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12 Overrated Family Vacation Destinations That Aren’t Worth the Money

7 minute read

By Katie Ormsby

It’s that time of the year again — summer vacation! The kids are just about out of school, and the time is right to use some of your PTO days. But where should you go? Travel costs are soaring thanks to inflation, so the last thing you want to do is waste money on an underwhelming trip.

That’s why we’ve rounded up 12 overrated family vacation destinations — and found better alternatives the whole family can enjoy. Keep reading to find the right destination for you and your family!

Disney World

While Disney World is known as the “Happiest Place on Earth,” perhaps “Priciest Place on Earth” would be more accurate. According to MarketWatch, ticket prices have soared more than 3,000% since the park opened in 1971.

If ticket prices had simply kept up with inflation, today they would be about $24 for adults and $6.75 for kids. Instead, the source says a Disney World ticket will run you up to $159. And then you have to factor in hotel costs.

Where to go instead: Head to Universal Orlando Resort. Universal ticket prices can be in the same ballpark as Disney World, but NerdWallet says on-site hotels are 30% to 50% less than Disney World’s cheapest options.

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Mount Rushmore

Save yourself from a travel letdown and skip a tour of Mount Rushmore. No tour takes you to the top of the monument, and you can’t scale it. Nevertheless, USA Today says a tour that simply takes you to the bottom of the memorial costs about $100. If you’ve seen Mount Rushmore in a movie or online, then you’ve pretty much seen it.

Where to go instead: Since you can’t get that up close and personal with Mount Rushmore, you may find exploring the surrounding Black Hills National Forest more satisfying and certainly more cost-effective. And if your heart is set on catching a glimpse of Mount Rushmore, then you can get one from Iron Mountain Road.

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Niagra Falls (U.S. Side)

The American side of Niagra Falls isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The most jaw-dropping views are on the Canadian side, and the U.S. side doesn’t have a lot of other attractions to keep kids entertained. Once you’ve taken in the Falls, you’ll find that souvenir shops and fast-food restaurants fill the surrounding town.

Where to go instead: If Niagra Falls is on your bucket list, then opt for the Canadian side. It offers views of the American side as well as the gorgeous Horseshoe Falls. Be sure to catch the light show the Canadian side puts on at night. And since the Canadian side is more urban, there are more attractions to keep the kids happy.

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The Statue of Liberty

Ahh, Lady Liberty. Yes, the Statue of Liberty is one of the most iconic American landmarks. But you don’t need to spend valuable hours of your New York trip visiting Liberty Island and Ellis Island. You can get fantastic views of Lady Liberty without spending a dime or eating up at least half a day.

Where to go instead: Visit Battery Park or walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to get incredible views of the harbor and the Statue of Liberty. And for a dose of immigrant history? Step back in time and head to the Tenement Museum. Your family can tour restored tenement apartments to see how immigrants actually lived.

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Mall of America

Sure, the Mall of America is huge. In fact, it’s the largest shopping mall in the States. But when it comes down to it, it’s still just a mall and not really worth going out of your way to visit. Essentially it’s a collection of stores you can probably shop much closer to home and an amusement park that doesn’t stack up to other parks.

Where to go instead: If you really want to shop ’til you drop, then consider visiting Canada’s West Edmonton Mall. It’s the largest mall in North America and boasts 800 stores compared to the Mall of America’s 520. The West Edmonton Mall also has a huge amusement park, wave pool, and a floating pirate ship.

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The Liberty Bell

As a symbol of American independence, the Liberty Bell is iconic. As a tourist attraction? Unfortunately, the Liberty Bell is underwhelming. You’ll likely spend more time waiting in line than you’ll spend viewing the bell.

As The Washington Post puts it, you’ll have “maybe three seconds to get a clear photograph before the next group swoops in.” Unless your family loves standing in long lines, you may want to skip the Liberty Bell.

Where to go instead: Williamsburg is a family-friendly alternative to Philadelphia that provides a more immersive glimpse into the American Revolution. Colonial Williamsburg is a living-history museum that brings the past to life with historic buildings to explore and costumed employees to interact with during your visit.

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Hollywood Walk of Fame

If your family is headed to Los Angeles, then the Hollywood Walk of Fame doesn’t need to be on your itinerary. It’s one of those landmarks that just doesn’t live up to the hype. Instead of offering glitz and glamour, the Hollywood Walk of Fame is crowded and teeming with costumed characters who charge for photo ops.

Where to go instead: While the Hollywood Walk of Fame is a tourist trap, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is a fascinating look into film history. Its exhibits include iconic costumes, movie clips, screenplays, and more. So, there is movie magic to be found in L.A.

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The Space Needle

The Space Needle’s design is a fun mid-century throwback, but it’s underwhelming as far as tourist destinations go. For one thing, it’s pricey. Tickets for kids under 12 are $26, and tickets for teens and adults are $35. So, that adds up for families. And once you’re at the top, you get views that you can get for free elsewhere.

Where to go instead: Head over to Kerry Park on Queen Anne Hill to get a panoramic view of the skyline — the Space Needle included — and Elliott Bay without an admission fee. And when you visit Seattle Center, skip the Space Needle and take kids to the Children’s Museum or teens to the Museum of Pop Culture.

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Lincoln City

It’s not that the Oregon Coast isn’t a great family vacation destination. It’s just that you can find better deals in certain beach towns than you can in others. For instance, Lincoln City and Newport are a half-hour drive from each other, but lodging prices tend to be pricier in Lincoln City.

Where to go instead: So, your family could stay in Newport and take a day trip to Lincoln City, which has more shopping and tourist attractions. And Newport itself offers plenty to keep the whole family entertained — beaches, an aquarium, and kitschy attractions for kids like a Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum.

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Empire State Building

From King Kong to An Affair to Remember to Sleepless in Seattle, the Empire State Building has a storied history in American cinema. But the reality of making the trek to its 86th floor is less glamourous and romantic than the movies would have you believe. It’s cramped, crowded, and touristy.

Where to go instead: Looking at the Empire State Building is cooler than visiting it — and guess what? You can get an amazing view of the iconic skyscraper from the superior observation deck at Rockefeller Center. Top of the Rock is more spacious and gives you unobstructed views of the city’s skyscrapers and Central Park.

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Disneyland

Much like Disney World, Disneyland is also expensive. Tickets start around $100 and go up from there. And then, on top of that, pricey Disney restaurants and hotels can make the bill astronomical. Plus, Disneyland involves navigating large crowds and waiting in long lines.

Where to go instead: Both Knott’s Berry Farm and LEGOLAND California Resort are more affordable alternatives. For instance, tickets are under $100 for both. Knott’s Berry Farm’s tickets even start as low as $69. So, it’s possible to soak up family fun at an amusement park without breaking the bank.

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The Alamo

“Remember the Alamo” may be an iconic battle cry, but that doesn’t mean the Alamo is a must-see destination. Instead of the imposing structure that you might be picturing, the Alamo is a rather modest mission. There are other historic missions in San Antonio to check out that are less crowded.

Where to go instead: Mission Espada, Mission San Juan Capistrano, Mission San José, and Mission Concepción are interesting alternatives. And San Antonio has other attractions your kids will likely enjoy more such as the San Antonio River Walk and the zoo.

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Katie Ormsby

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