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Summer Travel

10 best amusement and theme parks in New England

From an adventure course in the trees to a mecca for train-loving children, we highlight the top destinations in the region.

Crescent Park Carousel.

Russ Mezikofsky

Crescent Park Carousel.

This story was reported and written by Marty Basch, Kim Foley MacKinnon, Patricia Harris, Nancy Heiser, David Lyon, and Lisa Prevost

BEST CLASSIC CAROUSEL

Crescent Park Carousel

Take the kids for a whirl on a work of art: the masterpiece constructed in 1895 by legendary carousel builder Charles I.D. Looff. He designed the Crescent Park Carousel with 66 unique hand-carved figures that served as showpieces for potential customers and have since been recognized as classics of American folk art. In addition to many variations on painted ponies, some of Looff’s more fanciful creations include two dragon-prowed gondolas and two chariots carved with intertwining serpents.

> 700 Bullocks Point Avenue, Riverside, Rhode Island, 401-435-7518, eastprovidence.com

BEST FOR OLD-TIME THRILLS

Palace Playland

For a classic amusement park with kiddie rides from your childhood plus new ones with adrenaline-spiking thrills, visit Palace Playland at Old Orchard Beach. It’s steps from a sandy ocean beach and vibrant pier. Admission is free. Single tickets are $1.25; each ride requires between two and four tickets. There’s fried food, cotton candy, and an arcade with 200 games. You needn’t get behind the wheel: The Amtrak Downeaster from Boston’s North Station makes in-season stops, dropping you within easy walking distance. Sleep on the way home.

> 1 Old Orchard Street, Old Orchard Beach, Maine, 207-934-2001, palaceplayland.com

Winky Lewis

Water Country.

BEST WATER SLIDES

Water Country

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Some people go to Water Country to ride tubes on the quarter-mile Adventure River or splash in the giant wave pool. Others race to the fastest, scariest slide they can find and go down it over and over again. Dr. Von Dark’s Tunnel of Terror, which debuted in 2012, is the park’s newest thrill-junkie favorite. Riders sit on a two-person tube facing each other, plunge 40 feet through an enclosed pitch-black tunnel, then shoot up spinning through a funnel before being spit back out. As with a washing machine setting, a lot of people rinse and repeat.

> 2300 Lafayette Road, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, 603-427-1111, watercountry.com

BEST FOR YOUNGSTERS

Story Land

Amusement parks aren’t usually described as sweet, but there’s no better word for Story Land, where kids and their parents can take a spin in Cinderella’s coach, twirl around in Alice’s teacups, or visit attractions such as Peter Pumpkin Eater’s House. Opening weekends only starting Saturday for its 60th season and full time beginning June 14, Story Land’s creation was inspired by fairy-tale dolls from Germany, and a family-oriented vibe is the order of the day. There are no scream-inducing rides — just old-fashioned fun that inspires generation after generation to return as adults with their own kids.

> 850 Route 16, Glen, New Hampshire, 603-383-4186, storylandnh.com

BEST FOR FRIED FOOD

Mel’s Funway Park

Forget about funnel cakes, elephant ears, and deep-fried corn dogs. Even in the improbable inland location of Litchfield, New Hampshire, Mel’s Funway Park features an offshoot of Woodman’s Seafood & Grill, the iconic clam shack that made Essex famous. Legend has it that Lawrence “Chubby” Woodman invented the fried clam back around World War I. Woodman’s makes the perfect break between a session of laser tag and a spin around the go-kart track.

> 454 Charles Bancroft Highway, Litchfield, New Hampshire, 603-424-2292, melsfunwaypark.com

Ion Sokhos

Six Flags.

BEST FOR ROLLER COASTERS

Six Flags New England

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Roller-coaster fanatics love Six Flags New England, which tries to outdo itself every year with more over-the-top rides. Goliath, introduced a year ago, features an almost 20-story vertical drop. Once you are strapped into the ride’s cars, you’re pulled backward 200 feet up a tower, then sent into freefall. As you look straight down, your legs dangling, the ground rushes up at you at speeds of 65 miles an hour. Before you can catch your breath, you careen around a 102-foot-tall loop, followed by a butterfly turn, then up a second tower. Then you do it again. Backward.

> 1623 Main Street, Agawam, Massachusetts, 413-786-9300, sixflags.com/newengland

BEST FOR TRAIN-LOVING ADULTS

Naugatuck Railroad

The whistle blows and off you go, down the line on the Naugatuck Railroad on a one-hour trip along the Naugatuck River, passing through Connecticut state forest lands and across the Thomaston Dam. The nonprofit Railroad Museum of New England operates the ride and has quite a collection of historically significant equipment, including steam and diesel locomotives, passenger cars, freight cars, and cabooses. Sadie, an 82-year-old coal-fired steam locomotive, is a highlight this season on Saturdays and Sundays June 8-23, pulling vintage cars from the 1881 Thomaston Station.

> 242 East Main Street, Thomaston, Connecticut, 860-283-7245, rmne.org

BEST FOR TRAIN-LOVING KIDS

Edaville USA

Kids on a first-name basis with Thomas the Tank Engine can ride on a life-size replica of the friendly train at one of 12 “Day Out With Thomas” events at Edaville USA. Thomas-themed activities include meeting and taking photographs with Sir Topham Hatt and a visit to Imagination Station, which features arts and crafts, live music, and storytelling. Several other attractions geared for youngsters include a carousel, bumper cars, low-key amusement park rides, and a small train where kids can play engineer.

> 5 Pine Street, Carver, Massachusetts, 508-866-8190, edaville.com

BEST FOR ALL AGES

Lake Compounce

Lake Compounce is that rare park that manages to consistently amp up the wow factor without relinquishing the charming attractions that once passed for excitement. The 20-acre lake that was the park’s main draw when it opened in 1846 is now more of a backdrop for a slide-studded water park, a trio of roller coasters, and a good dose of other rides designed for those who actually like to feel their stomachs in their mouths. But the less adventurous need not fear. In addition to the lakeside beach, more leisurely options include a slow-chugging locomotive and an antique carousel.

> 186 Enterprise Drive, Bristol, Connecticut, 860-583-3300, lakecompounce.com

BEST TREETOP PLAY

Bromley Aerial Adventure Park

Rock in the treetops on wooden ladders, swinging bridges, nets, zip lines, and more at Bromley Aerial Adventure Park. A ground school teaches harness and carabiner safety before you venture into five courses from easy to strenuous, basketball-hoop high to five times that. Test coordination, toughness, and nerve on the 60 inspiring wood, cable, and rope elements in the maple and birch canopy near the base of the Peru, Vermont, ski area. The high-spirited adventures are taxing but fun.

> 3984 Vermont Route 11, Peru, Vermont, 802-824-5522, bromley.com

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