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Theme Parks are Mainstays of the Heartland

The Midwest’s abundance of top-notch theme parks makes it difficult to choose a favorite. Heart-pumping rides and heat-busting water slides deliver plenty of thrills and playtime. Your group’s sense of adventure and the time of year will help determine which park to choose.

This past spring, Six Flags Great America introduced the world’s fastest wooden roller coaster, Goliath, which will surely thrill those with a penchant for speed. At family-owned and -operated Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari, Santa makes his summer home, and the waterpark boasts smooth-as-silk water coasters. Michigan’s Adventure remains the state’s only amusement park, with 60 rides and attractions that will appeal to all levels of adrenaline junkies.

At Ohio’s Cedar Point, this year’s newest roller coaster increases the park’s total to a whopping 17 hair-raising scream machines. And in 2015, Silver Dollar City will open its $8 million expansion, Fireman’s Landing, and the Harlem Globetrotters will arrive to astound basketball fans with their wizardry on the court.


Six Flags Great America

Gurnee, Illinois

Groups might scream in unison on Six Flags Great America’s new Goliath roller coaster. Goliath opened in July and reigns as the world’s fastest wooden roller coaster, reaching speeds of 72 miles per hour. The coaster also boasts the world’s tallest and steepest drop — that’s 180 feet at 85 degrees. Besides holding those three world records, it takes riders upside down twice.

“Goliath has become our top coaster in the park, and it’s truly one of a kind,” said Tess Claussen, communications specialist for Six Flags Great America. “It has the feel of a classic coaster but with an innovative track design.”

Located within metropolitan Chicago, Six Flags Great America seems to have it all; more than 80 rides, slides and attractions cater to every taste. On the park’s 14 world-class roller coasters, visitors can defy gravity and experience heart-pounding chills. Tamer experiences can be had on rides such as the park’s classic railroad, bumper cars and spinning teacups.

For a break from the action, local music groups perform throughout the season. Country hits, ’60s music and the Looney Tunes characters grace the park’s stages. And at the Six Flags Corral, gunfights deliver Old West drama.

Groups can beat the summer heat on the park’s flume ride or the white-water river rafts. Those who want more than a splash or two can head to adjacent 20-acre Hurricane Harbor water park. Thrills are found everywhere in this watery paradise: Ride five-foot waves on a boogie board at the Surf Rider, slide down Tornado’s 132-foot tunnel or brave the Dive Bomber’s five-story free-fall with a trapdoor entrance.

A heavily wooded picnic grove offers peaceful seclusion for lunch or dinner. Groups can book the grove’s roofed pavilions. Catered, buffet-style favorites include pulled pork, macaroni and cheese, and classic fare such as fried chicken and hot dogs.


Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari

Santa Claus, Indiana

Not only does St. Nick hang around charming Santa Claus, Indiana, on his summer vacation, but Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari offers plenty of thrills and entertainment. Holiday World opened in 1946 as Santa Claus Land, the world’s first theme park. At this family-owned and -operated destination, Santa greets guests. Mrs. Klaus’ Kitchen hosts chats with Santa for the young and young at heart.

New additions and annual events keep groups returning year after year. This past season, the park introduced the Mayflower swinging ship ride. New events include the Friday Night Fireworks, set to music every Friday night through early August, and the Red, White and Bluegrass Festival. October brings Halloween weekends: corn mazes, the walk-through Holidog’s 3D Halloween Adventure, a scavenger hunt with 3-D glasses and a Saturday night Halloween-themed laser light show.

In 2015, Holiday World’s first major steel roller coaster, the Thunderbird, will be unveiled. It will feature a zero-to-60-mph launch followed by multiple inversions, including a 14-story, zero-G roll loop. It’s the nation’s first launched, winged coaster, thrusting passengers out of the station in three and a half seconds instead of slowly climbing a lift hill.

“The Thunderbird will be constructed much like a bird wing. Passengers will sit in the seat next to the track, not above the track,” said Paula Werne, director of communications at Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari. “Lots of near misses will add excitement to the ride. The outside left seats will be the most adrenaline charged.”

Splashin’ Safari’s 40 acres offer wave pools and multiperson raft rides. The popular water coasters are powered by magnet technology and touted as the world’s longest of their kind.

Elizabeth Hey

Elizabeth Hey is a member of Midwest Travel Journalists Association and has received numerous awards for her writing and photography. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook @travelbyfork.