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Summer’s almost here and that means it’s time to start planning some fun for when school is out.  Treat the whole family to a time-honored summer tradition: A visit to an amusement park. But not just any ho-hum amusement park. From Bahamas’ Aquaventure to Tennessee’s Dollywood, our advisors handpicked the coolest theme parks all around the world for Travel’s Best Amusement and Water Parks. With chocolate-themed attractions and world-record-breaking waterslides, these amusement parks and water parks will wow kids of all ages (including the adult kid-at-hearts).

Each winning park was chosen by our expert panel of advisors, which included resident daredevil and host of Trip Flip Bert Kreischer, roller coaster reviewer Robb Alvey and family travel blogger Erin Gifford.

Now it’s your turn to weigh in. What did we miss? We want to hear from you! Vote for your favorite amusement park or water park.  The park with the most votes will be featured as the 11th pick on our Travel’s Best Amusement Parks and Water Parks for 2014.

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We love amusement parks as much as the next person. But sometimes a good day of fun can go horribly wrong, as we learned with last Friday’s tragic event at Six Flags Over Texas. This isn’t the time to turn alarmist — but it is time to brush up on amusement park safety tips, say industry experts.

First, keep things in perspective. A whole lot of people, well into the millions, take amusement park rides every year nationwide. And the number of serious injuries is minimal.

Chances of Injury Are Small

“Regardless of where we are on the spectrum, there’s always more we can do [in terms of amusement park safety],” says Dr. Gary Smith, who directs the Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, OH.

It’s true, says Smith, there’s a global issue ahead to face — mainly, the current patchwork of oversight on amusement park safety, with differing standards by state and localities, and no umbrella government agency to oversee it all. Still, adds Smith, “The chances of a serious injury are small and that’s something parents can take comfort in.”

Know Before You Go

Already, states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania — home to a large number of amusement parks — have issued reminders to adventure seekers on how to enjoy rides responsibly. (Late June was Amusement Park Ride Safety Week in Pennsylvania, in fact.)

Check out tips from Pennsylvania authorities on amusement park ride safety here, and from the Ohio Department of Agriculture here. The main takeaway: Stay informed. Know before you go, it’s the best way for you and your family to have fun.
 
Top Ride Safety Tips

Ken Martin, an independent inspector and amusement park safety consultant with KRM Consulting in Richmond, VA, offers a great roundup of ride safety tips for parents. Also keep in mind the following:

    • Pay attention to the sizing device located by many rides and attractions — it’s put there for your safety. “Yes, trying to sit in one of these seats to see if you fit the ride may be a little embarrassing,” says Martin, “however, a little embarrassment may be better than the alternative.”
    • Do you take any medication? Consult your physician before you think of trying a ride, says Martin. “Pay attention to ride rules and patron warnings,” he says. “Should you take medication for medical conditions, it’s best to consult your physician before riding any amusement ride or attraction – as a precaution you want to make sure you have [medical information] on your person or have someone in your party who knows your medical history.”
    • Take note of your surroundings. “If you see behavior or something you don’t like, bring it to someone’s attention with the amusement park,” says Martin. “All employees should be wearing a uniform and a name tag. They are there to help and serve you.”
    • Avoid heavy foods or sugary beverages as much as possible. “Stay hydrated by drinking lots of water,” says Martin. “Also, lines to some attractions can be very long. Take a restroom break before you get in line.”
    • Trust your gut. As a parent, don’t just go by minimum height and age requirements — ask yourself if your child is developmentally ready for a ride, says Smith of Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

Finally, be sure the ride fits you and your child. “Restraint systems should fit as close to your body as possible, but not tight enough to hurt,” says Martin. “Then sit back and enjoy the thrill — remember we are taking you to the edge and bringing you back safety, if all the rules are followed.”

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At Kings Island Amusement Park near Cincinnati, OH, one roller coaster has seen its last go-round. The Son of Beast, built in 2000 and touted as the world’s tallest and fastest wooden roller coaster with a 118-foot loop, is being demolished with pieces of the ride being sold by the amusement park. Grab a wooden plank for $49.99 or a bolt for $24.99 — that should spice up the game room.

But if collecting the skeletal remnants of a ride that turned out to be nothing but trouble for Kings Island isn’t up your alley, then let Travel Channel satiate your need for speed with these (still-functional and lawsuit-resistant) picks for top roller coasters.

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Last night, 4 of the most insane looping coasters in the country went head-to-head in a dizzying category called “Wrong Way Up”! With vertical loops as high as a 12-story building, all 4 of the competing coasters leave riders asking “which way is up??”

This May, viewers voted on whether Orlando’s Kraken, Pennsylvania’s Hydra the Revenge, Ohio’s Vortex or Tennessee’s Wild Eagle would be crowned the most insane Wrong Way Up coaster. So which coaster now holds the title of Lord of the Loops? READ MORE

Staycationers and vacationers alike, rejoice! This weekend, Travel Channel premieres Extreme Waterparks and Insane Coaster Wars, in addition to our summer lineup that includes Trip Flip with Bert Kreischer, which premiered last week and Top Spot, starting next week.

These shows might be too adrenaline-pumping for certain New York Times’ writers, but for those of us looking for a vicarious thrill and perhaps some ideas for our next thrill-seeking adventure, it sounds like the perfect way to spend a Sunday night. Insane Coaster Wars will pit the best and scariest rollercoasters against each other in categories like “G-force Giants” and “Speed Demons,” while Xtreme Waterparks will give viewers a peek at the world’s craziest water attractions.

As far as we’re concerned, journalist Neil Genzlinger’s idea for “Insanely Xtreme Top Shot” sounds pretty entertaining, but we wouldn’t recommend shooting rabbits with a hose or attempting to make a waterslide on your roof. So instead watch videos of insane coasters and extreme waterparks to prepare yourself before buckling down for the jaw-dropping premieres.

Catch double episodes this Sunday, July 8th, of both Xtreme Waterparks at 8|7c followed by Insane Coaster Wars at 9|8c.

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