The thought of a holiday at a theme park can overwhelm you with both fear and excitement. The anticipation can be nearly too much too bear – all the rides and the fun and the excitement!
But visiting a theme park for the first time can also be a really daunting challenge for some families, particularly those with smaller children or with kids with special needs.
However, it doesn’t have to fill you with fear. There are many strategies you can use to ensure your theme park holiday is the stuff of dreams rather than the stuff of nightmares.
It all comes down to one word – preparation.
If you do your research you can win at the theme parks. You can stick to a budget, get the best deals, know where to eat and know exactly what to bring. You can also understand the best times to go, what to do there and what special provisions may be available to help your family get the most out of your visit.
Ready to make your theme park experience an awesome one? You’ve come to the right place! Here’s our tips for prepping for your theme park adventure.
Prepping for your theme park adventure
- As stated above, preparation is the key. Plan your trip. Research the park. Understand what facilities are available and identify the rides, attractions & characters that suit and most appeal to your family.
- Purchase multi-day tickets and consider park hopper packages if available. These often provide the most value and will allow you to take in the parks at your leisure as you’ll be able to come and go as you please.
- Know the seasonal opening and closing times. There are pros and cons for lining up at rope drop and for visiting a park after the rush of entry is over. Work out what would suit your family best. If you do not need to queue up to get on a popular ride, avoid the hassle and arrive a half-hour after opening when the first rush is over.
- If you or a family member have special needs, investigate what options are available in relation to reduced admission costs, ride accessibility, mobility and other considerations. Ensure you contact Guest Services before your visit and again, when you first arrive, to confirm arrangements and access the assistance you need.
- Decide if you will drive there or make use of a hotel shuttle or public transport. Where possible we prefer to drive so we can escape when it suits us but that option can involve parking fees and traffic jams depending on the park and the time of day that you visit. Whereas utilising shuttle services can save the parking hassles but involve long waits for service at peak times.
- Investigate complimentary transportation options – some services are free of charge, particularly if you are staying on property or in accommodation with links to the park.
- Map out your route and work out how long it will take to get there, whichever way you are travelling.
- Consider staying closer to the park (or even on property where available) to make entry and re-entry more convenient and cost effective.
Plan your day
- Work out what time you want to arrive and what you’d like to do first. Many guides suggest getting to the park early to take advantage of smaller lines for rides but we have personally found it best to get there a little later to avoid the entry queues. Particularly as most of the popular rides are often the ones our kids are too young to ride anyway.
- Consider when you may need to plan to rest and recharge. We have found that a solid 3 – 4 hours of park fun is more than enough for us in any given day.
- Identify the rides, attractions & characters you most want to see and work out your plan around these. Try to find a logical path around the park to help you get there and pick a place to rest in between.
- Most families will need to take a bag along with them with necessary items for the day, such as nappies, wipes, jackets, rain ponchos, sunscreen, spare clothes, snacks and drinks. Having said that, it is a good idea to try to pack as little as possible to limit the weight of your bag which will seem so much heavier by the end of the day.
- There are rules at most parks for what you can take with you – often food and drink items purchased outside the park are not allowed. However, we have food allergies and have never had a problem bringing along water and small snacks to help us get through the day. Be sure to explain your situation upon entry (and consider taking along proof of diagnosis just in case).
- If you can get away with it, don’t take a bag at all as this can help get you through entry lines faster and will avoid the need to hire a locker or worry about taking a bag along with you on rides.
Divide & Conquer
- If some family members want to tackle the rides and others don’t, separate for periods of the day – don’t feel the pressure to stick together. You will get more bang for your buck by dividing and conquering the park.
- You can always meet up at a pre-arranged time and place to catch up for a snack or to enjoy a family-friendly attraction together afterwards.
- If you have access to the park over multiple days, only stick around to see any scheduled parades once. Use that time on other days to take advantage of shorter lines for rides and attractions as the crowds disperse to watch the parade.
Set a budget and stick to it
- Everything costs so much at the theme parks so set a budget before you even set foot in the park. It doesn’t help that many rides exit through gift shops – this is the case even to exit some parks. Stay strong and stick to your budget.
- Allow the kids to have a nominal amount to spend on a souvenir for themselves. This will give them a sense of control, address their need to buy something and provide them with a lasting memory of their adventure.
- If possible bring your own food and drink (some parks prohibit this) to save some money. If this is not possible, investigate food options online before you go and identify the best options for your family. Most parks will have a mix of dine-in and fast food options – try to find sample menus before you go to get an idea of pricing.
Consider spending a part-day instead
- For many families, a full day at a theme park will end in tears. We have found spending a morning or an afternoon at a theme park suits us better and sees us all still smiling at the end of our adventure.
- This also allows you to eat outside the park (therefore saving you money) and also means you may be able to get away with taking less stuff around with you.
- This is also a great way to concentrate on one part of the park at a time and limits the threat of overwhelm, for you and for your family.
- To take advantage of part-day visits, make sure you buy a multi-visit pass – this will allow you to leave and re-visit the park as it suits you.
Formulate an escape plan
- Everyone wants to have a great day at the theme park but sometimes things don’t go to plan. Someone might fall ill or be injured. It might be much hotter than expected. Rides may not operate as planned. Or you might all just be in a bad mood. So you need to think about how you can get out fast should the worst happen.
- This is where you will have an advantage if you are staying close by or if you have your own transportation option – in these cases it will be much easier to leave whenever you wish.
- If you are reliant on shuttle or public transportation, be aware of scheduled departure times so you can get away as soon as possible and endure less waiting.
- Planning and prepping for a theme park visit may seem like a lot of work and it can be easy to forget why you are going at all – to have fun. So put a smile on your face and be prepared to have fun, along with your kids.
- Make sure every member of the family (including you!) has something special to look forward to – a ride, an attraction or an experience that you especially want to try.
- Take a deep breathe and let your worries go. Do your best to live in the moment and enjoy your time together as a family. Theme parks can be a magical place – do your best to open yourself up to having a magical time!
- Remember – you’ve done everything you can to make this work. You’ve put in the preparation, now it’s time to trust in all your work and let go of your fears. It’s time to enjoy yourself.