Top 10 amusement and water parks in the US according to TripAdvisor

With so many incredible amusement parks for your family to visit and a limited number of those coveted “togetherness” days until fall begins Sept. 22, you understandably want to make the most of summer vacation. Luckily, TripAdvisor has revealed the winners of its Travelers Choice awards for the top amusement parks in the United States.

Universal Orlando
Universal Studios' Islands of Adventure theme park in Orlando, Florida

The travel planning and booking site also named award-winning water parks just in time for the insatiable get-wet set to seek its next big splash. TripAdvisor used a complex algorithm that measured quantity and quality of reviews and ratings for the parks over 12 months.

Why Florida rules

Orlando scored seven of the top 10 parks, also clinching the top three water park spots. If you can wait, TripAdvisor says the most affordable month to visit Florida’s fourth-largest city is August, when you’ll save 20 percent over the peak summer period during July. The travel resource site found that half of its huge community plan to visit or already have stopped by an amusement or water park this year.

So which amusement park took the No. 1 spot? Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Orlando. This “mega park” with seven uniquely themed islands replete with 20 rides, shows and interactive attractions is also a terrific place for the kids. They can “get real” when their favorite cartoon characters and comic book heroes come to life. It’s also the “home” of Harry Potter and Hogwarts castle — say no more.

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Next in line at a solid second place, and also in Orlando, is Discovery Cove, owned by SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment. A 180-degree shift from parks offering the latest in scream-inducing technological thrills, this back-to-nature experience is ideal for those days when snorkeling with exotic fish and giggling at the antics of fuzzy otters makes for an ideal change of pace.

Where roller coasters reign

TripAdvisor found the most popular amusement park rides are roller coasters, splash or log rides, and haunted houses or mansions, in that order. Water park top choices are lazy rivers, water slides and again, splash rides, respectively. The site also revealed that most people — 46 percent — spend between $51 and $100 per person during each visit to a park.

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They also found that visitors value cleanliness and safety most of all, and can’t abide long lines for rides, followed by overpriced and bad quality food, high prices and of course, crowds. We can all dream of having our favorite park to ourselves — but alas, it’s just a dream.

Top 10 amusement parks in the U.S.

1. Universal's Islands of Adventure – Orlando

Hold on to your broomstick, because there’s always something new at this park. This summer it’s all about our boy Harry — Potter, that is, and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Hogsmeade. His mystical, mythical tales have inspired these new attractions: Dragon Challenge, Flight of the Hippogriff and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.

2. Discovery Cove – Orlando
Discovery Cove

Dolphins aren’t the only aquatic animals you’ll meet close up. Discovery Cove invites you to swim with rays and tropical fish too, and to hand-feed exotic birds. The lush landscaping, tropical reefs, winding rivers, resort-style pool with waterfalls and white-sand beaches will convince you that you’re really not “inland.”

3. Magic Kingdom – Orlando

Disney World
Magic Kingdom theme park at Disney World

Just say “Mickey” or “Minnie,” for the place really needs no introduction. Six whimsical “lands” offer classic attractions, brilliant fireworks, musical parades and those beloved Disney characters. Get on board legends like Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Space Mountain or just say “aw” on Dumbo the Flying Elephant.

4. Universal Studios Florida - Orlando

Universal Studios Florida
The Simpsons Ride at Florida's Universal Studios

This is your chance to really “experience the movies” on the East Coast at the world’s premier and TV-based theme park. That Harry Potter guy really gets around here too, with The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley located on this particular Universal acreage.

5. Universal Studios Hollywood – Los Angeles

Much to the delight of his adoring fans, Harry Potter has made his way to Universal Studios Hollywood.

Go west for this park and its real working movie studio and tour, 50 years young this year. Of course, this Universal property also puts Harry Potter out front, with the new The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Speed freaks dig Fast & Furious Supercharged — fans call it “awesome!” — and for classics buffs, it’s Peter Jackson’s King Kong 360 3-D on the studio tour.

6. Disney’s Hollywood Studios – Orlando

Disney's Hollywood Studios

Seems we can’t get enough of Hollywood and that’s fine with amusement park creators. This park has seven independent “sections,” made even more buzz-worthy by its Star Wars franchise acquisition at Walt Disney World Resort. Rock out to the Rock n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith, another visitor favorite.

7. Disneyland Park – Anaheim, California

Hector Mata / AFP-Getty Images file
Mickey and Minnie in front the Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland in Anaheim, California

It’s hard to believe the king of them all has welcomed more than 650 million visitors since 1955. In fact, the park’s Diamond Celebration is still sparkling. Get on board the park’s Indiana Jones Adventure. Yes, the “Star Wars” galaxy is alive and well on planet Disneyland, with Star Tours – The Adventures Continue.

8. Disney California Adventure Park - Anaheim, California

David McNew / Getty Images file
Disney's California Adventure theme park

This newer part of Disneyland has seven lands of its own, with two more recent additions on site: Buena Vista Street and Cars Land, inspired by the Disney Pixar Movie, “Cars.” Ride the Radiator Springs Racers or for a real drop in the action, enter The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Stay for the nightly, misty World of Color extravaganza.

9. SeaWorld Orlando – Orlando

Seaworld Parks
Shark encounter at SeaWorld in Orlando

Yes, you can still see a Shamu show here, as well as Clyde & Seamore’s Sea Lion High, Pets Ahoy — with dogs, cats, ducks, doves and potbellied pigs — and Blue Horizons with dolphins, tropical birds and acrobats. As the park focuses less on killer whales in its stadium, it’s added a 73 mph roller coaster called Mako, with a peak of 200 feet.

10. Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park – Orlando

Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park

Animal lovers abound, flocking to see more than 2,000 critters representing 300 species across six lands in the park. Head for the Affection Section for your share of creature comforting and cuddles. Then wake yourself up on Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain, but watch out for the Abominable Snowman.

Now, dive into these must-do, not-too-hot spots:

Top 10 Water Parks in the US

1. Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park - Orlando

2. Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park - Orlando

3. Aquatica by SeaWorld – Orlando

4. Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari – Santa Claus, Indiana

5. Noah’s Ark Water Park – Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin

6. Morey’s Piers and Beachfront Water Parks – Wildwood, New Jersey

7. Water Country USA – Williamsburg, Virginia

8. Kahuna Laguna – North Conway, New Hampshire

9. Splash Lagoon – Erie, Pennsylvania

10. Dollywood’s Splash Country Water Adventure Park – Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

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