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Family vacation ideas: Theme parks

These tot-friendly theme parks are perfect day or weekend trips for families.

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Photograph: Courtesy Dorney Park

Dorney Park

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Photograph: Courtesy Dorney Park

Dorney Park

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Photograph: Courtesy Dorney Park

Dorney Park

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Photograph: Courtesy Dorney Park

Dorney Park

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Photograph: Courtesy Dorney Park

Dorney Park

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Photograph: Courtesy Hershey Par

Hershey Park

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Photograph: Courtesy Hershey Par

Hershey Park

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Photograph: Courtesy Hershey Par

Hershey Park

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Photograph: Courtesy Hershey Par

Hershey Park

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Photograph: Shea Roggio/Hershey Park

Hershey Park

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Photograph: Courtesy Rocking Horse Ranch

Rocking Horse Ranch - Splash Down Beach/Bob the Builder

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Photograph: Courtesy Rocking Horse Ranch

Rocking Horse Ranch - Splash Down Beach/Bob the Builder

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Photograph: Courtesy Rocking Horse Ranch

Rocking Horse Ranch - Splash Down Beach/Bob the Builder

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Photograph: Courtesy Sesame Workshop

Sesame Place

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Photograph: Courtesy Sesame Workshop

Sesame Place

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Photograph: Courtesy Sesame Workshop

Sesame Place

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Photograph: Courtesy Sesame Workshop

Sesame Place

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Photograph: Courtesy Sesame Workshop

Sesame Place

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Photograph: Courtesy Sesame Workshop

Sesame Place

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Photograph: Courtesy Sesame Workshop

Sesame Place

At these four theme parks, little ones can have the family vacation of a lifetime—there's opportunities to meet favorite characters, play on water slides and try out roller coasters.

Hersheypark
It truly is the land of indulgence at this Pennsylvania amusement park. Learn about the history of the brand on the Hershey's Chocolate World ride—guests even receive a sweet-treat sample at the end—then head to the Boardwalk at Hersheypark for nine aquatic rides. 100 W Hersheypark Dr, Hershey, PA (800-437-7439, hersheypark.com). $57, children ages 3–8 $36, children under 2 free. Open Apr–Dec; check website for schedule.

Sesame Place
Get to the park early to avoid lines at popular attractions: Blast Off launches kids and parents to Planet Elmo, while Grover's World Twirl takes little ones on an internationally themed teacup ride. On hot days, head straight to Big Bird's Rambling River, which sends your family floating around the park on inner tubes, or to the Count's Splash Castle, a combination of slides, water wheels, bridges and an eight-foot-tall bucket that dumps a thousand gallons of H2O on the folks underneath it. Before leaving, take a stroll through the life-size re-creation of the Sesame Street set, keeping an eye out for Ernie and Bert's house. 100 Sesame Rd, Langhorne, PA (866-464-3566, sesameplace.com). $58, children under 2 free. Open Apr–Dec; check website for schedule.

Splashdown Beach! 
At the one-year-old Bob the Builder section—built specifically with kids ages one to five in mind—tykes play on water slides and run through dancing water. Meet-and-greets with costumed characters happen throughout the day. 16 Old Rte 9, Fishkill, NY (845-897-9600, splashdownbeach.com). $30, children shorter than 42" $26, children under 2 $8.50 (for reusable swim diaper). Open May–Sept; check website for schedule.

Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom
Preschoolers can take a spin on Peanuts-themed rides—the Linus Launcher, Charlie Brown's Wind-Up—in the Planet Snoopy section. Older kids will want to try out a coaster or a high-speed water ride, like the Aqua Racer. 3830 Dorney Park Rd, Allentown, PA (610-395-3724, dorneypark.com). $40–$49, children ages 3 and up shorter than 48" $25–$30, children under 3 free. Open Apr–Oct; check website for schedule.

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