It's spring break for many students, and area amusement parks are ready to take visitors for a ride — up, down, sideways and backwards.
Marylanders can take a day or weekend trip to one of these six theme parks, all within a few hours' drive of Baltimore.
More than 300 million guests visit U.S. theme parks each year, and the recent economic downturn hasn't had a big effect on attendance, according to David Mandt, a spokesman for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions.
"The amusement park industry as a whole is recession-resistant," Mandt said, adding that while revenues declined in 2009, a moderate recovery was seen in 2010-2011. "We anticipate that improvement will continue as the economic conditions continue to improve in 2012."
Kathy Burrows, public relations manager at Hersheypark, also believes that the economy will have little impact on park attendance.
"I think when the economy gets tight, everybody seems to be working harder, and then you need the vacation even more," Burrows said.
Even climbing gas prices seem to have little influence on attendance.
Linda Jensen, director of marketing at Six Flags America in Bowie, said theme park attendance has been "incredibly positive" as the 2012 season begins, with new shows, rides and attractions that make the parks "an even better value."
"As a regional theme park, we draw visitors from our state and neighboring states, which makes a vacation or getaway that is closer to home less of an impact on the family budget, especially compared to a trip to the mountains or beach where you have to spend more money on gasoline," Jensen said.
Several new roller coasters and rides are set to launch by summer, and many of the local parks will be offering new shows and discount tickets.
Six Flags America
New this season, visitors can experience Apocalypse, the park's first roller coaster in which riders stand up. Guests make their way through the queue as they enter into an end-of-the-world scenario. After a 100-foot ascent to the ride's peak, two minutes are spent racing along the 2,900-foot steel track at speeds of 55 miles per hour, with hairpin turns and inversions.
Keep your feet on the ground for EFX, which uses light, sound, air and soap to create a high-energy dance party. Guests can also try out the new Pirate's Quest: A Stunt Adventure, Looney Tunes Dance Off and Kids Club Dance Party. Beginning May 25, guests can splash down at Hurricane Harbor, Six Flags' water park, open through September.
Six Flags America opens this weekend and will be open daily through April 9. Hours vary. The park opens full time on June 1. Guests who purchase four or more season passes for $54.99 each can receive a free parking pass. General admission is $56.99 and $36.99 for children under 4 feet tall. For more information, go to sixflags.com/america.
Adventure Park USA
Spring Break Fun specials are offered online and allow guests to save on a three-hour, unlimited-attractions pass through April 9. The park has the Wildcat roller coaster, Crater Lake bumper boats, Desert Oasis miniature golf, Hang 'Em High Ropes Course and other rides and games.
Adventure Park USA is in New Market, Frederick County, and is open year-round except for Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter. Each attraction has its own admission fee; combination passes are available. For more information, go to adventureparkusa.com.
Take a drive to Kings Dominion in Virginia and check out the new Windseeker, which includes a 301-foot tower that spins riders above the park. At the top of the tower, the two-person swings will reach speeds of up to 30 mph. Visitors can also check out the new Dinosaurs Alive! attraction, which features nearly 40 animatronic dinosaurs in an outdoor setting. A new Fast Lane ticket option allows guests to purchase a wristband that will let them bypass the lines at 10 of the park's most popular rides.
Kings Dominion is in Doswell, Va., and will open for the season April 6. Daily hours begin May 25. WaterWorks, the park's water attraction, opens May 26. Guests can purchase a Gold Season Pass with three payments of $29.99. Advance single-day passes can be purchased for a discount online. Go to kingsdominion.com for more details.
Visitors can enjoy Springtime in the Park on two weekends in April. The event offers access to more than 45 of the park's rides, live entertainment and entrance to the ZooAmerica wildlife park. In addition, visitors can stroll Hershey Gardens, explore interactive exhibits at The Hershey Story museum or devour chocolate at Hershey's Chocolate World. The park's 12th roller coaster, Skyrush, is scheduled to open Memorial Day weekend. The $25 million, 200-foot coaster will be the tallest, fastest and longest ride in the park, reaching speeds of over 75 mph along 3,600 feet of steel track.
Hersheypark will open April 6-8 and April 14-15 in Hershey, Pa. Admission is $28.95 for ages 9 to 54, $18.95 for ages 3 to 8 and ages 55 and older, and free for children 2 and younger. Springtime in the Park Family Four-Pack specials are available. More details at hersheyinthespring.com.
Visitors to Dutch Wonderland have a choice of 30 rides, including two roller coasters that are kid-friendly, a merry-go-round and water rides at Duke's Lagoon.
Dutch Wonderland is in Lancaster, Pa., and will open on weekends beginning April 28. Single-day admission is $35.99, and tickets can be purchased online. Go to dutchwonderland.com for more details.
Take a trip down to Williamsburg, Va., to visit Busch Gardens and brave the new Mach Tower, which takes riders nearly 240 feet up in the air and then drops them at a spectacular speed. Later this spring, the park will also be introducing Verbolten, an indoor/outdoor roller coaster. The Busch Gardens' Oktoberfest Village features a new pretzel restaurant, new shows and more performance spaces. A new musical stage production, "Entwined: Tales of Good and Grimm," transforms a 2,000-seat restaurant into a forest wonderland. Kids can also get their picture taken with the Easter Bunny now through April 15.
Guests can purchase a season pass for $66.99, providing unlimited visits through Sept. 3. A single-day adult ticket is $66.99 for adults and $56.99 for children. From May 1 through June 30, guests who have a Food Lion MVP card can receive $12 off single-day admissions. Busch Gardens is open daily through April 15 and then on weekends through May. Hours vary. For more information, go to buschgardens.com/va.