Every family thinks of Disney World as the go-to vacation spot. But is it really worth it? Sure, it's home to extravagant events, rides, and Disney characters, but it's also packed with tourists, involves lots of waiting in line, and can be extremely expensive depending on how big your family is.
Disney World may be considered the happiest place on earth but it's certainly not the most affordable one. There are plenty of other hidden gems across North America that are worth paying a visit and don't involve Disney World. Whether you want to enjoy natural splendors or visit lesser-known theme parks, this list is for you.
10 Bar Harbor, Maine
Bar Harbor, Maine is a picturesque and charming town up north that will appeal to adults and children alike. It's known for its scenic views and appealing landscapes. Take the long-winding Loop Road to pass by some of the most appealing sights before visiting Sand Beach and the infamous Thunder Hole.
It's a cavern-like area where the waves are as loud as thunder and it's a great spot for photographs. Other activities include a puffin-spotting cruise and day-long excursions to view the serene Cadillac Mountains. Bar Harbor is also known for its excellent cuisine. Satisfy your sweet tooth with a popover sundae or indulge yourself in lobster rolls or Niçoise salad.
9 Grand Canyon
Disney World may be the happiest place on earth but it's not exactly known for its stunning vistas and once-in-a-lifetime views of our natural surroundings. Why not take your family on a trip they're sure to remember by visiting the legendary Grand Canyon?
Depending on what time of year you go, you could even enjoy special events. During the summers they host an astronomy event where you camp under the stars beneath the canyon. There's nothing quite like it. Go hiking and see both the North and South Rims. There are scenic views to take, lodging nearby, and even special restaurants.
8 Orlando, Florida
Orlando is where Disney World is located, but did you know there are several other locations nearby worth exploring that aren't a visit to the mouse? Ripley's Believe It Or Not museum is located in Orlando along with a wax museum, a science center, scenic tours, boardwalks, and more.
You get some of the experience without paying the cost of a ticket! There are also other theme parks in the area worth visiting, just as fun as Disney for a much more affordable price. Parks like Fun Spot American Theme Park and water parks like Typhoon Lagoon and Aquatica are loads of fun.
7 Virginia Beach, Virginia
Sometimes all you need for a successful family vacation is time spent in the surf and sand. If you want to go somewhere with beaches, shopping, and excellent food, look no further than East Coast hot spot, Virginia Beach, VA. Coming in from the Outer Banks, you'll find multiple beaches such as Sandbridge, which is also near the Backbay Wildlife Refuge, a great place to go for families interested in learning about animals and conservation projects.
But the biggest draw is the Oceanfront. Miles of beach accompany long shopping strips and in the summer every night hosts street performers and various entertainment. You can find summer concerts and excellent dining there too, especially if you're a fan of seafood.
6 Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Pigeon Forge is a popular vacation area and a mountain town located in the eastern part of Tennessee. Easily the biggest draw to visiting Pigeon Forge is Dollywood, the legendary theme park named for country singer Dolly Parton. The park has tons of rides and a connected water park for those who prefer getting the chance to cool off.
Aside from Dollywood, you can take your family to the famous Smoky Mountain Opry or dine out in one of the many dinner theaters. For more adventurous families, you can take a zipline through the Smoke Mountains or visit the indoor sky-diving simulator, Flyaway.
5 Great Wolf Lodge
Have you ever stayed at a hotel that also doubles as an awesome water park? Well, that's the experience you get when staying at the Great Wolf Lodge. The best part is, there are locations all over the country so odds are there's one at least moderately close to you and you won't have to travel excessively far to stay.
'There lots to do at the Great Wolf Lodge including more than ten different water attractions and slides. Kids can create their own stuffed wolf character, play in an arcade, and more. There are various room selections too, some of which involve bunk beds and themed activity rooms. Your vacation and place to stay come in an all-in-one package deal.
4 Santa Claus, Indiana
Instead of taking a trip to Disney World for Christmas this year, you should consider going to Santa Claus, Indiana, home to the famous Holiday World and Splashin' Safari. Not only is more on the theme, but the price is much lower than Disney in addition to granting you free sunscreen, soda, and parking.
The water park was actually voted the #1 water park in the country. There is an entire Christmas Plaza in Holiday World, filled with magical splendor for your children. They can even join Santa Claus himself in storytime. They host events all year-round though so you can come any time and there's also a special winery tour for parents!
3 Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
If your family has extra cash to spend but wants to do something different from the traditional Disney trip, consider visiting Lake Geneva, Wisconsin and staying in the immaculate Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, Grand Geneva Resort & Spa. The area is home to many affluent families and you'll be able to tour the historic grounds and opulent manors on bike trails and walking hikes.
Related: The 10 Best Disney Water Park Rides
If golfing is your thing, this resort has 36 different courses. It also has an adventure center for families to do things like zip-lining, water sports, mountain biking, and even archery. Nearby is the grand Yerkes Observatory, the birthplace of modern astrophysics.
2 Martha's Vineyard
Martha's Vineyard is an island nestled near Cape Cod. It's a famous vacation spot for celebrities and politicians. There's a good chance that by vacationing here you're positioning yourself for a few celeb sightings if you get lucky enough. As a place steeped in history there are plenty of historical bluffs to tour through not to mention island tours that take you across the majority of the area.
You can visit South Beach, Edgartown Lighthouse, Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge, and more. The island also hosts multiple festivals all-year-round and even has an arthouse cinema. One of the biggest draws is the Grand Illumination light show in the Oak Bluffs.
1 Yellowstone National Park
Everyone should visit Yellowstone National Park at least once in their lifetime. It's America's oldest national park and its full of exquisite natural wonders, plus you can come into close contact with animals you might never get the chance to see elsewhere. The best part is, they're free to roam as they please and not caged up in a zoo.
Some things you must do in Yellowstone include visiting Old Faithful the geyser, seeing the stunning Grand Prismatic spring, drive through Lamar Valley to see bison and other wildlife, Mammoth Springs, Mount Washburn, and more. While there make sure you indulge in their restaurants and even stay at the Old Faithful Inn!