Thursday, May 23, 2024
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The Best Queer-Friendly Theme Parks in the U.S. Other Than Disney

The mouse house isn’t the only park trying to create a more welcoming environment for LGBTQ+ families. 

While Disney has been the first in the theme park industry to provide a more inclusive vibe for LGBTQ+ families and support queer causes, other brands are catching up or surpassing Mickey in creating a more welcoming park for all queer fans. It’s not about how much gay merchandise you offer, but the vibe and the feeling in your gut after you enter the main entrance – that’s what really counts! 

So, we decided to pull together a list of some of the most queer-friendly theme parks in the U.S. other than Disney. We highlight the unique programming, gay-friendly milestones, and an overall “know-it-when-you-feel-it” inclusive environment. Take a look at our top picks and start planning your next family theme park vacation. And the bonus is that these smaller parks have a much cheaper price tag than Disney. 

Hershey Triple Tower (Photo Credit: Hersheypark)
Hershey Triple Tower (Photo Credit: Hersheypark)

Hersheypark 

While Disneyland and Walt Disney World have huge menus of specialty treats for Pride Month, they’re not the only ones serving up rainbow eats. Hersheypark debuted a new Pride donut this year with rainbow icing to celebrate Pride Month. To some, it’s just a donut. But offering even one rainbow snack is a big milestone for smaller, regional theme parks. An even bigger deal is the park’s parent company is looking beyond Pride internally for its queer employees. Recently, Hershey Entertainment & Resorts welcomed a new Employee Resource Group, HUE, a group committed to building a community within the Hershey company by “connecting LGBTQ+ team members and allies through education, advocacy, and professional development.” 

(Photo Credit: ©2022 Universal Studios Hollywood. All Rights Reserved.)
(Photo Credit: ©2022 Universal Studios Hollywood. All Rights Reserved.)

Universal Studios Hollywood 

Did you know that Universal Studios Hollywood hosts a Pride night? And that alone likely makes it the queerest theme park in America because unlike meetups or unofficial Gay Days, no other U.S. theme park offers a themed event for Pride on park property. Disneyland Paris hosts a Pride night (and it’s amazing) and The Walt Disney Company marches in LA Pride but Universal Studios Hollywood actually partners with LA Pride for a “Pride is Universal” night of drag, DJs, drinks, and attractions with little-to-no wait. They even light up the iconic arched entrance in rainbow and there are character meet-and-greets. But beyond Pride, Uni Hollywood’s sheer location in LA automatically makes it not just more queer-friendly but more diverse for people of color. 

Halloween Horror Nights, the marquee annual event at both Universal Hollywood and Universal Orlando, is also deeply queer. There’s an undeniable overlap or Venn diagram between the horror world and the queer community. And Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Hollywood is certainly the sweet spot of convergence for gays who love campy, scary movies. 

Jurassic World VelociCoaster (Photo Credit: ©2022 Universal Orlando. All Rights Reserved.)
Jurassic World VelociCoaster (Photo Credit: ©2022 Universal Orlando. All Rights Reserved.)

Universal Orlando

Universal Orlando may not have a Pride night like its sister park, but the resort’s theme parks and water park do have Pride merch galore. And it’s out longer. A lot of theme parks or attractions have Pride merchandise in June, then donate proceeds to a queer cause and the campaign ends July 1. Universal Orlando keeps its “Love is Universal” merch out all year long in dedicated vignettes and 10% of the proceeds are donated to the National Pulse Memorial & Museum in support of their “education programs to advance human equity” from June through October. There’s rainbow representation in nearly every gift shop during Pride Month, LGBT History Month, and throughout the year. It’s that long-lasting presence in the parks that creates a different vibe, a more welcoming vibe. 

Like Disney World, you’ll also see many park employees at Universal Orlando who are out and proud because of the pins or tattoos that they’re now allowed to wear and display. And that helps when navigating an area such as The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which is one of the most over-the-top theme-park lands on the planet but that comes with a lot of bitterness thanks to JK Rowling’s near-constant transphobic comments on social media. 

(Photo Credit: Legoland)
(Photo Credit: Legoland)

LEGOLAND

LEGOLAND is always worth a trip if only for those iconic cinnamon-sugar apple pie fries, but now it’s really worth a visit to see the world’s longest Pride parade! LEGOLAND’s three theme parks (California, Florida, and New York) have teamed up with the seven LEGOLAND Discovery Centers across the country – Columbus, Michigan, Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, New Jersey, and Westchester – to create one massive-yet-tiny queer display out of LEGO bricks. And it all starts at LEGOLAND New York with a mini replica of the Stonewall Inn. Yes, really. There’s a whole LEGO recreation of the New York Pride parade as well as Pride across the country. The parade stretches more than 100 feet long and features more than 1,500 LEGO Minilanders, LEGO floats, and even teeny LEGO flags for Trans Pride, Nonbinary Pride, and more. 

(Photo Credit: Sesame Place)
(Photo Credit: Sesame Place)

Sesame Place

Intellectual property – a work or invention that is the result of creativity – impacts everything in a theme park. And the more inclusive the source material, the more inclusive the attractions and experiences inspired by it should be, right? Sesame Place Philadelphia or San Diego are always top of the list for queer families because of the overall inclusive programming that comes from the Sesame Street brand. Where else can you see a mainstream children’s character or celebrity break down the meaning of the Progress Pride flag or discuss the importance of Juneteenth? Sure, Disney rainbow-themed cupcakes with the Philadelphia Pride flag are great, but seeing the flag stripes posted publicly on a brand’s social media account, and in Muppet fur no less, is so much better. Sesame Street also released a special new song about LGBTQ+ families and their love to “celebrate Pride Month all year long.” 

Bear Mountain Fire Tower (Photo Credit: Dollywood Splash Country)
Bear Mountain Fire Tower (Photo Credit: Dollywood Splash Country)

Dollywood

And then there’s Dollywood. This Smoky Mountain theme park in Dolly Parton’s East Tennessee stomping grounds is kind of a queer conundrum. On one hand, Dolly is a gay icon, and visiting Dollywood is a queer rite of passage. On the other, Dolly and Dollywood are definitely not waving a rainbow flag. Dolly’s vague Instagram post a couple of days into Pride Month could be interpreted in different ways. The Dollywood and Dollywood’s Splash Country have more of the 90s “don’t-ask-don’t-tell-but-we-do-love-you” kind of vibe. Full stop… There’s a chapel with services inside the park and there’s always lots of gospel programming. But there’s also an exhibition with dozens of sequin gowns from Dolly’s career that is a must-see for any drag queen. Spend enough time walking through this park, and you’ll see tons of queer “family” – fellow park guests and park employees. But like the icon herself, Dollywood isn’t exactly specific about showing LGBTQ+ support. However, as far as feeling safe and respected in the South as an LGBTQ+ family, I can’t think of a more generally friendly place to go! 

Deanne Revel

Deanne Revel is a travel journalist and host covering the world of theme parks and family entertainment. She loves all things roller coasters, character breakfasts, and parades. Deanne is a packing pro (carry-on always!) and is passionate about LGBTQ+ travel. When not on assignment, you can find her exploring national parks or theme parks with her wife. Follow her adventures on Instagram @revelandroam.

One thought on “The Best Queer-Friendly Theme Parks in the U.S. Other Than Disney

  • The Hersheypark inclusion is hooey. As a transman working in safety & security, I have encountered a great deal of transphobia and homophobia from coworkers and guests, and have been told to “act like a girl” when I complained to management. I’m not even allowed to use the restrooms while on duty!

    Reply

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