There are a bonanza of kids’ amusement parks near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Our favorites have changed over the years, as our kids have grown up and become ready for more thrills and chills. Luckily, Southeastern Pennsylvania has a variety of fun amusement parks, some best for little kids, and some aimed at daredevils.
Sesame Place near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
When our kids were very little, we bought season tickets to Sesame Place, a theme park based on Sesame Street and designed for that age group. Membership entitled us to unlimited visits so each visit helped justify the initial outlay. Just as important, since our one payment entitled us to unlimited visits, no single visit had to be too long. Short visits were perfect for our under-7’s to enjoy. We could easily stop by the park for just an hour or two without any guilt about not getting our money’s worth for that individual visit.
While Sesame Place worked great for us as a two-parent family, read this warning if you will be visiting Sesame Place solo with kids.
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Dutch Wonderland in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
As our son and daughter got a little older, we discovered Dutch Wonderland, located in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. It is targeted at age 9 and under, for little kids and kids who have outgrown Sesame Place but may not yet be ready for the bigger crowds and scarier rides of a giant amusement park. This was our favorite amusement park for years. Roller coasters and water rides are exciting enough to be great fun for kids, but not too scary, and the crowds are not at all overwhelming.
Hersheypark in Hershey, Pennsylvania
Around age 10, our kids were ready to experiment with the more daring rides of Hersheypark, located just outside Harrisburg and 95 miles from Philadelphia. Since traveling to Hersheypark is not a day trip for us, we usually visit only once a year, and turn it into a family vacation.
Our routine is to arrive in late afternoon, check into the Hotel Hershey, and visit Hersheypark that evening, when the crowd has thinned and lines for rides are short. Buying a ticket for the next day entitles you to visit the Park that evening for the 2.5 hours before it closes. That extra visit makes what is not much more than a day trip feel like a real vacation. In the evening hours, lines can be quick for even our favorite rides – the classic rickety wooden roller coaster Lightning Racer and the heart-stopping Stormrunner. We usually spend the following day at the Park then drive home.
Check out these tips for visiting Hersheypark and this look at the challenges of visiting Hersheypark solo with kids.
Benefits of staying at Hotel Hershey
Mid-week prices are lower at Hershey Hotel but it is still a splurge. Apart from being a lovely hotel, the benefits of staying at the Hershey Hotel are many.
- Skip the traffic and parking lot at Hersheypark. Hotel Hershey provides a convenient shuttle bus to take you directly to the theme park, spitting distance from the hotel.
- Skip the ticket buyer line at Hersheypark. Instead, buy your tickets in the hotel lobby.
- Returning from a long day at Hersheypark, my husband and I enjoy a glass of wine on the hotel’s sprawling terrace. The open-air area overlooks the valley and is dotted with comfy chairs and overflowing hanging flower baskets. The quiet is rejuvenating. In summer months, a jazz band plays from 7:30-10:30pm. Very civilized, very adult, a welcome contrast to the cotton candy clamor of the amusement park.
- When you are not at Hersheypark, the hotel is packed with things to do. There are tennis, basketball, and bocce courts. A gorgeous flowering garden is on the grounds. There is a fitness center and a spa. Yoga and pilates classes are included in the hotel fee. The overly chlorinated indoor pool does not appeal to me but the outdoor pool has a giant slide and fountains that even very little kids can splash in.
- Hotel Hershey is a wonderful multi-generational destination. Our children’s grandmother came with us many times and, while she’d usually join us in Hersheypark, we always knew there was plenty for her to enjoy at the Hotel.
- Finally, the hotel’s backstory is endearing. Milton Hershey, founder of the Hershey Chocolate Company, wanted to keep the town’s residents employed during the Great Depression and decided to build the hotel. Its Spanish and Mediterranean design draws on the world travels of Milton Hershey and his wife Catherine, namesake of the Kit Kat Bar.
If your kids are independent enough to visit the park on their own, you can spend the day enjoying what Hershey Hotel has to offer. Spend a lovely morning at a yoga class, walk in the garden, take a sauna, and be refreshed and relaxed when your kids return from the park, tuckered out from noise, lines, and the exhilaration of water rides and roller coasters.
One more reason to like the Hotel Hershey: Everyone gets a Hershey bar when you check in, and Hershey kisses on the pillow at night!
Does your family have a favorite amusement park? Tell us about it in the comments.