stars from the big screen.
The experience is rounded out with captivating stage shows, like the kitschy Universal’s Horror Make-Up Show.
I could spend hours exploring Diagon Alley, my preferred Wizarding World of Harry Potter section, which is one of the most enchanting places I’ve ever experienced.
The attractions at Universal’s Islands of Adventure are thrilling and immersive.
Located at the Orlando resort, Islands of Adventure is magical during the day and at night.
From Marvel Super Hero Island to the whimsical Seuss Landing, this easy-to-navigate park features eight distinct areas arranged in a circle.
Tucked away in the back, you’ll find Jurassic Park, home to one of my favorite roller coasters in the country, VelociCoaster.
In the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, you can feast on butterbeer-inspired treats, take a spin on the innovative Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, or venture into Hogwarts Castle for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.
The history of chocolate is celebrated each and every day at the sweetest place on Earth, Hersheypark.
Located in the beautiful hills of Pennsylvania, Hersheypark is a family-forward park with 15 roller coasters, including the 75-year-old wooden roller coaster Comet.
Hersheypark is the ultimate destination with a waterpark, zoo, stadium, and several resorts, ensuring your candy-coated bubble will not burst throughout your stay.
From the roaming characters dressed as your favorite candy bar to Instagram-worthy, chocolate-loaded king-size milkshakes, you’re guaranteed to get your chocolate fix in.
The $150-million expansion, celebrating the legacy of Milton S. Hershey, brings along new dining options and the park’s tallest, fastest, and longest coaster, Candymonium.
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