Dumbo ride at Disneyland

Dumbo ride at Disneyland

By Eileen Ogintz

Tribune Content Agency

So what if you’re toting diapers and a stroller, the kids aren’t too young to hit theme parks — especially this summer — and you’re guaranteed some fun, too.

Wherever you and your toddlers and preschoolers find yourselves this summer, you’ll find plenty to amuse and entertain, even when they’re not walking yet. Go after the older kids go back to school and you can avoid the crowds. According to Visit Orlando, September is the cheapest month of the year to visit there.

Just make sure you’ve got plenty of sunscreen, water, snacks and hats for the kiddos — and for you. And you want to leave when the kids have had enough, or need a nap.

It seems to me there have never been more theme park options for young families — Camp Snoopy at Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Vista, California, where, among other things, you can take a ride around the High Sierras in an all-terrain vehicle, or join Snoopy as you pilot your own World War I plane.

Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, of course, is famous for their thrill rides (15 roller coasters!), but they’ve also got Planet Snoopy and 15 rides designed just for little kids — helicopters, dune buggies, police cars and motorcycles — and the Woodstock Express family coaster.

And most parks allow parents to “swap” their child so that it’s not necessary to wait on line twice to ride the most popular thrill rides. (A better bet: Invite someone along like me, who is more than happy to watch the kiddos while you ride the latest, greatest, scariest attraction.)

Parents magazine has a list of 10 theme parks that are good bets for younger kids. Disneyland, it turns out, has 60 rides for those of any height — more than any park Parents surveyed, while Universal Orlando Resort’s Islands of Adventure brings stories to life — in Seussland and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, where young kids may want to ride the Flight of the Hippogriff family coaster again and again before you ride the Hogwarts Express to the new Diagon Alley at Universal Orlando.

Just 45 minutes from Orlando, DUPLO Valley, LEGOLAND Florida’s newest expansion at the largest LEGOLAND in the world, offers a train, a mini tractor ride and a water play area — all tailor-made for toddlers. Parents love the air-conditioned play area. Kids love the Splash & Play area and DUPLO Train where toddlers can board a train on their own and pass through LEGO farms, fishing holes and campgrounds.

(There’s another LEGOLAND in Carlsbad, California, just north of San Diego, debuting a new “Legends of Chima” water park, (For the uninitiated, “Legends of Chima” is a LEGO show on the Cartoon Network.)

Do your kids love Cookie Monster? Sesame Place in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, just opened Cookie’s Monster Land with five rides (think flying cookie jars!), a three-story net climb and an entire soft play section for babies. Of course, there’s a place for a photo op with Cookie Monster. (I hope your kids don’t cry like mine did when characters came close!)

Maybe your little guys are already thrill seekers. If so, you’ve got more choices than ever with new family coasters — starting at Walt Disney World, which has launched The “Seven Dwarfs Mine Train” roller coaster, the centerpiece of the New Fantasyland area for younger kids at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. On this ride, the individual train cars swing from side to side as they enter the dwarfs’ world. Here’s what I wrote about trying it out.

Fred Weasley on Hogwarts Express

Fred Weasley on Hogwarts Express

Here are four more new coasters designed for younger kids-and their parents:

1. “Speedy Gonzales Hot Rod Racers” at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, California, brings the number of kids’ coasters in the park to four.

2. “Roar-O-Saurus,” is a dinosaur-themed wooden roller coaster with a maximum height of 40 feet at Story Land in Glen, New Hampshire.

3. Head off in one direction on the FireChaser Express at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and travel back the opposite way. Perched 12 stories above the park’s Wilderness Pass area, the family coaster leaves the station in one direction before traveling back to return in the opposite direction.

4. The “Cocoa Cruiser” at Hersheypark in Hershey, Pennsylvania, has just enough bumps, twists and turns for a child ready for his or her first thrill ride.

Family coasters can also provide a teaching moment. Point out the listed age, height and weight restrictions and explain why they’re necessary to have safe fun. Everyone must follow the rules and that, according to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, means remaining seated until the ride comes to a complete stop, keeping arms and legs inside and never trying to wriggle free.

Just one word of caution: No matter how mild the ride seems to you, don’t force a frightened child to ride. There’s always next time.

A few years from now, they’ll beg you to ride that giant coaster “just one more time.”