The Niagara region has plenty of places where thrilling amusement park rides and cotton candy go hand-in-hand. Whereas most of the parks parks are directly in or at the falls themselves, they are relatively close by and can be enjoyed either for an afternoon or all day. They are all very popular attractions, and they are open seasonally (during the busy summer season only).
Martin's Fantasy Island
There is a certain kind of home-grown charm to small amusement parks such as this. Martin's Fantasy Island, on Grand Island, is everything you would expect a small amusement park to be: a clean, family-friendly environment with lots of small rides and a few larger ones. The park is several parks in one: a traditional theme park, a petting zoo, and even a small water park - all of which are included in the single-price admission.
A major wooden roller coaster - the Silver Comet - dominates much of the skyline, but patrons will find on the premises bumper cars, spinning rides, train rides, kiddie rides, and even several small show venues, including a Wild West shootout reenactment. The small waterpark is attached (accessible directly within the main park), and has slides, a wave pool, and a lazy river.
Martin's Fantasy Island is small and manageable, and packed with midway-type rides. Some areas, such as the "west-ern town" section, are reminiscent of Six Flags; the low admission price may surprise some visitors (only about $25 for the day) and nice selection of attractions. This is a great little park. My favorite attraction: a small pond with canoes equipped with aquatic "training wheels" - even the little ones can paddle without fear of tipping over.
The Niagara region's answer to Sea World is the smaller but more spread-out Marineland. The park is a mix of aquarium attractions and rides. Much of it is designed for very young children with their families. There are also several shows on the property that have a regular rotation. Killer Whales and Beluga Whales are major animal headliners at Marineland. Visitors may be able to visits these animals up close and personal, and even pet them. Visitors attending one of the shows may see dolphins, sea lions, and walruses. There is a pond where visitors may feed swarming fish, and even a place to meet animals of the land, such as deer and bears.
There are a few standard amusement rides. Of special note is the world's largest steel roller coaster, laid out over 30 acres. Also enjoy the feeling of being propelled straight upwards at 60 miles per hour on the park's skyscraping tower ride (the tower ride is brilliantly positioned so that anybody viewing Horseshoe Falls can see it on the distant horizon).
Marineland is large, with the attractions spread out over many acres - so don't expect a Disneyland or Sea World experi-ence where many rides are packed into a small area.
Six Flags Darien Lake
Located about 50 miles away from Niagara Falls, Six Flags Darien Lake can be a vacation destination all its own. But with over 30 Six Flags theme parks operating worldwide, chances are good that one of them is nearby. So these parks cater mostly to locals of the Buffalo region. Six Flags parks have become a national staple in world-class amusement parks.
The history of this Darien Lake theme park begins in 1964, when it first opened - as a campground. Through the sixties and seventies, the park began to build attractions around the camping - the first of which were water-based. By 1982, it was a full-fledged theme park. After various changes in ownership, Premier Parks acquired Six Flags, and in the 1999 season it became "Six Flags Darien Lake".
Six Flags Parks are known for their roller coasters, and in this capacity Darien Lake satisfies. Visitors will also find many favorites here, such as spinning and churning devices, a raft ride, and countless gift shops and eateries. Darien Lake also features an on-site waterpark.
Dirk Vanderwilt is the author of several travel guidebooks for the Tourist Town Guides series. Tourist Town Guides offer independent, honest advice about America's top tourist hotspots.
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