Dutch Wonderland, an amusement park for toddlers that’s close enough to Maryland to make it a fun summer activity for kids, is an excellent summer activity for young kids who might be too little to enjoy full-sized amusement parks. There are plenty of summer activities for kids, including a water park and rides that are just their size. 

Jack, my almost-two-year-old son, had no idea why my mother and I strapped him into the car for a two-hour drive—only that I had told him we were going to a “big park.” He spent the drive alternating between watching “Yo Gabba Gabba” on his DVD player, yelling “BIG PARK!” and asking to get out.


We were headed to Dutch Wonderland, an amusement park in Lancaster, Pa., that caters to the younger set. While kids under seven might be frustrated at the ironclad rule of the “you must be this tall to ride” signs at larger parks, here there are rides that cater to them, thanks to short wait times, easy thrills and, sometimes, allowing parents to ride with them.

When heading to Dutch Wonderland, the first stop you should make is the website (DutchWonderland.com), since they have ride guidelines for every ride. I was surprised that Jack could ride essentially everything except the skyway (which, since I have a paralyzing fear of heights, was out anyway), the bumper cars and the roller coaster. An easy-to-understand color system helps older kids know right away which rides are appropriate for them.

We started out with the carousel, figuring Jack would get a kick out of it. He sat on his horse stonefaced. Same with the next ride, which involved sitting in a honeybee and, if you wish, punching a button to make a buzzing sound that suggested the ride attendant was not being paid enough, no matter what her salary actually was. Jack just didn’t seem into it, and I started to worry—not only did we drive for two hours, but I was supposed to write about our adventure, and “Child Does Not Enjoy Park” doesn’t make for a great story.

Then came the giant slide, similar to the one you often see at county fairs. I lugged him up the stairs (allowing him to walk meant we would have returned home, around, oh, Christmas), we sat on a burlap sack, and away we went. We rode down silently. There was a pause when we reached the bottom. Then came, “AGAIN!”

So we climbed again, and rode again, this time with him laughing. And then we climbed a third time, and rode again, and then my arms fell off so we decided not to ride anymore. But from then on, Jack knew why we were here. The log flume (Jack: “RIDE! BOAT! WATER!”) was a hit, as was the Gondola Cruise (“RIDE BIG BOAT WATER!”)

When he rode stuff by himself—the big hit was the Sky Fighter (“BOAT! SKY!”), followed by Duke’s Dozers (“BIG TRUCK”) and the Turnpike, where Jack got to “drive” while I got to bounce queasily along (“DRIVE BEEP BEEP.”)

Of course, the ride guidelines are just that—guidelines. We took a turn on the Frog Hopper, a milder version of the rides that take passengers up, only to drop them. Six kids can ride at a time, with one adult in the middle, if one would like to ride. Jack met the height requirements and I rode next to him, but when he sank his teeth into my reassuring hand at the first drop, I realized that just because he COULD go on a ride didn’t mean that he SHOULD.

I never worried about his safety. The staff is great at making sure the kids are strapped in and having a good time. While the duration of the rides may struck me as being short, I soon realized why: Kids don’t like waiting in lines. Kids do like riding. If your child wants to ride again and again, the wait times are so short that you can do it without spending the day looking at the back of the head of the person in front of you.

Restrooms are clean, spacious and (thankfully) air-conditioned, and there are plenty of places to get food or a drink, as well as hidden quiet areas should you need to nurse (there’s also an air-conditioned nursing station) or take a break (walk past the boarding area for the Gondola Cruise and there’s a walking path with lots of trees and benches and, restfully, not much else.) Stroller parking is everywhere. One great idea is to get a Child ID bracelet when you walk in—on it, write your cellphone number. That way, if you get separated, a staff member can call you and reunite you. Outside food is not permitted; neither are “wheelie” shoes.

While we could have spent more time at Duke’s Lagoon, a water park inside the park, or gone to the mini-golf that’s right next door (and costs a little extra), Jack had already powered through most of his naptime and was reaching critical mass. But if you have little ones who aren’t quite ready for the other local parks, Dutch Wonderland is waiting for them to come and have a blast.