Editor’s Note: NEA Member Benefits understands how much you love to travel and how much you’ve missed it. As states begin to relax their regulations with regard to COVID-19 and more Americans become vaccinated, travel is opening up more and more. Before planning a trip, read the health and safety protocols and requirements for visitors to any destination, as well as those of airlines, car rentals and hotels before booking and again before traveling.
If your definition of summer includes carefree days at an amusement park, flitting between thrill rides and the midway, you’ll be glad to know the fun doesn’t end on Labor Day. In cold-weather states, many theme parks and other seasonal attractions stay open on weekends in October and beyond, allowing us one last hurrah before fall snowballs into the busy holiday season.
The advantages of going to theme parks in the fall include pleasant weather, smaller crowds and, in some cases, lower ticket prices. The trade-offs: sometimes fewer rides are open and there are shorter hours of operation, and if there’s a water park, it will likely close on Labor Day. But if you’re game for a late-season getaway, these five theme parks are all about fun.
1. Busch Gardens, Williamsburg, Virginia
Photo courtesy of Busch Gardens
You’ll see why this park has won awards for its gardens, design and visual appeal. It’s separated into distinct “countries,” with dining and shopping options to match. Even the rides—more than 50 in all—are themed. You’ll find the new Pantheon—the world’s fastest multi-launch roller coaster—in Italy, Verbolten—an indoor/outdoor, multi-launch roller coaster—in Germany, and Griffon—the world’s first floorless dive coaster—in France.
On select nights after Labor Day and through October, Howl-O-Scream takes over the park after 6 p.m. Parents beware: The park becomes appropriate only for an older audience, with various haunted houses and several “Terror-tories,” plus creepy performances and shows as well as party zones with DJs.
NEA member travel benefits: Fly into Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport (PHF) or Norfolk International Airport (OHF); NEA Travel: Airfare is the best place to find great prices on airline tickets. Then, on the hotels page, you can find prices including an average of $125/night at the Marriott’s Manor Club at Ford’s Colony, which is a golf resort with spacious suites and several pools. Another resort with plenty of amenities, the Historic Powhatan Resort by Diamond Resorts goes for an average of $108/night. Save up to 40% off admission when you purchase through NEA Discount Tickets Program.
2. Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio
Photo courtesy of Cedar Point Amusement Park
Cedar Point is the second-oldest operating amusement park in the United States. The park, located on Lake Erie, began a long-standing tradition as the “roller coaster capital of the world.” The park’s first coaster, the Switchback Railway, was introduced in 1892. Today there are 17 coasters in all, including notable record-breakers such as the Valravn dive coaster—the world’s tallest, fastest and longest dive coaster—and GateKeeper, one of the world’s tallest and longest wing coasters. With more than 150 rides, shows and 3 miles of midway, there’s something here for everyone.
From September 15 through October 30, Cedar Point is open Thursday night through Sunday for HalloWeekends. For 25 years, this annual event has included a kid-friendly “Great Pumpkin Fest” during the day and a scary “Haunt” event at night.
NEA member travel benefits: For a great deal, book a flight through NEA Travel: Airfare to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (CLE), which is about 45 miles away. The hotels booking page features deals including an average of $117 a night for a family suite with bunk beds, a refrigerator and microwave at the South Shore Inn and $138 a night for a room at Great Wolf Lodge, which has its own indoor water park to keep the fun going the whole trip. If you have a tight budget, you can get a room at the Rodeway Inn North Sandusky for just $54 a night, on average. Admission prices are discounted up to 45% when you order through NEA Discount Tickets Program.
3. Dollywood, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Photo courtesy of Dollywood
Located near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Dollywood is open through the end of December, with the exception of the first week of November (note that the water park closes after Labor Day). In addition to the more than 40 traditional amusement park rides—including Lightning Rod, a favorite wooden roller coaster—Dollywood features turn-of-the-century crafts, Southern-style food and music.
Entertainment is a big draw here. Concerts, including appearances by country music legend Dolly Parton, are presented several times a day. In addition, you can experience 15 different shows with storytellers, DJ dance parties and children’s programs. In fall, the Harvest Festival brings in artisans from around the country, Southern musicians playing free concerts, record-breaking colossal pumpkins grown by East Coast farmers on display, and dozens of glowing pumpkin sculptures and decorations around the park.
NEA member travel benefits: Buy airfare tickets for McGhee Tyson Knoxville Airport (TYS) through NEA Travel: Airfare for great prices. Next, look for hotels on the NEA Travel: Hotels page. There, you’ll see deals including an average of $97 per night (including daily breakfast) at the Super 8 by Wyndham Pigeon Forge Dollywood Lane, which is just a mile outside the park. If you’re traveling with kids, consider a room at Music Road Resort, for an average of $180 per night, because it has an outdoor pool with waterslides and a lazy river, a kiddie pool, an indoor pool, fitness center and two game rooms. Guests can choose from a traditional inn and a more contemporary hotel building. For an average of $166 per night, Marriott Springhill Suites Pigeon Forge offers modern rooms all with sofa beds and breakfast included, plus an indoor and outdoor pool and fitness center. There’s also a shuttle to the amusement park. Check out the NEA Discount Tickets Program before you go to see how much you can save on passes.
4. Hersheypark, Hershey, Pennsylvania
Photo courtesy of Hershey Entertainment & Resorts
From mid-September through October, the “Sweetest Place on Earth” celebrates Halloween—centered on chocolate, of course. Most attractions remain open, and there’s trick-or-treating through Treatville village. Plus there’s Character Glow Dance Parties, lights-out rollercoasters, a flashlight tour through ZooAmerica to see nocturnal animals out and about, and three Dark Nights Scare Zones that lead in to haunted houses.
Hersheypark is designed to have an Americana vibe. There’s an ample selection of thrill rides, including 15 coasters (be sure to ride the newest, Candymonium) and 25 rides geared toward young children. The classics are well represented, with a carousel, teacup-style ride, monorail and the iconic Kissing Tower with panoramic views of the entire park. There’s live entertainment, strolling performers and larger-than-life Hershey’s characters walking around the park. Stop by Hershey’s Chocolate World on your way out for fresh candies and treats only available on the premises.
NEA member travel benefits: Book a flight through NEA Travel: Airfare to Harrisburg International Airport (MDT) to get great airfare prices. Visit NEA Travel: Hotels to find deals at hotels including an average of just $46 a night at Sunrise Inn Hershey, which includes breakfast and is just a 10-minute drive from the park. Howard Johnson by Wyndham Hershey is a mile outside the park and is an average of $71 a night. The Escape Inn Hershey also gets good ratings for families and includes an extensive free breakfast for an average of $83 a night. You’ll get up to 20% off admission when you use NEA Discount Tickets Program.
5. Silver Dollar City, Branson, Missouri
Photo courtesy of Silver Dollar City
A part of the Ozark mountain landscape for more than 60 years, Silver Dollar City is themed as an 1880s mining town, with more than 30 rides, live shows, crafts demonstrations and seasonal festivals. The park’s season runs mid-March through December, and nearly everything remains open through fall, weather permitting. The Harvest Festival from the end of September through October has special craft days, a cowboy camp and emporium, and thousands of illuminated pumpkins each night. And, in select days in September there are special country music concerts. Silver Dollar City is also known for its above-par arts and crafts shopping, Southern food and the Marvel Cave, 500 feet underground.
The park’s attractions appeal to all ages, but older children love the PowderKeg explosive-launch roller coaster, WildFire multi-looping coaster and Outlaw Run double barrel roll wooden coaster. For younger children, Fireman’s Landing is a firefighter-themed section, and Half Dollar Holler is a play area with treetop funhouses and climbing nets.
NEA member travel benefits: Fly into Branson Airport (BKG), serviced by Frontier Airlines, or the slightly larger Springfield-Branson National Airport (SGF), which is 50 miles away. NEA’s travel portal is the best place to find great deals on airline tickets and hotels. Hotel deals include an average of $141 a night at Westgate Branson Lakes resort, $159 a night at Chateau on the Lake Spa and Convention Center and just $77 at Whispering Hills Inn. Don’t forget to use the NEA Discount Tickets Program to get 15% off tickets.