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8 astounding amusement parks

Eric Thayer / Reuters

Passengers ride the Cyclone roller coaster at Coney Island on June 30 in New York.

We're not talking theme parks where a giant mouse or killer whale reigns supreme. We're talking about parks with thrilling roller coasters that make us shriek, scream and sometimes even cry when we're done loop-de-looping and plummeting 100 stories at breakneck speeds. Got thrill-seeking kids? These parks won't disappoint!

1. Busch Gardens at Tampa Bay, Florida & Williamsburg, Va.
Whether you visit the Florida or Virginia locations, you won't be disappointed. In Tampa, seven super fast, super high and super curvy coasters are available for the choosing, as well as a few junior coasters for budding thrill-seekers. Visitors also rave about the park's breathtaking water rides. In Virginia, five coasters will hurl you through the park, including the 205-foot diving Griffon. 

Nearby Hotels: Intercontinental Hotel Tampa or Great Wolf Lodge Williamsburg

2. Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio

One of the largest amusement parks in the world based on its number of rides and roller coasters -- 75 rides and 17 coasters -- visitors will twist, turn, drop, plunge, loop, swing and race to their rushing hearts' content. Try Maverick with a 400-foot-long tunnel; the 40-story-high Top Thrill Dragster with a 420-foot-tall tower; or the consistently top-ranked steel Millennium Force.

Nearby Hotel: Castaway Bay Resort

3. Coney Island, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Just a train ride from New York City, Coney Island is one of the country's oldest amusement parks, and is as crucial as visiting Wrigley Field or the Empire State Building. Coney Island's famed coaster is the Cyclone, an old-fashioned wooden coaster that will take you for a spin, again and again and again. The Cyclone has been producing screams since 1927.

Nearby Hotel: New York Marriott Marquis

4. The Boardwalk at Hersheypark, Hershey, Pa.
While Hershey is technically a theme park with attractions centered around Hershey Chocolate and its candy factory tour, it's still unique enough to fall into our category of amusement parks, as it features seven aggressive thrill rides, as well as four other levels of coaster rides. The Sooperdooperlooper holds the title as the first looping coaster on the East Coast, and the park is friendly to height-challenged youngsters who are tired of being turned away from rides. Water rides, family rides and kiddie rides make Hersheypark an exciting park for all ages.

Nearby Hotel: Hotel Hershey

5. Islands of Adventure at Universal, Orlando, Fla.
Even before Harry Potter and his wizarding world descended upon Universal's Islands of Adventure, this park has been a hit with the 'tween and teen crowd too bored with the "kiddie" rides at the other Orlando theme parks (in their words, not ours!). Feel the Hulk's rage as you speed from 0 to 40 mph in two seconds on the Incredible Hulk Coaster. Dog another coaster as you wind around in the Dragon Challenge, or get over your fear of heights in Doctor Doom's Fearfall (well, maybe not). While the scream-inducing rides are here, so are the more family- and tot-friendly rides, so all ages can enjoy a day at the park.

Nearby Hotel: Nickelodeon Family Suites

6. Kings Island, Mason, Ohio
I remember driving from Illinois to Ohio as a roller-coaster-loving 'tween to ride its famed Beast, the world's longest wooden roller coaster (7,400 feet!), which spreads across 35 wooded acres. Beast footprints led the way to the coaster, and I was nothing but excited. This was also the first park where I road a looping roller coaster while my legs dangled beneath me over the towering trees. The park continues to intoxicate thrill seekers with inversions, suspensions, catapults, high speeds and dizzying heights, such as Xtreme Skyflyer, where you'll hang glide from 153 feet at 60 miles per hour.

Nearby Hotel: La Quinta Inn & Suites Cincinnati Sharonville

7. Knott's Berry Farm, Buena Park, Calif.
With Snoopy serving as the face of Knott's Berry Farm, you may be under the impression that this amusement park is for younger kids. Sure, the little ones are surrounded by a host of cartoon characters and rides specifically targeted toward them, but don't let it fool you: Thrills abound at America's first theme park. (The park opened just outside Los Angeles in 1920.) You'll flip your lid on Rip Tide, where at 59 feet into the air, you'll be turned head over heels. The Scream Swing brings kids to unfathomable heights in its enormous 70-foot swing, and Supreme Scream drops you 254 feet (while you're strapped in, of course)! 

Nearby Hotel: Anaheim Crowne Plaza Resort

8. Six Flags, nationwide
No matter where you live, a jaunt on the fear-inspiring roller coasters of a Six Flags park is easy to come by.CaliforniaGeorgiaIllinois, Kentucky, Maryland,Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, New York or Texas -- pick your poison. Time and again, rankings of America's best roller coasters turn up results at the Six Flags Great Adventure (New Jersey), Six Flags Great America (Chicago) and Six Flags New England (Massachusetts), so if you can trek to one of these parks, you'll encounter some of the fastest and highest coaster rides.

Nearby Hotels: Check out Family Vacation Critic for hotels near the park of your choice.

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