The Ferris Wheel at Elitch Gardens

The Ferris Wheel at Elitch Gardens


I knew exactly how seven-year-old Hannah Sitzman felt.

I didn’t want to ride the big coasters either at Elitch Gardens Theme and Water Park in Denver.

The thing about theme parks–whether a small urban park like Elitch Gardens within sight of Mile High Stadium or a major park like Disney World–the key is to let the kids lead the way.

No worries, we tell Hannah. There is always next year.  And indeed, a year later, Hannah can’t wait to tackle every major ride she can in Orlando.

Whatever your kids ages and whether they love or hate big coasters, there is plenty to keep everyone happy at theme parks this summer with nearly 200 new rides and attractions open at more than 80 theme parks, water parks, family fun centers, zoos, aquariums and more.

The key is to let the kids feel happy with their choices, as Hannah was, content to watch her  her 10-year-old friend, her dad and her college-aged cousin Melanie ride Boomerang, the steel coaster that takes riders forwards and backwards, and the Twister II, the classic wooden coaster that is 10 stories high. 

She was all set for the water slides (I love that this park doesn’t charge extra for the water park) but after an afternoon thunderstorm, we decided we’d had enough water for one day and headed to the other side of the park.  Hannah loved the Dragon’s Wing ride which she did twice with my husband Andy.

A day at a theme park like Elitch Gardens is about more than having fun, we discover.  It’s about facing disappointment when we lose at an arcade game and it rains when we want sun.  It’s about riding that first thrill ride and recognizing  when it may be too much thrill for a little girl (or a grown up).

We were glad we had our little cabana at the water park when the thunder storm came through and all the rides were closed…we just waited and watched TV.

Don’t get me wrong—there are plenty of kiddie rides –Everything from  the new Tike Bikes (mini motor cycles ) and Rockin’ Tug that simulates ocean waves to the  Cactus Coaster (mini coaster) Sunflower Swings and Goofy Gazebo children’s play area. 

I love that Elitch Gardens has such a history dating back to 1890. It opened with a zoo, summer stock and a ballroom. The carousel, which took craftsmen three years to carve by hand, has been here since 1928 and still operates today; The Ferris Wheel was erected in 1936 and still operates.

Andy and Hannah Sitzman ride the Dragons Wing at Elitich Gardens

Andy and Hannah Sitzman ride the Dragons Wing at Elitich Gardens

But by the time Elitch Gardens relocated downtown, it became the first amusement park to be built in an urban area in the US in more than 30 years.

There’s plenty to do in Denver, of course, including the Denver Zoo with its new Elephant Passage, Denver Art Museum and Denver Museum of Nature & Science, where you’ll find some of the ice-aged fossils from the museum’s largest ever fossil excavation in Snowmass.  There’s the new History Colorado Center  and the 16th Street Mall planted with 200 trees and 50,000 flowers.  Let’s not forget the chance to watch the Colorado Rockies play baseball.

But I loved the chance to spend the day at a theme and water park that seemed just the right size and where tickets won’t bust the vacation budget.

Here’s a place where parents can act like kids on the coasters and water slides and kids can laugh at their parents’ antics. No one feels badly about forgoing a Coaster. We ate candy apples and ice cream.

The kids left clutching their prizes from the arcade and everyone left smiling.  In the end, that’s what matters.