The sun is shining and the kids are screaming are we there yet, so let’s hope you have read your theme park survival manual before you bundled everyone into the car. And it’s not just about getting to the park either – especially if you’ve chosen to stay in a resort hotel in the park itself. Theme parks are meant to be a fabulous fun experience but for the unprepared, there can be disappointment and dissatisfaction that you never really made the most of your visit. So what words of wisdom does the theme park survival manual have for us?
Planning is lauded as the starting point for so many things, and it’s also the case for theme park survival. The extent of the planning you need to do depends on who you are traveling with and the ages of kids in your party, and how long you are going for. If your time in the park is going to be limited to just a day, make a plan of which rides and attractions you want to see, making sure everyone’s favorite is included. If there’s an overwhelming amount on your list, study the theme park map and make a mini itinerary – allowing for time in line. This may seem a little trite and lacking spontaneity, but just think on the bad idea of impetuously choosing the first ride to be wild water chute and then spending the next few hours wet! Check the website for special shows such as parades or fireworks, and know the times and locations so that you don’t miss out on them.
2. Prepare the Kids
If you are taking young children, especially if it’s their first visit, there are more things to consider for how to survive a theme park than for repeat visitors. Children will rightly be very excited at the thought of all the fun and thrills that await them, but they also need grounding. They will need to be educated about waiting in long lines, height restrictions (you don’t want tantrums!) and also, be told about safety issues and having to wear safety belts. Another thing you might want to discuss with them is souvenirs. You don’t want to be carting a giant stuffed cartoon character from ride to ride, so persuade them that saving their money for the gift shop on the way out is the best idea.
3. Ticket Options
I know it’s a bind, but the cost factor is an important section in the theme park survival guide. There are so many ticket options that it is easy to feel overwhelmed. Check out all the special offers – you could follow your chosen park on FaceBook or Twitter so you get the lowdown on the latest deals. But be sensible too. Don’t be seduced by things like a cheap yearly pass for your first visit – what if the park doesn’t live up to your expectations? Don’t dismiss some options that seem expensive – often these are the very best value for money deals. If you’re having a few days that involves a hotel stay, don’t assume that it is cheaper to stay offsite. A non-resort hotel may seem cheaper, but when you take in all the additional freebies, discounts and concessions that come included in the price of a park hotel, you may find the park hotel is the better value option. One of the most common questions is whether it is worth spending extra money to cut down on time in line. Details of special passes can be found on the parks’ websites and should definitely be looked at.
4. What to Wear and What to Take
If you’re going to the park as a family, it can be a major expedition. Don’t forget the basics. Whilst you don’t want to be loaded down by heavy backpacks, you should carry everything you need. Yes you can probably buy anything you need at the park, but at 3-4 times the cost. Have the basic first aid essentials, snacks and drinks, and changes of clothing for the kids (water chutes are wet!) Be sensible about clothing and remember, flip flops aren’t good for any age in this environment. Another good tip is to pin something on your kids detailing your name and cell number, just in case one of them manages to get lost.
5. When to Go
One of the most essential points in how to survive a theme park is timing and it’s from two angles. Firstly, going out of season, the park is going to be less busy and discounts and deals easier to get hold of especially for resort hotels. If you can take the kids out of school, or delay their return for the new term, September and October are great months for theme park visits. Secondly, early morning right after the park opens is a great time to avoid lines. Even the most popular ride in the park will be fairly line free first thing. Also, if you head to the back of the park as soon as you enter, you’ll see smaller crowds as most people will start with rides nearer the entrance. Mid-late evening is also a great time to arrive in the park. Lots of day visitors will have gone home to put little ones to bed, and at night, the parks take on a different atmosphere with lights and laser shows adding to the carnival atmosphere.
6. Eating out
Eating at theme parks can be an experience in itself. Like waiting in line and best times to go, there are some simple rules when it comes to having a meal in a theme park. If you have been sensible and packed snacks and drinks, you can comfortably avoid the peak meal times. Who wants to be waiting in a restaurant queue when your time in the park is limited? Avoid the food lines between noon and 2pm. One of the unwritten gems of the theme park survival guide is always opt for the left hand line in any queuing situation. Apparently our brains are programmed to automatically turn right, so going against the flow will get you to that Mickey Special Burger or the Potter Pumpkin Surprise quicker. Don’t forget, you can make plans before you go by using online reservations.
7. Get ‘appy
If you’ve got a smartphone, or you never go anywhere without your trusty tablet, use them to your advantage in the park, or they will just be another piece of baggage you’re carrying around. You can use it to take a picture of where you have parked the car. You can also use it to take a picture of your kids first thing. If they get lost, you have the perfect aid for people to help locate them. Then of course, there are all the apps that can assist with all sorts of issues of how to survive a visit to the theme park. Just review the apps available for your destination park and download the ones you think will be of best use to you.
There really is only one aim when it comes to theme park survival and that is to ensure you’ve had a fantastic visit. It should be fun and thrilling and exciting and provide you with great memories, no matter how long or short your time in the park. Are you a theme park lover? What’s your favorite park? Do you have any special tips to share?