By Jenn Sheehy Everett
Canobie Lake Park Salem, N.H. canobie.com
New for 2017: With a wonderland of over 85 rides (including the wild roller coaster, Untamed), games, live entertainment, attractions, and water fun at Castaway Island, Canobie Lake Park kicks off its 115th season with even more new adventures to excite guests. Guests of all ages can test their critical thinking and creativity in two new "Puzzle Rooms" located in the Wooden Nickel Arcade near the park's Pirate Ship. Groups of two to six people can enter each room for 6-minute challenges -- either to unlock a treasure of gold in the Policy Pond Mining Company room or to beat the warden in a game of chess and other puzzle-solving challenges in the Warden's Escape Room.
Guests who enjoy gaming can also travel to the center of the park to enjoy a brand-new, open-air pavilion of high-end arcade games (including a unique four-person air hockey experience). Adjacent restaurant seating is available for the cafeteria-style BeBop Diner, as are amenities such as cell phone chargers to keep guests connected. This summer also brings new live entertainment experiences to Canobie. A Tribute to Bruno Mars and a 30-minute extreme sports and stunts show join the summer calendar, along with a Country Music Festival launching in September.
Hidden gems: Guests should be sure to venture to the Dancing Bear Canteen restaurant during a visit to the park for a delicious BBQ meal that promises to slather the whole family in BBQ sauce whether from full racks of ribs or tasty sandwiches and burgers. Next door is the answer to every sweet tooth at the Old Canobie Candy Shoppe. Here, guests can buy candy by the pound and sample sugary concoctions created by the park's executive chefs. Find both at the far end of the park across from the Timber Splash Water Coaster.
"Probably the most surprising gem for Canobie Lake is our location," said Chris Nicoli, marketing and entertainment manager. "People hear 'New Hampshire' and think we're farther away. We're only about 30 miles from downtown Boston and close to everywhere from Portland to Providence to Worcester and everything in between."
Admission: General admission $38; $29 for guests 60+ or shorter than 48". Ages 3 and under admitted free. After 5 p.m., all tickets are reduced to $26. Unique ticketing specials are advertised on the park website and shared directly with members of the Canobie (email) Club.
Lake Compounce Bristol, Conn. lakecompounce.com
New for 2017: As it kicks off its 171st season, Lake Compounce is thrilled to celebrate the joy it has brought generations of families as the longest continuously running amusement park in North America. It also boasts Connecticut's largest water park, featuring multiple wave pools, water slides, special areas designed for young children, and even a lake.
This season, guests will enjoy various upgrades across the park, including track improvements to two of its popular wooden roller coasters, Wildcat and Boulder Dash, voted the world's #1 wooden roller coaster by Amusement Today with its unique journey snaking between trees and rocks atop a mountain. Lake Compounce's Phobia Phear Coaster, the first triple launch steel coaster in New England, will also surely remain a hot attraction for the 2017 season with speeds of up to 65 mph, a cobra roll 150 feet in the air, and a staggering height of 15 stories.
The allure of Lake Compounce isn't limited to thrill seekers. A large section of the park is dedicated to those under age 5, with rides mirroring larger attractions in the park and giving younger children a taste of the experiences of older family members and friends. Kiddie attractions include a miniature carousel, bumper cars, and drop-zone ride.
Hidden gems: Four years ago, Lake Compounce opened the Bear Creek Campground three-quarters of a mile from the park to host families interested in lengthier visits or hailing from further distances. Visitors can park RVs at Bear Creek, pitch tents, or rent deluxe tipis, huts, or one- and two-bedroom cabins.
"Bear Creek makes it easier for families," says Sara Frias, Lake Compounce's director of marketing. "Families can take their time getting up in the morning, follow their usual routine, make their way over to the park, return to the campsite for lunch and a nap, and then head back to the park a bit later." Free tram service runs between the campground and park from May through September, and guests can drive personal vehicles to and from the park at no additional charge.
Admission: General Admission $43.99 for guests 52 inches and taller; junior admission $33.99 for children under 52 inches tall; Seniors 60+ $22.99; ages 3 and under admitted free. A limited quantity of $10-off tickets is also offered online for Tuesday visits to the park. Various season passes are also available.
Santa's Village Jefferson, N.H. santasvillage.com
New for 2017: Recognized as one of the Top 25 Amusement Parks in the U.S. for three years in a row by Trip Advisor, Santa's Village offers a magical Christmas theme park of 20 amusement rides, the Ho Ho H2O water park, live and animated shows, visits with Santa and real reindeer, and other memorable surprises in a unique evergreen forest setting. This season, visitors will be treated to a major renovation of the Stocking Stuffer Exit Gift Shop, an iconic building that has served as a landmark at the park since 1961. "We're preserving charming aspects of our past, including the igloos that kids love to see and walk through at the park, but we're giving them a fresh new look and modern feel," said Santa's Helper Jim Miller.
Hidden gems: A trip to Santa's Village isn't complete without a visit to the park's Reindeer Shoe Shop to receive a complimentary, custom-made good-luck ring, a signature tradition at the park for more than 60 years.
"A lot of people make it a point to get rings over the years, save them, and see how their kids' fingers have grown," Miller added.
Children can also enjoy a free Elfabet scavenger hunt that promises a prize and diploma from Elfabet University for children who successfully traverse the entire park.
While Santa's Village provides families with much hustle-and-bustle during their visit, it also pays homage to the real meaning of Christmas. Visitors may be surprised to encounter a life-size nativity scene and adjoining chapel for quiet reflection.
"Pure Joy -- Family Style is what Santa's Village is all about," Miller said. "It's not about one thing you did here or one ride. It's about family time spent together, and there's real value in that."
Admission: General Admission $32, reduced to $27 on Guest Appreciation Days of June 3, 4, 10 and 11, and during Halloween events on October 21 and 28. Children 3 and under enter free with a paid adult. Two-day passes, season passes, and discounted senior tickets are also available.
Six Flags New England Agawam, Mass. sixflags.com/newenglandNew for 2017: Six Flags New England bills itself as the "Coaster Capital of New England," and this season it delivers two new coasters sure to wow any thrill seeker. The Galactic Attack Virtual Reality Coaster brings an interactive, video-gaming, virtual reality experience to the park's iconic steel coaster of 20 years, Mind Eraser. Riders wear Samsung Gear Virtual Reality headsets to launch themselves into the cockpit of a fighter spaceship to battle flying drones firing lasers and missiles with wild abandon. Each rider travels a different virtual path during the ride, arriving at unique endings based on their performance during the drone battles.
The Joker, New England's first 4D Free-Fly Coaster, is being unveiled as the 13th coaster at the park and one of the most exciting thrill rides in the park's history. It challenges riders with a massive and twisting track, a 120-foot elevator lift to kick off a highly unusual sensory journey, two beyond-vertical free falls, and up to eight head-over-heels flips. While guests do not do not wear headsets like Galactic Attack, they enjoy a unique dimension free-floating on the outside of the coaster track.
Six Flags keeps the fun alive into the holiday season, as it premieres Holiday in the Park -- a wonderland of millions of LED lights, themed areas, interactive holiday characters, and home to Santa and Mrs. Claus, combined with more than 30 of its popular attractions, including the Batman, Mind Eraser, and Joker coasters and various family-friendly rides.
Hidden gems: A day at Six Flags can deliver a thrill-a-minute, but the park recognizes that guests may need an occasional break in the action to pause and recharge. Guests can venture to the peaceful Six Flags Relaxation Station in Looney Tunes Movie Town to enjoy beautifully landscaped gardens, shade, and seating to balance a high-energy day at the park.
A "hidden" secret for navigating Six Flags: The entire park is one big circle, so guests should head to the left once they reach Main Street to follow the complete circle of the park. This will maximize available time and ensure that all park attractions are enjoyed.
"Our goal at Six Flags is to take each guest's breath away at least once, whether from riding a major coaster, watching a world-class show, experiencing a beautiful day in our Hurricane Harbor water park, or having a nostalgic experience with mom and dad on one of our carousels or our classic wooden coaster Thunderbolt," Park Representative Jennifer McGrath said.
Admission: General Admission $65.99; children under 54" $55.99; children 2 and under admitted free. Reduced admission tickets available if purchased online at least one day before a visit. Season passes, a Thrill Pass offering unlimited visits through Sept. 17, and park membership are also available.
Story Land Glen, N.H. storylandnh.com
New for 2017: A theme park entertaining families of children ages 2 to 12 for more than 60 years, Story Land excites guests with 22 themed rides (including its first wooden roller coaster added in 2014), live shows, interactive play areas, storybook characters, and favorite nursery rhyme animals on 35 landscaped acres in the Mount Washington Valley. This season brings exciting events to Story Land, including a Summer Kick-off and Book Drive on June 17 with Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore, and Christopher Robin from Hundred Acre Wood. Guests who bring a new children's book to the park that day (for donation to Believe in Books Literacy Foundation, an organization supporting literacy initiatives in Northern New England) save $5 on admission.
Families may also enjoy participating in the second Autism Awareness Weekend and Walk around Story Land with partner Autism Speaks June 24-25, and on Sept. 23, the all-new "Scavenger
Hunt to Grant a Fairytale" hosted by Story Land and pediatric cancer support group One Mission. The event raises funds to provide all-expenses-paid weekend getaways to the Mount Washington Valley in 2018 for up to 10 families with children fighting pediatric cancer.
Hidden gems: "Our most unique ride at Story Land and the gem of the park is the trip to the castle in Cinderella's Pumpkin Coach to meet Cinderella herself," said Director of Marketing Lauren Hawkins. "Beyond that, a lot of the magic of Story Land comes from our location in the White Mountains. When you walk through Story Land, you're going up and down hills and can see Mount Washington from a lot of spots. And when you get to the top of a ride, you see nothing but mountains across over 30 acres. We're not your typical pavement park -- there's a whole experience to enjoy."
Families with young children may also appreciate air-conditioned baby bungalows now attached to the majority of the park's bathrooms for ever-important rest and relaxation (or feedings and diaper changes).
Admission: $33.99 for a one-day ticket and $54.99 for two-day flex passes for guests ages 3 and over. Ages 2 and under admitted free. Season passes and special packages are also available.
Water Country Portsmouth, N.H. watercountry.com
New for 2017: New England's largest water park has been providing fun for the whole family for over 30 years as a New Hampshire landmark. Young children can enjoy their first water slide down the slippery arms of Ollie Octopus, and teens will love the challenge of a 300-foot trip through Dr. Von Dark's Tunnel of Terror.
This year, guests visiting the Pirate's Pool & Lagoon will enjoy a brand-new pirate ship with new and improved slides and water cannons that will be a blast for younger explorers. Guests will also enjoy enhancements to Water Country's food locations and general facilities throughout the park.
The park's event schedule is also sure to please. This summer brings the return of the World's Largest Swimming Lesson on June 22 and visits by race car drivers and their vehicles from NASCAR's Lee Speedway on July 11, 25, and Aug. 8.
Hidden gems: Guests can reserve in advance and relax in style in one of Water Country's private cabanas near the Wave Pool, Whirl Pool, and Pirates Pool. Once relaxation is achieved and excitement is again the goal, guests can tackle a hidden gem such as the Thunder Falls & Wild Canyon tube slide that sends four-person rafts through the twists and turns of whitewater rapids.
"This is a great ride for guests who love thrills, but also a fun experience for those who aren't ready for drop rides," said Water Country representative Meghan Jones. "Water Country has something amazing for everybody: New England's largest wave pool for families, drop slides for thrill seekers, a separate area for younger kids, and a lounge area where parents can sit back and watch."
Admission: One-day General Admission $39.99 for 48" and taller, and $27.99 for juniors under 48" tall and seniors 65+. Guests can also purchase discounted "Smart Day" tickets that require attendance on specific days. Season passes are also available.