National Parks vs. America's Top Attractions

What's a better vacation choice in cost-conscious 2011: Disney World or Cape Cod?

Here's a fact that may swing your decision: America's largest and most popular national parks offer some of the most cost-effective vacation choices in the country.

To start our comparison, let's look at the sites that Forbestraveler.com included on their 2010 list of the top 25 U.S. tourist attractions. These were selected based on the number of visitors each site hosted in the previous year:

   1. Times Square, New York City
   2. The Las Vegas strip, Nevada
   3. National Mall and Memorial Parks, Washington, DC
   4. Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Boston
   5. Disney's Magic Kingdom, Orlando
   6. Disneyland Park, Anaheim, California
   7. Fisherman's Wharf/Golden Gate National Recreation Area, San Francisco
   8. Niagara Falls, New York State
   9. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee/North Carolina
  10. Navy Pier, Chicago
  11. Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada
  12. Universal Studios Orlando
  13. Sea World Florida, Orlando
  14. San Antonio River Walk, Texas
  15. Temple Square, Salt Lake City
  16. Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, Pennsylvania/New Jersey
  17. Universal Studios, Hollywood, California
  18. Metropolitan Museum, New York City
  19. Waikiki Beach, Oahu, Hawaii
  20. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
  21. Busch Garden Africa, Tampa Bay, Florida
  22. Cape Cod National Seashore, Massachusetts
  23. Sea World, San Diego
  24. American Museum of Natural History, New York City
  25. Atlantic City Boardwalk, New Jersey

Let's break these down, based solely on admission price.

Several of the attractions listed have no admission fee, because they are high-traffic areas in major cities. These include Times Square in New York City, the Las Vegas strip, Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Fisherman's Wharf, San Antonio River Walk, Temple Square, and the Atlantic City Boardwalk. There's also no admission fee for Waikiki Beach or Niagara Falls. As on any vacation, you will spend money on food, lodging, activities and souvenirs once you arrive, but there's no upfront fee to enter.

For others, the costs range from the arguably reasonable to the astronomical. All prices listed here are in 2011 rates.

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