If you live within a two-hour drive of a major city and your church has a youth group, odds are good they’ll be visiting a theme park sometime this summer.
The midway games, thrill rides and water slides of America’s amusement parks have served has hallmarks of summer for generations of travelers. The attractions and safe atmosphere make those parks popular destinations for youth group outings. But theme parks are not just for teenagers.
Today’s amusement parks boast a variety of experiences that will please a wide range of travelers. There’s a lot more to do than just roller coasters, making a trip to a theme park a great option for intergenerational trips and church retreats.
Here’s a look at some of the top amusement parks around the country and the signature experiences they offer for visiting church groups.
There are numerous amusement parks in the Midwest, but Cedar Point is famous throughout the region for its Lake Erie location and abundance of roller coasters.
“We’ve been voted the best amusement park in the world for 16 years in a row,” said Bryan Edwards, the park’s public relations manager. “We have 72 rides, 17 of which are roller coasters. We have some of the tallest and fastest in the world.”
Four of the park’s roller coasters have set world records for height or speed. Cedar Point was the first park to build coasters over 200 feet, 300 feet and 400 feet tall. Perhaps its most famous coaster is Top Thrill Dragster, which catapults riders from zero to 120 miles per hour in less than four seconds and then sends them to breathtaking heights of 420 feet before plummeting back down to solid ground.
If coasters aren’t your thing, you can recruit some of your travelers to join you for a quieter day at the Cedar Point beach.
“We’re also a resort on the shore of Lake Erie,” Edwards said. “We have a milelong sandy beach that’s 50 feet wide from the shore to the boardwalk. We have two hotels right on the beach and a huge cottage cabin section right along the beach.”
Cedar Point hosts a wide variety of groups every year, including numerous youth band, choir and dance groups, which often perform at the park as part of their visits. Groups can arrange to have private meals at the park, which can include choices from pizza buffets to hot dog and brat cookouts. Visitors can also dine in some of the regionally and nationally known restaurants located within the park, including Pink’s Hot Dogs, Chickie and Pete’s, Famous Dave’s and Chick-fil-A.
Knott’s Berry Farm
Buena Park, California
One of the most famous theme parks in the western United States, Knott’s Berry Farm has a unique history related to a number of signature culinary items. The park began in the 1920s as a fried-chicken stand in Buena Park, California.
“The Knott family had people waiting for hours for their fried chicken, so they wanted to have something to entertain them while they were waiting,” said public relations representative Leidy Arevalo. “They put together a ghost town, which had real authentic buildings from around California. They also started growing boysenberries and selling berry pies, preserves and jellies.”
Today, a visit to Knott’s Berry Farm is a combination of a food pilgrimage and a theme park experience. Visitors can still get fried chicken that follows the original recipe that made the park famous. Stores and restaurants throughout the park also offer organic berry jellies and jams for sale.
The park has its share of roller coasters and thrill rides, but many visitors especially enjoy classic attractions such as the original ghost town, a narrow-gauge railroad and the Calico Mine Ride, a 1960s attraction.
“We’ve refurbished that ride from top to bottom this year,” Arevalo said. “The founder was really keen on ensuring that there was an educational element to the entertainment here, so riders go on an eight-minute ride through a mine and learn about panning for gold.”
For groups, that educational element continues with the Adventures in Education program.
“Before the park opens, we have a department that takes groups through the park and goes in depth about its history,” Arevalo said. “It’s a great way for groups to learn.”