The Best Amusement Parks for Your Little One

Published in Chicago Parent Going Places- Summer 2015


It’s summer—get your hands in the air! These four local amusement parks are sure to get rise out of everyone. We’ve got the 411 so you can enjoy all the fun.


Pirates’ Cove

901 Leicester Road, Elk Grove Village

(847) 439-2683

$11, $9 resident; free adults

Best for: the littlest thrill seekers

Pirates and preschoolers alike will love this small-scale theme park targeted to kids 1-9. If they’re ready to ride solo, peewee pirates can give the 1950s kiddie carousel a whirl or splash around in the mini paddle boats. Kids can tackle the giant Pirate Plunge slide or Safari Express train on their own or go with a bigger pirate pal.

New this summer, the Soarin’ Schooners flying boat attraction is sure to take off. Kids can captain their own ship or let parents fly. Get physical on the 20-foot rock wall or the Castle of Camelot playground, plus slide down the smoke-breathing dragon and enjoy entertainment at the Fun Stage.

Buccaneer Bites is available for pizza and ice cream, or you can bring your own lunch and picnic on the 18th Century Pirate Ship. Gym shoes and socks are recommended.

Visit Fridays for special events, like Superhero or Outer Space Day. Weeklong summer camp is available for kids ages 3-9. Very Important Pirate (VIP) passes make saving a snap.


Donley’s Wild West Town

8512 S. Union Road, Union

(815) 923-9000

$17, free kids under 2

Best for: cowboy enthusiasts

Little buckaroos unite! Union, Ill., isn’t just for Day Out with Thomas. This Old West theme park is sure to delight cowboys and cowgirls ages 12 and under.

Spend your day immersing yourself in the ways of the Wild West. Shoot ‘em up at the pop gun gallery or take aim at the archery range. Giddy up on a pony or go down the river on an adventure canoe ride. And if your dogs start barking, take a seat for one of the three Wild West shows offered daily.

The options are many: ride the Runaway Mine Cars roller coaster, C.P. Huntington Train or 1951 vintage carousel; pan for gold or try your hand at cowboy roping; peruse cool cowboy memorabilia at the Wild West Museum.

And when you’re worn out from all the rootin’ and tootin’, wrangle the gang for grub at the Snack Shop, where pizza, hot dogs and pulled pork sandwiches are offered. Or you can always “tailgate” in the parking lot. Season passes are available.


Santa’s Village AZOOsment Park

601 Dundee Ave., East Dundee

(847) 426-6751

$22.75, free kids 2 and under

Best for: animal encounters and summer Santa visits

This half-zoo, half-amusement park attraction is geared to kids 2-12. Parents and grandparents will love the nostalgia of the 56-year-old park, while kids will enjoy the North Pole-themed fun.

This year’s new additions include an elevation drop tower ride, Tri-Nado swirling ride, Wacky Worm kiddie coaster and trackless train.

You can interact with more than 250 animals, including reindeer, of course. Soar high into the skies in the Balloon Race ride, or grab a hose and put out a fire in SVFD Engine #3. And take a few minutes to see Santa’s summer home (with 100% less snow)—and maybe even squeeze in a visit with the Big Guy himself.

With plenty of rides geared towards those under 54 inches, this is a park has countless opportunities for little ones while older kids will have fun, too. Food and snacks are offered, but your own food is welcome.


Six Flags Great America

1 Great America Parkway, Gurnee

(847) 249-1776

$66.99, $46.99 under 48 inches, free kids 2 and under

Best for: a full day of fun for the whole family

With more than 80 rides, slides and attractions spread across 100 acres, this is the theme park to take teens and tiny adventure seekers alike. Plan to make it a full day to get the most thrills for your bills.

Start early and hit your can’t-miss rides first. Get your heart pounding with 14 coasters, including Goliath, the tallest, steepest and fastest wooden roller coaster in the world. For those over 42 inches, the Demon gets rave reviews for a child’s first big ride.

Three children’s themed areas feature more than 30 rides for the little ones. The Red Baron Airplanes, Lady Bugs and other classics have been restored in celebration of the park’s 40th season.

If it’s hot, you’ll want to bring a bathing suit and $7 extra each to enjoy the 20-acre Hurricane Harbor.

Make sure to wear comfy shoes (no flip-flops) and pack a sweatshirt to beat nighttime chills. No outside food is allowed, but savvy families recommend eating in the parking lot. Discounts are available online.