The last 16 months were an emotional roller coaster for many. But now, as the world begins to open up again, there’s a prime opportunity to get on a ride you’ll actually enjoy.
To help thrill-seekers and adventure-lovers make the most of summer, Tru by Hilton teamed up with Elissa Alvey, a renowned roller coaster enthusiast who co-founded ThemeParkReview.com with her husband, Robb Alvey, to get her take on high-profile attractions at some of the country’s top amusement areas.
Alvey provided expert tips and insider insights specific to six popular parks. In addition, she offered this overarching advice: Prebuy your tickets online, arrive early to avoid lines (some parks even let early birds in before the official opening), and always wear comfortable shoes.
So, pack your bags, slip on those comfy shoes, gather up your courage and get ready to scream with delight. And, at the end of the day, check in to the local Tru hotel where you can grab a lounge chair in the spacious lobby to relax and unwind, or let the fun continue on the table games.
Hershey Park, Pa.
- Absolute best coaster: SkyRush. While Candymonium is the newest, I still love SkyRush the best. It has crazy airtime and is super intense. Another great ride is Storm Runner. It’s a coaster that goes from zero to 72 miles per hour in two seconds flat.
- Other top attractions: Chocolate World! This free experience includes an amazing ride where you go through a simulated factory to learn how cocoa beans transform into chocolate. There’s a lot of fun around every corner.
- Insider secrets: Hershey has a fantastic deal where all visitors with an admission ticket gain access to the park for the last two hours of the night before when their ticket is valid. Also, Chocolate World is typically open later than the park, so save that for later in the day. It’s air-conditioned, so if you need a break from the heat, it’s a good option for that as well.
- Favorite fare: The new Chocolatier Restaurant is terrific. Appetizers are served on a mini Ferris wheel!
- Local lodging: A sweet spot in the heart of Hershey, Tru by Hilton Hershey Chocolate Avenue offers fun, affordable accommodations just minutes from Hershey Park.
King's Island, Ohio
- Best coaster: Banshee. On this inverted roller coaster, the track is above your head and your feet dangle below. It goes upside down seven times!
- Other top attractions: The Eiffel Tower is a one-third-scale replica of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. It offers a great view of the park and surrounding area. Also, check out the Orion roller coaster and the wooden coaster The Beast, one of the most famous roller coasters in the world.
- Favorite fare: Try the park’s famous Skyline Chili. If you’re more in the mood for some burgers and brews, try the new Miami River Brewhouse.
- Insider secrets: The Beast is a completely different ride day and night, so save it for nighttime. The Mystic Timbers ride has different endings, so make sure to ride more than once. As for passes, if you buy the Fast Lane pass, you can skip the lines at some popular rides. The Platinum Pass gets you season-long access to all of the Cedar Fair parks in the chain as well as great discounts and freebies.
- Local lodging: Tru by Hilton Mason Kings Island is super close to the park—about five minutes away—and also near shopping, restaurants and even gas stations. After a long day of rides, guests can relax in the hotel’s heated indoor pool.
Walt Disney World and Universal Studios, Fla.
- Absolute best coaster:
Disney: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. It’s a long ride where you can t just have fun.
Universal: Jurassic World VelociCoaster. It’s brand new, super-fast, dinosaur-themed and has an awesome queue to entertain you while you wait.
- Other top attractions:
Disney: Disney Springs is a great place to check out. It’s basically an eating and shopping theme park. There’s something there for all budgets. I also like Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Pandora – The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and “dining around the world” in Epcot’s World Showcase.
Universal: Be sure to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter stores, food and interactive wand experiences.
- Favorite fare:
Disney: Epcot is the absolute best park for food, but there are great options at all of the parks. Magic Kingdom Park has the enchanted castle-themed Be Our Guest restaurant, Disney’s Animal Kingdom has tasty pan-Asian food at Yak and Yeti, Disney’s Hollywood Studios has the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant, which pays homage to 1950s-style drive-in theaters.
Universal: Delicious frozen drinks are sold all over the park. I also love The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen at CityWalk, which is just outside the park. And you have to end your day by getting a big box of donuts from Voodoo Donuts.
- Insider secrets:
Disney: Disney is always busy, it’s Disney! Get there early, try eating at off times, stay until close as a lot of kids get tired and families leave early. FastPass is not currently being offered but will hopefully come back soon. Make sure to download the My Disney Experience app before your visit so you can pre-order and pre-pay for food, check ride wait times and more. Also, at Disney, the more days you go, the cheaper it becomes per day.
Universal: If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you’re going to want to head to Hogsmeade in Universal Islands of Adventure or Diagon Alley at Universal’s Islands of Adventure first. The Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventures coaster is offered only on virtual queue so make sure to download the Universal Studios app before visiting so you can get a spot. The water rides often have hour-plus long lines during the day but at night go down to almost zero.
- Local lodging: Tru by Hilton Orlando Convention Center Area is in an excellent location. The largest hotel in the Tru portfolio is just a ten-minute ride to Universal and 10 minutes to get to Disney. Connect to the hotel’s super-fast free Wi-Fi to download all of the apps before you arrive at the parks.
Cedar Point, Ohio
- Absolute best coaster: Steel Vengeance. They took an old wooden coaster that was rough—and most people disliked—and totally redid it with steel tracks and crazy drops and inversions. It’s now one of the best coasters in the world.
- Other top attractions: Be sure to check out two other coasters: Maverick and Top Thrill Dragster. If you need a break from all the noise and excitement, head to the beach near the Boardwalk entrance. You can relax as you dip your toes into Lake Erie.
- Favorite fare: Melt Bar and Grilled serves up amazing gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches. If you’re more into barbeque, try Famous Dave’s right outside of the marina gate.
- Insider secrets: Steel Vengeance gets one of the longest lines, head to the back of the park first so you can on it as early as possible. Then work your way up from there. This park is huge. Try to go for two days if you can. Also, if you’re going to visit Kings Island and Cedar Point the same year for four days total, it is 100% worth it to buy the Platinum Pass.
- Local lodging: Start your day with a free breakfast at Tru by Hilton Sandusky before heading over to the park or nearby shopping centers. And when you return, share stories of your favorite rides around the fire pits at the hotel’s outdoor veranda.
SeaWorld San Antonio, Texas
- Absolute best coaster: Steel Eel. This is the tallest coaster at the park. It has great drops and hills that kind of resemble an eel! You can even see downtown San Antonio from the top.
- Other top attractions: Definitely take a ride on Wave Breaker: The Rescue Coaster and check out the graceful killer whales at the Orca Encounter. Access to the Discovery Point lagoon—where you can see dolphins and sharks—is included in your SeaWorld ticket. This area is separate from the main park, but worth the time to head there.
- Favorite fare: SeaWorld has amazing fresh baked pretzels! Salty, sweet or with dipping sauces. My personal favorite is the cheese pretzel.
- Insider secrets: There are no loose articles allowed on any of SeaWorld San Antonio’s big rides. Instead of paying for a single-use locker, you can rent a multi-use locker and get a code that will give you access to locker locations around the park so your belongings can bounce with you from ride to ride all day. SeaWorld also offers a great ticket option where you can get unlimited food and drinks.
- Local lodging: The family-friendly Tru by Hilton San Antonio Lackland SeaWorld is only a few miles from SeaWorld San Antonio. Continue the fun-filled adventure in the lobby area, outfitted with a pool table and board games, the hotel also offers an indoor pool and an outdoor patio with gas grills and firepits.
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