Kids grow up way too fast, and before you know it, they’ll be teenagers (and won’t want to have much to do with you at all). There are certain places in New England that are a whole lot more fun — and magical — when young kids are along. Here are 10 favorites.
Who cares if it’s 80 degrees and sunny out? Your kids will love to meet Santa and his reindeer at their summer workshop. This Christmas-themed amusement park, which has been owned by the same family for three generations, gets rave reviews for its fun-loving atmosphere and variety of features, including 20 rides, live entertainment, and food vendors (ice cream!). Ride the reindeer carousel, drive bumper cars, take a plunge on the chimney drop, fly a sleigh, board the Santa Express train for a trip through the village, and get splashed on the Yule Log ride. Be sure to feed the reindeer (they’re real) and stop by the Elf University to pick up Elfabet cards. Elf statues throughout the park each have a different letter of the alphabet. Find all 26 letters and win a prize. Jefferson, N.H., 603-586-4445, www.santasvillage.com, ages 4-61 $33, 62 and older $30.
Clark’s Trading Post
The crazy, bearded, pigeon-licking Wolfman is out to get us. He’s chasing us as we ride the train over the river and into Wolfman’s territory. The kids are pointing and squealing, and shouting for him to “scram, go away!” It’s all part of the ultra-kitschy, super delightful fun at this longstanding, quirky theme park. There’s a magician’s house, a water raft ride, blaster boats, and the Yandong Chinese Acrobat show. But the family-owned park, which celebrates its 90th anniversary this year, is best known for its trained black bears. Watch as they perform tricks during the famous half-hour show. Performing bears, acrobats, and the Wolfman: You will love it if you’re a kid, or just a kid at heart. Lincoln, N.H., 603-745-8913, www.clarkstradingpost.com, ages 4-64 $22, 65 and older $20
Flying Horses Carousel
Riding this low-tech wonder, located in a red barn in Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard, since 1884, is a timeless delight for young ones. Parents can marvel at the workmanship of the fully-restored Charles Dare whirling wonder — one of only two Dare-designed carousels still in existence. The horses are beautifully carved with real horse hair manes and tails and glass eyes. Listen to the Wurlitzer Band organ play oldies while the kids try to grab the lucky brass ring as they circle around (508-693-9481, www.mvpreservation.org/properties/flying-horses-carousel, $3).
Other carousels to ride in New England include the Watch Hill Flying Horses Carousel in Rhode Island, with 20 wood-carved horses, located on a sandy beach (401-348-6007, www.watchhillbeachandcarousel.com, $1.50); The Bushnell Park Carousel in downtown Hartford, Conn., a vintage 1914 carousel with 48 hand-carved horses and two chariots (860-232-6710, www.bushnellpark.org, $1); and the historic Paragon Carousel on Nantasket Beach in Hull, with 66 horses, two chariots, and cherubs and goddesses who look down as the carousel spins (781-925-0472, www.paragoncarousel.com, $3).
For more than 60 years, this beloved amusement park in New Hampshire has wowed New England’s little ones. There are more than 30 rides and attractions, live shows, and special events, enough for days of delightful, wear-them-out summer fun. We know families who have been going here for generations, and many who opt for a season pass, as they know their children will want to go again and again. Young kids love driving antique mini cars, boarding a pirate ship, shooting water cannons, and riding in Cinderella’s Pumpkin Coach. There are roller coasters for all ages, and a soaking raft ride that’s perfect on hot days. This year, live entertainment includes the new Daniel Tiger’s Grr-ific Day. What would Daniel Tiger do? Watch and see. Glen, N.H., 603-383-4186, www.storylandnh.com, ages 3 and up $34.99, check online for discounts.
Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum
Oh, the places you’ll go inside this topsy-turvy museum full of bold colors, squiggly lines,and hands-on exhibits. The kids are certain to recognize the rhymes and the characters as if they’ve jumped out of a Dr. Seuss book. They have! Write on the walls in Dr. Seuss’s bedroom, go fishing in McElligot’s Pond, listen to the Horton’s Whoville band, meet the Cat in the Hat, and climb the Wump with Humps. There’s a corner to watch Dr. Seuss movies, and on the lower level an educator teaches fun craft and science projects. Springfield, 413-263-6800, www.springfieldmuseums.org/about/dr-seuss-museum, adults $25, ages 3-17 $13, students $16.50.
Edaville Family Theme Park
There are more than 90 rides and attractions at this fun-loving amusement park, but the kids will likely make a quick beeline to Thomas Land, the park’s newest and most popular attraction. Devoted to kids’ number one locomotive, Thomas the Tank Engine, the 11.5-acre make-believe Island of Sodor features 11 themed rides. Ride a life-size Thomas, then check out other rides like Bertie the Bus and Cranky the Crane. When (if) the kids tire of all things Thomas, explore the rest of the park, including Cran Central, where you can ride A.J.’s Express train (perfect for young tots), drive bumper cars, and fly high on the Ferris wheel, and Dino Land with life-sized dinosaur replicas and the Bone Shaker coaster. Don’t leave without riding the scenic Diesel Excursions Train through a cranberry bog. This is where it all started in 1947. Carver, 508-866-8190, www.edaville.com, ages 3-59 $37, ages 2-3 and seniors 60+ $32.
Puppet Showplace Theater
The magical world of puppets comes alive at this top-notch theater, where professional companies perform more than 300 shows each year. Parents give it a 4.5-plus rating on TripAdvisor, calling it “delightful,” “adorable,” and “great for all ages.” Performances for kids are held throughout the summer, Wednesday-Saturday at 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. This year’s puppet performances include the Dinosaur Show, Milo the Magnificent, The Three Little Pigs Build a Better House, The Fairy Tailor, and Tommy’s Space Adventure. Brookline, 617-731-6400, www.puppetshowplace.org, $12
Palace Playland at Old Orchard Beach
Ahh . . . the smell of french-fry grease and suntan lotion, and a sandy seashore flanked by a rollicking, old fashioned, four-acre midway and one of the largest arcades in New England. Now, that’s some laid-back, honky-tonk summer fun. You’ll have plenty of time for more sedate, secluded, sophisticated beach getaways in the future. But now, while the kids are young, grab your flip flops, forget about nutritious treats (instead fried dough! pizza! french fries!) and head to Old Orchard Beach. There’s a seven-mile stretch of sand, but you’ll have a tough time dragging the kids away from the Coney-Island-style Palace Playland, dubbed New England’s only beachfront amusement park, with more than 25 rides, including kiddie rides, coasters, and a Ferris Wheel. There’s a free fireworks show at The Pier on Thursday nights throughout the summer. Old Orchard Beach, Maine, 207-934-2001, www.palaceplayland.com, single ride $1.45, 24 rides $33.50, 50 rides $64.50, unlimited day pass $36.95
Pirate Ship Formidable
Yo Ho Ho (and a box of punch)! Hop aboard a tall ship full of “pirates, patriots, and privateers.” What kid doesn’t like a treasure hunt and wild tales at sea? Listen to stories of the blundering past and sing sea shanties with the crew aboard this historic ship, as you cruise around Boston Harbor. You might even have a chance to fire a cannon! Cruises are run by Massachusetts Bay Lines, daily at noon, 2, and 4 p.m. There’s also an evening pirate cruise. Rowes Wharf, Boston, 617-542-8000, www.pirateshipformidable.com, daytime pirate cruise adults $35, ages 13-17 and 60+ $25, ages 5 and under $10.
We dare you not to say “aww” and click a gazillion pictures as your young children hug baby goats and pet fluffy llamas. It’s nearly impossible not to be enamored with an oh-so-sweet family visit to Charmingfare, home to alpacas, cattle, chickens, donkeys, horses, ducks, geese, sheep, goats, pigs, llamas, and more. Visit the Oakhurst Dairy Discovery Barn, which houses the animal petting area, and then ride a pony, take a tractor trailer train ride, and walk the North American Wildlife Trail through the woods with wildlife exhibits featuring black bears, a cougar, a fox, a lynx, a porcupine, skunks, and more. Candia, N.H., 603-483-5623, www.visitthefarm.com, $19, under 2 free.