Roller coasters and reverse bungees are great for the larger thrill-seekers in the family, but what about the little guys? If you have a toddler in tow when you're visiting a theme park, you'll need to consider their needs too. After all, they're the ones who'll kick up a bit of fuss (that is, have a full-blown hissy fit) if they get bored watching everyone else have all the fun.
Some of the parks below are completely devoted to younger kids, while others have special sections created especially for the under-5 set. So regardless of the age span of your group, never fear: Consider those tots taken care of. Here are some of the best theme parks for toddlers in the U.S.
Do all toddlers love Legos? Perhaps. Legoland California was designed for kids ages 2 and up. Many of the rides have a minimum height requirement of 34 inches, and many more allow kids under 36 inches if they are accompanied by someone taller (and, presumably, older and more responsible). Duplo Playtown, Castle Hill and Lost Kingdom Adventure have plenty to keep toddlers entertained, and the adjacent Sea Life Aquarium will teach tots tons about marine life.
SeaWorld San Diego has a new 3-acre area called Ocean Explorer, which is designed with the youngest explorers in mind and includes a mix of rides and aquariums as well as dining and a play area. Families can join a research team aboard the Submarine Quest and help discover some of the sea's most mysterious creatures. Toddlers can even enjoy the rides Aqua Scout and Sea Dragon Drop as long as they can walk unassisted (and are accompanied by someone age 14-plus if they are shorter than 36 inches).
Silverwood Theme Park, north of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, has lots for kids of all ages. In 2014, it doubled the size of its family entertainment, adding a family spinning coaster and a child-size Ferris wheel. The train ride, magic show and water park also make this a toddler-friendly theme park.
One of the best theme parks for toddlers is Magic Kingdom, which can be found in every Disney theme park. Enjoy classic rides such as the Dumbo teacups, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, It's a Small World and Haunted Mansion. The Magic Kingdom Character Experiences let your little one get up close and personal with their favorite Disney characters, from Ariel to Mickey Mouse.
The Islands of Adventure theme park (sister park to Universal Studios Orlando) includes the 10-acre Seuss Landing, home of Dr. Seuss and all his fun characters, including The Cat in the Hat and the Grinch. Toddlers will enjoy the park's trolley train ride, carousel and interactive play area.
Sesame Place in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, is of course devoted to all your kid's favorite Sesame Street characters. Toddler-friendly rides include Monster Mix-Up, Sunny Day Carousel, The Count's Cruisers and Oscar's Rotten Rusty Rockets. Other attractions include live shows, parades and costumed characters, plus the Mini Monster Clubhouse soft play area (strictly for kids age 5 and under — no adults allowed!).
In 2015, Edaville USA, a family amusement park and heritage railroad located in South Carver, Massachusetts, opened Thomas Land, an 11.5-acre area with 14 rides based on Thomas the Tank Engine and his many vehicular friends. Many of the rides, featuring Cranky the Crane, Harold the Helicopter, etc., are suitable for toddlers (if they're accompanied by a responsible adult). You can even take a 20-minute scenic train ride on Thomas himself.
Valleyfair in Shakopee, Minnesota, features many kids' rides suitable for toddlers, such as Peanuts 500, Linus' Beetle Bugs and Snoopy's Deep Sea Divers. In 2014, the park introduced the Northern Lights family coaster and the Route 76 family area with three classic rides: Antique Autos, Tilt-A-Whirl and Scrambler. In 2015, they opened the family-friendly Barefoot Beach splash pad — nearly 1 acre of water-themed attractions for young kids.
In 2015, Six Flags Great Escape in Lake George, New York, introduced the Buccaneer Beach children's area in its Splashwater Kingdom water park, billed as a "VIP water resort just for kids." Do you know a toddler who would love water games, pop-up jet sprays, slides and splash pads? We definitely do. Within the theme park itself, many of the rides — such as the Up, Up & Away Ferris wheel and Elmer's Around the World in 80 Seconds — don't have height requirements provided the child is accompanied by an adult.
10. Nickelodeon Universe
The Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, is home to Nickelodeon Universe, the largest indoor theme park in the U.S. Set across 7 acres and featuring 24 rides, it has plenty for the youngest members of the family, such as daily meet-and-greet events with Nickelodeon characters. The best day to visit is "Toddler Tuesday," when kids eat free at a huge range of participating restaurants. You can also get a discounted wristband for toddlers on Tuesdays; it's valid for five hours for unlimited rides on El Circulo del Cielo, Log Chute, Crazy Cars, Bubble Guppies Guppy Bubbler, Diego’s Rescue Rider, Wonder Pets Flyboat and many more.
Not all theme parks are created with toddlers in mind, but if you do your research and plan ahead, you can absolutely ensure the little ones have just as much fun as their older siblings. And with all these options, who knows? Parents might even have fun too — or at least enjoy some of that classy fried fair food.
A version of this article was originally published in May 2011.
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