Call first! Before you drive, check on the operating hours for the day you plan to visit and on what rides are down. Ask about ticket specials, too; there is almost always a deal in effect that will save you money. Pick an easy to remember meeting spot. Visit it before splitting into groups and make sure everyone knows exactly where to wait.
Check with each member of your party. What does he or she want to do most? Arrange your travels accordingly. Quality over quantity should be your theme park mantra.
Visit major attractions either early or late in the day.
Take care of yourself and your group. Lather on the sunscreen and drink lots of water.
Rest! If you get tired, don't keep trudging - go to the first aid station and lay down for a while.
5224 E. Indiana
Beach Road, Monticello
In general: The boardwalk along Lake Shafer in Northern Indiana is packed with a mix of old-fashioned and high tech rides and attractions. Worth a trip just for the funky ambiance.
Cheesy stage shows: Four entertaining ski shows are staged on the lake daily from June through August. The Roof Lounge features live music for dancing nightly. The Teen Dance Club operates every Friday, Saturday and holiday evening, offering dancing to the latest hits for those 13 through 20 years old.
Rides: Solid, if not overwhelming, mix of thrill rides, family rides and attractions. Unique to Indiana Beach is the Shafer Queen, a big old paddle-wheel riverboat that gives tours of the lake.
Water Park: Small, but at least it's on a real body of water. Six water slides, a "lazy river" and a real beach with sand and everything. Separate admission fees.
New in 2005: Nothing new this season, but check the Web site for special deals to commemorate Indiana Beach's 80th Anniversary Season.
Holiday World and Splashin' Safari
P.O. Box 179, Santa Claus, Ind.
In general: Friendly Southern Indiana destination; pleasantly unhip and easily the most "do-able" park in the heartland. Soft drinks are free and unlimited, and any theme park veteran will attest that this is a fantastic perk. Holiday World & Splashin' Safari are smoke-free facilities except for designated smoking areas. The facility has repeatedly been voted the World's Friendliest Park and the World's Cleanest Park by the readers of Amusement Today magazine. Kids will love the mega-playhouse and run-through fountain.
Cheesy stage shows: Four, highlighting pop, country, old-time gospel, along with a karaoke show. Also, check out the Olympic-style diving in the Diveworks show.
Rides: The Raven and The Legend are two of the best wooden roller coasters anywhere (in polls conducted by national and international coaster enthusiast groups, both consistently place in the Top 10). The park has an ever-expanding mix of thrill and family rides. Still, hard-core thrill riders should visit on a hot, sunny day, so they can keep the adrenaline pumping with a trip to the water park.
Water Park: Splashin' Safari is a full water park that keeps growing, with the expected slides, a "lazy river" and a wave beach. Included with admission.
New in 2005: In Holiday World, watch for a second train on The Raven wooden roller coaster (that means shorter lines for this top-ranked coaster). Plus the new Revolution is an updated version of The Roundhouse - it has higher capacity, a faster and higher spin, plus it lights up at night.
As for Splashin' Safari, if you like The Wave, you're going to love Bahari. This huge new themed wave pool is nearly twice as big as The Wave, plus there are geysers, springs, jets and more to add to the fun. The Bahari addition will also include a new food outlet and a second smoking area for the water park.
P.O. Box 901, 6300
Kings Island Drive,
Kings Island, Ohio
800-288-0808 or 513-754-5700
In general: This sprawling theme park, located outside of Cincinnati, is an old friend to most Hoosiers. Who doesn't have memories of taking pictures from the top of the Eiffel Tower, chatting with friends while watching the colorful fountain lights in the evening and riding The Beast, still the best wooden roller coaster in the world?
Cheesy stage shows: But of course! Even better, the new School of Rock show takes place in an air-conditioned uilding that serves food and beer.
Rides: With more than 80 rides and attractions, there really is something for everyone. In addition to The Beast, coaster fans can ride Son of Beast, the tallest, fastest and only looping wooden coaster on the planet; Drop Zone, the world's tallest gyro drop; and many more.
Water Park: Boomerang Bay, with more than 50 water activities, including 30 water slides, tropical lagoons, rushing rivers, surfable waves, three family activity areas and careening waterfalls, all surrounded by lush landscaping.
New in 2005: The Italian Job High-Speed Mini Cooper Stunt Car Ride, a multimillion dollar fast-track coaster experience based on the finale of 2003 action film hit The Italian Job. Park guests will experience what it's like to be a Hollywood stunt driver and go behind the scenes of an action movie. Guests board their very own Mini Cooper S tricked out with audio special effects, adding to the multisensory sensation of the experience. Once strapped into their custom stunt car, rubber meets the road as the Minis peel out to begin their chase sequence, complete with near-collisions, massive explosions, (pretend) gunfire and a crash through a billboard.
1 Cedar Point Drive,
In general: It's a long drive to Sandusky, Ohio, located on the shore of Lake Erie, but well worth it. The trade publication Amusement Today voted the 134-year-old Cedar Point the Best Amusement Park on Earth.
Cheesy stage shows: More than anyone, including a special one for children.
Rides: Are you kidding? Cedar Point has it all, including a record-breaking 16 roller coasters (my favorite remains the elegant Magnum XL-200, which affords a great view of Lake Erie as it gives you a heart attack).
Water Park: Soak City is a huge separate-fee water park adjacent to Cedar Point, with everything you would expect from a huge water park, plus a water bar, with underwater stools and everything.
New in 2005: maXair, a 14-story-tall monster. Riders on the super-sized ride sit in outward-facing suspended seats that form a giant circle of 50 passengers; their legs dangling freely. maXair swings riders back and forth in a seemingly out of control pendulum motion while spinning in a clockwise rotation and reaching a maximum speed of 70 mph. When the pendulum movement reaches its peak, riders are 140 feet high and experience that coveted feeling of "airtime" - similar to the sensation of weightlessness that is popular for thrill-seekers on roller coasters. The dynamic return drop generates varying forces on riders depending on their specific position through the clockwise rotation, creating a different ride experience each time.
Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom
937 Phillips Lane, Louisville, Ky.
In general: Not exactly interwoven with the landscape (as best I can tell, the park was erected on a parking lot), but efforts are being made to make the place look greener and more hospitable.
Cheesy stage shows: Three, one of which is aimed squarely at the kids, with performances from their favorite Looney Tunes characters.
Rides: Roller coasters Greezed Lightnin' (zero to 60 miles in less than six seconds, with two-way looping), Chang (metal and scary), T2 (suspended looping), Twisted Twins (dueling coasters), Thunder Run (wooden) and an assortment of thrill rides and family friendly rides and attractions.
Water Park: Hurricane Bay has water slides, a five-story water tree house, a wave pool, plus a play area for kids.
New in 2005: Tornado! Extreme tubing debuts this summer with this new water park thrill slide that resembles a giant checkerboard funnel turned on its side. Riders begin their wild, wet journey 75-feet in the air by blasting down a 132-foot long tunnel, leading to a mammoth, open-ended funnel. Wet and wild!
Six Flags St. Louis
I-44 and Six Flags Road,
In general: Nicely landscaped facility with all you would expect from a theme park. Considered one of the best of the Six Flags parks, it is very popular with locals. Those headed for the water park on a hot day had best arrive early.
Cheesy stage shows: In addition to the usual pop music shows, check out the Circo Magnifico circus acrobatic production and the wildlife presentation, Kachunga and the Alligator Show.
Rides: Five coasters: The Boss, Batman - The Ride, The Ninja, Mr. Freeze and Screamin' Eagle, the Xcalibur catapult ride and much more.
Water Park: Hurricane Harbor includes the standard water park attractions and is included with park admission.
New in 2005: Tornado! See Kentucky Kingdom for details.
Sensory overload has its appeal. Spend the days taking in the edibles, art, antiques and animals at this year's lengthy list of Indiana festivals, and you're bound to come home, fall on the couch and marvel at your good fortune - to be in a state with so much to do. See, touch, taste, smell and hear your way through this summer's festivals - which feature everything from strawberries, ribs and wine to barbecue, bluegrass and high-speed boats - and you won't go wrong. Though your feet might hurt a bit.
They say the Indiana State Fair (Aug. 10-21, 927-7500) is the best for family entertainment. We say it's the best for deep-fried, finger-lickin' food. Get your fix at the Indiana State Fairgrounds and sweeten your palate with elephant ears and freshly squeezed lemonade for dessert. Then take your overstuffed self to check out the horses, hit the Midway and lip sync with American Idol's Clay Aiken.
The Indiana Convention Center and RCA Dome hosts the Indiana Black Expo, Inc. Summer Celebration (July 11-17), an event that celebrates African-American culture and heritage. As always, this week-long event is chock-full of concerts, speakers, job fairs and more.
Guests of the Steam Corner's Antique Power Show (May 27-30, 765-798-5710) in Veedersburg can play with power. Head here to ogle antique power engines, arts and crafts and new and used collectibles, then top off the day by finger-picking a little bluegrass air guitar along with the bands.
Red, ripe and juicy. The St. John Starlight Strawberry Festival (May 28, 502-639-9129) focuses on strawberries mostly, though vendors throw in buffet dinners, a soapbox derby, games and live music for good cheer.
You haven't lived until you've experienced at least one hoe-down. At least we think so. Kick up your heels at the All-American Country Hoedown (June 3-5, 812-755-4487) in Campbellsburg Park. Entertainment, food and crafts booths, a parade and a baking contest are on the schedule, but best of all - so is a queen contest. Who wouldn't want to be crowned hoe-down queen?
Toast the day away at Vintage Indiana Wine and Food Festival (June 4, 800-832-9463) in Military Park. The Indiana wineries at Vintage Indiana are the focus here, with more than 100 wines, food, music and culinary (and vino) seminars.
Looking for the next master painter? More than 250 artists and craftsmen from across the country will crowd into the downtown historic district between 16th and 19th streets for the 50th annual Talbot Street Art Fair (June 11-12, 745-6479). We're guessing you can find a master or two there.
As if Middle Eastern foods, pastries, live music and dancing weren't enough, Middle Eastern Festival (June 10-11, 547-9356) organizers have sweetened the deal by adding cooking demonstrations, cultural displays and booths filled with booty to the event. St. George Orthodox Church Hall hosts.
Fort Wayne sponsors the Indiana Highland Games (June 11, 260-637-2831), where you can enjoy Celtic athletics, pipe bands, dancers and more, while you eat Celtic and American food and sip libations.
Bill Monroe is considered the father of bluegrass music, and Bean Blossom is the home of the annual Bill Monroe Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival (June 11-18, 812-988-6422), the oldest bluegrass festival in the world. Forty bands, music workshops, camping, food and fun are always on the schedule.
If you can't make it for the bluegrass, check out the Indiana Fiddler's Gathering (June 24-26, 765-742-1419) in Battle Ground at the Tippecanoe Battlefield Park. This fine affair features acoustic folk, old-time country, Celtic and bluegrass on one stage.
Once you've had your fill of country, go international with the Oldenberg Freudenfest (July 15-16, 812-934-4676), which takes over the town hall area of Oldenberg. This festival features German music, dancers, food, crafts, games and a 10-mile Volksmarch.
Indy loves its jazz, and the ever-growing popularity of the Indy Jazz Fest (June 17-19, 940-9945) proves it. Held on the IUPUI library lawn and in Military Park, this downtown fest lasts three days and boasts multi-stage performances by local and national jazz, blues, roots and R&B greats.
Also June 17-19 is the Summer Heat Air Festival at the Delaware County Airport in Muncie. Here you can find hot air balloons, air shows, airplane displays, kites, fireworks and more. If it flies, it's at the Summer Heat. 765-284-2700.
They say there's frog jumping going on at the Orestes Oak Tree Festival (June 18, 765-754-7966). This we want to see, along with the parade, the car cruise-in and the karaoke, of course.
Authentic Native American art, dancers and demonstrations might be the reasons why the Eiteljorg Museum Indian Market (June 25-26, 636-9378) was voted one of the top 10 Indian markets in the U.S. Head to the Eiteljorg Museum and Military Park to see if you agree.
The downtown riverfront on the Ohio River in Madison is overcome with boat lovers when the Madison Regatta (July 1-3, 812-265-5000) kicks off. This year's event is the 55th anniversary, and like the previous 54 years, the regatta features machines that hit speeds of 200 mph or more in unlimited hydroplane racing action. You can also check out the vintage boat exhibitions, fireworks, air shows and music.
We suspect the people of Berne are pretty neutral when it comes to picking the best festivals around Indiana. The one thing they might have an opinion about, however, is that the Swiss Days (July 28-30, 260-589-8080) festival in their town is definitely worth the trip. This event brings a little Switzerland to Indiana with live entertainment that includes polka bands, quilt and art shows, a parade, rides and even a horse-pull.
Still wondering exactly what's in a hotdog? We're not sure if the people in Frankfort know, but we are pretty sure they don't care. Downtown Frankfort is overrun with wieners the last weekend in July when townsfolk arrive for the Frankfort Hot Dog Festival (July 29-31, 765-654-4081). Here festival-goers can enjoy the many children's activities, crafts, sporting events and other mystery meat events.
Hotdogs not your style? Then skip Frankfort and head to Whiting for some Yugoslavian pastries at the Pierogi Festival (July 29-31, 219-659-0292). Partake in the Slovak sing-along, the Mercantile Polks Parade and the pierogi eating and tossing contest. It's fun. We swear.
Remember playing wiffle ball when you were a kid? Why not test your skills again at the Zoar Mosquito Fest (Aug. 6-7, 812-536-2920) wiffle ball tournament in Stendal? Whether you win or lose, you can still enjoy the chicken dinners and homemade ice cream afterward, then do a little shopping at the flea market and wonder why they named it the Mosquito Fest.
Don't let the name fool you. Citizens of Gosport aren't lazy when it comes to putting on an event that packs some punch. Gosport Lazy Days Festival (Aug. 11-14, 812-879-4746) takes over the town park with a hog roast and fish fry, along with a 5-mile walk/run, a parade and plenty of children's games to keep the little ones in line.
Looking down the road, September looks to be a lot about wheels ... and food. First up: The Indiana Bicycle Coalition Bikefest (Sept. 2-5, 317-466-9701) takes over the Holiday Inn in Jasper. This end-of-the-summer bicycle bash includes road and mountain biking, family rides and an ice cream social. For car buffs, the Nostalgia Festival in Bluffton and Hayden's Auto Daze Gone By are both on Sept. 3, and the Back to the Fifties Festival takes place in Lebanon from Sept. 16-17. Toward the end of the month, the monstrous Fairmount Museum Days/Remembering James Dean Festival (Sept. 22-25, 765-948-4555) draws thousands of classic cars and gearheads behind the wheels.
Then there's this September food frenzy. The Ligonier Marshmallow Festival (Sept. 2-5, 260-894-4159), the Marshall County Blueberry Festival in Plymouth (Sept. 2-5, 888-936-5020) and the Catfish Festival in Petersburg (Sept. 7-10, 812-354-8155) will be dishing out the eats. If pork is more your thing, then check out the Tipton County Pork Festival (Sept. 8-10, 756-675-2342) before you stop over at the Jackson County Watermelon Festival in Brownstown (Sept. 9-11, 812-358-3266). Back in Indy, there's the ever-popular Rib America National Tour (Sept. 1-5, 249-2710) at Military Park in downtown Indianapolis. This lip-smackin' family event gives the high-five to award-winning BBQ, music and more. You can also get your fix with feta at the Indianapolis Greek Food Festival (Sept. 9-10, 283-3816), and for a snack with your movie, load up on boxes of rich buttery goodness at the Valparaiso Popcorn Festival (Sept. 10, 219-464-8332).