Theme Parks

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Most affordable water parks across the U.S.

Just in time for National Waterpark Day (July 28), vacation rental marketplace HomeToGo is making a splash by releasing its 2022 Water Park Index to help travelers identify the top water parks to visit this year. From Florida to California, from pulse-pounding to placid, they’ve done a deep dive into the best water parks that America has to offer. Most Affordable States to Make a Splash: Water parks in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, California and Illinois climb to the affordable peak of this year’s ranking.Best States for Water Park Enthusiasts: California reigns supreme with the most water parks on this year's ranking (11), followed by Texas (10) and Florida (9). The average total cost per day among the featured water parks in California is $138.06, compared to $132.96 in Texas and $139.16 in Florida.Average Entry Prices: This year’s average entry cost is $39.82. The water parks with the cheapest entry costs are Buccaneer Bay and Sun-N-Fun Lagoon both in Florida, which both cost $13 per adult.The tallest waterside in the country is Thrillagascar at DreamWorks Water Park in New Jersey (Ranked #32), which stands at 142 feet tall and reaches free-fall speeds of +60 mph and features the world's biggest indoor wave poolThe largest water park in the U.S. is Noah’s Ark Water Park in Wisconsin Dells (#44), with a total of 51 waterslides, 2 wave pools, 2 lazy rivers, and 6 additional attractions. Rankings are based on cost of parking, entry, locker and nightly accommodations. 3. Buccaneer Bay - $91.02Weeki Wachee, Florida Buccaneer Bay - Courtesy of floridastateparks.org Buccaneer Bay, located within Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, is the perfect place for families to spend a hot summer day. This water park is Florida’s only spring-fed water park and is home to a variety of different attractions including waterslides, sandy beach area, lazy river float ride, beach volleyball court and legendary mermaid shows in a submerged theater. On top of this, the water park is surrounded by beautiful natural scenery due to its unique location. This water park offers food and beverage options for guests who need to refuel and hydrate, as well as covered picnic pavilions for those who would like to bring their own snacks. 2. Splash Kingdom Oasis - $90.46Shreveport, Louisiana Splash Kingdom Oasis - Courtesy of hometogo Splash Kingdom Waterpark in Shreveport, Louisiana is a water park for the entire family to enjoy and embrace the family tradition of taking trips together. With more than 15 rides and attractions to choose from, people of all ages can come to this fun oasis and never worry about running out of things to do. On top of this, guests can enjoy food and drinks for whenever they get hungry or need to quench their thirst after a long day. Guests can also expect a multitude of different aspects of entertainment, with events being held that showcase music, movies and more. 1. NRH2O Family Water Park - $87.99North Richland Hills, Texas Thunder - Courtesy of NRH2O Family Water Park NRH20 is a 17-acre water park filled with plenty of fun and excitement for guests to enjoy. This water park is home to 14 attractions along with food and beverage amenities. With a great balance between thrilling waterslides and kid-friendly attractions, this water park is welcome to all ages looking to let off some steam and just have fun. NRH20 is known for its friendly environment, relaxing atmosphere, and reasonable prices. Located in North Richland Hills, Texas, the water park’s popularity has flourished within the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Click here to see the complete list of top affordable water parks and the methodology for the rankings.

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FamilyTheme Parks

Did you know - Land of Oz!

Autumn at Oz September 9th-11th, 16th-18th, & 23rd-25th at Land of Oz - Beech Mountain, NCCourtesy of Land of Oz Travel Over the Rainbow to Beech Mountain, North Carolina and celebrate Land of Oz's annual Autumn at Oz Festival - one of the world’s largest Wonderful Wizard of Oz events! Experience the magic of Oz during this three-weekend event where the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion are ready to perform for you on your journey to meet the Wizard! Keep a lookout for the Wicked Witch and her Winged Monkeys, plus other favorite characters from this classic story! Visit the Gale farm in Kansas, experience the twister, meet Glinda in Munchkinland, and follow the real yellow brick road to Emerald City where the Wizard grants everyones' wishes - right before your eyes! Courtesy of Land of Oz Shop unique craft & memorabilia vendors, enjoy delicious varieties of food and beverages, get your face painted, and watch live performances. Plus, there are plenty of photo-ops along the way including our Over the Rainbow Observation Deck - one mile high in the sky! Enjoy the magical Land of Oz on the site of the original 1970's theme park where the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true. Courtesy of Land of OzIn the Land of Oz:Don't wear your high heel ruby slippers - Oz has uneven paths, ramps and stairs and therefore is not wheelchair or stroller friendly. The weather in Oz (Beech Mountain) can be cold and blustery, so be prepared for the weather by dressing in layers and wearing comfortable shoes. It is also suggested that guests bring a jacket and an umbrella just in case.You can get to Oz by bus or scenic lift ride (additional cost). The lift ride from Beech Mountain Ski resort will give you amazing views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. General Admission Tickets: $55.00 + Taxes & Processing Fees​ Children 2 & Under are free.

FamilyTheme Parks

Most Affordable Amusement Parks

HomeToGo revealed the results of its 2022 Theme Park Index, ranking 30 theme parks in the U.S. based on affordability. Taking into account factors such as the cost of an admission ticket, parking and nearby vacation rentals, they compared many of the most popular theme parks across the country to uncover both budget-friendly and top dollar options for those planning upcoming vacations. While ticket prices have seen an overall increase, the index revealed that some of the best theme parks across the country are accessible for a fraction of the price compared to those in states like Florida and California. Amusement parks in Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia, Missouri and New York climb to the affordable peak of this year’s ranking, whereas world-renowned parks in Florida and California are on the pricier side. Based on the cost of a one-day adult admission ticket, parking and data for nearby accommodations, here’s a snapshot of the top rankings from the 2022 Theme Park Index: Top 5 1. Tropic Falls at OWA - Alabama Ticket Price: $22.49 Parking: Free Courtesy of visitowa.com 2. Quassy Amusement Park - Connecticut Ticket Price: $39.99 Parking: $10 Courtesy of quassy.com 3. Wild Adventures Theme Park - Georgia Ticket Price: $49.99 Parking: $15 Courtesy of wildadventures.com 4. Worlds of Fun - Montana Ticket Price: $34.99 Parking: $2 Courtesy of worldsoffun.com 5. Six Flags Darien Lake - New York Ticket Price: $34.99 Parking: $20 Courtesy of sixflags.com For a complete breakdown of the methodology and all 30 destinations in this year’s Theme Park Index, read the full report at: https://www.hometogo.com/united-states/amusement-parks/#theme-park-index

FamilyTheme Parks

Super Nintendo World Set to Open at Universal Studios Hollywood in 2023

SUPER NINTENDO WORLD™, the innovative, immersive and highly-anticipated themed land, will open at Universal Studios Hollywood in 2023, and will be the first SUPER NINTENDO WORLD to debut in the United States. Super Nintendo World opened first at Universal Studios Japan to rave consumer and critical reviews in 2021. The U.S. debut of Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Hollywood will transport theme park guests and Nintendo fans into the world of Mario, Luigi and Princess Peach to become part of their compelling universe. Super Nintendo World was conceived in partnership with Nintendo and Universal Creative to deliver exhilarating entertainment with innovative technological achievements inspired by characters and video games that have appealed to generations of Nintendo fans for over 40 years. The immersive land will be a visual spectacle of vibrant colors and architectural ingenuity located within a newly expanded area of the theme park, featuring a groundbreaking ride and interactive areas, to be enjoyed by the whole family. Themed shopping and dining will enhance the entire experience. To mark the occasion as the countdown begins to the land’s exciting debut, Universal Studios Hollywood will unveil a takeover of its popular Feature Presentation retail store with SUPER NINTENDO WORLD theming, opening soon. Located just inside the theme park’s main entrance, guests will have a chance to share their excitement for the land’s 2023 arrival by gearing up with merchandise such as Mario and Luigi themed apparel and iconic character hats. A selection of plush characters, including Yoshi, Mario, Bowser and Luigi in a variety of sizes, will also be among the many fun items available for purchase. More information and details will be shared soon. In the meantime, guests can visit www.UniversalStudiosHollywood.com for theme park updates. Get Discounted tickets to Universal Studios Hollywood in our booking platform.

Theme Parks

Disney announces Disney Genie: a reimagined guest experience

Coming this fall to Walt Disney World Resort, Disney Genie is a complimentary and convenient new digital service designed to create your best Disney day. Disney has been listening to your feedback—you want planning to be easier, you want more flexibility and you want better tools to help you make the most of your visit—and that’s exactly what Disney Genie is here to do. They have made significant investments in this cool new technology, which guides you through Disney theme parks with tips that can help you reduce time in lines, discover magic around every corner and take the guesswork out of “what’s next.” Built as a new digital service in the My Disney Experience app, Disney Genie service will maximize your park time, so you can have more fun. It includes a personalized itinerary feature that will quickly and seamlessly map out an entire day. From specific attractions, foodie experiences and entertainment, to general interests like Disney princesses, villains, Pixar, Star Wars, thrill rides and more—just tell Disney Genie what you want to do and it will do the planning for you. Here are a few more features: Get Itinerary Updates from Morning to Night: Disney Genie will continue to update your itinerary throughout your day, so you can be more spontaneous and go with the flow. Find Your Favorites at a Glance: Create your very own personal tip board to instantly see your favorites. It will display current AND forecasted future wait times, helping you predict when you might experience quicker entry to attractions. Enjoy More Flexibility and Fun: Disney Genie brings existing planning features together in one place. Join a virtual queue at certain attractions, make dining and experience reservations, mobile order food at many locations, get help from a virtual assistant and more. For even more convenience and flexibility, there are 2 other options for enjoying Disney theme parks, through a queue Disney is introducing called the Lightning Lane entrance that also saves you time in line: Disney Genie+ Service (Available for Purchase): For the price of $15 per day, per ticket at Walt Disney World Resort and $20 per day, per ticket at Disneyland Resort, choose the next available time to arrive at a variety of attractions and experiences using the Lightning Lane entrance. You can make one selection at a time, throughout the day—from classics like Haunted Mansion to thrill rides like Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and newer favorites like Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run (attractions subject to limited availability). This convenient option is the next evolution of the fan-favorite Disney MaxPass service from Disneyland Resort. Disney Genie+ will also include Disney parks-themed audio experiences and photo features to capture your memories—augmented reality lenses for those visiting Walt Disney World Resort. Individual Attraction Selections (Available for Purchase): Schedule a time to arrive at up to 2 highly demanded attractions each day using the Lightning Lane entrance—like Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kingdom park (subject to limited availability; attractions not included with Disney Genie+). Pricing for this option will vary by date, attraction and park and will be announced closer to launch. Lightning Lane selections will be made on the same day of your visit and can be used across multiple theme parks, great for those who love the Park Hopper option. Attractions continue to offer a traditional standby queue, or a virtual queue at certain attractions like Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance—to maximize flexibility. While the FASTPASS, FastPass+ and Disney MaxPass services will be retired, Disney is incredibly excited about the flexibility and choices Disney Genie service provides. You can choose from all of the new options, a mix of them or none at all, and continue to have a great experience no matter how you decide to plan your best Disney park day. Disney is also making some enhancements to the Disability Access Service (DAS) program, including new options to enroll in the program pre-arrival and for DAS participants to select attractions directly in the app. These options will be available in addition to the existing, in-person DAS program. Guests with concerns regarding these changes and their previously-purchased tickets may contact (407) 939-4357 to discuss their options. View information about Disney Genie services at the Disneyland Resort.

Theme Parks

Scary Happenings at Universal Studios

Jupiter’s Claim - July, 22 Universal Studios Hollywood Introduces Jupiter’s Claim, An Original Film Set from Jordan Peele’s Expansive New Horror Epic, Nope, as a Permanent Attraction on the World-Famous Studio Tour Nope - Juniper's Claim Set - Universal Studios Hollywood The original Jupiter’s Claim set from Jordan Peele’s expansive new horror epic, Nope, will be featured exclusively at Universal Studios Hollywood as a new attraction on the world-famous Studio Tour, beginning Friday, July 22, in tandem with the theatrical release of the new summer event film from Universal Pictures and Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions. The Jupiter’s Claim set – which can only be seen on the Studio Tour – marks the first time that a Studio Tour attraction has opened day and date with a movie release. It will be staged within Universal Studios’ backlot alongside a host of other iconic movie sets that include Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, the infamous Psycho house from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and Courthouse Square from Robert Zemeckis’ Back to the Future. The Weeknd: After Hours Nightmare - September 2nd & 8th Global Music Phenomenon and Multi Award-Winning Artist, The Weeknd, Collaborates with Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights to Create All-New Haunted Houses Inspired by His Record-Breaking “After Hours” Album The Weeknd: After Hours Nightmare For the first time ever, multi award-winning artist The Weeknd joins forces with Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights to inspire all-new, terrifying haunted houses based on his record-breaking “After Hours” album. Beginning September 2 at Universal Orlando Resort and on September 8 at Universal Studios Hollywood, guests will spiral into the twisted mind of this mysterious artist to experience “The Weeknd: After Hours Nightmare.” The dark undercurrent behind The Weeknd’s enigmatic persona will permeate the all-new Halloween Horror Nights haunted houses on both coasts. With the eerie sounds of “After Hours” reverberating throughout the experience, guests will step into a surreal living nightmare filled with grotesque characters and themes inspired by The Weeknd’s music and short films. As they’re stalked by slashers, bandaged maniacs, gruesome toad-like creatures and other unfathomable horrors from the mind of the artist, guests will be challenged to survive the night while trapped within the terrifying, unexpected world of “The Weeknd: After Hours Nightmare” – a place that only exists in The Weeknd’s vivid imagination and from which one may never escape. The Horrors of Blumhouse September - October An All-New Haunted House Inspired by Blumhouse’s Freakyand Upcoming Supernatural Thriller The Black Phone The Horrors of Blumhouse Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights features a double dose of terror inspired by the company regarded as the driving force in horror with “The Horrors of Blumhouse” haunted houses which bring to life Blumhouse’s upcoming supernatural thriller The Black Phone and horror-comedy Freaky. The frightening event begins at Universal Orlando Resort on September 2 and at Universal Studios Hollywood on September 8. “The Horrors of Blumhouse” will transport guests into an alternate dimension where the scares are real and the stakes are life or death. In The Black Phone, which hit theaters June 24, “The Grabber” is a demented magician best known for his sinister trick of making people disappear – permanently. Guests will find themselves trapped in his “fun” house where the sound of ghostly voices whisper hints on how to escape, but guests must tread carefully to outwit and outrun “The Grabber’s” twisted magic. Freaky will challenge guests to outrun serial killer “The Butcher” who has switched bodies with a high school girl after being cursed by The La Dola Dagger, an ancient Aztec blade. Guests will learn firsthand that looks can be deceiving as they encounter the sweet-looking teen who is actually “The Butcher” – and she is determined to hunt for their next victims.

Theme Parks

Disney during COVID-19: Is it safe?

Disney closed at the start of the COVID-19 quarantine, laying off 32,000 employees by November. After 116 magic-less days, the parks reopened July 15, just as coronavirus cases soared in Orlando. Going to Disney World right now may seem ridiculous, and perhaps it still is. Now that months have passed since its reopening, it's not quite as empty, but it's not packed either. I'm not going to downplay the nuances of this decision to go to Disney World during the pandemic. There were cons. But to start, walking around Disney felt safer than your average grocery store. On a Thursday, during a crisp morning, the grounds of Hollywood Studios challenged my preconceived notions of how busy and crowded I thought it was going to be. Besides wanting to know if it is safe, the second most important question is: is it worth it? Warning: Florida coronavirus cases nearly surpass two million. While Orlando peaked over the holiday months, it's trending downward in February. Check regularly to monitor the flow of cases. The CDC also recommends against participating in anything revolving around crowds. When to go Unfortunately, there is just no way of knowing how busy the parks will get on any given day, but going during the week could give you better odds. At 100 percent capacity, Magic Kingdom can allegedly hold 100,000 guests. Parks are operating at 35% capacity, which is a jump from 2020 at 25%. While that is still 65% less than usual, that doesn't necessarily mean there aren't many people. You can still be in the park with around 30,000 people. When booking, pay attention to the colors of the day. Green means all the parks are still under the reduced capacity. Yellow means some parks are full, and red likely means no parks are available that day. Disney World precautionsDisney World requires attendants to wear a mask at all times, unless sitting or standing to the side, except in line. No food or drink permitted. Lines are maintained at six feet apart. You wouldn't think this could be true, but it was. Most of the lines snaked outside, so six feet apart didn't feel forced at all. Once you got inside, they tried hard to be smart about it. If the line snaked back in the direction of other people, they put plexiglass walls up to separate you. Or, when that wasn't feasible, they alternated the line so that you were never next to someone in a different section. Depending on your party size, you might get entire rows of the ride to yourself. On rides shared between two groups, they put up plexiglass. For example, there was plexiglass between our row and the people in front of us when we rode the Mickey and Minnie Runaway Train ride. There was also a noticeable increase in cleaning. You would often see employees wiping surfaces down. SafetyWe didn't see a soul without their mask on walking around the park, which is impressive considering that going to the grocery store, you don't always see the same respect. If you get caught walking and eating, they will quickly warn you to step to the side. I don't know if this is true for all parks, but I found Hollywood Studios' layout a little strange. Strange enough to where it was hard for people not to get congested at certain parts. I wore two masks the whole time, except when on a ride (then I wore one). The congestion obviously makes everything riskier, but it's definitely not the hoards of people you would experience here a year ago. It felt more like a packed grocery, but outside. It is worth bringing your own sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizer. While the employees are wiping things down, there are a couple of rides requiring 3D glasses. Only one person uses them before they get resanitized, but they get distributed in buckets where a grabby kid could touch a bunch of them. We wiped ours down. There are plenty of hand sanitizing stations at every ride entrance and exit, and walkway, but some of them are out. PlanningYou MUST get a Disney ticket and reserve a park. This is how they monitor capacity. The park reservation isn't extra, but it is required among admission. You also need a valid ID and the card you used to purchase. If you plan to park hop, you can only change parks starting at 2 pm with the park hopper pass. If you were hoping to get a boarding group for Rise of the Resistance, you must first go to Hollywood Studios. All we wanted to do was go to Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge. Since reopening, they reconfigured how you visit the park's most popular attraction: Rise of the Resistance. Instead of waiting in line and competing with fast passes (more on that in a second), this ride requires a boarding group. At 7 am the day of, the boarding group opens. You have to join a group that second, otherwise it fills. We didn't get it that first round (which was devastating and stressful). The only other opportunity you have is at one. Like I said, you MUST be in Hollywood Studios to be eligible to join a boarding group. Be aware of the time too. Otherwise, you might find yourself sitting in the car for Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Train, holding your phone as high as you can, trying to get enough service to join. Meanwhile, all the employees are shaking their heads... You know, it's just something I heard happens. Luckily, we got it. Once you have a boarding group, you keep doing what you're doing because it'll notify you when they call your group. At that point, you have an hour to make it to the ride. Word of the wise, if you can go as soon as your group is called, there is less wait than at the end of the hour. Another note, screenshot EVERYTHING. You don't want to take any chances with a glitch in the system. You can only ride this ride once. Fast passes and lines Disney World has currently suspended FastPass+ services, which means everyone stands in the same line, except for Rise of the Resistance, as it requires the boarding pass. Some people would die at the thought of not having the FastPass+, but for spontaneous travelers such as myself, I always found them stressful and unfair. I didn't want to be waiting in line for hours either, so this left me very unsure of what the day would bring. Surprisingly, I never waited more than 40 minutes for a ride, which was only for one. The Disney World app makes a huge difference in reducing your line wait. There is a map of the park with the wait times listed for each attraction in the app. I found the best strategy to tackle all of the attractions was to go against the flow. You could see how people were navigating their day. Everyone wanted to start at the main rides like Slinky Dog or the Millenium Falcon ride. We went straight to the back of the park to Rockin' Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror. The line was only 20 minutes long! The app is updated regularly, but the best gauge is when you get to the end of the line, an employee usually stands with the wait time posted on a sign. This happened once when we went to Slinky Dog; the app stated 40 minutes, but when we got there, the line was 55. We did not get in line. We got a snack instead. When the larger rides were that long we chose to eat snacks. That way, when everyone finished and went to eat themselves, we were ready to hop in a shorter line. Most of the lines were a lot faster than their posted time. The lines kept moving too, so it never felt like we were stuck waiting around all day. Getting foodLike I mentioned earlier, the best way to eat is to go while everyone else is in line for a ride. This is just smart theme park etiquette but also great for COVID-19 safety. For a sit-down experience, the restaurants are seating at a limited capacity and should socially distance (we didn't do this). Most of the restaurants also require a reservation with limited walk-up availability. If dining is important to you, these reservations need to be made weeks in advance. Oga's Cantina, by far the coolest dining experience for Star Wars, had nothing available for us. *Sigh* But that didn't stop us from having a great experience. All of the made to order vendors required you to order on the app first and then show the host your meal is ready before you are allowed to enter, limiting lines and exposure to people. We ate in between crowds, too, so we could feel more comfortable sitting down. Some were indoor-outdoor spaces, and some were just indoor. The app is super easy to use, and it will also help you scout out all the dining options. Note, some spots are closed because of COVID-19. So… was it all worth it? Was the magic still there? The answer is that it kinda depends. There are no fireworks shows in Magic Kingdom, arguably one of the most magical parts. You also can't meet any of the characters. Every now and again, you can spot one on top of one of the sets. We saw Chewbacca and Ray hanging out, but it wasn't quite the same. They were standing six feet from each other, and other than staring at them, there wasn't any interaction. You couldn't even get a good picture. They did have a mini-parade in Hollywood Studios with the Incredibles walking down the main street. Again, it wasn't the spectacular show and energy you are used to, but getting to experience all of the attractions before the day was up because lines were short? That was pretty cool. At this point, almost a year into COVID-19, our perceptions have changed so much. Our perception of crowds, time spent, life in general. For me, I thought it was great just getting to experience little moments of magic.