The Five Best Amusement Parks in New England, Ranked

A highly scientific ranking taking into consideration rides, food, and theme songs.

roller coaster speeding by

Photo by kuri2000/Getty Images

What makes for a great experience at an amusement park? It’s the rides, the people, the arcades, the food—I will defend the excellence of amusement park French fries until the end of time. If you’re a kid, it all adds up into an intoxicating, perfect day, so much so that when you’re an adult, the nostalgia that swells up when you think about going back has you racing for the car keys. If you stroll up to any New Englander who looks like they came of age in the ’70s, ’80s, or ’90s and sing “Whaloooommm Paaaark” and they don’t immediately croon “For a whale of time!!!”, instantly creating a new friendship, you’re legally allowed to fistfight that person right there in front of the abandoned building that used to be a Chess King.

Sure, you can remember every ad that ever aired promoting the Museum of Science or Chow Daddy. But amusement park commercials brought it to another level, and even hearing those songs makes me launch into an “I remember when…” Every summer these amusement park commercials would flood the WLVI, WFXT, WSBK and (rolls eyes) WQTV airwaves to the delight of kids from Dorchester all the way up to scary ass Auburn, ME and every Bradlees in between (Word to Mrs. B!). The rush from the rapid, hypnotic visuals of rollercoasters, swinging pirate ships and cotton candy, that aired during episodes of Gidget and The Monkees would naturally prompt us kids to bombard our parents with an annoying, Bart and Lisa Simpson-like “Can we go to Rocky Point? Can we go to Rocky Point? Can we go to Rocky Point?” until they either gave in to our demands or challenged us to a fistfight in front of an abandoned building that used to be a Skippy White’s (look, there were a lot of abandoned buildings around here in the ’80s).

With the begging out of the way, it was time to choose the park in which to make the trek. And if you’ve ever ordered lunch with more than five people, you know that human beings agreeing on one single thing within a reasonable time frame is virtually impossible. So I’m here to help you. With an emphasis on variety, here, in reverse order, is my ranking of the top five amusement parks in New England that are sure to help you cure those end-of-summertime blues.

5.) York’s Wild Kingdom

If you and your children ever wanted to take a steam engine locomotive from a lion’s den, past an exotic butterfly enclosure and all the way to an awesome roller coaster that looks like a 1940s era Looney Tunes cartoon mouse, then York’s Wild Kingdom is the place for you and your family. Located in York, Maine, this park is a fun combination of a breezy Saturday afternoon Animal Planet show/traveling carnival and a great place to observe bewildered ostriches and humans shocked to see each other. As a kid, I would start my day on the Wacky Mouse Roller Coaster just to prove to myself that I’m all man. Then, after leaving terrified, I’d dominate everyone on the Bumper Cars while pointing at disappointed kids and yelling “I’m tall enough for everything!!!” After that, it’s off to the Zoo to have a deep discussion with the penguins about everything they got wrong in Happy Feet before winding down the day standing stoically on the mini golf course with my hands on my hips, pretending I know what I’m doing. Just a 23 hour walk from Boston, this is an ideal place for the whole family.

$15.75+, 1 Animal Park Road, York ME, yorkswildkingdom.com.

4.) Water Country

Admittedly I’m not the biggest fan of water parks. The idea of irresponsible human beings being violently jostled in Dr. Von Dark’s Tunnel of Terror with a nervous bladder full of Fountain Sprite, coupled with my lack of a competent breaststroke in times of danger never appealed to a young LPizzle. Water Country makes this list for 2 reasons. 1. Summertime is supposed to be hot but this edition, at times, feels like I owe The Sun some money and he’s here to collect. A cool release is necessary. 2. This park gave us ’80s and ’90s Boston kids a possibly Top 3 all time local commercial and that classic jingle you’re all singing in your head right now. So when the sun is blazing and the summer gets hot, Water Country’s a very cool spot.

Ticket prices posted seasonally, 2300 Lafayette Road, Portsmouth, NH, watercountry.com.

3.) Santa’s Village

Before I begin, you all should know that I believe Santa Claus is real. This is not a joke; he exists. I am a card-carrying holiday nerd. Both Christmas and Halloween. Until the day comes when Mr. Kringle finally answers one of my many DMs and invites me to his magical workshop in the North Pole, Santa’s Village in Jefferson, NH, what with its slides, festively named Chimney Drop and an actual burger meister food court is the closest thing I have. If I hopped in my Delorean and went back and told 8-year-old me that one day he’d be getting paid to write about a Christmas-themed amusement park while it was 198° outside, he would look at me like I was an accused witch in 1692. Fans of Winter Wonderlands and Johnny Mathis should make a beeline to Santa’s Village.

$43+, 528 Presidential Hwy, Jefferson, NH, santasvillage.com.

2.) Canobie Lake Park

Some say that the scariest ride you can be strapped to is a roller coaster, and in many cases, that is true. The Batman roller coaster at Six Flags comes to mind, with its inverted feature that leaves the riders’ feet dangling as they travel at warp speed. That is terrifying but, for my money, it’s got nothing on the Turkish Twist. This legendary Canobie Lake Park staple is like if you walked into a meeting and the room started spinning so fast that everyone got stuck to the wall … and then the floor drops out, leaving you floating, confused, and questioning every life decision you’ve ever made that led to this moment. And just when you’ve convinced yourself that it’ll be over soon, you realize that you’re trapped on that spinning wind tunnel with a kid fresh off a large cup of those delicious amusement park french fries. Gulp! Fear aside, the Twist is a glorious rush in a park full of them. The Salem, NH mainstay has attractions for all ages and thrill-seeking appetites.

$49 Friday/Sunday, $59 Saturday, 85 N Policy St., Salem, NH, canobie.com.

1. Six Flags New England

The King. The park that checks off all the boxes for me. The home of the aforementioned Batman Rollercoaster, Six Flags New England has it all. You like thrill rides? In addition to the Batman they have the Harley Quinn Spinsanity and the Joker 4D Free Fly Coaster. Fun for the kids? All aboard The Daffy Duck Express and The Wile E. Coyote Speed Trap. Need to cool off? Whip down Blizzard River. The Six Flags brand usually dominates any region it resides in. But that’s only one reason it tops my list. The other is the nostalgia factor and the name it was formerly known as. As a kid, a trip to Agawam, MA meant one thing: Riverside Park! This was an end of the school year field trip for as long as I can remember. The school bus ride to the park, with us excited kids persuading big rig truck drivers to sound their horn as we drove by, our growing frenzy with each sign showing us closer and closer to the park, and our eruption once we saw the first roller coaster gliding above the trees was almost as exciting as our time inside the park. The rides were great, the fries were top-notch and to this day, I don’t know if anyone has broken my Spy Hunter record in the best amusement park arcade there ever was. The vast array of attractions coupled with the overwhelming nostalgia makes Six Flags New England, aka The Artist Formerly Known As Riverside, my #1 Amusement Park recommendation.

$50, 1623 Main St., Agawam, MA, sixflags.com.