It’s official: your family is visiting a theme park in the near future. You’ve booked your hotel room, purchased your park tickets, and have even planned out the route you will take to travel there. What more do you need to plan, right?
The truth is, you could go with just that. You may find times of stress though and miss out on quite a bit of what you were hoping to experience. Another option is to over-plan, scouring every travel planning blog and “insider” website that promises to have the best tips and advice…while giving up every chance you have at even an ounce of fun and annoying your family with a micro-managed plan.
There is a middle ground. I promise.
I have visited more theme parks, especially Disneyland Resort, than I care to admit. In my many years (um, make that entire life) of theme park geekdom, I have learned a few things that can make any theme park trip less stressful, more fun, and full of happy memories.
Visit during a non-peak time
I know this probably seems like an obvious thing to say, but visiting any tourist attraction during the summer, late fall, Christmastime, or spring break is the complete opposite of what a visit there would be like during a less busy time.
I know you see the extended operating hours and assume that gives you more time. It doesn’t.
If you are able to be flexible and visit during the early-mid fall, late winter, or early spring you will not only be able to do and see twice as much, but you won’t be exhausted from the heat or frozen from the cold. Not to mention, prices for hotels, rental cars, and other travel items during these times are usually much lower.
There may be a ride down for refurbishment, but just think of how many you wouldn’t see while waiting in all those lines during the summer and feel better about it.
Plan what you want to see or do and make a list
If there is an attraction your children can’t wait to ride, put it at the top of your list. From there, write out what is most important and look over a map (usually available online on theme park websites) and then consider the operating hours and showtimes for your visit.
This is essential if you are only visiting for one day. Not all of us can hang from the moment the gates open until everyone is told to leave the park at closing time. Either arrive early and visit your “must see” attractions first, or plan to stay late and ride that last ride just before closing. Chances are, what your child is anticipating, thousands others are as well. Don’t wait in line for 3 hours when you can only wait 20 minutes. See everything else that isn’t as popular during the rest of the day.
If the theme park you are visiting offers a Fast Pass type service, utilize it and get those passes for that must-see attraction the second you step in the park. Many of them are passed out for the last time slot before closing by mid-day during peak travel times.
How important is your meal experience?
If you are not worried about eating with a character or in a themed environment, eat outside of the park. Most, but not all, theme parks have restaurants surrounding their entrance that offer foods at everyday prices. Many parks also offer a picnic area with lockers outside of the park near the entrance, where you can pack your own food and eat it there.
Another good idea is to eat at a different time than everyone else would. When everyone is in line for lunch between noon and 2pm and dinner at 6pm, you can enjoy shorter lines at the rides. What our family has always done, since I was a little girl, was eat on the way to the park, mid-afternoon, and then again on the way home. We still enjoyed those fun snacks while waiting in lines or watching parades, but this way we avoided longer lines while saving money and keeping our energy levels high.
If the park allows it, bring your own water.
I cannot emphasize this enough. You will be walking a lot. Even in cooler temperatures you are going to get really thirsty, and if you’re riding roller coasters you are really going to want something to quench your thirst without paying $3-4 a bottle.
Bringing water from home means that you stay hydrated. If they allow light snacks, bring a few of those too. However, if the theme park you are visiting prohibits you bringing in your own food or water, please don’t break the rules.
Four items you should always take with you:
- I don’t care if it’s the middle of July, pack a light jacket
- If it’s early January, still wear sunscreen
- Every day of the year, use chapstick
- and hand sanitizer.
Your body will love you for it. No matter when you visit, temperatures will fluctuate, the UV rays will burn, water rides will leave you freezing, an ocean breeze will surprise you, germs are everywhere, and your lips will become sore from laughing, screaming on thrill rides, the sun shining, and the wind against them while you come down the log flume.
I can’t tell you how many times, even now, I have kicked myself for not remembering the chapstick. Hand sanitizer? Well, the one time I forgot it a few weeks ago, our entire family came down sick two days later. A fifth item would be a hat if you burn easily. Don’t forget about covering your scalp!
Make sure you have what you need for your electronics.
Always bring chargers, batteries, memory cards, and anything else you think you might need for your camera and cell phone. Also remember to bring a bag that is waterproof to keep them in if you go on a water ride. Simply placing them in your backpack may not be enough.
It’s all about the shoes.
Most grumpy people you see in theme parks are one of four things: tired, overheated/too cold, dehydrated, or their feet hurt.
Wearing the wrong shoes can really mess things up. Just a few years ago I had to stop in the middle of volunteering at a large event in Disneyland to run to a gift shop and buy a $20 pair of flip flops. I was sure the shoes I put on that morning were great because I wore them all the time, but they were not made for a lot of walking. I was barely able to walk the rest of the day and had sores on my feet for weeks, and that was just from 3 hours in the park!
Even sandals work, but look them over. Not too tight, not too loose, and good support.
While on the subject, please don’t put your little ones in shoes with thick soles to reach that “Must be this tall” line. It’s really sad, and never worth it, when a child is injured on a ride because someone cheated to get them on there. The height requirement was determined for your child’s safety, not to be mean.
One thing that helps is to measure your child before your visit and look online for which rides they will not be able to go on. That way, you can either have a talk with them prior to your arrival or avoid the attraction all together.
Find all the restrooms before you arrive.
Many theme parks have apps, whether created by the theme park or someone as geeky as I am, that can tell you where the restrooms are, which ones are easily accessible, where the best changing stations are, etc. (There are even apps that will tell you wait times for attractions!)
Another option is to download and print a map before you leave and circle where all the restrooms are and then place it in your bag or pocket. This will be so much easier than looking every which way in a state of panic and feeling lost.
Many theme parks do not sell gum. As you can imagine, they hate the mess it creates. If you are a gum chewer, be sure to bring your own.
Wait to buy souvenirs that you can’t wear until the end of the day.
If you have to carry it, the chance of it becoming damaged is high and you will get tired a lot faster. If you leave it in your stroller, you risk having it stolen.
Enjoy your day and make some memories. Make a mental note or write a list of items you see during the day and then visit them before you leave. This will also give you, and your children, a chance to see all that is available instead of purchasing something at 8am and then finding something better at 3pm.
I truly hope this list helps you have a memorable trip that you are able to fully enjoy. If you pick up any tips or have any advice from past experiences, I would love to hear it.